Before There Was Amazon, Horses Were The Express Delivery You Could Count On

by Mimi Matthews

One night in 1894, while on the mail route from Ramsgate to Dover, the driver of a mail cart was attacked by two armed men.  According to the Leeds Times, he was “cut about the head and face” and then struck in the back of the head with a “heavy implement.”  He was later found unconscious on a roadway near Sandwich.  What the thieves intended to steal from the mail cart is unclear, for they were ultimately thwarted in their goal. Having seen them attack his master, the mail horse bolted away with the mail before the two villains could catch him.

The horse was apparently familiar with the mail route and, despite having no human to guide him, he galloped straight for the next mail stop at Sandwich and delivered the mail on his own.  He was so efficient in his endeavor that having arrived at Sandwich, an 1894 edition of the Dundee Evening Telegraph states that not a single piece of mail was reported to be missing.

The driver later recovered and “proceeded on his journey.” The newspapers do not  explicitly say so, but I expect that he reconnected with his horse at Sandwich. As for the horse, though reports do refer to him as an “intelligent horse” who saved the mail bags, there is no more information about him.

one 7cee2The Last of the Mail Coaches at Newcastle upon Tyne by James Pollard, 1848.

 Loose horses, when frightened, will often head straight home to the safety of their stable—no matter how intricate the journey or how burdensome their cargo.  For example, an 1882 edition of the Thetford & Watton Times and People’s Weekly Journal reports on a farmer who was driving a cart of sheep into town.  When he climbed down to latch a gate, his horse bolted away with the cart and the sheep.  As the article states:

“Although there were two or three turns in the road, it passed them all safely, and turned into the gateway of its home without doing the least damage to itself or cart.”

Granted, the mail horse did not live in Sandwich, but it was a regular stop on his route and a place with which he was familiar.  I am in no doubt of the intelligence of horses, but rather than believe (as the newspapers allude) that the mail horse’s work ethic and intelligence inspired him to continue on with the mail delivery, I would argue that he merely galloped to the closest place of safety.  What do you think?


22 090d0North Country Mails at the Peacock, Islington by James Pollard, 1821.

This post originally appeared on and is reprinted here with permission. 

Top photo: “The Edinburgh and London Royal Mail”, painted by John Frederick Herring, 1838. 


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