Sir- The very fine article by Mr Croaker in the September number of
Philately from Australia on "The Status of the Local Stamps of The
Australasian New Hebrides Company" is an admirable example of what a
"fishing expediition" should be like - asking questions intelligently and not
interjecting conjecture or surmise that would spoil the trail.
Having been fortunate in receiving the help of Mr Phil Collas on these
stamps, and even more fortunate in having certain premises worked out by Mr J. Chas.
Ankin, of John Sands Pty Ltd, I found myself smiling at Mr Croaker's being
where I was a year ago.
As I am having an extensive article on the subject published elsewhere, and
as Mr Collas has an even more detailed chapter on this subject
prepared fot his book, I will confine myself now to certain broad
statements which will help Mr Croaker to bide his patience until he can see
the complete story.
Firstly: There were two Australasian New Hebrides Companys. The first
failed in 1892 upon the cessation of governmental subsidies to steamship
lines upon whose low rates the A.N.H. Co. depended. The assets
were taken over by the second company in 1893, which firm was
organized by James Burns and of which Burns Philp was made general
The second firm was in trouble almost from the beginning because of
shifts in world markets (particularly the opening of South American coffee
sources, and of cotton elsewhere), and because of an increased tempo
of French competition from New Caledonia which had official support.
When the locals issue was contemplated, in 1897, it was based
on the idea of perhaps forcing the governments of Victoria and/or New
South Wales to confer new subsidies, but they did not rise to the bait.
Old, retired employees of John Sands, which printed the locals, have stated
that the order for 2000 sheets of the 1d. and 1000 sheets of the 2d. was
accepted from Burns Philp and not from A.N.H. Co. because it was
common knowledge that the latter was "broke.
The A.N.H. Co. failed sometime before 30 September 1897, for I have
from Burns Philp a letter stating that they took over the assets on
30. September 1897. This has led to my surmise that 31 July 1897 is a
good date to use in certain criteria because of the following things: it
allows the month of August for the clearing of the books, and because
there are so many singles cancelled in August, and onwards, which all
have the same appearance.
Mr Stanley Jersey, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A., has been kind enough to
show me at least five singles cancelled before 31 July
1897, and a cover from the Vila station to "Stephens" Espiritu Santo.
It is franked with the 2d. and has both the "PORT VlLA POST" and
"TRAVELLING POST" date stamps, the first dated 17 APR 97, the latter
17 MAY 97. Stephens was a point of call listed in the A.N.H. Co. schedule
of inter-island vessel calls, and I presume the cover to be philatelic
because of the 2d. instead of the 1d. stamp, and that there is a simple error
of month in the date-stamps. This material is all that I know of the early
The failure of the company did not, however, stop operations in the New
Hebrides. Burns Philp simply continued business, and the present
managing director of that firm, Mr Joseph Mitchell, was in Vila as a clerk
training for responsibility in the company in 1898. He has stated that
the stamps were used, and that Burns Philp forced the use of the locals by
ignoring letters brought to the station without locals affixed thereon.
lf Mr Croaker had read further, or quoted further in his reference from
A.P. for 26 July 1897, he would have shown a most interesting item - the
affirmation that the A.N.H. Co. would attempt to prevent philatelic
adventures with their stamps. We can believe they did, but Bums Philp did
not. Money is where you find it, and a collector's money is as good as a
trader's so there is no doubt that no care was taken as to how the stamps
were sold or used - so long as they were used.
Burns Philp made an agreement with the Commonwealth Government as of
30 September 1900 to run a subsidized mail and cargo service
through the New Hebrides for £ 3600 per annum, and in return turned over
l00,000 acres of property and agreed to suppress the locals.
We come then, to the crux of the matter. Of all the covers noted in
auction catalogues, and other sources so far, all have had odd
frankings in locals. There is no record of the registration rate being used as
such. The "Dan Calder" cover is typical of all (including the Hambly
covers) in showing 2½d. and 3d. in N.S.W. postage - the regular single
letter rate before 1900 - and 2d. or 3d. in locals. One fine point was ignored
by the N.S.W. Post Office: A.N.H. Co. has a subsidy of &pounD; 50 per annum for
handling the mails between Sydney and Vila. as well as being paid for the
cartage thereof, and it was technically illegal for the company to charge local
postage on a cover from Vila to Sydney, but in the absence of real
jurisdiction N.S.W. ignored the infraction.
In spite of all the above showing that no "clean" material exists, or is as yet
reported, we have genuine uses anyway. As long as mails did not
move unless they were franked with a particular stamp then we have a
"use" of the stamp. And this statement applies to the really fake
1903 Syndicat Francais locals. As long as a ship's captain would not
accept letters from outlying posts unless they bought a particular stamp
from him then we can consider that a real relationship exists between the
stamp and the movement of mails.
The only uses of the 1897 locals which may be condemned are chose
after 30 September 1900. I stated above that some covers had 3d. in
N.S.W. postage, and implied it was the regular rate: this is not so as
21/2d. was correct and 3d. an overpayment.
I would like, at this point, since the members of the Pacific lslands Circle
have published such helpful material in your journal to report that I have
N.S.W. stamp S.G. 223f cancelled with the genuine agency strike of Vila,
New Hebrides, of DE 30/1892. This is, I believe, the earliest reported
since Armstrong, in 1911. showed a 1895 strike. - Yours, etc.. Nathan
Hals, New York.
[Mr Hals has just advised by air letter that the first portion of the article he
refers to was published in Stamp Collecting, 24 February, and that it
would be concluded in the 3 March issue.]
[He adds: "I have acquired a single "Hambley"' cover of 22 Jun 97 with
S.G. 256 and 286 and a pair of the 1d. locals, cancelled only with the
ANH Port Vila Post cancel - so this can be added to the brief number of
'genuine' covers reported."]