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History of Australian-Norfolk
Stamp Issues

[Norfolk Island
Philatelic Bureau

Stamps of the Australian Territories: Norfolk

By F. Collas, Assistant Controller
Postmaster-General’s Department, Melbourne

The first postage stamps to be used in Norfolk Island were those of Van Diemens Land, later to be known as Tasmania.

Van Diemens Land stamps were issued on 1 November 1853. Norfolk Island was then a dependency of that colony and the intention was that the stamps be sold there also. However, due to unusual circumstances, which are worth relating here, they did not become available on Norfolk Island until 7 months later.

Arrangements had been made for a supply of the stamps, of 1d and 4d denominations and of a total value of £16, to be sent to Norfolk Island by the government barque Lady Franklin. The vessel departed Hobart on 16 December 1853, her complement including guards and convicts. But the Lady Franklin returned to Hobart on 28 January 1854, her mission uncompleted. She had not reached Norfolk Island as the convicts on board had mutinied and escaped, taking the postage stamps as part of their booty. Strangely, it is on record that some of the stamps, of the value of £6, were subsequently recovered.

A new consignment of stamps was sent to Norfolk Island either in February or July 1854, the available evidence suggesting the latter as the likely date. By July 1854 there was opportunity to use stamps in Norfolk Island for a further 10 months only as, following a decision to abandon the settlement, all free settlers, convicts, and the military settlement were removed. The last party was taken off the Island in May 1855.

Covers of the period, bearing Van Diemens Land stamps and Norfolk Island postal markings, are extremely rare and probably no more than two or three are known in philatelic circles today.

The vacating of the island left the way clear for the British Government to proceed with a long-standing plan to more the inhabitants of distant Pitcairn Island to Norfolk Island. Some years earlier the Pitcairners had petitioned the authorities to shift them to a more suitable place and it became possible to effect the transfer in 1856, the whole of the Pitcairn community being transported on the ship Morayshire, landing at Norfolk Island on 8 June of that year.

It is doubtful if there is any surviving philatelic material relating to the early years of the Pitcairners at Norfolk Island. Postal arrangements were then of a most meager character; postage stamps of any kind were not in use and the few letters despatched had postage requirement met in cash. Such letters, carried by the occasional visiting ship, were eventually posted in various ports around the Pacific and bore no external evidence of their Norfolk Island origins.

Norfolk’s Political Status

From 1856 Norfolk Island had the political status of a British colony and the Governor of New South Wales was appointed also to the position of Governor of Norfolk Island. At no time, however, did the island become a dependency of New South Wales.

About 1877, the New South Wales Government agreed, at the request of the British authorities, to supply Norfolk Island with postage stamps. While the practice was observed for a few years, it would seem to have been discontinued, for reasons not known, in the 1880s. The earlier practice of prepaying postage stamps in cash then continued to be followed until about 1898.

Norfolk Island was provided with a distinctive postmarker of New South Wales pattern about 1892 but there was little opportunity for it to be used at the time because New South Wales or other postage stamps could not be purchased on the island. The situation improved about 1898 or 1899, when NSW stamps were placed on regular sale. Most philatelists interested in Norfolk Island are able to introduce their collections with NSW stamps of 1898-1912 bearing the coveted Norfolk Island postmarks.

The position of Norfolk Island as a British colony was not materially affected by the federation of the Australian colonies on 1 January 1901, and stamps of NSW types continued to be employed until supplanted by stamps of the uniform Commonwealth issue of 1913.

Norfolk Island ceased to have the status of a British colony and became and Australian Territory as from 1 July 1914. About 1923, efforts were made to secure distinctive postage stamps for the Territory but these were unsuccessful at the time. The proposal was raised again in 1937 and on this occasion was favourably received. Subsequently, the preparation of a stamp design was authorised and this received final approval late in 1939. Early in the following year the Note Printing Branch was asked to prepare stamps accordingly, in five denominations. At about this time also the Government publicly announced that a Norfolk Island stamp series could be expected about April 1940.

However, the subsequent course of events ruled otherwise. The stamps were actually printed but because of wartime conditions it was decided not to proceed with the issue. Some years later, in 1947, the destruction of the printed stocks was authorised. During the process of destruction some of the stamps were stolen and subsequently reached the philatelic market. All stamps of the 1940 printings were perforated 11 and are therefore readily distinguishable from the initial issue in 1947, uniformly perforated 14. Stamps of the 1947 series were of the same design as the abortive 1940 series.

During most of the period of World War II, Norfolk Island was garrisoned by New Zealand army and air force units which established their own services post offices. Philatelic interest in the various postmark impressions from these offices has brought about the situation that they are now difficult to acquire, particularly on cover.

Stamp Series in 1947

The issue of the first Norfolk Island stamp series on 10 June 1947 was significant also in that from the same date, Norfolk Island assumed full control of its own postal affairs. Since then the Territory has had complete responsibility for uits stamp issues, although for a number of years afterwards the actual work of procuring new stamps was carried out by the Australian Post Office at the request of the Island Administration.

The 1947 series comprised 12 stamps, values being ½d, 1d, 1½d, 2d, 2½d, 3d, 4d, 5½d, 6d, 9d, 1s, and 2s. All stamps were of the same design, a view of Ball Bay, and were printed at the Note Printing Branch, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Melbourne.

The range of values was found to be insufficient a few years later, because of changes in postal rates which took place over 1949-51, and it was decided that a supplementary series should be provided. This new series, issued on 10 June 1953, comprised six stamps, each of different design, as follows:

  • 3 ½ d Warder’s tower.
  • 6 ½ d Airfield
  • 7 ½ d First Governor’s Residence
  • 8 ½ d Barracks Entrance
  • 10 d Salt House
  • 5s Bloody Bridge

All except the 6½d design have relation to the convict period which had preceded the landing of the Pitcairners. The airfield shown on the 6½d stamp was built in 1942 as an emergency war measure.

Norfolk Island’s first commemorative stamps, issued on 8 June 1956, were of particular historical significance as they marked the centenary of the landing of the Pitcairners. The series comprised two stamps of 3d and 2s denominations, in a design which included a representation of the great seal of Norfolk Island and showed also Pitcairners coming ashore from a ship’s boat. It is of interest that the great seal itself is preserved in the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Although the two stamps appeared as commemoratives, they did, in effect, become definitives as they replaced the 3d and 2s of the 1947 series and were continued in use until August 1959.

Postal rate changes effective in Australia in October 1956, and which were extended to Norfolk Island, brought about a need for 7d and 8d stamps. In view of the urgent need for the stamps it was decided to provide provisionals by means of overprints. A supply of the 7½d stamps was accordingly surcharged 7d and, similarly, the 8½d was revalued at 8d. Both overprinted stamps appeared on 1 July 1958.

During 1958 also, the first moves were taken to provide an entirely new definitive series. However, as the series would take some time to produce it was decided to re-issue, as a temporary measure, the 3d and 2s values of the 1947 series to replace the long-outdated centenary stamps of 1956. The new 3d and 2s stamps, issued on 6 July 1959 were in colours different to those of the similar values of 1947 and these are easily distinguishable. The one other stamp of the year appeared on 7 December 1959. Basically, it comprised a 4d stamp which had been issued in Australia in April 1959 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Post Office in Australia.

After its initial issue the Norfolk Island Administration thought it would be appropriate for the stamp to be issued also in the Territory. The major reason advanced was that in 1809, when the first postmaster in New South Wales was appointed, his jurisdiction included Norfolk Island. The Territory’s version of the stamp comprised the basic stamp overprinted NORFOLK ISLAND in two lines in red, with the value of 4d obliterated and 5d printed thereon. The latter change was necessitated by variations in postal rates effective in October 1959.

A New Definitive Series

The first five stamps of the new definitive series appeared in two groups in 1960, brief particulars being as follows:

  • 1d (23 May 1960) Hibiscus insularis flower
  • 2d (23 May 1960) Flower of Lagunaria Patersonnii
  • 5d (20 June 1960) Lantana flower
  • 8d (20 June 1960) Red hibiscus flower
  • 9d (23 May 1960) Cereus flower & Annigoni portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

The latter stamp represented the first occasion upon which a royal portrait had appeared on Norfolk Island stamps.

At this time also the administration became concerned with other stamp requirements brought about by the 1959 rate changes. Particularly, stamps of values of 1s 1d, 2s 5d, and 2s 8d were required. To meet the immediate need, the production of provisionals was arranged, the basic stamps being three values of the 1953 series. The group evolved as under:

  • 1/1 on 3½d (Warder’s Tower)
  • 2/5 on 6½d (Airfield)
  • 2/8 on 7½d (First Governor’s Residence)

The 2s 8d was issued on 29 August 1960, and the other two on 26 September 1960.

Arrangements were made in 1960 to have prepared a special stamp to signify the introduction of local government on Norfolk Island, the stamp being issued on 24 October. This stamps was of large size, with a value of 2s 8d. The design showed, at right, the Annigoni portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and at left a map of the island with the words’ LOCAL GOVERNMENT 1960' superimposed thereon.

In 1960 also, Norfolk Island adopted the Australian practice of issuing Christmas stamps, a practice which still obtains. The stamp was of the same size and design as the Australian Christmas stamps of 1960 with the requisite change of name. Additionally, it was printed in bright purple instead of in the carmine-red colour of the Australian stamp.

During the early part of 1961 a good deal of discussion took place in the philatelic press in Australia and overseas concerning Norfolk Island stamp issues, particularly as to whether or not too many stamps were being issued. The result was inconclusive but it became clear that the issuance of new stamps was regarded as an important source of revenue, a point of view which the philatelic world had always accepted since Norfolk Island began issuing its own stamps. Certainly, the public airing in no way affected the popularity of the country with collectors. If anything, subsequent movement in stamp values has indicated increased interest.

Moderate Number of Issues

In fact, Norfolk Island has been very moderate as regards new stamps. While there were ten new issues in 1960, there were only twenty-six stamps for the subsequent five-year period, 1961 to 1965. This trend of only a few new stamps each year has been maintained to the present time.

The remainder of the new definitive series was issued in small groups during 1961 and 1962 and, for convenience, are listed together, as follows:

  • 3d (1 May 1961) White Tern
  • 10d (27 February 1961) Salt House
  • 1s 1d (16 October 1961) Hibiscus
  • 2s (1 May 1961) Providence Petrel
  • 2s 5d (5 February 1962) Passion Flower
  • 2s 8d (9 April 1962) Rose Apple
  • 5s (27 February 1961) Blood Bridge
  • 10s (14 August 1961) Red-Tailed Tropic Bird

It may be mentioned that the definitive 1s 1d, 2s 5d, and 2s 8d stamps replaced the provisionals of 1960. The new 10d and 5s stamps had the same designs as the similar values of the 1953 series, but were bicolours.

The only commemorative stamps of 1961 to 1963 were the annual Christmas stamps all being of 5d denomination and of the same designs as the Australian Christmas stamps of the same years, but printed in different colours.

The 1960-62 definitive series was augmented quickly by six further stamps. On this occasion the administration arranged for the stamps, all with designs illustrative of fish endemic to the area, to be printed in multicolour photogravure by Harrison and Sons, Ltd., London. They were issued at various times during 1962 and 1963. Particulars of the supplementary series are, briefly:

  • 6d (16 July 1962) Tweed Trousers
  • 11d (25 September 1963) Trumpeter
  • 1s (17 September 1962) Po’ov
  • 1s 3d (15 July 1963) Dreamfish
  • 1s 6d (6 May 1963) Hapoeka
  • 2s 3d (23 September 1963) Ophie

The next short series of definitive stamps, also printed in London by the photogravure process, was illustrative of local scenes and comprised four stamps, these appearing at various times in 1964:

  • 5d (24 February 1964) View of Kingston
  • 8d (24 February 1964) Kingston
  • 9d (11 May 1964) The Arches
  • 10d (28 September 1964) Slaughter Bay

The 50th anniversary of Norfolk Island as a Territory of Australia occurred on 1 July 1964 and was marked by the issue, on that date, of two stamps, 5d and 8d, in a common design, symbolic pine trees signifying the Territory’s growth. These were designed and photogravure-printed at the Note Printing Branch of the Reserve Bank of Australia.

Christmas Stamp of 1964

The Christmas stamp of 1964 was of the contemporary Australian pattern, and of 5d denomination. The only other stamp of the pre-decimal currency period, issued on 14 April 1965, was commemorative of the 50th anniversary of Anzac, the value being 5d. Depicting Simpson and his Donkey, it was of the same design as the similar commemoratives of Nauru and Papua and New Guinea.

Like Australia, Norfolk Island adopted decimal currency on 14 February 1966. The new stamps which had been prepared for the occasion were of the nature of provisionals, being basically various stamps of the 1960-62 definitive series surcharged with new values in the decimal currency. The change was made by a double overprint method. The original value of each stamp was first overprinted with a silver panel and upon this block as a background the new value was then printed. This required that the printings be very carefully executed. It was necessary also to reprint some of the basic stamps to provide a working stock. The whole task, of some complexity, was carried out at the Note Printing Branch.

The stamps were issued in the Territory on 14 February 1966:

  • 1c (on 1d) Hibiscus Insularis
  • 2c (on 2d) Luganaria Patersonii
  • 3c (on 3d) White Tern
  • 4c (on 5d) Lantana
  • 5c (on 8d) Red Hibiscus
  • 10c (on 10d) Salt House
  • 15c (on 1s 1d) Fringed Hibiscus
  • 20c (on 2s) Providence Petrel
  • 25c (on 2s 5d) Passion Flower
  • 30c (on 2s 8d) Rose Apple
  • 50c (on 5s) Bloody Bridge
  • $1 (on 10s) Tropic Bird

Later, on 27 June 1966, the denominational range was augmented by 7c and 9c stamps. The designs of these two stamps represented a continuation of the landscape series of 1964 and were printed by Harrison and Sons, London. The 7c depicted Headstone Bridge and the 9c a view from the top of a hill looking toward Cemetery Bay.

The first decimal currency stamps, issued on 25 August 1966, were commemorative of the centenary of the establishment of the Melanesian Mission at Norfolk Island, values being 4c and 25c. Both designs are illustrative of St. Barnabas Chapel, which had been the mission church until Mission headquarters were tranferred eleswhere in 1921. The church is in a very fine state of preservation and is used today by the Anglican community on Norfolk Island. Much of the construction and interior decoration of the chapel was the work of natives from various islands of the Pacific who had undergone training at the Mission. The 4c stamp illustrates the interior of the chapel and the 25c shows an exterior view.

With its 1966 Christmas stamp, Norfolk Island broke new ground. It discarded the concept of utilising the contemporary Australian design and instead, adopted a design selected from entries in a local stamp design competition held earlier in the year. The design for the 1966 comprised a star, with enlongated vertical arms, apparently above nearby Phillip Island, as viewed from Norfolk Island. Printed by Harrison and Sons, the stamp was issued on 24 October 1966.

Exciting and Impressive Stamps

The most exciting and impressive stamps issued by the Territory to date are undoubtedly those of the 1967-68 definitive series showing historical ships.

Ships have been very important to the island. Until comparatively recent times it depended entirely upon ships to maintain links with the outside world and the whole economy of the island was affected and influenced by the regularity or otherwise of ship arrivals and departures.

The ten stamps illustrated in the stamp series are significant in themselves. They have association also, in varying degrees with aspects of changing patterns in the local way of life. Major changes affecting the trend of history might also, at times, be identified in part with particular vessels.

The whole concept of the stamp series was evolved by the administration and all stamps were printed in multicolour photogravure by Harrison and Sons, London. The stamps were placed on sale in small groups in 1967 and 1968 and they gradually replaced the similar denominations of the definitive series. The summary below outlines the series and includes short notes concerning the fourteen ships.

Issued 7 June 1967

  • 1c HMS Resolution. Captain James Cook in the Resolution discovered Norfolk Island on 10 October 1771.
  • 2c La Bossole and L’Astrolabe. These were two vessels of the de la Perouse Pacific expedition of 1785-88, which visited Norfolk Island on 13 January 1788, while en route to Botany Bay.
  • 3c HM Brig Supply. This ship, Commander Ball, carried Lieutenant P. G. King to form a settlement in Norfolk Island early in 1788.
  • 4c HMS Sirius. This was the flagship of the ‘First Fleet’ which founded the first settlement in New South Wa les in 1788. In March 1790, laden with troops and stores, it arrived off Norfolk Island and, while endeavouring to land the latter, struck a rock and became a total wreck.

Issued 14 August 1967

  • 5c Norfolk. This was a 25-ton sloop built on the island in 1789. Taken to Sydney, it was fitted out for a voyage to confirm the discovery of Bass Strait. Matthew Flinders and George Bass, with a crew of eight, accomplished the task in the Norfolk in 1799.
  • 7c HM Survey Cutter Mermaid. Following the re-opening of the penal settlement on Norfolk Island in 1825 the Mermaid was used to carry part of the first contingent of convicts and guards from Sydney.
  • 9c Lady Franklin. This vessel was mentioned at the beginning of the article. It had been built at Port Arthur, Van Diemens Land, in 1841 and was used mainly for conveying stores between Van Diemens Land and Norfolk Island.
  • 10c Morayshire. Also mentioned earlier in the text, this ships was specially chartered by the British Government to transfer the Pitcairners to Norfolk Island.

Issued 18 March 1968

  • 15c Southern Cross. This ship, owned by the Melanesian Mission, and used between 1863 and 1873 to visit mission stations in the Pacific, regularly carried mails to and from Norfolk Island usually via New Zealand.
  • 20c Pitcairn. This was a schooner owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. On at least one occasion in 1891 it brought mails from residents of Pitcairn Island to relatives and friends at Norfolk Island.
  • 25c Whaleboat. Whaling was carried out by Norfolk Islanders for many years after 1856. The whaleboats used were mainly built on the island from local timber.

Issued 18 June 1968

  • 30c HM Cable Ship Iris. The first association of this ship with the Island was in 1907 when a new shore end to the Norfolk-Suva cable was laid.
  • 50c Schooner Resolution. Built on Norfolk Island in 1923-25, and named after Cook’s Resolution, this vessel made many trading voyages to Auckland.
  • $1 SS Morinda. This Burns Philp vessel served Norfolk Island between 1931 and 1951, being engaged on the Sydney-Lord Howe Island-Norfolk Island-New Hebrides route.

The Territory issued two commemorative stamps during 1967. The first, on 7 June, was of 4c denomination and was significant of the 50th anniversary of Lions International. The design was the same as that of the similar Australian stamp but printed in a different combination of colours. The second commemorative, issued on 16 October, was the annual Christmas stamp and because of postal rate changes, the value was 5c. Designed by an islander, Mr. B. G. W. McCoy, it showed, upon a scroll, the words of John Adams’ Prayer. Adams was the last surviving mutineer from the Bounty at Pitcairn Island and when the Pitcairners moved to Norfolk Island in 1856 they brought the prayer with them.

In addition to the two groups of ship stamps, which appeared in 1968, the year’s programme included three ‘coil’ stamps, two stamps significant to the 21st anniversary of the Sydney-Norfolk Island Qantas service, and a single Christmas stamp.

The ‘coil’ stamps (for stamp machines) 3c, 4c, and 5c, follow the Australian pattern as regards design and size, but were printed in different colour combinations. They were issued on 5 August. The 5c and 7c stamps commemorative of the Qantas service appeared on 25 September. Both are of the same design and depict a DC4 Skymaster aircraft, as used at the present time, and a Lancastrian aircraft, which was employed when the service was introduced in 1947.

The 5 c Christmas stamp design was based on a floral motif, a stylised star appearing in the centre above the words ‘Peace on Earth.’ It was placed on sale on 24 October 1968.

[Norfolk Philately, PISC]

[Norfolk Island Philatelic Bureau]