The telegraph network was the first internet, enabling a step change in the speed of communication and the spread of news.
The telegraph was seen by the British as something to hold the empire together, especially as after the 1857 conflict in India.
During the conflict the telegraph came into its own relaying military information much as it did during the American civil war, but it’s clear from reading the histories of the conflict that the local British command was very much on their own. No one in Britain really knew what was happening as reports had to travel by ship to the nearest terminus to be telegraphed on, and the nearest terminus was Suez, so even though the telegraph networks built in India were used by the British to their advantage they were still disconnected from the government in London.
Any news was at least two or three weeks old by the time it got to London.
The obvious thing would be to build a link – but interestingly, as this newspaper report from the Hobart Mercury in 1863 shows the building of a link was neither particularly rapid or problem free.
From and Australian point of view the timing is interesting – the route across Australia had been surveyed and already the Netherlands was building a link from Jakarta (then known as Batavia) to Singapore. It’s clear that from the article that the building of the link to India was seen as important to Australia’s integration into the modern world.
Australia was still dependent on surface mail until the early 1870’s and even then everything more than the headlines would still have come via sea. When you look at the newspapers of the time and the information sent by ‘electric telegraph’ a lot of it is commercial information – wheat and wool prices in London and New York for example – information that crucial to trade.
So as well as quickening the spread of news the telegraph had a role in increasing the pace of business and in tying Australia into the global economy …