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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Wellington Provincial District]

Telephone Exchange

Telephone Exchange.

The Wellington Telephone Exchange is unique in at least one respect as far as concerns Governmental establishments. It has a building all to itself. It is situate in the south-east corner of the General Government grounds, but so isolated as to suggest a dread of infection. It is a queer looking edifice—certainly not erected for show—with its surrounding framework, by which its scores of heavy cables are supported. Inside, however, there is an air of convenience, though not of comfort. There are 1020 subscribers—a larger number than at any other exchange in the Colony—and to attend to the calls of so many with the greatest possible expedition imposes a heavy burden on the shoulders of the operators. These are mostly young ladies, and their nimble fingers and nimbler tongues are kept on the move in such a way as to be quite distracting to a listener and onlooker. The wires are grouped in sets of fifty. If a subscriber needs to be connected with a correspondent in his own section or on the next on either side, the operator can fix the plugs herself without speaking, but where the distance is greater than that, a further connecting appliance is brought into play, and this necessitates a “call” to another operator. That seems simple enough; but the effort of a dozen girls, each making a dozen calls every half minute, the two at the ends loud enough to be heard by each other above the varied voices and the rattling plugs, may certainly be better imagined than described, but can only be fully appreciated by those who have paid a visit to the Exchange at the busiest time of the day. Subscribers who are impatient when kept waiting a few seconds should call in when passing and then ask themselves how they would like to change places with the object of their invective. The staff consists of the officer in charge, his assistant, five male operators for the night service, and thirty young ladies for the day service, besides three or four maintenance hands for the outdoor work of repairing, and a foreman and five hands for the construction in connection with new lines. There are about 600 miles of wire in all, and the number of calls per hour average about a thousand.

Mr. William Wylie, Officer-in-charge of the Wellington Telephone Exchange, was born in Dundee in 1861. Arriving in New Zealand about 1863, with his parents, he was educated at St. Mary's College, Nelson. In 1879 Mr. Wylie entered the Government service as a cadet in the Telegraph Department, and four years later was appointed officer-in-charge of the Telephone Exchange. When he assumed charge of this department there were only some fifty subscribers, but such has been the popularity of the institution that the numbers have increased to over a thousand.
The Wellington Telephone Exchange.

The Wellington Telephone Exchange.

page 339 In 1894 Mr. Wylie married a daughter of Mr. W. H. Ingram, watchmaker, formerly well-known in Wellington, but now of Hokitika.