Western Australia - Colonial: 1861-1900.
The URGENT rate.

It is not clear exactly when the URGENT regulations and the special rate for telegrams was introduced in Western Australia.

The Perth Daily News of 28 October 1895 carried the following letter:

"A CORRESPONDENT in last Saturday's issue echoes a very wide-spread complaint in his protest against the "urgent   message" system, recently inaugurated by the Postmaster-General of this colony. Until a very short time ago, it was a hard-and-fast rule that all messages were sent by the Department in the order in which they were received, and that "urgent" messages were strictly confined to matters relating either to important Government business or to cases of sickness or death.

The departmental regulation at present in force bearing on this subject is as follows: 'Messages are transmitted in the order of their reception and no precedence is allowed except for special despatches on the service of the Government and in cases of pressing emergency, sickness or death.

But latterly, and particularly during the frequent blocks on our telegraph lines, a system has sprung into existence which permits anyone securing precedence of ordinary work by lodging 'urgent' messages' at double rates. No matter how the lines may be working and how many delayed messages lodged in good faith by the senders may be waiting their turn, the man with an 'urgent' telegram, to whom the extra payment is a mere bagatelle, is given precedence and his message is flashed across the wires long before others which may have been lodged some hours earlier. The result is that the block in ordinary business is largely intensified and complaints are numerous about the extraordinary delays which are constantly occurring in the receipt of telegrams.

The injustice to the public is manifest. It is unfair, in the first place, to impose the double rate tax upon any class of sender. By the regulations of the Department, the public are permitted to send telegrams, at certain fixed rates, and these rates are generally accepted as a fair and reasonable charge whilst it is understood that the messages have quick despatch and prompt delivery. On this latter point, there should be no mistake. If it is asserted that quick despatch and prompt delivery can only be guaranteed by the payment of double fees, then let the system apply in a more direct way by raising the rates all round 100 per cent. The increased price would seriously interfere with the usefulness and popularity of the telegraphs, but it would mean, no doubt, a heavy curtailment in the number of messages and so afford the department the work which it is manifestly incapable of doing at the present time.

Such an increase in rates cannot, however, be seriously urged but such a course of action would undoubtedly be more consistent and more honest than the 'urgent rate' system under which a long-suffering public are beginning to get exasperated. The advantages accruing to the Department from the new system are not in any way important. The extra amount paid for the quick transit of messages almost wholly confined to sharebroking transactions is not large. It cannot even be claimed for the system that it helps the Department in its endeavor to keep the lines clear and the work up to date. On the contary, the inrush of 'urgent ' messages between Perth and Adelaide, particularly during that period of the day when share dealing is most in evidence, has so seriously dislocated the inter-colonial service that the ordinary business of the day is rarely overtaken in anything like reasonable time. Hence it is that ordinary wires, lodged in Melbourne and Adelaide during early morning, are received late the same day, and if the line should be working badly, as is frequently the case, these messages are lucky if they are cleared within 24 hours after time of lodging.

It is somewhat difficult to fathom the reasons which actuated the head of this Department in sanctioning a system which is causing such grave irritation among the general public. At the present time, the complaints about the delays in the delivery of wires are very loud and deep, and it is little short of astounding that the Postmaster-General should, at the very time when his main lines are on the point of breaking down, announce a policy which, while benefitting a few, most operate disadvantageously to the interests of the many. The 'urgent' rate system, can only be regarded as part of a system of telegraphic communication which is inefficient and faulty from beginning to end. If the lines were in proper working order and the Department fully and competently manned, messages would be sent and received with the promptness which characterises the telegraph services of the other colonies.

Under ordinary circumstances, blocks on the inter-colonial line, causing serious delays in business, were to be expected, until such time as the new wire was erected. But it was not contemplated that a new system would be introduced which would further complicate and add to the difficulty. The adoption of the 'urgent message' system blocking, as it does, the prompt receipt of delivery of ordinary messages to the loss and inconvenience of the bulk of the public who use the telegraphs, is a serious mistake. We hope the Minister responsible for this Department will make full enquiries into the matter and abolish a practice which has little to recommend it and which must tend to intensify and increase the present unpopularity of the telegraph service".

The dominance of South Australia in the transmission of inter-colonial messages is shown by the following report in the Kalgoorlie Miner of 19 March 1897 - typical of many reports over the 1895-98 period:


"The members of the Sydney Stock Exchange waited on the Postmaster-General and complained of the delays in telegrams from Sydney to Westralia. He explained that the delays were caused through South Australia giving preference to the messages of that Colony on which urgent rates were paid. The deputation further requested that direct communication should be opened up between the Stock Exchange and the Melbourne Post Office and that exchange quotations from the other colonies should be allowed to come under Press rates. Mr Cook condemned the system of urgent messages and promised to consider the matters laid before him".

Adelaide Advertiser
11 January 1898:


"On January 1 the system of urgent telegrams ceased to exist in West Australia, but as far as this colony is concerned, urgent rates will be received to Eucla. The opinion of Mr. R. A. Sholl, Postmaster-General of the western colony, on the subject is worthy of reproduction: He said he always had been opposed to the system, as he considered that all telegrams were urgent and that the individual who had the most money should not be able to get his telegrams to their destination more rapidly than those who were not so well off. The system was an unfair one, and he was glad that it had been done away with".

Perth Daily News 18 March 1898


It was intended that, on Sir John Forrest's arrival in Adelaide, a large deputation of gentlemen interested in mining in Western Australia should wait on him in reference to the alluvial trouble and the reintroduction of the system of urgent telegrams but, owing to the Premier being pressed for time, three members of the deputation, Messrs. David Lindsay, C. Ring, and Chas. Chappie, accompanied the Premier to the steamer. Their object was to support the Minister of Mines in limiting the operations of alluvial mining to the surface working of land which has already been leased. The insecurity of tenure and the interference with the present working of leases were pointed out. It was also shown that the stopping of the acceptance of telegrams at urgent rates meant practically stagnation of business between Adelaide and Western Australia.

Sir John, in reply, told the delegates re the alluvial question exactly what he had said to the representative of The Morning Herald. He fully recognised the importance of protecting the leaseholder and his rights. As for urgent telegrams, he was in favor of reverting to the system and always had been, recognising the despatch which it gave to business, and being also cognisant of the increased revenue obtained therefrom. Nothing, however, would be done till Parliament met in June.