This page last updated: 22 September 2007

::: PRE-POSTAL MAIL - Via the Indian Ocean and Cape of Good Hope :::

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Via Indian Ocean

Chart showing the Indian Ocean and Cape of Good Hope Route. Ships could stop at Canton, Hong Kong, Manila, Batavia or possibly even Australia. A ship carrying mail to one of these ports might stay in the Pacific and trans-ship mail to another vessel headed to Europe or North America. Once on the Western Pacific Coast of Asia, the Indian Ocean Route was shorter and offered good wind and current for sailing vessels for destinations in New England or Europe.

Owing to frequent trade, the Indian Ocean Route via Canton offered the most opportunities to send mail from Hawaii. Sandalwood, a commodity prized in China, grew in the mountains of Hawaii and during the first two decades of the 19th Century, trade with China boomed. Furs obtained along the North American coast were another source of trade as ships gathering furs on the Northwest Coast of North America used Hawaii as a stopping place in the long voyage to Canton. One cover going that route to New England is known in 1817 and journals of the time mention the route for sending letters.

Identifying letters carried via China or another Asian port is usually based upon some notation by the sender - either directing the letter to go by a particular vessel known to have departed for Asia, or mention of the vessel name or route in the text of the letter. The following 1822 letter reveals the route in the text.

Aug 9 per ship America via Canton to NY

Datelined August 9, 1822 at Woahoo, the writer, Lucy Goodell Thurston, begins this letter Capt. Decovin, ship America, bound for New York by the way of Canton, sails from this port tomorrow morning . . . . At New York, the letter was accepted as a ship letter and postage was charged 18 for the 151 to 400 mile rate plus the 2 ship fee. In 1825, the 151 to 400 mile rate was changed to 18.

When the sandalwood and fur trades died out in the third decade of the 19th Century, the new economic engine was whale fishing, starting in the mid-1820's. That industry depended more on the Cape Horn Route and fewer ships traveled from Honolulu to China. Some ships did go that way and letters even in the 1840's are known going via the Indian Ocean route. Please send me an E-mail ( with details of pre-Postal covers routed to or from Honolulu via the Indian Ocean.

Feb 10 Per Joseph Peabody

The notation "per J. Peabody" reveals this cover as one sent via the Indian Ocean. The content confirms it with this beginning: "Per Jos. Peabody/Manila," datelined "Honolulu, Oahu, Feby 16, 1840." The American Brig Joseph Peabody sailed from Honolulu for Manila on February 16, 1840. From Manila, the Peabody sailed north to the Siberian Coast and returned to Honolulu, so this letter was transshipped at Manila to a New York bound ship. Winds, current and distance would have dictated a voyage from Manila via the Indian Ocean and the Cape of Good Hope and then northward in the Atlantic. It was stamped with a New York ship postmark on August 31 and received at Boston on September 2, 1840. At New York, the letter was rated with a manuscript "20" indicating the 18 fee to carry it beyond 150 miles (but less than 400 miles) under the rates in effect until 1845, plus a 2 ship fee. Captain Dominis of the Joseph Peabody became the father-in-law of Queen Liliuokalani.

Jan 11 to Andrews

A line in the content of this letter reveals it as going via the Indian Ocean and the postmark shows it was entered in the United States mail at New York on July 13, 1847. Datelined at Honolulu on January 16, 1847, when few reliable ships were available due to the United States war with Mexico, the writer took the opportunity of sending this letter by the American ship General Harrison, which sailed for Hong Kong January 16, 1847. From Hong Kong, the General Harrison proceeded through the Indian Ocean and rounded the Cape of Good Hope into the Atlantic. The letter from Seth Andrews to his parents begins "As a ship is soon to sail for U. S. via China I improve the opportunity to write a few lines as it may reach you before my communications by shorter route as there is no prospect of opportunity very soon." The letter continues: "I wrote to Charles not long since by the Ship Charles & if the Mexicans don't take her I hope you will receive it in course." The New York postmark includes a 12 rate for the 10 fee charged under the 1845 Act to carry a letter beyond 300 miles, plus a 2 ship fee.

Table Of Pre-Postal Covers Sent Via The Indian Ocean After 1829

[A list of pre-1830 covers is set forth at PRE-POSTAL MAIL - Log of Hawaii Origin Letters up to 1830]

Year Sent: Date/Place Received: Date/Place Notes Source Reference
1. 2/16 Honolulu 8/12 New York From Levi Chamberlain to Bath, NY w/"6" overstruck by "20"; via Canton Advertiser Sale (lot 2018)
2. 2/28 Honolulu 8/12 New York From Ladd & Co. to Sullivan & Barbour, Boston w/NY SHIP cds dtd 8/12 and m/s note rec'd Aug. 13 and "per Sapphire via Canton" and rate mark 2oz Siegel #805, lot 914
3. 2/16 Honolulu 8/31 New York From Pierce & Brewer to James Hunnewell, Boston with ms "per Jo Peabody" and NY cds; ms "Recd 2d Sept.;" the Peabody sailed from Honolulu to Manila where the letter was transshipped File copy
4. 1/16 Honolulu 7/13 New York To Elisha Andrews, Mich., with NY cds; the text refers to carriage via China and the General Harrison departed Honolulu Jan. 21, 1847 for Hong Kong and the U. S. Advertiser Sale, lot 2040
5. 1/20 Honolulu ? New York To William Heath Davis, Davisville, Pa., from William Lee by the General Harrison Advertiser Sale, lot 2066
6. 3/27 Honolulu 1/4 New York To Fairhaven, Mass.; carried by the Montreal, departing Honolulu May 25 for Hong Kong and New York Harris II, lot 3
7. 4/10 Waimea, H. 1/4 New York To Adeline Lyons, Colerain, Mass. with NY SHIP 7cts cds; carried by the Montreal, departing Honolulu May 25 for Hong Kong and New York Advertiser Sale, lot 2041
8. 5/19 Honolulu 1/4 New York From Seth Andrews to Elisha Andrews, Armada, Mich.; text refers to vessel sailing via China; carried by the Montreal Advertiser Sale, lot 2042
9. 7/24 Honolulu 12/15 Boston To James Hunnewell, Boston, with "Via China" ms and Harnden & Co., Liverpool rating stamp; carried by the Indiana, departing Honolulu July 27 for England via China Advertiser Sale, lot 2125
10. 6/10 Hamburg ? Honolulu To R. C. Wyllie from Hamburg via Alexandria, the Suez overland mail and Hong Kong c/o Russells & Co. File copy

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