Telegraphenleitungen von Nord nach Süd, von West nach Ost

The Singing Line


The Singing LinezoomIt took a decade soaking in the Australian sun before Todd was ready to stake all his winnings on one turn of pitch and toss. By 1865, Todd’s tentative dream of stringing together the continent by building the world’s longest telegraph line from Adelaide to Darwin was becoming an obsession. He wanted to take 400 men and 40.000 poles trough the centre of the continent, across an empty land, where a crowbar left in the sun for more than a couple of moments became too hot to handle.
By now Charles had established himself as an inspired astronomer, adequate weather forecaster and the most dedicated telegrapg expert in Australia. His salary has increased, and the Todds’ position in Adelaide society seemed secure. But he was about to risk it all. If Charles got the go-ahead for his trans-Australian project, it would be only the start of his problems. Should he fail, it would mean the end of his public service career, and he would jeopardise the lives of scores of men. … But Ausralia was thirsty for news. By the mid-nineteenth century, when Alice and Charles set off across the globe, the world was slowly being threaded together. .. Only Australia was not deemed worthy of a direct link with the motherland. Letters, messages, bills and government instructions all had to come by boat via Ceylon or round the Cape of Good Hope. A regular mail service wasn’t started until 1852, and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 barely improved matters. … This five-month timelag condemned the colonies at the end of the world to a second-class existence. The new Australians … had to read five-month-old newspapers. … Adelaide went into a frenzy of letter writing in the days before the monthly boat departed. … The new continent was desperate for a cultural, personal, and economic link with the world, and Charles wanted to be the one who provided it.

For the first few years after Todd arrived in 1855, he had been reluctant to admit his plans to anyone except Alice. After all, no one had yet managed to cross Australia, let alone string a wire from north to south. Some cartographers were still convinced that Australia’s core was covered by an inland sea, other experts speculated that it was controlled by tribes of black warriors. … Then John McDouall Stuart, an estate agent who had made his name scouting for pastoral land, crossed Australia from south to north for the first time on 24 July 1862, seven years after Charles had arrived. Stuart and his small band of men returned to a public holiday in Adelaide and the South Australian government have him a reward of ₤2,000. But the trip had crippled him. His hair had turned white, he was nearly blind from the sun and he had suffered badly from scurvy.

The colonies had to wait another two years before anyone thought of their plight again. Then, in 1869, the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, which had laid the line to India, decided to try srteching it to Australia. Captain Sherard Osborne, the managing director, favoured a Queensland route. … But the new Governor of South Australia, Sir James Fergusson, didn’t want a British-Australian link that bypassed his colony.

The Osbornes were in no hurry. They were happy to play the two colonies off. On 4 June 1870, Francis (Osborne) wrote to the South Australian government: “I am now in a position to state that the cable will be landed at Port Darwin, if the South Australian Government will pledge itselves to have a land-line open for traffic by 1st January, 1872.” But he was still in negotiations with Queensland, telling them that the company would guarantee five percent of the cost of the additional cable… The South Asutralian government passed the relevant bill with a large majority. … Todd was told to press ahead. By now he had also been made Postmaster-General, in charge of all tre mail in South Australia, so he had his work cut out. The continent hadn’t been crossed since Stuart’s expedition seven years before, but Adelaide soon rallied to the cause. The Chief of Police was asked to choose the sturdiest horses, and held a competition to see how much sand they could drag up a dry riverbed. Charles ordered a hundred Afghan camels with their drivers from Egypt. … The line would consist of a single strand No. 8 gauge galvanised iron wire purchased from Johnson and Nephew in Manchester. They would also need insulators from Germany, and British batteries and relays. In ten weeks, one company in Port Adelaide made 30,000 insulator pins from ironbark. The bakers worked round the clock to produce hard-tack Buscuits. And a farmer from Booyoolee Station invented a way of preserving beef chunks in gravey which they canned.
Todd soldiered on. The company kept playing off the colonies against each other until Adelaide promised that if it went over the eighteen-month deadline it would start paying penalties - ₤70 for every day’s delay. The contract was signed in June 1870, the line had to be open on 1 January 1872. The town of only 184,000 would be ruined if anything went wrong.

The southern section started poling at Port Augusta on the Spencer Gulf. It was expected to meet the central section near Oodnadatta. The northern teams would meet the central section near latitude 18. … Edward Meade Bagot won the conract for the southern section. … His incentive was the ₤41 he would receive per mile of line. The men set up a camp at Stirling, five miles from Port Augusta, and on Saturday, 1 October 1870, they planted their first pole, celebrating with a glass of beer.
The teams all worked in the same way. On arriving at their starting point, the overseer would ascertain the latitude and then fix the first camp some ten miles down the line and as near as possible to feeding ground and timber. The men were expected to start felling trees and planting poles imemdiately, while the overseer went ahead to determine a rough track to the next working party. Whatever the terrain, a path fifteen feet wide needed to be cleared for the line. All scrub, undergrowth and overhanging trees had to be cut down. … Success hung on the poles. … The men had to find twenty poles for each mile, and dig to four feet to secure each one. A hole had to be bored vertically into the top and the insulator pin inserted. … Finally the poles would be hauled into place and a team would thread the wire.

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