Royal Reels: Gambling


The first item is a blue entire franked with a single and a pair of a blue ‘TWO PENCE QV’ stamp of Queensland with an indistinct postmarking, but it was mailed in September 61. At the top there are 2 unframed postmarks, one of a transit BRISBANE/SP 14/ 1861/ QUEENSLAND, the other an indistinct originating postmark of Rockhampton, probably of the same date. It is addressed to Henry T. Fox Esqre, 25 Lower Fort Street, Sydney and there is a framed arrival postmark D/ SYDNEY/ SP 20/ 61. Along the R.H. border there is a 6-line black ink manuscript with a notation that this letter was in answer to a previously received letter. There was a heading to this notation of ‘C.P. Woolley’ which may be of relevance (Figs. 1 & 2).

The second item is a cover addressed to Captn H.T. Fox, Evendale, Burwood, Sydney and the pair of the red ‘ONE PENNY QV ‘stamps of New South Wales were cancelled with an illegible postmark. The 2 pencilled manuscripts are considered to be of little import (Figure 3).

The reverse has an originating postmark of KATOOMBA/ AP 8/ 1885, a TRAVELLING P. O. N1 WEST A/ AP 8/ 85/ N.S.W., as well as a transit GRANVILLE/ AP 9/ 1885/ N.S.W. postmark (Figure 4).

Captain Henry Thomas Fox, a master mariner, marine surveyor and insurance agent, was born on 31 May 1819 at Shaldon, Devonshire, England, son of William Fox, master mariner, and his wife Mary, née Langdon or Thomas. Educated at Rendell’s School, Bovey-Tracey, near Exeter, he boarded his first ship, Oporto Packet, in April 1832. On 25 December 1840 he reached Launceston, Van Diemen’s Land, as chief mate of the Union. His first command was the Blossom out of Port Phillip in March 1841. On 7 May he reached Sydney in the Shamrock. In 1842-50 he was master of various coastal and Pacific ships based in Sydney, including the Emma and the Phantom owned by Thomas Woolley. On 16 April 1846 at Christ Church, Sydney, Fox married Isobel Pilmor Williamson of Launceston, the sister of Woolley’s wife. In 1848 he was alleged to have withheld news of the Californian gold strike from a Sydney Morning Herald reporter.

Intending to go to England, Fox sailed with his wife and daughter in the Mary Catherine to San Francisco in March 1851. He found it an ‘accursed place’, most of his crew deserted and after news of gold discoveries in New South Wales he returned to Sydney in November. From February to April 1852 he was at the Major’s Creek goldfield near Braidwood but found it a ‘vile hole’. In June he bought the Emma and sailed her on the Geelong run. On 17 July 1853 he arrived in Sydney as pilot of the American New Orleans, thus concluding his last voyage.

Fox began life ashore as a marine surveyor. From July 1854 he was a member of the Chamber of Commerce and next year was on its committee to have a lighthouse erected on King Island. In 1855 he was praised by the Empire for his lecture on the ‘History of the Navigation on the Southern Coasts of Australia’. He wrote letters to the Sydney Morning Herald and in 1856 to the Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle on the need to correct discrepancies in charts. In October he was active in moves to establish a nautical school.

In March 1859 he was appointed to the Pilot Board, but the government ignored its advice on the Jervis Bay lighthouse and the use of the Sea Witch as a pilot ship. The board declined to fit out the ship and in March 1862 Fox, with Benjamin Darley and Charles Smith, was dismissed. They petitioned the Legislative Assembly for a select committee and were exonerated. On 9 September 1857 Fox had become secretary and surveyor to the Australian General Assurance Co. on condition he ceased his own surveys. From 1865 he was manager of the company, and he was also auditor of the City Bank. In 1861 he was appointed to the Steam Navigation Board and in 1875, with Henry Parkes’ support, to the Marine Board.

A devout Anglican and a Freemason, Fox had enjoyed taking Bishop Selwyn to New Zealand in 1850. Fond of cricket, concerts and the theatre, he was described in the Empire as ‘that attractive combination—the sailor, the man of science and the gentleman’.

When living in Sydney he regularly attended the ‘Garrison’ Church, which is situated in the historic Rocks area of Sydney at Lower Fort Street.. This fact gives credence that this biography is about the ADB’s Henry Thomas Fox. Julie Short, Librarian at the State Library of N..S.W., also confirmed that she found no other Henry Fox in the Alphabetical Directory of the Sands Directory. Henry Thomas Fox lived in the same street at 25 Fort Street. The church is still standing at the original site, but is now called the Holy Trinity Church, and it is seen in Figure 5.

There is a website which refers to a possibly related Woolley and Fox ancestry and this letter may have been sent by a Woolley ancestor of Henry Thomas Fox. H.T. Fox married Isabel Pilmor Williamson and she was a sister of a Thomas Woolley’s wife.

On 29 April 1891 Fox died at his home, Evandale, Burwood, from chronic bronchitis and was buried in the Newtown cemetery, Sydney. He was survived by five daughters and his son Harold, who became a notable tennis player and represented New South Wales against Victoria in 1886-1902.

I have seen at least 20 covers sold by a single Ebay vendor addressed to the Edward Pierson Ramsay family as well the cover (Figure 3) addressed to Captain Henry Thomas Fox. In the Australian Dictionary of Biography’s account of Edward P. Ramsay it was reported that Henry T. Fox was Edward’s father-in-law, for Edward Ramsay had married one of Captain H.T. Fox’s four daughters, Ellen Eliza, at Burwood, N.S.W. on 7 November 1876.

I acknowledge that this paper relies heavily on the account of Captain Henry Thomas Fox in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

I would be delighted to receive any information that would confirm or deny my conjectured family relationship of Henry T. Fox and Edward P. Ramsay. 

Categories: Postmarks, Science