Arago: Exhibits

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Trinidad & Lady McLeod

Lady MacLeod cover

The Lady McLeod stamp on cover locally to Port of Spain, Trinidad.

The West Indian island of Trinidad has the honor of being the first part of the British Commonwealth outside the mother country to issue adhesive postage stamps, even though they were only valid locally.

In the mid-19th century, communication between the two major towns of the island, San Fernando and the capital Port of Spain, was by sea. In 1845, Turnbull, Stewart & Co purchased a 60-ton steamship, built by Napier of Glasgow, and installed her on the route. She was named SS Lady McLeod in honor of the Governor’s wife. At the end of November the proprietors announced, in the Port of Spain Gazette, that ‘letters, money and small parcels will be carried from this date for subscribers only, at one dollar per month, payable quarterly in advance; letters of non-subscribers will be charged ten cents each.’ A year later Turnbull, Stewart sold the Lady McLeod to another Scottish businessman, David Bryce, who re-examined the system for the carriage of mail. He felt the subscriber system was unsatisfactory, as most letters were paid for individually in cash, and decided to overcome this inconvenience by issuing stamps.

An announcement to this effect duly appeared in the Gazette, and the stamps were available from April 16, 1847. They were sold at 5c each, or $4 per hundred, so they have an additional claim to fame as being among the world’s first discount stamps. Lithographed by an unknown but presumably Trinidadian printer, the imperforate design was simple and pleasing, with a colourless silhouette of the steamship on a blue background. The sole indicator of the stamp’s identity is the monogram ‘LMcL’. The stamps were usually pen-cancelled, although some were cancelled by having a corner skimmed off.