Jamaica: Mail Packet Boats

The featured image is of the mail packet boat Thames which is one of four vessels that appear on stamps issued by Jamaica in April 1974 to commemorate those that frequented Jamaica and neighbouring British embassies, colonies and outposts in the 19th century. The issue was accompanied by a miniature sheet included a depiction of some of the routes, calling at ports across the Caribbean, Central America and the southern United States.

1974 Jamaica, Mail Packet Boats miniature stamp sheet
1974 Jamaica, Mail Packet Boats miniature sheet

The stamp issue comprises four stamps all printed on paper with the multiple ‘J’ and Pineapple watermark and perforated 13½ and 14½:

  • 5c Mary 1808-1815,  Perf 13½ & 14½
  • 10c Queensbury 1814-1827, Perf 14½
  • 15c Sheldrake 1829-1834, Perf 14½ 
  • 50c Thames 1842, Perf 13½
1974 Jamaica, Mail Packet Boats 5c stamp
1974 Jamaica, Mail Packet Boats 5c

The history of some of these vessels is difficult to trace and the names used on the stamps do not necessarily coincide directly with vessels that appear on the Lloyds List of Shipping. For example, Mary is believed to be the Princess Mary that was built in Dartmouth in 1805. She made regular voyages as a mail packet boat to the Caribbean including the Leeward Islands and Jamaica as well as Barbados, Martinique and Guadeloupe. She made a lengthy stop-over in Jamaica in 1816 for repair but was subsequently wrecked in a storm near Plymouth in 1817.

1974 Jamaica, Mail Packet Boats 10c stamp
1974 Jamaica, Mail Packet Boats 10c

Similarly, Queensbury is given in the Lloyds List as the Marchioness of Queensbury which made its maiden voyage in June 1814 from Falmouth, England to Lisbon. Thereafter, she made regular voyages as a mail packet boat to the Leeward Islands and Jamaica in the Caribbean, as well as New York, Mexico, Brazil, Spain and the Mediterranean.

1974 Jamaica, Mail Packet Boats 15c stamp
1974 Jamaica, Mail Packet Boats 15c

From 1823 mail services to the british colonies were serviced by Admiralty vessels under the Post Office Packet Service. That was certainly the case for HMS Sheldrake, a ‘Cherokee’ class brig-sloop built at Pembroke and launched in 1825. Like many of the packet service ships of this era, she was lightly armed and relied on speed for security. HMS Sheldrake was equipped with 10 guns, eight 18lb and two 6lb canon, and by 1827 was commissioned by the Post Office Packet Service, operating out of Falmouth.

In 1839, Queen Victoria granted a Royal Charter of Incorporation to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company and in 1840, the Admiralty commissioned the company to provide a fleet of not fewer than fourteen steam ships for the purpose of carrying mail to the Caribbean – as a result the ships were known as the West Indies Mail Steamers. The West Indian Mail Service was established by the sailing of the first Royal Mail Steam Packet from Falmouth in 3 January 1842 – the Thames featured on the 50c stamp. She was a wooden-hulled paddle-wheeler as was capable of speeds up to 10.4 knots.

To view postal issues of Jamaica, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

Published by nigelmandsphilatelycom

Nigel Matthews has been a philatelist for more than 30 years. He has a particular interest in the postal history of the Caribbean including associated British Commonwealth countries (incl. Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, Monserrat, St Lucia, St Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos) as well as Cuba, Danish West Indies, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Martinique, Netherlands Antilles and Puerto Rico.

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