Tag Archives: Punch magazine

Miss Walton – Post Office Heroine

Over the past few months, I have been cataloguing many of the lantern slides in the BPMA’s collection as part of our documentation backlog project and scanning the slides ready to be added to our online catalogue. The slides cover a wide range of subjects, from Post Office buildings around the world to the hustle and bustle of the Sorting Offices, providing a snapshot of a variety of postal activities. Many also contain some interesting and surprising stories, such of that of Miss Walton, a ‘P.O. Heroine’.

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide with a oval portrait of a woman in a high collar in the top half of the image, with the caption 'MISS WALTON' underneath. (2012-0157)

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide with a oval portrait of a woman in a high collar in the top half of the image, with the caption ‘MISS WALTON’ underneath. (2012-0157)

This unassuming hand-coloured slide shows a single storey building below the portrait of a woman in Victorian dress. Curious to know who Miss Walton was and what she had done to earn the title of ‘P.O Heroine’, I started to investigate a bit further. Miss Walton was Postmistress at Van Wyk Vlei, in the Northern Cape of South Africa during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) and bravely refused to hand over the keys to the Post Office when armed rebels arrived in the village.

Her account of the incident on 13th March 1900 states:

I was told it was of no avail trying to stand against the force, and commanded to hand over the keys of the offices and safe. I placed myself against the door to guard it, whereupon one of the party pointed a rifle at me and exclaimed “I will shoot you dead!“ I replied, “Shoot, coward, and kill me; then you can have the keys, not otherwise”.

The rebels broke down the door of the Post Office, cut the telegraph wires and took the telegraph equipment but left Miss Walton unharmed. She recovered the office valuables and travelled safely with them to the town of Carnarvon two days later.

Miss Walton – Post Office Heroine (detail) (2012-0157)

Miss Walton – Post Office Heroine (detail) (2012-0157)

Miss Walton’s plucky conduct was honoured in a song in Punch magazine later the same month:

This is the song of a heroine,
Mid the heroes of the war
The song of a maid, who was not afraid,

But stood to her trust as a man should stay,
Who scorned the threats of the rebel raid,

And looked down the rifle without dismay,
British born! True to the core!

I’m not sure many employers today would expect such commitment from their employees!

Sarah Jenkins – Assistant Cataloguer

The Postal Service and the Blind Community

2009 marks the bicentenary of the birth of Louis Braille, inventor of the Braille system of reading and writing. To celebrate, guest blogger Philip Jeffs of Royal National Institute of the Blind writes on the long connection between the Postal service in Britain and the Blind Community.

A little girl receives a copy of a Braille book through the post from the National Library for the Blind, now part of RNIB. Very few places in the country offer, or ever have offered Braille books to be borrowed by the public. This has meant that charities such as RNIB have from our earliest days offered books for loan through the post.

The postal service and blind charities felt that blind people were put at a disadvantage within the postal system because Braille items were particularly large, heavy and expensive to send. In 1906 the Post Office (Literature for the Blind) Act was passed stating that books in raised text could be sent through the post at reduced costs. This meant that correspondence and parcel post were now accessible to the blind.

The latest legislation covering postage for the blind is the Postal Services Act 2000, which includes large print material and talking books, and now covers any material for use by the blind. This Act ensures that postage is provided entirely free of charge.

The first two images show a little girl receiving a copy of a Braille book through the post from the National Library for the Blind, now part of RNIB, and then reading the book out loud to her younger brothers.

The second two show Henry Fawcett, a blind man who was made Postmaster General in 1880, one being a photograph from the official biography written on his death and one taken from Punch magazine showing, as you would expect, a slightly less respectful and more satirical view.

Henry Fawcett was born in Salisbury in 1833. At the age of 25 he was accidentally blinded by a shot from his father’s gun whilst the two were out hunting. When told that his blindness would be permanent Fawcett told his father “Well, it shan’t make any difference in my plans of life!”. That certainly seems to have been the case as despite his blindness Fawcett continued to study at Cambridge and in 1863 was appointed Professor of Political Economy at the University. Two years later he was elected Liberal MP for Brighton. As a Liberal, Fawcett campaigned tirelessly for women’s suffrage in the House of Commons.

In 1880 prime-minister William Gladstone appointed Fawcett as his Postmaster General. Whilst at the Post Office Fawcett introduced the parcel post, postal orders and the sixpenny telegram, he also worked actively to employ more women in the service.

In the summer of 1882 Fawcett was taken seriously ill with diphtheria and although he gradually recovered, his political career had come to an end. Henry Fawcett, severely weakened by his illness, died of pleurisy in 1884.

The images in this post are provided courtesy of the RNIB Archive and may not to be reproduced without permission. Contact the RNIB Archive.