A Revolution in Illumination

With the advent of urban development, the services that are taken for granted today such as lighting, water and sewerage, created many concerns for residents and very long debates for aldermen on local councils across the country.

By the 1870s, it was becoming a necessity for the streets of Wagga Wagga to be illuminated for the safety of businesses and residents. The streets were in a poor state, dark and very dangerous.

In March 1874, Forsyth and Company, importers of general merchandise, installed a set of street lamps which lit the exterior of the store, proving to be a benefit to patrons and the general pedestrian in Fitzmaurice Street.

Forsyth and Company was a huge store on the corner of Fitzmaurice and Kincaid Streets and had been a dominant Wagga business since 1855.  Forsyth’s lamps have a strong claim to being the first in Wagga to assist with navigating the main town area.

Forsyth - WWA 18 March 1874
The Wagga Wagga Advertiser congratulated Mr Forsyth and his company on their installation of lighting in their 18 March 1874 issue [Trove Digitised Newspapers, National Library of Australia].

Light up the Streets

Alderman Copland brought forward a motion for the lighting of principal streets at the 19 October meeting of the Wagga Municipal Council in 1875. He debated the issue at some length and submitted an annual cost estimate of £270 to cover the cost of maintenance.

The motion was not passed and the resolution was to be held over for 3 months. It was not discussed again, the issue of the water supply taking precedence.

The following year the streets of Wagga Wagga were finally lit – by kerosene lamps. While this was a wonderful step for Wagga’s residents, kerosene lamps had the distinct disadvantage of having to be lit by hand, one by one.

Mr David Harris submitted accounts for payment to council from 1877 for the lighting of the kerosene lamps and in September 1881 Mr Richard Griffiths won the tender of £71.10s for the lamp lighting for one year.

It makes good business sense to have a lamp installed outside a hotel and in this photograph taken in 1890-1891 we can see Elizabeth Rogers’ Prince of Wales Hotel in Fitzmaurice Street had one right next to the water trough. [From the Pym Collection, CSURA RW2735/122]

A Gas-lit Town

In 1879, the advantages of gas lighting, compared to that by kerosene, created a lot of discussion amongst the alderman and the public.

A private company, Messrs Wark Brothers, purchased land at the corner of Cross and Tarcutta Streets and by March 1881 the gasworks were completed.  Fourteen lamps were installed in the main section of town and in some side streets.

On 26 March 1881, in the presence of a large crowd the first gas lamp was lit by the Mayor’s wife, Mrs Eliza Fitzhardinge.  Mrs Fitzhardinge was complimented on her interest in the progress of the town and Wagga Wagga could now boast of being a “gas-lit town”.

In July 1886, the Wagga Wagga Municipal Council offered Wark Brothers £8,000 for the gasworks. Negotiations continued until at a Special Meeting held on 3 December 1887, when an agreeable sum of £15,000 on debentures at 5% for twenty one years was accepted.

The council took possession in February 1888 with the transaction completed in November 1888.

FitzmauriceSt RW98.25
A man sits on his horse in the middle of the Fitzmaurice Street – Gurwood Street intersection during the 1891 flood. Interestingly (for our purposes) he is right next to one of Wagga’s rather ornate gas lamps. [From the Gormly Family Collection, CSURA RW98/25]

Electrical Advantages

By 1901, street lighting with gas was becoming obsolete and it was believed that electricity would be much more satisfactory to illuminate the town.

It was suggested in the Wagga Wagga Express that Wagga was not keeping up to date with progress. The gas works equipment had been in use over 20 years and were in need of updating and repairing.

At the Municipal Council meeting on 17 June 1909, the issue of an Electric Lighting Scheme had not been resolved. Alderman Smith suggested that, because of the need of extensive extensions to the Gasworks Plant, consideration should be given to the cost of Electric Plants sufficiently large enough for the town’s street lighting.

The committee did not come to a conclusion and recommended the Town Clerk make enquiries.

“Press the Button”

The issue of electricity was interrupted during the years of the Great War, and so it was that on 6 May 1922 the long-awaited Electric Light was switched on, after 20 years of deliberation!

The night of the “switching on” ceremony, Mayor Oates began his speech with the portentous announcement: “This is the moment when we will press the button.”

The specially made oak switch box was placed on a table in the vestibule of the Council Chambers and the Mayor’s wife, Mrs Oates, was given the honour of turning on the lights at about a quarter past 8 o’clock.

“A gasp of astonishment, followed by hearty cheers, greeted the flood of light.  Doubtless expressions of surprise and pleasure were uttered whenever the light shone.  The Town Hall itself presented a brilliant spectacle.  In the murky darkness of the single gas-light in the centre of the streets, the numerous lamps that had been placed for the occasion in the front of the building were hidden from view.  It was not until the ceremony had been performed that their glorious luminary power was realised.”


RW2893.457 Lights
This photograph showing the Wollundry Lagoon Bridge lit up at night-time was identified by its previous owner as having been taken on the night of the Turning On of the Electric Light. [From the Wagga Wagga and District Historical Society, CSURA RW2893/457]

“The lagoon bridge was crowned by strings of lights which cast a reflection as bright as day.  Along the main street the great arc-lights threw out their rays from the railway station to Hampden Bridge, illuminating portions of that thoroughfare that had previously at night time, hidden under the mantle of darkness.”


Wagga Wagga  Municipal Council Minutes October 19, 1874, February 8, 1877, September 1, 1881, December 3 1887;  Wagga Wagga Advertiser March 18, 1874, March 29, 1881, July 3, 1886, October 22, 1887, May 8, 1922;  Wagga Wagga Express March 26, 1879, July 23, 1901, June 19, 1909;  Wagga Wagga a History – Sherry Morris.

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