Post & Go Heritage Mail by Sea
These days we have become accustomed to a fast and efficient mail delivery service, even internationally. The huge distances between senders and recipients present few issues in the technological age. But Royal Mail was established long before the first aeroplane took the skies.
Royal Mail was effectively founded in 1516 when Henry VIII created the position of “Master of the Posts”. This was a self-serving move to ensure that the king had control over the transit of communications. It would be more than a century before mail service were available to the public but even then, they were too costly for ordinary people to use. However, the existence of the public service necessitated the establishment of transport links and inevitably, over many years, the service continued to evolve.
Taking to the High Seas
Before the advent of trains and planes, mail was transported internationally by sea. In the 17th century the ships which carried the mail were called packets and proved vital to the continued prosperity and dominance of the British Empire. The Industrial Revolution saw the introduction of steam ships and these facilitated a more reliable postal service. Ships could now operate according to timetables and the threat of piracy was considerably reduced.
Royal Mail Ships
In 1840, Royal Mail ships were introduced. Only vessels which were officially contracted to carry mail were given the prefix RMS which was indicative of reliability and prestige. Technology continued to progress and during the 20th century, more and more mail has been transported by rail and air. But ships still traverse the oceans with our mail on board and the new Post & Go Issue from Royal Mail celebrates the crucial role that ships have played in the history of mail transportation.
Following the release of the Royal Mail Transport Set in 2016 to celebrate 500 years of Royal Mail, the Post & Go issues have explored the history of mail transportation. 15 February 2018 sees the issue of Post & Go Heritage Mail by Sea. Six stamps showcase landmark ships which have carried our post since the 18th century.
Packet Antelope, 1780
His Majesty’s Packet Antelope was captured by the French in 1781 and 1782 and successfully fought off the privateer Atalanta the following year. Her crew were duly rewarded for the “successful protection of the mail”.
SS Great Western, 1838
This fine vessel was the first purpose-built steamship for crossing the Atlantic. Designed by engineer Isambard Brunel, the Great Western marked a significant advance in sea travel. The ship was sold to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company in 1847 and was scrapped in 1856 after serving as a troop ship during the Crimean War.
SS Britannia, 1887
Launched in the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, SS Britannia set a Brindisi–Adelaide mail record of 23 days 10 hours. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 considerably cut the journey time but the ship ran aground in the canal in 1894. She was refitted and modernised in 1904 to accommodate new mail contracts and her service ended in 1909.
RMS Olympic, 1911
Sister ship to the ill-fated Titanic, White Star Line’s Olympic had a dedicated post office and mail Room on board. She was the largest British-built passenger ship in regular service until the introduction of the legendary Queen Mary. Launched in 1910, the RMs Olympic was in service until 1935 and operated as a troop ship during World War 1.
RMS Queen Mary, 1936
Cunard Line’s flagship RMS Queen Mary soon won the Blue Riband for the fastest ship on the North Atlantic route. For the first time, Royal Mail could have the post transported to New York in less than four days. The ship is now a tourist attraction in America but is in need of major renovation.
RMS St Helena, 1990
This unique vessel was designed and built to carry mail, cargo and passengers to and from the South Atlantic island after which she was named. She currently plies between St Helena, Ascension Island and Cape Town continuing the transportation of mail by sea. She was scheduled to be decommissioned in 2016 because an airport was built on St Helena, but the opening of the airport has been postponed due to safety concerns and so RMS St Helena continues to sail.
The Heritage Mail by Sea issue also features a Stamp Set and Carrier Card and a First Day Cover.