William Fothergill Cooke


William Fothergill Cooke : biography

4 May 1806 – 25 June 1879

This earliest dated entry of "November 30, 1836" that is found in Cooke’s journal is significant, in that the astronomy lecture was likely by Professor William Ritchie (physicist) himself of the London University. Astronomy was part of the curriculum study that he gave during his lectures at the university where Ritchie taught astronomy and natural philosophy. A holograph signature and title accomplished by Ritchie, citing his position at the London University, is also found on the frontis page to the journal. This, and other journal references to Ritchie, historically asserts a strong link that Ritchie had become Cooke’s foundational connection toward suggesting and recommending a person capable in producing for Cooke his first telegraph equipment. It was all at once, just after Cooke had returned to his country-land, that he began making his inquiry into the issue of locating competent craftsmen to do the work from the telegraph designs he generated.

What crystallized Cooke’s interest in the telegraph actually came to him after the 1836 Moncke demonstration of the Shilling telegraph principles, when he became inspired reading Mrs. Somerville’s "Connection of the Physical Sciences" while traveling to Frankfort. As his own letters and writings that have been published, sent to his mother confirm, once back in London, Cooke sought out proficient machinist and clockmaker practitioners there.

At the London University, there was a man by the name of Francis Kerby , who acted as assistant and curator of instruments to both Dr. Dionysius Lardner and Dr. William Ritchie (physicist). Francis Kerby had been widely published in the 1810s and 1820s pertinent to his discussions on theoretical chemistry. Frederick A. Kerby , a son of Francis Kerby, had become a philosophical and mathematical instrument maker, or more simply, as Cooke often called Frederick Kerby, a "mechanician." By the time Kerby was 20 years of age, a "mechanician" had become his avocation. Through Ritchie, evidence found in the newly discovered Cooke journal, all reveals that Cooke must have been introduced to the young Kerby – who became one of two main craftsmen Cooke chose to make his first experimental telegraphs. Moore of Clerkenwell would be the main clock maker for providing the drive mechanisms for Cooke’s apparatus.

Most noteworthy, it is documented that Frederick Kerby had made apparatus as early as 1835 for Professor Wheatstone at King’s College, London.

Wheatstone and Cooke’s first patent granted on 12 June 1837 had been taken out within a month of their first meeting . The patent was "for improvements in giving signals and sounding alarms in distant places by means of electric currents transmitted through electric circuits."

There is one fact that is not fully known as yet by most telegraph historians. The fact is that Frederick A. Kerby’s father Francis, as mentioned prior herein, before his death in 1835, had worked under Professor William Ritchie (physicist) at the London University. This association that Francis Kerby had with Ritchie takes on more meaning when a closer look is given to William F. Cooke’s very first journal entry dated November 30, 1836. Revealed in Cooke’s hand is a very elaborate astronomy lecture that Cooke attended, along with mention of a "Dr. Ritchie theodolite." A theodolite was a high powered yet relatively compact telescope used for observing the heavens. Professor Ritchie taught astronomy and thus, the "Ritchie theodolite" designed by Ritchie himself becomes paramount here.

When Cooke met Professor Ritchie, Ritchie is the one person who likely recommended the young Kerby as a competent machinist. Ritchie is also mentioned on another page of the Cooke journal. Professor Ritchie had hand signed the journal himself while providing his position at the London University on the frontis as well. Professor Wheatstone had also signed this page in Cooke’s journal. These various points of interest, and the fact that Cooke himself signed the same frontis page as that of Ritchie and Wheatstone, not one, but several times as well – all substantiates the very strong connection that Cooke had with Professor William Ritchie. Thus, all of this points to none other than Frederick A. Kerby. This interesting Cooke / Ritchie manuscript journal ‘link’ shows very easily how Cooke, more so than not, became acquainted with Frederick Kerby; and how this would have quickly led to Kerby becoming Cooke’s machinist, and the key one of the two Cooke used, that Cooke would rely on most.