New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

The New Brunswick Postal Service in 1856

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From the blog at

The New Brunswick Postal Service in 1856

The Post Office on Prince William Street in St. John, 1876

From the N.B. Museum via the McCord Museum

I have no criticisms for the New Brunswick postal service at the end of 1856. Postmaster General Francis M’Phelim had taken over its operation from the Imperial Government only in January of that year, and new management always brings a critical examination of the way things have always been done. M’Phelim was an active manager and was working to improve the service and to control costs.

By the end of 1855, there were 36 Post Offices in the Province and 199 Way Offices and one of the first orders of business was to increase the numbers of these. By the end of the first year there were 38 Post Offices and 208 Way Offices. The Post Offices were full-service postal stations, each with a Post Master and various clerks, while the Way Offices were run by contract with citizens, often in a general store or other business.

Mail was transported mostly by horse-drawn vehicles, but every other available means was also employed. For example, there were commercial steamers on the rivers; and scows to ferry the horses and wagons across streams that were not bridged. In 1857, they were looking forward to moving some mail by rail as soon as the line between the Bend (Moncton) and Shediac was complete. All of these services were also provided by contract and not directly by the postal department.

Road conditions and occasional bridge outages were a problem, especially on the route to Amherst where the scheduled connection to Halifax was often missed. The Nova Scotia postal service was not very cooperative in remedying this situation. There were also problems when mail carriages also transported passengers. Some of the contractors gave a higher priority to the convenience of passengers than they did to the handling of the mails. M’Phelim recommended that the carriages be limited to carrying no more than eight passengers, which seems a high number.

The Postmaster General was unhappy with the high cost of the steamer service between Indian Town and Fredericton. The steamers were being used at going rates without negotiation, and M’Phelim recommended that this route be put up to public tender.

The main trunk lines from border crossings to interior points and between Post Offices within the Province ran from Saint Andrews, via Saint John, Petitcodiac, Dorchester, and Sackville to Amherst; from Saint John, via Fredericton and Woodstock, to Grand Falls; and from Sackville, via Newcastle and Dalhousie, to Campbellton. These lines ran semi-weekly, while, by the end of 1856, the Fredericton to Woodstock service had become daily, and the Woodstock to Grand Falls and the Bend to Campbellton runs operated three time per week. Further time was needed to get the mail from the Post Offices to the Way Offices and, altogether, there were 2,720 miles of mail routes operated by contract.

There were problems with some contractors, as could be expected. The service between Edmundston and Rivière du Loup was provided using a two-wheeled cart which was inadequate to the task, and the mail was usually late. The problems on the Rivière du Loup route were also hampered by lack of coordination between the Canadian and the New Brunswick contractors, and it was recommended that the mail exchange take place at Lake Temiscouata, or that the Canadian carrier extend his route all of the way to Edmundston.

The provinces carried each other’s mail free of charge. This was not a particularly good deal for New Brunswick, however, since we transported large amounts of mail between Canada and Nova Scotia. The issue was the matter of being ‘in the middle’, and of the large distances involved. The same problem arose with U.S. mail passing through the province for N.S. or Canada. This mail was also carried without charge.

The cost of mailing a regular letter within the province was three pence; and the rate from New Brunswick to the U.K. was 7½ pence, having been reduced from the 1 shilling 3 pence rate prior to 1856. Pamphlets of less than two ounces were carried free within the province, with charges applied for heavier pamphlets. The postage on books was calculated by the ounce.

The cost of mailing a pamphlet could easily be avoided by designing them to not exceed the two ounce limit, and much potential revenue was lost. At the same time, the cost of mailing a book was so high as to discourage ordering anything by mail, and publishers were complaining. The Postmaster General therefore recommended that all of these rates be rationalized. The free carriage of newspapers was a special burden, because of their bulk. This was recognized, though no specific recommendations were made at that time.

Letters between St. John and Carleton and Indiantown and letters mailed anywhere for local delivery were handled without charge. Only Saint John and Fredericton had mail delivery, and everyone else picked up their mail at the Post or Way Office. A special postal rate was recommended for the more urban areas in order to bring down costs.

There was a problem with postage stamps in general, since some clients were authorized not to use them at all, and to rely upon the Post Office to bill them for the total amounts due. This required a lot of clerical staff. Government departments and others used this system, and the New Brunswick Post Office even had to tabulate amounts owing to the American government for mail sent to the British provinces.

The system of registered mail worked well, and there were very few instances of letters becoming lost or stolen. The system applied only within the Province, however, and a letter mailed to the U.S., for example, became conspicuous as containing something valuable if it was registered. The Postmaster General recommended that a system of money orders be adopted so that there would be no need to mail cash in an envelope.

Other routine problems included the firing of one Post Master for dishonesty, and the sanctioning of a Way Office Keeper for taking a vacation and leaving his station in charge of an incompetent person. Way Office Keepers were also sloppy in their bookkeeping, and complained that they were paid so little that they could not be expected to perform those duties. Both Postmasters and Way Office Keepers were permitted to have second-jobs.

Under the British service, the Way Office Keeper’s salary was covered by a two pence surcharge on the letter rate but, under Provincial control, the keeper’s salary was paid directly by the Post Office, and this automatically increased the department’s costs. It was also recommended that the fees collected at some local Post Offices for the rental of private boxes be credited to the Postal Service. These services had been invented by the local Postmasters, who kept the money that they collected.


Written by johnwood1946

May 10, 2017 at 9:01 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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