The Victorian Rails

The history of the Travelling Post Office in India is a huge and specialized subject. We must be content to use this page, another start-up effort, for posting some images that have a Kashmir connection. First, a couple of maps for orientation:

The two map details below, from the great Constable series produced in the early 1890s, show important stretches of the rail system pertinent to the covers collector. The main line reached Lahore in 1870, Jhelam in 1879, and finally Peshawar in 1883. From there, hardy adventurers proceeded on different conveyance through the Khyber Pass connecting Afghanistan; the tired lucky ones were going in the other direction. Closer to the postal action, the Wazirabad-Sialkot branch line was completed in 1880, but the 27-mile extension to Jammu wasn’t completed until spring 1889. The British assumed a direct postal presence at Jammu shortly thereafter (date here unknown).

In spite of all the apparent railway doings (L.27) involving Hoshiarpur on many a railway cover, there seems to have been no actual track at the town of that name, only the road to Jalandhar, which is the closest (but not so close) point on the main line. The district, however, was also called Hoshiarpur, and perhaps the important junction went by that name? Ambala south, passing through Karnaul goes to Delhi.

Four railroad markings and an instruction label: This May 1889 cover originated in Amritsar according to the Persian lower-right. The embossed Victoria is cancelled with the L.51 circle on 22 May and the native stamp was cancelled with a bar-T (“Travelling Post Office’) of the RMS Railway Sorting Office at Sialkot. (Our thanks to A. Bard for that information.) They are accompanied by strikes of the L.1. IN / SET No. 2 and ditto for OUT. According to the Dogri arrival stamp for Srinagar, the letter was received there some five days later (probably at the Sher Garhi Station mentioned in the top line of the Persian) on 15 jeţh ~ 27 May. The letter received a 1st-DEL strike early the next day.

Here is a blowup of the “L.51” for the Sialkot to Jammu extension. The internet has repetitious entries to the effect that the Sialkot to Jammu branch was completed in 1890, though the datestamp shown above is from a May 1889 cover.

We alluded upscreen to the Wazirabad-Sialkot branch line, which was completed almost a decade earlier in 1880. There is a cds and obliterator for that Sorting Office pertinent to J&K philately, namely the L.7. IN / Set No.1 (Ref. Bard). It was with the completion of the Jammu extension in 1889 that it became a marking of note for J&K, for it becomes attested in that context only by the 1890-92 period. One wonders whether the delivery time to Amritsar (with rail changes at Wazirabad and Lahore) was much faster than the runner’s time on the 70-mile direct line, which was typically a morning to evening affair.

British Military Rail Routes

The map above from John Bartholemew & Co. (1893 for original edition) shows part
of the jurisdiction of the Bengal Army in the Punjab and Kashmir in the 1890s. The important military nodes in Punjab are all connected by rail. Military Districts 1st Class were LAHORE, RAWAL PINDI, and MEERUT. Military Districts 2nd Class were the Punjab Frontier Force (PFF), Peshawar, Sirhind, and Rohil Khand. District Headquarters are underlined in blue. Meean Meer, for example, was the large military cantonment in the southeast suburbs of Lahore. The large and small red stars are forts, 1st and 2nd Class.

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