On your way down Jupiter St. to Boat Harbour from Fern St., have you ever admired the beautifully restored white cottage on the corner? If so, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that it's probably the oldest surviving commercial building in Gerringong. The building was ‘erected and opened under the auspices of W. Ritche, Esq., late of Dapto’ in 1856 on Town Lot land purchased by Alexander Armstrong in 1855. Ritchie considered the location ideally suited for Ritchie’s General Store, ‘an extensive wholesale and retail business’.
Boat Harbour at the time was rapidly developing into a bustling port. Whenever a ship arrived, the flagstaff on top of the Cemetery hill notified the townsfolk and nearby farms. Excited crowds would scurry down from near and far to pick up passengers or cargo. Farmers would also bring along the local produce to be shipped up to Sydney. As they milled around they would swap the local news.
When Gerringong began receiving mail by horseback in January 1857, Ritchie opened the first Gerringong Post Office in his Store on 1st April. He changed the name to the Post Office General Store and became the first Postmaster on an annual salary of ₤12.
In early 1858, with the business now a going concern, Ritchie sold the premises to Thomas McIntire and the Stores Lease and Goodwill to George Laurence Fuller (of ‘Dunmore House’ fame) and his sister Ann. The name was changed to the Gerringong Post Office Stores with Ann Fuller as Postmistress. After trading for two years, George decided to move to Kiama and open Victoria Stores. Ann resigned as Postmistress and recommended Thomas Day, who had purchased the Stores Lease and Goodwill, to be her successor.
Day was appointed Postmaster on 21st January 1860 and one of his sureties was William Lang, owner of the Lanterrick Hotel (site now: approx. Miller’s Arcade). When Day resigned as Postmaster on October 1st. 1863, Lang wrote to the Postmaster General recommending that his niece, Julia Acheson, be appointed Postmistress. Despite protests from Thomas McIntire and many prominent citizens, Julia was appointed, effective January 1st 1864.
With the Post Office now operating from a ‘Public House’ – Lanterrick Hotel, the Gerringong Post Office Stores continued trading as TheBoat Harbour Store. As the shipping trade increased, the store became the hub of the Community. Cargo arriving at the harbour was sorted in a Council shed before being carted up Jupiter St. to be stored in either the loft or the Store’s large cellar, whilst waiting collection. In 1868, local farmers, in order to guarantee regular transport for their produce, formed the Gerringong Steam Navigation Co. which then leased a room in the Store for its Office.
James Wilson, brother of Gerringong’s longest serving Mayor, Robert Wilson, ran the Store for nine years from 1867 till the time of his tragic death in 1876. Following the Town Fire of 1872 when many buildings, including the Lanterrick Hotel were destroyed, the Gerringong Council held its Meetings in the Shipping Office at the Store until 1877 when it leased and renovated a room for its Chambers and Free Library, in Mrs Scott’s Grocery Store (site now: south end of Jock’s Bakery) being close to where the Chambers were before the 1872 fire.
The Boat Harbour Store, now a private residence, continued to be the focal point for the town until the Railway came in 1893 and virtually closed down the shipping industry.
Written and Researched by Kevin Jewel.
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