Cape Cleveland Telegraph

A little over 20 kms north east of Townsville across the calm waters of Cleveland Bay lies the the rugged, rocky promontory of Cape Cleveland. The increase in coastal shipping and the development of the Port of Townsville made this site an obvious choice for a lighthouse, which was opened on the 10thDecember 1879. A contemporary scribe recorded that:

‘In 1863 (sic 1860) a party in the Spitfire visited the Cape but had to retrace their steps owing to the hostility of the blacks. So that on the place where the Myall black sounded his war-whoop, or followed the trail of his game, a lighthouse now sheds its benignant light, to guide the mariner on his way’.1

We learn that freshwater was scarce on this barren rocky headland, and that firewood was non existant because the Cape was:

‘a rocky mass of granite, with not a stick of any description growing on it. The wood necessary for the use of the station is procured from the neighbouring hills by the blacks who pay occasional visits‘.

‘The residence of Mr Walker (chief lighthouse keeper) is an extra good house, contains four rooms with detached kitchen and covered way, and a large verandah around three sides of the house.’

Cape Cleveland Lighthouse from Australian Town and Country 14 August 1880

Cape Cleveland Lighthouse cottage plans 1878

The relative isolation of the Cape made communication a problem which was soon overcome by the laying of a subterranean telegraphic cable.

Telegraphic communication was the wonder of the age which reached Townsville in 1869, so that ‘Townsville is now placed in direct communication with the centres of population throughout Australia.’ 2 Once the lighthouse was built consideration was given to making the connection from Townsville and in January 1888 we learn that:

it is understood that the connection of Townsville and Cape Cleveland by telegraph has been for some time under consideration, but the Postmaster-General deferred action in the matter until he had had an opportunity of visiting the place. This having been afforded by the recent voyage of the Lucinda, Mr Wilson immediately on his return to Brisbane gave instructions for the establishment of telegraphic communication with Cape Cleveland. This will be done by means of a cable from Magnetic Island, and so soon as the necessary cable can be obtained from England the work will be carried out. ‘

The cable was later broken at some unspecified date, but in 1903:

Mr J Herketin (electrical engineer to the Post and Telegraph Department) has returned from Townsville, when he has been settling the route of telegraph line to the Cape Cleveland lighthouse. The lighthouse had been connected with a cable, which was some years ago broken, and a land line is now being substituted.

‘The route is by way of the Ayr tramway for some distance, and for the last ten miles is, over particularly rugged country, some of the hills in the neighbourhood reaching as high as 1800ft. These are being avoided as far as possible.4

The telegraph line left the Ayr tramway at the Clevedon halt, and followed the causeway all the way to the mountainous northern end of the Cape, where it swung to the west and followed the coast to the far end of White Rock Bay.  There it traversed the range and followed Long Beach until it hit high ground again at the northern end, then past Red Rock Bay and along the precipitous slopes all the way to the lighthouse.

Over the years the repairs made following storms and cyclones have caused the alignment to be altered slightly in places, and particularly when the line was upgraded to telephone in 1924. But in the 1960’s the fire break could easily be traced from aerial reconnaissance photographs.

For much of this route the track still exists and in the northern section many of the old telegraph poles can be found, some standing and some on the ground having succumbed to time and the elements. Below is a gallery of images from the track:

Australian Town and Country Journal 14 August 1880 p. 27
2 Queenslander 20 March 1869 p. 5
3 Telegraph (Brisbane) 13 January 1888 p.
4 Brisbane Courier 16 June 1903 p. 4