New South Wales - Colonial period: 1858-1900.
Lines in the north-central region.


The north-central region of New South Wales is defined in this site as being bounded by the region east of Bourke, south of the Queensland border and west of the first telegraph line to Queensland.

The map of the region below shows the main telegraph lines and the telegraph offices opened to about the mid-1880s. The lower part of the map joins to the south-east region (so the Bathurst to Forbes line is described in that region), the left of the map joins to the north-west region beyond Bourke while the right of the map joins to the north-east region which is east of the first telegraph line to Queensland.

The colours used for the telegraph lines on the map indicate the broad time periods with details of developments provided below:

North central

To 1862:

On 21 February 1859 the Department of Lands and Public Works advertised in the Government Gazette for:

"tenders for the supply of material (wire excepted) and for the workmanship necessary for the erection of a line of Electric Telegraph from Parramatta by the line of Railway or main road according to the Superintendent to Bathurst ... the Government supplying the telegraph and binding wire in Sydney".

The advertisement also called for Tenders for the construction of a line to Newcastle from the Blacktown Road.

Construction of the 123 mile line began on 23 May 1859 and was the Bathurst Telegraph Office opened for traffic on 29 December 1859. Intermediate stations were opened at Penrith on 23 March 1860 and at Hartley on 23 April 1860.

In 1851, Edward Hargraves had found gold found in quantity and announced his find in a hotel in Bathurst. Other discoveries were made during the 1850's at Sofala and Hill End. Hence, Bathurst was the first gold centre in Australia.

Bushrangers soon became numerous in the area from the late 1850s. In 1862, John Piesley was the first of the bushrangers to be hanged in Bathurst Gaol. Ben Hall - one of the most famous bushrangers (although a local of Murrurundi) - carried out his first robbery (with four of his friends) in Bathurst in October 1863. From 1862, Cobb & Co. relocated the centre of its operations to Bathurst. There was, therefore, throughout the period from the mid-1850's a significant need for telegraphic communication to serve the gold prospectors as well as to monitor law and order.

The Examiner of 28 July 1860 reported that "The Western extension of the telegraph will connect Bathurst with Mudgee by way of Sofala, Tambaroora and Louisa Creek - a distance of 97 miles. A more direct line to Mudgee could have been taken from Hartley but it was considered desirable to connect some of the rising and populous townnships on the Western gold-fields". IMPORTANT REF FOR OTHERS

A branch line was constructed from a point just north of One Tree Hill (now Mount Victoria) to Mudgee in 1861. At that time, the Telegraph Office had not been opened at One Tree Hill (that happened in 1868) and there were no intermediate stations before the line reached Mudgee. The reason why this line was constructed was that Mudgee was also significantly affected by the discovery of gold and it was therefore was a more convenient point than Bathurst for many prospectors. The opening of the telegraph office in 1861 was soon after Mudgee had been proclaimed a municipality.

In his Report for 1861, Cracknell makes special note of a new line from Mudgee. At that time, it was not decided whether to take the line to Muswellbrook or to some place north - even as far as Murrurundi. It was felt that the further north the connection was moved, the more advantages would accrue. It was always considered that Cassillis should be on this junction line. Finally the line did go through Cassillis and joined the main line at Murrurundi having linked through Merriwa also. The Murrurundi to Mudgee line was completed about February 1866 (see 1865 Report) and was seen as ensuring more regular communication with the Northern stations in the Colony and with those in Queensland.

In 1862, a line was commenced running to the north-west from Mudgee. It opened in that year to Wellington - 48.5 miles for a cost of £43 per mile. The Wellington Telegraph Office opened on 12 September 1862.

The lines were soon extended west from Bathurst to Orange and then Forbes - the completion of this line being late October 1862. A Telegraph Office was also opened on the goldfields at Sofala (actually three months before the opening of the Post Office).

1863-1872:

Immediately after the line from Mudgee to Wellington had been opened at the end of 1862, work commenced to extend the line to Dubbo. This construction was completed during 1863. This line was one of several which had been underwritten by the inhabitants of the district. They were responsible for the annual payment of 5% return on the capital used for the lines after the provision for the working expenses. In his Report for 1865, Cracknell emphasised that "The line in progress from Murrurundi to Mudgee will ensure more regular communication with the Northern stations in this colony and those in Queensland and will be completed about the end of February 1866".

Also during this period, three extensions were constructed to the west from the main north-south line:

1. from Glen Innes to Inverell. Previously mail had been delivered to Inverell from Armidale on horseback but the discovery of tin in the area increased the need for more efficient and effective postal and telegraphic communications. On 16 April 1873, the Government Gazetta called for tenders to construct the line from Bendeemer to Inverell via Bundarra - an estimated distance of 80 miles, to be completed in four months at the rate of not less than 5 miles per week.

2. from Tamworth through Gunnedah to Narrabri and Wee Waa (the administrative centre of this major cotton-growing area) and on to Pilliga which had a major timber harvesting industry at that time. The Maitland Mercury of 24 October 1867 reported on

"an influential meeting held at the Old Fort Hotel on the 11th for the purpose of obtaining the names of gentlemen willing to join in the bond guaranteeing the Government 5% on the cost and working expenses of the extension of the telegraph from Tamworth to Bourke ... some correspondence relative to the proposed telegraphic extension had passed between T. G. Dangar Esq , M.P. and J. E. Kelly, Esq. On the 10th September, Mr. Dangar wrote that £25,000 had been placed on the Estimates for the extension of telegraph from Tamworth to Bourke on the guarantee principle and that Gunnedah, Narrabri, Walgett and Brewarrina had either sent in guarantees or were preparing to do so. On the 18th September, Mr. Dangar again communicated with Mr. Kelly and said: " I want you to send me, addressed to Sydney without delay, the names of eight or ten responsible persons at Bourke, who will join in the Bourke guarantee or rather a letter from them stating their willingness to act. The guarantees are required to set the line in motion." On the 28th September, he further wrote "I quite forgot to tell you when writing the other day, that the rough estimate of the cost of construction of the line from Walgett to Bourke would be £9,000. I think this is over-estimated - the distanoe being 140 miles. At £40 per mile, the cost would be £5000. Perhaps as posts will be difficult to be got on the Darling, unless brought up by steamers, this line would cost over £40 per mile. Therefore the guarantee would be from £400 to £500. The cost of a station would not be much. Government would give the land and we could erect a station under Government instructions. Eventually they would pay us for it." The Chairman concluded by impressing on the meeting the benefits which would be conferred on the district by the extension of the telegraph to Bourke".

It was always dubious if that link was going to be commercially viable and, in February 1873, "the bondsmen for the extension of the telegraph from Narrabri to Pilliga, were applied to for the reimbursement of the Department, the line not having returned the required sum for the time it had been opened".

The Maitland Mercury of 20 May 1869 announced the opening as of the 8 May and applauded the contractor Mr. Smith on finishing the line in four months rather than the alloted time of 6 months.

"Mr. Smith has employed between forty and fifty men from the first commencement and such men for work, Mr. Smith says, cannot be beaten. He owns himself that, had he not such agreeable, willing, obliging and hard-working men, that quite probably it would not have been finished before the time allotted. Several of the men are old servants of Mr. Smith and they say they will stick to him like grim death. The men speak very highly of Mr. Parrott, the surveyor, who has accompanied them from Tamworth all through - I believe from the first post erected in Tamworth to the last erected in Narrabri. It is just 100 miles by the telegraph line.

Any one comimg along the road from Gunnedah to Narrabri could scarcely believe it to be the same road as the fallen timber lying round the telegraph posts, and the telegraph line too, makes such an alteration. On nearing town, the sight becomes grand as you can see for nearly two miles straight telegraph posts. The town itself has a different aspect altogether to what it had before.

To commemorate the finishing of the telegraph to Narrabri, Mr. Smith sent a challenge to the Narrabri Club for a friendly game at cricket which was accepted. The match, which was for a dinner, was played on Tuesday, 11th instant, which resulted in favor of the Narrabri team.

It is not yet decided where the telegraph station will be held".

 

The Sydney Morning Herald of 25 March 1869 reported:

NOTE: This reference has numerous costings put on the Estimates.

3. from Singleton through to Cassilis which was developing as a major agricultutral area and with political connections through William Busby M.L.C. It was also sufficiently far north to justify a connection to Mudgee which then provided an alternate connection to the main line via Merriwa.

The announcement of the opening of the Gunnedah Office simply mentioned the date (7 June 1869) and that "the charges will be the same as to Tamworth — namely, 6s. for ten words and 4d. for each additional word".

Extensions of the gold mining telegraph lines to Dubbo and through Hill End were also constructed. Dubbo was at the cross-roads of important coach links from east to west and from north to south. Indeed, the stimulus for growth about the 1860s was the increased trade brought about by the Victorian gold rush.

After 1872:

The Gippsland Times of 29 July 1875 reported that the NSW Government had allocated £30,000 for the construction of a telegraph line from Wentworth to Bourke via Wilcannia.

The first major construction activity in this period was the push from Pilliga to Brewarrina and thence to Bourke. The distance covered by that line was considerable and there were many difficulties with its construction. It did, however, open up a considerable area of New South Wales for later development.

The link between Pilliga and Walgett appears to have been completed in 31 July 1876 when "Mr. Phelan, the Pilliga telegraph operator arrived and established telegraphic communication through the relay by sound".

Access to Bourke was important as it was an important post and mail coach centre for services along the Darling River to Wilcannia and along the Macquarie River to Dubbo.

The line was extended north from Merriwa to Cassilis and Coolah and then on to Coonabarrabran. Tenders were accepted on 22 August 1874. By February 1876, the contractor had 10 miles of line constructed north from Coonabarrabran. This line was intended to provide an important back-up to the main Sydney-Brisbane line for use in emergency situations.

The line linking Coonamble to Pilliga was completed in March 1875 - although many in Coonamble considered this to be a waste of resources as the main business was south to Dubbo, etc.

Other construction activities included adding telegraph stations along existing lines or adding branch lines to extend the existing lines to service special areas.

In March 1875, the inhabitants of Warren requested that the line to Dubbo be extended by 80 miles to their town. They pointed out that after the bridge at Warren was completed, large numbers of overland stock would be crossing there. They were also prepared to sign the guarantee bond with the government.

On 6 January 1876, the Brisbane Courier reported that the construction of the line from Warialda to Goondiwindi had commenced. The Warialda Telegraph Office opened in 1877.

The Sydney Morning Herald of 21 October 1881 reported that "a large and influential meeting had been convened by the Mayor for the purpose of protesting against the decision of the Postmaster-General to construct a line of telegraph to connect Coonamble and Dubbo, via Warren instead of Gulargambone and Gilgandra as applied for ... is (was) an injustice to the people of these towns and will not meet the requirements of the public. Several speakers addressed the meeting forcibly pointing out the great injustice that was likely to result to the people of the Castlereagh districts generally if the proposed line be adopted".

In November, the local community again expressed its opinions when " Mr David McCullough, Mayor of Coonamble, accompanied by the Member for the Bogan, Sir P. A. Jennings and Mr G. E. Cass, waited on Mr Cracknell, the Superintendent of Telegraphs, urging the advisability of erecting the direct telegraph line from Dubbo to Coonamble via Gilgandra. The Superintendent promised to recommend the matter to the Postmaster-General".

On 26 November, tenders were called for the erection of a Telegraph Line from Dubbo to Coonamble via Gilgandra and Gulargambone. Date for closing was 14 December 1881.

In 1882, the line from Dubbo to Coonamble via Gundagai was constructed. Few details are recorded. On 3 June 1882, an advertisement appeared in the Australian Town and Country Journal for:
"12 MEN for Telegraph Work, new line from Gilgandra to Coonamble; wages 8s for nine hours work. None but good axe men need apply. M. O'KEEFE, Telegraph Contractor, Telegraph Camp, Dubbo to Coonamble".

The Evening News of 6 May 1886 reported that "Arrangements are being made for holding public meetings in the Molong district to agitate for the extension of the railway to Cumnock and also for the erection of a telegraph line to that place".