South Africa


[Mount Currie]

Locals of South Africa

This article was firstly published on the website of CIFR ,

we have upload it here with CIFR's kind permission.

New Griqualand:

The Mount Currie Express Local Post

by Victor Berkovich

The territory that was officially called Nieuw Griqualand in 1863-1877 belonged to Griqua nation. This land, North East from Natal, was granted to the Griquas by British Colonial Government as a resettlement deal, in exchange to the prior Griqua’s home in Griqualand West. Prior to Griqua arrival the territory was called No Man’s Land. The name East Griqualand was adapted only in 1877, after annexation to the Cape Colony. In 1976 East Griqualand was made an independent homeland called Transkei.

In 1863-75 this territory was ruled by Griqua chief (Kaptyn) Adam Kok III, who presided over legislative brunch of the native government called Raad. Carol Birkby described Raad as “the most comic and pathetic among all the Parliaments which have ever sat”. Reverend Dower had described the sessions of Raad as fallows: “The Raad sittings were held half yearly. Very imperfect accounts of its proceedings were kept. The duration of the Parliament depended on the size of the animal slaughtered. No beef, no business, was the unwritten, but standing rule of the Assembly.”

Nevertheless, New Griqualand was recognized by the British Colonial Government of Cape of Good Hope as independent sovereign state until 1875. When Adam Kok visited the Governor of Cape in 1868, he was told that he was,” entirely independent of the Cape Government”. When Adam Kok applied to Sir Philip Woodhouse for the appointment of the High Commissioner,” he was told to manage as best as he could, he would not be interfered with.” Since Griquas were denied British protection, many state infrastructures, like public postal service, were not provided for. Cape Colony or Natal postal services did not extend into the New Griqualand. Only at the end of 1874 the British High Commissioner was appointed to oversee and to protect the Griquas. It was not till February of 1875, that the Griquas were accepted as British subjects. The territory was finally annexed to the Cape Colony in 1877, after Adam Kok’s death.

The Mount Currie laager (fort) was the seat of Griqua Government from 1863 to 1873.

Rev. Murray and Rev. Dower had established a new town 3 miles away. Due to the Rev. Dower insistence and activities to improve the Griquas crowded living conditions at the laager, Adam Kok had moved his home from Mount Currie to new town in March of 1873, which was named Kokstad. However, most of the Mount Currie residents were reluctant and slow in moving away from the overcrowded Mount Currie laager, until the end of 1874.

In the summer of 1872 the Durban based company Ballance and Goodliffe had established a trading store at Mount Currie, with Wesley Darby as a general manager. Under Darby’s management the first public postal service was established on the territory of Nieuw Griqualand. One penny stamp for this service was issued in 1874. Many mint stamps of Mount Currie Express are known to philatelist, due to the discovery by Emil Tamsen in 1889 the large stock of unused stamps.

However, since 1889, for more then a Century, only one assumingly accepted as used stamp of Mount Currie was known to philatelists. This stamp is illustrated in T.M. Mullins booklet Mount Currie Express: The Stamp of Griqualand East (Fig. A). The illustration in Fig.A is rather poor, but importantly the position of the cross cancel is still clearly visible.


fig. A

Leading South African philatelist, Johnson Philatelics Ltd. of Port Elizabeth, Natal, on 7th March 1995 postal auction had presented lot 316 with a description: “Mount Currie Express 1874 1d yellow green perf 12 and . The apparently unique used example: margins all around, with central manuscript ink cross cancellation. This stamp illustrated by Mullins in his publication on this issue. Rare (Fig.B)”.



fig. B

The position of the cross cancel in Fig.A is clearly different then in the Fig.B. Lower left bar crosses X, instead of crossing P of Express. The upper left bar extends all the way to O of One, instead of ending above O of Mount. Therefore, we have the record of the second used example of the Mount Currie stamp.

Recently, from European source, this writer was lucky to obtain the stamp of Mount Currie with a cork cancel (Fig.C).


fig. C

This researcher can see, barely discernable under smudgy cork cancel, the manuscript ink pen writing. More prominent stands the writing of numbers 2/ 7, or 4. 7. In XIX Century very often number 4 was written with the left part in the shape of number 2. Quite possibly the numbers could stand for date 4th July 1874 or 7th of April 1874?

It is interesting to note that Wesley Darby had also used to write number 4 with left part in shape of number 2. In this peculiar manner Darby had written 4 of 1874 in the dated 2nd January1874 Declaration of charges adapted for conveyances of letters, books and parcels. This manuscript document was sign by W. Wesley Darby, Pro Ballance and Goodliffe.

This interesting document also announced: “Stamps to be obtained at the Mount Currie.”

This writer interprets above as “the stamps will be available soon at the trading store”.

The declared charge for letters of 1d to and from Mount Currie and Harding (the nearest post office in Natal since summer of 1873) appear rather normal and congruent with the function of Mount Currie Express stamp. However, the same charge for letters “to and from any part of Colony of Natal to mount Currie” appears rather incongruent and most likely indicates to intended, but unrealized function of the same stamp. It is also quite logical to assume that the Declaration for the new and intended service would be issued in advance of the issue and perhaps printing of the stamps of Mount Currie Express.

The Mount Currie stamps were printed in the sheets of twelve with rather oversized margins. The reconstructed sheet, from the author’s collection is presented here in Fig.4. All three of the illustrated in figures A,B,C used stamps have oversized margins trimmed.

Several references indicate that picking up the mail from the neighboring Natal was more of the function of post in New Griqualand, rather then sending outgoing letters.

The Killie Campbell 1978 reprint of Dowers’s book, The Early Annals of Kokstad and East Griualand, carries the following notes on page 144:

Goodliffe and Balance were a Natal trading firm. In 1873 they opened three stores, one at Mount Currie and two in Matatiele District. News of the death of Dowers father was delayed because Darby (manager of the Mount Currie store) refused to collect letters for Dower, who denounced him for supplying liquor to Griquas.

The Sovereign of Griquas, Kaptyn Adam Kok III was not interested in establishing a postal communication on his territory. Dowers in his Annals (at page 31) referring to 1870, states:

“Our position was isolated indeed. The nearest post office was Umzimkulu Drift (Natal), 50 miles away, from whence we received letters and papers once a month, if we choose to send for them. Regular post there was none. Adam Kok did not believe in sending for letters; he thought he was better without them.”

It appear from above references that to pick up letters and papers from the closest functioning post in Natal was more common duty of the native runner then carry the outgoing mail. Highly likely and therefore, it is this writer speculation that the stamps with a cross cancel served as receipts for picking up the mail and the cork cancel was employed for outgoing mail. In both cases, at the time of use the large oversized margins of the stamps were trimmed by scissors. It is also highly likely that the post of W. Darby had still functioned and the stamps of Mount Currie Express were still used at around 4th of July 1874.



  1. T.M. Mullins. The Mount Currie Express: The stamps Of East Griqualand.
  2. C. S. Balson and Graham, “Kence – The Trade Tokens of Strachan & Co.”
  3. Birkby, Carel. , “Zulu Journey” (1936)
  4. Scott Balson Trust. Provisional Tariff of Charges adapted by Messrs Balance and   Goodliffe for conveyances of letters, papers Books, Parcels. Manuscript, 2nd January 1874.
  5. Noel Roberts, The Mount Currie Express. The “Ugly Duckling” of the Philatelic World. The South African Philatelist. March- April 1944.
  6. Balson, Scott., Internet pages, The Griqua nation – New Promise in Nomansland.