Successful administrative and commercial activity require reliable and frequent communications. Realizing that, the Marquis of Grimaldi replaced Hapsburg reliance on private shipping and navios de aviso with a state-supported mail service between La Coruña and Havana (1764) and Montevideo (1767). The packet-boats were allowed to carry freight and passengers as well as letters. This book examines the origins, operations, and economic importance of the Platine branch of the service from its founding to Spain’s involvement in the Yankee War for Independence (1779).
After chapters on historical context, legal foundations, administrative structure, routes, and sizes of ships and crews, Lelo Bellotto gets to the heart of his work: a series of tables and graphs on the lengths of voyages, on the characteristics of the letter and freight traffic, on the revenues generated by them, and on the numbers of passengers carried by the ships. Within these series are others for the numbers of periodicals shipped to Montevideo and for the number of hides and amounts of money exported to Spain. A conclusion suggests the importance of the figures and of the mail service as a communications device, as a prelude to comercio libre, and as a means of immigration.
Important questions are raised, but not satisfactorily answered, about gain or loss in the operation of the system and about its impact on the trade of the Plata region. There are no figures for the expenses of the service, nor models for relating the data sets to each other or to the larger Platine economy. This may be due to the limitations of a dissertation (this is one). Less understandable are failure to provide a table of freight rates where freight revenues are used as economic indicators, the absence of trends for the graphs, and of statistics for mean and standard deviation in the discussion of lengths of voyages.
It is to be hoped that the promise of this work will shortly find fulfillment in a more comprehensive examination of the mail service and its economic impact on the Río de la Plata area.