South Australia - Colonial period: 1855 - 1900.
The first telegraph line in S.A. - 1856.


The arrival of Mr. Todd.

Charles Todd arrived in Australia on 4 November (aboard the Irene with his young 17 year old bride Alice) to take up his appointment as (astronomical) Observer and Superintendent of Telegraphs. Coincidently, a magnetic telegraph ordered by the Government and intended for use on the same line, had also arrived from England on that day.

Three weeks later - on 26 November 1855 - the line of Macgeorge - was opened by James Macgeorge as a private line serving the public and the business community between Adelaide and Port Adelaide. The line was regarded most negatively by the Government. Todd had literally walked off the ship from England to take up his appointments but encountered a major problem which the Government expected him to solve.

As noted elsewhere, MacGeorge had actually ignored the South Australian Government’s declaration that only the Government could own and operate telegraph networks. Nevertheless, his effort was an immediate commercial success and, in effect, he created Australia's first privately-owned telegraph network. From then - and throughout the following century - Colonial governments (and later the Commonwealth Government) opposed the idea of private ownership in communications. Consequently in January 1857, the South Australian Colonial Government decided it would purchase McGeorge’s line for £80 and immediately dismantle it - thus preventing further private entrepreneurial activity.

The Government line begins.

To demonstrate the Government's ability, Todd commenced the construction of a Government line. In the South Australian Register of 27 November 1855, tenders were called for the construction of an Electric Telegraph Station on Le Fevre's Peninsula.

Construction began in Adelaide in December 1855, opened to Port Adelaide on 18 February 1856 and was then extended to Semaphore on the Le Fevre's Peninsula in early March. Later in the year, Telegraph Offices were also opened at Port Adelaide Railway Station as well as at Bowden and Alberton.

Two construction approaches were used:

The use of the subterranean and submarine cable reduced the cost of the City to Port telegraph line so that, including stations, materials, apparatus, etc., it finally cost £3,024.

Of the four wires used for the line, two were for railway use. The poles were square, and were mostly made from Jarrah - then called Swan River mahogany - and Singapore Cedar.


Early days

The commencement of telegraphic business could not however be rated as auspicious. Receipts for the first day on the Adelaide-Port Adelaide-Semaphore line amounted to 5/3. This amount fell to 2/6 on the second day, to 1/9 on the third day and to 1/3 on the fourth.

This trend quickly reversed and the perceived usefulness of the South Australian telegraphic system began to be reflected by the number of messages being transmitted:

For further details seeTodd's Report in the Public Works Report reprinted in the South Australian Register of 5 January 1858.

Lines were constructed in all directions according to various priorities, population, mining and business demands. In addition, a number of Telegraph Offices were opened on or near this line - for example Hindmarsh in 1884.

The development of these lines can be traced through the general map shown above.