Nelson & His World

Discussion on the life and times of Admiral Lord Nelson
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 Post subject: Telegraph Signalling
PostPosted: Fri Sep 25, 2009 7:23 am 
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This post is not directly relevant to Tony’s specific enquiries about signalling, so I thought I’d open a new thread as this information might be of help to members interested in the wider issues of telegraph signalling during the Napoleonic Wars. I have just bought a book (still on my 'to read' pile) called 'Send it by Semaphore: the old telegraphs during the wars with France' by Howard Mallison (Crowood Press, 2005 ISBN 1 86126 734 7, £19.95)

The blurb states that: 'the first telegraph line was commissioned in France...an innovation to which Napoleon warmed: it followed his conquests, it spoke to his commands; it danced to his tune....on land the Admiralty built a chain of telegraph stations to the great sea ports as part of the defence of England against invasion, while at sea a new method of telegraphing with flags allowed Nelson to plan his destruction of the enemy fleets at Trafalgar.'

A quick glance at the relevant pages reveals nothing that answers Tony’s enquiries, but one sentence intrigued me: in a signal to Captain Duff of the Mars on 4 October 1805, Nelson included the order 'Distant signals to be used when flags, from the state of the weather, may not be readily distinguishable in their colours'. What was a 'distant signal'?

Whatever the possible difficulties in transmitting messages, Popham’s code seems to have pleased Captain Blackwood in the Euryalus. He wrote to his wife just before Trafalgar that ‘though our fleet was at sixteen leagues off [40 miles, 64 km], I have let Lord Nelson know of their coming out….At this moment, we are within four miles [6 km] of the enemy, and talking to Lord Nelson by means of Sir H. Popham’s signals, though so distant, but repeated along the rest of the frigates of this squadron’.

(If anyone would like to borrow this book for an extended loan, send me a PM, and I’ll put it in the post. I am very busy at the moment and won’t get a chance to read it for some time.)

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 25, 2009 8:55 am 
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How interesting - I never even knew this book existed.

I've made a note and will get my own copy sometime.

I was aware of these semaphore systems on land - principally running between Plymouth & Portsmouth and London.

But some time back I saw a mention of a semaphore system between (I think it was) Great Yarmouth and Norwich.

This may well have been a private, speculative venture as there was a schedule of charges for e.g. a single message/a message plus a reply within 2 hours etc. etc.

Don't bother to check Anna - but I will be interested to see if there is any mention of "non-government" semaphore systems in the book.

MB


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 25, 2009 9:51 am 
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Mark:

of course, I couldn't resist a quick check, and it seems that, although much experimental work was done by interested individuals, (one of them, a Rev Gamble, chaplain to the Duke of York and Cambridge mathematician,) they worked in close liaison with the army. The telegraph system in England was always, in the early days, under government/Admiralty control. It was seen as a purely temporary, wartime tool and was shut down once Napoleon was imprisoned on Elba, and hastily re-instated once he escaped.

There is a mention of the Yarmouth-Norwich telegraph:

On 23rd June, [1815] news of Wellington's victory reached Norwich, suggesting that it was taken there by mail coach, and not via the Yarmouth telegraph, which like the Deal line, had probably not re-opened.' The implication is, I think, that it was - at this stage at least - in government hands.

The book has an ironic concluding paragraph which I think will amuse you: Napoleon was guarded on St Helena by men of the Lancashire Fusiliers (my father's regiment) 'the Lancashire lad who was on signal duty that day [5 May 1821,] must have been dismayed to find, when he looked up the vocabulary book, to find just like Pasco at Trafalgar, what he needed was not there; there was no signal in the book for: General Bonaparte is dead.'

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 25, 2009 12:13 pm 
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Just ordered a second hand copy for £5.50 inc P&P.

Get the feeling that this is a book which is "right up my street".

I just love reading about the endeavour and ingenuity of this era.

MB


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 25, 2009 1:48 pm 
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tycho wrote:
What was a 'distant signal'?

Anna, distant signals were used when you were too far away to distinguish easily the colours of signal flags. They used an alternative system in which flags or other symbols were distinguished by shape only. I believe that at the time of Trafalgar, various combinations of flags, pendants and a ball were used.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 26, 2009 1:40 pm 
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Tony:

many thanks for that clarification. I am always intrigued by the ingenuity of those times that circumvented problems without recourse to modern technology.

What a revolution Popham's Code must have inaugurated. I note that Blackwood wrote that he had been 'talking' to Lord Nelson. For the first time, ships at sea could actually converse with each other, rather than simply pass on information by using pre-arranged signals.

Mark: enjoy the book and give us a report!

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 26, 2009 2:12 pm 
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Anna

As you see from my post I ordered the book mid-morning yesterday.

It came through the letter box this morning!

Things like that leave me stunned and amazed!!

I have a feeling that as soon as I start it I will be reading it cover to cover.

I just glanced at the illustrations this morning and as you mentioned yesterday not only Plymouth and Portsmouth but also Deal and Yarmouth were connected to London by telegraph.

Then there was at least one additional line connecting Yarmouth with Norwich.

Any other "nuggets" I come across will be reported here.

MB


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 8:47 am 
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Mark, Anna,

As an aside, it is interesting to note how many places are still known and often marked on Ordnance Survey maps as, Telegraph Hill or Telegraph Clump, etc., obviously a lasting remnant of the signalling stations which once stood there. I suppose its like the many Beacon hills, probably dating from an earlier era. I believe the one at Blandford in Dorset, which of course was on the line from the Admiralty to Plymouth, has an even stronger link with today, Blandford Camp being the home of the Royal Signals Regiment.

The shutter telegraph was also used in Sweden, although I don't know the earliest, until towards the end of the nineteenth century. There is at least one still extant, at Furusund, on the coast and not far from our cottage. Here is a picture of it, as it is preserved:

http://www.mathpuzzle.se/furusund.jpg

I believe the last one operated until 1871.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 9:07 am 
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Kester

Thanks for that.

It seems that it was France that first introduced a system of Telegraphic signalling. Their system extended into Northern Italy and other surrounding countries.

But I had no idea it was also used in other countries such as Sweden.

This subject has really caught my imagination.

Thanks again.

MB


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 9:26 am 
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Here is restored Telegraphic signal station at Chatley Heath in Surrey.

Image

MB


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 28, 2009 5:50 pm 
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Great picture, Mark (and how do you insert pictures? I've never worked this out). I hadn't come across the Mallison book, which looks as if it should be more widely known. I have The Old Telegraphs by Geoffrey Wilson, published by Phillimore in 1976, and it covers many different countries, including Sweden.

Lesley

http://www.adkinshistory.com


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 28, 2009 9:59 pm 
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Lesley

Not my own pic - but it's a beaut isn't it!!

To post a picture it has to be somewhere on the internet. (on a web server to use the technical blurb)

Most pictures you can see on a website you can

- right click on the picture

- then click on Properties

- then highlight and copy the location

- then paste it into your post

- then add [img]at%20the%20beginning%20of%20the%20location%20code%20and[/img] at the end. (the forum has a little tool to do this bit but I find it a bit temperamental and prefer to just type it myself.)

If you want pictures to show in a post you want to be looking for images that have a width around 400 to 600 pixels. That is a nice comfortable size on the page. Anything much smaller will be quite small on the page. Anything much bigger will force the side of the page out.

Mostly you can judge the image width in relation to the size of the screen - or Google images for example shows the pixel width and height - or if all else fails it should show in the properties window referred to above.

If the picture is one of your own and not on the internet you need to sign up with an image hosting service - upload the image - and then follow the procedure above.

But be sure to check the size first. If you take an image straight from your camera it may be 2000 or more pixels wide.

(Lesley - because you have your own website you could upload a picture there - you don't have to put it on a public page).

You didn't expect this to be easy did you??!!


In fact once you've done it a few times it's a piece of cake.

Honest!!

MB


Last edited by Mark Barrett on Tue Sep 29, 2009 9:36 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Sep 28, 2009 10:09 pm 
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Mark: would you like to copy this very useful post on the Information Forum, please, under something like 'Posting Images' so that it is readily accessible?

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2009 8:24 am 
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Mark: this is brilliant. I will read this through carefully later and try it out. We don't ever put pictures on our website as our website designer controls all that, so it's still all a mystery.

Lesley

http://www.adkinshistory.com


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2009 8:55 am 
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Lesley

Here is the picture from the Home Page of your website using the logic I outlined above - just to prove it works.

Image

When you get used to this stuff it really is just SO easy - but I am the first to admit that when you first try it all sorts of little things can go wrong.

As soon as I can find time I will post an "improved" version of the instructions in the Information area.

If you want to try it for yourself - one thing is for sure - you can't "break" anything. If you can't make it work you just cancel or delete away the post and you are back at square one.

MB


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