Postal History of Barbados

Postal History: The West Indian Mail Service and Barbados Inland Post - The comunication by packets with England existed so early as the period when he published his work on the British Empire in America. This service was no doubt inefficiently executed and it did not gain any regualrity until towards the end of the last century.

Public notice was given in September 1810, that thenceforth a mail would be made up at the General Post Office in London on the second Wednesday every month, and be forwarded by a packet to British Guiana to Berbice and Demerara, to return to Great Britain by Barbados where she was to remain twenty-four hours, touching afterwards at Matinique.

The benefit of the great invention of our century, the propelling vessels by steam, was extended to the West Indies; and a new postal  determined upon in 1834, to the following effect, namely, that on and after January 1835 a communication wourld be established every fortnight to and from the West Indies and Falmouth. The mails were in consequence despatched from England on the 3rd and 17th of every month by sailing-packets to Barbados, whence they were conveyed by steamers to Jamaica the sailing-packets calling on their way to St. Thomas at the different islands, and waiting at that harbour for the steamer from Jamaica previous to their return to Falmouth. The steamers Spitfire and Flamer, with the Columbia, then attached to the fleet of the West India station as an auxiliary, were appointed for this service.

At that time the passage out and home was calculated as follows:

Sailing-packet to Barbados 31 Days; Steam-vessel from Barbados to Jamaica, calling at Jacmel 6 Days; Steam-vessel remains at Jamaica 4 Days; Steam-vessel from Jamaica to St. Thomas 5 Days; Steam-vessel from St. Thomas to Falmouth 31 Days; Is a total of 77

In January 1842 the Royal Mail Steampacket Company was established, and their splendid vessels, of 1800 tons and 300 horse-power commenced the mail service between Southampton and the West India islands, performing the voyage, nearly as above mentioned, in about sixty days. The first West India port which they make is, according to the present plan, Barbados, which they reach generally in twenty-one days.

The establishment of an inland post has been agitated for some time and a number of documents to that effect were laid before the House of Assembly on the 15th of September 1846, which detailed the plan of establishing an inland post, upon the understanding that a guarantee should be given by the Legislature of the island to protect the Postmaster-General against loss to the revenue. Under this condition the propsition was approved of by the Lords Commissioners of her Majesty's Treasury on the 1st of April 1846.

In the year of 1851 the Legislature of Barbados authorized the setting up of an Inland Post Office operation under the control of the Barbados Government to facilitate the distribution of mails within the Island, such deliveries having been made up to then by special messengers or servants.

The other phase of the Island's postal service related, of course, to mails to and from abroad, this having been handled by the various Packet Services, the most important of these, the one from and to the United Kingdom, having been operated between Falmouth and Barbados since around 1670 and being under the control of the British Post Office. Thus there were, in the Islands, two separate agencies for handling mail, one operated locally and the other from London.

Badge 1850
Badge 1850
Colonial Flag 1870-1966
Colonial Flag 1870-1966
Governor Flag 1870-1966
Governor Flag 1870-1966
Badge 1870-1966
Badge 1870-1966

The rates adopted for Inland use were one penny per half-ounce on prepaid letters, with an additional penny for each additional half-ounce; newspapers were carried free, with other printed papers being charged a halpenny each. It is of interest to note that Barbados was the first British Colony to adopt a halfpenny rate; the first halfpenny United Kingdom stamp was issued in 1870.

The Packet Rate on letters to England was one shilling per half-ounce, inclusive of the Inland rate. The postage on letters to the other B.W.I. was fourpence plus the one penny Inland rate if the letter was not posted at the Post Office, plus another penny charged for delivery to the addressee if the letter was not picked up at the Post Office of destination.

Hence, in 1851, at the time of the passing of the Inland Post Office Act, there was a need for halfpenny and one-penny stamps, and these were the first denominations used in the Island, the colours being green and blue respectively. The researches of Mr. Herbert Bayley of Barbados have brought to light the reason for the third stamp, which made its appearance with the two values mentioned above a greyish slate stamp which, apparently was used as a twopenny stamp on local letters weighing more than half an ounce, but not more than on ounce.

However, very little need for this twopenny stamp actually developed, and it was sometimes bisected and used as a penny stamp. Covers showing it used in this way are very rare.

The appearance of the red-brown fourpenny stamp, put into use some time after January 1855, suggests that the Barbados Post Office had decided to facilitate the prepayment of letters destined for the other British West Indies and inter-island covers carrying this stamp are sometimes seen. Nevertheless, the practice of prepaying, by coin, the cost of sending letters to the other British West Indies continued well into the late 1850s, and thus one sees, for example, covers from Barbados to Trinidad carrying a one-penny Barbados stamp and also marked 4d. in manuscript.

The first supply of halfpenny, penny, twopenny and fourpenny stamps was printed by Perkins, Bacon & Company. The design shows Britannia seated on a bale of merchandise, a spear in her right hand and her left arm supported on a shield carrying the combined crosses of St. George, St. Patrick and St. Andrew. A full-rigged ship is shown at the right. The word Barbados apperars in white sans-serif capital letters across the bottom of the stamp. There is a small square at each corner containing an 8-pointed star having a white dot at the centre. Reticulated lines join these four squares. The background of the stamp is made up of engine-turning.

The design used was copied from the one originally made for use in printing the stamps of Mauritius and was originally produced in water colours by Henry Corbould. It is believed to have benn engraved by Frederick Heath. Incidentally, Corbould was the artist responsible for the Penny Black.

The four values were all printed from one steel plate of 110 stamps arranged in eleven horizontal rows of ten stamps each, prepard from an engraved die. The paper used was hand-made from "fine rags and new pieces" at the RushMill, Northampton and was unwatermarked. The sheets were imperforate, with their four sides deckledged.

The white wove paper used varied considerably in thickness, three general types being distinguishable (a) soft, medium thickness; (b) Hard, resembling cartridge paper; (c) thin, almost pelure.

The first lot of stamps sent out to the Colony was lost at sea on the S.S. AMAZON and was replaced by shipment of 50.000 blue and 10.000 purple ones, forwarded in January 1852, followed in February by 30.000 green stamps. The paper on which these stamps were printed, while originally white or grey, ultimatley took on a bluish tone due to the action of the chemicals in the inks used, to give what is known as "Blued" paper.

Reference has already been made to the greyish-slate twopenny stamp issued at the same time as the other three values. There was also a slate-blue stamp prepared for use but not issued, quantities of which turned up in a large find of British Colonial stamps of this period made in England in 1889, and which comes in two shades, slate-blue and slate. These stamps can best be distinguished by their gums that on the greyish-slate being of an even shade, giving a uniform pale-blue apperance to the back of the stamp, while the gum on the latter two stamps shows a characteristic mottled appearance, caused mostly by the light-coloured portions of the design showing through. Where the gum has been removed, it is not easy to distinguish between these stamps.

There were numerous shades in the halfpenny and penny values, as would be expected in an issue comprising a number of printings. The halfpenny occurs in two shades, yellow-green and deep green, mint copies of the former being extremely scarce. The penny stamps show a very considerable range of shades of blue, from a pale milky blue through to a deep blue.

In their book on the stamps of Barbados Bacon & Napier state that the total numbers of stamps received at Barbados were 1800.000 green, 450.000 blue and 60.000 red stamps, all on the blued paper, the twopenny stamps in greyish-slate being, presumably, included with the one-penny total.

The number of twopenny stamps is probably not far from the figure given by Mr. Herbert Bayley who unearthed the Colonial Postmaster's Report covering sales of stamps up to the end of July 1853 and showing that 10.000 purple stamps had been sold, this being undoubtedly his assessment of their colour.

In their check-list of the stamps on blued paper, Bacon and Napier refer to a bisected blue stamp used as a penny rate in 1854. This seems to be an incorrect reference to the bisected twopenny which as we have seen, was used for the one penny rate, although to a very meagre extent.

The check-list of the stamps on blued paper is therefore:

½ penny yellow-green
½ penny dark green
1 penny various shades of blue and various papers
2 penny greyish-slate
2 penny greyish-slate, bisected and used as one penny stamp.
4 penny brownish-red
A slate-blue and a slate-coloured stamp prepared for use, but not issued.