The following was originally published in “Stamp Collectors’ Fortnightly” (November, 1921).
Mr. T. A. Melville (pictured below), Acting Director of Posts and Telegraphs in the Federated Malay States, who was for many years in the Post Office Department of the Straits Settlements, has contributed a valuable history of the Straits Settlements Post Office to the voluminous centenary work, “One Hundred Years of Singapore” (London: John Murray. In two volumes, with illustrations, 42s.).
Pictured: Mr. T. A. Melville
The postal history occupies over sixty pages, forming chapter XIV. of the second volume. It traces documents back to the days of the East India Company, giving the rates of postage in force in Prince of Wales Island in 1818. These, in the opinion of the author, doubtless applied also to the younger settlement. The post offices in the Straits, which comprised those at Singapore, Penang, and Malacca, were, up to 1854, in the circle of the Bengal Postmaster-General, and there was no separate postmaster for Singapore until the following year, although there had been an assistant postmaster and staff for some years previously, certainty in 1852. The actual date when the Straits were placed directly under the Supreme Government of India is given in the chronology (ii., 590) as September 1st, 1851, a point on which Mr. W. Renouf, I.C.S., in his “British Indian Stamps Used Abroad” lacked information.
Indian Stamps used in the Straits
The first stamps of India appeared in 1854, and examples of the earliest issue are known with the numbered post marks, Malacca (B 109), Penang (147), and Singapore [undecipherable] but as these obliterators were not introduced until 1856, it remains for the philatelist to find other means of tracing Indian stamps used in the Straits prior to the introduction if the numbered postmarks.
There can be little doubt that between 1854 and 1856 the Straits post offices had the diamond of dots postmark, which was introduced in India in 1854, but which gives no clue to the office of origin.
The Separation from the Indian Post Office
In the later ‘fifties the growing European population began to agitate for the severance of the Straits from the Indian Government, and the transfer ultimately took place on April 1st, 1867. There is an interesting report of Sir Hercules Robinson’s, written in 1864. but not presented to Parliament until June 4th, 1866, in which he says:-
“The Post Office Department in the Straits Settlement is one with reference to which some new arrangements will have to be entered into before the date of the transfer. The present post offices in Singapore and Penang are mere branches of the Indian Post Office, …receiving all their instructions from the Director-General at Calcutta. …The Indian postage rates are specified in annas and pie, and the British in sterling money; but only Indian postage labels are in use, upon which the rates are inscribed in the denomination of Indian currency; and these are sold to the public in exchange for dollars – the real currency of the Straits Settlements – at a par of rupees 224.8 annas 6 40/100 pie equivalent to $100, and are taken in payment of British postages at the rate of one anna for threehalfpence. I presume that if the transfer takes place, the post offices of the Straits will become subordinate to the General Post Office in London…and steps should be taken at once to obtain a supply of local postage labels, upon which the rates should be inscribed in dollar’s and cents.
“As soon as possible, after the transfer, a local ordinance should be passed…for the purpose of accommodating British and Indian postage rates at present in force to the currency of the Colony. Pending [such enactment]…the local Government can fix by regulations the rate at which the new stamps shall be accepted in payment of British and Indian postages. But until the ordinance is passed, rupees and sterling money cannot be refused by the Post Office if tendered in payment if such postages.”
With the passing of the Imperial Act in 1866, which detached the Straits from the Government of India, and inaugurated the present Crown Colony, the existing laws and officers were preserved, and the laws governing the Post Office were the Post Office Acts of India.
International Postal Rates
The subject of international postage rates prevailing in the Colony is dealt with in an interesting and illuminating survey, which divides naturally into two parts, before and after adhesion to the Universal Postal Convention in 1877.
Before 1877 the rates depended on the charges made in the various countries through whose territory correspondence passed, in whose vessels it was conveyed, in whose territory it was delivered, on the route followed, on the distance, and on whether the postage was prepaid or collected on delivery. In many cases postage to destination could not be prepaid, in others prepayment was compulsory. Every letter was a matter of account between the various countries concerned in its transmission, a system impossible to imagine as being applied to the millions of letters exchanged at the present day. Under the Convention, on the other hand, uniformity of postage rates throughout the Postal Union was the governing principle,
based on the fact that distance is an infinitesimal factor in the cost of transport of a letter,
Entry into the Union brought about an immediate and notable reduction in the postal rates. Between 1876 and 1879 the rate to the United Kingdom via Brindisi fell from 28 cents to 12 cents, and via Marseilles from 28 cents to 8 cents.
The Cheapest Postal Rates in the World
In the 1893 report on the Post Office it is noted that the Straits postage rate for all destinations beyond British Malaya was 5 cents, normally the equivalent of 2½d., had shrunk in value to 1⅓d. (which must have made it the cheapest international postage rate in the world at that time!), and in consequence of the straitened conditions of the Colonial finances, the foreign letter rate of 5 cents, the domestic rate of 2 cents, and the foreign postcard rate of 2 cents were raised to 8 cents, 3 cents, and 3 cents respectively.
Two years later a suggestion emanating from the International Bureau of the Postal Union proposed that to secure uniformity with the rates prevailing in Hong Kong, North Borneo, and Labuan, the Straits should adopt 10 cents, 4 cents, and 2 cents as the equivalents of the primary rates of 25, 10, and 5 centimes. On this the enlightened Straits Postmaster-General of that period, Mr. Noel Trotter, reported adversely “as the principle of periodically adjusting the rates of postage to a gold basis seemed to me, from the point of view of public convenience, to be an extremely objectionable one, besides which, in the face of the fact that the revenue of the Post Office exceeded its expenditure, there was no departmental reason for making any alteration. I also opposed it on the grounds that, taking a broad view of the matter, the time when adverse conditions of trade obtain, as they did then, the obligations of the Department to the public became at once intensified and enlarged.”
Would that Mr. Trotter’s broad and far-seeing views might prevail with the magnates of the G.P.O. in London in these difficult times.
In 1902 the Post Office report pointed out that the Straits postal tariff compared favourably with that of any other country, “Postcards available in the Colony and to the Federated Malay States are sold at one-fifth of a penny each; the letter rate of postage throughout the same area is slightly over a halfpenny; the postage on letters to any place (with very few exceptions) in the British Empire is four-fifths of a penny per half ounce; up to 2 oz. of printed matter can be sent to any part of the civilised world for one-fifth of a penny and 10 oz. for a penny, which is absolutely the cheapest international postage I have ever heard of. Thus a letter and a newspaper can be mailed hence to almost any part of the Empire at a total cost of a penny. Our registration fee of one penny is without parallel for cheapness; most other countries charge 2d. or 2½d.”
Universal Penny Postage
No wonder that in 1905 on the question of Universal Penny Postage, which did not receive much support at the Rome Congress, Mr. Trotter reported that “This Colony is ripe for the adoption of the penny postage with the rest of the world.” He goes on to say that “Imperial Penny Postage, adopted seven years ago on the ground of sentiment, has proved, in this Colony, a sound business proposition, and a justification for a general extension of penny postage.” It was an anomalous position of affairs when a letter from Singapore to Canada, involving a distance of 10,000 miles, cost 1d., and one from Penang to Kedah, abont 24 miles, cost 2½d. “In such circumstances it can hardly be a matter for surprise that natives often evade paying postage on there is an opportunity of sending them by private hands.”
The Malayan Postage Union
In 1907 a Local Postage Union was established between the Colony, the Federated Malay States, Johore, Sarawak, and Brunei, by which the rates of postage on letters, parcels, and other articles transmitted between these administrations were the same as those in force within the Colony. The British Borneo Government joined in on January 1st, 1908, in so far as they agreed to receive and deliver free of charge postal matter prepaid at these rates, though they were unable to adopt reciprocal rates.
Kelantan, Trengganu, Kedah, and Perlis came into the Malayan Postage Union on August 1st, 1909. The letter rates remained the same until January 1st, 1918, when they were raised from 3 cents for 2 oz. to 4 cents for 2 oz. (initial rate) and 2 cents for every additional 2 oz.
Imperial Penny Postage
On the introduction of Imperial Penny Postage, Mr. Noel Trotter acclaimed this “brilliant stroke of Imperial policy,” and foretold that the results would surpass the most sanguine expectations. They did! The number of articles passed through the post in 1898 was 6,660,968 and the postal revenue that year was $234,859. Ten years later (1908) the number of articles was 19,292,460 and the revenue $609,597.
Local Newspaper Postage
On the subject of local newspaper rates Mr. Melville writes that “the postage of 2 cents (limit of weight 4 oz.) on newspapers of local origin when transmitted between the Settlements and the Protected Native States and Johore was abolished in September, 1888. The privilege of free postage was partially withdrawn in 1891, owing to abuse, and confined to newspapers posted direct by the publishers within seven days of publication; but this concession terminated with the year 1893.”
Postal Side Lines
Our review, restricted as it must be in length, must pass over the interesting accounts of the Chinese Sub-Post Office, and the countless endeavours of the postal administration to impress the Chinese that their progressive methods were “for the benefit especially of all you coolies,” and the difficult times of riot arising from the endeavours to suppress the letter-smuggling societies. “If any honest virtuous man will cut off the heads of the Post Office Farmers, he will be rewarded with taels 100,” runs the peroration of a Chinese placard dated Piah-tsu, 10th moon, 28th day (13th December, 1876). We must pass over also the histories of those modern additions to postal administration in the postal and money orders, savings bank, telegraphs, cables, telephones, wireless, etc., and come to the heading of “Stamps.”
The Philately in the Straits
We could have wished that the author of this history, who spent his earlier years in an atmosphere impregnated with philatelic lore, had allowed himself to expand more on the subject of the postage stamps used in the Straits, Of the general range of stamp issues he merely gives an outline, but in several side issues he contributes some very useful additions to our store of philatelic knowledge. For example:-
“…The use of Straits stamps in countries outside the Colony is a matter of some historic interest. for it is not widely known that all correspondence from the Malay States, Siam, Indo-China, Borneo, the Philippine Islands, Java, etc., for the rest of the world circulated through Singapore, and was prepaid by means of Straits stamps. In fact, the first stamps issued in Siam were the 1867 India 2 anna stamps supplied by this Colony to the British
Legation at Bangkok in 1882, surcharged with a capital “B” and “32 cents.” Our author is, however, not quite accurate in saying “As soon as the Straits issued their own stamps in 1868 the different values were similarly surcharged “B” for use on correspondence from Siam for other countries.” The Straits stamps overpinted “B” all fall within the short period from 1882-1886, whereas the first Straits stamps of special design appeared fourteen years earlier.” The use of these stamps in Siam ceased on 1st July, 1886, when that State joined the Postal Union.” This antedates Messrs. Gibbons’ note on p. 372 of the current catalogue by six months.
“Until 1880 it had been the practice of many mercantile firms in the Philippines to send their correspondence from (? for) Europe under cover to Singapore to be posted – the enclosures bearing Straits stamps; this ceased with the opening of direct communication between Manila and Europe, Spanish stamps then being used.”
Straits Stamps Used Abroad
“Sarawak correspondence for the outer world bore Straits stamps uniil that State joined the Postal Union on the 1st July, 1897. Similarly with the Federated Malay States and Johore, it was not until the 1st January, 1899, that these stamps were recognised as valid prepayment of postage to other parts of the world. After the 1st January, 1899, Straits stamps were used nowhere outside the Colony except that in 1900, owing to an unexpected delay in the receipt of their new stamps, the Federated Malay States were supplied with Straits stamps to the value of $9,360.* The amount ot Straits stamps sold to the various Malay States in 1896 was Perak, $5,630; Selangor, $6,047; Negri Sembilan, $912 ; Pahang, $1,435 ; and Johore, $182 ; Sarawak took $442, making a rand total of $14,628, or about £1,500 sterling. In 1897 the total was $13,938 and 1898 $14,433. The stamps used in the various Malay States were surcharged with the name of the State.”
A Distinguished P.M.G.
In conclusion, Mr. Melville pays high tribute to the Trotters, father and son, who directed the Straits Settlements Post Office for nearly forty years. Mr. Henry Trotter went from Ceylon as the first Postmaster-General of the Straits. His son, Mr. Noel Trotter, “acted” as P.M.G. from 1883-1895, when he was confirmed in that office, which he continued to hold until his retirement in 1907. From some of the excerpts we have given it will be readily recognised that Mr. Noel Trotter was a most progressive and enlightened Chief of the Department, and it is largely due to his able direction that the Straits Settlements Post Office, functioning in a Colony of unique geographical position and importance, has attained its present advanced state of efficiency.