Victoria - Colonial 1854-1900.
Corowa Line (No. 3 North East).


 

The Corowa line followed the Albury line through Kilmore, Seymour, Benalla to Wangaratta. In the first construction of the Albury line, telegraphic connection was extended from Wangaratta to Beechworth but that link was later replaced with the line through Chiltern.

The Corowa line was then extended through Beechworth, Yackandandah, Wodonga, Chiltern and Rutherglen to Wahgunyah on the Murray River. Corowa is the town in New South Wales on the northern bank of the Murray River opposite Wahgunyah and so a third link with New South Wales (after those at Wodonga (1858) and Echuca (1859)) was established (at least from 1873 when the NSW authorities got around to constructing their lines).

The following discussion addresses:

Preliminary concepts, planning and approvals.

The township of Wahgunyah was established in 1856 with a Post Office being opened in 1858.

It was an important location as it was the furthest upstream port on the Murray River. In addition, in 1864, George Sutherland Smith and John Banks from Scotland built the All-Saints winery at Wahgunyah and modelled the building on one of the Queen's castles - The Castle of Mey.

This map leads east to the Yarrawonga Branch of the Wood's Point line. This map leads to the Tintaldra branch of the Albury line.

 

 

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

The Ovens and Murray Advertiser of 1 August 1860 reported that "The Government seem determined to proceed with activity in the establishment of the telegraph line between Beechworth, Wahgunyah, Yackandandah and Chiltern. Tenders have been invited for the requisite works and, as the accepted tender will be approved of this morning by the Melbourne authorities, operations will be commenced forthwith". The successful tenderer was Brandscomb and Yeo for a price of £2032 5s.

On 3 November 1860, the Murray Gazette reported "The line of telegraph which will connect the township of Wahgunyah with the metropolis of Victoria and the other Australian colonies is rapidly approaching completion. The route has been cleared, the posts erected and the wire stretched some distance beyond Chiltern. The terminus will be in Wahgunyah, Mr. Foord having given up a site for the purpose. This arrangement was made before the diggings broke out".

 

As noted above, the first line to NSW had linked Wangaratta to Beechworth. The construction to include Wahgunyah therefore opened up the possibility of new routes in this busy area.

Hence a line was extended north east of the Wangaratta-Beechworth line to Beechworth Junction and then on to Chiltern. The line from Wahgunyah was constructed simultaneously through Rutherglen to meet at Chiltern in March 1861.

The McGowan Report for 1860 notes "The branch line extending from Beechworth and connecting with Yackandandah, Chiltern (Indigo) and Wahgunyah was completed on 1 January 1861 but, owing to the limited amount available under the vote for stations, it has been found that the erection of permanent structures must be deferred until after the Estimates for 1861 may have been voted. In the meantime, temporary wooden buildings are now being provided and the communication will probably be made available during the ensuing month (February 1861)".

 

North of Beechworth.

To Chiltern.

In the 1850s, Chiltern was on the Wahgunyah cattle run (it was then known as Black Dog Creek). By 1859, when the Post Office was opened, Chiltern was an important place on the main road between Sydney and Melbourne. The population had increased rapidly in 1858-59, due to gold being discovered in the region but, after becoming even more significant than Beechworth, the population declined in the 1900s.

The first inter-Colonial line to N.S.W. had been constructed through Benalla and Wangaratta. Hence this Branch depended only on the extension from Wangaratta to Chiltern. Within a couple of days, the Postmaster-General announced that "Letters may now be sent from Albury to Wangaratta through Chiltern without the delay of going the circuit through Beechworth. This is the re-adoption of the direct Sydney Road as it existed prior to the establishment of the township on the top of the May Day Hills". That was the start of a direct Wangaratta to Wodonga route rather that going through Beechworth. The arguments against funding the road (again) via Beechworth - the so called Beechworth Deviation - lasted for a number of years.

In the Legislative Assembly of 17 January 1860, Mr. Reid gave notice of a question to the Postmaster-General: "Is it the intention of the Government to extend the electric telegraph to Chiltern and Yackandandah and, if so, when?". On the following day, the Postmaster-General replied "that the revenue would not admit of any expenditureThis was at the time of great difficulty for the Government Budget. for the extension of the electric telegraph to Chiltern and Yackandandah, nor (in reply to Mr Woods) from Ararat to Pleasant Creek. He promised, however, that so soon as the revenue would admit, the government would extend the telegraph as desired".

On 20 January 1860, The Age reported a possible reason for Chiltern being refused a telegraph connection: "The people of Chiltern are indignant at the refusal of the Government to grant them an extension of the telegraph, which it is estimated could be done for about .£500. The Chiltern Standard insinuates some not very creditable motives as influencing Mr Wood".

In the Legislative Assembly on 23 March, 1860 Mr. Wood presented a petition " from the inhabitants of Chiltern, setting forth the necessity of supplying that district with telegraphic communication but, as the memorial prayed for the appropriation of a sum of money to supply the want, it was out of order and could not to received". The citizens continued their commitment with The Age, of 6 June 1860, reporting "A Public Meeting for the purpose of petitioning Government to reconsider their expressed determination of not extending telegraphic communication to Chiltern during the present year, was held at Ewin's Empire Hotel, Connors Street, Chiltern on Friday night last".

Enough was enough- the people's champion arrived!! The Age of 14 June 1860 reported "Mr. McGowan reached Beechworth, says the Constitution, on Saturday, and proceeds via Yackandandah to Belvoir, Albury and Chiltern. We are informed that it has been decided to extend the telegraph wires to Yackandandah, Chiltern and Wahgunyah and that the necsssary preliminaries will be commenced without delay".

Action took place quickly and the Ovens and Murray Advertiser published the following as the next step being surveying:

"MR. LIGAR'S VISIT TO CHILTERN.

The Surveyor-General is noted for his urbanity and kindness of disposition. His late visit to Chiltern, and the patient manner in which he underwent the farce of an interview with the (defunct) Political Association - i.e. the lilliputiant Editors of the "miserable and unhealthy" local newspaper and two or three facetious gentlemen who declined to carry the lark any farther - was truly characteristic of him. He so far reassured the brace of Editors that the little fellows strided away (after a thundering row at Hunter's) considerably delighted with themselves and "augering the best results" from the deep impression they made on the Surveyor-General, who must have enjoyed the whole affair very much. The Surveyor-General is too old a bird for such funny little people and he knows well how to please them and amuse himself by their credulity.

Of course it is settled that the Electric Telegraph is to come direct from Wangaratta to the "miserable and unhealthy" office and secondly to the Government terminus at Chiltern - this is to be done at once. Then the road to Kiandra is to come along the said telegraph line through the said "miserable and unhealthy" establishment, in at the front and out at the back door receiving, in their passage through, all the federation news obtained on all sides of the border. The Standard joke aside, it would be well for the Chilternites to take some steps to make the gap at the head of the Indigo Creek passable, £200 would do this well. Then the road from Wangaratta to Yackandandah via Chiltern would, from its superiority, command the traffic despite all that the twin Editors say about Beechworth influence".

In numerous outlets about 21 July 1860, the following: "Tenders will be received until 12 o'clock on Wednesday August 1, at the Public Works Office in Melbourne, for a line of telegraph between Beechworth, Yackandandah Chiltern and Wahgunyah". The Argus of 29 August 1860 published the results: "line of telegraph between Beechworth, Yackandandah, Chiltern and Wahgunyah, R. Wooley & Co, £2,143".

The Telegraph Office at Chiltern was opened on 28 March 1861.

Yakandandah was also developing at that time with reef gold mining beginning in 1860. There had been considerable agitation from the late 1850s over the need for an extension of the telegraph line from Wangaratta to Chiltern - see elsewhere. At last The Age of 14 June 1860 reported "Mr. McGowan reached Beechworth, says the Constitution, on Saturday, and proceeds via Yackandandah to Belvoir, Albury and Chiltern. We are informed that it has been decided to extend the telegraph wires to Yackandandah, Chiltern and Wahgunyah and that the necsssary preliminaries will be commenced without delay". Hence the Corowa line through Chiltern and Wodonga was extended as a short branch line from Beechworth to Yakandandah in 1861.

 

To Wahgunyah.

The need for a telegraph line to Wahgunyah is emphasised through the numbers of people who had occupied the goldfields. At the end of October 1860, it was estimated there were 7,440 males, 1,560 females and 1,290 children. At the 2016 Census, Wikipedia reports there were 1,098 people. Throughout 1860, many gold discoveries were made in the Wahgunyah region.

In McGowan's Report for 1860, he writes:

"The branch line extending from Beechworth and connecting Yackandandah, Chiltern (Indigo) and Wahgunyah was completed on the 1st January 1861 but, owing to the limited amount available under the vote for stations, it has been found that the erection of permanent structures must be deferred until after the Estimates for 1861 may have been voted. In the meantime, temporary wooden buildings are now being provided and the communication will probably be made available during the ensuing month".

The Murray Gazette of 3 November 1860 reported "The line of telegraph which will connect the township of Wahgunyah with the metropolis of Victoria and the other Australian colonies is rapidly approaching completion. The route has been cleared, the posts erected and the wire stretched some distance beyond Chiltern. The terminus will be in Wahgunyah - Mr. Foord having given up a site for the purpose. This arrangement was made before the diggings broke out".

The Wahgunyah office was opened on 8 February 1861.

A link was then made from Chiltern to Wodonga to join the main Albury line. There was already a link between Yackandandah Wodonga. Hence an alternative routs was created in case of interruptions. The line originating in Wahgunyah was then extended direct to Beechworth and onwards to duplicate the original line through to Wangaratta and on to Kilmore. This intercolonial line was so busy that various alternative lives were critical.

The main railway line branched from Springs (then Springhurst) to Wahgunyah in 1879 and included Railway Telegraph Offices at both places.

 

To Rutherglen.

Although on the route from Chiltern to Wahgunyah, the poor people in Rutherglen missed out on a telegraph connection. They were not however left to drink their beautiful wines for long because (after the vintage had been harvested) Mr. Donald, in the Legislative Assembly of 5 March 1861, asked the Postmaster-General "whether any steps have been taken to enable Rutherglen to participate in the benefits of telegraphic communication". On the following day, Mr. Heales, on behalf of the Postmaster- General, stated "that no steps had been taken by the Government towards the object suggested by the question. The reason was that there was telegraphic communication within three miles of the place and that the population did not seem to warrant the outlay". Mr. Donald "denied that the place alluded to was only three miles distant; it was nearer six. A station at Rutherglen would pay well and the line ran past the township". The requests continued ... on 12 September in the Legislative Assemble, Mr. Reid gave notice that he would ask the Postmaster-General whether it was the intention of the Government to provide telegraphic accommodation between Wahgunyah and Rutherglen ... and then the Melbourne Leader of 28 September 1861 reported "A deputation was introduced by Mr Peter Wright, M.L.A., to the Postmaster-General relative to the extension of telegraphic communication to Rutherglen. Dr. Macadam promised that, if next year sufficient funds could be appropriated from the Public Works Department for the erection of the necessary buildings, the communication should be at once extended as desired".

The Telegraph Office opened in Rutherglen on 25 August 1862.

The gold diggings in this general area were indifferently referred to as either the Rutherglen lead or the Wahgunyah lead.

 

South of Beechworth.

The Eldorado Branch.

On 14 April 1871, The Argus reported "The usual quarterly meeting of the shareholders of the United Ovens Gold and Tin Mining Company was held on Thursday at Scott's Hotel. Mr. W. Witt, Chairman of the Board of Directors, presided ... The directors had made arrangements with the Government to have a line of telegraph extended to Eldorado, by joining with other mining companies and private individuals in a guarantee bond to the extent of £150 per annum for three years, against any loss incurred by the line not paying working expenses".

The Post Office authorities issued a notice to the effect that telegraphic communication with Eldorado was opened to the public by mid-July 1871.

 

The Wandiligong and Harrietville Branch lines.

This branch encompassed Beechworth, Myrtleford, Bright and Harrietville plus Stanley and Wandiligong.

An indication of the scale of mining in this remote, mountainous and thickly forested part of the Colony at the end of the Great Dividing Range is reflected in the Prospecting Vote for 1878:

"Amongst the sums allotted in the distribution of the £20,000 prospecting vote, we find the following having reference to this district:

The Ovens Gold and Tin Mining Company, Eldorado. To enable them to continue prospecting operations. The whole future of this goldfield depends upon the further prospecting of this the pioneer mine of tbe district. Over £30,000 have been already expended by the company. A large plant is on the ground, but the pumps will be withdrawn and the mine abandoned if this assistance be not given. All the members of the board who attended (9) were unanimous in recommending that the money be advanced on conditions similar to those imposed on the city of Ballarat Company in 1875 ; £1,000;

The Harp of Erin, Quartz Mining Company, Freeburgh, Beechworth District: To assist them in driving a low tunnel, 1,500 feet in length, into the range between tbe Ovens River and Wandiligong;
to prospect the Faulkner, the Three Mile, the Harp of Erin and other reefs in the same range; £500".

(Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 22 June 1878).

In a prelude to the extension of the line to the south from Beechworth, the Estimates for 1865 included the sum of £2.000 for the extension of the line from Beechworth to Morse's Creek Gold-fieldsBright.. Construction of the extension to the Northern Corowa/Wahgunyah line does not appear to have begun until 1867. It was a separate branch to the south from a point about midway between Beechworth and Wangaratta - later to be named Everton. This line went south to Myrtleford and then to Bright in the general region where alluvial gold had been mined for some time. The other product produced in significant quantities in the 1870s was quartz and several mills to crush the quartz were constructed in the general area.

"On the Ovens River and Smoko Creek, quartz mining, although at present quiet, is likely to present a busy aspect for the next few months — it being probable the temporary stoppage at Smoko Creek will be of short duration and the new mill just completed at the Woolshed by Mr Osborne will start on Wednesday with quartz from the Lanark Reef ... This mill reflects credit on Mr. J. Sloan who erected it - the waterwheel being a capital piece of work, although the dimensions are not very imposing — viz., 15 feet in diameter by 5½ feet in width. It will drive eight stamps, 7½cwt. each, of which four are placed, the other four being expected daily. The starting of this mill was befittingly celebrated by a very large ball, given by Mr. Osborne on Friday night (and which didn't seem qnite over when the writer was passing on Sunday evening). Those who were fortunate enough to be present were enthusiastic in speaking of the whole evening's amusements as being thoroughly enjoyable".

(Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 19 November 1874).

The lack of recognition by the Victorian Government and the public for the gold discoveries in this region is shown by a contemporaneous article - together with evidence of the significant and widespread discoveries which were continuing.

In addition to the need to service the gold and quartz fields, there was some element also of the line being a security measure. In 1857, the infamous Buckland Riot had taken place at Myrtleford when gold miners rose up against the Chinese prospectors killing many and causing 2,000 Chinese to flee. Order was restored by the police who were based at Beechworth but the possibility of further unrest motivated in part the decision to extend the telegraphic communications to that area. This extension was also continued to Harrietville to service the alluvial goldfields there.

In the Gazette of 17 July 1866, it was announced that a tender had been let to Clarence Smith to mark the route for the telegraph line between Beechworth and Morse's CreekBright at a cost of £3 per lineal mile.

In McGowan's Report for 1867, he noted that the line from Beechworth to Morse's Creek had been opened for communication on 1 August 1867.

On 3 August 1882, the Ovens and Murray Advertiser was reporting on the Government's agreement to extend the railway to Myrtleford. The people in the general area also raised their requests for inter alia:

Wandiligong was to the south-west of Bright. At first it began with mining and crushing quartz but it soon became a center for major gold mining. In the late 1870s, there were discussions about constructing the line of telegraphs to Wandiligong from Bright where a Telegraph Office had been opened in 1867. It was to be on a separate branch line with the main line running to the south-east to be constructed to Harrietville.

A hopeful note was sounded in the Ovens and Murray Advertiser on 11 August 1883: " A letter has been received in Bright from Mr G. Billson, M.P., stating that he has obtained a definite promise from the Government that post and telegraph-offices will be erected at Harrietville and Wandiligong forthwith". Unfortunately no mention of a telegraph line but, hey, it's a start.

On 19 February 1884, the Ovens and Murray Advertiser reported on a meeting in Harrietville at which a very sensible question was asked:

"Good progress is being made with the new building now in course of erection on Mr.Wraith's premises for a Post and Telegraph Office. Now that the building may be considered an accomplished fact, we are looking out for the appearance of an advertisement inviting tenders for putting up the poles. Why not both works proceed at once so that there may be no delay in opening the telegraph office on completion of the buildingIt is so hard to argue against that logic!!?".

But good news finally began to emerge and was reported in The Argus and in the Ovens and Murray Advertiser:

 

The Stanley Branch.

Stanley is just south east of Beechworth. It was one of the places involved in the Kelly saga.

 

In the 1870s, the Wahgunyah Branch comprised the stations from Yackandandah to Wahgunyah. It was also linked to the Bright Branch for some time. In 1879, Myrtleford was added to the Waygunyah Branch. In 1884, the Wahgunyah Branch contained offices to Kilmore as well as three branch lines (to Eldorado, to Harrietville and to Wandiligong) . By 1890, a re-configuring of the linkages meant that there were 2 lines - one to the general north and one to the south areas of Victoria. Those lines which were not solely for telephones include:

Line 23: Melbourne through Essendon Test Box, Kilmore East Railway, Seymour, Seymour Railway, Avenel, Euroa, Benalla, Wangaratta, Beechworth, Yackandandah, Wodonga, Barnawartha, Chiltern, Rutherglen, Wahgunyah across NSW border to Corowa
(on Railway Department poles from Springs to Wahgunyah).
Line 125: Beechworth through Myrtleford, Bright, Wandiligong to Harrietville.