Queensland: Colonial period: 1861-1900.
The first telegraphic line.

The beginning

Queensland's telegraphic history began with the construction of an inter-colonial telegraph line linking Brisbane to Sydney very soon after Queensland had separated from New South Wales on 1 June 1860. Once that critically important line was completed, intra-colonial routes began to be constructed in various directions.

Actually there had been previous telegraphic messages - the first being on 7 February 1860 when a telegram was sent from Sydney to Newcastle and then by steamer to Brisbane.

By November 1860, Captain Martindale of NSW Public Works and Superintendent of Electric Telegraphs noted in his Report "It may be anticipated that the action of the Queensland Government will shortly place that country in telegraphic communication with this and the neighbouring colonies".

Tenders were called on 22 September 1860 for the construction of the first line in Queensland which was to run from Brisbane to Warwick and then to the border. Tenders were let to Brown and Sherry on 13 October 1860 for an agreed cost of £38/5/6 per mile. The route was estimated to be 157 miles.

First line
The Queensland line ran:
  • from Brisbane to Ipswich. This line opened to the public on 13 April 1861 when 22 telegrams were handled;
  • via Gatton to Toowoomba;
  • south to Drayton (telegraph office opened 15 October 1861) and on to Warwick.

It reached the border at Maryland (or Bookookarara) and joined the New South Wales line at Tenterfield.

The New South Wales lines were extended from Sydney to the north to Tenterfield to join the Queensland line. The line to Tenterfield was completed on 9 July 1861. The final join was actually made near Maryland, close to the border, on 2 November 1861. The first formal message was sent by the Governor of New South Wales - Sir John Young (NSW) on 6 November:

" I congratulate the two colonies, New South Wales and Queensland, on the completion of the communication between them by telegraph. The wire is an emblem of the congenial feelings which unites them to rejoice, each in the resources and advancement of the other".

The Governor of Queensland - Sir George Bowen - was however unable to make an immediate reply as had been planned. A severe storm at Tenterfield had caused lightning to fuse conductors and so the telegraph was down. A three day delay caused the reply to be sent on 9 November 1861:

"Cordially reciprocate on behalf of Queensland, your congratulations of the reunion by the telegraphic wire of the two great neighbouring colonies whose feelings and interests are so nearly identical. With you, I pray that this new bond may prove an emblem of mutual good will, and of rapidly increasing prosperity".

The line was opened to the public for telegraphic communication soon after. The first English news to be received by telegraph rather than by steamer was received on 13 January 1862.

To assist with the acceptance of the telegraph by the public, the Superintendent Mr. J. J. Austin announced at the end of April 1861 that "the Telegraph Office will henceforth be opened to the public from half-past three to four o'clock on each day". As the transmission of messages by telegraph was a great novelty to many, he had plenty of visitors who wanted to inspect the working of the instruments.

Progress on line construction was suspended for a short time after this significant accomplishment except for:

At this time, the Chief Secretary was considering a proposal which had been made to him to lease the telegraph lines. In the Legislative Assembly on 19 June 1861, he noted "he objected to this particular proposal as throwing too much responsibility on the Government. It would be difficult to get a proper person to become lessee of these lines, and herein lay the main objection to the project. He should be sorry to find the line handed over to parties incapable of fulfilling their contract. As to buildings for telegraphic offices, in the case of Brisbane and Ipswich, the House had already voted for buildings, and in the towns in the interior, the government did not intend to erect buildings but to lease the most suitable buildings they could get. The item was then put and passed".

During the next 18 months, the future extensions were planned especially for the Northern line. Construction recommenced towards the end of 1864 with a second line from Ipswich to Toowoomba constructed to place Brisbane in direct communication with the northern stations.

New stations were opened on the line to NSW - at Goodna,

Work on the western lines was more scattered partly due to the vastness of the Colony and also because of the extremely difficult terrain of the great Dividing Range.

In 1870, plans were being made to re-do the Toowoomba to Warwick line but inside the railway fences. The proposal was to have two lines - one for use by the railways and one for use by the Telegraph Department. Partly the proposal was required because of the extensive repairs which would otherwise have to be made to the existing (first) line.

 

For a full and really excellent description of Queensland's telegraphic history, it is essential to read:
P. J. Gribble "What Hath God Wrought: A history of the Queensland Telegraph Service from 1861".