Search

How Warley helped spread the English word in India

PUBLISHED: 17:28 17 December 2017

In India, goods were loaded on the backs of tall elephants. Picture: PA

In India, goods were loaded on the backs of tall elephants. Picture: PA

PA Archive/PA Images

A huge sub-continent, India has 22 major languages, many complex alphabets, and 1.3 billion people. Two elements underpin political unity – modern technology, and the use of English as a common language.

Brentwood made a forgotten contribution to both.

In 1837, the first telegraph systems were developed, by Cooke and Wheatstone in Britain, and Edison in America. Samuel Morse’s dot-dash code made it easy to send messages.

Until 1858, British India was run by the semi-state East India Company.

William O’Shaughnessy, a young Irish doctor working in Calcutta (Kolkata), began experiments to adapt the telegraph to Indian conditions.

In 1852, he returned to England and persuaded the Company’s directors to establish a 3,000-mile network around the sub-continent.

The East India Company had purchased an abandoned barracks at Warley, near Brentwood, in 1843, to train and support their army of soldiers from Britain which underpinned their dominance of the sub-continent.

The barracks included around 100 acres of Warley Common. Here O’Shaughnessy established his training camp.

Two miles of posts and cables were erected to teach teams of soldiers how to install telegraph wires under Indian conditions.

In Britain, starlings twittered on thin wires slung low alongside railway lines.

In India, huge storks and vultures had perched on O’Shaughnessy’s experimental telegraph. Destructive monkeys swarmed over them. It was impossible to use European-style thin wires.

O’Shaughnessy designed thick galvanised cables.

In India, goods were loaded on the backs of tall elephants. Telegraph wires had to be raised at least fourteen feet above the ground. This required strong poles, bolted into the ground to resist monsoon winds.

O’Shaughnessy also developed special lightning conductors, to prevent India’s savage electrical storms from knocking out the system.

He even designed a method for running the telegraph underground. Cables were cased in wooden sleepers, which were saturated in arsenic to deter white ants from eating them.

One winter day, the East India Company’s directors took a special train to Brentwood to inspect O’Shaughnessy’s project.

They were led by their chairman, Sir James Hogg, ancestor of colourful Tory politician Lord Hailsham.

The directors enjoyed watching a soldier demonstrate the strength of the cable by climbing along it. They watched admiringly as cannon were fired by remote control along six miles of coiled wire. The gunpowder flash was observed the instant the button was pressed.

Pleased with their visit, the directors adjourned to Brentwood’s White Hart (now the Sugar Hut) for a “cold collation”. There they drank toasts to the project, and congratulated themselves on their far-sightedness.

In 1857, India was convulsed by the Indian Mutiny, a national uprising against foreign rule.

At first, the telegraph helped the revolt. British officials panicked as the horrific news rapidly spread, and abandoned large areas of north India. However, eventually, the telegraph helped the British re-establish control through savage repression.

Like Twitter, the telegraph encouraged brief messages. When General Sir Colin Campbell relieved the British garrison besieged by rebels at Lucknow, jokers claimed he announced his arrival in Latin: Nunc fortunatus sum. (Sum = I am; nunc = now; fortunatus = lucky.) Translation: I’m in Lucknow!

In fact, the telegraph encouraged the use of English as India’s common language. Its simple Western alphabet was well suited to Morse code, unlike the complex writing systems of Indian languages.

Anybody who phones call centres will know that India is a world leader in telecommunications. It all began with a carefully rehearsed training programme at Warley in 1853.

Ford’s UK headquarters replaced Warley barracks in 1964. But the attractive garrison church, built in 1857, survives as the Royal Anglian Regiment’s chapel.

O’Shaughnessy was knighted in 1856. Another of his bright ideas causes problems today. O’Shaughnessy pioneered the medical use of cannabis as a pain killer, and our legal system still does not know how to respond.

Related articles

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Romford Recorder visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Romford Recorder staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Romford Recorder account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Latest Romford News Stories

07:00

House prices in Havering declined by 0.2 per cent in August despite witnessing a 1.5pc rise over the last 12 months.

Yesterday, 17:00

Hornchurch, Upminster and Romford are part of a large area that has been earmarked for conservation and community projects.

Yesterday, 17:00

Do you recognise this man? He stole a Help for Heroes charity tin from a Romford pub at the weekend.

Yesterday, 15:28

Russel Savory will be giving a talk this Wednesday.

Yesterday, 11:54

The man had a stab wound to his chest and a slash wound to his arm.

Yesterday, 11:43

Two gang members from Dagenham and Romford are among nine to be banned from making drill rap videos, wearing hoodies and riding bikes in a bid to crack down on crime.

Yesterday, 10:00

Budding athletes at an Upminster school used their swimming, cycling and running skills to compete in a triathlon event.

Yesterday, 07:50

The road in Elm Park has been misspelt since the 1960s and now the council is going to recognise the mistake with a commemorative plaque.

PROMOTED CONTENT

Vauxhall has completed its sport utility vehicle range with the third, and largest, Grandland X. We put the SUV, now available at Tony LeVoi in Romford, to the test.

“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining,” so the saying goes. So if some warm weather is making your conservatory uninhabitable, think about replacing its roof with a flat one and adding a roof lantern instead.

The next step in renewable energy could be right beneath your feet as you walk through a Romford shopping centre.

Newsletter Sign Up

Romford Recorder twice-weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Most read news

Show Job Lists

Education Promo

News from your area

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Romford Recorder
e-edition today

Subscribe

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now