Morrison, Charles (DNB00)

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MORRISON, CHARLES (fl. 1753), first projector of the electric telegraph, was a surgeon of Greenock. He is said to have subsequently engaged in the Glasgow tobacco trade, and to have emigrated to Virginia, where he died.

Morrison was identified by Brewster and others with the writer of a letter in the 'Scots Magazine' for 1753 (xv. 73), dated 'Renfrew, Feb. 1. 1753,' and signed with the initials 'C. M.' This letter contains a suggestion for conveying messages by means of electricity. The author proposes to set up a number of wires corresponding to the letters of the alphabet, extending from one station to the other. 'Let a ball be suspended from every wire,' says the writer, 'and about a sixth or an eighth of an inch below the balls place the letters of the alphabet, marked on bits of paper, or any other substance that may be light enough to rise to the electrified ball, and at the same time let it be so contrived that each of them may reassume its proper place when dropt.' Signals were to be conveyed by bringing the wire belonging to each letter successively into connection with the prime conductor of an electrical machine, when a current passes and electrifies the ball at the receiving end. The project was alluded to by Sir David Brewster in 1855 in the course of an article on the electric telegraph in the 'North British Review,' xxii. 545. In 1859 Brewster was informed by a Mr. Forman of Port Glasgow that, according to a letter (not now known to exist) dated 1750 addressed by Forman's grandfather to a Miss Margaret Wingate, residing at Craigengelt, near Denny, Charles Morrison had actually transmitted messages along wires by means of electricity, and he is stated to have communicated the results of his experiments to Sir Hans Sloane.

[Home Life of Sir David Brewster, 1869, p. 206; Brewster's correspondence on the subject is preserved at the Watt Monument, Greenock. Morrison's alleged letter to Sir Hans Sloane is not included in the Sloane MSS. at the British Museum, nor does Morrison's name occur in the various publications of the Historical Society of Virginia.]

R. B. P.