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The Journal of the Rhodesia Study Circle - Issue No. 153

1990, BCA overprint with N.E. Rhodesia postmarks 1893–1900:
    v. 40, no. 4 (153), p.168–70

At the Leamington Spa event I showed some 16 pages of stamps and postmarks of the very early days of N.E. Rhodesia.  I was then asked to write up what I had said, for the Conference Journal.  What follows is my attempt to do what I was asked, but I am rather reluctant because so much remains to be discovered and I feel other members may well know more than I do.  Comments through the Journal will be very welcome.

This study concerns some six different postmarks, and two different sorts of stamps.  Of the six postmarks, there are the "B.C.A." (for British Central Africa) postmarks, 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6.  Of these "B.C.A. 1” has the letter F for Fife and possibly L for Rhodesia, and as there are no dates on the stamps, these postmarks are of no use in the present study.  Much the same applies to "B.C.A. 4”, which has numbers in a vertical oval shape.  These numbers were 859 Fort Rosebery, 871 Abercorn, 860 Abercorn, Rhodesia and Tanganyika and probably 869 Kalungwisi.  Again they give no help over dates.  There remain the postmark "B.C.A. 3”, used at Katwe, Rhodesia and Tanganyika, of which I have only seen Tanganyika; "B.C.A. 5” used at Abercorn, Fife, Fort Rosebery and Johnston Falls, of which I have only seen the first two, and "B.C.A. 5z” used at Fife, Kalungwisi and Rhodesia of which I have only seen Rhodesia.

The two different types of stamps are the "B.C.A." overprints and the B.S.A.Co. (British South Africa Company) stamps without "B.C.A."  The "B.C.A." overprints are only found in Stanley Gibbons catalogues under Nyasaland and not under Northern Rhodesia, though they were used in all the above-named stations.

L.H. Gann, the historian of Northern Rhodesia, gives the following history of the N.E. Rhodesia early stations.  "In 1890 Richard Crawshay was sent to Lake Mweru to build a station where the Chiengi stream enters the lake, for the purpose of opening up trade to the Katanga and preventing encroachments from the Belgians; this was known by its native name of Mputa and was abandoned in 1891.  In 1892 Alfred Sharpe sent Kydd and Bainbridge to build another station and they built a fort at the point where the old road to Kazembe crossed the Kalungwishi.  They called this Rhodesia but the name was later changed to Kalungwishi.  In 1893 Hugh Charlie Marshall, another Protectorate official, was despatched to the Tanganyika plateau, and instructed by Johnston to make his headquarters at Zombe, which was to be renamed Abercorn, the name originally given to the promised administrative station at the south end of Lake Tanganyika, the existing post of that name being near Zombe and belonging to the African Lakes Company.  Marshall's sole resources consisted of a small detachment of Indian soldiers, together with a supply of postal and revenue stamps.  Another station was Ikawa, known from 1898 as Fife, the original Fife lying somewhat further to the north and first having been set up as a station of the African Lakes Company.  (When I visited Ikawa in the nineteen-forties, there were only the graves of two early officials there, whereas at Fife there were the remains of houses and offices.  It appears that the name Fife was used at two different places, a few miles apart).

I know of no evidence that postmarks were used in this area before late 1893.  With respect I do not agree with the conclusion of Hal Hoyte in "North of the Zambesi" under Abercorn in which, after quoting a letter from S.P. French, P.M.G. at Cape Town, to the Secretary of the B.S.A.Co. dated 5.6.93, giving a full list of offices in "B.C.A." including Tanganyika but not Abercorn, he concludes "It is therefore probable that the Tanganyika date stamp was used at Zombe before 1893".  As Marshall was sent up with postal and revenue stamps I think it much more likely that he was sent up with the canceller for Tanganyika, which would have had to be ordered from Cape Town or London, and the ordering would be known to French who would therefore have included Tanganyika in his list of "B.C.A." post offices.  If anyone can produce a postmark dated before 1893 I shall be proved wrong.

My assumption is that the first postmark used in N.E. Rhodesia was that for Tanganyika.  Having arrived there, with instructions to start postal services, Marshall would have had to decide where to put other post offices and then arrange for cancellers to be provided for them.  It seems obvious that the first stamps used were "B.C.A." overprints.

On 3 December 1895, the Secretary of the B.S.A. Company wrote to Whitfield King & Co "the Company's new stamps overprinted 'B.C.A.' .... will be used in the Company's sphere, outside the British Central Africa Protectorate, and north of the Zambesi, until the Company's new issue is made".  The next issue must be assumed to be the Large Arms issue of 1896/7.  It should therefore be possible to assume that in 1896 and thereafter the stamps used would be the B.S.A.Co. stamps of the Large Arms issue without the "B.C.A." overprint.  However, Marshall wrote to his brother on 5 June 1896 from Abercorn "By the bye, the old "B.C.A." overprint stamps are to be used up here again - maybe £25 a year in all".  This seems to mean that just at the time one would have expected the stamps without the "B.C.A." overprint to appear, in fact a decision was taken to use up these very overprints in N.E. Rhodesia -- the first true issue of Nyasaland's own stamps having appeared in 1895.

I do not know when the postmarks for "B.C.A." were withdrawn, but certainly "B.C.A." overprint stamps are known with N.E. Rhodesia postmarks at Abercorn, Fife and Fort Jameson in the late nineties, Fort Jameson having become Capital of N.E. Rhodesia by that time.  My own examples of N.E. Rhodesia postmarks on "B.C.A." overprint stamps date from 26 NOV 98 at Fort Jameson to 8 DEC 99 at Abercorn.  (Incidentally I have not seen such a postmark on the 6d stamp either blue or ultramarine).  (The last use of the "B.C.A." postmark I have is Fife JU 7 00).

Now I come to the most difficult problem of all.  Stamps of the first issue of B.S.A.Co. stamps are known without the "B.C.A." overprint from Rhodesia, Fife, Abercorn and numbers 859 Fort Rosebery, 871 Abercorn and 860 Abercorn, Rhodesia and Tanganyika.  Dates where visible are from 1896 to 1899.

How did it happen that B.S.A.Co. stamps without the "B.C.A." overprint became available in these distant stations in N.E. Rhodesia?  It is necessary to take account of the political moves in these years.  To quote again from Gann's History of Northern Rhodesia (p.74) "On 24 November 1894 a new agreement was finally signed between the Company and the Foreign Office.  Control of the Chartered sphere north of the Zambezi was withdrawn from Johnston's control.... Direct administration in the Chartered sphere was to be transferred to the Company not later than 30 June 1895...."  However the Company's first Deputy Administrator, Major P.W. Forbes, arrived at Zomba on 23 June 1895.  In 1899 the country north of the Zambezi was divided into two sections with the Kafue River the boundary between them.  The years between 1896 and 1900 were filled with skirmishes between the Company's employees and the Arabs and some chiefs, followed by general pacification.

By May 1898 R.E. Codrington took up his appointment as Deputy Administrator for N.E. Rhodesia in place of Forbes who had resigned through ill health.  He began by continuing to reside in Blantyre but in October 1898 a site was selected at Kapatamoyo's kraal, which became known as Fort Jameson, the name being taken from another station previously established twenty miles to the north.  Building operations started in April 1899; the new post became the capital of the territory, where Codrington took up permanent residence; in August 1900 he was promoted to full Administrator under the North Eastern Rhodesian Order in Council which had passed onto the Statute Book that year.

With this background it is possible to speculate more easily on why the B.S.A.Co. stamps without the "B.C.A." overprint were used in these distant stations between 1896 and 1900.  With the Deputy Administrator in Blantyre, the Company would be sending its supplies of stamps through him for forwarding to the out-station post offices.  No doubt if there were any shortages these would be made up by 'borrowing' "B.C.A." overprints from the office next door.  After a year or two of B.S.A.Co. stamps it was decided to use up the remaining "B.C.A." overprints in these outstation post offices, to which was added Fort Jameson itself, no doubt the Fort Jameson 20 miles away from the new one.  It seems likely that as soon as Codrington was fully established at the new Fort Jameson and from then on, the B.S.A.Co. stamps came into full and exclusive use.

There remains one point of issue to refer to.  In his letter of instruction to Marshall, Johnston said "On your way up to Tanganyika you will meet Mr. Crawshay at Deep Bay, and you will endeavour to organise with him, then or at a later period, a reliable system of mail-carriage from the northern end of Nyasa to your station on Tanganyika.  I wish you to do this as soon as possible, because I do not want the Lakes Company to retain any longer the mail-carrying agency on the Tanganyika Plateau, as their charges for conducting this mail service are very costly...." No doubt this service was carried without using special stamps, but it would be of interest to know if any covers had survived, and what if anything was written on them?


  1. The History of Northern Rhodesia, by L.H. Gann. 1964 Chatto and Windus, pp. 70 and 74
  2. North of the Zambezi by Hal Hoyte. 2nd Edition 1983. p.44
  3. RSCJ Vol. 12 No.l p.15
  4. Marshall's Letter to his brother (in the Livingstone Museum, Livingstone, Zambia).


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