Imperial British East Africa Company 1890, Another Company fails to administer a colony

Trying to go beyond trading posts gets complicated. In theory building some infrastructure could multiply trade but involves more capital than quick returns. 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.

Todays stamp is not much to look at. The sun and crown are supposed to be symbolical of light and liberty. Whose light and liberty is not clear. If Great Britain truly cared about the area, they wouldn’t have sold off the rights to make something of it. The few adventures that came to make their fortune must have felt quite alone. Since the company was in possession of a Royal Charter, perhaps Queen Victoria would have been better placed on the stamp. The idea that the head of the most powerful nation on earth was on your side and looking out for you might have raised your confidence.

Todays stamp is issue A4, an eight Anna (Indian) stamp issued by the Imperial East Africa Company in 1890. It is part of a 17 stamp issue in various denominations. According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth $6.75. A grey version of this denomination is worth $350. The blue version I have if it were overstampted British East Africa after the failure of the company is worth $115. If they mistakenly inverted the overstamp, the value goes to $8000.

Great Britain was awarded the territory of modern Kenya and Uganda by the treaty of Berlin in 1885. It was previously under the Sultan of Zanzibar. British goals at the time were more to do with southern Africa so the area was on the back burner. Sir William Mackinnon, a Scotsman who made a shipping fortune based on steamers that plied their trade first in the Bay of Bengal and later extending out to Aden, Zanzibar, and Mombasa in the new British territory. He proposed a company that would build a railroad and road between Lake Victoria and Mombasa to expand the ivory and agricultural trade while stamping out the still widespread slave trade and bringing Christianity to the local tribes. This was quite a tall order but the capital raised was far below what was needed.

The Imperial British East Africa company managed to set up administrative offices in Mombasa and hire Fredrick Lugard, a noted soldier and explorer. His task was to map out a route for a railway to Lake Victoria, build forts along the way and make treaties of friendship with local tribes along the way. To do this he was provided a supply of pre printed treaties that were enforceable by the British Empire. Interestingly, Lugard found that the most useful part of the treaty signings was a blood brother ceremony with tribal chiefs where both men receive small cuts that are bound together so that blood is shared. True to the shipping heritage a steamer was built in Scotland in kit form to use on Lake Victoria once the railroad was able to bring it.

Shortage of funds saw to it that progress on the railroad was slow. The interference in the local slave trade also angered local chiefs including Waiyaka Wa Hinga who was a blood brother of Lugard. This did not stop him from plundering and burning the fort Lugard had constructed nearby in preparation for the railroad. Lugard had to put together a new expedition to put down Wayaki Wa Hinga and other unruly chiefs. The expedition captured and killed Wayaki Wa Hinga and put down the rebellion but in doing so bankrupted the Imperial East Africa Company.

An 1892 cartoon in Punch magazine casting the expense of Uganda as a white elephant

William Mackinnon proposed abandoning the operation, but Lugard convinced British Prime Minister Gladstone to continue the efforts there as British East Africa. They eventually got the railroad built and got the ship, that had sat in kit form in a wharehouse in Mombassa for 10 years operating on Lake Victoria as intended. The area became a British  protectorate in 1894 and the Crown colonies of Kenya and Uganda in 1920.

Well my drink is empty and I will pour another to Willian Mackinnon for trying to accomplish an impossible task. There was enough of his fortune left upon his death in 1893 to endow a scholarship fund that to this day funds bursaries to young men from the Scottish West Highlands. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting