Tasmania - Colonial period: 1857-1900.
Telegram rates.

The dates for the introduction or revision of Telegram rates were:

  1. 1857 - 1869;
  2. 1869 - 1873;
  3. 1873 - 1884;
  4. 1884 - 1891;
  5. 1891 - 1900.
  6. Post Federation (from 1902)

The financial implications of Free Telegrams - especially for official OHMS teegrams - is also addressed.

1857 - 1869.

The first rates adopted for messages between Hobart Town and Launceston were as follows:

User No. of words Cost Additional words:
Private use - ordinary rate: 10 words 3/- 2d.
Press 30 words 2/6 ½d.

These rates were lower than the corresponding rates set by Victoria. Mr Butcher acknowledged this difference but maintained that lower rates would encourage higher usage.

On 1 October 1859, the following charges were adopted in association with the Regulations:

Between and Cost for 10 words Each additional word
Hobart Town Launceston 2s 6d 2d
Hobart Town or Launceston Tamar Heads 3s 2d
Hobart Town or Launceston Circular Head 3s 6d 3d
Tamar Heads Circular Head 3s 2d
Tasmania Melbourne/Geelong 6s 4d
Tasmania Any Telegraph Office in Victoria 7s 4d
Tasmania New South Wales 9s 6d
Tasmania South Australia 9s 6d


The Launceston Examiner of 8 August 1857 noted as follows:

"In answer to numerous remarks upon the charge being fixed too high, the and referring to Larrimers treatise finds that the American tarifs vary on different lines, but has been estimated that the cost of a message of 10 words, exclusive of address and signature, is about five pence and for greater distances the cost may be taken at about 0.035 pence per mile.

A message to be sent to Launceston from Hobart Town counting 98 words exclusive of address and signature would, at the Tasmanian rates, cost 17s 8d being an average of 1.7d per mile.

The Electric Telegraph Company, the earliest established in England by their tariff of 1854 transmit all ther messages consisting of not more than 20 words to distances not exceeding 30 miles for 1s; to distances not exceeding 100 miles, 2s 6d and greater distances 5s; for each additional 10 words or fractions thereof, proportionate charges are made. Also special rates to commercial towns, thus: Between London and Birmingham, distance 112 miles, 1s; London and Liverpool, 212 miles, London and Manchester, 180 miles, London and Carlisle, 300 miles, the charge is only 2s 6d."

Having fixed rates, it was not long before the question arose of who should be able to send free telegrams. A Telegraph Franking List was soon prepared and it nominated the following officials:

Notable omissions from this list included the Governor and the Chief of the Post Office.

The cost of these "free telegrams" finally became significant - see below.

1869 - 1873 rates:

User No. of words Cost Additional words:
Private use - ordinary rate: 10 words 1/- 1d.
Press 30 words 2/6 ½d.

An interesting comment on the new rates is as follows:

TELEGRAPHIC CHARGES. (Launceston Examiner but reprinted from the Argus published in Victoria.)
25 September 1869.

"About the beginning of this year the cost of telegraphic communication in South Australia was considerably reduced, and the reduction has proved advantageous to the public revenue. In the months of June, July, and August of 1868, the revenue from the telegraph department (in South Australia) was £2510, while in the corresponding period in the present year, during which the new scale of charges was in force, a revenue of £2730 accrued. This is a very gratifying result, and should encourage other Australian Governments to try similar experiments. The extent of the indirect benefit that our neighbours have derived from the lowering of their telegraphic charges may be computed from the number of messages sent under the old and under the new tariff. In 1868, and in the months already mentioned, the number of messages was 24,250, while, in the corresponding period of the present year, the number was 32,080 - an increase of about one-third. And the number of messages is sure to increase still further.

Cheapness always increases consumption, and the telegraphic lines of South Australia will become more and more popular, and more and more productive, as the general body of the community, to whom the reduced scale of charges has rendered them accessible, learn to take advantage of the facilities which they afford.

In Tasmania a reform of the same kind has recently been effected, of which the results have not yet been ascertained. It is also intended to reduce the cable charges between Tasmania and this colony so soon as the necessary arrangements can be made for a corresponding reduction over the shore line on the Victorian side.

Why should not similar reforms be introduced here?

As a means of private or friendly communication, our telegraph wires are very seldom called into requisition, and the great bulk of the population derive but little advantage beyond what is to be found in the late intelligence which they enable the newspapers to supply. If the inland telegraph rate were reduced to sixpence, there would be an immense increase in the number of messages sent. Businessmen in town and country would communicate with each other much more freely, and the prices of commodities would be more regular in consequence to the profit alike of producer and consumer.

And private persons would then use the wires in reporting domestic occurrences to their distant relatives and make them the medium for exchanging with their friends those courtesies and amenities which go so far to make life pleasant. In countries in which the telegraph wires are thoroughly popularised, they are found to be a convenient means of sending invitations to dinner; and when ladies find their visiting engagements too numerous to be undertaken in person, they send telegraph messages to their friends in which they express the condolence or the congratulation which the omitted visits were intended to express, within the regulation limit of ten words. It might take us some time to learn to use the wires to this extent, but they should do something more for the general public than they do at present, and would do very much more if once our scale of telegraph charges were reduced.

It many not be practicable, at present, to reduce the minimum charge to sixpence. But the charges might be experimentally reduced with perfect safety to the revenue, and with great gain to the public, until the lines already in operation, and the officers at present engaged in the department, were fully employed. Nothing but advantage could arise from such a change as this.

[Note from the Editor, Launceston Examiner: The result of the experiment of reducing telegraph rates in Tasmania seems to have escaped the notice of our contemporary (ie the Argus). The success of the reduction has been as gratifying here as in South Australia. In his financial statement, the Treasurer stated that the recent reduction in the charges in the land lines from 2s 6d to 1s for a message of ten words, and from twopence to one penny for every additional word, had worked most satisfactorily, the result being that while in May they had only received £48 12s 11d at the half-crown rate, they received £56 16s 6d in July on the ls rate. This was independent of the cable messages passed over the land lines]".

1873 - 1884:

The Intercolonial Conference of January and February 1873 adopted a resolution V(3) which, for Tasmania, was superfluous in terms of the 1869 decision. It stated:

(3) That on and after 1st November next, the charge for telegraphic messages within each of the Australian Colonies be one shilling for 10 words (exclusive of address and signature) and one penny for every additional word, but that these charges are not to include messages on the lines from Port Augusta to Port Darwin, from Bowen to Norman Mouth, nor the cable charge between Tasmania and Victoria".

Transmission forms issued in 1874/75 showed these charges on the reverse side as in the scan below. The Intercolonial charges were also shown and these are discussed elsewhere. The rates for "Between Tasmanian Stations" section were not altered until XX although it was not printed on the forms after 1875.

1874 rates
Scan of the reverse side of 1874 transmission forms (TC-TO-3Ab and TC-TO-3B) printed in March and December respectively.
The conditions for transmission of telegrams was as follows:

Messages will be transmitted in the order of their reception; no precedence allowed, except for special despatches on Government service, the arrest of criminals, and cases of pressing emergency, sickness or death.

Messages must be written with ink clearly and legibly; bearing the proper date and address and the genuine signature of the sender. The full and correct address is to be given. Figures not to be used.

No charge will be made for the date, address or signature to any message.

Messages will be delivered free of charge within one mile of the office; over that distance cab or omnibus fare will be charged when incurred; boat hire will be charged extra when messages are delivered to ships away from the wharf.

(Reprinted in Walch's Almanac, August 1871).

In 1882, the cable charges between Victoria and Tasmania were reduced from 6/- to 4/- for a message of 10 words.

1884 - 1891 telegram charges:

  Type Basic cost Additional words
Within Tasmania Ordinary rate 1/- for 10 words or less 1d per word
  Press messages for publication 1/6 for 100 words or less 6d for each 50 words
Inter-Colonial To Victoria 2/- for 10 words  
  To South Australia or New South Wales 3/- for 10 words 3d per word
  Queensland or Western Australia 4/- for 10 words 4d per word

Address and signature must not exceed 10 words.

1 January 1891 - 1900:

  Type Basic cost Additional words
Within Tasmania Ordinary rate 1/- for 12 words or less 1½d per word
  Press messages for publication 1/6 for 100 words or less 6d for each 50 words
(plus cable charges)
To Victoria 6d for 12 words  
  To South Australia or New South Wales 6d for 12 words 3d per word
  Queensland or Western Australia 6d for 12 words 4d per word

The name and address were now included in the word count and therefore had to be paid for. Code addresses were prohibited.

Intercolonial rates were different depending on how many colonies were traversed.

"Free" telegrams.

The Clipper of 18 August 1894 hit out at the concept of Free Telegrams as follows:

"Most people are aware that the telegraph and cablegram service of the colony is carried on at a loss. It is equally well known that it is so not because the business community pay too little for the convenience of the wires but rather from the unblushing effrontery of certain politicans who, though decrying straight out honest payment of members, fully appreciate the free railway passes and franking of telegrams and letters and work those privileges for all they are worth, likewise accentuated by the piracy of certain newspapers, who despite the advantages of a cheap tariff, too frequently avail themselves of other reliable tactics to keep down expenses.

All replies to messages are likewise franked. In the dead head abuse is the real reason why our Telegraph Department is carried on at a loss, last year amounting to £3,287. To which might be added £7,451, the estimated value of public service wires, etc.

The enormity of the misstatement made by the Premier may be best grasped by the figures supplied by the Electric Telegraph Department Report for 1893 and it is well to note that nothing is being done to check this growing evil, one of the many ways in which true retrenchment should flow.

In the year 1879, the gross receipts were £10,785, the number of paid messages being 70,189, the free messages totalled 18,643, value £1,709. From that year to 1893, the receipts have shown an increase, reaching its zenith in the boom year, the revenue being £42,111 for 401,232 messages, directly due to mining speculation. The following year it fell to £28,369 and in 1893 again decreased to £23,818, and possibly will show a further shrinkage for 1894.

In the matter of free telegrams however, the total has been steadily rising, there is no fluctuation about the dead head, he ever rolls up with his brazen face and knowing nod, and in 1893 the total reached 49,234 free messages, valued at £5,427, or roughly calculated one of every six messages wired one is a dead head.

Can a business carried on in such an accommodating manner be a financial success? It is evident that the dead head who flourishes in Tasmania like a green bay tree and breeds with the pertinacity of the rabbit must be sat upon with a great sit and then at least this one useful service would be relieved and the employees would be fairly able to claim exemption from a wage reduction which is detrimental to the best interests of commercial and industrial life.

Let Ministers strive to put a healthy spirit into the colony and by putting the state business upon a commercial basis, running it for the people instead of the convenience of certain interested parties and cliques, and the need of paltry wage reductions and thieving taxation will no longer exist".

Post-Federation - After 1902.

Following Federation, uniform rates for sending telegrams were introduced throughout Australia in 1902. The Gazette notice for Tasmania showing Postal and Telegraph rates is attached.