New South Wales: Chief Telegraph Office.

Details reviewed on this page are:

  1. Overview of the General Post Office;

  2. Overview of the Electric (later Chief) Telegraph Office;
    the two temporary George Street Offices;
    accommodation at the new GPO;
    changes in name and implications for date stamps;
    stories about life in the Electric Telegraph Office;

  3. the Colonial date stamps of:
    the Sydney date stamp;
    the Electric Telegraph Department;
    the Electric Telegraph Office;
    the Post & Tel. Dept.;

  4. the Interim/Australian date stamps of:
    the Telegraph Branch;
    Chief Telegraph Office
    (in steel);
    Chief Telegraph Office (rubber);
    C.T.O. (rubber);

  5. Electric Telegraph Stationery.

General Post Office, Sydney

After the first Post Office, operated by the first Post Master Isaac Nichols, was closed a variety of premises were occupied.

About 1862, the structure was redesigned by the then Colonial Architect James Johnstone Barnet. He wanted a proper building to reflect its importance in the Colony and so designed a 100 yard structure on the site of the old building running between George Street and Pitt Street and fronting St. Martins Lane (now Martin Place). On 15 July 1865, the Sydney Morning Herald carried the following:

REMOVAL OF THE OLD POST OFFICE.—The Government  have accepted the tender of Mr. Enoch Hughes, for the removal of the old Post Office in George Street to make room for the new building. The sum of £255 is to be paid by the contractor for the material. The work of demolition will be forthwith commenced and the Electric Telegraph Office will be removed, at the end of this month, to the premises opposite, at present occupied by Mr. Bate, draper.

The building maintained its central importance in the NSW postal system until it was sold in 1996. The building now contains shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars while the only postal presence is an Australia Post Post Shop.

Sydney 1840s GPO Syd Wynard Sq
Sydney Post Office in the 1830s and 1840s.
Located on George Street but subsequent extensions took it back to where
Pitt Street is now and across the Tank Stream.
From 1865 to 1874, the G.P.O. was relocated to Wynard Square. This temporary building was demolished after Stage 1 of the new G.P.O. opened. The building at the rear is now the Occidental Hotel in York Street. Taken March 1871.
GPO Sydney orig GPO from Eliz
The G.P.O. from the north-west. The mansard roofs on either end were added in 1899 to provide space for the telegraphists and for the telephone exchange. The Telegraph Office for the public was about the awnings in the lower right of the above picture. G.P.O. Sydney (circa 1900) from Elizabeth Street.

Wynard St
An engraving of the Sydney GPO as published in 1886 in "Australian Pictures"
by Howard Willoughby. Engraved by E. Whymper and others.
Published by the Religious Tract Society, London.

The top of the building is flat - hence engraved before the mansard roofs were added.

Awaiting the English Mails.
Engraving printed in "The Graphic" March 18, 1893, p. 273.
The Electric Telegraph Department and later the Chief Telegraph Office.

The first Electric Telegraph Office was situated in the Merchants' Exchange building on the corner of Bridge Street and Pitt Street. It commenced operations immediately the Electric Telegraph was authorised in 1854 as being the responsibility of the Department of Public Works. It was administratively within the Department of Internal Communication.

The temporary Electric Telegraph Office 1863-1874.
1st Teleg room
The first Electric Telegraph Office in 1860.
There was a staff of six.

As demand for telegraphic services grew, the Department was moved from the Exchange in 1860 to a building on the south side of the General Post Office in George Street. The Sydney Morning Herald of 21 November 1860 carried the following advertisement:

NOTICE is hereby given that, on and after WEDNESDAY MORNING next, the 21st Instant, the New Electric Telegraph Office, in George Street, will be OPENED and MESSAGES will in future be transmitted and issued therefrom, instead of from the Exchange.

By order,

(Signed) B. H. MARTINDALE, Superintendent.
The Treasury, New South Wales.
14th November, 1860.

Soon after the Herald reported: "The gentlemen of the Electric Telegraph Department have, given a complimentary dinner to Mr. Cracknell, the Superintendent, on the occasion of their removal to the new central station."

Then, during the reconstruction of the new G.P.O. from 1864, the Electric Telegraph Department was moved further along George Street to near the corner of King Street and on the western side. The move involved the closure of a major and well established Drapery. Advertisements announcing the closing sale appeared in a number of newspapers - that in the Sydney Empire of 23 June 1865 was as follows:




CHARLES BATE and CO. beg to announce to their numerous friends and the public generally that, having disposed of their extensive and centrally situated premises, known as

357 George Street,

to the GOVERNMENT for the


the whole of their VALUABLE STOCK of General DRAPERY.



must be


to effect which





The Sale will commence each DAY, at 9 a.m.


Wholesale and Retail Drapers,
(Five Doors North of King Street).

The room in Britannia House used for receiving telegrams from the public was on the ground floor. It was presided over by Mr. J. R. Miles, a sturdy gentleman, the possessor of a long flowing brown beard and a resonant voice; withal a kindly official.

Behind this room was the messengers' den where youth held high revelry when not busy - when Mr. Miles was using his eye in another direction.

Behind, again, encroaching on to York Street, the boys stabled their "pretty ponies".

Upstairs were the administrative offices, of four or five rooms and the operating room. This latter was small, perhaps 30 ft x 15 ft, with a large table down the centre on which, connected back to back, were six telegraph instruments, all that the head office possessed or required.

The Electric Telegraph Department was finally moved into the new building.

The official opening took place on 1 September 1874 and it was opened for business on 28 September.

Staff of the NSW Electric Telegraph Office in the 1870s included:

  • E. C. Cracknell,Superintendent with P. B. Walker (assistant superintendent), A. McCracken (accountant);
  • W. Wilson, stationmaster;
  • the telegraphists J. K. Craig, James Curry, C. N. Casperson, Jack Hunt, K. A. McKenzie and H. C. Usher;
  • G .A. Kopset (mechanician);
  • the general utility man, Delaney - every one's good friend - whose wife, capable and kindly body, was caretaker. 
Tel room 1900
The Telegraph Branch at Sydney about 1900.

It continued to grow and acquire new spaces over the years. The public counter was on the George Street front, the operating room was on the second floor. The basement contained accommodation for postmen, telegraph messengers, stabling, general storage, etc and a battery store capable of holding 1,000 cells.

In the 1940s, this operating room had to accommodate 400 operators and 200 telegram boys.

Pneumatic tubes were installed in the building in the late 1890s to carry telegrams between the receiving, operating and despatch areas.

These tubes forced small containers containing a telegram along them using compressed air.

By 1910, these pneumatic tubes were extended to the Merchants' Exchange building as well as to the Pacific Cable Board office. Later the system was extended further to connect all five city post offices (in 1930) as well as the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper office.


The Department merged with the Postal Department on the death of Mr. E. J. Cracknell in 1893 to become the Postal & Telegraph Department. In 1904, its name changed to the Telegraph Branch and, in 1917, it became the Chief (Electric) Telegraph Office. The reference to "Electric" was dropped in 1926.

These changes are reflected in the date stamps and in the headings used on telegram forms.


There are many stories of an unusual nature which could be collected about the Telegraph Office.

For example: "The Sydney Empire of July 21 1874 reports : A few minutes before 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon, considerable excitement was occasioned in the neighborhood of Pitt and George Streets by a loud report of an explosion. In a very few minutes, a mass of people gathered at the rear of the new Post Office from whence the report came; and as the people ran, their voices rang through the street that the clock of the new Post Office had fallen and smashed. But this was not the case. On inquiry we were informed that one of the persons in charge of the Telegraph Office had been trying an experiment upon a torpedo and, from some cause, had caused the alarm. There was no damage done, other than displacing the ends of the 'can' ".

The head office operators had demanding shifts - commencing at 8.30 in the morning with their regular time for ceasing at 6.15 p.m. If line interruptions prevented an operator from clearing all telegrams by that time, the luckless individual whose particular line was behind had to stay on duty and clear the business if at all possible before signing off. There was one night operator, working from 6.15 p.m. until 8.30 am next morning, who was generally fully occupied with Press telegrams.

By 1890, conditions in the new Telegraph Office in the new building were becoming oppressive. The Sydney Morning Herald of 11 January 1890 reported that "plans for the fitting up of the new room for the operators employed at the Electric Telegraph Office were approved by the Post-master-General yesterday. The operating-room at present in use will be set apart for the storage of batteries. That the change indicated will not have been made a day too soon is shown by the fact that, a few days ago, the operating room proved so exceedingly oppressive to two of the telegraphists that they were carried out of it in a fainting condition. The room is greatly crowded, there being at times no fewer than 88 operators in it The work of the department is increasing very rapidly, and it is believed that, by the end of the year, not fewer than 110 operators will be employed. The increased work will, we learn, necessitate an extension of the new operating room to adjoining premises in George Street belonging to the Post Office Department, but used temporarily by the Railway Department".

The Sydney office was extremely busy especially on important occasions. For example, on Christmas Eve of 1906, the number of telegrams handled by the Sydney Telegraph Office were:

Transmitted: 3,703;
Received: 3,411;
Repeated telegrams: 13, 695;
Cablegrams transmitted: 763;
Cablegrams received: 716;

Continuing repeated telegrams as two each (they had in each instance to be received by one telegraphist and transmitted by another), the grand total was 35,983.

The date stamps for the Chief Telegraph Office.

Sydney and regional offices.

Ordinary postal date stamp also used at Sydney on telegrams. Hancock (p. 128) lists this date stamp as the third type.

The outside arc does not extend around office name.

Used: 1876 to 1884.

Diameter: 23 mm.

Syd 1880
31 July 1880.
Used on NC-DO-7B.
Sydney 1882
21 September 1882.
Used on NC-DO-7C.

Electric Telegraph Department.

For the date stamps used at the Central Telegraphic Office with the inscription Electric Telegraph Department or some shortened version of those words, see elsewhere. ETD


Electric Telegraph Office.
Name used until 1894.
Two versions of the date stamp recorded and both were RO7-ETO:

Type 1: longer side arcs.
Type 2: shorted side arcs.

Used: 6 May 1887 to 26 November 1890.

Size: 37 × 50 mm (e = 0.67).

Rated: RRRR.

ETO RO7 1887
6 May 1887.

Used on NC-DO-8A.


ETO April
16 April 1890.

Used on NC-DO-8A
(with a DETAINED stamp)

Postal & Telegraph Department.  

Postal & Tel(egraph) Dep,
Sydney, N.S.W.

Used from 28 September 1896 to 29 May 1903.

Diameter: 31 mm.

The change of name was due to the merger of the two Departments in 1893.


P&T 1896
28 September 1896.
Earliest recorded date.

Used on NC-DO-10Ba.

P&TD 1900
23 December 1900.

Hand stamps were used at the CTO especially during the Colonial period to save the telegraphists' time in writing commonly used sender office names.

Typical examples are:

MELBOURNE in purple.

Size: 11 × 70 mm.

Used on NC-DO-7B on 31 July 1880.

Melbourne 1880

Interim/Australian period.

Telegraph Branch.
Name changed to Telegraph Branch in 1904.

Telegraph Branch/
Sydney, NSW.


  • O below Telegraph Branch.
  • Two line date. Two digit year.
    Day then month.
  • No full stop after W of NSW.

Used: 18 November 1904 (H) to 21 November 1905.

Diameter: 32 mm.

Rated: RR.

TB 1905
21 November 1905.

Used on NC-DO-11.

Telegraph Branch/
Sydney, NSW.


  • O below Telegraph Branch.
  • Two line date. Two digit year.
    Month then day.
  • Change to month then day was about 1909.
  • No full stop after W of NSW.

Used: 3 February 1909 to 6 March 1913.

Diameter: 31 mm.

Rated: RR.

TB 1909
3 February 1909.

Used on NI-DO-4C.

6 March 1913.

Used on NI-DU-5A.

Telegraph Branch/
Sydney, NSW.


  • R below Telegraph Branch.
  • Two line date; two digit year.
  • Day before month. Full stop after W of NSW.
  • Larger and narrower letters than the previous date stamps.

Used: 23 January 1904.

Rated: RRR.

TB 1914
23 January 1914.

Prestige Philately August 2013
Lot 424.

Telegraph Branch/
Sydney, NSW.


  • R below Telegraph Branch.
  • One line date; two digit year.
  • Horizontal line below date.

Used: 7 May 1921 to 9 October 1922.

Diameter: 33 mm.

Rated: RR.

Number in the Census: 4.

TB R 1921
7 May 1921.
TB 1922
9 October 1922.

Used on IAE-DC-1.

Telegraph Branch Sydney/ NSW.


  • One line date; two digit year.
  • T to N is 3 mm.
  • No full stop after W of NSW.
  • No separation marks.

Diameter: 27.5 mm.

21 April 1914.

Used on NI-DU-5B.



Telegraph Branch Sydney/ NSW.


  • One line date; two digit year.
  • Smaller letters. T to N is 5 mm.
  • No full stop after W of NSW.
  • Separation dots.

Diameter: 27.5 mm.

TBS 17
21 April 1917.

Used on NI-DO-6D.


  • SYDNEY at base.
  • Explicit reference to Explicit reference to "Electric"

Used: 1917 to 1926.

Diameter: 28 mm.


CETO 1920
18 August 1920.

Used on AE-DO-1Ea.
Chief Telegraph Office (steel).  
  • Sydney at base.
  • The change from incorporating "Electric" was made in 1926.
  • Dots around SYDNEY.
  • Letters are narrow and elongated especially the top G and R.

Used: 12 November 1928 to 6 January 1956.

Diameter: 29 mm.


16 March 1932.

Used on:

6 January 1956.
Used on AW-GCF-54B.

Also used on AW-DO-10A (50).

  • Small dashes (elongated dots) around SYDNEY.
  • G has a short horizontal bar.
  • Both top G and R are wider.

Used: 20 November 1947 to 31 January 1948.

Diameter: 30 mm.

See also AW-DU-9 - but a dot and a dash (18 March 1945)

Chief TO 1947
20 November 1947.


CTO 1948 Jan 31
31 January 1948.
Used on AW-DU-11Bb.


  • 1 mm arcs around SYDNEY;
  • G has a longer horizontal bar;
  • "R" is narrower;
  • "D" is wider;
  • "Y" divides in about midway and is wide at the top;
  • Letters are rounded.

Used: 23 March 1951 to 23 February 1953.

Diameter: 31 mm.


23 February 1953.

Used on AW-DO-10 (47).

6 January 1956.

Used on AW-DO-10 (54).

March 51
23 March 1951 on a First Day Cover.

C.T.O. SYDNEY (steel).

Has N.S.W - AUST at the base with small arcs on either side.

Used in 1954 only.

Rated RR.

CTO Sydney
7 December 1954.
Used on AW-DO-10A (1950).


Chief Telegraph Office (rubber RC1-CTO).

Three formats were used:
  1. Sydney at the base and unfilled stars for separation;
  2. Sydney at the base and 1 mm arcs for separation;
  3. Sydney 2000 NSW and side *.

All have the year in four digits.

  1. Sydney at base.


  • the date is in three lines;
  • the separation markers are unfilled stars.
Diameter 30 mm.
Chief T O 1945
25 November 1945.

Has unfilled stars for separation.

Used: 25 November 1945 to 1960.

Used on AW-DO-10Aa (43).

  1. Sydney at base.
  • the date is in three lines;
  • the separation markers are 1 mm arcs.

Used: 12 January 1961 to 14 September 1964.

Diameter 31 mm.

CTO 1961
12 January 1961

Used on AW-DO-10Aa (59)
(ERD for that form).

Syd 1964
14 September 1964.

Used on AA-DO-13C.

  1. Sydney, N.S.W. 2001 at base.

RC1 - CTO.

  1. the date is in one line;
  2. the separation markers are *.

Diameter: 30 mm.

Number in the Census: 1.

CTO 1981
11 July 1981.

Used on AT-DO-14.

Provenance: Robin Hutchison.



C.T.O. (rectangular).

Format 1: Year first at left followed by month and day.
Time on right.

The usual format used post-1970 (CK) in the CTOs in each State.

Used: 13 April 1975 (on form of type IAO-DO-3C) to 31 January 1976.


Sydney CTO 1976
31 January 1976 at 7:35 am.

Used on AT-DO-15A.

That on the right is

Format 2: Month and day first at left.
Year last on right following time.
July 1976
28 July 1976.

Used on AA-DO-12B.

CTO year last
17 September 1982.

Used on AT-DO-15Ca.

C.T.O. (circular).

A check stamp rarely seen (the word CHECK is printed vertically in the lower left quadrant with TWO vertically in the right.

CTO Check 1976
31 January 1976.

Used on the same telegram as the above
Format 1 SL date stamp.
It was applied to the telegram when it arrived at 12:44 am and the telegram was processed at 7:35 am (see above date stamp) before being telephoned at 7:55 am (not shown in the above).

1976 Jul
28 July 1976.

Used on the same telegram as the
above Format 2 SL date stamp.


TELEGRAM An unknown (and not elsewhere recorded) steel hand stamp is that of TELEGRAM in capital sans serif font 4.5 mm high.

It is assumed that it may have been prepared for the CTO Sydney.

Used on a pair of 1d mauve Centennial issue View of Sydney overprinted OS.

Electric Telegraph Stationery.

Envelopes and cards were printed expressly for the Electric Telegraph Department. Examples of these are shown below.

Elect Tels envelope An unused long envelope with:
  • On Her Majesty's Service (for Queen Victoria);
  • the return address as ELECTRIC TELEGRAPHS, Sydney;
  • flap has a rounded point and curved sides. It has an embossed seal in the peak.

Size is 99 × 229 mm.

By 1895, the address details in the lower left corner had changed.

As an aside:


On Thursday evening last (writes the Sydney Daily Telegraph of 4 July 1887)

"Mr. Charles Casperson, Assistant Manager in the Electric Telegraph Department, left his office about half-past 6 o'clock. Not arriving home at his usual hour, his friends began to be anxious and at once instituted strict inquiries with the result that up to a late hour last night, the search has only intensified the mystery surrounding his disappearance.

On the evening of the 30th, about 8 o'clock, a man answering Mr. Casperson's description hired a boat from Matson's boatshed, Woolloomooloo Bay, and said that he was going to Double Bay. If the boat was not returned that evening, he would return it early next day without fail.

The boat was not returned by him but the next morning, about 4 o'clock, the master of the harbour steamer Young Dick picked up the boat without any sculls between Bradley's Head and the light-ship. On a strict search being made in the vicinity, the Water Police found a brown over-coat, sac coat, shirt, collar, necktie and a scarf pin on the rocks between Athol Gardens and Bradley's Head which have been identified as those worn by Mr. Casperson on the day of his disappearance. The Water Police both yesterday and Saturday were dragging the harbour in the vicinity of where the clothes were found but without success The only thing which rewarded their search being the finding of one of the paddles near Athol Gardens in a position into which it had evidently been washed by the water.

So far the case is enshrouded in mystery, as there is nothing wrong in the office which would lead Mr. Casperson to commit suicide, but the police will renew the work of dragging early this morning and enquiries will be made to ascertain if there is any reason which would cause him to take the fatal step.

Mr. Casperson is an old and trusted officer in the Electric Telegraph Department where he holds the position of Assistant Manager at a salary of £450 a year".