Royal Reels: Gambling


This cover was listed on Ebay as a NSW 1844 MILITARY FREE entire addressed “Sydney-September Twenty Six, Captain R.H. Bunbury R.N., William’s Town, Melbourne”. It has a faint circular red “FREE, SE 26/ 1844 postmark with no evidence of a Crown. In the lower left hand corner is a 2-line notation in the same hand: ( ? ), W: G: Australia (Figure 1).

The reverse shows a black unframed oval MELBOURNE/ CROWN/ OC * 17/ 1844/ PORT PHILLIP cancel plus a black wax seal (Figure 2).

There are several unresolved problems in the cover, not least being the 21 days for the cover to travel from Sydney to Melbourne; the validity of it being a free military cover for Richard Bunbary, and, the notation in the lower left hand corner which might suggest the route of travel, but the route is not certain.
The circular FREE cancellation does not conform to those listed in White’s The Postal History of New South Wales 1788-1901. The most likely mark would have been Type F6 (pages 187-8) for the dates of use are correct (6.3.1844-11.11.1845) and it is the only type in which the year is underlined (as in the cover), but it should have a CROWN on top, and there is no evidence of the crown, for the crown’s base would have indented the top of the frame’s circle( Figure 3).

Only one Australian website gave information about Captain Bunbury (the town of Bunbury, Western Australia was not named after him, but was named after Lt. Henry William St. Pierre Bunbury). Captain Richard Hanmer Bunbury was the youngest son of Lt. General Sir Henry Bunbury (1778-1860, 7th Baronet, author of works on military history). Richard served in the Royal navy and in 1838 he married Sarah Susanna Sconce, the daughter of Robert C. Sconce, Chief Commissary of the Navy at Malta.

Richard Bunbury and his wife, together with her brother Robert K. Sconce (later Anglican Minister of St. Andrews, Sydney) and Robert’s wife, emigrated to Port Phillip on the ‘Argyle’, arriving in March 1841. Bunbury was appointed a Magistrate in 1841, Superintendent of Water Police at Williamstown in 1842 and Harbour Master at Williamstown in 1844. He returned to England in 1857, the year he died and his wife Sarah died in 1872. When I emailed the seller of the cover to ask who wrote the contained letter, he stated that it was signed simply by the initials, R.K.S. (Robert K. Sconce, the above-named brother-in-law).

A vast correspondence exists from Richard to and from members of his family, particularly his father, his step-mother (Lady Bunbury) and to his father-in-law (Robert C. Sconce). Notable non-family correspondents included Benjamin Boyd, a financial entrepreneur; William Grant Broughton, the first Anglican Bishop in Australia; Sir William Thomas Denison, Governor of Tasmania and New South Wales; Sir Charles Augustus Fitzroy, Governor of New South Wales; Sir George Gipps, Governor of New South Wales; Charles Joseph La Trobe, Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria; and, Charles Perry, first Anglican Bishop of Melbourne.

With so much of Bunbury’s correspondence held at the National Library of Australia, there are important themes concerning the development particularly of New South Wales and Victoria in regards to church and education; gold discoveries; increase in population; financial matters and bank closures; exploration, property and land regulations; bush rangers and crime; as well as conflict with the aboriginals. There is a lesser accumulation of letters from Sarah Susanna Bunbury particularly to her family, and there are examples of her watercolour paintings of their house in Brunswick Street in Newtown (now Fitzroy) produced in June 1841 (Figure 4).

He was obviously a man of some substance, and his early demise at 44, prevented him from doing more for the early colony of Victoria or for his homeland, England.

Categories: Armed Forces