British New Guinea

British New Guinea
British colony


Australian territory





Quick reference

General issues: British New Guinea/British colony 1901-1906, Papua/Australian territory 1906-1942

Country name on general issues: British New Guinea, Papua

Currency: 1 Pound = 20 Shilling, 1 Shilling = 12 Pence 1901-1942

Population: 247 000 in 1940

Political history Papua

Postal history Papua

Please click on the image to enlarge

Papua is located in the southwest Pacific Ocean. As a political entity, Papua comprises the southeastern part of the island of New Guinea and a number of adjacent islands. The indigenous population consists of a large number of tribal peoples of mainly Papuan and Melanesian descent. The first Europeans to explore Papua were the Portuguese and the Spanish in the 16th century. The western part of New Guinea was claimed in 1828 by the Dutch as part of the Netherlands East Indies. When, in the 1880’s, the Germans gained increasing influence in the northeastern part of New Guinea, Queensland – then a British colony, now an Australian state – claimed the southeastern part of New Guinea to forestall German advances to the south. The British, at the time, did not support the claim. However, when Germany proclaimed the protectorate of German New Guinea over the northeastern part in 1884, the British took control and – two days after the Germans – proclaimed a protectorate over the southeastern part of New Guinea as British New Guinea. Subsequently, British New Guinea was annexed as a British colony in 1888.

Loading a lakatoi around 1885. he lakatoi is a traditional boat used in New Guinea and the signature design element in the stamps of Papua.

Loading a lakatoi around 1885. The lakatoi is a traditional boat used in New Guinea and the signature design element in the stamps of Papua.

After the Australian Commonwealth was formed in 1901, it was decided to transfer control over British New Guinea to Australia. Control was effectively transferred in 1906 and British New Guinea became the Australian territory of Papua. During WWI, Papua was the staging ground for the Australian forces that were to occupy German New Guinea. After the war, German New Guinea became the League of Nations mandated territory of New Guinea in 1920, administered by Australia.

During WWII, most of the island of New Guinea was occupied by the Japanese in 1942. Allied forces, however, managed to withstand Japanese advances into Papua and only part of Papua was occupied by the Japanese. Between 1942 and 1945, Australia established military rule. Civil administration was restored in 1945 and in 1949 Papua was joined with New Guinea – a United Nations trust territory since 1946 – to form the territory of Papua & New Guinea. Papua & New guinea changed its name to Papua New Guinea in 1971, gained self government in 1973 and independence within the British Commonwealth in 1975.

Economically, the British, nor the Australians, seem to have done much to develop the territory. The indigenous population depended on subsistence agriculture. Much of the interior was not explored until well into the 20th century – new tribes being discovered until today.

Postal history Papua

Postal history Papua

1907 – British New Guinea overprinted ‘Papua’.

The first stamps used in what would become Papua were the issues of Queensland in 1888. Queensland stamps would be used until the first issues for British New Guinea appeared in 1901. One set was issued for British New Guinea between 1901 and 1905. All stamps in the set feature a local ship called ‘lakatoi’ in the native language. After the transfer of British New Guinea to Australia in 1906, the issues of this first set were overprinted ‘Papua’. Definitives inscribed ‘Papua’ were issued in 1907. The lakatoi was the signature design element of the issues for Papua until 1932, when a large set of pictorials was issued with scenes of local life. During the period of military administration, between 1942 and 1945, civilian mail came to a standstill. When civilian administration was restored in 1945, stamps of Australia were used. Australian stamps were withdrawn in 1953, shortly after the first issues for the united territory of Papua & New Guinea appeared in 1952. The issues of the territory of Papua & New Guinea were superseded by the issues of independent Papua New Guinea in 1975.

For an overview of the political and postal developments in the form of a diagram, please refer to the country diagram of the South West Pacific.

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2 Responses to Papua

  1. William Smith

    According to the first issues inscribed Papua New Guinea appeared in 1972.

    • Gerben


      Thanks for pointing this out. I updated the Papua New Guinea profile to reflect the change in the country designation in 1972.

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