I chanced upon the story of James Graves through offering to look over a collection of inherited family papers for two friends, Martin and Rosy Blockley. This perusal took me indirectly to several meaty topics, including the history of Ireland with its tragedies of poverty, emigration and political unrest. Ireland had a tense relationship with the rest of Great Britain during much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, which continues to the present. The deployment of a world-wide network of telegraphy cables, a largely forgotten technology, in the 19th Century was another substantial subject. It was driven by the needs of Empire and of commerce. The impact at the time resembled that produced by the introduction of the internet a century and a half later. Telegraphic communication with North America shortened the message transit time dramatically, from about two weeks for a ship to cross the Atlantic carrying a letter to a few minutes for a short message to be sent in Morse Code along a submarine cable. Ireland and telegraphy became conjoined by the fortuitous location of the island, jutting into the Atlantic Ocean and constituting the nearest part of Great Britain to the North American continent.
Martin Blockley proved to be a direct descendant of James Graves (1833), who played a significant practical role in the laying of the first successful submarine cables across the Atlantic Ocean and who also became the first superintendent of the Telegraph Station on Valentia Island, County Kerry at the eastern terminus of the cable. James Graves served in that role for 44 years. Many of his descendants also pursued careers in the telegraphy industry.
Several aspects of the story of the Atlantic cable, the Valentia Island Telegraph Station and its first superintendent have been told elsewhere, principally by Donard De Cogan (his wife, Anne, is another of James Graves’ direct descendants), James Graves himself and Bill Burns and I fully acknowledge these important sources. However, previous tellings of this tale have largely concentrated on submarine telegraphy and its underlying technologies. As its title implies, the present account is written from the standpoint of the history of the Graves family and incorporates fascinating material, not previously published, which emerged from my friends’ box of family memorabilia.
The Graves Surname
“Graves” is a predominantly English surname though in the late 19th century it was also found at a low frequency in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. At the 1881 Census of England, Graves reached its highest population frequency in Lincolnshire and its immediate east coast neighbours to the north and the south. This surname was the 988th most frequent in Great Britain (excluding Ireland) with 4543 individuals bearing it, not many, perhaps, when compared with the most frequent surname, “Smith”, with over 400,000 instances. Cambridgeshire, which is contiguous with Lincolnshire, also had a high frequency of Graves individuals. There were 179 recorded in the county and 77 of those resided in the district of Chesterton. This settlement was originally a village but is now incorporated into the city of Cambridge. The area to the north of the present city centre was the location from which James Graves’ immediate forbears hailed.
Thomas Graves (1777 – 1840)
Thomas Graves was born in 1777 probably in Cottenham, a small town lying three miles north of Cambridge and he was buried there. He was the paternal grandfather of James Graves and, according to his grandson, came from humble circumstances. Thomas’ son, John, father of James Graves, also entered life at Cottenham, in 1807.
John Graves (1807 – 1864) and his Children
John Graves left school at the age of ten to work in a brickfield, before becoming an agricultural labourer. About 1833, he entered an apprenticeship with a shoemaker in Cambridge and, at the 1841 Census, he was recorded as living at 5 Eden Street in the Parish of St Andrew the Less, within the city of Cambridge. Despite his modest circumstances and origins, John Graves was bright and also had an innate thirst for knowledge, a Graves trait which will be met again. John extended his basic education by attending evening school and according to his son, James, John became a tolerable scholar, subsequently entering the teaching profession. This presaged a significant involvement in education by John’s children.
John Graves married Sarah Tofts in March 1831 at Chesterton. She had been living in service with the Rev George Adam Brown the clergyman at Chesterton, three miles from Cambridge. Rev Brown often visited his college in Cambridge and frequently stayed the night there, leaving Sarah alone in the house. One night, John Graves had been seeing her and it was very late, so it was agreed that, for her safety, he would sleep in the house. During the night a burglar entered the property but was disturbed and fled. James Graves, without much evidence, identified Frederick Roe, a former gardener at the house as the culprit, assumed that the intruder’s aim was to murder Miss Tofts and that John Graves staying in the house had prevented that eventuality. Or was this supposition of murderous intent simply a justification for him being an overnight guest?
The couple subsequently had seven children, John James, James, Elizabeth, Thomas, Edward (who apparently died young), Edward and Sarah, between 1832 and 1848. John James (b 1832) became a schoolmaster and taught initially at St Ann’s National School in London and subsequently at St Paul’s Schools in Cambridge but for most of his working life he was master at the village school in Hanging Houghton, Northamptonshire. Both his wives, Ann Elizabeth and Georgiana, were also teachers. In 1871 John James Graves was elected the first president of the National Union of Elementary Teachers, which later became the National Union of Teachers. Elizabeth (b 1836) appears never to have married and may have worked as a nurse and as a housekeeper. Thomas (b 1837) became a sailor in the Royal Navy. Little is known of Sarah b 1848, though she did appear in Ireland in 1901 as a companion to the wife of her brother James. The remaining two brothers, James (b 1833) and Edward (b 1845) both had careers in the telegraphy industry. They will be dealt with later.
John James, James, Elizabeth, Thomas and the first Edward Graves were all born in Cambridgeshire, in or near the county town. Their father, John Graves lived there until 1844. James Graves attended two separate infant schools from the age of four before entering the Boys National School, where Mr John Newland was the headmaster, at the age of seven. At the 1841 Census John Newland was a 36-year-old schoolmaster and his wife Lydia had the same status. Another teacher, Emma Newland lived in the same house and may have been the sister of John Newland.
James Graves (1833 – 1911) starts to shine
It soon became clear that James Graves was a bright pupil. In infant school he gained a prize for saying the Ten Commandments most perfectly of all the pupils and under Mr Newland he rose rapidly, in 1844 reaching the second highest class in only three years, when pupils typically spent a whole year in the same class. He also had an early introduction to music, when he gained free entry to a singing class conducted by Mr Hullah, due to his ability and potential. James and John James were aided in their educational progress by their father John giving additional tuition at home.
The Graves family was deeply religious and throughout his life James Graves cleved to his early spiritual induction. Once his father John had moved to Hoo in Kent (see below), the religious indoctrination of the Graves children became even more marked. His parents would not allow James to mix with those who lacked “moral integrity”. Unfortunately for John Graves and his wife Sarah, the children at the school in Hoo were unruly and badly behaved. James wrote that at this time he was brought to a true sense of “the exceeding sinfulness of sin”. His subsequent writings repeatedly demonstrated that, at times of stress or confusion in his life, he looked to his God for sustenance, or guidance on the course ahead.
The 1843 Storm
In 1843 at the age of ten, James Graves and his older brother John James were witnesses to a destructive storm of historic proportions. It developed over the northern Cotswolds about 1pm and cut a swath about 6 miles wide across north Oxfordshire. It was estimated that 50,000 panes of glass were smashed in Chipping Norton, along with large quantities of slates. Hailstones of 1 ¼ in diameter were recorded, averaging 2oz in weight. Some large houses were able to fill their ice houses with hailstones after the downpour. By late afternoon it had reached Cambridge, where pupils fortuitously had been sent home early. Cellars were flooded, trees were uprooted, thousands of panes of window glass were smashed and crops were flattened.
John Graves (1807 – 1864) becomes a Teacher
At the 1841 Census, John Graves, the father of James Graves was described as a shoemaker. However, he did not like his calling of cobbler and aspired to a more intellectual role. He may have made some influential contacts while a cobbler in Cambridge because by June 1844, he had been appointed master of the newly-opened school at Meppershall, Bedfordshire, about 25 miles SW of Cambridge, by the Rev Henry Howarth. He was Rector of Meppershall and was also a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge. In 1845 Henry Howarth became Rector of St George’s Church, Hannover Square, in the heart of the West End of London. There he held the post of Chaplain in Ordinary to Queen Victoria and was active in the alleviation of poverty in the parish. He subsequently retired back to Meppershall.
In June 1844 John Graves set out to move his family and his belongings by horse and cart the 32 miles from Cambridge to Meppershall. This was achieved in a very long day, in spite of the horse becoming lame and having to be replaced. Meppershall was a large rural parish but with a small scattered population which had no experience or expectation of education. One cottage industry widely practised in the parish was straw plaiting, the products being sold at market. “Under one and over two/ Pull it tight and that will do”.
In 1844 James and his brother John James became post boys, delivering letters to local villages, for which service they were paid. This was probably James’ first direct experience of the then current method by which the population communicated with others at a distance. Two years later, when his brother had become a teacher in Cambridge, James walked the 31 miles from Meppershall to visit John James, achieving an average speed of over 3mph. His visit to Cambridge came just a few months after the railway had reached the county town and it was the first time that James had seen the paraphernalia of the railway, such as trains, rails, points and sleepers. He also saw telegraph poles with wires slung between them, marching along in parallel with the rails. No one could satisfy his curiosity as to how messages could travel along the metal wires. This was his first exposure to the new technology of telegraphy, writing at a distance.
James Graves described Meppershall as a “Poor, ignorant and neglected village”. In the winter of 1845, at a time of year when farm servants were less busy, John Graves, with the help of son James, set up an evening school, teaching basic elements of education to illiterate local youths. It proved to be difficult to motivate these educationally-impoverished young people. James was still strongly motivated to improve his own knowledge and skills and in 1847 he started taking lessons in algebra from the local minister. The Rev Howlett kindly gave James a book, “Hall’s Algebra”.
While he was at Meppershall, John Graves and his wife Sarah had two further children, the second Edward Graves and Sarah Graves. But, in late 1847, after the slog of the school in Meppershall, John Graves obtained a new and more promising position at Hoo in Kent a few miles north of Rochester and Chatham and close to the Medway estuary. He started his new posting in early January 1848. Again, the Graves family set off for their new destination using a horse and cart on a two-and-a-half-day journey via London. Along the way they found the people of Gravesend very unobliging, in marked contrast to the rural population of Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire.
Life in Hoo
In 1849, James reached the age of 16 and undertook classes to prepare him for confirmation into the Church of England. Fortuitously, another attendee at the classes was Anne Charlotte Smith, the daughter of a surveyor. James and Ann were confirmed at the same time. These young people remained in touch for several years, though in the meantime James had a romantic relationship with another young lady.
After the translocation to Hoo, James continued to assist his father in his teaching role for a further two years. However, Hoo was located in a low-lying area adjacent to Thames marshes where malaria, then included in the portmanteau term, “ague”, is thought to have been endemic and was probably transmitted by the indigenous mosquito, Anopheles atroparvus. Although the incidence of the ague declined during the 19th century along the Thames Estuary, mainly due to drainage schemes, it was still present in mid-century when the Graves family fetched up in Hoo. Both James Graves and his brother William were affected and the younger brother died of the disease at the age of seven in 1849. The parasitical nature of the disease and its association with biting insects was not understood at the time and James attributed his affliction to the air in Hoo (the popular hypothesis at the time was that foul air, such as from swamps, caused the condition, hence the name mal-aria). In consequence, James determined to find a position elsewhere.
James Graves (1833 – 1911) aspires to be a Teacher
At this stage of his life, James Graves appeared to be heading for a career in school education. He applied for and, in January 1850, was appointed to the Assistant Mastership of the St Pancras National School, Euston Square, London. This school had a roll of about 300, among whom there were plenty of bright children, though only about 250 pupils were in attendance on any given day. There were three teachers, which today would be an unworkable ratio, the First Master earning £100pa, the Second Master earning £50pa and the Third Master, James Graves, earning £25pa.
On taking up his appointment, James stayed with his aunt, Mary Howlett at White Lion Building in Islington. He continued his habit of devoting his spare time to personal improvement. Only six weeks after arriving at St Pancras, James suffered a serious injury to his knee when he fell into the school basement through a trapdoor which had been left open. This accident kept him off work for a further six weeks. He them moved to new accommodation and at the 1851 Census, which was held on the night of 30 March, James Graves was recorded as a 17-year-old school assistant living alone in a multi-occupancy building at 74 Chalton Street, St Pancras.
James Graves (1833 – 1911) and the Self-improvement Society
About this time James Graves started an evening self-improvement society with two other teachers. Initially this was very successful and was later expanded to include three non-teachers. The conduct of the group then deviated from its original aims and, in James Graves’ opinion, degenerated. James then used the subterfuge of sending a fictitious letter from a “clergyman” in disguised writing objecting to the conduct of the group. In the internal discussion which followed he used his own influence to terminate the meetings of the group. His justification for this rather underhand tactic seemed to have been that the end justified the means, so confident was he in his own self-righteousness. He then continued nightly study with his close friend Mr Morgan, both working for a Government teaching certificate. During the following winter of 1850 – 1851, James took on remunerated copying work for a lawyer and also from Rev Staniforth to supplement his teaching income. He bought a suit with the proceeds. Occasionally, he also received money from home.
Exit from Teaching and entry to Telegraphy
In early 1852, James Graves’ career prospects in the teaching profession received a blow when the St Pancras school decided to place itself under Government inspection. Consequently, it received an entitlement to five pupil-teachers. The pupil-teacher system was formally introduced in 1846. Able pupils worked as apprentice teachers, typically between the ages of 13 and 18, before entering the teaching profession. The immediate consequence of this supplementation of the teaching staff was that James’ post became redundant and in March 1852 he received notice from the school that his position would terminate in the following summer. He sought a replacement position elsewhere and was almost successful in being appointed at a school in Cleobury Mortimer in distant Shropshire, but he finally left the St Pancras school without securing a new position.
This was a testing time for James Graves, but he was bright and resourceful and he decided on a course of action. He made some examples of his plain and ornamental writing and toured the City of London looking for a clerkship. His persistence resulted in him obtaining a job with a law stationer, located near Chancery Lane, at 12/- per week, 2/6 more than he had been getting. But the 9am to 9pm working day was much longer than in his teaching role. It was at this point that he learned, fortuitously, that there were positions available at the Electric Telegraph Company at Lothbury nearby in the City. On his way back from delivering copy work to a law firm he called in at Lothbury and completed an application form. In mid-December 1852 he received notification that he could start as an unsalaried learner with the Electric Telegraph Company. He left his clerking job a week later and began work at the Central Station, Lothbury just after Christmas. Thus was a profound change wrought in the career path of James Graves.
A Brief History of Telegraphy
It was during the 1830s that the first practical electrical telegraphic systems were introduced, whereby a message could be sent over a significant distance, with great speed, by a series of electrical pulses travelling along an insulated conducting wire. One of the most significant developments in this decade was the invention by the American, Samuel Morse, in 1837 of the so-called Morse Code which rendered the letters of the alphabet and the digits 0-9 as a series of short and long pulses, with a standard interval separating letters/digits within words and with a longer gap between adjacent words. The initial applications of such systems were for relatively short distances such
as railway signalling, but progressing to the long-distance transmission of messages across continents. The introduction of such a system between the east and west coasts of the United States in 1861 brought about the demise of the Pony Express. This new set of technologies was backed up with significant patent protection and would today be described as “disruptive”, in that it overturned the existing order.
In the mid-19th century the new technique of telegraphy was ripe for commercial exploitation. In 1846 the Electric Telegraph Company was established as a joint-stock company in London by Messrs Cooke and Ricardo, with finance raised in the city to purchase the patents of Cooke and Wheatstone and the working capital to establish a network of telegraph lines around the country. By July 1847, 59 locations were connected to London by electric telegraph, mainly using the rail network, which radiated from the capital, for locating poles, wires and cables. By 1850 virtually all towns of greater than 100,000 population were being served. The company used several buildings on a temporary basis located in the east central part of London, until January 1848 when the new Central Telegraph Station was opened at Founders’ Court in Lothbury, near to the Bank of England and the London Stock Exchange. One of the early uses of the electric telegraph was to synchronise clocks around the country with Greenwich Mean Time. Every morning at 10am a current of electricity sent from Greenwich to Lothbury which causes a ball to fall and triggering the dispatch of time signals around the country. Messages were delivered to the Central Telegraph Station, either by hand or, later, by steam-powered pressure tubes, for transcription by telegraphy clerks and onward transmission by telegraph. After a shaky start, due to economic conditions, the company achieved considerable financial success.
James Graves becomes a Telegraphist and is transferred to Southampton
Like all trainee clerks, James was initially located in the Learners Gallery, which contained a variety of instruments by which learners could send and receive messages, to and from each other. James Graves, typical to his character, resolved to learn as rapidly as possible and applied himself with his usual vigour and determination. At the end of the first week he could read 10 words per minute on the double needle instrument. In the second week he worked on the single needle instrument and by the following weekend he was ready to take the examination on the single needle instrument too. This rate of progress was much faster than the average for new trainees. oweverHowever, as no other candidates were ready to be examined, he had to wait an extra week to be tested. In the meantime, he undertook training on the printing telegraph and in his third week he learned the use of this instrument tolerably well. He also passed his examination on the double and single needle machines. James was then promoted from the Learners’ Gallery to the East Gallery or Instrument Room, where he was appointed writer to the Manchester printing instruments at a salary of 14/- per week (about £80 per week in 2017 money, using an RPI methodology). His supervisor also told him that in a few weeks he would be sent away to Southampton to open the printing telegraph between that town and London.
In mid-February 1853, James Graves took the train to Southampton, reported to the superintendent of the telegraph station, which was accommodated in an office opening directly from the railway station platform and went out into the town to look for lodgings. He was disappointed to find that accommodation was both scarce and expensive. James’ salary remained at 14/- per week but at least he received an accommodation allowance of 3/- per week until he joined the regular staff at Southampton, which happened in October.
James Graves excels as a Telegrapher
Southampton was a strategic location. Not only was it a significant sea port but it was close to the Royal Navy’s main base at Portsmouth. In late 1853 a telegraph line was installed from Southampton to Portsmouth and James Graves was sent there to open the new line. The following year another important task was allocated to James Graves. In May the telegraph line to Lymington was extended to Hurst Castle, which lies at the end of a gravel spit lying at the western end of the Solent. The castle was originally built by Henry VIII between 1541 and 1544 at a time when he feared invasion from Europe and remained a military installation since that time. The castle is placed at the narrowest point in the Solent and was an excellent place from which to observe vessels entering the Solent from the west. A request was sent from Buckingham Palace to the Southampton telegraph office in June for someone to be sent to Hurst to look out for the approach of the King of Portugal’s ships and then telegraph the news back to Southampton for onward transmission. The royal visitor was on his way to Cowes to visit Queen Victoria, who was at that time installed at Osborne House, near East Cowes on the Isle of Wight. This mission was also given to James Graves, which he carried out successfully, after first clearing the telegraph accommodation of builders’ detritus.
In April 1854 James Graves gained another opportunity to shine in an important role. A telegram arrived late one evening for Osborne House, so, with two colleagues James hired a sailing boat and sailed down Southampton Water and across the Solent to Cowes. He and his colleagues then took the telegram by hand to the gates of Osborne House. They were challenged by a sentry but then admitted and stumbled across the dark grounds to the house, where they eventually managed to attract attention and were asked to wait for a reply. With the response in their hands, they retraced their steps to Cowes and their waiting sailboat. However, James’, companions, to his disgust and despite his remonstrances, indulged in silly pranks along the way, knocking on doors and taking gates off hinges. The journey back to Southampton from Cowes was achieved without mishap.
An Unpleasant Incident
After returning to Southampton from his summer holidays in 1854, James Graves decided to move lodgings to a place nearer the telegraph office. He chose the abode of Mr and Mrs Simmonds, not just for its position but also because the Simmonds spoke French and offered to tutor him. James also believed he would have facilities to practise his piano playing. The move proved to be disastrous. The accommodation was uncomfortable and plagued by the noise of children, there was no tuition in French and he could not practise piano. A year later, in summer 1855, there was a serious falling out with the landlord. James decided to change lodgings and, while on holiday, he wrote to the Simmonds to tell them he intended to move accommodation and gave the reasons for his proposed departure. They took this news badly and, according to James, complained to his superiors in the Southampton office that he had been “betraying the confidence placed in me by my employers” and “defamation of the character of my Clerk in Charge”. Apparently, the Simmonds were believed without James’ superiors checking the veracity of the charges and in consequence he was put on night duty for ten weeks and practically placed incommunicado. A clearly distressed James Graves sought an explanation for his treatment from his superiors, but his request was denied. The Simmonds then increased the pressure on James by demanding payment for French and music lessons, which he denied had ever been given. He remonstrated with the Simmonds, but they retaliated by withholding his books and other belongings until he paid up. James confided in his new landlady, Mrs Durbrow and she, being a soul with a generous and sympathetic disposition, lent money to James so that he could immediately pay off the Simmonds, recover his possessions and thus get them out of his hair. During this time of stress, James found his religious beliefs a great comfort. Gradually he recovered his status in the telegraph office and he also regained his composure.
Life in the Southampton Telegraph Office
Promotion beckoned for James Graves in April 1855, when the post of telegraph clerk at the Royal Clarence Victualling Yard, Gosport was offered to him at an increased salary of £1/week. This facility had been the central operation for provisioning the Royal Navy with food and drink since 1828 and was populated with butchers, bakers, brewers, slaughterhouses and the likes. However, James Graves declined the offer, ostensibly because of a lack of overtime opportunities. This implies that James was working at least 8 hours overtime per week at the Southampton station. He did not have to wait long for a rise in Southampton, achieving a salary of £1 per week there in August 1855.
James Graves wrote in his partial autobiography that he found the clerk in charge at the Southampton telegraph office to be a disagreeable person, who neglected his duties and this offended James’ sense of propriety. For the first time in his career, but not the last, he complained to his superiors in London about the running of the Southampton office. The clerk in charge was removed from post. It is not clear to which clerk James was referring, the date of this incident, or if he was referring to the incident involving the Simmonds, though it appeared to have occurred during the mid-1850s. In early 1856, Mr Neville the Clerk in Charge at Southampton departed and was replaced by Mr Alcock from Holyhead. Not long afterwards Mr Preece became Superintendent. According to James Graves, Preece was “a very just, upright, impartial person, a clever engineer and a man who thoroughly understood his business, in fact just such a one as was wanted”.
Marriage to Ann Charlotte Smith in 1856
When James Graves took his summer holiday in 1855, he spent a lot of time in the company of Ann Charlotte Smith and her sister, Elizabeth. James and Ann Charlotte had known each other for 6 years but over this summer they seemed to become much closer. Anne Charlotte eventually proposed marriage to James by letter and he accepted in similar fashion. James Graves married Anne Charlotte Smith in the parish church of St Mary’s, Southampton at the end of March 1856. The couple then holidayed on the Isle of Wight, with James’ father, John Graves, accompanying them!
James Graves (1833 - 1911)
Ann Charlotte Graves (nee Smith) (1834 - 1909)
James Graves (1833 - 1911)
Ann Charlotte Graves (nee Smith) (1834 - 1909)
Cricket and Public Speaking
About 1855, James Graves seemed to find his feet socially. He joined the Union Cricket Club in Southampton and played for them regularly during his remaining time in the town. He also broke his duck with public speaking, addressing the Southampton Athenaeum on the subject of “History and Progress of Geographical Discovery” and he also served on the Athenaeum’s Committee of Management. Further talks by James followed to the Athenaeum on “The Means of Acquiring Information” and to the cricket club on “Sports and Pastimes of Merrie England”
A Set-back in the Promotion Stakes
In January 1857, the clerk in charge at Southampton was fired for misconduct and James clearly anticipated that the position would be offered to him. However, the practice in the company was for promotion to be based on seniority and the next most senior clerk was Mr Langdon, who was in charge at Portsea. This upset James Graves because Langdon had previously been below James in the company pecking order. However, Langdon had benefitted by his move to Portsea, due to the vast increase in traffic occasioned by the Russian War (more commonly known as the Crimean War, though it was not confined to that peninsula). James Graves unburdened his unhappiness to Mr Preece, who was sympathetic but confirmed that he had been implementing company policy and he expressed the hope that there would be a good relationship between James Graves and the new clerk in charge. However, Preece did award James a pay increase of 2/- per week. The company now started to send James to perform tasks in other parts of the country, for example serving in Lewes during the General Election of 1857 and later the same year acting as a temporary replacement for the clerk in Portsmouth. While at Portsmouth he received orders to proceed to the Isle of Wight. The French Emperor, Napoleon III and his Empress Eugenie visited Queen Victoria at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight between 6 and 10 August and James was required to provide telegraphic services, his ability to speak French being a clear asset, as nearly all the communications were in cypher or French. On the recommendation of CF Varley, the Company’s Chief Electrician, James Graves received a gratuity of £1 for his efficient work. The Southampton superintendent made sure that all the clerks knew of his performance through a note “Mr Graves has been rewarded for the extreme care shown in his printing – the regularity of his spacing – the length of his dots – his rapidity in sending the acknowledgements – the absence of any useless remarks in transmitting his work and, above all, his knowledge of French – (signed) WH Preece Supt”. James was chuffed with this acknowledgement of his skill and application and it was perhaps Preece’s way of trying to make up for James’ failure to be promoted earlier in the year
James and Ann Charlotte start a Family
While he was away in Portsmouth, James received another piece of good news, Anne Charlotte had been safely delivered of their first child, a boy who they called Arthur James. It was a joyous occasion for both parents. Family responsibilities now induced James Graves to take out an assurance policy on his own life, with the Electric Telegraph Company contributing 1/3 to 1/2 of the premiums, “…but thanks to the Great Physician, I have been blessed with good health…”.
Edward Graves (1844 – 1897) becomes a Telegraphist
On his return from his regular summer holiday in 1857 he brought with him his younger brother, Edward “for whom I had obtained a situation in the office”. Preference to a family member of an existing employee was not uncommon in those days. Edward’s telegraphic career is dealt with below. About a year later James secured a position at Lothbury for Elizabeth, his sister in law. Sadly, she soon developed a serious foot condition which forced her resignation. Elizabeth died on 31 Dec 1870 after much suffering.
1857 - A move back to London
On 30 September 1857, James Graves played in the last game of the season and, it transpired, his last game ever for the Union Cricket Club, actually a contest between the club’s married and single members. After the match, the members retired for a celebratory dinner but, before James could take his place at the dinner table, he received an urgent message to meet with Mr Preece. The superintendent told him that he was to be transferred in a day or two to the Foreign or Continental Department at Lothbury, on account of his linguistic abilities. Mr CF Varley, the company’s Chief Electrician, had noted James’ performance at Osborne House and was instrumental in the move. His salary was raised to 26/- per week. After his interview with Mr Preece, James returned to the cricket club dinner but had to make do with feasting from the left-overs in the kitchen. He enjoyed his cricket very much and saw the game as having enormous benefits for society both in relieving care and in promoting social mixing of the different classes.
A few days later, James left for London but found he was not needed for a few days, so he returned to Southampton to prepare for the removal of his goods and his family to London. He left brother Edward in comfortable lodgings, to look out for himself as best he could. In his new position James found that most international traffic was conducted in German, so he had to learn the rudiments of that language too. He often spoke directly with Hamburg, Vienna, Berlin, Trieste, Stettin, Petersburg, Moscow and, on one occasion, Kiev. He liked the work in London generally but disliked having to work nights one week in four, though he filled quiet times by composed poetry, a hobby he would maintain for many years.
Marine Telegraph Cables
The laying of telegraph wires/cables on land was relatively straightforward, in that they could be strung from poles or buried in trenches or pipes. However, the laying of cables between countries separated by seas was more challenging, due to the need for more effective insulation in the conducting medium of salt water, the requirement for greater tensile strength of the cable and the need for increased robustness to withstand the risk of damage from the physical nature of the sea bottom. The deeper the seas to be crossed and the greater the distance to be covered, the more challenging were the problems encountered. The first such working marine cable, utilising the natural gum gutta-percha as an insulator, was laid between Dover, England and Calais, France, a distance of about 30 miles, by the Submarine Telegraph Company in 1850. The Electric Telegraph Company formed an independent entity, the International Telegraph Company to manage its circuits outside Great Britain. This company owned a marine cable running from East Anglia to Holland which was installed in 1853 and that provided a continental link to rival the services of its rival the Submarine Telegraph Company further south. The Electric Telegraph Company and the International Telegraph Company merged in 1855 to form the Electric and International Telegraph company. This new company was in existence until 1870 when it was nationalised by the British Government. It was a constituent, by descent, of today’s BT Group. The excellent book by Donard De Cogan “They Talk Along the Deep” contains a photograph of James Graves’ copy of the new Morse Code on headed paper of “The Electric and International Telegraphy Company (incorporated 1946)” and dated “1853 Southampton”. Presumably, this was the full name of the Electric Telegraph Company, since the Electric and International Telegraph Company did come into existence until 1855.
Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was elected French President in 1848 and declared himself Emperor Napoleon III in 1851. During the Russian or Crimean War of 1853 – 1856 Britain and France were allies with Turkey against Russia but, following that cooperation, Britain began to distrust the foreign policy of Napoleon III and took a variety of measures to deter him from any adventurism. (Present-day visitors to the Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard cannot fail to notice HMS Warrior, an imposing auxiliary steam warship of 1860, which sailed the Channel to remind the French of Britain’s naval might. Ironically, Napoleon III was overthrown in 1870 following the debacle of the Franco-Prussian War and lived in exile in England. He died in 1873 and is currently interred at St Michael’s Abbey, Farnborough.)
James Graves becomes Clerk in Charge and Manager in Jersey
The security of the Channel Islands, at nearest less than 20 miles from the Normandy coast, was another cause for concern for the British Government and this was partly responsible (they paid a subsidy) for the installation of a marine telegraph cable from Portland in Dorset to Alderney, Guernsey and Jersey. The Channel Islands Electric Telegraph Company was formed for the purpose, though it was effectively a subsidiary of the Electric and International Telegraph Company. The cable was manufactured and laid by WS Newell and Company in summer 1858.
In August, James Graves received orders to go to Jersey to assist in signalling during the laying of the cable but when he got there he found that the contractors had supplied their own telegraph clerks, so he travelled back to Southampton on the mail packet “Courier”. At the destination found the customs search chaotic and for some people stressful. He journeyed onwards by train to London, but his wife and son had gone to Hoo, expecting him to be away for some time. The family soon returned, packed up their belongings and waited, anticipating a message to proceed to Jersey. No call came in the next week, so James gained permission to take some holiday until required and went back to Hoo. There he amused himself under the trees in the orchard reading and noting the contents of the wills of his wife’s Everist grandparents, as Anne Charlotte stood to benefit from them. A further two weeks elapsed before he received orders, but to return to return to London, not to travel to Jersey.
Instructions to leave for the Channel Islands finally came on 4 September 1858 and James and his family left immediately for Southampton and two days later caught the overnight packet to Jersey. The weather was very rough, the journey was protracted and all the family were sea-sick. On arrival at St Helier, James was immediately call to the telegraph office, to get the telegraph working. He found the office filled with the elite of Jersey, having a reception, keen to see the first messages sent. The Governor of the island then presented James with a message on a velvet cushion to be forwarded to Queen Victoria. She was at Holyrood at the time, so the message had to be retransmitted from London to Edinburgh. A reply was received the next day and both messages were then printed and circulated widely. Channel Islands telegraph officially opened to business on 9 September 1858.
James was proud that he had transmitted and received both messages. He had clocked up several first telegraph transmissions now (Southampton to London in early March 1853, printing line from Portsmouth to London in early 1854, Needles telegraph from Southampton to Hurst Castle and the Isle of Wight 2 June 1854 and now the printing telegraph from the Channel Islands to London). There was great enthusiasm and much celebration in St Helier at the arrival of this innovative means of communication.
The telegraph office was located on the corner of Church Street and Library Place in St Helier. The ground floor of the premises contained offices, the first floor consisted of the Graves’ living accommodation and the second floor was allocated to the family of Mr Meyer, the other telegraph clerk. James Graves was not favourably impressed by the character of the Jersey islanders. He found them selfish, inquisitive and overly influenced by fashion and this view was recorded, James Graves style, in verse. While resident on the island, James also wrote “A Topographical and Historical Guide to the Island of Jersey”.
James Graves did not have to wait long after his move to Jersey for promotion. Mr Myer was relocated to London, a move which he initially resisted, in January 1859. James was then promoted to be Clerk in Charge and Manager in Jersey and Mr AC Dubois was appointed as his assistant. The promotion attracted a salary increase of 10/- to £2 per week. James attributed his good fortune to Divine providence. Notification of this promotion came in a letter from Mr DP Gamble, the company secretary who expressed the hope that he should not in future regret having appointed James Graves – a curious and slightly sinister thing to say to an employee you have just promoted and this perhaps implied that he already had grounds for doubt.
Serious Allegations made against James Graves
Only two weeks later, James Graves received a letter from Gamble making serious allegations against him. He was accused of assaulting Mr DeDopff, a learner and that he also assaulted his assistant, Mr DuBois, who struck him in return. James was threatened with immediate dismissal if there should be any repetition. He was required to explain himself and the secretary also expressed the view that he doubted that he was a fit person to fill his position of responsibility. Such action by the company secretary actually called into question Gamble’s own suitability for the role of secretary, since he had not learned one of the basic tenets of management, ie establish the facts before rushing to judgement. These accusations caused both James and his wife much distress, since James considered them to be entirely false. He confronted Mr DeDopff and his father and outlined the accusations which had been made. They agreed to write a letter to Mr Gamble saying that the accusations concerning Mr DeDopff were “unfounded and false”. James then repeated the process with Mr DuBois and he too wrote a letter to Gamble refuting the accusations against James Graves. James then forwarded the two letters exonerating himself to Gamble, with his own covering letter. He quickly received a telegram from Gamble, “Your letter is satisfactory – I will write tonight”. Gamble’s letter, which at least contained an oblique apology, laid out the nature of the evidence against him. “Mr DuBois (in the presence of Mr Christie one of the clerks) told my clerk, Mr Richards, that you had assaulted DeDopff and that he resigned in consequence, and that you had tried the same thing with him, but that he had knocked you down – Now I am determined to have this investigated as there must be some lying somewhere…”. James had assumed that the assaults of which he had been accused had been claimed to have happened in Jersey, but he now realised that they might have happened in London, while DuBois was a learner there. James again confronted DuBois and he appeared to admit there had been a conversation as relayed by Gamble but that “he did not remember the circumstances”. DuBois then wrote another letter, this time to James Graves, in which he amplified on the London incident. “I may have mentioned something of the kind by way of a joke in commonplace conversation with fellow clerks, but I have never had cause to make such a statement, neither did I intend them to receive it as a fact.” Tittle-tattle had been relayed to Gamble, perhaps by some company toady and the company secretary had treated it as fact! James Graves, with Christian morality, wrote to Gamble forgiving him for his actions and the matter passed. Shortly afterwards, Gamble resigned his position with the company. However, questions remain about the incidents, which appeared to have taken place in London. James Graves did not enlighten the reader of his autobiography.
Captain Fitzroy and Weather Forecasting
While in Jersey, James Graves also took on additional remunerated responsibilities, in the form of the telegraphic transmission of local weather data for Captain (later Admiral) Robert Fitzroy, who was developing a weather forecasting system for the Board of Trade, with the aim of reducing the loss of fishing boats caught out by sudden gales. (This was the same Captain Fitzroy who was the commander of HMS Beagle during part of her first voyage and the whole of her second voyage to South America between 1828 and 1830. It was during the second voyage that Charles Darwin made his seminal observations on animals, plants and fossils, which later led to the theory of the origin of species by natural selection.) A report was telegraphed to London every morning. There were 14 other sites in Britain relaying local weather information to the Board of Trade. When a gale was forecast, storm cones were raised at harbours warning boats not to proceed to sea and James Graves arranged with the Lieutenant Governor of the Channel Islands for his signal staff to carry out this task on Jersey. Fitzroy held the post of Meteorological Statist to the Board of Trade and his office would ultimately evolve into the Meteorological Office. Making the weather observations attracted an extra 3/- per week for Graves from December 1860.
Failure of the Channel Islands Cable
Unfortunately, the performance of the Channel Islands cable did not live up to the expectations of the populace, the owner or the British Government. James Graves gained substantial experience in the repair of marine telegraph cables as a result. The telegraph office opened for business on 9 September 1858, but the cable suffered its first breakdown on 26 January 1859, due to chafing at the shore end in Jersey. Any visitor to that island, observing the extensive jagged rocks offshore at low water, will understand how challenging the conditions must have been. Over and above the existence of a rocky substrate, the diurnal tidal range around the Channel Islands is extreme, up to 40ft, with accompanying strong currents. Additionally, storms occur frequently in the English Channel. It should not be surprising that the Channel Islands cable failed repeatedly, which resulted in the Channel Islands Electric Telegraph Company burning investors’ funds at an alarming rate. Appeals were made to the shareholders and the British Government for further capital, but they were unwilling to throw good money after bad. Thirteen faults in less than three years had exhausted the company’s liquid resources and on 17 June 1861 the Channel Islands cable stopped operating and was later abandoned.
During his three-year residence on Jersey, James Graves and his wife Ann Charlotte had two further children, Edith Ann, born on 1 January 1859 and Elizabeth Gooding, born on 5 December 1860. At the 1861 Census, which was held on the night of 7 April, James and his family were recorded as living at 2 Church Street, St Helier, which was the telegraph office and which lay in the town within a short distance of the harbour.
Cable Laying and Repair on the cs Monarch
In 1853, the Electric Telegraph Company acquired the paddle steamer Monarch to convert for cable-laying and repair. For a time, she was the only vessel capable of picking up and repairing marine cables at sea. This wooden-hulled vessel had been constructed in 1830 at Thorne in South Yorkshire. (The author, who attended Thorne Grammar School, well remembers the surge generated by beam launches of canal barges at Thorne, which lies on the Stainforth and Keadby Canal.) James Graves, who had been involved in repairs of the Channel Islands cable from the tug Dumfries and from the Monarch, was appointed Chief Electrician on the Monarch, at a salary of 45/- per week on the recommendation (again) of Mr CF Varley. James announced this change of roles in a letter to the “Jersey Independent and Daily Telegraph” on 30 April 1861. Since the Monarch was used to lay and repair cables in many locations for the (now) Electrical and International Telegraph Company, this promotion necessitated a move from Jersey after a three-year association. During his stay in Jersey, James had involved himself in Island affairs and he had become a respected member of the community. He had several times lectured to groups, for example, to the local YMCA, to the local Working Men and to the Fishermen’s Association of Gorey. The proceeds of this last lecture were applied to an extension of the Fishermen’s Association Library. An editorial in the local newspaper thanked him in fulsome terms for his services and his general contributions to Jersey life. “…Mr Graves has always been ready to give his assistance to every good movement having for object the promotion of intellectual advancement and the general welfare; and we think the friends of progress should pay him some compliment before his departure. Mr Graves has won private and public regard as much by his exemplary character as by his abilities and attainments which are of no ordinary degree.”
James Graves’ appointment to the Monarch brought about a move by him and his family to Lowestoft, the Monarch’s base. The ship was commanded by Captain James Blacklock and, together with James Graves, he managed to recover the old Orford Ness – Scheveningen cables. Graves was also charged with testing of a new marine cable, to be laid between Lowestoft and Zandvoort, for electrical integrity during its manufacture at Greenwich. In October 1862, James Graves was called back to London to act as travelling assistant to his mentor, CF Varley and set up home in Tottenham. While living in Tottenham the Graveses suffered the death of their two-year-old daughter Elizabeth, in December 1862. A year later a son, Walter James, was born.
James Graves becomes Personal Assistant to CF Varley
In his new role, James Graves travelled around the country to various cable offices to carry out repair work and to instruct company staff on new instrumentation. In November 1862, whilst visiting Dublin, he carried out a cable repair using an open boat, for which he was awarded a gratuity of £1. In December 1862, he fixed the Newcastle time-gun apparatus. This signal apparatus was used to synchronise local clocks with Greenwich meantime, by sending a telegraphic signal from London to remote sites. He also paid visits to Cardiff and Cork where he instructed the local superintendents on the operation of new apparatus designed by Mr Varley. James Graves drew diagrams to amplify the instructions which were later included in a company-sponsored publication, but without acknowledging the authorship of the work, which must have miffed James Graves. He continued in his role as assistant to Mr Varley until 1864, when the Atlantic Telegraph company revived the idea of laying a telegraph cable across the Atlantic.
The Atlantic Cable
Laying marine telegraph cables over relatively short distances (up to a few hundred miles) and relatively shallow depths (up to a few hundred feet) had proved challenging enough, especially when a failure occurred, necessitating a repair, but the great outstanding challenge was to make a connection between continents, thousands of miles in distance and thousands of feet in depth, over largely unknown bottom conditions. The big prize was the successful bridging of the Atlantic Ocean between the two industrial and financial behemoths of the time, Great Britain and the United States of America. The shortest distance between two points on the earth’s surface is an arc of a great circle and the shortest great circle route between the North American continent and Europe would require cable termini in Newfoundland, Canada and South West Ireland, about 2,420 miles apart. In November 1856 a new company was incorporated in London, the Atlantic Telegraph Company whose aim, as its name suggests, was to lay and operate a telegraph cable under the ocean between Britain and America. Capital of £350,000 was raised (about £35 million in 2017 money), mainly in London and the Board of Directors had a British majority, but with contributions from the USA and Canada. Edward Orange Wildman Whitehouse was appointed as its Chief Electrician. Although he was a surgeon by training he had experimented with electricity and claimed an understanding of the electrical phenomena which occurred in long marine cables.
Valentia is chosen as the Eastern Terminus
Also in 1856, a telegraph line was completed from New York to Newfoundland, a seabed survey was conducted of the proposed trans-Atlantic route and, in Ireland, the south west coast was surveyed for a suitable landing site for the cable. There are several prominent peninsulas projecting out into the Atlantic Ocean from the extreme SW parts of County Cork and County Kerry but, in terms of distance, there was little to choose between them. It was about this time that Valentia Island, which lay about a half a mile off the Iveragh Peninsula, County Kerry, was suggested as a possible cable terminus. (The alternative spelling, “Valencia” is equally valid but the former version will be used here.) A decision was taken to land the cable at Valentia but the reasons for this choice are unclear. Factors such as the quality of survey knowledge and the limitation of damage risk due to anchors and rocky strata appear to have played a part. The advocacy of The Knight of Kerry, who owned about three quarters of the land on Valentia Island may also have been important. He was likely, of course, to benefit financially from granting wayleaves for the passage of cables and the leasing of land for building purposes.
The Political and Social Background in Ireland
It is unlikely that the Atlantic Telegraph Company took account of any factors other than those of physical geography in deciding to locate their proposed telegraph station in south-west Ireland in general, or in Valentia in particular. However, even a cursory review of the then recent political and social history of Ireland would have quickly brought the company to the conclusion that the translocated staff would stand out like a sore thumb in this remote corner of County Kerry.
The Normans invaded Ireland in the 12th century and by its end the conquest was essentially complete. Traditional rulers had largely been replaced by a foreign elite and a feeling of resentment then festered between the indigenous population and the incomers. Over the ensuing centuries there were numerous uprisings and rebellions by the native peoples of Ireland. There was also a religious dimension to the situation following the Reformation since the ruling elite (the minority) were mostly Protestants and belonged to the Church of Ireland, the Established Church, while country people (the majority) were mostly Roman Catholics. Laws existed which specifically discriminated against the adherents of the Church of Rome, for example precluding them from being Members of the Irish Parliament until 1829.
However, the event which was responsible for the most dramatic change in the culture and history of 19th Century Ireland was the Great Famine (Great Hunger or Irish Potato Famine) of 1845 - 1849. The potato had become a staple crop of the poor in many parts of Europe but from about 1840 the crop was subject to attacks by Potato Blight which was caused by a micro-organism, Phytophthora infestans, which had become increasingly virulent. The impact of these attacks was particularly severe in its consequences in the poor rural areas of Ireland, principally because of the degree of their dependence on this crop for both human and animal food. The population simply could not cope with the loss of the potato crop. Death, from starvation and associated infectious disease, extended to about 1 million people and a further 1 million or more emigrated, principally to the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, often following eviction from their rented land. The social and political organisation of the mid-19th century United Kingdom was completely inadequate to organise a sufficiently large response to an emergency of such magnitude. Over this period the population of Ireland declined from about 8 million to 5 - 6 million. Relations between Ireland and the rest of the United Kngdom soured further on accusations that the British Government could have done more to ameliorate the effects of the famine. Irish nationalism was revitalised and was exported, especially to the USA, with the emigrating population.
A violent nationalist movement, Fenianism, also became increasingly popular. This had two principles, firstly that Ireland had a natural right to independence and secondly that it could only be won by armed revolution. Caherciveen on the mainland opposite Knightstown, Valentia’s principal settlement, was a bastion of the Fenian movement. On 27 December 1866, the Knight of Kerry called a meeting on Valentia to rail against Fenienism. It was packed with farmers and other Valentia folk and the island’s Protestant and Catholic clergy were present, with the Knight taking the chair. Two resolutions were passed, one pledging loyalty to the Queen and the other opposing the introduction of any secret or illegal societies to the island and declaring that persons and property, especially the Anglo-American Telegraph Station would be protected. Of course, most attendees were tenants of the Knight and would not have dared to oppose him publicly, even though some island families are known to have had nationalist sympathies. About this time, it was rumoured that Fenians had been landed on Valentia and by February 1867 local military detachments were actively seeking their presence. Bishop Moriarty of Tiperary preached against Fenianism in the Cathedral, which caused several young men to walk out, so local pro-nationalist sentiment was running sufficiently strongly for some to defy the Bishop’s authority. There were rumours that the Fenians would try to cut the telegraph cables. In March, James Graves was warned by the local police that an attack was imminent and that, should this occur, they should immediately institute a black-out. Most of these worries proved to be insubstantial but later the same year a group of expatriate Irishmen from the USA with Fenian sympathies landed at Cork expecting to join an uprising against the British oppressors. Most were quickly caught and imprisoned but in the first few years after the Anglo-American Telegraph Station was established there was a feeling of threat in Kerry from the activities of the nationalists. It has been suggested that the identity of the local republican activists was known to the station staff and that boozy visits to the station were organised for them, as a means of gaining some protection. The status of this claim has not been verified. Later, in 1894, Mrs Nan O’Connor, a tenant of the Knight of Kerry and a widow, was evicted from her house for non-payment of rent, despite Rev Casey offering to pay her debt. There was popular sentiment against this action, which appeared to be particularly vindictive. The late David O’Connor was a staunch nationalist and had been frequently antagonistic towards the landlord.
Bitterness and resentment was also directed against the established church, the Church of Ireland, the church of the minority, ruling, land-owning class, the so-called Protestant Ascendancy. The poor farmers of Valentia, all Roman Catholic, were required to pay tithes (amounting to £150/year in 1837 – about £15,750 in 2017 money) to the established church, though this charge was ameliorated before the Church of Ireland was finally disestablished in 1871 and tithe payments totally abolished.
The Social Situation in County Kerry
These themes were not evenly applicable across the whole of the 32 counties on the island of Ireland. Generally, the effects of the famine were felt more severely the further south and west that a county was located. It is important to look more closely at the County of Kerry and, particularly, at Valentia Island. According to the 1837 Topological Directory of Ireland, the island of Valentia had 2614 inhabitants, mostly engaged in farming, fishing and slate-quarrying. The land was divided into about 300 small-holdings. The principal landowner on Valentia was the Knight of Kerry, an ancient Anglo-Irish title held between 1781and 1849 by Sir Maurice FitzGerald and from 1849 to 1880 by his son, Sir Peter George FitzGerald. The Knight owned about ¾ of the land on Valentia, amounting to about 4,700 acres and the family seat was at Glanleam House. In the middle of the 19th century Valentia was overwhelmingly Irish-speaking. There was a significant level of illiteracy and the working population was probably exclusively of the Roman Catholic faith. The detailed results of the 1901 Census, the only census of Ireland to have survived intact, give an accurate picture of the social make-up of the island at the end of the 19th century, the major differences which had occurred over the previous 30 years being the establishment of the Anglo-American Telegraph Station, with its influx of technically-qualified but, at least initially, predominantly non-Irish staff and the establishment of National Schools teaching in the medium of the English language. But Valentia’s pre-telegraphy composition was still evident, despite these changes.
The 1901 Census data for Valentia were divided into 25 districts called townlands or streets. If the data for Valentia Harbour (exclusively crews of visiting boats) are excluded, the island had 1,269 inhabitants, over 90% of whom were adherents of the Roman Catholic faith. In 17 of the townlands/streets, all the inhabitants were Roman Catholics. Thus between 1837 and 1901 the population of Valentia had declined by more than 50%, though not all the loss can be attributed to the Great Famine. The effect of teaching in English could also be seen, as 84% of the population (7 years and over) were fully literate and most could now speak English in addition to Irish. About this time the Gaelic Revival Movement was struggling to de-anglicise Ireland and retain the Irish language as the medium of daily discourse. The most frequent occupation for heads of household was farmer (>42%), but the lower frequency of farm and general labourers (<20%) for heads of household suggests that the farms were mostly very small family-run units and this is emphasised by the observation that some farmers combined farming with some other calling, such as fishing, or working in the island slate quarry.
Another indicator of the former isolation of the island of Valentia can be seen in the limited diversity of surnames. In the 1901 Census. Only 14 different surnames account for 86% of all heads of farming households. Murphy was the most frequent (>14%) and Sullivan, Shea, Neill, Lynch and Donoghue all exceeded a frequency of 7%.
The imbalance between the two religious communities, Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland, was noted in 1855 when “A Traveller” writing for the Carlow Post, found the Protestant Church far too large for its congregation while the Roman Catholic chapel, little more than a hovel, was crammed, the congregation spilling outside, with hundreds worshipping in the open air. The Church of St John the Baptist, Knightstown, the church of the Knight of Kerry, was designed by well-known architect Joseph Wellard and built in 1840. Just over 7% of the heads of household at the 1901 Census had job descriptions which indicated they were employed at the Telegraph station. They lived mostly in the townlands/streets of Farranreigh and Farranreigh – Knightstown. The telegraph employees were also the major contributors to the diversity of religious adherence in the <10% of the population who were not Roman Catholics. Church of Ireland, Church of England, Methodist, Congregationalist, Church of Scotland, Presbyterian all being represented, mostly in penny-numbers. The Knight of Kerry’s wife, interestingly, was Jewish.
Sir Peter FitzGerald and his father, Sir Maurice, before him had been strong advocates for the economic development of Valentia. The slate quarry had been opened in 1816 and there had been persistent advocacy for the development of a sea terminal to trade with America and for the linking of Valentia with the rest of the Irish railway network. Promotion of Valentia as a terminal for the Atlantic Telegraph cables was another initiative with the same general aim. Valentia also had good access to fishing grounds, but the development of the industry was hampered during much of the 19th century by a lack of access to the rail network for export of the catch. The railway did not arrive at Renard Point opposite Valentia Harbour until 1893.
What is clear is that the establishment of the Anglo-American Telegraph Station on Valentia Island in 1868, brought about a substantial breach in the island’s isolation, not only from the rest of Ireland but also from the rest of the United Kingdom. It brought increased spending power to the island and an increase in job opportunities for the indigenous population. In 1858 the Tralee Chronicle noted that, “There are few parts of the United Kingdom that are so thoroughly unknown and out of the way as the western parts of Kerry; indeed, until Valentia was fixed upon as the European terminus of the Atlantic Telegraph, this part of the world was as little known and as little visited by people from England as the wilds of Siberia.”
The 1857 Cable
The first attempt by the Atlantic Telegraph Company to lay a cable across the Atlantic got underway in the summer of 1857 using a veritable armada of ships from both the United Kingdom and the United States. Two ships, the HMS Agamemnon and the USS Niagara were carrying the marine cable, which had been manufactured by Messrs Glass and Elliott at Morden Wharf, Greenwich. The two halves of the cable were joined and a current passed along the whole length, proving its integrity before laying. The eastern end of the cable was landed at Ballycarberry Strand on the Kerry mainland opposite Knightstown, the principal settlement located at the north-east end of Valentia Island. Senior representatives of both main Irish churches, the Protestant Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church were present at a celebratory dinner, organised by the Knight of Kerry at the start of the expedition. The Bishop of Kerry, Dr Moriarty made an interesting reference to the cable project when he referred to “…the representatives of a power whose empire is greater than that of Rome or of Britain – I mean the power of science”. It is to be wondered if his then superiors were comfortable with this frank admission. Unfortunately, after so much money and hope had been invested, the cable snapped about 200 miles out from Valentia, bringing the expedition to a sudden and disappointing end.
The 1858 Cable
A second attempt by the Atlantic Telegraph Company to lay a cable took place the following year, in the summer of 1858. A fleet of ships was assembled, again including the HMS Agamemnon and the USS Niagara. They sailed on 17 July. The plan was for the two cable-laying vessels to meet in mid-ocean, splice their cable together and sail in opposite directions, laying cable as they went. The operation was dogged by problems caused by stormy weather, fog, navigational error and cable faults but eventually the operation was successfully completed by 5 August 1858 and an intact cable was in place from Knightstown,Valentia to Newfoundland. The cable was officially inaugurated by an exchange of messages between Queen Victoria and President Buchanan on 16 August and thereafter operated successfully for about three weeks before it failed and was abandoned. It was seven years before the next expedition was mounted, during which the American Civil war took place, from April 1861 to April 1865. The next attempt would involve James Graves directly.
The Great Eastern is converted to a Cable-layer
The Atlantic Telegraph Company needed to ensure that the cable for the new attempt, which was to a more robust design, was manufactured to the best standards. James Graves was seconded from the Electric and International Telegraph Company to the Atlantic Telegraph Company in 1864 to supervise the monitoring and testing of the new cable during its manufacture by the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company at their site in Greenwich. (This company had been formed by the amalgamation of cable manufacturers, Glass Elliott and Company with the gutta percha producers, the Gutta Percha Company.) About this time James moved his family home to East Greenwich, presumably to be near to the site of production. The Graveses next child, Minnie, was born at East Greenwich in March 1865.
For the new attempt to lay a cable across the Atlantic, it was decided to use the Brunel-designed auxiliary steamer, Great Eastern. This vessel was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for the Eastern Steam Navigation Company, which had been formed in 1851 to exploit the increased demand for emigration to India, China and, especially, Australia, where gold had been discovered. At that time passages to Australia were mainly furnished by clippers, the fastest of which could complete the journey in 65 to 70 days, much faster than the steamers then available which were limited by the need to bunker en route, causing them to take a much longer passage. Also, the Suez Canal was not yet available to shorten the steamer journey; it would not be opened until 1869. Brunel set out to break the dominance of the clippers by building a steamer much larger than any so far constructed, which would be able to carry sufficient coal for the whole journey to the Antipodes. The Great Eastern was massive by the standards of the time. She was 600ft long, displaced 18,900 tons and had both a single screw and paddle wheels, in addition to six masts. She could carry 4000 passengers. Unfortunately, the vessel was not a technological success. Her sails could not be set while the boilers were operating due to the danger of fire. Also, she was not a commercial success. Her gestation and construction times were protracted and she was not ready for service until 1859, by which time the demand for emigrant passages had declined. She never sailed to the Far East. Her owner the Eastern Steam Navigation Company was by now in financial trouble and a new company, the Great Ship Company, was formed to own and operate Great Eastern. The vessel was put into service on the North Atlantic run between Britain and North America between 1860 and 1863. However, a price war with other companies forced the Great Ship Company into bankruptcy. The subsequent fire-sale saw the vessel sold for the knock-down price of £25,000. Her new owners chartered the vessel to the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, which held the contract for both the manufacture and laying of the Atlantic cable, for a consideration of £50,000 in shares and an undertaking to convert Great Eastern for the role of cable-laying. At last Great Eastern had acquired a role for which she was suitable. She had the size necessary to carry several thousand miles of heavy cable and her paddle wheels gave her good manoeuvrability, an attribute which was essential for operations in the open ocean. After conversion, the Great Eastern was anchored near the Isle of Grain in the Thames Estuary, about 60 miles from the factory, for loading purposes. The cable was brought down from Greenwich by two tanked vessels, the Iris and the Amethyst, starting in mid-January 1865.
A Confrontation with CF Varley
The role that James Graves had undertaken at the cable factory in Greenwich was onerous. Cable manufacture occurred on eight separate machines, nominally between the hours of 6am and 10pm, but with breaks for meals and other purposes. Testing work could only be performed when the machines were stationary. The voluminous results from this process and the status of cable production, storage and shipping to the Great Eastern had to be sent daily to Mr Varley in London. As production ramped up James became overwhelmed by the work involved and applied to the company for an assistant with sufficient mathematical skills to apply the formulae involved in testing. Mr Varley, the Company’s Electrician and hitherto a regular supporter of James Graves, complied but delegated his own brother, whom he was trying to promote within the company, for the work. Varley’s brother proved to be incompetent and lacking in the mathematical skills necessary. A very difficult situation was thus created and James Graves took the onerous decision to report the matter to the company.
Varley took this action badly and schemed against Graves. On the pretext of a minor dispute with the cable manufacturer over a fault which had developed in the cable, he told James Graves that he should resign. James did not do so but stuck to his post and continued testing the cable. On Monday 5 December 1864 Varley suspended James and replaced him with his own brother. Varley also prevented James removing documentation from the factory with which to defend himself. This left James Graves with no alternative but to report directly to the Chairman and Board of the Atlantic Telegraph Company. They were naturally alarmed that the quality of the cable might be adversely affected and reinstated James while an inquiry was undertaken. It was held in London on 7 December. Varley charged James Graves with submitting false test data but, backed by the evidence contained in correspondence and the testimony of the manufacturer, Varley’s dishonesty and scheming was uncovered. He offered to resign but was told instead to go home and reflect on his own behaviour in traducing James, who was reinstated and told, in future, to send his reports to both Varley and the Chairman. Presumably the Company did not want to look for a new Electrician at this crucial time so close to the cable laying season. The last mile of cable was manufactured at the end of May 1865 and a celebration was held at the factory in Greenwich. It appears that the relationship between James Graves and CF Varley was subsequently patched up as, when Varley died in 1883, James wrote a eulogy to him in verse, which made clear that he still held Varley in high regard.
“With penetrating mind he much foresaw,
Conclusions drew, which years it took to draw
By other minds of less perceptive ken
E’en though they too were reckoned clever men.”
James Graves’ Poetry
James Graves wrote verse on other occasions. The following Christmas message was written to F Perry, one of the staff at Valentia, in 1884. It is in a very similar style to the Varley eulogy and was unearthed in the Blockley family papers.
“My dear old friend you must I pray excuse
these tardy lines – their lateness not abuse.
For what with Christmas cards and business too
I well-nigh had overlooked my rhyme to you.
My rhyme by which in years gone by
I’ve poorly tried to enlist your sympathy.
This year you have forestalled me with your pen
And put me in a corner – still I ken
I’ll try to write a line and thus away
My thoughts to you and yours on Christmas day
Old Sol is low and scarcely scales the hill
His beams are barely felt – the wind is chill
But thanks to him from whom all good things come
We’ve food and drink and shelter in our home
We winners of the bread still live to toil
While others have put off the mortal coil
The lesson taught us may we lay to heart
And be prepared to go when called to part
But as of old ‘tis meet while here we stay
To try and happy be on Christmas day
Midst right good cheer and music to the end
May you and yours a Merry Christmas spend.”
James Graves is appointed as Superintendent at Valentia
Once the cable had been manufactured, tested and installed in the Great Eastern’s tanks, James Graves’ role at Greenwich was complete. He was then sent to Valentia Island and appointed as superintendent of the Atlantic Telegraph Company telegraph station there, from 25 June 1865. It was proposed to land the 1865 cable, not at the north-eastern end of the island, as previously, but at the south-western end at Foilhommerum Bay, which was surrounded by cliffs. A substantial wooden building was constructed on top of the cliffs to receive the cable, to house the instruments necessary for signalling and testing during the cable-laying operation and to provide living accommodation for the staff. The operation rooms had tables which were topped with Valentia slate from the quarry at the other end of the island. Cable-laying was a continuous process and this required the three clerks at Foilhommerum to take 8-hour shifts of work to monitor progress and to transmit messages to and receive the same from the Great Eastern, along the nascent cable.
The 1865 Cable
The Great Eastern left the Thames Estuary in mid-July 1865. It had on board an electrical testing laboratory which housed the scientific staff, including the Company’s Electrician, Mr Varley and Professor William Thompson of Glasgow University, who had previously done work for the company during the expedition of 1858. William Thompson who was knighted in 1866 and ennobled as Lord Kelvin in 1892, was one of the foremost physicists of his age, making important advances in electricity and the formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, as well as designing electrical instrumentation. At this time, James Graves and William Thompson became acquainted and afterwards Thompson invariably consulted James Graves as to the practical benefits to telegraphy of his electrical inventions. The progress of the expedition was followed avidly in the press and there were reporters present on board the ship to observe and report on events as they happened. As a result, the crucial role of the Valentia Station and of James Graves went largely unnoticed. As the Great Eastern approached Irish waters, the steamer Caroline sailed out to meet her carrying the more heavily armoured shore cable, designed to resist the extra chafing expected in shallow tidal waters. Crowds gathered on the cliffs at Foilhommerum to await the landing but there was a lack of formal celebratory events compared with the 1857 expedition, perhaps because the risk of failure was ever present. The shore end of the cable was landed on 22 July 1865 and the splicing of shore and main cables achieved the following day. However, two weeks later James Graves discovered that there was a total loss of insulation in the cable about 1250 miles out into the Atlantic. The cable could not be located by the flotilla, which deployed grappling gear in the area where the defect occurred, so it had to be abandoned, at least until the following year. It had been a wise decision to eschew public crowing about what had been achieved in the immediate aftermath of the landing of the cable in Valentia.
James Graves joins the Atlantic Telegraph Company
About 19 August 1865, James Graves received a telegram from his employer, the Electric and International Telegraph Company, asking him to attend in London two days later. He subsequently received a letter from his employer reminding him that he had been seconded to the Atlantic Telegraph Company to monitor the production of the 1865 cable and to supervise shore work in Valentia during the cable-laying operation. Those tasks were now complete, but he had not returned to his post in London, which the company took to be his resignation. At this point James Graves formally resigned from the Electric and International Telegraph Company. Had he already been made an offer of employment by the Atlantic Telegraph Company? It seems possible because the decision was quickly taken by the company to manufacture a new cable for installation in the summer of 1866 and that would require a competent electrician to take charge of the site in Valentia. Indeed, the Atlantic Telegraph Company subsequently took over the whole of the operational staff, including James Graves, responsible for the 1865 cable, for the period of manufacture of the 1866 cable.
The 1866 Cable
The Great Eastern was again used for the laying of the new cable in the summer of 1866 but on this occasion the testing of the cable would be carried out from both ends of the cable ie, in Valentia, County Kerry and Heart’s Content, Newfoundland, rather than in a laboratory on the ship. The role played by James Graves would be even more important than in the previous year. Brunel’s behemoth, loaded with new cable and with James Graves on board sailed from the Thames Estuary on 30 June 1866. It arrived off Berehaven, County Cork, about 50 miles south of Valentia on 5 July. James Graves went ashore and walked from Berehaven to Hungry Hill, a local viewpoint about 6 miles away. He then stayed overnight in Castletown before returning to the Great Eastern. Perhaps James, realising that several weeks of unrelenting work were in the offing, had taken the opportunity to have some relaxation. He took a passage on another vessel, the William Cory, to Valentia and then travelled on to Foilhommerum where the cable station was situated and where the eastern end of the new cable would terminate. The shore end of the cable was landed on Saturday, 7 July 1866. The following day James Graves, who was a deeply religious adherent of the Church of Ireland, attended service in Knightstown.
It was on 27 July 1866 that, at the age of 33, James Graves was confirmed as the first superintendent of the Valentia Telegraph Station (he was initially appointed the previous year), a position he was to hold for more than four decades. In the middle of the month, the directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Company entertained many guests at a “dejeuner” at Knightstown in a building adjacent to the hotel. James Graves was one of those present at this Ango-American-themed occasion. The directors must have been confident that on this occasion the Company would be successful in its aims.
The Great Eastern made the splice to the shore cable on 13 July, which was a Friday! On this occasion it was not a portent of ill-luck to come. The cable laying was completed at Heart’s Content, Newfoundland on 27 July. James Graves carried out electrical tests on the integrity of the cable during the entire laying process. He had also been monitoring the state of the cable which had been installed the previous year. After the laying of the new cable had been completed, the Great Eastern was re-coaled and successfully undertook the recovery and repair of the 1865 cable. On 2 September 1866, Mr Crocker was on duty at Valentia on the night shift. At 5.37am signals were observed from the Great Eastern on the 1865 cable. Crocker raced through to James Graves’ sleeping quarters and woke him in excitement but all he could get out was “Ship! Ship!” Professor Thompson also used this new facility to request James Graves to contact Mrs Thompson in Glasgow with the latest news of the expedition.
Commercial Trans-Atlantic Telegraphy
The Atlantic Telegraph company now had two functioning cables running between Ireland and Newfoundland and for the present they had a monopoly of trans-Atlantic telegraphic communication. The Company also gained transmission capacity from changes in the method of operation of the cables, introduced by James Graves, which allowed transmission speed to be increased by a factor of 2.5x The line was opened for public use from 28 July, at a cost of £20 (about £2,300 in 2017 money) for a message of 20 words not exceeding 100 letters, though initially messages could not be transmitted to New York due to a fault in the cable link between that city and Heart’s Content. These charges proved to be prohibitive and the level of traffic was low enough for the staff at Valentia and Heart’s Content to operate the two cables as a closed loop, thus eliminating earth currents generated by electrical activity in the earth’s interior, which caused unpredictable deviations in the current detected by the receiving apparatus. By the end of the following year the price for a 20-word message had been reduced by 75%.
The Permanent Telegraph Station on Valentia
Now that he had been appointed superintendent and both the 1865 and 1866 cables were fully functioning, James Graves turned his attention to the medium-term operation of the Valentia Telegraph Station. There was a post office in Knightstown, but it lacked the facility to make money transfers, a facility which was important to the telegraph staff who were relatively well paid. James Graves persuaded the Post Office authorities to add this service on Valentia. He also concluded that the present temporary accommodation for the station and its associated living quarters, on a cliff-top at the remote and rural south-western end of the island, was unsuitable. This was emphasised by the fact that a wooden house put up in the same location by a local resident, Mrs Young, was flattened in a gale. James wrote to the chairman of the Atlantic Telegraph Company to tell him of his personal concerns. “This place (Foilhommerum) is very bleak and exposed. As the majority of our staff are married with families they would be far more comfortable if they were nearer to school, church and other essentials which ought not to be overlooked when selecting a site for permanent residences of the Company’s officials….” The Board took note of his concerns and the permanent accommodation for staff and cable station was duly located just south of Knightstown at the, relatively populated, north-east end of the island. It was designed by the Dublin architect Thomas Newenham Deane, who was responsible for many prominent buildings including, for example, the much-admired Natural History Museum at Oxford University. Construction of the cable station was completed in 1868 and the cable station moved to the new premises in October of that year.
After her cable-laying voyage, the Great Eastern returned to Liverpool. A celebratory dinner was then organised, at short notice, by Liverpool Chamber of Commerce at the Law Association Rooms, to take place on 1 October 1866 for “the leading gentlemen connected with the laying of the Atlantic cable”. Not surprisingly, James Graves was not an invitee, being located at the time in the remotest corner of Ireland. But when James read the newspaper reports of the grand occasion he was miffed by the absence of any public recognition of the significant role that he and his staff in Valentia had played in the installation and commissioning of the Atlantic cables and he wrote a letter of complaint to the chairman of the company. Representations must have been made to Sir James Anderson, the captain of the Great Eastern, who had spoken at the dinner, by someone concerned by Anderson’s restricted coverage of those involved in the expedition. James Anderson then wrote to the press to try to make amends. He particularly thanked the crews of the RN ships involved, but still failed to mention the shore staff. The directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Company sought to mollify James Graves by the award of a gratuity of £250 (about £29,000 in 2017 money) to be shared amongst the Valentia staff.
Another early tiff involving James Graves concerned the superintendent of the telegraph station at Heart’s Content, Richard Collett, formerly the traffic manager of the Atlantic Telegraph Company. Collett was hostile towards James Graves, perhaps from intra-company rivalry, or because he disliked James Graves’ relaxed management style, or possibly because he was trying to insert an acolyte into the Valentia station at the expense of James Graves. Collett tried to damage Graves using the pretext of a mistake made by one of Graves’ staff. Richard Collett even recommended the removal of James Graves. This dispute poisoned the relationship between the staff of the two stations, who were in daily contact with each other. James Graves complained again to the chairman of Ango-American and the company held an inquiry into the affair. Graves was exonerated, Collett was dismissed and the consequence was an immediate improvement in the relationship between the personnel at the two ends of the Atlantic cables.
The new cable station and associated staff accommodation consisted of three separate blocks built in a line facing the sea. The northern and southern blocks contained accommodation for the married men with the telegraph station located in the central block, along with accommodation for the single men. One of the units in the northern block constituted the superintendent’s house. Growth of the station staff caused another accommodation block of six houses to be built in 1880. Even so, some married men had to seek accommodation in the local community, for which inconvenience they were paid £20 per year by the Company.
A Comfortable Life on Valentia
Because of the remoteness of the Valentia station and the often wet and stormy nature of the weather blowing in from the Atlantic, the Ango-American Telegraph Company went to great lengths to make life comfortable for the Station staff. The single men were housed in Company accommodation, with domestic staff provided. Off-duty amusement was also catered for by the provision of a billiards table, no doubt with a Valentia slate base and a variety of pleasure boats. An Anglo-American Cricket Club was established in 1867, with James Graves as an active club member. In 1869 in a match against the Valentia Club he both batted and bowled competently. Later, games were mostly played against the other cable stations which were established nearby, at Ballinskerrig in 1875 and at Waterville in 1884. Golf matches were also held between the Valentia and Waterville clubs. James Graves acted as a steward at the Waterville races in 1894 and at the Valentia harbour regatta in 1892, 1894, 1897, 1901, 1904 and 1905. None of the wives of staff were known to be employed and resorted to regular social gatherings to relieve the boredom, especially in winter. Several ladies were accomplished pianists and public concerts were given by the staff and their families for charitable purposes. Despite the Waterville and Valentia stations being in direct competition, joint “socials” were organised for the staff of both around 1896. The telegraph station properties had extensive gardens and the climate was conducive to the rapid growth of several species of garden shrubs, such as Fuchsia, Escalonia, Hydrangea and Veronica., since the temperature seldom dropped to 0 degrees C in winter. In 1870 the Anglo-American Telegraph Company appointed a Station Medical Officer, Edward Blennerhassett, in Valentia.
The cultural isolation of the station was also a worry for the company from a professional point of view. In order to keep staff abreast of scientific and technical developments, the company made available copies of the Telegraphist and the Electrician, as well other magazines of a more general nature, including London Illustrated News and Punch. The station also possessed an extensive library including both textbooks and novels. Despite the efforts made by the company and the local staff to relieve the boredom with cultural and sporting activities, the tedium of Valentia life did cause some staff to take to alcohol. Poteen was illegally distilled on the island and was readily available.
Good Works in an Impoverished Island
The Anglo-American Telegraph Company always sought to be a good neighbour to the indigenous population of the island. After the removal of the telegraph station from Foilhommerum to Knightstown in 1868, the original wooden building was given to the local community. It was dismantled and re-erected in Knightstown in 1871, on a site donated by the Knight of Kerry, to serve as a hospital for the island community. The Company donated 5gns per year to the hospital and an annual concert was organised for the benefit of the hospital. The wooden hospital building was replaced by a more substantial new building in 1887, appropriately incorporating a memorial stone in Valentia slate. In 1897, James Graves and his daughter Clara Louise both donated to the Shilling Commemoration Fund for providing nurses for the Irish poor. Much later, in 1914, a new Roman Catholic church, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, was built in Knightstown and was largely subscribed by staff from the cable station, as by that time there were many more Roman Catholic telegraphists. The Anglo-American Telegraph Company also donated £50 each year at Christmas to both the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic clergy on Valentia.
James Graves, his family and many members of staff from the cable station worshipped with the congregation of St John the Baptist, Knightstown, the local Church of Ireland establishment. In 1869 James Graves joined the local lay hierarchy when he was appointed as a sidesman. April 1871 saw James Graves present a sum of almost £40, which had been collected in the Parish of Valentia, to the Church of Ireland Sustentation Fund, “to be held for such purposes as the parishioners shall declare for the benefit of the parish”. At the Diocesan Synod in 1890, which James Graves attended, he spoke strongly about the inadequacy of the then current stipend of £140/year for the incumbent in a parish “such as Valentia”, possibly a reference to the salary differential between the minister and the employees of the telegraph station. He expressed a willingness by the congregation at Valentia to pay more via the annual assessment. In 1892 James Graves was one of three people proposed for the Commission of the Peace in the Caherciveen Board of Guardians, the body which administered the Poor Law. However, despite Mr O’Driscoll supporting James, “he had been very good to the people of Valentia”, others objected. Mr O’Shea protested that, “he does not know the wants of the people connected with farming”. Mr Keating objected that, “he had no identification with the people”. To some in the area he was still seen as a remote outsider, even after 27 years!
ViP Visitors to Valentia
After its inception in 1866 and especially after the construction of the permanent accommodation in 1868, the Valentia Telegraph Station was a jewel in the crown of Irish industrial development. As such it received many VIP visitors over the years. In 1869, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, 7th child of Queen Victoria, visited the Valentia Station. Another royal visitor, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Queen Victoria’s second son came to Valentia in 1880. Again, it fell to James Graves to conduct His Royal Highness around the telegraph station. The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland toured Kerry in 1891 and visited both the Waterville and Valentia Cable stations. James Graves was in the reception party. There was another visit by the Lord Lieutenant in 1893. In 1897, the Duke and Duchess of York were the visitors. They were later to become King George V and Queen Mary. The royal couple was shown around the Valentia station by James Graves assisted by Mr RB Mackay and Mr D O’Sullivan. After visiting the cable station, the Duke and Duchess travelled to the slate quarry “from where the best billiard table slates are got”.
The French Trans-Atlantic Cable
In 1868 the French decided that they too had to have a trans-Atlantic Cable. The Societe du Cable Transatlantique Francais commissioned the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company to lay a cable, using the Great Eastern, from Brest near the extreme western tip of Britanny to St Pierre et Michelon, a group of islands, still in French hands, at the mouth of the St Lawrence river. A cable link was then established from St Pierre to Duxbury, which lay on Cape Cod south of Boston. The French company started to undercut the prices offered by the Anglo-American Company, but this competition was snuffed out by a traffic-sharing agreement between the two, facilitated by several directors who sat on the boards of both companies. This agreement proved to be vital to Anglo-American in 1869 when a fault developed in the 1866 cable. In grappling to raise the damaged section, the repair ship, Robert Lowe, which was jointly owned by the Anglo-American and the Societe du Cable Transatlantique Francais, managed to break the 1865 cable too. This left the Anglo-American without a functioning North Atlantic cable over the following winter and well into 1870 and it had to use the French cable as a stop-gap, sending telegraph clerks from Valentia to Brest to supplement the staff there. James Graves remained in Valentia, though there was little routine work to do and he busied himself with electrical experiments. The results of this work were subsequently published. James Graves was recognised for his work on electric telegraphy cables in several ways. He was a member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers from its foundation in 1872, a member of the Society of Arts and a Membre Fondateur de la Societe Internationale des Electriciens in 1883. In 1884 a paper by James Graves, “On the causes of failure of deep-sea cables” was published in the Journal of the Society of Telegraph-Engineers and Electricians. In this paper he reported the opinions of people on board the Great Eastern as to the cause of the failures in the 1865 cable. Several expressed the view that malicious interference had happened, though James himself suspected that occasional manufacturing defects, exacerbated by passage through the cable-laying machinery, were responsible.
In summer 1870 James Graves was recruited to act as Electrician on board the Robert Lowe when it was again sent out to repair breaks in the 1865, 1866 and French cables. He received a supplement of 1gn/day for service at sea. On his return to Valentia in October 1870, after more than 100 days on board the Robert Lowe, his salary was raised to £400 per year (about £44,000 in 2017 money). He returned to sea in 1874 acting as electrician on board the repair ship Minia during the repair of cable near Valentia. Although James Graves eventually served for 44 years as superintendent at Valentia, in 1872 he was offered the position of superintendent in New York. This was at a time when it was proposed to lay a cable directly from England to that city, but the scheme was abandoned and James Graves did not leave the UK, the post in New York going instead to the Duxbury, Massachusetts superintendent.
International Marine Cable-laying after 1870
During the 1870s and beyond, cable-laying continued around the world and there was both increasing competition and progressive rationalisation in the industry. The British Government nationalised all overland cable routes, including the line to Valentia, in 1870 when they were taken over by the General Post Office. Included in this process was the Electric and International Telegraph Company, which created the forerunner of British Telecom. The Anglo-American Telegraph Company was formed in 1866 to undertake the laying of the 1866 cable from Newfoundland to Valentia. It had a working agreement with the Atlantic Telegraph Company until 1873 when it took over the latter. During the same year the Anglo-American Telegraph Company also took over the French cable company, Societe du Cable Transatlantique Francais. A British company, the Direct United States Cable Company was established in 1873 and laid cables in 1874 and 1875 linking the USA with Ballinskelligs, County Kerry, which was situated about 6 miles south of Valentia. However, this competition was also snuffed out when the Anglo-American Telegraph Company took control in 1877 and Ballinskelligs was then linked by cable to Valentia. The Ballinskelligs cable station was finally closed in 1923. Another company, the Commercial Cable Company was established in 1884 and laid a cable from New York City to Waterville in County Kerry, via Canso, Nova Scotia. Waterville also lay about 6 miles south of Valentia and a few miles east of Ballinskelligs. Waterville continued to operate until 1962. The Anglo-American Telegraph Company laid further cables from Hearts Content, Nova Scotia to Valentia in 1873, 1874 and 1894. In 1910 a further trans-Atlantic cable was installed for the Anglo-American Telegraph Company from Bay Roberts, Newfoundland to Porthcurno in Cornwall. Of the two original Anglo-American cables, the 1865 cable failed in 1877 and the 1866 cable stopped working in in 1872. The latter cable was then essentially renewed in 1880 and finally terminated in 1949. All the trans-Atlantic cables belonging to the Anglo-American were leased to Western Union in 1912 and that agreement came to an end in 1963. The Anglo-American Telegraph Company was wound up in 1968 but the Western Union, which pioneered the telegraphic transfer of money in 1872, is still in existence.
The British Empire and the All-Red Line
The British amassed an Empire, a group of territories from around the world, over several centuries, which was controlled by the Government in London. By 1913 the Empire was composed of territories covering about a quarter of the land area of the earth and containing a similar proportion of its peoples. Exercising control over this sprawling, diverse array came to depend upon the telegraph and led to a British Government policy principle known as the All-Red Line, the British controlled telegraph cables which spread around the globe connecting the components of the Empire with London. The red lines were predominantly composed of marine cables, which, it was argued, could not so easily be disrupted by enemy action. At the end of the 19th century Britain was dominant in the marine telegraph cable-laying business. In 1892 Britain owned 2/3 of the world’s cables. Even in 1923 this figure was still over 40%. Most of the cable-laying ships were also British. In 1896 of 30 cable-laying ships in the world, 24 flew the red ensign. The trans-Atlantic cable from Valentia to Canada was one of the earliest components of the All-Red Line. A link to India was completed in 1870, Australia was connected in 1871 and New Zealand in 1876 and the Pacific was crossed from Western Canada to Australia in 1902. Communications with South Africa were established in 1899, via St Helena. The network also had redundancy built into it. In 1911 it was estimated that for Britain to be isolated from the rest of the world by the severing of telegraphic communications, 49 cables would have to be cut. At the start of WW1, Britain severed marine cables belonging to the enemy.
The Germans lay a Cable to Valentia
In 1881 the British Government gave permission to the German Union Telegraph Company to use Valentia as the connecting point into the trans-Atlantic system for a submarine cable from Emden in Germany, so avoiding the telegraphic congestion of England and the link was completed the following year. James Graves, the man on the ground, was then appointed by the German company as superintendent of its cable at a salary of £100 per year (about £11,100 in 2017 money). This was in addition to his work for the Anglo-American Telegraph Company. In 1889 the German Government took over the cable from Emden, but James Graves was still retained as superintendent.
Drownings and near-Drownings involving Telegraphists
Leisure activities on Valentia often involved the sea and in 1896 two dramatic incidents occurred, both involving Anglo-American staff, which were a reminder of how dangerous the waters around Valentia could be. In July Constables Keogh and Curivan were swimming off the cliffs when Curivan found he was being swept out by a strong current. His companion went to his aid but Curivan panicked and grabbed hold of Keogh, pulling him under the water. Jeremiah Ring and John Jackson, both telegraphists, were walking on the cliffs and saw the incident. Jackson bravely swam to Curivan, persuaded him not to clutch on to him and then brought him safely ashore.
The second incident occurred in October when two telegraphists, William Thompson and George Hutton, were returning to Valentia harbour from Caherciveen in a small boat, which capsized in a squall. Two local lads, brothers Michael and John O’Neill rescued William Thompson, who was in a bad way due to exposure and completely unable to speak. Sadly, George Hutton drowned. Townsend Jolley, another telegraphist and son in law of James Graves, recommended the O’Neill brothers to the Royal Humane Society for a bravery award. Testimonials on vellum were subsequently awarded and presented to the two lads by James Graves, who remarked that this had been the only accidental death amongst the Anglo-American staff in the 37 years that he had been Superintendent.
Infectious Diseases on Valentia
Infectious diseases were not uncommon in Valentia, especially amongst the children and in 1897 James Graves, in a report to the Local Government Board, complained bitterly about the cause of an outbreak of measles on Valentia involving about 100 cases and including two of his check clerks and many of the children of his staff. Apparently, the dispensary doctor, who was also the local sanitary authority on the island, had incorrectly diagnosed the first case of the disease. The result was that the affected child was not confined at home and the disease spread through contacts at school, which remained open for about two weeks after the start of the outbreak. But the tribulations of the telegraph staff and their children were as nothing compared with the problems afflicting the rural population of the island.
Ireland and Emigration
Emigration was a constant feature of island life throughout the rest of the 19th century, following the Great Famine. Usually, emigrants left from Queenstown (now Cobh), the port of Cork on the south coast but in 1883 two Anchor Line steamers, the Belgravia and the Furnessia, both over 5,000 tons, managed to pick up state-assisted emigrants direct from Valentia harbour, bound for New York. The scale of emigration can be seen in the County Kerry population statistics for the 3rd quarter of 1887 when 27,710 births, 18,818 deaths and 20,236 emigrations were recorded. By 1898 the economic situation for the country people of Kerry was so bad that the priests of the Caherciveen Deanery, which included Valentia, passed a resolution urging the British Government to do more to alleviate the crisis in South Kerry. They clearly held the British Government responsible for the crisis, accusing it of deafness and evasion but also looking to it for salvation. None of this is surprising given the magnitude of the problem and their own feeling of powerlessness. “That we the priests of Cahirciveen Deanery possessing as we do full and reliable knowledge of the wants of our people regret the necessity of being compelled to place on record that deep and widespread distress exists in our various parishes. That we have read with pain and indignation the unsatisfactory and evasive replies of the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the House of Commons to the questions of Mr Flavin re South Kerry distress. That we regard Mr Balfour’s statement that his inspector had visited and ascertained that every destitute person in Valentia Island was relieved as wholly incorrect and misleading inasmuch as his inspector had not visited Valentia when Mr Balfour spoke those words in the House of Commons. And when Mr Balfour asserts that on the 9th May there were only two fever patients from Portmagee in the Cahirciveen Fever Hospital we beg to assure him that there were seven such patients from Portmagee parish in the Cahirciveen Fever Hospital at that date. That we acknowledge that some temporary relief has been repeatedly given to hundreds of destitute families in our midst during the past three months, but we affirm with the utmost certainty that this relief has come from the Mansion House Committee and other charitable sources whilst Mr Balfour and his agents have done absolutely nothing to remedy the evil. That we view the Government scheme of relieving distress in the Chirciveen Union – a scheme by which the already over-rated ratepayers (paying at present 9s in the £ valuation) are called upon to support their destitute neighbours – as cruel and heartless mockery. That we hold it is the solemn duty of the British Government alone to supply a permanent and an adequate remedy for the evils with which our people are face to face – evils which are growing in intensity daily with the inevitable cessation of credit on the part of shopkeepers whose resources are more than exhausted, eg 38 small farmers owing to one merchant for food alone £850! That the Government should undertake to open at once useful and remunerative public works (eg piers, boats, slips for fishermen) for the purpose of giving employment to those who are destitute and craving for work and to grant small loans at moderate interest to farmers themselves direct for the improvement of their holdings.”
The Telegraphists in a Social Bubble – Poverty on Valentia
Meanwhile the approximately 40 telegraphists at the Valentia station continued with their work receiving and retransmitting messages, living relatively pampered lives, feeling isolated from the rest of Great Britain, being bored from time to time, being aware of the problems facing the indigenous community and doing good works which gave marginal help. But mostly, they lived in a bubble isolated from the tribulations of the country people and seeking their social interactions predominantly with their work colleagues and their fellow church members.
Commenting on the situation in 1898, the Cahirsiveen correspondent of the Kerry Evening Post reported that along the West Kerry coast fishing was more important than farming as a source of income, since the land along the coast was not capable of much development. The arrival of the railway in 1893 had made a difference to the fishermen, in that the catch could now be exported to the centres of population before it deteriorated, but Valentia harbour still lacked an adequate pier for landing the catch. This was the reason for the priests of the Caherciveen Deanery suggesting to the Government that public works should be financed to provide “piers boats and slips for fishermen”. In fact, the fishing industry did pick up at this time. In 1895 12,000 boxes of fish had been exported from Valentia harbour but by 1900 this number had increased to 50,000 boxes. The situation in West Kerry did bring forth a visit to the area by the Earl of Halsbury, the Lord Chancellor of England in September 1898. He travelled by train from Tralee and must have been feeling a bit exposed in this area of Ireland where resentment against the British Government was a popular sentiment and where nationalists of various stripes held sway. During the journey the train passed over several explosive fog signals which caused some alarm in the official party, perhaps thinking that they were under attack. The reason for the signals proved to be more prosaic. A railway worker was getting married and the signals were part of the celebration of that event – but no one had warned the VIP visitors! A further VIP visit in 1899 also had the intention of helping the West Kerry economy. In April of that year Lord Mayo, Chairman of the Tourist Development Syndicate visited Valentia, including the telegraph station, where James Graves explained the working of the cables and equipment. 1901 brought another important visitor, Lord Cadogan, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, to Valentia. After staying with the Knight of Kerry at Glanleam, Lord Cadogan visited the slate quarry, the island hospital, which was maintained by voluntary contributions, the telegraph station, where messages were exchanged with America and the knitting factory carried on by Miss Fitzgerald, the sister of the Knight of Kerry.
A Dispute between Telegraphists
A puzzling event occurred in October1904 when Eugene J Ring, aged 18 brought an action against George Davies, aged about 30 for assault, seeking £50 in damages at the Caherciveen Quarter Sessions. Both men were employees of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company at the Valentia Cable Station. The Judge condemned the actions of Davies but, since Ring had not actually suffered any injury (except perhaps to his dignity), the damages were limited to £5. The reason why the assault took place was not revealed but it may be that it involved some matter which roused strong passions for the assault to have reached a court of law, given that Eugene Ring was uninjured.
The Demise of Canon Delap
Canon Delap, who had been the rector of the Parish of Valentia for 30 years died in 1906. He had been a friend of James Graves and had officiated at many of the births, marriages and deaths within the extended Graves family. It was decided at a vestry meeting in 1908 to raise a plaque in the church to his memory and a committee was appointed to raise the necessary funds. James Graves acted as treasurer to that committee.
James Graves thwarts his Succession
In 1887 James Graves was 54 years old and had been superintendent at the Valentia station for 22 years, probably too long for one person to remain in the same post. There were clearly some concerns in the Anglo-American Telegraph Company about James Graves’ style of leadership, which might reasonably have been described as “relaxed”. There were also concerns about his reluctance to delegate. His answer to work pressures was always to work harder himself. In 1883 James received a letter from the company recommending him to delegate more to his subordinates and this advice seems to have had some effect. The company must have been anticipating that James Graves might soon move on, or retire and it appears that it tried to persuade James to go but, when that tactic did not succeed, it sought to obviate the perceived management issues at Valentia by appointing a deputy to James Graves with different characteristics. William Hearnden, a no-nonsense type was the man in waiting for when Graves departed. Being very different characters, James Graves and Bill Hearnden did not get along together. However, James Graves, who had considerable status in the company was difficult to displace and he stayed on as superintendent for a further 22 years, though with a progressively diminishing enthusiasm for the work of the station. From about 1900 Bill Hearnden was, in effect, acting as Superintendent. The Company acquiesced in this situation. James Graves did not finally retire until 1909, the event which precipitated his final departure being the death of his wife, Anne Charlotte, at the end of March 1909. James retired a month later at the age of 76 and Bill Hearnden took over as superintendent, after a wait of 22 years. In retirement James Graves lived in a large house, Atlantic Villa, situated close to the cable station. The first cables landed at Valentia had been routed through this house. In his obituary published in the Kerry Evening Post, it was stated that he “severed his connection with the Anglo-American Telegraph Company in June 1909 much to the regret of its Board of Directors”, but this was probably deference by the local newspaper, not wishing to speak ill of the dead.
Edward Graves (1844 – 1897) and the Hazards of Persia
Many members of the extended Graves family pursued careers in the telegraphy industry, not just James Graves’ children, in-laws and grand-children but also his youngest brother Edward, who was born in 1845. Edward joined the Electric and International Telegraph Company in 1857 and was posted to their Southampton office at a time when his brother James was a young man in a hurry in the same location. James secured the position for Edward in the company and his posting to Southampton. James Graves was called back to London in 1857 and about this time Edward Graves moved to Aldershot, the home of the British Army, as a civilian telegraphist. He then joined the Royal Engineers who were founded as a Corps within the Army in 1856. Telegraphy was first used in a hostile setting during the Russian or Crimean War of 1853 – 1856.
Edward Graves (1844 - 1897)
Edward Graves (1844 - 1897)
The Indian Mutiny 1857 – 1858 was an uprising against the rule of the British East India Company, initiated by sepoys (ordinary troops) of the Company’s own army. This was a major stimulus for the development of a telegraph line to India. The Indo-European Telegraph Company was established as a joint-stock company in 1868, with the purpose of constructing an overland telegraph line to India. Some parts of the proposed route were already in place. The line was to run from Lowestoft to Emden, on to Warsaw, Berlin, through the Ukraine to Odessa on the Black Sea, through the Crimea, through Georgia and Armenia to Djulfa on the Persian border, to Teheran and on to Bushire, a major port on the Persian Gulf. The telegraph link then continued undersea to Kurrachee and on across India to Calcutta, though a coastal landline was added later. The company only owned the line from Emden to Teheran and that section was completed in 1868. The line onwards to Calcutta was in service two years later and was owned by the Indian Administration.
The telegraph line running south from Teheran to Bushire was constructed by UK Government engineers. Major Robert Murdoch Smith was an officer in the newly-formed Royal Engineers. Smith was something of a polymath, having studied engineering at Glasgow University, where he was taught by William Thompson (later Lord Kelvin), served in the Crimean War and was subsequently involved in archaeology and diplomacy. He was chosen to lead a party of three officers, 12 non-commissioned officers and six civilians to construct the Persian overland telegraph link south of Teheran. One of the NCOs was Edward Graves, who was presumably included because of his civilian telegraph experience before joining the Royal Engineers. The task was not easy, mainly because of the suspicion of the Persians, including the Shah and Smith’s skills of tact and diplomacy were very important in gaining trust. The line was completed in 1865. Control of the telegraph line between Teheran and Calcutta was in the hands of the Indo-European Department of the Indian Administration.
After completion of the line from Teheran to Bushire some at least of the Royal Engineers, including Edward Graves, stayed on, under the command of Major Smith, to operate the telegraph line south of Teheran. Smith continued to live in Teheran and became a director of the Persian Telegraph Company. He also organised the collection of archaeological artefacts which were sent back to Britain. The Shah of Persia recognised Smith’s contribution by awarding him the Sword of Honour. After 10 years of service in Persia, Edward Graves returned to England on leave and then went back to Persia, where he served as the Assistant Superintendent at Shiraz, 130 miles north-east of Bushire.
Some of Graves’ NCO colleagues at Shiraz wanted to know if and when they would be returned to the UK and he passed this request up the line of command, but it was misinterpreted as a sign of his personal discontent and he was punished by being sent on leave to Bushire without pay and then back to England. In Chatham he made a successful appeal for the docked pay to be reinstated. He travelled back to Tehran arriving in late 1875. He had been seconded to the Indo- European Telegraph Department with the rank of Second Corporal and then served again at Shiraz. In spite of the good levels of remuneration in Persia, it was a trying posting and several of the military staff operating the telegraph line found it difficult to cope for long periods. Mr Walker, the Superintendent at Shiraz, wrongly reported Edward Graves to his superior for inciting others to leave the service. This was untrue. A Corporal King who was stationed at Dasht Argin, 40 miles west of Shiraz, had told Graves of his misery due to the isolation of his location and asked for Edward’s advice, which was to go through the official channels. This conversation had been conducted over the cable which was how it came to the notice of the superintendent. Major Smith’s response was brutal and immediate. Both Graves and King were dismissed and remanded to military duty at Chatham. Edward Graves then left the Royal Engineers at the termination of his tour of duty in 1875. He had achieved the rank of Sergeant.
Edward Graves was then asked to consider returning to Teheran as a civilian employee of the Indo-European Telegraph Department and he took up the offer, but he had been knocked down the promotion ladder. Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and later King Edward VII made an extended tour of India in 1875 – 1876, which was a prelude to his mother, Queen Victoria, being declared Empress of India on 1 January 1877. It appears that the role that Edward Graves was to play in Persia was connected with these royal events, since telegraph communications between London and India would be achieved using the line which passed through Persia. In 1878 Edward Graves was recorded as a 4th grade clerk in the Indo-European Telegraph Department.
Knowledge of Edward Graves’ personal life is sketchy. He married an Armenian lady called Victoria while he was stationed in Persia, but she died tragically of typhoid fever in 1877. He married for a second time to Anne Elizabeth Breckels in 1881, while he was on leave in England (from 16 August to 15 November). About the time of his return to Persia, probably accompanied by his wife Anne Elizabeth, he was promoted to 3rd grade signaller and then gained a second promotion to 1st grade in May 1882. January 1883 saw him appointed as Clerk in Charge at Shiraz. The couple had one child, Edward Basil, born 18 March 1883 in Stoke Newington, so his wife presumably returned to the UK in time for the birth.
From February 1884, for a period of about 5 weeks, Edward Graves was Acting Superintendent at Shiraz and from mid-June 1884 to the end of September of the same year he was Senior Clerk at Isfahan which lay about 250 miles north of Shiraz, halfway to Teheran. His next, rather brief, period of leave occurred in 1886. During 1888 Edward Graves suffered a serious bout of illness, which was so severe that his immediate retirement was proposed. However, he recovered from this condition and in 1891 he was Clerk in Charge at Shiraz. In July of the same year he was promoted to Assistant Superintendent (second class) with a salary of 350 rupees/month. The following year Edward Graves acted as Assistant Superintendent in Isfahan and in 1894 he was Assistant Superintendent in Teheran.
The Death of Edward Graves
Edward Graves’ health suffered from the long years in Persia. In addition to the serious illness that he suffered in 1888, he is also known to have suffered from malaria, dyspepsia and vertigo. On this basis he was allowed a one-year leave of absence back in England in 1894. He and his wife, Anne Elizabeth lived at 8 Hartington Villas, Hove, during this time. However, on his return from leave he was told he would be transferred to the Gulf section where there was a landline along the coast, rather than serving on the Persian section of the line. On his own request he returned to duty before the end of 1895, since his health had recovered, but his request to serve the remaining 4 years of his service before retirement in the Persian section, on the basis of his uncertain health, was turned down. His request may also have been prompted by his knowledge of previous deaths in that section either due to violent insurgents or disease, not an infrequent occurrence for colonial staff in many parts of the world, including the more lawless parts of Persia. Edward was told to report to Kurrachee, a major sea port in what is now Pakistan, about 1,000 miles to the east. This unwelcome news was sweetened to some extent by his promotion to Assistant Superintendent class 1 in 1897. He was put in charge of the landline along the south coast of Persia.
While working on the landline in the village of Rapch, 11 miles from the mouth of the Rapch river and 90 miles east of the cable station at Jask in Persia, Edward Graves was murdered by Balochi tribesmen on the night of 2 December 1897. He appeared to have been surprised while asleep in his tent by his attackers, who hacked off his head, disembowelled him and pinned his body to the bed. Edward Graves was 53. Although the attack appeared to have been primarily motivated by theft, as the camp was ransacked, the cable staff at Jask and Charbar, had reported that they feared attack due to the unrest then current in Persian Balochistan. Edward Graves was buried at Jask with military honours by a party of bluejackets (navy sailors) and a hut was built over his grave and gravestone.
The British military sought out four suspects who had been identified, though the Balochi tribesmen were not helpful in apprehending the miscreants. In retaliation, the British force destroyed some date groves and even took Balochi hostages. It appeared that one of the murderers was shot resisting capture and another was detained. He was hauled up on a scaffold at Jask and shot by a party of Persian soldiers. A third suspect was released due to a lack of incriminating evidence.
Edward Graves’ widow, Anne Elizabeth was awarded a pension of £100 per annum (later raised to £150 pa) and a further £18 per year for her son Percy, until he reached the age of 18, the intention being to recover these sums from the Persian Government, from whom reparations of £5,000 had been demanded. The Persians appear never to have paid. Although Edward Graves’ widow pleaded poverty with the British Government she appeared not to have been badly provided. She was granted probate over Edward’s personal estate of £1,060 (over £127,000 in 2017 money) in February 1898. Edward also left a substantial property portfolio in Fulham which was put up for sale by his executor (Anne Elizabeth) in January 1898. This was a sad end to a life of dedication in an inhospitable part of the world where, though the financial rewards were good, there were risks which could end, as in the case of Edward Graves, in an early and gruesome death.
Funeral of Edward Graves (1844 - 1897)
Funeral of Edward Graves (1844 - 1897)
Social Mixing at Valentia
In the late 1860s, shortly after the Anglo-American telegraph station was opened at Valentia, there were about 12 staff servicing the marine cables. Subsequently as the volume of traffic and the number of cables increased, so did the staff numbers. By 1900 the count had increased to about 40 and during WW1 there was a further increase to about 200. Initially, all the staff were imported to Valentia from other parts of Great Britain, mostly England and Scotland. Over the ensuing years, the national make-up of the staff changed progressively, as more Irish staff and especially local Irish staff were trained and incorporated in the Valentia telegraph workforce. Regrettably, Irish census records for the 19th and 20th centuries have mostly not survived intact and only the records for 1901 are complete for Valentia island, though data for the townlands which contained the most telegraphists in 1901 are also available in 1911.
The 1901 Census does give an excellent snapshot of the then current telegraph staff composition and 45 individuals, all men, have been identified. An analysis of staff born in each UK nation and their religions gives the following break-down.
England 19 (Church of England 1, Church of Ireland 13, Methodist 2, Roman Catholic 2)
Ireland 22 (Church of Ireland 5, Presbyterian 1, Roman Catholic 16) (19 born in Kerry and 3 born in Cork)
Scotland 1 (Church of Ireland 1)
Wales 3 (Church of Ireland 2, Congregationalist 1)
In the intervening years since the establishment of the Valentia station there had clearly been a substantial recruitment and training of local people, the breakdown between those born in Ireland and the rest of the UK being close to 50%. It is likely that James Graves was responsible for this recruitment policy and from the company’s point of view, given the poverty on Valentia island, the anti-British sentiment and the growing political activism, local recruitment made sense in helping to integrate the station into the general island community. The arrival of the incomers also generated some employment for domestic servants with telegraph families, 14 out of 16 such servants being Roman Catholics from the local population.
Other trends can also be discerned in the 1901 Census data. The children and even grandchildren of the early telegraphists were themselves often employed at the Valentia station. James Graves had 11 children of whom nine survived to adulthood, three boys and six girls. All the boys became telegraphists and three of the girls married telegraphists at the Valentia station. Other telegraph dynasties were also forged, for example the Hardys, the Hearndens, the Hutchinsons, the Jolleys, the Langfords, the Scaifes, the Condons, the O’Sullivans and the Rings, the last three being local Roman Catholic families. Telegraphers often married the daughters of other telegraphers and the dynasties themselves often intermarried. One interesting inter-dynastic marriage was that between Ann Louise Graves (grand-daughter of James Graves) and Frederick William Hearnden (son of William Hearnden), which occurred after elopement, presumably caused by family disapproval. James Graves, the first Valentia superintendent and Bill Hearnden, the second superintendent were not best friends and that long-standing tension may have coloured parental judgement.
Although there was a strong polarisation between the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic worshippers, with attendance at different locations, some inter-faith marriages took place between incomers and local Roman Catholic girls. Robert Jerram, William Scaife and Ernest Arnold Langford all married locals, though only Robert Jerram appears to have converted to Roman Catholicism. All the children of the three marriages were brought up in the Roman Catholic faith.
The Graves Family and Duxbury, Massachusetts – Arthur James Graves (1857 – 1916)
Arthur James was the eldest son of James Graves and was born in 1857, during his father’s posting to Southampton. He joined the Anglo-American Telegraph Company in 1870 at the early age of 13. Three years later, his employer acquired the trans-Atlantic cable belonging to Societe du Cable Transatlantique Francais, together with their cable station at Duxbury, Massachusetts. In consequence, at the end of 1874 Arthur James Graves moved to Duxbury, which lay on Cape Cod, 30 miles south of Boston. This was the first of several links of the Graves family and their descendants to Massachusetts, which may all have resulted indirectly from this initial contact.
While serving at Duxbury, Arthur James Graves suffered an accident which rendered him profoundly deaf. There are two possible, but dramatically different, explanations for the agent of his misfortune. According to Donard de Cogan, Arthur James suffered a lightning strike while working on an electrical machine, while a note in the Blockley family papers attributes his injury to an insect attack while on a camping expedition. There have been cases reported in the medical literature of both a lightning strike causing deafness, due to the effects of the pressure wave and of insect bites or scratches causing an infection of the eardrum, so it is difficult to evaluate the claims of these two mechanisms without further information on the circumstances of the accident.
Arthur James Graves continued to work for the Ango-American Telegraph Company but had returned to Valentia by September 1881, when he married Margaret Dorcas Pilfold in Cork. Her father was a merchant born in Sussex but her mother hailed from Cork. Apparently, Arthur James’ deafness was not entirely a drawback for his work in telegraphy, since he could work on transcription oblivious to any noise in the environment. His family communicated with him by sign language. During WW1, when the Valentia station was under armed guard because of the danger of attack by nationalist elements, Arthur James’ son, Charles James, would intercept him on his way to work because he was afraid his father might not hear a challenge from a sentry and get shot. Arthur James died in post at Valentia in May 1916 at the age of 58.
The Graves Family and Duxbury, Massachusetts – Walter John Graves (1863 – 1936)
Walter John Graves was the second son of James Graves and was born in Tottenham, London in 1863 while his father was acting as assistant to CF Varley. Walter John subsequently joined the Anglo-American Telegraphy Company at the Valentia station at the age of 15 in 1878 and subsequently served at the Duxbury station. While at Duxbury he met his first wife, Lutie Lyman Jackson. They were married at Duxbury in 1882. Mr and Mrs Walter Graves travelled back to the UK in 1885. Walter also paid a visit to Ireland in 1911. A daughter, Lutie, was born in 1887. Walter John served as a telegraphist for 21 years, retiring in 1899 at the age of 36. He had always wanted to be a doctor and on leaving the telegraphy service he enrolled as a medical student at Boston University, subsequently graduating MD. He practised in Dorchester, Massachusetts until his death in 1936. While a resident in Massachusetts Walter James Graves was a member of a committee which erected a monument to Myles Standish, who was an English military officer who had been hired by the Pilgrim colonists in the 17th century as a military adviser. Standish later became a farmer in Duxbury and was buried there.
The Graves Family and Duxbury, Massachusetts – Florence Annette Graves (1870 – 1961)
Florence Annette Graves was the seventh child of James Graves, born in 1870 at Valentia. She appears to have paid a visit to Duxbury, Massachusetts about 1888, presumably to stay with her brother, Walter John Graves, who was a telegraphist at the Duxbury station at the time. It is assumed that while at Duxbury she met Spencer A Josselyn who was a salesman, with no connection with telegraphy. The couple married in 1891 but subsequently divorced about 1920. They had two children.
The Graves Family and Duxbury, Massachusetts – Sydney Richard Tofts Graves (1873 – 1926)
Sydney Richard Tofts Graves was born in Valentia in 1873, the eighth child and third son on James Graves. He became a telegrapher, but knowledge of his career is sketchy at present. It is presumed that he began his career in Valentia and it is known that in 1891 he was present in Marseilles, where the Eastern Telegraph Company had a cable station to service the line to Algeria and Malta. In 1896 he was a passenger from Queenstown, Cork to New York on the ss Umbria. At that time, he was already a citizen of the USA and his profession of telegraphist was confirmed by the passenger manifest. In 1902 he is known to have spent a month in San Francisco and it may be significant that in that year the first marine telegraph cable joining the USA to the Philippines, China and Japan was laid from the city. He may also have visited Australia which was reached by a trans-Pacific cable for the first time in 1902. The evidence for such a presumed visit is that Sydney met and married an Australian, Laura Nicholls, who, at the time of marriage in 1906 in Massachusetts, was a resident of Kalgourlie, a major goldmining town in Western Australia. In 1905, Sydney Graves, who was described as an electrician arrived in Galveston on the Gulf coast of Texas. He was on his way to see his brother Walter John Graves, the former telegraphist who had become a doctor practising in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Sydney Graves and Laura Nicholls were married in Dorchester in 1906 but they subsequently moved to New South Wales, Australia, at least by 1909, where they had a family of three and where Sydney became an estate agent.
Minnie Everist Graves (1865 – 1899) and Matthew Dobinson Hutchinson (1861 – 1900)
Matthew Dobinson Hutchinson was born in 1861 in Pimlico, London. His father Edward was an engineer and moved from London to Gateshead shortly after Matthew’ birth. Matthew’s second given name, “Dobinson” was his mother’s maiden surname. By 1879, Matthew had been appointed as a learner in the British Postal Service, based in Newcastle and in 1881, Matthew’s role was given as telegraph clerk. It will be recalled that in 1870 all British inland telegraph lines were nationalised and put under the control of the General Post Office. Between April 1881 and June 1882 Matthew Dobinson Hutchinson had changed both employer and work location to the Anglo-American Telegraph Company station at Valentia island, County Kerry.
Matthew Dobinson Hutchinson (1861 - 1900)
Matthew Dobinson Hutchinson (1861 - 1900)
At Valentia, Matthew soon met and fell in love with Minnie Everist, fifth child and third daughter of James Graves the Valentia superintendent. The relationship must have progressed very rapidly because about the beginning of June 1882 Matthew, then a very junior telegraphist, wrote formally and perhaps a little audaciously to James Graves, requesting permission to marry Minnie, who was then only 17 years old. Only James Graves’ reply to Matthew Hutchinson has survived but it gives a very good insight into James’ philosophy of life. The letter follows in full.
“Your straightforward letter has reached me and Mrs Graves and as you request an early reply I hasten on behalf of myself and her to answer it. It is a truism that he who boasts of pedigree boasts of that over which he had no control, inasmuch as no man ever got to choose his own parents. In my own opinion I prefer the James Watt, the George Stephenson or the Michael Faraday before all those who have sprung from “noble parentage” and have been born “with a silver spoon in their mouths”. A man with brains – a good foundation whereon to build his own education – the man who strives to be the best at his work whether as an engineer or a shoeblack and at the same time to live “soberly and righteously” in the world, who is “diligent in business” serving his God and seeking His glory in his daily avocations, such a man need never fear to be “forsaken” or to have to “beg his bread”. You ask us to consent to your taking (at a convenient season) our daughter Minnie as a life partner. Believing that your abilities and perseverance will ultimately raise you from the lower to a higher level in your profession we have no hesitation in complying with your request. Her age is as you are aware but 17 ¼ years, which is too young to enter upon the duties of married life. Circumstances may combine to hasten such an event, but if practicable we should prefer her being two or three years older before she is married as too early marriages as a rule affects adversely the health of the wife which is a matter for careful and serious consideration. Wishing you every success and prosperity with a view to making her happy and comfortable whom we should not certainly part with leaving her empty handed. Believe us to be Yours sincerely Jas & AC Graves”
Did Matthew Hutchinson make any claims about the status of his family background? If so he got an instant put-down from his future father-in-law in the reply to his missive. Alternatively, James Graves may simply have been reciting his own admiration for self-made engineers, above those who had risen on the back of parental influence and urging Matthew to work diligently at his career. This preference for brains and dedication over advantage probably reflected James Graves’ view of his own rise to prominence. Other preferences, which probably also reflected James’ self-image, were sobriety and adherence to a religion. But aside from this gentle advice, the reply from James Graves and his wife was both welcoming and positive. It cautioned against marriage too soon but was not proscriptive. Matthew was clearly seen as a good prospect for Minnie. Despite the request to wait for “two or three years” before marrying, the couple barely waited a year before tying the knot. The marriage was conducted by the Rev Alex Delap according to the rights of the Church of Ireland, though Matthew and his family were all Methodists.
Matthew Dobinson Hutchinson in Southern Africa
Matthew Dobinson Hutchison probably continued to work at the Valentia station for at least two years because the first child produced by him and Minnie, Gertrude Ann Margaret, was born at Valentia in October 1885. In October 1888 the family were in South Africa because they had photographs taken in Durban, though it is not known if Matthew was working there. By the time of the birth of their second child, Minnie Everist Graves, in April 1890, Matthew had moved his family and his job to Vredefort, Orange Free State, then a colony controlled by Dutch immigrants. The birth certificate of “Little Min”, dated 27 July 1890, was written in Dutch and confirmed that Matthew was a “telegrafist”. Further, the baptism certificate for the baby girl referred to Matthew’s profession as “Free State Civil Service”. However, in late 1891 Matthew is known to have been an employee of the Eastern and South African Telegraph Company, a subsidiary of the Eastern Telegraph Company.
Today, Vredefort is a small farming town about 60 miles south-west of Johannesburg. Its current fame derives from it being the location of the largest verifiable impact crater on the earth’s surface, having a diameter of about 30 miles. In the 1880s this settlement was insignificant, a small and relatively remote “dorp”. It did not get a rail link until 1891, the same year that the telegraph arrived, so it appeared that Matthew arrived at Vredefort with the telegraph. It was certainly not a salubrious posting for a wife and young family and it appeared that Minnie returned to Europe before the end of November 1890, but not to Valentia. This can be inferred from a letter from her father, in Valentia, to Minnie, dated 28 November, which makes clear that Minnie and Matthew are not in the same place and that Minnie is within easy postal communication with Ireland.
Vredefort, Orange Free State, 1891
Vredefort, Orange Free State, 1891
The letter is very informative and gives a clear impression of James Graves as a man trying to support his children financially but struggling to maintain fairness between their competing claims on his resources. James Graves’ reply to his daughter makes clear that Matthew had hinted to him that he might be seeking a better posting elsewhere, James presumed this to be either in Capetown or in Durban. He then received a very brief (three-word!) cryptic telegraph message from Matthew, “Graves Valentia – 150”. The assumption James Graves made in view of Matthew’s last letter was that he needed £150 (about £17,700) in a hurry to cover the costs of moving from Vredefort. James immediately wired the money to the Standard Bank of South Africa and, because he did not have the sum available in cash, all his financial assets being invested, he went to the National Bank in Caherciveen and borrowed the money. His letter to Minnie gave her an account of the transactions and their associated costs, which came to £157 – 2 – 9, which he debited to her account. (Each of James’s children had an account with him from which they could draw, in advance of receiving an inheritance on the death of him and his wife. Daughters Edith and Alice had already taken their full allowance and renounced any further claims and James offered to make the same arrangement for Minnie, who had already borrowed money from the bank of Mum and Dad.) It was only after the transaction had been completed that another missive arrived which indicated that James’ interpretation of Matthew’s cable message had been incorrect and that the money may have been for building a house in Vredefort. Minnie asked her father not to charge interest on the borrowed sum, but he declined on the grounds of fairness to her siblings, “I must be just and consistent as well as generous”.
The separate communications from Minnie and Matthew to James Graves constitute evidence that Matthew did not return to Europe on leave with Minnie towards the end of 1890. Minnie had probably gone to Marseilles, since there is abundant evidence that she was living there from September 1891. Why Marseilles? The obvious suspicion is that the city was the location of Matthew’s previous posting before moving to the Orange Free State. The Marseilles Algiers and Malta Telegraph Company had laid a cable from Marseilles to Bona in Algeria, then on to Malta in 1870. In 1872 this company was merged into the Eastern Telegraph Company, which at one time was the largest telegraph company in the world. In 1879, a subsidiary company, the Eastern and South African Telegraph Company, in collaboration with the regional governments in South Africa, laid a cable in the Indian Ocean connecting Aden (which was on the submarine cable line from Britain to India) with Zanzibar, Mozambique and South Africa. Minnie Graves’ brother, Sydney Richard Tofts was known to be stationed at Marseilles in 1891.
The Death of Rose Amy Hutchinson (1891 – 1892)
Minnie Everist Hutchinson, wife of Matthew became pregnant about the end of January 1891, so Matthew her husband was presumably at home on leave at that time. Rose Amy Hutchinson was born on 26 September 1891 at Boulevard de Rome 38, Marseilles. Two communications from Matthew to Minnie exist, which are dated 9 March 1892, Minnie’s birthday. The first is a letter with the address on the letterhead given as Boulevard de Rome 38, Marseilles, the family home. Matthew had returned from Vredefort and was writing a note to Minnie affirming his love for her, but the letter also alludes to problems that the couple had been facing. A transcript of the letter follows.
“My Darling, On this the first anniversary of your birth since our return from that distant land of disappointment & trouble (Orange Free State), I would not only wish you very many happy returns of this day but also to thank and praise you for the steady and plucky manner in which you have faced all our difficulties hitherto and to also express my firm belief that you will not now depart from your past line of conduct & thus bring the desired consummation which is so near at hand; more quickly than it perhaps would ordinarily come. I allude here as you of course know to our setting up again a nice home and its consequential expense (the Hutchinsons were short of money). However, all things have an end & cheerfulness is the best weapon in our armoury wherewith to meet the momentary vexations inseparable to our position just now (Minnie in Marseilles and Matthew in South Africa). With fondest love and many kisses. Believe me ever as of yore. Your loving husband Matt.”
A reasonable interpretation of this letter is that Matthew needed to take the posting in the Orange Free State because they were a bit hard up, but that Minnie did not like the posting to a small isolated, largely Dutch-speaking town in a foreign country and had returned to Marseilles. Matthew appeared to be urging her to put up with things for the present as he wanted them the be able to set up a comfortable home together again soon. The second communication of the same date, 9 March 1892, appears to be a note which may have accompanied a birthday present to Minnie
It is presumed that Matthew then travelled to Valentia before returning to Africa. About this time also, Minnie moved her address in Marseilles to 45 Grande Rue Marengo. While in Valentia Matthew wrote to Minnie and on the inside of the envelope was a verse, again celebrating their marriage and probably trying to comfort her, bearing in mind she would be left to look after their family of three girls on her own.
“Your wedding ring wears thin dear wife
Ah! Summers not a few
Since I put it on your finger first
Have passed o’er me and you
And, love what changes have we seen
What cares and pleasures too?
Since you became my own dear wife
When this old ring was new
Young voices that are here
The social found
Which make their mothers get more dear
I forget some here…”
Sadly, a multi-part tragedy lay in wait for Matthew, Minnie and their girls.
Rose Amy Hutchinson’s life was brutally curtailed. She died after a short illness on Friday morning, 28 July 1892 at 45 Grande Rue Marengo, second floor, in Marseilles. A note exists, in French, in the Blockley family papers, possibly written by Minnie Hutchinson, which looks like a description of the symptoms and circumstances of Rose Amy’s illness, from which a pharmacist could prescribe. It was dated 16 June. In rough translation it reads, “My nine-month-old child is very ill. She only slept for a few minutes last night. She cried all the time and was in pain from her belly and her head. She did not have more than one tooth. Her excrement was green last night. We bathed her with warm water during the night and another time this morning wrapped in warm towels and gave her oil of Ricin (Castor oil) to make her sleep.” This bout of illness lasted for two or three days and then subsided but recurred in July, on this occasion with a fatal outcome. Another note, also in French, describes the denouement. “Didn’t sleep all night and was very disturbed by convulsions. She was thirsty and took a little milk. She died about quarter to 9 o’clock in the morning. Need to get a certificate from the Mairie.”
Rose Amy Hutchinson was buried in Marseilles Cemetery, grave 1031 and a stone erected with the caption “Rose Amy Hutchinson Died July 8th 1892. Aged 9 ½ months.” On the back of the receipt from the stonemason is the caption “My darling pet’s hair cut off top of her head before being coffined Saturday morning 9th July 92”. That lock of hair is still present with the family papers, a poignant reminder of a sad family loss at a time of some discord between Minnie and her husband.
Design for the gravestone of Rose Amy Hutchinson
Design for the gravestone of Rose Amy Hutchinson
Matthew Dobinson Hutchinson writes his Will
In 1894, Matthew Dobinson Hutchinson wrote his will while he was in Durban, Cape Province. The will divided his assets equally between his two daughters “now residing at Bay View, Valentia”. Matthew wrote in his will, “Should I predecease my mother I hereby appoint her the Guardian of my children and lovingly ask her to see to both their religious and secular education, especially asking that they be evangelistically taught the way of life as it is in Christ Jesus, should however my mother die first I hereby request my sister Jane Ann Burlinson residing at West Hallum Wharf near Derby England to accept this charge and to fulfil the conditions set forth above, for my mother’s guidance I also request the Rev W Douglas, Wesleyan minister now residing at Durban, Natal and the aforesaid sister Mrs JA Burlinson to act as my executors and to see these requests fully carried out.” By 1901 Matthew’s mother, Margaret had been widowed and had moved to Valentia to look after his brothers, Lamcelot and Thomas who were both serving there as telegraphists. It is possible that Matthew’s daughters Gertie and Minnie were also being cared for by Mrs Hutchinson at some point in the 1890s but that was not the case in 1901. There was no mention of Matthew’s wife Minnie in his will. Indeed, though she was still alive, she was being treated as though she either could not, or should not, look after the girls. Perhaps the death of Rose Amy had affected her mental health to the extent that she could no longer cope?
Matthew and Minnie Hutchinson, Durban, 1888
Matthew and Minnie Hutchinson, Durban, 1888
The Decline and Death of Minnie Everist Graves
Several letters survive from this time which were written to Minnie senior, but none of them contains an address for her, so it is quite unclear where she was living. One letter from her sister Lavinia, written sometime between 1896 and 1900 expresses the wish that she could be living at Bay View (Valentia) instead of “Doughty”. There does not seem to be a settlement called “Doughty” in the UK but there is a Doughty Street in London EC. The same letter asks, “How is little Minnie and Gerty? This possibly suggests that the girls are again living with their mother. “Love and kisses to Minnie and Gerty also yourself and Matt” may suggest that the whole family was again united as a unit, though a year later that clearly was not so.
The Blockley family archive also contains a bizarre letter from February, 1898 written by Minnie Hutchinson senior to her children. It is full of unnecessary abbreviations, eg “I h’v not heard f’m Papa since the day after dear Grandma Grave’s b’day”. It appears that Gertie and Minnie junior are now living with their father. In October of the same year Minnie senior wrote to daughter Gertie. This letter does not contain abbreviations but did contain the news that she was ill. “I am better I’ve spit blood 36 times since Sophie came.” She also signed herself “MEHu”. Minnie Everist Graves died on 25 June 1899 at Coulsdon, which lies just south of Croydon. A note inside an in memorium card in the archive says, “Minnie Hutchinson asked to see her father and mother a short time before death. She knew that she was dying and was visited by the chaplain. She was sensible almost up to the last.” Minnie died at the early age of 34.
The Death of Matthew Dobinson Hutchinson
Matthew Dobinson Hutchinson appears to have continued working as a telegraphist in southern Africa throughout the 1890s, either for the Eastern Telegraph Company or one of its subsidiaries. In 1900 he was stationed in Mozambique and on 3 April he died of some unspecified disease at the age of 39. His daughters were in England at the time, because the archive contains a moving letter to Gertie from Mrs Ellen Chambers, wife of the Eastern Telegraph Company superintendent in Mozambique. She tried to give Gertie hope and encouragement to face the future and to feel pride in her father. Mrs Chambers also gave an account of the medical tribulations that Matthew Hutchinson had born while in Mozambique. “Your poor father had been troubled with what are called Mocambique boils all over him, ever since last December (1899) but after the first few weeks he was cheerful about them and used to say they were getting better, he thought.” This was a reference to Tumbu flies or Putsi. It is a species of blowfly which lays its eggs on the ground or on drying washing. When the larvae hatch they crawl until they contact a large mammal, including humans, when they burrow into the skin, forming the characteristic “boils”, which have a small breathing hole at the top. They are difficult to dislodge but eventually reach adulthood and disperse. Mozambique Boils are unlikely to have been the cause of Matthew’s death. Mrs Chambers relates that Matthew contracted a fever at the end of March 1900, with a temperature of 102F on 31 of that month. His temperature continued to rise, to a claimed 111F, when he expired. Matthew was buried in the local cemetery on 4 April, next to another telegraphy clerk who had died at the station. The nature of Matthew’s infection is not known but could have been malaria.
Gertrude Hutchinson (1885 – 1948) and Minnie Hutchinson (1890 – 1970)
Probate over Matthew Hutchinson’s estate was granted to his sister, Jane Ann Burlinson, rather than to his mother, Margaret Dobinson, presumably because she was occupied in Valentia looking after her other two sons. It also emerged that Matthew had established a home at 51 St James Road Derby and that is where his sister, Jane was living with Gertie and Minnie, now aged 15 and 10. Jane Burlinson’s husband John David was a colliery agent. Matthew left a gross estate of just over £525 (about £62,500 in 2017 money). Matthew also held life assurance policies and there was a pay-out from the Eastern and South African Telegraph Company’s pension fund, so the two girls were left financially secure.
Minnie and Gertie Hutchinson, Valentia, 1910
FitzGerald's Hotel Cart, 1910
Boating, Valentia, 1910
Minnie and Gertie Hutchinson, Valentia, 1910
FitzGerald's Hotel Cart, 1910
Boating, Valentia, 1910
In the summer of 1910, Gertie and Minnie spent a holiday in Valentia, Minnie being very active with her camera. It is clear that the Hutchinson girls were very popular and were accompanied everywhere by a bevy of cousins both male and female, at least one of the males paying very close attention to Minnie, so much so that her sister wrote on the back of one photo “Min what did you do to him?”. Other notable photos show James Graves being driven in a dog cart and a youthful gang of cousins riding on a horse-drawn cart with “Fitzgerald’s Hotel, Cahirciveen” written across the back.
At the 1911 Census, Gertie and Minnie were living together in their own house in Derby. Gertie was working as a clerk for a cotton waste manufacturer and Minnie was a dressmaker on her own account. They must have wondered how the future would pan out for them, given that they were a self-supporting, orphaned family unit. The solution proved to be that they married two brothers, Percy and John Henry Blockley, sons of Charles Blockley, a railway carriage builder. Minnie married Percy in 1915 and Gertie married John Henry in 1913.
James Graves, Valentia, 1910
James Graves, Valentia, 1910
The Death of James Graves
James Graves did not long outlast his wife, Ann Charlotte. He died on 14 January 1911, so Minnie Hutchinson’s photograph of him, taken the previous summer, was probably one of the last images of the great man to be recorded. In Valentia Church on 15 January, the Rev GL Swaine devoted much of his sermon to the memory of the Valentia telegraph station’s first superintendent. As well as being a devoted leader of the station, he had also been a devoted supporter of the Church of Ireland. The Rev Swaine said, “Shortly before Mr Graves came to Valentia it took at least a month to communicate with America and get a reply. His last work in the world was to set forth the statement of the Parochial accounts with his customary care and accuracy. At the time of the disestablishment when to many it seemed uncertain if not impossible that the worship of the God of our fathers could be maintained as aforesaid, he was amongst those who freely gave of their best that the means for such worship should be ensured.”
Atlantic Villa, Valentia, 1910
Atlantic Villa, Valentia, 1910
The funeral of James Graves was held on 19 January at Kilbeg cemetery “amidst expressions of regret from all creeds and classes”. His coffin was carried from Atlantic Villa to the parish church by relatives, where the Rev Swaine conducted the brief service. Then relays of bearers – telegraphers, police, coastguards and islanders - transported James Graves’ mortal remains on their shoulders to the burial ground. There was a large bevy of mourners, as befits a man who had been on Valentia for 46 years in such a prominent and, for the island, economically-important role. Clergy, JPs, doctors, staff from the rival telegraph stations at Ballinskelligs and Waterville and the likes were all well-represented. Also, James was a man with an extended family and many of his children, sons-in-law and grandsons and their families attended to pay their respects.
Grave of James and Ann Charlotte Graves
Grave of James and Ann Charlotte Graves
Probate on the will of James Graves was granted to James Graves’ eldest son, Arthur James, with power reserved to appoint his second son Walter John, if necessary. The personal estate amounted to £8557 (more than £924,000 in 2017 money). He had become wealthy through his endeavours, though he gave away a significant amount of his money to his children during life. Arthur James inherited Atlantic Villa and a “Royal Pedigree” manuscript. £200 was left to each executor, £200 to his sister, Edith and £100 to his sister-in-law Georgina. The residue of the estate was split evenly between his surviving children and (one share) to the children of the late Minnie Everist.
James Graves, though a coincidence of time and place became a telegrapher by accident, when his path to a teaching career was blocked. He entered the telegraphy industry near the start of the great expansion of this, then radically new, means of communication. He played a crucial role in ensuring quality control during the manufacture of the 1865 and 1866 Atlantic cables and he was head of the Valentia telegraph station for near half a century. He remained for most of his working life in this wild and restive outpost of the British Isles, though it would be easy to argue that he stayed in the same job for far too long. He saw telegraphy through its heyday, when the telegrapher was a highly-paid operative, though to a period when nimble brains were less important, as automation started to replace the telegraphist’s transcription skills. Following the demise of the telegraphic industry in the 1960s and the rise of the satellite and the microwave link. The inexorable rise of digital technology, the creation of the internet and the advent of optical fibre cables with their massive bandwidths, tend to obscure how revolutionary was the telegraphic industry of near two centuries ago. How fitting then that Valentia island and its cable station is now the subject of significant attempts to document this communications revolution and to make its achievements widely known. How fitting too that tourists should now seek out these locations and be able to learn of the years of dedication and achievement of men such as James Graves.