The Bombay-Aden Sea Post Office Service


The Bombay-Aden-Suez Sea Post Office service was introduced in 1868 to speed the delivery of mails to and from India. It was operated by the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company on their steamer service from Suez to Bombay, via Aden. The sorting of the mails in either direction was carried by up to six teams under the control of the Indian Post Office. An intermediate stop was made at Aden for the discharge and collection of mails to and from East Africa and the Arabian coast, as well as for refueling the ships.

This service was based on a similar service operated by the British Post Office on the P. & O. ships operating between Alexandria in Egypt and Marseilles, France, and return. This service, known as the Mediterranean Sorters, was terminated on the 28th May, 1870, but the Bombay service continued to operate up to the start of the First World War in August 1914.

The first contract between the Indian Post Office and the P. & O. Company was raised in 1867 and the first sailing to carry mail to India was in May 1868. There were several updates to the contract during the following decades of operation.

There are 12 different types of transit marks used on this service, with a further five distinct categories used to cancel mail posted on the steamers. See references for further details, including Paquebot marks, Overland marks, Mis-sent and Redirected mail, and Registered mail.

In the beginning of the contract there were six "Sets" of post office sorting teams and each one was given a letter from A to F, later this was changed and while the number of teams stayed the same the letters were cut down to A-C resulting in a great number of variations.

The objective here is to explain which postmarks were used and which ships carried the mail. While some items seem to be duplicates, the devil is in the detail with different dates, different types, different sets, different ships, odd dots and dashes, even different originating locations and of course unlisted varieties - at times a combination of all of these. There are hence no duplicates to the best of my knowledge. All items are in my collection and all known postmarks may not be included. The exhibit starts in chronological order from date of posting of each item. All items in the display have originated from the British Isles.


Frame 1

  1. Introduction
  2. The Exhibit Explained
  3. Type 2 Set D – SS Behar
  4. Type 3 Set A – SS Pekin
  5. Type 3 Set E – SS Brindisi
  6. Type 4 Set B – SS Ravenna
  7. Type 3 Set E – SS Malwa
  8. Type 7 Set A – SS Cathay
  9. Type 7 Set C – SS Clyde
  10. Type 7 Set A – SS Thames
  11. Type 7 Set A – SS Shannon
  12. Type 7 Set C – SS Shannon
  13. Type 7 Set C – SS Siam
  14. Type 7 Set B – SS Caledonia
  15. Type 8 Set C – SS Peninsular
  16. Type 8 Set A – SS Persia