Choosing a site for Watson's Bay post office in 1889

Media release: Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Getting the mail through in colonial Australia wasn't always an easy matter. In the days before Federation in 1901, the safe delivery of letters depended upon the dedication of posties who often suffered from accidents, poor health and hardship.

As its Find of the Month for June, the National Archives of Australia has chosen to feature documents relating to postal services in the early days of the nation.

'Detailed records document the functions of the postal service as well as the living conditions and some of the events in the lives of nineteenth-century postmasters and mistresses,' said researcher Jane Ellis from the National Archives.

'Early post offices were occasionally destroyed by fire, sometimes with the death of the postmaster's family. And many posties died in falls from horses as they tried to deliver letters along almost non-existent tracks in the early days.'

One example of the records in the National Archives collection shows the process of selecting a post office site in 1889.

'The advertisement requested tenders to supply a rental property for the Watson's Bay Post and Telegraph Office,' said Ms Ellis. 'We have handwritten responses from all four applicants on file, as well as the report and final decision. 

'One of the responses offered a four room brick and stone cottage for 22 shillings and sixpence a week rent,' said Ms Ellis. 'The offer was rejected as the property was “rather small in size” and the rent “too high for business transacted”. However the winning tender was a weatherboard cottage with two rooms “ocasionally affected by rain blowing inside the office” which was offered for 10 shillings a week.

'While Mr Murray's tender wasn't successful, the photograph he sent and the rough map on the rear of his letter provide a charming glimpse of Watson's Bay in the 1880s. Documents from other colonies also allow us to see something of life at the time.'

Many colonial records relating to the administration of the postal function came under Australian Government control in 1901 and are now in the National Archives collection. More information can be found in Fact Sheet 50.

The Find of the Month can be seen at and in the Canberra office of the National Archives of Australia.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2018