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Undated RORKE'S DRIFT Postmark now dated!

I bought the cover below from a local East Anglian stamp fair. The dealer wanted £12 for it because he said "it's from Rorke's Drift", as though that made it somehow special. I looked at it and told him that the postmark and its date was illegible and as a consequence it wasn't worth much at all. The only thing that suggested that it was from where he said was the sender's address on the reverse. 'J Smith, Oscarberg, Rorke's Drift, Natal, S Africa'. I liked the cover. It chimed with what I knew of the so-called Zulu War. I had read Desmond Morris's 'Washing of the Spears' as a boy. The British, he said, fired 30,000 rounds at 4000 Zulus , killing 800. This made a great impression on me.

The cover was going to Sweden. The missionaries at Rorke's Drift at the time of the British war of aggression against the Zulus were the De Witts from Sweden. Before the fight at Rorke's Drift the British posted lookouts on the Oscarberg to warn of the Zulu's approach. When the lookouts saw the "Zooloos",  they ran back to the camp with the news, "Here they come, black as sin and thick as grass". I recently watched Zulu, the movie, on Netflix and realised that it was a censored version that had lost its historical dialogue that was now deemed racist.

The Zulus had positioned men with Martini-Henry rifles captured at Isandhlwane on the Oscarberg where they had a great view down onto the defences. However, they had had no training in musketry and were poor shots, almost as bad as the British infantry. Many closed their eyes when they fired. You had to be very unlucky to be hit by them. But if you were, eina! The Boers liked the Martini-Henry, "die vyfpond geweer", (Dutch. five pound weapon, the cost to them from the ZAR government) because it could drop a pachyderm at several hundred yards. I digress....

Anyway, the dealer held his gound. We continued to haggle and eventually we reached a compromise When I got home I remained disappointed with myself for buying it. After examining it under a powerful magnifying glass, I could only see part of what was a very weak RORKES DRIFT postmark with no identifiable no date. I kicked myself for buying it and put it in a box of stuff where it remained until this month's King's Head issue when I had reason to dig it out. I looked at it and wondered if a bit of jiggery-pokery with Photoshop Elements might now not reveal something. Much to my surprise, it did. I was able to retrieve the name and date.

What I did was fill in all the faint areas of postmark using a non-contiguous paint bucket filled with black. I was able to build up and extract a date - 'AP 10 22'  - and also determine that the postmark was one already identified by Ralph Putzel, his No. 4. This experiment took me no more than ten minutes, starting with scanning the image at 600 dpi to get as much working definition as possible. I am pleased to say that I am now chuffed with my purchase and the success of my experiment.

Uploaded files:
  • Rorkes-Drift-Front-1.jpg
  • Rorkes-Drift-Reverse-2.jpg
  • Enlarge-with-Jiggery-Pokery.jpg

Steve, Congratulations on what you have done.  I have a feeling I am going to have to learn to work the process and sort some of my WWII material out.  I was at Rork's Drift about 20 years ago and tried to work the battle out.  The thing is I don't remember a post office or anywhere where there might have been one.  Is it still there? Or was it a mud hut (like the agencies in Basutoland) which is now long gone?

Jamie,in answer to your questions, I do not know. Unlike you, I have never been there. However, many tourists do visit the Rorke's Drift and Isandhlwana battlefield sites. With tourism being as big as it is in SAs, it is hard to imagine that today there is not a PO at the site of the old mission station. They probably have a special postmark too!

If you have a scanned image and a graphics editing program - PE (Photoshop Elements) is a common and relatively inexpensive one but there are many others some free - there may be one in the Open Desktop (ODT) suite you use - you will most likely be able to do this too. Simply scan a high resolution image, say 600 dpi, then scan into it until you can see the individual pixels (little squares of colour).

Then, select black or any colour that can be distinguished from the background and using the paint bucket drop, black into those parts of the pixellated postmark that you can see. Usually, this works in two ways (certainly in PE) - contiguous which blackens only the bit you drop 'paint' into or non-contiguous which blackens all pixels in the image of the same colour. You want to use the latter as a 24 bit colour image can be made up of as many 16.7 million shades of colour. I don't think any of us have enough time left to use that option!

As a tip, there are three main areas of colour that I dropped black into. Start with the obvious that you can see with the naked eye, like the faint grey 'NATAL' at base. More important are the grey-blue and grey-green parts of the postmark that sit over over the stamps. The reason why the image above is blackened on the right and elsewhere is because these areas shared the same colour pixels as those 'painted' in the  postmark.  Anyway, the idea was not to recreate the postmark - we are now in a position to do so - but rather see what was there, like the date!

Uploaded files:
  • Isandhlwana.jpg

Steve, Thanks, I get the idea but when you say 'certainly in PE', does that mean it is easier to do if you live there?

Little is easy in PE when the wind is blowing. CT has the same problem. Wind is the most disruptive of the natural forces, much like your sense of the facetious!

Try ENO's. They are very good for the wind!

In joke! Sounds like something your grandmother might have recommended!

That was Andrew's.  Know a joke about that one but a bit outdated now!