New South Wales - Colonial period: 1858-1900.
First line to the Queensland border.

The push to the north.

Two main factors motivating the construction of the first line to the Queensland border were:

The process to authorise and commence construction in Queensland began almost immediately after independence in August 1860.

On 21 February 1859 the Department of Lands and Public Works advertised in the Government Gazette for "tenders for the supply of material (wire excepted) and for the workmanship necessary for the erection of a line of Electric Telegraph from a point upon or near the Blacktown Road to Windsor and thence to Wiseman's Ferry, Wollombi, West Maitland and Maitland to Newcastle".

The dates indicated on the map are when the Telegraph Offices were opened. The lines, however, had been run through these locations and repeater stations had been established but the offices were not opened to the public or to businesses. For example, a Post Office had been opened at Wiseman's Ferry on 1 January 1857 but a Telegraph Office open for use by the public was not incorporated into the Post Office until 25 January 1886.

Qld 2 The New South Wales push to the north used the Parramatta Telegraph Office as its branching point. Construction of the 162 mile line to Newcastle commenced on 6 June 1859. It would cost £10,076 8s 2d. Stages can be summarised as follows:

In 1859-60:

The line was constructed to Wiseman's Ferry then via Wollombi and Morpeth to Newcastle and West Maitland. Newcastle was an very important centre because of the diverse shipping and commercial activities based there. Direct access from Sydney to Newcastle was not possible because of the terrain and the encroaching waterways along the coast.

A report of 13 October 1859 said the line was 18 miles on the Wollombi side of Wiseman's Ferry en route to Maitland and that is was hoped to reach Maitland in November 1859. Telegraph offices were opened at both Newcastle and West Maitland on 11 January 1860 and later at Wollombi (3 March 1860) and Morpeth (26 May 1860) after line fit-out and building construction were completed.

In the context of line construction, both Wiseman's Ferry and Wollombi facilitated relatively direct access and both had (relatively) large populations and commercial activities. For example, in 1862, Wollombi had 1,655 people living in the district with 233 in the village itself (compared to 264 in 2006).


In his 1861 Report, Cracknell commented on the condition of the lines around Wiseman's Ferry as follows:

"The first section of the Northern Line, which has been constructed over a rugged and badly timbered country, has been more troublesome, but when the repairs have been completed, which are now contracted for, the line will work more satisfactorily. The submarine cable at Wiseman's Ferry, on the River Hawkesbury, has also been a source of great annoyance, the continuance of which has now been provided against by the substitution of masts and over-head wires".

Wollombi had long been a critical point in the development of transport in NSW. Construction of the Great Northern Road commenced in 1826 from Castle Hill to Wiseman's Ferry and through to Wollombi. From there, the road divided to Singleton and Muswellbrook in the north-west and Cessnock, Morpeth and Maitland in the north-east. In 1827, the journey by horse from Sydney to Wollombi took two days with another full day to Singleton or Morpeth. The significance of the Great Northern Road was however soon to be threatened when the "Mary Jane" sailed from Sydney to Morpeth in the amazing time of 11.5 hours!!

Morpeth was an important river port for the export of coal and timber from the region to a number of destinations including Brisbane and Melbourne. Regular steamship services were operated by the Newcastle and Hunter River Steamship Company from both Morpeth and Newcastle. In 1857, Morpeth was bypassed when the Great Northern Railway was constructed direct to Newcastle and it could no longer sustain the same level of activity.

A second wire from Sydney to Newcastle was constructed during 1862 at a cost of £15 per mile because of the significant volume of traffic between the two centres.

In the Legislative Council on 11 October 1860, the question was asked "was it the intention of the Government to establish a branch telegraph from Tenterfield via Tabulam to Grafton and the Clarence Heads - the said branch being established from the main line from Sydney to Brisbane. Mr. Arnold said the Government had already invited tenders for the construction of the telegraph to Tenterfield and thence on to the boundary of Queensland, should the latter colony erect a line to meet it at that point. There was no intention at present to propose any extension of the line to Clarence River, though the honorable member would find by the Estimates that the Government had not overlooked the importance of the district".

By the end of 1860, progress continued to be very good. The Northern Australian Advertiser of 2 November 1860 quoted the Tamworth Examiner by reporting:

"We are informed that the contractors for the erection of the line of telegraph between Murrurundi and Queensland boundary are making astonishing progress with the undertaking. The holes have been sunk nearly as far as Wallabadah and the wire stretched ten or twelve miles from Murrurundi. It is generally thought that, if the contract is carried out with the spirit with which it has been commenced, the wire will stretch as far as Tamworth by Christmas".

In 1861:

In 1861, the telegraph line was constructed to Singleton (February), Muswellbrook, Scone and Murrurundi (both in June), Tamworth, Bendemeer, Armidale (October), Glen Innes (December) and Tenterfield (say November).

The Moreton Bay Courier of 12 March 1861 noted:

"Mr. Cracknell, the Inspector of Telegraphs in New South Wales, arrived at Brisbane on Sunday last by the Telegraph(s.), for the purpose of consulting Mr. Austin as to the point on the frontier where the Queensland line should join that now in course of construction by his government. Mr. Cracknell will afterwards return to Sydney overland, inspecting the line on his route".

The length of this line was 375 miles. The contract prices were:

The total cost was £21,354 15s 10d.

The line to Tenterfield was completed on 9 July 1861.

The inland route along the Great Dividing Range had many advantages over constructing the line along the coastal route. These advantages included:

"Mr. Cracknell, the Superintendent of Telegraphs, returned by the Yarra Yarra on Friday having gone overland to Queensland for the purpose of inspecting the new telegraphic line which has been completed as far as our Northern frontier since the 10th of July last. Stations have been opened at Tamworth and Armidale but the opening of stations at Glen Innes and Tenterfield is waiting for the arrival of the apparatus at those places" (Courier 9 November 1861). At that stage, connection awaited only the connection between Warwick and Maryland.

The first messages from Brisbane to Sydney were exchanged between the Governors of the respective Colonies - Sir John Young (NSW) and Sir George Bowen (Qld) - on 9 November 1861.

Cracknell, in his Report on 1861, noted even so early that a second wire "was urgently required, the businesses on the Northern line having of late increased so rapidly that it has become an absolute necessity to increase the facilities for its accommodation. When a second line is working, an increased revenue may be expected from Newcastle and Maitland; as at present, many messages, to the transmission of which early replies form a condition, are withheld in consequence of the crowded state of the line".

The line to Queensland was a major consideration in subsequent planning. It had to be supported in every way to ensure minimum disruption and lessening of the load where ever possible. Cracknell was mindful of this policy when, in his 1864 Report (dated 14 December 1865), he noted:

"A satisfactory report is given of the condition of the lines (throughout the Colony) generally. Inconvenience through interruptions on the Northern line will be still further reduced on completion of the junction between Mudgee and Murrurundi, when there will be not more than 275 miles to the Queensland boundary unduplicated by a separate route. The lines in this colony appear during the summer months to be much more affected by lightning than those in the neighbouring colonies; and, to save injury to the instruments, the Superintendent has devised a simple "cutting out switch" to disconnect them from the line (the main batteries excepted). This plan has saved many instruments and much delay".

In September 1872, the Department of Electric Telegraph, through the Gazette, called for tenders to erect "an additional Electric Telegraph Wire on existing poles from Sydney to Maitland, an estimated distance of 120 miles".