Post Office records – Fact sheet 50

The Commonwealth Government took the responsibility for postal matters from the colonies on Federation in 1901. Arrangements by the Australian colonies to introduce postal services were generally made in the years soon after settlement. Background information for each colony is summarised below [1]. Before colonial control, mail was usually passed on by ad hoc arrangements made between transporters, storekeepers and settlers. These arrangements were flexible and depended on the cooperative spirit of the country people. It was common for early settlers to ride many miles out of their way to deliver neighbours' mail that had been collected from informal distribution points.

New South Wales

New South Wales had no regular postal service before 1810. On 26 June of that year Governor Macquarie issued an order designating the home of Isaac Nicholls as the colony's first regular post office. An 1825 Act of the Legislative Council provided for the regulation of postal services, including rates of postage. On 1 September 1874 the new General Post Office (GPO) was opened in Sydney.


John Batman was appointed as the first postmaster in 1836. In 1842 the first government building for postal services in Melbourne was opened at the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke Streets.


A post office opened at Moreton Bay in 1824, although the earliest reference to the appointment of a postmaster is 1842.

South Australia

In 1837 South Australian colonial storekeeper Thomas Gilbert was appointed as postmaster, with post office business to be conducted from his private residence. After a number of moves, the post office gained its own building in 1872 at the corner of King William and Franklin Streets, Adelaide.

Western Australia

Arrangements for postal matters in Perth were handled by James Purkis who was appointed in 1830. In 1840 the post office was set up in a room of the public buildings. The Perth GPO in St Georges Terrace was opened in August 1890.


A post office opened at Hobart in 1809. In 1812 John Beaumont was appointed as postmaster. In 1832 the post office became a government department and John Collicott was appointed as the first Postmaster-General in 1834.

Northern Territory

At the time of the first permanent European settlement (Palmerston, 1869), the Northern Territory was under South Australian administration. Territorial postal services before 1901 were an extension of the South Australian service.


The Commonwealth assumed responsibility for postal matters at the time of Federation in 1901. Sir John Forrest was appointed as Australia's first Postmaster-General. The Post and Telegraph Act was passed in 1901.

Post Office records held by the National Archives

Many colonial records relating to the administration of the postal function came under Commonwealth Government control in 1901. These records, some of which are listed in the table below, are now held by offices of the National Archives. These records cover subjects such as administration of post offices, postal rates, postal orders, mail delivery routes and contracts, and central administrative matters such as staff appointments, accounts and telephone services. The office of the Archives holding the records is indicated in the left-hand column of the table.

Examples of Post Office records held by the National Archives

Sydney – General Post Office, Sydney (CA1030)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesMiscellaneous correspondence and documentation1858–1970C3681
SeriesIndex to correspondence registers1859–69C3143
SeriesPost Office files1860–1920SP32/1
SeriesIndex to correspondence registers1870–96C3146
SeriesGeneral files1880–1944SP63/1
SeriesPost Office films1919–C4189
SeriesGeneral administration correspondence files1920–C2593
SeriesPost Office history files1955–88C3629

Australian Postal Corporation (CA 2558)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesAudio tapes of various Australia Post recordings1978–C4094

Melbourne – Post Office, Melbourne (CA 6004)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesOutward letter books1842–51B4866
SeriesMonthly statements of moneys received and collected1846–57MP311/17

Telstra Corporation Limited (CA 7643)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesTelstra Historical Collection1854–1996B6286

Brisbane – General Post Office, Brisbane (CA 1031)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesAnnual reports of the Post and Telegraph Department1862–99BP229/1
SeriesCorrespondence files1887–1952BP13/1
SeriesMail service (contract)1891–1952BP8/1

Adelaide – General Post Office, Adelaide (CA 1032)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesPhotographs of post office buildings, personnel and equipment1840–1990D5440
SeriesPMG miscellaneous departmental papers1871–1979D3383
SeriesIndexes – letters inward1878–1914AP236/2
SeriesIndexes – letters outward1882–1915AP236/1

Perth – General Post Office, Perth (CA 1035)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesPostal and Telegraph Conference – Adelaide 18901890K13
SeriesReference material of historical interest1925–67K1062

Hobart – General Post Office, Hobart (CA 1033)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesPost Office returns and reports1870–1901P1460

[1] Much of the information provided is from the Australian Encyclopedia, Volume 11, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1926.


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