Book Review
The Untold Story Of The Lady McLeod

MUCH philatelic ‘writing’ is no more than churning out press releases or rewriting the same old nonsense without any attempt to add any original thoughts or dig out any new facts.

Pick up almost any issue of the monthly mags and you will see what I mean.

The ‘news’ is along the lines that Upper Bator or wherever is going to issue stamps which smell, or Chad is issuing a mini-sheet for every character in every Disney film ever, and somewhere else is issuing ‘stamps’ which seem to change daily and probably depends on what marketing deal they have done, That 'someone

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else' is Great Britain of course.

So, it makes a refreshing change to find a book, The Untold Story Of The Lady McLeod, which is both well researched and written by someone who can tell a story.

And what a great story it is.

The Lady McLeod was a paddle steamer, originally called Blue Belle, which was built on the Clyde and taken over to Trinidad where she plied her trade, largely from Port Of Spain to San Fernando from 1845-54.

She was taken across the Atlantic by David Bryce who was already a ships' Master at 24 and seemed to cross the Atlantic several time a year. The Blue Belle had been bought by fellow Scot John

Lamont a plantation owner who had 170 slaves at the time of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.  He was paid £9,000 in compensation, worth well over £1m in today's money. No wonder he could afford to buy a steamer.

The steamer was renamed The Lady McLeod after the local governor’s wife. It is not clear if this was just a bit of crawling to the governor or if Lamont fancied Mrs Governor, but whatever, Bryce stayed in Trinidad sailing The Lady McLeod along the Caribbean side of the island.

 

Bryce was an enterprising fellow and in April 1847 introduced ‘labels’ to put on the mail and small packages which were carried by the vessel. The Glaswegian Traders - Taylor, Graham and Angus were major users of the coastal service and their family and business story makes interesting reading.

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It is a moot point whether privately produced labels should be catalogued at all - such things are usually excluded by Gibbons - but that is an argument for another day. All we need to know is that they are rare, mint examples catalogue at £30,000, used a third of that. 

 

Other than recording the history of those involved in the stamps one of the joys of The Untold Story of The Lady McLeod is that the authors have listed and illustrated every currently known copy of the stamp on cover - 39 in all -  and have included the sales details when known.

Gibbons' latest Commonwealth catalogue shows that prices for ‘star’ items have been falling in recent years and it seems The Lady McLeod issue is no exception.

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One on a cover sent on 12 May 1847 to Taylor Graham & Angus, above, made £25,000 when sold by Spink in April 2018. It was unsold at Cherrystone in September that year and only made $23,000 (about £17,000) when they eventually sold it in January 2019.

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This cover of 18 May 1847, again to Taylor Graham & Angus, was sold in May 1921 for £54. That is worth £2,812 today, taking inflation into account. It made $8,500 in November 1985, about £6,300, but only 16,000 Swiss Francs in 2021 – that is £12,775. That sounds good, but had it just kept up with inflation between 1985 and 2021 that £12,775 would have been £20,300.

So The Lady is not for earning.

Published by the British West Indies Study Group, The Untold Story of The Lady McLeod, by Susan Taylor, Edward Barrow, Nigel Mohammed and John Park, is heavily illustrated and even if this is not your collecting area is well worth a read.

 

It is available from Pennymead.com at £20 plus P&P.

Chris Forwood

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