Generally Packet Steamers, ships or boats are regularly scheduled vessels carrying mail. Sometime armed these ships carried all types of mail although the name gives the impression that they only carried carried bulk mail. Reliability was most important and the service was first started by the British to carry embassy mail packets to the Empire’s colonies, outposts as well as Consulates and Embassies. Although the name denotes smaller high speed vessels the English designation “packet boat” can denote a large ocean liner.
In wartime these vessels were expected to run regular shipments past the gauntlet of warships and privateers. Some even had to evade marauding pirates. In 1829, pirates captured the packet Topaz and murdered her crew after looting her. In time commercial steam liners began to work regular coastal and international schedules having contracts from governments to carry mail as well as passengers and high-value cargo. Their services retained the name “Packet”. The term was frequently used to identify American coastal vessels that carried cargo and passengers on routes from Maine to Cuba and beyond.
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