State Library of South Australia logoThe Foundation of South Australia 1852 - 1883
SA Memory. South Australia past and present, for the future


  • 22 January: City Market officially opened in Grote Street, Adelaide.
  • September: Construction begins on the Overland Telegraph Line, which will connect Adelaide with London. The Line is built and paid for by South Australia, with Charles Todd overseeing the project.

For more information see The Foundation of South Australia: 1852-1883, Key events and issues.

Overland Telegraph construction party
Title : Overland Telegraph construction party Overland Telegraph construction party
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Creator : Sweet, Samuel White, photographer
Date of creation : 1872
Format : Photograph
Dimensions : 150 x 204 mm
Contributor : State Library catalogue
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Description :

Overland Telegraph Construction party. L-R John A.G. Little, R.C. Patterson, Charles Todd and A.J. Mitchell.

One of the greatest engineering feats of nineteenth century Australia, the Overland Telegraph Line made communication possible between Australia and the rest of the world. The telegraph line generally followed explorer John McDouall Stuart's 1862 route through the centre of the continent. This had been enabled by following indigenous tracks that linked water sites. However Stuart did not make a thorough survey of these lands so much of the country remained relatively unknown.

In 1870 the South Australian Government authorized construction of the 3200 kilometre line from Adelaide to Darwin (Adelaide to Port Augusta was already completed). At the same time the British-Australian Telegraph Company undertook to lay undersea cable from Java to Darwin. Charles Todd, South Australian Superintendent of Telegraphs, managed the huge project, which was divided into three geographical parts. The northern and southern sections were in the hands of private contractors, and the central section was to be built by the government.

Steady progress was made in the northern section until November 1870 when the incoming wet season created extreme conditions. Torrential rain brought disease and ruined food supplies. Workers went on strike and the contract was cancelled. Under pressure to complete the project the South Australian Government had to take over construction. In July 1871 Robert Patterson was placed in charge and in January 1872, Charles Todd arrived at Roper River. The rains had eased by April and the lines were finally completed on 22 August 1872.

Period : 1852-1883
Region : Northern Territory
Further reading :

Clune, Frank Overland telegraph: the story of a great Australian achievement and the link between Adelaide and Port Darwin, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1955

Taylor, Peter An end to silence: the building of the Overland Telegraph Line from Adelaide to Darwin, Sydney: Methuen Australia, 1980

Thomson, Alice The singing line, London: Chatto & Windus, 1999

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