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John Hesketh

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John Hesketh (1868-1917)

1918 Obituary [1]

JOHN HESKETH, the second son of a cadet branch of the Heskeths of Rufford, Lancashire, was born at Lytham in 1868.

At the age of 14 he entered the railway telegraphic service and commenced what was to prove his hobby and life's work. Within the period that most youths take to master the Morse code he was a sufficiently skilled operator to warrant appointment as telegraphist by the British Post Office. His telegraphic services were spent in the Newcastle-on-Tyne operating room.

In those early days technical colleges and classes were unknown, but the young telegraph enthusiast collected around him a few kindred spirits from amongst the Newcastle-on-Tyne telegraphists and, securing as lecturer Mr. A. W. Heaviside, then a superintending engineer in the service of the British Post Office, started what was undoubtedly the first post-office engineering class in the Tyneside district. His natural ability being speedily recognized by Heaviside, he was transferred to the engineering branch of the Post Office service.

Leaving the telegraphic service for a period about the year 1892, he took up the position of Borough Electrical Engineer to the Blackpool Corporation. The service was remodelled and improved, loads adjusted and economies effected, such as won speedy recognition from the Council.

In 1896 he accepted the post of Electrical Engineer to the Government of Queensland, and with characteristic energy he started to reorganize the telegraph and telephone service of that State.

In 1904-5 he was deputed to visit America and Europe in the interests of the telegraphic services, and whilst in St. Louis acted as Australia's representative at the International Electrical Congress at the Exposition held there. At the conclusion of the Congress he visited the most important cities of the United States of America, Great Britain, and the Continent of Europe, investigating in each the problems of his profession, and culling with remarkable prescience such developments as were to promote the efficiencies of the Australian services. His report was printed by Order of Parliament, and the views expressed regarding the lines upon which the development of the service might be expected have been closely fulfilled.

In 1906, the year following his return from this tour of inspection and investigation, he was appointed Chief Electrical Engineer to the Commonwealth, and thereafter, as a result, notwithstanding many hindrances of both a political and financial nature, the telegraph and telephone service of the Commonwealth has kept as nearly as possible in line with the best and most economical practice in England and America.

One of the first and greatest reforms urged was the abolition of the old and very unjust flat rate, and the introduction of measured service for telephone calls. Mr. Hesketh early recognized the merits of the common battery system, and one of his first acts on taking up the position of technical adviser to the Postmaster-General's Department was to prepare specifications for the introduction of this system into Australia. He inaugurated telephone development studies, without which economy in the location and lay-out of an exchange is impossible. He resuscitated the Wheatstone fast-speed system of telegraph working between the capital cities, which, though introduced into Australia many years earlier, had lain dormant, pending a proper organization of the traffic.

He devoted special attention to the safe working and prevention of inductive interference between the lines of the Postmaster-General and those of electric lighting undertakers, and in 1909 acted as Chairman of the Melbourne Conference of Electrical Engineers, at which rules were drawn up for the protection of the Postmaster-General's plant, and regulating the lines of development of each class of service.

In 1911-12 a further visit was paid to America, England, and the chief cities of the Continent. Rapid developments were taking place on both the telephone and telegraph sides. In the former field the "battle of the automatics" was raging, whilst in the latter the whole trend of progress was in the direction of printing telegraph systems. He recommended the early extension of automatic systems in Australia, and it is of interest to record that the first public automatic exchange was opened in Australia (Geelong) within a month or two of the opening of the first automatic exchange by the British Post Office (Epsom). His strong faith in "automatics" has been fully justified by results, and it may be stated that, having regard to the number and size of its exchanges, Australia has a greater proportion of automatics than that of any country in the world, America not excepted. Telegraphically Mr. Hesketh recommended the Creed system to handle the traffic between the Eastern and Western States, and one of his last important recommendations was to equip the inter-capital lines to the Northern States with the latest and most promising multiplex printing system.

In 1915, in collaboration with two other of the principal officers of the Postmaster-General's Department, he inquired into the financial basis of the telegraph and telephone services, and, as a result, recommendations were made to alter the rates for telephone and trunkline calls. His early opposition to single-wire telephones, his advocacy of placing telephone cables underground, his expert assistance during the conduct of the various Arbitration Court cases, and the precise statistical information collected throughout his professional career, all combined to promote efficiency and economy in the Post Office engineering services of the Commonwealth.

He was elected an Associate of the Institution in 1890 and a Member in 1895. He served as local Honorary Secretary and Treasurer for Queensland from 1903 to 1906, and as Local Honorary Secretary and Treasurer for Victoria from 1906 until his death.

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