This page last updated: 22 September 2007


::: PRE-POSTAL MAIL - Via Cape Horn :::

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Via Cape Horn

Chart showing the Cape Horn Route with possible stops or transshipment at Valparaiso on the Pacific Coast or at Rio de Janeiro on the Atlantic Coast. Callao, Peru, was another possible stop in the Pacific. From Hawaii, the Cape Horn Route offered the shortest sea passage to New England or Europe.

Even as the shortest sea route, a trip around the Cape would take on average about six months without stopping. The Cape reaches into high latitudes where severe weather could catch a ship and tear it to pieces so trips were usually planned to round the Cape during the milder months in the Southern Hemisphere. Few who were familiar with the risks attempted the Cape from May to September.

Trade, war and weather would sometimes take ships the longer route to the Atlantic via Asia and thence through the Indian Ocean and the safer Cape of Good Hope transit. But most ships traveled the shorter route via Cape Horn from the late 1820's to 1849. Thus, the Cape Horn route was the most commonly used mail route after the mid-1820's.

Three Cape Horn letters are shown on the main Pre-Postal Mail page. One, an 1825 letter, shows an early use of the Cape Horn Route. Another of the three on that page was sent from Boston to William Howard on the ship California in waters off the Coast of California and is an example of the complex private arrangements used for mail transmission in those times. The third letter was from G. B. Post in Honolulu to D. B. Cutler in Woburn, Mass. and survived an unfortunate shipwreck on Christmas Island. Other examples:

Sep 14 to Malta

Rev. Samuel Whitney datelined this letter at Oahu, September 14, 1827, and addressed it to his nephew, a missionary located on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea, in care of the Missionary Rooms at Boston, a frequently used forwarding agent for missionary mail. The letter was carried around Cape Horn to Boston. At Boston, the letter was accepted as a ship letter and charged 12 (10 for the 31 to 80 mile rate plus the 2 ship fee). From Boston, the letter was forwarded privately to Malta, where it was received July 31, 1828.

Jan 10 to Copenhagen

Jules Anthon of the firm of Makee & Anthon, Honolulu, dated this letter on January 10, 1845, addressed to C. J. Hambro, for forwarding to Copenhagen. From Honolulu, the letter was carried on the bark Columbia, departing January 12, for London. Ships typically dropped their mail when passing Deal on the south British Coast, so letters could be delivered in London before the ship arrived in the Thames. From Deal, the letter was carried to London by coach where it received a postmark on May 23 (on the back) and was charged the incoming ship rate of 8 pence, noted in manuscript on the face. Hambro struck through its name and forwarded the letter by packet to Altona and thence by coach to Copenhagen where the recipient noted it was received May 29. The Altona packet charge of 1 shilling 8 pence was noted in manuscript on the back. The red crayon "14" may be a local Danish rate.

Apr 15 Forwarded by US Consul

Datelined "Mowee Sandwich Islands, April 18th, 1846" by a whaleman on board the ship Copia of New Bedford. The writer, William Barrup, reports the ship is bound on a 31 month cruise to the Northwest Coast of America to hunt right whales. His letter, addressed to his brother in Ballston, New York, was left with the U.S. Consul for forwarding to a port in the United States, and reached New York on February 4, 1847 - an especially long time. Most likely, the letter was carried from Hawaii to Valparaiso or Tahiti where it was transshipped for a vessel leaving there once the weather at the Cape permitted a safe passage.

Oct 4 to Dunham - Hartford cds

People who wanted to send mail to someone in Hawaii needed to make their own arrangements for getting the letter on board a ship. The United States Post Office Department had no arrangements for delivering mail in the Pacific so unless someone was living at a port and was already familiar with what ships were loading and where they were destined, it was necessary to send the letter to someone who did know those things. This letter originated in Hartford, Conn. and was sent to Hawaii, care of the Mission Rooms, Boston. Datelined October 4, 1841 by D. Bliss, the letter was rated with a manuscript "12" for the zone rate to carry it to Boston and stamped "PAID" to indicate the U. S. postage to Boston was pre-paid by the sender. At Boston, the Mission House placed the letter aboard a Hawaii bound ship. As most shipping between Boston and Hawaii went by Cape Horn, it is presumed this letter traveled that route.

Jul 2 from England via Boston to Rooke

Another example of an inbound letter is the cover shown below. It was sent from England to the United States by steamer, leaving Southampton July 2, 1844 and a partially illegible British postmark dated July 3. The writer addressed the letter to Charles Rooke (father of Queen Emma) on Oahu, care of James Hunnewell at Charleston, Massachusetts. A red illegible postmark and manuscript 14 were probably placed on the cover at the port of entry, the letter being treated as a double weight letter carried less than 30 miles. Hunnewell decided to flip the envelope inside out and used the inside to re-address the letter to Dr. Rooke, care of the Office of Hudson Bay Company, creating an example of a "turned cover" (see below).

Jul 2 from England via Boston to Rooke - turned

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