Telegraph line laid across Cook Strait

26 August 1866

Cross-section of telegraph cable (Alastair McLean, Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand)

After two bungled attempts and near disaster at sea, the installation of the first communications cable between the North and South Islands of New Zealand was completed. A simple copper telegraph cable was laid on the sea floor from Whites Bay, north of Blenheim, to Lyall Bay on Wellington’s south coast.

The operation began off Wellington on 26 July. The initial attempt failed after the cable snapped because the cable ship pulled it too quickly. A second attempt came up 32 km short because the cable had drifted sideways in strong currents. Recycling cable from the first attempt helped make up the shortfall.

The Cook Strait cable extended the telegraph network from Napier to Bluff. Given the large area, the government decided to introduce a uniform New Zealand time in September 1868. Before this, provincial centres maintained their own time according to longitude. This disrupted the telegraph system, as individual stations opened and closed at different times. New Zealand was the first jurisdiction in the world to implement a standard time countrywide.

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