Hidden away in the ‘Worldwide’ section of my carte de visite collection I recently came across a photograph taken in Jamaica, by G W Davis of Kingston. The photo, according to the reverse of the carte, purports to be an image of Sir Charles Bright taken in 1871. It seemed likely that there might be an interesting story behind the image, so a search for details of his life was initiated.
Two men named Charles Bright appeared, one born in 1832, the other some thirty years later. Given the date on the photograph and the image of a middle aged man that it showed, it seemed that the Sir Charles Bright in question was the senior of the two. The search was on. The census returns showed a Charles Tilston Bright, a man of the right age who, by 1861, was living with his wife Hannah and five children in Hammersmith, London. A search for this name in the Dictionary of National Biography soon revealed Charles Tilston Bright’s fascinating story.
Charles Bright had in fact been a pioneer of telegraph technology, who in 1855 patented the acoustic telegraph, nick-named Bright’s Bells. He was also involved in the laying of the first telegraph cable between Europe and the Americas in the mid-1850s. It was for his efforts in this field that he received a knighthood in 1858 going on to lay cables in the Mediterranean, Persian Gulf and the West Indies, where my little photo was taken. He also found time to serve as a Member of Parliament for Greenwich, London in 1865 and by 1886 he was President of the Institute of Electrical Engineers. His son, Charles Bright, junior, followed his father into cable engineering and was a pioneer in the use of radio as a communication device, receiving in turn a knighthood of his own.
Sir Charles Bright enjoyed much success during his life but this was cut short when he died on May 3rd, 1888, just shy of his fifty sixth birthday. For a man who had achieved so much he left a relatively small personal estate of £1274, as shown in Probate Registers. His elder brother, Edward Brailsford Bright, acted as the sole executor of the estate, there being no mention of Charles Bright’s children. In a newspaper obituary Charles Bright was described as being a man of “a genial character and fine social qualities” and went on to say that Sir Charles Bright would “always be remembered as one of the chief pioneers of the great electrical developments of the age”. How nice to have another memento of this pioneer in the form of a small photograph, all the way from Jamaica.