Royal Reels: Gambling


This cover was sent to an interesting Scotsman, who gave much of his life to being an administrator in India during the British Raj period. It has significance for it was sent to him in 1905 less than a year after he started his illustrious career in India. The pair of the ‘ONE PENNY’ stamps of Victoria are cancelled MELBOURNE/ P.M/ 3.30/ 8.11.05/ 10, and the cover is addressed to J.E.B. Hotson Esq I.C.S., Rajkot, Kathiawar, Bombay Presidency, India, with a ms. per S.S. Ville de la Ciotat (Figure 1).

The reverse has 3 superimposed transit and arrival postmarks in India, one totally indecipherable, one indistinct Bombay and a legible RAJKOT/ 7.45 P.M./ 30 NO.05 (Figure 2).

John Ernest Buttery Hotson, KCSI, OBE, VD was born in Glasgow to Hamilton and Margaret (Maggie) Hotson on 17 March 1877, and he was educated at Edinburgh Academy and Magdalen College, Oxford, graduating BA (1899) and MA (1905). He immediately joined the Indian Civil Service, being appointed Superintendent of Managed Estates in Kathiawar. His entire career was devoted to the administration of the province known as the Bombay Presidency.

He occupied a series of positions, as follows: Under-Secretary to the Government of Bombay (political and judicial departments in 1907); Collector, 1920; Secretary of the Political Department, 1922; Chief Secretary to the Government, 1924; Member of the Executive Council of Bombay, 1926-31; and, Home Member and Acting Governor of Bombay, 1931. He was appointed OBE (1918), Companion of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India (CSI) in 1926 and later was elevated to Knight Commander (KSCI).

Hotson also had a career as a naturalist whilst he served in the Indian Army Reserve of Officers, 1915 to 1920, in Baluchistan and Persia, attaining the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He collected plants in Persian Baluchistan and Makran coast, 1916-18 and his collection of mammal specimens from the same region during this period were described by a noted British zoologist, Oldfield Thomas FRS. Two specimens bear his name, a Jerboa (Allactaga hotsoni) and a mouse-like Hamster (Calomyscus hotsoni). Hotson acted as Consul at Shiraz (Persia) in 1918 and 1920 and he continued his collecting of native mammals.

In 1924 he married Mildred Alice Steward, daughter of a fellow member of the ICS, and this was a period of rising instability in India that eventually led to its independence from the British Crown in 1947. On 22 July 1931, as acting Governor of Bombay, Hotson was visiting the library of Fergusson College in Pune (Poona) when one of the students attempted to assassinate him. The bullet was stopped by a metal stud on Hotson’s clothes, and he escaped unharmed. The gunman said that the attempt was “As a protest against your tyrannical administration.”

As well as a naturalist, Hotson was also a keen philatelist, serving as President of the Philatelic Society of India, and editor of the Philatelic Journal of India, 1923-28. He died on the 13 May 1944, at a place unknown, and with no information about any surviving family.

The ship that carried the cover from Australia to India was the S.S. Ville de la Ciotat built for the Messageries Maritimes, France in 1892, for use in the Australian trade. During the first World War the vessel went on the Far Eastern run and on 24 December 1915 it was returning from Japan to Marseilles when she was torpedoed by U-34 off Crete. The liner sank very rapidly, and 35 passengers, 22 European crew members and 23 lascars were killed by the explosion or drowned. Some 208 people were picked up by the British steamship, Meroe and landed at Malta, with a further 28 rescued by other vessels.

The address on the cover was remarkably complete and included the term Bombay Presidency. Wikipedia gives a thorough description of the Presidency, which is summarized in the first paragraph: “The Bombay Presidency was a former province of British India. It was established in the 17th century as a trading post for the British East India Company, but later grew to encompass much of the western and central India, as well as parts of post-partition Pakistan and the Arabian Peninsula”. A map has been found for the vast area of the Bombay Presidency in the early 1900s, and only part of its southern portion is depicted which shows the position of Rojkot (upper arrow), Kathiawar (middle arrow) and Bombay (lower arrow), as in Figure 3.

The total area of the Bombay Presidency was 188,745 sq. miles, of which 122,984 sq. miles were under British and 65,761 under native rule. The total population was 25,468,209 in 1901, of which 18,515,587 were resident in British territory and 6,908,648 in native states. The enormity of its size and population probably accounted for the completeness of the address given for a man who had not left his ‘stamp’ on the Bombay Presidency.

Categories: Governors