The dispatches from the British fleet at the battle of Trafalgar were brought by ship to Falmouth. From there, messengers rode by horse over land to the Admiralty in London, following a route known as the Trafalgar Way.

As the objective was to get these dispatches to London as quickly as possible, why didn't the messengers sail up the English Channel as close to London as possible? Surely sailing is faster than riding over land and changing horses a reported 21 times?

  • Well, I no little about how much time the sailing would actually take, but wikipedia seems to indicate bad weather. – b.Lorenz Dec 1 '18 at 9:56
  • Sailing against the wind was slow at that time, probably slower than riding a horse. One has to know the wind conditions, to make conclusions. – Alex Dec 1 '18 at 15:17

I've not seen any documentation for this particular circumstance, however, sailing 'up' the channel (as the Spanish Armada had discovered) was risky, not least because of the bad weather that was present as the dispatches arrived on the English coast.

The vessels (HMS Pickle and HMS Entreprenante) that were given the dispatches were small and relatively fast but were not powerfully armed. The reason that multiple dispatches were sent on different ships was that these vessels could be lost (because of the natural risks at sea) or intercepted. While the British Navy had the main French fleets bottled up in their ports, there were still numerous French cruisers (both regular navy and privateers) waiting to dart out into the channel to pick off any British ships that they could. A small, lightly armed dispatch boat would have been a tempting target.

By landing the communications at Falmouth, they could be sent to London without any further risk of being lost at sea, either because of the weather or enemy action. Falmouth was home to the Post Office Packet Service, so the route to London was well established and the harbour was well suited to those vessels.

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