William Fothergill Cooke - Cooke's Contribution To The Telegraph

Cooke's Contribution To The Telegraph

Reading the later published record of the arbitration proceedings, which was released in two volumes beginning in 1854, it can be seen that the invention and introduction of the "alarum" or sounding alarm designs by Cooke was firmly asserted to by Cooke throughout the arbitration process. This was a direct rebut to claims made by Wheatstone himself claiming having invented the "alarum." Cooke claimed in the arbitration records that he began working on his "alarum" early-on, on 17 March 1836, just after seeing Shilling's telegraph principles in action during the demonstration at Heidelberg given by Professor Georg Wilhelm Munke and reading Mrs. Somerville's book "Connection of the Physical Sciences." The discussion of Cooke's "alarum" was paramount to the arbitration proceedings.

Cooke was very truthful in this regard. The assertiveness on Wm. F. Cooke's part is further substantiated today by the presence of several detailed and suitably marked drawings executed by Cooke spanning several years found in the pages of Cooke's manuscript journal / Codex Lipack. Numerous Cooke drawings and journal annotations show that actual "alarum" instruments were ordered to be made in multiples by Frederick Kerby for Cooke; designated for installation on the Cooke and Wheatstone systems of telegraphy beginning with direct reference to the Great Western Railway installations, and possibly earlier.

Later designs for patent specifications submitted by Cooke himself in December 1837 and October 1838, for telegraph patents Cooke obtained himself solely in his name and separate of Wheatstone - would later be confirmed by Kerby. Instruments based on these principles had been made by Frederick Kerby for the Great Western Railway installations and testimony by Kerby supporting this invention and application of Cooke's became part of the legal arbitration record with respect to Cooke's proprietary interest in the Cooke and Wheatstone arbitration.

Absent of Cooke's manuscript journal, some historians prefer to claim that respective shares in the undertaking of Cooke and Wheatstone might be compared to that of 'an author and his publisher.' However, the extensive amount of drawings and gleanings of telegraph designs by Cooke, whether they were put in to practice or not, found in the newly discovered Cooke manuscript journal that contains 191 pages and approximately 96 pages on the telegraph alone, reveals a very different picture. The telegraphic content of Codex Lipack, produced over a span of several years by Cooke, clearly overshadows the scant reference found in the extant written accounts to the telegraph's early invention that would have been created by Wheatstone himself and held in the rather substantial Charles Wheatstone archive holdings at King's College, London.

If Wheatstone was so prolific an inventor in this regard, one must question why there is not a substantial amount of paperwork anywhere in any archives at King's College, London's collections executed in the hand of Wheatstone that support all of his early telegraph work. There are some manuscript papers in Wheatstone's hand related to telegraph principles, but these papers begin in the year 1841; about the same time that Cooke's manuscript journal essentially ends! As well, no specific telegraph installations prior to 1841 seem to be discussed at all in any of the Wheatstone papers at King's College.

As it was, Professor Michael Faraday often gave lectures on Charles Wheatstone's behalf. This was because Wheatstone was shy and maintained a peculiar adversity about presenting the lectures himself!

Represented by the sheer detailed output found in Cooke's newly discovered journal, the good name of William Fothergill Cooke certainly can claim more than 'a share in the actual work of the invention;' contrary to what written histories to date have shown.

As noted herein prior, and found in the detailed published record that came henceforth at the end of the arbitration process, Cooke's "mechanician" Frederick A. Kerby had been the key witness on Cooke's behalf during the arbitration proceedings.

The conclusion of the arbitration panel found however that Cooke had contributed to the business and management skills necessary to bring the telegraph into the mainstream; which was true. Cooke had handled all of details that made certain that the systems got built by his craftsmen Kerby and Moore. Cooke had negotiated all of details and business arrangements for the installations with the railroad people and Cooke hired all of the system's installation workers and oversaw all of the telegraph installations. It was claimed by the arbitration panel that Wheatstone had contributed his scientific skill to construct a stable and dependable device on which the business could be built. This also was true. The panel tried to be fair to both parties, giving the upper hand in the arbitration to neither.

However, most curiously, reading the later published proceedings of the arbitration, with the first editions released in 1854, it is curious to note that virtually no reference was ever made to Cooke's actual manuscript journal; even though it conclusively showed many of the actual working telegraph designs that came to be installed as actual Cooke and Wheatstone telegraph equipment. The London and Blackwall Railway telegraph system installation drawings are found to be most abundant in the Cooke journal and are shown very clearly as being that of the London and Blackwall Railway telegraph installation. Yet in the large manuscript archives left to King's College, London by Charles Wheatstone after his death, nothing appears to exist on the London and Blackwall Railway installation; the first perfected commercial electric telegraph communications system in the world!

Amazingly a portion of what was left by Wheatstone to King's College, London in the form of actual apparatus held by the institution was dispersed through at Sotheby's London public auctions in the mid-1990s. It was a minor assortment, but one piece did tragically include a small "ABC dial telegraph" model with an approximately 6 inch diameter circular shaped mahogany wood base.

In William Fothergill Cooke's case however, his manuscript journal remains. Copying machines in Cooke's time based on Scotsman James Watt's 1780 invention were available but applicable only for use with separate sheets of paper, and not bound journals. Thus, Cooke had no choice but to actually leave his manuscript journal with Kerby, so that Frederick Kerby could work from the journal to make the telegraph instruments Cooke ordered Kerby to make. Conversely, during the arbitration process, Kerby would likely have kept Cooke's manuscript journal for study as well; as Frederick Kerby was the key witness on Cooke's behalf during the period of the Cooke and Wheatstone arbitration.

The discovery of Cooke's manuscript journal contains substantial documentation in his own hand regarding the invention of the telegraph for future study by scholars, while Wheatstone seems to have left so little documentation in his own hand with regard to the inception of the telegraph; yet historians have credited more of the telegraph's actual invention to Wheatstone.

Granted, the main aspect to making the telegraph system actually work over long distances, which had eluded William F. Cooke; was that of the electric relay. Briefly prior mentioned herein, Cooke was referred to Wheatstone at the time because Cooke had not overcome this obstacle during his early telegraph experiments following his witness of Moncke's Heidelberg demonstration. As professor at King's College, Wheatstone had conveniently gained knowledge of the use of electric relays utilizing finer coil windings for sending electric signals over long distances from Joseph Henry of America; when Henry had met with Wheatstone just after the partnership formation between Cooke and Wheatstone in 1837. This 'stepped-up' the electrical current and supported the needed application.

Few drawings were made in the journal by Cooke after the London and Blackwall Railway telegraph installation of July 1840, and even less after the arbitration ended by April 1841. One last entry was made by Cooke around the middle of 1842.

It has been noted by some historians however, that Cooke and Wheatstone were said to have had some discussion with Samuel F. B. Morse, the so-called "inventor" of the American telegraph; whereby they offered a proposal to Morse to act as an agent for introducing the successfully operating English Cooke and Wheatstone system of telegraphy - in America. Cooke and Wheatstone made this proposal to Morse sometime in 1840. This may actually have been discussed as early as Morse's late 1838 meeting at Wheatstone's King's College, London chambers, when Morse visited Wheatstone and also Sir Humphry Davy; to view their telegraph work during Morse's vain attempt to patent his telegraph in England at that time. Morse eventually would come to decline the proposal .

Not more than a year or so after this odd affair between Morse and Cooke and Wheatstone occurred, Frederick Kerby left England it appears late in 1842 for North America by ship with his young wife Charlott, taking along with him Cooke's original manuscript journal comprising the inception of the Cooke and Wheatstone telegraph system .

Whether Wm. Fothergill Cooke had instructed Frederick Kerby to take his old telegraph journal to America, or ever realized that his journal was gone, or if he dismissed it as lost, or if Cooke even cared; history may never know.

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