December 2018

Special Delivery from 1900

Uniform button for the Queensland Post and Telegraph Department. Photo courtesy of Harold Peacock.

Can someone please help me identify this button that I found in a north Brisbane park? It says Post & Telegraph Department (that would probably be Queensland I presume) and on the reverse Stokes & Sons Melbourne. What age, who in the department would have worn it, and is there a photo of what it should look like please?


Reverse side of the button. Photo courtesy of Harold Peacock.Post and Telegraph office in Warwick, 1899. Photo courtesy of the State Library of Queensland.The button must have been there for some time, as it is from the uniform jacket of the Queensland Post and Telegraph Department dating between 1894 and 1901. This department was incorporated into the Commonwealth Postmaster General’s Department (PMG) in 1901, the ancestor of Australia Post and Telstra.

Communication across the vast Australian distances was a major challenge, and the colonial governments were keen to adopt the latest technology such as the electric telegraph which was still in its infancy. Queensland separated from New South Wales in December 1859 but within a year the newly elected government had built a series of telegraph stations running from Brisbane through Ipswich, Toowoomba and Warwick joining up with the NSW system in Tenterfield, linking Brisbane and Sydney.  The telegraph kept pace with European settlement North and West, often even outstripping the rail networks.  By 1872 lines ran up to the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York and also to many of the inland towns and gave direct telegraphic access to Europe via submarine (undersea) cables.  

News from the other side of the world that only a few years before would have taken months to reach Australia, could now be received the same day and transmitted across the country with equal rapidity.  In many ways this was the start of the ‘information age’ and the telegraph was the link with the rest of the world, providing up to date information for the government, business and of course the daily newspapers.

The Queensland government formed all of the postal and telecommunications agencies into The Post and Telegraph Department, which also included the Meteorological Observer's Office, in 1879. Because the telegraph system relied on the transmission of messages via wires and telegraph poles this department was also given the responsibility for electric lighting and powerlines. In 1884 Brisbane became the third city in the world, after London and New York, to get underground electric power cables; some of which have recently been excavated. Other cutting-edge technological advances adopted by the department in the early 1890’s were bicycles and typewriters!

The Postal and Telegraph department was noted for its efficiency and willingness to embrace new technology and in 1898 it processed more than 1 300 000 telegram transmissions. After federation in 1901, Queensland Post and Telegraphic department became the model for the Commonwealth system. 
Unfortunately I have been unable to find an image of what the uniform the button came from looked like, though the button appears to be brass and the manufacturer’s mark of Stokes and Sons only came into use in 1894. This Victorian based company became the principal manufacturer of buttons and badges for the various colonial defence forces and government departments and is still in existence today as Stokes Badges. 


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