British-India Post Offices In Tibet

For most of its recent past history Tibet has been an autonomous region under the administrative and military control of the various Chinese dynasties.

The 19th century saw a gradual encroachment by neighbouring countries including Imperial Russia, the Emirate of Afghanistan and British India. Each of the major powers was suspicious of the others intentions with the British Indian administration nervous that the pro-Russian Chinese regime of the period would cede Tibet to Russia giving them access to the Indian borders and trade routes.

In order to negotiate a better position and open up the country to trade missions (and thus influence) the British Indian administration sent a Frontier Commission to Tibet ostensibly to settle incidents along the Sikkim border and a post office was opened at Khamba-Jong to facilitate the negotiations. However the Tibetans under the Dalai Lama proved reluctant to play the game resulting in a more forceful mission. Thus in 1904 The Younghusband Expedition, a full blown military expeditionary force complete with Field Post Offices and including Indian and Ghurkha soldiers, was despatched. This expedition fought its way to the capital Lhasa and was able to extract a treaty of sorts from local Chinese Administrators in the absence of the Dalai Lama who had fled to Mongolia.

Among the many concessions gained was the appointment of permanent British Indian post offices in Tibet and together with some of the existing FPOs these were retained, mainly to serve the Trade Missions, right through Indian Independence up until 1955. This treaty was subsequently abandoned by the Tibetan ruling elite and was followed by a Sino-British treaty in 1906 which contained many clauses delineating spheres of influence and control including that the “Government of Great Britain engages not to annex Tibetan territory or to interfere in the administration of Tibet. The Government of China also undertakes not to permit any other foreign State to interfere with the territory or internal administration of Tibet ….which has been used in many modern day instances to justify the relationship between. Below is a fine range of covers bearing Indian stamps from the 1916/17 period from the Colonel Dundee correspondence and several fine covers bearing a range of native Tibetan stamps.

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