1888: S. W. McGowan window, Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Balaclava, Victoria.

Artist/Studio: Gibbs & Howard, London, c.1888.
Location: Balaclava, Victoria, Australia.
Building: Holy Trinity, Balaclava.
Memorial: Samuel Walker McGowan.
Donor: Staff of the Post & Telegraph Departments.
Photos dated: 7th January 2013.

Samuel Walker McGowan is credited as being the pioneer who introduced the Morse telegraph system into Australia and was appointed to the position of inspector of post and telegraph services, and superintending officer of telegraph construction. He died on the 18th April 1887 and a stained glass window created by Gibbs & Howard was erected to his memory in Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Balaclava.

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(An individual article has been posted regards the E. S. Parkes memorial window)

The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Tuesday 13th March 1888, page7.

“The stained glass window erected in Holy Trinity Church, Balaclava, by the officers of the bank of Australasia to the memory of Mr. E. S. Parkes has just been completed. It represents full length figures of the four evangelists, with their traditional symbols, and has been well executed by Messrs. Gibbs and Howard, of London. Below the window is a handsome brass plate with a suitable inscription. In addition to this memorial, a carved stone reredos has been erected in the chancel by a few personal friends of the late Mr. Parkes. The heads of the various Post and Telegraph department have also placed a stained glass window by the same firm, and representing the crucifixion, in the south transept of the church, in memory of the late Mr. S. W. McGowan, formerly deputy Postmaster-General. Both the deceased gentlemen were for many years active members of the Balaclava Church vestry.”

The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Tuesday 19th April 1887, page 6.


It is with regret that we have to announce the death of Mr. S. W. McGowan, deputy postmaster-general, which occurred at the George Hotel, St. Kilda, early yesterday evening. Mr. McGowan only returned from a twelvemonth’s tour through Great Britain, Europe, and America, on Saturday, the 9th inst, and he was apparently in the best of health when he landed, his decease was both sudden and unexpected. The day after his arrival he complained of slight indisposition, but on the following Wednesday his illness appeared to be of so trifling a character that he paid an official visit to the Postmaster-General during the course of the forenoon at the General Post office. Towards the evening, however, the symptoms of his disorder became more pronounced, and as he subsequently grew gradually worse he was compelled to confine himself to his room and seek medical advice. It was then discovered that he was suffering from congestion of the liver and other disorders of a complicated nature. Remedial measures were adopted and although Drs. Williams and Girdlestone were called in to consult with Dr. Coupar Johnson, Mr. McGowan gradually sank, and died at 9 o’clock last night.

The deceased gentleman was the eldest son of the late Mr. S. McGowan, of Kingston, Ontario, Canada, and was born on January 4, 1829. He was educated at the Midland District Grammar School, Kingston, and subsequently studied for the legal profession, but owing to the death of his father he abandoned law in favour of science. He became a pupil of the late professor Morse, the inventor of the Morse system of telegraphy, and under him made himself thoroughly acquainted with the whole details of the working of the electric telegraph. He subsequently widened his experience by accepting engagements with several telegraph companies in Canada and the United States. In 1852, when the news of the gold discoveries in Victoria had begun to be circulated, Mr. McGowan, acting on the advice of his old instructor, Professor Morse, determined to venture to Australia. At the suggestion of the same eminent authority he decided to bring with him to the colonies a complete equipment of telegraph instruments and a first-class electrician. The voyage to Australia was made in the ship Glance, and after a somewhat lengthy passage Mr. McGowan landed in Melbourne early in the year 1853. No telegraph then existed in the colony, and Mr. McGowan, appreciating the value of establishing communication between the goldfields and Melbourne, opened negotiations with a few influential capitalists with the view of floating a company to erect lines between Sandhurst and Ballarat and Melbourne, and subsequently to the capitals of the adjoining colonies. When the venture appeared to have every chance of a successful issue the Government intervened. At first disinclined to accept the responsibility of availing themselves of the discoveries of Professor Morse, they at length recognised their great utility and worth. Mr. McGowan and his fellow speculators were then informed that should they form a company their application for authority to build lines would be resisted to the utmost. At the same time overtures were made to Mr. McGowan to join the public service. Finally Governor Latrobe solicited an interview with him, and at the meeting offered to give him control of the state system of telegraphs if he would accept an engagement from the Government. With nothing but the prospect of great opposition from the authorities if he did not agree to their terms, Mr. McGowan after a few days’ deliberation signified to His Excellency his willingness to accept state employ. In the meantime the Government had issued tenders for the construction of a line of telegraph between Williamstown and Melbourne, and a contract was entered into by Mr. McGowan to complete the work, which he did to the satisfaction of the authorities. To him, therefore, belongs the honour of having not only been one of the first men in Victoria to direct public attention to the immense possibilities of telegraphy, but also of having taken the first step to bring the system into operation in the colony, if not in the whole of Australasia. The line from Williamstown was completed in January, 1854, and thrown open to the use of the public in March of the same year. The Government, however, could not legally charge for the transmission of measures until after the passage of the Electric Telegraph Bill, the second reading of which was moved on March 31 of that year by the then Attorney-General, Sir William F. Stawell. It was at this time that the control of the new department was vested in Mr. McGowan, to whom it was a matter of great pride that he should have been thus intimately associated with its creation. From 1854 until 1869 Mr. McGowan acted as superintendent of telegraphs, and it was under his personal supervision and direction that the majority of the lines radiating from Melbourne to every part of the colony were constructed. When in 1869 the Government decided, for the purpose of promoting the efficiency of the Postal and Telegraph departments, to unite them under the control of one permanent head. Mr. McGowan was given the position of inspector of post and telegraph services, and superintending officer of telegraph construction. This office was held by him until July, 1883, when on the transference of Mr. T. W. Jackson to the vacant commissionership of audit, he was appointed deputy postmaster-general. He continued to act in that capacity until the beginning of 1886, when in consequence of ill health and his long and efficient service, he was granted extended leave of absence to enable him to visit Europe and America. The Government, in view of his practical knowledge of electricity, instructed him while abroad to collect all available data relating to recent inventions in telegraphy and telephony. Letters of credit were furnished to him, and with these at his disposal he was enabled not only to visit the state establishments of Great Britain and several of the continental nations, but also to inspect the telephone systems conducted by private enterprise in the new and the old worlds. When the negotiations for the purchase of the business of the Victorian Telephone Exchange Company were abruptly terminated, the agent-general was instructed to communicate with Mr. McGowan, who was then in the counties, as to the best system of telephone communication inspected by him while abroad. Mr. McGowan proceeded to London, where he had several interviews with the agent-general on the subject. He finally sailed from England for Melbourne about the beginning of March. Mr. McGowan during his absence not only visited England, Scotland, Ireland, and the chief cities on the Continent, but he also made and extended tour through the United States and Canada. An account of his journeyings, together with an interesting statement of the result of his inquiries relative to recent developments in electricity as applied to the working of  telegraphs and telephones, and of his interviews with Sir George Stephens, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, Mr. Pender, chairman of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, and other celebrities, appeared in the columns of The Argus of April 12. The mass of information collected by Mr. McGowan was being framed by him, at the time that he was seized with the fatal illness, into a report for presentation to the Postmaster-General. It is a national loss that his labours in this respect should have embodied the other observations of one of the most skilled experts in telegraphic matters south of the equator. Mr. McGowan was married on June 30, 1857, to the eldest daughter of the late Major H. W. Benson, of Kingston, Ontario, Canada. He leaves a widow and four children – two daughters and two sons. The eldest daughter is married to Mr. W. L. Lempriere, of Sydney; and his eldest son, Mr. S. B. McGowan, is at present practicing as a solicitor near Gembrook. His second daughter accompanied him and Mrs. McGowan to England. The news of his death has been received with great regret by the Postmaster-General, the officials of the Postal department, and by a large circle of friends.”

External links:

Biography: Samuel Walker McGowan (1829-1887)

Biography: Samuel Finley Breese Morse (1791-1872)


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