search only Distant Writing
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Telegraph at War 1854-68
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Instrument Gallery
Telegraph Maps 1852-68
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Sources: Books & Major Articles

There has been little recent writing or research on the telegraph in Britain; although there are several good reprints and on-line republications of old works. I have tried to use only sources contemporary with events.

• Electric Telegraph, a Social and Economic History; J L Kieve, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1973
• Cooke and Wheatstone and the Invention of the Electric Telegraph; Geoffrey Hubbard, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1965
• Telegraph Manual; Taliaferro Preston Shaffner, Pudney & Russell, New York, USA, 1859
• Handbook to the Electric Telegraph; Staff of the Electric Telegraph Company, W Scales and W M Clark, London, 1849
• Abridgements of Specifications relating to Electricity and Magnetism, their generation and applications; Bennett Woodcroft, Commissioners of Patents, London, 1859
• Annals of British Legislation; being a classified and analysed summary of public bills, statutes, accounts and papers, reports of committees and of commissioners, and sessional papers generally, of the Houses of Lords and Commons; Leone Levi, Smith, Elder & Co., London, 1861
• Annales télégraphiques; Dunod, éditeur, Libraire des Corps Impériaux des Ponts et Chaussées et des Mines, Paris, Tomes 1859, 1860 et 1861
• On the Analogy between the Post Office, Telegraphs, and other systems of conveyance of the United Kingdom as regards government control; W S Jevons, read at the Manchester Statistical Society, April 10th, 1867
• American Telegraphy and Encyclopaedia of the Telegraph; William Maver, Maver Publishing Co., New York, USA, 1912
• Atmospheric Railways - a Victorian Venture in Silent Speed; Charles Hadfield, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1967
• Authorship of the Practical Electric Telegraph of Great Britain; Thomas Fothergill Cooke, R E Beach, Bath, and Simkins, Marshall & Co., London, 1868
• The Autobiography of James Graves; transcribed from the manuscript and edited by Donard de Cogan, 2005
• Before We Went Wireless - David Edward Hughes FRS, his life, inventions and discoveries; Ivor Hughes & David Ellis Evans, Images from the Past, Bennington, Vermont, USA, 2011
• Bournemouth: 1810-1910, the history of a Modern Health and Pleasure Resort; C H Mate & C Riddle, W Mate & Sons, Bournemouth, 1910
• The British State Telegraphs; Hugo Richard Meyer, Macmillan, New York and London, 1907
• Catalogue of the Mechanical Engineering Collection in the Science Division of the Victoria & Albert Museum, Part II; H M Stationery Office, London, 1908
• Catalogue of the Special Loan Collection of Scientific Apparatus at the South Kensington Museum; Committee of Council on Education, H M Stationery Office, London, 1877
• Catalogue of the Wheeler Gift of Books, Pamphlets and Periodicals in the Library of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (The Collection of Latimer Clark); Edited by W D Weaver,  American Institute of Electrical Engineers, New York, USA, 1909
• Chapters of Telegraph History, furnished by The American Telegraph Magazine; John Brooks O’Rielly, New York, 1861 (Reprint of articles from 1852 and 1853)
• Charles Wheatstone’s Cryptograph and Pletts’ Cipher Machine; Donald W Davies, Cryptologia, London, April 1985
• Classics of Communication; Fons Vanden Berghen, Crédit Communal, Brussels, Belgium, 1999
• Confidential Report to Robert Grimston; Mark Huish, Electric & International Telegraph Company, London, October 1860
• Die Copirtelegraphen, die Typendrucktelegraphen und die Doppeltelegraphie; Karl Eduard Zetsche, B G Teubner, Leipzig, Saxony, 1865
• Correspondence on the Subject of the Purchase of the Telegraphs 1873-4; H M Treasury, London, 1875
• Curiosities of Communication; Anon., Charles Knight, London, 1851
• Cyclopaedic Science Simplified; John Henry Pepper, Frederick Warne & Co., London, 1869
• The Danish Monopoly on Telegraph in Japan; Eiichi Itoh, Keio Communication Review, No 29, 2007
• Description of the Clock Trigger for the Time-Gun Signal in Edinburgh Castle; F J Ritchie, Transactions of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts, Vol. VI, 1864
• Description of an Electrical Telegraph, Francis Ronalds, R Hunter, London, 1823
• Digitale Kommunikation in der k.k. Monarchie - Die Errichtung der Elektrischen Telegraphie in Österreich um 1850; Franz Pichler, Elektrotechnik und informationstechnik, Linz, Austria, 2003
• Dingler’s Polytechnisches Journal; Johann Gottfried Dingler,  J G Cotta, Stuttgart, Württemberg, 1838-1870
• Discussion on the Electric Telegraph; I K Brunel, E Clark, J L Clark, C W Siemens, F Whishaw and others, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, March 2, 1852 (Also The Electric Telegraph and On the Electric Telegraph, same date)
• The Domestic Telegraph; Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts, Edinburgh, December 1863
• Early Victorian telegraphs in London’s topography, history and archaeology; Francis Celoria, in ‘Collectanea Londiniensia’, London & Middlesex Archaeological Society, London, 1978
• Economic Telegraph Company 1864 - 1875; Letters  and files, BT Archives, London
• On the Electric Telegraph, and the principal improvements in its Construction; Frederick Richard Window, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, March 2, 1852 (Also The Electric Telegraph and Discussion on the Electric Telegraph, same date)
• The Electric Telegraph in The Pictorial Handbook of London; Anon., Henry G Bohn, London, 1854
• The Electric Telegraph in The Quarterly Review; Anon., John Murray, London, July, 1854
• The Electric Telegraph, its History and Progress; Edward Highton, John Weale, London, 1852
• The Electric Telegraph Company, Chart of the Company’s Telegraphic System in Great Britain;  The Electric Telegraph Company, London, 1852 (also published in 1853, 1859, 1860, 1866)
• The Electric Telegraph Popularised; Dionysius Lardner, Lockwood & Co., London, 1860 (Second edition, slightly updated from 1855)
• The Electric Telegraph; Dionysius Lardner and Edward Brailsford Bright, Lockwood & Co., London, 1867 (Third edition, updated and with Atlantic cables)
• The Electric Telegraph in British India; W B O’Shaughnessy, MD, FRS, The Hon East India Company, London, 1853
• The Electric Telegraph; its History, Theory and Practical Application; Charles Coles Adley, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, March 2, 1852 (Also On the Electric Telegraph and Discussion on the Electric Telegraph, same date)
• The Electric Telegraph; its Influence and Geographical Distribution; Marshall Lefferts, American Geographical and Statistical Society, New York, USA, 1856
• The Electric Telegraph; was it invented by Professor Wheatstone? William Fothergill Cooke, privately printed in London, 1857
• The Electricians’ Directory with Handbook for 1885; George Tucker, London 1885
Elektrisches Schreiben in die Ferne; Prof Franz Pichler, Universitätsverlag Rudolf Trauner, Linz, Austria, 2007
• Encyclopædia Britannica; Eighth edition, Volume XXI, Article ‘Telegraph, Electric’, William Thomson, Adam & Charles Black, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1860
• Encyklopädie der Physik; Ed. Gustav Karsten; XX Band, Angewandte Electricitätslehre, C Kuhn; Leopold Voss, Leipzig, Saxony, 1861-65
• Facts bearing on the Progress of the Railway System; Wyndham Harding, Journal of the Statistical Society of London, Vol XI,  J W Parker, London, November 1848
• A Family Chronicle derived from notes and letters selected by Barbarina, Lady Grey; Gertrude Lyster, editrix, John Murray, London, 1908 (containing the Journal of Gertrude Sullivan)
• Faster than the Wind – A History of and Guide to the Liverpool to Holyhead Telegraph; Frank Large, Avid Publications, Wirral, Cheshire, 1998
• The First Cable Cruises of the Old ‘Monarch’; Frederick Charles Webb, in ‘The Electrician’, May 31, 1884, online at
Forty Years at the Post Office - A Personal Narrative; Frederick Ebenezer Baines, Richard Bentley & Son, London, 1895
• From Elektron to E-commerce; Stewart Ash, Submarine Telecoms Forum, Issues 14, 15 and 17, WFN Strategies, Potomac Falls, Virginia, USA, 2004
• From Rattle to Radio; John Bunker, K A F Brewin Books, Studley, Warwick 1988
• The Gilbart Prize Essay on the adaptation of recent discoveries and inventions in science and art to the purposes of practical banking; Granville Sharp, Groombridge & Sons, London, 1854
• Government and The Telegraphs, Statement of the Case of the Electric & International Telegraph Company against the government Bill for Acquiring the Telegraphs; Robert Grimston, Effingham Wilson, London, 1868 
• A Handbook of Practical Telegraphy; Richard Spelman Culley, Longman, Green, London, 1863
• The Handbook of the Telegraph; R Bond, Virtue Brothers, London, 1862
• Heroes of the Telegraph; J Munro, Religious Tract Society, London, 1891
• Het Internet van der 19e Eeuw; Fons Vanden Berghen, privately published, 2012
• A History of Electric Telegraphy, to the Year 1837; John Joseph Fahie, E & F N Spon, London, 1884
• History of the Great Western Railway; E T MacDermot and C R Clinker, Ian Allan, Shepperton, 1964
• History, Theory & Practice of the Electric Telegraph; Geo. Prescott, Boston, USA, 1866
• A History of the Telegraph in Jersey; Graeme Marett, telecom/telegraph.pdf, 2009
• History of Telegraphy; Ken Beauchamp, Institution of Electrical Engineers, London, 2002
• History & Progress of the Electric Telegraph; Robert Sabine, Lockwood & Co., London, 1872
• History of the Corps of Royal Sappers & Miners; T W J Connolly, Longmans, Brown, Green, Longmans & Roberts, London, 1855
• A History of Wireless Telegraphy; John Joseph Fahie, William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1899
• Historical Account of the Introduction of the Gal-vanic and Electro-Magnetic Telegraph; Dr Josif Kristianovich Hamel, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, London, July 22 and 29, 1859
• Historical Sketch of the Electric Telegraph; Alexander Jones, Putnam, New York, USA, 1852
• An Illustrated Handbook to the Electric Telegraph; Robert Dodwell, T T Lemare, London, and John Heywood, Manchester, 1861
• Die indo-europäische Telegraphenlinie in Originaldokumenten; Fritz Jörn, 2004, www.  
• International Telegraph Company 1854 - 1858; Letters  and files, BT Archives, London
• The Introduction of the Electric Telegraph in Britain, a Reappraisal of the Work of Cooke and Wheatstone; John Liffen, International Journal for the History of Engineering & Technology, Vol 80 No 2, July 2010
• Lands of the Slave and the Free; Henry A Murray, George Routledge, London, 1855
• Law Reports of the Chancery and Exchequer Courts of England; London, 1838 to 1870
• Lectures on the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph; Laurence Turnbull, Philadelphia, USA, 1852
• The Life of Samuel F B Morse; Samuel Irenæus Prime, D Appleton & Company, New York, USA, 1875
• London District Telegraph Company 1860 - 1868; Letters and files, BT Archive, London
• Memoir of Henry Wilde; W W Haldane Gee, Memoirs and Proceedings of the Manchester Literary & Philosophical Society, Vol LXIII (1918-19), Manchester, 1920
• Military Telegraphy and Signalling; Captain R H Stodherd RE, Journal of the Royal United Service Institution, London, Vol XIV, May 13, 1870
• Les Merveilles de la Science; Louis Figuier, Furre, Jouvet et Cie., Paris, 1868
• The Nervous System of the Metropolis, in Our Social Bees; Andrew Wynter MD, Robert Hardwick, London, 1861
• Ocean Telegraph Company; C W & J J Harrison, privately published, Richmond (Surrey), 1852
• Old Bailey Proceedings, Central Criminal Court,  Regina v Evans and Thorn, October 26, 1857
• On Railway Telegraphs and the Application of Electricity to the Signalling and Working of Trains; William Henry Preece, AICE, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, January 13, 1863
• On the Electric Telegraph between England and India; E C Cracknell, Royal Society of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, 1869
• The Old Telegraphs; Geoffrey Wilson, Phillimore, London, 1976
• Overhouse Telegraphs; Sydney Waterlow, Journal of the Society of Arts, London, August 13, 1858
• Papers on subjects connected with the duties of the Corps of Royal Engineers, Volume III, W P Jackson, Woolwich, 1859
• Paris Universal Exposition - Telegraphic Apparatus; S F B Morse, Washington, USA, 1868
• The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, Vol XXIV; various authors, Charles Knight & Company, London, 1842
• Pictorial History of the Russian War 1854-5-6; G Dodd, W & R Chambers, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1856
• The Post Office Telegraphs and their Financial Results; W S Jevons, Fortnightly Review, London, December, 1875
• The Postage and Telegraph Stamps of Great Britain; F A Philbrick & W A S Westoby, Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, London, 1881
• Private Telegraph Companies of Great Britain and their Stamps; Raymond Lister, Golden Head Press, Cambridge, 1961
• The Railway Clearing House in the British Economy 1841-1922; Philip Bagwell, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1968
• Report by the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies to the Committee of the Privy Council for Trade for the Year 1845; HM government, London, 1846
• Report from the Select Committee on Accidents on Railways; HM government, London, 1858
• Report from the Select Committee on East India Communications, HM government, London, 1866
• Report of the Joint Committee to inquire into the Construction of Submarine Telegraph Cables, HM government, London, 1861
Report from the Select Committee on the Electric Telegraph; New South Wales - Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, Session 1856-57, Vol III, William Hanson, Sydney, New South Wales, 1857
• Report on the Reorganization of the Telegraph System of the United Kingdom; HM government, London, 1871
• Reports  from the Committees 1867-8, Volume 6, Electric Telegraph Bill; HM government, London, 1868
• Reuters’ Century 1851-1951; Graham Storey, London, 1951
• The Rise & Fall of Government Telegraphy in Britain; C R Perry, Business & Economic History, London, 1997
• The Rise & Progress of the Telegraphs; Maria Susan Rye, London, 1859
• The Royal Engineer; Sir F B Head Bt, The Quarterly Review, London, July 1868
• The Royal Engineer; Sir F B Head Bt, John Murray, London, 1869 (enlargement of the above
• Royal Household Mail; Glen H Morgan, British Philatelic Trust, London, 1992
• Royal Meteorological Society; Papers and Membership lists, 1851 to 1868, on-line  
• Ruff’s Guide to the Turf or Pocket Racing Companion; Ed. William Ruff then W H Langley, London, Annually from 1842 
• Shaffner’s Telegraph Companion, devoted to the science and art of the Morse American telegraph; Tal P Shaffner, Pudney & Russell, New York, USA, 1854
• A Short History of the Electric Clocks; Alexander Bain, Chapman & Hall, London, 1852
• The Spanish Campaign in Morocco; Frederick Hardman, William Blackwood & Sons, London, 1860
• State or Tynwald Laws of the Isle of Man
• Statement of Facts on the Subject of the Electric Telegraph; Douglas Pitt Gamble, D P Gamble, London 1847
• Stokers and Pokers; F B Head, John Murray, London, 1849
• The Story of My Life by the Submarine Telegraph (sic); Charles West, London, 1859
• On Submarine Telegraphs; Frederick Richard Window, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, January 13, 1857 
• The Suction Post, in Our Social Bees; Andrew Wynter MD, Robert Hardwick, London, 1861
• Tallis’s London Street Views; John Tallis, J & F Tallis, London, 1840 and 1847
• Der Telegraph als Verkehrsmittel; Karl Knies, H Laupp, Tübingen, Württemberg, 1857
• De Telegraphie in hare Rechtsgevolgen; Carel Asser, Gebroeders van Cleef, Den Haag, Holland, 1866
• Telegraphic Railways; or The Single Way; William Fothergill Cooke, Simkin, Marshall & Co., London, 1842
• The Telegraphs of Europe (a map); The Electric & International Telegraph Company, London, 1860 (also published 1854, 1855, 1856, 1859, 1861, 1863, 1865)
• The Telegraph; Sir William Preece and J Sivewright, London, 1876
• Telegraphs in Victorian London; John Durham, Golden Head Press, Cambridge, 1959
• Telegraph Manipulation; C V Walker, George Knight & Sons, London, 1850
• Telegraph & Telephone Stamps of the World; S Hiscocks, Woking, 1982 
• Telegraph and Travel; Colonel Sir Frederic John Goldsmid, CB, KCSI, Macmillan & Company, London, 1874
• The Telegraph, A History of Morse’s Invention; Lewis Coe, McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, USA, 1993
Telegraphen-Apparate, Geschichte der elektrischen Telegraphie; Prof Franz Pichler, Universitätsverlag Rudolf Trauner, Linz, Austria, 2012
• Thirty-Six Years in the Telegraphic Service; James Graves, transcribed from the manuscript by Dominic de Cogan and edited by Donard de Cogan, 2008
• The Timely Story of Loughton’s First Public Clock – Ian Strugnell, Chigwell & Loughton History Society, Newsletter 131, March 1996
• Town Telegraphs in Subtle Brains and Lissom Fingers; Andrew Wynter MD, Robert Hardwick, London, 1863
• Then and Now, or Fifty Years of Newspaper Work; William Hunt, Hamilton, Adams & Co., London, 1887
• Universal Private Telegraph Company 1861 - 1870; Letter Books and files, BT Archive, London
• Universal Private Telegraph Company Limited; Prospectus, Glasgow, 1860
• Universal Private Telegraph Company, Report to the General Post Office on the condition of its works; E G Bartholomew, London, November 1868
• Universal- und Privat-Telegraphie in London; Magazin für die Literatur des Auslandes, herausgegeben von Joseph Lehmann, Beit & Comp., Leipzig, Saxony, September 1861
• The Varley Family: Engineers and artists: John Varley Jeffery, Royal Society of Arts & Sciences, London, 1997
• The Working Women of England; Joseph Foulkes Winks, The Christian Pioneer, Leicester, 1859
• Zeitschrift des deutsch-österreichischen Telegraphen-Vereins; Dr Wilhelm Brix, Berlin, Jahrgang 1 - 11, 1854 to 1869
• Bradshaw’s Railway Manual, Shareholders’ Guide & Official Directory; (an annual detailing railway and associated companies), London, 1848 to 1921

Regarding the Electric Telegraph Company, according to one source, “When the transfer of the undertaking of this Company to the Postmaster-General took place, the whole of the papers of the Company were destroyed by order of the directors.” (Philbrick & Westoby 1881)

The surviving records of the London District Telegraph Company comprise just 56 pages.

Kieve’s work is a fine piece of original research on the economy of the telegraph, particularly the final years of the companies – I have tried not to replicate his efforts so have used other sources from the period.

Beauchamp’s more recent work, published, and presumably edited, after his death, sadly has several commercial and technical inaccuracies.

Geoffrey Wilson’s splendid early work on “The Old Telegraphs”, pre-electricity, is a model for historical writers on technology.

Ivor Hughes’ biography of David Hughes, “Before We Went Wireless”, describing his revolutionary contributions to telegraphy, the telephone and radio, is thoroughly recommended for its context-setting, breadth and clear descriptive nature.

John Liffen of the Science Museum in his recently published paper detailing in formidable detail the earliest work of Cooke and Wheatstone shows that virtually all current history on that subject requires rewriting. My particular thanks go to him for sharing this important research.

The best composite period source is Tal Shaffner, but like everyone else he got nowhere with prying information out of the Electric Telegraph Company.

Dionysius Lardner, the great scientific populariser, is also to be recommended, in this and many other subjects.

Morse’s work for the Paris Exposition is an embarrassing self-justification but he used his name to acquire a large amount of data through the US Embassies abroad; the Electric Telegraph Company refused, as usual, to co-operate. It will come as a surprise to most people interested in the subject to learn from this that needle instruments are not “telegraphs” at all but are really “semaphores”.

Several extracts have been included from Morse’s correspondence in the 1840s as recorded in Prime’s biography. There is a suspicion that these letters and, in particular, the accompanying memoranda were edited or even written well after the events described.

To any Americans who might take offence at this view of Morse; the Electric Telegraph by W F Cooke cited above is even worse in its self-serving grind.

Researchers are very specifically warned against the value of the statistics published by the Post Office in regard to the final years of the telegraph companies. They bear little or no relationship to the companies’ official returns made to the Board of Trade before 1870.

For a period view of the state of the British telegraphs in government hands subsequently in the 1870s Stanley Jevons analytical article in the Fortnightly Review is the best source.

Finally, Meyer’s much later British State Telegraphs is thoroughly recommended as it gives the political context to the appropriation of the telegraphs in 1868, describing the subsequent regime and the failure of bureaucracy. Meyer scrupulously corrects the statistics given by the Post Office for the era of the Companies.

Sources: Technical

• United States Patent Office
• The Patent Office (UK)
• L’Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle

The immense USPO archives are available on-line, partially indexed by Google. The UKPO, now called the Intellectual Property Office, is paper-based and relies on a privately-produced index. INPI, the French organisation concerned with patents, now has its earliest records available on-line and easily searchable.

Sources: Journals

The period between 1836 and 1860 saw a huge increase in business and technical journalism in Britain; these journals – dealing primarily with the railway interest – published a large amount of government statistics, semi-scientific information and, what were basically, company press releases. W F Cooke was particularly active in placing articles in the business press in England; but apart from in the earliest period the companies were not.

•  The Builder, The Railway Times, The Railway Chronicle, The Railway Record, Mining Gazette, Shareholders’ Guardian, The Electrician (1861-3), The Telegraphic Journal (1864), The Telegraphic Journal (started in 1870 it printed memoirs and retrospective information), The Daily News, The Glasgow Herald, The Illustrated London News, The London Gazette, The Manchester Guardian, The Mechanics’ Magazine, The Morning Advertiser, The Morning Chronicle, Punch, The Times, The Scientific American, The Living Age, Once-a-Week and, more recently, Telektronikk (Norway)
• Post Office Directories for London, Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast between 1845 and 1868 

Sources: Internet

Unless one is a collector of ‘telegraphiana’ there is little original relating to telegraphy on the internet, the impressive exceptions are:
• Bill Burns’ fine work on the history of underwater telegraph cables at

• James B Calvert, The Telegraph, a History of the Electromagnetic Telegraph, at

• Fons Vanden Berghen’s wonderful, ever expanding, telegraphic picture library, an adjunct to his book Classics of Communication (q.v.) at

• Fons Vanden Berghen’s more personal site that records his many historical articles and his exhibitions, with videos of Cooke & Wheatstone instruments, American telegraphs and Hughes printers in action at

• John Jenkins’ Spark Museum  of Vintage Radio and Scientific Apparatus at

• J E Bosschieter’s History of the Evolution of the Electric Clock, with excellent technical explanations and animations,  at

• Steve Panting’s Telegraph Stamps of Great Britain, a new compendious site for this neglected subject, at

• The Lords of Lightning site offers new researchers into telegraphy a good list of web sources at

Sources: Genealogy

Many of the details for the biographies of telegraphic individuals found in the Appendix here have been discovered through the on-line resources, the Census and City Directories, available on subscription at:

The Genealogist -

The Wheeler Gift:

The history of electric telegraphy, indeed of all things connected with electricity and magnetism, would be much easier if the gift of Schuyler Skaats Wheeler to the Library of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers of May 17, 1901 had been properly honoured.

Mr Wheeler, one of nature’s modest philanthropists, had purchased the immense collection of 6,000 books, pamphlets and periodicals relating to electricity, dating from earliest times, collected by the telegraph engineer Latimer Clark in London. With the equally generous support of Andrew Carnegie, a perpetual bequest of money was made to house, catalogue and complete Latimer Clark’s library at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

Sadly the gift and bequest were dishonoured and in the 1990s the Wheeler Gift was dispersed, destroying an almost perfect archive of publications relating to electricity. Many of the works ended up with the New York Public Library, who have compounded the dishonour by failing to catalogue its acquisitions, leading to losses and thefts. Much of the Gift, even Clark’s personal correspondence, is now being peddled on the internet.

All that effectively remains is the two volume catalogue of 1909 that reveals the true value of Schuyler Skaats Wheeler’s gift and Latimer Clark’s perseverance. This, at least, offers historians a wish list of works that they need to access for a complete view of electrical communication through the ages.

On Sources:

This work has been a collation of small pieces acquired over a long time. The use of original printed sources from the nineteenth century has the defect of being unverifiable; although checks have been made, all manner of authorial and compositors’ errors might have crept in, let alone the writer’s own contributions; corrections and comments are therefore welcome.

‘Distant Writing’ has not been written for academic use so the massive irritation to readers of reference notes has been, rightly or wrongly, forsaken. 

Special Thanks:

My special appreciation goes to Bill Burns of Atlantic Cable for sharing his knowledge of telegraphy, and for generously and patiently managing the constant additions and corrections to the original online version of ‘Distant Writing’ on his website, as well as for his continued advice and support.

My thanks also go to Ivor Hughes for information on his ancestor D E Hughes and his connection with the United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company, to Fons Vanden Berghen for putting me right regarding Cooke & Wheatstone in Belgium and the Netherlands, and to Cor Scholten for details on the Rijkstelegraaf.

I am deeply obliged to Donard de Cogan for permission to quote from ‘The Autobiography of James Graves’ and ‘Thirty-Six Years in Telegraphic Service’. These contain detailed experiences of his wife’s kinsman, James Graves, with telegraph and cable companies.

Ann Galliard has also provided all manner of detail on the launch of the West Highland Telegraph in her native Scotland, for which I thank her. All the more appreciated because it involves the writer’s favourite concern, the Universal Private Telegraph Company.

Thanks too, to Brian P Willmot for his background details on C V Boys, George Saward and Henry Weaver, discovered in his researches into his ancestor Joseph William Willmot, an apprentice with the Electric Telegraph Company – who went on to greater things.

Appreciation is offered to Paul Hellier for discovering and sharing many interesting documents relating to the telegraphs of the East India Company.

I must also thank H R Bristow of the Scientific Instrument Society for his excellent histories of Watkins & Hill and M W Theiler & Sons, two of the earliest specialist makers of telegraph apparatus in Britain.

John Liffen, curator of communications at the Science Museum in London was most generous in sharing his original research into Cooke & Wheatstone’s first steps in telegraphy. He is to be heartily thanked for his new discoveries, and for the preservation of so much telegraph heritage.

Neil Mackay of the North Eastern Railway Association has generously sent me details of his research into Alexander Bain’s I & V telegraph used on the Shildon Tunnel of the Stockton & Darlington Railway. He and his colleagues are preparing a history of railway signalling on the North Eastern Railway.

John Bunker took the trouble to introduce me to his fine book ‘From Rattle to Radio’ describing the development of communications in the Metropolitan Police. It is a truly excellent, and sadly neglected, source. For which many thanks.

Fons Vanden Berghen has generously sent me a copy of his latest, splendidly illustrated book, 'Het Internet van der 19e Eeuw'; a long-needed, comprehensive history of early telecommunications in Europe.


To Maria Elkington, who appealed in the ‘Telegraphic Journal’ on behalf of her sisters for a half-day off on December 24, 1864 for “the pleasure of helping to make, as well as to eat our Christmas pudding”.

 Maria Elkington was born in 1843 in St Pancras, London, where her father was parish clerk. She trained to be a teacher of children but by 1864, when age 21, like over three hundred and fifty other young ladies in London, she was at work on the electric telegraph.

Telegraph, from the Greek “tele”, distant, and “graphos”, writing

© Copyright - Steven Roberts 2012