Royal Reels: Gambling


The Post Card is addressed to Mr. E.F. Wedlich, Tobacconist, Ballarat and it has the printed brown ‘Reading One Penny’ stamp of Victoria which is cancelled with MELBOURNE/ 23 A/ MR 12/ 98 postmark (Figure 1).

The reverse has advertising for the William Cameron Bros. & Co. Limited, with a handstruck partially obscured purple ‘PROPRIETARY’. The “Virginia” Tobacco Factory, Offices and Factory were located at 14 to 20 A’Beckett Street, Melbourne, near Swanston Street. TheCompany’s Special Brands of Tobacco are listed and include Havelock, Aromatic and Havelock, Dark, both of Finest Quality. As well they have Havelock Cut Tobaccos and Cigars. The mailing of the card was to inform the tobacconist that the company’s representative would call on him on the14th March. There is also a curious MELBOURNE mirror image postmark of March 12/ 98 in the top left hand corner, presumably caused by contact with another postmarked card (Figure 2).

It is not a common occurrence that the shopkeeper can be identified, but this was so in this case. The Brisbane Courier, 4 December 1890 had an ‘Intercolonial Report from Our Own Correspondents’, which was dated Melbourne December 3, 1890, and it described a 3.30 a.m. 2-man burglary at E.F. Wedlich’s tobacconist shop at Prahran (a Melbourne suburb). He and his wife awoke hearing noise in the shop, and he took a revolver and went downstairs. There was an encounter which upset a lighted lantern, then the men made their escape outside, shots were fired, and meantime the overturned lantern had set fire to the shop, which was completely gutted. This was a good enough reason for the couple taking a tobacconist shop later in Ballarat.

The Cameron Bothers (Alexander, George and William) had migrated from Scotland to Virginia USA in 1842 and had begun exporting tobacco to Australia on a regular basis in 1865. In response to the heavy tariff on imported tobacco products, William Cameron visited Australia twice and built tobacco factories in Sydney (1873), Melbourne (1878), Adelaide (1880) and Brisbane (1889) where his ‘Dixie’ tobacco mixture was produced. In the 1890s, Alexander Cameron Jr conducted the Sydney business, importing the Havelock, Royal Delight and other brands from his uncle William’s factory in Richmond, Virginia, but the Melbourne branch of the US firm was more successful than the Sydney firm.

In Sydney, W. Cameron and Bros. faced stiff competition from another Scot, Hugh(later Sir Hugh) Dixson. Dixson had opened premises in Sydney in 1843 upon arrival in the colony from Scotland, but subsequently went to the goldfields, and did not re-establish his city shop until 1862. It was in the next 15 years that Dixson and Sons were to prosper by expansion of the tobacco business, laying the basis of one of Australia’s prominent colonial philanthropic families. Dixsons specialised more in the local manufacture than did the Camerons, and had a slightly wider coverage across Australia with factories in all the mainland Australian colonies. The Camerons expanded to New Zealand, India, South Africa, Hong Kong and other British colonies, as well as Japan and China. These businesses continued to 1903 when all the Cameron Companies were absorbed by British-American Company. A sketch of the Virginia Tobacco Factory in Grenfell Street Adelaide commenced operations in April 1877, continued to be operational until c.1902, and it is seen in Figure 3.

Alexander Cameron was born in Scotland in 1832, or in 1834 and became one of Richmond Virginia’s richest capitalists. He died on February 3, 1915 and his death notice was recorded in The New York Times the following day, and this is shown in Figure 4, associated with his photo, in Figure 5.

A red tin which contained Cameron’s Tobacco made by Cameron & Cameron, Richmond, Virginia, U.S.A. is seen in Figure 6.

Addendum (July 2010): An additional cover has been seen with an advert for Wm Cameron Bros. Propriety Limited, Melbourne and the two stamps of Victoria have been placed in a HAVELOCK/ TOBACCO ‘Collar’.  The postmark is MELBOURNE/ 1 30/ 25 10 00/ 11.  It is addressed to a company in Lynchburg, Virginia USA (Figure 7).

The reverse shows that the cover was received in Lynchburg, Va on NOV 21 2 30 PM 1900 (Figure 8). 

Addendum (September 2010):  Advertisements were seen on 2 of the company representative’s calling cards on the Victorian blue 1d postcards both advertising Havelock Tobacco and Fosters Beer, the fronts not shown (Figures 9 & 10).