Royal Reels: Gambling


The first airmail cover was underpaid with a single blue 5½d ‘Emu’ stamp which was canceled with a slogan cancel about preventing accidents, associated with an ADELAIDE/ 22 MAY/ 1948/ SOUTH AUST. postmark. It was addressed to Messrs. Hamilton Ewell Vineyards (Vict.) Pty. Ltd., 114 King Street, Melbourne. It was sent from the parent company in Glenelg, S. Aust and a 6d Postage Due stamp was applied. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

A second airmail cover from the same source to the same destination was sent without any stamps and there is a ‘in an oval’ handstamp applied. The Adelaide postmark was dated May 59. Three Postage Due stamps, a 6d, 4d and a 1d, were applied to this double weight cover. The reverse was not seen (Figure 2).

In 1835 Richard Hamilton Jnr arrived in South Australia as a seaman aboard the brigantine Duke of York carrying settlers for the fledgling colony and due to meet up with HMS Buffalo sailing to South Australia via Buenos Aires. Richard Jnr returned to England full of tales of the potential of South Australia convincing his father of the merits of emigrating with his entire family. On June 7, 1837 Richard Hamilton (snr) took out Land Order 449 in London for the Province of South Australia. He arrived with his wife and five of his children aboard the Katherine Stewart Forbes on October 7, 1837. His eldest child, Henry, remained in England to complete his schooling.

Initially the family lived in a camp on the banks of the River Torrens before the local Aboriginal Karuna tribe burnt it out. This forced the family to move down to the land they had secured on the banks of the Sturt River, in the Marion district, where they set about establishing a farm. This marked the beginning of Hamilton’s Ewell Vineyards. It became apparent to Richard that before the farm could support his family he would run short of money. Therefore he wrote to a friend in South Africa describing his predicament and requested that he send some vines to plant ‘as the health of the family requires a little wine’.

The vines, which were Pedro Ximenez, Shiraz and Grenache, arrived three months later and Richard planted them in the winter of 1838. The plants thrived in the deep alluvial soil and sunny climate helped by the annual flooding of the Sturt River much like the Bremer River does in the Langhorne Creek wine region, in South Australia. In 1841 Richard made his first and South Australia’s first wine, which he subsequently loaded onto a horse and cart and sold to nearby farmers.

The eldest son, Henry jnr, joined the rest of the family after completing schooling and then spending two years on a sheep station near Burr, S.A. Henry and the family purchased surrounding land, and in 1854 Henry planted two acres of vines on a section of 10 acres, which was named Ewell after a village in Surrey. Some of these vines were still bearing in 1980. This was where Henry was to build his wine cellars that became known as Hamilton’s Ewell Vineyards. Henry ran a mixed farm with hard work and good management. In 1890 and 1891 he won the Angus Award for agricultural farms presented by the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society. At that stage he had 140 acres of farm with 40 acres of vineyard. A picture of the original Hamilton Ewell Vineyards near Glenelg, South Australia, first planted in 1838 by Richard Hamilton, is seen in Figure 3.

Richard Hamilton’s widow, Anne, died in 1886 aged 97 and in accordance with her husband’s will the original property was divided equally amongst the nine children. Henry jnr and his son Frank set about buying the land back from the other members of the family. Under the management of Frank Hamilton the vineyard expanded to 156 acres and amongst other wines they produced a “Chablis” dry white wine made from Pedro. In 1928 Frank’s son, Sydney, blended Pedro with Verdelho to produce Hamilton’s Ewell Moselle, a semi sweet white which went on to be Hamilton’s and Australia’s biggest selling wine. A ca. 1930s picture of the filling of 65 gallon hogsheads with wine in the original Hamilton’s Ewell Vineyards winery near Glenelg is seen in Figure 4.

At the same time Hamilton’s started picking the grapes early to retain some natural acidity and fermenting them in closed wooden vats rather than open concrete tanks, as was the norm. Hamilton’s Ewell Vineyards developed a reputation for fine wines through the efforts of winemakers Sydney Hamilton, Russian born John A. Seeck, and Frenchman Maurice Ou. In 1945 a temperature controlled cellar was built which greatly helped the quality of the white wines.

Under the stewardship of managing director Eric Hamilton, the company flourished. Eric was a pioneer in exporting Australian wines spending up to six months of the year overseas promoting Hamilton’s Ewell Vineyards and Australian wines, mainly in the UK and Canada. During the 60s and 70s Hamilton’s Ewell Vineyards had lost much of its vineyards at Ewell through urban expansion and compulsory acquisition although there is one small section of vineyard still alive today. When Hamilton’s Ewell Vineyards was sold to Mildara (now Beringer Blass) in 1979 the company had vineyards in the Eden Valley, Nildottie and Wood Wood near Swan Hill in Victoria and wineries at Ewell, Nildottie and Nyah in Victoria. A ca. 1960 picture of the Bridgewater Mill used as a Whisky and Brandy Store by Hamilton’s Ewell Vineyards in the 60s and 70s is shown in Figure 5.

This text and pictures are a slightly reduced history of the company from it’s own website, which is a great credit to the Hamilton family and their company. It has been a joy to read, and they have also appended a chart of six generations of the descendants of Richard Hamilton.

Categories: Family History