The student of postal history in the Pacific, of necessity, spends a good
deal of his time sorting the postal history sheep from the philatelic goats.
This is because most of the Pacific area started its postal history late-after
that golden age when any genuine cover is certain to have clone postal
service with the minimum of expenditure, whether pre-paid or collect, that was necessary to ensure
delivery by the route selected.
However, once the philatelists start sending letters to themselves the fun
begins. I have not seen many of these prior to 1890, but from then on
perhaps the majority of Pacific covers are of "philatelic" origin and many of
them are spoiled, to a degree, by over-franking.
This deplorable practice lessens the value of such covers in a study of
postal rates. On the other hand it is sometimes hardly possible to find
examples of certain postmarks, except on such covers.
So the inclusion of these in a postal history collection seems unavoidable.
However their recognition for what they are would, I think, disclose the
calibre of their owner as a postal historian.
With this introduction we come to the subject of my essay-the status of the
Australian New Hebrides Company's local stamps. I mean their status from
the point of view of necessity of use. There is no doubt that they were
genuinely issued with the intention of their franking letters for the
prepayment of postage -but were they ever so used? I have not been able
to find any conclusive evidence that they were.
In the London Philatelist, Vol. 6, No. 66 (June 1897), the following
appeared under New Issues:
Mr A. F. Basset Hull sends us the following information regarding a
postal service instituted in these islands:
"The stamps-two in number-are of the same size as those in use for the
Congo state and. are described herein.
The Australian New Hebrides Company was founded in 1887 and its operations, at first very small, have
grown to an enormous extent.
During 1892-3 a steamer belonging to the Australian United Steam
Navigation Company ran through the New Hebrides group carrying cargo,
passengers and mails. This service was subsidised by the Governments
of New South Wales and Victoria, but the subsidy ceased in 1894. At this
time the operations of the Australian New Hebrides Company had
increased to such an extent that they purchased. a steamer and
inaugurated an inter-island service.
Subsequently, a direct steamer service to and from Sydney and Port
Vila was added and the Steamer now leaves Sydney at intervals of three
weeks, connecting with the inter-island steamer, which makes a
tour of the group, occupying the three weeks between visits of the direct
The New Hebrides are at present neutral ground, under the joint control
of England and France hut these powers, as a rule, only take action in
criminal matters. The Australian New Hebrides Company, being the only
British company in the group, and controlling almost the whole of the
commercial operations, is looked to by the residents to push the British
interests in the islands. There can be little doubt that the absolute control of
the New Hebrides group will fall to the nation which makes the greatest
commercial progress within its limits.
This company has just issued two stamps for the prepayment of postage
on letters carried between the islands by their steamer. On and after the 1st
June they will require all letters from the islands to Sydney to bear an
inter-island 1d. stamp in addition to the 2½d. New South Wales stamp,
which carries the letter to any destination. Of course, all letters from
one port in the islands to another will be prepaid solely by the Company's
The following are the inter-island rates of postage:
Letters-for ea. ½ oz. or fraction thereof
Packers and magazines-not ex. 4 oz.
Packers and magazines-every add. 4 oz. or fraction thereof
Parcels-every 8 oz. or fraction thereof
Newspapers-every 8 oz. or fraction thereof
The stamps bear the view of Port Vila, Sandwich lsland, New Hebrides.
Lithographed by John Sands and Co., Sydney: white wove paper, no wmk.,
1d. magenta and (centre) black.
2d. red brown and (centre) blue."
We are of the opinion that these stamps are at present of a local and
private nature, bur time only will show how far this description is justified.
The above also appeared in The Australian Philatelist for 26 April 1897
with, in addition, a list of the ports at which the steamer called, and the
These stamps, issued on the 17th March, were lithographed, etc., etc.
There are two cancelling stamps, one inscribed PORT VILA for use at the
terminal station, and the other "TRAVELLING POST OFFICE" for
use on the inter-island steamer. This issue, though of the nature of a
private local, is on the same footing as the stamps of Samoa and the
original Fiji Times Expresses. We understand that the Company are
determined not to permit any speculative element to find its way
into their postal affairs and no applications for "cancelled to order"
supplies will be for a moment entertrained. Negotiations are now
pending for an official recognition of the franking power of these stamps
within the Australian colonies…..
In The Australian Philatelist for 26 July 1897 the following appeared:
New Hebrides: The island Steamer Ysobel brought up a number of letters
franked by the inter-island stamps in combination with 2½d. in New
South Wales adhesives……
The inter-island correspondence is every day increasing in quantity and
the stamps are very popular.
The Philatelic Record says: "These Stamps seem to us to be fully entitled
to be classed as postal issues." Meekel's Weekly Stamp News
remarks: "While the stamps are local in their origin and use, not being
recognised except on the boats of the Companv, they are certainly postage
stamps and well deserve a place with like local issues of the U .S. and
others of the same class. We consider that they are really on the
same plane with the other Oceanic pioneers of postal development, and
rank equally with the Fiji Times Express and the Samoan Stamps. It is
only a question of time for the recognition of their franking power
outside the sphere of the Company's operations."
Now, in spite of the interesting events of the next few months in the history
of the Company no further mention is made of these stamps in the
Australian Philatelist until 1 March 1902, when a somewhat superficial
description of the whole affair is given and it is admitted that the Australian
New Hebrides Company fizzled out later in 1897.
The first two extracts quoted above were published at a time when Mr
Basset Hull was editor of the Australian Philatelist.
It is difficult to understand with whom the locals proved "very popular,"
unless it was with philatelists. As will be seen, letters could be sent equally
well without them and few, I think, but philatelists, would pay more than
necessary to send a letter-as witness the outcry against increased postal
Without taking up too much space with full quotations it is necessary to
put down some facts from the authoritative article which appeared in
The Australian Post Office Philatelic Bulletin, Nos. 13, 14, 15 and 16.
Here it was correctly stated that the subsidy to the shipping company did
not cease until 1894 and that an annual payment for the delivery of
letters (£50) plus the payment of a charge for carrying letters was made
from then on to the A.N.H. Co., which undertook the transport of the mails.
It should be particularly noted that the local stamps bear the inscription
"INTERISLAND POSTAGE" and it was clearly the original intention for
them to serve for this purpose only. The rates quoted by Basset Hull are
for inter-island postage only.
The remark, by Basset Hull, that the 1d. local was required on letters from
Vila to Sydney is the only mention I have been able to find and was not
official (i.e., not from the Company).
It was, no doubt, the desire of the Company, decided upon after the
stamps were printed, to make such a charge, but the suggestion was
turned down flatly by the N.S.W. government. (See A.P.O.P.B., Nos.
15 and 16.)
However, the N.S.W. government agreed that the Company could make
an inter-island delivery charge on letters from Sydney to islands beyond
Vila if they so desired.
It therefore becomes clear that if the local stamps ever did any real postal
service it must have been in one of the following ways:
(a) As franking on inter-island letters, from one island to another.
(b) As partial franking (in combination with N.S.W. adhesives) on letters
from one of the islands or ports other than Vila to places beyond Vila.
(c) As a collect charge or postage due on letters from Sydney or elsewhere abroad, to ports in the New
Hebrides, other than Vila.
Now, over the years, I have made a note of various covers I have seen
bearing the local stamps and of those appearing in auction catalogues,
sometimes with , illustrations. These do not usually give details of
backstamps, if any.
In category (a) I have no record of any cover, nor has Mr Romney
Gibbons, with his incomparable experience of Pacific covers, dating
back into the first decade of this century.
In category (b) I have a record of one possible cover. It should be noted
that in this category the adhesives would be cancelled with the T.P.O.
cds provided by the Company specially for such inter-island letters.
In category (c) I have no record of any cover.
The cover referred to under (b) above is one addressed to Capt. D. Calder
(Dan was both a philatelist and a sea captain), whose self-addressed
covers are frequently met with dated about the period under consideration.
I have only seen a photograph of the front of this cover and from that alone
it is not possible to decide if It went through the post at all. The auction
description did not mention any back stamps.
The cover bears a 2½d. N.S.W. adhesive, a strip of three and a pair of
the 1d. local and a 2d. local. All the adhesives are cancelled with the
T.P.0. cds dated 19 June '98.
This cover is obviously "philatelic" in origin, being very late in date (over six
months after the company went bankrupt) and heavily overfranked with the local stamps. Even if it did
pass through the post I do not think it can be accepted as conclusive
evidence that the locals were necessary to prepay postage on this
particular letter. In any case the N.S.W. adhesives should not have
been cancelled by the T.P.0. cds but should have been cancelled by the
Vila cds of the N.S.W. post office.
Let us now examine some other covers that exist, bearing the local
stamps. They have, nearly always, two things in common. First, they are
addressed to known philatelists and, secondly, they are cancelled by the
Vila cds of the N.S.W. post office. Generally they are addressed to
Sydney or via Sydney to places beyond, and all had their origin at Vila.
Although no rate was given for letters from Vila to Sydney it seems clear that
the rate that would have been charged by the Company would be
1d. per ½ oz. for letters, had the N.S.W. government given its consent.
Consider a cover from Vila to N.S.W. bearing N.S.W. adhesives of ½d.
and 2d. and a pair of the 1d. locals all cancelled with the Vila cds dated 30
(?) Oct. 1897. If this cover required 2d. in locals it needed 5d. in N.S.W.
adhesives. However it was not taxed at Sydney.
Consider another cover franked by a 2½d. N.S.W. adhesive and one 1d.
and one 2d. local. There has been an attempt to justify the 3d. in locals by
marking this a registered cover hut in that case it would have required
5½d. in N.S.W. adhesives or it would not have been accepted at the
The first of the above is typical of many such covers. Let us examine
same covers of similar dates to non-philatelic addressees. For
instance a cover from Vila to London, also of October 1897 and hearing a
2½d. N.S.W. adhesive but no local-carried in the same month,
perhaps by the same boat and certainly by the same Company. I
have records of two other covers, both of July 1897, franked only with
N.S.W. adhesives and carried tram Vila to London.
To me, the above is insufficient evidence that the local stamps, in the
cases cited, served no postal purpose whatever. However, if they were put
.on a cover they received the Vila post office cancellation along with the
legitimately required N.S.W. adhesives. So also, I venture to suggest, would any other label that
had been affixed to the envelope.
Proof of the willingness of the Vila postal officials to cancel anything and
everything on a cover is available in the many envelopes addressed to a
wellknown Melbourne dealer, now deceased. These may be found
bearing copies of the locals in combination with a wide variety of the
Condominium issues, all are postmarked by the tireless Vila postal
clerks, even as late as 1914.
I think it is not unreasonable to conclude that all covers bearing the
local stamps, of the kinds I have described above, would have been
carried without tax or charge of any kind if the locals bad not been pot on.
This does not finally mean that the locals were never used for postal
purposes but until a cover or covers are produced in one of the categories
(a), (b) or (c) I think their status should be "issued bur not used for postal
I should be interested to hear from any readers who have covers that
differ in principle from those I have described for I feel that all I have
seen must be placed among the "philatelic goats."