Royal Reels: Gambling


The South Australian Post Card has a printed 1d overprinted O.S. stamp uprated with the bantam ½d S.A. stamp overprinted O.S., cancelled with G.P.O./ S/ MY 1/ 4 OC/ 1899/S.A postmark. In addition there is a reception PRAG 1/ PRAHA 1, but the date is illegible . It is addressed to Dr. Yaroslav Franta, Prague II Marianska’ ulice 9, Bohemia, Austria (Figure 1).

The reverse has a return address: Government Printing Office, North Terrrace, Adelaide S.A., 1st May 1899. Sir, Yours of 21st Mch duly to hand. We know of no such publication by the South Australian Government as the Catalogue of Medical books. Yours faithfully, E.H. Othams, pro Government Printer. Dr. Jaroslav Franta, Prague II Marianska ulice 9, Bohemia (Figure 2).

The first thing that I wanted to learn about the sender of the postcard, who signed himself as ‘E.H. Othams, pro Government Printer’, was what was his role at the Government Printer’s office, and I could not find mention of this until very late in my research. The use of ‘pro’ which I interpreted as ‘for’ suggested that he was not in any senior position, and this was confirmed by the fact that I could not find him when I googled ‘Othams & S.A. Printing Office’. However I finally came up with a report in The Advertiser (Adelaide) 12 February, 1910 on page 12, headlined ‘A FAREWELL SOCIAL’ which described a compliment was paid to Mr. George Brown on Friday evening, when his co-workers in the Government Printing office assembled at the Exchange Hotel, at the time of Brown’s retirement after many long years in the department. The entire staff who had made him a presentation were listed, and E.H. Othams was shown as ‘clerical staff’.

A librarian at the National Library of Australia was able to come up with limited biographical information on Edward Henry Othams: he died on 14 June 1950, aged 79 and he was married to Frances Marie Othams, who died on 29 June 1930, aged 59 years, with no listing of any issue of the marriage. Othams passion was lawn bowls, and there were several entries for him in the early 1910’s. He was champion, treasurer and secretary of the East Torrens bowling club, and was successful in several competitions in singles and fours tournaments. He was listed in The Advertiser (Adelaide) 8 June 1905 in a heading: FREEMASONRY, as the officiating and retiring Worshipful Master of the Duke of Leinster Lodge, Adelaide, in the installation of his successor.

These ‘slim pickings’ surprised me, but I was rewarded with interesting information on the receiver of the postcard, Dr. Jaroslav Franta, Clinical Assistant in the Faculty of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in the Bohemian University of Prague. He was the author of a treatise on Hydatid Cysts During Pregnancy, Labour and Childbirth. It was written in the Czech language which was translated into English, and reviewed in the British Medical Journal April 12, 1902. It contains a full clinical report of 22 cases and a chapter is devoted to the subject of operations for hydatid cysts during pregnancy. The cysts can be as large as a coconut leading to obstruction of birth. The review states that the treatise is very creditable to the author, as well as the institution which supported the research. Since this review was published the whole treatise had been translated into English and has appeared in the Annales de Gynecologie et de Obstetrique.

You should have noticed that the postcard was addressed to Bohemia, Austria, for Czechoslovakia had not been created until after World War One with the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when Prague became the Capital of the new nation in 1918. Hydatid disease was of great importance to the large sheep raising continent of Australia, and this is mentioned in the paper on Sir Harold Dew, Professor of Surgery at the University of Sydney, in category Health Sciences.

Addendum (October 2010):  I received an email from Bill Othams of South Australia about his great-uncle, Edward Henry (Ted) Othams, born 30 October 1871, died 14 June 1950, and this is an excerpt:  Government records (the Blue Books, which form part of the South Australian Parliamentary Papers) indicate that he was first appointed a clerk with the Printing & Stationery Office on 30 January 1890, was appointed Assistant Cashier on 1 July 1900 and Accountant & Cashier in May 1911. He may have been only a clerk at the time of the postcard to Dr Franta, but he was upwardly mobile! 

 I can’t help wondering about the facts that his two predecessors as Accountant both left office under a cloud and that Ted gave evidence at the 1900 committal of the earlier of them on criminal charges, but the June 1911 edition of the Public Service Review (published by the Public Service Association of SA) contains the following report:

“Mr E H Othams has been appointed Accountant at the Government Printing Office, where he has been situated for so many years that he has become quite an identity there. It would be strange indeed to walk into the office and find the bright countenance of Mr Othams missing. An enthusiastic member of the Association, Mr Othams has acted as Departmental Secretary for many years with satisfactory results. As an officer his services are highly valued and his new appointment comes as due reward for faithful and able service long rendered.”He was the Treasurer of the boys committee for Our Boys Institute (OBI), the under 18 branch of the YMCA in 1888-1889, which seems to have started him on a lifetime in executive roles in voluntary associations, as well as in his employment.  Potted biographies of the members of the boys committee were provided in vol 1 no 1 of the OBI manuscript newspaper, and he was described then as “a short, thick-set youth of sixteen years, smart, energetic, ever ready to buckle down to work, and with a seeming desire to get as much enjoyment out of life as possible, yet never neglecting his duties in the pursuit of pleasure. He has lately been appointed sub-treasurer of the Institute, and it is hardly necessary to say keeps his books methodically and looks well after subscriptions etc.”His other interests other than mentioned in my original paper, included chess playing, medical benefit fund official, a leading light in the St Peters flower shows, and as a memberof something called the St Peters Parliament, which appears to have been a debating society modelled on mock-Parliamentary lines.

This email was followed the next day by the magnificent photograph of Ted Othams, his wife, Fanny Othams (nee Cairns) and 2 of their daughters, Mabel and Eileen (Figure 3).

My thanks to Bill for his fine documentation.