Chapter I. – Telegraphic Blunders, pp.13-15.

[Book of Blunders Contents]

THE telegraph does such magical work for us day by day, that its errors are apt to be forgotten in our admiration of its celerity and general accuracy. 

Yet, when the wires are affected by storms, or its clerks by carelessness, the telegraph makes dreadful blunders. In one case, the mere misplacing of a point was like to have embroiled two commercial firms in a lawsuit. The case was this: A  message was sent – 

   “You can have the hundred pieces at sixteen and nine. Thousand more at same rate.” 

As delivered in London it read – 

   “You can have the hundred pieces at sixteen, and nine thousand more at same rate,” 

– on which understanding or misunderstanding, the goods were ordered. 

At a meeting of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, Mr Horsfall, M.P., complaining of the irregularity and incorrectness of the Anglo-Indian telegraph, instanced a message sent to one gentleman in Calcutta, to inform him that his wife [in England] has presented him 

   “with a fine daughter.” 

The message informed him instead, that his wife had presented him 

   “with five daughters.” 

In another case, a husband, anxiously awaiting news of an interesting event at home, received, per wire, the staggering announcement – 

   “Your wife had a fine box this morning!” 

A curious case occurred some years since in Canada. A well known politician being ill at Toronto, the message was sent by wire to his family – 

   “Mr Brown is no worse.” 

The family got it – 

   “Mr Brown is no more,” 

and at once sent on a special train for his remains. In another case, a gentleman who had ordered his gig to await him at the station, was understood from the telegram to require the attendance of his pig

The following story was told me by a clergyman in Philadelphia. A preacher, who had accepted a call to a pastoral charge in a Western State, was prevented from starting on the day appointed by reason of the want of a quorum to proceed with his ordination. A telegram was accordingly despatched to the deacons – 

   “Presbytery lacked a quorum to ordain.” 

Before these words reached their destination they had got themselves twisted into the following extraordinary shape:- 

   “Presbytery tacked a worm on to Adam.” 

The deacons on receipt of this message, were utterly bamboozled – could make nothing of it; but, after long consultation, came to the conclusion that their new minister had got married, and that this was his facetious way of making them aware of it. they accordingly took the supposed hint, and provided lodgings for two instead of one. 

Reference has already been made to the telegraphic service between this country and India. it is now, all circumstances considered, wrought with wonderful accuracy; but for some months at first, the despatched having to pass through the hands of foreign clerks, arrived in a state of confusion sufficiently ludicrous to those who had not to pay for them and were not required to make sense of them. The following, which appeared in the Bombay Gazette a few weeks after the opening of the line, is worth preserving:- 

   “It is due to this new line of communication,” says the Gazette, “that we should acknowledge in our overland summary the remarkable service it has rendered to India as a means of transmitting public news and private advices. The following telegrams, printed as received, speak for themselves; they are Reuter’s:- 

   “London, 17th – Alderman salomon titus salt baromds crawfords refused corranclay another agriablan assination ireland carecton butury catholic archbishop Armach.” 

   22nd – letter popp Rumming Cumming contat allapnon – Catholics anter encomical Concil for discussion from already contend abitury generally chained hoals. Napoleon audience to Lord Clarendon prince prussian coming COnstantinople after chetir suez brashop exited.” 

   “29th. Spisow clarundas al ounheral association… influence on bestiwos Europe and believe at no time since prussians austrian paer existed faviar paus pant monte montement blessing peace.” 

It would be interesting to know what the Bombay Gazette made of these remarkable announcements.

TelegraphIllustration London Illustrated

“Coiling the Atlantic telegraph cable in one of the tanks on board the Great Eastern,” ‘Illustrated London News,’ Feb. 11, 1865, p.129 – from RSH’s newspaper collection.

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