Put it in the post

A newspaper advertisement placed by the New South Wales Postmaster-General on 29 October 1889 requested tenders for premises for the Watson’s Bay Post and Telegraph Office in Sydney. Applicants were required to submit their tenders, by post, by 25 November.

Four handwritten letters of application were received. These letters, together with a report and final decision, are among the Postmaster-General’s Department records held in the Sydney office of the National Archives.

One letter, from a Mr Aubrey Murray, is a particularly charming memento of Watson’s Bay in the late 19th century. Murray was offering a four room brick and stone cottage in Cliff Street, Watson’s Bay. His letter of tender included a photograph of the building and a hand-drawn map of its location, conveniently only 150 yards from the wharf.

Murray, however, was asking 22 shillings, 6 pence a week in rent, higher than the other applicants. The Postmaster-General’s Department noted the cottage to be ‘rather small in size and rent too high for business transacted’.

Mr James Smith, who offered a two room weatherboard cottage and rental of 10 shillings per week, won the tender.

Detailed records like these, created by the Postmaster-General’s Department, document the many functions of the postal service.

Sydney’s first permanent post office was established in 1835. It provided postal services to the city and to rural towns and far-flung country outposts. A Postmaster-General, postmasters and requisite officers were responsible for receiving and dispatching letters and packets and the establishment and management of post offices within the colony of New South Wales. The telegraph service was added in 1867.

The records also reveal the living conditions and some notable events in the lives of 19th-century postmasters and mistresses. Post offices were destroyed in fires, occasionally with tragic loss of life. And ‘posties’, often isolated and lowly paid, suffered from accidents, poor health and other hardships.

With Federation in 1901, the Australian Government became responsible for providing postal and telegraphic services around the country. So today these early records of Australia's post office history are held by the National Archives.

  • read caption below
    Letter from Aubrey Murray, 1889
  • read caption below
    Hand-drawn map showing cottage
  • read caption below
    The cottage in Cliff Street

Collection references

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesWatson's Bay post office file1889–90SP32/1, Watson's Bay Part 5
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017