by Freya Folaasen, Cataloguer (Collections)
The BPMA Museum collection consists of a wide range of objects and ephemera including a number of prints and engravings. This small collection of around 200 works is currently being documented and will be added to the online catalogue in the not too distant future.
The prints and engravings are in a number of styles and were produced using a variety of techniques, but all show some aspect of postal history, be it images of Royal Mail coaches unloading at the GPO at St. Martin’s le Grand, portraits of Postmastera General, interior scenes of letter sorting offices or motifs of postmen and postmistresses at work. Through this collection one can learn about the workings and development of the British postal service, and the interesting incidents that happened along the way.
One of the more dramatic stories told through the prints and engravings appears in two separate prints Lioness Attacking the Exeter Mail, At Winterslow Hut near Salisbury, on the Night of Sunday 20th October, 1816 and The Lioness Attacking the Horse of the Exeter Mail Coach. Their subject is, as the titles might reveal, an event that took place in 1816 where the ‘Quicksilver’ Royal Mail coach, on its way from Exeter to London, was attacked by a lioness outside the Pheasant Inn.
A lioness is not what one might expect to see in the English countryside, but not far from the Inn a travelling menagerie had stopped for the night and it was from here the lioness had managed to escape from its keepers. As the coach stopped to deliver the mail bags the lioness attacked the lead horse of the ‘Quicksilver’, setting its talons in the horse’s neck and chest. The two passengers of the coach fled into the Pheasant Inn and locked themselves inside, blocking the door for anyone else, while the mail guard attempted to shoot at the animal with his blunderbuss. A large mastiff dog from the menagerie set on the lioness “with such pluck and fierceness” and grabbed one of its hind legs, which made the lioness release the horse and attack the dog, chasing and finally killing the dog some 40 yards from the coach. During this time the keepers where alerted to the situation and managed to trap the lioness under the straddle of a granary. The menagerie proprietor and his men then crawled in after the lioness, tied her legs and mouth, and then lifted her out and back to her den in the menagerie caravan, while the locals of Winterslow Hut watched on.
This incident became known all over the country, and at a time without telephones, telegraphs or railways it is amazing to find that a mention of the Sunday night attack was made the very next day in the London Courier, and in further publications in the following days. It also became the subject of artistic work, among them paintings by A. Sauerweid and James Pollard, which the prints in the BPMA’s collection are based on.
Another noteworthy fact about the incident, and a testimony to the efficiency of the postal service at the time, is that the attack only delayed the mail coach 45 minutes before it obtained a new post horse and continued on its route to London.
 ‘Mail Coach Attacked by a Lioness. Remarkable and Exciting Adventure’ by R C Tombs I S O (Ex-Controller Of HM London Postal Service) in ‘The Observer, 1911, Sep 30′ (POST 111/43).