General issues: British issues 1908-1980, French issues 1908-1980
Country name on general issues: New Hebrides, Nouvelles Hebrides
Currency: 1 Shilling = 12 Pence 1908-1938, 1 (French) Franc = 100 Centimes 1908-1938, 1 (Gold) Franc = 100 Centimes 1938-1977, 1 (New Hebrides) Franc = 100 Centime 1977-1980
Special issues: Private issues Australasian New Hebrides Company 1897, Syndicat Français des Nouvelles Hebrides 1903
Population: 69 000 in 1908, 115 000 in 1980
Political history New Hebrides
The New Hebrides is an island nation located in the southwest Pacific Ocean. The indigenous population is Melanesian. The first European to explore the islands was the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernández de Quirós. Sailing under the Spanish flag, De Quirós claimed the islands for Spain. The islands were again explored by the French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville in 1768 and by the British explorer James Cook in 1774. Cook named the islands the New Hebrides. Until the late 19th century contacts were sporadic and mainly focused on the – forced – recruitment of labor for plantations in the Americas, Australia, and elsewhere in the Pacific.
In the late 19th century, the islands were settled by both British – Australian – and French settlers. After a number of temporary administrative arrangements, the British and the French agreed to administer the islands as a condominium in 1906. The British and the French each set up their own administrations – essentially focused on the interests of the British and French citizens respectively. A joint administration also included local officials and administered general public services. To settle disputes, a Joint Court was presided over by a president, appointed by the Spanish king, serving as an independent arbitrator. The Joint Court was abolished in 1939. In the 1970’s the call for independence became gradually louder and the New Hebrides gained independence as the republic of Vanuatu in 1980.
The indigenous population depended on small scale agriculture and fishing. The European planters developed cotton plantations and, later, switched to other cash crops of which coconuts was the most important.
Postal history New Hebrides
The first postal services to the New Hebrides were provided, in the 1880’s, by Australian and French steamer lines connecting the New Hebrides to Sydney, Australia and Nouméa, New Caledonia. Stamps of New South Wales were used from 1888 and a New South Wales post office was set up in 1892. A New Caledonia post office was set up in 1903 using the stamps of New Caledonia. The stamps of New South Wales and New Caledonia were superseded by the first issues of the condominium of the New Hebrides in 1908.
The British and French authorities initially issued separate provisionals. The British used stamps of Fiji overprinted ‘New Hebrides Condominium’ and the French used stamps from New Caledonia overprinted ‘Nouvelles Hebrides (Condominium)’. In 1911, the first definitive issue appeared. This issue, as most issues until 1980, was issued in British and French versions of identical design – the difference being the designation of the condominium in English and French and, until 1938, the use of a different currency. The issues of the New Hebrides were superseded by the issues of Vanuatu in 1980.
In parallel to the use of the stamps of New South Wales and New Caledonia, and prior to the establishment of the New Hebrides post office in 1908, two companies issued stamps. These companies, at the time, provided the actual postal services between the islands and to Sydney and Nouméa.
The first was the Australasian New Hebrides Company. The company acquired a contract to provide postal services from the New South Wales post office in 1892 and issued stamps in 1897. As the New South Wales postal authorities objected to the use of these stamps on mail to Sydney, they were valid only for use on inter island mail. The stamps were valid until 1900.
The second company was Syndicat Français des Nouvelles Hebrides. This company had acquired a contract for the shipping of mail between the New Hebrides and Nouméa in the 1890’s. In 1903, the company decided to expand its services and issued stamps for inter island mail. The New Caledonia postal authorities, however, objected and the service was closed down three weeks later.