Monday, April 12, 2010

The Lost Post Offices of Australia - Cessnock (2325)

In the winter of 1891, quite a spirited debate broke out between the citizens of Cessnock and it was played out publicly in the local newsapaper, The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser, over whether Cessnock would be better served by the existing telegraph or by the new fangled invention .... the telephone.

The genesis of this debate focused on the then Postmistress, Mrs Margaret Gouldsbury and whether she could be trusted to handle the privacy of telephonic communication. When the telegraph arrived in Cessnock in August 1888, it was placed in the Court House, directly opposite the Post Office. This was quite common in the early days of the colony and was not unusual, even though it necessitated the employment of a skilled telegraph operator, Mr Joseph Lord (paid a salary of £75), to perform the task.Later that year, a Postmaster-General inspector recommended that the two offices be combined to alleviate the cost of running two separate offices. This idea was ignored until the Postmaster-General decided to upgrade Cessnock to the 'new' telephone system.

Then all hell broke loose!

The first shots of the debate were fired in June 1891 when Mr Francis Stewart, in Maitland District Court, sued  Margaret Gouldsbury and John Gouldsbury (official letter carrier and Margaret's husband) for alleged negligence in the delivery of a registered letter posted on the 24th January, it was not picked up by Mr Stewart till the 2nd February of that year. Plaintiff claimed £30 compensation (that would be around $24,000 in today's money!). As all mail was picked up from the Post Office at that time, the judge decided that the Post Office was under no obligation to inform Mr Stewart of the arrival of the letter and dismissed the case.

In July 1891 a public meeting was convened to insist to the NSW Government that Cessnock was entitled to have a new Post and Telegraph Office built, that the existing  telegraph be retained and the Postmaster-General employ the services of a suitably qualified civil servant to run the new venture. Although never publicly stated, but framed in innuendo, was that Mrs Gouldsbury should lose her position to a person, who was civil, courtesy and obliging (a pre-requisite for employment in the postal service at that time). This colonial soap opera was played out in the newspaper, between June till August as each side openly slandered the other.

On the 12th September 1891, following an investigation by Mr O'Connor, the Postmaster-General and several local MP's, it was decided that a telephone would indeed replace the telegraph equipment and that it would be placed in the existing Post Office. However, Mrs Gouldsbury stepped aside as Postmistress and her 17 year old niece, Miss Agnes Lappan, would assume the duties of the Postmistress (Agnes had already served as Assistant for many years previous). The Post Office building was still owned by the Gouldbury's.

The above story represents how passionate locals were about the Post Office and the important role that the Post Office played in Australia's early history.

The early history of postal services to Cessnock is in itself quite a colourful read as the town struggled to establish itself and become a thriving independent community. The towns big problem was that it was situated on The Great North Road , (then the only road to NSW's northern districts) between the two major inland towns of Wollombi and West Maitland. In September 1863, the residents asked that a Post Office be established, however due to the costs involved their request was denied (mail for Cessnock was dropped off at the local Inn by the passing mail service). Then in August 1864 another petition with 50 signatures was submitted to the Postmaster-General and in this instance they were successful, with local storekeeper Mr James Melville  being appointed Postmaster. An interesting fact is that for the next 43 years a relative of James Melville ran the Cessnock Post Office from the same site (now the site of the Holden dealership) and Miss Agnes Lappan, was quite possibly the youngest ever official Postmistress, quite a feat indeed!

Mail for Cessnock from Maitland arrived Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 2 pm. It then arrived from Wollombi on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1pm. All mail at this time was picked up from Mr Melvilles Post Office as there was no home or business mail deliveries.    

It wasn't till 1908, with a population of 5,000 and residents demanding better postal services, that Cessnock attained the prestigious status of an official Post Office. In addition to the Postmaster, there was also a permanent assistant and a messenger attached to the new office. Also by July 1908 a twice daily letter delivery service was in place (delivered by contractor). It appears that the Post office was still run from the original Gouldsbury site as the new Post Office wasn't yet completed. 

The Vincent Street building was eventually completed in 1909 (but not commencing operations until 1910) for a  total cost of £1,200 ($800,000) and was designed during the Walter Vernon  (NSW Government Architect) period and featured the favoured Federation Bungalow style of the time. Unfortunately the Vincent Street site went through numerous changes, including a couple of 'new' facades to keep the building looking modern and fresh, however those changes obliterated the wonderful Vernon design. Examples of Federation Bungalow Post Office style can still be found at Weston and Kurri Kurri.The Cessnock council was forever asking the PMG Department for new premises, including in 1964 when deputations from local MP's could only illicit a vague promise that something would be done in 10 -15 years! That promise only achieved another remodelling, with a $24,000 refit and according to the District Postal Manager, Mr K.Frost "  ... has been designed to suit the needs of the people in Cessnock for many years to come".      

The 3rd and current Post Office site is now located in Cessnock Marketplace shopping centre and is a pleasant, functional enough shop front with easy access for postal services, but it does lack the panache of of a Federation Bungalow style building . Also, when Australia Post moved from the Vincent Street site, they split the postal functions as well, with the sorting and delivery functions moved to a purpose built site in South Avenue.

So Cessnock has grown from one letter a week from Wollombi in 1863, to be the dominant postal provider in the area and will be for the foreseeable future..I suppose we are lucky that we are no longer sued for late mail deliveries!       

I'd like to thank the Newcastle Library Local History section and the online resources of the National Library of Australia for their assistance.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Lost Post Offices of Australia - Lambton (2299)

It must have seemed like an exciting time for the residents of Lambton, when in 1950, the then Postmaster-General , Mr Anthony advised the Lambton community that they would soon have a brand new Post Office, with modern delivery facilities and amenities  to replace the aging existing building that was opened in 1884. To assist in the transition, the burgeoning mail sorting and deliveries would be handled from the front room of the Lambton Mechanics' and Miners' Institute in Elder St.

The new building never eventuated.

The deliveries and mail sorting were eventually transferred to the Broadmeadow Mail Centre , then  later to Hamilton Delivery Centre and now to Warabrook Delivery Facilty. The Post Office itself would eventually succumb to Australia Posts property rationalisation programme and in May 1996 this wonderful building was listed for sale. With the sale completed in 1997 the postal facility was downgraded to LPO status and now resides in the newsagency in Elder St.

However, the postal history of Lambton is still a rich one and can be traced back to the mid 1860's, even well before the establishment on the township in 1870! Actually the area is another Hunter town that came into existance on the back of a coal mining venture, this time initiated by the Scottish-Australian Mining Co., in 1862.

As with most of these towns, due to the influx of miners who settle close to the pits, they quickly flourish, and once you have residents, one of the first thing they demand is a reliable postal service to satisfy the needs of their community and Lambton was no different. On the 1st March1865 Lambton had their first Postmaster when Mr Daniel Jones was appointed, a position he held for six years. Mr Davies became the next Postmaster and ran the Post Office from his house in Grainger Street. It was during his tenure that the magic of the telegraph arrived in 1875, Lambton was certainly a town on the move!

In 1880 the first approaches were made to the NSW Postmaster-General to upgrade the Post Office to  official  status and erect a purpose built Post and Telegraph office to better serve the community. The deputation produced figures to show that over 48,000 mail articles had been posted and revenues were around £400. The Postmaster-General initially baulked at the idea, however by 1882 the NSW Colonial Government had committed to building a new Post Office  in Dickson St.

So on the 27th June 1884, the good citizens of Lambton were finally greeted with their new £1848 ($1.5 million) Post Office, which also incorporated the Telegraph Office and the Government Savings Bank. Once again the Post Office was constructed in the style of the day for country Post Offices, that being of Victorian Italianate 2 storey design, cement rendered over brick, with a front veranda and iron roofed, much in the style favoured by James Barnet, who was NSW Chief Architect at the time (it should be noted however, that Barnet was not listed as the architect on this project, which, for the period was intriguing!). Due to the slope of the land this building also had basement constructed from Pyrmont sandstone which bought up from Sydney. Another feature that was later added to the font veranda wall was the Lambton Post Office Roll of Honour in memory of those locals who had laid down their lives in World War 1 and was erected by Lambton Ladies Anzac Club in 1916.  

The current owners, Hann Insurance Brokers, have beautifully restored this wonderful building to its original late 19th century grandeur and is a credit to them and the Lambton community.

I think the Newcastle Morning Herald summed up my feelings about this beautiful building when on the 27th June 1884 they wrote " The building, as a whole, is one of the most handsome and substantial of its class in the Northern District, and, to all appearances, will stand for centuries." ..... Unfortunately not as part of Australia Posts' shrinking property portfolio.   

I like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of The Newcastle Family History Society Inc. (The Story of Lambton - a Suburb of Newcastle, NSW) and the Newcastle City Library in the research of this article.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Romancing The View

I was up in the Cessnock wineries the other week and so once again I armed myself with my 'go anywhere' camera, the Sanyo 1275s.

Because I have done quite a few photographic essays up in that beautiful region, including a pretty comprehensive look at the wine industry with my "Last of the Summer Wine" entry, I decided to use a Photoshop post production 'watercolour' effect and see if I could achieve a different take on this beautiful region. I have used this effect before, so I thought this would be a great way to get in some more practice and give the wineries a different perspective. If you are interested in using this effect it can be found for free at;

The above photo was taken from Robyn Drayton Wines carpark (Cnr of McDonalds and Pokolbin Mountain Roads, Pokolbin. Phone: 02 4998 7523) and looks back toward the Ivanhoe Wines Cellar Door. In this photo I deliberately went out to capture the advisory sign, the fence and the gum trees, which I thought would perfectly capture the rural scene.

The gum tree to the right was taken from Mt View Estate Winery (Mt View Road, Mt View. Phone: 02 4990 3307). I know this may sound a bit weird, but I have always found this tree intriguing and is representative of the Australian landscape. It has a wonderful look and texture to the bark, which stands out against the vivid colours of the vineyards behind. Unfortunately a lot of native vegetation was cleared by the early pioneers of the Pokolbin district and now due to the care on the current owners (& government legislation), we have more trees of this type in the vineyards. It gives the wineries a truly a wonderful iconic Australian vista.

This is a wonderful view back to Cessnock and Kurri Kurri from the Petersons Wine Cellar Door (552 Mount View Rd. Mount View. Phone: 02 4990 1704). I love this shot because of the clouds, which were threatening rain all day, but as often is the case in Australia, never delivered.

Ivanhoe Wines (Marrowbone Road, Pokolbin. Phone: 02 4998 7325) is such a special winery in the Hunter Valley, mainly due to its spectacular location, nestled on a hillside and surrounded by vineyards. I have never, in all my time up in the wineries, ever seen this winery in anything less than picture perfect condition. Is that a red Australia Post truck in the shot? 

Mt Pleasant Estate Wines (401 Marrowbone Road Pokolbin Phone: 02 4998 7505) is one of the oldest wineries in the Pokolbin area, with the first vines planted 1880. The Mt Pleasant Estate winery, at the foot of  the spectacular Brokenback Range, was established in 1921 and continues operations to this day

I'd like to thank all the wineries for providing the wonderful backdrop to the blog. If you are ever in the Hunter Valley wineries, make sure you pack your camera, marvel at the wonderful views and enjoy some of Australia's best wine. 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Things That Go Bump In The Night

I have covered a lot of the early history of Campbelltown (NSW) when researching the Post Office history for the Lost Post Offices of Australia series. However, surprising as this may seem, there is more to Campbelltown history than the former Post Office and the city is steeped in its own unique, some would say, ghostly, history!

While a ghost story is intriguing, what is more amazing is how many of Campbelltown's historic building are still in existence today, especially in and around the southern end of Queen St.

Commercial Banking Company of Sydney - 263 Queen St - built 1881
Campbelltown Town Hall - 297 Queen St - built 1862
(This building is also the former Temperance Hall, purchased by the council in 1884. It is also thought to be haunted by the ghost of Frederick Fisher).
Fire Station - next to Town Hall - built 1891 
Dredge's Cottage - 303 Queen St  - built early 1870's
Fieldhouse Store - 317 Queen St - built 1853 
Emily Cottage - Cnr Camden and Old Menagle Rd - built early 1840's 
Farriers Arms (Airds Cottage) - 320 Queen St - built early 1840's
Coaching House - 298 Queen St - built 1840's
Bursill's Shop (used as the Post Office in the 1850's) - 292 Queen St - built 1842
Railway Hotel (but nowhere near the railway?) - 288 Queen St - built 1840's 
McGuanne's House - 286 Queen St - built 1840's
St Peter's Anglican Church - Cordeaux St - built 1823
Campbelltown Railway Station - Platform 2 - built 1858
Campbelltown Court House - Queen St - built 1888

What makes Campbelltown stand out from other historical areas in Australia, would be not only be the age of the buildings, some dating as far back to the 1820's, but also the variations, from Churches, banks, hotels, shops, toll booths, Post Offices, Fire Stations, Town Hall, Railway Station and general residences, most are intact and still in use to this very day.

Of course no look at the rich vein of Campbelltown history would be complete without mentioning poor old Frederick Fisher. On the night of June 17, 1826, poor old Fred, after a night of drinking with George Worrall, disappeared and a legend was born. Now the ghost story goes that George Worrall claimed that old Fred had decided to head back to England to avoid a forgery charge and Frederick had sold him all his worldly belongings, just lucky for George. However when George tried to sell the property, it was noticed that the sale papers were forgeries On the strength of this information, Police arrested Worrall on the 17th September on the suspicion of Frederick Fishers murder. Here the story deviates, so going with myth, it is then reported that respectable local farmer John Farley whilst walking home from the pub in October of that year, observed the ghostly apparition of Frederick Fisher sitting on a bridge side rail pointing down the creek line to a paddock and then faded away. The body of Frederick was found on October 26, 1826, where the apparition had pointed and George Worrall was then charged with his murder, convicted and hung on the 5th February 1827.

Lets just leave the story there as I think it is more romantic and I think even Fred would be happy with that.

The stories from around the Campbelltown area are a wonderful insight into our colonial past and is well worth a visit. Just make sure you take your camera, for you never know who just might tap you on the shoulder and say .... boo!

I'd like to thank the staff and online resources of Campbelltown City Library and the Campbelltown Visitor Information Centre.