Posted in Australia

Christmas Card from Christmas Island

Last year, I joined a Facebook group dedicated to swapping Christmas-themed postcards and am just now getting around to writing about them. As I sit in my office here in Phuket, Thailand, I can see grey skies so it at least looks a bit wintery although in reality it’s 87° Fahrenheit and pouring down rain.

This is one of those odd cards that I need to think about how to categorize: it bears Christmas Island stamps but was mailed from the city of Hamilton in New South Wales. The scene pictured on the postcard has no real relation to either other than it celebrates the holiday for which the island was named. So, I am listing it as a card from Australia, computed the distance traveled from Hamilton, but will write about Christmas Island (and will save writing about the holiday itself for a different blog).

The Territory of Christmas Island is an Australian external territory. Located at 10°30′S 105°40′E, the island is about 12 miles (19 kilometers) in greatest length and 9 miles (14.5 km) in breadth. The total land area is 52 square miles (135 km²), with 86.3 miles (138.9 km) of coastline. The island is the flat summit of an underwater mountain more than 14,800 feet (4,500 meters) high, which rises from about 13,780 feet (4,200 m) below the sea and only about 984 feet (300 m) above it. The mountain was originally a volcano, and some basalt is exposed in places such as The Dales and Dolly Beach, but most of the surface rock is limestone accumulated from coral growth. The karst terrain supports numerous anchialine caves. The summit of this mountain peak is formed by a succession of tertiary limestones ranging from the Eocene or Oligocene up to recent reef deposits, with intercalations of volcanic rock in the older beds.

Steep cliffs along much of the coast rise abruptly to a central plateau. The island is mainly tropical rainforest, 63% of which is national park land. The narrow fringing reef surrounding the island poses a maritime hazard.

Christmas Island lies 1,600 miles (2,600 km) northwest of Perth, Western Australia, 310 miles (500 km) south of Indonesia, 606 miles (975 km) ENE of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and 1,708 miles (2,748 km) west of Darwin, Northern Territory.

The island has a population of just over 2,000 residents, the majority of whom live in settlements on the northern tip. The main settlement is Flying Fish Cove. Around two-thirds of the island’s population are Malaysian Chinese, with significant numbers of Malays and European Australians as well as smaller numbers of Malaysian Indians and Eurasians. Several languages are in use, including English, Malay, and various Chinese dialects, while Buddhism is the primary religion, practiced by three-quarters of the population.

Captain William Mynors of the Royal Mary, an English East India Company vessel, named the island when he sailed past it on Christmas Day, in 1643. The island was included on English and Dutch navigation charts as early as the beginning of the seventeenth century, but it was not until 1666 that a map published by Dutch cartographer Pieter Goos included the island. Goos labelled the island “Mony” or “Moni“, the meaning of which is unclear.

English navigator William Dampier, aboard the English ship Cygnet, made the earliest recorded visit to the sea around the island in March 1688. He found it uninhabited. Dampier gave an account of the visit which can be found in his Voyages. Dampier was trying to reach Cocos from New Holland. His ship was pulled off course in an easterly direction, arriving at Christmas Island twenty-eight days later. Dampier landed at the Dales (on the west coast). Two of his crewmen became the first Europeans to set foot on Christmas Island.

Captain Daniel Beeckman of the Eagle passed the island on April 5, 1714, chronicled in his 1718 book, A Voyage to and from the Island of Borneo, in the East-Indies.

The first attempt at exploring the island was in 1857 by the crew of the Amethyst. They tried to reach the summit of the island, but found the cliffs impassable. During the 1872–76 Challenger expedition to Indonesia, naturalist John Murray carried out extensive surveys.

In 1886, Captain John Maclear of HMS Flying Fish, having discovered an anchorage in a bay that he named “Flying Fish Cove”, landed a party and made a small collection of the flora and fauna. In the next year, Pelham Aldrich, on board HMS Egeria, visited it for ten days, accompanied by J. J. Lister, who gathered a larger biological and mineralogical collection. Among the rocks then obtained and submitted to Murray for examination were many of nearly pure phosphate of lime. This discovery led to annexation of the island by the British Crown on June 6, 1888.

Soon afterwards, a small settlement was established in Flying Fish Cove by G. Clunies Ross, the owner of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (some 560 miles or 900 km) to the south west) to collect timber and supplies for the growing industry on Cocos. Phosphate mining began in 1899 using indentured workers from Singapore, Malaya, and China. John Davis Murray, a mechanical engineer and recent graduate of Purdue University, was sent to supervise the operation on behalf of the Phosphate Mining and Shipping Company. Murray was known as the “King of Christmas Island” until 1910, when he married and settled in London.

The island was administered jointly by the British Phosphate commissioners and district officers from the United Kingdom Colonial Office through the Straits Settlements, and later the Crown Colony of Singapore. Hunt (2011) provides a detailed history of Chinese indentured labor on the island during those years. In 1922, scientists attempted unsuccessfully to view a solar eclipse from the island to test Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

At the outbreak of the South-East Asian theatre of World War II in December 1941, Christmas Island was a target for Japanese occupation because of its rich phosphate deposits. A naval gun was installed under a British officer and four NCOs and 27 Indian soldiers. The first attack was carried out on January 20, 1942, by the Japanese submarine I-59, which torpedoed a Norwegian freighter, the Eidsvold. The vessel drifted and eventually sank off West White Beach. Most of the European and Asian staff and their families were evacuated to Perth.

In late February and early March 1942, there were two aerial bombing raids. Shelling from a Japanese naval group on March 7 led the district officer to hoist the white flag. After the Japanese naval group sailed away, the British officer raised the Union flag once more. During the night of March 10-11, a mutiny of the Indian troops, abetted by Sikh policemen, led to the killing of the five British soldiers and the imprisonment of the remaining 21 Europeans. At dawn on March 31, 1942, a dozen Japanese bombers launched an attack, destroying the radio station. The same day, a Japanese fleet of nine vessels arrived, and the island surrendered. About 850 men of the Japanese 21st and 24th Special Base Forces and 102nd Construction Unit came ashore at Flying Fish Cove and occupied the island. They rounded up the workforce, most of whom had fled to the jungle. Sabotaged equipment was repaired and preparations were made to resume the mining and export of phosphate. Only 20 men from the 21st Special Base Force were left as a garrison.

Isolated acts of sabotage and the torpedoing of the Nissei Maru at the wharf on November 17, 1942, meant that only small amounts of phosphate were exported to Japan during the occupation. In November 1943, over 60% of the island’s population was evacuated to Surabayan prison camps, leaving a total population of just under 500 Chinese and Malays and 15 Japanese to survive as best they could. In October 1945, HMS Rother re-occupied Christmas Island.

After the war, seven mutineers were traced and prosecuted by the Military Court in Singapore. In 1947, five of them were sentenced to death. However, following representations made by the newly independent government of India, their sentences were reduced to penal servitude for life.

At Australia’s request, the United Kingdom transferred sovereignty to Australia, with a M$20 million payment from the Australian government to Singapore as compensation for the loss of earnings from the phosphate revenue. The United Kingdom’s Christmas Island Act was given royal assent on May 14, 1958, enabling Britain to transfer authority over Christmas Island from Singapore to Australia by an order-in-council. Australia’s Christmas Island Act was passed in September 1958 and the island was officially placed under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia on October 1, 1958.

In 1968, the official secretary was re-titled an administrator and, since 1997, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands together are called the Australian Indian Ocean Territories and share a single administrator resident on Christmas Island.

The settlement of Silver City was built in the 1970s, with aluminium-clad houses that were supposed to be cyclone-proof. The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami centered off the western shore of Sumatra in Indonesia, resulted in no reported casualties, but some swimmers were swept some 490 feet (150 meters) out to sea for a time before being swept back in.

A postal agency was opened on Christmas Island in 1901 and sold stamps of the Strait Settlements. After the Japanese occupation (1942–45), postage stamps of the British Military Administration in Malaya were in use, then stamps of Singapore.

In 1958, the island received its own postage stamps after being put under Australian custody. It had a large philatelic and postal independence, managed first by the Phosphate Commission (1958–1969) and then by the island’s administration (1969–1993). This ended on March 2, 1993. when Australia Post became the island’s postal operator. Christmas Island stamps issued after March 1993 were usable in Australia, and Australian stamps in Christmas Island.

On March 4, 1993. the first five Australia Post stamps were issued with a new designation: CHRISTMAS ISLAND / AUSTRALIA. The philatelic program topics remained limited. Australia Post promised three issues per year: a Christmas stamp that was issued every two years during the 2000s, a Chinese New Year stamp since 1995 and one issue on local life.

Posted in Mauritius

The Island of Mauritius

Preparing an article for A Stamp A Day about Mauritius recently reminded me that I have yet to blog about the sole postcard I’ve received from the Indian Ocean island nation. The fact that card was sent by the author of a book about stamps makes this oversight even more surprising! The stamp article dealt with the pre-colonial history of Mauritius on through its periods of Dutch, French, and British rule. This article about the postcard will allow me to bring the story up-to-date in discussing the present-day Republic of Mauritius (République de Maurice in French and Repiblik Moris in Mauritian creole).

Mauritius is an island nation in the Indian Ocean about 1,000 miles (2,000 kilometers) off the southeast coast of the African continent. The total land area of the country is 790 square miles (2,040 km²) which is about 80% the size of Luxembourg. The Republic of Mauritius is constituted of the main island of Mauritius and several outlying islands including Rodrigues 350 miles (560 km) to the east of Mauritius and the twin islands of Agalega 620 miles (1,000 km) north of Mauritius. Saint Brandon, also known as the Cargados Carajos shoals, is an archipelago comprising a number of sand-banks, shoals and islets situated some 267 miles (430 km) north-east of Mauritius and is mostly used as a fishing base. The islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues form part of the Mascarene Islands, along with nearby Réunion, a French overseas department. The nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) covers about 888,035 square miles (2.3 million km²) of the Indian Ocean, including approximately 154,440 square miles (400,000 km²) jointly managed with the Seychelles.

The sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago is disputed between Mauritius and the United Kingdom. Chagos was administratively part of Mauritius from the eighteenth century when the French first settled the islands. All of the islands forming part of the French colonial territory of Isle de France (as Mauritius was then known) were ceded to the British in 1810 under the Act of Capitulation signed between the two powers. In 1965, three years before the independence of Mauritius, the United Kingdom split the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius and the islands of Aldabra, Farquhar and Desroches from the Seychelles to form the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). The islands were formally established as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom on November 8, 1965.

On June 23, 1976, Aldabra, Farquhar and Desroches were returned to Seychelles as a result of its attaining independence. The BIOT now comprises the Chagos Archipelago only. The UK gradually depopulated the archipelago’s indigenous population and leased its biggest island, Diego Garcia, to the United States under a 50-year lease to establish a military base. Access to the archipelago is prohibited to casual tourists, the media, and its former inhabitants.

Mauritius has repeatedly asserted that the separation of its territories is a violation of United Nations resolutions banning the dismemberment of colonial territories before independence and claims that the Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia, forms an integral part of the territory of Mauritius under both Mauritian law and international law. After initially denying that the islands were inhabited, British officials forcibly expelled to mainland Mauritius, approximately 2,000 Chagossians who had lived on those islands for a century. Since 1971, only the atoll of Diego Garcia is inhabited, home to some 3,000 UK and US military and civilian contracted personnel. Chagossians have since engaged in activism to return to the archipelago, claiming that their forced expulsion and dispossession were illegal.

 Mauritius also claims sovereignty over Tromelin Island from France.

The island of Mauritius is located between latitudes 19°58.8′ and 20°31.7′ south and longitudes 57°18.0′ and 57°46.5′ east. It is 40 miles (65 km) long and 29 miles (45 km) wide with a land area of 720 square miles (1,864.8 km²). The island is surrounded by more than 93 miles (150 km) of white sandy beaches, and the lagoons are protected from the open sea by the world’s third largest coral reef, which surrounds the island. Just off the Mauritian coast lie some 49 uninhabited islands and islets, several used as natural reserves for endangered species.

The island is relatively young geologically, having been created by volcanic activity some 8 million years ago. Together with Saint Brandon, Réunion, and Rodrigues, the island is part of the Mascarene Islands. These islands have emerged as a result of gigantic underwater volcanic eruptions that happened thousands of miles to the east of the continental block made up of Africa and Madagascar. They are no longer volcanicaly active and the hotspot now rests under Réunion Island. Mauritius is encircled by a broken ring of mountain ranges, varying in height from 984-2,625 feet (300–800 meters) above sea level. The land rises from coastal plains to a central plateau where it reaches a height of 2,198 feet (670 m); the highest peak is in the southwest, Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire at 2,717 feet (828 m). Streams and rivers speckle the island, many formed in the cracks created by lava flows.

The capital and largest city is Port Louis. Mauritius was a British colonial possession from 1810 to 1968, the year of its independence. The government uses English as the main language.

The people of Mauritius are multiethnic, multi-religious, multicultural and multilingual. The island’s government is closely modeled on the Westminster parliamentary system, and Mauritius is highly ranked for democracy and for economic and political freedom. Along with the other Mascarene Islands, Mauritius is known for its varied flora and fauna, with many species endemic to the island. The island is widely known as the only known home of the dodo, which, along with several other avian species, was made extinct by human activities relatively shortly after the island’s settlement. Mauritius is the only country in Africa where Hinduism is the largest religion.

At the Lancaster Conference of 1965, it became clear that Britain wanted to relieve itself of the colony of Mauritius. In 1959, Harold Macmillan had made his famous Winds of Change Speech where he acknowledged that the best option for Britain was to give complete independence to its colonies. Thus, since the late Fifties, the way was paved for independence.

Later in 1965, after the Lancaster Conference, the Chagos Archipelago was excised from the territory of Mauritius to form the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). A general election took place on August 7 1967, and the Labour Party and its two allies obtained the majority of seats. Mauritius adopted a new constitution and independence was proclaimed on March 12, 1968. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam became the first prime minister of an independent Mauritius with Queen Elizabeth II remaining head of state as Queen of Mauritius.

In 1969, the opposition party Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) led by Paul Bérenger was founded. Later in 1971, the MMM, backed by unions, called a series of strikes in the port which caused a state of emergency in the country. The coalition government of the Labour Party and the PMSD (Parti Mauricien Social Democrate) reacted by curtailing civil liberties and curbing freedom of the press. Two unsuccessful assassination attempts were made against Paul Bérenger. The second one led to the death of Azor Adélaïde, a dock worker and activist, on November 25, 1971. General elections were postponed and public meetings were prohibited. Members of the MMM including Paul Bérenger were imprisoned on December 23, 1971. The MMM leader was released a year later.

In May 1975, a student revolt that started at the University of Mauritius swept across the country. The students were unsatisfied with an education system that did not meet their aspirations and gave limited prospects for future employment. On May 20, thousands of students tried to enter Port-Louis over the Grand River North West bridge and clashed with police. An act of Parliament was passed on December 16, 1975 to extend the right to vote to 18-year-olds. This was seen as an attempt to appease the frustration of the younger generation.

The next general election took place on December 20, 1976. The Labour Party won 28 seats out of 62 but Prime Minister Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam managed to remain in office, with a two-seat majority, after striking an alliance with the PMSD of Gaetan Duval.

In 1982, an MMM government led by Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth and Paul Bérenger as Minister of Finance was elected. However, ideological and personality differences emerged within the MMM leadership. The power struggle between Bérenger and Jugnauth peaked in March 1983. Jugnauth travelled to New Delhi to attend a Non-Aligned Movement summit; on his return, Bérenger proposed constitutional changes that would strip power from the Prime Minister. At Jugnauth’s request, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India planned an armed intervention involving the Indian Navy and Indian Army to prevent a coup under the code name Operation Lal Dora.

The MMM government split up nine months after the June 1982 election. According to an Information Ministry official the nine months was a “socialist experiment”. The new MSM party, led by Aneerood Jugnauth, was elected in 1983. Gaëtan Duval became the vice-prime minister. Throughout the decade, Aneerood Jugnauth ruled the country with the help of the PMSD and the Labour Party.

That period saw a growth in the EPZ (Export Processing Zone) sector. Industrialization began to spread to villages as well, and attracted young workers from all ethnic communities. As a result, the sugar industry began to lose its hold on the economy. Large retail chains began opening stores opened in 1985 and offered credit facilities to low income earners, thus allowing them to afford basic household appliances. There was also a boom in the tourism industry, and new hotels sprang up throughout the island. In 1989 the stock exchange opened its doors and in 1992 the freeport began operation. In 1990, the Prime Minister lost the vote on changing the Constitution to make the country a republic with Bérenger as President.

On March 12, 1992, twenty-four years after independence, Mauritius was proclaimed a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations. The last Governor General, Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo became the first President. This was under a transitional arrangement, in which he was replaced by Cassam Uteem later that year. Political power remained with the Prime Minister.

Despite an improvement in the economy, which coincided with a fall in the price of petrol and a favorable dollar exchange rate, the government did not enjoy full popularity. As early as 1984, there was discontent. Through the Newspapers and Periodicals Amendment Act, the government tried to make every newspaper provide a bank guarantee of half a million rupees. Forty-three journalists protested by participating in a public demonstration in Port Louis, in front of Parliament. They were arrested and freed on bail. This caused a public outcry and the government had to review its policy.

There was also dissatisfaction in the education sector. There were not enough high-quality secondary colleges to answer the growing demand of primary school leavers who had got through their CPE (Certificate of Primary Education). In 1991, a master plan for education failed to get national support and contributed to the government’s downfall.

Dr Navin Chandra Ramgoolam was elected as Prime Minister in the 1995 election. The landslide victory of 60–0 was a repeat of the 1982 score, but this time it was on the side of the Labour–MMM alliance.

In February 1999, the country experienced a brief period of civil unrest. Riots flared after the popular singer Kaya, arrested for smoking marijuana at a public concert, was found dead in his prison cell. President Cassam Uteem and Cardinal Jean Margéot toured the country and, after four days of turmoil, calm was restored. A commission of inquiry was set up to investigate the root causes of the social disturbance. The resulting report delved into the cause of poverty and qualified many tenacious beliefs as perceptions.

Aneerood Jugnauth of the MSM returned to power in 2000 after making an alliance with the MMM. In 2002, the island of Rodrigues became an autonomous entity within the republic and was thus able to elect its own representatives to administer the island. In 2003, the prime ministership was transferred to Paul Bérenger of the MMM, and Aneerood Jugnauth went to Le Réduit to serve as president.

In the 2005 election, Navin Ramgoolam, leader of the Labour Party, was brought to power after making an alliance with the Parti Mauricien Xavier-Luc Duval (PMXD) and other minor parties. Navin Ramgoolam was again elected in May 2010. This time the Labour Party joined forces with the PMSD and the MSM. Under the new government, the country continued with its MID (Maurice Ile Durable) project, started in 2008, to make the economy less dependent on fossil fuels. The political landscape stayed rather confused. The Labour Party did away with the MSM, and then with the PMSD, whose leader had acted as Finance minister. The MMM made an alliance (known as Remake) with the MSM but broke off with the latter to become the ally of Labour Party.

Parliament remained closed for most of 2014. A second republic was proposed (by the leaders of Labour and MMM) whereby a president, elected by the population, would hold more power and rule the country in joint collaboration with the prime minister. Nomination day took place on November 24, 2014, and, for the first time, electoral candidates had the option of not proclaiming their ethnic group. Only a few chose to do so. General elections were held on December 10, 2014, and the Lepep alliance made up of the MSM, PMSD, and Mouvement Liberater (led by an MMM dissident) was elected to power by reaping 47 seats out of 60. The Westminster system was thus maintained and Aneerood Jugnauth became the prime minister for the sixth time.

Shortly after the new government took office, the ex-prime minister was lengthily interrogated by the police on charges related to money laundering. The license of the Bramer Bank was revoked due to alleged lack of liquidity, and the BAI (British-American Insurance) was suspended from trading and placed in receivership. A United Nations tribunal ruled that Britain had acted illegally when it created a marine protected area around the Chagos without the consent of Mauritius, thereby depriving this country of its fishing rights. Fresh negotiations began with Jin Fei in view of reviving the project started in 2006. Mauritius will henceforth detain 80% of the shares while the rest would go to the Chinese promoters.

Tourism continued to be the main source for foreign exchange, and the number of visitors to the island reached 1.1 million in 2015. Despite this boom in the tourism industry, Tourism Minister Xavier-Luc Duval placed a two-year moratorium on the construction of new hotels.

On January 21, 2017, Anerood Jugnauth announced that in two days time he would resign in favor of his son, Finance Minister Pravind Jugnauth, who would assume the office of prime minister. The transition took place as planned on January 23.

Posted in Belgium

BE-495932: Herentals, Belgium

A postcard of “seconds”: this was the second postcard I’ve received from Belgium (the first was one received through Postcrossing back in September 2006; one of the few cards that I’ve since lost!) and the second of my cards in the very popular “Flags of the World” series published by Postcardsmarket.com. I wrote a brief account of the history of Belgium on my A Stamp A Day blog last September. Looking back on it now reminds me that I need to add maps, flags, and coat of arms to those earlier entries as it took some time for me to hit upon the idea; the article also seems rather short compared to some of my more recent entries!

At any rate, the sender of this particular card lives in Herentals, a city situated in the Province of Antwerp. The municipality comprises the city of Herentals proper and the towns of Morkhoven and Noorderwijk. On January 1, 2006, Herentals, had a total population of 26,071. The total area is 18.75 square miles (48.56 km²) which gives a population density of 537 inhabitants per square kilometer. Saint-Waldetrudis is the patron saint of the city.

Herentals is often referred to as the capital of the Belgian Campine region. It has some outstanding historical buildings, including the church, town hall and the old city gates — Bovenpoort, the Northern gate, and Zandpoort, the Western gate. There used to be a Nederpoort and Koeienpoort as well, but those have been torn down a long time ago. The Hidrodoe science museum is located in Herentals. There is also a large chocolate factory located in the city.

Flag of Herentals, Belgium
Flag of Herentals, Belgium
Arms of Herentals, Belgium
Arms of Herentals, Belgium

Herentals is twinned with Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire in France, Alpen in Germany and Ijsselstijn in the Netherlands. The inhabitants of the Campine region have common soubriquets that are particular to their towns; people from Herentals are referred to by the colloquialisms “Klokkenververs” (meaning “bell painters”) and “Peestekers” which comes from an old story about the farmers of the town using carrots (pekes, “pee”-stekers) as a lock on the “zandpoort”, one of the great gates in that time.

The national flag of Belgium is a tricolor of three bands of black, yellow, and red. The colors were taken from the coat of arms of the Duchy of Brabant, and the vertical design may be based on the flag of France. When flown, the black band is nearest the pole (at the hoist side). It has the unusual proportions of 13:15.

On August 26, 1830, the day after the rioting at the Brussels Opera and the start of the Belgian Revolution, the flag of France flew from the city hall of Brussels. The insurgents hastily replaced it with a tricolor of red, yellow and black horizontal stripes (similar to the one used during the Brabant Revolution of 1789-1790 which had established the United States of Belgium) made at a nearby fabric store. As a result, Article 193 of the Constitution of Belgium describes the colors of the Belgian nation as “red, yellow and black” instead of using the order shown in the official flag.

On January 23, 1831, the stripes changed from horizontal to vertical, and on October 12 the flag attained its modern form, with the black placed at the hoist side of the flag.

The official guide to protocol in Belgium states that the national flag measures 2.60 meters tall for each 3 meters of width, giving it a ratio of 13:15. Each of the stripes is one-third of the width of the flag. The yellow is in fact yellow and not the darker gold of the flag of Germany, which is a somewhat similar black-red-gold tricolor.

Posted in Jordan

Jerash, Jordan: Roman Ruins of Gerasa

This card is a bit of a mystery as I have no idea how I got it! I “found” it this morning while going through a file folder of “unsorted scans”. I scanned it back in June 2015 but that offers no real clues. It was probably included as a “stiffener” in an order of stamps from an overseas dealer…

At any rate, it is my only postcard from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (المملكة الأردنية الهاشمية‎‎ — Al-Mamlakah Al-Urdunnīyah Al-Hāshimīyah) and I’m happy to have it. Jersash (جرش) is the capital and largest city of Jerash Governorate (محافظة جرش), which is situated in the north of Jordan, 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of the national capital Amman towards Syria. Jerash Governorate’s geographical features vary from cold mountains to fertile valleys from 820 to 980 feet (250 to 300 meters) above sea level, suitable for growing a wide variety of crops.

Jerash is the site of the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa (Γέρασα), also referred to as Antioch on the Golden River. Ancient Greek inscriptions from the city as well as literary sources from both Iamblichus and the Etymologicum Magnum support that the city was founded by Alexander the Great or his general Perdiccas, who settled aged Macedonian soldiers there (γῆρας – gēras means “old age” in Ancient Greek). This took place during the spring of 331 BC, when Alexander left Egypt, crossed Syria and then went to Mesopotamia.

After the Roman conquest in 63 BC, Jerash and the land surrounding it were annexed to the Roman province of Syria, and later joined the Decapolis league of cities. In AD 90, Jerash was absorbed into the Roman province of Arabia, which included the city of Philadelphia (modern day Amman). The Romans ensured security and peace in this area, which enabled its people to devote their efforts and time to economic development and encouraged civic building activity.

Jerash is sometimes misleadingly referred to as the “Pompeii of the Middle East” or of Asia, referring to its size, extent of excavation and level of preservation, since Jerash was never destroyed and buried by a single cataclysmic event, such as a volcanic eruption. Jerash is considered one of the most important and best preserved Roman cities in the Near East. It was the birthplace of the mathematician Nicomachus (Νικόμαχος) of Gerasa  (c. 60 – c. 120 AD).

In the second half of the first century AD, the city of Jerash achieved great prosperity. In AD 106, the Emperor Trajan constructed roads throughout the province, and more trade came to Jerash. The Emperor Hadrian visited Jerash in AD 129–130. The triumphal arch (or Arch of Hadrian) was built to celebrate his visit. A remarkable Latin inscription records a religious dedication set up by members of the imperial mounted bodyguard wintering there.

The Persian invasion in AD 614 caused the rapid decline of Jerash. Despite its decline, the city continued to flourish during the Umayyad period, as shown by recent excavations. The AD 749 Galilee earthquake destroyed large parts of Jerash, while subsequent earthquakes (847 Damascus earthquake) along with wars and turmoil contributed to additional destruction.

However, by the year 1119, during the period of the ِKingdom of Jerusalem, a garrison of forty men stationed in Jerash by Zahir ad-Din Toghtekin, atabeg of Damascus converted the Temple of Artemis into a fortress which was captured by Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem (1118-31), and utterly destroyed. Afterwards, the Crusaders abandoned Jerash for Sakib (Seecip) on the eastern border of the Kingdom of Jerusalem with Seljuk Empire. They initiated a re-treatment of the eastern border of settlement. This, however, was not yet permanent, since Jerash re-appeared on Ottoman tax registers of the sixteenth century.

Small settlements continued in Jerash during the Ayyubid, Mamluk Sultanate, and Ottoman periods.

Most of the ruins of Jerash remained buried in the soil for hundreds of years until they were discovered by German Orientalist Ulrich Jasper Seetzen in 1806. In addition to the role of the people of old villages near Jerash, the process of building the modern city of Jerash was mainly done by the resettlement of Circassian Muslims by the Ottoman authorities; the Circassians came to Jerash from the Caucasus by the year 1885-6 after the Russo-Turkish War. Subsequently, a community of people from Syria came to the area by the time of the Emirate of Transjordan.

Excavation and restoration of Jerash has been almost continuous since the 1920s. Jerash has developed dramatically in the last century with the growing importance of the tourism industry to the city.

Jerash is now the second-most popular tourist attraction in Jordan, closely behind the splendid ruins of Petra. On the western side of the city, which contained most of the representative buildings, the ruins have been carefully preserved and spared from encroachment, with the modern city sprawling to the east of the river which once divided ancient Jerash in two.

Recently the city of Jerash has expanded to include many of the surrounding villages, including Souf, Dairelliat, Thougretasfour, Jaba, Aljbarat and Majar. Other important villages in the governorate include: Kitteh, Sakib, Nahlé, Burma, Mustabah, Jubba, Raimoun (biblical Ramoth-Gilead), Kufr Khall, Balila, and Qafqafa.

Since 1981, the old city of Jerash has hosted the Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts, a three-week-long summer program of Arabic and international dance, music, and theatrical performances. The festival is frequently attended by members of the royal family of Jordan and is hailed as one of the largest cultural activities in the region.

In addition, performances of the Roman Army and Chariot Experience (RACE) were started at the hippodrome in Jerash. The show runs twice daily, at 11am and at 2pm, and at 10am on Fridays, except Tuesdays. It features forty-five legionaries in full armor in a display of Roman army drill and battle tactics, ten gladiators fighting “to the death” and several Roman chariots competing in a classical seven-lap race around the ancient hippodrome.

According to Jordan Times, the number of tourists who visited the ancient city of Jerash reached 214,000 during 2005. Director of Jerash Antiquities Department Mohammad Balawneh said that the number of non-Jordanian tourists was 182,000 that year, adding that the sum of entry charges reached JD900,000.

Posted in U.S.A. - Alabama

Fort Morgan, Mobile Bay

At New Years 2013/2014, my sister Marilyn stayed in a beach house on the Gulf Coast of Alabama. One of several postcards she sent me during that time was this one picturing Fort Morgan — a historic masonry star fort at the mouth of Mobile Bay. The fort is at the tip of Mobile Point at the western terminus of Alabama State Route 180. It and Dauphin Island, on which Fort Gaines is situated, enclose Mobile Bay. The post was named in honor of Revolutionary War hero Daniel Morgan. It was built on the site of the earlier Fort Bowyer, an earthen and stockade type fortification involved in the final land battles of the War of 1812. Construction was completed in 1834 and it received its first garrison in March of the same year. The Alabama Historical Commission maintains the site.

After the War of 1812, the United States embarked on a program to strengthen its seacoast defenses. As part of this program, in 1818 the U.S. contracted with Benjamin Hopkins of Vermont to build a large masonry fort on Mobile Point after a design by Simon Bernard, who had been a military engineer for Napoleon. However, Hopkins died a year later in a yellow fever epidemic, having accomplished little. The next contractor, Samuel Hawkins of New York, died in 1821, before accomplishing anything on the project. The Army turned the task over to the Corps of Engineers under Captain R.E. DeRussey. Using slave labor, DeRussey was able to make some progress before he took ill in 1825 and turned the work over to his deputy, Lieutenant Cornelius Ogden. Ogden completed the work in March 1834 and turned the fort over to Captain F.S. Belton, commander of Company B, 2nd US Artillery. This unit remained at the fort for about a year and a half before its transfer to Florida to assist in the Second Seminole Indian War.

Eight days before Alabama seceded from the Union, Colonel John B. Todd took four companies of Alabama volunteers and captured the fort before dawn on January 3, 1861. The Confederates then proceeded to strengthen the defenses of Mobile Bay. The key point was the Main Ship Channel opposite Fort Morgan as this was the only approach where the water was deep enough to permit major warships to pass. To defend this area, the Confederates placed 18 of the fort’s heaviest guns (including two 7-inch Brooke rifles and two British-made 8-inch Blakely rifles), so that they could bear on the Channel. They also built redoubts and trenches east of the fort to impede further any attack via land. Lastly, they complemented the land defenses with a small flotilla consisting of the ram Tennessee, and three gunboats, Morgan, Gaines and Selma, all under the command of Admiral Franklin Buchanan.

During the war, Fort Morgan provided protective fire for blockade runners. All 17 vessels that ran out of the Bay eluded capture, as did 19 of the 21 that attempted to enter.

During the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864, Union naval forces under Admiral David G. Farragut were able to get past Fort Morgan and enter the Bay. They captured Tennessee and Selma, sank Gaines, and captured Fort Gaines. This freed the Union land forces under Gordon Granger to besiege Fort Morgan. During the siege, the wooden roof of the Citadel, a ten-sided barracks located in the center of the fort used to house the enlisted men, caught fire and the structure was badly damaged.

After two weeks of bombardment from sea and land, Major Richard L. Page, commander of the fort, felt compelled to surrender. He did so on August 23, 1864, after first spiking the fort’s guns. Once the fort was in Union hands, the Union used it as a base for reconnaissance raids, and then as a staging area for the Battle of Spanish Fort and the Battle of Fort Blakely, which occurred days before General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

Rather than restore the Citadel, post-War crews used the ruins as a brick source for repairing the fort. The remains of the Citadel were razed in the 1880s for use as a breakwater.

During a renovation project in the 1870s, the fort received 12 200-pounder Parrott rifled cannon. Eventually, however, the U.S. Government abandoned the fort, letting it fall into disrepair. Under the presidency of Grover Cleveland, Secretary of War William Endicott chaired the Endicott Board, which led to a program of building new, concrete batteries. Between 1895 and 1900, Fort Morgan received five concrete batteries, supported by the latest in fire control, electricity, and communications.

The first battery, Battery Bowyer, was operational during the Spanish–American War. It had four 8-inch breech-loading guns on disappearing carriages. At beginning of the Spanish–American War, Fort Morgan also received eight 10-inch smooth-bore muzzle-loading Rodman cannon, converted to 8-inch rifles with the insertion of a barrel sleeve. This was a makeshift and the Army later gave the guns away to cities for Civil War memorials. Battery Bowyer was closed in 1917 and the guns removed for conversion to railway guns for service in Europe.

The second battery, completed in 1900, was Battery Dearborn, named for Major General Henry Dearborn. The battery had eight breech-loading 12-inch coast defense mortar in two four-gun pits. The intent was that should enemy vessels approach, the mortars would rain down shells on the vessels’ less heavily armored decks.

The third battery, also completed in 1900, was Battery Duportail, named for Major General Louis Duportail. Its armament consisted of two 12-inch breech-loading rifles on disappearing carriages. The battery was decommissioned in 1923. The Army removed the breechblocks and plugged the breeches before abandoning the guns in place. The Army scrapped the guns in the early 1940s.

The fourth battery was Battery Thomas, named for Captain Evan Thomas, who had been killed in the Battle of Sand Butte in 1873 during the Modoc War. This battery’s armament consisted of two British 4.7-inch rapid-fire Armstrong guns. The battery’s role was to prevent smaller enemy vessels from passing through the ship’s channel in front of the fort. The battery was deactivated in 1917 and its guns removed.

The fifth battery was Battery Schenk, named for Lieutenant William T. Schenck, who was killed in action in Luzon in 1900 during the Philippine–American War. The battery initially held two, later increased to three, 3-inch rapid-fire guns. It too protected the ship channel.

Hurricanes in 1906 and in July 1916 caused a great deal of damage to the wooden houses at Fort Morgan along Officer’s Row. The wide porches that helped cool the buildings in summer proved particularly vulnerable.

In 1915, the Coast Artillery Corps built an experimental battery, called Battery Test, about a mile away from Fort Morgan. The battery held a single 10-inch gun on a disappearing carriage. Then in 1916, the Navy had two battleships, the USS New York and the USS Arkansas, shell the battery for two days to see how well it would survive, which it did with remarkably little damage. The gun was removed shortly after the tests.

After the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, the fort took on the task of training men of the Coast Artillery in modern weapons. The fort also trained field anti-aircraft batteries. In 1920, the fort received four British 9.2-inch howitzers. These guns were abandoned and later scrapped in 1924 when the Army abandoned the fort. Thereafter, the base deteriorated quickly.

During World War I, the Army had established a radio transmitting and receiving station at Fort Morgan as a part of a nationwide Morse-code communication network. The transmitter had the call letters WUR. When Fort Morgan was abandoned, the call letters were transferred to Fort McClellan, Alabama.

In April 1942, the Army re-occupied the fort and constructed an adjacent airfield. Initially, the Coast Artillery brought five Model 1918 155mm (6.1-inch) guns to equip the fort. The Army placed two on top of Fort Morgan on mounts that permitted 360 degrees traverse. The remaining three guns stood on the fort’s parade ground.

The War Department turned Fort Morgan over to the State of Alabama in 1946, and the Army again abandoned the fort in 1947. The War Department disbanded the U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps itself in 1950. Fort Morgan was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. In 2007 it was listed as “one of the nation’s 10 most endangered battle sites” by the Civil War Preservation Trust in History Under Siege: A Guide to America’s Most Endangered Civil War Battlefields.

In June 2008, a 90-pound live Union naval shell was uncovered at the site. The shell was from a Parrott rifle on a U.S. Navy warship and was fired at the fort in the summer of 1864. The discovery came during excavations as part of a project meant to repair cracks in the walls.

Posted in U.S.A. - California

Russian River near Santa Rosa

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Another postcard sent by my sister last year features a bit of northern California’s Russian River near where our father grew up; he was born in Santa Rosa and we’ve seen home movies of his and his brother’s exploits tubing, fishing, and sailing on the river when they were young.

The Russian River springs from the Laughlin Range about 5 miles (8 kilometers) east of Willits in Mendocino County. It flows generally southward to Redwood Valley, then past Calpella, where it is bordered by U.S. Route 101, to join the East Fork Russian River just below Lake Mendocino. From there the Russian River flows south, past Ukiah and Hopland, and crosses into Sonoma County just north of Cloverdale. Closely paralleled by U.S. Route 101, it descends into the Alexander Valley, where it is joined by Big Sulphur Creek. It flows south past Cloverdale, Asti, and Geyserville.

East of Healdsburg, Maacama Creek joins the Russian River. After it makes a series of sweeping bends, the Healdsburg Memorial Bridge carries Old Redwood Highway over the river just upstream of U.S. Route 101’s Healdsburg crossing. It receives water from Lake Sonoma via Dry Creek. The river turns westward, where it is spanned by the Wohler Bridge, and it is joined by Mark West Creek north of Forestville, followed by Green Valley Creek to the south. The river passes Rio Nido and Guerneville. In that area, State Route 116 parallels the river, bordering it past Guernewood Park and Monte Rio.

Austin Creek enters from the north before the River passes through Duncans Mills. State Route 1 crosses over the river before it flows into the Pacific Ocean between Jenner and Goat Rock Beach. The Russian River estuary is recognized for protection by the California Bays and Estuaries Policy. The mouth is about 60 miles (100 km) north of the San Francisco Bay’s Golden Gate bridge. It drains 1,485 square miles (3,846 km²) of Sonoma and Mendocino counties in Northern California. With an annual average discharge of approximately 1,600,000 acre feet (2.0 km³), it is the second-largest river (after the Sacramento River) flowing through the nine-county Greater San Francisco Bay Area, with a mainstem 110 miles (177 km) long.

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The lower Russian River is a popular spring, summer, and fall destination for navigation and recreation. It is very safe at that time for swimming and boating, with a gentle current. The river is dangerous in the winter, with swift currents and muddy water.

The river was originally known among the Southern Pomo as Ashokawna, “east water place” or “water to the east”, and as Bidapte, “big river”. Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo and his expedition may have made it as far north as the Russian River in November 1542, before storms forced them to turn back south towards Monterey. The earliest European name for the river, Slavyanka, appears on a Russian-American Company chart dated 1817. In 1827, the Spanish called it the San Ygnacio, and in 1843 the Spanish land grant referred to it as Rio Grande.

The river takes its current name from Russian Ivan Kuskov of the Russian-American Company, who explored the river in the early nineteenth century and established the Fort Ross colony 10 miles (16 km) northwest of its mouth. The Russians called it the Slavyanka River (Славянка), meaning “Slav River”. They established three ranches near Fort Ross, one of which — the Kostromitinov Ranch — was along the Russian River near the mouth of Willow Creek. The redwoods that lined its banks drew loggers to the river in the late 19th century.

According to the United States Geological Survey, variant names of the Russian River include Misallaako, Rio Ruso, Shabaikai, and Slavyanka.

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Posted in U.S.A. - California

Muir Woods National Monument

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In mid-November last year, I received a couple of postcards from my sister — Marilyn — that she mailed during a trip to northern California. These reminded me that I have yet to blog about two previous cards I received from her the year before! I’ll try to take care of each of those over the next few days…

 Muir Woods National Monument is on Mount Tamalpais near the Pacific coast, in southwestern Marin County, California. It is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and is 12 miles (19 km) north of San Francisco. It protects 554 acres (224 ha) of which 240 acres (97 ha) are old growth coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) forests, one of a few such stands remaining in the San Francisco Bay Area. Due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the forest is regularly shrouded in a coastal marine layer fog, contributing to a wet environment that encourages vigorous plant growth. The fog is also vital for the growth of the redwoods as they use moisture from the fog during droughty seasons, in particular the dry summer.

The redwoods grow on brown humus-rich loam which may be gravelly, stony or somewhat sandy. This soil has been assigned to the Centissima series, which is always found on sloping ground. It is well drained, moderately deep, and slightly to moderately acidic. It has developed from a mélange in the Franciscan Formation. More open areas of the park have shallow gravelly loam of the Barnabe series, or deep hard loam of the Cronkhite series.

The monument is cool and moist year round with average daytime temperatures between 40 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (4 to 21 °C). Rainfall is heavy during the winter and summers are almost completely dry with the exception of fog drip caused by the fog passing through the trees. Annual precipitation in the park ranges from 39.4 inches (1,000 mm) in the lower valley to 47.2 inches (1,200 mm) higher up in the mountain slopes.

One hundred and fifty million years ago, ancestors of redwood and sequoia trees grew throughout the United States. Today, the Sequoia sempervirens can be found only in a narrow, cool coastal belt from Monterey, California, in the south to Oregon in the north.

Before the logging industry came to California, there were an estimated 2 million acres (8,000 km²) of old growth forest containing redwoods growing in a narrow strip along the coast.

By the early twentieth century, most of these forests had been cut down. Just north of the San Francisco Bay, one valley named Redwood Canyon remained uncut, mainly due to its relative inaccessibility.

This was noticed by U.S. Congressman William Kent. He and his wife, Elizabeth Thacher Kent, purchased 611 acres (247 ha) of land from the Tamalpais Land and Water Company for $45,000 with the goal of protecting the redwoods and the mountain above them.

In 1907, a water company in nearby Sausalito planned to dam Redwood Creek, thereby flooding the valley. When Kent objected to the plan, the water company threatened to use eminent domain and took him to court to attempt to force the project to move ahead. Kent sidestepped the water company’s plot by donating 295 acres (119 ha) of the redwood forest to the federal government, thus bypassing the local courts.

On January 9, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the land a National Monument, the first to be created from land donated by a private individual. The original suggested name of the monument was the Kent Monument but Kent insisted the monument be named after naturalist John Muir, whose environmental campaigns helped to establish the National Park system. President Roosevelt agreed, writing back:

          MY DEAR MR. KENT: By George! you are right.

and, responding to some photographs of Muir Woods that Mr. Kent had sent him,

          Those are awfully good photos.

Kent and Muir had become friends over shared views of wilderness preservation, but Kent’s later support for the flooding of Hetch Hetchy caused Muir to end their friendship.

In December 1928, the Kent Memorial was erected at the Kent Tree in Fern Canyon. This tree — a Douglas fir, not a redwood — was said to be Kent’s favorite. Due to its height of 280 feet (85 m) and location on a slope, the tree leaned towards the valley for more than 100 years. Storms in El Niño years of 1981 and 1982 caused the tree to tilt even more and took out the top 40 feet (12 m) of the tree. During the winter of 2002–03, many storms brought high winds to Muir Woods causing the tree to lean so much that a fissure developed in January 2003. This fissure grew larger as the tree slowly leaned more and more, forcing the closure of some trails. On March 18, 2003, at around 8:28 pm, the tree fell, damaging several other trees nearby. The closed trails have since been reconfigured and reopened.

In 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge was completed and park attendance tripled, reaching over 180,000. Muir Woods is one of the major tourist attractions of the San Francisco Bay Area, with 776,000 visitors in 2005.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, shortly before he was to have opened the United Nations Conference on International Organization for which delegates from 50 countries met in San Francisco to draft and sign the United Nations Charter. On May 19, the delegates held a commemorative ceremony in tribute to his memory in Muir Woods’ Cathedral Grove, where a dedication plaque was placed in his honor.

The monument was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on January 9, 2008.

The main attraction of Muir Woods are the coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) trees. They are known for their height, and are related to the giant sequoia of the Sierra Nevada. While redwoods can grow to nearly 380 feet (115 m), the tallest tree in the Muir Woods is 258 feet (79 m). The trees come from a seed no bigger than that of a tomato. Most of the redwoods in the monument are between 500 and 800 years old. The oldest is at least 1,200 years old.

Other tree species grow in the understory of the redwood groves. Three of the most common are the California bay laurel, the bigleaf maple and the tanoak. Each of these species has developed a unique adaptation to the low level of dappled sunlight that reaches them through the redwoods overhead. The California bay laurel has a strong root system that allows the tree to lean towards openings in the canopy. The bigleaf maple, true to its name, has developed the largest leaf of any maple species allowing it to capture more of the dim light. The tanoak has a unique internal leaf structure that enables it to make effective use of the light that filters through the canopy.

Muir Woods, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is a park which caters to pedestrians, as parking of vehicles is only allowed at the entrance. Hiking trails vary in the level of difficulty and distance. Picnicking, camping and pets are not permitted.

As of 2015, the park saw up to 6000 visitors per day during peak times (April to October, Thanksgiving weekend, and Christmas through New Years), more than 80% of which arrive by car, and most of the rest with a tour bus or shuttle bus. Currently, parking is extremely limited and lots often fill early in the day. The county and the National Park Service plan to introduce a reservation system that by mid-2017 will restrict the number of vehicles allowed to enter and park in Muir Woods every day. Residents of neighboring Mill Valley had protested against earlier plans to set up an additional parking lot, and together with a group named “Mount Tam Task Force” sued to prevent the building of a shuttle bus station.

There are no camping or lodging facilities in the Muir Woods. The monument is a day-use area only. There are camping facilities in the adjacent Mount Tamalpais State Park. The main trail (paved and boardwalk) through Muir Woods is a 2 miles (3.2 km) loop. A .5 miles (0.80 km) loop from the Visitor Center, through Founders Grove, to Bridge 2 and back is ADA accessible.

Characters played by James Stewart and Kim Novak visit the Muir Woods National Monument in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film Vertigo; however, the scene was actually shot in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The monument was a setting in both Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), though both films were in fact filmed in British Columbia.

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As children, we visited Muir Woods on several occasions and I have fond memories of those trips. My father grew up nearby and met my mom when they both worked at the Libby’s canned-food factory in San Francisco. I still have a number of relatives in the Bay Area and do hope to return for a visit at some point in the near future.

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Posted in Thailand, [General]

Back to Our Regular Programming….

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It’s already the end of February and I have yet to post anything to this blog. I plan to remedy that situation very soon. Work, and other activities, have intruded upon my postcard-writing. To date, I’ve only sent nine cards this year so far — all through Postcrossing earlier this month. I’ve started receiving emails indicating that several of these postcards have reached their destinations already.

I do still have a backlog of postcards to write about. A number of these arrived between November and December as part of a Christmas postcard exchanged organized by a Facebook group. While it isn’t very seasonal, I believe I’ll start featuring these cards in the near future, perhaps illustrating several at a time rather than writing a lengthy article about each one.

As far as postcard goals for the New Year, I would like to add a few more countries to my map. Significant “missing” countries include Spain and Portugal as well as all of Central America. I have very few postcards from the continents of South America and Africa and would like to fill in some more of the states and provinces of the U.S. and Canada.

Posted in Tonga

Niuafoʻou Island, Tonga: Tin Can Island Mail

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This postcard is one that I received as an envelope-stiffener within an order from an overseas stamp dealer. A very nice “freebie” as I was already familiar with the story of “Tin Can Mail”. As a pre-teen in my earliest days of stamp collecting, I spied a book on that very subject during a visit to my grandparents in San Luis Obisbo, California. Tucked inside was an actual envelope sent via this method from Niuafoʻou, the most northerly island in the Kingdom of Tonga (Puleʻanga Fakatuʻi ʻo Tonga). The postcard reproduces a painting by Chris Mayger of the collection of mail from Niuafo’ou and was used on a souvenir sheet released by Tonga to commemorate the centenary of the (almost) unique service.

Niuafo’ou is located in the southern Pacific Ocean between Fiji and Samoa, 357 miles (574 kilometers) north of the Tongatapu island group and 209 miles (337 kilometers) northwest of Vavaʻu. The island is an active volcano located on an underwater ridge 120 miles (190 kilometers) west of the line of all the other volcanoes of Tonga. The island contains a steep-sided caldera; the rim is over 390 feet (120 meters) high, rising to a height of 820 feet (250 meters) at Mokotu. In 1853, the village of ʻAhau was destroyed, killing 25 people. Lava flows from eruptions in 1912 and 1929 destroyed the village of Futu, cut off the harbor, and killed all the vegetation on the western slopes of the island. Other eruptions occurred in 1935, 1936, 1943, and 1946. The 1946 eruption was a particularly violent one and in December 1946 Niuafoʻou’s inhabitants were evacuated and resettled on the island of ʻEua. ʻEua and Niuafoʻou share many place names, showing where the resettlers went to. The first groups of inhabitants were allowed to return to the island in 1958.

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The island ring encloses two lakes. The larger, Vai Lahi, is a crater lake 75 feet (23 meters) above sea level, 2.48 miles (4 kilometers) wide, and 276 feet (84 meters) deep. The lake contains three islands and a submerged island that appears when the water level drops. Vai Lahi is separated from the smaller Vai Siʻi (or Vai Mataʻaho) by a desolate landscape of sand hills. The island is covered by forest on the inner walls of the crater lake, and on the island’s eastern and western slopes. The coastline is rocky and steep with only a few stony black sand beaches. The only landing place on the island is the end of a lava flow at Futu, in the west. All the villages are in the north and east. Public places like the post office, telecommunications station and airport (Niuatoputapu Airport are in Angahā in the north, while a high school is located in Muʻa.

Niuafoʻou was put on the European maps by Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire during their famous circumnavigation of the globe in 1616. After their not so successful encounter with the islanders of Niuatoputapu, they approached this island with some more hope to find refreshments, so it was called Goede Hoop (“Good Hope”). They found black cliffs, green on top, plenty of coconut trees, some houses along the seaside and a whole village near a landing place. But the ship the Eendracht (Unity) could not anchor and they had to limit themselves with some trade with the Indians who came along in their swift canoes. That went on fine for a short while. But when the islanders tried to get away with the small sounding boat, the Dutch had to use fire force again. After this they proceeded with their trip to the west, but veering towards the north and so happened to reach Futuna and Alofi.

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When copra traders set up operations on the island near the turn of the century, a method of communications became necessary. In 1882, plantation manager William Travers arrived on Niuafo’ou. He could see the passenger liners steaming past but never calling due to the steep sides plunging six miles down to the bottom of the Tongan Trench and making it impossible to anchor and hard to land even a rowing boat. Feeling cut off from communication, Travers petitioned the Tongan postal authorities to use kerosene cans or 40-pound biscuit tins thrown into the ocean as a conveyance for mail. Swimmers would deliver the mail from the island, swimming a mail or more through the wild surf while guiding the sealed tins to the waiting ships. Incoming mail was dropped overboard from the ships Once swimmers and ship exchanged their mail containers, each would be on their way.

The earliest recorded letter sent from Niuafo’ou using a swimmer from the island was postmarked on November 19, 1897. At the time, there was a brief experimentation with rocket mail for incoming mail. On occasion, the attempt was successful but often the rocket overshot the island altogether, landed in the lake in the center, or just got lost in the undergrowth. At lease once, the package of letters had burst into flames en route. The arrival of the rocket was an event that caused the entire population to down tools and watch. Then began the mad scramble to retrieve the package and collect the reward.

In the first decade of the twentieth century, Arthur Tindall established a coconut plantation on the island. He arranged for the ships of the Union Steamship Company of Auckland, New Zealand, to call at Niuafo’ou to pick up and deliver mail. After Tindall left for war service in 1914, his plantation and private mail service remained. He later invited C. Stuart Ramsey who came to the island as a plantation manager in 1921. Ramsey was the only native to participate as a Tin Can Mail swimmer and completed 112 swims in 12 years. If a ship happened to pass at night it would blow its siren and the swimmers would go out as a group, one carrying a lamp. Back on shore they would build bonfires to guide the swimmers home to the tiny island.

In the 1920’s, German trader Walter George Quensell came to the island. He that the unique mail delivery system could draw interest from the philatelists. He soon produced a rubber stamp reading “TIN CAN MAIL” using a child’s printing set. In late 1927, Quensell began applying this cachet to mail received instead of the Niuafo’ou arrival postmark. These were rather scarce until the summer of 1930 as Quensell was a business competitor with C. S. Ramsey who treated all outward bound mail.

On October 21, 1930, a total eclipse of the sun was due to be best viewed from Niuafo’ou. The U.S. Navy partnered with the National Geographic Society for an expedition which brought scientists to the island for observation. They arrived in late September, employing both Quensell and Ramsey who assisted in landing supplies, weather observation, and the sending of mail. for the scientists. On the day of the eclipse, Quensell provided a cachet to commemorate the event; these were subsequently transported on the minesweeper USS Tangier, the main vessel of the expedition. One member of the expedition was Paul Diefenderfer, Director of Education in Suva, serving as chief photographer. Diefenderfer also persuaded Quensell to further develop his cachets and have rubber stamps made in New Zealand.

In April 1931, two days prior to the scheduled arrival of a ship, a native Tin Can Mail swimmer named Folau was attacked by a shark and died. Queen Salote was very upset and ordered that in the future all mail was to be collected by outrigger canoe. This was much more difficult because the boats had to be thrown from the cliff top. The crew had then to jump into the water and climb aboard. That summer, the famous naval cachet maker and dealer W. G. Crosby contacted George Quensell, sending him an green inkpad and a new rubber stamp reading “CANOE MAIL“. Quensell also produced a circular cachet at this time. In December 1933, a mail bag was actually lost at sea and was later found washed ashore on Naitamba Island, Fiji. This was the only such incident in the entire history of the mail service.

Starting in 1934, with the ever-increasing number of ships calling at Niuafo’ou, Quensell began introducing new cachets frequently and changing postmarks almost every month. He arranged with ships’ captains that if passengers mailed their letters “in the tin” with 6 pence to cover stamps and costs, he would apply his cachets before posting them on. Captains soon applied rubber stamps of their own telling the story of Tin Can Island and the ship which carried the letter. Most of the South Pacific cruise liners made a point of calling at the island as the passenger loved to watch the “natives” collecting the mail. The islanders benefited greatly from the interest that this generated because, instead of a vessel visiting once a year to collect the copra harvest, they now had visits from cruise ships as often as twice a week. These brought, not only the mail, newspapers and magazines, but fresh meat and vegetables, as well as news of the outside world.

A violent volcanic eruption occurred on September 9, 1946. The lava destroyed the village of Agaha within twenty minutes, including the post office, the recently built radio station and Quensell’s house with his entire collection of Tin Can Mail. It was three days before a passing plane saw the eruption and radioed for help. The 1,330 inhabitants were evacuated between September 27 and December 21, 1946. They eventually resettled at Eua Island, south of Tongatabu.

The evacuation, of course, ended Quensell’s Tin Can Mail service. He wrote a letter to a friend stating that during his 27 years on the island, he had sent more than one and a half million letters to 148 nations and states. His cachets had become ever more elaborate and towards the end, cruise ships brought as many as 40,000 letters a visit, mostly from the USA. After the evacuation, Quensell moved to Nukualofa where he died on March 30, 1956, at the age of 79.

After twelve years absence, more than 200 former residents returned to Niuafo’ou and began rebuilding their homes and villages. It was not until January 1962 that the Matson Line, responding to pleas from the islanders, once again added Niuafo’ou to their itinerary and resurrected the Tin Can Mail. This once again proved a great success.  However, the completion of an airstrip on the island in 1983 brought the century-long service to a final end.

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Posted in Romania

Bucharest, Romania: Flag of Romania

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There are a few series of postcards popular amongst traders at the moment. One of these is a relatively new series featuring national flags produced by Postcardsmarket.com which is based in Romania. Thailand isn’t yet included in the series but I hope that it soon will be. Appropriately enough, my very first card received in this series was sent by none other than Mihnea Răducu — co-founder of Postcardsmarket.com — as the result of a lottery I’d won on one of the Facebook trading groups.

Romania (România) is located in southeastern Europe, bordering the Black Sea, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Hungary, Serbia, and Moldova. It has an area of 92,043 square miles (238,391 square kilometers) and a temperate-continental climate. With 19.94 million inhabitants, the country is the seventh most populous member state of the European Union. Its capital, Bucharest (București), is the sixth largest city in the EU. The River Danube, Europe’s second longest river, rises in Germany and flows southeastwards for a distance of 2,857 km, coursing through ten countries before emptying in Romania’s Danube Delta. The Carpathian Mountains, with their tallest peak Moldoveanu at 8,346 feet (2,544 meters), cross Romania from the north to the southwest.

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Modern Romania emerged within the territories of the ancient Roman province of Dacia, and was formed in 1859 through a personal union of the Danubian Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia. The new state, officially named Romania since 1866, gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1877. At the end of World War I, Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia united with the sovereign Kingdom of Romania. During World War II, Romania was an ally of Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union, fighting side by side with the Wehrmacht until 1944, when it then joined the Allied powers and faced occupation by the Red Army forces. Romania lost several territories, of which Northern Transylvania was regained after the war. Following the war, Romania became a socialist republic and member of the Warsaw Pact. After the 1989 Revolution, Romania began a transition back towards democracy and a capitalist market economy.

Following rapid economic growth in the early 2000s, Romania has an economy predominantly based on services, and is a producer and net exporter of machines and electric energy, featuring companies like Automobile Dacia and OMV Petrom. It has been a member of NATO since 2004, and part of the European Union since 2007. A strong majority of the population identify themselves as Eastern Orthodox Christians and are native speakers of Romanian, a Romance language. With a rich cultural history, Romania has been the home of influential artists, musicians, inventors and sportspeople, and features a variety of tourist attractions.

 Bucharest is located in the southeast of the country on the banks of the Dâmbovița River, less than 37 miles (60 kilometers) north of the Danube River and the Bulgarian border. It was first mentioned in documents in 1459. It became the capital of Romania in 1862 and is the center of Romanian media, culture, and art. Its architecture is a mix of historical (neo-classical), interbellum (Bauhaus and art deco), communist-era and modern. In the period between the two World Wars, the city’s elegant architecture and the sophistication of its elite earned Bucharest the nickname of “Little Paris” (Micul Paris).

Although buildings and districts in the historic city center were heavily damaged or destroyed by war, earthquakes, and above all Nicolae Ceaușescu’s program of systematization, many survived. In recent years, Bucharest has been experiencing an economic and cultural boom. In 2016, the historical city center was listed as “endangered” by the World Monuments Watch.

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