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Diary of W.A. Crowder of the Overland Telegraph Line
Title : Diary of W.A. Crowder of the Overland Telegraph Line Diary of W.A. Crowder of the Overland Telegraph Line View More Images



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Creator : Crowder, William Alfred, 1854-1891
Source : D 8065/1 (L)
Date of creation : 1871-1872
Format : Manuscript
Contributor : State Library catalogue
Catalogue record
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Description :

Diary of W.A. Crowder, member of the Overland Telegraph Line construction party, in original canvas bag, with inserts of Roper River Aboriginal words, verse, telegram, card, flying fish wing and hakea leaves, carved 'swagger stick' and telescope. A transcript of the diary is included with the group.

The diary of seventeen-year-old construction worker, W.A. Crowder (1854-1891), offers a first hand account of the second attempt to cover the difficult Roper River stretch. The first Overland Telegraph Line (OTL) attempt had ended in disaster eight months earlier, in an appalling mix of torrential rain, impenetrable terrain, relentless mosquitoes and a shortage of supplies.

Crowder's diary begins as he sails in the Bengal (ship) to the Roper River, with an entry for 21 November 1871. He records in detail the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line in the River Roper section. The Bengal was crammed with extra men, bullocks and horses for the final push to pole and wire the 500-kilometre gap north of the river to Port Darwin during the monsoon period. This is a first-hand account of the harsh environment, supply problems, survival issues and the stresses of completing the task on time.

"we only got up one reach, before a squall sprung up and the wind changed, we got wet through, and had to turn back." pp. 18-19

Crowder kept his diary in a small canvas pouch to protect it from the weather. As conditions become more difficult, his writing becomes looser and some of the text is written in pencil. Even while busy, he still found time to collect a list of words used by the Indigenous people of Roper River, along with samples of hakea leaves and flying fish wings. Crowder's diary is filled with references to air thick with mosquitoes, to rising rivers and seas of mud. He also includes an entry for Christmas Day 25th December, 1871 (see 'view more images' above) and mentions the difficult work conditions, as well as the mosquitoes.

"(Christmas) Dinner at 5 o'clock pm. It was got up first class great credit to the steward, we had roast duck, and preserved green peas which went down with great relish, the Christmas pudding and blanche rouges were also first class"p. 19 (See 'view more images' above).

At work on the line after the wet season had ended, Crowder detailed further difficulties: 'wattle scrub which is beastly stuff to run a line through' and stumps awfully bad. After the Overland Telegraph line had been completed, Crowder and many of his fellow workers returned to Adelaide to take part in a series of celebrations, including a procession through the city and a banquet at the Town Hall.

Related names :

Bengal (ship)

Crowder, W.A.

Todd, Charles

Coverage year : 1871
Period : 1852-1883
Place : Roper River, Northern Territory
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

National treasures from Australia's great libraries, Canberra : National Library of Australia, 2005, pp. 96-97

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

Internet links :

Australian Dictionary of Biography Online, See: Patterson, Robert Charles (1844-1907); Todd, Sir Charles (1826-1910)

Centenary of Federation - Connecting the Continent

National Treasures from Australia's Great Libraries, See: Industry & innovation: W.A. Crowder's diary



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