Schiffsbrief

Schiffsbrief — a Ship letter
Shipping coffee — Hamburg to Dundee, 1836

by

Eunice Shanahan

This letter is the type I really enjoy. It has 6 postal markings and notes, and also interesting content. It came from Bayans & Lubcke in Hamburg, Germany to Allan Edward Esqre of Dundee, Scotland. It is beautifully written in good English and is completely legible, although the writing is very small — the writer must have had a very fine pen nib on his quill pen, and has not made any great ink splodges. (Fig1. part of the letter)

The postal markings begin with (Fig.2 — address panel)

1) a manuscript instruction Per Hull Steamer.
2)The first postmark is a German one applied in Hamburg SCHIFFSBRIEF which is the Ships Letter stamp. The date is very faint but appears to be 9 JUL 1836. The letter is dated inside 6th July, and there is a filing note on the outside Hamburg 6th July, Recd 15.
3) a faint two-line HULL SHIP LETTER applied in red ink. Once the letter was processed at Hull, it would have been sent on to Edinburgh via York, Newcastle, and then Berwick where it received —
4) a partially struck Additional ½d stamp in green ink.
Then onto 5) Edinburgh, shown by the date stamp JUL 14 1836 in red , from where it would have gone on to Dundee, where it was received on the 15th.
The final postal marking is of course
6) the charge of 1/9 or one shilling and ninepence, which would have had to be paid by the addressee. This was made up of an inward Ship Letter sea rate from Germany of 8d which was in force from 1815 to 1840, plus the inland postage from the port of landing for all letters coming into Great Britain onboard a private ship. There was no distinction between letters sent in sealed bags by the Post Office's agents or those brought in by passengers or sailors etc. This leaves 1/1d to cover the inland rate, and from the rates listed in Alan Robertson's book the distance between Hull and Dundee is 289 miles, and that would have been only 1/- or one shilling, this covered a distance of between 230 and 300 miles, so it is possible that the Edinburgh to Dundee leg of the journey could have taken it just over the 300 miles in total, which would add the extra penny to make the total 1/9d.

So that has covered the postmarks, what about the contents of the letter? It is a commercial letter concerning a ship the 'Libra' and the cargo of coffee. I found it interesting, as I worked in a shipping agents in Australia in the 20th century, and note that the language had not changed over these 150 years. Although the first paragraph indicates that the Account of disbursements was annexed, there was nothing of that kind included in the letter, but on the reverse there are a lot of figures in pencil and in ink.
(Fig.3 figures by the letter seal)


"Hamburg 6th July 1836
Allan Edward Esqre
Dear Sir
We have now pleasure to hand you annexed Weights of the Libra's Cargo also Account of the Disbursements. The Libra left this morning with a fair Wind, the few goods offering for Archangel was not worth the Detention taken in tout, (in all) she therefore went in Ballast for several Lots of Coffee, say D. Martin, A. Brown, I. Sanderson, Bartholomew, Patterson & Jameson & Walker. The B/L's did only come to hand after the vessel was 8 days in port & caused a great Detention in discharging. For the future we would thank you to hurry the people on to send forward their B/Ls. The best way would certainly be if the owners of the coffee would consign either to Mr Gossler or Parish, the vessel would gain at least 8 days in despatch.

(Notes : 1) B/L — Bill of Lading is the document which lists the cargo and stowage etc.
2) a charge is made for each day a ship is in port — and if delays are involved, the owner or charterer of the vessel has to pay this amount as demurrage, so the longer the ship is in port the higher the costs, which have to be set against the profit of the cargo. So, delays caused by lack of documentation are an unnecessary loss.)

The next paragraph explains the details of the cargo, and I found the entry about the share of the 'sweepings' most interesting. It has a symbol before the weights, which I do not recognise, but it may just be a capital 'W'

"You will find in the Acct 13 Pf charged for the Protest, this we were obliged to pay to Feldmann Bohe & Co for not extending the Protest, by which we gained the half of the Expence & likewise time — The Weights of your 454 Bags Coffee turned out as follows :

  • Intake weight French 57500
  • 1% Hambro 58075
  • Weighed out here 57895
  • 180
  • Off your share
    of Sweepings 21 — 159 short,
  • we are glad that it turned out so well. Capt M. had 10 Bags Coffee short, but we got him clear of paying for them."
    The next paragraph is about a crew member, and gives a clear example of how well everything is organised in the Merchant Shipping world.

    " The Moment when the 'Libra' was hawling out, the second Mate J Rowland fell down in the afterhold and broke his leg. We had of course to send him to the Hospital & according to the Act the Vessel has to pay the expence, which will be 1/- per day. Capt M would leave money in our hands to pay the Expences, but we told him that we would charge it to you after we know the sum, we hope the man will soon be recovered."
    Then it is back to documentation and charging problems, caused by a rather unhappy businessman — but they dealt with the situation.

    "Mr Kedenburg has cited Capt. M for the £40 demurrage, saying that Capt. M told him that he would pay them back to him, if the Vessel was dispatched 10 days sooner in Valparaiso etc, & likewise wishes us to affirm to the same, which of course we objected to do, as we never heard of such a thing spoken. K is vexed for not joining him, he tried all he could to lay attachment on the Ship, but could not succeed as he had no black on white to show for his demand. He enquired at us whether we had freight money in hand, we answered him, that we had not a copper to receive neither had Mr Gossler, as the freight was settled in England, we advised him to drop the thing as he would only make himself expence for no purpose, but still he went & laid Attachment on the freight with Mr Gossler, who declared likewise through his Lawyer, that he has nothing in hands. At first, we did not like to employ a Lawyer & went ourselves to the Court, but when we found that K would not give it up, we were obliged to take one. We have employed Dr. Gossler & Nephew to our Merchant. Capt M was obliged to leave a power of Attorny, so that the Case may not be hoved against him by his leaving this place.

    Capt. M recollects that he told K
    "if Mr Paulsen was to dispatch the Vessel in 30 days less, he would make him a present of the £40"
    but the Vessel has only been 26 days sooner dispatched, however we have made a claim against K for £76 for the use of the boats which is expressed in the Charter, that a renumeration should be paid for them — we are of opinion that he will give it up after he finds that he is thrashing empty Straw.
    We remain Respectfully Dr Sir
    Your most Obedt Servants
    Bayans & Lubcke"

    That was one way out of the problem, charge Mr Kedenburg with a larger amount for something else. I have not heard of that expression "thrashing empty straw", but it is very descriptive. Most of the English is correct, but there is the occasional spelling error, like 'renumeration' instead of 'remuneration', and I wonder whether Bayens & Lubcke actually employed English clerks in their Hamburg office. A letter like this really brings past trading practices to life showing that there were even clauses to cover accidents like the broken leg of the Second Mate.


    Sources : Great Britain Post Road, Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635-1839 Alan Robertson;Hodgson & Sedgewick, The Scottish Additional Halfpenny Mail Tax ; The Port and Carriage of letters — David Robinson

    This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine.

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