Australia: 1917-1988.
Collect telegrams.

Collect telegrams allowed a sender of a telegram to transfer payment of transmission charges to the receiver of a telegram. They complement Reply-Paid telegrams which require the sender of an original telegram to pre-paid the costs of a reply as well as the cost of the original telegram.

Details of Collect Telegrams are summarised in the following sections:

  1. Regulations - Australia;
  2. Early Colonial use of COLLECT telegrams;
  3. Post Federation use of COLLECT telegrams;
  4. dockets to guarantee payment;

1. Regulations.

Each of the Colonies introduced the arrangement for Collect Telegrams in their own way.

New South Wales regulations:

Even though the concept of having a recipient pay the costs of a telegram was accepted from the beginning (probably a continuation of the previous practice of the recipient of a letter paying for its delivery) official Regulations do not appear to have been issued. Hence the practice continued for some time with the only proviso for Collect Telegrams really being "in case of emergency or distress"

Finally, on 13 April 1886, the Gazette carried the following:


In accordance with the provisions of the 6th section of the Electric Telegraph Act, the following regulation in regard to "Collect" Telegrams have been adopted, to date from the 1st May next:

"Payment of charges in advance will be required, except for replies to interrogatory messages on which the sender has written 'Reply paid here'. In case of emergency or distress, however, persons may be allowed to send messages to be paid for by the receiver. The senders of 'Collect' telegrams will be required to guarantee the charge in case of non-payment by the addressees. No charge will be made for the date, address or signature on any telegram lodged for transmission within the colonies".

In August 1892, the Telegraph Department in Sydney issued a notice to the effect that "in future all collect telegrams to Victoria, except replies to messages containing the words "reply paid" must be refused as the Victorian department will decline to receive them".

The system of Collect telegrams was suspended for some time from 1 October 1893 when the new practice of pre-paying transmission costs using postage stamps was introduced. No collect telegrams could then be accepted for transmission except in reply to those received which stated 'Reply paid' in the message. Naturally that message had to be produced when the response to it was tendered for transmission to facilitate accounting.

It was not long before exceptions were allowed - and where could that have been? In November 1893, the Postmaster-General allowed members of Parliament to send collect telegrams but stopped the same facility being extended to the general public.

In Parliament of 17th November 1893, Mr Kidd said that "members of Parliament were subjected to such inconvenience and expense by having to prepay telegrams sent in answer to inquiries for information on public matters, an alteration had been made in the telegraph regulations which would permit of the acceptance from members of Parliament of "collect" messages, i.e., on which the charges were to be paid by the addressees instead of by the senders. It was not considered desirable to extend the same privilege to the public, excepting in case of emergency or distress". Soon after, the Chamber of Commerce called on the Postmaster-General to re-instate the system of Collect Telegrams in the same way as had been done for Members of Parliament and for the Press. See also the argument for the system for shipping.

The "Collect Telegram" was however re-introduced in a modified form in October 1894. The new Regulations stated that: "Telegrams addressed to places within the colony may, under special circumstances or in case of emergency, be taken from the sender, if the latter be known to the officer in charge, with the word 'Collect' written thereon and, in such cases, the value of the telegram will be collected from the receiver. But before the telegram is accepted, the sender will be required to sign an undertaking on a printed form provided for the purpose, that in the event of the Department being unable to collect the amount, he or she will be responsible for the payment thereof and for the cost of the message advising the Department of the non-payment by the receiver.

Collect messages for the adjoining Australian colonies can only be accepted in case of distress or great emergency, and of course subject to the above conditions".

Victoria regulations:

The system of Collect Telegrams in Victoria was probably an understanding rather than a regulation for a number of years. Then, like with New South Wales, a change to the Regulations in 1884 re-introducing the pre-payment of telegram charges put an end to the Collect Telegram system. A letter by Viator to the Argus published on 5 November 1884 summarised the situation and implications:

"Sir,- Until now great convenience has been felt in the name of the telegraph in country districts for "collect" messages, but it appears that a new and very vexatious regulation of the Post Office department has put a stop to it. Yesterday, upon leaving one country town for another, I was asked by a gentleman residing at the former to transact a little business for him of a purely personal nature at the latter. Having in due course accomplished his request, I naturally went to the post office to wire the result to him, wrote out my message and marked it "collect" in the usual manner. The official in charge informed me very courteously that, unless in reply to a telegram received, all message must now be prepaid, as a rule to that effect had come into operation about a week since. As my message was written out, and it being nearly 8 pm, with no mail reaching the other town until 1pm next day, I paid my shilling, which otherwise would have been represented to the revenue by a twopenny stamp. But as there are numberless cases in which the telegraph was used for answering queries, letters, making offers, inquiries, etc , on the "collect" system, the recipients of the messages being only too glad to pay for them, and as the system has worked well for years, the new rule of pre-payment will be found a serious inconvenience to the public and a loss to the revenue".

Yours, etc., VIATOR.

Australian (post-Federation) regulations.

The Federal Post and Telegraph Act of 1901 contained the following:

"Collect telegrams will now be accepted within the Commonwealth, but only when the sender is known to the officer in charge and upon his signing a guarantee that should the addressee refuse to pay the cost, the sender of the telegram will pay the amount together with telegram of advice of non-payment by the addressee".

The Post and Telegraph Guide of June 1922 presented the Regulation outlining the use of this type of telegram as follows:

Collect reg

It changed little over the years. For example, the 1952 Post Office Guide had almost exactly the same wording but the same intent in Part II Commonwealth Telegrams, paragraph 60. Perhaps the main change was the replacement of "he or she" in line 5 with "he"!!

2. Examples of the Colonial use of Collect telegrams.

The use of the Collect annotation on telegrams was common in the early days of telegraphic communication in each of the Colones of Australia. Users sent messages, which were expensive in those days, and so users placed the onus of responsibility for payment on the recipient of a telegram.

Examples of Collect telegrams in the early days include:

Colony Date of use Amount Form reference

New South Wales.

See also:


NSW 1863
Date of use: 11 August 1863.
Form: NC-DO-1d.
Queensland. 8 April 1882 5/- QC-DO-6A
South Australia.      
Tasmania. 22 October 1883 1/- TC-TO-3


See also: 24 December 1877 to collect 1/-
on VC-TO-7Ab.

Vic collect
Date of use: 13 December 1867.
Form: VC-DO-4B.
Western Australia 1 November 1902 9d WC-DO-5B

Queensland was late in their acceptance of the procedure but, as reported in the Brisbane Courier of 25 November 1876: "in the Legislative Assembly, on the 15th instant, Mr. Thorn being hard pushed by Mr. Palmer and Mr. Stevenson, promised, apparently with all the sincerity of which his generous nature is capable, to make immediate arrangements by which a "collect" telegram might be sent without prepayment by the sender, if of fair reputation.

Yesterday an individual of extreme moral rectitude did call at the Telegraphic Office, and tender a telegram in reply to another under the supposition that it would be sent along under terms of the Premier's promise. A genial and more enlightened person in the way of a clerk there took a very different view and, after murmuring something about " never putting any trust in princes" remarked that "it would not wash" explaining in good English afterwards that it was just as easy to forget a promise as to make one.

That clerk seemed to us a splendid judge of characters, especially Premiers, and if some of the other Civil servants have similar views they will not be greatly surprised if the prospective increase to their salaries so freely promised vanish as do the gray mists of a summer morn".

Another interesting use of "Collect Telegrams" as an economy measure by the Colonial Government in Queensland is described in the Rockhampton Bulletin of 15 December 1876 (on page 2, column 3).

South Australia had a system of Collect Telegrams which was similar that in NSW and Victoria. In contrast however, Western Australia had no such system and refused to accept that type of telegram from another Colony - even if payments had been made. The South Australian Register of 11 November 1897 related the differences and difficulties as follows:

Prepaid and 'Collect' Telegrams. Businessmen who have been accustomed to the manners of the South Australian Telegraph Department have shown some annoyance at the fact that telegrams dispatched to Western Australia, even when the receiver is well known to be a 'good mark,' are invariably required to be prepaid. The reason is that Western Australian telegraph offices do not receive 'collect' telegrams. Of course telegrams in answer to messages originating in Western Australia for which the reply has been paid are accepted without demur, and Press telegrams do not need to be prepaid. The Telegraph Department in the western colony not only applies the rule referred to to persons outside the province, but it holds good among the residents of the colony.

The fact is that the South Australian Telegraph Department bears a name for liberality to its customers that does not attach to any other telegraph department, perhaps in the world. Throughout Great Britain, as also in the eastern colonies of Australia, telegraph messages must be accompanied by the necessary fee for transmission, the departments taking no risk. In Victoria the fee is paid in the form of stamps, which the sender attaches to the message. Cases sometimes arise in South Australia of a person dispatching a 'collect' telegram which is refused. This, of course, entails worry and at times loss to the department.

In Western Australia the full receipts for 'reply-paid' telegrams are at once booked, while in this colony, we understand, tho fee for the reply is held to a sort of 'suspense account' until the reply has been sent, and if no reply is sent, the fee is returned on application being made for it by the sender of the original telegram".



Collect transmission Telegram form lodged at Brighton (or Bothwell) on 22 October 1883.

One of the most wonderful of the Collect telegrams. It contains only one word and the sender required the recipient - Mr Haywood - to pay the fee of 1/-.

What a disagreement must have been going on!!!!


3. Examples of COLLECT telegrams - post Federation.

WI-DO-5A Collect WI-DO-5A.

Broome to Perth.
2 October 1912.

Has annotation 1/11 Collect meaning that the District Surveyors Board had to pay 1/11 to receive the telegram.

Has a rare COLLECT hand stamp - only recorded example.

Collect telegrams have been used in many situations:

4. Dockets to guarantee payment.

The forms used by the sender to guarantee the cost of the telegram varied little. Two examples follow:

1921 form
Printed in August 1921.

Schedule numbers known:

10m - 8.21 4236;
5m - 6.26 6029.

1972 form
Printed in 1972.

Schedule numbers known:

Sch. C.6687 - 12/51;
Sch. C.8218 - 10/59:
O/N C4180/71 - L;
O/N C42417/72 - L.

The monies collected for Collect telegrams had to be accounted and special forms, shown below, were used.

Acquittal 33
Printed in April 1933 (Schedule number Sch. C. 944 4/1933).
Acquittal form to be forwarded to the Head Office of the PMG in each State.

A duplicate - with the same heading but no boxes - was placed underneath with carbon paper between to enable a copy to be made easily (on the same principle as that shown below for the 1942 form).

Printed over many years in almost the same format as shown.

1942 1
Printed in 1942 (Schedule number Sch. C. 3565-1/1942).

The two parts were combined and carbon paper placed between so as to make a copy of the details.

1942 2

Collect telegrams gradually ceased when telephones became widespread and it was possible and easy to call Telephone Offices established to receive such requests and charge costs to a telephone account. Details were then recorded on Phonogram forms.