As back in UK the Royal Mail float dominates the news ( you hadn’t noticed?) alongside “plans for strikes in the run up to Christmas” (again) I have been finding out about the postal service in Bermuda. Since we were once a British colony, now termed “British Overseas territory”, you won’t be surprised at the similarities between UK mail and Bermuda mail.
For example, the post boxes:
These are Bermuda post boxes.
British ones were not always red – they started off green so as not to be an eyesore. But Bermuda did not get Post Boxes until 1882, some thirty years after the first mainland box at Carlisle and eight years after the introduction of pillar- box red. Anthony Trollope introduced them to England, the author of The Palliser books, The Barchester Towers series and more. ( I love the TV series of The Pallisers, and Barchester Chronicles shows Alan Rickman in a pre-Snape character with a remarkably similar name! watch them if you haven’t already )
Apparently he wrote every morning before going to work at the Post Office ( http://anthonytrollope.com ). He did also visit Bermuda in his role of Post Office Inspector and even wrote a short story based on the islands, "Aaron Trow", but his reports of Bermuda were not that favorable which is probably why the island makes more of John Lennon’s visit here than that of Trollope.
Back to post boxes – in Bermuda and England alike, the form of a cylindrical stand-alone pillar with a horizontal flap for mail near the top became the standard design. The smaller the flap the older the box. Age is also denoted by the name of the monarch – my photos show two George V boxes, one George VI and a more modern Elizabeth II. On Bermuda now there are 46 post boxes – no, I have not counted them all personally, the fact came from a book published last year celebrating the Bermuda Post Office Bicentennial.
Right back in the beginning, around early 1800s, the island mail was carried by a man on a horse who rode west on Wednesdays and east on Thursdays. If you had a letter to be posted you just waited alongside the main road until he came by. No house deliveries, you would be sent a message and have to walk to the Post office to collect it – and pay for it. The rates were 4d per ounce.
Then a chap called William Benet Perot arrived in Hamilton, Bermuda, built a house that he called "Par-la-Ville" (it means beside the town, it was on the edge of town) from where he ran a Post Office.
The building still stands today, with part of it now the Bermuda Library. The post office itself is still operational – with an interior of cedar wood counters, probably looks much the same as it did back in the 1800s. Keen to provide an out-of-hours service he made a hole in his front door through which customers could post their letters along with the money to pay for postage – like much of the rest of the world, Bemuda now ran a prepaid service. Unfortunately for him when he added up the money it seemed never enough for the number of letters in the box. So he introduced ink “stamps” called “Perot Provisionals” – customers could buy the envelopes in advance with one of these markers on: his signature and the words “paid in Hamilton” or “paid in St George’s”. These were used between 1848 and 1856, but only 11 are known to still exist. The last one that changed hands did so in 2005 for £60,000.
Now the first English stamps were made in 1840, the rate was 1d for a letter. So the charge in Bermuda, by then 5d per ounce, was excessive and they brought the charge down to 1d to match England. The first Bermuda stamps had a left facing Queen Victoria with the country name written across the top and value across the bottom. I know that on British coins the monarch faces in he opposite direction to the previous one – the Queen faces right so Charles will face left – but with stamps I cannot see any rules or pattern to which profile appears (willing to be enlightened).
I inherited a stamp collection from my grandfather, which one day I will sort, catalogue and tidy. I added to it today with a Bermudian First Day Cover that was issued in May this year:
They are Gombey dancers, I will write about them at a later date.
How did the mail actually reach Bermuda?
Obviously this involved boats, The Packet Trade, from Tudor times through to 1823 (nobody on Bermuda until 1609 so maybe no Tudor ships came this way). A “paquebot” was small, fast and lightly armed – against pirates. In 1823 the Admiralty took over the service and from 1850s it employed contract carriers. One of these was “The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company”. It ran boats from Cornwall to Halifax via Bermuda. By steamship in 1850, from Falmouth it was a 40 day journey.
Around 1900 the post office in Hamilton became the General Post Office, there was one at St George’s and a sub post office in each parish, found along the main roads on the island. I think I said before there are only really three roads so if you drive along you are bound to find a post office.
If you are coming to live over here, you probably want to know how much it all costs now – sadly a bit more than 1d per ounce.
A letter to England will cost $4.45 (up to 100g), slightly cheaper to US at $4.30. There is no longer any surface airmail, all goes by air.
It is currently £4.60 to post a letter (200g) to Bermuda from London. Note to daughter: it helps to write the correct address, including the surname and add “Bermuda” to the envelope – though I can reassure you it does arrive if you don’t do this, but takes a little bit longer.
To my shock when I first collected a parcel at the Post Office I was handed a Stanley knife on a string – this is to open your parcel, the post office collects import duties and adds a $5 clearance fee on top – please don’t send me Christmas presents, and definitely not ones I might be embarrassed to explain.
Does Bermuda have Postmen?
Yes, and women. They have mopeds rather than push bikes. I did see that bikes are being withdrawn in UK for health and safty reasons – reportedly a postman fell off his bike when the chain broke and was awarded £10,000 for damages. So perhaps it is understandable, they cannot afford to be paying out for injuries at that rate.
The legendary “postman vs dog” situation happens in Bermuda too: last month a vicious (have I spelled that right, I tend to write viscous) dog aptly named “Trouble” bit a postman’s leg “almost off” and only ran off when the quick thinking postie threw a barbecue at it … Yes, I have trouble imaging all of that (http://bermudasun.bm – Sep 29 2013) .
Back in 2005 a dog bite triggered the postal workers to march on the cabinet building and demand more stringent dog control laws (still awaited). Again the paper report is graphic, I won’t repeat it.
Bermuda postmen have it easy in comparison: In Exeter, UK, in October 2012, one postman was “eaten alive by fleas”. (Telegraph)
And the Daily Mail reported that one letter could not be delivered because of the giant spiders:
I do believe that Bermuda Postmen have the better deal – they are allowed to wear Bermuda Shorts in Winter, a practice banned in UK ( Roymayall.wordpress.com)
I will happily accept responses by mail for this post 🙂
Ask my daughter for the address!