Mrs Farish Cambridge

India Letters

India to England 1824
A postage charge mystery

One of the interesting, and often most challenging, things about collecting old letters is working out how the rate was calculated. This involves knowing the route taken to deliver the letter. This month's letter is one to which I have to admit failure. I have a contact who is a Stamp News reader from Victoria who is equally puzzled. The letter is addressed to Mrs Farish, Downing Street Cambridge England, written by her daughter, who marked up the envelope "Per English Packet". (Fig.1 address panel of the letter)

inside of letter


The postmarks are on the reverse of the letter; a partially struck Boxed mark possibly INDIA LETTER/PORTSMOUTH in two lines and over-stamped with the London date stamp in red double circle 27 OC? 27 1824. Neither of the stamps are fully applied and so are not clearly decipherable. (Fig.2 ) On the front of the letter is the charge mark 3/4 (or 3/2) crossed out and 3/7 substituted.

inside of letter

This is a complete mystery, as I cannot see how this letter could have attracted such a charge. An Act of Parliament in 1814 enabled the Post Office to set up a monthly packet service to India and the Cape. The service began in 1815 & mails were carried by private ship, warships or ships of the East India Company. The Packet rate was cheaper than the Ship Letter rate, so it was important that the letters could be identified and the correct sea and inland rates could be applied.

But in 1819 new regulations were drawn up and mail was sent only by private ships or East India Company vessels. The charge was 4d for the India postage section, plus the Inland post to London from the first post office at the approach to land, not the first port of call. This was why the ports were issued with these particular stamps. They were usually applied in black or red ink.

Therefore, the cost for this letter should be 4d for the Indian postage, added to the Inland charge Portsmouth to London, which is 72 miles, that would cost 8d, and then London to Cambridge 51 miles another 8d ( but this should have been amalgamated to 123 miles which would cost 10d.) so a total either of 1/2d or 1/8d. The letter is a single sheet of very fine paper, which would not even weigh ¼ of an ounce, let alone the 3 ounces allowed, so unless there was an enclosure (which is not mentioned in the letter) this is inexplicable. Even had there been an enclosure it would only have doubled the inland rate of 10d to 20d which was 1/8d plus the 4d would be 2/- or two shillings, and I can find no reason for the increase to 3/7d. If it is DARTMOUTH and not PORTSMOUTH, the distance from London is 203, so that would be a total of 254 which would cost 1/- if PLYMOUTH the distance is only 215 + 51 would still be in the 230-300 miles scale. So if any reader has a better idea, I would be delighted to hear it.

The letter itself is a family letter, and was written partly by a young girl to her grandmother, and was then completed by her mother, so the writing is continued along the top, round the sides and overleaf — it is a bit of a mess, but I don't suppose Grandma would have worried about it.

My dear Grandmama
I send a kiss to you. Eliza is very well. Hyena cried out in the night and all the dogs barked so much we could not sleep. Aunt Jay's riding horse is dead. Jimmy loves me very much & comes to play with me. I have got a Persian Cat it comes and jumps on my chair at dinner & wants to take my dinner, Papa is very well, & Eliza is very well & William is very well. We have got a Poney and I have got a Jackass.
I have got an ivory box Cousin John gave me a very pretty box & Caroline gave me the Ivory Box. I give kisses to Grandpapa and all my Uncles, Aunts and Cousins.
I am your affectionate Frances E Carr.

That seems a very formal signature for a little girl to her grandmamma. The letter then continues in her mother's handwriting, with this surprising comment :-

"I am sorry to hear James Farish has had the smallpox as it lessens the value of the vaccination greatly to have two instances of its failure in one family."
Smallpox was a big health problem in previous centuries, with no known cure prior to discovery of vaccination. The British Post office issued a stamp booklet on September 21st 1999, called World Changers and commemorated British scientific genius, one of which was Edward Jenner. The booklet pane including the stamps had a list of important dates in Jenner's life. (Fig.3 — Jenner stamp pane)

stamps from Prestige booklet

Information in the booklet included these paragraphs :-

'Edward Jenner, a Gloucestershire country doctor, noticed that milkmaids rarely caught smallpox. When he asked the milkmaids why, he heard what seemed to be an old wives' tale: if they caught cowpox, a disease that affected cows' udders, they could never catch smallpox. Jenner decided to try deliberately infecting someone with cowpox to see if they were then protected. On 14 May 1796, he seized his chance. He was called to a milkmaid called Sarah Nelmes, who had cowpox. Jenner brought a boy called James Phipps, and rubbed matter from the milkmaid's sores into scratches on the boy's arm.

The boy fell ill, but he recovered within a week. Seven weeks later, Jenner deliberately inoculated young Phipps with smallpox, but the boy was not infected. Two years later, in 1798 he published a monograph on vaccination but it received a hostile response. However, in 1808 Parliament voted Jenner a £20,000 grant for his discovery of vaccination, and by 1812 more than a million Britons bad been vaccinated, and the blight of smallpox was lifted.'

It does seem unfortunate that two members of one family should catch smallpox after having been vaccinated.

The letter then continues :

"Give our kind love to all the family at Dover Road, they have only themselves to maintain. I mentioned in my last to you that the long lost box had at last arrived safe, many thanks for your kindness in executing my commissions, everything will be useful, the only thing I regret is that the short stockings for Mr Carr are not pure black silk as I hoped they would have been.
To dear Esther Stephen give our sympathetic love and to all our friends remember us with affection. Thank you for your particular account of the Presgroves kind love to them.

We have seen nothing of Henry Fawcett yet, I am at a loss what to make of his behaviour to us all both in England and here.
Little Fanny wished much to write her letter to Grandmama, so I wrote it for her on this half sheet.
(Fig.4 inside of letter)

inside of letter

I am happy to say my dear Husband is tolerable but he feels the exhaustion occasioned by the trying heat which we have experienced this season. I trust the rain will set in, in a day or two which will revive us all. I am sorry to say the Cholera is again very prevalent both here and at the other Presidencies. I trust we shall be preserved from it.
With our united affectionate love to all our fireside circle I remain dearest Mother your affectionate
E.M. Carr"

Although the letter does not have a return address on it, I think this was written from Madras, one of the Presidencies of the East India Company, as there was a cholera outbreak reported there in 1824. I have checked on the records of that Company, and although there are six entries for CARR, I cannot be sure if any of them are the husband of the writer of my letter. It must have been a great change of lifestyle from cool Cambridge to hot India, but there were a surprising number of English people who took up the challenge and had good lives there.

sources : British Postmarks Alcock & Holland; Port & Carriage of Letters, David Robinson ; Post Roads, Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635-1840, Alan Robertson.

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