Pillar Letter Box

Hardy Street, NELSON

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The following text was prepared as part of an upgrade project and was completed 28 Feb 2003. The Pillar Letterbox in Nelson was one of the first cast-iron, public letterboxes in use in New Zealand and is the oldest remaining on its original site. In 1862 it became compulsory to use stamps to prepay the cost of delivering letters within New Zealand. Before then, all letters were taken to the counter of the local post office to be marked by the clerk with the correct postage costs. The use of stamps meant it was no longer necessary to take letters to the post office and in 1863 the Colonial Secretary William Fox (1812-1893) campaigned for the provision of public letterboxes. By the end of the following year the Postmaster-General, Thomas Bannatyne Gillies (1828-1889), was able to report that iron pillar boxes were in use in New Zealand's principal towns. Two iron letterboxes were ordered from Sydney for the Nelson Province in January 1864. Arriving in April that year, one was installed at the port and the other, the Pillar Letterbox, was placed outside the Hardy Street Girls' School (321 Hardy Street) near the cottage used by the postmaster of Nelson, B. Walmsley. The Pillar Letterbox was made by Bubb & Son in their Victoria foundry in Sydney. The company had won the tender to manufacture iron letterboxes for the Postmaster General of New South Wales in 1855. Post office employee T. W. Levinge designed the cast-iron letterboxes made by the company. They were 1.8 metres (5.9 feet) high, circular in plan, and featured an ornate top decorated with acanthus leaf mouldings. Based on those in use in Belgium and Paris, the Australian letterboxes were considered to have a more elegant appearance than those in London. The letterboxes exported to New Zealand between 1864 and 1878 matched their Australian counterparts with just two exceptions. In Australia, each letterbox was bronzed and had three vertical slots near the top of the pillar to allow people on horseback to post their letters without dismounting. Those sent to New Zealand were painted red and, while they bore the vestiges of the three slots used in Australia, letters were posted through two horizontal openings on each side of the box in traditional British fashion. From 1879 the Levinge style letterbox was replaced by a New Zealand-made, hexagonal version based on British letterboxes designed by architect J. W. Penfold. These cast-iron, British style letterboxes remained standard issue until the early 1950s, when the New Zealand Post Office Association began a campaign to replace them all with hutch-like wooden letter boxes mounted on posts. Considered unsanitary, leaky, and difficult to clear, most cast-iron letter boxes were sold to museums and private collectors or turned into scrap metal. The Hardy Street Pillar Letterbox in Nelson was one of just a handful to survive this campaign and the only one in New Zealand still located on its original site. Other than the addition of a padlock, it remains the same as it was in 1864 and continues to be used daily by the Nelson public. The Pillar Letterbox in Nelson has great national significance as one of the first letterboxes used in New Zealand. As the only letterbox of its kind remaining in use on its original site, it is a unique symbol of important developments in the history of New Zealand's postal service, marking the transition to the modern, standardised prepaid mail system. The letterbox is architecturally interesting for its unique blend of British and Australian characteristics.

Pillar Letter Box | Rebecca O'Brien | 03/02/2003 | NZ Historic Places Trust
| Rebecca O'Brien | 03/02/2003 | NZ Historic Places Trust



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 1


Able to Visit

List Number


Date Entered

6th June 1990

Date of Effect

6th June 1990

City/District Council

Nelson City


Nelson Region

Legal description

Legal Road.

Location Description

Located in front of the Hardy Street Girls' School (Former) at 319 Hardy Street, Nelson, and located within the Albion Square Historic Area which is bounded on the north and south side by Hardy Street and Bridge Street, Nelson.

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