Monday, 27 July 2015

Original clock tower was "a thing of architectural beauty"

The former Townsville Post Office, with its imposing clock tower, is a well-known landmark in Townsville, and was built in stages between 1886 and 1889. 
The former Townsville Post Office, with its original clock tower, c. 1900.
Photo:  State Library of Queensland.

It was designed by the Queensland Colonial Architect, John James Clark, who also designed other buildings in north Queensland, including the courthouses in Charters Towers and Mackay, a hospital in Innisfail, and the Townsville Railway Station, which was completed in 1913.

The first stage of the two-storeyed, rendered brick Post Office was intended for use as a telegraph office and was completed at a cost of almost £6,000. The second stage of the building cost just over £8,000. This section of the building contained a post office and Postmaster’s room on the ground floor.

At that time, the staff of the post office consisted of just six employees. The top floor was a residence for the Postmaster and comprised five bedrooms, a kitchen, drawing room, dining room and bathroom. 
Post Office staff, Townsville, 1895.
Back row L to R.: J. Cuthbert, G. Fuller, J.Hone, C. Johnston, J. Nelson.
Front row L to R.: W. Foster, J. Mathews, D.C. MacPherson, E. Da'Costa (Postmaster), D. Ryan, M.K. Judge, A. Monteith.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

The residence provided for the Postmaster was considered “palatial” at the time and drew criticism from local public spokesmen who often met outside at the corner of Flinders and Denham Streets to give politically motivated speeches. 

Questions were raised as to “why the glorified civil servants should be provided with such accommodation, whilst the wives and families of the orators had to put up with humble residences in South Townsville or any of the other distant suburbs”.

The building was completed in 1889 with the construction of an ornate clock tower at a cost of £245. The clock chimes were imported from England and were in use by 1891.

The post office clock proved quite costly to maintain. In 1913 the annual cost of repairs, lighting and winding of the clock was £54. The city council had looked into the costs the previous year and found that no one seemed to know exactly when it had been agreed to foot the bill for the clock, only that it had an agreement with local jewellers Horn and Petersen to wind and keep the clock in good order.

After the bombing of Darwin in February 1942, the clock tower on the Townsville Post Office was dismantled and put into storage. As a recognisable landmark, and a communications centre, it was considered a potential target for enemy bombs.

In March 1947 the Chamber of Commerce lobbied the Commonwealth Government for the restoration of the Post Office clock tower, arguing:

“With the surplus millions of the PMG Department, the Commonwealth Government could well afford to restore the town clock at the Townsville Post Office.”

The Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, a Mr Lawrence, said that the tower encasing the clock had been a thing of architectural beauty, and he thought they should press for the restoration of the tower instead of having a clock installed anywhere else on the building.
Former Townsville Post Office, decorated for Jubilee Carnival Week, 1913.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
Disappointingly, only a month later, the PMG Department informed the Chamber of Commerce that it was “not the intention of the Department to re-erect the tower and clock on the Townsville Post Office building in the immediate future.”
Flinders Street, Townsville, 1969. The former Post Office on the left, has its post-war clock tower.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

It was not until the early 1960s that a new, modified clock tower was built, at a cost of more than £42,000.

The building remained in use as a post office until 2001.

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