Australia - South Australia/Northern Territory.
The Overland Telegraph Line - main page.


This page provides an overview of the main aspects of the planning, the construction and the operation of the Overland Telegraph Line (OTL).

Preliminary developments.

    1. Communication between Australia and England - original ideas.
    2. Early submarine cables;
    3. the lines/cables from Europe to India;
    4. the establishment of Darwin;
    5. The possible international cable connections:
      a possible cable to Western Australia via Ceylon;
      possible cables to Queensland via Singapore, Java and the Gulf of Carpentaria;
      a cable to Port Darwin linking to a hub connected to the various Colonies;
      a cable via Java to Port Darwin.

The construction phase.

    1. Early South Australian initiatives to be responsible for the international links;
    2. Construction of the Java to Port Darwin cable;
    3. Construction of a third Java - Australia cable in 1889;
    4. Construction of the Adelaide to Port Darwin line;
      Northern section;
      Central section;
      Southern section.
    5. Contractual obligations of completion on time and implications.
    6. The last gap closed;

Operation of the Overland Telegraph line.

A number of original Reports and articles of correspondence concerning the planning and construction of the Overland Telegraph line are included elsewhere. There are also some Reports on the issues surrounding the cables to Australia.

Excellent reviews of the entire project are provided by The Australasian of 6 July 1972 and by Todd's Preliminary Report of January 1873. Another exceptionally useful review of all aspects was published in the South Australian Register of 7 September 1872.

In summary, the main dates are:

1863 SA Government annexes North Territory to secure land for an overland telegraph line.
1865 SA Parliament authorises the construction of the Adelaide to Port Augusta Telegraph line (300 km) and creates outrage in Queensland especially from the proponents of the Darwin to Burketown route.
1866 Morse lines laid in Queensland to Port Denison in northern Queensland.
1869 Lines in Queensland extended further to Normanton and later to Burketown on the Gulf of Carpentaria to become the first line to be able to meet the international cable link.
1870 Cables laid from India to Penang and Singapore.
  Governments of Queensland and New South Wales have a provisional agreement with the British Australian Telegraph Company to link the latter’s cable from Java to Port Darwin across to Burketown (Qld). The BAT then had to ask the South Australian Government for permission to build the extension line across NT to Queensland.
  Port Augusta to Port Darwin Telegraph Bill put to SA Parliament on 8 June with Todd’s commitment that the line would be finished by 1 January 1872. Royal assent given 16 June and a contract between the South Australian Government and the BAT was signed in October for:
  1. the Government to complete the overland telegraph line to Port Darwin;
  2. the BAT to lay the Banjoewangi to Port Darwin submarine telegraph cable.
  BAT relieved as it did not then have to finance the Darwin to Burketown line. BAT agreement for the SA link signed in October.
18 July 1872 First communication using the OTL noted - even before line was completely joined.
22 August 1872 First transmission across the completed transcontinental telegraph line.
21 October 1872 Official date for the completion of the Adelaide to England telegraph line.
11 February 1873 Earliest recorded form sent via the OLT and the Darwin-Java cable.
1942 A message was conveyed down the Overland Telegraph Line that Japanese fighters and bombers had attacked Darwin. The line was the means by which this news was brought to the rest of a horrified Australia.