The need for a postal service at South Georgia grew with the whaling industry. The first whaling station was established at Grytviken in 1904 and was quickly followed by five more shore stations and several floating factories. A population census conducted in December 1909 calculated the island’s summertime population was 720. With the explosion of whaling activity on the island, the British Government decided to set up a local administration, and in 1909 James Innes Wilson was appointed as the first resident Magistrate. His many duties included those of Coroner, Registrar and Postmaster. As almost all the whalers came from Europe, Wislon found they were eager to use this new postal service to keep in touch with family and friends on the other side of the world. On 23rd December 1909, one thousand letters and 389 postcards were despatched in the first outgoing mail aboard S.S. Cachelote – 65p stamp. The Post Office Centenary Stamp set is issued exactly one hundred years later on 23rd December 2009.
Wilson lived at first at Grytviken and the illustration on the First Day Cover shows him handing out mail outside the front door of the Manager’s Villa. King Edward Point (KEP) was chosen as the centre of government administration and Wilson moved across the cove to the new Magistrate’s House there in 1912. All the whaling stations on South Georgia had post boxes, but the mail had to be brought to KEP for cancelling and onward transmission. In the early years mail was sometimes carried between stations by couriers. They would trek across the peninsulas and row across the bays. Small huts were set up in several places around the coast where the couriers could rest or wait for suitable weather before continuing their journey. One stamp shows the Sorling Valley postal hut with three men and their rowing boat – 65p stamp. The hut still stands today although now it is a partial ruin. Its wooden beams are carved with the names of bored whalers and the dates of their stay. The practice of using couriers largely died out when it was found safer and quicker to put the mail on a whalecatcher or other vessel moving between stations.
As whale stocks dwindled through overhunting, the shore whaling stations closed down. By 1966 all whaling had ceased on the island and South Georgia’s population was reduced to a few tens manning the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) stations at KEP and Bird Island. The KEP Base Commander was Magistrate and Deputy Post Master (DPM). Mail became sporadic, arriving a few times each summer aboard BAS ships or visiting Royal Navy vessels.
After the Argentine invasion in 1982 a British military garrison was stationed at KEP. The troops mostly used the British Forces Post Office services for their own needs and the Commanding Officer acted as Magistrate and DPM. The postal service became more regular again. Incoming and outgoing mail was carried aboard Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships, which made frequent calls, and the RAF also flew Hercules aircraft from the Falkland Islands to airdrop mail and stores.
The Post Office building, which was erected at KEP in 1928, remained in use until 2000 when it was replaced by a Post Office in the new research facility at KEP – 90p stamp. The current mail ship is the Fishery patrol Vessel Pharos SG – 90p stamp.
Today, the island’s postal service serves the needs of the small population of scientists, government and museum employees and others that make the island their temporary home. In summer the Post Office is popular with the many cruise ship passengers who want to send postcards home. And, one hundred years after the South Georgia Post Office was first opened, a new Post Office facility will be open at Grytviken when cruise ships visit.
Title: Centenary of the South Georgia Post Office
Date of Issue: 23 December 2009
Denominations: 65p x 2, 90p x 2
If you like this post, please say it in the comment!!!