Royal Reels: Gambling


The stampless cover was sent ‘By Steamer’ from London as evidenced by the red ‘tombstone’ cancel X/ PAID/ 31OC31/ 1846. There was a red ‘ms. 1/-’ and an arrival handstamp at Adelaide as shown by the G.P.O/ [Crown]/ 5 [Maltese Cross] AP/ 1847/ SOUTH AUSTRALIA. The cover was addressed tp Marshall Mac’ Dermott (sic) Esqre, The Bank Hindly (sic) Street, Adelaide, South Australia. There was an additional ms. overlying the GPO cancel ‘6th Nov-’. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

Captain Marshall MacDermott (ca. 1793-1877) was one of those quixotic adventurers who make the early history of Australia so interesting. He was born in England and was a well-to-do army officer in the 8th Regiment. He served in the Carribean and America during the Napoleonic wars and he was shot in the throat at the battle of Plattsburg. In the early 1820s he was on the Ionian Islands, where he was briefly acquainted with Lord Byron. He claimed that Byron died on his portable brass bedstead after having entrusted him with the last three cantos of ‘Don Juan’.

He resigned his commission, bought a 500 ton ship in Sweden and sailed to the Swan River Colony. Another account was that he met Captains Molloy and Byrne in Dublin, Ireland and they bought the ship in partnership. He arrived in Australia in June 1803. On arrival he purchased 5,000 acres on the Swan River near Governor James Stirling’s summer residence. Three years later he imported some Saxony sheep to the Colony, and he lived in the Colony for 16 years.

After losses in farming, he was active in public life and he promoted the appointment of Bishop Hale to Western Australia. With the help of some of his friends, including George Leake, he established his own bank, the first in Western Australia. He ran this bank until he was persuaded to take over the management of the Bank of Australasia.. After the amalgamation of the 2 banks, he accepted the management of the South Australian branch in Hindley Street, Adelaide. In March 1852 he was succeeded by Samuel Tomkinson as the manager of the Bank of Australasia in Adelaide at the height of the bullion crisis, and Tomkinson was critical of Marshall MacDermott’s management.

He was one of three members who were nominated as a Non-Official Member of the Legislative Council of South Australia, appointed in October 25, 1855; in 1859 he filled one of the six casual vacancies in the House of Assembly; and, in Mr. Torrens’ Ministry for Sept 1857 he was the Commissioner of Crown Lands and Immigration in South Australia. In September 1872 he wrote a letter to George Young, the Hon. Secretary of the University of Adelaide accepting their invitation to become a Member of their Body. In the acceptance letter, he gave his address as Hutt Street Adelaide.

I have learnt very little about his private life, his parents, his place of birth, person he married, and where he died, although a daughter, Caroline married Francis Stacker Dutton in 1849. His name is celebrated by the naming of Mount Marshall in Western Australia. I had no access to the South Australian Express 5 Nov 1877 for his obituary nor for a book written by him: A brief sketch of the long and varied career of Marshall MacDermott, esq., J. P., of Adelaide, South Australia / written solely for private distribution amongst relatives and special friends.

Subsequently, a small amount of information was found on him in The Advertiser (Adelaide) on 6 January 1910 which gave the year of his birth as 1788 and that he died in Adelaide in 1877 (Figure 2).

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