The British Overseas Territory of the Cayman Islands is considered to be part of the geographic Western Caribbean Sea as well as the Greater Antilles The 102-square-mile (264-square-kilometer) territory comprises the three islands of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman — the peaks of a massive underwater ridge, known as the Cayman Ridge (or Cayman Rise). This ridge flanks the Cayman Trough, 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) deep which lies 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) to the south. The islands lie in the northwest of the Caribbean Sea, east of Quintana Roo and Yucatán State in Mexico, northeast of Costa Rica, north of Panama, south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica.
Grand Cayman is by far the largest island, with an area of 76 square miles (197 km²). Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, are about 75 miles (120 km) east north-east of Grand Cayman and have areas of 14.7 and 11.0 square miles (38 and 28.5 km²) respectively. All three islands were formed by large coral heads covering submerged ice age peaks of western extensions of the Cuban Sierra Maestra range and are mostly flat. One notable exception to this is The Bluff on Cayman Brac’s eastern part, which rises to 141 feet (43 m) above sea level, the highest point on the islands. The population of the Cayman Islands is approximately 60,000, and its capital is George Town. The territory is often considered a major world offshore financial haven for many wealthy individuals.
Archaeological studies of Grand Cayman have found no evidence that humans occupied the islands prior to the sixteenth century. The first recorded English visitor was Sir Francis Drake in 1586, who reported that the caymanas (Deltophora caymana — a moth of the Gelechiidae family) were edible, but it was the turtles which attracted ships in search of fresh meat for their crews. Overfishing nearly extinguished the turtles from the local waters.
Caymanian folklore explains that the island’s first inhabitants were a Welshman named Walters (or Watler) and his companion named Bawden (or Bodden), who first arrived in Cayman in 1658 after serving in Oliver Cromwell’s army in Jamaica. The majority of Caymanians today are of African and English descent, with considerable interracial mixing. The first settlers came to Little Cayman and Cayman Brac from Jamaica between 1661 and 1671. The first recorded permanent inhabitant of Grand Cayman, Isaac Bodden, was born on the island around 1700. He was the grandson of the original settler named Bodden.
A variety of settlers from various backgrounds made their home on the islands, including pirates, shipwrecked sailors, refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, and slaves.
England took formal control of Cayman, along with Jamaica, under the Treaty of Madrid in 1670. From 1670, the Cayman Islands were effectively dependencies of Jamaica, although there was considerable self-government. The first settlements were abandoned after attacks by Spanish privateers, but English privateers often used the Cayman Islands as a base and in the eighteenth century they became an increasingly popular hideout for pirates, even after the end of legitimate privateering in 1713.
Following several unsuccessful attempts, permanent settlement of the islands began in the 1730’s. The Cayman Islands historically have been popular as a tax haven. In November 1794, ten vessels, which were part of a convoy escorted by HMS Convert, were wrecked on the reef in Gun Bay, on the East end of Grand Cayman, but with the help of local settlers, there was no loss of life. The incident is now remembered as The Wreck of the Ten Sail. Legend has it that there was a member of the British Royal Family onboard and that in gratitude for their bravery, King George III decreed that Caymanians should never be conscripted for war service and Parliament legislated that they should never be taxed.
In 1831, a legislative assembly was established by local consent at a meeting of principal inhabitants held at Pedro St. James Castle on December 5 of that year. Elections were held on December 10 and the fledgling legislature passed its first local legislation on December 31, 1831. Subsequently, the Jamaican governor ratified a legislature consisting of eight magistrates appointed by the Governor of Jamaica and 10 (later increased to 27) elected representatives.
In 1835, Governor Sligo arrived in Cayman from Jamaica to declare all slaves free in accordance with the Emancipation Act of 1833.
The Cayman Islands were officially declared and administered as a dependency of Jamaica from 1863, but were rather like a parish of Jamaica with the nominated justices of the peace and elected vestrymen in their Legislature. From 1750 to 1898, the Chief Magistrate was the administrating official for the dependency, appointed by the Jamaican governor. In 1898, the Governor of Jamaica began appointing a Commissioner for the Islands. The first Commissioner was Frederick Sanguinetti.
Prior to 1889, a Jamaican merchant named George Orwitt acted as a postal agent for the Cayman Islands in Jamaica, facilitating the mail process as far back as 1859. Mail destined for Cayman residents was first addressed to Mr. Orwitt, who then delivered letters to ships bound for the Cayman Islands. This arrangement stayed in effect until the opening of the General Post Office in George Town. The postage rate during that period was based on Jamaica’s rate, both for local and foreign letters and parcels. The postal rate for mail between Cayman and Jamaica was 1 penny for letters and ½ penny for postcards. The foreign rate was 4 pence per half ounce.
The first post office, now known as the General Post Office, was established on April 12, 1889, at Georgetown with Custos (governor) Edmund Parsons at its helm. The stamps of Jamaica were used. There are two known postmarks on Jamaican stamps used in the Cayman Islands — GRAND CAYMAN for George Town, and CAYMAN BRAC, used at the Stake Bay post office which opened in 1898. The revenue recorded by the Georgetown post office for 1889 was £15. A year later, the revenue nearly doubled to £26.
At one point, probably around 1891, a supply of 1 penny 1889 Jamaican stamps (Scott #24) was overprinted CAYMAN ISLANDS, but never issued. Two surviving examples are known, one unused and one cancelled at Richmond in Jamaica.
There were initially three post offices on Grand Cayman — George Town, Bodden Town and East End. Little is known about the East End postal branch such as where the building was located or who was in charge. The Colonial Report for 1908-1909 states the the “East End postal facility was closed due to the lack of patronage” on March 1, 1909. The report further states, “A limited postal service was offered as stamps may be obtained at two offices in East End — George Wood and Police Constable Watler.”
Jamaican stamps were valid until February 19, 1901. On that date, the first stamps bearing the name of the Cayman Islands appeared. Printed by Thomas de la Rue & Company in London. typographed on paper with a Crown CA watermark and perforated 14, the stamps were dispatched from England on August 17, 1900, with receipt at Grand Cayman acknowledged on November 20. The three month delay between their receipt and the official date of issue seems to have due in part to the Colonial Office being unaware that Specimen copies had already been distributed to members of the Universal Postal Union and they had therefore, delayed giving instruction for their issue to the Governor of Jamaica. The stamps were two Key Plate designs depicting Queen Victoria, with values of ½ penny in pale green and 1 penny in carmine rose (Scott #1-2).
With its own stamps, Cayman’s postal revenue increased considerably, from £268 pounds in 1900-01 to £585 just a year later. The initial Queen Victoria stamps were used for little under a year before being superseded by the same design, but bearing the portrait of Edward VII. Denominations of 2½ pence in ultramarine (Scott #5), 6 pence in chocolate (Scott #6) and 1 shilling in brown-orange (Scott #7) were released on January 1, 1902, with the ½ penny green (Scott #3) appearing on September 15, 1902, and the 1 penny carmine rose (Scott #4) issued on March 6, 1903. These were reissued between February and October 1905 with the same designs and colors but now with the multi-crown CA watermark (Scott #8-12). A few new denominations and bicolor-printing appeared with the issue of March 13, 1907 — 4 pence brown and blue (Scott #13), 6 pence olive green and rose (Scott #14), 1 shilling violet and green (Scott #15), and 5 shilling vermilion and green (Scott #16).
Shortages of stamps occurred in 1907, and surcharged overprints were produced at the Government Printing Office in Kingston (Scott #17) on August 30 and by handstamping at the GPO in George Town on November 26 (Scott #18) and November 28 (Scott #19). An additional shortage in early 1908 resulted in another locally handstamped surcharge on February 12 (Scott #20).
On December 27, 1907, a new version of the Key Plate design included the inscription POSTAGE & REVENUE as they were now allowed for use as revenue stamps. The ½ penny and 1 penny values were issued on that date (Scott #21-22), with the 2½ pence, 3 pence, 4 pence, 1 shilling, 5 shilling, and 10 shilling denominations appearing on March 30, 1908; the 6 pence on October 2, 1908; and a new 1 shilling with Crown CA watermark on April 5, 1909 (Scott #23-30).
On February 27, 1908, the Commissioner made a number of recommendations to reduce the inland postage rate from 1 penny to ¼ penny for postcards and for every two-ounces of printed matter, and the restoration of mail service (including the transportation of freight) between George Town and rural post offices began. This process was done by horse-drawn wagons between George Town and Bodden Town and on horseback to the other eastern districts. “Both wagoners and messengers riding on horseback carried stamps,” according to the 1908-1909 Colonial Report. Horseback messengers to West Bay were added after 1909. It was during this period that the first private letterboxes were installed in the General Post Office and rural post collection canceling stamps came into use. The mail wagon driver and riders collected and cancelled mail until 1913.
During May and June 1908, supplies of the ½ penny and 1 penny stamps ran out resulting in manuscript frankings. The payment of postage was indicated by Postmistress Gwendolyn Parsons using the endorsement (Postage Paid G.A.P.) with the value between May 12 and June 1.
On June 30, 1908, a ¼ penny stamp was released, with a design consisting of the denomination in an oval frame (Scott #31). In October, a shortage of these stamps saw manuscript endorsements again applied by either the new Postmaster, William Graham McCausland, or by Miss Parsons who remained as his assistant.
The Key Plate continued in use with George V in 1912-1920 (Scott #32-47), then gave way to a new design in 1921-1926 (Scott #50-68).
The Caymans’ first commemorative stamps came on December 5, 1932, marking the centenary of the “Assembly of Justices and Vestry”, now the Legislative Assembly of the Cayman Islands. The set of twelve all had the same design, consisting of profiles of George V and William IV facing each other, with palm trees in between (Scott #68-80).
Additional district post offices and agencies began to be opened starting with Little Cayman in 1934. Further post offices include West End, 1936; Creek, 1937; Savannah, 1962; South Sound, 1962; Hell, 1962; Spot Bay, 1963; Watering Place, 1976; Old Man Bay, 1985; and Gun Bay, 1986.
Cayman began to receive its first shipment of airmail as early as 1935 via Jamaica by Pan American Airways. The first pictorial series consisted of a set of twelve with five different designs released between May 1935 and January 1936 (Scott #85-96). The pictorial series of 1938-1943 also had five designs, with similar themes as those in 1935 but otherwise completely different (Scott #100-111).
In 1939, the construction of a new Government Office Building was completed by Rayal Bodden and the General Post Office, which was located in the Court House of the time (now the Museum), moved to the site that it still occupies today. The estimated cost was £2,000 for the facility that housed three government departments — Customs, Treasury Post Office and Government Saving Bank.
A 1950 pictorial set featured an older George VI and all different designs for its thirteen stamps (Scott #122-134); these were reused in 1953-1959 when Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne, and two new designs added, for 4 pence and 1 pound denominations (Scott #135-149).
In 1953, the first airfield in the Cayman Islands was opened as well as the George Town Public hospital. Barclays ushered in the age of formalized commerce by opening the first commercial bank.
In 1959, upon the formation of the Federation of the West Indies the dependency status with regards to Jamaica ceased officially although the Governor of Jamaica remained the Governor of the Cayman Islands and had reserve powers over the Islands. Starting in 1959. the chief official overseeing the day-to-day affairs of the islands (for the Governor) was the Administrator. Following a two-year campaign by women to change their circumstances, in 1959 Cayman received its first written constitution which, for the first time, allowed women to vote.
A set of two stamps issued July 4, 1959 marked the Caymans’ new constitution (Scott #151-152), and on November 28, 1962, a new definitive series was released (Scott #153-167).
Upon Jamaica’s independence in 1962, the Cayman Islands broke its administrative links with Jamaica and opted to become a direct dependency of the British Crown, with the chief official of the islands being the Administrator.
During 1966, legislation was passed to enable and encourage the banking industry in Cayman.
In 1971, the governmental structure of the Islands was again changed with a Governor now running the Cayman Islands. Athel Long CMG, CBE was the last Administrator and the first Governor of the Cayman Islands.
During the 1970’s, the islands experienced another major boom and the General Post Office took over the entire space of the building it occupied. A postal mail van service to the districts was introduced in 1975. It was not until the 1990’s that the post office again modernized itself. Between April and August 1995, a new logo was introduced, and a post office kiosk at the GPO, the Seven Mile Beach and Airport Post Office and Mail Processing Centre were opened. Mail drop boxes were also introduced during this period. At the end of the 1990’s, many of the sub district post offices were rebuilt to modernize the facilities.
Although all administrative links with Jamaica were broken in 1962, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica continue to share many links and experiences, including membership in the Commonwealth of Nations (and Commonwealth citizenship) and a common united church (the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands) and Anglican diocese as well as a common currency until 1972. By 1999, 38-40% of the population of the Cayman Islands was of Jamaican origin and in 2004/2005 little over 50% of the expatriates working in the Cayman Islands (approximately 8,000) were Jamaicans. The next largest expatriate communities were from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.
In September 2004, The Cayman Islands were hit by Hurricane Ivan, causing mass devastation, loss of human and animal life (both wild and domestic/livestock) and flooding, with some accounts reporting that the majority of Grand Cayman had been underwater and with the lower floors of buildings being completely flooded in excess of 8 feet. The government decided to close the islands to all reporters and aid, denying permission to land any aircraft except for Cayman Airways. Thousands were stranded without shelter, food, or fresh water. Most evacuations and the mass exodus which ensued in the aftermath was done so by private charter through personal expense, with or without official permission. It was also a collective decision within the government to turn away two British warships that had arrived the day after the storm with supplies which led to outrage amongst the islanders. Grand Cayman took considerable time to become suitable as a bustling financial and tourism destination again.
The Cayman Islands Post Office introduced a new seven-digit alphanumeric postcode system on August 9, 2006. That same day the Post Office changed its name to Cayman Islands Postal Service, as part of a process of updating its image. Commemorative stamps are issued four to six times per year to mark important national, regional or international events. The stamps are usually printed in sheets of 50, sometimes in sheetlets of six or more. Commemoratives are normally withdrawn from counter sales 18 months after the date of issue but remain available at the Philatelic Bureau. Definitive Stamps remain on sale for five years. Unique species of bats, parrots and orchids make Cayman their home, so thematic stamps frequently illustrate the islands’ flora and fauna, including the colorful marine life. Topical issues also feature things Caymanian, such as catboats, the Brac’s Bluff and Cayman Airways.
Scott #85 was released on May 1, 1935, the lowest denomination in Cayman Islands’ first pictorial definitive stamp series. The ¼ penny brown and black recess-printed stamp from Waterlow & Sons Ltd. features the portrait of King George V in the center, a map of Grand Cayman to the left plus Cayman Brac and Little Cayman to the right. The watermark is a multi-script CA and the stamps are perforated 12½.