Mozambique Company #165 (1935)

Mozambique Company #165 (1935)
Mozambique Company #165 (1935)

One of the very first stamps I remember adding to my stamp collection as a boy of nine or ten was a stamp from the Mozambique Company, one of those stamp-issuing entities that wasn’t even a colony or country. The stamp was a beautifully-engraved bicolored stamp, in a triangular shape and pictured a coiled snake — a rock python. I don’t recall the denomination or colors; I think it may have been green and black which matches Scott #180 (30 centavos, dark green and indigo) but there are six other possiblities (it definitely wasn’t overprinted). I don’t recall if it was in the Scott Junior album that my mother gave me around my tenth birthday or if I’d received it in a packet I’d bought (possibly during a school field trip to the Cumberland Science Museum in Nashville, Tennessee). At any rate, the stamp (like my entire pre-Thailand collection) is long gone. Thus, I was thrilled when I found a small selection of Mozambique Company stamps in an old album I recently purchased. The hard part was deciding which one to include in today’s post!

The Mozambique Company (Companhia de Moçambique in Portuguese) was a royal company operating in Portuguese Mozambique (also known as Portuguese East Africa — África Oriental Portuguesa) that had the concession of the lands in the colony corresponding to the provinces of Manica and Sofala in the present-day Republic of Mozambique. This amounted to 51,881 square miles of territory. Part of the charter of the Mozambique Company was the right to issue stamps, which it did from 1892 until 1942.

Map of Portuguese East Africa (1922)
Map of Portuguese East Africa (1922)

When Portuguese explorers reached East Africa in 1498, Swahili commercial settlements had existed along the Swahili Coast and outlying islands for several centuries. From about 1500, Portuguese trading posts and forts became regular ports of call on the new route to the east.

The voyage of Vasco da Gama around the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean in 1498 marked the Portuguese entry into trade, politics, and society in the Indian Ocean world. The Portuguese gained control of the Island of Mozambique and the port city of Sofala in the early 16th century. Vasco da Gama having visited Mombasa in 1498, was then successful in reaching India and this permitted the Portuguese to trade with the Far East directly by sea, thus challenging older trading networks of mixed land and sea routes, such as the spice trade routes that used the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and caravans to reach the eastern Mediterranean.

The Republic of Venice had gained control over much of the trade routes between Europe and Asia. After traditional land routes to India had been closed by the Ottoman Turks, Portugal hoped to use the sea route pioneered by da Gama to break the Venetian trading monopoly. Initially, Portuguese rule in East Africa focused mainly on a coastal strip centered in Mombasa. With voyages led by Vasco da Gama, Francisco de Almeida and Afonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese dominated much of southeast Africa’s coast, including Sofala and Kilwa, by 1515. Their main goal was to dominate trade with India. As the Portuguese settled along the coast, they made their way into the hinterland as sertanejos (backwoodsmen). These sertanejos lived alongside Swahili traders and even took up service among Shona kings as interpreters and political advisers. One such sertanejo managed to travel through almost all the Shona kingdoms, including the Mutapa Empire’s (Mwenemutapa) metropolitan district, between 1512 and 1516.

By the 1530s, small groups of Portuguese traders and prospectors penetrated the interior regions seeking gold, where they set up garrisons and trading posts at Sena and Tete on the Zambezi River and tried to gain exclusive control over the gold trade. The Portuguese finally entered into direct relations with the Mwenemutapa in the 1560s.

They recorded a wealth of information about the Mutapa kingdom as well as its predecessor, Great Zimbabwe. According to Swahili traders whose accounts were recorded by the Portuguese historian João de Barros, Great Zimbabwe was an ancient capital city built of stones of marvelous size without the use of mortar. And while the site was not within Mutapa’s borders, the Mwenemutapa kept noblemen and some of his wives there.

The Portuguese attempted to legitimate and consolidate their trade and settlement positions through the creation of prazos (land grants) tied to Portuguese settlement and administration. While prazos were originally developed to be held by Portuguese, through intermarriage they became African Portuguese or African Indian centers defended by large African slave armies known as Chikunda. Historically, within Mozambique, there was slavery. Human beings were bought and sold by African tribal chiefs, Arab traders, and the Portuguese. Many Mozambican slaves were supplied by tribal chiefs who raided warring tribes and sold their captives to the prazeiros.

Although Portuguese influence gradually expanded, its power was limited and exercised through individual settlers and officials who were granted extensive autonomy. The Portuguese were able to wrest much of the coastal trade from Arabs between 1500 and 1700, but, with the Arab seizure of Portugal’s key foothold at Fort Jesus on Mombasa Island (now in Kenya) in 1698, the pendulum began to swing in the other direction. As a result, investment lagged while Lisbon devoted itself to the more lucrative trade with India and the Far East and to the colonization of Brazil.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Mazrui and Omani Arabs reclaimed much of the Indian Ocean trade, forcing the Portuguese to retreat south. Many prazos had declined by the mid-19th century, but several of them survived. During the 19th century other European powers, particularly the British and the French, became increasingly involved in the trade and politics of the region. In the Island of Mozambique, the hospital, a majestic neo-classical building constructed in 1877 by the Portuguese, with a garden decorated with ponds and fountains, was for many years the biggest hospital south of the Sahara.

By the early 20th century the Portuguese had shifted the administration of much of Mozambique to large private companies, like the Mozambique Company, the Zambezia Company and the Nyassa Company, controlled and financed mostly by the British, which established, with the Portuguese, railroad lines to neighboring countries. Although slavery had been legally abolished in Mozambique by the Portuguese authorities, at the end of the 19th century the chartered companies enacted a forced labor policy and supplied cheap — often forced — African labor to the mines and plantations of the nearby British colonies and South Africa.

The Mozambique Company was established on February 11, 1891, with a capital stock of about 5 million dollars obtained from financiers from Germany, the United Kingdom and South Africa. Isaacman and Isaacman report that the firm was capitalized at 40,000 pounds, and that British and French capital quickly predominated.

The concession was granted for a period of 50 years, during which the company could not only exploit the resources and existing manpower (partly through the chibalo system of forced labor) but also grant subconcessions. The company was granted the exclusive right to collect taxes, but was itself granted a 25-year tax exemption. In return the Portuguese state would receive 7.5% of the company’s profits and 10% of the sold shares. The company was also required to settle 1,000 Portuguese families and provide education and public administration in its territory.

In practice, the company made only partial use of the prerogatives with which it had been bestowed; but this was balanced by the fact that it also met very few of its obligations. Having only limited capital, the company did little to develop the area, deriving most of its income from its ability to tax and its power to use conscripted labor on its plantations and for lease to adjacent estates. Resistance to the forced labor regime was a major cause of rebellions against the company which occurred in 1902 and 1917. Despite the company’s obligation under its charter to provide forces to maintain law and order, it was unable to meet these crises, and on both occasions Portugal had to mount expensive interventions.

The Mozambique Company had its headquarters in Beira, where it controlled the public administration and the post offices. The company also founded a private bank, the Banco da Beira, which issued its own banknotes beginning in 1919. In 1930, banknotes began to be issued directly under the Mozambique Company. Two different currencies were issued: the Portuguese currency where 100 centavos was equal to one escudo, and a second currency, the libra which was equal to one British pound. The libra was issued in Mozambique from 1914 – 1938.

The company issued its first postage stamps in 1892 using stamps of the Mozambique colony which featured an embossed cameo of King Carlos (Scott #15-23) overprinted COMP.A DE MOÇAMBIQUE in red or black (Scott #1-9). Most of these initial issues were reprinted in 1905 for collectors. Reprints are usually paler in color, have white gum and a clean cut perforations of 13½.

The first stamps by the Mozambique Company to be inscribed COMPANHIA DE MOÇAMBIQUE were issued between 1895 and 1907 (Scott #10-42). These featured the Company’s coat of arms — a shield with a crown on top, flanked by two upright elephants — and received a number of surcharges and overprints until 1918 (Scott #43-107). In 1918, a long set that eventually totaled 37 attractive pictorial stamps began to be issued (Scott #108-145). These were engraved by Waterlow and Sons Ltd. of London and were aimed primarily with an eye towards the collector market. Similar stamps appeared in 1925 (Scott #155-161) and the first commemoratives were released in 1935 — a 1-escudo stamp marking the opening of the Zambezi River railroad bridge (Scott #164) as well as ten triangular stamps (the Company’s first) noting the opening of the Blantyre-Beira-Salisbury air service (Scott #165-174). This was followed by another beautiful set of pictorials released on May 16, 1937 (Scott #175-193). Several of these were overprinted in red to mark the President of Portugal’s visit to Beira in 1939 (Scott #194-200). He awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the Colonial Empire to the Mozambique Company, the first time it had been awarded to a company.

The last two stamp issues by the Mozambique Company were a single stamp released on February 16, 1940 to mark the 800th anniversary of Portuguese independence (Scott #201) and a six-stamp set in 1941 commemorating the 300th anniversary of the restoration of the Portuguese monarchy (Scott #202-207). The Company had also released semi-postal, air post, postage due, newspaper, and postal tax stamps.

Because of its bad performance and because of the shift, under the Salazar regime, towards Portuguese control and away from international control of the economy, the company’s concession was not renewed when it ran out in 1942.  On July 18, 1942, the territory of Manica and Sofala passed to the Portuguese colonial authorities and the Mozambique Company continued to operate in the agricultural and commercial sectors.

On October 20, 1961, The Mozambique Company became the Grupo Entreposto Comercial de Moçambique, which transformed itself into a holding on September 6, 1972, with the participation of capital from other companies, including Entreposto-Gestão e Participações (SGPS) SA.

Scott #165 was  released in 1935 to mark the inauguration of the first air service traveling between Blantyre in southern Nyassaland (now Malawi) to Beira (about 450 km due south of Blantyre) and Salisbury (now Harare) in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), about 450 km northwest of Beira. Blantyre and Salisbury are also about 450 km apart. The first flights occurred on July 31 and August 1, 1935. The 5-centavo stamp in blue and black was the lowest denomination in the set of ten (Scott #165-174), engraved by Waterlow and Sons Ltd. of London and perforated 12½. These were the first triangular stamps issued by the Mozambique Company.

Just four years earlier, a road transport contractor from Worcester, South Africa, named C. J. Christowitz had started Christowitz Air Services (Nyasaland) Limited, with two de Havilland Puss Moths and a de Havilland Gipsy Moth. His company started a regular Blantyre to Beira service on the August 5, 1931. On August 3, 1933, a scheduled weekly service was commenced between Blantyre and Salisbury when the De Havilland Puss Moth “Nyasa I” piloted by Captain R. Bourlay carried two passengers. In addition to his more serious duties, the piolot benevolently undertook shopping commissions for Nyasaland residents. In October 1933, Rhodesia and Nyasaland Airways Limited (RANA), was formed by the merger of Christowitz Air Services and the Rhodesia Aviation Company, with a capital of £25,000 provided jointly by Imperial Airways and the Beit Railway Trust. It became the largest air services company in Central Africa at that time.

RANA took over the Salisbury – Blantyre weekly service previously operated by Christowitz Air Services, and on May 5, 1934, began the weekly Bulawayo – Livingstone – Lusaka – Broken llill- Ndola services. In 1935, the company purchased a De Havilland Rapidc, followed by the acquisition of three dc Havilland Leopard Moths, and air routes were extended from Salisbury to Beira and Beira to Blantyrc.

DH.89 Dragon Rapide (G-AEML) at Kemble Airport Open Day, Gloucestershire, England, September 9, 2007. Built in 1936.
DH.89 Dragon Rapide (G-AEML) at Kemble Airport Open Day, Gloucestershire, England, September 9, 2007. Built in 1936.

The de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide was a short-haul biplane airliner developed and produced by British aircraft company de Havilland. Capable of accommodating 6–8 passengers, it proved an economical and durable craft, despite its relatively primitive plywood construction. Developed during the early 1930s, the Dragon Rapide was essentially a smaller, twin-engined version of the four-engined DH.86 Express, and shared a large amount of common features, such as its tapered wings, streamlined fairings and Gipsy Six engines. First named the “Dragon Six”, the type was marketed as “Dragon Rapide” and later simply known as the “Rapide”. Upon its introduction in summer 1934, it proved to be a popular aircraft with airlines and private civil operators alike, attaining considerable foreign sales in addition to its domestic use.

Portuguese East Africa - Lesser Arms
Portuguese East Africa – Lesser Arms

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