Postal history is officially the description of the postal rates and routes of mail. This is often a challenging and always rewarding study, but there is nothing more exciting to the collector of postal history than finding wonderful contents. That is the case with this extraordinary cover sent in 1850 from New South Wales to the United States.
I was attracted to the Figure 1 cover because it is the first cover to the United States from Australia bearing a stamp. To this collector of adhesive stamped transatlantic classic material to and from the U.S., this was a wonderful acquisition. Discovering the contents made it a treasure. I believe upon reading, you will agree.
Figure 1. This is the earliest known use of adhesive stamps on a cover from New South Wales to the U.S.
5d paid: 2d domestic postage and 3d ship letter rate Patterson date from contents, Sydney 3 June red PAID SHIP LETTER ds, 79c due from recipient: London 10 Oct. des cds verso, New York 23 Oct. red cds verso,
64c unpaid from British colony, 10 ship letter fee, Tapleyville 25 Oct. red cds, forwarded to Roxbury
5c domestic postage Patterson, New South Wales – Sydney – London – New York – Tapleyville, MA – Roxbury May 26, 1850
There is much to say about this cover, beginning with the stamps. The cover is franked with a 2-pence blue and 3-pence green from the colony of New South Wales.
The design of these stamps, called Sydney Views, recreates the seal of the colony. Within the circular frame, there is the image of three immigrants arriving at the port of Sydney.
The stamps were first issued January 1, 1850, in a 1-pence value and were soon followed by 2- and 3-pence values. The design was used for only two years and the same plates were re-engraved several times with a different engraver for each value, according to a detailed article first penned by L.N. Williams and republished by auctioneer David Feldman.
Because of the obliterations and general wear it may be impossible to tell which varieties the stamps on this cover are, though perhaps the 3-pence green is a color variety of the fourth reprinting of the stamp (design A8 in Scott).
The following is a quote from the Feldman article which further explains the stamps: “The philatelic complexity of the Sydney Views, their colours and the papers on which they were printed, may be judged from the fact that the three values of stamps, which were in use for only some two years, occupy no less than 43 major numbers in Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue.”
The markings and letter give us the basics of the cover’s journey. The letter is dated Sunday, May 26, 1850 in Gresford. It was posted June 3, 1850, from Patterson, New South Wales with a destination of Massachusetts, and is the earliest known usage of adhesive stamps on cover from Australia to the United States.
The lettersheet traveled via London to the U.S. and landed on October 23, 1850, in New York City, where it was sent to its original destination of Tapleyville, Massachusetts. The cover was then forwarded to Roxbury in the same state.
The 5 pence postage on the cover paid the 2-pence domestic postage and 3-pence ship letter fee, but 79 cents — 64 cents for unpaid letter from a British colony, including 10-cent ship letter fee and 5 cents due U.S. for inland postage — was due by the recipient.
In 1850 there was no packet services running between Sydney and Great Britain. This letter, without doubt, went by private ship so the route from Sydney to London can't be determined. The ship could have gone via the Cape of Good Hope or around Cape Horn, in either case taking five months to reach the destination.
The auction description made a barely memorable mention of contents. When the cover was received and inspected, the excitement of discovering the treasure trove of this firsthand historical account was thrilling. Anyone with historical interest, in any field, who has uncovered something of value to that field has experienced this elation.
The content is a long and sprawling letter, written on all possible space provided by one sheet of paper measuring 16 inches by 13 inches, then folded, addressed and stamped. To transcribe this letter, I enlarged it in sections so I could more easily read it.
The letter has been transcribed as it was written, with absolutely no punctuation and with seemingly odd capitalizations also as written. Several words were indecipherable, so I have indicated those with question marks. The wax seal that had been affixed and then removed, created a hole in the paper and a loss of that part of the letter. However, the account is still clear, understandable and fascinating.
As the letter is too long to print here, only excerpts are shown and have been altered from my exact transcription to be more readable. I will be pleased to send the complete transcription to anyone interested. See my email address below.
Figure 2. The first page of a letter written in 1850 from a man who urges his brother in the United States to join him in the colony of New South Wales, today part of Australia. The letter tells of life conditions in the colony, particularly those involving farmers. The author will send along a copy of its transcription to those who request it.
The letter (Figure 2) is the account of a family immigrating from England in search of a new home in Australia in 1850. One brother, we do not know his name, is writing to another brother, John: the addressee of the letter, who has immigrated to Massachusetts. The two brothers, seeming close, are separated by 10,000 miles.
In an effort to convince his brother in America to join the family in Gresford, Australia, the writer recounts the family’s voyage to Sydney, their inland trip, who they encountered, information about available jobs and what these jobs paid, and then the decision to finally settle.
The letter goes on to describe among other things: the work they did, how much they made, how much tobacco they were given, children included, and even how they celebrated holidays. A particular objectionable description by the writer has not been censored. It is history and must be taken as such. It is a historically important letter for the facts which it contains but is also a touching plea from the writer to his brother, John. Readers of today are thrust back to the time and place of this family’s world in 1850s Australia.
I believe this is the first time that this letter has been published and thus made available to the public.
A Letter from New South Wales, 1850
The following are excerpts from a letter written on May 26, 1850 from an immigrant to Gresford, New South Wales to his brother in the United States. The man writes about how he and his family are taking on a new life Down Under and urges his brother to join him. (Text, with minimal capitalization and punctuation appears as it does on original letter; paragraphs have been added for ease of reading; some paraphrasing appears within parentheses; a few explanations are within brackets.) Any readers who are interested in reading the full transcript may email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will give you a statement of how I have come on(to) be landed in Sydney on Sunday morning 23 September after a voyage of 101 days all in good health having only one death and four births.
(Two townsmen came alongside our ship a short time after we landed stating to us that) all that a weaver could make on the average was about 18 shillings per week … house rent was very high a room and kitchen cost about 8 shillings a week and fuel and water more after having got that statement from them and having a wife and family besides very little cash made me resolve to come up the bush well we got an offer from the commissioners either to come up to Maitland a distance by water of where there was a depot when we would get provisions till such time as we could (get) employment so I left along with twenty families in the steam boat on the Wednesday after we landed … I engaged with a Mr. Wm. Boydell as shepherd for (six) months at the rate of £7:10 besides rations [of] 10 lb flour 10 lb beef ¼ lb tea 2 lb sugar weekly …
I left him the 29 March and engaged with one of the name of Wm. Jamie Towns to work with another man on the halves … the man ploughs the ground and Jamie drives the bullocks [cattle] while I the wife and the children does any other thing we can do on the farm … our master has to pay the rent of the ground providing us with bullocks and all our working utensils besides the half of all our seeds and 3 rations weekly that is 30 lb flour 30 lb beef 3 (gallon) tea 6 lb sugar and we receives the half of all we raise while the man receives the other half … we have about of ground we will grow about eight or nine acres tobacco and the rest in wheat and Indian corn
I have been falling trees since I came on the farm … we cut them and then draws them all together in a heap and burns them … I found it very strange at first but I would rather work out of doors than I would do at the loom my shears are all rust and I think if you had as much money beside you as would pay your passage and hold yourself for a twelve month and getting 2 or of ground which I could get for you by planting tobacco you might make as much here in one year as you have done since you went to America
I have a sow and two pigs and we get as many cows in as we like to milk I have likewise bought a fillie 2 years old and is getting it broke in … Jamie is away out riding with the man that is my mate he is single man and I forgot to say that he pays Jamie a fee for driving the bullocks besides any extra rations that we may use he pays the half … the wife washes his clothes and he pays the half of all the soap that is used in the house we need no warm clothing here the only thing that is worn is moleskin trousers striped first and a belt about your waist besides cabbage tree hat [hat made from leaves of the cabbage tree palm] it is winter here now turns a little cold when the sun sets and continues till he rises and when the sun is up it is about as warm as at home in the summer we mostly all live besides rivers here the cultivation is not a ½ of a mile off the river I live close beside one named the Allyn …
it’s rise about further up than where I am and joins along with another river named the Paterson about 20 miles further down where it is navigable … it is very mountainous in this part of the country but it is good pasture for cattle the blacks here are lazy dirty set of people they will do anything but work they go almost naked having only a bit of blanket thrown over them which they get from government once a year no person need be afraid to come to the bush as they are very harmless we had two of them stri(p)ping bark for us last week to cover our hut and all they cared for was belly full of meat and plenty tobacco if I smoked I could get a qtr of a pound weekly for my own use my mate gets that and so does a great many of the hired servants here there is not many snuffers as snuff is very dear so that if you were here you would become a smoker or like me …
you can buy colonial wine for about 3/ [shillings] the gallon. Rum 10/ per gallon brandy 18/ they hold Christmas in the country the same as they do in England I had a very happy hanselmonday Along with my present master we had plenty of beef and plum pudding and a keg of good wine we got plenty of peaches and apricots all last summer and made pies of them we bake all our own bread we have got an oven since we came it cost about 12 shillings and bakes our bread with yeast we have likewise to get a tea pot it hold as much as a tea kettle we are getting very busy our plowing is mostly all done we will sow about 8 acres present week … if we do not plant corn we can grow potatoes they generally have two crops in the year here we double to plant tobacco till about the month of October and then the strongest of the work commences but it is work that children can do a great deal of it that is by leafing it and pulling the suckers of it
I have sent two letters home since I came here giving them an accounting of the country and how I am getting on and advising William and Andrew to strive to get out. they might do well here it is a country where they will get plenty of meat and no taxes to pay
I would urge on you to come … all you have to do is to take ship for Sydney and when you arrive there you will get a steam boat to Maitland for eight shillings when you could … post a letter to me when you landed and I would come and fetch you ... it is a fine healthy country every thing is dry and warm here and a very light atmosphere my wife family and I enjoy the greatest of pleasure by coming out here
I would like to see … you to come here for I am sure that you would have a chance to do well … I must close but John write me and that soon for I am anxious to hear how you are getting on.
I am your affectionate
brother and sister
I and I Laurie
Verra, Ricky. “New South Wales – The Sydney Views,” David Feldman International Auctioneers (May 25, 2020). A selection of extracts from an article in Encyclopaedia of Rare and Famous Stamps by L.N. Williams, published in 1993 by David Feldman.
Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth Stamp Catalogue – Australia (London: Stanley Gibbons, Seventh Edition).
Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, 2019, Amos Media, Sidney, Ohio.
Carol Bommarito is honored to be an APS member, a director of the United States Philatelic Classics Society and the advertising manager, a fellow of the Royal Philatelic Society London, a member of the European Academy of Philately, the Club de Monte Carlo, the New York Collectors Club and the Collectors Club of letter (Figure 2)
For Further Learning
Recommendations from the APRL research staff:
The Postage Stamps, Envelopes, Wrappers, Post Cards and Telegraph Stamps of New South Wales by A.F. Basset Hull. (London: Royal Philatelic Society London, Publication Committee, 1915). [G8970 .H913p CLOSED STACKS 1]
The Postal History of New South Wales, 1788-1901 by John S. White, Barbara J. Hancock & B.J. Hancock. (Darlinghurst, N.S. W.: Australia Philatelic Association of New South Wales, 1988). [G8971 .P856 W585p]
The Stamps of New South Wales by Guybon John Hutson. (London: Royal Philatelic Society London, 1960). [G8970 .H981s CLOSED STACKS 1]
A History and Description of The Sydney View Stamps of New South Wales by Robert C.H. Brock. (Philadelphia MacCalla & Co., 1890). [G8971 .D313 B864h 1890 CLOSED STACKS 1]
The Sydney Views by Richard Peck & Barbara Hancock. (Sydney, N.S.W., Australia: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, 1982). [G8971 .D313 P367s 1982]