OUR EMPIRE CABLES.
An address delivered by Sir Sandford Fleming, K.C.M.G., LL.D., before the Empire Club, at their Luncheon, on February 25th, 1904.
I am sure there is not at the present moment any subject more important than the projected system of PanBritannic cables and telegraphs, girdling the globe, and all under state control. It is a vital subject-a subject fraught with momentous possibilities; a subject of prime importance to every true citizen of the British Empire, whether his home be in that Motherland from which the ancestors of many of us came, or in these daughter nations across the seas.
You will bear with me if I traverse ground which has been, I confess, worn rather smooth by the reiteration of the/ same statements and the same arguments. The route of the proposed, so called All-Red Line, its scope, and the cogent reasons for its establishment, are all so clear and well-defined that one must perforce follow the beaten track in discussing them. The question of state-owned cables, connecting each of the great self-governing Colonies and Dependencies of the Empire with the Mother Country, as well as with each other, is by no means new. It has been publicly discussed for some years past, and the history of the movement-of the long, uphill fight against a gigantic and almost all-powerful antagonist; of the even more wearing conflict with British conservatism of character; of the diplomatic battles and the intriguesfurnishes one of the most stirring and memorable chapters in modern British history.
It would, in the limited time at my disposal, be out of the, question to attempt to sketch even briefly the early history of this project. Indeed, I shall be content if a rapid survey of its present state and future outlook, does not too severely tax your patience. The Pacific Cable was completed on the 31st October, 1902, and on that day the globe was telegraphically encircled for the first time, though not yet by the complete system of state-owned cables which we hope some day to see an accomplished fact. The Pacific Cable has amply fulfilled the expectations of its friends. It has been in active operation now for considerably over a year, and the volume of general business has steadily increased until it now exceeds the estimate of the Imperial Cable Committee of 1897.
In one respect only has the Pacific Cable been disappointing-and through no fault of the cable itself. Up to the present time there does not seem to have been a single press message, either from Australia to Canada, or from Canada to Australia. This, I am sure you will agree with me, is not a satisfactory state of affairs. Canadians and Australasians alike are anxious to increase in every possible way the cordial relations which even now exist between the Dominion, New Zealand and the Commonwealth; and certainly no more effective means to this end could be devised than an efficient press service. Our mutual good will rests at present upon no more substantial foundation than the sentiment of partnership in a common Empire.
Strong as is this golden link, it might not always be proof against misunderstandings arising out of our almost total ignorance of each other; for it must not be forgotten that Australasians and Canadians are practically strangers to each other. What do we know of the life, customs, ideals, or prejudices of our kinsmen in the Antipodes; and what do they know of ours? W e have a very superficial knowledge of each other's political life, and beyond this, practically nothing. We Canadians have an infinitely closer knowledge of our neighbours in the Republic to the south than we have of the people of the sister British States; and I venture to say that the average Australasian knows considerably more about the people and institutions of the United States than he does of Canada. I need not emphasize the immense importance of Canadians and Australasians and New Zealanders getting into closer touch with one another. Each is destined to become a great and powerful nation, and each looks forward to the closer welding together of the British Empire. Fuller knowledge cannot work anything but good to the several peoples. I have seen enough of Australia and the Australasians to wish earnestly that some means might be devised for bringing the same or fuller knowledge to every Canadian; and I have enough national conceit to believe that Canada will bear a reasonibly close scrutiny on the part of our kinsmen at the other end of the Pacific Cable.
We are prone to jeer good-naturedly at the conservatism of the Mother Country; at the reluctance of Englishmen to adopt new ideas, or part with old ones; but every now and then something crops up which marks us a chip-modified, no doubt, by a radically different environment, but still an unmistakeable chip-of the old British block. Here is a case in point, in this matter of the press and the Pacific Cable. We all admit the desirability of closer acquaintance between Canadians and Australasians, and we must as certainly admit that hitherto our knowledge of current affairs in Australia has been something less than meagre. Our Canadian papers have frequent telegraphic news from every quarter of the world except Australia and New Zealand, and the sorry driblets of news that we get of these great Colonies comes at secondhand from English newspapers. There is the situation. On the one hand a roundabout, unsatisfactory channel, bringing at wide intervals a modicum of news, generally after it has quite lost its timeliness; on the other hand, a direct, perfectly-equipped cable from Canada to Australia, capable of supplying all the important news of New Zealand and the Commonwealth to the press of Canada, day by day, and hour by hour. We, however, cling to the old channel and ignore the new. Are we not something of a chip of the old block?
Fully recognizing the political, commercial and social importance of an efficient news service between Australia and Canada, the Dominion Government agreed to recommend the trial of an experimental service which would be free to the Canadian press, for a period of three months, on the principle that a three months' trial would create a lively demand in Canada for Australian news, and thus encourage our newspapers to take it upon their own account. You all remember how Sam Slick sold his famous clocks, by leaving one of them in each farm-house that he visited, and finding on his return that they had become indispensable.
The Government accordingly passed an Order-in-Council in March last, pointing out that a news service was much needed; that such a service would tend to promote trade and extend commercial intercourse between the British countries at both ends of the cable; and that other advantages would result. Australia and New Zealand, were invited to unite with Canada in taking steps to establish a press service across the Pacific which would be free of charge to all newspapers, and limited to 500 words each way daily for a period of three months. The Government of New Zealand responded in favour of the proposal, but the Government of the Commonwealth raised some objections. Up to the present time these objections have not been removed.
If, however, Australia does not see its way to cooperate, I can see no good reason why Canada and New Zealand at least, might not get the benefit of a limited news service such as has been contemplated. The original proposal to transmit 500 words of press news daily would occupy half an hour of the more than twenty hours that the cable is idle or not engaged in the transmission of paying traffic. But even a much more limited service than this would be of advantage, as an educative experiment. A Canada-New Zealand news service might be tried with even 500 words a week. "I feel satisfied that a limited service of this kind, free to the press, would prove to be the forerunner of a full daily press service, in which the people of the Australian Commonwealth would soon become willing participants. I am afraid that the Australasians and New Zealanders are chips off the old block too.
If we thought that, having repulsed the Eastern Extension Cable Company and their associates, in the series of pitched battles which ended in the signing of the Pacific Cable contract, we had finally silenced that powerful combination, we were grievously disappointed. The Eastern Extension, with resourcefulness worthy of a better cause, were no sooner vanquished in front, than they made an unexpected and only too effective flank attack upon the forces of the Pacific Cable.
On December 31st, 1900, the contract for establishing the Pacific Cable was formally executed on behalf of the Home Government, and the Governments of Canada, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and New Zealand. Sixteen days afterwards the Government of New South Wales yielded to the entreaties of the Eastern Extension Company and without the consent of the five other Governments in the partnership arrangement or any of them, granted the Company concessions materially affecting the financial outlook of the Pacific Cable. This agreement could not be rescinded unless by mutual consent, and as the Post and Telegraph service has, since the date of the agreement, been transferred to the Commonwealth of Australia, New South Wales, even if she desired, has. not now the power to set aside her own act. The power has passed from her, and the Government of the Commonwealth, as inheritor of the act, is bound by the agreement.
The Postmaster-General of Canada, during his visit to Australia, discussed the question with the then Premier of the Commonwealth, the Right Honourable Edmund Barton, and upon his return to Canada, Sir William Mulock informed the House of Commons that Mr. Barton recognized it to be the duty of the Commonwealth, while adhering to the agreement of New South Wales with the Telegraph Company, to live up to the spirit of the Pacific Cable agreement, and that he earnestly desired to see an honourable way out of the grave difficulty to which his Government had fallen heir.
It may be well to sketch briefly the steps which led up to this situation in Australia. The Eastern Extension, a private undertaking, had from the first placed themselves in opposition to the Imperial telegraph scheme, and employed every conceivable means to strifle the proposal to establish the Pacific Cable.
One main reason for their special hostility to the Pacific Cable lay in the fact that it formed the most important section of the larger proposal, and that the Cana than route was absolutely the only route by which the globe could be girdled by a chain of all-British state-owned cables. When it became known that the six Governments concerned had resolved to establish the Pacific Cable, the Telegraph companies combined and determined to adopt drastic measures in order to defeat the new State policy. They saw plainly that a State-owned cable across the Pacific would speedily lead to similar cables across the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Accordingly they arranged to pre-occupy the ground by laying a private cable on the precise route which had previously been projected in the Indian, and partly in the Atlantic Ocean, for the State-owned line. Moreover, they made tempting overtures to the Governments of the Australian Colonies, offering to reduce the burdensome telegraph charges hitherto exacted, provided these Governments granted them certain concessions; which concessions they believed would enable the combined companies to ruin the commercial value of the Pacific Cable.
There is also evidence to show that the Cable companies took means to invoke the powers of the press to influence public opinion in their favour. Unfortunately the then Government of New South Wales listened to the overtures and granted what the Companies asked for; but, fortunately, so far at least as the Pacific Cable is concerned, the designs of the Eastern Extension people have not borne the expected fruit. Whether their cable from the Cape to Australia shall prove a stumbling-block in the way of the all-British State-owned cable, is a matter that rests entirely with the people of Great Britain and the Colonies. That it need not necessarily affect in any way the laying of a State cable from Australia to South Africa, is beyond question. Two courses are open.: The Companies concerned may be given the option of transferring, at a fair price, their private cable from Australia to the Cape; or failing this, arrangements may be made for laying a State cable across the Indian Ocean to form the second link in the globe-circling chain.
The main features of the all-British cable scheme may be described as one unbroken chain of State-owned telegraphs around the world, touching or traversing all the great British Possessions so as to bring each of them into direct electric touch with the Mother Country and with each other. In this manner Canada, New Zealand and Australia, India, South Africa, and the United Kingdoms would be brought within the same electric circle. An essential feature of the scheme laid down is that no part of the system should touch foreign soil, and that the cables should each and all avoid shallow seas in proximity to any country likely at any time to prove unfriendly. The route of the proposed electric chain may be more precisely described as extending from Great Britain to Canada, across Canada to Vancouver, from Vancouver to New Zealand and Australia, from the landing-place of the Pacific Cable on the easterly coast of Australia across the continent to Western Australia; from Western Australia to South Africa with a branch to India; from South Africa to Bermuda, touching at St. Helena, Ascension and Barbadoes; and, finally, from Bermuda direct to England, or north, via the existing cable, to Canada. I need not enter into the matter of cost. Such a telegraph girdle of the globe would constitute a means of connecting all His Majesty's great Possessions and nearly all the naval coaling stations with each other and with the Imperial centre in London. The subocean connections would be deep sea cables in the least vulnerable position, and it may be added that the system would possess an advantage peculiar to a globe-encircling line of telegraph-each point touched would be telegraphically connected with every other point by two distinct routes extending in opposite directions. This feature possesses special value, and in practice would prove the best security against interruptions from whatever cause. The sentiment in favour of an all-British system of state-owned cables is a matter of education and that it will become more popular every year I have no doubt whatever. Perhaps no single thing has contributed more to illustrate the vast possibilities of the project as a means of binding closer together the scattered portions of the British Empire, than the opening of the Pacific Cable. Only a month or two ago a remarkable example was furnished of its efficiency. During the course of the British-Australian cricket matches last autumn and. December a determined effort was made to cut down the records, and illustrate the potentialities of the new all-British route from England to Australasia via Canada. The record marks one of the most notable triumphs in the history of ocean telegraphy. Within the span of a lifetime it has taken from four to five months to communicate with Australia. This was in the days of the sailing ship. Then came the steamer, and the record was cut in half. With the successful establishment of cable connection between England and Australia, by the old route, telegraphic messages were received in England on the same business day on which they were despatched from Australia. The advent of the Pacific Cable, however, stirred up the old Companies, and the record improved and by the Stateowned Pacific Cable marvels have been achieved. By the new line messages recording the progress of the first match against Victoria were received in London from Melbourne in the hitherto unprecedented time of twenty-one minutes, via the Pacific Cable. This was on November 18th. On the 23rd the score came over the same route in eleven minutes. On December 12th descriptions of the match at Sydney were received in London in 10-1/2 minutes, 9 minutes, 7 minutes, 5-1/2 minutes, 5 minutes, and, finally, the score of Australia's cricket champions, at the close of their first innings, handed in at the Sydney office at 2.40, was delivered in London at precisely 2.43' (Greenwich time)-that is to say, 31/2 minutes. Imagine transmitting a message around the semi-circumference of the globe-15,000 miles in 02 minutes! How significant and full of promise is this marvellous telegraphic record from the extreme confines of the Empire to its heart! What clearer evidence can we look for of the vast possibilities of the new route to Australasia, and of that world-encircling project of which it forms the first great link. What, for instance, is to prevent the Governments of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, the Cape, etc., holding conferences with the Home Government, by means of a State-controlled system of cables? What is to prevent each having an Intelligence Department by and through which a conference might be had say for half an hour every day. With the means of communication under State control, there would be nothing to prevent such conferences being perfectly confidential-quite as much as communications between the several departments of any one Government. What a prospect this opens up, of a unified Empire; scattered territorially throughout every quarter of the globe, but brought into constant and instant touch by the magic agency of electricity. I have said that there is a steadily-increasing sentiment throughout the Empire in favour of the project of a State-controlled, world-encircling cable, and no more conclusive evidence of this sentiment can be adduced than the reception given to the Resolution which I had the privilege of introducing in behalf of the Ottawa Board of Trade at the Fifth Congress of the Chambers of Commerce of the Empire, at Montreal, in August last. I may mention that at the Congress the British Empire League in Canada exerted a powerful influence; the Executive of the League addressed a letter to the President which was printed and a copy placed in the hand of each delegate some days before the matter came up for discussion. I shall venture to read to you a portion of this letter as it bears directly upon the importance of completing the Empire-girdling, State-owned telegraph system, and thereby checkmating the great antagonists of the public interests, the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company. "There is only one effective remedy," says the League. "It is to provide means independent of the monopoly of uniting telegraphically all the great outposts of the Empire so as to bring them into direct touch with the Mother Country and with each other. This object is not difficult of y attainment; it can be effected by extending the principle of State-ownership to a single cable traversing the Indian Ocean, and another traversing the Atlantic Ocean, precisely as we have one across the Pacific Ocean. To accomplish this end it may in part become necessary, if not otherwise arranged, to subordinate private to public interests and exercise the powers of 'Eminent Domain,' by which private property may be appropriated as public necessity requires-just compensation being paid. By this inherent right possessed by the State, the dominant idea of a world-girdling line of state-owned telegraphs may readily be realized, with the following results
1. It would reduce rates on telegraph messages between Australia and England to half, and eventually to less than half the present charges.
2. It would play a most important part in the maintenance of the commercial, social and political relations of the whole British people.
3. It would provide a double means of telegraphing, that is to say, easterly as well as westerly, by a national line, at low uniform charges, between any one British State and all the other self-governing States.
4. It would be a most effective medium for daily communion between all the Governmental units of the worldwide Empire, by and through which many questions would be settled as they arise, which, without it, might not be disposed of in' months.
5. It would contribute in the most practical manner to the consolidation of the Empire.
6. It would prove in every sense an important and indispensable factor in Imperial unity."
A Resolution approving this policy was submitted to the Congress by the delegate specially appointed to do so by the Ottawa Board of Trade; it was seconded by Mr. Cockshutt, delegate from the Toronto Board of Trade, and was carried with absolute unanimity. The unanimous endorsation of the project by the great commercial parliament-the nearest approach yet accomplished to a parliament representative of the whole British Empire, I regard as of the utmost significance and as being the happiest augury for the accomplishment of this Imperial project.
I shall not tax your patience to the breaking point by elaborating the many directions, political, military, commercial and social in which the Inter-Imperial-State-owned system of electric cables, would be of inestimable benefit. At the present moment when war is in the air I am sure you will pardon me for touching on a single point-the absolute necessity of having the electric nerves of the British Empire freed from the control of private companies. We all know with what ease the property of companies changes hands-we know that startling events in the world's history often come suddenly, and I ask you what is to prevent the agents of an unfriendly foreign power in time of peace arranging to acquire possession of company-owned cables? I need not ask you what dire consequence might follow at a moment when least expected. Does not every consideration confirm the opinion I have so frequently expressed that telegraphy between the several British nations around the globe should be under the absolute control of the State?
In these few words I have tried to indicate as clearly and briefly as I could, the present state of the Cable project, the steps which led up to it in a general way, its importance as a factor in upbuilding and welding together the scattered portions of our Empire, and in maintaining between all its parts that sympathy which is the only sure bond of connection. I am convinced that the successful completion of the cables of our Empire, as projected, is only a matter of time. I hope myself to witness it, but assuredly you young men will see the day when Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, the West Indies, and the Motherland, will be strung like jewels on an epoch-making electric girdle; space will be annihilated so far as these great divisions of our Empire is concerned. All British subjects throughout the world will be kinsmen in the truest sense; trade and commerce will be aided; the Empire will be strengthened in all its parts and made mutually helpful; political questions of moment to some or all of the Sister Nations will be discussed freely by their statesmen and the way opened for their speedy settlement without the irritating and often fatal delays incident to existing methods; the effectiveness of necessary measures of defence will be enormously increased; and this world-wide union of commonwealths will become more and more a civilizing agency making always for the peace of the world and the welfare of mankind.