Communication in the 18th and 19th centuries was a tedious process, and time consuming to the extreme. Unlike today where an email can be sent from one side of the globe to the other almost instantaneously, letters between friends, family members, or businesses, etc. took weeks if they were only crossing the country, to months if they were crossing an ocean. For an aunt or uncle to send a birthday greeting, they had to post it right after the previous birthday ended to ensure it arrived in time! Ok, maybe not that far in advance, but at least two or three months if it was sent to or from America, and longer for Australia.
In Britain, the Royal Mail began in 1516 under Henry VIII. To begin, postage was paid by the recipient, not the sender. I might be wrong, but to me this would suggest an easy way of dodging invoices or letters a person might suspect of carrying unwelcome news or demands: Just refuse to pay the postage. I’m not suggesting this was common practice, but there were probably some who did this, human nature being what it is.
As I already stated, sending correspondence within the British Empire was slow, but what about mail sent to far-flung outposts such as America, Canada, Australia, etc.? By the time news of the birth in a family was written and sent, and a reply formulated and received, the toddler might be one or two years old. Any news conveyed this way was outdated before it was read. A better, more efficient service was needed, and packet boats helped fill that void.
Packet boats were medium sized ships, first used for carrying freight and mail to European countries in the 17th century. Because they were smaller and lighter than common sea-going vessels, they were faster and more manoeuvrable, which cut delivery time to the continent significantly. Passenger accommodations were gradually added, although they were not at all comfortable, consisting of a berth, primitive cooking, or “firing”, rooms, and drinking water, which usually tasted of the indigo dye or tobacco the barrels previously held. The fares were considerably less than standard passage, which accounted for their popularity.
The ships evolved over their two centuries of use into schooners, schooners-brigs, sloops, cutters, brigs, brigantines, luggers, feluccas, galleys, xebecs, barques and their ultimate development in the clipper ships. While I am familiar with most of the type of ships, I confess to complete ignorance when it comes to luggers, feluccas, and xebecs, and to be honest, I had neither the time nor the inclination to satisfy a lack of curiosity.
The packet boats could be considered the ancestors of the twentieth-century ocean liners, being the first to sail the Atlantic on more or less regular schedules. The first company to offer this unique comfort was the Black Ball Line, with their “Old Line”, which began operating January 1, 1818. Others followed suit, such as Byrnes, Grimble & Co. in 1821 with their Red Star Line of Liverpool Packets, and Messrs Fish, Grinnell & Co. in 1822 with their Swallowtail Line. By 1825, ships were advertised as leaving New York on the 8th and Liverpool on the 24th of each month. Of course, actual schedules varied a lot due to weather and other conditions.
The search for increased speed led to faster ships, and competition between companies. Bragging rights for faster crossings were more than a feather in the cap of a ship’s captain, it also led to increased business. The heyday of the packets ended in the mid 18th century with the introduction of steam powered ships, which were not dependent on prevailing winds or currents. Their speed was more or less constant, and much faster than ships relying on sails. A steamship was also more reliable, enabling the company to post reliable schedules, which attracted passengers in much the same way the faster packets had scant years before. By the mid-18th century, they were well on their way to being replaced, and an era in the movement of cargo and passengers came to a close.
Now to the second part of this post, the cover reveal of my soon to be released book:
I think it conveys the essence of the story, and adds a bit of mystery, which is not a bad idea. I had hoped to release this in September but the manuscript is still being reviewed by the editor, so I’m not going to venture a guess, although I hope it will be this month. If not, I’ll aim for November?
I think you’ll enjoy the story but beware, I’ve taken liberties with a couple of character’s story arcs and some might not appreciate what I did with Mr. Darcy.
I won’t say anything more, as I don’t want to spoil any surprises. Read and enjoy!