GROUNDBREAKING TECHNOLOGY: Telegraph boys, Brisbane, 1870. Armidale's own office opened in October 1861
As I indicated in my last column, the telegraph spread globally with quite remarkable speed. This was a case where technology directly coincided with an urgent unmet need for rapid communications.
The installation costs of the system on land were relatively low, facilitating rapid construction. Operating and maintenance costs were considerable, but these could be recovered from a marketplace eager for quick communication. The telegram was a classic example of a simple packaged high value product. Creation of undersea cables was expensive and more complex, but by then the demand was there to justify the costs and risks.
The first commercial telegraph system was installed on the Great Western Railway between
in 1837. On 1 May 1844, the first public telephone line between Baltimore and Birmingham
opened. In Washington DC ,
the first Australian line between Melbourne and Williamtown opened in March
All the Australian colonies rapidly built lines. In 1858,
Melbourne and were linked. In November 1861, the
newly constructed NSW and Adelaide
lines met at the border, linking all the Eastern colonies. Queensland
Demand grew rapidly. New lines had to be added, while relatively small centres were quickly connected.
New England, telegraph offices were opened simultaneously
on 1 October 1861 in Armidale, Glen Innes and Tenterfield as part of the
opening of the progressive opening of the Northern Line. In 1869, a line to
Port Macquarie was opened.
Older Armidalians will remember the telegram. It was so much part of or lives that is hard now to realise that our kids know nothing about it!
So, for the younger generation, telegrams were expensive. The cost of the telegram was based on the number or words, a sort of Twitter equivalent, so people kept their messages short.
The expense meant that, for the private person, telegrams were only sent on special occasions; marriages, deaths, anniversaries, congratulations and achievements,
I was in
hitchhiking when my Leaving
Certificate results came out. I went to the Hobart GPO to collect my mail, and
there were all the telegraphs and other messages congratulating me. I took them
back to the boarding house and read and reread the lot. I had no idea so many
people were interested. Hobart
The link of the telegram with special news made their arrival a matter of great concern. So often, and especially during the two wars, their arrival meant the death of a loved one. A telegram carried fear.
Standing on their doorsteps, people ripped the envelope open to find the worst. The short clipped words carried a message that would change their lives forever. Distressed, they would carry the message indoors, trying to wok out what had to be done, what to do next.
Telegraph traffic peaked in 1945. Now a new competitor, the telephone, had become well entrenched. I will look at this in my next column.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 17 June 2015. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015.