By Pragya Jain
Pragya Jain begins a series of articles discussing the the early issues of India. In this first instalment, he provides a brief introduction to India’s pre-stamp postal history, before moving on to the country’s very first issue – the famous Scinde District Dawk of 1852.
To a philatelist, the early postal history of a country is more important than its political history. Most specialised collections have a volume or two showing this important period – comprising early covers, hand-struck stamps, postal notices, material from the pre-stamp era, etc. India is very rich in material of this kind and provides an immense scope for research to an ardent student of early Indian postal history
As early as 1296AD, the historian Ziauddin Barani recorded a postal service in India, describing the horse and foot postal organisation of the Pathan ruler, Alauddin Khilji. Later, in 1341, Ibn Battuta, an oriental traveller, also commented on the existence of a postal service under Mohammed Bin Tughlak. In The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians Sir Henry Miers Elliot recorded a similar establishment under Sikandar Lodi from 1488 to 1518. Further improvement to postal services in India was seen under Emperor Sher Shah (1540–45) and during the reign of Akbar (1566–1605), when Camels were employed along with the horses.
Vasco de Gama was the first Portuguese explorer to land at Calicut in 1498 and by 1559 the Portuguese had established a strong foothold in India. By 1600, the French also began to arrive in India and the Danes settled in around 1620. The British formed the East India Company under Royal Charter in 1600 for trading purposes.
British supremacy in the region prevailed, reducing the other nations’ interests to smaller pockets scattered around India. It is believed that a priest, Father Thomas Stevens, was the first Englishman to arrive at Goa in 1579. His letter to his father (which brought the Merchant Adventurers in 1582) is the first recorded outgoing mail from India to England, while a letter from King James I to Emperor Jahangir at Agra in 1608 is reputed to be the first inward mail to the country.
In 1688, a full-fledged post office was set up in Bombay for the receipt and despatch of letters. In 1766 the British Colonial Administrator, Lord Clive, organised a regular postal service restricted to use by the Government and its employees. Later, in 1774, Warren Hastings, the first Fig 1 The obverse and reverse sides of the 1a. and 2a. copper tickets introduced in 1774 to pre-pay postage within the realm of the East India Company governor-general of British India, reorganised the whole system and extended the facility to private citizens.
For the facility of paying the postage on letters, small copper tickets of 1a. and 2a. (2a. being the single rate for every 100 miles and 1a. for every additional 100 miles) were introduced exclusively for postal purposes under the Post Office Regulations Act 1774 (Fig 1). A specimen of this copper ticket is also with the British Museum. These rare copper tickets thus became one of the first recorded instruments for the pre-payment of postage, even before the Penny Black of 1840.
The Scinde District Dawk, 1852
The first postage stamps of India were not issued for the whole of the country, but for a mere small province – Sind. Sind had introduced improved postal reforms in 1851, and had laid down various postal lines throughout the province (Fig 4). When Sir Bartle Frere, the then Provincial Commissioner of Sind, approached the Government at Bombay for extra funds to further improve postal lines, his request was denied. Instead, he was asked to find ways and means to maintain the ‘costly and luxurious’ network.
Being greatly influenced by the success of the uniform Penny Postage introduced in England, Frere took this opportunity to introduce a cheap postal rate in his province. To facilitate the prepayment of the service, Frere, with the help of Edward Lees Coffey, the Postmaster of Sind, designed the now famous Scinde Dawk postage stamps.
Originally, it was thought that the introduction of stamps might prove to be unpopular with the local inhabitants, who were in the habit of using coins to transact business. However, it proved otherwise and the use of the stamps was a success. During the period of 1852–53, the Scinde Dawks were issued in three different colours: red, white and blue.
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