|Onda Semaphore Tower Wikimedia Commons|
To day communication plays a vital role without which it is impossible for us to exchange messages with our people and employers. Way past we had trunk calls - long distance phone calls for personal use and business. In the last one decade plus, the cell phone has revolutionised the communication; so is the Internet. Centuries ago during the early and middle ages, messages were exchanged between rulers of different region through horse-borne riders. In the US, messages and letters were sent from one place to other through phony express. How did the early English settlers in India handle the communication? How did they pass on the messages to their counterparts elsewhere?
|Dilakas Tower ...Surveying Empires|
Any stranger to West Bengal or other places close-by will mistake the tower for a chimney of a kiln. It is not a watch tower either to keep vigil for security reason as one would find it in the forts. In rural Bengal agricultural lands, the presence of such giant towers is an odd one. Tagged as ‘machans’ (watchtowers; in Bankura and Purila) or ‘girje’ (church; in Howrah and Hooghly) by the locals, the belief has been that in West Bengal Malla Kings had built these towers to discourage attacks from Maratha soldiers. Surprisingly, these giant towers were built for a purpose other than security reasons, etc. Believe it or not, these so called forgotten Semaphore Towers of India were built by none other than the earliest looters in the Indian subcontinent - the British East India Company which later became a proxy government for the British crown. The towers were meant to transmit messages across great distances, constituting a well-defined system of visual communication called the ‘
|Semaphore Tower at Khatirbazar, Howrah.Kinjal Bose - WordPress.com|
The above system was in use before the discovery of electrical telegraph. The apparatus consisting of two movable ‘arms’ (indicators) at either end of a crossbar or beam (regulator) that was mounted at right angles, in the middle, on a pole, was then fixed atop a tall brick or stone tower so that it was visible from a great distance.
|Interior of Andul Semaphore Tower. Live History India|
Claude Chappe’s invention of 1794 was implemented in England in 1813. The British, who were badly in need of a proper communication system to administer the vast subcontinent land, during 1816 -1830 introduced Semaphore system with the construction of series of towers between Calcutta's Fort William and Chunar Fort of Varanasi (Benaras) aligned as a straight line. The 80 to 90 feet tall towers had a spacing of 9.5 to 13 km between them to maintain the connectivity. This system of visual communication was not executed in other parts of India controlled by the East India company. This strange communication system quite prevalent in Europe became declined with the introduction of electric telegraph in India in 1854.