Maritime Mail Contracts of the Cape of Good Hope

The First Maritime Contract 1851

The first contract for the carriage of mail between the United Kingdom and the Cape was awarded to the General Screw Steam Shipping Company and, on 27 January 1851, the Bosphorus became the company’s pioneer vessel, carrying the first contract mail to the Cape.

The Dane the first Union Mail Ship
The Dane the first Union Mail Ship

The Second Maritime Contract – W.S.Lindsay 1856

By 1855 the General Screw Steam shipping Company has run into financial troubles and the second maritime contract was awarded to a member of the British Paliament, W.S. Lindsay in 1856. While the paasage was supposed to have taken 36 days, Lindsay’s vessels took 50 or more for the crossing and in 1857 this service ceased.

The Third Maritime Contract – Union Steamship Company 1857

With Lindsay’s contract stopped in the late summer of 1857, tenders for a mail service to the Cape were called for by the British Admiralty. The Union Steamship Company was successful. The terms of the contract stipulated that vessels should not be lesss than 530 tons and that the passage in either direction should not exceed 42 days. The first vessel to inaugurate the service was the Dane , which arrived in Cape Town on the 29 October 1857. The Dane departed from Cape Town on 30 November on a return voyage that took her via St.Helena and Ascension. it is reported that she carried the largest ever volume of mail yet sent from the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope. Namely 10 867 letters, 3761 newspapers. This mail earned some £320 in postage, of which £54 accrued to the Cape of Good Hope.

Union Steamship Company 1863

1876 Combined Contract Union Steamship Company and Castle Lines

In June 1876 the ocean mail contract expired and new arrangements were made whereby the mail contract service was divided equally between the Union and the Castle Lines. This Contract fell now under the Control of the Cape of Good Hope and not as previously the Imperial Government. The Contract provided for conveying a thrice-monthly mail across the Atlantic in 37 days each way, leaving Southampton on the 5th, 15th and 25th of each month. Return from Cape Town was on the same dates, except if these fell on a Monday, the departue then being made on Tuesday.

Once a month the vessels stopped at St. Helena, Ascension and Madeira. (The vessel leaving Cape Town on the 5 th called at both St. Helena and Ascension, the vessel leaving Southampton on the 15 th called at St Helena, while that one leaving Southampton on the 25 th stopped at Madeira).

The contract postage was still 1s. per half-ounce. Exact departure tables were published by the Post Office of the Cape of Good Hope.

Ocean Mail Contract. – As a proposal will probably be laid before Parliament, in the approaching Session, with reference to the termination of the present Ocean Mail Contract, and its renewal under other terms, it may be of interest to submit a statement of the payments which have been made for the Ocean Postal Services during the contracts entered into by the Colony for its performance.

The first contract was entered into on the 1st October, 1876. Previously to that date the Imperial Government was responsible for the contract, and the Cape Colony contributed its share of the cost by allowing to the Imperial Government 5/6ths of the postage collected in the Colony on Ocean Mail matter, the Colony supplementing the Postal Service, by a mail conveyed by the Donald Currie Line once in four weeks for which a gratuity of £12,000 a year was paid. The total cost of the service to the Colony under this arrangements averaged about £22,000 per annum.

When, however, the Colony made itself responsible for the contracts with the Mail Companies, the Imperial Government as its contribution towards the service, paid over to the Companies the postage on their outward mails – while the Colony in terms of its contract paid the amount of postage it received on the homeward mails, together with speed premium. Under the contract entered into on the 1st October, 1876, and ended on the 30th September, 1883, it was stipulated that the passage should be performed in 26 days, and in 27 days when the packet has to touch at St. Helena or Ascension.

Premiums for speed at the rate of £4 3s. 4d. were allowed for every complete hour in which the passage was made under the period of 26 or 27 days, and at the rate of £6 5s. per hour for each such passage under the period of 23 or 24 days respectively.
The payments for the several years under this arrangement were as follows:-

Postage paid by Postage and Speed premium

Imperial Government. paid by Cape Colony.

In 1877 … … £21,232 8 6 £41,663 7 11
1878 … … 21,294 4 11 50,914 10 10
1879 … … 26,235 4 2 64,244 7 8
1880 … … 27,917 1 11 80,491 5 8
1881 … … 32,905 2 6 83,519 17 10
1882 … … 39,140 1 5 100,725 10 5
1883 … … 27,372 11 5 98,348 13 10


On the 1st October, 1883, a new contract was entered into with the Union and Donald Currie Companies. under this Contract payments for the Mail Service were to be made solely by the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope. The Imperial Government contributing to the Colony as its share towards the expense 5/6ths on the postage on the outward mails.

The terms to be paid to the Contractors by the Colony were a subsidy, in lieu of postage, of £50,000 per annum, and a speed premium not to exceed £30,000 per annum.

The conveyance time was fixed at 21 1/2 days, and 221/2 when the packet was required to touch at St. Helena and Ascension, and payment of speed premium was to be made at the rate of £6 5s. for every hour under the allotted time, the premium, however, not to exceed £15,000 per annum to each of the two Companies.

The Postmaster-general reported in 1883 that under this Contract the following payments were made:

Postage and Speed premium Paid by the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope to the Steamhip Companies
1884 £76,199
1885 £78,562
1886 £80,000

From these payments has to be deducted a subsidy of £4,550 per annum contributed by the Imperial and St. Helena Governments for the deviation to St. Helena and Ascension, reducing the cost of the service during the calendar years the contracts have run, respectively, to £71,649, £74,012 10s., and £75,450, and deducting the payments made to the Colony by the Imperial Government on account of postage on outward mails to £53,962 3s. 2d., £56,099 4s. 7d., and £59,408 7s. for the year, 1884, 1885 and 1886 respectively (1886, p. 7-8).

Contract 1st October 1888

As the existing Ocean Mail Contracts terminate on the 30th September of 1888, the question of entering into new contracts had to be discussed. As Parliament seemed favourable to a renewal of the contracts with the existing companies, negotiations were entered into with them, and new contracts were concluded under the following provisions:-

(a.) The contract to commence on the 1st October, 1888, and to continue in force for five years, until the 30th September,
(b.) A packet of each company alternately to leave England and Table Bay respectively on each Friday and Wednesday.
(c.) The Postmaster-General to have the power to delay the departure of a packet for 24 hours.
(d.) The length of the voyage between England and Table Bay is fixed at 20 days, whether the packet touch at Lisbon or Madeira or both those places.

If the packet be required to touch at St. Helena on the outward voyage or at the islands of St. Helena and Ascension on the homeward voyage the period for the voyage shall be extended to 20 days 18 hours.

If the packet be required to touch at St. Helena on the homeward voyage, the period of such voyage shall be extended to 20 days and 12 hours.

In case the mails shall be delayed beyond the time above prescribed, the following times shall be imposed for each hour after twelve hours of grace, viz., at the rate of £2 1s. 8d. up to and including the twelfth hour; after which the rate will be increased to £4 3s. 4d. for each hour up to and including the twenty-fourth hour; and after this at the rate of £6 5s. for each complete hour; provided, however, that the payment of any such sum shall not be enforced if the packet shall arrive on the outward or homeward voyage before the hour of 6 a.m. of the 21st day.

(e.) For conveyance of the mails each company shall receive an annual subsidy of £25,000, and a further sum for the conveyance of post parcels of £300 for the first year of the contract, to be increased annually by £50. until the maximum sum of £500 is reached.

(f.) In the event of its being deemed necessary at any time during the continuance of the contract to arrange for a supplementary mail service overland via Lisbon, the company’s vessels shall call at Lisbon on the outward voyage for the purpose of receiving such supplementary mails, provided that it shall be optional with the Company to call at Madeira on the same voyage. In consideration of the conveyance of such mail, the company shall receive the sum of one penny per letter out of any additional charge for postage which may be levied on correspondence included in such supplementary

New Ocean Mail Contract 1899


New Ocean Mail Contract. – The New Ocean Mail Contract has aroused very considerable interest throughout South Africa as to its terms, and many suggestions have been put forward as to new conditions to be inserted in the Contract, with a view of limiting the amount of passage money to be charged to the various classes of the travelling public, making itcompulsory that differential rates for freight shall not be charged, that no rebate on freight shall be given to any importer, &c., &c. It appears desirable, therefore, to briefly place on record how the matter stands at the present moment and its history to date.

In the first place it may be well to state that the existing Contract was entered into in 1893 and is for a period of seven years. The actual date of commencement was on the 1st of October, 1893, consequently the contract will end on the 30th September, 1900, thus having one year and seven months (from February, 1899) still to run.

The subsidy agreed to be paid was £44,000 per annum to each of the Mail Companies increasing annually by £500 to £47,000, and in addition to these payments it was stipulated in the Contract that if both the Colony of Natal and the Cape Colony should become members of the Universal Postal Union and thereafter Natal elected to terminate the separate agreement she had entered into with the Companies, and to make use of the Cape Colony Ocean Mail Service, the sea transit rates accruing on mail matter to and from Natal should be paid over to the Mail Companies. This actually took place for the Government of Natal subsequently decided to terminate its separate contract as from the 31st July, 1896, since which date the Postal Union sea transit rates on mail matter to and from Natal have been paid over to the Companies. The amount accruing to each of the two Companies annually in this connection is between £4,000 and £5,000 approximately, therefore at the present moment the annual payment to each Company is £51,000 or together £102,000. The service is, as is well known, once a week in each direction and the period of the voyage nineteen days with twelve hours grace, but should the period of grace be exceeded penalties for delay are levied for each hour beyond nineteen days.

The subsidy, it will be observed, approximately amounts to £2,000 per round voyage from Southampton to Cape Town and back.

The first Parliamentary action in respect of the new Contract was taken so long ago as 1897. The Government of the day, however, was of opinion that it was too early to call for tenders, but promised to give the matter their consideration the following session, and in connection therewith to propose a series of resolutions as to the terms of the new Contract as was done in 1887.

Unfortunately during the earlier session of 1898 the Legislature was too fully occupied with other matters and nothing definite could be done during the brief period Parliament was sitting. Subsequently a General Election took place, and it was not until after the present Ministry assumed office that any active steps could be taken in the matter. It will be remembered, as remarked above, that many suggestions were made by various Chambers of Commerce throughout South Africa that the Mail Contract should be made a means for imposing on the Contractors numerous restrictions in respect to matters quite apart from their ordinary functions as mail carriers. The suggestions most generally spoken of I have already indicated.

In reply to those representations I felt it my duty to point out to the Government that it was unusual to introduce such conditions into a Mail Contract and that their insertion would inevitablly lead to an increase in the amount of the tenders if it did not absolutely debar the present Mail Companies and others from tendering. When the question came before Parliament I was glad to observe that it was decided after some little discussion that the Contract was to be made exclusively a Mail Contract. I also expressed at this time the opinion that although the more usual course was to call for tenders I felt certain that if it were possible to arrange for a new Contract with the present Companies on terms acceptable to Parliament, as had been done on former occasions, the probability was that the Colony would get a cheaper service, and I further took occasion to point out that there was no question that the Companies had in the past, in many respects, exceeded the obligations imposed upon them. I was accordingly directed to enter into preliminary negotiations with a view of ascertaining the terms upon which the Companies would be prepared to carry the mails for a further period of five or seven years, and I have little doubt that a fair arrangement might have been come to had the views of the Government in this respect received the support of Parliament. Negotiations had, however, to be suspended pending the consideration of a motion brought forward by Mr. Walton, the member for Port Elizabeth, on the 8th November, in the following terms.

That this House resolve that. –
(a) “Tenders for the Ocean Contract be called for immediately, the advertisement being cabled to the Agent General for insertion in the London papers;
(b) Such tenders to be closed not later than December 31st, 1898;
(c) That the successful tenderer should be required to commence the new service not later than the 1st January, 1901;
(d) That the tenders should contain alternative estimates for a speedier service of mails and passengers than at present in force including a weekly fourteen day service and upwards between the United Kingdom and Cape Town;
(e) That in connection with such accelerated service of mails and passengers the tenderer to state, in addition to the subsidy required, what would be the minimum charges for the conveyance of first, second, and third class passengers.”

Development of Postal Rates

After a very full discussion extending over several days the following resolution was finally agreed to, viz.

“That tenders for the Ocean Mail Contract be called for by the Government immediately, provided that for a period of six months after the expiration of the present Contract the time clause in the present Contract shall at the option of the tenderer, apply to the accepted tender.”

Immediately the decision of Parliament was made known no time was lost in drawing up and printing a suitable Form of Tender and Conditions of Contract and in publishing an advertisement calling for tenders in the Colony and in the United Kingdom. (…)

It will be observed that tenders were asked for a service ranging from fourteen to eighteen and a half days, and that the 7th of March was the latest date upon which tenders could be submitted to the Agent General in London.

The Conditions of Contract it may be stated are very similar to the terms of existing Mail Contract but have been modified in some particulars to bring them into line with present requirements, and in one or two instances new clauses have been inserted, as, for instance, one stipulating that the vessels employed in the Mail Service shall be British build and British owned (1898, p. 28-30).

In my Report for the year 1898 I pointed out, in respect of this most important matter, that negotiations for the renewal of the Contract with the existing Mail Companies, were by direction of the Government, in progress when the following motion was passed by the House of Assembly on the 14th of November, 1898. –

“That Tenders for the Ocean Mail Contract be called for by the Government immediately, provided that for a period of six months after expiration of the present Contract the time clause in the present Contract shall, at the option of the Tenderer, apply to the accepted Tender.”

I further expressed the opinion, that although the more usual course was to call for tenders, I felt sure that if it were possible to arrange for a new Contract with the Castle and Union Companies on terms acceptable to Parliament, as had been done on former occasions, the Colony would obtain a cheaper and more satisfactory service than if tenders were called for.

This view did not, however, find favour at the time, and, in pursuance of the instructions of Parliament, tenders were called for on the 16th of November, 1898, to be sent in not later than the 7th of March, 1899.

Although I was most anxious to consult the Imperial Postal Authorities as to the precise conditions of Contract (in view of my recommendation that the Contract should be a joint Imperial and Colonial Contract), I regret that, owing to the urgency of the mandate of Parliament, it was not possible to communicate with Her Majesty’s Postmaster-General prior to the issue of the notice calling for tenders. The greatest care was, however, taken to safeguard Imperial interests; and although Sir Spencer Walpole (the then Secretary of the Post Office) felt it his duty to place on record his disapproval of the action of this department, in not consulting Her Majesty’s Postmaster-General beforehand, and raised several objections to the Conditions of Contract, these objections were not pressed on an explanation of the circumstances being furnished by the Colonial Government.

In response to the invitation of the Government, two tenders were received, namely, one from Mr. H.T. Van Laun, of 1, St. Helen’s Place, Bishopsgate Street Within, London, on the prescribed form, for a period of seven years for a subsidy of £110,000 if the voyage was to be performed in fifteen days, and for a subsidy of £158,000 if the voyage period were reduced to fourteen days; and the other from the Union and Castle Steamship Companies jointly, on a form printed by themselves, and differing entirely from the form of tender prescribed by the Government, offering to carry on the service from the 1st of March, 1899 (i.e., seven months before the expiration of the current Contract), for a period of ten years, for the sum of £135,000 for a voyage of 404 hours, to be reduced to 399 hours from the 1st of March, 1905, or alternatively, £175,000 for a voyage period of 390 hours throughout; the times above mentioned to be the “mean” between the Outward and Homeward voyage of each steamer. (The Homeward voyage is usually made in eighteen hours less than the Outward.) Parcels to be paid for in addition to the subsidy at one-third the parcel postage charge, with a minimum to the Contractors of 2 1/2d. per rate; the following sums to be paid, in addition to the subsidy, for prospective increases in the weight of mail matter to be conveyed, namely. –

Second year of Contract … … … £2,000.
Third … … … … … £3,000.
Fourth … … … … … £4,000.
Fifth … … … … … £5,000.
Sixth … … … … … £6,000.
Seventh … … … … … £7,000.
Eighth … … … … … £8,000.
Ninth … … … … … £9,000.
Tenth … … … … … £10,000.

The penultimate paragraph of the official advertisement calling for tenders having stipulated that “No tender will be entertained unless made on the form provided,” and “the Government does not bind itself to accept the lowest or any tender.” the Government was compelled to inform the Union and Castle Steamship Companies that their tender was informal and could not be entertained. It remained, therefore, to consider the offer of Mr. Van Laun.

On inquiry, it was ascertained that that gentleman was not a steamship owner, and it was considered advisable, therefore, to enquire as to whether he was in a financial position to carry out so costly an undertaking as the Mail Service in the face of an opposition which would doubtless be powerful and determined, the Government being desirous of avoiding the possibility of any repetition of the difficulties experienced by the Canadian Government in the case of Messrs. Peterson, Tait & Company, who, after lodging the stipulated security, failed to form a company to carry out the Mail Service for which they had tendered. – a difficulty which, in the case of the Cape Mail Service, would have resulted in the Government being placed practically at the mercy of the existing Contractors, as time would not have permitted of fresh tenders being called for with any prospect of success.

On Mr. Van Laun being asked to furnish the required information, he stipulated for the conditional acceptance of his tender, on the understanding that he should send a sealed envelope to the Treasurer containing the names of his financial supporters, and the fullest possible information as to the steps already taken, and to be taken, for the performance of the required service; such envelope not to be opened at all unless the Government was prepared to give the desired “conditional acceptance” of his tender.

This somewhat extraordinary stipulation was not regarded by the Government as reassuring, and I was accordingly directed by the Treasurer to proceed to London without delay to continue negotiations on the spot. I was further directed to take Counsel’s opinion as to whether Mr. Van Laun had departed from the legal terms of the notice calling for tenders, in eliminating certain clauses in the prescribed form, and whether under the Conditions of Tender the penalty for non-fulfillment of the Contract was absolutely limited to £20,000. (…)

Mr. Van Laun’s tender having thus been disposed of, and he having failed to submit any fresh proposals accompanied by the information and assurance deemed necessary by the Government, the question of reopening negotiations with the existing contractors had to be considered, competition from other sources not being likely, and time not permitting of fresh tenders being invited. I accordingly entered into communication with Sir Francis Evans on behalf of the Union Company, and Sir Donald Currie on behalf of the Castle Company, and arranged for a Conference with Sir Davis Tennant, the Agent- General for the Colony, and myself, at the office of the Cape Government Agency, at which the possibility of satisfactory terms being come to for an extension of the present Mail Contract, subject to modification, might be discussed. The meeting took place on the 18th of May (…)

After some opposition from Sir Donald Currie and Sir Francis Evans, it was agreed. –

(a) That the annual subsidy payment should be an unvarying one throughout the whole term of the Contract.
(b) That the subsidy should include the cost of conveying the Natal mails between Southampton and Cape Town and vice versa.
(c) That it should cover the cost of the conveyance of the Cape Colony parcel mails between Southampton and Cape Town, and vice versa, and the Natal parcel mails between Southampton and Durban, and vice versa.
(d) That the period of the Contract should be ten years.
(e) That whatever subsidy might ultimately be agreed upon should include compensation for any increase in theweight of the ordinary and parcel mails during the full term of the Contract.

Sir Francis Evans then raised the question as to whether the call at Madeira, which had hitherto been compulsory, might not be made optional, so as to enable the larger and more powerful steamers of the two companies to run either direct to the Cape, or, if necessary, to be coaled at some other port than Madeira. In reply, I pointed out that the Imperial Post Office, which was more directly conserned in this matter than the Colonial Post Office, would undoubtedly object to any departure from regularity in the Mail service to or from Madeira, and that, as the Colonial Government derived a considerable annual revenue from the sea conveyance of the Madeira mails, it would naturally look for some compensation if the service were performed by other than the Cape Colony contract mail steamers. After some little discussion and a reference to the Imperial Post Office Department, it was ultimately agreed that, in the event of the contractors desiring at any time to discontinue the call at Madeira on either the Outward or Homeward voyages, or to substitute any other port of call in lieu thereof, they should be at liberty to do so on giving three months’ notice to the Colonial Government, provided that arrangements were made to the satisfaction of the Postmaster-General for the continuance of the mail service by the intermediate steamers of the Companies. It was further stipulated that, so long as the intermediate steamers carried on the service, they should, in respect of the carriage of the Madeira mails, be considered to be mail steamers employed under the Cape Colony Contract, thus securing to the Government the transit rates hitherto payable for the conveyance of mails to and from Maderia.

The question of the conveyance of gold was then taken into consideration. On this point Sir Donald Currie took up a very firm attitude, claming that the Post Office had no right to carry raw gold in any form in the mails, as, by so doing, it deprived the Companies of a legitimate source of revenue, and imposed upon them an undue responsibility in respect of its safe conveyance. I strongly urged for the retention of the right as at present existing, pointing out it was a distinct convenience to individual miners in outlying districts for gold to be conveyed in the mails, whilst the financial considerations involved were comparatively trifling. I further suggested that a solution of the difficulty might be found in a strict limitation of the maximum weight that might be consigned by any individual sender or from any one goldfield. To neither of these propositions would Sir Donald Currie assent, and it was finally decided to exclude raw gold from the mails.

It was further agreed after discussion that.

(a) Any alteration in the days and hours of departure of the mail steamers should be subject to the concurrence of the contractors.
(b) That penalties should not be absolute, but should be subject to conditions similar to those set forth in the present contract.
(c) That the Cape Colony should have the exclusive right to use of the mail steamers for mail purposes between Southampton and Table Bay, and to and from any intermediate ports at which the steamers might call, and that the companies should be debarred from making any contracts with other Governments for the conveyance of mails by the contract steamers, either for exchange between the ports touched at by the mail boats, or for or from places beyond Southampton or Cape Town respectively.
(d) That the provisions in regard to the St. Helena-Ascension mail service, as embodied in the existing contract, should remain unaltered.
(e) That a Board of Trade survey of the mail steamers should be deemed sufficient.

Coming to the question of the length of voyage, it was urged by Sir Donald Currie that the time period should be calculated on the mean of the outward and homeward voyages, and that the limit should be 16 days 21 hours for the first five years of the contract, and 16 days 15 hours thereafter, with 18 hours grace before fines became enviable. In view of the fact that the homeward voyage are usually performed in 18 hours less time than the outward voyages, and, that to extent the hours of grace would virtually mean a still further extension of the voyage period, I expressed my inability to entertain either suggestion, and after much discussion it was eventually agreed that the outward and homeward voyages should be dealt with separately; that the conditions as to hours of grace should remain as at present; and that the voyage period should be 16 days 20 hours for the first three years of the contract, and 16 years 15 hours thereafter.

Discussion then ensued as to the basis upon which the amount of the annual subsidy should be calculated. In their original tender the Companies asked for a commencing payment of £135,000, increasing by £2,000 at the first year, and then by £1,000 annually thereafter until the close of the contract. They further asked for one-third of the postage on parcels, which would have involved a commencing payment of approximately £6,000 per annum; a separate payment for the conveyance of Natal and Delagos Bay parcels, or approximately £1,000 per annum; and £30,000 per annum if no exclusive contract for Government freight were granted to them – a total, approximately, of £172,000 at the commencement of the contract, increasing probably to a total of £180,000.

As these terms were considered extensive, the following method of calculation was suggested as a basis for negotiation.

For ordinary mails … … … … £135,000
Annual allowance to cover the increased weight of
mails during the term of the contract … 4.500
Parcels … … … … … … 6,000
Increase of weight of parcels during the contract … 2,250
Natal parcels … … … … … 1,000
Total … … … £148,750

At this stage, however, both Sir Donald Currie and Sir Francis Evans absolutely refused to accept a lesser fixed
payment than £148,500, coupled with a guarantee that all Government freight, including the carriage of Harbour Board stores, should be secured to them either by a clause in the Mail Contract or in the form of a separate Agreement. I endeavoured to persuade them, but without avail, to submit an offer of £145,000, which I undertook to cable to the Government; and at the same time I informed them that my instructions did not permit of my agreeing to a higher subsidy than £125,000.

As there seemed to be no prospect of a satisfactory solution of the difficulty, I decided, with the concurrence of the Agent-General, to submit the matter to the Government and seek further instructions. In response to my cablegram, the Treasurer stated that the terms demanded by the Companies were profundly unsatisfactory, and that, unless they were prepared to make large modifications, I was to endeavour to make other arrangements for the performance of the mail service.

At a further meeting with Sir Donald Currie and Sir Francis Evans, I again pointed out that there was no prospect of so large a subsidy as £148,500 being agreed to, and submitted the following as a more acceptable basis for calculating the amount to be paid. –

Ordinary mails … … … … … £120,000
Annual allowance for increase of weight during
contract… … … … … 4,500
Payment for parcels including increment … … 9,250
Natal parcels … … … … … 1,000

After much pressure from the Agent-General and myself, the representatives of the Companies at length expressed their willingness to reduce their demand to £140,000; and finally, under a threat of terminating negotiations, agreed to accept £135,000; the lesser payment, however, to be absolutely conditional on their receiving a separate contract for the conveyance of Government stores. On this latter point both the Agent-General and myself expressed the opinion that any stipulation in regard to freight was inadmissible in the mail contract; that the Harbour Board freight was not under the control of the Government; and that we felt sure that the Government would not agree to a separate contract for the conveyance of Government freight in view of the strong feeling in the Colony against any such arrangement. Sir Francis Evans replied that, unless secured against Government freight being given to outsiders, the Companies might be compelled to adopt practically ruinous freights; that the matter was one of life or death to them; and that they would prefer the whole question being brought before Parliament rather than accept the terms offered, without a distinct understanding on the subject of freight. They stated they did not claim a monopoly of the Government freight and were willing to share with other now in the trade, but claimed absolute protection against other outside lines.

Several meetings subsequently took place at which the freight question was discussed, and for some time it appeared that there was no possibility of shaking the resolution of the Companies. Eventually, however, under much pressure, they agreed to accept a fixed sum of £135,000 per annum for the mails, with an assurance that, during its term of office, no exclusive freight contract would be made by the Government with any firm or person, and that the Companies, as mail contractors, might rely upon being fairly dealt with in freight matters, although the Government was unable to bind its successors in office.

These terms may, I think, be regarded as satisfactory, looking at the fact that the amount of mail matter to be conveyed to and from South Africa must largely increase during the next ten years, and that, under the arrangements made with the Imperial Government and the South African Postal Administrations, the total amount of the subsidy will be shared by the users of the mail service in proportion to the amount of mail matter conveyed by the mail steamers for each of them.

The main points of the Agreement having thus been settled, a provisional contract was drawn up and signed by Sir Donald Currie and Sir Francis Evans, and, after several conferences between the Government solicitors, the solicitors of the Mail Companies, and myself, the amended form of contract (…) was finally and formally executed by the parties on the 19th July. (…) (1899, p. 26-35).

The Union Castle Steamship Company Ltd

The Castle Mails Company and the Union Steamship Company entered into negotiations late in 1899 to amalgamate the two concerns. This was formalised on 8 March 1900 and was named the Union Castle Mail Steamship Company Ltd.

Transhipment of Mail

Covers with evidence of transhipment of mail provide an insight into mailboat activities on the high seas. When outward-bound mailboats passed their homeward-bound counterparts and, if conditions were favourable, mail posted on board which was addressed to the homeward-bound ship’s destination was floated across it. Conversely, passengers on the England-bound ship would have their South African-addressed mail taken in mid-ocean by the Cape-bound vessel.

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