Packet Service

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Packet Service
Board of Admiralty Flag 19th to early 20th Century.gif
Department overview
Formedorigin 16th c. formal 1823
JurisdictionGovernment of the United Kingdom
HeadquartersAdmiralty Building
Parent DepartmentDepartment of Admiralty

The Packet Service or Admiralty Packet Service was founded in the 16th century it remained under control of the General Post Office until 1823 when responsibility for the service passed to the Department of Admiralty until 1862 when it was abolished.


In 1823, the Admiralty took over the administration of the Packet Service. It replaced older packet vessels with naval ships made redundant by the peace that had followed the end of the Napoleonic wars. These were unsuitable for packet use and referred to as "floating coffins" by seamen.

Steam vessels started to replace sail in the 1830's and this enabled a more regular and predictable service to be operated. Over time, there was a consolidation of packet stations. Most routes were transferred to Southampton, which had been linked to London by railway. Other ports handling packets include Liverpool (from 1840) and Plymouth (from 1850).

In 1862, the Government disbanded the Packet Service. Instead, the Post Office contracted for the carriage of mail with companies running other regularly timetabled services. Ships with the contract to carry mail were designated Royal Mail Ship. This change was administered by Admiral Parry.

A "packet ship" was originally a vessel employed to carry post office mail packets to and from British embassies, colonies and outposts. In sea transport, a packet service is a regular, scheduled service, carrying freight and passengers. The ships used for this service are called packet ships or packet boats. The seamen are called packetmen, and the business is called packet trade.

Packet Stations

The stations from which the packet ships departed were:

  1. Dover Packet Station.
  2. Falmouth Packet Station.
  3. Great Yarmouth Packet Station.
  4. Harwich Packet Station.
  5. Holyhead Packet Station.
  6. Milford Haven Packet Station.
  7. Plymouth Packet Station.