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To complete the picture of the telegraph industry in the mid-nineteenth century it is necessary to hark back to some predecessors.

The General Telegraph Association's optical telegraph station
at Southwark, London, it worked Barnard Watson's semaphore until
August 19, 1843 when it burnt down 

Before the electric telegraph there had existed several forms of optical signalling, using flags, shutters and semaphores, for messaging over great distances. In these, stations were established on hill-tops in sight of one another along the route or "circuit".

In Britain the first such was the Admiralty's Shutter Telegraph created in 1795 in reaction to the Bonapartiste threat to England. It worked Lord John Murray's apparatus with six rotating shutters to indicate a complex message code. There were three lines constructed, the first was from the Admiralty in London east to the dockyard at Sheerness and to Deal, overlooking the Channel to France, opened in January 1796. The second was a very long line south from London to the naval station at Portsmouth, on the Channel coast, and west to Plymouth facing the Atlantic Ocean, opened in May 1806. The third was worked to Yarmouth on the east coast and commenced work in June 1808. All three were abandoned in 1814 once the Bonapartiste regime in France had been expelled.

Admiralty Shutter Telegraph at Deptford, London, 1825

The Admiralty almost immediately regretted the loss of the telegraph and in 1815 obtained permission of Parliament to build a new Semaphore Telegraph system; securing peacetime powers to acquire property and prevent obstruction of the signals. It adopted the semaphore apparatus of Hume Popham which had two rotating arms, rather than swinging shutters, for an experimental telegraph from London to Chatham dockyard, this was worked from 1816 until 1822. Its semaphores were then transferred to a new line from London to Portsmouth, which operated from 1824 until December 1847 when it was superseded by the electric telegraph. An extension to distant Plymouth was started but never finished in 1827.

It, in its developed state, used a system based on a vertical mast set above station-houses on high ground within sight of each other over its course; requiring constant, eye-straining vigilance by the signallers in the daylight hours. The most important semaphore telegraph, that between the Admiralty in London and Portsmouth, ran over 72 miles and cost latterly between £3,000 and £3,500 a year to work. In addition to this substantial sum it was, allegedly, only fully operational for one-fifth of the year; being interrupted regularly by fog, by rain and even by gloomy weather. The Admiralty semaphore was abandoned at the end of 1847.

Watson's Marine Telegraphs
Independent of these obsolete government semaphore lines there were several other similar commercial marine telegraphs still functioning early in this period.

Liverpool & Holyhead Marine Telegraph 1856
Great Orme's Head Station, Llandudno, showing the keeper's house
with the two-tower, four-arm semaphore on the signal room roof 
and the separate mast for signalling ships

The Liverpool & Holyhead Marine Telegraph was the first commercial semaphore created in Britain. Its Act of Parliament of 1825 allowed the Liverpool Dock Trustees to "establish a speedy Mode of Communication to the Ship-owners and Merchants at Liverpool of the arrival of Ships and vessels off the Port of Liverpool or the Coast of Wales, by building, erecting and maintaining Signal Houses, Telegraphs or such other Modes of Communication as to them shall seem expedient, between Liverpool and Hoylake, or between Liverpool and the Isle of Anglesea (sic)." The line was constructed to the design of Barnard Lindsay Watson, a lieutenant in the West Oxford Militia, often erroneously (or mischievously) referred to as a lieutenant of the Navy, who was appointed "Superintendent of the Telegraph" with a salary of £250 a year.

The initial apparatus combined a six-armed semaphore mast to communicate between the eleven stations surmounted by a flag staff for speaking with passing ships. Additionally, each station was outfitted with two telescopes, a telegraph vocabulary or code book, a ship list and a message log. Some also possessed barometers and wind vanes to observe weather conditions. Each station was worked by a single Telegraph Keeper, paid £50 a year in the late 1830s.

The line opened throughout on November 5, 1827, having cost £2,281 12s 3d to build. Messages allegedly took just five minutes to pass from Holyhead to Liverpool.

Watson proposed extending the semaphore telegraph from Liverpool to Manchester in May 1835, and from Liverpool to London, along the line of a newly planned railway, in October 1837.

The nature and amount of work accomplished by the Liverpool to Holyhead semaphore telegraph is summarised in Watson's report to the Dock Trustees dated December 12, 1836: "In the year 1828 there were about 847 vessels reported by name inward and outward bound; in 1831 there were 1,712; in the present year, up to 30th Nov., [1836] there were upwards of 2,440, besides several hundred without numbers, upwards of 500 reports respecting pilot-boats, about 200 communications respecting wrecks, accidents and casualties, and the state of the wind and weather reported upwards of 700 different times."

Watson's Code of Signals for Shipping 1838
This was first devised in 1828, using three "number" flags
to identify the name, nationality and
rig of a vessel in a register. To these were added "class" pennants
(triangular flags) for numbers above 999

In addition to his semaphore telegraphic duties Watson was, between 1827 and 1842, making and selling large numbers of sets of his proprietary signal flags for ships to communicate to shore and with each other at sea, and publishing and selling his Code of Signals for Shipping. He was also, unbeknown to the Dock Trustees, receiving and collating intelligence for the chambers of commerce, for the exchange and for shipping insurance companies in Liverpool.

On May 9, 1839 Watson was replaced as superintendant of the Holyhead line due to his "outside interest" of flag-making, just as he was installing a new two-tower, four-arm semaphore to replace his old telegraph that had been virtually destroyed in the "Great Gale" of January 1839. The Holyhead semaphore telegraph in that new form continued in use until 1861.

"Lieutenant" Watson was not deterred. The Hull Chamber of Commerce had commissioned him to survey and erect a semaphore telegraph in March 1839, which opened in September 1839, from their port across the Humber river to Grimsby and to Spurn Head to report shipping arrivals from northern Europe using the two-tower, four-arm semaphore and from these stations to speak with vessels using his flags. By mid-1841 it was part of Watson's General Telegraph Association, when that failed it became independent as the General East Coast Telegraph and finally as the Hull & East Coast Marine Telegraph Association until 1857 when the electric telegraph took over its duties.

Always looking for ways to promote sales of his flags to ship-owners Watson had created the General Telegraph Association at 282 Regent Street in the West End of London during  August 1840 to work coastal signal stations about the country in receiving messages from passing merchant ships for forwarding by post to the port cities. By July 23, 1841, when the Association had moved to premises at 83 Cornhill in the City of London, he had eleven such stations working, including those on his Hull line: in England they were at Flamborough Head, Hull, Yarmouth, Orfordness, North Foreland for London, the Downs in the Channel, St Catharine's Point and The Needles for Southampton; in Scotland, Skirsa Head for Wick, and Peterhead; and in Ireland, Kinsale. Five more, at Dartmouth, and Durdham Downs for Bristol, Scrabster for Thurso, Tuskar Rock and Cape Clear were building. The Association's stations used Watson's flags on masts to speak with ships. It also worked the telegraph cutter Osprey off the Isle of Wight to collect messages from passing vessels in the Channel, which was transferred to Cape Clear in Ireland during January 1842 where Watson had a coastal signal station.

The largest enterprise promoted by General Telegraph Association was a long semaphore line to connect London with the coastal signal station at North Foreland and eastwards to the South Foreland at Kingsdown by Deal on the Kent coast, the so-called "Downs". It had twelve stations to the Downs with a "branch-line" to the North Foreland and was successful in reporting the arrivals of ships and requests for tugs between 1841 and 1843. The Association also received reports from all of the remote coastal signal stations. "Watson's Telegraph" was to contribute to the regular Ship News column in 'The Times' newspaper from August 31, 1841, and provided other news to the City coffee houses and exchanges from its Kentish and its other coast stations.

As with Hull and Spurn Head and London and the Downs, the stations at St Catharine's Point and The Needles on the Isle of Wight were connected by a semaphore line with the port of Southampton, the Association's third "line".

Initially there was an annual subscription of 10s 0d for each ship to access the coastal signal stations, as well as the cost of Watson's thirteen signal flags. It had risen to 20s per annum per vessel by 1841, and permitted communication with all stations using Watson's flags, including those between Liverpool and Holyhead.

The ships' flags cost £8 8s for the "complete set" of thirteen that enabled the sending of messages; for a basic set of three for sending just the ship's number in the register the price was £2 5s. The code book to work the flags cost 12s 6d. Watson claimed that he had sold 800 flag sets before 1827 and 1,700 up to 1833, after the Liverpool line opened.

The Admiralty required that its sea-going ships carried Watson's code book, as did the East India Company. The Company of Trinity House had its lighthouses and lightships in communication by flag with Watson's coastal signal stations.

On August 1, 1842, in attempt to recover his personal investment in the South Foreland semaphore, Watson re-launched the General Telegraph Association as a joint-stock concern, with a nominal capital of £20,000 in 2,000 shares of £10 each, £2 10s to be paid on allotment of shares. Watson had overreached himself financially.

In August 1843 the London signal tower at Southwark which had cost £900 to erect and was uninsured, burned down, ending the Association's corporate existence. The "dense smoke" of the metropolis disrupting its messages had hindered its business and made replacing the tower uneconomic.

General Telegraph Association signal station 1842
Watson's semaphore at Forest Hill, Sydenham

Watson's Hull concern eventually assumed control of several of his other coastal stations that talked with passing shipping as well as the Hull to Spurn Head semaphore line, and in 1848 was working his flags at Flamborough Head, Spurn Head, Great Yarmouth, Aldborough and North Foreland, still adding ships to his register and selling Watson's flags and flag code. The Hull association also then had a network of twenty-two agents, extending from Arbroath in Scotland, down the East Coast of England and along the Channel as far as Weymouth. By then Watson himself had long left the semaphore and flag business. 

All of the later commercial optical telegraph companies used the  two-tower, four-arm semaphore system of Barnard Watson, with moving arms atop tall masts on a sequence of hill-top stations, to give advance warning to docks and wharfs of approaching shipping, with an accompanying mast or staff on the coast to speak with ships using Watson's flags. Messages had to be received and re-signalled by each station in the line in daylight hours, but even so – if the weather was clement – they worked regularly.

The marine telegraphs were private investments of the port chambers of commerce and dock companies; the semaphore service was used free-of-charge by ship-owners. But there was an annual subscription for each ship for the right to use Watson's proprietary signal flags; over 1,700 vessels carried them. Marine telegraphs did not offer public access or messaging unconnected with shipping.

Even before the failure of the London Association, Barnard Lindsay Watson was declared bankrupt on November 16, 1842 as a "manufacturer of flags". He had debts of £5,182 and assets of £756, the difference he put down to losses in building the new semaphores. He became a hotel-keeper, a manager of pleasure gardens and later managed the refreshment rooms at the Crystal Palace in Sydenham. He died in February 1865 as "a retired lieutenant in the Oxford Militia".

At the maturity of the telegraph companies, during the early 1860s, there had been a technical consolidation into three wholly-independent, incompatible national operating 'systems', Cooke & Wheatstone's single-needle with the Electric Telegraph Company, Bright's bell with the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company and Hughes' printer with the United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company. But there had been others.

Davy's Recorder 1838
Plan view, left to right: six current reversing keys and three galvanic cells,
the three wire circuit, two sets of three horizontal needle indicators,
two more cells,and the six-element cylindrical chemical recorder
with a clockwork-driven broad roll of treated cloth at extreme right

The Voltaic Telegraph Company
Had Edward Davy's marital affairs been more ordered the history of the telegraph would have been radically different.

Edward Davy proposed the first company of proprietors for the working of an electric telegraph. On September 8, 1838 he launched the prospectus of the Voltaic Telegraph Company, of 5 Exeter Hall, Strand, London, with a joint-stock capital of £500,000 in 10,000 shares each of £50, requiring a deposit of £5. This was, on the surface, a substantial concern. The Marquis of Douro (son of the Duke of Wellington), and Lord Sandon agreed to be Trustees, in whose names all property would be held. A Board of Directors was assembled: Sir Francis Knowles FRS, John Wright, James Emerson Tennent MP, William Bagge MP and a Mr Harrison. Knowles was a director of the St Marylebone Bank, Wright was proprietor of Wright & Co., bankers to the catholic hierarchy, and Harrison was chairman of the London & Southampton Railway. Charles Fox, an associate of Robert Stephenson on the London & Birmingham Railway, was appointed Engineer, and Edward Davy was to be Superintendent of Machinery. McDougall & Co., Parliament Street, Westminster, one of the few firms of lawyers familiar with joint-stock companies, was to handle legal matters. The price of Davy's new telegraph patent was to be £10,000 and "one or two thousand shares".

The draft prospectus was circulated to railway companies throughout England, seeking wayleaves or rights of way as well as capital during 1838. Mr Brunel, junior, and the directors of the Great Western Railway called on Davy to view his telegraph. Other companies contacted during 1838 included, in order of approach, the London & Birmingham, London & Southampton, Birmingham & Gloucester, Midland Counties, Bristol & Exeter, Grand Junction, Birmingham & Derby, and London & Brighton. 

All of this advanced corporate activity was undertaken in the year that W F Cooke and Charles Wheatstone obtained their first patent. It took them, or rather W F Cooke, another ten years of negotiations and heartache before they got to the same state.

Davy was a man of some considerable acumen and aptitude. By education and training he was both a surgeon and an apothecary, born in 1806 at Ottery St Mary, Devonshire, and dying in 1883 in Australia. He established a successful business in 1830 as Davy & Company, operative chemists, 390 Strand, London, manufacturing and supplying instruments and devising chemical products, such as a cement to repair fine china.

In May 1837 Davy described in detail his first plan for a message telegraph. This was a twelve-needle apparatus, including letter and colour (or "shift") functions, and alarms, worked by twelve keys and two current reversers, with "electrical renewers", transmitting fifty letters of the alphabet in two-and-a-half minutes. This was wholly original in introducing both current reversal, rather than "on-off" switches, and the relay to electric telegraphy! He published estimates for six-wire circuits connecting London with Dover, Brighton, Bristol, Portsmouth, Birmingham, Liverpool, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Exeter, as well as Liverpool to Manchester, totalling £144,000. He proposed up and down circuits, as in the working of the railways, anticipating traffic would be too great for one line. Davy even calculated individual station expenses in staff and materials. Earlier in that year he had obtained permission of HM Commissioners of Woods & Forests to lay a one mile long circuit of copper wire around the Inner Circle of the Regent's Park in Marylebone, London. Unsurprisingly, given his enthusiasm and enterprise, Davy opposed the grant of Cooke & Wheatstone's telegraph patent of May 1837.

During November and December 1837 the initial Davy apparatus, made in his own workshops, was demonstrated to the public at the Belgrave Institution, 30 Sloane Street, London. Then from December 29, 1837 until November 10, 1838 Edward Davy took a show-room and office at No 5 Exeter Hall, Strand, in London from which to promote and display his telegraphs. The exhibition, "lighted by an enormous galvanic battery", was open from 11 o'clock to 5 o'clock each day, entry was one shilling. 

Early in 1838 Edward Davy launched his chemical recording telegraph in direct competition with Cooke & Wheatstone's patented needle instrument. The new telegraph utilised three wires with individual circuits that combined to work by means of six keys both a two-needle telegraph with a third needle as a "shift" function,  and a printer that recorded a six-element cypher on a continuous roll of chemically-treated calico cloth by means of six clockwork-driven metallic cylinders.

The recording telegraph was reviewed by the famous physicist Michael Faraday and a favourable report given by him to the Commissioners of Patents. This enabled Davy to obtain a patent in spite of Cooke & Wheatstone's opposition, including his "electrical renewer" or relay. It was completed on January 4, 1839. Davy, anticipating that the railway companies would beat a path to his door to pay for rights, began to organise the Voltaic Telegraph Company.

But by the summer of 1839 Edward Davy had abandoned all his plans and sold his operative chemist business at 390 Strand to Dr William George Welch and had sailed to a new life in Australia.

The Davy family, though not understanding the opportunities they offered, attempted to promote the message and recording telegraphs in new rooms at the Exeter Hall through 1839 and 1840. They had not Edward Davy's talent or determination; late in 1840 his telegraphs were taken off to his home town of Ottery St Mary in Devon where they survived until 1878 before being broken up.

Charles Wheatstone thought sufficient of the competitive telegraphs to propose to W F Cooke on July 18, 1839 that they buy Edward Davy's patent. However Davy eventually acknowledged that the partners' apparatus was of more utility than his own complex devices. It was not until May 12, 1847 that the Electric Telegraph Company acquired the patent so as to utilise the "electrical renewer" – the very first electrical relay. The company bought it for £600. 

J J Fahie, from whose work this long extract is drawn, wrote in 1884 "it is certain that… (Davy) had a clearer grasp of the requirements and capabilities of an electric telegraph than … Cooke and Wheatstone." Even if he had persevered Davy's Voltaic Telegraph Company may not have prospered, the banks of his directors, Knowles and Wright, both failed catastrophically in the next couple of years.

Edward Davy left London in 1839, his family records show, not for any nefarious or coercive reason, but to escape from Mrs Davy… It is therefore pleasing to record that Davy had a full and successful career (and private life) in Melbourne, Victoria.

Alexander's telegraph 1837
Thirty letters and symbols, thirty-one wires and thirty keys
Each key (right) dipped in and out of mercury, a galvanic cell below

Alexander's Telegraph
Another curious might-have-been is in an advertisement in 'The Times' of July 8, 1837. William Alexander of 19 Windsor Street, Edinburgh, Scotland, proposed to connect his home city with London, a distance of 450 miles, through his own system of galvanic telegraphy. This involved having one copper wire for each letter of the alphabet and for punctuation and one common return circuit, i.e. thirty-one wires in all, laid three feet beneath the public highways, each wire insulated with lacquer or "resin" within two boards of baked wood for further protection. The "telegraph" itself was a three-foot square horizontal screen with thirty one-inch square apertures each with a lifting shutter worked by a four-inch electro-magnet connected with a distant set of thirty keys. He estimated that such a circuit would cost £26,000, and, anticipating sending a minimum of sixty-five words in five minutes at 5s 0d a message, an annual revenue over 300 twelve hour working days of £10,800. Experiments at the University of Edinburgh over several hundred yards, Alexander felt, had proven the technical aspects of his ideas; he expected the Post Office to take an interest in continuing his plan. Although reviewed by the learned and mechanical societies it was otherwise ignored. Like Banquo's ghost Alexander's telegraph reappeared at the Great Exhibition of 1851 to haunt the telegraph companies! 

Whishaw's Hydraulic Telegraph
The advent of Cooke & Wheatstone's patent of 1838 caused an eruption of competitive inventions, one of which was described in detail in 'Mechanics' Magazine' of March that year, Whishaw's Hydraulic Telegraph:

"We have long ago heard it suggested... that a column of water could be conveniently employed to transmit information. Mr Francis Whishaw has conveyed a column of water through sixty yards of pipe in the most convoluted form, and the two ends of the column being on a level, motion is no sooner given to one end than it is communicated through the whole sixty yards to the other end of the column. No perceptible interval elapses between the time of impressing motion on one end of the column and of communicating it to the other. To each end of a column he attaches a float board with an index, and the depression of any given number of figures on one index, will be immediately followed by a corresponding rise of the float board and index at the other end. It is supposed that this simple longitudinal motion can be made to convey all kinds of information. It appears to us that the amount of information which can be conveyed by the motion in one direction only, of the water, or backward and forwards, must be limited. To make the mere motion backwards and forwards of a float board, indicated on a graduated index, convey a great number of words or letters, is the difficulty to be overcome. Mr Whishaw has exerted his ingenuity in this way, with a promise of success, and by-and-bye, the hydraulic telegraph may supersede the semaphore and the galvanic telegraph."

The hydraulic or water telegraph, in one form or another, dates back to antiquity. It was to be reinvented or improved several times in the nineteenth century. Indeed Francis Whishaw, although to become an advocate and engineer of the electric telegraph, was led to improve his apparatus as late as 1848: in this he substituted vertical copper wires attached to floats instead of columns of water; introduced three-way cocks instead of two separate cocks for the elevation and depression of the water at the different stations; and adopted engraved index slides, "whereby an infinity of codes could be used."

Crosley's Pneumatic Telegraph 1839
One of many, unsuccessful competitors to the electric telegraph
An air pump and an index using coloured water

Crosley's Telegraph
Samuel Crosley, a gas engineer of considerable repute, who had previously devised what was then the commonest gas-meter, introduced the pneumatic telegraph in March 1839. It had two versions, one using a series of ten weights in a tube or piston to send ten digital signals by pressure of air to a 'pressure register' that recorded them on a moving strip of paper. The register was similar to that used to constantly record gas pressure in suppliers' mains. Another pattern used a simple, large diameter air pump barrel with an index or indicator connected by a one inch diameter gas pipe to a small air reservoir part filled with coloured water linked to a small diameter glass tube. Pressure on the pump caused the air in the reservoir to push the water up the index glass to indicate messages.

It was tried successfully in a tube "very nearly two miles" in length, and was a consistent exhibit at the Polytechnic Institution, Regent Street, London, for many years from the autumn of 1839.

General Oceanic Telegraph
According to Board of Trade returns the Railway Mania year of 1845 saw the registration under the new Joint Stock Companies Act of the General Oceanic Telegraph Company, the General Commercial Telegraph Company and the British Commercial Electro-Telegraph Company . 

General Oceanic was registered by Jacob Brett on June 16, 1845 "to form a connecting mode of communication by telegraphic means from the British Islands and across the Atlantic Ocean to Nova Scotia and the Canadas, the Colonies and Continental Kingdoms." It was also known later as the "General Oceanic & Subterranean Electric Printing Telegraph Company"; the Brett family, promoters of the first successful submarine telegraph, had a weakness for compendious company titles.

General Commercial Telegraph
The General Commercial Telegraph Company, a mysterious, anonymous promotion, of 1 Bond Court, Walbrook, City, sought a capital £600,000 in twenty-four thousand shares, on September 15, 1845 – the same day as the Electric Telegraph Company was launched in the press. It was through this concern that S F B Morse, having a competitive apparatus to sell, attempted to challenge both Cooke & Wheatstone and Edward Davy in the British market.  

Morse had arrived in Liverpool from New York on August 25, 1845, and took lodgings in London at the end of the month. During the first week in September he approached the General Commercial Telegraph Company touting his apparatus and was invited to meet members of its board on September 11, 1845. He launched into an elaborate pitch:

"In prefacing my proposition to you, I would beg leave to ask, if Mr Wheatstone or Davy in their systems can give a certain amount of intelligence with two wires in one minute, is not a system which gives double the amount with one wire in the same time worth four times as much?"

"I will guarantee that my apparatus shall accomplish what I promise it shall do, and ocular demonstration shall be given."

"I have with me the apparatus complete for establishing my system of Electro-Magnetic Telegraphs, now in such successful operation in the United States. I have a part of the apparatus never revealed to the public, and which is essential to the efficacy of my plan. I can put it in operation (if arrangements are concluded with a company) in a few days. If we can agree on terms, I will delay my visit to Russia; put in order the apparatus; fully explain it to those authorized by you to take out the patent for you, and leave my whole apparatus with you. I will also instruct two persons whom you may designate in the use of it."

"On the delivery of the apparatus into your possession, you shall pay me one thousand pounds sterling, and further guarantee to pay me one-fourth part of the savings derived from the use of my system. That is to say, ascertain the utmost amount of intelligence under the most favorable circumstances that Messrs Wheatstone & Cooke, or Mr Davy, can give in a minute, and the number of wires necessary to produce their result. If I cannot give more under the same circumstances in the same time, I will ask no more than the one thousand pounds to be paid down on delivery to you of the apparatus, although the advantage alone of recording in so simple and easy a manner is very greatly in favor of mine. If I can give more, then I must be paid, in addition, a certain proportion of the savings by my system. For example, say that Messrs W & C or Mr D, by giving the signals complete for twenty-five letters of the alphabet in one minute, enable you to realize fifteen per cent, on your capital; if I can by my system give you fifty letters per minute, I enable you to realize a much larger per cent., and I will then ask one-fourth part of your savings derived from the use of my system. To illustrate my proposition, say that the expense of one wire from London to Birmingham will cost £500. Four will cost £2,000. Suppose that I can communicate with two wires as much information as W or D can give with four. Here would be a saving of £1,000 to you. Of this I propose you should pay me £250. Say that W & C or D's apparatus at each station cost £80, and mine but £40, here would be a saving of 40. I propose you should pay, on account of this saving, £10."

"Say that two attendants are necessary at each station with W & C's or D's apparatus with salary of £100 per annum each, and mine should require but one, here would be a saving of £100 per annum at each station. Of this sum I propose you should pay me £25 per annum, and so for the saving in any other item of expense."

The proposition had two major flaws; first Morse had no patent rights in England whereas his native competitors did and could prevent the introduction of his apparatus, effectively he had nothing to sell. Second, the General Commercial Telegraph Company was a piece of City speculation with no money behind it. It was quite literally a fourteen-day wonder, registered as a joint-stock company on September 3, consulting Morse on September 11, and being launched on September 15. The only person known connected with it is William Eyre, a solicitor, from whose offices it was promoted. Nothing more was heard of the venture. Morse left for the Continent a week later to pursue other sales opportunities, all proving to be equally unsatisfactory.    

British Commercial Electro-Telegraph
Even more transient was the British Commercial Electro-Telegraph Company which was provisionally registered on August 2, 1845. It made a single fleeting appearance in the daily newspapers on September 1st, giving its address as a law office and immediately vanished. Its advertisement calling for £500,000 in 40,000 shares and offering an eye-catching 16% dividend, quoted Cooke & Wheatstone's own prospectus, but failed to name its promoters.

The General Oceanic, the General Commercial and British Commercial firms did not progress beyond discussion in the press. But the Brett family did as they promised over the subsequent ten years, forming electrical connections "from the British Islands and across the Atlantic Ocean to Nova Scotia and the Canadas, the Colonies and Continental Kingdoms"...

Jowett's Hydraulic Telegraph 1847
Also called the 'Water Telegraph', a vertical rack and pinion working a rotating index is attached to piston at the base, a crank attached to the axis
of the pinion is thus enabled to push water along one or other of the two pipes
at the base, the direction determined by the two stop-cocks.
The index on the identical distant dial rotates in sympathy indicating a letter

Jowett's Hydraulic Telegraph
On February 19, 1848 Frederick William Jowett and Henry Alfred Jowett of Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, provisionally registered the Hydraulic Telegraph Company, located at 17 Wellington Street, Strand, London. It was intended to work F W Jowett's patent of January 23, 1847 for 'Improvements in Telegraph Communications'. Unlike Francis Whishaw's apparatus also based on the hydraulic principle, Jowett's was a dial telegraph, which he claimed would be cheaper to make and work than the electric competition. He constructed a successful "water circuit" of two miles length at Derby, messages being transmitted "in a minute or so"; estimating that such a speed could be maintained for "two hundred or two thousand" miles. As it was marketed based on its economy there was a version with a simple rising index as well as dials.

Although organising a joint-stock company, and having it widely reviewed in the technical press, Jowett's water telegraph was not a commercial success. However, it encouraged Francis Whishaw to revive and improve his similar machine, dating from March 1838.

Scottish Electric Telegraph
The Scottish Electric Telegraph Company was the first promotion of the serial capitalist Thomas Allan in Edinburgh. It was advertised on December 8, 1848, to acquire and work the improved needle and dial telegraphs patented by Prof George Henry Bachhoffner, the founder and principal lecturer at the Royal Polytechnic Institution in London. It was only able to promote itself as the master patent of Cooke & Wheatstone did not apply in Scotland; however the Scots proved quite happy to have the Electric Telegraph Company of England provide its circuits in their country and the Scottish company had the briefest of lives. Allan was to go on to project telegraph companies for another twenty years, all of which were unsuccessful.

Highton's gold-leaf telegraph 1846
An electro-magnet worked by a current-reversing commutator or switch
moved a thin gold-leaf from left to right in a small glass vial

Henry Highton, a cleric from Rugby, took out a patent in February 1846 for his 'gold-leaf' telegraph. The indicator was a gold-leaf filament in an air-filled glass tube moved left and right by an electro-magnet, using a single wire. Although it was a frail contrivance it was adopted on the Baden Railway in South Germany in October 1847, and was bought by the Electric Telegraph Company. The Highton family were to found the first competitor to the Company in 1850.

Due to its sensitivity Highton's 'gold-leaf' telegraph was resurrected briefly in February 1874 by the Light Cable Telegraph Company, for use on their speculative circuit, the so-called "Atlantic Line", between England, the Azores and Halifax, Nova Scotia. The use of twenty-eight year old technology did not recommend it to investors.

George Little, an American living in London in 1847, obtained a patent for a remarkably simple two-needle telegraph along with a host of other electrical devices, relays, lightning conductors, clocks, batteries and insulators. Only the insulators survived into posterity. From the patent drawings the device was obviously manufactured (they were illustrations not schematics). A substantial pamphlet was produced to promote the patent apparatus. Initially Little was in partnership with Alfred Brett, not, apparently, one of the famous Brett family who organised the cross-Channel cable, but a brandy merchant. After successfully challenging Little's patent in the Courts during 1851 the Electric Telegraph Company suppressed its use. At this time George Little went on devise an ingenious miniature telegraph receiver using magnetised moving filaments in oil-filled glass tubes instead of needle galvanometers, which he attempted to market in Britain, Europe and America during the 1850s. In July 1852 Little returned to New York and, in the later 1860s, patented his version of an automatic telegraph, which T A Edison in America subsequently perfected – the great man's first electrical success.

Nott & Gamble's dial telegraph 1845
The index was worked around the very large dial by two keys in the base
A galvanic instrument invented by John Nott of Cork

One of the side-bars to the early telegraph chronology in Britain is that created by Douglas Pitt Gamble. He was born in 1819 as one of the family that successfully introduced preserved provisions in tin-plated canisters. By 1844 he was in partnership with John Richard Gamble, trading as provision merchants of 78 Cornhill, London. By his own account he first took an interest in the dial telegraph devised by John Nott late in 1845.

John Nott of the city of Cork in Ireland obtained a patent for a dial telegraph on January 20, 1846. This apparatus used two keys to work an electrically- controlled ratchet that propelled a pointer around a large dial to indicate letters and numbers. By the end of the year Nott had taken into partnership D P Gamble and J R Gamble, with offices at 2 Royal Exchange Buildings, in the financial district of London.

Pitt Gamble had considerable influence in the City and in government through his firm's provision contracts with the shipping companies and with the Admiralty. The latter was, of all state bodies, the most interested in the electric telegraph – even as early as 1844 connecting its staff in London with its stations and yards on the coasts by that medium. Gamble was a pragmatist and quickly realised the future of the telegraph lay in cooperating with the trunk lines of railway extending out from London.

His first activity on behalf of Nott's telegraph was in approaching the chairman of the newly-formed London & North-Western Railway, George Carr Glyn, the banker, and meeting with its Secretary, Richard Creed on January 28, 1846. Creed commissioned a series of tenders from Pitt Gamble, ranging from constructing telegraph lines at a rate per twenty-five miles, up to 500 miles, to purchasing a license for the Nott patent and erecting the line themselves. Creed and Pitt Gamble continued negotiations over the next two months, at which time a committee of the Board of Directors was set up to examine the telegraph issue.

Cooke & Wheatstone had already contracted with the Grand Junction Railway, one of the components of the London & North-Western Railway, whose Secretary was the formidable Captain Mark Huish, to lay its telegraph alongside of its rails between Birmingham and Newton Junction for Liverpool and Manchester. This was to prove a considerable lobbying base in the Amalgamated Board.

At Pitt Gamble's own expense an experimental Nott line with overhead wires on poles was made on the railway's branch between Northampton and Blisworth (Part of the Northampton & Peterborough railway, which seems to have been used by the North-Western company for several electrical experiments). He also organised an 'impartial' report on Nott's apparatus from Professor William Thomas Brande of the Royal Institution, an academic associate of Michael Faraday. The railway company appointed Edward Highton, who had his own patented instruments to promote, to be its Telegraph Engineer and to advise its Telegraph Committee on the best technical arrangements. He was tasked with comparing the competitive systems of Cooke & Wheatstone and Nott on the two test circuits. Highton and the Telegraph Committee reported in favour of the Electric Telegraph Company, owners of Cooke & Wheatstone's patents.  

Pitt Gamble was to claim that "the Chairman, many of the Directors and the Engineer of the London & North-Western Railway Company, were deeply interested in the (Electric) Telegraph Company with Mr Ricardo" in 1846. Whilst the engineer, Robert Stephenson, and his business partner George Parker Bidder, were indeed advocates of the Electric company, this was scarcely a secret, neither was the fact that Glyn & Co. were the Electric's bankers.

However none of this stopped Pitt Gamble from using his insider contacts to obtain reports made for the Admiralty by Michael Faraday and Major Brandreth on his telegraph and having them sent to the railway's board to further his cause.

The Electric Telegraph Company pursued Nott and Gamble ruthlessly through the Court claiming patent infringement. The first suit was heard on November 13, 1846 when they sought an injunction against the use of Nott's apparatus. It was refused. Between February 10 and 19, 1847 a much more substantial case was presented against Nott and Gamble. In this the affidavits, from Prof George Henry Bachhoffner, Prof William Thomas Brande, John Raymond Brittan, clockmaker, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, civil engineer, William Carpmael, engineer, Prof John Thomas Cooper, John Farey, engineer, James Sealy Fourdrinier, engineer, Charles Frodsham, chronometer-maker, Prof William Allen Miller, William Newton, engineer, Peter Mark Roget of the Royal Society, George Stephenson, civil engineer, Robert Stephenson, civil engineer and Prof Charles Wheatstone, totalled 133 pages. Once again the Court of Chancery refused an injunction without legal proof of patent piracy by Nott and Gamble. 

The telegraph company almost immediately commenced three more actions against Nott and Gamble. These lasted from March 30, 1847 until 1848, when they were abandoned. On December 14, 1846 Pitt Gamble was bluntly informed that the London & North-Western Railway and the Electric Telegraph Company were in negotiation and that other parties were no longer involved in the telegraph issue. Richard Creed advised Pitt Gamble to amalgamate his telegraph interests with the Electric company, and that the railway's chairman, Glyn, would recommend such a course to the telegraph company's chairman, Lewis Ricardo, as he was "a personal friend".

Pitt Gamble was made bankrupt on his own petition on December 7, 1847 as an "electric telegraph manufacturer and contractor". His property was sold at auction on December 23, 1847.

Douglas Pitt Gamble became private secretary to Lewis Ricardo, chairman of the Electric Telegraph Company, in 1848. Once in that role he successfully had James Sealy Fourdrinier, one of the witnesses for Nott's telegraph, installed as Secretary and Manager of the Electric and his ally William Wylde, to the Board. Pitt Gamble became Secretary and Manager of the International Telegraph Company, and of the Channel Islands Telegraph Company, both of which were subsidiaries of the Electric. He was dismissed from these roles for gross insubordination in 1859 and, age 40, after a short period of exile as "travelling superintendent" with Glass, Elliot & Company, on their Malta & Alexandria cable in 1861, had no further employment. He applied in 1874 for a pension from the Post Office Telegraphs; the request was rejected. 

Whilst Pitt Gamble had sorted out his own future in 1848, according to one source "poor Nott, the inventor, was left to starve".

In truth, John Nott was born in 1805, the son of Francis Nott, a cabinet-maker of Duncan Street, Cork. He was much interested in scientific matters, demonstrating a camera lucida as well as his electro-magnetic telegraph to the members of the Royal Cork Institution in the 1840s. Whether or not disappointed over his treatment by Pitt Gamble, Nott emigrated to Australia in 1854, living there until his death in 1890.

Nott's apparatus was subsequently re-installed by the Electric company on the Great Western Railway on December 1, 1847 to control trains through the long tunnel at Box on its London to Bristol line.


Whishaw's Velocentimeter and Uniformity of Time Regulator 1848
A watch to measure the speed of a train using the lineside quarter-mile standards or telegraph poles, and for "pinging" time signals back and forth
on the electric telegraph

Whishaw and the General Telegraph Company
The General Telegraph Company, a simple partnership not a joint-stock concern, was promoted in October 1848 by Francis Whishaw, the civil engineer who had written so much about Cooke & Wheatstone's apparatus, "to execute, by contract or otherwise, the most approved electric, hydraulic, pneumatic or mechanical telegraphs". He had publicised a hydraulic telegraph in 1838 but abandoned that and had been employed by Royal Society of Arts & Sciences before joining the Electric Telegraph Company between 1845 and 1848 to manage the correspondence or message department. Whishaw devised the translation system used in abbreviating the Company's messages. He also introduced the sending of a time signal from London to the provincial offices once each day so that telegraph clocks might be set.

At the Royal Society Whishaw was introduced to the new insulating resin, gutta-percha. He became a strong advocate for its use in telegraphy. In 1844 he presented the case for its use at a lecture attended by William Siemens, then working in Birmingham in England.

On leaving the Electric, Whishaw opened showrooms in the name of the General Telegraph Company at 9 John Street, Adelphi, opposite his former employers at the Royal Society of Arts, off the Strand in London, during November 1848. Here he displayed and demonstrated several instruments, including the clock telegraph that worked either electrically or mechanically, the hydraulic telegraph, an electric burglar alarm, gutta-percha insulation for electric wires, the chain-pipe for protecting submarine circuits, and the ‘telekouphonon’ (or speaking telegraph).

It is worth demonstrating Francis Whishaw’s ambitions by quoting in full one of his first advertisements, appearing in ‘The Times’ newspaper of May 22, 1849.

“General Telegraph Office, 9, John Street, Adelphi, London; established for the purpose of supplying the public with Hydraulic, Electric, Pneumatic, and Mechanical Telegraphs of the simplest construction, and on the most moderate terms - Whishaw’s Hydraulic Telegraph, from 2s 6d a yard upwards. Whishaw’s Telekouphonon, or Speaking Telegraph, complete from 6d a foot upwards, according to length. Sent to any part of the kingdom. Whishaw’s Uniformity of Time Regulator and Telegraph. This simple and beautiful invention combines a clock and a telegraph in one, and may be introduced wherever the electric telegraph wires are already established. Whishaw’s Multi-tubular Pipes for enclosing the wires of electric telegraphs according to the underground arrangement. £44 a mile for three wires. Whishaw’s Insulated and Protected Telegraph Conductor for sub-aqueous and subterraneous purposes, varying in price according to the number of wires. Sent to any part of the kingdom on due notice being given to the Secretary. Whishaw’s Domestic Telegraph. Whishaw’s Electro-Mechanical Telegraph, the use of which may be learned in five minutes. From £30 a mile, according to circumstances. Whishaw’s Battery Insulator. Many other inventions connected with the subject of telegraphy may be seen at the General Telegraph offices.”

Of the eight devices listed only one, the 'telekouphonon', had any form of legal protection. The master patent of Cooke & Wheatstone effectively prevented the introduction of competitive electric telegraphs before it expired 1851. 

Whishaw's  Telekouphonon 1852
The simple ivory or metal mouth-piece, with hanging whistle and worsted- covered gutta-percha tube, at left; a metal mouth-piece with indicator and whistle above an air-pump for sounding the whistle in long tubes, at right

Whishaw's widely-publicized 'telekouphonon' was simply a long, flexible gutta-percha tube with a rigid mouth-piece and removable whistle at either end through which people spoke with others up to three-quarters of a mile away: in detail it was described in 1851 as "consisting of gutta-percha, glass, metal, or other tubing, with mouth-pieces of ivory, hardwood or metal; furnished with whistles, organ-pipes, and other means of calling attention. The index mouth-piece attached to one end of the tube has an indicator to show from which room the call as been made."

In Spring 1849 Whishaw and the General Telegraph Company, along with the Gutta Percha Company, of Wharf Road, City Road, London, and Horne, Thornthwaite & Wood, instrument makers, of Newgate Street, City, were offering the 'telekouphonon' at 8d a foot, for installation in "private and public buildings, mines, stations, trains, docks, ships, steamboats, lighthouses, hospitals, clubs, taverns and asylums."

Whishaw continued to improve the 'telekouphonon': by 1854, "A compound terminal arrangement has also been introduced, having a mouthpiece and also an acoustic duct [ear piece] connected therewith, so that a conversation may be carried on without moving the mouth until the communication is completed. If the message has to be transferred to a third party, an additional pipe is attached to the mouthpiece, and the sound being shut off from the receiving-pipe, is transmitted through the sending-pipe to the third party as above." To sound the whistle on very long tubes a simple, small brass air pump was attached near the mouth-piece. A version of the mouth-piece with a hinged, spring-loaded cover was also made so that the whistle could not be lost.

Whishaw made the first tube for his 'telekouphonon' by hand when Secretary of the Society of Arts. By 1854 he had "put up hundreds of feet in very many establishments, and in two buildings in London upwards of a quarter of a mile each... The Oriental Bank, Walbrook, was then furnished throughout with this valuable appliance, so as to give, as it were, a sort of ubiquity to the principal officers. The Bank of England has also adopted it upon a small scale, as well as the Society of Arts, and many others." His former employers, the Electric Telegraph Company, installed the 'telekouphonon' for internal communication at their large Central Station in Founders' Court, Lothbury, London.

It was also recommended as a Railway Train Communicator, to be used "for communicating between guard and driver, or passengers and driver, a 'telekouphonon', in different lengths, with screw joints to suit the lengths of carriages and the spaces between them."

The 'telekouphonon' proved very successful in the later 1850s domestically, in hotels, in clubs and in business houses, where batteries of such speaking telegraphs were employed to connect distant departments. Although Whishaw obtained a "poor man's patent", a Registered Design, for it on May 22, 1849 it was imitated by many others.

The earliest gutta-percha tubes for the 'telekouphonon' of 1848 were manufactured by the Gutta Percha Company of Wharf Road, City Road, London, who also made insulation in the same material for underground and submarine electric telegraph cables. By 1852 the tubes were being made for Francis Whishaw by the West Ham Gutta Percha Company and the mouth-pieces and other fitments by Richard & Edward Kepp, copper and platina smiths, of 40, 41 & 42 Chandos Street, Charing Cross, London.

Left -Whishaw's Telekouphonon 1865 The 'compound terminal', the mouth-piece holding a removable whistle alarm and an 'acoustic duct' or earpiece with the plug-in, pop-out indicator, "so that a conversation may be carried on without moving the mouth until the communication is completed".

In the 1860s, after Whishaw's death, the 'telekouphonon' was expensive: when made by Benham & Froud, who took over Kepps' business in Chandos Street, Charing Cross, it cost 1s 5d a foot for its ¾ inch diameter gutta-percha tube covered in coloured worsted fabric; ivory mouthpieces were 6s 0d, or in wood and brass 3s 0d, each; and brass connecting screws 1s 0d each.

Left: Whishaw's Telekouphonon 1865

The ordinary mouth-piece with a whistle to gain attention. Where several were employed together the indicator pops out when the whistle is blown by the distant correspondent.

Whishaw’s other widely publicised “invention” was a form of telegraph that went under a variety of titles, for reasons of brevity and accuracy it is here referred to as the "clock telegraph". He also called it at different times, the “telekoiograph”, the isochronic telegraph, the uniformity-of-time clock and telegraph and, more prosaically, the index telegraph; all worked on the same basic, very basic, principle.

The clock telegraph was remarkably simple: two finely-made clock movements ran synchronously in separate locations, an index hand turned continuously past numbers or symbols on the dial plate. The signalling mechanism was simply a bell by each clock, which could be worked mechanically by wires or cords and pulleys, or by an electro-magnet, a single wire circuit and a galvanic current. Once the index was in motion messages were sent by sounding the bell as it passed the appropriate number or symbol on the synchronised clock dials. Even with a slow-moving index hand, the receiving operator had to be quick-witted to register the correct coincidence of it and the dial symbol before it moved on, the clocks and bells being independent.

To avoid infringing Cooke & Wheatstone’s electric telegraph patents, a mechanical bell was offered as well as an electro-galvanic one. Over time Whishaw elaborated the clock telegraph, adding inner and outer rings to the clock dial, additional hands to the index and left and right tones to the bell in attempts to accelerate its message speed. By 1848 it was already obsolete.

Eventually Whishaw had the major clockmaker, John Smith & Sons, of 2 & 18 St John’s Square, Clerkenwell, manufacture the immensely complex “Uniformity- of- time clock and telegraph” in 1848 in competition with Cooke & Wheatstone. This was demonstrated as a mechanical telegraph with several functions, including time and cipher transmission; in essence it was an elaborate clock telegraph.

Smith described Whishaw's telegraph in 1851: "one of the uses of it being to regulate time between distant places to the hundreth part of a minute, by means of sounds transmitted by electrical agency. It also formed a telegraph, as there were four distinct alphabets and numerous signs and signals distinctly marked in red and black on the annular movable plate which surrounded the dial. There were four hands, which rotated together; one of these was distinguished from the others by being of a light colour, and was called the index hand, as by it the class of signals to be used was indicated. The other hands were used for pointing to the signals, which were thus more quickly given than if only one hand had been used. By two electrical bells, of dissimilar sound, the particular quarter of the dial on which the signals were to be read off was readily understood. Besides the telegraph dial and regulator, there was a second face with the ordinary hands, so that one side might be in the telegraph room of the railway station, while the other faced the booking office."

The 'Artizan' magazine, reporting the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Swansea on August 9 and 10, 1848, was to describe, rather sceptically, the mode of working the device as a Telegraph:

"Mr F Whishaw exhibited and explained his Uniformity of Time telegraph. In this telegraph two chronometers are employed, which must be regulated so as to keep time exactly together, one at each station. The second hand is prolonged, and as it moves round, it points at each second to some sentence printed radially on a dial, through the centre of which the second hand appears. In transmitting a message to a distance, it is requisite there should be a communication by an insulated wire, for the purpose of transmitting instantaneous signals by electricity. Thus, when the hand of the chronometer points to a question required to be answered, the operator instantly completes the electric circuit, and by that means strikes a bell at the distant station. The operator at the distance, being on the alert to watch, observes the question to which the hand points, since both hands as they move round are supposed to be pointing to exactly the same sentences. He then answers the question, if it be contained on the dial, by a similar process, and in two minutes' time a question and answer might thus be transmitted. As various codes are printed on moveable dials, containing a vast variety of subjects, it is supposed that by this means the purposes of telegraphic communication might be easily effected. The difficulties to be encountered would be the exact regulation of the chronometers, which might be done by electric signals, and the quickness of observation and action required in the operators."

Two were made, one kept by the Smiths, the other by Whishaw. Its appearance can only be imagined...

John Smith & Sons survive today as Smiths Industries, manufacturers of instruments for the aerospace industry.

From his experience with the Electric Telegraph Company Whishaw developed the Two-Letter Code System which he offered for sale to businesses to reduce the cost of messaging: "The letters of the alphabet are placed on two sides of a square - the left hand column and the top line - and lines are drawn through the spaces intersecting each other, and forming 676 compartments, in each of which is written a word, sentence, sum of money, or weight, or any other signal which might be agreed on. By employing the letters, roman and italics, capitals and small letters, and printed in black, green, blue, &c., an innumerable quantity of these codes, of 676 signs in each can be produced."

Siemens galvanic index or dial telegraph of 1847
The "dashboard" has two battery connectors, earth and line connectors, an alarm-signal lever switch, an on-off button and a galvanometer, as well
as the 12 inch diameter index or dial telegraph

Latterly Whishaw acted as agent or licensee for Richard Wrighton’s electric train signal; for Nathaniel Holmes’ electric whistle; for J O N Rutter’s fire and burglar alarm; as well as, and more importantly, for Siemens original galvanic index telegraph.

The Siemens zeigertelegraph was patented in England in 1850, three years after its brevet in Berlin. It was very widely used in Prussia, Russia and the German States. Using galvanic batteries, it consisted of a twelve-inch diameter dial with thirty ivory keys about its circumference and a needle or index at its centre. Once the machine was put in circuit the needle was kept constantly rotating by the electric current, pressing one of the keys stopped the needle at the same point on both the sending and receiving instruments. The large brass case of the dial also possessed a bell alarm in its mechanism. It was contained in a substantial horizontal mahogany box, twenty-four inches by sixteen inches by nine inches, along with its own galvanometer and all the commutators necessary to manage its circuits. Once in circuit the index rotated at thirty times a minute, to achieve this twenty-five pairs of Daniell cells were required at both the transmitting and receiving instruments to work over a distance of 250 miles. It was said to be the perfect galvanic dial telegraph in its ease of operation and integrity. This, the first Siemens instrument, was relatively complex and expensive in original cost and in working. It was to be replaced in manufacture by Siemens magneto-electric dial in 1859.

It was anticipated in the late 1840s that there would be a market for index or dial telegraphs in those locations where the employment of a dedicated, specially-trained operator would not be economical. On European railways station-masters, porters and other staff worked these instruments which did not require knowledge of codes or cipher. As it turned out in Britain the reverse situation transpired; telegraph companies' clerks assisted with railway duties.

Whishaw, along with C W Siemens, presented the Siemens index telegraph to the Society of Arts on May 30, 1849. The instruments were then put on show at the offices of the General Telegraph Company, opposite the Society’s rooms in the Adelphi. Whishaw also arranged several other exhibitions of the apparatus in London.

Apart from promotional demonstrations there is no evidence that the very effective Siemens zeigertelegraph was used in Britain. Its complexity, price and running costs militated against its adoption for public service in Britain; no attempt was made to promote the Siemens index device for private wire service, for which it was particularly suitable.

Kramer's galvanic dial telegraph 1848
A much improved version of Wheatstone's original dial telegraph,
everything in one small mahogany box
Often confused with the competitive Siemens apparatus, which also had a constantly rotating index

In Prussia it was in competition for railway messaging with August Kramer's zeigertelegraph. This was of similar operation, with a constantly rotating index or pointer, but in this device driven by clockwork, the electric power being used only to control the escapement and not propel the index, as in Wheatstone's original. The Kramer index telegraph of 1848 originally had a similar large case to the Siemens 1847 device, with switches and instruments built-in, but it was soon reduced to its essentials within a small square box containing the inner index dial and a ring of thirty small ivory button keys around the circumference. The first weight-driven clockwork was then replaced by a steel spring. Several hundred Kramer telegraphs were used on railways in Germany.

In 1859 Siemens replaced their galvanic zeigertelegraph with a new battery-free magnetzeiger, worked by a rotary magneto device. This was to be adopted widely in London for use on private wires. 

Whishaw also promoted Siemens chain-pipe, lengths of articulated cast-iron tube, 3 feet long and 1 to 2½ inches in diameter connected by ball-and-socket joints. This was used to protect submarine gutta percha insulated wires in Prussia from 1849 before armouring of cables with iron wire was perfected. The longest span of chain-pipe was 1,200 feet, crossing the Rhine river from the town of Cologne to Deutz.

When Siemens opened their own office in London during 1850 Whishaw began exhibiting and marketing the electro-magnetic printing telegraph of 1848 devised by P A J Dujardin of Lille, France. This used a rotating magneto to generate a series of dots that were printed in ink in a spiral on a paper-covered drum.

Although Francis Whishaw's name was publicly attached to several of these devices; he widely advertised and organised public expositions of "Whishaw's Telegraphic System" during 1849 and 1850 with an index apparatus and a peculiar gutta-percha insulated subterranean cable; his only patent protection was for multi-tubular stone-ware pipes to protect resin-covered wires and an electro-magnetic lock. The East India Company, which governed most of the sub-continent, invited him to submit proposals for a telegraph system for India and for undertaking its construction, in September 1849. It was received by their Board but not taken-up.

The General Telegraph concern survived at least until 1851: its real contribution to telegraphy was in the employment of Nathaniel J Holmes as manager in 1849, after W H Hatcher, Whishaw and he were let go by the Electric company in March 1848. An associate of Wheatstone, Holmes became one of the principal electrical engineers in domestic and submarine telegraphy.

Whishaw died in 1856 after a long illness.

Later Speculations
The Dublin & Holyhead Submarine Telegraph Company was projected by Charles John Blunt, a civil engineer previously employed by John Watkin Brett, the cable pioneer. Blunt, a man of dubious probity, fell out with Brett and launched this concern on February 24, 1849. He looked for a capital of £40,000 in eight thousand shares. It got nowhere.

George Edward Dering patented a single-needle telegraph in December 1850. In this the needle was suspended like a pendulum from the top rather than rotating on an axis to prevent unnecessary oscillation, with the advantage of reducing the power of the batteries needed. There was also a novel secrecy accessory, in this a separate dial rotated to obscure the needle at selected stations, as well as a paratonnerre or lightning protector, and an insulator. The single pendulum needle telegraph was licensed to the Bank of England, who created an internal network in its vast premises on Threadneedle Street, London, and it was used experimentally on the London to Dover circuit of the European Telegraph Company and on the Great Northern Railway. The ill-fated Electric Telegraph Company of Ireland selected Dering's apparatus for its circuits in 1852, and elected him a director. 

The Universal Electric Telegraph Company was formed in 1853 with a capital of £300,000 to work the patent of John Walker-Wilkins. The novelty of this apparatus lay in using a roll of carbon-paper interleaved with plain paper on which an electro-magnetically-worked blunt needle or stylus moved left and right to indicate signals. The Company advertised Charles Wheatstone as its "Scientific Referee". It did not raise any capital. Walker-Wilkins had previously worked for the partnership of Cooke & Wheatstone on their first long line to Southampton and for the Electric Telegraph Company. He had also, previously to this company promotion, worked in America for the "People's Line", a telegraph from Kentucky to Louisiana, where he had developed a new electrical relay that challenged the Morse Syndicate's monopoly. 

The European & American Submarine Telegraph Company was created in 1856 by John Watkins Brett and the directors of the Submarine Telegraph Company for a cable between Ireland and America. With a capital of £750,000 in £5 shares it claimed to be the successor to Brett's General Ocean company of 1845, combining the oceanic interests of the Submarine and original Magnetic companies in England just before the creation of the British & Irish Magnetic Company in 1857.  This evolved quickly into the Atlantic Telegraph Company, described later in this work. 

There was a rush of promotions for underwater cable lines after the first Atlantic cable failed in 1857, none of which were built, or even raised any significant capital:

On July 10, 1858 the European & American Submarine Telegraph Company reappeared seeking an enlarged capital of £1,000,000. It proposed an elaborate system of cables: from Plymouth to Cape Finisterre, Spain, with a feeder cable from Bordeaux, France, to Cape Rocco, Lisbon, St Michael’s Island in the Azores, to Flores in the Azores, hence direct to Boston, Massachusetts, or by way of Bermuda to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. It claimed concessions of the governments of France, Spain and Portugal, negotiations with the United States were “pending”. Its advertising in the ‘Morning Chronicle’ gave no directors or engineers, merely a temporary office and a Secretary “pro. tem.”

The new European & American Submarine company had some weight behind it. In March, 1857, the Portuguese Government granted a concession to William Wylde and J Lewis Ricardo, directors of the Electric Telegraph Company, to land cables on the Azores for a period of 20 years. They were joined in May 1857 by J A M Pinniger, the lawyer employed by John Watkins Brett, and by William Tupper, a director of the Atlantic Telegraph Company. The concessionaires then sold their rights to the eminent and wealthy lawyer, William Glover, serjeant-at-law, for £10,000 and £5,000 in shares in the European & American Submarine company then in the hands of the learned Serjeant. Five French politicians a Spanish and an American banker were recruited to the direction. The deal was subject to ratification by the Portuguese Cortes, which due to political turbulence in Lisbon was never granted. Serjeant Glover also owned the ‘Morning Chronicle’ in which the new cable company was promoted.

The South Atlantic Telegraph Company was registered in London during 1858. It proposed a very ambitious programme of cable laying: connecting Falmouth in the west of England with Cape Finisterre, Lisbon in Portugal, Cape St Vincent, the Canary Islands, St Paul Island, Fernando Noronha Island and Pernambuco in Brazil. Branches were to be built from St Vincent to Cadiz and Gibraltar; from the Canaries to Madeira. A land line was to be constructed from Pernambuco north to Para, with a submarine line hence to Demerara in British Guiana, then along the West Indian islands to New Orleans in the United States.

In the following year, 1859, Taliaferro Preston Shaffner, an American, registered the British Transatlantic Telegraph Company in London to make a chain of cables from Scotland to the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland and Labrador in Canada. This route was first planned by the Ocean Telegraph Company of 1852, and was later taken up by the North American Telegraph Company and the British & Canadian Telegraph Company in the 1860s. Shaffner in America and the geographer James Wyld in Britain competed for the concessions related to these ultimately unsuccessful lines. Shaffner was determined enough to survey the icy route himself in a chartered schooner. But there is more of the cable business elsewhere in this piece…

On May 21, 1860 Captain William Rowett, a Cornish-born former sea-captain, then a rope-maker and patentee of hemp-covered submarine telegraph cables obtained a concession of the Imperial government in Paris for a cable from France to the United States. 

The 1860s, particularly after the passing of a new liberal Limited Liability Act in 1855 and the Companies Act in 1862, saw the promotion of several speculative concerns. Thomas Allan, the telegraph engineer and serial promoter, launched the Ocean Telegraph Company (the second of that name, also called the Great Ocean Telegraph Company) and the Great Indian Submarine Telegraph Company in 1858, Allan's Telegraph & Factory Company in 1861, the Railway Electric Engineering & Telegraph Works Company in 1865, then, after being dismissed by the United Kingdom company, the National Telegraph Company in 1865, from his home in the Adelphi; none of these proceeded beyond publicity.

‘The Engineer’ magazine gave a candid summary of Thomas Allan’s international ambitions and failures in its edition of October 5, 1866:

“Some years ago projects to lay a number of lines in connection with the United Kingdom Telegraph Company were set on foot, the whole to be constructed on Allan’s systems. So vast were those projects, five in all, that they would have covered the whole civilised and uncivilised world with wires, and the schemes might well have been amalgamated as ‘The Great Global Telegraph Company (Limited).’ The first of these projects was the United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company, and, and the original prospectus now before us shows the enormous profits which would accrue on completion of the undertaking; we will not reproduce the figures in that prospectus, lest they should prove too aggravation to the present shareholders. The second of Mr Allan’s projects was ‘The Great Ocean Telegraph Company,’ to lay a cable direct from Falmouth to Halifax, and a branch by Bermuda to Jamaica, thence by connecting lines to the West Indies and the Central States of America. The third was ‘The Great Indian Submarine Telegraph Company,’ to establish direct communication between London and Bombay by a chain of submarine lines from Falmouth to Gibraltar, Malta and Alexandria, thence, via the Red Sea, to India. The fourth was ‘The Great Indian Submarine Extension Telegraph Company,’ to connect Bombay with China and Australia, via Galle, Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, also via Singapore, Cape York, Moreton Bay, to the land lines in Australia. The fifth, ‘The South Atlantic Telegraph Company,’ to run lines from Gibraltar to Madeira, Cape de Verde, Sierra Leone, Ascension, St Helena, Saldanha Bay, to the Cape of Good Hope; and from Ascension to Pernambuco, Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Monte Video, to Buenos Ayres; also a branch between Gibraltar and Lisbon. All these schemes fell through, except the United Kingdom Telegraph Company, which, however, has done good service in reducing the price of telegrams between places in this country to more reasonable rates.”

What is truly remarkable is that within a decade almost all this entire ambitious cable network was made and the circuits successfully worked, under the guidance of one man, John Pender. His overall holding company was called, curiously enough, ‘The Globe Telegraph & Trust Company.’

Other "independent" stock promotions included the Indian & Australian Telegraph Company of 1858, the General Electric Telegraph Company of 1861 and the Private Telegraph Company of 1862, which, apart from lodging draft Bills with Parliament, have left no trace of their promoters or ambitions.

In May 1864 William Rowett, obtained a renewal of his 1860 concession of the French government for a circuit running from Brest to St Pierre et Miquelon off Newfoundland, by way of Cape Finisterre, and the Azores. The cable was to be 2,000 miles overall, but the longest single length was 800 miles from the Azores to Canada. It was to be made just one-inch in diameter, with a copper core imbedded in "virgin" india-rubber, rather than contaminated "manufactured" rubber, covered in hemp rope and a new protective compound, weighing only three hundredweight per mile. Rowett formed the International Ocean Telegraphic Company in London during 1864, seeking £500,000 in 25,000 shares of £20, to complete the project but got nowhere. He was sued by Serjeant Glover who claimed the landing rights on the Azores as his own, purchased in 1857 on behalf of the European & American Submarine Telegraph Company.

Rowett eventually promoted the Scilly Islands Telegraph Company in 1869 and laid a thirty-one mile circuit between the islands and his home county of Cornwall. The hemp-covered cable, to an identical specification to that proposed for his Atlantic circuit, quickly failed.

In September 1865 Thomas Allan promoted the Transatlantic Telegraph  Company with a capital of £1,500,000 to lay a 'non-extending cable' from England to Oporto in Portugal (600 miles), from Oporto to Flores in the Azores (900 miles) and from Flores to Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada (1,400 miles).

“The cable consists of a solid copper wire, weighing 250 lb per nautical mile, surrounded with twenty best steel wires of No 9 gauge. The dielectric [insulator] in Alan’s cable is... [composed of] four coats of gutta-percha alternated with four thin layers of compound. The proposed external coating is of hemp..., intended merely to protect the cable from the handling operations... The weight of the cable is 8 ½ cwt per nautical mile.”

This was called “Allan’s Light Cable”, patented in 1853, and was intended for use in all of his underwater projects. It is remarkably similar to modern cable design, with the core and steel wire forming the interior, whilst the insulating resin, now synthetic plastic, forms the thick external covering.

Allan managed his final, futile effort at company promotion on February 11, 1867. Despite being personally bankrupt he found sufficient support to launch the British & American Telegraph Company, yet another incarnation the cable route from England, actually Falmouth, Devon, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, by way of the Azores. It had a capital of £600,000, and was to use Allan’s light cable, “one quarter of the weight of the Atlantic cable, and one third of the cost”. The Company was incorporated in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick as well as in Britain. It proposed a tariff of £4 for twenty words. Allan was to have 5% of the capital as royalty for his rights, and a share of all annual profits above 10%. The petition for its winding-up was presented on October 15, 1867.

Wilde's Globe telegraph 1863
A magneto-electric dial device, the "globe" receiver, left; the transmitter, 
its magneto driven by a foot-pedal, right

The Globe Telegraph Company was formed in 1863 with a capital of £100,000 to construct and maintain telegraphs, to acquire and work letters-patent relating to electro-magnetic telegraphs and apparatus, and for other purposes. It was intended to work the instrument of Henry Wilde of Manchester, which he patented on February 25, 1863, having been working on it since 1860 after Charles Wheatstone sent him samples of his Universal telegraph. This was an electro-magnetic dial telegraph with separate communicator and indicator, which he called the "Globe telegraph" and was obviously derived from Wheatstone's Universal telegraph. The indicator was spherical, containing both a dial and an alarm, hence "globe". The main difference between the two instruments was the use of a foot treadle to work the magneto rather than a handle. Wilde was sued, unsuccessfully, for patent infringement by the Universal Private Telegraph Company, owners of Wheatstone's patent. His Company was substantial enough to acquire a Special Act of Parliament in 1864 "to connect dwelling houses, manufactories, warehouses, collieries, gas and water works, barracks, police stations, &c.", but it was unable to raise more than a derisory £1,500 in capital. The Globe attempted to provide private circuits in its home city of Manchester and in the towns of Huddersfield, Oldham, Middlesbrough, and Sheffield, claiming to have sold forty or so pairs of instruments to factory owners, but it did not survive long. Wilde tried to get the Post Office to purchase the jetsam of the Globe company in 1869 but a Parliamentary Committee threw the claim out. The Globe Telegraph Company was not connected with Septimus Beardmore's so-called "globe telegraph" of 1859; nor was it related to the hugely successful Globe Telegraph & Trust Company created by John Pender, co-incidentally also of Manchester, in 1873 to invest in and manage intercontinental cables.

 The Telegraph Ship Brisk 1870
Anchored off Cornwall and connected to shore by a telegraph cable
to send and receive messages for passing steamers.
The second attempt and a failure

Among the "amusing nondescripts" that the Limited Liability Act encouraged was the Floating Telegraph Station & Lightship Company, launched in May 1864, appealing for a capital of £250,000, one-third to be paid-up. This anticipated placing stationary vessels off the Scilly Isles, where the English and Irish Channels met, in the West of England, and off Cape Race, Newfoundland, each connected to land by a short underwater telegraph cable to send and receive messages from passing steamers and sailing packets. The vessels were to be outfitted with brilliant lanterns, day and night signals, steam whistles and lifeboats, and carry stores, provisions and water for sale and for ships in distress. The floating stations would also have a steam tender or tug alongside. In addition to telegrams, at £1 a message, income was to come from salvage, sale of stores, towage, and the transfer of mail, parcels and passengers. Surprisingly this project was revived in 1869 and a floating telegraph station, lately HMS Brisk, was actually set afloat in the English Channel on April 14, 1870 for a short period by another company.

Telegraph, from the Greek “tele”, distant, and “graphos”, writing
© Copyright - Steven Roberts 2012