The First Post Office
Australia’s postal service took its beginnings in a regulation issued on July 6, 1803, fixing the charges to be made by boatmen plying for hire between Sydney and Parramatta. This charge-list covered passengers and goods, including “Letters, exclusive of Government service, each twopence.”
At the same time, the boatmen were put under a bond of £50 each, with two sureties of £25 each. However, there was no post office in Australia, and the safe custody of mail depended on the honesty of those who carried it. Many frauds and thefts took place. The wide inconvenience caused thereby was remedied by a General Order issued on April 25, 1809, by Lieut-Governor William Paterson.
This order appointed Isaac Nichols as Australia’s first postmaster. He or his nominee was to board incoming ships, collect all letters and parcels addressed to the Colony, and take them to an office in Nichols’ house in Lower George Street. A list of the mail so received was to be published in the “Sydney Gazette,” and addressees were to take delivery themselves.
As payment for his service, Nichols received a shilling per letter, two shillings and sixpence per parcel up to 20lb. in weight, and five shillings for any parcel over that weight.
On June 23, 1810, Governor Macquarie extended the service to all letters received within the Colony. He reduced the overseas postage to eightpence and fixed a price of fourpence each for colonial letters.
Nichols held his position as our first postmaster for ten years until his death in 1819. He was succeeded by George Panton, a wharfinger, whose post office alternated between a shed on the King’s Wharf and another shed behind a wall in Bent Street.
In January, 1829, this post office was moved to the old Police Quarters in George Street. Part of the General Post Office occupies the site to-day.
A year earlier, postmasters had been appointed at Bathurst, Campbelltown, Liverpool, Newcastle, Penrith and Windsor. In 1830, the mails went as far as Port Macquarie, Goulburn and Wellington, either by mail contractors or, until 1834 by the Police.
In 1838, a fortnightly overland service to Melbourne was established, and, in 1847 it was extended to Adelaide.
New South Wales was the first country in the world to adopt a system of prepaying letters by postage stamps. The stamps were embossed on sheets of paper known as letter covers, and were first issued in 1838. They saved the letter-carrier the task of collecting postage, and were a great success.
Adhesive stamps were first issued in Australia on January 1, 1850.
Since the days when Isaac Nichols was our first postmaster, Australia’s postal business has increased enormously. Last year alone, 1,014,000,000 postage stamps were printed in Australia, and more than 24,000,000 items of postal stationery (postcards, letter cards, wrappers, aerogrammes and stamp booklets) were issued.
Australia’s Postal Department now operates more than 10,000 post offices and handles over 1,500,000,000 letters and parcels yearly.