As part of a UK summer break, last year I explored the story of telegraph communications at the Telegraph Museum in Porthcurno.
I find it amazing to think that electrical messaging all started with a sap tree, brave sailors and human endeavour reaching out between distant communities in far off lands. The museum is a brilliant mix of exhibits, interactive areas, tunnels and a fantastic live demonstration. Sitting on benches we found ourselves, along with a sizeable group of adults and children, enthralled to hear history come to life.
During the day I learnt that by 1900, a hundred thousand miles of telegraph cable routed across the ocean beds; the shallow waters of Porthcurno dissuaded shipping making it the perfect entry into England. Such was the importance; 15,000 tonnes of rock were removed during the Second World War to safeguard the vital communication equipment within tunnels. Operators were trained and dispatched around the globe and the industry was one of the first technical occupations to employ both men and women. As these technical operators, self-named “the exiles” travelled, the wire brought not only a means to communicate but also direct cultural and social exchanges.
There are many telegraph lines you can trace. I quite like the 1902 Pacific Cable which headed out from the beach of Porthcurno, travelling across the sea via Ireland, Newfoundland, out to Montreal, to Vancouver Island, before going on to Fanning Island, Norfolk Island and ending in Australia. The Vancouver Island was a remote posting, accessible by boat, inhabited by indigenous people and with a mild climate which meant the exiles were greeted with olive and lemon groves. For those stationed on the Island at Bamfield, a tennis court, movie theatre and even a bowling avenue were provided for entertainment. Although the cable station closed in 1959, the local residents still keep the memories alive through the Bamfield Historical Society and the Island itself is now a marine science centre, attracting students from around the world. Bamfield Historical Society
It is fascinating to think that Vancouver Island was directly connected to Cornwall by a wire, much of which still lies on the ocean bed today. Vancouver Island is now on my bucket list of places to visit but, in the meantime, if you want to know more (and find out about the sap tree!) I’d definitely recommend a day out at the museum.