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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Cheers from us at Hashtag History.