|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
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.
Historical Map of 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
country is known as
Postal History of Basutoland can be divided into four distinct
1833 - 1868
Pre-stamp period before organised postal services were
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.
In 1868 Basutoland was declared as a
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.
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
At this time the Cape of Good Hope date-stamps were discontinued
and cancellers of the same style as used in the Union were
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.
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
A Military Expedition from the Cape, via the Free State
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
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
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
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.
- 23 September 1852 - To Walter in Canada, from Jane Grimston,
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
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.
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
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
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
At one point he was pro - Boer, but when they turned against
him, he changed his alliance to the British. He died in
- 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.
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
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
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.
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
On Line - South African History and
D. Saks - Military History Journal
Volume 9 No 6 - December 1994
A. Scott - The Cancellations & Postal Markings of Basutoland