Algarve became “closer” to Lisbon 165 years ago with the inauguration of the electric telegraph

It was then a recent technology, dating back to the 1830s/40s, with the installation of the first lines in the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Excerpt from the Charter of the Telegraph Network in 1860 (in Historical memory about electric telegraphy in Portugal).

The 25th of August 1858 was recorded in the history of the Algarve with the introduction of the electric telegraph. It was now possible to contact Lisbon quickly, through electric telegraphy.

It was a recent technology, dating back to the 1830s/40s, with the installation of the first lines in the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

In Portugal, it was inaugurated on September 16, 1855, with four stations connected by conducting wires: Terreiro do Paço, Cortes, Palácio das Necessidades and Sintra.

The date coincided with the acclamation of D. Pedro V as king. Two years later, on July 20, 1857, it was opened to the public. The first international connection between Elvas and Badajoz was completed in 1857.

In these years, the Breguet telegraph was installed and later that of Morse, which would become dominant in the country.

The latter was developed by Samuel Morse (1791-1872), who simultaneously invented a code used in transmissions (it was based on sending signals by the sending station, consisting of dots and dashes, which were translated in the receiver), which came to also receive your name.


Telegraph-Bréguet table used at the inauguration of the electric telegraph in Portugal (Communications Museum, Lisbon)


If, in most countries, telegraph poles followed the lines of the railway, where they played a fundamental role in the departure of trains, in Portugal, given the length of construction of the railways, this principle was not fulfilled.

According to Joel Serrão, in 1860 the length of the national telegraph lines reached 2 kilometres, while the railway track was 000 kilometres.

By 1878, the entire country was covered by the telegraph network. In the following year, the length of the telegraph lines was 4 km, while the railway lines totaled 741 km.

In the case of the Algarve, where the locomotive only arrived in 1889, the route indicated for the development of the telegraph route by the Director of Public Works was the shortest, that is, from Beja it should go to Almodôvar, Corte Figueira, Loulé and Faro, that is, in the vicinity of one of the most used roads at the time, as we have already recalled here.

However, this was not the chosen one, nor the one defended by the civil governor, who supported what would come to be achieved by the government.

His opinion, or rather, the opinion of general secretary Luís Cândido Teixeira de Moura, who at the time served as governor, was sent to the Ministry of Public Works, in Lisbon, on October 8, 1857, and in it was categorical: «there are some villages on the banks of the Guadiana that can be considered the centers of smuggling, which is clandestinely introduced into the Algarve, running along the same river the limitrophe line between Spain and Portugal, and exercising that country due to its proximity to the analogy and frequency of the political events which it has been the theater of, due to its commercial relations and for other circumstances a considerable influence on the economic, political and industrial state of our country, it seems that the electrical telegraph line, which will be established between the Capital and the Algarve, should preferably follow the direction established by the Government, because in this way, passing through Mertola, Villa Real, Tavira and Faro and connecting the said points on the bank of the Guadiana and the coast with the Central Station of Faro, puts the people of Spain's borders in contact with the District's administration center, facilitating and accelerating the communications of any occurrences that have a place there, occurrences that can be of very important scope in relation to commerce, industry and even politics of the country: in relation, above all to the contraband traffic, the advantage offered by the line along the Guadiana bank is unquestionable».

For all these reasons, it was «evident that following the guidelines indicated by the Director of Public Works (...) by Beja, Almodovar, Corte Figueira and Loulé, although the line has less development (9 leagues of difference) it will not be possible to achieve the goals that if they have in mind”.

And he reinforced: «neither can news of any incidents that may have occurred be transmitted telegraphically to the Capital of the District, or of which there is knowledge in the lands of the border and bank of the Guadiana, nor consequently adopt any prompt measures that the circumstances require».

He reiterated not only the creation of telegraph stations at all those points, but "it would be of great convenience and unquestionable public interest" for the line to go beyond Faro and extended to Lagos, passing through Albufeira and Vila Nova de Portimão, thus 'connecting all the important points of the Algarve with the Central Station (Faro) and this City with the Capital of the Kingdom».

He added that the «increase in expenditure would be fruitfully compensated with the important economic, political and administrative advantages that the said improvement will result for the whole country».

In view of the above, the extension of the line by more than 35 kilometers was fully justified, with the aim of monitoring and supervising the eastern part of the province, rather than crossing the «desert» Caldeirão.



According to Guilhermino Barros, in the work «Historical memory about electrical telegraphy in Portugal», the line from Montemor-o-Novo to Faro was built in 1858, with the stations of Montemor, Évora (opened in March), Beja, Vila Real de Santo António and Tavira (end of July) and Faro, which began operating on August 25, 1858.

Unfortunately, we did not find any news about the opening in the press. In the Algarve, newspapers were not published on that date and, in Lisbon, of the steps taken, we only located a brief reference in the «Jornal Mercantil», in the edition of 28 August 1858, which limited itself to mentioning: «it is open to the public to telegraph for the reception and transmission of private announcements to the telegraphic station of Faro».

But if the telegraph reached the heart of the Algarve, Alcoutim would watch the line pass.

In November, at the Cortes in Lisbon, the Public Works Commission forwarded to the government the request of the Alcouteneja municipality, so that an electric telegraph station could be built there, «with no expense to be spent on laying the wire as a result of it going over of a national farm building, which could also be used as a station with a small expense».

At the same time, on November 22, deputy Hermenegildo Palma, born in Tavira, asked the Minister of Public Works in the Chamber of Deputies for the same request for Mértola and reiterated to Alcoutim, recalling that this was the only way to fulfill the inspection plan for the lane . Supplication that he repeated on January 18, 1861.



The extension of the line to Sagres was also the subject of debate in parliament. Hermenegildo Palma aired, in the same session, that «a very important point of our coasts that is Cabo de S. Vicente, where immense vessels are sheltered in the winter, where trade has often suspended its fortune, could by that means reassure up; and it is this point that is still without telegraphic communication».

The minister considered those claims fair, informing that the Mértola station would be created shortly, as well as that the projects that the government had prepared for the Algarve would be presented in parliament.

Mértola would see its station completed in 1862 (three years later, on June 21, 1865, the one in Pomarão was installed), and later Alcoutim was installed (it would have been established after 1875).

Better luck had Olhão, considered at the time “one of the most commercial points in the Algarve”, whose station opened in 1861.

Although the tender for the acquisition of 1 200 poles (400 of 9,5 m in length and 800 of 7,5 m) for connecting Faro Sagres had been launched on September 22, 1859, the work was delayed in time.


Only in 1865 was the line extended to the west, serving Loulé, Albufeira, Lagoa, Silves, Portimão and Lagos, having been inaugurated in early March.

Sagres arrived six months later, on September 9th.

For later, there was the link from Portimão to Caldas, opened to the public on August 25, 1875 (it only worked during the bathing season).

Stations had limited opening hours. For example, in 1867, Faro and Vila Real de Santo António operated between 7:00 am and 21:00 pm, while the others operated between 8:00 am and sunset.



The implementation and layout of the telegraph line thus had a double objective, not only to transmit information quickly, but also to monitor the lane at the same time, allowing, if necessary, the deployment of military forces or others to that area.

In the national context, in July 1858, electric telegraphy was a reality in the districts of Porto, Braga, Viana do Castelo, Aveiro, Coimbra, Leiria, Santarém, Beja and Évora, on the 18th of August it arrived in Castelo Branco.

The last districts served were Viseu and Portalegre (October 1858) and Guarda, Vila Real, Bragança (in 1860).

the district of Faro, this time, it didn't stay for the end, the news even if conditioned, to the schedules of the stations, arrived and departed quickly from the region.

Progress in communications was taking its first steps, but 20 years later, precisely on February 8, 1878, the heads of the telegraph stations in Vila Real and Faro spoke on the phone for the first time in the Algarve.

But this is another story. For now, in August 1858, the electric telegraph was at the service of the authorities and the people of the Algarve.


Author Aurélio Nuno Cabrita is an environmental engineer and researcher of local and regional history, as well as a regular collaborator of the Sul Informação.

Note: The spelling of the time has been preserved in the transcriptions. The images, with the exception of the map, are merely illustrative and correspond to illustrated postcards.




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