Communications technology found an early home in William Street above Queen’s Wharf. The first telegraph messages in Queensland involved an exchange of telegrams on 13 April 1861 from temporary offices on the upper storey of the Commissariat Stores.
While test messages had been sent and received successfully the previous Thursday and Friday, the office was opened to the public for the first time on Saturday 13 April 1861. The first telegram was sent by John Bramston, clerk to the Executive Council in Brisbane, to the Police Magistrate of Ipswich, Colonel Gray. It read ‘The Governor in Council congratulates the people of Ipswich on the establishment of telegraphic communications’.
The government’s first Central Telegraph Office, under the authority of the General Superintendent JJ Austin, was based in what had been the United Evangelical Church building in William Street. It had been purchased earlier in 1861 to provide a premises for the the Telegraph Office though bad weather had delayed its alteration for telegraphic purposes.
Members of the public were eager to use the new telegraph office. Twenty-one other telegrams were sent on 13 April 1861 at a cost of 2 shillings for the first 10 words and 2 pence for each additional word. The telegraph line was extended seven months later to meet a line from Sydney at the Queensland-New South Wales border. By 1872 residents in Brisbane and Bowen were connected to the rest of the world through the Overland Telegraph line.
How did it work? Samuel Morse made it seem so simple with his code in 1837. All the system needed was a key, a battery, wire and a line of poles between stations for the wire and a receiver. In telegraphy, long and short pulses are translated into electrical signals by an operator using a telegraph key. A skilled operator at the receiving instrument ‘copies’ these electrical signals as letters, numbers or punctuation. The receiving instrument is called a ‘sounder’. A sounder is a simple transducer which converts the electrical pulses into audible clicking sounds which are ‘copied’ by a highly trained telegrapher.
By the time the Brisbane electric telegraph was established, the introduction of electro-magnets had improved the electrical output to the extent that repeating stations were not needed between Brisbane and Sydney.
Moreton Bay Courier, 13 May 1861.