Maritime Monday for February 10th, 2014: More Nautical Philately

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February 9, 2014

stamp flash


Christopher Columbus; Bahamas


Centennial of the Opening of Japan by Matthew Perry (991 × 640 pixels)


1913 10 cent Parcel Post; Steamship & Mail Tender

Steamboats were carrying mail as early as November, 1808.  Initially letters were carried either unofficially by crew and passengers – bypassing local Post Offices – or under the existing provisions for ship letters, whereby postmasters at ports of call gave ship captains two cents for each letter and then charged letter recipients six cents postage.

Although popularly associated with New Orleans and the Mississippi River, steamboats were first used commercially on the Hudson River in New York, connecting New York City with the state’s capital, Albany.   In 1813 Congress authorized the Postmaster General to contract for the carriage of mail by steamboat, provided it was no more expensive than if transported by land.

To help limit revenue losses, in 1823 Congress declared waterways upon which steamboats regularly traveled to be post roads, making it illegal for private express companies to carry mail on them. By the early 1830s contracted service began on the Ohio River from present-day Huntington, West Virginia, via Cincinnati, as far west as Louisville, Kentucky.

mayrt: The Mayflower, 1855 (Currier & Ives print, 1855 – In December 1855, less than a year after entering service between St. Louis and New Orleans – the Mayflower was destroyed by fire.  The average lifespan of an antebellum steamboat on the Mississippi River was five to six years.  Daily hazards included explosions, fires, collisions and the submerged, hull-piercing deadwood called “snags.”

Contracted steamboat service west of Louisville, to New Orleans, began in November 1837. By the mid-1800s, the Post Office Department had greatly expanded its use of steamboats to carry mail.  Between 1845 and 1855 the distance that mail was transported by steamboat had nearly doubled, from 7,625 to 14,619 miles.


In November 1848, Postmaster General Cave Johnson dispatched a special agent to establish Post Offices in the newly-acquired territory of California.  By Christmas, steamships under contract with the Navy Department were carrying U.S. Mail from New York to California via the Isthmus of Panama. When the ships reached Panama, the mail was taken off and transported in canoes or on pack animals – and later by railroad – about 50 miles to the Pacific coast.

Another steamship collected the mail on the Pacific side and headed north.  The aim was to get a letter from the East Coast to California in three to four weeks.  Although that goal was often missed, steamships remained a vital link between East and West until the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869.

Congress authorized the Secretary of the Navy to enter into contracts with private companies for the construction and operation of mail-carrying steamships.  The plan was for the steamships to be convertible to warships if the need arose.  Congress’ intent was to simultaneously upgrade the U.S. naval fleet, provide mail service to California, and subsidize American steamship companies so they could better compete with England’s successful Cunard line.

USPS; About Steamboats

gilbertengraved and printed by Thomas De La Rue & Co., Ltd., and issued for use in Gilbert and Ellis Islands on January 14, 1939

A chain of sixteen atolls and coral islands in the western Pacific Ocean that are recognised as part of the Micronesia subregion of Oceania.

The Gilbert and Ellice Islands were a British protectorate from 1892 and colony from 1916 until 1 January 1976, when the islands were divided into two colonies which became independent nations shortly after. By consequence of a referendum, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony ceased to exist on 1 January 1976 and the separate British colonies of Kiribati and Tuvalu came into existence.

The Gilbert Islands were named in 1820 by a Russian admiral, Johann von Krusenstern after a British captain, Thomas Gilbert, who crossed the archipelago in 1788. Funafuti atoll was named Ellice’s Island after Edward Ellice, a British politician and merchant, by Captain Arent de Peyster, who sighted the islands in 1819. +

cod ketch w/ split dried cod

 Set depicting historical ships, designed by A. E. Holm, printed by photogravure, and issued by Norway on August 27, 1960 to honor the Norwegian shipping industry


Bark Skumvaer w/ knot and Viking long ship w/ crossed swords

Skomvær was a steel-hulled barque built in 1890 for J. C. & G. Knudsen in Porsgrunn, Telemark, Norway.  The ship struggled to compete in the 20th century with the advent of the steamship, and in 1924 she was decommissioned and sold for scrap. more

Stålbark Skomvær

Stålbark Skomvær

steel bark Skomvær

steel bark Skomvær

considered the largest sailing ship built in Norway, with a strong rig including 26 topsails, staysails, headsails and gaffsails on three masts.
Dead weight: 2,640 tons – Length: 257.4 feet – Width: 38.2 feet – Draft: 22.4 feet

VIDEO: Erik Bye – Skomværvalsen

Around 1959 the team Erik Bye and Bjarne Amdahl wrote a song in honor of the ship and her crew. “Skomværsvalsen” was a well-known song. Erik Bye had a close connection to the Norwegian Rescue Society, and Bye was central in a campaign to raise money for a new rescue boat. The ship was built in 1960 and was named Skomvær 2. +

congo paddle

Congo River Paddle Steamer

The Congo River is divided into three navigable parts, by seagoing ship to Matadi, where there is a wharf and port, a railway bypassing the mighty falls for 200 miles; and then a middle section of over 1000 miles from Leopoldville (Kinshasa) to Stanleyville (Kisangani) where the Stanley Falls breaks the river. The upper section of the river is navigable to Lubumbashi, a measure of 400 miles. It was designated an “open river” in that it was free for all nations to use, as per an 1885 international agreement.


The En Avant (L), A.I.A. (C) and Roi des Belges (R) — Leopoldville, 1889

The first river steamers on the Congo were two built in sections and hauled overland to the middle river by Henry Morton Stanley the explorer in 1879. The Oxford Baptist Missionary Society and its chief agent built the steamer Peace for evangelical work in the area and in 1884, pioneered in contact with the natives and charting and exploring the river system.Over 100 steamers on the river by 1900. British and American missionary societies were sent to spread the gospel and monitor governments. (more)


The river steamer Theresita, property of the MSC missionaries in the Congo and used by Graham Greene in 1959 to move from one mission station to another. (source) Throughout his life, Greene travelled far from England, to what he called the world’s wild and remote places. The travels led to his being recruited into MI6. As a novelist, Greene wove the characters he met and the places where he lived into the fabric of his novels. (more)

Author Joseph Conrad steamed on one trip up the Congo and used the trip as an inspiration for his famous novel Heart of Darkness. Conrad was promised a job as a Congo River pilot through the influence of his distant cousin Marguerite Poradowska, who lived in Brussels and knew important officials of the Belgian company which exploited the Congo for its rubber.

Leopoldville 1930s

Leopoldville, 1930s – Kinshasa Then and Now


Alain J. Gerbault (1893-1941) was a French aviator and tennis champion, who made a circumnavigation of the world as a single-handed sailor.

While visiting England in 1921 to play tennis, he came across Firecrest, an old British-designed 39-foot racing/cruising gaff sloop, at Southampton. He had already been toying with the idea of long-distance sailing, so he purchased the boat and spent a year or so sailing her around Cannes. On June 6, 1923, Gerbault set off from Gibraltar.


Fight of the Firecrest

Although the passage was extremely arduous, and troubled by a number of equipment failures, he made it to New York after 101 days at sea. He was given a hero’s welcome, and was awarded the Blue Water Medal by the Cruising Club of America for his achievement. (more)


SS Antelope;  Isle of Guernsey

The Great Western Railway’s ships operated in connection with the company’s trains to provide services to Ireland, the Channel Islands and France. Services were operated between Weymouth, the Channel Islands and France on the former Weymouth and Channel Islands Steam Packet Company routes.

SS Antelope built 1889 – sold for scrap 1913 – One of three ships built by Lairds of Birkenhead in 1889 for the GWR’s newly acquired Channel Island services.


SS Roebuck; Isle of Guernsey

SS Roebuck built 1897, sold 1915 – An addition to the Weymouth fleet in 1897 that proved unlucky. On 26 January 1905 she caught fire while moored at Milford. The weight of water used to put out the fire caused her to sink but she was raised nine days later and returned to service in June. She ran aground after leaving St Helier on 19 July 1911, refloated on 28 July and returned to service four months later.

In 1914 she was converted for minesweeping and renamed HMS Roebuck. On 13 January 1915 she dragged her anchor at Scapa Flow and sank following a collision with HMS Imperieuse, the first railway ship to be lost while on war service. +

guernsey 2

SS St Julien; 1925 – 1961, built by John Brown for the Weymouth service

PS Great Western; 1867 – 1891, built  by William Simons & Co., Renfrew. When war broke out in 1939 she was put to use ferrying troops but very quickly converted into a hospital ship. She took part in the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk and Cherbourg in 1940. She spent the remainder of the war as a hospital ship, including a period operating in the Mediterranean and supporting the D Day landings. Afterwards she returned to Weymouth for further railway service which lasted until 1961.


GWR ships at the quay (3,467 × 2,530 pixels)

The railway also operated tugs and other craft at their docks in Wales and South West England. The Channel Islands services were operated for the GWR by the Weymouth and Channel Island Steam Packet Company until August 1889 when the railway took on the operation of the route.


SS Ibex (image)

SS Ibex; 1891 – 1925 – struck the Noirmontaise rocks off Jersey on 16 April 1897 and was beached in Portlet Bay. Less than three years later, on 5 January 1900, struck a reef at St Peter Port, Guernsey, and sunk.

One passenger and one crewman died. She was raised on 21 July 1900 and returned to service the following April after repairs. In 1916 a 12 pound gun was mounted on her stern; and on 18 April 1918 she fired on and sunk a U-boat for which the crew received a £500 reward. She was cut up at Sharpness in 1925.

more: Great Western Railway ships



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