The Gum Leaf Letter

In 1910, a newly married couple honeymooning in Yetman, New South Wales, took it upon themselves to mail a gum leaf up to Brisbane to a Mrs F. Humfress at the Commercial Union Chambers, Eagle Street. The large gum leaf was written on directly, wasn’t placed in an envelope, and was even postmarked, before making the journey via post to Brisbane in one piece. One hundred and seven years later, although quite fragile and a little faded, the gum leaf is still fully intact and finds itself among the collections of the State Library of Queensland.

The ‘gum leaf letter’, 1910. From Accession 6190 General Post Office Collection. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

The ‘gum leaf letter’, as it became known, is signed ‘Em & Harry’, Em being the sister of Mrs F. Humfress. In the brief text Em and Harry simply point out that the leaf is real, that they are in Yetman for two weeks and that the weather is quite pleasant.

The ‘gum leaf letter’, 1910. From Accession 6190 General Post Office Collection. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

The letter has had quite an eventful life since 1910. After remaining in the Humfress family for half a century, the leaf was donated to the Brisbane Post Office Museum in the 1960s, then, in 1973, it went on display in the main hall at the General Post Office. The donation and the display were both reported on radio and in a number of newspapers of the day.  The Post Office made a point at the time of stating to the public that a gum leaf would not be accepted for postal transmission today.

Exceprt from The Courier Mail, 23 March 1968, at the time the ‘gum leaf letter’ was donated to the Post Office Museum.

Headline of an article at the time the ‘gum leaf letter’ went on display at the GPO. From Contact, Jan/Feb 1975.

The gum leaf remained in the archives of the Post Office for another half century until the early 2000s when the museum closed. It was then donated to the State Library as a part of a collection of historical items and photographs representing postal history in Queensland.

The ‘gum leaf letter’ and the General Post Office collection (Accession 6190) can be viewed on request in the John Oxley Reading Room of the State Library of Queensland.

R. Hillier – Original Materials Librarian, State Library of Queensland