A brief history of the Postal Service in Guyana
Stabroek News
July 25, 2002

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Early History: The Postal Service has for centuries provided persons an easy avenue for communication, a way for families and loved ones to express their sentiments in the ways which only words can best express. Prior to the unification of Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice in 1831 to form the colony of British Guiana, the Dutch up until the late 18th century managed to operate without a post office. Mails from Europe arrived late, as the ships of the Dutch West India Company (DWIC) came only once or twice per year. Private as well as official letters were submitted to the governor who in turn handed them to the commandeur. Law under the administration of the Dutch West India Company stipulated that all letters were to be read, certifying that they contained no information of the activities of the Company, before they were delivered.

Though no postage was charged, a fee of one guilder was required upon delivery.

Guiana was still under the administration of the Dutch when the English packet service was established in the West Indies. After 1740, there was an influx of English settlers to the Guiana colonies. Many of them came from the West Indies and sent letters to the island via private ships. According to W.A. Townsend’s Postal History of British Guiana ‘In 1755, the Falmouth Packet Service was opened in Barbados and many of the traders called there for the transport of letters to England.’

The First Postal Service: This arrangement was soon disrupted as the French during their occupation in 1782 established the first postal service in Guyana. According to Townsend, ‘They announced that a ship will sail for France eight or ten times [every year] by which anyone can send a letter to other countries.’ In January 1783, Adrian Long was appointed as the first Postmaster for Demerara.

He was directed to deliver several letters within four days after their arrival; four men were recruited to assist him in delivery of the mails. A fee of 5 stivers was charged for the delivery of each letter by Long. In Essequibo, a fee of 2 shillings was charged for the delivery of letters, and one-half shilling was charged for those wishing to send letters to Europe. It was further resolved by the Court that mail would be delivered to Berbice every two months. The system for the delivery of mails was disrupted as the Dutch regained control of the colonies in 1784. They abandoned the office of the Postmaster and gravitated to the use of the delivery of mails at the Secretary’s Office.

In 1791, mail service was provided to the colonies of Suriname and Berbice as a result of a subsidy that was paid by the Court of Policy. During the years 1793 - 1795 mails were received and sent via Barbados. A vessel was chartered by the colony as a ‘packet boat’ for the delivery of mails. The efforts of the postal service were concentrated on the communication between resident colonists and those in other territories. J C de la Coste, an Attorney at Law, is credited with the attempt to establish a local postal service. As the proprietor of the first printing office and the first newspaper in Demerara, he implemented a policy that all subscribers to his newspaper would be entitled to have their letters delivered free of charge; for those who were not subscribers 10 stivers were charged for the delivery of each mail. This operation lasted for two years.

The First post office: In 1796 when the British gained control of the colonies they purchased De la Coste’s printery and started the Royal Gazette. On June 11 that year it was resolved by the Court of Policy that “in the consideration for the community that a Post Office shall be established at Stabroek at the expense of the colony under the management of a proper person who shall receive an annual salary of 1200 guilders.” To raise the sum for this venture the fee of five stivers was to be charged for the delivery of each letter. However, for mails forwarded abroad no fees were charged. The Post Master was requested to submit an account every six months and if the revenues obtained by postage were insufficient to cover his salary, the deficit would be recovered from the colony’s revenue. In 1796, the Court of Policy stated that the site of the Demerara Post Office was in the Stabroek district. In 1834 the office was removed to the New Public Buildings where it remained until 1857.

Early Administration: The Post Office was thus started as a government institution, but things were shaky owing to the short appointments of the early Postmasters. The first, Mr. Thompson, was reported to have absented himself without leave. His successor, Mr. Murray, served little over a year. Other postmasters, Mr. Ogle who was appointed by the Governor and Mr. Ralph during the brief period of Dutch rule in 1802-1803, all served short terms, suggesting that the administration of the postal service may have been in a state of chaos.

In 1804, when the British regained control of the colony, King George III appointed Mr. Theophilus as Postmaster of Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice. The postal service was no longer operated by the colony but by authorities in London. Mails were delivered to the Guiana coast through the Falmouth packets to Barbados and local packets thence to Demerara and Berbice. The system was far from perfect, as mails often arrived late or were lost. These circumstances and the high costs of postage were causes of grievances to the populace of the colony. However, the Court was powerless to interfere as the postage rates were fixed by an act of parliament.

Attempts to remedy the prevailing situation within the postal service by using the police, who were organised in 1839, were unsuccessful.

Developments: Avenues for a faster and ultimately a more reliable service saw the implementation of the steamer service. With the support of The West Indian Committee, Mr. John McQueen secured a new mail contract for the construction of 14 wooden paddle steamers averaging 1800 tons and 3 wooden schemers averaging 250-300 tons. On January 3, 1842, the first mail steamer; The Clyde, accommodating some 100 passengers, arrived in British Guiana. Fees of 1 shilling and 1/2 pence for mails to Britain and other foreign destinations, 4 pence for a single letter for British colonies and 2 pence for newspapers were charged by the new Royal Steam service. Other countries such as Suriname took advantage of the British Guiana Royal Mail connections to enhance their capacity for distribution of mails to Europe. This service would serve British Guiana until the end of the First World War.

The nucleus of the present postal service was introduced in 1850 with the usage of postal stamps. On July 1, 1850 the first adhesive postage stamp of British Guiana was issued. Mr. E. T. E. Dalton, the postmaster at the time, had submitted several designs for local postage stamps at the requests of the Governor. These designs were approved and a supply of the said stamps was ordered from Waterloo & Sons of London. However, time did not permit them to be manufactured in London to coincide with the date for the introduction of a new postal scheme where the rate of postage was to be charged by the ounce according to the distance. Thus a supply of ‘The Cotton Reels’ was printed at the office of the Royal Gazette to fulfil the demand of the local postal service. On June 15, 1850 a notice made it compulsory for prepayment of postage [by means of postage stamps] on all letters posted in the colony from July 1 of that year.

In 1860, British Guiana took control of the internal Post Office. The imperial government was still in control of overseas mail. The revenue derived was split between the two. The office was erected on January 3, 1860 and came into operation on May 2, 1860. The first office of the newly formed Colonial Post Office was that of a single room of the Royal Agricultural & Commercial Society’s building. In 1863, a money order service was initiated between British Guiana and Britain, in 1867 between British Guiana and Barbados and in 1866 between various parts of Guiana. By 1885 postcards were introduced to the colony. In 1886, the postage of parcels from British Guiana to Britain became possible and inland parcel postage was initiated in 1888.

In 1894, two more rooms were added to accommodate the surge of business. These were let to the Postal office at $150 per month. In 1901, the central office was transferred to the government building as a temporary location before the Tower Hotel was purchased in 1914 under the regime of Sir Walter Eggerton and converted to the general Post Office.

Further improvements were made to the service with the introduction of airmail. In September 1929 the first regular air mail service by P.A.A. Inc., piloted by Colonel Lindenburg, arrived. The development of the postal service was hindered in 1945 when a fire destroyed the Tower Hotel. Temporary accommodation at the Regent Hotel was also destroyed by fire in 1947. From then until the construction of the new post office, operations were housed at a makeshift office at Avon House in Main Street, the Town Hall basement and the fire brigade annexe.

On February 27, 1950 Governor Charles Wolley K.C.M.G laid the foundation stone for the new Post Office. Before a large crowd on August 11, 1952 the building; described as ‘one built to meet the future as well as present needs’, was declared open by the Archbishop of the West Indies, Alan John Knight.