This cover destined to London was written on May 6, and mailed out of Beirut on 10 May 1845 (fig 1), about six month before the opening of the French post office in Beirut on November 16 and before the shipping route service by the French Paquebots de la Mediterrannee (*) to that same city. Despite the authorization by the French since 1837 to allow the British Post have their mail transported from Alexandria to England overland through Marseilles, the cover in this case used instead the direct route to England (i.e. through Gibraltar).


fig 1 fig 1

Analysis of the shipping route/ship liner used:

This cover may have been transported out of Beirut to England (through Gibraltar) by either the following means:

a. Aboard a British Admiralty steamer (operating regularly between 1836 and 1839 and irregularly thereafter until few stopovers during 1845[1]),
b. Aboard a commercial ship transiting in Beirut on its journey between England and the Eastern Mediterranean. A contemporary travel guide reported in 1844[2] that there was a constant and direct communication between Beirut and England by trading vessels,

or the cover may have been transported first from Beirut to Alexandria by a coastal sailing ship (under Admiralty supervision from 1836 to 1852) contracted by local merchants. The Emmetjee schooner (sailing vessel) for example was recorded to have been chartered by mercantile interests to carry mails between Alexandria and Beirut and anchored in Beirut as late as on Thursday June 28, 1845 [3], thus the cover may have been transshipped in Alexandria as follows:

c. Aboard a British Admiralty steamer (whose line operated from Alexandria to England from 1835 to 1852),
d. aboard a British P&O (Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company) steamers operating since 1840 from Alexandria. An Admiralty (i.e. Royal Navy) agent was aboard every P&O vessel, to take the mails on and off at each port in suitable boat of not less than four oars [4].

First deduction, the cover was shipped to England by a British steamer without transiting in France, as there were neither the entry mark ’’PAQ.ANG.MARSEILLE’’ (fig 2) nor the arrival mark “PAQUEBOTS DE LA MEDITERRANNE’’ [5] (fig 3) affixed on covers when respectively transported aboard a P&O (Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company) or a French government packet, when transiting at Marseilles. The English direct route can also be confirmed by the long voyage of 25 days as compared to shorter voyage (i.e. 16 days) where the French overland route was used instead. Second deduction the cover was not transported aboard a commercial ship as the postal rate of 8 pence would have been handwritten on the front cover, and the cover would carry the ship letter mark. Third deduction a P&O ship was not used as the closest recorded arrival to Britain with that liner was June 8, versus an earlier arrival on May 27, so by deduction it should have been carried by an Admiralty packet coming from Alexandria.

fig 2                                         fig 3

fig 2                                                                  fig 3



Shipping route map: Beirut-Alexandria-Malta-Gibraltar-Southampton-London 

Written May.10 Arrival June 5 

Postal rate/marks:
The postage due of 1/8 (i.e. 1 shilling and 8 pence) found both on the front and the back (fig 4) cover is puzzling and needs to be deciphered. A London red arrival date stamp GB June 5 (fig 5) is found on the back. The cover was disinfected through two front slit by cuts (fig 6) and is marked ‘’Purifie au Lazaret/Malte” (fig 7). The cover was disinfected at Malta a halfway station to Alexandria and London, then the main coaling station and the European sanitary central point in the Mediterranean for most mail coming from the Near East. Letters crossing the Mediterranean from East to West were subject to quarantine (as were passengers and goods) and were slashed or pricked, sometimes to the point of illegibility, to let out ‘’pestilential airs’’.

 fig 4 fig4  fig 5 fig 5 (zoom 150%)

 fig 6         fig 7

    fig 6 (zoom 150%)                                                                                                  fig 7

(*) The French “Paquebot de la Mediterrannee” (French packets) introduced and run by the French government in 1837 was handed over to the more effective private sector Messageries at the end of September 1851. The “Messageries” full name changed over time. It was first set up in 1852 as “La Compagnie des Services Maritimes des Messageires Nationales”, then in 1853 it became the “Compagnie des Messageries Imperiales”, and finally on August 1, 1871, the name was changed to the “Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes”.

[1] Tabeart Colin, 2002, Admiralty Mediterranean Steam Packerts 1830- to 1857, James Bendon, Limassol, p.218-219.
[2] Kelly Walter Keating, 1844, Syria and the Holy Land, Chapman and Hall, London, p.88.
[3] Tabeart Colin, 2002, Admiralty Mediterranean Steam Packerts 1830- to 1857, James Bendon, Limassol, p.229.
[4] Robinson Howard, 1964, Carrying British mails overseas, George Allen & Unwin LTD, London, p.166.
[5] Salles R., 1992, La poste maritime francaise, T.II, Les paquebots de la Mediterranee de 1837 a 1939, James Bendon, Limassol, p.147.