The most universally known building, in villages, towns and cities of every country of the globe is the Post Office, while the enveloped letter, to or from any place, is civilisation's indispensable medium of communication. Moreover, the small affixed postage stamp, of multitudinous designs, is the symbol of world wide co-operation in postal transaction.
Moreton Bay Settlement (as Brisbane was called in 1834) had a change in its postal arrangements, whereby the contract system superseded the previous one by which mails were conveyed by the police or military authorities. In 1842, after the opening of the Settlement to free settlers, a Police Magistrate (Captain J. C. Wickham) (Bio) and a Clerk of Petty Sessions (William White) were appointed to act at Brisbane, the name first given to the Settlement in 1839.
William White combined the duties of Clerk of Petty Sessions and Postmaster (as well as Wharfinger on Queen's Wharf) and on his death in 1843, he was succeeded by George Miller Slade, a former Paymaster of the 60th Rifles Regiment. Slade died in April 1848 after which date, William Anthony Browne performed the respective duties until 1852.
The combined duties of Clerk of Petty Sessions and Postmaster in the years prior to that date had not been very burdensome as there were few inland mails, while ship mails were infrequent. Population had been growing yearly and it had now become necessary to appoint a full‑time Postmaster.
Captain J. E. Barney was given the position which he occupied until his death on 26 November 1855 when Mrs. Barney (Bio) took over and continued to act until she retired in 1863 on a gratuity of £2000. Mrs. Barney died on 5 July 1883 and was buried in Toowong Cemetery Brisbane.
The first letter carrier was appointed in 1852 and the first Queensland postage stamp issued on 1 November 1860 in place of those of New South Wales which had still been used since the date of Separation. In 1861 the Government appointed Thomas Lodge Murray-Prior (Bio) as Postmaster-General and he began his duties in 1862.
The original General Post Office Brisbane of stone and brick was two small rooms which bad been portion of the quarters built in 1829-30 and previously occupied by the Superintendent of Convicts. It had a frontage of approximately 30 feet to Queen Street.
Three panels of white painted fencing between the supporting veranda awning posts, an oil burning street lamp post were on one half of the frontage while the other portion consisted of a wall containing two windows with a doorway entrance between.
On the kerb of the footpath three wooden hitching posts for horses were placed. The first Brisbane General Post Office occupied the site of the building erected by the Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society Ltd. at 62 Queen Street in 1882, and later occupied by various tenants and in later years by Shirley's Shoes Pty. Ltd. next to Edwards and Lamb, all now part of the Queen Street Mall.
In the year 1904, the Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society Ltd. moved to 289 Queen Street where its business was then carried on from that spot next to the General Post Office Brisbane of the present day. The Society's original premises at that particular site were demolished and a newer building erected in 1931. Two wooden rooms were subsequently added at the rear of the original GPO Brisbane as quarters for Captain and Mrs. Barney.
Alterations were also carried out to the building in 1867 and consisted of removing the posting boxes to the side of the thoroughfare leading from Queen Street to Burnett Lane and adding 12 feet to the sorting room. Re-organisation of the location of the money order and registration office was also effected.
However, convenient as the alterations were the fulfillment of these postponed, for some years the erection of what was ardently desired, a new and commodious General Post Office Brisbane
In those years, the Telegraph Department was transacted as a separated Department from the business of the Post Office. In Dr. John Lang's Evangelical Church situated on the corner of William Street and Telegraph Lane (called Stephens Lane after 1902). The site later became portion of the Executive Building (Lands Office). This Church building was originally opened in April 1851 and closed in December 1860 when it was acquired, altered and made ready for the Telegraph Department at the end of January 1861.
The Post Office was carried on under the disadvantage of being housed in an unsuitable building and the location of the Telegraph Office was the source of much complaint by the business people of those days. Although the Town Hall, Parliament House and fine post offices at Dalby, Gympie, Ipswich, Maryborough, Rockhampton, Toowoomba and Warwick had been built, the town of Brisbane continued to endure the unsuitable building which served as a GPO Brisbane
When H. C. Rawnsley completed his survey plan on 21 September 1865 of the block of land in Queen Street between Edward and Creek Streets, it was undoubtedly the beginning of definite action which culminated in the erection of the original wing of the present General Post Office, although the site had been previously chosen by the Postmaster-General T. L.
Murray-Prior. The plan provided for an area of 1 acre 1 rood and 10 perches being allotment 33 of Section 30, as a Post Office Reserve together with two lanes respectively named Post Office Lane (later Edison Lane) running from Creek Street and Arcade Lane from Edward Street.
Strange as it may appear, the fact remains that this area of land which was held under the N.S.W. system did not have a Certificate of Title (Torrens
Title) issued until 9 December 1931. The site of the projected GPO Brisbane had been previously occupied by a portion of the adjacent Women's Gaol Factory and later by the Police Court. These were demolished in 1871 and made way for the erection of the new Building, later to be known as the General Post Office Brisbane wing nearest to Creek Street.
Plans were prepared by the architect F. G. D. Stanley and the contract was given to John Petrie (Bio) to construct the building for £7450. Some dissatisfaction was expressed by competitors regarding the plans and the contract due firstly to the experience the architect had gained by designing previous alterations to the original GPO Brisbane and thus being in a position to know the requirements of design and secondly against the granting of the contract to John Petrie when his price was about £400 more than the others.
However, in the small population of Brisbane in those days, competent and experienced architects were scarce and it was doubtful whether any of the other contractors had the number of skilled workers available or the important matter of having large quantities of well seasoned timber, as John Petrie had.
The two-storied building was designed to conform to the requirements of the semi-tropical climate of Brisbane without detracting from the exterior beauty. Italian style architecture of the classical type was chosen to meet the needs of the climate. The building was 90 feet frontage with a depth of 88 feet and a roadway 14 feet wide on the northern eastern side which thus gave access to the rear of the building as well as being a protection against fire from adjoining premises.
On the lower floor the ceiling was 18 ft and 17 ft on the upper storey while a colonnade 10 ft wide surrounding three sides of the building protected the outer walls from heat and rain. The height of the ceilings and the width of the colonnades were the early day architects' means, apart from spacious windows, of diffusing the heat. Electric fans were commercially unknown in Brisbane until the early 1890's, twenty years after the GPO Brisbane was built.
The colonnades were covered by the main roof instead of the ordinary verandas with small detached roofs. Freestone from Murphy's Creek (80 miles from Brisbane) and local freestone from Albion Heights Brisbane as well as bricks from John Petrie’s clay pit at the corner of New Sandgate and Oriel Roads were used for construction of the front and side walls respectively.
The upper veranda iron palisading, with the ornamental crown in each of the centres was from the foundry of R. R. Smellie and Co., Alice Street, Brisbane, as also were two of the upper columns nearest to Creek Street. Other columns on the front of the building are of freestone. Water, gas, bells and speaking tubes were provided.
A Clock costing £150 with a dial of 4 ft 6 inches was built into the pediment and had striking bells for the hour and quarter hours. The clock face was illuminated at night by gaslight. It remained in the original position on the pediment until the early years of the century when the present circular double-faced electric clock was placed in its position.
The space of the original was subsequently closed with bricks. Bells for the original striking clock were placed on the ridge of the roof under a small semi-circular covered recess but were removed some years before the clock was superseded.
On the ground floor, the private letter boxes were fitted up on the side wall facing the north-eastern colonnade behind which was the delivery room, sorting department and the letter carriers' boxes. The stamp, money order and registration departments were situated on the right side of the main entrance, but the business was transacted through specially built windows. These windows are now bricked up but their previous positions may still be seen nowadays alongside the present registration department.
Administrative and clerical offices were on the upper floor. After some delay in completing the construction of the building, the staff moved in on 28 September 1872 and Brisbane had its new General Post Office.
The agitation for a Telegraph Office nearer to the centre of the town was continued and the second similarly designed wing was also built by John Petrie in 1879 at a cost of £19,417. A tower 50 ft. high and level with the roof of the two wings was constructed and formed the entrance archway to the Lane which lies between the two buildings.
The original proposal was to build a 100 feet three- faced clock tower, but as this would have cost at that time an additional £4,000 and as this was regarded as a luxury for Brisbane, then a small town of some 15,000, the plan was shelved and apparently afterwards not considered.
It is worthy of mention the Telegraph Office GPO Brisbane was the first city in the Colonies (Australia) to introduce the typewriter in its official business in July 1892 and the experiment was a complete success. Three Ideal Hammond Typewriters were introduced and other Colonies followed the example.
Many large additions have been made to the original buildings. Proposals at various times have been made for a larger GPO Brisbane In 1888, one was that consideration would be given when new public buildings were to be erected in Queen Street.
Another proposal made a little later projected that the new GPO Brisbane would be erected on the site of the Normal Schools for Boys and Girls (later occupied by the State Insurance and Government Building and Anzac Square block, now Anzac Square Apartments) when the new Central Railway Station was completed.