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James and Ethel Perkins, Worcester

Some time ago, in a long and winding thread that twisted and turned like a Cape mountain pass, I posted a printed cover from the Grand Hotel, Cape Town, sent during the SAW (South African War), see below. This is love letter from a soldier to his sweetheart who was staying in the historic Oranjezicht estate home of the van Bredas, an old and leading Cape family.  Other love letters of mine show that the soldier, 'Jim', was assigned to guarding Boer POWs in both Green Point, Cape Town and Bellevue, Simonstown.

This drew a response from Yannis who recognsed the distinctive handwriting. He wrote: "Steve, this gentleman must have been madly in love. I thought I had seen this type of penmanship before, so I had a look at some covers I have from the period and sure enough there is one addressed to Miss E M Rainier at the Drostdy in Worcester. The cover is dated 31st May 1900. .... What a love story!" he concluded. Bob Hill also has covers from 'Jim' to Miss Ranier. One sent from the Castle on Army stationery suggests he was an officer.

Now, new information casts a little more magic on a tale of love central to CoGH postal history!

Being a sentimental old fool, I was always intrigued as to what had happened to them. Who was Miss E. M. Rainier, his "darling Effie, sweetest love". Who was the smitten writer who called himself 'Jim'. Had they married and lived happily ever after? My initial research did not produce much joy. I remained frustrated, longing to know but I had other things to do and so over time this SAW love story was filed away on a shelf in the backrooms of my memory where it lay unforgotten but nevertheless gathering  dust. And then ....

Quite coincidentally I received a response to this website from Gawie Hugo, a resident of Worcester who offered us three of his award-winning displays. These were on Table Mountain (in English) and two on different aspects of the postal history of Worcester and its surrounding districts, (both in Afrikaans).  I am in the process of translating them. "Julle Engelse mense moet wag 'n bietjie, asseblief!" (Afr. You English people must wait a bit, please.) Gawie copied these onto a stick which he gave to Ian Shapiro of Spink at the Cape Town International Stamp Exhibition. Ian kindly brought it back to the UK and mailed it to me. Thank you both!

While reading Gawie's exhibit 'From the Postbag of James Perkins' I discovered that the love-struck 'Jim' was James Joseph Teydell Perkins, (born Worcester, 6/09/1869), the son of James Perkins, (born Watford, England, 23/12/1836), who began trading as 'James Perkins, Worcester, the month his son was born. Together, father and son would trade for 93 years on the corner of Hoog and Napier Streets. They would keep their commercial correspondence which over time would become a prized trove of Cape postal history. When his father died in 1897, our love-sick hero had been running the business since 1889 when he was just 20 years old.

In the South African Who's Who (page 361, circa 1910), James' hobbies are described as 'Volunteering and mountaineering'. He had been a Captain commanding the Worcester Volunteer Rifles and 'served on Headquarter Staff during the Boer War, 1899 - 1902'. He was the Commandant Prisoners of War at both Green Point, Cape Town, and Bellevue, Simonstown. (He probably achieved this position because he was a colonial who most probably could talk the 'Taal'. (Afr. language ie. Cape Dutch)). In early 1903 he was still frustratedly serving in Simonstown arranging the return of the last Boer POWs from overseas - and writing longingly to his love. He was a recipient of the QSA (Queen's South Africa) Medal, 1 bar, and the KSA (King's South Africa) Medal, 2 bars and was Mentioned in Despatches.

Now for the part all lovers are waiting for! Jim married Ethel 'Effie' May Rainier, (born 1873), at the St. Barnabas Anglican Church, Cape Town, on the 18th January 1905. She was the daughter of George Garrett Rainier and grand-daughter of Captain John Rainier of H.M. 98th Regiment, the first Civil Commisioner and Resident Magistrate for Worcester. James and Effie's marriage produced a son and two daughters. Presumably, Jim's love letters were kept by Effie and became a part of the Perkins archive on her death on 19th September 1952 when she predeceased James by some 9 years. The last image we have of him is one often seen in displays of Perkins postal history, alone in his shop with his memories and goods soon to be the products of a bygone era beloved by postal historians.

I did not know who wrote my love letters until I received and read Gawie's display. Thank you for submitting it to us. Your generosity has broadened our knowledge of these events. To get the Perkins' contribution to our hobby in perspective, their postal history archive from Worcester and Emil Burmester's from Cape Town almost certainly account for the largest share of the most significant late 19th c. Cape commercial material available to collectors today.

1]. Grand Hotel to Effie who was staying with the van Bredas in Oranjezicht.
2]. Letter to Effie from Green Point POW Camp, January 1901.
3]. SA Who's Who - Listing for Captain James Joseph Teydell Perkins.
4.]. James, the warrior, lover and shopkeeper in old age. The Afrikaans panel translates as "Seventy years ago in South Africa Lever products were already on sale. Here sits old master Perkins in his little shop at Worcester in the Cape - a little shop that proudly shows off some of the original advertising placards which were issued in the 90s of the previous century." (Note: Today that's two centuries ago!)

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  • Grand-Hotel-Cover-Front.jpg
  • Letter-to-Effie-ex-GP-Camp.jpg
  • Perkins-James-JosephTrydell.jpg
  • James-Perkins-in-Shop-Worcester.jpg
yannisl has reacted to this post.

Steve, this is amazing detective work and thanks for posting it. It solves a long puzzle of mine about James Perkins. I always suspected there was a Senior James and a Junior James Perkins, as the earliest covers I have were in the 1860s. I am looking forward to the follow ups and Gawie's display.  Perkins letters are the backbone of most of my postal history collection. Most of them have the original letters enclosed, which give a snapshot of the Cape traders for the second half of the 19th century. One problem it is difficult to ascertain when the letters refer to the son or the senior. From the whole bunch there is only one that gives the full name. 


Glad you liked it. I was thinking of you when I was writing it.

I can't help you determine when the letters refer to the father or the son except to reiterate that "when his father died in 1897, our love-sick hero had been running the business since 1889 when he was just 20 years old." That's a 9 year period of retirement for Perkins Snr. My guess would be that between 1889 to 1897 the father would have retained a proprietoral interest for at least some of time until he realised his son was capable.

But now for a wild card. Gawie has  a photo taken outside the Perkins store that has four young men in it. Are these the four Perkins brothers? And who was minding the store while Jim was in the army? I believe, but I cannot find the proof, that one of Jim's brothers was a private killed in WW1 in France - aged 45.

Another thing. The store and the Drostdy are on the same road. I'm guessing Jim must have known or at least seen Effie since childhood when she walked past the store or even visited it.

Thanks Steve. I am sure some of the gaps can be filled in once you publish Gawie's display. I rechecked on what I have written up so far, as I have soft copies on my computer and the earliest I have is 1866  and not 1869 as I mentioned earlier. It is addressed to James Perkins West End  Plein Street Cape Town. From about 1870 they are addressed to Worcester.   I attach copies of a nice illustrated cover addressed to him and the enclosed letter.  

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  • bicycle.JPG

Wow. Very nice! Cycling is growing collecting theme. This must be one of South Africa's earliest and best examples. This would have been addressed to the son, the future husband of Effie / Ethel.

Your comment about James Perkins being originally based in Cape Town is a real discovery that adds to our knowledge of the man and the shop. I guess it stands to reason that he would first try to try to start a business in Cape Town but, presumably, finding it too compettive and full of long-established commerical interests he relocated to Worcester where he bcame 'King James'. We are richer and more knowledgeable for your shared advice and covers this morning.

Thanks for this wonderful input. BTW, as a teenager I had a green and gold Raleigh bicycle until it was stolen. I reported it to the Pinelands police station but the Afrikaans cops dismissed me with a total lack of interest. It had been a birthday present. This experience added to my growing loss of faith in the SAP. In those days before the Apartheid era grey-blue uniforms the cops wore brown ones with, I think, green flashes and or cap band. Today the Pinelands police station is a popular restaurant. The service is better ! Evolution rules!

Further to this thread, I recognised the hand-writing on the cover below before I read the address. It's a cover from 'Jim', writing to his father, I presume, who is in Diep River some years before he died. (Sadly, the Diep River PMK on the reverse is  too poor to waste time scanning. According to Putzel, the Diep River Rail pmk has never been seen. The Railway Post Office closed in 1903. Alex Visser's Addendum shows no example yet!)  Perhaps his father was holidaying or recuperating there? Whoever taught James to write like this - it's a lost skill today - deserves high praise!

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  • Perkins-Worcester-to-Diep-River.jpg

Here are two more covers that I came across today. Nothing very special except that the first has a near excellent Worcester Squared Circle datestamp of 1897. It is so sharp and clean it suggests two things to me: first, a new datestamp and secondly, an overly potty-trained postmaster obsessed with keeping it clean. (I believe some early handstamps, perhaps the Crown-in-Circle ones, were supplied with toothbrushes to keep them clean but they largely ended up being used for what they were designed for.) This top cover would have been sent to James Perkins Jnr. The other nondescript item is earlier and from Cape Town to James Perkins Snr. The correspondence to father and son can largely be broken down to everything before 1890 is to the father and everything thereafter is to the the son.

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  • James-Perkins-WorcesterSq-Circle-1897.jpg
  • James-Perkins-Worcester1875-CT-BONC.jpg

Thanks Steve, very good condition for these. I have many covers mostly addressed to the father and both of your items are really in excellent condition. As to the toothbrushes, I dont know about the CGH, but it was standard practice to be issued to postmasters. The earlier cancellers like the Crown in Circle and the like were used both to stamp wax seals as well as postmarks on letters hence almost impossible to keep them clean. As an aside also the BONC 1  on the second letter is not a Duplex Cancellation.