Basutoland was a British Crown colony in southern Africa, established in 1884 due to the Cape Colony’s inability to control the territory. The mountainous and largely arid land that came to be Basutoland was populated by the San until the end of the 16th century. Bantu-speaking tribes began to migrate into the area, gradually forming various groups including the Basotho. In the nineteenth century, the Basutoland area became particularly populated as tribes sought to avoid the rampant Zulu in the area.
From around 1820, a local chief, Moshoeshoe, consolidated the scattered people to resist invaders and became King Moshoeshoe I in the 1830s. He established a fortress capital at the inaccessible Thaba Bosiu in the tableland north of the Maloti in 1824. Despite a certain amount of success in battle and Moshoeshoe’s skillful diplomacy, the kingdom lost considerable territory. A treaty had been signed with the Boer from Griqualand in 1843 and an agreement was made with the British in 1853 following a minor war. However, the disputes with the Boer over land were revived in 1858 and more seriously in 1865. Mainly due to superior armament, the Boers had a number of military successes, killing possibly 1500 Basotho soldiers, and annexed an expanse of arable land which they were able to retain following a treaty at Thaba Bosiu. In order to protect his people, Moshoeshoe appealed to the British for assistance.
Eventually, in January 1868, the Governor received a document authorizing the annexation of Basutoland to Natal. On 12 March 1868, a proclamation was issued declaring the Basutos to be British subjects with Basutoland placed under British protection and the Boers were ordered to leave. It was not in fact annexed to Natal but was placed directly under the authority of the High Commissioner for South Africa. In 1871 the protectorate was annexed by the Cape Colony. The Basotho resisted the British and in 1879 a southern chief, Moirosi, rose in revolt. The rising was crushed and Moirosi was killed in the fighting. The Basotho then began to fight amongst themselves over the division of Moirosi’s lands. The British extended the Cape Peace Preservation Act of 1878 to cover Basutoland and attempted to disarm the natives. Much of the colony rose in revolt in the Gun War (1880-1881), incurring significant casualties upon colonial British forces sent to subdue it. An 1881 peace treaty failed to quell sporadic fighting.
The Act of 1871 was repealed on 18 March 1884 and Basutoland was brought under the direct authority of the Queen and legislative and executive powers were vested in the High Commissioner. The colony was bound by the Orange River Colony, Natal Colony, and Cape Colony. It was divided into seven administrative disricts — Berea, Leribe, Maseru, Mohales Hock, Mafeteng, Qacha’s Nek, and Quthing. Basutoland was ruled by the British Resident Commissioner, who worked through the Pitso (national assembly) of hereditary native chiefs under one paramount chief. Each chief ruled a ward within the territory. The first paramount chief was Lerothodi, the son of Moshoeshoe. During the Second Boer War the colony remained neutral.
When the Union of South Africa was founded in 1910 the colony was still controlled by the British and moves were made to transfer it to the Union. However, the people of Basutoland opposed this and when the South African Nationalist party put its apartheid policies into place the possibility of annexation was halted. In 1959, a new constitution gave Basutoland its first elected legislature. This was followed in April 1965 with a general election. Basutoland was renamed the Kingdom of Lesotho upon independence from the United Kingdom on 4 October 1966.
Stamps of the Cape of Good Hope were used in Basutoland from about 1876, initially cancelled by an upright oval with framed number-type postmarks. Cancellation numbers known to have been used in the colony are 133 (Quthing), 156 (Mafeteng), 210 (Mohaleshoek), 277 (Morija), 281 (Maseru), 317 (Thlotse Heights), and 688 (Teyateyaneng).
From 1900 until 1913, various revenues of the Cape of Good Hope and the Orange River Colony were overprinted for the colony. From 1913 to 1946 various South African revenues were similarly overprinted. From 1910 until 1933, postage stamps of South Africa were in use. Stamps of the Union provinces are also known used in Basutoland during the early years of this period and can be found cancelled-to-order during 1932-1933.
The first postage stamps of Basutoland were definitive stamps issued on 1 December 1933 (Scott #1-10). These were a set of ten stamps all of the same design depicting King George V and the Nile crocodile against a background of mountains. The colony participated in the British Commonwealth Silver Jubilee omnibus issue with a set of four issued on 4 May 1935 (Scott #11-14) and the Coronation issue on 12 May 1937 (Scott #15-17). On 1 April 1938 a new definitive series was issued based entirely on the first series of King George V but with the head of George VI instead. This series had eleven stamps (Scott #18-28).
Victory stamps of South Africa were overprinted Basutoland (Scott #29-31) and released on 3 December 1945. The first stamp of the new reign was issued on 3 June 1953 and was part of the Coronation omnibus series issued throughout the British Commonwealth (Scott #45). A new definitive was issued on 18 October 1954 (Scott #46-56). The 2 pence value was surcharged in 1959, and later that year a commemorative set was issued. In 1961 the whole set was surcharged with the new currency — South African rand (Scott #61-71). The 1954 set was reissued with the new currency inscribed from 1961 to 1963 (Scott #72-82). After that, all the commemorative sets except for one (New Constitution) were omnibus issues. The New Constitution set released on 10 May 1965 was inscribed LESOTHO BASUTOLAND instead of just BASUTOLAND (Scott #97-100).
In addition to 108 general issues released between 1933 and January 1966, there were ten Postage Due stamps and two Official stamps issued. All stamps inscribed BASUTOLAND were withdrawn from sale on 31 October 1966. The following day, the 1961-1963 set of Basutoland was reissued overprinted LESOTHO.
Scott #18 is the low value — ½ penny — of the definitive issue released on 1 April 1938. Portraying the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) with mountains in the background and the portrait of King George VI, the Scott catalogue lists the color as “emerald” while Stanley Gibbons simply calls it “green”. Waterlow & Company did the recess printing on paper watermarked with a multi-script CA, perforated 12½.
The Nile crocodile may be considered the second largest reptile in the world, after the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus). It’s quite widespread throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and lives in different types of aquatic environments such as lakes, rivers and marshlands. The Nile crocodile is a very aggressive species of crocodile that is capable of taking almost any animal within its range and is an ambush predator that can wait for hours, days and even weeks for the suitable moment to attack. They are quite agile predators and wait for the opportunity for a prey item to come well within attack range. Even swift prey are not immune to attack. Like other crocodiles, Nile crocodiles have an extremely powerful bite that is unique amongst all animals and sharp conical teeth that sink into flesh allowing for a grip that is almost impossible to loosen. They can apply high levels of force for extended periods of time, a great advantage for holding down large prey underwater to drown.