Christmas greeting card from a soldier to his wife

On 25 October 1916, Sapper T O’Halloran 2711 sent this card from France to his wife in Castlemaine in Victoria, no doubt hoping that two months was sufficient time for military and ordinary postal systems to ensure it arrived before Christmas Day. The item is out of copyright and was a gift to the State Library of Victoria from Misses Josie and Molly O’Halloran in 1976.

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writing machines

I have had the pleasure of meeting some colourful and portable not-so-old typewriters and their owners recently.  It had me wondering about the history of these objects that replaced the pen, and became a writer’s stepping stone to computers and portable laptops.

The following item, published by Pearsons Weekly, and reprinted by the Evelyn Observer, and South East Bourke Record on 8 December 1893, outlines the history of the machine, twenty years after its appearance, in the first flush of its commercial existence.


The invention of the typewriter, like that of every other epoch-making machine, was not a matter of a few years. The production of a practical writing machine was the result of more than a century and a half of scientific experiments, culminating in the construction of a successful instrument some twenty years ago. The first attempt in this direction of which we have any record was made by an Englishman, Henry Mills, in 1714. His specification was lodged in the Patent Office in that year, but as it was unaccompanied by drawings,we have little or no knowledge of its mechanical details.

In 1784 a French machine for embossing letters upon paper for the use of the blind was invented. Between that date and 1843 there is no record of any attempt to make a typewriter. In the later year a patent was taken out by Charles Thurber, an American, who constructed a practical, though extremely cumbrous writing machine, the types of which were arranged round the under surface of a horizontal wheel, which wheel the operator [would move] until the required typo was over the printing point on the paper. He then depressed the corresponding key, and the character was thus printed.

In 1856 a Mr. A. E. Beach (afterwards one of the proprietors of ‘The Scientific  American’) patented an instrument for embossing letters on paper for the use of the blind. The appearance of this machine is noteworthy because its main principle was somewhat similar to that embodied in later writing machines. ”The typo-base was arranged round a circle, and converged to the centre when operated by means of keys. Numerous attempts in the same direction followed, but none were successful until 1867, when a typewriter was constructed by three inventors. The chief of these, Mr. C. Latham Sholes, had had his attention called to an article in The Scientific American, relative to the writing machine invented by a Mr. John Pratt, and exhibited before the Society of Arts in London. In this article it was stated that the inventor of a successful writing machine would not only secure a fortune, but would confer a blessing upon humanity. This article, however, did little more than suggest the construction of such a machine, for the typewriter upon which Sholes set to work, with the co-operation of another inventor, S W Soule, and a capitalist, Carlos Glidden, was constructed on entirely different lines. The writing was done by means of pivoted types set in a circle and capable of being brought separately to the centre of that circle. In September, 1867, the first machine was finished. It was practical, inasmuch as letters were written with it, but was so far from perfect that between 1867 and 1873 Sholes was constantly employed in developing details. Some twenty-five or thirty experimental typewriters were made, each a little better than its predecessors, but all full of defects.

Meanwhile Glidden and Soule had long since retired from the concern ; but Sholes had confidence in the feasibility of the undertaking, and persevered, with the result that in 1873 his machine was considered sufficiently practical to be taken for manufacture on a large scale to Messrs. E. Remington and Sons, of Ilion, N.Y. “That the machine did good work at this stage is evident from the fact that it was regularly used by a large number of professional men, lawyers, doctors, clergymen, &c. But many improvements required to be made before the machine could be generally acceptable, and for the majority of these improvements Sholes is responsible.

In 1882 the commercial success of the  machine really began, when all rights connected with the Remington model were acquired by Messrs [.illegible.] Beemans [.illegible]. At that time only some 1,500 machines were being made by them per annum, whereas at the present time over 800 Remingtons are being made every week, a complete typewriter for every five minutes of the working day. The growth of the industry has been largely due to the fact that commercial firms and public companies, as well as professional men, have come to appreciate the advantages attaching to the use of the typewriter. This may be illustrated in our own country. In some fifty Government departments, and by upwards of thirty British railways the Remington is used, the London and North-Western Company alone having over one hundred and fifty in constant use. Within the next few years there will scarcely be a commercial firm of any repute without its equipment of typewriters.

The first commercial typewriter used a treadle to shift to the next line as this photograph via The Virtual Typewriter Museum of one of the earlier (Sholes and Glidden) models shows.

Sholes & Glidden typewriter - Virtual Typewriter Museum

For those interested in all things typewriter and more, head over here to oz Typewriter whose curator, Robert Messenger, also owns the Australian Typewriter Museum.

My favourite discovered article in this search comes from the South Australian Register of 23 December 1867. This time, it’s from Punch, clipped by the editor of this newspaper during the quiet of the Christmas season.  The author makes some interesting future predictions about other objects to assist ‘thought-hatching’.



It is surprising what discoveries are made in the dead season. Here is one for instance, the account of which has recently been snipped out by the scissors of many a sub-editor :—

“Writing superceded: Mr. Pratt, of Alabama, is the inventor of a type-writing machine lately exhibited to the London Society of Art, which is said to print a man’s thoughts twice as fast as he can write them with the present process. By a sort of piano arrangement the letters are brought in contact with carbonised paper, which is moved by the same manipulation.” 

Every author his own printer! What a happy state of things! No more struggles to write legibly with nibless tavern pens; no more labour in deciphering the hieroglyphs of hasty writers. Literary work will be in future merely play— on the piano. The future Locke may write his essays by a touch upon the keys. 

In this inventive age there really is no saying where discovery will stop. Now that authors are to put their thoughts in print with twice the pace that they can write them, perhaps ere long they will be able to put their works in type without so much as taking the trouble to compose them. A thought-hatching easy chair may very likely be invented, by the help of which an author may sit down at his ease before his thought-printing piano, and play away ad libitum whatever may occur to him. Different cushions may be used for different kinds of composition, some stuffed with serious thoughts, fit for sermons or reviews, and others with light fancies fit for works of fiction, poetry, or fun. By a judicious choice of cushions an author will be able to sit down to his piano, and play a novel in three volumes twice or thrice a week, besides knocking off a leader every morning for a newspaper, and issuing every fortnight a bulky epic poem, or a whole encyclopedia complete within a month.

embroidered postcards from a place of war

Here are two stories of correspondence between soldiers and home. One of a father reporting receipt of a letter and “two of the most beautiful postcards [one with] silk embroidered pansies and other flowers hand embroidered on muslin”.  The other is a postcard sent as a thank you note for tobacco sent from a comforts fund in South Australia.

Via The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate – 31 July 1917 and The Bunyip (Gawler SA) – 1 November 1918 respectively.

Jack Sillar - postcardE A Fox - postcard from France

The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney has a collection of the French cards that you can view here.

WWI embroidered postcard

Nearly 100 years ago, this postcard was embroidered and then purchased by a soldier to send home to loved ones.  Stretcher bearer George Elliott mailed it to his parents.  He was killed at Messines Ridge in France in 1917.

the “discredited” 1913 kangaroo stamp

It’s the centenary year of the production of Australia’s first national stamp.  Before 1913, the states had their own stamps and postal systems. It turns out that there’s quite a story to this little stamp with a kangaroo on a map of Australia.  The mixing bowl for this story has the following ingredients.

  • a stamp design competition held in 1911
  • a up and coming politician with a strong ego and point of view
  • robust opinions from newspaper contributors
  • an election in 1913 that changed the government
  • another politician with a point of view

iStockphoto image

From the blog of Australian Geographic –

… in October, Charles Frazer became the new Postmaster-General. He took an interest in stamps and was shown the winning entries. Later, describing it to Parliament as “execrable”, he swiftly rejected Altmann’s design, and appointed the Victorian Artist’s Association to find an artist to create a new stamp. They commissioned a local watercolour artist, Blamire Young, who began working on the design while Frazer publicly hinted to the press: “If a picturesque stamp can be provided in which an outline of Australia is featured, I am certainly favourably inclined towards it.”

After Young submitted several designs to the Post Office, Frazer took a liking to the ones with kangaroos, finding them to be an apt representation of the Commonwealth, and wrote a note: “1. Get coastline of Aust. 2. Insert Baldy’s Roo (Edwin Arnold, one of those tied for second place in the competition). 3. Produce in colours for different denominats.”

After some more minor changes, the final design was ready by early 1912, though not without some mishaps, including one print that accidentally omitted Tasmania. Frazer, proud of the finished product, announced the design on 2 April, well before the stamp went on sale on 2 January, 1913.

From The Argus of 4 April 1912.

It is to be hoped that Federal Ministers expressed their feelings in a dignified  and tactful way on Tuesday when their colleague, the Postmaster-General, presented each of them with a copy of the new Commonweath postage stamp, a reproduction of which appears in our columns to-day. The public was given to understand, beforehand, that Mr Frazer’s design was “simple, yet expressive;” it is to be feared that that phrase may adequately describe the language which all Australians who have any artistic sense will use when they first catch sight of the design. Designs, it appears, were submitted by artists from all over the world, and a prize of £100 was awarded to that one which a committee of independent judges considered the best. Mr Frazer, however, whose modesty is evidently unlikely to mar his career, believed that he could himself, if he tried, beat the prize-winner; so he sat down to evolve “something which he thought would suit the simple tastes of  Australians.” Australian tastes must be simple indeed if they are satisfied with the result of Mr Frazer’s efforts. The     competing designs have not, of course, been made public; but it may be said with assurance that the prize-winners earned their money very easily if their designs were not more effective than Mr Frazer’s white map of Australia, with the piebald kangaroo endeavouring to look placid though evidently suffering from a severe attack of dyspepsia. Or perhaps the animal’s attitude is not due to dyspepsia, but to the necessity of keeping his ears out of Cambridge Gulf while his tail points to the Federal capital. Perhaps, again, the poor creature is merely conscious that he is marching to his Sedan. There is doubtless some obscure symbolism in the rabbit which has raised its head half out of the mouth of its burrow, in the background, although a magnifying glass is required to reveal the fact this this rabbit has one eye on the kangaroo. It may possibly stand for an intelligent minority keeping watch on a large and foolish majority, but the symbolism is not clear. What is clear is that the whole thing has a grotesquely foolish look, and that not a hint of beauty or dignity is discoverable in it.

It will be said, no doubt, that the ugliness of a postage stamp is a matter of no moment. Mr Frazer evidently does not take that view, since he has given time and thought to the question, and expended some of the public money on the effort to have a good stamp. And he is so far right; there is really a good deal of significance in the heraldry of the post-office. Our postage stamps go all over the world; they become, in course of time, a sort of national symbols; and it is therefore very annoying to find that our country is to be represented in the eyes of the world by a grotesque and ridiculous symbol, and that she will be a laughing-stock even to childish stamp-collectors of every nation. Mr Frazer has no good reason for departing from Imperial usage in this matter. Australia should do as the rest of the Dominions do; we should all alike have the King’s head printed on our stamps, because it is the most obvious and unmistakable symbol of the constitutional bond between the various members of our far-scattered empire. But even if Mr Frazer entertains republican sentiments, and thinks it his duty to express them by means of the national stamp, he might surely have found some heraldic device more noble and dignified than       that absurd kangaroo and that humorous rabbit.  It will be very unpleasant to reflect every time we post a letter that we are sending out to the world a pink or blue or yellow embodiment of the artistic incapacity of our country.

The Brisbane Courier commented – 3 September 1912


Charles Edward Frazer - ADB

The story of the stamp continues in this excerpt from The Australian Dictionary of Biography from which the image of Frazer is also sourced.

After Labor narrowly lost the election in June 1913, the new government replaced the design of the penny stamp Labor had introduced, although it lasted for most other values for many years; Frazer had originated the design which featured a kangaroo ‘rampant upon a purely White Australia’.

The new government and Postmaster-General took no time at all to replace the kangaroo stamp.  Unsurprisingly there were comments on this design.  This not to subtle critique comes from The Worker, Brisbane – 10 July 1913

The ‘Courier ‘ published the design of the stamp it is proposed by the Anti-National Fusion Government to substitute for the kangaroo stamp. Without intending any disrespect to the Sovereign, the design is an atrocity, a confused jumble of unrelated and discordant drawings with the King’s head in the centre. The present kangaroo design may not be the final word in stamps, but its emblematic nature, clearness and simplicity show into pleasing contrast with the overloaded and freakish abnormality which the troglodyte Cook Government is about to inflict on us.

The Argus of 29 July 1913 reported thus.  Note that the new Postmaster-General could also not resist the urge to tinker.


Final action was taken yesterday by the Postmaster-General (Mr Wynne) in connection with the adoption of the designs for the new Commonwealth stamps, which are to take the place of the discredited kangaroo issue. Some weeks ago Mr Wynne announced that he had decided to avail himself of the first prize design, submitted by Mr Herman Altman of St Kilda, but a close examination of the drawing convinced him that it contained too many features to permit of effective reproduction. Accordingly, the designed was asked to alter his sketch so as to simplify the features.

This has been done by eliminating the coats of arms of the six States and substituting sprigs of wattle blossom in their stead. A much improved picture of His Majesty the King has also been introduced. The penny stamp will contain no national emblems apart from the wattle blooms, but the twopenny design is to be distinguished by representations of a kangaroo and an emu on either side.  A crown will also surmount the stamp of higher denomination. The Postmaster-General stated yesterday that he would expedite the issue of the new stamp as much as possible, but he had been informed that it might be necessary to send to England or America to have the permanent dies prepared. It he found it was impossible to secure the plates in the Commonwealth he would endeavour to carry on the production of the new stamps temporarily by some other expedient, pending the arrival of the engravings from overseas.

In accordance with the decision of the Berne conference the penny stamp will be coloured red and the twopenny denomination will be blue.

Postscript:  Charles Frazer died in November 1913.  He was 33 years old.

George V Australia stamps

selecting a new Pope – 1939

The Worker was a Brisbane newspaper published between 1890 and 1955.  In 1939, the paper reported on the selection of  a new Pope.  For the 2013 conclave (post the retirement of Pope Benedict) an electronic shield has been created to ensure that no mobile phone messages or tweets give away anything about the process.  Seventy-four years ago it was: “telephone wires have been cut and receivers removed” as the transition from Pius XI to Pius XII took place.  One might also guess that today’s accommodation arrangements are a step up from hammocks.


historical Australian postcards

Blame the Post Office
In June 1906, 600 postcards were languishing in the Dead Letter Office of Sydney’s GPO.
These days, genealogists can gain access to digital collections of postcards that are happily accessible on databases like Australian Historical Postcards on
See reference sources below.

AustraliaHistoricalPostcards_13_1__189350848AustraliaHistoricalPostcards_189351030Source citation Australia Historical Postcards [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2010. Some of this collection was indexed by Ancestry World Archives Project contributors.

Original data: Mary Martin Postcards (, Perryville, MD, USA.

your call is important to us





Brisbane Courier – 14 January 1909   One hundred years ago, “Sorry to have kept you waiting” was in the telephonist’s manual of responses.







Sunday Times – Perth – 8 December 1929

Some persons habitually call their friends and acquaintances at meal time, because they feel sure that they will then find them at home. But this is decidedly bad form, and there are some people who make it a rule never to be disturbed at meal time. It is perfectly courteous to have the one who answers the phone simply say: “Mrs. Jones is at dinner. Do you wish her to call you up when she is finished?” It is not thoughtful to leave dinner guests to talk on the phone.

Hmmm… leaving the table or room to take a phone call a lost practice?