“Marine Telegraph. Through the exertions of Mr. Jackson, Post Master, we are at length likely to have a marine telegraph erected on ‘Telegraph Hill,’ a knoll just back of Diamond Head and a little to westward of the government road to Waialae. A sum sufficient to defray the cost attending its erection and for keeping it in operation for some months has been subscribed.”
“So much has been said about the supposed value of a telegraph, that we are glad the experiment is to receive a fair trial. The telegraph will consist of a pole (seventy) feet in height, to have four arms, each four feet long.”
“From this knoll vessels can be seen in a clear day from twenty to twenty-five miles either way from Diamond Head, and all coasters as well as foreign vessels will be reported by it.”
“One advantage will be that China bound vessels, passing during the day time can be reported, and probably in most cases can be boarded from the port, to procure news, where heretofore they have passed without stopping.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, June 4, 1857)
On June 12, 1857, a marine telegraph was put into operation behind Diamond Head. A companion semaphore signal was put on Honolulu Hale on Merchant Street in downtown Honolulu.
This device was actually a kind of semaphore designed to send visual (rather than electric) signals to the post office in Honolulu Hale when an approaching ship was sighted. (Schmitt)
The ‘marine telegraph’ is a semaphore. Initially set up by the local Post Master to time the landing of ships to collect the mail, it also served as a means to notify the community of what ship was landing, especially those who service the ships and their passengers.
“There were very few who could not read the signals made by the directions of the arms of the semaphore and as soon as any was made some one would call out “whale ship coming past Koko Head” or “Fore and after coming past Barber’s Point” or “Steamer coming past Koko Head” as the case might be.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, May 21, 1905)
The postmaster posted advertisements in the newspapers offering to sell “Marine Telegraph Cards of Signals” for $1.
“Back of the head (Lēʻahi, Diamond Head) there was a lookout and when he saw a ship coming he raised a flag. Directly I saw it I gave the cry ‘Sail, ho!’ – and up went the signal on the semaphore. It was my call that brought the people from the neighboring offices and the signal from those further away.”
“If it turned out to be a whaler, all was well; but if it happened to be a schooner from the other islands I came in for a drubbing of words from everybody within the limits of civilization. I as the small boy who was blamed for the error of the lookout and seldom praised for his correct reports.” (Stacker; Sunday Advertiser, December 5, 1909)
“Naturally there was a good deal of rivalry among the pilots, for in those days and for years, they received their compensation by the way of fees. Each man was supposed to leave the pilot house when a signal was given and go out to meet the vessel. The first man out got the ship and the fee.”
“If there were more coming down the channel Signal No. 2 would show it.” (Stacker; Sunday Advertiser, December 5, 1909)
“This enterprise, which has now been conducted for some two years, has proved itself of so much public benefit that there is scarcely a man in the community who would not regret to see it discontinued.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, November 17, 1859)
Unfortunately, a storm in 1872 took the semaphore out of service. The loss was felt … “That the telegraph is needed and must be put in order again, everyone will concede; but the question is, whose duty is it to see the thing done.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, January 27, 1872)
The Chamber of Commerce met shortly thereafter. “It was the general understanding that the telegraph must be resumed, and a committee was appointed to procure subscriptions and attend to the necessary details.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, February 17, 1872)
“When the telephone system got into working order the lookout station was moved to a position on Diamond Head which gave a view further along the channel, because it was no longer necessary for the station to be in full view of the city.” (Hawaiian Star, February 10, 1899)
In 1878 Samuel G Wilder established the first telephone line on Oʻahu, from his government office to his lumber business. “By the fall of 1881 telephone instruments and electric bells were in place in the Palace.” (The Pacific Commercial, September 24, 1881) (Charles Dickey in Haiku, Maui had the first phones in the islands (1878;) connecting his home to his store.)
Diamond Head was connected by telephone with the book store of Whitney & Robertson conducted in Honolulu Hale. (Evening Bulletin, September 27, 1907) The Marine Telegraph semaphore system was later discontinued.
Right about this same time, Hawaiʻi was getting connected through a submarine telegraph cable. The first submarine cable across the Pacific was completed (landing in Waikīkī at Sans Souci Beach) linking the US mainland to Hawaiʻi, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji (1902) and Guam to the Philippines in 1903. (The first Atlantic submarine cable, connecting Europe with the USA, was completed in 1866.)
The first telegraph message carried on the system was sent from Hawaiʻi and received by President Teddy Roosevelt on January 2, 1903 (that day was declared “Cable Day in Hawaiʻi.”) On January 3, 1903, the first news dispatches were sent over the Pacific cable to Hawaiʻi by the Associated Press.
On the afternoon of July 4, 1903, Honolulu was connected to the Pacific cable from Midway Island, which extended east to the Philippines and China. On that day, the Pacific cable commenced full operation between Asia and Washington, DC.
The image shows a photo of Merchant Street and labeled with various uses there (including the semaphore above Honolulu Hale.) (1885) In addition, I have added others similar images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.
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