The British Royal Mail Coach service began in England in 1784 carrying mail and passengers between towns at regular intervals. The coaches were built to a Royal Mail standard, and were leased to a proprietor driver whose pay was dependent on keeping to the strict delivery times. The mail was kept in a lock box and secured by a Royal Mail Guard in a maroon and gold uniform, armed with a blunderbuss and two pistols. The security against being waylaid by highwaymen, along with the regular and fast travel schedule, attracted a steady stream of passengers prepared to pay the driver a premium for the service. This government guaranteed Royal Mail and passenger service spread to the Kingdom’s Australasian colonies, minus the maroon and gold guards, from the early to mid 1800s, and provided a model for public transport and mail delivery that would continue through to the 20th century.
By the mid 1860s numerous Royal Mail Coaches were in service throughout Canterbury and Banks Peninsula, often synchronised with the Royal Mail steamships that would call into ports around the region. A daily Lyttelton to Governors Bay and return coach service was in operation from at least November 1890, run by Mr W. H. Teape of the Mitre Hotel. By 1905 this service had become a Royal Mail Coach route from Lyttelton Railway Station through to Teddington and return, driven by Mr F. Pimm of Allandale.
From 1906 through to at least 1909, Mr Robert Harris was the proprietor of the Lyttelton to Teddington Royal Mail and passenger coach service. In our photograph we see the horses Glen and Mona with their driver Mr Harris waiting patiently outside the Lyttelton Railway Station. Having just taken on passengers and mail, with Mr John Radcliffe seated up front, the Royal Mail Coach daily service would shortly be on its way at precisely 9:30 AM back up the Lyttelton Road to Allandale via Governors Bay. The daily run was repeated in the afternoon, leaving Allandale at 4 PM precisely with the return journey starting from Lyttelton train station at 6 PM.
This important and regular public transport option, up and down the Lyttelton to Governors Bay Road and beyond to Allandale and Teddington, via horse drawn carriage, continued through the First World War until at least 1920 with proprietor and driver Mr D. Whitford. By the mid 1920s, however, most of the Royal Mail coaches that had played such a vital public transport and communications role throughout Aotearoa New Zealand had been replaced by motorised buses, automobiles, trucks and the ever expanding railway networks.