Tin Can Mail – Centenary – First Day Cover Tonga

Tin Can Mail – Centenary – First Day Cover Tonga 1982

Kingdom of Tonga in South Pacific has a large number of Islands and one of them Niuafo’ou is very special in history of Philately and Mail .It is commonly known as Tin Can Mail Island for the way the mail was sent and delivered. The Concept of Tin Can mail was started in 1882 by William Travers  when he realized as a plantation manager that he had no means to receive  mail from outside world .The Island had no harbour as it was very steep and ships would not come. Then he tied up with Tonga Postal authorities to get the mail thrown overboard the ships in ships Biscuit tins and a swimmer from Island would swim for almost six hours and collect the mail and also deliver the outgoing mail.

Prior to this even Rocket Mail was tried mail fired through a rocket from the ship -but it was not successful.Slowly this Tin Can Mail became popular and ships with passengers would come to see this Mail Delivery system.

Arthur Tindall who traded in his ship and had established Coconut plantation at Niuafoou had a major role in Tin Can Mail (TCM) history. He used ships of Union Steamship company of Auckland to pick  and deliver mail from 1902 to 1918. Later Tindall invited Charles Stuart Ramsey who acted as famous ” Swimming mailman of Tin Can Island” for 12 years-112 swims for postal delivery with natives from 1921 onwards.

Niuafo’ou PO cancellation on mail during 1920s was circular date but ramsey did not use any catchet hence not much is known about exact mail dates. However use of of simple cachet “TIN CAN MAIL” & “NIUAFOOU” is known since 1927 after arrival of Walter George Quensell a German trader on the Island.

Ramsey and Quensell became competitors .In April-1931 a swimmer was attacked by a shark and mail delivery by swimmers was suspended and stopped in Jul 1931 . After that delivery resumed as ” Canoe Mail” from Aug 1931 onwards.

Tin Can mail continued till 1946 when a Volcano erupted on the Island and it was evacuated but the period from 1931 -1947 had WWII and other stories. Quensell sent Tin Can mail around the World which are rare and valuable .He died in 1956. This type of mail delivery continued till 1983 when a small airport came up on the Island.

Tonga issued a set of Four stamps on 29 Sep 1982 to mark 100 Years of Tin Can Mail. A First Day Cover with stamps is listed -the cover front and back illustrates a large number of cancellations used on Tin Can mail in those 100 years.


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