Nova Scotia Pony Express

The Beginning of the
Associated Press

The Pony Express that in 1849
forwarded European News
from Halifax to Victoria Beach
to be conveyed by chartered steamship
to Saint John, New Brunswick
and thence telegraphed to New York

By John W. Regan

Read 5th January, 1912
before the Nova Scotia Historical Society
Halifax, Nova Scotia

The Associated Press, the greatest news-gathering organization in existence, had its inception in a "pony express," started by six New York newspapers, that was operated in 1849 between Halifax and Victoria Beach in Nova Scotia, for the purpose of forwarding European news to Boston and New York in advance of the arrival at Boston of the English mail steamer from Halifax. The "pony express" terminated at Victoria Beach near Digby, where a chartered steamboat was waiting to convey the dispatches across the Bay of Fundy to Saint John, the terminus of the newly-constructed electric telegraph line, and from this point the news was wired to New York, many hours ahead of the arrival of the English mail steamers from Liverpool and Halifax. The whole service from Halifax to Saint John and by wire to New York was called the Halifax Express.

This express was started in February, 1849, and continued for nine months, until superseded by the extension of the telegraph line from Saint John to Sackville, New Brunswick, and thence to Halifax in November, 1849. After that, the forwarding of the English news settled down to the less exciting method of filing the dispatches at the telegraph office, situated, I believe, on Hollis Street, just north of the Bank of Nova Scotia, and the dashing "pony express" was discontinued forever and gave way to the new order of things. There was still some excitement and competition in rushing the English news from the ship's side to the Halifax telegraph office, but this was tame compared to the desperate energy with which the news had been forwarded by relays of galloping horses 144 miles [232 km] from Halifax to Victoria Beach in the average time of eight hours or a mile in about 3.29 minutes [one kilometre in about 2 minutes 3 seconds, or 29 km/h]. At first there were two rival expresses, and it is recorded that on one trip they reached their destination only 2½ minutes apart, and that the episode of the racing expresses passing through a post-village caused as much excitement as a mail-steamer arriving at Halifax. Fortnightly, day and night, in good weather and bad weather the dispatch riders tore through the lonely country, bearing the European news to the people of the United States.

News from England was then the news of the world. It came in fortnightly instalments from London, and not as now in crisp daily messages from the ends of the Earth. Vast interests of national, commercial, social and individual importance hinged upon the state of the markets and the other contents of the sealed dispatches received at Halifax by way of the pioneer steamship line, and it must be remembered that the vessels arriving at Halifax were the only regular means of transAtlantic communication. There were private lines of packets and other clipper sailing ships, but they were uncertain. Just imagine what feverish excitement there would be today if all cables were suspended indefinitely and all steamship communication were reduced to one line between Liverpool and Halifax!

That was the condition which brought about the establishment of the "pony express" in 1849. This express is of special interest, because it brought the New York publishers together for the first time and caused the Associated Press to be founded. The express demonstrated the possibilities and the necessity for extending the telegraph line to Halifax without delay, and was therefore instrumental in the introduction of the telegraph into Canada. The "pony express" also must always be identified with the dramatic conjunction of these two marvellous agencies — the telegraph and the steamship.

The name "pony express" was a term imported from the United States, but in reality horses were used. The term came into use as distinct from the stage coach or wagon express, in which horses were employed. It must not be confused with the carrying of postal matter by mounted carriers, as was once the custom in the province.

The story of the "pony express" throws into greater prominence the geographical position of the port of Halifax.

The establishment of the Halifax express as a joint venture of the New York papers, was a sign of the revolution that the advent of the novel agency of the telegraph was to bring about. There had been tremendous competition between the metropolitan papers. From 1830 to 1848 the rivalry and enterprise of the Herald, Journal of Commerce, Courier and Enquirer and several other New York journals, were the keenest imaginable.

Various schemes were adopted by the enterprising publishers in the publication of important news. There was then no cable, no telegraph and no telephone. There was no railway or steam navigation to assist the newspapers except perhaps in local areas for a short time. Pigeon posts and hilltop (semaphore) signal systems were used when possible, and on important occasions individual newspapers developed elaborate horse relay expresses for the rapid conveyance of dispatches. The "pony express" was worked with such marked success by the New York Herald during the war with Mexico, that the elder James Gordon Bennett in New York was able to announce the result of engagements before the same intelligence reached the military authorities of the federal government at Washington.

The writer is indebted to Mr. Melville E. Stone, general manager of the Associated Press, for the following information in regard to newspaper conditions in New York at this time. About 1825 there was a notable change in newspaper work in the United States. Previous to that, letters had appeared on important topics, but no systematic effort had been made to keep pace with the world's happenings. In the new development half a dozen men were prominent. Samuel Topliff and Harry Blake were the first news managers. [See note B at bottom] Topliff established a news-room in Boston where he sold news reports and shipping intelligence, and Blake prowled about Boston harbour in a rowboat intercepting incoming packets and peddling out as best he could any news that he secured. Two young Boston journalists, David Hale and Gerard Hallock, who became familiar with the work of Blake and Topliff, bought the New York Journal of Commerce and transplanted their methods to New York. They bought a handsome seagoing yacht and cruised off Sandy Hook to meet incoming vessels. This incensed the other newspaper publishers who promptly expelled Hale and Hallock from the local association, and they built a rival schooner. Hale and Hallock then erected a semaphore on the highlands near Sandy Hook to which they signalled news and this in turn was transmitted to Staten Island, which enabled them to outdistance their competitors.

The scenes about the office of the Journal of Commerce were memorable, and before long the proprietors enjoyed a national reputation. Then they established a "pony express" from Philadelphia to New York with eight relays of horses, and were able to publish southern news twenty-four hours ahead of their competitors. This system worked so well that the federal government took it over, but Hale and Hallock extended their express to Washington, and thus maintained their supremacy. They frequently published official news from the capital before it had been received at the government office in New York.

With the advent [note 1] of James Gordon Bennett and the New York Herald, fresh zeal was imparted to the struggle between the newspapers. Besides a system of pony expresses to report the progress of the war with Mexico, Bennett had a carrier-pigeon service between New York and Albany for the annual message of the governor which he printed ahead of everyone else.

In July 1840 the Cunard line of mail steamships began running [note 2] between Liverpool, Halifax and Boston; and Bennett with characteristic energy established a "pony express" for hurrying the English news from Boston to New York.

Note 1: The first issue of the New York Herald was published on May 6th, 1835.

Note 2: RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Britannia, the first ship built by the new Cunard line especially for the transAtlantic Royal Mail service, steamed out of Liverpool on her first voyage across the North Atlantic on July 4th, 1840, and arrived in Halifax on July 17th. Her Liverpool to Halifax time was 14 days 8 hours, very fast for that time. Britannia was in Halifax only a few hours, then continued to Boston, where she docked on July 20th. On that day, July 20th, immediately after Britannia arrived, the most recent European news available in Boston was sixteen days old. This news was carried from Boston to New York by the fastest means then available, a special express courier riding a relay of horses. The news reached New York only seventeen days after it left Liverpool, England; this was a considerable improvement on the previous service.

Topliff and Blake had been succeeded at Boston by Daniel H. Craig, a newsgather of extraordinary alertness. As the Cunard boats approached Boston harbour, Craig went out to sea with a schooner to meet them, and received a packet of news. Then by carrier pigeon he communicated a synopsis of the news to his Boston office, frequently releasing the birds 40 or 50 miles [60 to 80 km] from port.

The importance of promptly securing the European news developed tremendous competition between the newspapers in which speculators joined. Great business interests depended upon the state of the markets, and the course of foreign trade and politics. It is recorded, though not authenticated, that a steamer was jointly chartered by the news collectors of Boston to meet the mail steamer at Halifax and hurry the European news to the United States. On the very first trip Craig was one of the correspondents, and he had managed to secrete two carrier pigeons in a basket, and he released these from his cabin window fifty miles [eighty kilometres] outside Boston with the most important foreign intelligence, which was published before the press boat reached the city.

Meanwhile Prof. Morse was struggling with his invention of the electric telegraph. In 1843 the United States congress voted $30,000 to build an experimental line from Washington to Baltimore, which occupied a year to construct. The line was subsequently extended to Philadelphia and New York. In October, 1848, under the heading "Telegraphic Wonders," the New York Herald reported it had received "interesting intelligence last night by electric telegraph from eight cities comprehending an aggregate distance of 3,000 miles" [4800 km]. When the wires were extended to Boston and through the state of Maine and on across the border to Saint John, it was at once seen that it would be easy to receive news brought to Halifax thirty-six hours earlier than it would reach Boston or New York by the steamer. It was certain, of course, that someone would take steps to secure the news, and private speculators would find it to their interest to do this and the commercial community would be victimized.

To prevent this, six New York newspapers formed an organization known as the Associated Press, to establish a "permanent express run by horses from Halifax to Digby on the Bay of Fundy, and by steamboats from that place to Saint John." Such was the opening wording of the announcement in the New York Courier in May 1849, in regard to the express to Digby. At the same time the newspapers made a deal with the companies controlling the telegraph which caused it to be publicly alleged in New York that a monopoly was created. This report, no doubt, had something to do with the issue of the announcement by the Courier already referred to.

It declared that arrangements had also been made to "Transmit the news by telegraph from Saint John to New York without interruption and with the least possible delay. The enterprise was undertaken solely for the benefit of the subscribers and readers of the six newspapers concerned. The management of the telegraph line aided it in every way possible and co-operated with the press in all measures necessary to bring the news before the public before it could be used by private speculators, to the general detriment.

"The experiment thus far, as our readers are aware, has proved perfectly successful. It will be seen from this statement that the Halifax Express and telegraph arrangement belongs solely and exclusively to the New York press — that is established. They have the entire control of it. The gentleman, by whom it is so efficiently managed at the Halifax end, Mr. D.H. Craig, is their agent. The expense of it, amounting to about $1,000 for each steamer, is paid by them, and the dispatch received is in every respect their private property, subject to their disposal in any way they see fit, so that the public is not injured and their subscribers are served thereby. If the news arrived in the day time, the New York papers, in justice to the commercial community and greatly to their own injury, issue it in extras or put it upon their bulletins. If it comes at night, they take all possible precaution to prevent its being appropriated by parties who have no right to it, and lay it before their subscribers in the regular morning editions.

"At an early day, or as soon indeed as it was understood that a Halifax express was to be run, the Boston press applied to the proprietors of the Halifax Express for a share in its benefits. An arrangement was promptly effected by which a copy of each dispatch is delivered in Boston for the use of the parties to it, and it is generally issued simultaneously with its publication here in New York. For this the nine Boston papers interested pay regularly to the New York press about one-sixth of the whole expense. The arrangement is mutually advantageous and satisfactory to the public, and the press of both cities.

"The enterprise has been styled 'a monopoly' by newspapers which are not parties to it. It is monopolized by its owners, and so long as the law protects private property it will continue to be, but we have no doubt that any New York morning paper can become a party to it by paying its share of the costs. Those are the simple facts in regard to the Halifax Express. We state them on behalf of the six New York papers by whom that express is owned and managed at an expense of over $20,000 per annum, as well as of the Boston press who receive and pay for a share of the advantages. The Halifax Express is permanent and will be made as regular and efficient as money and the utmost care and attention can make it. We regard it as highly important to the commercial community of New York that it should be maintained, because in its absence the great mass of our business men will be at the mercy of private speculators. At present the utmost care is taken to protect the public and it is only just to say that in this endeavour the press is thoroughly and generously aided by Mr. Smith, the president of the telegraph company between New York and Boston, by Mr. Foss their superintendent at New York, and by all the operators and others attached to the lines. We look to the public alone for that appreciation which is of itself a sufficient reward for our expense and labour."

On Wednesday, January 3, 1849, the Halifax newspaper Nova Scotian stated that the telegraph was working between Saint John, New Brunswick, and Calais, Maine. The issue of the same paper of February 26th, 1849, reprinted an item from the Saint John Observer to the effect that it was intended to run a news express from Halifax to Saint John, via Annapolis, on the arrival of every English mail steamer, the news to be telegraphed from Saint John to New York on account of the Associated Press of that city.

The first express left Halifax on February 21st, 1849, on the arrival of the Cunard Royal Mail steamship Europa, eleven days from Liverpool, England. Concerning this first express, the Halifax newspapers contain no information, but we can confidently infer that it was dispatched on February 21st, as the newspaper referring to the express of March 8th, stated that the latter reached Digby Gut in "three hours less than it was done before." [See note A at bottom] The Europa was the English mail steamship which arrived at Halifax on the trip before that of the America to which reference will soon be made. The first run of the express from Halifax to Digby Gut must have been performed in about eleven and a half hours, a record which was next to be reduced by three hours.

It is recorded that the express was continued for nine months with remarkable regularity, only one trip being missed, and that the distance of 144 miles [232 km] to Victoria Beach, Digby Gut, was covered in the average time of eight hours. The journey was performed by two riders who changed at Kentville, and was divided into twelve stages with a fresh horse about every twelve miles [about nineteen kilometres]. The fortnightly mail steamers were liable to arrive at Halifax at any time, and the dispatch rider had to be always on the alert, ready to start at any hour, night or day, and the same alertness was requisite in furnishing fresh horses at the relay posts.

Regarding the second trip, on the arrival of the steamship America on Thursday, March 8th, 1849, the Express newspaper in Halifax on the following Monday, March 12th printed a short item as follows: — "The news from England by the America was expressed from hence to Digby Gut in the extraordinary short time of eight hours and 27½ minutes — three hours less than it was done before. Mr. Barnaby's express came in, we understand, 2½ minutes in advance of Mr. Hyde's [note 3]. A serious accident, which severely injured Mr. Hyde's courier occurred at Windsor bridge and delayed the latter half an hour."

Note 3: Hiram Hyde, Nova Scotia's stage coach tycoon,
died at Truro, Nova Scotia, on 14th December 1907.
Hyde had the contract for running the 1849 dispatch
express on behalf of Daniel H. Craig, while Barnaby
served the rival organization.

Note (by ICS, 21 January 2002):
It is believed that the mysterious "Barnaby", referred to above,
was Timothy Barnabe of the Western Stage Coach Company,
whose name appears in the following government record:

On 12 February 1847, a petition "of Timothy Barnabe
was presented" to the Nova Scotia Legislature
"by Mr. Dewolfe, and read, praying a return of the Duties
paid on the importation of Carriages, by the Western Stage
Coach Company." The Legislature referred the petition
to the Committee on Trade and Manufactures.
[Journal of the Proceedings of the House of Assembly
of the Province of Nova Scotia, 1847]

"Mr. Dewolfe," who presented Barnabe's petition to the Legislature,
was Thomas Andrew Strange DeWolfe (1795-1878). From 1836 to 1847,
T.A.S. DeWolfe represented Kings County in the Legislature.

And who was "Timothy Barnabe"? There is a record of
Timothy Barnaby, born 14 June 1811 in Cornwallis, Kings County, N.S.
In March 1849, this Timothy Barnaby would have been 37 years old, which is
about right for someone in a position to organize a horse express service.

The news columns of the British Colonist, Halifax, contained an extended reference to the new express, as follows: "On Thursday morning (8th March, 1849) immediately after the arrival of the steamer from England, two expresses (one on behalf of the Associated Press of Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, the other got up in opposition by some mercantile gentlemen in the United States) left this city travelling at a rate of speed that is, we believe, unprecedented in this country. The parties engaged here to convey the rival expresses overland to Digby Gut, were Mr. Hyde and Mr. Barnaby. Hyde's express arrived at Digby Neck at 28 minutes past 12 o'clock accomplishing the distance of 146 miles [235 km] in 8½ hours — having met with several accidents and interruptions [note 4]. At Windsor a delay of 20 minutes occurred, and after starting Mr. Hamilton, the courier from that place, when crossing the Avon River bridge broke his stirrup, and was thrown from his horse with such force, that he lay insensible for some time; he, however, remounted, and though lamed, with one stirrup performed his route with astonishing dispatch. A distance of 18 miles [29 km] from Kentville, was performed by Mr. Thad Harris [note 5] in 53 minutes. The steamer Conqueror, chartered to convey Hyde's express to Saint John, was waiting in readiness when the express arrived. Barnaby's express arrived 2½ minutes before Hyde's, but the steamer Commander, engaged by his party, had not made her appearance at the latest accounts."

Note 4: This is at an average of 20 miles per hour [32 km/h]
including all delays.

Note 5: This is probably Thaddeus Harris, born 1820,
died June 1851, son of Hon. J.D. Harris of Kentville.

A contemporary issue of the British Colonist, Halifax, made an editorial reference to the express as follows: — "Had we ever entertained any doubts as to the importance of an electric telegraph being constructed between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the following fact would suffice to remove skepticism. The America arrived on last Thursday morning and incredible as it may seem, the English and foreign news which she carried was published in New York on the same evening. This news was expressed from hence to Digby, thence by steamer to New Brunswick, thence by telegraph dispatch, and every merchant and burgess in New York knew the state of the European markets eighteen hours after the arrival of the America at Halifax. Had the electric telegraph been in operation in Nova Scotia, the news would have been in New York ere the steamer could have left our harbour.

From the announcement of the New York Courier, we see that not only was the Halifax Express the occasion of the founding of the Associated Press, but that Halifax was the first foreign station of the Associated Press, Mr. D.H. Craig was its first foreign correspondent, and the telegraph wire from the United States to Saint John and afterward to Halifax was the earliest line controlled by the organization. The Associated Press now (1912) has thousands of correspondents at home and abroad and controls many thousand miles of wire in the United States, where it supplies the world's news as well as domestic news to seven hundred daily papers with a combined circulation of sixteen million copies, and if the formula of three readers to each paper is accepted the Associated Press reports are read by half the people of the United States. These reports are also sold to Canadian Press, Ltd., and distributed to daily papers throughout Canada. While the legal birthplace of this great news-gathering organization was New York, its first activities related to the procuring of English news landed at Halifax, and it is interesting to observe that the purpose of forming the Associated Press was the benefit and protection of the public.

That Halifax has not lost ground as a news centre, is illustrated by the busy cable and wireless systems centreing here. Here is an example: In 1909 the writer was in New York in August and was informed by the manager of the Associated Press that commander Peary had been absent two years and was due to return from his last polar dash, and he suggested fitting out a steamer to intercept him at Greenland. Before there was time to act on these instructions the world was electrified by the announcement that Dr. Cook had discovered the North Pole. In a few days there was another announcement that Peary had arrived at Labrador with the statement that he had reached the pole and that Cook's claim was unfounded. The writer met the Peary party at Battle Harbour, Labrador. The detailed account of the polar dash was forwarded by wireless (radio) relays down the Labrador coast and across the Gulf of St. Lawrence, though Halifax, and overland (by electric telegraph) to New York. At the same time Dr. Cook was crossing the ocean to New York, on the steamer Oscar II at the height of his short lived triumph. Cook was accompanied by the Berlin correspondent of the Associated Press, who had scrambled on board at Copenhagen. A condensed report of Peary's story from Battle Harbour was sent to Halifax from New York, and forwarded by wireless to Sable Island, and repeated by marconigram to Dr. Cook on board the Danish steamer in mid-ocean. Cook's criticism was returned the same way and forwarded from Halifax by land-wire and wireless to Commander Peary at Battle Harbour. Though these two pole-hunters were separated by thousands of miles of sea and barren waste, one in frozen Labrador and the other in mid-ocean, the world was entertained with an amazing dialogue. Just as the Associated Press found the first reason for its existence in the geographical situation of Halifax, just so does this city continue to be a clearing-house for the daily record of the world's affairs.

The telegraph office was first opened at Halifax in November, 1849; and on November 15th, the first dispatch was sent from this city giving a synopsis of the English news received by the royal mail steamship America. The steamer arrived at 7:30 o'clock, but the wire between Saint John and Calais was out of repair and was not restored until 8 o'clock, otherwise the America's news would have been in Boston by 11 o'clock and in New York within five minutes afterward. A local paper stated that its reporter was in the telegraph office at 11 o'clock on Thursday night after the arrival of the America and found that Mr. Gisborne, the operator, had been engaged for three hours in sending an abstract of the European news and that it had reached Boston in safety and that the whole report would be published in the morning papers next day. The Halifax Nova Scotian commented as follows: —

"This triumph of science speaks for itself. The brief experience had on our line, speaks favourably of the skill of the operator and the care and diligence applied by the superintendent."

The Morning Chronicle contained the first telegraphic dispatch ever published in the Halifax newspapers, which came direct to this city by wire. It was as follows: —

Great Storm at Portland, Maine

"Saint John, N.B., Nov. 14, 1849: — Ten buildings were blown down on Friday night. No other news per steamer."

While the telegraph was only opened for business in November the construction work had been in progress in and about the city for some time. The first pole of the telegraph was erected on the North Common at Halifax on the afternoon of the centenary celebration, June 8, 1849.

The first dispatch of English news by telegraph directly from Halifax to Boston and New York on November 15th, 1849, marked the termination of the fortnightly galloping Halifax Express which had been inaugurated February 21st of the same year, after having been in operation for nine months [note 6].

Note 6: Readers are referred to an article on
the Halifax Pony Express, by George Mullane
in the Morning Chronicle for 1st January 1914.

Statements Regarding the Pony Express

In response to a letter inserted in Halifax, Saint John, and other provincial newspapers asking for information respecting the foregoing pony express, the writer has received a number of interesting replies from old residents, but several correspondents appear to confuse early coach and mail carrying contracts with the Associated Press dispatch service.

The following statements, so received, apparently bear upon the subject of the Halifax dispatch express of 1849, and will supplement the information given in the foregoing paper. They are presented about as received and depend for their summary of details upon the respective memories of the persons who furnished them. Other statements which no doubt refer to mail contracts, will be given later.

John Hall, of Lawrencetown, Annapolis County, reports that his father conducted a stable at Lawrencetown, about 1848, where horses were boarded for a man named Barnaby who drove a coach and ran the pony express. Mr. Hall's letter is interesting enough to quote at length. He says: — "I well remember as a boy the delight I took in riding a horse beside my father while exercising the express horses. The event of the express passing through the village, would cause as much excitement as the arrival of an English steamer at Halifax. Sometimes there was added excitement caused by a man named Hiram Hyde, who wagered he could carry the dispatches between any two given places in less time than Barnaby. Hyde operated a rival coach line. I distinctly recall numbers of people standing in the street, waiting to catch a glimpse of the riders as they approached our village, and the eagerness to help change the saddle from tired to fresh horses while the riders walked about briskly to overcome the cramped feeling from hard riding. Then the riders were helped into the saddle and were off like a flash. Among these who rode horses, were Mason and John Pineo and Benjamin Chesley. John Ross kept the stable where Hyde's horses put up. There was almost as much excitement in the village over a race between the two expresses as there would be in a general election at the present time, and I assure you that the horses received every attention from their caretakers, in order to win the applause of the public. In one race the Barnaby horse was a fine chestnut, weighing 1,000 or 1,100 lbs. [450 to 500 kg] while the rival equine was a bay with a white stripe, and weighed 900 lbs. [410 kg]. Barnaby won easily, and there was cheering at our stable. The time between Halifax and Victoria Beach was usually from 8 to 9 hours, but I cannot understand why the service was called a 'pony express', as the finest horses were employed."

Another correspondent, Jacob Randall, of Kingston Station, near the western border of Kings County, states that this father kept what was called a tavern on the main road at Lower Aylesford one-half mile west of Kingston station. Tenders were asked for the conveyance of the press dispatches and James King, of Saint John, was awarded the contract. A trial was made around the Bay of Fundy through New Brunswick; and another through the Annapolis Valley to Victoria Beach on Digby Gut. The latter proved the quicker route, and King went through the Valley and placed horses; one at Nelson Chute's at Berwick, one at Randall's tavern (Lower Aylesford) and one about two miles [about three km] below Middleton, besides others.

My correspondent and his brother looked after the horses, the former being then twelve years of age. They acquired to be on the alert when a rider came, to change saddle and bridle as quickly as possible, and then the rider went away at once like a flash. Mr. Randall thinks the name of the first rider was Patrick Doyle. It seems that this man did not handle the horses to advantage, and he was replaced by Corey Odell of Saint John, who afterwards settled in Annapolis Royal. Odell proved a better jockey and made faster time. Randall remembers an instance when the express rider Doyle arrived one morning at 8 o'clock, but the fresh horse that he mounted refused to go. Every plan to start him was tried without success. When a neighbour mounted the animal, the horse went away like a bird, but he would not budge a step with Doyle on his back. After four hours balking, Doyle gave it up and went on to the next station. Randall states when the mail steamers arrived in Halifax harbour, a small boat would be summoned by a steam whistle to receive the sealed dispatches, which were hurried to the shore and handed to the rider who was off at once. The first change was at Sackville near Bedford. The rider carried a horn with a very sharp, shrill blast, which was constantly sounded for a distance of one-half mile [about a kilometre] before approaching a relay station, whether day or night, and ample warning was given in this way to hold a fresh horse in readiness. The dispatches were enclosed in a sealed bag carried under the arm with a strap over the shoulder. Neither of the riders lived in Halifax. The horses usually walked returning. Randall corroborates other statements that the average time from Halifax to Victoria Beach was 8 hours, or 18 miles an hour [about 29 km/h], when the roads were good.

Mr. Randall says that at the conclusion of the dispatch service, King tendered for the mail contract and was awarded the same and ran in opposition to the Davidson coach, which Randall says was operated by Barnaby. The opposition between the King mail and the Davidson coach, was so keen that either coach would go a mile off the main road to get a passenger to prevent the traveller going by the other coach.

In view of Jacob Randall's statement that the first experiment in forwarding the news from Halifax, was conducted via Truro and Sackville, New Brunswick, to Saint John, inquiries have been made at Truro among friends and descendants of the late Hiram Hyde. Hyde was a resident of Truro for many years. Some of his surviving friends at Truro, men upwards of eighty years of age, state that they never heard Hyde mention the horse express, and they felt confident, therefore, that any effort to forward the news overland through Truro and Sackville and through New Brunswick to Saint John, must have been limited to one attempt; which not being successful, the other route through the Annapolis valley and on by boat to Saint John was immediately adopted. Hyde was born in New York state and came to New Brunswick shortly before the outbreak of the Canadian rebellion in 1837. In that affair he took a contract to transport British troops in winter to Quebec. He afterwards settled at Truro and operated an extensive stage coach system in Nova Scotia, carrying mails and passengers, in different parts of the province.

Luther B. Archibald of Truro remembers a dispute that arose in 1858 between the Nova Scotia Telegraph Co. and the New Brunswick Telegraph Co. The former would not transmit the European news from Halifax, which was therefore sent by rail to Truro and forwarded to Sackville, New Brunswick, by Archibald and Purdy in a light rig [note 7]. This continued for a short time until the dispute between the two companies was satisfactorily settled.

Note 7: At this time (1858) the railway ran from Halifax to Truro
and from Truro to New Glasgow, but there was no railway
between Truro and Sackville, New Brunswick.

Mrs. Mary Odell, of Annapolis Royal, has sent a statement that she is the widow of Corey Odell, one of the two riders who carried the dispatches for King Brothers, in 1848, and that she is now in her eighty-second year. On New Year's day, 1912, Mrs. Odell called on Mrs. Agnes King, age 81, widow of Arthur King. In talking over old times, Mrs. King states that the pony express was inaugurated by the Associated Press after the telegraph line was built from New York to Saint John. Mrs. King says that year was 1849, and remembers distinctly a race between King Brothers and Barnaby, who had the contract for carrying mails from Halifax to Saint John. Barnaby changed horses every 12 miles [19 km]. The Kings won the race in the remarkable time of 6 hours, having the pick of horses from their Saint John stables. Mrs. Odell says that an Irish jockey carried the dispatches from Halifax to Kentville, and Corey Odell from there to Victoria Beach, for King Brothers. On arrival at Granville Ferry a gun was fired from the old fort at Annapolis notifying the steamer, which was in readiness at Victoria Beach to start for Saint John.

In a scrapbook in the possession of C.E.W. Dodwell, C.E., Halifax, there is a clipping from London Engineering, giving an extract from a letter published in the Windsor Mail of February 13, 1879, advocating a fairway through the Annapolis Valley, and citing the old express running from Halifax to Saint John overland and by water, in an average of 11 hours, but occasionally 10 hours, the land trip being 144 miles [232 km] and water passage 40 miles [64 km]. The writer, evidently an old resident, said the average time from Halifax to Victoria Beach was 8 hours, and the fastest time 7 hours 15 minutes (that would be an average of about a mile in three minutes [one kilometre in slightly less than two minutes]). On one occasion 45 miles [72 km] between Halifax and Windsor was covered in one hour and 45 minutes (or an average of a mile in 2.33 minutes [a kilometre in 1.45 minutes]). Mention is made of a bridge at Horton (over the Gaspereaux River) being left open for repairs, as the dispatch rider was not expected, but the mail-steamer arrived at Halifax earlier than usual and the rider came during the night, which was very dark. The horse leaped the open space in the bridge, 18 feet [5.4 metres] and the rider did not know until reaching the next station just what was the explanation.

There is another story that a dispatch rider's horse, dashing through the covered bridge over the Avon River on a dark night, struck a wooden post, and fell dead; the rider being severely injured. Still another story reports an express rider having been thrown from his horse near Avonport in Lower Horton, and being unable to proceed. As the dispatches could not be delayed, William B.T. Piers, a gentleman formerly of Halifax but then a resident of the locality, and a fine horseman, jumped into the saddle and galloped through with them.

T.M. Robinson, of 2 Wright St., Saint John, N.B., who was unquestionably the first telegraph operator in the Maritime Provinces and probably the first in Canada as well, contributes several facts concerning the pony express. He was connected with the Nova Scotia Telegraph almost from its inception [note 8], and was secretary of the New Brunswick Telegraph Company. This company constructed the telegraph extension from Saint John to Sackville, New Brunswick. Mr. Robinson states that he was in New York from September 1844, until April 1848, and witnessed the first telegraph wire being taken into the office on Wall Street, New York, in April, 1845. During the winter of 1847-8 he saw a statement published in New York that the telegraph wire had reached Portland, Maine, and that the Associated Press had forwarded English news by express from Halifax to Digby and by steamer to Portland, and then by telegraph to New York. Mr. Robinson does not think this experiment was repeated, because when he arrived in Digby some time later he learned that the Portland steamer had been delayed by ice coming out of the Annapolis River, and that the news did not reach its destination much in advance of the Cunard steamers arrival at Boston.

Note 8: The Nova Scotia Electric Telegraph Company began
transmitting messages between Halifax and Amherst,
from/to the New Brunswick border, on November 14th, 1849.

Mr. Robinson says Halifax capitalists subscribed thirty per cent of the stock of the New Brunswick Telegraph Company. It was thought to be a poor investment; indeed the line would not have been built through the provinces as early as it was, had not the Associated Press agreed to pay heavy tolls. They paid the Nova Scotia Government line $150.00, the New Brunswick Telegraph Company $130.00, and four other companies between Saint John and New York proportionate prices for a three-thousand word report on the arrival of each mail steamer. For many months the press service contributed fifty per cent of the New Brunswick Telegraph Company's revenue, and the company never paid less than eight per cent to its shareholders.

One of the oldest printers in Canada is Alexander West of 32 North Street, Halifax, for many years a familiar face about town, but now confined to the house through old age. He will be ninety in April, 1912. Interviewed recently by the writer, Mr. West says he entered a printing office in this city at eleven years of age. He was forty years in the Acadian Recorder office and fifteen years in the Chronicle office. He worked for the Howes. At the recommendation of P.S. Hamilton he was selected by D.H. Craig to board the mail steamers and to transfer, so he claims, the dispatches to the express rider on shore. Mr. West vividly recalls the small boat he kept at the market wharf in which he rowed out to meet the incoming steamers at George's Island in Halifax harbour, whenever the weather suited, in order to save waiting for the Cunard liners to dock.

He says that dispatches were made up in sealed packages in Liverpool and given into the custody of the purser. West arranged to make himself known by displaying a small flag of particular make. Showing this, he drew his boat alongside the mail steamer and received the dispatches from the purser over the paddle box. On some occasions the dispatches came in sealed tin cans and were dropped overboard in the harbour in sight of West and picked up by him. He declares that in the end, the government prohibited delivering the dispatches until arrival at the wharf. Mr. West says the packages often contained news of immense importance to the public. As a rule the same news was the common property of the officers and passengers of the steamer, but there were occasions when this was not the case. Mr. West mentions a supplementary dispatch handed to the purser at Queenstown, Ireland, where the steamers touched, which was probably sent to Ireland by special boat and courier to intercept the mail for America. This dispatch related to an important occurrence that had taken place after the steamer left Liverpool, which was not known on board the liner. At this point Mr. West's memory seemed to fail him. He says he read the dispatch, and was startled that it contained an announcement of the death of the Queen. The writer reminded him that the Queen died only a few years ago, but he insisted that this was the momentous character of the dispatch and he prides himself that he was the only possessor for a short time, on this side, of a secret worth a million, to use his language, and that he faithfully kept his counsel and did not breathe the news before it became public later. It seems plausible to believe that something important had actually occurred, but whatever the news was that reposed in West's keeping, it comforts an old man, nearly a nonagenarian, to think he did not betray his trust. It is not at all certain that Mr. West himself took as active a part in handling the dispatches as his story indicates. His mind is a very feeble and memory confused, but his words add a dramatic touch and are reproduced for what they are worth. Mr. West's statement doubtless refers to the receipt in Halifax on the 5th of June, 1849, by the royal mail packet, of the news of an attempt to shoot Her Majesty in St. James' Park, by a labourer named John Hamilton. This news created great excitement in Halifax.

Statement Relating to Mail Riders

The following few items received from correspondents, doubtless refer to mail contracts in the early days, and have nothing to do with the pony express, but are appended here, as they may be of interest in other respects.

It must be remembered that Dr. Akins, in his History of Halifax, page 89, says that a regular post communication was opened with Annapolis in the summer of 1786, and a courier was engaged who went through once a fortnight with the mail between Halifax and that town. John Howe was at that time postmaster, and continued so at least until 1808.

Gilbert O. Bent, of 101 Leinster Street, Saint John, informs me that his mother's grandfather, John Bath, a native of Hull, England, landed at Halifax about 1770 or 1774 with an uncle, William Clarke, and took the latter's horses, which he brought with him, across country and settled in the township of Granville in Annapolis County. He was the first to carry His Majesty's mails to Halifax across Nova Scotia on horseback. Previously they had been taken on foot. Bath died 3 November, 1816, aged 65 years. Mr. Bent refers to Calnek's History of Annapolis County, pages 159 and 475 for further details. This is said to have been the beginning of the mounted post in Nova Scotia.

Frank A. Bolser, of Spa Springs, Annapolis County, sends an interview with Richard W. Hians, an old neighbour, whose father rode a dispatch horse in the early days, but this was a government mail contract. This rider, William Hians, was employed by the post office department of Halifax, which was in charge of John Howe [note 9], a half brother of Joseph Howe. John Howe married a sister of Wm. Hians. Richard Hians says King of Saint John was the chief contractor for this mail service and he re-let the work to the riders. The mail was carried by swift steam packet across the Bay of Fundy from Saint John. The vessel pulled into the wharf at Annapolis Royal near Hog Island, so-called, where the mail was handed to a post office official to distribute the packages to the proper couriers. The dispatches were in leather sacks. These were very large and were handed to the riders just as taken from the packets, without being opened, and were carried through to Halifax, and never opened on the road. Some riders carried local mail also.

Note 9: John Howe was postmaster at Halifax, from 1803 to 1843.

William Hians rode to Windsor, and his brother Richard from Windsor to Halifax, where the dispatch mail was delivered direct to the office of John Howe. The horses employed were about 1200 pounds [540 kg], as lighter animals could not carry the immense weight of the English mail. They were tough, trappy horses, supposed to be thoroughbred. Two horses went ahead, fastened by their bridles to one another, also attached behind the shoulders by some form of surcingle. Pouches were thrown across their backs, and the rider followed on a saddle horse, generally smaller, and directed the pair of carriers. Relays were about fifteen miles [24 km] apart. The stops and changes on Wm. Hian's route were: Bridgetown, Wilmot, Aylesford, Kentville and Windsor. The horses were ridden as fast as they could endure when carrying dispatch mail; but slower at other times. Wm. Hians stopped at Sangster's, in or near Windsor, at the end of his route.

The whole distance from the Bay of Fundy to Halifax was covered in less than a day. These riders were armed, carrying two pistols. Upon William Hians wishing to go to the city for one trip, he and his brother Richard exchanged routes. This change becoming known, Richard was assailed by a highwayman at Elm Brook, just east of Middleton, Annapolis County. The robber stopped the head horses, and rode in close to Richard and stabbed him with a knife. Fortunately the knife struck a brass button and did little harm. Before Hians could get his pistol to bear, it being dark, the robber disappeared. The narrator of the above facts, possesses one of the pistols carried by his father. It is marked "Hatton, Liverpool," and seems to be as good as ever. The barrel is threaded on, and to load it, it has to be unscrewed, exposing a chamber in which to place the powder and ball. The weapon is fired by a percussion cap and hammer [note 10]. The bore is very large.

Note 10: Percussion caps came into use in England
between 1820 and 1830, and this fact, taken in consideration
with the statement that Howe was then postmaster, would
approximately date the story between 1830 and 1843.

At the last of the service, William Hians drove a four-wheeled wagon said to be the first in the province. It was sunk at low-water mark at Margaretville, on the Bay of Fundy shore, to avoid import duties, being one of several vehicles imported from the United States. The vehicles were discovered, and seized and sold. Hians obtained one of them, and drove the mail after that with two horses tandem, until the regular coach line started, when he went to the Shelburne route and from there to the Saint John and Fredericton road and finally retired to his farm, at Spa Springs, where his son still lives.

— End of John Regan's text —

Note A (by ICS, November 2001):
For more than a hundred years, historians in Nova Scotia — including John Regan and all the others — believed that no written record existed of the first run of the Halifax Express. No such record does exist in Nova Scotia (that is, none is known as of this writing, in November 2001), but in May 1999, two contemporary reports of that first run were found in the archives of the Saint John Regional Library:

Two Contemporary Reports of the First Run
of the 1849 Nova Scotia Pony Express

Report of the Express
First Run, February 21-22, 1849

Saint John Weekly Chronicle, February 23, 1849
The steam ship Europa reached Halifax on Wednesday afternoon [February 21, 1849] at 5 o'clock, with the mail of 10th instant. The letter portion arrived this morning, but the news was anticipated by the arrival, at 8 o'clock last evening by the Steamer Commodore, Captain W.G. Browne, from Digby Basin, having received it in 11 hours from Halifax. The intelligence was immediately transmitted by telegraph to Boston, New York, &c., where it would no doubt arrive many hours in advance of the mail steamer.
Report of the Express
First Run, February 21-22, 1849

English Mail — American Express
New Brunswick Courier, February 24, 1849
A little after eight o'clock on Thursday evening last, the steamer Commodore, Capt. Brown, arrived from Digby Basin, bringing Mr. Craig, an American gentleman, who had undertaken on behalf of the Associated Press of Boston and New York to express the news by the Steamer Europa, from Halifax to Saint John, and thence by Electric Telegraph to Boston and New York. The arrangements on the road from Halifax to Granville Point, were very complete, and the distance was accomplished with single horses, in a light sleigh, in eleven hours, being a speed of about thirteen miles an hour! The Europa arrived at Halifax on Wednesday afternoon at five o'clock, in eleven days from Liverpool, and on Thursday morning at four, the messenger with her news was at Granville Point, but owing to the unusual quantity of ice in Digby Basin, it was nearly four o'clock in the afternoon before the Commodore was got into clear water. On her arrival in Saint John the Electric wires were immediately set to work, and the operator here, Mr. Mount, transmitted the intelligence in a manner which, while it gave satisfaction to the American editors, proved that the management of the Office has been entrusted to very competent hands.
        The Post Office express by the land route from Halifax, with the letter Mail, reached Saint John at six o'clock yesterday morning, and the newspaper express arrived about seven o'clock this morning.

Granville Point is now known as Victoria Beach.

Note B (by ICS, April 1999)
John Regan wrote (above):
Samuel Topliff and Harry Blake
were the first news managers

[page 230] In the early years of the nineteenth century, Henry Ingraham Blake, of the Mercury and New England Palladium regularly boarded a small boat and rowed out to to collect the latest news from incoming ships in Boston harbor.
[page 348] Samuel Topliffe, Jr., of the Exchange Coffee-House also spent time in a rowboat in Boston Harbor in these years, gathering news which was then made available, for a fee, to readers in the coffeehouse.
[Excerpted from A History of News by Mitchell Stephens, Penguin Books, 1988, ISBN 01400.94903]

Also see:   Daniel Craig's letter, May 1851
The Associated Press: New Policy for Handling Telegraphed News

A Fierce War: The Electric Telegraph Lines
Between New York and Halifax

More About the
Nova Scotia Pony Express

The 1849 Nova Scotia Pony Express

Photographs of the Nova Scotia Pony Express monument

The Pony Express Plaque Installed in 1949 100th Anniversary

Halifax Express The Novascotian, 26 February 1849

Halifax Express The British Colonist, 10 March 1849

Halifax Express The Acadian Recorder, 10 March 1849

The Second Run of the Nova Scotia Pony Express 8 March 1849

Nova Scotia Pony Express 1849, by George Mullane 1 Jan 1914

Nova Scotia Pony Express 1849, by Murrille Schofield 1973

Nova Scotia Pony Express, by D. A. MacNeill April 1940

Nova Scotia Pony Express, by CBC Radio 11 June 1999

The Cunard Steamship fleet, 1849
These ships brought the news carried by the Pony Express

Burket's Exchange News Room Halifax 1848-1849

Pony Express Editorial, Halifax Chronicle-Herald 15 Feb 1999

Radio Station X1J1F Victoria Beach, Nova Scotia, 1999
set up in recognition of the 150th anniversary
of the 1849 Nova Scotia Pony Express

The Oregon Boundary dispute, 1849
Britain and USA close to war – the Nova Scotia Pony Express
was the fastest link carrying breaking news to U.S.A.

Go To:   Nova Scotia History

Photographs of War Memorials, Historic Monuments and Plaques in Nova Scotia

Go To:   Nova Scotia Quotations

Go To:   History of Telephone Companies in Nova Scotia

Go To:   History of Railway Companies in Nova Scotia

Go To:   History of Electric Companies in Nova Scotia

Go To:   History of Automobiles in Nova Scotia

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