Gisborne, Frederic Newton

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Gisborne, Frederic Newton

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Frederic Newton Gisborne was a telegraph agent, engineer and civil servant, who pioneered the construction of submarine telegraph systems. He was born in Broughton, Lancashire, England, the son of Hartley P. Gisborne. He married Alida Ellen Starr in 1850. She died in 1854, leaving him with two children. He married Henrietta Hernaman in 1857. They had four children. He died in Ottawa, Ontario.

Gisborne came to Canada in 1845 with his brother. He farmed for two years near St. Eustace, Lower Canada. He also worked as one of the first operators for the Montreal Telegraph Company, becoming its Chief Operator. In 1847 he was appointed General Manager of the British North American Electric Telegraph Association. From 1849 to 1851 he held the position of Superintendent of Telegraphs in Nova Scotia.

During the early 1850s Gisborne began to study the possibility of a submerged trans-Atlantic cable. After he received permission from the Canadian Government to conduct a preliminary survey, he traveled to the United States to find investors. He enlisted the support of several businessmen and was appointed engineer of the private company that emerged as a result. After overseeing the establishment of an overland link from Nova Scotia through New Brunswick to the United States, in 1852 he laid a small insulated cable from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island, thereby establishing the world’s first submarine telegraph system. A second project, to lay an overland line from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia, failed, but in the winter of 1853-54 Gisborne returned to New York where he again solicited support from investors. They formed the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company. In 1854 Gisborne went to Newfoundland as Chief Engineer of the Company and Superintendent of the submarine operation. In 1856 he succeeded in laying a cable between Cape Ray, Newfoundland and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. He was offered a permanent position as Superintendent of the new telegraph system. When he rejected the terms offered, his connection with the company and his involvement in the construction of the trans-Atlantic telegraph system, which came to fruition in 1858, ceased.

In 1857 Gisborne was elected President of the Mining Association of Newfoundland. After several years he returned to England as a mines and minerals agent for the Government of Nova Scotia. He received several British medals for scientific inventions, including electrical and signaling devices. He returned to Canada in 1869 as Chief Engineer for an English company with investments in the coalmines of Cape Breton. In 1879 he accepted the position of Superintendent of the Telegraph and Signal Service of the Dominion Government.

Gisborne was a charter member of the Royal Society of Canada, a member of the Council of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers, and a member of many scientific associations.


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