New Guinea: Imperial Struggles

New Guinea is the most eastern of the islands formerly known as the Dutch East Indies. The island is mountainous, covered with jungle, infested by mosquitos and in the 19th century, the native tribes remained feudal and cannibalistic. The sea around the island was littered with coral reef and shoals making sea navigation difficult around it’s shores. Little wonder that the Dutch remained in the western part of the island, closer to its other possessions in the East Indies.

Germany, having become a unified country in Europe in the 19th century sought possessions to grow its global empire and the north eastern region of New Guinea was a target. There were British missionaries in the south east in proximity to Cape York at the northern tip of Queensland, Australia but the land borders between the Dutch, German and British missionary regions were never challenged. The interior of the island was far too difficult to enter due to its mountainous spine and jungle, and therefore remained the territory of the indigenous tribes.

German New Guinea 1897 5pf definitive stamp with overprint
German New Guinea 1897 25pf definitive stamp with overprint
German New Guinea from 1897 to 1901 including overprinted stamps of Germany and yacht key-type
German New Guinea 1901 80pf yacht key-type stamp

However, World War I changed all that. All German possessions around the globe were considered potential bases for the German war effort and as a result were occupied by Allied forces. Postage stamps of Germany and later German New Guinea had been used in the north east of New Guinea from 1888 until 1914. Australia occupied German New Guinea in 1914 at the outbreak of war but German postage stamps continued to be used in this territory with the overprint ‘G.R.I.’ (Georgius Rex Imperator, the Royal and Imperial cypher of George V) and the value in British currency.

New Guinea 1914 stamp of German New Guinea 20pf overprinted G.R.I. 2d
1914 German New Guinea 20pf Optd. G.R.I. 2d

By 1915 these overprinted stamps were exhausted and so Australian stamps were issued that were overprinted ’N. W. Pacific Islands’ for use in New Guinea and other South Sea Islands such as Samoa and the Marshall Islands, that had once been German possessions.

New Guinea 1915 5d stamp of Australia overprinted N. W. Pacific Islands
1915 5d Australia Optd. N. W. Pacific Islands
New Guinea 1918 10s stamp of Australia overprinted N. W. Pacific Islands
1918 10s Australia Optd. N. W. Pacific Islands

At the end of World War I, German New Guinea became the ‘Mandated Territory of New Guinea’ (a term defined by the League of Nations for assigned German and Turkish territories) and in 1921 was placed under Australian administration. The overprinted Australian stamps continued to be used until 1925 when the first postage stamps for the Mandated Territory were issued. These stamps were titled ‘Territory of New Guinea’ and continued until the last issue in 1939.

Japan’s invasion of much of the Far East at the start of World War II caused concern on the island of New Guinea. The threat of an invasion forced the Australian administration to move its headquarters from new Guinea to the Australian mainland. As a result, no new stamp were issued in the territory until after World War II had ended.

To view postal issues of New Guinea, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

Published by billmandsphilatelycom

William (Bill) Matthews has been a philatelist for more than 60 years. He has a particular interest in the postal history of the British Commonwealth including most notably, the issues from Australia, Canada and New Zealand. However, he also has specialist interest in the postal history of Egypt, Norfolk Island, Papua New Guinea, Sarawak, Sudan and the Italian States as well as a fine collection of overprints.

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