THE BEAUKOY LIBRARY.
THE EOYAL MAIL
THE EO YAL MAIL
ITS CURIOSITIES AND ROMANCE
SUPERINTENDENT IN THE GENERAL POST-OFFICE,
WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS
EDINBURGH AND LONDON
All Rights reserved
NOTE. It is of melancholy interest that Mr Fawcett's death
occurred within a month from the date on which he accepted
the following Dedication, and before the issue of the Work.
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
HENEY FAWCETT, M. P.
HER MAJESTY'S POSTMASTER-GENERAL,
THE FOLLOWING PAGES ARE, BY PERMISSION,
PEEFACE TO SECOND EDITION.
THE favour with which 'The Eoyal Mail' has
been received by the public, as evinced by the
rapid sale of the first issue, has induced the Author
to arrange for the publication of a second edition.
This edition has been revised and slightly enlarged ;
the new matter consisting of two additional illus-
trations, contributions to the chapters on " Mail
Packets," " How Letters are Lost," and " Singular
Coincidences," and a fresh chapter on the subject
The Author ventures to hope that the generous
appreciation which has been accorded to the first
edition may be extended to the work in its revised
EDINBURGH, June 1885.
OF all institutions of modern times, there is,
perhaps, none so pre - eminently a people's
institution as is the Post-office. Not only does it
carry letters and newspapers everywhere, both within
and without the kingdom, but it is the transmitter
of messages by telegraph, a vast banker for the
savings of the working classes, an insurer of lives,
a carrier of parcels, and a distributor of various
kinds of Government licences. Its services are
claimed exclusively or mainly by no one class ; the
rich, the poor, the educated, and the illiterate, and,
indeed, the young as well as the old, all have
dealings with the Post-office. Yet it may seem
strange that an institution which is familiar by its
operations to all classes alike, should be so little
known by its internal management and organisation.
A few persons, no doubt, have been privileged to
see the interior working of some important Post-
office, but it is the bare truth, to say that the people
know nothing of what goes on within the doors of
that ubiquitous establishment. When it is remem-
bered that the metropolitan offices of London, Edin-
burgh, and Dublin have to maintain touch with
every petty office and every one of their servants
scattered throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland ;
that discipline has to be exercised everywhere ; that
a system of accounting must necessarily be main-
tained, reaching to the remotest corners ; and that
the whole threads have to be gathered up and
made answerable to the great head, which is Lon-
don, some vague idea may be formed of what must
come within the view of whoever pretends to a
knowledge of Post - office work. But intimately
connected with that which was the original work of
the Post-office, and is still the main work the con-
veyance of letters there is the subject of circula-
tion, the simple yet complex scheme under which
letters flow from each individual centre to every
other part of the country. Circulation as a system
is the outcome of planning, devising, and scheming
by many heads during a long series of years its
object, of course, being to bring letters to their
destinations in the shortest possible time. So intri-
cate and delicate is the fabric, that by interference
an unskilled hand could not fail to produce an
effect upon the structure analogous to that which
would certainly follow any rude treatment applied
to a house built of cards.
These various subjects, especially when they have
become settled into the routine state, might be con-
sidered as affording a poor soil for the growth of
anything of interest that is, of curious interest
apart from that which duty calls upon a man to
find in his proper work. Yet the Post-office is not
without its veins of humour, though the metal to be
extracted may perhaps be scanty as compared with
the vast extent of the mine from which it has to
The compiler of the following pages has held an
appointment in the Post-office for a period of twenty-
five years the best, perhaps, of his life ; and during
that term it has been his practice to note and
collect facts connected with the Department when-
ever they appeared of a curious, interesting, or
amusing character. While making use of such
notes in connection with this work, he has had
recourse to the Post-office Annual Reports, to old
official documents, to books on various subjects, and
to newspapers, all of which have been laid under
contribution to furnish material for these pages.
The work is in no sense a historical work : it
deals with the lighter features of a plain, matter-of-
fact department ; and though some of the incidents
mentioned may be deemed of trivial account, they
will be found, it is thought, to have at least a
curious or amusing side.
The author desires to mention that he has re-
ceived valuable help from several of his brother
officers, who have supplied him with facts or anec-
dotes ; and to these, as well as to gentlemen who
have lent him books or given him access to files of
old newspapers, he expresses his grateful acknow-
ledgments. He also tenders his sincere and re-
spectful thanks to the Postmaster - General for
permission granted to make extracts from official
The Post-office renders an unpretending yet most
important service to commerce and to society ; and
it will be a source of deep gratification to the author
if what he has written should inspire in the reader a
new and unexpected interest in " the hundred-handed
giant who keeps up the intercourse between the
different parts of the country, and wafts a sigh from
Indus to the Pole."
NOTE. The Author will be glad to be furnished with any curious
facts or anecdotes relating to the Post-office, either from his brother
officers or the public, for use in the event of further editions being
I. OLD ROADS, .... 1
II. POSTBOYS, . . , . . .14
III. STAGE AND MAIL COACHES, . . . . 29
IV. FOOT-POSTS, . . . . . .76
V. MAIL-PACKETS, . , . . . .85
VI. SHIPWRECKED MAILS, . , . . .100
VII. AMOUNT OF WORK, . . . .103
VIII. GROWTH OF CERTAIN POST-OFFICES,. . .118
IX. CLAIMS FOR POST-OFFICE SERVICE, . -.. . 128
X. THE TRAVELLING POST-OFFICE, . . .145
XI. SORTERS AND CIRCULATION, . .. . .155
XII. PIGEON-POST, 168
XIII. ABUSE OF THE FRANKING PRIVILEGE, AND OTHER
PETTY FRAUDS, . . . . . .175
XIV. STRANGE ADDRESSES, . . . . .190
XV. POST-OFFICE ROBBERIES, . . . .210
XVI. TELEGRAPHIC BLUNDERS, .... 249
XVII. HOW LETTERS ARE LOST, .... 255
XVIII. ODD COMPLAINTS, ..... 304
XIX. CURIOUS LETTERS ADDRESSED TO THE POST-
OFFICE, . .' 313
XX. SINGULAR COINCIDENCES, .... 336
XXI. SAVINGS-BANK CURIOSITIES, .... 345
XXII. REPLIES TO MEDICAL INQUIRIES, . . . 353
XXIII. VARIOUS, ....... 355
XXIV. ABOUT POSTMASTERS, . . . . 376
XXV. RED TAPE, ....... 387
MAIL-COACH ACCIDENT AT ELVANFOOT, . . Frontispiece
HOLTHEAD AND CHESTER MAILS SNOWED
UP NEAR DUNSTABLE 26TH DEC. 1836.
(From an old Print,) .... To face p. 52
THE DEVONPORT MAIL-COACH FORCING ITS
WAY THROUGH A SNOWDRIFT NEAR AMES-
BURY 27TH DEC. 1836. (From an old
Print,) . . . , . . . . it i, 54
POST-BOY JACK, Page 96
TRAVELLING POST-OFFICE, , 146
DELIVERING ARM, SHOWING HOW THE POUCH
IS SUSPENDED, . . . . 152
STRANGE ADDRESSES, . . . . . n 197-209
LETTER-BOX TAKEN POSSESSION OF BY TOMTITS, u 265
THE MULREADY ENVELOPE, . . . n 366
THE EOYAL MAIL,
fTIHE present generation, who are accustomed to
-*- see the streets of our cities paved with wood
or stone, or otherwise so laid out as to provide a
hard and even surface suited to the locomotion of
wheeled vehicles, or who by business or pleasure
have been led to journey over the principal high-
ways intersecting the kingdom in every direction,
can form no idea of the state of the roads in this
country during the earlier years of the Post-office
or even in times comparatively recent unless
their reading has led them to the perusal of ac-
counts written by travellers of the periods we now
refer to. The highways of the present day, radiat-
ing from London and the other large centres of in-
2 THE EOYAL MAIL.
dustry, and extending their arms to every corner of
the land, are wellnigh perfect in their kind, and
present a picture of careful and efficient mainten-
ance. Whether we look, for example, at the great
north road leading from London, the Carlisle to
Glasgow road, or the Highland road passing through
Dunkeld, we find the roads have certain features
in common : a broad hard roadway for vehicles ; a
neatly kept footpath where required ; limits strictly
defined by trim hedges, stone walls, or palings ; and
means provided for carrying off surface-water. The
picture will, of course, vary as the traveller proceeds,
flat country alternating with undulating country, and
wood or moorland with cultivated fields ; but the
chief characteristics remain the same, constituting
the roads as worthy of the age we live in.
How the people managed to get from place to
place before the Post-office had a history, or indeed
for long after the birth of that institution, it is hard
to conceive. Then, the roads were little better than
tracks worn out of the surface of the virgin land,
proceeding in some cases in a manner approaching to a
right line, over hills, down valleys, through forests and
the like ; in others following the natural features of
the country, but giving evidence that they had never
been systematically made, being rather the outcome
of a mere habit of travel, just as sheep-tracks are
OLD KOADS. 3
produced on a mountain-side. Such roads in winter
weather, or in rainy seasons, became terrible to the
traveller: yet the. only repairs that were vouchsafed
consisted in filling up some of the larger holes with
rude stones ; and when this method of keeping up
repairs no longer availed, another track was formed
by bringing under foot a fresh strip of the adjoining
land (generally unenclosed), and thus creating a
wholly new road in place of the old one. Smiles
in his ' Lives of the Engineers ' thus describes certain
of the English roads : " In some of the older settled
districts of England, the old roads are still to be
traced in the hollow ways or lanes, which are met
with, in some places, eight and ten feet deep. Horse-
tracks in summer and rivulets in winter, the earth
became gradually worn into these deep furrows,
many of which, in Wilts, Somerset, and Devon, repre-
sent the tracks of roads as old as, if not older than,
the Conquest." And again : " Similar roads existed
until recently in the immediate neighbourhood of
Birmingham, long the centre of considerable traffic.
The sandy soil was sawn through, as it were, by
generation after generation of human feet, and by
pack-horses, helped by the rains, until in some
places the tracks were as much as from twelve to
fourteen yards deep." In the year 1690, Chancellor
Cowper, who was then a barrister on circuit, thus
4 THE KOYAL MAIL.
wrote to his wife : " The Sussex ways are bad and
ruinous beyond imagination. I vow 'tis melancholy
consideration that mankind will inhabit such a heap
of dirt for a poor livelihood. The country is a sink
of about fourteen miles broad, which receives all
the water that falls from two long ranges of hills
on both sides of it, and not being furnished with
convenient draining, is kept moist and soft by the
water till the middle of a dry summer, which is only
able to make it tolerable to ride for a short time."
In Scotland, about the same time, the roads were
no better. The first four miles out of Edinburgh,
on the road towards London, were described in the
Privy Council Eecord of 1680 to have been in so
wretched a state that passengers were in danger of
their lives, " either by their coaches overturning,
their horse falling, their carts breaking, their loads
casting and horse stumbling, the poor people with
the burdens on their backs sorely grieved and
discouraged ; moreover, strangers do often exclaim
thereat." Nor does there appear to have been any
considerable improvement in the state of the roads
in the northern kingdom for long afterwards, as we
find that in 1750, according to Lang's 'Historical
Summary of the Post-office in Scotland,' " the chan-
nel of the river Gala, which ran for some distance
parallel with the road, was, when not flooded, the
OLD ROADS. 5
track chosen as the most level and the easiest to
travel in." The common carrier from Edinburgh to
Selkirk, a distance of thirty-eight miles, required a
fortnight for the journey, going and returning ; and
the stage-coach from Edinburgh to Glasgow took a
day and a half for the journey. A Yorkshire squire,
Thomas Kirke, who travelled in Scotland in 1679,
gave a better account of the roads ; but his opinion
may have been merely relative, for travelling show-
men to this day prefer the roads in the south of
Scotland to those in the north of England, on ac-
count of their greater hardness ; and this derives, no
doubt, from the more adamantine material used in
the repair of the Scotch roads. This traveller wrote :
" The highways in Scotland are tolerably good,
which is the greatest comfort a traveller meets with
amongst them. The Scotch gentry generally travel
from one friend's house to another ; so seldom require
a change-house (inn). Their way is to hire a horse
and a man for twopence a mile ; they ride on the
horse thirty or forty miles a-day, and the man
who is his guide foots it beside him, and carries
his luggage to boot." Another visitor to Scotland in
1702, named Morer, thus describes the roads: "The
truth is, the roads will hardly allow these conve-
niences " (meaning stage-coaches, which did not as
yet exist in Scotland), " which is the reason that the
6 THE KOYAL MAIL.
gentry, men and women, choose rather to use their
horses. However, their great men often travel with
coach-and-six, but with so little caution, that, besides
their other attendance, they have a lusty running-
footman on each side of the coach, to manage and
keep it up in rough places." 1 It might be supposed
that the roads leading from Windsor, where one of
the royal residences was, would have been kept in a
tolerable state, so as to secure the sovereign some
comfort in travelling. But their condition seems to
have been no better than that of roads elsewhere.
An account of a journey made in 1703 by Prince
George of Denmark, the husband of Queen Anne,
from Windsor to Petworth, runs as follows :
" The length of way was only forty miles, but
fourteen hours were consumed in traversing it ;
while almost every mile was signalised by the over-
turn of a carriage, or its temporary swamping in
the mire. Even the royal chariot would have fared
1 In the north of Scotland a similar account was given of the
roads there about the year 1730. The writer of ' Letters from a
Gentleman in the North of Scotland ' stated that "the Highlands
are but little known even to the inhabitants of the low country of
Scotland, for they have ever dreaded the difficulties and dangers of
travelling among the mountains ; and when some extraordinary
occasion has obliged any one of them to such a progress, he has,
generally speaking, made his testament before he set out, as though
he were entering upon a long and dangerous sea-voyage, wherein it
was very doubtful if he should ever return."
OLD EOADS. 7
no better than the rest had it not been for the relays
of peasants who poised and kept it erect by strength
of arm, and shouldered it forward the last nine miles,
in which tedious operation six good hours were con-
Yet later still, and in close proximity to London,
a royal party had a most unsatisfactory journey,
owing to the miserable state of the roads. It hap-
pened that in 1*727 George II. arid Queen Caroline
were proceeding from the palace at Kew to that at
St James's, when they had to spend a whole night
upon the way ; and between Hammersmith and Ful-
ham they were overturned, the royal occupants of
the coach being landed in a quagmire. A year or
two after this, Lord Hervey wrote that " the road
between this place [Kensington] and London is grown
so infamously bad, that we live here in the same
solitude as we would do if cast on a rock in the
middle of the ocean ; and all the Londoners tell us
that there is between them and us an impassable
gulf of mud."
N"o part of the country could boast of a satisfac-
tory condition of the roads, these being everywhere
in the same neglected and wretched state, and tra-
vellers who had the misfortune to use them have
recorded their ideas on the subject in no gentle
terms. Arthur Young, who travelled much in the
8 THE ROYAL MAIL.
middle of last century, thus alludes to a road in
Essex : " Of all the cursed roads that ever disgraced
this kingdom in the very ages of barbarism, none
ever equalled that from Billericay to the King's
Head at Tilbury. It is for near twelve miles so
narrow that a mouse cannot pass by any carriage.
I saw a fellow creep under his waggon to assist me
to lift, if possible, my chaise over a hedge. To add
to all the infamous circumstances which concur to
plague a traveller, I must not forget the eternally
meeting with chalk-waggons, themselves frequently
stuck fast, till a collection of them are in the same
situation, and twenty or thirty horses may be tacked
to each to draw them out one by one." In a some-
what similar way he describes the road from Bury
to Sudbury in Suffolk. Here, he says, " I was
forced to move as slow in it as in any unmended
lane in Wales. For ponds of liquid dirt, and a
scattering of loose flints just sufficient to lame every
horse that moves near them, with the addition of
cutting vile grips across the road under the pretence
of letting the water off, but without effect, altogether
render at least twelve out of these sixteen miles as
infamous a turnpike as ever was beheld." In one
of his journeys, Young proceeded to the north by the
great north road, thence making branch trips to the
various agricultural districts. Of many of these
OLD ROADS. 9
roads he gives a sorry account. Thus : " To Wake-
field, indifferent ; through the town of Wakefield so
bad that it ought to be indicted. To Castle Howard,
infamous ; I was near being swallowed up in a
slough. From Newton to Stokesley in Cleveland,
execrably bad. You are obliged to cross the moors
they call Black Harnbledon, over which the road
runs in narrow hollows that admit a south-country
chaise with such difficulty, that I reckon this part
of the journey made at the hazard of my neck.
The going down into Cleveland is beyond all descrip-
tion terrible; for you go through such steep, rough,
narrow, rocky precipices, that I would sincerely ad-
vise any friend to go a hundred miles to escape it.
The name of this path is very judicious, Scarthneck
that is, Scare-Nick, or frighten the devil.
" From Eichmond to Darlington, part of the great
north road ; execrably broke into holes like an old
pavement, sufficient to dislocate one's bones."
" To Morpeth ; a pavement a mile or two out of
Newcastle ; all the rest vile.
" To Carlisle ; cut up by innumerable little paltry
One more instance from the pen of Young and we
leave him. In the course of one of his journeys, he
makes his way into Wales, where he finds his b&e
noire in the roads, and freely expresses himself there-
10 THE ROYAL MAIL.
upon in his usual forcible style : " But, my dear
sir, what am I to say of the roads in this country ?
the turnpikes, as they have the assurance to call
them, and the hardiness to make one pay for ? From
Chepstow . to the half-way house between Newport
and Cardiff they continue mere rocky lanes, full of
hugeous stones as big as one's horse, and abominable
holes. The first six miles from Newport they were
so detestable, and without either direction-posts or
milestones, that I could not well persuade myself
I was on the turnpike, but had mistook the road,
and therefore asked every one I met, who answered
me to my astonishment, ' Ya-as.' Whatever business
carries you into this country, avoid it, at least till
they have good roads ; if they were good, travelling
would be very pleasant."
The necessity for a better class of road cannot
but have forced itself upon the Government of the
country from time to time, if not for the benefit of
travellers and to encourage trade, at any rate to
secure a rapid movement of troops in times of dis-
turbance or rebellion ; yet we find the state of streets
in the metropolis, and roads in the country, as in
1750, thus described in Blackie's 'Comprehensive
History of England ' : " When the only public
approaches to Parliament were King Street and
Union Street, these were so wretchedly paved, that
OLD KOADS. 11
when the King went in state to the House, the ruts
had to be filled up with bundles of fagots to allow
the royal coach a safe transit. While the art of
street-paving was thus so imperfect, that of road-
making was equally defective, so that the country
visitor to the metropolis, and its dangers of coach -
driving, had generally a sufficient preparative for
the worst during his journey to town. This may
easily be understood from the fact that, so late as
1754, few turnpikes were to be seen, after leaving
the vicinity of London, for 200 miles together,
although it had been made felony to pull them
down. These roads, indeed, were merely the pro-
duce of compulsory pauper labour, contributed by
the different parishes ; and, like all such work, it
was performed in a very perfunctory manner."
The same authority gives a further picture of the
state of the highways some twenty years later, when
apparently little improvement had taken place in
their condition : " Notwithstanding the numerous
Acts of Parliament, of which no less than 452 were
emitted between the years 1760 and 1764, for the
improvement of the principal highways, they still
continued narrow, darkened with trees, and inter-
sected with ruts and miry swamps, through which
the progress of a waggon was a work of difficulty
and danger. One of these the turnpike road from
12 THE ROYAL MAIL.
Preston to Wigan is thus described by an angry
tourist in 1770, and the picture seems to have been
too generally realised over the whole kingdom : " To
look over a map, and perceive that it is a principal
one, not only to some towns, but even whole counties,
one would naturally conclude it to be at least decent ;
but let me most seriously caution all travellers who
may accidentally purpose to travel this terrible
country, to avoid it as they would the devil ; for
a thousand to one but they break their necks or
their limbs by overthrows or breakings down. They
will here meet with ruts, which I actually measured,
four feet deep, and floating with mud only from a
wet summer ; what, therefore, must they be after
a winter ? The only mending it receives is the
tumbling in some loose stones, which serve no other
purpose but jolting a carriage in the most intolerable
manner. These are not merely opinions, but facts ;
for I actually passed three carts broken down in
these eighteen miles, of execrable memory."
Obvious as it must be to every mind capable of
apprehending ordinary matters in the present day,
that the opening up of the country by the laying
down of good roads would encourage trade, promote
social intercourse, knit together the whole kingdom,
and render its government the more easy and effec-
tive ; yet it is a fact that the improvement of the
OLD ROADS. 13
roads in various parts of the country, both in Eng-
land and Scotland, was stoutly opposed by the
people, even in certain places entailing riot and
bloodshed. So strong were the prejudices against
the improved roads, that the country people would
not use them after being made. This bias may
perhaps have partaken largely of that unreasoning
conservatism which is always prone to pronounce
that that which is is best, and opposes change on
principle an example of which is afforded by the
conduct of the driver of the Marlborough coach,
who, when the new Bath road was opened, obsti-
nately refused to travel by it, and stuck to the old
waggon-track. " He was an old man," he said ;
" his grandfather and father had driven the aforesaid
way before him, and he would continue in the
old track till death." Other grounds of objection
were not wanting, having some show of reason ; but
these, like the others, were useless in stemming the
tide of improvement which eventually set in, and
brought the roads of the nation into their present
" Hark ! 'tis the twanging horn ! . . .
He comes, the herald of a noisy world,
With spatter'd boots, strapp'd waist, and frozen locks,
News from all nations lumbering at his back,
True to his charge the close-pack'd load behind ;
Yet careless what he brings, his one concern
Is to conduct it to the destined inn,
And, having dropp'd the expected bag, pass on.
He whistles as he goes, light-hearted wretch,
Cold and yet cheerful : messenger of grief
Perhaps to thousands, and of joy to some,
To him indifferent whether grief or joy."
AS described in the preceding chapter, these were
the roads over which postboys had to travel
with their precious charges during a long series of
years, and to their wild and disreputable state must
to a great extent be attributed the slow rate at
which the post was then wont to travel. When it
is considered that these men or boys were exposed
to all accidents of weather, stoppages by swollen
POSTBOYS. 1 5
rivers, delays through the roads being cut up, to
their straying from the beaten track during fogs,
and to all other chances of the road, including
attacks by footpads or highwaymen, their occupation
cannot have been a light or agreeable one. It is by
no means easy to construct a detailed outline of the
duties which postboys had to perform, or to describe
under what rules they proceeded from stage to stage ;
but we have ample evidence of the rate at which
they covered the ground, and how their speed varied
at different periods, owing, it must have been in
some cases, to the lack of supervision.
The following evidence of the speed of a post
messenger in the latter half of the sixteenth century
is furnished by a letter in the correspondence of
Archbishop Parker, the times at which the letter
reached the various stages on its journey being
endorsed upon it. The letter is as follows,
"ARCHBISHOP PARKER to SIR W. CECIL.
" SIR, According to the Queen's Majesty's pleas-
ure, and your advertisement, you shall receive a
form of prayer, which, after you have perused and
judged of it, shall be put in print and published
immediately," &c. &c.
16 THE ROYAL MAIL.
"From my house at Croydon this 22d July 1566,
at 4 of the clock afternoon. Your honour's alway,
" MATTH. CANT.
" To the Rt. Honble. Sir W. CECIL."
Endorsed by successive postmasters :
"Beceived at Waltham Cross, the 23d of July,
about 9 at night."
"Keceived at Ware, the 23d July, at 12 o'clock
" Keceived at Croxton, the 2 4th of July, between
7 and 8 of the clock in the morning."
" So that his Grace's letter, leaving Croydon at
4 in the afternoon of July 22d, reached Waltham
Cross, a distance of nearly 26 miles, by 9 at night
of the 23d, whence, in 3 hours, it seems to
have advanced 8 miles to Ware ; and within 8
hours more to have reached Croxton, a further
distance of 29 miles, having taken nearly 40 hours
to travel about 63 miles."
In 1635 a public post between London and Edin-
burgh was established, the journey being limited to
three days. This mail set out as a rule but twice
a - week, and sometimes only once a - week. An
express messenger conveying news of the death of
Charles II., who died on the 6th February 1685,
was received in Edinburgh at one o'clock on the
morning of the 1 Oth February ; and it may also he
mentioned here though the matter hardly reflects
upon the speed of postboys, who travel by land
and not by water that in 1688 it required three
months to convey the tidings of the abdication of
James II. of England and VII. of Scotland to the
Down to this period the mails from London to
Scotland were carried on horseback with something
like tolerable speed, taking previous performances
into account, for in 1689 it is noted that parlia-
mentary proceedings of Saturday were in the hands
of the Edinburgh public on the ensuing Thursday.
This rate of travelling does not appear to have been
kept up, for in 1715 the post from London to Edin-
burgh took six days to perform the journey. When
it is considered that nearly a century before, the
same distance could be covered in three days, this
relapse seems to bespeak a sad want of vitality in
the Post-office management of the age. The cause
of the slow travelling, which appears to have con-
tinued for over forty years, comes out in a memorial
of traders to the Convention of Burghs in 1758,
wherein dissatisfaction was expressed with the exist-
ing arrangements of the post, the mail for London
on reaching Newcastle being there delayed about a
day, again detained some time at York, and probably
18 THE ROYAL MAIL.
further delayed in the south ; so that the double
journey to and from London occupied eleven days
instead of seven or eight, as the memorial deemed
sufficient. To the Post-office mind of the present
age, this dilatory method of performing the service
of forwarding mails is incomprehensible, and the
circumstance reflects discreditably both on the Post-
office officials who were cognisant of it, and on the
public who submitted to it. It is fair to mention,
however, that at this period the mail from London to
Edinburgh covered the ground in eighty-seven hours,
or in fully three and a half days; and that as a result
of the memorial, the time was reduced to eighty-two
hours, and the journey from Edinburgh to London
reduced to eighty-five hours. In 1763, the London
to Edinburgh mail commenced to be despatched five
times a-week, instead of only three times ; and at
this time, during the winter season, the mail leaving
London on Tuesday night was generally not in the
hands of the people of Edinburgh until the afternoon
of Sunday. We are informed, in Lang's ' Historical
Summary of the Post - office in Scotland,' that in
1715 there was not a single horse -post in that
country. There must, however, have been some
earlier attempts to establish horse - posts in the
northern kingdom, for Chambers in his 'Domestic
Annals of Scotland,' under the year 1660, refers
POSTBOYS. 1 9
to the fact of a warrant being granted against
interlopers who were carrying letters by foot on
the same line on which Mr Mean had set up a
horse-post. A traveller in 1688 relates, also, that
besides the horse-post from Edinburgh to Berwick,
there was a similar post from Edinburgh to Port-
patrick in connection with the Irish packet service.
Again, Chambers tells us that in 1667 the good
people of Aberdeen having had "long experience
of the prejudice sustained, not only by the said
burgh of Aberdeen, but by the nobility, gentry, and
others in the north country, by the miscarrying of
missive letters, and by the not timeous delivery and
receiving returns of the samen," bestirred themselves
to establish a better state of things. It was con-
sidered proper that "every man might have their
letters delivered and answers returned at certain
diets and times ; " and it was accordingly arranged,
under Post-office sanction, that Lieutenant John Wales
should provide a regular horse-service to carry letters
to Edinburgh every Wednesday and Friday, returning
every Tuesday and Thursday in the afternoon.
In 1715 the first horse-post between Edinburgh
and Stirling was established, and in March 1717 a
similar post between Edinburgh and Glasgow was
set up. This latter post went three times a-week,
travelled during the night, and performed the dis-
20 THE EOYAL MAIL.
tance between the two places in ten hours being
at the rate of about four miles an hour. Were we
to give further instances of the slowness of the horse-
posts, we should probably prove tedious, and there-
fore the proofs adduced on this point must suffice.
Though the state of the roads may be held to account
for some of the delay, the roads must not be charged
with everything. In 1*799 a surveyor in the north
of Scotland wrote as follows : " It is impossible to
obtain any other contractors to ride the mails at 3d.
out, or l|-d. per mile each way. On this account
we have been so much distressed with mail-riders,
that we have sometimes to submit to the mails being
conveyed by mules and such species of horses as were
a disgrace to any public service." The same sur-
veyor reported in 1805, that it would give rise to
great inconvenience if no boys under sixteen years
were allowed to be employed in riding the posts
many of them ranging down from that age to four-
teen. So, what from the condition of the highways,
the sorry quality of the horses, and the youthfulness
of the riders, it is not surprising that the writers of
letters should inscribe on their missives : "Be this
letter delivered with haste haste haste ! Post
haste ! Eide, villain, ride, for thy life for thy life
for thy life ! " unnecessary though that injunction
be in the present day.
The postboys were a source of great trouble and
vexation to the authorities of the Post-office through
the whole course of their connection with the depart-
ment. A surveyor who held office about the com-
mencement of the eighteenth century, found, on the
occasion of a visit to Salisbury, something wrong
there, which he reported to headquarters in these
" At this place [Salisbury] found the postboys to
have carried on vile practices in taking bye-letters,
delivering them in that city, and taking back the
answers and especially the Andover riders. On
a certain day he found on Eichard Kent, one of the
Andover riders, five bye-letters all for Salisbury.
Upon examination of the fellow, he confessed that
he had made it a practice, arid persisted to continue
in it, saying that he had no wages from his master.
The surveyor took the fellow before the magistrate,
proved the facts, and as the fellow could not get bail,
was committed ; but pleading to have no friends nor
money, desired a punishment to be whipped, and
accordingly he was to the purpose. The surveyor
wrote the case to Andover, and ordered that the
fellow should be discharged ; but no regard was had
thereto. But the next day the same rider came
post, run about the cittye for letters, and was in-
solent. The second time the said Eichard Kent
22 THE ROYAL MAIL.
came post with two gentlemen, made it his business
to take up letters ; the fellow, instead of returning to
Andover, gets two idle fellows and rides away with
three horses, which was a return for his masters not
obeying instructions, as he ought not have been
suffered to ride after the said facts was proved
The same surveyor complained bitterly, with re-
spect to the postboys, " that the gentry doe give
much money to the riders, whereby they be very
subject to get in liquor, which stops the males."
Indeed the temptation of the ale-house was no
doubt another factor in the slow journeying of the
postboys, as it was the source of much trouble in
the days of mail-coaches.
Mr Palmer, through whose initiative and perse-
verance mail-coaches were subsequently established
throughout the country, thus described the post as
it existed in 1783 : .
" The post, at present, instead of being the
swiftest, is almost the slowest, conveyance in the
country ; and though, from the great improvement
in our roads, other carriers have proportionably
mended their speed, the post is as slow as ever.
It is likewise very unsafe, as the frequent robberies
of it testify ; and to avoid a loss of this nature,
people generally cut bank bills, or bills at sight, in
two, and send the bills by different posts. The
mails are generally intrusted to some idle boy,
without character, mounted on a worn-out hack,
and who, so far from being able to defend himself
or escape from a robber, is much more likely to be
in league with him."
Including stoppages, this mode of travelling was,
up to 1783, at the rate of about three to four miles
We are again indebted to Mr Chambers for the
following statement of careless blunders made by
postboys in connection with the Edinburgh mails :
" As indicating the simplicity of the institution in
those days, may be noticed a mistake of February
1720, when, instead of the mail which should have
come in yesterday (Sunday), we had our own mail of
Thursday last returned the presumption being, that
the mail for Edinburgh had been in like manner
sent back from some unknown point in the road to
London. And this mistake happened once more in
December 1728, the bag despatched on a Saturday
night being returned the second Sunday morning after;
'tis reckoned this mistake happened about half-way
on the road." We hardly agree, however, that these
mistakes were owing to the simplicity of the institu-
tion, but rather to the routine nature of the work ;
for it is the fact that blunders equally flagrant have
24 THE ROYAL MAIL.
occurred in the Post - office in recent times, even
under elaborate checks, which, if rightly applied,
would have rendered the mistakes impossible.
Many of the troubles which the Post-office had
with its postboys may possibly be ascribed to the
low rate of wages paid by the contractors for their
services. This matter is referred to by the Solicitor
to the Scotch Post-office, who was engaged upon an
inquiry into the robbery of the mail on the stage
between Dingwall and Tain in the year 1805. The
distance between these places is about twenty-five
miles, and five hours were occupied in making the
journey. One of the postboys concerned stated in
his declaration that his whole wages were 5s. a-
week ; and with reference to this, the solicitor in
his report observes as follows : " Of course it may
fairly be presumed that no respectable man will be
got to perform this duty. Dismission to such a man
for committing a fault is no punishment ; and the
safety of the conveyance of the mail, which the
public have a right to require, seems to render some
regulation in this respect necessary."
The following account of the violation of the
mails by a postboy may perhaps be aptly introduced
In the autumn of 1808, a good deal of anxiety
was caused to the authorities of the Post-office in
Scotland, in consequence of reports being made to
them that many bankers' letters had been tampered
with in course of their transmission by post through
certain of the northern counties. To discover who
was concerned in the irregularities was rendered the
more difficult, owing to the fact that the mail-bags in
which the letters had been despatched were reported
to have reached their destinations duly sealed. But
a thing of this kind could not go on without discovery,
and investigation being made, the storm burst over
the head of a poor little postboy named William
Shearer, a lad of fifteen years of age, who was em-
ployed riding the north mail over the stage from
Turriff to Banff. From the account we have of the
matter, it would seem that in this case, as in many
others, it was opportunity that made the thief ; for
the mail-bags had on some occasions been insecurely
sealed, the despatching postmasters having failed to
place the wax over the knots of the string and the
postboy was thus able to get to the inside of the
bags without cutting the string or breaking the seals,
by simply undoing the knots. Here the temptation
presented itself ; and although some twenty-six letters
were found inside his hat when he was searched, it
is not unlikely that he commenced by merely peeping
into the letters by pulling out their ends, for several
bank letters containing notes for considerable sums
26 THE ROYAL MAIL.
had been so violated, while the contents were found
safe. To cover one delinquency the boy had re-
course to others. In order to account for his delay
on the road, he opened the bag containing his way-
bill, borrowed a knife from a shoemaker who kept
one of the toll-houses, and altered his hour of de-
spatch from his starting-point. The unfortunate
youth also gave way to drink, stopping at the toll-
houses, and calling sometimes for rum, sometimes
for whisky, the keepers sharing in the refreshments,
which were purchased with stolen money. On one
occasion the boy opened a parcel intrusted to him,
and from a letter inside abstracted a twenty-shilling
note. Whether to render himself all the more re-
doubtable on the road, over a section of which he
travelled in the dark, or for some other purpose, is not
clear, but with six shillings of the aforesaid sum he
bought a sword, and with two shillings a pistol, the
balance going in drink. The occupation of riding
the mail was not for one so young : yet it was found
that full-grown men often gave more trouble than
boys ; and it may be here remarked that the adven-
ture of Davie Mailsetter in the 'Antiquary' is no
great exaggeration of the service of postboys at the
period to which it refers. The poor boy Shearer
was put upon his trial before the Circuit Court of
Justiciary at Aberdeen ; and when called upon to
plead, confessed his guilt. There was every disposi-
tion on the part of the public prosecutor, and of the
presiding judge, to let the case go as lightly as pos-
sible against the prisoner doubtless on account of
his youth ; but the law had to be vindicated, and
the sentence passed was that of transportation for a
period of seven years. Since then humanity has
made progress, and no such punishment would be
inflicted in such a case nowadays.
Exposed to all the inclemency of the seasons, both
by night and day; having to weather snowstorms
and suffer the drenchings of heavy rain ; to grope a
way through the dense fogs of our climate, and en-
dure the biting frosts of midwinter ; or yet to face
the masked highwayman on the open heath, or the
footpad in the deep and narrow road, these were
the unpleasantnesses and the dangers which beset
the couriers of the Post-office in past years, ere the
department had grown to its present robust manhood.
As to the exposure in wintry weather, it is stated
that postboys on reaching the end of their stages
were sometimes so benumbed with the cold that they
had to be lifted out of their saddles. Of the attacks
made upon them by highwaymen some instances are
given in another chapter. This we will conclude by
recording the fate that befell a postboy who was
charged with the conveyance of the mail for London
28 THE ROYAL MAIL.
which left Edinburgh on Saturday, the 20th Novem-
ber 1725. This mail, after reaching Berwick in
safety and proceeding thence, was never again heard
of. A notice issued by the Post-office at the time
ran as follows : " A most diligent search has been
made ; but neither the boy, the horse, nor the packet
has yet been heard of. The boy, after passing Gos-
wick, having a part of the sands to ride which divide
the Holy Island from the mainland, it is supposed
he has missed his way, and rode towards the sea,
where he and his horse have both perished." The
explanation here suggested is not at all improbable,
in view of the fact that November is a month given
to fogs, when a rider might readily go astray crossing
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES.
PEIOR to the middle of the seventeenth century,
about which period stage-coaches came into
use in England, the only vehicles available to ordinary
travellers would seem to have been the carrier's stage-
waggon, which, owing to its lumbering build and the
deplorable state of the roads, made only from ten to
fifteen miles in a long summer's day. The interior
of such waggons exhibited none of the refinements of
modern means of travel, the only furnishing of the
machine being a quantity of straw littered on the
floor, on which the passengers could sit or lie during
the weary hours of their journey. Though the stage-
coaches came into vogue about the middle of the seven-
teenth century, as already stated, the heavy waggons
seem also to have held a place till much later for in
one of these Eoderick Random performed part of his
journey to London in 1739 ; and it was doubtless
only the meaner class of people who travelled in that
30 THE ROYAL MAIL.
way, as the description given by Smollett of his com-
panions does not mirror, certainly, people of fashion.
M. Sobriere, a Frenchman, on his way from Dover to
London in the reign of Charles II., thus writes of his
experience of the waggon : " That I might not take
post, or be obliged to use the stage-coach, I went
from Dover to London in a waggon. It was drawn
by six horses, one before another, and driven by a
waggoner, who walked by the side of it. He was
clothed in black, and appointed in all things like
another St George. He had a brave Montero on his
head, and was a merry fellow, fancied he made a
figure, and seemed mightily pleased with himself."
Unlike travelling in the present day, when one may
go 1 miles itf a railway carriage without speaking
to a fellow-passenger, the journey in the old-fashioned
waggon brought all the travellers too close and too
long together to admit of individual isolation, for the
passengers might be associated for days together as
companions, had to take their refreshment together,
lived as it were in common, and it was even the
custom to elect a chairman at the outset to preside
over the company during the journey. But the stage-
coach gradually became the established public con-
veyance of the country, improving in its construction
and its rate of progression as the improved state of
the roads admitted of and encouraged such improve-
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 31
ment. Still, compared with the stage-coaches of the
best period, travelling by the earlier stage-coaches
was a sorry achievement. Here is an advertisement
of stage-coaches of the year 1658 :
"From the 26th April there will continue to go
stage-coaches from the George Inn, without Alders-
gate, London, unto the several cities and towns, for the
rates and at the times hereafter mentioned and
" Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday To
Salisbury, in two days, for xx. s. ; to Blandford and
Dorchester, in two days and half, for xxx. s. ; to
Burput, in three days, for xxx. s. ; to Exmister, Hun-
nington, and Exeter, in four days, for xl. s. ; to Stam-
ford, in two days, for xx. s. ; . . .to York, in four
days, for xl. s."
Indeed the charges might have been reckoned by
time, the travelling being at the rate of about 10s. a-
day. Another advertisement in 1739 thus sets forth
the merits of some of the stage-coaches of the period :
" Exeter Flying Stage-coach in three days, and
Dorchester and Blandford in two days. Go from
the Saracen's Head Inn, in Friday Street, London,
every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday ; and from
the New Inn, in Exeter, every Tuesday and Thurs-
day." Then the advejtisement makes known the
fact, with regard to another coach, that the stage
32 THE ROYAL MAIL.
begins " Flying on Monday next." They were not
satisfied in those days with a coach " going," " run-
ning," or " proceeding," but they set them " flying "
at the rates of speed which may be gathered from
these notices. Nearly thirty years later another
advertisement set forth that the Taunton Flying
Machine, hung on steel springs, sets out from the
Saracen's Head Inn, in Friday Street, London, and
Taunton, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at
three o'clock in the morning, the journey taking two
days. There were places inside for six passengers,
and the fares were as follows, viz. :
To Taunton, . . . . l 16
Ilminster, . . . . 1 14
,, Yeovil, . . . . 180
Sherborne, . . . 160
Shaftesbury, . . . 140
Outside passengers, and children in the lap, were
half these fares.
To follow out in a historical fashion the develop-
ment of the coaching period down to the introduc-
tion of railways, would be beyond the purpose of
this work, nor will the limits of these pages ad-
mit of so great an extension of the subject. The
earlier modes of travelling, and the difficulties of the
roads, are treated of in several histories of England
in a general way, and more fully in such books as
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 33
the ' Lives of the Engineers,' by Smiles ; ' Old
Coaching Days/ by Stanley Harris ; and ' Annals
of the Koad,' by Captain Malet,' all of which con-
tain much that is entertaining and interesting. Here
it is proposed merely to recall some of the incidents
of the coaching days, so far as they relate to the
mail-service, between the time when Palmer's mail-
coaches were put on the road in 1784, down to the
time when they were shouldered off the road by the
more powerful iron horse.
The dangers to which the mail-coaches were ex-
posed were chiefly of three kinds, the danger of
being robbed by footpads or highwaymen ; that of
being upset in the road by running foul of some cart,
dray, or waggon, or other object placed in the way ;
and the peril of being overtaken by snowstorms, and
so rendered helpless and cut off from the usual
It was an almost everyday occurrence for the
mail-bags to be robbed on the night journeys, when
the principal mails were carried. We know of these
things now through notices which were issued by the
Post-office at the time, of which copies are still in
existence. Here are the terms of a notice issued to
the mail-guards in March 1802 :
" Three Irishmen are in custody for highway
robbery. One of them has confessed, and declares
34 THE ROYAL MAIL.
that their purpose in going out was to rob the mail-
coach. Their first step was to watch an opportunity
and fire at the guard, which it is supposed might
have been easily obtained, as they are so frequently
off their guard. They had pistols found on them.
It is therefore necessary, in addition to your former
instructions, to direct that you are particularly vigi-
lant and watchful, that you keep a quick eye to every
person stirring, and that you see your arms are in the
best possible condition, and ready for instant duty."
On the 21st December 1805, a bag of letters for
Stockport was stolen out of the mail-box while the
coach was in Macclesfield. It was a Sunday night
about ten o'clock when the robbery took place, and the
bag was found empty under a haystack near the town.
The following notice of another robbery was issued by
the Postmaster-General on the 1st March 1810 :
" Whereas the bags of letters from this office
(London), of last night, for the following towns
Hatfield, St Neots, Spalding,
Welwyn, Oundle, Lowth,
Stevenage, Stilton, Horncastle,
Baldock, Wansford, and
Biggleswade, Grantham, Boston,
were stolen from the mail-box, about ten o'clock
on the same night, supposed at Barnet, by forcibly
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 35
wrenching off the lock whilst the horses were
changing; whoever shall apprehend and convict,
or cause to be apprehended and convicted, the
person or persons who stole the said bags, shall be
entitled to a reward of One Hundred Pounds," &c.
On Monday the 19th November of the same year,
the bags of letters from
Melton Mowbray, Thrapston,
Oakham, Higham Ferrers,
were stolen at Bedford at about nine o'clock in the
Again, in January 1813, a further warning
to the guards was issued, showing the necessity
for vigilance on the part of these officers, by de-
scribing some of the recent robberies which were
the occasion for the warning :
" The guards are desired by Mr Hasker to be
particularly attentive to their mail-box. Depreda-
tions are committed every night on some stage-
coaches by stealing parcels. I shall relate a few,
which I trust will make you circumspect. The
Bristol mail-coach has been robbed within a week
of the bankers' parcel, value 1000 or upwards.
The Bristol mail-coach was robbed of money the 3d
instant to a large amount. The ' Expedition ' coach
36 THE KOYAL MAIL.
has been twice robbed in the last week the last
time of all the parcels out of the seats. The
' Telegraph ' was robbed last Monday night between
Saracen's Head, Aldgate, and Whitechapel Church,
of all the parcels out of the dicky. It was broken
open while the guard was on it, standing up blowing
his horn. The York mail was robbed of parcels out
of the seats to a large amount."
The following account of a stage-coach robbery
committed on that, at one time, notoriously dangerous
ground called Hounslow Heath, is taken from the
' Annals of the Eoad,' already referred to in this
" In the reign of King George III., a stage-coach,
driven by one Williams, and going over Hounslow
Heath on the road between Reading and London,
was stopped by a highwayman, who, riding up, de-
manded money of the passengers. A lady gave up
her watch, a gent his purse, and away goes the high-
wayman, followed, however, by Williams (the bold)
on one of the leaders, who ' nailed ' and brought him
back to the coach, on which he was placed and taken
to Staines. This occurred on a Tuesday ; the hear-
ing before the magistrates took place on Wednesday ;
on Thursday he was in Newgate ; on Friday he was
tried, and sentenced to be hung on Monday. Williams
then got up a memorial, petitioning for a reprieve ;
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 37
and on this being presented to his Majesty, the sen-
tence was commuted to transportation for life. The
King was so pleased with Williams's daring, that he
presented him with a key of Windsor Park gates, to
be used by him and bis descendants so long as they
drove a coach from Eeading to London. This royal
authority allowed them to pass through the park
instead of going by the turnpike road."
Another very interesting account of a mail-coach
robbery is given by Mr S. C. Hall in his ' Eetrospect
of a Long Life,' the object of the outrage being, not
apparently plunder for plunder's sake in the ordi-
nary sense, but to recover some legal documents and
money paid as rent by a man in the neighbourhood
who stood high in local favour, but was understood
to have been harshly treated by his landlord. The
case occurred in Ireland, and is characteristic of the
way in which the Irish people give vent to their feel-
ings when they are stirred by affection or sentiment.
" I was travelling in Ireland (it must have been
about the year 1818), between Cork and Skibbereen,
when I witnessed a stoppage of the mail to rob it.
The road was effectually barricaded by a huge tree,
passage was impossible, and a dozen men with
blackened faces speedily surrounded the coach. To
attempt resistance would have been madness : the
guard wisely abstained from any, but surrendered his
38 THE ROYAL MAIL.
arms ; the priming was removed, and they were re-
turned to him. The object of the gang was limited
to acquiring the mail -bags ; they were known to
contain some writs against a gentleman very popular
in the district. These being extracted, the coach
pursued its way without further interruption. The
whole affair did not occupy five minutes. It was
subsequently ascertained, however, that there had
been a further purpose. The gentleman had that
day paid his rent all in bank-notes ; when the
agent desired to mark them, there was neither pen
nor ink in the house ; the mail-bag contained these
notes. Where they eventually found their way was
never proved, but it was certain they did not reach
the landlord, whose receipt was in the hands of his
tenant, duly signed."
Interceptions of the mail for the purpose of pre-
venting the serving of writs by means of the post
are not unknown in Ireland at the present time. In
August 1 8 8 3 a post-runner near Mallow was stopped
by two men, dressed in women's clothes and with
blackened faces, who seized his mail-bag, and made
search for registered letters which it was supposed
might have contained ejectment notices. None were
found, however, and the men returned the other
letters to the runner. A similar outrage was com-
mitted in the same neighbourhood in 1881.
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 39
The following exciting and unpleasant adventure
happened to the passengers by the Enniskillen mail-
coach on its way to Dublin on the morning of the
4th January 1813. The coach had safely made its
journey to a point within two miles of a place called
Dunshaughlin, the time being about 3 A.M., when the
mail-guard, watchful as his duty required, espied a
number of men suspiciously lying on each side of the
road in advance of him. The night must have been
clear, and probably there was bright moonlight ; as
otherwise, at that early hour in the month of January,
the men lying in wait could not have been observed.
There, being little doubt that an attack upon the
mail was contemplated, the carriage was at once
drawn up, and the alarm given. The drowsy or be-
numbed travellers, thus rudely aroused and brought
to a sense of their danger, hastily jumped to the
ground, and demanded the spare arms which were
carried for use on like emergencies. These were
immediately served out to the passengers, who, if
not animated by true Irish spirit at so early an hour,
to fight for fighting's sake, were at any rate deter-
mined to defend their lives and property. At the
head of the coach -party in this lonely and trying
situation was a clergyman of the County Cavan
named King, who, like Father Tom in the play, had
not forgotten the accomplishments of his youth, and
40 THE ROYAL MAIL.
who was prepared to carry the message of peace and
goodwill with the blunderbuss at the ready, this
being the weapon with which he had armed himself.
The robbers, perceiving that they were to encounter
a determined opposition, thought it wise to retreat ;
and while the guards stood by their charge the
mail-coach the men were pursued over a field by
Mr King, on whom they fired, without, however,
doing any damage. The parson, deeming a return
necessary, replied with the gaping blunderbuss and
to some purpose, it was thought, for three of the
men were within twenty yards of him when he fired.
The would-be robbers being now driven off, the pas-
sengers had time to realise their fright ; and gather-
ing themselves again into the coach, the journey was
continued, though it is hardly likely that sleep re-
sumed its sway over the terrified passengers for the
remaining hours of that particular night.
These are but a few instances of the robberies
against which the guards were constantly warned to
be on the alert, and which they were enjoined to
prevent. They were provided with a blunderbuss
and a brace of pistols, to make a good defence in
case of need ; and it may be interesting to recall
that the charge for the former was ten or twelve
shot the size of a pea, and two-thirds of such charge
for the latter the quantity of lead mentioned being
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 41
sufficient, one would suppose, if well directed, to
give a hot welcome to any one attempting the mail.
But the guards were very often not so vigilant
as they should have been, the ale-houses having then
the attractions which to many they still have : some-
times they fell asleep on their boxes, and in other
respects wofully infringed the regulations. The fol-
lowing official notice plainly shows this :
" I am very sorry to be under the necessity of
addressing the mail-guards on such a subject ; but
though every direction and inspection are given
them, and they are fully informed of the punish-
ments that must follow if they do not do their duty,
yet, notwithstanding this, and every admonition
given in every way that can be devised, four guards
that were looked upon as very good ones, have in the
course of last week been guilty of such misconduct
as obliges their discharge for the public, who trust
their lives and property in the conduct of the office,
can never be expected to suffer such neglect to pass
unnoticed. The four guards discharged are John
, for having his mail-box unlocked at Ferry-
bridge while the mail was therein ; Wm. , for
going to the office at York drunk to fetch his mail,
though barely able to stand ; W. , for bringing
the mail on the outside of the mail-box and on the
roof, and converting the mail-box to another use ;
42 THE ROYAL MAIL.
W. , for going from London to Newmarket
On another occasion a guard was fined five guineas
" for suffering a man to ride on the roof of the mail-
coach," and at the same time he was told that if he
had not owned the truth he would have been dis-
missed this being followed by the quaint observa-
tion, looking like a grim official joke, " which he may
be now if he had rather than pay the fine to the
fund " ! One more notice as to the vice of taking
drink on the part of the guards, and as showing the
impressive and formal manner of carrying out a dis-
missal in the coaching days. The document is of
the year 1803, and runs as follows, viz.:
" 1 am very sorry to order in all the guards to
witness the dismissal of one old in the service; but
so imperious is the duty, that was he my brother he
would be dismissed : indeed I do not think there is
a guard who hears this but will say, a man who
goes into an ale-house, stays to drink (and at Brent-
ford) at the dusk of morning, leaving his mail-box
unlocked, deserves to lose his situation ; and he is
dismissed accordingly. And I am sure I need not
stimulate you to avoid fresh misconduct to read
your instructions, and to mind them. I am the
more sorry for this, as guards who have been some
time in the service are fit for no other duty."
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 43
Towards the drivers also of the mail-coaches severe
measures were taken when they got drunk ; and
the penalty sometimes took a peculiar form, as wit-
ness the following public act of submission and con-
" Whereas I, John , being driver of the mail-
coach, on my way from Congleton to Coleshill on
Monday, December 25, 1809" (some excuse, per-
haps, on account of its being Christmas-day), " did
stop at several places on the road to drink, and
thereby got intoxicated, from which misconduct,
driving furiously, and being from my coach on its
returning, suffered the horses to set off and run
through the town of Coleshill, at the risk of over-
turning the carriage, and thereby endangering the
lives of the passengers, and other misfortunes which
might otherwise have occurred : for which misdeeds
the Postmasters-General were determined to punish
me with the utmost rigour, and if it had been prose-
cuted, would have made me liable to the penalty
incurred by the said offence of imprisonment for six
months, and not less than three ; but from my gen-
eral good character, and having a large family, have
generously forgiven me on my showing contrition
for the past offence, as a caution to all mail and
other coachmen, and making this public acknow-
44 THE KOYAL MAIL.
In another case a mail-coach driver was sum-
moned before a magistrate for intoxication, and
impertinence to passengers, and was thereupon
mulcted in a penalty of 10, with costs.
The accidents that befell the coaches were some-
times of a really serious character, and were of very
frequent occurrence some of them, or perhaps many
of them, being due wholly to carelessness. A person
writing in 1822 remarks as follows : " It is really
heartrending to hear of the dreadful accidents that
befall his Majesty's subjects now on their travels
through the , country. In my younger days, when I
was on the eve of setting out on a journey, my wife
was in the habit of giving me her parting blessing,
concluding with the words, ' God bless you, my dear ;
I hope you will not be robbed.' But it is now
changed to 'God bless you, my dear ; I hope you will
not get your neck broke, and that you will bring
all your legs safe home again.' " Sometimes the
drivers, if it fell in their way to overtake or be over-
taken by an opposition coach, would go in for proving
who had the best team, and an exciting race would
result. Sometimes a horse would fall, and bring the
coach to grief; and in the night-time the horses
would occasionally tumble over obstacles maliciously
placed on the road to bring this about. Whether
this was always done to facilitate robbery, or out of
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 45
sheer wantonness, is not quite clear, but instances of
such acts of wickedness were frequent. On the
night of the 5th June 1804, some evil-disposed
persons placed a gate in the middle of the turnpike
road near Welwyn Green, and set up two other gates
at the entrance of Welwyn Lane, also across the
road, with the view of obstructing the mail-coach
and injuring the persons of the passengers. Early
on the morning of the 14th April 1806, the mail-
coach was obstructed, in coming out of Dumfries, by
some evil-disposed persons placing boughs or branches
of trees across the turnpike road, by which the lives
of the passengers were put in peril and the mail
much delayed. A similar outrage was committed
on the night of the 27th August 1809, when a
large gate was placed in the middle of the road on
Ewenny Bridge, near Bridgend, in Glamorganshire.
In this instance the horses of the mail-coach took
fright, imperilling the lives of all upon the coach ;
for it is very likely that they narrowly escaped being
thrown over the bridge. Again, on the night of the
30th April 1812, some persons placed eleven gates
at different points across the road two or three miles
out of Lancaster, on the way to Burton-in-Kendal,
whereby destruction was nearly brought upon the
mail-coach and its human freight. Between North-
wich and Warrington, early on the morning of the
46 THE EOYAL MAIL.
19th November 1815, eight or ten gates and a door
were placed in the way of the mail-coach, and fur-
ther on a broad- wheeled cart, with the view of wreck-
ing the mail. On Sunday, the 15th June 1817,
the horses of the mail-coach were thrown down near
Newmarket, and much injured, by stumbling over a
plough and harrow, wickedly placed in their way by
some evil-doers. These are but a few of the cases
of such malicious acts, with respect to which rewards
were offered by the Postmaster-General at the time,
for the discovery of the offenders.
But there were other ways in which the mail was
placed in jeopardy namely, by waggoners with
teams getting in the middle of the highway, and not
clearing out smartly to let the mails go by, or by
otherwise so driving their horses as to foul with the
mail-coach. And it is curious to observe how such
cases were dealt with by the Post-office. The fol-
lowing poster, issued publicly, will explain the mat-
" CAUTION TO CARTERS.
" Whereas I, Edward Monk, servant to James
Smith of Pendlebury, near Manchester, farmer, did,
on Tuesday the 24th day of July last, misconduct
myself in the driving of my master's cart on the
Pendleton road, by not only riding furiously in the
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 47
cart, but damaging the York and Liverpool mail-
coach, and endangering the lives of the passengers
for which the conductor of the mails has directed a
prosecution against me ; but on condition of this my
public submission, and paying the expenses attending
it, all proceedings have been discontinued. And I
thank the conductor, and the gentlemen whose lives
I endangered, for their very great lenity shown me ;
and I promise not to be guilty of such outrage in
future. And I trust this will operate as a caution to
all carters or persons who may have the care of carts
and other carriages, to behave themselves peaceably
and properly on the king's highway. Witness my
hand, the 2d Aug. 1804."
Then there was the danger attending the running
away of the horses with the coach, of which the fol-
lowing is an instance, the facts being succinctly set
forth in a notice of 1810, of which the following is
a copy :
" Whereas Walter Price, the driver of the Chester
and Manchester mail-coach, on Thursday night the
22d Nov. 1810, on arriving in Chester, incautiously
left his horses without any person at their heads, to
give out a passenger's luggage (while the guard was
gone to the post-office with the mail-bags), when
they ran off with the mail-coach through the city of
Chester, taking the road to Holywell, but fortunately
48 THE ROYAL MAIL.
without doing any injury ; in consequence of which
neglect, the driver was, on the Saturday following,
brought before the magistrates, and fined in the full
penalty of Five pounds, according to the late Act of
Parliament." And through the city of Chester, with
its narrow streets ! It seems a miracle how four
runaway horses, with a coach at their heels, could
have cleared the town without dire disaster.
Again, it would come to pass that in dark nights the
horses would sometimes stumble over a stray donkey
or other animal which had taken up its night-
quarters in the middle of the road, and there made
its bed. Nor were these the only perils of the road,
which were always increased when the nights were
thick with fog. On the morning of the 30th Decem-
ber 1813, the mail from the South reached Berwick
late owing to a fog, the horses being led by the driver,
notwithstanding whose care the coach had been over-
turned twice. The drivers were called upon on occa-
sions to make up their minds in a moment to choose
one of two courses, when danger suddenly burst upon
them and there was no escape from it. A good
instance of such a case happened to the driver of the
Edinburgh to Dumfries mail-coach, who proved that
he could reason his case quickly and take his resolve.
At one of the stages he had changed horses, and was
proceeding on his way, the first portion of the road
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 49
being down a steep hill with an abrupt turn at the
foot. He had hardly got his coach fairly set in
motion, when to his dismay he perceived that the
wheelers, two new horses, had no notion of hold-
ing back. The animals became furious, while the
passengers became alarmed. It seemed a hopeless
task to control the horses under the circumstances,
and to attempt to take the turn at the foot of the
hill would have assured the upsetting of the coach
and all its belongings. At this juncture the passen-
gers observed a strange smile creep over the coach-
man's face, while he gathered up the reins in the best
style of the profession, at the same time lashing his
horses into a good gallop. Terror-struck, the passen-
gers saw nothing but destruction before them ; yet
they had no alternative but to await the issue. Op-
posite the foot of the hill was a stout gate leading
into a field, and this was the goal the driver had in
view. Steadying the coach by keeping its course
straight, he gave his horses all the momentum they
could gather, and shot them direct at the gate. The
gate went into splinters, the horses and coach bounded
into the field, and were there immediately drawn up,
neither horses, coach, nor passengers being seriously
hurt by the adventure.
Of all the interruptions to the mail-coach service,
none were so serious as those which were occasioned
50 THE ROYAL MAIL.
by snowstorms, nor were the dangers attending them
of a light nature to the drivers, guards, or passengers.
The work achieved by man, either for good or evil,
how insignificant does it not seem when contrasted
with the phenomena of nature !
In the year 1799 a severe snowstorm occurred
in the country, which very much deranged the mail-
service, as may be gathered from the following cir-
cular issued by the London Post-office on the 27th
April of that year :
" Several mail-coaches being still missing that
were obstructed in the snow since the 1st February
last, this' is to desire you will immediately repre-
sent to me an account of all spare patent mail-coaches
that are in the stage where you travel over, whether
they are regular stationed mail-coaches or extra
spare coaches, and the exact place where they are,
either in barn, field, yard, or coach-house, and the
condition they are in, and if they have seats, rugs,
and windows complete." So that here, after a lapse
of about three months, the Post-office had not re-
covered the use of all its mail-coaches, and was
beginning to hunt up the missing vehicles.
Another snowstorm occurred in January 1814,
evidence of which, from a passenger's point of view,
is furnished by Macready in his ' Eeminiscences.'
He wrote as follows :
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 51
"The snow was falling fast, and had already
drifted so high between the Eoss Inn and Berwick-
on - Tweed that it had been necessary to cut a
passage for carriages for some miles. We did not
reach Newcastle until nearly two hours after mid-
night : and fortunate was it for the theatre and our-
selves that we had not delayed our journey, for the
next day the mails were stopped ; nor for more than
six weeks was there any conveyance by carriage be-
tween Edinburgh and Newcastle. After some weeks
a passage was cut through the snow for the guards to
carry the mails on horseback, but for a length of time
the communications every way were very irregular."
But Christmas of 1836 must bear the palm for
snowstorms which have succeeded in deranging the
mail - service in England, and it may be well to
quote here some accounts of the circumstances
written at the time:
" The guard of the Glasgow mail, which arrived
on Sunday morning, said that the roads were in the
northern parts heavy with snow, and that at one
place the mail was two hours getting over four
miles of road. Never before, within recollection,
was the London mail stopped for a whole night at a
few miles from London ; and never before has the in-
tercourse between the southern shires of England and
the metropolis been interrupted for two whole days."
52 THE EOYAL MAIL.
" Fourteen mail-coaches were abandoned on the
" The Brighton mail (from London) reached
Crawley, but was compelled to return. The Dover
mail also returned, not being able to proceed farther
than Gravesend. The Hastings mail was also
obliged to return. The Brighton up-mail of Sun-
day had travelled about eight miles from that town,
when it fell into a drift of snow, from which it was
impossible to extricate it without further assistance.
The guard immediately set off to obtain all necessary
aid ; but when he returned, no trace whatever could
be found either of the coach, coachman, or passen-
gers, three in number. After much difficulty the
coach was found, but could not be extricated from
the hollow into which it had got. The guard did
not reach town until seven o'clock on Tuesday night,
having been obliged to travel with the bags on horse-
back, and in many instances to leave the main road
and proceed across fields, in order to avoid the deep
drifts of snow."
" The Bath and Bristol mails, due on Tuesday
morning, were abandoned eighty miles from London,
and the mail-bags brought up in a postchaise-and-
four by the two guards, who reached London at six
o'clock on Wednesday morning. For seventeen
miles of the distance they had to come across fields."
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 53
" The Manchester down-mail reached St Albans,
and getting off the road into a hollow, was upset.
The guard returned to London in a post-chaise and
four horses with the bags and passengers."
"About a mile from St Albans, on the London
side, a chariot without horses was seen on Tuesday
nearly buried in the snow. There were two ladies
inside, who made an earnest appeal to the mail-
guard, whose coach had got into a drift nearly at
the same spot. The ladies said the post-boy had
left them to go to St Albans to get fresh cattle, and
had been gone two hours. The guard was unable
to assist them, and his mail being extracted, he
pursued his journey for London, leaving the chariot
and ladies in the situation where they were first seen."
" The Devonport mail arrived at half-past eleven
o'clock. The guard, who had travelled with it from
Ilminster, a distance of 140 miles, states that
journey to have been a most trying one to both
men and cattle. The storm commenced when they
reached Wincanton, and never afterwards ceased.
The wind blew fresh, and the snow and sleet in
crossing Salisbury Plain were driving into their
faces so as almost to blind them. Between Andover
and Whitchurch the mail was stuck fast in a- snow-
drift, and the horses, in attempting to get out, were
nearly buried. The coachman got down, and al-
54 THE ROYAL MAIL.
most disappeared in the drift upon which he alight-
ed. Fortunately, at this juncture, a waggon with four
horses came up, and by unyoking these from the
waggon and attaching them to the mail, it was got
out of the hollow in which it was sunk."
These are some of the reports, written at the
time, of the disorganisation of the mail-service in
consequence of the snowstorm. Some slight idea of
the magnitude of the drifts may be obtained from
one or two additional particulars. The mail pro-
ceeding from Exeter for London was five times buried
in the snow, and had to be dug out. A mail-coach
got off the road seven miles from Louth, and went
over into a gravel-pit, one of the horses being killed
and the guard severely bruised. So deeply was
another coach buried on this line of road that it took
300 men, principally sappers and miners, working sev-
eral hours, to make a passage to the coach and rescue
the mails and passengers. Near Chatham the snow
lay to a depth of 30 or 40 feet, and the military were
turned out to the number of 600 to clear the roads.
On the line of road from Chatham to Dover, a
sum of 700 was spent by the road-trustees in
opening up the road for the resumption of traffic, an
official report stating that for 26 miles the road
" was blocked up by an impenetrable mass of snow
varying from 3 feet to 18 feet in depth."
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 55
Between Leicester and Northampton cuttings were
made, just wide enough for a coach to pass, where
the snow was heaped up to a height of 30, 40, and
in some places 50 feet. About a stage from Cov-
entry, near a place called Dunchurch, seventeen
coaches were reported to be laid up in the snow ;
and in other parts of the country a similar whole-
sale derangement or stoppage of road-traffic took
On the 9th January 1837, an official report set
forth that " the mail-coach road between Louth and
Sheffield had on the 6th inst. been closed twelve
days in consequence of the snow, and it is stated
that it will be a week before the mail can run."
An attempt was made to get the mail forward
from Lewes to London by post-chaise and four horses ;
but after proceeding about a mile from the town,
the chaise returned, the driver reporting that it was
impossible to proceed, as the main road was quite
blocked up with snow to a depth of 10 or 12 feet.
These were the good old times ; and no doubt to
us they have a romance, though to the people who
lived in them they had a very practical aspect.
The general instructions to mail-guards in cases
of breakdown were as follows :
" When the coach is so broke down that it cannot
proceed as it is on its way to London, if you have not
56 THE ROYAL MAIL.
above two passengers, and you can procure a post-chaise
without loss of time, get them and the mail forward
in that way, with the horses that used to draw the
mail-coach, that they may be in their places (till you
come to where a coach is stationed); and if you have
lost any time, you must endeavour to fetch it up,
which may be easily done, as the chaise is lighter
than the coach.
"If you cannot get a post-chaise, take off one of
the coach-horses, and ride with your bags to the
next stage ; there take another horse, and so on
till you come to the end of your ground, when you
must deliver the bags to the next guard, who must
proceed in the same manner. If your mail is so
large (as the York, Manchester, and two or three
others are at some part of the road) that one horse
cannot carry it, you may take two ; tie the mail on
one horse and ride the other. The person who
horses the mail must order his horsekeeper at every
stage to furnish you with horses in case of accidents.
Change your horses at every post-town, and do all
your office-duty the same as if the coach travelled.
" If in travelling from London an accident happens,
use all possible expedition in repairing the coach to
proceed ; and if it cannot be repaired in an hour or
two, take the mail forward by horse or chaise if
the latter, the passengers will go with you."
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 57
In pursuance of these instructions, many instances
of devotion to duty were given by the mail-guards,
in labouring to get the mails forward in the midst
of the snowstorm of 1836.
On the 26th of December the Birmingham mail-
coach, proceeding to London, got rather beyond
Aylesbury, where it broke down. Some things
having been set right, another effort was made, and
some little further way made ; but the attempt to
go on had to be given up, for the snow was getting
deeper at every step. A hurricane was blowing,
accompanied with a fall of fine snow, and the horses
shook with extreme cold. In these circumstances,
Price the mail-guard mounted one of the horses, tied
his mail-bags on the back of another, and set out
for London. He was joined farther on by two
postboys on other horses with the bye-bags, and
all three journeyed in company. The road-marks
being frequently effaced, they were constantly de-
viating from their proper course, clearing gates,
hedges, and ditches ; but having a general knowledge
of the lie of the country, and Price being possessed
of good nerves, they succeeded in reaching the metrop-
olis. The guard was in a distressing state of ex-
haustion when he reached his destination. This
was only one instance of the way in which the
guards acquitted themselves during this memorable
58 THE EOYAL MAIL.
storm, and for their great exertions they received
the special thanks of the Postmaster-General.
At a place called Cavendish Bridge the mails
were arrested by the storm, and the exertions of the
coachman and guard were thus referred to by a
private gentleman of the neighbourhood, who com-
municated with the Post - office on the subject :
" I take leave to remark that the zeal and industry
evinced by the guard and coachman, more especially
the former (named Needle), upon the trying occasion
to which your communication has reference, was
well worthy of imitation, and formed a striking
contrast to the reprehensible apathy of two gentle-
men who were inside passengers by the mail."
A notable instance of the devotion to duty of
a coachman and mail - guard, and one illustrating
the dangers and hardships which Post-office ser-
vants of that class had to encounter, occurred in the
winter of 1831. On Tuesday the 1st February of
that year, James M'George, mail-guard, and John
Goodfellow, coachman, set out from Dumfries for
Edinburgh at seven o'clock in the morning, and after
extraordinary exertions reached Moffat, beyond
which, however, they found it impossible to proceed
with the coach, owing to the accumulation of snow.
They then procured saddle-horses, and with these,
accompanied by a postboy, they went on, intending
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 59
to continue their journey in this way. They had
not proceeded beyond Erickstane Hill, a rising
ground in close proximity to the well-known natural
enclosure called the Deil's Beef-Tub, when it became
evident that the horses could not make the journey,
and these were sent back in charge of the postboy
to Moffat. The guard and coachman, unwilling to
give in, continued their journey on foot, having in
view to reach a roadside inn at Tweedshaws, some
two or three miles farther on. The exact particulars
of what thereafter happened will never be known,
beyond this, that the mail-bags were afterwards
found tied to one of the road-posts set up in like
situations to mark the line of road on occasions of
snowstorms, and that the two men perished in the
drift. The last act performed by them, before being
quite overcome by exhaustion and fatigue, was in-
spired by a sense of duty, their aim being to leave
the bags where they would more readily be found
by others, should they themselves not live to re-
cover them. Shortly after this the two men appear
to have succumbed; for their bodies were found
five days afterwards within a hundred yards of the
place where they left the bags, and where at the
cost of their lives they had rendered their last
service to the Post-office and their country.
We who are accustomed to the comforts of railway
60 THE ROYAL MAIL.
travelling, are nevertheless, in regard to accidents,
very much like the ostrich ; for though we do not
purposely close our eyes to danger, we are neverthe-
less placed in such a position that we are unable,
when shut up in a railway carriage, to see what is
before us, or about to happen.
Far otherwise was the case in the days of coach-
ing. The passengers, as well as the drivers and
guards, were not only exposed to the drenchings
from long-continued rain, the terrible exposure to the
cold night-air in winter travelling, and the danger of
attack from highwaymen, but they ran the risks of
all the accidents of the road, many of which they
could see to be inevitable before they happened.
There were occasions when passengers were frozen to
death on the coaches, and others when they fell off
benumbed with cold. It is said sometimes that first
impressions are often correct; but there are, of
course, erroneous first impressions as well. A story
is told of a mail-guard in Scotland who had the
misfortune to be on a coach which upset, and from
which all the outside people were thrown to the
ground. The guard came down upon his head on
the top of a stiff hedge, and from this temporary
situation rolled into a ditch, where for a moment he
lay. Coming to himself from a partial stupor, he
imagined there was something wrong with the top of
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 61
his head, and putting up his hand, he felt a flat
surface, which to his dawning perception appeared
to be a section of his neck, his impression being
that his head had been cut off. This was, however,
nothing but the crown of his hat, which, being forced
down over his head and face, had probably saved
him from more serious damage. Broken limbs were
accidents of common occurrence ; but affairs of much
more serious import occasionally took place, of which
the following is a notable example :
On the night of Tuesday the 25th October
1808, the road between Carlisle and Glasgow was
the scene of a catastrophe which will serve to illus-
trate in a striking degree one of the perils of the
postal service in the mail-coach era. The place
where the event now to be described occurred, lies
between Beattock and Elvanfoot (about five miles
from the latter place), where the highway crosses
the Evan Water, a stream which takes its rise near
the sources of the Clyde, but whose waters are car-
ried southward into Dumfriesshire. To be more
precise, the situation is between two places called
Kaecleuch and Howcleuch, on the Carlisle road; and
a bridge which now spans the water, in lieu of a
former bridge, retains by association, to this day,
the name of the " Broken Bridge."
It was at the breaking up of a severe storm of
62 THE ROYAL MAIL.
frost and snow, when the rivers were flooded to such
an extent as had never been seen by the oldest people
in the neighbourhood. The bridge had been but
recently built ; and though it was afterwards stated
that the materials composing the mortar must have
been of bad quality, no doubt would seem to have
been entertained as to the security of the bridge.
The night was dark, and accompanied by both wind
and rain elements which frequently usher in a state
of thaw. The mail-coach having passed the summit,
was speeding along at a good round pace, the " out-
siders " doubtless making themselves as comfortable
as circumstances would allow, while the " insides,"
as we might imagine, had composed themselves into
some semblance of sleep, the time being between
nine and ten o'clock, when, suddenly and without
warning, the whole equipage horses, coach, driver,
guard, and passengers on reaching the middle of
the bridge, went headlong precipitate into the swollen
stream through a chasm left by the collapse of the
arch. It is by no means easy to realise what the
thoughts would be of those concerned in this dread-
ful experience pitched into a roaring torrent, in a
most lonely place, at a late hour on such a night.
The actual results were, however, very serious. The
two leading horses were killed outright by the fall,
while one of the wheelers was killed by a heavy
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 63
stone descending upon it from the still impending
portions of the wrecked structure. The coach and
harness also were utterly destroyed. But, worse
still, two outside passengers, one a Mr Lund, a
partner in a London house, and the other named
Brand, a merchant in Ecclefechan, were killed on the
spot, while a lady and three gentlemen who were
inside passengers miraculously escaped with their
lives, though they were severely bruised. The lady,
who had scrambled out of the vehicle, sought
refuge on a rock in mid-stream, there remaining
prisoner for a time ; and by her means a second
catastrophe of a similar kind was happily averted.
The mail from Carlisle for Glasgow usually exchanged
" Good-night " with the south-going coach, when they
were running to time, just about the scene of the
accident. Fortunately the coach from Carlisle was
rather late ; but when it did arrive, the lady on the
rock, seeing the lights approach, screamed aloud,
and thus warned the driver to draw up in time.
Succour was now at hand. Something ludicrous
generally finds itself in company with whatever is
of a tragic nature. The guard of the Carlisle coach
was let down to the place where the lady was, by
means of the reins taken from the horses. HugMe
Campbell that was the guard's name when de-
liberating upon the plan of rescue, had some delicacy
64 THE EOYAL MAIL.
as to how he should affix the reins to the person of
the lady, and called up to those above, " Where will
I grip her ? " But before he could be otherwise
advised, the lady, long enough already on the rock,
broke in, " Grip me where you like, but grip me
firm," which observation at once removed Hughie's
difficulty, and set his scruples at ease. The
driver of the wrecked coach, Alexander Cooper, was
at first thought to have been carried away ; but he
was afterwards found caught between two stones in
the river. He survived the accident only a few
weeks serious injuries to his back proving fatal.
As for the guard, Thomas Kinghorn, he was severely
cut about the head, but eventually recovered.
It was usual for the coachman and guard over
this wild and exposed road to be strapped to their
seats in stormy weather ; but on this occasion King-
horn, as it happened, was not strapped, and to this
circumstance he attributed his escape from death.
When the mail went down, he was sent flying over
the bridge, and alighted clear from the wreck of the
coach. The dead passengers and the wounded per-
sons were taken by the other coach into Moffat.
It may be added that the fourth horse was got
out of its predicament little the worse for the fall,
and continued to run for many a day over the same
road; but it was always observed to evince great
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 65
nervousness and excitement whenever it approached
the scene of the accident.
Yet the mail-coach days had charms and attrac-
tions for travellers, if they at the same time had
their drawbacks : the bustle and excitement of the
start, when the horses were loosed and the driver
let them have rein, under the eyes of interested and
admiring spectators ; the exhilarating gallop as a
good pace was achieved on the open country-road ;
the keen relish of the meals, more especially of
breakfast, at the neatly kept and hospitable inn ; the
blithe note of the guard's horn, as a turnpike-gate or
the end of a stage was approached ; and the hurried
changing of horses from time to time as the journey
progressed. Ever-varying scene is the characteristic
of the occasion : the village with its rustic quiet,
and odd characters, who were sure to present them-
selves as the coach flew by ; the fresh and blooming
fields ; the soft and pastoral downs ; the scented
hedgerows in May and June ; the stretches of road
embowered with wood, affording a grateful shade in
warm weather ; the farmer's children swinging on a
gate or overtopping a fence, and cheering lustily
with their small voices as the coach swept along.
And then, the hours of twilight being past, when
" Day hath put on his jacket, and around
His burning bosom buttoned it with stars,"
66 THE ROYAL MAIL.
the eeriness of a night-journey would be experienced.
During hard frost the clear ring of the horses' feet
would be heard upon the road ; the discomfort of
fellow-passengers rolling about in their places, over-
come by sleep, would be felt ; while in the solemn
dulness of the darker hours of night the monotony
of the situation would be relieved at intervals, in
the mineral districts, by miniature mountains of
blazing coal, shedding their lurid glare upon the
coach as it passed, and showing up the figures of
soiled and dusky men employed thereat, thus creat-
ing a horrible impression upon the passengers, and
seeming to afford an effective representation of
Dante's shadowy world.
Or, on occasions of great national triumph when,
for example, some important victory crowned our
arms the coach, decked out with ribbons or green
leaves, would be the bearer of the joyful and intoxi-
cating news down into the country, the driver and
guard, as the official representatives of the Crown,
being the heroes of the hour.
But it may be of interest to learn what a mail-
coach journey was from one who had just completed
such a trip, and who, in the freshness of youth, and
with the unreserve which can only subsist in corres-
pondence between members of a family or dear friends,
immediately commits his impressions to writing. We
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 67
have a vivid sketch of a journey of this kind from
no less a personage than Felix Mendelssohn, the
great musical composer. Mendelssohn was at the
time a young man of twenty : he had been making
a tour in Scotland with his friend Klingemann
the visit being that from which, by the way, Men-
delssohn derived inspiration for the composition
of his delightful Scotch symphony ; and the means
by which he quitted the northern kingdom was by
mail-coach from Glasgow to Liverpool. The follow-
ing letter, descriptive of the journey, and dated
August 19, 1829, is copied from an interesting work
called ' The Mendelssohn Family ' :
" We flew away from Glasgow on the top of the
.mail, ten miles an hour, past steaming meadows and
smoking chimneys, to the Cumberland lakes, to Kes-
wick, Kendal, and the prettiest towns and villages.
The whole country is like a drawing-room. The
rocky walls are papered with bushes, moss, and firs ;
the trees are carefully wrapped up in ivy ; there are
no walls or fences, only high hedges, and you see
them all the way up flat hill-tops. On all sides
carriages full of travellers fly along the roads ; the
corn stands in sheaves ; slopes, hills, precipices, are
all covered with thick, warm foliage. Then again
our eyes dwelt on the dark-blue English distance
many a noble castle, and so on, until we reached
68 THE ROYAL MAIL
Ambleside. There the sky turned gloomy again, and
we had rain and storm. Sitting on the top of the
' stage,' and madly careering along ravines, past
lakes, up-hill, down -hill, wrapped in cloaks, and
umbrellas up, we could see nothing but railings,
heaps of stones or ditches, and but rarely catch
glimpses of hills and lakes. Sometimes our um-
brellas scraped against the roofs of the houses, and
then, wet through, we would come to a second-rate
inn, with a high blazing fire, and English conversa-
tion about walking, coals, supper, the weather, and
Bonaparte. Yesterday our seats on the coach were
accidentally separated, so that I hardly spoke to
Klingemann, for changing horses was done in about
forty seconds. I sat on the box next by the coach-
man, who asked me whether I flirted much, and
made me talk a good deal, and taught me the slang
of horsemanship. Klingemann sat next to two old
women, with whom he shared his umbrella. Again
manufactories, meadows, parks, provincial towns, here
a canal, there a railway, then the sea with ships,
six full coaches with towering outsiders following
each other ; in the evening a thick fog, the stage
running madly in the darkness. Through the fog
we see lamps gleaming all about the horizon ; the
smoke of manufactories envelops us on all sides ;
gentlemen on horseback ride past ; one coach-horn
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 69
blows in B flat, another in D, others follow in the
distance, and here we are at Liverpool."
Speed was of the first consideration, and the
stoppages at the wayside stages were of very limited
duration. At an inn, the travellers would hardly have
made a fair start in appeasing their hunger, when
the guard would be heard calling upon them to
take their seats, which, with mouths full, and still
hungry, they would be forced to do, though with a
bad grace and a growl the acknowledged privilege
of Englishmen. A story is told of one passenger,
however, who was equal to the occasion. Leisurely
sipping his tea and eating his toast, this traveller
was found by the landlord in the breakfast-room
when the other passengers were seated and the
coach was on the point of starting. Boniface ap-
pealed to him to take his place, or he would be
left behind. " But," replied the traveller, " that I will
not do till I have a spoon to sup my egg." A glance
apprised the landlord that not a spoon adorned the
table, and rushing out he detained the coach while
all the passengers were searched for the missing
articles. Then out came the satisfied traveller, who
also submitted to be searched, and afterwards mount-
ed the coach ; and as the mail drove off he called
to the landlord to look inside the teapot, where the
artful traveller had placed the dozen spoons, with
70 THE ROYAL MAIL.
the double object of cooling the tea for his second
cup, and detaining the coach till he drank it.
In the year 1836 the speed of some of the mail-
coaches was nearly ten miles an hour, including
stoppages, and this was kept up over very long
distances. From Edinburgh to London, a distance of
400 miles, the time allowed was forty-five and a half
hours ; in the opposite direction the time was cur-
tailed to forty-two and a half hours. From London
to York, 197 miles, twenty hours were allowed ;
London to Manchester, 185 miles, nineteen hours ;
London to Exeter, 176 miles, nineteen hours; Lon-
don to Holy head, 259 miles, twenty-seven hours ;
London to Devonport, 216 miles, twenty-one hours.
But in the earlier days of the mail-coach, travelling
was much less rapid; for we find that in 1804 the
mail-coach from Perth to Edinburgh, a distance by
way of Fife of 40 miles, took eight hours for the
journey, including stoppages and the transit by ferry
across the Forth that is, at the rate of five miles an
hour. The mail-guards rode about twelve hours at
a stretch quite long enough, in all conscience, on a
wet or frosty night.
An incident of a romantic nature happened about
the year 1780 in connection with the stage-coach (not
a mail-coach, however, be it noted) running between
Edinburgh and Glasgow at that period. The stage-
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 71
coach, drawn by four horses, had been on the road
for many years, having been established about the
year 1758. The time occupied in the journey was
twelve hours ; nor, down to the period in question,
had any acceleration taken place. A young lady of
Glasgow, of distinguished beauty, having to travel to
Edinburgh, a lover whose suit towards her had not
hitherto proved successful, took the remaining tickets
for the journey, and so became her sole companion
on the way. By assiduous attentions, and all the
winsome ways which the tender passion knows to
suggest, as well as by earnestness of pursuit, the
lover won the lady to his favour, and she soon there-
after became his wife. But the full day did not
justify the brightness of the morning : the husband
failed to prove himself worthy of his good fortune ;
" and the lady, in a state worse than widowhood,
was, a few years after, the subject of the celebrated
Clarinda correspondence of Burns."
In addition to the obvious duties of the mail-
guards to protect the mails and carry out their
exchange at the several stations they were sometimes
required to perform special duties unconnected with
Post-office work. They were, for example, called
upon to keep watch in the early part of the present
century upon French prisoners of war who might be
breaking their parole, a likely way of escaping being
72 THE ROYAL MAIL.
by the mail-coaches. The guards were instructed to
question any suspicious foreigner travelling by the
coach, and to report the matter to the postmaster at
the first town at which they arrived. This was doubt-
less looked upon as a pleasure rather than as a
hardship ; for they were reminded that the usual
reward was ten guineas each not a bad price for a
Frenchman under the circumstances.
No record of the mail-coach days would be complete
without a description of the annual procession of
mail-coaches which used to be held in the metropolis
on the monarch's birthday. As every corporation or
society has its saint's day, or yearly festival, so the
Jehus of the Post-office were not without theirs ; an
occasion on which they showed themselves to advan-
tage, and drew admiring crowds to behold them. The
following account of one of these displays is from the
'Annals of the Road/ a work of great interest on sub-
jects connected with coaching generally ; and as the
description is given with spirit and apparent truthful-
ness, we cannot do better than give it at length, and
in this way bring the present chapter to a 'close :
" The great day of the year was the King's birth-
day, when a goodly procession of four - in - hands
started from the great coach manufactory of Mr
John Vidler, in the neighbourhood of Millbank, and
wended its way to St Martin's-le-Grand. Splendid
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 73
in fresh paint and varnish, gold lettering and Royal
arms, they were the perfection of neatness and
practical utility in build, horsed to perfection, and
leathered to match. They were driven by coachmen
who, as well as the guards behind, were arrayed in
spick-and-span new scarlet and gold. No delicate
bouquets, but mighty nosegays of the size of a cab-
bage, adorned the breasts of these portly mail coach-
men and guards, while bunches of cabbage - roses
decorated the heads of the proud steeds. In the
cramped interior of the vehicles were closely pack-
ed buxom dames and blooming lasses, the wives,
daughters, or sweethearts of the coachmen or guards,
the fair passengers arrayed in coal-scuttle bonnets
and in canary-coloured or scarlet silks. On this
great occasion the guard was allowed two seats and
the coachman two, no one allowed on the roof. But
the great feature, after all, was that stirring note, so
clearly blown and well drawn out, and every now
and again sounded by the guards, and alternated with
such airs as ' The Days when we went Gipsying/
capitally played on a key-bugle. Should a mail
come late, the tune from a passing one would be,
' Oh, dear ! what can the matter be ? ' This key-
bugle was no part of the mail equipment, but was
nevertheless frequently used.
" Heading the procession was the oldest-established
74 THE ROYAL MAIL.
mail, which would be the Bristol. On the King's
birthday, 1834, there were 27 coaches in the pro-
cession. They all wore hammer-cloths, and both
guard and coachman were in red liveries, the latter
being furnished by the mail contractor. They wore
beaver hats with gold lace and cockades. Sucli
a thing as a low billycock hat was not to be seen on
any coach anywhere. Sherman's mails were drawn
by black horses, and on these occasions their harness
was of red morocco.
" The coaches were new each year. In these days
brass mountings were rarely known ; plated or silver
only were in use. On the starting of the procession,
the bells of the neighbouring churches rang out
merrily, continuing their rejoicing peals till it arrived
at the General Post-office. Many country squires,
who were always anxious that their best horses
should have a few turns in the mail - coaches in
travelling, sent up their horses to figure in the
"From Millbank the procession passed by St
James's Palace, at the windows of which, above the
porch, stood King William and his Queen. The
Duke of Kichmond (then Postmaster-General) and
the Duke of Wellington stood there also. Each
coach as it passed saluted the King, the coachman
and guard standing up and taking off their hats.
STAGE AND MAIL COACHES. 75
The appearance of the smart coaches, emblazoned
with the Koyal arms, orders, &c., coachman and guard
got up to every advantage, with their nosegays stuck
in their brand-new scarlet liveries, was at this point
strikingly grand. The inspectors of mail - coaches
rode in front of the procession on horseback."
" I know of no more universally popular personage than this humble
official. Bearer of love-letters, post-office orders, cheques, little care-
fully tied packages, all the more charming that it is difficult to get at
their contents, it is who shall be first to open the door to him. He is
welcomed everywhere ; smiling faces greet him at every door. In Eng-
land, the postman is the hero of Christmas time ; so he strikes the iron
while it is hot, and on Boxing-day comes round to ask for a reward,
which all are ready to give without grudging." Max O'Rell in 'John
Bull and his Island.'
THOUGH in former times foot-messengers or, as
they are called, post-runners were employed
to convey many of the principal mails over long
stretches of country, their work in this way has
been almost wholly superseded by the railway and
by horse-posts ; and while post-runners are perhaps
now numerically stronger than they ever were, their
work is principally confined nowadays to what may
be termed the capillary service of the Post - office.
They are chiefly employed in conveying correspond-
ence between country towns and the outlying points
forming the outskirts or fringes of inhabited districts.
These men have in many cases very arduous work,
being required to walk from sixteen to twenty-four
miles a-day ; and it is not improbable that the cir-
cumstances of these later times make the duties
more trying in some respects than they were for-
merly. For the messengers are so timed for arrival
and departure that they are prevented from taking
shelter on occasions of storm, and are obliged to plod
on in spite of the elements ; whereas in remote times,
when a runner took several days to cover his ground,
he could rest and take refuge at one stage, and make
up lost time at another. Be this, however, as it may,
it is the fact that very many post-runners die from
that insidious disease, consumption.
In the year 1590, the magistrates of Aberdeen
established a post for conveying their despatches to
and from Edinburgh, and other places where the
royal residence might for the time be. This insti-
tution was called the " Council Post " ; and the mes-
senger was dressed in a garment of blue cloth, with
the armorial bearings of the town worked in silver
on his right sleeve. In the year 1715, there was
not a single horse-post in Scotland, all the mails
being conveyed by runners on foot ; and the ground
covered by these posts extended from Edinburgh as
far north as Thurso, and westward as far as Inverary.
78 THE ROYAL MAIL.
About the year 1750, an improved plan of forward-
ing the mails was introduced in Scotland by the
horse-posts proceeding only from stage to stage the
mails being transferred to a fresh postboy at each
point ; but in the majority of cases the mails were
still carried by foot-runners. Before the change of
system the plan of proceeding was this, taking the
north road as an example : " A person set out with
the mail from Edinburgh to Aberdeen : he did not
travel a stage and then deliver the mail to another
postboy, but went on to Dundee, where he rested
the first night ; to Montrose, where he stayed the
second ; and on the third he arrived at Aberdeen ;
and as he passed by Kinghorn, it behoved the tide,
and sometimes also the weather, to render the time
of his arrival more late and uncertain."
The plan of conveying mails by the same runners
over long distances continued much later, however ;
for we find that in 1799 a post-runner travelled
from Inverness to Lochcarron a distance across
country as the crow flies of about fifty miles
making the journey once a - week, for which he
was paid five shillings. Another messenger at the
same period made the journey from Inverness to
Dunvegan in Skye a much greater distance also
once a-week, the hebdomadal stipend in this instance
being seven shillings and sixpence.
As with the postboys, so with the runners ; the
surveyors seem to have had some trouble in keeping
them to their prescribed duties, as will be gathered
from the following report written in the year 1800 :
" I found it had been the general practice for the
post from Bonaw to Appin to lodge regularly all
night at or near the house of Ardchattan, and did
not cross Shien till the following morning, losing
twelve hours to the Appin, Strontian, and Fort
William districts of country ; and I consider it an
improvement of itself to remove such private lodg-
ings or accommodations out of the way of posts,
which, as I have been informed, is sometimes done
for the sake of perusing newspapers, as well as
answering or writing letters."
Nor was the speed of the foot-posts in some
cases, at any rate very much to boast of, these
humble messengers being at times heavily weighted
with the correspondence they had to carry. In the
year 1805, before the Dumbarton to Inverary mail
service was raised to the dignity of a horse-post, the
surveyor, in referring to the necessity for the em-
ployment of horses, thus deplores the situation : " I
have sometimes observed these mails, at leaving
Dumbarton, about three stones or forty-eight pounds
weight, and they are generally above two stones.
During the course of last winter, horses were obliged
80 THE ROYAL MAIL.
to be occasionally employed ; and it is often the case
that a strong Highlander, with so great weight on
him, cannot travel more than two miles an hour,
which greatly retards the general correspondence of
this extensive district of country."
In winter-time, and on occasions of severe storms,
the post -runners have sometimes to endure great
fatigue ; and it is then that their loyalty to the service
h put to the test. An instance of stern fidelity to
duty on the part of one of these men, at the time
of the snowstorm of 1836, formed the subject of a
petition to the Postmaster-General from the inhabi-
tants of Sheerness and the Isle of Sheppy.
The document recites that a foot-messenger named
John "Wright continued for nine days, from the 25th
December 1836, to carry the mails between Sheerness
and Sittingbourne a distance for the double journey
of about twenty-four miles. At the end of this time
he was so completely exhausted and overcome by the
effects of cold and exposure, that he had to give up
duty for a time. The memorial sets forth that " the
road is circuitous and crooked, through marshes, and
very exposed, without any protection from the drift
(in many places very deep), and with a ditch on
either side the water of which was frozen just
sufficient to bear the weight of the snow, thereby
rendering the travelling extremely hazardous, inas-
much as the dangers were in a great measure
unseen ; and had the postman mistaken his road
(which from the frequent drifting of the snow and
the absence of traffic at that time was often un-
tracked), and fallen into one of these ditches, he must
no doubt have perished." It appeared further, that
between the two places there was a ferry which
the postman had to cross, and that in making the
passage on the night of the 25th December, the
boat in which he was nearly swamped, and he
" was compelled to escape through mud and water
up to his waist." It is not an uncommon thing for
messengers to lose their lives in the discharge of
their duties, and a severe winter seldom passes with-
out some fatality of this kind. In the winter of
1876-77, a sad accident befell a messenger employed
in Northumberland. On a night of intense darkness
and storm, this man turned off the usual road in
order to avoid crossing a swollen stream ; and sub-
sequently losing his way, he sank down and died,
overcome by exposure and fatigue. In another case
a messenger at Lochcarron, in Scotland, being unable
to pursue his usual route over a mountain 2000 feet
high, on account of a heavy fall of snow, proceeded
by water to complete his journey ; but the boat
which he had engaged capsized, and both the mes-
senger and two other persons who accompanied him
82 THE ROYAL MAIL.
were drowned. A few years ago, on the evening
of Christmas-day, a rural messenger at Bannow, in
Ireland, while on his return journey along a narrow
path flanked on each side by a deep ditch, is believed
to have bjeen tripped by a furze-root, and being pre-
cipitated into one of the ditches, was unfortunately
drowned. The rural post-messengers having, more-
over, to visit isolated houses along their route, are
exposed to the attacks of dogs kept about the pre-
mises. A few years ago a rural messenger was
delivering letters at a farmhouse, when he was
severely bitten by a retriever dog, and he died six
weeks afterwards from tetanus.
It is perhaps in the Western Highlands and
Islands of Scotland that the most trying condi-
tions for the rural messengers present themselves.
From Ullapool to Coigach and Bieff in Eoss-shire,
for example, a journey of twenty-six miles, the mes-
senger travels out one day, and back again the
next. Proceeding from Ullapool, the main road is
followed for about three miles, when the man strikes
off into the hills, and after a time reaches a river.
This he is enabled sometimes to cross by means of
stepping-stones ; but so often does the water cover
these, that he is generally obliged to ford it, and in
doing so gets himself thoroughly wet. Then he
pursues a course along or over one of the most
dangerous rocks in Scotland for a distance of three
or four miles, the rock in some places being so
precipitous that he is obliged to cling to it for dear
life. After passing this rock he continues some
distance farther over the hills, and ultimately re-
gains the main road, by which he completes his
journey. Apart altogether from the dangerous char-
acter of the road, the distance which the post-runner
has to walk day after day must necessarily be severe
and trying work.
From Lochmaddy to Castlebay there is a chain
of posts seventy-five miles long, served partly by
foot -messengers, partly by horse -posts, and partly
by boats. The line is intersected by dangerous
ferries, one between Kilbride and Barra being six
miles wide, and exposed to the full force of the
waves from the Atlantic. From Garrynahine to
Miavaig, in the island of Lewis, there is another
dangerous service, partly by foot-post and partly by
boat, the distance being seventeen miles. The road
lies all through bog a dreary waste while the
sea portion is on a most exposed part of the coast.
These are a few instances of the laborious and
dangerous services performed by the rural postmen.
Their brother officers in the towns, though in many
cases having quite hard enough work (Mr Anthony
Trollope tells that the hardest day's work he ever
84 THE ROYAL MAIL.
did in his life was accompanying a Glasgow post-
man up and down stairs on his beat), have not the
exposure of the men in the country ; and as they
are familiar to the eyes of every one, any special
notice of them here would be out of place.
It may, however, be mentioned, that the men who
formerly delivered letters in small towns were not
always in the pay of the Post-office or under its
control. This appears by an official report of 1810,
relating to the town service of Greenock, which runs
as follows : " As the Greenock letter-carrier is not
paid by Government, nor their appointment properly
in us, they are of course elected by the magistrates
or inhabitants of the town, who have the right to
choose their own carriers, or call for their letters at
employment of vessels for the conveyance
-*- of mails seems to have passed through three
several stages, each no doubt merging into the next,
but each retaining, nevertheless, distinct features of
its own. First, there was the stage when Govern-
ment equipped and manned its own ships for the
service ; then there was an age of very heavy sub-
sidies to shipping companies who could not under-
take regularity of sailing without some such assist-
ance ; and now there is the third stage, when, through
the great development of international trade and the
consequent competition of rival shipowners, regularity
of sailing is ensured apart from the post, and the
Government is able to make better terms for the
conveyance of the mails.
It is curious to take a glimpse of the conditions
under which the early packets sailed, when they
were often in danger of having to fight or fly. The
86 THE KOYAL MAIL.
instructions to the captains were to run while they
could, fight when they could no longer run, and to
throw the mails overboard when fighting would no
longer avail. In 1693, such a ship as then per-
formed the service was described as one of " eighty-
five tons and fourteen guns, with powder, shot, and
firearms, and all other munitions of war." A poor
captain, whose ship the Grace Dogger was lying in
Dublin Bay awaiting the tide, fell into the hands of
the enemy, a French privateer having seized his ship
and stripped her of rigging, sails, spars, and yards.
and of all the furniture " wherewith she had been
provided for the due accommodation of passengers,
leaving not so much as a spoone or a naile-hooke to
hang anything on." The unfortunate ship in its
denuded state was ransomed from its captors for
fifty guineas. If we may judge from this case, the
fighting of the packets does not seem always to have
been satisfactory ; and the Postmasters- General of the
day, deeming discretion the better part of valour, set
about building packets that should escape the enemy.
They did build new vessels, but so low did they rest
in the water that the Postmasters-General wrote of
them thus : " Wee doe find that in blowing weather
they take in soe much water that the men are con-
stantly wet all through, and can noe ways goe below
to change themselves, being obliged to keep the
hatches shut to save the vessel from sinking, which
is such a discouragement of the sailors, that it will be
of the greatest difficulty to get any to endure such
hardshipps in the winter weather." These flying
ships not proving a success, the Postmasters-General
then determined to build " boats of force to withstand
the enemy," adopting the bull-dog policy as the only
course open in the circumstances. It may be inter-
esting to recall how these packets were manned. In
May 1695 the crews of the packets between Harwich
and Holland were placed on the following footing :
Master and Com-
ruander, . . ^10
Mate, . . .' 3 10
Surgeon, . . 3 10
Boatswain, . . 350
Midshipman, . 1 15
Carpenter, . . 350
Boatswain's mate, 1 15
Gunner's mate, . 1 15
Quartermaster, . 1 15
Captain's servant, 100
11 Able seamen at
,1, 10s., . . 16 10
Agent's instrument, 200
In all, . . 50
These wages may not have been considered too
liberal considering the risks the men ran ; and as an
encouragement to greater valour in dealing with the
enemy, and as an additional means of recompense,
the crew were allowed to take prizes if they fell in
their way. They also " received pensions for wounds,
according to a code drawn up with a nice discrimin-
ation of the relative value of different parts of the
88 THE KOYAL MAIL.
body, and with a most amusing profusion of the
technical terms of anatomy. Thus, after a fierce
engagement which took place in February 1705, we
find that Edward James had a donation of 5 be-
cause a musket- shot had grazed on the tibia of his
left leg; that Gabriel Treludra had 12 because a
shot had divided his frontal muscles and fractured
his skull ; that Thomas Williams had the same sum
because a Granada shell had stuck fast in his left
foot ; that John Cook, who received a shot in the
hinder part of his head, whereby a large division of
the scalp was made, had a donation of 6, 13s. 4d.
for present relief, and a yearly pension of the same
amount ; and that Benjamin Lillycrop, who lost the
fore-finger of his left hand, had 2 for present relief,
and a yearly pension of the same amount." Some
other classes of wounds were assessed for pensions
as follows : " Each arm or leg amputated above the
elbow or knee is 8 per annum ; below the knee is
20 nobles. Loss of the sight of one eye is 4, of the
pupil of the eye 5, of the sight of both eyes 12, of
the pupils of both eyes 14 ; and according to these
rules we consider also how much the hurts affect the
body, and make the allowances accordingly."
But between different parts of the United King-
dom, not a century ago, it is remarkable how in-
frequent the communications sometimes were. Now-
adays, there are three or four mails a-week between
the mainland and Lerwick, in Shetland, whereas in
1802 the mails between these parts were carried
only ten times a-year, the trips in December and
January being omitted owing to the stormy charac-
ter of the weather. The contract provided that there
should be iised " a sufficiently strong-built packet,"
and the allowance granted for the service was 120
per annum. It may perhaps be worthy of notice
that the amount of postage upon letters sent to Shet-
land in the year ended the 5th July 1802 was no
more than 199, 19s. Id. It was also stipulated,
by the terms of the agreement, that the con-
tractors should adopt a proper search of their own
servants, lest they should privately convey letters to
the injury of the revenue ; and they were also re-
quired to take measures against passengers by the
packet transgressing in the same way. On one occa-
sion the good people in these northern islands, when
memorialising for more frequent postal service, sug-
gested that the packets would be of great use in spy-
ing out and reporting the presence of French priva-
teers on the coast ; but the Postmaster-General of the
period took the sensible view that the less the packets
saw of French privateers the better it would be for
the packet service.
Difficulties are experienced even in the present
90 THE EOYAL MAIL.
day in communicating with some of the outlying
islands of the north of Scotland, . weeks and occa-
sionally months passing without the boats carrying
the mails being able to make the passage. The fol-
lowing is from a report made by the postmaster of
Lerwick on the 27th March 1883, with reference to
the interruption of the mail-service with Foula, an
outlying island of the Shetland group :
"A mail was made up on the 8th January, and
several attempts made to reach the island, but unsuc-
cessfully, until the 10th March. Fair Isle was in the
same predicament as Foula, but the mail-boat was
more unfortunate. A trip was effected to Fair Isle
about the end of December, but none again until last
week. About 9th March the boat left for Fair Isle,
and nothing being heard of her for a fortnight, fears
were entertained for her safety. Fortunately the
crew turned up on 23d March, but their boat had
been wrecked at Fair Isle. During the twenty years
I have been in the service, I have never been so put
about arranging our mails and posts as since the New
Year ; we have had heavier gales, but I do not think
any one remembers such a continuation of storms
as from about the first week of January to end of
February ; indeed it could hardly be called storms,
but rather one continued storm, with an occasional
lull of a few hours. I cannot recall any time dur-
ing the period having twenty-four hours' calm or even
moderate weather. If it was a lull at night, it was
on a gale in the morning ; and if a lull in the morning,
a gale came on before night. The great difficulty in
working Foula and Fair Isle is the want of har-
bours ; and often a passage might be made, but the
men dare not venture on account of the landing at
the islands." This statement gives a fair idea of the
difficulties that have to be overcome in keeping up
the circulation of letters with the distant fragments
of our home country.
In the packet service deeds of devotion have been
done in the way of duty, as has been the case on occa-
sions in the land service. At a period probably
about 1800, a Mr Bamage, an officer attached to the
Dublin Post-office, being charged with a Government
despatch, to be placed on board the packet in the
Bay of Dublin, found, on arriving there, that the cap-
tain, contrary to orders, had put to sea. Mr Bamage,
being unable to acquit himself of his duty in one
way, undertook it in another; and hiring an open
boat, he proceeded to Holyhead, and there safely
landed the despatch. Another instance is related
in connection with the shipwreck of the Violet mail-
packet sailing between Ostend and Dover ; the par-
ticulars being given as follows in the Postmaster-
General's report for 1856 :
" Mr Mortleman, the officer in immediate charge of
the mail-bags, acted on the occasion with a presence of
92 THE ROYAL MAIL.
mind and forethought which reflect honour on his me-
mory. On seeing that the vessel could not be saved, he
must have removed the cases containing the mail-bags
from the hold, and so have placed them that when
the ship went down they might float ; a proceeding
which ultimately led to the recovery of all the bags,
except one containing despatches, of which, from their
nature, it was possible to obtain copies."
It has already been mentioned that at the close
of the seventeenth century a mail-packet was a
vessel of some 85 tons a proud thing, no doubt,
in the eyes of him who commanded her. The
class of ship would seem to have remained very
much the same during the next hundred years ; for,
in the last years of the eighteenth century, a mail-
packet on the Falmouth station, reckoned fit to
proceed to any part of the world, was of only about
179 tons burthen. Her crew, from commander to
cook, comprised only twenty - eight persons when
she was on a war footing, and twenty - one on
a peace footing ; and her armament was six
4-pounder guns. The victualling was at the rate
of tenpence per man per day; the whole annual
charge for the packet when on the war establish-
ment, including interest on cost of ship, wages, wear
and tear of fittings, medicine, &c., being 2112,
6s. 8d. ; while on the peace establishment, with
diminished wear and tear, and reduced crew, the
charge was estimated at 1681, 11s. 9d. The
packets on the Harwich station, performing the
service to and from the Continent, were much less
in size, being of about 70 tons burthen.
During the wars with the French at this period
the mail-packets were not infrequently captured by
the enemy. From 1793 to 1795 alone four of
these ships were thus lost namely, the King George,
the Tankerville, the Prince William Henry, and the
Queen Charlotte. The King George, a Lisbon packet,
homeward bound with the mails and a considerable
quantity of money, was taken and carried into Brest.
The Tankerville, on her passage from Falmouth to
Halifax, with the mails of November and December
1794, was captured by the privateer Lovely Lass, a
ship fitted out in an American port, and probably
itself a prize, there having been some diplomatic
correspondence with the United States shortly before
on the subject of a captured vessel bearing that
name. Before the Tankerville fell into the hands
of the enemy, the mails were thrown overboard, in
accordance with the standing orders which have
already been referred to. The officers and crew
were carried on board the Lovely Lass, and then
the Tankerville was sunk. Soon afterwards the
captive crew were released by the commander of
the privateer, and sent in a Spanish prize to
94 THE ROYAL MAIL.
But though the mail-packets were intended to
rely for safety mainly upon their fine lines and
spread of canvas, and were expected to show fight
only in the last resort, we may be sure that, when
the hour of battle came upon them, they were not
taken without a struggle. Nor, indeed, did they
always get the worst of the fray, as will be seen by
the following account of a brilliant affair which took
place in the West Indies, copied from the ' Annual
Register' of 1794:
"The Antelope packet sailed from Port Royal,
Jamaica, November 27, 1793. On the 1st of
December, on the coast of Cuba, she fell in with
two schooners, one of which, the Atalanta, outsailed
her consort ; and after chasing the Antelope for a
considerable time, and exchanging many shots, at
five o'clock in the ensuing morning, it being calm,
rowed up, grappled with her on the starboard side,
poured in a broadside, and made an attempt to
board, which was repulsed with great slaughter.
By this broadside, Mr Curtis, the master and com-
mander of the Antelope, the first mate, ship's steward,
and a French gentleman, a passenger, fell. The
command then devolved on the boatswain (for the
second mate had died of the fever on the passage),
who, with the few brave men left, assisted by the
passengers, repelled many attempts to board. The
boatswain, at last observing that the privateer had
cut her grapplings, and was attempting to sheer off,
ran aloft, and lashed her squaresail-yard to the
Antelope's fore-shrouds, and immediately pouring in
a few vollies of small-arms, which did great execu-
tion, the enemy called for quarter, which was in-
stantly granted, although the French had the bloody
flag hoisted during the whole contest. The prize
was carried into Annotta Bay about eleven o'clock
the next morning. The Antelope sailed with 27
hands, but had lost four before the action by the
fever, besides two then unfit for duty : so that the
surgeon, being necessarily in the cockpit, they
engaged with only 20 men, besides the passengers.
" The Atalanta was fitted out at Charlestown,
mounted eight 3 -pounders, and carried 65 men,
French, Americans, and Irish, of whom 49 were
killed or wounded in the action ; the Antelope hav-
ing only two killed and three wounded one mortally.
" The House of Assembly at Jamaica, as a reward
for this most gallant action, voted 500 guineas
200 to be paid to the master's widow, 100 to the
first mate's, 100 to the boatswain, and 100 among
the rest of the crew."
The packet-boats sailing from the ports of Har-
wich and Dover, being habitually in the " silver
streak," were subject to frequent interruptions from
THE ROYAL MAIL.
English privateers and men-of-war frequenting these
waters ; and to lessen the inconvenience thus aris-
ing, the packets .at one time carried what was called
a "post-boy jack." An official record of 1792 thus
describes the flag : " It is the Union-jack with the
figure of a man riding post with a mail behind him,
and blowing his horn." These flags were made of
bunting, and cost 1, 2s. each.
Happily there has not for a long time been
any need for using fighting ships to convey
the mails of this country over the high seas ;
and this is a danger which it has not been needful
to provide against in the packet service of the present
While in the eighteenth century but trifling
advancement would seem to have been made in
naval matters, what a contrast is presented by the
achievements of the last eighty years ! As com-
pared with the Etruria and the Umbria, recent ac-
quisitions of the Cunard Company, for the convey-
ance of the mails between Liverpool and New York,
each of 8000 tons burthen and 12,500 horse-power,
the pigmy vessels of the past almost sink into
nothingness ; and we cannot but acknowledge the
rapidity with which such stupendous agencies have
come under the control of man for the furtherance
of his work in the world.
We would present a further contrast between the
past and the present as regards the packet service.
So late as 1829, and perhaps later still, the voyages
out to the under-mentioned places and home again
were estimated to take the following number of
days viz. :
To Jamaica,. . 112
M America, . 105
ti Leeward Islands, 91
To Malta, ... 98
Brazil, . . 140
ii Lisbon, . . 28
There were then no regular packets to China, New
South Wales, Sierra Leone, Cape Coast Castle, Goree,
Senegal, St Helena, and many parts of South
America ; opportunity being taken to send ship
98 THE ROYAL MAIL.
letter-bags to these places as occasion offered by
Nowadays the transit of letters to the places first
above-mentioned is estimated to occupy the following
number of days :
To Jamaica, . 18
ii America, . 7
n West Indies, . 16
To Malta, . . 4&
M Brazil, . . 21
n Lisbon, . . 3
And the return mails would occupy a similar amount
In nothing perhaps will the advantages now
offered by the Post-office, in connection with the
packet service, be more appreciated by the public
than in the reduced rates of postage. The following
table shows the initial rates for letters to several
places abroad in 1829 and in 1884:
France, . 2s. Id. 2d.
Italy, . 2s. lOd. 2jd.
Spain, . 3s. Id. 2d.
Sweden, . 2s. 7d. 2d.
Gibraltar, . 3s. Id. 2d.
Malta, . 3s. 5d. 2d.
United States, 2s. 5d. 2|d.
Brazil, . 3s. 9d. 4d.
Portugal, . 2s. 9d. 2|d.
If we were asked to point out a mail-packet of
the present day as fulfilling all modern requirements
in regard to the packet service, and showing a model
of equipment in the vessels as well as order in their
management, we would not hesitate to name the
MAIL- PACKETS. 99
mail-steamers plying between Holyhead and Kings-
town. It may not be generally known, but it is the
case, that these vessels carry a post-office on board,
wherein sorters perform their ordinary duties, by
which means much economy of time is effected in
the arrangement of the correspondence. In stormy
weather, when the packets are tumbling about amid
the billows of the Channel, the process of sorting
cannot be comfortably carried on, and the men have
to make free use of their sea-legs in steadying them-
selves, so as to secure fair aim at the pigeon-holes
into which they sort the letters. But the departure
of one of these ships from Kingstown is a sight to
behold. Up to a short time before the hour of
departure friends may be seen on the hurricane-
deck chatting with the passengers ; but no sooner is
the whistle of the mail-train from Dublin heard than
all strangers are warned off; in a few minutes the
train comes down the jetty ; the sailors in waiting
seize the mail-bags and carry them on board ; and
the moment the last of the bags is thus disposed of,
the moorings are all promptly cast off, and the signal
given to go ahead : and with such an absence of bustle
or excitement is all this done, that before the spec-
tator can realise what has passed before his eyes,
the ship is majestically sailing past the end of the
pier, and is already on her way to England.
OUTSIDE the Post-office Department it is prob-
ably not apprehended to what extent care ia
actually bestowed upon letters and packets when, in
course of transit through the post, their covers are
damaged or addresses mutilated in order to secure
their further safe transmission ; many envelopes and
wrappers being of such flimsy material that, coming
into contact with hard bundles of letters in the mail-
bags, they run great risk of being thus injured. But
the occasions on which exceptional pains are taken,
and on a large scale, to carry out this work, are when
mails from abroad have been saved in the case of
shipwreck, and the contents are soaked with water.
Then it is that patient work has to be done to get
the letters, newspapers, &c., into a state for delivery,
to preserve the addresses, and to get the articles
dried. In certain instances the roof of the chief
office in St Martin's-le-Grand has been used as a
SHIPWRECKED MAILS. 101
drying-green for shipwrecked newspapers, there being
no sufficient space indoors to admit of their being
spread out. The amount of patching, separating,
and deciphering in such circumstances cannot well
But perhaps the most curious difficulty arising out
of a shipwrecked mail was that which took place in
connection with the loss of the Union Steamship
Company's packet European off Ushant, in December
1877. After this ship went down the mails were
recovered, but not without serious damage, through
saturation with sea -water. One of the registered
letter-bags from Cape Town, on being opened in the
chief office in London, was found to contain several
large packets of diamonds, the addresses on which
had been destroyed by the action of the water, and
some 7 Ib. weight of loose diamonds, which had evi-
dently formed the contents of a lot of covers lying
as pulp at the bottom of the bag, and from which no
accurate addresses could be obtained. Every possible
endeavour was made to trace the persons to whom
the unbroken packets were consigned, and with such
success, that after some little delay they reached
the hands of the rightful owners. To discover
who were the persons having claims upon the
loose diamonds, which could not be individually
identified, was a more serious matter, involving much
102 THE ROYAL MAIL.
trouble and correspondence. At length this was
ascertained ; and as the only means of satisfying,
or attempting to satisfy, the several claims, the
diamonds were valued by an experienced broker,
and sold for the general behoof, realising 19,000.
This means of meeting the several claimants proved
so satisfactory, that not a single complaint was
AMOUNT OF WORK.
amount of work performed by the Post-office
J- in the transmission of letters and other articles
of correspondence within the space of a year, may
be gathered from the following figures, taken from
the Postmaster-General's annual report issued in
The Letters numbered . . 1,280,636,200
Post-cards,. . . . 144,016,200
Books and circulars, . -> . 288,206,400
Newspapers, .... 140,682,600
Total, . . 1,853,541,400
These figures are, however, of little service in
conveying to our minds any due conception of the
amount of work which they represent. Nor, when
the scene of the work is spread and distributed over
the whole country, and the labour involved is shared
104 THE ROYAL MAIL.
in by a host of public servants, would any arrange-
ment of figures put the matter intelligibly within
our grasp. The quantity of paper used in this
annual interchange of thought through the inter-
mediary of the British Post - office, may perhaps
be measured by the following facts : Supposing
each letter to contain a single sheet of ordinary-
sized note-paper ; the post-cards taken at the size
of inland post-cards ; book-packets as containing
on an average fifty leaves of novel -paper; and
newspapers as being composed of three single leaves
18 inches by 24 inches, the total area of paper
used would be nearly 630 millions of square yards.
This would be sufficient to pave a way hence to the
moon, of a yard and a half in breadth ; or it would
give to that orb a girdle round its body 53 yards in
width ; or again, it would encircle our own globe
by a band 14 yards in width. Another way to look
at the magnitude of the Post - office work is as
follows : Suppose that letters, book-packets, news-
papers, and post-cards are taken at their several
ascertained averages as to weight, the total amount
of the mails for a year passing through the British
Post-office, exclusive of the weight of canvas bags
and small stores of various kinds, would exceed
42,000 tons, which would be sufficient to provide
full freight for a fleet of twenty-one ships carrying
AMOUNT OF WORK. 105
2000 tons of cargo each. What a burthen of
sorrows, joys, scandals, midnight studies, patient
labours, business energy, and everything good or bad
which proceeds from the human heart and brain,
does not this represent ! Yet, after all, what are
the figures above given, when put in the balance
with the facts of nature ? The whole paper, accord-
ing to the foregoing calculations, although it would
gird our earth with a band 14 yards wide, could
only be made to extend hence to the sun by being
attenuated to the dimensions of a tape of slightly
over one-eighth of an inch in width !
Bearing in mind the great quantity of correspond-
ence conveyed by the post, as well as the hurry and
bustle in which letters are often written, it is not
astonishing that writers should sometimes make
mistakes in addressing their letters ; but it will
perhaps create surprise that one year's letters which
could neither be delivered as addressed, nor returned
to the senders through the Dead-letter Office, were
over half a million in number ! It is curious to
note some remarks written by the Post-office solicitor
in Edinburgh eighty years ago with respect to mis-
directed letters. He speaks of " the very gross
inattention in putting the proper addresses upon
letters a cause which is more productive of trouble
and expense to the Post-office than any other what-
106 THE ROYAL MAIL.
ever. In fact, three out of four complaints respect-
ing money and other letters may generally be traced
to that source, and of which, from the proceedings
of a few weeks past, I have ample evidence in my
possession at this moment." Letters posted in
covers altogether innocent of addresses, number
28,000 in the year; and the value in cash, bank-
notes, cheques, &c., found in these derelict missives
is usually about 8000. Letters sent off by post
without covers, or from which flimsy covers become
detached in transit, number about 15,000; while
the loose stamps found in post-offices attain the
annual total of 68,000. The loose stamps are an
evidence of the scrambling way in which letters are
often got ready for the post, and probably more so
of the earnest intentions of inexperienced persons,
who, in preparing stamps for their letters, roll
them on the tongue until every trace of adhesive
matter is removed, with the result that so soon as
the stamps become dry again they fall from the
covers. Letters which cannot be delivered in con-
sequence of errors in the addresses, or owing to
persons removing without giving notice of the fact
to the Post-office, are no less than 5,650,000, such
being the number that reach the Dead-letter Office.
But of these it is found possible to return to the
writers about five millions, while the remainder fail
AMOUNT OF WORK. 107
to be returned owing to the absence of the writers'
addresses from the letters. The other articles sent
to the Dead-letter Office in a year are as follows,
Post-cards, nearly . . . 600,000
As regards the book-packets, it is well to know that
a large part of the five millions is represented by
circulars, which are classed as book-packets, and the
addresses on which are not infrequently taken by
advertisers from old directories or other unreliable
There is one trifling item which it may be well
to give, showing how the smallest things contribute
to build up the great, as drops of water constitute
the sea, and grains of sand the earth. Those tiny
things called postage - stamps, which are light as
feathers, and might be blown about by the slightest
breeze, make up in the aggregate very considerable
bulk and weight, as will be appreciated when it is
mentioned that one year's issue for the United
Kingdom amounts in weight to no less than one
hundred and fourteen tons.
108 THE ROYAL MAIL.
ST VALENTINE'S DAY.
" The day's at hand, the young, the gay,
The lover's and the postman's day,
The day when, for that only day,
February turns to May,
And pens delight in secret play,
And few may hear what many say. "
The customs of St Valentine's Day have no direct
connection with the saint whose name has been
borrowed to designate the festival of the 14th of
February. It is only by a side-light that any con-
nection between the saint and the custom can be
In ancient Koine certain pagan feasts were held
every year, commencing about the middle of Feb-
ruary, in honour of Pan and Juno, on which occa-
sions, amid other ceremonies, it was the custom for
the names of young women to be placed in boxes,
and to be drawn for by the men as chance might
decide. Long after Christianity had been introduced
into Rome, these feasts continued to be observed, the
priests of the early Christian Church failing in their
attempts to suppress or eradicate them. Adopting
a policy which has served missionaries in other quar-
ters of the globe, the priests, while unable at once
to destroy the pagan superstitions with the obscene
AMOUNT OF WORK. 109
observances by which they were accompanied, endeav-
oured to lessen their vicious character, and to bring
them more into harmony with their religion ; and
one step in this policy was the substitution of the
names of the saints for those of young women pre-
viously used in the lotteries. Now it happened that
the fourteenth day of February was the day set
apart for the commemoration of the saint named
Valentine ; and as the feasts referred to commenced,
as has been seen, in the middle of February, a con-
nection would seem to have been set up between the
lotteries of the pagan customs (carried down to the
time when Valentines were drawn for) and the saint's
festival, merely through a coincidence of days. That
St Valentine should have been selected as the patron
of the custom known to us nowadays, is too unlikely,
knowing as we do from history something of his life
and death. He was a priest who assisted the early
Christians during the persecutions under Claudius
II., and who suffered a cruel martyrdom about the
year 270, being first beaten with clubs, and then
The customs of St Valentine's Day have passed
through many phases, each age having its own varia-
tion, but all having a bearing to one idea. The
following is an account of the ceremony in our own
country as observed by " Misson," a learned traveller
110 THE ROYAL MAIL.
of the early part of last century : " On the eve of
St Valentine's Day the young folks of England and
Scotland, by a very ancient custom, celebrate a little
festival. An equal number of maids and bachelors
get together, each writes their true or some feigned
name upon separate billets, which they roll up and
draw by way of lots, the maids taking the men's
billets, and the men's the maids' ; so that each of
the young men lights upon a girl that he calls his
Valentine, and each of the girls upon a young man
whom she calls hers. By this means each has two
Valentines, but the man sticks faster to the Valen-
tine that has fallen to him than to the Valentine to
whom he has fallen. Fortune having thus divided
the company into so many couples, the Valentines
give balls and treats to their mistresses, wear their
billets several days upon their bosoms or sleeves,
and this little sport often ends in love." Pennant
also, in writing of his tour in Scotland in 1769,
refers to the observance of this custom in the north
of Scotland in these words : " The young people in
February draw Valentines, and from them collect
their future fortune in the nuptial state."
In later times the drawing of a lady's name for a
Valentine was made the means of placing the drawer
under the obligation to make a present to the lady.
The celebrated Miss Stuart, who became the Duchess
AMOUNT OF WORK. Ill
of Richmond, received from the Duke of York on
one occasion a jewel worth 800, in discharge of
this obligation ; and Lord Mandeville, who was her
Valentine at another time, presented her with a ring
worth some 300.
The term Valentine is no longer used in its more
general application to denote the lady to whom a
present is sent on the 14th of February, but the
thing sent, which is usually a more or less artistic
print or painting, surmounted by an image of Cupid,
and to which are annexed some lines of loving
import. Thirty years ago Valentines were generally
inexpensive articles, printed upon paper with em-
bossed margins. Their style gradually improved until
hand-painted scenes upon satin grounds became com-
mon ; and Valentines might be bought at any price
from a halfpenny to five pounds. It should not be
omitted to be noted that for many years Valentines
have had their burlesques, in those ridiculous pictures
which are generally sent anonymously on Valentine's
Day, and which were often observed to be decked
out in extraordinary guises, and having affixed to
them such things as spoons, dolls, toy monkeys, red
herrings, rats, mice, and the like. On one occasion
a Valentine was seen in the post having a human
finger attached to it.
But as every dog has its day, and each succeeding
112 THE ROYAL MAIL.
period of life its own interests and allurements, so
have customs their appointed seasons, and ideas their
set times of holding sway over the popular mind.
The wigs and buckled shoes of our forefathers, the
ringlets of our grandmothers, which in their day
were things of fashion, have lapsed into the category
of the curious, and have to us none other than an
antiquarian interest. The Liberal in politics of to-day
becomes the Conservative of to-morrow; and the
custom of sending Valentines, at one time so com-
mon, that afforded so great pleasure not only to the
young, but sometimes to those of riper years, has
already had its death-knell sounded ; and at the
present rate of decline, it bids fair very soon to be
relegated to the shades of the past.
The rage for sending Valentines probably had its
culmination some ten years ago, since when it has
steadily gone down ; and now the festival is no
longer observed by fashionable people, its lingering
votaries being found only among the poorer classes.
The following facts show how far the Post-office
was called upon to do the messenger's part in deliver-
ing the love -missives of St Valentine when the
business was in full swing. At the chief office in
London on Valentine's Eve 1874, some 306 extra
mail-bags, each 3 feet long by 2 feet wide, were
required for the additional work thrown on the
AMOUNT OF WORK. 113
Post-office in connection with Valentines, and at
every post - office in the kingdom the staff was
wont to regard St Valentine's Eve as the occasion
of the year when its utmost energies were laid
under requisition for the service of the public.
But the decay of the ancient custom of sending
Valentines has probably not come about from within
itself; it may rather be attributed to the progress
made in what may be called the rival custom of
sending cards of greeting and good wishes at Christ-
mas-time. It would almost seem that two such
customs, having their times of observance only a few
weeks apart, cannot exist together; and it will
probably be found that the new has been growing
precisely as the old has been dying, the former being
much the stronger, choking the latter. Valentines
were sent by the young only or for the most part,
at any rate while Christmas -cards are in favour
with almost every age and condition of life. It
follows, then, that a custom such as this, having
developed great energy, and being patronised by all
classes, must throw a larger mass of work upon the
Post-office the channel through which such things
naturally flow than Valentines did. And so it has
been found. The pressure on the Post-office in the
heyday of Valentines was small by comparison with
that which is now experienced at Christmas. Dur-
114 THE KOYAL MAIL.
ing the Christmas season of 1877, the number of
letters, &c., which passed through the Inland Branch
of the General Post-office in London, in excess of the
ordinary correspondence, was estimated at 4,500,000,
a large portion of which reached the chief office on
Christmas morning ; while in the Christmas week of
1882 the extra correspondence similarly dealt with
was estimated at 14,000,000, including registered
letters (presumably containing presents of value), of
which there was a weight of no less than three tons.
Everywhere similar pressure has been felt in the
post-offices, and it is by no means settled that we
have yet reached the climax of this social but
In the London Metropolitan district there are
employed 4030 postmen; and taking their daily
amount of walking at 12 miles on the average a
very low estimate this would represent an aggregate
daily journeying on foot of 48,360 miles, or equal
to twice the circumference of our globe.
Articles of many curious kinds have been ob-
served passing through the post from time to time,
some of them dangerous or prohibited articles, which,
according to rule, are sent to the Eeturned-letter
Office the fact showing that the Post-office is not
only called upon to perform its first duty of expe-
ditiously conveying the correspondence intrusted to
AMOUNT OF WORK. 115
it, but is made the vehicle for the carriage of small
articles of almost endless variety. Some of these
are the following, many of them having been in a
live state when posted viz., beetles, blind-worms,
bees, caterpillars, crayfish, crabs, dormice, goldfinches,
frogs, horned frogs, gentles, kingfishers, leeches, moles,
owls, rabbits, rats, squirrels, stoats, snails, snakes, silk-
worms, sparrows, stag-beetles, tortoises, white mice ;
artificial teeth, artificial eyes, cartridges, china orna-
ments, Devonshire cream, eggs, geranium -cuttings,
glazier's diamonds, gun-cotton, horse-shoe nails, mince-
pies, musical instruments, ointments, perfumery, pork-
pies, revolvers, sausages, tobacco and cigars, &c., &c.
Occasionally the sending of live reptiles through
the Post-office gives rise to interruption to the work,
as has occurred when snakes have escaped from the
packets in which they had been enclosed. The
sorters, not knowing whether the creatures are
venomous or not, are naturally chary in the matter
of laying hold of them ; and it may readily be con-
ceived how the work would be interfered with in the
limited space of a Travelling Post-office carriage con-
taining half-a-dozen sorters, upon a considerable
snake showing his activity among the correspond-
ence, as has in reality happened.
On another occasion a packet containing a small
snake and a lizard found its way to the Eeturned-
116 THE ROYAL MAIL.
letter Office. Upon examining it next day the
lizard had disappeared, and from the appearance
of the snake it was feared that it had made a meal
of its companion. Another live snake which had
escaped from a postal packet was discovered in the
Holyhead and Kingstown Marine Post-office, and at
the expiration of a fortnight, being still unclaimed,
it was sent to the Dublin Zoological Gardens. In
the Eeturned - letter Office in Liverpool, a small
box upon being opened was found to contain eight
living snakes ; but we are not informed as to the
manner in which they were got rid of.
The strike of the stokers employed by the Gas
Companies of the metropolis in 1872 is remembered
in the Post-office as an event which gave rise to a
considerable amount of inconvenience and anxiety at
the time. That the Post-office should be left in
darkness was not a thing to be thought possible for
a moment; for such a circumstance would almost
have looked like the extinction of civilisation. On
the afternoon of the 3d December in the year men-
tioned, intimation reached the chief office that the
Gas Company could not guarantee a supply of gas
for more than a few hours, in consequence of their
workmen having struck work. The occasion was
one demanding instant action in the way of pro-
viding other means of lighting, and accordingly an
AMOUNT OF WORK. 117
order was issued for a ton of candles. These were
used at St Martin's-le-Grand and at the branch offices
in the East Central district ; while arrangements were
made to provide lanterns and torches for the mail-
cart drivers, and oil-lamps for lighting the Post-office
yard. In the evening the sorting-offices presented
the novel spectacle of being lighted up by 2000
candles ; and this reign of tallow continued during
the next three days. The total cost of this special
lighting during the four days' strike was 58; but
there was a saving of about 160,000 feet of gas,
reducing the loss to something like 27.
GROWTH OF CERTAIN POST-OFFICES.
WHEN the past history of the Post-office is looked
into, at a period which cannot yet be said to
be very remote, it is both curious and instructive to
observe the contrast which presents itself, as between
the unpretending institution of those other days, and
the great and ubiquitous machine which is now the
indispensable medium for the conveyance of news to
every corner of the empire. To imagine what our
country would be without the Post-office as it now
is, would be attempting something quite beyond our
powers ; and if such an institution did not exist, and an
endeavour were made to construct one at once by the
conceits and imaginings of men's minds, failure would
be the inevitable result, for the British Post-office is
the child of long experience and never-ending im-
provement, having a complexity and yet simplicity in
its fabric, which nothing but many years of growth
GKOWTH OF CERTAIN POST-OFFICES. 119
and studied application to its aims could have
But it is not the purpose here to go into the his-
tory of its improvements, or of its changes. It is
merely proposed to show how rapidly it has grown,
and from what small beginnings.
The staff of the Edinburgh Post-office in 1708
was composed of no more than seven persons, de-
scribed as follows :
Manager for Scotland, . . . ,200
Accountant, . . . . 50
Clerk, . . . . 50
Clerk's Assistant, . . . 25
Three Letter-carriers at 5s. a-week each.
In 1736 the number of persons employed had in-
creased to eleven, whose several official positions were
as follows :
Postmaster-General for- Scotland.
Secretary to the Postmaster.
Apprehender of Private Letter-carriers.
Clerk to the Irish Correspondents.
120 THE ROYAL MAIL.
The apprehender of private letter-carriers, as the
name implies, was an officer whose duty it was to
take up persons who infringed the Post-office work
of carrying letters for money.
The work continued steadily to grow, for in 1781
we find there were 23 persons employed, of whom
6 were letter-carriers; and in 1791 the numbers had
increased to 31. In 1828 there were 82 ; in 1840,
when the penny post was set on foot, there were 136;
and in 1860, 244.
In 1884 the total number of persons employed in
all branches of the Post-office service in Edinburgh
The Post-office of Glasgow, which claims to be
the second city of the kingdom, shows a similar ra-
pidity of growth, if not a greater ; and this growth
may be taken as an index of the expansion of the
city itself, though the former has to be referred to
three several causes namely, increase of population,
spread of education, and development of trade.
In 1799 the staff of the Glasgow Post-office was
as follows viz. :
Postmaster, .... 200
First Clerk, . . . 30
Second Clerk, . . . 25
Four Letter-carriers at 10s. 6d. a-week each, 109 4
A Stamper or Sorter at 10s. 6d. a-week, 27 6
GROWTH OF CEKTAIN POST-OFFICES. 121
So that the whole expense for staff was no more than
391, 10s. per annum, and this had been the recog-
nised establishment for several years. But it appears
from official records, that though the postmaster was
nominally receiving 200 a-year, he had in 1796
given 10 each to the clerks out of his salary, and
expended besides, on office-rent, coal, and candles,
30, 2s. 8d. Somewhat similar deductions were
made in 1797 and 1798, and thus the postmaster's
salary was then less than 150 a-year in reality.
It is worthy of note here that letters were at that
time delivered in Glasgow only twice a-day.
Some ten years earlier that is, in 1789 the in-
door staff consisted of the postmaster and one clerk,
the former receiving 140 a-year, and the latter 30.
A penny post, for local letters in Glasgow, was
started in the year 1800, when, as part and parcel
of the scheme, three receiving-offices were opened in
the city. The revenue derived from the letters so
carried for the first year was under 100, showing
that there cannot have been so many as eighty letters
posted per day for local delivery. After a time the
experiment was considered not to have been quite a
success, for one of the receiving-offices was closed,
and a clerk's pay reduced 10 a-year, in order to
bring the expense down to the level of the revenue
earned. In 1803 matters improved, however, as in
122 THE KOYAL MAIL.
the first quarter of that year the revenue from penny
letters was greater than the expense incurred.
At the present time, the staff of the Glasgow Post-
office numbers 1267 persons, and the postmaster's
salary is over a thousand pounds a-year.
At the end of last century and beginning of this
and indeed it may be said throughout the whole
term of the existence of the Post-office humble
petitions were always coming up from postmasters
for increase of pay, and from these we know the
position in which postmasters then were.
The postmaster of Aberdeen showed that in 1763,
when the revenue of his office was 717, 19s. 4d.,
with something for cross post-letters, probably about
400, his salary had been 93, 15s.; while in
1793, with a revenue of over 2500, his whole
salary was only 89, 15s., and out of this he
had to pay office -rent and to provide assistance,
fire, wax, candles, books, and cord.
At Arbroath, now an important town, the revenue
was, in 1763, 76, 12s. 8d., and the postmaster's
salary, 20. At this figure the salary remained
till 1794, though the revenue had increased to
367, 13s. 5d. ; but now the postmaster appealed
for higher pay, and brought up his supports of
office -rent, coal, candles, wax, &c., to strengthen
GROWTH OF CERTAIN POST-OFFICES. 123
In Dundee, in the year 1800, the postmaster's
salary was 50, and the revenue 3165, 9s. 5d.
At Paisley, the postmaster's salary was fixed at
33 in 1790, and remained at that figure till
1800, when a petition was sent forward for what
was called in official language an augmentation.
In the memorial it is stated that the revenue for
1799 was 1997, Is. lid., and that the deductions
for rent, coal, candles, wax, paper, pens, and ink,
reduced the postmaster's salary to from 15 to
20 a-year !
To show how these towns have grown up into
importance within a period of little more than the
allotted span of man, and as exhibiting perhaps
the yet more bounding expansion of the Post-office
system, the following particulars are added, and
may prove of interest :
At Aberdeen, at the present time, the annual
value of postage-stamps sold, which may be taken
as a rough measure of the revenue from the carriage
of correspondence alone, is little short of 30,000;
the staff of all sorts employed numbers 191 ; and
the postmaster's salary exceeds 600 a - year.
Arbroath is less pretentious, being a smaller town ;
but the letter revenue is over 4000 a-year;
the persons employed, 14 ; and the postmaster's
salary nearly 200. Dundee shows a postage
124 THE ROYAL MAIL.
revenue of over 35,000; 193 persons are em-
ployed there ; and the postmaster's salary is little
short of 600. While at Paisley the revenue from
stamps is nearly 10,000; the persons employed,
43 ; and the postmaster's salary, 300. Not-
withstanding the vast decrease in the rates of
postage, these figures show, in three of the cases
mentioned, that the revenue from letters is now
about twelve times what it was less than a
It will probably be found that one of the most
mushroom-like towns of the country is Barrow-in-
Furness, now a place of considerable commerce,
and an extensive shipping -port. The following
measurements, according to the Post-office standard,
may repay consideration. Prior to 1847 there
was nothing but a foot-postman, who served the
town by walking thither from Ulverston one day,
and back to Ulverston the next. Later on, he
made the double journey daily, and delivered the
letters on his arrival at Barrow. In 1869 the
town had grown to such dimensions that the office
was raised to the rank of a head-office, and three
postmen were required for delivery. Now, in
1884, thirteen postmen are the necessary delivering
force for the town.
GROWTH OF CERTAIN POST-OFFICES. 125
About the year 1800 the Post-office had not as
yet carried its civilising influence into the districts
of Balquhidder, Lochearnhead, Killin, and Tyndrum,
there being no regular post-offices within twenty,
thirty, or forty miles of certain places in these dis-
tricts. The people being desirous of having the
Post-office in their borders, the following scheme was
proposed to be carried out about the time men-
A runner to travel from Callander to Lochearn-
head fourteen miles at 2s. a journey, three
times a-week, 15 12
Salary to postmaster of Lochearnhead, . . . 500
A runner from Lochearnhead to Killin eight
miles at Is. a journey, three times a-week, . 7 16
Salary to postmaster of Killin, . . . . 500
Receiving-house at Wester Lix, . . . . 200
Runner thence to Luib four or five miles Is. 6d.
per week, 3 18
Office at Luib, 400
Total, . 43 6
So that here a whole district of country was to be
opened up to the beneficent operations of the Post
at an annual cost of what would now be no more
than sufficient to pay the wages of a single post-
runner. It may be proper, however, to remark in
this connection, that money then was of greater value
126 THE ROYAL MAIL.
than now ; and since it has been shown that a mes-
senger had formerly to travel as much as fourteen
double miles for 2s., it is not surprising that Scotch-
men, brought up in such a school, should like to
cling to a sixpence when they can get it.
It were remiss to pass over London without re-
mark, whose growth is a marvel, and whose Post-
office has at least kept up in the running, if it has
not outstripped, London itself. In 1796 the delivery
of London extended from about Grosvenor Square and
Mayfair in the west, to Shadwell, Mile End, and
Blackwall in the east ; and from Finsbury Square in
the north, to the Borough and Eotherhithe in the
south ; and the number of postmen then employed for
the general post-delivery was 126. London has since
taken into its maternal embrace many places which
were formerly quite separate from the metropolis, and
nowadays the agglomeration is known, postally, as the
Metropolitan district. In this district the number of
men required to effect the delivery of letters in 1884
is no less than 4030. It may be mentioned that
the general post-delivery above mentioned had refer-
ence to the delivery of ordinary letters coming from
the country. Letters of the penny post or local
letters and letters from foreign parts, were delivered
by different sets of men, who all went over the same
GROWTH OF CERTAIN POST-OFFICES. 127
ground. In 1782 the number of men employed in
these different branches of delivery work was as
follows viz. :
For Foreign letters, . . . . 12 .
ii Inland letters, .... 99
M Penny-post letters, ... 44
Total, . 155
It was not till many years later that all kinds of
letters came to be delivered by one set of postmen,
and that thus needless repetition of work was got
At the same period namely, in 1782 the other
officers of all kinds employed in the London Post-
office numbered 157. At the present time the
officers of all kinds (exclusive of postmen who have
been referred to separately) employed in the Metro-
politan district are nearly 16,000 in number.
CLAIMS FOR POST-OFFICE SERVICE.
IN his Autobiography, Mr Anthony Trollope, many
years a Post-office surveyor, records how he was
employed in England, for a considerable period about
the year 1851, revising and extending the rural-post
service ; and he there mentions the frequency with
which he found post-runners to be employed upon
routes where there were but few letters to deliver
while in other directions, where postal communication
would have been of the utmost benefit, there were no
post-runners at all. This state of things had no doubt
had its origin in the efforts of influential persons, at
some previous time, to have the services established
for their own personal benefit ; while persons in other
districts, having less interest at headquarters, or being
less imperious in their demands, were left out in the
cold, and so remained beyond the range of the civilising
influence. The posts in such cases, once established,
went on from year to year ; and though the arrange-
CLAIMS FOE POST-OFFICE SERVICE. 129
merits were out of harmony with the surroundings,
very often nothing was done for in all likelihood
no one complained loud enough, or, at any rate, in a
way to prove effective.
But though the Department did wake up to the
need for a better distribution of its favours in the
country districts in 1851, there were earlier instances
of surveyors attempting to lay down the posts for the
general good, instead of for a select few, and in these
cases the surveyors had sometimes a hard battle to
fight. The following report from a surveyor in Scot-
land, written in the year 1800, will illustrate what
is here mentioned. It is given at length, and will
possibly be found worthy of perusal ; for it not only
shows both spirit and independence on the part of
the surveyor, who was evidently a man determined
to do his duty irrespective of persons, but it sheds
some light on the practices of the post-runners of
that period, and their relations with their superiors
on the one hand, and the public on the other. It
affords us, too, a specimen of official writing remark-
able for some rather quaint turns and expressions.
The report proceeds :
" I am much obliged by the perusal of my Lord
's card to you of the 29th ultimo, with a copy
of a fresh memorial from his lordship and other gen-
tlemen upon the long-argued subject of the alteration
130 THE ROYAL MAIL.
of the course of the post betwixt Perth and Coupar-
" It is certainly one of those cases which hath
become of tenfold more importance by the multi-
plicity of writing, than from any solid reasoning or
essential matter of information to be drawn from it.
" It having fallen to my official duty to execute
the alteration of this post proposed by my late
colleague Mr , to whose memory I must bear
testimony, not only of his abilities, but his im-
partiality in the duties of his office, and under the
authority of the late respectable and worthy Post-
master-General Mr , whose memory is far
above any eulogium of mine, I considered the meas-
ure as proper and expedient, equally for the good
of the country in general, and the revenue under
the department of the Post-office ; and I can with
confidence deny that it was ' hastily, inconsider-
ately, or partially' gone into, as this memorial
would wish to establish. In this capacity, and
under these circumstances, it is no wonder I could
have wished the epithets used against this official
alteration, of ignorance, arbitrary and oppressive pro-
ceedings, to have dropped from a person less honour-
able, respectable, and conspicuous than I hold the
Honble. at the head of this memorial. Before
this last memorial was presented, I understood from
CLAIMS FOR POST-OFFICE SERVICE. 131
Mr , Secretary, in the presence of Lord ,
that any further opposition upon the part of the
Blairgowrie gentlemen to a re-alteration was now
given up ; indeed this cannot be surprising if they
had learned, as stated in the memorial, page 9, that
they had protested, did now protest, and would
never cease to complain loudly of it, until they
obtain redress. Whether this argument is cool or
arbitrary I have not time nor inclination to analyse,
but having been removed from this ancient district
of road, and given my uniform opinion upon the
merits of the alteration itself, I have no desire to
fight the memorialists to all eternity. Before, how-
ever, taking final leave of this contest, and of a
memorial said to be unanswerable, I consider myself
in duty and honour called upon to vindicate the
late Mr , as well as myself, from the vindic-
tive terms of ' ignorance, arbitrary, and oppressive '
implied in the memorial, and which, if admitted
sub silentio, might not be confined to the misman-
agement of the Post - office, but to every other
department of civil government. In order to this,
I shall as briefly as I can follow the general track
of the memorial, as of a long beaten road in which,
if there is not safety, there is no new difficulty to
encounter. It is needless to go over the different
distances, I am ready to admit them they have
132 THE ROYAL MAIL.
not formed any material part of the question,
and the supposed ignorance of the surveyor here
is not to the point. The alteration neither did
nor should proceed upon such mathematical nicety.
The idea of posts is to embrace the most extensive
and most needful accommodation. In establishing
a post to Blairgowrie it was neither ignorant nor
arbitrary to take the line by Isla Bridge, which
was the centre of the country meant to be served
by it that is, the Coupar and the Stormont and
Highland district. It is of some consequence to
observe here, that with all the great and rapid
improvements mentioned in the memorial, of the
lower or Coupar district, the upper or Stormont
district was, upon the first year's trial, above one-
half of its revenue to the Post-office, the second
nearly or about three-fourths, and continuing to in-
crease in proportion. Coupar- Angus revenue for the
year ending 10th October last was 159, 3s. 7d.,
and Blairgowrie 123, 4s. lOd. Now, if the
Coupar district of country, which contains in it a
populous market-town, can produce no more than
this proportion for the whole district, it is evident
that the district of Stormont, with only as yet a
little village for its head town, has more correspon-
dence in regard to its state of agriculture and im-
provement as an infant district, than the parent
CLAIMS FOE POST-OFFICE SERVICE. 133
district with its antiquity can lay claim to, and
equally well entitled at least to be protected and
nourished. Much is said of the memorialists' line
of road, and of its being one from time immemorial.
I have said in a former paper that this may be the
case ; many of the roads in Scotland, God knows,
are old enough. But unless the feudal system
should still exist upon any of them, I know of no
law, no regulation, no compulsion, that can oblige
the post, more than any other traveller, to take these
old beaten tracks where they can find any other
patent or better road. Nay, more, as a traveller,
I am entitled to take any patent road I choose,
good or bad ; and the moment this privilege is
doubted in regard to the post, you resign at once
the power of all future improvements so far as it
belongs to your official situation to judge it, and
let or dispose of in lease the use of your posts to
particular and local proprietors of lands, who will
be right to take every advantage of it in their
power, and include it specifically in the rental of
their estates, as I have known to be the case with
inns in which post-offices had formerly been kept.
" There are three great roads to the north of Scot-
land from Perth (besides one by Dunkeld) viz., one
by Dundee, &c., one by Coupar, &c., and one by
Blairgowrie, which run not at a very great distance
134 THE KOYAL MAIL.
in general from each other in a parallel line. The
great post-line or mail-coach road is by Dundee ;
and there is little chance, I believe, of this being de-
parted from, as there is no other that can ever be
equally certain. The next great road to the west-
ward is by Coupar and Forfar, &c., and is supplied
by branch-posts from the east or coast line. And
the third or upper line is by Blairgowrie and Spittal
of Glenshee, which have no post for 50, 60, or
70 miles; and if ever that part of the country is to
have the blessing of a regular post, it surely ought
not to be by branching from the coast-line through
all the different centres, but by the more immediate
and direct line through Blairgowrie. Every one
will call his own line the great line ; but surely, if
I am to travel either, I should be allowed to judge
for myself; and I believe it would be thought very
arbitrary indeed, if, before I set out, a proprietor or
advocate for any of these great lines should arrest
my carriage or my horse, and say, You shall not pro-
ceed but upon my line. I confess myself so stupid
that I can see no difference betwixt this and taking
it out of the power of the Post-office to judge what
line they shall journey mails. If this is not the
case, then all the present lines of the post, however
absurd and ridiculous they now are or may become,
must, as they were at the beginning and now are,
CLAIMS FOR POST-OFFICE SERVICE. 135
remain so for ever. And I would expect next to
see legal charters and infeftments taken upon them
as post-roads merely, and travellers thirled to them
as corn to a mill. But in regard to the voluminous
writings already had upon this subject, and now
renewed in this last memorial, it may be necessary
to be a little more particular.
" Setting the distances aside, which no persons
should have a right to complain of except the inhabi-
tants of Coupar and beyond it, by any delay occa-
sioned on that account, what is the whole argument
founded upon ? That, by the alteration, the me-
morialists, some of them in the near neighbourhood
of Coupar-Angus, but betwixt Perth and it, have
had the privilege from time immemorial, as it is
said, of receiving their letters by the post from
Perth, and sending them back by the same convey-
ance to Perth, without benefiting the Eevenue a
single sixpence, which would accrue to it by such
letters being either received from or put in at the
office at Coupar-Angus, as they ought to be. For,
so far as I understand the regulations of the office,
they are to this purpose, that if any letters shall
be directed for intermediate places, at least three-
fourths from any post-office, they shall be put into
the bag and conveyed (if conveved at all by post)
to the post-office nearest them, or at which they
136 THE ROYAL MAIL.
shall be written, one-fourth of the distance of the
whole stage, and rated and charged accordingly.
The Post-office could not be ignorant of this rule not
being observed, for it was evident that very few
letters for this populous and thriving district were
put into the bag, except such as behoved to go
beyond Coupar or Perth, and bearing the name of
' short letters.' It was impossible to convict the
posts of fraud in carrying them without opening
the letters, a privilege which cannot be exercised
without much indelicacy as well as danger. But
it required no penetration to discover that this was
a very commodious and cheap way of corresponding,
though it did not augment the revenue. It was
an ancient privilege, and in that view it might be
considered arbitrary and oppressive to meddle with
or interrupt it. It is a little curious that the
memorialists are principally gentlemen of property
upon the road short of Coupar, and who require to
be supplied daily with their small necessary articles
from Perth. I have seen no remonstrance or com-
plaint from the town of Coupar itself as to this
alteration, nor of the consequent lateness of arrival
and danger it is said to have occasioned, nor from
a number of gentlemen beyond, whose letters come
in the bag for the delivery of Coupar. The noise
has chiefly been made by gentlemen who pay nothing
CLAIMS FOR POST-OFFICE SERVICE. 137
for this post to Coupar- Angus, and it puts me in
mind of an anecdote I met with of a gentleman who
had influence enough with a postmaster in the coun-
try to get the post by his house, and deliver and
receive his letters, proceeding by a line of road in
which he avoided an intermediate office, and thereby
saved an additional postage both ways.
" This line was also a very ancient one, and from
time immemorial a line too upon which our fore-
fathers had fought hard and bled ; but their children
somehow or other had discovered and adopted what
they thought a much better line. I said the delivery
of short letters was not all the advantages privately
had by the old plan of the post to Coupar- Angus.
This post was in the known and constant habit of
carrying a great deal more than letters for the inhab-
itants short of, as well as for Coupar itself; and in the
delivery of various articles upon the road, and receiv-
ing reimbursements for his trouble one way or other,
he lost one-fourth of his time ; and if, as the memo-
rialists assert, there are fewer places to be served on
the Isla road, it is a demonstration that the longest
way is often all the nearest, and upon this head I have
already ventured to assert, and still do, that by a
regular management which may be easily accom-
plished, the post may come sooner by Isla to Coupar
than ever it did formerly by the ancient road ; and
138 THE ROYAL MAIL.
if it was possible to watch and hunt after the
irregularity of the post as established upon the old
system, the memorialists would find themselves in
no better situation than they now are. I beg to
mention here a specimen I met of this old system
of private accommodation, with the consequence that
followed, which may illustrate a little upon which
side the imputation of ignorance, arbitrary, and op-
pression may lie. Having met this post with a
light cart full of parcels, and a woman upon it
along with the mail, I charged him with the impro-
priety of his conduct as a post, and threatened that
he should not be longer in the service. ' Oh,' says
he, ' sir, you may do as you please ; I have served
the country so long in this way, that if you dismiss
me, the principal gentlemen on the road have deter-
mined to support me, and I can make more without
your mail than I do by it.' He was dismissed.
He was supported by a number of names which it
is not now in my power to recollect, but which are
well known in Coupar- Angus, and he issued in con-
sequence hand-bills that, being now dismissed as
a post, he would continue to carry on as before ;
and it was not till the arbitrary hand of the
Solicitor of the Post-office fell upon him, that he
would either have been convicted or discouraged
from his employ.
CLAIMS FOK POST-OFFICE SERVICE. 139
" In this view, therefore, and not from ignorance,
I know it is better for the Revenue in some instances
to pay for 19 miles of a post, than 14 or 15, and to
pay for three short runners than one long one. We
have no greater faith in Blairgowrie than Coupar posts,
and they were both put upon the same footing; and
notwithstanding all the arguments stated against
the measure, or upon the absurdity, arbitrary, and
oppression, so much insisted on, I am still humbly
of the opinion, which was maturely weighed and
decided, that the system now in practice was best
for the Eevenue, whatever it might be to particular
individuals ; and in this decision I only followed the
coincident opinion of judgments much superior to
" A great deal is said upon the danger of commit-
ting care of bags or letters to two separate runners
instead of one. With regard to carrying letters
privately, or executing commissions, it may be so.
This is the great inconvenience felt from the change.
But is there any instance where posts have opened
any of the bags containing letters, and thereby com-
mitted felony ? Is there any instance where a
wilful and felonious delay has happened here more
than may be natural to any change of bags anywhere
else in the kingdom ? I have heard of their not
meeting sometimes so regularly in very bad or
140 THE ROYAL MAIL.
stormy weather. This will happen to the most
regular mail-coaches and horse -posts in Britain;
and before such general objections are to be found-
ed upon, wilful and corrupt misconduct should be
proved, such as I am able to do upon the old sys-
tem of one post only.
" The poor blacksmith is next brought forward. I
do not know that a man's character is to be decided
by his calling. He was engaged by the Office to
keep a receiving-house for the runners. He is paid
for his trouble by Government, and is as much under
the confidence and trust of the Office, till he proves
himself unworthy of it, as the postmasters of Perth,
Coupar- Angus, or Blairgowrie. It is not surprising,
however, that this poor blacksmith should be in gen-
eral terms decided unfit for such duty, when officers
who should have been much better acquainted with
the hammer and nails of office, do not know how to
drive them !
" A very short explanation to the idea mentioned
by the memorialists that the opposition by the Blair-
gowrie gentlemen rose from the supposition that they
were to be cut out of their post altogether. I never
heard of this before, nor do I know this idea to have
existed. The Blairgowrie district did not interfere
with the Post-office, nor the Office with them, more
than has happened in writing ; nor, so far as consists
CLAIMS FOE POST-OFFICE SERVICE. 141
with my knowledge, have I heard or understood that
the Coupar district wished to deprive Blairgowrie of
an office. That Coupar wishes to have Blairgowrie
subservient to and passing through it is clear enough.
But they do not advert that, as both Coupar and
Blairgowrie are within one stage of Perth ; had
Coupar gone through Blairgowrie or Blairgowrie
through Coupar, the law might say that one of them
must pay an additional rate from Perth that is, 4d.
instead of 3d. ; and which both Mr Edwards and I
were clearly of opinion would rather have injured
than improved the Eevenue, as has been experienced
in some similar cases. This legal distinction my
Lord does not appear to have observed. It is,
however, stated, that by this plan of going through
Coupar to Blairgowrie a very easy and direct com-
munication would be established betwixt the two
places. This I have no doubt of for private busi-
ness-parcels, money, &c., &c. ; because it would be
easier for Blairgowrie to communicate in this way
by one runner, by one with Coupar and two to
Perth, than by two to Coupar and two to Perth, and
for Coupar to communicate with Perth by one than
two each way. This is harping on the old key.
But it is a reduction of service, like the shortening
of the road here, I do not wish to see. I do not
want a reconciliation of this kind ; and whatever
142 THE ROYAL MAIL.
obloquy I may endure, with imputation of ignorance
and other general epithets of a similar kind, I believe
the memorialists, upon cool reflection, may be more
inclined to ascribe these observations to proceed from
honest zeal rather than wanton opposition. If it
should be otherwise, I shall remain very satisfied
that I have given my judgment of it according to
conscience ; and I cannot be afraid, if it is necessary,
that the whole writings upon the subject should be
again submitted to the final decision of his Majesty's
Postmaster-General. In regard to the power of
altering the course of the posts, I am decidedly of
opinion the question ought to go to their lordships'
judgment ; but as to any personal opposition to the
memorialists, I disclaim it; and as they say they
are determined to fight till they conquer, I would
now retire from the contest, with this observation,
that, though such doctrines and resolutions may
be very good for the memorialists, they would, in
my humble opinion, if generally expressed and fol-
lowed, be very bad for the country."
It is really surprising how some of the ideas and
practices of the feudal times still survive, ancient
arrangements coming up from time to time for revi-
sion, as those who suffer acquire greater independence
or a truer conception of their position in the State.
Quite recently the Postmaster-General was called
CLAIMS FOE POST-OFFICE SEEVICE. 143
upon to settle a dispute between the Senior Magis-
trate of Fraserburgh and Lord (the local seig-
neur) as to who had the right to receive letters
addressed to " The Provost " or " Chief Magistrate "
of Fraserburgh, both parties claiming such letters.
His lordship had hitherto obtained delivery of the
letters, on the ground of his being " heritable pro-
vost " or baron-bailie, titles which smell strongly of
antiquity ; but the modern Provost and Chief Magis-
trate, being no longer disposed to submit to the
arrangement, appealed to headquarters, and obtained
a decision as follows viz., that he being Senior
Police Magistrate, should receive all communications
addressed to " The Provost," " The Chief Magistrate,"
or " The Acting Chief Magistrate," and that Lord
should have a right to claim any addressed
to the " Baron-Bailie." The surprise is, that the
ancient method of disposing of the letters should
have been endured so long, and that a town's Pro-
vost should have been so slighted.
Personal interest, unfortunately, often steps in to
prevent or hinder the carrying out of reforms for the
general good ; even the selfishness of mere pleasure
placing itself as an obstacle to the accomplishment
of things of great consequence in practical life. The
Post-office being called upon to consider the question
of affording a daily post to a small place in Ireland
144 THE EOYAL MAIL.
which until then had had but a tri-weekly post, a
gentleman called upon the postmaster to urge that
things might be left as they were, stating as his
reason that the change of hours, as regards the mail-
car, rendered necessary in connection with the pro-
posed improvements, would not suit himself and
some other gentlemen, who were in the habit of
using the car when going to fish on a lake near the
mail-car route ! Is not this a case showing a sad
lack of public spirit ?
THE TRAVELLING POST-OFFICE.
rpRAVELLEES who are in the habit of journeying
-L over the principal railway lines, must at some
time or other have noticed certain carriages in the
express trains which had an unusually dull and van-
like appearance, though set off with a gilded crown
and the well-known letters V.R., and that generally
these carriages appeared to have no proper doors,
and were possessed of none but very diminutive
windows on one side, at any rate. It will have
been observed, also, that sometimes two, three, or
more of such carriages are placed end to end in
certain trains, and that a hooded gangway or pas-
sage enables those inside one carriage to visit any or
all of the other carriages. When the small square
holes or dwarf doorways which communicate with
the outside are open, a glare of light is seen within,
which reveals a variety of human legs and much
canvas the latter in the shape of mail-bags, either
THE ROYAL MAIL.
suspended from the walls of the carriage or lying
on the floor. These carriages are what are called
in the Post-office the " Travelling Post-office " ; or,
when brevity is desirable as is often the case
the " T.P.O." There are several travelling post-offices
of more or less importance pursuing their rapid flight
during the night in different quarters of the country ;
but the most important, no doubt, are the " London
and North Western and Caledonian," running from
London to Aberdeen ; the " Midland," running from
Newcastle diagonally across England to Bristol ; and
the " London and Holyhead " travelling post-office,
by which the Irish mails to Dublin are conveyed as
far as Holyhead.
THE TRAVELLING POST-OFFICE. 147
If a stranger were allowed to travel in one of these
carriages, the first thing that would probably take his
notice would be the brilliant light which fills the
interior ; and the necessity for a good light to enable
men, standing on a vibrating and oscillating floor, to
read quickly all sorts of manuscript addresses, will
be understood by whoever has attempted to peruse
writing by the light derived from the ordinary oil-
lamps of a railway carriage. Yet for years the light
supplied in the Travelling Post-office has been given
by improved oil-lamps, though more recently gas has
been introduced in some of the carriages. The next
thing he would notice would likely be the long series
of pigeon-holes occupying the whole of one side of
the vehicle, divided into groups each box having
a name upon it or a number, and a narrow table
running along in front of the boxes, bearing a burden
of letters which the sorters are busily disposing of
by putting each one in its proper place that is, in
the pigeon-hole, from which it will afterwards be
despatched. Then hanging on the walls or lying un-
der the table will be seen canvas bags and canvas
sacks, each having its name stencilled in bold letters
on its side ; and somewhere about the floor great
rolls of black leather, with enormously strong straps
and buckles the expanse of leather in each roll
being almost sufficient to cover an ox. The use
148 THE EOYAL MAIL.
of these hides of leather will be described further
The raison d'etre of the travelling post-office is to
circumvent time, to enable that to be done on the
way which, without it, would have to be done before
the train started or after it arrived at its destination,
at the expense of time in the doing, and to collect
and dispose of correspondence at all points along
the route of the train which correspondence would
otherwise in many cases have to pass through some
intermediate town, to be detained for a subsequent
means of conveyance. The T.P.O. is one of the
most useful parts of the machinery of the Post-office.
Among the smaller things that might be observed in
the carriage would be balls of string for tying bags
or bundles of letters, cyclopean sticks of sealing-wax,
a chronometer to indicate sure time, a lamp used for
melting the wax, and various books, report-forms,
The stranger would be surprised, also, to see with
what expedition an experienced sorter can pass the
letters through his hands, seldom hesitating at an
address, but reading so much of it as is necessary
for his purpose, and, without raising his eyes, carry-
ing his hand to the proper pigeon-hole, just as a
proficient on a musical instrument can strike with
certainty the proper note without taking his eye off
THE TRAVELLING POST-OFFICE 149
his music. In some cases as in dealing with
registered letters a sorter has much writing to do ;
but, standing with his feet well apart, and holding a
light board on his left arm on which to write, and
further, by accommodating his body to the swinging
of the carriages, he is able to use his pen or pencil
with considerable freedom and success.
As the duties in the T.P.O. are for the most part
performed during the night, the sorters employed
have a great deal of night-work, and in some cases
their terms of duty are very broken and irregular.
Thus, with the hardships they have to endure in
periods of severe frost, when no heating apparatus
is supplied except a few warming-pans, -they live a
life of duty far removed from ease or soft idleness.
The large pieces of leather with stout straps at-
tached, already referred to, called pouches, are used
as a protection to mail-bags which have to be de-
livered by what is commonly known as the apparatus.
The mail-bags to be so disposed of are rolled up in-
side one of these pouches ; the ends of the leather
are folded in ; the whole is bound round with the
strong leather straps ; and, the buckles being fastened,
the pouch is ready for delivery. But, first, let the
apparatus itself be described. This consists of two
parts : an arm or arms of stout iron attached to the
carriage, which can be extended outwards from the
150 THE ROYAL MAIL.
side, and to the end of which the pouch containing
the bag is suspended when ready ; and a receiving
net, also attached to the side of the carriage,
which can likewise be extended outwards to catch
the mails to be taken up this portion acting the
part of an aerial trawl-net to capture the bags sus-
pended from brackets on the roadside. The appa-
ratus on the roadside is the counterpart of that
on the carriage, the suspending arm in each case
fitting itself to the nets on the carriage and road-
side respectively. Now the use of this apparatus
demands much attention and alacrity on the part of
the men who are in charge of it ; for arms and net
must not, for fear of accidents, be extended anywhere
but at the appointed places, and within 200 or 300
yards of where the exchange of mails is to take place.
The operators, in timing the delivery, are guided by
certain features of the country they are passing
through a bridge, a tree on a rising ground which
can be seen against the sky, a cutting along the line
through which the train passes with much clatter,
a railway station, and so on as well as by their
estimate of the speed at which the train is running.
When the nights are clear, a trained operator can
easily recognise his marks ; but in a very dark night,
or during a fog, his skill and experience are put to
the test. On such occasions he seems to be guided
THE TRAVELLING POST-OFFICE. 151
by the promptings of his collective senses. He puts
his face close to the window, shutting off the light
from the carriage with his hands, and peers into the
darkness, trying to recognise some wayside object ;
he listens to the noise made by the train, estimates
its speed of travelling, and by these means he judges
of his position, and effects the exchange of the
It is indeed marvellous that so few failures take
place ; but this is an instance of how, by constant
application and experience, things are accomplished
which might at first sight be considered wellnigh
impossible. When the exchange takes place, it is
the work of a moment " thud, thud." The arm
which bore the bag springs, disengaged, to the side
of the carriage ; the operator takes the inwards bag
from the net, draws the net close up to the side of
the vehicle, and the whole thing is done, and we
are ready for the next exchange.
The blow sustained by the pouch containing
the mail-bag at the moment of delivery, on oc-
casions when the train is running at a high speed,
is exceedingly severe, and sometimes causes damage
to the contents of the bags when of a fragile nature
and these are not secured in strong covers. A
bracelet sent by post was once damaged in this
way, giving rise to the following humorous note :
THE ROYAL MAIL.
" Mr is sorry to return the bracelet to
be repaired. It came this morning with the box
smashed, the bracelet bent, and one of the cairngorms
forced out. Among the modern improvements of
the Post-office appears to be the introduction of
sledge-hammers to stamp with. It would be advis-
able for Mr to remonstrate with the Post-
Delivering Arm, showing how the Pouch is suspended.
The Travelling Post-office apparatus is said to have
been originally suggested by Mr Eamsay of the
General Post-office ; but his machinery was not very
satisfactory when brought into practice. The idea
was, however, improved upon by Mr Dicker, who
was able to bring it into working condition ; and for
his services in this matter he was awarded a sum of
500 by the Lords of the Treasury, and the Post-
master-General conferred upon him an appointment
as Supervisor of mail-bag apparatus. Some further
THE TRAVELLING POST-OFFICE. 153
improvements were carried out by Mr Pearson Hill,
as, for example, the double arm, so that two pouches
might be discharged at once from the same carriage-
door. The apparatus first came to be used about
thirty years ago, and there are now in the United
Kingdom some 250 points or stations at which this
magical game of give and take is carried on daily,
and in many cases several times a-day. At certain
places not merely one or two pouches are discharged
at a time, but a running fire is sometimes kept up
to the extent of nine discharges of pouches. By the
limited mail proceeding to the North, nine pouches
are discharged at Oxenholme from the three Post-
office carriages, the method followed being this :
Two pouches are suspended from the arms at each
carriage-door, and upon these being discharged, three
of the arms are immediately reloaded, when the
pouches are caught by a second set of roadside nets,
distant only about 600 yards from the first. It is
necessary that great care should be taken in adjusting
the nets, arms, and roadside standards to their proper
positions in relation to one another, for any departure
from such adjustment sometimes leads to accident.
The pouches occasionally are sent bounding over
hedges, over the carriages, or under the carriage-
wheels, where they and their contents get cut to
pieces. Pouches have been found at the end of a
154 THE ROYAL MAIL.
journey on the carriage -roof, or hanging on to a
buffer. In November last, a pouch containing several
mail-bags was discharged from the Midland Travel-
ling Post-office at Cudworth, near Barnsley ; but
something going wrong, the pouch got cut up, and
the contents were strewn along the line as far as
Normanton. Some of these were found to be
cheques, a silver watch, a set of artificial teeth, &c.
The following is a list of the Travelling Post-
offices in the United Kingdom, most of which travel
by night, distributing their freight of intellectual
produce through all parts of the country :
North- Western and Caledonian. St Pancras and Derby.
Birmingham and Stafford. Midland.
London and Holyhead. Bristol and Newton Abbot.
Bangor and Crewe, and Nor- South- Western,
manton and Stalybridge. South-Eastern.
London and Exeter. Great Northern.
Bristol and Exeter. London and Bristol.
York and Newcastle. London and Crewe.
Dublin and Belfast. Midland (Ireland).
Belfast and Northern Counties. Gt. Southern and Western.
Ulster. Dublin to Cork.
There are, besides, a great many other Travelling
Post-offices of minor importance throughout the
country, designated Sorting Tenders.
SORTERS AND CIRCULATION.
POST-OFFICE sorters, unlike men who follow
other avocations, are a race unsung, and a
people unknown to fame. The soldier of adventure,
the mariner on the high seas, the village blacksmith,
the tiller of the soil, the woodman in the forest
nay, even the tailor on his bench, all of these have
formed the theme of song, and have claimed the
notice of writers of verse. It is otherwise with the
men who sort our letters. This may possibly be
due to two causes that sorters are comparatively a
modern institution, and that their work is carried on
practically under seal. In times which are little
beyond the recollection of persons now living, the
lines of post were so few, and the division and
distribution of letters so simple, that the clerks who
examined and taxed the correspondence also sorted
it : and the time taken over the work would seem
to show much deliberation in the process ; for we
156 THE KOYAL MAIL.
find that in 1796, when correspondence was very
limited, it took above an hour at Edinburgh " to
tell up, examine, and retax " the letters received by
the mail from England for places in the north ; and
that, when foreign mails arrived, two hours were
required ; and further time was necessary for taxing
and sorting letters posted in Edinburgh for the same
district of country the staff employed in the busi-
ness being two clerks. In those days there were
really no sorters, unless such as were employed in
the chief office in London. As to the work being
carried on under seal, it is not going beyond the
truth to say that, to the great majority of persons,
the interior of the Post-office is a terra incognita,
their sole knowledge of the institution being derived
from the pillar and the postman.
Yet the sorters of the present age, forming a very
large body, are ever engaged in doing an important
and by no means simple duty. As letters arrive in
the morning, and are handed in at the breakfast-
table, speculation arises as to their origin ; a well-
known hand is recognised, interest is excited by the
contents, or the well-springs of emotion are opened
joy is brought with the silvered note, or sorrow with
the black insignia of death ; and thus, absorbed in
the matter of the letters themselves, no passing
thought is spared to the operators whose diligent
SORTERS AND CIRCULATION. 157
hands have given them wings or directed their line
When most men are enjoying the refreshment of
nature's sweet restorer, which it is the privilege of
the night-hours to give, the sorters in a large num-
ber of post-offices throughout the country are hard at
work, and on nearly all the great lines of railway the
travelling post-offices are speeding their wakeful flight
in every direction, carrying not only immense quan-
tities of correspondence, but a large staff of men who
arrange and sort it in transit. Unconsciously though
it may be, these men by their work are really a
most powerful agency in binding society together,
and promoting the commercial enterprise of the
country. It lies in the nature of things that sorters'
duties should largely fall into the night. Like a
skilful mariner who bends to his use every wind
that blows, the Post-office avails itself of every op-
portunity to send forward its letters. To lay aside
till morning, correspondence arriving at an inter-
mediate stage at night, would not consort with the
demands of the age we live in ; despatch is of the
first consequence, and hence it is that to deal with
through correspondence, many offices are open during
the night. Some offices are never closed : at all
hours the round of duty goes on without intermis-
sion; but in these, as also in many other cases
158 THE KOYAL MAIL.
where the periods of duty are long, relays of sorters
are necessarily employed. Much might be said of
the broken hours of attendance, the early risings, the
discomforts and cold of the travelling post-offices in
winter, and the like, which sorters have to endure ;
and something might also be said of their loyalty
to duty, punctuality in attendance, and readiness to
strain every nerve under the pressure of occasions
like Christmas. But these things would not, per-
haps, be of general interest, and our object here is
rather to show what a sorter's work really is.
Does it ever occur to an ordinary member of the
community how letters are sorted ? And if so, what
has the thinking member made of it ? We fear the
idea would wear a somewhat hazy complexion. This
is how it is done in Edinburgh, for example. The
letters when posted are of course found all mixed
together, and bearing addresses of every kind. They
are first arranged with the postage-stamps all in one
direction, then they are stamped (the labels being
defaced in the process), and thereafter the letters are
ready to be sorted. They are conveyed to sorting
frames, where a first division is carried out, the letters
being divided into about twenty lots, representing
roads or despatching divisions, and a few large towns.
Then at these divisions the final sortation takes place,
to accord with the bags in which the letters will be
SOKTERS AND CIRCULATION. 159
enclosed when the proper hour of despatch arrives.
This seems a very simple process, does it not ?
But before a sorter is competent to do this work,
he must learn " circulation," which is the technical
name for the system under which correspondence
flows to its destination, as the blood courses through
the body by means of the arteries and veins. By
way of contrast to what will be stated hereafter, it
may be convenient to see how letters circulated less
than a hundred years ago. In 1793 the London
mail arrived at Glasgow at 6 o'clock in the morn-
ing, but the letters for Paisley did not reach the
latter place till 11 A.M. that is, five hours after
their arrival in Glasgow, though the distance between
the places is only seven miles. A couple of years
before that, letters arriving at Edinburgh on Sun-
day morning for Stirling, Alloa, and other places
north thereof, which went by way of Falkirk, were
not despatched till Sunday night ; they reached
Falkirk the same night or early on Monday morn-
ing, and there they remained till Tuesday morn-
ing, when they went on with the North mail so
that between Edinburgh and Falkirk two whole days
were consumed. In the year 1794 the London
mail reached Edinburgh at 6 A.M., unless when de-
tained by bad weather or breakdowns. The letters
which it brought for Perth, Aberdeen, and places on
160 THE EOYAL MAIL.
that line, lay in Edinburgh fourteen hours viz., till
8 P.M. before being sent on. The people of Aberdeen
were not satisfied with the arrangement, and as the
result of agitation, the hour was altered to 1 P.M.
This placed them, however, in no better position, for
the arrival at Aberdeen was so late at night, that the
letters could only be dealt with next day. It was
not easy to accommodate all parties, and there was a
good deal of trouble over this matter. The Edin-
burgh newspapers required an interval, after the
arrival of the London mail, for the printing of their
journals and preparing them for the North de-
spatch. The Aberdeen people thought that an inter-
val of three hours was sufficient for all purposes,
and urged that the North mail should start at 9
A.M. In one of their memorials they write thus :
" They think that the institution of posts was, in the
first place, to facilitate commerce by the conveyance
of letters with the quickest possible despatch from one
end of the kingdom to the other, and, in the next place,
to raise a revenue for Government ; and they cannot
conceive that either of those ends will be promoted
by the letters of two-thirds of the kingdom of Scot-
land lying dormant for many hours at Edinburgh."
In another of the petitions from the people of
Aberdeen, they strangely introduce their loyalty as
a lever in pressing their claims : " Were we of this
SORTERS AND CIRCULATION. 161
city," say they, " to lay claim to auy peculiar
merit, it might perhaps be that of a sincere attach-
ment to order and good government, which places us,
in this respect at least, equal to the most dignified
city in Britain."
From a Post-office point of view the memorialists
appeared to be under some mistake as to the gain to
be derived from the change desired, for there was
something connected with the return mails which
did not fall in with the plan, and the surveyor made
some opposition to it. In one of his reports he
makes this curious observation : " I am persuaded
that some of them, as now appears to be the case,
may be very well pleased to get free from the obliga-
tion of answering their letters in course and par-
ticularly in money matters " !
These facts show what a poor circulation the
Post-office had at the period in question, and what
splendid intervals there were in which to sort the
correspondence. Nowadays, in any office pretend-
ing to importance, the letters pour in all day long
(and all night too, possibly), and they pour out in a
constant stream at the same time letters being in
and out of an office in certain instances within the
space of a few minutes. A good sorter will sort
letters at the rate of 25 to 40 a minute. But
let us look at what a sorter has to learn to do
THE ROYAL MAIL.
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SORTERS AND CIRCULATION. 163
this. A leaf of the circulation book in use at Edin-
burgh for places in England is here inserted (p. 162),
which will be of assistance in understanding the
matter. It will be observed that there are seven
times in the day at which despatches are made to
England. Letters for Martock, in Somersetshire, for
example, in accordance with the hour at which they
may be posted, would be sent thus : to Birming-
ham at 10.0 A.M.; to the Midland Travelling Post-
office Forward, third division, at 2.40 P.M.; no cir-
culation at 4.15 P.M.; to the Glasgow and Carlisle
Sorting Tender (a sorting carriage running between
these towns) at 5.50 P.M.; no circulation at 7.20 P.M.;
to the Bristol and Exeter Travelling Post-office at
9.0 P.M.; and to London at 10.0 P.M. Then if we take
Mitcheldean, at the foot of the sheet, its circulation
is this: to Birmingham at 10.0 A.M.: to Gloucester
at 2.40 P.M.; to the Glasgow and Carlisle Sorting
Tender at 5.50 P.M. ; to Gloucester at 9.0 P.M. ;. and
to Manchester at 10.0 P.M. And so on throughout
the book, which contains the names of some 1300
places in England. Nor, as regards England, is this all.
The sorters have to divide letters into the several
London districts by reference to the street addresses
which the letters bear. Again, these men have to
know the circulation for Scotch towns and Irish
towns, and many of them have, besides, such a know-
164 THE EOYAL MAIL.
ledge of the streets of their own city, Edinburgh, as
enables them to sort letters for delivery into the
several postmen's districts. Thus it will be seen
that the sortation of letters is no mere mechanical
process, but demands considerable head-work, as well
as activity of body.
With some men it is impossible for them ever to
become good sorters, even with the most earnest
desire on their part to do so. There are certain
qualities necessary for the purpose, and if they are
not united in the person, he will never come to the
front as a good sorter. These are : self-command
necessary when working against time ; activity in
his person so as to meet any sudden strain of work ;
a methodical habit ; and, the sine qud non of a
sorter, a quick, prehensile, and retentive memory.
So much has a sorter to learn, that a man without a
head can never distinguish himself ; and an educa-
tional test, except as a measure of acquirements in a
collateral way, is of very little use. A sorter's success
rests chiefly upon natural aptitude.
In the circulation of letters, we may discover the
paradox that " the longest road is often the shortest ; "
the explanation of which is, that by a roundabout way
letters may sometimes arrive sooner than by wait-
ing the next chance by a more direct route. Post-
office circulation is not tied down by any strait-laced
SORTERS AND CIRCULATION. 165
lines of geographical science, nor by any considera-
tion but that of the economy of time.
For example, at certain periods letters from
Edinburgh for places in Norfolk and Suffolk go on
to London, to return north to those counties by the
mails out of London ; similarly, letters for places
north of Manchester are at certain hours sent on to
that city, to be returned part of the way by next
opportunity. It will no doubt seem a puzzle that
letters for Ireland should, at a certain time of day,
be forwarded from Edinburgh to Leeds in Yorkshire !
Yet this is so, and with good results, the fact being
that, after the more direct despatches for the day,
Irish letters are sent by the last evening train to
Leeds, whence early next morning they are sent across
the country, reaching a travelling post-office proceed-
ing from London to Holyhead, and then catching the
day-mail packet for Ireland. Thus they arrive in
the sister isle by the time they would otherwise be
only leaving Scotland. In the travelling post-offices
the plan of carrying letters away from their desti-
nations in order that time may be gained for their
sortation, and afterwards sending them back by a
Post-office carriage proceeding in the reverse direction,
is largely practised, and with the greatest advantage.
Again, letters from Newcastle-on-Tyne for Glasgow,
forwarded by the night-mail, take what might be
166 THE ROYAL MAIL.
thought to be a very wide circuit namely, by way
of Normanton in Yorkshire, and Manchester and
Wigan in Lancashire ; yet that circulation is found
to be best at the hour at which the night - mail
despatch is made. In one more case that may be
cited, letters from Berwick-on-Tweed for Carlisle are,
at a certain time of the day, forwarded through Edin-
burgh as the most expeditious route. There is such
a complexity of arrangement in the matter of circu-
lation, and so great a dependence of any one part on
a great many other surrounding parts, that compara-
tively few persons ever thoroughly understand it, and
only those who can master it should meddle with it.
In one aspect the process of sortation bears some
resemblance to digestion. This is observed in con-
nection with the strange courses which letters run if,
by a first misreading of the address, they happen to
get out of their proper line or direction. A day
seldom passes but some letter addressed to Eden-
bridge in Kent reaches the city of Edinburgh, either
from London or some other English town. There
is, of course, a strong resemblance between the names
of the two places as written, yet the missent letters
must have passed through the hands of two or three
sorters before reaching Edinburgh. But though this
might seem to suggest carelessness, there is this to
be said, that whenever a letter for Edenbridge gets
SORTERS AND CIRCULATION. 167
out of its own course, and into the stream of letters
for Edinburgh, the sorters have a predisposition to
assimilate it as an Edinburgh letter, and so it gets
forwarded to that city. The same thing applies in
regard to letters for Leek, Leith, and Keith, and for
Musselburgh and Middlesborough especially when,
as is too often the case, the writing is not good ; and
many other similar instances might be given. Let-
ters for Fiji frequently reach Edinburgh from Lon-
don and the South, being missent as for Fife in
Scotland ; and we have it on the authority of the
Colonial Postmaster of Fiji, that numbers of letters,
papers, &c., directed to Fife, reach the Fiji Islands.
Two letters posted at Hamilton, Bermuda, and ad-
dressed to Edinburgh, Saratoga Co., N.Y., were re-
cently observed to perform a curious circuit before
reaching their destination. Instead of being sent
direct to the United States from Bermuda, they were
forwarded to London in England ; and here, getting
into the current of inland correspondence, they were
sent to Edinburgh in Scotland. At this stage their
wild career was stopped, and they were put in
proper course to recross the Atlantic. It is near
the truth to say, that similarity of names and bad
writing are the causes of very many of the irregu-
larities which befall letters in their transit through
THE intellectual superiority of man has enabled
him to bend to his purposes the various physi-
cal powers of the lower animals as, for example, the
strength of the ox and the fleetness of the horse
and his observation has taught him also to turn to
his use some of the instincts of the lower creation,
though these gifts may lie hidden beyond the reach
of his understanding. Thus the keen scent of the
bloodhound, and the sense which enables the "ship
of the desert " to sniff the distant spring, are equally
become subservient to the interests of man ; but it
is with reference to another instinct not less remark-
able that this chapter is written the homing in-
stinct of the carrier-pigeon. This gentle bird has
long been known as a messenger capable of con-
veying news from one place to another over con-
siderable distances. It is asserted that " Hirtius
and Brutus, at the siege of Modena, held a corre-
spondence by pigeons ; and Ovid tells us that Tau-
rosthenes, by a pigeon stained with purple, gave
notice to his father of his victory at the Olympic
games, sending it to him at -ZEgina." In Persia
and Turkey pigeons were trained for this service,
and it is stated that every bashaw had some of
these birds reared, in order swiftly to convey news
to the seraglio on occasions of insurrection or other
emergency. In somewhat modern times the best
birds were said to be those of Aleppo, which served
as couriers at Alexandretta and Bagdad ; but many
years ago their services in this line had to be given
up, owing to the Kurd robbers killing the pigeons in
the course of their journey. It does not appear,
however, that, until quite recent times, any great
use has been made of these birds by Western nations,
at any rate under any extended scheme for com-
mercial or peaceful ends. Yet, by what may seem
an incongruity, the dove, which is par excellence the
emblem of love and peace, has of late years been
trained for purposes of war by the great Continental
States ; and it is impossible to predict how far the
fate of nations may be determined hereafter by the
performances of these naturally harmless creatures.
The following particulars from one of the annual
reports on the Post-office will show to what extent
service was rendered by carrier-pigeons in keeping
170 THE ROYAL MAIL.
up postal communication with Paris when that city
was invested during the Franco - German war of
"As the war proceeded and the hostile forces
approached Paris, the risk of interruption to our
Indian mails hecame more and more imminent, and
caused serious uneasiness to the Post-office. This
feeling, which was not long in communicating itself
to the public, the subsequent investment of the
capital served to enhance. The mails had now to
branch off at Amiens, and go round by Rouen and
Tours, at a cost, in point of time, of from thirty to
forty hours ; but even this circuitous route could not
long be depended upon, and nothing remained but
to abandon Marseilles altogether as the line of com-
munication for our Indian mails. ' There was only
one alternative to send them through Belgium and
Germany by the Brenner Pass to Brindisi, and thence
by Italian packets to Alexandria.
" But it was in respect to the mails for France
herself, and especially for Paris, that the greatest per-
plexity prevailed. As soon as Amiens was threat-
ened Amiens, the very key-stone of our postal
communication with the interior and south of France
it became evident that the route vid Calais would
not remain much longer. The alternative routes
that presented themselves were vid Dieppe, and vid
PIGEON- POST. 171
Cherbourg or St Malo, and no time was lost in
making the necessary arrangements with the Brigh-
ton and South-Western Eailway Companies. By
both Companies trains were kept in constant readi-
ness at the terminus in London, and vessels re-
mained under steam at Newhaven and Southampton,
prepared to start at the shortest notice, according to
the course events might take. Late in the evening
of the 26th of November, intelligence was received
in London that the line of communication through
Amiens was closed, and the mails were diverted
from Calais to Cherbourg ; within the next four
days Cherbourg was exchanged for Dieppe, and
Dieppe soon afterwards for St Malo. As to the
means adopted for maintaining communication with
Paris, the pigeon-post has become matter of history.
Letters intended for this novel mode of transmission
had to be sent to the headquarters of the French
Post-office at Tours, where, it is understood, they
were all copied in consecutive order, and by a pro-
cess of photography transferred in a wonderfully
reduced form to a diminutive piece of very thin
paper, such as a pigeon could carry, the photo-
graphic process being repeated on their arrival in
Paris, for the purpose of obtaining a larger impres-
sion. They were essential conditions that these
letters should be posted open without cover or
172 THE EOYAL MAIL.
envelope, and that they should be registered ; that
they should be restricted to twenty words ; that they
should be written in French in clear and intelli-
gible language, and that they should relate solely to
private affairs, and contain no allusion either to the
war or to politics. The charge was fixed at 5d.
for each word (the name and address counting as
one word), and 6d. for registration. During tKe
investment, from November 1870 to January 18*71,
the number of letters sent from London to Tours,
for despatch by pigeon-post to Paris, was 1234."
Profiting by the example furnished during the
progress of the Franco-German war, the good people
of the Fiji Islands have quite recently established
a pigeon-post, to serve them in the peaceful pur-
suits of trade. The colony of Fiji is a group of
225 islands, between which the communications by
sailing-vessels or steamers are not very regular, the
former being frequently becalmed or retarded by
head-winds, while the latter are of small power and
low speed. An important part of the trade of the
Islands consists in exporting fruit and other produce
to Australia and New Zealand, the largest portion
consisting of bananas, of which a single steamer will
sometimes carry about 12,000 bunches. It is desir-
able not to cut the bananas till the steamers from
Australia and New Zealand arrive at Fiji, and conse-
quently early news of the event is most important
to planters in the more remote islands ; for if the
small schooners or cutters which carry the fruit
between the islands arrive too late for the steamer,
the poor planters lose their whole produce, which,
being perishable, has to be thrown overboard. In
these circumstances a pigeon-post has been called
into operation ; and should this method of communi-
cation be extended to all the important islands, as
it has already been to some, many a cargo will be
saved to the poor planters which would otherwise
be wholly lost.
Subjoined is a copy of news by " Pigeon-post,"
taken from the 'Polynesian Gazette' of the 10th
June 1884. It was conveyed by pigeon from Suva
to Levuka, a distance as the crow flies of about 40
miles, and the time occupied in transit was 42
minutes, the actual flight to the home of the pigeon
taking but 3 minutes :
"LATEST NEWS FROM SUVA.
" Per Pigeon-post.
"The following despatch, dated Suva, Sunday,
3 P.M., was received at Nasova at 3.42 same day:
" Hero arrived midnight, left Melbourne 26th,
Newcastle 29th. Passengers Mrs Fowler and
174 THE ROYAL MAIL.
child, Mrs Cusack and family, Mrs Blythe and child,
Messrs F. Hughes, Fullarton, J. Sims, J. B. Matthews,
T. Eose, and A. H. Chambers.
" Agents-General of Queensland and Victoria
gone to France to interview Ministers in re recidi-
vistes question. Marylebone won match, one innings
and 115 runs ; Australians have since defeated Bir-
mingham eleven. Gunga, Capt. Fleetwood, leaves
Sydney 24th ult. New Zealand football team beat
N.S. Wales, 34 points to nil. Cintra at Newcastle,
loading coal for Melbourne, same time as Hero.
A.S.N. Co. bought Adelaide Simpsons Birkgate and
" Wairarapa and Penguin just arrived, further
news when admitted to pratique.
" Monday, 5 P.M.
" Penguin may be expected in Levuka mid-day
" Wairarapa leaves for Levuka at daylight on
Wednesday. Hero leaves at 10.30 on Tuesday, for
Deuba, and may be expected to arrive in Levuka on
It is right to add that the " Pigeon-post " of Fiji
is not connected with the Postal Department, but is
carried on as a private enterprise.
ABUSE OF THE FRANKING PRIVILEGE, AND OTHER
Abuse of the Franking Privilege.
TTTHEEEVER the use of anything of value is
given without the check of a money or
other equivalent, the use is sure to degenerate into
abuse ; and in the experience of the Post-office this
has been proved to be the case, both as regards
letters and telegrams. In regard to the first, the
franking privilege was long found to be a canker
eating into the vitals of the Revenue ; and its aboli-
tion on the introduction of the penny postage in
1840 came none too soon. Had the privilege been
longer continued, it is impossible to conceive to what
extent the abuse of it might have grown ; but what
might have occurred here has, in some measure,
taken place in the United States, as is shown by the
following statement made by the Postmaster-General
176 THE ROYAL MAIL.
of that country, about twenty years after the aboli-
tion of the privilege in this :
"Another potent reason for the abolition of the
franking privilege, as now exercised, is found in the
abuses which seem to be inseparable from its exist-
ence. These abuses, though constantly exposed and
animadverted upon for a series of years, have as con-
stantly increased. It has been often stated by my
predecessors, and is a matter of public notoriety, that
immense masses of packages are transported under
the Government frank which neither the letter nor
the spirit of the statute creating the franking privilege
would justify ; and a large number of letters, docu-
ments, and packages are thus conveyed, covered by
the frank of officials, written in violation of law, not
by themselves, but by some real or pretended agent ;
while whole sacks of similar matter, which have
never been handled nor even seen by Government
functionaries, are transported under franks which
have been forged. The extreme difficulty of detect-
ing such forgeries has greatly multiplied this class
of offences ; whilst their prevalence has so deadened
the public sentiment in reference to them, that a
conviction, however ample the proof, is scarcely pos-
sible to be obtained. The statute of 1825, denouncing
the counterfeiting of an official frank under a heavy
penalty, is practically inoperative. I refer you to
ABUSE OF THE FRANKING PRIVILEGE. 177
the case reported at length by the United States
attorney for the district, as strikingly illustrating
this vitiated public opinion, reflected from the jury-
box. The proof was complete, and the case unre-
deemed by a single palliation ; and yet the offender
was discharged unrebuked, to resume, if it should
please him, his guilty task. This verdict of ac-
quittal is understood to have been rendered on two
grounds : first, that the accused said he did not
commit the offence to avoid the payment of the
postages ; and second, that the offence has become
so prevalent that it is no longer proper to punish it.
These are startling propositions, whether regarded in
their legal, moral, or logical aspects."
The unblushing way in which the British Post-
office in its earlier days was called upon to convey
not only franked letters, but, under franks, articles
of a totally different class, will be perceived from the
following cases. It is not to be understood, how-
ever, that the things consigned actually passed
through the Post-office, but rather that they were
admitted for transport on board the special packet-
ships of Government, sailing for the purposes of the
Post-office. The cases are taken from the first
annual report of the Postmaster-General :
" Fifteen couples of hounds going to the King of
the Eomans with a free pass."
178 THE EOYAL MAIL.
"Some parcels of cloth for the clothing colonels
in my Lord North's and my Lord Grey's regiments."
"Two servant-maids going as laundresses to my
Lord Ambassador Methuen."
" Doctor Crichton, carrying with him a cow and
divers other necessaries."
" Three suits of cloaths for some nobleman's lady
at the Court of Portugal."
" A box containing three pounds of tea, sent as
a present by my Lady Arlington to the Queen-
Dowager of England at Lisbon."
"Eleven couples of hounds for Major-General
" A case of knives and forks for Mr Stepney, her
Majesty's Envoy to the King of Holland."
" One little parcell of lace, to be made use of in
clothing Duke Schomberg's regiment."
" Two bales of stockings for the use of the Ambas-
sador of the Crown of Portugal."
"A box of medicines for my Lord Galway in
" A deal case with four flitches of bacon for Mr
Pennington of Eotterdam."
The Post-office always had a great deal of trouble
in controlling and keeping in check this system of
franking ; and withal, the privilege was much abused.
Before the year 1*764, members of Parliament had
ABUSE OF THE FRANKING PRIVILEGE. 179
merely to write their names on the covers to ensure
their correspondence free passage through the post ;
and packets of such franks were furnished by the
members to their friends, who laid them past for use
as occasion required. Nay, more, a trade was carried
on in franks by the servants of members, whose
practice it was to ask their masters to sign them in
great numbers at a time. It was even suspected,
and probably with sufficient reason, that franks were
forged to a large extent ; and, had postage been paid
on all franked correspondence, it is estimated that
the Eevenue would have been increased by 170,000.
In the hope of imposing some greater check on the
evil, it was enacted in 1763 that the whole super-
scription must be in the handwriting of the member ;
but even this proved inadequate, and further restric-
tions were imposed in 1784 and 1795. Some very
difficult and troublesome questions arose from time
to time in dealing with members' letters. For
example, when a member of Parliament had no
place of residence in London, and was living out
of the United Kingdom, if he had his letters ad-
dressed to a public office, or to any solicitor, banker,
or other agent, he was not entitled to have his letters
free of postage, but, if so directed and delivered, the
postage had to be paid. Again, when a member
kept up a residence in London, but had his letters
180 THE EOYAL MAIL.
directed to another place, the member ceased to
enjoy the privilege as regards such letters; as he
also did when letters were addressed to his residence
in the country, and he happened to be elsewhere at
the time of their delivery. Then a Catholic peer
dying, who had never taken his seat, and being suc-
ceeded by his brother, who was a Protestant, the
question is raised whether the latter could claim to
use the franking privilege before the issue of the
writ calling him to the House of Peers ; and the
legal decision is given that he could not so exercise
the privilege. Keeping the members within proper
bounds must evidently have been a task for the
officers of the Post-office requiring both vigilance
But there was another kind of fraud carried on
under the privilege granted to soldiers. A surveyor
in Scotland thus referred to the irregularity as ob-
served in Scotland in 1797 :
" As there is so much smuggling of letters already
in Scotland, and reason to suspect it will increase
from the additional rates, it is matter of serious con-
cern to the Eevenue to obtain a clear legal restric-
tion ; and I wish you to represent it to the Board
at London, in case it may not be too late to offer
any hints from the distant situation we are in.
" I have had occasion formerly to observe to you
OTHER KINDS OF FRAUD. 181
that a very great evasion of the Post Eevenue has
taken place particularly in the north of Scotland
from the privilege granted to soldiers, under cover
of which not only a very general opportunity is
taken by the common people there to have their
letters carried by soldiers to be freed by their
officers, and having them again in return under
soldiers' addresses ; but even in several instances
which I observed and detected, persons in higher
ranks have availed themselves of this circumstance."
The Post-office has also been exposed to frauds in
other ways. Thus it was a common device to take
a newspaper bearing the newspaper frank, prick out
with a pin certain words in the print making up a
message to be sent, and the newspaper so prepared
served all the purposes of a letter as between the
sender and receiver. Or a message would be written
on the cover of a newspaper with the first of all
fluids known to us milk which, when dry, was
not observed, but developed a legible communication
subsequently when held to the fire.
The following anecdotes of the evasions of postage
are told by the late Sir Eowland Hill :
"Some years ago, when it was the practice to
write the name of a member of Parliament for the
purpose of franking a newspaper, a friend of mine,
previous to starting on a tour into Scotland, arranged
182 THE ROYAL MAIL.
with his family a plan of informing them of his pro-
gress and state of health, without putting them to
the expense of postage. It was managed thus : He
carried with him a number of old newspapers, one
of which he put into the post daily. The postmark,
with the date, showed his progress ; and the state
of his health was evinced by the selection of the
names from a list previously agreed upon, with which
the newspaper was franked. Sir Francis Burdett, I
recollect, denoted vigorous health."
" Once on the poet's [Coleridge's] visit to the Lake
district, he halted at the door of a wayside inn at
the moment when the rural postman was delivering
a letter to the barmaid of the place. Upon receiv-
ing it she turned it over and over in her hand, and
then asked the postage of it. The postman demanded
a shilling. Sighing deeply, however, the girl handed
the letter back, saying she was too poor to pay the
required sum. The poet at once offered to pay the
postage ; and in spite of some resistance on the part
of the girl, which he deemed quite natural, did so.
The messenger had scarcely left the place when the
young barmaid confessed that she had learnt all she
was likely to learn from the letter ; that she had
only been practising a preconceived trick she and
her brother having agreed that a few hieroglyphics
on the back of the letter should tell her all she
OTHER KINDS OF FRAUD. 183
wanted to know, whilst the letter would contain
no writing. ' We are so poor,' she added, ' that we
have invented this manner of corresponding and
franking our letters.' "
In asserting its monopoly in the carriage of letters
in towns, or wherever the Post-office had established
posts, there was always trouble ; and so much atten-
tion did the matter require, that special officers for
the duty were employed, called " Apprehenders of
Private Letter-carriers." The penalties were some-
what severe when infringements were discovered,
and the action taken straight and prompt, as .will
be seen by the following, which is a copy of a
letter written in 1817 to a person charging him
with breaking the law :
" SIR, His Majesty's Postmasters-General have re-
ceived an information laid against you, that on the
1 8th ultimo your clerk, Mr , for whom you are
answerable, illegally sent three letters in a parcel
by a stage-coach to you at Broadstairs, Kent, con-
trary to the statute made to prevent the sending of
letters otherwise than by the post.
" I am commanded by their lordships to inform
you that you have thereby incurred three penalties
of 5 each, and that they feel it their duty to
proceed against you to recover the same.
184 THE ROYAL MAIL.
" Should you have any explanation to give, you
will please to address the Postmaster-General. I
In August 1794, at the Warwick Assizes, a
carrier between Warwick and Birmingham was con-
victed of illegally collecting and carrying letters,
when penalties amounting to 1500 were incurred;
but the prosecution consented to a verdict being
taken for two penalties of 5 each, with costs of the
suit. A report of the period observed that "this
verdict should be a warning to carriers, coachmen,
and other persons, against taking up letters tied
round with a string or covered with brown paper,
under pretence of being parcels, which, the learned
judge observed, was a flimsy evasion of the law."
The very cheap postage which we now enjoy has
removed the inducement in a large measure to com-
mit petty frauds of this kind on the Post-office
Revenue, and the commission of such things may
now be said to belong to an age that is past.
Frauds on the Public.
The Post-office, while it is the willing handmaid
to commerce, the vehicle of social intercourse, and
the necessary helper in almost every enterprise and
occupation, becomes at the same time a ready means
FRAUDS ON THE PUBLIC. 185
for the unscrupulous to carry on a wonderful variety
of frauds on the public, and enables a whole army
of needy and designing persons to live upon the gen-
erous impulses of society. While these things go on,
and Post-office officials know they go on, the
Department is helpless to prevent them; for the work
of the Post-office is carried on as a secret business,
in so far as the communications intrusted to it are
concerned, and the contents of the letters conveyed
are not its property or interest. There are men and
women who go about from town to town writing
begging -letters to well-to-do persons, appealing for
help under all sorts of pretences ; and these persons
are as well known, in the sense of being customers
to the Department, as a housekeeper is known at her
grocer's shop. There are other persons, again, who
carry on long-firm swindles through the post, obtain-
ing goods which are never to be paid for ; and as
soon as the goods are received at one place, the
swindlers move on to another place, assume new
names, and repeat the operation. The schemes
adopted are often very deeply laid ; and the police,
when once set upon the track, have hard work to
unravel the wily plans. But tradespeople are not
infrequently themselves very much to blame, as they
show themselves too confiding, and too ready to do
business with unknown persons.
186 THE ROYAL MAIL.
The following is an instance of a fraud upon well-
to-do persons in this country, attempted by an Amer-
ican in the year 1869 :
The Rev. Mr Champneys, of St Pancras, London,
received a letter posted at Florence, Burlington
County, New Jersey, U.S., which upon being opened
seemed to be not intended for him, but was a com-
munication purporting to be written from one sister
to another. The letter made it appear that the
writer was highly connected, had fallen into the
greatest distress owing to the death of her husband,
that her feelings of self-respect had restrained her
from telling her griefs till she could no longer with-
hold them, and making free use of the deepest
pathos and high-sounding sentiments, and finally
appealing for an immediate remittance. Mr Champ-
neys, not suspecting a fraud, and desiring to help
forward the letter to the person who, as he supposed,
should have received it, inserted the following adver-
tisement in the ' Times ' newspaper :
"A letter, dated Florence, Burlington County,
New Jersey, U.S., intended for Mrs Lucy Campbell,
Scotland, has been misdirected to Eev. W. Champ-
neys, 3 1 Gordon Square. Will Mrs Campbell kindly
communicate her address immediately ? "
In response to this inquiry, what was Mr Champ-
ney's surprise but to find that a large number of
FRAUDS ON THE PUBLIC. 187
persons had received letters in identical terms and
in precisely the same circumstances ! This of course
caused him to reflect, and then the facts became
clear to him which were, that under the guise of a
trifling mistake, that of placing a letter in the wrong
envelope, a set of dire circumstances were placed
before persons who were likely to be kind-hearted
and generous, in the hope that, though the writer
was unknown to them, they might send some money
to cheer a poor but respectable family steeped in
How far the attempt succeeded does not appear,
but Mr Champneys very properly at once wrote a
letter to the ' Times ' exposing the fraud, and it is to
be hoped that some generous souls were in conse-
quence saved from folly.
One more instance but one coming within the
class of the " confidence trick." In several country
newspapers the following advertisement made its
"An elderly bachelor of fortune, wishing to test
the credulity of the public, and to benefit and assist
others, will send a suitable present of genuine worth,
according to the circumstances of the applicant, to
all who will send him 1 7 stamps demanded merely
as a token of confidence. Stamps will be returned
with the present." And then the address followed,
188 THE ROYAL MAIL.
which was not always the same in all the adver-
The advertiser alone would be able to say how far
he profited by this little arrangement, but some idea
of the simplicity of mankind may be derived from
the fact that between 300 and 400 letters for this
person, each containing 1 7 stamps, reached the Dead-
letter Office owing doubtless to his having " moved
on " from the places where he had lived, in conse-
quence of their becoming too warm to hold him.
Specimens of the letters written by the dupes are as
1. "The Eev. encloses 17 stamps. He is
a clergyman with very limited means, and the most
useful present to him would be five pounds. If his
application be not agreeable, he requests that the
stamps be returned."
2. "I have enclosed the 17 stamps, and shall be
very pleased to receive any present you will send me.
As I am not very well off, what I would like very
much would be a nice black silk dress, which I should
consider a rich reward for my credulity."
3. "Mrs presents her compliments to the
' elderly bachelor,' and in order to amuse him
by her credulity encloses 17 stamps, and thus
claims the promised present. Her position and
circumstances are good, she mixes in gay society,
FRAUDS ON THE PUBLIC. 189
and is quite an adept at dancing the polka ma-
zourka. These details may determine the suit-
ability of the present."
4. "Having read your advertisement testing the
' credulity of the public/ I feel disposed on my part
to test the upright and honourable intentions of a
stranger, contrary to the opinion of some, who tell
me it is only a hoax, or, worse, a mere take-in. I
therefore, with the honesty of an Irishman, beg to
say I am a clergyman's wife, mother of nine chil-
dren, the six eldest fine enterprising sons ; the three
youngest, engaging, intelligent girls. We Irish gen-
erally have larger hearts than purses. I therefore lay
these facts before you, an Englishman, knowing that
a Briton's generosity and capabilities are proverbi-
ally equal. Hoping I may be able to prove I have
formed a correct opinion of advertiser's truthfulness,
I am," &c.
After this we may afford to smile, and use the
words of a very old author with every confidence
of their freshness : " Oh where shall wisdom be
found ? where is the place of understanding ? "
FT1HE addresses of letters passing through the post
J- have often very curious features, arising from
various causes : sometimes the whole writing is so
bad as to be all but illegible ; sometimes the orthog-
raphy is extremely at fault ; sometimes the writer,
having forgotten the precise address, makes use of a
periphrase ; sometimes the addresses are insufficient ;
and sometimes the addresses are conjoined with
sketches on the envelopes showing both artistic taste
and comic spirit. Post-office sorters, who constantly
have passing through their hands writing of every
style and every degree of badness, acquire an apti-
tude for deciphering manuscript ; and writing must be
bad indeed, if to be read at all, when it fails to be de-
ciphered in the Post-office. A very large collection
might be made of the vagaries of writers in the ad-
dresses placed by them on letters ; but the following
will give some idea, though not a complete idea, of one
of the troubles met with in dealing with post-letters.
STRANGE ADDRESSES. 191
Some time ago the Danish and Norwegian Consul
at Ipswich, being struck by the ever-varying way in
which the word " Ipswich" was spelt in the addresses
of letters reaching him from abroad, took the pains
to make a record of each new style of spelling, and
after a time he was able to collect together fifty-
seven incorrect methods of spelling the word
" Ipswich," which had been used upon letters ad-
dressed to him. They are given as follows, viz. :
Elsfleth, Epshvics, Epshvidts, Epsids, Epsig, Epsvet, Eps-
vidts, Epwich, Evswig, Exwig, Hoispis, Hvisspys, Ibsvi, Ibsvig,
Ibsvithse,Ibwich,Ibwigth,Ispsich, le yis wich, Igswield, Igswig,
Igswjigh, Ipesviok, Ipiswug, Ipswitis, Ipsiwisch, Ipsovich, Ips-
veten, Ipsvick, Ipsvics, Ipsvids, Ipsvidts, Ipsvig, Ipsvikh,
Ipsyits, Ipsvitx, Ipsvoigh, Ipsweh, Ipsweich, Ipswgs, Ipswiche,
Ipswick, Ipswict, Ipswiceh, Ipswig, Ipswigh, Ipswight, Ipswish,
Ipswith, Ipswitz, Ispich, Ispovich, Ispwich, Ixvig, lysuich,
Letters so addressed generally reached the Consul
in direct course of post, though some of them were
occasionally delayed by being first sent to Wisbeach.
In other cases assistance was given in reading the
addresses by the northern version of the county
" Suffolg " following the word intended for Ipswich.
23 Adne Edle Street, London,
proved to be intended for
2 Threadneedle Street, London.
192 THE ROYAL MAIL.
In another case,
No. 52 Oldham & Bury, London,
was written for
No. 52 Aldermanbury, London.
On another occasion the following address appeared
on a letter :
too dad Thomas
hat the ole oke
10 Bary. Fade.
Sur plees to let ole feather have this sefe ;
the address being intended for
The Old Oak Orchard,
A further odd address was as follows, written, it is
presumed, by a German :
Tis is fur old Mr Willy wot brinds de Baber in Lang Raster
ware ti gal is. gist rede him assume as it cums to ti Pushtufous ;
the English of the address being
This is for old Mr Willy what prints the paper in Lancaster
where the jail is. Just read him as soon as it comes to the
The next address is one made use of, apparently,
owing to the true and particular addresses being lost,
but the directions given served their purpose, and the
letter was duly delivered :
STEANGE ADDRESSES. 193
For a gentleman residing in a street out of the Road,
He is a shopkeeper, sells newspapers and periodicals to the
trade, and supplies Hawkers, and others with cheap prints, some
of which are sold by men in the street, he has for years bought
the waste of the Illustrated their prints printed in colours
particularl}'. he is well known in the locality, being wholesale.
Postman will oblige if he can find this.
Similar cases are as follows, but we are unable
to say whether the addresses given served their
intended purpose :
Mr . Travelling Band, one of the four playing in the
Please to find him if possible.
To E , a cook as lived tempery with a Mrs L , or
some such a name, a shoemaker in Castle St. about No.
Hoburn in 1851 ; try to make this out. She is a Welsh per-
son about 5 feet 1 stoutish. Lives in service some ware in
London or naboured. London.
This is for her that maks dresses for ladies, that livs at
tother side of road to James Brocklip.
This is for the young girl that wears spectacles, who minds
30 Sherriff St.,
Off Prince Edwin St.,
194 THE ROYAL MAIL.
In two further instances the indications sufficed,
and the letters were duly delivered. Thus
To my sister Jean,
Up the Canongate,
Down a Close,
She has a wooden leg.
My dear Ant Sue as lives in the Cottage by the Wood near
the New Forest.
In this case the letter had to feel its way about for
a day or two, but Ant Sue was found living in a
cottage near Lyndhurst.
Another letter was addressed thus :
This letter is for Mrs . She lives in some part of Liver-
pool. From her father John , a tailor from ; he
would be thankful to some Postmaster in Liverpool if he would
find her out.
Unfortunately, in this instance the directions
given failed to trace the person to whom it was
sent, and it had to go to that abyss of "rejected
addresses," the Dead-letter Office.
It occasionally happens that when the eye is un-
able to make out an address, the ear comes to the
rescue. In London a letter came to hand directed
Mr Owl O'Neil,
General Post Office.
STRANGE ADDRESSES. 195
But no one was known there of that name. A
clerk, looking at the letter, commenced to repeat aloud,
"Mr Owl O'Neil, Mr Owl O'Neil," when another
clerk, hearing him, exclaimed, " Why ! that must be
intended for Mr Eowland Hill," which indeed
proved to be the case. A similar circumstance
happened in Edinburgh with a letter from Australia,
It proved to be intended for Johnshaven, a village
in the north of Scotland.
Two odd addresses are as follows, one being from
America, the other from Ireland :
to Edinburgh City, Scotland,
For Pat Feeley, Katie Kinnigan's Son,
Ould fishmarket close,
Number 42, send this with speed.
An American gentleman having arrived in Eng-
land, and not knowing where a sister was residing at
the time, addressed a letter to her previous residence
196 THE ROYAL MAIL.
The letter having been delivered to the lady, the
writer intimated to the Post-office that he had
received a reply in ordinary course, and explaining
that the letter had been delivered to her on the top
of a stage-coach in Wales. In admiration of the
means taken to follow up his sister, the writer
ventured to add, " that no other country can show
the parallel, or would take the trouble at any cost."
It would be impossible to explain in words the
difficulties that are met with, and the successes
which are obtained, in deciphering badly written
addresses ; and facsimiles of the directions upon
some such letters are therefore appended to enable
the reader to appreciate the facts. In the London
Post-office indistinctly addressed letters are at once
set aside, so as not to delay the work of sortation,
and are carried forthwith to a set of special officers
who have an aptitude for deciphering indistinct
writing. These officers, by a strange contradiction in
the sense of things, are called the " blind officers " ;
and here the letters are rapidly disposed of, either
by having the addresses read and amended, or marked
with the name of a post-town for which the letters
may be supposed to be intended. To facilitate this
special work, the blind officers are furnished with a
series of gazetteers and other books containing the
names of gentlemen's seats, farms, and the like,
throughout the country, and many a letter reaches
STRANGE ADDRESSES. 197
the hands of the person addressed through a refer-
ence to these books.
In addition to instances of indistinctly addressed
letters, a few specimens of addresses of an artistic
and humorous character are furnished in this chapter.
Cape Coast Castle
198 THE ROYAL MAIL.
Ashby de la 2auch
7 Cnar/jtte F/ace
Gooaye Street *V
/Wa<//ias. /ast Indies
//" J/ctyate ChurtJi
Lc 'tit Jon
THE ROYAL MAIL.
"6~ 'Battery, *B 'Brigade
fioyjl Horse Artillery
STEANGE ADDRESSES. 201
37 Ouee/r Street
Stratford New Town
i /crest Gale)
THE KOYAL MAIL.
THE ROYAL MAIL.
THE ROYAL MAIL.
__ gteC5= JJ
ME YfOlJLD ST*LK Bi^ GAME ,
The letter, of which the above represents the
address, was posted in a town in the north of Eng-
land, and delivered to the editor of the ' Courant ' in
Edinburgh. A facsimile of a portion of the com-
munication enclosed is given on the following page,
which will give an idea of the interest attaching to
editorial work, and afford some valuable information
to the reader !
THE ROYAL MAIL.
IF records are not now forthcoming of all the
robberies which have been committed upon the
Post-office from the earliest times, we may be assured
that an institution such as it is, maintaining agencies
all over the country, and having to keep up commu-
nications between those agencies, would be exposed
at all times and at all points to the risk of robbery,
whether by the dashing boldness of the highwayman,
or the less pretentious doings of the town house-
breaker. To us who live in an age when the public
roads are generally safe to travellers, it is difficult to
realise the dangers that lurked in the highways at
no more remote a period than last century ; nor can
we well realise a state of things under which mail-
coaches in this our quiet England had to be protected
by guards armed to the teeth. We have it handed
down, however, as a historical fact, that when, in
1720, Belsize House, Hampstead, was opened as a
POST-OFFICE ROBBERIES. 211
place of public resort, the programme announcing its
attractions contained the following item : " And for
the security of its guests, there are twelve stout
fellows completely armed, to patrol betwixt London
and Belsize, to prevent the insults of highwaymen or
footpads which may infest the road." Yet that
statement does not give the whole truth, for the
road between these two places became so much more
dangerous, that after a time " the patrol had to be
increased from twelve to thirty stout fellows com-
pletely armed, independently of two tall grenadiers
who mounted guard over the gate of the mansion."
Again, it is recorded that " even the toll-house
keepers in London were so liable to be robbed, that
they had to be furnished with arms, and enjoined to
keep no money in their houses after eight o'clock
at night. The boldness with which street robberies
still continued to be committed was evinced so late
as 177 7, when the Neapolitan ambassador was robbed
in his coach in Grosvenor Square by four footpads
armed with pistols."
Thus it will be seen that the roads leading out of
London were infested by disorderly characters ; and
robberies of the mails proceeding to and from London
were of frequent occurrence, as appears from official
records referring to the close of last century and the
commencement of this.
212 THE ROYAL MAIL.
In the coaching days very frequent robberies of
the mails took place, though they were protected by
armed guards, and some of these robberies have been
described in the chapter relating to mail-coaches.
The passengers who travelled in the mail-coaches,
with the knowledge of these molestations going on
around them, must have been kept in a constant
state of alarm ; and the circumstance could not fail
materially to discourage travelling in days when the
facilities for exchanging visits were few compared
with what we now enjoy.
The state of things already described as regards
the mail-coaches, extended also to the horse-posts, the
riders being attacked probably more freely than the
coaches ; for while the plunder to be had would be
less, the postboys were not in a position to make so
great a show of defence. Nor did the severity of
the laws restrain evil-doers, either in England or
Scotland, where sentences of execution were from
time to time carried out upon the delinquents.
On the 7th of July 1685, the post-rider who was
proceeding through the extreme north of England,
on his way from London to the Scottish metropolis,
was known to have been twice stopped, and to have
been robbed of his mail, the scene of the occurrence
being near Alnwick, in Northumberland. In con-
nection with this event, of which an account has
POST-OFFICE ROBBERIES. 213
been handed down by Lauder of Fountainhall, a curi-
ous and romantic anecdote has been told by Wilson
in his ' Tales of the Borders,' and by Chambers as one
of his Scottish traditional stories.
Sir John Cochrane of Ochiltree, in Ayrshire, was
one of Argyle's chief associates in that unfortunate
and abortive attempt, made by the exiles in the year
above named, to compass the overthrow of the reign-
ing monarch, James II., so far as Scotland was con-
cerned, which attempt was only part of the more
general scheme of the exiles abroad both English
and Scotch and the disaffected at home, to drive
the king from his throne, and to place the Duke of
Monmouth thereon in his stead. After a variety of
disasters experienced by the limited following which
Argyle and his party had been able to bring together,
and when hope of a successful issue could no longer
secure cohesion, there ensued a general break-up of
the party, accompanied by what is to be looked for
in similar situations a general flight and sauve gui
pent. Sir John Cochrane sought refuge in the house
of a relative in Eenfrewshire, where, however, he
was discovered by his pursuers at the end of June ;
and on the 3d of July, Sir John, his son, and another
traitor were brought into Edinburgh, " bound and
barefooted, by the hangman," and cast into the Tol-
booth to await their doom.
214 THE ROYAL MAIL.
What daring enterprises may not flow from a
woman's love and devotion, when a parent's liberty
is imperilled or his life is at stake ! Sir John had a
daughter called Grizel, who fondly loved him, and
who, on visiting him in prison, had not failed to
show the intensity of her filial regard ; nor was Sir
John slow to reciprocate these feelings on his part.
Being then but eighteen years of age, she neverthe-
less conceived the daring thought of intercepting the
mail-packet coming from the South, which was sup-
posed to contain a warrant for the execution of her
father ; and with this object in view, she proceeded to
Berwick-on-Tweed alone. Here she habited herself
in male attire ; and being armed, and mounted on a
fleet horse, she set out upon her extraordinary and
On Tweedmouth Moor, it is narrated, she fell in
with the postboy, who, under threats of immediate
death, gave up his charge, Grizel riding off with the
mail-packet and the postboy's horse, from which he
had been unseated.
Under these circumstances, the warrant not reach-
ing its destination, it could not be put into execution,
and the delay which took place before another could
be procured was turned to account by Sir John's
friends, who exerted themselves on his behalf. Sir
John was the younger son of a rich family, from
POST-OFFICE ROBBERIES. 215
whom a ransom was to be had ; and it is stated that
a bribe of 5000 by Lord Dundonald, Cochrane's
father, to the priests of the Eoyal household, was the
means of securing a pardon. Sir John lived to be-
come Earl of Dundonald, while Grizel became the
wife of John Kerr of Morriston, in Berwickshire ;
and there can be little doubt that she afterwards
exhibited as a wife all the amiable and affectionate
qualities of which she proved herself possessed as a
Unfortunately for the authenticity of the story, so
far as Grizel Cochrane's connection with it is con-
cerned, the dates hardly bear the matter out ; for if
Sir John was lodged in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh
on the 3d July, a warrant for his execution could
barely have reached Northumberland from London
by the 7th : and again, while the story relates that
Sir John Cochrane was confined in the Tolbooth,
Macaulay states that he " was taken, and sent up to
The following story of the robbery of a mail
carried by a postboy, is taken from Chambers's
'Domestic Annals of Scotland,' under the date 16th
" Andrew Cockburn, the postboy who carried the
packet or letter-bag on that part of the great line of
communication which lies between Cockburnspath
216 THE KOYAL MAIL.
and Haddington, had this day reached a point in his
journey between the Alms-house and Hedderwick
Muir, when he was assailed by two gentlemen in
masks ; one of them mounted on a blue-grey horse,
wearing a stone-grey coat with brown-silk buttons
the other riding on a white horse, having a white
English grey cloak-coat with wrought silver-thread
buttons. Holding pistols to his breast, they threat-
ened to kill him if he did not instantly deliver up
the packet, black box, and bag which he carried ;
and he had no choice but to yield. They then
bound him, and leaving him tied by the foot to his
horse, rode off with their spoil to Garlton House,
near Haddington. As the packet contained Govern-
ment communications, besides the correspondence of
private individuals, this was a crime of a very high
nature, albeit we may well believe it was committed
on political impulse only. Suspicion seems imme-
diately to have alighted on James Seton, youngest
son of the Viscount Kingston, and John Seton,
brother of Sir George Seton of Garlton ; and Sir
Eobert Sinclair, the sheriff of the county, immedi-
ately sought for these young gentlemen at their
father's and brother's houses, but found them not.
With great hardihood, they came to Sir Eobert's
house next morning to inquire, as innocent men,
why they were searched for ; when Sir Robert, after
POST-OFFICE ROBBERIES. 217
a short examination in presence of the postboy, saw
fit to have them disarmed and sent off to Hadding-
ton. It was Sunday, and Bailie Lauder, to whose
house they came with their escort, was about to go
to church. If the worthy bailie is to be believed,
he thought their going to the sheriff's a great pre-
sumption of their innocence. He admitted, too, that
Lord Kingston had come and spoken to him that
morning. Anyhow, he concluded that it might be
enough in the meantime if he afforded them a room
in his house, secured their horses in his stable, and
left them under charge of two of the town- officers.
Unluckily, however, he required the town-officers, as
usual, to walk before him and his brother magistrates
to church which, it is obvious, interfered very con-
siderably with their efficiency as a guard over the
two gentlemen. While things were in this posture,
Messrs Seton took the prudent course of making
their escape. As soon as the bailie heard of it he
left church, and took after them with some neigh-
bours, but he did not succeed in overtaking them.
The Privy Council had an extraordinary meeting to
take measures regarding this affair, and their first
step was to order Bailie Lauder and the two town-
officers into the Tolbooth of Edinburgh as close
prisoners. A few days afterwards the magistrate
was condemned by the Council as guilty of plain
218 THE ROYAL MAIL.
fraud and connivance, and declared incapable of any
public employment. William Kaim, the smith at
Lord Kingston's house of Whittinghame, was also
in custody on some suspicion of a concern in this
business ; but he and the town-officers were quickly
" John Seton was soon after seized by Captain
James Denholm on board a merchant vessel bound
for Holland, and imprisoned in the castle of Edin-
burgh. He underwent trial in July 1691, and by
some means escaped condemnation. A favourable
verdict did not procure his immediate liberation ; but,
after three days, he was dismissed on caution, to
return into custody if called upon. This finaj result
was the more remarkable, as his father was by that
time under charge of having aided in the betrayal
of the Bass."
Other instances of such gentlemanlike perform-
ances in waylaying the post were not unknown in
the primitive days of the Post-office, for about the
year 1658 the following notice was issued for the
discovery of a gentleman of the law who had taken
to evil ways by intercepting the mail: " Whereas Mi-
Herbert Jones, attorney-at-law in the town of Mon-
mouth, well known by being several years together
under-sheriff of the same county, hath of late divers
times robbed the mail coming from that town to Lon-
POST-OFFICE ROBBERIES. 219
don, and taken out divers letters and writs, and is
now fled from justice," &c.
In August 1692, the postboy riding the last stage
towards Edinburgh with the mail from England, was
robbed on the 13th of that month, at a short distance
from Edinburgh. A record of the period relates that
the robbery was committed by " a person mounted on
horseback with a sword about him, and another person
on foot with a pistol in his hand, upon the highway
from Haddington to Edinburgh, near that place
thereof called Jock's Lodge (a mile from town) about
ten hours of the night." The robbers took " the
packet or common mail, with the horse whereon-
the boy rode." A proclamation was issued by the
Scottish Privy Council, offering a reward of a hun-
dred pounds for the apprehension of the offenders,
with a free pardon to any one of them who should
inform upon the rest ; but with what result is not
On the 13th September 1786, the mail-rider from
the North charged with the conveyance of mails for
Edinburgh, having reached Kinross about midnight,
proceeded to change horses as usual in a stable-yard
at that place. The mail-bags he deposited on the
back of a chaise in the yard until he should be ready
to resume his journey. As was his custom, he then
went into the stable to give a feed of corn to his
220 THE ROYAL MAIL.
horse; but while so engaged, the bags were ab-
stracted and the contents stolen. Two brothers,
who were proved to have been in the neighbourhood
at the time, and to whom some of the stolen pro-
perty was traced, were arraigned for the crime before
the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh, and being
found guilty, were sentenced to be executed.
The following is a somewhat fuller account of a
post robbery on the public road, which occurred a
few years later :
In 1802, the mails between Edinburgh and Glas-
gow were still conveyed by men travelling on horse-
back the route taken being by way of Falkirk
the hour of despatch from Glasgow being 9 P.M., and
the hour of arrival in Edinburgh about 6 A.M. or 7
A.M. The riders of this mail seem to have had
sections of the road apportioned to them one
rider covering the road from Glasgow to Falkirk,
the other taking the stage from Falkirk to Edin-
burgh. On the morning of the 1st of August in
that year, the rider for the east stage named
William Wilson received the Glasgow mail-bag
entire and duly sealed at Falkirk, and thereafter
set out towards Edinburgh. When he approached
a rising ground called Sigh thill probably a wooded
knoll bearing that name, about three miles from
Linlithgow, on the road to Polmont he observed
POST-OFFICE ROBBERIES. 221
two men coming down towards him, and who, so
soon as they got near him, placed themselves one
on each side of his horse, and immediately seized
him. One of the two men held something in his
hand, and threatened Wilson that if he offered to
speak his brains would be blown out. Then he
was led away into a field of corn, where he was
blindfolded by one of the men with his own hand-
kerchief, and his hands tied behind his back ; there-
upon he was thrown down, and his legs bound
together to prevent his getting away. Meanwhile
the other man led away his horse and rifled the
mail. The post -rider remained in his unhappy
position for about an hour, when he managed to
extricate himself, and proceeding to the first house
he could reach, implored the inmates " for God's
sake " to let him in, as he had been robbed. Having
been admitted and obtained assistance, he returned
to the scene of his adventure, and found the empty
mail-bag at the foot of a haystack, while the horse
was recovered a little distance away. The mail con-
tained bills, &c., for something like 1300 or 1400.
The robbery of the mail caused great excitement
in Edinburgh so soon as it became known, and no
long time elapsed before the perpetrators were in the
hands of the authorities. The two men concerned
in it proved to be James Clark, alias Alex. Stewart,
222 THE ROYAL MAIL.
and Kobert Brown, formerly privates in the Foot
Guards. No sooner had they got back to Edin-
burgh where they had previously lodged than
they commenced to change some of the bank-notes
taken from the mail - bag, and got the worse of
drink ; and being once suspected, the evidence soon
accumulated and became strong against them. They
were tried for the offence before the High Court of
Justiciary in Edinburgh in November following, and
being found guilty, were sentenced to be executed.
This robbery would appear to have had the effect
of stirring up tHe public mind to demand a means
of conveying the mails between the two cities afford-
ing greater security ; for an agitation immediately
followed for the setting up of coaches or diligences
to carry the mails between those cities. Owing,
however, to difficulties and disagreements between
the merchants and traders as to the hours of de-
parture and arrival, and to wranglings over the par-
ticular route to be journeyed, the idea was aban-
doned, and the horse-post as of old was meanwhile
continued. The robbery seems not to have been
soon forgotten, however ; for we find that towards
the close of 1802 a proposal was made to enter
into an agreement for the service with " an officer
of the Mid-Lothian Cavalry, and master of the
Biding Academy in Edinburgh," who offered to con-
POST-OFFICE ROBBERIES. 223
duct and carry on the service in a masterly and
military manner for an allowance of 450 per
annum the riders to be employed being none
other than able and active dragoons. But in the
nature of things such a mail - service could not
continue, and negotiations still proceeded for the
employment of diligences not resulting in success,
however, until the year 1805, when the first mail-
coach between Edinburgh and Glasgow was put
upon the road.
A somewhat similar attack upon a postboy was
made in Yorkshire in the year 1798, when the
rider's life was threatened by a highwayman single-
handed, and the mails stolen from him. The case is
interesting owing to the fact that traces of the rob-
bery were obtained so recently as 1876, though at
the period of its occurrence no trace of the highway-
man or of his plunder could be discovered.
The official account of the robbery, when it hap-
pened, was as follows :
" The postboy coming from Selby to York was
robbed of his mail between six and seven o'clock
this evening. About three miles on this side of
Selby he was accosted by a man on foot, with a gun
in his hand, who asked him if he was the postboy,
and at the same time seized hold of the bridle.
Without waiting for any answer, he told the boy he
224 THE ROYAL MAIL.
must immediately unstrap the mail and give it him,
pointing the muzzle of the gun at him whilst he did
it. When he had given up the mail, the boy begged
he would not hurt him ; to which the man replied he
need not be afraid, and at the same time pulled the
bridle from the horse's head. The horse immediately
galloped off with the boy, who had never dismounted.
" He was a stout man, dressed in a drab jacket,
and had the appearance of being a heckler. The
boy was too much frightened to make any other
remark on his person, and says he was totally
unknown to him. The mail contained the bags
for Howden and London, Howden and York, and
Selby and York."
Although a reward of 200 was offered for the
discovery of the robber, and a free pardon to any
accessory who might turn accuser, nothing was
heard of the matter at the time, though suspicion, it
is said, pointed to some of the inhabitants of Selby.
The robbery might perhaps have remained forgotten,
but that, upon a public-house situated on the Church-
hill, Selby, being pulled down in 1876, a suit of
clothes, a sou'-wester hat, and an old mail-bag marked
" Selby " were found in the roof. There is little
doubt that these were the clothes worn by the
robber on the occasion under notice, and that the
bag (which is a sort of waterproof-pouch, furnished
POST-OFFICE KOBBERIES. 225
with two straps to pass over the shoulders) is the
identical bag which contained the mails stolen in
1798. When the foundations of this old public-
house were turned up, the discovery was made of
several coffins containing bodies in a good state of
preservation a circumstance, when taken in con-
nection with the traces of the mail-robbery and the
public character of the house, ominous in the ex-
treme. The case is one which might be taken as
somewhat proving the suggestion put forward by
Smollett in ' Eoderick Eandom ' as to the intimate
relations which existed between the personnel of the
innkeepers and the common highwaymen the former
being well aware of the profession followed by the
latter, if not actually sharers in their plunder.
On Wednesday the 23d October 1816, at half-
past nine in the evening, the postboy carrying the
mail-bags from Teignmouth and neighbouring places
to Exeter, was assaulted "in a most desperate and
inhuman manner" near the village of Alphington,
and plundered of the Teignmouth and Exminster
bags. The poor man was attacked with such fury
that he was felled from his horse, came to the
ground on his head, which was fractured in two
places, and in consequence of his injuries, he re-
mained insensible for some time. When he regained
consciousness in the Exeter Hospital, whither he had
226 THE ROYAL MAIL.
been conveyed, he was able to explain that, at the
time of the attack, he was walking his horse up a
hill, that the assailant was a young man, and that
he was mounted on a grey horse. This horse was
supposed afterwards to be traced, though the robber
failed to be discovered, notwithstanding that a reward
of 50 was offered for his discovery and conviction.
" A horse exactly answering the description," says an
official record, " was taken from a field near Dawlish
on the Wednesday night, and turned back to the
same place before daybreak on Thursday, having
evidently been rode very fast, and gored very much
in the sides." The owner of the horse could give no
assistance in the matter, nor had he suspicions against
any one ; so that it would appear the robber had
taken the horse surreptitiously for his purpose. The
mail-bags were afterwards recovered, with some few
of the letters opened ; but it did not appear that any
property was missing. The unfortunate rider, whose
name was " Caddy," remained in hospital till the
January following, when he was discharged ; but in
the month of May his wounds broke out afresh, and
he had to return to hospital, being now become sub-
ject to epileptic fits owing to his injuries. As he
was no longer able for service, he was granted a
gratuity by the Post-office ; and it is not probable
that he survived very long thereafter. With the
POST-OFFICE EOBBEKIES. 227
mere expectation of getting some little gain from the
robbery, the marauder had all but killed the poor
postboy, who had a wife and two children dependent
on him ; and he has in his evil-doing given a good
example of what Burns calls " man's inhumanity to
man," that " makes countless thousands mourn."
In the year 1797 the deputy-postmaster of the
Orkneys and his son, a lad of about sixteen years of
age, were tried at the High Court of Justiciary,
Edinburgh, on a charge of breaking open certain
post-letters while in their custody in course of
transit, and therefrom abstracting money. The in-
dictment contained a further charge of forgery
against the elder prisoner, the deputy having en-
dorsed another person's name upon a money-order
contained in one of the stolen letters. The thefts
were committed at different times in 1794 and
1796, and the specific cases upon which evidence
was led were in respect of the following letters viz.,
two letters sent at different times to Orkney by a
seaman in the Eoyal Navy, one containing a guinea-
note and half a guinea in gold, the other containing
either a guinea in gold or a note for that amount ; a
letter from London for Orkney, containing a money-
order for 5, 5s. ; and a letter from Perth for
Orkney, enclosing a note for a guinea : the whole
amount involved being under 9.
228 THE EOYAL MAIL.
In the course of the trial it was proved that the
deputy was guilty, certain of the missing letters
having been found in his house, and the son had
already confessed to what was charged against him.
The whole cases were clearly made out to the satis-
faction of the jury, who returned a verdict accord-
ingly against both prisoners, but with a recommen-
dation of mercy towards the son of the deputy, on
the score of his tender years. Sentence was pro-
nounced on the 5th September, and the date of exe-
cution fixed for the 18th October. By the exercise
of the Eoyal prerogative, George III. granted a free
pardon to the deputy's son, who was forthwith set at
liberty ; but it is a melancholy reflection, that for
delinquencies involving the loss of so small a sum
as 9, the deputy-postmaster should, on the date
fixed for his execution, have actually been led forth
to his doom. In a report of the circumstance
written at the time, it is stated " that he was at-
tended by the Eev. Mr Black of Lady Tester's, and
Mr Struthers of the Eelief congregation, and be-
haved in a manner suitable to his unhappy situa-
tion " ! God forbid that there should be a standard
of deportment for occasions like this, where, to our
more humane notions, the punishment so fearfully
outweighs the offence.
Early in the year 1849 a sad blow fell upon the
POST-OFFICE ROBBERIES. 229
postmaster of a certain town in Wales, on its being
discovered that an assistant in his office, a daughter
of his own, had been stealing post-letters. In the
course of investigations made into her misdoings, it
was discovered that the thefts had been going on for
a period of seven years, during which time she had
accumulated as much jewellery and haberdashery as
would have stocked a small shop and besides,
money to the amount of 95. The letters from
which the property had been taken were between
two and three hundred, and these she had kept,
so that it was possible to restore to the owners,
in many cases, the stolen articles. On the 20th
March the unfortunate and misguided creature was
tried, on the charge of stealing a particular letter,
and was convicted the sentence passed upon her
being transportation for ten years.
It was afterwards ascertained that the motive
underlying this long career of thieving was a de-
sire to amass such a dowry as would improve her
prospects in the matter of obtaining a husband.
Hatton Garden Robbery.
On Thursday the 16th November 1881, the
whole country was made aware, through the daily
papers, that a most daring Post-office robbery
230 THE ROYAL MAIL.
had been committed in London the previous after-
noon, the scene of the event being the Hatton
Garden Branch Office, situated in the busy district
of Holborn. The time and plan of carrying out
the undertaking were not such as are usually chosen
for attempts of this kind, the hour at which the
robbery was effected being 5 P.M., when the office
was thronged with the public purchasing stamps,
or doing other business in view of the night-mail
despatch. Nor was there any furtive mode of pro-
ceeding in the ordinary sense, but a bold and dash-
ing stroke for the chances of success or failure.
On the afternoon of the day of the robbery, a
murky fog, such as Londoners know so well and
heartily dislike, hung over the metropolis. The
street lamps afforded but a dull light in the thorough-
fares ; shops and offices were lighted up for the
evening's business ; and the afternoon's work in the
Hatton Garden Post-office was at its height (the
registered-letter bag, containing some forty regis-
tered letters, having just been deposited in an
ordinary bag hanging from a peg in the office), when
suddenly, and without apparent cause, the whole
of the lights in the office went out, and the place
was plunged in almost total darkness. Consterna-
tion took possession of the female clerks behind the
counter, while young clerks and boys from ware-
POST-OFFICE EOBBEKIES. 231
houses and offices, conceiving the occasion to be one
for noise and merriment, helped to increase the con-
fusion by clamour and hubbub outside the counter.
No long time elapsed before matches were obtained
and tapers lit, when it was immediately discovered
that the tap of the gas-meter in the basement had
been turned off; but on the tap being turned on
again, the jets in the office were relit, and the place
resumed its wonted appearance. The young ladies
in the office being now able to see around them,
soon detected the absence of the bag, which had
been left hanging on the peg, and which they knew
had not yet been despatched by them. It did not take
long to realise that the bag had vanished in fact,
had been stolen ; and to this day the property con-
tained in the lost registered letters has not been
recovered, nor have the persons concerned in the
theft been traced.
It is believed that two or more individuals were
engaged in the robbery, the supposition being that
one person got down into the basement without
attracting attention, and turned off the gas, while
another, so soon as darkness supervened, got by some
means within the counter, and, unobserved, took the
bag from the peg all concerned making good their
escape in the midst of the stir and noise by which
they were surrounded. The whole adventure bears
232 THE KOYAL MAIL.
the impress of having been carefully planned and
cleverly executed, and there is little doubt that the
robbery was carried out by men who were experts in
their nefarious calling.
The value of the articles contained in the forty
registered letters was about 15,000 ; and as the
scene of the robbery lay in the midst of diamond
merchants and jewellers, it is not surprising that
precious stones and jewellery were the principal con-
tents of these letters. Besides watches, bracelets
set with pearls and diamonds, ear-rings, rings, &c., the
following articles were among the property stolen
viz., eight parcels of rough diamonds, 147 turquoises,
a quantity of small emeralds, 6000 drilled sapphires,
2000 pairs of garnet bores, 240 pairs of sapphire
bores, a quantity of sapphires weighing 695 carats,
several rubies and sapphires weighing 546 carats,
A reward of 200 was offered by the Postmaster-
General, and a further reward of 1000 by certain
insurance companies who had insured the valuable
letters, for the conviction of the delinquents and the
recovery of the stolen property ; but the robbery
remains to this day one of those which have baffled
the skill of the Metropolitan police and the officers
of the Post-office to unravel or to bring home to the
POST-OFFICE BOBBERIES. 233
Cape Diamond Robbery.
The greater portion of the diamonds found in
Griqualand West, in South Africa, are sent weekly
to England through the Post - office, made up in
packets, which are forwarded as registered letters
the value of these remittances being collectively from
60,000 to 100,000. In April 1880, the sailing
of the mail-steamer from Cape Town having been de-
layed until the day after the arrival of the up-country
mails, the bag containing the registered correspon-
dence was left in the registered-letter office of the
Cape Town Post-office ; not, however, locked up in
the safe, where it ought to have been, but carelessly
left underneath one of the tables. During the night
the office was broken into, and the whole of the
diamonds stolen, valued at 60,000. Who the
robbers were appears never to have been discovered,
and they have doubtless since been in the enjoyment
of the fruits of their villanous enterprise. As it is
the practice of people in the diamond trade to insure
packets of diamonds sent by them, the senders did not
suffer anything beyond inconvenience by this robbery;
but the insurance companies were involved in the
loss, and had to pay claims amounting to 60,000.
The following is an account of a robbery at-
234 THE ItOYAL MAIL.
tempted upon a postman in London in July 1847,
as officially reported at the time :
" An attempt was this morning made to murder
or seriously to maim Bradley, the Lombard Street
letter-carrier, with a view of obtaining possession of
the letters for his district. He was passing through
Mitre Court, a narrow passage between Wood Street
and Milk Street, when the gate of the Court was
closed and locked behind him with a skeleton key
by, it is believed, three men, who followed him a
few yards farther on in the passage. On Bradley
getting to a wider part of the Court, one of them
felled him to the ground by a heavy blow from a
life-preserver ; he attempted to rise, but was again
knocked down in a similar manner. He then felt
that they tried to force from him his letter-bags, but
fortunately the mouths of them were-, for security,
twisted round his arm. They continued their blows ;
but Bradley retained sufficient consciousness to call
out ' Murder ! ' so as to be heard by some of the
porters in the adjoining warehouses, who ran to
see what was the matter, but unluckily the villains
escaped. Poor Bradley is most seriously injured so
much so that he may be considered in some danger."
An idea of the amount of property the thieves
would have obtained had Bradley not held the bags
tightly (even under such circumstances), may be
POST-OFFICE BOBBERIES. 235
formed from the fact that he had in his possession
thirty -seven registered letters containing property,
besides all the other letters for Messrs Overend,
Gurney, & Co., Eobarts, Curtis, & Co., Glynn & Co.,
the London and County Bank, as well as those for
thirty -four other houses in Lombard Street. It
was believed at the time that the value of the
property in Bradley's possession amounted to hun-
dreds of thousands of pounds.
A daring robbery of a Berlin postman occurred
not very long ago, when the outrage was accom-
panied by a still more atrocious crime the murder
of the postman. The man was one of a class who
deliver money remittances at the addresses of the
persons to whom they are sent, under a system
which prevails in some countries of the Continent,
and he had with him cash and notes to the amount
of some 1500. The robber and murderer, a man
of great bodily strength, had so arranged that a small
remittance would fall to be delivered at his address
on Monday morning an occasion when a large
number of remittances are received ; and on the
postman reaching the place, and proceeding to pay
the requisite sum, the occupier of the premises felled
him with a hammer, and with repeated blows killed
him outright. It was evident from the circumstances
that the murderer had duly planned the outrage, for
236 THE KOYAL MAIL.
the room rented was near to the starting-point of the
postman, so that he should not have paid away any
portion of his charge when he reached the room. The
body of the poor postman was found afterwards cold
and stiff, lying in a pool of blood, with his empty
and rifled bag beside him ; and the weapon with
which the perpetrator had achieved the murder, re-
mained there as a witness of the crime. The mur-
derer was said to have previously served in a cuiras-
sier regiment. Before decamping, he had turned the
key in the door of his room ; and the discovery was
only made after a search by the Post-office authori-
ties at the addresses at which the postman had to
call, on his failing to return later in the day.
Some years ago the following extensive robbery
of letters occurred in London. An unusually large
number of complaints were found to be reaching the
General Post-office, of the non-receipt by merchants,
bankers, and others carrying on business in Lombard
Street and its neighbourhood, of letters containing
bank-notes, cheques, advices, and important corre-
spondence, sent to them from all parts of the king-
dom. The circumstance naturally gave rise to
careful inquiry on the part of the Post-office author-
ities, with the result that suspicion fell upon a
young postman of nineteen years of age, through
whose hands many of the missing letters would in
POST-OFFICE ROBBERIES. 237
ordinary course have to pass. Certain Bank of Eng-
land notes, which had been contained in some of the
letters, were found to have been cashed; and the
names endorsed upon them, though fictitious, were in
a handwriting resembling that of the young man
suspected. Thereupon he was arrested and searched,
when in a pocket-book on his person were found two
5 notes, which had been forwarded from Norfolk to
a banking-house in London, but had failed to reach
their destination. In a pocket in his official coat were
found also some thirty-five letters of various dates,
which he had neglected to deliver, to the inconveni-
ence or loss no doubt of the persons addressed ; but
the most astonishing part of the business is, that
when his locker or cupboard at the General Post-
office was examined, about 1500 letters were found
there which he had stopped, the dates upon the
envelopes showing that his delinquencies had ex-
tended over several months. This young man, upon
being tried for the offences named, was convicted, and
with the usual severity observed in similar circum-
stances, the judge passed upon the prisoner a sentence
of six years' penal servitude.
The following curious instance of the wholesale
misappropriation of post-letters also came under the
notice of the Post-office authorities in London a few
years ago :
238 THE ROYAL MAIL.
A man was observed one day carrying off some
boards from a building in course of erection in the
Wandsworth Bridge Road, Fulham, and being pur-
sued by a constable, he dropped the timber and made
off. The man was, however, captured and taken
to the police-station, whereupon the place where
he lived was searched for other stolen property.
His habitation was situated upon a waste piece
of ground on the banks of the Thames, the erec-
tion being of wood built upon piles, and so placed
as to be almost entirely surrounded by water.
Here this man, who was a barge -owner, and who
was passing under an assumed name, had lived in
isolation for about a year ; the position selected for
his home being one calculated to afford him that
complete seclusion from social intercourse which
would seem to have been his aim. In the course
of their examination of the contents of the hut, the
police found not only more stolen timber, but various
other articles, the chief of which, in the present con-
nection, were a large lot of post-letters, mail-bags,
and articles of postmen's clothing, besides milk- cans
and a case of forty rifles. As the inquiry proceeded,
it became known that the prisoner was a Post-office
pensioner, having been superannuated from his office
of postman some three years previously, after having
served in that capacity a period of fifteen years. It
POST-OFFICE BOBBERIES. 239
would seem that his official delinquencies had ex-
tended over some six or eight -years; but so far as
the letters showed, theft in the ordinary sense could
hardly have been the man's purpose, inasmuch as the
letters had not been opened, with one exception, and
in this instance the person for whom the letter was
intended could not be found. The motive under-
lying this free departure from the ways of honesty
seems to have had its root in simple acquisitiveness ;
the hundredweight of letters, book-packets, &c., the
old mail-bags, discarded uniforms, and waste official
papers (not to mention the thirty milk-cans, sup-
posed to have been picked up when going his rounds
as a postman, and the case of rifles), having been
turned to no profitable account. Had the super-
annuated postman opened the letters found in his
premises, the punishment which would have followed
would necessarily have been severe. As the case
stood, however, he was merely charged under the
Post-office Acts with their unlawful detention, and
sentence was passed upon him of eighteen months'
imprisonment with hard labour. It seems astonish-
ing that this postman should have had the folly
to retain about him so long the evidences of his
errors, which might at any time have been brought
up against him ; but perhaps the feeling prompting
this may be akin to that which leads criminals to
240 THE ROYAL MAIL.
visit the scenes of former iniquities, even when in-
curring the risk of discovery, and if discovered, of
The following is a case of robbery which occurred
in 1883, as reported by the newspapers of the day,
the culprit being quite a young person :
"The most destructive and important case of
robbery in connection with Mr Fawcett's plan, intro-
duced some two or three years ago, for facilitating
the placing of small sums, by means of postage-
stamps, in the Post-office Savings Bank, came before
the Bristol magistrates to-day, when Ellen Hunt, a
domestic servant, about sixteen years of age, was
charged with stealing a large number of letters, some
of them containing cheques, the property of the
Postmaster - General. Mr Clifton, who prosecuted,
said the robberies were of a very extensive character,
and might have been fraught with the direst con-
sequences. They had been discovered in a singular
manner, no money having been missed ; but a large
number of circular letters, addressed by the Bristol
clerk to officials requiring to be sworn in connection
with the School Board election this week, miscarried.
Inquiries were made by the Postal authorities, when
it was found that all these circulars had been posted
at the Eedcliffe district office, where the prisoner was
the servant of the postmaster, Mr Devine. It was
POST-OFFICE ROBBERIES. 241
the custom of Mr Devine to place the key of the
letter-box in a secret place for the use of himself
and his assistants ; but the prisoner discovered it, and
the circular letters were found in her possession with
the postage - stamps off them. They had been re-
moved for payment into the Post-office Savings Bank
on the forms by which a shilling's worth of postage-
stamps saved up by school - children and others is
now accepted by the Savings Bank department of
the Post-office ; but the most serious part of the case
was the fact that in the prisoner's box were dis-
covered the bundles of opened letters now produced
by Detective Short, and containing cheques already
discovered to the amount of 74, 16s., all of which
had been sent through the same post-office. The
charge was laid under the 27th section of the Act,
but formerly a prisoner would have been liable for
such an offence to transportation for life. Some
evidence having been given, the girl, who was hys-
terical throughout the hearing, was remanded. Ap-
parently no effort had been made to deal with the
cheques, but the detective stated that the numerous
letters had been opened."
242 THE 110YAL MAIL.
Tale of a Banker's Letter.
Towards the close of last century, or early in the
present century, a tradesman of the better class
carrying on business in a certain town of the west
of England, which we shall here call X , and
who also added to his ordinary business that of the
agency of a bank, posted a bulky letter containing
heavy remittances in notes, addressed to the Bank
of England. This letter never reached its destina-
tion, and the loss, being of a most serious kind, was
soon bruited about, and became the theme, locally,
of general conversation. As it happened, the sender
was a man of strong political opinions, and having
courage to express them, there were many persons
holding opposite views who not only regarded him
with feelings akin to dislike, but were ready to take
up any missile which chance might place in their
way to damage their adversary's fair name. While,
therefore, the bank agent maintained that he had
posted the letter in question, insinuations were set
afloat to the effect that he had not done so, and
that the object of his allegations was to fend off
pressing calls in matters of account. He suffered
greatly in reputation from these unsupported stories,
though there was nothing else in his circumstances
to create suspicion. Time, the great anodyne of
POST-OFFICE ROBBERIES. 243
scandal, had somewhat assuaged the sufferings of
the unfortunate banker, and probably softened the
unkind feelings of those who had been disposed to
think hardly of him; the loss of the letter itself
had ceased to attract attention ; and as yet nothing
was heard of the letter, or the valuable enclosures
which it had contained.
At length, however, the agent received intima-
tion that one of the missing notes a Bank of
England note for 50 which was stopped at that
establishment, had been presented in London. As
the result of inquiries which were made, it was
now traced to an old-established silversmith some-
where in the city of London ; but beyond this point
the search failed, for all the account the silversmith
could give was, that he had received the note some
time previously from a man of respectable appear-
ance, who had the exterior and conversation of what
might be a well-to-do west-country farmer. This
man was accompanied to his shop by a young woman
of the flash type, to whom the stranger presented two
or three rings ; purchasing for himself some heavy
gold seals, such as were in vogue at the period, a
silver tankard or two, and several punch-ladles. In
payment of these articles the 50 note was passed,
but the silversmith could give no further help ;
244 THE EOYAL MAIL.
though hope was not yet extinct, for he added that
he should certainly recognise his customers, were
they ever to come under his observation again.
The man of X was a man of determination,
and, still smarting under the loss of means and
honour, he resolved that sooner or later he should
discover by whom his letter had been stolen. The
silversmith, readily entering into these views, cor-
dially offered his personal services, and it was
arranged between the banker and himself that they
should ransack London, visiting the Eanelahs, the
Vauxhalls, the Parks, the theatres indeed every
place where gay women and men of pleasure might
be found together. This was an arduous task ; but
in the end their perseverance was rewarded by the
discovery of the young woman to whom the farmer
had presented the rings. On being questioned, this
young person, while frankly stating what she knew,
had little to tell. She had, she said, been in Snow
Hill or Holborn one morning at the hour of the
arrival of the west of England mail-coach. Among
the passengers who got down was a youngish, fresh-
looking farmer, whose acquaintance she then made,
and whose constant companion she was for several
days thereafter. She still wore the articles of
jewellery which had been presented to her; but
she declared that she had never seen the man since,
POST-OFFICE ROBBERIES. 245
nor did she know his name. And here the inquiry
again seemed to exhaust itself, in the vague dis-
covery of a west-country farmer.
The acquaintance between the banker and the
silversmith, which had come about in the way
already stated, soon ripened into friendship. They
had, in a greater or less degree, a common interest
in the matter of the stolen note, but they soon
found out that there was other common ground for
the growth of amity between them they were both
disciples of Izaak Walton. It became the custom
of the silversmith to visit at the house of his friend
in the west every season, when the two men would
go out fishing together in the neighbouring streams,
enjoying each other's society, and frequently, no
doubt, going over again the old story of the lost
letter. One day, during such a visit, the silver-
smith went out alone to try a stream not many
miles distant from his friend's residence, and while
so engaged a heavy shower swept across the scene.
The angler sought shelter in a roadside inn, from
which, as it happened, he was not far distant. The
house was well known, and the proprietor was of the
half-farmer, half-publican type, the business of inn-
keeper in such a situation not affording a sufficient
living by itself. Feeling somewhat peckish, the
246 THE ROYAL MAIL.
visitor called for lunch. He was waited upon
by the landlord in person. While the bread and
cheese and cider were being carried in, the landlord
apologised for the absence of the female folks, who
were for the moment engaged elsewhere ; and during
this brief conversation, the silversmith (still instinct
with professional taste) studied a bunch of heavy
seals hanging from a watch in the landlord's fob.
The landlord perceived that these articles had at-
tracted the stranger's notice, and when he again
came into the room the fact was observed by the
other that they had been left aside or placed out of
This incident set the stranger .thinking ; and while
so engaged, his eye fell upon an old-fashioned glass-
fronted cupboard occupying a corner of the room,
in which were exhibited the inn treasures old
crystal vessels, china bowls, and the like together
with the plate of the establishment. A sudden
thought struck him. He proceeded to examine the
contents of the repository; and, standing upon a
chair to explore the upper shelves, what was his
amazement when he there recognised the silver
tankards and the silver punch - ladles which he
had sold to the west-country farmer many years
before ! Then, eagerly turning over the whole
matter in his mind, the features of the landlord
POST-OFFICE ROBBERIES. 247
came back upon him, and in this man he recognised
the person who in London had purchased these
articles and paid to him the stolen 50 Bank of
England note. The silversmith lost no time in
communicating the facts to the banker, who at once
obtained a warrant, and, with two constables, pro-
ceeded the same evening to the inn to put it into
execution. The landlord was called into a room,
there and then he was charged with having stolen
the note, and was forthwith conveyed into X
It transpired in the course of inquiries that in his
early days before the period of the robbery this
man had been employed as a servant or assistant by
the postmaster at X . He left that situation,
however, and became coachman to one of the neigh-
bouring gentry. While in this service it was very
frequently his duty to drive the family into town,
where they would rest some portion of the day in
their town house, and return to the country seat
in the evening. In these intervals it sometimes
happened that the coachman would go to the post-
office, and there chat and gossip with his old fellow-
servants. He visited the post-office on the day when
the stolen letter was posted ; he and his former com-
rades smoked and drank together ; and in the end he
248 THE KOYAL MAIL.
volunteered to assist with the letters. He did so ;
and while thus engaged he managed to abstract the
banker's letter, which, owing to its bulky nature and
the address which it bore, he suspected to contain
value. His visit on that particular day was verified
by circumstances in the recollection of the persons at
the post-office, and other evidence of his guilt ac-
cumulated against him ; but this testimony was not
really necessary, for the farmer-publican himself con-
fessed to the theft of the letter, and explained how
he had obtained possession of it.
The course usual in such circumstances followed.
The offence was visited with the severity which
characterised the period the man suffered the
extreme penalty of the law.
A LTHOUGH the work of sending and receiving
-*- telegraphic messages may be regarded in a
general way as partaking largely of a merely me-
chanical nature, yet it is work to which the operator
who is to achieve credit in his sphere must bring
much tact, good sense, intelligence, a knowledge of
the world, and a considerable amount of patience.
Not only are the terms in which telegrams are fre-
quently written so far devoid of context in them-
selves, owing to the curt way in which they are
worded, as to render the sense of little assistance in
estimating the correctness of a message received, but
the letters of the telegraphic alphabet, being nothing
more than little groups of dots and dashes variously
arranged, are extremely susceptible of mutilation,
owing to any lack of exact spacing on the part of
the sending operator. Nor does the liability to error
250 THE KOYAL MAIL.
lie only in these directions. The dots and dashes
frequently fail or run together, owing either to feeble
signals, contact of the wires with one another, with
trees, or other objects, or to the instruments not
being in perfect adjustment. A grain of grit or of
dust getting between the points of contact in a deli-
cate instrument will sometimes do much mischief in
the way indicated. There is liability to mistakes,
too, in consequence of the handwriting of the senders,
or of the operators at a transmitting point where
messages have to be again taken down, not being
very plain. Yet over and above these tendencies to
error, there is the fallibility of human nature, which
will sometimes lead a person to write " no " where
" yes " is intended, or " black " where " white " is
meant ; and of such mistakes probably no explana-
tion can be given. So that the work of a telegraph-
ist is beset with pitfalls, and he requires all his wits
and a fair share of intelligence to keep him right in
his work. It may further be remarked that many
errors in telegrams, which might be supposed by the
public to be gross or inexcusable, have occurred in
the most simple way, or have been shown to be due
to failures of the most trifling kind.
The following are illustrations of such mis-
A pleasure -party, telegraphing to some friends,
TELEGRAPHIC BLUNDERS. 251
stated that they had "arrived all right," but the
message was rendered, " We have arrived all tight."
The words " right " and " tight " in the Morse code
are as follows :
In another case, a poor person, desiring to state
that her daughter was ill, wrote in her message
" Mary is bad." This was rendered, " Mary is dead,"
the sense being changed by a slight imperfection of
d e a d
In a third case, owing to failing signals, possibly
from so simple a cause as the intermittent contact
of the wire with a wet branch of a tree, or a par-
ticle of grit or dust finding its way between the
points of the instrument, the import of the message
was altogether changed. Thus, " Alfred doing well,
enjoyed .egg to-day," was received, "Alfred dying,
enjoyed GG to-day."
A gentleman telegraphed from London to his bro-
252 THE ROYAL MAIL.
tlier in the country to send a hack to meet him at
the station ; but when the gentleman arrived at the
station he found a sack waiting for him. A firm in
London telegraphed, " Send rails ten foot lengths ; "
but the message was delivered, " Send rails in foot
A person telegraphed to a friend to " take two
stalls at the Haymarket," but the message conveyed
directions to secure " two stables at the Haymarket."
In another telegram, the intimation, " mother is no
worse," was changed to " mother is no more." Again,
" You will be glad to hear that your sister has ac-
cepted an engagement with your father's approval,"
was rendered, " that your sister has accepted an en-
gagement with your father's apostle." In another
case a plain business message, thus " Come to me
as early as you can, that we may arrange Wednes-
day," was given a matrimonial turn by being deliv-
ered as, " that we may arrange wedding." The next
case is one in which a hungry man would doubtless
be- made an angry man in consequence of the mis-
take which occurred. His message, which was writ-
ten thus, " Shall arrive by train to-morrow morning;
provide a good supply of bread, butter, eggs, milk,
and potatoes," was delivered as "provide a good
supper of bread," &c. In another instance the no-
TELEGEAPHIC BLUNDERS. 253
tice that " Mr will come to-night with me at
V to tea," was rendered, " Mr will come to-
night with me, get 7 to tea ; " the only argument in
favour of the mistake being " the more the merrier."
Then, on another occasion, a telegram sent by a per-
son in the country to " Madame , Costumier,"
at an address in London, conveying an order for a
fancy dress, was presented to the maker of costumes
as " Madame , Costermonger." In a telegram
directed to " , M.P., House of Commons,"
the address somehow got changed to " - , M.P.,
House of Correction ; " but the member not being
found there, the clerks at the delivering office sug-
gested that it should be tried at the "House of
Detention," a not unlikely place for successful
delivery of such a message as things were at the
It has been left to America to produce a mistake
in telegraphing which, while it is very amusing,
could not result in hurt or disappointment to any
one. Here it is, just as received from the other side
of the "ferry":
A St Louis merchant, while in New York, re-
ceived a telegram notifying that his wife was ill.
He sent a message to his family doctor asking the
nature of the sickness, and if there was any danger,
254 THE EOYAL MAIL.
and promptly received the answer "No danger;
your wife has had a child ; if ive can keep her from
having another to-night she will do well" The mys-
tification of the agitated husband was not removed
until a second inquiry revealed the fact that his
indisposed lady had had a chill.
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST.
IN dealing with the vast numbers of letters and
other post articles which daily flow through the
capacious veins of the British Post-office, the officials
of the department come to learn many strange things
connected with the wanderings of letters from their
proper courses ; they learn much in regard to the
blunders made by the senders of letters in writing
their addresses, and of the supreme folly frequently
shown by individuals in transmitting valuables in
carelessly-made-up packets : and this experience not
only has the effect of causing complaints made by
the public to be sometimes met by doubts and mis-
givings on the part of the Post-office, but is of great
use in tracing home the blame to the right quarter,
which is found to be, not infrequently, where the
complainer had least reason to suspect it. The fol-
lowing facts will probably establish what is here
advanced, besides proving of interest to the reader.
256 THE KOYAL MAIL.
It is quite a common occurrence for letters
especially letters of a small size which are dropped
into a letter-box, to slip inside newspapers or book-
packets, and to be carried, not only out of their
proper course, but to places abroad, thus getting
into the hands of the wrong persons. Such letters
are returned from time to time from every quarter
of the globe, but what proportion of those which go
astray are duly returned it is impossible to say ;
for there are persons who, on receiving letters in
this way not intended for them, proceed to open the
envelopes through sheer curiosity, and having thus
violated the letters, do not hesitate to destroy them.
Others again, through dishonest motives, open letters
of this class in the hope of gain. But there are
others who, through no such interest, but merely
from the want of a neighbourly spirit, refuse to take
any trouble to put an errant letter in its proper
course. This spirit was displayed in the case of a
letter which had been misdelivered by the postman
at a given address on the first floor of a tenement (it
being intended for a person occupying the ground
floor), the person who had received it stating, when
questioned, that he had torn up the letter because he
would not be troubled to send it down-stairs ! Letters
are sometimes, too, carried away to wrong addresses
by sticking to the backs of other letters.
HOW LETTEES ARE LOST. 257
Again, through a great want of sense, or perhaps
a redundancy of stupidity, letters are deposited occa-
sionally in the most extraordinary places, in the idea
that they are being posted. A servant -girl being
sent out to post a letter, drops it into the letter-box
of an empty shop, where it is found when an in-
tending tenant goes to look at the premises. In a
town in the north of Scotland a person was observed
to deposit a letter in a disused street hydrant, and
on the cover of the box being removed, three other
letters were found, the senders of which had similarly
mistaken the water - pillar for a letter - box. The
letters had been passed into the box through the
space formerly occupied by the tap-lever. A some-
what similarly absurd thing happened some time
ago in Liverpool, where two letters were observed to
have been forced behind the plate indicating the
hours of collection on a pillar letter-box the per-
son who had placed them there no doubt thinking
he was doing the correct thing.
It must be that many individuals entertain the
greatest confidence in the servants of the Post-office,
or they would not send money and valuables as they
do. They also perhaps regard the Department as
a fit subject on which to perpetrate petty frauds, by
sending things of intrinsic value enclosed in books and
newspapers. Instances of this kind are frequent.
258 THE ROYAL MAIL.
Within the folds of a newspaper addressed to a
person in Ireland were found two sovereigns, yet
there was no writing to show who the sender was.
A brown-paper parcel, merely tied with string,
unsealed, and not even registered, was found to con-
tain six sovereigns, one half-crown, two sixpences,
and three halfpenny - pieces, wrapped up in small
articles of ladies' dress.
In the chief office in London, two gold watches
were found inside an unregistered book-packet ad-
dressed to New Zealand, the middle portions of the
leaves having been cut out so as to admit of the
watches being concealed within. On another occa-
sion, but in a Scotch post-office, a packet containing
a book bound in morocco, was on examination dis-
covered to have the inner portion of the leaves
hollowed out, while still retaining the appearance
of an ordinary book, and inside this hollow were
found secreted a gold watch and a silver locket.
At another time, a 20 Bank of England note was
observed pinned to one of the pages of a book
addressed to the initials of a lady at a receiving-
house in the London Metropolitan District.
A packet done up in a piece of brown paper, un-
sealed but tied with string, was found to contain a
small quantity of trimming, a collar-box with a few
paper-collars, and inside the box were two 1 notes
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST. 259
and 10s. in silver. A halfpenny wrapper was used
to serve as a covering for the transmission of a letter,
a bill of sale, and four 5 Bank of England notes.
In a newspaper which reached the Dead - letter
Office were found four sovereigns, and in another a
gold locket. A packet carelessly rolled up was seen
to contain a sovereign, two half-sovereigns, and a
savings-bank book. In several instances coins have
been found imbedded in cake and pieces of toast ; and
on one occasion gold coins of the value of 1, 10s.
were discovered in a large seal at the back of a
letter, the gold pieces having come to light through
the wax getting slightly chipped. But the most
flattering act of confidence in the probity of the
Post-office fell to be performed by a person at Leeds,
who, desiring to send a remittance to a friend,
folded a five-pound note in two, wrote the address
on the back of it, and, without cover or registration,
consigned it to the letter-box. Petty frauds are com-
mitted on the Post-office to a large extent by the send-
ers of newspapers, who infringe the rules by enclos-
ing all sorts of things between the leaves such as
cigars and tobacco, collars, sea- weed, ferns and flowers,
gloves, handkerchiefs, music, patterns, sermons, stock-
ings, postage - stamps, and so on. People in the
United States and Canada are much given to these
practices, as shown by the fact that in one-half of
260 THE ROYAL MAIL.
the year 1874, more than 14,000 newspapers were
detected with such articles secreted in them.
Occasionally letters of great value are very care-
lessly treated after delivery, through misconception
as to what they really are. A person alleging that
a registered letter containing a number of Suez Canal
coupons had not reached him, the Post-office was
able to prove its delivery ; and on search being then
made in the premises of the addressee, the coupons
were found in the waste-paper basket, where they
had been thrown under the idea that they were
circulars. In another instance a registered letter,
containing Turkish bonds with coupons payable to
bearer, was misdirected to and delivered at an ad-
dress in the west end of London, though it was
really intended for a firm in the city. The value
of the enclosures was more than 4000. When
inquiry came to be made at the place of delivery,
it was found that the bonds had been mistaken for
foreign lottery-tickets of no value, and were put
aside for the children of the family to play with.
Cases come to light, too, involving a history or
at least suggesting a history without affording par-
ticulars or leaving us entirely in the dark as to
the circumstances of the matter. Thus, two packets
which had been addressed to Australia, and had been
forwarded thither, were returned to England with the
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST. 261
mark upon them, " unclaimed." On being opened,
one of them was found to contain 100 sovereigns,
and the other 5 sovereigns ; yet there was no com-
munication whatever in either to show who had
sent them. It was supposed, by way of explana-
tion, that a person proceeding to Australia had direc-
ted the packets to himself, intending to reach the
colony by means of another ship ; and that, having
died upon the passage, or his ship having been
lost, no application was ever made for them at the
office to which they had been directed.
On one occasion a cheque for 9, 15s. was found
loose in a pillar letter-box in Birmingham. The
owner was traced through the bank upon which the
cheque was drawn, but he was unable to give any
explanation of the circumstances under which it had
passed from his possession.
The following are a series of instances in which
letters have got out of their proper bearings,
chiefly in the hands of the senders or the persons
addressed, or through the carelessness of the servants
of those persons ; and the cases show how prone
the public are to lay blame upon the Post-office
when anything goes wrong with their letters, before
making proper search in their own premises. A
number of cases are added, in which the servants
of the senders or of the persons addressed have been
262 THE ROYAL MAIL.
proved dishonest, when the blame had first been laid
upon post-office servants ; and one or two cases are
given where the Department has been held up as
the delinquent, merely to afford certain individuals
an excuse for not paying money due by them, or
otherwise to shirk their obligations.
" A person applied at the Leeds post-office and
stated that two letters (one of which contained the
half of a bank-note) which he had himself posted at
that office had not reached their destination men-
tioning at the same time some circumstances asso-
ciated with the alleged posting of the letters. After
some conversation, he was requested to produce the
letter which had informed him of the non-receipt of
the letters in question ; but instead of producing it,
he, to his own great astonishment, took from his pocket
the very letters which he believed he had himself
" Inquiry having been made respecting a letter
sent to a person residing at Kirkcudbright, it ap-
peared that it had been duly delivered, but that the
addressee having left the letter on a table during
the night, it had been devoured by rats." Another
case of the depredations of rats upon letters is as
Certain letters which ought to have reached a
bookseller in a country town not having been re-
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST. 263
ceived, it was concluded, after inquiry, that they
had been duly delivered, but had subsequently been
withdrawn from under the street door, which was
furnished with a slit to receive letters, but without
a box to retain them. During subsequent alter-
ations in the shop, however, when it was necessary
to remove the flooring under the window, the dis-
covery was made of thirty-one letters, six post-cards,
and three newspapers, which had been carried thither
by rats ! The corners of the letters, &c., bearing the
stamps, were nibbled away, leaving no doubt that
the gum upon the labels was the inducement to the
theft. Several of the letters contained cheques and
But rats are old enemies to letters, as is known
in the Post-office ; for in the olden times, when
sailing-ships were in use as mail-packets, sad com-
plaints were made of the havoc caused by " ratts "
to the mails conveyed in these ships.
Nor are rats the only dumb creatures which have
shown a " literary " turn, in getting possession of
post-letters. Some years ago a postman was going
his rounds delivering letters in Kelvedon, in Essex,
carrying a registered letter in his hand ready to
deliver it at the next house, when a tame raven a
worthy compeer, if not a contemporary, of the Jack-
daw of Eheims suddenly darted down, snatched it
264 THE ROYAL MAIL.
from his grasp, and flew off with it. The bewildered
postman could only watch the bird w r hile it made
a circuit over the town, which it did before alight-
ing ; and so soon as it got to a suitable place, it
set to work to analyse the composition of the mis-
sive by tearing the letter to pieces. The fragments
were shortly afterwards collected and put together,
when it was found that part of them were the
remains of a cheque for 30, which was afterwards
renewed when the singular affair was made
Another curious incident in which birds are con-
cerned occurred in the spring of 1884 at Shew-
bridge Hall, near Nantwich, in Cheshire. For the
convenience of the people at the Hall, a letter-box
is placed by the gate at the roadside, into which
the post-runner drops the correspondence addressed
to Shewbridge Hall. Mr Lockett, the occupier of
the house, expecting a letter from Liverpool con-
taining a cheque for 10, went to the box, where,
as it happened, he found the letter, but in a muti-
lated state, and the cheque gone. Believing that
a robbery of his box had been committed, or that
the letter had been violated before being deposited
therein, he forthwith rode into Nantwich to report
the matter at the post-office and to the police. Re-
turning later on, he examined the box more closely,
HOW LETTERS AEE LOST.
and discovered tomtits inside ; and further investi-
gation led to the discovery of the cheque lying
twenty yards away on the turnpike road, whither
it had evidently been carried for examination. The
cheque was folded small, and
could therefore be easily car-
ried by these small birds.
The tomtits had taken pos-
session of the box for nest-
ing purposes, and perhaps
they found the letter to be in the way, and ac-
cordingly made an effort to remove it. In the
spring of the previous year a pair of tomtits built
Letler-box taken possession of
266 THE KOYAL MAIL.
their nest in this letter-box (possibly the same pair),
and reared a brood of young, though letters were
being dropped into the box every day.
A very similar circumstance occurred in the same
season at a place near Lockerbie, where a letter-box
is affixed to the trunk of a tree bordering on the
main road, for the convenience of the people living
at Daltonhook farm, which occupies a site some
distance from the highway. The letter-box is
about fifteen inches square, with the usual slit to
admit of letters being dropped in, and a door to the
front the full size of the box, to allow the postman
to clear it or to place larger packets within. A pair
of tomtits, considering the box an eligible place for
bringing up a family, built their nest in it, obtaining
ingress and egress by the letter-slit, and choosing
that portion of the interior farthest from the door
for their purpose. In contrast to the ruthlessness
and cruelty of many who show no love to God's
creatures unless they contribute in some way to their
comfort or profit, the post-runner and the family
who use the box, in a kind-hearted way took every
care to disturb these objects of interest as little as
possible, and in due time the nest was complete, and
eight tiny eggs were deposited therein. While the
female was sitting on the eggs during the term of
incubation, she did not rise from the nest when the
HOW LETTEES AKE LOST. 267
post-runner opened the door, but would make a
peculiar noise and peck at his hand as he put it
forward to take out or deposit letters. But after a
time the two became more friendly, and kindness on
the one side begetting confidence on the other, the
bird at length became so familiar, that while it con-
tinued to sit on the nest it would peck crumbs from
the man's hand, instead of showing displeasure, as it
formerly had done. At length seven young birds
became the joy of the parents. These, however, did
not find the box altogether free from drawbacks ; for
letters, in being deposited through the slit, some-
times fell on the top of the youngsters, and so ex-
cited the wrath of the old birds. This was proved
on one occasion when a servant dropped a letter
into the box, for when the post-runner next visited
the receptacle, he found the letter so mutilated, either
through sheer rage on the part of the tomtits, or in
their endeavours to eject it by the slit, that he took
it back to the farmhouse rather than send it for-
ward in its badly damaged state. However, the
brood at length got through the troubles of their
infantile days ; and we may indulge the hope that
they have since lived to join in the antiphonies of
the grove, or to adorn the roadside spray with their
neat figures and glowing colours.
It may be added that these little birds are very
268 THE KOYAL MAIL.
eccentric in the choice of their nesting-places. In
one case they selected the inside of a weathercock
on the top of a steeple for their breeding-place, and
in another the interior of a beehive in full work.
Here they set up house and reared their young,
neither injuring the bees, nor being molested by them
" A gentleman at Archerstown, county Westmeath,
complained of a letter, containing half bank-notes
and post-bills amounting to 400, addressed to
Dublin, not having come to hand; but when the
matter came to be fully examined, it was ascertained
that the letter was in a drawer in the house of the
very person to whom it had been directed, but by
whom it had been entirely overlooked."
A banker residing in a country town in Scotland
reported that a letter containing two 20 notes and
two 1 notes, addressed to him by another banker, and
posted at a town ten miles distant, had not come to
hand. On inquiry, the sender could not state either
the numbers or the dates of the notes. He had,
moreover, allowed upwards of two months to elapse
before taking any steps to ascertain whether his
letter had reached its destination. "As this valuable
letter had been posted without the precaution of
registration, and had the words ' county rates ' on
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST. 269
the envelope, it was supposed to have excited the
cupidity of some one connected with one or other
of the two post - offices concerned, and an officer
was immediately despatched to investigate the case.
The complainant reiterated the statement that the
letter had not reached him ; but within half an hour
of the officer's departure, an inmate of the house
having made a fresh search, found the letter among
some papers in a press, where it had apparently been
placed unopened when received."
" A bank agent sent a letter containing valuable
enclosures to another bank agent. The letter was
presumed to have been lost by the Post-office; but
no trace of it could be obtained there, and the ap-
plicant was informed accordingly. It subsequently
appeared that the son of the person to whom the
letter had been addressed had called at the Post-
office and received the letter, and that he had after-
wards left the town for the holidays, carrying the
letter away with him in his pocket, where it had
"A letter supposed to contain a 10 note was
registered at Moffat, and in due course delivered
to the addressee, who, however, declined to sign a
receipt for it, as the 10 note was missing. The
sender was written to, but he asserted that the note
270 THE ROYAL MAIL.
had been enclosed. The postmaster chiefly con-
cerned (who had been more than fifty years in the
service) was greatly distressed at the doubt thus cast
upon his honesty ; but on further inquiry, the sender
admitted that he had obtained a trace of the 10
note, and stated that the fault had not been with
the Post-office. On being pressed for fuller informa-
tion, he stated that when writing his letter he had
placed the 10 note in an envelope and affixed a post-
age-stamp thereon, when a lady came hurriedly into
his shop, also to write a letter, and he had assisted
her by getting an envelope and placing a postage-
stamp on it ; that he had placed this envelope be-
side that which contained the bank-note ; and that
when the lady had finished her letter, he gave her
by mistake the envelope with the 10 note in it,
and put his own letter into the empty envelope.
He had carried the two letters to the Post-office ;
and his own, which he supposed contained the 10,
he had registered. Both letters were safely de-
livered; and the 10 having been returned as
evidently sent in error, the lady who had forwarded
it brought it to the complainant, and thus the mystery
was cleared up."
During a snowstorm which occurred a year or
two ago, a London firm put up for posting, among
others, a letter to a Glasgow firm containing a
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST. 271
cheque for a sum little short of 1000. The
cheque not reaching its destination in due course,
payment was stopped at the bank, and notwithstand-
ing that every inquiry was made, nothing was heard
of the letter at the time. Eventually, however,
the cheque was brought to the firm who had drawn
it, together with the letter, by a police inspector,
who had found the letter adhering to a block of ice
floating in the Thames off Deptford. The supposition
is, that when the letters of the day were being car-
ried to the Lombard Street Post-office, this letter
was dropped in the street, that it was carted off in
the snow to the Thames, and there, after a week's
immersion in the river, got affixed to the block of
ice, as already stated.
On the 27th February 1885, a medical gentleman
residing at Eichmond, Surrey, when going his usual
round of visits, found on the carriage floor two
letters, one addressed to a person in Edinburgh, the
other to a lady residing near Castle Douglas. The
letters had been duly prepared for the post, each
bearing an undefaced postage-stamp, but nothing in
their appearance indicated that they had ever been
posted. The finder was at first puzzled at the
discovery, but on reflection, he remembered hav-
ing a few minutes previously opened a large news-
paper, the ' Queen,' which had reached him from
272 THE ROYAL MAIL.
Edinburgh two or three days before, but had till
then remained unopened in his carriage. It occurred
to him that the letters might have come concealed
within the folds of the newspaper, and he was good
enough to forward a note with each to the persons
addressed, explaining the circumstances under which
he had found them. Subsequent investigation by the
Post-office brought to light the fact that one of the
two letters, and the copy of the ' Queen ' from which
they were supposed to have dropped, had been deposit-
ed in different pillar-boxes in Edinburgh, but in the
same collector's district ; and there can be no doubt
that this letter, and probably also the other letter, were
shaken inside the folds of the newspaper during their
conveyance to the head-office in the collector's bag.
In one of the notes which the doctor sent with the
letters, he made this remark : " I cannot help feeling
that the postal authorities and the public should both
have their eyes opened to what a serious danger such
a letter-trap as a large newspaper might prove." He
omitted to add, however, that the sender of the
' Queen ' had tied it up very carelessly without a
wrapper, and in a way that could hardly fail to
render it a dangerous travelling companion for letters.
Had the letters fallen into dishonest hands, their
loss would certainly have been attributed to the
Post-office, and the case is one which aptly illus-
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST. 273
trates a means by which letters sometimes get out
of their proper course, or are lost altogether.
A firm of solicitors in Leith wrote a letter to a
client in the same town, enclosing a cheque for 102 ;
and this letter, although it was alleged to have been
duly posted, failed to reach the person for whom it
was intended. The usual inquiries were made, but
unsuccessfully, no trace being discovered of the letter.
Some days afterwards the firm received the letter
and cheque, minus the envelope, from a farmer near
Tranent, in one of whose fields a ploughman had
picked them up. This man was engaged spread-
ing town-refuse upon the field when he found the
letter, which he opened, and thereupon threw away
the cover. For the purposes of investigation, it
was very essential that this should be produced ;
but it happened that meanwhile the field had been
gone over with a grubbing machine, and the chances
of the recovery of the discarded envelope were thereby
greatly lessened. The ploughman's son was set to
work, however, to make a search, and after toiling a
whole day, he found the envelope. On examination,
it was seen that the postage-stamp affixed was still
undefaced, and the envelope bore nothing to show
that it had ever been in the Post-office. The whole
circumstances left no doubt that the letter had either
got into the waste-paper basket of the senders, or had
274 THE ROYAL MAIL.
been dropped on the way to the Post-office, and that
it had been carried ten miles into the country amongst
street rubbish, with which, as manure, the farm in
question was supplied from the town of Leith.
A registered letter posted at Newcastle, and ad-
dressed to a banker in Edinburgh, not having reached
the addressee's hands, a telegram was forwarded to
the sender intimating the fact, and requesting ex-
planation of the failure. The banker supposed that
the letter had been lost or purloined in the Post-
office ; but it was afterwards proved to have been
duly delivered to the bank porter, who, having locked
it up in his desk, had quite forgotten it.
A lady residing in Jersey applied to the Post-
office respecting a letter which had been sent by her
to a clergyman at Oxford. Inquiry was made for
it at all the offices through which it would pass, but
unsuccessfully, no trace whatever of it being found.
Subsequently the clergyman informed the secretary
of the Post-office that he had found the letter be-
tween the cushions of his own arm-chair, where it
had been placed, no doubt, at the time of delivery.
" A person complained of delay in the receipt of
a letter which appeared to have passed through the
Post-office twice. It transpired that the letter had,
in the first instance, been duly delivered at a shop,
where it was to remain till called for, but that it
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST. 275
had accidentally been taken away with some music
by a customer, who had afterwards dropped it in the
street. Subsequently the letter must have been
picked up and again posted, and hence its double
passage through the Post-office."
"A barrister complained of the non-delivery of a
letter containing the halves of two 10 Bank of
England notes, stating that he had posted the letter
himself; but he shortly afterwards wrote to say
that the letter had reached its destination. It ap-
peared that instead of putting it into the letter-box,
he had dropped the letter in the street, where, for-
tunately, it was picked up by some honest person,
who posted it."
A business firm having frequently failed to receive
letters which had been addressed to them, made
complaint on the subject from time to time ; but
the inquiries which were instituted resulted in
nothing. After much trouble, however, it was at
length discovered that a defect existed in the letter-
box in the firm's office-door, and fifteen letters were
found lodged between the box and the door, some of
which had been in that situation more than nine
A letter said to contain a cheque for 12, 4s.,
addressed to a London firm, not having reached its
destination, inquiries were made with respect to it.
276 THE ROYAL MAIL.
At the end of three months it turned up at a papier-
mdchd factory, whither it had, no doubt, been carried
among waste-paper from the office at which it had
In 1883, a registered letter sent from Dunkeld
on a given date was duly received in Edinburgh,
and delivered at its address, which was a bank, the
postman obtaining a signature to the receipt-form in
the usual way. Some little time afterwards com-
plaint was made by the manager of the bank that the
letter had not been received ; but the Post-office was
able to prove the contrary by the receipt, the signa-
ture to which, on being submitted to the manager,
was acknowledged to be that of the wife of the house-
keeper of the establishment. Yet this person could
give no account of the letter, nor had any one else
seen it; and as the letter was stated to have con-
tained four 1 notes and a bank deposit-book, the fact
of its disappearance gave rise to a state of things which
can be better imagined than described. The Post-
office, in the circumstances, offered the suggestion
that the bank's waste - paper should be carefully
examined. As it happened, however, a quantity
of this material had just been cleared out, having
been purchased by a waste-paper dealer ; and the
fact made the chances of recovery in that direction
all the more remote. Yet the housekeeper was set
HOW LETTEES ARE LOST. 277
to work : he traced the bags first to the store of
the dealer, then to the premises of a waste-paper
merchant in another part of the city. With assist-
ance he carefully examined the contents of the
bags filled at the bank, and his efforts were re-
warded by the discovery of the registered letter,
which was in precisely the same state as when
delivered, never having been opened. It had very
likely fallen from a desk in the bank on to the
floor, and by a careless person been brushed aside
with used envelopes and scraps of paper, thus
finding its way into the waste-paper basket.
In April 1873, a letter was posted in a certain
village in Ayrshire, addressed by a wife to her
husband, who was in command of a vessel bound
for New York. The letter was properly directed
to the captain by name, it bore the name of his
ship, and was addressed to the care of the British
Consul, New York. The captain never received
the letter, and this circumstance gave rise, upon
his return from sea, to what is described as a
" feud " between him and his wife, he, reposing
perhaps greater faith in the Post-office than in
the dutiful attentions of his wife, believing that
his better-half had not written to him, since he
failed to receive the letter on application at its
place of address in New York. Time, with its
278 THE ROYAL MAIL.
incessant changes, hopes, fears, joys, and disap-
pointments, winged its hurried flight for a period
of eleven years ere the matter which had caused
the feud came to be fully understood. At the end
of that time the same letter was returned to the
writer through the Dead - letter Office, having (ac-
cording to the stamp upon it) been unclaimed at
New York. It was stated that the return of the
letter had " put all to rights " between the couple
concerned, though it is to be hoped that the healing
hand of Time had already done much in this direc-
tion, and that the return of the long-lost letter did
nothing more than put the finishing touch to re-
stored confidence. In connection with this matter,
it was afterwards ascertained that the letter was
one of over 4000 similar letters returned to the
New York Post-office from the offices of the British
Consul in that city, upon a new appointment being
made to the Consulate, the " new broom," as one of
his first acts, having made a clean sweep of this
accumulation of letters, some of which had been
lying there no less than seventeen years. How
far the failure of these letters to reach the persons
addressed was due to their not having been called
for, or to the negligence of clerks at the Consulate,
is not known, nor will it ever be ascertained
what heart-burnings and misery may have been
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST. 279
occasioned by this wholesale miscarriage of cor-
In March 1880, a letter plainly addressed to an
individual by name, and bearing the name and
number of a street in a certain district of London,
reached the Dead-letter Office, whither it had been
sent by the postman of the district, owing to the
person to whom it was directed not being known
at the address given. When opened, with a view
to its return to the writer, the letter was discovered
to contain a Bank of England note for 100, to-
gether with a short memorandum suggesting the
return of the note to some person, but in such
vague and general terms that no one who had not
had previous information on the subject could have
fully understood the purport of the message.
The memorandum was, moreover, without head
or tail it had no superscription to indicate whence
it had come, nor had it a signature to show by
whom it had been written. The circumstance being
one of an exceptional character, special steps were
taken with a view to trace the owner, and an adver-
tisement was inserted in several of the metropolitan
newspapers bringing up, it is true, a responsive
crop of claimants for lost notes, but without elicit-
ing any such claims as would warrant the surrender
of the note in question. From the terms of the
280 THE KOYAL MAIL.
memorandum in the letter, and the fact that it
was anonymous, the suggestion readily arose that
whoever had had the note last had not come by
it in the regular way of business ; and this idea was
strengthened by the discovery that the note had
been paid over by a bank about eight years pre-
viously to a person whose name and address were
endorsed upon it ; and from that period the note
had evidently not been in circulation. It was
thought probable that the endorser had lost the
note in some way shortly after receiving it, and
that coming into the hands of some individual who
feared to put it in circulation, it had been kept up
during these eight years. Meanwhile the right to
receive the note not having been established by any
one, the amount was paid in to the Eevenue.
In the Postmaster - General's report for 1881,
further mention was made of the finding of the note
in the Dead-letter Office, and several claims again
reached headquarters, one of which proved to be
so far good, that, when the facts had been fully
investigated, the amount was paid over to the
It appeared that the person whose name was
endorsed on the note received it in part payment of
a cheque cashed^ by him in 18*72, when he was
bought out of the business in which he had till
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST. 281
then been a partner. Two years afterwards viz.,
in 1874 he died, and his widow was unaware at
the time that the note had been lost. From cir-
cumstances which this lady was able to prove, how-
ever, there seemed to be every reason to believe
that her husband (whose practice it was to endorse
notes when he received them) had by some means
lost the note, or that it had been carelessly left by
him in some old book or other papers which were
sold as waste-paper after her husband's death ; and
thus the Post-office was made the means of restor-
ing a considerable sum of money to the rightful
owner, while the person who had without title pos-
sessed it in the interval dared not claim it.
" A letter said to have been posted by a person
at Fochabers, enclosing a letter of credit for 50,
was supposed to have been appropriated by an
officer of the Post-office ; but on inquiry, it was
ascertained that, instead of posting the letter him-
self, as he asserted, the writer had intrusted it to a
servant, who had destroyed the letter, and had at-
tempted to negotiate the order."
" A person complained repeatedly of letters ad-
dressed to him having been intercepted and tampered
with, and of drafts having been stolen from them
and negotiated. There being ground to suspect that
the thief was in the complainant's own office, he
282 THE ROYAL MAIL.
reluctantly consented to test the honesty of his
clerks ; and the result showed that one of them was
the guilty party, the man being subsequently tried
and convicted. The thefts had been committed by
means of a duplicate key, which gave the clerk
access to the letter-box."
" Several complaints were made of the non-delivery
of letters addressed to the editor of a newspaper ;
but this gentleman afterwards intimated that he
had discovered that the delinquent was his own
errand-boy, who confessed to having pilfered his
" A similar case occurred at Komsey, where, on an
investigation by the surveyor, it was discovered that
the applicant's errand-boy had abstracted the letters
from his private bag, which it was found could be
done even when the bag was locked."
" Application was made respecting a letter contain-
ing a cheque for 79, 12s. lid., which had been
presented and cashed. The letter had not been
registered, and no trace of it could be discovered.
The applicants, however, ultimately withdrew their
complaint against the Post-office, stating their belief
that the missing letter had not been posted, but
had been stolen by one of their clerks, who had
"A merchant sent his errand-boy to post a letter,
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST. 283
and to purchase a stamp to put upon it. The letter
contained negotiable bills amounting to 1200 ;
and as the merchant did not receive an acknowledg-
ment from his correspondent, he cast the blame on
the Post-office. An inquiry followed, which resulted
in showing that the errand-boy had met another boy
on a similar mission, who undertook to post the
letter in question. On further reflection, however,
the latter resolved to convert the penny intended for
a postage-stamp into sweetmeats, which he did, and
then destroyed the letter with its contents, carrying
the fragments into a field near the Post-office, where
they were found hidden."
A sailor applied for a missing letter containing a
money-order for 30s., which he said had been sent,
but had not reached him ; but when he found that
the matter was under strict investigation, he con-
fessed that the money had been paid to him, and
that he had denied having received it, in order to
excuse himself from not paying a debt to the person
with whom he lodged.
" A person having applied for a missing letter, said
to contain two 10 and one 5 Bank of England
notes, and which he stated had been sent to him by
his father, it appeared on inquiry that no such let-
ter had been written; and he afterwards confessed
that his object in asking for the letter was a device
284 THE EOYAL MAIL.
to keep in abeyance a pecuniary demand upon him
by his landlady."
Some years ago a person complained that twelve
sovereigns had been abstracted from a letter received
by him while it was in transit through the post, but
he was told in reply that the envelope bore evidence
that it had not contained coin to that amount.
This person then communicated with the sender of
the letter, who persisted in declaring that she had
put therein the amount stated. At this stage of the
inquiry an officer was despatched to investigate the
matter ; and upon his requiring the woman who had
sent the envelope to accompany him before a magis-
trate to attest the truth of her statement upon oath,
she confessed that the statement was false, and ex-
plained her conduct by saying that she had promised
to lend the person to whom the envelope had been
addressed 12, but that she had been unwilling to
do so, as she felt sure that she should never get
her money back again ; and that she determined,
therefore, to keep her money, and throw the blame
on the Post-office.
"A bank in Glasgow some years ago complained
that a letter had been delivered there without its
contents halves of bank-notes for 75 ; and on a
strict investigation, it appeared that the letter had
been intrusted to a boy to post, who confessed that,
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST. 285
being aware the letter contained money, and finding
that the wafer with which it was fastened was wet,
he had been tempted to steal the contents, which at
the time he believed to be whole notes ; but who
added that when, on afterwards examining them, he
found them to be halves only, he enclosed them in
an unfastened sheet of paper, which he directed ac-
cording, as he believed, to the address of the letter
from which he had taken them. The halves of the
notes and sheet of paper were subsequently dis-
covered in the Glasgow Post-office, the address on
the paper being, however, very different from that of
the letter in which the notes had been enclosed."
" Complaint was made that a letter containing the
halves of Bank of England notes for 65, sent to a
firm in Liverpool, had failed to reach its destination.
On inquiry, it appeared that the letter had been duly
delivered, and subsequently stolen by a well-known
thief, who had the audacity to go and claim the cor-
responding half -notes from another firm in Liverpool,
to whose care the stolen letter showed they had been
sent by the same post ; and in this object the
An unregistered letter containing a 10 Bank of
England note, posted at Macclesfield and addressed
to Manchester, was stated not to have reached its
destination. Full inquiry was made, but the letter
286 THE EOYAL MAIL.
could not be found. Subsequently, however, the
note was presented at the Bank of England, and on
being traced, it was discovered that the letter had
been stolen after its delivery.
" A letter containing two 5 Bank of England notes
was stated to have been posted at Leeds, addressed to
a lady at Leamington, without reaching its destina-
tion ; but the inquiry that was instituted by the
Post-office caused the sender to withdraw his com-
plaint, and to prefer against the clerk whom he had
intrusted with the letter, a charge of having purloined
it before it reached the Post-office."
" The secretary of a charitable institution in London
gave directions for posting a large number of ' elec-
tion papers,' and supposed that these directions had
been duly acted upon. Shortly, however, he re-
ceived complaints of the non-receipt of many of the
papers, and in other cases of delay. He at once
made a complaint at the Post-office; but, on examin-
ation, circumstances soon came to light which cast
suspicion on the person employed to post the notices,
although this man had been many years in the service
of the society, and was supposed to be of strict integ-
rity. Ultimately, the man confessed that lie had em-
bezzled the postage, amounting to 3, 1 5s. 6d., and had
endeavoured to deliver the election papers himself."
" Complaint having been made by a dealer in for-
HOW LETTEKS AKE LOST. 287
eign postage -stamps that several letters containing
such stamps had not reached him, a careful investi-
gation was made, but for some time without any re-
sult. The letters should have been dropped by the
letter-carrier into the addressee's letter-box ; but to
this box no one, the dealer asserted, had access but
himself. Some time afterwards, however, a cover
addressed to the complainant was picked up in the
street, and on inquiry being made whether the letter
to which it belonged had been delivered, the com-
plainant stated that it had not. But it so happened
that the letter - carrier had a clear recollection of
dropping this letter into the letter-box, and, moreover,
remembered to have observed a young girl who was
at the window move, as he thought, towards the box.
This led to the girl being closely questioned, when
she admitted the theft, confessing also that she had
committed other similar thefts previously. Thus, by
a mere chance, a suspicion which had been cast on
the Post-office was dispelled."
" The publisher of one of the London papers com-
plained of the repeated loss in the Post-office of
copies of his journal addressed to persons abroad.
An investigation showed that the abstraction was
made by the publisher's clerk, his object apparently
being to appropriate the stamps required to defray
the foreign postage. In another case a general com-
288 THE ROYAL MAIL.
plaint having arisen as to the loss of newspapers sent
to the chief office in St Martin's-le-Grand, inquiry
led to the discovery of a regular mart held near the
office, and supplied with newspapers by the private
messengers employed to convey them to the post.
On another occasion a man was detected in the act
of robbing a news-vendor's cart, by volunteering on
its arrival at the General Post-office to assist the
driver in posting the newspapers : instead of doing
so, he walked through the hall with those intrusted
to him, and, upon his being stopped, three quires of
a weekly paper were found in his possession."
In the spring of 1855, a young lady, fifteen years
of age, whose parents resided in a small English
town, which shall be nameless, was sent to a board-
ing-school at some distance therefrom to pursue her
education. The mother of the young lady was in a
delicate state of health, and, as was most proper in
the circumstances, letters were written from time to
time and forwarded to the daughter at school, giving
particulars of her mother's progress. So far this is
all plain and straightforward. The young lady, how-
ever, one day declared that though on a particular
date mentioned by her she had written home to
inquire how her mother was, that letter had not been
delivered ; and, that on the second day thereafter a
brown-paper parcel was placed in a very mysterious
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST. 289
manner in the hall of the house where she was at
school. In this parcel was found a letter for the
young lady intimating her mother's death, and ex-
plaining that the parcel had been brought by a
friend thus accounting for the absence from it of
all post-marks. Other circumstances were related
by the girl that she had seen a man galloping along
the road, and that he had left the parcel in question.
Two days after this event, a letter was posted from
her parents' residence to inform the young lady that
her mother was much better ; but when the letter
arrived and was opened, she produced another letter
requiring her immediate return, in order to attend
her mother's funeral. The case was very puzzling,
and naturally excited great interest, the more so, as
some suspicion arose that a conspiracy existed to
carry off the young lady, in which some person in
the Post-office was aiding and abetting. The matter
formed the subject of two separate investigations,
ending in failure, and the mystery still remained. It
was only after a third attempt at elucidation when
an officer specially skilled in prosecuting inquiries of a
difficult kind had visited the school that the truth
began to appear. This officer reported that, in his
opinion, the whole proceedings were but a plot of a
schoolgirl to get home ; and the young lady after~
wards confessed this to be the case.
290 THE ROYAL MAIL.
It is not probable that the petty fraud of again
using stamps which have already passed through the
post is perpetrated with any great frequency upon
the Post-office. Still, cases no doubt do occur, and
may at any time lead to criminal proceedings, like
those which took place at Hull some years ago. A
person in that town having posted a letter with an
old stamp affixed, the stamper who had to deface
the stamp in the usual way, detected the irregu-
larity, and brought the matter under notice. Pro-
ceedings were taken against the offender, and the
case being established against him, and the fact
being stated that this person had previously been
warned by the Post-office against committing like
frauds, he was mulcted in a fine of 5 and costs,
with the alternative punishment of three months'
The accidents and misfortunes which are the lot
of letters in this country, seem also to attend post-
letters in their progress through the Post-offices of
other countries. A curious case was noticed some
years ago in the French capital. Some alterations
were being carried out in the General Post-office in
Paris, when there wa& found, in a panel situated
near a letter-box, a letter which had been posted
just fifty years before. There it had remained con-
cealed half a century. The letter was forwarded to
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST. 291
the person whose address it bore, and who, strange
to say, was still alive ; but the writer, it transpired,
had been dead many years.
On one occasion notice was given to the Post-
office by a clergyman residing in a country town in
the south of England, that a packet sent by him
containing a watch had been tampered with in the
post, the packet having reached the person ad-
dressed, not with the watch that had been de-
spatched, but containing a stone, which, it was
alleged, must have been substituted in course of
transit. As is usual in cases of this kind, very
particular inquiries were necessary to establish
whether the Post-office was really in fault, because
experience has shown that very often obloquy is
laid upon the Department which ought to rest else-
where; and accordingly, a shrewd and practised officer
in such matters was sent to the town in question to
make investigations. Arrived at the clergyman's
residence, the officer found that that gentleman was
from home ; but introducing himself to the sender's
wife, he explained his mission, and in a general way
learned from her what she was able to communicate
with regard to the violated packet. While the in-
terview was thus proceeding, the officer, with profes-
sional habit, made the best use of his eyes, which,
lighting upon a rough causeway of small stones
292 THE ROYAL MAIL.
somewhere on the premises, afforded him a hint,
if not as yet a suspicion, as to the locality of the
fraud. In fact, he remarked a striking resemblance
between the stone which had been received in the
packet and the stones forming the causeway. In
the most delicate way he insinuated the inquiry
whether the lady might not possibly entertain some
shadow, of a suspicion of her own servants.
" Oh dear, no," was the reply ; " they are all most
respectable, and have the highest characters."
The lady had the utmost confidence in them, and
to admit such a thought was to do them grave in-
justice. The officer was not to be satisfied with
such an assurance, however, and by using tact and
patience he brought the lady to see that, if there
was no dishonesty with her own servants, they
would come safely out of the inquiry, and it might
be well to allow him to question them. It was
further permitted, after some objection on the
lady's part and persuasion on that of the officer,
that the latter should ask each of the servants
separately whether they would allow their boxes to
be examined. If they had nothing to conceal, the
ordeal could not, of course, hurt them. The female
servants were called up one by one and closely
questioned, and on the proposed examination of the
boxes being suggested, the girls at once assented.
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST. 293
This was so far satisfactory, but there was still the
butler to deal with. In due turn the presence of
this household ornament was summoned to the
room, when, up to a certain point, everything went
well ; but it being put to him to have his boxes
searched, injured virtue cried out, and indignation
and scorn were vented upon the obtrusive inquirer.
The officer had, however, gained a point, for he was
now in a position to say that if the butler con-
tinued to object, the suspicion would arise that he
might possibly be the culprit, and it might even be
concluded that he and not the Post-office ought to
account for the watch. At length the man-servant
gave way, and he and the officer proceeded to the
butler's quarters. Upon the trunk being opened, the
first thing to attract notice was three bottles of wine.
" Holloa ! " says the officer, " what have we here ?
A strange wine-cellar this ! "
" Oh," observed the butler, " these are three bottles
of ginger- wine which were given me by my father, a
grocer in the town."
" Indeed ! " says the officer, who had meanwhile
been noting the colour as he held a bottle between
himself and the light ; " it looks a queer colour for
ginger - wine. You won't mind letting me taste
your wine, will you ? "
Overborne by the assurance of the officer perhaps,
294 THE EOYAL MAIL.
or thinking him quite chatty and chummy, a cork
was withdrawn, and the officer was sipping capital
old crusted port. The wine was pronounced very
good, but the missing watch was not forthcoming.
The scene of inquiry was now changed. The
officer proceeded to the shop of the grocer, made
some trifling purchase, put on his most affable
ways, and he soon had the grocer talking, first on
general topics, then on personal matters, and at
last on the theme of his own family.
" How many have you ? " says the officer.
" So-and-so," responds the grocer.
"All doing for themselves by this time, I sup-
pose ? " continues the officer.
This flung the door open for a full statement of
the position of the family, which was given without
reserve, as if to an old friend, until the butler with
the clergyman was mentioned, when the officer inter-
rupted him with the remark
"Ah, to be sure ; I know something of him. That
was capital ginger-wine you gave him lately."
" Ginger- wine ! " quoth the grocer ; " I never had
wine in my house in my life, and I certainly never
gave my son any."
This was enough for the officer, who remarked
that there might be a mistake ; and soon thereafter
he found means to bring the conversation to a close.
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST. 295
Eeturning immediately to the clergyman's house,
he again saw the lady, and told her what had occur-
red. He made bold to say, moreover, that her butler
was a thief, that he was stealing her husband's
wine, that he in all probability had made away with
the watch, and that she ought to give him into
custody, and to prosecute him. At this point the
butler was called in, and in presence of his mistress
plainly taxed with the theft of the wine. Finding it
useless to stand out, he confessed that he had taken
it, but protested that he had not stolen the watch.
The lady, however, had no longer any doubt in
the matter ; and deeply distressed at finding how
greatly she had been deceived in her estimate of
his character for integrity, exclaimed " Oh John !
to think that after all the pains your master and I
have taken to make you a good man, you should
have done this wicked thing ! Oh John, John ! "
The officer saw that in the lady's view all sus-
picion was removed from the Post-office, and pre-
pared to leave ; but feeling anxious about the lady
in the absence of her husband, said he should go
to the police station and fetch a couple of constables
to attend to the matter. On this hint the butler
became greatly excited and alarmed, and earnestly
begged that only one policeman might be sent.
" Oh no," said the officer, " you are a big man,
296 THE ROYAL MAIL.
and we must have two ; " and beckoning Mrs
to leave the room, he turned the key in the door,
and went for the police.
During his absence, the household was in a state
of wild excitement, the lady of the house being in
a high state of nervousness, while below-stairs the
servants were in no better condition. Meanwhile
one of the females, either through sympathy for
the idol of the kitchen, or in pursuance of womanly
curiosity, which is not less likely, sought the vantage-
ground of a water-butt at the rear of the premises, in
order to make a reconnaissance through the window,
and ascertain how the butler was comporting himself
in the new and extraordinary situation where he was.
But one glance into the room was enough ; she sprang
to the ground, and ran to her mistress screaming
that John was cutting his throat. Sure enough he
had been engaged in this operation, using a pocket-
knife for the purpose ; and the officers of justice, on
opening the door, found him streaming with blood
from the self-inflicted wound.
At this juncture the Post-office official left the
matter to be dealt with by the clergyman as he
might see fit. He felt sufficient interest in the case,
however, to make inquiry subsequently as to the fate
of the culprit, and learnt that he had recovered from
his injury ; that his kind master and mistress had
HOW LETTEES ARE LOST. 297
forgiven him ; and although they did not receive
him back into their service, they helped him in
other ways, and were assiduous in their endeavours
to keep him in the paths of rectitude and honesty.
The following anecdote, borrowed from a French
source, 1 will illustrate how serious the consequences
may be when letters are not clearly and intelligibly
addressed, and by what slight accidents such missives
sometimes go far from their right course.
About the year 1837 there was garrisoned at a
small town in the Department of the Pas-de-Calais
an honest soldier named Goraud, who had served
with the colours a term of seven years. Though he
had conducted himself well, and was favourably
thought of by his superiors, he had never been able
to rise above the grade of full private. He liked
his profession, but being unable either to read or
write, the avenues to promotion remained closed
Goraud came from an obscure village in Prov-
ence, where his poor old mother, a woman of over
sixty, lived, and where also resided a married
brother, younger than himself, who was surrounded
by a rising family of children. The soldier re-
ceived from time to time letters from his mother,
which, on being read to him, affected him deeply,
1 La Poste Anecdotique et Pittoresque. Par Pierre Zaccone.
298 THE KOYAL MAIL.
sometimes even to tears. There were, besides, other
friends in his native place of whom he entertained
kindly recollections, and with whom he kept up inter-
course through his family ; especially a young woman
towards whom he had formerly had very tender feel-
ings, which, though not now so strong, time and
distance had not as yet effaced.
Becoming home-sick, and having no bright pros-
pect before him in the army, Goraud yearned to
be set free, so that he might spend the rest of his
days " in the midst of those he so much loved," as
is expressed on the tomb of the great Napoleon.
He had already, as has been before stated, served
seven years ; he had been of good conduct ; and now
he had but to demand his discharge in order to
accomplish his fondest wish.
But just as he was about to make the necessary
request, and to realise the dream which he had been
cherishing, a letter from his brother changed all his
plans. His joy was turned to sorrow. This letter
informed him that his mother was seriously ill, and,
moreover, that some distemper had assailed his
brother's stock, carrying many of them off; in
fact, misery stared in the face those among whom
he had hoped to live happily, and to eke out
the remainder of his days in comfort. The
poor fellow was sadly cast down; the phantom of
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST. 299
pleasure had passed from his view ; he shed bitter
tears of disappointment, and was at his wits' end.
Dejection and irresolution did not, however, last.
He soon regained command of himself, and filial
affection suggested to him the course which he
Next day he proceeded to the office of an agent
whose business it was to procure substitutes for
individuals desirous of avoiding service in the army ;
and in a few days thereafter he engaged to serve his
country for seven years more, receiving in return a
payment down of 1500 francs. It may be guessed
what was the next step taken by the worthy soldier.
He remitted the 1500 francs to his mother, in a
letter directed to the care of his brother ; and at the
same time he intimated that he was to start at once
for Algeria, there to join the new regiment to which
he had been posted.
Three months passed, and as yet no acknowledg-
ment for the money came to hand. This to Goraud,
after the sacrifice he had made, was sadly disap-
pointing ; but he did not at first feel alarmed.
The idea occurred to him that his mother might be
a trifle worse, or that something might have delayed
the reply. He decided to write again. He re-
lated what he had done, explained the cause he had
for uneasiness, and begged that an early answer
300 THE KOYAL MAIL.
might be sent to him. This was not long in com-
ing. It stated that the old mother was again well,
that the brother had had a hard struggle, and
that though he hoped to pull through, it might
prove necessary for him to quit the place. In re-
gard to the alleged remittance, it was briefly added
that no money had been received.
This latter statement created a most painful im-
pression upon the soldier. His brother's letter ap-
peared to breathe a tone which was not usual ; he
imagined that, under the guise of calculated frigidity,
was to be perceived an insinuation that no money had
been sent : and, smarting under the sting of such re-
flections, the blush of offended virtue rose to his cheek.
His feelings ran over the whole gamut of wounded
sentiment. He saw himself an injured man, and
felt deeply hurt; his money had gone unacknow-
ledged, and he became roused to anger ; and then,
revolving the whole circumstances in his mind,
suspicion took possession of him. Eecollecting that
the money-letter had been sent as an ordinary letter
by post, and that the reply had not seemed quite
right, he now suspected that his brother had re-
ceived the remittance, appropriated it to his own use,
and denied the receipt of his letter. In this frame of
mind, he had a communication permed to his brother
full of denunciations and reproaches, and couched in
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST. 301
such terms of violence, that he would not allow the
epistle when written to be read over to him. Next
day he started with a distant expedition on active
Gloomy, cast down, and above all irate, he was
ready to fight with the wind or his own shadow.
In the first brush with the enemy he threw himself
into their midst with fury, and fought desperately for
several hours, as if to provoke the end which he
now longed for. Instead of meeting his death, how-
ever, he gained the hero's prize the cross of honour.
One month previously he would have hailed this dis-
tinction with delight ; now everything was dull and
indifferent to him even glory !
About a year after this event Goraud accompanied
his regiment to Paris. As he was leaving the bar-
racks one day a voice hailed him with the question,
" Is not your name Goraud ? " " Yes, major," was
the soldier's reply. " Very good," says the other,
"here is a letter for you. There are several Gor-
auds in the regiment, and the letter has already
been opened. I see you are wanted at the Dead-
letter Office of the Post-office about some business
which concerns you."
He took the letter, and at once hastened to the
Post-office. There an explanation awaited him of
the miscarriage of his remittance, and the mystery
302 THE ROYAL MAIL.
which had clouded his spirits and embittered his
life for a whole year. The same letter that he had
despatched lay before him with its contents intact.
It had been written and addressed for him by a
comrade in the regiment, the superscription, turned
into English, being something in this form
" To M. Jacques Goraud,
for Widow Goraud,
at La Bastide,
As it happened, the obliging comrade was a poor
scribe, and was without any great experience in
letter-writing, or in the art of addressing letters.
The only word in the direction which had been
plainly written, and stood out in a way to catch the
eye, was the word " Canton." This was the key to
the mystery ; the letter had been sent to China !
At the period in question the sailing-ships con-
veying the mails took about six months to reach that
distant country, and the same time for the return
voyage. The soldier's letter had made the double
journey ; and the blunder being discovered when the
letter came back to France, it was sent to the village
in Provence to which it was really addressed. But
alas ! adversity had overtaken the family in the
old home. They had left the place, and gone no
HOW LETTERS ARE LOST. 303
one knew whither ; and, so far as the Post-office
was concerned, it only remained to return the letter
to the writer through the Dead-letter Office.
The moral of this anecdote is, that letters ought
to be plainly addressed. Some examples of the
rambling style in which addresses are often written
are given in another chapter. It would be a useful
work were the school boards to give some instruc-
tion in this matter to the children under their care.
The copy-books might be headed with specimen
addresses for the purpose, and the teachers could
point out how desirable it is, in addition to plain
writing, that the addresses should be well arranged
the name of the person occupying one line, the
street and number another, and the name of the town
a conspicuous place to the right, in a line by itself.
In this particular "they do things better in France,"
for in that country instruction of the kind in ques-
tion was introduced into the primary schools more
than twenty years ago.
Post-office, in its extensive correspondence
with the public, has often great difficulty in
satisfying what are deemed to be the reasonable
claims and representations of reasonable people ; but
it has also to endeavour to satisfy and persuade
persons who, as shown by the demands made by
them, are not altogether within the category above
mentioned. What would be thought of the follow-
ing appeals made to the Secretary on the subject of
the injury supposed to be done by electricity thrown
off from telegraph wires ?
" SIR, I have been rejoicing in the hope that
when the last telegraph wire was removed I should
be at peace ; but alas for human hopes ! Last
Sunday and Saturday nights, I suppose all the
wires must have been working simultaneously, for
ODD COMPLAINTS. 305
about 2.0 A.M. I was awakened by the most intense
pains in my eyes, and for the two nights I do not
think I had more than six hours sleep that is,
none after 2.0 in the morning. Since then I have
slept from home, and must continue to do so until
either the wires are removed or I leave the house,
which I shall be obliged to do, even though it
remain unoccupied. The wires are carried in a tube
to a pole about 30 yards from my house on the
angle, and I imagine that when they are all working,
and emerge from the* tube, that the electrical matter
thrown off must be very great. Pipes have now
been run up Eoad, where a pillar or pole
might very easily be fixed, and the present one
might be removed 100 yards further off, where it
would electrify nothing but fields. With many
apologies for troubling you again, for, I hope, the
last time, and with many thanks for your kindness
hitherto, I am," &c.
" SIR, I am sorry to be obliged to trouble you
again respecting the wires opposite my house at
. You promised in your favour of that
the wires should be removed within a month from
that date, a great amount of labour having to be
gone through. I was not surprised that six months
were required for their removal instead of one, and
306 THE ROYAL MAIL.
therefore bore patiently with the delay, although
my eyesight, and indeed every one's in the house,
suffered most severely ; but why, when at last eight
were removed, should one be allowed to remain ?
Since the eight have gone, I have been able to sit in
my own house without being in as excruciating pain
as formerly ; but still I am pained, and particularly
between the hours of four and seven in the morning.
If one wire affects me so much, imagine my suffer-
ings when nine were working ! Such being the case,
will you kindly cause the remaining wire either to
be removed or encased in the vulcanised tube, so as
to contract the current. Thanking you for your
kindness hitherto, and hoping you will add this
favour to the rest, I am," &c.
There are some persons who suffer from the delu-
sion that their landladies and the sorters in the Post-
office habitually conspire to keep up, or rob them of,
their letters letters generally which they look for
to bring them money or the right to property. These
people are always giving trouble, and are difficult to
shake off. On one occasion a lady, who was pos-
sessed of a set idea of this kind, called at the General
Post-office in London to state her grievance, which
she did in most fluent terms. Her complaint was
noted for inquiry, and then she went away. An
ODD COMPLAINTS. 307
hour or two after, she returned to ascertain whether
she had left a packet of papers which she had mean-
while missed ; but they could not be found. This
circumstance, she stated, convinced her that she had
been robbed ; and an incident that happened when
she quitted the building in the morning confirmed
her, she stated, in her idea. A man came up to her
and asked if he could show her the way to the Dead-
letter Office. " No, thank you," was the reply ; " I
can find the way myself." She said she knew him
to be a magistrate or a judge : " He had a thick
neck and flat nose, and the bull-dog type of coun-
tenance, and was altogether repulsive-looking." She
felt assured he was watching her, &c.
An aged couple in the south of England moved
about from place to place in order to escape from
persons who were supposed by them to open their
letters. Persecuted, as they imagined, in one town,
they would take lodgings in another town, and very
soon they would suspect the servants of the house
and the officers of the Post-office of obtaining a
knowledge of the nature of their correspondence.
Then they would wait on the postmaster, and
generally go through their chronic grievance. The
postmaster, in turn, would assure them that their
letters were fairly dealt with ; but this did not
satisfy them, and very soon they were off to an-
308 THE EOYAL MAIL.
other town, in the hope of evading their torment-
ors, but in reality to go through the same course
Mr Anthony Trollope has left us, in the account
of his life, a capital specimen of the frivolous and
groundless complaints with which the Post - office
has frequently to deal. His account is as follows :
" A gentleman in county Cavan had complained most
bitterly of the injury done to him by some arrange-
ment of the Post-office. The nature of his grievance
has no present significance ; but it was so unendur-
able that he had written many letters, couched in
the strongest language. He was most irate, and
indulged himself in that scorn which is so easy to
an angry mind. The place was not in my district ;
but I was borrowed, being young and strong, that I
might remember the edge of his personal wrath. It
was mid-winter, and I drove up to his house, a
squire's country seat, in the middle of a snowstorm,
just as it was becoming dark. I was on an open
jaunting-car, and was on my way from one little
town to another, the cause of his complaint having
reference to some mail-conveyance between the two.
I was certainly very cold, and very wet, and very
uncomfortable when I entered his house. I was
admitted by a butler, but the gentleman himself
hurried into the hall. I at once began to explain
ODD COMPLAINTS. 309
my business. ' God bless me ! ' he said, ' you are
wet through. John, get Mr Trollope some brandy-
and-water, very hot.' I was beginning my story
about the post again, when he himself took off my
greatcoat, and suggested that I should go up to my
bedroom before I troubled myself with business.
' Bedroom ! ' I exclaimed. Then he assured me
that he would not turn a dog out on such a night
as that, and into a bedroom I was shown, having
first drank the brandy-and-water standing at the
drawing-room fire. When I came down I was in-
troduced to his daughter, and the three of us went
in to dinner. I shall never forget his righteous
indignation when I again brought up the postal
question, on the departure of the young lady. Was
I such a Goth as to contaminate wine with busi-
ness ? So I drank my wine, and then heard the
young lady sing, while her father slept in his arm-
chair. I spent a very pleasant evening, but my host
was too sleepy to hear anything about the Post-
office that night. It was absolutely necessary that
I should go away the next morning after breakfast,
and I explained that the matter must be discussed
then. He shook his head and wrung his hands in
unmistakable disgust, almost in despair. ' But
what am I to say in my report ? ' I asked. 'Any-
thing you please,' he said. ' Don't spare me, if you
310 THE ROYAL MAIL.
want an excuse for yourself. Here I sit all the day,
with nothing to do ; and I like writing letters.' I
did report that Mr was now quite satisfied
with the postal arrangement of his district ; and I
felt a soft regret that I should have robbed my
friend of his occupation. Perhaps he was able to
take up the Poor - law Board, or to attack the
Excise. At the Post-office nothing more was heard
The Department not only takes much trouble to
investigate cases of irregularity of which definite
particulars can be given, but it has frequently to
enter into correspondence with persons who seem to
have no clear idea of the grounds upon which they
make their complaints. A person having stated
that his newspapers were not delivered regularly,
was requested to answer certain questions on the
subject, and the following is the result :
Title and date of newspaper 1 . . Don't know.
Whether posted within eight days from date
of publication ? . . . . Don't know.
How many papers were there in the packet ? One.
Was each newspaper under 4 oz. in weight ] Don't know.
Where posted, when, and at what hour ? . Don't know.
By whom posted ? . . . . Don't know.
Amount of postage paid, and in what man-
ner paid ? . . . . . Don't know.
ODD COMPLAINTS. 311
The want of information on the part of the
public in regard to postal matters of the most
ordinary kind cannot at times but give rise to
wonder. A person in a fair position of life, re-
siding in one of the eastern counties of England,
having obtained a money-order from his postmaster,
payable at a neighbouring town, called again a few
days afterwards and complained that his correspon-
dent could not obtain payment in consequence of
some irregularity in the advice. Thereupon a second
advice was sent ; but a few days later the sender
called again, stating that the payee was still unable
to obtain payment. The sender added that he was
quite sure that he had sent the money, as he had
the receipt in his pocket. On being asked to
show it, he produced the original order, which
should, of course, have been forwarded to the payee,
and without which the money could not be obtained.
A similar instance of ignorance of the method
of business as earned on by the Post-office was
exhibited by a poor Irishman in London, and is
thus described in the ' Life of Sir Eowland Hill ' :
" The belief has more than once been manifested
at a money-order-office window that the mere pay-
ment of the commission would be sufficient to
procure an order for 5, the form of paying in
the 5 being deemed purely optional. An Irish
312 THE ROYAL MAIL.
gentleman (who had left his hod at the door)
recently applied in Aldersgate Street for an order
for 5 on a Tipperary post-office, for which he
tendered (probably congratulating himself on having
hit upon so good an investment) sixpence. It re
quired a lengthened argument to prove to him that
he would have to pay the 5 into the office before
his friend could receive that small amount in Tip-
perary ; and he went away, after all, evidently con-
vinced that his not having this order was one of
the personal wrongs of Ireland, and one of the
particular injustices done to hereditary bondsmen
CURIOUS LETTERS ADDRESSED TO THE POST-OFFICE.
THE fountain-head of the Post-office establishment
of this country, whose personal embodiment is
the Postmaster-General, possesses very ample means
for the collection of information of various kinds
through its willing and trusty agents, to be found
in every corner of the empire ; and this idea seems
to be entertained as well by individuals abroad as
by our neighbours at home, who, when they fail to
ascertain what they want by other means, frequently
fall back upon the Postmaster-General for assistance
and guidance the Post-office being pre-eminently
a people's institution, whose head even no poor
man need fear to approach at any rate by letter.
It is a common expression to say that a thing can-
not be done for love or money ; but while the
Postmaster -General is addressed by inquirers on
every variety of subject, it will be found that love
and money are at the bottom of many of the com-
314 THE ROYAL MAIL.
munications addressed to him not strictly upon the
business of his Department. In the following para-
graphs will be found specimens of such letters
some entreating him to render assistance in tracing
missing relatives, some asking help in the recovery
of fortunes supposed to have been left to the writers,
others begging him to obtain situations for them, and
the like ; but the letters generally explain themselves.
The Dead-letter Office must occasionally be sup-
posed to be a repository for the human dead, as
inquiries for deceased persons are sometimes ad-
dressed to the " Dead Office." Thus :
"We heard in the paper about 12 or 14 months
back Mary Ann the servant girl at London
was dead. Please send it to the Printer's office by
return of post whether their was a small fortune
left for ."
" i Beg of you to let me if you do no something
about a young sailor, his name Hugh . he is
away now since 4 or 5 years, i hope gentlemen
you will let me no if he is dead or alive as i am
anxious to no as it is a deal of trouble on my mind
as he is a Boy that i have reared up without father
an mother an he a deal of trouble on my mind, he
has a dark eyes an Brown hair, looking pael. please
gentlemen to let me no if you can by return."
CURIOUS LETTERS ADDRESSED TO THE POST-OFFICE. 315
" i rite a Line two see if you hard Enny thing
of my husband that was left at ill.
pleese will you rite back by return of post as we
are in great trobble."
" I have just been hearing of 3 men that was
drowned about 9 months ago. i hear there was one
of the men went under the name of John .
Could the manager of the office give any particulars
about that man, what he was like, or if there was
such a name, or if he had any friend. He just went
amissing about that time. I here enclose a stamp,
and address to " &c.
Again, the Post-office is asked to hunt up missing
" I write to ask you for some information about
finding out persons who are missing. I want to
find out my mother and sisters who are in Melbourne
in Australia i believe if you would find them out
for me please let me know by return of post and
also your charge at the lowest."
" i right to you and request of you sinsearly for
to help me to find out my husband, i ham quite a
stranger in London, only two months left Ireland,
i can find know trace of my husband. Your the
316 THE ROYAL MAIL.
only gentleman that I know that can help me to
find him. thears is letters goes to him to in
his name and thears is letters comes to him to
the Post-office for him. Sir you may be sure
that i ham low in spirit in a strange contry without
a friend. I hope you will be so kind as not to forget
me. Sir, I would never find for i would go
as,tray, besides I have no money."
" I right these fue lines to you to ask you if you
would be so kind as to teel me if there his such a
person living in england. She was living at Bir-
mingham last Etimmas this his mi sister and
brother-in-law they hant in Birmingham now let
this letter go to every general post office there is."
Then come requests for information about pro-
perty that may be supposed to have been left by
relatives in this country to persons abroad generally
in America in which the Postmaster-General is usu-
ally treated to an insight, more or less deep, into the
family affairs or history of the writers, the rich relatives
being as a rule faithfully remembered by the poor,
while the recollections in the opposite direction
would seem to exhibit features of a less enduring
nature. Here are a few specimens :
" My grandfather Mr John made a will on
CURIOUS LETTERS ADDRESSED TO THE POST-OFFICE. 317
or about 22 Oct. 18 dated at leaving to his
son, my father, 1000, the interest to be paid to
him half yearly, the prinsaple to be divided among
his children at his death. My father died on the
last leaving myself and one brother who wishes
you to look up and collect the money for us."
" I take the plesure in writing a few lines to you
wishing you to ask some old friend of yours to find my
father wether he is ded or gone to some other place,
his trade was when I left a artist and a panter. I
left London when I was four years old. I came to
California, my mother and him had some fuss, the
street where we lived is on oxford street. You will
find my name on the regester in the blumsbery
church. My father is german and my mother she
is french. I wish you would try and find him for
me i woud be so glad if you find him. I will pay
you for your truble.
" I was born in 18 . if you go to that
church you will find my age if the church is there
or the book, pleas let me know as soon as you
" You must excuse me for writing to you for I
dont know any one in England. I know the names
318 THE EOYAL MAIL.
of no lawyers, and thought I would write to you.
We have seen it in our paper several times of money
being left to the heirs, and heard that a
Lawyer of London made a flying visit to St Louis to
find the heirs, but failed. My father was born and
raised in England. His name was the
oldest son of three. My parents died shortly after
we came to America, and I was quite small. I
know but little about any of them. I remember
hearing my Father say that he had rich relatives
who intended to make him their heir. I am very
poor ; lost everything during the war. If you know
of some lawyer who will see to it without money as
I have none to invest. Please answer to ell me
what you think you can do for me."
" As I have no correspondent in London at pres-
ent I adopt this plan of procuring one that I can
transact business through the matter I wish to call
your attention to is this To the estate of and
the heirs. The papers were sent here once but have
been lost. died in London about 45 years
ago and left a large estate of which my client's
interest would be about seventy-five thousand dollars
at the time of his death Will you please inform
me what it is necessary for us to do in the matter
CUKIOUS LETTEES ADDEESSED TO THE POST-OFFICE. 319
" Will you do me the kind favour, as you are the
Postmaster and able to know, as I judge of. It is
this, give to me the full name and address of any
'Mac ' that you know of in England, or in
Scotland, or Ireland, or Wales, or in India, or at or
in any other country that you may know of, with
their full names and correct address, so that I can
write to them myself.
" If you have any list, or book, or pamphlet, with
the names of parties who have died, and left money
or land to their heirs at law, as I want such in-
A farmer in the country wants a postmaster to
act as go-between in a little business matter, and
pens him a few lines to the following effect :
" John acting as Farmer here would be
very much obliged to the postmaster if he would be
so good as to name a suitable party at to
whom he might sell a 30 stone pig of good quality
well for he understands it is the best place to sell.
The pig is now quite ready for killing."
A sharp fellow in Tennessee, anxious to become
rich by a short cut, wants an instrument to hunt gold
and silver, and forthwith applies to the Post-office :
320 THE ROYAL MAIL.
" I want you to do me a kines, to hand this
(letter) to some good watch maker and tell him to
see if I can by a instrument, to tell where gold or
silver is in the ground or if there is a instrument
maid to find mettel gold or silver that are in the
ground. If it will attrack it. A instrument for
that perpos. I understand there are sutch a thing
made. If so, be pleas tell me where I can by one
and what it will cost me. It can be sent to New
York to where I can get it. I want to get a
instrument to hunt gold & silver. You will pleas
write to me as I think if there are sutch a thing
maid I could get one in your country. I send you
A stranger in the country expresses his readiness
to reward the Postmaster-General with some par-
tridges if he will get some one to send him a parcel
of mithridate mustard :
" Will you do me the favour of dropping me a
line to say if you know of an herbalist or greengrocer
that could send me a parcel of Mithridate Mustard.
It grows at Hatfield by the river side, and in the
streets of Peckham on the Surrey side. As I am a
stranger, if you will kindly see if you can get any
one to send it me I will send a Post-office order or
stamps for what it will cost before they start it by
CURIOUS LETTERS ADDRESSED TO THE POST-OFFICE. 321
train ; or if you will get it I will send it to you. I
will send you some partridges for your trouble if
you will kindly let me know. It dont grow in any
part of shire that I am aware of. We have
the common hedge mustard growing here, but that
wont do what the gentleman wants it for."
A Massachusetts owner of an old clock begs for
antiquarian search into the history of an ancient
timepiece which has come into his possession :
" I have tuke the liberty to address you, wishing
to know if I could ask the favour by paying you for
the trouble I ask to know.
" I have an old clock in my collection made by
Henton Brown, London, in the first part of 1700.
I would like to know where he was in business and
when he died, if it could be ascertained. Please
inform me if you could find out by any record in
London. I would pay you for all trouble.
" This darling is one of the loveliest places
Now a brother, being doubtful of a love business
in which his sister is concerned, claims the help of
the Post-office in clearing matters up :
" Will you, if you please, let me know if there is
such a gentleman as Mr in . i beleave
322 THE EOYAL MAIL.
he is a Chirch Clurdgman. There is a young man
in who has been engaged to my sister, and he
says Mrs at is his sister, i should very
much like to know, if you will oblige me by send-
ing, i thought if Mrs was his sister i would
rite and ask for his charetar, because he is a stranger
to us all."
A Frenchman, with hat in hand, and all ready to
propose, merely wants to know, as a preliminary,
whether the lady he has in view is still alive !
" A Monsieur le
" Directeur de la Poste de Londres.
" J'ai cinquinte trois ans. Veuillez etre assez bon
de me faire re*ponse pour me donner des re"sultats sur
1'existence de Madame ? Si parfois elle e"tait
tou jours veuve je voudrais lui faire la proposition de
lui demander sa main d'apres que j'en aurais des
nouvelles. En attendant, Monsieur, votre reponse."
A couple, having got over the proposal and accept-
ance stage, write for a special licence to get married
"Will you please oblige Susannah and
Walter with the particulars of an aspecial
licence to get married is it possible for you to
forward one to us without either of us coming to
CURIOUS LETTERS ADDRESSED TO THE POST-OFFICE. 323
you if you enclose the charge and have it re-
turned, would we get one before next Monday week
to get married at If you will kindly send
by return to the address enclosed the particulars, we
should feel greatly obliged."
And matters being advanced one stage further in
another case, the following inquiry is sent to the
Postal headquarters :
" Will you please inform me if there is to be a
baby show this year at Woolwich ; if so, where it
is to be holden, and what day."
Nor is the purely social element lost sight of in
the letters reaching St Martin's-le-Grand, uncon-
nected with Post-office business, as the two speci-
mens hereafter show :
" I have always had a great desire to visit your
country, but as I probly never shall, I thought I
" I am a young lady attending the High School
at , a pictorest town bordering on the
river. Our country seat is four miles and a half west
of . My father is a rich gentleman farmer.
" We have four horses, 3 or 35 head of cattle,
15 or 20 pigs, and a large henery. We have about
324 THE EOYAL MAIL.
250 acres of land, so of course we have to keep a
house full of servants.
" "We are quite well off in worldly goods, but
should be better off if you could inform me about that
fortune I expect from a great-uncle, great-aunt, or
somebody. It is about half a million either on my
father's or mother's side. If you would be so kind
as to write and inform me, I would be a thousand
times obliged. If you would assist me in getting it
I will reward you handsomely. Their name is .
They used to be very fond of me when I was a
crowing infant in my mother's arms. It is a very
pretty country out hear, wide rolling prairies enter
spersed with fine forests. There is a stream of
water running through our land, a stream so softly
and peasfully wild that it looks as if nature had
onely just made it and laid down her pencil and
" The schoolroom is just a little ways from ,
the name of our farm. It is the schoolroom where
I learnt my A B, abs, but I probly never shall go
there to school again. It is vacation now and I
have come out on to the farm to stay till school
commences again. It seems so nice to be where I
can have new milk to drink and nice fresh eggs
again. I intend to enjoy myself till school com-
mences again. Father has sold off most all of our
CURIOUS LETTEES ADDRESSED TO THE POST-OFFICE. 325
horses, but he saved my riding horse, so I intend to
have rides and drives without number.
" Well, as I have said as much as you will care
to read, I will stop. I hope you will excuse all
mistakes as I am not a very old young lady only
13 years old."
" Enclosed you will please find a letter which I
would like for you to give some young lady or gent
lady preferred who you think would like a
correspondent in this country. Will correspond on
topics of general interest. For further particulars
glance at enclosed letter as it is not sealed.
" To the person in whose hands this message may
fall, I would like a correspondent in your city which
I think would be of interest to each of us in the
way of information.
" My house is in the central part of the United
States, my age is 18. I am a partner in the manu-
facturing of . We are also dealers in
work. I have travelled all over the United States
and Canada. I can give you any information you
may desire in reference to this country this must
necessarily be brief. Would like to discuss the
habits and nature of our people. To-day is Thanks-
giving Day set apart by our president as a day of
thanksgiving for our prosperity, &c. ; it is observed
326 THE ROYAL MAIL.
annually all over the U.S. It is principally ob-
served by giving receptions, dinners, &c. It is
snowing to-day ; it is the first day of winter we
have had. The thermometer is ten above zero.
All business is suspended to-day. Please state
what day you receive this, as I would like to know
how long a letter is on the road if you do not
wish to answer this, please give to some of your
friends who will my address you will find on the
An individual who had apparently, like Eip Van
Winkle, been asleep for a number of years, suddenly
starts up, and imagines that he has committed a
petty fraud upon the Post-office, and so, to ease his
conscience, pens the following confession :
" I enclose you 7 sixpenny stamps, and ask you
to credit 2 shillings to revenue as conscience money,
as I consider that I owe your Department that
amount, having enclosed some weeks ago 3 letters
to India within a cover to a friend. At the time
of my doing so I thought I was doing no wrong, as
the three letters enclosed were merely messages
which I did not like to trouble my friend with ; but
lately I have thought differently, and to quiet my
conscience I send you the enclosed stamps, and beg
of you to be good enough to acknowledge the re-
CURIOUS LETTERS ADDRESSED TO THE POST-OFFICE. 327
ceipt of 2s. in the columns of the ' Daily Telegraph '
as conscience money from . I send Is. 6d.
extra as cost of insertion of the acknowledgment."
The question even of " who shall be the hang-
man" is thought to be a fit subject for elucida-
tion at the Post-office.
" I hope you will pardon me for asking of you
the favour of satisfying a curiosity which cannot,
without distortion, be called a morbid one. The
question I am about to put is prompted by the
statement in the London papers that Marwood is
to be the executioner of Peace.
" Now, being fully cognizant, from my readings of
journals more than 50 years back, that York has
always retained its own executioners (Askern hav-
ing succeeded Howard), I am sceptical as to the
correctness of the above statement. But, assuming
it to be correct, I should like to be informed why
Peace's particular case should cause a deviation from
the old bylaws of your county (York), which gives
name to an archiepiscopal province. Hoping to be
pardoned for thus troubling you, I am," &c.
And again, the Postmaster-General is begged to
step in and prevent people being called hard names.
" I humbly beg your consideration if there is no
328 THE ROYAL MAIL,:
law to stop persons from calling all manner of bad
names day after day as it is annoying me very
much in my calling as a Gardener and Seedsman ;
as I have applyed to the office at for a sum-
mons for a little protection and they tell not, so i
think it rather too hard for me as i have done all
the good I have had the means to do with to the
Hospitals and Institutions and all charityable pur-
poses both in and elsewhere if needed ; but i
suffer from lameness with a ulcerated leg not being
able for laborious hard work, although i wish to do
as i would be done by. Please to answer this at
The next specimens are from persons out of
" I am taking the liberty of writeing you those
few lines, as I am given to understand that you do
want men in New South Wales, and I am a Smith
by Trade, a single man. My age is 24 next birth-
day. I shood be verry thankfull if you wood be so
kind and send all the particulars by return."
" Having lost my parents, I am desirous of taking
a housekeeper's situation where a domestic is kept.
Must be a dissenting family, Baptist preferred. 'Think-
ing that such a case might come under your notice,
I have therefore taken the liberty of sending to you."
CURIOUS LETTERS ADDRESSED TO THE POST-OFFICE. 329
" ILLINOIS, U.S.
" Mr Postmaster if you would be so kind as to
seek for us work as we are two colored young men
of Illinois, and would like to come to England
and get work as Coachmen or race horse trainers,
as we have been experance for twelve years prac-
ticesing training if any further information about
it we can be reckemend to any one that wish to hire
us, pleas to advertise it in the papers for us."
The two letters of inquiry for situations which
follow, are rather amusing owing to their mode of
expression, being written by foreigners not having a
command of the English idiom ; and they will mirror
to our own countrymen what sort of figures they
must sometimes cut in the eyes of our neighbours
across the Channel, when airing their '' dictionary
Erench " in the metropolis of fashion :
" SIR, I have the honour of coming to solicit of
your goodwill of telling me if I could not to pass
into the English Telegraphic Administration, and, in
the affirmative, what I would must make for that.
I have undergone here all the examens demanded by
the Erench Administration ; I am now surnumerary,
and in a few months I shall be named clerck. I
know completely the two Breguet's and Morse ma-
chines, and I have begun the ' Hughes.' But, as I
330 THE KOYAL MAIL.
am now in a little office where that last is not em-
ployed, I cannot improve me actually. I have also
some knowledge of the English language. I have
kept the last year the post of during several
" As for my family, my father died from two years,
was advocate and sus-prefect during thirty
years. Myself, at Paris, I have had for scholl-fellow,
several young gentlemen, among others, Master ,
the son of the great English perfumery, and others
notable manufacturers of London, where I should
desire ardently to be clerck, if, by effect of your
good-will, you give satisfaction to my claim. I am
old of twenty five years, and I have satisfied to the
" I dare to hope, Master the Director, that, be it as
it may, you will make to me the honour of answer-
ing what I must expect of your resolution, and in
the same time yours conditions.
" I am, Master, in expecting, with the most pro-
found respect, your very humble servant."
" You will excuse me of the liberty which I take
to write to you, but as I know nobody in your town,
I have not found an other way for find relations with
some body honourable. I will ask you if you can
CURIOUS LETTERS ADDRESSED TO THE POST-OFFICE. 331
procure me a place in the English Colonies or planta-
tions as teacher in an institution or tutor in a good
family. I am old of 22 years. I have gone a good
course of study in the college and gymnasium in ,
and I have held during a 1| year in the pensionnat
an place as teacher of French language and
Mathematics. I can give you some good Certifi-
cates ; I speak French, German, and a little English.
I should wish for be entirely defrayed of the charges
of lodging, nourishment, &c., to have a good salary
and the voyage paid. These are my conditions ;
perhaps will you found something for satisfy them.
I will give you a commission proportionably to the
importance of the place. I hope Sir a favorible
answer, and it is in this expectation that I am," &c.
The next letter is of another kind, and is not
a bad effort for a schoolboy :
"Not having received the live bullfinch men-
tioned by you as having arrived at the Eeturned-
letter Office two days ago, having been posted as a
letter contrary to the regulations of the postal sys-
tem, I now write to ask you to have the bird fed
and forwarded at once to ; and to apply for
all fines and expenses to . If this is not done
and I do not receive the bird before the end of the
week, I shall write to the Postmaster-General, who
332 THE EOYAL MAIL.
is a very intimate friend of my father's, and ask
him to see that measures are taken against you for
neglect. This is not an idle threat, so you will
oblige by following the above instructions."
In the rules laid down by the Post-office for the
guidance of its officers and the information of the
public, an endeavour is made to use plain language ;
but in any case of doubtful meaning, the Post-office,
having framed the rules, claims the right of inter-
preting them. At one time an element in the defini-
tion of a newspaper, under the newspaper post, was
that it should consist of a sheet or sheets unstitched.
A newspaper having been taxed a penny, owing to
the sheets being tied together with thread, the person
who sent the newspaper made the following sharp
" SIK, I had hoped that the utterly indefensible
regulation in reference to which I send a wrapper
had been silently abolished. The public is quite
unable to understand why stitching is made the
differentia of a newspaper and a pamphlet, and I
can hardly suppose that the occasional penalty of
Id. can be the motive. If in the printed regula-
tions you would assign a sufficient motive, no one
would of course object. Allow me to ask, if a
piece of string is passed through two holes and the
CURIOUS LETTERS ADDRESSED TO THE POST-OFFICE. 333
ends not tied in a knot, if that is considered stitch-
ing ? According to Johnson's definition of stitching
my newspaper was not stitched, but tied, for I used
Again, a person having suffered the loss of a
letter, containing something of value perhaps,
launched a bolt from Scripture at the Depart-
" I got no redress before, but I trust I shall on
this occasion ; or else there must be something
rotten in the State of Denmark. Judas Iscariot was
a thief, and carried the bag, and it will be a pity
and a great scandal if he has found a successor in
some branch of the Post-office."
A fond parent, finding that some white mice sent
by his little boy were detained in the Post-office,
owing to the transmission of live animals being con-
trary to regulations, writes very indignantly to the
Department, overlooking its impersonal nature, and
singles out the officer whose performance of duty
provoked him for such castigation as his pen was
capable of inflicting. Here is his letter, and it is
mild compared with some of the comminatory effu-
sions which occasionally reach the Post-office :
" SIR, Tuesday last week my little son sent
334 THE ROYAL MAIL.
three white mice to a friend at , in a wooden
revolving cage, done up strongly in brown paper,
with such sufficient biscuit to serve them for the
day ; but to-day we have heard that your officious
manager at our district office delayed sending it, and
wrote instead to ask the address of the sender, and
called to-day to say he would not forward the cage.
Now allow me to ask by what law has he dared to
delay the delivery, and by that means no doubt
killed the little animals ? They were in a wooden
cage, carefully packed, and could not in any way have
been an annoyance ; they were not explosive, they
were not loose ; and I know of no notice in your
regulations whereby he dare to delay the delivery
and starve the little creatures to death. I would
also ask by what law did he open the package ?
The full postage was on the parcel, and no doubt
the stamp (4d.) has been obliterated, which he
will of course have to refund, as also the cost of
the white mice ; he cannot, of course, pay the dis-
appointment. Why did the office at take it
if wrong ? But it is not, because he has sent
several such little creatures to others, and they
have always reached safely. He likewise had the
impudence to say I was to send to the office for the
cage, &c. I feel assured you will be equally aston-
ished with me at his assurance. The package was
CURIOUS LETTERS ADDRESSED TO THE POST-OFFICE. 335
booked from here over eight days ago, and it was
his duty to have delivered it. Please see to it ; the
address on the parcel was ." l
A young man, conceiving that he had a call to the
ministry, quitted the Post-office service to qualify for
that vocation. After a time the following letter,
which fully explains its own purpose, reached head-
"Enclosed is from a young man in my parish,
whose sister is a permanent invalid, and his father a
retired Church officer, so that he must have a dry
" I suppose his style does not take amongst the
Independent congregations wanting pastors, so he
is sent back to business (a great mistake, I told
him, he ever left it).
" He says something about being over twenty-
four years of age ; but I think it hard he should go
to college for three years, and then be sent adrift
without a plank. Is it possible to reinstate him at
the Post-office ? He goes to chapel in my parish,
and his family are all deserving and needy. Excuse
this effort to help a respectable though needy fellow."
1 The mice were duly fed during their detention, and were
eventually sent for by the applicant.
EXTRAORDINAKY coincidences have been chron-
icled in connection with almost every situation
in life, some fortunate and attended with profit to
those involved, others unfortunate or disastrous ; and
the Post-office is no exception to the rule as being a
field for the observation of such occurrences. The
peculiar nature of the coincidences to be observed
in the following examples may be worthy of note, or
at any rate the cases may repay their perusal with
some small degree of interest :
" Among the workmen employed in some altera-
tions at a nobleman's country seat were two bearing
exactly the same Christian name and surname, but
unconnected and unacquainted with each other, one
being a joiner, the other a mason. The joiner, who
was a depositor in the Post-office Savings Bank,
having received no acknowledgment of a deposit of
SINGULAR COINCIDENCES. 337
3, obtained a duplicate. The mason, who was not
a depositor, became insane and was removed to a
lunatic asylum about the same time ; and the orig-
inal acknowledgment, intended for the joiner, having
fallen into the hands of the mason's mother, she con-
cluded that the account was his, and made a claim
for the money towards defraying the expenses of his
maintenance, and was with difficulty undeceived."
A registered packet containing a valuable gold
seal was sent to a firm of fancy stationers in New-
castle-on-Tyne, and delivered at its address in due
course. Complaint was shortly afterwards made,
however, that the young person who opened the
packet found the seal was not enclosed, and in-
quiries were at once set on foot in the Post-office
to discover how and where it could have been
abstracted. A week or two after, and while these
inquiries were still proceeding, the firm in question
reported that a tradesman in town had presented to
them the identical seal, with the view of ascertaining
its value ! This information served as a clue to the
elucidation of the matter, and the loss of the seal was
shown to have occurred in the following fashion :
In the process of opening the packet, the young
person concerned had carelessly allowed the seal to
fall, unobserved by her ; it got mixed up with waste-
338 THE EOYAL MAIL.
paper, which formed part of some waste shortly there-
after removed to the premises of a marine-store
dealer, where it underwent a course of sortation.
An old woman engaged in this work found the seal,
appropriated it, and without more ado pawned it.
The person with whom it was pledged was he who
presented it at the address where it had dropped
from the letter. The coincidence is not only a
curious one, but the case illustrates how, but for the
coincidence, the blame of the loss would have rested
on the Post-office.
A traveller in the north of Europe became sadly
puzzled with letters which followed him about, al-
though not intended for him, and the difficulties in
his case are described in a letter written by him, of
which the following is a transcript :
" I am sorry you have had so much trouble re-
specting the registered letter supposed to have been
lost in transmission from my wife to me in .
But I assure you the letter was most carefully and
punctually delivered, not having been even a post
behind its due time, and I think your case can hardly
have referred to me at all. There was another Eev.
J D (the same name) travelling in Nor-
way at the same time, whose letters kept crossing
my path everywhere ; and when I read them, I was
SINGULAR COINCIDENCES. 339
almost in doubt whether I was myself or him, for his
wife had the same name as mine, and his baby the
same name as mine, and just the same age ; but who
he can be I cannot make out, only he is not I.
Perhaps the registered letter which has given you
such trouble may have been for him. It may satisfy
you, however, to know that mine was all right."
The following incident occurred about twenty
years ago. A gentleman of the uncommon name of
Onions was travelling in Scotland, and was expected
by his friends to call at a certain post-office for let-
ters on a particular day. The day prior to this, a
telegram reached this post-office from his home in
the south of England, requesting that he might be
told to return at once, owing to the serious illness of
his brother. The telegram upon its receipt was duly
placed in the proper box by the clerk in charge of
the paste restante at the time, and who of course, the
telegram being open, was aware of its contents.
Next day, when the same clerk was upon duty, a Mr
Onions presented himself, asking for letters ; but the
clerk, on going to the box to get the aforesaid tele-
gram, was unable to find it, nor could any one in the
office at the time say anything about it. Mr Onions
was, however, informed of its import, whereupon he
said he had no brother, but as his father had been ail-
340 THE EOYAL MAIL.
ing when lie left, he supposed a mistake of " brother "
for " father " had been made in transmission, and
that the message was no doubt intended for him.
He then left the office. A few days later the post-
master received a letter from this gentleman, then in
the south of England, stating that lie had been made
the victim of a cruel hoax (he having found on
reaching home that no telegram had been sent to
him), and he was the more convinced of this because
his visit to Scotland was in pursuance of his honey-
moon. The matter being investigated, it transpired
that on the morning of the day on which Mr Onions
called for letters, another Mr Onions, for whom the
message was meant, had called and received the
telegram from a clerk who shortly thereafter went
off duty. The confusion had thus arisen through
two persons of the same uncommon name calling at
the same post-office on the same day for letters, and,
as it happened, applying for their letters at hours
when two different clerks were in attendance.
In the following case the names are fictitious,
but in their similarity the}' will adequately illustrate
the narrative :
The sudden expansion of telegraph business upon
the transfer of the telegraphs to the State in 1870,
necessitated the employment of a large number of
SINGULAK COINCIDENCES. 341
inexperienced operators, and some awkward blunders
were the consequence. In the year mentioned, a
Liverpool man named Parlane went to London ; but
before parting with his wife, it was arranged that
on a certain day he would telegraph whether she
should join him in London or he would return to
Liverpool. On the appointed day the promised tele-
gram was sent asking his wife to come to London, the
message being directed (we shall say) to Mrs Parlane,
24 Menzies Street, Toxteth Park, Liverpool. By some
accidental failure of current, or imperfect signalling,
the word " Menzies " 1 reached Liverpool as " Meins," l
and there being no Meins Street in Liverpool, the
messenger was directed to take the message for
trial to Main Street, for which it was thought it
might be intended. The messenger found at 24
Main Street l a Mrs M'Farlane, and to this person
the message was presented. The names being sim-
ilar, Mrs M'Farlane opened the telegram, and -her
husband also being in London, she had no doubt
whatever that the command which it contained to
repair to London, though altogether unexpected, was
intended for herself. That evening she accordingly
started for the metropolis.
Meanwhile Mrs Parlane had been suffering intense
anxiety at not receiving the promised telegram, and
1 The names are given from memory.
342 THE ROYAL MAIL.
being unable longer to endure the suspense in which
she found herself, she likewise started for London
the same evening. Strange as it may appear, both
Mrs Parlane and Mrs M'Farlane travelled to London
not only by the same train, but in the- same com-
partment ; and it was by a comparison of notes that
the telegram intended for the one was discovered to
have got into the hands of the other. The string of
coincidences in this matter is exceedingly singular
viz., that two persons of similar names should reside
at the same number in neighbouring streets ; that
the husbands of both should be in London at the
same time ; that the two wives should travel" to
London in the same train ; and that they should find
themselves companions in the same compartment.
Identity in names and addresses in all particulars
sometimes gives rise to trouble and inconvenience.
Through the misdelivery of a savings-bank acknow-
ledgment, it was brought to light that in a suburban
district of London, where there were two terraces
bearing exactly the same designation, there were
residing, at the same number in each, two persons
having not only the same surname, but the same
But even more curious are the following facts in
the matter of similar names and addresses, though
SINGULAR COINCIDENCES. 343
in this instance nothing of ill-consequence has yet
arisen beyond the occasional misdelivery of a let-
ter. In Edinburgh at the present time (1885),
there resides at 5 St Andrew's Terrace a Mr James
Gibson, and, immediately opposite, at 5 St Andrew's
Place, another Mr James Gibson. It happens, also,
that a Mr John Gibson is to be found at 5 St
Andrew Square. Hence we have this very singular
series of almost identical addresses, the persons con-
cerned being all different, and, so far as we are aware,
unacquainted with each other :
(1) Mr J.Gibson,
5 St Andrew's Terrace.
(2) Mr J. Gibson,
5 St Andrew's Place.
(3) Mr J. Gibson,
5 St Andrew Square.
In consequence of the misdelivery of a post-
packet, the following case of almost identical ad-
dresses in two different towns was brought under
Mr Andrew Thorn,
8 South Bridge Street,
344 THE KOYAL MAIL,
Mr Andrew Thorn,
Boot Top Manufacturer,
86 South Bridge,
Not very long ago, two letters directed to Mrs
R at her residence in Edinburgh were duly de-
livered there ; but as the lady was at the time living at
the Grand Hotel in London, they were placed under
a fresh cover by one of her family and forwarded
thither. Some days thereafter the Postmaster of
Glasgow received a communication from a Mrs
E (the same name), residing at the Grand
Hotel, expressing great astonishment that the two
letters, which she now returned, had been sent to
her, since her permanent address was not in Edin-
burgh, but Glasgow. The matter was afterwards
explained, on the fact becoming known that two
ladies of the same name, one hailing from Glasgow,
the other from Edinburgh, had been living at the
same time in the same hotel, and that the waiter
had delivered the letters to the wrong person.
WITH persons who deposit their hard-earned
savings in the Post-office Savings Bank, there
is sometimes observed a disposition, not to be won-
dered at in their case, to use more than ordinary
care in keeping their savings secret, which care,
however, does not always secure the aim which they
have in view, but results in quite a different fashion.
A domestic servant who had invested in a Trustee
Savings Bank about 100, entered the holy bonds
of matrimony in 1826, when it might have been
expected she would be ready to admit the man of
her choice to a knowledge of her monetary worth ;
but instead of doing so, she concealed this matter
from him, and he remained ignorant of it through-
out the remainder of his life. The sum at her
credit in the Trustee Savings Bank was afterwards
transferred to the Post-office Savings Bank, and by
dint of saving she added to that amount nearly 50
more. At length, in 1862, after thirty-six years of
346 THE ROYAL MAIL.
married life, she died, leaving her husband with
three children, but without revealing what she had
so jealously guarded, in the interest, no doubt, of her
children. Not many months thereafter the man
married again. The second wife seems by some means
to have come to a knowledge of her predecessor's
savings, and in order to pave the way to future pos-
session, prevailed upon the old man to make a will
in her favour, which he consented to do, not knowing
that he was worth anything, and thus gratified a
whim, as he might suppose, at small cost. The
effect of this was, that, when the old man died, the
second wife obtained the whole amount of the ac-
count, while the poor children, whose mother had
kept her secret so many years in their interest,
derived no benefit whatever from the savings which
she had hoped to leave them.
An Irishman who had managed to get some
savings together in the savings bank was exercised
as to the safe-keeping of his deposit-book, and he
adopted the following plan to give himself peace of
mind on this score. First of all, he placed his book
inside a box, which he then locked. This box he
placed inside a second box, which he locked like-
wise. Continuing the series of operations, he locked
the second box inside a third box ; and then, to
crown the business, hung up all the keys in a place
SAVINGS-BANK CURIOSITIES. 347
where they were accessible to many persons. In a
short time the book disappeared, and by forging the
signature of the rightful owner, the thief succeeded
in obtaining payment of the poor Irishman's deposits
to the amount of about 100. This unfortunate
depositor is a type of a considerable class of persons,
who show themselves capable of carrying out plans
to a certain stage, but fail in some one particular to
give them the completeness necessary to success.
Another individual who had some misgivings as
to the safety of his deposit-book, suggested a plan
for his identification, furnishing the necessary data,
which were his age, and a statement that he had a
scar under his left arm, known to himself alone. He
desired that no one should be allowed to withdraw
money from his account unless upon satisfactory in-
formation being given on these points.
In another instance a depositor proposed to send his
likeness, with a view to his identification, lest some
other person might get possession of his book, and
so withdraw his savings. He then proceeded in his
letter to touch upon another matter as follows :
" There are some little articles I would like to get
from London, and one of them is some natural leaf-
tobacco, which I would be glad if you sent me an
ounce of, and charge me for it it is only to be
bought in the largest tobacco-stores." Not receiving
348 THE EOYAL MAIL.
the tobacco, he expressed surprise in a subsequent
letter that his request had not been complied with,
observing, by way of reproach perhaps, that " the
commonest person in America (my country) can
speak to General Grant, and there is nothing said
wrong about it."
A good deal of trouble has to be taken in sifting
claims for moneys in the Post-office Savings Bank
especially in cases where the persons concerned are
of a poor and illiterate class. The following may be
taken as a case in point :
" An account had been opened in a manufacturing
town in Yorkshire in 1868 by a girl who was de-
scribed as a minor over seven years of age. Only
one deposit was made ; and nothing further was
heard of the account until 1872, when a labourer
wrote from Northumberland claiming the money as
having been deposited by his wife, who had recently
died. On a marriage certificate being forwarded, it
was found that the marriage took place in 1851,
and that the wife was thirty-five years of age at
that time. The applicant also stated that he could
swear to his wife's handwriting, whereas the depos-
itor could not write. He was informed of these
discrepancies, but still insisted that the money was
deposited by his wife, and employed a lawyer to urge
SAVINGS-BANK CURIOSITIES. 349
Sometimes depositors mislay their deposit-books,
or lose them altogether, and in course of time forget
that they have anything lying at their credit. This
is an instance of such a case : A depositor, upon
being reminded that he had not sent up his book
for a periodical examination the time for which
was already past replied that his book was lost,
but that if there was any balance due to him, he
would be glad to have the particulars. The amount
due to him was upwards of 10; but as, when a
depositor has lost his book, it is usual to test his
knowledge of the account, this course was followed,
when, from the answers received, it was made clear
that he was entirely ignorant of the sum standing
to his credit and, indeed, that he believed his
account to be closed. But for the notice sent to
him in regard to his deposit-book, he would never
have made any claim.
As might readily be supposed, strange communi-
cations are often received on savings-bank business
some quaint and curious, though written quite
seriously, while others are evidently written with
the intention of making fun ; yet another class
deriving their peculiarities from a too common cause
want of education. A few of such specimens are
given as follows :
A depositor being asked to furnish particulars
350 THE ROYAL MAIL.
of his account, the reply received from some one
who had opened the letter on his behalf was to
this effect : " He is a tall man, deeply marked with
smallpox, has one eye, wears a billycock, and keeps
a pea-booth at Lincoln Fair," a description ample
enough, and one that would rejoice the heart of a
The envelopes supplied to depositors, in which
they send their books to headquarters, have within
the flap a space provided to receive the depositor's
address, and the request is printed underneath
" State here whether the above address is perman-
ent." This request has called forth such rejoinders
as these " Here we have no continuing city," " This
is not our rest," " Heaven is our home," " Yes, D. V."
In one case the reply was " No, D. V., for the place
is beastly damp and unhealthy ; " while another de-
positor, being floored by the wording of the inquiry,
wrote " Doant know what permanent is " !
When deposit-books are lost or destroyed, some
explanation is usually forthcoming as to how the
circumstance occurred, and some of these statements
are of a very curious kind. Thus a person employed
in a travelling circus accounted for the loss of his
book in these terms : " Last night, when I was sleep-
ing in the tent, one of our elephants broke loose
and tore up my coat, in the pocket of which was
SAVINGS-BANK CUKIOSITIES. 351
my bank-book, and eat part of it. I enclose the
fragments." In another case the statement furnished
was : " I think the children has taken it out of
doors and lost it, as they are in the habbit of play-
ing shutal cock with the backs of books." Another
depositor said that his book was " supposed to have
been taken from the house by our tame monkey."
While in a further case the explanation vouchsafed
was as follows : " I was in a yard feeding my pigs.
I took off my coat and left it down on a barrell ;
while engaged doing so, a goat in the yard pulled it
down. The book falling out, the goat was chewing
it when I caught her." A sergeant in the army
lost his book "whilst in the act of measuring a
recruit for the army," a circumstance which is,
perhaps, not creditable to the recruit. A needy
depositor pledged his coat, forgetting, however, to
withdraw his deposit -book, which was in one of
the pockets. On applying to redeem his property,
he found that the coat had been mislaid by the
pawnbroker, and that his book was thus lost. In
a somewhat similar way another depositor accounted
for his loss "through putting the book in an old
coat-pocket, and selling the coat without taking out
the book again." It was suggested that he should
apply to the person who purchased the coat, when
he replied that he had been " to the rag merchant,"
352 THE ROYAL MAIL.
but could find no trace of his book. On another
occasion a depositor explained that his book had
been mutilated by a cat. Another book, which was
kept in a strong box in a pigsty, had been destroyed
by the tenant a pig. While in yet another case
the depositor explained that " his little puppy of a
dog got hold of it and tore it all to pieces not
leaving so much as the number." A coast-guards-
man employed on the Sussex coast, writing shortly
after the occurrence of some severe storms, explained
that his book had been washed away with the whole
of his household effects. In a case of mutilation
of a book, the following account of the circumstance
was given by the owner : " In the early part of last
year I was taken seriously ill away from home ; and
having my bank-book with me, I wrote in the mar-
gin in red ink what was to be done with the balance
in case of a fatal result, and as a precaution against
its being wrongfully claimed on my recovery, I cut
These are some of the more curious instances of
the loss of books the loss being ordinarily ascribed
either to change of residence, to .the book being
dropped in the street, or to its being burnt with
REPLIES TO MEDICAL INQUIRIES.
FOE many years past it has been incumbent upon
all candidates seeking employment in the Post-
office, as in other public departments, to undergo
medical examination, with the view of securing
healthy persons for the service ; and in the course
of such examinations the medical officer requires
to make inquiry into the state of health of the
candidates' parents, brothers, sisters, &c., the infor-
mation being elicited in forms to be filled up by
the candidates. Though it is not to be expected
that persons entering as postmen, messengers, and
so on, should exhibit perfection in their orthography,
still, in referring to the more common troubles that
afflict the human frame, some approach to an intel-
ligible description of diseases might be hoped for.
Dr Lewis, who held the post of medical officer in
the General Post-office, London, for many years,
354 THE EOYAL MAIL.
recorded the following examples of answers received
to his questions :
" Father had sunstroke, and I caught it of him."
" My little brother died of some funny name." " A
great white cat drawed my sister's breath, and she
died of it." A parent died of " Apperplexity "; an-
other died of " Parasles." One " caught Tiber fever in
the Hackney Eoad " ; another had had " goarnders " ;
a third " burralger in the head." . Some of the other
complaints were described as "rummitanic pains,"
" carracatic fever," " indigestion of the lungs," " ton-
certina in the throat," " pistoles on the back." One
candidate stated that " his sister was consumpted,
now she's quite well again" ; while the sister of
another was stated to have " died of compulsion."
It is to be hoped that the work of the school
boards will be seen in the absence of such answers
from the medical officers' schedules of the future.
SUPERSTITION rarely stands in the way of the
*J extension of postal accommodation or con-
venience ; but a case of the kind occurred some
time ago in the west of Ireland. Application was
made for the erection of a wall letter-box, and
authority had been granted for setting it up; but
when arrangements came to be made for providing
for the collection of letters, no one could be found
to undertake the duty, in consequence of a general
belief among the poorer people in the neighbour-
hood that, at that particular spot, " a ghost went out
nightly on parade." The ghost was stated to be a
large white turkey without a head.
Everything that departs from the usual mode or
fashion of things is regarded as curious, and the
356 THE ROYAL MAIL.
term may be applied also to the incidence of names
and professions, either in regard to their relative
fitness of relationship, or to an opposite quality.
As the sight of two or three individuals with
wooden legs walking in company would be sure
to claim our attention, if it did not excite our mirth,
so the coming together of persons having similar
names under the same roof by mere chance, would
not fail to attract notice, and be thought a peculiar
circumstance. Of the first class the following cases
may be noted, namely, that at Torquay, Devon-
shire, there used to be a butcher called Bovine ; in
the east of London there is a James Bull, a cow-
keeper ; and at Birnam, Perthshire, a gardener and
strawberry - grower called John Eake. There is
further, we are informed, at Cork a person carrying
on the pawnbroking business whose name is Uncle,
than which there could be nothing more appropriate.
Of the second class the following is an instance,
persons of the names given having been employed
together in a single office of the General Post-office
some years ago :
Letter-box, St Martin s-le-Grand.
So much has it become the custom in these later
times for the Post-office to afford facilities to the
public in whatever will tend to increase the business
of the Department, that in all large towns pillar-
boxes or branch offices are dotted about everywhere
at short distances, thus altering the conditions which
formerly obtained, when the chief office was the
great central point where correspondence had to be
deposited for despatch. London is no exception to
this general plan of accommodation, and there may be
some lingering regrets that the stirring scenes which
used to attend the closing of the letter-box at St
Martin's -le- Grand (when the great hall led right
through the building) no longer exist, at least as
things worthy of note. Lewins, who wrote the
History of the Post-office (Her Majesty's Mails),
thus describes what nightly took place at the clos-
ing of the box at six o'clock :
" The newspaper window, ever yawning for more,
is presently surrounded and besieged by an array of
boys of all ages and costumes, together with children
of a larger growth, who are all alike pushing, heav-
ing, and surging in one great mass. The window,
with tremendous gape, is assaulted with showers of
358 THE EOYAL MAIL.
papers, which fly thicker and faster than the driven
snow. Now it is, that small boys of eleven and
twelve years of age, panting Sinbad-like under the
weight of huge bundles of newspapers, manage
somehow to dart about and make rapid sorties into
other ranks of boys, utterly disregarding the cries
of the official policemen, who vainly endeavour to re-
duce the tumult into something like post-office order.
If the lads cannot quietly and easily disembogue,
they will whizz their missiles of intelligence over
other people's heads, now and then sweeping off
hats and caps with the force of shot. The gather-
ing every moment increases in number, and inten-
sifies in purpose ; arms, legs, sacks, baskets, heads,
bundles, and woollen comforters for who ever saw
a veritable newspaper boy without that appendage ?
seem to be getting into a state of confusion and
disagreeable communism, and yet ' the cry is still,
they come.' Heaps of papers of widely opposed
political views are thrown in together no longer
placed carefully in the openings ; they are now sent
in in sackfuls and basketfuls, while over the heads
of the surging crowd were flying back the empty
sacks, thrown out of the office by the porters inside.
Semi-official legends, with a very strong smack of
probability about them, tell of sundry boys being
thrown in, seized, emptied, and thrown out again
void. As six o'clock approaches still nearer and
nearer, the turmoil increases more perceptibly, for
the intelligent British public is fully alive to the
awful truth that the Post-office officials never allow
a minute of grace, and that ' Newspaper Fair ' must
be over when the last stroke of six is heard. One
in rush files of laggard boys, who have purposely
loitered in the hope of a little pleasurable excite-
ment ; two and grown men hurry in with the last
sacks ; three the struggle resembles nothing so
much as a pantomimic mUe ; four a babel of
tongues vociferating desperately ; five final and
furious showers of papers, sacks, and bags ; and
six when all the windows fall like so many
swords of Damocles, and the slits close with such
a sudden and simultaneous snap, that we naturally
suppose it to be a part of the Post-office operations
that attempts should be made to guillotine a score
of hands; and then all is over, so far as the out-
siders are concerned."
Though the tradition referred to of boys being
thrown into the letter-box may not have a very
sure foundation in fact, it is the case at any rate
that a live dog was posted at Lombard Street, and
falling into the bag attached to the letter-box, it
was not discovered till the contents of the bag were
emptied out on a table in the General Post-office.
360 THE ROYAL MAIL.
In the considerable army of servants who carry
on the work of the Post-office, embracing all grades
from the Postmaster-General to the rural postman,
are to be found individuals of every temperament,
character of mind, and disposition the candid, the
simple, the astute, the wary ; and the peculiarities
of the individuals assert themselves in their official
dealings as surely as they would do in the ordinary
connections of life.
The following " explanations " furnished by post-
masters who had failed to send up their accounts
at the proper time, will illustrate the procedure
of the candid or simple when in trouble, who
seem quite unnecessarily to give every detail of
their shortcomings, instead of doing, as most men
would do in the circumstances make a general
"My daily accounts would have reached you in
time ; but on Saturday morning, whilst purchasing
American cheeses and sampling them, I tasted some
of them, which brought on a bilious complaint, so
that I was obliged to suspend work on Monday.
Being now somewhat better, I trust all will go on
I VARIOUS. 361
" I regret the daily accounts should have been
delayed so long ; but having some friends to see
me, the accounts were forgotten."
" The Postmistress of , Cambridge, is very
sorry that she has not sent her accounts before this ;
she will be sure to do so to-inorrow. The delay is
on account of her having three little motherless
grandchildren staying with her for a few days."
The following will bear company with the three
foregoing specimens. It is a pathetic appeal from
a letter - receiver, who, mistaking the purpose for
which a certain credit of official money was allowed
him, spent it, and was unexpectedly called upon to
account for the balance due by him to the head
"Mr , Superintendent of the Money-order
Department, called upon me yesterday, and dispelled
a very mistaken notion of mine viz., that as I had
given a guarantee of 200, I was perfectly 'justi-
fiable ' in making use of a portion of the money re-
ceived for my own business. I am now very sorry
indeed that the idea had gained such an ascendancy
over me as it had done. The letter I received from
you a few days ago aroused me from that delusive
lethargy into which I was sinking; and if you would
362 THE EOYAL MAIL.
have the kindness to compare the amount now with
what it was then, you will perceive that an effort
has been made to retrieve my folly.
" My object in writing this to you is an earnest
appeal not to degrade me in the position I have
struggled so hard to maintain through such distress
as we have had, by suspending the business of the
office. I beg and earnestly entreat of you to give
me time to recover myself; and I assure you that
under such a stimulation a vigorous effort will be
made to place myself in that honourable position
which it has been my desire to hold. Therefore,
hoping that you will take a favourable view of the
case, I subscribe myself, your contrite and obedient
Prisoners of War.
The following incident, though not directly bearing
upon Post-office matters, has a relation to letters.
It forms the subject of a pathetic story, and brings
into contrast the possible isolation of poor fellows
who may be taken in war, with the rapid and con-
stant intercourse kept up between the peoples of
enlightened countries during times of peace by the
intermediary of the Post-office. The facts are here
quoted from a notice of the circumstance published
in a local newspaper :
"The extensive works for the manufacture of
paper belonging to Alex. Cowan & Sons at Valley-
field, near Edinburgh, were in 1811, owing to the
dulness of trade, sold to Government, and converted
into a prison for the French soldiers and sailors, of
whom over 6000 were kept from 1811 to 1814,
when peace was happily established between Britain
and France. During these three years 309 died,
whose remains rest in a quiet spot near the mills.
Of these, a list of the names, ages, and place of
capture is preserved by Messrs Cowan. The mills
were reacquired from Government about 1818, and
are carried on as among the largest paper-mills of
Britain by the same firm. In some repairs lately
carried out at these works (1881) an old floor was
lifted, and underneath was found a letter written by
a prisoner, but which he was never able to despatch.
A copy of this letter is annexed, as possibly some of
the writer's relatives may see it and be interested by
The French is not very good ; but here it is :
" PRISON, VALLEYFIEL,
16 Mars, annee 1812.
" MON CHER PERRE ET MA CHER MERE, D'apres
plusieur lettre que je vous ecrives, e*tant en Angle-
terre, sans en avoir pu en recevoir aucune re'ponse.
364 THE KOYAL MAIL.
Je ne sais a quoi attribuer cette interuption, et depuis
on va arrivez en Ecosse, je me suis toujours em-
pressez pour vous donner de mes nouvelles, et qui a
(Ste* bien impossible, a moins jusqu'a presens, d'en
recevoir. Je de'sirai ardement d'en recevoir des
votres, ainsi mon cherre pere et ina cherre mere, je
vous prie trees umblement de prendre des procotions
pour me clonne de vos nouvelle, est des chaugement
du pays, est dans ce qui est dgale a mon e"gard, de la
famille, seullement pour a 1'egard de ma sante, elle
a toujours ette bonne depuis mon de part. Je de'sire
que la pre"sente vous soieut pareille, ainsi que mes
frerre et seurre, paran, et ami, rien autre chose que
je puis vous marqu^ pour le . Je soussignez
Jean Frangois Noel de Sariget, la Commune de Saint
Leonard, Canton de Fraize, arrondissement de Saint
Dies, Departemeant Voges. Monsieur Perigord La-
feste, Banquier a Paris, dans la Eue de Mont No. 9.
Je soussignez Jean Nicolas Demange de Saint Leo-
nard, Canton de Tranche."
A handsome monument was erected in 1830 over
the last resting-place of the poor prisoners who died
during their period of captivity, and it bears the
following inscription :
" Pres de ce lieu rdposent les cendres de 309 prisonniers de
guerre morts dans ce voisinage entre le 21 Mars 1811 et le 26
" Nes pour benir les vceux de vieillissantes meres,
Par le sort appele"s
A devenir amants aimes, epoux, et peres,
Us sont morts exiles !
" Plusieurs habitans de cette Paroisse aimant a croire que tous
les homines sont freres, firent elever ce monument 1'an 1830."
Explosion in a Pillar-tox.
A singular accident, though one not altogether
unique in its character, befell one of the pillar letter-
boxes in Montrose some years ago. A street had
been opened up for the purpose of effecting repairs
on the gas-pipes, and while the examination and
repairs were in progress, some gas, escaping from the
pipes, found its way into the letter-box. The night
watchman, intending to light his pipe, struck a match
on the box close to the aperture, when a violent
explosion immediately followed, blowing out the
door, and otherwise doing damage ; but, luckily,
neither the watchman nor the letters sustained any
The Mulready Envelope.
The failure of the Mulready envelope to establish
itself in public favour is surely a monument to the
caprice of the national taste, if it be not an evidence
of how readily the tide of thoughtless opposition may
THE ROYAL MAIL.
set in to reject that which is new or unusual, with-
out serious grounds for dislike. A facsimile of the
design is here given, the envelopes for sale being
printed in two colours black and blue.
It was introduced to the notice of the public at
the time of the establishment of the penny post-
age, being intended to supply a desideratum in this
respect, that the cover should serve the combined
purposes of an envelope and a postage-stamp, the
envelopes being good for a postage of one penny or
twopence, according as they were printed in black or
Mulready, a member of the Eoyal Academy, was
the artist, and the design had the approval of the
Royal Academicians, so that it did not go forth with-
out substantial recommendations. If the subjects
be examined, it will be found that they are accurately
drawn, ingeniously worked together, and apposite in
their references to the beneficent work of the Post-
office Department. Britannia sending forth her
messengers to every quarter of the globe, ships upon
the sea with sails unfurled ready to obey her instant
behests, the reindeer as the emblem of speed in the
regions of snow, intercourse with the nations of the
East and of the West, and the blessings of cheap
postage in its social aspects, are all suitably depicted.
Yet the whole thing fell flat ; the envelope drew down
upon itself scorn and ridicule, and it had to be
quickly withdrawn. In the end, it was necessary to
provide special machinery to destroy the immense
quantities of the envelope which had been prepared
It is amusing, however, to read the contemptuous
and very funny criticisms which were showered upon
the artist and Mr Eowland Hill by the newspapers
of the day, in one of which the following remarks
" The envelopes and half-sheets have an engraved
surface, extremely fantastic, and not less grotesque.
In the centre, at the top, sits Britannia, throwing
out her arms, as if in a tempest of fury, at four
winged urchins, intended to represent postboys,
368 THE EOYAL MAIL.
letter - carriers, or Mercuries, but who, instead of
making use of their wings and flying, appear in the
act of striking out or swimming, which would have
been natural enough if they had been furnished with
fins instead of wings. On the right of Britannia
there are a brace of elephants, all backed and ready
to start, when some Hindoo, Chinese, Arabic, or
Turkish merchants, standing quietly by, have closed
their bargains and correspondence. The elephants
are symbolic of the lightness and rapidity with
which Mr Eowland Hill's penny postage is to be
carried on, and perhaps, also, of the power requisite
for transporting the 1500 a-year to his quarters,
which is all he obtains for strutting about the Post-
office with his hands in his pockets, and nothing to
do, like a fish out of water. On the left of Britannia,
who looks herself very much like a termagant, there
is an agglomeration of native Indians, missionaries,
Yankees, and casks of tobacco, with a sprinkling of
foliage, and the rotten stem of a tree, not forgetting
a little terrier dog inquisitively gliding between the
legs of the mysterious conclave to see the row.
Below, on the left, a couple of heads of the damsel
tribe are curiously peering over a valentine just
received (scene, Valentine's Day), whilst a little girl
is pressing the elders for a sight of Cupid, and the
heart transfixed with a score of arrows. On the
right, again, stands a dutiful boy, reading to his
anxious mamma an account of her husband's hap-
less shipwreck, who, with hands clasped, is blessing
Eowland Hill for the cheap rate at which she gets
the disastrous intelligence. With very great pro-
priety the name of the artist is conspicuously placed
in one corner, so that the public and posterity may
know who is the worthy Oliver of the genius of a
Eowland on this important occasion. As may well
be imagined, it is no common man, for the mighty
effort has taxed the powers of the Eoyal Academy
itself, if the engraved announcement of W. Mulready,
E.A., in the corner, may be credited. Considering
the infinite drollery of the whole, the curious assort-
ment of figures and faces ; the harmonious mdange of
elephants, mandarins' tails, Yankee beavers, naked
Indians squatted with their hindquarters in front,
Cherokee chiefs with feathered tufts shaking mis-
sionaries by the hand ; casks of Virginia threatening
the heads of young ladies devouring their love-
letters ; and the old woman in the corner, with hands
uplifted, blessing Lord Lichfield and Sir Eowland for
the saving grace of lid. out of the shilling, and
valuing her absent husband's calamity or death as
nothing in comparison with such an economy, al-
together, it may be said that this is a wondrous
combination of pictorial genius, after which Phiz
370 THE ROYAL MAIL.
and Cruikshank must hide their diminished heads,
for they can hardly be deemed worthy now of the
inferior grade of associates and aspirants for Aca-
All this is excessively funny, and enables us to
smile ; but if the grounds of condemnation were of
no more solid kind, we might venture the suggestion
that the envelopes had hardly a fair trial at the bar
of serious public judgment.
Lines on the Penny Postage.
The following lines were popular about the year
1840, when Sir Eowland Hill introduced the uni-
form penny rate of postage. The scheme was not
looked upon hopefully in all quarters, and some
persons predicted an early failure for it, while
others only saw in the new departure grounds for
ridicule or jest. These lines, which are certainly
amusing, are said to be the production of Mr James
Something I want to write upon, to scare away each vapour
The " Penny Postage " shall I try ? Why, yes, I'll write on paper.-
Thy great invention, Rowland Hill, each person loudly hails ;
The females they are full of it, and so are all the mails.
This may be called the " Penny Age," and those who are not
Are daily growing " penny wise," though not, I hope, pound
We've penny blacking, penny plays, penny mags, for informa-
And now a " Penny Post," which proves we've lots of pene-
Their love- sick thoughts by this new act may Lucy, Jane, or
Array in airy-diction from Johnson's dictionary.
Each maid will for the postman watch the keyhole like a cat,
And spring towards the door whene'er there comes a big rat-tat.
And lots of paper will be used by every scribbling elf,
That each should be a paper manufacturer himself.
To serve all with ink enough they must have different plans ;
They must start an "Ink walk "just like milk, and serve it
round in cans.
The letters in St Valentine so vastly will amount,
Postmen may judge them by the lot, they won't have time to
They must bring round spades and measures, to poor love-sick
Deliver them by bushels, the same as they do coals.
As billet-doux will so augment, the mails will be too small,
So omnibuses they must use, or they can't carry all ;
And ladies pleasure will evince, instead of any fuss,
To have their lovers' letters all delivered with a 'bus !
Mail-coachmen are improving much in knowledge of the head,
For like the letter which they take, they're themselves all over
Postmen are " men of letters " too ; each one's a learned talker,
And 'cause he reads the diction'ry, the people call him
Handwriting now of every sort the connoisseur may meet ;
Though a running hand, I think, does most give postmen run-
372 THE KOYAL MAIL.
They who can't write will make their mark when they a line
And where orthography is lame, of course it will "come
Invention is progressing so, and soon it will be seen,
That conveyance will be quicker done than it has ever been ;
A plan's in agitation as nought can genius fetter
To let us have the answer back, before they get the letter.
At the Stamp-counter.
A man who can stand at the stamp-counter and
serve the public without fear and without reproach,
must needs be possessed of a highly sweetened
temper. What with the impatient demands of
some, the unreasonable demurs of others, the tire-
some iteration of questions propounded by the eccen-
tric, and the attention required to be given to the
Mrs Browns of society, not to mention the irritating
remarks at times of the inconsiderate, the position
behind the counter is one which calls for self-control
and a large share of good-nature.
The sort of thing that has to be endured at the
" Perfect woman, nobly planned,
To warn, to comfort, and command,"
when she chooses to lay siege to the stamp-window,
is thus described by an American writer, and the
description is not to any great extent an exaggera-
tion (if it be so at all) of experiences which are had
in our own country in this particular direction :
"Just about eleven o'clock yesterday forenoon
there were thirteen men and one woman at the
stamp-window of the Post-office. Most of the men
had letters to post on the eastern trains. The woman
had something tied up in a blue match-box. She
got there first, and she held her position with her
head in the window and both elbows on the shelf.
" ' Is there such a place in this country as Cleve-
land ? ' she began.
" ' Oh yes.'
" ' Do you send mail there ? '
" ' Yes/
" ' Well, a woman living next door asked me to
mail this box for her. I guess it's directed all right.
She said it ought to go for a cent.'
" ' Takes two cents,' said the clerk, after weighing
it. ' If there is writing inside, it will be twelve
" ' Mercy on me, but how you do charge ! '
" Here the thirteen men began to push up and
bustle around, and talk about the old match-box
delaying two dozen business letters ; but the woman
had lots of time.
" ' Then it will be two cents, eh ? '
374 THE ROYAL MAIL.
" ' If there is no writing inside/ observed the
" ' Well, there may be ; I know she is a great
hand to write. She's sending some flower-seed to
her sister, and I suppose she has told her how to
plant 'em '
" ' Two threes,' called out one of the crowd, as he
tried to get at the window.
" ' Hurry up ! ' cried another.
" ' There ought to be a separate window here for
women,' growled a third.
" ' Then it will take twelve cents ? ' she calmly
queried, as she fumbled around for her purse.
" ' Yes.'
" ' Well, I'd better pay it, I guess.'
" From one pocket she took two coppers, from her
reticule she took a three-cent piece, from her purse
she fished out a nickel ; and it was only after a hunt
of eighty seconds that she got the twelve cents to-
gether. She then consumed four minutes in lick-
ing on the stamps, asking where to post the box,
and wondering if there was really any writing
" But woman proposes and man disposes. Twenty
thousand dollars worth of business was being de-
tained by a twelve-cent woman, and a tidal wave
suddenly took her away from the window. In sixty
seconds the thirteen men had been waited on and
gone their ways, and the woman returned to the
window, handed in the box, and said, ' Them stamps
are licked on crooked ; it won't make any difference,
rPHE description furnished by Scott in the ' Anti-
-*- quary ' of the internal management of a country
Post-office, as existing towards the close of last cen-
tury, is extremely amusing and piquant; but the
probability is that, while so much of what is said
might be true to circumstances, the picture was
heightened in colour for the purpose of literary
effect. No doubt a certain amount of gossip emerged
from such country offices, derived from the outsides
and occasionally from the insides of letters ; yet it is
hardly likely that a group of curious women should
have gathered together in the postmaster's room to
make a general overhaul of the contents of the mail-
bag, as is described in the case of the Post-office at
Fairport. In small country towns in the present
day, it is no uncommon thing to attribute the spread
of " secrets " about the place to a breach of confidence
ABOUT POSTMASTERS. 377
at the Post-office, while the real fact is that things
told by the persons concerned in strictest secrecy
to their most intimate friends are by these communi-
cated again to other kind friends, and so the ripple
of information rolls on till there is no longer any
secret at all, and the poor official at the Post-office
is assumed to be the only possible offender. The
smaller the place the greater is the thirst for neigh-
bourly gossip, the more quickly does it spread when
out, and the more ready are those whose secrets
ooze forth to point the finger of suspicion at the
Every one knows what a small country Post-office
is nowadays. When we seek change of air and
relaxation in the holiday season, choice is made
maybe of some little country village or seaside re-
sort whereat to spend the few weeks at our disposal.
If the place be a place at all, there we shall find a
Post-office ; but possibly there is no house-to-house
delivery, and letters must be called for at the Post-
office itself. As the post-hour approaches, groups of
visitors take up positions near the office door, or squat
themselves down on any patch of sward that may be
conveniently near. Young ladies waited upon by
their admirers, mothers with their children, a bachelor
group or two from the inn, and here and there a native
of the place, some expecting letters, others indulging
378 THE ROYAL MAIL.
a feeble hope in that direction, attend as assistants at
what is one of the excitements of the day. Presently
the post-runner, with his wallet slung upon his back
and a rustic walking-stick in his hand, appears in the
distance, jogging along with that steady swinging
stride which is so characteristic of his class. The
visitors begin to close up around the Post-office ; in
a few minutes the runner steps into it ; he throws
down his wallet of treasures on the counter, removes
his faded and dusty hat, and with his coloured cotton
handkerchief wipes the sweat from his soiled and
heated face. Meanwhile the attention of the post-
mistress is given to the contents of the bag ; and as
the expectant receivers of letters crowd in at or
around the door, a few who have been unable to ap-
proach sufficiently near derive what consolation they
can from eyeing the operations through the shop
window, or ,by vainly endeavouring to catch an
early glimpse of some well-known superscription as
the letters pass one by one through the hands of
The division of the letters, which can hardly be
called a system of sorting, is a proceeding worthy of
study. Some letters are placed up on end against
sweetie-bottles in the window, others are laid down
on shelves, others again are spread out on drawers
or tables, quite in an arbitrary fashion. The post-
ABOUT POSTMASTEKS. 379
mistress has no difficulty in reading the addresses,
as a rule, but the name of a new-comer seems to
demand a little study : the letter is looked at back
and front, and then laid down hesitatingly in a place
by itself, as if it were an uncanny thing. The ad-
dress of a letter for any young lady supposed to be
engaged in correspondence of a tender kind seems
also to require scrutiny ; and should she happen to
be well in at the door, it is immediately handed
to her, those who are in the secret and those who
are not forming different ideas as to the reason for
this special mark of favour. While this is being
done, an undefined sensation is produced in the small
crowd, and the recipient retires in confusion to peruse
the letter in peace and quiet elsewhere. At length
the whole treasures are ready, and the distribution to
the eager callers is a matter of a very few minutes,
to be renewed again at the same hour next day.
Something like this is the routine observed when
the delivery is being effected at small rural Post-offices
in our own days the keeper of the post being a
shopkeeper, generally a grocer.
In the earlier history of the post, and up till the
time of mail-coaches, the Post-office was very gen-
erally to be found established at the inn of the
place. There was an evident convenience in this,
owing to the innkeeper being the postmaster in
380 THE EOYAL MAIL.
the other and original sense of the provider of
horses to ride post, when it was common to send
on expresses, by means of these agents, from stage
to stage. But the innkeepers, being often farmers
besides, had business more important than that of
the post to look after, and consequently the work
was delegated to others. The duty of receiving and
despatching the mails was frequently left to waiters
or chambermaids, with the undesirable but inevitable
result that the work was badly done. Often there
was no separate place set apart for Post-office busi-
ness ; letters were sorted in the bar or in one of the
public rooms, where any one could see them, thereby
excluding all possibility of secrecy in dealing with
the correspondence. Eeferring to the middle of last
century, a surveyor expressed himself to the effect
that " the head ostler was often the postmaster's
prime minister in matters relating to the mails."
The interest taken by Boniface in the Post-office
does not seem to have been very great ; for an
English surveyor, writing in 1792, thus expresses
himself : " Persons who keep horses for other uses,
and particularly innkeepers, may assuredly more
conveniently and at less expense work the mails
than those who keep horses for that business only.
But, on the other hand, it may be observed that
innkeepers, so far from paying Government service
ABOUT POSTMASTERS. 381
the compliment of employing in it their best horses,
too often send their worst with the mails ; and as
to their riders, they are, in general, the dregs of
the stable-yard, and by no means to be compared
to those employed by postmasters in private sta-
Lack of interest in the mails did not, however,
stand in the way of their turning the post to
account in favour of their visitors ; for in another
official report the following observation is made on
the subject of franking : " The Post-office is not of
the consequence or recommendation to an inn which
it used to be before the restriction in franking took
place ; and a traveller, now finding that my host at
the public office is deprived of that privilege, moves
over to the Eed Lyon."
When mail-coaches came to be put upon the road,
the necessity for having postmasters other than
innkeepers forced itself upon the authorities, so that
there should be an independent check upon the
contractors, and a better regulation of the arrival
and departure of the mails, with less chance of
excuse for delays ; and thus a change was brought
about in the status of country postmasters.
But postmasters in the old days do not seem to
have been uniformly happy in their posts. The
following from a surveyor's report of December
382 THE ROYAL MAIL.
1792, relating to the postmaster of Wetherby, in
Yorkshire, shows this, and no doubt describes the
case accurately. The "Wetherby office had been
made more important by some rearrangement
of posts, with the result which the surveyor
thus pathetically brings under notice : " The Post-
master-General's humanity, I humbly apprehend,
would be very much affected if they knew exactly
the situation of this poor deputy. He has now
experienced the difference between his former
snug duty and the very great fatigue of a large
centre office, and labour throughout almost the whole
of every night since the 10th October 1791. Also
the very heavy expenses incurred thereby for assist-
ance, coal, candles, paper, wax, &c., without any
addition to his salary. To add to his distresses
for he is not rich " (who ever heard of a rich post-
master ?) " he has been so closely pressed from the
Bye-letter Office for his balance due there as to have
been compelled to borrow money to discharge them,
at the very time that he could not obtain any ac-
count from the General Office, nor warrants for
payment of as large sums due to him."
It is not difficult to picture this poor postmaster of
Wetherby, tied to duty all night long arranging his
mails by the light of a guttering candle, and smarting
under financial difficulties ; the Head Office squeezing
ABOUT POSTMASTERS. 383
him for revenue with one hand, and holding back
what was due to him for his services with the other.
Sometimes country Post-offices would be the
scene of small gatherings late at night, waiting
the arrival of the mail, as was the case at Dumfries
in 1799, when some few of the inhabitants would
wait up till ten, eleven, or twelve o'clock to receive
the English newspapers, so eager were they to per-
use them. Then again, when a mail was passing
through a town between stages in the middle of
the night, the postmaster, awoke by the post-boy's
horn, would present himself at an upper window
and take in his bag by means of a hook and line,
his body shivering the while in the cold night blast.
These postmasters required looking after occa-
sionally, however, for they sometimes did wrong.
In 1668 the postmaster of Edinburgh got into
trouble by levying charges of Id., 2d., or 3d. upon
letters over and above the proper rates, and he was
peremptorily ordered to discontinue the practice.
They also, it would appear, exercised some sort of
surveillance over private correspondence. Chambers,
in his 'Domestic Annals of Scotland,' to which
valuable work we are again indebted, gives a case
in point: "In July 1701, two letters from Brussels,
having the cross upon the back of them, had come with
proper addresses under cover to the Edinburgh post-
384 THE KOYAL MAIL.
master. He was surprised with them, and brought
them to the Lord Advocate, who, however, on open-
ing them, found they were of no value, being only
on private business ; wherefore he ordered them to
be delivered by the postmaster to the persons to
whom they were directed." Yet zeal for the King's
interest did not always have an acceptable reward,
as is shown by the Scotch Privy Council record of
1679. The keeper of fhe Edinburgh letter-office
was accused of "sending up a bye-letter with the
flying packet upon the twenty-two day of June last,
giving ane account to the postmaster of England of
the defeat of the rebels in the west, which was by
the said postmaster communicated to the King before
it could have been done by his Majesty's Secretary
for Scotland, and which letter contains several un-
truths in matter of fact." For having forestalled
his Majesty's Secretary, probably, rather than for the
inaccuracy as to facts, the keeper of the post was
sent to the Tolbooth, there to meditate upon the
unprofitableness of official zeal, during the Council's
It does not seem to have been thought prudent
to intrust the date-stamping of letters to postmasters
generally until some time in the present century.
Down to the close of last century, at any rate,
according to a Survey report of the year 1800, this
ABOUT POSTMASTERS. 385
was allowed only at the more important offices.
The report is as follows : " In regard to having the
Dumbarton letters stamped with the day of the
month, as now done at Glasgow, the subject has
often been considered, and although it has been
approved of with some large commercial towns in
England, and Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland,
it has been much doubted how far it would be
proper or necessary to establish it generally with
less towns, where the practice might be more
subject to irregularity or abuses, besides the very
great expense such a supply of stamps would occa-
sion to the revenue."
The smallness of the salaries allowed to the post-
masters of former times is referred to in another
chapter, and this may, no doubt, have contributed
to the lack of interest taken in the work by some
of these officials.
Traditions of hard work and long hours linger still
in the Post-office, though nowadays the periods of
duty are generally reduced to moderate limits. Some
idea of the service required to be rendered formerly
by Post-office servants may be gathered from the
following order, dating about 1780 or 1790. It
refers to the Secretary to the Post-office in Dublin,
but we ought perhaps to put a very free interpreta-
tion upon it : " The duty of the Secretary is to
386 THE ROYAL MAIL.
carry on the general correspondence, and, under the
direction of the Postmaster-General, to superintend
the whole business of the office ; to attend the Board,
and give directions for carrying into execution the
orders of the Postmaster- General. His attendance
is constant, and at all hours by day and by night
generally from 7 until 10, from 12 until 5, and
from 9 until 11 o'clock each day."
The Postmasters of the United Kingdom are a
very large class, numbering many thousands, and
comprising every variety of individual from the
honest country shopkeeper to the highly intelligent
men who are placed in charge of the offices in our
principal towns. The former have enough to do in
mastering the various codes of rules under which the
many branches of business are carried on ; while the
latter, in exercising discipline over their forces, carry -
ing out changes of administration, and endeavouring
to meet the wishes of a public ever wakeful to their
interests and privileges, are something in their way
like petty sovereigns, of whom it might not inaptly
be said, " Uneasy is the head that wears a crown,"
though the material emblem itself be wanting.
Post-office is no stranger to the taunt that it
-L is swathed from head to foot in red tape ; or,
at any rate, that its operations are so trammelled
with routine that no inquiry into irregularities can
be made with anything like due expedition. Such
accusations as these often come from unreflecting
persons, or from those whose business operations are
of a small kind, and who have no idea of the methods
necessary for carrying on a huge administration.
An ordinary shopkeeper, for example, has under
his own eye the whole sphere of his daily business ;
he has a personal knowledge of all purchases from the
wholesale houses, and knows exactly the particulars
of his daily sales ; he has, moreover, the behaviour of
his servants constantly under observation with a view
to discipline ; in fact, he is ever present in his own
business world, the whole scope of which is within'
his individual purview. If a person of this class
388 THE EOYAL MAIL.
were asked a question in regard to his affairs, it
would probably be in his power to afford an answer
at once ; and when he addresses an inquiry to the
Post-office he expects a reply with like rapidity.
Not receiving an answer with the looked-for de-
spatch, as might very likely happen, the cause would
be assumed to be -needless routine otherwise red
Now it is proper here to observe, that between
business or trade in the ordinary sense, and the
administration of a department like the Post-office,
there exists a gulf which forbids all comparison,
and establishes a contrast of the most striking kind.
A stranger, were he taken through the Secretariat
of the Post - office at St Martin's - le - Grand, the
brain of the whole Department, could not fail to be
struck by the method which reigns throughout, and
the way in which various subjects coming up for
consideration are disposed of in different branches.
In one quarter he would find inquiry going on into
the characters and antecedents of candidates for ap-
pointments .throughout the country, and preparations
being made for their examination by the Civil Ser-
vice Commissioners. In another room would be
found officers exercising judicial functions in regard
to cases of misbehaviour reported from the country
meting out arrest of pay or dismissal in accordance
RED TAPE. 389
with the gravity of the offence in each instance.
Then in other rooms questions as to new buildings,
their fittings and furniture, and the increase of staff
when demanded by provincial offices, are undergoing
close examination. Inquiries for missing letters take
up attention in one branch ; various other kinds of
irregularities are dealt with in another. The foreign
mails branch, the home mails and parcel-post branch,
the telegraph branch, with all their subdivisions of
work, occupy separate rooms, and claim the attention
of officers specially trained to their several duties.
And how does all the correspondence for the
Secretary at headquarters find its way to its proper
quarter for treatment ? There is a branch called
the Eegistry, in which every letter or communica-
tion of any importance is registered on receipt that
is, it receives a number, the name of the writer is
indexed, and the subject of his letter recorded. The
number of officers employed in the Eegistry is 73 ;
and the original papers passing through the branch
in the way stated exceed 320,000 annually. From
this branch every morning the papers for treatment
are distributed over the Secretariat, each officer re-
ceiving the papers proper to his duty. Nor does the
business of the Eegistry end here, for every case
each separate set of papers on a subject is called a
case is recorded again whenever sent elsewhere, so
390 THE EOYAL MAIL.
that its destination can be traced. Were this not done,
laggard postmasters, or persons acting from base or in-
terested motives, might find it convenient not to return
the papers, and so by silence end them. Sometimes a
single case will go backwards and forwards thirty or
forty times, yet its whole history of travel is recorded.
This is the routine which some people call red tape.
In dealing in this way with large masses of corre-
spondence, each atom of which has to receive its
due share of brain -attention, there is necessarily
some degree of retardation ; and it may be remarked
that, between this process and the law in mechanics,
under which, other things being equal, a gain of
power is accompanied by a loss of speed, there exists
a strong analogy. But by this classification and
division of labour it is possible to bring about results
which could not be achieved by a much larger staff
under any plan of desultory working.
We will mention one thing which, perhaps more
than any other, excites the public to use the taunt of
red tape. It is a printed reply to a complaint, com-
monly spoken of as the " stereotyped reply." The
public do not know how carefully and conscien-
tiously delays and reported losses of letters are inves-
tigated in the Post-office. Inquiries are made in
every office through which the letters would pass in
transit, and records made, lest an explanation should
KED TAPE. 391
afterwards be forthcoming ; but after all, in the eyes
of some persons, the printed reply spoils all. These
persons forget, however, that the printed letter con-
veys all that is to be said on the subject, and that
it is used in the interests of economy.
It may be admitted of the Post-office, that of all
its characteristics, the most prominent is that of its
method, routine, or red-tapeism, in the limited sense
of what is necessary for the furtherance of the pub-
lic service ; but there is, perhaps, no concern of like
magnitude in the world in which there is less of the
musty fusty red tape of antiquity that has outlived
its time, and no longer serves any useful purpose.
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our commendations both of the judicious plan and the admirable execu-
tion. . . . This is a pre-eminently good, comprehensive, and authentic
English lexicon, embracing not only all the words to be found in previous
dictionaries, but all the modern words scientific, new coined, and adopted
from foreign languages, and now naturalised and legitimised."
atlO Queries. " The whole constitutes a work of high utility."
, "The book has the singular merit of being a diction-
ary of the highest order in every department and in every arrangement,
without being cumbersome; whilst for ease of reference there is no dic-
tionary we know of that equals it. ... For the library table it is also,
we must repeat, precisely the sort of volume required, and indispensable
to every large reader or literary worker."
." Every page bears the evidence of extensive scholar-
ship and laborious research, nothing necessary to the elucidation of pres-
ent-day language being omitted. . . . As a book of reference for terms
in every department of English speech, this work must be accorded a
high place in fact, it is quite a library in itself. . . . It is a marvel of
i>0tk tribune. "The work exhibits all the freshness and best results
of modern lexicographic scholarship, and is arranged with great care, so
as to facilitate reference."
1ReW jl)0rfc dfcatl ant) jEjpteSS. " It is certainly a monumental work."
. "Its merits will be discovered and- commended until
the book takes its place among our standard and best English dictionaries."
intelligencer, IReW UOrfc. "A trustworthy, truly scholarly
dictionary of our English language."
G5a3ette. "There can be but little doubt that, when completed, the
work will be one of the most serviceable and most accurate that English
lexicography has yet produced for general use."
J300tOn t>00t, "The work will be a most valuable addition to the library of
the scholar and of the general reader. It can have for the present no
possible rival in its own field."
GJlObC. " I n every respect this is one of the best works of the kind
in the language."
WILLIAM BLACKWOOD & SONS, EDINBURGH AND LONDON.