Signal Stations during the Napoleonic Period and Afterwards - Some Miscellaneous Notes

Signal Stations :

Some miscellaneous notes on the early 19th Century Signal Stations which were established in 1795 and paid off at the Peace of Amiens circa March 1802 and were reactivated about 14 or so months later in May 1803:

Signal Stations on the South Coast from North Foreland to Land's End.

East Hill, south west of Deal, (Lately, circa Nov 1801, Lieutenant John Turner, of the Navy, and the Commander at the signal-post at East hill.)
Little Cornhill, westward of South Foreland,
Folkestone Cliff, Lt. J.A. Blow apptd circa March 1812,
Lympne, near Hythe,
Dungeness Point,
Beachy Head,
Seaford Cliff,
Hawk Hill, east of Brighton,
Worthing (Parish of Broadwater),
Kingston, near Hampton River,
Beaconsfield, between Bognor and Middleton,
Selsey Point,
West Wittering,
Cumberland Fort,
Parkhurst Forrest,
Ashey Down,
St. Catherine’s,
Needle Point,
Christ Church Head,
Ballard Hill, Isle of Purbeck,
Round Down, Isle of Purbeck,
St. Albin’s Head, [should probably be Alban’s],
Hamborough Hill, west of Lulworth,
The Verne, Portland,
Punck-knoll, west of Abbotsbury, [see Puncknowle on a modern map],
Golden Cup, near Bridport, [should be Golden Cap, along the beach to the east of Charmouth],
Whitelands, west of Lyme,
Beer Head, near Colyton,
Peek Hill, near Sidmouth,
West-down Beacon,
Dawlish Head,
Berry Head,
Coleton, Near Dartmouth,
Collegrew, or Start Point,
Hunter’s Top, near the Praule,
Westfore, near the Bolt Head,
Gurnose (Bigbury Bay),
Flag-Staff, near Maker Church, Plymouth :
  • 28 Jan 1801 a signal was made at the telegraph, Maker, repeated from the western telegraphs, of an enemy's squadron being at sea, which occasioned some bustle and hurry at this port, [Plymouth], till explained by a subsequent signal as follows : that the first signal given by the look-out frigates off the Deadman, which repeats from the frigates from Brest to the Deadman, was wrong, and should have been for enemy's cruisers at sea, and not for a squadron of men-of-war being out.
  • 9 Jan 1802 The night signals along the coasts of Devon and Cornwall are to be discontinued for the present.
  • 29 Sep 1802 a signal has been flying all day at Maker Tower for a fleet from the westward, supposed to be from the Straits.
  • Circa 23 Jun 1804 Lieut D Burdwood apptd to the signal and telegraph tower on Maker Heights, vice the venerable Lieut G Hines, deceased, aged 70.
  • 1 Jul 1804 a signal was made by Maker station to the Defiance, 74, in Cawsand Bay, that if she was ready she should sail directly to the Eastwards.
  • 23 Aug 1804 arrived the frigate Niobe at Plymouth from the Westward having been involved establishing new and additional signals for all the telegraphs to the west of Plymouth, particularly to signal our cruisers of an enemy cruiser appearing in sight, and what course she is steering and on what quarter she is observed to be standing or laying to, a most useful signal at this period of the war when invasion is apprehended.
  • John Hiatt, apptd. to Maker 26 Jul 1811 per NL Dec 1814.
Penhale, East Looe, Lieut. Perkins Prynn, apptd. 21 Jun 1811,
Nealand, Polpero, Lieut. Wm. Tucker, 28 Dec 1807,
Deadman's Point, Mevagissey, Lieut. Ar. Stapledon, 7 Mar 1810,
Greber Head, Tregohy, Lieut. Charles Adams, 6 Dec 1813?,
St. Anthony’s Head, St. Mawes, Lieut. Thomas Wilks, 31 May 1808,
Manacle Point, Helston, Lieut. Jos. Withers, 31 May 1808,
Black Head, Helston, Lieut. Samuel Cock, 31 May 1808,
Lizard Point, Park-braws, Helston, Lieut. Hugh Tredwin, 10 Oct 1811,
Park-lough, Helston, east side of Mount’s Bay, Lieut. Degory King, 31 May 1808,
Tregoning Hill, Helston, Lieut. George George, 26 Jul 1811,
Tetterdien, Penzance, west side of Mount’s Bay, Lieut. George Grant, 31 May 1808,
St. Levans Point, Penzance, Lieut. Richard Jones, 7 Mar 1807,
Land’s End, or Purdennick, Penzance, Lieut. Thomas Ratsey, 10 Jul 1809,
Inspector of Telegraphs, G. Rochuck, Admiralty Officer.
Inspector of Telegraphs, in the Islands of Guernsey and Jersey &c., _____ Mulgrave.

Signal Stations on the North Coast, from the Nore to North Yarmouth.

Wakering Stairs,
On Foulness Isle,
Tellingham Grange,
Bradwell, St. Peter’s Chapel,
Colewick Farm, near St. Osyth Bay,
Eastwick Farm, on land called Hatchfield,
Little Holland Wall,
Burn House Land,
On the Nase Point,
Beacon Hill,
Feliz Stow,
Westward of Bawdsey Sea Marsh, on land called Further Warren,
Orford Castle,
Red House Warren,
Beacon Hill, on Dunwich Common, along with the town of Dunwich lost to the sea *
Easton Cliff near the Ness,
Cove Hythe,
Guinton, to the Northward of Lowestoffe,
Yarmouth Dean.

From St. Abbe’s Head to Leith.

St. Abbe’s Head,
Dowlow to the Southward of a point called Fall’s Castle,
Black Castle Hill, to the Southward of Shatteraw Point,
Within the Fort upon Dunbar Pier,
North Berwick Law,
Girlton Hill, to the S.W. of North Berwick,
Portseaton, in the Frith of Forth,
Carlton Hill, near Edinburgh.

(These last 8 signal stations were built in the summer of 1798 at Chatham Dockyard under the supervision of Captain Clements.)

Cork, Ireland

County of Cork.
Ballynacotta, Cloyne, Lieut. Rob. Strickland, 4 Dec 1813, [from here to Hogg Island per NL Dec 1814.
Carlisle Fort, Cove, Lieut. Henry Ambrose, 30 Dec 1804,
Roberts Head, Kinsale, Lieut. John Alexander 15 May, ????,
Barry Point, Kinsale, Lieut. R.B. Matthews, 23 Mar 1812,
Old Head of Kinsale, Kinsale, Lieut. J.B. Bowdick, 18 Feb 1812,
Seven Heads, Clonakilty, Lieut. Chas. Mercier, 26 Aug. 1814,
Galley Head, Clonakilty, Lieut. Chas. King (2), 27 OCt. 1807,
Glandore, Roscarbery, Lieut. Thos. Crawford, 3 Mar 1812,
Toe Head, Skibbereen, Lieut. John Jeans, 26 Aug 1805,
Kedge Point, Lieut. David Atkinson, 3 Sep 1805,
Cape Clear, Lieut. William Wilmot, 4 Sep 18005,
Lemcon, Lieut. Robert Hoy, 29 Jun 1813,
Brow Head, Lieut. George Fisher, 16 Mar 1807,
Mizen Head, Lieut. ____ ____,
Sheep's Head, Bantry, Lieut. John Bassett, 2 Feb 1811,
___ Bay, Bantry, Lieut. Henry Ayres, 9 Nov 1805,
Bear Island, Castletown, Lieut. Jos. Packer, 9 Nov 1806,
Black Ball Head, Castletown, Lieut. Thomas Hawkes, 22 Nov 1814,
Dursey Island, Castletown, Lieut. Jas. Moriarty, 29 May ????,
Hogg Island, Lieut. G.J. Michell, not date give.

Following the introduction of the Sea Fencibles in 1798 the Signal Stations came under the jurisdiction of the Captain in charge of the Sea Fencibles in that district, and again in 1803 on the re-activation of the Fencibles, until the demise of the Sea Fencibles in early 1810.

11 Feb 1801 a letter from on board the Greyhound cutter, dated Dartmouth. Being yesterday off Punck Knoll, these days better known as Puncknowle, Dorset, at eleven o'clock in the morning, received information from the Lieutenant at the signal post, that a privateer had captured a brig in the S.W. We immediately gave chase in that direction, and at twelve o'clock saw three sail ahead, standing to the southward, a cutter, sloop, and brig ; at four o'clock had the pleasure of re-capturing the brig, being the Mary Jemima of Exeter, laden with a very valuable cargo of groceries bound to that port. We shifted prisoners, and made sail after the sloop, and at half past five came up with and re-captured her, which proved to have been the Vine, of Neath, laden with barley, last from Weymouth. They were both taken by La Dorade, French cutter privateer, of 16 guns, and her consort at a distance (being those that captured H.M. cutter Constitution, which had got a long way to windward of us. By the time we took the vessels, night coming on, we lost sight of the enemy. This morning, being off Berry Head, and it blowing very hard, we were obliged to bear up for Dartmouth, where both the prizes are safely arrived. Morning Post 16 Feb 1801. 20 Feb 1801 arrived Falmouth, the Active cutter, Capt Kinsman, from a cruise, with the Ravensworth transport, bound from Chatham to Cork, with a troop of the 23d Light Dragoons on board, which she recaptured yesterday near Mount's Bay, in sight of La Bournonville French privateer, 16 guns and 70 men, by which she had been taken a short time before. It appears that the Active was in Mount's Bay when this privateer was discovered to be on the coast, and on a telegraphic signal being made of the appearance of an enemy, the Active immediately put to sea, and in a few hours fell in with her, together with the Ravensworth in company. The privateer sheered off, though vastly superior to the Active in force, the latter having but 10 guns and 16 seamen, after putting 7 on board the transport to take possession. La Bournonville had been but 2 days from St Malo's and had made no other capture.

10 Jan 1802 the papers of the day received at Plymouth report that the night signals on the coast of Devon and Cornwall are at present "disused," by orders from the Admiralty and Navy Boards. Anon the snow at Tavistock is reported to be 12 ft deep, and much drifted on the roads.

9 May 1802 an armed ship has arrived Torbay, off Brixham, to take stores from the Signal House at Berry Head, and from Torbay Hospital, following the signing of the Peace of Amiens.

12 May 1802 arrived Sheerness, the cutter Trial with signal balls &c., from the various signal posts on the [East] Coast, following the signing of the Peace of Amiens.

Lt. Jay of the Admiralty Semaphore, who was seriously injured at HM Coronation by the fall of a parapet stone, has had a pension of 5 shillings a day granted him.

* 8 Jun 1805 it may be of interest to note that over 5500 vessels passed the signal house at Dunwich Common, on the East Coast, between 5 Apr and 4 May, inclusive, excluding those that passed during the hours of darkness.

9 Dec 1811 a telegraph was erected at the Signal Station at Great Wakering, Essex.

Jan 1802 the watch for night signals was discontinued, i.e. during the Peace.

24 Jun 1803 the Admiralty issued a circular to the signal stations on the coast directing them to send in a report listing all transactions that have been carried out, and including details of the wind and weather etc.

19 Nov 1803 it is reported that the naval signal stations along the coast are directed to make certain signals in the night, by burning one or more blue lights, accompanied with a fire-blaze of no long duration. Care is to be taken by army personnel manning their beacons not to confuse signals from the naval signal stations with those from the army beacons.

7 Dec 1803 additional signal stations are reported to have been built in Kent and Essex, under the command of a Lieutenant, but I have no details.

Circa 7 Jan 1804 Capt McGuire, apptd to the signal post at Cork.

Circa 4 Feb 1804 a midshipman and a seaman were returning to the signal post at Selsea, from a frigate, when a squall overset their boat and they were both drowned.

Circa 13 Feb 1804 Lieut I O Lucas apptd to superintend the signals on the coast of Sussex.

Circa 25 Feb 1804 officers commanding signal stations along the coast are to use utmost vigilance in looking out for any enemy ships that may approach the shore, and to lose no time in communicating the same to the nearest military officer.

12 Sep 1804 from Dover it is reported that the long established HEIC Signal Station at Dungeness has been set up for use by Sir Home Popham in order that Adm Louis's anchorage off Dungeness can receive signals from off Boulogne, which initially took 11 minutes, but it was hoped to cut down that time to about 5 minutes. From these trials it has been estimated that signals might eventually be received in London in about 15 minutes ; trials will also shortly be carried out with night signals.

17 Sep 1804 night signals have been lately established on the heights around the Essex coast. Each signal house is supplied with a stack of furze which is to be set on fire on the first appearance of alarm ; a correspondence will then be carried on by means of different coloured lights, with as much facility as by any other means resorted to in the day time. A cordon of repeating frigates are positioned at convenient distances between whom and the look-out on shore a ready communication can at all times be kept up by rockets and variegated lamps.

10 Oct 1804 it has been reported from Cork that the signal posts on that coast have been ordered to be weather slated ; a measure which has been suggested by a proper attention to the health and comfort of the persons officially residing in them during the inclemency of the winter.

12 Jan 1805 a signal was received at Truro that an enemy fleet was off the coast. As a consequence the Militia &c was called out along the coast, but after a day or so, with no further activity the local newspaper thought it should investigate the origins of the message and it turned out that the signal post at Land's-end had sent a signal stating that a large French privateer was off shore and had captured a brig and was in chase of another, and from this it multiplied into a French fleet as it was processed through the various signal stations along the coast.

In addition to the transmission of messages the presence of French privateers on the coast was noted and transmitted for the benefit of the merchant service and for directing RN cruisers to where the privateers were lurking e.g. on 14 May 1807 a signal was made at one p.m. from a signal post to the east, and repeated at Maker, of a privateer being off the Start. The following signals were particularly for the benefit of merchant vessels:
  1. For an enemy frigate or frigates = 1 ball above a flag
  2. For the enemy’s small cruisers = 2 balls above a flag
  3. For an enemy’s ship or vessel close under the land = 3 balls above a flag

Similarly the Customs and Admiralty Boards arranged that the coast signal stations would signal the presence of suspected smuggling vessels in the offing and perhaps transferring goods out at sea to smaller boats, or waiting for nightfall, and in the event of the revenue vessels making a capture the signal station would be entitled to a portion of any prize money arising from the information (per King's Cutters and Smugglers By E. Keble Chatterton).

22 Oct 1808 the Cygnet sighted by the Dowlaw signal station, near Dunbar, with her masts and bowsprit cut away and some of her guns thrown overboard : the signal station reported the fact to the local flag officer at Leith Roads who dispatched the sloops Spitfire and Basilisk, along with the local lifeboat, to provide assistance to the Cygnet, which was brought back to Leith Roads.

22 Oct 1809 the Manacle and Lizard signal stations reported the appearance of several French privateers on the coast, but there were no cruisers on that part of the coast to deal with the threat.

21 Jul 1810 the death was reported of Lieutenant W. Nowell, R.N., Commander of Peak Hill Signal Station, Devonshire,

29 Jun 1812 the current method of communication by flags and balls was reviewed in favour of something similar to the French method i.e. using a high pole with hinged signal arms (semaphore). The persons employed in sending and repeating signals are to be accommodated in a building on which the signal mast will be erected. This was put on hold until the peace.

Following the end of the war I gather that it was proposed to maintain the coast signal stations as a means of curtailing the activities of smugglers, and in some cases this was certainly the case, as it would appear that the coast guard took over some of the signal stations following the termination of the coast blockade in about 1830-31, but it would appear that most of the signal stations were disposed of over time.

The following signal stations were built for the Admiralty-Portsmouth Semaphore line which was opened in 1822, following the closure of the wartime 6-Shutter Telegraph at the end of the Napoleonic War in 1815 :

Admiralty to Portsmouth
Kingston, Coombe Warren,
Esher, Cooper's Hill,
Cobham, Chatley Heath,
Guildford, Pewley Hill,
Godalming, Bannicle Hill,
Haslemere, Haste Hill,
Midhurst, Holder Hill,
Petersfield, Beacon Hill, South Harting,
Petersfield, Compton Down, Compton,
Bedhamton, Portsdown Hill, Camp Down,

apart from the Portsmouth and Admiralty stations, the names of officers appointed to the various stations disappeared from the Navy List in 1848, with the arrival of the electronic telegraph in 1847, which followed the railway line to Gosport.

Details regarding how the wartime 6-Shutter Telegraph worked, as designed by Lord George Murray circa 1795, can be found in Volume 8 of the Mechanics Magazine, p. 296, available in Google Books.

Coastguard Signal Stations—Wireless Telegraphy.

23 March 1903 which six Coastguard signal stations are already fitted with wireless telegraphy apparatus :—Dover, Culver Cliff, Portland, Rame Head, Scillys, and Roches Point.

The following are to be fitted during the financial year 1903/04 :—Bere Island, Spurn Head, Alderney, St. Abb's Head, St. Ann's. Head, Landguard, Port Patrick, Duncansby Head.

Commercial signalling is to be carried out from :— Culver Cliff, Scillys, Spurn Head, St. Abb's Head, Portland, St. Ann's Head, Duncansby Head, and Roches.

Blue Lights or False Fire :

Version 1: saltpetre, yellow arsenic, sulphur

Version 2: saltpetre, yellow orpiment, sulphur, antimony

Blue Lights

Saltpetre, antimony, sulphur, mealed powder

23 Oct 1841 Lieutenant C. H. Jay, of the Admiralty Semaphore, promoted to Commander, and to continue his former duty.

23 Oct 1841 Lieutenant John Wildey, of Portsea, appointed to the Semaphore, Portsdown Hill, succeeding Lieutenant James Long.

28 Oct 1841 Lieutenant James Long, of the semaphore at Portsdown Hill, has resigned, and is appointed to the Isle of Man to raise seamen for the navy.

18 Jul 1842 Commander Jay, Superintendent of Semaphores, arrived at Portsdown Hill, with 7 riggers, for the purpose of taking out the old semaphore mast and machinery, and replacing it by a new one on the improved principle. The operation was performed with this small body of men during the day, and the communication of the Admiralty kept constantly open. The same service was performed by that officer and his party on the following day, at Beacon's Hill, and in the same manner, so that the masts of two semaphores, 20 miles asunder, were taken out, replaced by new ones in a few hours, and the line of communication with the Admiralty not interrupted. The zeal and alacrity displayed on this important piece of service we consider reflects the highest credit on Commander Jay and his small but very efficient party.

Updated 7 9 2018

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