Victoria - Colonial period: 1854-1900.
The first line to New South Wales - the Albury (No. 1 and No. 2) lines.


Once the feasibility of telegraphic communication had been demonstrated in Victoria, ambitious plans were developed by McGowan in conjunction with Charles Todd (in South Australia) and Captain B. H. Martindale (in New South Wales) to link the three Colonies as soon as possible. Hence the construction emphasis was to develop long lines to the respective borders immediately. There were various ways in which these inter-colonial connections could be made and indeed could be extended to international lines between the Colonies and England - see the visionary concepts embodied in one of the early proposals.

In the Legislative Assembly of 16 January 1857, Mr. Childers proposed the formation of three intercolonial lines:

The first two lines were to proceed immediately.

In the Legislative Assembly of 15 January 1857:

"Mr. Childers, in moving the resolution respecting the establishment of inter-colonial telegraphs, said the attention of the Government during the recess had been drawn to the expediency of extending the line in accordance with the original intention and communications had been made with the Governments of South Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania. The Government of South Australia was most desirous of proceeding with the work and they had good reason to because they would be put to some disadvantage compared with the neighboring colonies in the contemplated arrangements for steam postal communication. The arrangement for an electric telegraph would be very much to their advantage ...

The second line was from Melbourne to Beechworth and Albury. It had been originally intended that it should go by Sandhurst but it was now intended to take it by Kilmore. The Legislature of New South Wales had adopted the suggestion of a line between Sydney and Albury. If the House would affirm the resolutions which he had proposed, nearly all the line ought to be formed before the end of May

On the line to Sydney, the profit would probably not be so great (as that to SA) as it would only pass through Beechworth. The estimated profit was £3,000 or £4,000 per annum when in good working order but it would require some time for people to become accustomed to it".

On 25 June 1857, the Estimate of £15,000 was passed in the Legislative Council for the extension of the electric telegraph line from Kilmore along Sydney Road to Wangarratta, Beechworth and Albury plus an additional £9,000 for Telegraph Stations on this line.

The line to the north-east of Melbourne was therefore to meet the line originating at Sydney at Albury. The Victorian line terminated at Wodonga - which changed its name to Belvoir and then, on 26 July 1869, back to Wodonga. The first bridge between Albury and Wodonga opened in 1860 - well after the telegraphic link.

Details are provided below for:

This map includes the northern part of the Corowa line and then extende to the south-west lines in New South Wales.  

This map extends west through the Goulburn Valley line through Shepparton and then further west to

This map extends from Beechworth and Bright along the south-east Corowa line.

 

This map extends to the Gippsland - Bairnsdale and beyond lines.

First line from Melbourne to Wodonga.

Survey teams were required to map out the line from Melbourne to BelvoirWodonga/Albury. The Argus of 27 September 1856 reported that:

"The survey of the North-Eastern line to connect Melbourne, Kilmore, Seymour, Benalla, Beechworth and Belvoir is now in progress, and it is confidently anticipated that this extension (over 200 miles) will be placed in operation before the beginning of next winter. This line will constitute the Victorian section of telegraphic communication between Melbourne and Sydney, should the Government of New South Wales decide upon constructing the remaining portion of the line through that colony".

One of the members of the survey team was Mr. John Sharp who had lived in Albury for 70 years until his death in May 1926 at the age of 88. John had also been a member of the Burke and Wills expedition to Central Australia.

In the Estimates for 1857 provided in December 1856, the sum of £15,000 was allocated for the construction of the "line to Kilmore, along Sydney Road to Wangaratta, Beechworth and Albury". In addition, £9,000 was allocated for "Stations on above lines".

The line was to be constructed from Melbourne to Kilmore and then extended north-east to Seymour, Longwood and then on to Benalla and Wangaratta before terminating at Belvoir..

"The entire length of this line will be 226 miles which, at a cost of £59 15s per mile will amount to £13,503 10s. This amount, considering the difficulties which have to be encountered in an uncleared country, is not a very exorbitant sum compared with the advantages which every place on the route will derive from the outlay"
(Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 21 September 1857) .

Construction began at both ends of the Victorian line. Mr. McGowan's Report to 30 June 1857 (p. 2) provides a detailed statement about the progress made to that date on this line. In summary:

The opening of the first stage - from Melbourne to Kilmore - was completed with that line opening on 5 October 1857. The Age of 18 November 1857 noted that "the Government have invited tenders for the erection of telegraph stations at Kilmore, Longwood, Benalla, Wangaratta and Belvoir".

Construction from the other end began from Belvoir towards Beechworth and the south-west in December 1857. There had been considerable discussion about both the route for the telegraph line and the route for the road between Beechworth and Albury - see a full discussion in the Ovens and Murray Advertiser of 21 November 1857. The issue was should the road be diverted so as to go through Yakandandah (objected to as being too hilly) or the more direct and shorter route via Middle Creek (which was too swampy especially in winter). The telegraph line had been constructed via Middle Creek and that appears to have been the route accepted for the road.

There was a delay in construction between BelvoirWodonga and Beechworth caused by a lack of supply of the wires required. This problem was quickly rectified so the work could recommence. As the posts had been erected to the inter-colonial boundary line, only a few extra days were needed to finish that part of the contract. The line was immediately run to Beechworth in the same month and then on to Wangaratta soon after to meet the line from Melbourne.

In McGowan's Report for the half year to December 1857, he states "the line to Beechworth and Belvoir, to connect at Albury with the New South Wales division of the inter-colonial scheme of lines, having been completed to the south bank of the River Murray opposite Albury on 5 December ... Owing to unforeseen delay in the arrival of the instruments and batteries, I have only been enabled to open a portion of the north-eastern or Beechworth line for public communication, an office having been opened at Kilmore on 5th October and one at Longwood on 3rd November last".

The Ovens and Murray Advertiser of 1 December 1857 repeated a story from the Border Post:

"The Electric Telegraph is fast approaching the borders, the distance made good per diem being about two miles. The advanced guard - the "borers" — have passed Wodonga and this morning will see the completion of their portion of the work. The "choppers" will reach Belvoir about this day and the "wirers" following rapidly will have the means of communication with the metropolis in its place, in ten days at the latest. So much then for Mr. McGowan and his staff. The contract will be concluded in a month under the specified time and we believe the work will be found to be done satisfactory. The number of hands which have been employed in this useful occupation are laborers 5; choppers, 20; pole setters, 7; and wire-men, 5. In addition, there are cooks, tent-pitchers and teamsters - making the staff 50 persons. These are all under the superintendence of Mr. Snow whose practical experience in laying telegraph lines the colony will derive the benefit of. Attached to the party is a Government officer (Mr Eades) who reports on the work, as completed, and is constantly with the men.

Mr. McGowan, the contractor (sic), is at present engaged in sounding between Cape Otway and Cape Grim in Tasmania, with the object of laying a submarine wire to King's Island and from thence to the above-named locality. On his return, the first message will be transmitted by telegraph from Wodonga to Melbourne. Tenders are called for the erection of a station at Belvoir.
(Our contemporary has fallen into an error in stating that Mr. McGowan is contractor for the works. This gentleman is Superintendent of the Electric Telegraph in Victoria and in no way connected with the contractor whose name is Crowell
".

The Age of 19 January 1858 reported that Mr McGowan intended visiting Albury in the following week, when the station at Wodonga would be placed in working order. The gentleman who was to have charge of the Wodonga office was already on his road up from Melbourne and, on his arrival, the line would be opened for the transmission of messages.

Telegraphic offices were opened progressively along the line. The Kilmore Telegraph Office opened in October 1857, Longwood in November 1857, both Belvoir and Beechworth in January 1858 and Wangaratta was opened in July 1858. The last of the main offices to open was Seymour (1865). Details of all offices on this line are provided elsewhere.

The station arrangements at Beechworth were planned to be completed at about the same time as McGowan's visit. On 29 January 1858, The Portland Guardian reported that "Telegraphic communication to Beechworth (Ovens) was opened on Thursday morning (28th). This is the third station on the line that connects Victoria with New South Wales, stations having been opened several weeks ago at Kilmore and Longwood. The line now extends across the Murray River to Albury and communication with New South Wales now rests with the Government of that colony".

The line from Melbourne to Wodonga/Albury had taken about 14 months to survey and construct.

As was expected, frequent delays in sending messages along the line from Kilmore to Wodonga quickly emerged due to rapidly increased usage and various types of interruptions. Partly for those reasons, a direct link from Wangaratta to Chiltern was soon planned rather than continue to have the line run via Beechworth. This direct link was constructed (after opposition) in 1861 and became part of both the Albury line, the Corowa line and a branch of the Wood's Point line.

 

Some years later, the line through Seymour was to create some angst (as reported in the Seymour Express of 19 May 1882):

"A Public Eye Sore.

The telegraph pole in the most prominent part of Emily Street, facing the road to the Railway Station, was lately found to be giving way near the top. Three men were sent here to remedy the matter a few days ago and they accomplished their object by turning out a job which, for genuine clumsiness, could not be beaten a thousand years before the telegraph was invented. It consists of a decayed and dirty looking, crooked, battered old post driven in the ground a few yards away and leaning at an angle of about twenty-five degrees from the telegraph post with which it is connected by a twisted wire - also keeping up the angle of twenty-five or thirty degrees with the ordinary wires. Then, to prevent the lately erected post — if we may call it such — from giving way, another stump of about the same description is plugged up against it, of course, describing another angle of a different number of degrees. Altogether the ignorance of ten thousand centuries could scarcely invent a more hideously ugly contrivance, while there is scarcely a cockatoo in the colony who would tolerate it in his locality so that, if only for the sake of common decency, the Government should have it removed and replaced by something more suitable to the civilization of the nineteenth century".

The Albury problems.

Progress on the NSW line to Albury had been disrupted by several factors including a contractor not being able to finish the task (which contractor cannot be identified but he may have been the one selected for the line to Liverpool - so really too early to have affected the timeline). Hence an effort was made to link the line to Wodonga across the Murray River to Albury in NSW - one Colony to help another Colony.

There was therefore a move to take the Victorian lines closer to Albury: "the electric telegraph wires on the Victorian side had been brought to within 300 yards of Albury. A private subscription, to realise the amount required for continuing the line into the town, was recommended - the cost being about £70".

The Age of 19 January 1858 also reported that

"in reference to the Albury station, the following reply has been received to the memorial lately forwarded by the inhabitants of that town, praying the N.S.W. Government to supply the necessary instruments and to send a station clerk: The reply of December 31st from the Department of Land and Public Works in Sydney, in acknowledging the receipt of a memorial from certain of the inhabitants of the town of Albury, praying for the services of an officer capable of transmitting messages by electric telegraph, etc., I am directed by the hon. the Secretary for Lands and Public Works to inform you, for the information of the memorialists, that the necessary steps will be taken by the Government in the matter".
Always a reassuring reply!!

But wait ....!!! The Sydney Morning Herald of 10 February 1858It is interesting to note that this was about the same time as the NSW lines from Sydney to South Head and to Liverpool were declared to be in working order. updated its readers with "A favourable answer has been returned by Mr. Cowper to the petition sent from this, requesting an officer to conduct the telegraph work should be appointed. This is now more than a month since, and yet the gentleman has not made his appearance. What makes us still more anxious is from the fact (so reported up here), that the contractors have again failed in their undertakings and require extra time granted them. If it goes on at this rate, and we depended on the Sydney Government to give us the telegraph, we should have to wait a very long time; we write Sydney Government advisedly, for they legislate for the town and allow the 'outlying districts' to get on as they best can".

ALBURY ELECTRIC TELEGRAPH.

"A meeting of the subscribers to the fund for bringing the electric wire from the Wodonga bank of the river into the town of Albury was held on Saturday evening last at the Rose Inn. Mr. Morris Asher in the chair. The proceedings were of a conversational nature and about 20 persons were present.

Mr. Lay, the newly appointed station clerk, informed the meeting that the apparatus necessary for working the office in Albury was expected to arrive in about five days. The offer of Mr. John Nichols to erect a building for a telegraph office adjoining his hotel, on being guaranteed that the Government would make use of it for three years, was now under consideration by the Government. In the meantime, temporary premises would be required, and it was expected that the inhabitants of Albury would place two rooms at the disposal of the Government for a few months, seeing that the Railway Commissioners had performed their part in furnishing instruments, and paying the salary of a clerk for the sole benefit of the people of Albury.

The following resolution was adopted: "That the offer of Mr. Nichols to place two rooms at the disposal of the Government for a telegraph office, and to carry the wires to these rooms at his own expense, on being authorised to receive the surplus funds (if any) which have been or may hereafter be collected by Mr. McDonogh, be accepted. The posts and wires to be erected within 10 days from the 15th March, 1858. Mr. Nichols to furnish the office fittings, provided the expense does not exceed £10."
(The Argus 23 March 1858).

So at that stage, the inter-colonial line between Wodonga and Albury was a private line - due to the lack of effective project management on the part of New South Wales. Using that line, Albury was placed in communication with Melbourne on 9 April 1858.

Hence on the completion of the NSW line to Albury - a mere six months after Albury had been linked to Melbourne (and therefore to a large part of Victoria and to South Australia) - the (official Government) connection between the two Colonies was made on 28 October 1858.

The problem that should never have been was however rectified. The Maitland Mercury of 6 January 1859 was one of a number of newspapers who had reported:

"We are happy to announce that the New South Wales Government have purchased of the subscribers, the private line of telegraph erected between Albury and the Wodonga side of the river. A draft for the amount has been forwarded to Mr. W. A. McDonough who is now returning the amounts to the various parties who contributed to pay for the erection of the line".

 

The question of a double line.

The Portland Guardian of 29 June 1860 (referencing the Chiltern Standard) reported the following in relation to the issue of ensuring inter-colonial telegraph lines were able to accommodate and maintain telegraphic communication among the Colonies:

"TWO TELEGRAPH LINES.

Mr. Todd, Superintendent of Telegraphs in South Australia, 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 the 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".

In McGowan's Report for 1860, he notes "Provision has been made upon the Estimates for the erection of a second or through wire between the eastern and western boundaries of this colony for facilitating the intercolonial business".

In the Legislative Assembly of 21 February 1862, it was agreed without discussion that the sum of £9, 500 be provided for a second inter-colonial wire through Victoria to meet the second wires already erected in New South Wales and in South Australia. Two days later, Mr. Johnston elaborated that, in respect to the £9,500, "the Government of South Australia had threatened not to allow the use of the wire if the Victorian Government did not carry out its engagements in reference to the inter-colonial line".

 

Other development in Victoria's north-east region.

Once the Victorian North-Eastern line to Albury had been completed in October 1858, a strategy was developed to open other offices along the main line and on branch lines when funds became available and demand could be ascertained. For example, Telegraph Offices were opened along the Albury line at Wallan Wallan and Broadford in May 1872 with the Avenel Office opening in 1874. The Telegraph Office at Euroa was opened in August 1876 - and the Kelly gang raided the Euroa National Bank just over two years later before escaping to Ghin Ghin just outside of Yea. All Offices along the main line including those opened subsequently are included elsewhere.

Seven lines were also constructed using part of the North-Eastern line as the connection through to Melbourne. These were:

 

By 1890, increased construction and a re-configuring of the linkages meant that there were six lines to and in the general north-west area of Victoria. Those lines which were not solely for telephones include:

Line 21: Melbourne through Essendon Test Box, Kilmore East Railway, Seymour, Benalla, Wangaratta, Chiltern, Wodonga across NSW border to Albury.
Line 22: Melbourne through Essendon Test Box, Kilmore, Seymour, Benalla, Wangaratta, Chiltern, Wodonga across NSW border to Albury.
Line 24: Melbourne through Essendon Test Box, Kilmore East Railway, Seymour, Avenel, Longwood, Euroa, Violet Town to Benalla.
Line 27: Melbourne through Essendon Test Box, Seymour, Benalla across NSW border to Albury (quadruplex) No. 4 gauge.
Line 28: Melbourne through Essendon Test Box, Seymour, Benalla across NSW border to Albury (quadruplex) No, 4 gauge.