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Delays of Government Couriers.
"The riders who carried the mails on horseback from place to place, were wont to carry letters and bring answers for a hire, which assuredly never profited either the farmers (of the revenue) or the Crown. The Surveyor, who made a journey yearly to every Postmaster in England, says on this head: At Salisbury found the postboys to have carried on vile practices in taking the bye-letters, delivering them in this city, and take back the answers, especially the Andover riders. Between the 14th and 15th instant, found on Richard Kent, one of the Andover riders, five bye-letters, all for this cittye. Upon examination of the fellow, he confessed that he had made it a practice, and persisted to continue in it, saying he had noe wages from his master. I took the fellow before the Magistrate, proved the facts, and, as the fellow could not get bail, [he] was committed: but pleading to have no friends nor money, desired [as] a punishment to be whipped, and accordingly he was to the purpose. Wrote the case to Andover, and ordered that the fellow should be discharged, but no regard was had thereto : but the next day the same rider came post, run about the cittye for letters, and was insolent. The second time the said Richard Kent came post with two gentlemen, made it his business to take up letters; the fellow, instead of returning to Andover, gets two idle fellows, and rides away with three horses, which was a return for his master's not obeying instructions, as he ought not to have been suffered to ride after the said facts was proved against him.'
"There is a spice of malice in our Surveyor, but his book is throughout both amusing and instructive. He complains bitterly that the gentry doe give much money to the riders, whereby they be very subject to get into liquor, which stopes the males.' That it did not take much to stope the males,' we may gather from the fact, that when Mr. Harley (Lord Oxford) complained that an express to him had been delayed, the Postmasters-General replied, that it had travelled 136 miles in 36 hours, which is the usual rate of expresses.''
Even the Crown couriers were with difficulty prevented from delaying on the road; and it was customary for each Postmaster to endorse on the dispatch the hour of its arrival at his posthouse, to have some check upon the bearer's loitering propensities. Nor were the foreign letters better cared for. Whilst French privateers scoured the seas, the packets from Dover, Harwich, and Falmouth, were badly built, and ill-suited to the service. The art of misbuilding ships with the public money is not, it would appear, confined to our own times; for the Postmasters-General
"Resolve to build swift packet-boats that shall escape the enemy; but build them so low in the water, that shortly afterwards 'we doe find that in blowing weather they take in so much water, that the men are constantly wet all through, and can noe ways goe below to change themselves, being obliged to keep the hatches shut to save the vessels from sinking; which is such a discouragement of the sailors, that it will be of the greatest difficulty to get any to endure such hardships in the winter weather.'"-Page 57.
In some other respects, however, a better provision was made for these unfortunate sailors. Each packet carried a surgeon on board; and the Rev. Hippolite Luzany, Minister at Harwich, was paid a salary for attending to them when on shore, and for "doing their offices of birth, marriage, and burial;" whilst a code, drawn up with the nicest discrimination, assigned smartmoney for injuries received in the service.
The following list, selected by Mr. Jendamaer, the Chief Examiner, from the Agent's Letter-Book, will give some idea of the consignments with which the Postmasters were troubled during the war, and for whose safe delivery they were held responsible :
"Imprimis.-Fifteen couple of hounds going to the King of the Romans with a free pass.
"Item.-Some parcels of cloth for the clothing Colonels in my Lord North's and my Lord Grey's regiments.
"Item.-Two maid-servants going as laundresses to my Lord Ambassador Methuen.
"Item.-Dr. Crichton, carrying with him a cow and divers other necessaries.
"Item.-Three suits of cloaths for some nobleman's lady at the Court of Portugal.
"Item.-A box, containing three pounds of tea, sent as a present by my Lady Arlington to the Queen Dowager of England at Lisbon. "Item.-Eleven couple of hounds for Major-General Hompesch. ""Item.-A case of knives and forks for Mr. Stepney, Her Majesty's Envoy to the King of Holland.
Item.-One little parcel of lace, to be made use of in cloathing Duke Schomberg's regiment.
"Item.-Two bales of stockings for the use of the Ambassador of the Crown of Portugal.
"Item.-A box of medicines for my Lord Galway in Portugal. "Item.-A deal case, with four flitches of bacon, for Mr. Tennington, of Rotterdam.'
Really, with all these cares upon them, and what with scolding an agent once, because he had not provided a sufficiency of pork and beef for the Prince;' again, because he had bought powder at Falmouth, that would have been so much cheaper in London; ' again, because he had stirred up a mutiny between a Captain and his men, which was unhandsome conduct in him;' again, because he has not ordered the 'Dolphin' to sail, though the wind is marked westerly in the wind journals, whereat the Postmasters-General 'admire;' what with bringing Captain Clies to trial, 'for that he had spoken words reflecting on the Royal Family, which the PostmastersGeneral took particular unkind of him;' and reprimanding another for breaking open the portmanteau of Mons. Raoul, (a gentleman passenger,) and spoiling him of a parcel of snuff;' what with 'purchasing new vessels, stores, and provisions, and ordering the old ones to be sold by inch of candle ;'-with all these cares, one sees that our Postmasters-General had enough to do."-Blue Book, pp. 58, 59.
Improvements by Allen and Palmer.
With such a system we are prepared to find that the PostOffice yielded but a small profit. The different branches into which the service was divided, of foreign, inland, cross, and district posts, the revenues of which were to be paid to different quarters, tended greatly to the confusion of the accounts. The Deputies, or local Postmasters, were wont, in doubtful cases, to escheat the postage to their own use, as being fearful of injuring either party, by giving it to one or the other." So that, whilst the total income for 1687 was upwards of £94,644, what is now called the "net produce" was only £76,192,—a sum not equal to that now derived in one year from the commission on money-orders, or to the present net produce of the single town of Liverpool:
"One little bit of detail of the Inland Expenditure of this (the year before the Revolution which placed William of Orange on the throne,) is vouchsafed to us :
"Paid to Edward Lock, of Hounslow, for a man to deliver letters at the camp, £4.'
"When we consider for what purpose the camp lay at Hounslow, how many plotters it contained, how great an issue hung on the loyalty of its inmates, and how deeply interested these inmates were in the result of the struggles going on around them, we may feel sure that a man has seldom carried for £4 per annum a load of letters so interesting as those which fell to the charge of Edward Lock's agent." -Page 54.
Two other principal reforms may be noticed before the introduction of the penny rate of postage. The first was the adoption of a better system of cross posts, by Ralph Allen, in 1720. He obtained a lease of them from the Government, with a view to their extension, and, in consequence of his alterations, realized an annual profit of £12,000; which he lived to enjoy for forty-four years, and which he spent in hospitality, and in works of charity. The other, and still more important, reform was effected by Mr. Palmer, in 1784. Observing that when the tradesmen of Bath (where he resided) were particularly anxious about the speed and safety of a letter, they were in the habit of sending it by the coach, he proposed that the mails generally should be carried by the passenger coaches, that they should be under the protection of trusty guards, and that they should be so timed as to arrive in London, as nearly as possible, at the same hour. After considerable opposition, his plans were carried out, and an immediate increase of speed, from three and a half to six miles an hour, was the result. This rate was further accelerated, when Macadam's mode of road-making became general, until the mail-coaches of this country, travelling at the average rate of ten miles an hour, including stoppages, became the boast of our countrymen and the admiration of foreigners.
It is time we began to speak of the existing state of things,
which may be considered to date from the year 1840, when the penny rate was first carried into effect. The immediate increase in the number of chargeable letters was prodigious; rising from 76,000,000 in 1839, to nearly 169,000,000 in 1810; and this last amount is but little more than a third part of the number to which they have now attained. This enormous stream of circulation is kept in motion by means of "railways, mailcoaches, stage-coaches, steam-boats, omnibuses, mail-carts, and mounted and foot messengers," by whose aid packets are dispatched and received daily in almost every part of the country, and in the most important towns twice a day, or oftener.
We proceed to describe the work done by the Post-Office in 1854. The number of chargeable letters delivered in that year in England, Ireland, and Scotland, was 4-43,000,000; the propor tion belonging to each country being exhibited in the following table.
This is an increase of more than 23,500,000 over the total number of chargeable letters in 1853. Added to this, 53,000,000 newspapers passed through the London Office alone; besides those which were transmitted through the post in other parts of the United Kingdom, and which may at a moderate computation be taken at 12,000,000 more; whilst of book packages no less than 375,000 passed through the London Office.
It is estimated that the average weight of inland letters is about a third of an ounce each; that of a newspaper, three ounces and a half; and the book parcels are reckoned to have weighed each ten ounces. The Post-Office must therefore have conveyed no less than 23,645,440lbs.' weight of letters, newspapers, and books in the course of the past year. Exclusive of conveyance by steam-vessels and boats, and not counting the walks of letter-carriers and rural messengers, the whole distance over which the mails are now carried within the United Kingdom is nearly 57,000 miles per day, or upwards of 20,000,000 of miles in a year.
As the inland letters, including official correspondence, averaged a third of an ounce, they may fairly be reckoned, including the envelopes, at a full-sized sheet of letter paper each. If these sheets were spread out side by side, they would cover 8,898 acres, or 111 square miles; and if arranged in a line 12 yards wide,
they would stretch for 8,898 miles; so that they would extend from Cape Horn to the Isthmus of Panama, would cross all Central America, from south-east to north-west, to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and then, rising through the United States and Canada to the boundary of North America, would thus traverse the whole of the Western hemisphere, and still have a trail of 500 miles left to cross the island of Newfoundland. If, instead of being thus arranged in a line, our letters were laid one upon another, although they were no thicker than an ordinary sheet of paper once folded, they would form upwards of 3,500 columns as high as the Monument.
But, vast as these numbers appear, far greater results may reasonably be expected. The proportion of letters to the population of England, in 1854, was about nineteen to each person. But this is much below the proportion in the metropolis, where the greatest facilities are already existing; and as extensions and improvements are made in the rural districts, there will doubtless be a great addition to the total number. We shall speak presently of the extensions made last year; but, in support of these remarks, we may observe that about 103,000,000, or nearly one quarter of the letters delivered in the United Kingdom, were delivered in London and its suburbs; so that the average for the London district, taking the population at 2,500,000, rises from about nineteen to forty each person.
The business done in the Money-Order Office exhibits a like increase on the amounts of former years. This branch originated in 1792; but, in consequence of the high rates of commission, it was comparatively little used, and even in 1841, the year after the reduction of the commission to 3d. and 6d. for sums not exceeding £2 and £5 respectively, the total amount of the money-orders issued in the United Kingdom was less than £961,000. The following table shows the number of money-orders issued in 1854, with other particulars:
England & Wales Ireland
4,621,296 8,957,135 16 1 16,658 1 to about 4 persons.
In comparing the amount for which money-orders were issued, with the sum which is returned as having been paid, we find