Chief Telegraph Office - Melbourne.

Details reviewed on this page are:

  1. Overview of the General Post Office;
  2. Overview of the Chief Telegraph Office;
  3. the Colonial date stamp of:
    the Telegraph Branch;
  4. the Interim/Australian date stamps of:
    Telegraph Branch;
    Telegraph Office;
    Receiving Room/C.E.T.O.;
    Chief Telegraph Office (in steel);
    Chief Telegraph Office (in rubber).
General Post Office, Melbourne.

The first government building for postal services in Melbourne was opened in 1842 at the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke Streets.

The present Melbourne G.P.O was built between 1859 and 1907 at the same location. It was designed by the architect A.E. Johnson - who actually won second prize in a competition for the design. It now incorporates a wide mixture of architectural styles due to the time over which it was built.

The clock tower built at the intersection of the two streets is still used as a reference point to measure distances from Melbourne. Although an impressive tower by 1867 as shown below, subsequent construction raised in higher and made it more dominant.

In September 2001 a fire severely damaged the interior. The building now incorporates a wide variety of cafes outside and specialist shops inside - as well a Post Office.

A full description of the building as it was in the late 1860s is provided on page 1 of the Scientific American 12 August 1871.

Melb 1853
Melbourne Post Office and surrounding environs, in 1853.
Ellis Drapers at right, Schults & Roio to left of lamp post.

The first Melbourne Post Office in the 1850s.

Postcard printed in Austria.

Melb 1871 SA
The Melbourne G.P.O. as it was at the end of the 1867 construction phase.
Drawing printed on page 1 of Scientific American 12 August 1871.
Elizabeth Street extends to the left and Bourke Street to the right.


Chief Telegraph Office.

The original Central Telegraph Office was situated at the north-east corner of William and Little Bourke Streets.

In 1857, the staff in the Melbourne Electric Telegraph Office consisted of a station master, a line inspector, a signal master and a messenger for town deliveries. This staffing was clearly less than that required.

The Government directed that, as from March 1864, the Telegraph Office should be closed on Good Friday and Christmas Day.

The Argus reported on 6 April 1869 that "a branch telegraph office will be opened to-day at the General Post Office, the entrance to which will be from Bourke Street. Communication has been opened with all stations, and messages will be received and transmitted the same as at the head office near the Custom House.

It is intended that messages sent - say, from Ballarat and directed to a person whose address is nearer the Post Office than the Head Telegraph Office should be transmitted direct to the Post Office branch, and thence delivered by messenger in the usual way. To avoid confusion in priority will, in practice, be perhaps the most difficult thing with this twofold convenience.

Suppose a share broker from the Hall of Commerce sends a message directed to his agent at Ballarat to buy some shares, and this message is delivered at the head office at eleven a.m. and a broker in Elizabeth Street delivers a similar message at the same hour at the post office; some little difficulty will no doubt arise. But suppose the operator at the post office was, at eleven a m., engaged in sending several messages to Ballarat, then it would be impossible to send from the head-office the one delivered at that hour until he had finished transmitting. This would give the Elizabeth Street message, even delivered a few minutes later, a rare chance of being delivered first.

As the authorities, however, have stretched so many wires to the new branch establishment, and fitted it up in every way to give increased accommodation to the public, these and other difficulties may be capable of being overcome".

On 15 July 1872, the new Telegraph Office was opened in the new location on the corner of Elizabeth Street and Little Bourke Street. It was not considered to be as imposing as the old Exchange building but the accommodation for the Public and Employees was far superior. This office was only designed to be temporary but it was anticipated that it would probably meet all requirements for several years or at least until the north wing of the General Post Office, had been erected for use as the Telegraph Office.

"The operating-room, where the slaves of the lamp pursue their avocations, sometimes far into the night, is 52ft. long and 40ft. wide. At night it is lighted with a sunlight, and each operator has also a gas-burner to himself. It is an eminently comfortable room. The instruments are ranged round the walls, forming a hollow square. There are 30 in all, and from the position in which Mr. James, the manager, and Mr. Payter, the assistant manager, sit, each operator can be seen at work by the officer in charge. The instruments on the western side represent the inter-colonial lines, those on the north the local lines, those on the east the coast lines and those on the south the northern lines to Sandhurst and Swan Hill". See elsewhere for a continued description of the operating room and the building.

Womens room
Extracted from 1874 Report by the Superintendent p. 20.

Simultaneously with the removal of the Chief Telegraph Office to Elizabeth Street, a branch telegraph and money order office was opened in the eastern end of the Custom House to overcome any problems the merchants who do business in the western half of the city might suffer from the change.

The Argus, on 16 October 1882, carried the following story:

"The necessity for a new central telegraph office has long been recognised, and three proposals are now before the Government for new offices:

  1. to purchase the premises of Messrs. Briscoe and Co. in Collins Street;
  2. to secure an available site at the corner of Queen and Bourke streets;
  3. to utilise the comparatively vacant space adjoining and at the rear of the Post-office.

These proposals will probably be considered at a meeting of the Cabinet which will probably be held to-day. Of the three, the premises of Messrs. Briscoe and Co. appear to be the most eligible although an objection is raised to their distance from the Post-office. Plans have been prepared for utilising the land adjoining the Post-office, but these will probably be abandoned, as the site will be most inconvenient to the public. At the side of the Post-office in Bourke street is an archway, which leads to a private roadway through into Little Bourke street. Next to this is a block of buildings which extends to another right of way, known as the Herald or Angel Lane. These buildings are used for business purposes, and are owned by private individuals. At the rear, however, and extending between the two lanes to Little Bourke street, is a strip of land in part owned and in part rented by the Government. On this strip, which is now used for stables and other out offices in connexion (sic) with the Posts and Telegraph department it is proposed to erect the new telegraph offices. It would undoubtedly be a most desirable position if the Government owned the frontage to Bourke street; but as the frontage is rented to business people, under an extended lease, it appears to must undesirable and inconvenient to erect a large public building at the rear of these premises. It is undesirable because the building would be in the background and it is inconvenient because the public would have to traverse a covered archway or corridor for about 150 feet before they reached the telegraph office, savings bank and other public offices. Some years ago the front premises referred to were offered to the Government for £20,000 but now they are valued at £50,000 and would probably not be sold for that sum" (page 8).

The Illustrated Australian News for 29 February 1884 continued with details:

"An agitation has been existing for some time with the view of inducing the Government to provide additional accommodation for the transaction of the telegraphic business, in Melbourne.

Various proposals have been made to this end, and at one time the Government,admitting the inadequacy of the present Telegraph Office for the rapidly increasing business, entered into negotiations for the purchase of the extensive premises in Collins Street formerly occupied by Messrs. Briscoe and Co., iron- mongers, which it was intended, should be devoted to the purposes of a telegraph office. The negotiations failed, however, on the question of terms and then Mr. Berry, the Postmaster-General, manifested a disposition to give favorable consideration to a proposal that the Office should be removed to the building at present used as the police court, in Swanston Street, adjoining the Town Hall.

This proposal, however, met with a good deal of opposition from the merchants in the western part of the city, and the vexed question has now been fairly settled by the determination, which has received the sanction of the Cabinet, to add another storey to the present Post Office, and devote the additional space thus gained to the use of the Telegraph Office. The plans in connection with the proposed alterations have already been prepared and it is expected that the work will be completed within two years. The additional storey will have the effect of greatly improving the appearance of the Post Office buildings".


The importance attributed to the role of the Central Telegraph Office in Victorian life in the late 1860s and the dependency on telegraphic communication in particular is highlighted by questions asked by Mr. Richardson in the Victorian Legislative Assembly:

On 20 October 1869:

"Mr. RICHARDSON called the attention of the Government to the delay which occurred in the receipt in Melbourne of the intelligence of the wreck of the Victoria Tower, a passenger ship from England, which took place outside the heads on Sunday morning October 17. He stated that news of the wreck reached Geelong at eight o'clock, and an attempt was made by the officer in charge of the telegraph-office in that town to communicate it to Melbourne but the effort was not successful until about noon, in consequence of no one being on duty in the telegraph-office in Melbourne. The delay might have resulted in serious loss of life; and, to prevent such a contingency in the future, he suggested that there should be some person on duty night and day - on all days of the week - at the central telegraph-office in Melbourne.

Mr. COHEN observed that the honourable member was correct in saying that the information in regard to the wreck of the Victoria Tower did not reach Melbourne until about noon, in consequence of there being no person being in attendance at the telegraph-office. Care would be taken that such delay could not occur again" (p. 1986 of Parliamentary debates, Vol 9).

On 30 November 1869:

"Mr. RICHARDSON reminded the Minister of Customs that, some weeks before, he called his attention to the inconvenience attending the closing of the telegraph office in Melbourne on Sundays, as shown in the case of the wreck of the Victoria Tower. Similar inconvenience had since been experienced in connexion (sic) with the burning of the Lightning in Corio Bay; and last Sunday afternoon the news reached Cape Otway of the loss of the Marie Gabrielle but the fact was not known in Melbourne until Monday morning, because no officer was in attendance at the central telegraph station. He thought that these circumstances were sufficient to impress upon the Government the necessity of having some one always in attendance at the central telegraph station.

Mr COHEN explained that, in consequence of the representation made to him, he communicated with the Telegraph Department, in order that some one might be kept on duty, night and day, at the central station" (p. 2350 of Parliamentary debates, Vol 9).

The central office was referred to as the Telegraph Branch until changes of names in:


The date stamps for the Chief Telegraph Office.

Colonial period - Telegraph Branch.

Telegraph Branch/ G.P.O.

2 line date.
At least 4 formats.

Dots at top of T and H.

TB 1893
27 November 1883.
4 digits in year.

Diameter: 24 mm.

Used on VC-EO-8.

27 November 1883 and 19 June 1884.


Dots at top of T and H.

2 digits in year.

TB 1889 15 October 1889.

Diameter: 23 mm.

Used on a receipt for a Foreign Telegram. See also VC-DO-16b.

Used between Oct. 1889 to Nov. 1898.


Telegraph Branch Duplex with Melbourne at right.


Dots at top of T and H.

TB Duplex
20 January 1885.

Width: 43 mm.

Used on VC-DO-17.

Date format is DD/MM/YY.


Dots at top of T and H.

TB D_M_Y 31 July 1888.

Diameter: 25 mm.

2 digits in year.

Dots around G.P.O. are in the middle of the letters.

TB 1894
16 November 1898.

See a recut version in the
Australian period below.

Diameter: 25 mm.

Used on VC-DO-16B.

Telegraph Branch/ Melbourne.

Two line date.

2 digits in year.

At least three formats.

Diameter: 24 mm.
No space between T(el) and M(el) (at left).
No space but possible dot between (AP)H and B(RAN) (top right).
Dot between (NC)H and (RN)E (lower right).

Rare use on a Stamp Statute stamp.

TB Statute
25 January 1885.

On a 1/- blue Statute.
Very unusual - one of five examples on any Statute known.

Rated: RRRR.


Rare uses of a Telegraph Branch date stamp on a Stamp Duty stamp.

Diameter: 23 mm.

Arc between T(el) and M(el).
Year spans BOU.

TB Mebourne 4 bob SD
26 January 1885.

On a 4/- orange Stamp Duty.

9 March 1894.

On a £5 red and blue Stamp Duty.

Provenance: Dave Elsmore.

Ordinary usage of the date stamp.

Dots before T and after H on outside.

Diameter: 25 mm.


TB 1892
17 February 1892.



Australian period.

Telegraph Branch/ G.P.O.

Two formats -
both have a one line date.

Feb 25
25 February 1901.

Thin letters.

1 mm arcs around GPO.
Stops after each letter of G.P.O.

TO 1909
27 February 1909.

Thick letters.

Stops after each of the first two letters of G.P.O.

Dots between G.P.O. and surrounding words are in the middle of the letters.

A recut version of the Colonial type above.

Diameter 25 mm.

Used on VI-DO-2C and on
IV-BAT-1 (22 June 1908).

Telegraph Branch/ Melbourne.

Two line date.
Diameter: 26 mm.

TB 1901
6 December 1901.

Small arcs on either side of Melbourne.

Telegraph Office/
G.P.O. Melbourne.

Two formats were used - each have a one line date:

  1. No separation arcs between GPO and TELEG..., between GPO and MELB nor between MELB and ..ICE.


Dot between MELB and ICE and no arc between GPO and Melb.

Used: 15 December 1917 to
23 November 1923.

Diameter: 27 mm.

Rated: R.

Number in the Census: 10.

TO Mar 18
12 March 1918
on 4d 1st watermark KGV.
6d blue 1918
11 July 1918.
  1. Separation arcs between GPO and TELEG..., between GPO and MELB and between MELB and ..ICE.


1 mm arcs before GPO and between MELB and ICE and 2 mm arc between GPO and MELB.

Used: 4 March 1918 to 26 May 1939.

Diameter: 27 mm.

Rated: common.

Number in the Cemsus: 50+

Arcs 1918
4 March 1918.
GPO Melb 1924
14 February 1924.

TO 1941
26 May 1939.


Thick letters.

Used: 21 Augst 1909 to 28 June 1917.

Diameter 27 mm and 2 mm side arcs.

Rated: R.

21 August 1909.

Used on VI-DO-1C.

CETO 1911
27 March 1911.

Used on VI-DO-3C.

CETO 1917
28 June 1917.

Used on AE-DO-1C.

Thinner letters.

Used: 10 June 1916 to 8 April 1924.

Diameter: 27 mm and 3 mm side arcs.

Rated: R.



31 December 1923.

Used on AE-DO-3Ba.


Melbourne - Vic.

Used: 27 October 1915 (VI-DO-3Ea)
to 31 December 1923 (AB-DO-3).

Diameter: 27 mm and 4 mm side arcs.

Rated: R.

CETO 1915
27 October 1915.
Time component removed.



Used: 10 June 1918 and
21 October 1919.

Diameter: 30 mm.
3 mm and 2 mm side arcs.

Rated RRRR.


CETO Melb Vic 1919
21 October 1919.

Used on AE-DO-1E.

Receiving Room/

Used: 4 May 1931 and
4 February 1936.

Diameter: 29 mm.

Rated: RRR as this date stamp was only used for internal purposes.

CETO RR 1931
4 May 1931.
5 bob roo Rec Room
23 May 1931.
Receiving room
4 February 1936.

Used on IAX-DO-2A.

Rated: RRRR used on a telegram.
Only recorded example.


Also known used on 26 June 1928.

Diameter: 29 mm.

Rated RRRR.

Number in the Census: 2.

CTO May 28
16 March 1928.
Used on AB-DO-4B.

Chief Telegraph/
Provenance: Dave Elsmore.
LEFT: A unique item.

Two different proof strikes with a date of 25 November 1927.
Diameter: 31 mm.

Two telegraphic strikes on a dozen or so large specimen sheets being discarded by a printer which comprised the archive of jobs he had done. The sheets contain many kinds of handstamps for commercial purposes as well as many postal handstamps.

OFFICE lowered from top words.

2 letters for month.
Line above MELBOURNE.
No side arcs.

CTO 34
24 March 1931.

Diameter: 29.5 mm.
Base of C to lower leg of H: 19.5 mm.
M to E: 17 mm.

C and H are placed above the level of the date line.

Used from 24 March 1931 (AB-DO-7C) to
15 August 1935 (AB-DO-7Bd).

Type 1B
19 November 1934.

Diameter: 29.5 mm.
Base of C to lower leg of H: 19.5 mm.
M to E: 14.5 mm.

Used from
19 November 1934 (AB-DO-7Bc) to
1 July 1941 (AW-DO-9B).

Type 1C
13 July 1943.

Diameter: 30.5 mm.
Base of C to lower leg of H: 22 mm.
M to E: 19 mm.

C and H are placed at the level of the date line.

Used from
25 August 1939 (AB-DO-8H) to
20 October 1944 (AW-DO-10Ab (43)).

Office at top.

Types 2 and 3.

CTO 44
24 December 1948.
OFFICE lowered from top words.

Diameter: 28.5 mm.
OFFICE spans 15 mm

3 letters for month.

Rated: RRRR

Used on Military telegram to Toorak
(AW-DO-10A (44)).

Type 3
11 June 1942.

Diameter: 30 mm.
Has 2 mm side arcs.
OFFICE spans 10 mm.

Used from 11 June 1942 (AW-DO-9Ea) to
20 May 1949 (AW-DO-10A (47).

Chief Telegraph Office/

Type 4: Left dot centered but right dot on the outside of the letters.

Type 5: 1.5 mm side arcs in the center of the letters.

Type 6: 1 mm side arcs in the center of the letters.

CTO 1934
19 November 1934.

Left dot centered but right dot on the outside of the letters.

Diameter: 30 mm

Inside distances:
H to O:

Used on AB-GVF-34.

CTO 42
4 September 1942.

Rounder letters - especially for the G, the B and the O.

Diameter: 31 mm.
1.5 mm side arcs in the center of the letters.

Inside distances (to base of letters):
C to M: 3 mm.
H to O: 2 mm.

Known used between
4 September 1942 (AW-DO-9Ba) and
14 January 1948 (AW-DO-10B (46).

CTO 3 44
20 January 1944.

Rounder letters - especially for the G, the B and the O.

Diameter: 31 mm.
1 mm side arcs in the center of the letters.

Inside distances (to base of letters):
C to M: 3 mm.
H to O: 3 mm.

Kmown used between
13 January 1944 (AW-DO-10B) and
10 November 1947 (AW-DO-10B (46)).

Type 7: Dots level with the outside of the letters.
Thick letters.

Used: 30 November 1943 and
22 May 1945.

Diameter: 30 mm.

CTO 36 with dots
30 November 1943.

Used on IAX-DO-2C.


Type 8: Dot before MELBOURNE
but no dot after (so the two Es are close together).
Thin letters.

Used: 13 May 1950 (AW-DO-10 (49)) to 13 August 1950.

Diameter: 30 mm.

Inside distances (to base of letters):
M to base of C: 2 mm.
F to T: 3.5 mm.
H to O: 2 mm.
E to E: 1 mm.


CTO 50
13 August 1950.

Used on IAO-DO-1B (Heard Island to Glen Iris, Vic).



Type 9: Dots centered on letters before and after Melbourne.
Thin letters.

Used: 1 November 1949 (AW-DO-10A (48)) to 4 December 1956 (AW-GSF-54A) - towards the end of the period before the rubber date stamps were introduced.

Diameter: 30 mm.

Inside distances (to base of letters):
M to base of C: 3 mm.
E to E: 2 mm

Type 5 Mar 56
March 1956.
Chief 1956
4 December 1956.
Used on AW-GSF-54B.

Type 10: no mark before M(el) but a centered 1 mm dash between E-E.

Used: 17 September 1955.

Diameter: 31 mm.

Type 10 1955
17 September 1955.
Used on AW-GCF-54B.
Chief Telegraph Office/ Melbourne.


Dot before MELB... and thick 1 mm dash between ...ICE and ...RNE.

Used: mid 1962.

Diameter 30 mm.

Rated: RRRR.
(unrecorded elsewhere).

10 bob
10/- purple Arms.
?1 July 1962.


1 quid
£1 blue Arms.
20 July 1962.

2 pound
£2 green Arms.
24 July 1962.
Chief Telegraph Office -
rubber handstamp.

MELBOURNE at base.
Three line date.

CTO 59
16 February 1959.

Has small stars for separation.
Date rotated counter-clockwise.

Diameter: 31.5 mm.

Used on AW-GCF-54A.

CTO 60
19 December 1962.

Has side arcs.
Diameter: 31 mm.

Used between 19 December 1962 (AW-DO-10A (59)) and 28 June 1963 (AW-DO-10A (59)).

CTO 63
25 July 1968.

Has larger stars for separation.
Diameter: 29 mm.

Used on IAA-TT-6.

rubber handstamp.

Straight line handstamp.
Year/Month/Day then time.

Used: 21 July 1960 (on AA-DO-13B) and 28 June 1963 (AA-DO-13C).

Melbourne: 27 mm long.
Top to base: 25 mm.

CTO Jy 1960
21 July 1960.

Used on on AA-DO-13B.


Straight line handstamp.
Year/Month/Day then time.

Letters are elongated.
Apostrophe before year.

Used: 28 June 1975.

Melbourne: 20 mm long.
Top to base: 19 mm.

CTO 1975
Provenance: Anne Fricker

Used on AA-DO-13D.