LOOKING BACK: Sorting the mail and keeping time

Maryborough Post Office, 1870, with the time ball.
Maryborough Post Office, 1870, with the time ball.

THE heritage-listed Maryborough Post Office has been in continuous use for over 150 years.

It was built on the corner of Bazaar and Wharf Sts in the mid-1860s to a design by architect Charles Tiffin. Tiffin, pictured, was the government architect for the colony of Queensland for a number of years.


Many of the surviving buildings we have from the 1860s were designed by him including Parliament House, the Ipswich Court House and the Maryborough Bond Store.

While our historic Post Office continues to perform its primary function of processing mail in more or less the same fashion as it did from the day its doors opened, its role in regards to public timekeeping in Maryborough has changed. The different forms of timekeeping have been a subject of debate throughout Maryborough's history, right up to the addition of a clock tower to the City Hall in the 1930s.

The Post Office tower provided the town's first public time instrument: a time-ball, which lowered at 1pm every day.

While this was an asset to the town, quite understandably, residents and visitors looked to the tower with its space for a clock and hoped for more. A letter published in the Maryborough Chronicle on 29 October 1868 under the pen name Tempus Fugit (Latin for "time flies") stated that:

"... Everyone will agree with me that this is a most pressing want; for under present circumstances 'the time of day' is a thing which is very hard to come at - no two watches or clocks are alike - and the 'time ball', (if the ugly looking basket arrangement which is hauled up a crooked pole can be so- called) is of little or no use as a time keeper, as it only tells it once a day. The tower on the Post Office was evidently built with the intention of having a town clock placed in it ... surely we are entitled to receive from the Government the price of a clock ... It is needless for me to point out the many advantages which would accrue from the possession of such a boon - to say nothing of the beauty it would add to the really fine Post and Telegraph office buildings ..."

This request was answered in 1872 when a single-faced clock was installed, facing Wharf Street. Then in 1879 a further storey, designed by another famous architect, F.D.G. Stanley, was added to the tower which allowed the installation of a four-dial clock with bells which was officially started on December 9, 1879.

In the meantime though, the growing town had acquired another useful time piece: the Time Cannon which is now on display in the Bond Store.


The problem had been that neither the clock tower nor the time-ball were of much use to those working in the fields or otherwise not within a direct line of sight.

A solution was found by the Queensland premier, John Douglas. Douglas also happened to be the MP for Maryborough. In 1877 he was taking a tour of Marbiak Island, near Thursday Island, when his party found the cannon in the sand. We don't yet know how it ended up there, but it has been established that it was cast in around 1750 for the Dutch East India Company. Like any good politician, Douglas remembered his constituents' desires and seized it. It arrived in Maryborough on 27 January 1878 to the acclaim of his voters.

The Time Cannon was likely fired for the first time in its new home as part of a 17-gun salute on March 21, 1878 for the occasion of an official visit by the Governor Arthur Kennedy. The Maryborough Chronicle described its first usage thus: "The Premier's gun did good service on the occasion and it must have been gratifying to Mr Douglas to see or, rather, hear it so well employed so soon after its arrival in Maryborough".

It was fired daily at 1pm by employees of the Electric Telegraph Department. This loud, daily, announcement of the time continued until early 1879 when the Superintendent of Electric Telegraphs at Brisbane realised the heavy daily expense in blasting powder.

Firing the time cannon continues today as part of Maryborough's living heritage. On special occasions and every Thursday - market day - at 1pm a replica cannon, cast locally by Olds Engineering, is fired, alerting folk of the time.

Topics:  fchistory general-seniors-news george seymour history looking back maryborough post office

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