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Chapter III.

Early Postal History.

In the pages which follow, many references will be found to the name of Colonel Stuart H. Godfrey, C.I.E., to whom we owe practically all that is known of the postal methods prevailing in Jammu-Kashmir, prior to the introduction of postage-stamps in 1866.

In 1900, Godfrey contributed two articles on the subject to the Philatelic Journal of India (Vol. IV. pp 52-54 and 101-105), parts of which were reprinted in Masson’s book which appeared late in that year. These articles disclose, from their commencement, the intense difficulties (such as we ourselves have experienced) of discovering any sort of Official Records. Godfrey obtained his information from two private sources—a diary, written in Persian, belonging to the first postmaster of the Native State, and a historical account of contemporary Kashmir written in Sanscrit and owned by one of the native “Pandits.” These Pandits were Brahmins versed in the Sanscrit language, and their contemporary records of Indian laws, sciences and religions were handed down from generation to generation. The two records referred to, corroborate each other in all essential details, apart from some few discrepancies as to dates which we shall indicate as they occur.

In old days, records were generally kept by State Officials. When, later on, the Afghans were driven out of Kashmir and Gulab Singh began to systematise the Government, the earlier records were not deposited in the public offices at Jammu. Some of the later records might have been traced at the Civil Office but for a fire which destroyed most of the older State papers.

During the period when Kashmir formed part of the Afghan Kingdom, there were three kinds of message-bearers—

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(1) State Messengers who carried State correspondence and, in small quantities, State property also; (2) Special Messengers serving high Officials, and (3) Private Messengers under personal contract with traders.

All of these were runners, and travelled between Kashmir and Kabul.

Similar postal arrangements continued for some time after 1820, when Maharaja Ranjit Singh became Ruler of Kashmir. In 1847 the system was extended by Gulab Singh, who organised a Post carried on by mail-runners between Jammu City and Srinagar, the respective capitals of the Jammu and Kashmir provinces. All letters were carried free of charge, and mail-stations were established in seventeen different towns:

(1) Srinagar(7) Poshana(13) Thanda Pani
(2) Sher Garhi(8) Bahramgala(14) Doob
(3) Shadi Marg(9) Thanna(15) Chauki Chaura
(4) Hirpur(10) Rajoori(16) Akhnur
(5) Sukh Sarai(11) Sail Suee(17) Jammu
(6) Aliabad(12) Dharam Shala

The majority of these mail-stations of 1847 do not appear in the list of the seventy-nine Post Offices established during the stamp period, which we publish in Chapter XV.

In 1853 (? 1856) Gulab Singh, in consequence of complaints as to non-delivery of letters, held a Council of Merchants which resulted in the appointment of an Official whose sole duties were to attend to the correct posting and delivery of letters, and to keep a register of them. They still continued to travel free of charge until 1857, when the first postal rate was imposed. The rate was dependent on the weight of the letter and only applied where delivery was required beyond State territory. Letters for delivery within the State still travelled free of charge.

Up to this period no postal mark of any description appears to have been applied to correspondence but, on the death of Gulab Singh in 1857, fresh complaints as to non-delivery were brought to the notice of his successor, Maharaja Ranbir Singh and, from 1857 (? 1858) onwards, all letters were...

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...required to be “sealed.” Distinctive seals were, therefore, engraved for Jammu and Srinagar respectively and impressions from these struck on the envelopes. Such impressions were never sold to the public to be used as adhesives and, therefore, constitute the early “Franks” which, for some years, preceded the first issue of postage stamps.

Before describing the Franks we may briefly notice a few further points of interest which appear in the Pandit’s account and the Postmaster’s diary. The Pandit stated that it was in 1864 when Ranbir Singh “dispensed with this seal and made stamps.” This date is certainly incorrect. The account also mentions that State letters continued to be sent “free from stamps.” No period is given during which such a privilege, if any, continued, and no allusion to it is made in the “diary.”

The Postmaster’s diary noted that the first charge levied as a letter rate occurred in 1857, the rate being as follows:—
    Weight of letter not exceeding ¼ tola— 1 ½ Annas.
    Weight of letter not exceeding 1 tola— 3 ½ Annas;
    For every tola in excess of one— 1 Anna.

Letters so pre-paid travelled between Jammu and “Kashmir” (? Srinagar) in 24 hours; they were carried by messengers running at full speed throughout, and carrying torches during the night. The distance, as the crow files, between Jammu and Srinagar, may be roughly taken as 100 miles, and fresh relays were provided every two miles.

The next entry in the diary of any philatelic importance does not occur until 1866—the year of the first postage stamps—when three further records are given. The first states that a revised postal rate was now adopted:—
    Letters not exceeding ¼ tola— 6 pies (= ½-Anna)
    Letters not exceeding 1 tola— 1 Anna.
    For every further tola— 1 Anna.

We here draw attention to a feature which later becomes of some importance, viz., the difficulties of letter-transport by means of runners in a mountainous country and, consequently, the need of drastic cutting down in the weights allowed. The...

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...equivalent of the “tola” is a weight of 3/8 oz., and the minimum ½-Anna rate would, therefore, be exceeded by any letter weighing more than 1/5th oz.

The next record from the diary is that the old rule of recovering, in cash, the amount due on unpaid letters, was cancelled in 1866 and that unstamped letters were now charged double. The new rule even applied to letters posted to British territory with Native postage-stamps only, even though, at this early period, the additional stamps of British India which were also required could, generally, not be obtained!

The diary finally noted that the first native postage stamps were of three denominations—½-a, 1-a, and 4-as. From a philatelic point of view it is most unfortunate, as will appear later, that the colours of these stamps, and that of the 4-Anna in particular, are not mentioned. [Page cont’d next link.]

► The Franks.

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