Australia - Colonial: 927-19.
Delivery form: A-DO-12.


The cable rates for the Pacific cable were set by meetings of the Board in London. The first rates were set as the cable opened and changes occurred constantly until ...

The discussion below is mainly based on Australian rates with corresponding changes in New Zealand as relevant.

The land charges

The rates had two components - charges made by the Pacific Cable Company and land charges (or terminal rates) made by the Australian or New Zealand Governments to cover costs of transmission over the telegraph network within each country.

On 28 April 1902, the land charges imposed by the Commonwealth Government on messages to be sent over the Pacific cable were set as:

May 1902: Consequent upon the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company charging a uniform rate for cable messages to the old world from any part of the Commonwealth, the Postmaster-General has agreed to substitute a federal terminal rate of 5d a word for the differing charges formerly made by the states.

Western Australian residents benefited to the extent of 3½d per word because of the removal of separate charges for transmission through each State.

On the day the cable opened between Queensland and New Zealand, the New Zealand government provisionally set their land charge for messages from Australia at ½d. That low level - in comparison with Australia's 1d for New Zealand, was partly a trade-off in which Australia would accept letters from New Zealand at the 1d rate.

Negotiations between the Federal Government and the Eastern Extension Company were at that time underway and it was assumed that the differences indicated by the above amounts would disappear when those discussions were completed. On the day before the Australian-New Zealand cable opened, the New Zealand Government reduced their land charges by ½d.

On 29 July 1903, the Argus published the following:



The Prime Minister laid upon the table of the House of Representatives yesterday a despatch from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, dated l5th June, and referring to a suggested conference of representatives of the Governments interested in the Pacific Cable, to consider the ratification of the proposed agreement between the Commonwealth and the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, in respect to cable rates. In the despatch Mr. Chamberlain expressed regret at the receipt of a telegram on April 8, expressing the inability of the Commonwealth Government to agree to his suggestion that the questions arising out of the agreement concluded between the Commonwealth Government and the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company should be discussed by a committee, composed of representatives of the various Governments interested in the Pacific cable. Mr. Chamberlain said his regret was all the greater because such a conference would have proved a convenient means of disposing of two questions connected with the Pacific cable. The first was the question of terminal rates on Pacific cable messages, as to which the situation was as follows:

Great Britain levied no terminal rate; Canada, having no Government telegraph system, was not in a position to levy them: and in New Zealand, the charge for handling Pacific cable messages was practically identical with the internal rates. In Australia, however, a rate of 5d. per word was levied, as compared with an internal urgent rate (for the area served by the Pacific Cable) of approximately 2d. In other words, the Pacific Cable Board was charged 2½ times as much for the use of the Australian land lines as the ordinary public of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. It had been urged by the Commonwealth Ministers that this rate was the same as that charged to the Eastern Extension Company, and that it compared favourably with the terminal charges of other countries.

As to the soundness of this defence, Mr. Chamberlain's despatch stated the Imperial Government would raise no doubt if the Pacific Cable Board were on the same footing as an ordinary cable company; but the question was whether one partner in the Pacific Cable scheme had the right of imposing terminal rates to make a profit not shared in by all the partners. He was convinced that the Federal Government could not have realised this. Australia, too, should not insist upon taxing stores, etc required in connection with the cable, for this would be equivalent to recouping the federation's part of its share of the cable.

"The situation appears to me to point conclusively to the necessity for a closer definition of the basis of the partnership intlie Pacific cable, and a clearer statement of the mutual obligations of the partners "Mr. Chamberlain continued, "and no more convenient way of attaining this object suggests itself to me than the appointment of a conference, authorised to deal finally with various matters of principle in dispute. If, unfortunately, your Government should still feel itself unable to comply with my request, I beg that they will furnish me with alternative proposals for dealing with the serious points of difference that have arisen between the partners in this under-taking. Your Government are aware that Great Britain joined the combination chiefly from the desire to meet the wishes of Canada and Australia and New Zealand, and that they would not of their own initiative have proposed the new precedent that has been created in this case. It is of the greatest importance that the experiment should be a success in every way, and that it should contribute to the union of the empire, and not be a source of division and irritation. It is natural that differences of opinion should arise; but, unless some tribunal or other means, for settling such differences amicably can be found, I fear that there will be no hope that in the future such co-operation will be again accepted by the different parts of the empire."

1900 discussions:

Eastern Extension: market dominance and too much support from NSW and Victoria.

Charters Towers Northern Miner
March 1900

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14, 1900: "A most dangerous order of bacilli is the microbe of monopolistic millions. It is especially deadly in the United States and, like the bacilli of the bubonic plague, now appears to have obtained a firm hold in Australia. The most recent evidence of the deadly work put in by the monopolistic microbe is the attitude of come of the leading papers and politicians of New South Wales and Victoria in connection with the Eastern Extension Cable Company proposals. Of course, we do not, for a moment, assert that some of the papers and politicians have pocketed slices of the Eastern Company's huge fighting reserve. It would be foolhardy to do so. But we do claim that the Eastern Extension Company has got a number of politicians and papers in Australia 'under the whip'— no other phrase fully expresses the situation—in a way that simply astounds outsiders. Some of these papers and politicians are sacrificing their country, perhaps out of pure ignorance, but the people all the same are being sacrificed to this soulless corporation. The Eastern Extension Company has long battened on Australians; besides paying high interest, it has a reserve of millions and could have smashed any private corporation that might have been foolish enough to enter into competition.

The Pacific cable scheme, however, if loyally supported by the Australian colonies, was beyond attack and the Eastern Extension Company is sparing no trouble to detach New South Wales and Victoria. They are offering practically nothing in order to obtain concessions which will enable them to open cable offices in our capitals and run an opposition business to the Pacific cable scheme which is a national venture. All the Company proposes to do is to lay an additional cable, which we do not require, from the Cape and to reduce the cost of transmission by 9d. a word. They also offer further reductions if the cable revenue reaches an impossible sum for three years in succession. So the real proposition is that the price shall be 4/- a word until the Pacific cable starts; then it will be 3/- at which figure, it was announced, the Pacific Cable would commence business.

The excuse of those who are so meanly truckling to the monopolistic company is that the agreement with the Eastern Extension Company terminates this year and, if an agreement is not made, the Company will exact high rates - perhaps 8/- a word. This is pure nonsense. The Company dare not act as suggested because the colonies could take severe reprisals in three years when the Pacific cable was completed. An exorbitant tariff, too, would simply defeat its purpose and, in any case, it is better to be blackmailed for three years than to allow the Eastern Extension Company to bluff off all opposition and thus continue its excessive charges until a better class of politician is at the helm in Australia.

There is one consolation, however, and that is the political extinction which will overtake the puppets of the Eastern Extension Company, the politicians who have scandalised Australia by the whole-souled support they have given the octopus company. And what shall be said of the big newspapers in the South who, for their own selfish purposes, are boosting the Eastern Extension Company. The patriotism of such journals, which run a black, white and yellow cable against the all red Pacific link to the old country is centred in the breeches pocket. It has not yet risen to the heart.

Happily the Queensland Government have stuck to the agreement made with New Zealand, Canada and Great Britain; and the Eastern Extension Company will never open a cable office in a Queensland town. If the Eastern Company does victimise Queenslanders until the Pacific Cable is completed, it can be made to smart after that time by the charge imposed on it for using our land lines. Queensland has nothing to fear from any private company - no matter how strong that corporation may be - and Queenslanders, in resisting the monopoly, will have the pleasing consciousness that their interests have not been surrendered with suspicious meekness to the wily agent of an oppressive corporation".

The 1902 rates:

The first rates charged for messages between Australia and New Zealand when that connection opened on 1 April 1902 were provisionally set at the same level as those charged by the Eastern Extension Company.

As from 1 April, 1902, the rates to be charged per word over the first sections of the Pacific cable from Southport, Queensland were established as:

The address and signature were to be charged for as was the standard practice with all other cable charges. The Atlantic Cable Company's register code addresses in London could be used for free. Senders of messages via the Pacific cable from Australia are advised to use either these code addresses or addresses registered by the British Post Office officials.

Senders had the choice of cable and were required to mark their transmission forms to indicate either "Via Pacific" or "Via Eastern".

In May 1902, negotiations were underway between the Eastern Extension Company and the Pacific Cable Board with the objective of arriving at some joint purse or pooling arrangement. Under such an arrangement, the board and the company would each take a specified portion of the revenue received from the Australasian cable business and the same scale of rates would be charged for Government and private cables.

On 8 November 1902, the Pacific Cable Board announced it had fixed the charges between certain destinations:

From Australia to: Ordinary rate (per word) Government rate (per word)
Britain 3/- 2/- (or 1/7½)
Canada 2/4 1/4½
Fanning Island 2/- 1/1½
France, Germany, Holland or Belgium 3/6  

In addition to these charges, the Commonwealth Government imposed a land charge on messages of 2d per word. CHECK

An urgent message cost double the usual rate per word and an urgent Government message was charged at the rate of 4½d. per word below the rate of the Eastern Extension Company.

The Press rate for Australia to Britain was 1/- per word. Other press rates have not been cabled. The rates for other countries on the continent of Europe, apart from France, Germany, Holland and Belgium, will be higher than these noted for the countries named and higher too than the Eastern Extension Company's rates.

The Postmaster-General said the Federal Government had no desire to go above the rates charged over the Eastern Extension Company's line but nor did they wish to inaugurate a system of cut-throat competition by going below them.

On 12 January 1903, the Launceston Examiner raised the question of differential rates between the two cable companies:

"Enquiries made in Sydney would lead to the conclusion that the business of the Pacific cable has not reached the proportions which were anticipated. A good deal of business which it was expected would pass over the "all red" cable is still going over the older lines.

One of the reasons for this would appear to be the Pacific cable authorities do not specify the time when message are lodged and that business an objection to their communications not being timed as has previously been the case. It has been suggested that the time at which messages reach or leave Vancouver should appear the messages. This, it is thought by the authorities, would to some extent meet the requirements of both those who send and those who receive cables going by the Pacific cable route.

In April 1903: the Pacific Cable Board announced that the rate for cablegrams for the Commonwealth has been fixed at 2/10 per word.

In April 1903, the Brisbane Courier reported: The Deputy Postmaster-General has received a copy of a telegram sent by the Pacific Cable Board in connection with the placing of times and dates on cable messages to Europe, and stating that owing to further assistance from the Atlantic companies, the Board has arranged, without extra cost, a cipher which enables homeward messages to be delivered with the original date and time to the nearest ten minutes instead of the nearest hour, as before.

Another matter raised in January 1903 and said to affect the business of the Pacific Cable is that, while the Eastern Extension Company's rates are the same to the Continent of Europe as to Great Britain, an extra charge of 6d per word is demanded by the Pacific Cable. In consequence of this, continental business continues to be sent over the cheaper route. Representations on these matters are being made by the Sydney authorities to the central postal authorities and the hope is indulged that before long, these anomalies in the present service of the Pacific line will be removed".

Later in the year, the question of different rates for messages to Europe was again raised with postal authorities: The reply in June 1903 was that there is no likelihood of special discounts being offered to persons sending messages to Europe by the Pacific route, but if the Eastern Extension Company offers them, then it will be for the Pacific Cable Board to consider whether it shall not do the same in order to compete with it.

The President of the Adelaide Chamber of Commerce noted, in May 1903, "that messages by the Pacific cable cost 6d. a word more than by the Eastern Extension Company's line. He said he had paid the extra charge from patriotic motives, but the cable would have to be run on business lines and not merely supported from feelings of patriotism".

August 1904:

Charges for ordinary messages over the Pacific cable via London or the Le Havre are:

Destination Charge
France, Belgium, Holland, Germany 3s 4d
Austria 3s 9½d
Denmark and Norway 3s 11d
Greece 3s 11 ½d
Italy 3s 9d.
Portugal 4s 1d.
Russia in Europe 4s 4d
Russia in Asia (region 1) 4s 6½d
Russia in Asia (Region 2) 4s 19½d.
Rumania and Servia 3s 10½d
Sweden 4s 1d
Spain via Marseilles 3s 10½d
Switzerland 3s 8½d
Germany via Emden, Azores 3s

June 1909:

The rate per word of cable messages marked via Pacific from the Commonwealth to certain places in South America was substantially reduced. Up until now it had cost 7/4 per word to cable from Australia to all places in Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. The charge was reduced to 6/4 per word plus an extra, 2/- per word to those places in Peru that are reached by wireless stations.

Bendigo Advertiser.
30 November 1908.

In reference to the proposal that a cable rate of a penny per word should be instituted between Great Britain and Australia, the Postal department has prepared some statistics as to the effect of such a rate on the Pacific cable. The speed of the cable is regulated by the speed of the slowest section - that between Bamfield, Canada and Fanning Island. After allowing for the transmission of words relating to business which are not paid for, it is calculated that 65 letters per minute can be sent each way. This is equal to 38,410 five letter words per day which would give a revenue of £28,470 per year at the rate of a halfpenny per word, which would be the Pacific cable portion of the penny per word proposed to be charged. Calculating on additional revenue to be derived from portions of the line where faster work is possible, the revenue would be £43,800 per annum. The total highest income from the system at a halfpenny per word however is £72,270. The present expenditure upon the line is ,£171,0000 per annum, so that a heavy loss would ensue were the proposed reduction in rates adopted.

July 1909: The reduction in the rates for NZ press cables by 2½d a word announced by the Pacific Cable Company will be operative in about a month. It reduces the press rates from 1/- to 9d per word (if the Pacific Cable Co. land charge is reduced by 1d to 2d) and the NZ land charge is reduced to ½d.

During this month, matters awaiting final decision in the Postal Department are hung up, as in other departments, by the constitutional practice of executive inactivity during the continuance of a "want-of-confidence" debate in Parliament.... Among other matters which have reached this stage is the question of reduction in the land charges made by the Commonwealth on cable messages received via the Pacific cable line. The, action of the New Zealand Government in reducing its land charge to a halfpenny has been cited to the Commonwealth Government as a precedent and it is suggested that Australia should follow it. The factor of great distances in Australia was pointed out the other day by the Prime Minister (Mr. Deakin) as destroying the parallel between the two dominions and it will probably be urged as a reason why the Commonwealth should not follow New Zealand the whole way in reduction. When the negotiations are again taken up and carried to completion, it is anticipated that a reduction in the land charge from two pence to one penny will be announced.

July 1910: The Pacific Cable Board proposes to reduce the transmission rate for plain language messages, to be delivered within 48 hours, to 1s 6d per word.

In September 1910, The Pacific Cable Board foreshadowed the establishment in a few months of the system of deferred, not urgent, messages at reduced rates.

December 1911: The Pacific Cable Board has decided that on and after 1 January 1911, cablegrams to and from Australia to all places served by the Pacific Cable, with the exception of Norfolk Island, Fiji and New Zealand, written in plain language, will be accepted at half the existing rates.

March 1913: The Pacific Cable Board relieved the New Zealand press messages of the charges of half-penny per word substituting a drop in rate, of 8d. per hundred words.

February 1914: The Pacific Cable Board made a reduction of four pence a word on ordinary cable messages to New Zealand and reduced its tariff to the public to 2/8 - to be implemented in March. In a subsequent meeting, some of the members strongly opposed the provision for reducing the rates for the transmission of messages to New Zealand and made an effort to expunge from the minutes the motion dealing with the matter. The meeting, however, confirmed the minute and thereupon Sir Henry Primrose resigned the position of chairman of the Board. In April, the British Post Office representative moved a motion to rescind the reductions. An amendment was however immediately moved "That the whole question of Australasian rates be referred to a committee, in order, if possible, to make further reductions." 

May 1914: The Pacific Cable Board has arranged for the immediate introduction of week-end cable letters between Canada and Australia and New Zealand at 11/8 per 20 words with 7d. for. each additional word. They will be accepted and distributed to any point in Australasia, and anywhere in Canada where the Canadian Pacific Railways telegraphic system extends.

February 1915: From 1 April, 1915 the Pacific Cable Board has confirmed the reduction of rates to New Zealand to 2/8 per word for ordinary (proposed in 1914), 1/4½ for Government and 1/4 for deferred messages and 13/9 for week-end messages of 20 words.

In September 1917, the Pacific Cable Board advised that, as a temporary measure, owing to cable congestion caused by the extraordinary volume of Government traffic and the accumulation of Expeditionary Force messages to be dealt with, acceptance, at the deferred rate, to the United Kingdom is suspended with the exception of deferred messages from the Commonwealth Bank containing soldiers' remittances.

26 February 1921: The Pacific Cable Co. has resumed the system of week-end cable rates to Australia at the rate of 15s minimum, for 20 words with 9d for each additional word. The rates for messages to New Zealand are l3s 4d and 8d for each additional word. WHY INCREASE

August 1923: Commencing 1st September, Eastern Extension Telegraph Coy and Pacific Cable Board propose introduced plain language letter service with Great Britain acceptable any day except Sunday with normal delivery after 48 hours. The charge is one fourth of the ordinary rate with a minimum charge for 20 words. The prefix Q.L.T. is chargeable as one word.

August 1924: The Pacific Cable Board agreed to the reduction of 6d a word in the cable rates to Australia with the Commonwealth of Australia remitting 1d per word on the landing charges. Effective from 1 December 1924, rates from Australia to Britain were reduced to 2/6 per word ordinary rate and 1/3 per word deferred rate.

Christmas and New Year Greetings will be accepted, as in previous years, at the following rates:

United Kingdom: minimum 10 words for 6/3 with 7½d each additional word.
Canada: minimum 10 words for 4/9½ with 5¾d each additional word.

Christmas messages will be accepted from 15 December to 20 December and New Year messages to 27 December inclusive.

From 1 December 1924, cable rates in New Zealand were reduced for Government messages from 1/4 to 1/2; for ordinary messages from 2/8 to 2/3; and for deferred telegrams from 1/4 to 1/1½.

May 1925: The Prime Minister stated that a reduction had been effected in the charges charged by the Pacific Cable Board for press cables. The board had agreed to reduce press rates by a half penny per word, provided the Imperial Post Office and Commonwealth surrender a similar amount of their terminal charges. The Commonwealth and British authorities have agreed to this. The present press rate of 7½d per word will therefore be reduced to 6d per word.

"Mr. W. E. Guinness (Financial Secretary to the Treasury) said to the House of Commons on 17 June that the proposal for a further reduction of the Pacific cable press rates to Australia was being considered, but he was not yet able to say what the decision would be. He pointed out that this cable was greatly congested at present. The press rates, compared with the general rates, were lower than they used to be and it would be a matter for grave consideration whether, until cable facilities were increased, as they shortly would be, and wireless facilities were provided, they would be justified in making a change".

December 1926: the Pacific Cable Board is prepared to reduce rates to Australia by 6d a word from Britain, 5d from Canada and 8d from the United States. The rates to New Zealand will be reduced by 4d, 3d and 5d respectively from the countries named.

Western Argus
21 December 1926

London. Dec. 13: Proposals of a far-reaching nature were considered at to-day's meeting of the Pacific Cable Board for a substantial cut in the rates on its route. They will take effect from 1 January if the Commonwealth and Imperial Governments agree to their shares in the reductions.

The proposals mean the immediate loss of revenue to the board of £50,000; but, the board hopes that its new expeditious service will bring such an access of business as quickly to neutralise that loss. The, board is mindful of the early possibility of beam wireless competition and is also convinced that the heavier traffic of which the new loaded cables are capable, coupled with the reduced rates, will be bound to act as a magnet to business.

The detailed proposals of the reductions are summarised in the following table:

  Ordinary rate (per word) Deferred rate (per word) Government rate (per word)
  From To From To From To
Britain & Australia 2/6 2/- 1/3 1/- 1/4 1/0½
Britain & New Zealand 2/3 1/11 1/1½ 11d 1/3 1/-
Canada & Australia 2/- 1/7 1/- 9d 1/2 11d
Canada & New Zealand 1/9 1/6 10½d 9d 1/- 10½d
USA (West) & Australia   1/8   10d   1/3
USA (West) & NZ   1/7   9½d   1/-
USA (East) & Australia   2/-   1/-   1/5
USA (East) & NZ   1/11   11½d   1/4

The losses in revenue due to these changes are expected to be:

It is understood that, subject to the through rates being reduced, including those of the Imperial Government's Atlantic section, the Commonwealth is willing to reduce landing charges respectively to 2d, 1d and 1½d.. It is not proposed to ask for a reduction of New Zealand's already lower terminal fees.

It was revealed that since another Company entered the United States-Australian field, the Pacific cable's outward business has fallen by nearly half but far less in business from the Antipodes.

No reduction in letter telegrams is contemplated until the effect of the reductions is seen nor will the press participate in view of the recent cheapening of rates. The meeting discussed the proposals but deferred decision till after Christmas. It is understood that negotiations are continuing to obtain the assent of the Imperial Government to its cut on the Atlantic section. Those suggested are three halfpence, three farthings and three farthings respectively.

Both the Pacific Cable Board and the Eastern Extension reduced their rates as from January 1927. The rates from England and from Canada to Australia were reduced on the same scale.

March 1927: The Pacific Cable Board announces that from to-day a reduction will be made in the cable rates to the United States. These rates did not participate in the recent reductions and the full rate messages are still at the old level. The board has, however, initiated a daily letter-telegram classification and messages of this type, with a 20 words minimum, will be accepted at the rate of 15s to New York, with 9d a word for additional words; Chicago 14/2 for 20 words and 8½d a word extra; Denver 12/6 for 20 words and 7½d a word extra; San Francisco 11/8 for 20 words and 7d a word extra. The messages must be in plain language, but code address and signature indicators may be used, and they will be subject to a minimum transit delay of 48 hours The prefix D LT must be employed as the first chargeable word in the address.

January 1928: Superintendent of Cables Mr Bain said rates were at bedrock and he could see no chance for a further reduction.

September 1929: a reduction of 5 cents a word off the full rate from Canada to Australia and the Orient with 3 cents a word off the deferred rate to various points in the Orient. The tolls to Honolulu are given a 3 cents cut off the full rate and l½ cents off the deferred rate.

Deferred rate messages:

Melbourne Argus.
24 September 1910.

The proposal of the Pacific Cable Board to make a reduction in the rates for deferred delivery has been considered by the British Post office authorities. It was announced yesterday that, while it is recognised that the Canadian line has considerably improved in accuracy, the authorities decline to sanction the deferred rates on the ground that they have not been approved by the International Convention.