Riverstone Post Office & the Telephone Exchange

by Judith Lewis

The first regular train ran between Blacktown and Richmond on 1st December 1864. The original Riverstone Railway Station building was erected in that year.

In April 1870 Mr. A.H McCulloch wrote as follows:
“…I have the honour to call your attention to the fact that letters addressed to Riverstone are sent to Blacktown, and detained until called for remaining there in many instances for weeks. This could be altogether avoided if the station master at Riverstone would allow the letters to be left at the station as was the custom of previous station masters but which the present one declines to comply with. I respectfully urge upon your consideration that to compel the residents of Riverstone to travel to Blacktown – a distance of six or seven miles to get a letter when the train stops at their doors twice a day is a sacrifice of public convenience which will neither merit nor receive your approval.”

His letter apparently had some success as, in the same month, arrangements were made for the Secretary of the Railway Department to instruct the Station Master at Riverstone, Mr. Titterton, to take charge of any letters left in his care. The Station Master was only to take charge of the letters when authorized to do so by the residents. It was made clear that the Station Master would not be appointed Postmaster. It was estimated that there would not be more than a dozen letters a week.

On 13th October 1870 the residents of Riverstone requested the establishment of a post office at Riverstone Railway Station. The Postmaster at Rouse Hill, Mr. S. Nicholls, reported, in November 1870, that there were seldom any letters from Rouse Hill to Riverstone and he believed some four or five houses and some woodcutters huts were situated there. He added that the latter residents were of a “movable class”.

Mr. A. Collins, Postmaster at Blacktown, reported, on 11th November 1870, that he received an average of six letters a day for Riverstone and that, as far as he knew, there were about twenty residents there.

A petition from Riverstone in October 1871 again requested the establishment of a post office. This petition was accompanied by a letter from Mr. Charles Brady of Curl Curl, Manly, who advised that he had become the owner of the Riverstone Estate which he had purchased from Mr. McCulloch.

Mr. A. H. McCulloch made additional representations in October 1876. In them he claimed that in the previous week the following mail was handled at the railway station:-

Letters received – 63
Letters sent – 49
Papers received – 8
Papers sent – 4.

The Postal Inspector, reporting that the place was about six miles from Blacktown and eight miles from Richmond, estimated that, as about 50 people would benefit from the establishment of a post office, he recommended its establishment.

Mr. A.H. McCulloch recommended Mr. Burge, the Station Master, as Postmaster. According to the Telegraph Inspector a telegraph office was not necessary at Riverstone as “the only persons who would be likely to use it are the manager of the Saw Mills at Riverstone and Messrs. Terry, Rouse, Hassell and Broad who live somewhere about three miles away. He added “there is already an alphabetical (telegraph) instrument at Riverstone in connection with Blacktown (railway) and there would be no objection to the railway station master taking messages but the difficulty would be in delivering them as he has no assistant and it is only by chance that he could get anyone about the place to act as messenger”.

When asked if the public would be allowed to use the railway telegraph facilities at Riverstone the Commissioner replied that there would be no objection to transmitting an exceptionally important message to or from Riverstone but it would be imprudent to recognize it as a public telegraph office as it was required for railway work.

On 1st January 1877 the railway Station Master, Mr. C. Burge was put in charge of the Riverstone Post Office. He nominated as his Sureties Samuel Burge, saddler and William C. Burge, draper, both of Parramatta. His postal allowance was £10. His request that, as there was not room in the Station Master’s office to conduct the post office, a small office be erected, was refused. It was pointed out that the only alteration required was a small box for the receipt of letters posted and a hole cut in the weatherboards for the letters to be placed through. Mr. A. H. McCulloch unsuccessfully applied to have the railway telegraph facilities made available for public use.

Mr. Burge’s successor, Mr. Cornelius Rowe, took charge of the office about July 1879 but refused to complete his appointment papers, requesting an increase in the postal allowance. He objected to providing security of £200 for a position with a salary of only £10 a year!

Rowe said “…if salary cannot be arranged to admit of my carrying out those duties (postal) in a fit and proper manner I hereby wish to be relieved of the postal duties at your earliest convenience – as I am often greatly annoyed thereby and am prevented from giving the necessary attention to my duties as station master which I should do”. On 20th September 1879 the Government Railway Department advised that Rowe had been suspended and that Mr. T.J. Foley was acting in the capacity of Postmaster.

By 20th November 1879 Rowe had resumed duty from sick leave and requested that his wife be appointed Postmistress with a salary of £20 a year. This was agreed to and Mrs. Louisa A. Rowe took charge of the post office on 1st December 1879. She gave security through the Victoria Life and General Insurance Company.

The death of Cornelius Rowe was reported in February 1880 when James Rowe, formerly of Cabramatta Platform, became Station Master. Postmistress Mrs Louisa Rowe handed the office to her successor, James Rowe on 23rd February 1880. H. J. Addison took over on 16th July 1880. In October 1884 161 letters were being posted weekly at Riverstone and 48 mails sent and dispatched. The revenue was about £35 per annum. Next in charge was Henry Campion who was appointed on 22nd November 1884.

In February 1885 approval was given for Money Order facilities to be introduced and further representations for a telegraph office were renewed. Storekeeper Mr. A.A. Laws offered to erect two rooms and to let them to the Department for £26 a year. Perhaps this prompted the Department of Railways into action as, on 23rd December 1885 they advised they had given directions for an office to be constructed and that the engineer expected it to be completed in a few days. Just over two weeks later, on 11th January 1886, the Superintendent of Telegraphs reported that a telegraph office, for the transaction of public business, had been established on that day at the Riverstone Railway Station.

Henry (Harry) A. Kirwan, formerly a messenger at Windsor, was appointed operator at Riverstone. His annual salary was £100. Henry Kirwan took charge of the telegraph office on 1st February 1886 and arrangements then were in hand for the amalgamation of the post office and telegraph office as from 1st March 1886.

The Riverstone residents, through local M.P. Mr. A. Bowman, forwarded a petition requesting that the Post Office remain in the charge of the Station Master as, under existing conditions they could collect letters any of the hours the Station Master was on duty. The Secretary of the Post Office ruled that matters should be left in abeyance and be reconsidered in three months time, after telegraph returns had been checked. Messenger Claude Irelands made the telegram deliveries on horseback.

In January 1887 it was decided the Post and Telegraph Offices would be finally amalgamated under the direction of the Telegraph Operator, Mr. Harry Kirwan, who was appointed Postmaster on 15th February 1887. The Post Office was conducted in the former telegraph office.

Harry Kirwan wrote, on 30th March 1887, enquiring as to why his salary was about to be reduced? He had commenced duty as Telegraph Operator on a salary of £100 per annum and had then received an increment of £10, making his annual salary £110. He had now the dual duties of Postmaster and Telegraph Operator and had been advised that his annual salary would be £100. He was duly advised that his annual salary would be at the rate of £110 a year.

When Mr. C. P. Ayling wrote, in April 1889, requesting the erection of a new post and telegraph office it was decided to defer any action until Riverstone had been visited by the District Postal Inspector. At that time the annual revenue from the Post and Telegraph Office was £296 a year. The Inspector’s report, in July 1889, stated:

“I visited Riverstone on 13th. Instant and found extensive alterations being effected at the railway station there, on the early completion of these (within six weeks) it is intended to remove the post and telegraph office from the present temporary position to a permanent brick building of three rooms on the railway platform affording ample accommodation for business and public convenience.”

Harry Kirwan, the Postmaster, was to remain in that position until 1913, a total of 26 years. In the late 1800s he was assisted by Joseph Campion, a Telegraph Probationer, who successfully applied to have his salary of 2/6 (approximately 25 cents) per week increased to the sum of £26 (about $50) per annum. The allowance was increased on the basis of his assistance with the postal work.

In April 1890 Harry Kirwan wrote that there were two rooms attached to the Post Office but one was used as a storeroom and the other leaked every time it rained. There was no private yard and he considered that two more rooms, outhouses and a fenced yard would be required if a residence were to be provided at the Post Office. In lieu of quarters he was allowed £20 a year.

Late in 1908 considerable negotiations took place between the Postal Department and the Railway Department when it was discovered that the Post Office had not paid for the rental of the three rooms at the Railway Station (referred to as the old residence of the Station Master). It was early in 1910 before this matter was settled, the agreement being that rental would be charged from 1st March 1901 at the rate of £26 per annum and the Railway Department would make extensive renovations to the premises.

Riverstone Post Office c1916 when part of the Railway Station precinct.

Whilst a telephone was probably in use at the Railway Station prior to that date, the first record of the installation of a telephone at the post office was about 1914 and a telephone exchange was established on 24th December 1914. The earliest list of subscribers available appeared in the directory for April 1916 as follows:

Riverstone (9am to 6pm)
Cohen, M. M. Merchant, Windsor Rd.
Johnston, Dr. A. G., ‘Glengairn’ Windsor Rd.
Marsden Park Post Office
6 Reid, H. R., Storekeeper Riverstone Parade
3 Reid, H. R., Storekeeper Marsden Park
7 Smith, Mrs. H., Storekeeper Riverstone Parade

A new building, the present Post Office, was completed in 1942 and was officially opened on Saturday, 27th February, 1943 by the Hon. J. B. Chifley, Federal Member for Macquarie and Federal Treasurer. Mr. Harry Kirwan who was Riverstone’s first official Postmaster, serving for 26 years from 1886 to 1913, had the honour of being the first speaker on this occasion.

The following have been Postmasters at Riverstone Post Office from 1913 to 1969.

F.H. Percy  1913-14 C.J.A. Rogan 1950 –52
A.H.B. Fenwick 1914-15  J.W.C. Bourke  1952-53
A. Short 1917  C.R. Graham 1953
J. Neale 1917-21 R. Walsh 1955-58
A.W.J. Lees 1921  W.J. Gerathy 1958-61
T. B. Davis 1921-32 K. Bellman 1961-62
W.V. O’Connor 1932-37 A. Irving 1962-68
G. Ireland 1937 F.L. Callaghan 1968-69
F. Knox 1937-50 F.G. Thomson 1969

Acknowledgement: Information for this article was sourced from information provided by the NSW Historical Section of Australia Post in 1985.