British Mail Steamers to South America, 1851-1965 : A History of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company and Royal Mail Lines book cover
1st Edition

British Mail Steamers to South America, 1851-1965
A History of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company and Royal Mail Lines

ISBN 9781138269705
Published October 30, 2016 by Routledge
268 Pages

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Book Description

During the nineteenth century Britain’s maritime, commercial and colonial interests all depended upon a regular and reliable flow of seaborne information from around the globe. Whilst the telegraph increasingly came to dominate long-distance communication, postal services by sea played a vital role in the network of information exchange, particularly to the more distant locations. Much importance was placed upon these services by the British government which provided large subsidies to a small number of commercial companies to operate them. Concentrating initially on the mail service between Britain and South America, this book explores the economic and political involvement of, at the outset, The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company (later, Royal Mail Lines) from 1851 until 1874. (The Company’s West Indies services were subsidized from 1840 until the early years of the 20th century.) As well as providing a business history of the Royal Mail companies the book reveals much of the development of Brazil and Argentina as trading nations and the many and varied consequences of maintaining a long-distance mail service. Improved ship design led to larger vessels of greater cargo capacities, essential to the growth of the lucrative, and highly competitive, import/export trades between Britain and Europe and South America. The provision of increased passenger services contributed to the very considerable British financial, commercial and industrial interests in Latin America well into the 20th century. The book also addresses the international competition faced by Royal Mail Lines which reflected Britain’s progressively diminishing dominance of global trade and shipping. In all this book has much to say that will interest not only business historians but all those seeking a better understating of Britain’s maritime and economic history.



Robert E. Forrester spent twenty years at sea as cadet and deck officer, the last ten with Royal Mail Lines including frequent voyages to South America. In 1965 he left the sea and for the next twenty years was involved with press advertising and as managing director of a magazine publishing company. Following his retirement he studied for an MA (2001) in Maritime Studies at the Greenwich Maritime Institute followed by a PhD in 2006.


’Forrester’s book is an excellent scholarly study ... based on a thorough examination of all available sources, with the surviving company records proving a challenge in some ways. Until well into the twentieth century, Royal Mail’s annual reports and financial statements were generalized rather than detailed. In particular, it was often difficult to distinguish the financial performance of the South American routes within the general trading results of the company, but Forrester has made every effort to overcome this problem. The author has also done a good job of linking the history of Royal Mail to the changing political and economic fortunes of Brazil and Argentina over the years. All in all this useful study will be of interest to maritime, economic, and business historians.’ Journal of International Maritime History ’For those interested in the history of Anglo-Latin American economic relations (with regard to Argentina and Brazil in particular), business history, or shipping (including postal) history, this is a welcome addition to the literature. It contains plenty of interesting details and useful information on the operations of the Royal Mail companies in South America from the early 1850s to the 1960s. The book shows how the Royal Mail companies were important conduits of commercial information, cargo, and passengers during a long and crucial period of Anglo-Latin American relations.’ Economic History Today ’...the book is a sound example of the British business history tradition. Its significant strength is the practical expertise of the author who - before moving to the publishing business and finally to maritime history studies - worked for two decades as a ship officer. Accordingly he can competently describe and discuss the technical and navigational aspects of his story.’ EH Net