The Halifax Express
also known as
The Nova Scotia Pony Express

The Beginning of the
Associated Press

Note: The original, from which this text was obtained, is only in fair
condition. Most of the text could be read, but here and there words
were beyond recovery. Illegible text is indicated here by [---].

In 1849 the Halifax Express
Carried the European News
Before the Days of the
Atlantic Telegraph Cable

By George Mullane

The Halifax Morning Chronicle
January 1st, 1914

The Halifax Express was established in the spring of 1849, for the purpose of furnishing at the earliest possible moment news regarding the state of European markets and other information of importance. Various methods had been tried to obtain news that came by the Cunard steamers to Halifax in advance of the arrival of the mail steamers at Boston via Halifax. The former method adopted by enterprising promoters attained but partial success until the organization of the horse system from Halifax to Victoria Beach after the establishment of the Electric Telegraph line between New York and Saint John, New Brunswick. When the extension of the wire from Calais in the State of Maine to the city of Saint John was completed it was easily seen that a saving of thirty-six hours could be made by organizing a relay service of horses between Halifax and Victoria Beach, a distance of 146 miles 235 kilometres and thence by boat to Saint John.

The Associated Press

The enterprising press of New York, alive to the importance of thus securing a quick connection between Saint John and Halifax, at once formed themselves into an organization called the Associated Press. This organization was at first composed of six New York morning newspapers [see note 1], who bound themselves to furnish funds necessary for carrying out the enterprise. The chief object of this newspaper movement was the protection of the commercial interest of New York, in respect to furnishing at the earliest possible date the state of the European markets. In the uncertainty of [-------] the stock gamblers [-------] very often influenced the New York stock exchange. The Associated Press thus formed, [---] about to organize a service at Halifax and [---] sent an experienced man to Nova Scotia to put their plans in operation. The newspapers were not allowed to be alone in the field and upon the agent going to Halifax, he found they had to contend with a rival enterprise established by a number of commercial men at New York. D.H. Craig who came to Halifax in the interest of the Associated Press was experienced in organizing press agencies. His instructions were to organize the express from Halifax to connect with the Electric Telegraph. It was at first proposed to forward an express to Amherst, Nova Scotia, near the border of New Brunswick, with the news of the Royal Mail steamer, to connect at that place with [D. Crowell's ?] line at Saint John and to travel at the rate of at least twelve miles an hour 19 km/h and faster were the roads in good condition, or as Mr. Hiram Hyde, the mail contractor at Halifax, emphatically expressed it, "as fast as horse flesh can do it and live." It was thought that the whole distance from Halifax to Saint John at that rate of speed could be performed in about twenty hours.

Organizing The Service

The North American Electric Telegraph Company which had its headquarters at Saint John had rushed their end of the line, from Saint John to Calais, finishing it at Christmas 1848, some time in advance of the United States portion through the State of Maine. Mr. Craig was in Halifax during the winter of 1848-9 perfecting arrangements with Hyde, the mail contractor, and awaiting completion of the State of Maine end of the line into Calais.

He established himself at the Exchange Reading Rooms, then the headquarters of the news in the City. Thence he directed the operations of dispatching and receiving news through the medium of the horse express to and from Victoria Beach. The contract for carrying the despatches was awarded to Hiram Hyde, an experienced and enterprising mail contractor, while the rival interests secured the service of Mr. Barnaby, and equally reliable and experienced stage manager [see note 2].

The First Express

The first express started from Cunard's wharf, on the arrival of the Royal Mail steamer America on March 8th, 1849 [see note 3]. The Associated Press courier and his rival waited on horseback until the steamer was docked. The agents of the Associated Press went on board as soon as the gangway was put up between the wharf and the steamer; close on the heels of Mr. Craig came the rival agent who was not to be outdone by the Associated Press representatives. The European papers secured and placed in the saddle bags of the couriers, the men whipped up their horses in a trial of speed for ten miles 16 km to Bedford at the head of Bedford Basin.

The great horse race between the rival news couriers was not the first incident of hurry-scurry that occurred on the Bedford Road. In the middle of the nineteenth century the appearance of a dashing horse with a frenzied rider on his back was a noteworthy event. One of the episodes of this wild ride was notable from a recent important circumstance connected herewith. The Royal Mail steamer Hibernia had arrived at Halifax. The news was awaited with intense interest on this continent. Aside from the importance of disturbed markets there [---] international crisis imminent [---] Washington government was in [---] of excitement as to the latest move on the diplomatic board. [---] a horse's head was seen by the dwellers on the Bedford Road, rising above the hill leading down from Kempt Road. The air was filled with exclamations of wonder, but the rider looked neither to the right nor to the left. The Hibernia had reached Cunard's wharf on Monday in the afternoon. She was thirteen days from Liverpool when she had sighted immense fields of ice floating in the Atlantic, but she kept clear of all contact with them.

A Momentous Message

Within five minutes of the packet's arrival the only British papers that sly hands could quickly read were secured, and a courier rode away with them on horse-back across the peninsula, as if for dear life. The rider reached Windsor in two hours and thirty-six minutes. So profoundly was the secret kept of the news, that was eagerly sought by the New York press, that no one knew, even in Halifax, that a messenger had departed with London newspapers containing the decision of the British Cabinet in regard to the Oregon boundary dispute. The flying messenger reached Digby Gut in thirteen hours from Halifax, and ten minutes afterwards the steamer Kennebeck was steaming towards Portland, Maine.

Then it was discovered that the steamer had two carrier pigeons on board, and through them the news forestalling the Government despatches — England's ultimatum — was conveyed to New York in four hours. This was a decided triumph for the enterprising newspaper men, as the outcome of the negotiations were known on the streets of Gotham hours before the official despatches arrived in Washington.

A Race of the Rivals

To return to the horse express established by two interests in the spring of 1849. On Thursday morning March 8th, 1849, after the arrival of the Royal Mail steamer America 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 mercantil- [---] in the United States) left Halifax City travelling at a rate of speed [---] a newspaper [---] unprecedented in this [---] engaged here to [---] expresses were Hiram Hyde and Mr. Barnaby, both mail contractors, who ran coaches. The Associated Press courier and his rival left Cunard's wharf as soon as the English newspapers could be procured from the purser of the America, and did not draw rein until they reached Routledge's at Bedford, ten miles from Halifax.

Along the winding road of Bedford Basin dashed the daring riders, in lash for lash, and bound for bound as the mad horses responded to the couriers' spurs. Almost neck and neck the rival horses sped along the old Windsor road until the first stage of the journey was reached and the foaming animals relieved from the killing pace that they had kept up since they left Cunard's wharf.

An Exciting Ride

The relays were out waiting for the riders to mount and be off without delay, and away they went to Hiltz' half way house, twenty one and a half miles 34.5 km from Halifax. After reaching the second stage no time was lost by Hamilton, the Associated Press rider, before he was on the road again, closely followed by his rival, as they made for the third stage, Martins, thirty-five miles 56 km from Halifax. Remounting at Martin's they were up and away in a few minutes, with fresh horses for the shore town of Windsor, forty miles 64 km from the point of their departure. At Windsor a delay of twenty minutes occurred and after starting Mr. Hamilton, the press courier, when crossing the 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 astounding despatch, making one other stop at Lower Horton, a distance of fifty-seven miles 92 km from Halifax. He rode into Kentville, sixty-eight miles 109 km where a change of riders took place. Thad. Harris, who took up the route at Kentville, rode a stage of 13 miles 21 km in 53 minutes. Making a stop probably at Randall's who kept a road house at that date at Aylesford, near the present station at Kingston on the Dominion Atlantic Railway, he probably did not stop again until he reached Bridgetown 113 miles 182 km from Halifax. Going on to Granville Ferry opposite the town of Annapolis, he made another change of horses for the last stage of the journey, making in all 146 miles 235 km to Victoria Beach, in the fast time of 8½ hours from Cunard's Wharf on Halifax Harbour.

On account of some delays and obstruction encountered by the Associated Press rider, the rival express beat him by 2½ minutes. At Victoria Beach, however, the Press courier had the advantage for the steamer Conqueror, chartered to carry Hyde's express was waiting in readiness when he arrived, the steamer Commander chartered by the rival concern not having put in an appearance.

Started At Halifax

Thus it will be seen that it was at Halifax that the great news gathering association inaugurated its first experiment of getting and forwarding news at the earliest possible date on the arrival of the Cunard Line steamers from Europe. The Halifax Express thus organized in the early spring of the year 1849 continued its operations until November of the same year, when the Nova Scotia end of the Electric Telegraph was finished, which completed the missing link between Halifax and New York.

It cost the newspapers that first started the enterprise $1,000 for each trip over land and by boat to Saint John. The horse express was continued for a little over nine months, when it was replaced by the all wire service on the 15th of November 1849. The Associated Press expended on the horse express during the time it existed $20,000. Halifax remained the centre for European news from Liverpool via Queenstown, Ireland, until the laying of the first successful Atlantic cable.

I have only outlined the first trip to Victoria Beach of the couriers of the Associated Press, the other ones detailed would be very interesting on account of the many adventures encountered by the riders, as all not the trips were done during daylight or in as fine weather as the initial one.

The twentieth anniversary of the Associated Press as at present constituted was celebrated in May last year (May 1913). But the beginning of this great news gathering organization at Halifax, Nova Scotia, is now for the first time told in the pages of this publication.

George Mullane        

Explanatory Notes

Note 1: "...the Associated Press ... was at first composed of six New York morning newspapers...".   The six were

Note 2: "...Mr. Barnaby, an equally reliable and experienced stage manager..." refers to Barnaby's work managing stage coach lines.

It is believed that the mysterious "Mr. Barnaby"
was Timothy Barnabe of the Western Stage Coach Company

Note 3: George Mullane wrote: "The first express started from Cunard's wharf, on the arrival of the Royal Mail steamer America on March 8th, 1849." This was, in fact, the second run of the express from Halifax to Victoria Beach. The evidence supporting the existence of the earlier trip was stated by John Regan in 1912 as follows:

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." The Europa was the English mail steamship which arrived at Halifax on the trip before that of the America.

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.

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 John Regan 5 January 1912

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

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