This article, originally published in the “New Zealand Stamp Collector” (June 1973), gives an interesting history of the former Wellington Post Office, as it was about to be pulled down.
With the coming demolition of the G.P.O. from the site bounded by Federation and Grey Streets, Customhouse Quay and Panama Street in Wellington, and the erection of a new building, it is interesting to look back on the history of the Wellington Post Office on this site.
In the late 1850s a small one-storey building was acquired in Grey Street. The facilities available were very primitive and local businessmen were not satisfied, especially with the delays, which resulted from having to receive their mail through a window open to the street, where long queues waited. The Wellington Chamber of Commerce approached the Postmaster to provide private letter boxes. No money was available for the purpose, and the Chamber of Commerce paid for the installation of private boxes (£25 6s. 6d.). These were most likely the first private boxes in New Zealand.
A report in the Wellington Independent of 27 September, 1862 states “ The tenders for the erection of the Custom-house Post Office in Queen’s Warehouse having been accepted a few weeks ago, the enterprising contractors, Messrs Rollo & Humphries, C.R. Carter and Gill, have commenced operations with such celerity and promptitude that where but a brief time ago naught was heard but the roll and break of the advancing tide, the scene is now one replete with life, bustle, and animation, and the skeleton of a new building fast advancing to completion already meets the view.” By 1863 this wooden building was accommodating both Customs and the Post Offfice, the latter occupying the southern part of the ground floor. This building was in use for approximately 20 years.
But about this time the first pillar boxes were introduced and the Wellington Almanac of 1865 says, “There are two pillars for the reception of letters, which are cleared twice a day, 10.45 a.m. and 2.30 p.m. One pillar is situated at the corner of Molesworth & Pipitea Streets, Thorndon; and the other at the corner of Cuba and Ghuznee Streets, Te Aro.”
Mail sorting was now carried out in the old building next door in Grey Street. The Work of the Department grew following the building of this new office and in 1864 the control of the money order system given post Office. By 1875 the facilities were overtaxed and the older building in Grey Street was in a state of disrepair.
The Government began to plan for a new building on the same site, which would more than cater for post office requirements. However it was not until 1880 that designs were called for; the new building was completed on 15 February 1884 and was occupied on the fifth of April that year. It represented a handsome and imposing appearance and was regarded not only as the finest structure in the city of Wellington but also as one of the finest government buildings in the colony. It had frontages of 172 ft to Customhouse Quay, 72 ft to Panama Street and 69 ft to Grey Street, and its three storeys measured 125 ft from the pavement to the top of the tower. The walls were of brick and 22 in. thick.
At 4.40 a.m. on 28th April 1887 a fire broke out and by 7 a.m. only two rooms were untouched by the flames. A contract was subsequently let for the restoration of the building in 1888, and this was completed on 30th April of that year.
By 1908 the department had outgrown this building and had many of its branches accommodated in other offices throughout the city. The government then acquired the remainder of the block and in 1912 the present G.P.O. was opened, and has served the department for 61 years. Once again, however, increased services and business have outgrown the accommodation available. The building is to be demolished and temporary premises for postal services have been set up in Chews Lane just off Manners Street.
Note from the Editor:
If you are interested in the stamps and postal history of New Zealand, I can heartily recommend joining the Royal Philatelic Society of New Zealand.