South Australia: 1856-1900.
Mr. R. R. (Dick) Knuckey.

The names of people are often read and forgotten. They can mean nothing to most of us. But when some details become available, a person's contribution can be better assessed.

Take the case of Mr Knuckey. Few, if any readers, would have seen the name - and neither they should have. So it is interesting to read what the Adelaide Advertiser wrote of him on 16 June 1914 after his passing:


"The death of Mr. Richard Randall Knuckey, which occurred at Miss Hill private hospital, Adelaide, on Sunday night, removes a resident who figured prominently in the days when telegraph lines were being constructed to effect communication between Adelaide and Port Darwin, and between Port Augusta and Eucla. He was in his 71st year and death followed an operation, performed on Friday last, for a serious internal complaint.

The deceased gentleman had a somewhat varied career. A Cornishman by birth, he arrived in South Australia in 1849 at the age of 6 years, and was educated at Burra and Kapunda. After leaving school, he was engaged as a grocer's assistant at Kadina and in 1866 he joined the Survey Department as chainman. Being a brilliant and energetic young man, he was soon afterwards appointed cadet surveyor, and then for many years he made rapid strides in his profession. He was one of the surveyors selected to join the late Mr. G. W. Goyder's expedition to the Northern Territory to survey the township of Darwin and the surrounding country. Upon his return from the far north, he was engaged surveying the hundreds near Port Wakefield and Snowtown, and later on he was employed on the South-Eastern drainage works.

In 1870 he was recommended to the late Sir Charles Todd by Mr. Goyder (then Surveyor-General) to take charge of Section A of the Overland Telegraph Line, then about to be started. He successfully supervised this section and, upon its completion, he pushed on to the Roper River after a very, trying and dangerous trip.

Following on this arduous work in practically unexplored country, he entered upon the northern section and remained there until the line was completed and communication between Adelaide and Darwin was established. Subsequently he had charge of re-poling the line from the Roper River to Daly Waters.

OTL party
The Overland Telegraph Party.

In 1876 Mr. Knuckey was selected by Sir Charles Todd as overseer in the erection of the telegraph line from Port Augusta to Eucla - a distance of 759 miles. This was a heavy undertaking especially on the section between Fowler's Bay and Eucla, which was carried out departmentally. Afterwards he became over-seer of telegraph extensions generally and, in 1880 was appointed inspector of Post and Telegraph services, a position which he retained until his retirement from the service in 1889. Then, for about 12 months, he supervised the construction of a telegraph line for the New South Wales Government from Narromine to Peak Hill, and he afterwards went to Western Australia to try his fortunes on the goldfields. Dame Fortune, however, did not smile kindly on him and he returned to South Australia in 1911. The far north attracted him again, and only five weeks ago he returned to Adelaide from a trip with a team as far as Powell's Creek.

The deceased, who was popularly known as '"Dick" Knuckey, was recognised as one of the best bushmen in Australia, and his finding of Nation, who was lost in the Gulf-country in the Northern Territory in 1874, is always recalled as a splendid achievement. No man had a wider experience in Central Australia than he, and there were few parts of Australia where his name was not a household word. It is said of him that he had hundreds of friends, and that he never made an enemy. He was always popular among his subordinates, and it was largely due to this fact that he was so successful in his undertakings out back. Mr. Knuckey possessed a remarkable memory, and having once crossed country he never forgot it. It was while building the overland telegraph line in Central Australia that he discovered and named Dalhousie Springs and Charlotte Waters.

It is on record that Mr. Knuckey, then "a fine young fellow' was one of the "most efficient and faithful coadjutors"of the late Sir Charles Todd in the construction of the overland telegraph line. It was Mr. Knuckey who, after the first messages had been exchanged over the new line, accompanied Sir Charles Todd on the return journey from Central Mount Stuart to Adelaide. To the little band of heroes - for such they undoubtedly were who traversed an almost unknown continent for 2,000 miles, facing dangers and disasters with all the stoicism of the race, must be given all honor for the great undertaking they so successfully completed. It was in 1857 that the idea of constructing this important line was first mooted by Sir Charles Todd.

For a number of years nothing was done, but the matter was again renewed in 1869. On August 22, 1872, the two ends of the telegraph were joined, and the line was an accomplished fact. Of the dangers of the work, the stupendous and almost heartbreaking difficulties, much has already been written. In these Mr. Knuckey played no unimportant part. In 1869, a cable was already connecting London with Singapore, and there was a land-line from Batavia, through Java, to Banjoewangie. The British-Australian Company undertook to lay a cable from Singapore to Batavia, and from Banjoewangie to Port Darwin, with a land line to Normanton (Queensland). For a time the claims of Normanton as the terminus of the cable overshadowed those of Port Darwin, and probably Normanton would have been chosen but for Sir Charles Todd's unwavering advocacy of the Adelaide-Port Darwin line.

Eventually the Strangeways Government took up the matter and offered to construct the line, to complete it in eighteen months, and to have it open for traffic on January 1, 1872. It was then that Mr. Knuckey, with a number of others, was chosen to join the party, and the responsibility for its construction was placed on the shoulders of the then recently-appointed Postmaster-General (the late Sir Charles Todd). Shortly afterwards began the work of taking a line 2,000 miles long through a country, the greater part of which was unknown, and which for 1,300 miles was unsettled by white men. For hundreds of miles, the country was bare of timber, so that the posts had to be carted over the whole distance, and there were no roads.

The work, after a number of initial difficulties were overcome, was begun from two ends - Port Augusta and Port Darwin. Various sections were let under contract, the construction of the central and most difficult section being undertaken by the Government themselves. This was entrusted to "a fine lot of young men," of whom Mr. Knuckey was one. More than once the big undertaking seemed on the verge of failure, but the indomitable spirit of Sir Charles Todd and his fellow-workers won the day, the continent was bridged, and Sir Charles, then at Central Mount Stuart, travelled along the line to Adelaide, accompanied by Mr. Knuckey, and was accorded an enthusiastic reception on reaching the city".

Mr. Knuckey was taken into "Head Office" where he was appointed Inspector of Postal and Telegraph Services. His duties included setting out new telegraph lines and reviewing proposals for lines and Telegraph Offices.

He was the Foreman for the incredibly difficult undertaking of laying the line from Niagara to Lawlers in the Goldfields region of Western Australia - completing it in August 1897.

Surely Dick Knuckey can be regarded as one of Australia's many unsung heros who significantly contributed to Australia's development by doing his job to the best of his ability.