Hamilton to Merivale (Permanent Under-Secretary)
Treasury Chambers
31 May 1859
Adverting to your letter of the 14th Instant, I am desired by the Lords Commissoners of Her Majesty's Treasury to transmit, for the information of Secretary Sir E.B. Lytton, the enclosed copy of a letter from Messrs Benson & Co, relative to the offer made by the North West Navigation and Railway Company of Canada to establish a postal service with British Columbia.
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In consequence of that communication a deputation on behalf of the Company attended at this office, and had an interview with one of My Lords Secretaries, and it appeared, from the statements made on that occasion; that it was the opinion of the Deputation that the contemplated Mail Service from San Francisco to British Columbia, for which Tenders are about to be invited, would entirely preclude all hope of success in Establishing the route through the British North American Manuscript imageterritory, which it is the object of the Company to open.
Sir E.B. Lytton is aware that it was determined to invite Tenders for the Service from San Francisco, in consequence of the overtures made by Mr Stamp of British Columbia, whose proposals were submitted to this Board by the Colonial Office, accompanied by strong recommendations in his favor from the Lieutenant Governor of the Colony.
My Lords, under the impression that the course Manuscript imageindicated by the proposal of Mr Stamp, offered the best and earliest means of Establishing the desired communication—and that the question involved in the offer of the North Western Navigation and Railway Company of Canada was one which more immediately concerned Colonial Interests, and could not be treated as a mere postal arrangement—thought it desirable to postpone the consideration of the latter proposal, until they had ascertained the wishes Manuscript imageand feelings of the Canadian Government in the matter, and to endeavour, without delay, to establish an effective postal Communication with British Columbia.
They have accordingly taken steps for procuring tenders for this purpose.
Before, however, My Lords issue final instructions for this purpose, they would be glad to hear the views which Sir E.B. Lytton entertains on the subject: because, although My Lords cannot but see great difficulties in the Manuscript imageway of assisting, in the manner asked for, such a scheme as that which this Company brings forward, yet, looking to it's undoubted importance, to Imperial not less than Colonial interests, My Lords would regret extremely to take any step which would have the effect of putting an end to it, without the most mature consideration.
I am etc.
Geo. A. Hamilton
Minutes by CO staff
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Mr Merivale
Although it may be thought proper that this Country should foster and help the new Colony of B. Columbia through the early struggles of its existence I am not entirely convinced that to subsidize this North West Navigation & Railway Canada Company, or its rival Mr Stamp, for the maintenance of postal communication between Gt Britain & B. Columbia wd be the best mode of spending money Manuscript imageupon it. As Lord Colchester tells us in his Letter of the 8 March/3308/59 that the Letters sent from the U. Kingdom are very few (in 2884 his Lordship says that on one occasion they amounted to no more than 56) forbidding therefore any prospect of a revenue from that source, and as the Governor of the Colony in his desph of the 5 Novr/58/535 informs us that he has not much reason to complain of the existing fortnightly mail communication it does not appear requisite for the Imperial Govt to rush hastily into an agreement to subsidize this Company or any body else. It would doubtless be an immense gain to this Company to get an annual grant of money from England to carry its proposed scheme of a post-route to B. Columbia viâ the Red River and Saskatchewan Country into effect; and, it wd be serviceable to Mankind perhaps that that Country should be easily penetrated & opened up, for the post might be succeeded by many enterprizing people desirous of settling in it; but so far as Imperial interests, or B. Columbia interests are at present concerned I can but think that they might both well wait some years for a subsidy. If a war should break out with the U. States interrupting our maritime communication Manuscript imagewith V.C. Isld & B. Columbia we have the consolation of knowing that we can still fall back upon this overland route—so that in point of fact we are not absolutely dependent on the Panama route & the American Pacific Steamers. The immediate ansr, however, to this Letter seems to me to be that Sir E. Lytton can offer no other observations in reference to the object of this Co than those made by him on the 7 of last March, and that he would dissuade the Treasury from returning any decisive reply to the Co until it is known what the Govt of Canada—to whom Sir E.L. made a reference on the 13th April—shall say upon the subject; and that, for the same reason, it would be well to defer taking any more steps for obtaining tenders for the service viâ San Francisco; for if the report from Canada were favorable to the Saskatchewan route it might supersede the necessity for forming engagements by the Pacific route.
ABd 6 June
P.S. Perhaps we had better write to Sir E. Head to beg an early ansr.
Documents enclosed with the main document (not transcribed)
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Robert Benson and Company to Chancellor of the Exchequer, 10 May 1859, requesting an interview to explain the company's proposition to establish a postal service across British North America.
Minutes by CO staff
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Lord Carnarvon
Mr Blackwood is so familiar with this correspondence & so accurate that I hardly venture to differ from him, but as far as I collect, we have done nothing but send the correspondence to Sir E. Head "for information"—and as his Parliament is not sitting, it is not at all likely that his very cautious Ministers will undertake any expense for the Saskatchewan line. It seems to me to be a question for ourselves only, & is itself a simple one. No one can suppose the Saskatchewan line can pay, for years to come. The San Francisco line may pay, in a moderate way, very soon & is the most convenient for the Colony. Is it worth while to subsidize the former as a political measure? That seems to Manuscript imageme the whole question. I am not myself much in favor of such subsidies.
HM June 7
I think on the whole that the best answer will be that in the opinion of the Sec. of State a line of communication across the continent of B.N. America to connect Canada with B. Columbia & the Pacific—such as he understands to be proposed by the N.W. Navigation & R. Co.—wd, if practicable, be attended with great political advantages & wd probably go far to facilitate the erection of colonies, the development of natural resources & the consolidation of B.N. America as a part of the Empire. That Manuscript imagethe question of subsidy & its amount depends upon the importance wh politically is attached to the carrying out of such a scheme. That on the other hand the establishment of communications by sea with S. Francisco, though doubtless valuable to the Colony is far less important in a political point of view as in all probability before long the Colony will be in a position to establish for itself, under the ordinary operations of Trade, such a Line & to defray the greater part at all events of the attendant expenses.
That Sir E. Lytton wd therefore Manuscript imagerecommend to the Lds Commrs the consideration whether it will not be advisable that the contract, if any, which may be concluded with Mr Stamp sd be temporary so that at the period when the communication across the continent is opened, the Govt may be free to subsidize that line exclusively if such subsidy is decided upon.
C June 9
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Lord Carnarvon
These are drafts on the North West transit. You will be the best judge whether or not to pass them under existing circumstances.
TFE 14 June
I think that as these are in accordance with my min. of the 9th June & as delay is inconvenient to the arrangements on hand at the Treasury the drafts may be proceeded Manuscript imagewith: but the subject will require an early consideration by the new Sec. of State.
I think however that the desp. to Sir E. Head ought not to go: as it's effect wd be to pledge the Govt to a certain degree.
C June 15
Other documents included in the file
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Draft, Merivale to Hamilton, 16 June 1859, advising that Lytton saw political and developmental advantages in the proposed overland postal route and would therefore suggest that any contract awarded for the Pacific route be of a temporary nature.