Cape Campbell

New Zealand Lighthouse Stamps -  N. Z. Government Life Insurance

Issues: 18911905  |  1947  | 19671969  |  19761981  |  MODERN ISSUES  |  NZ LIGHTHOUSE MAP  |  STAMP VALUES   | CATALOGUE NUMBERS  | COVERSLIGHTHOUSE LINKS  |  CONTACT

WELCOME to this page about New Zealand Government Life Insurance postage stamps.
... and is sort of
philatelist meets pharophile
Enjoy your visit!

New on this site

Aug 2012 - Info on Cape Reinga and Nelson Haven lights updated.

What is an insurance business doing with its own stamps? 
A philosophy held by New Zealand Governments until the late 20th Century was that it was a good idea for government to be involved in many fields of commerce - so as to keep the others honest. Insurance was one of those fields. The Government started a Government Life Insurance Department in 1869.  It did not restrict itself to life insurance and late in its existence sold other sorts of policies. A lighthouse was used as its corporate symbol. When sea travel was the only way New Zealand was linked to the rest of the world and a common experience of many, the symbolism of safety  aligned with a lighthouse must have been more powerful than perhaps it is today.

As a government insurance business, it gained the right to use its own stamps after disagreements with the Post Office about how much postage it owed. Of course it chose to use lighthouses on its stamps.  The stamps were available to collectors through the post office but were never authorised for general use. First day covers were available to general purchasers. Only the business could use them for general postage though there was an exception applying only on the first day of issue of the 1947 series.

The words New Zealand do not appear on any of the stamps - only the common abbreviation, N.Z. Nor did the monarch's portrait ever appear in the series. These are both indications of how the series was kept separate from the normal issues of the Post Office.

Customers and agents of the business who were also philatelists then collected a small bonus in postally used stamps. Postally used stamps of the 1947 onwards issues are not that common and some catalogues even show them at a premium over mint. Few were used internationally. 

The name of the business changed from "Department" to "Office" and this shows on the later stamps.

In reality the insurance operation which went under the Government's name was a mutual insurance company with a relatively light Government involvement. In 1989 the Government stepped back from any involvement leaving it entirely in the hands of the policy holders. Consistent with this the "government" part of the name was dropped and it became Tower Insurance. It de-mutualised in 1999 and is now Tower Corporation.

The use of the name Tower and the ongoing use of a lighthouse as a corporate symbol reflects its history. 

It has recently issued stamps again - through NZ Post

James Cook's name appears often in the story about the naming of the various sites. That is not surprising given that his first voyage, on Endeavour, was the first to circumnavigate New Zealand (1769-70) and that one of his major tasks was to map the places he explored. He produced the first chart of the whole of New Zealand. Most of the names he gave have stuck ever since.

He also named places after members of his ship's crew though these do not appear here. Rather it is a collection of names of people who never visited New Zealand.

See: James Cook on Stamps

In 2000 New Zealand produced a stamp of Taiaroa Head depicting the lighthouse, in its definitive scenic stamps series:

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Taiaroa Head

An earlier stamp (1996) in the same series showed Cape Reinga - with the lighthouse shown in the middle distance.

Cape Reinga

This is the most v
isited lighthouse in New Zealand, not because of the lighthouse but rather because of the geographic location and spiritual associations. It never made it to the Government Life stamps despite its fame.


At last a decent depiction of the Cape Reinga light - in a 2006 renewable energy series.

Then it poured Reinga stamps:



The first Tiki Tour sheet - see top centre.

The second Tiki Tour sheet - see top centre.

A cover from the former Reinga Post Office:
reingaPO.jpg (31912 bytes) (thumbnail)

Castle Point 

A second outing for this light in 2003.

2009 Series

  • 50c Pencarrow

  • $1.00 Dog Island

  • $1.50 Cape Brett

  • $2.00 Cape Egmont

  • $2.50 Cape Reinga

See more on  these here.

Universal Mail - an authorised mail operator in New Zealand - has produced lighthouse stamps.

See Shades Stamp Shop for images. They have covered Cape Brett, Taiaroa Head (two variants), Cape Campbell and Cape Reinga lights. Here is one of them:

New Zealand Post 2005, part of a commemorative series of stamps on stamps.

In 1988 a group of businesses around Otorohanga formed a document exchange and issued stamps.

It was illegal and was subsequently closed down. It extended to the North Island west coast - hence the name and the symbol - which is not any particular lighthouse.

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FDC (thumbnail)


For New Zealand dollar catalogue values of insurance stamps see the ACS  online catalogue covering the New Zealand stamps, or Len Jury.

When New Zealand's lighthouses were being established New Zealand had few primitive roads. Servicing of almost all the lighthouses was by sea. The lighthouse tender vessels held an important place in the maritime history of the country. Now most of the lights are accessible by road but some on islands still require sea transport for major work, though helicopters are used for some of the visits.

A light house tender ship captain for many years, Captain Bollons, accumulated a large collection of Maori artefacts through collecting at archaeological sites near the lights. His collection is now in Te Papa - the national museum in Wellington.

New Zealand's First Permanent Lighthouse - Pencarrow Head (1859) - New Zealand Historic Places Trust.
HPT article. It was also the only light ever to have a woman keeper.

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The first lighthouse (thumbnail).

A light which followed closely after was the Nelson light on the boulder bank, built by the Nelson provincial government and lit in August 1862. It was the second New Zealand light. There is not a stamp of it, but it ranks a mention here because the first light keeper, William Edward Cross, was my wife Miranda's great great grandfather. He was the brother of the harbour master James Cross. James Cross's house still stands in Nelson, overlooking the harbour at  24 Richardson St. Today it is an exclusive homestay Te Puna Wai.

Nelson Haven Lighthouse. It is of cast iron, imported in parts from England where it was made by Stothart and Pitt of Bath. There were once two lighthouse keepers cottages alongside. The lighthouse has a category 1 rating from the Historic Places Trust. It was automated in 1915 and decommissioned in 1982 when it was replaced by a new light elsewhere in the harbour.


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With the later cottages (Thumbnail).
See more


One of the 1895 lighthouse keepers cottages still exists relocated to 66 Muritai St, Nelson, link


In August 2012 the 150th anniversary of the first lighting was celebrated with a re-illumination by LED and the temporary floodlighting of the tower. The lens and gas light had been restored in 2008 but not lit. The light shone towards the land rather than the sea for the event.

Nelson Mail story, Another.

Government Involvement

The construction of lighthouses had been reserved to the central Government rather than the provinces under the then constitution of New Zealand. Lighthouse expenditure was first funded by the Loan Appropriation Act of 1863. This legislation was a companion piece to the notorious New Zealand Settlements Act which authorised Maori land confiscations. Most of the loan funds were to be spent on the land war and the lighthouse expenditure was a sop to the southern interests, who were not directly affected by the war, a plain instance of pork barrel politics. 

New Zealand's principal lighthouses are operated by the Maritime Safety Authority.  There are profiles of the lighthouses on the MSA site.
A few within harbours are maintained by Regional Councils.

 Stamp Site of the Week 

Stamp Collecting

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Chalon Portrait Stamps of New Zealand

What is the World's Most Beautiful Stamp? - Poll


1891 "V R"VR
The first insurance stamp of 1891 came in six values, but only one design. There is a "V R" across the centre of the stamp for Victoria Regina. 
W.B. Hudson and J. F. Rogers are credited with the design.

1905No VR
In 1905, somewhat belatedly, given the Queen Victoria died in 1901, the "V R" was dropped from the design and it was redrawn. This design came in six values, gaining a 1d from the earlier series but dropping the 1/- There are colour varieties for the 1d, 1d, 2d and 3d values. There are also perforation, watermark and paper varieties. 
While all the plates were made in 1905, only two got used immediately. 

After an initial issue of the 1d and 2d in 1905/6 the insurance office was directed to use the new "official" overprinted stamps which it did from 1907 to 1913. From 1913 on the "No VR" stamps appeared again in a wider range of values and with some colour changes to match the equivalent values in the contemporary definitive KGV set. The re-emergence of the Government Life stamps is linked to the Post Master General of the day Sir R Heaton Rhodes, who was a prominent philatelist. His collection, specialising in early New Zealand stamps is still intact in the Heaton Rhodes room at the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch.

Here is a history of the colour changes of this issue as it followed the definitive issue colours.

The 1d stamp illustrated is in fact an aberrant version having "Postage" in both side panels. The other values have the value in words on the right. Presumably "one and a half pence" would not fit. It was first issued in black but the cancellations could not be seen on black (the problem was with the colour matching KGV issue) and the colour was changed to brown.

1947 (1 August)
The series of 1947 showed actual lighthouses. The designer was James Berry who worked from photographs to produce the designs. Several of these designs also feature a ship in the background. Here is a first day cover: fdc.jpg (75515 bytes) (Thumbnail)   Other covers

d Castle Point 1913Castle Point
(The names are hyperlinked to a map following on this page, the date is the date the light was established.) Castle Point is a coastal landmark on the southern east coast of the North Island. The point can be seen in the background of the stamp. As with all New Zealand lighthouses it is now automated and un-manned. Castle Point is a fishing and holiday settlement most famous for its annual beach race meeting (on a beach to the north of the light). Its not always held - too many rocks showing through the sand and it is abandoned for the year.
If you ever go there try a paua fritter. What the hell is a paua fritter? - do I have to tell you everything? That's for you to find out.

The Castle Point Racing Club had its own stamp and commemorative cover for the 2010 meeting.

castlex.jpg (48793 bytes) (thumbnail)

Many of New Zealand's light towers were prefabricated ones imported from Britain. This was the last to be built that way. Many of this series also feature ships. There is one in this stamp just below the value.

This light is reputedly haunted by the ghost of a keeper who fell to his death from the tower.

This is the rarest stamp in the set. It went out of use without warning and dealers did not have large stocks of it.

1d Taiaroa Head 1865Taiaroa
Taiaroa Head is the seaward entrance to Otago harbour on the South Island east coast. It is famous as a Royal Albatross colony - the only place near civilisation where this species breeds. Taiaroa was the name of as Maori chief resident in the area in the early 19th century. 

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Taiaroa, old postcard (thumbnail)

Sailing ships were a rare sight by 1947. This is the Barque "Pamir" which at that time was being operated by the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand on behalf of the New Zealand Government which had seized it as a "Prize of War" in Wellington in 1939. It was sailed mostly on Pacific routes from New Zealand to the West coast of the USA. It visited the Otago Harbour. In 1948 it was returned to its previous Finnish owners. More about the Pamir

2d Cape Palliser 1897Palliser
The south eastern tip of the North Island and at times, a place of very wild wind and waves. The name was given by Captain Cook after a naval colleague and patron who held the important post of Comptroller of the Navy Board.

2d Cape Campbell 1870Cape Campbell
A prominent cape on the South Island at the entrance to Cook Strait. The limestone rock of the cliffs of the Cape makes it a feature of the landscape. This is a later issue - 1963. By that date the name on the stamp had changed from "department " to "office".

It has my vote at the best design of all the Government Life stamps. 

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Cape Campbell Light - old postcard (thumbnail)

Cape Campbell was named by Cook after Captain John Campbell who had made advances in navigation instruments and had sponsored Cook. He also was a supporter of John Harrison, the famous maker of the first marine chronometers. Kendall's copy of Harrison's first practical chronometer, H4, accompanied Cook on his second and third voyages.

This is not the original light tower but a replacement of 1905, built of cast iron panels made by Charles Judd of Thames. The Bella Street Pumphouse Museum in Thames has a super picture of the tower pre-assembled in Judd's yard.

The 2d letter rate ended soon after the stamp was issued. At the time the business made much use of  postal metering machines so the stamp is rare used.

3d Eddystone3d.jpg (6997 bytes)
Gotcha with this one - this is the famous British lighthouse. Well - in 1947 New Zealand was still a very British place. The lighthouse was the corporate symbol of the business which justified its inclusion. 

If you want to read about pioneering engineering this is a classic. The builder of the fourth light, John Smeaton, was the 18th century's greatest engineer. That tower is preserved in Plymouth after the sea undermined its foundation. The stamp is of the fifth tower of 1882, though not as it appears today. 

The keepers are Minnie and Henry Crun - see the Ten Snowballs that Shook the World.

Apart from all that it is the subject of a rather good Victorian music hall comic song:

"My father was the keeper of the Eddystone Light,
And he married a mermaid one fine night.
The product of this union was children three,
A fish, a porpoise and the other was me.

Yo ho ho, The wind blows free.
Oh for life on the rolling sea"

etc.   more

4d Stephens Island 1894Stephens Island
Stephens Island is in Cook Strait between the Islands of New Zealand, at the northern extremity of D'Urville Island. Another Cook name - Philip Stephens was an Admiralty secretary.

For a sad story read on. The new variety of wren, Lyall's Wren, Traversia lyalli was found on the island in 1894, by being caught by the new lighthouse keeper's cat. The cat caught 10 more which were dispatched to collector naturalists, no doubt for some monetary reward. After the 11th catch the bird has never been seen again. According to one source "...the cat which discovered the species also immediately exterminated it."  Lyall's Wren formerly also existed on the mainland. The relict population on Stephens Island was because of the lack of predators there - until the cat arrived. Bird collectors obviously helped in its final extinction on Stephens Island, as may the clearance of the bush on the island by the lighthouse keepers. Piopio, saddlebacks and kokako were lost to the island as well.

Just to balance the number of references to Cook on this page, in 1642 the two ships of the first European navigator to visit New Zealand, Abel Tasman,  anchored off Stephens Island for three days sheltering from a storm. They did not go ashore here (or anywhere else in New Zealand). He was thwarted in his desire to explore eastward, being over-ruled by a council of the officers he was obliged to call. Otherwise Cook Strait might have been Tasman Strait. 

6d The Brothers 1877The Brothers
The Brothers are two islands at the north eastern tip of the South Island, in Cook Strait. Cook named them. It was the last lighthouse to be de-manned - (1990). It also appeared on a 1974 stamp in the scenic series - off-shore islands.

  A 1974 reprise.

1/- Cape Brett 1910Cape Brett

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Postcard of servicing the light (thumbnail)
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Thanks to Helen Roberts for this - the photo the stamp was made from. Helen restored the photo as well. On the cupola is her grandfather Percy White, the Principal Keeper. His family, including Helen's mother, are in the boat. The dog is Paddy. 1934/5.

Cape Brett is at the southern entrance to the Bay of Islands on the northern coast of the North Island. Here is some more about the light: Link. Its now disused - replaced by a beacon in front of the tower.

The tower is built of cast iron panels made by Charles Judd of Thames.

Brett is a Cook name - after a British Admiral, Sir Percy Brett.

The island in the background is Piercy Island - a punning Cook name referring to the hole which goes right through the rock at sea level.  Piercy was yet another British admiral. 

The island is a favourite for New Zealand stamps: Second pictorial, Modern self adhesive Universal Mail also has a $1.50 value stamp depicting the island.

Tourist trip launches pass through this hole in fair weather.

1967 (10 July)
There was an interim issue of decimal stamps in 1967 with decimal values overprinted on their older equivalents.  Their short life means they are overall, the rarest of the modern sets.

1967 2c.gif (105375 bytes)1967 2hc.gif (109305 bytes)1967 3c.gif (105248 bytes)1967 10c.gif (113500 bytes)

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The rare 1967 first day cover (Thumbnail)

1969 Decimal Series: The 1969 series was again the work of designer James Berry. He was a conservative designer. Over his career his designs moved from ones with elaborate frames, to ones with lined frames like the 1947 series, to unframed designs like this series. He was red / green colour blind - an unusual thing for a graphic artist but most of his early career was in producing black and white commercial art for newspapers and magazines. None of the designs here have contrasting red and green.

The issue coincided with the centennial of the Government Life so the motivation for the new issue was more than converting to decimal currency.

1969fdc.jpg (9968 bytes) First Day Cover (Thumbnail)

c Moeraki Point 1878Moeraki
A rare used stamp as half cents ceased to be any part of postage rates soon after its issue. Moeraki is a fishing and holiday village on the Otago coast of the South Island. I have caught red cod fishing of the rocks near this light.

The props around the tower were added soon after it was built to stiffen it.

Moeraki is a Maori name meaning "drowsy day.

This is the rarest stamp of the set as the value had little use in postage rates.

2c Puysegur Point 1879Puysegur Point
The south western tip of the South Island. It has gale force or higher winds for 100 days a year on average.  It was named by a French navigator in honour of an earlier navigator M. de Puysgur. This is the second light at the site. The first was burnt down in 1942 by a demented hermit. The ship pictured could only be the lighthouse tender as no other large ship would have cause to venture onto this coast. It is now serviced by helicopter. Despite its remote location it had for a while an overland telephone - via Port Craig. Radio communication made it redundant.

This stamp also exists overprinted as 25c value. This was issued in 1978. Curiously it was not the left over stamps from the earlier issue which were overprinted, but a new printing. The new printing was perforated p14 whereas the original was p13 x13.

3c Baring Head 1934Baring Head
Baring Head is outside the eastern entrance to Port Nicholson - Wellington Harbour - at the southern tip of the North Island. It is a site where New Zealand scientists have undertaken long term monitoring of the Earth's atmosphere - a very unpolluted site remote from industry. Samples are taken during southerly winds - for which this coast is notorious.

Baring was a director of the New Zealand Association, the forebear of the New Zealand Company which brought British settlers to the Wellington district.

4c Cape Egmont 1881Cape Egmont
The North Island's western most point. Another Cook-given name (actually to the nearby volcanic cone shown on the stamp) and after another Lord of the Admiralty, actually the First Lord, Sir John Percival, Earl of Egmont. For all this sucking up by name bestowing he did get to command another two expeditions. The mountain was named Egmont as well but today has mostly reverted to its Maori name Taranaki. It is sometimes compared to Mt Fuji, but it is not as symmetrical as that icon. This part of Taranaki province still had tensions between Maori and settlers in 1881. Armed constabulary patrolled the area during its construction.

Here is a cover that marked the centenary of the lighthouse, and a postcard of the light using the stamp:
 EGMONTcover.jpg (20808 bytes) (Thumbnail)  cape_egpc.jpg (8311 bytes) (Thumbnail)

15c Dog Island 1865Dog Island
Dog Island is a low lying island in Foveaux Strait at the far south of the South Island. It is built of stone quarried on the island. The strait is famous for oysters caught by a fishing fleet based at Bluff Harbour. There is an airstrip on the island making this an easy light to service. It is New Zealand's tallest lighthouse.
100 years.jpg (17736 bytes) 1969: 100 years commemoration of the Government Life cover (thumbnail)

1976-78 New Decimals
Inflation was rampant in the 70's and new values were needed. Two new values were issued (1976). They were John Berry's last stamp designs. The 2c was also overprinted as a 25c stamp (1978). 

1976fdc.jpg (42252 bytes) 1978fdc.jpg (34585 bytes) First Day Covers (Thumbnail)

8c East Cape 1922East Cape
The eastern most point of the North Island. A prosaic name. It escaped Cook's naming though he saw and mapped the point. This light replaced an earlier one on a small offshore island first lit in 1900. In fact the tower was relocated and was shortened in the move. The tower is built of cast iron panels made by Charles Judd of Thames. For more information: LINK 
10c Farewell Spit 1870Farewell Spit
The spit is a long boulder bank at the South Island north west extremity. The name is Cook's again - named when he left New Zealand from this coast in 1770. My wife's family once had a dachshund which was bred by the light house keepers. The present steel framed tower dates from 1897. The original was of wood.

The spit is a Ramsar Convention nominated wetland.

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Light and keepers house (Thumbnail).


1981 Series 1982
Well - not the most inspired of stamp designs. It came in six different values and colours. It is a stylised view of a generic lighthouse rather than a particular one. 
The Designer was Allan Mitchell.

lastcover.jpg (52212 bytes) First Day Cover (Thumbnail)

last day.jpg (9291 bytes) Last day of use cover - 30 September  1989 (Thumbnail)


The red lighthouse names are hotpoint linked to their stamps

The lighthouse names are hotpoint linked to the stamps. There are many more lighthouses - only those on stamps are shown.

Google Earth file of these locations  - download



Many other countries have used lighthouses on stamps.

CANADA has produced  several sets of lighthouse stamps showing the flash sequence of each light: 

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BRITAIN has its own stamp of Eddystone. This is not the modern tower. 

Here is a Link to a site about this stamp and other UK lighthouse issues.

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Eddystone Light

My father was the keeper of the Eddystone light
And he slept with a mermaid one fine night
Out of this union there came three
A porpoise and a porgy, and the other was me!
Yo ho ho, the wind blows free,
Oh for the life on the rolling sea!

One night, as I was a-trimming the glim
Singing a verse from the evening hymn
I head a voice cry out an "Ahoy!"
And there was my mother, sitting on a buoy.
Yo ho ho, the wind blows free,
Oh for the life on the rolling sea!

"Oh, what has become of my children three?"
My mother then inquired of me.
One's on exhibit as a talking fish
The other was served in a chafing dish.
Yo ho ho, the wind blows free,
Oh for the life on the rolling sea!

Then the phosphorus flashed in her seaweed hair.
I looked again, and my mother wasn't there
But her voice came angrily out of the night
"To Hell with the keeper of the Eddystone Light!"
Yo ho ho, the wind blows free,
Oh for the life on the rolling sea!


Contact E-mail: G Law


        Last Updated: 21 August, 2014