Royal Reels: Gambling


A large number of covers have been seen at stamp auction sites addressed to Westwood Forth, Ulverstone Forth, or Ulverstone either to Lieutenant, Captain or Major R.E. Smith over the past 3 years, but none compare with the present one sent by Captain R.E. Smith to his mother. The cover has a blue garland of ribbons and leaves, surrounding a monogram of EPH, with the words Excelsior Palace Hotel, A. Percy Trewhella Proprietor, Palerme (Palermo), a manuscript ‘On Active Service/ with A.I.F. From/ Capt. R.E. Smith’ and the blue Italian stamp, is postmarked 24. 12. 15. It has a PASSED (by censor) hand stamp and it is addressed to Mrs. James Smith (Westwood Forth, crossed out), Main St. Ulverstone, Tasmania, Australia.. The vendor does not mention any markings on the reverse, but states it enclosed a long interesting letter from the officer wounded at Gallipoli and mentions the withdrawal of the troups from Suvla Ba , on the Aegean coastline of the Gallipoli peninsula in European Turkey (Figure 1).

This prestigious hotel is still in Sicily, Italy to-day, and is described as follows in its website: One of the best and ancient hotels in Palermo to-day. This impressive hotel is a fine restored 19 th century Palazzo and an outstanding example of the Art Nouveau style of its era. It gives the impression to bring back to life the 1891 International Exhibition of Palermo, the event during which the hotel was built along the most elegant street of the city centre (at Via Marchese Ugo 3 Palermo) (Figure 2).

Ronald Edgar Smith was born in Ulverstone the fifth child of James “Philosopher” Smith and Mary Jane (née Pleas) Love on 25 July 1881, the second son of their six children, 3 sons and 3 daughters, all born from 1875 until 1884. Ronald married Selina Kathleen and they had 2 children, a daughter Edith Margaret and a son Ronald Albert Heath. In his application to join the A.I.F. on 16.5.15, he gave the following information: Education: Taught at home (by a governess and his father), except for 6 months at Ulverstone school. Army experience: Had previous experience from 1901 to March 1915 as 2nd Lieut & finally Captain. His present civil occupation was given as a farmer. D.O.B. 25 July 1881, present age 33 years 9 months. Present address: Westwood, Forth. Next of kin wife Selina Kathleen (Curruthers) Smith. Height: 5 ft 10½ in. Weight: 140 lbs.

I have reviewed 66 pages of his World War One record which at times is very contradictory in regards to events, and what follows is the best approximation: Prior to his enlistment in the A.I.F. 26th Battalian as Lieut. on 5.15.15 he had been Captain of the 91st infantry (Tasmanian Rangers).and he was made Captain. On 16.5.15. Embarked 20.6.15 for active service overseas; 4.9.15 proceeded to join M.E.F. Gallipoli Peninsula; 29.11.15 shrapnel wound to left shoulder (not serious), transferred from Malta Naval Hospital to Hospital Ship, Sicily on 23.12.15 , 23.7.16 to Alexandria, Egypt o/a gunshot wound to shoulder, 12.4.16 invalided to Australia on Karoola for 3 months change with Dx Neurasthenia and general debility, 12.5.16 arrived Australia, 12.6.16 in camp for light duty;

30.9.16 re-embarked Melbourne; 12.12.16 proceded overseas to France; 13.1.17 entered 3rd London Gen. Hosp. Dx Pneumonia; 22.2.17 Discharged from Cobham Hall; 10.15.17 readm to Cobham Hall Convalescent; 3.7.17 embarked for Australia for discharge on acct. T.B.; 27.8.17 disembarked from Melb. to Hobart, but his wife died ca. 2 months previously in June 1917; appointment in A.I.F. terminated in Hobart 29.9.17 and the next day both children were given a pension.

Biographical data are sparse on Ronald Smith, but his funeral was well publicized in 2 Tasmanian newspapers, The Advocate and The Examiner on 2 June 1969 at the age of 87, dying suddenly at Latrobe, Tasmania. He was a noted Tasmanian historian and on his return to Australia from World War One he was always called ‘Major’, although I never saw confirmation of this rank. He was pre-deceased by his wife, Selina Kathleen, but survived by 2 sons, Ronald of Devonport and Charles of Launceston. He was buried at Latrobe General Cemetery.

He was described as a great collector of historical letters, magazines and manuscripts. After the war he took up a farm at Clayton Rivulet, near Ulverstone, but his old war wounds forced him to retire. He divided his time between Cradle Mountain where he held about 450 acres, and sorting and indexing his father’s (James “Philosopher” Smith) records. There is no mention of his daughter who lived in Melbourne (and may have predeceased him). There are inaccuracies in the accounts of his war service described in the obituaries, but I prefer to not go into these events.

His father is described in two papers James (Philosopher”) Smith [1827-97] Mourning Cover; and Samuel Henry M.H.A. to James “(Philosopher”) Smith, at my website.

I am indebted to Margaret Harman, Librarian Department of Education, State Library of Tasmania for these paper cuttings.

Addendum (April 2008):  This paper has been published at the Philatelic Database website:

Addendum (August 2010):  Two more covers one addressed to Ronald Edgar, and the other to his schoolboy son, Ronald Alfred Heath Smith, and these are shown as Figures 3 & 4.

Thus there are 3 generations of this Smith Family – James “Philosopher” Smith, Ronald Edgar and his son Ronald Alfred Heath Smith represented at this website.