Today in Postal History



Oil Rivers Protectorate to England
August 2, 1893

This attractive cover went into the mails at Old Calabar River on
the west coast of Africa
in present-day Nigeria near the border of Cameroon.
Stanley Gibbons provides this summary of the history of the Oil Rivers Protectorate:

     "A British consulate for the Bights of Benin and Biafra was established in 1849 on the off-shore Spanish island of Fernando Po.  In 1853 the appointment was divided with a consul for the Bight of Benin at Lagos.  The consulate for the Bight of Biafra was transferred to Old Calabar in 1852.
     "A British protectorate was proclaimed over the coastal area, with the exceptions of the colony of Lagos and the centre of the Niger delta, on 5 June 1885.  It was not, however, until July 1891 that steps were taken to set up an administration with the consul-general at Old Calabar and vice-consuls at some of the river ports.
     "The consulate-general at Old Calabar and the vice-consulates at Benin, Bonny, Brass, Forcados, and Opobo acted as collection and distribution centres for mail from November 1891, but were not recognized as post offices until 20 July 1892.
"

The cover received four strikes of the Old Calabar River CDS.
The partial strike suggests the possibility of a missing stamp; however,
the rate of 2½d. was the proper Empire rate so the strike is probably just a mistrike.

Routing for the cover was requested via the Royal Mail Ship Matadi.
The R.M.S. Matadi was a ship of the British African Steam Navigation Company
formed in 1868 to compete with the
African Steam Ship Company, Limited.

The British African Steam Navigation Company began operations in 1869 from its home port of Glasgow.
It called at Liverpool on its way to and from Africa to exchange mails.
Their early contracts called for service to many of the same ports
as the African Steam Ship company, including Old Calabar.

Its competitor, the African Steam Ship Company, Limited, was formed
in 1852 and held a contract to carry mails from London via
Plymouth to Madeira, Tenerife and the West Coast of Africa.
In 1856, the home port
of the African Steam Ship Company, Limited became Liverpool.
However, the mail port remained Plymouth until October, 1858.*
Service to Old Calabar was included in the 1852 mail contracts.

New mail contracts were negotiated in 1873 for both lines that continued service to Old Calabar.

The two competitors soon reached agreement to alternate sailings to West Africa.
The two lines went on to merge and  become Elder,
Dempster & Company, Limited
with worldwide steamship operations.

The Matadi, 2653 tons, was built in 1889 and
was lost in 1896 after a cargo fire in Boma with 45 lives lost.
Boma was about 80 km inland on the Congo river in present-day Zaire.

The destination was Liverpool where the cover
was given a red Paid British Packet receiver on September 1.

The cover is franked with two English stamps overprinted with
BRITISH |  PROTECTORATE | OIL RIVERS.

The cover is franked with the 1892 ½d vermilion and the 2d. gray green Victorias (SG 1 and 3).

*Thanks to Kevin Preece for the addition on Plymouth as the early
Mail Port for
the African Steam Ship Company, Limited and
his numerous further comments on the evolution of the two steamship lines.

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