Grafton Marking Time- Post Office Clock

The story below is another extract from one of my local history booklets “As Time Goes By-Grafton’s Fascination with Time-Pieces”,which I wrote and published in 2009, for our Sesqui-Centenary Celebrations of Local Government. This booklet has long been out of print, and I am now sharing some extracts on my blog.

The Grafton Post Office Clock

Thomas Fisher had been the Postal Officer at Grafton at his store on the river bank between 1859 to 1870. The Telegraph Office was originally housed in the Court House in 1862 and was later transferred to rented premised in Prince Street in 1865. In 1870 the Postal Department was also transferred to the Prince Street premises and both services continued there until 1878.

In 1872, Thomas Bawden, the local parliamentary member was requested to approach the government to secure monies to build suitable premises for the rapidly expanding needs of the post and telegraph services at Grafton. He was successful and plans were prepared by James Barnett the Colonial Architect , with tenders being called soon afterwards. William Kinnear was the successful tender. John Sutherland, Minister for Works, visited the Clarence later that year, and Graftonians further petitioned him for a proposed a sum of £2500 to be provided the following year, but the project was very slow, and little had been done by the Government by September 1874.

Thomas Fisher was Mayor of Grafton and the honour of laying the foundation stone was bestowed on the Mayoress, Mrs Fisher. After the ‘time-gun’ affair preparations were quickly made and Mrs Fisher, laid the foundation stone on the 8 October 1874, amid great ceremony which was followed by an official luncheon and a ball that night. The building plans were a James Barnett design of a two storey impressive sandstone and brick building with the postal and telegraph departments on the ground floor and the Post Master’s residence on the first floor.

William Kinnear, the contractor pushed on with the building and stone work of the main and ancillary buildings, which were nearly completed by the following April. However, due to problems within the Post Master General’s Department the project came to a halt. By December 1875, the citizens in Grafton could see that a clock, time ball and signal staff were needed additions to the Post and Telegraph building and Thomas Bawden, Thomas Page and Thomas Fisher, travelled to Sydney to petition the Postmaster General about these matters. He replied that their concerns were being addressed and that plans of a clock tower, with a four dial clock, had been prepared, and the project would be pushed forward.

In July 1876, Grafton experienced serious flooding and there were further delays with the building. Much comment, concerning the lack of progress with this necessary addition for public convenience, was made in the local papers throughout 1877. Finally by early 1878 the main building had been been completed and the staff quickly moved in without permission or ceremony. There was no official opening of this building. However, although there was finally a clock tower it remained empty for over a year.

The clock was installed by the maker, Mr Tornaghi, in March 1879. ‘The four dial plates were of iron, four feet in diameter, painted black, with the hour and minute hands in gold. The bell which was fitted in the dome was made of the best bell metal, and weighed nearly 400 lbs. The bell was struck every hour by a hammer weighing 18 lbs making 156 strokes every 24 hours. The tone of the bell was extremely clear and could be heard at a considerable distance. The works were placed about 7 feet below the dials, the hands being turned by a perpendicular connecting rod, and were of an entirely new construction, specially adopted for this kind of clock- the movement being known as the ‘gravity escapement’. The works were kept in motion by two suspended weights, each of approximately 50 lbs, which run down inside the front walls of the building in iron groves. The pendulum, second and half movement, was about 7 feet long, and had a bulb weighing approximately 102 lbs.To keep the clock going these weights had to be hauled up daily from the ground floor to the clock tower, by a windlass manned by two of the Postal staff.

The Post Master’s residence was on the first floor, with the main bedrooms in the front of the building. Locals recall that one of the early Post Masters, when he discovered that the 102 lbs iron pendulum swung to and fro in the ceiling just above his bed, wasted no time in changing his bedroom.

Grafton Post Office

This clock when well maintained, kept very good time, but the Postmaster General’s department did not see the need to send a clockmaker to Grafton to do this work, so within a few years problems arose concerning the time variances. In April 1884, ‘A.B. McM’, a regular contributor of topical verse to the Clarence and Richmond Examiner penned the following:-

The Post Office Clock

I’ve had many troubles since I have been born,

And I oft scarce know what I will do,

When bad luck comes on me, and leaves me forlorn,

But the greatest misfortune I’ve had,

Was one when I get a hard knock

And I have been driven abstractly mad,

By that erratic old Post Office Clock.

When I rise in the morning ’tis just about six,

Then away to work I must go,

But I find I am late- and get into a fix,

As that clock is ten minutes too slow.

Then I have a row and get turned out by the boss,

9And my labour comes to a ‘dead-lock’,

Of course it is me that will suffer the loss,

Brought on by that Post Office Clock.

Some times I knock off for my dinner at one,

And think that my troubles are past-

But I meet my employer and know that I’m ‘done’,

As that clock is just ten minutes fast.

Then what can I do , when I have such bad luck?

My misfortune gives me a great shock.

Of course it is me that will suffer the loss,

Brought on by that Post Office Clock.

Some days it’s too fast-

Some days it’s too slow-

And some days it won’t go at all;

It is only lately we’re getting to know,

The value of it is so small

Yet I believe the Government paid a high price,

Which from my rates and tax’s they’ll dock,

But for the same money, we could get something nice,

In the shape of a Post Office Clock.

Surely someone in Grafton in the clock-making line,

Can put the erratic thing straight.

I remember one time, when it struck twenty-nine,

Yet both hands were pointing to eight,

I can’t see myself, where it’s been any use,

As our time it seems simply to mock,

And from housewives it gets a fair share of abuse,

Does this misleading, old Post Office Clock.

Let all concerned take heed of these lines,

And to make matter properly go,

Also let them think of the working man’s ‘fines,’

When the clock is too fast, or too slow,

And I’m sure I don’t want to write any more,

or give them another quiet knock.

What I want to see is, not faster or slower,

But ‘right’ by the Post Office Clock.

Finally the Postmaster General’s Department consented to have a local clockmaker attend to the maintenance of the clock, so for many years the old clock gave the city remarkable service with the correct time, striking in unison with time ‘pips’ broadcast over the radio.

Grafton Post Office Clock

Today, sadly nearly 138 years after the clock first chimed out over the city, it is still and silent. The Post Office building is now privately owned with Australia Post and Clarence Consultants as tenants, who are not responsible for the clock. To their credit the present owners of the building tried to get the clock mended and working again, but the works have finally worn out and the parts are no longer available and so another Grafton time-piece era comes to a close.