This unclaimed cover was franked with the 6d blue ‘Laureate’ of Victoria and was postmarked by the duplex MELBOURNE/ 3A/ AU 27/ 66. It was finally sent to England after reception at two cities in India, but the addressee’s name and the original address in India is no longer legible, for most of the front is a mass of readdresses which have been hatched out. There are however on the front certain definite postal markings and manuscript additions. There are two English town postmarks, FOLKSTONE / FE ( )/ 67 and B/ DEAL/ FE 20/ 67, both almost 6 months after the letter was posted from Melbourne.
There is an oval tax mark MORE TO PAY, but the amount taxed is not legible, and a most important manuscript under Folkstone that significantly reads ‘Dead’ and not ‘Deal’. This is confirmed by a manuscript ‘Deceased’ above the Folkstone postmark. Additional legible manuscripts are ‘To be forwarded to him ( )’ in the lower left corner, as well as a vertically written ‘Depot Shorncliffe’/ England along the left edge of the cover. (Figure 1)
The reverse is a kaleidoscope of colours and different markings with the first city postmark being a circular 6.X/ CALCUTTA/ G P O/ SE 26/ 1866, which is confirmed by a large CALCUTTA/ (SHIP?) LETTER/ SEP 25, plus an additional rectangular boxed Calcutta, without a discernible date. There is definite evidence that the cover was in limbo in India whilst the postal department was searching for the addressee, for the next Indian postmark is 12 days later with a double circle MADRAS/ OC 8/ 1866, and there is now a further hiatus of more than 4 months, until the cover reaches England in February 1867.
The remainder of the legible postmarks are all in England, with two red London postmarks, the first being a definite LONDON E.C./ FE 16/ 67 with another that is LONDON/ FE 19/ (67), plus a third black circular ( )/ FE 21 or 24/ 67/ LONDON. There are three additional English town postmarks dated prior to the last London postmark, SANDGATE/ FE 18/ 67, FOLKESTONE/ FE ( )/ 67 and DEAL/ FE 19/ 67. There are some 5 more postmarks which to date have not been deciphered, and none of them appear to be related to an English Dead Letter Office, nor to a return to Melbourne. (Figure 2)
If one combines the non-London English postmarks on the front and reverse, a logical conclusion is that the letter after arrival in London was sent to Deal, Folkestone and Sandgate, for a few days, before the letter was returned to London. The manuscript Depot Shorncliffe, England and the postmarks of Calcutta and Madras suggest that the addressee may have been an military man, who had served in India and the letter was readdressed to Shorncliffe, a suburb of Folkestone and the site of Shorncliffe Camp and military cemetery, which has a strong association with Ghurkas and other Empire soldiers. The relevant map of the coast of Kent with the site of Sandgate (black arrow), Folkestone and Deal (red arrows) shows the proximity of these towns. (Figure 3)
This may all sound somewhat fanciful in view of the failure to find the addressee as well as to identify some 5 of the postmarks on the reverse, but this paper has made a much better attempt to investigate this cover than its vendor, whose description was “unclaimed cover…..(sent) to England with approx 20 cachets or cds, inc “More to Pay” in blue….multiple changes of addresses & endorsed on front “Deceased” & “Dead”. Some flts, still a most enigmatic cover”, with not a word about its passage to India.
Addendum: Further examination of the front of the cover validates the military connection, for in what appears to be the original address, the term “C/o 3rd Regiment” is definitely found.