Inventor of foghorn celebrated in Saint John
Published Saturday, May 11, 2019 6:36PM ADT
Last Updated Saturday, May 11, 2019 6:45PM ADT
The low and loud sound of the foghorn is one that many Maritimers are familiar with. But what may be a little less familiar is the pioneer behind the lifesaving navigational invention, and his Maritime connection.
For more than 130 years, the sound of the foghorn has bellowed out from Partridge Island in Saint John Harbour. It was on that very island that the idea of the foghorn was invented by Scotsman Robert Foulis in 1853.
“It was foggy and he was working on the lighthouse in a gas operation,” describes Harold Wright, a local historian. “He had read in the newspaper about a shipwreck off Newfoundland, in the fog, great loss of life, and he figured there was a better way than just ringing a bell.”
Before there were bells, Wright says a series of cannons were fired during foggy weather to alert ships of navigational hazards.
“You hear a big boom, that doesn’t tell you where you are, doesn’t tell you how close you are to the rocks,” describes Wright. “That’s why in Saint John Harbour there were at least two dozen ships that went around and sank around Partridge Island.”
The local historian is putting a spotlight on the life and times of the inventor who settled in Saint John.
Foulis’ fog alarm was built in 1859 on Partridge Island, but he didn’t receive credit for his invention right away. It wasn’t until the release of a government report that he was recognized as the inventor of the world’s first steam-operated fog alarm.
“It’s kind of unfortunate that we don’t have anything to show for it today,” says Joshua Thompson, a former Partridge Island committee member. “Out on the island there is a plaque to it, but unfortunately there’s nothing existing today to show that we had the world’s first fog alarm.”
“I don’t think we teach enough or talk enough about who we are, how we got here, and the accomplishments, and I don’t just mean Saint John, I mean for the entire Atlantic provinces,” adds Wright.
He’s doing his part to make sure New Brunswickers know some of their history, and that Robert Foulis, the man behind the foghorn, is not forgotten.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Lyall.