Mozambique Portuguese possession

Portuguese possession






Quick reference

General issues: Portuguese colony, district 1895-1920

Country name on general issues: Zambezia

Currency: 1 Milreis = 1000 Reis 1895-1920

Population: No statistics available – a rough estimate would suggest the population to have been in the order of 600 000 in 1900

Political history Zambezia

Postal history Zambezia

Please click on the image to enlarge

Zambezia was a district of the Portuguese colony of Mozambique in eastern Africa. The Portuguese had, since the 16th century, established themselves in Mozambique. When Mozambique was awarded to Portugal at the 1885 Berlin conference where the colonial powers divided their respective spheres of influence in Africa, it was a prerequisite for continued recognition of territorial claims that effective colonial rule would be established. The Portuguese had little resources available to actually do so and thus large parts of Mozambique were  transferred to chartered companies for further development – the Mozambique Company and the Nyassa Company. Concurrently, the colonial administration was modernized. In 1894, districts were formed, each with a governor reporting to a high commissioner, who in turn reported to the Cortes – the Portuguese parliament in Lisbon. With the formation of these districts, elements of the colonial administration and judiciary system came to be organized on district level – the postal administration being one of them.

Zambezia was one of the districts formed. The district consisted of two rather different parts. The part downstream of the Zambezi River was fertile and very well suited for agricultural development. The part upstream of the Zambezi River was much less fertile and primarily of interest for its strategic location in between the British Rhodesias and Nyasaland and for its potential richness in mineral resources. When Zambesia was formed, only part of the district was under effective Portuguese control – the coastal area with Quelimane as the main settlement and the lands along the banks of the Zambezi River up to the city of Tete. The Portuguese, however, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries set to work to extend their administrative control over the district, and by 1902, they succeeded in this effort. For the economic development, the Portuguese on the one hand, used the ‘prazo’ system: land was leased to Portuguese settlers for a number of years giving the settlers exclusive rights over the land. On the other hand, private companies were granted rights to develop the district. The largest of these was the Zambezi Company – granted its rights in 1892. The Zambezi Company – although not a chartered company like the Mozambique Company and the Nyassa Company – became the largest in Mozambique and was the only one to actually turn a profit. The Zambezia district was split into the Quelimane and Tete districts in 1902.

In modern Mozambique the provinces of Tete and Zambezia are the equivalent of the former district of Zambezia.

Postal history Zambezia

Postal history Zambezia

1891 – King Carlos, common to Portugal and the Portuguese colonies

The first stamp issued in the name of Zambezia is a newspaper stamp issued in 1893. The first stamps for general use are issued in 1895 – a set of definitives with the portrait of King Carlos, common to Portugal and the Portuguese colonies. A second set, with the portrait of King Carlos, of a different but equally common design, is issued in 1898. Aside from these definitives, many stamps have been issued with overprints, especially after the fall of the monarchy and the establishment of the republic in Portugal in 1910 – the overprint reading ‘Republica’. Zambezia has issued stamps until 1917, that were used until 1920, when they were superseded by the general issues for Mozambique. It is interesting to note that Zambezia has only issued stamps in the milreis/reis currrency, even when the currency in Mozambique had changed to escudo/centavos in 1912.[1] I have some open questions on the postal history of Zambezia. The Zambezia district was split into the districts of Quelimane and Tete in 1902 – these districts, however, have not issued stamps until 1914. Also: the Zambezia district after 1902 kept on issuing stamps for more than a decade and a half – even after the first issues of Quelimane and Tete had appeared. Apparently, Zambezia stamps were used before and in concurrence with the Quelimane and Tete issues. And then there is the issue of the currency… Resources used have not provided a conclusive answer on what the exact postal arrangements were in this period.


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2 Responses to Zambezia

  1. Norm Jacobson


    Your site has been a great help to me for a classic era project I’m working on. While investigating Mozambique, I think I may have found a partial answer to the Tete/Quelimane/Zambezia issue you raised in footnote [1], and thought I would pass it along for your consideration:

    Tete was carved out of Zambezia in 1902 by a decree, and made a provisional military district. [See Decreto (Ministerio da Marinha e Ultramar — Diario de Governo, no. 237, de 20 de outubro) criando provisoriamente um districto militar em Tete, provincia de Moçambique.” Colecção official de legislação portuguesa 1902, 994-95.] What was left of Zambesia was still called Zambesia until 1907, when Mozambique’s districts were reorganized; a decree that year, among other things, made Tete a standard (non-military) district, and essentially restored the name Quelimane to Zambesia. [See Decreto (Presidencia do Conselho de Ministros — Diario de Governo, no. 118, de 29 de maio) reorganizando os serviços administrativos da provincia de Moçambique.” Colecção official de legislação portuguesa 1907, 337-55. Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional, 1908.]. So it seems pretty certain that Tete came into being in 1902, and Zambezia continued until 1907, when it became Quelimane.

    So, the stamps listed under Zambezia from 1902-07 probably really belong there. Tete, being a military district, perhaps would not have issued its own stamps until after it became a “real” district in 1907 — a hypothesis I have yet to prove (or disprove) with reliable sources.

    The stamps listed in Scott’s for Zambesia from 1911-1917 are overprints of earlier Zambesia stamps, so that’s likely why they are listed with Zambesia — to make it easier for collectors to find them. But it is more likely, I think, given that Zambezia did not exist at this time, that Quelimane issued the stamps, using the stock of Zambesia stamps they had on hand. All postage-issuing districts of Mozambique have similar issues, and all but Quelimane would have had appropriate local stamps to overprint; Quelimane was not in existence at the time, and so perhaps it used what stock it did have, which were issues of Zambesia….another hypothesis that needs reliable sources to prove or disprove, sources I have not yet found.

    If I gather additional reliable information about this issue, I’ll pass it along.

    • Gerben


      Thank you for your highly informative response. In my research, I had not come across the fact that Tete was first established as a military and later as a civil district.

      Your hypotheses on the continued use of Zambezia stamps between 1902 and 1907 seem quite plausible. Questions remain though. Such as: assuming your hypotheses explain the continued use of Zambezia stamps between 1902 and 1907, why was the use of Zambezia stamps continued after 1907? The first issues for both Quelimane and Tete appeared only in 1913(Scott listing) or 1914(Michel listing)? Also, if there was, from 1914, a supply of Quelimane and Tete definitives, why not use those, rather than the Zambezia stamps? One might speculate on shortages in supply, leading to local overprints on available Zambezia stock. But then, Michel notes that part of the later Zambezia issues were overprinted locally, while part was overprinted in Lisbon. The local overprints could well be explained by a shortage of stamps. But the issues printed in Lisbon? Intriguing! If you do indeed dig up more on the subject, please do keep me informed.

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