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The Spaniard Torres sailed through the strait between what is now Queensland and New Guinea in 1606. It is not clear whether he actually sighted the continent but its presence had been reported as early as the 13th century when Marco Polo learned that the Chinese already knew of its existence. Dutch navigators named the continent 'New Holland' in the 17th century. On his voyages in 1642-4 the Dutchman Tasman discovered Van Diemens Land (now Tasmania) and New Zealand, and in 1688 the Englishman Dampier explored the Australian coast.

In the later part of the 18th century Cook and Bass began accurately to survey the coast. Cook landed at Botany Bay in April 1770, and in 1797 Bass sailed through the strait which now bears his name and discovered that Van Diemens Land was not part of the mainland. A fleet sailed from England carrying about 750 convicts and the first settlement was established at Port Jackson (Sydney) on 26 January 1788. This was followed by further settlements in Van Diemens Land (1803), Port Phillip (1803) and Melbourne (1837); Western Australia was settled at Albany (1826) and the Swan River Settlement (Perth) in 1829. Queensland was settled from Sydney in 1825 and South Australia in 1836.

All these initial attempts, at colonization were based on the coast and were quickly followed by internal explorations. In 1813 Blaxland crossed the Blue Mountains, an exploration which was instrumental in opening up the interior. At that time New South Wales was described as including all the territory east of longitude 1350E, roughly half the continent. The balance, to the west, was not administered. Western Australia (originally the Swan River Settlement) was settled and was bounded by longitude 1290E, and this has remained so to the present day. South Australia was originally within the area allocated to New South Wales but became a separate colony in 1836. The final change was in 1859 when the western boundary of New South Wales and Victoria was moved back to longitude 1410E.

Contact with the home country had always been difficult because of distance and the time taken for messages to reach Britain and return. Mail could travel in either direction via the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn. By 1845 the P & 0 Line was beginning to operate in the Far East and in 1852 a service was introduced from Singapore to Sydney via Batavia, King George's Sound (near Albany), Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. This two-monthly service operated for three years and was then discontinued, but the regularity of the mails had led to stimulation of commercial interest. P & 0 had refused the new terms offered for the Australian contract and the European and Australian Royal Mail Co. began a service in October 1856. However, it failed in 1858 and a new contract was awarded to P & 0 in March 1859. With a few minor alterations in routes and frequency of sailings, P & 0 maintained the contract up to World War I.

In the meantime, self-government had been granted to New South Wales and Victoria in 1855, South Australia and Van Diemens Land (renamed Tasmania, 1853) in 1856, Queensland in 1859. The Swan River Settlement had been renamed Western Australia in 1840, and became self-governing in 1890. In 1901 the six colonies were federated as the Commonwealth of Australia, although Commonwealth postage stamps were not issued until 1 January 1913. The Postage Due issues, common to all states, were issued in 1902.

The distances to be covered in carrying the mails in Australia led to many travelling post offices (TPOs) on the railways (see separate section) and an early interest in airmail.

New South Wales

FIRST STAMPS 1 January 1850.


1850, sterling.

The first state of Australia to have been settled. In 1788, it was proclaimed that it was to administer all the land east of longitude 1350E. This meant that all settlements in what are now Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria came under the control of New South Wales. In May 1787 the first settlers and convicts left Britain for Botany Bay, an area which had been discovered earlier by Captain Cook. On arrival in 1788, the site was found to be unsuitable and the party disembarked further north at Port Jackson, which became Sydney.

Over the years the dependent settlements gradually broke away and gained self-government. New South Wales itself became self-governing in 1855, and continued to exercise control over Queensland until 1859. The Northern Territory was transferred to South Australia in 1863, but New South Wales remained the most influential colony and also provided the base for much of the trading within the Pacific Islands.

In 1901 New South Wales was federated into the Commonwealth of Australia.

Postal History
As early as 1803 there was a postal service operating between Sydney and Parramatta, at a cost of 2d per letter. At this time most of the mail was coming in by private ship and to prevent this being handled privately a 'collecting office' was set up in 1809. This was intended to be solely a distribution centre and it was not until 1825 that an Act was passed which was designed to expand the postal service.

By 1830 a mail-coach service was started from Sydney and this was quickly followed by the establishment of a local twopenny post which operated in the Sydney area.

A new Postage Act was passed by the Governor in 1835 which repealed the 1825 Act and set the rates on the basis of weight and distance travelled. The postmaster, James Raymond, had been pressing for cheaper postage for some time, and had been in correspondence with Rowland Hill to try to make the prepayment of letters between New South Wales and Britain compulsory. This was not approved and, in fact, when he tried to introduce stamps in 1841, after they had been issued in Britain, official objections were raised against the use of stamps in the colonies.

Earlier, in 1838, Raymond had the permission of the Governor to introduce cheaper postage in the local Sydney area. To this end, he produced envelopes with a prepaid embossed stamp showing the seal of the colony. These were considered locally to be the first postage stamps and were commemorated by the colony in 1889 with two special postcards. However, as they were of purely local significance, they have not been accepted as such by philatelists. The usage of these envelopes appears to have been very sparse. They were sold at 1s 3d per dozen as against 2d each for private letters. The public were also allowed to provide their own paper and this could be stamped at a charge of is 8d per 25 impressions. All these showed a marked reduction in cost but the demand remained small. In 1848 stamped covers were recorded as just 15,000 in the year.

By 1838 there were 40 POs in the colony and the 'Ship Letter' Office had been opened in the early 1830s. In 1842 a steamer service was set up between Sydney and Melbourne and in 1844 the first contract mail packet arrived from Britain.

In December 1848 the new Act to reform postage was passed and the first stamps, 'The Sydney Views', were issued on 1 January 1850. The stamps were also available in Victoria until 1853 and Queensland until 1860. At this time there were 97 country POs in addition to Sydney. These were issued with numeral cancellations of two types and the numbers were allocated to the offices as they were opened. By 1852 there were 109 POs.

Stamps of New South Wales were also used in New Hebrides and New Caledonia (q.v.).

New South Wales became a member of the UPU in 1891. It continued to use its own stamps until 1913.

Northern Territory

The large area in the north and centre of the continent, now administered from Alice Springs, was originally placed under the control of New South Wales. The area was expanded even further in 1829 when the boundary of the Swan River Settlement was established. In 1863 the administration was transferred to South Australia. This created the strange anomaly that Darwin, the most northerly city in Australia, used a postmark describing it as part of South Australia. In 1911 control passed to the Commonwealth of Australia. Northern Territory has never issued stamps, but items from this area can be identified by postmarks.


FIRST STAMPSNew South Wales 1851.



1860 sterling

Occupies the north-east of the Australian continent; visited by the Spanish in the 17th century. Captain Cook explored the east coast. In 1825 a penal colony, Moreton Bay, was established and administered from New South Wales (until 1859). The last convicts were withdrawn in 1842 and the area was allocated for free persons only.

In the early 1850s there was agitation to separate the settlement from New South Wales. The area was granted self-government against strong opposition on 13 May 1859 and became the colony of Queensland on 10 December 1859.

Postal History
First POs opened at Brisbane in 1834, and White in 1842 (closed soon after). Handstruck markings similar to New South Wales types were issued and stamps of that colony introduced at Queensland POs as they opened until 1860. By that time there were 15 POs in the colony. Each was allocated a numeral canceller in the New South Wales series, which they retained. Brisbane was still using the 95 numeral in 1895. As new POs were opened, numerals were allocated and these remained in use until 1915, when they were withdrawn by federal directive.

The Queensland dependency of Thursday Island, north of Cape York, was the first point of call for vessels leaving British New Guinea (q.v.) and for several of the Japanese and other shipping lines operating between South- east Asia and Australasia. Its numerals (51 [1871], 136, 148 and 336) can be found on the stamps of many countries, probably as a transit marking or 'posted on board'.

Stamps of Queensland were used in British New Guinea in 1884-91. Queensland provided the main trading link with South-east Asia and in 1882 signed a postal treaty with Hong Kong. Stamps of both countries can be found with each other's postmarks when letters were posted on board ship.

The colony joined the UPU in 1891, and continued to issue its own stamps until the first Australian stamps were released in 1913.




1850, Sterling

State of Australia which joined the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. Known in the 1790s to whalers and sealing parties, and visited by Bass on his explorations in 1796 and 1798. A limited exploration in the area of Western Port and Port Phillip was made in 1802. An early attempt to colonize followed, mainly to discourage any French approaches, but many of the convicts who were landed escaped and the party was withdrawn to Van Diemens Land (q.v.) in 1804.

In 1824 two explorers from New South Wales, Hinne and Howell, reached the area overland and discovered the vast pasturage areas in the country between Sydney and the south coast. As a result, two parties arrived from Van Diemens Land and founded the first permanent settlement in 1834. However, because of problems in trading with the aboriginals and an attempt to establish independence, the Governor of New South Wales proclaimed on 26 August 1835, that 'the Settlement (called Port Phillip)' was 'in the Colony of New South Wales'. In 1836 the control of the new settlement was further strengthened by another proclamation which introduced the New South Wales Crown Land Regulations into Port Phillip. At that time there were only about 200 settlers in the area, but there was a considerable growth over the next few years and the population had reached 77,000 in 1851.

Not unnaturally, the settlers resented this remote control from Sydney and the traditional competition between the two great cities of Sydney and Melbourne dates from this period. Numerous petitions were sent to London to try to arrange for separate government for Victoria. The Australian Colonies Government Act was passed in August 1849 and the separation came into being, though it was not effected until a further Act was passed by the New South Wales Assembly on 1 July 1851. Self-government was finally achieved in 1855.

Postal History
The first P0 was not opened until April 1837 when Melbourne began operation. This was followed by Geelong and Portland. By 1850 forty-five POs were open. During the period of control from New South Wales, only two or three of the cancellations included the correct description of the colony. The majority either simply used the name of the town or the words 'Port Phillip'.

When the first stamps were issued, Victoria was still part of the colony of New South Wales and for the first few months the stamps of both colonies appear to have been accepted as valid in the whole area. These stamps can be recognized by individual postmarks, but after mid-1851 these usages can be accounted for by 'arrival cancellations' on ships to or from Sydney.

Victoria used three quite distinctive series of numbered postmarks. The first, or 'butterfly' type, was used in 1850-1 and allocated to the first 45 POs. In July 1851 the second series - the 'barred oval' - was delivered and numbers are known up to 50. From 1856 a further range - the 'barred numerals' - were issued with numbers up to 87. These types were used up to 1906, and after that date new POs received only a circular date-stamp.

Between 1858 and 1875 it was easier for some offices in southern New South Wales to send their mail over-land to Melbourne and thence to Britain by P & 0 steamer rather than route letters via Sydney. For this purpose, Victorian adhesives were available in some New South Wales POs.

Victoria joined the UPU in 1891 at the same time as the other Australian colonies and, following the federation in 1901, continued to issue its own adhesives until 1913.

Van Diemens Land



1853, sterling

Later known as Tasmania (q.v.), this island 120 miles off the southern coast of the continent was a colony until it joined the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. It was discovered by Tasman, the Dutch explorer, on 25 November 1642. He named it after the Governor-General of Batavia who had commissioned him.

The first settlement was made as a penal colony in 1803. By 1817 the population was more than 3000, and martial law was proclaimed in 1828 because of the aggressiveness of the local aborigines.

In 1825 the island became independent of New South Wales, and was renamed Tasmania in August 1853.

Postal History
Internally, there was little post before 1816 when a government messenger carried mail fortnightly between Hobart and Port Dalrymple (Launceston). The land conditions were such that the 120-mile journey took 7 days. Mail for overseas was also infrequent and no regular service existed, even to Sydney which was responsible for the administration of the island.

In September 1822 the first P0 town markings appeared. These were the earliest markings in Australia. In 1828 a new Act was passed to establish a regular service in the island. However, no attempt was made to implement this until 1832, when a principal postmaster was appointed. In 1824 there were 9 POs, and 26 by 1833.

By 1835 deliveries were made weekly throughout the island by mail cart and stage-coach and, 15 years later, the system of deliveries had been established on a weekly or, in some cases, twice weekly basis.

In August 1853 the colony was renamed Tasmania but stamps with the former name had been ordered and these were issued three months later. They continued in use until stamps with the revised colony name appeared in 1858.




1853, sterling

Island state of the Commonwealth originally known as Van Diemens Land (q.v.). Renamed in August 1853, it became a self-governing colony in 1856, and was federated with the other colonies as the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901.

Postal History
Stamps of Van Diemens Land had been issued in 1853, after the name of the colony had already been changed. A second issue was made in a new design in August 1855 and the first issue with the corrected name was only released at the start of 1858.

In 1853 to coincide with the issue of stamps, a series of barred numeral cancellations was issued to the most important POs. These were similar in style to the New South Wales type and both were based on the British design which had been introduced in 1844. Numerals from 10 to 75 are recorded.

In 1861 a second series of numbers was issued and the first series was withdrawn. Generally, the numbers in the second series were shorter by 2mm. As the need grew for new POs, each was provided with the new type of cancellation. By 1899, 382 numbers had been issued.

Tasmania joined the UPU in 1891. It continued to issue its own stamps until 1913.

South Australia



1855, sterling

State of the Commonwealth of Australia between longitudes 1290E and 1410E. Originally part of New South Wales under the Act of 1788, which set the boundary at 1350E. However, when the first settlements began in the area of Adelaide, there was no allegiance to Sydney and the area was declared a British colony in December 1836. The boundary was moved to its present location in 1859. South Australia became self-governing in 1856 and was given control of the Northern Territory in 1863. It was federated into the Commonwealth in 1901 and continued to administer Northern Territory until 1911.

Postal History
Upon the foundation of the colony in 1836, the first postmaster, Thomas Gilbert of Adelaide, was appointed. Handstamps were introduced at Adelaide at about the same time. In 1839 the expansion of the service began and POs were opened at Port Adelaide and Port Lincoln, with smaller offices at Willunga and Encounter Bay. Unusually, the first inland mails were carried by the Mounted Police.

In 1840 there were 6 POs, and 41,000 letters and 50,000 newpapers were mailed. By 1860 the corresponding figures were 146 POs, 1,360,000 letters and 1,000,000 newspapers. South Australia was served by P & 0 steamers 1852 -5 and again from 1859 onwards, thus providing a link to Britain and Europe.

Seventy-five POs were open when stamps were issued in 1855, and they were equipped with a numeral cancellation which had a number in a diamond set within a series of bars. Within two years circular datestamps began to be introduced and from 1858 they were used almost exclusively.

In 1891 the colony joined the UPU and in 1901 it was federated into the Commonwealth, but continued to use its own stamps until 1913

Western Australia



1854, sterling

State of Australia occupying that part of the continent west of longitude 1290E. It was first known to the Dutch in the 17th century as 'New Holland'. The first British settlement was in 1826 at King George's Sound, close to what is now Albany. This was a military post initially and the first settlers who arrived in 1829 founded the towns of Fremantle and Perth on the Swan River. In 1850 Swan River Settlement, which had been proclaimed the colony of Western Australia in 1840, was made a penal settlement and continued to use convict labour until 1868. The colony was given self- government in 1890 and joined with the other colonies to form the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901.

Postal History
In December 1829 the harbourmaster of Fremantle was appointed to act as postmaster for the settlers. At this time the masters of ships were forbidden to accept letters 'unless stamped with the Post Office stamp'. Because it was nearer to the ocean, Fremantle was the site of the main P0 until 14 February 1835, when Mr Macfaull was made the principal postmaster at Perth. In 1834 the route to Albany was surveyed and a P0 was opened there on 14 October that year. This led to the establishment of a monthly overland service in 1841.

When postage stamps were issued in 1854 prepayment was compulsory and unstamped letters were detained. At this time there were 16 POs, each issued with a barred numeral for cancelling stamps.

All mail to and from overseas was carried by private ship until the P & 0 service began to visit King George's Sound regularly in 1852. This service made the overland service from Albany to Perth even more important.

By 1880 the number of POs had increased to 59 and a new type of cancellation which included letters instead of numerals was introduced. In 1891 Western Australia joined the UPU and, after joining the Commonwealth, continued to issue its own stamps until 1913.

Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

Apart from the six states which federated into the Commonwealth of Australia, it is also necessary to consider the Australian Capital Territory, although it never issued its own stamps.

In 1900 the Australian Parliament was given the task of establishing a national capital. In 1901-3, 23 out of 40 proposed sites were examined and in 1904 Dalgety in New South Wales was nominated. However, the New South Wales Government could not agree and confusion continued until 1908 when the Canberra-Yass district was finally accepted. The land was transferred by the New South Wales Government in 1911, but delays in the building continued and it was not until 1927 that Parliament was opened there by the Duke of York (later King George VI). The first government departments were also transferred from Melbourne to Canberra in that year.

Postal History
Stamps for ACT are only distinguishable by their postmarks. The stamps of New South Wales were used up until 1913 and since then Australian issues have been used.

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