Fremantle Stuff > Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society

Early Days: Volume 1, 1927-1931

The telegraph in W.A.

Horace Stirling

Stirling, Horace 1928, 'The telegraph in W.A.', Early Days, vol. 1, part 2: 30-33.

[Mr. Horace Stirling had arranged to read a paper on the above subject, but his lamented death in Adelaide presented this. From notes left by his father, however, Mr. K. H. Stirling compiled and read a paper, from which the following is selected.]

(Read before the Society, July 29, 1927)


It was in the year 1869 that Edmund Stirling and Alexander Cumming perfected the dream of their lives by establishing telegraphic communication between Perth and Fremantle. The first post of the enterprise was planted on February 9th. of that year on the eastern side of the roadway leading to William-street jetty, the ceremony being performed by Colonial Secretary F. P. Barlee. The work was completed on June 21st, 1869, and precisely at 3 p.m. the first telegram was transmitted from a room in the Town Hall which is now used as a ladies’ toilet department. The message was as follows:

“To the Chairman of the Fremantle Town Trust: His Excellency Col. Bruce heartily congratulates the inhabitants of Fremantle on the annihilation of distance between the Port and the Capital, and he requests that this the first message may be publicly known.—Government House, June 21. 1869.”

The first operator at Perth was James Coats Fleming. The first operator at Fremantle, with an office in an old shed at the back of Kett’s woodyard in High-street, was William Holman, a young sailor from the barque “Zephyr,” one of the London wool clippers. The wire insulators and battery were indented to Mr. Edmund Stirling’s order by Alexander Cumming, a Perth auctioneer from Melbourne. The poles were purchased from Mr. Benjamin Mason, the pioneer of our timber industry, and were erected by free and convict labour.

The public viewred the enterprise as Utopian, many of the leading citizens contending that it was the height of absurdity to expect business people to entrust their trade and banking secrets to telegraphic operators, and that a mail each day between Perth and Fremantle was ample for all their requirements. In fact, so little interest was taken concerning the first step towards the establishment of the telegraph in the Colony that only seven persons were present when the first post was erected, viz., Messrs. F. P. Barlee, Edmund Stirling, Richard Roach Jewell, James Coates Fleming, Alexander Cumming, Horace Stirling and Edward William Snook.


After Mr. Barlee had well and truly planted the pole, the little gathering adjourned to the United Service Hotel, where they were entertained by the promoter of the undertaking over a glass of wine. The old hostelry was then controlled by Stephen James Chipper, the father of the late Donald, and of Steve, the W.A.T.C. starter. The first three telegraph cadets were Horace Stirling, Edward T. Semple and Edward Snook. My father remained in the service for several years, during which time he opened many of the stations in all portions of the State, including those between Albany and Eucla. Of the seven persons who watched the planting of the telegraph post only Edward Snook survives.

Owing to J. C. Fleming’s indomitable energy and perseverance, the extension of the telegraph system throughout the length and breadth of the Colony made phenomenal strides and before his death (which, by a remarkable coincidence, occurred on June 21, 1885, the sixteenth anniversary of the day he transmitted the first telegram between Perth and Fremantle) not only were all the towns from Roebourne in the far North-West to Albany in the south-west within our telegraphic circuit, but communication with the outside world had been established by means of the Eucla line, of which he was the head and front.

The surveyor in charge of the construction of the line between Albany and Eucla was Charles Denrick Price, now of La Grange Bay. The Government overseer was Jonathan Parish, and the contractors James Flindell and John Elsegood. The operators for opening the stations en route were my father and Thomas Ralston.

After the Perth-Fremantle line had got into working order and within a few months of its paying its way, the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph Company was formed, with Major Crampton, the Superintendent of Police, at its head, and Captain Alfred J. Hillman as its secretary. This company bought out the interest of Mr. Edmund Stirling (my grandfather) and Mr. Cumming in the Perth-Fremantle line and commenced the extension of the service to the Eastern Districts. The company’s first post was planted by its chairman (Major Crampton) just opposite the main entrance to Stirling Square near St. George’s Cathedral in the year 1871. The other shareholders were Messrs. Edmund Birch, Benjamin


Mason, Alexander Cumming, Edmund Stirling and George Glyde.

The first telegraph post at York was erected on March 14, 1872, and at Northam on March 18, 1872.

In October of the same year proposals were made by the Government and accepted by the Magnetic Telegraph Company for the purchase of the whole of its telegraph lines. Consequently tenders were immediately issued for the extension of the service, with the result that the line was opened between Perth and Albany on December 20, 1872.

The operator who opened the stations between Perth and Albany was my uncle, Mr. J. Stirling, ex-postmaster of Fremantle, who survives and is at present living at Gooseberry Hill, that officer having also occupied the same position on the line between Newcastle and Geraldton. One of the earliest operators in charge of the Albany office was Mr. Edward Hume Innes, now residing in Victoria. On December 8, 1877, the Eucla line was completed.

Telegraph Pioneers

In 1876 Mr. Farrant arrived in Adelaide from London after service as a telegraph operator in Persia. Soon after Mr. Farrant’s arrival in Australia he was selected by Sir Charles Todd, the head of the telegraph system in South Australia, who acted as the representatative there of the Postal Telegraph Department of Western Australia, to take charge of the Esperance station. Mr. Farrant remained at Esperance until 1882, when he was promoted manager of Eucla station. Later he was appointed Inspector of Lines and resided at Albany for several years.

Mr. Fleming, the first operator, who was later appointed Inspector of Telegraphs, was formerly on the staff of “The Inquirer" and was the headmaster of the William-street Academy, at which a large number of Perth boys were schooled, in the Congregational Church building which stood upon the site now occupied by Viking House (E.S. & A. Bank Chambers).

Mr. Jonathan Parish was the inspector of material during the construction of the Albany-Eucla telegraph line during the years 1875-78. He was a man of gladiatorial proportions, and his great physical strength served him in good stead in carrying out his arduous work.


When telegraphic communication had been established between Albany and Eucla Mr. Parish engaged in business at Albany as a livery stable keeper. He was an enthusiastic gardener and secured many trophies for his flowers and vegetables at the local shows.

The telegraph station at Esperance was opened by my father, the late Mr. Horace Stirling, in November, 1876. The late Mr. Charles Edward Dempster sent the first telegram from Esperance to his sister, Mrs. T. C. Gull, of Guildford.

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