Britain, Parliamentary Papers on the Post Office, 1800 - 1875

Introductory Notes



The British Parliamentary Papers consist of debates, journals, and sessional papers, separately for the House of Commons and the House of Lords.  The general categories of sessional papers are Public Bills (the final Acts or Statutes are in a different series), Reports from Committees, Reports from Commissioners, and Accounts and Papers.  Committees are drawn from Members of the respective House, and limited to the current session of Parliament; commissions may include outside personnel, and may extend for multiple sessions.  Further categories of papers include correspondence, petitions, returns, estimates, votes and proceedings, divisions, and minutes.  A return is a response from the government to a request from Parliament; an estimate is a budgetary forecast.  Votes and proceedings, and divisions, recorded actions of the House of Commons; minutes did the same for the House of Lords, and all became part of the Journals.

The sessional papers have an identifying number which appears on the lower left corner of the first page of the paper.  The bill or paper numbers should be treated simply as unique identifiers for the session.  The bills, reports and papers were accumulated into bound volumes, so they are referenced according to the parliamentary session, the volume number for that session, and the bill or paper number, also for that session.
Bill or Paper session (number) volume . first-page
Command Paper session [number] volume . first-page
The page number in one of these references is cumulative from the beginning of the bound volume, but the individual papers have their own pagination, so the reference page number is generally handwritten and not searchable in any sense.  For example, see 1828 (377) XIX.379 (link).   When a volume is disbound for sale in parts, you may see a reference like HC401, with a year indicated, for House of Commons Paper 401 in the given session.
HC House of Commons paper
Bill House of Commons bill
HL House of Lords paper
HL Bill House of Lords bill
Older forms of reference combine these features, for example, as "H.C. 286, pp. 19-20 (1837). XIII, 97" for pages 19-20 of the report starting at page 97 of the thirteenth bound volume.  Similarly, "H.C. 1837 (286) xiii" might be used.  If the House is not specified, as in "1837 (286)", assume Commons.

The numbering system is imperfect.  The bill or paper numbers reflect the sequence in which papers were ordered to be printed, which is not the sequence in which they appeared.  Early papers have no numbers; they were added later through a table of contents when binding the papers. There are duplicated numbers, though rarely.  The hand-applied page numbers were not applied to all volumes; compare a page from Oxford to the same from Harvard.  Some volumes have multiple parts, usually only two or three, four or six in a few cases, and 17 in one instance.

The Command Papers originate in the British Government but outside Parliament, "by Command of His/Her Majesty".  At first published with the House of Commons journals, they became a separate series in 1833, numbered sequentially in brackets, later with a prefix.  The Command Papers were unnumbered until 1836, when numbers were assigned retroactively starting in 1833.  The numbers often do not appear on the paper itself, but are in the table of contents for each bound volume.
1833 – 1868/69 [1] – [4222]
1870 – 1899 [C.1] – [C.9550] initially [No. 1], then like [C. 18]
1900 – 1918 [Cd.1] – [Cd.9239]
1919 – 1955/56 [Cmd.1] – Cmd.9889 square brackets discontinued in 1922
1956/57 – 1985/86 Cmnd.1 – Cmnd.9927
1986/87 – Cm.1 –
Indexes to the Parliamentary Papers were included annually, though few are found before 1810.  General (cumulative) and subject indexes appeared beginning in the 1830's.

Contemporary transcripts of the Parliamentary debates were published by Cobbett (1803-1812) and Hansard (continuing from 1812), and The Mirror of Parliament (1828-41).  These were often newspaper reports with corrections by the speakers themselves, so they are not strictly verbatim, but eventually stenographers were employed and accuracy improved.

The Acts of Parliament include Public and General Acts, Local and Private Acts, and Measures passed by the National Assembly of the Church of England.  When a Bill is passed by both Houses, it must receive a Royal Assent before becoming an Act, and that provides the official date of the Act.



More details of, and additional links to, the Parliamentary publications, catalogues, indexes, etc., can be found in the accompanying list Papers of the British House of Commons (working notes).  Of the many separately-published indexes and catalogues, only one is specific to the Post Office:

Indexes to Parliamentary Reports and Papers relating to the Post Office and Postage: 1735-1839.



The digital collection ProQuest U.K. Parliamentary Papers is available through most large university libraries; it is a subscription service with restrictions on secondary access.  The ProQuest collection is the only complete searchable digital source of the bills, reports and papers for the period 1800-2000 (roughly).  Actually, some documents are missing, some are "mangled", and the index of titles has a few errors, but on the whole the collection is much more complete than the others. The Hansard digital collection of debates from 1803 to 2005 is nearly complete; it is searchable and includes easily-accessed information about the Members of Parliament.

Google Books has a large assortment of the Parliamentary Papers as entire volumes, but apparently not all.  Oxford University contributed many volumes, but there seems to be no reliable inventory, and the search mechanism is incomplete.

The Internet Archive has a large collection of individual bills and reports, British Parliamentary Publications contributed by the Library at the University of Southampton, but the larger reports are often missing their Appendix, which may be the most interesting part.  The bills and papers related to Ireland have been taken up by EPPI, Enhanced British Parliamentary Papers on Ireland, which offers free search and access.

A 1000-volume reprint of selected papers was made by the Irish University Press in 1968-72, covering 1801-1899, organized by subject.  Posts and Telegraphs filled 8 volumes, and Newspapers 2 volumes.  An additional volume is devoted to the transatlantic postal service, 1846-1892.  For more information, see their catalogue (PDF) and the notes below.

For various library holdings and guides, see

For current information, see http://www.parliament.uk/ and http://hansard.parliament.uk

If all else fails, contact the Parliamentary Archives or the British Library.  Complaining to Google probably won't bring satisfaction.



The Irish University Press 1000-volume reprint series, 1968-72, was edited the cooperation of Prof. Peter Ford and Grace Ford, University of Southampton.  It is arranged in volumes by subject matter, and then chronologically within a volume.

Posts and Telegraphs, 8 volumes (purchase information, link)
volume
reference
short title
1

1837-38 (278) XX Pt.I.1
Select Committee on Postage, first report
1837-38 (708) XX Pt.I.517
-- third report
2
1837-38 (658) XX Pt.II.1
-- second report
3


1867-68 (435) XI.1
Electric Telegraphs Bill
1867-68 (435-I) XI.333
-- Index
1868-69 (348) VI.651
Telegraph Bill
4


1843 (564) VIII.1
Rate of Postage, Conveyance of Letters
1854 [1816] XXVII.397
Report upon the Post Office
1877 (289) XXVII.261
Money-Order System
5



1867-68 (202) XLI.555
Post Office Control of Electric Telegraphs
1870 (336) X.613
Telegraph Acts Extension Bill
1871 [C.304] XXXVII.703
Reorganization of Telegraph System
1876 (357) XIII.1
Post Office Telegraph Dept.
6, 7

1897 (121) XLIV.1
Post Office Establishments
1897 (163) XLIV.37
8

1895 (350) XIII.21
Telephone Service
1898 (383) XII.1
Telephones
Newspapers, 2 volumes (purchase information, link)
volume
reference
short title
1
1851 (558) XVII
Select Committee on Newspaper Stamps
2



1814-15 (137) X.385
Newspapers sent post-free
1814-15 (139) X.391
Newspapers imported by post
1821 (445) XVI.387
Stamp Duty, 1817-20
1821 (579) XVI.391
Stamp Duty, 1819-20
1822 (470) XIX
Advertisement Duty
1825 (375) XXI
Stamp Duty, 1814-24
1826-27 (99) XVII
Stamp Duty, 1797-1826
1830 (405) XXV
Stamp Duty, 1810-30
1830 (549) XXV
Stamp Duty
1831-32 (30) XXXIV
Stamp Duty
1835 (108) XXXVII
Advertisement Duty
1837 (291) XXXIX.303
Stamp Duty
1839 (548) XXX
Stamp Duty
1841 Session 1 (407) XIII.481
Stamp Duty, 1838-41
1842 (340) XXVI
Stamp Duty, 1836-42
1842 (412) XXVI.599
Stamp Duty, 1827-41
1844 (55) XXXII
Stamp Duty, 1839-41
1849 (160) XXX
Stamp Duty, 1841-48
1849 (506) XXX
Advertisement Duty
1850 (78) XXXIII
London Newspapers
1852 (42) XXVIII
Stamp Duty, 1837-50
1854 (117) XXXIX
Stamp Duty, 1851-53
1854-55 (135) XXXII
Army in the Crimea
1860 (593) XL
Stamp Duty, 1859-60
1865 (471) XXXI
Stamp Duty, 1863-64
1870 (460) XLI
Stamp Duty, 1869-70
1878-79 (343) XI
Newspaper Libel
1880 (284) IX
Newspaper Libel
1888 [C.5483] LXXXII
Newspaper Libel Act 1881
There are other selections related to postal services in Australia (1856-1869), Canada (1828-1889), Cape of Good Hope (1873), and East Africa (1890).  Three additional sets of Area Studies were published (112 volumes), with selections specific to China and Japan (postal, in volume 42 of 52, link), and the United States of America (postal, in volume 49 of 60, link).  These are all referenced in our sessional listings.
The final volume of the "largest single project in publishing history" appeared in April 1972.  Irish University Press closed in 1974, brought down by the collapse of the financial and real estate parts of the holding company which owned it.  Members of the IUP staff formed Irish Academic Press, and Four Courts Press, which survive.

The following abbreviations are used for references to the IUP series.



The basis for the ProQuest U.K. Parliamentary Papers collection is the microfiche edition by Chadwyck-Healey, 1973-83, and the printed work by Peter Cockton, Subject Catalogue of the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, 1801-1900, Cambridge (UK) : Chadwyck-Healey, 1988, 5 volumes.  (Charles Chadwyck-Healey, About Chadwyck-Healey)

The catalogue entries give an abbreviated title, and a session/number/volume/page reference.  For example,
Account of Number of Licenses for Issue of Promissory Notes, 1810-11
    1810-11 (31) X.473

Account of Number of Stamps on Promissory Notes, and Number of Re-issuable Promissory Notes stamped, 1810-11
    1810-11 (31) X.473

Thirty-fourth Rep. 1856 (330) XXXVII.303
The first two entries are the same report, under two different Cockton Titles.  The online ProQuest entry gives both titles, and a link to the Promissory Notes subject group, which leads to 35 related entries.

Since the length of a report is often a clue to its importance, we have included that information here.  These examples are 4 and 279 pages.  The page total includes a cover wrapper, which has the full title.

The Cockton Title is often more manageable than the actual title, which is, in the first example,
Stamps. 1. An account of the number of licences for the issue of promissory notes payable on demand, which were granted by the commissioners: for the two years ending the 10th of October 1809; and the 10th of October 1810, and since the 10th of October 1810 to the date of the return to this order;--distinguishing in each period the renewed licences from those granted to new banks. 2. An account of the number of stamps of promissory notes re-issuable of each class that have been issued from 1st June 1810 to 16th February 1811, being the latest period to which the same can be made up; distinguishing each quarter, and the corresponding amount of duties. 3. An account of the number of re-issuable promissory notes stamped in England during the years, ending 10th October 1807, 1808, 1809 and 1810; distinguishing the rates, and also the value of the notes.
The second example is part of a series, and the full Cockton Title information appears with the first report in the series.  In this instance, it is Coms. of Woods, Forests, and Land Revenues, with the document title
The thirty-fourth report of the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Woods, Forests and Land Revenues: in obedience to the acts of 10 George IV. (cap. 50), and 2 William IV. (cap. 1); being the fifth report under the act of the 14 & 15 Vict. (cap. 42.)
Cockton's subject index includes the following headings with relevance to the Post Office, etc.  To see the digital version, click on "Find Terms" on the Basic Search page.

volume 1,
volume 2,
volume 3,
volume 4,
volume 5,
This summary list omits Her Majesty's Stationery Office, The Public Record Office, The National Archives, etc.



Further references


Last changed 19 February 2018

Timeline of Philatelic Literature, 1830-1875

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