This article is based on a paper by W. Jolliffe, read before the Philatelic Society of New Zealand (October 5th, 1911). It includes extremely useful early postal rates for New Zealand:

The first official reference to postage stamps in New Zealand is contained in a proclamation by the Governor-in-Chief (Sir George Grey), dated the 31st December, 1850, in which it is proclaimed as follows: “All letters and papers having a postage stamp or stamps affixed thereto of such form as may be prescribed by the local Government, which shall not have been used before, and which shall be of the value or the amount of the postage, to which such letters or papers would be respectively liable, according to the scale therein before provided, shall pass by the post free of postage.”

The scale of postage rates referred to in the Proclamation was 2d. for every ½ ounce; newspapers went post free, and price lists not exceeding 2 ounces, in weight were similarly privileged.

A form of stamp was not prescribed by the Local Government, as promised by the Proclamation, until the month of July, 1855, four and a half years after the Proclamation. In a notice published in the Gazette of the 18th of that month, it is stated that the stamps referred to in the Proclamation of the values of 1d., 2d., and 1s. had been received and were available for public use.

The 1d. stamp was at first available only for letters written by or to non-commissioned officers and soldiers and sailors in Her Majesty’s Service, a concession, which was subject to the condition that the name of the writer and his rank should be written on the outside of the letter, and that it should be countersigned by the officer under whom the privileged person was serving. In the following year, however, its scope or usefulness was increased, as in that year a rate of 1d. was imposed on newspapers to Great Britain, or through Great Britain to any British possession, while on newspapers to the Mediterranean or India via Marseilles the rate was 3d.

The fact that the date of issue of these stamps (falling as it did between the two Maori Wars) there was no considerable numbers of soldiers in New Zealand, while a visit from man –o’-war was of rare occurrence, will probably account for the scarcity of the London print of the 1d. stamp. It is suggested, too, that the condition requiring the signature of the writer’s superior officer further conduced to the scarcity of the stamp. Tommy Atkins and Jack would in many cases sooner pay the full rate than bother the captain for the sake of a penny.

The rate fixed at the commencement of the postage stamp system was found to be unremunerative, and in March, 1857, a notice appeared in the Gazette, stating that in conformity with arrangements made with the Imperial Government the rates were fixed as follows:

On letters for the United Kingdom via Southampton or by a long sea route:

Not exceeding ½ oz., 6d.
Over ½ ounce and under 1 oz., 1s.
Over 1 ounce, and under 2 oz., 2s.
With 1s. additional for every oz. Or portion of an oz.

On letters for the United Kingdom via Marseilles an additional rate was charged of 3d. per quarter of an oz.

On letters for the Continent of Europe via Trieste, the rate was 1s. for every ½ oz.

Book packets were charged 8d. per lb. This alteration in the rates accounts for the appearance in 1858 of the 3d. stamp.

This addition to the general postage rates, a local delivery rate was authorised by the Local Posts Act, 1856, to be charged by and for the benefit of the provinces. Advantage of this Act was taken by the provinces of Auckland, Canterbury, Nelson and Otago, and a delivery rate of 2d. per letter was charged by the authorities in the Auckland, Nelson and Otago provinces, and of 1d. in Canterbury.

The Post Office Act, 1858, however, cancelled this arrangement, and on the 1st January, 1859, a new scale of rates was fixed, covering all charges. The rate on inland letters was 2d. for every ½ oz. The rate on Home letters remained at 6d. and 1s., as before; but for letters for foreign countries there was an additional rate from 5d. to 2s, 1d. for very ½ oz.,varying with the country, to which it was addressed.

Here it may be mentioned that in the case of two countries, this additional rate include the fraction of 1d., that for Denmark being 10 ½ d., and for Poland 11 ½ d. per ½ oz; but there being no stamps available for such fractions were issued until 1873, and they were available only for newspapers addressed to places in New Zealand.

Some inconvenience was experienced owing to the via Marseilles rate (known as the French rate) being fixed at per ¼ oz., while the British rate was fixed at per ½ oz., and in July, 1863, an arrangement was made between Britain and France, whereby the French was fixed at 4d. per ½ oz. This was soon found to be insufficient to cover the cost of transport, and in September, 1865, the rate was increased from 4d. to 10d. per oz., bringing the combined rate up to is. Instead of 6d. The reasons for this change, as set out in the despatch from the Home Government to the Governor dated 7th July, 1865, are interesting.

It is stated as follows:

The Postmaster-General is of the opinion that the rate is quite insufficient for letters carried over large distances by sea, such, for instance, as letters between the Cape of Good Hope and India, China, or Australia, forwarded by Marseilles, or between India and Australia forwarded via Point de Galle. In both instances the letters are carried by more than one line of packets, and the low rate of 4d. is insufficient to cover the cost of their transport.

“Independently of the long distance over which these letters are carried, as above stated, there are two other circumstances which, in the opinion of the Postmaster-General, make it necessary to increase the sea postage. Firstly, this office has engaged to pay the Union Steam Ship Company, half the sea postage on letters carried by their packets from the Cape to Mauritius, and consequently if the rate be left at 3d., 2d. only will remain for the expense of varying a letter by packet from Mauritius to Aden, and thence to Sydney, a distance 10,000 miles, or to Hong Kong, a distance of more than 7,000 miles. Secondly, since the establishment of the Indo-China and Mauritius lines, occasions frequently happen in which a mail from one colony to another colony is carried by a British packet as far as Aden, Point de Galle, or Mauritius, the three points of junction, and arriving there immediately between the departure of to British packets, but just in time for a French packet, is sent on by a French packet.”

In these cases payment for the sea conveyance at the rate of 1s. per oz. has to be made to France, absorbing, at he present rate of charge, the whole of the sea postage, although a portion, and often the larger portion, of the conveyance has been performed by British packet.

The “Penny Post” saw daylight in New Zealand in the year 1867, when the rate of postage on town letters, that is, letters posted at any post office in New Zealand for delivery at or from that post office, was fixed at 1d. per ½ oz. Country letters, that is, letters requested at any post office for delivery at or from any other post office within the same province, were charged 2d. per ½ oz., while interprovincial letters were charged 3d.In November, 1871, a further step in the direction of penny postage was made by reducing these three classes to two; ‘town letters’ and ‘inland letters’ with a charge of 1d. and 2d. respectively. At the same time, foreign letters were, with certain exceptions, charged with the reduced fee of 6d. per ½ oz.

The cause of cheap postage was being ably advocated by postal reformers in various parts of the world, notably by Mr. Henniker Heaton, M.P., one result of whose efforts was the formation of the Postal Union. In the year 1890 the various countries forming the Union decided on a 2 ½ d. rate per ½ oz., and by an Order-in-Council dated the 22nd December, 1890, that rate was adopted for letters addressed to places outside New Zealand. The rate was, however, available only via San Francisco. On other routes, it remained at 6d. The 2 ½ d. and 5d. stamps were issued in 1891 to meet the requirements of the new rate.

The appointment in 1891 of Mr. Ward (now Sir Joseph Ward) as Postmaster-General afforded him the opportunity of advancing his cherished scheme for a universal penny postage, and in the same year he introduced and succeeded in passing the Post Office Amendment Act, 1891. This act made for provision for the introduction by Order-in-Council of an inland penny postage rate. Circumstances, however, prevented the issue of any Order-in-Council for ten years.

The term “universal penny post,” although not absolutely correct, is yet sufficiently definite. New Zealand was willing to send a ½ oz. Letter for 1d. to any country that would receive it. With very few exceptions the various countries of the world reciprocated, but in two notable instances opposition for a time was shown. The United Sates of America, though they agreed as matter of courtesy to accept our letters for a 1d. stamp, did not for two years make a similar reduction on their side, while Australia at first refused to accept our letters, except on the condition that a charge of 2d. be paid on delivery. However, during the last few months Australia has seen its way not to receive our letters at 1d., but also to send them at that rate.

In conclusion it may be pointed out that one effect of this low rate is to increase the scarcity of the 2d. stamp, an effect that probably was hardly intended.

Jolliffe was also the author of The History of New Zealand Stamps (1913). see: