March 24, 1997
(Tourism, Culture and Recreation)
Matthew's New Communication System
Follows Marconi's Lead
Sandra Kelly, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation,
received the first trans-Atlantic telephone call today which
originated from on board the Matthew. The call was the
first using the new communications system which was installed by
Stratos Mobile Network. Matthew Captain David
Alan-Williams made the call to the CBC Radio studios in St.
John's where it was received by Ms. Kelly and Derrick Rowe, CEO
of Stratos Mobile Network.
"The Captain made the call as the Matthew was
sailing down the English coast near Cornwall," the minister
said. "Marconi made the first wireless transmission from St.
John's to Poldhu in Cornwall, England. The first trans-Atlantic
cable link also originated from Great Britain to Heart's Content,
Newfoundland. Today we've established yet another connection
between Britain and Newfoundland."
The Matthew has just been fitted with a
state-of-the-art satellite communications system which allows it
to make international telephone, television and computer
connections. Ms. Kelly and Mr. Rowe received the "live"
call during the CBC's Radio Noon.
The Matthew has just completed a successful series of
sea trials in anticipation of the trans-Atlantic voyage to
Newfoundland and Labrador. The ship is scheduled to depart
Bristol, England on May 2 to arrive in Bonavista on June 24 and
then to 16 other ports of call on the island and one in Labrador.
Ms. Kelly congratulated Captain David Alan-Williams on the sea
trials, and told him that the people of the province are very
excited about the event. Captain Alan-Williams made a special
point to invite school children to follow the voyage via the
internet which is now available in every school in Newfoundland
Contact: Laura Cochrane, Director of Communications, (709)
A Brief History of Tele-communications
Between the Old World and the New World
- Newfoundland became a crucial link in communication
between the New World and the Old World in the 17th and
18th centuries. The province, then a British colony,
would play an important role in the global communications
revolution which followed the invention of the electric
telegraph in 1837.
- By mid-century, a vast network of telegraph lines
connected the major population centres in Europe and on
the North American mainland. But the 2,000-mile wide
Atlantic Ocean separated them and remained as a major
- In 1851, Frederick Gisborne, an English telegraphic
engineer, projected a trans-Newfoundland telegraph line
with a submarine cable link across the Cabot Strait to
- After Gisborne became bankrupt three years later, an
American syndicate, Cyrus W. Field, took charge of the
project. The Cabot Strait cable was only a beginning for
Field. He was determined to complete a submarine
trans-Atlantic cable line, connecting Europe and America
- After an unsuccessful attempt in the summer of 1855,
Field's New York, Newfoundland, and London Telegraph Co.,
succeeded in laying a submarine cable across the Cabot
Strait in 1856.
- The Newfoundland government telegraph service began in
1877. While a trans-Newfoundland cable was being laid,
Field occupied himself with designing a submarine cable
and negotiated $1.25 million for the trans-Atlantic
operation. It was decided to use stranded copper as a
core conductor insulated with layers of "gutta
percha", a rubber-like extract from Malaya. This
material was then, in turn, protected by an outer
covering of pitch, tar, and wax.
- In August 1857, the USS Niagara and the HMS Agamemnon
made two unsuccessful attempts to lay the cable from
Valentia, Ireland to Bull Arm, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland
(the present-day site of the Hibernia oil-rig, the
world's largest engineering feat). Three more attempts
were made in June 1858. Finally, on the sixth attempt in
July, each vessel landed its end of the cable at the
- This superb achievement was celebrated on both sides of
the Atlantic. However, disappointment followed after two
months when an unknown rupture in the cable occurred and
ruined its conductivity.
- In 1864, Field began making a new cable superior to the
one previously laid. It was manufactured in a single
length, 2,300 nautical miles long and weighing 5,000
tons. A large ship was needed to carry such a gigantic
cable. In 1864, there was only one vessel suitable, The
Great Eastern. She attempted to lay the cable in 1865
from Valentia to Heart's Content, but due to incidents of
sabotage, lost the cable and her lifting gear 1,200 miles
out to sea. In 1866, they tried again and this time
succeeded after an uneventful voyage across the Atlantic.
A week later, a second trans-Atlantic cable landed at
Heart's Content. Festivities on both sides of the
Atlantic were held to celebrate the greatest
technological achievement of the age.
- Victoria Station at Heart's Content remained in service
until 1965 after trans-ocean telephone cable and
satellite communication made it obsolete.
- The first telephone was installed in Newfoundland in
- On December 12, 1901, at 12:30 p.m. Newfoundland time,
Guglielmo Marconi proved that wireless telegraphy could
span the Atlantic Ocean. The signal in morse code, the
letter "S", was faintly received on top of
Signal Hill in St. John's, from Poldhu, Cornwall,
England, 1,250 miles away. It was the first trans-
Atlantic wireless signal. Initially, Marconi had planned
to try to receive the signal from Cape Cod,
Massachusetts. However, after the antenna in Poldhu was
damaged in a storm, he changed his location to St. John's
due to its closeness to Poldhu.
- Marconi began setting up in a receiving station in an old
military barracks on Signal Hill, then being used as a
hospital. He and his assistants made several attempts to
elevate an aerial using 14-foot balloons and kites which
captivated the attention of St. John's residents. Finally
a fixed support for the aerial was constructed around
noon on Thursday, December 12, 1901.
- Heinrich Hertz discovered electromagnetic waves in 1888.
Marconi began experimenting with them in 1894-95 over
distances of up to 1 1/2 miles in Italy, his home
- Marconi relocated to England in 1895 after the Italian
government refused his offer of a demonstration. In June
1896, he conducted his first official tests and became
known as the inventor of the wireless. However, Marconi's
contribution was an improvement to the existing
- In 1897, Marconi founded the Wireless Telegraph and
Signal Company Limited, and two years later he sent the
first message across the English Channel, a distance of
32 miles. But there were two obstacles to Marconi's work.
First, the British Post Office had a monopoly of all
telegraphic communications in Britain, and similar
restrictions existed in many other countries. It was
obvious that if his company was to succeed, it would have
to compete with the undersea cable companies. Secondly,
some members of the scientific community did not believe
Marconi's distance claims on theoretical grounds - that
electromagnetic waves, like light, could not bend around
the surface of the earth. In the 1920s, a reflecting
layer was discovered. In order to prove his theory, he
decided to choose a distance with more grandeur in order
to capture people's attention. He chose transmitting
across the Atlantic Ocean.
- The transmitting station was constructed at Poldhu Cove
in southwest Cornwall between October 1900 and March
1901. Marconi then selected a site for the second station
at South Wellfleet on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He also
had initially intended on a two- way transmission, but
following the storm in Poldhu which toppled 20 masts of
the antenna system, and risking his credibility as well
as his L50,000 investment, Marconi elected sending a
one-way message from Poldhu.
- Marconi made other attempts to repeat the feat the
following day using kites, but three kites blew away. His
assistant also tried attaching an antenna wire to an
iceberg in the Narrows in St. John's, but this also
failed. Instead, Marconi broke the news to his London
office and to the media world-wide.
- As a result of a 50-year agreement between the
Anglo-American Telegraph Company and the British
Government in 1854, Marconi did not receive permission to
erect a wireless station in Newfoundland. Instead,
Marconi accepted an offer from the Nova Scotian
government and established the first wireless telegraph
office at Tablehead, Glace Bay, Cape Breton in 1902.
Consequently, the first transatlantic wireless service
began on December 15.
- It wasn't until 1933 that the Canadian Marconi Company
opened a wireless communication station in Newfoundland,
on the second floor of Cabot Tower on Signal Hill.