The former British Colony in the Malay Peninsula known as “The Straits Settlements” consisted of Singapore (with which were included the Cocos or Keeling Islands and Christmas Island), Penang (including the Province of Wellesley and a strip of land known as ‘The Dindings”), Malacca and in 1907, Labuan.

Towards the latter part of the 15th century Portuguese navigators roamed among the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, of Indonesia and traded with the native inhabitants. In the next century they extended their activities to the neighbouring islands. In the 17th century the Dutch and the British vied with each other as traders in this area, but in 1623 the British East India Company relinquished its interest and left the Dutch in possession of what was virtually a trading monopoly.

In the 18th century, however, the British East India Company tried to secure a fresh footing and in 1786 their efforts were rewarded with the cession of Penang. In 1819 the famous Sir Stamford Raffles founded a settlement in Singapore and later the whole island was taken over by the Company. Malacca, previously occupied by the British in 1795 and restored to the Dutch in 1818, came again under British rule by the Treaty of London in 1824.

The three settlements were amalgamated under one Governor, resident in Penang, in 1826, the seat of government being transferred ten years later to Singapore; in 1867 the settlements were constituted a separate British Colony.

A united India post was authorised by the Indian Post Office Act of July 24th, 1837 which came into force on October 1st of that year and it applied to offices within the Straits Settlements. Under it, service, soldiers’ or “free” letters were required to bear a red handstruck oval containing the name of the office and “FREE” also in red. Prepaid letters had to be struck with an oblong “PAID” in red; unpaid letters had to carry an oblong containing the word “BEARING” in black; “free” letters from overseas were to be stamped with a circle showing the office, the date and “SHIP LETTER FREE” in red. Mail brought from overseas by private vessels had to be stamped “Ship Letter Bearing” within a square in black and that brought by government steamships with “Steam Letter Bearing” within an octagon in black.

The postal rates varied with the weight of the letter and the distance it had to be carried. The unit of weight was the “tola” (about two-fifths of an ounce). Those laid down in the 1837 Act were, for instance, 20 miles, 1 anna; 50 miles, 2 annas and, up to 300 miles, an additional anna per 50 miles. But in 1854, when the first general issue of Indian adhesive stamps was authorised, their use became compulsory and fresh postal rates, irrespective of the distance a letter had to be carried, were introduced, e.g. ¼ tola, ½ anna; less than a ½ tola, 1 anna, and a ½ anna for each succeeding ½ tola up to 2 tolas; beyond this, 2 annas per extra tola or part thereof was charged.

Although the British Colony of the Straits Settlements did not issue its own postage stamps until September 1st, 1867, the then current adhesive stamps of India were in use in the Settlements from 1854 until 1867. It is possible to identify some of the stamps so used from the postmarks applied to them, though the first type of postmark – the diamond of dots (Fig. 1) – was used in several Indian offices. But after the introduction, early in 1856, of numerical postmarks, identification was simplified. The numbers allotted to Singapore, Penang and Malacca were 172, 147 and 109, respectively. With a capital letter “B” over each number, they were enclosed in the centre of a four-lined octagon (Fig. 2).


A variant of the Singapore postmark appeared about 1859, the figure “1” showing a change in the style and thickness of the serifs.

A fresh type of cancellation was introduced about 1863 in the form of a duplex postmark containing the code numerals within a vertical diamond of ten fine lines rising from left to right linked by two parallel lines to a double circle datestamp bearing the name within the upper part of the circles and fleurons in the lower part, together with the date in the inner circle (Fig. 3). This type was apparently not used in Malacca and examples of its use with the Singapore numerals are rare, but in Penang it was in use from 1863 to 1867.

It was not until September 1st, 1867 that the Colony of the Straits Settlements issued its first adhesive stamps: they were provisional issues, two types of Indian stamps being overprinted with a crown and surcharged with new values in cents.

De La Rue and Co., who had printed the Indian stamps concerned on white wove paper with the Elephant’s Head watermark, also applied the overprint and surcharge, but they had to use different coloured inks to distinguish the various values because the 1 anna brown and 2 annas yellow were used to make three different “cents” values each. The new values ranged from 1½c. to 32c. The numbers issued were:

1½c. on ½ anna, blue – 40,000
2c. on 1 anna, brown – 96,000
3c. on 1 anna, brown – 96,000
4c. on 1 anna, brown – 32,000
6c. on 2 annas, yellow – 24,000
8c. on 2 annas, yellow – 144,000
12c. on 4 annas, green  – 24,000
24c. on 8 annas, rose – 80,000
32c. on 2 annas, yellow  – 64,000

Some of the 1½c. on ½a. blue were used with the “THREE-HALF” struck out in black with pen and ink and the figure “2” put in manuscript above them. There was little demand for the 1½c. value which was not repeated in the permanent issue of 1867-71. The 12c. on 4 annas, green, is also known, unused, with a double surcharge.

It appears that the first values of the permanent issue appeared during December, 1867 and 1868. The design consisted of the Queen’s head within a double circle or rectangle enclosed within a frame, with different ornaments in each corner, the values appearing in letters or numerals at the base. These ranged from 2c. to 96c. and were printed on white wove paper – medium to thick to start with and later on thin. The watermark was Crown CC and the perforation 14. There were 240 stamps to a sheet – four panes of 60 arranged in rows of six by ten. For the earlier printings the gum used was yellow, but later issues bore a white gum. There is a variety of the 96c. grey, which appeared in June 1871, with perforation 12½ instead of 14.



In 1872 the postage on letters to Great Britain was reduced from 32c. to 30c. necessitating the issue of a fresh stamp. on this stamp the Queen’s head is enclosed within an inner elongated vertical hexagonal frame. Printed on white wove paper, with watermark Crown CC and perforated 14 the colour was claret and the sheet of 240 stamps was arranged in four panes of sixty (6 x 10). The stamp is known imperforate and such copies were used for making “SPECIMEN” stamps.

The Straits Settlements joined the Universal Postal Union in 1877 and two years later changes were made in the postal rates which required the issue of stamps of 5c. and 7c. denominations. This was effected by surcharging the 8c. orange and 32c. pale red of the 1867-71 issue with “Five Cents.” and “Seven Cents.” respectively, in two lines, in black. Varieties of the surcharge include no stop after “Cents.” in both values and an extended space between the “F” and “i” of the “Five Cents.”

With other changes in postal rates, the need arose for a stamp of 10c. value and to provide for this, stamps from the stock of the 30c. claret were surcharged “10 cents.” in two lines, the “cents” appearing in italics in 1880. There are no less than ten varieties of the figure “10”. The surcharging was done at the Government Printing Office at Singapore and a pane of 60 stamps was covered at each operation.

About a month later, a new setting of the “10” surcharge was made with the word “cents” missing. Here again there were apparently eight varieties of the figure “10”. In August 1880, the 8c. orange stamps of the 1867-71 issue were surcharged in black in two lines with “5 cents.” the word ”cents” being italicised. There were three different types of the figure “5”, varying according to the rows of the pane utilised for this purpose. In December of the same year, the 30c. claret was surcharged in black in two lines with a new variety of “10 cents.” the numerals, as well as the letters being in italics and the “cents” in larger fount. It appears that by then the stock of the 30c. claret had been exhausted for, in January 1881, the surcharge was applied to the 12c. ultramarine value of the 1867-71 issue and to the 12c. blue value in February 1881. In November of that year it was applied to the 6c. lilac. In January 1882, the 4c. rose was surcharged with “5 cents.” in black in two lines with founts of a similar italic type to the “10 cents.” surcharge.

As a change from surcharging came the issue in January 1882 of two new stamps – 5c. purple-brown and 10c. slate – still with the Queen’s head in the centre but with new frames. These were printed on paper watermarked “Crown CC”, perforated 14. Later in the year, however, the 10c. slate, together with the 2c. brown, the 4c. rose and the 8c. orange of the 1867-71 issue, appeared for the first time with the Crown CA watermark.

This article has been extracted from “Philatelic Magazine” (UK), originally published September 29, 1967.