An Intelligent Horse Delivers the Mail

The Edinburgh and London Royal Mail by John Frederick Herring, 1838.
The Edinburgh and London Royal Mail by John Frederick Herring, 1838.

One night in 1894, while on the mail route from Ramsgate to Dover, the driver of a mail cart was attacked by two armed men.  According to the Leeds Times, he was “cut about the head and face” and then struck in the back of the head with a “heavy implement.”  He was later found unconscious on a roadway near Sandwich.  What the thieves intended to steal from the mail cart is unclear, for they were ultimately thwarted in their goal.  Having seen them attack his master, the mail horse bolted away with the mail before the two villains could catch him.

The horse was apparently familiar with the mail route and, despite having no human to guide him, he galloped straight for the next mail stop at Sandwich and delivered the mail on his own.  He was so efficient in his endeavor that having arrived at Sandwich, an 1894 edition of the Dundee Evening Telegraph states that not a single piece of mail was reported to be missing.

The driver later recovered and “proceeded on his journey.”  The newspapers do not  explicitly say so, but I expect that he reconnected with his horse at Sandwich.  As for the horse, though reports do refer to him as an “intelligent horse” who saved the mail bags, there is no more information about him.

The Last of the Mail Coaches at Newcastle upon Tyne by James Pollard, 1848.
The Last of the Mail Coaches at Newcastle upon Tyne by James Pollard, 1848.

Loose horses, when frightened, will often head straight home to the safety of their stable—no matter how intricate the journey or how burdensome their cargo.  For example, an 1882 edition of the Thetford & Watton Times and People’s Weekly Journal reports on a farmer who was driving a cart of sheep into town.  When he climbed down to latch a gate, his horse bolted away with the cart and the sheep.  As the article states:

“Although there were two or three turns in the road, it passed them all safely, and turned into the gateway of its home without doing the least damage to itself or cart.”

Granted, the mail horse did not live in Sandwich, but it was a regular stop on his route and a place with which he was familiar.  I am in no doubt of the intelligence of horses, but rather than believe (as the newspapers allude) that the mail horse’s work ethic and intelligence inspired him to continue on with the mail delivery, I would argue that he merely galloped to the closest place of safety.  What do you think?

North Country Mails at the Peacock, Islington by James Pollard, 1821.
North Country Mails at the Peacock, Islington by James Pollard, 1821.

Thus concludes another of my Friday features on Animals in Literature and History.  If you are interested in helping a horse in need, I encourage you to utilize the following links as resources:

Equine Rescue League (United States)

RSCPA Horses and Ponies Rehoming and Adoption (United Kingdom)

Mimi Matthews is the USA Today bestselling author of The Matrimonial Advertisement, The Pug Who Bit Napoleon, and A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty. She researches and writes on all aspects of nineteenth century history—from animals, art, and etiquette to fashion, beauty, feminism, and law.

Sources

“Intelligent Horse Saves the Mail Bags.”  Dundee Evening Telegraph.  September 14, 1894.

“The Mails Saved by Bolting Horse.”  Leeds Times.  September 15, 1894.

Thetford & Watton Times and People’s Weekly Journal.  March 18, 1882.

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Sarah Waldock
Sarah Waldock
5 years ago

I’m inclined to agree. Horses are quite bright, but they don’t reason. He knew if he kept going there would be safety and water and maybe food.

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
5 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Waldock

The power of a warm stall and some fresh hay cannot be underestimated! Having said that, I’m surprised the horse did not stop along the way to graze.

Sarah
Sarah
5 years ago

That is remarkable! It’s incredible that the horse kept such a cool head – I’ve seen horses spook over the most benign of things, and he definitely would have picked up on the fear of the driver. It sounds like the horse was not only intelligent but mightily chilled!

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
5 years ago
Reply to  Sarah

Usually, after the initial spook, they calm down. I imagine him bolting off down the road and then, when he was calmer, just carrying on to his next stop :)

Dorothy
Dorothy
5 years ago

I’m inclined to think that once the horse got over the fear caused by the scuffle it fell back into a habitual pattern. Old books are full of stories of horses following old habits without any human guidance. The one I have seen most often is the milkman’s or the iceman’s horse that insists on following its old route and stopping for its regular deliveries in spite of the frustration of the driver. And of course there is the fire engine horse, answering the fire alarm and dragging its owner’s buggy to every fire!

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
5 years ago
Reply to  Dorothy

Many horses definitely become accustomed to a daily pattern. When my horse was a three year old first under saddle and out of balance, I always asked for the canter in a particular corner of the arena to encourage him to pick up the right lead. For years afterward, he would offer the canter whenever we rode through that corner.

Tom Genereaux
Tom Genereaux
5 years ago
Reply to  Mimi Matthews

When I lived in the High Desert of California, it was our practice to go to the local watering hole (some 10 miles down mountain) on horseback. We knew the horses could find their way home even if we were quite confused.

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
5 years ago
Reply to  Tom Genereaux

Horses have a great sense of direction when it comes to finding their way back home!

Lindsay Downs (@ldowns2966)
Lindsay Downs (@ldowns2966)
5 years ago

Maybe it’s the romantic in me but I’d like to think the horse knew his duty, thusly continuing on to his next post.

Angelyn
Angelyn
5 years ago

I like Lindsay’s notion, and for the same reason, having been “saddled” with barn-sour horses in the past.

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
5 years ago
Reply to  Angelyn

Barn-sour horses are the worst :( But then, if they get loose, you always know where they are going!

authorangelabell
authorangelabell
5 years ago

Such an interesting story! As a romantic and an author, I’d like to believe that the fine horse was motivated out of love for his master and a desire to get him to a place of safety. Valiant Black Beauty comes to mind… :-)

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
5 years ago

Glad you enjoyed it, Angela :)

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