Queensland - Colonial: 1861 -1900.
The first telegraph lines in suburban Brisbane.

Telegraph lines in suburban Brisbane are broadly defined as being those lines within the Brisbane City Council area. Of course that is a relatively new concept - certainly not considered in 1861!!
Many of the lines now regarded as "City lines" were constructed through very country areas when their construction actually happened.

As time passed, many lines were constructed and it is not possible here to trace all of these lines. There were however some very important lines within the early Brisbane area - broadly defined. Those requiring comment here are:

  1. The 1861 line to Lytton. This line was planned almost concurrently with the line to New South Wales.
  2. the 1864 line extended from Lytton to Cleveland and Cape Moreton.

Other lines are also noted.

In Martindale's 1860 Report on the NSW Electric Telegraph, he noted that "in the estimates for 1859, provision was made for the construction of a line from Moreton Island to Brisbane. The separation of Queensland from New South Wales has prevented this service being carried out".


The first intra-colonial line - that to Lytton.

After the tenders for the inter-colonial line to NSW had been decided, offers were then invited for the construction of a line between Brisbane and Lytton - the Customs station at the mouth of the Brisbane River. The estimated distance for the line was 11 miles:

"The Lytton line will advantage the metropolis by enabling it to receive the earliest intelligence of shipping arriving in the Bay and the overland line to New South Wales will be the means of opening up speedy commercial intercourse with all the other Australian colonies besides laying the foundation for a continuation line to the Gulf of Carpentaria whereby a junction may be easily effected with Indian telegraphic communication so as to shorten very materially the interchange between the new and the old world"
(Moreton Bay Courier 15 December 1860).

"Mr. James Power Murray's tender was £7 or £8 lower than either of the other two tenders and so was accepted. His estimate was £48 per mile and he is bound to complete the work within a period of two months" (Ipswich Advertiser 23 November 1860). However the Moreton Bay Courier of 8 December 1860 reported that "The contract for the electric telegraph line to Lytton line has been taken by Mr. W. Broadfoot, the person whose tender was originally accepted not finding sureties. As the necessary documents have been signed yesterday by the contractor, the construction of this section will be commenced immediately. A junction will be formed on the southern side of the river Brisbane with the inter-colonial line now in progress towards Ipswich". Soon after, on 18 December, the North Australian reported that:

"The works upon the Lytton line have been actually commenced, and we understand that Mr. Austin hopes to have both this and the line to Ipswich in working order in two months time, when both it and the inter-colonial line will be simultaneously thrown open to the public. The wires of both lines will cross the Brisbane at the same point — opposite the Botanical Gardens, the high land on the south side being of sufficient elevation to permit of the crossing being made without difficulty. A strong mast will be erected on the north side, high enough to raise the wire far above the reach of vessels and. by this means, the additional cost of a submarine cable will be avoided as also the additional delay in procuring it".

Unfortunately, on 28 July 1863 "The telegraph wires suspended across the Brisbane river were broken by the masts of the Lady Lyttleton and communication stopped for several hours".

The Moreton Bay Courier of 12 February 1861 gave an update of progress on the Lytton line:

"The line to Lytton is progressing satisfactorily and will be finished about the same time (as the inter-colonial line to Ipswich). It is not expected, however, that they will then be in actual operation as the necessary alterations now being made in the central station, Brisbane - formerly Dr. Lang's chapel - cannot be finished much under two months. A site has been selected by the inspector and approved of by the Government, in Brisbane Street, Ipswich, where a station will probably be commenced immediately.

As we previously mentioned, several other lines are in contemplation but, as yet, no decision has been come to as to the commencement of any of them.".

On 23 March 1861, the Moreton Bay Courier gave an update on both lines:

" The construction of the line to Lytton has been seriously impeded in consequence of the late continuous heavy rains and it is thought that the opening may be delayed for four or five weeks. The party engaged on the work have found the ground on the lower parts so boggy and inundated by water as to render it impossible, with any degree of certainty, to sink the holes for the posts. Now, however, that there is some prospect of fine weather, it is only reasonable to suppose that the work will be proceeded with rapidly and successfully. The installments and batteries are already at the Lytton station so that there can be no delay in bringing the line into operation so soon as the posts shall have been erected and the wire stretched.".

The Moreton Bay Courier of 13 April reported that "The Lytton line will be opened as soon as the state of the intermediate country will permit the contractor to complete it".

On 14 May 1861, the Brisbane Courier reported that "The works already in hand are progressing favorably. The line to the Custom House station, Lytton, at the entrance to the river Brisbane, is now nearly finished, and is expected to be in operation in about five days.

The suspense grows!! But ...

The Courier of 4 June 1861 reported that "The contractors have not quite completed the Lytton line of communication, some of the insulators still being wanting. Communication was, however, held today to a certain extent and it is anticipated that, in a few days - as soon as the insulation is perfected - this line will be opened for public business". On 11 June, the same paper noted: "Now that the telegraphic communication with Lytton is perfect, the Collector of Customs has made arrangements for all arrivals or departures from the Bay to be immediately telegraphed to the Custom House, Brisbane, where they will be posted for public convenience. This arrangement will be a great advantage to the trading community in itself but it will also, if we are not much mistaken, lead to another equally important arrangement - we mean some regular means of towage by which vessels that make the run from Sydney in three or four days, will not be detained in the Bay for a week while the cargo they bring is being depreciated in value during the delay".

Sometimes things do not always go to plan because full support is not provided. The Courier of 5 August 1861 shows a perfect example of this problem:

"On several occasions since the opening of the telegraph line between Brisbane and Lytton, we have been surprised and disappointed at the meager nature of the reports of vessels arriving at the Bar supplied from that station and have felt disposed to blame Mr. McDonald for inattention. As, however, we did not wish to do so, unless upon fair grounds, we took the trouble to inquire whether he was supplied with such appliances as would enable him to make the shipping telegrams via Lytton really useful to the public. Our inquiries have made us aware that the station is not supplied with Marryntt's code of signals, indispensable for holding communications with vessels in the Bay, and that the telescope at present in use is not by any means such a glass as should be depended upon at an important station. Knowing that these wants exist, we must acquit Mr. McDonald of all blame, for telling us "that a brigantine was lying at the Bar, supposed to be the Swordfish" but we really think the government will be subject to blame if, after the deficiencies have been pointed out, it does not at once supply its officer with the requisites for supplying full information to the public concerning the shipping in the bay".


The line to Cleveland and Cape Moreton.

This telegraph line from the Chief Telegraph Office east to Lytton was extended to Cleveland. It was originally intended to have been carried from Lytton via the Ship Patch and Pilot Station. The change in route via Cleveland and Dunwich was ultimately adopted on two criteria:

  1. the advantage of placing the Quarantine Station in direct communication with Brisbane; and
  2. a better bed for the submarine portion of the line with less danger to the cables by fouling of ships' anchors. In 1864, the line to Lytton was extended to Cleveland and through to Cape Moreton.

Cleveland is located on the north-eastern corner of the point opposite Peel Island. In April 1864, a lighthouse was established at Cleveland to assist the small coastal steamboats to navigate the rocks and the moving mud flats and sandbars at the entrance to Moreton Bay. To facilitate communication, a telegraph line was to be constructed but that concept immediately developed into an integrated plan for the area.

On 8 March 1864, the Rockhampton Bulletin reported that "The telegraph line on Moreton Island is rapidly progressing and is open for the transmission of messages between the Pilot Station and the Lighthouse. When the necessary submarine cable arrives, the chain of communication will be complete between Cape Moreton and Lytton and immigrant vessels won't have to lie on and off for a week without the agents being cognizant of their arrival".

The Rockhampton Bulletin of 6 September 1864 summarised the situation which then evolved most succinctly:

"The opening of the telegraph to Cape Moreton cannot but be a source of congratulation to all who have the slightest interest in shipping matters. Previous to the completion of this line, the state of affairs in respect of shipping intelligence was in a most unsatisfactory condition and a vessel sometimes lay at the river bar for two or even three days before her name or the port whence she came could be ascertained. It is, however, but just to state that this was not altogether blameable to the telegraph department, though in some instances there might have been more activity than was displayed. Now that telegraphic communication is fairly established with the lighthouse at Cape Moreton, it is to be hoped that we shall not again have occasion to comment on the difficulty which has heretofore existed, in getting correct intelligence of the arrivals and departures - especially as the shipping visiting this port is so rapidly increasing both in the number of vessels and their importance. By the new line just opened, Lytton, Cleveland, Danwich, the Pilot Station and Cape Moreton Lighthouse are all placed in direct communication with Brisbane. The length of land line from Brisbane to Cleveland via Lytton is thirty miles - thence there is a stretch of submarine cable nine miles in length to a point on Stradbroke Island in the vicinity of the Dunwich quarantine station. From there the wire again runs overland for fifteen miles to Amity Point after which there is a short submarine cable three and a half miles long, running across Rous' Channel, better known as the South Passage, to the southern extremity of Moreton Island where a land wire is once more connected with it and carried via the pilot station to the lighthouse, a distance of thirty-one miles. The total length of telegraph line between Brisbane and Cape Moreton is 89½ miles".

Mariners and others were cautioned in the Government Gazette of 8 October 1864 and in the Press against anchoring within a quarter of a mile of the new cables between Cleveland and Stradbroke Island and between Amity Point and Moreton Island.

The Northern Australian of 17 September 1864 reported on the finalisation of this important line:

"Through the courtesy of the gentlemen of the Telegraphic Department, we are enabled to state the gratifying fact that telegraphic communication between Brisbane and Moreton Island Lighthouse is now almost 'un fait accompli'. The submarine cable, brought from England by the ship Earl Russell was on Friday, August 19, successfully paid out between Moreton and Stradbroke Islands and the land portions of the wire, being already laid throughout, there is little else to do beyond the connecting of the different sections".

Other lines.

Line were later constructed: