blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Origins of the postman

Something I meant to record was my visit to the Canada Postal Museum on the day Mum and I also went to see the IMAX film, Mysteries of the Great Lakes, at the Museum of Civilisation across the river.

The Postal Museum—apart from an eye-catching mosaic made of stamps by an artist working with a team of young helpers on their March break from school (V'là le facteur!)—exhibited means of communication through the ages.

Around 2000 BC, before papyrus had been thought of, people wrote with a reed stylus on soft clay. The characters written or drawn by the Assyrians or Mesopotamians were cuneiform. According to Heroditus, ancient Persians used a relay system for sending messages, their staging posts, hippones, each a day's journey by horse from the next. There's no real difference between that and the stage coaches of the 19th century. In Roman times postmen had to carry passports, diplomata, which is where the word diplomat comes from. A Pompeii fresco shows a woman writing on a wax tablet with a stylus pen, a startlingly modern image (see above), like me writing in a notebook.

Between the 10th and 15th centuries A.D. monks in Europe would carry rolls of parchment from one monastery to another which would convey the news of an abbot's death, for example. It was the medieval equivalent of a blog post or news article published on the Internet, because every time someone read it he or she would be able to add a Comment at the bottom; one such scroll was 9.5 metres long and included a poem perhaps by Héloïse in its comments. The Italian nobles of Mantua later organised their own courier service, a more secular one.

A Swiss post horn like the one depicted musically in Schubert's song, Die Post, was in one of the display cases. The Swiss, in 1874, were instrumental in founding the Universal Postal Union for the standardization of international postal services.

In Canada, they didn't have an official postal system until 1763 and mail was still being delivered by sleigh in 1919 which made sense, given the Canadian winters. When the mail had to be delivered on foot, the postmen needed spikes issued for their shoes, but this wasn't thought of until the 1970s.

I was surprised to learn that for over 30 years in the 19th century mail clerks were employed to cross the Atlantic where they spent all their time on board a ship sorting out some 15000 letters per crossing until in 1887 the sailors got tired of these land-lubbers making a nuisance of themselves and had the practice stopped, although the Titanic had a team of them, it seems.

We saw pictures of Canada's first mail men in 1874, of trams and of mail trains where the clerks who were banished from the ships must have worked. (Mum said she remembered Darlington's tramlines in England, dangerous if you got your bicycle wheel stuck in them.) In the 1920s a primitive airmail service was established.

No comments: