This ‘TELEGRAM, IMMEDIATE’ cover was postmarked CUMNOCK/ AP 4/1878/ N.S.W. and was addressed to A.E. Anderson, C/o G(eorge) or his son S(age) Bruce, Loombah (N.S.W.) The CHARGES TO PAY ‘Message’ and ‘Porterage’ were not filled in. There was a ms. ‘N.M.’ at top left, the meaning of which is uncertain (Figure 1).
The reverse had a blue oval on the flap, with the print ‘NEW SOUTH WALES/ ELECTRIC TELEGRAPH’ (Figure 2).
An example of a mint On Her Majesty’s Service from the Post and Telegraph Department, Queensland dated in the 1890s is shown in Figure 3.
The reverse shows the insignia found on the flap which is embossed white on orange ‘POST & TELEGRAPH DEPARTMENT /QUEENSLAND’ with a crown and medallion in the centre (Figure 4).
A TELEGRAPHIC DESPATCH cover has a lion, shield and unicorn interspersed in the title, a purple ‘NINE PENCE’ South Australian stamp postmarked with a G.P.O. ADELAIDE/ K/ AP20/ 76/ S.A postmark, two ms. ‘per S.S. China’ as well as ‘via Brindisi’, and a large red oval handstamp of ‘ALL CHARGES/ ARE PAID’, with a printed ‘[IMMEDIATE]’ below. The cover is addressed to Mr. Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street, National Bank, London (crossed out). There is, above the stamp, a ms. ‘Wga Wga’, which is later explained by the telegraphic message (Figure 5).
This telegram was surprisingly sent from Wagga Wagga, N.S.W., presumably relayed though the Adelaide Station, South Australia to London.
The telegraph was developed more-or-less simultaneously in Britain and the USA. The first patent of the electric telegraph dates back to 1837, but the more general adoption of the telegraphic system did not occur until after Samuel Morse’s successful trial in May 1844, when he sent a message from Baltimore to Washington. The telegraph became enormously popular and rapidly spread in the USA.
Samuel McGowan brought telegraphic technology to Australia in 1853, and telecommunications in Australia began in 1854 with a telegraph line from Melbourne to Williamstown, Victoria which was publicly funded but privately constructed (as was South Australia's first line in 1856 from Port Adelaide to Adelaide). By 1856 the length of telegraphic line in Victoria had grown to 36 miles, with a total of 14,738 messages, increasing to 35,792 messages in 1857. During that year Victoria, N.S.W. and South Australia agreed to collaborate on establishment of an intercolonial telegraph network. That agreement was the precursor of a series of agreements about infrastructure and rates. Messages going across colonial borders initially involved paper, with operators in one colony often transcribing a message which was then physically handed to a counterpart in the second colony for transmission over that colony’s wire.
Adelaide and Melbourne were linked in 1858, the year in which the first N.S.W. line was activated. A Sydney-Melbourne link was in place by November 1858. The first line in Queensland was activated in April 1861, with a connection to Sydney in November of that year. The first line between Launceston and Hobart dates from 1857, with a (short-lived) cable from Victoria to Tasmania in 1859. The first line in Western Australia - from Perth to Fremantle - came a decade later. By 1890 WA had 2,961 miles of telegraph line, and that increased to 6,052 miles of line by 1901.
As of 1861 there were 110 telegraph stations across the eastern Australian colonies. By 1867 there were 1,676 miles of line within Victoria, handling 122,138 messages (compared to ca. 7.92 million in the US and 5.78 million in the UK, that year). Reuters in competition with local news agencies, operated in Australia from 1860 onwards, and the cost per word for a message from London was at that time equivalent to the average weekly wage. A link between Adelaide and Perth was established in 1875, with the 2,900 kilometre Adelaide-to-Port Darwin link (the Overland Telegraph Line or OTL) in 1872, which costed £300,000.
The first Australia to New Zealand telegraph link was achieved in 1876. Ten years later there were over 8,000 miles of line in Queensland alone. Brisbane was linked to New Caledonia in 1891.
George Bruce (the sender of the first cover) was a famous sheep breeder, and his work with sheep breeding was carried on after his death in 1908 by his 2 sons, Sage and Robert. The Bruce family history is recorded at this website under the categories: Business, Family History and Postmarks.
Addendum (9 June 2009): Another Telegraphic item be came available and the blue printed cover was On Her Majesty’s Service, To Telegraph Manager, Melbourne and was postmarked with a blue Postmaster-General of Victoria, Frank Stamp (Figure 6).
There was a Receipt for Foreign Telegram – To be Signed and Posted, Free with a Telegraph Branch ‘Belt and Buckle’ dated Melbourne 18 2 1888 Received from Electric Telegraph Office Foreign Telegram No. 606 From Berlin Signature of Addressee [not filled in] (Figure 7).
Addendum (July 2009): An early (3/8/1900) Tasmanian telegram postmarked BOTHWELL/ AU 3/ 00 was sent from Campbell Town, and the 10 words cost one shilling (Figure 8).