Mail forwarding

Prior to c. 1860 forwarding agents were often used to collect and dispatch international mails. These agents served as intermediaries before the full development of international postal networks. Forwarding agents were usually large merchant houses that operated their own logistical networks and they often added their own markings to the mails they handled, sometimes in the form of handwritten notes and sometimes with private cachets and handstamps.

Batavia 16 July to Baltimore, US with the written directive ‘via Holland’. On the back are two forwarding notations: ‘Rotterdam 16 Nov 1821 Varkevisser, Dorrepaal & Brown’, and ‘Forwarded by G. Kolff from Liverpool 22 Novemb 1821’. Arrival in New York 1 Feb 1822 and red handstamp ‘SHIP’ applied.



The letter is a good illustration of the important role played by commercial forwarding agents in the period before the full development of trans-continental postal networks.

Batavia 24 April 1849 to Birmingham, sent by the overland mail via Marseille. On the back is the red forwarding cachet ‘Forwarded by Martin Dyce & Co., Singapore.

One of my favourite forwarded letters! It required some detective work to work out the route to London.





Canton to Batavia by sea prepaid (‘franco Batavia’ on front). From Batavia by Dutch ship Ribble (crossed out directive ‘p. Ribble’ bottom left). Arrival Hellevoetsluis 10 July and in Rotterdam 14 July. From Rotterdam forwarded to Antwerp, and from Antwerp forwarded by ship to London. Arrival London 16 July; marked with orange Ship Letter London postmark.


Forwarding notes:


On the front is a deleted forwarding note from Rotterdam.

On the back are two notes of forwarding agents in Rotterdam and Antwerp:


‘In care of Mess’r Ja’s Young & son, Rotterdam’


’14 July 1835, Rec’d ‘forwarded by your ob. Servant Geo. Holtzappel, agent for Fraser, Young & Co. of Antwerp’.

A note in the Javasche Courant 24 Feb. 1835 from the Batavia Post Office that the mailbag is open for the ship Ribble (captain de Boer) departing for the Netherlands. The letter shown here would have gone in this mailbag.

Batavia 23 Sep. 1832 to banker Huth in London. Sent by the ship Minerva to England. On the back is a forwarding note: "If not landed in the Channel recommended to Messr. Thormann & Co. Rotterdam.

No forwarding was needed because the ship landed in Plymouth - boxed mark SHIP LETTER PLYMOUTH and London receiver of 30 Jan. 1833.

Batavia forwarding agents

the cachets of Batavia forwarding agents are rare and only about ten different marks, mostly of major trading companies, have been documented.

Makassar 20 Aug. 1853 to Amsterdam routed via Batavia and forwarded by the company de Weerdt, Ruyl & Co. The letter went by the overland mail via Triest and was charged at 120 cent on arrival.


This cachet of de Weerdt, Ruyl & Co. is unrecorded in the literature.

The forwarding mark of merchants Rijnst & Vinju, the largest trading house in Batavia

(only five letters with this cachet have been recorded)

Letter July 1859 from Probolingo on Java by the overland route via Southampton to Leicestershire in England, with detailed hand-written notations about mail forwarding. This is a mystery cover and I have never seen anything like this before. This is my attempt to transcribe the notes on the letter that relate to forwarding:

Maclain, Watson & Co
Fwd Batavia
C Etty esquire
signed Fraser and Eaton

Finlay Hodgson & Co

These notes mention:

 - one of the biggest forwarding agents in Batavia (Maclain, Watson & Co)
 - a gentleman by the name of C. Etty (or Dutch Ettij) who was a sugar planter in Probolingo and who I can see was a passenger on ships between Singapore and Batavia in this year of 1859.
 - the shipping agents Fraser and Eaton, also active in Batavia in 1859
 - and finally the London-based forwarding agents Finlay Hodgson & Co.

My theory is that all these individuals and companies were involved in the letter's transportation to the UK in 1859. Someone (perhaps in London?) documented the letter's handling with these elaborate notes. Perhaps this letter was at the top of a bundle of letters that were forwarded by these means and was inscribed like this for documentation. Perhaps.

Maclaine, Watson & Co. in Batavia must have forwarded a monthly mail, because this unique cover has a cachet with the inscription 'OCTOBER MAIL 1850. The only recorded cover with this forwarding cachet from the major Batavia merchant house sent to Appleby in Westmoreland, UK.

"Forwarded by Lorrain & Co." on letter from Batavia 16 Nov. 1871 to the Heriot Brewery in Edinburgh, sent prepaid via Brindisi.