Tristan Da Cunha Exciting New Discovery (and a mystery solved?)

23/04/2012     Tristan da Cunha

In the long fight for Tristan Da Cunha to have her own stamps, the so-called 'Pooley' covers, sent by the island's clergyman Rev. Pooley, stand as famous Tristan rarities.

It has long been accepted that on the day of his departure from the island on 24th Feb 1929, on board the liner 'Duchess Of Atholl' the good Reverend, unaware that the ship carried a letter from the authorities in London warning of dire legal consequences should the island produce its own stamps, or apply an overprint to British stamps, set about overprinting a few British stamps with his typewriter and used them to frank covers.

Reportedly, six covers bearing these overprinted stamps were sent to friends in the Manchester area, but George Crabb in his exhaustive book, stated that by 1980 he had only seen two covers. Each bears the 'R Pooley' signature and is dated in the same hand, '24.2.29'. The covers passed through the post without incident and were all cancelled by a London circular date stamp and wavy line 'Paquebot' postmark of 18th March 1929.

In the early 1980s we offered a third 'Pooley' cover from a collection in Manchester. At the time we thought it was probably the last surviving example, and it sold for approximately £8000. I was a young trainee at the time, but I recall that the late owner (who had some distant personal connection to Rev. Pooley) believed that at least two of the six covers had been sent to America, not to England.

Until now I assumed that the other three covers had been lost forever, but it appears that the Rev. Pooley did not in fact send all of them to England.

Recently unearthed in the USA is a stampless envelope addressed to New Jersey: it is clearly a 'Pooley' cover with the typed 'TRISTAN DA CUNHA' overprint, with his signature and his handwritten '24.2.29' date alongside. It passed through London collecting the same 18th March 1929 cancellation. Inside we found a note, which reads 'Tristan / 24.2.29 / R. Pooley'.

It seems that the Rev. Pooley probably did send the reported six covers, yet some were not addressed to friends back home in Manchester, but instead (as had been hinted to us 30 years ago) to a friend in America. He possibly did not trust the U.S. postal service to accept the overprinted British stamps, or perhaps he was making a case for Tristan to have its own stampless postal stationery? We may never know, but he typed and sent this cover without British stamps.

The story of the wrangling between Tristan and the British Post Office is a fascinating one. Consider that Tristan Da Cunha was a barter society with very little money in circulation, and you can immediately see the problems encountered on both sides of the argument!

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