Blog post

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Trove Tuesday: The Gallant Sorter of the G.P.O.


The Gallant Sorter of the G.P.O
5FT. 9IN., and Wore a Mo
A young girl named Jane Davis
about 20, proceeded against an ex-
public servant named John McMahon
for the maintenance of her illegitimate
Excerpt from: The Gallant Sorter of the G.P.O. (1895, August 9). North Melbourne Gazette (Vic. : 1894 - 1901), p. 2. Retrieved February 5, 2016, from
Note: The full article is much longer than the excerpts included with this post. Follow the link above if you wish to read it.
This article had my attention for two reasons. Firstly, I believe John McMahon – the ‘gallant’ mo-wearing post office employee – was my grandmother’s uncle. That would make the illegitimate child my first cousin twice removed.

Then there’s the “Mo” itself.

Here in Australia, “mo” is a slang term for a moustache. I was surprised to see the term in print as early as 9 August 1895.

I wondered how long the term had actually been around for. The free online dictionaries I could find weren’t very helpful. The offline dictionary on my bookshelf included the term, but gave no start date. Then I thought to check if the National Library of Australia’s electronic resources included a more complete Oxford Dictionary than the free online version.

Success! The Oxford English dictionary gives the earliest use as…
… drumroll … 4 August 1894.

One year earlier than my find, almost to the day. So close! It would have been fun to find an earlier usage.

But back to John McMahon. The mocking reference to his mo in the headline came about because having dumped the pregnant girl, it was claimed that he then showed her a letter he intended to send in reponse to a matrimonial advertisement.


He had shown witness a letter
which he intended to send to a girl in
answer to a matrimonial advertise-
ment in the Age. She identified the
Mr. Daly read the letter, which was
to the following purport :—
Letter Carrier's Room, G.P.O.
13th December, 1894.
“Dear Nellie,—I take great pleasure
in answering your advertisement in
to day's Age. I am a letter sorter at
the G. P. O. at an annual salary of £158
and will receive my annual increment
of £12 shortly.
“I am 5ft 9¼in in height and scale
11 stone 2lbs, and a good all round
athlete. (Dr. Lloyd : yes, a good all
round man—Laughter). I am con-
sidered good looking, of dark complex-
ion and I wear a moustache”.—(Loud
I have found and obtained the birth certificate for the child but don’t yet know what became of her or her mother.