Australian Forces in the Boxer Uprising (Text Content)

This web page, published by the Military Postal History Society, contains the text content of the single frame Australian Forces in the Boxer Uprising exhibit pages. This exhibit was created by, and is the property of the late Al Kugel, and is being supplied by his heirs as a courtesy to the Military Postal History Society.

Introduction Text

To view the exhibit page images, see: web page containing the image content of the exhibit frame.

Updated 8/23/2022

Text Content of Exhibit

New South Wales and Victoria sent naval contingents totaling 455 officers and men, who embarked in the transport Salamis and arrived in Tientsin on about 17 September 1900. On 12 October, the NSW Contingent moved to Peking, where it carried out various administrative and security functions. The Victorians remained as garrison troops in Tientsin. The South Australians sent their only warship, H.M.C.S. Protector, which remained in Chinese waters for a little over two months. Both of the Naval Contingents left China on 29 March 1901, a little more than six months after their arrival.

Cover from a member of the NSW Contingent enroute to North China. It was mailed in Hong Kong on 28 August 1900, and is one of only two recorded examples of in transit mail.

Mail of the Australian contingents in the Boxer Uprising was unrecorded in the philatelic literature until 1952 (Hopkins), and the existence of a second item from these forces was not reported until 1968 (de Righi). To date, only 25 items have been recorded: 12 from and 4 to the New South Wales Contingent, 8 from the Victorians, and one to the South Australian cruiser. This exhibit shows 17 of those items.

Highlights include:

The earliest recorded items from the New South Wales and Victorian Naval Contingents. The only cover related to the South Australians.

All five of the items with unit cachets of the NSW Contingent.

Two of the four examples of inbound mail to the NSW Contingent.

Naval Contingent 28 September 1900

The New South Wales Naval Contingent, consisting of 257 officers and men, arrived in Tientsin about 17 September 1900. Between 18 and 22 September, members of the unit participated in the march against the Peitang forts. On 12 October, the Contingent moved to Peking where it was responsible for administering a portion of the city, police functions, fire-fighting, sanitation and maintenance supervision. The NSW Contingent was withdrawn from China on 29 March 1901.

Recorded mail from the NSW Naval Contingent consists of just 12 covers and cards.

Earliest example of NSW mail

The above card is one of only three pieces posted in Tientsin. The 10 pf. German postal card pays the full international postcard rate and was accepted by the Indian field post office as valid for postage to Australia.

Naval Contingent 9 October 1900

Concessionary rate for mail to NSW military personnel (in Australia).
On 1 January 1850, the New South Wales Post Office established a rate of 1 penny for prepaid letters from overseas to members of the military services. In 1900-1901, 1 penny equaled 1 anna. Thus, the special concessionary rate was accepted in China for this letter to Staff Surgeon Nickson in Newcastle even without any unit handstamp or other indication of official status.

NEW SOUTH WALES FPO 1 (Peking - Legation Gate)
Naval Contingent 23 October 1900

Only recorded example of the three-line unit handstamp.

Indian FPO 1 operated in Peking from 1 September 1900 through 23 November 1923.

The sender of the above cover is unknown. While correspondents for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sydney Telegraph are known to have accompanied the NSW Contingent, none is listed for the Sydney Mail. The presence of the unit cachet and 1 anna postage suggests an official source.

NEW SOUTH WALES FPO 1 (Peking - Legation Gate)
Naval Contingent 6 November 1900

Although cancelled by the Indian FPO, the Chinese postage did not pay for the transmission of this card either through the Indian field post system within China or in the international mails. The soldiers' concession rate was fully paid by the pair of half anna C.E.F. stamps.

Non-Indian mail posted in the Indian FPOs in Peking and Tientsin was routed through Base Post Office B to the main Base Post Office in Hong Kong, where it was transferred to the civil post office for forwarding to its destination,as shown by the various transit markings on the card above.

FPO 1 (Peking - Legation Gate)
Naval Contingent
6 November 1900

Of the 254 men of the NSW Naval Contingent in Peking, 63 were stationed at the British Legation.

Earliest recorded example of single-ring Base Office B (Tientsin) transit marking.

The above Indian postal card is overprinted "C.E.F." for use by the China Expeditionary Force. The full one anna international rate is required rather than the soldiers' concessionary rate because there is no military endorsement.

NEW SOUTH WALES FPO 7 (Peking - Tartar City)
Naval Contingent 6 December 1900

One of four recorded examples of the circular handstamp.

Indian FPO 7 operated in Peking from 23 October 1900 through 24 June 1901.

Same sender as for the earlier cover to the Sydney Mail, but this time using the second type of unit cachet.

NEW SOUTH WALES FPO | (Peking - Legation Gate)
Naval Contingent 2 February 1901

This postmark can be identified as FPO 1 (rather than FPO 7) by the spacing of the numeral relative to the top line of the date-line bridge. Significantly, this cover falls chronologically between the two examples of the cachet seen on FPO 7 covers, suggesting that either this handstamp moved between the two garrisons in Peking or that more than one was in use.

As with many of the other covers, there is no return address or other indication of the sender. However, the name of the addressee suggests some relationship to Cpl. T. C. Symonds, a member of the Contingent.

NEW SOUTH WALES FPO 1 (Peking - Legation Gate)
Naval Contingent 10 February 1901

The use of a unit cachet here validated the official concession rate of one anna on a letter to the home country, paid by C.E.F. stamps: one half anna plus two of 3 pies.

There were two Conners in the NSW Naval Contingent -- an enlisted man and the second-in-command, Cmdr. E. R. Conner. Presence of the unit handstamp would suggest that this cover is from the officer.

NEW SOUTH WALES FPO 7 (Peking - Tartar City)
Naval Contingent 19 February 1901

Only recorded example of postage due charged on Contingent mail.

Under NSW postal regulations, this cover was correctly paid at the reduced rate as the addressee was a NSW naval officer. Absence of the Base Office (Hong Kong) transit mark, plus the Ceylon routing (Colombo backstamp) suggests that the cover was mishandled as Indian mail and consequently not included in a normal Contingent shipment. The supposed deficiency was first rated in Ceylon (15 cts.) and repeated on arrival in New South Wales.

FPO 7 (Peking - Tartar City)
Naval Contingent
23 February 1901

While the NSW Contingent was in Peking, mail traveled to Tientsin by mule and railway train until 22 December, when all-rail service was instituted. It then went to Taku by rail, where it was put on ships (most of which were under the administration of the Imperial Chinese Post Office) bound for Shanghai. There it was transferred again to ships sailing to Hong Kong.

This cover took one day from Peking to Tientsin, 13 days from Tientsin to Hong Kong, and 36 days from Hong Kong to Australia. The range of transit times for Contingent mail is: Peking to Tientsin, same day to three days; Tientsin to Hong Kong, 11 to 15 days; and Hong Kong to Sydney, 21 to 37 days.

NEW SOUTH WALES 13 November 1900
Naval Contingent 11 January 1901

Incoming Mail -- Only two such covers and two fronts have been recorded.

The Llama temple garrison included just 64 men from the NSW Naval Contingent.

Cover to left was dispatched via Durban, presumably due to confusion in the Sydney post office reflecting the much larger NSW military force participating in the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA 4 October 1900
H.M.C.S. Protector

South Australia did not dispatch a naval contingent to China but did send its only warship, a light cruiser of 920 tons displacement and a crew of 103 men. The H.M.C.S. (Her Majesty's Colonial Ship) Protector was under the command of the senior naval officer in the colony, Capt. Creswell. It left Brisbane on 15 August 1900, stopped at Hong Kong on 9 September and arrived at Taku on 1 October. In China, Protector undertook survey work and carried dispatches in the Gulf of Chihli without seeing any action. Departing Hong Kong on 24 November, she arrived in Sydney on 18 December and took part in the celebrations for the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901.

The cover shown below inbound to H.M.C.S. Protector at Hong Kong is the only recorded example related to the South Australian participation in suppressing the Boxer Uprising.

Cover bears a one penny South Australian stamp to pay the concessionary rate to a military address. Transit marking of Adelaide on reverse. There is no Hong Kong receiving mark, but it can be presumed that the letter arrived before the ship departed Chinese waters.

VICTORIA FPO 4 (Tientsin)
Naval Contingent 4 October 1900

The Victorian Naval Contingent, consisting of 194 officers and men, arrived in Tientsin about 17 September 1900. Like the NSW Contingent, members of the unit participated in the march against the Peitang forts from 18 to 22 September. Between 12 October and 7 November, some Victorians were included in the Allied column which marched to Paotingfu., The Victorian Contingent was withdrawn from China on 29 March 1901.

Recorded mail from the Victorian Naval Contingent consists of just 8 covers, 6 of which are from the Fraser correspondence.

Earliest example of Victorian mail

While the number of the FPO does not show in the postmark above, it can be identified as FPO 4 by the type used for "No." which differs from that in the FPO 1 cds.

VICTORIA Base Office B (Tientsin)
Naval Contingent 15 November 1900

Souvenir covers, not necessarily philatelically made, were popular with the troops of the various Allied contingents in China. Of the 8 recorded covers from the Victorian Contingent, 4 bear non- CEF postage. In this case, the Indian postage of 3 annas more than paid the international letter rate, with the American, German and Japanese stamps being superfluous.

Base Post Office B was established in Tientsin on 1 November 1900 and continued in operation there until 1 May 1901, when it moved to Tongku. Base Office B used three types of postmarks while the Victorian Contingent was in Tientsin.

VICTORIA Base Office B (Tientsin)
Naval Contingent 21 November 1900

Analysis of covers from the Australian Contingents suggests that the regular Indian international letter rate of two annas six pies was the proper rate for single-weight unofficial letters to Australia, as shown on the above cover.

Postage rates for mail from the Australian troops are not defined in the relevant literature (including Lee, Lowe, Proud and Virk). Although there are one or two exceptions, the international rate was generally charged except for letters bearing an official unit cachet or when addressed to a serving member of the military in Australia.