Victoria - Colonial period: 1855-1900.
The Echuca (No. 2 North) and the Deniliquin (No. 3 North) lines.



The Echuca and Deniliquin lines are discuused as follows:

  1. The context of the lines.
  2. Line Construction.
  3. The Moama-Deniliquin private extension.
  4. The Telegraph Offices along the lines.
This map leads to the Swan Hill line.

This map leads to the Goulburn Valley line.

1. The context of the line.

One of the first major constructions from SandhurstBendigo was towards the New South Wales border to Echuca with Moama on the New South Wales side of the Murray River.

In his Report to December 1857, Mr. McGowan nominated that the lines "contemplated for construction during the year 1858 are:

Echuca is close to the meeting of three major rivers - the Murray, Goulburn and Campaspe - and is the closest point on the Murray River to Melbourne. Commercial necessity therefore drove the urgent extension of the Sandhurst telegraph line to the north. It is very likely that one or two repeater stations might have been used between Bendigo and Echuca but their location is not presently known.

As an article from The Advertiser reprinted in the Mount Alexander Mail of 1 May 1857 shows, Echuca was a very important area for Victoria and in line with economic objectives for the Colony:

"EXTENSION OF THE TELEGRAPH.

We are glad to find that the public of Bendigo have taken up with energy the important matter of the extension of the telegraph to the Murray. A Petition to both Houses of Parliament has been sent round the town for signature and, within a very few days, no less than one hundred and fifteen names of the most respectable of our townspeople has been attached to it. It certainly seems extraordinary when the importance of extending the railway through the northern goldfields to the Murray has been so universally admitted that the Government should have committed the oversight of not carrying on the telegraphic wires to that important point.

If we consult the commercial interests of the country, we can hardly adopt any better means for their advancement than the immediate carrying out of the object of the petition. An immense trade is being carried on in stock by way of Echuca and Maiden's PuntMoama with Melbourne and the various gold-fields. Indeed, the stock market at present is in a very great measure dependent on the supply from New South Wales; and the great majority of the flocks and herds brought overland from the sister colony travel down the course of the northern rivers, the Lachlan and the Murrumbidgee and enter this colony at the points above mentioned. It must, therefore, be an advantage of the very highest nature to the dealers in stock, not only in the metropolis, but the numerous other populous districts in Victoria, to have an immediate and certain means of communication with the two great outposts of the colony. To the consumers, who constitute the general public, the extension of the telegraph to these points must be attended with considerable benefit since it is obvious that, in thus establishing a speedy means of communication with the distant settlers, we shall be ensuring a constant and consequently a cheap supply of beef and mutton for general consumption.

In consequence of the establishment of steam traffic on the Murray River with South Australia and our northern provinces, it becomes necessary that the mercantile portion of our various communities should possess the means of obtaining early and reliable information of the transactions on that line. Hitherto the utmost ignorance has prevailed among the commercial circles of Melbourne and the gold districts with regard to the business done on the Murray River. An occasional communication from the correspondents of the leading papers has enabled us to form a shrewd guess at what has been going on there, but beyond that, for want of proper postal communication, we have been unable to obtain regular and authentic information from that quarter. We think, therefore, that the people of Sandhurst have taken the most proper and advisable step in their power and are, besides aiding in conferring an incalculable benefit on the rest of the colony by urging on the Legislature the importance and necessity of extending the telegraphic wires to the Murray. The petition is, as we have already said, pretty numerously signed but we hope to see a much larger number of names yet attached. Its spirit and prayer are, however, sufficiently endorsed by the more influential inhabitants of Sandhurst to give it such weight in both Houses that it cannot possibly be overlooked and, in a short time, we confidently expect to see action taken in the matter".

 

Line construction.

In the Legislative Assembly of 18 February 1858, "In reply to Dr. Owens, Mr. Ebden stated that it was the intention of the Government to apply for tenders for the extension of the Electric Telegraph from Sandhurst to Echuca; Castlemaine to Avoca via Maryborough; and Cresswick to Ballaarat".

The Echuca and Deniliquin lines in Victoria were constructed at the same time and are almost parallel to each other. Both started from Gisborne and traced a path via Kyneton, Castlemaine to SandhurstBendigo through the Central Region of Victoria. The details of the lines and the Offices before Bendigo which were in common with other lines are included elsewhere. After significant construction activities, New Gisborne became the terminating station for the Echuca line from where a different line was used to relay the messages to Melbourne.

The only sign of difficulty in line construction was raised in the Legislative Assembly on 28 November 1858. "Mr. Rutledge asked the Postmaster-General what was the cause of the Electric Telegraph at Echuca not having been brought into use for some time past and when it was likely to be commenced.

Dr Evans said the work was not performed by the officers of the Electric Telegraph Department but by the officers of the Board of Land and Works. The line would not be handed over to his department until it was completed. He understood, however, that there was some dispute at present between the officers and the Government.

Mr. Duffy said the question ought to have been addressed to him. The work was unsatisfactory and, if it had been opened, it would have had to be closed afterwards. That was the cause of the delay".

The Echuca Telegraph Office was opened in December 1858. Presumably lines were strung along the same poles for at least most of the way. About seven years later, a Telegraph Office was opened on the Echuca line at Elmore. After another 10 years, Telegraph Offices were opened at Rochester and then Goornong.

In McGowan's Report for the half year to June 1859, he states "The interruptions in Victoria occasioned by the clearing of new roads will, it is expected, be almost entirely removed by the latter part of the present year; and when I may have been enabled to remove the present Northern line to within the precincts of the railway reserve between Melbourne and Echuca, the possibility of interruption to the telegraphic communication will be nearly, if not quite, obviated, at least upon that route".

There was however another source of interruption which had not been considered. The Pastoral Times of 2 November 1860 reported on this source as follows:

"The Telegraph at the Murray.

The telegraph wire over the Murray has been twice broken within the last three weeks by the steamers plying on the Murray. The first was in the case of the Grappler, the snag boat of the Australian Government and, in the second instance, one of the steamers waa the offending medium. All these repairs cost the Telegraph Company money; the delay and inconvenience form a very considerable item too. These steamboats should be so constructed as to enable the commanders to lower the funnels and we may as well inform the masters of these vessels that by wilfully damaging the telegraph line, they lay themselves open to very heavy fines and to imprisonment". 

In McGowan's Report for 1864, progress on transferring the line to the railway reserve was described: "The work of removing and re-erecting along the railway the section between Sandhurst and Echuca (including a special wire for railway service) is now progressing rapidly and it is expected that the new line will be available for business within the ensuing six weeks".

Over time, a number of small Telegraph Offices were opened - often in conjunction with the Post Office.

 

The Moama-Deliliquin private extension.

The people of Moama on the opposite side of the Murray River did not support the NSW Government's pace of action - many described it as inaction. So, with the connection of the Victorian line to Echuca imminent, "the Moama (Maiden's Punt) people have combined to extend the telegraph from their own town to Echuca, as well as build a convenient office for the affair" (Bendigo Advertiser, 9 July 1858).

But wait - there's more!!!! The line did not stop there but was extended by the people of the region to Deniliquin!!!

"Deniliquin and Echuca Telegraph.

A meeting of the directors and shareholders of the above line was held on Wednesday, the 22nd ult. The honorary secretary, Mr. Jones, reported progress and stated that they had received the telegraphic instruments from Sydney and had engaged the Station Master. A warm discussion took place as to which side of the river the station should be. As a matter of course, those shareholders who had not paid up had the most to say when it was finally settled on having the terminus station at North Deniliquin. It was decided that a temporary building would do for the present until the brick station was built.

Mr. Wipple, of the Wanderer's Inn, North Deniliquin, has given the use of his verandah-room for the telegraph office and we may now expect to see the line open in a few days.

(Border Post reported in The Mount Alexander Mail of 7 January 1859).

Hence in a "Power to the People" news story, the Bendigo Advertiser of 24 March 1859 announced "By the courtesy of Mr. Penton, the officer in charge of the telegraph station here, we learn that this line (to Moama) - which has been started by a private company - has been opened for communication this day".

The Mr. Jones referred to in the above quote was Dr. D. G. Jones of Deniliquin who died in December 1876. The Riverine Herald wrote that "he may be reckoned amongst the pioneers of the great saltbush country north of the Murray. He was a zealous and energetic worker in the public interests and an able journalist ... Dr. Jones took the initiatory steps for connecting the Riverina district with Victoria by telegraph, and was one of the main supporters of the Deniliquin and Moama Railway, an undertaking first mooted by himself and to the accomplishment of which he assiduously devoted himself in the face of very serious obstacles thrown in the way by the Sydney Government".

One implication of this initiative was that the people and business sector of Moama and Deniliquin not only had communication through Echuca and Bendigo but also to Melbourne and from there to Adelaide and soon fter to Sydney and Brisbane.

Five months later, on 31 August 1859, the Governor opened the NSW Parliament for its new session. In his speech, he noted, inter alia, "the Government proposed to make several additional telegraphic lines among others, an extension of the southern line from Gundagai to Deniliquin, connecting the latter with the Victorian line at Echuca".

The Bendigo Advertiser of 9 June 1859 reported:

"After many months of delay, caused by the usual amount of "red-tapeism" not by any means lessened by the introduction of responsible Government into these colonies, we believe the Government of New South Wales has consented to take the management of the above line into its own hands. This was the necessary consequence of the refusal of the Melbourne Ministry to recognise the Company, the Honorary Secretary having waited on the Postmaster-General in Melbourne, in March last, hoping to get some definite terms from that minister in order that the line might act in concert with the line from Echuca to Melbourne. Without this concert, the Deniliquin line is deprived of half of its promised usefulness. Every reasonable offer was made to the O'Shanassy Ministry, by the Company's Secretary - security for the faithful performance of the duties of the Station Masters, etc. In fact, there was nothing left undone to entice the Ministry to meet the efforts of the Company, but all failed. One Government must have the other work the line and then the difficulty is removed; so that there is an end to all future telegraph companies. There is no encouragement for private enterprise. Dr. Evans appeared to be totally ignorant of the existence of the Company, although his department had been corresponding with the officials in Sydney respecting the line for some time previous to the interview between the Company's Secretary and Dr. Evans, and the Chief Superintendent of Telegraphs".

The line from Deniliquin north to Wagga Wagga and Sydney was still being constructed at the end of 1860.

With an alternative yet contemporary view of communication, the same source also printed the following in the same issue:

"DENILIQUIN AND MELBOURNE, VIA BENDIGO.

Mr. Wood's coach, running in connection with Messrs. Cobb and Co.'s Bendigo line, commenced its work on Tuesday last. It is intended to make Melbourne in thirty hours or thereabouts - good travelling looking at the bad state of the roads. Final arrangements have not yet been made so that we are not enabled to state how often the coaches will run. Our advertising columns will soon give particulars".

 

The naming of the lines and the Offices over time.

In the 1860s, this line to Echuca was called the Northern Line. It comprised the stations shown on the map from Gisborne to Sandhurst (Bendigo) but starting at Collingwood, including Malmsbury and Taradale and finishing at Echuca. Changes kept being made over time until, in 1887, the definition of both lines was as shown here.

By 1890, increased construction and a re-configuring of the linkages meant that there were two lines to Echuca and Deniiquin. Those lines which were not solely for telephones include:

Line 12: Melbourne through Footscray Test Box, New Gisborne, Woodend, Kyneton, Castlemaine, Sandhurst, Goornong, Elmore, Rochester to Echuca.
Line 14: Melbourne through Footscray Test Box, New Gisborne, Kyneton, Castlemaine, Sandhurst, Rochester, Echuca across NSW border to Moama and Deniliquin (duplex).
Line 25: Melbourne through Essendon Test Box, Kilmore, Heathcote, SandhurstSo starting with the Heathcote Branch., Rochester, Echuca across the NSW border to Deniliquin.