New Zealand’s First Telephone Exchange Began Operation – 1881

On 11th July 1879, the Government Building – now known to most of us as the old chief Post Office  – was officially opened in Cathedral Square. In 1881, the building hosted New Zealand’s first Telephone Exchange.

As early as 1863, the Canterbury Provincial Council had seen the need of Christchurch replacing Lyttelton as the main postal town. Along with other government departments scattered throughout the city in rented sites, a central government building was needed which would also include a new post office.

Designed by William Henry Clayton, the foundation stone was laid on the 24th May 1877 with very little fanfare. The building was completed in 1878, with the opening later the following year.

By 1913, with all government departments (apart from the postal service) having moved on, the building became known as the Chief Post Office. It would be 1989 when the postal service would move on to a seven story building in Hereford Street and the old post office became the home of the Christchurch Info Centre.

The clock, a well known icon of Cathedral Square, was infamous for always showing the wrong time. In 1980, a fire put the clock out of business for good – it was never repaired.

Minimal earthquake damage occurred over 2010/2011 but the owner stated that the building would be unusable until those businesses around its site were repaired or rebuilt.

In a city where many heritage buildings have gone, the old Government Building is destined to become a treasured favourite for history lovers.

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