A Modern Miracle Demonstrated

The Sydney Morning Herald

 20 October 1897

Wireless telegraphy has now been satisfactorily demonstrated by the London postal authorities, as we learn by cable, to be possible not only over short but also over long distances.

That seems to be the outcome of the secret experiments between Dover and the Firth of Forth, and the importance of the discovery hardly needs emphasising.

What it means is that civilisation has been made acquainted with another nineteenth century miracle, to be added to the brilliant discoveries already set down to the credit of the last sixty years of scientific research.

The telegraph was a modern miracle in itself, although the wonder became conventionalised to some extent by the visible means of communication.

 But now even the wire is to be superseded, and what we are asked to accept as a demonstrated fact is the claim that a message can be electrically conveyed, not only through such obstacles as stone walls, but over hundreds of miles of distance, without any other visible agency beyond the transmitter at one end and the receiver at the other.

The experiments made at the London Post Office some months ago were held to have conclusively established the reality of the thing so far as short distances were concerned, although the transmitting and receiving points were separated by substantial obstacles.

The young Italian inventor, Marconi, then showed a committee representing various civil, military, and naval branches of the service that he could send a message one hundred feet without wires and through six or more walls.

The experiments were made in St Martin's-le-Grand and duly attested.

Now the experiments are carried to the next stage, being successfully made to show that not only material obstacles, but even space itself, may be negotiated, and the message sent from one extremity of England and satisfactorily delivered beyond the other.  

The secret experiments made show a desire to keep the knowledge of details regarding this invention for the present from the public.

Curiosity must therefore rest satisfied with such information as has been furnished, but so far as the majority of people are concerned doubtless the mere fact that wireless telegraphy has been shown to be possible will sufficiently occupy public interest.

The discovery reminds us that it is only since 1837 - that is to say, within the compass of a single lifetime - that telegraphy itself has been practically known and utilised.

It is only just over fifty years since the first electric telegraph company was established in England, and nearly twenty years more elapsed before submarine cable communication was fairly established across the Atlantic.

To recall these dates is to bring vividly before the mind the utter modernness of telegraphy itself, and when we think of the large part it plays to-day in the major and minor concerns of public and private life much consideration is not required to realise how much of the history of the past it would have rendered frankly impossible had it been known, and how much the evolution of the future depends on this method of swift communication.

Yet it has always been apparent that telegraphic intelligence is continually at the mercy of interruption - that a wire may be cut, the circuit broken or misdirected, or the wire tapped by a clandestine connection.

Wireless telegraphy, though the mention of the thing seems at a first hearing to be something like a challenge to the human intelligence, undertakes to do away with   these dangers by abolishing the wire altogether.

Of course, in doing so, it may introduce another danger. In the present stage of information available it would certainly appear that half a dozen receivers within a radius affected by the electrical influence transmitted may have as much power to collect the news transmitted as one.

But that as well as the extent to which the newer system will supersede the old, are details for further investigation.

We are not told if the experiments conducted between Dover and the Firth of Forth imply that the messages were directly transmitted from the one point named to the other, or whether they were repeated from point to point along the route.

The difference means a good deal, apart from the marvel of the thing, for if a message can be sent unbroken over hundreds of miles, it practically allows, with but a few repetitions at best, for transmission over as many thousands.

This suggests another of the elements of wonder in the discovery, which in any case marks such stupendous advance since Galileo two hundred and sixty-five years ago predicted a time when it would be possible for men, by the vibration of magnetic needles, to exchange communication with each other over great distances.

The Morse system and multiplex telegraphy were remarkable advances in their respective ways, but this discovery of Marconi's bids fair to eclipse them all.

It is the latest in the long list of discoveries destined to make the nineteenth century famous in history, and give it a distinction of its own as the age par excellence of scientific achievement.

In electricity alone the recent advances of science have been as marvellous as a fairy tale. Early in the present year, as Lord Kelvin declared, the discovery of the Rontgen rays permitted us to look into some of the mysteries of nature, while several learned professors declared the event unparalleled in the history of physical science.

Tesla and Edison have since utilised the rays in the production of a new and more effective electric light.

It is not so very long since the American inventor gave the world the telephone and the phonograph, and only to make a list of the modern discoveries in connection with electricity and their application would fill a formidable document.

No doubt other centuries have appeared as wonderful to others as the present does to us, but it may fairly be doubted - whether we are rediscovering secrets forgotten in a former stage of the world's history, or inventing something absolutely new - if those who come after us will have any difficulty in apportioning the palm of scientific achievement.