Friday, 2 October 2020

Identical Post Offices - Berwick, Murtoa and Donald

The Berwick Post and Telegraph Office and Court House was opened in 1885. It was designed by Public Works Department architect, John Thomas Kelleher. Victoria had two other Post Offices of near identical design to Berwick, one at Murtoa, which opened in 1882 and the other at Donald, which opened in 1884 (1).  The Berwick Post Office is as described as predominatly neo-Gothic, with Venetian influence in the pointed windows, loggia and polychrome brickwork. Red-brown brick with white tuck pointing is decorated with cream brick courses at impost level and red and cream bricks in the Lombardic arch heads at the windows (2). Berwick is not the only Post Office in the region that has identical counterparts, the Pakenham East Post Office and the Elwood Post Office were also identical, read about them here.

The Berwick Post Office.
Image: Berwick Nostalgia: a pictorial history of Berwick 
(Berwick Pakenham Historical Society, 2001)

I cannot find the exact date that the Post Office complex at Berwick opened, but it was late in 1885, because an advertisement for a tender for furniture and fittings for the building was published in early October, 1885. You will notice that the Commissioner of Public Works at the time was Alfred Deakin, Australia's second Prime Minister who served from September 1903 until April 1904 and later served for two more terms (3). 

Tender for the fit-out of the Berwick Post Office complex, signed by Alfred Deakin
South Bourke & Mornington Journal October 7, 1885

The Architect, John Thomas Kelleher, was born in Sydney in 1844 to Jeremiah and Mary Kelleher (4).  The family moved to Melbourne in 1848 and they lived in Elizabeth Street, opposite where the old General Post Office is located. He spent his entire career in the Public Works Department of Victoria and reached the position of the Eastern District Architect (5).  His other works include the Fitzroy Post Office, the Benalla Post Office and the Traralgon Post Office and Court House (6).  John was forced to retire on a pension in April 1894. These forced retirements were usually due to the fact that the officers of the Public Service had reached the compulsory retirement age of 60, even though John was only 50, and it appears that his retirement was due to the retrenchment and reorganisation scheme of the Public Works Department (7). 

John had married Florence Athole Todd (nee Edwards) on December 5, 1889. She was a 26 year old widow and he was 45 years old (8). They had one daughter, Kareen, in 1900. The family lived at Athole in Poplar Grove, Murumbeena (9). Kareen married William Norman Fysh in 1923, the year after her mother died. John died in 1928. The Electoral Rolls show that Kareen and William lived in Poplar Grove, until at least 1980 (10). Kareen was fortunate the house was still standing as in 1907 Poplar Grove was the location of a sensational incident, which was reported in The Age of November 28, 1907.

Several of the residents of Murrumbeena met with a thrilling experience during a remarkable electrical disturbance accompanying a thunder storm of great violence which burst over that suburb in the early
hours of Tuesday morning. Mr. J. T. Kelleher, who resides not far front the Murrumbeena railway station, states that shortly after 5 a.m. he was awakened by a most awful din, accompanied by a confused feeling of being shaken up all over. His wife and little daughter, who were sleeping in the next room, rushed in to him, in a panic stricken condition. Immediately afterwards a little boy from the next house came running in stating that his mother wanted him (Mr. Kelleher) at once, as their house had been struck by lightning. On hurrying to the spot Mr, Kelleher found that the whole of the chimney stuck of a house occupied by Mrs. Pierson had been knocked clean over, from top to bottom. The falling bricks, which were scattered in all directions, had greatly damaged the roof and gutters. A quantity of the iron piping had also been fused, and some furniture and ornaments in one of the rooms had been knocked down and broken. Mrs. Pierson and the children were uninjured, but the former has suffered severely since from nervous shock. Mr. Kelleher said it was a matter of astonishment to him why the lightning had missed his chimneys fully 20 feet, higher, and picked out the smallest and most secluded house on the spot.

Mr. George, a retired senior constable, who lives in an adjacent house, gives an interesting account of his experience during the storm which did the damage just described. He states that he was working in
his garden, as was his custom about day break. when he saw a huge fire ball making straight for Mr. Kelleher's and Mrs. Pierson's houses, accompanied by the most awful clap of thunder. He confessed to being so terrified at the awesome sight that he bolted panic stricken into his own house. Hearing the noise of the thunder bolt striking Mrs. Pierson's house recalled him to his right senses, and he ran out in time to see the bricks of the chimney stack being scattered in all directions (11).

Berwick Post Office and Court House, opened 1885.
Berwick Post Office and Courthouse, November 19, 1967. Photographer: John T. Collins. 
State Library of Victoria Image H90.100/1961

The Berwick Post Office was used until 1983, when a new facility in High Street was built and the Court House closed in 1990 (12). The buildings still exist and have a City of Casey Heritage overlay (13).  The Murtoa Post Office, which was on Marma Street, has been demolished. The existing Post Office on the corner of Haby Lane and McDonald Street was built in 1959 (14).  The Donald Post Office is still there and is still in use. There are photos of the Murtoa and Donald buildings, below.

Murtoa Post Office and Court House, opened 1882.
Courthouse and Post Office Murtoa, 1883. State Library of Victoria Image H9027

Murtoa Post Office, c. 1920s.
State Library of Victoria Image H89.105/167

Donald Post Office and Court House, opened 1884.
Donald - Post Office and Courthouse, c. 1898. Photographer: Sands and McDougall. 
State Library of Victoria Image H27288/3f

Donald Post Office, c. 1920s. 
State Library of Victoria Image H89.105/75


(1) Context P/L Heritage of the City of Berwick: identifying and caring for important places (City of Berwick, 1993), p. 322.
(2) Context P/L, op. cit. p. 323.
(3) Alfred Deakin, read his Australian Dictionary of Biography entry by R. Norris, here
(4) John's parents were Jeremiah Barry Kelleher and Mary Winter (although his father is called John on John's marriage certificate). Jeremiah, whose mother's maiden name was Barry, died in 1905, aged 90. Mary died in 1857, her death notice is below. 

(5) These details about John's life are from his obituary which is reproduced, below.

(6) Context P/L., op. cit, p.232.
(7) The Age reported on his retirement on March 26, 1894 and the subsequect rearrangment of the Architectural staff of the Public Works Department. The report also says that this will complete the retrenchment and reorganisation scheme of the Public Works Department.  Four years ago the wages sheet of the professional branch amounted to £23,000 per annum, and it has been reduced to £11,000. Read The Age article, hereThe retirements were even announced in the paper, see below. 

Adelaide Evening Journal, February 7, 1894.

(8) This information is from their marriage certificate.
(9) The Poplar Grove address is from the Electoral Roll available on Ancestry. From 1903 until 1912, they lived at Poplar Street and then in 1913 this changed to Poplar Grove, Murumbeena. The street is now part of Carnegie.
(10) Florence died March 27, 1922. She was the daughter of Richard James and Annie (nee Smith) Edwards. John died September 5, 1928, see death notice below.

There is a report of Kareen's wedding to William Norman Fysh, which took place at St Anthony's Church, Grange Road, Glenhuntly on February 10, 1923 in Table Talk, here. William came from Mile End Road, East Caulfield (now called Carnegie) about a five minute walk from Poplar Grove. Interestingly his parent's surname was spelt as Fish in the Electoral Roll and Kareen and William have their surname as Fish in the Electoral roll from 1924 until 1980 (the last year of the rolls on Ancestry) and they were at 18 Poplar Grove the entire time.
(11) The Age November 28, 1907, see here.
(12) The date of closure of the Post Office comes from the Context P/L report, page 322. The date of the closure of the Court comes from here
(13) Read the Victorian Heritage Database citation, here.
(14) Information supplied by Wayne Degenhardt. Wayne is connected to Fred and Gustav Degenhardt, who are amongst the earliest European settlers in the Murtoa area. 

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