• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Finally, you can manage your Google Docs, uploads, and email attachments (plus Dropbox and Slack files) in one convenient place. Claim a free account, and in less than 2 minutes, Dokkio (from the makers of PBworks) can automatically organize your content for you.



Page history last edited by Mcgooley 10 years, 2 months ago


After the narrow opening to Port Phillip Bay was discovered by Europeans in early 1802 it was visited in quick succession by several parties, including the French M. Nicholas Baudin.


The N.S.W. Governor of the time, Phillip King, was concerned enough about the French presence to write to the British Ministry; and the Ministry lost no time in dispatching two ships from England – “Calcutta” and “Ocean” – with 307 convicts (some with their families), 51 marines (again, some with their families), 12 free settlers, and 11 others, who included overseers for the convicts.


The new settlers arrived at “Sullivan’s Bay” (present-day Sorrento) in the second week of October 1803. An earlier report on the bay had damned the area due to the lack of fresh water and scarcity of good timber. The lack of fresh water was a reality, and very few of the people had any skills to cope with the isolation and strange environment. Their leader, David Collins, wrote to Governor King asking to remove the settlement. Assent was granted and everyone left for Van Diemen’s Land by the end of the same year, where they joined up with another settlement, which went on to become Hobart. One convict, William Buckley, escaped a couple of days before the settlement was abandoned, and was left for dead. Another person in that first settlement was an 11 year old boy, John Pasco Fawkner, whose father had been sentenced to transportation for 14 years. John Fawkner Snr. had been one of the convicts allowed to bring his family.


For the next 20 years, officialdom largely ignored the south coast of the mainland, and the sealers and whalers from Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and N.S.W. were able to work the coastline unhindered.


In January 1827 John Batman and John Helder Wedge applied for a mainland grant of land, but this was refused by the Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land – George Arthur – on the basis that there was no authority for any licenses. Over the next 7 years, there were several requests for grants of land across the strait, made to London, and all denied. The common knowledge of the Henty family’s settlement at Portland in 1834 led directly to the formation of the 15-member Port Phillip Association, and, in May 1835, John Batman arranged the controversial “Doutta Galla” treaties with the local tribes-men in the Port Phillip district, and reputedly made the now-famous statement “this is the place for a village”. He left several men to start a farm at Indented Heads, on the western side of the bay, and returned to Hobart to finalize the treaties and attempt to secure official recognition for the settlement. Batman’s return aroused intense interest amongst the graziers on the island, and many began to make arrangements to take up land within the Port Phillip Association’s self-imposed boundaries.


Toward the end of June John Pasco Fawkner, not a member of the Association, wrote to Batman informing him of his (Fawkner’s) intention to settle in the Sullivan’s Bay area. But Fawkner instead chose to settle closer to the future site of Melbourne, a move which was immediately countermanded by John Wedge, who moved the original Indented Head encampment to Melbourne, bringing with him William Buckley, the escaped convict who had lived for over 30 years with the local indigenous people, and who had walked out of the bush a few weeks prior.


In August 1835 the first of many boatloads of cattle, sheep, and stores landed in Port Phillip Bay from Van Diemen’s Land. Within 8 months, John Batman had moved his family into a weatherboard house near present-day Collins St., in Melbourne, and, as the Association’s manager, was the unofficial postmaster, operating an informal 'post office' from his General Store.


N.S.W. Governor Richard Bourke sent George Stewart, a Magistrate from Goulburn in N.S.W., to file a report on the settlement in June 1836. Governor Bourke, who had originally declared the Port Phillip Association to be trespassers and the settlement as illegal, accepted the suggestion in Stewart’s report to establish an official depot on site, particularly a Customs House. The N.S.W. District of Port Phillip was officially brought under Colonial rule in September 1836, and Captain William Lonsdale, of the 4th Regiment, or “Kings Own Regiment”, was appointed Police Magistrate for the District.


Lonsdale received orders to take command of Bearbrass, Bearburp, Bareburp, Glenelg, Yarrow Yarrow, Batmania, the Settlement, the Township, or by whatever name the collection of sod-huts is known” and on 1st October 1836, H.M.S. “Rattlesnake” dropped anchor off-shore at present-day Williamstown. The party; Lonsdale, 3 surveyors, a constable, Customs Officer, and a military contingent, established themselves in the village. Lonsdale immediately began his duties, which beside that of Police Magistrate included taking official control of the mails. The mails (the majority of which continued to go through Hobart or Launceston in Van Diemen’s Land) continued to be collected at John Batman’s Store, until Lonsdale and Batman had a dispute over some building supplies toward the end of the year. Both men sent letters of complaint to Sydney, and the result of the bickering was that the Governor requested Lonsdale to appoint an official Post Master for Port Phillip in December 1836.


No-one wanted the job, but Lonsdale convinced Mr. Thomas Saunders Webb, the Customs Officer, to accept the duty, the sweetener being his 40% commission on the postage costs.


Governor Bourke visited the settlement for most of March 1837, after reading Thomas Mitchell’s report of his “Australia Felix” discoveries of the area south of the Murray River. He gave the name Melbourne to the village, and ordered the first land sales to be held by June that year. The original settlers from Van Diemen’s Land were very quickly being joined by graziers and businessmen from Sydney, initially, and from England, and many did not wait for official approval before selecting their “squatters” runs.


Mr. Edward Foster had been appointed Postmaster during Bourke’s visit. (A letter from the Colonial Secretary, E. Deas Thomson, to James Raymond, Post Master General, dated 15th March 1837 “desired that instructions be forwarded for the guidance of Mr. Foster ‘who has been appointed Post Master and Clerk to the Bench at Port Phillip’”. For just over 7 months Mr. Foster combined his Postmaster duties with those as Clerk of the Magistrates’ Bench, until he resigned both positions in early October and left Melbourne. Melbourne’s first (undated) canceller was issued during Foster’s tenure, however the earliest known use is on a cover dated 27th October 1837.


After Foster’s resignation, William Lonsdale appointed Charles Frederick Leroux, Clerk of Works, but he was dismissed from both posts a couple of weeks later for continual drunkenness.


From late October 1837 to early January 1838 the office of Postmaster was filled by Alfred John Eyre, of the Merchant firm Wilson & Eyre, and it was from the nearby “Lamb Inn” that 17 year old Joseph Conway Bourke, employed by Joseph Hawdon, left on 2nd January 1838 on the inaugural overland mail run from Melbourne to Sydney. (Bourke left Melbourne the day after the first, subscription, issue of John Fawkner’s “Melbourne Advertiser”, a hand-written newspaper, made its appearance.) Bourke met the south-bound mail coach at Yass, where the mail bags were exchanged, and he returned to Melbourne on 13th January. Over the next 12 months, Bourke rode approximately 11,000 miles on his fortnightly trips.


The next Postmaster was Captain Benjamin Baxter, with his wife Elizabeth, who had arrived in Melbourne to take up the duties vacated by Edward Foster by the end of 1837. They rented a cottage built by John Fawkner, and it was Elizabeth Baxter who operated the post office from her living room, 10-noon and 3-5 p.m., every day.


Baxter resigned from both positions in September 1838 “to pursue his squatting interests”. George Gipps had replaced Richard Bourke as Governor of the Colony of New South Wales in February 1838. Despite repeated requests from Melbourne, Gipps refused to approve a full-time Postmaster, and Lonsdale was forced to look for someone within the administration who would accept the role.


James Smith, the newly appointed Clerk of the Magistrates’ Bench, in Baxter’s stead, got the job. Smith’s remuneration as Postmaster was 20% commission on postage costs, the same rate as had applied since Edward Foster’s time. Mr. Smith was Postmaster from 7th November 1838 until the end of January 1839, during which time he received Melbourne’s second canceller. In a letter dated 15th October 1838, from the Colonial Secretary to the P.M.G. in Sydney, there was approval for the “the procuring of daily Post Office Stamps with type complete, at £2/10/0 each”, for a number of post offices, including Melbourne. The image below shows a strike of this second canceller, and is dated 22nd of March 1839.




Mr. Skene Craig, a former Commissariat Officer, was appointed Postmaster in early February 1839; and he would have been responsible for the above cancellation. One of his first tasks was to publish a list of the approximately 300 unclaimed letters he had been left with. Craig operated the Post Office from his store on the corner of Collins and King streets until he resigned the position in July 1839, citing the poor remuneration for the amount of work involved.


Mr. Craig had been appointed by Sydney, and Governor Gipps finally got the message; Melbourne was growing and needed a full-time Post Master. From less than 200 Europeans in June 1836, the population had grown to around 4,000 by the time LaTrobe arrived at the end of September 1839, and the volume of mail had grown, from a few hundred items handled by the Batmans' in the latter part of 1836, to nearly 40,000 items including newspapers by the end of 1839.


David Kelsh, a postal clerk in Sydney, was approved in August 1839, and would have arrived in town at about the same time as C.J. LaTrobe and his family in September.


Kelsh had agreed to the same terms of remuneration as his predecessors, but was disconcerted to find, on his arrival, that he had to pay rent of £60 per annum on an unfinished house in Little Collins St., while on the books, he would only be earning £120 in commission. In October 1939, LaTrobe backed his request for an additional £80 to rent a separate premises for the post office.


I believe it is worth reprinting the reply in full;


Colonial Secretary,

To C. J. LaTrobe

25th November 1839

I do myself the honour to inform you that I have received and submitted to the Governor your letter dated 29th ultimo, transmitting an application from Mr. David Kelsh, Postmaster at Melbourne, for the allowance of the sum of £80 for house rent.

In answer, I am directed to state that His Excellency considers £80 a most unreasonable demand, which if granted would cause similar demands to be made from every department of Government at Port Phillip.

I am to add that it is only a few months since Mr. Kelsh was appointed Postmaster and his remuneration fixed, and he has already applied for an increase in the shape of office rent.

His Excellency has had frequent occasion to complain of this practice, and to notice it is becoming quite common for people to take employment under Government at low salary, and before they have held it six months to ask for an increase.

I am accordingly to state that he cannot sanction a compliance with Mr. Kelsh’s application.

Yours &c.

E. Deas Thomson.


In early 1840, Gipps conceded. He approved the site for a separate P.O. on the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth streets, which was completed in 1841. David Kelsh was allowed a salary of £200 per annum, and given a staff of 2. This building is the one Wilbraham Liardet would have been familiar with, and the one he depicted in his volume of watercolour paintings portraying Melbourne as it "was dawning into a creditable township."





Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.