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.

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.

1870-1884:

(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 reported 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

 

(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 He..ing 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".

1885-1894:

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".

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:

TELEGRAM CHARGES.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ARGUS.

"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.,

WILLIAM CHURCH.
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.

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.