AIM25 : Click here to go back to the AIM25 homepage
Archives in London and the M25 area

Post Office: Overseas mails contracts

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0813 POST 51 Series
Held at: British Postal Museum and Archive: The Royal Mail Archive
  Click here to find out how to view this collection at ›
Full title: Post Office: Overseas mails contracts
Date(s): 1722-1936
Level of description: Series
Extent: 118 files, 7 volumes
Name of creator(s): Post Office


Administrative/Biographical history:

An overseas mail service has been in operation since 1580, before the establishment of the public postal service. A staff of ten Royal Couriers carried letters on affairs of State, or on the business of 'particular merchants' to Dover. In 1619 the office of Postmaster General for foreign parts was created. His couriers, who wore distinctive badges, carried letters between London and the Continent. A public office was maintained near the Exchange, where writing desks for public use were provided and where details of the Posts were displayed. Mails were despatched twice a week. By 1700 the Dover packet boats provided services to France and Flanders, and additional Packet Stations had been established. That at Harwich (established in 1660) provided a service to the Netherlands and that at Falmouth (established in 1689) provided services to Spain and Portugal. During the next century the Falmouth Station grew in importance, providing new services to the West Indies and serving British fleets in the Mediterranean. 'Packet ships/boats' is a generic term for vessels carrying mails. The contracts use the term 'packet ships' and/or vessels.

The incentive to change from sail to steam power on packets carrying the Irish mail was the need to recapture passenger income. This vital supplement to the packet captains' income from their mail carrying contracts with the Post Office was rapidly being lost to other competing Government-operated vessels and to the new fast privately-operated steamship services coming into use across the Irish Sea during 1818-1819. The Post Office's first experiments with steam power took place early in 1819, with trials of the privately owned steamers Talbot and Ivanhoe. By June 1821 - the journey time halved - the Post Office had built its own steam driven packet boats for the Holyhead station: the Meteor and the Lightening. By the end of the year steam packets were also serving the Dover Station and a revolutionary change in postal communication by sea had begun. Thus after this time the contracts often refer to 'steam vessels' rather than packet boats.

In 1823, following arguments that there would be less smuggling should the packets be under naval control, a measure that would also ensure an effective armed force in and around Channel waters, the Admiralty took control of the Falmouth Station. Management of the packet stations had become so much criticised that the remainder of the packet station were turned over to the Admiralty in 1837, where they remained until 1860 when they were transferred back to the Post Office. Thus between 1837 and 1860 the contracts were between the Admiralty and shipping companies.


Scope and content/abstract:

This POST class comprises contracts of agreement between, the Postmaster General and individual persons and shipping companies, for the conveyance of mail overseas by packet boat. The contracts lay down the standards required by the Postmaster General, for example the equipment and maintenance of the vessels, routes, ports of call and penalties incurred by non-compliance with the terms of agreement. The class also includes correspondence concerning applications for tender, papers relating to profits made by particular companies, returns showing particulars of existing contracts, and contracts for the establishment of a packet service between the UK and other countries.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

This material is arranged in chronological order.

Conditions governing access:

Public Record

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopies/photographs/microfilm are supplied for private research only at the Postal Heritage Trust's discretion. Please note that material may be unsuitable for copying on conservation grounds, and that photographs cannot be photocopied in any circumstances. See our published policies for full details. Researchers who wish to publish material must seek copyright permission from the copyright owner.

Finding aids:

A Guide to the Royal Mail Archive

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Records transferred internally from Royal Mail.

Allied Materials

Related material:

See POST 12 for material relating to the conveyance of inland mails by sea. (including contracts).

See POST 4 for accounts of packet ship services and overseas post.

See POST 43 for material on packet boats and shipping.

See POST 46 for conventions between the UK and overseas postal administrations for the exchange of mails

See POST 50/1-58 for agreements between the UK and overseas postal administrations for the conveyance of mail by air.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Entry checked by Barbara Ball

Rules or conventions:

Compiled in compliance with General Internation Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G) second edition 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997

Date(s) of descriptions:
21/03/2011 Entry checked June 2011

Related Subject Search

* To search for other records with similar subjects, tick any subjects above then click "Run New Search"

Related Corporate Name Search

* To search for other records with similar names, tick any names above then click "Run New Search"