Tag Archives: Australian postal service

Lantern Slides: Post Horses

I have recently been working on a project to scan and catalogue BPMA’s collection of lantern slides. Lantern slides were used in magic lanterns and were the predecessors of modern slides for projectors. They were first invented in the mid 16th Century, originally using candles or oil lamps to throw the images. As time progressed brighter light sources such as limelight were discovered making the devices much more efficient at projecting.

The lantern slides were made out of two pieces of glass coated with a photographic emulsion resulting in the image appearing in-between the plates. The slides could then be hand tinted if required or left black and white.

Lantern slides came into popular use in the 19th and 20th Centuries and the BPMA’s collection of over 500 also date to this period. The Post Office used them extensively, with a variety of purposes from staff training to documenting what the organisation was doing.

A large part of the collection focuses on postal transport, and unsurprisingly horses feature in many of the earlier slides – in the form of drawings and photographic images, of either the animals or artwork of them. I have selected some of these to share with you today.

Tickets used to hire post horses from postmasters or innkeepers. (2010-0411/08)

Tickets used to hire post horses from postmasters or innkeepers. (2010-0411/08)

The image above shows a photograph of tickets used to hire post horses from postmasters or innkeepers. As the title states, surviving examples are rare so the record in the form of a lantern slide to document this process is highly valuable.

Australian telegraph worker riding a horse. (2010-0450)

Australian telegraph worker riding a horse. (2010-0450)

This next slide, shows a late 19th Century drawing of an Australian telegraph worker, distinguished by his different uniform, riding on a horse. This could possibly have been used to educate British staff of postal practices around the world.

Postal worker with his horse. (2011-0443/08)

Postal worker with his horse. (2011-0443/08)

A much more human touch in this next image shows an older postal worker with his horse or pony. The familiarity in the shot is endearing and shows a more informal side to the use of the slides.

More catalogue records complete with images will shortly be available on our online catalogue so do look out for them soon.

Laura Snowling – Volunteer

Mail to Australia, allegro con brio

The painting Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west by the Australian artist Tom Roberts may not seem to have an immediate connection with Britain’s postal service, but it is supposedly the General Post Office (GPO) which attracted Roberts to paint the scene.

Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west by Tom Roberts, c.1885-86, reworked 1890 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra and the National Library of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1918)

Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west by Tom Roberts, c.1885-86, reworked 1890 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra and the National Library of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1918)

Bourke Street was then and still is a vital thoroughfare in the heart of commercial Melbourne, and the GPO building was an important focal point in the capital of the rapidly-developing British colony of Victoria. Such was the importance of the mails to the city’s residents that flags where hung from the GPO’s clock tower to signal their progress – from when a ship was sighted off the coast of Albany, Western Australia (more than 1,500 miles away) through to the completion of sorting.

As records in the Royal Mail Archive tell us (POST 29/286B), in 1880 it could take up to 58 days for mails to travel from Southampton to Melbourne. By the time Roberts painted Bourke Street west, a telegraph connecting Australia to the rest of the world had been in operation for more than a decade; this enabled messages to travel between London and Melbourne in 24 hours, but it was businesses which could most afford to use the technology.

Communications between the United Kingdom and the Australian colonies were not just vital for businesses though, they were vital for people too. As a group of Australian and New Zealand colonial leaders who attended the 1867 Inter-Colonial Postal Conference in Melbourne put it in a “Memorial” of their meeting addressed to Queen Victoria:

While the productive capabilities and the commerce of the associated Colonies have attained a magnitude which, it is humbly submitted, entitles them to a foremost place in the consideration of Great Britain, their geographical extent imposes upon them deprivations and hardships which can only be alleviated by new and various means of communication with the rest of the world. The farther the settlement of population advances the greater becomes the difficulty. Thus the enterprise of the colonists in extending the bounds of the Empire, and spreading the lustre of Your Majesty’s name, entails upon them the penalty of their more certain exclusion from British intelligence. In the early years of Australian colonization this virtual banishment was a condition of life to be faced and endured as inevitable; but the Colonies of the present day, as fields of production and as markets of consumption for the national manufacturers have advances to a position which makes their intimate connexion not less important to the United Kingdom than to themselves.

– Postal Conference – Memorial of the Representatives of the Six Colonies of Victoria, New South Wales, New Zealand, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania Postal Conference – to Her Majesty the Queen, c. 1868 (POST 29/151)

Amongst the attendees of the conference was Henry Parkes, then a rising politician and soon to be elected Premier of New South Wales. By the 1890s, the era in which Allegro Con Brio was painted, Parkes was calling for a united Australia, arguing that a central government could make important decisions about, amongst other things, telegraphs and postal services. The points made in the 1867 Postal Conference Memorial about the communication needs of ordinary people must have informed his thinking, and he presumably understood that for the ordinary people and entrepreneurs alike the flags hanging from Melbourne’s GPO clock tower were more than just a colourful addition to the busy street scene Roberts captured and described as Allegro con brio (a musical term meaning “fast and with spirit”), they were an vital signal that news had arrived.

Unfortunately for us those flags are not visible in Robert’s painting, although the GPO’s extensions appear in the girder to the far right of the canvas. The people on Bourke Street, some of whom were no doubt going to or coming from the GPO, are the stars on show here.

– Alison Bean, Web Officer

Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and is reproduced here with their kind permission.

The History of Australia
by Manning Clark, Meredith Hooper and Susanne Ferrier, 1988
National Gallery of Australia – Collection Search – Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west
Royal Mail Archive – Australian Colonies. Postal services with Inter-Colonial Conference at Melbourne, c.1868 (POST 29/151)
Royal Mail Archive – Melbourne-Ceylon mail service. Contract between Victoria and P&O (Peninsular and Oriental) Steam Navigation Co., c.1880 (POST 29/286B)

More cigarette card images

by Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)

Sydney (New South Wales) Postman, City Uniform

Sydney (New South Wales) Postman, City Uniform

Images of cigarette cards from the Wilkinson Collection will soon be added to our online catalogue so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some more of the cards with you beforehand.

Many of the cigarette cards examine aspects of postal systems in countries across what was then the British Empire. They look at the uniform worn by postal workers, the different buildings that functioned as post offices and how the systems coped with extreme weather conditions. Four cards from a set produced by Royal Mail in conjunction with Wills in c.1930 illustrate this point well by showing the workings of the Australian Post Office.

This first card (2010-0383/14) shows the fetching uniform worn by city postmen in Sydney, New South Wales which is where the first Australian post office was established in 1810. The distinctive red jacket and the white helmet are both different from the uniform of London postmen at the time, harking back to an older military style of dress.

In contrast to this, 2010-0383/06 shows a Post Office established in a new gold town in Australia. Quite different from the impression given by the formal attire of the City postman, this post office seems quite understated amongst the tents. However, it shows how important the Post Office was, that

even the most adventurous cling to home and civilization through this visible link, the Post Office.

Post Office at Gold Diggings, Australia

Post Office at Gold Diggings, Australia

The other two cards are representative of the nature of the terrain and weather experienced by Australia and how, inevitably, this affected the transportation of mails across the country. In the 19th century, most people relied upon the mail coach for intercommunication: as the third card, 2010-0383/04 depicts, it was able to cover great stretches of the country in a relatively short amount of time.

Mail Coach - Western Australia

Mail Coach - Western Australia

As has been the case recently, Australia can also be subject to some extreme weather conditions. 2010-0383/05 displays this, showing a postman delivering mail to Kiandra in New South Wales, a mountainous district and, incidentally, an old gold mining town. The postman, fully equipped with his skis, trudges through the snow with the mail slung over his shoulder; as is printed on the card

In no other business could the work be done so expeditiously.

Carrying Mails to Kiandra, New South Wales

Carrying Mails to Kiandra, New South Wales

All the cards mentioned, and many more, will soon be on our online catalogue.

200 Years of Australia Post

by Alison Bean, Website Officer

Over the weekend philatelists and postal heritage buffs in Australia celebrated Australia Post’s bicentenary. As you might expect of a former British colony, Australia’s postal service was much influenced by Britain’s. Browsing Australia Post’s fascinating 200th Anniversary website I discovered many interesting parallels and connections between the two postal services.

The postal service began in Australia with the appointment of Isaac Nichols – a former convict who had been transported to New South Wales for stealing – as the first Postmaster of Sydney on 25th April 1809. Mail distribution prior to Nichols’ appointment was “haphazard” according to Australia Post’s website. It also says of this period:

“Life was often bleak and lonely for the first settlers as they waited for news from home. It could be many months before a ship was sighted offshore and this was enough to generate near pandemonium on the wharves.”

And so it wasn’t until two months after his appointment that Nichols performed his first duty, which was to board the brig Experiment as it docked in Sydney Harbour and take delivery of the mail. He then took the mail back to his home in George Street, Sydney, and placed an advertisement in the Sydney Gazette to alert recipients that mail awaited them.

The practise of not home delivering the mail was common at the time. In Britain prior to the introduction of free home delivery, letters would often be delivered to a convenient local place, such as a coffee shop. Although the first “letter carriers” (postmen) were appointed in Sydney in 1828 it appears that home delivery was not free in New South Wales at this time, as recipients paid for letters rather than senders. In Britain free home delivery was not granted to every household until 1897 (this was a concession to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria) although by 1859 93% of letters were not subject to a delivery charge.

Another important milestone for the Australian postal service was the introduction of the first public post boxes in Sydney in 1831. These were receipt boxes placed in front of letter receiving houses for the collection of (unpaid) letters. Receipt boxes were introduced in the UK in 1814 and underwent many stylistic changes throughout their existence, such as changes to the angle of the aperture (letter slot) from vertical to horizontal. The boxes introduced in Sydney in 1831 are likely to have been the same as their British counterparts.

Paris Letter Box 1850, an inspiration for early Australian letter boxes.

The first pillar boxes arrived in New South Wales in the late 1850s, a few years after UK trials had taken place in the Channel Islands. The Postmaster General of New South Wales announced that he would replace the existing receipt boxes with cast-iron letter receivers in Sydney and an invitation to tender was placed in the Government Gazette on 2nd November 1855. The boxes that followed were the famous Bubbs Boxes, which were modelled on those already in use in Belgium and Paris (which had also provided the inspiration for the first British roadside pillars). One of the stamps in Australia Post’s 200th Anniversary stamp issue shows an early Bubbs Box. A slightly different model manufactured in 1870 can be found in the collection of the National Museum of Australia and an image of this and others from the NMA’s collection can be seen on Wikipedia. Flickr shows an image of a similar box manufactured for the Western Australian postal service, bearing the Western Australian emblem of a black swan.

Australia Post’s website also notes that letter sheets pre-stamped with an albino embossing were introduced in New South Wales in 1838, pre-dating the Penny Black by almost two years. There is some debate about whether these letter sheets should be regarded as stamps or postal stationary. Those who feel they are postal stationary note that special letter sheets showing an eagle with the Cross of Savoy were sold in Sardinia in 1819. Either way, the letter sheets were inspired by British postal reformer Rowland Hill. James Raymond, the New South Wales Postmaster at this time, had been in communication with Hill and was much influenced by Hill’s 1837 pamphlet Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability, which recommended the introduction of prepayment for postage using pre-printed envelopes and stamps. But Raymond’s pioneering letter sheets did not prove popular and moves were made to introduce postage stamps. The first postage stamps were released in New South Wales on 1st January 1850. Victoria followed on 3rd January 1950 and other Australian colonies introduced stamps between 1853 and 1860.

Britains first charity stamp, issued in 1975 in support of health and handicap charities.

Britain's first charity stamp, issued in 1975 in support of health and handicap charities.

Another philatelic first claimed by Australia was the release of the world’s first charity stamps in 1897 in New South Wales. The stamps were to honour Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee with proceeds going to a Consumptive’s Home (images of these stamps can be seen on the Stamps of Distinction blog and Linns.com). It is important to note that Greece had released charity stamps in 1831, although the New South Wales Consumptive Home stamps were the first to include a charity surcharge. Britain’s first charity stamp was issued in 1975 to support health and handicap charities.

I am indebted to BPMA Curator Julian Stray for providing much of the information in this post. The following online resources were also extremely useful.
BPMA: Key Dates in the British Postal Service
BPMA: online catalogue
Australia Post: Our History
Australia Post: 200 Years
Wikipedia: Postage stamps and postal history of New South Wales
Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue: Commonwealth & British Empire Stamps