Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Lost Post Offices of Australia - Picton (2571)

“Altogether the building is paltry looking and very far below what a rising town like Picton is entitled to and the residents have a right to, compared with towns of less importance – this is part of a letter that seven local JP’s wrote in support of the then Picton Postmaster (Mr F. Burgess) plea for a new Post Office in June 1889.

The Postmaster and the buildings landlord, Mr G.M. Burgess, had a difficult relationship, almost from day one in 1886, culminating in the Postmaster accusing Mr Burgess’s building as being responsible for the death of one of his children due the damp and cold conditions of the Post Office and Postmasters residence. This was exacerbated by the high rainfall during the first half of 1889 and the early onset of a harsh winter.

Despite the Postmasters heartfelt plea to his superiors (with the support of seven local JP’s and various complaints from members of the community), nothing was done until the 2nd February 1891, when the NSW Works Department announced that Mr Peter Graham was successful in his tender for the construction of the Picton Post and Telegraph Office.

Picton itself has a long and colourful postal history, much longer than the drama’s that unfolded in 1886 

Picton, was originally known as Cowpastures, then later called Stonequarry and was one of a number of towns in the early days of the colony that were built on privately owned land, in this case, on a grant originally given  to Major Henry Colden Antill. In 1827 Govenor Brisbane opened the Stonequarry Gaol in an effort to tame lawlessness due to the bushrangers that were operating in the southern districts and the town continued to grow around the security offered by the police presence. With that growth came the need for mail and newspapers (newspapers were the main source of information, so were very important to the outlying districts).  

Stonequarry then became a convenient place for mailmen from Campbelltown and Bong Bong (Mittagong) to meet, exchange mail and pick up the local mail from Mr James Blake, who was the first Postmaster (1827), although in an unofficial capacity. Instead of waiting in the weather for each to arrive it was decided to meet at the local court house and in 1836, the colonial government decided to appoint Mr James Pearson as the ‘official’ Postmaster (he was also the Clerk to the Bench of Magistrates). This convenient arrangement lasted for the next three Postmasters until Mr G. Commins (a non court officer) was appointed in 1846. The mail was a daily service from Sydney via Campbelltown, except on Friday’s and the cost of posting a letter was 7d ($3.50).

It should be noted that in 1841 the town adopted the name Picton to replace original name of Stonequarry and so on the 1st September 1841, the NSW colonial government officially named Picton Post Office
The Post Office then moved to various locations as each new Postmaster moved the office to his, or her business. When the telegraph arrived in Picton, in the early part of 1863, it was located at the railway station which arrived also at the same time (although the first train didn't arrive till July of that year), with Mr George King as telegraph operator on a princely sum of £104 p.a. ($112,000). The Post Office and Telegraph Office didn’t amalgamate until January 1882.

The call for a new purpose built Post Office started back in 1886, (illustrated by the problems with the building leased from Mr Burgess and the Postmaster, as mentioned earlier), but as there was no suitable land available, the project lay dormant until the government forcibly resumed a block of land from Mssrs. Fieldhouse in 1890 and tenders were called in 1891.

While the good citizens of Picton and I assume the Postmaster as well, were much aggrieved by the delay, it actually meant that instead of getting the standard George Barnet  'Victorian Italianate' style of country Post Office, they were the beneficiaries of a Walter Liberty Vernon 'Free Classical' early federation style building (Walter Vernon was appointed as NSW government architect in 1890, he also later designed the Newcastle PO). The original design, which did not include the clock tower was opened on 19th July 1892 and cost £2379 ($2 million). After the opening ceremonies were performed by the Hon. J. Kidd,  successful representations were made to him to have a clock tower installed. It should also be noted, Mr Kidd was not only the local member of Parliament for Camden, but he was also the NSW Post-Master General, (which does make you wonder!). Mr M.B. Smith was the successful tenderer for the construction and for an additional £135 ($99,500), Picton’s Post Office had a wonderful four faced clock tower six months later.

This wonderful building served the Picton community until Australia Post vacated in 1994 and then this Walter Liberty Vernon designed building disappeared from their property portfolio. However, the building was not lost to the community as Wollondilly Council purchased the property and cleverly turned it into the Wollondilly Visitor Information Centre, which is a nice touch for this proud community.

As for postal services in Picton these days, well they became a Licensed Post Office (LPO) and eventually moved into a ubiquitous shop in Argyle Street, next door to a pie shop and a Chinese restaurant.

Maybe, Walter Vernon should have incorporated a Chinese restaurant into his original design .....   

I'd like to thank the invaluable contribution to this blog by the Picton and District Historical and Family History Society, and also the Wollondilly Visitor Information Centre

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