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Title: A Hundred Years by Post - A Jubilee Retrospect
Author: Hyde, James Wilson, 1841-1918
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Hundred Years by Post - A Jubilee Retrospect" ***

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A Hundred Years by Post







St. Dunstan's House


[_All rights reserved_]

Printed by T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to Her Majesty, at the
Edinburgh University Press.









The following pages give some particulars of the changes that have taken
place in the Post Office service during the past hundred years; and the
matter may prove interesting, not only on account of the changes
themselves, but in respect of the influence which the growing usefulness
of the Postal Service must necessarily have upon almost every relation
of political, educational, social, and commercial life. More especially
may the subject be found attractive at the close of the present year,
when the country has been celebrating the Jubilee of the Penny Post.


_December 1890._




PAST AND PRESENT CONTRASTED,                            1


ABUSES OF POWER,                                        7

SLOW DIFFUSION OF NEWS,                                17

    MAIL OF 2D MARCH 1838,                    _facing_ 22


FOOT AND HORSE POSTS,                                  33

_Illustration_--THE MAIL, 1803,               _facing_ 40

THE MAIL-COACH ERA,                                    40

_Illustration_--THE MAIL, 1824,               _facing_ 46

    EXCHANGE OF MAILS,                        _facing_ 58

_Illustration_--THE MAIL-COACH GUARD,         _facing_ 74

DEAR POSTAGE,                                          80

_Diagrams_--ROUNDABOUT COMMUNICATIONS,             84, 85

STREETS FIRST NUMBERED,                                88

POSTMASTERS AS NEWS COLLECTORS,                        91

_Illustration_--THE BELLMAN,                  _facing_ 92

MAIL-PACKET SERVICE,                                   96

    "PRINCE ARTHUR,"                         _facing_ 102

PENNY POSTAGE,                                        111

    AGITATION,                               _facing_ 112


STAFF OF THE POST OFFICE,                             123

    GLASGOW,                                 _facing_ 126

VALUE OF EARLY NEWS BY POST,                          130

    AND PRESS,                                        136

RESULTS OF RAPID COMMUNICATIONS,                      139

[Illustration: _Frontispiece._ MAIL-COACH IN THUNDERSTORM.
(_From a print, 1827._)]


Were a former inhabitant of this country who had quitted the stage of
life towards the close of last century to reappear in our midst, he
could not fail to be struck with the wonderful changes which have taken
place in the aspect of things; in the methods of performing the tasks of
daily life; and in the character of our social system generally. Nor is
it too much to say that he would see himself surrounded by a world full
of enchantment, and that his senses of wonder and admiration would rival
the feelings excited in youthful minds under the spell of books like
Jules Verne's _Journey to the Moon_, or the ever-entertaining stories of
the _Arabian Nights_. It is true that he would find the operations of
nature going on as before. The dewdrop and the blade of grass, sunshine
and shower, the movements of the tides, and the revolutions of the
heavenly bodies; these would still appear to be the same. But almost
everything to which man had been wont to put his hand would appear to
bear the impress of some other hand; and a hundred avenues of thought
opening to his bewildered sense would consign his inward man to the
education of a second childhood.

So fruitful has been the nineteenth century in discovery and invention,
and so astounding the advancement made, that it is only by stopping in
our madding haste and looking back that we can realise how different the
present is from the past. Yet to our imaginary friend's astonished
perception, nothing, we venture to think, would come with greater force
than the contrast between the means available for keeping up
communications in his day and in our own. We are used to see trains
coursing on the iron way at a speed of fifty or sixty miles an hour;
steamships moving on every sea, defiant of tide and wind, at the rate of
fifteen or twenty miles an hour; and the electric telegraph
outstripping all else, and practically annihilating time and space.

But how different was the state of things at the close of the eighteenth
century! The only means then available for home communications--that is
for letters, etc.--were the Foot Messenger, the Horse Express, and the
Mail Coach; and for communication with places beyond the sea,

The condition of things as then existing, and as reflected upon society,
is thus summed up by Mackenzie in his _History of the Nineteenth
Century_: "Men had scarcely the means to go from home beyond such
trivial distance as they were able to accomplish on foot. Human society
was composed of a multitude of little communities, dwelling apart,
mutually ignorant, and therefore cherishing mutual antipathies."

And when persons did venture away from home, in the capacity of
travellers, the entertainment they received in the hostelries, even in
some of the larger towns, seems now rather remarkable. If anything
surprises the traveller of these latter days, in regard to hotel
accommodation, when business or pleasure takes him from the bosom of his
family, it is the sumptuous character of the palaces in all the
principal towns of all civilised countries wherein he may be received,
and where he may make his temporary abode. To persons used to such
comforts, the accommodation of the last century would excite surprise in
quite another direction. Here is a description of the inn accommodation
of Edinburgh, furnished by Captain Topham, who visited Edinburgh in
1774: "On my first arrival, my companion and self, after the fatigue of
a long day's journey, were landed at one of these stable-keepers (for
they have modesty enough to give themselves no higher denomination) in a
part of the town called the Pleasance; and, on entering the house, we
were conducted by a poor devil of a girl, without shoes or stockings,
and with only a single linsey-woolsey petticoat which just reached
half-way to her ankles, into a room where about twenty Scotch drovers
had been regaling themselves with whisky and potatoes. You may guess our
amazement when we were informed that this was the best inn in the
metropolis--that we could have no beds unless we had an inclination to
sleep together, and in the same room with the company which a
stage-coach had that moment discharged."

Before proceeding further, let us look at some of the circumstances
which were characteristic of the period with which we are dealing.
Liberty of the subject and public opinion are inseparably wedded
together, and this seems inevitable in every country whose government
partakes largely of the representative system. For in such States,
unlike the conditions which obtain under despotic governments, the laws
are formulated and amended in accordance with the views held for the
time being by _the people_, the Government merely acting as the agency
through which the people's will is declared. And this being so, what is
called the Liberty of the subject must be that limited and circumscribed
freedom allowed by the people collectively, as expressed in the term
"public opinion," to the individual man. In despotic States the
circumstances are necessarily different, and such States may be excluded
from the present consideration.

Wherever there is wanting a quick and universal exchange of thought
there can be no sound public opinion. Where hindrances are placed upon
the free exchange of views, either by heavy duties on newspapers, by
dear postage, or by slow communications, public opinion must be a plant
of low vitality and slow growth. Consequently, in the age preceding that
of steam, so far as applied to locomotion, and to the telegraph, which
age extended well into the present century, there was no rapid exchange
of thought; new ideas were of slow propagation; there was little of that
intellectual friction so productive of intellectual light among the
masses. In these circumstances it is not surprising to read of things
existing within the last hundred years which to-day could have no place
in our national existence. Lord Cockburn, in the _Memorials of his
Time_, gives the following instance. "I knew a case, several years
after 1800," says he, "where the seat-holders of a town church applied
to Government, which was the patron, for the promotion of the second
clergyman, who had been giving great satisfaction for many years, and
now, on the death of the first minister, it was wished that he should
get the vacant place. The answer, written by a Member of the Cabinet,
was that the single fact of the people having interfered so far as to
express a wish was conclusive against what they desired; and another
appointment was instantly made." Going back a little more than a hundred
years, the following are specimens of the abuses then in full vigour.
They are referred to in Trevelyan's _Early History of Charles James
Fox_, the period in question being about 1750-60: "One nobleman had
eight thousand a year in sinecures, and the colonelcies of three
regiments. Another, an Auditor of the Exchequer, inside which he never
looked, had £8000 in years of peace, and £20,000 in years of war. A
third, with nothing to recommend him except his outward graces, bowed
and whispered himself into four great employments, from which thirteen
to fourteen hundred British guineas flowed month by month into the lap
of his Parisian mistress."... "George Selwyn, who returned two members,
and had something to say in the election of a third, was at one and the
same time Surveyor-General of Crown Lands, which he never surveyed,
Registrar in Chancery at Barbadoes, which he never visited, and Surveyor
of the Meltings and Clerk of the Irons in the Mint, where he showed
himself once a week in order to eat a dinner which he ordered, but for
which the nation paid."

The shameful waste of the public money in the shape of hereditary
pensions was still in vigour within the period we are dealing with; one
small party in the State "calling the tune," and the great mass of the
people, practically unrepresented, being left "to pay the piper." During
the reign of George III., who occupied the throne from 1760 to 1820, the
following hereditary pensions were granted:--To Trustees for the use of
William Penn, and his heirs and descendants for ever, in consideration
of his meritorious services and family losses from the American war
£4000. To Lord Rodney, and every the heirs-male to whom the title of
Lord Rodney shall descend, £2000. To Earl Morley and John Campbell,
Esq., and their heirs and assignees for ever, upon trust for the
representatives of Jeffrey Earl Amherst, £3000. To Viscount Exmouth and
the heirs-male to whom the title shall descend £2000. To Earl Nelson and
the heirs-male to whom the title of Earl Nelson shall descend, with
power of settling jointures out of the annuity, at no time exceeding
£3000 a year, £5000. In addition to this pension of £5000, Parliament
also granted to trustees on behalf of Earl Nelson a sum of £90,000 for
the purchase of an estate and mansion-house to be settled and entailed
to the same persons as the annuity of £5000.

Within the Post Office too very strange things happened in connection
with money paid to certain persons supposed to be in its service. Here
is a case, in the form of a remonstrance, referring to the period close
upon the end of last century, which explains itself. "Mr. Bushe observes
that the Government wished to reward his father, Gervas Parker Bushe
(who was one of the Commissioners), for his services, and particularly
for having increased the revenue £20,000 per annum; but that he
preferred a place for his son to any emolument for himself, in
consequence of which he was appointed Resident Surveyor. He expressed
his astonishment to find in the Patent (which he never looked into
before) that it is there mentioned 'during good behaviour,' and not for
life, upon which condition alone his father would have accepted it. He
adds that it was given to him as totally and absolutely a sinecure, and
that his appointment took place at so early a period of life that it
would be impossible for him to do any duty."

Again, the following evidence was given before a Commission on oath in
1791, by Mr. Johnson, a letter-carrier in London: "He receives at
present a salary as a letter-carrier of 14s. per week, making £36, 19s.
per annum; he likewise receives certain perquisites, arising from such
pence as are collected in the evening by letters delivered to him after
the Receiving Houses are shut, amounting in 1784 to £38, 11s., also from
acknowledgments from the public for sending letters by another
letter-carrier not immediately within his walk, amounting in the same
year to £5. He likewise receives in Christmas boxes £20,--the above
sums, making together £100, was the whole of his receipts of every kind
whatever by virtue of his office in 1784 (312 candles and a limited
allowance of stationery excepted), out of which he pays a person for
executing his duty as a letter-carrier, at the rate of 8s. a week, being
£20, 16s. per annum, and retains the remainder for his own use

In a report made by a Commission which inquired into the state of the
Post Office in 1788, the following statement appears respecting abuses
existing in the department; and in reflecting upon that period the Post
Office servants of to-day might almost entertain feelings of regret that
they did not live in the happy days of feasts, coals, and candles. Here
is the statement of the Commissioners: "The custom of giving certain
annual feasts to the officers and clerks of this office (London) at the
public expense ought to be abolished; as also what is called the feast
and drink money; and, as the Inland Office now shuts at an early hour,
the allowances of lodging money to some of the officers, and of
apartments to others, ought to be discontinued." But of all allowances,
those of coals and candles are the most enormous; for, besides those
consumed in the official apartments, there are allowed to sundry
officers for their private use in town or country above three hundred
chaldrons of coals, and twenty thousand pounds of candles, which several
of them commute with the tradesmen for money or other articles; the
amount of the sums paid for these two articles in the year 1784 was
£4418, 4s. 1d.

In the year 1792 a payment was being made of £26 a year to a Mrs.
Collier, who was servant to the Bye and Cross Road Office in the London
Post Office; but she did not do the work herself. She employed a servant
to whom she paid £6, putting £20 into her own pocket.

What a splendid field this would have been for the Comptroller and
Auditor General, and for questioners in the Houses of Parliament!

An abuse that had its origin no doubt in the fact that the nation was
not represented at large,[1] but by Members of Parliament who were
returned by a very limited class, and who could not understand or
reflect the views of the masses, was that of the franking privilege.

The privilege of franking letters enjoyed by Members of Parliament was a
sad burden upon the Revenue of the Post Office, and it continued in
vigour down to the establishment of the Penny Post. Some idea of the
magnitude of this arrangement, which would now be called a gross abuse,
will be gathered from the state of things existing in the first quarter
of the present century. Looking at the regulations of 1823, we find that
each Member of Parliament was permitted to receive as many as fifteen
and to send as many as ten letters in each day, such letters not
exceeding one ounce in weight. At the then rates of postage this was a
most handsome privilege. In the year 1827 the Peers enjoying this extent
of free postage numbered over four hundred, and the Commons over six
hundred and fifty. In addition to these, certain Members of the
Government and other high officials had the privilege of sending free
any number of letters without restriction as to weight. These persons
were, in 1828, nearly a hundred in number.

How the privilege was turned to commercial account is explained in
Mackenzie's, _Reminiscences of Glasgow_. Referring to the Ship Bank of
that city, which had its existence in the first quarter of our century,
and to one of the partners, Mr. John Buchanan of Ardoch, who was also
Member of Parliament for Dumbartonshire, the author makes the following
statement: "From his position as Member of Parliament, he enjoyed the
privilege of franking the letters of the bank to the extent of fourteen
per diem. This was a great boon; it saved the bank some hundreds of
pounds per annum for postages. It was, moreover, regarded as a mighty

Great abuses were perpetrated even upon the abuse itself. Franks were
given away freely to other persons for their use, they were even sold,
and, moreover, they were forged. Senex, in his notes on _Glasgow Past
and Present_, describes how this was managed in Ireland. "I remember,"
says he, "about sixty years ago, an old Irish lady told me that she
seldom paid any postage for letters, and that her correspondence never
cost her friends anything. I inquired how she managed that. 'Oh,' said
she, 'I just wrote "Free, J. Suttie," in the corner of the cover of the
letter, and then, sure, nothing more was charged for it.' I said, 'Were
you not afraid of being hanged for forgery?' 'Oh, dear me, no,' she
replied; 'nobody ever heard of a lady being hanged in Ireland, and
troth, I just did what everybody else did.'" But the spirit of inquiry
was beginning to assert itself in the first half of the century, and the
franking privilege disappeared with the dawn of cheap postage.

Public opinion had as yet no active existence throughout our
Commonwealth, nor had the light spread so as to show up all the abuses.
And how true is Buckle's observation in his _History of Civilisation_
that all recent legislation is the undoing of bad laws made in the
interest of certain classes. How could there be an active public opinion
in the conditions of the times? Everybody was shut off from everybody
else. Hear further what Mackenzie says in his _History of the Nineteenth
Century_, referring to the end of last century: "The seclusion resulting
from the absence of roads rendered it necessary that every little
community, in some measure every family, should produce all that it
required to consume. The peasant raised his own food; he grew his own
flax or wool; his wife or daughter spun it; and a neighbour wove it
into cloth. He learned to extract dyes from plants which grew near his
cottage. He required to be independent of the external world from which
he was effectively shut out. Commerce was impossible until men could
find the means of transferring commodities from the place where they
were produced to the place where there were people willing to make use
of them." So much for the difficulty of exchanging ordinary produce. The
exchange of thought suffered in a like fashion.

In the first half of the present century severe restrictions were placed
upon the spread of news, not only by the heavy postage for letter
correspondence, but by the equally heavy newspaper tax. Referring to
this latter hindrance to the spread of light Mackenzie says: "The
newspaper is the natural enemy of despotic government, and was treated
as such in England. Down to 1765 the duty imposed was only one penny,
but as newspapers grew in influence the restraining tax was increased
from time to time, until in 1815 it reached the maximum of fourpence."
At this figure the tax seems to have continued many years, for under the
year 1836 Mackenzie refers to it as such, and remarks, "that this
rendered the newspaper a very occasional luxury to the working man; that
the annual circulation of newspapers in the United Kingdom was no more
than thirty-six million copies, and that these had only three hundred
thousand readers."

At the present time the combined annual circulation of a couple of the
leading newspapers in Scotland would equal the entire newspaper
circulation of the kingdom little more than fifty years ago. In the year
1799, which is less than a hundred years ago, the _Edinburgh Evening
Courant_ and the _Glasgow Courier_, two very small newspapers, were sold
at sixpence a copy, each bearing a Government stamp of the value of
threehalf-pence. Is it surprising, under these conditions, that few
newspapers should circulate, and that news should travel slowly
throughout the country?

But the growth of newspapers to their present magnificent proportions is
a thing of quite recent times, for even so lately as 1857 the
_Scotsman_, then sold unstamped for a penny, weighed only about
three-quarters of an ounce, while to-day the same paper, which continues
to be sold for a penny, weighs fully four and a half ounces. And other
newspapers throughout the country have no doubt swelled their columns to
a somewhat similar degree.

A very good instance of the small amount of personal travelling indulged
in by the people a century ago is given by Cleland in his _Annals of
Glasgow_. Writing in the year 1816, he says: "It has been calculated
that, previous to the erection of steamboats, not more than fifty
persons passed and repassed from Glasgow to Greenock in one day, whereas
it is now supposed that there are from four to five hundred passes and
repasses in the same period." In the present day a single steamboat
sailing from the Broomielaw, Glasgow, will often carry far more
passengers to Greenock, or beyond Greenock, than the whole passengers
travelling between the towns named in one day in 1816. For example, the
tourist steamer _Columba_ is certificated to carry some 1800 passengers.

In 1792 the principal mails to and from London were carried by
mail-coaches, which were then running between the Metropolis and some
score of the chief towns in the country at the speed of seven or eight
miles an hour; and so far as direct mails were concerned the towns in
question kept up relations with London under the conditions of speed
just described. But the cross post service--that is, the service between
places not lying in the main routes out of London--was not yet
developed, and these cross post towns were beyond the reach of anything
like early information of what was going on, not, let us say, in the
world at large, but in their own country. The people in these towns had
to patiently await the laggard arrival of news from the greater centres
of activity; and when it did arrive it probably came to hand in a very
imperfect form, or so late as to be useless for any purpose of combined
action or criticism.

Dr. James Russell, in his _Reminiscences of Yarrow_, describes how tardy
and uncertain the mail service by post was in the early years of the
present century; and what he says is a severe contrast to the service of
the present time, which provides for the delivery of letters, generally
daily, in every hamlet in the country. Dr. Russell writes:--

"Since I remember (unless there was a chance hand on a Wednesday) our
letters reached us only once a week, along with our bread and butcher
meat, by the weekly carrier, Robbie Hogg. His arrival used to be a great
event, the letter-bag being turned out, and a rummage made for our own.
Afterwards the Moffat carriers gave more frequent opportunities of
getting letters; but they were apt to carry them on to Moffat and bring
them back the following week."

Another instance of the slow communications is given in a letter written
from Brodick Castle, Arran, by Lord Archibald Campbell, on the 25th
September 1820.

The letter was addressed to a correspondent in Glasgow, and proceeds
thus: "Your letter of the 18th did not reach me till this morning, as,
in consequence of the rough state of the weather, there has been no
postal communication with this island for several days." The time
consumed in getting this letter forward from Glasgow to Brodick was
exactly a week, and when so much time was required in the case of an
island lying in the Firth of Clyde, what time would be necessary to make
communication with the Outer Hebrides?

Even between considerable towns, as representing important centres in
the country, the amount of correspondence by letter was small. Thus the
mail from Inverness to Edinburgh of the 5th October 1808 contained no
more than 30 letters. The total postage on these was £2, 9s. 6d., the
charges ranging from 11d. to 14s. 8d. per letter. At the present time
the letters from Inverness to Edinburgh are probably nearly a thousand a
day; but this is no fair comparison, because many letters that would
formerly pass through Edinburgh now reach their destinations in direct
bags--London itself being an instance.

1838. (_After a print lent by Lady Cole from the collection of the late
Sir Henry Cole, K.C.B._)]

But coming down to a much later date, and looking at what was going on
between London and Edinburgh, the capital towns of Great Britain, what
do we find? An analysis of the London to Edinburgh mail of the 2d March
1838 gives the following figures; and let it not be forgotten that in
these days the Edinburgh mail contained the correspondence for a large
part of Scotland:--

2296 Newspapers, weighing 273 lbs., and going free.

484 Franked Letters, weighing 47 lbs., and going free.

Parcels of stamps going free.

1555 Letters, weighing 34 lbs., and bearing postage to the value of £93.

These figures represent the exchange of thought between the two capitals
fifty years ago. These were truly the days of darkness, when abuses were
kept out of sight and were rampant.

Down to much later times the bonds of privilege remained untied. In the
Civil Service itself what changes have taken place! The doors have been
thrown open to competition and to capacity and worth, and probably they
will never be closed again. The author of these lines had an experience
in 1867--not very long ago--which may be worthy of note. He had been
then several years in the Post Office service, and desired to obtain a
nomination to compete for a higher position--a clerkship in the
Secretary's office. He took the usual step through the good offices of a
Member of Parliament, and the following rebuff emanated from
headquarters. It shall be its own monument, and may form a shot in the
historical web of our time:--

"I wrote to ---- (the Postmaster-General) about the Mr. J. W. Hyde, who
desires to be permitted to compete for a clerkship in the London Post
Office, described as a cousin of ----.

"(The Postmaster-General) has to-day replied that nominations to the
Secretary's office are not now given except to candidates who are
actually gentlemen, that is, sons of officers, clergymen, or the like.
If I cannot satisfy (the Postmaster-General) on this point, I fear Mr.
Hyde's candidature will go to the wall."[2]

Now one of the chief obstacles in the way of rapid communication in our
own country was the very unsatisfactory state of the roads. Down to the
time of the introduction of mail-coaches, just about a hundred years
ago, the roads were in a deplorable state, and travellers have left upon
record some rather strong language on the subject. It was only about
that time that road-making came to be understood; but the obvious need
for smooth roads to increase the speed of the mail gave an impetus to
the subject, and by degrees matters were greatly improved. It is not our
purpose to pursue the inquiry as to roads, though the subject might be
attractive, and we must be content with the general assertion as to
their condition.

But not only were the roads bad, but they were unsafe. Travellers could
hardly trust themselves to go about unarmed, and even the mail-coaches,
in which (besides the driver and guard) some passengers generally
journeyed, had to carry weapons of defence placed in the hands of the
guard. Many instances of highway robbery by highwaymen who made a
profession of robbery might be given; but one or two cases may repay
their perusal. On the 4th March 1793 the Under-Sheriff of Northampton
was robbed at eight o'clock in the evening near Holloway turnpike by two
highwaymen, who carried off a trunk containing the Sheriff's commission
for opening the assizes at Northampton.

In the Autobiography of Mary Hewitt the following encounter is recorded,
referring to the period between 1758-96: "Catherine (Martin), wife of a
purser in the navy, and conspicuous for her beauty and impulsive,
violent temper, having quarrelled with her excellent sister, Dorothea
Fryer, at whose house in Staffordshire she was staying, suddenly set off
to London on a visit to her great-uncle, the Rev. John Plymley, prebend
of the Collegiate Church at Wolverhampton, and Chaplain of Morden
College, Blackheath. She journeyed by the ordinary conveyance, the
Gee-Ho, a large stage-waggon drawn by a team of six horses, and which,
driven merely by day, took a week from Wolverhampton to the Cock and
Bell, Smithfield.

"Arrived in London, Catherine proceeded on foot to Blackheath. There,
night having come on, and losing her way, she was suddenly accosted by a
horseman with, 'Now, my pretty girl, where are you going?' Pleased by
his gallant address, she begged him to direct her to Morden College. He
assured her that she was fortunate in having met with him instead of one
of his company, and inducing her to mount before him, rode across the
heath to the pile of buildings which had been erected by Sir Christopher
Wren for decayed merchants, the recipients of Sir John Morden's bounty.
Assisting her to alight, he rang the bell, then remounted his steed and
galloped away, but not before the alarmed official, who had answered
the summons, had exclaimed, 'Heavens! Dick Turpin on Black Bess!' My
mother always said 'Dick Turpin.' Another version in the family runs
'Captain Smith.'"

The _Annual Register_ of the 3d October 1792 records the following case
of highway robbery:--

"The daily messenger, despatched from the Secretary of State's office
with letters to His Majesty at Windsor, was stopped near Langley Broom
by three footpads, who took from him the box containing the despatches,
and his money, etc. The same men afterwards robbed a gentleman in a
postchaise of a hundred guineas, a gold watch, etc. Some light dragoons,
who received information of the robberies, went in pursuit of the
thieves, but were not successful. They found, however, a quantity of the
papers scattered about the heath."

We will quote one more instance, as showing the frequency of these
robberies on the road. It is mentioned in the _Annual Register_ of the
28th March 1793.

"Martin (the mail robber), condemned at Exeter Assizes, was executed on
Haldown, near the spot where the robbery was committed. He had been well
educated, and had visited most European countries. At the end of the
year 1791 he was at Paris, and continued there till the end of August
1792. He said he was very active in the bloody affair of the 10th
August, at the Palace of the Tuilleries, when the Swiss Guards were
slaughtered, and Louis XVI. and his family fled to the National Assembly
for shelter. He said he did not enter with this bloody contest as a
volunteer, but, happening to be in that part of the city of Paris, he
was hurried on by the mob to take part in that sanguinary business. Not
speaking good French, he said he was suspected to be a Swiss, and on
that account, finding his life often in danger, he left Paris, and,
embarking for England at Havre de Grace, arrived at Weymouth in
September last, and then came to Exeter. He said that being in great
distress in October he committed the mail robbery."

A rather good anecdote is told of an encounter between a poor tailor
and one of these knights of the road. The tailor, on being overtaken by
the highwayman, was at once called upon to stand and deliver, the
salutation being accompanied by the presentation of two pistols at the
pedestrian's head. "I'll do that with pleasure," was the meek reply; and
forthwith the poor victim transferred to the outstretched hands of the
robber all the money he possessed. This done, the tailor proceeded to
ask a favour. "My friends would laugh at me," said he, "were I to go
home and tell them I was robbed with as much patience as a lamb. Suppose
you fire your two bull-dogs right through the crown of my hat; it will
look something like a show of resistance." Taken with the fancy, the
robber good-naturedly complied with the request; but hardly had the
smoke from the weapons cleared away, when the tailor pulled out a rusty
old horse pistol, and in turn politely requested the highwayman to shell
out everything of value about him--his pistols not excepted. So the
highwayman had the worst of the meeting on that occasion. The incident
will perhaps help to dispel the sad reproach of the craft, that a tailor
is but the ninth part of a man.

It should not be forgotten that these perils of the road had their
effect in preventing intercourse between different parts of the country.

In such outlying districts as were blessed with postal communication a
hundred years ago, the service was kept up by foot messengers, who often
travelled long distances in the performance of their duty. Thus in 1799
a post-runner travelled from Inverness to Loch Carron--a distance across
country, as the crow flies, of about fifty miles--making the journey
once a week, for which he was paid 5s. Another messenger at the same
period made the journey from Inverness to Dunvegan in Skye--a much
greater distance--also once a week, and for this service he received 7s.
6d. The rate at which the messengers travelled seems not to have been
very great, if we may judge from the performances of the post from
Dumbarton to Inveraray. In the year 1805 the Surveyor of the district
thus describes it: "I have sometimes observed these mails at leaving
Dumbarton about three stones or 48 lbs. weight, and they are generally
above two stones. During the course of last winter horses were obliged
to be occasionally employed; and it is often the case that a strong
highlander, with so great a weight upon him, cannot travel more than two
miles an hour, which greatly retards the general correspondence of this
extensive district of country."

These humble servants of the post office, travelling over considerable
tracts of country, would naturally become the means of conveying local
gossip from stage to stage, and of spreading hearsay news as they went
along. In this way, and as being the bearers of welcome letters, they
were no doubt as gladly received at the doors of our forefathers as are
the postmen at our own doors to-day. Indeed, complaint was made of the
delays that took place on the route, probably from this very cause. Here
is an instance referring to the year 1800. "I found," wrote the
Surveyor, "that 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 lodgings 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."

Exposed to the buffetings of the tempest, to the rigours of wintry
weather, and considering the rough unkept roads of the time, it is easy
to imagine how seductive would be the fireside of the country house; and
bearing in mind the desire on the part of the inmates to learn the
latest news, it is not surprising that the poor post-runner occasionally
departed from the strict line of duty.

But immediately prior to the introduction of mail-coaches, and for a
long time before that, the mails over the longer distances were
conveyed on horseback, the riders being known as "post-boys." These were
sometimes boys of fourteen or sixteen years of age, and sometimes old
men. Mr. Palmer, at whose instance mail-coaches were first put upon the
road, writing in 1783, thus describes the post-boy service. The picture
is not a very creditable one to the Post Office. "The post at present,"
says he, "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. The mails are generally
intrusted to some idle boy without character, and 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." There is perhaps
room for suspicion that Mr. Palmer was painting the post-boy service as
black as possible, for he was then advocating another method of
conveying the mails; but he was not alone in his adverse criticism. An
official in Scotland thus described the service in 1799: "It is
impossible to obtain any other contractors to ride the mails at 3d. out,
or 1½d. per mile each way. On this account we are so much distressed
with mail riders that we have often to submit to the mails being
conveyed by mules and such species of horses as are a disgrace to any
service." This is evidence from within the Post Office itself. While
young boys were suited for the work in some respects, they were
thoughtless and unpunctual; yet when older men were employed they
frequently got into liquor, and thus endangered the mails. The records
of the service are full of the troubles arising from the conduct of
these servants. The public were doubtless much to blame for this. For
the post-boys were, as we may suppose, ever welcome at the house and
ball, where refreshment, in the shape of strong drink, would be offered
to them, and they thus fell into trouble through a too common instance
of mistaken kindness.

In the year 1763 the mail leaving London on Tuesday night (in the
winter season) was not in the hands of the people of Edinburgh until the
afternoon of Sunday. This does not betoken a very rapid rate of
progression; but it appears that in many cases the post-boy's speed did
not rise above three or four miles an hour. The Post Office took severe
measures with these messengers, through parliamentary powers granted;
and even the public were called upon to keep an eye upon their
behaviour, and to report any misconduct to the authorities.

Mention has already been made of the unsafety of the roads for ordinary
travellers; but the roads were in no way safer for the post-boys. In
1798 a post-boy carrying certain Selby mails was robbed near that place,
being threatened with his life, and the mail-pouch which he then carried
was recovered under very strange circumstances in 1876.

But to come nearer home. On the early morning of the 1st of August 1802
the mail from Glasgow for Edinburgh was robbed by two men at a place
near Linlithgow, when a sum of £1300 or £1400 was stolen. The robbers
had previously been soldiers. They hurried into Edinburgh with their
booty, got drunk, were discovered, and, when subsequently tried, were
sentenced to be executed. The law was severe in those days; and the Post
Office has the distinction of having obtained judgment against a robber
who was the last criminal hung in chains in Scotland. According to
Rogers, in his _Social Life of Scotland_, this was one Leal, who, in
1773, was found guilty of robbing the mail near Elgin. A curious fact
came out in connection with the trial of this man Leal, showing what may
be termed the momentum of evil. It happened that some time previously
Leal and a companion had been to see the execution of a man for robbing
the mail, and, on returning, they had to pass through a dark and narrow
part of the road. At this point Leal observed to his companion that the
situation was one well suited for a robbery. And it was here that he
afterwards carried the suggestion then made into effect.

When such robberies took place the post-boys sometimes came off without
serious mishap, but at other times they were badly injured. On Wednesday
the 23d October 1816, a post-boy near Exeter was assaulted (as the
report says) in "a most desperate and inhuman manner," when his skull
was fractured, and he shortly afterwards died.

The post-boys were exposed to all the inclemency of the weather both by
day and night. Sometimes they were overtaken by snow-storms, when they
would have to struggle on for their lives. Sometimes, after riding a
stage in severe frost, they would have to be lifted from their saddles
benumbed with cold and unable to dismount. At other times accidents of a
different kind happened to them, and, as has been shown, they sometimes
lost their lives.

Mail-coaches were first put upon the road on the 8th of August 1784. The
term of about sixty years, during which they were the means of conveying
the principal mails throughout the country, must ever seem to us a
period of romantic interest. There is something stirring even in the
picture of a mail-coach bounding along at the heels of four well-bred
horses; and we know by experience how exhilarating it is to be carried
along the highway at a rapid rate in a well-appointed coach.

[Illustration: THE MAIL, 1803. (_From a contemporary print._)]

We cannot well separate the service given to the Post Office by
mail-coaches from the passengers who made use of that means of
conveyance, and we may linger a little to endeavour to realise what a
journey was like from accounts left us by travellers. The charm of day
travelling could no doubt be conjured up even now by any one who would
take time to reflect upon the subject. But other phases of the matter
could hardly be so dealt with.

De Quincey, in his _Confessions of an English Opium Eater_, gives a
pleasing description of the easy motion and soothing influence of a
well-equipped mail-coach running upon an even and kindly road. The
period he refers to was about 1803, and the coach was that carrying the
Bristol mail--which enjoyed unusual advantages owing to the superior
character of the road, and an extra allowance for expenses subscribed by
the Bristol merchants. He thus describes his feelings: "It was past
eight o'clock when I reached the Gloucester Coffee-House, and, the
Bristol mail being on the point of going off, I mounted on the outside.
The fine fluent motion of the mail soon laid me asleep. It is somewhat
remarkable that the first easy or refreshing sleep which I had enjoyed
for some months was on the outside of a mail-coach....

"For the first four or five miles from London I annoyed my
fellow-passenger on the roof by occasionally falling against him when
the coach gave a lurch to his side; and, indeed, if the road had been
less smooth and level than it is I should have fallen off from weakness.
Of this annoyance he complained heavily, as, perhaps, in the same
circumstances, most people would.... When I next woke for a minute from
the noise and lights of Hounslow (for in spite of my wishes and efforts
I had fallen asleep again within two minutes from the time I had spoken
to him), I found that he had put his arm round me to protect me from
falling off; and for the rest of my journey he behaved to me with the
gentleness of a woman, so that, at length, I almost lay in his arms....
So genial and refreshing was my sleep that the next time, after leaving
Hounslow, that I fully awoke was upon the pulling up of the mail
(possibly at a post-office), and, on inquiry, I found that we had
reached Maidenhead--six or seven miles, I think, ahead of Salthill. Here
I alighted, and for the half-minute that the mail stopped I was
entreated by my friendly companion (who, from the transient glimpse I
had had of him in Piccadilly, seemed to me to be a gentleman's butler,
or person of that rank) to go to bed without delay."

Night journeys might be very well, in a way, during the balmy days of
summer, when light airs and sweet exhalations from flower and leaf gave
pleasing features to the scenes, but in the cold nights of winter, in
lashing rain, in storms of wind and snow, the unfortunate passengers
and the guard and coachman must have had terrible times of it. It is
said of the guards and coachmen that they had sometimes, when passing
over the Fells, to be strapped to their seats, in order to keep their
places against the fierce assaults of the mountain blast.

The winter experience of travelling by mail-coach in one of its phases
is thus described by a writer in connection with a severe snow-storm
which occurred in March 1827: "The night mail from Edinburgh to Glasgow
left Edinburgh in the afternoon, but was stopped before reaching
Kirkliston. The guard with the mail-bags set forward on horseback, and
the driver rode back to Edinburgh with a view, it was understood, to get
fresh horses. The passengers, four in number, entreated him to use all
diligence, and meanwhile were compelled to wait in the coach, which had
stuck at a very solitary part of the road. There they remained through a
dark and stormy night, with a broken pane of glass, through which the
wind blew bitterly cold. It was nine o'clock next morning when the
driver came, bringing with him another man and a pair of horses. Having
taken away some articles, he jestingly asked the passengers what they
meant to do, and was leaving them to shift for themselves, but was
persuaded at length to aid one who was faint, and unable to struggle
through the snow. He was allowed to mount behind one of the riders; the
other passengers were left to extricate themselves as best they could."

[Illustration: THE MAIL, 1824. (_From a contemporary print._)]

Many instances might be given of the stoppage of the coaches on account
of snow, and of the efforts made by the guards to push on the mails. In
1836 a memorable snow-storm took place which disorganised the service,
and the occasion is one on which the guards and coachmen distinguished
themselves. The strain thrown upon the horses in a like situation is
well described by Cowper, if we change one word in his lines, which are
as follows:--

     "The _coach_ goes heavily, impeded sore
     By congregated loads adhering close
     To the clogg'd wheels; and in its sluggish pace
     Noiseless appears a moving hill of snow.

     The toiling steeds expand the nostril wide,
     While every breath, by respiration strong
     Forced downward, is consolidated soon
     Upon their jutting chests."

A melancholy result followed upon a worthy endeavour to carry the mails
through the snow on the 1st February 1831. The Dumfries coach had
reached Moffat, where it became snowed up. The driver and guard procured
saddle-horses, and proceeded; but they had not gone far when they found
the roads impracticable for horses, and these were sent back to Moffat.
The two men then continued on foot; but they did not get beyond a few
miles on the road when they succumbed, and some days afterwards their
dead bodies were found on the high ground near the "Deil's Beef-Tub,"
the bags being found attached to a post at the roadside, and not far
from where the men fell. They perished in a noble attempt to perform
their humble duties. The incident recalls the lines of Thomson:--

                  "And down he sinks
     Beneath the shelter of the shapeless drift,
     Thinking o'er all the bitterness of death,
     Mix'd with the tender anguish nature shoots
     Through the wrung bosom of the dying man.
     His wife, his children, and his friends unseen.
                  On every nerve
     The deadly winter seizes; shuts up sense;
     And o'er his inmost vitals creeping cold
     Lays him along the snows, a stiffened corse,
     Stretched out, and bleaching in the northern blast."

We have little conception of the labour that had to be expended, during
periods of snow, in the endeavour to keep the roads open. In places the
snow would be found lying thirty or forty feet deep, and the road
trustees were obliged to spend large sums of money in clearing it away.
Hundreds of the military were called out in certain places to assist,
and snow-ploughs were set to work in order to force a passage.

The inconvenience to the country caused by such interruptions is well
described in the _Annual Register_ of the 15th February 1795: "My letter
of two days ago is still here; for, though I have made an effort twice,
I have been obliged to return, not having reached half the first stage.
Two mails are due from London, three from Glasgow, and four from
Edinburgh. Neither the last guard that went hence for Glasgow on
Thursday, nor he that went on Wednesday, have since been heard of; this
country was never so completely blocked up in the memory of the oldest
person, or that they ever heard of. I understand the road is ten feet
deep with snow from this to Hamilton. I have had it cut through once,
but this third fall makes an attempt impossible. Heaven only knows when
the road will be open, nothing but a thaw can do it--it is now an
intense frost."

But the guards and coachmen were put upon their mettle on other
occasions than when snow made further progress impossible.

The following incident, showing the courage and devotion to duty of a
mail guard and coachman, is related by Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, Bart., in
his account of the floods which devastated the province of Moray in
August 1829. Referring to the state of things in the town of Banff, Sir
Thomas proceeds: "The mail-coach had found it impracticable to proceed
south in the morning by its usual route, and had gone round by the
Bridge of Alva. It was therefore supposed that the mail for Inverness,
which reaches Banff in the afternoon, would take the same road. But what
was the astonishment of the assembled population when the coach
appeared, within a few minutes of the usual time, at the further end of
the Bridge of Banff. The people who were standing there urged both the
guard and coachman not to attempt to pass where their danger was so
certain. On hearing this the passengers left the coach; but the guard
and coachman, scouting the idea of danger in the very streets of Banff,
disregarded the advice they received, and drove straight along the
bridge. As they turned the corner of the butcher-market, signals were
made, and loud cries were uttered from the nearest houses to warn them
of the danger of advancing; yet still they kept urging the horses
onwards. But no sooner had they reached the place where the wall had
burst, than coach and horses were at once borne away together by the
raging current, and the vehicle was dashed violently against the corner
of Gillan's Inn. The whole four horses immediately disappeared, but
rose and plunged again, and dashed and struggled hard for their lives.
Loud were the shrieks of those who witnessed this spectacle. A boat came
almost instantaneously to the spot, but as the rowers pushed up to try
to disengage the horses, the poor animals, as they alternately reached
the surface, made desperate exertions to get into the boat, so that
extreme caution was necessary in approaching them. They did succeed in
liberating one of them, which immediately swam along the streets, amidst
the cheering of the population; but the other three sank to rise no
more. By this time the coach, with the coachman and guard, had been
thrown on the pavement, where the depth of water was less; and there the
guard was seen clinging to the top, and the coachman hanging by his
hands to a lamp-post, with his toes occasionally touching the box. In
this perilous state they remained till another boat came and relieved
them, when the guard and the mails were landed in safety. Great
indignation was displayed against the obstinacy which had produced this
accident. But much is to be said in defence of the servants of the Royal
Mail, who are expected to persevere in their endeavours to forward the
public post in defiance of risk, though in this case their zeal was
unfortunately proved to have been mistaken."[3]

Although, as already stated, robberies were frequent from the
mail-coaches, and the guard carried formidable weapons of defence, it
does not appear that the coaches were often openly attacked. At any rate
there do not seem to be many records of such incidents referring to the
later days of the mail-coach service.

An old guard, now retired, but still or quite recently living in
Carlisle, relates that only on one occasion did he require to draw his
arms for actual defence. This happened at a hamlet called Chance Inn, in
the county of Forfar, where the coach had stopped as usual. Both the
inside and outside places were occupied by passengers, and no additional
travellers could be taken. A number of sailors, however, who were
proceeding to join their ship at a seaport, wished to get upon the
coach; and though they were told that they could not travel by this
means, they plainly showed by their looks and demeanour that they were
determined to do so. One of them was overheard to say that, when the
proper moment arrived, they would make short work of the guard, who, as
it happened, was a youngish man. The passengers too were alarmed at the
appearances, and appealed to the guard to keep a sharp eye upon the
sailors. Under these conditions the guard directed the coachman, the
moment the word was given, to put the horses to a gallop, so as to leave
the seamen behind and avoid attack. The start was signalled as arranged,
the guard sprang into his place and faced round to the sailors, one of
whom was now in the act of preparing to throw a huge stone at his head
with both hands. Instantly the guard drew one of his pistols and covered
the ringleader, who thereupon dropped on his knees imploring pardon,
while his companions, previously so aggressive, scampered off in all
directions like a set of scared rabbits.

The apparatus by which in the present day bags of letters are dropped
from and taken up by the travelling post-office while the trains are
running at high speed had its prototype in the days of the mail-coaches.
In the one case as in the other the object was to get rid of stoppages,
and so to save time. In the coaching days the apparatus was of a most
primitive kind, consisting of a pointed stick rather less than four feet
long, whose sharpened end was put in behind the string around the neck
of the mail-bag, and on the end of the stick the bag was held up to be
clutched by the mail guard as the coach went hurriedly by. We are
indebted to the sub-postmaster of Liberton, a village a few miles out of
Edinburgh, for a description of the arrangement. He describes how the
guards, some fifty years ago, would playfully deal with the youngsters
who worked the "apparatus," by not only seizing the bag but also the
stick, and causing the young people to run long distances after the
coach in order to recover it. The fun was all very well, says the
sub-postmaster, in the genial nights of summer; "but when the cold
nights of winter came round, it was our turn to play a trick upon the
guard, when both he and the driver were numbed with cold and fast
asleep, and the four horses going at full speed. It was not easy to
arouse the guard to take the bag; and just fancy the rare gift of
Christian charity that caused us youngsters to run and roar after the
fast-running mail-coach to get quit of the bag. It used to be a weary
business waiting the mail-coach coming along from the south when the
roads were stormed up with snow or otherwise delayed. It required some
tact to hold up the bag, as the glare of the lamps prevented us from
seeing the guard as he came up with his red coat and blowing a long tin

Some curious notions were prevalent of the effect of travelling by
mail-coach--the rate being about eight or ten miles an hour. Lord
Campbell was frequently warned against the danger of journeying this
way, and instances were cited to him of passengers dying of apoplexy
induced by the rapidity with which the vehicles travelled. In 1791
the Postmaster-General gave directions that the public should be warned
against sending any cash by post, partly, as he stated, "from the
prejudice it does to the coin by the friction it occasions from the
great expedition with which it is conveyed." After all, speed is merely
a relative thing.


Although, as previously stated, open attacks were not often made upon
the coaches, robberies of the bags conveyed by them were quite
common--chiefly at night--and we may assume that they were made possible
through the carelessness of the guards. It would be a long story to go
fully into this matter. Let a couple of instances suffice. On the last
day of February 1810, in the evening, a mail-coach at Barnet was robbed
of sixteen bags for provincial towns by the wrenching off the lock while
the horses were changing. And on the 19th November of the same year
seven bags for London were stolen from the coach at Bedford about nine
o'clock in the evening.

The authorities had a good deal of trouble with the mail guards and
coachmen, and the records of the period are full of warnings against
their irregularities. Now they are admonished for stopping at ale-houses
to drink; now the guards are threatened for sleeping upon duty. Then
they are cautioned against conveying fish, poultry, etc., on their own
account. A guard is fined £5 for suffering a man to ride on the roof of
the coach; a driver is fined £5 for losing time; another driver, for
intoxication and impertinence to passengers, is fined £10 and costs. The
guards are entreated to be attentive to their arms, to see that they are
clean, well loaded, and hung handy; they are forbidden to blow their
horns when passing through the streets during the hours of divine
service on Sundays; they are enjoined to keep a watch upon French
prisoners of war attempting to break their parole; and to sum up, an
Inspector despairingly writes that "half his time is employed in
receiving and answering letters of complaint from passengers respecting
the improper conduct and impertinent language of guards." A story is
told of a passenger who, being drenched inside a coach by water coming
through an opening in the roof, complained of the fact to the guard, but
the only answer he got was, "Ay, mony a ane has complained o' that
hole," and the guard quietly passed on to other duties.

Railway travellers are familiar with an official at the principal
through stations whose duty it seems to be to ring a bell and loudly
call out "Take your seats!" the moment hungry passengers enter the
refreshment-rooms. How far his zeal engenders dyspepsia and heart
disease it is impossible to say.

In the mail-coach days similar pressure was put upon passengers; for
every effort was made to hurry forward the mails. In a family letter
written by Mendelssohn in 1829, he describes a mail-coach journey from
Glasgow to Liverpool. Among other things he mentions that the changing
of horses was done in about forty seconds. This was not the language of
mere hyperbole, for where the stoppage was one for the purpose of
changing horses only the official time allowed was one minute.

It is perhaps a pity that we have not fuller records of the scenes
enacted at the stopping-places; they would doubtless afford us some
amusement. There is the old story of the knowing passenger who,
unobserved, placed all the silver spoons in the coffee-pot in order to
cool the coffee and delay the coach, while the other passengers, already
in their places, were being searched.

There is another story which may be worth repeating. A hungry passenger
had just commenced to taste the quality of a stewed fowl when he was
peremptorily ordered by the guard to take his place. Unwilling to lose
either his meal or his passage, he hastily rolled the fowl in his
handkerchief, and mounted the coach. But the landlord, unused to such
liberties, was soon after him with the ravished dish. The coach was
already on the move, and the only revenge left to the landlord was to
call out jeeringly to the passenger, "Won't you have the gravy, sir?"
The other passengers had a laugh at the expense of their companion; but
we know that a hungry man is a tenacious man, and a man with a full
stomach can afford to laugh. At any rate the proverb says, "Who laughs
last laughs best."

The differences arising between passengers and the landlords at the
stopping-places were sometimes, however, of a much more prosaic and
solemn character. Charles Lamb has given us such a scene. "I was
travelling," he says, "in a stage-coach with three male Quakers,
buttoned up in the straitest nonconformity of their sect. We stopped to
bait at Andover, where a meal, partly tea apparatus, partly supper, was
set before us. My friends confined themselves to the tea-table. I in my
way took supper. When the landlady brought in the bill, the eldest of my
companions discovered that she had charged for both meals. This was
resisted. Mine hostess was very clamorous and positive. Some mild
arguments were used on the part of the Quakers, for which the heated
mind of the good lady seemed by no means a fit recipient. The guard
came in with his usual peremptory notice. The Quakers pulled out their
money and formally tendered it--so much for tea--I, in humble situation,
tendering mine, for the supper which I had taken. She would not relax in
her demand. So they all three quietly put up their silver, as did
myself, and marched out of the room, the eldest and gravest going first,
with myself closing up the rear, who thought I could not do better than
follow the example of such grave and warrantable personages. We got in.
The steps went up. The coach drove off. The murmurs of mine hostess, not
very indistinctly or ambiguously pronounced, became after a time
inaudible, and now my conscience, which the whimsical scene had for a
while suspended, beginning to give some twitches, I waited, in the hope
that some justification would be offered by these serious persons for
the seeming injustice of their conduct. To my surprise, not a syllable
was dropped on the subject. They sat as mute as at a meeting. At length
the eldest of them broke silence by inquiring of his next neighbour,
'Hast thee heard how indigos go at the India House?' and the question
operated as a soporific on my moral feelings as far as Exeter."

A Frenchman was once a traveller by mail-coach, who, although he knew
the English language fairly well, was not familiar with the finer shades
of meaning attached to set expressions when applied in particular
situations. An Englishman, who was his companion inside the coach, had
occasion to direct his attention to some object in the passing
landscape, and requested him to "look out." This the Frenchman promptly
did, putting his head and shoulders out of the window, and the view
obtained proved highly pleasing to the stranger. A stage further on in
the journey, when the coach was approaching a narrow part of the road
bordered and overhung by dense foliage, the driver, as was his custom,
called out to the company, "Look out!" to which the Frenchman again
quickly responded by thrusting head and shoulders out of the window;
but this time with the result that his hat was brushed off, and his face
badly scratched from contact with the neighbouring branches. This
curious contradiction in the use of the very same words enraged the
Frenchman, who said hard things of our language; for he had discovered
that when told to "look out" he was to look out, and that again when
told to "look out" he was to be careful not to look out.

Mackenzie graphically describes the part mail-coaches took in the
distribution of news over the country in the early years of the century.
Referring to the news of the battle of Waterloo, he says: "By day and
night these coaches rolled along at their pace of seven or eight miles
an hour. At all cross roads messengers were waiting to get a newspaper
or a word of tidings from the guard. In every little town, as the hour
approached for the arrival of the mail, the citizens hovered about their
streets waiting restlessly for the expected news. In due time the coach
rattled into the market-place, hung with branches, the now familiar
token that a great battle had been fought and a victory won. Eager
groups gathered. The guard, as he handed out his mail-bags, told of the
decisive victory which had crowned and completed our efforts. And then
the coachman cracked his whip, the guard's horn gave forth once more its
notes of triumph, and the coach rolled away, bearing the thrilling news
into other districts."

The writer of the interesting work called _Glasgow, Past and Present_,
gives the following realistic account of the arrival of the London mail
in Glasgow in war-time:--

"During the time of the French war it was quite exhilarating to observe
the arrival of the London mail-coach in Glasgow, when carrying the first
intelligence of a great victory, like the battle of the Nile, or the
battle of Waterloo. The mail-coach horses were then decorated with
laurels, and a red flag floated on the roof of the coach. The guard,
dressed in his best scarlet coat and gold ornamented hat, came galloping
at a thundering pace along the stones of the Gallowgate, sounding his
bugle amidst the echoings of the streets; and when he arrived at the
foot of Nelson Street he discharged his blunderbuss in the air. On these
occasions a general run was made to the Tontine Coffee-room to hear the
great news, and long before the newspapers were delivered the public
were advertised by the guard of the particulars of the great victory,
which fled from mouth to mouth like wildfire."

The mail-guards, and also the coachmen, were a race of men by
themselves, modelled and fashioned by the circumstances of their
employment--in fact, receiving character, like all other sets of people,
from their peculiar environment. There are now very few of them
remaining, and these very old men. These officers of the Post Office
mixed with all sorts of people, learned a great deal from the
passengers, and were full of romance and anecdote. We remember one guard
whose conversation and accounts of funny things were so continuous that
his hearers were kept in a constant state of ecstasy whenever he was
set agoing. His fund of story seemed inexhaustible, and we can imagine
how hilariously would pass away the hours on the outside of a mail-coach
with such a companion. The guard of whom we are speaking was a north
countryman, possessed of a stalwart frame and iron constitution, a man
with whom a highwayman would rather avoid getting into grips. He used to
tell of an occasion on which the driver, being drunk, fell from his box,
and the horses bolted. He himself was seated in his place at the rear of
the coach. The state of things was serious. He however scrambled over
the top of the coach, let himself down between the wheelers, stole along
the pole of the coach, recovered the reins, and saved the mail from
wreck and the passengers from impending death. For this he received a
special letter of thanks from the Postmaster-General.

It was the custom of this guard, as no doubt of others of his class, to
take charge of parcels of value for conveyance between places on his
road. On one occasion he had charge of a parcel of £1500 in bank notes,
which was in course of transmission to a bank at headquarters. It
happened that the driver had been indulging rather freely, and at one of
the stopping-places the coachman started off with the coach leaving the
guard behind. The latter did not discover this till the coach was out of
sight, and realising the responsibility he was under in respect of the
money, which for safety he had placed in a holster below one of his
pistols, he was in a great fright. There was nothing for it but to start
on foot and endeavour to overtake the coach; but this he did not succeed
in doing till he had run a whole stage, at the end of which the
perspiration was oozing through his scarlet coat. At the completion of
the journey he sponged himself all over with whisky, and did not then
feel any ill effects from the great strain he had placed himself under,
though later in life he believed his heart had suffered damage from the
exertions of that memorable day.

Before leaving this branch of our subject it may be well to note that
while the mail guards received but nominal pay--ten and sixpence a
week--they earned considerable sums in gratuities from passengers, and
for executing small commissions for the public. In certain cases as much
as £300 a year was thus received; and the heavy fines that were
inflicted upon them were therefore not so severe as might at first sight
seem. Unhappily these men were given to take drink, if not wisely, at
any rate too often. The weaknesses of the mail guard are very cleverly
portrayed in some verses on the _Mail-Coach Guard_, quoted in Larwood
and Hotten's work on the _History of Signboards_; and while these
frailties are the burden of the song, it will be observed how cleverly
the names of inns or alehouses are introduced into the song:--

     "At each inn on the road I a welcome could find;
       At the Fleece I'd my skin full of ale;
     The Two Jolly Brewers were just to my mind;
       At the Dolphin I drank like a whale.
     Tom Tun at the Hogshead sold pretty good stuff;
       They'd capital flip at the Boar;
     And when at the Angel I'd tippled enough,
       I went to the Devil for more.
     Then I'd always a sweetheart so snug at the Car;
       At the Rose I'd a lily so white;
     Few planets could equal sweet Nan at the Star;
       No eyes ever twinkled so bright.
     I've had many a hug at the sign of the Bear;
       In the Sun courted morning and noon;
     And when night put an end to my happiness there,
       I'd a sweet little girl in the Moon.
     To sweethearts and ale I at length bid adieu,
       Of wedlock to set up the Sign;
     Hand-in-Hand the Good-Woman I look for in you,
       And the Horns I hope ne'er will be mine.
     Once guard to the mail, I'm now guard to the fair,
       But though my commission's laid down,
     Yet while the King's Arms I'm permitted to bear,
       Like a Lion I'll fight for the Crown."

A good loyal subject to the last.

One of the changes that time and circumstances have brought into the
postal service is this, that the country post-offices have passed out of
the hands of innkeepers, and into those of more desirable persons. In
former times, and down to the period of the mail-coaches, the
post-offices in many of the provincial towns were established at the inn
of the place. In those days the conveyance of the mails being to a large
extent by horse, it was convenient to have the office established where
the relays of horses were maintained; and the term "postmaster" then
applied in a double sense--to the person intrusted with the receipt and
despatch of letters, and with the providing of horses to convey the
mails. The two duties are now no longer combined, and the word
"postmaster" has consequently become applicable to two totally different
classes of persons. The innkeepers were not very assiduous in matters
pertaining to the post, and the duty of receiving and despatching
letters, being frequently left to waiters and chambermaids, was very
badly done. Often there was no separate room provided for the
transaction of post-office business, and visitors at the inn and others
had opportunities for scrutinising the correspondence that ought not to
have existed. The postmaster was assisted by his ostler, as chief
adviser in the postal work, which, however, was neglected; the worst
horses, instead of the best, were hired out for the mails; and for
riders the service was graced with the dregs of the stable-yard. At the
same time the innkeepers were alive to their own interests, for they
sometimes attracted travellers to their houses by granting them franks
for the free transmission of their letters. The salaries of the
postmasters were not cast in a liberal mould, and what they did receive
was subject to the charge of providing candles, wax, string, etc.,
necessary for making up the mails.

[Illustration: THE MAIL-COACH GUARD.]

The following are examples of the salaries of postmasters about a
hundred years ago:--

     Paisley, 1790 to 1800,        £33
     Dundee, 1800,                  50
     Arbroath, 1763 to 1794,        20
     Aberdeen, 1763 to 1793, about  90
     Glasgow, 1789                 140
       and Clerk                    30

Constant appeals reached headquarters for "an augmentation," which was
the term then applied to an increase of salary, and in the circumstances
it is not surprising that the post-office work was indifferently done.
Attendance had to be given to the public during the day, and when the
mail passed through a town in the dead hours of night some one had to be
up to despatch or receive the mail. Sometimes the postmaster, when awoke
by the post-boy's horn, would get up and drop the mail-bag by a hook
and line from his bedroom window. An instance of such a proceeding is
given by Williams in his history of Watford, where the destinies of the
post were at the time presided over by a postmistress. "In response,"
says he, "to the thundering knock of the conductor, the old lady left
her couch, and thrusting her head, covered with a wide-bordered
night-cap, out of the bedroom window, let down the mail-bag by a string,
and quickly returned to her bed again." Coming thus nightly to the open
window must have been a risky duty as regards health for a postmistress.

A hundred years ago the chief post-office in London was situated in
Lombard Street. The scene, if we may judge by a print of the period,
would appear to have been one of quietude and waiting for something to
turn up. In 1829 the General Post Office was transferred to St. Martin's
le Grand, and the departure of the evening mails (when mail-coaches were
in full swing) became one of the sights of London.

Living in an age of cheap postage as we do, we look back upon the rates
charged a century ago with something akin to amazement. In the following
table will be seen some of the inland and foreign postage charges which
were current in the period from 1797 to 1815:--

     |                          |       |        |        |       |
     |                          | Single| Double | Treble | 1 oz. |
     |     ENGLAND, 1797.       | Letter| Letter | Letter |       |
     |                          |       |        |        |       |
     |Distance not exceeding in +-------+--------+--------+-------+
     |Miles--                   | s.  d.| s.  d. | s.  d. | s. d. |
     |                          |       |        |        |       |
     |15,                       | 0   3 | 0   6  | 0   9  | 1  0  |
     |15 to 30,                 | 0   4 | 0   8  | 1   0  | 1  4  |
     |30 "  60,                 | 0   5 | 0  10  | 1   3  | 1  8  |
     |60 " 100,                 | 0   6 | 1   0  | 1   6  | 2  0  |
     |100 " 150,                | 0   7 | 1   2  | 1   9  | 2  4  |
     |150 and upwards,          | 0   8 | 1   4  | 2   0  | 2  8  |
     |                          |       |        |        |       |
     |For Scotland these rates  |       |        |        |       |
     |were increased by         | 0   1 | 0   2  | 0   3  | 0  4  |
     |                          |       |        |        |       |
     |        FOREIGN.          |       |        |        |       |
     |                          |       |        |        |       |
     |From any part in Great    |       |        |        |       |
     |Britain to any part in--  |       |        |        |       |
     |                          |       |        |        |       |
     |Portugal,                 | 1   0 | 2   0  | 3   0  | 4  0  |
     |British Dominions in  }   |       |        |        |       |
     |America,              }   | 1   0 | 2   0  | 3   0  | 4  0  |
     |                          |       |        |        |       |
     |          1806.           |       |        |        |       |
     |                          |       |        |        |       |
     |From any part in Great    |       |        |        |       |
     |Britain to--              |       |        |        |       |
     |                          |       |        |        |       |
     |Gibraltar,                | 1   9 | 3   6  | 5   3  | 7  0  |
     |Malta,                    | 2   1 | 4   2    6   3  | 8  4  |

     |                       |       |       |       |       |
     |        1808.          |Single |Double |Treble | 1 oz. |
     |                       |Letter.|Letter.|Letter.|       |
     |From any part in Great |       |       |       |       |
     |  Britain to--         +-------+-------+-------+-------+
     |                       | s.  d.| s.  d.|  s. d.|  s. d.|
     |    Madeira,           | 1   6 | 3   0 |  4  6 |  6  0 |
     |    South America, }   |       |       |       |       |
     |    Portuguese     }   | 2   5 | 4  10 |  7  3 |  9  8 |
     |      Possessions, }   |       |       |       |       |
     |                       |       |       |       |       |
     |        1815.          |       |       |       |       |
     |                       |       |       |       |       |
     |From any part in Great |       |       |       |       |
     |  Britain to--         |       |       |       |       |
     |                       |       |       |       |       |
     |    Cape of Good Hope,}|       |       |       |       |
     |    Mauritius,        }| 3   6 | 7   0 | 10  6 | 14  0 |
     |    East Indies,      }|       |       |       |       |
     |                       |       |       |       |       |

Over and above these foreign rates, the full inland postage in England
and Scotland, according to the distance the letters had to be conveyed
to the port of despatch, was levied.

Many persons remember how old-fashioned letters were made up--a single
sheet of paper folded first at the top and bottom, then one side slipped
inside the folds of the other, then a wafer or seal applied, and the
address written on the back. That was a _single_ letter. If a cheque,
bank-bill, or other document were enclosed, the letter became a double
letter. Two enclosures made the letter a treble letter. The officers of
the Post Office examined the letters in the interest of the Revenue, the
letters being submitted to the test of a strong light, and the officers,
peeping in at the end, used the feather end of a quill to separate the
folds of the letter for better inspection. Envelopes were not then used.

These high rates of postage gave rise to frequent attempts to defraud
the Revenue, and many plans were adopted to circumvent the Post Office
in this matter. Sometimes a series of words in the print of a newspaper
were pricked with a pin, and thus conveyed a message to the person for
whom the newspaper was intended. Sometimes milk was used as an invisible
ink upon a newspaper, the receiver reading the message sent by holding
the paper to the fire. At other times soldiers took the letters of their
friends, and sent them under franks written by their officers. Letters
were conveyed by public carriers, against the statute, sometimes tied up
in brown paper, to disguise them as parcels. The carriers seem to have
been conspicuous offenders, for one of them was convicted at Warwick in
1794, when penalties amounting to £1500 were incurred, though only £10
and costs were actually exacted. The Post Office maintained a staff of
men called "Apprehenders of Letter Carriers," whose business it was to
hunt down persons illegally carrying letters.

Nor must we omit to mention how far short of perfection were the means
afforded for cross-post communication between one town and another.
While along the main lines of road radiating from London there might be
a fairly good service according to the ideas of the times, the
cross-country connections were bad and inadequate. Here are one or two

In 1792 there was no direct post between Thrapstone and Wellingborough,
though they lay only nine miles apart. Letters could circulate between
these towns by way of Stilton, Newark, Nottingham, and Northampton,
performing a circuit of 148 miles, or they could be sent by way of
London, 74 up and 68½ down,--in which latter case they reached their
destination one day sooner than by the northern route.

[Illustrations: Diagrams--ROUNDABOUT COMMUNICATIONS]

Again, from Ipswich to Bury St. Edmunds, two important towns of about
11,000 and 7000 inhabitants respectively, and distant from each other
only twenty-two miles, there was no direct post. Letters had to be
forwarded either through Norwich and Newmarket, or by way of London, the
distance to be covered in the one case being 105 miles, and in the other
143½ miles. According to a time-table of the period, a letter posted at
Ipswich for Bury St. Edmunds on Monday would be despatched to Norwich at
5.30 A.M. on Tuesday. Reaching this place six hours thereafter, it would
be forwarded thence at 4 P.M. to Newmarket, where it was due at 11 P.M.
At Newmarket it would lie all night and the greater part of next day,
and would only arrive at Bury at 5.40 P.M. on Wednesday. Thus three days
were consumed in the journey of a letter from Ipswich to Bury by the
nearest postal route, and nothing was to be gained by adopting the
alternative route _viâ_ London.

In 1781 the postal staff in Edinburgh was composed of twenty-three
persons, of whom six were letter-carriers. The indoor staff of the
Glasgow Post Office in 1789 consisted of the postmaster and one clerk,
and as ten years later there were only four postmen employed, the
outdoor force in 1789 was probably only four men.

Liverpool, in the year 1792, when its population stood at something like
60,000, had only three postmen, whose wages were 7s. a week each. One of
the men, however, was assisted by his wife, and for this service the
Post Office allowed her from £10 to £12 a year. Their duties seem to
have been carried out in an easy-going, deliberate fashion. The men
arranged the letters for distribution in the early morning, then they
partook of breakfast, and started on their rounds about 9 A.M.,
completing their delivery about the middle of the afternoon. It would
thus seem that a hundred years ago there was but one delivery daily in

During the same period there were only three letter-carriers employed at
Manchester, four at Bristol, and three or four at Birmingham. In our own
times the number of postmen serving these large towns may be counted by
the hundreds, or, I might almost say, thousands.

The delivery of letters in former times was necessarily a slow affair,
for two reasons, namely:--that prepayment was not compulsory, and the
senders of letters thoughtfully left the receivers to pay for them, when
the postmen would often be kept waiting for the money. And secondly,
streets were not named and numbered systematically as they now are, and
concise addresses were impossible.

It is no doubt the case that order and method in laying out the streets
and in regulating generally the buildings of towns are things of quite
modern growth. In old-fashioned towns we find the streets running at all
angles to one another, and describing all sorts of curves, without any
regard whatever to general harmony. And will it be believed that the
numbering of the houses in streets is comparatively a modern
arrangement! Walter Thornbury tells us in his _Haunted London_ that
"names were first put on doors in 1760 (some years before the street
signs were removed). In 1764 houses were first numbered, the numbering
commencing in New Burleigh Street, and Lincoln's-Inn-Fields being the
second place numbered." While in our own time the addresses of letters
are generally brief and direct, it is not to be wondered at that, under
the conditions above stated, the superscriptions were often such as now
seem to us curious. Here is one given in a printed notice issued at
Edinburgh in 1714:--

     "The Stamp office at Edinburgh
     in Mr. William Law, Jeweller,
     his hands, off the Parliament close,
     down the market stairs, opposite
     to the Excise office."

Here is another old-fashioned address, in which one must admit the
spirit of filial regard with which it is inspired:--

     "These for his honoured Mother,
     Mrs. Hester Stryp, widow,
     dwelling in Petticoat Lane, over
     against the Five Inkhorns,
               without Bishopgate,
                  in London."

Yet one more specimen, referring to the year 1702:--

     Mr. Archibald Dunbarr
     of Thunderstoune, to be
     left at Capt. Dunbar's
     writing chamber at the
     Iron Revell, third storie
     below the cross, north end
     of the close at Edinburgh."

Under the circumstances of the time it was necessary thus to define at
length where letters should be delivered; and the same circumstances
were no doubt the _raison-d'être_ of the corps of caddies in Edinburgh,
whose business it was to execute commissions of all sorts, and in whom
the paramount qualification was to know everybody in the town, and where
everybody lived.

All this is changed in our degenerate days, and it is now possible for
any one to find any other person with the simple key of street and

The irregular way in which towns grew up in former times is brought out
in an anecdote about Kilmarnock. Early in the present century the
streets of that town were narrow, winding, and intricate. An English
commercial traveller, having completed some business there, mounted his
horse, and set out for another town. He was making for the outskirts of
Kilmarnock, and reflecting upon its apparent size and importance, when
he suddenly found himself back at the cross. In the surprise of the
moment he was heard to exclaim that surely his "sable eminence" must
have had a hand in the building of it, for it was a town very easily got
into, but there was no getting out of it.

A duty that the changed circumstances of the times now renders
unnecessary was formerly imposed upon postmasters, of which there is
hardly a recollection remaining among the officials carrying on the work
of the post to-day. The duty is mentioned in an order of May 1824, to
the following effect: "An old instruction was renewed in 1812, that all
postmasters should transmit to me (the Secretary), for the information
of His Majesty's Postmaster-General, an immediate account of all
remarkable occurrences within their districts, that the same may be
communicated, if necessary, to His Majesty's principal Secretaries of
State. This has not been invariably attended to, and I am commanded by
His Lordship to say, that henceforward it will be expected of every
Deputy." This gathering of news from all quarters is now adequately
provided for by the _Daily Press_, and no incident of any importance
occurs which is not immediately distributed through that channel, or
flashed by the telegraph, to every corner of the kingdom.

A custom, which would now be looked upon as a curiosity, and the origin
of which would have to be sought for in the remote past, was in
operation in the larger towns of the kingdom until about the year 1859.
The custom was that of ringing the town for letters to be despatched;
certain of the postmen being authorised to go over apportioned
districts, after the ordinary collections of letters from the receiving
offices had been made, to gather in late letters for the mail. Until the
year above mentioned the arrangement was thus carried out in Dublin. The
letter-box at the chief office, and those at the receiving offices,
closed two hours before the despatch of the night mail. Half an hour
after this closing eleven postmen started to scour the town, collecting
on their way letters and newspapers. Each man carried a locked leather
wallet, into which, through an opening, letters and other articles were
placed, the postmen receiving a fee of a penny on every letter, and a
halfpenny on every newspaper. This was a personal fee to the men over
and above the ordinary postage. To warn the public of the postman's
approach each man carried a large bell, which he rang vigorously as he
went his rounds. These men, besides taking up letters for the public,
called also at the receiving offices for any letters left for them upon
which the special fee had been paid, and the "ringers" had to reach the
chief office one hour before the despatch of the night mail. This custom
seems to have yielded considerable emolument to the men concerned, for
when it was abolished compensation was given for the loss of fees, the
annual payments ranging from £10 8s., to £36 8s. Increased posting
facilities, and the infusion of greater activity into the performance of
post-office work, were no doubt the things which "rang the parting
knell" of these useful servants of the period.


The slow and infrequent conveyance of mails by the ordinary post in
former times gave rise to the necessity for "Expresses." By this term is
meant the despatch of a single letter by man and horse, to be passed on
from stage to stage without delay to its destination. In an official
instruction of 1824 the speed to be observed was thus described: "It is
expected that all Expresses shall be conveyed at the rate of seven
miles, at least, within the hour." The charge made was 11d. per mile,
arising as follows, viz.:--7½d. per mile for the horse, 2d. per mile for
the rider, and 1½d. per mile for the post-horse duty. The postmaster who
despatched the Express, and the postmaster who received it for delivery,
were each entitled to 2s. 6d. for their trouble.

It will perhaps be convenient to look at the packet service apart from
the land service, though progress is as remarkable in the one as in the
other. During the wars of the latter half of the last century, the
packets, small as they were, were armed packets. But we almost smile in
recording the armaments carried. Here is an account of the arms of the
_Roebuck_ packet as inventoried in 1791:--

     2 Carriage guns.
     4 Muskets and bayonets.
     4 Brass Blunderbusses.
     4 Cutlasses.
     4 Pair of Pistols.
     3 old Cartouch-boxes.

In our own estuaries and seas the packets were not free from
molestation, and were in danger of being taken. In 1779 the Carron
Company were running vessels from the Forth to London, and the following
notice was issued by them as an inducement to persons travelling between
these places:--

"The Carron vessels are fitted out in the most complete manner for
defence, at a very considerable expense, and are well provided with
small arms. All mariners, recruiting parties, soldiers upon furlow, and
all other steerage passengers who have been accustomed to the use of
firearms, and who will engage to assist in defending themselves, will be
accommodated with their passage to and from London upon satisfying the
masters for their provisions, which in no instance shall exceed 10s. 6d.
sterling." This was the year in which Paul Jones visited the Firth of
Forth, and was spreading terror all round the coasts. The following was
the service of the packets in the year 1780. Five packets were employed
between Dover and Ostend and Calais, the despatches being made on
Wednesdays and Saturdays. Between Harwich and Holland three were
employed, the sailings in this case also taking place on Wednesdays and
Saturdays. For New York and the West India Service twelve packets were
engaged, sailing from Falmouth on the first Wednesday of every month.
Four packets performed the duty between Falmouth and Lisbon, sailing
every Saturday; and five packets kept up the Irish communication,
sailing daily between Holyhead and Dublin. In the year 1798, a mail
service seems to have been kept up by packets sailing from Yarmouth to
Cuxhaven, at the mouth of the Elbe, respecting which the following
particulars may be interesting. They are taken from an old letter-book.
"The passage-money to the office is 12s. 6d. for whole passengers, and
6s. 6d. for half passengers, either to or from England; 6d. of which is
to be paid to the Captain for small beer, which both the whole and half
passengers are to be informed of their being entitled to when they

"1s. 6d. is allowed as a perquisite on each whole passenger, 1s. of
which to the agent at Cuxhaven for every whole passenger embarking for
England, and the other 6d. to the agent at Yarmouth; and in like manner
1s. to the agent at Yarmouth on every whole passenger embarking for the
Continent, and 6d. to the agent at Cuxhaven; but no fee whatever is to
be taken on half passengers, so that 10s. 6d. must be accounted for to
the Revenue on each whole passenger, and 6s. on each half passenger."

Half passengers were servants, young children, or persons in low

While touching upon passage-money, it may be noted that in 1811 the fare
from Weymouth to Jersey or Guernsey, for cabin passengers, was, to the
captain, 15s. 6d. and to the office 10s. 6d.--or £1, 6s. in all.

The mail packets performing the service between England and Ireland in
the first quarter of the present century were not much to boast of.
According to a survey taken at Holyhead in July 1821, the vessels
employed to carry the mails between that port and Dublin were of very
small tonnage, as will be seen by the following table:--

     Uxbridge,                93 tons.
     Pelham,                  98  "
     Duke of Montrose,        98  "
     Chichester,             102  "
     Union,                  104  "
     Countess of Liverpool,  114  "

The valuation of these crafts, including rigging, furniture, and
fitting, ranged from £1600 to £2400.

The failures or delays in making the passage across the Channel are thus
described by Cleland in his _Annals of Glasgow_: "It frequently
happens," says he, "that the mail packet is windbound at the mouth of
the Liffey for several days together"; and we have seen it stated in a
newspaper article that the packets crossing to Ireland by the
Portpatrick route were sometimes delayed a couple of weeks by contrary

A few years previously an attempt had been made to introduce
steam-packets for the Holyhead and Dublin service; but this improved
service was not at that time adopted. Referring to the year 1816,
Cleland writes: "The success of steamboats on the Clyde induced some
gentlemen in Dublin to order two vessels to be made to ply as packets in
the Channel between Dublin and Holyhead, with a view of ultimately
carrying the mail. The dimensions are as follows:--viz., keel 65 feet,
beam 18 feet, with 9 feet draught of water--have engines of 20
horse-power, and are named the 'Britannia' and 'Hibernia.'" These were
the modest ideas then held as to the power of steam to develop and
expedite the packet service. In the period from 1850-60, when steam had
been adopted upon the Holyhead and Dublin route, one of the first
contract vessels was the _Prince Arthur_, having a gross tonnage of 400,
and whose speed was thirteen or fourteen knots an hour. The latest
addition to this line of packets is the _Ireland_ a magnificent ship of
2095 tons gross, and of 7000 horse-power. Its rate of speed is
twenty-two knots an hour.

As regards the American packet service perhaps greater strides than
these even have been achieved. Prior to 1840 the vessels carrying the
mails across the Atlantic were derisively called "coffin brigs," whose
tonnage was probably about 400. At any rate, as will be seen later on, a
packet in which Harriet Martineau crossed the Atlantic in 1836 was one
of only 417 tons. On the 4th July 1840, a company, which is now the
Cunard Company, started a contract service for the mails to America, the
steamers employed having a tonnage burden of 1154 and indicated
horse-power of 740. Their average speed was 8½ knots. In 1853 the
packets had attained to greater proportions and higher speed, the
average length of passage from Liverpool to New York being twelve days
one hour fourteen minutes. As years rolled on competition and the
exigencies of the times called for still more rapid transit, and at
the present day the several companies performing the American Mail
Service have afloat palatial ships of 7000 to 10,000 tons, bringing
America within a week's touch of Great Britain.

TONS--PERIOD 1850-60.
(_From a painting, the property of the City of Dublin Steam Packet

Going back a little more than a hundred years, it is of interest to see
how irregular were the communications to and from foreign ports by mail
packet. Benjamin Franklin, writing of the period 1757, mentions the
following circumstances connected with a voyage he made from New York to
Europe in that year. The packets were at the disposition of General Lord
Loudon, then in charge of the army in America; and Franklin had to
travel from Philadelphia to New York to join the packet, Lord Loudon
having preceded him to the port of despatch. The General told Franklin
confidentially, that though it had been given out that the packet would
sail on Saturday next, still it would not sail till Monday. He was,
however, advised not to delay longer. "By some accidental hindrance at a
ferry," writes Franklin, "it was Monday noon before I arrived, and I
was much afraid she might have sailed, as the wind was fair; but I was
soon made easy by the information that she was still in the harbour, and
would not leave till the next day. One would imagine that I was now on
the very point of departing for Europe. I thought so; but I was not then
so well acquainted with his Lordship's character, of which indecision
was one of the strongest features. It was about the beginning of April
that I came to New York, and it was near the end of June before we
sailed. There were then two of the packet-boats which had long been in
port, but were detained for the General's letters, which were always to
be ready _to-morrow_. Another packet arrived; she, too, was detained;
and, before we sailed, a fourth was expected. Ours was the first to be
despatched, as having been there longest. Passengers were engaged in
all, and some extremely impatient to be gone, and the merchants uneasy
about their letters, and the orders they had given for insurance (it
being war-time) for fall goods; but their anxiety availed nothing; his
Lordship's letters were not ready; and yet, whoever waited on him found
him always at his desk, pen in hand, and concluded he must needs write

Apart from the manifest inconvenience of postal service conducted in the
way described, one cannot wonder that the affairs of the American
Colonies should get into a bad way when conducted under a policy of so
manifest vacillation and indecision.

But the irregular transmission of mails between America and Europe was
not a thing referring merely to the year 1757, for Franklin, writing
from Passy, near Paris, in the year 1782, again dwells upon the
uncertainty of the communication. "We are far from the sea-ports," he
says, "and not well informed, and often misinformed, about the sailing
of the vessels. Frequently we are told they are to sail in a week or
two, and often they lie in the ports for months after with our letters
on board, either waiting for convoy or for other reasons. The
post-office here is an unsafe conveyance; many of the letters we receive
by it have evidently been opened, and doubtless the same happens to
those we send; and, at this time particularly, there is so violent a
curiosity in all kinds of people to know something relating to the
negotiations, and whether peace may be expected, or a continuance of the
war, that there are few private hands or travellers that we can trust
with carrying our despatches to the sea-coast; and I imagine that they
may sometimes be opened and destroyed, because they cannot be well

Harriet Martineau gives an insight into the way in which mails were
treated on board American packets in the year 1836, which may be held to
be almost in recent times; yet the treatment is such that a
Postmaster-General of to-day would be roused to indignation at the
outrage perpetrated upon them. She thus writes: "I could not leave such
a sight, even for the amusement of hauling over the letter-bags. Mr.
Ely put on his spectacles; Mrs. Ely drew a chair; others lay along on
deck to examine the superscriptions of the letters from Irish emigrants
to their friends. It is wonderful how some of these epistles reach their
destinations; the following, for instance, begun at the top left-hand
corner, and elaborately prolonged to the bottom right one:--Mrs. A. B.
ile of Man douglas wits sped England. The letter-bags are opened for the
purpose of sorting out those which are for delivery in port from the
rest. A fine day is always chosen, generally towards the end of the
voyage, when amusements become scarce and the passengers are growing
weary. It is pleasant to sit on the rail and see the passengers gather
round the heap of letters, and to hear the shouts of merriment when any
exceedingly original superscription comes under notice." Such liberties
with the mails in the present day would excite consternation in the
headquarters of the Post Office Department. Nor is this all. Miss
Martineau makes the further remark--"The two Miss O'Briens appeared
to-day on deck, speaking to nobody, sitting on the same seats, with
their feet _on the same letter-bag_, reading two volumes of the same
book, and dressed alike," etc. The mail-bags turned into footstools,
forsooth! It is interesting to note the size of the packet in which this
lady crossed the Atlantic. It was the _Orpheus_, Captain Bursley, a
vessel of 417 tons. In looking back on these times, and knowing what
dreadful storms our huge steamers encounter between Europe and America,
we cannot but admire the courage which must have inspired men and women
to embark for distant ports in crafts so frail.[4] It is well also to
note that the transit from New York occupied the period from the 1st to
the 26th August, the better part of four weeks.

Reference has been made to the fact that a century ago the little
packets, to which the mails and passengers were consigned, were built
for fighting purposes. It was no uncommon thing for them to fall into
the hands of an enemy; but they did not always succumb without doing
battle, and sometimes they had the honours of the day. In 1793 the
_Antelope_ packet fought a privateer off the coast of Cuba and captured
it, after 49 of the 65 men the privateer carried had been killed or
disabled. The _Antelope_ had only two killed and three wounded--one
mortally. In 1803 the _Lady Hobart_, a vessel of 200 tons, sailing from
Nova Scotia for England, fell in with and captured a French schooner;
but the _Lady Hobart_ a few days later ran into an iceberg, receiving
such damage that she shortly thereafter foundered. The mails were loaded
with iron and thrown overboard, and the crew and passengers, taking to
the boats, made for Newfoundland, which they reached after enduring
great hardships.

The introduction of the uniform Penny Postage, under the scheme with
which Sir Rowland Hill's name is so intimately associated, and the
Jubilee of which occurs in the present year, marks an important epoch in
the review which is now under consideration. To enter into a history of
the Penny Postage agitation would be beyond the scope of these pages.
Like all great schemes, the idea propounded was fought against inch by
inch, and the battle, so far as the objectors are concerned, remains a
memorial of the incapacity of a great portion of mankind to think out
any scheme on its merits. Whatever is new is sure to be opposed,
apparently on no other ground than that of novelty, and in this bearing
men are often not unlike some of the lower creatures in the scale of
animated nature, that start and fly from things which they have not seen
before, though they may have no more substance than that of a shadow.
However this may be, the Penny Postage measure has produced stupendous
results. In 1839, the year before the reduction of postage, the letters
passing through the post in the United Kingdom were 82,500,000. In 1840,
under the Penny Postage Scheme, the number immediately rose to nearly
169,000,000. That is to say, the letters were doubled in number. Ten
years later the number rose to 347,000,000, and in last year (1889)
the total number of letters passing through the Post Office in this
country was 1,558,000,000. In addition to the letters, however, the
following articles passed through the post last year--Book Packets and
Circulars, 412,000,000; Newspapers 152,000,000; Post Cards 201,000,000.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Form of Petition used in agitation for the Uniform Penny Postage._



_as the case may be_] IN PARLIAMENT ASSEMBLED:--

The humble Petition of the Undersigned [_to be filled up with the name
of Place, Corporation, &c._]


That your Petitioners earnestly desire an Uniform Penny Post, payable in
advance, as proposed by Rowland Hill, and recommended by the Report of
the Select Committee of the House of Commons.

That your Petitioners intreat your Honourable House to give speedy
effect to this Report. And your Petitioners will ever pray.

                       *       *       *

MOTHERS AND FATHERS that wish to hear from their absent children!

FRIENDS who are parted, that wish to write to each other!

EMIGRANTS that do not forget their native homes!

FARMERS that wish to know the best Markets!

MERCHANTS AND TRADESMEN that wish to receive Orders and Money quickly
and cheaply!

MECHANICS AND LABOURERS that wish to learn where good work and high
wages are to be had! _support_ the Report of the House of Commons with
your Petitions for an UNIFORM PENNY POST. Let every City and Town and
Village, every Corporation, every Religious Society and Congregation,
petition, and let every one in the kingdom sign a Petition with his name
or his mark.


Lord Ashburton, a Conservative, and one of the richest Noblemen in the
country, spoke these impressive words before the House of Commons
Committee--"Postage is one of the worst of our Taxes; it is, in fact,
taxing the conversation of people who live at a distance from each
other. The communication of letters by persons living at a distance is
the same as a communication by word of mouth between persons living in
the same town."

"Sixpence," says Mr. Brewin, "is the third of a poor man's income; if a
gentleman, who had 1,000_l._ a year, or 3_l._ a day, had to pay
one-third of his daily income, a sovereign, for a letter, how often
would he write letters of friendship! Let a gentleman put that to
himself, and then he will be able to see how the poor man cannot be able
to pay Sixpence for his Letter."

                       *       *       *


If you can get any Signatures to a Petition, make two Copies of the
above on two half sheets of paper; get them signed as numerously as
possible; fold each up separately; put a slip of paper around, leaving
the ends open; direct one to a Member of the House of Lords, the other
to a Member of the House of Commons, LONDON, and put them into the Post

                       *       *       *

_Reproduced from a handbill in the collection of the late Sir Henry
Cole, K.C.B. By permission of Lady Cole._

       *       *       *       *       *

Should any reader desire to inform himself with some degree of fulness
of the stages through which the Penny Postage agitation passed, he
cannot do better than peruse Sir Henry Cole's _Fifty Years of Public

The Postmaster-General, speaking at the Jubilee Meeting at the London
Guildhall, on the 16th May last, thus contrasted the work of 1839 with
that of 1889: "Although I would not to-night weary an assemblage like
this with tedious and tiresome figures, it may be at least permitted to
me to remind you that, whereas in the year immediately preceding the
establishment of the Penny Postage the number of letters delivered in
the United Kingdom amounted to[5] 76,000,000, the number of letters
delivered in this country last year was nearly 1,600,000,000--twenty
times the number of letters which passed through the post fifty years
ago. To these letters must be added the 652,000,000 of post-cards and
other communications by the halfpenny post, and the enormous number of
newspapers, which bring the total number of communications passing
through the post to considerably above two billions. I venture to say
that this is the most stupendous result of any administrative change
which the world has witnessed. If you estimate the effect of that upon
our daily life; if you pause for a moment to consider how trade and
business have been facilitated and developed; how family relations have
been maintained and kept together; if you for a moment allow your mind
to dwell upon the change which is implied in that great fact to which I
have called attention, I think you will see that the establishment of
the penny post has done more to change--and change for the better--the
face of Old England than almost any other political or social project
which has received the sanction of Legislature within our history."

Among the Penny Postage literature issued in the year 1840 there are
several songs. One of these was published at Leith, and is given below.
It is entitled "Hurrah for the Postman, the great Roland Hill." The
leaflet is remarkable for this, that it is headed by a picture of
postmen rushing through the streets delivering letters on roller skates.
It is generally believed that roller skates are quite a modern
invention, and in the absence of proof to the contrary it may be fair to
assume that the author of the song anticipated the inventor in this mode
of progression. So there really seems to be nothing new under the sun!


     "Come, send round the liquor, and fill to the brim
     A bumper to Railroads, the Press, Gas, and Steam;
     To rags, bags, and nutgalls, ink, paper, and quill,
     The Post, and the Postman, the gude Roland Hill!
     By steam we noo travel mair quick than the eagle,
     A sixty mile trip for the price o' a sang!
     A prin it has powntit--th' Atlantic surmountit,
     We'll compass the globe in a fortnight or lang.
     The gas bleezes brightly, you witness it nightly,
     Our ancestors lived unca lang in the dark;
     Their wisdom was folly, their sense melancholy
     When compared wi' sic wonderfu' modern wark.
     Neist o' rags, bags, and size then, let no one despise them,
     Without them whar wad a' our paper come frae?
     The dark flood o' ink too, I'm given to think too,
     Could as ill be wanted at this time o' day.
     The Quill is a queer thing, a cheap and a dear thing,
     A weak-lookin' object, but gude kens how strang,
     Sometimes it is ceevil, sometimes it's the deevil.
     Tak tent when you touch it, you haudna it wrang.
     The Press I'll next mention, a noble invention,
     The great mental cook with resources so vast;
     It spreads on bright pages the knowledge o' ages,
     And tells to the future the things of the past.
     Hech, sirs! but its awfu' (but ne'er mind it's lawfu')
     To saddle the Postman wi' sic meikle bags;
     Wi' epistles and sonnets, love billets and groan-ets,
     Ye'll tear the poor Postie to shivers and rags.
     Noo Jock sends to Jenny, it costs but ae penny,
     A screed that has near broke the Dictionar's back,
     Fu' o' dove-in and dear-in, and _thoughts_ on the shearin'!!
     Nae need noo o' whisp'rin' ayont a wheat stack.
     Auld drivers were lazy, their mail-coaches crazy,
     At ilk public-house they stopt for a gill;
     But noo at the gallop, cheap mail-bags maun wallop.
     Hurrah for our Postman, the great Roland Hill.
                        "Then send round the liquor," etc.

The advantages resulting from a rapid and cheap carriage of letters must
readily occur to any ordinary mind; but perhaps the following would
hardly suggest itself as one of those advantages. Dean Alford thus
wrote about the usefulness of post-cards, introduced on the 1st October
1870: "You will also find a new era in postage begun. The halfpenny
cards have become a great institution. Some of us make large use of them
to write short Latin epistles on, and are brushing up our Cicero and
Pliny for that purpose."

Unlike some of the branches of post-office work, other than the
distribution of news, either by letter or newspaper, the money order
system dates from long before the introduction of penny postage--namely
from the year 1792.

It was set on foot by some of the post-office clerks on their own
account; but it was not till 1838 that it became a recognised business
of the Department. Owing to high rates of commission, and to high
postage, little business was done in the earlier years. In 1839 less
than 190,000 orders were issued of the value of £313,000, while last
year the total number of transactions within the United Kingdom was
9,228,183, representing a sum of nearly £23,000,000 sterling.

In the year 1861 the Post Office entered upon the business of banking by
the establishment of the Post Office Savings Banks. At the present time
there are upwards of 9000 offices within the kingdom at which Post
Office Savings Bank business is transacted. The number of persons having
accounts with these banks is now 4,220,927, and the annual deposits
represent a gross sum of over £19,000,000.

In order of time the next additional business taken up by the Department
was that of the telegraphs. Before 1870 the telegraph work for the
public was carried on by several commercial companies and by the railway
companies; but in that year this business became a monopoly, like the
transmission of letters, in the hands of the Post Office. The work of
taking over these various telegraphs, and, consolidating them into a
harmonious whole, was one of gigantic proportions, requiring indomitable
courage and unwearying energy, as well as consummate ability; and when
the history of this enterprise comes to be written, it will perhaps be
found that the undertaking, in magnitude and importance, comes in no
measure short of the Penny Postage scheme of Sir Rowland Hill.

In the first year of the control of the telegraphs by the Post Office
the number of messages sent was nearly 9,472,000, excluding 700,000
press messages. At that time the minimum charge was 1s. per message. In
1885 the minimum was reduced to 6d., and under this rate the number of
messages rose last year to 62,368,000.

The most recent addition of importance to the varied work of the Post
Office is that of the Parcel Post. This business was started in 1883. In
the first year of its operation the number of inland parcels transmitted
was upwards of 22,900,000. Last year the number, including a proportion
of foreign and colonial parcels, rose to 39,500,000, earning a gross
postage of over £878,547. The uniform rates in respect of distance, the
vast number of offices where parcels are received and delivered, and the
extensive machinery at the command of the Post Office for the work,
render this business one of extreme accommodation to the public. Not
only is the Parcel Post taken advantage of for the transmission of
ordinary business or domestic parcels, but it is made the channel for
the exchange of all manner of out-of-the-way articles. The following are
some instances of the latter class observed at Edinburgh: Scotch oatmeal
going to Paris, Naples, and Berlin; bagpipes for the Lower Congo, and
for native regiments in the Punjaub; Scotch haggis for Ontario, Canada,
and for Caebar, India; smoked haddocks for Rome; the great puzzle "Pigs
in Clover" for Bavaria, and for Wellington, New Zealand, and so on. At
home, too, curious arrangements come under notice. A family, for
example, in London find it to their advantage to have a roast of beef
sent to them by parcel post twice a week from a town in Fife. And a
gentleman of property, having his permanent residence in Devonshire,
finds it convenient, when enjoying the shooting season in the far
north-west of Scotland, to have his vegetables forwarded by parcel post
from his home garden in Devonshire to his shooting lodge in Scotland.
The postage on these latter consignments sometimes amounts to about
fifteen shillings a day, a couple of post-office parcel hampers being
required for their conveyance.

And we should not omit to mention here the number of persons employed in
the Post by whom this vast amount of most diverse business is carried on
for the nation. Of head and sub-postmasters and letter receivers, each
of whom has a post-office under his care, there are 17,770. The other
established offices of the Post Office number over 40,500, and there
are, besides, persons employed in unestablished positions to the number
of over 50,000. Thus there is a great army of no less than 108,000
persons serving the public in the various domains of the postal service.

A century ago, and indeed down to a period only fifty years ago, the
world, looked at from the present vantage-ground, must appear to have
been in a dull, lethargic state, with hardly any pulse and a low
circulation. As for nerve system it had none. The changes which the Post
Office has wrought in the world, but more particularly in our own
country, are only to be fully perceived and appreciated by the
thoughtful. Now the heart of the nation throbs strongly at the centre,
while the current of activity flows quickly and freely to the remotest
corners of the state. The telegraph provides a nervous system unknown
before. By its means every portion of the country is placed in immediate
contact with every other part; the thrill of joy and the moan of
desolation are no longer things of locality; they are shared fully and
immediately by the whole; and the interest of brotherhood, extending to
parts of the country which, under other conditions, must have remained
unknown and uncared for, makes us realise that all men are but members
of one and the same family.

The freedom and independence now enjoyed by the individual, as a result
of the vast influence exercised by society through the rapid exchange of
thought, is certainly a thing of which the people of our own country
may well be proud. Right can now assert itself in a way which was
entirely beyond the reach of our predecessors of a hundred years ago;
and wrong receives summary judgment at the hands of a whole people. Yet
there is a growing danger that this great liberty of the individual may
become, in one direction, a spurious liberty, and that the elements of
physical force, exerting themselves under the ægis of uncurbed freedom,
may enter into conspiracy against intellect, individual effort, and
thrift in such a way as to produce a tyranny worse than that existing in
the most despotic states.

The introduction of the telegraph, and the greater facilities afforded
by the press for the general distribution of news, have greatly changed
the nature of commercial speculation. Formerly, when news came from
abroad at wide intervals, it was of the utmost consequence to obtain
early command of prices and information as to movements in the markets,
and whoever gained the news first had the first place in the race.
Nowadays the telegraph, and the newspapers by the help of the
telegraph, give all an equal start, and the whole world knows at once
what is going on in every capital of the globe. The thirst for the first
possession of news in commercial life is happily described in _Glasgow
Past and Present_, wherein the author gives an account of a practice
prevailing in the Tontine Reading Rooms at the end of last century.
"Immediately on receiving the bag of papers from the post-office," says
the writer, "the waiter locked himself up in the bar, and after he had
sorted the different papers and had made them up in a heap, he unlocked
the door of the bar, and making a sudden rush into the middle of the
room, he then tossed up the whole lot of newspapers as high as the
ceiling of the room. Now came the grand rush and scramble of the
subscribers, every one darting forward to lay hold of a falling
newspaper. Sometimes a lucky fellow got hold of five or six newspapers
and ran off with them to a corner, in order to select his favourite
paper; but he was always hotly pursued by some half-dozen of the
disappointed scramblers, who, without ceremony, pulled from his hands
the first paper they could lay hold of, regardless of its being torn in
the contest. On these occasions I have often seen a heap of gentlemen
sprawling on the floor of the room and riding upon one another's backs
like a parcel of boys. It happened, however, unfortunately, that a
gentleman in one of these scrambles got two of his teeth knocked out of
his head, and this ultimately brought about a change in the manner of
delivering the newspapers."

MAIL--PERIOD: END OF LAST CENTURY. (_After an old print._)]

Another instance of the anxiety for early news is exhibited in a
practice which prevailed in Glasgow about fifty years ago. The Glasgow
merchants were deeply interested in shipping and other news coming from
Liverpool. The mail at that period arrived in Glasgow some time in the
afternoon during business hours. A letter containing quotations from
Liverpool for the Royal Exchange was due in the mail daily. This letter
was enclosed in a conspicuously bright red cover, and it was the
business of the post-office clerk, immediately he opened the Liverpool
bag, to seize this letter and hand it to a messenger from the Royal
Exchange who was in attendance at the Post Office to receive it. This
messenger hastened to the Exchange, rang a bell to announce the arrival
of the news, and forthwith the contents of the letter were posted up in
the Exchange. The merchants who had offices within sound of the bell
were then seen hurrying to the Exchange buildings, to be cheered or
depressed as the case might be by the information which the mail had
brought them.

A clever instance of how the possession of early news could be turned to
profitable account in the younger days of the century is recorded of Mr.
John Rennie, a nephew of his namesake the great engineer, and an
extensive dealer in corn and cattle. His headquarters at the time were
at East Linton, near Dunbar. "At one period of his career Mr. Rennie
habitually visited London either for business or pleasure, or both
combined. One day, when present at the grain market, in Mark Lane,
sudden war news arrived, in consequence of which the price of wheat
immediately bounded up 20s., 25s., and even 30s. per quarter. At once he
saw his opportunity and left for Scotland by the next mail. He knew, of
course, that the mail carried the startling war news to Edinburgh, but
he trusted to his wit to outdo it by reaching the northern capital
first. As the coach passed the farm of Skateraw, some distance east of
Dunbar, it was met by the farmer, old Harry Lee, on horseback. Rennie,
who was an outside passenger, no sooner recognised Lee than he sprang
from his seat on the coach to the ground. Coming up to Lee, Rennie
hurriedly whispered something to him, and induced him to lend his horse
to carry Rennie on to East Linton. Rennie, who was an astonishingly
active man, vaulted into the saddle, and immediately rode off at full
gallop westwards. The day was a Wednesday, and, as it was already 11
o'clock forenoon, he knew that he had no time to lose; but he was not
the stamp of man to allow the grass to grow under his feet on such an
important occasion. Ere he reached Dunbar the mail was many hundred
yards behind. At his own place at East Linton he drew up, mounted his
favourite horse "Silvertail," which for speed and endurance had no rival
in the county, and again proceeded at the gallop. When he reached the
Grassmarket, Edinburgh--a full hour before the mail,--the grain-selling
was just starting, and before the alarming war news had got time to
spread Rennie had every peck of wheat in the market bought up. He must
have coined an enormous profit by this smart transaction; but to him it
seemed to matter nothing at all. He was one of the most careless of the
harum-scarum sons of Adam, and if he made money easily, so in a like
manner did he let it slip his grip."

The two following instances of the expedients to which merchants
resorted, before the introduction of the telegraph, in cases of urgency,
and when the letter post would not serve them, are given by the author
of _Glasgow Past and Present_, to whose work reference has already been

"During the French War the premiums of insurance upon running ships
(ships sailing without convoy) were very high, in consequence of which
several of our Glasgow ship-owners who possessed quick-sailing vessels
were in the practice of allowing the expected time of arrival of their
ships closely to approach before they effected insurance upon them, thus
taking the chance of a quick passage being made, and if the ships
arrived safe the insurance was saved.

"Mr. Archibald Campbell, about this time an extensive Glasgow merchant,
had allowed one of his ships to remain uninsured till within a short
period of her expected arrival; at last, getting alarmed, he attempted
to effect insurance in Glasgow, but found the premium demanded so high
that he resolved to get his ship and cargo insured in London.
Accordingly, he wrote a letter to his broker in London, instructing him
to get the requisite insurance made on the best terms possible, but, at
all events, to get the said insurance effected. This letter was
despatched through the post-office in the ordinary manner, the mail at
that time leaving Glasgow at two o'clock p.m. At seven o'clock the same
night Mr. Campbell received an express from Greenock announcing the safe
arrival of his ship. Mr. Campbell, on receiving this intelligence,
instantly despatched his head clerk in pursuit of the mail, directing
him to proceed by postchaises-and-four with the utmost speed until he
overtook it, and then to get into it; or, if he could not overtake it,
he was directed to proceed to London, and to deliver a letter to the
broker countermanding the instructions about insurance. The clerk,
notwithstanding of extra payment to the postilions, and every exertion
to accelerate his journey, was unable to overtake the mail; but he
arrived in London on the third morning shortly after the mail, and
immediately proceeded to the residence of the broker, whom he found
preparing to take his breakfast, and before delivery of the London
letters. The order for insurance written for was then countermanded, and
the clerk had the pleasure of taking a comfortable breakfast with the
broker. The expenses of this express amounted to £100; but it was said
that the premium of insurance, if it had been effected, would have
amounted to £1500, so that Mr. Campbell was reported to have saved £1400
by his promptitude."

"At the period in question a rise had taken place in the cotton-market,
and there was a general expectancy among the cotton-dealers that there
would be a continued and steady advance of prices in every description
of cotton. Acting upon this belief Messrs. James Finlay & Co. had sent
out orders by post to their agent in India to make extensive purchases
of cotton on their account, to be shipped by the first vessels for
England. It so happened, however, shortly after these orders had been
despatched, that cotton fell in price, and a still greater fall was
expected to take place. Under these circumstances Messrs. Finlay & Co.
despatched an overland express to India countermanding their orders to
purchase cotton. This was the first, and, I believe, the only overland
express despatched from Glasgow to India by a private party on
commercial purposes."

One of the greatest achievements of our own time, yet too often
overlooked, is the marvellously rapid diffusion of parliamentary news
throughout the country. Important debates are frequently protracted in
the House of Commons into the early hours of the morning. The speeches
are instantly reported by the shorthand writers in the gallery, who dog
the lips of the speakers and commit their every word to paper. Thus
seized in the fleet lines of stenography, the words and phrases are then
transcribed into long-hand. Relays of messengers carry the copy to the
telegraph office, where the words are punched in the form of a
mysterious language on slips of paper like tape, which are run through
the Wheatstone telegraph transmitter, the electric current carrying the
news to distant stations at the rate of several hundred words a minute.
At these stations the receiving-machine pours out at an equal rate,
another tape, bearing a record in a different character, from which
relays of clerks, attending the oracle, convert the weighty sayings
again into ordinary language. The news thus received is carried
forthwith by a succession of messengers to the newspaper office; the
compositors set the matter up in type; it is reviewed and edited by the
men appointed to the duty; the columns are stereotyped, and in that form
are placed in the printing-machines. The machines are set in motion at
astonishing speed, turning out the newspapers cut and folded and ready
for the reader. A staff is in attendance to place under cover the copies
of subscribers for despatch by the early mails. These are carried to the
post-office, and so transmitted to their destinations. Taking Edinburgh
as a point for special consideration, all that has been stated applies
to this city. For the first despatches to the north, the _Scotsman_ and
_Leader_ newspapers are conveyed to certain trains as early as 4 A.M.;
and by the breakfast-hour, or early in the forenoon, the parliamentary
debates of the previous night are being discussed over the greater part
of Scotland. And all this hurry and intellectual activity is going on
while the nation at large is wrapped in sleep, and probably not one
person in a hundred ever thinks or concerns himself to know how it is

The frequency and rapidity of communication between different parts of
the world seems to have brought the whole globe into a very small focus,
for obscure places, which would be unknown, one would think, beyond
their own immediate neighbourhoods, are frequently well within the
cognisance of persons living in far-distant quarters. An instance of
this is given by the postmaster of Epworth, a village near to Doncaster.
"We have," says the postmaster, "an odd place in this parish known as
Nineveh Farm. Some years ago a letter was received here which had been
posted somewhere in the United States of America, and was addressed

     Mr. ----

I have always regarded its delivery to the proper person as little less
than a miracle, but it happened."

It is impossible to say how far the influence of this great revolution
in the mail service on land and sea may extend. That the change has
been, on the whole, to the advantage of mankind goes without saying. One
contrast is here given, and the reader can draw his own conclusions in
other directions. The peace of 1782, which followed the American War of
Independence, was only arrived at after negotiations extending over more
than two years. Prussia and Austria were at war in 1866. The campaign
occupied seven days; and from the declaration of war to the formal
conclusion of peace only seven weeks elapsed. Is it to be doubted that
the difference in the two cases was, in large measure, due to the fact
that news travelled slowly in the one case and fast in the other?

We may look back on the past with very mixed feelings,--dreaming of the
easy-going methods of our forefathers, which gave them leisure for study
and reflection, or esteeming their age as an age of lethargy, of
lumbering and slumbering.

We are proud of our own era, as one full of life and activity, full of
hurry and bustle, and as existing under the spell of high electrical
tension. But too many of us know to our cost that this present whirl of
daily life has one most serious drawback, summed up in the commonplace,
but not the less true, saying,--

     "It's the pace that kills."

Yet one more thought remains. Will the pace be kept up in the next
hundred years? There is no reason to suppose it will not, and the world
is hardly likely to go to sleep. Our successors who live a hundred years
hence will doubtless learn much that man has not yet dreamt of. Time
will produce many changes and reveal deep secrets; but as to what these
shall be, let him prophesy who knows.


[1] See Note A in Appendix.

[2] See Note D in Appendix.

[3] See Note B in Appendix.

[4] See Note C in Appendix.

[5] Exclusive of franked letters.

[6] From the collection of the late Sir Henry Cole in the Edinburgh
International Exhibition, 1890.



As to the representation in Parliament, the freeholders in the whole of
the Counties of Scotland, who had the power of returning the County
Members, were, in 1823, for example, just under three thousand in
number. These were mostly gentlemen of position living on their estates,
with a sprinkling of professional men; the former being, from their want
of business training, ill suited, one would suppose, for conducting the
business of a nation. The Town Councils were self-elective--hotbeds of
corruption; and the members of these Town Councils were intrusted with
the power of returning the Members for the boroughs. The people at large
were not directly represented, if in strictness represented at all.


Francis, afterwards Lord Jeffrey, in a letter of the 20th September
1799, describes the discomfort of a journey by mail from Perth to
Edinburgh, when the coach had broken down, and he was carried forward by
the guard by special conveyance. His graphic description is as
follows:--"I was roused carefully half an hour before four yesterday
morning, and passed two delightful hours in the kitchen waiting for the
mail. There was an enormous fire, and a whole household of smoke. The
waiter was snoring with great vehemency upon one of the dressers, and
the deep regular intonation had a very solemn effect, I can assure you,
in the obscurity of that Tartarean region, and the melancholy silence of
the morning. An innumerable number of rats were trottin and gibberin in
one end of the place, and the rain clattered freshly on the windows. The
dawn heavily in clouds brought on the day, but not, alas! the mail; and
it was long past five when the guard came galloping into the yard, upon
a smoking horse, with all the wet bags lumbering beside him (like
Scylla's water-dogs), roaring out that the coach was broken down
somewhere near Dundee, and commanding another steed to be got ready for
his transportation. The noise he made brought out the other two sleepy
wretches that had been waiting like myself for places, and we at length
persuaded the heroic champion to order a postchaise instead of a horse,
into which we crammed ourselves all four, with a whole mountain of
leather bags that clung about our legs like the entrails of a fat cow
all the rest of the journey. At Kinross, as the morning was very fine,
we prevailed with the guard to go on the outside to dry himself, and got
on to the ferry about eleven, after encountering various perils and
vexations, in the loss of horse-shoes and wheel-pins, and in a great gap
in the road, over which we had to lead the horses, and haul the carriage
separately. At this place we supplicated our agitator for leave to eat a
little breakfast; but he would not stop an instant, and we were obliged
to snatch up a roll or two apiece and gnaw the dry crusts during our
passage to keep soul and body together. We got in soon after one, and I
have spent my time in eating, drinking, sleeping, and other recreations,
down to the present hour."

On going north from Edinburgh, on the same tour apparently, Jeffrey had
previous experience of the difficulties of travel, as described in a
letter from Montrose, date 26th August 1799.

"We stopped," says he, "for two days at Perth, hoping for places in the
mail, and then set forward on foot in despair. We have trudged it now
for fifty miles, and came here this morning very weary, sweaty, and
filthy. Our baggage, which was to have left Perth the same day that we
did, has not yet made its appearance, and we have received the
comfortable information that it is often a week before there is room in
the mail to bring such a parcel forward."

Writing from Kendal, in 1841, Jeffrey refers to a journey he made fifty
years before--that is, about 1791--when he slept a night in the town.
His description of the circumstances is as follows:--

"And an admirable dinner we have had in the Ancient King's Arms, with
great oaken staircases, uneven floors, and very thin oak panels,
plaster-filled outer walls, but capital new furniture, and the brightest
glass, linen, spoons, and china you ever saw. It is the same house in
which I once slept about fifty years ago, with the whole company of an
ancient stage-coach, which bedded its passengers on the way from
Edinburgh to London, and called them up by the waiter at six o'clock in
the morning to go five slow stages, and then have an hour to breakfast
and wash. It is the only vestige I remember of those old ways, and I
have not slept in the house since."


The discomfort of a long voyage in a vessel of this class is well set
forth in the correspondence of Jeffrey. In 1813 he crossed to New York
in search of a wife; and in describing the miseries of the situation on
board, he gives a long list of his woes, the last being followed by this
declaration: "I think I shall make a covenant with myself, that if I get
back safe to my own place from this expedition, I shall never willingly
go out of sight of land again in my life."


A notable instance of an attempt to shut the door in the face of an able
man is recorded in the Life of Sir James Simpson, who has made all the
world his debtors through the discovery and application of chloroform
for surgical operations. Plain Dr. Simpson was a candidate for a
professorship in the University of Edinburgh, and had his supporters for
the honour; but there was among the men with whom rested the selection a
considerable party opposed to him, whose ground of opposition was that,
on account of his parents being merely tradespeople, Dr. Simpson would
be unable to maintain the dignity of the chair. To their eternal
discredit, the persons referred to did not look to the quality and ring
of the "gowd," but were guided by the superficial "guinea stamp." The
spread of public opinion is gradually putting such distinctions, which
have their root and being in privilege and selfishness, out of court.

       *       *       *       *       *

Printed by T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to Her Majesty, at the
Edinburgh University Press.

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