The Postal Department is among the oldest institutions in Mauritius. It was first established during the French colonial period by Pierre Nicolas Lambert, the King's printer, in 1772. Lambert published a weekly newspaper and he guaranteed his subscribers free delivery of inland mail once a week together with his newspaper. He also dispatched overseas mail and he assured free delivery of letters from abroad six to eight hours after the arrival of a ship. Non-subscribers were also able to take advantage of this service for a small fee.
When the British took over the island in 1810, the postal system had deteriorated, providing a rudimentary overseas service; the inland mail service was almost inexistent. The British pressured by Le Cernéen, a local newspaper, to improve the inland mail service, finally decided in 1834 to revive the postal system. In April 1834, the Government announced that as from 19 May an experimental postal service between Port Louis and Mahebourg once a week on Saturdays would be provided. The return trip to Port Louis was made on the following Monday. The service was so successful that on 1 January 1835, the service was increased to thrice weekly.
In 1840, Sir Rowland Hill invented the postage stamp for the prepayment of mail, which completely revolutionised the postal systems of the world. The introduction of the postage stamp for the prepayment of mail in Britain was followed by Brazil and Switzerland (1843), USA and Mauritius (1847) issuing their own postage stamps.
In 1846, Ordinance No. 13, which laid down postage rates for inland mail, was promulgated. The delivery tariff was fixed at 1d for town and 2d for other localities within the island.
On 21 September 1847, Mauritius issued two postage stamps, the engraving and printing of which were done in Port Louis by Joseph Osmond Barnard. Only 500 orange-red One Penny and 500 deep blue Two Pence denominations were produced. The few surviving legendary Post Office stamps of Mauritius are amongst the most sought after and the most famous stamps in the world.
The 1,000 Post Office stamps of 1847 were all sold soon after they were issued. Today it is generally agreed that only fifteen examples of the One Penny have survived (including two unused) and twelve of the Two Pence (including four unused). Most are now in permanent museum collections. A set of two unused stamps were purchased by a consortium of leading Mauritian companies in 1993 and are on display in a museum in Port Louis.
Whilst the two Post Office denominations of 1847 are the most famous and the most expensive stamps in the world today, there are also some other equally famous stamps of Mauritius.
Locally Printed Classics are:
- The Barnard Post Paid stamps of 1848 to 1858.
- The Lapirot Post Paid stamps on 1859.
- The Sherwin Post Paid stamps of 1859.
- The Dardenne lithographs of 1859.
All the Post Paid stamps were printed from Barnard's original printing plates of 1848 which were re-engraved by both Jules Lapirot and Robert Sherwin. The Dardenne lithographs were printed from a stone.
All the Locally Printed Classics were of One Penny and Two Pence denominations and they were printed respectively in various shades of red and blue.