Monday, September 17, 2007

"Hooke dismantled wireless"

On September 15th 1915 the entry by Joseph Russell Stenhouse was brief "Hooke dismantled wireless, heartsick." I think That's Hooke on the far right last row...Hooke was The Ship's Wireless Operator Mr. Lionel Hooke, and for weeks he'd been struggling with the marine wireless set aboard the ship HMS Aurora trying to increase it's range. He'd managed to catch messages from Macquarie Island and Awarua. But then on September 5th a brutal storm tore off the mizzenmast. The aerial had been bolted to it and they both went into the Ross sea.

The ship had been waiting for Sir Ernest Shackleton to cross Antarctica and had become trapped in pack ice. The wireless set was their means of communication with the outside world. Weeks before Hooke had written "We are nearly 100 miles offshore, barren at that & it is a horrible situation." Sadly his estimate of 100 miles was wrong. First officer Stenhouse estimated in his own log that they were 250 miles from shore. More here.

Stenhouse encouraged Hooke to keep trying. he probably was trying to prevent total depression for the whole crew but also genuinely needed the wireless. The pack ice was crushing the ship. The bilges couldn't keep up and men had to pump. The 5-ton rudder was destroyed... their odds of surviving were poor.

Previously the wireless set had almost electrocuted Hooke. Around May 7th he'd been sending daily messages to New Zeland, Awarua, and Macquarie Island. The range of the set was about 300 miles, but he'd not been receiving messages. He noticed one night a humming noise and gone to investigate the transformer. He was shocked by 9,000 volts. The grooved porcelain insulators had become encased in ice and were draining the current. But Hooke was only 18 years old. He was enthusiastic and had been trained as a wireless operator in Melbourne. This was his third assignment at a shipboard wireless operator. More here:

Finally on March 23rd after fifteen months Hooke tinkered, the wireless back to life. They received some crackles of Morse code. It was the wireless station on Awarua. While observing their unwilling radio silence, landing parties had terrible problems. Other ships did not even have wireless. They were bombarded with questions from press sources on 3 continents. They held on for a few more weeks and managed to limp back to Australia where a rescue mission was sent for the remaining men. Read the book.

Hooke returned home and worked for the Royal naval volunteer reserve. In 1920 he started his own radio station. He founded the AWA wireless concert service hosting the first theatre broadcasts in Australia. He dedicated himself to a lifetime of radio work, upgrading radio stations, inventing a automatic distress transmitter for ships, and eventually became the chairman of the AWA, A lifetime radioman. Today the most prestigious electric engineering award in Australia bears his name. The Sir Lionel Hooke Award was first awarded in March 1997. Sir Lionel George Alfred Hooke was knighted in 1957, more here.