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    South Australia - Communications

    B49412The General Post Office

    For information on money orders see South Australia - Banking and Finance - General Finance - Miscellany

    An Essay on the General Post Office

    Taken from Geoffrey H. Manning's A Colonial Experience

    People who complain today about late delivery of letters would have cause for annoyance when the colony was founded. Then the institution was controlled by one man, housed in a tent on the Park Lands where the railway station is today and, in the words of a newspaper of the time, was 'neglected, inefficient and stingy.' Such was the birthplace of the fine postal system which exists today, but few would have anticipated expansion in those far-off days.

    Thomas Gilbert, the Colonial Storekeeper was the first postmaster of South Australia. All letters, whether ingoing or outgoing, were subject to a charge of one penny. There were not many, but what few there were did not receive expeditious handling. Blame was not attached to Mr Gilbert for this. Certainly, much should not have been expected from him, for he received only the beggarly sum of £30 a year for his work.

    There was no delivery of letters and citizens of Adelaide had to be content to receive their mail when they could find time to call for it. After many complaints the post office was removed to what was known as 17 North Terrace on 14 December 1838; this, today, is the site of the Bank of New South Wales. Mr Henry Watts was then Post-Master General and the institution rented a portion of a stone building to transact its business.

    The 25th of May 1839 was a red-letter day for Adelaide for it marked the first occasion on which mails were delivered to residents of the city. That year was one of progress, for the first Post Office Act was passed. The rate for all letters, except those posted on ship, was three pence. A post office was opened at Port Adelaide and a start was made to inaugurate branches in country places.

    The letter carriers burst upon the streets as the 'Scarlet Runners', clad in scarlet coats cut like morning dress, piped with blue and crossed and crowned with splendid gilt hats adorned with a circle of gold. They were fit for a king and the small boys of the town followed Robert McCulloch and William Chapman on their rounds, basking in vicarious splendour.

    But the regalia had its disadvantages, for it made the postman easy marks for unchained poodles, terriers and mastiffs and Mr Watts informed them that 'where ferocious dogs were allowed to be about the yards or gardens they were not expected to go upon the premises to risk being bitten.'

    They had a meagre time traversing the town in summer beset with dust and in winter hampered by mud and, in 1852, when half the population rushed off to the Victorian goldfields, they were dismissed at an hour's notice. However, instead of slackening, post office business increased and after harassed clerks had worked around the clock for three days of indescribable confusion, the carriers were reinstated.

    Under John Watts, who succeeded Henry Watts, great strides were made. In 1848 the department moved to a building on a spot now occupied by the Gresham Hotel and in 1850 offices were established for the first time in the suburbs. On 23 June 1851 its location was removed to a place just north of the present General Post Office.

    In 1861 the first iron pillar boxes were erected in North and South Adelaide and although many, when opened, were found to contain rubbish their installation was greatly appreciated. From 1840 until 1860 the postal system made great strides. An instance of growth was the fact that in 1840 there were only six post offices and nine employees; 20 years later there were 146 offices and 177 employees.

    The first building occupied near Victoria Square cost approximately £10,000, but when the first portion of the present building was proposed a much more expensive design was prepared. The total expenditure on that portion of the structure was about £48,000, including the cost of furnishing.

    The foundation stone of the Victoria Tower was laid by the Duke of Edinburgh on 5 November 1867 in the presence of about 3,000 people, which was considered a large crowd in those days. The frontage to King William Street was 150 feet and to Victoria Square, 160 feet, while the height from the pavement to the top of the stone balustrading was 57 feet 6 inches. The platform of the tower was 20 feet higher than the Town Hall and the distance to the summit of the flagstaff was 179 feet 6 inches.

    A mental picture of a tent pitched amongst gum trees within sight and sound of the River Torrens, and with Aborigines gazing curiously in at the door, while citizens advanced with dignity in top hat to post their letters at the quaint institution, would be a tremendous contrast to the present hustle and bustle of King William Street.

    The General Post Office Clock

    The post office clock was officially started on 13 December 1875 having cost £1,242 (bells - £802; clock - £410). It was made by Joyce & Son of Whitechurch, Shropshire, England, to the specifications of the Post-Master General and revised by Sir Edmund Beckett, who undertook the immediate supervision of the clock and bells. The bells were cast by J. Taylor & Co. of Loughborough - there are five in number; an hour bell and four quarter bells. The former is five feet three inches in diameter while the latter are, respectively, 51, 30, 36 and 34 inches in diameter.

    There are four faces to the clock made of Chance's white opal glass and are illuminated at night and the clock is so contrived that it turns the gas on and off at the proper hour according to the season of the year. By a certain arrangement the clock communicates the time to the Observatory at a certain hour every day.

    General Notes

    "Postal History of the State" is in the Register,
    3 August 1906, page 5c,
    "Early Day Postal Matters" on
    30 June 1919, page 6e.

    "Early-Day Postal Matters" is in the Observer,
    5 July 1919, page 31b.

    "Letter Carriers of Old Adelaide" is in the Register,
    10 February 1925, page 14f.

    "Adelaide's Postal History" is in The Mail,
    19 March 1927, page 1a; also see
    24 March 1928, page 2e,
    The News,
    1 November 1928, page 18f,
    26 October 1933, page 13e.

    "History of GPO - Interesting Records" is in The Mail,
    19 July 1924, page 16c.

    A description of the post office in 1838 is in the Express,
    14 October 1881, page 3c.
    The demolition of buildings formerly used as a post office is reported in the Register,
    17 September 1886, page 4g.

    "The Postal Services of the Past" is in the Register,
    21 January 1887, page 6a,
    "The Old Post Office" on
    24 July 1891, page 5b.

    A descriptive report of the Post Office since the foundation of the colony is in the Advertiser,
    8 August 1861, page 2b; also see
    7 March 1885, page 6d,
    29 January 1887, page 41c,
    25 July 1891, page 30e,
    4 April 1905, page 4h.
    "Development of Postal System" is in the Chronicle,
    20 June 1935, page 49.

    "Postmasters-General" is in the Observer,
    15 November 1924, page 18c.

    "Our Post Office - Neglect and Abuses" is in the Register,
    28 January 1843, page 2e.

    "Rowland Hill and the Adelaide Post Office" is in the Observer,
    10 May 1851, page 8c.

    Information on a proposed "Penny Post" is in the Chronicle,
    12 September 1859, page 2f,
    17 September 1859, page 4c,
    7 and 8 June 1882, pages 3e and 4e,
    5 February 1883, page 4g,
    10 June 1882, page 8a,
    "Penny Postage - Begins Today" in the Express,
    1 May 1911, page 4c.

    Mail guards are discussed in the Observer,
    21 May 1859, page 7h,
    4 and 25 June 1859.

    A testimonial to Captain Watts upon his retirement is reported in the Chronicle,
    6 July 1861, page 4d; also see under next heading.

    The "sticking-up" of the Mt Gambier mail is reported in the Register,
    31 March 1863, page 2c,
    3 April 1863, pages 2f-3f.

    An editorial on the General Post-Office is in the Observer,
    24 December 1864, page 6g.

    A discussion on a new post office is in the Chronicle,
    30 September 1865, page 1e (supp.),
    "Absurdity in Architecture" is in the Express,
    5 January 1866, page 2d,
    "Designs for the GPO and Telegraph Station" in the Observer,
    21 April 1866, page 4g.

    Information on the proposed Post Office is in the Register,
    4, 5 and 9 January 1866, pages 2f, 2f-3d and 3h,
    16 April 1866, page 3e and
    6 January 1866, page 2f ("An Absurdity in Architecture"),
    3 July 1867, page 2g,
    8 October 1867, page 3g;
    the laying of the top stone of the Victoria Tower on the GPO is reported in the Register on
    26 May 1870, page 5f;
    an editorial "The New Post Office" appears on
    12 June 1871, page 5a -
    criticism of the building is voiced on
    13 May 1875, page 7d; also see
    2 July 1875, page 7d.
    A sketch is in the Australasian Sketcher,
    17 May 1873, page 53.
    11 May 1872, page 14e.
    A sketch is in the Illustrated Adelaide Post,
    21 February 1873, page 1,
    Australasian Sketcher,
    17 May 1873, page 53.

    A farewell dinner to J.W. Lewis is reported in the Register,
    22 February 1870, page 5c.

    "Letter Box Mysteries" is in the Express,
    30 September 1872, page 3a,
    "Letters by Tricycle" on
    19 June 1884, page 3e.

    An article on the Post Office clock is in the Express,
    13 December 1875, page 2f,
    14 December 1875 (supp.), page 2f; also see South Australia - Miscellany - Clocks and Time and
    16 February 1876, page 5f for a letter from Charles Todd,
    13 March 1876, page 5b and
    22 January 1876, page 7c,
    18 March 1876, page 7c.
    A banquet for Mr Todd is reported in the Register,
    1 June 1886, page 7a.

    A sketch of mail being delivered at an outstation is in Frearson's Weekly,
    25 January 1879, page 377.

    "The City Letter Carriers" is in the Register,
    4 December 1879, page 4d.

    A sketch of Saint Valentine's Day at the GPO is in the Pictorial Australian in
    February 1884, page 20,
    July 1885, page 129;
    "A Forgotten Anniversary [St Valentine's Day]" is in the Register,
    14 February 1908, page 4e.

    A series of sketches within the GPO are the Pictorial Australian in July 1885, page 129.

    "Fire at the GPO" is in the Observer,
    4 January 1883, pages 4d-5e, 6 January 1883, page 30,
    "A Day at the GPO" on
    2 August 1884, page 42c.

    Information on the GPO Cricket Club is in the Register,
    5 June 1884, page 5d.

    A presentation to C.G. Schedlich is reported in the Register,
    23 July 1884, page 6h.
    An obituary is in the Register,
    31 August 1899, page 5e.

    Additions to the Post Office are discussed in the Register,
    27 May 1885, page 5b.

    A testimonial to E. Squire is reported in the Register,
    10 July 1886, page 7b.

    The inauguration of "parcel post" is reported in the Register,
    17 August 1886, page 6e,
    21 August 1886, page 33a.

    A poem titled "The Postman" is in The Lantern,
    9 October 1886, page 19.

    The installation of electric light in the post office is discussed in the Register,
    15 June 1889, page 4h.
    Also see Adelaide - Lighting the City and Homes.

    "Postage Stamps" is in the Register,
    2 January 1855, page 3g,
    27 April 1858, page 3a,
    5 December 1862, page 2g.
    "South Australian Stamps" is in the Express,
    18 July 1887, page 3f,
    "New Postage Stamps" is in the Register,
    29 June 1866, page 2d,
    14 February 1891, page 5a,
    6 May 1893, page 9f,
    "Stamp Printing in Adelaide" on
    18 November 1905, page 38b.
    A history of postage stamps in SA is in the Observer,
    3 April 1909, page 49a.
    "About South Australian Stamps" is in the Register,
    29 October 1909, page 4h.

    New contracts for coastal and inland mails are discussed in the Register,
    1 April 1892, page 7c.

    An obituary of A.C. Machray is in the Observer,
    24 June 1893, page 31e,
    of Robert Lawrance on
    29 August 1896, page 14a,
    of William Witherick on
    4 September 1897, page 13e,
    of E.L. Virgo on
    8 July 1905, page 38a,
    of Samuel Summers on
    16 June 1906, page 38b,
    of H.A. Hussey on
    25 September 1909, page 38a,
    of F.A. Bleechmore on
    21 January 1911, page 39b ,
    of Christopher Giles on
    8 December 1917, page 30d,
    of J.B. Richards on
    8 December 1917, page 30e,
    of William Attiwill on
    12 October 1918, page 18e,
    of John Tucker on
    15 September 1928, page 34c.

    An obituary of Mr William Chapman, "the father of our postmen", is in the Chronicle,
    9 January 1897, page 22c.
    "Career of Mr William Chapman" is in the Register,
    18 March 1925, page 11d;
    a photograph of him in his postal worker's uniform is in the Observer,
    7 February 1925, page 34.

    "Inland Mail Contractors" is in the Observer,
    19 January 1901, page 15b.
    "Our Inland Mails" in the Register,
    11 March 1911, page 8c (includes photographs).

    Photographs of the post office are in The Critic,
    1901, page 31.

    A photograph of the GPO illuminated at night is in the Chronicle,
    19 July 1902, page 42; also see
    31 January 1903, page 43 and
    14 February 1903, page 42.

    Biographical details of Samuel Summers of the money order office is are in the Register,
    23 August 1902, page 5c.

    A Letter Carriers' Association Smoke Social is reported in the Express,
    3 August 1903, page 4g;
    a photograph of a letter carriers' social is in the Observer,
    6 August 1910, page 28,
    photographs of early-day letter carriers are in the Observer,
    7 February 1925, page 34.
    An obituary of Henry Bath, President of the Letter Carriers' Association is in the Observer,
    15 February 1913, page 41a.

    Biographical details of A.J. Wright are in the Register,
    24 June 1904, page 4i.
    The reminiscences of A.J. Wright are in the Observer,
    29 March 1913, page 40c,
    26 March 1913, page 7b;
    an obituary is in the Register,
    12 October 1915, page 5a,
    16 October 1915, page 50b.

    Biographical details of W.T.C. Marrie are in the Register,
    1 July 1904, page 4i.

    An obituary of Edward L. Virgo is in the Register,
    5 July 1905, page 5a.

    An obituary of Mrs Margaret Condon, "the wife of the first mail driver... with the postal department", is in the Observer,
    16 December 1905, page 34a,
    of J.A.G. Little on
    26 May 1906, page 38c,
    of Mrs Barnett whose first husband, "Robert Foster, was driver of the first mail cart from Port Adelaide to the city", on 18 August 1906, page 38d,
    of E.J. Conlon, letter carrier, on
    11 November 1911, page 41a,
    of Joseph Skinner on
    14 August 1920, page 31e,
    of E.R.C. Lucy on
    22 August 1925, page 43b,
    of James Mason on 14 April 1928, page 49b.

    Biographical details of Charles Fry are in the Register,
    28 July 1906, page 7b.

    A photograph of letter sorters is in the Observer,
    6 April 1907, page 28,
    of a GPO football team in the Chronicle,
    9 September 1911, page 32,
    of mail leaving the GPO on
    28 October 1916, page 28.

    Photographs of sorting mail on the Melbourne express are in the Observer,
    6 April 1907, page 28.

    Biographical details of A.W. Badger are in the Register,
    8 October 1907, page 5b,
    of J.J. Watson on
    25 December 1908, page 7g.

    "His Majesty's Mails - Liners 50 Years Ago and Now" is in the Register,
    12 February 1910, page 6d (includes sketches).

    "The GPO - Handling the Mails" is in the Register,
    29 October 1910, page 8c (includes photographs),
    reminiscences of the Post Office are made on
    31 October 1910, page 7c.
    An "elaborate scheme" to improve the building is recounted in the Register,
    24 July 1919, page 10f; also see
    14 January 1920, page 7b,
    27 May 1920, page 7f,
    12 June 1920, page 9e.
    Further information on the GPO clock and chimes is in the Advertiser,
    12 February 1925, page 9b,
    11 July 1931, page 4e; also see
    The News,
    5 August 1925, page 10d.

    An obituary of F.A. Bleechmore is in the Register,
    18 January 1911, page 4i.

    "Christmas in the Post Office - The Old and the New" is in the Register,
    25 December 1912, page 11a.
    Also see South Austrlia - The Colony - Christmas in South Australia

    Biographical details of Thomas Dyke are in the Register,
    5 April 1913, page 17d,
    of H.L. Hurst on
    26 April 1913, page 15b,
    of H.A. Braham on
    27 March 1915, page 10h.

    "Motor Mails" is in the Register, 6 January 1916, page 5e.

    The reminiscences of Mr E.W. Bramble are in the Express,
    15 March 1922, page> Advertiser,
    16 March 1922, page 9d.

    "Postal Grievances" is in the Observer,
    11 February 1911, page 51a,
    22 April 1911, page 51a.

    Biographical details of E. Broad are in the Observer,
    28 August 1915, page 45c,
    of C.A. Unbehaun on
    12 February 1916, page 34d,
    of Alfred Harry on
    10 March 1928, page 34e.

    "A Larger GPO" is in the Register,
    9 February 1916, page 4h,
    "New GPO - Extensive Reconstruction Scheme" in the Observer,
    5 May 1917, page 14e.

    Biographical details of C.A. Unbehaun is in the Register,
    9 February 1916, page 4h,
    of H.H. Dollman on
    17 and 19 February 1917, pages 12c and 7b,
    of Albert Dawkins on
    28 February 1917, page 6g,
    of Samuel Ramsay on
    9 May 1917, page 6f,
    of E.R. Lucy on
    12 May 1919, page 4g,
    of C.A. Donnelly on
    17 April 1926, page 9b.

    "Post Office Improvements - Big Scheme Outlined" is in the Register,
    27 May 1916, page 10h.
    "Adelaide Post Office - Uneconomic Building" is in the Register,
    24 July 1919, page 10f.

    An obituary of Christopher Giles is in the Register,
    30 November 1917, page 6h,
    of J.B. Richards on
    6 December 1917, page 4g,
    of Walter J. Baker on
    8 August 1919, page 6i.

    "Comedy and Tragedy of GPO Wing" is in the Register,
    14 January 1920, page 7b.
    "A Modern GPO - Important Scheme for Adelaide" is in the Register,
    27 May 1920, page 7f,
    12 June 1920, page 9e,
    5 June 1920, page 43c.

    Biographical details of R. Higgins are in the Register,
    13 May 1920, page 7b,
    of J.E. Monfries on
    14 January 1924, page 13b,
    of Charles J. McDonald on
    26 June 1924, page 13e,
    of S.J.R. Ogilvy on
    1 May 1925, page 8h,
    of Edwin Broad on
    17 August 1926, page 13i,
    of R. Rich, postman, on
    6 April 1928, page 6f.

    "Passing of Mail Carts" is in the Register,
    22 December 1923, page 8g.
    Also see South Australia - Transport - Horse Coaches

    Biographical details of B. Edwards are in the Observer,
    30 May 1925, page 37d,
    of C.G. Shedley on
    22 August 1925, page 49c,
    of J.J. Mackenzie on
    30 March 1929, page 53d.

    "Sensational Tragedy at GPO" is in the Register,
    18 December 1926, page 9c.

    "The General Post Office - Intricacies of Its Organization" is in the Advertiser,
    21 April 1928, page 17e,
    "The Beating Heart of Adelaide" in The Mail,
    28 July 1928, page 12b.

    "Peep Inside Clock at Adelaide GPO" is in The Mail,
    7 September 1929, page 21d.

    "Post Office - Fifty Years Ago - Today and Tomorrow" is in The News,
    2 October 1934, page 4e; also see
    27 December 1934, page 2.

    Communications - Choose again


    A "complete history of the Postal Department" in South Australia is in the Register,
    3 March 1885, page 5f,
    21 January 1887, page 6a; also see
    13 October 1881, page 6f.

    Information on Adelaide's "flagstaff" is in the Southern Australian,
    10 July 1840, page 2d,
    South Australian,
    8 December 1846, page 6c.

    Information on the West Terrace Signal Station is in the Observer,
    28 June 1845, page 5a.
    The Lantern,
    4 June 1881, page 1.

    "The Signal Staff and Signalman" is reported in the Register,
    3 December 1845, page 2a; also see
    6 May 1848, page 2d,
    12 July 1848, page 4a,
    "The Signal Officer on West Terrace" on
    25 July 1849, page 4d; also see
    19 August 1851, page 2e and
    Adelaide Times,
    9 June 1853, page 2b.

    "Mail Signalling" is in the Observer,
    3 January 1874, page 7f.

    "Colonial Mails" is in the Observer,
    27 January 1844, page 4a.

    "Postal Problems in the Early Days of SA" is in The Mail,
    29 December 1934, page 4.

    "The Country Mails" is in the Observer,
    13 and 27 March 1852, pages 4e and 6a.

    Proposed new mail regulations are discussed in the Observer,
    25 September 1852, page 7a.

    "Postage Reform" is in the Observer,
    8 and 22 July 1854, pages 3b and 4c.

    "Postal Arrangements [in SA]" is in the Register,
    12 July 1855, page 2d.

    "The Proposed New Mail Service" is in the Observer,
    26 April 1856, page 1d (supp.),
    10 May 1856, page 6f.

    "The South Australian Mails" is in the Observer,
    30 April 1859, page 7h.

    "Mail Guards" is in the Observer,
    25 June 1859, page 7h.

    Captain Watts' retirement as Post-Master General is reported in the ,
    6 July 1861, page 3c.
    His comments on the post office, etc, appear in the Register,
    13 August 1861, page 2c,
    17 and 24 August 1861, pages 6d and 1h (supp.) and
    an obituary on
    5 April 1873, page 8a.

    Land communication with New South Wales is discussed in the Register,
    19 June 1866, page 2g.

    "The Postal Service" is in the Register,
    2 September 1867, page 2c.

    The installation of "letter lamp-pillars" in Adelaide is discussed in the Register,
    15 February 1868, page 2g,
    22 February 1868, page 5c.

    "Postal Revolution" is in the Register, 15 January 1868, page 2e.

    The amalgamation of the Post Office and Telegraph departments is reported upon in the Register,
    6 and 15 November 1869, pages 2d and 2f.

    "Landing the English Mails at Glenelg" is in the Chronicle,
    17 June 1871, page 12f.
    "Scenes at the Anchorage - When the English Mail Arrives" is in the Register,
    5 and 12 March 1904, pages 8h and 7f.
    "When Glenelg Was a Port of Call" is in The News,
    15 May 1935, page 6g.
    Also see South Australia - Communication - Sea Mail

    "Mail Signalling" is in the Observer,
    3 January 1874, page 7f.

    "The Mail Contracts for 1874" is in the Chronicle,
    17 January 1874, page 12g; also see
    20 January 1877, page 4d,
    26 January 1895, page 23b.

    "The Mail Services of the Colony" is in the Advertiser,
    19 January 1877, page 6e.

    "The Northern Mails" is in the Chronicle,
    22 April 1876, page 19d.
    A series of articles on "Royal Mails - Early North-West Contractors" commences in the Observer,
    9 August 1924, page 49c.

    "Post Cards" is in the Register,
    19 March 1877, page 4e.

    "The Microphone" is in the Observer,
    27 July 1878, page 19c,
    24 August 1878, page 24e.

    "Carrying His Majesty's Mail to Far Outback" is in The Mail,
    29 October 1932, page 13.

    "Tricycles for Telegraph Messengers" is in the Register,
    4 February 1881, page 5c.

    An obituary of J.T. Dyke is in the Register,
    22 August 1881, page 5c,
    of Miss H.E. Waddy on
    8 August 1892, page 4h.

    The inauguration of a "Parcels Post" is reported in the Register,
    17 August 1886, page 6e.

    "Telegraph and Postal Rates" is in the Register,
    16 August 1887, page 4h.

    Information on a Post & Telegraph Cricket Club is in the Express,
    26 August 1887, page 4c.
    A photograph of a Postal Electricians' cricket team is in The Critic,
    9 May 1923, page 14.
    Also see South Australia - Sport - Cricket - Miscellany

    "Mr Todd's Jubilee" is in the Observer,
    12 December 1891, page 6.

    "Our Postal and Telegraphic Services" is in the Observer,
    26 December 1896, page 12d.

    "The Mail Services - List of Successful Tenderers" is in the Register,
    1 February 1898, page 7e,
    1 February 1904, page 7e.

    A letter carriers' social is reported upon in the Register,
    3 August 1903, page 3c.

    "Motor Mailcarts" is in the Advertiser,
    17 December 1907, page 6f,
    "The Back Country - A Tribute to Mail Drivers" out of Marree to the North-East on
    5 June 1909, page 13f.

    "Mail Tenders" is in the Register,
    29 October 1907, page 6h.

    "Christmas Mails - A Congested Post Office" is in the Advertiser,
    25 December 1909, page 12b.

    "Bush Post Offices and Letter Carriers" is in the Register on
    7 February 1910, page 8h,
    "Royal Mails - Early North-West Contractors" on
    2 and 19 August 1924, pages 13g and 10c,
    2 and 9 September 1924, pages 10d and 18e,
    4 and 18 October 1924, pages 11b and 7c,
    1 and 12 November 1924, pages 7a and 12a.

    Proposed post and telegraph stores at the corner of Hindley Street and West Terrace are discussed in the Observer,
    12 October 1912, page 35b.
    An obituary of H.A. Braham is in the
    9 May 1914, page 39d.

    "Aerial Mails" is in the Register,
    9 September 1918, page 6d.
    "South Australia's Aerial Mail" is in The Mail,
    9 August 1924, page 1a.
    "In the Cockpit of the Air Mail Plane" from Adelaide to Perth is in the Advertiser,
    12 September 1931, page 5g.
    Also see under South Australia - Transport - Aeroplanes.

    "Letter Boxes on Gates" is in the Advertiser,
    12 January 1924, page 17d.

    "Stories About Post Offices" is in the Register,
    3 and 23 July 1924, pages 10f and 11e.

    "By Camel Mail" is in the Observer,
    4 October 1924, page 47a.
    "Romance of Red Coat Postmen" is in The News,
    6 May 1929, page 4e.

    "Sighting Ships - Work of Signalmen" is in The Mail,
    7 April 1928, page 12c; also see
    22 June 1929, page 32,
    11 May 1935, page 4.
    Also see Place Names - Semaphore.

    Communications - Choose again

    Sea Mail

    Introduction - A Brief History of Overseas Postal Services to 1874

    (Taken from an unpublished manuscript by Geoffrey H. Manning titled Glenelg - 1836-1936, A Social History - copy in State Library.)

    In the early days the service was maintained by sailing ships and among the best known were the clippers of Captain Angel and Messrs Elder, Younghusband and Levi, but there were many others that made occasional trips. The origin of the coastal mail service must certainly be placed to the credit of Glenelg, where Mr Anthony landed ship mails in a whaleboat and, later on when steamers took part in mail transport, the service was shifted to Semaphore and conducted from year to year in whaleboats under government supervision. The bags were brought up to the city by road. In 1844 a regular line of sailing packets having been established between Sydney and London, the bulk of the mail matter was, for several years, forwarded by this route and the average time occupied was 158 days.

    The first regular steam communication was established in 1852 via the Cape of Good Hope when two steamers maintained a two-monthly service, the contract time from Plymouth to Adelaide being 68 days. The first mail, consisting of 1,799 letters and 3,618 papers, arrived by the Australasian on 29 August. The service was terminated by failure of the company and sailing vessels were again resorted to, until in 1853 when contracts were entered into with the P&O Company for a mail every two months via Singapore.

    In 1855 the steamers of this line, and also those of the General Screw Steamship Company, with which an arrangement had been made, were taken off in order to convey troops to the Crimean War. Thus, once again colonists were made dependent upon sailing clippers for their letters which were forwarded to Melbourne twice a month. Even when a few years later the British government made a contract with a steamship company, Melbourne was made the distributing centre.

    In November 1857, by way of an experiment, Mr Monteith asked a Melbourne correspondent to put a private bag on an outgoing steamer from Melbourne and upon its arrival in St Vincent Gulf a boat was dispatched from Glenelg to intercept it. It was subsequently calculated that a considerable time saving in respect of mail delivery to Adelaide would be effected if they were landed at Glenelg and:

    Late in 1857 a contract between the home authorities and the European and Australian Royal Mail Company was discussed to provide for steamers to call at Nepean Bay on Kangaroo Island on the condition that telegraphic communication be established at once with Melbourne, and this was to effected by laying a cable across Backstairs Passage, thence connecting with the overland telegraph.

    This latter venture was not to see the light of day at the time although it was discussed at the highest level within South Australia. Mr M. Symonds Clark recalled:

    The first P&O steamer to come to South Australia was the Chusan, a steam packet of 699 tons and she came up the Port River on 18 September 1858 and created a sensation at the time. During 1860 the P&O Company again appeared as a contractor and kept up a monthly connection between England and the colonies, South Australian bags being delivered at Kangaroo Island. A few years later the route was changed and Adelaide as a port of call was ignored, thus leading the government to establish a branch service between King George Sound, in Western Australia, and Adelaide and this service was maintained for a decade or more at a net cost of £12,000 per annum and ?it [was] unnecessary to dwell upon the fact that the eastern colonies received telegraphic European news 40 hours earlier than they would have obtained it had not South Australia established such branch service.?

    At the International Conference in March 1867, when all Australian governments were represented, it was resolved that ?the Adelaide mails by the Suez steamers... be delivered at Kangaroo Island and conveyed from that island to Port Adelaide by a branch steamer.?

    In 1872 Glenelg was duly initiated as one of the calling places for P&O steamers when the Bangalore arrived on 18 February. Twelve years had elapsed since the smoke of a Company steamer had been seen in the gulf and the last packet to carry a mail direct from the colony to Great Britain was the Malta which left Nepean Bay about the middle of June 1860 and the news that brought about the abandonment of Kangaroo Island as a calling station was the Salsette which arrived on 4 July.

    In 1874 a new system was entered upon, the Home government carrying the mails as far as Galle, and Victoria maintaining a monthly line between Ceylon and Melbourne at an annual subsidy of £35,000. South Australia had to pay £5,000 per year for the steamers to call at Glenelg. Coincidentally, it was the Bangalore which heralded Glenelg becoming the colony's second port when she was sighted at 5.55 am on 6 February 1874 ?and brought up to the hulk, Beatrice.? As for later events a Glenelg citizen asked whether he could be informed as to:

    Activities at Glenelg - 1874 to 1888

    There was a certain amount of romance, no little danger and a great deal of exciting experience in connection with the early years of the ocean mail service in the days when the telegraphic and boarding arrangements were, to say the least, primitive. The men engaged in boarding steamers often had lively experiences of what wind and weather could do to make the duties difficult and dangerous, even in the comparatively sheltered waters of Holdfast Bay.

    By the mid-1870s the vagaries of the elements were more effectively met by superior facilities for communicating between the city and the roadstead and the risk being less, the romance, what there was of it, had disappeared under the practical hand of progress. Old Adelaideans could remember the time when the Rangatira and other vessels belonging to the Australian Steam Navigation Company brought the mail every month from King George Sound and, to ensure the utmost promptitude, the proprietors of the Argus and Sydney Morning Herald arranged through the Register to charter a fast rowing boat to meet the steamers on arrival. ?Tom Shepherd (sic -Shepard?), a master mariner, had charge of the boat and he was never known to fail in the discharge of his duties.? When safely ashore they were taken to the telegraph office and initialled by the Stationmaster as a guarantee that, on arrival, the messages had precedence over all others.

    Then came the road work - there was no railway at the time - and relays of horses were provided along the road for the speedy conveyance of news, as the old-fashioned coaches were not up to the express rates of travelling. The horses were hired from an old identity, John MacDonald, and a smart light-weighted lad who revelled in horseflesh, covered the distance to Adelaide in seventeen minutes - quicker time than the train did when it arrived on the scene.

    One horse went to the Halfway House, where a relief horse finished the trip and an onlooker remembered that upon arrival in Adelaide they were ?dripping lather and almost ready to drop?, while, invariably, there was a small crowd outside to witness the arrival of the express courier charged with world-wide despatches for the newspapers, which spared no trouble or expense to secure the latest English news at the earliest possible moment. The telegraph office for part of the time was at Green?s Old Exchange and great was the bustle when the mail arrived, it being thronged with eager pressmen.

    The boarding officials were rarely caught napping for, in nautical parlance, they always kept an ?eye lifting? and often a false alarm on a dark and stormy night kept them on the qui vive. David Shepard recalls:

    The old hands told of many a wild night at sea and many a jolly evening?s vigil in the Pier Hotel kept by the genial Henry Moseley, one of the old pioneers and a veteran of 1836. There were no special Custom officials and press representatives present in the early days and, consequently, the whole party put up at the Pier or watched on the jetty.

    The steam launch, Fairy, a smart little seaboat, but not equal to the hard work of facing heavy weather when cautious captains anchored their vessels well out, was next used for boarding work; although a reliable boat, but too small for passenger service, she was succeeded by the Mermaid, a larger and stronger vessel. Bitter were the complaints of overseas passengers or their friends from the shore who made the trip, especially when they had to be slung aboard in chairs.

    On one occasion in bad weather a fond mother was lowered down into the launch without her baby and a sympathetic press man undertook to restore the infant to its mother?s arms. He was duly installed in the sling chair and the sailors, out of devilment, ran him right up to the yard arm and, in lowering the precious freight, the leg of the chair went into the Fairy's funnel, but fortunately she was on a subsiding swell and the world was still the richer by a reporter and a baby.

    The monthly mail service was followed by fortnightly and a small fleet of launches attended upon the huge steamers laid on by the P&O Company. South Australia always complained that it was shorn of the advantages of its geographical position and, before January 1874, did not appear to be of sufficient importance in the eyes of the powers that be for the small steamers to deviate. Indeed, the Government had to pay heavily for a branch steamer to meet the mail boat at King George Sound. However, after that date a new arrangement came into force and Melbourne was made the terminus, while Glenelg was the port of call for the delivery of mails.

    The Government provided the hulk, Beatrice, in Holdfast Bay at a cost of about £300 per annum and put a light on the jetty, which was afterwards replaced by a lighthouse. The first outward bound steamer to call at Glenelg under the new scheme was the Pera, 2,118 tons, and the occasion of her arrival at the Bay was made a holiday.

    The want of arrangements was first seen on a Saturday evening in January 1875 when it was expected that the Ceylon would turn up during the afternoon and there was an unusually large number of passengers from the colony to sail by her. Most of them reached Glenelg with their heavy luggage before 6 o?clock, when their chattels were placed on trucks and taken to the end of the jetty, where they remained. The weary hours wore away and there was no appearance of the steamer.

    The passengers wandered about the jetty keeping an eye on their luggage, utterly at a loss to know whether it would be safe to return to the city, or whether they should stay for the night at the Bay. At length the passengers gave up hope of the steamer?s arrival, and some returned to town, while others sought indifferent accommodation as the Bay afforded:

    In the late 1870s, with the establishment of the railway to Glenelg, there was some antipathy within the colony as to its benefit to the general economy and, in respect of the Bay?s ongoing efficacy as a port of call for mail steamers, it was admitted there was ample justification for the government to construct a parallel line without giving compensation to the railway company that had so ?shamefully humbugged the public, damaged the colony in the eyes of visitors and furnished arguments that , in our next negotiations for an ocean postal contract, may be employed against the calling of the English mail steamer at Glenelg.?

    The Carthage was the last of the mail steamers to call at Glenelg and from 1888 the P&O Company passed what the Glenelg people called the front door of the colony and called at what they considered the side entrance, namely, Semaphore. The steamers had called regularly for some 14 years and in later years their arrival could be calculated almost to the hour.

    The Lighthouse Hulk, ?Beatrice?

    In 1874 the Beatrice was placed at Glenelg as a receiving vessel for cargo, etc., ?for which purpose it was seldom used and had never, in the usual acceptance of the term, been a lightship.? A decade later the residents of Glenelg were much troubled with two threatened misfortunes for it was proposed to remove her from Glenelg in February 1886, and it appeared possible that a contract, about to be entered into for the conveyance of mails from Europe to Australia, could alter the port of arrival and departure from Glenelg to the Semaphore.

    The determination to remove the Beatrice was the result of the retrenchment policy adopted by the House of Assembly in the reduction of the vote under the head ?Marine?. The cost of maintaining the ship at Glenelg was about £300 per annum, so that the saving to be effected was not very considerable. The convenience which the lightship had been to P&O steamers calling at Glenelg had been acknowledged by nearly all their commanders and much time was admitted to have been saved by the facilities that existed for the picking up of an anchorage as near the shore as practicable and safe.

    Naturally, the residents of Glenelg and Largs Bay/Semaphore had divergent opinions on the proposal:

    And here lay the great argument why the Beatrice should not be removed; indeed, to do so would have been a breach of faith and it was difficult to understand why the Treasurer, Mr S. Newland, for the sake of a paltry saving to be effected, persisted in his decision, despite representations made to him:

    Certainly the Beatrice should have remained until the current mail contract expired and this was no sentimental view of the case:

    From correspondence interchanged between the government, the Corporation of Glenelg and shipping companies it was proved clearly that the removal of the vessel would cause great inconvenience not only to the P&O Company, but also to the public, ?seeing that the majority of steamers will deem it necessary to take up their quarters further from the jetty, where there is a greater risk of rough water.? It was further shown that the action of the Treasurer was tantamount to a breach of faith, for the company had had reason to assume that the Beatrice would, in the future, as in the past, be ?kept within the waters of Holdfast Bay as a beacon to show steamers how near to the shore it was safe for them to go... It is only proper that Glenelg should have fair play...?

    Indeed, either the light could be safely dispensed with or it could not. If its removal would have materially increased the danger to vessels approaching Glenelg, then by all means it should have been retained:

    Members of the Marine Board contended that in ?ordinary fair weather the jetty light could be seen 3 or 4 miles outside [that of] the Beatrice?, while one of its members, Mr Neill, said he had come up the gulf without seeing the Beatrice light and declared, ?She was never intended as a lightship and the reason for her carrying two lights [was] to distinguish her from any other ordinary vessel or hulk. As a lightship she is useless.?

    At a meeting of the corporation the action of the government, in refusing to reconsider their determination, was the subject of warm criticism. So necessary was it considered that provision be made for the proper lighting of the harbour that, at a public meeting at Glenelg, Mr J.W. Billiatt moved that the Corporation of Glenelg take immediate steps to maintain under their supervision a fixed light at the anchorage and to open a public subscription list, while in a letter to the Marine Board permission was sought to allow the vessel to remain and the ?light to be exhibited only on the nights when mail was expected from London and Melbourne.? From this activity a voluntary subscription list to defray cost of the vessel was started and about £150 guaranteed by local citizens. But there were other opinions abroad:

    In February 1886 the Beatrice was removed from Holdfast Bay and taken to Port Adelaide for repairs and, following an act of contrition by the government, the steamer, Lady Diana, towed the ketch Sailor Prince to Glenelg where ?she was to show the light as usual.? At a later date ?the government ordered the vessel to Glenelg again? after repairs were completed and the Marine Board commented that ?they were pleased that she could be repaired for so small an amount.?

    Glenelg versus Semaphore and Largs Bay

    In 1876 the commander of the P&O ship, Sumatra, was ordered by his superiors to examine the Semaphore anchorage and decide if that place would be better adapted for the transhipment of mails. Later, he called on the Premier and informed him that ?he could see no reason for going to the Semaphore in preference, but saw many for not doing so.?

    An ardent ?Glenelgite?, working himself into a sense of excitement over the difficulties in landing the mails, especially as exemplified in the Sumatra's visit in June 1876, sent the following poem to ?Geoffrey Crabthorn? of the Observer, who added that, ?perhaps Mr Wigley will act on our hint?:

    In defence of Semaphore as a mailing station a biased resident of that district reminded the citizenry of a happening at Glenelg in September 1876 when:

    In July 1877 Mr Sinclair, a former Mayor of Port Adelaide, moved in the House of Assembly for the removal of the English mail steamer from Glenelg to the Semaphore. Taking umbrage at this turn of events a public meeting was held in the Pier Hotel, where the Mayor, Mr W.R. Wigley, said that such a move would delay mails by up to three hours and suggested that ?in rough weather the steamer would not get within five miles of the Semaphore jetty.?

    The reason for the proposed transfer was that some merchants of Adelaide had difficulty in getting their goods through Glenelg; however, the public ?thought it more important that they should get their letters [as early as possible]?. Another caustic comment from Glenelg was that ?when overseas visitors stepped off the jetty at Semaphore there was nothing to be seen but a desert of sand... whereas at Glenelg there was a fine hotel that would do credit to London, a fine Institute and other conveniences for those who had to wait for a train...?

    At the meeting, the local member, Mr William Townsend, MP, said that at a conference on 21 June 1869 he moved that the mails be landed at some place in South Australia and on 23 February 1873, at conference held in Sydney on the same subject, Sir Henry Ayers, as Chief Secretary of South Australia, got a clause inserted into the postal contract that the mail should be landed at Glenelg, and he ?meant to enquire in Parliament why he had changed his opinion since he went... to Sydney.?

    The pro-Glenelg brigade won the day and there the matter rested for over twelve years when, in 1885, an agreement was entered into that mail boats, other than the P&O line which was contracted to utilise Glenelg, should call at the Semaphore, but subsequent representations by the government to Home authorities said that the paragraph in the mail contract naming Semaphore as the landing place ?might be required by the colony to be altered ... to Glenelg...? Accordingly, a public meeting was held in the Semaphore Institute on 16 October 1885 with respect of landing mails and passengers from ocean steamers:

    In a report in September 1886 the Marine Board stated that it was unnecessary to maintain the two mail stations manned at that time. Further, the board contended that Semaphore as a port of embarkation and disembarkation was inconvenient and caused serious delays during squally weather because the railway could not run to the end of the jetty. The choice, therefore, lay between Glenelg and Largs Bay and, having carried out several exercises with different ships, recommended Largs Bay

    . At about this time a landing of passengers at Semaphore was described by an opponent of the proposed change:

    Negotiations continued into 1887 with the government all but committed to landing mail at Largs Bay but, being unable to come to satisfactory terms with the directors of the private railway company operating the line, the decision was taken to land ?the mails at Semaphore as heretofore.?

    Following further representations, early in 1888 it was determined that mail steamers should call at the Semaphore anchorage on and after 2 April 1888 and for it to be optional whether the mails were landed at Largs Bay or Semaphore. This was the death knell for Glenelg and one of its avid defenders, Samuel Tomkinson, castigated his fellow ?Glenegites? in February 1888:

    The transfer of venue being effected a controversy arose between the two ?camps? at Semaphore and Largs Bay:

    Incensed at this ridiculous state of affairs a public meeting was held in the Semaphore Institute following which a deputation waited upon the Treasurer and asked that that all ocean mails be handled at Semaphore, thereby ?concentrating business on the Government jetty and railway.? Subsequently, the rails were altered on the Semaphore jetty to an increased width for the accommodation of the carriages. These were drawn by horses from the jetty and then hooked onto an engine at the site of the Semaphore station.

    Finally, it was reported that the landing of mails at Semaphore instead of at Largs Bay was a thing of the near future and that ?the residents in the vicinity are in high spirits over the proposed change.? The mail contract came up for renewal in 1890 and, once again, following lobbying from various interests, the government decided to return operations to Glenelg, but there were other opinions being put abroad:

    Vacillating again, and with a change of government, a Commission, consisting entirely of politicians, was appointed to inspect the Semaphore, Glenelg and Largs Bay jetties and to ?enquire into the best means for making the provision for the landing and embarking of mails for Europe.? The commission reported that ?it was shown that there were fairly sufficient facilities provided at Largs Bay jetty for the landing the ocean mails as well as for enabling passengers to come ashore.?

    A more misleading, if not a more absolutely incorrect, statement could not have been made. If it was based on the evidence taken it was more than certain that the Commission was deceived and the fact that the body consisted of politicians having no special knowledge under enquiry, did not exonerate it from the charges levelled against it.

    If the members had relied less on hearsay testimony and the opinions of interested persons, and had gone to the trouble of making personal inspections and instituting a little private enquiry, the results of their labours would have been less open to objection. They never saw the actual landing or embarking of a single passenger or the handling of the mails. Indeed, if they had done so no misrepresentations would have been found in their report:

    Finally, having accepted the recommendations emanating from the Commission the Government committed itself to purchase the jetty and railway belonging to the Largs Bay Company:

    Of interest was the fact that the contract to deliver mails, at what was known as ?Adelaide Semaphore?, provided that the mails be delivered at either Semaphore or Largs Bay jetty and, in its wisdom, the government opted for the latter as the main landing place because ?the evidence showed that the Semaphore jetty for a similar service was insufficient.?

    However, the sins and transgressions of the Commission were evident when a newspaper report revealed that at Largs Bay:

    The contract with the P&O Company concluded on 31 January 1895 and, prior to its renewal, it was said that ?as far as the delivery of the mails and also in respect of passenger traffic Glenelg, would be the nearest and quickest.? However, the ocean mail steamship companies took into grave consideration in tendering for mail services the extent of the cargo carrying trade and any interference with that would have had the effect of at once raising the cost of the postal service. As Glenelg could not be so economically handled on account of increased cost of lighterage as compared with the Semaphore anchorage, no changes were forthcoming.

    And so the saga continued with Largs Bay remaining as the venue for the anchorage, while on occasions gangways continued to be smashed by heaving launches and passengers transferred by the less dignified but decidedly safer means of baskets. There was many a drenching with spray.

    Before it was definitely decided to construct an Outer Harbour at Light?s Passage there were many people who conscientiously believed that the better site could be found in the vicinity of Marino. However, this suggestion was strongly condemned by leading authorities on harbour work administration.

    ?No more is the front door of South Australia a wicker basket. Thank God that reproach is now removed?, were the remarks of the Engineer-in-Chief, Mr A.B. Mais , the designer and director of the Outer Harbour works when, on 16 January 1906, the new harbour was officially declared open for the accommodation of large overseas vessels by the Governor of South Australia, Sir George LeHunte. The first mail steamer to berth was the Orient liner, Oruba.

    Thus, the long-contemplated chief essential to a first class port - an up-to-date harbour accommodation for the large ocean-going vessels - had been provided and in order to attract more tourists the Marine Drive was commenced, while at the same time sundry combatants at Glenelg, Semaphore and Largs Bay laid down their arms and turned their attention to less mundane subjects such as ?mixed bathing? on beaches .

    General Notes

    "Old Time Memories - Early English Mail Services" is in the Register,
    18 April 1916, page 7a.

    "The New [Overseas] Mail Contract - The Old and the New" is in the Observer,
    5 February 1898, page 15a.

    "The Ocean Postal Service" is in the Observer,
    9 August 1856, page 5g,
    "The Steam Postal Question"
    20 and 27 June 1857, pages 3a (supp.) and 4g; also see
    24 October 1857, page 6f,
    28 November 1857, page 6f,
    26 December 1857, page 6c,
    2 and 16 January 1858, pages 5c and 5c,
    6 February 1858, page 5f,
    5 and 19 June 1858, pages 6c and 6b,
    3 July 1858, page 5e,
    7 and 28 August 1858, pages 1b (supp.) and 7c,
    2 and 23 October 1858, pages 6c and 6e,
    5 March 1859, page 6d,
    21 July 1860, pages 5e-6a,
    10 and 31 May 1862, pages 6c and 5d.

    "The Landing of the Mails" is in the Observer,
    14 November 1857, page 1d (supp.),
    9 April 1859, pages 4f-1e (supp.).
    "The Ocean Postal Service" is in the
    8 March 1873, page 13a,
    "Ocean Mail Contracts" on
    21 June 1873, page 12f,
    "Boarding the Mail Steamers" on
    13 June 1874, page 8b,
    "Ocean Mail Contract" in the Express,
    23 October 1878, page 3b.
    Also see Express,
    11 February 1891, page 4f and under Place Names - Largs and Semaphore.

    "The Ocean Mail Service" is in the Register,
    15 April 1884, page 4d,
    "The Ocean Mail Service and the Orient Company" on
    16 August 1884, pages 4h-1b (supp.); also see
    8 September 1885, pages 4h-6e,
    8 and 27 October 1885, pages 4g-7b and 6c (history of ocean mails),
    6 January 1886, page 5a,
    3 February 1886, page 5a,
    18 and 20 May 1886, pages 4e and 4h,
    18 June 1886, page 5h,
    10 September 1886, page 4f,
    18 December 1886, page 4e.

    Information on sea-mail contracts is in the Register,
    27 October 1885, page 6c.

    "An Ocean Mail Port" is in the Register,
    9 February 1886, page 4g.

    Also see Register,
    5 February 1887, page 4d,
    26 and 31 March 1887, pages 4f and 4e,
    9 and 21 April 1887, pages 4g and 4f,
    6 May 1887, page 4f,
    4 and 24 June 1887, pages 5a-6a and 4g,
    15 August 1887, page 4f,
    19 September 1887, page 4e,
    5 November 1887, page 4f,
    6 and 12 January 1888, pages 4h and 4h-6a,
    2 February 1888, page 5b,
    9 July 1888, page 4g,
    18 April 1890, pages 4e-6d.

    "The Australian Mails - The Old and the New" is in the Register,
    2 February 1898, page 6d,
    "HM Mails - Liners 50 Years Ago and Now" on
    12 February 1910, page 6d,
    "Old-Time Memories - Early English Mail Services" in the ,
    18 and 22 April 1916, pages 7a and 6c,
    29 April 1916, page 44c.

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