14 July 2020

When the timing is wrong – postcards to E.W. Rose 1931

In this blog entry I will try to understand why the five picture postcards below were initially unsuccessful in reaching their proposed addressee: E.W. Rose. A philatelist approached me during our last auction because he had read somewhere that I fancied postal items with a story attached to them. Well, this blog is quite a testimony to this gentleman’s statement, so I replied that I indeed write about interesting postal items from time to time. To my great surprise he handed me over the five postcards below, placing his confidence in me that I would deduce an interesting story from them. His initial feeling was right, since these five interlinking postcards presents us indeed with a telling view on how correspondence could still literally miss the boat as late as in 1931.

MS Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, the cruise ship which fared regularly between the Netherlands and the Dutch Indies in the 1930s and became a Dutch troop ship after WWII.

Saddles and Sugar

A certain E.W. Rose had a saddlery on the Nieuwendijk in Amsterdam between 1903 and 1915 according to the archive of Amsterdam. I do not know if this E.W. Rose is the same Rose as our addressee, but my gut feeling says that our Rose would be his son. In the Dutch Indies newspaper De Indische Courant d.d. 30-12-1926 we read that E.W. Rose has departed a sugar factory called ‘Wonolangan’ (northeastern coast of Java) where he worked as first engineer. I cannot find anything about him or his family until 1931 where he appears in De Indische Courant again since he is listed amongst the boarding passengers for the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt which would return from the Dutch Indies to the Netherlands on the 14th of October. His son and daughter (‘Dear papa’) sent him various postcards which I guess where meant to entertain him whilst he was on route back to the Netherlands.

I’ve posted scans of them below as the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt would have travelled from the Netherlands to the Dutch Indies (in reverse order) instead however, since the postcard with destination Colombo would have arrived sooner than the one to Batavia obviously. Miep and Fik (?) sent their 5 cards to Colombo, Sabang, Singapore, Belawan and Batavia.

Picture postcard sent from Amsterdam 09-09-1931 to Colombo.

Since all their postcards were sent on the same day (9 September 1931) one would expect the would all arrive at their proposed destinations on time. And I think in all cases there arrived way ahead on schedule (Sabang: 27-9-1931, Belawan: 28-9-1931 etc.). I even think E.W. Rose did actually board the MS Johan van Oldebarnevelt on the 14th of October since the postcard addressed to Singapore and Belawan seems to have been delivered without any problems although the pinkish cachet “on board Joh. van Oldenbarnevelt undeliverable” seems to suggest otherwise at first. But at a closer look we see that this cachet was crossed out with pencil. This might indicate he was on board the ship contrary to all the markings on several postcards.

Crossed out cachet reading “Aan boord ‘Joh v. Oldenbarnevelt’ ONBESTELBAAR” (on board Joh. van Oldenbarnevelt undeliverable) on postcard with destination Belawan.
Picture postcard from Amsterdam 09-09-1931 to Sabang (27-09-1931).

Several postcards, if not all of them, seem to have been addressed a bit carelessly since they were sent without a clear indication if the addressee was heading for Batavia or Amsterdam (outbound or homebound). The Johan van Oldenbarnevelt departed Amsterdam on the 2nd of September 1931 so caused confusion, i.e. to the postal authorities on resp. Ceylon and in Sabang it was not clear what to do with the postcards. A Colombo postal agent readdressed the card to c/o Stoomvaart Maatschappij Nederland in Singapore and indeed it was finally handed over to the S.M.N. Passage on the 12th of October: it functioned i.a. as the dead letter office for post addressed to passengers on the Netherlands-Dutch Indies steamboat lines.

The Sabang postcard was readdressed to Batavia since E.W. Rose was not on board of the Van Oldenbarnevelt destined for Batavia. They probably thought E.W. Rose was on the boat to Batavia whereas he was only to leave the Dutch Indies on the 14th of October. In the end the markings in red on the Sabang postcard (return to sender, not on board) where crossed out because they noticed the hastily added instruction (van Batavia 14 October) whereupon they forwarded the card to Batavia.

Picture postcard from Amsterdam 09-09-1931 to Singapore

There was less confusion in Singapore and Belawan as the postcards weren’t forwarded but just patiently had to wait until the homebound journey of the Van Oldenbarnevelt would pay his visit to these ports.

Picture Postcard from Amsterdam 09-09-1931 to Belawan (28-09-1931).

The postcard addressed to Batavia caused some confusion as well, since the sender wrote down “8 October” which might indicate E.W. Rose was a passenger on the outbound journey from Amsterdam. For some reason the postcard was readdressed to Soerabaja then, the main city on eastern Java. It travelled 400 miles in one day, so it was probably carried by train. Why did the postal authorities in Batavia decide to forward the postcard to Soerabaja? Somebody wrote Soerabaja below Batavia: did the children of E.W. Rose did this? The handwriting doesn’t seem to match… Maybe the Van Oldenbarnevelt would have payed a visit to this major port as well before departing Batavia on the 14th? Or did E.W. Rose stayed in Soerabaja during his time in the Dutch Indies? As always we cannot find all answers on our questions.

Picture Postcard from Amsterdam 09-09-1931 to Batavia (06-10-1931).
The SM Johan van Oldenbarnevelt in the harbour of Tandjoengpriok (harbour of Batavia) at some point in the 1930s. The white building was the main office of the Stoomvaart Maatschappij Nederland (S.M.N.), the Dutch Steamboat Company.

For the original publication see the Dutch Philately blog by Hugo Brieffies.

Hugo Brieffies

Hugo Brieffies

See http://dutchphilately.blogspot.com/ for more articles by Hugo Brieffies

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