South Australia - Colonial period: 1855 - 1900.
Telegraph lines in the Border Town - Mount Gambier region to Victoria.


The construction of telegraph lines in this south-eastern area of South Australia was primarily focussed on the development of mutually supportive lines to facilitate communication with Victoria. Naturally, planning also addressed improvement in communication amongst centres in this region and with places to the west and north west elsewhere within the Colony of South Australia.

The first construction activity in this region was in association with the No. 1 line from Adelaide to Mount Gambier and then across the border to Portland and Melbourne. Later construction activity was associated with three other lines across the border with Victoria.

The other activities related to:

  1. The line north from Mount Gambier to Penola;
  2. The Penola east to Casterton line;
  3. The Penola north to Narracoorte line;
  4. The Narracorte to Apsley link;
  5. Other lines in this region to improve the communication for economic and social purposes.

This map continues north-west across the 90 mile desert to Tailem Bend.  
This map continues east to Horsham.
This map continues east to Harrow on the Narracoorte line.
This map continues east to Casterton on the Penola line.
This map continues to Portland and Melbourne.


1. The line north to Penola.

In the House on 14 June 1859, Mr. Hawker presented a petition from the inhabitants of Penola and surrounding district praying for the construction of a branch line of telegraph from Mount Gambier to Penola. That petition stated the following:

The inhabitants of Penola and its neighbourhood are evincing some anxiety to obtain an extension of the telegraph from Mount Gambler to their township and the following memorial addressed to the Legislative Assembly and a similar one to the Executive Council are now in course of signature: The petition of the undersigned inhabitants of Penola and the surrounding districts humbly showeth:

1. That your petitioners are resident in a largely populated district at present having very imperfect means of communication either with the metropolis of the colony, other townships or the adjacent colonies; and that the postal arrangements are such as to make the transaction of business by post tedious and uncertain not infrequently involving considerable loss.

2. That your petitioners, aware of the success which has attended the establishment of telegraph in other parts of the colony, would beg to suggest to your Honourable House the formation of a branch line of telegraph from Mount Gambier to this district — an undertaking which would afford great convenience not only to Penola and its immediate neighbourhood but also to the Tatiara Country, the townships of Narracoote and Mosquito Plains, Apsley, Harrow-on-the-Hill and a large population residing within the Victorian boundary at distances varying from 20 to 30 miles from Penola.

3. That your petitioners believe that the telegraph would be largely used by the inhabitants of the places above enumerated.

4. And your petitioners would represent that the distance from Penola to Mount Gambier is less than 40 miles, that the intermediate country presents no difficulties, while timber suitable for posts could easily be procured along the greater part of the line; and that the cost of constructing such line of telegraph from Mount Gambier to Penola would be comparatively small while the benefits conferred upon your petitioners would be very great.

5. your petitioners therefore beg that your Hon. House will be pleased to cause the construction of a line of electric telegraph from Mount Gambier to Penola as speedily as possible.

6. And your petitioners will ever pray, etc. It is proposed to place these documents in the hands of Mr. Hawker, the Member for the district, for mention so soon as Parliament meets in April next".

On 29 June 1859, the House determined to consider the expediency of establishing a telegraph between Mount Gambier and Penola. About 23 July 1859, the House received:

Tenders were called in the local newspapers - for example The South Australian Advertiser of 2 November 1859:

"Tenders are now called for the supply of TELEGRAPH POLES for the line of telegraph from Mount Gambier to Penola and will be received at this office until noon of November the 9th. Specifications may be seen and all particulars obtained on application at this office, or at the Telegraph Offices at Mount Gambier and Robe Town".

On 28 December 1859, the South Australian Register reported “The preparations for carrying out telegraphic communication between Mount Gambier and Penola are progressing satisfactorily but the line will not, it is anticipated, be opened for three months to come”.

The Adelaide Observer 11 August 1860 noted “The 'Ant' made a very quick passage from Port Adelaide this week, coming down in 22 hours from the Lightship which is one of the best runs she has made this season. Mr. Todd, Superintendent of Telegraphs, was amongst the passengers on the 'Ant' and we understand he has come down here to open the telegraph line between Guichen Bay and Penola".

The telegraphic connection between Mount Gambier and Penola was made about 13 August 1860.

An indication of life before telegraphic communication in these regions is provided by the 1860 election. The description in the South Australian Register of 10 April 1860 (before the telegraph connection to Narracoorte (Mosquito Plains)) is as follows:

"Tuesday, the 3rd inst, being the day for the election, was a very exciting one here (in Guichen Bay) with numbers of settlers being in town to vote for the candidate they thought most fit and proper to represent the district in Parliament. The poll closed at 6 p.m. and the ballot boxes were forwarded to Mosquito Plains (Ed: Narracoorte) to the Returning Officer the following day but up to 8 o'clock this evening (5th), the time the Telegraph Office closes, nothing has been heard of the result of the election and great excitement prevails in consequence. It was expected that the Returning Officer would receive the ballot boxes on Wednesday evening last, both from this place and Mount Gambier; that the result would be communicated to the electors at the Mount by a special messenger and from there to the electors here by telegraph. But as yet we have not heard anything about this important matter and most probably will not do so until Saturday morning as, tomorrow being Good Friday, the Telegraph Office will be closed".


2. The Penola east to Casterton link.

In the Mount Gambier Border Watch of 1 July 1865 - the same month in which the Casterton Telegraph Office opened - the following was reported:

"Among other gossip of the day we hear that our Government talk of connecting the telegraph from Penola to Casterton. No doubt it will not take long to have a second overland line between Adelaide and Melbourne which, in stormy weather, will be of great advantage from being exempt from many storms to which the coast line is subject".

The Victorian view was equally positive.

The Estimates allocated £600 for the half year to December 1865 for the "Telegraph from Penola to frontier en route to Casterton to meet extension of inland line from Melbourne".

In June 1866, the specifications were finalised for the construction of the Telegraph line extending east to Casterton in Victoria. Nearly one year later: "Tenders have been accepted for the erection of a telegraph line between Casterton and Penola at a cost of line, £1,196" (Border Watch 3 July 1867).

On 16 November 1867, the Penola-Casterton intercolonial telegraph line was opened. From Casterton, the Victorian Penola Line line ran through Hamilton to Terang and then through Colac to Geelong. There were then two lines to Melbourne.

Even after the line had been completed, a number of messages intended for more northern parts of Victoria were still sent along the No. 1 line to Mount Gambier via Willunga and Guichen Bay to Portland. The SA Advertiser for 15 February 1869 published a letter from a reader:

"Penola: observations by a Resident:

A new line of telegraph has been made into Victoria via Casterton but it is seldom used — why it is impossible to tell. A telegram to Casterton is now sent via Mount Gambier, Portland, Hamilton and Coleraine — about 200 miles instead of direct 40 miles.

I hope next year to include amongst our improvements a new Penola Telegraph and Post Office. The situation of the present one is excellent, but a stranger can scarcely believe that the low antiquated structure in the midst of handsome two-storeyed buildings represents the most important Government office in the township".

On 11 October 1873, it was reported that "Mr Todd intends erecting the new telegraph line via Swanport, thence inland to Kincraig and Penola, connecting with the Victorian lines over the border at Casterton - thus avoiding the great disadvantage of the coast line and enabling this colony to telegraph direct with Victoria instead of via Mount Gambier" (Launceston Examiner). That line was of course to go through Border Town en route to Kincraig (Narracoorte) and Penola.


3. The line north from Penola to Narracoorte (Kincraig).

By September 1861, residents began to become vocal about a line to the north connecting Mount Gambier to Narracoorte. On 12 August 1862, the House of Assembly agreed on an address "praying His Excellency (the Governor) to cause the sum of £1,500 to be placed on the Estimates for the purpose of extending the telegraph line from Penola to Kincraig (Mosquito Plains)".

The South Australian Weekly on 11 October 1862 echoed the support: "The probability that the telegraph will be extended to Kincraig is a source of great satisfaction to the majority in this district. It will be a great boon to many in the transaction of their business".

The Mount Gambier Border Watch for 11 June 1863 noted: "The Penola correspondent reports that the posts of the telegraph line to Kincraig (Narracoorte) have all been erected and the wires have been stretched for some miles from Penola". A month later "the poles were on the ground to within about five miles of the township (Narracoorte) and the poles erected as far as Robertson's home station. Mr. Towler (contractor) expects to have the line open to the public by the middle of July".

The telegraph line from Mount Gambier via Penola to Kincraig-Narracoorte was opened on 17 July 1863 "placing our Mosquito Plains friends within speaking distance of Mount Gambier. The charges were the same as from Gambier to Guichen Bay - 2s. for ten words and 6d for every additional five words". Mr J. Carter had the honour of sending the first message - addressed to His Excellency Sir D. Daly, K.C.B.

The first sod of the Mount Gambier to Narracoorte Railway was turned on 19 November 1885 and, when that link was complete, the railway was to be extended to Border Town.


4. The Narracoorte to Apsley link.

The line to Narracoorte then opened up another possibility for an inter-colonial telegraphic link to Victoria. At that time, the only consideration could be another line to Casterton (see 1864 lines of Victorian Telegraphs) but it was not economically justifiable to have a second line to Casterton. Hence the additional line to Victoria had to wait until further line extensions were constructed in Victoria - in particular to Harrow and then Apsley in 1882. In December 1881, The Victorian Postmaster-General let the tender for the Harrow-Apsley-Edenhope line.

The townships of Narracoorte, Apsley and Harrow were reasonably close together and they used to share activities. For example, the yearly cattle-show was shared amongst the three border towns.

At the end of August 1882, construction of the telegraph line between Narracoorte and Apsley was nearing completion. In addition, the Telegraph Offices at Apsley and Edenhope were opened in that month. The date on which the line was officially opened is unclear but it would have been in August or September 1882.

The omni-present issue, in places like Narracoorte and Apsley, was always the rates charged for telegrams.


Narracoorte to Border Town.

Although the No. 2 line of telegraph from Adelaide to Border Town was not completed until 1879, the South Australian Register of 9 July 1875 already was reporting on calls to push forward a project for a line of telegraph from Narracoorte to Border Town. Some action on the idea was taken but very slowly.

On 29 September 1877, the Weekly Mail reported "Great hopes were entertained a short time since of seeing the telegraph line to Narracoorte erected (from Border Town). Tenders were called and sent in and an officer was waiting on the route to supervise the erection of the work but for reasons not made public, no tender was accepted and the officer has been recalled to town".

The Narracoorte Herald of 29 April 1879 noted “Tenders for the erection of the telegraph line from Narracoorte to Border Town require to be in the hands of the Government by noon of the 5th May".

The Narracoorte Herald is quoted as reporting "We almost despaired of ever the Government calling for tenders again for a line of telegraph from Narracoorte to Border Town but we understand Mr. Hardy has been constantly keeping the Minister of Education in mind of the promise he made at Narracoorte; and after over-coming several obstacles, tenders have been called for the work. We believe the Government will accept any seasonable tender this time.

"There is one thing about the matter we do not like and that is the construction of the line along the road instead of along the proposed railway route. We know it was the intention of the Cabinet to make the line along the railway route and we look upon the change with much suspicion. Many reasons suggest themselves to us which we hope are not warranted by the facts of the case when due enquiries have been made.
(South Australian Chronicle 22 March 1879).

In the Border Watch of 25 October 1876, it is reported that, in the House, the Treasurer introduced the Second Loan Bill and in that was a line item for a “Telegraph from Kingston to Narracoorte and Border Town for £7,236”.

The South Australian Chronicle of 17 March 1877 followed up this item with the comment:

“At the recent dinner at the opening of the Narracoorte and Kingston Railway, the speakers dwelt with satisfaction on the share they had in obtaining funds for the construction of a line of telegraph from Kingston to Border Town, with necessary offices. The work is still uncommenced and it is to be hoped our friends will urge the powers that be to proceed with the work ‘ere they forget it altogether”.


The Narracoorte east to Kaniva line.


The Narracoorte - Border Town link.

Narracoorte was only 50 miles to the south of Border Town and the need for a telegraph line linking Narracoorte to Border Town had long been discussed.

In July 1878, a deputation met with the Minister of Education and Agriculture and with Mr Todd. That deputation was informed that the cost of a line joining Narracoorte to Border Town had been placed on the sub-estimates and it would form part of a line from Adelaide to Melbourne. Despite further communications and promises, the cost did not get placed on the estimates. It was pointed out to the Government that there was only a short distance between Narracoorte and Border Town and that there was plenty of suitable timber on the line. The traffic expected to use this link line would pay the working expenses.

The matter then became part of the discussions about the construction of the railway line between the two towns. Hence when a railway line was constructed, a telegraph line would also be constructed. The Minister

"admitted that Border Town was in an isolated position and that it was now limited to mail communication three times per week. It was not because the present Government wished to ignore the wants of the Tatiara District that the Cockatoo Lake branch of railway did not appear among their Bills. The fact was that a survey had been taken and was now, he supposed, completed, for a railway from Border Town via Binnum to Narracoorte and they would agree with him that it was only reasonable that the Government should await information as to which was the best line of railway before determining the route for the telegraph. So soon as they had information on this point, they would be prepared to include in their policy a scheme of telegraphic communication ... He admitted the need of doing something for Border Town and he would ask Mr. Todd to supply an exact estimate of the cost of constructing the telegraph branch either for Baker's Range via Cockatoo Lake to Border Town or for Narracoorte via Binnum to Border Town. When he had the information from Mr. Todd in conjunction with the railway extension, which the Government would propose as soon as they got the necessary information, he would recommend to the favourable consideration of his colleagues the construction of one or other of the lines".
South Australian Register 29 July 1876.

It appears that the proposed line starting from Baker's Range (changed name to Lucindale in June 1877) to Bordertown was amended in 1877 to start at Kingston. The cost for this 104 mile line was estimated to be £7,230. That line of railway would also have had a telegraph line erected along it. Lucindale, for example opened a telegraph station on 13 May 1878.

On 12 November 1878, Mr. Hardy was scheduled to ask the Minister of Education in the House "by referring to the promise of the Government on 28th November, 1877 that the telegraph line from Narracoorte to Border Town should he erected, whether the railway were authorised or not, whether the Government will erect that telegraph forthwith"?

On 21 January 1879, the Minister of Education announced in Narracoorte that the telegraph line from Narracoorte to Border Town "should be made at once" and that the Tatiara Railway Bill would be one of the earliest measures of the Government's next session.

The tender to build the telegraph line was signed on 16 May 1879 with Messrs. C. & E. Miller. The Telegraph Office opened in Border Town on 18 November 1879. One of the congratulatory messages noted "that after so many difficulties as to route and other matters the boon is an accomplished fact".

The first sod of the Mount Gambier to Narracoorte Railway was turned on 19 November 1885 and, when that link was complete, the railway was extended to Border Town.


5. Other lines in this region.

In 1862, a telegraph line was constructed over the 20 miles between Mount Gambier and Port MacDonnell at a cost of £1,060 exclusive of buildings.

A line along the coast enabled telegraph connection at Lacepede Bay on 27 September 1867.

In June 1875, a deputation met with the Government to discuss telegraphic communication between Border Town and the rest of the Colony.

On 25 January 1879, the Adelaide Observer reported that the line of telegraph had been laid from Millicent as far as the Narrow Neck - which is towards Beachport.

The Mount Gambier-Beachport Railway line opened on 19 May 1879. A new Post Office and Telegraph Office was established at the same time and opened in temporary accommodation on 23 May. On 27 May 1879, the Rivoli Bay North Post Office was relocated to the new Beachport Telegraph Office and renamed Beachport. On 16 October 1879, it was reported that "The plans and specifications of our new Post and Telegraph Office are out now. Tenders are called for. The building will have a nice central position, and according to the plans will be a first-class structure. What improves the look of our buildings is the use of dressed whitish yellow sand stone with white freestone quartz. We have had Mr. T. Rogers here to take the levels of our main street so that we may live in hopes of getting it done in time".
(Adelaide Observer 25 October 1879).