The overland mail can mean many things to philatelists, with perhaps the Butterfield Overland Express of Texas being the one which most readily comes to mind. To students of Egyptian philately, however, it has come to mean the mails carried from Alexandria to Suez or vice versa during the mid-19th-century as part of the transit between Europe and India and places east of Suez. The area mainly researched and written about is the service operated by Thomas Waghorn from 1837 to 1842, with around 200 covers recorded (records differ between different authors). Some may consider the Waghorn markings not to be part of Egyptian philately since not a single one of them was applied in Egypt, but nevertheless they are found in Egyptian exhibits and collections. Some 14 markings have been recorded by Sidebottom, Hill and others, comprising either two or three lines, some of them boxed or within an oval.

Also of interest to Egyptian philatelists are the other companies that offered a similar postal service at the same time as Waghorn or after he had abandoned his enterprise. Of the many, possibly 25-plus, forwarding agents or companies that operated a few had their own cachets bur these are extremely rare. Known from only a few examples are the Egyptian Transit Company, Samuel Shepheard and Briggs and Co.

Waghorn entered the Royal Navy at Chatham and served from 1812 until 1817 when the Navy was much reduced at the end of the Napoleonic War. He continued in the Merchant Navy and became a pilot in the Bengal Pilot Service in 1820. He developed an interest in early attempts at establishing a steamship route from England to India and the East and in 1828 undertook investigations into a route from the Cape of Good Hope and then through Egypt to India. With the expansion of Britain's empire in the East from India to Australia Waghorn saw the need for faster communications from Britain and that the new steamships could bring this about.

His attempts to introduce such a system with the authorities both in India and Britain tell a sad tale of apathy, duplicity and betrayal.

This story is well told at Mr Waghorn's Route to India, John Brinton, in Saudi Aramco World, Vol 19, No 6, Nov/Dec 1968
He set up in London a business for conveying people and mails to India via Egypt, easing the way for 275 passengers in 1835, and becoming Deputy Consul in Egypt two years later. He had tremendous energy, courage, a stubborn honesty of purpose and in his own words "I am a plain blunt fellow" - which was probably the cause of his falling-out with his superiors. By 1835 Waghorn's service had become so efficient that the English Post Office was obliged officially to recognise it as the fastest and safest way to send mail to India. On 7 March, 1835, Waghorn's Overland Route was authorised to handle the English mails.
Waghorn travelled constantly from England to India and back, inspecting steamships and rest stations. By 1835 the journey to England, for either mail or passengers, took 90 days, involving sailing by felucca and riding donkeys with 80 miles of sandy, desolate desert covered on camels or sand carts: Waghorn reduced it to between 35 and 40 days. But the passengers had an extra concern that the mails took precedence; and their faster journey by horse could mean that the mails reached Suez well ahead of the passengers. Once the mails had arrived the ship would wait only a limited time for the passengers to catch up: if for some unfortunate reason they were delayed the ship left without them.
Unfortunately Waghorn's successes were his undoing, as others saw the business potential and in 1840 the P&O company set up in competition with him, backed by the British Government. As so often, it was not the pioneer who reaped the rewards but those with the finance and contacts with the right people. He first merged his business with his rivals J.R.Hill and Raven to form J. R. Hill and Co., which in turn was taken over by Muhammad Ali to form the Egyptian Transit Company.

Waghorn died soon after at home in England a broken man and it was not until some time after was his contributions recognized. See WAGHORN ARCHIVE

"Overland Routes to India and China," steel engraving by John Tallis, published 1851;

Egypt, Stamps and Postal History Peter A.S. Smith, 1999
The Overland Mail John K.Sidebottom, 1948
Postal History of Egypt to 1900 Samir A. Fikry, 1996

Waghorn Booklet

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