A history of Jersey Postal services - Part 1, before 1815
From earliest times Southampton had been the most favoured port connecting the Channel Islands with the mainland, although no vessel had been employed specifically for mails until 1794.
When anyone wrote letters addressed overseas they gave them in charge of merchants, or even coffee house keepers, who were self-styled postmasters. The letters were then given to the captain of the first available vessel sailing for England. On reaching Southampton the ship's Captain handed over his bundle of letters to the receiving agent, who in turn placed them in the care of the official Postmaster, whereupon they began their sometimes arduous journey to the addressee.
The merchants, agents and Captain each charged a penny for their services and when the letter reached the addressee he or she had to pay the postage. This varied with the distance the letter had to travel.
It seems a strange custom to us today but prior to the fifth of December 1839, it was the recipient who paid the postage on letters and it can be imagined that the poorer friends and relations of Islanders living, shall we say, in Scotland, received their mail with mixed feelings. In 1638 a letter from Jersey to Scotland cost one shilling and five-pence.
On the commencement of hostilities between Great Britain and France in 1778, the Express, an ex-Dover packet commanded by Captain Samson, was placed on the Southampton - CI run by orders of the Postmaster General, to carry mail and keep communications open. The Express was fully armed and cost the Post Office a considerable sum annually, from which it derived little, or no advantage as the Captain, Capt Samson, delivered the letters as ship letters, receiving one penny each, the same as a master of any common vessel. On conclusion of peace in 1783 the Express returned to her station.
Various names of vessels, and their Captains, engaged in keeping communications between the islands and Southampton have been preserved in the pages of Jersey newspapers of the period.
It may well be worth while mentioning them here:
- Jersey Packet Captain De St. Croix 4 crew 39 tons
- Guernsey Packet Captain Mourant 3 crew 39 tons
- Southampton Packet Captain Neel 4 crew 29 tons
- Alderney Packet Captain Le Ray 3 crew 30 tons
Postillion Packet Captain Le Ray Liberty Packet Captain Simpson (later Wilkins and Durrel) Dispatch Captain Babot Prudent Captain De La Perrelle 35 tons Charlotte Captain P Gallie 5 crew 18 tons Johana Captain Bisson 10 crew 40 tons Swift Captain Simon Dubois
- Speedy Packet Captain Henry Wilkins 70 ton cutter armed and carrying passengers, letters and parcels.
- Hero Captain Nicolle Armed with 4 guns and carrying passengers.
- Rose Captain de Gruchy Armed with 4 guns and carrying passengers, fare to Southampton £1 1s.
St Malo service
An advertisement in the Gazette of 31 December 1778 states:
- ”Captain Thomas Payne and Jean Mauger, commanders of the cutter La Charlotte, will take letters and parcels to St Malo”.
This vessel was of 18 tons and manned by four crew but this venture soon faded out for in 1792 we read:
- ”A proposition from agents and others to run a packet boat twice a week from Jersey to St Malo. The boat will be paid for by subscription, anyone interested please write to the Gazette de Lisle”.
If anyone did have interest they soon lost it, as war with France commenced the next year.
Local self-styled Post Offices were operating in St Helier during the 18th century and in the Gazette de L'Isle of 6 January 1787 we read:
- ”Philip Hamon holding the post of letters in St Helier informs the public that in future he will not admit anybody to enter his office during the time he is distributing the letters, as it was not the habit of any country, and, as he was owed a considerable amount of money, he begged his debtors to come and pay, otherwise he would refuse to deliver any more letters if they did not pay at once. Also he needed them to bring small change as he did not always have enough on him”.
These post offices were very lax and the service bad. In the Actes des Etats 1789, an account is given of a letter addressed to Stephen Cottril, of the Privy Council, from the States of Jersey, apologising for the delay 'in answering your last letter, as it has been laying at the Post Office for over a fortnight'.
A Pierre Mallet was also a Postmaster of St Helier and the Gazette of 1792 says :
- “The brig Liberte, Captain Charles Hocquard, leaves Jersey on 3 June for St Lawrence, Newfoundland. Those who have any letters to send to the north or south please contact Mr Pierre Mallet who will look after them”.
In November 1793 the Gazette states:
- ”The communications between the Islands being long and uncertain, a boat will sail once a week to Lyme. Letters and packets for England may be left with Madame Anne Anley of Hill Street, who will take the money, one sou for each letter or packet, addressed to Mr Henry Chard, agent of Lyme. These boats will call at Guernsey also”.
War with France commenced in 1793, which put paid to the activities of small boats plying in the English Channel, which was a hotbed of enemy privateers on the lookout for plunder. During the first two years of the war Jersey lost two thirds of her shipping and 900 men were taken prisoner. These were disastrous times for the inhabitants and communications were hazardous and uncertain.
Post Office discussions
In 1787 discussions were held between Christopher Saverland, a Post Office surveyor, and Mr Palmer, the Controller General of the General Post Office, when Saverland proposed that vessels should be employed to sail from Portsmouth to Guernsey twice a week and that one of the vessels which were constantly going to and fro between Jersey and Guernsey should carry the Jersey mail. Saverland hired three vessels for this service but apparently nothing ever came of it.
Four years passed before the British Post Office instructed the Southampton Postmaster to count the letters received from the Channel Islands for one month. This was done, and these amounted to 2,296 or 600 per week, roughly 30,000 per year. In Jersey, merchants and businessmen, weary of continued requests for an official Post Office, decided to do something about it themselves. At a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce on 11 May 1790 it was resolved that a committee be held on Friday 22 May to consider the proposal of Edward Fiott with regard to a Post Office in Jersey and for Mr Fiott and Mr P H Laurens to draw up articles of regulations for the Post Office.
On 21 May Fiott and Laurens produced a sketch of regulations for a Post Office. Apparently this project was abandoned because no further discussion on this subject can be traced in later recordings of Chamber of Commerce meetings.
Meanwhile in England, much correspondence was going from Saverland to Francis Freeling, Secretary to the General Post Office, and thence to the Postmaster General, on the subject of a Postal service to the Islands and weighing up the pros and cons of which English port would best suit the service. The Government was continually under pressure from the Lieut-Governors of both Jersey and Guernsey.
On 12 April 1793, Henry Dundas, MP, requested the Post Office to establish a packet service, similar to the method adopted in the last war, for the conveyance of packets and letters.
A letter from Francis Freeling to the Postmasters General of 1 February 1794, reads:
- ”My Lords,
- ”By a letter I have this day received from Mr Saverland at Weymouth, I understand that the Royal Charlotte Pacquet, Captain Wood, has arrived at that port.
- ”I have therefore given instructions to the Presidents of the Inland Office to make up a mail for the Islands of Guernsey and Jersey on Wednesday next”.
Although the Royal Charlotte was the cutter named by Francis Freeling to carry the mail to the Channel Islands, no vessel of this name ever did run. However, Captain James Wood sailed from Weymouth, arriving in Jersey with the first mail on 18 February 1794, and the vessel under his command was named Earl of Chesterfield. Was this the same vessel renamed by Captain Wood, who was also the owner, in honour of his appointment by the Earl of Chesterfield, who was one of the Postmasters General?
The other vessel which joined the Earl of Chesterfield was the Rover, commanded by Captain Joshua Bennet. These two cutters were identical in appearance, both built of oak at Bridport in Dorset. They weighed 80 tons and were 50ft in length with a 12ft beam. During the war they were armed with carriage guns and small arms.
The crossing from Weymouth (in good weather) took these little vessels 16 hours for a distance of 85 miles.
The packets sailed to the Channel Islands for the first few months on a Thursday but on 16 August 1794 the States of Jersey wrote to the Earl of Chesterfield, and the Earl of Leicester, the Postmasters General, asking for the date of sailing from Weymouth to be altered to any day but Thursday and to shorten the stay of the packet in Guernsey, owing to inconvenience.
Francis Freeling replied on 7 October 1794, altering the sailing date to Saturday but not shortening its stay in Guernsey. This correspondence was an official recognition by the States of His Majesty's Post Office in Jersey, as the Act of 1794 had never been registered by the Royal Court of the Island, although it had in Guernsey.
Owing to the infrequent sailings of the Post Office packets, various cutters, or scouts as they were called, were loaned to carry the mail. Each governor of the Islands had a scout for his dispatches during the war, as did the Commander in Chief of the British Naval Squadron at Jersey. The names of some of these vessels were the Mary (armed scout). Britannia — Captain Naylor, Brilliant — Captain Court, Sir Sydney Smith (armed scout), Sir William Curtis — Captain Batton, and Rapid — Captain White.
The Earl of Chesterfield was sold in Weymouth in 1806 but the son of Captain James Wood, Captain Starr Wood, took over a vessel named Chesterfield and continued in the Post Office service. In the columns of the Gazette are incidents in the life of these cutters, some exciting, some tragic. On 4 March 1809 we read:
- ”As the gunner of the Rover packet tried to get on board in St Helier's harbour he fell and killed himself”.
His Majesty's hired cutter Queen Charlotte, commanded by Captain Thomas, 25 crew and eight guns, on 29 August 1810, having on board Mr P Mulgrave charged with dispatches from the Commander in Chief of Jersey to the cruisers off Cherbourg, was attacked by a large French cutter off Alderney.
It had 14 guns and 100 crew and flew the British flag. On nearing the Queen Charlotte the Frenchman quickly changed his colours and hoisted the French flag. He then opened fire and the battle raged for one and a half hours until the Frenchman, experiencing such fearful fire, sheered off. The Queen Charlotte's coxswain and two seamen were killed and 12 were wounded. Mr Mulgrave received a shot in the head which deprived him of an eye. The injured crew were landed at Alderney to receive medical aid and the dead were buried in Jersey on Friday 31 August.
To give an example of the frequency and severity of the actions of French privateers during these times from 1793 to 1814, 10,871 British vessels were captured.
In 1807 a third packet was added and the crossing was made twice per week. This third packet was the General Doyle , commanded by Captain Pipon.
Due to the weather conditions and the activities of French privateers in the Channel the sailings of these little packets were most irregular and on 5 June 1809, the three packets arrived in St Helier Harbour the same day.
Hinchinbrook and Francis Freeling
The year 1811 saw the addition of two extra sailing packets on the Channel Island station, the Hinchinbrook, commanded by Captain Thomas Quirk, and the Francis Freeling under the command of Captain Pipon. They ran for 15 years.
Countess of Liverpool
22nd January 1814 saw the maiden voyage to the Channel Islands of the packet Countess of Liverpool, under the command of Captain Robert White, who was also the owner.
Up until 1818 the commanders of the packets each received f408 16s 1d per annum from the Post Office. This was indeed a paltry sum and to supplement their wages the crew actively engaged in smuggling, indeed this activity led to the abolition of clinker vessels on Post Office service in 1809.
In 1819 the Post Office granted the captains £238 16s 1d each per annum, plus all the fares paid by passengers. The fare from Weymouth to Jersey in those days being £1 6s for ladies and gentlemen, and 13d for 'servants', but for all this, these vessels were running at a loss due to the advent of steam.
Two private companies had for some time been running steam paddle ships from the Islands to Southampton, which were much quicker and had better facilities for passengers, causing the sailing packets, in the latter years, to run almost empty.
1827 saw the end of these robust little vessels and their gallant crews which had braved weather, rocks and privateers for 33 years.
On 13 February 1794 the Earl of Chesterfield packet arrived at St Helier from Weymouth with Christopher Saverland, a Post Office surveyor, on board, who from the start had been instrumental in laying the foundations for the postal services to operate to the Channel Islands. On arrival Saverland immediately went to the house in Hue Street of Charles William Le Geyt and informed him of his appointment as Jersey's Post Master.
Le Geyt was born in 1733, son of Charles Le Geyt (Constable of St Helier 1726-1733) and Martha de la Faye, and was from the same family as Philippe Le Geyt, who was Lieut-Bailiff from 1676-1710. Charles William Le Geyt joined the army in 1759, was commissioned and fought at the Battle of Minden, where he commanded a company of Grenadiers.
In 1763, at the end of the Seven Years War, he was placed on half pay as a captain of the 63rd Regiment of Foot. He married Elizabeth Shebbeare in Soho, London, and later returned to Jersey and lived at that time at St Saviour. He had earlier been married to Mary Nicolle, who was the mother of his first two children. Elizabeth was the mother of George William Le Geyt, who eventually succeeded his father as Postmaster.
Le Geyt took an active part in Jersey politics. In 1772 he took a petition to the Privy Council demanding a Royal Commission to investigate complaints from Jersey.
He received his postal appointment with some surprise and on the evening of the same day he wrote a letter to Evan Nepean, the then Under-secretary of State for War, thanking him for his friendship and kindness.
A notice in the Gazette de L'Isle of 1795 gives an idea of the hours Le Geyt worked :-
- “The Post Office is open every day from 9 am until 3 pm, and from 4 pm until 9 pm on the day the mail is to be made up. No letters will be given out from the hour mentioned until the mail is finished. The packet sails from Weymouth every evening”.
Eleven hours a day, seven days a week, apart from fetching the mails from the packet, making it up and passing it over to the recipients, because in the early days the public had to call for their mail at the Post Office.
Le Geyt had to write out the various names of people who had letters awaiting and these lists were placed outside four of the town hotels, which were The Kings Arms (Mr Deal), The Union (Mr Aubin), The British (Mrs Le Tublin) and Routs (Mr Rout). Le Geyt also felt obliged to entertain the captain of the packets to dinner.
Later the same year Le Geyt had to accept the passage money of anyone travelling on the packet and to make out an order for the captain to receive them. If all this was not enough, people came knocking on his door after 9 pm to claim letters, which in exasperation caused Le Geyt to insert the following notice in the Gazette :-
- ”Post Office, Jersey. In future, letters may be left without payment, it will suffice to drop them in the box. The Postmaster is willing, for the convenience of the public, to put up a list in his office as soon as possible of letters that he has remaining in his care as well as the lists already outside the hotels. The public are asked to read these notices so as to spare the Postmaster answering questions when the office is closed. He will not give up letters until the office is open.
Although he is aware someone has complained of paying 2d for each letter after the hours of closing, he does this to spare their grumblings, footsteps and purse, the alternative being to keep these letters for the next packet, or bring them in time, as they are unable to plead ignorance when the hour of closing is advertised in different parts of the town”.
During December 1797 Le Geyt advertised:
- ”For a person of good character, sobriety, honesty and integrity, to carry letters. They must also read French and English and calculate money.'
Le Geyt appointed Mary Godfray, who lived in Sand Street and delivered all the letters in the town. She received no official pay but charged a halfpenny for every letter delivered. It is on record that she carried her letters in a cross-handled basket.
It was not until 1830 that Mary Godfray received any official remuneration, but in that year she was granted the princely sum of 6s per week, and five years later, she had a rise of 1s 6d. Forty-five years after Mary had commenced her Post Office appointment the President of the Jersey Chamber of Commerce forwarded an appeal for her to the Postmaster General in London, asking for her 'to be retired on pension, being nearly worn out in the public service'. Unfortunately her rank did not qualify her for a pension and the request was refused.
St Aubin and Gorey
The inhabitants of St Aubin and Gorey also employed a carrier to bring the mail from St Helier to these places, and letters were called for at self-styled 'Post Offices' in these towns. An advert of 1814 said: `good lodgings, apply Post Office at St Aubin'.
The postage rates between the Channel Islands and Weymouth were established in 1794 at 2d per single letter - one sheet of paper folded and sealed, and the postage from Weymouth to London was 5d, so a letter from Jersey cost 7d. In 1796 it rose to 9d, 1801 to 10d, 1805 to 11d and by 1812 to 1s 11d per single letter. Double letters - two sheets of paper - were charged double, and so forth, these charges being paid by the addressee.
During the first year of his office, Le Geyt charged an additional 1d on each letter, but under a storm of protest in Jersey this charge was dropped and in 1795 he was given an extra allowance from the General Post Office to make up his loss.
From 1794 to 1795 Le Geyt received £50 per annum salary plus the extra penny he charged on each letter. In 1814 his salary was raised to £140 per annum. In 1815 Le Geyt asked to be allowed to resign his office in favour of his son, which he did the same year, being then aged 82. He died in 1827 at the age of 94.
Guernsey Post Office
The Guernsey Post Office was established the same year as the Jersey Post Office in 1794 by Henry Dundas, MP, naming A C MacDougall as the Postmaster, but it was actually Mrs Ann Watson who was appointed Guernsey's first Postmistress at her address in the High Street.
Mrs Watson was succeeded by her son, Nicholas, in June 1814. The post office was transferred in 1841 to Commercial Arcade under William Fell, Postmaster until four years later when it was transferred to 16 Fountain Street under Arthur Forrest (who later became Jersey's Postmaster in 1855-1869). It was again transferred in 1848 to 36 Commercial Arcade until May 1883, when it finally came to its present site in Smith Street.
Apart from the internal running of the Guernsey Post Office, arrangements had to be made to include the other islands of Alderney, Sark and Herm, as they came under the Guernsey Bailiwick and a variety of local sailing vessels undertook this service.
Although Jersey and Guernsey had Government Post Offices in 1794, Alderney was without until 1843 and Sark until 1857. The mails were carried at first by local cutters, then steamers.