Guglielmo Marconi was probably the most famous Catholic scientist to live on the Island. Born at Bologna, Italy, in 1874, the second son of Giuseppe Marconi, an Italian country gentleman, and Annie Jameson, daughter of Andrew Jameson of Daphne Castle in the County Wexford, Ireland. He was educated privately at Bologna, Florence and Leghorn. Even as a boy he took a keen interest in physical and electrical science.
In 1896 Marconi took his apparatus to England where he was introduced to Mr. (later Sir) William Preece, Engineer-in-Chief of the Post Office, and later that year was granted the world’s first patent for a system of wireless telegraphy. He demonstrated his system successfully in London. In 1899 he established wireless communication between France and England across the English Channel. He erected permanent wireless stations at The Needles, Isle of Wight, at Bournemouth and later at the Haven Hotel, Poole, Dorset. At Knowles Farm, Niton, is a plaque bearing the inscription : “This is to commemorate that Marconi set up a wireless experimental station here in A.D. 1900”. A memorial pillar at the Needles Park, Alum Bay was erected with plaques describing Guglielmo Marconi’s wireless transmission trials in 1897. The Inscription here states:-
THE NEEDLES WIRELESS TELEGRAPHY STATION EXCHANGED RADIO MESSAGES FIRST WITH A TUG IN ALUM BAY THEN WITH BOURNEMOUTH 14 MILES DISTANT, NEXT WITH POOLE 18 MILES AWAY, LATER WITH SHIPS 40 MILES SEAWARDS. THESE WONDERS ATTRACTED WORLD WIDE ATTENTION AND FAMOUS SCIENTISTS FROM MANY COUNTRIES CAME (1898 – 1900) TO SEE THE NEW WIRELESS TELEGRAPHY IN EXPERIMENTAL OPERATION.
During the three years that he was (partly) resident on the Island, Marconi attended Mass at St. Wilfrid’s in Ventnor and at the Weston Manor chapel at Totland. He often received hospitality from the Ward family who owned the chapel and adjacent Manor house. Squire Granville Ward took a keen interest in Marconi’s experiments and gave him financial assistance. He developed a close friendship with Fr. Peter Haythornthwaite, the chaplain at Weston Manor the home of the Ward family. A keen cyclist, Marconi spent much of his spare time exploring the beauty of the West Wight. During his brief time living on the Island he developed a deep affection for its heritage, natural beauty and landscape.
In 1914 Marconi was commissioned in the Italian Army as a Lieutenant being later promoted to Captain, and in 1916 transferred to the Navy in the rank of Commander. He was a member of the Italian Government mission to the United States in 1917 and in 1919 was appointed Italian plenipotentiary delegate to the Paris Peace Conference. He was awarded the Italian Military Medal in 1919 in recognition of his war service.
During his war service in Italy he returned to his investigation of short waves, which he had used in his first experiments. After further tests by his collaborators in England, an intensive series of trials was conducted in 1923 between experimental installations at the Poldhu Station and in Marconi’s yacht “Elettra” cruising in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and this led to the establishment of the beam system for long distance communication. Proposals to use this system as a means of Imperial communications were accepted by the British Government and the first beam station, linking England and Canada, was opened in 1926, other stations being added the following year. Marconi died in Rome on July 20, 1937.