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Julian Browning Rare Books & Manuscripts

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Archive of about 35 letters and copy letters retained by Charles Bennet, 4th Earl of Tankerville, Postmaster General, in the fierce dispute which surrounded his forced dismissal by Pitt in August 1786, including original letters from two other Postmasters General that year, Lord Carteret and Lord Clarendon, trading accusations, denying complicity, demanding apologies, etc.

POST OFFICE. Three Postmasters General, 1786. June to December 1786. A lively series of letters full of the stately but lethal phrases common to the nobility of the time, expressing what Tankerville calls the "Hostile Intentions" of all involved, including William Pitt the Younger. See Kenneth Ellis, The Post Office in the Eighteenth Century [1958], for the background to the 4th Earl of Tankerville’s accusations of Lord Carteret’s complicity in "a notorious system of corrupt management and influence which are grown inveterate in the Post Office" [Tankerville’s letter to Pitt, undated], resulting in Tankerville’s forced resignation and his efforts at reinstatement which this correspondence records. The archive comprises 5 Autograph Letters Signed by Lord Carteret, Postmaster General, to Tankerville; 5 Letters Signed by the 1st Earl of Clarendon, Postmaster General, to Tankerville; 5 retained copies or drafts of letters from Tankerville to William Pitt, drawing him into the dispute; the remander are Tankerville’s own copies of his letters to Carteret and Clarendon. The ferocity of this dispute at the top of the Post Office administration led in due course to attempts to tackle the endemic corruption in the Post Office. Tankerville was a famous patron of Surrey cricket in the 1770s.
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The original Autograph Letter Signed ‘John Palmer’, to the Postmaster General, the Earl of Tankerville, thanking him (after hearing the news from Mr. Bonnor) “for your very open & candid declaration & your handsome conduct respecting my Apointment [as Controller General of the Post Office]”, hoping to pay his respects & thanks personally.

PALMER, John. 87 Lombard Street, 15 July 1786. A rare autograph on a significant letter in the history of the Post Office. John Palmer of Bath (1742-1818), instigator of the British system of mail coaches that was the beginning of the great British post office reforms with the introduction of an efficient mail coach delivery service in Great Britain during the late 18th century. His correspondent, Charles, 4th Earl of Tankerville, Postmaster General, became a victim of convoluted Post Office politics and was forced to resign in August 1786. In the same month Palmer’s appointment and salary were confirmed by Pitt at the Treasury. On 11 October 1786 the Board appointed Palmer Surveyor and Comptroller General of the Mails. Difficulties later arose because Palmer was technically under the Postmaster General while remaining free to carry out his reforms. Tankerville, Palmer’s correspondent in this letter, did not oppose the mail coach, but a later Postmaster General, Lord Walsingham, insisted on Palmer’s dismissal in 1792. However, the institution of mail coaches permanently revolutionised the British postal service, and Palmer was widely honoured for it. For the background to his official appoinment, see Kenneth Ellis, The Post Office in the Eighteenth Century (1958), pp. 106-110. Charles Bonnor, mentioned in this letter, later became Palmer’s Deputy.