Royal Reels: Gambling


The cover was addressed to Mr. John Cumming Jnr, Prospector Office, Ballart Diggins (sic), Buninyong. The ‘tiny’ 1851 cover had a ‘very fine’ ‘Ham Half Length’ 2d brown-lilac of Victoria (S.G. 16b) with ‘huge margins at left and base, and it was cancelled with a Butterfly ‘15′ of Geelong (Figure 1).

The reverse had a late usage of the unframed oval GEELONG/ [crown]/ OC 14/ 1851/ PORT PHILLIP, as well as red sealing wax on the flap (Figure 2).

John Cumming jnr and Thomas Forrest Cumming, pastoralists, were the first and fourth sons of John Cumming and his wife Margaret, who emigrated to Van Diemen’s Land in 1833, crossed to Port Phillip in 1839, and founded Cumming’s brewery in Geelong. John junior was born on 4 August 1830 in Aberdeen, Scotland, was educated in Geelong and then worked in his father’s brewery. In March 1849 John senior bought Stony Point station near Mortlake. On this run of 15,573 acres John junior served his pastoral apprenticeship. In 1857 when the Clyde Co. was disposing of its properties he bought Terinallum station, Darlington.

At Terinallum Cumming built up an excellent merino stud winning a reputation as a knowledgeable sheepbreeder. By the 1880s Terinallum was carrying 53,600 sheep. Cumming also had interests in the pastoral expansion of New South Wales and Queensland, and he competed with the Riverina studs in supplying sheep for the far interior. In Victoria he extended his holdings to include the 7770 acres of Gnotuk station near Camperdown and by 1883 Terinallum comprised 47,320 acres. Both properties carried heavy mortgages, the result of Cumming’s determination to convert to freehold.

In 1870-80 John Cumming represented South-Western Province in the Legislative Council. He was a conscientious but quiet member and the debate on the 1872 education bill was one of the few times he broke his silence. In a long speech he opposed the bill for not providing for poor children and for centralizing power. A staunch Presbyterian, Cumming was persuaded to support Ormond College of which he became a trustee. He was also a trustee of the Presbyterian Ladies’ College, chairman of the Scotch College Council and a trustee of the University of Melbourne. In his last years Cumming lived more in Melbourne than at Terinallum. He owned Millicent, Clendon Road, Toorak, was a member of the Melbourne Club from 1871 and a director of the Australian Mortgage Land and Finance Co. He was ill for some time before his death on 20 September 1883. He was survived by his wife Eliza, née Annand, whom he had married in 1851 and by whom he had five sons and five daughters. He left an estate worth £96,000. A picture of John jnr taken from the Victorian Parliamentary site is seen in Figure 3.

Thomas Forrest, born on 26 September 1842 in Melbourne, attended Scotch College and at 18 joined his brother John at Terinallum. He worked as a drover for John and his other brothers, George and William, moving between the stations and Ballarat, Geelong and Melbourne. On his majority Thomas was given Stony Point station by his father and began his career as one of the outstanding breeders of merino sheep in Victoria. The flock was founded on pure merinos already at Stony Point. Cumming introduced new strains through such rams as Sir Thomas, Longwool and Nugget. Stony Point was reduced to 8000 acres freehold and Cumming spent much money on improvements and planted 550 acres of trees

You would have noticed that there has been no information given in the A.D.B. about John Cumming Junior’s involvement with gold mining in 1851, as suggested by the cover that was sent to him. In that year he was 21 and in the same year he married Miss Eliza Annand. The vendor had several covers addressed to her and one of these is shown in the next cover. The vendor described the cover as Thomas Ham Half Length: Second State of the Die 2d grey-lilac S.G. 6 with Butterfly ‘15′ and it was mailed to Miss Eliza Annand, Melbourne (Figure 4).

The reverse had an unframed oval GEELONG/ [crown]/ AP 18/ 1850/ PORT PHILLIP and an unframed oval MELBOURNE/ [crown]/ AP 19/ 1850/ PORT PHILLIP (Figure 5).

This cover does not give any proof that John Cumming junior was associated with the gold fields, but it does prove that he was the pastoralist listed in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, from which this paper has been extracted.

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