Overland Mail


Overland Mail

Eyre put forward a tender to carry mail fortnightly between Melbourne and Yass, but his friend Joseph Hawdon won the contract instead, valued at a healthy ₤1200 per annum. This was a pioneer service; the mail between Sydney and Melbourne had gone by sea previously.

At Yass, Hawson’s postman placed his mail onto the mail coach from Sydney, at the same time collecting the southbound mail. He then carried this Sydney mail by horse to Melbourne, where he collected the mail for Sydney and environs.

On January 5th 1838, on his way to Melbourne, Eyre records that a rider overtook them, carrying the very first overland mail between Sydney and Melbourne, “for the conveyance of which my friend, Mr Joseph Hawdon, was the contractor. His horse was knocked up and he did not know what to do, so I lent him one of mine, which he brought back to us on his return when re-passing our party at the Murray eight days later.”

Coincidentally, that same night in January, Hawdon recorded he had problems with his postman and horses. “During the night the postboy awoke me by asking if I had not spoken to him, someone having, as he thought, called him in a loud voice to attend to the horses. Although this interruption to his slumbers was caused only by his own dreams, the horses were in reality found to have strayed away, and it took us two hours by moonlight to recover them.” This might appear to be a contradiction as both events could not have occurred on the 5th of January, in part because Hawdon and Eyre were too far apart on that day, but particularly as the postman was described as accompanying Hawdon from the time that they had ridden out of Melbourne three days previously.

The solution to this apparent contradiction is that Hawdon initially used two postmen, who met at his brother John’s station on the 7th January. On this date, Hawdon wrote, “At his station I found the postboy with the mail from Yass, and received my letters and papers from Sydney, proving to me the advantage of this new inland post. My postboys exchanged their mailbags, one returning to Melbourne, the other to Yass. From the latter place they were forwarded by the mail coach to Sydney, a distance of 180 miles.”

One of Hawdon’s postmen was John Conway Bourke, and he it is who travelled out of Melbourne with Hawdon on the 2nd January 1838. Bourke had previously accompanied Mitchell in his 1836 exploration of the area and thereby was a good choice, having local knowledge. He became an identity in the bush and is recorded as carrying the mail on horseback for 11000 miles in 1838 alone.