Notes from the Past

Sarawak's First Stamps

In 1841, Sir James Brooke, a well-to-do English adventurer, was appointed chief of the territory of Sarawak as a result of his help in ending a revolt there in 1840.  He adopted the title of Rajah.  Although it is probable that he established some postal services, all records were destroyed by fire in 1857 during an attempted coup by Chinese gold miners.

As one might imagine only a few letters posted in Sarawak at that time have survived to help us understand the postal history.  Although some letters exist which suggest Indian Post Office involvement, most foreign letters were carried by Sir James' ship from Kuching to the Straits Settlements and posted there using Straits stamps.  After about 1866 Straits Settlements stamps were in use in Sarawak.

Probably early in 1868 it was suggested that Sarawak have its own stamps.  An order for 3 cent stamps was placed with Maclure, Macdonald & Macgregor, of Glasgow.  A die was engraved by William Ridgway with a three quarter portrait of Sir James Brooke.  Curiously, the device of letters in the corners was adopted.  The letters JBRS from J(ames) B(rook) R(ajah) S(arawak) were used.

From the die, a stone of 100 (10 by 10) was made for lithographing the stamps.  Apparently before the lithographed stamps were printed, some proofs were struck from the engraved die on orange paper; perforated 12 and sent out as specimens to some philatelic magazines about August, 1868.  Several specimens found their way to Sarawak and postmarked specimens are known.  Proofs also exist in black.

The lithographed stamps were printed in brown on yellow, unwatermarked paper.  The stamps were perforated 11 (both rough and clean-cut) by a line machine.  The plate has a number of flaws typical of lithographed issues and is, therefore, relatively easy to plate (given you have enough copies!).

On January 12, 1869, a notice was published which announced stamps would be usable not only for postal but fiscal use.  Postal rates were 3 cents for each ½ oz. up to 4 oz.  Stamps were valid only for local mail and letters to Singapore.

Sir James Brooke had been dead for nearly 9 months when the stamps were issued on March 1, 1869.  The stamps remained in use for about two years before being superseded by an issue portraying his successor, Sir Charles Brooke.

Posted August 23, 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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