Notes from the Past

Sudan's First Stamps

The Sudan, at the headwaters of the Nile, became an objective for Egyptian expansion in the 1860s.  With the support of European powers, principally England, the Viceroy of Egypt, Isma'il, set out to establish hegemony over the Sudan.  An added objective was to eliminate the slave trade still centered around the Sudan.  In 1869, Isma'il dispatched the Englishman, Samuel Baker to accomplish these objectives.  He managed a start in the process but was unable to establish control of the largest slavers.  When Baker left in 1873, he had managed to alienate many of the local constituencies and the powerful slaver, Zubayr, became governor.

In 1874, another Englishman, Charles George Gordon, was offered the governorship while Zubayr was in Cairo in detention.  Gordon met with only limited success in establishing Egyptian sovereignty over the Sudan.  In 1874 the first Egyptian post offices were established in the Sudan.  Ordinary stamps of Egypt were used.  These can only be recognized by the postmarks which bear the names of Sudanese towns.  Gordon left the Sudan with his task uncompleted.

In 1877, Gordon returned to the Sudan as Governor.  He led an aggressive campaign to end the slave trade as Egypt attempted to comply with an Anglo-Egyptian treaty requiring an end to the trade by 1880.  By 1879, strong reaction was growing to Gordon's rather insensitive administration.  To compound the problem, Isma'il's Egyptian government collapsed as he was unable to pay the interest on his European debt.  Egyptian finances were now overseen by an international commission.  Gordon resigned and his replacement, Muhammed Ra'uf Pasha, was ill-suited to govern the Sudan.

In 1881, Muhammad Ahmad declared himself to be the Mahdi -- a name given to orthodox religious reformers.  Under his leadership, a revolution began.  Meanwhile, in 1882, British forces occupied Egypt to put an end to revolutionary forces antagonistic to foreign interests.  In January, 1885, the Mahdists defeated Gordon, hastily dispatched to defend Khartoum, and slaughtered the defenders to complete their control.  By 1884 all of the Egyptian post offices had been closed leaving no postal service in the country until the reconquest of the Sudan between 1896 and 1899.

In March, 1896, the campaign began and a postal service was put in operation, but it was only available for the use of troops and no stamps were used.  As the campaign proceeded more civilian population came under British control, and a postal service was established using Egyptian stamps initially.

In 1897, Sir Herbert Kitchener ordered the production of a distinctive series of stamps for the Sudan.  Egyptian stamps of 1888 and 1893 were overprinted with the word 'Soudan' in French and Arabic.  Eight values were overprinted in black.  The stamps were overprinted at the Imprimerie Nationale in Cairo.  Type was set in a vertical row of six from which stereos were made to complete a plate capable of overprinting a pane of sixty stamps.  Each of the original settings of six stamps is a distinguishable type.

Despite the existence of some covers with an 1896 date from one post office which was undoubtedly due to clerical error or indifference, the stamps went into use on March 1, 1897.  The overprints remained in use until replaced by the 'Camel Postman' type on March 1, 1898.

Posted August 22, 2000

Editor's Note:  I have willingly excerpted (almost plagiarized) this from Stamps Day By Day, L. N. and M Williams. Blandford Press Ltd, 1950.

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