Two covers appeared at the same auction site, the first endorsed ‘A.C. Barrett, New South Wales Naval Brigade, Tartar City Peking China, with the India ‘C.E.F.’ overprints* on the two blue-green India ½ anna stamps postmarked with the double circle F.P.O. NO 7 / 27 DE .00 cds, sent to a Paddington N.S.W. address. The reverse was not seen but had transit postmarks of BASE OFFICE/ B/ 28 DE/ 00 at Peking, BASE OFFICE/ 12 JA 01/ 6-PM at Hong Kong, HONG-KONG/ B/ JA 13/ 01 & an arrival postmark at SYDNEY/ FE 15/ NOON/ 01 (Figure 1).
The second cover had a pair of the pink 3 pies, a single blue-green ½ anna and a lilac 1 anna India stamps with the same C.E.F. overprint, and the same F.P.O NO 7/ 6 MA/ 01 cds with transit marks for Peking and Hong Kong, and an arrival Sydney postmark, all without a discernible date (Figure 2).
The vendor supplied further information concerning Figure 1, as follows: 260 men from the NSW Naval Brigade served in China and Able-Bodied seaman A.E.C. Barrett is identified in a group figure on p. 139 of the book by Nicholls (1986) “Bluejackets and Boxer”. Some 200 members of the force were garrisoned at the Chang-wang Fu Palace in the Tartar City precinct of Peking. The Australian War Memorial site identifies that Able Seaman Arthur Edward Barrett of the NSW contingent embarked on 08/08/1900 on board S.S. Salamis and returned to Australia on 25/04/1901 on board S.S. Chingtu.
Nine years after NSW was granted responsible government and began taking initiatives in ordering of local affairs, the NSW Naval Brigade was formed under the volunteer Force Regulation Act of 1865. The volunteer Naval Brigade was a part of the colony’s desire to participate in organising its own defence and is remarkable as it was initiated when the colony’s population was under half a million. The Naval Brigade was modelled on the Imperial Naval Reserve but the impetus, organisation and manning reflected growing nationalism and an ability to take responsibility locally (Figure 3).
“By the end of the nineteenth century the balance of the lucrative trade between China and merchants from America and Europe, particularly Britain, lay almost entirely in the West’s favour. As Western influence increased, anti-European secret societies began to form. Among the most violent and popular of these was the I-ho-ch’uan, which translates as the “Righteous and Harmonious Fists”. Dubbed “the Boxers” by western correspondents, they gave the Boxer Rebellion its name. Throughout 1899 the I-ho-ch’uan and other militant societies combined in a campaign against westerners and westernised Chinese. Missionaries and other civilians were killed, western women were raped and European property was destroyed. By March 1900 the uprising had spread beyond the secret societies, and the western powers decided to intervene, partly to protect their nationals, but mainly to counter the threat to their territorial and trade ambitions.”
“As the conflict escalated the Australian colonies were keen to offer material support to Britain. With the bulk of their forces engaged in South Africa (Boer War), they looked to their navies to provide men for the war in China; these provided a pool of professional, full-time crews, as well as reservist-volunteers, including many ex-naval men. The reservists were mustered into naval brigades in which the training was geared towards coastal defence by sailors capable of both ship handling and fighting as soldiers. When the first of the Australian contingents, mostly from New South Wales and Victoria, sailed on 8 August 1900, troops from eight other nations were already engaged in China. On arrival they were quartered in Tientsin and immediately ordered to provide 300 men to join a force sent to capture the Chinese forts at Pei Tang which overlooked the inland rail route. The 300 Australians were a small part of an 8,000-strong force made up of troops from Russia, Germany, Austria, British India and some Chinese troops serving under British officers. The Australians travelled apart from the main body of troops, and by the time they arrived at Pei Tang the battle was already over.”
A photograph taken in 1900 showed three soldiers in the Boxer Forces (Figure 4).
The portions of the text in parentheses are direct quotes from the Australian War Memorial website: https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/atwar.
Addendum: This is part of a small collection of stamps of India, both mint and used, overprinted with C.E.F. (Figure 5).
The book ‘The Boxer Rebellion’ by Brigadier D.S. Virk is a 271 page about the ‘C.E.F* (The China Expeditionary Force), the postal history of the Force that was sent from India in 1900 to join the massive international force assembled in North China to relieve the foreign legations in Peking and suppress the so-called Boxer Rebellion. The main force was withdrawn in the summer of 1901, further reductions were made in 1902, 1903, 1905 and 1908, and the remaining contingent left for India in November 1923.
* C.E.F. = China Expeditionary Force