Porcupine and Woodlark

I was hoping that following these two Royal Navy Survey vessels might assist with my research into the work of Lieutenant FWL Thomas who in 1845 was appointed as Master of the Woodlark.
This was the ship that he was using to survey the Western Isles whilst Captain Henry Otter had HMS Porcupine engaged on the same task. Prior to this, Fred Thomas had been surveying the Orkney Isles with his father, George Thomas.

Unfortunately the key records, those of 1851 are non-existent, but I think the two may have been in the Atlantic on work associated with preparations for the first Transatlantic Telegraph Cable. It has been pointed-out to me by my kind correspondent that there are letters from Captain FWL Thomas confirming the Woodlark’s presence in Alloa (a mere 10 miles upstream from Culross) in the late 1840s and 1850. Once again, I am most grateful to her for bringing the significance of this to my attention. Captain Otter was in Portsea visiting a Royal Engineer and as this was the branch of the Army that dealt with surveying we can assume that they were discussing matters relating to their work.

However, by 1861 an Orkneyman, James Sutherland, 44, was Master of the Woodlark and he, together with his wife and three children, were aboard her in Harris. This reveals not only a new Master but also her continued presence in Harris. Even better, he has his family with him showing us that Lieutenant Thomas having his wife Frances in tow was not unique. The Porcupine was in Portree with her two Second Masters aboard. Captain Otter was in England with his wife visiting his brother in Dagenham..

By 1871 the Porcupine is in Sunderland (the Woodlark elsewhere) and in 1881 both vessels are at Minster on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. In this year and in 1891 the Woodlark’s Master, Mark Aaron, has his wife and children with him continuing the trend that at least two earlier Masters had set.

Overall I think that these little snippets of information are helpful in giving us just a little more insight into the role of these vessels and the lives of those who were in charge of them – not forgetting the children who must have had a wonderful, if somewhat unusual, education!

NOTE: I have new information regarding these two vessels: This Woodlark was disposed-of in 1863 and the Porcupine in 1883. Clearly the Woodlark of 1881 and 1891 cannot be FWL’s ship, but I’ve left this piece as written not least as a reminder that there are still plenty of red herrings in the sea!

Telegraph Post

This marker, on the island of Kerrera, presumably warns of where the undersea cable
from Oban makes its landfall. However, the first successful Transatlantic Telegraph
cable led from here to Newfoundland and it was not until the Cold War years
 of the mid-1950s that a voice cable link to America was established,
 running, perhaps appropriately, along the Sound of Kerrera.
17th  May 2009

Telegraphy on Lewis

1872 – Cable laid linking Stornoway to Scotland

Mary I Morrison, 19, Telegraphist, Daughter, Post Office Building, Stornoway, b. Stornoway
Alex Fraser, 19, Telegraphist Card Server, Boarder, 44 Point Street, Stornoway, b. Gairloch
John Bruce, 40, Telegraph Linesman, Head, 1 ½ Francis Street, Stornoway, b. Clyne, Sutherland

1883 Evidence to Napier Commission regarding the importance of the Telegraph to the Fishing Industry

1886 – Cable laid linking Lewis/Harris to Uists

William Fowler, 34, Inspecting Telegraphist, Boarder, 7 South Beach, b. Banchory
John Grant, 21, Telegraphist, Son, 51 Bayhead Street, Stornoway, b. Barvas, Inverness-shire
Margaret Maciver, 28, Telegraphist, Daughter, Brick Works, Stornoway, b. Garrabost
Mary J Morrison, 27, Telegraphist, Daughter, 38 Cromwell Street, Stornoway, b. Stornoway
Bella Morrison, 25, Telegraphist, Daughter, 38 Cromwell Street, Stornoway, b. Stornoway
Murdo Morrison, 20, Telegraphist, Son, 38 Cromwell Street, Stornoway, b. Stornoway
Marion Macleod, 15, Telegraphist, Daughter, 23 Portroller, Stornoway, b. Stornoway
James E Macaulay, 20, Telegraph Clerk, Son, 8 James Street, Stornoway, b. Stornoway
John 14, Telegraph Messenger, Son, 13 Church Street, Stornoway, b. Stornoway
Kenneth Murray, 15, Telegraph Boy, Son, 7 Garden Road, Stornoway, b. Stornoway
John Bruce, 50, Linesman Telegraphs, Head, Dormitory, Stornoway, b. Clyne, Sutherland

John McRitchie, 18, Telegraph Clerk, Son, Barvas Inn, b. Barvas

Donald Smith, 17, Telegraph Clerk, Son, 27 Balallan, Lochs, b. Lochs

James Mackay, 20, Telegraphist (PO), Nephew, 59 Bayhead Street, Stornoway, b. Peterhead
John Bruce, 60, Telegraph Linesman (Retired), 34 Bayhead Street, Stornoway, b. Creich, Sutherland
Donald Macleod, 16, Telegraph Clerk, 34 Bayhead Street, Stornoway, b. England
James D Macrae, 15, Telegraph Messenger, Son, 80 Keith Street, Stornoway, b. Stornoway
Colin Macaskill, 15, Telegraph Messenger, Son, 61 Keith Street, Stornoway, b. Stornoway
Archibald Nisbet, 31, Telegraph Linesman, 1 Plantation Street (Plantation Cottage), Stornoway, b. Bollar, Clackmannanshire

C K Mackenzie, 17, Telegraphist, Daughter, Lochs, b. Lochs

I am not entirely sure what to make of these results other than the apparent ‘explosion’ in demand following the linking of the Southern Isles to Lewis in 1886. However, some fifteen years later Stornoway has only a couple of Telegraphists/Telegraph Clerks remaining from the seven in the ‘boom time’. Whether this is due to improvements in technology, the loss of the three(!) Morrison girls, or a real drop in demand is not yet known.

The only constant figure is that of John Bruce, the linesman who, even in Retirement, appears to have kept a link to the system via young Donald Macleod who’s family shared the same house in 1901.

Telegraphy on Harris

1872 – Cable from Stornoway to Scotland laid.

Archibald N Macdonald, 20, Telegraph Clerk, East Tarbert 36, b. Harris
(Angus Macdonald, 50, Inspector of Poor, Father, b. South Uist)

1883 – Evidence to the Napier Commission on the importance of the Telegraph to the Fishing Industry

1886 – Cable from Port Esgein, Harris to North Uist laid.

John Macdonald, 18, Telegraph Clerk, No. 5 East Tarbert, b. North Uist
(Angus Macdonald, 59, Postmaster, b. Benbecula)

Mary Macdonald, 18, Telegraphist and Assistant, Angus’s Niece, No. 25 North Harris, b. South Uist
Joanna Macleod, 19, Telegraphist and Assistant, Angus’s Niece, b. South Uist
(Angus Macdonald, 70, Post Master, b. Uist)

Mary B Campbell, 20, Telegraphist, No. 51 Scalpay, b. Harris
(Marion Campbell, 43, Sub Postmistress, Mother, b. Harris

It is perhaps unsurprising to see the move by the start of the 20th Century from all-male ‘Telegraph Clerks’ to all-female ‘Telegraphists’*, but perhaps more surprising to see that Tarbert housed the only telegraphic office on ‘mainland’ Harris.

One might have expected An-t-Ob to have warranted a telegraphic presence in the South of Harris, especially after the 1886 link to the Southern Isles had been made, but clearly this was not the case. It might well have developed in the heady days of the Leverburgh Experiment?

The Uist origins of several telegraphic personnel are perhaps better understood when it is recalled that, at this time, Harris and the Southern Islands were within Inverness-shire and were thus more closely politically linked than are Harris and neighbouring Lewis geographically!

(*The two ‘Telegraphists’ in Lewis in 1901 were a male in Stornoway and a female in Lochs.)

Connected Communities – 19th Century Style

160 years ago, in 1850, the dream of connecting communities separated by sea with telegraph cable became a reality.

The first of these connections in the Western isles was laid in 1872 between Loch Ewe, on the mainland of Scotland to Branahuie Bay, Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis. This 32.5 Nautical mile (Nm) line, like it’s followers, contained just a single conductor. This allowed the land-linked isles of Lewis and Harris to communicate with the the British mainland.

It took a dozen years before the next coupling was established in 1884 linking the island of South Uist the 16.5 Nautical miles to its southerly neighbour, Barra. This allowed communications from Barra all the way to North Uist via Benbecula (although the nature of the other relatively minor links required are sadly not recorded). Evidence to the Napier Commission in 1883 explained the importance of this link.

A couple of years later in 1886 the islands finally became fully connected with the establishment of the 11.5 Nm Port E(i)sgein, Harris to North Uist link.

Thus, a mere 36 years after the advent of this new technology, some of the remotest communities in the British Isles established electrical communications both within the isles themselves, to the British Isles and thence across the Globe.

Source: http://atlantic-cable.com/Cables/CableTimeLine/index1850.htm