Postal stones are a unique part of the South African postal history.
Mariners who visited the Cape before the Dutch VOC founded a refreshing station at Cape Town, left behind many times a stone with an inscription of the name of the ship, captain or officer on the stone with the date of arrival and departure.
Under this stones they left also messages or letters, and found by crews of other ships when landing, were possible taken home.
A few of this stones are preserved and are now in various museums.
The South African Post issued in 1992 a set of 5 stamps of 35c which depict the history of this stones in South Africa.
One the first stamp, three Dutch merchantmen are show under full sail near Cape of Good Hope, with in the background Lion’s Head, Table Mountain and Signal Hill, since immemorial times the characteristic landmarks for travellers to the Cape.
On the long voyage to and from the Far East seamen went ashore in Aguada del Saldanha, the former name of the Table Bay for fresh water and stores which they bartered with the Khoekhoe tribe (mostly by the white settlers later named Hottentots).
The stones with the inscription were usually left on the beach near the mouth of the freshwater river Versse Rivier (now Liesbeek River), this is displayed on the second and third stamp, it shows the Khoekhoe men and a group of sailors with a postal stone, in the background of the third stamp the sailors are drinking from the river and carry water.
One of the oldest stones found has two inscriptions belonging to Anthony Hippon Captain of the British ship DRAGON, the first inscription was made in December 1607 in the Table Bay where he landed on his voyage to the Far East. The second is dated from June 1609 when he was on his homeward voyage.
The stone is now in the South African Museum in Cape Town.
The letters left behind were wrapped in canvas or coarse linen, sewn in and then covered with pitch or lead to keep them dry.
These letters gave the seafarers the opportunity to gain valuable information about ships movements in the area, and the situation in their homeland and elsewhere in the world.
On the fourth and fifth stamp are moments depict of seamen reading the letters left behind.
South Africa 1992 35c sg745/750, scott819/824.
Source: South African Post. A Dutch magazine lost the title.
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