The Postmasters and Postmistresses of St Marys – 1840-1898
St Marys Post Office was established on 1 October 1840.
FROM LARRY DRAPER’S DIARY.
THE FIRST POST OFFICE AT ST. MARYS.
There was no post office between Parramatta and Penrith previous to 1844, consequently the few scattered residents were put to considerable inconvenience on that account. Just a few of the leading people had private letter bags, which they could get, providing they met the coach at certain places along the road; but mail coaches didn’t run to a time table at that particular time. Scarcely! Any time within twenty four hours to arrive at a given point, was near enough. The Great Western Road was not fenced in, luckily, so the teamsters had a chance to dodge a rut or stump hole as the case might be. It was a very accommodating kind of road any way you took it. It widened itself out, when occasion required, to any width from 20 feet to three-quarters of a mile. For instance, coaches from Penrith to Sydney, to avoid Church Hill and the yellow swamp on the way to Colyton, would take a short cut down Mamre-lane, then swerve into “Smith’s Bush,” skirting the Myrtle Hills, bearing south into the very heart of the forest and fetching up on the Western-road at the old Red Cow Inn. It was truly a delightful and bumpy drive all round there, merely to miss a boghole on the main road. There were several of us boys, just to pass the time away, were frequent passengers along this particular route; but the driver never knew it, because there were no busybodies along there to tell him to “whip behind,” and when the coach got into the open we weren’t there. A trip to Melbourne is nice; so also is a trip up the Nepean River or round Sydney Harbor. I have participated in most of them, but a trip through “Smith’s Wild Bush” on the step of a coach, with such cheap fares, is something to be proud of—something that will bear to-morrow’s reflection.
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It was Mr., afterwards Sir Maurice O’Connell, who first made a move to get a post office in St Marys. The difficulty was, there was no building on the main road fit for an office, and no one felt like taking it if there had been one. Mr. O’Connell then conceived the happy idea of building a place, so the “long terrace ” came into view right opposite the north-west corner of the “square,” now known as Victoria Park. The east end of the terrace was made just tenantable, so “Bill” Woodlands [Woodland], a new chum Englishman, came over from Merchant Jones’ place, at Fleurs, and was first tenant; this was in January, 1848.
Time after time, Mr. O’Connell tried to induce Mr. Woodlands to be first post master, but it was not until November 1844 that he consented to do so, and the ninth of that month saw the first post office on the “Crick,” as they called it then. Victoria Park, at that time, was thickly timbered, and just where the pavilion stands now, was thick with stringy-bark saplings. Alick McLaughlin, who was agent, overseer, boundary rider, and special messenger for Mr. M. O’Connell at this time, got orders to open the Square to the public on the same day the Post Office was opened. So the double event was indeed a great affair; they scared away the ‘possums at night with a monster bonfire that lit up the valley from Church Hill to stonequarry. Rum was plentiful of course and the company willing. “The first Postmaster was perfectly sober a couple of days after”— vide Larry Draper’s Diary, page 134.
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Now, I think O’Connell’s long terrace is certainly the most interesting stack of bricks and mortar in St Marys, considering it stands there today, and looks a long way better than it did when it was new. Some of the bricks in it are from the same kiln as the bricks in the old Church on the hill, and the others were made in O’Connell’s paddock, not far from Alderman Garner’s present abode, and were carted by “Harry Maskey” (the celebrated big eel-catcher and snake-yarner).
My earliest recollection of this building goes back to 1855. Mr. Woodlands lived in the eastern end of it; the other parts of it were unfinished and of course empty, and all the swallows in the district built their nests in it and laid their eggs, but there were no young birds in all these nests. Well, boys were always boys! The outside walls of this ancient tenement were not charming to look upon, being unadorned with anything in the shape of whitewash, or indeed any kind of coloring. Without windows, too, or verandah, it looked like a long brick-kiln. In the beginning of 1856 the western portion of it was made tenantable, and the Rev. Father Brennan, the first resident priest, took up his quarters therein.
The eastern end has been twice a post office, three times a “pub.,” and once a bank. It has been known as the “Bee Hive,” by Luke Ryan; the “Carriers’ Home,” by George Matthews; and then “Volunteer Hotel,” by James Bennett. It was not until J. Bennett occupied it that it had a verandah. What monster water troughs they had in front of the pubs, in the old carrying days! It took a man about half his time carting water. “Smashem ” was the champion water-carter in Australia, possibly in the wide wide world or anywhere else. When James Byrne kept the Carriers’ Home, right opposite tho centre of the old square, he had two large water troughs, one water cart, and one wood cart, but only one pair of wheels. ” Smashem” was chief engineer on board these two carts and one pair of wheels, and every night when James Smashem Peckham, Esq , got a few beers in him, would tell just precisely how many times he changed the wheels to get twenty loads of water and ten loads of wood.
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The position of Postmaster was not much sought after in the early days as it is now. The first Postmaster at St. Marys received no less than £8 per annum, and was never sure of a night’s rest no more than a doctor or midwife—coaches were so uncertain. He kept it for eleven years, however. Then Edward Lincoln, in Princes-street, took charge of it for a few years, and handed it over to “Johnny” McLaughlin, shoemaker, son of old Alick and brother of Mrs. James Silk. “Johnny” kept it only for a few weeks in the cottage now used by Mr. H. Beacroft as a butcher’s shop. Then it was transferred to the lowlands between the two bridges, and kept by Mr. William Draper, tailor and outfitter. After a time Mr. William Newell took it in hand, first in a cottage next to A. Thompson’s tannery cottage on the main road, and secondly away up near the Church of England gate. Just at this time came Matthew Webb, from Richmond, and built, and opened the “Waterloo Stores,” (now A. Thompson’s tannery cottage) and took over the post office from W. Newell, Mr. Webb kept it for about 18 years ; then a Mrs. Pegus took charge of it in the very room where Mr. Woodlands first kept it, so after 39 years of varied progress, and eight changes of residence, it settled down in spanking new premises, in charge of Mrs. Russell, afterwards Mrs. Dunn, and now Mr. E. Robbins.
‘Great Events of Local History. From Larry Draper’s Diary, The First Post Office at St Marys’, by Japonica, Nepean Times, 24 October 1896, p. 8.
St Marys Post Office – History – written by Bert Evans (September 1981). Researched the Post offices files from the National Archives of Australia and the Nepean Times newspaper.
|Name of Postmaster||Date of Appoint||Name of assistant||Remarks|
|William Newell||No Dates given in the National Archives of Australia or in any newspaper|
|Mary Eliza Webb|
Mrs Pegus perform duties (postal only) duties
|Agnus S M Pegus||Absence of leave of Miss Pegus|
|Emily Caroline Werdall|
William Wilfred Kelly
W J Domerang
|Postmistress married and changed name E Cross Appointed to Leichhardt
Probationer in Tel Office St Marys
|Edward J Robbins||1/7/1888|
Amy Louisa Robbins
Penrith City Library thanks Patricia Hosking for her research on the history of St Marys Post Office