14. THE COMPANIES’ FOREIGN OPERATIONS
Since the separate British companies used differing systems no direct electrical connection was possible between them or consequently overseas; foreign traffic therefore involved transcription, i.e. manual 're-writing', just as the original German-Austrian Telegraph Union did. However by the year of the continent-wide conventions, 1855, the European states commonly used the basic American telegraph for international traffic, adopting what came in time to be called the 'European Alphabet' or 'Continental Cipher' for messages. This code, actually a cipher, was markedly different from the American code in allowing for diacritical marks and other complexities.
The European Alphabet
Used from mid-1853 by the Electric Telegraph Company
Alinea: paragraph, Staats-Depesche: government message, Bahn-Betreibs-Depesche: railway message, Telegraphenamts-Depesche: service message, Private-Depesche: private/public message, Dringend: urgent, Sehr Dringend: very urgent; Quittung: received, Warten: wait, Verstanden: understand, Anruf: commence (sending), Schluss: stop
International messages were a major source of income – not being subject to as much public and press scrutiny as domestic traffic. There were contractual relationships between the continental cable companies and the telegraph companies. The Magnetic had sole rights to use the Submarine company's cables to France, Belgium and Germany, but only benefited from the domestic segment of the message, the Submarine company having the lion's share. The Electric had its own cables (formerly the International company's) to Holland – so profitable that they were dubbed the "sheet anchor" of the business in the late 1850s. It also contracted, along with the Indo-European Telegraph Company, to use the new Norderney cable for public messages to Europe and the Far East; Julius Reuter retaining the rights for news messages. The new Norderney cable was already paying 19% on its capital for Reuter in 1868.
The original charges of the Submarine Telegraph Company in December 1851 for a twenty word message to Paris were:- from Dover 15s 0d; from London 17s 6d; from Birmingham, Brighton, Cheltenham, Coventry, Gloucester, Newmarket, Norwich, Oxford, Portsmouth and Southampton, £1 0s; and from Chester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Holyhead, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and York £1 2s 6d. Apart from messages originating in Dover these were transcribed in London from the circuits of the Electric company. Messages were being transmitted to arrive the same day from London and Liverpool to Paris, Havre, Vienna, Trieste, Hamburg and Ostend. The longest circuit available from England, with the perils of transcription, at the end of 1851 was to Cracow in Austria.
The Electric Telegraph Company's rate for twenty word
messages on August 15, 1853 from all stations in Britain by the new Holland
cables was advertised as: Amsterdam 8s 4d; Antwerp 11s 6d; Berlin 17s 6d;
Bremen 13s 6d; Breslau 19s 6d; Dantzic 19s 6d; Florence £1 12s 2d;
Frankfort-am-Main 15s 6d; Hague 7s 6d;
Hamburg 15s 6d; Hanover 15s 6d; Strassburg 19s 6d; Leghorn £1 10s 2d; Lübeck
15s 6d; Milan; 19s 6d; Pressburg £1 1s 6d; Rotterdam 8s 4d; Trieste 19s 6d; Venice
19s 6d; and Vienna 19s 6d. The Electric had no access as yet to either France
Portugal was only connected to the rest of Europe in October 1857. The Submarine company's rate from London to Lisbon was 18s 6d for fifteen words and 6s 0d for every additional five words; to Oporto, 19s 0d, and 6s 6d. Five words were allowed for the address free-of-charge, so the message rate was actually for twenty words.
One small difference between the charges of the Electric and Submarine companies was that the Electric refunded all pre-paid reply charges that were unused whilst the Submarine deducted 25% of the amount.The Submarine company stated that its share of all these prices from stations in Great Britain was 8s 0d for the segment to either Calais or Ostend, the balance going to the state owned circuits in Europe that the message had to pass through. Repetition, the repeating back of the message to the sender as a guarantee of accuracy was charged double-rate to France and one-and- a-half-rate to the rest of Europe. Delivery was also extra in France, but free elsewhere.
The Mediterranean Extension Telegraph Company completed its cables between Cagliari, Malta and Corfu at the end of 1856. On December 31, 1857, the Submarine company offered rates of £1 6s for fifteen words and 8s 8d for extra words to Malta, and £1 17s and 12s 4d for Corfu, with five words free for the address, from London.
Prices in Europe 1854
The Hague route used the new cables of the Electric Telegraph Company; the Ostend, Calais and Brussels routes used the circuits of the Submarine Telegraph Company and the British Telegraph Company. Königsberg was Prussia's most eastern city, near to Russia. Trieste was the principal port for Austria-Hungary. One thaler was worth about three shillings
Statistics from 'Der Telegraph als Verkehrsmittel', Dr Karl Knies, Freiburg, 1857
Just as in Britain the course of continental wires was complex: the traffic from Paris to Milan in 1854 was worked by way of Brussels, Berlin, Vienna and Trieste. With the need of several transcriptions a message occupied twenty-four hours in transit. Milan was then a city of the Austrian empire.
In June 1858 the Electric & International Company's Continental Rates for a
twenty word message from London via The Hague were:
Well before the completion of either the land line or the cable to the Far East the Submarine and Magnetic companies marketed a combined telegraph and steamer message service. On January 14, 1860 a twenty word message, exclusive of five words free for the address could be sent by three alternate routes to places in Australia from any office in Britain and Ireland.
By Calais and Malta to
By Calais and Marseilles to
By Ostend and Trieste to
This immensely complex scheme worked in concert with the telegraphs of France, Italy and Austria with the message being carried onward by the British mail steamers and the Austrian Lloyd steamers as well as by the several state telegraphs in Australia.A land line to India had been patched together using an assortment of government circuits and cables from Europe through Ottoman Turkey by the beginning of 1865. Message costs for Indian cities were £5 1s for twenty words. Of this the Electric Telegraph Company shared 3s 6d, the German-Austrian Telegraph Union 10s 6d, the Ottoman telegraphs £1 8s and the British India government cables and telegraphs £2 19s.
The Magnetic and Submarine companies charged exactly the same rate as the Electric from London to Calcutta, receiving a share of 2s 6d from messages out of London and 3s 6d for messages from country stations.
The joint price structure from March 1, 1865, of the Submarine Telegraph Company and the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company from all their stations in Britain and Ireland by way of Constantinople and the Persian Gulf was:
To Calcutta, Bombay and Madras £5 1s 0d
To Rangoon and Moulmein (Burmah) £5 5s 0d
To Colombo, Point de Galle,
Kandy and Mannaar (Ceylon) £5 8s 0d
This was for twenty words including address and signature; ten words extra at half-rate. Messages for Singapore, China and Australia could be forwarded by mail steamer from Point de Galle.
The India rate was fixed by the London government.
Submarine Telegraph Company in Europe
Zone 1 – 10 francs (London
Similar messages to Ireland
cost from 16.25 to 22 francs
Message Rates from Belgium in 1854 were broadly similar, but for twenty words, charged in addition to the domestic tariff:
Zone 1 – Ostend to London or Dover, 10 francs
Delivery was charged at 1 franc 25 cents extra, except in London where it was paid by the recipient.
from 'Der Telegraph als Verkehrsmittel',
For messages to the Continent addresses were generally charged for in 1859,
they were free only in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Costs via Belgium were based
on a fifteen word message; via France on twenty-five words including five words
for the address. There was an additional flat rate charge where the message had
to be forwarded to a station of a railway telegraph rather than to one on the
state-owned circuits. All porterage had to be pre-paid. English language was
acceptable to nearly all continental destinations, the understandable
exceptions being small, rural offices. Commercial cipher was forbidden to the
German states but otherwise allowed at special cost. Repetition for accuracy
and pre-paid return messages were all allowed.
The Submarine's tariff on April 1, 1860 was simplified, with a rate of 7s 3d for twenty word messages to Paris, Antwerp and Brussels, and 8s 0d to Hamburg, Copenhagen, Altona and all stations in Hanover and Denmark, extra words being 4½d each. These rates were covered by pre-paid Frank Stamps for the first time, the stamps also included values for ten word messages.
Elsewhere the Submarine's new rates in 1860 were 5s 0d to Boulogne and Calais, 10s 0d to Nantes and Lyons, and 11s 0d to Marseilles in France. For Russia it was 17s 0d to Riga, 19s 6d for St Petersburg and Odessa and 20s 6d to Moscow; to Italy 12s 0d to Genoa and 15s 6d to Leghorn; to Ottoman Turkey 20s 6d to Constantinople and 27s 6d to Smyrna; and to Malta 31s 3d. Circuits to Egypt and India were shortly anticipated.
The 1860 reduction in charges, claimed by the Submarine company to be "50%", increased half yearly messages to June 30 from 79,503 in 1860 to 104,593 in 1861, but receipts were reduced by £4,236.
When the Mediterranean Extension Telegraph Company opened its new cables on February 28, 1861, it appointed the Submarine and Magnetic companies' its agents in Britain. The charge for a twenty word message from London to Malta via Sicily was 17s 6d, and to Corfu via Otranto 18s 6d. An extra 1s 0d was charged for messages from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Later in the year, on November 16, 1861, the British government's cable to Alexandria was opened and was also worked in concert with the Submarine and Magnetic companies. A twenty word message from London to Alexandria in Egypt cost 46s 9d, to Tripoli 26s 9d and to Benghazi 36d 9d. From other places in Britain 1s 0d was added. Messages forwarded by steamer from Suez to India, China and Australia required 2s 0d more.
However, as with domestic telegraphy, foreign message costs from the United Kingdom continued to fall markedly. The Submarine Telegraph Company in January 1862 introduced a simplified tariff to continental Europe charging 7s 6d for twenty words inclusive of addresses to most countries in western Europe, additional words were charged at 4½d each. Its competitors in Britain fell into line with similar reductions.
In 1862 the Submarine company's tariff for twenty words, including the recipient's address, to distant stations listed Alexandria in Egypt 46s 9d, Athens 32s 0d, Bucharest 16s 0d, Constantinople 19s 6d, Corfu 16 9d, Moscow 19s 0d, St Petersburg 18s 6d, Smyrna 26s 6d, and Taganrog in Southern Russia 30s 6d.
Other common destinations were Barcelona 9s 6d, Bergen 19s 6d, Cadiz 13s 0d, Christiania 17s 6d, Helsingborg 11s 6d, Madrid 10 6d, Malta 16s 9d, Naples 11s 0d, Palermo 12s 0d, Seville 13s 0d, and Warsaw 13s 6d.
As an additional measure of security and efficiency the repeater devised by C F Varley of the Electric company in 1855 with automatic repetition (i.e. direct point-to-point working) was introduced into the longest overland continental circuits, initially through northern Europe to St Petersburg, and then on the dedicated lines to Turkey and India, thus avoiding the perils of transcription by non-English speaking operators. This also enabled the introduction of automatic telegraphy with tape perforators, rotary transmitters and fast receivers on the Indo-European company's long circuits.
The United Kingdom company eventually, in 1868, contracted to use the Great Northern Telegraph Company of Copenhagen's newly-laid cable between Jutland in Denmark, and Newbiggin in Northern England; giving it access to the Continent through Danish state circuits. In the following year it also connected with the Great Northern's Norwegian cable at Peterhead in Scotland. The Company transcribed the messages from its American and Hughes circuits at its offices in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Aberdeen on to Wheatstone's automatic telegraph used by the Great Northern. In the following year, 1869, the United Kingdom company came to an agreement with the French Atlantic cable to handle all their traffic from England and Scotland to America by way of Paris.
The "European Alphabet" or dot-and-dash code was hence used by all of the British telegraph companies for their foreign traffic.
Through these connections it was possible by 1868 to communicate from virtually
any telegraph office in Britain and Ireland with any office on the continent of
Europe, and to the Levant and to India.
There were no direct electrical circuits between the domestic companies' wires and the intercontinental cables, all messages were transcribed at the cable companies' offices in London. A dedicated leased-line ran from London to the cable-end for America, crossing the Irish Sea using the London & South-of-Ireland Direct Telegraph Company's cable from Abermawr in Wales to Wexford in Ireland. A private wire was leased of the Electric Telegraph Company by the Falmouth, Gibraltar & Malta Telegraph Company in 1870 from the common office of all the Mediterranean and Indian cable companies at 66 Old Broad Street, London to Penzance in Cornwall, where it connected with the Malta company's own 10 mile long line to the cable-end of the intercontinental eastern circuits at Porthcurno.
To facilitate transcription between domestic and intercontinental circuits the Electric company allowed the Anglo-American Telegraph Company a room at its premises in Telegraph Street in London with instruments and a short local circuit to the cable company’s City office. It later granted similar facilities to the Indo-European Telegraph Company and was to construct a pneumatic tube for messages to connect with the British India Telegraph Company’s station in London.
Of the domestic telegraph companies, the Magnetic's board of directors, its
engineers and its management were intimately involved in the promotion and
creation of the world-wide underwater cable network, as befitted their initial
connection with the original Submarine Telegraph Company.
On its completion in 1866 the cost for messages over the cables of the Atlantic telegraph between Britain and the United States was 20s 0d (240d) a word for a minimum of ten words. The cost reduced quickly during the first year to ten words for 4s 0d (48d) a word.
Despite, or in ignorance of, this tariff W H Seward, the "Republican Richelieu" and American Secretary of State since 1861, sent a 760 word message to the Emperor of the French on November 26, 1866 insisting that it be encrypted. The primitive cypher used engrossed the message into 3,722 telegraphic "words"; it cost $19,540.50 to transmit, three times Seward's annual salary. It took the Anglo-American company's agents in America five years and a law suit to obtain payment.
The opening of the French Atlantic cable from Brest to St Pierre and Duxbury in America in August 1869 saw rates from Britain plummet. The United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company, the French cable's agents, offered 10 word messages for 40 francs or 32s 0d, and 4 francs or 3s 3d for each additional word, by way of Paris. The Electric and Magnetic companies, for the Anglo-American Telegraph Company, countered on the same day with a price of 30s 0d for ten words, 3s 0d for extra words.
The performance of the intercontinental telegraph was vividly illustrated on Saturday, December 21, 1867. At a banquet to celebrate Charles Wheatstone at the Polytechnic in Regent Street, London, the chairman, the Duke of Wellington, sent a message of fifty words to the American President, Andrew Johnson, in Washington. It took just nine minutes and thirty seconds to cross the Atlantic and arrive at his residence. The President's reply of fifty-nine words took twenty-nine minutes to transmit back to Regent Street and was received as the assembly were still at dinner. After these formalities were over the assembled scientists sent a message of twenty-two words from the Polytechnic in London to the telegraph station at Heart's Content in Newfoundland. It was sent at nine o'clock; the reply of twenty-four words was received at ten past nine!
When the Electric company's former secretary, Henry Weaver, took over management of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company he eliminated minimum message length, charging simply by the word in 1871. One word messages were then possible. The other cable companies immediately adopted his price model.On the dissolution of the telegraph companies in 1868 many, if not most, of the best managers, electricians and engineers, and even the more adventurous clerk-operators, left to serve the underwater cable telegraph firms in Britain and overseas rather than take employment with the Post Office. Technical direction of the new national telegraphic system was to be left to a railway signal engineer.
The Telegram Agency
The telegram agency, as their name implies, acted as intermediary between the message sender and the telegraph company owning the lines. Its purpose, essentially, was to save the sender money. It required little or no capital to set up, needing little more than a rented office and stationery.
From the foundation of his firm in 1851 Julius Reuter had managed the messages of private subscribers in London, on the continent of Europe and eventually, after 1870, in all corners of the world. His offices in London, Liverpool and Manchester advertised from 1853, "Messages forwarded with rapidity and correctness of translation, to every part of the continent". In the 1860s Reuter was handling diplomatic traffic for many embassies and plenipotentiaries in London. The private message business remained a significant part of Reuter's Telegram Company, underpinning its news and intelligence products, for many decades. Several other, much lesser, concerns entered the public telegram agency business from the mid-1860s, broadening their customer base to the general public.
The nature of the telegram agency was consolidation;
• The first task was the assembly of a Register of clients,
whose names and addresses were then reduced to a single word for telegraphic
The key operational element was the reduction of ordinary language into as few telegraphic "words" as possible. For business there were to be introduced an immense range of code books that reduced common (and more complex) phrases and instructions into single words; these covered many hundreds of alternatives in volumes of up to a thousand pages. Of course, many firms settled on the common code for their trade and undertook their own encoding. This was done, it should be said, not for reasons of confidentiality, but for those of economy.
As regards 'packing', the consolidation of several foreign messages into one, this was condemned by the telegraphic world, in particular by the International Telegraph Conventions of Vienna (1868) and Rome (1871). In Britain the Anglo-American Telegraph Company, the Indo-European Telegraph Company, and the Eastern Telegraph Company, that monopolised intercontinental traffic and operated a price cartel, also complained bitterly to the General Post Office regarding the practice of 'packing'. However the legitimate use of codes by many of their main users, by and large, concealed any 'packing'. The telegram agency, in addition to this hostility, had to work a cash business as no telegraph company would grant it credit or allow it an open account.
The first independent 'packer' was the General Telegram Agency, a trading title of Messrs Pope, Rée and McLean, of 11 Throgmorton Street, City, and 2 Circus Place, Finsbury Circus, in 1869. This had evolved into McLean's Telegraphic Bureau by 1874, specialising in public and news messages to America, with offices at 39 Lombard Street. Eventually James McLean concentrated on news, and his agency became the London correspondent of Associated Press of New York by 1877.
One of largest of this new category of communication business was the Oriental Telegram Agency. This was the initiative of Robert Valentine Dodwell, who had a long history as a telegraph engineer with the Magnetic Telegraph Company in Manchester and Liverpool and on his own account in the north-of-England. In 1872, along with George Ager, Dodwell published 'The Social Code', in 230 pages, one of the first code-books intended for use by ordinary travellers, emigrants and tourists. By early 1873 the Oriental Telegram Agency had a central office at 140 Leadenhall Street, City, and branches at 35A Moorgate Street, City, London; 61 Prince's Street; Manchester; Batavia Buildings, Hackins Hey, Liverpool; and 29 Waterloo Street, Glasgow, a new branch was opened at 45A Pall Mall, St James's, in January 20, 1874. Dodwell, as managing director, had previously created a network of corresponding agents in India, China and Australia. He recruited a former colleague at the Magnetic Telegraph Company in Manchester, George Hine, as company secretary and manager.
The Oriental Telegram Agency's public tariff for May 1873 was Annual Subscription 5s 0d; messages to India, 5 words 15s 0d, 10 words £1, each additional word 1s; to China, 5 words £1 1s, 10 words £1 10s, each additional word 2s, and to Australia, 5 words £2, 10 words £3, each additional word 3s. It would have different rates for mercantile clients. Later it offered free registration of addresses in Britain and overseas.
The comparative message rate for the Eastern Telegraph Company, operating the cable between London and India, and for the Indo-European Telegraph Company, working the land-line across Europe to India, was for 10 words, £2, for each additional word 4s 3d.
To expand their business, the proprietors of the Oriental agency looked west and established the separate Antilles Telegram Agency in 1873 at the same addresses it used in Britain. It recruited Agents in the West Indies, extending quickly through Central and Latin America, and, for a period, to North America, wherever the new telegraph cables touched.
The Telegraph Despatch & Intelligence Company, with offices initially at 80 Cornhill, City, London, launched its prospectus for capital in 1872, it lasted until January 26, 1877. It intended to purchase James McLean's original telegraphic news agency, whose connections included the American Press Association, the New York Commercial & Financial Bureau and the American Packing Business, for £2,500 in February 1872.
The news business was soon surrendered to the all-encompassing Julius Reuter and it then introduced a public message service. It offered "Travellers' Telegram Tickets" in August 1872, for America, 5s 0d, India £1 1s and Australia, £1 10s, from its office at 1 Royal Exchange Buildings, City, from Grindley & Company, India bankers, 55 Parliament Street, Westminster and H S King & Company, India agents, 65 Cornhill, City, and from other passenger agencies, redeemable at its correspondents abroad. With some nerve it petitioned the Post Office in 1873 to allow its advertising for cheap rate foreign messages in all domestic telegraph offices, and to have the Post Office forward messages at cost to its London office.
The Telegraph Despatch company's message rates in January 1874 were, for the addresses of sender and recipient to India 10s 0d, extra words 4s 0d; to Singapore and China, addresses £1, extra words 6s 0d; to Japan, addresses £1 10s, extra words 8s 0d; and to Australia, addresses £2, extra words 10s. It closed its offices for business in December 1876.
The Anglo-Continental Telegram Company, 3 Crown Court, Old Broad Street, City, was commenced in 1870 by Richard Wilhelm Otto Rochs and Edward Calley Manico, a couple of individuals unconnected with the telegraph industry but having language skills. They had offices in London and Constantinople; providing daily news telegrams from Paris, Berlin, Frankfort, Vienna, Amsterdam and Hamburg to subscribers paying from £10 to £50 per annum, as well as handling their private messages. In financial trouble after three years trading, Rochs and Manico promoted the Universal Telegram Company, a joint-stock concern, the second firm of that name, in March 1873 which was to purchase the business of Anglo-Continental. The promotion failed and they were both made bankrupt on August 3, 1873.
The failed Anglo-Continental business was acquired by Robert Dodwell in October 1873 as a private transaction and became the Cable Telegram Company, with an office at 127 Leadenhall Street, City and branches, shared with the Oriental agency, at 45A Pall Mall, and 4 Crown Court, Threadneedle Street, London, and Batavia Buildings, Hackins Hey, Liverpool.
Otto Rochs of Anglo-Continental was appointed by Dodwell as manager of the Oriental Telegram Agency. The Oriental and Antilles agencies successful expanded their public and mercantile encoding and packing network throughout India, China, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the Brazils, eventually to all of South America over four years.
However, after a court case between Dodwell and the other directors the Oriental, Antilles and Cable agencies failed in May 1876. An Oriental & American Telegram Company took over, managed by Otto Rochs, but without Dodwell's direction, that too failed in July 1878.
The last and longest-lasting agency was the Commercial Telegram Bureaux, started by John Jones, a publisher and printer of trade circulars for the American and Indian textile markets in Liverpool sometime early in 1890. Jones moved to London and used his connections to create a worldwide network of telegraphic bureaux or agencies that collected and collated valuable trade information for the mercantile interest in Britain, Europe, India, Australia and America. It, too, managed the telegram business of mercantile houses using its own abbreviating code to reduce intercontinental cable messages costs. It opened offices at 11 Tokenhouse Yard, City, London. It became Comtelburo in June 1900, continuing as a very successful publishing firm and telegraphic agency. It was acquired by Reuters in 1944.
Telegraph, from the Greek “tele”, distant, and “graphos”, writing
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