Telegraph by Sir F. B. Head
Marvellous indeed have been the productions of modern scientific
investigations, but none surpass the wonder-working Electro-magnetic
Telegraphic Machine; and when Shakspeare, in the exercise of his
unbounded imagination, made Puck, in obedience to
Oberon's order to him—
"Be here again
Ere the leviathan can swim a league."
"I'll put a girdle round the earth
In forty minutes"——
how little did our immortal Bard think that this light fanciful
offer of a "fairy" to "the King of the Fairies"
would, in the nineteenth century, not only be substantially realised,
but surpassed as follows:—
The electric telegraph would convey intelligence more than
twenty-eight thousand times round the earth, while Puck, at his
vaunted speed, was crawling round it only ONCE!
On every instrument there is a dial, on which are inscribed the
names of the six or eight stations with which it usually
communicates. When much business is to be transacted, a boy is
necessary for each of these instruments; generally, however, one lad
can, without practical difficulty, manage about three; but, as the
whole of them are ready for work by night as well as by day, they are
incessantly attended, in watches of eight hours each, by these
satellite boys by day and by men at night.
As fast as the various messages for delivery, flying one after
another from the ground-floor up the chimney, reach the level of the
instruments, they are brought by the superintendent to the particular
one by which they are to be communicated; and its boy, with the
quickness characteristic of his age, then instantly sets to work.
His first process is by means of the electric current to sound a
little bell, which simultaneously alarms all the stations on his
line; and although the attention of the sentinel at each is thus
attracted, yet it almost instantly evaporates from all excepting from
that to the name of which he causes the electric needle to point, by
which signal the clerk at that station instantly knows that the
forthcoming question is addressed to him; and accordingly, by
a corresponding signal, he announces to the London boy that he is
ready to receive it. By means of a brass handle fixed to the dial,
which the boy grasps in each hand, he now begins rapidly to spell off
his information by certain twists of his wrists, each of which
imparts to the needles on his dial, as well as to those on the dial
of his distant correspondent, a convulsive movement designating the
particular letter of the telegraphic alphabet required. By this
arrangement he is enabled to transmit an ordinary-sized word in three
seconds, or about twenty per minute. In the case of any accident to
the wire of one of his needles, he can, by a different alphabet,
transmit his message by a series of movements of the single needle,
at the reduced rate of about eight or nine words per minute.
While a boy at one instrument is thus occupied in transmitting
to—say Liverpool, a message, written by its London author in
ink which is scarcely dry, another boy at the adjoining instrument
is, by the reverse of the process, attentively reading the quivering
movements of the needles of his dial, which, by a sort of St.
Vitus's dance, are rapidly spelling to him a message,
viâ the wires of the South Western Railway, say from
Gosport, which word by word he repeats aloud to an assistant, who,
seated by his side, writes it down (he receives it about as fast as
his attendant can conveniently write it); on a sheet of; paper,
which, as soon as the message is concluded, descends to the
"booking-office." When inscribed in due form, it is without
delay despatched to its destination, by messenger, cab, or express,
according to order.