Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Lost Post Offices of Australia - Newcastle (Watt Street)

I have previously covered the iconic former Walter Vernon designed Newcastle Post Office located on the Cnr of Hunter & Bolton Streets, however, as I mentioned in that post, Newcastle's postal history goes back a lot further than 1904.

Newcastle's first Post Office began operations at the former Court House on the cnr of Church  and Watt Street in 1828, commencing operations on the 1st March, with Mr D.F. McKay appointed as Postmaster. Now there is some controversy as to who and on what date the Post Office started operating in Newcastle, with some stating that Mr John Erskine was appointed deputy Postmaster in 1827. However, while I accept that there may have been an informal postal system in place operating from the Commissariat Store (in Watt Street) prior to 1828, I concur with the official Post Office history that clearly states that Mr McKay was the first appointed Postmaster for Newcastle in 1828. The Post Office remained in the former Court House until it burnt down in 1851 and then the Post Office moved to a government owned cottage in Watt St.   

One thing is for certain is that the Post Office continued to grow as the city grew from its early convict heritage, becoming an Official Post Office (01/09/1862 - W. Thompson, Postmaster), Money Order Office (01/01/1863) and then a Government Savings Bank (01/10/1871). The telegraph arrived in Newcastle in January 1860 and was initially housed in the railway station, however in 1861 it moved into a purpose built office in Hunter St next to the Police Station (built in 1840), however the Post Office remained on the old Watt Street site. 

As the 1860's came to end, there were increasing demands made in the local newspaper, 'The Newcastle Herald & Miners Advocate' for better postal facilities with demands such as;

"a cottage in Watt St with accommodation hardly sufficient to swing a cat, much less to conduct our postal business' and,

" the 2nd city in New South Wales boasts a Post Office hardly fit to be opened as a lolly pop shop"

These demands were finally heeded by Sydney who asked James Barnet to come up with design for a new Post Office to be located on the Cnr of Hunter and Watt Streets, next to the Telegraph Office. On the 16th March 1872 local builders Lang & Wylie put in the successful bid of £2139/4/3 ($2.1 million) and were awarded the contract. The building was finally completed and officially opened for business on the 20th June 1873 by local MP Mr George Lloyd at 12pm. During his opening speech Mr Lloyd also promised that he would press for a  verandah to be added to the Post Office ASAP. That addition didn't happen till 1886 at a cost of £3101/3/7 ($2.9 million) and as not to inconvenience the public during the additions, cast iron street posting boxes in were installed. It is also interesting to note that the Telegraph Office and the Post Office didn't amalgamate until January 1901 when Mr R.W. Arnott took over both duties, even though they were operating next to each other for 28 years! It was also around this time that the verandah was removed, a portico between the buildings added and then both buildings rendered to give a the 'new' Post & Telegraph Office a common look (originally both were bare brick but were of a different colour & style)

As Newcastle continued to grow, so did the requirement for a larger Post Office and so in August 1903, the Post and Telegraph Office moved to its stately Walter Liberty Vernon designed building on the Cnr of Hunter and Bolton Streets.

Today it is the Bolton Street Post Office gets all the kudos while the  former Watt Street Post Office, although beautifully restored and situated only a couple of metres down Hunter Street has been quickly forgotten, fading from our collective memory with the passage of time. 

I'd like to thank the staff at Newcastle City Library, The Newcastle Family History & Historical Society and The National Library of Australia

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