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Grand Turk’s Postcard Man

Meet Edmond Neale Coverley.

By Sherlin Williams ~ Illustrations Turks & Caicos National Museum Collection

Edmond Neale Coverley was born on Grand Turk to Flavious Coverley, an Englishman, and Olivia Firth, a young lady of the wealthy Frith salt merchant clan. Neal, as he was affectionately called, and his wife Minimia Elodie Astwood, lived with their children in their two story home on Middle Street, directly behind present-day Dots Enterprise.

Neale became a successful entrepreneur and businessman on Grand Turk, participating in a wide range of enterprises and acquiring a broad spectrum of skills. He owned and operated a store on Front Street, located in the building now occupied by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, selling a large variety of items ranging from groceries to boat anchors! He also did very well buying and scrapping wrecked ships.
At the back of the store Neale had a workshop where he made shell products for export, repaired watches, and pulled teeth (ouch!). A good example of his ingenuity was the windmill he built to power some of his tools. The store also contained his photography studio and darkroom—elements of the profession that made him famous.
The fact that Neale was so good and successful at so many things shows that he was extraordinarily talented. And whilst it’s likely that he was not trained at a photography institute as I was, his photography is in every respect that of a trained professional photographer. Likewise, Neale captured the essence of our salt industry era where none other came close.

In this Coverley postcard, the child in the foreground is Neal's oldest son.

In this Coverley postcard, the child in the foreground is Neal’s oldest son.

Neale was also a bullish entrepreneur. When the government was looking for persons interested in a scheme to diversity the island’s economy producing cooking oil from coconuts, Neale stepped up to the plate and began operating a coconut plantation at Little Bluff. The venture flourished for a while until it fell prey to a plant disease that wiped the trees out.
Neale was the island’s number one cricket fan. His passion for the sport led him to sponsor a cricket team that competed with the Police and Cable & Wireless teams. His business success and other ventures seemed to enrich him spiritually; he was a member of the Anglican Church, but regularly visited the Baptist and Methodist churches. This was at a time when those denominations were not popular amongst Salt Island elites.
In the wake of the devastating July 1926 hurricanes, Neale gave financial assistance to many whose homes were damaged or lost their roofs. He passed away the next year at age fifty. His tomb is one of the first visitors to St. Thomas’s Church will see after entering the main gate.

The Postcard Man

Note the Victoria Library on the right and the mounds of salt in the background.

Note the Victoria Library on the right and the mounds of salt in the background.

Neale’s turn of the twentieth century postcards covering a cross-section of life on Grand Turk have given us some of the best memories of the Salt Islands during their heyday. Apparently he began making black-and-white and sepia tone postcards in the 1890s. His famous “Holiday Grand Turk,” “Lighthouse Grand Turk,” “Barrelling Salt,” and other postcards indicate that he took his photography to a higher level by moving away from sepia tones and into the new colour tones.
Some authors have stated that Neale was the photographer for the “Holiday Grand Turk” postcard taken on Queen Victoria’s fiftieth birthday or during her Silver Jubilee celebration, because the crowd seems to be gathering at the Victoria Library on the right side of the photograph. My research revealed that Neale was born in 1877. Queen Victoria was born in 1819 and ascended to the throne in 1837. Her fiftieth birthday celebration would have been held in 1869, before Neale was born, and her Silver Jubilee would have been in 1887, when Neale was age ten. Although it is possible that a ten-year-old boy could have accomplished this, I think it was highly unlikely. Photographic equipment in those days was very expensive and probably beyond the reach of such a young man.
We know the Victoria Library on Grand Turk was built over a period of two years and dedicated in her honor in 1889, when Neale was age twenty-one. The Queen died in 1901, when Neale was age twenty-four. Therefore, it is only reasonable to conclude that that this great photo was taken either at the Library’s official opening or upon her death, by which time he would have acquired the expertise, experience and equipment. But I’m inclined to believe that it was taken in 1901, when the great Queen passed away.
Notice that there are other photographers in the photo. These are amateurs. When taking in a large scene a professional would always get an elevated perspective, as Neale has done here. His postcard titled “Barreling Salt for Export” tells me that although he was almost certainly self-taught, his work was of professional quality. Looking at this picture, it is easy to tell that the mule-cart and driver are posed. The ship is in the perfect position. The subject, salt, is in the foreground along with salt workers: perfect! The only improvement a photographer of today might make would be to include a little action. We can do so nowadays because we have cameras with high shutter speeds capable of freezing action—something not available to Neale. That is why this picture appears to be unanimated. But its overall qualities are so strong most viewers would hardly notice.

The author would like to thank the Coverley family and friends for their valuable assistance in providing information on Mr. Edmond Neale Coverley, especially Mr. Carl Coverley, Neale’s grandson, and the late Mr. Oswald “King Oz” Francis, friend of the family.



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