From my postcard collection, c. 1912
I found the following recently while looking in a collection of manuscripts collected by John Barr (NZMS 415, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Central Library), while he compiled information for his history of the city of Auckland, 1922. It appears to be the text of the speech given by Sir Joseph Ward at the foundation stone ceremony, 1 August 1910, for the start of work on Auckland's Central Post Office completed in November 1912 -- now the above-ground part of Britomart Transport Station. Not often I come across the text of early speeches -- and especially not one as loaded with historical detail as this one.
In 1840, when New Zealand was a dependency of New South Wales, a Government was established at Kororareka and a post office was immediately set up. Kororareka was then a somewhat important settlement and whaling station in the Bay of Islands, a few miles from the site of the present town of Russell. Later in the year the General Post Office was removed to Russell Town (Russell) where the other Government offices were situated.
When the seat of Government was removed to Auckland in 1841 the head office of the Postal Department was removed with it. The Postmaster at the time was Mr S E Grimstone. So early as April, 1841, he brought under notice the “urgent necessity” for the appointment of a messenger for his office, at 5s. a day, adding that if a messenger were appointed he would be able to arrange for the delivery of town letters twice daily. His application was, however, declined; and it was not until fourteen years later that a letter-carrier’s delivery was established at Auckland.
Mr Grimstone ceased to act as postmaster in May 1841. He was succeeded by Mr Thomas Paton, who had been acting as Postmaster at Port Nicholson. Mr Paton was the first Postmaster appointed at a salary, but the amount, £160 per annum with an annual increment of £20, did not tempt him to stay more than a month before he tendered his resignation as from the 31st of July following.
Mr Thomas R Benson filled the gap until the arrival of Mr William Connell, of Port Nicholson. Mr Connell’s administration was destined to last a little longer than that of any of his predecessors. His term of office is notable for the abortive Postal Ordinance of 1842, which came into force on the 1st March that year and remained law until the fact of Her Majesty’s disallowance was made known later. The ordnance is remarkable for the fact that advantage was taken to raise the sea-postage from 4d. to 6d., to define the franking privileges, and to abolish gratuities to ship-masters. The increase in the postage rates was doubtless one of the well-meant attempts to balance the income against the expenditure, on the fallacious theory that an increased rate of postage will lead to proportionately greater revenue. In the year we find that the revenue had increased to £390; but the expenditure had leapt to £759.
In August, 1842, a proclamation was issued in London bringing the New Zealand post offices under the control of the British Postmaster-General. Mr G Cooper, the Collector of Customs, who had been instructed in England to establish posts in New Zealand was almost entirely free from local control. The post offices at the various ports were placed under the control of the Sub-Collector of Customs and an overland mail service was established between Auckland and New Plymouth by way of Kawhia. The Auckland-Wellington mail route via New Plymouth was opened on the 15th September 1843, and on the 25th July following it was notified that arrangements had been made for regular post communication overland between Auckland and New Plymouth and Wellington twice in each month, leaving Auckland on the first and third Mondays of each month. The conveyance of the mail, which was performed by native foot post, averaged about three weeks from Auckland to Wellington.
The lack of postal communication between Auckland and the southern ports was severely felt, so much so that in January, 1852, the Government requested British authorities to send letters for Auckland via Sydney when there was no ship for Auckland direct. It was quite common at the time to take passage to Sydney as the speediest way of reaching Auckland from Wellington and the southern settlements.
It is difficult to realise that the residents of Auckland were content with a weekly mail between Auckland and Onehunga. Until about 1854 it scarcely appears to have troubled the residents at Onehunga that their letters frequently lay at the Auckland post office for nearly a week. The infrequency of the mail is the more surprising when it is remembered that the Manukau was the port of arrival and departure for vessels from and for the south. There was no definite arrangement for the transport of the southern mails when they happened to come by sea, and they were frequently delayed.
In 1855 a change in the office of Postmaster in Auckland took place owing to the death of Colonel Hulme. Mr W Corbett, who had for some years filled the office of Second Clerk, was appointed Acting Postmaster. On the appointment of Governor Gore-Brown, Mr Corbett was confirmed in the position. There was much competition for the office, supported in various ways. Mr Corbett’s trump card was a letter from the citizens of Auckland to himself, urging him to apply for the appointment. Mr William Corbett served a Postmaster at Auckland from the 22nd August 1855 to the 2nd March 1870. During that period his salary increased from £145 to £500 per annum. He was succeeded by Mr S B Biss, who after 32 years of very efficient service, died in harness in October 1902. Mr Biss’ successor was Mr J W Wilkin, who was transferred to Dunedin in 1903. Mr Wilkin’s place was taken by Mr. Duncan Cumming. Mr Cumming was promoted to the position of Inspector of Post Offices on the 1st January 1907, and was succeeded by Mr F D Holdsworth, the present Postmaster.
In 1854 a post office building was erected at Auckland. It occupied the site of the Charitable Aid Board’s present office in High Street. The second office was built in 1858 on the site of the (old) museum in Princes Street. Old Auckland residents still remember this office.
In the Postmaster-General’s report for the year 1861-62, it was stated that preliminary steps had been taken by the Provincial Government with the very desirable object of building at Auckland a post office of the size and character suitable to the town.
In his Report for the following year, the Postmaster-General felt obliged to say that the post offices in the most important towns, instead of being, as they ought to be, large, commodious and well-arranged buildings, were nothing but labyrinths of rooms in which order, arrangement and complete classification were impossible, and that this was eminently the case at Auckland. He added that there was no Department under the control of the Government in which accuracy, precision, punctuality and despatch were so much required as in the post office, and it was clear this could not be attained without room and well-arranged accommodation.
On the 19th November 1872, the government buildings at Auckland were destroyed by a fire which commenced in a private store. With the exception of a dead letter mail from the Thames all correspondence, transit mails, and everything of value were saved from the post office. Pending the reconstruction of the building, the business of the post office was conducted in temporary offices. The rebuilding of the office was completed in December, 1874. The Postmaster-General, in his report presented to Parliament in 1875, made the following reference to the new office:-
“This office is now one of the most complete and convenient in the colony, special attention having been paid to the interior arrangements and fittings, while the public convenience was not lost sight of. The system (partially introduced some two years since) of providing for the more important business of the Department with the public being transacted over an open counter has been carried out to the fullest extent in the Auckland office; and the result has shown that the plan has much to commend itself, both to the public and to the officers of the Department. While the officers are enabled by this arrangement to perform their duties with greater freedom and precision, the public gain the advantage of being better and more satisfactorily served. The counter system will no doubt be appreciated from the fact that, by bringing the public face-to-face with the officers of the Department, the too-often-repeated complaints of incivility and want of attention will, to a large extent it is believed, be removed.”
In 1884 extensive alterations were carried out at the Auckland office, that part of the building formerly occupied by the Customs Department being given up to the Post Office, and the accommodation for both the public and officers improved and enlarged.
The first Annual Report on the postal services of New Zealand was issued in 1860. In that Report the Hon. Mr Tancred, the Postmaster-General, announced that Auckland was one of the four towns enjoying the advantages of a house-to-house delivery, the other three being Nelson, Lyttleton, and Christchurch. At Auckland the delivery took place of such letters as were not called for, and was performed by the post office messenger as soon as he could be spared from his other duties. Mr Tancred remarked that the great advantage of the delivery, besides the convenience it afforded to persons in expectation of receiving letters, was that it prevented confusion and crowding at the window on the arrival of any large mail.
We learn from the same Report that with a view to the convenience of persons residing at a distance from the chief office receiving houses had been established in various parts of the city of Auckland provided with letter-boxes for the posting of letters. The boxes were cleared daily at stated times.
Sir John Hall, the Postmaster-General, in his Report for the year 1867, stated that a further reduction in the staff of some of the chief offices had been effected without impairing the efficiency of the Service or, except in one instance, restricting the accommodation previously afforded to the public. The instance referred to was that of Auckland. The reduction in the force of that office, which it was deemed expedient to make in appreciation of the financial condition of the Province and in compliance with the express wish of the Superintendent and the Provincial Council, could not be effected without reducing the number of letter deliveries within the City of Auckland.
The only telegraphic communication in New Zealand in 1864 was either under the guarantee or at the expense and under the control of the governments of the provinces of Canterbury, Otago and Southland. In October, 1866, the line of telegraph constructed by the Military Authorities from Auckland to the Waikato was transferred to the Colonial Government, and was managed for the Telegraph Department by Mr Weaver, the Provincial Engineer for the Province of Auckland. The amount paid to the Imperial Government for the line, plant etc., was settled by valuation at £2,276. This line formed a portion of the trunk line of telegraph through the North Island. The line was a constant source of trouble and annoyance during 1868. The amount expended on its maintenance was out of proportion to the revenue derived, but the Government made large use of it. The first record of telegraph business at Auckland available is that for the year ending the 30th June 1869. At that time Auckland had communication with Alexandra, Cambridge, Hamilton, Kihikihi, Mercer, Newcastle (now Ngaruawahia) and Onehunga. The telegraph charges were according to distance. It cost 2d a word for a telegram from Auckland to Cambridge, 1½d to Hamilton and Mercer, and 1d to Onehunga. For the year mentioned 1,014 messages were sent from Auckland at a value of £110.
The erection of a telegraph line between Katikati and Grahamstown (Thames) was commenced on the 1st of January, 1872, and communication between Auckland and Wellington via Grahamstown was established on 12th April of the same year.
The Manukau (Onehunga) telegraph line, 36 miles in length, was commenced early in September, 1873. The line was erected from Drury through Waiuku passing through various settlements to the South Head. The Commissioner of Telegraphs in his Report stated that the Manukau subscription to the revenue was not great, but that the early information of the arrival and departure of shipping afforded to the public any slight loss in the maintenance of the station.
The earliest available records show that the officer in charge of the Telegraph Office at Auckland in 1880 was the late Mr R A Lusher who was succeeded by Mr W S Furby, now Telegraph Engineer at Auckland. Mr Furby was followed on the 8th September, 1900, by Mr H F Seager. Mr Seager died while in the Service. He was succeeded on the 27th of August, 1907, by Mr C H M Hawk, now officer in charge of the Telegraph Office, Wellington. Mr F G Gannaway, the present officer in charge, replaced Mr Hawk on the 1st July, 1909.
The first telephone exchange established in New Zealand was opened at Christchurch on the 1st October, 1881, with 27 subscribers. The second exchange was established at Auckland with 26 subscribers ten days after the opening of the one at Christchurch. The subscription was £17.10.0 per annum. In 1885 the Auckland exchange was open day and night except between 8am and 5pm on Sundays. In 1886 the attendance was made continuous. The number of subscribers to the Auckland exchange is now 3,104.