Tuesday, 2 February 2016

A (Very) Peripatetic Letter

A "wandering" letter, posted from Vancouver
in Canada on the 9th June 1909
[From my own collection]

During the period 1907 to 1910 my Grandfather, William Dykes (1880 - 1971), served as 3rd Engineer then as Chief Engineer on the new cargo vessel "S.S. Otterburn" and led a most interesting seafaring life circumnavigating the world as his vessel came under charter to various companies during this period. 

While these voyages, which included the new wonder of wireless communication to direct them to their next port of call (courtesy of an American battleship), are fascinating in their own right and will feature in a future Blog, a letter posted to him from Canada is also of great interest from a philatelic perspective.

The Wight Family children of
1235 Keefer Street, Vancouver, c.1909.
Tom, John, Margaret (later Mrs Gillette)
& Grizel (later Mrs Coote).
[From my own collection]

Posted by a family friend, Mrs Wight of 1235 Keefer Street, Vancouver, British Columbia Canada, it was addressed to my Grandfather, "Mr Wm. Dykes, c/- the "S.S. Otterburn" at Newcastle, NSW, [Australia]". I would imagine that my Grandfather had written to her before the ship left Californian waters for Australia. 

The reverse of  "wandering" letter, posted from
in Canada on the 9th June 1909
[From my own collection]

So, let us follow the progress of this amazingly peripatetic [wandering] letter :

Vancouver B.C. Canada to Newcastle N.S.W. Australia

[Postmark] : Vancouver B.C. (British Columbia Canada) 9th June 1909

[Postmark] "Newcastle N.S.W. (Australia) 12th July 1909

[Redirected to] "Wallsend Coal Company (Newcastle N.S.W. Australia)"

[Postmark] : Newcastle N.S.W. 27th July 1909

Newcastle N.S.W. to Sydney N.S.W. Australia

[Line Postmark] : Sydney Australia 27th July 1909

Sydney N.S.W. Australia to Manilla, Philippines

[Redirected to] : c/o Macondray & Co, Manila Philippines

[Postmark] : Manila, Philippines, 17th Aug 1909  

Manila Philippines to Muroran, Hokkaido, Japan

[Redirected to] : Muroran Japan

[Redirected to] : Niv….orna, Japan [Muroran, Hokkaido]

[Postmark] : Japan  [illegible] 30th 8[?] 1909

Muroran Japan to Manzanillo Mexico

[Postmark] : Nuova Laredo, Tam [Tamaulipas], Mexico 30th Sept 1909

[Redirected to] : Mansauico[?], Mexico

[Postmark] Aomor De Correos, Manzanillo Col[Colima Mexico] 4th Oct 1909

[Rubber Stamp] : LIS, Manzanillo, Col[Colima Mexico]  

[Postmark] : Aomor De Correos, Manzanillo Col[Colima Mexico] 10th Feb 1910

[Rubber Stamp] : Direction General De Correos, Departamento De Rezagos, Servicio International, Mexico, 15th Feb 1910

Manzanillo Mexico to Ottawa Canada

[Rubber stamp] : Dead Letter Office, Ottawa, Canada, 23rd June 1910

Ottawa to Vancouver Canada 

Letter then assumed to them have been returned to Vancouver as undeliverable.

The route of the wandering letter across the vast
Pacific Ocean and the North American Continent

By this stage I am considerably surprised that the various postal services could even make sense of the intended destination. As to how my Grandfather actually received the letter I am strongly assuming that the letter within the envelope included the sender's address and was returned to them in Vancouver by the Dead Letter Office in Ottawa. Once the Wight family established that my Grandfather had returned to Scotland (in February 1910) they must then have sent him the envelope as an interesting "souvenir" of his world travels. 

This is certainly a well travelled letter and a very interesting and unusual piece of postal history. A two cent Canadian stamp proved very good value for the distance travelled, even if the letter did not catch up with its intended recipient. 

Sources :

- Dykes family papers (held by the writer)


  1. Why did it go to places like Philippines, Japan and Mexico. Was your grandfather ever in those places?

    I remember my Gap Year abroad in 1966. Telephone calls were too expensive and telegrams were for emergencies only. So letters were vitally important. Each letter took 8 days to arrive and my response would take another 8 days to get back home. I would have been heartbroken if letters had got lost.

    1. Thanks for your comment Hels. Yes, my grandfather visited these places but I assume he had left each port before the letter arrived. I note that the letter also spent rather a long time in Mexico - almost four and a half months! 8 days for a letter to be delivered seems fast, letters from my relatives in New Zealand to Scotland and vice versa took on average 6 weeks, even in steamship days.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...