In his report to the Foreign Office dated 16 June 1899, Major General. H. Chermside, the British Commissioner in Crete, stated that: “A successful postal service of three lines runs all over the province three times weekly, and twice weekly takes mail to and from the French secteur.” Similar services existed in the French, Italian and, for a brief period, Russian sectors of the island. It was a symptom of the failure of the Ottoman Empire to provide an adequate infrastructure on Crete that prior to the international occupation of the island, the most reliable postal serviced was operated by the Austrian Hungarian Empire which, according to one source, had “ … three post offices, in Chania, Heraklion and Rethymno, operat[ing] from 1890 until 1914, replacing earlier Austrian Lloyd postal agencies and official Austrian postal agencies which operated in turn in these towns starting in 1837 and 1845 respectively.”
The origins of the British postal service are to be found in ‘Circular Memorandum No.6’ issued on 22 November 1898 on Chremside’s behalf to the District Commissioners within the British sector and calling for the setting up of six receiving offices, each one staffed by a “…man of confidence, recommended locally” who ‘…must be able , besides reading and writing Greek, to read European adresses.” For receiving the mail, despatching it and selling stamps, it was proposed to pay him a salary of either 30 or 40 francs* per month, depending on the location. A few days later a further circular, No.9, made it clear that the British postal system was to make use of the existing Austro-Hungarian service, the Austrian post office in Candia (Iraklion) being the central office; the reliance on the Austrian service was to the extent that they would provide the new postmen with sealing wax, string, packing paper as well as a seal for the Postmaster. The British service was shortlived running from November 1898 to July 1899 but at least for part of that period, up until 28 February 1899 (O.S.), it made a profit of £163.0.2d.
The first British stamps were ordered from a firm in Athens but failed to arrive in time and so, as an interim measure, some 3000 bright violet, hand printed stamps, based on a design produced by the Austrian Director of Post in Candia, were produced.
The definitive stamps eventually arrived in December 1898.
As would be expected given that Crete was still technically Ottoman, the value of the stamps was defined the currency of the Ottoman Empire and the initial stamps were worth 10 or 20 ‘Parades’, the British spelling of ‘paras’; 40 paras making one piaster, and approximately 112 piastres making £1 sterling. An inland letter within the British sector cost 10 or 20 paras depending on its nature and an international letter, or one to another international zone of occupation, cost 1 piastre.
Some idea of the complexity of selling the stamps on an island occupied by four European countries yet still in 1898/1899, in theory at least, operating within the Ottoman Empire, can be seen from the fact that, presumably in order to avoid currency speculation, the British authorities found it necessary to lay down an official exchange rate for the purchase of stamps: 1 silver medjidie bought 20 piastres worth of stamps, £1 sterling 120 piastres and 1 Gold Napoleon (20 francs) bought 95 piastres. (Given the level of poverty on the island at that time, it’s difficult to see that anyone other than a currency speculator would be interested in buying that many stamps or even in a position to do so.)
The British postal service, which delivered mail free for British, and latterly French, troops on the island, remained in operation until 24 July 1899, the stamps continuing in circulation and use until 1st March 1900. The other occupying Powers maintained their postal services for longer, the Italian service finishing only in 1914.
A word of caution! If you are tempted to buy one of the many British stamps from this period that are on offer on the internet, be aware that many of the stamps alleged to have been issued by the British in Crete, and the other powers, that are offered for sale are fake! (The ones shown above are probably fakes also!)
*Note on Currency.
Very approximate exchange rates in 1898
£1= 112 piastres
1 franc = 4.75 piastres (1 gold Napoleon = 20 francs)
40 Paras = 1 piastre
1 medjidie = 19 piastre
 1899 [C.9422] Turkey. No. 2 (1899). Report by Her Majesty’s Commissioner in Crete on the Provisional British Administration of the Province of Candia.
 1899 [C.9422] Turkey. No. 2 (1899). Report by Her Majesty’s Commissioner in Crete on the Provisional British Administration of the Province of Candia. Circular Memorandum No.6 in Inclosure 1
 Ibid. Circular memorandum No.9 in Inclosure 1.
 Ibid. Circular Memorandum No.39 in Inclosure 1.
 1899 [C.9422] Turkey. No. 2 (1899). Report by Her Majesty’s Commissioner in Crete on the Provisional British Administration of the Province of Candia. Circular Memorandum No.9 in Inclosure 1.