New South Wales - Colonial: 1857-1900.
Reply Paid telegrams - overview.

The COLLECT system and the REPLY PAID system were complementary:


1. The original idea.

The concept of pre-paying the cost of a telegram sent to a recipient began in New South Wales in 1858 when "His Excellency the Governor-General, with the advice of the Executive Council, has been pleased to establish the following Regulations fixing the Fees to be charged for the transmission and delivery of messages by the lines of Electric Telegraph and providing generally for the management of the said lines". Amongst these regulations was:

4. Where an immediate reply to a message is required, the sender of such message is requested to append the word "reply". The messenger charged with the delivery of the message will then be directed to wait ten minutes for the reply, in order to facilitate its transmission to the sender of the message".

The Government Gazette of 23 December 1861 extended that Regulation by announcing that telegrams requiring an immediate answer could be sent with the words "Reply quickly by Telegraph" or "Reply paid here" added to the message for no additional cost.

The implication of these phrases was that the Messenger would be required to wait for up to 5 minutes after delivering the telegram so as to bring a reply back to the Telegraph Office. A number of years later, at a Court Case hearing, reasons were given as to why a girl Telegram Messenger from the Redfern Telegraph Office did not await a reply.

The restriction on the telegram was that the reply could only be sent to the sender of the original telegram who had paid an additional cost to cover the cost of a basic reply. If the recipient could not reply within the time, the telegram could be brought to the Telegraph Office any time up to one month after its receipt and a reply sent. After a month had elapsed, the original sender could apply for a refund of the additional amount paid.

Examples of Reply Paid telegrams sent between Yass and George Street Sydney relating to the 1872 elections are reported by Freeman's Journal of 9 March 1872.


At the Inter-Colonial Postal Conference held in Sydney on 8 March 1891, the sub-committee of the Heads of Departments agreed that the following should be part of the revisions for the Telegraphic Regulations:

"As a general rule all messages must be prepaid, except in cases of replies to messages on which the words "reply paid" have been written, or where special arrangements have been made for payment by the receiver, but in all cases the sender will be held responsible for the cost of the message should payment be refused by the addressee. Names and addresses will be counted as forming part of the message".

In the first quarter of the 1900's, newspapers printed many examples of the misuse of Reply Paid telegrams to hoax people in various ways.


2. The 1895 regulations.

The Government Gazette of 18 June 1895 noted the following amended regulation of the Electric Telegraph Act had been substituted for that previously in force in regard to reply paid telegrams:

"When the sender of a telegram wishes to pay for a reply thereto, he should affix in stamps a minimum rate for the reply in addition to the charge for the original telegram. If the reply contains more words than have been prepaid, the excess must be paid for or guaranteed by the sender of the reply. The words "reply paid' must be added as the last words of the text, and these words, in the event of their being in excess of the 10, will be charged for as part of the telegram. In cases of emergency, or where the person is known to the Officer in charge, the sender of a telegram to any place within the Colony will be allowed to mark his message "reply paid" without being required to prepay the reply is advance. But before the telegram is accepted, the sender will be required to sign an undertaking on a printed form, provided for the purpose, agreeing to pay for the reply on delivery.

In the event of replies which have been paid for not arriving within a month, the amount so paid will be refunded on application".

These regulations were clear in the context of telegrams sent within the New South Wales Colony but arrangements were less clear when pre-paying telegrams to of from other Colonies. The Northern Miner 3 July 1886 p 3 noted part of the minutes of the Charters Towers Chamber of Commerce:

"The Chairman drew attention to the fact that the Telegraph Department had refused to take or "collect" telegrams for New South Wales from him. Mr. Russell said that if business people guaranteed the payment they should be sent.

Mr. Grant of the Northern Miner, having had considerable experience in the Telegraph Department, was asked to explain why these telegrams were refused and stated that it was a rule adopted by the New South Wales Department, who refuse to take or "collect" telegrams from Queensland, unless in reply to reply-paid telegram and even then only to the extent of 2s.

The Queensland Department could not interfere with the rules adopted by New South Wales. All the members present were of opinion that the door could easily be closed by the night telegraph operator who was always working until after 10 p.m.".


3. The 1903 Regulations.

The new regulations relating to the reception and transmission of telegrams set out that, in reply-paid telegrams, the two words "reply paid" must be paid for by the sender as part of the message before the message is accepted. If this regulation be not complied with, the telegram will not be sent. In connection with a reply to prepaid telegrams, the words became part of a sender's message and had to be paid for in advance.


Reply-paid telegrams were used frequently by:

An interesting aside was published recently(!) in the Cumberland Argus on 6 July 1931:

Head Master's Racing Telegram.
He kept the Reply-Paid.

Dr. Arlington, Head Master of Eaton, in presenting prizes at Liverpool College recently said:
"The only occasion on which I have made money out of horseracing was when, not long ago, I received a reply-paid telegram asking whether I could suggest any profitable changes on the course for the Grand National.

It was not obvious to me why my opinion was so valuable and I kept the reply paid telegram.

That, added Dr Arlington, was an illustration of the curious readiness of the public to hear a Head Master talk about anything but education".