1961 Tristan Relief Fund: A Rare Set in its Rarest Form.

3rd January 2024

10th October 1961, the world's most isolated group of islands was evacuated after its summit, Queen Mary first showed signs of activity nearly a month prior. The entire 264-strong population of Tristan da Cunha were sent first to nearby Nightingale Island, before embarking Dutch ship Tjisadane to Cape Town and eventually arriving in Southampton on 3rd November via RMS Stirling Castle. Although assumed by the British government that the move was permanent, the islanders decided overwhelmingly by ballot to return to their abandoned homeland. By 10th November 1963, just over two years post-evacuation, the vast majority of the population was repatriated to their devastated, volcanic land. 

It was out of such destruction, the subject of our study was born, the 1961 Tristan Relief Fund set. Upon receiving news of the devastation caused by the volcanic eruption and the subsequent displacement of the Tristan islanders, Sir Robert Alford, the governor of nearby island St Helena, established the Tristan Relief Fund, a charitable endeavour intended to aid Tristan da Cunha. To initiate the fundraising process, Sir Robert appealed to the masses for ideas that could generate some income. It was the ill-fated brainchild of local amateur philatelist and St Helena’s Government Auditor at the time, Donald Cribbs, that caught Sir Robert’s attention.

Cribb’s proposed overprinting four values of the 1961 Tristan da Cunha set, (2½c, 5c, 7½c and 10c) with ‘ST HELENA/Tristan Relief…’ plus a different decimal surcharge on each value. Once agreed by the Colonial Treasurer, the local Government printer was set to work producing the surcharged, overprinted set. First issued on 12th October 1961, its shelf life was short-lived as news of its creation swiftly made its way back to the powers that be. Alas, only one week after they were issued, Sir Robert Alford was firmly reminded by Whitehall that the power to authorize all new stamps remained solely in the remit of the Crown Authority. Therefore, on 19th October the Relief Fund set was withdrawn from sale immediately, with all remaining stock to be burnt. 


A short but sweet run for the Tristan Relief Fund set saw £108 being raised for the fund and perhaps, more importantly, the establishment of possibly the rarest modern British Commonwealth stamps in existence. Due to their limited run time, only 434 sets were ever sold. It is unknown how many sets still exist, but the majority seen for sale are used examples. Mint examples are few and far between and fewer still are unmounted mint (mint never hinged) sets. Sets in multiples are so scarce that one could question if they ever existed. If you were to ask us here at Warwick & Warwick however, we would have the privilege to answer the affirmative as we are pleased to announce for sale in our 10th January philatelic auction a one-of-a-kind 1961 Tristan Relief Fund set in attractive, unmounted mint, post office fresh corner marginal blocks of four! 


This once-in-a-lifetime set is found in lot 136 as part of our 10th January philatelic auction, which will be held live on Easy Live Auction, commencing at 10 am.

Our full January 10th catalogue can be found on our website alongside instructions on how you can place bids. For further updates on our latest auction news check our Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter pages.


Dulcie Marlow

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