Eastern Extension - background and formation.

After the development of effective cable communication, entrepreneurs began investing in cable companies. The cable across the Atlantic was successfully laid in 1866 due to the efforts and leadership of John Pender who devoted his life to the development of electrical telegraphy and international communications. Several previous attempts had failed at various stages.

Some of the companies formed by Pender were:

In 1873, these companies merged to form the Eastern Telegraph Company. By 1890, this company was the largest owner of submarine cables.

Meanwhile, a number of Pender companies were laying cables to the east of the Mediterrean - from Aden through India to Penang and Singapore and also north to China. He formed the different companies to limit the risk of each. These companies included:

The BAT had been founded by Captain Sherard Osborne and pledged itself to land a cable at Port Darwin in 1871. The plan was largely based on suggestions originally developed by Captain Osborne and the agent of the Queensland Government (Mr. Fraser). 

In 1873, these three major cable companies were amalgamated to form the Eastern Extension Australasia and China Telegraph Company Limited. It operated with a significant monopoly over the telegraph communications to Australia for the next 29 years. Indeed the company remained in existence until 1974 when it became part of the Eastern Telecommunications Phillipines Inc.

The first major undertaking by the new company was in 1876 when a 1283 nm cable from Sydney to Wellington, New Zealand, was laid by CS Edinburgh and CS Hibernia - two of the Eastern Cable ships which had laid other cables including that from India to Penang and Singapore. The cable came ashore at Frenchmans Beach and telecommunications commenced on 21 February 1876.

The Eastern Extension Company progressively opened offices in most of the Australian capital cities and provided special transmission and delivery forms marked with the station name. These forms remained in use with little format change until the 1930s.

Eastern offices

In 1872 the Eastern Telegraph Company and The Eastern Extension, Australasia & China Telegraph Company merged to form The Eastern & Associated Telegraph Companies. Many smaller companies were also incorporated into the merged entity.


(top): Form marked ADELAIDE STATION for a message from Sheffield, England on 21 January 1914.

(lower): Form marked MELBOURNE STATION for a message from London on 14 October 1920. Has Eastern Extension datestamp.

When international telegrams were sent direct to local Post Offices, CABLEGRAMforms were used. These had been authorised in 1906 and were printed with the name of the State during the interim period of PMG administration (1901-1917). The name of the cable company (in this case Eastern) was the first word printed.

Some of these forms were overprinted with a message in red about the Pacific Cable (see top right) while others were left blank. Post Offices used whichever form they had available.

If a Post Office did not have a supply of CABLEGRAM stationery, a normal form could be used with the appropriate handwritten modification to the heading.


The usual delivery envelopes were used although these were generally the URGENT type.

Costs were often an issue raised by detractors of the Company. The Eastern Extension charged at the rate of about 10/- per word. In 1902, due to pressure from the imminent arrival of the Pacific Cable, it reduced its rates to about 5/- per word and then to about 4/-. In contrast, news items were changed at about 1d. per word.

top): Cablegram form for South Australia. Printed December 1915. Used for a cable from Antwerp at Wirrabara, SA on 4 July 1921. Has red overprint referring to the Pacific Cable.

(lower): standard TELEGRAM form for Victoria printed in August 1917. Used for a cable from London at Yarroweyah, VIC on 28 October 1918. Has had TELEGRAM heading modified to CABLE – possibly because new stationery eliminating the name of the State was being distributed and surplus stock had to be used first.

(left): Cablegram form for New South Wales. Printed about 1910. Used for a cable from Colombo at Enmore 28 April 1916. Has its original urgent-type delivery envelope.