The sylvan Porthcurno valley in Cornwall, located on the Atlantic coast 506 km south-west of London, was the unlikely place of a revolution that enabled Britain and its former colonies to communicate with each other.
Museum officials told a visiting PTI correspondent that Porthcurno was the hub of international cable communications from 1870 to 1970, and a training college for the communications industry until 1993.
Now a museum housing rare equipment and details of the history of telegraph, Porthcurno has been granted millions of pounds in funding to develop an international education programme that includes community groups in India.
Among its rare archives discovered last week is a collection of the first telegraph messages sent from Porthcurno and Mumbai (then Bombay).
Until that landmark day, communication between England and India was unreliable, and often took months.
According to the document, the first message was dispatched on the night of 23 June, 1870, and a reply was received in 5 minutes, which was a technological feat at the time.
The message was called a ‘complimentary telegram’ between the ‘Managing Director in London and the Manager in Bombay’.
The first message was from ‘Anderson to Stacey: How are you all?’, to which the reply was: ‘All well’.
The second message from Anderson was: ‘Please ask gentlemen of the press, Bombay, to send a message to gentlemen of the press, New York’.
After several messages that night, including some to the governor of Bombay, from Lady Mayo to viceroy Lord Mayo based in Shimla, and one from the Prince of Wales to the viceroy, a response was received from journalists based in Bombay.
It said: ‘From the Press of India to the Press of America: The Press of India sends salaam to the Press of America. Reply quick’.
The document notes that the viceroy of India had sent a telegraph to the president of the United States and “received a reply which reached him in 7 hours 40 minutes”.
The viceroy’s message, which was read in the American Congress the same evening, was: “The Viceroy of India for the first time speaks direct by telegraph with the President of the United States. May the completion of the long line of uninterrupted communication be the emblem of lasting union between the Eastern and Western World”.
Telegraphic communication with India was first established in 1864 by overland telegraph lines from Europe to the top of the Persian Gulf and then by an undersea cable to Karachi, but the overland section was never satisfactory, prompting efforts to lay more reliable cables below the sea.
In 1869, telegraph pioneer John Pender established the British Indian Submarine Telegraph Company, whose task was to lay undersea cables to India.
The five ships used to lay the thousands of km of cables were the Great Eastern, William Cory, Chiltern, Hawk and Hibernia.
It took six weeks to lay the cables from Suez to Bombay. This was followed by the laying of the final link from Malta to Porthcurno.
It was the first long distance cable ‘chain’, and opened to the public with much jubilation, museum records show.
After the link with India was established, Porthcurno was linked by undersea cables to several other areas across the world.
At its height, it was the world’s largest station with 14 cables in operation. Porthcurno’s telegraphic codename was ‘PK’.
During World War II, tunnels were dug by Cornish miners to house an underground building and Porthcurno’s entire telegraph operations.
The building today houses the museum and archives that started the communication revolution in the late nineteenth century.
Besides 1.44 million pounds funding received in January, the museum this week has been granted 35,000 pounds from the international telecommunications organisation SubOptic to develop an education project with community groups in India, among other countries.
Museum officials said the money will fund an international education programme that will benefit users from spring 2013.
It will include online learning resources, including video clips, animations and games that will enable users to discover the science of global cable-based telecommunications, as well as its impacts on local identity, democracy and culture.