History of wireless telegraphy and broadcasting in Australia/Topical/Clubs/Telegraph Electrical Society/Early History
THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE TELEGRAPH ELECTRICAL SOCIETY, MELBOURNE
by B. McMahon, D.P.A. A.M.I E. (Aust)
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In the June, 1938, issue of the "Telecommunication Journal of Australia," Mr. E. J. Credlin, in writing of the inauguration of the Postal Electrical Society in 1908, referred to the formation of the first Electrical Society in Victoria in 1874. Through the courtesy of Mr. F. R. Bradley, Superintendent of Mails, Sydney, copies of the transactions of this Society have been made available. The transactions were first published in a bound volume issued in 1875, from which it is learnt that the first Ordinary General Meeting was held on Wednesday, 12th August, 1874. On one of the introductory pages it is advertised that the Society was established "for the promotion of the knowledge of electricity, especially as connected with telegraphy." The Society arranged to meet for the transaction of business at the Melbourne Athenaeum on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at 8 p.m. The first Committee of Management comprised Mr. G. Smibert, Mr. D. Mickle, Mr. D. J. McGauran and Mr. H. W. Jenvey. The Honorary Secretary and Treasurer was Mr. L. S. Daniel. Throughout the first volume of transactions, Messrs. McGauran and Daniel were frequent contributors, and apparently their work and enthusiasm contributed greatly to the successful establishment of the Society. The subscription was £1 per annum for town members and 10/- per annum for corresponding (or country) members. In the early volume no mention is made of a President, and the transactions show that there was a different Chairman at each meeting, Mr. D. J. McGauran occupying the chair at the first meeting, followed by Mr. C. W. Miller, Mr. D. Mickle and Mr. George Smibert. There were 48 members and 61 corresponding members, and at the inception of the Society membership was restricted "for the present" to officers of the Post and Telegraph Department. On September 9th, 1874, however, it was resolved "that any gentleman intimately connected with the practice of telegraphy in this or the neighbouring colonies shall be eligible for membership of this Society." Apparently no provision was made for female, or perhaps in the spirit of the age I should say lady members, for Rule No. 12 provided eligibility for membership for no others than "any gentleman intimately connected with the practice of telegraphy . . . . " We can admire the broad outlook of the founders of this Society, who so soon after its inception made membership available to telegraph workers in the neighbouring colonies, a quarter of a century before Australia became a Federation. In 1875 the telegraphic art was more or less a mystery to the general public, if not to many members of the Department, and in this respect it is interesting to read that a short elementary lecture on electric telegraphy was given by Mr. L. S. Daniel as an introduction to the Exhibition of the Electric Telegraph at a public entertainment which was given by the members of the Society at the Melbourne Athenaeum on Monday, 1st February, 1875. The entertainment, which was presided over by Mr. Turner, the then Deputy Postmaster-General of Victoria, "was very successful, and the Melbourne Press was unanimous in pronouncing it one of the most interesting lectures ever given in the city." In recent times there has been much discussion on the use of proper functional designations for professional and technical occupations, and some of the words around which the discussion has turned are "Mechanic," "Electrician" and "Engineer." Those who now lean to the word "Electrician" are perhaps unconsciously following a precedent established as far back as 1874, when Mr. H. W. Jenvey, in his paper on "Electrical Resistance," wrote "and here I will introduce a fundamental law of electrical measurement named after an Electrician who put it into form. It is, "That the quantity of electricity passing a given point in a circuit in a given time is equal to the electromotive force, or original and natural power of the battery, divided by the resistance of the circuit." This is called Ohms Law, and Mr. Culley, the Electrician, calls it "the basis of all the mathematical laws of electric currents" — a very important definition." That these Electricians of the past were no less human than the Mechanics, Linemen, Electricians and Engineers of today may be gathered from the observations of Mr. L. S. Daniel at the first Ordinary General Meeting of the Society. Mr. Daniel, in submitting that the object of members was to gain knowledge, which was power, put it that "If our value be increased, we may naturally expect a tangible recognition of this improvement." He is rather diffident in mentioning this aspect, and confesses that he "would never have thought of putting the matter in such plain language as he finds it in the Journal of the Telegraph Engineers' Society of London, where he came across the following passage in a lecture, on the Advantages of Scientific Education, delivered by Mr. W. H. Preece, C.E." Mr. Preece, afterwards Sir William Preece, Chief Engineer of the British Post Office, said, "There is no doubt that a knowledge of the technical details of telegraphy will eventually lead to an increase of the emoluments of those who are now engaged in the Department." The Society continued to prosper in its first
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year, and we find that, by July, 1875, the membership had increased to 49, with 78 corresponding members. Though Rule No. 12 making "any gentleman" eligible for membership apparently remained unaltered, we find in the Progress Report for the quarter ending the 30th April, 1875, that the Society had a number of lady members, donations towards the printing fund of the Society having been received from "the following members:— Miss F. A. Dobson, Telegraph Office, Dandenong, 10/-; Mrs. S. E. Kinahan, of Terang, 10/-; Miss E. Allison, of Sorrento, 5/-." The report states that, "These donations are the more gratifying that they have been quite unsolicited." For the information of its members, the Society published in its transactions a reference to "telegraphing the St. Leger, 1874." Over the four days' race meeting the total number of messages transmitted "reached the astounding figure of 16,500." On the same page a reference is made to working speeds of morse instruments. From New York came two instances of fast transmission of ordinary messages, viz., 330 messages in 6 hours, 30 minutes, 50.7 per hour, and 136 messages in 2 hours, 68 per hour. It is then recorded that, on the occasion of the last Melbourne Cup race (1874) 216 messages were sent from the racecourse to Melbourne, on one of the wires, in 1 hour and 58 minutes, being at the rate of 109.8 per hour, while at the Cup of the previous year the rate was 124.5 per hour. It is explained that, on account of the frequent occurrence of the same names, abbreviations could be used to a great extent, and it is then added that, "As a matter of swift penmanship on the part of the receiving operator, these performances could not easily be surpassed." It is clear that our pioneer members did not intend to be outdone by any reports from America. Even in the first year of its life the Society did not lack recognition overseas, for it is reported that Mr. H. W. Jenvey's paper on "The Adjustment of the Morse Instrument," which was read before the Society in October, 1874, was published in the London Telegraphic Journal of July 1st, 1875. Reading on through the transactions, we are brought nearer to the present day by seeing a name at present well known in telegraph and telephone engineering circles in Victoria, for on the 22nd September, 1875, "Mr. H. Quarry described and illustrated Wheatstone's Alphabetical Instrument by taking to pieces and showing the construction and mechanism of its different parts." In the same issue we find the Society attempting to lighten the tedium associated with reading heavy technical matter by including a paragraph culled from the "Electrical News," which read: "The practice of hanging linen to dry on the telegraph wires has, according to the Pall Mall Gazette, lately become general in Armenia, and revealed the hitherto unknown fact that the peasantry of that country are in the habit, occasionally, of washing their clothes . . . . " The march of time in the affairs of nations is brought vividly before us in reading the report of the International Telegraphic Conference which was held at St. Petersburg, We no longer hear this city so named, but surely all engaged in the business of telecommunication will derive some satisfaction from the thought that, for three-quarters of a century, representatives of all nations have gathered together for a common purpose and discussed amicably and with such wonderful results the problems which have arisen in telecommunication affairs throughout the world. Another matter of interest in the same issue is an extract from the "Queensland Times" of March, 1875. The editor of this paper often wondered how it was that a proper word had not been invented to express the name of a message sent by the submarine wire, without pedantry. He affirmed that the word "Cablegram" was simply execrable, both in sound and linguistic propriety. He then suggests, "Why not use the euphonius word "Calogram," which is from the Greek word "Calos" — a cable? . . . " and to think that, in 1939, we are still using "Cablegram." In the transactions for the year ending July 31st, 1875, is published an extract from the "Sydney Morning Herald" of January 11th regarding the submarine cable to connect the Colony of New South Wales with New Zealand. "The Herald" article reported that the first portion of the cable arrived in the steamship "Edinburgh," which was the first cable ship that had then visited this part of the world. On this account the arrival of the ship created great interest in Sydney. She carried a 240-mile length of the New Zealand cable, the remainder being on board the "Hibernia," which was expected in Sydney in another few weeks. It was reported also that the "Edinburgh" on the same trip brought from England a short cable "about 35 miles in length, which she laid near Adelaide, across what is known as the Back Passage, to connect the telegraph line between Western and South Australia." South Australian members might know what has become of this cable. That the same friendly spirit which now characterises the association of technical officers of the telecommunication services was in existence to just the same extent in the early days of telegraph societies may be gleaned from a report of a gathering held on Tuesday evening, 7th March, 1875, at 9 p.m. About 60 officers of the Department assembled at Clement's Cafe (Does any member remember it?) to make a presentation of a silver tea and coffee service to Mr. D. J. McGauran. The report relates that, "It
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having transpired early in March that the New South Wales Government had secured the services of Mr. D. J. McGauran, Operator, of the Melbourne Office, and a member of the Committee of Management of this Society, it was immediately and unanimously resolved not to allow him to leave the Department in which he had for so many years been so deservedly popular, without some souvenir from his fellow-telegraphists." The Chairman was Mr. T. R. James, who referred to his amusement at receiving a letter from a country member complaining that "New South Wales was gobbling up all the plums." Mr. James added that "the sister Colony had now gobbled up our choicest plum. (Hear, hear.)" A separate paragraph in the report relates that "Champagne and other refreshments being now introduced, the Chairman called upon the meeting to drink Mr. McGauran's health, which was done amid great applause." It is not known what effect the refreshments had on the gathering, but it is naively reported later that, "The official portion of the proceedings having now terminated, the remainder of the evening was spent in a most pleasant manner." (The black type is ours.) The report concludes, "Some astonishment was subsequently excited at the Hobson's Bay Railway Terminus by the larger portion of the meeting accompanying Mr. McGauran to the St. Kilda 11 p.m. train, and saluting him as the train moved off, with hearty cheers." It may be a fair inference that the last train in those days departed at 11 p.m. Those members who are particularly concerned with the telephone side of telecommunication will be interested in a report headed "Novel Telegraphy in Canada." It includes an extract from the "Brantford Expositor," which relates that a number of gentlemen interested in scientific matters recently assembled at the office of the Dominion Telegraph Company to witness some very wonderful experiments on an apparatus invented by Mr. A. Graham Bell, son of Professor A. M. Bell, of Tutelan Heights. "This gentleman claims to be able to transmit musical sounds over a telegraph wire." Members are aware of the rapid progress made in the years immediately following, and the photograph published in the June, 1938, issue of the welcome to Dr. Graham Bell at Melbourne Central Exchange on the 17th August, 1910, will now be of special interest. From 1874 to 1876 the proceedings of the Telegraph Electrical Society were published as "transactions." In the next issue covering the period March to July inclusive, 1877, the title "Journal" is used, and as the only other copy of the proceedings which is available is for the January to December period of 1881, when the term "Journal" is still used, it may be assumed that the "transactions" permanently gave way to the "Journal of the Telegraph Electrical Society, Melbourne." In the 1877 Journal further reference is made to Professor Graham Bell's telephone. "The most wonderful of these telephones is that invented by Professor Graham Bell. By means of his telephone the human voice (or any other sound) is carried by magnetic currents along a telegraphic wire and reproduced at the stations on the lines . . . . It has been seen by Sir William Thomson and pronounced by him to be "the greatest by far of all the marvels of the Electric Telegraph," and the Telegraphic Journal, London, states that so many proofs have been given of the authenticity of the invention that its reality can no longer be a matter for doubt." That this confidence in the report was not shared by the editors of the Melbourne Journal may be gathered from the comment just a little later in the report. It reads: "What we are called upon to believe about this invention is of such a nature as to make a personal inspection of it almost essential, in order to destroy all doubt of its reality." After a reference to the method of working the report goes on: "This is hard enough to believe, but when we have to add to this that the vibrations are produced in the first instance by the human voice, and that the vibrations produced on the plate at the other end of the line are made to reproduce the articulate sounds of the human voice, surely it is no wonder that there are to be found persons of no small scientific attainments who, in the absence of ocular demonstration, have declared the so-called invention to be 'a physical impossibility.' " (Reference July, 1877.) However, the editors were not without a broad outlook on general matters, and during 1875 an article was published on the "Typewriter." It said that, although this clever invention was not directly connected with electricity nor with telegraphy, the art of fast writing was so important a feature of the latter that it was considered the accompanying article (from "The Times" of April 25th) would not be out of place in the Journal. One of these instruments was reported to be in the possession of the New South Wales Telegraph Department, and the Committee of Management of the Victorian Society indicated that it would be glad to have a practical opinion of the estimation in which it was held there. In "The Times" article the reporter states that, "The typewriter more nearly resembles in outward appearance a sewing machine than anything else. . . . The uses of this ingenious contrivance are so obvious and so numerous that we may content ourselves by observing that the only work to which it cannot be applied is that of bookkeeping or writing in books." In the Journal for the period ending July, 1877, is published an account of the first steps in electric telegraphy in England, being an ex-
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tract from the inaugural address by Mr. C. V. Walker, F.R.S., on the 12th January, 1876, on being elected President of the Society of Telegraph Engineers. Mr. Walker referred to the deep debt of gratitude owed to electric telegraphs by the Railways, but he remarked that the debt was not all on one side. He quoted remarks published as early as March, 1850, that "The electric telegraph is greatly indebted to the Railways, if not for its existence, at least for the friendly hand they have held out to it, and indeed for the protecting care with which they have guarded it . . . . This little line of telegraph (Great Western Railway) was then one of the sights of London. Well do I remember in 1845 paying my shilling to see it. It was made known by handbills to passers-by." Present members will be interested in the reprint of the handbill published on this page. It is of interest to note the comparatively wide range of technical discussion and study covered in the early years of the Society, despite the limited membership and the restricted facilities. Following are titles of some of the lectures delivered between 1874 and 1877, following the inaugural lecture by Mr. L. S. Daniel on "The objects, use and working of the Telegraph Electrical Society":— By Mr. Geo. Smibert: Electricity; Origin of the Voltaic Current; Magnetism and Electro-Magnetism; Arrangement of Circuits and Commutators in the Chief E.T.O., Melbourne. By Mr. D. J. McGauran:— Duplex Telegraphy (with demonstration); On the Transmission of two messages in the same direction at the same time on one wire; An auto-translator for closed circuits. By Mr. H. W. Jenvey:— Electrical Resistance; The Adjustment of Morse Instruments. By Mr. H. Quarry:— Wheatstone's Alphabetical Instrument. By Mr. S. Deverell:— Sea-water Battery. By Mr. P. R. Challen:— Statical Electricity and a brief discussion of the means of producing it. Mr. L. S. Daniel, in addition to lecturing on "The Morse Instrument," read an extract entitled "Aldini's Bovine Battery" dealing with electricity in the bodies of human and other animals. Mindful of the interests of its members, the Society in 1875 set out to provide a course of instruction, and there are printed four papers on "Galvanic Batteries" read by Mr. D. J. McGauran, "being part of the course of instruction which it has been determined to pursue." During the visit of the cable ship "Duke of Edinburgh" the opportunity was taken to invite the ship's Chief Electrician to read a paper on "Interference Between Lines." The Journal for March to July, 1877, was devoted largely to "giving members some account of the instruments at present exciting much interest in Telegraphic circles, and which, from their power of conveying sound, are called telephones." In addition to reports of Bell's lectures and demonstrations in U.S.A., reference was made to Reiss' telephone and Cray's instrument. The trend towards telephony continued, for the 1881 Journal opened with "Modern Forms of the Telephone," by James Doyle, M.S.T.E., though the remainder of this issue dealt with telegraphy, and in September, 1881, we, see the first reference to quadruplex in a "Note on the working of the Quadruplex between Sydney and Melbourne," by Mr. D. J. McGauran. The last reference in the 1881 volume is a re-
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view of the Report of the Adelaide Observatory for 1879, presented to the Society by C. Todd, Esq., C.M.G. Mr. Todd, who was then P.M.G. and Superintendent of Telegraphs in South Australia, later became Sir Charles Todd, a name prominently associated with the building of the overland telegraph line between Adelaide and Darwin. This 1881 volume is the last printed record we possess of the proceedings of the Telegraph Electrical Society between the time of its inception in 1874 and its revival as the Postal Electrical Society in 1908. The enthusiasm of its founders and early members has left us this record of their splendid work for the first eight years.
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