Early postal service to the Channel Islands

From Jerripedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Societe logo.png

Early postal service

This article by John Alexandre was first published in the 1934 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

Early history

Many of the historians who have written of Post Office development, in Great Britain or on the Continent, have prefaced their story by accounts of postal or quasi-postal systems among the ancient Peruvians, Romans, Hebrews and other peoples, but for the purpose of this paper it is unnecessary to go over this well-trodden ground. It will suffice to mention that, in the days of the Roman Empire, couriers in charge of imperial messages travelled from station to station along the great military roads and thus maintained communication between Rome and distant provinces.

Suitable provision was made for the conveyance of the couriers by ship when it was necessary to proceed to some part of the Roman dominion beyond the seas. For some time at least, private letters as well as those of the government were carried in this way; and it is not improbable that the "Captain of the gate" of some now forgotten Roman fort in Jersey or Guernsey, waiting impatiently for the day of return to his white-porched house on the Mons Palatinus, sent to his wife by this courier service the first private letter despatched from the Channel Islands. [1]

Middle Ages

With the decay of the Roman Empire, the system described above disappeared, and for a very long period private letters - during the Middle Ages they were not numerous - were generally conveyed by persons specially engaged for the purpose. In the case of the Channel Islands, it was not until 1794 that the correspondence of the inhabitants was brought within the orbit of an official postal system, with agencies in the islands.

Persons of quality had however long before then formed the habit of letter writing, and the growth of trade resulting from the discovery of America had necessitated an evergrowing exchange of commercial letters, but until the end of the 16th century at least, the conveyance of Channel Islands correspondence was generally effected by private messengers. An instance of the risks run by messengers when they had charge of letters for important personages will be found in a letter preserved at Hatfield House. In this letter, dated 30 August 1593, and addressed to Lord Burghley, Anthony Powlett, Governor of Jersey, says: "I had written to your Lordship, heretofore, touching the proceedings of Her Majesty's fortifications, but my letter miscarried by the way and one of my servants, the bearer, taken and carried away prisoner to Newhaven, where he is yet detained, albeit he had before drowned all his letters."

Merchants who were shipowners could of course forward letters to certain ports by their own vessels, and travellers and students at universities often acted as letter carriers for their friends.

English Post Office

It is now necessary to consider briefly the development of the English Post Office, with which, as from the 17th century, the Channel Islands became loosely linked.

The report of the Secret Committee on the Post Office in 1844 recorded:

"It does not appear at what precise period the Crown undertook to be the regular carrier ofletters for its subjects. The Crown doubtless found it necessary, at a very early period, to the exercise of the functions of sovereignty to be able to convey with speed and security its despatches from one part of the realm to another, and from and to parts beyond the sea, and for that purpose it appointed certain messengers or runners called the Posts. These Posts were also employed for the personal convenience of the Sovereign. In course of time (in the reign of Henry VllI) a Master of the Posts was appointed, this office developing later into that of Postmaster General. The term Post was also used in official documents from an early period to denote the journey taken by a letter carrier, or the Postal Service between different places."

Although before the reign of Henry VIII the information available in regard to the transmission of letters is scanty, entries of payments for travelling expenses to officials styled Nuncii & Cursores, who conveyed State documents and letters on the king's behalf, appear in the Household and Wardrobe Accounts of King John and later monarchs. It is probable that one or more of these officials, who wore the royal livery, travelled to Jersey with the famous Charter which is regarded as the foundation of the Island's liberties.

[Editor's note: There is no evidence that any such charter ever originated with King John]

Private service

There is evidence that, by the beginning of the 17th century, the Posts were carrying letters for private individuals, as well as official correspondence, from London to some parts of the kindgom, and that most of the Posts were then mounted men. In 1633, a Postal Service to the Continent was established; and by an Act of Parliament of 1657 rates of postage to certain foreign places were fixed: a single letter could then be sent from London to St Malo, via Calais, for the surprisingly low sum of sixpence. For a while, letters had to be handed personally to the Posts, or Postboys as they came to be called, but eventually Post Offices were established in different parts of the Kingdom; and it then became possible for residents in the Channel Islands to send and receive letters without having recourse to private messengers. They were able to make arrangements with captains of vessels proceeding to England to take charge of their letters until they reached an English port where the letters could be deposited in a Post Office and their subsequent transmission left to government agency.

In the latter half of the 18th century, the arrangements for the despatch of letters from Jersey and Guernsey were further simplified. Receiving houses, self-styled Post Offices, were established by private individuals in St Helier and St Peter Port, and at these houses letters could be left for despatch to England by the "Postmaster" when a vessel was available. One penny for each letter was paid to the Island Postmasters for their trouble, and in addition a fee of 1d on each letter was charged by the captains of the vessels for the sea transit.

The letters were usually sent to Southampton, where they were handed over to the local Post Office, the British Postal charge from Southampton to destination being paid by the addressee. In 1792 and 1793, when the question of bringing the Channel Islands within the British Postal system was under consideration, Christopher Saverland, a Post Office Surveyor, was sent by the Postmaster General to the Islands to make preliminary enquiries in the matter and in his reports he refers to the existence of the private Post Offices. As regards letters for the Continent, Saverland stated that "the Merchants of Guernsey and Jersey have an "almost constant intercourse with France by Market Boats to and from Jersey, by which, the conveyance to Southampton being so very irregular and uncertain, they send their Letters for Spain, Portugal and other parts of the Continent, and which are said to be very considerable.... the intercourse with the Continent by the mode I have described is better and more regular than by Southampton in its present state."

In November I79I, the Postmaster of Southampton had been instructed to count for four weeks the number of letters passing through his office which appeared to be intended for inhabitants of Jersey and Guernsey, and the number was found to be 2,296, or an average of nearly 30,000 a year. The Postmaster said that the vessels for the Islands had "no fixt days of sailing but as the Wind and Weather permit; frequently 3 or 4 in a week." This was in time of peace.

Slow and irregular service

The service by trading vessels from Southampton at this period was generally slow and irregular. Tupper states in his History of Guernsey, on the authority of "a retired shipmaster who was nearly 50 years in the Southampton trade" that "about the year 1788, when he first commenced, a cutter which then made eight voyages to and fro in a year was considered to have been actively employed."

This again was at a time of peace. When war broke out between England and France early in I793, the communication became still more irregular and uncertain, as, in addition to the difficulty of navigating a sailing vessel from Southampton into the Channel in certain states of the weather, the traders usually had to wait for convoy. Tupper refers to a vessel which was nearly three months in going from Southampton to Guernsey in the summer of I793 "being baffled by contrary winds and calms" after joining a convoy.

General Conway, Governor of Jersey from 1772 to 1795, was greatly impressed by the need for regularity of intercourse between England and the Channel Islands, particularly in time of war, and he urged the Government again and again to take steps to establish a system of communication which could be relied upon. Writing to Mr H Dundas (later, Viscount Melville), Under Secretary of State in the Home Department, on 15 July I793 he said: "I beg leave to add a word on the head of the Paquet boat, on which I have so often troubled you; the interruption of our communication with Jersey is frequently of five or six weeks, which besides the inconvenience to Government is very distressful to the Inhabitants, the Commercial particularly."

Mr Dundas had already urged the Post Office a short time previously "to adopt some plan similar to what was adopted during the Course of the last War for the conveyance of Letters and Packets to and from the said Islands; but, as it seemed doubtful whether the service would be remunerative, the Post Office was reluctant to establish a permanent Packet Establishment, with its necessary corollary of British Post Offices in the Islands, unless the Government definitely ordered such an Establishment as a matter of State."

Dover packet

Dover packet

During part of the war with America and France, a Dover packet, the Express, of 40 tons, had been withdrawn from Dover (the Dover-Calais Packet Service was of course suspended during hostilities) and transferred temporarily to a Government service between Southampton and the Channel Islands. She carried passengers and private letters as private traders did; but, as there were no British Post Offices in the islands, she did not carry an official mail. She was actually employed for the purpose of maintaining regular communication with the islands.

It was however decided that if a Packet Service were established the Packet Station in England should be at Weymouth. The claims of Portsmouth and Southampton had been urged by different interested parties. It was said on behalf of Portsmouth that a vessel could thence gain the open sea in almost any weather; while, as regards Southampton, stress was laid on its long and intimate association with Channel Islands trade. The decision to make Weymouth the point of departure of the Packets was probably due indirectly to the fact that the town was in Royal favour. During the occasional residences there of George III, many members of the nobility visited the Dorset coast, among them the Earl of Chesterfield, joint Postmaster General, who expressed the view that "if the object in the establishment of Packets to Jersey and Guernsey is expedition and almost a certainty of their sailing whenever the Mail for those Islands arrives, there can be no better and no safer place than the Portland Road. The Post arrives at Weymouth at 3 or 4 pm every day and there is no wind with which the Packet cannot sail or make a passage".

An Admiralty Committee appointed "to inquire as to the comparative advantages afforded by certain Ports in the Channel as Ports for the arrival-departure of the Channel Islands Packets" reported in favour of Weymouth in 1841 although steam had then been substituted for sail:

"A straight course from Southampton would somewhat entangle a vessel with the Caskets and the rocks and races that extend considerably beyond them, to avoid which, in unfavourable or doubtful weather, a considerable angle must be made, causing an augmentation of the distance and probably increasing the danger of the passage, whereas from Weymouth, situate due N from Guernsey, a line nearly S true, clears the Caskets and adjacent rocks to the westward and this line prolonged leads to the entrance of the Little Russell Channel, not far from St H Peter's Port, so that an experienced commander, by making a correct allowance for the set of " the tides may be almost sure of making a good land-fall, and accomplish the passage even under " circumstances of difficulty."

The Packets were placed under the control of the Admiralty in 1837.

At last, early in I794, the Government gave definite and urgent instructions to the Post Office to institute the Packet Service; and action was taken without delay. The Dover-Calais service had once more been suspended; and two Dover packets, the Rover, Captain Bennett, and the Royal Charlotte, Captain Wood, were transferred to Weymouth. The latter Packet sailed for the Islands with the first official mail on 13 February 1795.

Regular service

An official notification of the proposed establishment of a regular Mail service to and from the Channel Islands had appeared in the London Gazette of 3 February 1794; and the whole proceeding was subsequently regularized by Act of Parliament dated 28 March 1794, which fixed rates of postage and authorized the Postmaster General to establish Post Offices and Post Roads within the Islands. The Admiralty was informed by the Post Office of the institution of the new Service, and request was made that His Majesty's Cruizers may be directed to keep as far as may be an Eye on the Packet Boats to prevent their being taken by the "Enemy". The Admiralty issued instructions accordingly.

The Packets were not the property of the Government. As in the case of other Packet Services this service was conducted under agreements, in the nature of contracts, between the Postmaster General and the Commanders of the respective vessels employed. The Captain received from the Postmaster General a commission "during good behaviour, undertaking to supply a sufficient vessel, built expressly for the service, in consideration of a certain annual payment, which included the wages and victualling of a certain number of officers and men, wear and tear, and all charges and risks but that of capture from the enemy, for which the Revenue was his indemnity". The rate of hire was fixed much below the cost and maintenance of the vessel, the Commander deriving his remuneration from the profits arising from the conveyance of passengers.

Mr Saverland, the Post Office Surveyor already mentioned, sailed in the first Packet to make arrangements for the disposal of the Mails and to appoint Postmasters in Guernsey and Jersey. After a delay of some weeks, the Guernsey appointment was given to Mrs Ann Watson, who had acted as Island "Postmistress" for about 15 years, and had therefore some knowledge of the duties involved. The Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Paul Le Messurier, had interested himself in her behalf, even going to the length of pressing her claims before the Prime Minister (Pitt). She is described in the relative correspondence as "the Lord Mayor's relation".

In the case of Jersey, Saverland proceeded at once with the first mail to the residence of Mr Charles William Le Geyt, in Hue Street, St Helier, and informed Le Geyt that he had been appointed British Postmaster of the island, on the recommendation of Mr Evan Nepean, afterwards Sir Evan Nepean, who was then Under Secretary of State for War. Le Geyt was unaware that the matter was in train but he gladly accepted the position. He was a retired Army Officer, 60 years of age, who had seen service in many parts of the world; he fought at Minden in 1759. He was of the same family as Philippe Le Geyt, the author of the well-known commentary Sur la Constitution, les Lois et les Usages de Jersey, who was Lieutenant-Bailiff from 1676 to 1710.

States not informed

No communication in regard to the proposed institution of a Post Office Packet Service and the establishment of British Post Offices appears to have been addressed by the British Government to the States of Jersey and Guernsey. The relative Act of Parliament was not registered by the Royal Court of Jersey, although it was registered in Guernsey, but no formal objections to the action taken by the British authorities were raised in either island, and it will be seen from the following extract from a letter sent to the Postmaster General in August 1794 that the States of Jersey therein gave their tacit approval to the new service:

"We the States of the Island of Jersey sensible of the great utility arising from the late appointment of Regular Packets between Weymouth and this place beg leave at the same time to represent to your Lordships that this Island does not reap all the advantages that might be expected from this excellent establishment on account of some inconveniences which we shall submit to the consideration of your Lordships and which we conceive it would not be difficult to obviate."

The letter from the States went on to request that the date of sailing of the packets from Weymouth should be altered from Thursday to Saturday and that their stay at Guernsey, on the way to England, should be shortened. The Postmaster General acceded to the first request but not to the second.

In 1807 a third packet was employed, and the number of sailings in each direction was increased to two a week. The mail service was maintained without serious mishap until 29 October 1811 when a Cherbourg privateer, L'Epervier, mounting 14 guns and carrying 50 men, captured the packet Chesterfield on her way to the islands, and compensation amounting to £1,626 had to be paid by the Post Office to the owners. This was not the whole of the expense involved. Sir John Doyle, Lieut-Governor of Guernsey, at once lent one of his scouts, the Mary, to the Post Office for a short time to obviate delay to the mails; and in returning from Jersey with the mail for England on board and in endeavouring to weather the Corbierre Rocks with a very high wind and a tremenduous Sea running, the said Cutter Mary labour'd so much that her Mast and Boom were sprung." The owners submitted a claim for £97 in respect of the cost of repairs, but although Sir John Doyle gave them his support they only received 50 guineas.


Although not altogether germane to the subject of this paper, it may be permissible to quote part of one of Doyle's letters on the foregoing matter, as it throws light on the activities of the scouts, which were chartered by the Lieut-Governors for service in the Channel:

"With respect to the Scouts, they are not limited to any particular Service by their Contract, but are usually employed in the Transport of Troops between Guernsey the Isle of Wight and Alderney and occasionally reconnoitring the Enemy's Coast, and cruizing round the Island; and for the conveyance of dispatches in the Absence of the Packets. But as these services are frequently attended with danger, they have not been able to get insured by the underwriters either in London or here. At the period alluded to in their petition, the weather was so very bad that it would not have answered for the Transport of Troops, nor should I have employed them upon any ordinary Service, but as the conveyance of the Mails was of great consequence to the Mercantile interests of both Islands, and might eventually contain important orders to the Governors of the Islands, and as the Vessels are well found and the Masters bold and hardy seamen I did not hesitate to lend them to the Post Office .... I confess it would be but fair to indemnify the owners, who have by no means a very good bargain in the hire of these Vessels."

In 1826 two further casualties involving the loss of packets occurred. On 2 February in fine weather the Hinchinbrook, Captain Thomas Quirk, struck a sunken rock called the Brunette, near Alderney and quickly filled and sank. The mails were saved and the crew and passengers, 24 in all, landed in Alderney in the ship's boats. A Post Office Committee of Enquiry found that the loss of the packet was due to an error of judgment on the part of Captain Quirk, who was then 67 years of age. He was pensioned two months after the occurrence.

Late on the following 6 September, the Francis Freeling packet sailed from Weymouth for the islands with a crew of nine, and seven passengers, and did not reach her destination. It was an extremely dark night and the weather soon became very stormy. "The packet had a four reefed main-sail, double-reefed foresail and storm jibb, and under such snug canvass, Captain Robert White (the commander of another packet) did not consider it at all unsafe for her to put to sea as the wind and weather then was."

A Swedish brig reported later that on her way up Channel on the night in question she encountered a vessel of the size of the Francis Freeling off Portland and did not see her in time to avoid running her down. Owing to the violence of the gale no lives could be saved. Not less than one hundred children are said to have been rendered fatherless as a result of this disaster.

Steam packets were introduced in 1827. It is to the credit of the captains of the sailing packets that over a period of 3 3 years they should have maintained in their small vessels a service in difficult waters with comparatively little misfortune. It must be borne in mind that for the greater part of the time this country was at war with France and the Channel was swarming with enemy war vessels and privateers.

A steam packet

Delays in Guernsey

Although the packets were long immune from serious mishap, the service was often the cause of trouble and anxiety to the Post Office authorities. In the first years, difficulties arose in consequence of the faculty given to Lieutenant-Governors to detain the vessels whenever they deemed it necessary to do so for reasons of vital importance. Presuming on this concession Major General John Small of Guernsey would detain the packets for his despatches sometimes for several hours and occasionally for four or five days beyond their proper time, although he had scouts under his orders which he could send to England on official business whenever he wished.

On one occasion at least, when the mail service was altogether disorganized by a particularly long detention in Guernsey, the Postmaster of Jersey "applied to the Lieut-Governor of this Island for one of the Vessels under his command to convey the Mail, who readily and cheerfully granted a lugger for the purpose". The delay to the mails was, of course, particularly vexatious to the Jersey community. The Duke of Portland, Home Secretary, eventually brought Small to reason for a time, but he offended again; and when remonstrated with by the Post Office authorities, he rejoined by abusing Peter Delamotte, the Post Office Packet Agent at Weymouth, who had been obliged to report the circumstances.

The Postmasters of Jersey and Guernsey had also on various occasions informed the Postmaster General of the unnecessary delays to the mails but the Lieut-Governor of Guernsey was not aware of this. After his death in 1796, there was no further trouble in this respect, and in 1797 at the instance of Major General Gordon, Lieut-Governor of Jersey, and the Jersey Chamber of Commerce, the official stay at Guernsey was reduced from 24 hours to "a reasonable time to receive the mails and passengers".

Other difficulties were due to the fact that the packet agents at Weymouth were not themselves sailors; and, lacking nautical experience, could not always exercise effective control over the captains of the packets. The Excise Office informed the Post Office in 1799 that "it has been suggested to this Board that the Country is constantly supplied with some of the Articles (spirits and tobacco) in a contraband way by means of the Packets; that the seamen declare they could not maintain their families without smuggling; and that the Captains permit each to bring on board much greater quantities of Spirits and Tobacco than are actually necessary every voyage." The pay of the sailors was scandalously small.

A flagrant case of lack of supervision by the Weymouth Agent occurred in 1813 when the packet Rapid was allowed to sail from Weymouth with a crew of 9 instead of 16, and without her captain. According to a representation signed by the passengers for Guernsey, which was sent to the Postmaster General by Major General Albert Gledstane, Lieut-Governor of Guernsey, the mate of the Rapid, who was nominally in charge, was under the influence of drink during the greater part of the journey and could not control the crew. If it had not been for the exertions of two passengers, Captain Naftel of Guernsey and Captain De Gruchy of Jersey, who were "able and experienced seamen" the vessel would have been lost. As it was, the Packet was over two days on the passage to Guernsey.

The captain and the agent were dismissed from the Post Office service; but the Captain caused much trouble for a time by equipping a speedy vessel on which he flew a flag "nearly resembling that of the Post Office". He competed with the packets and was occasionally successful in booking passengers who really intended to travel by the Post Office boats. He even managed on one occasion to carry bullion over to the Islands for the Government.

The case of the Rapid is however an isolated one; generally speaking the intercourse between England and the Islands during the sailing packet period was maintained in a satisfactory manner and with remarkable regularity.

1794 to 1830

With the establishment of a British Post Office there in 1794, Hue Street in the town of St Helier became unexpectedly a thoroughfare of some consequence. The street was not in the business centre; 22 years later, the Lieut-Governor, Lieut-General Hilgrove Turner, said that it was still "at the distant skirt of the town"; but the advantages of the new institution were so obvious that the inhabitants were not disposed to cavil at its inconvenient position.

Until he had gained experience, Mr Le Geyt, the Postmaster, cannot have found it easy to discharge his duties on the days when the Packets arrived, although on these occasions he was assisted by Mr Thomas Mallet "a capital merchant of this island", and Mr Philip Hamond (or Hammond) who had acted as Island Postmaster before 1794. There were no postmen to deliver the letters, and these had to be searched for and handed over to applicants when they called for them. As postage was not prepaid, sums varying with the distance of the place of posting from Weymouth had to be collected on all private letters: this was doubtless a matter which often led to controversy. No postage was payable on newspapers. "At the request of the inhabitants", so the Postmaster said, he sorted the newspapers and gave them out to callers before dealing with the letters; an indication of the general anxiety in regard to public affairs.

To save themselves the trouble of a journey to town, the inhabitants of St Aubin employed a private messenger to fetch all their letters and newspapers from the Post Office once a week after the arrival of the packet. They paid the messenger 1½d for each letter and 1d for each newspaper that he carried. Later a similar arrangement was made by the inhabitants of Gorey. On every letter and newspaper called for at his office, Le Geyt levied a charge of 1d, which he retained for himself. His regular official pay apart from the penny charge was £50 a year.

In 1795 the States of Jersey informed the Postmaster General that representations had been made to them "that some inconvenience arose in the delivering and receiving of Letters at the Post Office", and that they had consequently appointed a committee "to ascertain the Facts complained of". As a result of the committee's findings, they asked for a revision of the Postal arrangements.

The letter from the States was referred by the Postmaster General to Le Geyt for his observations and he gave these at great length. He stated that no complaints whatever in regard to the conduct of Post Office business had been addressed by members of the Public to the States and that none had been made to him. "The appointment of the committee was solely founded on the motion or complaint of one "individual member who is known to bear the chief sway in the States. The "member alluded to has been long at variance with me."

Unreasonable charges

Some of the charges made against Le Geyt's management were certainly unreasonable, eg "No Letters (are) delivered at any season of the year before nine o'clock in the morning nor later than nine o'clock in the evening, nor in the daytime between three and four o'clock." Le Geyt's defence on this point is worth quoting in full :

"Of this Article, I trust their Lordships will immediately see the futility. I breakfast at 8, to be ready to open at nine o'clock. I take one hour for my dinner (from three to four) which I hope will not be thought too much; and nine in the evening is surely not too early an hour to shut the Post Office when, having no assistant (except on mail days), I have been from nine in the morning standing upon my legs in the delivery of the letters, and of course exhausted with fatigue."

The main grievance of the States was in regard to the charge of 1d over and above the ordinary postage, which was collected by Le Geyt with official cognizance. This additional charge was also levied at many Post Offices in England, and was countenanced by the Postmaster General because, although illegal, it obviated the necessity for increasing the salaries of Postmasters. When public resentment was shown, the impost was generally stopped; and, although the headquarters officials of the Post Office took the view that there was "an appearance of picque" in the Jersey complaints the States scored on this point. The 1d fee was abolished and Le Geyt was given an official allowance to cover his pecuniary loss.

(In their appeal for the abolition of this charge the States somewhat incautiously asked that postage rates to and from the island should not exceed those fixed by Act of Parliament; and when reporting on the matter, Le Geyt did not fail to take advantage of this reference to the Act. "It may not be improper to add that, although they quote the Act of Parliament as a rule, they have declined registering it, which it is necessary to do to give it force of Law here; however they do not scruple to cite it, as being subservient to their purpose."

Three years later, in 1798, a woman was engaged to deliver the correspondence for St Helier at the houses of the citizens, but the area regarded as within the town must have been very restricted. There is on record a complaint that a letter sent from Southsea to an address in Union Road was returned to the sender because it was not claimed at the Jersey Post Office; Union Road was outside the Postwoman's delivery.

From 1798 to 1830, this postwoman, Mary Godfray, was the only letter carrier in the Island. She received no pay direcdy from the Post Office, but was allowed to make a charge of ½d on each letter she delivered. In 1830 she was given regular wages of 6s a week, for two deliveries. (The packets then arrived twice a week). Tradition says that she sorted her letters into two bundles, one being carried in a red pocket handkerchief and the other in a blue one. She lived in Sand Street, where also resided a gentleman named John Jackson who was acquainted with Sir Francis Freeling, the Secretary of the Post Office, and in 1835 he submitted an appeal from Mary Godfray (then a widow) for an increase in her pay.

No pension allowed

Jackson said of her that "a more industrious, interesting, honest creature cannot exist"; and on the strength of his representations her wages were raised to 7s 6d a week. In 1843 the President of the Jersey Chamber of Commerce forwarded another appeal from Mary Godfray. She asked to be retired on pension, stating that she was in her sixty-ninth year and "nearly worn out in the Public Service". Unfortunately, however, it was not within the Postmaster General's power to grant a pension to a Post Office servant of her rank)

From 1795 until 1816, no complaint against Le Geyt can be traced. He was, however, troubled by various matters beyond his control. The unnecessary detentions of the packets at Guernsey have already been mentioned and the difficulty in fixing on sailing dates convenient alike to Guernsey and Jersey entailed much correspondence. He was greatly disquieted at the survival of the unofficial Post Office, where letters were received for despatch by private vessels to Southampton and other ports, in infringement of the Postmaster General's monopoly; but the Post Office authorities in London did not take serious action to secure the registration of the Post Office Acts in Jersey and thus it was not possible to take legal steps in the matter. It was recognized that, with an official mail service on one day of the week only (until 1806), it would have been difficult to prevent private vessels from carrying letters in an irregular way. Although advanced in years, Le Geyt was indefatigable in defending the Postal interests of Jersey; and the contemporary Post Office records exhibit him as a conscientious, hard-working and capable man.

In 1815, Le Geyt requested to be allowed to resign his post in favour of his son, George William Le Geyt. He was then 82 years of age, and his official emoluments amounted to £140 a year. The old stalwart said "I do not ask from feeling myself unequal to my business being, thank God, in perfect health and spirits"; he simply wished to make certain that his son would obtain the Postmastership. Sir Hilgrove Turner, then Lieut-Governor, strongly supported the claims of Le Geyt's son, but urged "the removal of the Post Office from its present position at the extremity of the town to a more central one near the Court House".

Le Geyt's son was thereupon appointed Postmaster on the understanding that the Office would be "moved to a more central situation"; and he took up his duties in February 1816. The "more central situation" to which he transferred the Post Office was Minden Place, and so far as can be gathered, no difficulties were raised from any quarter. The Jersey Post Office building was then provided by the Postmaster and not by the State.

The Post Office establishments in the Channel Islands seem to have been allowed to run by themselves for many years; but in 1829 a Surveyor named George Louis was sent across the Channel to examine the situation; and some matters of interest in his reports must be referred to.

No monopoly

The Surveyor's sense of official propriety was quickly offended when he discovered that, as the Act of Parliament of 1794 had not been registered in Jersey, the Postmaster General could not claim the monopoly of carrying letters. There was actually an establishment in St Helier, conducted by a gentleman named Theodore Fontaine, which was known as the French Post Office, and appeared to be "sanctioned in some way or other by the French Government". To this office, the captains of vessels from St Malo and Granville took letters received by them from the Postal authorities in France and the inhabitants called there for their foreign letters. Letters for France were also received at the office and despatched to the ports named; without the intervention of the British Post Office. Then Louis found that the British Post Office was not the only one dealing with letters from England and Guernsey. "We are here (in Jersey) surrounded by opposition, every trader and Steam Packet has its Post Office; if the law cannot stop this and secure the whole of the letters being conveyed to the regular Post Office, the reasons are stronger for making such convenient regulations as will cause the Residents to prefer our establishment to that of any other. I have just been looking at the windows of the different offices and have seen many letters directed to remote Parishes: these letters may remain a length of time on hand, but if my proposition be sanctioned such cannot be the case with those brought to our office.

The official postal charges at the time were very high. The minimum rate from London, which in 1794 was 7d, had risen to 10d, and therefore it is not surprising that, whenever practicable, letters from places in the vicinity of ports in direct communication with Jersey were sent by private vessels, whose charges were lower than those of the Post Office. Letters from London were also conveyed by these private vessels. There were agencies in the City at which letters left for despatch to the island were sent to Southampton for conveyance thence by steamers.

As Louis could not remedy the situation by legal means, he came to the conclusion that the only way to combat the private Postal agencies, which could not afford to deliver letters at the houses of the residents, was to improve the Post Office arrangements. These had remained unaltered since 1798, and he now determined to establish a regular delivery of correspondence at every house in the island.

Mary Godfray, the erstwhile solitary letter-carrier,was given a coadjutor, and with him delivered all the letters for the town, the postal boundaries of which were enlarged, and all letters for houses within the town area were delivered without addition to the ordinary postage.

Rural postmen's duties

Then five rural postmen were engaged whose duties, in the actual words of Louis, were as follows : No 1 Serve the environs of the town on the way to St Aubin's, Millbrook and other houses on the route, St Aubin's itself, Noirmont, St Brelade's and St Ouen. (Some twelve years later, another Post Office Surveyor discovered that this man's walk was from 30 to 40 miles and he was frequently unable to complete his delivery on the day of the arrival of the mail). No 2 Receive at the village of Beaumont a bag from the St Aubin's man, serve Beaumont village and House, St Peter's, St Mary's and St John's. No 3 Serve a portion of the environs of the town, St John's Road, St Lawrence and Trinity. No 4 Serve the remaining environs of the town part of St Saviour's, George Town, Havre-des-Pas, St Clement's, Pontac (a place of summer resort) Grande Roque and the parish of St Clement's. No 5 Grouville Village and Parish, Gorey, St Martin's, Rozel, etc. Postman No 1 was paid 6s, and the others 5s, for two deliveries weekly. Mary Godfray received 6s a week and the other town postman 5s a week. The wages of the letter deliverers may seem small, but in one particular at least Louis had to go out of his way to justify them to the Postmaster General. "Wages paid here and in Guernsey to labourers and mechanics are much higher than in England and therefore to secure proper persons to perform the duties required of them I am obliged to recommend proportionately higher allowances for the town carriers than I should in England."

The improvements described above proved effectual up to a point, but the activities of the private postal agencies were not suppressed until after the introduction of Penny Postage in 1840.

London Gazette notice

General Post Office.
3 February 1794
Notice is hereby given that a Packet will sail every Thursday from Weymouth for the Islands of Guernsey and Jersey, and a Mail with the Letters for these Islands will be made and sent from this Office every Wednesday Night. The First Mail is to sail if possible on Thursday the 6th Instant.
The Course the Packet will take, and the Times of her Stay and Return, will be in general, and, unless in Cases of particular and occasional Orders to the contrary, the same as in last War, namely, to sail to Guernsey and drop her Letters there, to proceed immediately to Jersey, there to deliver her Letters, and to stay Three Days for the Answers, then to return to Guernsey, deliver her Letters, stay there Two Days, and return to Weymouth.
By Command of the Postmaster General Anth Todd, Sec

(The foregoing Notice appeared on various dates during the month of February 1794: the new service actually started on 13 February 1794).

Le Geyt's letter of thanks


Last night, at the same moment that I (was) acquainted with my appointment of Post Master of this Island, I entered upon it. Having had no previous notice of your intended goodness, I was agreeably surprised at the arrival of a mail at my house, accompanied by Mr Saverland, Surveyor of the General Post Office, who was pleased to show me my name written by you, with the addition of Post Master. Accept, my Dear Sir, my most grateful acknowledgements for this mark of your friendship and kindness to me. It was most fortunate for me that Mr Saverland came to this island, he having very obligingly assisted me in the distribution of the letters and in showing me how to make up the mail this evening; and has been pleased to give me the clearest instructions possible for my future going on. It was also happy for me that he saw how greatly the Exchange is against me in all remittances to the General Post Office. The Par settled by Mr Pitt in the treaty of Commerce with France is 24 livres for a pound sterlg. I receive the postage here at that Par, and I remit it in bills at 25 livres - one livre in a pound sterlg against me; and if in silver, as I have done this evening, 17 shillings, to the Postmaster at Weymouth, one penny in a shillg, receiving but 24 sous and I pay 26 sous pro shillg. To these money transactions he was witness. I must therefore take the liberty to beg of you, once more to interest your self for me with the Postmasters General, that my salary may be made adequate to the above and to the great trouble I have here, and further to represent to their Lordships, that the Mail coming here is attended with more expense to me than those sent by the Mail Coaches to Country Towns, as I must be civil in entertaining, now and then, the Captns of the Packetts with a dinner &c. But all this I leave to your better Judgement - only that a word from you would influence their Lordships in my favor. I conclude in the greatest haste as the Mail is gone on board, but Mr Saverland has been pleased to promise me he'll take care you shall receive this. Accept once more my best thanks, and believe me to be with the greatest respect to yourself and Lady.

Chas Wm Le Geyt Jersey. Feby. 19th 1793. Evan Nepean, Esqre

Further articles

Notes and references

  1. There is no evidence that there was ever a Roman settlement in Jersey or Guernsey: Ed
Personal tools
other Channel Islands
contact and contributions

Please support Jerripedia with a donation to our hosting costs