On a wall of the old Tortuga Post Office, perched atop a hill in central Trinidad, an image of a sinister white Jesus Christ gazes over a calendar advertising a poultry depot.
Across the room hangs a painting of a smiling topless African woman with her hand on her hip, a jug of water balanced on her head.
The two have shared this space, undisturbed, for more than two decades.
That’s because the last time anyone occupied the room was around the turn of the century, when the office postwoman died.
She was never replaced, the place never reopened, and the building became a time capsule containing the memories of the postwoman and her family who lived there.
Unknown to most, the building still houses a perfectly preserved postal operation, complete with customer counter, wooden mail sorter, stamps, documents, receipts and a locked safe whose keys were kept by a man.
We found this man. He solved the mystery.
History records that Trinidad’s first post office was established around 1800 on Frederick Street, Port of Spain, under the care of a postwoman.
According to JH Collens’ book A Guide to Trinidad, “At that time it was customary to pay for the carriage of a letter in hard cash, the formality of affixing a portrait of Her Majesty being dispensed with. The first stamp from Trinidad, and indeed the first West Indian stamp (known to philatelists as ‘Lady McLeod’) was probably issued around 1845.”
The Post Office would move to Abercromby Street, then King Street, before having its headquarters on St Vincent Street where the Postmaster General, JA Bulmer, introduced the sale of postage stamps, postcards, registered envelopes, of column boxes, newspaper wrappers and surcharge stamps, extended the money order system to countries around the world and introduced the domestic parcel post because it was then easier and cheaper to send a parcel to Great Britain Britain than in Toco (the export of “opium” was prohibited).
A Returned Letters branch (for undeliverable mail) was also introduced at the time, which was apparently much needed on the island as “in 1885 1,551 were purely and simply destroyed through sheer inability to discover the authors or the persons for whom they were intended.
By 1888 there was door-to-door delivery of letters and parcels in the urban areas of Port of Spain and San Fernando, with postal outlets set up in the populated parts of the island – from Toco to Monos and from Manzanilla in Icacos – no less than 43 pitches.
These were the places people visited to buy stamps, collect or drop off mail and parcels, and connect with the world, at a time when the only other way was by boat, or by that under-the-radar telegraph cable. sailor who landed at Moruga in 1871. and connected Trinidad to the United Kingdom, North America, the Caribbean and South America.
Tortuga Post Office
This is why the Tortuga Postal Agency was born.
The area was then important to the island’s economy due to cocoa, so it was built by the colonial government in the then “downtown” area, across from the warden’s office, the courthouse and the police station.
All three buildings are now gone, but their concrete pillars still stand just around the corner from the now famous Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Montserrat and that breathtaking mango tree lookout.
The Express couldn’t find the date the Tortuga post office was established, but village elders say even their parents don’t remember the place wasn’t there.
Here’s what we know.
The first known postwoman was Edna Bolswina Nicholas, who worked there all her adult life and was 95 when she died in December 2005, according to her great-granddaughter Candice Alexander.
Nicholas, who also recorded births and deaths in the area, had two children, Juditha and Oscar.
Juditha would marry a Fitzwilliam and move to Diamond Vale, Diego Martin. She had two daughters who spent many vacations in this perfect village.
One of these girls, Wendy, will win the Miss Universe 1998 pageant.
Oscar found love in the village with another beauty, Josephine James, who learned all about the postal business during their relationship.
Letters to Santa Claus
So in 1976, when postwoman Nicholas retired, bought a property nearby, and moved, the post was seconded to Josephine, who signed a contract months before the country became a republic for ” to furnish, equip and maintain to the satisfaction of the Postmaster-General a proper and suitable place in the said district for the handling of Her Majesty’s Mail”, for which she received an indemnity of $65 per month.
The postwoman Joséphine will have three relationships during her life, and will be the mother of seven children who will all be raised in this place, which has an adjoining kitchen and two bedrooms.
Its firstborn, Stanisclaus Garcia, told us he had only happy memories of living there.
“There were only two rooms. The children all slept in one bedroom, on double-decker beds and in the living room. But we lived well. I have never gone without and never with problems.
Josephine will also bring the magic of Christmas to the village for many years.
Her great-granddaughter Candice said: ‘Every year the headmaster (of the nearby primary school) would ask the children to write letters to Santa Claus, and we would go single file to the post office, buy a stamp and mailed this letter to Santa Claus, everyone thinking he was really going to the North Pole. But, of course, the parent when they came to get their mail, she gave them the letter, and they knew exactly what their children wanted and got it.
In 1985, Josephine was wooed and won over by Robert Beaumont, who moved into the building, fathered one of her children, Marsha, and became stepfather to the others.
Their union lasted until his death in March 2001 from high blood pressure and heart disease at the age of 64.
Beaumont, now 74, told us the building was never reopened and letter carriers began delivering mail to the village.
“When she died, I wrote to the government and went to the property management section of the Finance Complex, asking if it was for sale. I asked if they could continue the rental agreement signed by Josephine and that’s what I’ve been paying for ever since. Hopefully one day we’ll own it for the benefit of the children who spent their lives there.
About that painting on the wall.
He came from Ghana more than 40 years ago, from a correspondent of one of Josephine’s children, Gillian. She has since picked it up.
And about that vintage cast metal safe, bought so many years ago at John Tann’s in London, England.
Robert Beaumont kept the keys and was also curious to know what it contained.
So we spent an evening unlocking it, hoping for rare stamps, coins and letters.
We found a dime.
NOTE: Richard can be contacted at email@example.com