Series Guide: London Letters
In addition to the correspondence, the series contains a number of attachments. Among the regular attachments to the letters are correspondence with other institutions in England and weekly reports and advice from economic correspondents in London, including prominent economist Thomas Balogh.
Description of series
This series contains correspondence between the Head Office and the London Office of the Bank. The records commence during the planning stages for the opening of a London office, which was to occur on 20 January 1913. The first letter from the Governor, Denison Miller, to London is dated 23 July 1912, while the first letter from London to the Governor is dated 18 October 1912 and was written by the recently appointed London Manager, CAB Campion. The series is continuous up to December 1975 with records up to 1960 created by the Commonwealth Bank and records post 1960 created by the Reserve Bank.
The records cover the First World War, the Second World War, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and other significant economic events of the 20th century. Of particular interest are reports written by Thomas Balogh, a British economist, Oxford academic and advisor to UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson. From 1941 to 1964 Balogh provided the Bank with detailed reports on political affairs and the state of the British and European economies. These were invaluable in keeping the Bank up to date on world economic trends and events.
In addition to letters, this series contains a number of papers that were included in the mail sent between Head Office and the London Office. These attachments can be separated into 2 main groups: recurring attachments that occur at frequent intervals; and single instance or infrequent attachments. Those attachments that appear most regularly include:
- acknowledgements of cable advices (some in coded form) and accompanying translations
- monthly, quarterly and half-yearly returns
- weekly advices of money at short call
- weekly (later monthly) reviews of foreign exchange compiled by Samuel Montagu and Co.
- prospectuses of state loans
- correspondence with other institutions in England initiated by the London Office and forwarded to the Governor; and
- weekly advices from economic correspondents in London, particularly Thomas Balogh.
Numbering of Letters
The practice of numbering the letters began in 1917 due to concerns regarding the increasing activity of German submarines potentially resulting in the loss of mails. The Governor began numbering his letters to London on 10 October 1917 and both sides of the correspondence were to continue with this practice until 1975. The numbering continued in series to 1,000 when it would then begin again at 1.
At separation in 1960, staff in both Head Office and the London Office decided to begin numbering their letters from 1 again regardless of the previous letter number to clearly demarcate the Reserve Bank correspondence. They then continued with the practice of reverting to 1 each time the numbering reached 1,000. On 5 September 1975 Secretary’s Department advised the London Office that the London Letters would no longer be numbered, and the London Office confirmed this arrangement on 31 December 1975 thereby marking the end of the series.
Categories of Mail
The majority of the records in this series are organised into correspondence to London and from London. During the Second World War concerns over mail being lost or intercepted led to 3 additional categories of mail: safe hand mail, urgent and confidential airgraph letters, and urgent and confidential air letters.
- Safe hand mail: Arrangements were made with the Prime Minister’s Department for letters confirming code appropriations, acknowledgements and confirmations of cables, and other confidential or secret matters to be forwarded to London by air in a Commonwealth Government mail bag. During the flight, the mail bag remained in the personal custody of the pilot who, in the event of interception, had instructions to destroy the contents of the bag rather than let it fall into the hands of the enemy. The safe hand mail was given the prefix ‘S.M.’ and specially numbered commencing from 1. This series of letters began on 7 May 1942 and continued until 31 August 1945, shortly after the cessation of hostilities with Japan.
- Airgraph letters: These letters were typed on a standard post office form and then photographed on reels of microfilm. The microfilm was then forwarded to London by airmail to conserve both space and weight. This method was used for correspondence of a less confidential nature and was often employed for the use of customers for mail transfers, advice of documentary credits and general enquiries. Airgraphs were separately numbered from 1 with the prefix ‘A.G.’. The series exists for letters to London from 5 July 1943 to 19 February 1945 and for those from London from 15 June 1943 to 13 March 1945.
- Air letters: Begun in September 1944, this method to a large extent superseded safe hand mail. The message was written on a single page of very thin paper with gummed edges and then sealed up and sent by air. These letters were numbered starting at 1 with no special prefix. The series for letters to London commences on 27 September 1944 and ends 7 August 1945 and those from London begin on 20 October 1944 with the final letter being sent on 13 November 1945.
The final category of file in this series is the Governor’s London file which contains copies of the Governor’s unnumbered letters to and from the Manager, London, from 1949 to 1954.
Opening of the London Office
The London Office of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia opened for business on the 20 January 1913, in a suite of rooms in Egypt House, New Broad Street. The Bank has had a continuous presence in London since that date.
Before making any official moves in London, the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, Denison Miller, had sought and obtained formal approval from the Treasurer, Andrew Fisher, to open a London branch under Section 23 of the Commonwealth Bank Act 1911. Miller wished to open a London office in order to facilitate the handling of the Bank’s affairs in England and to provide safe transit for the funds of emigrants from the United Kingdom to Australia.
When the London Office opened in 1913, all general banking business was conducted there. This included:
- issuing drafts and letters of credit
- negotiating bills
- keeping ordinary current accounts
- keeping Commonwealth Government accounts
- investing funds of the Commonwealth Government and of the Commonwealth Bank
- assisting in underwriting state loans; and
- acting generally for all Australian business sent through the Commonwealth Bank.
A Savings Bank Department was opened on 16 June 1913 for use by emigrants, Australians and, later, Australian soldiers.
As the Bank developed, more functions were added including the management of the sterling reserves, government loan operations, economic information, exchange control and forward exchange contracts, the provision of financial information for migrants, and tourist services.
The Bank initially leased a suite of rooms from the Bank of Egypt in Egypt House, 36–38 New Broad Street. In 1915 additional space was obtained by leasing rooms in Friars House, which adjoined Egypt House and, with the permission of both landlords, the Bank created a doorway between the 2 buildings to connect the rooms. The Bank expanded further in 1917 to assist with the increasing volumes of business being handled at New Broad Street. The Strand Branch, situated in the recently completed Australia House, opened in October 1917 and dealt with Military Accounts and Savings Bank business for emigrants.
From 1929 the London Office operated out of premises at 8 Old Jewry. In 1960, the Reserve Bank Act 1959 separated the Commonwealth Bank’s central banking functions from its commercial banking activities. The Commonwealth Bank was renamed the Reserve Bank of Australia, which acted as the nation’s central bank and was constituted separately from the newly created Commonwealth Banking Corporation, which operated as a trading bank. The Reserve Bank retained ownership of the premises at 8 Old Jewry with the Commonwealth Banking Corporation as a tenant. After separation, the Reserve Bank continued to handle the investment of funds in London, manage Australia’s sterling reserves and liaise with the Bank of England and London branches of Australian private banks. The Financial Information Service was located in a separate branch in Australia House.
1 The term ‘Bank’ refers to the continuous entity of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia which was renamed the Reserve Bank of Australia in 1960 when it commenced operations as Australia’s central bank.
This series is arranged by an Alpha/Numeric numbering system.
Secretary's Department - Special Mail (Safe Hand) Letters (Indexed)
Secretary's Department - Urgent and Confidential Airgraph Letters - London Letters - To London (Indexed)
Secretary's Department - Urgent and Confidential Airgraph Letters - From London (Indexed)
Secretary's Department - Urgent and Confidential Air Letters - London Letters - To London (Indexed)
Secretary's Department - Urgent and Confidential Air Letters - From London (Indexed)
Secretary's Department - Governor's Private London Letters - To/From (Indexed)
Secretary's Department - London Letters - From London (Indexed)
Secretary's Department - London Letters - To London (Indexed)