Victoria - Colonial period: 1854-1900.
Telegram rates.

Rates charged in Victoria for telegrams sent between 1854 to 1900 are summarised below as follows:

First rates - 1854/1856:

The first rates applied to the limited situation when the first line opened between Melbourne, Customs House and Williamstown. The rates were advertised in March 1854 as being:

for every message under ten words (exclusive of address and signature not charged for), 2s 6d. and 3d. per word for every word over ten; all messages must be legibly written with ink and contain date, address, and proper signature.

With the expansion of the network and new stations being opened, new rates for telegrams in Victoria were published in an official notice in December 1856. Essentially costs began at 1/6 for telegrams of 10 words or less sent within a 10 mile radius with 1d for each additional word. As can be seen in the notice, each of the five stations opened between Melbourne and Queenscliff were nominated for the charges. See also the Report ending 31 December 1856 (epecially pages 3 and 4).

In December 1856, the Electric Telegraph Office made a concession to the press for special rates:

On and after the 1st of January 1857, all messages intended for insertion will be charged at the uniform rate of 1d. per word for any distance.

21 October 1858:

The first revision of rates took place about four years after rates were first levied on telegrams. By this time, 22 Telegraph Offices were open in Victoria and the rates were again published in an official notice. As can be seen, rates were reduced by up to 50% on those levied in 1854.

In addition, 12 Telegraph Offices had been opened in South Australia and seven along the first line to the south in New South Wales. The rate schedule took all these stations into account for each pairing.

Victoria Government Gazette 13 November 1860:

"... by this present Order direct, that on and after the 1st October 1860, all telegrams received from connecting lines beyond the borders of Victoria be transmitted to their destination through or over the lines of this colony only on the following conditions, that is to say:-

A uniform divisional proportion of the amount of charges accruing upon the transmission of any telegram between Sydney and Adelaide or vice versa or between intermediate stations in either of the Colonies of New South Wales or South Australia to be equally apportioned between the Governments of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, in proportions of one-third each.

A uniform divisional proportion of the amount of charges accruing upon the transmission of any telegram between Sydney and Melbourne, or between Adelaide and Melbourne, or vice versa, and intermediate places in either colony, be equal apportioned between the Governments of the two Governments interested, in proportions of one-half each.

Accounts to be compared and checked by telegraph daily, at each boundary or terminal station. Monthly statements to be furnished by the respective officers to each Government, and payments in full on account of the balance due on either side to be made quarterly.

That on the arrival of the Royal Mail steamers, European Reports sent by telegraph for the press, if transmitted prior to Eight p.m. be charged the same rates as private telegrams".

In February 1896, various councils throughout the Colony were circulated with a proposal to introduce a uniform system of one shilling telegrams. A suggestion was also made that, for double the fee, a telegram which could not be delivered immediately would be sent or carried to the recipient as quickly as possible.


(a) Within Victoria.

1 January 1870: uniform rate of 1/- for 10 words and 1d. for every additional word.

Distance message sent First 10 words Each additional word
Any station in Victoria 1/- 1d.
Lodged between 8:00 p.m. and midnight. 2/- 2d.
Sundays up to 8:30 p.m. 2/-. 2d.

As documented in the Report for 1870, an announcement was made for special Sunday rates for telegraphic messages sent within the Colony.
A copy of this announcement is reproduced below:

1871 rates

From 1 July 1873, messages mailed to an office for sending onward as a telegram could be sent free by post to that telegraph office. The payment for the relevant telegraph rate was to be enclosed in the envelope as postage stamps.

The Gazette for Victoria of 11 July 1877 announced the extension of the free delivery of telegraphic messages and significantly increased the area over which messages were delivered.: "All messages will now be delivered free within a radius of one mile and a half from every telegraph office, instead of a mile as heretofore".

"The postal authorities have issued notices that telegrams may be forwarded by post, through any post-office, not a telegraph-office, without charge for postage, provided the telegraph fee in unobliterated stamps be affixed to the message. Such telegrams may be written either on a telegraph form or on plain paper, and should be enclosed in an unstamped envelope and legibly endorsed — 'Telegraphic message only' ."
(Weekly Times 28 April 1883).

From 1 July 1884, "receipts are not now taken on delivery of telegrams, which are treated in precisely the same way as letters, but senders of messages desirous of obtaining evidence on delivery may do so on prepayment of 6d for advice by wire or 1d for advice by post card".

(b) Inter-colonial.

Telegram from To any station in First 10 words Each additional word
Victoria NSW. 2/- 2d.
Victoria NSW (Exchange Company)
See 1871 Report.
1/6 1½d
Wodonga, Wahgunya and Echuca NSW. 1/- 1d.
Albury, Corowa, Moama and Victoria. 1/- 1d.
Victoria Adelaide or any station in South Australia. 2/- 2d.
Victoria Brisbane or any station in Queensland. 3/- 3d.
British Australian Telegraph London

£2 3s 6d for 20 words
(Address and signature included).

Note: charges amongst the Colonies did not include address and signature in the word count.
1879 Camperdown Chronicle.

In The Argus of 23 May 1882, the question of rates was addressed as follows:

"Considering all things, we imagine that it will be a long time before the postal revenue recovers from the sweeping reduction contemplated and we are inclined to think that it might have been better to have offered the public facilities in another direction instead. The charges for telegraphing in Victoria are much higher than they need be. Even with the tariff as it stands, there is, as shown by the Reports of the Department, an increasing tendency towards a more general use of the telegraph. During the past year, the messages transmitted numbered 120,000 more than those dispatched during the previous year and the revenue showed an increase of upwards of £9,000, equivalent in advance of nearly 15 per cent in advance of the previous returns. A reduction of the minimum charge of a shilling to six pence would lead, there can be no doubt, to a vast increase in business especially between Melbourne and the larger towns and within the cities and towns themselves. People who telegraph seldom would telegraph often and business men would telegraph more fully.

As regards commercial telegrams, which constitute a large proportion of the whole business, the revenue collected at this lower rate would very soon equal, and in course of time exceed, that derived from the existing tariff. It has been found desirable in some of the other colonies to adopt the sixpenny rate within certain limits. The charge in Sydney and suburbs is sixpence and the same rule applies to Adelaide where tho sixpenny rate is extended to the Port and Peninsula lines.

There are precedents, therefore, for a sixpenny rate for Melbourne. But uniformity of charge is a desideratum; besides which, jealousy and discontent would be excited if it would be proposed to cheapen telegraphic communication in Melbourne and leave country rates as they are. Any changes that are made should be made all round, and we think that the time is right to bring about more than local results. The other colonies would probably follow the example of Victoria as they did when the rate was reduced from 2s to 1s. and the next step would be a reduction in the intercolonial rates which at present are so heavy as to prevent anything like a free use of the telegraph. Whatever is done therefore with the postal question, we trust that a reduction in the telegraphic charges will not be long delayed".

Telegrams sent out of hours.

"In the telegraphic department in the past, great inconvenience was experienced owing to fact that, except by paying an exorbitant fee, no message could be despatched by a private individual after eight o'clock. Speaking of this matter, a contemporary says: — Hitherto no message could be sent after the hour named without payment of the exorbitant fee of 5s. despite the fact that the operators remained in the offices to conduct Press business. The result has been that only matters of great urgency have been telegraphed after that hour, and the public have had to put up with the annoyance of maintaining a department that they could only partially utilise.

It is now proposed to reduce the rate from 8 to 11 o'clock p.m., to 2s for the first ten words and 2d for every additional word; and from 11 o'clock p.m. till half-past 8 o'clock a.m., 3s for ten words and 3d for every additional word.

That the department will lose nothing by the change is evident, for it has hitherto had only a nominal business between those hours. That a new source of revenue will be created is almost certain and, what is of more importance, the public will not be regarded as interlopers after 8 o'clock".
(Ovens and Murray Advertiser 8 February 1879).


From 1 July, 1885, the rate for telegrams sent within Victoria became 6d for six words and 1d for each additional word. Address and signature would continue to be transmitted without charge.

On 2 July 1885, The Age reported that

"The first telegram forwarded by the Telegraphic department, under the new regulations which came into force yesterday, was sent by the Postmaster-General to Lady Loch. The telegram referred to the new system, and expressed a hope that it would prove a success.

The Postmaster-General during yesterday received a number of telegrams from public bodies in various parts of the colonies congratulating Mr. Campbell upon the inauguration of sixpenny telegrams.

In connection with this matter it may be stated that a concession has been made by the Postmaster-General in regard to the telegraphic rates charged for reply-paid telegrams, telegraphing money orders and withdrawals from Post Office saving banks. Hitherto the sum of 1s. had to be deposited, in addition to the price of a reply paid telegram. This has been reduced to 6d. The charge for telegraphing a money order has hitherto been 1s. in addition to the commission on the order. In this case also, a reduction has been to 6d. In the same manner, the charge for withdrawing money from Post Office savings banks by telegraphing has been reduced from 1s to 6d".

The Age of 6 September 1894 noted:

"The Telegraph authorities anticipate a large increase of business when the 6d. telegrams are brought into force. In order to meet the increase, it is the intention of the Postmaster-General to obtain a supply of quadruplex and other important instruments for the purpose of facilitating the transmission of messages. At present there are only three quadruplex stations in the colony, viz.. at Melbourne, Ballarat and Sandhurst. The more general adoption of those instruments will necessitate the special training of a number of operators. A sketch plan of the new circuits, with an explanation for working the quadruplex instruments, is being printed and copies will be forwarded to all the telegraph stations in the colony".

On 1 July 1885, the Ballarat Star commented on the rate change as follows:

"An important change in the telegraphic system of the colony is introduced today. Hitherto, no telegram, however short, could be dispatched for less than a shilling. Henceforth, telegrams not exceeding six words may be sent between any two stations in the colony for six pence. For larger telegrams, 1d per word will be charged so that, so far as they are concerned, no material reduction will be made.

The change will, however, confer a great boon upon thousands who are now precluded by the high tariff from sending short messages. We may expect the exercise of some considerable ingenuity on the part of the public in condensing what they have to say within the limited number of words permitted for sixpence, and the exercise will have a valuable educational influence upon numbers who are prone to diffuseness in their communications.

Gloomy apprehensions are said to be entertained by some of the officials as to the effect of the reduction on the revenue but these have probably as little foundation as the arguments which have always been advanced against any concession to the public in postal rates. If not immediately, within a year or so, the increase of business, it may be anticipated, will more than cover the loss of revenue by the reduction in the rate.

The introduction of the sixpenny telegram may be welcomed as another mark of the onward progress of the colony".

From 1 July 1885, charges were also reduced for telegrams sent between Victoria and New South Wales. The new rate was 1/- for a message of 10 words although the 2d charge for each additional word remained.

Anomalies did occur as was pointed out by one telegram sender in The Argus on 21 March 1889:


"Sir,- Yesterday I had occasion to send a telegram to Sydney consisting of 25 words. The department charged me 3s 6d. for transmission, and on inquiry they informed me that the rate was 1s for the first 10 words, and 2d. for every additional word. Now, if I had sent my message in two telegrams (thus giving the department additional trouble) it would have only cost me 2s. 10d., effecting a saving of 8d.

This is an anomaly which the Post Office authorities should at once see into, and I trust you will give this letter space in your valuable paper with a view therein. Yours, &c.,

March 20.

In the discussion of the 1886 Victorian Budget, the Treasurer (Mr. Giles) noted "that the introduction of the sixpenny telegram system ... (although largely increasing business) after the change, the revenue was materially less". This observation was true. In the first six months of operation of the new charges, total messages transmitted from Victoria rose 32% (from 29,851 to 39,255 telegrams) although revenue fell 5% (from £4,234 11s 9d to £4,017 11s 9d). This imbalance had been reversed by the end of 1885.

The 1883 Post Office Act "provided that stamps printed for use in payment of postage, duties or fees might be used indiscriminately for any of those purposes" (1884 Annual Report, p. 22) as from 1 January 1884. Hence any of the three types could have been used to pre-pay telegram charges. By the end of 1884 however, the issue of postage stamps ceased and the printing of "Statute stamps" ceased.

Other changes to rates were also introduced from 1 July 1885:

From 1 July 1886, the charges for Government and ordinary messages forwarded to Europe was 9s. 4d. per word with Press messages at 2s. 9d.

In the Report for 1887 (p. 13) it was announced that "It is desirable to adopt a system of urgent telegrams, at double rates, both locally and intercolonially". Special forms were not printed and message forms were simply marked URGENT. These telegrams were charged at double normal rates and they took precedence over ordinary telegrams.

Post 1894:

In discussions of the next possible change in telegraph rates, it was suggested that: "in the event of any modification in the existing telegraph rates, the name and address should be included in the charge. Also, the Government astronomers should be asked to restrict the number of weather telegrams as far as possible, as their transmission frequently delays ordinary business" (The Argus, 18 March 1890).

On 15 May 1895, the intra-colonial rate became 9d for nine words and 1d for each additional word.