STAMP MATTERS - European colonies

The rise of Islam after the eighth century cut off the trade between the countries of Europe and those of the East and it took almost seven centuries before technology advanced sufficiently to overcome the problem. The answer is found in the ways you can breach a barrier; you can go under, over, through or around. In this case the ‘around’ option was the only one available, and it came in the form of innovations in sailing. Better ships were built and navigation aids were gradually improved.

Portugal led the way with the rounding of the African continent and the setting up of trading posts in Africa, India, China, Japan and Timor. Spain followed with the discoveries and conquests in the Americas and the Philippines. These two countries had the temerity to set up a treaty to divide the world outside Europe between them with the treaty of Tordesillas, signed in 1494, and ratified by the Pope. This gave Portugal a colony in America, Brazil.

Stamp showing British colonies

This treaty was viewed with disdain by England, and later Holland, both of whom had embraced Protestantism and so both set out to counter the move. Holland had recently thrown off Spanish control of their country and claimed the East Indies, a number of islands in the Caribbean and what is now South Africa. England concentrated on what is now the eastern part of the U.S.A.

France also set up colonies in Canada and the southern area of the U.S.A. while Russia, advancing east over the Urals, set up a colony in what is now Alaska. Clashes between countries became common-place. One consequence of these conflicts was the rise in piracy on the high seas.

The decisive turning point was the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, which established England as a dominant sea-power, and the increase in the number of British colonies began, firstly with the conquest of many Caribbean islands and islands in the Mediterranean Sea.

Britain then took control of Canada from the French and then the land-grabs really began, to strategically protect the trading empires which had sprung up. Britain gained Australia and New Zealand and a host of islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, Egypt, India and sundry ports scattered around the world, and finally South Africa. It lost its American colonies in the U.S.A. where a new country was formed.

Meanwhile, the French claimed great areas on Northern and Central Africa along with Belgium, Germany and Italy. During the 1800s, the newly-formed U.S.A. took on a new approach to acquire land, by buying land from France and Russia to expand its size. It did not extend this courtesy to Spain, using conquest instead.

Each of the colonies had to set up a postal service to look after the traders and this is why we have a plethora of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French and British colony stamps to collect. A Canadian stamp issued in 1897 showed the existing British colonies.