Union-Castle Philately

The once great Union-Castle Line not only had wonderful ships, they would have made perfect subjects for stamp enthusiasts and post offices the world over. Alas, my search for U-C related philately has not been very successful as seen below, although I believe that there is much more available than I expected.

FDC, 100 years of the Ocean Service Mail Contract

Before October 1876 mails were conveyed between Southampton and Cape Town every alternate week in terms of a contract concluded between Her Majesty’s Postmaster General and the Union Steam Ship Company Ltd.

On 5 October 1876 two new contracts commenced that ensured a weekly mail service between Great Britain and the Cape Of Good Hope. One contract was concluded between the Crown Agents for the Colonies and the Union Steam Ship Company Ltd and the other between the Honourable John Charles Molteno, Colonial Secretary of the Cape of Good Hope, and the Castle Packets Company. In terms of these two contracts a vessel of the Union Steam Ship Company commenced the north bound voyage from Table Bay to Plymouth and Southampton on Tuesday, 3 October 1876 and a vessel of the Castle Packets Company to Table Bay on Friday, 6 October 1876. Both journeys had to be completed in 27 days. The two mentioned shipping companies amalgamated in 1900 under the style of the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company Ltd.
Because the company provides a fast and reliable service between Cape Town and Southampton, its ships have ever since been used without interruption on a contract basis for the transportation of sea mail from Cape Town to the United Kingdom and the continents of Europe. (from an insert by Aurora Printers)

10c stamp with Union-Castle mailship

The Island of St Helena has a beautiful set of Mailship stamps which I only discovered recently. The set of 4 stamps feature the Walmer, Llangibby, Stirling and Pendennis Castles. St Helena was also served by Union-Castle.

Union-Castle Mailships. St Helena

I have since found another set of Union-Castle stamps from the island that are equally nice. They feature the Avondale, Dunnottar, Llandovery and Good Hope Castle.

Union-Castle Mailships. St Helena

On 5 December 2007, the South African Post Office issued a series of 5 stamps, based on the paintings done by Peter Bilas which were used in the book “Mailships of the Union-Castle Line” by CJ Harris and Brian D Ingpen.

South African Post Office issue Dec 2007

Dunnottar Castle

The Dunnottar Castle was one of the older ships still afloat and spent most of her life as a cruise ship. She was built by Harland & Wolff, Belfast, and launched on 25 January 1936, and used primarily on the London (Tilbury) – round Africa service until the outbreak of WW2, when she was converted to an armed merchant cruiser, and later to a troop transport. In 1949 she resumed her London – round Africa service. In 1958 she was sold to Incres SS Co, who renamed her Victoria and substantially rebuilt her in Rotterdam. She entered service in 1960 on New York-West Indies cruises. In 1964 she changed hands once again, this time to Victoria SS Co, a subsidiary of Swedish company Clipper A/B, she retained her name, and Incres Line as agents. Chandris Cruises bought her in 1964, and she resumed sailings as The Victoria in June of 1976. She cruised in Europe and the Caribbean until 1993, when she was sold to Louis Cruise Lines and renamed Princessa Victoria for use on cruises from Cyprus. In 2002 it was reported that she was to be taken up for service as a hotel ship in London, this sadly never came to pass and the Princessa was laid up and in 2004 sold for scrap. She arrived at the breakers at Alang on 25 May 2004.

Southampton Castle

Union-Castle also had an extensive fleet of cargo ships, and two of them were destined to take over where the mailships left off.

The Southampton Castle has the distinction of being the last mailship to make the run for the Ocean Service Mail Contract. Her last northbound voyage commencing on 11 October 1977. Her sister ship, Good Hope Castle was involved in a serious fire near Ascencion Island in 1973, the 2 stamps above may actually refer to the Good Hope as opposed to the Southampton as stated.

The 2 sisters were 180m long with a GRT of 10538 tons. Service speed was 22,5 knots and they were designed to complete the mail run in 11,5 days. Both were sold to Costa Crociere in 1978, Good Hope being renamed Paolo C and Southampton Castle renamed Franca C, Both ships were scrapped in 1984.

One of the squat motor ships is also featured with the harbour tug TS McEwen in a 1994 issue of SAR&H harbour tugs. Its purely co-incidental though, but a nice find. As to which ship? I believe it is the Winchester Castle.

TS McEwen and Mailship

The Safmarine Mailships.

In 1996 Safmarine celebrated its 50th anniversary (1946-1996) and a very nice series of stamps were issued by the post office to celebrate the occasion.  The Union Castle Mailships Pretoria Castle and Transvaal Castle, were transferred to Safmarine in 1966 and renamed SA Oranje and SA Vaal respectively. They were re-registered in Cape Town and both were used on the mail run until the Oranje was withdrawn and sold for scrapping in Kaohsuing in the mid 1975. The Vaal was in service till 1977 when she too was withdrawn and sold to the fledgling Carnival Cruise Lines. As Carnival moved towards megaships she too was sold, this time to Dolphin Cruise Line for who she operated as IslandBreeze until Premier Cruises acquired her along with Dolphin Cruise Lines. When Premier folded she was laid up at Freeport in the Bahamas and in April 2003 it seemed as if the end was near and she commenced her final voyage to the breakers in May. She was finally beached at Alang on July 13th 2003.

SA Vaal

The SA Oranje featured on a R2.00 issue for the Bloemfontein 150 Philatelic Exhibition.

SA Oranje

There are definitely other examples of Union-Castle philately out there, Brian Bunyard informed me that the following St Helena stamps that featured Union-Castle themes.

Llandovery and Good Hope Castle

And I also found an Ascension Island 9P issue which featured the Garth Castle.

Garth Castle

Another interesting stamp is that released for the Union-Castle Centenary Voyage of the MV Victoria from December 1999 till February 2000.

MV Victoria at St Helena

I have only recently seen a nice set of “World Famous Ships” from St Vincent and the Grenadines which feature the Saxon and Dunbar Castle. (no pic available)

I discovered that Upper Volta (now called Burkina Faso), appeared to have issued a Universal Postal Union 100th year anniversary stamp in 1974 featuring the Windsor Castle.

I know there are more out there, and as much as I would love to show them all I cannot. However, I did find an interesting place that seemed to have even more than I was aware of. The above examples are from my own small collection, and I am hoping to add to that once again when funds permit.

Last Sailings.

The Ship Society of South Africa released a series of 4 special envelopes to commemorate the final departure of the last 4 mailships. Ironically the envelope which featured the Windsor Castle also bore the Ocean Service Mail Contract stamp. Barely a year after the centenary of this contract, one of the last of the Union-Castle mailships was sailing from our shores. The Windsor was also the last Union-Castle mailship to be broken up, she was run up on the beach on  July 20, 2005. The end of the line had arrived.

Pendennis Castle (01/06/1976)

SA Oranje (03/10/1975)

SA Oranje (03/10/1975)

SA Vaal (27/09/1977)

Windsor Castle (06/09/1977)

DRW © 2001-2021. Moved to blog 13/10/2014, updated 18/11/2015, updated 26/02/2018

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