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Sudan and its Camel Postmen stamps

Throughout the latter half of the 19th Century Britain continued to develop her Empire, including Sudan. The largest country in the African continent is a sparsely populated territory with an area of nearly one million square miles. The capital Khartoum, situated on the River Nile, is approximately 3000 miles and a six hour flight from London. Against this background it is perhaps easier to appreciate the enormity of the tasks and the difficulties that were encountered by the Victorian Empire builders as they sought to establish civil order, including a Postal Service, in this vast and desolate area. Bloody skirmishes with infidels and dervishes in such wild untamed terrain were illustrated in the adventure comics and annuals of the time with pictures of heroic soldiers of the Camel Corps, wearing pith helmets and full desert uniforms in battle with the enemy.

Victory at the Battle of Omburdman in 1898 finally ended the barbaric rule of the Mahidists. General Sir Herbert Kitchener was appointed the Commander of the Anglo-Egyptian Army with orders to restore peace and the rule of law.. The country was then jointly administered by Great Britain and Egypt, the reason that Sudan’s stamps do not portray a British Monarch.

One of his first tasks was to re-introduce a workable postal system which included postage stamps. Prior to the British losing control in 1884 the stamps were chiefly Egyptian and are collected for their Sudanese postmarks. The first official Sudanese stamps were rather temporary in nature with 8 different Egyptian values overprinted “Soudan” in 1897.

A professional artist was asked to submit ideas for a new design but the cost was considered to be too high. In early 1897 Kitchener made a routine visit to troops stationed at Korti where he met with a Captain Edward Stanton whose job was to draw military maps. Such was the wilderness and boredom of the task that Stanton had "doodled" sketches in the margins. His artistic talents were recognised. Stanton "volunteered" to provide designs for the stamps - and he was given five days to complete the task! It was the arrival of the regimental mail by camel rather than the normal steamer that gave Stanton the idea for his iconic stamp design. He requested that a local tribesman dress in war kit and ride the same camel around in front of him. Stanton also used two leather carriers as substitutes for mail bags which he filled with straw and inscribed on the outside the names of two towns Khartoum and Berber together with a minute Star and Crescent.

Messrs De la Rue printed the eight different values on medium white wove paper using a Rosette Watermark. This was changed in 1902 to the Islamic Star and Crescent in response to strong objection to "kissing" the symbol of the Christian Cross every time a stamp was licked before being stuck to an envelope!

Stanton requested a set of the new eight definitive stamps that were issued in March 1898, and Kitchener's responded that the Captain should pay the face value price of four shillings and sixpence should he require to own them! Stanton did indeed receive a full set and a personal letter from the General himself. Copies of the original illustration and the autographed set are held in a museum in Khartoum.

Colonel Stanton, (the rank with which he retired) a modest man, wrote in 1947 the following words:- “The fact of having been more or less accidentally called upon to design the Camel Stamp hardly justifies my intrusion into the realms of Philately, and rush into print where angels (if there are any amongst philatelists) fear to make themselves known”

The impact of a military "doodle" that became the legendary Camel Stamp continues to resound and be appreciated throughout the Philatelic world.

Sudan achieved self-government in 1954 and became independent in 1956 and is now an Islamic Republic.


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