Tag Archives: packet ships

Seals, Seas and Ancestries: A Remarkable Postal Family History

One of the things we often get asked, as keepers of the Royal Mail Archive, is what we can tell people about their relatives who worked for the Post Office.

‘What did my father do?’
‘When did my grandma work in this city?’
‘My great uncle says he whizzed around on a motorbike delivering telegrams when he was just a teenager – could this be true?’

Telegram Messenger Boy

Telegram Messenger Boy

We don’t always hold the answers, but when we do, it’s a wonderful feeling helping others to understand the lives of their loved ones.

Every so often, someone contacts us to look further back in time – to add a ‘great’ (or three) to the usual enquiries about parents or grandparents. As someone with the bug myself, I fully understand this; researching your family history can be highly addictive and it can turn up some great stories.

Section of a Post Office Appointments Book

Unfortunately the records can be difficult. We have a standard set that we search for our Family History Research Service, but the further back in time you look, the harder it can be to find particular people. So, when a request came in to research a man called Edward Randall Pascoe, born in 1779, I was worried that we wouldn’t find much to get our teeth into. As a further challenge, we were asked if we could find the cause of Edward’s death, when he was just 42 years of age. Could we help at all?

Poster of Mail for the Packet Ships

Poster showing Mails for the Packets arriving at Falmouth in 1833 by Harold Sandys Williamson

Edward Randall Pascoe, it turns out, was a packet boat captain. Our enquirer, married to one of Edward’s descendants, already knew this, as they had found a mention of him becoming Commander of a ship called the Mansfield in our Appointment records (handily digitised by www.ancestry.co.uk). By that time, April 1821, packet boats had been carrying Post Office mail across the sea for over a hundred years, and Edward’s task on the Mansfield was to see the post safely from Milford Haven, Wales, to Waterford, Ireland, and vice-versa.

Since our enquirer knew this already, we agreed to work differently from our usual service, to hunt for something useful. Searching our catalogue, I was excited to learn we held a record of the Mansfield dated 1 August 1821 – only a few months after Edward gained command of the ship – in a box of ‘Bills of Sale’. I unfolded it very carefully and read that ‘Edward Randall Pascoe of Milford in the country of Pembroke, Mariner, and William Molland of Dover in the county of Kent, Gentleman,’ agreed to buy the Countess of Mansfield from the Postmaster General for ‘one thousand eight hundred and forty pounds eight shillings and six pence,’ as long as Edward still carried the mail.

It described the vessel – ‘a square sterned Cutter’, ‘British built’ – in great detail, but best of all, lying at the bottom of the page, Mr Pascoe had placed his personal seal in wax and signed his name. A trace of the man himself! A rare find indeed.

Signature and Seal belonging to Edward Randall Pascoe Crop

Signature and Seal belonging to Edward Randall Pascoe

Further appointment records showed that Mr Pascoe later captained a Steam Packet (a steam-powered, mail-carrying ship, which gradually took over the trade from 1815) at Port Patrick, Scotland. Our enquirer could fill in one blank – that business partner William Molland was in fact Edward’s father-in-law – but what about the captain’s sad death in 1827? I could not find a record of a Death Gratuity, a kind of compensation payment for those killed in service, so it seemed that his fate would remain a mystery.

As luck would have it, however, I discovered that we had been asked about Mr Pascoe a few years before by another of his descendants, who had in fact written a book about his family. I got in touch with her and she completed the story: taking a ship to Holyhead, Wales, for repair, Edward was injured at sea, and died of a fever shortly after completing the crossing.

Steam Packet

Painting of the SS Great Britain Steamship

We were able to put these two researchers (and distant relatives) in touch with each other for the first time, and they have been able to enjoy sharing their discoveries. I wonder what Edward Randall Pascoe would make of it all!

While it’s a sad truth that most of our family-history-seekers don’t find such intriguing tales – and some of them find nothing at all – we have to celebrate the success stories. It makes you wonder: who might find each other in a few hundred years’ time piecing together your own life?

Ashley March – Archives Assistant

BPMA Collections Out and About

Current work at the BPMA is focussed around plans for our New Centre at Calthorpe House and especially for the design of a permanent exhibition space in which to show the many different objects in our collection. This will support and expand on the work we already do through our accredited museum at the Museum of the Post Office in the Community and our travelling exhibitions. Another aspect of our work however, is our loans to other museums as far apart as Cornwall and Scotland to name but a few.

The collections of the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth consist of a range of objects from boats to art as well as extensive archives that help tell the maritime heritage of Cornwall. An important part of this is a display on The Falmouth Packet Service, 1789-1851 which is where the objects from the BPMA can be found: two Flintlock Pistols issued to help protect the ships and the mail they carried, and two Maritime handstamps, one for the Falmouth Packet Service itself and the other for postage paid at St Ives port for a Ship Letter. These objects help tell the story of how Falmouth became a central hub of communication for over 150 years. They sit alongside objects from the museum’s own collection such as a mail bag from HM Packet Ship Crane and letters sent via Packet Ships.

Flintlock pistol on display at the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth.

Flintlock pistol on display at the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth.

Objects loaned from the BPMA can also be seen at the opposite end of the country. The Riverside Museum in Glasgow is Scotland’s Museum of Transport and Travel, which opened in 2011 after a major development project. The museum includes many innovative ways of interpreting transport collections such as a ‘car wall’ and a suspended bicycle velodrome display. Amongst the displays is one on the role of the Telegram Messenger boy.

The focus of the display is a motorcycle used by messengers on delivery. It was the thought of riding one of these that often encouraged boys to join the Post Office. However, the role of the Telegram Messenger involved far more than just this, as is explored via a series of touch-screens where visitors can play a game to see who can deliver their telegrams most efficiently. Next to this is a manikin dressed in a Telegram Messenger boy’s uniform complete with waterproof leggings, motorcycle goggles, helmet and gloves all from BPMA’s collection as well as the standard issue jacket and pouch.

These objects provide a wider context to the display of a vehicle, helping to bring the object and the stories connected with it to life. Indeed, the display has provoked the memories of many visitors, just like those Jim has shared with us in previous blogs.

Telegram messengers display at the Riverside Museum, Glasgow.

Telegram messengers display at the Riverside Museum, Glasgow.

Finally, from 30 January an F type pillar box from the BPMA collection will be on display at the Design Museum, London as part of their Extraordinary Stories exhibition.

Elizabeth II Type F Twin Pillar Box (OB1994-50i)

Elizabeth II Type F Twin Pillar Box (OB1994-50i)

The F type pillar box was a revolutionary design by the industrial architect David Mellor. It was developed in response to a request from the London Postal Region for a box with three apertures. One way of providing this facility was by utilising a ‘square’ shape so that boxes could be used in modular format, either as single, double or triple units. In the event, following eight years of trial and failure, a three-apertured variant never did get used. However from 205 boxes constructed, some 200 boxes were put into use across the country in both single and double format. The failure to produce a durable protective finish to the sheet steel panels (themselves a radical departure from the usual cast iron traditionally utilised) meant that the boxes promptly rotted, particularly the bases.

None of the boxes survive in use in the street today (the last to be removed was in the late 1980s) but a handful survive in museum and private collections. The design was not entirely dispensed with; the cast iron G type pillar box leans heavily upon Mellor’s design, many of the G type boxes continue to provide excellent service today.

BPMA holds examples of both single and double units in its collection, also another solo box partially stripped to allow the special ‘easy clear’ internal mail mechanism developed by Post Office Engineers to be seen. The single box can be seen as part of the exhibition at the Design Museum until January 2014. The other examples can be seen at events and tours taking place at the Museum Store. They will be a particular focus during the Pillar Box Perfection event taking place at the store on Saturday 6th April 2013.

By lending objects to other museums the BPMA increases access to its own physical collection and conveys the important human story of communication that is shared by everyone.

– Emma Harper, Curator (Move Planning)
– Julian Stray, Curator

Disaster at Sea!

We have recently uploaded a new podcast, a recording of our Curator Julian Stray’s recent talk Disaster at Sea! In his talk Julian Strays looks at the handful of mail ships (and one mail train) which never reached their destination.

Amongst the famous maritime disasters discussed are:

HMS Lutine, a naval ship lost in a storm which had a large quantity of gold bullion on board

The Antelope, a packet ship operating in the West Indies which surrendered to the French and had to sink the mail it was carrying

RMS Leinster, a mail boat torpedoed in the Irish Sea by the Germans at the end of World War I

RMS Titanic, the famous passenger liner whose mailroom staff all died when she sank in the Atlantic on her maiden voyage

Also discussed is the Tay Bridge Disaster, in which a railway bridge collapsed during a storm while a train carrying mail was crossing it.

A print representing the Perilous situation of the Crew of his Majesty's Packet Lady Hobart (2009-0014)

A print representing the Perilous situation of the Crew of his Majesty’s Packet Lady Hobart (2009-0014)

You can listen to Disaster at Sea! on the BPMA podcast webpage, or subscribe to the BPMA podcast with iTunes. BPMA podcasts are available free of charge.

Delegation from China visit BPMA

On Wednesday 18 April, the BPMA were delighted to welcome a delegation from China, including Lu Xinghua, Deputy Director of China Post Literature & History Centre, Song Yunli, Curator of China Post Archives of China Post Literature & History Centre and Danny Kin Chi Wong, FRPSL, Royal Philatelic Society London China Representative.

Chinese Delegation

BPMA Director Adrian Steel showing records in the BPMA's collections relating to China to the Chinese visitors

Gavin McGuffie, Acting Head of Archives and Records Management at the BPMA, took them for a tour of the Royal Mail archive, including looking at records in the collections relating to China, such as documents about delivery of mail via packet ships from the mid-19th century [POST 43/157] and a copy of a history of the British postal service by a Chinese postal official [POST 33/6013]. They also got to see three telegrams sent in response to the Post Office’s concern about its employees and the mail onboard the RMS Titanic (please see a previous blog on the RMS Titanic telegrams).

The visitors had the unique chance to hold a sheet of Penny Blacks from the BPMA's secure philatelic vault

The delegation was then treated to a tour of the secure philatelic vault with BPMA Philatelic Curator Douglas Muir, where they were shown Penny Blacks, Tyrian Plums, dies, rollers and Olympic stamp artwork.

International Archives Day 2010

In celebration of International Archives Day, Archivist Helen Dafter looks at our international collection.

The name British Postal Museum & Archive may not initially suggest an internationally focused collection, yet the British Post Office has a long history of transmitting and receiving mail from overseas. The records in our archive shed light on the development of international mail services and the British Post Office’s involvement with them.

A report to the Postmaster General on smuggling on packet boats

A report to the Postmaster General on smuggling on packet boats

An overseas mail service has been in operation in Britain since 1580 – pre dating the inception of Royal Mail as a public service – and in 1619 the position of Postmaster General for Foreign Parts was established, however the foreign mail service was fairly small in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. At this time the only way of sending mail abroad was by ship.

By 1840 commercial shipping companies had begun to be contracted to carry post. The archive holds copies of the contracts awarded to these shipping companies in POST 51. We also hold a range of reports and minutes relating to the operation of packet ships. These include reports on smuggling (POST 39/2), and quarantine regulations (POST 29/264a). One of the ships licensed to carry mail was RMS Titanic, and the archive also holds blueprints of the ship, and telegrams relating to its sinking. These records reflect the conditions under which packet ships operated and how long it took for mail to reach foreign countries.

Poster: South and East African Air Mail - Make every day posting day

South and East African Air Mail - Make every day posting day, poster advertising airmail from 1937

In the twentieth century packet ships have gradually been replaced by airmail. The first overseas airmail was in 1918 and operated from Folkestone to Boulogne. In April 1924 Imperial Airways was established, initially handling air mail for Europe it later expanded to cover destinations further afield such as India, Singapore and Australia. Many of the destinations for airmail were countries within the British Empire and with this in mind the Empire Air Mail Scheme was established in 1937. This scheme aimed to carry all first class mail throughout the British Empire for 1½d per ½ ounce, with a charge of 1d for postcards. (More information about the history of airmail can be found in our information sheet. Records of the development and operation of overseas airmail can be found in POST 50.)

Clearly the operation of an international mail service involves many factors outside the control of the British Post Office. The effective transmission of mail overseas involves close cooperation with other postal administrations. POST 46 consists of Conventions and Articles of Agreement for overseas mail. It includes conventions for the execution of the treaty concerning the formation of The General Postal Union, or Universal Postal Union as it was later known (POST 46/57).

One difficulty with operating an international postal system is that events in other countries can significantly impact on the transmission of mail. The greatest disruption in often caused by war – the outbreak of hostilities can result in well established mail routes needing to be revised at short notice. Evidence of this can be seen in POST 56 (War and Civil Emergencies) as well as the registered files in POST 33 and POST 122.

Political difficulties can also disrupt the circulation of mail, for example in the 1960s the deteriorating relationship between India and Pakistan resulted in difficulties with transmitting mail via these countries. The natural environment may also impact on the international postal system. Most recently this has been seen in the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland, which in addition to stranding many holidaymakers also disrupted airmail services.

This gives just a taster of the international nature of the records held by The British Postal Museum & Archive. To find out more please consult our online catalogue: www.postalheritage.org.uk/catalogue.

Join us on Twitter to tweet about International Archives Day 2010 by using the hashtag #IAD10.