John Crossley Robley 1885 to 1937.

John Crossley Robley was the only son of Henry Robson Robley, drysalter and Grocery shop keeper of Newcastle, Northumberland and his wife Edith Ann Brown. Henry originated in Carlisle in Cumberland and Edith in Newcastle, Northumberland. The couple had four other children, all daughters.

John Crossley, aka. Jack was born on 18th February 1885 in Newcastle. Two of John Crossley's sisters died in Newcastle as infants. The family migrated to Fremantle in Western Australia in 1912.

In 1913 John Crossley married Frances Rosa Marchment in Beverley in the Eastern Wheatbelt of Western Australia. She was another migrant having been born in Hungerford, Wiltshire in 1888.

At first John worked in the Telegraph Engineering Branch, Telegraph Workshop where he met Frederick Tough, a Senior Mechanic in the Telegraph Engineering Branch, Telegraph Workshop. Tough was born in the UK and migrated to Western Australia aboard the SS Armadale, also in 1912. It is not known if either of the two men had Morse operating qualifications, if they had, an additional allowance could be claimed.

John was appointed a Senior Mechanic on 21st March 1914. Both men resigned on the same day, the 5th October 1920. It is assumed that they went into partnership. John was a business man and established the J.C Robley and Co. Electrical Scientific and Photography Factory, located a backroom in the Horse Shoe Cafe in Pier Street, Perth opposite the Government Printers Office. Clearly the Factory was a very modest affair.

Joseph was an ardent and expert photographer and his factory specialised in repairs to scientific instruments. At some stage, probably around 1920 they began manufacturing the Robley and Tough Semi-Automatic Key, named by them the Piergraph after the name of the Robley Factory in Pier Street.

Some time later Robley sold out to Tough for the sum 150 pounds. It is probable that each then went their own way. Whether Tough continued to make keys is not known.

The Piergraph now displayed at the Wireless Hill Telecommunications Museum was part of a key collection of the late Dave Couch. When Dave passed away he bequeathed that the collection was to be divided into lots and donated to several museums in Perth including Wireless Hill. Dave stipulated that the Piergraph was to go to Wireless Hill along with over 30 other keys. This was done because it is claimed that this key was used at Wireless Hill ( Perth Radio Station) during the working life of the station (1912-1967). Dave was simply ensuring that the key returned to its original home.

John and Frances and his sisters, Esther and Edith, lived at 25 king George Street in Victoria Park, Perth. Esther born 1886, had been a Post Office Telephone Operatior in Newcastle up to the time the family migrated. She died on June 29th 1929.

Daughter, Edith, married Henry Sheppard in 1918 in Perth and they had a son, Joseph Henry on 4th November 1918. He married Mary Margarat Scanlan in Swan, Western Australia in 1942. In 1940 he joined the RAAF as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and on the 3rd march 1943 was posted missing presumed dead.

John Crossley died in Victoria Park on 3rd August 1937 and is buried in the C. of E. portion of the Cemetery in Karakatta, WA. His wife, Frances, died in Kalamunda WA in 1970.


The Piergraph is a quite unusual machine in contrast with other machines. The pendulum arrangement could be described as back to front. This is because the pendulum's mainspring is attached to a post between the two terminals at the back of the key's base and the pendulum weight is located at the other end and towards the finger pieces. It is estimated that pendulations could be adjusted to anywhere between 18 and 30+ words per minute.

How many of these machines were produced is not known but they are rare.

John Robley. December 2013.