A young Architect designs a landmark then gets murdered by mallet

Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take the first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. We have an interesting story to tell of stately architecture, inflation, and jealous murder by mallet.

1935 is when this stamp was issued. When commemorative stamps were new and stately architecture could still be found  in newish settlements as it was of recent construction. The lithograph on the stamp shows trees that are no longer in evidence, the grounds now often hosting concerts. The building still stands and remains in use. They did recently remove some of the original murals that to modern eyes are perceived as being insensitive to Indians.

The stamp today in issue A85, a 50 cent stamp issued as part of an eleven stamp issue in various denominations. This stamp depicts the British Columbia Parliament Building in Victoria, British Columbia. According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth $6.00 in it’s cancelled state.

Before getting to the murder, this stamp requires a discussion of inflation from 1935 to today. This stamp has a face value of 50 cents. 50 cents in 1935 money equates to $9.06 in todays money. There is also a $1 stamp included in the issue. The high denominations indicate the use was intended for postage of packages.

The sad part of this is what it means to stamp collectors. This stamp is just way behind inflation, despite being an attractive stamp that depicts a landmark that is much beloved. My copy of the stamp came to me from my late Father’s collection. He had recorded a value of $4.50 from his catalog from around 1980. Therefore, in the last 35-40 years, the stamp has gone up 33% while inflation is about 9 times that. The meaning of that I hope is that a stamp like this has room to go much up in value if there is a renewed interest in stamp collecting. The Philatelist is doing his part to make sure this happens.

The British Columbia Parliament Building was authorized in 1893. The architectural competition was won by a 25 year old recent immigrant from England named Francis Rattenbury. He signed his plans ABC Architect and won. The building was over budget at $923,000, which of course seems great value today. The building was popular and Mr. Rattenbury received many commissions including the famous Empress Hotel in Victoria.

Mr. Rattenbury’s success peaked early. While in his 50s, he left his wife Mary and two children for a twice divorced 27 year old named Alma. His wife was left destitude to the extent of the electricity and heat being cut off at her house. The divorce was quite the big story in Victoria. Mr. Rattenbury found himself shunned in Victoria and had to return to England with his new wife.

Here the story gets even stranger. The Rattenburys hire an 18 year old chauffer who lives with them at their country house. He has an affair with Alma.  Soon Francis is found in his study having received repeated blows to the skull with a carpenter’s mallet. It took him four days to die. The chauffer is sentenced to death for the murder but the sentence is reduced to life in prison after many public appeals to the Home Secretary. The public felt that the young man had been put up to the crime by Alma. He ended up serving only 6 years as he was released early to serve in World War II. Francis Rattenbury was left for many years in an unmarked grave.  Alma was found not guilty of both murder and conspiracy despite having confessed. She later cut herself seven times with a dagger and threw herself in a river committing suicide.

The case is well known in England and has been made into a tv movie in Australia in 1956 and by the BBC in 1987 as Cause Celebre. There is also a Canadian opera.

Well my drink, and the second, are empty and so it is time to open the conversation in the below comment section. Have you ever hired a live in 18 year old chauffer? If so, how did that go for you? Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.