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Attempted Jubilee Airmail

To commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V in 1935, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith planned a trans-Tasman airmail from Sydney to New Plymouth and a return from New Zealand to Sydney. Connection with the Australia - UK airmail would give the first official airmail from New Zealand to the UK.

The plane was the Southern Cross which had made the original trans-Tasman flight in 1928. P G Taylor was co-pilot and J Stannage radio-operator. The flight was planned for 14 May, but was postponed due to bad weather and eventually left early on 15 May at twenty past midnight [3]. The Australian Stamp Monthly of June 1935 gives a breakdown of the mail sent [5]: Sydney: 21,927 ordinary, 977 registered; Melbourne 2,613 ordinary, 427 registered; Adelaide 896 ordinary, 226 registered; Brisbane 798 ordinary, 89 registered; Perth 124 ordinary, 18 registered; Hobart 88 ordinary, 4 registered; Launceston 58 ordinary, 34 registered; giving a total of 26,504 ordinary and 1,775 registered and a combined total of 28,279 items of mail flown. According to the Sydney Morning Herald on 14 May, the Sydney mail included 7,000 items which had been sent from New Zealand.

500 miles out from Sydney, one of the three engines was damaged and they were forced to return to Australia. To save weight, they dumped fuel, freight and 14 mail bags.

The port engine began to overheat and P G (Bill) Taylor, climbed out of the cockpit window and drained oil from the dead starboard engine into a thermos flask and from there into an attache case. He then climbed out on the other side and added the oil to the overheating port engine. This was repeated six times!

On return to Sydney, they found that 7 small bags of mail, containing 1080 items, had not been dumped along with the rest of the mail. A partial breakdown of the mail saved is given in Australian newspapers: 1 bag Adelaide - Auckland with 85 ordinary, 8 registered items; 3 bags from Brisbane (1 to Auckland and 2 to Wellington) with 236 ordinary, 27 registered items; 1 bag from Launceston with 58 ordinary, 34 registered items; 2 bags from Melbourne (1 to Christchurch and 1 to Dunedin). I have not been able to find numbers for the saved Melbourne mail, but to give a total of 1080 items it would have to be 632.

The New Zealand Herald on 16 May reported that of the 14 bags that were dumped, 7 were from Sydney, 4 were from Melbourne and one each from Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth and so no mention of mail from Hobart.

It is often stated that the mail in the 7 small bags was late mail that had arrived during 14 May, but this seems only partially true as it was, after all, 20% of the non-Sydney mail. The mail in the smaller bags would be a combination of late mail and mail with less usual source - destination pairs such as mail from Launceston and mail from Melbourne to Christchurch and Dundedin.

Mail from Melbourne

Jubilee

One bag from Melbourne contained mail for Christchurch and the other for Dunedin. This cover to Timaru would have been in the Christchurch bag.

backstamp

It is postmarked Shipmail Room, Melbourne on 12 May. The shipmail room was where overseas mail was handled. The letter is part of the late mail that had been flown from Melbourne to Sydney in a special plane on 13 May [1].

The saved mail was sent on 18 May by sea from Sydney on the Wanganella arriving in Wellington on 23 May where it was backstamped with a special relief handstamp. The presence of this backstamp is the only proof that a cover was flown and did not miss the flight.

As the airmail postage rate was only 7d, this cover is overfranked by 11d.

Mail from Adelaide

Adelaide backstamp

The next cover is from the bag that contained mail from Adelaide for Auckland. It is postmarked on 10 May in South Australia and again has the special Wellington relief handstamp. According to the News of Adelaide on 16 May, this bag contained 85 letters and 8 registered items.

However, it is a boomerang cover and, as well as Australian stamps, has New Zealand stamps to pay for the expected return airmail.

Due to the failure of the outward flight, the return flight never took place. The waiting New Zealand mail was sent to Australia by sea arriving on 20 May. However, this cover did not arrive in Wellington on the Wanganella until 23 May.

As it is addressed to Auckland, it might be expected that it would be sent there where it would be up to the recipient whether or not it was posted to Australia.

backstamp

However, the New Zealand stamps are postmarked using the special Wellington relief handstamp and so the cover does not seem to have been sent to its Auckland addressee. I have not seen any previous reference to the use of the Wellington relief handstamp providing a postmark rather than a backstamp.

The cover is backstamped on 29 May in Adelaide which suggests that it arrived in Sydney on 27 May. The Wanganella left Wellington on 23 May for Auckland which it left on 24 May and arrived in Sydney on 27 May [4]. That suggests that the cover was either off-loaded from the Wanganella, cancelled and then loaded back on the Wanganella on 23 May or sent overnight by rail from Wellington to Auckland and joined the Wanganella in Auckland.

It is franked at the correct rate of 7d in each direction.

Mail from Launceston

Launceton

The mail from Launceston (Tasmania) was for Wellington. This rather crumpled cover is postmarked and backstamped at Launceston on 11 May. According to the Advocate newspaper in Tasmania on 16 May, the Tasmanian mail included 58 ordinary and 34 registered items from Launceston. It is not clear if this refers to the mail from Launceston that was saved.

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It has the usual 23 May Wellington relief backstamp.

There is a very smudged autograph by P G Taylor on the left.

Special covers, printed in deep blue, were produced for the flight. They were printed on three different colours of envelopes; this one is on white while the cover below from Brisbane is printed on a blue envelope. Printings on envelopes described as Old Gold are also known.

Launceton Although the literature states that the bag from Launceston contained mail for Wellington, this second cover from Launceston is addressed to Dunedin.

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It is postmarked in Launceston on 9 May although there is also an 11 May Launceston backstamp along with the required Wellington backstamp of 23 May.

Mail from Brisbane

Two of the three bags from Brisbane were to Wellington and one was to Auckland. According to the further details given in the Courier-Mail of Brisbane on 17 May, 562 letters from Queensland were dumped while the saved mail was a bag to Auckland and Hamilton with 72 letters and 10 registered items and a bag to Wellington and Nelson with 155 letters and 16 registered items. These bags had been dispatched from Brisbane on Saturday 11 May while a third bag with 9 letters and 1 registered item was dispatched by air mail on Monday 13 May.

Jubilee

Jubilee

This cover is postmarked in Ipswich, Queensland on 10 May and would have first been sent to Brisbane before being sent to Sydney to join the Jubilee Air Mail. It has a Brisbane backstamp of 28 May together with the required Wellington backstamp of 23 May.

This cover is franked with 1s 2d as it was to be returned to Australia on the planned return flight.

Late Mail

TooLate for Jubilee Airmail Jubilee

Mail continued to arrive after the Jubilee Air Mail had left. This cover is postmarked at Albury in Victoria on 14 May and backstamped in Sydney at 12 noon on 15 May.

Two large purple cachets were applied to show that the cover arrived too late and was not flown, but was to be delivered by ordinary mail.

The cover is grossly overfranked with 2s 11d in stamps, being the Australian Jubilee set plus a 6d airmail. The 2s 0d Jubilee stamp is quite a pricey item!

This is the actual cover that was shown in the article by Legg [3] many years before I purchased it. I have only seen two other examples of covers with these cachets.

Postscript

A film showing a re-enactment of the transfer of oil was produced in 1946.

For his bravery in the Jubilee flight, P G Taylor was awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal which became the George Cross in 1940 [2]. Previously, during the First World War, he had been awarded the Military Cross. He was knighted in 1954 for his services to aviation.

Although Charles Kingsford Smith survived this flight, he was killed with J T (Tommy) Pethybridge several months later in November 1935 when his plane disappeared in the Bay of Bengal on a direct flight from Allahabad in India to Singapore. Charles Ulm had been killed with his crew in December 1934 on a flight from America to Hawaii. With their deaths ended the experimental trans-Tasman airmails.

chile

However, P G Taylor carried on their tradition. He made the first flight from Australia to Africa in 1939 and the first flight from Australia to South America (Chile) in 1951. He died in 1966 at the age of 70.

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This cover was carried by P G Taylor on his experimental flight to Valparaiso, Chile. It left Sydney on 14 March 1951 and is backstamped in Valparaiso on 26 March. The return flight left Valparaiso on 6 April and arrived back in Sydney on 21 April when this cover was backstamped.

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All scans were made by the author. Information on this page is taken from:
Airmails of New Zealand, volume 2 (1986) compiled by Douglas A Walker, and The New Zealand Airmail Catalogue, (2nd Edition, 1994) by James Stapleton.
Both are published by the Air Mail Society of New Zealand
[1] N Eustis, The Australian Air Mail Catalogue, 7th Ed, 2002.
[2] A Gardiner, The Kiwi, vol 40, pp 99-100, November 1991.
[3] B Legg, Jubilee Airmail: A New Zealand Connection, Air Mail News, vol 36, pp 46-50, March 1993.
[4] Evening Post Wellington 1916-1945, Papers Past, available at: paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast
[5] The Jubilee Tasman Flight, Australian Stamp Monthly, vol 6, no 6, pp 162-163, June 1935.