I Am Her Majesty’s Mail!

John conway bourkeMailmen and dogs have a long, sometimes contentious, history, but few postal workers have had such a memorable canine encounter as John Conway Bourke.

The Australian state of Victoria began overland mail service on January 2, 1838. Prior to that date, mail had traveled by sea from Melbourne to Sydney. The mail contractor hired Bourke, a 23-year-old Irish immigrant, to ride the first leg of the journey to Yass, New South Wales. Bourke took six days to cross 200 miles of rugged terrain on horseback. In Yass, he handed the letters off to a Sydney mailman, who carried them the remaining distance by coach. Bourke logged 11,000 miles on his mail route in 1838 alone, carrying two dueling pistols with him for protection.

According to the Australia Post, “Bourke earned an honoured place in Australian postal history when he stripped to cross the flooded Murray River and, on reaching the other side, was forced to climb a tree (with his mailbag) to escape a pack of wild dogs. When he was eventually found, he yelled, ‘Don’t fire! My name’s Bourke. I am Her Majesty’s mail!'”

The Historical Society of Victoria erected a memorial gravestone for Bourke in 1928 (he died in 1902). At the commemorative service, the Deputy Controller of Posts and Telegraphs gave a speech and showed some of Bourke’s early official reports. According to an article in the Sydney Catholic Press, “These indicated that he was not only a fine penman, but a writer of considerable ability and discernment.” Horseman, swimmer, tree-climber and penman: Bourke was the stuff of which postal legends are made.

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