New South Wales and South Australia.
First direct link between the two Colonies: 1867.

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Telegraphic messages passed through Victoria.

Before 1867, messages from New South Wales to South Australia, and in the reverse direction, had to be sent into Victoria and retransmitted from there using the line via Mt. Gambier and Portland (July 1858). A second line had been planned to open via Penola and Casterton (1867).

Charges for the messages sent along these lines were based on the amount of use of the lines in each Colony. In terms of accounting between Colonies, the New South Wales and South Australian Governments each paid the Victorian Government £ 2,000 per annum for the use of the main line through Victoria. That amount was significant to all three Colonies in calculating the cost-benefit of a direct line.

This route was never popular. For example, the Sydney Morning Herald of 7 September 1859 wrote: "we shall be glad to see the day when we can give the go-by altogether to this extraordinary volcanic locality of Mount Gambier, and get our messages from South Australia direct from that colony without their entering at all into the intermediate territory of Victoria. Whatever Premier may be in power, whether Mr. Murray or Mr. Plunkett or Mr. Cowper redivicus, we hope that he will forward the construction of a duplicate line of telegraph to Adelaide". 

Early discussions suggesting a direct NSW-SA line.

The South Australian Register of 25 May 1858 (p.3) published the extract of a letter by Captain Martindale to Mr McGowan which was copied to Mr Todd:

I communicated with you some time ago on the need of a second wire between Sydney and Melbourne. You gave me at the time but little hopes of this service being executed; but I was so fully impressed with the necessity for it that I brought that I brought the subject under the attention of this Government; and they have, as no doubt you are aware, since been in communication upon it with that of Victoria.

Further experience and consideration have only deepened the impression I previously entertained. This government is prepared at once to proceed with its part of the work; and I trust to hear that your Government, liberal as it is in public works, is so also.

I am sure the public will never be satisfied without direct communication between Sydney and Melbourne, and Sydney and Adelaide; and I see no practical difficulty in the matter, which is of the more importance now that the mail steamers touch at Kangaroo Island.

I can see no advantage in the repeating stations. They multiply the labour and expense of working and the chances of mistakes; and they are the main source of delay and uncertainly regarding the time that will be occupied in the transmission of messages. The only valid reason for the use of repeating stations, it appeared to me, was a check upon the accounts. The present system destroys that reason.

The Deniliquin Company are, I understand, anxious that this Government should take their wire ; and there are those who advocate that the second wire from here should pass, via Wagga Wagga and Deniliquin, direct to South Australia, joining the northern lines of that Colony— and thus giving two lines of communication with Melbourne, as well as a direct line with Adelaide.

Meantime, direct communication is becoming a matter daily of more pressing importance. I hope for your early advocacy of it; and, as a temporary measure, I would again suggest the following arrangement: That, for the first part of every hour— i.e., until the through business of the hour is done— the New South Wales line should be switched on to the Victorian line at Albury for through business, the remainder of the hour being given for the usual business of both colonies.

I am not sufficiently acquainted with your lines to know if such an arrangement could be extended to South Australia but, if so, I think it would be desirable.

I may mention here that our Head Office at Sydney is open at day and night, and that it would be a great convenience if the Melbourne office were so also.

As regards the transmission of wind and weather messages daily, if I understand you right, you wish to continue these to the following stations:

  • from South Australia— Adelaide and Guichen Bay;
  • from Victoria— Melbourne, Queenscliffe, and Portland;
  • from New South Wales— Sydney to South Australia and Victoria.

If you think it a matter of importance that these messages should be confined to these stations, I will concur for the present, although my own idea is that it would be better to interchange the intelligence of this character from as many stations as possible, and that it might be managed without any serious difficulty.

I shall be glad to hear from you on this subject.

The South Australian and New South Wales Governments realised very early the absolute necessity of having direct Adelaide-Sydney telegraph lines. This attitude was reflected as early as 9 January 1859 in the following discussion in the South Australian House of Assembly:

"The Assembly on Wednesday resolved that an address be presented to His Excellency praying that a sum may be placed on the Estimates sufficient to construct a telegraph wire from the Burra to the South Australian border. As our readers are aware, the Parliament have already affirmed the extension of the line to Kooringa from which place the length of the further extension line to Echuca, on the border, would be about 140 miles.

Mr. Hawker, who has been in frequent communication with Sydney on the subject, opened the discussion in a brief but telling address, securing the general concurrence of Hon. members and carrying his point without opposition. The necessity of the proposed line will be clearly seen when the arguments advanced in support of it are duly weighed. Our present postal relations with Victoria and New South Wales render the maintenance of telegraphic communication with those colonies a matter of the highest importance as it would be absurd to suppose that either of those influential and wealthy colonies would acquiesce in the present mail service unless telegraphic communications were kept open. But the disasters which have recently befallen the single wire, now connecting the three Australias, prove to demonstrate that, until a second wire is put up, our relations with the other colonies must remain in perpetual danger. Nor is the inconvenience simply that of annoyance felt by our neighboring colonies, as the interruption of our own local trade by the stoppage of the telegraph has recently shown. The fact is that, although we might possibly have done without telegraphs altogether, now that they have become colonial and intercolonial institutions, their regular and efficient maintenance is a political, commercial and social necessity and as we are never safe whilst depending on one wire, the question is, in what direction shall we carry the other.

In consequence of the serious difficulties connected with the maintenance of portions of the existing line, Mr. Todd proposes, in the event of carrying a second line to Mount Gambier, to take it from Strathalbyn via Wellington, meeting the present line at McGrath's Flat on the Coorong. It is supposed that this will cost from £5,000 to £6,000. The proposed new line to Echuca by way of the Burra will cost something under £7,000; so that it appears we can have an entirely new and independent line connecting us direct with Sydney for about £1,000, or £1,500 more than would suffice to give us a loop-wire to Mount Gambier. The separate line to Sydney would very materially tend to cement the friendly relations now subsisting between this colony and New South Wales, whilst the line that already exists from Melbourne to Echuca would give us an alternative telegraphic route into Victoria. The New South Wales Government have commenced their share of the work and, as the movement is so warmly taken up in this colony, we shall no doubt soon enjoy the advantage of a double line to Sydney and Melbourne. As another argument in favor of this line being immediately constructed, it is stated that, of the sum of £7,000 necessary to complete it, nearly £6,000 would be spent in unskilled labour in this colony.

We live in a telegraphic age and we must therefore have telegraphs; and having telegraphs must make them as extensively available as possible. To this end, perfect regularity of communication and cheaper rates of transmission are essential. The Commissioner of Public Works engages to spare no pains in his endeavour to cheapen the cost of sending messages and we trust he will soon be enabled in this respect to fulfil his own wishes and the wishes of the public".

Todd followed up these ideas in his Report for the first half of 1859. He pointed out that the line was already in the process of being duplicated in New South Wales and that when the projected additions had been completed, there would be a double line all the way from Adelaide to Sydney. Hence both Colonies would be spared some, if not all, of the delays and annoyances that had been of such frequent occurrence.

The need for that direct line was soon underlined by an incident reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of 13 July 1859:

"The pressure of business at the Sydney Telegraph Office, after the arrival of the Salsette in South Australia, was very great. The office opened at half-past eight o'clock on Tuesday morning, as usual, and messages were received and transmitted without intermission until half-past six o'clock on the following morning, when an interval of two hours occurred before the ordinary work of the day again commenced.

During the above period, 104 messages were received and 66 were transmitted - the total number of words being 11,880 and the total value of the messages £169 6s. 8d. The total number of messages passed over the line during the day was 206.

On Friday there was a sudden break in the line, just as a message was passing through. A second wire from Sydney to Adelaide, via Deniliquin, is greatly needed, not only to lighten the work on the present line in time of great pressure, but to guard against total stoppages, which generally happen at the most inconvenient times".

Given the cost of making the lines double and the immediate relief that it provided to the over-taxed single wire, Todd suggested that the direct Northern line to Sydney, by way of the river Murray might be deferred for a few years, or at least until the New South Wales Government was prepared to proceed with their division:

"I am as much in favour of the Northern route as ever but we must have immediate relief. Before the inter-colonial line was made, we advocated this route as the best to begin with, and we are inclined to think that, had it been carried out, many complaints that have been made would never have been heard of, as the Adelaide and Sydney messages would have been spared all detention from passing through the intermediate territory of Victoria. There is on our estimates for this year a sum of money for continuing the wire from Gundagai to Deniliquin. This will be carrying out part of the design. The remainder, we suppose, must now be adjourned sine die, since the plan of doubling the wire on the existing lines has been preferred by the telegraph authorities in all the colonies".

Hence a direct line had to await the further development of lines in both Colonies.

The Sydney Morning Herald of 2 June 1860 reported that "Mr. Todd complains justly of the conduct of the Victorian Government in not putting up a double wire between Albury and Mount Gambier after virtually promising to do so and by such promises inducing the Governments of New South Wales and South Australia to double their lines. The project of a line passing altogether to the north of Victoria, along the valley of the Murray, was abandoned in deference to the alleged superiority of a double wire along the established route. The two terminal colonies have done their part and gone to the expense of a second wire but Victoria backs out of its share of the compact on the plea of poverty - a plea that contrasts strangely with the fact that what with loans and what with revenue, Victoria is going to raise from six to seven millions sterling of revenue. As nothing is stronger than its weakest part, the expense to which two of the colonies has been put has been incurred in vain. Next year we may surely hope that Victoria will honourably fulfil her part of the understanding".

The 1867 Report by Samuel McGowan stated the Victorian position on the direct line very objectively:

"The advantages of this (direct Adelaide-Sydney) line are, of course, largely in favour of the two colonies within whose boundaries it has been constructed but some indirect benefit also accrues to this colony through the more regular maintenance of intercolonial communication now attainable.

The actual loss in revenue, however, to this Department, through the discontinuance of the business formerly transacted between Sydney and Adelaide via Melbourne amounts to about £ 1, 250 per annum".


Lines to New South Wales in South Australia.

Gawler NSW

After other developments to the north, the line from Gawler was extended to Blanche Town (2 words in those days) via Nurioopta in 1865.

Telegraph Offices were opened in both locations although Blanche Town opened before Nurioopta.

The line was then constructed through Overland Corner to the NSW border and communications were opened to Wentworth on September 11, 1866.

On 7 November 1866, the South Australian Advertiser reported that:

In August the Parliamentary Committee addressed the Chief Secretary, pointing out that, in a short time, there will be about 25,000 bales of wool ready to be brought down the Murrary River, and urging the great importance of telegraphic communication, and requesting the Government to do everything in their power to induce the New South Wales Government to complete the telegraphic line from Wentworth to our boundary. The Chief Secretary replied on the 27th August that the line was completed, and would be open in about a fortnight. The communication by this line is now completed.

A second line was constructed over a decade later starting at Overland Corner, where the Telegraph Office was opened in 1875, and back to Kapunda via Morgan and Eudunda

Lines to South Australia in New South Wales.

NSW SA The NSW lines required very much more construction than the South Australian lines because of the later start and the longer distances to be covered. It was a major undertaking and completed very quickly.

The lines to Albury and then up to Deniliquin had been completed by 1861 with an alternative line from the first line just below Gundagai (and later Wagga Wagga) via Urana. Both places enabled inter-colonial links to Victoria:

  • in 1858 at Albury to Wodonga;
  • in 1861 from Deniliquin to Echuca.


In late 1864, work began in earnest. The line, described in the 1864 Report by the Superintendent, as "the direct line from Deniliquin to our Western boundary" was extended from Deniliquin to Moulamein and Balranald. Cracknell stated that "it will provide the means of communication with Adelaide direct instead of through Victoria". In 1867, the line was extended to Euston and Wentworth - which was then the only town of any size or consequence on the Darling from the Murray Junction to Bourke. There were no telegraph lines north of it. Cracknell, with the Head of the Post and Telegraph Office in Moama - William Camper - set up the office as a repeater station for there would be no reason for a full Telegraph Office for many years. Telegraph Offices were opened at all other places along the line from Deniliquin. The 300 mile line from Deniliquin to Wentworth cost £25,000.

How things can change in a short time. By the end of 1872, the Overland Telegraph line was in full operation. The very significant increase in the volume of business consequent upon that line resulted in the Wentworth office becoming a very busy office - all press and overseas messages passing through it to Sydney.

A second inter-colonial link between these two Colonies was constructed in the late 1880s. As noted elsewhere, the line from Terowie, north of Kooringa, in South Australia to Silverton and Broken Hill in New South Wales followed the railway line constructed in the 1880s. It passed through Yunta and Cockburn where Telegraph Offices were opened in January 1887.

Significant use of the link through Wentworth.

Certainly the most important use for the link through Wentworth to Deniliquin and then on to either Albury or Echuca was to support the exchange of inter-colonial telegraphic communication.

There was however another significant use of the inter-colonial links amongst Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales in 1868 - the reassessment of the Colonial boundaries.

The boundary between South Australia and New South Wales was defined to be at the 141st meridian of east longitude by Imperial legislation in 1839. This definition also defined the boundary for Victoria which, at that time, was still part of the New South Wales Colony. The boundary line was physically demonstrated by C. J. Tyers in 1839 using three different methods and, in 1847, it was officially marked and proclaimed.

In 1869, the Victorians wanted to build roads in the area proclaimed to be part of South Australia and that created a bit of a disturbance in official circles. All parties involved saw that the solution had to involve "a voltaic determination of the ... longitude". Interestingly, Charles Todd had already completed the work with his New South Wales and Victorian counterparts to settle the technical aspects of the issue the previous year.

Todd's Report of 14 December 1868, which had established the South Australia-New South Wales boundary, was the basis of the settlement. It is an excellent Report which explains the techniques used, the simple mathematics and the empirical checks for accuracy in clear and basic words. For these reasons - and because the Report is something seldom seen - it is included here.

In summary, Todd worked with his counterparts Mr. Smalley (the Government Astronomer of New South Wales) and Mr. Ellery (the Government Astronomer of Victoria). They checked the longitudes of the Sydney Observatory and of the observatory at Williamstown (Vic) and of the new Melbourne Observatory. That gave them a difference in times amongst the three locations. On 3 April 1868, "after arrangements were made with Messrs. Cracknell and McGowan for the use of the telegraph wires" the transits of selected stars were compared in both places. "From several trials, Mr. Ellery found that the time loss in repeating (the signals transmitted from Sydney) was 0.027 seconds" (see page 2). After comparing the reliability and validity of all observers involved, Todd and his colleagues had a very accurate understanding of the observations to be made and the time differences. He also concluded (page 4) that "the voltaic current appears, therefore, to have taken 0.048 sec. to pass from one observatory to the other, a distance of about 540 miles, or to have had a velocity of 11,250 miles a second".

Todd returned to Adelaide and, during the last part of April, "proceeded up the river by the steamer Prince Alfred from Blanchetown ... to Chowilla" (page 4). He set up instruments to the west of the presently accepted boundary between South Australia and Victoria and "about one-third of a mile from the line of electric telegraph from which a short line of that length was temporarily run up to bring the wires into the observatory".

Signals were exchanged with the Sydney Observatory on the clear nights of 9 and 10 May although the 900 mile circuit "was not very good" and so prevented the recording of several transits. "On 13th and 14th May, signals were successfully exchanged between the boundary and Melbourne, Messrs Cracknell and McGowan having kindly arranged to give me direct circuit with the Melbourne Observatory via Deniliquin and Echuca, all intermediate telegraph offices being cut out. The nights were brilliantly clear at both places and the circuit splendid". Latitude observations were taken on 20 May.

After calculations - and consultations with all involved - it was concluded that the real boundary between the two Colonies at the agreed 141st meridian was 2 miles, 44 chains 68.2 links (say 4.12 km) east of where the previous boundary had been placed. A prominent and permanent marker was constructed along the correct location (see page 6 of the Report).