Royal Reels: Gambling


Two entires were available at auction, one addressed to the merchant Captain Joseph James and the other to his daughter Frances, one and a half years apart, during which time the Captain had died, and both were sent from the same town, Newnham, Gloucestershire in England.

The first was sent from NEWNHAM/ AP 28/ 1843 and it has a red ‘tombstone’ cancel PAID/ 29 AP29/ 1843 as well as a manuscript ‘5′ and it is addressed to Mr. (Capt) Joseph James, Launceston (which is crossed out) and corrected to George Town, Van Diemens Land (Figure 1).

The second was postmarked NEWNHAM/ DE 23/ 1844 as well as a red ‘tombstone’ cancel PAID/ 24 DE 24/ 1844 and an additional red PAID SHIP LETTER/ [crown]/ 24 DE 24/ 1844/ LONDON and it is addressed to Miss Frances James, Daughter of the late Captain Joseph James, George Town, Van Dieman’s (sic) Land (Figure 2).

Graeme Broxam in his 2-page internet summary of his monograph first introduces Joseph James as follows: “George Town – and indeed, Northern Tasmania’s – first merchant was, if surviving records and correspondence are anything to go by, a rather likeable rogue.” He was born in ca. 1786 (place, parents and education unrecorded), he served the British East India Company in his youth, and by 24 he was master and part-owner with George Thomas of the brig Daphne. They sailed from India for Cape Town before Daphne arrived at Sydney in September 1811, and James became a Sydney merchant.

Bad debts, law suits, and the fact that the Daphne could not be sold for further trading without infringing on his former employer’s trade monopolies, all conspired to upset James & Thomas’ business and, by 1819, James had shifted operations to George Town. He was joined by his de facto wife, Jane Gosling whom he married in 1828, and they had a family of four sons and seven daughters. He sought, and was granted, 700 acres at George Town in recognition of the fact that he was the first merchant to set up business there.

Matters in Van Diemen’s Land proved even less fortunate than in Sydney. He lost 2 small ships trading between Sydney-Launceston-Hobart, and there were further losses with the Government’s decision to shift the northern capital from George Town to Launceston; and, other unlucky land speculations reduced the family to near destitution. By 1829, James had slipped down the social ladder from “merchant” to “publican”. By 1831 the George Town Hotel had been lost and the family was reduced to living off their farm near George Town. He proved anything but a successful gentleman farmer. His efforts to obtain further grants from Governor Arthur fell largely on deaf ears, following reports about James’ lack of improvement on grants of land he had already received.

In 1843 soon after his return from Sydney, Joseph James died in 1844 at George Town from heart disease, at the age of 57. He left a wife and nine children almost entirely destitute and largely dependent on the earnings of the eldest surviving son William Henry who had gone to sea in a coastal trading craft and eventually rose to become master and owner of a number of reasonably sized sailing vessels in the inter-colonial timber trade. His wife Jane worked hard to get her daughters suitably married.

She had also carefully saved all the correspondence and documents of her husband’s career in the colonies, and over the next ten years she managed to obtain clear title on land effectively abandoned by her husband. By the time of her death in 1872, Jane James could rest comfortably in the knowledge that all her surviving children, including their daughter Frances, were living in far better circumstances, in Hobart, Geelong and Melbourne, than they had endured during the depression of the 1840s.

The entire shown in Figure 1 was written from Newnham by John James, Joseph James brother, and it contained money for the family and the letter’s contents are detailed in letter No. 36 in Broxham’s monograph: The James of George Town 2002. The entire shown in Figure 2 was also written from Newnham by the same John James, an uncle of Frances James, who again sent money for the family. Its contents are detailed in letter No. 41 in Broxham’s monograph. Unfortunately the monograph did not have a picture of Joseph James.

Categories: Business, Postmarks