Royal Reels: Gambling


This mourning cover was of a fairly common design for use in colonial Australia, being small in size (12 x 6.5 cms) and the design of the black border on the front and the black cross on the reverse. It was addressed to James Harrison Esq, Squatters Exchange, George Street, Sydney, and the red-brown 3d QV sideface stamp of Tasmania has been canceled by a HOBART TOWN/ 2 L/ FE 2/ 72 duplex TASMANIA postmark. There was a manuscript: pr. “City of Hobart”notation (Figure 1).

The reverse had a reception SYDNEY/ A/ FE 5/ 1872/ P/ N.S.W which shows considerable ware, for the circle frame was missing on the upper half of the postmark, and intermittently seen on the lower half. This was due to the fact that the ‘SYDNEY/ A’ postmark was considered the ‘main’ one and rapidly wore out (Figure 2).

I am very doubtful that I have identified the correct James Harrison, although it would be very appealing that this might be the Scottish born James Harrison (1816-1893), well regarded Geelong journalist (founder/ editor/ one-time owner of the weekly Geelong Advertiser), Member of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria, and best known as an inventor of all kinds of refrigeration. He did have a short relationship with Sydney when he was a co-founder of the Sydney Ice Co., but his involvement did not last to the date of this cover.

The 1872 Sands NSW Sydney Directory lists the property known as the 3-storey Squatters’ Exchange where Brewster and Strebeck, a Stock and Station Agents Company, was located. Other occupants of the building were Montefiore & Montefiore, merchants; Stephen & Stephen, solicitors; Henry Milford, solicitor; James Wallach, wool merchant; and, John Watkins, storekeeper. The actual address at that time was 267 George Street, corner of Margaret Street. In the 1890s, a renumbering of the properties along George Street took place, the corner structure was given the number of 273 George Street which is still the number to-day. In 1928, a new building, the 5-storey Commercial Bank , was constructed on the site, and the original structure was demolished. The building was demolished in 1975 to give way to a multi-storey office building, currently known as Westpac Plaza. The high rise building occupies almost the entire block from Margaret Street to Jamieson Street.

The site in 1872 was ideal for commerce on a main street such as George Street, in close proximity to shipping at Circular Quay. Another listing in the Sands Directory of the same time period listed the original building as Brewster and Trebeck, stock and station agents, Squatters’ Exchange, and gave listings of nine mining (seven gold and two tin), companies as well as a J.S. Harrison (with no company designation). He may well have been the recipient of the mourning cover.

A remarkable piece of serendipity was the finding of a lively sketch of a water colour by Samuel Thomas Gill c. 1861 of a band playing outside the Squatters Exchange. The reason he painted this site is that he painted on the floor above Mader’s Stationery shop (shown on ground floor, second shop window from left of the white Squatters Exchange). This sketch was shown at a website describing a now rare musical instrument the ophicleide (‘keyed serpent’), part of the family of keyed bugles, which was being played by the musician, fifth from the right (Figure 3).

Categories: Mourning Covers, Places