How long did it take for a letter to arrive in England in the 1830s?

How long did it take for a letter to arrive in England in the 1830s?

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

How efficient was the postal service in England in the 1830s?

For example, is it possible to estimate how long it would have taken for a letter to arrive if sent by a standard service from London to Nottingham in the 1830s?

I don't know about London to Nottingham in particular, but the fastest mail was transported on dedicated mail coaches. These saw improvements in speed thanks to better roads…

The following is from Her Majesty's Mails, William Lewins, (London, 1865), pg 145

Most of the post-roads were macadamized before the year 1820, and it was then that the service was in its highest state of efficiency. Accelerations in the speed of the coaches were made as soon as any road was finished on the new principle. From this time the average speed, including stoppages, was nine miles an hour, all but a furlong.

In terms of example travelling times, it goes on to list the following…

The fastest coaches (known as the "crack coaches" from this circumstance, as also from travelling on the best roads) were those, in 1836, running between London and Brighton, London and Shrewsbury (accomplishing 154 miles in 15 hours), London and Exeter (171 miles in 17 hours), London and Manchester (187 miles in 19 hours) and London and Holyhead (261 miles in 27 hours). On one occasion, the Devonport mail, travelling with foreign and colonial letters, accomplished the journey of 216 miles, including stoppages, in 21 hours and 14 minutes.

"Early-to-middle 19s century" is a bad time interval for this question, because it is evident that dramatic changes occured DURING this period, with the introduction of trains.

It is not surprising that the speed of delivery depended on the destination. Within (greater) London it was possible to exchange several messages in one day.

For delivery times to other destinations (in the middle of the 19th century) see this:

EDIT: In the very end of this text one can read for example:

Letters, however posted in London and sub-districts between the hours of 7 and 9 p.m. on Saturday, are forwarded to the travelling post-offics, and reach their several destinations in time for delivery on Monday morning.

The English Establish a Foothold at Jamestown, 1606-1610

On December 20, 1606, ships of the London Company set sail from England to establish a colony in Virginia. The would-be colonists arrived in Chesapeake Bay in April 1607. On board were 105 men, including 40 soldiers, 35 "gentlemen," and various artisans and laborers.

The Company had instructed Captain Newport, the commander of the ships, to find a site for a colony that was secure from Spanish discovery and attack but that also had easy access to the sea. He therefore sailed up a river (which the English named the James) and fifty miles from its mouth found a low-lying, marshy peninsula that seemed to meet all specifications. There they established what they called James towne.

At first, things seemed to go well. The colonists cleared some land and erected a palisade for protection. Inside the palisade they built small, rather rude, dwellings. The colonists also began to clear some land for planting crops. Meanwhile the resident confederation of tribes led by Powhatan seemed to change from initial hostility to friendship and hospitality. With the offers of food and friendship, the English began to pay less attention to planting crops and more to exploring the region for quick riches.

Despite the early promise of success, there were already danger signs. During the summer and autumn, many colonists began to sicken and die. In part, we now know, illness and death were caused by siting Jamestown at a very swampy, unhealty location. In addition, many colonists had brought with them typhoid and dysentery (what people at the time called "the bloody flux"), which became epidemic because the colonists did not understand basic hygiene. Further, the water supply at Jamestown was contaminated both by human wastes and seawater.

Moreover, by autumn it became obvious that the colonists had insufficient food to get them through the winter. Not enough land had been cleared and not enough crops had been planted and harvested. Part of the problem here was that the "gentlemen" resisted working like mere laborers. Fortunately for the colonists, Powhatan remained friendly and supplied the English with food. Even so, by the time the "first supply" of more settlers and provisions arrived in early 1608, only 35 of the initial colonists had survived.

Although the evidence is skewed in his favor, there is little question that Captain John Smith saved Jamestown. He organized the colonists and forced them to work in productive ways. He was also able to trade with the natives for food stuffs when they were reluctant to trade, he took what he needed, souring relations with the natives. Although Smith soon returned to England, his and other colonists' reports back to the London Company led that body to change some of its methods. Essentially it codified Smith's dictatorial regime by bestowing much greater authority on the colonial governor.

For additional documents related to this topic, we would suggest focusing on the collection most pertinent to early Jamestown, The Capital and the Bay. Within that collection are two essential sources: Captain John Smith's Generall Historie of Virginia and the four volumes edited by Peter Force in the mid-19th century. Both of these sources are full-text searchable via The Capital and the Bay.

LaVO: How a village postmaster in Doylestown helped shape the U.S. Postal Service

Our letter carrier makes his rounds in blue shorts and shirt, regulation issue. No cap. I&rsquod laugh out loud to see Mike arrive in a bell-shaped beaver felt hat with letters sticking out of it like feathers. That was standard issue in Doylestown 219 years ago.

Meet Charles Stewart. He was the village postmaster when the first office opened on Jan. 1, 1802. It was just 27 years after the U.S. Post Office was born during the American Revolution. Charlie&rsquos claim to fame is he started the first door-to-door postal delivery route in the United States. He would carry letters around the village and region, each tucked safely into his hat band for personal delivery.

The post office as we know it today evolved from Benjamin Franklin&rsquos earlier management of the British postal system in the 13 colonies. From 1753 to 1775, he was in charge. At major ports, mail wagons picked up letters arriving from England on sailboats, then departed on &ldquopost roads&rdquo like Old Route 13 (the King&rsquos Highway) for drop offs at inns and taverns on the eastern seaboard. Among changes made by Franklin was cutting delivery time in half between Philadelphia and New York by keeping the weekly horse-drawn wagons running day and night. Big Ben also created the first postal rate chart to standardize delivery costs based on distance and weight.

By the early 1770s, he and others fomenting a revolutionary break with England organized a secret mail delivery network. The Committees of Correspondence and Constitutional Post enabled rebels in all 13 colonies to discuss treason without British postal inspectors knowing about it. Intelligence moved along the post roads. The Constitutional Post was so successful that before the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1775, the Continental Congress converted it into the U.S. Post Office. It fulfilled George Washington&rsquos vision of a swift, free flow of information between the government and its citizens by expanding postal routes and establishing numerous post offices that would bind the new nation.

But no one thought to start personal mail delivery until Postmaster Charlie showed the way.

He purchased a keen-looking beaver felt hat with a band that could hold the envelopes. He ventured far to deliver them from his office in Doylestown. Buckingham, Bedminster, Chalfont, Warwick, even Wrightstown, destination within a 10-mile radius from Doylestown.

I envision some of the interesting places he may have dropped off a letter or two. Like today&rsquos Dublin village, six miles northwest of Doylestown. Originally, the town was noted for single-room log taverns on the crossroads of Route 313 and Elephant Road. But one was a double-wide, giving the town its name &mdash Double Inn village (later Dublin from Irish immigration). Perhaps Postmaster Charlie slaked his thirst at the double-wide.

Anchor may have been another stop. The small Wrightstown village is eight miles southeast of Doylestown on Route 413. It&rsquos there Joseph Hampton planted the first orchard of grafted apple trees in Bucks County. The harvest made great cider ale for the nearby Anchor Inn where it was celebrated in verse: &ldquoEsteemed by all extremely good, to quench our thirst and do us good.&rdquo

Embedded in the tavern&rsquos wall was the vertebra of an extinct animal believed much larger than a full-grown African elephant. A Buckingham farmer dug it up while plowing his field. It was a foot across and 6 inches long, inspiring monster tales around the bar for 50 years. Scientists determined much later it was from a whale.

Another likely stop for Charlie might have been Babytown on Bristol Road near Hartsville, about seven miles south of Doylestown. What distinguished the hamlet was its prodigious offspring. Charlie no doubt could have heard babies from some distance. Years later a Civil War veteran was intrigued by the name and decided to take a look. &ldquoI knew by what I read in the newspapers, it was &lsquoBabytown&rsquo,&rdquo he said. &ldquoI expected to see a woman sitting on every doorstep with a half dozen children around her. I saw but one and he was making noise enough to make up for what was missing.&rdquo

Postmaster Charlie&rsquos carrier days lasted only two years. He passed away in 1804. His son-in-law Enoch Harvey carried on. Meanwhile, Quakertown Postmaster William Green followed Charlie&rsquos haute couture while copying his idea for door-to-door delivery that caught on nationally.

Charlie remains my kind of guy. Back when I was a teen, my father relentlessly pressed me to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. He thought maybe a physician or scientist. I dreaded those sessions to the point I finally shot back, &ldquoDad, what I really want to be is a postmaster in a small village in Switzerland.&rdquo Dad frowned. Charlie would have smiled &mdash and passed me his beaver hat.

Sources include &ldquoA brief history of the United States Postal Service&rdquo by Winifred Gallagher published in the September 2020 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, and &ldquoPlace Names in Bucks County History&rdquo by George MacReynolds published in 1942.

Roanoke Colony deserted

John White, the governor of the Roanoke Island colony in present-day North Carolina, returns from a supply-trip to England to find the settlement deserted. White and his men found no trace of the 100 or so colonists he left behind, and there was no sign of violence. Among the missing were Ellinor Dare, White’s daughter and Virginia Dare, White’s granddaughter and the first English child born in America. August 18 was to have been Virginia’s third birthday. The only clue to their mysterious disappearance was the word 𠇌ROATOAN” carved into the palisade that had been built around the settlement. White took the letters to mean that the colonists had moved to Croatoan Island, some 50 miles away, but a later search of the island found none of the settlers.

The Roanoke Island colony, the first English settlement in the New World, was founded by English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh in August 1585. The first Roanoke colonists did not fare well, suffering from dwindling food supplies and Indian attacks, and in 1586 they returned to England aboard a ship captained by Sir Francis Drake. In 1587, Raleigh sent out another group of 100 colonists under John White. White returned to England to procure more supplies, but the war with Spain delayed his return to Roanoke. By the time he finally returned in August 1590, everyone had vanished.

In 1998, archaeologists studying tree-ring data from Virginia found that extreme drought conditions persisted between 1587 and 1589. These conditions undoubtedly contributed to the demise of the so-called Lost Colony, but where the settlers went after they left Roanoke remains a mystery. One theory has them being absorbed into an Indian tribe known as the Croatans.

Settling at Plymouth

After sending an exploring party ashore, the Mayflower landed at what they would call Plymouth Harbor, on the western side of Cape Cod Bay, in mid-December. During the next several months, the settlers lived mostly on the Mayflower and ferried back and forth from shore to build their new storage and living quarters. The settlement’s first fort and watchtower was built on what is now known as Burial Hill (the area contains the graves of Bradford and other original settlers).

More than half of the English settlers died during that first winter, as a result of poor nutrition and housing that proved inadequate in the harsh weather. Leaders such as Bradford, Standish, John Carver, William Brewster and Edward Winslow played important roles in keeping the remaining settlers together. In April 1621, after the death of the settlement’s first governor, John Carver, Bradford was unanimously chosen to hold that position he would be reelected 30 times and served as governor of Plymouth for all but five years until 1656.

The history of railways in Britain: from the first steam trains to the rail revolution

They were central to the spread of the industrial revolution, helping to make Britain one of the most powerful nations in the world. How much do you know about the history of steam trains and rail travel in Britain?

This competition is now closed

Published: February 26, 2021 at 6:05 am

When travelling by train in the 21st century, few of us might realise how the railway transformed the world. Railways changed the landscape physically and culturally, putting Britain at the forefront of railway technology and architecture in the 19th century. Until the railways, most people rarely travelled further than the next market town, perhaps 10 miles away. Stations were gateways to journeys of over a hundred miles, completed in a few hours in futuristic machines. Find out more about the history of the railways, when trains were invented, and where the developments happened, with this guide to the history of railways and rail travel in Britain…

Follow the links below to jump to each section:

  • When was the steam train invented?
  • The development of British railways
  • 8 places linked to the birth of the railways in Britain
  • Fascinating facts about the history of rail travel

When was the steam train invented?

Unlike the atom bomb, for example, there was no single invention with the steam engine. First you had the stationary steam engine where the most important person was Thomas Newcomen. Then James Watt improved its efficiency and its capacity to generate power. Later on, the stationary steam engine was transformed into the locomotive with George Stephenson.

What the steam engine enabled people to do was transform themselves beyond the existing constraints of energy use, meaning that human society could develop in all sorts of ways. Now we know that the long-term environmental consequences of industrialisation were detrimental but on the other hand life would have been totally different if we had remained shackled by the manufacturing, energy, and communication systems before the steam engine.

The long-term implications of steam power were everything we understand by modernity. It gave us the ability to speed up existence and overcome the constraints under which all other animal species operated. For much of human history we were not radically different in organisational terms from other animals, which have language, the capacity for acting as a group and systems of hierarchy. For much of human history that was how we were but we moved to a very different tune when we had everything that is understood by modernity. It was the steam engine that set that in motion.

Answered by historian Jeremy Black in BBC History Magazine

The development of British railways

Thundering along at previously unimaginable speeds, early steam locomotives were a frightening prospect for their Victorian passengers. Before the opening of the first major railway line, the Liverpool & Manchester in 1830, there were fears it would be impossible to breathe while travelling at such a velocity, or that the passengers’ eyes would be damaged by having to adjust to the motion.

Little more than 20 years later, their fears allayed, people flocked to this exciting new form of transport, and by mid-century, millions were dashing across the country on tracks stretching thousands of miles. From professional football and the Penny Post to suburban living and seaside excursions, the railways changed the face of Victorian Britain.

“The railways were absolutely central to the spread of the Industrial Revolution,” insists railway historian Christian Wolmar. “Britain could not have become, for a time, the world’s dominant economic power without them. But it’s also impossible to exaggerate the social impact. Almost anything you can think of was transformed or made possible for the first time by the railways.”

The technology that made it possible – engines driven by steam – was already gathering momentum by the late 18th century, when James Watt produced the steam-powered loom. But it was Richard Trevithick who opened up the possibility of making a steam-engine propel itself – by using high-pressure steam to increase the power/weight ratio. By 1804, one of Trevithick’s engines was trundling along crude early rails at an ironworks in Wales.

It wasn’t until 1825, however, with the opening of the Stockton & Darlington line, that the world saw a proper steam locomotive haul wagons for the first time. That locomotive was George Stephenson’s Locomotion, which reached speeds of 15mph on the opening day. Unfortunately, Stephenson’s engines proved so unreliable that horses were the mainstay for the first few years – and the railway age only really built up a head of steam with the completion of the Liverpool & Manchester line.

After a monumental effort from thousands of hard-working, hard-drinking navvies to construct the line, and a very public competition to decide on the best locomotive, the world’s first steam-hauled, twin-tracked railway opened to great fanfare on 15 September 1830, with Stephenson’s Rocket leading the way. Originally conceived as a freight railway to reduce the cost and time of transporting goods, the line proved equally popular among intrepid travellers.

Despite a fatal accident on the first day, thousands were using the line within weeks. Fanny Kemble, a famous actress, was awestruck: “You can’t imagine how strange it seemed to be, journeying on thus without any visible cause of progress other than the magical machine, with its flying white breath and rhythmical, unvarying pace”. While most couldn’t match her eloquence, Kemble encapsulated the enthusiasm. Better than anything that had gone before, the Liverpool & Manchester proved that Stephenson’s engineering was sound and demonstrated how profitable railway companies could be.

Encouraged by the success, entrepreneurs began submitting applications to parliament for all sorts of railways schemes. Known as ‘railway mania’, the ensuing rush is best demonstrated by the fact that 240 Acts were passed in 1845 (amounting to 2,820 miles of new track), compared to just 48 the year before. There was some opposition but over the next ten years, as railway companies became attractive investments, unprecedented levels of capital funded the construction of 4,600 miles of track. “It was an incredible feat of engineering and organisation, not to mention downright hard slog,” explains Wolmar. “It’s an achievement that remains completely undervalued, especially when you consider that the railways were dug out by spade and pickaxe.”

At first, train travel was too dear for the average working man but fares gradually came down thanks to competition and William Gladstone’s 1844 Railway Act, which obliged every company to supply at least one train daily at the cost of no more than 1d a mile. Meanwhile, the growth of excursion trains and the Great Exhibition of 1851 stimulated vast numbers to use the railways for the first time.

By the end of the 1850s, passenger numbers had risen beyond all expectations. In 1854 alone, 92 million journeys were made in England and Wales alone, on a network stretching 6,000 miles. The magic of train travel had caught the public imagination and the rapid expansion of the iron road left few aspects of life in Victorian Britain untouched.

8 places linked to the birth of the railways

Darlington Railway Museum, County Durham

Where the first passenger steam locomotives ran

A local holiday was declared for the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway on 27 September 1825. Aware of the importance of the day, crowds clustered around the newly-constructed line in anticipation. They weren’t to be disappointed. Ever the showman, George Stephenson hit speeds of 15mph in his steam locomotive, Locomotion – outpacing the local horses in the process. As one impressed spectator recalled: “The welkin [sky] rang loud with huzzas while the happy faces of some, the vacant stares of others and the alarm depicted on the countenances of not a few, gave variety to the picture”.

Conceived primarily to transport coal from collieries to the river Tees at Stockton, this was the first venture in the world to employ steam engines for hauling goods. But the railway also leased out the rights to run passenger services to various operators, including two female innkeepers.

Despite the fact that horses were still used far more than the unreliable locomotives, the Stockton & Darlington deserves its place in history as the first to carry passengers on steam-hauled wagons. The railway age wasn’t to begin in earnest for a few years yet, but this was a pioneering achievement.

Located on the original route of the railway, the Head of Steam museum encompasses three of the original 19th-century buildings – North Road Passenger Station, the Goods Shed and Hopetown Carriage Works. On such hallowed ground, visitors can see George Stephenson’s trailblazing Locomotion.

Rainhill Station, near St Helens, Merseyside

Where the Rocket shot to fame

Early railway promoters understood the allure of the spectacle. Having ruled out the use of horses for their ambitious project, in April 1829 the directors of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway (L&MR) announced a contest of steam locomotives to be held six months later at Rainhill, nine miles from Liverpool. Rules were laid down and engineers invited to enter their engines, with £500 and a contract to supply eight locomotives as the prize.

As expected, the Rainhill Trials captured the public imagination and around 15,000 spectators took their places on specially erected grandstands for the inaugural day of the week-long event. After the more madcap inventions had been eliminated – including Cycloped, which consisted of a horse running on a treadmill that pulled the wagons – four realistic contenders emerged. With the challengers listed like runners and riders in a horse race, the final day promised much. In the event, none mounted a serious challenge to George Stephenson’s Rocket, which was the only engine to complete the course.

Having toiled long and hard to improve the unreliable engines used at Darlington, Stephenson’s new machine performed brilliantly as it sped back and forth over the 1.5-mile track, averaging an impressive 14mph and reaching 30mph when let loose. The prize, and the adulation, was his. Bigger and better locomotives would arrive soon enough, but the spectacular success of Rocket was a critical moment because it showed the world the immense potential of steam locomotives.

It is from Rainhill station that the locomotives set off toward Lea Green in October 1829. Rainhill is a Grade I listed building, and still a working railway station. The nearby Skew Bridge, a Grade II listed structure over which the A57 now runs, is also well worth a visit. The most acute of 15 such bridges on the L&MR, it was built in 1828 at an angle of 34 degrees to the railway.

Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester

Where the railway age was born

On the morning of Wednesday 15 September 1830, a procession of eight trains hauled by one of George Stephenson’s triumphant locomotives was greeted by jubilant crowds at Edge Hill, the Liverpool end of the recently completed Liverpool & Manchester Railway. The presence of a VIP, the deeply unpopular Duke of Wellington, all but ensured a mixed reaction at the Manchester end, with hostile elements making clear their antipathy to the Tory government’s stubborn resistance to social reform.

Such unsavoury scenes marred the festivities but the promoters of the railway were pleasantly surprised when passengers quickly warmed to the train in the following weeks, attracted by the fact that the journey took just a couple of hours, less than half the time it took in a stagecoach. Previous lines had been open to fee-paying passengers, but within a short period the Liverpool & Manchester Railway was primarily a passenger service – and the first to rely solely on steam locomotion.

For the first time a double-tracked, steam-powered railway hauled passengers and goods between two major cities. As the world awoke to read reports of this pioneering achievement in the north-west of England, the railway age was born.

Housed in Liverpool Road station, the original terminus for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, the Museum of Science and Industry hosts a permanent exhibition on the construction and early years of the railway. Visitors can step into the first-class booking hall to see what it would have been like in the 1830s and learn about the people who worked and travelled on the early locomotives.

Huskisson Memorial, Liverpool Cathedral

Where the first railway fatality is commemorated

Although the onlookers could not have known at the time, the sense of wonder that characterised the first day of the Liverpool & Manchester was tempered by tragedy. Having pulled out of Liverpool, the celebratory procession made good progress, reaching Parkside, 17 miles down the track, in under an hour. Ignoring warnings to stay inside the carriage, a group of notables including the Duke of Wellington and Liverpool MP William Huskisson, took advantage of the stop to stretch their legs. Huskisson approached the duke, but as they shook hands a shout alerted them to an approaching train, the Rocket.

While everyone else shuffled to safety, Huskisson panicked and struggled to clamber into the carriage. As he thrashed around for a hold the door swung open, knocking him into the path of the onrushing locomotive. A loud crunch was heard as his leg shattered under the wheels, “squeezing it almost to a jelly,” according to a report in The Times. Stephenson rushed him to Manchester, reaching record speeds of 35mph along the way, but Huskisson died in agony later that evening.

There is a memorial tablet at the scene of the accident, alongside the line at the former site of the Parklands station, near Newton-le-Willows. Far more convenient is the rather grand tomb in St James’s Mount Cemetery, in the grounds of Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral. A monument to the world’s first widely reported railway casualty, it’s a reminder of a man crushed, quite literally, by the rapid progress of the steam train. /

Stephenson Statue, National Railway Museum, York

Where the ‘father of the railways’ is remembered

George Stephenson (1781–1848) is lauded as the father of the railways, but the gruff engineer is a figure that stimulates as much controversy among historians today as he did among his peers in the first half of the 19th century.

He may have adapted the ideas of others, as naysayers have argued with some justification, but there is little doubt that his vision, drive and ambition played a vital role in the construction of both the Stockport & Darlington and Liverpool & Manchester lines. As a self-educated and notoriously brusque man, it’s hardly surprising he provoked the ire of many contemporaries, not least aristocratic landowners. But it was precisely that grim-faced determination that made Stephenson such an iconic pioneer of the railway age.

The imposing statue that today surveys the main hall at the National Railway Museum (NRM) in York once overlooked the Great Hall at Euston station, the original terminus of the London & Birmingham Railway, which was established in 1833 and overseen by the great man’s son, Robert Stephenson. The largest museum of its kind in the world, the NRM tells the story of railways from the early 19th century to the present day, houses a vast array of railway artefacts and a full-size replica of Stephenson’s most famous engine, the Rocket.

Box Tunnel, Wiltshire

Where the Great Western penetrated rock

As ‘railway mania’ gripped the nation and parliament sanctioned thousands of miles of new tracks, Britain’s landscapes presented some stern challenges to the progress of the iron road. Stephenson’s main rival for the title of greatest railway engineer was Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the driving force behind the Great Western Railway (GWR), an ambitious venture linking London and Bristol, approved in 1835.

Sparing no expense in his pursuit of perfection, Brunel not only decorated his stations, like Bristol Temple Meads, with great panache, he also overcame considerable engineering challenges. Maidenhead Bridge, at the time the widest in the world, is a good example of his genius, but the 1.75-mile tunnel at Box, near Corsham in Wiltshire, remains one of his most impressive achievements.

Despite protestations that it was impossible to take the train straight through the hill, work on the project began in September 1836. It was a monumental task, with 4,000 labourers employed to blast out the limestone with explosives, and excavate with pickaxes and shovels. By the time it was finished five years later, the project had claimed the lives of 100 men, with many more injured while working by candle-light deep underground. Much to Brunel’s pleasure, however, the resulting tunnel was almost perfectly straight. One (probably apocryphal) story goes that Brunel aligned it so that every year on his birthday, 19 April, the rising sun is visible through the tunnel.

When it finally opened in 1841, Box Tunnel proved the doubters wrong and marked a watershed in the history of the GWR. Its striking west portal is easily visible from the A4, but walkers setting out from nearby Colerne will be rewarded with the best views.

Royal Albert Bridge Saltash, Cornwall

Where Brunel opened up the west

Although rival schemes for a railway to Falmouth, Cornwall, were proposed as early as the 1830s, the line only got parliamentary consent in 1846, with the Act stipulating that the ferry across the river Tamar at Saltash be replaced by a railway bridge. As chief engineer, Brunel’s challenge was to create a structure that would stretch across 1,000 feet of water, a formidable obstacle.

On 1 September 1857, watched by thousands of expectant spectators, the first truss was floated out into the centre of the river supported by two barges. Gradually raised at a rate of six feet a week with hydraulic jacks, the truss reached its final height, 100 feet above the water, on the first day of July 1858. Some six years after the foundation for the first pier was laid, a south Devon locomotive crossed the bridge for the first time in April 1859.

Brunel was too ill to attend the official opening and the great engineer died that September. A few months later, his name was spelled out in vast metal letters at either end of the bridge – a fitting memorial to his achievement there. As majestic today as it must have appeared for the first time in 1859, the Royal Albert Bridge is best appreciated from one of the many vantage points on the banks of the Tamar river.

St Pancras Station, London

Where rampant competition produced a landmark

The rivalry between the biggest train companies – by now the largest companies in the world – had intensified by the second half of the 19th century. With millions taking advantage of cheap trains to the capital, the Great Exhibition of 1851 was a real money-spinner for some. But the Midland Railway had failed to profit like its rivals because it lacked direct access to London. With all merger options blocked, the Midland had no choice but to make its own way, quickly obtaining consent to build a line from Leicester to Hitchin, connecting to the Great Northern’s tracks into King’s Cross. The line opened in May 1857 but traffic was already heavy and the Midland’s trains were constantly delayed.

If the Midland was to transform a prosperous regional network into a strategic long-distance system, carrying tonnes of Yorkshire coal to the insatiable grates and furnaces of the Big Smoke, it had to be brave enough to build another line into London. It took another decade, but the directors did take the plunge. The resulting construction project, to create a terminus at St Pancras, caused mayhem across vast swathes of north London, with 20,000 people losing their homes. Even the dead, buried in the old St Pancras church yard, had to be removed. After all that destruction, the line into London and the great Gothic station at St Pancras finally opened on 1 October 1868.

Like the station itself, the Midland Grand Hotel, completed in 1873, was a deliberate attempt to dominate its neighbour, King’s Cross, owned by the Great Northern. The Midland may have been the last train company to arrive in London, but they were determined not to be the least. The sheer scale and Gothic grandeur of St Pancras station is a lasting testament to the vigour and ambition engendered by the competition that characterised this incredible period of railway expansion.

Words by Daniel Cossins. Historical advisor: Christian Wolmar, author of Blood, Iron and Gold: How the Railways Transformed the World (Atlantic, 2009).

8 fascinating facts about the history of rail travel

Peter Saxton, author of Making Tracks: A Whistle-Stop Tour of Railway History, shares eight lesser-known facts about the history of railways…

Early travel was heavy going

Early railway engineers had to overcome extraordinary challenges when building their lines. Steam engines tend not to deal well with heavy inclines, so every effort was made to keep railways as flat as possible. This resulted in huge engineering structures: bridges, tunnels, embankments and cuttings began to appear across the country.

In some areas, even flat land could be a problem. When surveying the route for his Liverpool and Manchester Railway in the 1820s, George Stephenson had to figure out a way to cross the large peat bog known as Chat Moss in Manchester. He came up with the solution of floating the railway across the bog on a bed of tree branches and heather, bound together with tar and rubble.

Huge amounts of material were swallowed by the bog before enough of a foundation was built up. The line exists today and was recently electrified as part of the modernisation of rail routes in the north-west of England.

Early train tunnels faced plenty of challenges

A damp problem of another kind faced Marc Brunel and his son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, when they undertook to dig the first tunnel under the Thames, between Wapping and Rotherhithe.

Originally designed as a foot tunnel, construction started in 1825 but the tunnel wasn’t opened until 1843, because of gas leaks, floods, and financial problems. The Brunels used a revolutionary method of construction called the ‘shield’: an iron framework containing 36 chambers, each large enough to contain a workman.

Wooden shutters were installed at the front of each chamber and the whole apparatus was positioned against the surface to be excavated. The workmen removed the wooden shutters and proceeded to dig away at the earth facing them. Once they had dug to the required depth, they would prop up their excavated chamber, place the wooden shutter against the new earth face, and the whole structure would be winched along for the process to start again.

This must have been back-breaking, unimaginably hard work, with the constant risk of the river breaking through. Upon completion the tunnel became an immediate tourist attraction, with people flocking to experience the thrill of walking beneath the river. Eventually, though, it became part of the railway network, and today it sees an intensive railway service as a part of the London Overground network.

Train travel helped to standardise UK time

Before the railways were built, communities across the UK set their clocks according to their own local time. Bristol, for example, was 10 minutes behind Greenwich Mean Time. This was fine for as long as the pace of life was governed by the natural speed of humans and horses, but the advent of a fast, structured form of transport in the railways meant that a standardised system of time became imperative.

The risk to safety of various parts of the country working on slightly different, locally agreed time is clear, not to mention the difficulty in constructing understandable timetables. The Great Western Railway had already adopted standardised time, but it was the Railway Clearing House – a body set up to apportion financial receipts among the many private railway companies – that set the pace elsewhere. It decreed in 1847 that all railway companies should operate using GMT, and by 1855 the vast majority of towns and cities had complied. Clocks were set to a signal set to GMT sent along the newly installed telegraph system.

Charles Dickens was a prolific rail user

Charles Dickens had described the coming of the railway to London’s Euston station in a powerful passage in Dombey & Son (1848). He described the havoc and dislocation brought to Stagg’s Garden (Camden) as an almighty canyon that was cut through the existing streets.

Dickens was in fact a prolific user of railways, both in Britain and on the occasion of his visits to the United States. In 1865, however, he was involved in a tragedy that would change his life: Dickens was returning from the continent with his mistress, Ellen Ternan, and her mother, on 9 June 1865. Near Staplehurst in Kent, a gang of workers was busy repairing the track – they had, however, misread the timetable and had thought there was no train due. They had removed a section of track, and the train, hitting this missing section, crashed down into the valley of the river Beult.

Dickens’ carriage was precariously close to the edge – he and his companions managed to climb out and he then went down into the valley to help the victims. Dickens later remembered that he had left the manuscript of Our Mutual Friend in the carriage, and he climbed back into the wreckage to retrieve it.

The incident marked him – he had flashbacks for the rest of his life, and the year after the crash he published his eeriest short story, The Signalman: the chilling tale of a lonely signalman, haunted by an apparition that appears just before tragedy strikes.

There was stiff competition for the fastest trains

All over the world, railway companies produced locomotives that were grand statements of the new age. As technology improved, trains got faster and railway companies vied with one another to produce the fastest locomotives.

In the 1920s and 30s, the two great companies running trains between London and Scotland engaged in a battle to win passengers to their lines. These were the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS), running up the West Coast line, and the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), running up the East.

William Stanier of the LMS produced the Princess Coronation class of locomotive – the most powerful steam engine to be built for use in Britain – and for a time one of these engines held the steam speed record, beating its arch rival the LNER. The latter, however, held the trump card. Designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, the A4 class of locomotive was a sleek, streamlined wonder, and on 3 July 1938, one of the class named Mallard famously snatched the record back, reaching 202.8 km/h (126mph) and achieving a record for steam that still stands today.

Trains were central in early brand awareness campaigns

City transport systems also invested in strong design, such as the Art Nouveau Metro stations designed by Hector Guimard in Paris or the huge decorated stations on the Moscow Metro. In London, from the early decades of the 20th century, transport companies recognised the value of a strong image for the transport system. Underground station platforms had become cluttered with advertising that made it difficult for passengers to pick out the actual station name boards.

Advertisements for beer and port at Holborn Underground Tram Station, London, 1931. (Photo by City of London: London Metropolitan Archives/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Consequently, Albert Stanley and Frank Pick, two geniuses of early brand awareness, created a standardised name board consisting of a blue bar showing the station name against a solid red circle. This later evolved to become the ubiquitous London Transport roundel seen throughout the capital today.

Further to this, Pick decided to commission designer Edward Johnston to come up with a new typeface, bold and clear, that could be used on signage throughout the system. The Johnston typeface can still be seen across the London transport network – in the 1970s it was tweaked slightly to create New Johnston, but the principle of clarity remains.

Plan, plan, plan

The railway network in India was planned in its earliest years by the then governor general, Lord Dalhousie. He stipulated that there should be a common ‘gauge’ (the width between the rails), and he settled on 1676mm (5ft 6in) – wider than the generally adopted standard.

In such a vast country, the need for a coherent system to link the cities and regions was paramount – initially, of course, with the imperial objective of moving troops and goods quickly and efficiently. Today India has a well-used railway system that with a few exceptions runs throughout on one gauge.

In Australia, however, there was no one to plan out a rail system for the whole country. Early signs were promising, with an objective laid out that the standard gauge be adopted throughout the country. Unfortunately, a farcical set of circumstances ensued, with one Irish chief engineer in New South Wales plumping for the Irish broad gauge, only to be replaced by a Scottish engineer who favoured the standard gauge.

The decision by Queensland and South Australia to adopt a narrower gauge still meant that once the various networks met up with one another, Australia had an almighty transport-related headache. As early as 1911, agreement was reached to convert lines to standard gauge where possible – this is a process that continues today, where finances allow.

The high-speed dream

Speed has been a key selling point for the railways throughout their history. In 1957, Japan opened its first high-speed line and has since become famous for its (to British eyes) unbelievably punctual network. Countries around the world are investing in high-speed networks – none more so and most astonishingly than China.

A slow starter in railway history, China has invested huge amounts in steam technology, building main line steam locomotives right up to 1988. In a complete reversal of this policy, in recent years the country has invested huge sums of money in its high-speed network, meaning that today it possesses the biggest network of high-speed lines in the world, and one that continues to grow.

China is also home to the fastest regular service in the world, albeit not on a conventional railway: the Shanghai Maglev (magnetic levitation) train operates from Shanghai Airport and reaches a top speed of 431 km/h (268mph).

This information first appeared in BBC History Magazine and BBC History Revealed magazine and has been combined for use online


The word "telegraph" (from Ancient Greek: τῆλε, têle, "at a distance" and γράφειν, gráphein, "to write") was first coined by the French inventor of the Semaphore telegraph, Claude Chappe, who also coined the word "semaphore". [2]

A "telegraph" is a device for transmitting and receiving messages over long distances, i.e., for telegraphy. The word "telegraph" alone now generally refers to an electrical telegraph. Wireless telegraphy is transmission of messages over radio with telegraphic codes.

Contrary to the extensive definition used by Chappe, Morse argued that the term telegraph can strictly be applied only to systems that transmit and record messages at a distance. This is to be distinguished from semaphore, which merely transmits messages. Smoke signals, for instance, are to be considered semaphore, not telegraph. According to Morse, telegraph dates only from 1832 when Pavel Schilling invented one of the earliest electrical telegraphs. [3]

A telegraph message sent by an electrical telegraph operator or telegrapher using Morse code (or a printing telegraph operator using plain text) was known as a telegram. A cablegram was a message sent by a submarine telegraph cable, [4] often shortened to a cable or a wire. Later, a Telex was a message sent by a Telex network, a switched network of teleprinters similar to a telephone network.

A wirephoto or wire picture was a newspaper picture that was sent from a remote location by a facsimile telegraph. A diplomatic telegram, also known as a diplomatic cable, is a confidential communication between a diplomatic mission and the foreign ministry of its parent country. [5] [6] These continue to be called telegrams or cables regardless of the method used for transmission.

Passing messages by signalling over distance is an ancient practice. One of the oldest examples is the signal towers of the Great Wall of China. In 400 BC , signals could be sent by beacon fires or drum beats. By 200 BC complex flag signalling had developed, and by the Han dynasty (200 BC–220 AD) signallers had a choice of lights, flags, or gunshots to send signals. By the Tang dynasty (618–907) a message could be sent 1,100 kilometres (700 miles) in 24 hours. The Ming dynasty (1368–1644) added artillery to the possible signals. While the signalling was complex (for instance, different-coloured flags could be used to indicate enemy strength), only predetermined messages could be sent. [7] The Chinese signalling system extended well beyond the Great Wall. Signal towers away from the wall were used to give early warning of an attack. Others were built even further out as part of the protection of trade routes, especially the Silk Road. [8]

Signal fires were widely used in Europe and elsewhere for military purposes. The Roman army made frequent use of them, as did their enemies, and the remains of some of the stations still exist. Few details have been recorded of European/Mediterranean signalling systems and the possible messages. One of the few for which details are known is a system invented by Aeneas Tacticus (4th century BC). Tacticus's system had water filled pots at the two signal stations which were drained in synchronisation. Annotation on a floating scale indicated which message was being sent or received. Signals sent by means of torches indicated when to start and stop draining to keep the synchronisation. [9]

None of the signalling systems discussed above are true telegraphs in the sense of a system that can transmit arbitrary messages over arbitrary distances. Lines of signalling relay stations can send messages to any required distance, but all these systems are limited to one extent or another in the range of messages that they can send. A system like flag semaphore, with an alphabetic code, can certainly send any given message, but the system is designed for short-range communication between two persons. An engine order telegraph, used to send instructions from the bridge of a ship to the engine room, fails to meet both criteria it has a limited distance and very simple message set. There was only one ancient signalling system described that does meet these criteria. That was a system using the Polybius square to encode an alphabet. Polybius (2nd century BC) suggested using two successive groups of torches to identify the coordinates of the letter of the alphabet being transmitted. The number of said torches held up signalled the grid square that contained the letter. There is no definite record of the system ever being used, but there are several passages in ancient texts that some think are suggestive. Holzmann and Pehrson, for instance, suggest that Livy is describing its use by Philip V of Macedon in 207 BC during the First Macedonian War. Nothing else that could be described as a true telegraph existed until the 17th century. [9] [10] : 26–29 Possibly the first alphabetic telegraph code in the modern era is due to Franz Kessler who published his work in 1616. Kessler used a lamp placed inside a barrel with a moveable shutter operated by the signaller. The signals were observed at a distance with the newly-invented telescope. [10] : 32–34

In several places around the world, a system of passing messages from village to village using drum beats was developed. This was particularly highly developed in Africa. At the time of its discovery in Africa, the speed of message transmission was faster than any existing European system using optical telegraphs. The African drum system was not alphabetical. Rather, the drum beats followed the tones of the language. This made messages highly ambiguous and context was important for their correct interpretation. [11]

An optical telegraph is a telegraph consisting of a line of stations in towers or natural high points which signal to each other by means of shutters or paddles. Signalling by means of indicator pointers was called semaphore. Early proposals for an optical telegraph system were made to the Royal Society by Robert Hooke in 1684 [12] and were first implemented on an experimental level by Sir Richard Lovell Edgeworth in 1767. [13] The first successful optical telegraph network was invented by Claude Chappe and operated in France from 1793. [14] The two most extensive systems were Chappe's in France, with branches into neighbouring countries, and the system of Abraham Niclas Edelcrantz in Sweden. [10] : ix–x, 47

During 1790–1795, at the height of the French Revolution, France needed a swift and reliable communication system to thwart the war efforts of its enemies. In 1790, the Chappe brothers set about devising a system of communication that would allow the central government to receive intelligence and to transmit orders in the shortest possible time. On 2 March 1791, at 11 am, they sent the message "si vous réussissez, vous serez bientôt couverts de gloire" (If you succeed, you will soon bask in glory) between Brulon and Parce, a distance of 16 kilometres (10 mi). The first means used a combination of black and white panels, clocks, telescopes, and codebooks to send their message.

In 1792, Claude was appointed Ingénieur-Télégraphiste and charged with establishing a line of stations between Paris and Lille, a distance of 230 kilometres (140 mi). It was used to carry dispatches for the war between France and Austria. In 1794, it brought news of a French capture of Condé-sur-l'Escaut from the Austrians less than an hour after it occurred. [15] A decision to replace the system with an electric telegraph was made in 1846, but it took a decade before it was fully taken out of service. The fall of Sebastopol was reported by Chappe telegraph in 1855. [10] : 92–94

The Prussian system was put into effect in the 1830s. However, they were highly dependent on good weather and daylight to work and even then could accommodate only about two words per minute. The last commercial semaphore link ceased operation in Sweden in 1880. As of 1895, France still operated coastal commercial semaphore telegraph stations, for ship-to-shore communication. [16]

The early ideas for an electric telegraph included in 1753 using electrostatic deflections of pith balls, [17] proposals for electrochemical bubbles in acid by Campillo in 1804 and von Sömmering in 1809. [18] [19] The first experimental system over a substantial distance was electrostatic by Ronalds in 1816. [20] Ronalds offered his invention to the British Admiralty, but it was rejected as unnecessary, [21] the existing optical telegraph connecting the Admiralty in London to their main fleet base in Portsmouth being deemed adequate for their purposes. As late as 1844, after the electrical telegraph had come into use, the Admiralty's optical telegraph was still used, although it was accepted that poor weather ruled it out on many days of the year. [22] : 16, 37 France had an extensive optical telegraph dating from Napoleonic times and was even slower to take up electrical systems. [23] : 217–218

Eventually, electrostatic telegraphs were abandoned in favour of electromagnetic systems. An early experimental system (Schilling, 1832) led to a proposal to establish a telegraph between St Petersburg and Kronstadt, but it was never completed. [24] The first operative electric telegraph (Gauss and Weber, 1833) connected Göttingen Observatory to the Institute of Physics about 1 km away during experimental investigations of the geomagnetic field. [25]

The first commercial telegraph was by Cooke and Wheatstone following their English patent of 10 June 1837. It was demonstrated on the London and Birmingham Railway in July of the same year. [26] In July 1839, a five-needle, five-wire system was installed to provide signalling over a record distance of 21 km on a section of the Great Western Railway between London Paddington station and West Drayton. [27] [28] However, in trying to get railway companies to take up his telegraph more widely for railway signalling, Cooke was rejected several times in favour of the more familiar, but shorter range, steam-powered pneumatic signalling. Even when his telegraph was taken up, it was considered experimental and the company backed out of a plan to finance extending the telegraph line out to Slough. However, this led to a breakthrough for the electric telegraph, as up to this point the Great Western had insisted on exclusive use and refused Cooke permission to open public telegraph offices. Cooke extended the line at his own expense and agreed that the railway could have free use of it in exchange for the right to open it up to the public. [22] : 19–20

Most of the early electrical systems required multiple wires (Ronalds' system was an exception), but the system developed in the United States by Morse and Vail was a single-wire system. This was the system that first used the soon-to-become-ubiquitous Morse code. [26] By 1844, the Morse system connected Baltimore to Washington, and by 1861 the west coast of the continent was connected to the east coast. [29] [30] The Cooke and Wheatstone telegraph, in a series of improvements, also ended up with a one-wire system, but still using their own code and needle displays. [27]

The electric telegraph quickly became a means of more general communication. The Morse system was officially adopted as the standard for continental European telegraphy in 1851 with a revised code, which later became the basis of International Morse Code. [31] However, Great Britain and the British Empire continued to use the Cooke and Wheatstone system, in some places as late as the 1930s. [27] Likewise, the United States continued to use American Morse code internally, requiring translation operators skilled in both codes for international messages. [31]

Railway signal telegraphy was developed in Britain from the 1840s onward. It was used to manage railway traffic and to prevent accidents as part of the railway signalling system. On 12 June 1837 Cooke and Wheatstone were awarded a patent for an electric telegraph. [32] This was demonstrated between Euston railway station—where Wheatstone was located—and the engine house at Camden Town—where Cooke was stationed, together with Robert Stephenson, the London and Birmingham Railway line's chief engineer. The messages were for the operation of the rope-haulage system for pulling trains up the 1 in 77 bank. The world's first permanent railway telegraph was completed in July 1839 between London Paddington and West Drayton on the Great Western Railway with an electric telegraph using a four-needle system.

The concept of a signalling "block" system was proposed by Cooke in 1842. Railway signal telegraphy did not change in essence from Cooke's initial concept for more than a century. In this system each line of railway was divided into sections or blocks of several kilometres length. Entry to and exit from the block was to be authorised by electric telegraph and signalled by the line-side semaphore signals, so that only a single train could occupy the rails. In Cooke's original system, a single-needle telegraph was adapted to indicate just two messages: "Line Clear" and "Line Blocked". The signaller would adjust his line-side signals accordingly. As first implemented in 1844 each station had as many needles as there were stations on the line, giving a complete picture of the traffic. As lines expanded, a sequence of pairs of single-needle instruments were adopted, one pair for each block in each direction. [33]

Wigwag is a form of flag signalling using a single flag. Unlike most forms of flag signalling, which are used over relatively short distances, wigwag is designed to maximise the distance covered—up to 32 km (20 mi) in some cases. Wigwag achieved this by using a large flag—a single flag can be held with both hands unlike flag semaphore which has a flag in each hand—and using motions rather than positions as its symbols since motions are more easily seen. It was invented by US Army surgeon Albert J. Myer in the 1850s who later became the first head of the Signal Corps. Wigwag was used extensively during the American Civil War where it filled a gap left by the electrical telegraph. Although the electrical telegraph had been in use for more than a decade, the network did not yet reach everywhere and portable, ruggedized equipment suitable for military use was not immediately available. Permanent or semi-permanent stations were established during the war, some of them towers of enormous height and the system for a while could be described as a communications network. [34] [35]

A heliograph is a telegraph that transmits messages by flashing sunlight with a mirror, usually using Morse code. The idea for a telegraph of this type was first proposed as a modification of surveying equipment (Gauss, 1821). Various uses of mirrors were made for communication in the following years, mostly for military purposes, but the first device to become widely used was a heliograph with a moveable mirror (Mance, 1869). The system was used by the French during the 1870–71 siege of Paris, with night-time signalling using kerosene lamps as the source of light. An improved version (Begbie, 1870) was used by British military in many colonial wars, including the Anglo-Zulu War (1879). At some point, a morse key was added to the apparatus to give the operator the same degree of control as in the electric telegraph. [36]

Another type of heliograph was the heliostat fitted with a Colomb shutter. The heliostat was essentially a surveying instrument with a fixed mirror and so could not transmit a code by itself. The term heliostat is sometimes used as a synonym for heliograph because of this origin. The Colomb shutter (Bolton and Colomb, 1862) was originally invented to enable the transmission of morse code by signal lamp between Royal Navy ships at sea. [36]

The heliograph was heavily used by Nelson A. Miles in Arizona and New Mexico after he took over command (1886) of the fight against Geronimo and other Apache bands in the Apache Wars. Miles had previously set up the first heliograph line in the US between Fort Keogh and Fort Custer in Montana. He used the heliograph to fill in vast, thinly populated areas that were not covered by the electric telegraph. Twenty-six stations covered an area 320 by 480 km (200 by 300 mi). In a test of the system, a message was relayed 640 km (400 mi) in four hours. Miles' enemies used smoke signals and flashes of sunlight from metal, but lacked a sophisticated telegraph code. [37] The heliograph was ideal for use in the American Southwest due to its clear air and mountainous terrain on which stations could be located. It was found necessary to lengthen the morse dash (which is much shorter in American Morse code than in the modern International Morse code) to aid differentiating from the morse dot. [36]

Use of the heliograph declined from 1915 onwards, but remained in service in Britain and British Commonwealth countries for some time. Australian forces used the heliograph as late as 1942 in the Western Desert Campaign of World War II. Some form of heliograph was used by the mujahideen in the Soviet–Afghan War (1979-1989). [36]

A teleprinter is a telegraph machine that can send messages from a typewriter-like keyboard and print incoming messages in readable text with no need for the operators to be trained in the telegraph code used on the line. It developed from various earlier printing telegraphs and resulted in improved transmission speeds. [38] The Morse telegraph (1837) was originally conceived as a system marking indentations on paper tape. A chemical telegraph making blue marks improved the speed of recording (Bain, 1846), but was delayed by a patent challenge from Morse. The first true printing telegraph (that is printing in plain text) used a spinning wheel of types in the manner of a daisy wheel printer (House, 1846, improved by Hughes, 1855). The system was adopted by Western Union. [39]

Early teleprinters used the Baudot code, a five-bit sequential binary code. This was a telegraph code developed for use on the French telegraph using a five-key keyboard (Baudot, 1874). Teleprinters generated the same code from a full alphanumeric keyboard. A feature of the Baudot code, and subsequent telegraph codes, was that, unlike Morse code, every character has a code of the same length making it more machine friendly. [40] The Baudot code was used on the earliest ticker tape machines (Calahan, 1867), a system for mass distributing stock price information. [41]

In a punched-tape system, the message is first typed onto punched tape using the code of the telegraph system—Morse code for instance. It is then, either immediately or at some later time, run through a transmission machine which sends the message to the telegraph network. Multiple messages can be sequentially recorded on the same run of tape. The advantage of doing this is that messages can be sent at a steady, fast rate making maximum use of the available telegraph lines. The economic advantage of doing this is greatest on long, busy routes where the cost of the extra step of preparing the tape is outweighed by the cost of providing more telegraph lines. The first machine to use punched tape was Bain's teleprinter (Bain, 1843), but the system saw only limited use. Later versions of Bain's system achieved speeds up to 1000 words per minute, far faster than a human operator could achieve. [42]

The first widely used system (Wheatstone, 1858) was first put into service with the British General Post Office in 1867. A novel feature of the Wheatstone system was the use of bipolar encoding. That is, both positive and negative polarity voltages were used. [43] Bipolar encoding has several advantages, one of which is that it permits duplex communication. [44] The Wheatstone tape reader was capable of a speed of 400 words per minute. [45] : 190

A worldwide communication network meant that telegraph cables would have to be laid across oceans. On land cables could be run uninsulated suspended from poles. Underwater, a good insulator that was both flexible and capable of resisting the ingress of seawater was required, and at first this was not available. A solution presented itself with gutta-percha, a natural rubber from the Palaquium gutta tree, after William Montgomerie sent samples to London from Singapore in 1843. The new material was tested by Michael Faraday and in 1845 Wheatstone suggested that it should be used on the cable planned between Dover and Calais by John Watkins Brett. The idea was proved viable when the South Eastern Railway company successfully tested a three-kilometre (two-mile) gutta-percha insulated cable with telegraph messages to a ship off the coast of Folkstone. [46] The cable to France was laid in 1850 but was almost immediately severed by a French fishing vessel. [47] It was relaid the next year [47] and connections to Ireland and the Low Countries soon followed.

Getting a cable across the Atlantic Ocean proved much more difficult. The Atlantic Telegraph Company, formed in London in 1856, had several failed attempts. A cable laid in 1858 worked poorly for a few days (sometimes taking all day to send a message despite the use of the highly sensitive mirror galvanometer developed by William Thomson (the future Lord Kelvin) before being destroyed by applying too high a voltage. Its failure and slow speed of transmission prompted Thomson and Oliver Heaviside to find better mathematical descriptions of long transmission lines. [48] The company finally succeeded in 1866 with an improved cable laid by SS Great Eastern, the largest ship of its day, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. [49] [48]

An overland telegraph from Britain to India was first connected in 1866 but was unreliable so a submarine telegraph cable was connected in 1870. [50] Several telegraph companies were combined to form the Eastern Telegraph Company in 1872. Australia was first linked to the rest of the world in October 1872 by a submarine telegraph cable at Darwin. [51]

From the 1850s until well into the 20th century, British submarine cable systems dominated the world system. This was set out as a formal strategic goal, which became known as the All Red Line. [52] In 1896, there were thirty cable-laying ships in the world and twenty-four of them were owned by British companies. In 1892, British companies owned and operated two-thirds of the world's cables and by 1923, their share was still 42.7 percent. [53] During World War I, Britain's telegraph communications were almost completely uninterrupted while it was able to quickly cut Germany's cables worldwide. [52]

In 1843, Scottish inventor Alexander Bain invented a device that could be considered the first facsimile machine. He called his invention a "recording telegraph". Bain's telegraph was able to transmit images by electrical wires. Frederick Bakewell made several improvements on Bain's design and demonstrated a telefax machine. In 1855, an Italian abbot, Giovanni Caselli, also created an electric telegraph that could transmit images. Caselli called his invention "Pantelegraph". Pantelegraph was successfully tested and approved for a telegraph line between Paris and Lyon. [54] [55]

In 1881, English inventor Shelford Bidwell constructed the scanning phototelegraph that was the first telefax machine to scan any two-dimensional original, not requiring manual plotting or drawing. Around 1900, German physicist Arthur Korn invented the Bildtelegraph widespread in continental Europe especially since a widely noticed transmission of a wanted-person photograph from Paris to London in 1908 used until the wider distribution of the radiofax. Its main competitors were the Bélinographe by Édouard Belin first, then since the 1930s, the Hellschreiber, invented in 1929 by German inventor Rudolf Hell, a pioneer in mechanical image scanning and transmission.

The late 1880s through to the 1890s saw the discovery and then development of a newly understood phenomenon into a form of wireless telegraphy, called Hertzian wave wireless telegraphy, radiotelegraphy, or (later) simply "radio". Between 1886 and 1888, Heinrich Rudolf Hertz published the results of his experiments where he was able to transmit electromagnetic waves (radio waves) through the air, proving James Clerk Maxwell's 1873 theory of electromagnetic radiation. Many scientists and inventors experimented with this new phenomenon but the general consensus was that these new waves (similar to light) would be just as short range as light, and, therefore, useless for long range communication. [57]

At the end of 1894, the young Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi began working on the idea of building a commercial wireless telegraphy system based on the use of Hertzian waves (radio waves), a line of inquiry that he noted other inventors did not seem to be pursuing. [58] Building on the ideas of previous scientists and inventors Marconi re-engineered their apparatus by trial and error attempting to build a radio-based wireless telegraphic system that would function the same as wired telegraphy. He would work on the system through 1895 in his lab and then in field tests making improvements to extend its range. After many breakthroughs, including applying the wired telegraphy concept of grounding the transmitter and receiver, Marconi was able, by early 1896, to transmit radio far beyond the short ranges that had been predicted. [59] Having failed to interest the Italian government, the 22-year-old inventor brought his telegraphy system to Britain in 1896 and met William Preece, a Welshman, who was a major figure in the field and Chief Engineer of the General Post Office. A series of demonstrations for the British government followed—by March 1897, Marconi had transmitted Morse code signals over a distance of about 6 km ( 3 + 1 ⁄ 2 mi) across Salisbury Plain.

On 13 May 1897, Marconi, assisted by George Kemp, a Cardiff Post Office engineer, transmitted the first wireless signals over water to Lavernock (near Penarth in Wales) from Flat Holm. [60] The message sent was "ARE YOU READY". From his Fraserburgh base, he transmitted the first long-distance, cross-country wireless signal to Poldhu in Cornwall. [ when? ] [ citation needed ] His star rising, he was soon sending signals across the English Channel (1899), from shore to ship (1899) and finally across the Atlantic (1901). [61] A study of these demonstrations of radio, with scientists trying to work out how a phenomenon predicted to have a short range could transmit "over the horizon", led to the discovery of a radio reflecting layer in the Earth's atmosphere in 1902, later called the ionosphere. [62]

Radiotelegraphy proved effective for rescue work in sea disasters by enabling effective communication between ships and from ship to shore. In 1904, Marconi began the first commercial service to transmit nightly news summaries to subscribing ships, which could incorporate them into their on-board newspapers. A regular transatlantic radio-telegraph service was finally begun on 17 October 1907. [63] [64] Notably, Marconi's apparatus was used to help rescue efforts after the sinking of Titanic. Britain's postmaster-general summed up, referring to the Titanic disaster, "Those who have been saved, have been saved through one man, Mr. Marconi. and his marvellous invention."

A telegram service is a company or public entity that delivers telegraphed messages directly to the recipient. [41] Telegram services were not inaugurated until electric telegraphy became available. Earlier optical systems were largely limited to official government and military purposes.

Historically, telegrams were sent between a network of interconnected telegraph offices. A person visiting a local telegraph office paid by-the-word to have a message telegraphed to another office and delivered to the addressee on a paper form. [65] : 276 Messages sent by telegraph could be delivered faster than mail, and even in the telephone age, the telegram remained popular for social and business correspondence.

In 1919, the Central Bureau for Registered Addresses was established in the financial district of New York City. The bureau was created to ease the growing problem of messages being delivered to the wrong recipients. To combat this issue, the bureau offered telegraph customers the option to register unique code names for their telegraph addresses. Customers were charged $2.50 per year per code. By 1934, 28,000 codes had been registered. [66]

At their peak in 1929, an estimated 200 million telegrams were sent. [65] : 274

Telegram services still operate in much of the world (see worldwide use of telegrams by country), but e-mail and text messaging have rendered telegrams obsolete in many countries, and the number of telegrams sent annually has been declining rapidly since the 1980s. [67] Where telegram services still exist, the transmission method between offices is no longer by telegraph, but by telex or IP link. [68]

Telegram length Edit

As telegrams have been traditionally charged by the word, messages were often abbreviated to pack information into the smallest possible number of words, in what came to be called "telegram style".

The average length of a telegram in the 1900s in the US was 11.93 words more than half of the messages were 10 words or fewer. [69] According to another study, the mean length of the telegrams sent in the UK before 1950 was 14.6 words or 78.8 characters. [70] For German telegrams, the mean length is 11.5 words or 72.4 characters. [70] At the end of the 19th century, the average length of a German telegram was calculated as 14.2 words. [70]

Telex (TELegraph EXchange) was a public switched network of teleprinters. It used rotary-telephone-style pulse dialling for automatic routing through the network. It initially used the Baudot code for messages. Telex development began in Germany in 1926, becoming an operational service in 1933 run by the Reichspost (Reich postal service). It had a speed of 50 baud—approximately 66 words per minute. Up to 25 telex channels could share a single long-distance telephone channel by using voice frequency telegraphy multiplexing, making telex the least expensive method of reliable long-distance communication. [ citation needed ] Telex was introduced into Canada in July 1957, and the United States in 1958. [71] A new code, ASCII, was introduced in 1963 by the American Standards Association. ASCII was a 7-bit code and could thus support a larger number of characters than Baudot. In particular, ASCII supported upper and lower case whereas Baudot was upper case only.

Telegraph use began to permanently decline around 1920. [22] : 248 The decline began with the growth of the use of the telephone. [22] : 253 Ironically, the invention of the telephone grew out of the development of the harmonic telegraph, a device which was supposed to increase the efficiency of telegraph transmission and improve the profits of telegraph companies. Western Union gave up their patent battle with Alexander Graham Bell because they believed the telephone was not a threat to their telegraph business. The Bell Telephone Company was formed in 1877 and had 230 subscribers which grew to 30,000 by 1880. By 1886 there were a quarter of a million phones worldwide, [65] : 276–277 and nearly 2 million by 1900. [45] : 204 The decline was briefly postponed by the rise of special occasion congratulatory telegrams. Traffic continued to grow between 1867 and 1893 despite the introduction of the telephone in this period, [65] : 274 but by 1900 the telegraph was definitely in decline. [65] : 277

There was a brief resurgence in telegraphy during World War I but the decline continued as the world entered the Great Depression years of the 1930s. [65] : 277 After the Second World War new technology improved communication in the telegraph industry. [72] Telegraph lines continued to be an important means of distributing news feeds from news agencies by teleprinter machine until the rise of the internet in the 1990s. For Western Union, one service remained highly profitable—the wire transfer of money. This service kept Western Union in business long after the telegraph had ceased to be important. [65] : 277 In the modern era, the telegraph that began in 1837 has been gradually replaced by digital data transmission based on computer information systems. [72]

Optical telegraph lines were installed by governments, often for a military purpose, and reserved for official use only. In many countries, this situation continued after the introduction of the electric telegraph. Starting in Germany and the UK, electric telegraph lines were installed by railway companies. Railway use quickly led to private telegraph companies in the UK and the US offering a telegraph service to the public using telegraph along railway lines. The availability of this new form of communication brought on widespread social and economic changes.

The electric telegraph freed communication from the time constraints of postal mail and revolutionized the global economy and society. [73] [74] By the end of the 19th century, the telegraph was becoming an increasingly common medium of communication for ordinary people. The telegraph isolated the message (information) from the physical movement of objects or the process. [75]

There was some fear of the new technology. According to author Allan J. Kimmel, some people "feared that the telegraph would erode the quality of public discourse through the transmission of irrelevant, context-free information." Henry David Thoreau thought of the Transatlantic cable ". perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough." Kimmel says these fears anticipate many of the characteristics of the modern internet age. [76]

Initially, the telegraph was expensive, but it had an enormous effect on three industries: finance, newspapers, and railways. Telegraphy facilitated the growth of organizations "in the railroads, consolidated financial and commodity markets, and reduced information costs within and between firms". [74] In the US, there were 200 to 300 stock exchanges before the telegraph, but most of these were unnecessary and unprofitable once the telegraph made financial transactions at a distance easy and drove down transaction costs. [65] : 274–275 This immense growth in the business sectors influenced society to embrace the use of telegrams once the cost had fallen.

Worldwide telegraphy changed the gathering of information for news reporting. Journalists were using the telegraph for war reporting as early as 1846 when the Mexican–American War broke out. News agencies were formed, such as the Associated Press, for the purpose of reporting news by telegraph. [65] : 274–275 Messages and information would now travel far and wide, and the telegraph demanded a language "stripped of the local, the regional and colloquial", to better facilitate a worldwide media language. [75] Media language had to be standardized, which led to the gradual disappearance of different forms of speech and styles of journalism and storytelling.

The spread of the railways created a need for an accurate standard time to replace local arbitrary standards based on local noon. The means of achieving this synchronisation was the telegraph. This emphasis on precise time has led to major societal changes such as the concept of the time value of money. [65] : 273–274

The shortage of men to work as telegraph operators in the American Civil War opened up the opportunity for women of a well-paid skilled job. [65] : 274

The economic impact of the telegraph was not much studied by economic historians until parallels started to be drawn with the rise of the internet. In fact, the electric telegraph was as important as the invention of printing in this respect. According to economist Ronnie J. Phillips, the reason for this may be that institutional economists paid more attention to advances that required greater capital investment. The investment required to build railways, for instance, is orders of magnitude greater than that for the telegraph. [65] : 269–270

The optical telegraph was quickly forgotten once it went out of service. While it was in operation, it was very familiar to the public across Europe. Examples appear in many paintings of the period. Poems include Le Telégraphe, by Victor Hugo, and the collection Telegrafen: Optisk kalender för 1858 by Elias Sehlstedt [sv] [77] is dedicated to the telegraph. In novels, the telegraph is a major component in Lucien Leuwen by Stendhal, and it features in The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. [10] : vii–ix Joseph Chudy's 1796 opera, Der Telegraph oder die Fernschreibmaschine, was written to publicise Chudy's telegraph (a binary code with five lamps) when it became clear that Chappe's design was being taken up. [10] : 42–43

Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem in praise of submarine telegraph cables "And a new Word runs between: whispering, 'Let us be one!'" [78] Kipling's poem represented a widespread idea in the late nineteenth century that international telegraphy (and new technology in general) [79] would bring peace and mutual understanding to the world. [80] When a submarine telegraph cable first connected America and Britain, the Post declared

It is the harbinger of an age when international difficulties will not have time to ripen into bloody results, and when, in spite of the fatuity and perveseness of rulers, war will be impossible. [81]

In 1976, in an episode of the popular American TV series Good Times, the news of the death of family patriarch James Evans in an out-of-town car accident was delivered to his family via telegram.

Newspaper names Edit

Numerous newspapers and news outlets in various countries, such as The Daily Telegraph in Britain, The Telegraph in India, De Telegraaf in the Netherlands, and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in the US, were given names which include the word "telegraph" due to their having received news by means of electric telegraphy. Some of these names are retained even though different means of news acquisition are now used.

The History of the Ivory Trade

Throughout history, the human desire for ivory&mdashused in products from jewelry to piano keys to priceless religious art objects&mdashhas far outmatched efforts to stop the killing of African elephants for their tusks. In 2012, investigative journalists Bryan Christy and Aidan Hartley explored the illegal ivory trade and the plight of Africa&rsquos elephants, and documented their work in the National Geographic special Battle for the Elephants.

This video excerpt from that film explores the history of the ivory trade and the resulting devastation of Africa&rsquos elephant population&mdashfrom 26 million elephants in 1800 to fewer than one million today. The clip examines factors that fueled the &ldquoivory frenzy&rdquo of the early 1900s and documents the steady and startling decline in the elephant population. A worldwide ban on ivory sales in 1989 led to a rebound in the population, to about a million. But in 1999 and 2008, due to pressure from countries in Asia and southern Africa, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) allowed two sanctioned sales of ivory. The video looks at attempts to stem the killing&mdashattempts that largely have proven unsuccessful, evidenced by the fact that more than 25,000 elephants were killed in Africa in 2012 alone.

Why is it important to be aware of the history of the ivory trade?

Answers will vary. Awareness of the history of the illegal ivory trade will increase understanding of the role market demands play in the decline of the elephant population. Knowing the issues surrounding the decline of the elephant population will help people critically examine needs for conservation of this natural resource.

What major factor influenced CITES&rsquo decisions to allow the sale of stockpiled ivory, and what was the result of the decisions?

The main reason for CITES&rsquo lifting of the ban on sales of stockpiled ivory was the increased demands for ivory from southern African and Asian countries. The lifting of the ban for these special sales had the effect of sanctioning illegal trade in tusks and increasing poaching once again.

Why has bringing the world's attention to the near-extinction of the elephant population in Africa been unsuccessful in stopping the killing of elephants?

Even with an ivory ban in place and global public opinion strongly favoring enforcement of the ban, the demand for ivory continues, perhaps stronger than ever. The money made through the illegal ivory trade is a key factor in losing the fight to stop poaching and smuggling poached ivory.

(Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) international agreement whose aim is "to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival."

management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.

to hunt, trap, or fish illegally.

buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.


Elaine Larson, National Geographic Society


Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society


J.J. Kelley
Elaine Larson, National Geographic Society

Last Updated

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. They will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to them, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.


If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.

Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

England in 1838: the reasons for emigration

In 1838, Victoria had been on the throne for only one year, and the Whig, Lord Melbourne, was Prime Minister. A country of fifteen and a half million people, England was economically and politically powerful, presiding as it was, over the Empire. The Industrial Revolution had commenced there in the previous century, prior to its spread to Europe and the United States, bringing with it significant affluence. Despite this, social conditions were terrible for the working person, and were publicised by writers such as Charles Dickens. His book `Oliver Twist', which graphically portrayed the poverty in the cities, was in fact published in 1838.

However, the Industrial Revolution had its greatest impact on rural society, which was breaking down as the cities grew. This had a severe effect upon traditional agricultural workers such as the Bowdens, Fairhalls and others. To worsen their plight, there were poor harvests nationwide in 1837, and the country experienced a sharp economic downturn in 1837 and 1838.

The life of the average English rural worker was extremely harsh, with little income, a poor quality of housing, no access to education, and no prospects of improvement for either himself or his children. For many, emigration to either Australia, North America or South Africa, was their only means of bettering their lot in life. Until the 1830's, however, emigration was actively discouraged by the government, as men were required for the American and European wars of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It was also considered that any loss of manpower would drastically weaken the English economy.

Several factors in the 1830's however, changed this negative attitude towards mass emigration. The population of England was growing so steadily that the eminent economist, Malthus, suggested that it would actually be in the interest of the country to encourage emigration. About the same time, Wakefield commenced a public movement to establish free, civilised colonies in Australia. This was associated with a growing public disquiet about the transportation of convicts, which was likened to the slave trade that had only been abolished in 1833. It was hoped that free emigration would end 'the leper-like ghastliness and deformity of convict society, and human barbarism of the Australian bush'. Additionally, many began to consider emigration to be a preferable alternative to the growing number of the poor being committed to the infamous `workhouses'.

These movements coincided with a drastic need in the colony of New South Wales for workers and, in particular, mechanics, craftsmen and agricultural labourers. The colony was developing rapidly, but progress had been slowed excessively by the shortage of such workers. Emigrants were required `to supply an abundance of cheap, honest and industrious labour'.

As a consequence, the first formal assisted emigration schemes to the colony were established in the mid-1830's. For a brief period, two emigration systems, the 'Government' and 'Bounty' Schemes, operated concurrently. The 'Government' Scheme, which ran from 1837 to 1840, under which the 'Maitland' was utilised, was the larger of the two, and was directed and financed by the British Government. The 'Bounty' Scheme (1835-1841) was organised by the colonial government of N.S.W. on behalf of the settlers who were dissatisfied with British government programmes. Prospective settlers were offered bounties as an incentive to emigrate. Both schemes, in fact, provided significant financial assistance to emigrate, as the cost of the passage was prohibitive for the majority of intending settlers. The assistance provided was similar under each scheme.

In 1838 the amount offered was:
* 36 pounds for a man and wife under 40 years of age
* 18 pounds when the husband was over 40
* 18 pounds for each unmarried female 15 to 30 years of age
* 10 pounds for each child 7 to 14
* 5 pounds for each child 1 to 7

This meant that William and Anne Fairhall and their seven children, who came on the vessel 'Maitland', would have received 112 pounds to emigrate a huge sum in those days when a rural worker might receive only 7s.6d. a week. The cost of these schemes was subsidised by the sale of land in New South Wales.

The Fairhalls aptly fitted the family grouping that was preferred for emigration. 'No families are better suited than those of which the parents, being 45 or even 50 years of age, have still power to work themselves, and at the same time can take out with them strong and healthy sons and daughters, of proper age to endure the mode of life at sea and to render themselves serviceable shortly after'. Emigrants of 'good moral character and industrious habits' were sought, and these had to present testimonials of their good character from a clergyman or other notable person from their region of origin.

The late 1830's was the first period of large-scale free emigration to New South Wales. In 1838, over 6,100 assisted emigrants made the journey. Despite the large scale of these schemes, they were smaller than the influxes of the 1850's Gold Rush era, when the population of the colonies increased dramatically.


On this day in 1638, a ship returned to Massachusetts Bay from the West Indies after a seven-month voyage. Its cargo included cotton, tobacco and, as far as we know, the first enslaved Africans to be imported into Massachusetts. When the Pequot Indians lost a war with the English in 1638, the fate of the vanquished was to be enslaved by the victors. The defiant Pequots made poor slaves, however, and many of them were shipped to Bermuda in exchange for African bondsmen. In 1641 the Massachusetts Bay Colony adopted a code of laws that made slavery legal. It would remain so for the next 140 years.

In 1752, black people made up 10% of Boston's population.

Men in Puritan-era Massachusetts bought, sold, and held enslaved Africans from the 1630s until slavery in the colony slowly dissolved in the aftermath of the American Revolution. In 1641 Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first of Britain's mainland colonies to make slavery legal.

The first mention of a black person in the colony dates from 1633. An English visitor published "a true and lively" description of New England for readers back at home. It includes an account of Indians who ". . . were worse scared than hurt" when they came upon a black man in the woods. They sought help from a local farmer who "finding him to be a poor wandering blackamore [black man], conducted him to his master." It is possible that this man was not enslaved but an indentured servant. In any case, it seems clear from the Indians' reaction that black men were a rare sight in Massachusetts during the first decade of English settlement.

Within a few years, the situation changed markedly. In 1636-1637 the Pequots fought and lost a war with the English, who enslaved Native people they took captive. The Pequots resisted enslavement, however, and frustrated that the Indians would "not endure the yoke," the Puritans sent them to Bermuda in exchange for African slaves.

On February 28, 1638, the governor of the Bay Colony noted in his journal that a ship arriving from Bermuda had enslaved Africans aboard. "Mr. Pierce, in the Salem ship, the Desire, returned from the West Indies after seven months. He . . . brought some cotton, and tobacco, and Negroes." Earlier ships may well have carried enslaved Africans to Massachusetts, but this is the first documented case.

"Mr. Pierce, in the Salem ship, the Desire, returned from the West Indies after seven months. He . . . brought some cotton, and tobacco, and Negroes."

The enslaved people on the Desire represented a public investment by the colony's leaders. In March of 1639, the General Court voted to reimburse the man who had purchased the Africans for his expenses he was to repay the colony from the proceeds when he sold the slaves.

The legal status of slavery in the Bay Colony was codified two years later when Massachusetts adopted the "Body of Liberties." While this document guaranteed civil rights to British colonists, paradoxically it also specified that slavery was allowed in cases where slaves were "taken in just wars, [or] as willingly sell themselves or are sold to us." A 1670 law made it legal for the children of enslaved women to be sold into bondage beginning in 1680, the colony had laws restricting the movement of black men and women.

Because the colony was not well suited to plantation agriculture, most Massachusetts families rarely held more than one or two people in bondage. Slave-owners tended to live in coastal towns their bondsmen were frequently used to assist in the family business. As a result, Massachusetts masters generally preferred younger enslaved men, who were less expensive than older ones but who could be easily trained for specialized tasks. It was not unheard of for a Massachusetts man to send a quantity of rum aboard a ship bound for the Indies with instructions for the captain to bring home an African child.

. . . Slavery was allowed in cases where slaves were "taken in just wars, [or] as willingly sell themselves or are sold to us."

The enslaved men and women brought to Massachusetts tended to be those "left over" after West Indian plantation owners had purchased the strongest or "likeliest" men and women for field work. The younger or weaker Africans were sent on to New England and sold individually or in small groups. In 1717 one New England trader advised his brother that, if he could not get a good price for all his slaves in the West Indies, to "bring some home I believe they will sell well." Indeed, the institution of slavery played a central role in the economy of colonial New England.

Ships left Boston, Salem, and Newburyport with fish to feed the enslaved Africans laboring on the sugar plantations of the West Indies and lumber to build barrels in which to ship sugar and molasses. Vessels returned from the Indies loaded with molasses and often carrying a number of enslaved men and women to be sold in the Bay Colony. The molasses was distilled into rum, some of which was sold locally the rest was shipped to Africa and traded for captured men and women.

Since masters rarely held enough enslaved people to justify building a separate residence, most slaves in colonial Massachusetts shared the living quarters and domestic routine of their master's family. Later apologists claimed this arrangement created bonds of affection and familiarity that eased the plight of the slaves, and while in some cases conditions were less harsh in New England than on southern plantations, in reality slavery in the North was no less brutal. The Puritan missionary John Eliot "lamented . . . with a bleeding and burning passion, that the English used their Negroes but as their Horses or the Oxen, and that so little care was taken about their immortal Souls.

Puritan missionary John Eliot "lamented . . . with a bleeding and burning passion, that the English used their Negroes but as their Horses or the Oxen, and that so little care was taken about their immortal Souls.

In 1700 there were approximately 90,000 people living in New England. The black population numbered about 1,000, roughly half of whom lived in Massachusetts. Within the colony, black residents were clustered in Boston and other coastal towns. Enslaved people were a small enough minority that Massachusetts slave owners had little reason to fear an uprising. Even so, in 1723 Boston passed a law forbidding enslaved men and women to be on the streets at night or to be found "idling or lurking together."

By the mid-1700s African slavery was well established in Massachusetts. Newspapers in coastal towns regularly carried advertisements for "likely" young Africans, just arrived or, "seasoned" for several months or a year in the West Indies. Tax collectors recorded the value of slaves owned, and wills show that enslaved men and women were distributed along with other property.

In 1752, black people made up 10% of Boston's population. On the eve of the Revolution, Massachusetts had over 5,200 black residents, more than any other New England colony but still a small number compared to colonies in other regions.

Massachusetts was among first states in the new nation to address the institution of slavery. As a result of lawsuits brought by African Americans, in 1783 Massachusetts courts declared that "the idea of slavery is inconsistent with our own conduct and [the Commonwealth's] Constitution." Although some have interpreted this statement as abolition of slavery, it is more likely that the institution simply faded away in the aftermath of the Revolution.

If You Go

The Boston African American National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park Service, interprets the history of blacks in Massachusetts.

The Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford has the only extant slave quarters in New England.



This Mass Moment occurred in the Greater Boston region of Massachusetts.


"Historical Notes on Slavery in the Northern Colonies and States," by Charles B. Richardson, The Historical Magazine, 1863.

Notes on the History of Slavery in Massachusetts, by George H. Moore (D. Appleton & Co., 1866).

Hard Road to Freedom: The Story of African America, by James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton (Rutgers University Press, 2001).

From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, 8th ed., by John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, Jr. (Alfred A Knopf, 2000).

Black Yankees: The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth-Century New England, by William D. Piersen (University of Massachusetts, 1988).

Margot Minardi, Making Slavery History: Abolitionism and the Politics of Memory in Massachusetts. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Watch the video: Ελλαδίτης στην Κύπρο !!! (May 2022).