In this web site the maritime postmarks of the Cape of Good Hope are divided into three sections. The marks applied on board ships at sea (the Cape of Good Hope Ocean Post Office postmarks) – dealt on this page, the marks applied on board ship in the harbour (the shipping postmaster’s handstamps and finally the postmarks impressed ashore to mails landed from ships (the paquebot postmarks).
Correspondence posted on the high seas in a letter box on board a Packet, or in a Post Office established on board a ship may be prepaid by means of the postage stamps and according to the tariff of the country by which the Packet Service is maintained. If the posting on board takes place during the stay at one of the two extreme points of the voyage, or at any intermediate port of call, prepayment can only be effected by means of the postage stamps, and according to the tariff, of the country in the waters of which the Packet happens to be.
Advantage will be taken of the last regulation to establish Post Offices on board the colonial mail steamers so soon as the concurrence of the mail companies has been obtained. The necessary regulations and instructions are in course of being drawn up and the matter will be proceeded with at an early date (1891, p. 36-38).
Postmarks of the Cape Colony Ocean Mail
The Cape Colony Ocean Post Office utilized three basic types of circular postmarks (M1 to M 3b). These were used to cancel stamps on letters posted at sea. The words ‘Cape Colony’ inscribed on the top of the circular postmarks and the words ‘Ocean Mail’ at the bottom of the circle. The date was centrally located.
The diameter of the M 1 Ocean Post Office postmark measures from 22 to 23 mm. The letters are 3 mm high. The earliest recorded date of use is reported by Goldblatt as 18 October 1893 and the latest 3 July 1912. Index letters from A to N are used to denote the Royal mail ships to which individual cancellers were applied.
As was common practice in the Cape of Good Hope the letter ‘I’ was not used in order to avoid confusion with the letter ‘J’. The Union Line, the Castle Line and the Union-Castle Line all used the M 1 postmark. (click the letter to see examples as well as to find out which steamers used it A, B, C, D, E, F, G, J, H, K, L).
M 1 was used right until 1912 and it can been seen right through this period.Its use prior the Boer War is certainly scarcer than during and after the war period. The second Ocean Post office postmark (M 2differs from the first one in that it has a time control – 8 p.m. – instead of an index letter. The diameter is 23 mm, letters are 2.75 mm high and the earliest recorded date noted is 13 September 1904. The last date of usage recorded was the 28 October 1910. The third one the M 3 comes in two variEties. The first one (M3a) is 24 mm in diameter, with letters 4 mm high, but has no index letter or time control. It was in use 3 to 1907.M 3b has a diameter of 25 mm, lettering is 4 mm high, and it shows the letter ‘C’ of which three different sizes and shapes are noted. It was in use from 1902 and the latest recorded date of usage is 28 October 1910.
Armadale Castle Temporary Date Stamp of January 1904
In January 1904 the datestamp of the R.M.S Armadale Castle was sent to Cape Town for repairs. As it had not been returned by the time the ship sailed, a temporary stamp made on board was used. Impressions of this strike (M4 ), which is dated 23 January 1904 are extremely rare, as it was only used for one voyage. I have not as yet seen a potcard or letter with this postmark.