Collect Southern Africa
Basutoland Philately
By Ott
o Peetoom

A Brief History of Basutoland

The Basuto Kingdom was established by King MOSHOESHOE (ruler since 1831), who reorganized remnants of Sesotho-speaking tribes dispersed by raids of the Zulu and Matabele.
Moshoeshoe is regarded the founder of a nation with a common language, religion, common social institutions, a judicial court, a council and a powerful army. He selected MASERU, an easily defensible mountaintop natural fortress his capital.

In 1842, Moshoeshoe I invited French missionaries from the Paris Evangelical Fraternity; they established a station at Morija.


In that year, Moshoeshoe I. for the first time applied to the Cape Colony administration for a treaty of protection, which was not granted. A first treaty, though not of protection, was signed in 1843. Soon they came in contact, and often in conflict with Boers settling the Orange River area. In 1854, the sale of alcoholic beverages was forbidden by law. From 1854 to 1859, Basutoland for the first time was a British protectorate.

An 1859 law forbade the permanent settlement of Europeans in Basutoland. In 1864 a land conflict between the Orange Free State and Basutoland over territory broke out; the Cape Colony administration refused to side with Basutoland.
The Boer-Basuto War (1864-1866) was terminated by the Treaty of Thaba Bosia, in which the Basuto ceded the disputed land; at Boer insistence, the French missionaries were expelled. In 1867, the Basuto again took up arms against the Boers.
In 1868, Basutoland was proclaimed a British PROTECTORATE.

A Historical Map of Basutoland
Basutoland is a small landlocked country in South Africa. It is bordered by the Cape Province to the South and South-east, Natal to the North-east and the Orange Free State to the West and South-west .
The country is known as The Mountain Kingdom

The Postal History of Basutoland can be divided into four distinct periods

1833 - 1868
The Pre-stamp period before organised postal services were available.
Post mainly sent by Mission-aries and Traders in the area. When the first Missionaries of the Paris Evangelical Society arrived in 1833, the nearest Post Office was at Graaff Reinet in the Cape Colony some 300 miles away.
The mail was dispatched by hand to Graaff Reinet and forwarded to Cape Town.
During the 1840’s a Post Office was opened at Colesberg and at Aliwal North in 1858, which reduced the distance the post had to be hand carried. From that time on, most of the mail went through Aliwal North and Postal items from this early period are rare.

1868 - 1910
In 1868 Basutoland was declared as a British Protectorate
, the need for an organised form of Postal service became necessary to serve the Police and Administrative staff based in Maseru.
The Cape Colony was given the task of administrating Basutoland at this time. It was some time before stamps and cancellers were actually used.
The earliest recorded date for a Maseru cancellation is 15 December 1878. Although it is suggested that the Maseru Post Office was in a position to cancel mail by 1876 or perhaps a year or two earlier.
Cape of Good Hope stamps were used during this period.
  1910 - 1933
When the Cape Colony became part of the Union of South Africa in 1910
, the Basutoland Postal Services came under the jurisdiction of the Government of the Union of South Africa
Prior to the issue of Union stamps, all the former states of the Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Orange River Colony and Transvaal were valid for postage in Basutoland and known as the Interprovincial period.
At this time the Cape of Good Hope date-stamps were discontinued and cancellers of the same style as used in the Union were employed.

1933 - 1966
In 1933 when the Basutoland Post Office became autonomous

The cancellers followed the style of those employed by the Union and continued in use until they became worn and were gradually replaced with date-stamps inscribed BASUTOLAND instead of SOUTH AFRICA.

On 4 October 1966 Basutoland became Independent and changed its name to Lesotho.

Orange River Punt between
Quthing & Mohaleshoek
1. Basutoland - Some historical notes with reference to postal matters by G.N. Gilbert
Published by the Philatelic Federation of Southern Africa
2. The Cancellations and Postal Markings of Basutoland/Lesotho by Aubrey H. Scott - Published by Collectors Mail Auctions
1852 A Military Expedition from the Cape, via the Free State to Basutoland
By Otto Peetoom


The joy of Postal history is that it can at times deliver an unexpected surprise when one encounters an unrelated connection that initiates research into a cover that may hold a certain fascination for me.
During the 2013 Melbourne International stamp exhibition I acquired an entire described as having a connection with Basutoland. This particular item is illustrated in a 1980 book entitled The Cancellations & Postal Markings of Basutoland by A.H. Scott. The above cover is illustrated on page 28 under Early Basutoland Letters with a caption An 1852 Orange River Expedition Letter followed by a brief seven line description that incorrectly identifies the writer as a Lt. Grimstead. He is in fact William Grimston, the son of a wealthy East Yorkshire landowner residing in a small coastal village bearing his family name which is situated a few miles north of a place called Roos.

I live in Roos, East Yorkshire and will buy anything that has a historical significance to our village. Some ten years ago, David Parsons at Spink, drew my attention to an auction lot of six entires written between 1849 and 1852, one of which has an 1852 ROOS transit cancellation. Having secured said lot it proved to be part of a family correspondence to Walter John Grimston who was a Lieutenant serving in the Royal Artillery in Canada. These letters were written by his Mother, elder brother and some of his sisters and news of the above Willy Grimston features in several of them. The content of these letters led to an interest in the Grimston’s and having visited churches and graveyards, I gradually pieced a family story together that is not yet complete.

1852 Cathcart’s Basutoland Solution

Major - General George Cathcart intended to turn the tables on King Moshoeshoe by punishing him with a fine and directed the Chief to hand over 10,000 head of cattle plus 1,000 horses at his camp at Platberg in the space of three days. In the event of non compliance and should they meet with any resistance, Cathcart force would collect three times that demand. Moshoeshoe replied to this threat, warning that although he wished to avoid war, he commented ...a dog when beaten would show its teeth.

Cathcart set about amassing a formidable force that was meant to intimidate the Basuto King and was confident that if an invasion was required, he would have the upper hand.
To this end by November 1852 he had mustered one of the largest British forces in the history of the country.

For his campaign, Cathcart could count on some 2500 men being detachments from many different units which included two six-pounder field guns, two twelve-pounder howitzer and rocket tubes.

The unit that came north from Fort Hare, which included William Grimston, was without doubt part of Cathcart’s Army and given Cathcart’s numbers, it comes as no surprise that the entire operation was anticipated to be a foregone conclusion.
It is understandable that it lead to Willy’s casual remark in his letter to his Mother: ... as soon as this business with Moshesh is over

William Grimston was one of fourteen children, born in 1830 who was to proceed to Dublin on Tuesday 14 September 1849 to join his Regiment, a note in one letter reads: detained a week longer than he expected at home, owing to a bad boil on his neck.

Letter 4 - 6 June 1851 - From his sister Maria Grimston to Walter in Canada
We are still in doubt as to Willy, whether the regiment has sailed for the Cape the 4th of this month as the papers stated or whether he is left with the depot, he wrote about 10 days ago, saying it might not sail for 3 weeks, but we have heard nothing since.

Letter 6 - 23 September 1852 - To Walter in Canada, from Jane Grimston, his Mother
We had a letter from Willy by the last mail, which came in the 10th of September, he had a dreadful illness.... earlier in May he was seized with fever, which reduced him to such a state of weakness that he could not turn in his bed or feed himself...and just crawled out of bed for the first time to write by


Letter written 2 December 1852 at Camp on the Caledon River, Moshesh’s Country - Dispatched with a General Post Office Cape Town Crown handstamp. With manuscript charges of 8 (pence) & 1/- payments - Backstamped DRIFFIELD JA 15 1853 transit
that May mail to us, when a little recovered, he took a fancy to ride to one of the outposts, so borrowed a horse, was so weak still that he had to be lifted onto it ... the exertion proved too much for him, and he had a relapse, from which time he appears to have lost all consciousness, for he says “they tell me” so and so, and that he “ has no recollection” of what happened until the 20th June when he awoke to consciousness, and found himself at East London where the doctor had ordered him to be removed for change of airs....his last was dated July 15 about a fortnight after he had been restored to recollection, he said he was gaining strength and steadily recovering and there was a postscript to the letter saying he had just received an order to return to Fort White, so we conclude they thought him well enough to resume his duties there whatever they may be, he says keeping the forts is an entire waste of life, for they have literally nothing to do and no books to relieve the tedium.

Fort White is in the Eastern Cape, some 12kms E.S.E. of Middeldrift. It is situated in the vicinity where the eighth Xhosa War (1850 - 53) took place, yet Willy’s above comment in the letter suggests that his unit was not involved in that war.

An 1852 Orange River Expedition Letter - a title bestowed by A.H. Scott on William Grimston’s 2 December 1852 entire written at Camp on the Caledon River, Moshesh’s Country, to his Mother at Kilnwick near Beswick. The foregoing being another Country estate owned by the family, located between Beverley and Driffield - Willy wrote:
They only gave us two hours notice about the post going out so excuse the scrawl as I want to write as much as I can.

He describes their journey from Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape to Burghersdorp, where they remained for a week, followed by crossing the Orange River to their present location.
What the purpose of their journey was and its connection to Basutoland is only hinted at in the title of the letter and Willy’s comment to his Mother: By the way they say we are going to Natal as soon as this business with Moshesh is over.

Scott’s book does not cover any of the History that relates to Basutoland during the mid nineteenth century with their Chief Moshoeshoe in conflict with the British, Boers and other native tribes. A review of that period clarifies the presence of William Grimston’s unit he calls the 2nd Queens.

King Moshoeshoe - Paramount Chief of Basutoland

Born circa 1786, succeeded his father as leader in 1820.
He was a master at playing the one side off against the other.
At one point he was pro - Boer, but when they turned against him, he changed his alliance to the British. He died in 1870.

1849 - 52 The Warden Line, Battle of Viervoet and the
Sand River Convention

On 3 February 1848 the British proclaimed sovereignty over the Orange River territory. A nominated legislative council plus an established high court ensured an orderly government of the country. In October 1849 Moshoeshoe was persuaded to sign an arrangement curtailing the boundaries of his territory which was known as the Warden line. It created resentment, as it excluded them from the fertile Caledon River Valley, a vital area in terms of agriculture.
Moshoeshoe ignored the Warden line directive that culminated in an obscure ill fated battle of Viervoet on 30 June 1851.
A small force consisting of a mixed British, Boer, Griqua and Barolong attempted a punitive expedition into Basutoland. They were driven back and defeated by numerous, mounted and well armed Sotho tribesman.
In 1851 Moshoeshoe made a diplomatic move by joining the Republican party in the Sovereignty and invited Andries Pretorius to re-cross the Vaal river. The intervention of Pretorius resulted in the Sand River Convention of 1852, which acknowledged the independence of the Transvaal but left the status of the Free State Sovereignty untouched.

1852 The Battle of Berea

By 19 December, only a third of the cattle had been delivered and immediately plans were made to invade Basutoland the following day. At this point Cathcart made several tactical errors and whether the result was due to poor leadership, misunderstanding or plain arrogance due to his superior numbers has been debated on many occasions.
Less than half of his force was detailed for the invasion. Four companies and the two six pound guns were left to guard the Platberg Camp. Another unit was left to guard the crossing over the Caledon river – now known as Cathcart’s drift. Finally in anticipation of minimum resistance each man was limited to sixty rounds of ammunition.

Cathcart split his men into three divisions under the leadership of himself, Napier and Eyre and on 20 December the three parties set off in different directions around the Berea plateau. After the event Napier and Eyre contended that their instructions were to round up as many head of cattle as possible, whereas Cathcart insisted they were supposed to rendezvous in the Phutiastana valley to launch an attack on Moshoeshoe stronghold at Thaba Bosiu.
In the event Napier was attacked, 32 men killed, several wounded and as his ammunition ran low, returned with his captured cattle to the Platberg camp.

Up on the plateau, Eyre’s men, being mostly unmounted, had less success in rounding up stray cattle and quickly discovered that controlling thousands of frightened animals on foot was a difficult proposition. They were also attacked by armed Sotho on horses and six of Eyre’s men were killed plus ten wounded.

At midday, Cathcart’s column halted about three kilometres from Thaba Bosiu. Cathcart expected his other divisions to join him around this time, but all he saw instead were thousands of Sotho horsemen massing on his front and to his right. Clearly, a war with Moshoeshoe was not going to be as easy as anticipated.

At 5pm Eyre made an appearance and the combined force fell back to a stone kraal for the night. An attack by the Sotho warriors followed which petered out three hours later.
Cathcart had not even expected the Sotho to put up a fight, let alone that they would be so numerous and well armed.
On 21 December the British began retiring to Cathcart’s Drift.

From the above I gain the impression that Willy Grimston may have been part of a force that was left behind to guard the Platberg camp. Besides archival material, William’s letter may be the only surviving Military Postal History item connected with the battle of Berea which is in private hands.

The Aftermath

British Rule of the Free State was short lived, on 23 February 1854 the Bloemfontein Convention was signed and in March the Orange Free State was declared a Republic with Hoffman as the first President. He was accused as being too lenient with Moshoeshoe, resigned and replaced by Jacobus Boshoff in1855. On 15 October 1858 a Treaty of Peace was instigated by the Governor of the Cape and once again defined the borders of Basutoland. Despite the foregoing three further battles between the Basotho and the Boers were fought between 1858 and 1868. With much of Moshoeshoe’s land settled by the Boers, he appealed to the British for protection, and on 12 March 1868 his country became a British Protectorate.

On Line - South African History and Wikipedia
D. Saks - Military History Journal
Volume 9 No 6 - December 1994
A. Scott - The Cancellations & Postal Markings of Basutoland

1933 Unadopted Photographic Essays
Spink in their 9 July 2013 Sale offered 153 A to Z lots of Contemporary Photographs from the Printer's Record Books.
Lot 10 offered the four Basutoland Essays as Illustrated below

Around 100 pages came from the Printer's daily photographic record books, many being of hand-painted essays and unaccepted designs. Mostly mounted on card/paper - The dates are the entry dates into the archive record books.
Essays by Bradbury, Wilkinson - The 1933 Issue was Printed by Waterlow & Sons
KGV Definitives

SG 1 - 10

Complete set
1935 Silver Jubilee set Perforated Specimens - SG 11 - 14s
1937 KGVI Coronation - SG 15 - 17
1938 KGVI Definitives - Set perforated Specimen SG 18 - 28s

Values from this set were reprinted several times providing
a good range of shades

1d on Row 2, stamp 4 'Tower Flaw' SG 19a

6d Imperforate at left to margin one used copy recorded

1945 Victory
SG 29 - 31
Overprinted on South Africa

Variety on 1d ex R9/6
'Barbed Wire'

1947 Royal Visit Specimens SG 32 - 35
Envelope sent Registered Airmail to UK
1/3 plus 4d Registration
An additional 1d on reverse
17 FEB 47 F.D.I.

Set of stamps Perforated SPECIMEN
Royal Silver

SG 36 - 37

1949 UPU

SG 38 - 41

15 December 1959
National Council

SG 55 - 57
Imprint pairs &

Basutoland Philately for Sale