Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/192

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178
POST, AND POSTAL SERVICE


rejected by the Lords. But the indenture enrolled with the letters-patent contained a proviso for the free carriage of all letters to or from the king, the great officers of state and also the single inland letters only of the members of that present parliament during that session. It also provided that the lessee should permit the secretaries of state, or either of them, to have the survey and inspection of all letters at their discretion. Bishop was succeeded by Daniel O'Neill[1] in 1662, on similar terms. In the consequent proclamation, issued on the 25th of May 1663, it was commanded that “no postmasters or other officers that shall be employed in the conveying of letters, or distributing of the same, or any other person or persons, . . . except by the immediate warrant of our principal secretaries of state, shall presume to open any letters or pacquets not directed unto themselves.” In 1677 the general post office comprised in the chief onice, under Henry Bennet, earl of Arlington, as postmaster-general, seventy-five persons, and its profits were farmed for £43,000 a year. There were then throughout England and Scotland 182 deputy postmasters, and in Ireland 18 officers at the Dublin office and 45 country postmasters. “The number of letters missive,” says a writer of the same year, “is now prodigiously great. . . . A letter comprising one whole sheet of paper is conveyed 80 m. for twopence. Every twenty-four hours the post goes 120 m., and in five days an answer may be had from a place 300 m. distant.[2] By an act of the 15th Charles II. (“An Act for Settling the Profits of the Post Office on the duke of York, and his Heirs-Male”), and by a subsequent proclamation issued in August 1683, it was directed that the postmaster-general should “take effectual care for the conveyance of all bye-letters, by establishing correspondences . . . in all considerable market-towns with the next adjacent post-stage, and the rights of the postmasters as to hiring horses were again emphasized.

During the possession of the post-office profits by the duke of York a London penny post was established by the joint enterprise of William Dockwra, a searcher at the customs-house, and of Robert Murray, a clerk in the excise office. The working-out of the plan fell to the first-named,Dockwra’s London Penny Post. and in his hands it gave in April 1680—although but for a short timwfar more extensive postal facilities to the Londoners than even those afforded 160 years later by the plans of Sir Rowland Hill. Dockwra carried, registered and insured, for a penny, both letters and parcels up to a pound in weight and £10 in value. He took what had been the mansion of Sir Robert Abdy in Lime Street as a chief office, established seven sorting and district offices, and between 400 and 500 receiving-houses and wall-boxes. He established hourly collections, with a maximum of ten deliveries daily for the central part of the city, and a minimum of six for the suburbs. Outlying villages, such as Hackney and Islington, had four daily deliveries; and his letter-carriers collected for each despatch of the general post office throughout the whole of the city and suburbs. Suits were laid against him in the court of king's bench for infringing on the duke of York's patent, and the jealousies of the farmers eventually prevailed. The penny post was made a branch of the general post. Dockwra, after the Revolution of 1688, obtained a pension of £500 a year (for a limited term) in compensation of his losses. In 1697 he was made Comptroller of the London office. Eleven years later his improvements were outvied by Charles Povey, the author of schemes for improving coinage, and also of a curious volume, often wrongly ascribed to Defoe, entitled The Visions of Sir Heister Ryley. Povey took upon himself to set up a foot-post under the name of the “halfpenny carriage,” appointed receiving-houses, and employed several persons to collect and deliver letters for hire within the cities of London and Westminster and borough of Southwark, “to the great prejudice of the revenue,” as was represented by the postmaster-general to the lords of the treasury. Povey was compelled to desist.

At this period the postal system of Scotland was distinct from that of England. It had been reorganized early in the reign of Charles II., who in September 1662 had appointed Patrick Grahame of lnchbrakie to be postmaster-general of Scotland for life at a salary of £500 Scots.Early Scottish Postal System. But it would seem from the proceedings of the Scottish privy council that the rights and duties of the office were ill defined; for immediately after the appointment of Grahame the council commissioned Robert Mein, merchant and keeper of the letter-office in Edinburgh, to establish posts between Scotland and Ireland, ordained that Linlithgow, Kilsyth, Glasgow, Kilmarnock, Dumboag, Ballantrae and Portpatrick should be stages on the route, and granted him the sum of £200 sterling to build a packet-boat to carry the mail from Portpatrick to Donaghadee.[3]

Perhaps the earliest official notice of the colonial post is to be seen in the following paragraph from the records of the general court of Massachusetts in 1639. “It is ordered that notice be given that Richard Fairbanks his house in Boston is the place appointed for all letters which areEarly Colonial Posts. brought from beyond the seas, or are to be sent thither to be left with him; and he is to take care that they are to be delivered or sent according to the directions; and he is allowed for every letter a penny, and must answer all miscarriages through his own neglect in this kind.” The court in 1667 was petitioned to make better postal arrangements, the petitioners alleging the frequent “loss of letters whereby merchants, especially with their friends and employers in foreign arts, are greatly damnified; many times the letters are imputed (?) and thrown upon the exchange, so that those who will may take them up, no person, without some satisfaction, being willing to trouble their houses therewith.” In Virginia the postal system was yet more primitive. The colonial law of 1657 required every planter to provide a messenger to convey the dispatches as they arrived to the next plantation, and so on, on pain of forfeiting a hogshead of tobacco in default. The government of New York in 1672 established “a post to goe monthly from New York to Boston,” advertising “those that bee disposed to send letters, to bring them to the secretary's office, where, in a lockt box, they shall be preserved till the messenger calls for them, all persons paying the post before the bagg be sealed up.”[4] Thirty years later this monthly post had become a fortnightly one. The office of postmaster-general for America had been created in 1692.

The act of the 9th of Queen Anne which consolidated the posts of the empire into one establishment, and, as to organization, continued to be the great charter of the post office until the reforms of 1838–1850 mainly introduced by Sir Rowland Hill. The act of AnneAct of Con-solidation. largely increased the powers of the postmaster-general. It reorganized the chief letter-offices of Edinburgh, Dublin and New York, and settled new offices in the West Indies and elsewhere. It established three rates of single postage, viz. English, 3d. if under 80 m. and 4d. if above, and 6d. to Edinburgh or Dublin. It continued to the postmaster general the sole privilege “to provide horses to persons riding post.” And it gave, for the first time, parliamentary sanction to the power, formerly questionable, of the secretaries of state with respect to the opening of letters, by enacting that “from and after the first day of June 1711 no person or persons shall presume . . . to open, detain or delay . . . any letter or letters after the same is or shall be delivered into the general or other post office, . . . and before delivery to the persons to whom they are directed, or for their use, except by an express warrant in writing under the hand of one of the principal secretaries of state for every such opening, detaining or delaying.

Nine years after the passing of the act of Anne the cross-posts were farmed to the well-known “humble” Ralph Allen—the lover of peace and of humanity.[5] Allen became the inventor of the cross-roads postal system, having made an agreement that the new profitsCross-road Posts. so created should be his own during his lifetime. His improvements were so successful that he is said to have netted during forty-two years an average profit of nearly £12,000 a year.

  1. The trusted friend but not always the trusted adviser of the duke of Ormonde. O'Neill's correspondence exists among the duke's papers, in part at Kilkenny Castle, in part (extensively) among the Carte MSS. in the Bodleian; and it abounds in incidental illustrations of postal administration in both England and Ireland.
  2. Quoted in Gent. Mag. (1815), xxxv. 309, 310.
  3. Lang, Historical Summary of the Post Office in Scotland, pp. 4, 5.
  4. Miles, “History of the Post Office,” in the American Banker’s Magazine, new series, vol. vii. p. 358 seq.
    “Is there a variance ? enter but this door,
    Balked are the courts; the contest is no more.”
  5. Pope's “humble Allen” was also the “Allworthy” of Fielding.