Ascension Island was known as the Sailor’s Post Office as early as the seventeenth century. Ships passing Ascension would call at the island and leave letters for others going in the right direction to deliver. The eastern head of the Island is called Letterbox, although no trace of the spot used to deposit letters remains today.
Philatelically Ascension’s history starts on 3rd March 1867, when the UK Postmaster General sent a supply of stamps to the Island for the Island’s postmaster, H.A. Haswell, to sell. Since 1863, the Union Castle Steamship Company had been calling at Ascension to deliver and collect mail. With the withdrawal of the Royal Navy in 1922, new arrangements had to be made.
To celebrate the conversion of Ascension to a dependency of St Helena, sets of St Helena stamps overprinted with Ascension were produced. At once the Island’s Post office was inundated with requests for stamps from all over the world. On 20th August 1924, the first sets of Ascension definitive stamps were produced, and demand increased. The postal staff, in those distant days, was normally one or two wives of the UK staff of the Eastern Telegraph Company, the forerunner of Cable and Wireless. This arrangement continued for many years.
In 1966, with the expansion of Ascension due to the arrival of Ministry of Public Building and Works staff, BBC staff and contractors, Ascension’s Administration was put onto a more formal footing with the arrival of an Administrator, and Post Office staff from St Helena. From this time, the Post Office has been run by seconded staff who do nominal two-year tours.
Today the Post Office has a staff of three, the Postmistress, a Postal Clerk and a Philatelic Clerk. Stamp designs are agreed by the Philatelic Committee, which consists of members of the public, and is chaired by the Administrator.
We aim to issue five sets of stamps per year, although this policy is flexible to incorporate special and commemorative issues. A “definitive” set is released every five years, and remains on sale until it is replaced, whereas the special and commemorative issues are withdrawn from sale fifteen months after their release date. Stamps from St Helena can also be obtained in mint condition, but First Day Covers are fully serviced. The Post Office operates within the strict regulations of the International Postal Union; for example all first day covers are actually cancelled in the Ascension Post Office, situated in the heart of Georgetown.
Ascension has up to 400 Standing Order Customers receiving our new issues. We are always ready to welcome others however, and give them our individual attention.
There is no national postal service within Ascension Island, houses have numbers, but few of the roads have names! All postal addresses here, are those of employing organisations. Organisational representatives collect the mail from the Post Office, but internal deliveries between organisations are to separate boxes, one for each organisation, outside the Administrator’s office. As most people within the small communities know each other, mail within Ascension other, than business mail, is very rare!
Airmail is received and dispatched twice a week via the RAF Tristar aircraft that flies between the UK and the Falkland Islands. Surface Mail and parcels arrive every month from the UK on the MOD chartered Shipping Service, also en route to the Falklands. Surface Mail to and from Capetown and St Helena, and Surface Mail to the UK travels on the Royal Mail Ship, RMS St Helena as it plies its way through the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean between Capetown, St Helena, Ascension, and the UK.