March 2019 Item of the Month
Circuit diagram of the Sudanese telegraphic system, 1940
This diagram shows the routes of the land lines of the telegraphic communications infrastructure in central Sudan (now Sudan and South Sudan) as it was in 1939. The item, covering the whole country is found within The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan: handbook of topographical intelligence published in 1940. Other plans in the same volume describe Khartoum and Port Sudan, the wireless telegraph system, landing grounds, railways and roads, and medical services. Issued in wartime, its distribution was restricted and each copy numbered and it is therefore a rare survival, recently donated by the son of C.B. Metcalfe (1913-1995), an agricultural scientist who worked with the Agriculture and Forests Department between 1936 and 1955.
A telegraph system was introduced to Sudan from Egypt, reaching Wadi Halfa in 1866, Khartoum in 1874, and Kodok and El Fasher by 1880 when it’s been estimated some 3,000 miles of lines had been established, often first accompanying railway lines. An 1884 British map of the Nile from Dongola to Khartoum indicates the lines established at that time, published in the same year Mahdist forces laid siege to Khartoum.
The Sudan Archive is fortunate to hold three collections of individuals who served with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and whose papers contain relevant material: A.J. Boscott (1914-1932), C.H. Manton (1910-c.1921), R.M. Summerfield (1911-1938). The photographs below, from Manton’s collection, show a working party at kilometre 175 on the Bahr el-Zeraf in 1915, and a line of camels transporting telegraph poles during a trek by Posts and Telegraphs staff to Karima.
While the telegraphic system had obvious importance for extending the reach of central governmental authority and for the development of trade, in time the telegraph lines would also be turned against the colonial authorities. In 1924 members of the nationalist White Flag League, many of whom were former employees of the Posts and Telegraphs Department, organised a telegram campaign directed principally at the British authorities that culminated in an unsuccessful armed uprising in Khartoum.1
While the circuit diagram makes a visual and real statement of technological achievement and political control, perhaps its most significant feature is right at the top of the diagram where four copper and iron wires run north into the Egyptian state system. In the 1920s as in the 1940s the telegraph lines transmitted news and new perspectives from a changing and convulsed world into Sudan. Increasingly informed and internationally active generations of Sudanese found their calls for a right to self-determination amplified in this network.