Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Last Telegraph. Stop.

Major telegraph lines in 1891
Major telegraph lines in 1891 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Today there is actually less chatter in the world. The last telegraph has been sent and now the old machines are officially museum pieces. The last message over a telegraph network was sent by Indian state operator BNSL - Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd - from Pune's telegraph office, in fact Saturday saw something of a rush for the outmoded service, with something like 150 telegrams commemorating the end of a service that has been connecting the world for 160 years.

Although Samuel Morse gets all the credit (his telegraph was patented in 1847), there were a number of pioneers developing wireline communications systems - it was Morse, fuelled by having missed his wife's death as the message she was ill came too late, who defined the telegraph and whose famous code allowed the first telegram to be send in 1938.

The story was carried last month by Business Insider, where I stumbled upon it and took it along with me to Dubai Eye radio. The National's done quite a nice piece on it today.

As I've mentioned before, the UAE has its own little piece of telegraph history, with Musandam's Telegraph Island, a tiny islet in an inlet out by the Straits of Hormuz in what is apparently called the Elphinstone Inlet. The telegraph station there was built in the 1860s, but was only actually occupied and in use for two years or so around 1865-1868, before the cable was re-routed.

Apparently in that time, two men were lost to the appalling heat - the legend is the island is the origin of the phrase 'going round the bend' because the hapless, over-heated Brits would go potty waiting for the next supply ship. A gunboat had to be maintained for the safety of the crew on the island, apparently, because of the 'piratical nature' of the locals. As the excellent 'The Myth of Arab Piracy in the Gulf' by HH Dr Sheikh Sultan Al Qassimi points out, they were a feisty lot back in the day.

The cable, part of the London-Karachi link, meant that a message could travel from London to India in just five days. Advances in technology meant that just seventy years later, a man could fly from London to Sharjah in just four days.

How we move on, eh?

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