The Bahamas Post Office is delighted to mark the 75th Anniversary of the World’s first undersea Post Office and to pay tribute to the pioneering work of John Ernest (“J.E.”) Williamson (1881-1966), whose underwater photography drew mass attention to the beautiful and precious natural resources around The Bahamas.
Williamson’s father, Charles Williamson of Norfolk, Virginia, was a sea captain who had invented a tube, which, when suspended from a specially outfitted ship, facilitated communication and airflow down to depths of 250 feet. When attached to a diving apparatus, this could assist in repair and salvage work. In 1912 Williamson realized that his father's invention could be adapted for undersea photography. Using a light hung from the mother ship, artificially illuminated photographs of the depths of Chesapeake Bay taken in 1913 produced such captivating results that he was inspired to attempt motion pictures.
To facilitate the tube's new purpose, Williamson designed a special attachment: an observation chamber with a large funnel-shaped compartment, fronted by a large, thick glass window 5 feet in diameter. He called this device the "Williamson Photosphere." With this new equipment he and his brother George set out for The Bahamas, where the sunlight can penetrate 150 feet deep in the crystal clear waters, greatly enhancing the photographic possibilities. The photosphere was attached to a special barge, christened the Jules Verne, and in March 1914, near Nassau, they shot the first-ever underwater motion pictures.
His first feature was known as the "Williamson Submarine Expedition" and was ingeniously called Thirty Leagues under the Sea. The climax was Williamson’s fight with a shark, which he killed with a knife while remaining within the camera’s range. Released in 1914 (the New York premiere was at the American Museum of Natural History), the film demonstrated how the Bahamians depended on the ocean's ecosystem to support their own. His equipment made possible the shooting of the first undersea fiction movie, the 1916 film version of Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. Both films caused sensations around the world. Subsequently Williamson divided his energies between fictional features, documentary films and collaborative scientific research.
In 1932, a compilation called With Williamson Beneath the Sea was released, revealing the scientific uses of the Photosphere, and featuring his undersea family. This film has been restored by the Library of Congress, USA.
In 1939, Williamson conducted The Bahamas-Williamson Undersea Expedition bearing the Explorers Club flag number 97, to film underwater for scientific purposes. It was in connection with this expedition that the Government of The Bahamas authorised the Photosphere to become the world's first undersea post office, officially named "Sea Floor Bahamas". This was a great achievement for The Bahamas with stamps such as the "Sea Gardens" being posted by a limited number of visitors from the 6x10 feet Photosphere to the delight of stamp lovers around the world. Exciting images of discovery were now revealed to the general public for the first time.
Williamson continued to welcome visitors to his world beneath the sea, and took his underwater world to them by means of his popular lecture tours and films and he received many honours as an undersea pioneer. He remained at the forefront of undersea accomplishments throughout his life, leaving a legacy of courageous dedication to ground-breaking exploration that continues to benefit modern pursuits of marine knowledge.
Sadly, all of the original movie negatives were lost in a hurricane that struck the area where they were stored in Florida. Only his original material on With Williamson Beneath the Sea, stored in The Bahamas, survived. With Williamson Beneath the Sea is emblematic of a period in filmmaking, long past, when pioneers were part-scientist, part-showman, and part-promoter on endeavours that involved as much adventure as technology. They managed to convey to wide audiences their enthusiasm for the distant, exotic, and little known regions of the world.
Visitors to the Photosphere and the Sea Floor Post Office included the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, who proclaimed it the most wonderful experience of his life and the Royal Governor of The Bahamas, H.R.H Edward, Duke of Windsor. Such was the excitement of the opening that it was believed that as many as 100 million people would have seen it on newsreels at cinemas around the world! The photosphere has previously featured on postage stamps from Bahamas, Monaco, Turks and Caicos Is. and Palau.
Designer Derek Miller
Process Stochastic Lithography
Perforation 13 per 2cms
Stamp size 25.5 x 50mm
Sheet Layout 20 (2 x 10)
Release Date 16 August, 2014
Production Co-ordination Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd