John Mercer Brooke (December 18, 1826 – December 14, 1906) was an American sailor, engineer, scientist, and educator. He was instrumental in the creation of the Transatlantic Cable, and was a noted marine and military innovator.
Early life and career[edit | edit source]
John M. Brooke was born in Florida. He was descended from General Hugh Mercer of the American Revolutionary War. His father was an army officer, General George Mercer Brooke, who died in San Antonio, Texas. He was a kinsman of General Dabney Herndon Maury as well as the three men being related to Virginia governor Robert Brooke (Virginia).
Brooke graduated from one of the earliest classes of the United States Naval Academy and became a lieutenant in the United States Navy in 1855. He worked for many years with Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury in the United States Naval Observatory (USNO), charting the stars as well as assisting in taking soundings of the ocean's bottom to determine the shape of the bottom. Many believed the sea floor was flat but attempted soundings of the past in blue water (deep sea) as far as eleven miles (18 km) could not find the ocean bottom. Part of this was due to powerful under currents far below, rivers in the ocean traveling in various directions. In the struggles with soundings, which nobody had done anything of value at great depths it was after Maury's failure with a unique device he invented that gave Brooke an idea of taking deep sea soundings. Brooke perfected a "deep sea sounding device" which was always used afterwards by navies of the world until modern times and modern equipment replaced it. Working together on this project of many trials, Maury wanted to add a sea floor "core sampling device" which Brooke was able to invent.
The outcome was a cannonball with a hollow tube through the center of it—a tube coated with tallow on the inside and other experimental materials until the right coating was decided so as not to contaminate the samples of the sea floor brought up several miles. Studying this sea floor material with his microscope, Maury saw something that fascinated him. For further examination and a professional opinion (in Maury's own words)
. . . a part was sent for examination to Professor Bailey, Jacob Whitman Bailey , professor of chemistry, mineralogy and geology at the United States Military Academy — eminent microscopist. The latter, in November, 1853, thus responded: "I am greatly obliged to you for the deep soundings you sent me last week, and I have looked at them with great interest. They are exactly what I have wanted to get hold of. The bottom of the ocean at the depth of more than two miles (3 km) I hardly hoped ever to have a chance of examining; yet, thanks to Brooke’s contrivance, we have it clean and free from grease, so that it can at once be put under the microscope. I was greatly delighted to find that all these deep soundings are filled with microscopic shells; not a particle of sand or gravel exists in them. They are chiefly made up of perfect little calcareous shells Foraminifera and contain, also, a small number of siliceous shells Diatomacæ..."
Telegraph[edit | edit source]
The inference in all of this is that the area where the samples came from was the "telegraphic plateau" as called by Maury who had sent out ships to sound those depths at two hundred mile intervals from Newfoundland to Ireland. Maury had charted the underwater mountain ridge. The microscopic organisms left the sea floor on this "telegraphic plateau" were deep and soft so that the area was that of a long mountain chain with the top of those underwater mountains having a firm and soft coating of these dead organisms. This meant that the area was deep enough that no ship's anchor nor any fisherman's net would drag the area. The fact that there was no abrasion on these minute organisms meant that there were no strong currents in that area at that depth. Soon after publishing this, Cyrus West Field wrote to Maury of the USNO on the feasibility of laying a transatlantic cable and was given a positive reply and later details explanation face to face. Cyrus Field also contacted Samuel Morse regarding the feasibility of transmitting an electric current a distance of 1,600 miles (2,600 km) underwater. Again, Field was given an affirmative and soon visited Morse. Cyrus Field continued contacting these two men, Maury and Morse, gathering all possible information and offered them shares in his great adventure that would become a reality in 1858 when the Queen of the United Kingdom spoke to President Buchanan through the transatlantic cable.
Had it not been for Brooke's deep sea and core sampling device, the world would have had to wait on charting the floors of the undersea world and would not have had the undersea trans-atlantic cable for generations to come.
Later career[edit | edit source]
As an expert in maritime surveys, he participated in exploratory missions in the Pacific. He had a role in the counseling and instruction of officers of the nascent Japanese Navy. In Japan, he was a technical adviser aboard the Japanese steamer Kanrin Maru, and he helped sail the ship to the United States in February 1860. He was accompanied by Japanese representatives aboard the Powhatan.
He was also instrumental in the development of a new rifled gun for the Navy that became known as the Brooke Gun.
In 1861, Brooke resigned from the U.S. Navy to join the Confederate Navy. He was involved in the conversion of the frigate USS Merrimack into the ironclad CSS Virginia. In 1862, he was promoted to commander, and in 1863, to Chief of the Confederate Navy's Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography, until the end of the war. He was instrumental in the organization and establishment of the Confederate States Naval Academy.
Family life[edit | edit source]
John Mercer Brooke's parents were George Mercer Brooke, b. 1785 (Va.) and Lucy Thomas.
John Mercer Brooke married:
1. Mary Elizabeth Selden Garnett, b. 1 Mar 1826 who died. They had one daughter named Anna Maria Brooke, b. 12 Dec 1856 who never married. 2. Catherine Carter "Kate" Corbin, the widow of Alexander Swift "Sandie" Pendleton kia September 22, 1864.
John Mercer Brooke and Catherine Carter "Kate" Corbin of "Mossneck plantation" (which is in excellent condition and still lived in—as seen in film, "Gods and Generals,) married on 14 Mar 1871 at St. George's Episcopal Church, Fredericksburg, Virginia. John and "Kate" had three children:--
- George Mercer Brooke, b. 17 May 1875
- Rosa Johnston Brooke, b. 1876
- Richard Corbin Brooke, b. 1878
John Mercer Brooke and Catherine Carter "Kate" Corbin-Pendelton-Brooke are buried beside each other in the Stonewall Jackson Cemetery, Lexington, VA
Namesake[edit | edit source]
The US Navy honored his career by naming the first ship of a new class of Destroyer Escort / Fast Frigate ships in his name. USS BROOKE - DEG-1 (Later re-named FFG-1)
Notes[edit | edit source]
- Conrad, p.9
- Williams, Matthew Fontaine Maury: Scientist of the Sea
- PBS - American Experience - The Great Trans-atlantic Cable
- History of the Atlantic Cable and Undersea Communications
- Brooke gun
- Conrad, p.9
References[edit | edit source]
- Conrad, James Lee (2003). Rebel Reefers: The Organization and Midshipmen of the Confederate States Naval Academy. New York, NY: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0306812371.
- Maury, Dabney H., Recollections of a Virginian in the Mexican, Indian, and Civil Wars
- Maury, Matthew F.,Physical Geography of the Sea. (1855)
- Williams, Frances Leigh, Matthew Fontaine Maury: Scientist of the Sea. (1969)