Historical information

This tape is from the first telegram ever sent in Western Australia. This important event occurred on 21 June 1869. At this time the transmitted message was received on paper tape and later transcribed onto a telegram form for delivery. The original tape was presented to the Honourable Frederick Palgrave Barlee, Colonial Secretary of Western Australia, as a souvenir.

"FPB" appears on an engraved shield on the lid. James Coats Fleming, the first telegraphist and later Superintendent of Telegraphs, sent the telegram. During 1875, Colonial Secretary Barlee transferred from Perth to Belize and then to Trinidad where he died in 1884.

The fate of the case and spool, souvenir of that first telegram, was unknown. In July 1940, the WA Agent-General in London advised the Premier's Department in Western Australia that a Mrs EW Hillyer of Hertfordshire had the spool and case and was willing to sell it for ten guineas ($21). The Postmaster General's Department agree to the purchase and it duly arrived by registered mail. As a communications museum was planned in Melbourne, it was sent there to be included in the collection.

Nothing more was heard until early 1980s when the relic arrived at the Post and Telecommunication museum in Perth. The case had been found in an old Melbourne strongroom where it had apparently been placed for safe-keeping and then forgotten. Initial attempts to decode the message on the tape were unsuccessful. Eventually, it was discovered that the Western Australian Telegraph Company, responsible for that first transmission, had devised its own code. A copy was obtained from the Battye Library and the message deciphered.


This Morse tape is of historic significance as the first telegram ever sent in Western Australia. The occasion was momentous as the transition point between isolation and ease of connection for business and personal communications. The case is of aesthetic interest for the craftsmanship involved in the engraved text.

Further, the tape has research potential owing to the unique information contained within this tape; that is, the code of the Western Australian Telegraph Company. This tape, may in turn be used to decode further messages sent by the Western Australian Telegraph Company.

As the first telegraph message sent in Western Australia, this tape is rare. Despite a tumultuous journey from 1869 to the early 1980s, the tape's ceremonial wooden case provides provenance information which supports the tape's historic importance.

Physical description

Small wooden case (.1) holding a length of morse tape (.2) which was the first telegram ever sent in Western Australia . Wound onto a mother of pearl reel (.3). Accompanying signs and decoded message (.4,.5).

Inscriptions & markings

.1 engraved on a metal shield shaped plaque on the lid: "WESTERN AUSTRALIAN / TELEGRAPHS / FPB" Inside: 'TRANSLATION OF REGISTER / TO THE CHAIRMAN OF FREMANTLE TOWN TRUST / His Excellency Colonel Bruce heartily congratulates the / inhabitants of Fremantle on this annihilation of distance / between the Port and the Capital, and he requests that this, / the first message, may be made publicly known. / GOVERNMENT HOUSE, / PERTH, June 21, 1869 / Transmitted 11 am / J.C.F."|.2: "Instrument Register / of the First / Telegraphic Message / in / Western Australia"|.3: "The first Telegraph Pole / in / WESTERN AUSTRALIA / was erected by / The Hon. Frederick P. Barlee / Colonial Secretary / on 19th Febr. 1869"