Royal Reels: Gambling


This evocative advertising cover had four colourful oval adverts for different McCracken ales and stout and the cover had the required postage of 2½d made up of two one penny and one green ½d stamps of Victoria cancelled with two copies of the double circle MELBOURNE/ AM/ 430/ 18 2 03/ 4 with the thick side-bars. It was addressed to London, England (Figure 1).

The reverse continued the advert theme of the breweries products in four colourful circles and there was an incomplete London arrival postmark in March 1903 (Figure 2).

Alexander McCracken was born on 7 May 1856 in Melbourne the second son of Robert McCracken and his wife Margaret. Alexander was educated at Scotch College, Melbourne and then joined his father’s brewery of R. McCracken & Co., becoming a junior partner in 1884. In 1888 he became managing director after the firm was acquired by financier B.J. Fink, but the firm lost heavily in 1892 when Fink was declared bankrupt. In June 1896 Alexander went to London to negotiate concessions on interests payments with debenture holders. The Company was saved from liquidation, but trading did not improve and in May 1907 McCracken and five other brewery firms were merged into Carlton & United Breweries Ltd. McCracken was made a director.

McCracken’s City Brewery never ceased to project a large and popular image, but the shareholders suffered. McCracken had a reputation for genial management and honest dealing. He became a powerful figure in the brewing industry, and its favourite spokesman. In addition to holding several positions in several brewery organizations, he also was president of the Royal Agricultural Society in 1909-15 and a director of the Victoria Insurance Co. He was a good speaker and an easy mixer, a man made for the public appearance. He was heavily involved in all things sporting for his passion was for team games. He was involved in football, rowing , local cricket, tennis, golf, bowling, athletics, baseball, cycling, rifle-shooting and lacrosse. All of these sports were indebted to his generous patronage and for trophies bearing his name.

He was also president of the Essendon Poultry, Dog, Pigeon and Canary Society, the Essendon Town Fire Brigade and the Essendon Literary and Debating Society. He raced a number of horses with modest success, winning the Caulfield Grand National Steeplechase in 1893. In 1894 he stood against Alfred Deakin (the future Australia’s 2nd, 5th and 7th Prime Minister) for the Legislative Assembly seat of Essendon and Flemington and was soundly beaten, never attempting to enter politics again.

He died of cirrhosis of the liver at his home in Essendon on 25 August 1915, was buried in Melbourne and left an estate probated at £175,358. The main beneficiaries were his wife Mary Elizabeth, whom he had married in 1894, and their two sons and three daughters.

I acknowledge that  McCracken’s entry in the on-line Australian Dictionary of Biography provided the data for this paper.

Addendum:  Furher advertising for the McCracken Brewery is seen in Figures 3 & 4.

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