Snippets 196. In the mid 19th Century the postal service in Britain was not exactly in its infancy, but was certainly undergoing a rapid programme of modernisation. The Penny Black was introduced in 1840 and the first post boxes started appearing from 1853. The following article is taken from the Wycombe and Maidenhead Journal, from 1st February 1862, and is a fascinating article, illustrating how incorrect claims of non-deliveries are far from being a modern problem for the Post Office:
Among the incidents connected with the postal system, those which have given the greatest trouble and annoyance to the authorities relate to the non-delivery of letters. If A B writes to C D, and posts the letter, the Postmaster-General is accountable for its safe delivery, and is required to investigate the cause of any mishap. In some distressing cases, letter carriers have been found guilty of purloining; in others, robbery has been committed by persons unconnected with the Post-office. In others, again, vexing though not distressing delays have occurred at some or other of the offices. But many of the cases which have had to be investigated have resulted in proof, after great trouble to the authorities, of absurd blunders committed by the senders and receivers of letters.
The Annual Reports of the Postmaster-General are full of curiosities of this kind. A gentleman at Westmeath complained that a letter containing notes and bills for £400 had not been duly delivered; after a world of trouble and anxiety to the Westmeath postmaster, the letter was found in a drawer belonging to the person to whom it was sent. A gentleman made a complaint that a certain letter had not been delivered to him; on investigation, it was found in his letter-box, which had not been looked into for several days. A firm ought to have received a letter containing half of a £10 note, and remonstrated at the non-delivery; it was found that one of the partners had received it, locked it in his drawer, and forgotten all about it. A person complained that several of his letters were not forthcoming; the letter-box at his door, being examined, was found to be defective; fifteen letters were jammed between the box and door, where some of them had been quietly reposing as much as nine years! A clerk declared that he had posted a certain letter, concerning which anxious inquiries were made; he was requested to take his oath to this fact; while considering whether to do so, he happened to put his hand into a pocket, where he found the letter—unposted. A letter containing halves of two £10 notes was not delivered at the proper time; it had been dropped in the street, picked up by some honest person, and, after a time, transferred to the rightful owner. A cheque for £12, enclosed in a letter, disappeared in a mysterious way; postmasters and letter-carriers were sent to work, and after a time it was found that the cheque had been innocently sold, with other scraps of paper, to a papier-mache manufacturer, to be by him pulped into tea trays or other of his wares. A letter was once delivered to the counter of music shop; it became loosely entangled with roll of music by a customer, then dropped in the street, then picked up by another person, and finally posted a second time.
Some of the curiosities of this kind we will narrate in the language of the Post Office authorities themselves. “A postmaster in Scotland accidentally discovered a boy opening a letter which he had been sent to post, and taking from it a draft. It did not, however, appear that the boy had any dishonest intention; but his attention had been attracted by an engraving on the draft, which he thought would be a pretty bookmark for one of his school books.”
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