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H.M. WIRELESS STATION

HISTORY

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History

Guglielmo Marconi began experimenting with wireless communication in 1894 in Bologna, Italy. On December 12th 1901, he successfully tested long distance wireless telegraphy, communicating between Poldhu, Cornwall and Signal Hill, Newfoundland. Kites were used to hold the aerial aloft to receive the signal- three dots of the letter "S" in Morse code. Although the wire telegraph and telephone were already in widespread use by 1901, wireless technology promised communication with ships and with remote areas, where laying wires would be difficult.

Despite of the advantages of using wireless communication for navigation, when the Titanic sank in 1912, stations were still unreliable and unregulated. The British Admiralty commissioned the Marconi telegraph company to establish a system of stations around the world, to create a reliable wireless communications network. The need for such stations became even more crucial during World War One, when the stations were used to monitor not only navigational routes, but also to intercept enemy transmissions.

As part of this global network, H.M. Wireless Station, Mount Pearl, was built in 1915 by the Marconi Telegraph Company for the British Admiralty to transmit, receive and intercept Morse code messages.

H.M.S. Calypso (renamed Briton in 1916) supplied armed guards and operators to the Wireless Station from the Royal Newfoundland Naval Reserve.

An unconfirmed story of a sabotage attempt comes from Fred Adams, a St. John's historian. During the winter of 1917, Bernard Groves, age 15, was on guard at the station. His suspicions were aroused by two unusual heaps of snow. When he saw one of the heaps move, he drew his rifle and ordered identification. He was shocked when two Germans stood with arms raised in surrender. According to Fred Adams, the agents were dropped by a German U-boat at Bay Bulls and ordered to walk to Mount Pearl to blow up the station. A former Newfoundland resident who returned to Germany just before the war was rumored to be involved, providing the German government with information about the landscape and coastline.

In 1918, the Marconi Company transferred control of the station to Naval authorities.

In 1918, a staff member was killed in the "spark room," where high levels of electricity were used to amplify messages for transmission.

After the war, the station continued to assist with navigation, tracking icebergs and monitoring ship distress signals. In February 1918, when the S.S. Florizel ran aground at Cappahayden, the station received the single distress call. In 1919, the station was the first station to receive a signal from the British airship R-34, the first dirigible to cross the Atlantic.

After 1922, operations at the station were reduced to care and maintenance. In 1924 the station was permanently closed and by 1925, the station had been decommissioned and its contents auctioned off. The building and property were sold to the Parsons family in 1926, and incorporated into Bellview farm. The current building was used by the Parsons' until the 1960's, operating for some time as a boarding house. The Newfoundland Government retained the right to use the site and the towers for broadcasting.

In 1938, the first of the three towers was dismantled. The tower came down earlier than expected, crashing to the ground at 11:00 AM instead of the intended time of 2:00 PM. Despite the high level of danger, no-one was injured.

In 1939, the Commission Government of Newfoundland established a transmitting station at the western end of the building. Wires connected the station to the broadcast studio at the Hotel Newfoundland, and "VONF," the Voice of Newfoundland, transmitted to the Island via Mount Pearl's towers.

By 1954, the CBC (which had taken over the Broadcasting Company of Newfoundland after Confederation) decided to build a new transmitter nearby, rendering the two remaining 305-foot towers obsolete. One was taken down in 1954, the other on May 18th, 1955.

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