A History of Telegraph Point

The Traditional Owners of country throughout the Telegraph Point and Rollands Plains region are the Ngaku people (from the coast north of the Wilson River and inland to Kemps Pinnacle in the Willi Willi National Park), the Ngambaa peoples (south of the Upper Wilson River, through Bril Bril towards the Manning), along with the Dunghutti people further north towards Kempsey, and the Biripi (Birpai) people on the coast south towards Port Macquarie. We acknowledge their custodianship. We recognise their continuing connection to land, waters, and culture. We pay our respects to their Elders - past, present, and emerging.

In Brief

European settlement in the Telegraph Point region began in the 1820s in association with the penal settlement at Port Macquarie. The surrounding land was explored for potential agricultural and pastoral use, and government farms were overseen by army officers who established penal stations along the Wilson River. The earliest settlements were established at Rollands Plains for the supply of sugarcane, tobacco, wheat, and timber. Transport of goods was via the Wilson River. Land grants were first issued in the region, then known as ‘Prospect’, in 1832. The earliest township formed on the southern side of the riverbend where a wharf and punt provided passage across the river. A telegraph line between Armidale and Port Macquarie was constructed in 1869. Work to extend the telegraph line across the Wilson River to Kempsey was delayed, and this was the point at which the telegraph line terminated. A post office opened in 1872 under the name ‘Telegraph Point’.

AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia
AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia

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The European Settlement of Telegraph Point

John Gyles, an optimistic missionary, scouted the region in January 1820 in search for a site suitable for a sugar plantation. He wrote in a report to Governor Macquarie:

“I have now given your Excellency a Report of the situation and nature of the Country at and about Port Macquarie, and to tell your Excellency that in my opinion the Land is capable and the Climate will allow of the growth of the Sugar Cane, Coffee, Cotton, and Tobacco.”

Despite Macquarie’s misgivings that the region’s climate was tropical enough, sugar cane was planted in the region then-known as Prospect in 1824.

Land in the area was soon opened up for private ownership, and Sgt Charles Blewitt was the first to be granted land. In 1832, Blewitt purchased an allotment of 200 acres for 5 shillings an acre. By the end of the century, a portion of his land was resumed with plans to construct a public school to the north at Prospect. His allotment was unfortunately a flood-prone area of land at a bend in the river on the northern bank of the Wilson that remains vacant to this day.

Other early land grants included a 1,100 acre lot sold at auction to Lieutenant Charles Steele for £1,100 in 1837.  Joseph Middleton was granted a 165 acre lot with a quit-rent of one peppercorn in 1838. The earliest settlements were primarily located on the southern side of the river for easier access by road to Wauchope and Port Macquarie.

Between 1824 and 1832 there were several failed agricultural establishments at Prospect and Rollands Plains where convict-worked farms attempted to grow tobacco, sugar cane, wheat, and corn with the goal to “raise as many vegetables as may be necessary to banish scurvy forever from Port Macquarie and its outstations.”

The area of Prospect continued to grow with the expansion of mail and telegraph services throughout the Colony. The local electric telegraph line began construction in 1868. There were delays with the wiring to connect the line coming from the north, and the river at Prospect was the point at which the telegraph line ended.

In 1871, plans were announced to establish a post office under the name “Telegraph Point”. The Telegraph Point Post Office opened on 1st January 1872. Awarded contracts show increasingly frequent mail deliveries via horseback and coach between Port Macquarie, Telegraph Point, Rollands Plains, and Kempsey. The Royal Mail Coach, run by the Keough family, provided almost-daily service for additional mail and passengers between Kempsey and Port Macquarie. The coach travelled alongside the Keough’s Telegraph Point property, and the family soon opened the first inn and public house servicing the area.

A Provisional School was established in 1875 in an existing building at ‘Cornbury Park’, Clem Stewart’s property in the area now off Farrawells Road. A public school was announced in 1880. By 1895, in addition to the inn, hotel, school, and post office, the village also had a general store, community hall, church, bakery, blacksmith’s shop, saw mill, and boot maker’s establishment.

With a new Parish road in 1876, Rowsell’s private river punt changed to a public ferry with fixed tolls for passengers and livestock. Foot passengers were 2 pence, each horse or mule was 6 pence, each sheep was a halfpenny, a cart with two wheels was 1 shilling, a dray with four wheels was 1 shilling and 6 pence.

A bridge and railway was constructed under a loan for the public service of the Colony. The first bridge at Telegraph Point opened in 1902. It included a lifting span to allow vessels to pass along the river. The railway line eventually began construction in 1915 and opened on 3rd December 1917. The north bank of the Wilson was soon more heavily settled. The timber industry continued with freight barges servicing from the upstream wharves at Ballengarra and Rollands Plains to Port Macquarie.

Dairying became more important to the region and a butter factory opened in 1934. Butter from the region was transported along the river and then by horse-drawn wagons for transportation by ship to Sydney.

In 1916, the first police officer at Telegraph Point was Sergeant Frank Wilkinson who operated out of Port Macquarie. A police station opened in 1918 however it closed only three years later. On the north side of the river, by 1933 the village boasted a Church of England Church and Catholic Church, School of Arts Hall, butcher shop, general store and garage. The new bridge (in its current location) opened in 1974 and, in 1983, the railway station closed.