Royal Reels: Gambling


This cover appeared at auction and the vendor stated that “Mayne Nickless assisted Tatts to subvert the ban on mail deliveries to Tatts’ Hobart address”. This was yet another novel method of getting around the Tasmanian Post Office ban on Tattersalls Lottery. There are 5 copies of the pink 1d Victorian “Postage” stamp all carefully postmarked with a large ‘R’ in a circle, with another one for good measure at the lower left. An additional cancel of DARGO/ 8-OCT 07/ VIC completes the picture. The cover is addressed to Mayne Nickless & Co., Carriers, Robinson Buildings, 91 York St., Launceston, Tasmania. This address is overprinted in faint pencil manuscript with a single word, ‘Prohibited’ (Figure 1).

The reverse as well as the front have the red crayon ‘cross-hatch’ to confirm the registration, and there are 3 additional postmarks on the reverse: an unframed transit postmark of STRATFORD/ OC 9/ 07/ VICTORIA, a transit double circle REGISTERED MELBOURNE/ AM/ 9 OC/ 1907/ 5, no evidence of arrival at Launceston, but a very faint and partial red DEAD LETTER OFFICE/ MELBOURNE (date illegible), when the letter had been intercepted. There was also a penned manuscript that could have alerted the Post Office, ‘ P.N.(Postal Note), £1/2/-, ? , J.S.R.’ (Figure 2).

In 1886, John Mayne and Enoch Nickless began a parcel delivery service in Melbourne by horse and cart. Nickless left soon, leaving the company to Mayne.This statement was disputed by Tony William’s email on Jan  28 2011: ” It was john Mayne who left the business within a couple of years of its founding, never to be heard of again”   He gives a reference unavailable to me “Hurry Back, the Centenary History of Mayne Nickless” and I have found 2 adverts of prospectuses of the company, both published in The Argus (Melbourne) dated 21 June1886 on pp. 6 & 7 as well as 27 Aug 1910 on p. 22 for Enoch Nickless was named as General Manager of Mayne Nickless in both adverts. 

The business was incorporated as a public company in 1926 and Mayne Nickless went on to provide freight services to all Australian capital cities and major ports. It is obvious from the cover that they had a branch office in Launceston, the port of call in Tasmania from Melbourne, as early as 1907.

The company next spread to New Zealand and it went through numerous transitions as it became international. Whilst based in Australasia the company also operated in the USA, Canada, UK, Holland, Belgium, France, Italy and Spain, as well as operations in Asia, including Indonesia and China. One of the earlier changes was the addition of armoured car cash deliveries. During the 1970’s and 1980’s the company expanded rapidly from freight, transport and security to telecommunications and computing, but the major change in direction occurred when it entered the health field. The company became one of Australia’s most successful multinationals.

The internet is full of acrimonious accounts of the company’s collusive price rigging and anti-competitive behaviour, ruthless money-making culture, court orders imposing injunctions restraining its business practices, and being forced to plead guilty to practices that cost the company a payment of a $7.4 million fine. Mayne Nickless entered health care when it started shopping for hospitals in 1989 in Australia, a move that has added greater fury to the mix.

My intent is not to condemn nor condone, but it is a remarkable story about 2 men and a horse and cart. As well, the company played a part in the story of the ingenuity of man to gamble on horses in lotteries, and to overcome the difficulties imposed by the Post Office in dealings with Tattersalls. The internet is not a good source of information about the association of Mayne Nickless with Tattersalls, but David McNamee’s book “Beating the Odds – The Story of Tattersals (sic) Private Mail Network 1902 – 1930″ gives details of the company’s involvement in Launceston:
“11 July 1907 Mayne Nickless & Co. proposes a partnership under their name to establish an office in Launceston to receive all mainland mail. 1911 Federal Government proscribes the Mayne Nickless offices in Launceston during the final wave of serious enforcement.”

So what was the love affair of Australians and Tattersall’s all about? The answer lies in the thrill of horse racing and gambling, and tickets for two of the big races are shown in Figures 3 & 4.