Home' Stuart Highway Guidebook : Stuart Highway Contents By mid March Overseer McMinn warned the contractors that progress
On his next visit he found work at a standstill from lack of
supplies. Although replenishment depended on good weather, which
would soon begin, McMinn panicked, cancelled the contract and
declared the work would be completed by government contractors. He
sailed for Adelaide in the supply ship Gulnare, his actions putting the
whole line project in jeopardy.
Thus it was that the best weather of 1871 passed without any more
poles being erected on the northern section. Todd joined in frantic
consultations in Adelaide. Robert Patterson, Resident Engineer of
Railways was appointed to lead the new government team.
An additional 200 men, 170 horses, 500 bullocks with more plant
and equipment arrived by ships in September and early October. They
should have gone to the Roper River, close to the work site, but politics
dictated landing at Darwin to increase prosperity there. Land had been
subdivided for sale. It was hoped land sales would help finance the
Overland Telegraph Line.
To add to Patterson’s frustrations, unloading work was delayed by a
mutiny on the Himalaya. The country was bare of feed after the long
dry season and there was a shortage of water. Many of the bullocks
were landed in a very weak state and died soon afterwards.
Patterson divided the work into four sections with three working
parties completing the most northerly sections leaving an option for the
last section to be carried by pony express, if necessary. Work progressed
slowly because of the effort in locating water.
The beginning of November, with time running out and the wet
season fast approaching, Patterson sent word via the Queensland
telegraph line, for more reinforcements. He was most despondent and
noted in his diary “flies and mosquitoes are unbearable. I am utterly
weary of the whole thing. Can see nothing but blackness and suffering
Meanwhile, lying in harbour at Port Darwin Bay were the
company ships Edinborough, Hibernia and Investigator. The shore
cable was landed on 18th November 1871. The following day Australia
was linked to the international connection and was in touch with the
rest of the world.
Darwin received the first memorable message. “Advance Australia!”
Captain Halpin of the Cable Fleet sent to Captain Douglas the
Governor’s Resident. “I have the honour to announce to you in the name
of the Telegraphic Construction and Maintenance Company, that we
yesterday completed perfect submarine cable communication with Java, the
Mother Country and the Western World. May it long speak words of
By now the southern and Central Sections were substantially
advanced and well on the way to completion. But panic and chaos
reigned in the north. Penalties of £70 per day were looming. The
northern section was far from finished.
“A wet season of remarkable intensity was upon them.” Todd said
soon after. “ Very severe stock losses were sustained.” Over twenty inches of
rain fell in December.
To add to their troubles, the Queensland Superintendent of
Telegraphs had struck out publicly and published letters in several of
the other colonies’ newspapers. He poured scorn on the impractical
route of the telegraph line and urged that it be abandoned.
On the day the contract expired, there were still over 300 miles to
be completed. By the end of January, Todd was at the Roper River
bringing good cheer and confidence as well as more manpower, horses,
bullocks and equipment.
It was April before construction on the northern line could be
resumed. Meanwhile, the Central parties continued poling northwards.
On the 22nd May, Todd sent the first trans - Australian telegram
from Darwin to the temporary station on the Elsey. Knuckey then
rode with it across the long gap to Tennant Creek where it was
telegraphed to Adelaide. It was received nine days after it was sent.
By June the northern section had reached Daly Waters. A pony
express was organised to carry messages over the now rapidly
diminishing gap in the line of 260 miles. Then the cable failed
between Java and Port Darwin. There was no more talk
Finally on the 22nd of August the two ends met near Frew’s
Ponds. It was joined by Patterson. He said “Adelaide was in
communicaton with Darwin. It would have been with England, had the
cable not broken down.”
Todd, returning overland to Adelaide was at Central Mount
Stuart. By evening he was inundated on his portable relay set with
congratulatory messages from governments, foreign consuls and well
wishers from all over the Colony. It was a bitterly cold night and an
exuberant Todd called for hearty cheers from his companions, He said
“No line passing through a similar extent of uninhabited country, where
the materials had to be carted over such long distances, no line of equal
length and presenting similar obstacles has been constructed in the same
short space of time.”
In Adelaide, the town hall bells were rung, flag poles decked with
bunting adorned the GPO and the clerks were given a holiday for the
afternoon. “ This great work, the greatest ever accomplished in the
Australias is now complete and we have received the first message right
through from Palmerston to Adelaide.” reported the Adelaide Advertiser
on 23rd August 1872.
There were eleven telegraph repeater stations set up along the line
to boost the morse code signal as it faded over distance. They were
located at Beltana, Strangeways Springs, The Peake, Charlotte Waters,
Alice Springs, Barrow Creek, Tennant Creek, Powell Creek, Daly
Waters and Yam Creek. They were staffed by a stationmaster, up to
four operators and a linesman to repair line faults.
It was two months before the cable was repaired. On 22nd
October 1872, the first of many messages between Australia and
London traversed the lines.
In the first year of operation there was a bumper wheat harvest.
Being in touch with world markets greatly benefited the community.
Undoubtedly the Overland Telegraph Line with its road/stock
route wending North and the telegraph repeater stations, greatly
facilitated settlement of Central Australia and the Northern Territory.
In later years the news of the sinking of the Titanic and the start
of the Boer War was relayed through the Overland Telegraph line.
Alice Springs Telegraph Station
pp 73-128 8/8/05 9:25 AM Page 95
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