Notes from the Past

Trinidad's First Stamps - Part I

Trinidad was the first British Colony in which adhesive stamps were issued.  In April, 1847, David Bryce, the owner of the steamship Lady McLeod issued a stamp for franking letters carried by the ship.  This private issue had no official sanction.  Four years later, on April 11, 1851, officially authorized stamps were issued.

Plans for providing a postal service began four years earlier as the result of a letter written on January 30, 1847, by Lord Harris, the Governor of Trinidad, to the Colonial Secretary in London suggesting that post offices should be established on the island.  His letter enclosed estimates of the expenses associated with a postal service.  The British Postmaster-General approved the proposal with the proviso that the local post be kept distinct from the Packet Agency which handled overseas mail.

The Governor did not agree at once with the provisions as he thought that a likely postal service deficit would put a strain on the Colony's financial resources.  In November, 1847, a committee was appointed to review and report on a plan for the local postal service.  Their report on December 1 recommended that land service be provided three days a week between Port of Spain, St. Juan's, St. John's, Arouca, and Arima and steamer service be provided five days a week between Port Of Spain, Conva, and San Fernando, with added service each Saturday to La Brea and Cedros.  The mail bags sent by ship were to be placed in the care of a police constable while they were on board.  Letters were to be prepaid by means of stamps and newspapers would be handled free.  Stamps would be procured from England with 'Trinidad' overprinted.

As in so many similar instances, the committee's cost estimates forecast a loss with expenses at $2,500 against income of $750.  As it was expected that this deficit would decrease over time and the postal service would greatly benefit the public, the committee recommended proceeding.

Lord Harris wrote to the Agent-General for the Colonies asking for a supply of £50 worth of British stamps overprinted with 'Trinidad' but this request was refused.   In May, 1848, the Governor asked that stamps be 'in such shape as the Commissioner of Stamps may direct.'

At that time authorities in Mauritius were negotiating with Perkins, Bacon, and Petch for a supply of stamps and it was suggested that, so long as the name of the Colony at the foot of the die were changed, one die could serve for both Colonies.  Both Colonies could then share the cost of the die.

To Be Continued

Posted August 10, 2000

Editor's Note:  I have willingly excerpted (almost plagiarized) this from Stamps Day By Day, L. N. and M Williams. Blandford Press Ltd, 1950.

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