Australia - South Australia/Northern Territory.
The Overland Telegraph Line - a cable from Java to Port Darwin.

The Darwin to Java cable is described as follows:

  1. general ideas as to the landing points and route;
  2. laying the cable at Port Darwin;
  3. laying the cable to Banjoewangi;
  4. the major interruption.

Landing points and the route.

In the late 1860s, it was an almost accepted fact that a cable from Singapore would land somewhere on Java or nearby and then be laid to Queensland. Indeed the Queensland Government had constructed a line from the east coast at Cardwell to Normanton on the Gulf of Carpentaria.

An alternative to a direct cable to Queensland was a shorter cable to Port Darwin and then down to the Roper River or beyond to link with a land line from Normanton or Burketown. The difficulty with that suggestion was that the British Australian Telegraph Company would not now pay for the land-line to Queensland and South Australia was not happy about Queensland constructing a line across its Northern Territory.

The developments of these ideas are of great interest and some of the original correspondence is included as part 1 and part 2 elsewhere. Fascinating reading of great historical significance. A "must read" collection.

Laying the Darwin end of the cable.

On 26 October 1871, a number of ships dropped anchor in Port Darwin. Their arrival was a surprise although not unexpected. They had been chartered by the British-Australian Company. The vessels were:

One of the engineers (Stephenson) soon selected a site for the shore station at Port Darwin and a hut was quickly erected. Essential but basic telegraph equipment was then installed. The next task was to construct quarters for the telegraphists and the BAT superintendent of the land-based operation Mr. Enston Squier. The locals of the Colonial administration were put to shame - the BAT personnel had everything possible including a piano, an extensive library and a billiard table.

The landing place: the small telegraphists hut is located at the top of the beach about in the middle of the picture.
The Administrators Residence is on the top at the right.
The BAT and Overland Telegraph personnel quarters are to the left.

Patterson was informed that, after the land connection was made, the task of paying the cable would take 10 days - certainly less than a fortnight. Not good news for someone in charge of a project which was so far behind schedule.

Laying the cable to Banjoewangi.

On Tuesday 7 November 1871, the BAT staff were mobilised. The Hibernia was moored about 1.5 miles from the beach. Three boats were placed between the Hibernia and the beach - each with a wooden bight to hold the cable up as it was brought to the shore. A trench was also dug from the low-water mark to the telegraphists hut.

Captain Halpin (in the foreground) on the shore supervising the landing of the cable.
The Hibernia is in the background with the three small boats holding the cable.

A light line was first run from the Hibernia across the boats. This line was hauled in with the heavy cable attached to the end. All the time, a chant was called to coordinate the pulling. Finally the cable reached the hut and the connection was made and tested from the Hibernia. Naturally "a tot of grog" was then served to all involved. The cable was freed from the bights on the three small boats and all was in readiness to begin sailing.

The Hibernia left immediately, followed by the other two ships, and by night fall, the fleet was out of sight from the land. On 20 November, the Hibernia dropped anchor at Banjoewangi and the cable was joined to the shore end.

That connection placed Australia in contact with England. Messages were immediately sent by Mr. Squier to the head of the BAT in England. In his message, he commented that the overland wire was far from complete and that he did not think there was any chance of it being completed by the due date of 31 December. The cable could now be used for telegrams sent from Port Darwin and progressively to the south.

The interruption.

But then, on 24 June 1872, the Port Darwin station reported the news that the cable had gone dead. It remained inoperative while Todd's men worked to complete the overland sections. On 18 October the news arrived that, after months of grappling the cable, the fault had been located. The service was restored on 21 October and, as Todd announced "The Australian Colonies were connected with the grand electric chain which unites all the nations of the earth".

The next possible venture.

In October 1874, discussions were held between the Governments of Queensland, New South Wales and New Zealand "for the purpose of making the necessary preliminary arrangements for constructing the proposed Queensland-Singapore and New South Wales-New Zealand cables, provided for by the respective Governments in 1873-74" (1874 Annual Report for Queensland by the Superintendent, p. 1024).

A second cable was laid to duplicate the first in 1879. It followed the same route.