The application of DeGraw was not entertained by the legislature, and the contractor dropped his service shortly after. Recourse was had to the sailing vessels until 1863, when a more satisfactory arrangement was concluded with Robert Grieve on June 2, 1863. The contract stipulated for fortnightly trips in each direction, and the compensation was fixed at 4500. The "Ariel" was the steamer employed by Grieve for the service.
The coastal service, thus satisfactorily established from St. John's down the east and along the south coasts as far as La Poile, was extended to Port aux Basques on the south-west corner of the island by a sailing vessel. This completed the postal communications on the southern shore of the island.
The west coast was still to be comprised in the system. In 1873, arrangements of an experimental nature were made to send mails from Port aux Basques (or Channel as the post office was called) to St. George's Bay, Bay of Islands and Bonne Bay on this coast. A courier service was also set in operation to provide communications to those settlements during the winter, but many difficulties were encountered owing to the inacquaintance with the country on the part of the couriers, who had to pass on their way between Channel and these bays.
The arrangement thus experimentally entered upon continued until 1881, when the sailing craft, which carried the mails to Bonne Bay was withdrawn, and the steamer "Curlew," by which Channel post office received its mails from St. John's, extended its trips up the north-west coast as far as Bonne Bay.
The conveyance of the mails up this coast was carried on to the top of the island in the following year. Two trips were made by couriers from Bonne Bay to Flower Cove at the gulf entrance to the straits of Belle Isle. From Flower Cove, the journey of the courier ran along the shore of the straits to Pistolet Bay at the northernmost point of the island, and thence on the Griquet which looked from the north of the island on the Atlantic, and down the Atlantic coast to St. Anthony.
Another courier set out from Flower Cove and travelling due east across the island carried the mail to Conche, which served the settlements on Hare Bay. At the same time that the process of encirclement was proceeding from the western side, the settlements of Western Cove, Mings and Coachman's Cove on White Bay, the northernmost of the series of great bays by which the Atlantic coast is indented, were having the benefits of communication extended to them from Bett's Cove, in Notre Dame Bay.
The benefits of these trips were so greatly appreciated by the fishermen in the northern parts of the island that the department arranged for regular fortnightly services during the winter from Bonne Bay along the west coast to the top of the island, and thence down the east coast as far as Canada Bay. On the other side the steamers which carried the mails northward from St. John's to the settlements on Notre Dame Bay, also conveyed bags for the settled districts in White Bay. These were sent forward monthly from Bett's Cove. Thus was completed the system of coastal service by which every part of the island was brought into communication with the capital of the colony.
On the larger and more thickly settled bays, it was obviously impossible for the steamers which sailed from St. John's to stop at any but the more populous villages, and within each of these bays smaller craft plied to the less important settlements. In 1881, there were eight such sailing vessels in the service of the post office: one each in Bonavista and Trinity Bays, three in Placentia Bay, two in Fortune Bay, and one which effected the exchange of mails at Harbour Breton. In Conception Bay, where there were two towns and several villages a steamer was employed.
But though the settlements in Newfoundland were at this period practically all on the coasts, and depended mainly on seacraft for the means of communication, the conveyance of mails to the northern settlements was in the winter one of great danger and difficulty.
As early as 1863, it was determined to make the experiment of serving these settlements by couriers who should travel over an overland route.
In February of that year, Smith McKay undertook the delivery by land, so far as that was possible, to Greenspond, on the stretch of coast between Bonavista and Notre Dame Bay, and to Fogo and Twillingate, islands in Notre Dame Bay. The success attending this trip induced the postmaster general to make a contract for three trips each winter.
The government also planned the construction of a road, which would make communication easier between the northern outports and St. John's. The work was entered upon with vigour, the reports of progress making an interesting feature of the annual papers of the legislature. In 1868, a serviceable road was constructed to Gander Bay, an inlet of Notre Dame Bay, whence the mails were conveyed to the important villages of Twillingate and Fogo by sailing vessel.
In 1870 the road was complete. It was estimated to be 210 miles in length. There were six relay stations on the route, and ten men employed in the conveyance. The course pursued by the courier took him from Harbour Grace, his starting point, down the shore of Conception Bay; thence along the isthmus separating Trinity from Placentia Bay, serving the settlements on each side of the isthmus. From the top of the isthmus, the road maintained a northerly direction, running generally parallel with the Atlantic coast, as far as Greenspond, from which point it turned westward across the country to Gander Bay.
The postal accommodation on the peninsula of Avalon was greatly augmented by the completion of the railway between St. John's and Harbour Grace in 1884. On January 1, 1885, all the principal offices at the bottom of Conception Bay were supplied with mails daily, and Heart's Content and other offices on Trinity Bay had their mails three times a week. The extension of the branch to Placentia in October 1888 gave that village the benefit of an expeditious service three times a week.
The northern settlements were given the benefit of the more speedy service afforded by the railway. The winter arrangements were expedited and extended. In 1870, when this service was put on a settled footing, ten couriers were employed. In 1890, their number was increased to fifty-four. The mails for the northern districts were despatched from St. John's by railway to Broad Cove station, where they were taken over by the couriers. Their greater number enabled the couriers, not only to shorten their relays, but to establish a trunk line to the settlements of Hall's Bay and Little Bay on Notre Dame Bay, with branch lines running to the more important settlements to the east and west. The overlapping of the western and northern courier systems at White Bay gave the dwellers in those remote regions the opportunity of replying to their letters without loss of time.
Communication was established with the settlers on the Labrador coast in 1875. Previous to that time, mails were sent as the opportunity was afforded by sailing vessels visiting that coast. In that year, a regular fortnightly service was put in operation, the steamer by which the mails were carried connecting with the steamer on the northern route.
The "Ariel," which was first employed on this route having been lost in September of the same year, its place was taken by the "Walrus," whose work gave much satisfaction to the department. In 1881, an arrangement was made by which the steamer running on the northern route from St.
John's extended its trip to Battle Harbour, where it was met by the Labrador vessel, which served all the settlements as far north as Nain.
A money order system was an early adjunct to the primary functions of the post office. In 1862 the postmaster general of Prince Edward Island proposed on exchange with Newfoundland, on the basis of the arrangement between that colony and Canada. The postmaster general, Delaney, was eager to accept the proposition, but there were delays, and it was not until 1864 that an exchange was adopted. This exchange was not with Prince Edward Island, however, but with Great Britain.
At the beginning of 1865 exchanges were established with Canada, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and in 1867 with New Brunswick. In 1866 a domestic exchange was set on foot, the system embracing the twelve leading post offices besides St. John's.
Delaney endeavoured to come to an arrangement of the same character with the United States, but the department at Washington was unable to adopt the proposition at the time, and it was only in 1876 that arrangements were completed for an exchange through the intermediation of the Canadian service.
The comparative lack of banking facilities in the island gave the money order system an unusual utility. At the end of 1865, the amount of the money orders exchanged was $13,112. In the first ten years the business expended to $58,712; in twenty years, its volume had increased thirteen-fold, being $174,740.
Though a steam vessel could make the voyage from the shores of Cape Breton to the south-west coast of Newfoundland in a few hours, the course of communication between the island and Canada and the United States was lamentably infrequent. As late as 1895, mails were exchanged with these countries no more frequently than once a week.
The completion, however, of the railway across the island in the autumn of 1896, changed the aspect of affairs. Trains travelled from St. John's to Port aux Basques, three times a week, touching in their course the bottoms of the great bays, which mark the coast lines on either side of the island. On each of the bays, steamers plied in close connection with the trains, thus giving all the settlements of the island the maximum of benefit to be obtained from a single line of railway. A steamer ran from the western end of the line at Port aux Basques to North Sydney in Cape Breton, and by a night's voyage, Newfoundland was brought into connection with the system of communications on the continent of North America.
The exchange of mails between Canada and Newfoundland remained at a frequency of three times a week until 1914 when it was increased to a daily service each way; and the inland service has been so improved that there is no district in the island, however remote, has not at least a weekly communication with the capital, while nearly all the towns and villages of any importance exchange mails with St. John's every day.
In the sphere of telegraphy the progress has not been less marked.
Unlike Canada and the United States, but as in the mother country and most other countries, the telegraphs are under the control of the government, and administered by the postmaster general. Until 1901, this was not the case. By a concession granted by the legislature in 1854, the Anglo-American Telegraph Company obtained the exclusive privilege of communicating abroad by telegraphy, and of erecting and operating lines within the colony.
The system established under this privilege was naturally confined to the more populous districts, and indeed, it covered little beyond the peninsula of Avalon. The outlying parts of the island, embracing all the settlements on bays north of Trinity, and west of Placentia Bays were, in general, without the means of communicating with the capital by telegraph.
The company turned a deaf ear to all appeals which did not promise an augmentation of their profits. They had no objection to the government running lines to the remoter regions, as such messages as would be sent to St. John's from those parts must pass over the company's lines when they came within the system marked out by the company for themselves in virtue of their monopoly. The government would, in that case, bear the loss entailed by the maintenance of these lines, and the company would absorb the additional revenue arising from the transmission of these extra-territorial messages over their lines.
With the development of the fishing, mining and lumbering industries in all parts of the island, the extension of the means of telegraphic communication beyond the peninsula of Avalon became a necessity, and the government had no option but to provide these means, wherever the importance of the districts seemed to demand it.
Thus there grew up two systems, an inner and an outer one, the latter depending on the former for the means of access to the capital of the island. All messages to and from the outer system were subject to a double charge, for transmission over both systems. While messages circulating within the peninsula of Avalon had the advantage of the moderate charge of twenty-five cents for ten words, messages from outside the peninsula were subject to double that rate.
The government were helpless in the matter. They endeavoured vainly to come to terms with the company by which they might erect a line of their own from St. John's to Whitbourne, a village about sixty miles from St.
John's, at which the lines of the outer system connected with those belonging to the company. The company, however, stood firmly on the letter of the bond, and it was not until the approach of the time when the monopoly, which was for a period of fifty years, would expire, that they became at all unbending.
An event of far-reaching importance took place in November 1901 in the arrival of Marconi to experiment as to the possibility of opening communication across the Atlantic by his wireless system of telegraphy.
Early in December, he caught at his station on Signal Hill near St.
John's some signals sent out from the Lizards in Cornwall, thereby establishing a new agency for conducting communication between Europe and America. When he had assured himself of the success of his experiments, he set about obtaining a site for a permanent station on Cape Spear. But no sooner had the Anglo-American company become aware of his intentions than they notified him that his proposed measures would be an infringement of their monopoly.
Thus blocked, Marconi resolved to return to England, but an opportune invitation from the Canadian government led him to turn his attention to the advantages that might be obtained on the eastern coast of Cape Breton. He was not long in selecting a site at Table Head, near Glace Bay, where he erected a station, and has demonstrated the feasibility of wireless communication across the Atlantic for commercial purposes.