Brian Trotter

Brian Trotter (Great Britain) for Southern African Mails, Routes, Rates and Regulations 1806-1916, published by the RPSL, United Kingdom, 2017

Southern Africa was first colonised by the Dutch and then the British, consequently, most of the initial mail sent was overseas mail to Britain and Europe. Almost nothing had been published regarding the routes or the complex rates and regulations applying in the early period. Original research for this book has finally made this possible.

It obviously started with the Cape of Good Hope and the first mails that were available for public use were introduced by the British in 1806, with European continental mail going via Britain. Initially prepayment of overseas mail was not possible and no packet mail (contract mail ships) existed. The settlers relied on passing ships (ship mail), although for a period in the early 1800’s they were sometimes able to use the India Mail ships coming via the Cape of Good Hope to Britain. The first packet mail was introduced in the early 1850’s, but after financial failure the Cape Colony was left without packet mail for a further few years.

As the Dutch settlers became unhappy with British rule, they trekked into the interior and set up their own republics, but they still needed to send their mail to Europe via the Cape Colony and Britain. Such early postal rates were complex, as the mail had to be paid to the Cape Colony border

via their own postal system, then Cape Colony transit postage and overseas postage had to be paid using Cape Colony postage stamps once they were issued. In addition, the Cape Colony post office charged a further “port charge” on all outgoing and incoming letters up until 1860. So, a letter from a Dutch (Boer) republic to Europe would have needed to pay four different letter charges.

The main mail route to Europe was from Cape Town to Britain, then mail for continental Europe and other destinations was sent from Britain. The other less popular route from the interior, sometimes cheaper but taking more time, was via the British Colony of Natal or via Portuguese Mozambique on the east coast. Mails via this route either went by sea to Cape Town and then via Britain, or up the east coast of Africa (via Mauritius or Zanzibar) and then across Suez (overland before the Suez Canal was opened), then via the Mediterranean either direct to Britain, or to Britain or continental Europe via Marseille or Brindisi. These last two options required an additional charge.

Research for the book also uncovered a relatively short-lived route to Europe from Cape Town via France which had not previously been known. As this was a more expensive route, it was not popular and was discontinued.

The book also provides information on registration rates, which differed for each of the various European countries in the earlier period. The book also explains the treatment of unpaid and underpaid letters as well as identifying the various taxe markings that were introduced before and after the various Southern African countries joined the UPU.