Mail and Passenger Service In Former Times
Mail and passenger service in former times.
By: Will Johnson
When we talk about mail service we should include passenger service as well. In former times when there were no planes flying between the Dutch islands schooners had a contract with the colonial government to transport mail and passengers.
We have a letter dated 25 April 1853, circular No. 57 in which the Governor of the Colony “Curacao and dependencies”, invites a number of merchants on Curacao to make a monthly contribution to the maintenance of bi-monthly mail service to St. Thomas from Curacao by schooner.
Monthly pledges were made by several merchants to a total of fls.319.—per month. The Windward Islands at that time sent their mail by the Captains of privately owned schooners to be processed on St. Kitts. The government mail was taken care of in the same fashion.
From St. Kitts it then went on to St. Thomas, and the mail coming to these islands from Curacao went via St. Thomas and St. Kitts in the same manner. This was mostly government mail as there was hardly any contact between people from the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands back then. This was long before the oil refineries had started up and people from these islands started moving to the ABC islands. There was the occasional schooner which government chartered between the islands. I have correspondence from Curacao dated September 18th, 1845 where the Governor is sending correspondence to Saba with the schooner ‘Mary Francis’ owned by Capt. William Simmons. Also correspondence of October 7th 1845 ,whereby the Governor is sending two soldiers J.S. Kok and F.L.Flores, with the Government schooner ‘De Wesp’ to St.Eustatius.
Also the newly appointed Lt. Governor of St.Eustatius Mr. W.H.J. van Idsinga was transported to St.Eustatius with the Dutch schooner “Esser” with Captain C.M. de Haseth.
After the Post offices had been established, so that on March 1st 1884 all three islands in the Windward Islands had a Post office, it became necessary to arrange for more direct transportation between Curacao and the Windward Islands. The Post Offices were opened on the following dates: On St. Maarten on January 1st, 1882, St. Eustatius, March 1st, 1884, The Bottom Saba March 1st 1884 and Windwardside, Saba on March 1st, 1944.
In 1886 an officer and philatelist on board H.M.S. “Atjeh” visited Curacao and wrote the following to a Dutch stamp Journal; “The forwarding of letters between the West-Indian islands Curacao, Bonaire, St.Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba takes place free of charge and is transported by the Government schooner “Gouverneur van den Brandhoff.” From the colonial report of 1875 we can read that mail traffic from Curacao to the three Dutch Windward Islands was routed through the Dutch consul at St. Thomas, and thence to the Dutch consul at St. Kitts, from which island small vessels transported the mail to the three Dutch islands, and vice versa.
On January 30th 1886, a contract was signed with Mr. J.J. Scopean. This contract with the Government of the Colony called for the monthly services of the schooner named the “Gouverneur van den Brandhof” to all three Windward Islands for the yearly sum of fls.4.800.–. The schooner measured 219.46M3 or 76.73 gross tons.
In 1901 this contract was renewed with his widow Mrs. E.P. Laglois and was increased to fls.6.000.—per year. There were rates for first class passengers of fls.60.—to Curacao and for 2nd class passengers and children below the age of 12 the fare was half that of a 1st class passage. The freight on furniture and baggage for a family coming from Curacao was fls.125.—and between the Windward Islands it was fls.50.—Rates by the way which we consider quite high for a schooner back in 1886. There was even a rate of fls.50.—to transport someone who was insane and who was not accompanied.
A new contract was entered in to on December 28th, 1903. The rates for passengers remained unchanged to those applied in 1886 by Mr. Scopean, until the new contract was signed in 1903, and the rates decreased. A first class passage became fls.50.—second class passengers and children f.25.—whereas furniture and baggage for a family was reduced to fls. 100.—from Curacao and fls.40.—between the Windward Islands.
In a letter dated 4th August 1903 to the Governor, the Administrator of Finance reports with satisfaction that he was able to convince Mrs. E. P. Laglois to reduce the tariff for passengers traveling on her schooner between the islands. We should not forget that there were private schooners from Saba trading between the Windward Islands, New York, Bermuda, St.Kitts, St.Thomas and Barbados back then. People were not exactly jumping to get an expensive ride on Mrs. Scopeans schooner either; they had other choices, especially between the Windward Islands.
His Excellency the Governor was taking no chances however, as on August 19th of that same year he wrote to the Lt. Governors of all three Windward Islands enquiring from them if they had received any complaints concerning the rates for passengers or freight on the mail schooner, to please inform him of same.
The Lt. Governor of St.Eustatius Mr. G.J. van Grol, who was always interested in agriculture, stated in a letter to the Governor dated September 28th, 1903, that he had complaints concerning the freight charges on yams and potatoes. He stated that six barrels of yams at fls.5.—was fls.30.–. Then there was a 20% freight charge of fls.6.–. Import duties on Curacao were f.0.90 and transport in Curacao f.0.75 bringing charges to f. 7.65 so that in effect the farmer on St. Eustatius only received fls. 22.35 for 6 barrels of yams.
He said that if freight charges could be decreased then it would stimulate more exports of agricultural products from St. Eustatius to Curacao. He also thought that the costs of a passage were rather high.
The Lt. Governor of Saba, Mr. H.J. Beaujon (grandfather of Jan Beaujon of Windward Islands Bank Ltd.), in a letter of 4th October 1903, stated that although he had not
received any complaints that the general opinion was that the cost of a passage to Curacao was high especially in view of in his own words the “impoverished table” (meager rations as we would say), offered on board. No French cuisine on those old schooners.
The Lt. Governor of St.Maarten, Mr. A. J. C. Brouwer answered the Governor on 6th January 1904
He said that he had received no specific complaints but that there was general discontent as to the high costs of passages and freight. He said that even though a trip to Curacao could take from four to eight days or more, the high cost of the passages was inexcusable.
He said that before 1886, that there were about 5 or 6 occasions per year when one could get to Curacao by schooner and a first class passage varied from fls.25.—to fls.40.—and in many cases if the person was traveling with freight or to pick up same, then they did not have to pay any passage at all.
The Lt. Governor in addition wrote to His Excellency on 1st February 1904 that upon enquiry from the merchants the last 4 months of 1903 a total of f.45.—had been paid out in freight charges, but that this was on the low side as there had not been any export of potatoes to Curacao during the period mentioned. He also quoted some freight charges on items to Curacao:
Flour and potatoes, per barrel fls. 1.—
Petroleum per box “0.37, 50
Genever per box of 19.50 liters “0.50
Smaller boxes “0.25
Corn and peas per bag “0.50
General merchandise per M3 “7.—
Medium sized boxes contents unknown “0.50
In 1984 some of the old timers whom I interviewed could remember those days. According to Ralph Hassell, then ninety, his grandfather Capt. Henry Johnson had a two-master schooner called the “Spring Bird.” He went on a drunk in Curacao took in with pneumonia and died there. Ralph’s father “Old Claw” (John Benjamin Hassell) was a mate on board and brought up the schooner from Curacao after which she was sold. A year later his grandfathers’ remains were brought here in the schooner the “Gouverneur van den Brandhof” which ran the mail at the turn of the century and he was buried here on Saba in the family cemetery.
In February 1904 a vessel named the “Prince Hendrik” took over the service of the schooner from the “Gouverneur van den Brandhof” temporarily and on the same conditions.
On St. Maarten, D.C. van Romondt & Co., were agents for the schooner as is apparent from a letter from that firm of February 1st 1904 to Mr. A.B. Mussenden on St.Eustatius.
On October 10th, 1908 a new agreement was made between the owner and the government, this time for f.645.—per month, and in an appendix to this agreement dated February 16th 1909, the rent was increased to fls.800.—per month.
On June 21st, 1911, the first of the Saba owned mail boats entered the scene, namely the schooner “Priscilla”, as is apparent from the following agreement:
1st. Albert Land, temporary Administrator of Finances as appointed by Government, and
2nd. Capt. Samuel Augustus Simmons, captain of the Dutch schooner “Priscilla” with 69 registered tons and belonging to Saba, do hereby declare to have made the following contract with regard to a voyage to the Islands St.Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba and return, under the following conditions:
1st. That the schooner be perfectly seaworthy properly crewed and in every respect equipped to leave on this voyage on the 23rd instant with destination to the aforementioned islands.
2nd. that the schooner must call twice at each of these islands, once to land the mails and once to take the mails.
3rd. that the government will pay to the contracting party Simmons on his arrival at Curacao, the sum of three hundred and seventy five guilders for the transport of mails and other government goods.
4th. that for government passengers of Curacao to one of the islands aforementioned shall be paid to the contracting party Simmons: for each first class passenger, with luggage the sum of forty guilders and for each second class passenger, with luggage, the sum of twenty guilders.
5th. that feeding of the government passengers, shall be at the expense of the contracting party Simmons.
The ‘S.S. Christiansted” a steamship owned by the German Company the Hamburg America Line maintained the services from 1st July 1905 through September 1908 and published a regular schedule. The ship was registered under the Danish flag and the captain was Capt. Hansen. At that time Denmark owned St.Thomas, St.Croix and St. John. The agents for the ship were: On Saba Mr. Joseph Benjamin Simmons, on St. Eustatius Mr. Henry Hassell Johnson and on St. Maarten Mr. Wilfred E. van Romondt.
The S.S. “Christiansted” was built in 1904. It was 321 gross tons or 167 net tons. It had a length of 140’, width 24’ and a depth or draft of 11’. It had an average speed of 9 knots and an engine of 310 horsepower and used 4 tons of coal every twenty four hours.
The passenger’s accommodations were not large. Besides a first class saloon, two 3 persons’ cabins, there was a “smoking room”, in which some passengers could be accommodated. Furthermore there was room for 60 deck passengers and for 360 tons of freight. A monthly service was organized from Curacao to the Windward Islands, whereby St. Thomas and St.Kitts were called at, and a bi-weekly service to Aruba and Bonaire. A subsidy of fls.20.000.—a year was granted to the Hamburg Line. The first year of operation the company claimed to have a deficit of fls.10.000. Obviously the Colonial Government was unwilling to finance at such a heavy cost the incidental transportation needs between the islands.
( To be continued.)