Sunday, July 3, 2016

The report of the Post and Telegraph Department of Queensland for the year 1879

Brisbane Courier, Friday 20 August 1880, page 2
The report of the Post and Telegraph Department of Queensland for the year 1879 does not contain information of startling interest, but there are some facts set forth in it which it may be useful to make note of. For instance, in the debates on the proposed new mail contract it has been very generally urged by those who are opposed to it, that our correspondence by it will take a very much longer- time in transit to and from England than if it went by either the Melbourne - Galle or the Sydney - San Francisco routes. We learn from this report, however, that during 1879 the average time for delivering of mails in Brisbane by these three services was as under:
Brisbane to London.
Via Torres Straits and Brindisi 51 days
Via Melbourne 49 days
Via Sydney and San Francisco 49 days
London to Brisbane.
Via Torres Straits and Brindisi 49 days
Via Melbourne 47 days
Via Sydney and San Francisco 50 days
In considering this return, it must be remembered that Brisbane is almost on the southern border of the colony, and that the difference in time for delivery at Rockhampton would be in favour of the Torres Straits line, and the further north the greater would be the advantage to the residents from the adoption of that mail route ; so that, remembering that Brisbane is not Queensland, it must be acknowledged that as a mail service the Torres Straits line is not so bad as some of its opponents have painted it. However, it does not appear that the colonists generally care much about the two days' time which is lost by the southern end of the colony since the number of letters sent via Torres Straits last year showed, as compared with 1878, an increase of 16,475; whilst those sent via Melbourne decreased by 2963, and via San Francisco there was an increase of 1676 only.
Particulars are given in this report of proposals made by the Imperial post office last year for an increase of the postage rate between London and Australia, or, at least, of demands made by the Imperial post office for such increased payment as would have rendered necessary an increase in the postage. An arrangement, however, was eventually made under which it has been possible to retain the old rates of postage, although the increased share of postages paid to the Imperial Government entails an annual loss of about £2500 on our revenue We must say that the Imperial Government, in its dealings with the Australian colonies, shows an extreme desire to get as much as possible out of them, and give as little as it can. The conveyance of our mails has cost the Imperial Government very little since they travel by steamers which are not run especially to carry them, and which would run all the same if they had no Queensland mail to carry. Consequent probably on this alteration in the division of postage on English letters, we find that the postage collected in the United Kingdom for us has fallen off during the last year by £953 15s. 4d., making the total receipts of our post office only £182 15s. 3d. more than they were in the previous year, although the increase in the number of letters carried was 321,798, of newspapers 538,020, and of packets 16,312.
Our inland mail service was considerably extended during 1879, the total length of the different services being 10,792 miles, over 520 of which the mails wore carried by railway, over 2096 miles by coach, and 17,175 miles by horse; the total length showing an increase of 762 miles over the previous year. The total number of miles travelled by our inland mails amounted during the year to 2,413,007, or 130,503 more than in 1878; whilst their cost was £50,289 4s. 11d., an increase of £1092 2s. 4d. The average cost per mile was, however, reduced from 5 and one half pence to 5d. This, however, was probably due to the extension of our railways, for the post office does not credit the railway with any payment for the carriage of mails, and actually appears to include the very considerable mileage which the mails travel over our lines in the total distance into which the yearly cost is divided, in order to ascertain the average cost per mile, thus bringing down the cost per mile to considerably less than even the horse' mails arc actually run for.
It seems to us that it would be fairer to the public, as well as to the railway, if the actual cost per mile of the services for which the post office pays was given, and the railway then credited with an equal sum per mile for the work it performs. Not only would the result of our railway investments look better if they were credited with the earnings to which they are indisputably entitled, but we should then see more clearly than we now can what the real expenditure of our post office is. Under present circumstances the expenditure of the post office is apparently kept down by charging a considerable part of it to the Railway department -a practice unfair to the railway, and calculated to mislead the public.
In the report before us the post office takes credit for a general increase in all the items of its revenue, except postages collected in the United Kingdom and the Straits Settlements during 1879; and although the increase under each head is but small, this is a satisfactory feature in the statement. We are not sure, however, whether some part of the increase of £860 4s. 2d., under the head " Sale of stamps," may not be due to the new regulation by which postage stamps are used for payment of stamp duty, in which case this apparent increase would disappear. Altogether, the postal revenue for 1879 amounted to £43,060 16s. 7d., or £346 8s. 5d. more than in 1878, although in the accounts of 1879 only nine months' collection of postages in the United Kingdom and Straits Settlements is entered.
During the year no less than 42,961 letters were received into the dead letter office, of which number 260 were registered and contained enclosures of the aggregate value of £601 17s. l1d., whilst 218 unregistered letters were found to contain property of the value of £6153 11s. Of those letters all but 23 wore either delivered or returned to the senders. It would appear from this statement that a very large amount of money or valuable portable property is constantly being transmitted by post in unregistered letters; a practice which cannot be too highly condemned, since, by offering an inducement to theft, it materially diminishes the safety of the post. We are glad to note, however, that the number of letters missed during the year shows a. decrease as compared with the previous one, and that all of the missing letters but 30, of which no trace could be found, have been accounted for. Considering the number of letters passing through our offices, and the risks to which some of our mails are exposed in carriage, the number of losses is singularly small.
Turning to that portion of the report which deals with the electric telegraph, we find that 119 miles of new line were erected during 1879 and 340 miles of additional wires. We have now 5728 miles of line and 8049 miles of wire open for business. Seventeen new stations were opened during the year, and eight old ones closed. We notice that, owing we presume to the nature of the country and climate, the cost of telegraph maintenance, which in the southern districts is only about 17s. per mile of line, is in the northern districts about £1 12s. 6d. per mile. An attempt at economy has been made by placing the telegraph office at some railway stations in the hands of the station-masters, who have been instructed in the working of the instruments, whilst in others the telegraph operators have been appointed as railway officials, their salaries being paid half by the Railway and half by the Telegraph department. In spite of these small savings, however, the working expenses of the telegraph during the year amounted to £68,045 11s. 1d., whilst the revenue was only £33,649 16s. 5d., or £3075 9s. l0d. less than in 1878.
As the gross expenditure of the post office was £111,462 6s. 8d., and the gross receipts only £43,000 l6s. 7d., it will be seen that the actual loss sustained by the working of our post and telegraphs last year was in round numbers £103,000. Looking to this large deficiency, we may fairly ask whether it is not advisable to make some attempt to raise from these services a revenue more nearly approaching their cost.