The public and secret services provided by the Post
Office are well illustrated by the career of Anthony Todd, whose life spanned
four-fifths of the eighteenth century. Born in a farmhouse in a remote and
backward area, he was Foreign Secretary 1752~87 and Secretary of the Post
Office 1762-5 and 1768-98, rising through his own ability and energy. At the
height of his career he dominated the Secret Office, the Private Office, the
Board, and the organisation of the posts, possessing greater administrative
influence than any other official of the Post Office.
Todd’s ancestors were farmers in Weardale, a moorland
valley in County Durham. His father Thomas, born in 1677 at Parson Byers near
Stanhope, married Eleanor Todd of Dalton Le Dale in 1709, moving about 1711 to
Bridge End Farm on the outskirts of Frosterley. There in 1717 Anthony Todd was
born, the second son and fourth child. Two miles away stood a farm called
Holbeck House, the birthplace of the Postmaster General, James Craggs senior,
occupied by his brother Ferdnando Craggs; so a connection already existed
between Weardale and the Post Office.
Probably educated at Wolsingham Grammar School, Todd was
‘bred up to the business’ in the Post Office, probably from 1782 by Charles
Westgarth, Clerk of the West Road and after his death in 1788 by John
Westgarth, a clerk in the Foreign Office,
their families being close friends at Frosterley. In 1738, about the
time of Westgarth's withdrawal, Todd was appointed a clerk in the Foreign
Office, with an income of perhaps £70 a year.
The Foreign Office clerks in Lombard Street worked in a
ground-floor room to the east of the courtyard, with a large table, a letter
rack known as the Alphabet, and a hatch to a public passage, providing four
posts a week, dependent on wind and tide. Called from their apartments early in
the morning on the arrival of mail, the clerks dispatched the First States and sorted the letters, perhaps a thousand,
while the Foreign Secretary removed diplomatic, designated, and suspicious
correspondence. When these were returned several hours later, and the postage
due had been calculated, the clerks finished the morning duty. Diplomatic
correspondence and newspapers for government departments were passed to Letter
Carriers responsible for the Embassies and Second States; mail for the
provinces to the Inland Office; and for London to the Penny Post Office, or
Letter Carriers, or the Alphabet Keeper for merchants paying for collection at
the hatch. On grounds of courtesy and security the delivery of mail was
forbidden till foreign diplomats had received their dispatches.
Back on duty the same evening, the clerks sorted the
outward mail arriving from the Inland and Penny Post Offices or the hatch. Just
before midnight, when it closed, pairs of servants from the embassies brought
the diplomatic correspondence, immediately removed by the Foreign Secretary. By
the small hours of the morning the mail removed had been, returned, British
dispatches had arrived from Whitehall, and the bags were ready for sealing and
No mail was due two days a week, and nothing beyond the
First States, if necessary, was done on Sunday. On the other hand the clerks
slept very little two nights a week, and sometimes had to remain within call
for long periods.
About the time of the ’45 rebellion, when the absence of
the Postmaster General, the maintenance of communications, and the widespread
interception of inland mail, threw a heavy burden on the Secretary, Shelvocke,
Todd somehow attracted Shelvocke’s attention and in 1747 he was appointed
Second Clerk to the Secretary, retaining his place in the Foreign Office,
though pluralism was most unusual. His income rose to perhaps £150 a year, and
he learnt different aspects of the custom of the office.
On 3 January 1752 Lefebure, Foreign Secretary, died.
Since Bode, the Chief Clerk, was barred from office as a Hanoverian, Todd was
the obvious successor, resigning his previous places on appointment, and
gaining an income of about £850 a year. In contact with the ‘three great officers
of State’ and their subordinates, he began to acquire the official manner—a
blend of deference and confidence tending to ‘facility ’
He was always first in the office, about 8 a.m. and 10
p.m. on Post Days, selecting mail for opening, marking passages for copying,
and noting the connexion of hand, address, and seal. He helped Bode with the
opening, supervised the clerks making copies at dictation speed, put the
interceptions in packets and dispatched them by messenger. Working in cramped
quarters by candlelight, their meals and sleep frequently interrupted by sudden
orders, the staff in general suffered from ill health and aged quickly. Todd,
an exception to the rule, soon realized the danger of the service ‘falling to
There was no provision for sickness or the future. The
absence of one of his three clerks, two of them old, might jeopardize the work,
while Bode’s skill, on which the Deciphering Branch depended, was not being
transmitted. Moreover, intelligence was being lost because of Hanoverian seals,
frequent changes of cipher, and greater care in correspondence.‘ (Unknown to
him, the last two factors were causing similar difficulties at Paris and
Towards the end of 1752 he prepared a memorial
recommending that a fourth copying clerk should be appointed, and that Bode’s
eldest son, aged 14, should be sent to Hanover to learn engraving, and letter
opening, etc., from his father in London. His plan would make the office
self-sufficient, provide for the future, and enable mail to be delivered
earlier to diplomats and merchants, with benefit to security and the revenue.
He sent it on 2 January 1758 to Newcastle, senior
Secretary of State, who read it twice by June, but took no action. Having
attended his levees and waited on him at Whitehall, Todd took it in November to
Henry Pelham at the Treasury, who passed it to Baron Munchausen, the Minister Resident.
In June 1754 Todd informed Newcastle's secretary. ‘The Baron acquaints me to my
great satisfaction that His Majesty has been pleased to approve thereof.’
A new clerk was
appointed, and John Bode Junior left for Hanover. By 1758 he was learning
opening from his father, teaching engraving to his brother Augustus, and soon
trying his hand at deciphering. By 1760 all the seals were forged on the spot,
and ‘the gentlemen of the Secret Office’ numbered seven. In 1762 John became a
decipherer in the office, succeeding a Hanoverian in the Deciphering Branch,
and Augustus became the engraver.
During these years Todd won the esteem of the king and
Secretaries of State, especially Pitt, receiving in 1762 a gift of £500 ‘for
good services done to his late Majesty ’,
with a rise in salary of £100 a year. Encouraged by success, he aimed to
succeed Shelvocke as Secretary, making when 41, a judicious marriage.
On 12 June 1758 he married Ann, daughter and heiress of
Christopher Robinson, Resident Surveyor and brother of an earlier Secretary of
the Post Office. He came from Appleby, Ann being first cousin to John Robinson,
man of business to Sir James Lowther. He
settled £8,000 on her, with a dowry of £2,000. Todd bought an estate of perhaps
150 acres on the River Lea at Walthamstow, with an unpretentious house near the
end of the High Street, becoming a gentleman farmer, and after 1760 a J.P.
In November 1759 Shelvocke fell ill. Todd applied to
Newcastle at the Treasury and to Pitt for recommendations to the Board. Pitt
supported him, but Newcastle preferred Henry Potts, a sorter in 1728 and Controller of the Inland
Office from 1744, who had long supplied ‘his noble patron’ with useful
information from the office. On Shelvocke’s death in March 1760 Potts was
appointed Secretary, his nephew Samuel Potts succeeding as Controller.
Early in 1761 Todd tried unsuccessfully to deprive Potts
of the duty of distributing the secret service money; but his chances improved
with the decline of Newcastle’s influence under pressure from Bute, Secretary
of State and Lowther’s father-in-law. Moreover, he found a patron for his
eldest nephew, John Maddison, born in
1741 at Hole House, Allensford, a farm on the Derwent in County Durham. Sir Joseph Yorke, son of Lord Hardwicke and
minister at The Hague, whose subordinates always suffered from overwork, made
Maddison private secretary for the Congress of Augsburg, and kept him at The
Hague when it failed to meet. Todd hoped he would become a decipherer, and as
no one knew Russian, secured in 1762 through George Grenville, Secretary of
State, the king’s permission for him to go to St. Petersburg to learn it, and
work on Russian ciphers on his return.
By April 1762 Potts was deeply suspicious of Todd,
warning Newcastle that his regular letters to Sir Joseph Yorke should not be
sent to the office in the ordinary way, but to him personally on Tuesday night
for inclusion in his weekly packet to the Harwich Agent, remaining under his
eye till the mail was dispatched. Newcastle began to use this method, sometimes
entrusting inland mail to him as well.
After Bute succeeded Newcastle at the Treasury in May
1762, Potts pledged his loyalty with the assurance: ‘Your Grace may depend upon
my promise that it never shall be in the power of anybody to inspect or look
into any letter of Your Grace’s that I shall be entrusted with.” He not only
dispatched his mail, but also forwarded letters sent under cover to himself.
Newcastle, however, was careless, and in July and October Potts repeated his
warnings to send foreign mail only on Tuesday night, with the assurance:
‘Should any attempt ever be made on any pretence whatever to meddle with
anything that came from your Grace, I would immediately inform your Grace of
Todd, despising Pott’s ability and eager to succeed him,
must have known at least something of his services for Newcastle, and had
access to Bute. Moreover, one of Newcastle's letters was apparently opened
early in November, though perhaps by a dishonest subordinate. The farce of
Potts securing from Todd his patron’s correspondence with the patron of Todd’s
nephew was soon brought to an end. On 27 November Lord Egmont succeeded Lord
Bessborough, Postmaster General, and
early in December Henry and Samuel Potts were dismissed, along with many of
Newcastle's adherents in other government departments.
Todd was immediately appointed Secretary, remaining
Foreign Secretary despite all precedents. He now controlled the Post Office
under the Board, and the Secret and Private Offices under the Secretaries of
With an income approaching £2,000 a year, Todd found
himself in ‘a very happy situation’. His father-in-law’s death in 1762 brought
him property in the City and at Sandal, Yorkshire, as well as £9,000 in trust
for his family. Besides East India stock, he invested £8,000 in houses in
Abchurch Lane. He took an active part in affairs at Walthamstow, making an
unsuccessful attempt to enclose the common fields. Widening his acquaintance,
he entertained minor political and administrative figures there at weekends.
Jenkinson, for instance, Secretary of the Treasury 1763—5, became a friend for
life, assisting him in 1765 to lease his property in Abchurch Lane to the Post
Office, at the moderate rent of £120 a year. His life at home was very happy,
three daughters being born in 1761—5.
In the office he began to create a connexion of his own.
He changed all the Secretary’s clerks in 1763-5, one retiring on a pension
obtained partly from the revenue with Jenkinson’s help, the others moving to
different departments; replacing them with his own dependants like Daniel Braithwaite, a friend for life, Thomas Todd, a second cousin, and Stephen Dupuy, a clerk from the Secret
Office. There, he introduced his second nephew George Maddison, born in 1747, and John [Maddison]on his return from Russia, obtaining secret salaries
for each by 1765. At Falmouth he obtained a Lisbon packet for Anthony Todd, another cousin, in 1763.
Including Atkinson Robinson, succeeding
his brother Christopher as Resident
Surveyor in 1762," Todd’s connexion numbered half a dozen by 1765.
Though his relations with the Board were excellent, he
did not possess Shelvocke's authority. Robert Hampden (Lord Trevor), living on
the spot, enjoyed administration, while Lord Hyde, succeeding Egmont in September
1763, Todd called ‘my goad’. His main work was to put the packets on the peace
establishment and prepare reports under the direction of the Postmasters
General. They drafted privately, a plan for the management of the Bye and Cross
Posts before Allen’s death in 1764, only informing Todd when the Treasury had
approved it in principle. They provided the initiative and direction for the
legislation of 1764-5, though Todd, attending the Treasury and committee,
claimed special credit for the Franking Act.
Meanwhile Henry Potts, with contacts in the office,
continued to supply Newcastle with useful information, awaiting his
opportunity. It came in July 1765 when the Rockingham ministry on taking office,
insisted on the restoration of displaced adherents. Both Secretaries of State
and Postmasters General were changed, while Todd was ‘said to be in a violent
Lord Trevor warned him on 9 July that Potts would be
restored. Next day Todd appealed to Egmont at the Admiralty to approach the new
ministers on his behalf, ‘as there is danger in all disturbances even though I
profess myself to be of no party’, referring with pride to his work as
Secretary and especially to ‘His Majesty’s most gracious approbation of my
conduct at the head of the secret office.
Egmont saw the
Secretaries of State, though there seems to have been no intention of changing
the Foreign Secretary, Todd was confirmed within a few days, ‘and indeed’, he
wrote, ‘I can almost believe from what the Duke of Grafton was pleased to hint
to me that the King had mentioned me to both His Grace and General Conway’.
Egmont also saw the prospective Postmasters General, Lords Bessborough and
Grantham, while Hyde urged that Todd, “experienced, able, active, obliging, and
honest’, was almost indispensable as Secretary. But they were determined on
Potts unless a place worth £1,000 a year was immediately available elsewhere,
an almost impossible condition. On 15 July, Todd vainly appealed to Pitt. Next
day the Postmasters General took office, restoring both Potts and his nephew
three days later. Todd withdrew to the Secret Office, losing half his income,
but keeping in touch with Hyde and sometimes supplying him with useful
Greater sorrow followed. His wife’s health never
recovered from childbirth in April. She went to Bristol, ‘the forlorn hope’ of
doctors. By the end of July Todd was preparing for her death, which came on 7
August. Two months later his youngest daughter died at Walthamstow.
Back in office, Henry Potts worked for Newcastle as
before, remaining his ‘trusty friend’ after the fall of the Rockingham leaders
in July 1766. He promised Newcastle’s secretary on 16 August to ‘send the
letter for the Duke of Portland as safe and free from inspection as if His
Grace had sent a special messenger with it’, assuring him that ‘all inland
correspondence is safe, and the foreign too of a Tuesday night’. But he now
took care to retain till Tuesday, foreign letters sent on other days by
Newcastle, because ‘a certain gentleman would be glad to lay hold of anything
belonging to His Grace.
Two weeks later ‘a fracas at the Post Office, in the case
of Robert Saxby showed that inland mail was less safe than Potts supposed. A
clerk in the Inland Office, probably related to Henry Saxby of the Customs
House who claimed Newcastle for patron, Robert worked for him at Stone in 1746,
later becoming Clerk of the Kent Road. Dismissed for insubordination by Leicester
about 1758, he was restored at the instance of Henry Legge, Chancellor of the
Exchequer and in 1766 was Clerk of the
North Road, the most lucrative place in the office, worth £1,200 a year.
Towards the end of August he opened a letter from the Duke of Bedford,
apparently to the Duke of Grafton, and was again dismissed, this time for good.
This mysterious affair, motive and means of discovery being alike unknown, had
no effect on Potts’s work for Newcastle, but probably strengthened Todd’s
In the autumn of 1766 Grantham was removed, and in
December Bessborough resigned, their successors being Lord Hillsborough, a
pliable minister content to be ‘laid up in lavender’ till a better vacancy
arose, and Lord Le Despenser, Chancellor of the Exchequer under Bute, now in
semi-retirement who treated Todd with confidence from the start. With Hyde’s
support, Todd promptly applied to Chatham for restoration.’ But Potts remained
Secretary, careful to give the Board no grounds for complaint, while secretly
continuing to serve his patron. Todd’s only formal gain in 1766 was the place
of Deputy Receiver General for John
Maddison to supplement his secret salary.
Throughout 1767 Todd continued to wait. The Board, and
friends like Jenkinson, a junior lord of the Treasury, were well disposed, but
at the age of 50 his goal seemed out of reach. Then suddenly on 1 January 1768
Potts died in a hackney coach. Todd was immediately appointed, remaining
Foreign Secretary; and this time his position was unchallenged.
In the period 1768-84 Todd's influence greatly increased.
Despite most arduous work, he enjoyed good health, good company, and ‘his old
hock in his old parlour’, which became proverbial in the office. He could not
be away for more than a few days during the war, but he rode to Walthamstow whenever
he could, relaxing there on Sunday with his friends.
He grew very rich. His poundage on the packet expenditure
soared in 1779-82, his income approaching £4,000 a year and with shares in
certain boats his profits from the service in 1770-87 were perhaps £50,000.
Banking with a Durham friend, Westgarth
Snaith, at Boldero’s, Lombard Street, and subscribing £25,000 to North’s
notorious loan in 1780, he was worth at least £60,000 in 1782. Possessing
exceptional advantages for speculation, he was for a time interested in
American land schemes with his friend and colleague Franklin and acquired a
small amount of property in County Durham.
He enjoyed increasingly the Board’s * trust and
confidence’. Of the Postmasters General, Le Despenser (1766-81) was an affable
absentee, almost a friend. Todd looked after his dependants, including four
Walcots and three Dashwoods, helping to arrange their promotion. Hillsborough
(1766-8) had some attachment to him, possibly in connexion with the Irish
packets. Sandwich (1768-70) disliked the office and was away for months. H. F.
Thynne (1770-89) became essentially Todd’s mouthpiece.
An ineffective young man, financially embarrassed, Thynne
held minor office, but failed to marry an heiress or to speak in debates. His
brother Lord Weymouth, with the Bedford connexion, pressed constantly from 1766
for his advancement outside competitive politics, obtaining as Secretary of
State 1768-70, a promise of the Madrid embassy, a pension of £1,000 a year when
events prevented his appointment, and the Post Office in the reshuffle of
places resulting from the Falkland Islands crisis. With no interest in
administration, Thynne spent his time hunting, gambling, and rebuilding Haynes
Park, Bedfordshire, inherited in 1776, taking the name of Carteret; while Todd
lent him money and helped him to pay debts by means of patronage.
Thynne twice made the advancement of Le Despenser’s
dependants conditional on provision for a creditor called A. B., actually
Peregrine Treves, a foreign Jew, soon connected with the Prince of Wales. In 1774 Todd helped to negotiate an
arrangement whereby a nephew of Le Despenser, John Walcot, Secretary at Dublin,
became Agent at Dover, and Treves received & promise of £350 a year from
the new Secretary payable on the death of the previous Agent. The latter's
death being delayed, a further arrangement was made whereby Francis Dashwood,
Secretary at New York, agreed to pay Treves £200 a year on appointment to the
place of Deputy Postmaster General at Jamaica in 1781. Keeping these
transactions off the books, Todd appointed Treves Seventh Clerk in the
Secretary’s Office, with a salary of £50 a year, paid unobtrusively from
incidents about 1777-82.
Carteret’s colleagues carried little weight in 1782-8.
Barrington (1782) was too old, and Foley (1788) too indolent to exert any
influence, while Tankerville (1782-8, 1784-6) at first deferred to Carteret.
With these superiors, Todd dominated the office. His
prestige and knowledge were unrivalled. His decisions had the Board’s
authority. He was ‘personally looked up to, not only by the clerks but by most
of the postmasters in the kingdom’ as master and patron. Abroad, distant
officials called him benefactor and friend. At court, like his superiors, he
made his bow to the king.
His connexion grew more powerful. John Maddison, a skilled decipherer, became the mainstay of the
Secret Office. Todd failed to place him in the Deciphering Branch, and he remained
Deputy Receiver General, a shy, reserved bachelor collecting coins and curios,
seeking to buy land around Hole House for his retirement. George Maddison, ‘an accomplished gentleman’ had a brilliant though
brief career. Leaving the Secret Office, he served as Yorke's secretary at The
Hague 1773-80, and at Roehampton 1781-2; as Under Secretary of State to Yorke’s
nephew, the second Lord Grantham, 1782-3; and was ap pointed Secretary to the
Paris Embassy by Fox 1783. He was negotiating a postal treaty there, when he suddenly
died on 27 August 1788. Both the king and Franklin expressed personal regret.
Todd's third nephew, Michael
Colling, born in 1752, the son of a Darlington butcher, entered the Secret
Office in 1771, and in 1777 changed places for a time with George Maddison, home on account of ill health. Todd made him
Private Clerk, with a small income in fees from packet captains. A reserved
bachelor, he took after John Maddison, with whom he worked in close friendship.
Todd’s clerks, retained by Potts in 1765-8, were promptly
advanced at his restoration, Braithwaite
becoming Clerk to the Postmaster General and Thomas Todd First Clerk to the Secretary. More were introduced. Anthony Parkin, Robinson's cousin,
became Deputy Solicitor in 1771, while his brother Hugh served in the Secretary's Office before leaving for India.
Todd’s dependants, holding key positions near the Postmasters General,
surrounded them whenever the Board met.
The efficiency of the Secret Office continually improved.
Todd was very proud of his achievements, with a strong affection for his highly
trained staff, especially ‘the good old Hanoverian Mr. Bode’, whose third son
joined in 1769. He repeatedly reminded the three ministers that he had started
‘my young men’ by splitting salaries on
vacancies and that their skill and devotion deserved every encouragement. He
advanced £1,075 in 1767—8 when their salaries were in arrears, and lent £600 to
a Hanoverian decipherer in 1772-4, repeatedly urging his claims to an
established position. He bore a large share of the extra burdens during the
war, sometimes at the age of 60 ending twelve hours’ continuous work at 8 a.m.
with jokes for the Under Secretaries to read with the interceptions in the
Postal efficiency also improved. A daily collection was
established in London, a daily service with Dublin, and the last Branches taken
under direct management in 1769, the system of Expresses being reformed in
1770. In 1770-5 plans were prepared for solving the problems of Members’ and
Newspaper Franks, Deputies delivery fees, and turnpike tolls, but, requiring
legislation, were shelved by the Treasury.’ A determined attempt was made to
accelerate the inland posts by means of mail carts, though the war interrupted
progress before a suitable design had been found. In all this work Todd took
the lead, attributing, however, the mail-cart plan to Le Despenser.
The war diverted attention in 1775-83 from reform to
government service, especially communications with the forces. Forty boats were
lost, most being replaced immediately, while others were badly damaged. In view
of the heavy British shipping losses, the maintenance of the establishment was
a considerable achievement.
Costs soared, not only because of replacements and
shortages but also because the Secretary of State on 18 September 1778 directly
ordered that ‘no expense ought to be spared’ to provide fast, especially
coppered, boats. The Board, virtually under Todd’s direction, did its best to
promote economy, refusing in 1780 to pay for an unauthorized service till
ordered by the Treasury, and saving about £18,000 in 1788 by introducing the
peace establishment without a fiat when the Treasury ignored its application.
Todd personally set his face against waste and fraud, dismissing Captain James Dashwood, bred up like a son, for
misconduct in 1788. It is difficult to believe that his poundage on the packet
expenditure encouraged extravagance, as was later implied. Relying necessarily
on the Agents for estimates, valuations, and local prices, he could scarcely
dispute payment without disobeying the Secretary of State. Nor could he correct
abuses unless reported. His duty was to provide boats for service, and in most
difficult circumstances he performed it successfully.
His friends grew more powerful. Robinson, Secretary of
the Treasury 1770-82, was always ready to help in public or private affairs.
Jenkinson, Secretary at War 1778-82, was perhaps a more distant friend, while
others included Dundas, Rigby, the Duke
of Chandos, the Governor of the Bank, etc. Lord North was a fairly close
acquaintance, for they discussed more than business, and Todd sold him sheep.
His daughter made a brilliant marriage. Born in 1762, Eleanor
outlived her sisters, becoming the centre of his hopes. Robinson in 1781 paid
£25,000 for his daughter's marriage to a peer’s heir.* Todd in 1782 offered
£80,000 to the heir to a Scotch peerage, Lord Maitland, M.P. for Newport, son
of the seventh Earl of Lauderdale.
This family had long been financially embarrassed,
despite the seventh earl’s marriage to Alderman Sir Thomas Lombe’s daughter.
Out of Parliament since 1761, Lauderdale’s income and debts were about £6,000
and over £80,000 respectively in 1782, when his only place, Commissioner of
Police, worth £600 a year, was abolished by Burke's Act.
Maitland, born in 1759, was educated at several
universities, read law in London, and entered Parliament in 1780, at once
becoming a friend of Fox. Able, ambitious, and coarse, with a very marked
accent, he proposed to Miss Curwen, the Cumberland heiress, in 1781 and to
Eleanor in June 1782. Todd was delighted, declaring that his qualities and
connexions ‘leave me nothing more to wish’. Lauderdale approved, but was
shocked to learn in July that instead of cash he was being offered stock worth
only £18,000. Todd immediately promised an extra £9,000 cash, with the
assurance that ‘I have none for all my abundance than my daughter.’ The
marriage, witnessed by Robinson, was performed by the Bishop of Lincoln, Lord
Chancellor Thurlow’s brother, at Walthamstow on 15 August. Todd promised £1,000
for each child, declaring, ‘I am possessed and so is all the world of the
propriety of this match.’
As a link with the Foxite group, it became politically
valuable. Maitland, with some defects as a husband? And father, made an
admirable son-in-law, eager to protect the wealth which helped him to achieve
in 1806 his father’s great ambition, ‘a British peerage in the family .
Todd’s influence reached its height in 1782-3. ‘I reckon
myself’, he wrote, ‘above being of any one party whatever’, political changes
leaving him unmoved with Carteret, the Duke of Portland’s brother-in-law. There
was, however, growing criticism of the office in general and his poundage in
particular. Outport merchants were demanding faster posts and the Treasury was encouraging a private
plan for the purpose,” while Pitt in 1783 attacked the poundage in Parliament.
On the other hand, the office was drafting its own plan and some of its mail
carts were in use,?® while Todd could expect compensation for the poundage,
declining anyway in peacetime.
At the beginning of 1784 his position seemed secure.
Robinson was helping Pitt to prepare the elections. The former Bedford group,
represented by Gower and Thurlow in Pitt’s cabinet, obtained a peerage for
Carteret on 31 January. Todd also had private grounds for satisfaction. His
first grandchild, later the ninth earl, was born on 12 February
In the years 1784-7 Todd tried to maintain his
administrative power at the cost of personal conflicts. With defensive aims, he
achieved a measure of success, remaining Secretary and continuing to advance
his dependants. But on balance, his influence declined considerably.
At the end of the war the Board pressed for legislation
to solve the problems shelved in 1775. Acts of 1784-5 dealt with Franks and
tolls, and though nothing effective was done in the case of newspapers and
delivery fees, the creation of a special newspaper sorting office in 1787, and
penny posts in Bristol, Liverpool, and Manchester in 1790-5, provided partial
More serious problems arose. The demand for economical
reform, threatening the custom of the office, led to repeated inquiries from
the Treasury in 1780-3; the preparation of a new establishment by the Board in
1783, proposing salaries for fees and perquisities ;° the appointment of
Parliamentary Commissioners in 1785 to investigate government departments ; and
a stricter attitude towards fiats. A postal surcharge in France encouraged
clandestine correspondence, and the government pressed for daily service with
the Continent on grounds of revenue and intelligence. Lastly, the government
pressed for faster inland posts, supporting Palmer’s plan for coaches against
preparations for carts.
John Palmer, born at Bath in 1742, the son of a brewer
and theatre owner, entered the business, managing theatres at Bath and Bristol
and making influential friends including, Hon. J. J. Pratt, Lord Camden's son,
M.P. for Bath 1780-94 and the playwright Sheridan, Secretary of the Treasury
1783. Owing to the decline of business during the American war, he was financially
embarrassed in 1782, when, following Allen’s conspicuous example, he became ‘a
stage coaches were the fastest means of regular conveyance, he proposed to use
them for mail, carrying passengers to reduce the cost of hire and guards to
prevent robbery. Safe, swift communications would benefit revenue and commerce,
the expense of£30,000 a year being offset by better service and higher postage.
In the autumn of 1782 Camden introduced him to Pitt,
Chancellor of the Exchequer, who encouraged him to continue the development of
his plan. So did the Coalition government of 1788, requiring reports from the
The staff were naturally opposed to a plan affronting
their pride and threatening their influence. Their reports in June condemned
it. Coaches could only be used on the best made roads; would be delayed by
halts for passengers; would dislocate the Bye and Cross Posts; and would cause
general confusion at heavy cost. Acceleration was practicable, but not by this means.
Their objections, though far from frivolous, received
little attention at the Treasury, Sheridan observing that it was ‘Mr. Todd’s
interest to maintain the old system’. He told Palmer in August to continue
preparations without fearing the effect of ‘all the interested information’
from the office and ‘Mr. Todd’s representations’, as the plan would be adopted
in the following year.
Palmer then submitted his terms, citing as precedents
Allen’s fortune together with Todd’s poundage, and asking for a poundage of 2.5
per cent. on the net surplus arising from the plan, the place of Surveyor or
Controller General to direct it, and the place of Secretary without the packet
poundage on Todd’s resignation or death, unless the union of places was thought
improper. The Treasury agreed in principle on 30 August.’
The fall of the Coalition government in December 1783
brought Palmer again in contact with Pitt, First Lord of the Treasury, who
decided shortly after the elections of 1784 to introduce the plan at once. Having
accepted Palmer’s terms in a verbal agreement through his secretary Pretyman,
he summoned the officials to the Treasury on 21 June, overruled their
objections, announced the start of the plan on the Bath Road on 1 August, and
left for the House of Commons amid some confusion and dismay.
If the plan succeeded, Palmer would clearly become
director of the inland posts, rivalling the Secretary. To preserve his
influence Todd had to prove it a failure. Despite the Board’s minute requiring
the staff to assist it, he could count on everyone to attack it, especially
Samuel Potts, Controller of the Inland Office. With natural zest, great
influence, experience, and obstructive capacity, he determined to ruin Palmer.
As a result, the dispute over the rival merits of carts and coaches developed
into a bitter administrative struggle between the Secretary supported by the
office and the projector supported by the Treasury. At the end of June 1784,
while Palmer was organizing the first coach service, Todd prepared to open the
The arrangement of new time schedules gave Todd a good
Opportunity. If the coaches adhered to those of horse posts, Palmer’s failure
would be obvious; if they did not, Bye and Cross Posts would be thrown in
chaos; and either way, harassing tactics might produce one or both.
Early in July the officials tried to impose the old
schedules, only desisting when Palmer threatened to report them to the
Treasury. On 19 July Todd suppressed the new schedules sending a Surveyor to
tell the Deputies to maintain the old. On 27 July he confirmed them by a
circular. Palmer, by rushing to London and threatening to appeal to the public,
forced him to withdraw it and issue another requiring the Deputies to obey his
orders. On 2 August the first mail coach left Bristol.
Todd now began to compile Statistics for the Treasury,
showing that confusion was injuring the revenue. Palmer, still complaining of
obstruction despite a Treasury minute on 21 August and a circular from Todd on
17 September ordering the staff to assist him, prepared to put coaches on other
roads. But he was stopped by Todd on 23 September, and told by the Treasury on
8 October to wait till the statistics had been examined.
Palmer was reduced to despair. He had agreed to accept
nothing unless the plan increased the revenue, and without a full and fair trial
its effect could not be judged. On 4 October he informed Rose, Secretary of the
Treasury, that the plan, ruined by the disobedience of the staff, would be
abandoned, and that he would appeal to Parliament. ‘But there is an end to the
business and everything relative to it, except Mr. Todd.’
The Treasury persuaded him to keep his coaches running,
and after long examination allowed him in January 1785 to extend them to East
Anglia and Portsmouth. Concentrating on the Portsmouth Road, Todd caused confusion
by interfering with schedules and running carts in competition.
Appealing to Pitt on 5 May, Palmer denounced him and
Potts for remaining ‘firmly agreed together to take each his turn to do the
plan all possible mischief’, claiming that only an appointment would end the
‘rascality’ and ‘shameful practices’ of the office. Pitt gave full support,
approving the plan’s further extension, issuing another minute in July, and
promising in October an appointment with the poundage and a salary of £1,500 a
In the autumn of 1785 the office made a great effort to
ruin the plan by obstruction and the use of carts. In December Todd ordered the
Deputies to report its effect. In January 1786 the material was assembled. In
February the new schedules were condemned by a meeting of London merchants,
obliged to post mail by the evening instead of midnight. On 1 March the Board
sent its final report to the Treasury, condemning coaches and recommending
Palmer was again on the verge of despair. Having borne
the plan’s whole cost, his credit was almost exhausted. In the office Todd and
‘his inferior accomplices’ obstructed everything. In the country the posts were
chaotic, and the Deputies were, ‘as negligent of their duty and forwarding the
letters as Mr. Todd himself could wish’. Finally, some contractors threatened
to withdraw their coaches. Having denounced the office in the press, Palmer
sent a final appeal to Pitt on 26 April 1786, blaming Todd personally for all
his difficulties. Both sides awaited Pitt’s decision.
Two other problems facing Todd reached a crisis about
this time, influencing the events that followed. The first was the quarrel
between his superiors. Reappointed as Postmaster, General in January 1784,
Tankerville sought to make a figure for himself. Personally ineffective, he
derived his consequence from Thomas
Todd, the Secretary’s First Clerk, who his own advancement in the quarrel
between Tankerville and Carteret.
The foremost exponent of carts, Thomas became Palmer’s
bitter enemy. Seeing no prospect of power under Carteret and his cousin Anthony
Todd, he turned against them. All three were obstacles to his ambition. He
planned to ruin Palmer proving the superiority of carts, and Carteret and Todd
by revealing abuses, making Tankerville under his guidance the champion of
efficiency and reform.
The quarrel began in November 1784 when Tankerville
nominated as Surveyor, James Dashwood, whose dismissal from his packet had been
irregular, Anthony Todd refusing to let him appeal to the Board. Carteret
refused to sign, and Tankerville to withdraw, giving Anthony Todd his opinion
that Dashwood’s guilt had never been proved, and that ‘Lord Carteret has been
indebted to you for that forced construction’. Anthony Todd angrily replied
that he was ‘the only Postmaster General I have not had the happiness to serve
under with their perfect approbation, but I hope on Wednesday by an open and
fair discussion to have it understood for the future that whilst I act uprightly
fair and open, I may be treated with confidence and regard and not with
harshness which I cannot submit to’. At their meeting Todd found him ‘so
completely jealous and wrong headed’ that agreement was impossible. Ultimately
the Board accepted Todd’s advice to leave the place vacant.
Bitter quarrels over patronage occurred in 1785.
Tankerville, learning of abuses from Thomas Todd, sent him to investigate the
Falmouth packets, whereupon the Agent committed suicide, and Thomas drafted a
plan of reform, strongly criticizing the Secretary. Denouncing Carteret to
Pitt, Tankerville urged him to support its immediate adoption, though Pitt,
doubtful of his zeal, chose to await the Commission’s report. From the end of 1785
Tankerville took the lead in attacking Palmer, inspiring the report of 1 March
endangered Carteret and Anthony Todd, because Tankerville knew of at least some
of the benefits conferred on Treves. On the separation of the British and Irish
offices in 1784 the Secretary at Dublin became unable to meet his commitments.
On 30 March 1785 the Board, Tankerville reluctantly assenting, sought a
Treasury fiat to relieve him. After a year’s delay, and embarrassed
conversations with Pitt, it came on 5 April 1786, implicitly condoning
Carteret’s conduct, but providing Tankerville with the material for damaging
charges in the event of a complete rupture.
Todd’s other problem concerned the Secret Office. In 1781
Dupuy died, and Todd, ‘as Mr. Bode had no more sons and I had no more nephews
to train up in that confidential line’, introduced Charles Jackson, aged 20,
son of the Foreign Controller, previously serving with Yorke on his recommendation.
In February 1783 the Marquess of
Carmarthen, patron of numerous Jacksons, made him private secretary on
appointment to the Paris embassy. Carmarthen, however, resigned before his
departure for Paris. Jackson, returning disappointed to the office, retained
his favour, and grew inattentive and disrespectful to Todd. Carmarthen,
appointed Secretary of State for the Foreign Department in December 1783,
became Todd’s superior as Foreign Secretary. In January 1786, when the elder
Bode died, Todd proposed that his salary of £500 a year should be divided
between his sons and Maddison, who was to resign the place of Deputy Receiver
General. Carmarthen, however, insisted that Jackson must have the largest share,
remaining obdurate despite all argument. On 17 March Todd appealed to Pitt,
explaining that since Carmarthen was threatening the efficiency and harmony of
the office, never previously disturbed, ‘I cannot avoid, though it is a very
dangerous step for me, to stand forward in behalf of those I have reared up in
the service’. Jackson would be better ’in
some more genteel and less laborious a situation’, drawing pay in absence till
one arose. Pitt must give a decision to prevent future difficulties. Todd asked
for an interview in order to read ‘a few papers on the subject, some of which
were addressed to your father’, repeating his request on 21 March.
At least one interview occurred between March and May. It
seems very probable that their discussion included the problems of Palmer and
Tankerville as well as Carmarthen, and that general agreement was reached. At
all events Todd’s main problems were solved shortly afterwards.
Firstly, Pitt almost certainly supported him against
Carmarthen, arousing deep resentment. Jackson was almost certainly paid in
absence till 1789, and had certainly ceased to be a member of the office by
Secondly, Todd acknowledged defeat in his struggle with
Palmer. Blaming Tankerville, at least implicitly, he now assured Palmer that
previous misunderstandings were solely due to his position as the Board’s
servant, promising the fullest support in future. Palmer could never understand
why Todd was not dismissed for flouting the Treasury. But Palmer never realized
how Todd’s secret duties strengthened his position, and enhanced his prestige.
Palmer was never ‘in the secret’, though aware of occasional inland
interception ; and regarding the office primarily as a branch of the revenue,
and the Foreign Secretary's place as ‘perfectly unnecessary’, he underestimated
Todd’s influence. He welcomed his advances, noting a complete change of
attitude, thereafter always ‘perfectly fair and candid” and ‘unexceptionable’.
Thirdly, Carteret, who now, like Anthony Todd, reversed
his attitude to Palmer, was supported by Pitt, who forced Tankerville to
resign, ostensibly because of their final dispute, but actually because
Tankerville’s attitude to Palmer remained unchanged. The dispute concerned a
bill for furniture for Carteret’s private use, which Tankerville refused to
sign unless Todd certified that it was reasonable. Refusing a written opinion,
Todd advised him to sign, ‘though upon the whole some of the things were rather
too good’. On 14 June 1786 he again laid the bill before Tankerville, who
accused him of ‘gross impropriety ’, and refused to sign. On 17 June Carteret
told Pitt that co-operation was impossible, offering to resign. Urging
Tankerville to co-operate, Pitt expressed the hope a week later that no changes
would be necessary. There the matter rested, Tankerville believing it was
‘buried in oblivion.
Pitt’s original intention had been to give Palmer a life
appointment by patent under the Treasury. The law officers, however, ruled that
by the Act of 1711 his appointment must be under the Board, necessarily during
pleasure. Unwilling to alter the constitution of the office, Pitt by Treasury
warrant on 5 August 1786 ordered the Board to give him the promised place,
salary, and poundage. Carteret was willing, but Tankerville refused on the
grounds that the poundage was illegal.
On 11 August Pitt told Tankerville to his amazement that
his quarrel with Carteret required his immediate resignation, refusing to
listen to explanations or complaints, but offering an equivalent, which he
A period of tranquillity followed. On 11 October the
Board appointed Palmer Controller General, though without the poundage because
Clarendon, succeeding Tankerville in September, shared his doubts concerning
its legality. Palmer, embarrassed by debts, took office on Pitt’s promise that
it would be settled later. After Clarendon’s death in December Carteret was
sole Postmaster General till July 1787. Giving Palmer full assistance, the
Board obtained fiats for the appointment of his Deputy, Charles Bonnor, with
subordinates including Francis Freeling, and the retirement of redundant staff
including Samuel Potts. Having settled the inland posts, a considerable
achievement, Palmer went to Paris at Pitt’s request in 1787 to arrange a daily
foreign service. Meanwhile Tankerville, unjustly accusing Carteret of
responsibility for his downfall, prepared for revenge, warning him in November
1786: ‘I have been removed: others will be disgraced.’ On 15 May 1787 his
kinsman Charles Grey, M.P. for Northumberland, drew the attention of the House
of Commons to abuses in the Post Office, citing the Dover agreement of 1774,
fraud at Falmouth, and Tankerville’s removal as evidence of Carteret’s
misconduct, Pitt defended Carteret as ‘a noble lord of high character and
unsullied honour , justifying the fiat of 5 April 1786. Maitland warmly
defended him, repudiating Sheridan’s suggestion of private interest, and
declaring that Todd was not only ready ‘to meet an enquiry into any late part
of his conduct, but would not shrink from an investigation of the whole of a
life of fifty years officially employed in the service of the public’. The
debate grew acrimonious with talk about purity, hypocrisy, consistency, etc.,
and Grey challenged Pitt to a duel. But reflections were soon explained away,
the government accepting a committee of inquiry which met on 17-21 May.
It heard much about abuses from Tankerville and Thomas
Todd, especially the Dover and Jamaica agreements, confirmed by Treves. Anthony
Todd, successfully concealing the dangerous matter of the Seventh Clerkship,
was obliged to recount the quarrel at the Board, to admit an arrangement in
1786 whereby an Agent was appointed at Helvoetsluys on condition of releasing
his predecessor from imprisonment for debt, and to acknowledge his poundage.
The report, issued on 28 May, recognized the existence of abuses, and recommended
that the Commission of Inquiry should investigate the office as soon as
possible. As expected, it avoided reflections on Carteret and Treves.
In the debate on 28 May, Grey claimed that his charges
had been proved. Maitland again defended Carteret. The Dover and Jamaica
agreements, though unjustifiable by contemporary standards, were common
practice in government departments at the time. The Helvoetsluys arrangement
was simply ‘founded in a charitable intention’, for which Tankerville was
jointly responsible. The packet poundage was an abuse, ‘and Mr. Todd was
himself as ready to admit that it was so as any man living’, though it had
never influenced his conduct. Tankerville’s removal was merely due to his
failure to co-operate. The question of abuses should be left to the Commission
of Inquiry. Pitt shared this view, holding that Carteret’s conduct had been
improper but not corrupt, and after a heated and often irrelevant debate, the
House accepted Maitland’s motion.
Todd knew that when the Commission reached the Office,
attention would be focused on his emoluments. the poundage would certainly be
condemned as improper and the Foreign Secretary’s place as a sinecure,
compensation being paid for life. His position was threatened but defensive
measures were possible.
Firstly, if he got Maddison appointed Foreign Secretary
at once, he could in effect endow him for life, and concentrate on defending
the Secretary’s place without endangering security. He would lose £950 a year,
but his wealth was sufficient, while after spending half his life at the head
of the Secret Office, he could claim relief at the age of 70. He resigned in
July 1787, Maddison being immediately appointed.
Secondly, if he offered to surrender his poundage, he
could disclaim responsibility for its continuance. On 29 August the Board
requested a fiat for equivalent compensation ‘in consideration of his faithful
and meritorious services for fifty years’. As expected, no fiat came, the Treasury
preferring to leave reforms as far as possible to the Commission’s
consideration.’ His position strengthened, Todd awaited the future with greater
He had weathered the storms since 1784, and remained
Secretary of the Post Office. But he no longer dominated the administrative
system. Embarrassed by the quarrel between Tankerville and Carteret, betrayed by Thomas Todd, and opposed by
Carmarthen, he had been obliged in 1786 to abandon the campaign against Palmer
and to accept his authority over the inland posts. Palmer, free from the
interference of the old officials and assisted by the Board, was able to
develop his plan and establish his own subordinates to supervise its operation.
Palmer’s success was achieved at the expense of Todd’s influence. In 1787 the
Controller General's department overshadowed the Secretary’s Office.
After 1787, Todd began to suffer from ill health, and by
1792 had ‘relaxed somewhat from his former activity ’. Consulted and trusted by
the Board, he confined himself largely to the execution of instructions, making
little effort to influence policy. Though it was said that he was willing to
retire in 1791, his aim seems to have been to stay in office till the end. He
kept a friendly eye on the Secret Office, sometimes receiving joint instructions
with Maddison regarding interceptions, and his jokes when transmitting them
remained as good as ever.
The decline of his influence was partly due to the
appointment of Lord Walsingham as Clarendon’s successor in July 1787. The first
efficient Postmaster General since 1765, an active member of the India Board,
he paid an ‘inveterate attention to business and accounts’ and was determined
to reform the office. Eager, gouty, and irascible, he took the lead in business
from the first. Carteret was disturbed by his zeal, and the India Board joked
that it would end in impeachment. Realizing that Palmer’s appointment in 1786
had created ‘an imperium in imperio’, he hoped at first that Todd would retire
on ‘a liberal pension’, and Palmer succeed as Secretary. But liking and
respecting Todd, he did not exert pressure. Leaving Palmer to his own devices
in 1787, he learnt the custom of the office from Braithwaite, the Postmaster
General’s Clerk, obtained advice from his former colleague William Knox, and prepared
three main reforms: the reduction of West Indian balances, substantially
achieved in 1788; a daily foreign service, shelved owing to the failure of
Palmer’s negotiations in Paris; and economies in the packet Service partly
shelved pending the report of the Commission.
The Commissioners took evidence in May 1788, the Act
authorizing their inquiry being due to expire in July. Despite their wide terms
of reference, they- ignored the main administrative problems: Treasury control
hampering initiative: landsmen managing
a fleet; evasion of postage; and the problem of collection. They concentrated
excessively on abuses revealed in 1787, and in their haste made no attempt to
verify misleading information.
Taking the establishment first, their conclusions, though
replete with factual errors were sound in principle: fees and perquisites
should be replaced by salaries, and sinecures (including the Foreign
Secretaryship) abolished. The Board was criticized for allowing their
continuance, despite its efforts to achieve reform since 1788.
Turning to the inland posts, they recommended its plan
for newspapers, shelved by the Treasury and never adopted. They accepted
without question all Palmer’s claims for the success of his plan; and totally
ignoring the higher postage, franking restrictions, reduction of packets, and
normal growth of correspondence since 1784, attributed the increasing
net revenue solely to its operation; though in fact its financial effect was
impossible to estimate, Pitt later admitting that its real advantage was convenience
rather than profit. Rejecting Palmer’s offer to farm the Bye Letter or Penny
Post Office, recommended that he should receive his poundage.
On the foreign posts, they recommended the daily service,
already in fact rejected by France, and the dispatch of mail at 7 p.m. (they
meant 8 p.m.), impracticable for reasons of security.
On the colonial posts, they exaggerated the West Indian
balances by well over 100 per cent. on the basis of misleading figures stated
owing to a blunder in accordance with the custom of the office; and ignoring
the orders already issued by the Board, strongly recommended their reduction.
Reserving their most severe criticism for the packet
service, and claiming that £68,000 out of £1,038,138 issued in 1770-87 had been
wasted, they recommended that boats should not be paid before receiving the
first mail, while under seizure for smuggling, or after capture; ignoring the
necessity of keeping them always ready for the Secretaries of State, paying the
crews for constant maintenance, and retaining skilled hands trained in long
service. They also recommended that boats should rely on speed for defence,
ignoring the Board’s efforts to obtain the necessary fiats; that the Falmouth
Sailor’s Fund should be gradually abolished, ignoring the future needs of the
infirm or wounded; that boats should be insured against capture, which was impracticable,
and obtained by public tender, which would threaten security.
They condemned the practice of buying shares in the
packets as well as Todd’s poundage, ignoring his attempt to renounce it. They
strongly criticized smuggling and false musters, ignoring the efforts and
examples made by the Board. Two captains, one actually dead, the other of high
repute, whose boats were captured in 1782, were censured by implication for
misconduct, solely on the basis of an equivocable remark made by a sailor to
Thomas Todd five years later.
They criticized Carteret, already whitewashed by Pitt,
for the payments to Treves, discovering nothing new. They made ‘an unhandsome
and unjust insinuation’ against Walsingham, suggesting that the Board had
allowed Dashwood at Jamaica to fall into arrears to facilitate his payments to
Treves, whereas it had specially ordered him to remit his balance in the
previous year. Apart from the poundage, they criticized Todd generally for
permitting extravagance in the packet service, ignoring the Secretary of
State’s order in 1778, with the thousands saved in 1783; and particularly for
extravagance in refitting the Grantham, in which he had a share, though in fact
she had been severely damaged In conspicuous service, and specially commended
by the king.
Receiving the report in August 1788, Walsingham wrote a
protest for his own satisfaction, and began the long task of refuting
impracticable or erroneous conclusions, and drafting a new establishment. The
work took several years. But already by the autumn of 1788 he was becoming
aware of abuses in the direction of Palmer’s plan. The result was a growing
quarrel, beginning over accounts and ending in administrative deadlock. Once
again Palmer was obliged to defend his position. This time, however, the
conflict was not premeditated, and only developed gradually into a direct
collision between the Postmaster and Controller General. In July 1788, when
Palmer was in Ireland, Walsingham arranged a mail coach service for the king at
Cheltenham. To teach him not to interfere, Palmer secretly encouraged the
contractor to present an inflated bill, which Walsingham reluctantly signed.
But instead of being ‘bullied, perplexed and frightened’ as Palmer hoped, he
became for the first time interested in the plan, s