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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 1 (May 1, 1933)

The Royal Mail — From Biblical Times On

page 5

The Royal Mail
From Biblical Times On

So the posts went with letters from the King and his Princes throughout all Israel and Judah and according to the commandment of the King, saying, Ye children of Israel, turn again unto the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, and He will return the remnant of you that are escaped out of the hand of the Kings of Assyria.—2 Chronicles, xxx. 6.

Close students of the Bible know that postal work is mentioned also in the Books of Esther, Job and Jeremiah. Of course it was a very simple system—merely an occasional despatch of important messages—a system similar to the practice of various ancient races in the Old World.

While some folk in New Zealand are busily counting their curses they are apt to forget their blessings, of which Miss Nelle Scanlan gave them a timely reminder recently. New Zealand still has an average of about twenty sheep and one dairy cow (in milk) per head of population, and it has many other good things, including the Royal Mail, the world's best postal service—really the best.

Memories of Romance.

Royal Mail! What a wealth of romance in those words! What memories of heroic feats they recall in the rescue of the precious bags on land and sea! Yet the clever pupil of a public school can tell us that the word mail comes from the French “malle,” which means a bag or trunk. That same bright boy or girl can also tell us that the word post is not based on any root meaning speed or despatch, but that the word means a place and has the same Latin root as the word position. The word post is a reminder that the mails of ancient times were carried from post to post, that is in stages from place to place.

Pioneer of Penny Postage.

Great Britain, pioneer in many great inventions for the modern world, led the way in postal progress. Among the names linked with this important development, Rowland Hill has pride of place. In 1837 he wrote a pamphlet entitled: “Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability,” in which he set out a new system of service, including a postal rate of one penny per half-ounce. His plan appealed strongly to the public, and it became law in 1839. His prophecy that the reform would prove beneficial alike to the public, as individuals, and to the State was so well fulfilled that in course of time he received a public testimonial of £15,000, a grant of £20,000 from Parliament, a knighthood, and burial in Westminster Abbey.

Start of the day's “Walk.”

Start of the day's “Walk.”

Worthy tribute that to the man who enabled the people of his country to keep so easily and so cheaply in touch with one another!

Walks of Life.

The daily postman! How welcome he is! What a human link! The average person is rather scared of a telegram, but a letter may raise hope of a gladsome surprise. It may be a winning ticket in a lottery or a favourable reply to a request for something good. Recognition of the writing of a loved relative or friend promotes pleasant thoughts while the envelope is being opened.

On many thousands of streets and roads of New Zealand, every day, in all weathers, the postmen go their rounds, known as “walks.” In Wellington City alone there are seventy of these “walks.”

New Zealand in the Van.

Although Great Britain was the first country in the world to establish internal penny postage, New Zealand was the first to adopt universal penny postage, as far as possible. This system was inaugurated in 1901 under the Postmaster-Generalship page 6 of Sir Joseph Ward, and it quickly proved itself a success from all view points. Problems of the Great War and the subsequent minor peace caused an increase in the rate for comparatively short periods, but it is back again at the popular penny, where the Department hopes that it will stay, for penny postage has become a keenly cherished departmental tradition.

New Zealanders are known as “great letter-writers”—at least in the sense of postal figures. During the year ended 31st December, 1931, the number of letters posted averaged 90 ½ per unit of the population—a figure surpassed in previous years, for the slump has caused a “cut” in correspondence. Here are the details of the mail for 1931:—

Posted in Dominion. Delivered in Dominion.
Letters & letter-cards 126,587,27 137,046,678
Post-cards 3,457,157 4,152,807
Books, etc. 75,850,013 75,519,555
Newspapers 17,534,022 21,920,949
Parcels 1,597,566 1,817,988

What a wide range of careful and faithful service lies behind those figures! Think of the numerous collections from those red pillar-boxes dotted over the length and breadth of New Zealand, the concentrations, the sortings, the deliveries from door to door!

Efficiency Without Fussiness.

A visit to the chief post office in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Dunedin during a busy time is an inspiration and a galvanic tonic. Magic hands move among the mail. Here is speed, without confusion. System is linked with efficiency and despatch. Everybody seems to feel the prod of the clock's hands, and the work goes with a whirr.

Seeing the mail coming into one of those offices, the rapid and orderly handling inside, and the quick despatch will give any observer a feeling of pride in his country's postal system, and of admiration for the staff. One has an impression that if New Zealand as a whole has the same indomitable carry-on spirit, with the same efficiency, as the Postal Department has, the slump will be getting a send-off well ahead of the dates guessed by pessimists.

In one corner of the Chief Post Office at Wellington a date-stamping machine has the rapid chatter of a quick-firing gun. That machine takes 900 letters a minute, and it has a hungry hum, as if it were eager for even larger feeds.

It is pleasant to be told that this speedy stamper is a New Zealand invention, and that it was made at Petone. Another very helpful New Zealand invention is the automatic franker, in use in thousands of private offices throughout the Dominion. The stamp-vending machines at the entrances of a number of post offices were also invented in New Zealand by a former employee of the Post Office, and they are now being made in this country.

Typical Wins Against Time.

Here is a glimpse of the postal race against time:

The Royal Mail liner Rangitata (from England) in the stream, Wellington, at 10.30 a.m.; moored to the wharf at 12.15 p.m.; first sling of mail-bags landed at 12.35; first lorry-load of mail reaches the Post Office at 12.50; Auckland share of the letter mail catches the Main Trunk Express at 2 p.m.; letter mail for Wellington City sorted and delivered during the same afternoon. That looks a smart enough performance, but it is a bigger feat than the galloping summary indicates. The big ship was working other cargo while the mail was coming ashore. Motor vehicles buzzed about while the postal men were busy with their tasks. The Royal Mail had to make its way through thick traffic of commerce—and it did, nobly.

That is not an exceptional performance; it is merely typical of the postal service in lucky New Zealand.

Another example of quick handling occurs regularly with the trans-Pacific mails. A vessel from San Francisco will arrive at Wellington in the morning. Letters will be delivered in the city in time to enable business folk to post replies on the afternoon of the same day to connect with the ship which leaves Auckland for Vancouver. This remarkable result is facilitated by the employment of mail-agents on trans-Pacific liners. In addition to sorting the mail they are publicity representatives for New Zealand. They give bright lecturettes on the Dominion, from various viewpoints, particularly scenery and sport, and show moving pictures.

This fast working is not confined to inward mails. If a ship is timed to leave a New Zealand port at 3 p.m., the mail will close at the port only two hours ahead.

A Week's Mail from London.

When the Rangitata arrived at Wellington recently it brought a week's mail from London—147 bags of letters and letter-cards, 743 bags of newspapers and packets, and 216 bags of parcels. Each of those 147 bags would hold about 601b. of mail, and each pound would represent about 30 letters. There would be between 1700 and 1800 letters to the bag—an aggregate of approximately 250,000 letters.

Keen Guard on Registered Mail.

A millionaire's child in Chicago is not an object of closer care and guarding than the registered mail in New Zealand. That mail is checked and double-checked. From the moment that it comes in until it is delivered it is under protective vigilance. A record is kept of all page 7 officers who handle that mail at all stages of its passage from sender to receiver. The system is fool-proof and knave-proof from start to finish.

A Real League of Nations.

The only effective—definitely effective—League of Nations at present is the International Postal Union in which all countries of the world are represented. The latest member is the newly-created Vatican State, which was admitted several years ago.

This world-wide Union, which meets every five years, uses French as the international language for all discussions and for the official reports, big well-bound volumes which are sent to each member.

Mr. G. McNamara, secretary of the Post and Telegraph Department, who represented New Zealand at the last meeting of the big Union, speaks highly of the great spirit of service shewn by the envoys and their eagerness to be mutually helpful. Of course, differences of opinion occur on various matters, but once a vote is taken the will of the majority is accepted without argument, and that decision becomes international law immediately, in accordance with the International Convention.

Among the various agreements, the chief one is that each of the countries comprising the Union must undertake to give the best possible speed to the mail. Whatever disputes countries may be having about other matters the mail must not be hindered. On it must go by the best available despatch, except that a country is not obliged to use costly air service unless special provision is made for such transport.

Another agreement requires that green must be the colour in all countries for the ½d. stamp (or the equivalent of ½d.); red for the 1d.; blue for the 2 ½d. (the highest rate for international letter postage).

A Peep at the Past.

It will surprise many New Zealanders to learn that the first postal service in this country was under the jurisdiction of New South Wales—the “Mother State.” Even after the proclamation of British sovereignity at Kororareka (Russell), in the Bay of Islands, by Captain Hobson, in 1840, New Zealand remained for a while under the suzerainty of New South Wales. Captain Hobson was Lieutenant-Governor here, acting for the Governor of New South Wales, Sir George Gipps. It is recorded in Mr. Donald Robertson's “Early History of the New Zealand Post Office,” that “the first trace of anything bearing on the subject of a post office in New Zealand is a statement made by Mr. Powditch that in 1831 he, being a personal friend of the Postmaster-General of New South Wales, was commissioned to receive and make-up mails on his behalf in the Bay of Islands.”

For some years after 1840 postal development was slow and cumbersome. “As stamps were not in use till 1855,” wrote Mr. Robertson, “letters were handed with the cash to the postmaster, and the address of every letter, with the amount of the postage, was entered in a ponderous record-book, from which was transcribed in triplicate, a monthly return.”

Yes, things have moved since then.