Unclaimed letters introduction

(This delightful rural scene has been taken from the title page of one of Mrs Elsie Graham’s many collections of Unclaimed Letters lists which she has published. The scene was drawn by Elsie’s late husband and coloured by her. It is based on a 1866 scene of Avoca which appeared in a newspaper in 1931.)


(Taken from page 3, “Avoca Lists of Unclaimed Letters From 1854 to 1864 Published in the Victorian Government Gazette”, Compiled by Mrs E C Graham, 1985.)

The Unclaimed Letters were first listed for country areas in the Victorian Government Gazette on the 26th May 1854 until 22nd July 1864 when they were discontinued.

In the issue of the first newspaper, “The Avoca Mail and Pyrenees District Advertiser,” the 11th December 1863, a list of Unclaimed Letters for the week ending 9th December 1863 was published on page 2, column 1. The paper continued to publish these lists for many years.

The Postmaster of each post office was required under the 1854 Post Office Regulations, No.VIII Rule 32. to enter weekly on a list, Unclaimed Letters for parties not known or found, which was to be exposed for view on the outside of the post office, and if not claimed at the expiration of thirty days thereafter, they must be returned to the General Post Office, Melbourne, to be advertised in the Government Gazette, or public papers, and if not claimed within times specified, they will be returned to the writers. Letters for Victoria were held for three months, Colonial letters for six months & English and others, for nine months.

On the 16th July 1860, a new order respecting Dead Letters containing articles of value came into force, that these letters be retained for a period of twelve months from the date of such letters being received into the dead letter office, in accordance with the 31st clause of the Postage Act 17th Victoria No.30. and that all moneys and other valuable contents taken from Dead Letters that have been retained the above time, be paid into treasury once in every three months.

Dead letters are always to be returned in the covers supplied for the purpose, except in cases where the letters are too numerous and then a bag must be used, properly sealed, with the address label indorsed “Dead Letters”. Unclaimed registered letters must be entered on the dead letter bill, in the usual way, when returned to Melbourne. All Unclaimed Letters must bear the date-stamp of the day on which they are made up for return to the Dead Letter Office. These regulations come into force & effect on the 3rd August 1864, and shall take the place of the regulations of the 20th June 1854, and of the instructions to Country Postmasters of the 5th February 1861. Postmasters were advised in 1864 that the advertising of Unclaimed Letters was to be discontinued in the Victorian Government Gazette.

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© Mrs Elsie Graham and the Avoca and District Historical Society.