# The speed of sea travel in the beginning of 19th century

Can we somehow estimate the average speed of a ground+sea travel between Frankfurt and London in the beginning of 19th century?

I was more than surprised (if not shocked) to find in the beginning of Naill Ferguson's The House of Rothschild a cited part of one of letters sent by head of a family to one of his sons, where he says that the other brother from Frankfurt would like to join the first brother in London and that such trip would take three weeks.

This happens in post-industrial revolution times (beginning of 19th centry) so, even though I'm not a specialist in history of engineering, I was more than sure that with a steam power to both railroads and ships, such trip couldn't take more than a week, maybe five days at most -- 2-3 days for crossing Germany and 1-2 days for crossing the sea.

What am I missing? How could < 800 km track, that takes up to 9 hours by car today, take fifty times more (21 days) just two hundred years ago?

• If you adjust your google map link to indicate you are walking you get 141 hours (less than 6 days -- but around the clock) Google also assumes tho that you are taking the ferry across the channel. Perhaps the bottleneck at the time was that channel crossings had to wait for fair weather or were not available on demand but had to be reserved in advance? Apr 5, 2017 at 19:58
• an important feature of sailing ships is that in theory they were in motion 24 hours a day and at even 5 knots which I think ships could manage on average, that is 200 miles per day which is so much faster than land travel at that time. The speed of information was much faster than foot since they had semaphore stations which could transmit a message at fairly reasonable speeds. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semaphore_line
– Jeff
Apr 5, 2017 at 23:35
• What do you mean by "beginning of 19th century"? What is the date of that letter? Steam angines and steam ships were not available in the beginning of 19th century.
– Alex
Apr 6, 2017 at 3:51
• If @Dulkan is correct about the period of interest then the Napoleonic Wars will complicate sea travel considerably. Britain and France would be at war which would close off channel crossings. Also, depending on the exact time, most of the North European coast was also under French influence (if not control), closing it to British ships (and Britain to most European ships). Additionally, travelling from Northern Europe across the North Sea would be against the prevailing winds and involve dodging the privateers of both sides. Apr 6, 2017 at 12:43
• As mentioned below, there's a huge difference between travel by courier and travel by a person with baggage. Apr 7, 2017 at 16:02