Smithsonian National Postal MuseumTitle: The Pichs CollectionSan Carlos Institute
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Smithsonian National Postal Museum The Pichs Collection, Exploring Cuba's History Through Postage Stamps
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Postal History
Aviation History

International Mail (5)

The Tay was a wooden, side-wheel paddle steamer, carrying auxiliary sails, owned by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company of England. She was constructed at the shipyard of Charles Wood of Greenock, Scotland. The Tay was 212 feet long, and 33 feet wide. Her engines could muster 400 horsepower. Her gross tonnage was 1,858 tons. The Tay was launched on July 6, 1841.

She was the first mail packet to sail to the West Indies for the new Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, her maiden voyage from Southampton beginning on December 31, 1841.

She arrived at St. Thomas, via Barbados, on January 20, 1842, after 21 days passage.

RMS Arabia
The RMS Arabia
A vessel similar in structure to the Tay

British vessels had been calling at British West Indian and other Caribbean ports for many years. They began calling at St. Thomas in 1807, at Havana since about 1826, at Santiago de Cuba since the 1830’s, and at San Juan, since about 1838. Commerce, passengers and mail had steadily increased over the years. Coinciding with the initiation of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company contract, and the establishment of its new routes to the West Indies, postal agencies were opened at consular offices in various non-British possessions. Those at Havana and Santiago de Cuba were opened in February-March 1842. The initial broken circle postmark of the British agency at Havana, as seen on the reverse of this letter, was impressed in the proof book kept by the British post office in London, on November 13, 1841.

In an attempt to smooth the way for the opening of the British consular post office in Havana, in February, 1842, British General Post Office Inspector J. Kains arrived at Havana with a letter addressed to the Governor General of Cuba. The letter outlined the proposal for the handling of British mail to and from Havana. The Governor responded the same day, pointing out that under Spanish postal regulations, all mail was to be handled by Spanish post offices. In addition, 10% of all postage receipts were to be given to the Cuban steamer company which held the contract for mail transport, the Empresa de Correos Maritimos.

The Royal Mail steamer Thames, in Havana harbor, had been loaded with mail from the British consulate on February 15, and was ready to sail, when a Spanish complaint was received that this action was not in compliance with Spanish regulations. After discussions were referred to high level diplomatic officials, the Thames was allowed to depart on February 17. However, when the Tay arrived from Belize on March 16, Cuban authorities ordered the British naval mail agent on board to turn over all mail to the Cuban post office.

The British postal agent refused, was arrested and put in prison. The British Admiral at Jamaica intervened, however, and the postal agent was shortly released.

The Tay, however, had to proceed to Nassau, Bahamas, to collect other mail for Europe, which had been brought in on other West Indian feeder routes. Meanwhile, the Spanish Governor General of Cuba ordered his deputy in Puerto Rico to close San Juan and his other ports to British mail steamers. Eventually, this problem was overcome by landing and processing the feeder line mail at St. Thomas, Danish West Indies, or Bermuda, and transhipping them from those points to their destinations. Eventually, the Royal Mail Steamers were allowed to call at Havana and San Juan again.

This folded letter, written at Havana on April 10, 1847, arrived in London on May 9, and was rated as 2 shillings 3 pence postage due from the addressee, Frederick Huth & Co. This postage rate was established in General Post Office Instructions No. 49, dated December 1841.

Tome I, p11: Havana to London. 13 November 1841.

Below is a view of the unfolded letter.
Unfolded letter

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