Sir Lowry’s Pass Crash – The First South African Airmail Disaster

History of the Pass

Sir Lowry’s Pass Crash occurred many years after the pass was built. During the early 1800s, travellers had to brave a kloof that was so steep and rocky that it was easier and safer for them to disassemble their wagons and take them up piece-by-piece. More than three hundred years later it is still possible to see the grooves in the rocks where some of the wagons were dragged over the rocks. In 1958 these ruts were declared a South African national monument.

A kloof that was known as Gantouw (Elands Pass) by the Khoi people – likely because of the sure-footed Eland that would traverse it in search of greener pastures, came to be known as the “Hottentots Holland Kloof Pass” by the Dutch and British settlers at the Cape as they built a rough pass following the Gantouw route. By 1821, 4 500 ox-wagons would cross this pass every year. The route was still a challenge for the ox-wagons and many of them would get damaged on this route.

It was not until Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole, Governor of the Cape Colony from 1828 to 1833, had the foresight that a better road needed to be built in order for the growth of the Cape Colony to expand.

Sir Lowry’s Pass Crash: The First South African Airmail Disaster

The Surveyor General, C C Michell, advised that instead of trying to fix the old Kloof they could build an entirely new road with an easier gradient to the south of the old kloof. After many unforeseen problems along the way, the new road was built. Sir Lowry’s Pass was officially opened on 6th July 1830.

One hundred and one years later, on unlucky Friday 13th 1931, a Puss Moth aircraft with a pilot, two passengers and commercial mail experienced severe turbulence over Sir Lowry’s Pass and fatally crashed due to structural failure of the wings. Very few mail items were recovered. This was the first airmail disaster in South Africa and is now known as the Sir Lowry’s Pass Crash.

Filat AG has three of these rare crash covers on offer. The first is one of two registered covers on record and was sent from Durban to Cape Town:

sir lowry's pass crash registered crash mail from Durban to Cape Town

Registered crash mail from Durban to Cape Town.

The second item from the Sir Lowry’s Pass Crash is addressed from Grahamstown to England with accompanying roneoed notelet showing typing error “1913” for “1931” corrected in pencil:

sir lowry's pass crash envelope address panel from Grahamstown to England

Envelope address panel from Grahamstown to England

The final item was addressed from Durban to England (presumably), accompanied by roneoed notelet and further correspondence between the owner of the recovered letter and LA Wyndham:

sir lowry's pass crash cover from Durban to England

Envelope from Durban (cds 12 NOV 31) to (presumably) England

To view further images for this item click here.

Boer War: Miracle Delivery of Soldier’s Letter & His Long Awaited Reply

The gentleman’s war that turned guerrilla lasted an unanticipated two years, seven months and twenty days. A lengthy war where the harsh conditions were nigh impossible to live in, but aided in the recovery of many of the 22,000 troops that were treated for wounds sustained in the Boer War.

The opportunity for medical practices to progress was great. The treating of antisepsis, using anaesthesia, research in bacteriology and testing the newly developed X-ray technology were among the few progressions that took place. The ground was uncontaminated and was nearly bacteria-free. Bacteriological examinations proved that all pyogenic organisms – which cause pus and thereby infections – were only found close to dwellings and not found in the veld. This reduced wound infections and coupled with the very little rain and hot sun helped the wounded soldiers to heal. However, more than half of the British casualties in the Boer War were not by enemy action, but rather caused by illness, especially typhoid fever.

“Wars pass, but the human soul endures; the interest is not so much in the war as in the human experience behind it.” – Jan Smuts

The British soldiers saw a great defeat at the Battle of Colenso most likely due to the shortage of competent staff and the lack of geographical knowledge of the area. This battle was the third and final of three devastating defeats for the British. This third battle included the 2nd Devonshire Regiment which had arrived at the Cape and sent on to Durban. Five officers and sixty men of this regiment were wounded in this battle.

re-directed boer war soldier's letter from england to south africa


A fascinating cover from England shows the tenacity the military and the Post Office Officials had to deliver a letter addressed to a wounded soldier, a son, in a military hospital. It took much effort as seen by the destination cancellations to find this young man.  His family received the long awaited reply from him more than a month later. Both covers are available on

Long Island: The Little Stamp that Survived

A Brief History of Long Island

Turkey forms a bridge between Europe and Asia, with the short and narrow Dardanelles Strait being only fifty miles (80 kilometres) long and twelve miles (19 kilometres) wide. Turkey is unique because it has land on both continents. Long Island controlled the entrance to Smyrna (now Izmir) because of its strategic situation in the gulf, and Turkey guards the passage between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.  After a thousand years in the hub of the Byzantine Empire, Turkey spent the next five hundred years at the centre of the Ottoman Empire. It was hardly surprising that Turkey was a pivotal point in the First World War. For a short while at the beginning of the First World War Turkey was occupied by the British Navy in support of the Greek invasion, long enough for stamp history to be made.

The Gallipoli Campaign lasted eight months and after a great many casualties on both sides. Had the British succeeded it would have given them a huge strategic advantage to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul) and in so doing link up with Russia.

Typewriter Stamps of Long Island

Four months after the end of the Gallipoli Campaign, still under British occupation, the Civil Administrator on the Island of Keustan, Lieutenant-Commander, H. Pirie-Gordon (1863-1969) created the first typewriter stamps for the postal inauguration on 7 May 1916. These are the only typewriter stamps ever made and were not created for civilian use. An estimated two hundred and twenty stamps were printed, of which only a handful are unused and recorded to have survived. This postal service on Long Island could not have lasted for very long as around this time the British Navy were evacuating to Egypt.

Long Island 1916 Typewritten 1d Red variety "ONR" in pair

Long Island 1916 Typewritten 1d Red variety “ONR” in pair

Although this was an Ottoman victory the struggle formed the basis of the Turkish struggle for independence. The Turks claimed back their territory in 1922 but unfortunately the city was destroyed by a fire that blazed for eleven days leaving little but ash. Today Long Island remains a restricted Turkish naval base.

This humble little Long Island typewriter stamp had to survive war, evacuation and a devastating fire. It is a miracle that any survive at all.

Find all of Filat AG’s Long Island items here.


The Sailor’s Post on Ascension Island

The Letterbox on Ascension Island

The travel of post started in a different way to what we know today. Convenient and easily recognisable places were used to leave letters and other letters could be collected. As early as the 17th century, Ascension Island was used by sailors to deposit letters at the “Letterbox”. Passing ships would pick up the letters heading in the same direction for delivery. Today there are no remnants of the spot where the letters were deposited.

Ascension Island

The British began settling on Ascension Island in 1815, a precautionary move to ensure the banished Napoleon Bonaparte could not escape the island of St Helena.  Many years later, on March 3, 1867 the British Postmaster General sent a supply of stamps for H A Haswell, the island’s postmaster, to sell. Thus, beginning the postal history of Ascension Island.

In 1922, Ascension Island became an Independency of St Helena and was managed by the Eastern Telegraph Company until 1964. The Eastern Telegraph Company installed the first underwater cable in 1899, connecting the British Empire with its colonies in South Africa from Ascension Island.

In the early days of the Second World War the United States, allies of the British, decided to supply and improve amphibious aircraft antisubmarine patrol operations on Ascension.  “Wideawake”, the airbase they built, is named after the indigenous sooty tern bird colony on the island. The sooty tern are loud and have a distinctive cawing chatter day and night.

On 15 June 1942, in the height of World War II, Ascension fired upon two aircraft which were identified later as ally British Fairey Swordfish torpedo planes. The aircraft were forced to land on the unfinished airstrip on the United States airbase, Wideawake, becoming the first aircraft to land on the base. This day was commemorated with a postage stamp.

Today, Ascension Island is a British Overseas Territory and has its own constitution.  There is no permanent population as the inhabitants are the employees and families of the organisations on the island. There is a guide for guests to the island called the “Letterbox Walks” taking them along the very beaches sailors once walked to post their letters.

Shop Ascension Island

Ascension Island Badge Issue 1d Die Proof



Filat AG has recently added several new items to their Ascension Island section dating from 1913 to 1936. Highlights include a stunning Die Proof of the 1924 1d Badge Issue as well as several of its varieties and the scarce 1935 Silver Jubilee 5d Kite & Horizontal Log variety. You can view all the items here.

We’re Off to Stampex!

Filat AG will be represented at Autumn STAMPEX 2016 by Richard Johnson, our English Colonies expert.

Due to his responsibilities as IFSDA President he is unable to be a stand holder, however, please make contact with him through Gary DuBro, Willard Allman and David Morrison who will be at stands 40-42. A map of the venue can be found here.

Stampex takes place at The Business Design Centre, Islington, London and will be open from 14 – 17 September 2016. Further details can be found here.