Tuesday, 27 September 2016

In praise of Admiral Preedy

This gold medal was issued by the New York-based Tiffany & Company to celebrate the achievement of those who had laid the first transatlantic telegraph cable in 1858, including former Budleigh resident Admiral Preedy CB (1817-94).

I thought I would add my own bloggerel contribution to mark the Admiral's bicentenary in 2017. It can be sung to the tune of ‘Miss Lucy had a baby’.

1. Now let us sing of heroes, who sailed the ocean blue,
And of a Budleigh worthy, and don’t forget his crew.
Two hundred years ago it was - from rural Worcestershire -
That Georgie William Preedy came:
A nautical high-flier.
He passed all his exams, of course, and rose up through the ranks.  
We’re sure that to an army life he would have said ‘No thanks!’
So let us raise our glasses to our Admiral Preedy!
This year is very special as his bicentenary.

HMS Agamemnon, launched in 1852,  was the first British battleship to be designed and built from the keel up with installed steam power 

2. In 1853 aboard the Duke of Wellington.
A first-rate Royal Navy ship; he found it rather fun.
As second-in-command he gained respect from all he met.
With sail and steam propelling her
The ship was quite a threat.
In time he gained promotion to the ship which made his name.
It was the Agamemnon which would really bring him fame.  
So let us raise our glasses to our Admiral Preedy!
Distinguished officer of our redoutable Navy.

3. By 1858 he is the captain of the ship.
Its technical description?  That’s something we can skip.
A 91-gun battleship, equipped with sail and screw,
And many other features
That I won’t impose on you.  
A popular commander with a pleasant-sounding voice,
Our Georgie was by all accounts, it seems, the sailors’ choice.
So let us raise our glasses to our Admiral Preedy!
So famous for commanding Agamemnon’s company.

Queen Victoria as depicted in the 1859 portrait by the German artist Franz Xavier Winterhalter 

4. Now Queen Victoria it was who sat upon the throne.
It was a time, you realise, when people couldn’t phone.
The Queen was told ‘Your Majesty, our scientists desire
To send a message overseas,
And all we need is wire!
And thanks to brilliant Englishmen, as well as Mr Morse,
We have the means to do it, though we need a ship of course!’
So let us raise our glasses to our Admiral Preedy!
He helped to pioneer Victorian telegraphy.

The reels of gutta-percha covered conducting wire conveyed into tanks at the Works of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, at Greenwich

5. The Agamemnon put to sea with many tons of cable
It sailed from Valentia but wasn’t very stable.
A storm arose and almost caused the ship to lose its load.
But Captain Preedy kept his cool;
To him all lives were owed.
East Budleigh’s parish church is where the saga is recalled:
As testament to bravery a window was installed.
So let us raise our glasses to our Admiral Preedy!
The bravest naval officer who ever put to sea.

The story of the whale is told in W.H. Russell's 1865 book The Atlantic Telegraph, illustrated by Robert Dudley

6. The Agamemnon carried on, but almost hit a whale.
An episode depicted by the men who told the tale.
Amazingly it met as planned its Yankee sister ship.
Mid-way across ‘The Pond’ they met
And talked about their trip.
Then cable ends from both the ships they finally did splice.
They had a little problem there, and had to do it twice.
So let us raise our glasses to our Admiral Preedy!
We think he’s just as great as Guglielmo Marconi.

James Buchanan (1791-1868) was President of the USA at this time

7. And finally it all was fixed and messages were sent:
A transatlantic chat between the Queen and President!
They had a few more problems and the link began to fail.
The engineers did scratch their heads,
And some, I’m sure, did wail.
They had to wait a few more years for permanent success;
Brunel’s ship the Great Eastern was a help, I must confess.
So let us raise our glasses to our Admiral Preedy!
His story is a thrilling one, I think we all agree.

Admiral Preedy's home in Little Knowle, Budleigh Salterton, formerly a hotel and care home, now restored as a private residence 

8. And as for Captain Preedy, he was honoured as we know,
The world’s a smaller place today as human contacts grow.
The Navy made him Admiral, Commander of the Bath.
From rural Worcestershire to this
It was a hero’s path.
I think of world wide webs to see his house in Little Knowle;
I think of human progress since that age of steam and coal.   
So let us raise our glasses to our Admiral Preedy!
He was a worthy citizen of East Devon’s Budleigh.  

© Michael Downes 2016

Admiral George William Preedy CB (1817-94) captained HMS Agamemnon which laid the first successful transatlantic telegraph cable in 1858.  He retired to Budleigh Salterton, living at Park House in Little Knowle.  The commemorative stained glass window is in All Saints Church, East Budleigh.  The history of the cable laying is at http://atlantic-cable.com/ and I am indebted to Bill Burns who put together his fascinating website.