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THE OVERLAND TELEGRAPH.
The .Northern Territory section.
The most important item m the months news is that relating to the unfortunate break-up of the parties employed in the con struction of the Northern Territory sections
or the Uverland xeiegrapn. it will oe re membered that Messrs. Darwent & Dalwood last year entered into a contract with the Government to erect 500 miles of the line extending from Port Darwin southward. The first information to hand respecting the work represented that it was being diligently prosecuted, and that 90 miles of poles had been erected. The next, bronght by the last mail from Galle, stated that about 120 miles had been completed, and about 90 miles more poled. The latest, brought to Port Adelaide by the Gulnare on July 8, was to the effect that the contract had been annulled by Mr. 'William McMinn, the Government Overseer, on the ground that it was not being properly proceeded with. This is the first serious miscarriage that has befallen Mr. Todd's well-organized schemes. Wherever the chief blame of this unfortunate occurrence may rest', the fact remains that the party is com pletely broken up, the Gulnare bringing back to Adelaide most of the men who should be actively at work pushing the line forward, and it is clear that a heavy respon sibility rests with some one. One lot of men under Mr. Burton, Mr. McMinn's second in command, is still in the Territory, attending to minor matters in connection with the undertaking, but comparatively little progress is being made with the under* taking itself. There are many questions connected with the break-up of the Northern Territory Telegraph construction party which will no doubt become subjects for close investigation, and we have no wish to anticipate the verdict which may be given when the facts come to be thoroughly sifted. Mr. McMinn had unrestricted authority to act for the Government in all matters appertaining to the contract, and he has carried his powers to their utmost limit. The cancelling of the contract, although con templated as a remote contingency, was certainly never calculated upon as a thing likely to occur. Had it been thought even probable, common prudence would have dictated to the Government the necessity for a more minute supervision of the under taking than the contract provided for. They would not only have sent up officers to see that the work was carried out according to specification, but would have insisted upon being made acquainted with the contractors' plan of operations and the means proposed for carrying it into effect. Knowing as they did that a hitch such as has now happened would be fatal to the prospect of getting the telegraph com pleted before the end of the year, they would have watched step by step the pre parations made, and interposed had they seen reason to question their adequacy. People whose sagacity i3 always keenest after the event will blame them for not having done this; but seeing that they had to deal with well-known contractors whose sureties were understood to be unexception able, and seeing also the many evils likely to arise from a divided responsibility inrfegard to the details of construction, we cannot altogether endorse this view. Having resolved not to do the work themselves, the Government were compelled to leave much to the discretion of the contractors approved by them. But the very fact that so much confi dence was placed in Messrs. Darweat & Dal wood renders it all the more needful that Mr. McMinn should explain the preciss reasons for the extreme course he has thought proper to take. The public can fairly demand to know more about the annulment of the contract than that it was caused by the 'inefficient means' at the disposal of Messrs. Darwent & Dalwood, and the absence of all 'prospect of adequate rein forcements in order to its fulfilment within the specified period.' Before r they can forma correct judgment on the jnerite, they must not only Save a farther
statement from Mr. McMinn, but also one from Mr. Paqualin. The former has already been promised, and may probably be forth coming in time for the present mail. The latter may not be forthcoming until the proceedings at law, which it is said have been initiated for the recovery of the con tract money, have reached a more advanced stage. In the meanwhile Messrs. Darwent and Dalwood have, in a letter published below, in effect asked the public to suspend their decision for the present. The following is Mr. McMinn's official report upon the affairs of the Telegraph:— To the Superintendantof Telegraphs. Adelaide, July 8, 1871. Sir — I have the honour to report that in consequence of the inability of Messrs. Darwent and Dalwood to proceed with their contract for the construction of the Overland Telegraph from Port Darwin beyond the 3rd of May on account of inefficient means, and with no prospect of the arrival of adequate reinforce ments in order to fulfil the contract by the stipulated period, I declared the contract void on that date, and immediately took possession of the works, and the plant, stock, &c, belong ing to the contractor, in pursuance of the clauses contained ? in specifications authorizing such, action. The amount of work complete in all respects is 129 miles, in addition to which 96 miles of poles are erected, and the necessary clearing effected, or a total distance of 225 miles from Port Darwin. In consequence of this action I have thought it advisable to return to Adelaide personally, in order to properly re present the case, and with the view of obtaining the necessary supplies to enable the work being carried out on behalf of the Government, the latter being in my opinion the only means of this being satisfactorily accomplished. Out of the contractors' party 52 have returned per Gulnare, including three of their officers. Of this number .37 have been provided by me with passages, the contractors failing to make other arrangements on their behalf. The very limited means at my command for carrying on the work pre vented the profitable employment of a large party. I therefore considered it unadvisable to retain the latter, especially as they all showed a decided reluctance to remain at the Northern Territory. Many are m -ad. health, and a large . proportion are unsuitable for work of the nature required, and would be valueless as members of the party. I have engaged 27 of the contractors' hands, including Mr. Stephen King, jun., as Surveyor, which, added to the nomberofmy original party (with the exception of G. P. Deane, who has returned with me), and two of the members of the Port Darwin establishment since engaged, give a total of 36 in the party remaining at Port Darwin under the supervision of Mr. Burton. Until the arrival of reinforce ments or further arrangements are made by Government, the party will be employed in the fijring of the wire towards the present terminus of the work, in effecting the clearing of the line to an extra width to that provided in the specification where it traverses high timber by which it is endangered, in sinking wells through the dry country betwixt the Catherine and Roper Rivers (very favourable country in other respects for the construction of the line), in the work of transport by land and water, and other works of a useful charac ter which are considered necessary. The limited means at our disposal will prevent anything further being attempted. -Tao full transport power possible to be exercised at present, which includes my original stock, is nine bullock and horse teams, the very low condi tion of most of the horses transferred from the contractors to Government rendering them unfit for work for some months, whilst many are too aged and weak ever to be utilized. On SOth March, not having received any further orders from Adelaide later than the date of my leaving relative to meeting Mr. Ross, and until which date I had deferred the trip in anticipation of the arrival of the vessel expected with material, I complied with my original instruc tions, and proceeded to the Roper, where I arrived on April 4, and remained till the 11th, the exigencies of the work at that time demand ing my return without further delay. I did not, as I had expected, meet Mr. Ross, nor were any traces of his party discovered. 'Within a short distance of the position fixed for the rendezvous on the south bank of the river I erected a conspicuous mark on the point of a high range, which is easily distinguishable for several miles surroundiner, and cannot be overlooked by a party arriving from the south ward. Near this point I had the provisions in tended for Mr. Ross's party buried, and which I had previously taken the precaution of having hermetically sealed. With these I left a letter, containing directions where to meet my party, should his orders be to proceed on. At the date of my leaving Port Darwin, viz., June 6, no iiews had been received of Mr. Ross's arrival at Depot Creek, our furthest outpost at that time. Should sufficient horses be available without sericusly interfering with the prosecu tion of the work, Mr. Burton will proceed with the paity to the Roper, in order to explore a route for cartage from the intended crossing for the line, near the junction of the river and Elsey's Creek, to the head of navigation, as explored by Mr. MacLachlan, the distance between the two points being 86 miles direct. No difficulty is, however, anticipated in finding a good road. The navigableness of the Roper, by saving cartage, will materially facilitate the completion of the work by an early date should the vessels with reinforcements . be freighted thither. To indemnify the Government against any advance made to the contractors in respect of their ? shipment per Marie Elizabeth or other advances, and as a set-off to the expenses necessarily incurred in providing for the return of the members of their paity not required by me, I took possession of the stock, numbering 13 horses, all low in condition, the residue of the 20 shipped in Adelaide, and the goods which arrived for them by that vessel, and which were not on the ground at the date of the contract being closed. In reference to this, I may say that the statement telegraphed from Normanton by the contractors' agent relative to the quantity of work performed on the 8 th November, and being performed, and on account of which favourable news advances may have been granted to the contractors in Adelaide, is a misrepresentation, having been predated and prepared in the absence of the receipt of any information from the advanced construction party, at that time. ? , The Marie Elizabeth arrived at Port Darwin on May 8 after a protracted passage of 77 days. The whole of the cargo has been landed in good order, but deficient in the quantities advised of wire, insulators, and insulator pins. As some mistake may, however, have been caused during the confusion of landing cargo, I have ordered the materials to be restacked and re tallied, and should the stated defi ciency be confirmed, I have instructed Mr. Burton to render an account against the ship for the quantity short. I am of opinion, however, that the mistake if any has arisen at Port Adelaide during shipment, and is not attributable to the vessel. The delay in the arrival of the vessel caused me great anxiety, as I expected her not later than the middle of March, and feared some casualty had befallen her. Had the works been progressing satisfactorily the want of line materials would have greatly retarded operations, and might have seriously compromised the Government with the contractors. A large proportion of the wire remaining from the original shipment per Oineo has become so damaged through the neglect of the contractors that I do not consider it desir&ble'to stretch it, and will utilize the same as far on possible for lightning rods, kc. The log station building at Palmerston was completed and occupied in January last (photograph forwarded herewith.) In reference to the proposed buildings for the Government * and the British Australian Telegraph Company, I should recommend the purchase of several of the allotments in Palmerston contiguous to the landing-place as a site for the same, as being the probable business centre for many years to come. The portion of the Government Reserve in the vicinity remaining vacant is too limited for the erection of the necessary accommodation. In answer to the query contained in yours of February 20 as to my reasons for carrying the line via Southport, I have to inform you that it was with the object of securing the best route , in the first place, and also on account of beiog
more economical, for although exceeding the length of line, had it been carried by a more direct route by carrying the line to Southport, rendered this portion a complete section in itself being paid for at the rate of £40 per mile; whereas in the former case the con tractors _ would, by the terms of the specification, have been entitled to claim the so - called extra mileage as portion ef Section A at the augmented rate, and thus have involved the Government in some £300 extra expense. 1 shall be prepared within a few days to report at more length on the contractors' proceedings from the date of my last report, January 21, up till the close of the contract, and at the same time furnish you with a complete statement, showing the number of stock, quantities of goods, &c, belonging to the contractors, and now transferred to the Government service, by which you will be enabled to judge of the resources at our command, together with requisitions for the reinforcements re quired to carry on the work. From the experience I have gained of the country tra versed, and of the nature of the work, during my supervision of the contract, I am of opinion that it is possible to complete the line within a few weeks of the stipulated period. To effect this, however, extraordinary means will have to be provided, and an energetic party enlisted without delay. It will be well to consider the saving of time possible by procuring the stock required in Queensland. They would naturally be more acclimatized, whilst the short voyage from that colony would not injuriously affect the animals. In conclusion, I am happy to report that the conduct of the ©riginal party under my com mand, together with those since added, has during the periods they were severally in the service been most satisfactory. I have, &c, William McMmx, Overseer of Works. A letter from Palmerston, dated May 31, says: —'The great topic in our letters by the Gulnare will be the rupture between the Overseer of Works and the contractors for the Overland Telegraph. It is a' very sad affair, and every reverse or difficulty tells on our prospects. The work has been practi cally stopped in the very pick of the dry season, when every month is worth three at the end of the year. There can be no doubt that the contractors are very much, to blame. They must have been aware that the provisions would, be getting short before the Marie Elizabeth left, and in this country men cannot work without good and wholesome food. The contractors also have no right to assume that the horses and cattle by the Omeo and St. Magnus would be able to complete the work; in fact, they could not have had that opinion, as it was their original inten tion to send 200 or 300 head o£ working bullocks and store cattle via or from Queensland. These were expected in March. Had they arrived, and flour, sugar, &c, been sent up two months ago, the work would have gone on. Probably much of the wire and stores now arrived would then have been landed at the Roper. It is believed Mr. Paqualin, by the mail which was sent per the Larrakeeyah, via Timor, con veyed to Messrs. Darwent & Dalwood a very strong representation as to his position, and his inability to complete the work without strong reinforcements, and this was written when he was still under the impression that the cattle were coming overland. By the mail per Marie Elizabeth, Mr. Paqualin has, it is stated, been directed by Darwent & Dalwood not to hesitate at any cost to send for sufficient transport power, &c, to complete the work in the stipulated time that they would in such a case be prepared to send up the Omeo. Now it is just possible, while the Gulnare is making her way via the Leuwin, the Omeo will* be bowling along via Torres Straits, to arrive here and find the majority of the workmen en route to Adelaide, and the work transferred to the Government Overseer of Works. This, if it occurs, will be most unfor tunate, and will doubtless lead to infinite com plications.' After the publication of Mr. McMinn's report in our evening issue of July 8, we received the following communication from Messrs. Darwent & Dalwood: — Sir— We have no desire to obtrude our affairs unnecessarily before the public, but we think we are entitled to say a few words respecting Mr. McMinn's official report which was published in the columns of the Evening Journal this afternoon. We think we have a right to complain that such a one-sided statement should be placed be fore the public without our being referred to or brought to the knowledge of those whom it most immediately concerns. We shall not discuss the various statements which he (Mr. McMinn) makes to justify his conduct in breaking our contract, nor need we point out the inconsistencies and contradictions which it contains. On his own showing, even under the unfavourable view he chose to take of the progress of the work, it could have been completed within a very few weeks of the contrafct time. Mr. McMinn carefully abstains from telling the public how much of the delay was due to the Government. He does not give any infor mation as to the difficulties which he threw in the way of the undertaking, or why he should have seized upon stores belonging to the contractors to indemnify the Govern ment for advances which were not made. These matters will form the subject of future enquiry; and we ask the public to suspend their judgment until that enquiry takes place. In the meantime we protest against the unnecessary, harsh and arbitrary pro ceedings of which we have been made the victims. We cannot be expected to submit quietly to the confiscation of our property and to the injury to our character and credit which has been attempted by the ill consideted and oppressive conduct of a public official. The public may not be aware that Mr. McMinn himself tendered for the work and was unsuccessful. When he was ap pointed overseer in charge we pointed out to the Government the undesirability of leaving such large powers uncontrolled in the hands of an overseer, and we requested that the Government would name some officer of rank and standing, such as Captain Douglas, who should be able to decide finally on any disputed points which might arise between the contractors and the Overseer. The Government refused to accede to this reasonable proposal. Mr. McMinn (a very young man) was confirmed in his despotic powers, and the public can now see how he has used them. With regard to Mr. McMinn's reasons for sending our party back— viz., that they were unfit for the expedition— we distinctly state that a better or more suitable lot of men never left Port Adelaide or any other port. We are, Sir, &c, DARWEST & DALWOOD. JulyS, 1871. So much as to the past, but the question which very properly has engrossed general attention, to the exclusion even of the rights and wrongs of the dispute between the con tractors and the Government, is how can the agreement with the British- Australian Tele graph Company be carried out— how can telegraphic communication be established across the Continent before the end of the year. Immediately upon the arrival of the Gulnare Mr. McMinn had an interview with the Government, and since then the Cabinet, aided by the advice of Mr. Todd, Superin tendent of Telegraphs, have been straining every nerve to neutralize as far as possible the consequences of the serious delay that has been occasioned in the prosecution of the' works. Without much hesitation they came to the determination to complete the under taking themselves. They felt that the repu tation of the colony was too deeply pledged to allow of their shrinking at trifles, and cost what it may the line is to be stretched by the 1st of January, 1872, or as soon after as it 1 can be done. Between the farthest point southward
reached by Messrs. Darwent & Dalwood't poling parties and the most northerly ex tremity of the central sections there are 420 or 430 miles of country to be bridged over. Mr. Woods, the chief officer of the interior parties, had instructions forwarded to him by Mr. Todd on Friday to organize a sufficient force to go north of Section E, planting as rapidly as possible enough poles to carry the wire, leaving the gaps to be filled in afterwards. Advertisements have been inserted in the Sydney papers for the purchase of 300 bullocks and 70 horses. We understand Mr. Todd purposes instructing Mr. G. McMinn, who has charge of Section B, to proceed northward and carry on the line from Section £. Mr. Knuckey, of Sectioa A, will finish both his and Mr. McMinn's sections, and in all probability Mr. Babbage will be directed to see to the erection of the stations along the line. Mr. Todd is doing all he can to expedite matters, and he is being energeti cally assisted by Mr. Patterson, who is com pleting his arrangements so as to leave by the first steamer sailing for Port Darwin. It has been decided also to engage what ever vessels are required to cany round material and plant for pushing forward operations. Two steamers, if they can be procured, are to be dispatched without loss of time, so as to ensure the speedy transport of men and stock. One of these at least will start from South Australia with whatever force of constructors it may be deemed necessary to send. All the stock required will of course be sent on from the eastern colonies, where bullocks and horses can be obtained much more quickly and cheaply than they could be here. The Bengal, with a supply of material, will start at once from Port Adelaide, carrying with her also Mr. Little, to take charge of the Port Darwin Station. The present Stationmaster at Palmerston is to proceed onward to the Roper, and Mr. Stapleton will accordingly accompany the construction parties, so as to maintain communication as the line proceeds. There is at present at Port Darwin battery power for a length of at least 400 miles, and any further appliances required will be forwarded by the earliest opportunity. The Gulnare will receive as quick dispatch as possible, carry ing with her material and stores/ By the Marie Elizabeth wire enough for Messrs. Darwent & Dalwood's contract was sent on, but to guard against contingencies, such as may arise from the necessarily hasty way in which the line will at first be erected, a few tens more are to be sent forward. To complete the 400 miles northward of Section E by the end of the year the wiring will have to proceed at the rate of four miles a day. There will be nearly 120 tons of wire insulators and pro visions to be carted, and to do this in time it is estimated that forty or fifty teams will be needed. Hence the necessity for dis patching a large quantity of stock, and a large number of wagons and drays. One base of operations will be established at the Roper, and thither stock and stores will be sent with all speed. The Government have conceived the emer gency to be so great that the Treasurer nimself proceeded on Tuesday, July 11, by steamer to Melbourne, so as personally to attend to the engagement of vessels, and for ward all needful arrangements. He was ac companied from Adelaide by Mr. R. D. Eoss, who will be entrusted with the sending out of stock and materials from the Eastern Colonies. It is probable that Mr. Hart will not proceed further than Mel bourne, and that he will therefore only be absent from Adelade for a few days. It has been definitely decided that Mr. R. C. Patterson shall have control of the tele graph works in the Northern Territory, and he is busily engaged in selecting his own party here. Mr. McMinn will also, it is believed, proceed to the Northern Territory, and his knowledge of the country will of course be of service in pushing forward the undertaking. He has already visited the Roper, and gained a tolerable acquaintance with the special difficulties to be contended with in the construction of the telegraph. The /Government are still in treaty for both steamers and sailing vessels to proceed at once to the territory. Mr. J. T. Turnbull is engaged in purchasing stores in the colony, to be sent on at the earliest opportunity. The Steam Launch.— It is rumoured that the expedition to the Northern Territory will be furnished with the steam launch which was recently constructed at Port Adelaide, and been found of great service in various ways. She would be desirable and efficient aid to the party, as in the waters of the Roper the craft would work admirably. The Central Sections. No information has been received this month from the five construction parties engaged upon the central -sections, , but had mattersnot been pro ceeding satisfactorily means of communicating with Adelaide would no doubt have been found. At the date of last advices Sections A and B were getting well on towards completion, and it is intended that the parties engaged upon them shall, as soon as convenient, pass on to assist in carrying out the more . northerly portions of the undertaking. The parties are all well provided with stores. The following is an extract from a letter written by a member of the Northern Telegraph Con struction Party, dated River Todd, MacDonnell Range, May 6, 1871 :— 'The natives have been close to our camp, but have not molested us as yet. They tried to burn the pole-cutters out of the place where their camp was. The blacks stole two axes which they had left at their work while they went to dinner. There was a musket, too ; they did not take that, but threw it on the ground. They must have been frightened at it. Three blacks came to the creek where I was, and held up their hands for us to come. We went towards them, and when within 20 feet they bade us stop and put our hands on the ground. They then ordered us to go to them, which we did. They did not know what to make of us; felt us all over, and thought that our clothes were our flesh. We took off our boots so that they should see our feet, but they could not make out the socks that we had on. One of them put a boot on bis foot and could not walk with it/ They are frightened of Ireaims, horses, and bullocks. The men are a3 fine a race of blacks as ever I have seen in any part of the world where I have been.' .'.-?? The Southern Section. This is being carried out by Mr. E. M. Bagot, and extends from Port Augusta to a point 70 or SO miles north of the Peake, covering in all a distance of over 500 miles. By the mail on Wednesday, June 28, the Postmaster-General received information that Mr. Bagot's contract was being proceeded with satisfactorily. Mr. B. H. Babbage, writing from Cecilia Creek, under date June 14, says:—' I have continued running and chaining the line, and it came out at .Storm Creek. I shall be at the Peake in two or three weeks' time with the line all laid out and chained. I make the north end of Bagot's contract to terminate at lat. 26° 46', being five and three-quarter miles south of the Hamilton, near its junction with the Stevenson. Between this camp and the telegraph line, three miles west, there is some fine timber. On May 23 and 29 I camped on the Wooldridge— a large creek running into the Allberger from the S.S. W. The telegraph line crosses this creek. On June 6 I camped at the Swallow Waterhole, about a quarter of a mile west of the line.' Mr. Blood, the storekeeper at the Peake Depot, writing on the 17th June, states that the ' mail for the interior sections left the Peake a fortnight since,' and that good lime for building pur poses has been found. Mr. Boucaut, the Sub Overseer, dates a letter from Humbum— wher- I ever that may be— and says the poles on Mr. I Bagot's contract are planted up to the Douglas
Creek, with everything progressing satisfac torily. By the Northern mail which arrived on Wed nesday, July 12— the latest mail for the current month— Mr. Todd received news from the Peake. Mr. Babbage, writing on the 30th June, states that he had laid out the whole of Mr. Bagot's contract for 514 miles. The health of the parties was excellent. He had been as far as lat 2o3 40', and was laying out the line as he returned. The flour in tins was being injured through some chemical action which was going on inside the packages. Mr. Boucaut, the sub-overseer of Mr. Bagot's construction party, wrote from Mount Margaret on July 3, and from his report it appears that the work was progressing rather slowly owing to the posts not arriving fast enough to keep the expeditions employed. Only 25 miles of poles had been erected during the last month, and there were yet 150 miles tf- be done, but it was expected that greater progress would be made during the ensuiDg month. A series of meteorological observations have been kept at the Peake from the commencement of its establishment as a depot, and irom these we gather that the highest temperature recorded in June was 85°, and the lowest 33°. The quantity of rain had fallen off very much, but there had been slight showers on April 15 and 16. From advices received by Mr. J. Roun sevell, we learn that 440 miles of poles had been erected when the news left, and that 150 miles had been wired. All the wire had reached its destination, and only needed fixing. Mr. Bagot's parties were opening a fresh piece of line every week, and had done over 50 miles S:r month. It is, he says, also reported that r. Babbage will be sent to the northern end of Section E, whence he is to take a number of wagons, which are now delivering their loads on the route, and make a flying survey of the liae tracking it as far as the Roper. CommunicatioE has now been made good between Port Augusta and Beltaua, a distance of 150 miles, and on Wednesday, July 12, messages were exchanged between Adelaide and the latter place. Mr. Johnston is the field operator accompanying the wiring party. In a few weeks more communication will be esta blished with the Peake. The tenders of Messrs. Reynolds & Lake have been accepted for the supply of building materials for stations on the overland line of telegraph — that for the Peake Station being £75 Is. lid., and for four interior stations £484 0s. ?8d. There were four other offers. The tender of Messrs. Carter & Pitman, at £3,467, for the erection of an electric telegraph office and officers' quarters at Port Darwin, has been accepted by the Government.