Royal Reels: Gambling


This taxed New South Wales postcard has the red printed 1d ‘Arms’ stamp canceled with the duplex SYDNEY/ DE 30/ 3 45 P.M/ 02/ 44 with the barred N.S.W obliterator. It is addressed to Signor Cav. Enrico Caruso, 1 Via Velasca, Milan Italy, and is redirected simply to ‘Roma’. It has a ‘shield’ N.S.W/ T/ 5′ tax handstamp, with the red 10 centesimi Italian postage due stamp, which is cancelled with an illegible Milan postmark. There is a ms. blue crayon ‘6′, a black oval ‘135′ as well as a black oval ‘230′ (Figure 1).

The reverse has a printed ‘Greetings From’ and the following inscription: Dr. H. Russell Nolan, Macquarie St, Sydney N.S.W., Australia / At the request of Dr. St Clair Thomson. The card is illustrate with a poor photo of a waterfall which is identified as Govetts Leap N.S.W. also known as the Bridal Veil waterfall at Blackheath, in the Blue Mountains (Figures 2 & 2A).

The reverse can be dismissed quickly as the reason for the sending of the postcard to the world famous Italian tenor, Enrico Caruso, was not learnt, but both named surgeons have been identified. Dr. St. Clair Thomson was a Sydney Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon who wrote a book on Cancer of the Larynx, and the Medical History Museum, University of Melbourne has an example of a St. Clair Thomson’s Adenoidal Curette. Dr. H. Russell Nolan was an Honorary Oral Surgeon who was on the staff of the United Dental Hospital of Sydney.

I wondered what was the association of Caruso with these Australian surgeons, was it a professional association, for at a later date in New York, Caruso had a throat bleed which initially was reported as worrisome career-wise in The New York Times. My curiosity was rewarded when I asked the question: ‘Did Caruso ever sing in Australia?’, and I was rewarded with 3 ‘hits’.

A motor hotel in Heemskirk and the Gaiety Theatre at Zeehan (both in Tasmania) as well as The Sydney Morning Herald all stated that Caruso sang in Zeehan at the Gaiety Theatre. This sounded at least plausible for I was aware in my research of Caruso that he had performed with the famous Australian singer, Dame Nellie Melba, albeit in London, and that they had a professional friendship during their singing careers. All 3 of the three above sites were similar in their wording, namely no details of the date(s) of Caruso’s performance(s), and a statement that other performers such as Lola Montez (‘bombshell of her time’) and Houdini had also performed at the Gaiety Theatre; Dame Nellie Melba had been invited to sing, but there was ‘no evidence that she actually performed’. This last statement was followed by the following disclaimer: “Not every heart-warming tale in the Australian bush is necessarily cast-iron fact!” This statement has been confirmed by information from the National Library of Australia and the State Library of Tasmania, that Caruso had never sung personally in Australia.

The Gaiety Theatre and Grand Hotel were constructed in 1898. The theatre was Australia’s largest concert hall at the time and had the capacity to seat 1000 people. The size of this establishment provides some insight into Zeehan’s importance at the time. In the early twentieth century Zeehan was known as the ‘Silver City of the West’. Its recorded population of 5,014 people in the 1901 Census made Zeehan Tasmania’s third biggest town at that time. The Gaiety Theatre and a map showing Zeehan in the north-west Tasmania, are seen in Figures 3 & 4.

A signed photograph of Enrico Caruso, the most famous tenor of his time, is seen in Figure 5.

I am indebted to Elizabeth Lehete, Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office, State Library of Tasmania for putting this myth to rest.

 Govett’s Leap is further discussed at this website in the Category: Science, under the Heading: George Lyell.

Addendum (December 2009):  This article was published in Australian Journal of Philately, December 2009,  No. 110, pp. 16-17.