25 July 2020
In the second of three special articles on Tristan da Cunha, Neil Donen and Gary Wayne Loew look at 1935 Silver Jubilee stamps on covers mailed from the island.
In December 1933 the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) appointed the Reverend Harold Wilde as pastor for the island of Tristan da Cunha (Tristan). His role also encompassed that of Administrator and Postmaster. In this, the second of three articles on Tristan, we look at 1935 Silver Jubilee stamps on covers mailed from the island.
There is limited information on early mail from Tristan. Beginning in 1908 the local clergyman, the Rev. JG Barrow, applied a handmade cachet (with which he had been supplied by the SPG) to outgoing mail. George Crabb has catalogued the various cachets used, listing Types I through X between 1908 and 1951.1,2 It seems it was common practice for the pastor, at the end of his term of service, to return the cachet to the SPG for his successor. On occasion, however, the minister held on to the handstamp.
No stamps were issued for Tristan da Cunha until 1952 (These were St. Helena stamps overprinted Tristan da Cunha. The first Tristan stamps were issued as part of the 1953 Coronation Common Design issue). Mail sent from Tristan until 1952 could either have no stamps or have stamps applied to the covers, usually from British Dominion country or a colony. Those covers without stamps were charged at the single rate and not the double ‘Postage Dues’ fees. Covers with stamps on them supposed to pay the same postage rate as that of St. Helena i.e. 2d. Those covers with deficiencies in the postal rate were charged the double deficiency fee. In 1938 Tristan was recognised as a Dependency of St. Helena and thus, postally, stamps of St. Helena could be used for covers mailed from Tristan. However, no stamps were made available to the island for this purpose and the practice of mail with and without stamps on them continued.
When Wilde arrived in February 1934 he brought with him the Type V cachet handstamp. At the time of his departure in August 1940, Type VI and Type VII cachets had been introduced and used to cancel outgoing mail. Wilde took with him the Type V cachet which he kept i.e. it was not returned to the SPG.
Table 1 provides information on the three types of cachets in use between 1935 and 1940. All are included as Silver Jubilee covers have been seen with all three types of cachet.
Wilde brought with him an indelible ink stamping pad for postmarking the mail. In a letter dated 11 November 1935 to the SPG (Wilde tended to write a series of letters between the visits by various vessels) he noted that the pad was ‘worn out and the ink is very poor and will soon fade.”3 Although two more vessels did call at Tristan in December and carried mail from the island, no 1935 Silver Jubilee stamps were used. The arrival of the SS Auditor and, undoubtedly, a new stamp pad, resulted in subsequent clear cancellation marks. It is not clear how much of a problem the lack of ink was, as most of the covers we have seen appear to have reasonably good quality cachet marks.
The Type VI cachet was apparently made in Cape Town, South Africa by JAR Moore and carried to Tristan on the SS Harmala. The Type VII cachet was brought to Tristan on the HMS Milford in 1938. As noted above, Wilde took the Type V cachet back to England in 1940.
The Covers and Vessels
The volume of mail to and from Tristan began to rise dramatically in the early 1930s when collectors, in search of unusual postmarks, sent mail to widespread parts of the globe. Most of the philatelic Tristan mail seems to originated from Great Britain with the British issue dominating.
Some covers from Southern Africa were noted and we presume these to have resulted from local philatelists arranging for their mail to be included when the various vessels departed from Cape Town to Tristan. We have included mail data whenever we have identified this information (see Table 2). To put these numbers in to perspective, one should realise that the total population of Tristan grew from 160 to 200 persons during the period of Wilde’s stay.
Virtually all of the outgoing mail covers cancelled on Tristan were undated. Thus, we are left to conjecture when a cover was mailed and, on which vessels they were carried. Some covers did have a receiving cancel. For this latter group, one can make an educated guess. It has been suggested that the use of the Type V cachet on Tristan diminished greatly after the introduction of the other two cachets, particularly the Type VII cachet. This would seem to indicate that most Type V covers were cancelled before March 1938.
It appears that not all mail was actually cancelled on the island. Allan Crawford describes the following experience whilst travelling to Tristan on the SS Anatolia in December 1937 with members of the Norwegian Scientific Expedition.4 On board was the Reverend Wilde who was returning to Tristan after his visit to England together with the Type V cachet.
Crawford indicated “Amongst our varied collection of cargo we were also carrying Tristan’s annual mail, and one evening during the voyage the bags were opened and the genuine Tristan da Cunha letters were sorted from the rest. The ‘rest’ belonged to thousands of stamp collectors, who seem to derive vicarious pleasure from the travels of their envelopes. I was given the job of stamping these with the ‘Tristan da Cunha’ rubber stamp and dispatching them on their journeys.”
This experience was probably unique, although it may have occurred on the other occasions the Rev. Wilde left the island.
When Wilde took the Type V cachet back to England in 1940, he did not return it to the SPG. It was subsequently used in association with some of the Tristan overprinted stamps he had printed in 1937.
During Wilde’s visit to England in 1937, the Type VI cachet remained on Tristan. William Repetto acted as postmaster during this period. A number of covers were cancelled and signed by Repetto on 12 May 1937, coronation day. We are not aware of any Silver Jubilee stamps on any of these specially cancelled covers.
We have included a selection of Silver Jubilee covers postmarked with Tristan handstamps. These are merely intended as an illustration of the possibilities for collectors and postal historians to pursue.
- Crabb, G. The History and Postal History of Tristan Da Cunha. George Crabb. Epsom, Surrey, U.K. 1980
- Mackay JA & Crabb GF. Tristan da Cunha. Its Postal History and Philately. Mackay and Crabb. Surrey. 1965
- Taylor, R. “Philatelic activity on Tristan da Cunha from 1927 to 1940.” In Thirty Years of St. Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philately. Editors Mueller, MD & McCann, PP. St. Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society. Morgantown, USA. 2005
- Crawford, AB. I went to Tristan. Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. London. 1941
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