"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.
Wavescan, January 5, 2014
Focus on Asia: Early Wireless Experiments in India
It was back in the year 1849, more than 1-1/2 centuries ago, that the first wireless experiments took place in old British India. At the time, the illustrious 30 year old German speaking Queen Victoria was on the throne in England; there were just 30 states in the United States; and India was under the control of the East India Company. The capital city of India back then was Calcutta, the 2nd largest city in the British Empire, with London as the largest.
In the said year, 1849, Dr. Sir William O'Shaughnessy, Superintendent of Telegraphs in Calcutta, successfully transmitted wireless signals across the Huldee River, 3/4 mile wide. He laid two wires along the banks of the River Huldee, one on each side, with a metal plate at each end of each wire, with the metal plates immersed in the water.
The active wire was powered from 250 battery cells filled with nitric acid and a platinum electrode in each, making the project prohibitively expensive. Communication was achieved across the wide river, though with difficulty. Nine years later, he performed a similar experiment across the waters of Lake Ootacamund in Tamilnadu South India.
A subsequent superintendent of the Indian Telegraph Department was a Mr. Blissett. In 1858, he conducted similar wireless experiments with the use of a long wire on each bank of a river and in this way achieved fair success.
In 1873, a Mr. Winter in India made some astute observations regarding cross modulation of Morse signals between parallel telegraph wires on the same poles.
An electrician with the telegraph department, Mr. Schwendler, carried out similar cross-river communications in the same way as his predecessors. His experiments were conducted across the River Hooghly at Barrackpore, near Calcutta, using parallel wires with metal plates submerged in the water. That was in the year 1876.
Another subsequent electrician with the telegraph department was Mr. W. P. Johnston and he repeated the same experiments across a nearby waterway 200 yards wide. That was on September 9, 1879. Nine years later, he carried out many similar experiments across nearby canals in the Calcutta area, and also across the River Hooghly itself.
Mr. Johnston died in April 1889, and his position was taken over by Mr. Melhuish, who also conducted similar experiments with the use of water as a conducting medium. He discovered that the wires lying on the bank on each side of the river need to be at least as long as the river is wide, in order to achieve reliable communication.
It should be remembered that all of these early wireless experiments in India involving cross-water communication during the 1800s were conducted in Morse Code.
The first experimental work on the transmission and reception of radio signals in India was carried out by Dr. Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose. He was born in 1858 near Dhaka in Bangladesh, though in those days that territory formed part of the province of Bengal in old British India.
It was towards the end of the year 1894 that Bose began his experimentation with wireless; and in November 1895, he gave a public demonstration in the Calcutta Town Hall with Bengal's Lieutenant Governor Sir William Mackenzie in attendance. In this public demonstration, Bose transmitted wireless signals at a wavelength of just 1/2 inch over a distance of 75 ft. through several solid walls. He also used a wireless signal to ring a bell at a distance, and to fire a gun remotely.
On two separate occasions, Bose gave public lectures in London, England in which he presented details of his wireless experiments in Calcutta, India. His 1897 lecture was before the Royal Institution, and two years later his lecture was before the Royal Society. In his 1899 presentation, Bose gave details of the coherer receiver that he had developed, and it is understood that the young Italian experimenter Marconi incorporated the Bose coherer in his own subsequent public demonstrations in England.
The Amazing Story of Three Early Wireless Stations in China
Immediately after the end of World War 1, the Marconi company in England took out a contract in 1918 to erect three wireless stations in remote areas of interior China. These three stations were planned for installation at Urga, Urumchi and Kashgar. As an additional part of the contract, Marconi would provide 600 portable wireless stations for local and regional communication.
Urga means "Residence" in the Mongolian language and it was the old name for Ulaan Baatar in what is now Mongolia. Urumchi is located in north west China; the name means "Beautiful Pasture" in the Mongolian language and it was a major hub along the famous ancient trade route between Asia and Europe, the Silk Road. Kashgar means "Mount Kash" in the old Persian language and it is located in the far west of China; it was an oasis along this same famous Silk Road.
In 1919, Major S. T. Dockray was commissioned by the Marconi company to install the three wireless stations, each at 25 kW, in the three remote areas of interior China. The first station was intended for installation at Urga/Ulaan Baatar, and a large consignment of wireless equipment was shipped from England to Shanghai on coastal China, including three steel towers each 100 ft. long and weighing more than 300 tons.
This huge consignment of wireless equipment was taken by rail to Kalgan (which means "Frontier Gate") in Chinese Inner Mongolia and then by camel and bullock cart across the Gobi Desert to Mongolia, a distance of 800 miles. Ultimately, this new wireless station was installed, tested and taken into regular service, and Dockray journeyed back into China, to Peking, or Beijing as it is known today.
However, in Peking, Dockray discovered that the Mongolian station was silent, so he made an arduous return journey to Urga, only to discover that the area was in the midst of a local war. He re-activated the wireless station, which was then badly damaged by artillery fire. He was arrested as an English spy, he escaped, was subsequently quarantined during a raging epidemic of Bubonic Plague, and ultimately returned to Peking.
When the local war in Mongolia was terminated and the area was taken over again by the central government, Dockray once again returned to Urga and re-activated the station once more. However, there were still two more stations to be installed, one at Urumchi and the other at Kashgar.
Dockray journeyed to inland Fengchen where he arranged an enormous caravan to convey the massive pile of wireless equipment to distant Urumchi. This caravan, considered to be the world's largest ever, was made up of 1,200 camels, 468 horses and 117 bullock carts.
When everything arrived at Urumchi, the local army general at first resisted the installation of the station. However, when all obstacles were finally overcome, this new station was activated in August 1922.
It took another journey of two months duration to move from Urumchi to Kashgar, across rugged mountain ranges and swift flowing rivers. This station, the third in the Marconi wireless network in China, was completed and activated in May 1923, five and six years since the beginning of the project way back in 1918.
The project director, Major S. T. Dockray, returned to Peking from Kashgar, via the Mintaka Pass in the high Himalayas into Kashmir, down to Calcutta and then by ship back to coastal China. When he finally arrived back in Peking, he discovered to his delight that all three stations, Urga, Urumchi and Kashgar, were all still active and on the air.