Camel-Back Couriers: Unveiling the 1902-1903 Aden Postal System

In January 1902, the Aden Boundary Commission established its base in Dthala, embarking on a year-long mission of liaising with Turkish officials and local chieftains. Their objective was to clarify land ownership and allegiances, setting the stage for extensive surveying operations. The team's presence in the vicinity of Dthala extended until late 1903, after which they shifted their focus southwestward, moving towards the coastal border near Perim.

Central to the Commission's operations was the need for a reliable, swift postal service to stay connected with Aden. This brief exploration focuses solely on the postal runner system employed while the Commission operated near Dthala.

Before departing from Aden, a robust postal system was organized to ensure bi-daily mail delivery to the Commission. This system relied on a relay of nine camel-mounted couriers, each compensated at a rate of two Rupees per day, inclusive of a supervisor. Given the inherent risks of solitary travel in unfamiliar tribal territories, these couriers operated in a carefully coordinated relay system.

The postal system devised for the Aden Boundary Commission in 1902 was a remarkable feat of logistics, designed to traverse nearly 90 miles of challenging terrain. Theoretically, this journey could be completed in 20 hours of travel time. However, practical constraints, particularly the inability to travel at night through the perilous Radfan region, extended the delivery time. Consequently, it took about 25 hours for the mail to reach Dthala. The return journey, complicated by timing and logistics, was even more protracted, taking around 32 hours.

The timetable for this operation was meticulously planned, with specific legs of the journey assigned to each of the nine camel-mounted runners. While this schedule might have seemed overly ambitious or even impractical on paper, in reality, it functioned remarkably well, a testament to the efficiency and dedication of those involved. The supervisor, who was paid a mere two Rupees a day, proved to be an invaluable asset, ensuring the smooth operation of this intricate system.

Financially, the costs of maintaining this dawk (postal service) were significant. The Commission's budget allocated a substantial sum of one thousand Rupees monthly for the dawk alone, with an additional thousand Rupees set aside for official telegrams and postage. This substantial investment highlighted the importance of maintaining robust communication lines during the Commission's operations.

An interesting development in this postal network was the establishment of Shekka, also known as Chakka in 1904. Located 7 miles SSE of Nobat Dakim, Shekka emerged as a crucial signalling relay station. It played a pivotal role in facilitating communication via heliograph between the Commission’s camp outside Dthala and Aden, further enhancing the efficiency of the Commission's communication strategy.