BACK in the day, it was a Female Factory, a “gaol” for female convicts who had to be kept isolated from the lecherous male prisoners and officers of the main Moreton Bay convict settlement.
Today, the site is merely busy Queen Street not far from anywhere at all and for the past 140 years, the home of Brisbane’s main post office.
To set the scene, the Moreton Bay settlement became known as Brisbane in 1839 and was only opened to free settlers in 1842. The first letter carrier was appointed in 1852 and the first Queensland postage stamp issued in 1860. Until then, they were still using those issued in NSW.
Brisbane’s first fulltime Postmaster-General, one J.E. Barney, was appointed in 1852 and a decade later, Thomas Lodge Murray was named as the first Postmaster-General for the State of Queensland.
Their offices were not as grand as their titles as they continued to use the small convict-era building for postal services until it was demolished in 1871.
The elegant Italianate building we see today between Queen and Elizabeth Streets was opened in 1873 to house the General Post Office and Telegraph Office.
First was the GPO and then work started in 1877 on the 15.2m high central tower and a matching building on the other side for the Telegraph Office.
By now, the site was considered centrally located and the Telegraph Office, down in William Street, was considered out of the way. It was a happy day for customers when it opened beside the post office in 1879.
Designed by the colonial architect F.G.D. Stanley who seems to have been a very busy chap given the number of grand old Brisbane buildings still standing in his name, it was built in stages.
A classical building, it was built for the climate but managed to look good on the way through.
It has wide verandahs – a 3m wide colonnade to protect from heat and rain; and high ceilings – 5.4m on the lower floor and 5.1m on the upper.
This was the best that could be done for cooling as electric fans weren’t known until the 1890s and at the colonial architect worked with the weather. (Government House in Sydney, built in 1843, failed to take this into account and what might have worked in the rolling hills of England led to a hopeless portico and entrance where the rain and wind whipped through.)
The GPO is made of freestone from Murphy’s Creek near Toowoomba, and the Albion Heights quarry; and brick. The elegant iron lacework balustrading on the second floor was made at R.R. Smellie’s Alice Street foundry.
The great claim to fame of the GPO is that the Telegraph Office, in 1892, bought three Ideal Hammond typewriters – the first time a typewriter was used as a business tool in Australia. It was a move which the other colonies soon copied.
In 1887, it was also one of the first buildings in Brisbane to be powered by electricity.
A clock with a 1.4m dial was built into the front pediment of the post office and illuminated by gaslight at night but plans for a more elaborate clocktower had to be shelved as the cost was prohibitive for a small town of 15,000.
The building is still used as Brisbane’s main post office and the little lane that runs down the side connecting Elizabeth and Queen Streets is a beautiful little thoroughfare. While it doesn’t have the elegance of the overhead bridges in the streets of Oxford, it still makes a pretty picture.