Samuel Walker McGowan (1829-1887)

SMB examiner 1874-1886

Samuel Walker McGowan, an Irish-born Canadian migrant, was the man responsible for building and maintaining Victoria's original telegraph line in 1854. McGowan had previously studied law in Canada then spent several years in New York working for the father of the American telegraph, Samuel Morse.

In June 1853 Samuel Walker McGowan (who later offered his services as an examiner at SMB) gave a public demonstration of Morse telegraphy in Melbourne, hoping to set up a private company to link the cities to the goldfields. However, the Victorian government decided to make the telegraph public and set up an experimental line between Melbourne and Williamstown. In the first year alone, some 4000 telegrams were sent, and this figure more than tripled in two years.

By the time the telegraph line was opened in March 1854, McGowan had been appointed Victoria's (and Australia's) first superintendent of telegraphs. The first electric telegraph was sent from Melbourne to Ballarat by The Hon. John B. Humffray on 3 December 1856.The Victorian-South Australian line opened for business in late July 1858. At Ballarat, the booming inland gold town with a telegraph station on the new intercolonial connection, the local editor hailed the opening of the line as marking both an achievement and a promise for the future of Australia as a whole.

In April 1874 the School of Mines & Industries Ballarat commenced a new telegraphy course under the lectureship of William Béchevaise. Examinations were conducted in March and September under the direction of Robert L J Ellery and Sam W McGowan.

McGowan represented Victoria in his capacity as its Superintendent of Telegraphs at the second intercolonial cable conference held in Melbourne in May 1878. Samuel McGowan died in 1887, a week after returning from a year-long overseas study tour, thus depriving Victoria of his wise and balanced professional expertise.

This biography written by Di Campbell, 15 November 2005