London, South Kensington
1 April 2015
[JAMES KEMPT (c.1765-1854)]
[St. Lawrence Telegraph. Quebec: 1809]. 8º (224 x 95mm). 28 leaves including preliminary blank, unpaginated. Woodcut figure of the telegraph. Red morocco-backed cloth by Sangorski and Sutcliffe.
Between 1807 and 1811 Kempt was quartermaster general in British North America, and in 1809, the date of this pamphlet, promoted colonel. In 1811 he was transferred to the staff of the Duke of Wellington on the Iberian Peninsula, with the rank of major-general, fighting with gallantry and distinction in the campaigns of 1813–14. His proposal for telegraphic communication, presumably from station to station along the St. Lawrence, is ingenious but somewhat impractical. Evidently published without a title, the succession of headings read: ‘The Telegraph’ (1p.), ‘Description of the Telegraph’ (1p.), ‘Instructions for the Use of the Telegraph’, signed by Kempt and dated Head-Quarters, Quebec, 1 April 1809 (2pp.), and ‘Numerical Alphabet’ (1p.). At the end is a thumb-index of key words with the numbers chosen to represent them (24pp.). The simple idea is that ‘Words are represented by numbers as arranged in the annexed vocabulary’; in turn the numbers are symbolically represented by balls hanging from the lower and upper yard arm of the telegraph. Thus the number ‘1611’, when signalled, means ‘Lawrence –St. – River – Gulph’.
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