Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Lost Post Offices of Australia - Stockton (2295)

In 1800 a gang of 15 convicts, escaping from Broken Bay in NSW, stole the colonial sloop 'Norfolk' and ran aground at the present day Stockton, thus giving the area it's first and more romantic name, Pirate Point. 

Situated less than 1 kilometre across the harbour from Newcastle, Stockton has its own unique history, which dates back to early Aboriginal occupation and was known as  "Burrinbingon" by the local Worrimi tribe. Stockton was known by the aboriginal as a gathering place of plenty as it was well stocked with oysters, pippies and plenty of fish species in the river. When Lt Shortland 'discovered' Newcastle in 1797 word got back to Sydney about the natural riches that could be found, especially the coal and cedar and it didn't take long before 18th century entrepreneurs came to take advantage to the abundant riches. One of the first  businessmen was Hugh Meehan, who in 1799 began operating a saw pit on Stockton's northern shore      

Following the establishment of the convict settlement at Coal River (Newcastle) in 1804, Stockton then became a horrendous place of punishment as convicts were sent over the river to work the lime kilns that were situated close to the former aboriginal middens that were scattered around the area.   

By 1823 the convict era had finished and so private settlements along the length of the Hunter River flourished, including Stockton. Large grants of land were issued in the 1830's and early industries quickly flourished, salt works and foundry in 1838, vitriol (sulphuric acid) works in 1853, tin smelter in 1872 and the colony's biggest textile factory (which burnt down in 1851). however the mainstay was shipbuilding, with at least six shipbuilders operating in the area by the 1860's.

With a population of over 150 permanent residents the first calls were made for the establishment of a Post Office on the peninsular in 1859, however the NSW government declined, mainly due to the high cost submitted by the contractors to convey the mail across the harbour, one tender was quoted as £60 ($10,000), which was considered to high of a cost at the time.

Not to be deterred, in November 1861 representations were once again put to the government, this time by local politician Mr James Hannell and in this instance they were successful. On the 1st February 1862, Mr Samuel Sterling became the first Postmaster of the new Stockton Post Office. A contract was also let to Mr Henry Plenglaze for £36.13.5 ($6,000) to provide a 6 day mail service from Newcastle to Stockton. According to the Parish Maps the first Post Offices seemed to be located off Fullerton Road, near what is now known as Punt St (formerly known as Factory St.). Several Postmasters followed Mr Sterling ... William Adams (1868), Edward Miner (1870) and then in 1873 the former contractor, Henry Penglaze, who held the position until his death in 1882,  then passing the running of the Post Office licence to his wife, Elizabeth.

As Stockton continued to grow, especially when the Stockton Coal Company commenced operation in 1882, so did the demands for better postal services, including the connection to the telegraph. Following an assessment by Postal Inspector Davies in 1886, it was decided to erect an 18 mile  telegraph line from Raymond Terrace to Stockton and amalgamate the Post Office and the Telegraph Office.

In 1887, Stockton at last had an official Post & Telegraph Office with Mr John Beckett appointed to the position with a salary of £124 p.a. ($130,000). On the day he opened Stockton's the new Post & Telegraph, the 27th June 1887, his first message as the official Post & Telegraph master was "I have opened the office here this morning, may I take on a Probationer to carry messages, no other person employed here but myself ", Postmaster Beckett was quick to realise the short comings of being the only employee at the Post Office! Not only was his plea for additional staff agreed to but he also gained a part time Postman as well, John Griffiths, who commenced his rounds on 1st September 1887, thus earning the distinction of being the first postman in Stockton .

In 1890 the Post Office also gained a lamp for the front of the Post Office and as this had to be lit and maintained by Postmaster Beckett, so he asked for and was granted an additional allowance of £4 p.a. ($670) to perform this task. Just another perk of the job that we have seemed to have lost over the years!  

By 1891 however calls were made by the Stockton Municipal Council for a public building be erected for a Post Office, instead of operating out of Mr Bruce's rented premises, so after much negotiating a site on Hunter Street was selected and on the 18th February 1901 at a cost of £1,219 ($815,000) , Stockton finally had a new purpose built Post Office to be proud of.

Over time technology moves on and the Post Office building in Hunter Street had outlived it's useful life which required extensive renovations just to make it habitable. So in the late 1930's it was decided to build a newer office in Clyde St (cnr Douglass St) and update the delivery and retail service. It was with little fanfare on the 6th December 1941 that the new £2,500 ($490,000) modernised Stockton Post Office opened for business. The old Hunter Street Post Office was then sold off and converted into residential flats, eventually the building was demolished and became part of the revamped Stockton foreshore. 

By the late 1990's, the Post Office structure was once again under review and as a result the retail business became an LPO (Licensed Post Office) and is now located in the newsagency at 29 Mitchell St. The old 1941 Post Office building was retained for a few more years before it  too was also sold off and in June 2001, the remaining postal staff and contractors were moved out to Heatherbrae, near Raymond Terrace. 

Next year marks the sesquicentennial (1862 - 2012) of Post Office operations in Stockton, a Post Office that has had quite the history of being moved, updated, downsized, revamped and hopefully, will continue to serve this local community well into the future.

As for the 15 pirates from the Norfolk? Eleven of them stole another boat, but eventually all were recaptured and two of the ringleaders executed ... perhaps they just should have opened a Post Office! 

N.B. I'd like to thank the staff at the Newcastle Library, the National Archives of Australia, The National Library of Australia & the residents of Stockton for their help in compiling this blog.

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