Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dockwray, William

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DOCKWRAY or DOCKWRA, WILLIAM (d. 1702?), was a merchant in London in the later half of the seventeenth century. In 1683, improving upon an idea suggested, and already partially carried out, by Robert Murray, an upholsterer, Dockwray established a penny postal system in the metropolis. There existed at this time no adequate provision for the carriage of letters and parcels between different parts of London. Dockwray set up six large offices in the city, a receiving-house was opened in each of the principal streets, every hour the letters and parcels taken in at the receiving-houses were carried to ‘the grand offices’ by one set of messengers, sorted and registered, and then delivered by another set of messengers in all parts of London. In the principal streets near the Exchange there were six or eight, in the suburbs there were four, deliveries in the day. All letters and parcels not exceeding one pound in weight, or any sum of money not exceeding 10l., or any parcel not more than 10l. in value, were carried to any place within the city for a penny, and to any distance within a given ten-mile radius for twopence. Dockwray's enterprise, so far as he personally was concerned, was unsuccessful. The city porters, complaining that their interests were attacked, tore down the placards from the windows and doors of the receiving-houses. Titus Oates affirmed that the scheme was connected with the popish plot. The Duke of York, on whom the revenue of the post office had been settled, instituted proceedings in the king's bench to protect his monopoly, and Dockwray was cast in slight damages and costs. In 1690, however, he received a pension of 500l. a year for seven years, and this was continued on a new patent till 1700. Dockwray appears to have been a candidate for the chamberlainship of the city of London in October 1695 (Luttrell), with what result is not stated. In 1697 he was appointed comptroller of the penny post. A poem on Dockwray's ‘invention of the penny post’ is in ‘State Poems’ (1697). In 1698 the officials and messengers under his control memorialised the lords of the treasury to dismiss him from his office on the grounds inter alia that he had (1) removed the post office from Cornhill to a less central station; (2) detained and opened letters; and (3) refused to take in parcels of more than a pound in weight, thereby injuring the trade of the post-office porters. The charges were investigated before Sir Thomas Frankland and Sir Robert Cotton, postmasters-general, in August 1699, and on 4 June 1700 Dockwray was dismissed from his position. In 1702 he petitioned Queen Anne for some compensation for his losses, stating that six out of his seven children were unprovided for in his old age.

[Macaulay's Hist. i. 338; Knight's London, iii. 282; Luttrell's Brief Relation, vols. ii. and iv.; Thornbury's Old and New London, ii. 209; Lewin's Her Majesty's Mails, pp. 54, 59; Stow's Survey of London, ii. 403–4; Delaune's Present State of London, 1681. ]

A. W. R.