Biographical Dictionary of Canadian Engineers

Edited by
Rod Millard

GISBORNE, Frederic Newton , b. 8 March 1824, Broughton, Lancashire, England; d. 30 Aug. 1892, Ottawa. Educated by private tuition in mathematics and civil engineering, he arrived in Canada in 1845, completed a course in telegraphy, became chief operator of the Montreal Telegraph Company, opening its first station in Quebec City. In 1847, he was general manager of the British North American Electric Telegraph Association, founded to connect the Maritimes with the Canadas telegraphically. From 1849 to 1851, he was superintendent and chief operator of the N.S. government telegraph lines, and preformed submarine cable experiments. On 1 July 1851, he left N.S., and, by Sept., completed a telegraph line from St. John's to Harbour Grace and Carbonear, Nfld., and surveyed a 300 mile telegraph line through unexplored wilderness from St. John's to Cape Ray. On 22 Nov. 1852, he completed North America's first submarine cable between Carleton Head PEI and Cape Tormentine N.B., using his own technology. He became a tireless promoter of a transatlantic cable. In July 1856, after protracted financial difficulties, he constructed a line from St. John's to Cape Ray, and laid a cable from this point to Cape Breton. From 1856 to 1861, he engaged in mineral exploration and development in Newfoundland and the Maritimes, until a severe gun shot wound ended this work; he went to England and conducted scientific research. He was appointed Newfoundland's commissioner, International Exhibition, London (1862), and commissioner for mines, Paris (1865), and was Nova Scotia's London agent for mines and minerals. Returning to Canada in 1869, he oversaw the development of four collieries and associated rail and harbour facilities in Sydney and Louisbourg, but, by 1879, was ruined financially, and accepted the new post of superintendent, Dominion Telegraph and Signal Service. He repaired the B.C. telegraph system, and built a line along the Gulf of St. Lawrence. During the 1885 Riel Rebellion, he supervised the construction of telegraph lines in the Northwest to maintain communications. A charter member of the Royal Society of Canada (1882), and the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers (1887), he served on the CSCE's council in 1888 and 1891. Although he died in obscurity, his biographer, Gwynneth C. D. Jones, contends that Gisborne is a "landmark figure in the history of science and technology in Canada. . . ."

Stephanie Carpenter