We have previously produced articles individually on this subject, but
the pioneer work of Phil Collas, of Australia, caused us to look at our
work again, and the researches, pursued by J. Chas. Ankin, of Sydney,
Australia, at our request, brilliantly capped our efforts and permitted us to
feel sure that we were not going to obscure our subject instead of clarifying it.
Mr. Ankin, no longer young, and a busy executive, used his position to
badger and cajole information from original sources, and spent much time
delving into sources in libraries that lead us to believe we have the basic
story, if not the definitive statement on these stamps. N.H. and J.C. ;
The Australasian New Hebrides Company Locals of 1897 may well be
the most interesting of a fascinating facet of philately, for their locale
encompassed a virtual archipelago covering thousands of square miles of
the Pacific, and their association with ships and sea posts can endear them
to those who sniff salt air at the sight of a PAQUEBOT marking.
The New Hebrides are one of the last savage outposts of the legendary
South Sea Isles. Volcanoes rumble and erupt, cannibals still can
remember their last taste of "long pig", and rocks and coral have built up
rugged and colourful islands that will grow almost anything and suffer under
tropic rains and hurricanes. In the early 1800s their sandalwood
attracted adventurers, and their natives were taken in slavery and
bondage by the "blackbirders". The sly, the brutal, the lawless, the
adventurers, all flocked there, for law did not really come to the islands until
1908. One "unreconstructed" Southern soldier fled the States after
the Civil War and was recounted as having become king of one of the
islands. But out of all this colour and blood came the inevitable - the trader
and settler seeking stability upon which to found a source of livelihood,
and the shrewd took over from the sly.
With the increase in enterprises centred in the islands came the need
for communications and postal services gradually increased from the
haphazard handling of letters by ship's captains as a favour to the licensing
of stamp agents by New South Wales, and thence, in 1892, to the
establishment of a regular postal agency. However, it was not truly a
case of the flag following trade, for England and France were reluctant to
undergo the costs of governing the islands and would not claim them. As
the great majority of postal matters flowed through Sydney (and for that
matter from New Caledonia to Sydney up to the 1890s, in which the French
required "Sydney Views" be used on outgoing mail and supported a
N.S.W.-licensed stamp seller), the New South Wales Post Office
interested itself in postal affairs for the New Hebrides, even though unsure
of its legal ground, and gradually established rules and schedules and
ship subsidies for the islands.
The southernmost island of Aneityum was for long the centre of activities for
the New Hebrides, especially because it lay on the direct route from
Australian ports to Fiji, but the shift in emphasis from sandalwood
exploitation to agriculture and the copra trade made the island of Efate
(French: Vate) and its better port facilities at Vila, a more natural locus
of activity and it became the main port. Ships were now scheduled in
and out of the islands in their voyages to the Solomons, Fiji, and New
Caledonia, but the inter-island communications remained on an
unsure basis, depending on itinerant trading vessels.
No one planter or group of people was in a position to establish or
maintain any sort of regular communications among the islands,
but in the scramble to establish business empires that would show, on
the part of their nationals, the value of French or British sovereignty, one
company did grow enough to attempt the task-the Australasian New
Hebrides Company, Ltd. (hereafter the A.N.H. Co.).
An Australasian New Hebrides Co. was organised in 1887 to fulfil an
Australian dream of commercially dominating the group, and it went
about acquiring land and developing trading posts as well as organising
agricultural activities. It does not appear to have been supported by
much more than enthusiasm, for it failed in 1892 upon the lass of
shipping facilities, which withdrew when certain subsidies were lost. By
this time there had grown into great commercial power the firm of Burns
Philp & Co. Ltd., headed by James Burns, a man of great energy and
determination. He decided that the status and organisation of his
business interests could enable him and his associates to make a better
try at dominating the New Hebrides and help bring them under England's
flag through a new company.
To this end, James Burns, James Inglis, Donald Thompson, and John
McPherson, as Directors, organised a new Australasian New Hebrides
Company, Ltd. in August 1893 with Burns Philp & Co. Ltd. as General
Manager. Page 41, clause 137, of the "Memorandum of Articles of
Association of the Australasian New Hebrides Company Ltd." has:-
Burns Philp & Co. Limited shall be the General Manager of the Company
upon such terms and conditions and with such powers and authorities as
may be agreed upon between the Directors and the said Burns Philp &
Co. Limited. The objects for which the Company is established are :
To purchase or otherwise acquire and take over from the liquidator of the
Australasian New Hebrides Coy. Limited now in liquidation the whole
property and assets etc. Shareholders in the Company were listed as :-
Joim McPherson, Merchant. John Parker, Merchant.
Dougal Thompson, Merchant. J. T. Walker, Financier.
Adam Forsyth, Mercbant. P. G. Black, Accountant.
We do not believe we are forward in stating that A.N.H. Co. was a creature
of Burns Philp & Co., and subsequent events show that only by keeping this
in mind can the seeming confusions on the 1897 locals be clarified.
Pending proof to the contrary, we believe that A.N.H. Co. did not own
any vessels but chartered ships from Burns Philp to carry on its activities.
No such subsidies by Victoria or New South Wales for (£1,000 or £1,200
per annum, as bad been granted to the Australian Union Shipping Co., or
Australian United Steam Navigation Co. up to 1892 were enjoyed by the
Application was made to the Postmaster-General of New South
Wales for the sum of £50 per annum to pay for the handling of mails
between Vila and Sydney, which was granted along with regular rates for
carrying the mails, but no other governmental assistance was given in
the commercial conquest of the islands.
Hindsight enables us to see that even though fierce drive was applied in the
new venture it was doomed, as its predecessor had been. Changes in
sources of cotton, coffee, and other products, tremendous shipping
charges for travelling the great distances to markets, the increased
tempo of French competition backed by governmental subsidies, and failure
to bring on annexation by England caused a decline which ended in
failure to the sum of about £25,000 in 1897.
Early in 1897 the Manager of A.N.H.Co. approached the New South
Wales Postmaster-General in regard to local stamps which it was about to
introduce for use in the islands. We do not believe that this measure was
one of desperation in a search for revenue, but rather that it shows that
Burns Philp had determined to keep active in the islands in spite of the
failure of its subsidiary. However, at this time A.N.H. Co. was not in
liquidation, though it was in trouble.
The Manager indicated to the Postmaster-General that up to then
the inter-island mails had been carried free of charge, and because of this
not a deal of time could be devoted to the safe handling of such letters. To
overcome this aspect, he explained, the Company had decided to make a
charge to cover the carriage of letters among the islands and the handling
time involved. The charge was to be 1d. for each half-ounce and was to
be indicated in the form of an adhesive stamp. The intention was to
put this in force as from May 1st, 1897. It was stated that upon receipt
of the letters by the Purser on the travelling steamer the stamps would
be cancelled and the letters tied up, recorded and handed in at Vila
headquarters. The Manager went on ;-
The Sydney and Inter-Island steamers meet at Port Vila. There is, of course,
a considerable number of letters to and from Sydney and have to be
sorted at Port Vila for the different islands, and letters from the islands
made up for Sydney; Up to the present it has been the rule, which
has been insisted upon, that senders of letters should pay 2½d per half oz.
and these letters are carried on the Company's steamers to Sydney and
handed over to your authorities directly upon arrival of the vessel.
From this you will see that the New South Wales authorities reap the
whole benefit of the postage whilst we receive nothing, and what I wish
to bring before you is that if letters hearing the Company's stamps from
the Hebrides to New South Wales would be carried to their destination
by you on payment by us to you of any proportion of the postage that
may be due for carriage to such destination.
As our steamer carries the letters from the Hebrides to Sydney, and as they
are carried gratis the sender should only either put on the 1d stamp for
Sydney and the 2d for letters going to a country town. Therefore this would
leave us for our carriage the difference. Again I might point out that
letters posted in Sydney are carried by our Sydney steamer to Port Vila and
up to the present have been carried throughout the island free. With the
new arrangement coming into force there would, of course, be an
inter-island charge for the delivery of your letters, 1d for every half oz. Or
part thereof. This would make the through charge to destination on any
of your letters 3½d and we feel certain that you would not care to have the
extra charge made, preferring to have the letter carried to destination with
original amount of postage thereon, and whilst on the question I bring this
matter under your notice.
Provided that you can see your way to meet us in the above matter, we
will, of course, add to our present issue a stamp of the value of 2½d for
letters coming to Sydney."
It must be noted that the second paragraph of the above letter
contains the error in the Company's premise, for they did have the subsidy
of £50 per annum plus payment for carriage of the mails between Vila and
Sydney. The legal position of the department was based on this factor,
and the post office, upon considering the proposal, replied as follows:
Referring to your communication of the third instant respecting postage
on correspondence for the New Hebrides, and to your suggestion that
letters bearing the stamps issued by your Company be carried to their
destination by this Department on payment by the Company of any
proportion of the postage that may be due such service. I am directed to
point out that the mail matter carried between this Colony and the New
Hebrides is small, being only about 241 letters per mail, most of which
letters were for foreign places, and as this Department at present allows your
Company the sum of £50 a year for the distribution of correspondence, it
is thought that this sum, added to the money paid for conveyance of mails
by vessels, is quite as much as the limited correspondence justifies.
I am to add that if your Company or the residents of the New Hebrides
wish to make use of the mail lines of this Department, all that is necessary
is that they should provide themselves with New South Wales postage
stamps, and, from the fact of the amount of correspondence being so
small, no large outlay by your company would be needed in order to
keep a stock of such stamps on hand.
As regards the proposal to charge for the delivery of Inter-Island letters I am
to state that the Department cannot Interfere with any arrangement of this
character, and it must be settled between your Company and the
persons to whom the letters are addressed.
(Note.. The Australasian New Hebrides Co. local manager in Vila
was the postal agent of New South Wales).
The official records hold no further notes on this episode but, as is
known from other sources, the stamps proposed by the company were
issued on March 17th, 1897, instead of May 1st, and two values were sold
- 1d. and 2d.
The two stamps bad the same design, as illustrated. They picture Vila as
seen from the bay, with the A.N.H. Co. buildings occupying the centre.
The 1d. was in a black vignette and magenta border, and the 2d. in blue
and brown. They were designed for the company by the late A. F. Basset
Hull, R.D.P. His original descriptive article, dated April 14th, 1897, and his
design are in the possession of the Pacific Islands Circle of the Royal
Sydney Philatelic Club.
Printers of the stamps were Messrs. John Sands & Co., of Sydney, who
lithographed them in two operations on a heavy wove unwatermarked
paper in sheets of 120 (10 x 12), and rouletted them approximately 8½. The
original perforating machine is still used by John Sands on occasion,
and it was of such design that the blades could not be set close enough
to perforate a row at a time, so the blades were set to roulette two rows
at one operation and thus required the passage of each sheet through
the machine twice in each direction. The paper was supplied by Wiggins
Teape, of London, who state, in the absence of their records, destroyed in
the blitz, that they would not have sent gummed paper; Mr. Ankin's
associates state that the paper was gummed by hand and probably had
alum in it to prevent curling. A small quantity of each value was on toned
paper, and this variety is quite scarce.
The John Sands records für 1897 are unavailable, but in the recollection of
several retired employees they stated that 2,000 sheets of 1d. and 1,000
sheets of the 2d. were printed, and only the one printing was ordered and
prepared. They state that Burns Philp placed the order and that it was
accepted on that basis because an order from the staggering A.N.H. Co.
would not have been accepted. These facts are important in the
history of the stamps after September 1897.
On the top margin of each sheet was the legend AUSTRALIAN NEW
HEBRIDES COMPANY LIMITED, INTER-ISLAND POSTAGE, Price 1d.
(or 2d.) per label. 1s. (or 2s.) per Row of 12. 10s. (or £1) per Sheet of 120. A
serial number in four digits was printed above the top left stamp, numbers
under 1;000 being preceded by a zero or zeros. Guide crosses, or rather
registration crosses for purposes of lining up the vignette, appear on each
side margin in the centre.
The 1d. is known in black and light red and in a lighter black and dark
red. The 2d. is known in dull blue and chocolate-brown, and dark blue and
red-brown, of which both are known on toned paper.
The vignette was prepared from a copperplate taken from a photograph
of Vila, and the same stone was used for both values, but each
denomination had its own frame stone, the differences being very
apparent. The vignette was too large for the frame and thus consistently
intrudes upon it, usually on one side only.
The Luff Collection in the Philatelic Foundation (New York) has a proof of
the 1d. on thin ordinary paper with black vignette, but the frame is in the
bright brown of the 2d. Out from each corner is a hair-line corner in the
colour of the frame. There is a pencilled date, "11.3.97." (March
11th, 1897). In their book "Postage Stamps" (Puffin Picture Book 69), L.
N. and M. Williams picture, on page 29, this proof, listing it as one of the
local stamps of the world. Reports of the paper, etc., indicate its probable
origin, for we can be sure that Mr. Luff either received his copy at the time, or
from a trusted source, and unless many more copies appear it may not
be tagged as a forgery.
No specimen copies are known to have been made, but see "Fakes"
and "Forgeries" below.
Fakes and Forgeries.
The London market seems to be the source of copies overprinted
SPECIMEN in very oily black ink. Their status is not founded upon
The same source has provided copies of the 1d. surcharged with
2½d. This is clever, in the light of the proposal in the company's letter
quoted above but it, too, is unsupported by facts.
Aside from the proof shown by the Williams. which might appear again,
there are no forgeries known, and none may be expected in the light of
the quantities available and their present prices.
Hurt reported a copy cancelled in 1896, and the New Hebrides Study
Circle has a report of one cancelled 25 JAN 97. The latter may turn out to
be JUN instead of JAN. but at face value the report is of a fake.
The validity of these stamps for postal purposes covered not only inter-island
passage, but also served to pay the steamer rate to Sydney from Vila (the
latter being quite illegal in view of the subsidy terms, but as long as letters
bore New South Wales stamps as well, no objection was raised by the
post office). At first, the company was careless about making sure the
proper N.S.W. postage was applied, but the matter was brought to their
attention and they published a notice to the effect that on and after June
1st, 1897, such postage was obligatory. This did not, of course,
apply to purely inter-island mail.
The rates of postage were 1d. for each half oz. or fraction for letters,
each 4 oz. or fraction for packets and magazines, 8 oz. or fraction for
parcels, and for newspapers. There was a published rate of 2d. for
registration, but on this latter rate no knowledge of the practice is at hand.
Examples of covers with 2d. or more in stamps are known without any
marking indicating registration, and it is probable that it was not used.
The inter-island ports of call were :-
Sandwich Island : Vila,
Etorna, Metensa Bay and Undine Bay.
Tanna Island : Fijian, Kwammera, Port Resolution. White Sand,
Lenelagus Weasisi, and Lauanbukat.
Erromanga Island : Dillons Bay and Potemia Bay.
Aneityum Island: Anelgehat and Port Patrick.
Futuna Island : Futuna.
Aniwa Island : Aniwa.
Nguna Island : Nguna.
Mai Island : Mai.
Tongariki Island: Tongariki.
Tongoa Island : Tongoa and Abuartare.
Epi lsland : Drummond Bay, White Spot Point, Ringdove Bay, Mossu's, Foreland, Burumba, and
Espiritu Santo Island : Pallier and Stephens.
Vanna Luava Island : Port Patterson.
Aurora Island : Lakarere.
Aoba Island : Lunguana.
Pentecost Island : North Pentecost, Trucchy's, Louworbot, and Mattelli's
and the islands of Ranon, Dip Point, Lonowei, Taviak, Ambryn, the Santa
Cruz, Banks and Torres Groups.
It is futile to look for some of the above places on a map for they were
arbitrary designations, such as the names of planters, in order to facilitate
mail and cargo handling.
The Australian Philatelist of April 26th, 1897, has an unsigned news note on
the company and its postal activities in which the intention to prevent any
suspicion of philatelic activity with the stamps was confirmed. It is believed
that this policy was adhered to in the main, at least up to July 1897. The
same journal of July 26th, 1897, on page 36, had the following note:
The island steamer Ysabel brought up a number of letters franked by the
inter-insular stamps in conjunction with 2½d. N.S.W. adhesives. The
manager of the ANH Co. informs us that all letters sent by the Company's
agents to the head office, and also abroad, are despatched "O.C.S." (On
Company's Service), and consequently do not bear inter-insular
stamps; only those from independent residents are franked with these
As briefly outlined before, the company was never in a firm financial
setting. In spite of the holding of 100,000 acres of land and the help of
Burns Philp with shipping, the company was up against British laws
against exploitation of the natives and the economic squeeze of French
competition, as well as changes in world sources and supplies. Sometime
after June 1897 the company failed in the amount of about £25,000 and
Burns Philp became the successor as from September 30th, 1897.
Burns Philp & Co. continued to operate the trading post at Vila
without erasing the ANH name from its roof and sides, and, for all we
know, the managers in charge there probably continued as the N.S.W.
postal agents as well. The use of the inter-island stamps continued, but the
finding of a cover with no evidence of philatelic preparation has not been
reported yet. As a matter of fact, starting with August 1897, up to 1900,
the supply of cancelled stamps (on which the date-stamp was kept up to
date) is fairly good and covers are regularly seen, though none yet
without some taint, to be explained later.
Burns Philp received a subsidy of £3,600 per annum, beginning
September 1st, 1900, to operate a regular steamship service to and from
the islands, and an inter-island service for the conveyance of mails and
cargo. The use of the locals was specifically forbidden under the terms
of the subsidy, and we may thus use that date to determine the period of
In 1912, tenders were called for by Burns Philp for the purchase of the
remainders of the stock of ANH locals. The quantities were described
140,000 at 1d. lilac and black £583 6s. 8d.
94,000 at 2d. brown and blue £783 6s. 8d.
Tenders closed March 1st, 1913, and the lot was purchased by T. H.
Nicolle, a Sydney stamp dealer.
Two types of date-stamps were used to date and cancel stamps, as
illustrated. The first, of 26½mm. inscribed PORT VILA POST above,
A.N.H. CO. LTD below, differed only in the top line, and the size of 26 mm.,
for the TRAVELLING POST strike used aboard the inter-island vessel.
To date, nothing suspicious has been seen on these two, in-so-far as
cancelled copies of the stamps are concerned.
There have been reports of the stamps, and the associated N.S.W.
stamps, being cancelled only with the official N.S.W. agency postmark, but
none have been pictured and the reports come under the heading of
hearsay. The opposite, however, is true - that N.S.W. stamps and the
locals are known cancelled with the company strike.
Collectors, especially of late years, have affixed the locals to covers
prepared for philatelic purposes, along with legitimate postage, and had them
cancelled, hut never at Vila - always on a paquebot or at a foreign post
office as Tahiti or even Santo.
Validity of used copies.
To date, only about five singles are known hearing cancellations dated
prior to August, and only one cover is known. The cover illustrated bears
the 2d. and is addressed to "Stephens ", which, it will be noted,
was a call on Santo. It is obviously philatelic with 1d. too much postage
and both date-stamps, one of 17 APR 97, and the other of 17 MAY 97, and
it might be that one is an error of date. However, it is from the period of
March-July 1897, and the address helps to make it more acceptable.
As stated, from August on there is no lack of cancelled copies, most of
which look as though they were cancelled alike as to position of the
strike. Covers are seen at auctions with too obvious variations in
postage, such as 3d. N.S,W. (the rate was 2½d. up to 1899 and then was
dropped to 2d.), plus 3d. in locals; this would indicate that the letter was not
overweight, but overpaid, the N.S.W. postage indicating that point, plus the
fact that it was not registered. To date, no "clean" covers of
post-August have been noted, and a spate of covers without N.S. W.
postage - only locals-have been floated recently that bore addresses in
Europe and were cancelled with the much used company strikes after
September 1st, 1900. The prices asked on most of this material can be
mildly called preposterous.
We are indebted to S. C. Jersey, of Oak Park, Illinois, U .S.A. for seeing
most of the genuine material (as well as the spurious material).