The fact that there are no less than four contenders for the title of Gibraltar’s first stamps gives a clue to the complex postal arrangements that existed in Gibraltar in the Victorian era. Two of them are in respect of the first adhesive stamps to bear the name ‘Gibraltar’, the other two are earlier still. Richard Garcia talks us through this complex period and puts forward the case for each of the contenders vying for the title.
If the term ‘Gibraltar’s first stamps’ were to be interpreted as meaning the first postage stamps to be sold over a Post Office counter in Gibraltar, then the title goes to the stamps of Spain of 1856. On 1 July 1856, Spain gave effect to a new postal law requiring compulsory prepayment of letters using Spanish stamps. Gibraltar is not Spanish: it has been proudly British since it was taken in 1704 by an Anglo-Dutch force and Spain ceded Gibraltar to the British Crown in perpetuity under the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. However, an arrangement was arrived at between the British and Spanish Post Offices that letters for Spain posted in Gibraltar could enjoy the internal Spanish postal rate (in 1856 this was 4 cuartos, about 1d.) instead of paying the foreign letter rate (6d.). This arrangement was of particular benefit to the many working class Spaniards who lived and worked in Gibraltar, many as servants and in factories (Fig 1).
Spanish Stamps on sale in Gibraltar
Spanish stamps had been used in Gibraltar from 1850, when they were first issued, but they were not sold at a post office in Gibraltar until July 1856. Charles Francis, the Postmaster of the Overland Post Office in Gibraltar, was then appointed an Agent of the Spanish Post Office and supplied with 4 cuartos, 1 real and 2 reales Spanish postage stamps from San Roque, the nearest town in Spain, for sale in Gibraltar. He received a 4 per cent commission on sales from the Spanish Post Office. Gibraltar letters prepaid in Spanish stamps were taken by the Gibraltar Mounted Postman to San Roque, where the stamps were cancelled and the letters entered the Spanish postal system. The Gibraltar Overland Post Office handled overland letters received at and despatched from Gibraltar and, despite the name, it also handled letters carried by private lines of Mediterranean steamers that were not British. It was located in the Colonial Secretary’s Office. There was also at the same time in Gibraltar a British Packet Agent, appointed by the Postmaster General in London. He was Edmund Creswell, later known in his family as One-Armed Edmund after a pet donkey bit his hand and his arm had to be amputated when gangrene set in. The Gibraltar Packet Agent handled maritime mails carried by the British contract mail steamers, which were known as packets, and ship letters carried on
private British steamers.
There was no delivery of letters in Gibraltar in 1856. Anyone expecting a letter had to call at both the Overland Post Office and the Packet Agency to ask the clerk if there was anything to collect. The problem was that most visitors to Gibraltar, perhaps off the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company steamers (later known as P&O), were unaware that there were two post offices in Gibraltar at which enquiry for letters should be made. The long and the short of it was that many letters sent to Gibraltar were not delivered to the intended recipient and were returned as undeliverable. It made sense that all postal arrangements should be combined under one roof, and that is precisely what was decided in late 1856. Edmund Creswell was appointed by the Postmaster General on 1 January 1857 as the first Postmaster of the unified Gibraltar postal service, which now came totally under the control of London. The arrangement that Charles Francis had entered into with the Spanish P.O. for the use of Spanish stamps in Gibraltar was continued by Edmund Creswell in 1857 (Fig 2)
You can discover more in this month’s Gibbons Stamp Monthly. Buy your copy here.