In the PK Porthcurno archive, there is a small, red booklet. Though beautifully bound in leather and decorated with an intricate gold motif, its size belies the significant achievement that its publication celebrated.
Over 150 years ago, Porthcurno saw the arrival of an undersea telegraph cable stretching 5000 miles across the globe to India, heralding the start of Porthcurno’s transformation into the beating heart of Britain’s global communications network.
Prior to this, messages to India could take six weeks or more to arrive. Now a message could be delivered in just nine minutes, an increase in speed of 670,000%. To celebrate this momentous occasion, John Pender (Chairman of the company operating the cable), held an inaugural fete at his home in London on the 23rd of June 1870. Many dignitaries were invited, including HRH The Prince of Wales.
The booklet documents the telegraphic messages that were sent that night verbatim, detailing how long they took to send and how quickly a reply was received, demonstrating the speed with which Britain could now communicate with India and other countries along that cable route.
The first message to be sent that night from London to Bombay (now Mumbai) was simply “How are you all?”. The reply was “All well”. These two messages took only 5 minutes to be sent and received.
The following message was the first sent by HRH The Prince of Wales to Lord Mayo, the Viceroy of India, and took just 11 minutes to be received.
“I congratulate Your Excellency on England and India being now connected by a Submarine Cable. I feel assured this grand achievement will prove of immense benefit to the welfare of the Empire. Its success is thus [a] matter of imperial interest”.
Although the telegraph cable was seen as being immensely important for the British Empire, Lady Mayo’s below message to her husband conveys a more personal use.
“In availing myself of the Submarine Cable I feel the obligation which science imposes upon the world. Not only does it serve political interests, but assists domestic relations in thus enabling me to send you almost instantaneously an affectionate greeting from your wife and family”.
Lord Mayo’s reply was “Thankful for your message. I send you affectionate greeting from your two boys, and all here”. This message was unfortunately not received until over an hour and a half later, as Lord Mayo had arranged to be in his office at 5 am and her Ladyship’s message arrived at 4am, so found his Lordship still in bed. Now that communication had become almost instantaneous, the time difference between countries suddenly became an important consideration.
Further messages recorded in the booklet were sent that night to The King of Portugal, The Khedive, The President of the United States, the Governors of Gibraltar, Malta, and Aden, and the Consul-General in Egypt.
The booklet not only captures this historically important event as it unfolded, but it also represents the beginnings of the Porthcurno we all know today. The success of the cable to India led to a further fourteen cables being landed at Porthcurno, making it the most important telegraph station in the world.
Written by Charlotte Todd (Head of Collections & Engagement)
If you would like to explore the PK Porthcurno Archive for yourself, you can do so from the comfort of your own home – Visit www.PKOC.co.uk and get stuck in today!