Remittances to Barbadians from relatives labouring to build the Panama Canal spurred the beginning of the island’s middle class, and this was all facilitated by the Barbados Postal Service.
Deputy Post Master General Margaret Ashby told a session of the Barbados Diaspora Conference that developments of the Barbados Postal Service from the time of its establishment in 1852, laid the groundwork for a reliable delivery of money from Panama to Bajan households half a century later.
“The movement of money by the post was far more significant than first estimated as this was the main means to forward their remittances,” Ashby told a small gathering of overseas-based Barbadians at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
“These remittances played a vital role in improving the livelihood of families in Barbados. Funds received through the post are estimated to be around US$10 million, and would certainly have impacted on the economic activity within the island. With repairs and construction of homes, purchasing of land, investment in economic activity.”
“Remittances received through Panama money are credited to have spurred the development of a broader middle class in Barbados,” she reasoned. “In 1906/07, remittances from returnees was estimated to be around 987,690 pounds sterling. And it is important to note that this amount exceeded the value of grants from the imperial Exchequer to save plantations on the island”.
Barbadians laboured in construction of the Panama Canal between 1906 and 1920, and Ashby explained that the Barbados Postal Service was positioned to provide this vital link because of a number of forward leaps it made in latter half of the previous century after its 1852 formation.
”Nine years after its establishment, the inland post extended its services to include registered mail and the conveyance of remittances, or the sending of money through the post. This was done through the postal money order service. It is this service which was later credited for facilitating remittances from Panama.”
“Another first for Barbados and probably the region was the addition of 44 mail carriers, what we refer to today as postmen,” she said, explaining that this development facilitated door to door mail delivery across the island.
“This was a new concept, and I’m not sure where it would have come from because this system of door to door delivery was not present in England and it was only achieved in England 45 years after Barbados.”