Electric telegraph arrived in Australia in 1853, and seven years later it had arrived in Maitland. In part 2 of his series, Lawrie Henderson looks at how it soon led to the construction of Maitland's iconic post office which stands proud today
The electric telegraph office opened at the Maitland railway station in January, 1860.
It was soon realised that the site was inconvenient both to the public and to businesses.
On May 1 a notice appeared in the Maitland Mercury calling for tenders "from persons willing to dispose of a site suitable for an Electric Telegraph Station, between the Northumberland Hotel and Maitland Mercury office".
A site was offered in High Street on the river side of the Bourke Street intersection, and excavations began.
The building was completed by the end of October, and on the night of Saturday, November 2, the line was cut at the railway station and the telegraph resumed on Monday morning at the new office.
Certain citizens of Maitland wanted accurate time keeping and petitioned the Government to install a time gun at the railway station.
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The gun was to be fired daily at 1pm precisely (except on Sundays) on a telegraph signal received from the Sydney Observatory.
A reply from the Secretary for Public Works objected to a gun being located so near a public thoroughfare and provided the option for a time regulator (clock) to be installed in the telegraph office.
By January, 1863, telegraphic traffic had become so heavy that tenders were called to install a second line from Sydney to Maitland.
At the same time problems were occurring with the underwater cable at Wisemans Ferry and it was decided to construct a tall mast to carry an overhead wire high above the river.
The precaution was taken to add a lightning conductor to protect the instruments (and the operators) from danger.
The second wire reached Maitland in mid-November that year.
Previously, post office services in Maitland had always been run out of private premises.
A call was made to build a post office befitting the second most populous and important town in the colony.
The new post office, designed by the NSW Colonial Architect's Office under James Barnet, was built on the corner of High and Bourke streets opposite the telegraph office.
The office opened for business at noon on Monday, 10 October, 1881, and was deemed by the populace "to have an attractive appearance".
The telegraph office remained separate for another 19 years before it was amalgamated with the post office.
This necessitated the enlargement of the post office building to double its size to accommodate the extra equipment and staff.
The work was carried out by Mr. Charles Baker of Hamilton and completed by July, 1900.
The Mercury waxed lyrically about the architecture of the enlarged building, but was somewhat displeased with the "kind of skillion room at the back" regarding it as "an unpardonable and unnecessary blot".
The "skillion room", which housed the telephone exchange, has long since been removed revealing the Post Office as we see it today.
As a postscript, it should be noted that Mr. Francis Ronald, the original inventor of the electric telegraph, was knighted in 1870 by Queen Victoria, for services to telegraphy.
From articles in The Maitland Mercury