New South Wales - Colonial: 1858 -1900.
The first telegraph line.


On this page, the following descriptions are included:

  1. Background to the first lines in N.S.W.
  2. Sydney to South Head.
  3. The line to Liverpool.
  4. The first Telegraph Station in Sydney.
  5. The opening of the lines to South Head and Liverpool.
  6. Additional lines.
    6.1: Line to Fort Phillip.
    6.2: Line to the Railway Station
  7. Rate of return.


1. Background

After the introduction of the Electric Telegraph into Victoria in 1855, discussions were held in all Colonies about its implications. The Sydney Morning Herald of 2 June 1855 noted the following - a long time before the first NSW line was even contemplated:

"A project for establishing magnetic telegraphic communications between Sydney and Melbourne, by means of the magneto-electric telegraph (Henley's patent) has been started in Sydney by Messrs. A. and V. G. Sprigg, who have recently arrived in Sydney. The working of the instruments in the presence of the members of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce and the Sydney Exchange Company, and other gentlemen interested in scientific and mercantile affairs, has attracted much attention. We fear, however, that the immense expense which it is estimated must be incurred in laying down the telegraph from Sydney to Melbourne (£500 per mile) will be a barrier in the way of practically considering the project for some time to come. Even from Sydney to Newcastle and the other towns of the rich districts of the Hunter, whose present postal steam communications with Sydney are often impeded by reason of bad weather, and the impediments in the way of the navigation of the port of Newcastle and the River Hunter, the plan of laying down a magnetic telegraph is not considered with favour on account of the heavy expenses which, it would appear, must be involved".

The actual telegraphic history of New South Wales began after a Committee from the Legislative Assembly had visited Victoria and South Australia to see for themselves the telegraphic operations in those Colonies. Their recommendation was to establish a Select Committee to investigate the issue further and this was put to a vote in the Legislative Assembly on 31 October 1856. Their recommendation was against the view of the then Governor who stated in July 1856 that

"in the present state of the Colony there does not appear to be any such demand for the adoption of these rapid means of conveying intelligence, as would justify an application to the Council for its sanction to the large outlay which would be required for the establishment of an electric telegraph on the most economical principle".

Nevertheless the Select Committee of the Legislative Council was appointed on the 31st October 1856 to consider and report upon the subject of the introduction into New South Wales of the Electric Telegraph. On the 19th December, Mr Parkes moved, in the Legislative Assembly, that an address be presented to his Excellency the Governor, praying him to adopt the report of the Select Committee, which advised the construction of a Telegraph line to Albury, to join that of Victoria, at a cost of £38,000. Doubts were expressed as to whether the colony was in a position to undertake such a work, and, after some discussion, an amendment was carried to the effect that the subject be adjourned till the 30th December. At that stage, all telegraph matters were the responsibility of the Department of Public Works and its Director Captain B. H. Martindale.

On 25 December 1856, the Maitland Mercury included an editorial:


"It appears to us that the Legislative Assembly would make a proper use of the national resources, by voting the necessary sum to connect this colony with Victoria by Electric Telegraph. Practically, as the report of the Select Committee shows, this would connect us also with Tasmania and South Australia. The sum of £38,000 seems large to devote to any one object but the mere commercial value of instantaneous information to the colony might save that sum in a year. And what the colony would generally receive benefit from, the colony may well pay for.

Some time since we took occasion to condemn the constant tendency of Sydney residents to attach undue importance to their inter-colonial communications with Victoria, and to slight unjustly the quickening of communications within the colony itself. But the arguments which were just as applied to railroads would be quite out-of-place in reference to the electric telegraph. In a proposed improvement so enormously costly as railroads, the development of the productive wealth of the country incurring the cost is the only sound justification. A mere political advantage purchased at such cost should never be tolerated by a free country. But in the Electric Telegraph, where instantaneous communication, commercial and political, can be procured at the trifling cost of £100 per mile original outlay, and a slight yearly cost perhaps fully made up by the current receipts — the political as well as the commercial use may fairly be an element in the consideration.

The desire for instantaneous communication between the merchants of Sydney and Melbourne would cause a large telegraph business, where a railroad connection would attract little business. The railroad up the Hunter to Armidale will in all probability develop much more additional wealth for the colony than the railroad from Sydney to Albury from the nature of the country passed through. But the electric telegraph would be of infinitely more use at present between Sydney and Melbourne than on any other line that can be named in this colony. That, therefore, should unquestionably be the first line of electric telegraph attempted. In good time, Maitland and the other northern towns will doubtless have the line extended to them, and enjoy also the advantage of instantaneous communication with Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Launceston and Hobart Town".

On the 28th December 1856, the Legislative Assembly resumed the adjourned debate and ultimately passed the resolution to allocate £38,000 in the 1857 Estimates for the construction of the telegraph line between Sydney and Melbourne.

At that stage, the Government had no intention of extending lines of telegraph to any other part of the Colony except to the south to join Victoria.

The Empire of 1 January 1857 updated its readers with:

"We refer to the subject introduced by Mr. Parkes the last evening of his sitting in the Assembly as Chairman of a Select Committee - we mean the establishment of the Electric Telegraph between Sydney and Melbourne. It will be remembered that the debate was adjourned and so, by Mr. Parkes' resignationParkes had been elected to the first NSW Legislative Assembly in March 1856. In December 1856, he was forced to resign and stated the cause of his resignation as being the impossibility of properly performing his public duty with the pressing demands on his time from his personal affairs. He needed give full attention to his newspaper - the Empire - then in serious financial difficulties., it fell out of his hands.

But it has been brought to a successful issue so far as a general vote can do it. The establishment of the line is resolved on, the report has been adopted. This also, if carried out, will be a triumph for the new year. It becomes an essential part of our new steam postal arrangement with Great Britain and is very necessary to give that arrangement its completest effect. It is wrong that intelligence received at Melbourne should not reach Sydney till two or three days afterwards. How much our trade may suffer by the interception of news it is impossible to calculate. And besides the advantage which must arise in connection with the steam mail arrangements, there is the constant transmission of common intelligence between these two great cities. It will annihilate, in some sort, the whole distance between them and make us parted only as if by a bridge. If anything costly is fit to be done, this must have claims among the very first items".

At this stage, the Empire published one of the best editorials about the role envisaged for and the place to be occupied by the Electric Telegraph. Worth the read!!
The reference in the editorial to "God's wrath" - like the name of Gribble's great book on Queensland Telegraphs - harks back to Samuel Morse who, on 27 May 1844 sent the first official telegraphic message which was "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT".

On 6th January, the Speaker in the Legislative Assembly announced that:

"he had presented to the Governor-General the Report of the Legislative Assembly, recommending the establishment of an Electric Telegraph and that his Excellency had been pleased to return the following reply:

The Governor General has great pleasure in acceding to the request contained in the address of the Legislative Assembly of the 30th December, 1856 and will cause the sum of £38,000 to be placed upon the Estimates for 1857 for the purpose of defraying a portion of the cost of laying down a line of electric telegraph between Sydney and Melbourne. The Governor General will cause the necessary communication with the Government of Victoria to be made without delay".

Details of the first NSW inter-colonial line - from Sydney (Liverpool) to Albury - are provided elsewhere.

On Wednesday 11 February, 1857 the House went into committee on the Estimates: "The item of £38,000,towards meeting the expense of connecting the cities of Sydney and Melbourne by electric telegraph, was passed on a division by 22 to 8".

There certainly was some opposition to the creation of an electric telegraph in New South Wales - as is shown by the vote. On 2 May 1857, Mr Weekes M.P. addressed a public meeting held at the Court House in East Maitland to render an account of his stewardship. Inter alia he noted:

"There were some points on which he believed he had been opposed to the views of his constituents. He was opposed to the electric telegraph. In the present condition of the colony, it was a piece of wasteful extravagance. He said this although he could appreciate its importance to Sydney and to the mercantile man there. The first outlay asked for was £38,000 but when the first part of the work only was considered, the clearing of a space 40 feet wide to Albury, a distance of 400 miles, a supplemental vote might well be anticipated. And then the working staff would cost £1,100 a year. In fact, it would be the creation of a fresh Department. We were already overburdened with Departments and soon we should hardly be able to stir abroad without every third man we met being a public officer. As to following the example of Victoria, it was a dangerous practice to follow suit; it was folly for a man to beggar himself in the attempt to cut as fine an appearance to his neighbour if he could not afford it. We only had to wait forty eight hours for the want of the telegraph and we did not lose a mail through it. The community would reap but little benefit from it, and therefore, when the roads needed so much improvement, and when economy was so much called for, he gave this vote his decided opposition (Cheers)".

2. Sydney to South Head.

In the Legislative Council of 26 August 1857, Mr. Deas. Thompson noted "He might mention also that the establishment of a telegraph between Sydney and the Heads was also under consideration. It was at first thought that a submarine cable would be the best but, when it was considered that this would be liable to be disturbed by vessels anchoring, it was deemed that the most efficient way would be to carry the line overland".

The Sydney to South Head line was commenced on 27 October 1857 and it was completed in early January 1858. The wire was first laid from the Exchange up Bridge Street and along George Street to the General Post Office. Combining the reports on 16 and 17 November 1857 from the Empire and the Sydney Morning Herald, the construction story indicates, by mid-November nearly all the posts for carrying the wire were up from Woolloomooloo to the Signal Station at South Head. They followed along the side of the new South Head Road from the top of William Street as far as Vaucluse. The wires crossed the Domain and (probably) terminated at the Exchange.

The poles were very stout and firmly planted, their lower ends fire-hardened. They stood 18 feet high from the ground and were placed at intervals of about 60 yards apart. The wire, furnished by Messrs. L. and S. Samuel, had been delivered

South Head
The telegraph poles along South Head Road about 1858.
Source: NLA C4076.

The cost of the line to South Head was £657 6s 8d - which is about £91 per mile - including instruments and station fittings. The cost of this line was higher than expected because most of the holes for the telegraph posts had to be cut into rock. Extra labour was also required when the line was constructed through the centre of Sydney - see page 6 of Martindale's 1858 Report.

Communication from the Exchange to South Head was deferred for about a week while the instruments were installed and adjusted. Communication was available to the public from 27 January (see below).

On 8 February 1858, a display by Messrs. A. and V. G. Sprigg was recountered by the Shipping Gazette in terms of what lessons had been accepted:

"What is the present use of our Electric Telegraph? This is a question which demands immediate attention. When, about two years and a half ago, the Messrs. Sprigg illustrated the working of the Electric Telegraph in the Sydney Chamber of Commerce — the wires being coiled so as to represent the distance between South Head and Sydney — they urged on the Chamber the expediency of at once laying down wires between those points. The suggestion was treated coldly, on the ground that the present two signal stations were equal to any requirements of the port. Undoubtedly they are so during the day time, the weather being favourable, but at night or on foggy misty days, the flag signals of course are useless. The project of the Messrs. Sprigg was, however, negatived; and it was not until the fearful night wrecks of the Dunbar20 August 1857 - driven onto the rocks at the base of South Head and broke up immediately. 121 lives lost - one of Australia's worst maritime peacetime disasters. James Johnson was the only survivor and he was rescued from the rocks 36 hours later. and Catherine AdamsonWrecked 9 weeks after the Dunbar - some lives were saved by a steamer from Watsons Bay but all left on board perished. that the importance of an electric telegraph between South Head Road and Sydney was fully recognised.

All possible expedition was accordingly used in completing this line, which has now been open for some weeks.

But the hours for sending and receiving messages are from nine in the morning until six in the evening! The most important purpose of the telegraph is, therefore, set aside. The Exchange closes at the same hour; no person sleeps on the premises; and noble ships may again be known to lie in imminent danger at the Heads and no means of prompt communication with Sydney be available. This state of things surely exhibits a grave oversight. It is the opinion of nautical men of this port that, had an electric telegraph been available when the Catherine Adamson was known by the pilots at the Heads, to be in danger, she would have been saved and the sad sacrifice of human life averted".

Arrangements were soon made to have messages transmitted between the Exchange and South Head at any time - the office then being opened for night duty. On 10 February, the Sydney Morning Herald reported "The value of the telegraph to South Head will be greatly increased when certain arrangements, which are in progress for signalling at night, in cases of necessity, shall have been perfected".

The Sydney Morning Herald of 16 March 1858 noted the success of the telegraph to the Colony:

"The usefulness of all new inventions or applications of inventions are, for the most part, of gradual development. Not so with our telegraph which is already of acknowledged utility to our mercantile community and which will, ere long, on the completion of the great southern inter-colonial line, spread its benefits far and wide throughout the colony.

Yesterday morning intelligence was communicated from the telegraph station, South Head, to Sydney, of the approach of the Wonga Wonga, with English news and of the arrival of the European mail steamer at Melbourne, at least an hour before it could be ascertained through the old channel. Again the same evening, the approach of the European herself was intimated considerably in advance of the time required by the former appliances.

We are much indebted to the superintendent at the Exchange for his prompt and unremitting attention".

The Empire of 3 April 1860 reported: "During the thunder storm last week, a great number of the telegraph posts near the South Head were struck by the lightning - and from the top to the bottom of each post, an incision has been made by the electric fluids and pieces of the posts scattered in chips and splinters to a considerable distance, leaving a ragged groove about an inch wide and half an inch deep from top to bottom of each post. The effect produced is altogether so extraordinary that is worth the attention of scientific men. About 15 posts altogether have been injured. From the way in which the splinters of the wood stand, it looks as if the electric field ascended the posts. Is this probable? - or to what is the peculiarity owing?


3. The Line to Liverpool.

In the Legislative Assembly on 26 February 1857, the item of £1,000 for the construction of the electric telegraph between Sydney and Parramatta had been withdrawn. Work did not commence on constructing the line to Liverpool for some time because of the negotiations related to the awarding of a contract for the Liverpool to Albury line in May 1857 to connect Sydney to Melbourne (details in first line south). Around September 1857, the railway line between Liverpool and Campbelltown was being constructed.

The first line from Sydney (at Redfern) to Liverpool was short - 22 miles. Martindale's 1858 Report (p. 5) indicates that the Government undertook the construction of this line themselves along the Railway to Liverpool line. The Government invited tenders, through the Gazette, to supply the wire for the Sydney-Liverpool line on 3 July 1857. The first post for the electric telegraph line was erected at Liverpool on the 17th July 1857. "The assembled spectators gave three cheers".

"In a reply to a question from the Sydney Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Martindale noted:

"The Chairman stated that the following letters had been received from the Secretary for Lands and Public Works, in reply to one addressed to that Minister by the chamber interrogatory of the progress of electric telegraphic communication in this colony:

57-3356. Department of Land and Public Works,
Sydney, 22nd September, 1857.

Sir-With reference to your letter of the 7th ultimo, requesting that such information may be afforded as would enable you to reply to a letter received from the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce soliciting intelligence as to the progress made in this colony towards the construction of telegraphic communication with Victoria, I am now directed by the Secretary for Lands and Public Works to forward to you in satisfaction of the above request, the accompanying copy of a report, 14th September, 1857, received from the Chief Commissioner of Railways on the subject.

I have the honour to be, Sir, your most obedient servant, Mishael Fitzpatrick.
The Secretary to the Chamber of Commerce, Sydney.
57-78 Railway Department, Sydney, 14th September, 1857.

Sir - In reference to your minute of the 2nd instant, requesting me to report as to the progress made in this colony towards the construction of telegraphic communication with Victoria, I have the honour to inform you that between Sydney and Liverpool the work is progressing satisfactorily and I hope this length will be completed during the next month.

Mr. Hall is the contractor for the construction of the Telegraph between Liverpool and Albury and the time fixed for completion is the 1st January 1858. The progress of the work is, however, most unsatisfactory, and it will be my duty shortly to request your special attention to this subject.

I have, &c, (Signed) B. H. Martindale.
The Hon. the Secretary of Lands and Public Works.

On the motion of Mr. Hirst, it was decided that the information contained in the foregoing letters should be communicated to the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce. The Chairman thought the letter ought likewise to contain, in clear and distinct terms, an expression of their disappointment at the progress of this great public work".
(Empire, 2 October 1857 p. 5)

The line to Liverpool was completed in October 1857 at a cost of £1,837 6s 7d. It opened to the public on 8 January 1858. Liverpool was the starting station for the Southern line to Victoria beginning with a line to Picton. As noted elsewhere, it is probable that the telegraph line to Liverpool followed the route along the railway line: Redfern - Parramatta - Liverpool - Campbelltown.

No station was planned at that time for Parramatta. On 10 July 1858, a derailment near Liverpool involved six carriages leaving the tracks and two people were killed. Officials in the Telegraph were impeded because two posts had been knocked down and interrupted the line. When the break had been repaired, the officials maintained their official silence about the nature of telegraph messages related to the accident - as they are properly required to do. On 21 July 1858, the Empire reported that "In answer to a question from Mr. Parkes, it was stated by Mr. Roberts that no instructions were given at the Telegraph Station on the 10th instant to withhold information respecting the railway accident, and that there were no instruments between Sydney and Liverpool for telegraphic communication, but that the necessary instruments will be placed at Parramatta as soon as they can be procured".

As the Sydney Morning Herald reported on 19 October 1858:

"With reference to our leader of yesterday, it will be seen by the advertisement which appears in our issue of to-day that one of the desiderata on the railway is about to be supplied, for the long-expected telegraphic instruments having arrived in Sydney, offices will on Wednesday next be opened in the railway stations at Redfern and Parramatta. This will enable the commissioners to use the telegraph for the working of the single line between Parramatta and Campbelltown, which the want of instruments has hitherto prevented them from doing and will also be a great convenience to the public".


4. The first Telegraph Office in Sydney.

The first step of constructing a line was to establish a starting point - the first Telegraph Station in the Colony. Martindale's 1858 Report addresses this stage (p.6):

"Arrangements having been made with the Director's of the Exchange Company for the use of two excellent rooms in the Exchange as a head office for the present at a nominal rent, an instrument was placed there and the Liverpool and the South Head lines connected with it, instruments being at the same time set up at those stations".

The Sydney Exchange - known as the Royal Exchange of Sydney from 1901 - had been established in 1851 as a major place of business by providing a place of meeting for the commercial community. It was a supporting institution for the later establishment of both the Sydney Stock Exchange and the Wool Exchange. The Exchange operated from temporary premises while a new building was being erected during the August 1853 to October 1857 period on land which had been granted to the Exchange on Gresham Street opposite Macquarie Place (basically the corner of Pitt and Bridge Streets). Because such a beautiful building was constructed which was so important to Sydney's history, it was demolished in 1964. The Royal Exchange now has a new building which is situated on the same area on Gresham Street.

At this stage, it is enlightening to recall that the Melbourne to Wodonga line had been completed and was operational in late January 1858.

And then to the Opening of the Office!!

"On Wednesday (30 December 1857) the interesting ceremony of opening the Sydney Exchange took place and excited very large and general interest. Nearly the whole of the mercantile world of Sydney was present and the attendance of his Excellency the Governor-General, the Heads of Departments, the Foreign Consuls and the Officers of the 77th Regiment rendered the scene an imposing and brilliant one. The ceremony of opening was performed by the Governor-General. On the arrival of his Excellency, Mr. T. C. Breillat (Chairman of the Exchange Company) presented him with an address detailing the origin and progress of the building to which his Excellency read a suitable reply. The Chamber of Commerce likewise presented an address — his Excellency having briefly replied. The French and American Consuls came forward and delivered most eloquent addresses after which his Excellency and suite repaired to the room set apart for the telegraph apparatus for the purpose of transmitting the first message by lightning to Liverpool. The operation was not successful - the controller of the department at Liverpool being a novice and not understanding the message conveyed. A most brilliant ball in the evening terminated the proceedings".
(Freeman's Journal 2 January 1858)

Explanations of the problem and its solution appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald published on 9 January 1858:


The following information respecting the electric telegraph was kindly furnished to us by Captain Martindale, Superintendent of Electric Telegraphs and Chief Commissioner of Railways. The line of communication which has just been opened and put into operation for the first time to-day is between Sydney and Liverpool. The line to the South Head is also finished, but the instruments are not yet adjusted in their places. It is expected that, in the course of next week, they will be completed and put into active operation on the line. By their means, Sydney will be put into instant communication with Port Jackson Heads — the want of which has been long and lately very severely felt ...

The instrument was worked by Mr. H. Macy Lay who explained the principles on which the messages were transmitted and answers received. The first question forwarded to Liverpool, which is the only line at present in working order, was "Can you read my writing?" No answer was received for several minutes. On the question being repeated, an answer arrived that "the pen of the instrument at Liverpool did not mark and was out of order". The reply thus speedily transmitted proved that the communication with Liverpool was perfect but, owing to the newness of the instrument and the gentleman engaged at Liverpool being unaccustomed to the working of the telegraph, he was not able to rectify the instrument nor interpret what was said by the sound - which a practiced hand can readily do. The question "Have you got my writing plain" was then telegraphed and an answer was received in the lapse of a minute: "did not get it plain enough to read".

At the request of his Excellency, a message to the effect that the Exchange was opened was telegraphed; but, after waiting for several minutes and no answer being received, his Excellency returned to the Exchange. The means of communication were cut off from Sydney, which proved that the gentleman was preparing to answer. He, however, did not succeed in replying and, whether he was enabled to rectify the defect in his instrument or believed, from not being able to read the writing, that all queries were at an end, we are unable to say. It was stated that, as he had cut off the circuit, as if about to reply, it was impossible to send any other messages to Liverpool until he had fixed the key so as to allow the communication to proceed. The main causes of the instruments not working satisfactorily in the transmission of communications from end to end arose from the fact that the instruments were hastily put up and adjusted for the opening of the Exchange.

Since the trial was then made, we have learned from Mr. Lay that it was again worked and it was found that the communication was quick and uninterrupted. It is but right to state that the telegraph was opened to-day (30 December 1857) by the sanction of the Government - although the arrangements were not so complete as the controller of the department could have wished".

See also the description extracted from this article about the equipment used.

On 20 January 1858, the Empire informed its readers:

"From a notification issued by the Superintendent of Railways, we learn that, on the 26th instant, such of the public as may be desirous of seeing the Telegraph Instruments at work will, as far as practicable, be admitted into the Office in the Exchange between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., in parties not exceeding thirty at one time".

On the day following the opening, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on 27 January:

"The Electric Telegraph.
Taking advantage of the intimation that the Telegraph would be open to public inspection yesterday gratis, numbers flocked to the Exchange, eager to avail themselves of the opportunity of transmitting messages by electricity. Both lines - namely to Liverpool and the South Head - were in working order and were operated on according to the wishes of the different parties.

Some of the messages were rather curious and the favourite ones appeared to be "what time is it at Liverpool?" or "Is there a ship in sight at the Heads?" The answers were generally received within half a minute of the question being put.

The greatest interest and curiosity seemed to be excited at the celerity with which news could be conveyed at any distance. At the forthcoming elections, we have no doubt but the state of the poll in Liverpool will be made known in Sydney immediately the returns are made up.

The visitors to-day amounted to at least 5,000, and Mr. H. Macy Lacy, who worked the instrument, is entitled to the thanks of the public for his courtesy and urbanity".

There was the question of how could the Telegraph Office function when the Exchange was closed. An example of the ad hoc arrangements which became semi-permanent was on 6 April 1860 when advertisements were published to the effect that "the Electric Telegraph office will be open this morning from 8.30 to 10 o'clock and from 6 to 7 o'clock in the evening. Should the mail arrive, however, messages will be received and transmitted as usual. As the Exchange will be closed, messages will be received at the back entrance of the Telegraph Office".


5. The Opening of the lines to South Head and Liverpool to the public.



Notice is hereby given that on and after the 26th instant, the line of electric telegraph between Sydney and Liverpool and Sydney and the South Head will, by order of the Government, be open to the public for the transmission of messages.

Messages can also be transmitted between the South Head and Liverpool direct.

Printed copies of the Regulations, containing the rate of charges and other necessary information, can be obtained at the Telegraph Offices or at the Office of the Railway Department on and after the 23rd instant.

The following Offices will be open for the transmission of messages from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, Sundays excepted, till further notice :

SYDNEY OFFICE: At the Exchange.

SOUTH HEAD OFFICE: At the Signal House.

LIVERPOOL OFFICE: At the Railway Station.

B. H. Martindale, Superintendent, 10 January 1858.

Various newspapers, such as the Empire of 27 January 1858, contained the following announcement:

"Both the South Head and Liverpool lines were opened by His Excellency the Governor-General on 26 January 1858 and opened for general use by the public the following day".

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the following day:

"Taking advantage of the intimation that the Telegraph would be open to public inspection yesterday gratis, numbers flocked to the Exchange, eager to avail themselves of the opportunity of transmitting messages by electricity. Both lines - to Liverpool and the South Head - were in working order and were operated on according to the wishes of the different parties. Some of the messages were rather curious and the favourite ones appeared to be "what time is it at Liverpool?" or "is there a ship in sight at the Heads?" The answers were generally received within half a minute of the question being put. The greatest interest and curiosity seemed to be excited at the celerity with which news could be conveyed at any distance.

At the forthcoming elections, we have no doubt but the state of the poll in Liverpool will be made known in Sydney immediately the returns are made up. The visitors to-day amounted to at least 5,000, and Mr. H. Macy Lacy, who worked the instrument, is entitled to the thanks of the public for his courtesy and urbanity".


6. Additional lines.

Short additional lines were also needed immediately within Sydney to extend the telegraphic communication within that locality.

6.1: Line to Fort Phillip.

The Empire of 17 March 1858 noted:

"In order to render the advantages of telegraphic communication more general, it has been determined by the Superintendent of Electric Telegraphs in this colony to connect the General Post Office and the signal station, Fort Phillip,The Fort was intended to protect Sydney from attack. It was however demolished in 1840 and a new signal station erected which in turn became part of the Sydney Observatory built in 1857. with the line to South Head. The posts are in a forward state of erection. The wire will, we believe, proceed from the Exchange up Bridge Street and along George Street to the General Post Office, whence a second wire will return as far as Bridge Street, across George Street, and up Church Hill, proceeding along Princes Street, and up by the National School to the Signal Station.

The Port Master's Office will also be immediately placed in telegraphic communication with the Signal Station at South Head.

The great southern line of electric telegraph will be completed as far as Picton, on Thursday next.

Mr. Macey Lay has been despatched to Albury on business connected with the intercolonial line of telegraph; and Mr. Cracknell will, in a short time, be sent on a similar mission to Picton".

The Dockyard and Naval Department included John Nicholson as Harbour Master of Port Jackson who had many responsibilities including being Superintendent of the Lighthouse on South Head. His office was almost immediately placed in telegraphic communication with the Signal Station at South Head.

This work was competed on 31 March (!!!).

The total cost of the line from Fort Phillip via the Telegraph Office at the Exchange to South Head was £832 ls. 4d. A moving arm semaphore system had been constructed between Fort Phillip and South Head for signalling shipping information in 1828 and it was soon followed by a similar system at Hobart Town, Tasmania.

6.2: The line to the Redfern Railway Station.

The station at Redfern was connected by a 1½ mile line to the main Telegraph Office in the Sydney Exchange in January 1858. A seven mile line extended north from the Railway Office at Redfern to South Head (via the Exchange) and south-west to Liverpool to begin the line to Albury. Both lines were commenced in January and were completed in March 1858. Unfortunately there were no instruments to install in the Redfern station so it remained closed for several months.

The line was constructed with hard-wood saplings, 23 feet high, with No. 6 galvanized wire, suspended by means of insulators on the tops of the poles. The instruments in use were Morse's recording instruments which were universally adopted throughout the inter-colonial lines.

On the day the line to Campbelltown was opened, "The station at Redfern was also put in telegraphic communication with Campbelltown for the day, in case any emergency should arise The Campbelltown telegraph station was continued open for public use, being connected with Liverpool, the South Head and the Exchange, Sydney". The reference to "for the day" is telling because we recall that there were no instruments to install at Redfern permanently.

It is interesting to note that, given the close connection between the construction of the railway and of the telegraph, a railway line was also being proposed to link Redfern and Hyde Park (i.e. the City):

"there is one other proposed extension that demands attention, viz., to bring the railway into Hyde Park from Redfern and to make the terminal station in the Park. The reasons urged in favour of this measure are:

  • the great inconvenience to the public of the distance to the present terminus;
  • the central position of Hyde Park, and
  • the probable consequent increase of passengers especially to and from the suburban districts.

It is rather a question for the Government than for me, how far it may be judicious to encroach with railway upon what has always, I understand, been looked upon as one of "the lungs" of Sydney. The plans and sections are not in a sufficiently forward state to be laid before you. But I am informed by the Engineer-in-Chief that the line at present projected would pass over Devonshire Street by a bridge, through the west side of Carter's Police Barracks, over Hay Street by a bridge and across Elizabeth Street by another bridge at its junction with Market Lane; then across Goulburn Street and, after passing under Liverpool Street by a bridge, enter Hyde Park. The terminal station being on the side opposite Market Street. The sharpest curve would have a radius of 30 chains, and the steepest gradient would be 1 in 70. The only land requiring to be purchased would be about 350 yards run from Elizabeth Street to Liverpool Street containing an acre and a half, more or less. The station buildings might he put up at £20,000",
(Sydney Morning Herald 17 November 1857).



7. Questions about the Rate of Return.

Captain Martindale was a strong supporter of the development of the telegraph and was really responsible for the early administrative and construction activities - in his joint capacities of Undersecretary for Public Works, Commissioner for Main Roads, Commissioner for Railways and Superintendent of Electric Telegraphs. Nevertheless, using the Budget debate in the Legislative Assembly on 1 February 1861, the issue of the profitability of telegraph lines arose. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Henry Parkes arose and said:

"That (issue of profitability) hardly applies to the South Head line. That line was established for a peculiar purpose, more, perhaps, with a view of saving life, and whether that particular line pays or not I think, for the interests of humanity, it ought to be maintained (Hear, hear). We might get important intelligence at the dead of night when there was no other means of getting news by which we might save a shipload of valuable lives".