William Fothergill Cooke


William Fothergill Cooke : biography

4 May 1806 – 25 June 1879

Amazingly a portion of what was left by Wheatstone to King’s College, London in the form of actual apparatus held by the institution was dispersed through at Sotheby’s London public auctions in the mid-1990s. It was a minor assortment, but one piece did tragically include a small "ABC dial telegraph" model with an approximately 6 inch diameter circular shaped mahogany wood base.

In William Fothergill Cooke’s case however, his manuscript journal remains. Copying machines in Cooke’s time based on Scotsman James Watt’s 1780 invention were available but applicable only for use with separate sheets of paper, and not bound journals. Thus, Cooke had no choice but to actually leave his manuscript journal with Kerby, so that Frederick Kerby could work from the journal to make the telegraph instruments Cooke ordered Kerby to make. Conversely, during the arbitration process, Kerby would likely have kept Cooke’s manuscript journal for study as well; as Frederick Kerby was the key witness on Cooke’s behalf during the period of the Cooke and Wheatstone arbitration.

The discovery of Cooke’s manuscript journal contains substantial documentation in his own hand regarding the invention of the telegraph for future study by scholars, while Wheatstone seems to have left so little documentation in his own hand with regard to the inception of the telegraph; yet historians have credited more of the telegraph’s actual invention to Wheatstone.

Granted, the main aspect to making the telegraph system actually work over long distances, which had eluded William F. Cooke; was that of the electric relay. Briefly prior mentioned herein, Cooke was referred to Wheatstone at the time because Cooke had not overcome this obstacle during his early telegraph experiments following his witness of Moncke’s Heidelberg demonstration. As professor at King’s College, Wheatstone had conveniently gained knowledge of the use of electric relays utilizing finer coil windings for sending electric signals over long distances from Joseph Henry of America; when Henry had met with Wheatstone just after the partnership formation between Cooke and Wheatstone in 1837. This ‘stepped-up’ the electrical current and supported the needed application.

Few drawings were made in the journal by Cooke after the London and Blackwall Railway telegraph installation of July 1840, and even less after the arbitration ended by April 1841. One last entry was made by Cooke around the middle of 1842.

It has been noted by some historians however, that Cooke and Wheatstone were said to have had some discussion with Samuel F. B. Morse, the so-called "inventor" of the American telegraph; whereby they offered a proposal to Morse to act as an agent for introducing the successfully operating English Cooke and Wheatstone system of telegraphy – in America. Cooke and Wheatstone made this proposal to Morse sometime in 1840. This may actually have been discussed as early as Morse’s late 1838 meeting at Wheatstone’s King’s College, London chambers, when Morse visited Wheatstone and also Sir Humphry Davy; to view their telegraph work during Morse’s vain attempt to patent his telegraph in England at that time. Morse eventually would come to decline the proposal .

Not more than a year or so after this odd affair between Morse and Cooke and Wheatstone occurred, Frederick Kerby left England it appears late in 1842 for North America by ship with his young wife Charlott, taking along with him Cooke’s original manuscript journal comprising the inception of the Cooke and Wheatstone telegraph system .

Whether Wm. Fothergill Cooke had instructed Frederick Kerby to take his old telegraph journal to America, or ever realized that his journal was gone, or if he dismissed it as lost, or if Cooke even cared; history may never know.

Electric Telegraph Company (1846)

In August 1846 the Electric Telegraph Company was formed solely in conjunction with Cooke and John Lewis Ricardo, the other key principal, with the company paying Wheatstone £120,000 for Cooke and Wheatstone’s earlier patents.