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.

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