New South Wales - Colonial period: 1858-1900.
Northern line to the Queensland border.

The push to the north.

On this page, the developments in the construction of the first Northern line of telegraph from Sydney to Brisbane are recounted in the following sequence:

1. Preliminary developments.

2. Parramatta via Wiseman's Ferry to Morpeth.

3. Morpeth to Singleton and Newcastle.

4. Singleton to Queensland .

4.1: Maitland to Murrurundi.

4.2: Murrurundi to Queensland contract.

4.3: Tamworth.

4.4: Armidale;

4.5 Tenterfield.

5. Tenterfield to Maryland.

6. The Queensland line from Maryland through Warwick and Toowoomba to Brisbane.

The details provided here relate to the aspects of construction. Details of the Telegraph Offices on the Northern line to Queensland are provided elsewhere.


1. Preliminary developments.

In the Legislative Assembly of 30 March 1858, Mr. Dickson, asked the Minister for Lands and Public Works:

Whether it is the intention of the Government to make provision, during the present session, for the extension of the Electric Telegraph to Maitland, Newcastle, and Armidale?'.

Mr. Robertson, in reply, said:

"I am not at present enabled to give the honorable gentleman any answer to his question, but would make enquiry on the subject and inform him in the course of a few days".

The answer was "no determination yet made".

On 3 September 1858, the Sydney Morning Herald published a Parliamentary Paper - Report of the lines to Bathurst and the Hunter by Captain Martindale dated 13 August 1858:

Sir,—In reply to your letter of the 26th June last, requesting me to report the estimated cost of establishing telegraphic communication between Sydney and Bathurst, and Sydney and the Hunter, the routes which the lines should follow and the stations to be established, I have the honor to report:

1. The line to Bathurst should be constructed along that of the proposed railway to Penrith, and thence follow generally the direction of the main road to Bathurst. The length of the line would be about 107 miles; the estimated cost £10,500: the stations might be Parramatta, Penrith, Bowenfels and Bathurst.

2. The line to the Hunter should leave the southern and western lines at Parramatta and follow the main road to Windsor, thence to Wiseman's Ferry and, via Wollombi to Maitland, and from Maitland along the line of railway to Newcastle, and the proposed extension to Singleton.

The length of the line as far as Newcastle would be about 142 miles. The estimated cost £13,000. The stations might be at Parramatta, Wollombi, West Maitland and Newcastle.

The additional length of line from Maitland to Singleton would be twenty-eight miles and would require an additional sum of about £3,000, which may be taken as a separate vote.

The terminus on the Hunter should be Newcastle. I have not been over this country myself but I have put myself in communication with persons well acquainted with this part of the colony and, from the information they have been good enough to give me, I recommend this route.

It will be observed that I propose to take the line by way of Windsor to Wiseman's Ferry in place of by the direct road. The distance will be thus increased by about 5 miles but the trifling additional expenses thus incurred will be, I conceive, amply repaid by placing in telegraphic communication with Sydney so important a neighbourhood as that of Windsor, at as early a period as practicable.

I have, etc.,

The Honorable the Secretary for Lands and Public Works. 

Martindale's 1858 Report also envisaged that early extensions of the lines to both Bathurst and Newcastle were critical. In terms of Newcastle, one significant advantage was to support the construction of the Northern Railway.

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 a point upon or near the Blacktown Road to Windsor and thence to Wiseman's Ferry, Wollombi, West Maitland and Maitland to Newcastle".

At that stage, the line was often referred to as "the line to the Hunter" because the extension to Queensland was not then planned - the Moreton Bay area still being part of New South Wales. Maitland was then the centre for trade in the northern districts. Construction of "the line to the Hunter" began on 6 June 1859. The contract price for the construction of the Northern line was £55 per mile.

The Maitland Mercury of 7 June 1859 reported that the local Member for Maitland - Mr. James Dickson - had addressed electors and, in part noted:

The construction of telegraphs throughout the colony was another very important matter. He had been instrumental in procuring the construction of the one which, in a few months, would extend to Maitland, it was one of his first acts to press its necessity upon the Government. His idea was that it should extend to Moreton Bay and he believed that, if it did so to-morrow, they would hear no more of Separation, but Moreton Bay would be part and parcel of New South Wales. (cheers)"

The Empire of 9 July 1859 noted that "the telegraph wire is making good progress in its extension to the northward towards Maitland".

By December 1859, "The instruments for the Hunter and Bathurst lines (which have been ordered from Messrs. Henley and Co. of London and are shortly expected) are on a somewhat novel principle - the ordinary Morse register being worked by a permanent magnet thus entirely dispensing with the use of main batteries".

It was quickly appreciated that a line to Newcastle should lead to Queensland. Two main factors motivated such a construction:

To facilitate construction,

"The sum of £645,000 was, by the late Government, placed on the Estimates for this year for the cost of a telegraphic line from Maitland to Moreton Bay. The separation of the northern colony having since taken place, the estimate for the cost of the line to the southern boundary of Queensland has been reduced to £40,000. The estimate will probably be sanctioned by the Assembly, and the work speedily commenced.

The proposed course of the line is through Singleton, Scone, Murrurundi, Tamworth, Bendemeer and Armidale but it is possible that these arrangements may be modified by the decision that will be ultimately arrived at in regard to the proposed line to East Java to be connected there with the line to Europe. It will be seen, by reference to our political summary, that the Assembly has authorised the payment of an annual subsidy for twenty one years to a company that will connect us to the Indian telegraph line".
(Sydney Morning Herald 13 February 1860).


1.1: The project begins.

The process to authorise and commence construction of Electric Telegraph lines within Queensland and to Sydney began almost immediately after Queensland's independence in August 1860.

The Gazette of 12 March 1860: "Tenders are advertised for by the Government for the erection of telegraph stations at ... Windsor, Wollombi, West Maitland and Newcastle. Each building is to be tendered for separately and the tenders are to be received up to the 17th April next".

On 31 May 1860, the Department of Public Works advertised:

"TENDERS will be received at this Office until TUESDAY, the 24th. day of July next at noon from persons desirous of contracting for the supply of all materials, and for the workmanship necessary for the erection of the undermentioned line of Telegraph, according to the terms, general conditions and specifications appended hereto.


From West Maitland, via Singleton, Scone, Murrurundi, Tamworth, Bendemeer and Armidale, to the boundary of Queensland, an estimated distance of 400 miles. Tenders must state the price at per mile completed. The contract must be completed and the works handed over to the Government within 12 months from the notification of the acceptance of the tender; time being considered of the essence of the contract.

The railway line will be followed as far as this is determined and subsequently the present mail road but the Government reserves to itself the right of deviating from these lines at pleasure.

The Government also reserves to itself the right of terminating the line at Armidale or any point nearer the boundary of Queensland, the distance from Maitland to Armidale is estimated at 230 miles.

Parties may tender for the entire distance or separately from Maitland to Murrurundi and from Murrurundi to the northern extremity of the line".

In another version of this call for tenders, request were also incorporated for the construction of lines:

lst. From Gundagai to Tarcutta and Wagga Wagga to Deniliquin, an estimated distance of 220 miles - see lines in Riverina-Murray region.

3rd. From Bathurst via Sofala, Tambaroora and Louisa Creek to Mudgee, an estimated distance of 97 miles - see lines in the Central West region.

4th. From Bathurst to Orange, an estimated distance of 36 miles.

The Armidale Express of 25 August 1860 reported that "Tenders for the telegraph have been accepted from Maitland to Tenterfield, the work being divided into two contracts.
The Queensland Government invites tenders for a telegraph from Brisbane to join the N.S.W. one at the boundary

The dates indicated on the map are when the Telegraph Offices were opened. The lines, however, had been run through these locations and repeater stations had been established but the offices were not opened to the public or to businesses. For example, a Post Office had been opened at Wiseman's Ferry on 1 January 1857 but a Telegraph Office open for use by the public was not incorporated into the Post Office until 25 January 1886.

2. Parramatta via Wiseman's Ferry to Morpeth.

The Maitland Mercury of 9 September 1858 eagerly anticipated the construction of the telegraph line from Sydney through Newcastle to Maitland then then north to Queensland:

"The most purely scientific of all the grand material inventions of modern days, the electric telegraph, seems likely to become the chief agent in hastening on the civilization of the interior of this colony. When Mr. Parkes carried his motion for the construction of the electric telegraph line from Sydney to Albury, even the chief railway advocates of the day censured him as wasting the colonial resources on an impracticable, or, at best, a useless toy. But events are rapidly vindicating Mr. Parkes's reputation as a practical man, in this respect at least.

The southern line of telegraph will not only soon reach Albury, and will not only do it at a moderate cost, but it proves practically useful far beyond what was anticipated. When Mr. James Dickson, not long since, pressed the Government on the question of how long it would be before a line of telegraph to the Hunter was constructed, many persons, even in Maitland, smiled at his visionary anticipations.

But already the feeling is changing, and by the time Captain Martindale has had executed the lines from Sydney to Bathurst in the west, and to Maitland and Newcastle to the north, which he has recently sketched out, we feel sure the inhabitants at each extreme will be only too glad to have the power of so wonderfully abridging time in messages of all kinds.

The cost of the two lines, by estimate, is set down as a mere trifle - £23,500 or £26,500 if the northern line includes Singleton also at once. That is to say, for a first cost of less than £100 per mile, we may enjoy the great benefits of instantaneous communication with Sydney, and ultimately with Melbourne, Adelaide, Launceston and Hobart Town. At such slight cost, there exists no possible objection to the rapid extension of electric telegraph lines throughout the whole colony, bringing every township in the interior and on the coast into the same magic circle of instantaneous communication. We shall gladly see the Government at once obtain the necessary legislative authority to realise Captain Martindale's views, or rather their own views, since we observe that Captain Martindale's report on the probable cost of these two lines is submitted in reply to a letter from the Secretary for Lands and Works.

The electric telegraph cannot only be established years before the more costly railway can reach any part of the interior beyond the Dividing Range but it will, we are satisfied, more than any other measure, prepare the populations of the towns to use the railroad as soon as it reaches them. The Rip Van Winkle spirit will necessarily vanish wherever the electric telegraph commences its flashing communications".

The New South Wales push to the north used the Parramatta Telegraph Office as its branching point. Construction of the 162 mile Northern line to Newcastle started on 6 June 1859. It would cost £10,076 8s 2d. 9. From the Blacktown Road, the line passed through Penrith, Windsor and Richmond via Wiseman's Ferry to Wollombi and West Maitland and thence to Morpeth. The contracted price was £55 per mile and it was planned that the work on the 132 miles from the Blacktown Road to Morpeth would be completed in October/November 1859.

In the context of line construction, both Wiseman's Ferry and Wollombi facilitated relatively direct access and both had (relatively) large populations and commercial activities. For example, in 1862, Wollombi had 1,655 people living in the district with 233 in the village itself (compared to 264 in 2006).

Wollombi had long been a critical point in the development of transport in NSW. Construction of the Great Northern Road commenced in 1826 from Castle Hill to Wiseman's Ferry and through to Wollombi. From there, the road divided to Singleton and Muswellbrook in the north-west and Cessnock, Morpeth and Maitland in the north-east. In 1827, the journey by horse from Sydney to Wollombi took two days with another full day to Singleton or Morpeth. The significance of the Great Northern Road was however soon to be threatened when the "Mary Jane" sailed from Sydney to Morpeth in the amazing time of 11.5 hours!!

There were a number of problems which arose during construction of this part of the line. For example:

"Some little obstruction has been felt in the current of electricity, which does not come with force and power sufficient to register the signals legibly, consequently the telegraph line was not formally opened yesterday as expected. Mr. Cracknell has proceeded to Wiseman's Ferry to ascertain and rectify the matter which prevents free communication that it may be worked immediately". 

In January 1860, there was considerable rainfall on the Hawkesbury, The Maitland Mercury reported that "Mr. Mooney, who started on Monday from Sydney for the purpose of inspecting the line of the Northern Telegraph, from the point where that line branches off to Maitland, was unable to proceed beyond Windsor, in consequence of the flooded state of the country, At Penrith, the water was about a footabout 30 cm. above the bridge".

Telegraphic communication on the Northern line was interrupted by the submarine cable across the Hawkesbury being carried away by the flood. The Sydney Morning Herald of 13 March 1860 gave the context of this event and the subsequent actions:

"The telegraph to Maitland has suffered considerable interruption owing to causes incidental to the initiation of telegraphic communication in a new country but the experience of which will probably prevent their recurrence. The stoppage of thc current was traced to a break in the wire at the Hawkesbury River where a submarine cable is laid. To secure the telegraphic cable from being swept away, it had been attached to a stout chain cable and the cause of the break is supposed to have been that some of the logs, which were brought down the river after the heavy rains, got under the chain at the shore end and lifted it, causing the telegraphic cable to strain and snap. To ensure against a repetition of this casualty, the chain cable has been firmly fixed to poles at each end. Since this expedient has been resorted to, our telegraphic communication with the north has not been interrupted".

In his Report on developments in the year 1861, Cracknell commented on the condition of the lines around Wiseman's Ferry as follows:

"The first section of the Northern Line, which has been constructed over a rugged and badly timbered country, has been more troublesome, but when the repairs have been completed, which are now contracted for, the line will work more satisfactorily. The (five inch chain cable) submarine cableA portion of that used for the Tasmanian cable. at Wiseman's Ferry on the River Hawkesbury has also been a source of great annoyance, the continuance of which has now been provided against by the substitution of masts and over-head wires".

The telegraph lines were connected at Wollombi (3 March 1860) and Morpeth (26 May 1860) in temporary accommodation but instruments were not available at that time. Construction of Telegraph Offices at those places took until June - together with the provision of instruments. In the meantime, Court Houses were used for telegraph stations until plans of suitable buildings were prepared and approved. It was considered that, when the buildings were erected, the inconvenience occasioned by the inadequate accommodation would be remedied.

Morpeth was an important river port for the export of coal and timber from the region to a number of destinations including Brisbane and Melbourne. Regular steamship services were operated by the Newcastle and Hunter River Steamship Company from both Morpeth and Newcastle. In 1857, Morpeth was bypassed when the Great Northern Railway was constructed direct to Newcastle and it could no longer sustain the same level of activity. Morpeth is now a suburb of Maitland.

As part of a major reconstruction project as a response to the 1859-60 floods, a program to build several Court Houses and Telegraph Offices was initiated. In this program, eleven Telegraph Stations were to be erected under the direction of the Colonial Architect - at:

Tenders were advertised for these works in April-May 1860 and it was intended to expedite consideration so that the contracts would be taken quickly and construction could commence almost immediately. Although the opening of a telegraph line often inferred the opening of a Telegraph Office, that was not quite correct.

There were, in addition, other constraints on the development of telegraphic communication in this general area. The Empire of 12 January 1863 notes:

"In connection with subjects of communication, let me mention another on that of the telegraph. Though the line is down to Richmond, the inhabitants of the district are deprived of its advantages for want of a station and a master. But this is not the worst. The Government does not allow Mr. Ambrose, the telegraph master at Windsor, an assistant, and the emoluments of the office are, I presume, not sufficient to permit of his retaining one at his own expense; so that when a message arrives, Mr. Ambrose has to ride over the countryThe distance from Richmond to Windsor is nearly 4 miles (about 6 km). to deliver it himself and, in the meantime, the office has to be closed and no messages can be received. The expense of delivery is also very great - from Windsor to Richmond about five shillings - so that the benefits of telegraphy are nearly nullified".

Back to the Hawkesbury River crossing: There was another major rain event leading to a significant flood in July 1867:

"The lines of telegraph, as well as the railway, suffered considerably by the floods in various parts of the colony. In some cases, the lines were down for some days but, by the prompt action of the Superintendent of Telegraphs, Mr. Cracknell, the necessary repairs were speedily executed and all the lines are now in working order again.

The Northern line, at the crossing of the Hawkesbury at Wiseman's Ferry, was completely swept away, thus totally interrupting telegraphic communications with the Northern districts by the direct telegraph lines in Windsor, Maitland and Singleton but fortunately, the discrimination of Mr. Cracknell, in recommending the cross-country line via Mudgee and Murrurundi, provided for this contingency, otherwise our northern telegrams would have been rendered useless.

The late mast, which carried the wire across the river, was eighty feet clear of the water in order to give the steamers and other vessels plenty of room to pass under without injury to the wires But being rather close to the river banks, it was liable to be washed away on the water rising or broken by the debris that came down - which proved to be the case in the late flood.

Mr. Cracknell left Sydney about ten days since with all the appliances for putting up a fresh mast and, on his reaching the spot, discovered that a portion of the old mast was still serviceable and, after considerable difficulty, it was recovered from the river. A new piece was spliced on to the old butt, thus giving a clear mast of 100 feet above the ground. Mr. Cracknell then had the post taken back some distance from the edge of the river, out of the reach of the bed and, after the post had been properly erected, he had two wires carried from the top of this mast, 100 feet high on the south side, to the roofs of two houses on the mountain, about 1,000 feet on the north side, giving one unbroken stretch of nearly three quarters of a mile - being one of the greatest spans ever accomplished in the erection of telegraphs and placing the wires out of all reach of floods for the future.

The successful accomplishment of this important work must be gratifying alike to those interested in the line as to the gentleman having the management of the Telegraphic Department".


3. Morpeth to Singleton and Newcastle.

The telegraph line to Morpeth followed along the railway line to Newcastle which was an very important centre based on diverse shipping and commercial activities. Direct access from Sydney to Newcastle was not possible because of the terrain and the encroaching waterways along the coast.

Hence the telegraph line was taken to Morpeth and then directed:

The Northern Times of 2 November 1859 reported that "We hear that the electric telegraph wire will be extended to Maitland either in the course of this or the ensuing week. The line is completed to within a short distance of Bishop's Bridge whilst the posts have been erected or laid down two or three miles nearer Maitland. So far the work has been most satisfactorily accomplished and we see no reason to fear why its final completion should not be equally so. To Mr Rush, the contractor, great praise is due for the creditable and speedy manner in which the line, under his superintendence, has hitherto progressed and we hope it will be our pleasing duty, in one of our future issues, to congratulate him on the successful denouement of this most important undertaking".

In the Maitland Mercury of early November 1859, the good news: "Some few weeks ago it was stated in the Sydney papers that the electric telegraph on the Northern line had been completed as far as the Wollombi township. Since that time the contractor, Mr. Rush, has pushed the work on vigorously and, in all probability, the wire will be extended to Maitland during the present week.

Visiting the line on Saturday, we found that the posts had been erected and the wire hung to within about four miles from Mr. Crawford's, at Bishop's Bridge; the posts had been erected to a distance of about three miles nearer Maitland while posts had been prepared and laid by the roadside nearly as far as the junction of the road to the Cockfighter with the Wollombi Road. The timber had been cleared away, as required, for a considerable distance to prevent danger to the wire from falling trees.

Parties were at work sinking holes and charring, finishing and setting up the posts in various places. The sinking was rather difficult in crossing the mountains but the men say that some of the hardest work has been met with nearer Maitland where they have had to drive through a flinty rock that quickly wore away the end of their jumpers. The holes, which are five feet in depth, are sunk in a peculiar manner; for about two feet from the surface they are dug in an elongated form - their length double their width; for the remainder of their depth they are round and but a little larger in diameter than the posts to be set up in them. The adoption of this plan of sinking ensures greater stability to the posts and facilitates the ramming in of the earth around them.

The posts are stout saplings, barked and dressed, with six feet of their lower ends charred for their better preservation when embedded in the soil. The upper end of each pole is bound with hoop iron and is tapped with a hole, into which a wooden peg is driven. On this peg is fixed the insulator - a funnel-shaped piece of glazed earthenware - by means of a turn round which the wire is secured to each pole. It is scarcely necessary to remark that this method of attachment is resorted to in order to prevent the premature completion of the galvanic circuit which might be effected, in wet weather especially, but for the intervention of a non-conducting substance between the wire and the post. The posts are erected sixty yards apart and coils of wire have been dropped along the line at intervals as far as Bishop's Bridge. The work appears to be well and carefully done. We understand that a few days ago a man cut a sapling at Millfield so as to fall across the wire and that some delay was caused by the repairing of the damage done".

The Maitland Mercury reported "The instruments for the working of the electric telegraph were brought to Maitland on Tuesday (10 January) under the charge of Mr. Cracknell, the Superintendent of Telegraphs. They were temporarily, fixed, and arrangements were made for testing the connection of the wire between Maitland and Newcastle, whither Mr. Cracknell proceeded the same afternoon to make similar preparations. When the completeness of the communication with Newcastle has been ascertained, the wire between Maitland and Sydney will be tested. Communication will probably be established throughout by the end of the week. We learned yesterday that the communication with Newcastle is complete.

The state of the line to Sydney cannot at present be reported upon but it is said that a considerable number of the insulators between Maitland and the Wollombi have been broken. It is believed that boys have pelted them with stones in wanton mischief, their fracture being difficult to account for otherwise. The necessary repairs are being effected; and meanwhile the office at the railway station, West Maitland, is being fitted up".

Telegraph offices were opened at both Newcastle and West Maitland on 11 January 1860 after line fit-out and building construction were completed.

The Newcastle Northern Times of 18 January 1860 reported first operations:

"On Wednesday (11th), a business telegram of 10 words (2s) passed between Messrs Bingle and Son of Newcastle, and Messrs Solomon, Vindin & Co. of West Maitland quite successfully. Since then, continued efforts have been made to perfect the arrangements throughout the route hence to Sydney. Some little obstruction has been felt in the current of electricity which does not come with force and power sufficient to register the signals legibly Consequently the telegraph line was not formally opened yesterday as expected. Mr. Cracknell has proceeded to Wiseman's Ferry to ascertain and rectify the matter which prevents free communication that it may be worked immediately".

The instruments for the Northern Line to Newcastle and for the Western line to Bathurst which had been ordered from Messrs. Henley and Co. of London, were expected in early 1860. They were designed on a somewhat novel principle - the ordinary Morse register being worked by a permanent magnet thus entirely dispensing with the use of main batteries.

Later in January 1860, numerous newspapers in the various Colonies carried the news, that "Newcastle and West Maitland were now 'en rapport' with the various telegraph stations throughout the Colony". The Mercury of 24 January 1860 was more specific by announcing "the opening of telegraphic communication between Maitland and Sydney. The first telegram was received in Maitland on Monday, announcing the arrival of the Eagle from Rockhampton. The line to Newcastle is not yet open". Hence the line to the north-west to Maitland was complete but not the line to the south-west to Newcastle. At that stage, Telegraph Offices had only been opened at Maitland and Newcastle. It was however planned to open communications soon after at Morpeth.

Good news: The Maitland Mercury announced, in its issue of 14 January 1860, that "On Thursday (12th) the first message was sent along the Northern Telegraph line. Messrs Solomon, Vindin and Co, of West Maitland at one o 'clock sent a commercial query to Messrs Bingle and Son of Newcastle and, at ten minutes past three, the answer was received".

Over a long period, Telegraph Camps operated around Newcastle.
They were all about the same as is shown in the image above - allegedly taken near Adamstown.











On 30 March 1860, important news was chronicled by the Sydney Morning Herald: "The telegraph wire between East Maitland and Morpeth has been dislodged from one of the posts in consequence of a goose having come in contact with it during its flight".

The Sydney Morning Herald of 14 April 1860 reported yet another effect of legislators not attending to their responsibilities expected by the electors:

"The unfortunate delay in passing the Estimates for the present year has put off, in common with many other important works, the further extension of the telegraphic system throughout the country. Many of the rising and important centres of inland trade would, by this time, have been placed in immediate communication with the metropolis by means of the telegraph had the proposed appropriations been made, as they should have been, before the close of last year. It is intended to continue the northern telegraphic line - which now terminates at Maitland - to the southern frontier of Queensland, passing through Singleton, Scone, Murrurundi, Tamworth, Bendemeer and Armidale. The western line, which now ends at Bathurst, is to be extended to Orange and Mudgee. Those works will probably be sanctioned by the Assembly in a few days, and will be at once undertaken and tenders called for their construction.

On the northern line, which now unites Maitland and Newcastle with the metropolis. intermediate stations will shortly be opened at Windsor and Wollombi. It was recently stated in the Assembly that the reason why a station had not been opened at Windsor was the want of the necessary instruments. These having now arrived would be forwarded to that town as soon as a sufficiently instructed operator could be spared from the Sydney office, where the young men who work the telegraph at the country stations derive their instruction and experience".

A second wire from Sydney to Newcastle was constructed during 1862 at a cost of £15 per mile because of the significant volume of traffic between the two centres. The line was also dupicated between Muswellbrook and Scone.

In September 1872, the Department of Electric Telegraph, through the Gazette, called for tenders to erect "an additional Electric Telegraph Wire on existing poles from Sydney to Maitland, an estimated distance of 120 miles".

In July 1867, an extension from Newcastle to Wallsend was completed and the line was to be opened soon after.This was a private line, erected by the Government, on the guarantee of the Wallsend Company to pay the interest on money annually and the expenses of working it.


4. Singleton to Queensland.

At the beginning, the project was focussed on the construction of telegraphic communication north to Maitland/Newcastle. As time passed, the need to connect to the emerging Colony of Queensland became appreciated as well as the overtures by entrepreneurs such as Mr. Gisborne who were becoming more active in their pursuit of constructing telegraph cables from the Motherland to the New South Wales and Victorian colonies.

In September 1859, the Governor stated in his speech opening Parliament "A sum has been placed on the Estimates for the cost of laying a down a wire to Brisbane and, should the Legislature sanction the expenditure - of which there is little doubt - the line will be commenced early next year, and may form the nucleus of the telegraphic line communicating these colonies with England which has recently been proposed for the consideration of our Government by Mr. Gisborne and which the public are anxious to see carried out as soon as possible". The need to proceed beyond the initial vision was becoming more pronounced.

In about 1859-1860, some interested parties were proposing, that the cables/lines to Brisbane should be laid along the Eastern coast. The inland route along the Great Dividing Range had, however, many advantages over constructing the line along the coastal route. These advantages included:

The Armidale Express of 28 April 1860 commented on various items voted in the Estimates which affected New England and adjoining districts:


4.1: Maitland to Murrurundi contract.

The Maitland Mercury of 25 September 1860 reported progress on the next stage from Maitland to Murrurundi:

On 9 November 1860, the Sydney Morning Herald noted that the Maitland to Murrurundi tender to construct the line via Singleton, Muswellbrook and Scone had been accepted on 31 July at a cost per competed mile of £46. The time for completion was 12 months from the notification of the acceptance of the tender.

By the end of December 1860, the Northern line had been completed to Singleton. By mid-March, the line had been completed to Muswellbrook.

In the Legislative Assembly on 6 February, Mr. Arnold gave answers to Mr. Dick for several questions as follows:

In the Legislative Assembly on 16 December 1861, £350 was allocated in the Estimates for a second wire from Scone to Muswellbrook. Mr. Piddington with support from Mr. Windeyer, asked that this item be removed. Mr. Arnold pointed out that "the reason that (this item) was placed on the Estimates was because the people residing at Scone had now to ride 16 miles to communicate with Sydney".

In 1867, a short line from Muswellbrook to Denman was constructed. It was officially opened on 5 November 1868.

It is all very well to construct the lines - but they also have to be maintained. That was the duty of the Line Repairers and, as is seen in the list of Telegraph Offices for each line, very often the Line Repairer was also the Station Master - AND IT WAS A ONE MAN SHOW!!!! Hence if the line needed to be repaired, the Telegraph Office was closed until the Station Master/Line Repairer returned. The problem was described beautifully in the Maitland Mercury on 10 December 1861:

4.2: Murrurundi to Queensland contract.

A second contract was let to construct the telegraph line from Murrurundi to the Queensland Border (or to Armidale or Tenterfield). The distance of that line was 296 miles via Tamworth, Armidale, Glenn Innes and Tenterfield. The agreed cost per completed mile was £48 5s. The tender was accepted on 8 August 1860 and the usual 12 months from acceptance being the due date for completion.

For the latter contract, the Sydney Morning Herald of 23 October 1860 described the current situation:

In the Legislative Council on 11 October 1860, the question was asked "was it the intention of the Government to establish a branch telegraph from Tenterfield via Tabulam to Grafton and the Clarence Heads - the said branch being established from the main line from Sydney to Brisbane. Mr. Arnold said the Government had already invited tenders for the construction of the telegraph to Tenterfield and thence on to the boundary of Queensland, should the latter colony erect a line to meet it at that point. There was no intention at present to propose any extension of the line to Clarence River, though the honorable member would find by the Estimates that the Government had not overlooked the importance of the district".

The Sydney Morning Herald on 25 January 1861 "We learn from a correspondent that the northern section of the telegraphic extension from Maitland to Queensland is progressing very rapidly. The line which commences at Murrurundi is completed as far as Uralla, and the poles are cut ready for hauling on for a distance of twenty miles beyond Uralla. For about fourteen miles beyond Armidale, the line is cleared of timber. A greater amount of work would have been done but for the contractors having had, in several places between Bendemeer and Armidale, to haul the poles a distance of ten or twelve miles; the concurrence of the harvest and of the wool season also prevented their obtaining the assistance of extra teams".

4.3: Tamworth.

By the end of 1860, progress continued to be very good. The Northern Australian Advertiser of 2 November 1860 quoted the Tamworth Examiner by reporting:

On 3 November 1860, the Tamworth Examiner reported: "The men engaged in clearing and falling the trees for within a certain distance of the place where the posts will be erected, passed through town in the early part of this week. Several trees were cut down and the manner in which the men set themselves to work to effect their purpose attracted a number of spectators".

The Tamworth Examiner noted the wire was being stretched in Tamworth on 17 November.

Wallabadah - between Tamworth and Murrurundi - was also a point of contention for the residents of Tamworth. The Tamworth Examiner of 19 October 1860 reported:

Although progress was being made, there was no communication to inform the public about details of the progress. The Tamworth Examiner, for example, published a plea on 29 June 1861:

In November 1868, there was a proposal to include Walcha (just east of Tamworth) on the Northern line provided the residents entered into the usual guarantee arrangements.

The vulnerability of the Northern Telegraph line was shown is an incident reported in the Tamworth News of 2 November 1874:

4.4: Armidale.

The area between Armidale via Guyra to Glen Innes was very rich in tin. The newspapers, especially later, constantly reported the number of tons of tin which had been received at Newcastle and Morpeth. This was of course an important reason to support the connection wiht the telegraph line. In addition, the area around Ben Lomond supported large herds of sheep and cattle.

On 18 January 1860, the Newcastle Northern Times reported that "A public meeting was held at Armidale on 4th January to consider the propriety of praying the extension of the telegraph to that district. The question was discussed and the desirability affirmed. A memorial in advocacy of the movement and petitioning the Government to grant such extension was adopted and signatures being obtained".

Mr. Hart presented a petition from Armidale to the Legislative Assembly on 22 February 1860 noting that the petitioners "would have a strong interest in possessing telegraphic communication with Sydney in the event of such communication being established between Australia and England". That is a rather odd proviso especially in these early days.

By early February, 1861 it was reported that the posts for the line in and near Armidale were rapidly being erected. On Wednesday 13 February, the Dumeresq Creek flooded for the second time in a fortnight at a great height. Of those people missing, one man was in the service of the contractor constructing the telegraph line to Armidale. It was hoped that he would be found alive.

On 18 May 1861, the Armidale Express reported on a construction problem:

In 1861, the telegraph line was constructed to Singleton (February), Muswellbrook, Scone and Murrurundi (both in June), Tamworth, Bendemeer, Armidale (October), Glen Innes (December) and Tenterfield (say November).

Soon after completing the line through Armidale, tenders were callled in the Gazette of 7 July 1876 for the construction of a 25 mile telegraph line from Armidale to Walcha - closing on 25 July. The construction had to be finished within three months.

In mid-1884, the Great Northern Railway was constructed between Armidale and Glen Innes. The Newcastle Morning Herald of 18 July 1884, reported this development as follows:

"The new section of the extension of the Great Northern Railway to be opened shortly, consists of a length of sixty-tour miles from Armidale to Glen Innes, which will then make a total distance of 324 miles from Newcastle. The stations on the new section are Inverella (the Inverell road), at 250 miles; Boorolong, at 281 miles; Guyra, at 28 miles; Ben Lomond, at 302 miles, which is the highest station altitude, viz., 1471ft.; Glencoe is the next station, at 310 miles; and Glen Innes is the terminal point, at 824 miles".


4.5: Tenterfield.

The Armidale Express of 15 June 1861 reported that "The telegraph posts in Tenterfield have been charred, ready for erection and the wire is stretched within a few miles ... (but) the line will not be in working order for four months".

The Sydney Morning Herald of 21 June 1861 reported progress:

Unfortunately there were frequent interruptions along the NSW line from Queensland to Victoria. The northern areas around Tenterfield seemed to be the most common locations for disruption although there were many other places also. As an example of the frustration being created for inter-colonial traffic, the Leader of 11 January 1862 noted:

On 27 September 1862, the Albury Banner reported a story which (hopefully) is independent of the stoppages: "A goldfield has been discovered thirty miles from Tenterfield whilst clearing the route of the telegraph line".


5. Tenterfield to Maryland.

The Moreton Bay Courier of 12 March 1861 noted:

The Sydney Morning Herald of 21 June 1861 reported progress:

The line to Tenterfield was completed on 9 July 1861 BUT "Mr. Cracknell, the Superintendent of Telegraphs, returned by the Yarra Yarra on Friday having gone overland to Queensland for the purpose of inspecting the new telegraphic line which has been completed as far as our Northern frontier since the 10th of July last. Stations have been opened at Tamworth and Armidale but the opening of stations at Glen Innes and Tenterfield is waiting for the arrival of the apparatus at those places" (Courier 9 November 1861).

The length of this line was 375 miles. The contract prices were:

Cracknell, in his Report on 1861, noted, even so early, that a second wire "was urgently required, the businesses on the Northern line having of late increased so rapidly that it has become an absolute necessity to increase the facilities for its accommodation.
When a second line is working, an increased revenue may be expected from Newcastle and Maitland; as at present, many messages, to the transmission of which early replies form a condition, are withheld in consequence of the crowded state of the line"

A new 41 mile road from Tenterfield to Maryland was constructed in October 1862.

The line to Queensland was a major consideration in subsequent planning. It had to be supported in every way to ensure minimum disruption and lessening of the load where ever possible. Cracknell was mindful of this policy when, in his 1864 Report (dated 14 December 1865), he noted:

By the end of November 1861, connection awaited only the connection between Warwick and Maryland.


6. Queensland

The Queensland Guardian of 30 October 1861 printed:

See elsewhere for a description of the line construction from the Queensland-New South Wales border to Brisbane and the details of the opening of the inter-colonial line.

The first messages from Brisbane to Sydney were exchanged between the Governors of the respective Colonies - Sir John Young (NSW) and Sir George Bowen (Qld) - on 9 November 1861.

One estimate of opening was Monday 4th Nov 1861.