The Revenue Stamps of Mauritius

by John Wilson

Locally Printed Bills of Exchange Imperforate Stamps First Used in 1969

Prior to 1869, the legislation concerning fiscal stamping had originated from a mixture of French, British and possibly Dutch laws: it was becoming most difficult to interpret, operate and understand. On 12 February 1869 this was all consolidated under a new Ordinance under Procureur-General Colin. This came into force on 18 March in that year. The only stamps which were specifically printed immediately for use were those for Bills of Exchange, and these were designed and printed on the island.

These were of a fairly primitive nature – even more so than the locally engraved postage stamps which first appeared twelve years earlier, and no Queen’s head was included in the design. I suspect that these might have been produced as cheaply as possible to cover an urgent need before a more presentable issue was made available from Great Britain. A used collection of the stamps is shown on Plates 5, 6 and 7. I have not actually seen any mint issues, although there appears to be a black and white strip of three printed in the British Commonwealth Revenues catalogue produced by J Barefoot Ltd.

Plate 7

Plate 7 (click to enlarge)

These stamps were lithographed by E Crook of La Lithographie Coloniale, 23 Church Street, Port Louis, Mauritius. No indication is available of sheet sizes. However, all Bills of Exchange stamps for Mauritius were produced in triptych form within the sheet i.e. sequences of three, described as first, second and third of exchange respectively. The reason for this was that most Bills of Exchange were despatched by mail and, very often, delivery was inconsistent; the missive was either lost, burned, damaged irrevocably by seawater or stolen. The risks were great in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Consequently, the drawer of the Bill of Exchange had the opportunity of creating three such bills with the same details, affixing the first, second and third stamps (one to each bill) and despatching them to the seller on different dates and/or different methods. Bearing in mind that no air transport was available, the delay between despatch and arrival could be substantial, and shipwrecks were far from uncommon.

I understand that, in many cases, it was usual only to send the first and second bill by differing means, and to retain the third in Mauritius for emergencies should one arise. I have evidence to support this view.

The first to be presented for payment would be the one which would be honoured, irrespective of whether it was the first, second or third stamp that was affixed. If either or both of the others arrived, they would be dishonoured by the paying banker and no payment made.

I believe that the only other Commonwealth/Empire countries to issue such stamps in triptych form were Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Seychelles. At the time of issue, Seychelles was a dependency of Mauritius and only Mauritian stamps overprinted Seychelles were used.

Other Commonwealth/Empire stamps did issue such stamps but not in this form. In many cases, none were issued. Bills, in this case, either bore no duty or other types of stamps were used, such as Revenues.

Barefoot’s catalogue lists eleven values. Plates 5, 6 and 7 show all of these in used form. Mint stamps are much rarer. The only ones I have seen are on Plate 7 - two se-tenant strips of three (two pence and four pence).

A closer look at the stamps on the three plates reveals a number of features. Firstly, only the third of exchange stamp is shown on the two highest values of five shillings and sixteen shillings and eightpence. These are much rarer than the lower values. Secondly, at first sight the one shilling and threepenny pair of stamps on piece appear to be se tenant, but in fact they are two separate stamps, both for the first of exchange; the sequences were printed horizontally, as shown with the one penny genuine pair with two thirds of exchange shown vertically. Thirdly, the cancels show a variety which is interesting. Sadly, because of the small size of the stamps, some cancels are indistinct or not complete enough to decipher. Where this has been possible, it will be noted that cancellation is not confined to banks, and many were drawn on the larger commercial enterprises on the island, such as Blyth Bros who are shown on two examples.

Plates 8, 9 and 10 display three Bills of Exchange with stamps affixed. These are all drawn on The Oriental Bank Corporation of London by Thomas le Chambre of Mauritius for varying values and different value stamps as follows:-

Value Stamp Value
£1,700 3s/4d
£2,500 5s
£4,100 8s/4d

Plate 9

Plate 9 (click to enlarge)

It is not immediately apparent from the above how the rates were worked out, as they most certainly were not on a straightforward percentage basis of each value, but the following table was in force for sterling currency, which readily shows how the calculations were made:-

Bill Value Type A Type B Type C
Under £50 6d 3d 1d
Over £50 to £100 1s 6d 2d
Over £100 to £200 2s 1s 4d
Over £200 to £300 3s 1s6d 6d
Over £300 to £400 4s 2s 8d
Over £400 to £500 5s 2s6d 8d
Over £500 to £750 7s6d 3s9d 1s3d
Over £750 to £1000 10s 5s 1s8d
Over £1000 to £1500 15s 7s6d 2s6d
Over £1500 to £2000 £1 10s 3s4d
Over £2000 to £3000 £1.10s 15s 5s
Over £3000 to £4000 £2 £1 6s8d
Each additional £1000 10s 5s 1s8d

Type A: Certain types of inland bills and promissory notes, except cheques and money orders.
Type B: Foreign Bills of Exchange drawn in, but payable out, of Mauritius, not being payable on demand, if drawn singly, or otherwise than in a set of three.
Type C: Foreign Bills as above but drawn in sets of three, a duty on every bill of each set. This was by far the most common form to be used, and the only type shown here.
Currency Change. In 1878 the Mauritian currency changed to Rupees and Cents. A separate table is shown later in this book which shows the revised duty payable.

All the catalogues of revenue stamps (with the exception of Barefoot) list the 2d, 4d, 1s3d, and 1s8d as being available on thin paper, and the 16s8d on blue paper.

These are not shown either on the plates in this book, but further research has been done for those who wish to pursue the matter of paper thickness in further dtail. Using a digital thickness gauge, which is accurate to 2 microns or 0.002 millimetres, the following results were obtained on a selection of these early stamps:-

1d (six examples) 0.099mm to 0.106mm
2d (one example) 0.109mm to 0.112mm
4d (one example) 0.095mm to 0.101mm
4d (two examples) 0.063mm to 0.068mm
6d (one example) 0.091mm to 0.094mm

It is clear that the two 4d vermillion stamps were printed on thin paper.