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

by  | theguardian.com

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 filat.ch.

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.

Airmail in Australia – The Smith Brothers

World War One was a long and tiresome war involving many campaigns, countries and lives. One such campaign took place on the Gallipoli peninsula. Turkey was required by international law to remain neutral but failed to block military shipping into the Dardenelles and allowed German ships to enter. Turkey had made their allegiance to Germany. At the time, two Australian brothers had no idea that they would be the first to carry airmail from England to Australia.

The Battle of Gallipoli was an important battle for Australia and New Zealand as those nations’ “Baptism of Fire” – the first war that they fought as independent countries and the first war where Australians fought as Australians. The Australian Imperial Force, which was initially one infantry division and one light horse brigade, was sent to assist in the Gallipoli Campaign. Later they were strengthened with a second division and a further three light horse brigades.  The 3rd Light Horse Regiment landed on 13 May 1915. Within this regiment was a young Captain Ross Macpherson Smith who also volunteered for the Australian Flying Corps. A hero, who by the end of the First World War had earned the Military Cross twice and the Distinguished Flying Cross three times with eleven confirmed aerial victories.

At the end of the war this accomplished pilot entered a civilian world where long distance air travel and the thought of airmail in Australia was in its infancy. Together with his brother, Keith Smith, and two other pilots, he took on the challenge to fly from England to Australia within a period of thirty days. The four pilots flew from Hounslow Heath Aerodrome, England to Darwin, Australia in a Vickers Vimy. Although the journey took twenty eight days the total flying time was only 135 hours. They were awarded £10,000 by the Australian government for completing the journey within thirty days.

A few months later on 26 February 1920 Keith Smith flew the first airmail in a Vickers Vimy from England to Australia. He wrote himself a letter and signed it. This was one of twenty-three covers out of 364 that were signed by the Pilot Keith Smith.

Filat AG currently has available an Australian aerophilately showpiece:



This 1933 handpainted envelope was flown on the Kingsford Smith England-Australia Record Flight and is addressed to artist “Ernest A Crome Esq, 32 Cavendish Street, Stanmore, NSW, Australia”. Only 6 such handpainted covers were included in the small mail of 20 covers carried.

Visit Filat AG for further Australasian airmail.