Ship Of State
Stamp Magazine|December 2019
Recess-printed, lithographed, typographed and overprinted, the attractive Lakatoi issues of British New Guinea and Papua are a complex series with myriad varieties
Nicholas Oughton

The postage stamps of British New Guinea and Papua have enjoyed great popularity over the years, and much of this can be attributed to the territory’s earliest issues, the so-called Lakatoi series.

With their exotic, colorful portrayal of a Papuan scene, so very different from the drab designs of many other countries in the early years of the 20th century, the Lakatos created excitement among collectors from the moment they were released.

Having remained in use for more than three decades, they offer a wealth of material for collection, study, and display.

Postal services

Having established the territorial claim to British New Guinea in 1883, the colony of Queensland was responsible for providing basic amenities, including an embryonic postal system.

The annual report of its Post & Telegraph Department in 1885 stated that ‘Arrangements were made in August for the exchange of mails with Port Moresby’, and that ‘Correspondence from New Guinea…would bear Queensland stamps’. The postage rate for a letter was to be 2d per ½oz.

In 1886 a contract issued to Burns Philp & Co provided for a monthly shipping service from Sydney in New South Wales, via Cooktown in Queensland, to Port Moresby in British New Guinea.

In 1888 the records show that 5,721 letters were received and 934 dispatched from BNG, and new post offices began to be established.

Stamps from various issues of Queensland were used to pay for postage. Up to 1891, they are most often found canceled with the ‘NG’ eight-bar obliterator used at Port Moresby.

Lakatoi design

A frequent sight in the waters of British New Guinea was the Lakatos, a traditional Papuan sailing vessel. These ships were employed to sail on the tail of the south-east monsoon up the coast from Hanuabada, near Port Moresby, to Paruru, to trade pottery for sago, returning with their cargo on a seasonal reverse of wind.

When Captain Francis Barton, a British military officer, and civil servant, photographed a lakatoi off Hanuabada on a balmy morning in 1899, he could not have imagined that the picture would become the icon of a nation.

Barton was the private secretary to the Lieutenant-Governor of British New Guinea, George Le Hunte, and was in the right place at the right time. With mail volumes increasing, and a desire to undermine British sovereignty, Le Hunte thought the colony should have ‘a stamp of its own’.

Writing to the Agent-General for Queensland, in London, on November 15, 1900, he requested him ‘to be good enough to order from the contractors for the printing of stamps… on account of the Government’.

Having approved Barton’s photo as suitable for the central motif, he added, ‘I enclose a photograph of… a native canoe… taken by Captain Barton, my private secretary.’

Acting on the Lieutenant- Governor’s request, on January 10, 1901, the Crown Agents for the Colonies appointed the London printer De La Rue & Co to design and produce the issue.

In its quotation for the work, De La Rue stated that ‘As there is an enormous amount of detail in the view, it is necessary to have a stamp somewhat larger than the ordinary.’ It added that recess printing would be the best approach, and the stage was set for a beautiful and distinctive series.

BnG series

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