Burketown was considered sufficiently developed in 1866 to warrant the opening of the first Post Office in July with Edgar Byrne as Postmaster, but unfortunately that was the year of the disastrous fever and the evacuation to Sweers Island.
By 1868 the Post Office was in the hands of Jeremiah O’Connor, the storekeeper. Jeremiah received £12 a year for his services which he carried our in conjunction with running his store. He was followed by E. Edkins in 1869.
Imagine the settlement almost deserted by the colonists. The aftermath of the terrible outbreak of fever and the effect of the severe depression in the colony made life there impossible for a time. The extent of the downturn is indicated by the closure of the Post Office on June 30, 1871. It was not re-opened until January 1, 1883, with Philip Watson in charge.
Peter Macarthur took control of the Post Office on October 10, 1883. He was also appointed Police Magistrate and Customs Officer. The Postmasters almost always seemed to wear a number of other hats, so no doubt the allowance, which remained static at £12 per annum, helped them to earn a reasonable living.
Burketown, disappointed in the bid for the International Telegraph, finally received its domestic Telegraph Office on October 18, 1886, and once more the management of the Post Office changed hands. Mr Alex Lawson became Postmaster, Police Magistrate and Customs Officer on December 1 of that year. His salary was also listed as £12 per annum; presumably this was for only the telegraphic component of his duties.
A combined Post and Telegraph Office was formed on January 1, 1887, with Philip Agnew at the helm. Among its functions were the issue of money orders and the supervision a mail contractor operating by horse between Burketown and Normanton. This was a risky business and was paid accordingly at the rate of £320 per annum.
Mails left Burketown on a regular weekly schedule for Brisbane, via Floraville, Donaldson, Hughenden and Townsville on Wednesdays; – via Normanton, Georgetown and Cairns weekly leaving Thursday, and via Gregory Downs, Punjaub and Camooweal departing Wednesday 7.00 am. Services via Westmoreland and Wollogorang were fortnightly.
Considering the great distances involved, this transport and communication network was quite good.
Trade in the Gulf of Carpentaria was directly influenced by the disposal of the Queensland Mail subsidy. The subsidy was a crucial stabilising factor in the Gulf regional economy.
In May 1888 the Australian Steam Navigation Company successfully tendered for the Mail contract and the SS Egmont and the SS Archer were used on the Cooktown – Burketown run. A little later the steamships Birksgate and Victoria were operating a through service from Brisbane, picking up shipments of Croydon gold from Normanton en route.
The ASN Co. provided a monthly coastal mail service. The contract was for a four year period at £5,500 a year. This was a substantial amount (equivalent to millions of dollars in today’s terms), which provided an assured working base for the operators to build up the service to the Gulf to a reasonably profitable level.
Many staff and management changes took place in the Post Office during the years 1888 to 1891. The stipend appears to have reduced to £10 a year – perhaps this had something to do with the high turnover in personnel.
During 1890 the Lallah Rookh carried the mails. She was a ketch owned by Aplin, Brown and Co. which had branches at both Thursday Island and Burketown, where they had substantial freight trade. They withdrew the vessel after the deal with the ASN Co. which resumed the mail contract and with it, the mail pennant.
A big step forward was the introduction of Parcel Post in 1892, and in 1893 the Office became Official. Getting the greatest possible use out of personnel on the spot was practically an art form in Burketown, so in 1896 the officer in charge was required to take on new Customs work.
Then the Postmaster was appointed as Land Commissioner and Land Agent (Dept. of Public Lands) in 1897.
W. J. Robinson was Officer in Charge, Post and Telegraph and Stamp Inspector in 1898, and saw the transfer of the Post Office to the Commonwealth on March 1, 1901.
The Post Office was also the Savings Bank.
After Federation the Post and Telegraph Office continued to operate with a constantly changing staff and some changes in status.
The Office was re-classified in 1921 and again in 1949. The staff continued to wear many and varied hats and work part time or full time depending on the needs of the day.
Air Services were run by TAA in the 1960s and although Keith Hollands shipping service was running fortnightly from Cairns at that time, no mail was carried by sea in 1963.
There were five subscribers listed on the Burketown telephone exchange.
The Grade 1 Post Office was reduced to a Non-Official Post Office on November 11, l964 and the outgoing Postmaster was Mr R. M. Greenwood.
In 1985 Burketown Post Office began operations as a Post Office Agency.