Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Rockhampton post office in 1899

Capricornian (Rockhampton), Saturday 11 November 1899, page 11

The Rockhampton post office. New system of letter sorting

Through thee courtesy of Mr. W. Woolcock, Postmaster, we were enabled to witness a new system of letter-sorting which practically was used in Rockhampton for the first time on Sunday morning, when the mail which arrived by the Premier from the south were sorted. It is claimed that this change will result in the work being carried out more expeditiously and with greater accuracy while it will do away with the great inconvenience suffered by the clerks whose duty it is to attend to the sorting process. The growing requirements of the town have received every attention from Mr. Woolcock from time to time, and by the adoption of this new arrangement there will be still greater despatch in the delivery of the mails.

Under the old system as soon as a mail came in the bags of letters, papers, etc. were emptied on to a large table in a heap. Three or four sorters were usually set to work at the one time, and they picked up the disordered letters and commenced sorting them into the various boxes or pigeon-holes, numbering about eighty in all. These pigeon-holes were divided among three large presses of equal size, the receptacles in them varying in size according to the importance of the town to which the letters were addressed. One press contained thirty-one pigeon-holes and the other two twenty-five each. The inconvenience of the arms of the sorters continuously crossing each other can be imagined, and though some of the men were everts at the business, this caused delay. This work concluded, each pigeon-hole or box of letters had to be checked to ensure their correctness, and then they were wrapped up in brown paper parcels and tied with string. The number of letters in each parcel was marked on the outside and they were all dropped into large bags containing newspapers for the places ?. As a rule, the letters were wrapped up in parcels, each containing 100 letters, so that in some instances there would be several parcels for one place.

The new system does away entirely will these eighty pigeon-holes. The mail bags are emptied on to the table as usual, letters addressed to China, England, America, and so on, all being intermingled with each other. Three clerks then commence sorting, each man having his own set of pigeon-holes, representing districts instead of towns as hitherto, to carry on the preliminary process of  ‘rough sorting.' The rough sort is divided into about twelve districts, such, for instance, as Mount Morgan line, Emu Park line, Central railway line, southern downs, northern towns, western towns (those not connected by rail), private letter boxes, small local mails such as Yaamba and Morinish, and as each man has his own set of boxes directly in front of him, the work is carried out much quicker. At present the pigeon-holes are used as they stand, but Mr. Woolcock intends to have a tray made to fit into each, so that the bundles of letters can be lifted out bodily without any difficulty. Once the rough sorting is concluded, the clerks know which particular set of letters are most urgently needed. For instance, the northern letters may not need to be despatched until the following day perhaps, there being no mail-boat, and they can afford to wait The town letters and letters to be sent by a mail just about a leave are first attended to, and they are taken out of their receptacles and sorted once more on the patent letter-sorting rack, which was first used yesterday.

The new sorting-rack — which is an American idea — is set up in the middle of the mail-room, being, oval in shape, or to be more correct, is fixed in the form of two horse shoes, as it is in two pieces. It is built of iron, supported on iron standards, and was constructed in Rockhampton by Messrs. Burns and Twigg. The contrivance slopes towards the centre, the outer portion being 4 ft. from the floor and he inner portion about I ft. less. Four iron bars run round the entire length of the rack, about 1 ft. apart, and at equal distances hooks are attached. Three rows of canvas letter-bags (resembling in shape an Acme waterbag) are affixed to the hooks in the bars, each horse-shoe rack holding about sixty bags, or about 120 letter bags from the two. The bags are 8 in. in diameter, and about 2 ft. deep, and as the neck is kept wide open by rings attached to the hooks the letters can be dropped into them with ease. The name of each town is painted above each bag, thus reducing the chance of making a mistake. The individual towns are neatly grouped on the rack, those on the Central railway line forming a small square on the rack and running in rotation. The stations on the Emu Park line and Mount Morgan line are also marked on the rack in convenient places, each district being kept to itself. In this way one clerk can be sorting Central railway letters, a second the private box letters, and the third the letters for any other district, all in a systematic manner. The letter-sorting concluded, each bag is tied at the neck with the string attached, thus saving any necessity for tying them in brown paper parcels. The letter bags are then deposited into large canvas bags, into which also the newspapers and packets for the same places are dropped loosely, the bags of course being returned by the next inward mail. The postal authorities always keep a record of the number of letters despatched and received for statistical purposes, and under the old system the letters were counted before being wrapped up in neat brown, paper parcels. Under the rack system the letters cannot be counted unless they are taken from the letter-bags again but an average has been struck by allowing three letters for every 1 oz. in weight, thus a bag of letters weighing 1000 oz. will 3000 letters. To prove that this estimate may be taken as nearly correct, one of the postal officials counted the letters after weighing them, and found that the estimate arrived at by weighing turned out to be exactly in accord with the number arrived at by counting. Therefore, a pair of scales is fixed on a small table placed in the centre of the rack, and the bags of letters are weighed after they are taken off, the weight of the bags of coarse being deducted.

The only other town in Queensland where the rack is used is at Brisbane, which, it may be mentioned, was the first place in the colonies to adopt the idea. This supports the remark of the Postmaster-General of Queensland in his last annual report that Queensland is more up to date in postal work than the other colonies. It is believed that the rack system has since been adopted in Sydney and Melbourne.

The newspapers coming into the Post Office are treated in the same way as the letters, only that the rack is on a larger scale, and the canvas bags into which they are deposited are also of a bigger size.

Under the new system the clerks are not quite so expert as formerly, but in a short time when it is in thorough working order they will doubtless get through the work much quicker. It may be mentioned that the work at the Post Office has been increasing of late. Every Monday night from ninety to 100 bags of mails on an average are sent out west, thirty of these bags being for Longreach. The bags of mails received by the Premier on Sunday mornings varies considerably, ranging from fifty to eighty bags each week. Each of the three mails from the west brings on an average forty or fifty bags of mails. About eight bags of mails are sent away by every northern mail, though in these are included a number of minor towns, whose letters are included in the bags for the larger centres, where they are resorted. Mail bags are also sent direct from Rockhampton to the capitals of the southern colonies, and to the travelling post offices on the Southern and Western Railway, and on the Northern Railway.