Australian covers to the former Belgian Congo are not common. The present cover provides information concerning the routing within the Belgian Congo in the year 1937. A registered cover from Melbourne identifies the sender on the reverse as W.I. Urquhart, 125 Domain Road, Melbourne S.E.1. It is addressed to M(onsieur) Fernand Trokay with the simple address of Banningville, Belgian Congo, Africa.
The front of the cover has a blue R.6 registration label of Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, C.1, Vic. and a total postage of 6d, with the purple 4½d KGV head overprinted “FIVE PENCE” plus the 1d green KGV head. The two postmarks are indistinct, but can be deciphered as (REGISTERED ELIZ)ABETH ST/MELBOURNE, but the date is illegible (Figure 1).
This dating deficiency is corrected by a distinct REGISTERED/ 5/ 330P-5JA37/ MELBOURNE as well as a REG(ISTERE)D ELIZABETH ST / 230P 5 JA 37/ MELBOURNE on the reverse. This establishes the initial time and date of the cover’s journey. The total postage of 6d establishes that the mail was despatched by ship and the port of call in Africa unfortunately does not register a postmark, but is most likely Durban, South Africa. Trains from there would take the cover at least to a southern border town in the Belgian Congo.
The postal odyssey wends its way through the Belgian Congo (shown as the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1994, and prior to that Zaire), just north of the Zambian border at ELISABETHVILLE/ -5.2 37-8/ POSTES (shown on the map as Lubumbashi). The next town of PORT FRANCQUI/ -8-2 37-8/ ‘interlacing horns’ (shown on the map as Ilebo), and which is/was connected by rail to Elisabethville, so that this could have been the cover’s final rail destination. Port Francqui is on the River Kasai as is the destination of the cover’s journey, and river mail boats served many postal connections. Thus the river is the likely final route to BANNINGVILLE/ 17-2-37-15/ POSTES, shown on the map as Bandundu. The 3 cancellations shown, were the common postmarks used in Belgian Congo during this time period (Figure 2).
A map of the Democratic Republic of Congo shows the 3 towns that are postmarked in the Belgian Congo of yore, all green arrowed, with their new names: Lubumbashi, formerly Elisabethville, Ilebo formerly Port Francqui and Bandundu, previously Banningville (Figure 3).
Both Catholic and Protestant missionaries were active in the Belgian Congo at this time, but Monsieur Fernand Trokay was not found on the internet as a missionary or as an official.
The makeup use of the FIVE PENCE overprint stamp is somewhat unusual at this late 1937 date (date of issue 2 August 1930) for the 5d SM watermark Die II (as well as the 5d multiple crown C of A watermark) were freely available from 1930-1938. The ACS Catalogue (2001) quotes the overprinted stamp on cover as cataloguing AUD 100.
In 1937, the South African railways connected both Durban and Capetown to at least Johannesburg, and the Rand McNally Cosmopolitan World Atlas (1977) clearly shows railway linkage from Johannesburg to Messina at South Africa’s northern border; crossing into the then Rhodesia at Beitbridge, to Bulawayo to Victoria Falls (all in Rhodesia), just south of the Zambian border; and then to Livingstone, Lusaka, Kabwe (Broken Hill) and Ndola (all in Zambia); and crossing the border to the then Zaire (Belgian Congo) to Lubumbashi (Elisabethville), with direct connection to Ilebo (Port Francqui), terminating there at the River Kasai.
This is a remarkably direct northern route from Durban, for it deviates less than 3 degrees either east or west from longitude 30 degrees. What the author does not know is whether this rail route was operative the entire distance in 1937. A map of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland published by the Director of Federal Surveys, Salisbury, Rhodesia and Nyasaland 1959 confirms the rail route described above.
This paper was published in The N.S.W. Philatelist, August 2002,Volume 24, Number 3, pages 14 – 16.