The British require a duty, so send Kandy

The Dutch fall into Napoleon’s orbit so the island of Sri lanka changes forever. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

The stamp today is in fairly poor condition. That is excusable because it is not particularly valuable and over 130 years old. Being a duty rather than a postage stamp, there is a pen written date on it, probably when the duty owed was paid. The stamp serves as a receipt. If you think about it, that really is what a postage stamp is, proof that you paid to send the letter.

Being a duty stamp, the Scott catalog is not much help. They can be forgiven, it is already 6 phone books of stamps from anywhere, from any period. I understand that my dear readers might be wondering if such a thing as a duty stamp from the nineteenth century has a value. I was pretty sure it did. As I did in this other stamp like curiosity staring Queen Victoria,, I reached out to Mr. Sandeep Jaiswal of He consulted his friend and colleague Kathy Johnson. They agreed that the value was circa $2 and even took the time to find similar stamps on ebay, Thanks Sandeep and Kathy for your help.

The island that is present day Sri Lanka had a troubled 19th century. It was then home of the Empire of Kandy. It was a Buddhist Kingdom that had made peace with westerners and their trading posts. After an unpleasant experience with the Portuguese, who had attempted to convert the locals to Catholicism, see An agreement with Dutch was struck where they were allowed to trade, but did not interfere with the country. Around the turn of the 19th century, Holland fell to France then under Napoleon. Britain worried that  the Dutch trading posts would fall under Napoleon’s control. This would threaten British interests in nearby India. The British landed and took the Dutch trading posts without opposition.

Once established on the island the British began to lust for the rich farm land controlled by the Kandy empire. 3 wars were trumped up over the next 15 years that saw the Kandy Empire knuckle under to the British. The British then set up large tea and rubber plantations that made the white planters quite wealthy. They took the land from the locals by using a British law called the wasteland ordinance. The allowed the redistribution of land to those who would make more efficient use of it. It would be hard to argue that the new white plantations weren’t more economically efficient, but that does not help the local who had land and subsistence and now has neither.

In the long term the labour needs of the new plantations changed the islands forever. Large numbers of Tamil Indians were brought in to work the plantations. They were a different race, who practiced a different religion, and spoke a different language. They are still a sizeable minority on the island and there has been much strife between the races. A duty that modern Sri Lanka is still paying, not to Britain, but because of her.

Well my drink is empty. Instead of tea, I will have a Cola with lunch. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.