An ordinary first day cover can tell quite a story with humble beginnings in rural N.S.W. and exotic endings in Central America. The cover celebrates Baron Sir Ferdinand Jakob Heinrich von Mueller (1825-1896) born in Germany of Danish origin and died in Melbourne. The cover has 2 copies of the red 2½d von Mueller stamp postmarked CAPTAIN’S FLAT/ 13 SP 48/ N.S.W and it is addressed to Mr. James Wood, Box 124, Cartago, Costa Rica, Central America (Figure 1).
Von Muller was the first Government Botanist of Victoria and held the post for 43 years until his death. He also was the director of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens and was the naturalist to the North Australian Exploring Expedition in the Northern Territory where he found nearly 800 species of plants new to Australia. He was the inaugural President of the Royal Society of Victoria in 1860. He had arrived in Adelaide in December of 1847 at the age of 22 with 2 sisters (both parents were deceased) and he found employment initially as a chemist. He moved to Melbourne in 1852 where he was appointed Government Botanist.
His multiple explorations with findings of unknown plants in Victoria and Western Australia, his numerous botanical publications, his election to scientific societies around the world (including election as a Fellow of the Royal Society of London at the early age of 36, with later award of its gold medal), his name being given to mountains, rivers and other geographical features in Australia, New Zealand, Antartica, and South America), his knighthood (C.M.G. 1869, and K.C.M.G. 1879), his earned PhD, his honorary MD from a German University and hereditary baronetcy from the King of Wurtemburg, all spoke well of his remarkably productive career. He was a great man and a great botanist, with an unrivalled capacity for sustained work. My favorite depiction of von Mueller is on another F.D.C. sent to Barbados (Figure 2).
Captain’s Flat is nestled in a valley with the hills around scoured of trees by constant mining. Gold was found in the area as early as 1852, but the news was kept quiet until 1874. In 1882 copper was found and by the late 1890’s the town was booming with a population of 3,000. By 1899, the mines were closing down and by the 1930’s the population had dwindled to 150. There was a second flush of mining of zinc, gold, silver, lead, copper and pyrites in the late 1930’s, second only to the mines of Broken Hill, but the town returned to its sleepy hollow by 1962. The town is situated 343 km southwest of Sydney, and 60 km southeast of Canberra (Figure 3).
Christopher Columbus landed in Costa Rica in 1502 in an area inhabited by a number of small, independent Indian tribes. It took almost 60 years for the Spanish to establish a permanent settlement. On account of its lack of mineral wealth the colony grew slowly. Coffee exports and the construction of a rail line improved its economy in the19th century. Independence from Spain was won in 1821. San José is the capitol of the Republic of Costa Rica, and Cartago is the capital of the Cartago province, the city having an elevation of 1435 metres, and it had an estimated population of 141,524 in 2003. The total population of the Costa Rica was estimated as 3, 956,507 in July 2004. The city has been prone to severe earthquakes and volcano damage. A map of Costa Rica (Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south), the capital San José and Cartago are shown in Figure 4. Captain’s Flat and Cartago are world’s apart in several meanings of the phrase.