26 January 2015

The arrival of an English mail is an event of lively, never-failing interest

Auckland in 1853, via NZHistory
Author William Swainson, writing in 1853, describes how the young colonial city of Auckland is gripped with excitement at the prospect of news, letters and parcels from England, and how frustrating it is when that mail was delayed by bureaucratic tomfoolery in England:

[T]he arrival of an English mail is an event of lively, never-failing interest. Let those who are accustomed to penny-postage and hourly deliveries, imagine, if they can, the non-delivery of letters for a period of three weeks; they may then form some idea of the eagerness with which letters from England are received by the dwellers in this distant quarter of the world. 
To receive English letters on an average about once only in three weeks - letters which, under the most favourable circumstances, are at least four months old - is generally complained of as one of the most serious drawbacks to a residence at so great a distance from home. Bad as it is, however, the evil would be tolerable compared with the aggravation of it, to which the public here are subjected in consequence of the ignorance of the Post Office authorities in England of the topography of New Zealand, and of the unfrequent and irregular means of intercommunication between its several settlements. Instead of sending all Auckland letters either by vessels direct to this port or by way of Sydney, mails for Auckland are not unfrequently despatched by vessels bound for Canterbury, or Nelson, or Wellington; the consequence is that letters and newspapers frequently arrive here six, seven, eight, and nine months old: in the mean while, later dates have been received direct, and the newspapers, when they do arrive, are put aside unread, having become but records of old news; and private letters are deprived of nearly all their interest. Upon inquiry into the cause of the delay, it is found that the letters in question were sent by a ship bound for Canterbury; that they remained in the Post Office there for a fortnight, waiting for the next opportunity to be forwarded; they were then despatched in about ten days by the overland mail; and that, after an overland journey of about a month, they reached Auckland six or eight months after date. 
- William Swainson, Auckland, the Capital of New Zealand, London, 1853, p.75-6.

The 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand notes that at least for Aucklanders, some of the above frustrations were alleviated in the year following the publication of Swainson's book, when in 1854 the provincial government established a monthly steamer service to Sydney. The William Denny exchanged mails there with ships on the Sydney to London run, thereby speeding the mail to Auckland, if not to the other New Zealand ports. The terms of the William Denny contract were not cheap: the province had to agree to an annual subsidy of more than £5000, according to the Daily Southern Cross of 28 July 1854. But luckily when making the decision 'very few explanations were required - the general feeling being to get steam communication established at almost any cost'. (As it happens, the William Denny didn't last too long on the route; on 3 March 1857 under the command of Captain Robert Taylor it went ashore near North Cape and became a total loss apart from the crew and cargo).

Swainson's book, which was published anonymously at the time due to his position as Attorney-General of the new colony, was the subject of a small advertisement in the publishing section of The Times in November 1853, between advertisements for Table-Turning Not Diabolical (subtitled 'A tract for the times') and Clouded Happiness, a novel by the Countess D'Orsay (nee Harriet Anne Gardiner):


The GOLD DISTRICT in NEW ZEALAND - Now ready in post 8vo [octivo], price 6s, cloth

AUCKLAND, the Capital of New Zealand, and the Country adjacent. With a View and Coloured Map. London, Smith, Elder, and Co., 63 Cornhill.  

- The Times, 3 November 1853, p.11.


Smith, Elder & Co. were most notably the publishers of Jane Eyre (1847) and the Cornhill Magazine (1860-1975). My undated soft-cover facsimile reprint of Swainson's book by Wilson & Horton lacks the View and Coloured Map, sadly!

See also:
HistoryCount themselves richer for the playground, 26 April 2014
History: McLachlan's gift, 28 March 2010
History: From sea to shining sea, 20 July 2009
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