Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 6, April 1973
Cable and Delaware Bays
Cable and Delaware Bays
Prior to the establishment of the Wakapuaka Cable Station Cable Bay was known as Schroder's Mistake and such a name immediately suggests that there must be a story behind it. There is. When survey parties set out for the Wairau (Marlborough) in April 1843 they sailed in two boats which struck heavy gales. Taking obvious precautions they sought the shelter of Pepin Island, one boat going into the Maori Pa side while the other ran into the bay later known as Cable Bay. Schroder, a merchant of Nelson, was the owner of the larger craft. Some difference of opinion developed over the lifting of the anchor and the surveyor, J. W. Barnicoat, suggested that the boat could be lifted over the sand bar. Schroder gave up the job and all the surveyors proceeded by Cotterell's cutter to the Wairau.
As early as 1870 the New Zealand Government was actively interested in a proposal to connect this country with the outside world by means of an ocean cable. By 1872 Australia had such a link and New Zealand messages were sent to Australia by sea, either to Sydney or Melbourne, and cabled from there. Through communication from Australia to England took eight days as the telegraph lines across Australia went by way of South Australia where there was a gap of 150 miles. The proposal was to land the Australia-New Zealand cable at Cape Farewell as most of the telegraph business was with the South Island and this was the nearest point.
In 1876 the Eastern Extension Cable Company laid the cable from La Perouse, Sydney, to Wakapuaka, taking only 11 days. The new service came into use on February 21, 1876 (see cover).
There were three separate organisations and staffs involved:—
|1.||The Eastern Extension Cable Company.|
|2.||The Government Telegraph Office.|
|3.||The Press Association.|
Messages arrived in code and the Press agent divided the news into grades A., B. or C. and the messages, so graded, were returned page 25to the Telegraph Office Staff with instructions as to their overland destinations. All land lines were operated by Morse key. Telegraph connection with the North Island was by way of the Cook Strait cable from White's Bay in Marlborough. A further connecting link between the two islands came into use early in 1880 by a new direct cable from Wakapuaka to Wanganui. A good deal of traffic was diverted to this route but the distance, 109 nautical miles, led to some technical shortcomings and the line was abandoned in 1925.
A retired Telegraph Department employee remembered the old Wakapuaka Cable Station with the call sign Wak, commonly known as "Waka," when it was one of the important links in the communications channels. He said that the cable messages all came off on a tape by a dot and dash system while messages sent overseas were tapped out by two keys. Many local lads joined the Cable Company as cadets and, when trained, were sent to Singapore, Hong Kong, or other overseas stations.
In 1901 cables by way of the Pacific from Vancouver connected New Zealand with the world by a new route, the New Zealand terminus being at Doubtless Bay in Northland, the cable later being extended to Auckland. This new link gradually superseded the Wakapuaka to Sydney cable. In 1909 the Telegraph Department staff and Press agent were moved and the telegraph lines went directly to the Wellington and Nelson telegraph offices, and some of the local staff were transferred to North Auckland. When fire gutted some of the buildings they were not replaced and in 1917 the terminal was moved to Wellington. Some of the buildings were sold and moved, one of the large buildings remaining was, for a time, used as a guest house for holidaymakers. At that time there was a Cable Bay Post Office in operation.
Foundations of old buildings, a sealed tennis court, and a few other relics are now the only reminders of the existence of the cable station.
One other interesting item is the fact that during the Russian invasion scare in 1885 a naval boat was sent to the neighbourhood of the cable station as a precautionary measure.
When the cable station was in operation the road, or track, used by vehicles did not go round on the side-cuttings on the hillside where the present road is. The Delaware road was followed as far as Bishop's Peninsula then crossed the mudflat and followed round the foot of the hill near high water level.