Elise Barney née Rivers (1810 – 1883) was born in Lisbon, Portugal. She was appointed as the first full-time female postmistress at Brisbane in 1855,  following the death of her husband Lieut John Edward Barney. Elise Barney continued in the position until April 1864 when she was transferred to a different post. She retired in December 1864 and died nearly twenty years later, on 5 July 1883, in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley.

Elise Rivers was born in Portugal on 21 October 1810 to Capt James Rivers and Mary (née Martin). Six years after marrying John Edward Barney, an officer in the British Army, in Ireland in 1833, they were posted to the island of St Helena (where Barney’s regiment guarded the remains of Napoleon Bonaparte) and then South Africa.

John and Elise Barney sailed to Sydney in 1847 at the behest of Barney’s brother, Lieut-Col George Barney, who had offered John an appointment in Port Curtis (now Gladstone). The appointment fell through but the Barneys moved north anyway. In October 1849 John Barney was appointed Commissioner of Crown Lands; in 1850 he became a magistrate; and by 1852 he was employed as the full-time postmaster in Brisbane.

After Barney died in November 1855, Elise took over as postmaster, a position she held April 1864 when she was transferred to the money order branch. At a time when most employed women were from the lower or working-class and earning very low wages, Elise’s salary was the considerable sum of £350 per annum. After an investigation into missing funds, which cleared Elise Barney, she retired with a gratuity of £2000. She died at her home in Gipps Street, Fortitude Valley on 5 July 1883 of diptheria.

The Barneys had two children: a son named (Edward) Whiston Rivers Barney and a daughter whose name is unknown. Whiston Barney worked as a clerk under his mother in the post office and later in the immigration department. He died in the Brisbane Hospital in 1892.


Lee Butterworth and Jan Richardson, ‘Elise Barney (née Rivers) (1810 – 1883)’, Harry Gentle Resource Centre, Griffith University, 2020 (updated 2023), https://harrygentle.griffith.edu.au/life-stories/elise-barney/.

Archival Resources

State Library of Queensland, Portrait photographs of C. Powell and Mrs Elise Barney, 1878

Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, Queensland, 1865, p. 1035

Queensland Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages, death registration, 1883/B/15726

Elise Barney, daughter of James Rivers, died 5 Jul 1883.

Queensland Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages, death registration, 1892/B/25176

Whiston Rivers Barney, son John Edward Barney and Elsie [sic] Rivers, died 8 Jul 1892.


Keith Jobst, A Pioneer Family of Queensland: Lieutenant Colonel George Barney, Captain John Edward Barney, Mrs Elise Barney, 1835-1865: Pre and post separation and the Gladstone settlement: including chart of part Barney family tree.

Brisbane: CopyRight Publishing, 1997.

Manfred D. Cross, Mrs Elsie Barney: Pioneer Postmistress.

Brisbane: Postal-Telecommunications Historical Society of Queensland, 1979.

Desley Deacon, 'Elise Barney (1815–1883) postmistress'

In Heather Radi (ed.), 200 Australian Women: A Redress Anthology, Broadway, NSW: Women’s Redress Press, 1988.

Ross W. McLachlan, A marriage of convenience: Women and the post office in New South Wales, 1838 to 1938.

PhD thesis, University of New South Wales, 2009.


Shipping Intelligence, Arrival, Moreton Bay Courier, 22 July 1848.

Domestic Intelligence, Post Office, Moreton Bay Courier, 15 December 1855, p. 3.

The Colonial Postal Service, Brisbane Courier, 17 Sep 1864, p. 1.

Central Police Court, Brisbane Courier, 1 Feb 1865, pp. 2-3.

The Courier, Brisbane Courier, 10 May 1865, p. 2.

Parliamentary Papers: Defalcations in the Post-Office, Brisbane Courier, 11 May 1865.

Miscellaneous, Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser, 16 May 1865.

No title ['On Thursday, the 31st ultimo...'], Rockhampton Bulletin and Central Queensland Advertiser, 12 Sep 1865, p. 2.

Notice. To Whiston R. Barney, Gympie Times and Mary River Mining Gazette, 13 Feb 1869, p. 2.

A late horse stealing case, Telegraph [Brisbane], 1 Jun 1875, p. 2.

Death, Brisbane Courier, 6 July 1883.

Brisbane Hospital, Brisbane Courier, 13 Jul 1892, p. 6.

Births, marriages and deaths, Brisbane Courier, 13 Jul 1892, p. 4.

'Reminiscences of the post office' by J. McConachie, Telegraph [Brisbane], 11 Jan 1926, p. 9.

Online Resources

Manfred Cross, Australian Dictionary of Biography: Barney, Elise (1810-1883)

Barbara Lemon, The Australian Women's Register: Barney, Elise (1815 - 1883)