Hamilton to Merivale (Permanent Under-Secretary)
Treasury Chambers
3 December 1858
I am desired by the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury to state, for the information of Secretary Sir E.B. Lytton, with reference to your letter of the 2nd October last, 1 that My Lords have been in communication with the Postmaster General, and also with the Agent of the Panama Railway Company 2 on the subject of the Postal Service with British Columbia.
My Lords are informedManuscript image that considerable expense and inconvenience might arise, in reference to the passage across the Isthmus of Panama, unless satisfactory arrangements should be made in the first place with the Railway Company and with the Government of New Granada. 3
The Agent of the Company undertook to procure from his Company an undertaking that any arrangement made with the Company by Her Majestys Government should cover any demands made by the Government of New Granada, and secure the Mail Service from the interruptions and inconveniences to which theManuscript image Mails of the United States have been subjected in the passage of the Isthmus.
It was necessary, however, to refer to the Company in America, and My Lords await the reply which the Agent expects to receive shortly.
In the mean time an Overland Mail has been established by the American express Company 4 in connection with the Atlantic Royal Mail Steam Navigation Company, which has now entered into a monthly service to New York, and My Lords are disposed to believe that a cheaper and more expeditious route could, at least for the present, be established by this, than by any other mode.
The PostmasterManuscript image General has recommended that the contract vessels of the Royal Mail Steam Company from Southampton to Colon should be used rather than the Contract vessels to New York or Halifax, in order to save the expense of a new service from Halifax or New York to Colon, but in either of these cases the arrangements must, in the first instance, be completed for the passage of the Isthmus of Panama, and a Steam Service instituted between Panama and New Columbia, which will be expensive, and require a considerable time in its preparation.
My Lords are, therefore, disposed to think that itManuscript image would be desirable, without further loss of time, to communicate with the Atlantic Royal Mail Steam Navigation Company, 5 who represent themselves as the Agents of the American Express Company, and as authorized to contract for the delivery of goods and Passengers at New Columbia, and to ascertain whether, and on what terms, they would contract for the delivery of Her Majestys Mails for a limited period—say one year.
I am to request that you will move Secretary Sir E.B. Lytton to cause My Lords to be favouredManuscript image with his views upon this subject.
I am etc.
Geo. A. Hamilton
Minutes by CO staff
Manuscript image
Mr Elliot
The Atlantic Royal Mail Steam Company 6 is, I believe, the Galway Line, and the "Royal Mail Steam Company" the West Indian. The Treasury prefer the former & the Post Office the latter Company—and the "views" of the Secretary of State are requested. Did the selection rest with this office our chief object would I suppose be to secure the safest & most expeditious conveyance for our Despatches. The expedition & punctuality of the old established Company (the Royal Mail Steam Compy) is I believe admitted on all sides; of the New Line we as yet know nothing.
VJ 4 Decr
I cannot say that I am aware that the West India Company has been particularly successful. All that the Treasury propose is, not that we should select the other Company, but merely that we should ascertain on what terms they could undertake the required service. I should be disposed to agree to their taking that course.
TFE 9 Decr
Sir Edward Lytton
I annex a draft of what I sd propose in answer.
C D 10
Other documents included in the file
Manuscript image
Draft, Merivale to Hamilton, 17 December 1858, declining to offer an opinion until more information was received but agreeing that any contract be limited to one year because the future population and prosperity of the colony "are so little within the compass of reasonable calculation at the present time."
Minutes by CO staff
A most judicious letter.
EBL Decr 13
  1. = Mer-Tre, 2 Oct 58 postal service FIND Mer-Tre, 2 Oct 58 re postal service. Cf. Douglas to Lytton, 5 November 1858, 535, CO 60/1, p. 360.
  2. In 1848, after William H. Aspinwall bought the contract from the U.S. government to provide steamer mail service on the Pacific ocean, he and two partners (Henry Chauncey and John L. Stephens) entered into a contract with the government of New Granada to build a railway across the Isthmus of Panama. The discovery of gold in California in 1849 heightened the need for a quicker passage to the west coast, and construction on the railway was speeded up. The first train crossed the isthmus in 1852 and the railway was officially completed in 1855; it had cost $8,000,000 to build. For a contemporary discussion of the railroad, see Otis, Illustrated History of the Panama Railroad. Cf. Douglas to Lytton, 23 October 1858, 12723, CO 60/1, p. 241 and Douglas to Lytton, 5 November 1858, 535, CO 60/1, p. 360??
  3. The republic of New Granada, comprising the present countries of Venezuela and Columbia, was formed in 1830, replacing the Viceroyalty of New Granada that had been established in 1717. Panama was one of eight provinces of New Granada. Cite Otis?? Laura add info.
  4. = Butterfield Overland Mail. On 16 September 1857, the U.S. government awarded a contract for overland mail service to John Butterfield of Utica, New York. The mail would be brought from Mississippi to San Francisco twice a week in four-horse post coaches, for $600,000 a year. Service began on 16 September 1858, and the Butterfield Overland Mail company soon gained an international reputation as a transcontinental carrier. The mail contract was renewed in 1864, but the company was absorbed by Wells Fargo and Company in November 1866. In 1868, the contract was awarded to Carlton Spaids of Chicago, but when he failed to meet his obligations, Wells Fargo again took over the mail service. In May 1869, the completion of the Union Pacific Railway ended the need for the overland mail, and coach service was halted. See Roscoe P. and Margaret B. Conkling, The Butterfield Overland Mail: 1857-1869, 3 vols. (Glendale, California: Arthur H. Clark, 1947), 3 vols.
  5. The Atlantic Royal Mail Steam Navigation Company, also known as the Galway Line, ran steamers from Galway, Ireland, to New York City via St. John's, Newfoundland. Before 1859 the company was called the Atlantic Steam Navigation Company. Cf. Douglas to Lytton, 5 November 1858, 535, CO 60/1, p. 360.
  6. Royal Mail Steam Company, the West Indian Line, ran steamers from Southhampton to Colon. BC58,p. 143. See T.A. Bushell, "Royal Mail," A Centenary History of the Royal Mail Line, 1839-1939 (London, 1939). Cf. Douglas to Lytton, 5 November 1858, 535, CO 60/1, p. 360.
People in this document


Carnarvon, Earl

Elliot, Thomas Frederick

Hamilton, George Alexander

Jadis, Vane

Lytton, Edward George Earle Bulwer

Merivale, Herman

Organizations in this document


Places in this document

British Columbia



New York



San Francisco