Royal Reels: Gambling


This mourning cover postmarked Croydon/ 14 AP 08 10 30 AM/ N.S.W. on the blue-green ½d (Scott #109) and the blue 2d (Scott #111) stamps and was addressed to F. Humphrey Woolrych Esqre/ Artist/ 3855 Hartford St./ St. Louis Mo/ U.S.A. (Figure 1)

The reverse was postmarked with a SYDNEY NSW/ AP 14 2-PM/ 1908 roller cancel (Figure 2).

The cover had a somewhat unusual, but helpful, feature in that the addressee was identified as an artist. Francis Humphrey Woolrych was born to English parents in Sydney, Australia in either 1864 or 1868 and died in St. Louis, Missouri in 1941. He met and married his wife, Bertha Hewitt Woolrych (originally from Missouri) in 1887, who was also an artist studying fine arts in Paris. Francis Woolrych’s specialty was nudes, landscapes and portraits. He has a mural, named the “Wealth of the North” in the dome in the capital building in Jefferson City, Missouri. He was noted in the 1904 Artists “Who’s Who in America”.

His obituary dated November 18, 1941 stated that F. Humphrey W. Woolrych, 78, a widely-known St. Louis artist, died yesterday at Missouri Baptist Hospital after an illness of several weeks. Broadly represented by landscapes, portraits, and murals, he maintained a studio for many years at 3529 Franklin Avenue, once the center of art in St. Louis. He left Sydney and went to Europe for study in the 80’s. He studied at the Royal Academy of Berlin and later at the Beaux Arts in Paris.

Following his years of study abroad, he came to St. Louis where he made his home. Among his better-known works are a panoramic view of St. Louis Catholic institutions visited by Pope Pius XII, then Cardinal Pacelli, which hangs in the Vatican at Rome; “The Ascension” which hangs in the Delmar Baptist Church; a portrait of John Hancock, which hangs in the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company offices in St. Louis; and a landscape in the White House, Washington D.C.

Although his date of death is assured as November 18, 1941, there is no certainty of his date of birth, variously given as 1864, or 1868. His honors included a bronze medal in Portland Oregon in 1905 for watercolors, and a medal for an oil portrait and another for watercolors in 1913. His wife pre-deceased him in 1937 and he was survived by their 2 sons, F. Humphrey W. Woolrych Jr. who still lived at the 1908 cover’s address in St. Louis, and Edmund Hugh Woolrych of Sheffield, Alaska.

No information is available for whom the mourning cover was sent, as their two sons (mentioned above) were the only known children, and the most likely candidate may have been a relative of his wife Bertha. The only information concerning Humphrey’s Australian origins and English roots was found in a death notice, as follows: “Woolrych, Francis Benson William; C.E. died at “Verner” Grosvenor Street, Croydon 16 July 1907 age 81, second son of late Humphrey William Woolrych, serjeant of law of Croxley House Herts, England.

Two examples of Humphrey’s paintings are shown, one a colorful landscape, the other a discrete nude (Figures 3 & 4).

Addendum (July 2009):  This censored and taxed cover from Sydney during WWI to the artist at the original  address had only a single red 1d KGV head stamp, and it had a handstamp U.S. CHARGE/ TO COLLECT/ 6 CENTS, as well as a handstamp in a ‘shield’  N.S.W./T/ 30, with a triple of the red 2 cents U.S. postage due stamps.  The sender almost certainly was the same person as before and should have known that a one penny stamp was inadequate (Figure 5).