Cultural Artefact: Postal Service


Until 1832 private contractors carried and distributed mail within Van Diemen's Land. In 1810 Isaac Nichol of Launceston was given the contract, retaining all postage collected. Nichols appointed James Mitchell as his deputy at the Derwent in 1813. This arrangement was convenient when the volume of mail carried was small, but as the population increased and settlement spread, a government post office was gradually introduced. In 1822 the government extended the postal service, controlled rates of postage and times for despatch of mails, and regulated convict postal messengers. A full government service was established in 1832, when there were thirty post offices throughout the colony.

James Collicott was postmaster in Hobart from 1832 to 1840. During that time the service expanded and improved, and rates of postage were reduced. Convict messengers were an issue, with problems of supervision, and they were gradually withdrawn. Francis Smith, appointed postmaster in 1840, was opposed to the reforms being introduced in Britain such as uniform rates of postage, but such improvement could not be resisted in the long term. The post office became responsible for the post office savings bank system in 1882, for postal notes in 1890 (a way of sending money through the post), and for the telegraph from 1857, when the electric telegraph was introduced between Hobart and Launceston. As settlement developed, post offices were established in all centres, and by 1924 there were a maximum of 542 postal offices. The postal system developed considerably, with, for many years, two deliveries a day in towns.

Regular telegraphic communication between Victoria and Tasmania was achieved in 1869. The importance of communications to the nation led to the state Posts and Telegraphs Departments becoming a federal responsibility from 1901. From the 1920s, rising labour costs, improved transport (leading to less isolation for small centres) and government desire for economy meant smaller post offices closed and deliveries were curtailed. In the last years of the twentieth century, the use of alternative systems of communication like the email and fax meant the postal service declined in volume. In the 1990s many post offices were privatised, and in smaller centres became part of multi-purpose stores such as general store-newsagent-post office, but the postal service is still a vital part of Tasmania's communications system. In 1997 there were 34 post offices and 152 licensed offices.

In 1822, Tasmanian letters were postmarked with a hand-stamp, but from 1853 mail had to have prepaid postage stamps attached. Three types of Tasmanian stamps were produced, with stylised designs of Queen Victoria's head, and later a platypus, and St George and the dragon. From 1899-1912, the famous Tasmanian pictorial stamps were produced. From 1912, the commonwealth Post Office produced all Australian stamps.

Kevin Green

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