LANGUE TÉLÉGRAPHIQUE UNIVERSELLE by [SIGNALLING.] LUSCOMBE, E[dmund.] and M[atthew.]

LANGUE TÉLÉGRAPHIQUE UNIVERSELLE by [SIGNALLING.] LUSCOMBE, E[dmund.] and M[atthew.] < >
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Teaching mariners a new communications system - seemingly inspired by Marryat

LANGUE TÉLÉGRAPHIQUE UNIVERSELLE Ou Code de signaux adopté par les marines marchandes de France de d’Angleterre, et transmis par order des deux gouvernemens aux officiers des deux Marines Royales, pour servir a leurs communications avec les navires marchands. Rédigé par E. et M. Luscombe, agents de Lloyd’s. Pour les forts de la Seine et dépendances, au Havre. Havre, de l’Imprimerie de Slas. Faure, Chevalier de l’Ordre Royal de la Légion d’Honneur, Imprimeur du Roi. [n.d. but

1832. 8vo, pp. [221], [3] blank; with three hand-coloured engraved plates, one folding; plates a little browned due to paper quality; some occasional light foxing and soiling, but otherwise text clean and bright; in contemporary green morocco backed ribbed boards, spine ruled and lettered in gilt, very small worm-hole affecting upper lower joint, some minor surface wear, corners slightly nicked and worn; with contemporary book-seller label on front paste-down; a presenation copy from the author’s signed on verso of front fly-leaf ‘To A. ergerot Esqr. with the respectful acknowledgements of the undersigned’; a good copy. Uncommon and attractive first edition of this little-known work in the history of semaphore telegraphy and communications, describing in detail a signalling system recently adopted by both the English and French merchant navies. The authors of the work, two Englishmen, Edmund and Matthew Luscombe, worked for Lloyd’s of London and were based in Le Havre. Whilst making no claims to having had invented the system, the two men nevertheless seem to have been instrumental in its promotion and adoption. A numerical based system, different flags and pennants were numbered 1-10, and could thus be combined using the flaghoist system to communicate between ships. Important instructions, phrases and commands were assigned a number, thus leading to a system, independent of language, and which could be understood by all. Already adopted by the English fleet it had, on the orders of the Marquis de Clermont-Tonnerre, the French Minister for the Navy, similarly been taken up by French vessels. As the Luscombes’ note, it was their hope that it could eventually be applied to all the navies of the world, both merchant and military, though ultimately a universal system would not be implemented until 1855, when the first International Code was drafted by a Committee set up by the British Board of Trade. Containing 70,000 signals using eighteen flags, the code was published in 1857 and was adopted by most seafaring nations
The present work is accompanied by three hand-coloured engraved plates (one folding), illustrating the flags and pennants to be used. It is then divided into six parts beginning with a list of the names of the ships in both the English and French Navies. This is followed in section two by an extensive list of English, French and other merchant vessels, with the third list referring to notable ports, capes, headlands, and rock formations, etc. The fourth section brings together an extensive selection of common phrases and questions used between merchant vessels, which is followed in section five by a vocabulary of marine terms. The work concludes with a further extensive vocabulary of words useful in general maritime correspondence. Each have a number assigned to them, to enable the raising of the correct flags.
The use of flags for signalling was by no means new. In 1738, a numerical flag code using ten coloured flags was proposed by Bertrand-François Mahé de la Bourdonnais (1699-1753), who proposed hoisting flags in groups of three, making a thousand possible messages that could be transmitted by reference to a code book. Though not instantly taken up as an idea, it was to inspire the noted French engineer Claude Chappe (1763-1805) and his brother Ignace (1760-1829), who developed the world’s first land-based optical semaphore telegraph network during the 1790s, carrying messages across 19th century France faster than ever before, and which used a numerical code book with many thousands of messages.
In England, Captain Sir Home Popham was one of the first to produce a numerical flag code in his 1803 work ‘Telegraphic Signals of Marine Vocabulary’. It was his code which was famously used for the “England expects that every man will do his duty” signal at Trafalgar by Nelson. The first general system for signalling for merchant vessels rather than military, was that of Captain Frederick Marryat (1792-1848) in his 1817 A Code of Signals for the Merchant Service. Whilst making no apparent reference to him in the present work, it seems almost certain that the Luscombe’s have drawn heavily from his innovations, although the order of their six numbered lists varies slightly. It is interesting to note, that in the revised edition of 1840, Marryat is indeed referred to in the introductory paragraph.
Louis-Marie Bajot, at the time head of the law office in the French maritime ministry, provides a fascinating and complementary review of the work in the Annales maritimes et colonisation, (pp. 501-503 T. II, 1822). As he notes, one of the many benefits of peace has been to establish a happy and free exchange of discoveries and ideas working towards the common good. ‘It was in the order of things that from the moment friendly relations were established between France and England, these two peoples would help each other in everything in the maritime arts. But either because the French generally travel less or because we pay less attention in France to what exists abroad, it is certain that the English have drawn from us more often than we have from them. So, not to stray from our subject, we saw very shortly after the establishment of M Chappe's telegraph the English appropriate this admirable machine which they regard as the last term of telegraphic simplicity. The English are therefore giving us today with regard to the means of corresponding by sea the example that they followed by adopting our means of corresponding by land. In this mutual exchange, we repeat, of useful practices, national pride cannot be hurt, is it not better, as an ancient said, to imitate what others have imagined good than to be jealous of it? The universal telegraphic language therefore deserves all the attention of navigators it also deserved to be adopted by the two governments of France and England and transmitted by their order to the officers of the two royal navies’ (p. 501, online translation). ‘A French captain can make himself heard not only by the ships and stations of his nation but also by foreigners equipped with this system or an English system because each word, each sentence and finally the entire code is expressed in both languages by the same figures represented then by the same signs. The system applying to communications with land as well as those which take place between ships at sea has fulfilled all the conditions of the problem and leaves nothing to be desired. France, by adopting it, contributes to its propagation’ (ibid). A brevet for the system is noted by Christian in ‘Description des machines et procédés spécifiés dans les brevets d’invention, de perfectionnement et d’importation’ (p. 294, T. XII, 1826).
Provenance: the copy has been inscribed by the two authors to Alphonse Bergerot (1782-1833), a Le Havre councillor and leading merchant of the town. We have located a previous copy sold at auction, in a presentation bound for the Marquis de Clermont-Tonnerre, the French Minister for the Navy. The auction makes a note that the work was ‘non mise dans le commerce’, though we have been unable to verify this.

Bibliography: Polak, Bibliographie maritime française, 6177; BnF, Yale, Princeton, Duke, Peabody, Newfoundland, San Francisco Maritime, the National Library of Spain, and the National Maritime Museum in London.

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