Tasmania: 1854-1900.
Overview of telegraph line development.

The development of the telegraph network in Tasmania is perhaps more complex than in any of the other Colonies. As with all Colonies, it had the interaction of the private and the public sector and the appointment of the top private representative to the top position in the government telegraph organisation - almost an Australian tradition in the early days of the telegraph!

As a measure of the timeline, it must be noted that Tasmania was established as a self-governing colony of the British Empire in 1856 - three years after the name of the Colony was changed from Van Dieman's Land to Tasmania.

There are three types of Telegraph Office which served Tasmania and these are presented separately:

  1. Telegraph Offices on lines constructed by the Telegraph Department;
  2. Telegraph Offices on lines constructed by the private railway companies - especially the Launceston & Western Railway Company and the Tasmanian Main Line Railway Company;
  3. Telegraph Offices on lines constructed by the Tasmanian Government Railways.

Sydney Morning Herald of 19 January 1856 reported that, in the Tasmanian Legislative Council in Hobart Town, the Colonial Secretary had moved on the 8th instant, the appropriation of £3,000 for the establishment of an electric telegraph between George Town and Launceston. The motion suggested that such a line would be a great saving to the colony and be the first commencement of a connecting line between Tasmania and Australia. If the sum were voted, it would be commenced immediately. The motion was passed and, at the same time, an additional £2,000 was voted for line joining Hobart Town to Mount Lewis.

A month later, the Hobart Town Advertiser stated that Mr.William Brown, of that city, had made an offer to the Government to erect an electric telegraph from Mount Lewis to Hobart Town, thence to Launceston and GeorgeTown, and to complete the whole within nine months from signing the contract, for the sum of £16,000. The offer was under consideration at the time of publication.

Telegraph Offices were opened with increasing frequency although the distances between neighbouring offices became closer - sometimes less than 10 km apart. Although there may be good geographical reasons for such proximity in some cases, there was an over-abundance of Telegraph Offices which in turn developed a financial pressure on the Department of Telegraphs.

A summary of the development is as follows:

Year No. of Stations Miles of wire
1871 14 291
1877 45 720
1887 119 1,773
1897 160 24,461
1900 202 28,373


Lines constructed by the Department of Telegraphs.

North-west region:

North-east region:

Tas overview Line construction in Tasmania took place within reasonably distinct time periods and within regions partly determined by the difficult terrain which makes Tasmania such a special wilderness area.

An analysis of the line construction is presented within each of the regions shown in the map at left. These regions are based approximately on the terrain facilitating line construction and not on other considerations such as government boundaries, etc.

Details can be obtained by using the various hyperlinks:

The First line is shown in black.

From 1885, lines constructed were joint telegraph-telephone line. These saved considerably on construction costs and were claimed to be equally effective to distances of about 25 miles.

South-west region:

South-east region:



Telegraph lines associated with private railways.

Complicating the situation of the telegraph in Tasmania was the role of private railway operations. These included:

  1. the Launceston & Western Railway Line;
  2. the Mersey and Deloraine Training Company. It was formed in 1864 to link Deloraine with the North West Coast using a line with a 4'6" gauge. It opened early in 1872 with only 17 miles of track. Demand for the service was far less than anticipated and the company was forced to retire its only engine after only 4 months of operation. The line was then worked by horses between Latrobe and Railton for seasonal produce traffic. In 1885, the company was absorbed into the Tasmanian Government Railways.
  3. the Tasmanian Main Line Railway Company.

The Tasmanian Government Railways.

Tas rail 1876
Source: Wikipedia
By 1876, all railway operations came under the control of the Tasmanian Government Railways.

The network of lines is shown in the Wikipedia map at left. The two main private lines are marked.

Many of the railway stations shown also had telegraph facilities which were linked into the Post and Telegraph line both operationally and organisationally. That merging began in 1876 with the Hobart Town and Launceston Telegraph Offices being nominated as exchange stations with the Main Line Railway. Reference is made to individual stations in the context of the discussions on the five separate Department of Telegraphs lines.