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Blog > The Post Office Tree

Did you know that the oldest (unofficial) post box in South Africa is not an actual box… but a tree?

It’s true! In 1500, Pêro de Ataíde, captain of a Portuguese ship returning from the East, left a letter under a tree in Mossel Bay. The letter detailed the loss of some of the ships on their fleet and warned of troubles in the eastern seas. It was customary for passing ships to stop on the bay to take on food and fresh water, and so some years later, the letter was discovered and delivered to Portugal by another sea captain.

This was the start of the South African postal service, as seamen often left correspondence there, in the hopes of it being delivered by passing ships.

Post office tree

The impressive milkwood tree is said to be over 600 years old, and still stands there overlooking the bay. It has been declared a national monument, and a postbox was set up under it with its own special cancellation mark and everything! The postbox sits on what is now the Bartolomeu Dias Museum complex.

Mailing a postcard homeSpecial cancellation mark

A big thank you to Cathy, the South African member who pointed out this tree for us and took the nice photos above. That is her auntie Chris on the left, mailing a postcard home!

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52 comments so far

radiofan, Austria
Wow, great story!
I'd be happy to get a postcard from that marvellous historic place! - What a wonderful old tree!
Thank you for sharing this on the blog!
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Elizma, South Africa
I there. Elizma from SA. It was very nice to see this info about our tree from SA on the blog.
I was at the tree last year and it was of great interest
because I started postcrossing! I also posted a postcard from the tree.
A great place and town to visit if you come to SA.
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JulianaKutsenko, Russia
Very interesting story!)
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Roadrunner73, Germany
Awesome.
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nisnoopy3, Malaysia
I would like to get a card send from this cool mail box with such deep history feel on it! :D
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edo, Spain
Awesome!!
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GIBSONMS, United Kingdom
I wonder if there are any other branches that offer this service (sorry, I'll get my coat)
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lucymonty, United Kingdom
Wonderful story, thanks for sharing this Cathy!
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proudlysouthafrican, South Africa
Oh wow! How awesome to see my pics on your page! We had a wonderful visit to Mossel Bay and next time I pass by, I have a list of people I have to send mail to from there. By the way, that is my Auntie Chris from the UK in the photo...thanks again.
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CDNLib, Canada
What a cool post! And a beautiful old tree!
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Broe, Germany
Loved to read about it! Thanks for sharing :)
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D1ana, United States of America
I love it!
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Luziaceleste, Brazil
What a nice way to keep people honoring hystorical sites! Congrats to SA Mail system and to SA postcrosser Cathy!
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emoffdayz, United States of America
wow! thats a great tree and interesting information thank you for it! :)
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shui, Taiwan
What a wonderful postbox and the tree!! As a tree fan, it will be fantastic if I can visit there myself someday or receive a postcard from there. Thanks for sharing this information! :D
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riazkhan4880, India
Amazing story. I want that postcard cancellation from that tree too....Every thing in this world has a story. Thank you for sharing this wonderful and amazing information.
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Knerq, United States of America
Cool!
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Poste, United States of America
Thank you for sharing this history! Life is good and great stories are very worthwhile and enjoyable. Happy Valentines Day to everyone and especially to this tree.
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rosenbusch, Germany
Thank you for sharing this interesting story....
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Loli-ts, Spain
No words... just =-o :-) :-)
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karelwilly, Netherlands
Great story!
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Laughing_Hsiao, United States of America
Awesome! I'd love to receive a card from there!
Thanks for sharing this story;)
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ch_nz, Germany
There is something similar on one of the Galápagos Islands. It is a postbox though, not a tree, but it doesn't have a cancellation. I used it and it worked, put a postcard in (to a relative) and it arrived in Germany about three months later. No stamp, no cancellation, someone had picked it up in Galápagos, taken it home and then driven by and put it in the postbox. The recipient (and me too) were fascinated. I didn't take a card because none was supposed to go anywhere near me.
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deHamer, Netherlands
Wauw, that's an old tree and with a lot of history.
It looks so much better that the steal boxes in my village.....
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Topas, Germany
great natural monument. Very special postbox. Lovely story.
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geminiscp, Portugal
so cool! I wish I could visit it one day! :)
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petrini1, United States of America
Wonderful story! I wish we could mail cards from somewhere so interesting, here in the U.S.
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nugget, United States of America
Enjoyed this interesting story! Thanks for sharing it.
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mar872, Canada
So cool. I will have to add this to my list of places to go to in South Africa. :)
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susandg, Philippines
Interesting story! Thanks for sharing. I love trees and I love postcards, so this is really a perfect combination. I would love to receive a postcard from there, too. Well, who knows, I might get to SA someday. How I wish! :-)
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RosaRosae, Spain
Thanks for share this true storie
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Ksuschka, Russia
It's a really great story! Thank you for sharing!
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Robin67, Austria
How cool is that? I'd love a card sent from there too! :-D
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e_santoso, Indonesia
Wooow... awesome. Thank you for sharing this interesting story.
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Janestar, United States of America
What a great story! Thanks for sharing it with Postcrossers.
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TaiChier, United States of America
Wow! That is amazing! Thank you for sharing!
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dogfan, United States of America
Fantastic! That postmark would be a great prize!
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Sidolix, Germany
Great Story and Information !
Thank you for it !
A Picture postcard with this tree would be good to my tree collection...
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ConstantGardener, United States of America
WOW!!!! LOVE the Tree and the Story behind it! Shared it with my brother - a retired Postal Letter Carrier!! Thank you so much!!
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Sunny1215, China
It's amazing.If I can use it to mail postcard,it will be interesting.
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Traumkatzen, Germany
Great story, i would love when I maybe get someday a postcard from this place. Amazing
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ambica, India
many such stories are there in India too. Like people used to know the content of a letter without opening its Envelop.
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jaygray, Canada
Such a lovely story! :D
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Ilmushka, Russia
Wonderful story, I'd be happy to get the map of the area.
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Isolaluzie, Germany
I see this tree with my own eyes when I travelled to South Africa - he is wonderful!
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seascape327, United States of America
Great Story. Thank you for sharing it with us.
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Husi, Germany
wow... more than 20 years ago I visited South Africa, visited also Mossel bay and was impressed by that tree and it's history... and now I find story about it here. Thank you for bringing back a lot of memories.
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Alice_828, Taiwan
Wow, I love this story!!
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Simon_L, China
What a wonderful story.I really wanna travel there by myself~
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squirrelygirl, United States of America
Fascinating story! Thanks for sharing!
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amit19, India
Awesome! Just loved reading about it!
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JanineW, South Africa
@everybody who expressed the wish to receive a postcard with this cancellation on the stamp: your cards have been posted. Watch your mail box!
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