From the days of the postal runner

Saturday, 2 August 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  It costs 10 rupees now to send an ordinary letter by post. It’s a stiff increase of 100%. One may, of course, argue that 10 rupees is “nothing” today. the Postal Department says that the increase has come after six years even though the rates are generally revised every three years. I remember the time when I started collecting stamps, we used to paste a three cents stamp to send a letter. At that time there was even a two-cent stamp in circulation – obviously it was used to send letters before the fare became three cents. That was several decades ago and the postal rates kept increasing as the years went by. Looking back at the postal history of Ceylon, as the country was then known, even prior to the establishment of the Postal Department in 1815 (the year the British stabilised their control over the entire country), there was what was known as ‘Free Post’ in operation in Colombo by 1809. This was for the benefit of British troops engaged in the subduing the King of Kandy, says an article published in the Crown Agents Stamp Bulletin. The first post offices were set up in Colombo, Galle, Matara, Mannar, Trincomalee and Jaffna. Postal runners were used to carry the mail. It was a familiar sight to see a postal runner holding on to the mail bag in one hand and carrying a spear, with a bell attached, in the other for protection. Then came the mail coach era when horse-drawn carriages were used to transport mail. The service was inaugurated in1831 between Colombo and Kandy. The coach started from the Rest House (also known as Royal Hotel) at Prince Street in Fort. Passengers could travel and the outward trip from Colombo to Kandy took around 14 hours while the return trip was complete in 12. The coach carried all the mail from post offices on the way. The Observer newspaper started a pigeon service from Galle to Colombo on 24 September 1850. This enabled the paper to print and distribute a special edition with the latest news. The issue of stamps in the present format was preceded by hand-struck postage stamps denoting the prep payment charges on letters. Franks were used to indicate the fee paid. They were available in 29 post offices throughout the country. The first adhesive stamp was issued on 1 April 1857 – 17 years after the first stamp was issued in Great Britain. It was in the value of 6d to pre-pay the first letter rate to England by ship for half-ounce letters. There were no perforations which meant that the stamps had to be cut from a sheet and sold. The perforated stamps were issued four years later in 1861. Stamps of other denominations were released from time to time. All bore the portrait of Queen Victoria, the British monarch, who was also the head of the British Empire. In 1872, with the introduction of decimal currency of 100 cents to a rupee in Ceylon, a new definitive series was issued ranging from two cents to Rs 2.50. All were with the head of the Queen. The equivalent of a penny was four cents. Two shillings were equal to one rupee. A major breakthrough in the design in stamps was seen in May 1935 with the release of Pictorial Stamps. A colourful design was depicted in each stamp with the portrait of the monarch (King George V) being limited to a corner along with the denomination. Eleven stamps were issued between May 1935 and January 1936. They carried attractive scenes of the country’s major crops tea, rubber and coconut, places of worship (Dalada Maligawa and Sri Pada), scenes of a river, irrigation tank, the Colombo harbour and Trincomalee. The monarch moved out of local stamps after Independence in 1948. That was after 91 years. George VI and Queen Elizabeth II were the last two to appear in our stamps. The country’s name which appeared only in English came to be displayed in Sinhala and Tamil as well. ‘Ceylon’ continued to be used in English. On the first anniversary of Independence in 1949, four commemorative stamps were issued – two in February and two in April. Two carried the Lion Flag (4c and 15c) and the other two (5c and 15c) the portrait of D.S. Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of Independent Ceylon. The year 1957 marked the centenary of the issue of stamps in Sri Lanka. With the release of four stamps to mark the event, prominence was given to the Sinhala term ‘Sri Lanka’ followed by Tamil and English. ‘Ceylon’ was dropped altogether. This pattern is followed to this day.