Companhia do Nyassa : Postal History Aspects

By : John K. Cross
First published : Portu-Info (International Society for Portuguese Philately) Volume 22, No. 85, July 1987

When I originally envisioned this article, it was intended only to pass on the very modicum of information gathered to date on post office lists for the Companhia do Nyassa1 - which has proved to be difficult data indeed to accumulate. But because especially the early years of the Companhia are shrouded in mystery vis-a-vis the postal system, a brief history of the Companhia is included : for its clues as to when and where it actually gained "control" of, and perhaps extended its postal system into, its chartered territory. This historical overview also has interesting ramifications for the Companhia’s illegal "first" postal issues, the "Cabo Delgado Rooks (or Towers)", as well as for the roots of the postal strike of the 1920's.

An examination of the few post office lists available is followed by a section on 'Notes on Localities and Post Offices". This is somewhat of a potpourri of data from several sources designed to give some dimension to the stark rendering of the listed names together with snippets of postal information.

The final section covers several postal history aspects of the Companhia do Nyassa : steamship service, routings, the postal strike, and a note on telegraphic services.

Two very enlightening, English-language sources on the entire history of the Companhia do Nyassa have been written : by ISPP member Leroy Vail and by Barry Neil-Tomlinson.2 They document the moribund state of the Companhia, especially its early years (from 1894 to 1898) when the Directors were primarily concerned with financial speculation rather than development of the territory. In 1890 the Portuguese presence in the Nyassa District "consisted of a customs post and thirty-seven soldiers at Ibo Island, and smaller token posts at Palma, Mocimboa and Quissanga"/ THese were all ont he coast, inhabited primarily by half-castes, and had few relations with the coast (Ibo) or the interior. "This diminutive toehold was the limit of the company's inheritance on 'taking possesion' of its territory"3. And Ibo, though the site of the Companhia's administrative offices in Africa, was not placed under Companhia do Nyassa jurisdiction until a Decree of 4 November 1897.4

Beginning only in 1898 - 1899 did the Companhia seek to exert its influence and sovereignty within its territoy. At least part of the impetus for this was remonstrances from the British to the Portuguese Government over raised by the Yao tribe from West Nyassa into the Nyassaland Protectorate.5

New administrative posts were established in 1898 at Pemba Bay (later Porto Amelia, see below) and Lurio. Mêdo was occupied in 1899 as a first step in opening a route to the Lugenda River and thence to Lake Nyassa. In 1900 and 1901 military expeditions consolidated a slender line through the territory by creating a line of posts from Mêdo to Lake Nyassa,6 including Fort Dom Luís Felipe at Metaria (on teh Lugend), a post at Mtengula, and a fort at Amaramba (1901).

By 1904 the territory was neatly divided and administered, at least on paper! These units and their seats were as follows :7
Circunscriçoes / Seats / Administrative posts
Metarica / Forte D. Luís Felipe / M'luluca, Maziúa, Naaguar, Undi, Metamira, Catur, Luatize
Amaramba / Cuamba / Lago Amaramba, Angurus, Matias, Mecanhelas, Maua, Luleio
Lago / Metangula / Metonia, Cobue, Mitomóni, Unango, Lipuche, Mandimba
Lurio / Lúrio / Lúrio
Medo / Montepuezi

Ibo and Porto Amelia were undoubtedly entities unto themselves, ie. not part of any circunscrição.

NB Administrative posts are not necessarily synonymous with postal stations, although for the Companhia do Nyassa it may well have been the case that one of the duties of Chiefs of Post may have been to execute postal functions. One would be hard pressed to arrive at the twenty-three post offices claimed below without this assumption.

The second stage of occupation of the interior began almost a decade later. From 1909 to 1911 punitive expeditions set up eleven further posts in the interior of the coastal districts. By late 1912 the whole territory between the Lugenda River and Lake Ngassa was pacified. However, during World War I from 1916 to 1918, the Companhia’s administration ceased to exist at all in "certain areas"8 - presumably the north and in the center of the territory. After the war the already abysmal administration was allowed to deteriorate until the State reintegrated the territory into Mocambique upon the lapse of the Companhia’s charter in October 1929.9

As noted, this brief political history of the Companhia has been expounded to give an insight into what may, and may not have been occuring in the postal system for the years for which I have no concrete data. For example in the first four years of the Companhia's rule only three sites may have had Companhia post offices (Palma, Mocimboa, and Quisanga) - the post office at Ibo presumably being under State control until late 1897; Amaramba could not have had a post office before 1901; etc.

The financial and political history of the Companhia also explains some apparent anomalies in its initial stamp issuing policies. The unauthorized and unissued Cabo Delgado (Rook) stamps of September 1894 are highlighted as the obviously speculative issue it was intended to be.10 Also answered is my long-held query about the reason for the prolonged hiatus between authorization of postal emissions for the Companhia (21 November 1894) and their first appearance, a matter of such "urgency" after four years that the overprinting of Mocambique issues was requested and granted (27 October 1897)11 Not that postage stamps did not remain close to the economic hearts of the reinvigorated Companhia directors. They expected stamp sales to garner £2000 per year, the third largest source of revenue in a projected total ot £16,200.12

Turning now to the postal system itself, the first specific information I have found on it is that contained in "Estatistica Geral dos Correios da Provincia de Mozambique: Anno Civil de 1906".13 Because of the paucity of all data on the Companhia's postal system, I quote in full all pertinent passages.

" with the statistics of 1905 and again with those of 1906 only those referring to the administration of the territory of Manica and Sofac “among the privileged companies] are included; at the present time no staistics are received from the Companhia do Nyassa."

“As we know, the Companhia do Nyassa, with regard to its administration in Africa, displays quite an interest in its postal service. It has just named a Postal Director for the territory who pledges to be able to cooperate with greater regularity in supplying statistical data for the coming year." [Did I faithfully retain the irony in the translation?]

"We can nonetheless, immediately furnish some information about the postal service in that territory, as little as that may be. There were twenty postal stations open there on 3 December 1905, twenty-three being in existence as of 31 December 1906. On 4 January 1906 the first mail was expedited from M’tangula to Fort Johnston, the exchange between these two stations simultaneously commencing a joining [of the Companhia’s territory] with British Central AFrica. The dispatches from M’tangula are continuing on the 1st and 15th of each month; Fort Johnston expedites the mails to M'tangula by steamships that plow Lake Nyassa; native runners link other mails to this route. The townshig ("concelho") of Qmaramba sends its native runners to For Johnston, where mails are exchanged. From Fort Johnston there are dispatches weekly to Zomba via Fort Liwond. with the two monthly dispatches by land via Fort Luiz Felippe to Porto Amelia, and vice versa, Lake Nyassa is of great utility, for the time being, for the postal service".

"By Portaria No. 443 of 31 May 1906 the privileged companies were permitted to issue money orders ("vales") is believed that the Companhia do Nyassa is availing itself of this fact with obvious advantages."

Obviously, it is not just the philatelist who has been exasperated and frustrated by the Companhia do Nyassa!

The provincial (Mocambique) postal service would be aware of the details on the mail exchange between the British and Portuguese spheres because this involved an international agreement which the State, not the Companhia, would negotiate. The Companhia itself was probably the source of the number of post offices, but this seems to have been relayed as raw numbers only, i.e., no specific post office names are given later in the tables, as the are for, eg., the Companhia de Mocambique.

But what of the identity of these 23 post offices that were supposedly open in 1906? My reasoned supposition is that this number represents primarily the number of military posts in the territory at that time, not necessarily the number of post offices. Certainly there were provisions for delivery and reception of mail for the few garrison members at each post, but I doubt that functioning post offices - i.e., offices with stamp supplies, specific cancelling devices, etc. - were in evidence at any but a few localities. For example, see under Amaramba below for usage from two localities where military posts were apparently without full postal service.

From whence should cancels have emanated in or before 1906? Ibo and Porto Amelia have been documented; Palma, M’tegula (= Metangula, or Lago - see below), Amaramba, Fort D. Luis Felippe (= Metarica, see below) and ??? should probably all be included.

After 1906 four listings of post offices are available. The data in "A Handbook of Portuguese Nyasaland"14 unfortunately is not specific as to dates and is equivocal as regards a number of localities. Although originally published in 1920, this tome is a compilation of previously available data, taken as is, and seldom with source citations. The post office data seem based on records from 1913, 1915 and 1916. It appears that during these years the following post offices were in operation along the littoral : Lurio, Mucojo , Porto Amelia, Quitarajo, Quissanga, Mocimboa, Ibo, Palma.

The equivocation occurs with regard to the named locales in the discussion of the inland mail routes. It seems less than certain from the text that all these actually had post offices, although all were military posts.15 A parallel is seen under Postal History Notes, where a number of sites are mentioned as mail terminus points in the Orders of Service, yet we know from contemporary listings that they had no formal post offices. For the list of possible inland post offices in the latter half of the second secade of this century from this source, see under Postal History Notes (routings).

More proximate are the post office listings which are presented in the collation of Table 1. The first comes from copy of an interesting document that was secured by Les Wadsworth during his sojourn in England.16 lt comes from the British G.P.D. Files and is dated by them as May 1907, even though it was in a 1931 file; there is no printed date on the document itself. Based on internal evidence - the inclusion and exclusion of certain post offices of known history, and inclusion of data on radiotelegraph stations - the list seems to date from between 1918 and 921, not from 1907. Specific post offices are listed as being in Companhia do Nyassa territory, including (incorrectly) Bandula, which was a Comp. de Mocambique office at the time.

The second list is from 192917 just prior to reversion of the Companhia’s territory to the State; offices are listed therein as in Companhia do Niassa territory. A third list is taken from Colonial Legislative Diploma No. 182 (14 September 1929); the discrepancies between this list and the second give rise to the possibility that Article 19 therein does not actually present the situation as it was on reversion, but as it would be once the State took control. That the latter is the correct interpretation is borne out by the fourth list given this from 1930.18 This state list matches Article 19, except for the inclusion of Metuge, while differing markedly from the 1929 list.

Following are the pertinent sections from Diploma No. 182:

"It having been ordered by Decree No. 16:757 of 20 April 1929, that as of 27 October of the current year shall cease the attributes of the State, conceded by the Government to the Companhia do Niassa by Decree with Force of Law of 26 November 1891, for the administration and development of the territories mentioned in Article 1 of the same Decree, in the ceremony of possession celebrated in the town of lbo on 27 October 1894 and reintegrated henceforth from the 28th of October of the current year under the direct administration of the State..."

"Article 1. The territories of Niassa, after reintegration into the direct administration of the State...are divided into two Administrative Districts: Cabo Delgado, with seat in Porto Amelia. Niassa, with seat in a locale appropriately determined."

"Article 2. The dividing line between the two Districts will be precisely fixed by proposal of the respective Governors, being provisionally defined thus: Rio Lugenda, from its mouth on the River Rovuma up to its confluence with the River Lucinge, River Lucinge and River Munguaca."

"Article 3. The District of Niassa will be established during fiscal year 1930-31 its area being incorporated into the District of Cabo Delgado until the date of its establishment."

"Article 19. The telegraph-postal services in the Districts of Cabo Delgado and Niassa include the following stations :
Of 1st Class: Porto Amelia, Palma, Mocimboa da Praia, Ibo, Mucojo, Quissanga and Lurio;
Of 2nd Class: Mecufi;
Of 3rd Class: Mocimboa do Rovuma, Montepuez, Metangula, Litunde, Mandimba and Cuamba."

"Article 21. The 1st Class telegraph-postal station of Lurio, in the District of Mocambique is closed." [The two Lurios were on the north and south banks at the mouth of the Lurio River, the southern boundary between Companhia do Nyassa territory and the District of Mocambique. Obvious complications would have arisen from having two same-named post offices in State-controlled territory.]

Table 1. Post Offices of the Companhia do Nyassa and, finally, of the State-controlled Districts of Cabo Delgado (CD) and Niassa (N). Class of post offices given in parentheses.
1918 to 1921 1929 No. 182 (1929) 1930
Amaramba (3rd) Amaramba (3rd)    
Ancuabe (3rd) Ancuabe (3rd)    
Ibo (1st) Ibo (1st) Ibo (1st) Ibo (CD)
Lago (3rd) Lago (3rd)    
    Litunde (3rd) Litunde (N)
Lurio (2nd) Lurio (2nd) Lurio (1st) Lurio (CD)
Mahua (3rd) Maua (3rd)    
  Mandimba (3rd) Mandimba (3rd) Mandimba (N)
  Maracotera (3rd)    
Mecufi (3rd) Mecufi (3rd)* Mecufi (2nd) Mecufi (CD)
    Metangula (3rd) Metangula (N)
Metarica (3rd) Metarica (3rd)    
Metonia (3rd)      
Mocimboa (2nd) Mocimboa (2nd) Mocimboa da Praia (1st) Mocimboa da Praia (CD)
    Mocimboa do Rovuma (3rd) Mocimboa do Rovuma (CD)
Montepuez (3rd) Montepuez (3rd) Montepuez (3rd) Montepuez (CD)
Mucojo (2nd) Mucojo (2nd) Mucojo (1st) Mucojo (CD)
Palma (3rd) Palma (3rd) Palma (1st) Palma (CD)
Porto Amelia (1st) Porto Amelia (1st) Porto Amelia (1st) Porto Amelia (CD)
Quiconga (2nd)      
Quissanga (2nd) Quissanga (2nd) Quissanga (1st) Quissanga (CD)
* Also included in this list was Mucufi (2nd), an alternative spelling of Mecufi (see "Notes on Localities and Post Offices"). The change in class status was undoubtedly mistaken for a new office listing because of the alternate spelling. A hypothetical map of Companhia do Nyassa Post Offices
A hypothetical map of Companhia do Nyassa Post Offices
Click here to enlarge.


A smattering of evidence from philatelic material and a close reading of several literature sources15, 19 leads to the inescapable conclusion that in the early days of the Companhia’s sovereignty the name of the circunscricao and/or concelho, rather than the town name, was used to designate the post office: both as regards listings and the names used in cancelling devices. This practice seems to have been confined to the inland areas, at least on the basis of fragmentary evidence. (Circunscricoes, apparently later referred to as concelhos, are an administrative division without a real American equivalent; very imprecisely they might be compared to a county or shire.) Note in Table 1 the chronological substitution of seats (towns) for circunscricoes - Cuamba for Amaramba and Metangula for Lago (q.v. below).

A number of locales have alternate spellins given in the literature. The most prominent of these are listed in paretheses after the spelling apparently preferred at least during the latter stages of Companhia control. Only a full list of cancellations will elucidate the actual "official" orthography for any post office at any period. (See, for example Quiterajo). Unless otherwise specified, the data presented below was culled from sources in references 15 and 19.

Later name of a former military post founded in 1899 on the east side of Lake Nyassa by the same name; the fort was originally known as Fort D. Carlos I. Also the name of a circunscricao created in 1901. This area was one of the first inland locales to be developed: "Such plantations as did exist were distributed along the coast and in Amaramba".

A hexagonal datestamp on two pieces from different local within the circunscricao is a portion of the evidence supporting the introductory remarks concerning early post office designations. That the datestamp was used as early as 8 Aug 1914 is demonstrated by the cover of Fig. 1 (see P-I cover). This postal card has the rubberstamped return address of Guedes & Co., Kuamba (=Cuamba); it transitted Fort Johnston on Aug 12, 1914 (b/s) as per the 1906 routing schema quoted above. In the 1984 ISPP auction (lot 367) there was a postal card datelined Mandimba and postmarked Amaramba 2 Aug. 1916 At this point in time/ignorance it is uncertain whether these two pieces originally entered the postal system 1) at the old (site of) Amaramba, 2) at Cuamba, the seat of the circunscricao whose name was used in the datestamp in lieu of the town name (there then being no post office at Mandimba), or 3) very dubiously at their respective points of origin the same datestamp being used at both localities. I favor alternative 2) for aesthetic reasons.

ANCUABE (Ankuabe)
This Company military post was the site of an Indian Army Field Post ffice (FPO No. 72) in March, 1918. In an earlier article of FPO’s wherein I also noted those that were reported to have been in Companhia do Nyassa territory,21 I ignorantly speculated, due to a similarity in locality names, that FPO 72 might actually have been in Tete District. It was in fact here, about 6 km west of Porto Amélia. The State reopened a post office in Ancuabe in 1933.

to be concluded in the next P-I...


(1) The alternative spellings 'Nyassa’ and 'Niassa’ are given throughout as they are given in the documents under consideration. The preferred spelling seems to have vacillated from time to time.
(2) Vail, Leroy. "Mozambique's Chartered Companies : The Rule of the Feeble". J. African History 1976; XVII(3):389-416. Neil-Tomlinson, Barry. "The Nyassa Chartered Company : 1891 - 1929". J. African History 1977; XVIII(1):109-128. Two other sources dealign with lesser time spans than the entire chartered period, and in the case of Worsfold on a self-serving promotive basis, are Worsfold, W. Basil. "Portuguese Nyasaland" (reprint of original 1899 ed.). New York : Negro Univ. Press, Greenwood Publ. Corp., 1969 (my thanks to Les Wadsworth for bringing this book to my attention and providing photocopies). Admiralty. "A handbook of Portuguese Nyasaland" (I. D. 1161). Compiled by the Geographical Section of the Naval Intelligence Division, Naval Staff, Admiralty. Orig. publ. London : H. M. Stationers Office, 1920. Reprinted New York : Negro Univ. Press, Greenwood Publ. Corp., 1969.
(3) Neil-Tomlinson, op. cit. p.116.
(4) Reprinted in Worsfold, op. cit. pp.284-285.
(5) Admiralty, op. cit. p.57.
(6) Neil-Tomlinson, op. cit. p.116.
(7) Primary source : Ordens de Serviçio da Comp. No. 332 of 28 May 1901 and No. 669 of 9 January 1901 as given in : Santos, N. Valdez dos. "O Desconhecido Niassa". Lisboa : Junta de Investigaçoes do Ultramar,> (8) Neil-Tomlinson, op. cit. p.120.
(9) Ibid., p.121 and Vail, op. cit.
(10) See JOnest. Jr., Philip H. "The 1894 Locals of Nyassa." P-I 1964 Oct.; 3(2) : 32. Vieira, Jorge de Melo. "The First Stamps of the Nyassa Company." (reprinted in) Portuguese Philatelic Society Bulletin 1997 Aug.; 60: 1-3; Nov.; 61: 8.
(11) Vieira, op. cit.; Worsfold, op. cit. p.285.
(12) Worsfold, op. cit. pp.219, 221.
(13) Lourenco Marques: Repartigao Superior dos Correios, Secretaria Beral do Governo da Provincia de Mocambique, 1907. Chap. X, p. 56; "Companhias privilegiadas." Portions were previously published in Cross John K. "Portuguese East Africa District Post Offices of 1906. (Part I) P-I 1974 July.
(14) Admiralty, op. cit. pp.87-88.
(15) Ministerio das Colonias, Comissao de Carografia. "Disctionario Corografico da Provincia de Mocambique : 1o Fasciculo, Territorios de Cabo Delgado (Companhia do Nyassa)". Lisboa : C. A. Rodrigues, Lda., 1919.
(16) Lista das Estacoes Postais, Telegraficas e Radiotelegraficas das COlonias Portuguesas. (Lisboa): Ministerio das Colonias, no date.
(17) "Boletim dos Correios y Telégrafos, Colonia de Mocambique" Anexo to 1929.
(18) "Anuario Estatistico da Colonia de Mocambique: Ano de 1930; Relatorio e Estatistica dos Correios e Telegrafos da Colonia de Mocmbigue: Ano de 1930".
(19) Cabral, Antonio Carlos Pereira. "Dicionario de Nomes Geograficos de Mogambigue -Sua Origem-". Lourenco Marques: 1975.
(20) Neil-Tomlinson, op. cit. p.122.
(21) Footnote 17 in Cross, John K. "Companhia de Mocambique : Some Postal History Aspects of World War I". P-I 1986 Oct.;21(4): 116.