Tag Archives: Australia

The inaugural regular air mail service from England to Australia, December 1934

The following article was written by John Crowe, who recently visited the Royal Mail Archive to research the inaugural regular weekly service from England to Australia, and in particular the ceremony which took place at Croydon Aerodrome on Saturday 8th December 1934…

The ceremony took place in front of the HP 42 “Hengist” and was presided over by the Secretary of State for Air, Lord Londonderry. He had received mail for despatch to Australia from their majesties the King and Queen and HRH the Prince of Wales. He handed the mail to the Postmaster General, Sir Kingsley Wood, who stamped it with a special Croydon Aerodrome steel date stamp with an ivory and silver handle. This special date-stamp is slightly smaller than the normal Croydon Aerodrome cancel with a diameter of 24 mm, compared with 26 mm for the normal date-stamp. The royal letters were then put in a blue silk bag which was handed to Sir Eric Geddes, the chairman of Imperial Airways, and he in turn handed it to the pilot of the aircraft.

Tractors towing Hengist out of the Imperial Airways’ hangar at Croydon, prior to the first service to Australia. (POST 118/201)

Tractors towing Hengist out of the Imperial Airways’ hangar at Croydon, prior to the first service to Australia. (POST 118/201)

A cover addressed to the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Rt. Hon. J.A. Lyons, received the same treatment as the royal letters with the special date-stamp. The cover has an Air Ministry cachet and beneath it the cachet PRIME MINISTER.

Another cover which received the royal treatment together with the letter which was enclosed, are below. The letter is from the Postmaster General, Sir Kingsley Wood, to his opposite number in Australia. The Commonwealth Postmaster General at the time was Senator the Hon. Alexander John McLachlan.

Cover addressed to The Postmaster General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Cover addressed to The Postmaster General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Letter addressed to The Postmaster General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Letter addressed to The Postmaster General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

I purchased the letter and cover in 2002 from Maurice Porter. I do not know how it first came into the public domain. Presumably, the Commonwealth Postmaster retained it as a personal item and disposed of it at some later date. Maurice has told me that he purchased it in the Harmer’s sale of the late Alex Newall’s collection. He thinks Alex might have acquired it through one of his FISA connections.

Below is a cover which was carried on the inaugural flight and which was cancelled with the normal Croydon Aerodrome date-stamp. It was signed later (January 1935) by the Postmaster General, Sir Kingsley Wood.

A cover carried on the inaugural flight.

A cover carried on the inaugural flight.

This is the special steel, Croydon Aerodrome datestamp with an ivory and silver handle.

Special Croydon Aerodrome datestamp.

Special Croydon Aerodrome datestamp.

The story of the ivory and silver hand-stamp is an interesting one. It appears that after Sir Kingsley Wood had stamped the VIP mail the hand-stamp was sent with the mail to the Postmaster General of Australia, probably in the blue silk bag, to be retained as a souvenir.

First Australian Air Mail Bag, Dec 1934 (POST 118/205)

First Australian Air Mail Bag, Dec 1934 (POST 118/205)

The hand-stamp remained in Australia, presumably in the possession of the Australian postal archive in Melbourne, until 1984. In that year the curator of the National Postal Museum, as it then was, visited Melbourne to attend the philatelic exhibition known as “Ausipex”. As a result of his visit the hand-stamp was returned to the UK where it can be viewed, by appointment, at the Royal Mail Archive. The silver band around the middle of the hand-stamp reads “First England to Australia/ Air Mail/ 8th Dec 1934” and the metal plate on the top of the box reads “FIRST/ENGLAND TO AUSTRALIA/AIR MAIL/ 8TH DECEMBER 1934”.

John Crowe examines the handstamp during his visit to the Royal Mail Archive.

John Crowe examines the handstamp during his visit to the Royal Mail Archive.

The handstamp.

The handstamp.

Go to Flickr to see images of the First Australian Air Mail.

Acknowledgements

John Crowe thanks Julian Stray (Curator) and Barry Attoe (Search Room Manager) of the BPMA for their help in viewing the hand-stamp; also Stan Wheatcroft whose earlier work is the basis for much of this article.

BPMA thanks John Crowe and Peter Winget for allowing us to publish this article on our blog.

Mail to Australia, allegro con brio

The painting Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west by the Australian artist Tom Roberts may not seem to have an immediate connection with Britain’s postal service, but it is supposedly the General Post Office (GPO) which attracted Roberts to paint the scene.

Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west by Tom Roberts, c.1885-86, reworked 1890 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra and the National Library of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1918)

Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west by Tom Roberts, c.1885-86, reworked 1890 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra and the National Library of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1918)

Bourke Street was then and still is a vital thoroughfare in the heart of commercial Melbourne, and the GPO building was an important focal point in the capital of the rapidly-developing British colony of Victoria. Such was the importance of the mails to the city’s residents that flags where hung from the GPO’s clock tower to signal their progress – from when a ship was sighted off the coast of Albany, Western Australia (more than 1,500 miles away) through to the completion of sorting.

As records in the Royal Mail Archive tell us (POST 29/286B), in 1880 it could take up to 58 days for mails to travel from Southampton to Melbourne. By the time Roberts painted Bourke Street west, a telegraph connecting Australia to the rest of the world had been in operation for more than a decade; this enabled messages to travel between London and Melbourne in 24 hours, but it was businesses which could most afford to use the technology.

Communications between the United Kingdom and the Australian colonies were not just vital for businesses though, they were vital for people too. As a group of Australian and New Zealand colonial leaders who attended the 1867 Inter-Colonial Postal Conference in Melbourne put it in a “Memorial” of their meeting addressed to Queen Victoria:

While the productive capabilities and the commerce of the associated Colonies have attained a magnitude which, it is humbly submitted, entitles them to a foremost place in the consideration of Great Britain, their geographical extent imposes upon them deprivations and hardships which can only be alleviated by new and various means of communication with the rest of the world. The farther the settlement of population advances the greater becomes the difficulty. Thus the enterprise of the colonists in extending the bounds of the Empire, and spreading the lustre of Your Majesty’s name, entails upon them the penalty of their more certain exclusion from British intelligence. In the early years of Australian colonization this virtual banishment was a condition of life to be faced and endured as inevitable; but the Colonies of the present day, as fields of production and as markets of consumption for the national manufacturers have advances to a position which makes their intimate connexion not less important to the United Kingdom than to themselves.

– Postal Conference – Memorial of the Representatives of the Six Colonies of Victoria, New South Wales, New Zealand, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania Postal Conference – to Her Majesty the Queen, c. 1868 (POST 29/151)

Amongst the attendees of the conference was Henry Parkes, then a rising politician and soon to be elected Premier of New South Wales. By the 1890s, the era in which Allegro Con Brio was painted, Parkes was calling for a united Australia, arguing that a central government could make important decisions about, amongst other things, telegraphs and postal services. The points made in the 1867 Postal Conference Memorial about the communication needs of ordinary people must have informed his thinking, and he presumably understood that for the ordinary people and entrepreneurs alike the flags hanging from Melbourne’s GPO clock tower were more than just a colourful addition to the busy street scene Roberts captured and described as Allegro con brio (a musical term meaning “fast and with spirit”), they were an vital signal that news had arrived.

Unfortunately for us those flags are not visible in Robert’s painting, although the GPO’s extensions appear in the girder to the far right of the canvas. The people on Bourke Street, some of whom were no doubt going to or coming from the GPO, are the stars on show here.

– Alison Bean, Web Officer

Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and is reproduced here with their kind permission.

Sources
The History of Australia
by Manning Clark, Meredith Hooper and Susanne Ferrier, 1988
National Gallery of Australia – Collection Search – Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west
Royal Mail Archive – Australian Colonies. Postal services with Inter-Colonial Conference at Melbourne, c.1868 (POST 29/151)
Royal Mail Archive – Melbourne-Ceylon mail service. Contract between Victoria and P&O (Peninsular and Oriental) Steam Navigation Co., c.1880 (POST 29/286B)