We might believe that nowadays almost anything can be shipped through shipping companies. However, the 19th and 20th centuries witnessed some of the rarest and most peculiar shipments on record. In some cases due to mere eccentricity, in others due to lack of money and in other cases for reasons of life or death. But all with one thing in common: what was transported were people.
Three of the rarest merchandise shipments
British humor had one of its strangest finds in the early 1900s. It all started when W. Reginald Bray, an accountant from south London, got hold of a British postal service guide. It made sure that living beings could be sent as long as they were bigger than a bee and smaller than an elephant. So he decided to mail himself and his dog Bob to him, succeeding in the adventure.
The achievement heartened our hero – he repeated the feat in 1903 and 1932 – and for the next several years he continued to test the postal service. By the age of 60 Mr. Bray is believed to have sent 30,000 items through the post. Unfortunately, he was not always successful. Among his most notorious failures, the impossibility of the British postal service to deliver a letter to Santa Claus stands out.
In the second case of this article we find another Briton who on this occasion decided to go to the antipodes. Brian Robson came to Australia in 1964 as part of a special immigration program. Unfortunately he didn’t seem to like what he had to offer that far country and he decided to return to London. And to alleviate his financial difficulties, he believed that the best idea was to send it in a box, claiming that it was a computer (in 1964 computers were far from the current desktop versions).
Robson had borrowed the idea from Australian athlete Reg Spiers, who had done an identical but reversed flight years before. However, unlike his predecessor who worked at an airport, Robson did not take some of his precautions, such as making it easy for him to get out of the box when he needed to.
So Robson went into the box with a flashlight and two bottles, one for water and one for urine. He willing to spend what must have been about 36 hours on the fastest route. However, the final time of the entire journey was four days and he was about to cost him his life.
The case was so famous that Robson had five minutes of fame from him, although they did not serve to make him reflect on the dangers of smuggling. Years later he found himself involved in a drug trafficking case that put him on the verge of prison and led him to be persecuted by the law in three different countries.
Of our three protagonists, Henry Brown (nicknamed Box, ‘box’, as a result of what happened) was the one who had the best reasons to test the capabilities of merchandise shipments to the extreme. Brown was a black slave who was born in 1985 on a plantation in Virginia, a southern state in the United States where slavery was legal.
Mr. Brown saw in a box the possibility of safe conduct to some of the states where slavery was abolished. The slaver who owned Henry’s family decided to sell his wife – his marriage was not recognized as such – and his children, despite the fact that Brown had paid his owner to avoid it.
Henry pawned $86 of the $166 he had to achieve his goal, aided by James Smith, a free black man, and Samuel Smith, a white, abolitionist-sensitized man. Brown’s plan included voluntarily burning his hand in order to miss work without arousing suspicion, and thereafter slipping into a small box with the usual “handle with care” and “this side up” labels. These tags weren’t very successful, as the box was knocked over during its journey, but Brown couldn’t complain about it at the risk of being found out.
27 hours later, Brown had achieved his goal, but the hardest part was yet to come. During the same year of his escape (1849), Henry contacted the owner of his family and tried to buy his wife and children, which he refused. Brown, the true hero of this article, ended up fleeing the country and the Fugitive Slave Act, ending up in England, where he started a new family and continued to demand the rights of black people.