Sometimes the most fascinating stories are revealed by delving behind an image. And so it is for a magnificent collection of century-old postcards which I had the privilege to research. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.
Alison is a follower of History Out There. She reached out and allowed me to study her collection of one hundred and eighty-five postcards. All of them are more than one hundred years old and mostly from between 1904 and 1913.
They were originally the collection of girl called Dot Martin from Fortitude Valley in Brisbane. That’s where Dot worked at the Foye & Gibson department store and to where most of the postcards were addressed. Dot’s personal history remains somewhat a mystery, however the more of her cards that I read, the more remarkable history that I discovered.
Many of the cards bear postage stamps from when Queensland issued its own stamps, and some even have the famous red kangaroo which is Australia’s very first postage stamp issued in 1913.
Most of the postcards are photographs of the stars of stage and screen from back in the days of silent films.
They include the likes of Gabrielle Ray. She was one of the most beautiful actresses on the London stage and became one of the most photographed women in the world.
There’s also Marie Studholme. She was an English actress and singer, and her attractive looks also made her one of the most popular postcard beauties of her time.
You might remember Billie Burke. She was the American actress who is remembered today as Glinda the Good Witch of the North in the The Wizard of Oz.
There is the English actress and singer Gertie Millar who in real life famously became the Countess of Dudley.
There’s also the Australian actress Carrie Moore who was famous on both the Australian and British stage, and in 1912 she toured regional towns including Ipswich in Queensland, where she appeared in a musical comedy at the Ipswich Town Hall.
Dot’s brother Larry Martin worked at a theatre and gave her promotional cards of some of his favourite actors at the time.
These included Tim McCoy who starred in B-grade Westerns and was even on the front of a Wheaties cereal box.
And of course there was Buck Jones who was one of the top cowboy actors of the silent film era.
Amongst my favourite postcards though are souvenirs of the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. (Pictured at the top of the page.)
And there’s a postcard from Dot’s brother Larry in 1917. It was written from France during the First World War. Larry was serving in Australia’s 41st Infantry Battalion and was later gassed just weeks before the end of the war. What’s great about this postcard is the illustration on the front – it’s of a British soldier wearing full kit and a gas mask. It is simply a beautiful example of Georgian cartoon art, and it eerily proved to be an accurate predictor of what would happen to Larry himself.
The postcards also provide a glimpse into Dot’s personal life. A young shop assistant called Alf Recourt must have had romantic designs on Dot. He eagerly sent fourteen postcards to Dot in just six years. However, there are other postcards that are adorned by love and kisses. They are from a rival shop assistant Patrick Conway which suggest that he was the front runner for her devotion.
Dot’s postcards are also a gateway to the fascinating stories of others in her family.
Dot’s uncle was Reg Hillcoat. He was owner of the champion Queensland mare Molly’s Robe. Molly’s Robe was one of the finest sprinters in the country, with wins including the 1919 V.R.C. Newmarket Handicap at Flemington in Melbourne. That’s still Australia’s premier sprint race for which the prize money today is $1.5 million. Molly’s Robe held the Australasian record over eleven furlongs, and just a couple of years ago was inducted into Queensland Racing’s Hall of Fame.
Dot’s cousin was Walter Snelling Junior. He was the world champion auctioneer who had a number of saleyards including in Ipswich at One Mile. He once sold on his own, and in one day, over seven thousand head of cattle in just four-and-a-half hours to claim the world record.
Walter’s father was Colonel Walter Snelling. He was a founder of the Queensland Defence Forces, and commanded the first-ever mass gathering of the Queensland military which was in 1877 at the Ipswich Showgrounds. For twenty years he owned the historic home ‘Dovercourt’ in Brisbane. That’s the house about which I wrote my book ‘Dovercourt’ that was published last year.
And Dot herself, in 1914 she married her postcard beau Patrick Conway. That’s when her postcard collecting sadly ceased. The marriage was commemorated by a silver plaque on a handsome hallstand that was presented by Patrick’s employer. Patrick rose from being the office boy to ultimately a director of the company. The hallstand today is on display at the Royal Historical Society of Queensland’s home in the historic Commissariat Store in Brisbane.
Thank you so much to Alison for sharing those sensational postcards, which in turn revealed remarkable history and a postcard love story.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD LIVE ON RADIO.
Historic postcards in the Dot Martin collection – Harold Peacock 2022
Foy and Gibson Valley 1935 – Lost Brisbane
Stage and film stars in the Dot Martin collection – Harold Peacock 2022
Molly’s Robe, Queensland Racing’s Hall of Fame – Thoroughbred Racing History Association
Conway hallstand plaque, Royal Historical Society of Queensland – Alison Muirhead 2022