Hashtag History: History Tourism: Semaphore Lines

Quick! You’ve been out for a patrol, and you’ve noticed a French ship getting dangerously close to British interests! Do you dial 999? No! Stupid idiot! This is 1803! Oh, by the way, this is 1803, how do you get in touch with the proper authorities?

Well, wait, who are the proper authorities?

Well, that’s a good question. But use your head! Who’s going to have the firepower to deter a fully armed French warship?

Well, I suppose that’d be the Royal Navy.

You’d suppose right!

Fine, but you don’t just get in touch with the navy, do you?

Well, under normal circumstances no, but it’s 1803! And you’re at war with your closest neighbour! These aren’t normal circumstances! They want vigilance! Be vigilant!

Be like that fellow from Rear Window, only better.

Be like that fellow from Rear Window, only better.

Okay, well, I suppose you’re right, and the Royal Navy has a lot of money, so they’ve probably built some elaborate contraption for me to notify them with.

Exactly.

But I’m in Dover. They’re in London. And like you said, back when you were insulting me, telephones don’t exist yet.

Nor do computers, yet here we are.

Right. So now what.

Well, elaborate contraption.

Wave my arms in the air?

No. More elaborate.

What’s that weird mechanical, very modern, yet old timey, slightly steampunk, looking tower over there?

Well, my friend with many descriptors, that would be a Semaphore tower.

'Hullo. I'm a Semaphore tower'.

‘Hullo. I’m a Semaphore tower’.

Is that what the local inhabitants of 1803 would call it?

Well, no, they’d call it a telegraph.

The Morse code thing with the beeps?

Like it, in many ways, in that it effectively communicated a message down a line, but not like it in the fact that it didn’t use electricity. Morse’s electrical telegraph will come later, in 1838. This one more or less flags down its fellow towers, and asks the operators of the other towers to kindly flag down the next tower down the line. These semaphore telegraph towers will be the first alert system as well as the communication system of the British armed forces until 1840.

Nice. Can we go back to 2013.

Well, we never really left 2013, that was all a mental exercise. If you can figure out time travel, please, let me know, I’ve tired of our era.

The majority of my fatigue rests on the amount of time, energy, and money we give to people like this who don't benefit society in anyway.

The majority of my fatigue rests on the amount of time, energy, and money we give to people like this who don’t benefit society in anyway while our education systems go to hell.

 

You know what I meant.

Yes, yes, what do you want from 2013?

Can I see these towers today?

Well, like I said, most of them fell out of use by 1840, since they were replaced by the faster, more private electrical telegraph. However, many of their towers still stand. The only one left in the UK is in West Square of Kennington, London, England, UK.  But a far more intact example actually lies south of the channel, you see, the British weren’t the only ones to use Semaphore lines to direct their militaries. Napoleon also relied on the rapid transfer of information that Semaphore telegraphs allowed, in order to conduct his inter-continental war. The remaining and well preserved French example of Semaphore telegraphs? It stands near Saverne, Bas Rhin, France. Towards the eastern part of the country.

'Oui, I am French, but I will still love you'.

‘Oui, I am French, but I will still love you’.

 

As always, be sure to visit these historical sites, donate if you can, and help make sure that history stays around to teach us what it needs to.

 

Cheers from us at Hashtag History.

Hashtag History: History Tourism: Admiral Nelson’s own HMS Victory

When I was a kid, I was a fan of Star Wars. Mind you, I was a child of the 90’s, and so I became a fan of the ‘original trilogy’ just as Phantom Menace was coming out. So in the Star Wars universe I grew up with Han, Luke, Leia, and Chewy.

Now, my favourite spaceship was then and is still the TARDIS. But from the Star Wars universe, my favourite star ship was The Millennium Falcon.

Want to ruin Star Wars for your average Star Wars fan? Point out that the people of the Star Wars universe would have no way of knowing what a falcon actually is.

Want to ruin this for your average Star Wars fan? Point out that the people of the Star Wars universe would have no way of knowing what a falcon actually is.

The Millennium Falcon wasn’t the largest ship in the Rebel Alliance’s fleet. It wasn’t the newest ship in the fleet. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest ship in the fleet. Even Princess Leia, upon seeing the Falcon for the first time reacts by saying, ‘You came here to save me in that bucket of bolts? I’m impressed’.

What did the Falcon have going for her? Well, a good rugged captain, Han Solo. Also, the Falcon was fast, so fast that they used incorrect phrases to measure her speed. (She moves at a rate of a distance instead of a speed? I am confused Han Solo).

Once Han Solo found out that a parsec was actually a unit of length rather than of speed, he quickly stopped drinking and learned how to pilot.

Once Han Solo found out that a parsec was actually a unit of length rather than of speed, he quickly stopped drinking and learned how to pilot.

The Millennium Falcon was also well armed and had nearly impenetrable shields. If you prized speed, manoeuvrability, and making every shot count over sheer brute size and strength, you would pick the Falcon over an Imperial Star Destroyer any day.

Why stop to talk about this fictional craft from Star Wars in the midst of the very real Napoleonic War? Because in a way, the Falcon is real. And just like the fictional Falcon she’s from a war in the past. But a long time ago, per se, in the sense Star Wars says, unless you think over 200 years ago is a long time ago. (I study history, 200 years is nothing).

Yes, I’m saying that Admiral Nelson’s flagship, the HMS Victory is like the Millennium Falcon of the Napoleonic War.

She looks just as high-tech, doesn't she?

She looks just as high-tech, doesn’t she?

She wasn’t the biggest, newest, strongest, or prettiest ship of the British fleet of the time. And Nelson did have his pick of the litter as he was preparing for the Battle of Trafalgar.

But he prized the Victory’s unique look, her speed, her adaptability, and her manoeuvrability over any other ship, even ones twice her size, in the British Royal Navy.

But I don’t have to speak volumes for the Victory. No, since her favourite captain was among the most iconic and inspirational figures to ever serve in the British Royal Navy, since the Victory served as flagship leading the British Royal Navy to its greatest victory, the Victory herself as become the most symbolic ship of the British Royal Navy.

So even today you can go visit her yourself, and tell her ‘Thank You’ for making sure we didn’t all grow up speaking French.

'It was nothing, really'.

‘Aw shucks, but it was nothing, really’.

That’s right, the Victory’s spot in history has made the British Royal Navy keep her commissioned, and she sits in dry dock in Portsmouth, England, UK. Still flying the Navy Jack after all these years, and still hosting an active crew. The most characteristic ship in the history of the British Empire can be touched, explored, and viewed by you even today.

So go visit her today! She is the oldest ship still in active commission. (America’s oldest ship in commission, the USS Constitution has nothing on the Victory).

And yes, they have plenty of Nelson information there too, including a marker of where he was shot.

When you really stop and think about it, we humans have some very strange, morbid ways of celebrating historic milestones.

When you really stop and think about it, we humans have some very strange, morbid ways of celebrating historic milestones.