The establishment of the Compagnie Caledonniene des Nouvelles-Hebrides in 1892 was with the explicit aim of establishing French control in the New Hebrides. In 1887, alarmed missionaries persuaded the Victorian and N.S.W. governments to subsidize shipping services to and from New Hebrides and Australia.

Figures 1a and 1b: Click to Enlarge

This was followed in 1889 by the emergence of the Australasian New Hebrides Company, whose Victorian backers included two ministers, four other members of the Victorian Parliament and a former premier, James Service plus leading merchants. James Burns and Robert Philp of the Burns Philp Company were prominent in the latter category. The Australasian New Hebrides Company, in addition to waging a trade battle, actively encouraged Australian settlers in New Hebrides.

The Australasian New Hebrides Company took on the responsibility for handling mails for the NSW Postal Agency and by 1897 the Company decided to charge for inter-island delivery of letters, and to and from Vila, New Hebrides and Sydney. The NSW government objected to the latter, for the Company already received a subsidy for delivery of mail between Vila and Sydney. Two stamps printed for the purpose were issued on 17 March 1897. They were lithographed by the John Sands and Co. of Sydney, on heavy, wove unwatermarked paper and rouletted ca. 8½.

There were 2 values, the 1d magenta with black centre and the 2d red-brown with the blue centre as in Figure 1a & b (pictured above).

The Company soon failed with Burns Philp & Co. taking over its assets, including the remainder of the stamps, on 30 September 1897. On 1 September 1900, the use of the locals was also specifically forbidden, and the remainders were sold by tender in 1913. These locals were genuinely issued to prepay postage, but there are few used singles with cancellations dated prior to August 1897. The 1d stamp was the letter rate per ½ ounce and the 2d stamp was the registration rate. No commercial covers are known, and copies dated after 30 September 1897 are likely to be philatelically used. An used copy of the 1d stamp postmarked PORT VILA POST/ NEW/ 27 SEP 97/ HEBRIDES/ A. N. H. CO LD is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Click to Enlarge

New Hebrides since 1980 is now known as the Republic of Vanuatu. It has an area of 12,190 sq. km. and a population of 204,000 (2003). The islands were inhabited for at least 3,000 years by Melanesian peoples before being discovered by the Portuguese in 1606. They were re-discovered by the French navigator Louis-Antoine de Bougainville in 1768 and then explored by Captain James Cook in 1774. Control of the islands was sought by the French and the English, who agreed in 1906 to form a condominium government. The philatelic expression of this was seen on its stamps, where their values were expressed in dual currency of both nations.

The position of New Hebrides in relation to the equator, Australia and New Zealand is shown in Figure 3. It is made up of a series of islands in the South Pacific Coral Sea, and Port Vila (shown arrowed) is the capital on the Island of Étaté.

Figure 3: Click to Enlarge

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