Isle of Samson

Samson is the largest of the unpopulated island in the Scilly Isles. It is 38 hectares or .15 sq. miles in size, with two hills – North Hill and South Hill – connected by an isthmus. It is here that former inhabitants built their homes.

OS Map of Samson Island.

The island was named after Saint Samson of Dol, who was born in the late 5th Century in South Wales. He was of noble blood, being the son of Amon of Dyfed the then King of Glamorgan and Gwent and Anna of Gwent the daughter of Meurig ap Tewdrig. As part of a prophecy at the time of his birth, Samson was placed under the care of Saint Illtud abbot of Llantwit to become a monk. Later, after the death of Saint Pyr, he became abbot the monastery on Caldey Island near Tenby. He was ordained Bishop on February 22 521 – the feast of Saint Peter – the only certain date in Samson’s life. He was said to have been 35 years old at this time, making his birth date 486 AD though some historians argue for 496. Following his ordination Samson travelled to Cornwall where he founded a monastery at Golant and then moved to Brittany and founded the Monastery of Dol. He travelled widely until his death in about 557 at Dol-de-Bretagne, where he is buried in the Cathedral with his cousin Saint Magliore.

Hut circles and cairns indicate that the area was inhabited in early times when all the Scilly Islands were joined. Seperation into the individual Islands of today took place around 400 – 500 AD. (There is evidence of the Romans knowing the Scilly Island as one.) People were living on the island in 1669 and in 1715 it was recorded that there were “three men there fit to carry arms”. The population may well have ‘peaked’ around the start of the 19th. Century, with the 1841 Census recording the presence of 29 persons resident. That was made up of 14 males – 4 under 16 years – and 15 females – 6 under 16 years.

There appeared to have been just two ‘families’, the Woodcocks and the Webbers who were farmers and fishermen. By the time of the 1851 Census, there were only 6 males and 4 females left with no-one under 16 years of age. In 1834 an Augustus Smith aquired the lease of the Scilly Isles for £20,000 from the Duchy of Cornwall. Straight away he started to expel islanders who could not find work locally. He evicted some of the inhabitants of the smaller islands and in 1855 he cleared the last 10 inhabitants from Samson. He then turned it into a deer park – but the deer didn’t like the habitat and escaped by swimming to other islands. Smith wasn’t all bad however. He built a new quay at Hugh Town on St. Mary’s, and sowed gorse and trees to ensure shelter for agriculture land. He also built schools on the well in habited islands.

Today Samson is a wildlife sanctuary with flora and fuana, some unique to the Scilly Isles.

The Early Philatelic History of The Isle of Samson.

The One Penny Blue Isle of Samson Overprint stamps.

In 1837 a likely lad named John Woodcock was one of just 25 souls residing on the Isle of Samson. Realising that he had no future on the Island, he set out to row across the narrow waters that separated Samson for its larger neighbour, Tresco. There he took passage on a packet ship bound for Penzance on the mainland, 40 miles away.

Over the next two years he worked at a variety of jobs throughout west Cornwall until finally he joined a printing company in St. Ives. The exact circumstances are not recorded, but when around December 1841 he returned to Samson to spend Christmas with his family, a block of 24 ‘One Penny Blue’ GB stamps, overprinted Isle of Samson went with him. As the original blue GB stamp was of Two Pence value, some adjustments were obviously made by Woodcock. He passed the stamps to his family, explaining how they should be used. He put two on a letter addressed to his mother Elizabeth Woodcock and posted it on his return to the mainland early in 1842. The above block of 22 stamps – which are in a private collection – were thought to be all that remainsof the early philatelic history of the Isle of Samson. There are no reports of John Woodcock being involved in any other stamp production.

22 One Pence stamp sheet

The Woodcock Letter.

The whereabouts of the letter has been a mystery, making it the ‘Holy Grail’ of Scilly Island stamps, until just recently when it came to light, with a story as wonderful as the history of Samson.Once John Woodcock had posted it in January 1842, the letter passed through the Penzance Post Office. As there was no other mail for the Scilly Islands, a decision was made to pass it to the Captain of a boat en route to Brittany via Tresco. He put it into a leather pouch with other papers, and apparently forgot all about it. Several years later, following a short illness, the Captain died. All his possessions including the pouch passed to a friend who was a solicitor – there being no immediate family – who archived the contents together with other property, just in case someone came forward to claim them.

And so it was from the mid-late 1840’s until over 100 years later, when, upon the death of the last solicitor in the company, all documents passed to another firm. They started to check through what was in the archive and found the letter. Every attempt having been made to locate a relative of the addressee, the letter finally found it’s way into the hands of a Stamp Dealer. It resided in his ‘Catalogue’ for 60 years, before being spotted by a Cinderella enthusiast, who realised at once that the One Pence stamp was in fact an ‘altered’ Two Pence blue from a trial.

The rest is quickly told. Knowing of the 22 stamp sheet, the ‘finder’ agreed a price with the dealer and the letter was purchased. Within weeks it passed on to the owner of the sheet for a considerably larger sum, thus ensuring that the early ‘stamp’ history of Samson is now ‘under one roof’.

It is hoped to post an image of the envelope here as soon as an agreement can be secured with the owner.

The 1986 1500th Anniversary Mini-sheet.

In 1986 this Mini-sheet was produced to celebrate the Anniversary of the birth of St. Samson, after whom the Isle of Samson is generally accepted to have been named. It was the first commission from the owner of the ‘Woodcock Letter’ and the One Pence blue part sheet, which at that time were the only known ‘stamps’ of Samson. The mini sheet was designed and printed by Jupeta Design of Middle Cornwall.

The stamp shows the only known image of St. Samson, taken from an icon thought to be held at the Cathedral of Dol in Brittany. Produced as a mini sheet of four imperforated stamps in a limited edition of 25 sheets, it was intended to circulate them through the Cinderella stamp community.However one sheet – No. 25 – was split into four individual stamps and put onto envelopes to be ‘franked’ on the four main Scilly Isles. They were never actually posted, and so the whereabouts of the envelopes and whether they were franked remains a mystery.

The remaining 24 mini-sheets are quite probably, out there somewhere.

Anniversary Mini Sheet

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