The following is an extract from the book “Encyclopaedia of Rare and Famous Stamps: 1. Stories” by L. N. Williams, that David Feldman published in 1993.

The Australian States are the homes of classic issues ; some of them have attracted popular philatelic attention from the earliest days. While several issues clamour for attention there can be no doubt that two series stand pre-eminent : the Sydney Views of New South Wales and the Swans of Western Australia. Both are first issues of the relevant states. The Sydney Views first appeared in 1850, the Swans in 1854. Coincidentally, two extremes of the classics are represented : first, those produced from soft copper plates by craftsmen locally and, secondly, those produced from highly finished steel plates prepared in London.

What have become known as the Sydney Views, were originally called Gold Diggings from a fancied resemblance of the design to gold mining, and later became generally called The Sydney Stamps. About them John Edward Gray wrote an article in The Stamp-Collector’s Magazine vol 1 pp 26-27 March 1863. To appreciate his remarks, it is helpful to look at the state of philatelic literature before the article appeared.

A not inconsiderable number of catalogues had been published. Dr. Gray’s “Hand Catalogue of Postage Stamps for Use of Collectors” was published early in December 1862. The 1000 copies printed were sold in three weeks. In its second revised and enlarged edition he had listed the Sydney stamps after and separately from those of New South Wales. Gray was the learned but arrogant person who claimed without justification to have been ‘the first to propose, in 1834, the system of a small uniform rate of postage to be prepaid by stamps’ (as appears on page vi of the Introduction in the third edition). It was a claim from which he was later constrained to resile after protest by Rowland Hill’s son.

Frederick Booty’s Aids to Stamp Collectors had attained its third edition. Mount Brown’s Catalogue of British, Colonial, and Foreign Postage Stamps had entered its fourth edition; from is first edition (1862) he had listed the View of Sydney stamps as the first issue under New South Wales. On the continent, among others, from Belgium had come J.B. Moens’s Manuel du Collectionneur de Timbres-Poste. From France had come the very first printed catalogue of Postage stamps, that of Alfred Potiquet, which had appeared in Paris with text signed Alfred P and published by Edard de Laplante and Eugene Lacroix on 21 December 1861. It was followed in March 1862 by the second edition bearing Potiquet’s full name as compiler and reviser and that of Lacroix as publisher.

Dr. Gray wrote:

In most catalogues the Sydney stamps are regarded as one type, offering three different values of different colours. If they are carefully examined, it will be found that each value present [sic] a different type, each having variations according to different issues. These stamps are peculiar. It is a view of the sea coast, with a church in the distance, and a group of figures in the foreground, in a circle surrounded by a band inscribed, Sig. Nov. Carob. Aust. ; and on the lower part of the circular disc, under the view, is a motto. This motto has been a difficulty, — as it is rarely to be seen distinctly on the stamps as they appear in our collections. Lacroix, in his catalogue, gives it as, Sic fortis curia crevit, which it certainly is not. In my catalogue, I read it, Sic fortis et rudis crevit, which is also incorrect. I believe it is a line of a Latin poet, ‘Sic fortis etruria crevit’.

Apart from being dogmatic the doctor was not above being obscurantist. His reference to “Lacroix, in his catalogue”, was deliberately obscuring the catalogue’s compiler, Alfred Potiquet. Literal accuracy required Dr. Gray not to have abbreviated the Latin for seal to Sig but to have given the word in full as Sigillum since it so appeared on the stamps and the accurate transcription had appeared in every edition of Mount Brown’s catalogue. The Latin poet was Publius Virgilius Maro, commonly known as Virgil, and the citation is from his Georgics ii 533, Sic fortis etruria crevit (Thus Etruria became strong).

Dr. Gray goes on to describe three variations of the One penny red, four variations of the Two pence blue, and he stated that of the Three pence green he had seen only one kind. He adds what he states to be a postscript:

In a note from Major Christie, the postmaster at Sydney, he says the picture stamp is the first stamp that was used in the colony. It was an imitation of the great seal of the colony, with its motto, Sic fortis etruria crevit. They are no longer used.

The picture stamp refers to the Sydney Views; Dr. Gray had, at last, caught up with Mount Brown. Nevertheless, they retained their places after New South Wales in Dr. Gray’s third edition (1865) and not until the fourth edition (1866) did they occupy their rightful place. The wrong date, 1849, was ascribed to their issue.

An inquiry that was to have reverberations for more than eighty years came from Adelaide Lucy Fenton, under the pen name Fentonia. Miss Fenton was one of the most advanced early philatelists, who made numerous contributions to the early literature under not only her favourite nom-de-plume ‘Herbert Camoens’, which she adopted out of admiration for the Portuguese poet, but also Fentonia. Her observation was reprinted from “Notes and Queries” of February 1864 in “The Stamp-Collector’s Magazine” vol 2 p 79 May 1864, in the agonizingly small type known as Brilliant which is 3 1/2 points, a point being about one seventy-second part of an inch:

The landscape… is said… to be a view of Sydney, but on comparing it with the various engravings of that town in Collin’s “Account of New South Wales”, 4to., 1798, there is not the slightest resemblance between the two. I am aware that it is only within the last ten years or thereabouts that our Australian colonies have used postage labels, but as the legend states that it represents the great seal of the colony, it would be interesting to ascertain when this thriving settlement first felt of sufficient importance to adopt a national seal, and why those rough sons of enterprise recurred to classic Latium for a motto, who probably knew of no language but their own.

In March 1865, vol 3 pp 38-40, Edward Loines Pemberton, writing about his examination of The Views of Sydney referred to the design as containing representations of nuggets of gold, reverting to the concept of the original nickname Gold Diggings. Pemberton was an enthusiastic and erudite pioneer English stamp dealer who has been called ‘Father of Philately’. In 1864 he had been editor of “The Stamp Collectors Review” and “Monthly Advertiser”, the first entirely philatelic periodical published in England; it was produced only for eighteen months. However, Fentonia became infused with the idea of uncovering the meaning, and in vol 4, pp 50-52, 99, wrote a lengthy and light-hearted contribution titled ‘Reflections on the Sydney Stamps’. A further contribution by Pemberton in vol 6 pp 163-166 (it ended with To be continued but never was) set out details of variations in design and paper but added nothing to knowledge about the design and its origin.

To the first general meeting of the Philatelic Society, London on 29 May 1869 the president, Sir Daniel Cooper, who had been a member of the Legislative Council of New South Wales which passed the statutes relating to the stamps, read a paper ‘On the Earliest Sydney Stamps and Proofs of the Sydney Views’. That paper was printed in “The Stamp-Collector’s Magazine” vol 7 pp 123-125 August 1869. This is the first reference I have traced to the use of the nickname Sydney Views. “The Earliest Sydney Stamps” to which the title referred were the letter sheets and envelopes with an embossed stamp issued in 1838 franking letters delivered twice a day within the limits of the city of Sydney. In the meantime Fentonia pursued her efforts and in vol 7 pp 191-192 December 1869 gave an interpretation of the design, basing herself on, as she stated, ‘Jewitt’s Life of Josiah Wedgwood‘. He had made a medallion from some clay sent from New South Wales [in fact from Sydney Cove] and the design represented:

… a figure of Hope addressing three emblematic figures of Peace, Art and Labour, on the shore of Sydney cove; a ship, a few houses, and a church being in the background. Underneath is the word ‘Etruria’ the well-known name of Wedgwood’s pottery in Staffordshire, and the date 1798… May there not have been also a… variety from which the seal may have been copied, with, perhaps, the Virgilian motto, so appropriate when connected with the Staffordshire Etruria — Sic fortis Etruria crevit, by which Wedgwood, who was by unwearied industry and perseverance the architect of his own fortunes, may have intended to teach the new colonists that thus his Etruria grew to its then state of prosperity, and that they could only hope to prosper by like means?

The actual title of the work is “The Wedgwoods, Being a Life of Josiah Wedgwood…” by Llewellyn Jewitt London 1865. In 1887 publication took place of “The Postage Stamps… of Australia…” by the Philatelic Society, London. The book contained a special contribution by Frederick A. Philbrick, titled ‘On the Earlier Issues of New South Wales’. He, uncritically, not only accepted Miss Fenton’s imaginary variety of medallion but also attributed it, as she had, to Jewitt’s Life of Josiah Wedgwood. Philbrick was one of the earliest of erudite philatelists. He became the Recorder of Colchester and, from 1878 to 1892, president of the (Royal) Philatelic Society, London. He had one of the best collections of the day; it was eventually purchased by Ferrary for £8000. On the authority of so eminent an author as Philbrick, the accuracy of his statement was not challenged.

Moreover, that equally eminent authority, Marcellus Purnell Castle, editor of “The London Philatelist” from its inception in 1892 except for a short break until 1917 and president: of the Philatelic Society, London, who contributed a chapter to the two-volume work “The Postage Stamps… of New South Wales” by Arthur Francis Basset Hull London, 1911-13, stated that the design for the Colonial Seal was chosen from a cast made from a medallion modelled by Josiah Wedgwood, emblematic of the new settlement and sent out by him. Castle gave, as his source of the statement Jewitt’s “Life of Josiah Wedgwood”. Not F.A. Philbrick, nor M.P. Castle, nor A.F. Basset. Hull had checked the reference to Jewitt’s book. 

Andrew Houison, an enthusiastic philatelist and researcher into official archives in Sydney, had had published an article titled ‘The Early Postal Issues of New South Wales’ in “The Philatelic Record” vol 10 pp 45-47 March 1888, in which he set out a letter of 1849 recording payments for engraving the copper plates from which the Sydney Views had been printed. He ended up by commenting that many points remained to he cleared up in reference to the stamps, and concluded:

One further subject suggests itself : that is, the design in the centre of the stamps. I do not remember having seen in any Philatelic publication an exact description of this. It is a copy of the old Great Seal of the Colony. The three figures on the right are immigrants landing at Sydney, received by Industry, who — surrounded by her attributes, a bale of merchandise, a beehive, a pickaxe, and a shovel — is pointing to oxen ploughing, and a town rising on the summit of a hill, with (what was intended for) a fort for its protection. The masts of a ship are seen in the Bay. In the margin are the words, SIGILLUM NOV. CAMB. AUST., and for a motto, SIC FORTIS ETRURIA CREVIT. The original seal was of silver, and the devices were extremely well engraved.

Subsequent writers seem to have ignored or overlooked the significance of the detail provided by Andrew Houison, which corroborated the statement by the Sydney postmaster published by Dr. Gray in 1863.

Fifty-six years after Touison’s contribution, A.F. Basset Hull, then a veteran philatelist, decided to check all the available authorities and to carry out further research. The consequence was publication of an article titled “Sydney Views The Great Seal and the Wedgwood Medallion” in The London Philatelist vol 55 pp 80-85 July 1946.

He discovered from “The Seals of New South Wales” by W.A. Gullick Sydney 1921 that approval had been given to a design for the seal, submitted on 4 August 1790 to George III, which depicted:

… On one side: Convicts landed at Botany Bay ; their fetters taken off and received by Industry sitting on a bale of goods, with her attributes, the distaff, beehive, pick-axe, and spade, pointing to oxen ploughing, the rising habitations, and a church on a hill at a distance, with a fort for their defence. Motto: Sic fortis Etruria crevit; with this inscription round the circumference: Sigillum Nov. Camb. Aust…

That first seal arrived in Sydney on 22 September 1791, a second seal reached there in 1817 and was in use until 1827 when a third seal arrived and was in use until 1832.

He ascertained that the Wedgwood Medallion, which had been issued before 25 November 1789 and engraved in 1790, had not been used in connection with the Great Seal of New South Wales – but that, the medallion’s allegorical design might have suggested a motif to the seal’s artist. At the time when the seal had been designed the Sydney Cove settlement was extremely primitive, no churches, forts or substantial buildings existed.

Towards the end of his article Basset Hull wrote: ‘The question of “who engraved the Great Seal” has not been definitely answered by the authorities I have consulted’. Basset Hull’s article concluded:


“Always verify your references”, as Dr. Routh said to Dean Burgon, fellow of Oriel College (1847).

Having done so, I add that the literatim citation of that reference in “The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations” 3rd edition 1980 page 410 is:

‘You will find it a very good practice always to verify your references, sir ! — Burgon. Memoir of Dr. Routh. “Quarterly Review”, July 1878, vol. cxlvi. p 30’.

It occurred to O. Gans M.D., Bombay India to try to find the solution of the question during a stay in London, the centre where once upon a time all matters colonial were decided. His contribution, titled identically with that of Basset Hull, was published in “The London Philatelist” vol 57 pp 153-157 September 1948.

By assiduous search through the Public Record Office Dr. Gans ascertained that the designer and engraver of the first Great Seal of New South Wales was Thomas Major, the Chief Engraver of Royal Seals and Arms, who had prepared a ‘draught’ design by 23 July 1790 and was ordered to prepare it fairly for approbation.

One important question remained : ” Who suggested the design ? ” Dr. Gans was unable to find the answer to the question and doubted whether it would ever be found.

A further query had been raised during the research. The third seal had been approved by George IV on 20 November 1826, and most likely was the one on which the design of the Sydney Views was modelled. It was one of the three pairs of silver seals made by Thomas Wyon, who had by then succeeded to the post of Chief Engraver of Seals. He was an uncle or cousin of William Wyon.

Thomas Wyon’s account, which is dated 3 October 1826, reads in part :

To Silver, Marking and Mounting a Pair of Seals for New South Wales: 21. 4. 6 1/2   

To engraving a Pair of Seals for New South Wales Figures of Britannia and with view of the Country on one side. The Royal Arms on the reverse including Drawing, Model etc: 75. 5. 0.

In the absence of an order officially changing the emblematic figure of Industry for that of Britannia, it seems likely that Thomas Wyon made a mistake, and wrote “Britannia” when he meant “Industry”.

The stamps themselves provided philatelists with one of the earliest exercises in what nowadays is termed ‘plating’, reconstruction of the sheet of stamps as printed.

Early on it was realised that individual stamps differed from others. Consequently no one could be sure that the separate piece of printed paper he had in front of him was a genuine stamp or a forgery. Before he could be sure one way or the other he had to establish the size and format of the plate and the position occupied on it by the subject resulting in a stamp exhibiting a particular set of characteristics.

The sheet format was established by the use of marginal examples and unsevered multiples. overlapping stamps with identical sets of characteristics until no further extension horizontally or vertically of the format thus obtained was possible and all the individual examples, whether dissevered or still in unsevered multiples could be fitted into the pattern thus established. When that stage was reached the stamp had been plated.

Complications arose when it was realised that impressions on the printing plates had been repaired by the re-cutting of lines of the design, termed re-engraving. Overcoming these complications involved referring to the various stages of the plate when impressions were printed from it, as State 1, State 2, and so on. In the cases of the Sydney Views these states are still, following long tradition, referred to as Plate I, Plate II and so on, even though only a single piece of metal was involved for each value.

The plating of the Sydney Views was accomplished before publication of “The Postage Stamps… of Australia” and autotype illustrations of reconstituted sheets of stamps formed part of the work. They showed that the plates of the One penny and Three pence Sydney Views, each of which bore 25 subjects, were conventionally arranged in five rows of five. However, the plates of the Two pence consisted of 24 subjects arranged in two rows of 12.

The Two pence plate was engraved by John Carmichael, who was paid £12 12s. for his work. Robert Clayton, who engraved the One penny plate, was paid £10, and, for engraving the Three pence plate, H.C. Jervis was paid £7. Only the Three pence plate did not have to be repaired throughout its use. Jervis re-engraved the One penny plate once and the Two pence plate four times.

The philatelic complexity of the Sydney Views, their colours and the papers on which they were printed, may be judged from the fact that the three values of stamps, which were in use for only some two years, occupy no less than 43 major numbers in Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue 1992-93, Part 1, Volume 1; in addition there are numerous minor numbers. Robson Lowe, in his “Encyclopaedia of British Empire Postage Stamps Volume IV The Empire in Australasia” 1962 lists the three values of stamps under 19 numbers, and includes further varieties to those appearing in the Stanley Gibbons work.

A variety of the Two Pence, mentioned by Stanley Gibbons, is referred to by Robson Lowe as (VVV), meaning that it is of the greatest degree of cost; it is RL 10, variety vi Tête-bêche pairs. I know of only a single example of the variety. It came to light in 1903 on a cover discovered by Fred Hagen, the dealer, of Sydney. The pair is from Plate II and is referred to as in the medium worn state.

The printed sheets of Two Pence Sydney Views comprised 48 stamps in two panes, the panes being inverted in relation to each other. That happened because, after the press had operated on the sheet of paper, which was much larger than the plate, the sheet was removed from the press, turned through 180 degrees and, after the plate had been re-inked and wiped, inserted again in the press to receive the second impression.

The reason for such a clumsy procedure with a recess-engraved and intaglio printed plate has never been satisfactorily given. The suggestion usually made is that the press could not operate on so large a piece of paper. However, that would seem to be belied by the facts that the press accommodated not only the plates for the other values bearing five rows of five but also the plate of the Two pence bearing two rows of 12. Any difficulty, therefore, would seem to have arisen not from the size of the sheets of paper but from the arrangement of two rows of 12 which was most unusual. Why that arrangement was adopted has also not been explained in detail.

Because of turning of the sheet, stamp number 12 and stamp number 1 occurred on a tête-bêche pair and indeed, that is the arrangement, reading from left to right, on the cover itself where the pair appears horizontally at the top right corner.

The cover is headed OHMS and is addressed to His Honor / C. I. La Trobe Esqre / Superintendent / Melbourne. At the left, in the lower corner, appears Col: Treasury / 30th July 1850 and a flourish in a vertical spiral. Two unframed postal markings appear on the reverse: SYDNEY / Crown / JY 30 / 1850 / NEW SOUTH WALES, which is circular and MELBOURNE / * / AU*8 / 1850 / PORT PHILLIP, which is oval.

When commenting on the discovery, which had been reported in the “Australian Journal of Philately” for November 1903 and referred to in “The London Philatelist” vol 12 pp 301-302 December 1903. Basset Hull wrote:

Doubtless in most cases the two impressions were severed before being placed on sale at the Post Office, but the pair under review being from the supply used by an important Government Department, was probably cut straight from the ‘double’ sheet, the two impressions being so close together that it was considered unnecessary to sever them. Had this pair been at the disposal of the original ‘platers’ of the Views, I am inclined to think it would have very considerably delayed and hampered them in the labours which they brought to such successful conclusion. It would have at once led them to believe that there were more than two rows on the plate, and caused them to despair of ever reconstructing a plate!

The cover with the tête-bêche pair was bought by Tom Allen, the dealer shortly before World War II, and he lent it to me to photograph. Later he sold it to Alfred F. Lichtenstein. It passed to his daughter, Louise Boyd Dale and after her death it became the property of the Anne Boyd Lichtenstein Foundation, of New York, where the cover remained until the Foundation’s collection was sent for auction by Harmers of New York. The sale of the cover took place in on 14 May 1990, as lot 60, it cost the buyer £49’500. It is undoubtedly the rarest variety of any of the Australian States.