Philatelic connection to the Re-enactment of the Great Trek
Contemporary Extracts from The South African Philatelist
Part of this article was
Published in the May 2012 edition of The
Springbok No 318 - Volume 60 No 2
January 1933 S.A.P.
Editorial - Voortrekker Commemoratives in 1936?
The suggestion has been made and we heartily commend it,
that South Africa should issue a set of stamps commemorating
the centenary of the Great Trek, one of the outstanding events
in the history of the country. We understand that a committee
has been formed to foster the idea and we hope that some leading
philatelists will be invited to co-operate........We have
observed, during the last two or three decades, a strong tendency
on the part of Afrikaners to keep themselves to themselves
when celebrating, instead of inviting their fellow South Africans
to join in with them. This is a pity, because there is a great
number of the latter who appreciate the heroic deeds, bravery
and perseverance in the face of terrific odds, of the heroes
in South African history.
April 1933 S.A.P. We now understand that
the commemoration will be held in 1938 and not 1936, the former
being the year when the Voortrekkers entered Natal. Meanwhile,
there will be issued a set of three Voortrekker Memorial Fund
stamps....The design of each stamp will be changed annually
during the five-year period.....there will be issued fifteen
stamps in five sets of three.
Needless to say the ambitious stamp issuing proposal did not
In the May issue under Union
Notes it states that a set of three Voortrekker
Memorial Fund stamps will be issued on 1 May.
Date of issue there appears to be a discrepancy
with the day of issue, besides the SAP, in the 1946 &
1952 UHB it is on Monday the 1st and was altered to the 3rd
in the 1960 handbook, then in the 1979 edition there is a
footnote on page 299 that states:
It is generally accepted that these values were issued
on the 3rd May 1933, but a piece with a clear date-stamp of
1st May 1933 has come to light, thus placing doubt on the
At the time a general appeal was sent by email -
has anyone got an answer? - No replies have been
June 1933 S.A.P. - Editorial
The UK based Stamp Collecting magazine gives the South African
stamp policy thumbs down
with a heading South Africa Falls for Commemoratives
.....disquieting news that South Africa has fallen victim
to the commemorative stamp stunt.
In our May issue, we mentioned the fear that these stamps
would not be popular with philatelists and our quotation from
Stamp Collecting sustains our view.
July 1933 S.A.P. - Editorial
We had not intended to revert to the subject of the issue
of the Voortrekker Memorial Fund stamps, but Mr. J. Robertson,
writing in the Stamp collecting of 13th May, says:-
In passing, we may mention that philatelists co-operated
with the Voortrekker Centenary Committee in order that well
designed stamps be issued, and the support given to the scheme
by THE SOUTH AFRICAN PHILATELIST is acknowledged
in the official Press bulletins dealing with the issue.
This is the first that we have heard that philatelists
co-operated with the Voortrekker Centenary Committee, and
we should naturally like very much to know who these philatelists
It is true that the Committee made reference to the note in
our January number relative to the projected Voortrekker Centenary
commemorative issue, but we had no idea then of the projected
Memorial Fund issue. We adhere to our opinion that a centenary
commemorative issue would be justified as a national commemoration
of the greatest event which led to the opening up of the hinterland
of Southern Africa, as well as to commemorate the courage,
fortitude and perseverance of the Voortrekkers; but we cannot
reconcile ourselves to the Memorial Fund stamps, and we hope
that the proposed issues for the next five years will be abandoned.
October 1933 S.A.P. - Letter
to the Editor from H. Galbraith Criticising the designs of
the 1933 Voortrekker Stamps
May I draw attention to some points in the designs of
the Voortrekker Memorial Fund and the Swaziland stamps.
In the central design of the 1½d Voortrekker stamp
we see a wagon drawn by the usual span of fourteen oxen being
hauled up a rugged slope of more than one in one – virtually
up the face of a cliff. I suppose this must be accepted as
a typical example of modern art, in which the artist depicts,
not the scene as it should be, but as he prefers to see it
with the usual disastrous results as in this instance. (Our
correspondent is wrong – the design was copied from
the well-known old paintings-Ed.)
In the 3d value, a Zulu shield is shown on either side of
the frame. Behind the shield is shown three assegais, two
crossed and one vertical. The latter should have been omitted
and replaced by the tufted head of the stick, held in position
by the strips of hide passed over and under through the slits
shown on either side of the centre, and crossed behind to
hold the stick in position.
In all three stamps a small cross is shown, similar in shape
to the Red Cross, a symbol associated, in peace time, with
charitable work. Its appearance on the stamps is meaningless
and quite out of place.
In the design of the Swaziland stamps, the shields are pointed
(as in the Voortrekker stamp), without the stick, and with
only horizontal slits on the shield. The Zulu shield is rounded
top and bottom, the stick is an essential part of its construction,
as are also the strips of hide inserted through the slots
for the purpose already mentioned. I have shown the designs
to my Zulu servants and their verdict is “mubi impela.”
During 1934 and 1935 nothing
further was said about the South African Voortrekker commemoratives
in the S.A.P. and in February 1936 Edition the additional
½d + ½d (SG 50) to three values issued in May
1933 received a plug under Union
Notes - NEW HALFPENNY VOORTREKKER
The latest addition to the Voortrekker series was placed
on sale on January 15th. The stamps, which are being sold
at double face value, are printed in black and green. The
watermark is placed side-ways. The building is The
Church of the Vow.
In May 1936 under Union Notes
there was interest in the history of the church depicted on
VOORTREKKER ½d STAMPS - THE CHURCH OF THE VOW
Several queries have reached us asking for more information
about this church. The building is in Pietermaritzburg, Natal.
It is now no longer used as a regular place of worship but
has been made into a museum for Voortrekker relics.
The following statement, taken from Theal's "History
of South Africa," Vol. II, p, 330, may be of
A Commando of emigrant Boers is marching toward Umkungunhlovu
to come to agreement with Dingaan;
"There was no song, no jest heard in that camp, but prayers
were poured forth and psalms were sung at every halting place.
The army made a vow that if God would give them victory over
the cruel heathen, they would build a church and set apart
a festival day in every year to commemorate it. The church
in Pietermaritzburg and the annual celebration of Dingaan's
Day bear witness that they kept their pledge."
attacked the camp at dawn on Sunday, 16th December, 1888.
The emigrant force consisted of 464 men exclusive of the commandants.
The enemy was between 10,000 and 12,000 strong. It was estimated
that over 3,000 Zulus were killed. The emigrant farmers had
only three men slightly wounded.
Hence, the Church of the VOW
at Pietermaritzburg and the celebration of Dingaan's Day annually
on December 16
The envelope below is the only example I have
Illustrated Envelope from P.O. Box 3686 JOHHANESBURG posted
27 VI 38
above envelope was used extensively by the Voortrekker
Centenary Committee for correspondence.
Reisener in his book on page 275 commented
Many thousands of these covers were posted and it is surprising
to see how few have been preserved. they seldom are seen in
cover collections of this period. The
caption translates -
Its Voortrekker Year Buy Voortrekker-Stamps
of the Voortrekker Stamps and Covers
The designs of 1933 - 36 Memorial fund Issue (Excluding the
1d + ½d) is attributed to J. Prentice and virtually
everything else is said to be by
W. H. Coetzer, yet some doubt may be cast as to the accuracy
of the foregoing statement as both Prentice and Coetzer are
linked to the 1938 Voortrekker stamps.
1938 The South African Philatelist
THE VOORTREKKER CENTENARY 16th December 1938
By L. Simenhoff
In December next the Voortrekker Centenary
is to be celebrated in South Africa.
The Voortrekkers, or pioneers, need no introduction here.
They were a band of people who, smarting under many grievances,
decided to seek independence and pastures new. They were
mostly farmers with their families from the Eastern frontier
districts of the old Cape Colony and they trekked
in parties across the Orange River. Leading a team of oxen
in one of these parties was a ten-year-old lad who later
became the famous President Stephanus Paulus Kruger, better
known as Oom Paul.
The main migration, known as the Great Trek,
which started in 1834, had assumed large proportions in
1836. By 1838 it had fizzled out. It is estimated that no
less than 40,000 emigrants had left the Colony by 1840.
The then Governor of the Cape, Sir Benjamin d'Urban, described
them as a brave, patient, industrious, orderly
and religious people, the cultivators the defenders and
the tax contributors of the country.
They crossed over into the unknown with
their cattle and covered wagons, which were loaded with
provisions and necessities, and, in the face of many privations
and much suffering, through sheer pluck and perseverance,
won through and opened up the interior of South Africa to
The thrilling- episodes, culminating in
the Battle of Blood River on 16th December, 1838, need not
be narrated here. Dingaan's Day is, as everybody knows,
a statutory holiday, intended to be observed, as Sarel Celliers
meant it to be, as a Day of
Thanksgiving, a Sabbath.
In 1933 a Central Committee was formed in
Pretoria with the object of inaugurating a fund for the
election of an appropriate national Voortrekker Monument,
which, it was hoped, would be unveiled on 16th December,
1938, on the centenary of the Battle of Blood River and
the overthrow of barbarism in this country. This monument
is now in course of erection on a chosen site overlooking
For propaganda purposes and in order to
assist the fund, the Government and the Postal Department
were approached at the time with the object of seeking their
cooperation. The result was that the issue of special
Voortrekker stamps was sanctioned
and on 1st May, 1933, three stamps, viz., 1½d, 3d
and 4½d, were placed on sale in all post offices.
Two-thirds of the value of the stamps represents postage
and a third is allocated to the fund.
In the selection of designs the committee
announced that the place of honour on the stamps should
be given to the trekker, his wife, and the ox-wagon. Anton
van Wouw 's famous sculpture group, Boervrou
en Trekker, provided the necessary
inspiration for the designs on two of the stamps, while
an ox-wagon appeared on the third.
The stamps were printed in Pretoria in rotogravure and issued
in sheets of 120 stamps. The details of the designs did
not reproduce clearly as the rotogravure process is more
successful when the design is of a simple nature.
The penny stamp is a photograph from Michell's
original engraving of Cradock's Pass which is in the collection
of Major Wm. Jardine, of Sir Lowrys Pass, Cape. A similar
engraving , varying slightly in design, is to be seen in
the South African Public Library at Cape Town. It represents
an incident about the year 1840, viz., the crossing of the
Cradock Pass, near George. This was long before the Montagu
Pass road was constructed. The design shows the difficulties
encountered in ox-wagon transport a century ago. It also
portrays typical South African attributes. viz., the ox-wagon
and span (team) of oxen, kopjes, and aloes.
On the two penny stamp is seen a typical
trekker with his rifle (Ou
Sanna as it was often affectionately
termed) gripped in his hand, acting as silent sentry over
the laager to guard it against a surprise attack. The ox-hide
shields and sharp-pointed assegais at either side represent
Zulu weapons, symbolic of barbaric Africa.
The indispensable boervrou,
with her bonnet (kappie) and typical dress,
adorns the three penny stamp.
On 16th January, 1936, the half-penny denomination appeared.
It is undoubtedly the most beautiful of all our stamps thus
far printed by the rotogravure process. It is a plain design
of the Church of the Vow, which
was erected in 1840 on the spot where. two years before,
Sarel Celliers and the trekkers made a covenant that if
God gave them the victory they would build a church and
consecrate that day as
a Thanksgiving Day, a Sabbath for evermore.
The building, which stands in Pietermaritzburg,
now serves as a museum for Voortrekker relics. It is built
of stone (slate) and originally had unplastered walls, with
the doors at the sides. To-day, tiles have displaced the
original thatch and a porch has been added. It is a solid
edifice with gables of the typical Cape-Dutch style of architecture.
The Rev. Erasmus Smit, who accompanied the
Voortrekkers to Natal, was its first minister. Regular services
were conducted in the little church until 1861, when a new
church was built beside it. The latter is the Mother Church
of the Dutch Reformed Church of Natal, and still uses the
original pulpit of the Voortrekker Church.
In 1874 the Church of the Covenant
was sold, and served less worthy purposes until 1912, when
it was re-purchased and restored, as far as possible, to
its original design. On 16th December, 1912, the building
became a museum for the housing of Voortrekker antiques.
1935 S.A.P. - Outrage over the Union Voortrekker issue being
Voortrekker Stamps Overprinted
attack is being made by the Government on the pockets of stamps
collectors by the unnecessary and uncalled for overprinting
of the Voortrekker stamps with the letters SWA. After the
long time which has elapsed since the first issue in 1933
of these stamps it is certainly very strange that they should
only now be made available for use in South West Africa, and
it is doubtful whether a very large proportion of the residents
in that territory have any desire or inclination to pay a
50 per cent, increase in postage rates in order to contribute
towards the erection of a memorial to the memory of the Voortrekkers
in which many of them cannot have any interest.
The position probably is that the Government finds that these
stamps have not been selling too well (one certainly very
seldom sees them on correspondence particularly from the country
districts) and has therefore considered that it is desirable
that a fresh impetus should be given to their sale, especially
to stamp collectors, by means of this overprint.
It is unfortunately a fact that no amount of fulmination against
this action on the part of the Government will prevent collectors
from acquiring these stamps, but nevertheless it is greatly
to be regretted that the Government has found it necessary
to augment the funds for such a worthy object by such unworthy
the S.A.P. August Editorial they announced
the 16 December 1938 Voortrekker Centenary set (SG 76 - 79)
and provided brief notes on the Ox-Wagon Post - A copy of
the foregoing appears on the Next
In September the additional two stamps were announced - SG
80 & 81.
Both sets enjoyed a two page spread in the November issue.
SG 76 - 79
1938 Voortrekker Centenary Memorial Fund
80 - 81
1938 Voortrekker Commemoration
Post Office issued a Special Commemorative brochure
with an orange cover, the front of which depicts the design
for first day envelope with space for the eight bilingual
Voortrekker pairs issued on 14 December 1938. The reverse
includes the design of the cover intended for the re-enactment
of the Trek from Cape Town to Pretoria and Bloed rivier. From
the front there are three pages describing the 1938 designs
in Afrikaans. Turn the booklet over and starting from the
back the descriptions are in English.
- The Post Office Brochure stipulates that W. H. Coetzer was
the designer of the Stamps and his signature also appears
on the front cover of the Brochure and First day envelope
- Bottom left below the last vertical Wagon.
In the centre there is a bi-lingual Post Office advertisement
that stipulates the available facilities of two offices at
the Monument site during the Voortrekker Celebrations from
14 to 16 December 1938. Covers with complete sets of stamps
were obtainable at 3s 0d.
The facing page depicts five special CANCELS for BLOUKRANS,
RETIEFKLIP, CAPE TOWN, DANSKRAAL and BLOEDRIVIER plus three
date stamps for Slagtersnek, Bulhoek and Voortrekker Monument
1938 Special Voortrekker
Post Office Brochure - Front
Special Voortrekker Post Office Brochure - Reverse
in Post Office Brochure
used as an FDC - Note Red labels to secure its flap
First Day Envelope with Stamps - Mint - Price 3s
Voortrekker First Day Envelope with Bloedrivier Cancel
Day Cover signed by D.F. Malan
Day Cover signed by W.H. Coetzer
Malan 1874 - 1959
Trained as a Minister
of the Dutch Reformed Church.
In 1915 he was persuaded to become the Editor of the newly
established newspaper Die Burger
1918 Elected to Parliament and in 1925, he was at the forefront
of a campaign to replace Dutch with Afrikaans in the constitution
and provide South Africa with its own national flag.
He was a staunch supporter of the Afrikaans language movement
and in 1930 became a founder member of the Afrikaanse
Taal en Kultuur Vereeniging
After the defeat of Smuts in the 1948 elections Malan became
the first Prime Minister of the National
Party from 1948 to 1954
envelope with 1933 -36 set
Plus the 1938 issue
14 DEC 38
A First Day cover that has
nothing to do with the
8 August - 13 December
Ox wagon Trek
courtesy of Otto Peetoom
Itinerary of the 1938 Treks on the Next