Happy birthday Samuel Morse


You can convert this online if you can’t read dots and dashes.

– — -.. .- -.– / .. … / – …. . / -… .. .-. – …. -.. .- -.– / — ..-. / … .- — ..- . .-.. / — — .-. … . –..– / -… — .-. -. / .- .–. .-. .. .-.. / ..— –… – …. / .—- –… —-. .—-

Morse code, the simplest, if very long winded form of electronic/radio signalling.  Can be replicated using signal lights also.  Takes very little bandwidth.  Morse code is not dead yet, and may never be.

I love the story of Morse code and Baltimore in West Cork, Ireland.  In the days of transatlantic sailing the ships from Britain, France, Germany and the rest of Europe left via the “Western Approach” which skirted the south west coast of Ireland.  One of the earliest telegraph lines in Ireland ran from Dublin to Baltimore in West Cork.  An early submarine telegraph ran across the Irish Sea and connected West Cork to the London Market.

Packages were telegraphed to Baltimore in West Cork by Morse Code.  They were pasted onto letters, and placed in the mail.  Then a pilot cutter would sail out to the departing liners and deliver the very last mail to the ships for the New York market.

When the Liners arrived from New York they placed their urgent letters on the pilot cutter on the way East.  The boat sailed into Baltimore and the messages were telegraphed to London.

The local business people in Baltimore realised that for a short few years, before a working transatlantic cable was laid, they lived on a gold mine.  A smart businessman with a fat pocket and a trading account could make a lot of money by buying the right stocks and shares before the news reached the markets.  The smart businessmen living in Baltimore made sure their telegraphs to London arrived on the trading floor before the news from New York.  In the process some fat pockets got even fatter.

A poor telegraph operator might open the mail packets and slowly stack them up in preparation for sending them.  He might then wait for ten minutes while a smart businessman wrote an instruction and put it to the front of the queue.  I’m pretty sure the poor telegraph operator was rewarded handsomely for the favour.  That would be pretty standard good neighbourliness in a place like West Cork.


Lutine Bell in Lloyd's of London

Lutine Bell in Lloyd’s of London

The french word “lutin” is translated as “imp” in English.  The feminine form is usually translated as a “sprite”. In truth the realm of the faery world is poorly understood by humans and it is difficult to nail down exactly what a sprite is.  Sprites can be fairies, imps, pixies, elves, dryads and so on.

To my mind the correct translation of Lutine should be Nymph, a nubile female spirit who is associated with water.  There were nymphs associated with lakes, pools and rivers, but also nymphs of the sea.  The most famous of these were the Nereids and in particular Thetis, who married Peleus and gave birth to Achilles.

The name Lutine was given to a frigate of the Royal French Navy.  Originally called the “St Jean” she was berthed at Toulon during the siege that made the reputation of Napoleon.  The British under Admiral Hood took the ship and renamed her the HMS Lutine.

In Oct 1799 the Lutine was carrying gold bullion to Germany when she went aground on a sandbank in the West Frisian Islands.  She sank with total loss of crew and cargo with only one survivor from a crew and passengers numbering over 240.  Also lost was the shipment of gold.  Despite many attempts only a fraction of the bullion has been recovered.

Some timbers from the ship were salvaged and made into a chair for the Chairman at Lloyd’s who bore the insurance.  Also salvaged was the Lutine bell, which hangs in Lloyd’s to this day, where it marks especially important occasions.

Originally the Lutine Bell was rung to mark the fate of an overdue vessel to the trading community, so that everyone would get the information at the same time.  It rang once for a loss and twice for a safe return.  The bell now has a crack and the practice of ringing for returned ships has ceased.

During the second world war the German propagandist Lord Haw Haw quipped that the Lutine bell never stopped ringing during the war of the Atlantic.  In actual fact it rang only once during the war, when the Royal Navy sank the Bismarck

No man is an island,
entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
for I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
for whom the bell tolls,
it tolls for thee.

……………………John Donne