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The Australian Overland Telegraph Line was a
telegraph Telegraphy is the long-distance transmission of messages where the sender uses symbolic codes, known to the recipient, rather than a physical exchange of an object bearing the message. Thus flag semaphore Flag semaphore (from the Ancient ...
line that connected
Darwin Darwin most often refers to: * Charles Darwin (1809–1882), English naturalist and writer, best known as the originator of the theory of biological evolution by natural selection * Darwin, Northern Territory, a capital city in Australia * Darwin ( ...
with
Port Augusta Port Augusta is a small city A city is a large human settlement.Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kuper, J., eds (1996) ''The Social Science Encyclopedia''. 2nd edition. London: ...
in
South Australia South Australia (abbreviated as SA) is a States and territories of Australia, state in the southern central part of Australia. It covers some of the most arid parts of the country. With a total land area of , it is the fourth-largest of Austral ...

South Australia
. Completed in 1872, the Overland Telegraph Line allowed fast communication between Australia and the rest of the world. An additional section was added in 1877 with the completion of the
Western Australia Western Australia (abbreviated as WA) is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspape ...

Western Australia
n section of the line. It was one of the great
engineering Engineering is the use of scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, and other items, including bridges, tunnels, roads, vehicles, and buildings. The discipline of engineering encompasses a broad range of more speciali ...

engineering
feats of 19th-century Australia and probably the most significant milestone in the
history of telegraphy in Australia Australia was a relatively early adopter of electrical telegraph An electrical telegraph is a point-to-point text messaging system, primarily used from the 1840s until the mid 20th century when it was slowly replaced by other telecommuni ...
.


Conception and competition

By 1855 speculation had intensified about possible routes for the connection of Australia to the new telegraph cable in Java and thus Europe. Among the routes under consideration were either
Ceylon Sri Lanka (, ; si, ශ්‍රී ලංකා, Śrī Laṅkā, translit-std=ISO; ta, இலங்கை, Ilaṅkai, translit-std=ISO), formerly known as Ceylon, and officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is an island ...

Ceylon
to
Albany Albany, derived from the Gaelic name for Scotland Scotland ( sco, Scotland, gd, Alba Alba (Scottish Gaelic Scottish Gaelic ( gd, Gàidhlig or Scots Gaelic, sometimes referred to simply as Gaelic) is a Goidelic language (in the C ...

Albany
in
Western Australia Western Australia (abbreviated as WA) is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspape ...

Western Australia
, or
Java Java ( id, Jawa, ; jv, ꦗꦮ; su, ) is one of the Greater Sunda Islands in Indonesia. It is bordered by the Indian Ocean to the south and the Java Sea to the north. With a population of 147.7 million people, Java is the world's List of ...
to the north coast of Australia and then either onto east coast, or south through the centre of the continent to Adelaide.''Exploring the Stuart Highway : further than the eye can see'', 1997, p. 24 Competition between the colonies over the route was fierce. The
Victorian Victorian or Victorians may refer to: 19th century * Victorian era, British history during Queen Victoria's 19th-century reign ** Victorian architecture ** Victorian house ** Victorian decorative arts ** Victorian fashion ** Victorian literature ...
government organised an
expedition Expedition may refer to: * An exploration, journey, or voyage undertaken by a group of people especially for discovery and scientific research Places * Expedition Island, a park in Green River, Wyoming, US * Expedition Range, a mountain range in ...
led by
Burke Burke is an Anglo-NormanAnglo-Norman may refer to: *Anglo-Normans The Anglo-Normans ( nrf, Anglo-Normaunds, ang, Engel-Norðmandisca) were the medieval ruling class in England, composed mainly of a combination of ethnic Anglo-Saxons, Normans, ...

Burke
and
Wills Wills is a surname. Notable people with the surname include: * Alec Wills (1911-1941), English cricketer and Royal Air Force officer * Alfred Wills (1828–1912), English High Court judge and mountaineer * Andrew Wills (b. 1972), Australian rules f ...

Wills
to cross the
continent A continent is any of several large landmass A landmass, or land mass, is a large region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study of th ...

continent
from
Menindee Menindee (frequently but erroneously spelled "Menindie" ) is a small town in the far west of New South Wales, Australia, in Central Darling Shire, on the banks of the Darling River, with a sign-posted population of 980 and a population of 551. ...
to the
Gulf of Carpentaria The Gulf of Carpentaria () is a large, shallow sea The sea, connected as the world ocean or simply the ocean The ocean (also the sea or the world ocean) is the body of salt water which covers approximately 71% of the surfa ...
in 1860. Although the route was traversed, the
expedition Expedition may refer to: * An exploration, journey, or voyage undertaken by a group of people especially for discovery and scientific research Places * Expedition Island, a park in Green River, Wyoming, US * Expedition Range, a mountain range in ...
ended in disaster. The South Australian government recognised the economic benefits that would result from becoming the centre of the telegraph network. It offered a reward of £2000 to encourage an expedition to find a route between South Australia and the north coast.
John McDouall Stuart John McDouall Stuart (7 September 18155 June 1866), often referred to as simply "McDouall Stuart", was a Scottish explorer and one of the most accomplished of all Australia's inland explorers. Stuart led the first successful expedition to tra ...

John McDouall Stuart
had meanwhile also been endeavouring to cross the continent starting from the northern
Flinders Ranges The Flinders Ranges are the largest mountain range A mountain range is a series of mountains ranged in a line and connected by high ground. A mountain system or mountain belt is a group of mountain ranges with similarity in form, structure, ...

Flinders Ranges
, and was successful on his sixth attempt in 1862. James Chambers had gained an interest in the concept of a telegraph line across the outback. Chambers paid the costs for Stuart's expeditions into northern Australia. Stuart had the proposed telegraph line in mind as he travelled across the desert, noting the best places for river crossings, sources of timber for telegraph poles, and water supplies. On 24 July, his expedition finally reached the north coast at a place Stuart named
Chambers Bay Chambers Bay is a public golf course in the Pacific Northwest, northwest United States, located in University Place, Washington, on the Puget Sound southwest of Tacoma, Washington, Tacoma. The Links (golf), British links-style course is owned by Pi ...
, after his employer and sponsor. South Australian Governor gave his strong support to the project. In 1863 an Order in Council transferred
Northern Territory The Northern Territory (NT; formally the Northern Territory of Australia) is an Australian territory in the central and central northern regions of Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a Sovereign state, ...
to South Australia, aiming to secure land for an international telegraph connection. Now with a potential route, South Australia strengthened her position for the telegraph line in 1865 when Parliament authorised the construction of a telegraph line between Adelaide and Port Augusta, 300 km to the north. This move provoked outrage in
Queensland Queensland ( ) is a state situated in northeastern Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a Sovereign state, sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australia (continent), Australian continent, the ...

Queensland
amongst advocates of the Darwin–Burketown route. The final contract was secured in 1870 when the South Australian government agreed to construct 3200 km of line to Darwin, while the
British-Australian Telegraph Company Anglo-Celtic Australians are Australians whose ancestors originate wholly or partially in the countries of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. History Pre-Federation The British Government initiated European settlement of the Australian ...
promised to lay the undersea cable from
Banyuwangi Banyuwangi is the administrative capital of Banyuwangi Regency Banyuwangi Regency is a regency ( id, kabupaten) of East Java province in Indonesia. This regency also known as ''the sun rise of Java'' because it is located at the easternmost end ...
, Java to Darwin. The latter was to be finished on 31 December 1871, and severe penalties were to apply if the connecting link was not ready.


Construction

The South Australian Superintendent of Telegraphs, Charles Todd, was appointed head of the project, and devised a timetable to complete the immense project on schedule. Todd had built South Australia's first telegraph line and extended it to Melbourne. The contract stipulated a total cost of no more than £128,000 and two years' construction time. He divided the route into three sections, each of : northern and southern sections to be handled by private contractors, and a central section which would be constructed by his own department. The telegraph line would comprise more than 30,000 wrought iron poles, insulators, batteries, wire and other equipment, ordered from England.''Exploring the Stuart Highway : further than the eye can see'', 1997, p. 25 The poles were placed 80 m apart and repeater stations built every 250 km. Todd appointed staff to whom the contractors would be responsible: Explorer, John Ross (explorer), John Ross; Surveyor, William Harvey (surveyor), William Harvey; Overseer of Works, Northern Territory, William McMinn; Sub-Overseer, Robert Charles Burton, R. C. Burton; Telegraphist, Operators, James Lawrence Stapleton (murdered 1874 at Barrow Creek, Northern Territory, Barrow Creek) and Andrew Howley. Surveyors and Overseers, central portion of line: Alfred Thomas Woods, A. T. Woods, Gilbert Rotherdale McMinn, Gilbert McMinn, and Richard Randall Knuckey; Overseer, James Beckwith; Sub-Overseers, J. F. Roberts (perhaps John Le Maistre Francis Roberts, J. Le M. F. Roberts), Stephen Jarvis, W. W. Mills, W. Charles Musgrave, and Christopher Giles. He assembled a team of men for his central section: surveyors, linesmen, carpenters, labourers and cooks. The team left Adelaide with horses, bullocks and carts loaded with provisions and equipment for many weeks. The central section would be surveyed by the explorer John Ross (explorer), John Ross and Alfred Giles (explorer), Alfred Giles, his second-in-command. The southern section from
Port Augusta Port Augusta is a small city A city is a large human settlement.Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kuper, J., eds (1996) ''The Social Science Encyclopedia''. 2nd edition. London: ...
to Alberga Creek, South Australia, Alberga Creek was contracted to Edward Meade Bagot. Darwent & Dalwood, who won the contract for the northern section of , arrived in Port Darwin aboard in September 1870 with 80 men, 80 draught horses, bullocks, equipment and stores. Stephen King (surveyor), Stephen King Jr. was their surveyor and explorer. The northern line was progressing well until the onset of the wet season in November 1870. Heavy rain of up to a day waterlogged the ground and made it impossible for work to progress. With conditions worsening, the men went on strike on 7 March 1871, rancid food and disease-spreading mosquitoes amongst their complaints. On 3 May 1871, Overseer of Works William McMinn cancelled Darwent & Dalwood's contract and sent all the workers back to Adelaide, on the basis of insufficient progress (they had erected poles to a distance of and strung wire for to that date) and the insurrection of the men. This last, the workers claimed, was exaggerated; they only refused to work after they had been sacked. These actions were certainly within his powers, and spelled out in the contract, but he was dismissed on his return to Adelaide in July 1871. Joseph Darwent had protested the original appointment of McMinn, who had submitted a losing tender, but was overruled. William T. Dalwood was eventually awarded compensation of £11,000. The South Australian Government was now forced to construct an extra 700 km of line, and threw every available resource into its completion, down to purchasing horses and hiring men from New South Wales. It was another six months before reinforcements led by engineer Robert Patterson (engineer), Robert Patterson arrived in Darwin. As the central and southern sections neared completion, Patterson decided to take a different strategy with the construction of the northern section. It was divided into four sub-sections with the majority of the men on the most northerly section.''Exploring the Stuart Highway : further than the eye can see'', 1997, p. 26 The undersea cable was finished earlier than expected, with the line from
Java Java ( id, Jawa, ; jv, ꦗꦮ; su, ) is one of the Greater Sunda Islands in Indonesia. It is bordered by the Indian Ocean to the south and the Java Sea to the north. With a population of 147.7 million people, Java is the world's List of ...
reaching Darwin on 18 November 1871 and being connected the following day. Charlotte Waters, Northern Territory, Charlotte Waters, just north of the South Australian border in the Northern Territory, was surveyed in 1871 by Gilbert McMinn and Richard KnuckeyGiles, Ernest (1889). ''Australia twice traversed: the romance of exploration, being a narrative compiled from the journals of five exploring expeditions into and through Central South Australia, and Western Australia, from 1872 to 1876, Volume 1.'' S. Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, Limited and a repeater station built in 1872. Because of the problems still facing the northern section, the Queensland Superintendent of Telegraphs called for the abandonment of the project, and for the line to connect to the terminal at Burketown, Queensland, Burketown, but Todd was adamant and pressed on. By the end of the year there was still over 300 km of line to erect, but the line was substantially in use from May 1872 by the expedient of carrying messages by horse or camel across the uncompleted section. During this time, Todd began visiting workers along the line to lift their spirits. The message he sent along the incomplete line on 22 May 1872, took 9 days to reach Adelaide.


Completion

Running more than seven months behind schedule, the two lines were finally joined at Frew's Ponds on Thursday, 22 August 1872.''Exploring the Stuart Highway : further than the eye can see'', 1997, p. 27 Todd was given the honour of sending the first message along the completed line: :WE HAVE THIS DAY, WITHIN TWO YEARS, COMPLETED A LINE OF COMMUNICATIONS TWO THOUSAND MILES LONG THROUGH THE VERY CENTRE OF AUSTRALIA, UNTIL A FEW YEARS AGO A TERRA INCOGNITA BELIEVED TO BE A DESERT +++ After the first messages had been exchanged over the new line, Todd was accompanied by surveyor Richard Randall Knuckey on the return journey from Central Mount Stuart to Adelaide. The line proved an immediate success in opening the
Northern Territory The Northern Territory (NT; formally the Northern Territory of Australia) is an Australian territory in the central and central northern regions of Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a Sovereign state, ...
; gold discoveries were made in several places along the northern section (in particular Pine Creek, Northern Territory, Pine Creek), and the repeater stations in the MacDonnell Ranges proved invaluable starting points for explorers like Ernest Giles, William Gosse (explorer), W. C. Gosse, and Peter Warburton, Peter Egerton-Warburton who were heading west. Within the first year of operations 4000 telegrams were transmitted. Maintenance was an ongoing and mammoth task, with floods often destroying poles. In February 1875, a small contingent of Overland Telegraph employees left Port Darwin for Adelaide on the ill-fated SS Gothenburg, SS ''Gothenburg''. A few days later, at least ten were among the hundred-odd who lost their lives after she encountered a severe storm, and was driven into the Great Barrier Reef and sank. The final stage of connecting Australia to the world was begun in 1875 when the Western Australian and South Australian governments agreed to build a line across the Nullarbor plain. This equally challenging project was completed in 1877. Around 1871, a second cable connected Java with an overland line from Perth to Cable Station, Roebuck Bay. When Darwin was bombed in World War II the line was deliberately cut just before the attack. In 2008, its engineering heritage was recognised by the installation of markers provided by the Engineers Australia's Engineers Australia#Engineering Heritage Recognition Program, Engineering Heritage Recognition Program at a location in Darwin near the place where the cable reached the shore, the Alice Springs Telegraph Station and the General Post Office, Adelaide, General Post Office in Adelaide.


Attack at Barrow Creek

Life was hazardous for the line's isolated workforce. On 22 February 1874, eighteen months after the line opened, a group of Aboriginal men attacked the staff of the repeater station at Barrow Creek, Northern Territory, Barrow Creek, killing linesman John Frank, mortally wounding stationmaster John L. Stapleton, and seriously wounding two others, one an aboriginal youth employed at the station. Contemporary press reports described the incident as the "Barrow's Creek outrage". A punitive expedition resulted in the death of several Aboriginal men believed to have been involved.


The Australian connection

In 1870 the British Australia Telegraph Company (BAT) was formed to link Australia directly to the British telegraphic cable system, by extending the cable from Singapore via Java to Port Darwin. In 1873, three British companies, The British India Extension Telegraph Company, The BAT and The China Submarine Telegraph Company were amalgamated to form the Eastern Extension, Australasia and China Telegraph Company (EET Co). The driving force behind the British cable companies was a Scottish born entrepreneur Sir John Pender, founder of Cable & Wireless plc, Cable and Wireless. On 19 November 1871, Australia was connected telegraphically with the rest of the world after a cable was laid by BAT from
Banyuwangi Banyuwangi is the administrative capital of Banyuwangi Regency Banyuwangi Regency is a regency ( id, kabupaten) of East Java province in Indonesia. This regency also known as ''the sun rise of Java'' because it is located at the easternmost end ...
(Banjoewangie), at the eastern end of Java, to Darwin. This coincided with the completion of the construction of the overland telegraph cable from Adelaide to Darwin. The first message sent directly from London to Adelaide occurred on 22 October 1872. A second submarine cable from Java to Darwin was laid in 1880. The site in the intertidal zone where the cables come ashore in Darwin, where they are still visible during very low tides, was heritage listed in 2020.


Eastern extension and undersea upgrades

On 9 April 1889 a third Submarine communications cable, undersea telegraph cable opened for business, running from
Banyuwangi Banyuwangi is the administrative capital of Banyuwangi Regency Banyuwangi Regency is a regency ( id, kabupaten) of East Java province in Indonesia. This regency also known as ''the sun rise of Java'' because it is located at the easternmost end ...
, Java to Cable Beach,
Western Australia Western Australia (abbreviated as WA) is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspape ...

Western Australia
and continuing overland to Perth, to complement the two cables already laid in 1871 and 1880 from Banyuwangi to Darwin. This cable was laid to increase security in communications to prevent disruption from seismic activity that kept breaking the Banyuwangi to Darwin cables. The contract for the cables called for the manufacture of 970 nautical miles of cable containing a single galvanised copper core with 220 nautical miles being brass sheathed, laid by the Enderby's Wharf#History, Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company for the Cable & Wireless plc#1860 to 1901, Eastern Extension, Australasia and China Telegraph Company, by the SS ''Seine''. The operation took only 10 days and was completed on 26 February 1889. These were all British companies. Cable Beach is named after this cable that connected Java to Cable Station, that served this purpose until March 1914. After operating for 25 years it closed due to the opening of more competitive, cheaper-to-run stations; most cables were subsequently recovered. Cable Station was left empty, and in 1921 it was purchased and transformed into its current use as the Broome Court House, which was placed on the Western Australian State Register of Heritage Places in 2001 as it is the only station that is still standing in Australia. The cable now connects at Onslow, Western Australia, Onslow on the
Western Australia Western Australia (abbreviated as WA) is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspape ...

Western Australia
n Coast.


Proposed film

In the 1930s Cinesound Productions announced plans to make a movie about the Telegraph but it never eventuated.


See also

* First transcontinental telegraph line across the western United States, completed in 1861 * History of telegraphy in Australia


References

;Citations ;Bibliography * ''Exploring the Stuart Highway : further than the eye can see''. West Beach, South Australia: Tourist Information Distributors Australia, 1997. ISSN 1326-6039


Further reading


Globalising Australia : Adelaide's role in the 19th century. Royal Geographical Society of South Australia, Exhibition Catalogue, 2016






* [http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/book.php?book=gktiw The Iron Wire: A novel of the Adelaide to Darwin Telegraph Line, 1871, by Garry Kilworth] * {{Coord, 25, 55, 37.77, S, 134, 58, 25.58, E, display=title, region:AU_type:city_source:GNS-enwiki History of Australia (1851–1900) History of South Australia Buildings and structures in Alice Springs History of the Northern Territory History of the telegraph History of telecommunications in Australia 1872 establishments in Australia Recipients of Engineers Australia engineering heritage markers