GEMS IN MY COLLECTION

Wreck of the P&O Colombo : Two unusual covers

By Andrew Cheung FRPSL (Hong Kong)

In 1853 the Pennisular & Oriental Shipping Company added eleven steamships to its fleet, one of them being the Colombo, a single screw steamer of 1,865 tons. In 1859, she was lengthened by 31 feet and her tonnage increased to 2,127. Two days after her departure on a westward bound voyage from Singapore, she struck on Minicoy Island, part of the Laccadives group of islands off Ceylon, in dense fog at 6.32 a.m. on 19 November 1862. The ship sank but fortunately all the passengers and crew were saved but the mail carried were lost. According to Lee Scamp's "Far East Mail Ship Itineraries", mail from P&O Colombo were recovered within three weeks by divers on board P&O ships within the vicinity; 261 boxes of mail were recovered by P&O Ottawa and 140 boxes were found by P&O Nemesis and 129 boxes recovered by the P&O Azof. P&O Ottawa reached Suez on 14 December followed by P&O Nemesis on the 15th. Mails sent to England and via England to other destinations were then carried by P&O Ripon from Alexandria to London/Southampton arriving on the 31 December. Letters salvaged by the P&O Nemesis/Ottawa thus bear London arrival of 30 December or thereof.

In all but a few cases, the stamps of the country of origin were washed off the letters. Letters processed in London received the handstamp"Saved from the wreck of the Colombo". This is a 58mm x 12mm boxed marking found in black and red. Two cachets differ slightly are recorded. Hopkins recorded 12 covers in 1948 and Mr. Peace recorded 19 covers in 1977. Most of the mails came from places such as Australia, Strait Settlements and India. Mails from Manila, Hong Kong and China are rare. Mr. Lee Scamp records eight covers from these places.

ac004

22 October 1862 Unpaid letter from Shanghai to Lyon via Hong Kong. Sent by private ship to Hong Kong by forwarder Bourjau Hubener & Co. (cachet on reverse) arriving on 31 Oct. 1862. P&O Orissa HK 1 Nov. to Galle and P&O Colombo wrecked off Minicoy Island on 19 Nov. This letter came from the mail rescued by divers from either P&O Ottawa or P&O Nemesis. Both ships reached Suez on 14-15 Dec. P&O Massilia took the mails from Alexandria on 16 Dec. to Malta and P&O Valetta to Marseilles arriving on 24 Dec.

The absence of French arrival marking on the letter is puzzling; but when the whole bundle of recovered mail were stuck together, it is possible that the Marseilles datestamp was struck on the ambulant cover enclosing the damaged letter. The recipient noted 'Rep 30 December' on the letter thus making it likely that this letter was among those recovered by the 'Ottawa' or the 'Nemesis'.

The usual "Saved from the wreck of the Colombo" cachet was applied to letters sent to and via England only and therefore not present on this letter sent directly to France.

Also interesting to see the forged SHANGHAI PAID Webb type 3 on this cover which was struck by the forger who did not understand the significance of this ragged cover.

The only one recorded directly sent to France without cachet

ac005

31 October 1862 prepaid letter from Hong Kong to Massachusetts. P&O Orissa HK 1 Nov. to Galle and P&O Colombo wrecked off Minicoy Island on 19 Nov. This letter came from the mail rescued by divers from either P&O Ottawa or P&O Nemesis. Both ships reached Suez on 14-15 Dec. P&O Ripon from Alexandria to Southampton 31 Dec. Allan Line ship Jura from Liverpool 2 Jan. to Portland 13 Jan.

One of the nine letters recorded from Hong Kong and one of the three* to U.S.A.

ยก@*The other two letters to U.S.A. are: (i) Letter to Hartford CT. ex. Norman Bennett collection, Cavendish 23 SP 2004 sale #384, (ii) Letter to Pittsburg PA. Van Koppersmith collection