No. 26
4 April 1861
It is incumbent upon me to bring to the especial notice of your Grace the very unsatisfactory condition of the Mail Service as now existing between California and this place.
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2. As Your Grace is no doubt aware, the arrangements between Great Britain and the United States for the conveyance of letters to this Colony and to that of British Columbia do not extend beyond the American Territory, and from that point to this we have for years past been dependent upon chance opportunities for the carriage of our Mails.
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3. Since the discovery of gold in 1858 the vessels of the Pacific Mail Steam Ship Company have found it to their interest to call at Vancouvers Island, en route with the United States Mails between San Francisco and Puget Sound, and through the courtesy of the Postmaster of San Francisco all mail matter for these Colonies has been placed in separate bags, and the Captains of theSteamersManuscript image Steamers have most kindly taken charge of them and have invariably delivered them with the greatest care and punctuality. They have also taken charge of our return Bags, and the service although gratuitous has been performed with every care and attention, and but little cause for complaint existed.
4. Within the last two or three months however,thisManuscript image this system has been completely disarranged. The Ocean Mail Service of the United States has been discontinued. The Mails from New York are conveyed across the Rocky Mountains to California and an overland route to Puget Sound has been substituted for the former direct sea communication with San Francisco. The letters for these Colonies in consequencearriveManuscript image arrive at most uncertain intervals. Sometimes a Mail from San Francisco is received by a Sailing Ship, sometimes by a chance Steam Ship, but more generally they reach here weekly in a Steamer from Puget Sound, and by this conveyance letters are frequently delivered in a most delapidated condition, and in fact there is no doubtthatManuscript image that many are lost, as regular correspondence has now become exceedingly intermittent.
5. So serious is the evil that the merchants of Victoria recently met and pledged themselves to subscribe Four Hundred Pounds (£400) a month for the next six months, if the Government would guarantee a like amount, to subsidize a British Steam Vessel to run twice a month between this place and SanFranciscoManuscript image Francisco. Nothing however has as yet resulted from this movement, there is no British Steam Vessel available, and our slender Revenue would not bear the heavy call thus made upon it.
6. In this unfortunate juncture I am compelled to apply to your Grace with the hope that Her Majestys Government may extend the sameassistanceManuscript image assistance to us that is granted to most other Colonies, by voting a sum of money as a Mail subsidy.
7. There is a large trade between this place and San Francisco, and I do not suppose there would be any difficulty in establishing a line of British Steamers to run between these Colonies and San Francisco, at least, if not to Panama, providedHerManuscript image Her Majestys Government would afford a reasonable subsidy for the service of carrying the Mails.
8. In the mean time so entirely are we at the mercy of the United States functionaries that I am at a loss what to do to ameliorate the evil. The only expedient open to me is to request Her Majestys Consul at San Francisco to use his influence to obtain upontheManuscript image the arrival of every Mail all the Vancouvers Island and British Columbia Mail matter from the Post office, and to retain it in his possession until an opportunity occurs from forwarding it direct by water to Victoria. I fear however that even this will scarcely effect a change for notwithstanding the arrangement which Your Grace communicated tomeManuscript image me in Your despatch No 13 of August 1859 that all correspondence would be forwarded in closed bags to the Consul at San Francisco, it is very evident that scarcely any of the correspondence for these Colonies can pass through his hands.
I have the honor to be
My Lord Duke,
Your Grace's most obedient
humble Servant
James Douglas
Minutes by CO staff
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Mr Elliot
The discontinuance of the United States mail service in the Pacific will prove a serious inconvenience. Nor is it easy to suggest a remedy, when subsidies are out of fashion. Perhaps the G.P. Office might afford some clue to the present difficulty. At any rate I think it will be right to communicate to that Dt a copy of this despatch that it may be aware of the interruption in the conveyance of our Letters by sea. You will observe that the Merchants of VanC. Isld are ready to pay £400 a month for 6 months if H.M. Govt will grant a Corresponding sum for a mail service.
ABd 30 May/61
I think that we had better send this to the Treasury, and request them to communicate with the Genl P.O., & favor us with their views, after consulting this draft, on the best mode of providing for the postal service of Vanc Id & B. Columbia.
TFE 30/5
CF 31
N 1-6
Other documents included in the file
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Elliot to G.A. Hamilton, Treasury, 11 June 1861, forwarding copy of the despatch and asking him to consult with the General Post Office on the subject.
Douglas, James to Pelham-Clinton, Henry Pelham Fiennes 4 April 1861, CO 305:17, no. 4781, 142. The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871, Edition 2.2, ed. James Hendrickson and the Colonial Despatches project. Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria. https://bcgenesis.uvic.ca/V61026.html.

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