National Library of Australia

W.A. Crowder’s diary: the Overland Telegraph Line

W.A. Crowder (1854–1891)Diary, 1871–1872

manuscript with collected specimens of flying fish wings and hakea leaves, in canvas bag; 20.0 x 12.5cm

South Australiana Collections, State Library of South Australia
Diary, 1871–1872

The Overland Telegraph Line (OTL) was a single 3200-kilometre strand of galvanised wire spanning Darwin to Port Augusta. It linked all the colonies (except Western Australia) with each other, and Australia with the rest of the world.

The OTL was the greatest engineering feat of 19th-century Australia. It crossed almost impenetrable, unexplored land that just a decade before had claimed the lives of explorers Burke and Wills. Messages that had once taken three months to reach London now took less than a day.

The diary of 17-year-old construction worker, W.A. Crowder (1854–1891), begins on 21 November 1871 and offers his account of the second attempt to cover the difficult Roper River stretch.

The first attempt had ended in disaster eight months earlier. Now the men struggled against monsoons and the threat of heavy financial penalties.

Crowder’s diary, kept in a canvas pouch, begins neatly, but deteriorates because of the difficult environment. Although busy, he still found time to collect a list of words used by the Indigenous people, along with samples of hakea leaves and flying fish wings.

Upon project completion, Crowder returned to Adelaide for a series of celebrations.

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