Museum Victoria holds a collection of about 230 telegraphy-related objects dating from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. The majority of the objects in the collection are instruments of the Morse type as used in the Victorian telegraph system. These instruments include keys, sounders, registers, relays and switches used for the transmission and reception of messages using Morse code. The earliest of these objects dates from the 1860s. In addition, there are a number of so-called 'ABC' or 'Alphabetical' telegraph instruments, which did not require the use of Morse code by the operator and were used on less busy lines in Victoria.
Other objects in the collection include several needle telegraphs. These instruments relied on successive deflections of a needle or needles to convey coded messages over the telegraph lines. They were not used in the Victorian Government's telegraph system.
Apart from actual telegraph instruments, the collection includes objects such as samples of submarine telegraph cables, telegraph line insulators, government reports on telegraph operations, and examples of telegrams.
The electric telegraph first began operating in Victoria (and Australia) in March 1854 with the opening of the line between Melbourne and Williamstown. The man responsible for bringing the telegraph to Victoria was Samuel Walker McGowan, an Irish-born Canadian. The collection includes several items of McGowan memorabilia, including a plate from his dinner service, a book sent to him by Samuel Morse and the inventor of the Morse telegraph system.