Five covers, dated 1901-1910 were addressed to ‘Sir’ Robert Bear at 16 Park Street, Sydney from British New Guinea and from Nauru. The first is a printed cover with a vertical pair of the 1d carmine with black centre British New Guinea stamps, postmarked with the ten bar obliterator (as well as blue crayon strokes) and there is an unframed WOODLARKS/ 1901/ B.N.G. cancel nearby. The reverse (not seen) showed transit marks of Samarai B.N.G. and Cooktown, Queensland (Figure 1).
The second cover is an example of the same printed cover, also with a vertical pair of the same British New Guinea stamps cancelled with an over-inked B.N.G., as well as the same unframed WOODLARKS/ FE 4/ ( )/ B.N.G postmark (Figure 2).
The reverse shows a very partial transit Samarai, British New Guinea, an unframed COOKTOWN/ 5.39 P/ FE 12 /03/ QUEENSLAND, as well as a reception SYDNEY/ FE 20/ NOON/ O3/ 19 postmarks (Figure 3).
The third cover has a red 1d and a green 6d stamps and is postmarked with an indistinct unframed SAMARAI/ MR 12/ 1902/ BRITISH NEW GUINEA and has the rare two-line REGISTERED TAMATA B.N.G. as well as the unframed TAMATA/ 2P/ FE 26/ (0)2/ B.N.G.. It is addressed to Sir Robert Bear Bart., 16 Park St., Sydney N.S.W. (Figure 4).
The fourth cover was handwritten to Mr. Robert Bear, Modern Publishing Compy, 16 Park Street, Sydney, N.S. Wales. It has a manuscript ‘(275)’ registration with a red crayon crossmarks, and a vertical strip of three purple with black centre 2d British New Guinea stamps, cancelled with the same B.N.G. obliterators, the identical unframed WOODLARKS/ MAY -6 1903/ B.N.G. as well as a large REGISTERED/ WOODLARKS B.N.G. handstamp (Figure 5).
The fifth cover has a pair of the Marshall-Inseln (Islands) ‘Kaiser’s Yacht’ orange and black 30 pfennig stamps on salmon paper with 2 light strikes of Nauru/ Marshall-Inseln postmark, with a red and black Nauru (Marshall-Inseln) registration label, hand addressed to Robert Bear at the same address as the others. This was the only cover with the name of the sender, Ph. A. Delaporte, Nauru, Marshall Islands. The reverse showed a reception postmark, REGISTERED SYDNEY/ MY 31/ 10 (Figure 6).
It has been suggested that the ‘Sir’ might be self-appointed, for it was suggested that book sales would have been enhanced by the title. Robert Bear was a well known bookseller yet biographical data on him is lacking. A picture of the Sir Robert Bear ‘New & Popular Books’ shop is shown and I assume that the dapper young man at left is Robert Bear, but have no proof of same. The Robert Bear Book Shop is seen in Figure 7.
Bear was controversial for 2 reasons as he had the largest sales of pornographic material in Sydney. It has been claimed that he also sold contraceptive devices, but this also has not been confirmed. “The rise of the radical bookshop was synonymous with the rise of nineteenth-century radicalism. When young Edwin Brady took to reading, ‘Sir’ Robert Bears Free thought Book Depot was the only commercial outlet for radical literature. Both the title and the capital for the venture were borrowed.” The next sentence suggests that Bear’s bookshop was open by at least before 1894, for by that date the radical ‘literateur’ could choose from several shops, reading rooms and papers for the dissemination of radical literature. Only one publication by Robert Bear was found: A. McLaren: Federation: The Draft Bill Exposed. Sydney. Sir Robert Bear. 1891. Thus Bear’s establishment must have been in operation from at least 1891-1910, the date of the last cover.
The Rev. Ph. A. Delaporte who wrote the fourth cover was a German-born American Protestant Missionary who was sent to Nauru with his family in November of 1899. The family came from Hawaii under the auspices of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, sent by the Central Union Church of Honolulu. The mission had been started some ten years earlier and it maintained a school, which along with the Catholic Mission’s school, comprised the only formal educational system on the island of Nauru for more than two decades.
Delaporte translated numerous religious texts into the Naruan language, including the New Testament, stories from the Old Testament, a catechism, a hymn book, a school text and history of the Christian church. When the Mission church was taken over by the London Missionary Society in 1917, the Delaportes returned to the USA. Was Delaporte corresponding with Bear for books that encouraged radicalism, for the alternative is unthinkable?
A website devoted to British New Guinea stamps states that the Woodlarks postmark seen on 3 of the covers did not exist as a post office. Busai (Woodlark Island) was opened as a receiving office about 1896 and it closed in 1899. All letters of this period from the Woodlark Island were first sent with uncancelled stamps to Samarai where they received the Samarai cancel. The cancellers inscribed Woodlarks were supplied to the Kulumadau post office which opened in December 1899 or January 1900. The position of Woodlark Island (black arrow) is seen in Figure 8.
Five covers were posted in the early 1900s to a particularly interesting man (and they are now all expensive items), and I would appreciate further information about ‘Sir” Robert Bear from readers of this paper.