Our Logo – A Packet Ship
The Falmouth Packet Ship was chosen as the FDFAS logo and it is a fitting symbol for Falmouth’s maritime heritage, as the packet ships played an important part in the growth and economy of the town.
At the end of the 17th century the needs for trade, colonial expansion and continued wars with England’s continental neighbours increased the necessity for a reliable postal service abroad, and in 1689 Falmouth was chosen as the base for a scheduled government mail route to Corunna in Spain. A post office agent ran the service in Falmouth and the mails were delivered from London, put on a packet ship, chartered by the Post Office, and distributed at the port of destination by a British agent or consul. During the 18th century the packet ship service expanded to Lisbon, the Caribbean, Gibraltar and several parts of North and South America. In the next century routes were opened to the Mediterranean and to Alexandria, as part of the way to India.
This was much more than a postal service: merchants carried official dispatches of bullion to pay British troops and brought money back from abroad, and the early news of disasters, wars, victories etc. reached Britain first via the packets. The ships also carried some important passengers, and the captain was allowed to do some trade, although carrying cargo was forbidden. But many officers and crew made money by illicit means.
Packet ships were originally any that were thought fit for the job, but the Post Office produced a design that became standard for future packets. It was small (180 - 200 tons), fast and unsuitable for carrying cargo. They carried a crew of 22 in peacetime and 28 in times of war, with 8 - 10 guns. At the beginning of the 19th century there were around 40 packet ships. The PO financed the ships and paid for the crew and their food, while the owner was responsible for the running cost of the ship.
The development of steamships meant the end for the sailing ships of the packet service. In 1823 the Royal Navy took over the service, and from 1840 steamships were introduced. The last packet ship returned to Falmouth in 1851.