Royal Reels: Gambling


This is one of the most extravagant advertising covers I have written about, and it is also the third cover to the CongoI have recorded. I seem to have a fascination for this chaotic region which has had so much strife in its pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial periods. The Australian Stamp Company, Adelaide, South Australia has resisted my many research attempts, but there is enough advertising matter to obtain an idea of its purpose: “Collections and stamps of all kinds, Bought, Sold, or Exchanged. Large Consignments of old Australians purchased for Cash…… Approval Sheets forwarded to Collectors upon Application….. 1,000,000 – COMMON PENNY AND TWOPENNY AUSTRALIAN STAMPS WANTED –1,000,000”.  A strip of five brown bantam Halfpenny South Australian stamps are cancelled with 2 duplex G.P.O. ADELAIDE/ 2/ JY 7/ 96/ S.A postmarks, and the cover is addressed to The Postmaster, Kinshassa (sic), Congo Free State, Africa. There is a faint blue transit postmark of BANANA (Congo) on the front (Figure 1).

The reverse is even more informative: “Dealers in Australian and British and Foreign Postage Stamps. Reliable Agents wanted in every City on Earth……Schoolboys can make splendid pocket money by Selling Stamps on Commission……Foreign Collectors should apply for our systematically arranged selections of Australians…..,Australian Stamps purchased in any quantity up to a million…… Advanced Collectors may forward rarities for exchange against good Australians”. The only address given is a G.P.O. BOX number in Adelaide. There is a very poor London routing postmark, a black ‘diamond’ LISBOA CENTRAL/ 14-8-96/ QUARTA SECAO postmark of Lisbon and a blue BOMA (Congo) transit postmark dated September (1896). There is no visible Kinshasa arrival date. The vendor gave additional information as follows: Per P&Oship ‘Oruba’ to Naples, via England and Portugal (Figure 2).

The ‘Oruba’ is listed as leaving Sydney on 6 July 1896 (it would have stopped in Melbourne before Adelaide, so would it have had time to receive the Adelaide postmark of 7 July?). The ship was listed as having arrived on 10 August in the UK, and the first visible date after this is in Lisbon 4 days later (by another ship?). The first point of call in the Free State of Congo was Banana, which had an indistinct date in September 1896. Banana, was and is, a seaport and a township in the Bas-Congo province of the now Democratic Republic of the Congo on the Atlantic coast. A rail line connects the port to Boma and Kinshasa, but this was not necessarily the route to Kinshasa, for rail travel was always very irregular and the roads were also generally in poor repair. The inland waterways are used extensively, and the Congo River is navigable from its mouth at Banana to Matadi, a distance of 134 km (83 miles), with the next stretch of the river to Kinshasa, unnavigable from Matadi to Kinshasa, a distance of 401 km (249 miles). Thus road and or rail would have had to be used for the final journey (Figure 3).

Banana was developed as a port in the nineteenth Century, largely as a part of the slave trade. Henry Morton Stanley arrived in Banana in 1879 at the start of an exploratory expedition funded by Léopold II of Belgium. Following the Conference of Berlin (1884-85) the European powers recognised Léopold’s claim to the Congo Basin, and in a ceremony (1885) at Banana, the King announced the establishment of the Congo Free State, headed by himself, beginning the period of European colonization. Banana was the main Belgian naval base of the Congo until independence in 1960.