In the nineteenth century, sugar and cacao plantations dominated the economy of Trinidad and the British Colonial government opened land to settlers interested in establishing these estates. The resulting population and economic growth inspired the people of Trinidad to campaign for a postal service between the towns of San Fernando and capital city, Port of Spain. However, as late as 1844, no such service had been authorized. The only mail and parcels carried between the two ports was by an old, expensive and unreliable steamer, the Paria.
In 1845, Messrs. Turnbull, Stewart & Co. introduced the Lady McLeod, a more modern steamer named after Governor of Trinidad Sir Henry McLeod’s wife. Built by Robert Napier in Greenock on the Clyde in Scotland, she was a 67-ton, three-masted paddle steamer, 109 feet in length with a 40 horse-power engine. With David Bryce, the first Captain, she set out for Trinidad on September 5, 1845, and, after a 48-day voyage arrived at Port of Spain.
The day after her first trip out of the Port of Spain to San Fernando, November 3, 1845, an official notice was placed in the Port of Spain Gazette. J.A. Allen, Henry Scott and John Losh of Turnbull, Stewart and Co. stated that the ship would carry letters, public officers, magistrates and police free of charge.
On November 21, they placed another notice in the Port of Spain Gazette:
“Steamer the Lady McLeod: Letters, Money and Small Parcels will be carried from this date for subscribers only, at one dollar per month from each Subscriber or Estate, payable quarterly in advance; letters of non-subscribers will be charged 10 cents each. Letter box at Michael Maxwell’s San Fernando, and Turnbull, Stewart and Co. Port of Spain. N.B. The Commander can only be held responsible for parcels or letters containing money, for which a receipt is given and a commission of one-half per cent [paid].”¹
Mail transport could be paid for in cash either in port or on-board ship. The second option often caused problems as the ship’s captain ran out of loose change and had to refuse letters. In November 1846, the ship was sold to David Bryce and by April 16, 1847, he overcame the small change situation by printing his own stamps which were issued only at the dockside agent’s office.
Although an unofficial issue, the Lady McLeod stamp was the first adhesive postage stamp ever issued relating to “post by sea.”
1) The complete article on the Lady McLeod Cover can be found at: Lera, T. “The Lady McLeod Cover,” Collectors Club Philatelist, 2009, 88(5): 280 - 282
Written by Tom Lera