New book examines Island’s postal history

  • Post Office at Crawl Hill in the 1950s.

    Post Office at Crawl Hill in the 1950s.

  • A drawing by retired postal worker Andrew Furbert.

    A drawing by retired postal worker Andrew Furbert.

  • Unloading the mail to be censored during the Second World War.

    Unloading the mail to be censored during the Second World War.

  • A postcard of the mail coming in by steamer.

    A postcard of the mail coming in by steamer.

A new book celebrating the Bermuda Post Office’s Bicentennial makes the Island one of the few countries in the world to officially record its postal history.

Liz Jones’ ‘The Bermuda Post Office Bicentennial — 1812 to 2012’ will be in stores next week.

Eugenie Simmons, corporate services manager at the Bermuda Post Office oversaw the development of the book. She was very excited to see its completion.

“The Bermuda Post Office is the oldest international business in Bermuda,” said Dr Simmons. “We are 200 years old. There is so much to its story. The post office’s story is about far more than just delivering and sorting mail. This has a legacy that is linked to the United Nations’ Universal Postal Union which is the second oldest agency under the UN. It is tied to the premise that the right to mail and communicate is a universal human right. That is how it evolved.”

She said the book has been in the making for the last three years, and like the post office itself, has had its stops and starts. The project came to a halt at one point, due to a need to change writers. When Dr Simmons connected with Liz Jones, a well known Bermuda freelance writer, there was an instant synergy.

“For the person who is a purist it has the timeline and history,” said Dr Simmons. “For the person who likes titbits, we have sidebars. The book looks at the Bermuda Post Office’s role in different parts of history. For example, during the Second World War hundreds of British postal examiners stationed in Bermuda helped to uncover Nazi spy rings operating in the United States.

“It looks at the change in the social fabric of the country and how the Bermuda Post Office led the change, such as through the desegregation of the Civil Service.”

In the book, Phyllis Guishard Basden became the first woman of colour to be employed by the Civil Service in 1953. In 1982 Gary Phillips was the first black Bermudian to be appointed Postmaster General.

“I really enjoyed interviewing people for the book and listening to their stories,” said Mrs Jones. “Mrs Basden had this wonderful memory of Dr E F Gordon appearing every morning at the post office to make sure she was doing okay. So many people were batting for her. She also remembered the stress of it.”

Mrs Jones said the book was particularly important in light of today’s age of instant communication. She said it was sometimes hard for young people who use the internet and cell phones to appreciate what people went through in the past to deliver the mail.

“They don’t know about the risks that people took to deliver the mail; the ships that went down,” said Mrs Jones. “They don’t know about how people used to wait for mail. Sometimes the mail could take three weeks to cross the ocean if the winds were strong or it could take four months.

“That really came home to me when I was writing this book. For example, in 1856 the mail steamer the Curlew sank when it struck a reef on its way from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“When the Curlew went down and all the mail was lost and the people that were lost along with it. There was a romance to delivering the mail because people were risking their lives.”

But Dr Simmons said even today delivering mail could be risky. Not only did postmen risk dog bites from people’s protective pets, but they also experienced traffic accidents as most of the mail is delivered on motorbikes.

“Some of our workers have been seriously injured in cycle collisions,” she said. “Sometimes people take for granted the mail that appears in their mailbox we take it for granted because we deliver it so efficiently. People are not aware of the logistics and the personal challenges that accompany this.”

Local postal history experts such as Horst Augustinovic helped with the book by providing examples of relevant philately. There is also including in the book a series of pen and ink drawings of Bermuda post offices drawn by retired postman Andrew Furbert.

“The project showed that once the post is in your blood you don’t leave,” said Dr Simmons. “We have people who are no longer formerly employed by us but are still very much a part of the postal family. The post office is very seductive. You come in and think you will do it for a year or two and before you know it you are hooked.”

Dr Simmons said ‘Bermuda Post Office’ is a beautiful publication that struck a good balance between a book for history buffs and a book that was interesting literature.

The book will retail for $34.99 hard cover and $24.99 soft cover and will be available at the General Post Office on Church Street, and also at Masterworks Foundation at the Botanical Gardens in Paget, at People’s Pharmacy on Victoria Street, and the Bermuda Bookstore on Queen Street.

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Published Apr 18, 2012 at 8:12 am (Updated Apr 18, 2012 at 8:10 am)

New book examines Island’s postal history

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