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SIR JAMES McCULLOCH, THE POSTMASTER-GENERAL, MELBOURNE 1868

The cover was simply addressed To The Honble, The Postmaster General, Melbourne and the pair of the green 1d ‘Laureate’ stamps of Victoria were canceled with two indistinct barred numerals (Figure 1).

The reverse had the originating unframed BENALLA/ AP 20/ 68/ VICTORIA, which not only supplied the date of 1868, but proved the barred numeral as ‘18' of Benalla. There was also a reception postmark of MELBOURNE/ 8 A/ AP ( )/ 68 (Figure 2).

The problem with this cover was to identify who had been the Victorian Postmaster General in April 1868. The answer eventually came after 3 clues that solved the problem. The Sands & McDougall Postal Directory of 1868 had an entry for the Melbourne Post Office as follows: General Post-office, Bourke-street east, and Elizabeth-street. Postmaster General – James McCulloch, Chief Secretary. Then the Australian Dictionary of Biography stated that James McCulloch became the P.M.G. in May 1864, with no finish date. The final clue as to his finish date was found in a paper compiled by Brendan Whyte of the ERC Library, University of Melbourne, which lists the various functionaries of the Australian colonies. There was a list of PMGs of Victoria, showing that James McCulloch was in that office from May 1864 to May 1868!

John Batman was appointed the first postmaster in Victoria in 1836 and the first building for postal services was opened in Melbourne in 1842 at the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke Streets. The first person given the tile of Postmaster-General was William Henry Fancourt Mitchell, from April 1857 until March 1858. The position was originally known in 1851 as Chief Postmaster who assumed the responsibility for postal services from the Superintendent of the Port Phillip District of New South Wales, Charles Joseph Latrobe. Between 1856 and 1857, the responsibility for the post offices was exercised by the Treasurer of the Colony. The prime functions of the Postmaster-General were the Post Offices, including the Post Office Savings Bank, mail services, telegraph services from 1854, and telephone services from 1887. The telephone services were initially operated by a private company, and the services were introduced in Victoria in 1878.

For a brief period in the early 1860s, the Postmaster-General was also responsible for the development and regulation of mining in Victoria. In the 1890s the PMG became responsible for implementing certain provisions of the Electric Light and Power Act, and this function was transferred to the Minister of Public Works in 1901. After Federation in 1901, the Commonwealth Government became responsible for all post, telegraph and telephone services. The blue frank stamp for the Postmaster-General of Victoria is seen in Figure 3.

James McCulloch politician, was born at Glasgow, Scotland, son of George McCulloch in 1819. After primary education perhaps augmented in Germany, he entered the mercantile house of J. & A. Dennistoun. As junior partner he arrived at Melbourne in the Adelaide in 1853 to open a branch with Robert Sellar. In 1856-57 and 1862-63 McCulloch was president of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, he supported such charities and public causes as the Benevolent Asylum, the Melbourne Hospital and the St Kilda volunteers. He was nominated to the Legislative Council in September 1854, and in 1856 was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Wimmera, after being defeated for the Melbourne electorate. Only a brief synopsis of his political career in Victoria will be given, and this included four terms as Premier from June 1863 to May 1868, July 68 until September 1869, April 1870 until June 1871 and April 1882 until May 1877, with a total time in office as premier of 8 years, 307 days, the fourth longest aggregate for a Victorian premier. He also held terms as Treasurer, Chief Secretary, as well as his 4-year term as P.M.G.
 

He resigned his seat in March 1872 and left for England, where he acted as agent-general for Victoria from January to April 1873, and was appointed K.C.M.G. in 1874. He returned to Victoria for the general election of March-April and won Warrnambool. When he resigned his seat in May 1878, he concentrated on business, including directorships of several insurance and other companies, the Bank of New South Wales as well as the London Chartered Bank. He left for Britain early in 1886 and lived at Garbrand Hall in Ewell, Surrey, until he died on 31 January 1893. He had no children, although twice married: first, in 1841 to Susan, daughter to Rev. James Renwick of Muirton, Scotland; and second, on 17 October 1867 to Margaret Boak, daughter of his associate, William Inglis of Dumbartonshire.

McCulloch was the merchant-politician par excellence, honest, vigorous and a capable financier who regarded Victoria as a business venture to be run by the most capable board of directors possible, whatever their politics, preferably under himself. His instinct for compromise was matched by his ferocious determination, both supported by his great skill in manoeuvre, and power in debate. His politics were always liberal, his policies remarkably consistent. He was instrumental in passing numerous reforms, notably on the land questions, and in paving the way for protection, direct taxation and secular education. He was feared and admired rather than loved but had few peers as an effective politician. A picture of Sir James is seen in Figure 4.

I am indebted to the Australian Dictionary of Biography for much of McCulloch’s career and to the Public Record Office of Victoria for details of the Victorian Postal Office.

 
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