Aguada de Saldanha

Table Bay was once known by another name. In May of 1503, António de Saldanha and his squad of three vessels (himself, Rui Lourenço Ravasco and Diogo Fernandes Pereira), were sent to accompany Afonso de Albuquerque’s fleet, who had already gone ahead, in order to reinforce Cochin. Cochin was an important spice trading centre for the Portuguese in India.

On their long, hard and dangerous journey down the west coast of Africa, de Saldanha lost sight of one of the ships captained by Diogo Fernandes. With countless errors and poor pilotage, Saldanha and Lourenço mistakenly sailed into the Gulf of Guinea and somewhere along their continued journey south lost sight of each other as well. Battling winds and currents and miscalculating their Cape crossing led him to anchor on the pages of history in Table Bay. Of course, at that time, the bay had no name so it became known as Aguada de Saldanha (Saldanha’s watering stop). In order to have a better vantage point, Saldanha climbed the flat-topped peak adjacent to the bay.  He was the first European recorded to climb Table Mountain.

Table Mountain, the northern end of a sandstone mountain range, has become a beacon of South African history from the Khoikhoi displacing the San about 2000 years ago, to the British building block houses in the late 1700’s; to the release of Madiba from Robbin Island in 1990, which led to freedom for all South Africans .

This famous African mountain has been featured on several stamps, including a 1900 Cape of Good Hope 1d, as seen below.



Aguada de Saldanha became a convenient harbour for those travelling the long journey to the East and became the first unmanned post office. Packets of letters were often left under postal stones inscribed in French, Dutch and Danish for passing ships to pick up and carry to their destination.  In 1601 a cartographer renamed the bay “Table Bay”.

Back in May 1503, whilst António de Saldanha was unknowingly making history climbing Table Mountain, Diogo Fernandes was patiently waiting for his fellow voyagers in the mouth of the Red Sea.

A Rare Bird in the land

Exploration before modern technology was a risky business. Not only for the pockets of those funding these travels, but for the lives of those brave enough to venture into the unknown.

Willem de Vlamingh was a Dutch sea captain and whaler by trade who later joined the VOC (Dutch East India Company). His second voyage was a rescue mission to look for survivors of the Ridderschap van Holland which had been missing for two years. The Nine Year’s War with France forced him to take a route along the coast of Scotland to Tristan da Cunha and then on to the Cape of Good Hope. Here, their journey was hampered by the dreaded illness, scurvy. Finally, after many weeks of recovery they continued their journey to the East, searching for the missing ship and its crew.

On their route they stopped at the islands of Île Saint-Paul, Île Amsterdam, and one which they were the first to land on. Willem de Vlamingh named it Rottnest Island because of the creatures that resembled rats. Eventually they reached the western coast of Australia. Venturing up a river one day they spotted a black bird in the shape of a swan. A black swan? Could this be? Up until this point black swans only occurred in the imaginations of the Early Europeans as a metaphor for that which did not exist. There, on a continent far away they discovered that black swans did exist.

The black swan has become a widely recognized symbol for Western Australia. It can be found on the Western Australian flag and coat of arms, coins, logos and mascots, and of course stamps.



Even though no wreckage was ever found, nor any souls saved, the mission to rescue the Ridderschap van Holland was not a complete failure; a new island was named and a bird was discovered.

The Grandmother of Europe

On the day Alexandrina Victoria was born she was only fifth in line to ascend to the throne. Before the age of one she moved up to third in line after the death of her father in January 1820 and her grandfather a week later. She became heir presumptive at the tender age of eleven after the death of her two oldest uncles who had no legitimate surviving children. The Parliament of the United Kingdom passed The Regency Act 1830 that provided regency in case the person next in line to the throne was not yet eighteen. This would mean that should King William IV die before Alexandrina Victoria had come of age, her mother would act as regent.

King William IV distrusted Alexandrina Victoria’s mother and publicly stated that he wanted to live until after her eighteenth birthday. His wish came to fruition… just. He died within a month of Alexandrina Victoria turning eighteen and so it was that she became Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on 20 June 1837.

Queen Victoria did not get along well with her mother and often refused to see her. However, due to social convention she was obliged to live with her until she was finally married to her first cousin in 1840. She was besotted with Prince Albert and together they had nine children, all of whom married into royal and noble families across the continent, and her forty two grand-children were spread all over Europe.

The “Victorian Era” is how her reign came to be known, and with it being the longest reign than any of her predecessors, marked many changes within the United Kingdom and a great expansion of the British Empire.

The Scottish born and popular British hero in the Victorian Era, David Livingstone, discovered the Victoria Falls and named it so in honour of Queen Victoria. Two stunning examples of Victoria Falls stamps can be found here and here.




The Red King: How Australia’s Rarest Stamp Escaped an Inferno

The Red King: How Australia’s Rarest Stamp Escaped an Inferno

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One of the six surviving Australian King Edward VIII stamps
One of the six surviving Australian King Edward VIII stamps. It will be auctioned in Melbourne on 26 June. Photograph: Mossgreen

On 29 September 1936, William Vanneck, the right honourable Lord Huntingfield and governor of Victoria, paid a ceremonial visit to the Commonwealth Stamp Printers in Melbourne to mark the first printing of a new twopenny stamp featuring an etched portrait of King Edward VIII in his naval uniform.

It was the first of a large run due to be released into public circulation by Christmas.

Several weeks later, to mark his appreciation, the printer, John Ash, sent a sheet of the unreleased scarlet stamps to Huntingfield as a memento.

It would have been an unremarkable gesture had the king not abdicated two months later. Instead it became a bureaucratic nightmare and, 81 years later, a philatelic wet dream.

The twopenny scarlets, known in the trade as KEVIII, are the rarest and most expensive stamps produced by the commonwealth of Australia. Neither Australia Post nor the Queen have one in their collections.

There are just six in existence. This month, one of the six has been listed for auction in Melbourne on 26 June. The story of its survival rests with Huntingfield.

Read the full article here.

Airmail: The Deadliest Kenyan Aircraft Crash

The speed required for an aircraft to take-off varies with wind, air density, weight, and flap or slat positions. These are a few of the many factors that are taken into account before a pilot can get an aircraft off the ground.

The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport has an elevation of 5,327ft (1,624m) which means that the air is very thin and an aircraft needs as much area along the wingspan as possible for air to flow over it. A pilot can achieve this by extending the leading edge slats of the wings creating a larger wingspan causing lift at a high enough speed when taking off.

On 20 November 1974, a normal day in Nairobi, Lufthansa Flight 540 flight crew did their pre-flight checks and taxied for take-off. They were on the final leg of their Frankfurt-Nairobi-Johannesburg journey with 157 souls, luggage and freight, including some airmail, on board.

Shortly after take-off the pilots experienced random force vibrations. Unsure of the cause of the vibration, the captain continued to climb, and suspecting a wheel imbalance, he retracted the landing gear. The Boeing 747 was unable to maintain its altitude and the stall warning system light came on. The pilots did not have enough time to figure out the tragic error of Engineer R Hahn. In the pre-flight checklist the pneumatic system must be turned on as this allows the slats to deploy during take-off.  Flight 540 was doomed before its wheels left the ground because the pneumatic system switch was off, which resulted in the aircraft becoming airborne in a partially stalled condition.

The aircraft grazed trees. The left wing struck an elevated road and exploded. The fire spread to the fuselage, completely destroying the aircraft.  It was the deadliest air crash on Kenyan soil, with 59 lives lost. Miraculously some airmail covers did survive this horrific accident.

One such example is a cover from Denmark to Pretoria bearing a strike in violet of the English/Afrikaans cachet: “RECOVERED FROM AIR CRASH ON 20 NOVEMBER 1974 AT NAIROBI / HERWEN VAN LUGRAMP OP 20 NOVEMBER 1974 TE NAIROBI.”


This amazing airmail crash cover is available on

The investigation concluded that not only was it human error that caused this accident, but also the lack of adequate warning systems in place that could have alerted the pilots to the problem. After this first fatal accident, and their third hull loss for a similar error reported, Boeing added warning systems for unopened slat valves.