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THE PENNY POST., Ashburton Guardian, Volume VII, Issue 2504, 29 August 1890
THE PENNY POST.
[contributed.] The 27th of August just past has suggested this article. On that day m the year 1875 there passed from earth one of the most successful reformers of this great century of reform—Sir Rowland Hill, the initiator of the system of penny postage m Great Britain. To the art of printing has been attributed the spread of education, the intellectual elevation of the masses by the dissemination among them of cheap literature. True, much of the improved civilisation of to-day is owing to the art of printing and a free press ; but without the cheap system of postage, the plan of which was conceived and carried out by Sir Rowland Hill, there would still have been fetters upon the spread of literature and the wings of the morning and evening Mercuries would have been far less free than they are today. The idea of Sir Rowland, out of which so much has grown, no doubt helped m a great measure to develop many of the great changes that have taken place during the century, as well as to foster into the almost perfection they have now reached, many of the greatest and grandest inventions of the age. Enjoying the advantages of the tre- [ mendous—the word is not too strong— | postal systems of the world of to-day, one may be forgiven for recalling the memory and shortly recounting the life and work of the man who laid the foundation of them all. He died as has been already said on the 27th of August, 1879, with his life's work fully accomplished, not a sapling cut down before seeing the bloom of maturity, but an old man full of years and honors, who had reached and overstepped the term of life allotted to man, and who when they had to say of him " Lay him down, his work is done, Vain for him ii friend or foemui, Rise of moon or «et of sun, Hand of man, or kiss of woman, had reached the ripe age of 85. The old man died from no disease that could be specified, but simply from that decay of vital energy that inevitably accompanies the approach of age. The postal reformer was born at Kidderminster m 1795. and was thus at his death one of the then few, now fewer still, public celebrities whose memories could connect the eighteenth with the nineteenth century. Up to the age of 38, but little had been heard of Rowland Hill. He had been plodding on i as a mathematical teacher m a Birmingham sohool under the superintendency of his father. 111-health compelled him to relinquish scholastic duties, and shortly after he became Secretary to the Royal Commission for the colonisation of South Australia. For some time after this he devoted himself fco many useful works, and while m connection with the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, his attention was turned to the great question of postal reform, with the solution of which his name has been so closely associated, and which has immortalised him m the history of his country's progross. Like all reformers, Mr Hill had to meet a strong opposition m his endeavors to introduce a cheaper and more extensive system of postal communication m the country, and for daring to find fault with the English Post Office he was unhesitatingly set down as a meddler m other people's matters, and a man whose meddling could not arise out of anything but crass ignorance and oVerwoening self-conceit. But this condemnation came from those who were connected with fclib postal department, and not from the great body of people whose interests the reforms aimed at were calculated to serve. When Sir Rowland set himself the task of bringing about what has reunited m the present penny postal system, the cost of letter communication was .something formidable. The postage on a letter from England to Scotland was the now fashionable patent medicine price of Is l^d, and every separate sheet, or part of a sheet, no matter what its nature, had to pay another thirteen pence halfpenny. The high price of postage, however, was not so much the evil Sir Rowland, then Mr, Hill aimed at removing. During two decades, the revenue from the Post Office had not risen, and Rowland Hill was quite satisfied that lie knew a plan not only for increasing the revenue from the legitimate business of the Post Office but also from drawing revenue from a class of people who had never hitherto used the Post Office nt all, simply because of the exorbitant charges made. Perhaps the most objectionable because grossly unjust feature of the old postal regime was the system of franking—a privilege enjoyed by the members of Parliament and the Government officers, and this privilege was grossly abused and not infrequently traded on with a view to making profit. Readers who are acquainted with the writings of Sir Walter Scott -will remember one instance at least m which the greatest romancer of his time—and indeed of any time— makes one of his characters remind a correspondent of the wisdom of "saving the frank," with a view to its doing duty another time, and this system of petty fraud was m full swing when Mr Rowland Hall began his crusade of reform. Regarding Sir Walker Scott's writing, it may be mentioned, by the way, that he attributed his terribly small manuscript to the necessity that existed for crowding as much matter as possible upon a single sheet to save the high postage that would accrue upon a " double letter." Letters were often sent, too, m parcels by the hands of travellers, and by merchants' conveyances, co that seldom indeed could the poor man unable to afford the postal charge, have an opportunity of communicating with a distant relative. What has boen roughly outlined above was the state of affairs when Mr Rowland Hill initiated the successful movement which made him famous. Looking into the working of the then postal system he found that the smallest cost of the whole working was m the transit of the mai bags from place to place—and that, too, m the days of mail coaches. It was the collection and delivery of letters that : piled up the excessive costs. The reformer had great difficulty m inducing Government to take his' scheme into consideration, but when they did so they found that this was what he meant to do. iHe would discard altogether the idea of payment by enclosures, and substitute the system now m use—charging by weight only irrespective of distancecarried, thus giving a uniform fee for letters of a uniform weight. Prepayment was enforced, so that it was no longer possible for a correspondent to post a letter with a few hieroglyphics written outside, understood only by the person to whom the letter was addressed ; have the letter forwarded, the hieroglyphics read by the proper person, and then the letter rejected by the latter and thrown back upon the hands of the post office officials. This was a common occurrence while the deliverers continued to collect the postal fee. Franking was abolished, except on Government service. The first reduction effected was from the 1 higlv sums charged to a uniform price of fourpence. With the fourpenny postage came m also the adhesive stamp, relieving the officers of the duty of collecting fees. This gleW. reduction took place m 1839, and marked was the success attending it, so wide the increase of business during the short time the fee was at four pence, that m 1840 the final fall to a penny was accomplished, and one of the grandest institutions of modern times was for ever established. Throughout the ij]fylHae4 fvnti Gprpegponding world Sir Rowland Hill's cheap system of inland postage has been adopted, but the following figures show the real change it brought about m Great Britain. In 1839, 7<>,OOO,OQG letters upon which 1 a price
could be chargad were delivered m Great Britain. Sir Rowland Hill lived to see the statistics of 1878 published, and to compare the figures of that year with with those of 1839. What were they'? Nothing less than 1,528,000,000. Had he lived another ten years he would have beon able to note a still greater increase, and to further note the fact that mails to and from Great Britain are carried by direct steamer to and from her colonies m the Pacific—m fact, from the other side of the world—and that efforts are being made to reduce the fee, of ocean-borne correspondence to a nominal figure, The revenue fell somewhat after Sir Rowland's first reduction, but it rapidly rose again, and the year before he died it was double what was obtained m 1838* But the benefits secured are far more than a money value. They are of a social and moral nature, and the whole world has shared m them. Out of Sir Rowland's great work have come the postal telegraphs, the parcel posts, and what not. The post office has been made use of as i* bank,and the money order and postal note systems supply a cheap and easy means of transmitting money, while the post office savings bank has been a world of good to many. Sir Rowland Hill had opposition to contend with, but he triumphed over it all, and he was one of the few public benefactors who reaped a well-earned reward for labors done m the public interest. From an article that appeared m one of the London papers at the time of his death the following account of how I he fared at the hands of his country is jculed:—wTo overlook the working of the new arrangements he had received the appointment of Postal Superintendent from the Liberal Government. In 1841 Sir Robert Peel and the Tories came into power, and m the following year Mr Hill was informed that his services would no longer be required. The public, however, resolved that the author of* the peniiy postage should npt. suffer from official ingratitude, and presented him m 1846 with a magnificent testimonial of the value of £13,360. In the same year he was appointed Secretary to the Post-master-General. In 1853 he was promoted to the Secretaryship of the 1?ost Office, which he retained until 1864, when he retired, having been decorated four years previously with the order of Knight Commander of the, Bath. On his retirement he was awarded for life £2000 per annum, a Parliamentary grant of £20,000, and various honors of a high class." •?, J.M.D.
THE PENNY POST., Ashburton Guardian, Volume VII, Issue 2504, 29 August 1890
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