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History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

Reports and Opinions in Reference to the Selection
of the Best Point for Laying the Cable. July, 1857

Introduction: The planning for the first Atlantic cable expedition in the summer of 1857 was not taken lightly, and there were extensive discussions of the best way to approach the project, which involved a cable some twenty times longer than any previously laid.

A printed summary of the correspondence among some of the principal figures in the enterprise, reproduced below, was discovered bound at the end of the Cornell University Library copy of an 1871 book by Frank Ives Scudamore: Report by Mr Scudamore on the Re-Organization of the Telegraph System of the United Kingdom. Presented to the House of Commons by Command of Her Majesty.

The main part of the book concerns itself with the recent take over by the General Post Office of all the private domestic telegraph companies in Britain, and the work needed to consolidate the formerly independent systems. The book concludes with an 1865 report on the telegraphs in New South Wales, Australia, and other colonies, and the progress of the Anglo-Australian telegraph, followed by a 17-page section entirely unrelated to the other content, the subject of this article. Neither of these sections appear in other copies of Scudamore's book, so it's possible that they were bound together by the original owner.

The correspondence below, from July 1857, was almost certainly privately printed by the Atlantic Telegraph Company at the time; part of the preparation for the expedition which eventually commenced operations on August 4th of that year. Because of the length of the cable it had to be split between two ships, the Agamemnon and the Niagara, and the discussion was on the best way to divide the work between them. The “old plan” was for the two ships to rendezvous in mid-Atlantic, splice the cable, and sail in opposite directions. The “new plan” was for both ships to sail from Ireland towards Newfoundland, one laying cable, then for the second ship to splice on to the end of the first length of cable and complete the run.

In the event, the new plan won out in 1857, but after the loss of the cable when only 335 miles had been laid, the project was abandoned for the year. In 1858 the company reverted to the old plan, and the ships met in mid-Atlantic. The discussions below about bad weather are particularly relevant, as on the first attempt in 1858 the Agamemnon was subjected to a severe gale for over a week, and was almost lost. The second attempt in 1858, also started in mid-ocean, succeeded in laying the cable.

See also this lecture by Captain M.S. Nolloth, RN, given before the United Service Institution in London on 29 March 1858, in which he discusses various method of submerging the Atlantic cable.

-- Bill Burns



Reports and Opinions

in Reference to the

Selection of the Best Point for Laying the Cable. July,




H.M.S. “Agamemnon,”
Greenwich, July 6.


Considering the principal matter for discussion on Wednesday next will be the advantages or disadvantages of commencing to lay the Telegraphic Cable from Ireland, I have reduced my ideas on that important point to writing, considering it will assist the maturity of the deliberations if they are previously discussed by those more able than myself to form a correct estimate of their weakness or strength. I therefore enclose them with this intent.

I am, Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
C. NODDALL, Master Commanding.

To George Saward, Esq.




The almost certainty of passing over that portion of the track between 10° and 15° in fine weather—Maury stating that “there is scarcely a liability of a gale in the month of August in any year, until you approach the Irish Coast, when the chances of encountering one are about three in thirty.”

The chances in case of a gale or strong breeze, of it coming from the westward, more particularly as we have already had a continuance of easterly winds in May and June, as also at all times the prevalence of westerly winds in those seas.

As the cable as coiled in “Agamemnon” now affords greater facilities for paying out than the “Niagara,” if any difficulties should arise in laying down the first half—which are not yet foreseen or anticipated—such as there not being sufficient spare cable to complete the distance, &c., such experience will save the Niagara's half, as well as what may remain in Agamemnon.

The 600 miles of spare cable would be available for the entire route. Whereas, when the ships are laying each half down simultaneously, one vessel having had fine weather, may perform her task and land her end with 100 or more miles to spare, while the other, encountering bad weather, might not have enough to reach the land.

Should this plan be adopted, and all go right, and the cable as to distance be laid satisfactorily, till 1,100 miles, or thereabouts, is paid out, and then a favourable state of the weather ensue, the splicing of the Niagara's end might be immediately undertaken, the Agamemnon following her consort on to the American shore with the remaining portion, to assist, if necessary.

If an extreme case should occur, such as both Niagara and Susquehanna breaking down, there would be the Leopard, and Cyclops to assist, even if the Agamemnon should not follow after her portion is laid out.

The exact knowledge that if continuity or insulation is destroyed the portion paid out must be recovered, to try back and find the cause; if both vessels are at work, it may not be known which end is in fault.

Only the Niagara's portion of the steel wire rope need be used.

I propose the splice be effected while Niagara tows Agamemnon, about 50 fathoms apart slowly westward.

The Company in London would be hourly advised of the progress of the work, and in case it should be required we could secure their opinions on a knotty point.

Maury states that, without a doubt,. the, most propitious time is about the end of July and beginning of August, more particularly as regards the Irish, coast; if the line be laid down simultaneously, the Irish coast will be approached about the 20th of August, supposing we leave Cork on the 1st of that month—if later, the argument, becomes more forcible for adopting this plan.

Disadvantages of commencing to lay the telegraphic cable from Ireland.

The time employed in submerging the cable would, under the most favourable circumstances, be double.

The difficulties and dangers of uniting the Cable in mid-ocean under the chances of bad weather.

The chances of parting company with Niagara in thick weather, and that weather continuing so as to prevent her finding Agamemnon when the latter vessel's portion of cable was nearly or wholly expended, though Maury gives the relative frequency of fogs between 30h. and 35h. as 0.

Master Commanding H.M.S. Agamemnon.

Greenwich, July 6.




1. The securing of the end to the shore before the ship leaves the coast.

2. The advantage of starting from comparatively shoal water into deep water.

3. The prevalence of winds, having West in them, between Ireland and Newfoundland nine months in the year, and especially between the middle of May and the end of September.

4. The desirability and advantage of proceeding against the wind, which may be expected to blow with moderate force from the westward during the greater part of August.

5. The difficulty of regulating the speed of the ship in the event of a strong breeze or gale of fair wind.

6. Power of communicating from the ship to the shore as, often, as may be necessary or desirable during the process of passing out.

7. The advantage of having within speaking or signal distance the officers in command of the several ships employed, also of the engineer and electrician and their assistants, likewise of Professor Morse, who intends to proceed with the expedition.

8. The probability of weather affording favourable opportunity to splice the ends of the rope before the eastern half shall have been paid out.

9. In order to provide for emergency in case the state of the weather should be unpropitious, buoys (such as are already in course of preparation) or a large boat to serve as a buoy and beacon might be used, the boat of course to be decked all over, and made perfectly tight, two masts should be placed in her, one having a flag at the head, the other a mirror (at the top), contrived so as to reflect in all directions; these will be discernible at a considerable distance in clear weather in the event of the necessity of buoying the end of the rope during heavy weather, and temporarily losing sight of the buoy or beacon.

10. Presuming this course of proceeding to be pursued, there is every probability of the ship carrying the Western half, having a considerable excess of rope after reaching the land in Trinity Bay, which might be required for extending communication by submarine telegraph on that side, and be readily disposed of to advantage for the benefit of the Company.

I would suggest that all the ships (assuming, of course, that some part of the rope would remain after splicing on board the ship that carries the Eastern end) should proceed to Trinity Bay, and (if required) assist in securing the Western end to the American shore.


July 7, 1857.




I have been requested to give my opinion in regard to the proposed change in the plan of laying out the Atlantic Telegraph Cable. Instead of proceeding with the two Cable ships on the plan originally projected, to mid-ocean, joining there the two halves of the Cable, and parting the one ship towards Ireland, and the other towards Newfoundland, it is now proposed to commence from the shore end on the western coast of Ireland and from the Niagara at once to lay out the Cable to mid-ocean, accompanied by the other ships, and there joining with the part on board the Agamemnon, proceed thence to Newfoundland.

My first impression was adverse to the new plan, solely, however, on the ground that it involved an additional delay of several days at a period when every hour is of immense importance to bring the operation of laying out the cable, within the limits of the moderate weather of the year upon the Atlantic. But on further reflection, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed change, my opinion is in favour of the new plan.

The disadvantages are:

First. A prolongation of the time employed in laying out the cable, and consequently the incurring of additional risks apparently, of stormy weather upon the ocean. Assuming that the Telegraph squadron sails from the Cove of Cork on the 1st of August, to commence operations from mid-ocean, (the original plan,) five days may be allowed the ships with their free use of sails and steam to reach mid-ocean. To this time add eight days for each of the cable ships to reach their respective destinations, and by the 13th of August, the cable will have been fastened to the American and European shores. But if the new plan is adopted, the squadron leaving Cork on the 1st of August, the Niagara can scarcely commence laying the cable from the Irish shore before the 2nd of August. Commencing then from the 2nd of August, the whole squadron must proceed towards mid-ocean at the paying out speed of the Niagara. Hence, eight days must be allowed to reach the point where the two parts of the cable are to be joined, and to lay the remaining half the Agamemnon consumes eight days more, making in all eighteen days, instead of thirteen days, of exposure to the risk of gales.

Second. The second disadvantage of the new plan is the risk of encountering unfavourable weather at the critical moment when the two halves of the cable are to be joined. The necessity for proceeding to pay out at a certain definite speed from the time the ships leave the Irish coast will bring the period for joining the cables, at a certain definite time as to day or hour, but at an uncertain time as to the state of the weather. The joining of the two halves of the cable, however, must be made when mid-ocean is reached, whatever may be the state of the weather; and should the weather be stormy, it is argued that the safety of the cable would be endangered.

I think I have fairly stated the prominent disadvantages which at first blush are adverse to the new plan. The first disadvantage (that of prolonging the time at the risk of longer exposure to the risks of unfavourable weather), yields, when other circumstances are taken in connection with prolonged time. It is well known to nautical men, that in the early part of August uniform fine, calm weather prevails on the Atlantic in the pathway from Newfoundland to Ireland; but from the middle to the latter part of August gales may be expected, but they are sure to be upon the coast of Ireland, while milder weather prevails on the American side of the water. Gales at that season seldom or never occur on the Newfoundland coast. This fact, of great importance, not only removes the disadvantage from the new plan, but turns it over in its full force against the old plan. The risks of unfavourable weather are all on that side. For it is very certain that should the ships commence laying out from mid-ocean, the work cannot be commenced before the 6th or 7th of August, bringing upon the Irish coast, the ship which is to land the European end of the cable just in the season when a gale may be expected to occur on that coast. Should the ships on the contrary commence from Ireland, they commence in good weather, and, if the experience of good observers is correct, they will take fine weather with them through the whole operation from land to land, leaving the region where gales may be expected, long before the season of their occurrence. Thus, although a few days longer may be expended on the ocean, they will be passed in a region where the operations will be undisturbed by gales.

As to the second disadvantage, the chance of bad weather when it becomes necessary to connect the two halves of the cable, I would speak with great deference to the skill and experience of the engineers. I will yet venture respectfully to suggest, that having at least, as we will hope, some two or even three days of surplus cable on each ship, there are at least two days of choice of weather for connecting the cables. If, when the first half is paid out, up to within two or three hundred miles of the end of it, good weather should occur for connecting, might not the joining be then made with perfect success; and is it at all probable that weather unfavourable to such an operation can continue two days?

In this view of the case, the advantages of security to the integrity of the cable is on the side of the new plan.

Aside from other advantages of the new plan, I may briefly touch upon some that occur to me.

A principal one is the lessening the risks of embarrassment in the electrical testings which will be carried on without a moment's intermission, day and night, during the whole operation. By the first plan, two corps or staffs of operators will commence communicating with each other from each ship. It is obvious that instruments on ship board will at the best work to much disadvantage as compared with instruments on the land. These disadvantages are doubled by dividing the staff and instruments into the two ships, but they are lessened one half, if one station is on shore, as would be the case if the new plan is adopted, and the other on the ship which, for the time being, is paying out the cable. It may also be urged as an important advantage, that the whole strength of the scientific staff (which, on the old plan, is divided), will, on the new plan, be concentrated in the ship which is paying out.

Not among the least of the advantages which the new plan presents over the old, is that of our ability in this case of communicating with the Company's head-quarters in London every moment from the time we leave the shores of Ireland until we arrive in Newfoundland, and can thus report every step of our progress.

These few hasty remarks are respectfully presented,

By your obedient servant,                   


To the Chairman of the Board of Directors of
the Atlantic Telegraph Company,
22, Old Broad-street.

Greenwich, 8th July, 18-57.



No. 8, Ashburnham Terrace, Greenwich,
July 9th, 1857.


On reflection since the meeting yesterday, and the exchange of views of the gentlemen present, upon the best plan for laying out the cable to insure success in every department of the enterprise, it appears to me that the reconciliation of the engineer's and the electrician's labours, is the point to which our attention is directed. All else is literally plain sailing. These are the Scylla and Charybdis between which we desire safely to steer.

If the plan of mid-ocean commencement is adopted, the engineer's labours are comparatively easy, while difficulties of a most serious nature are then devolved upon the electricians.

If the plan of commencing from the Irish shore is adopted, the electrician's labours are comparatively easy, while the difficulties of the engineer's department it is alleged are increased.

In this dilemma let us examine each of these categories with care.

If one must yield to the other, which can yield with the least risk to the success of the whole enterprise?

It must strike all, that the difference of the time in which the peculiar difficulties of the two departments of labour will operate is vastly disproportionate The additional difficulties of the engineer's department in consequence of adopting the new plan, supposing them to be as great as the most unfavourable aspect in which they are viewed, can present, are so short in duration that they become as nothing in comparison with the duration of those that must devolve upon the electricians, should the original plan be adhered to.

The new engineering difficulties (supposing them to be real difficulties), do not begin until within a day or two at the utmost, of reaching mid ocean; an hour or two then terminates them favourably or unfavourably.

The electrical difficulties in the old plan, on the contrary, commence from mid-ocean, and continue with increasing perplexity and complication to the end of the voyage. In this view of the matter it would seem but reasonable that the engineers, rather than the electricians, should endeavour to meet and overcome any new difficulties which this change from the original plan may produce.

My friend, the electrician of the company will state to you and with great clearness, the insurmountable nature of the difficulties we shall have to encounter, if the old plan is adhered to. No possible means now known to science can assure to each ship that confidence which is absolutely necessary, that it is proceeding judiciously in its work, and with certainty that it is not wasting the property of the company in paying out the cable when it should stop and perhaps reel back.

In that direction, I confess I see nothing but uncertainty, and a weight of responsibility and anxiety sufficient to break down the strongest nerves. From this weight, so far as is possible, we ought to be relieved.

It ought to be taken into consideration, also, that as yet we have had no opportunity of testing in one continuous length the entire cable. From the fact that the two halves of it have been manufactured so far from each other as to preclude the possibility (under existing circumstances) of uniting them till both cable ships are side by side in the Cove of Cork, we shall have, at the utmost, but two days to make all the experiments to ascertain if we have the apparatus and appliances necessary to meet and overcome all the difficulties which this new and untried condition of things may manifest.

Let me suggest, therefore, to our good friends, the engineers, whether the plan of a series of buoys attached to the last two or three miles of cable before reaching mid-ocean, is not in reality a most feasible, safe, and easy mode? I would speak with all deference to their superior skill and experience, but I cannot but think it perfectly practicable (whatever may be the state of the weather) to attach to the cable, at any desirable distances, small buoys, say at every hundred feet, which, acting like the hands of those who coil the cable in the tanks of the manufactory, or like the sheve poles which steady it and guide it into the ship, will each sustain its portion of the weight so far that when the end is arrived at, this end, if necessary, may be attached to a larger buoy, and without any risk whatever, may even be thrown overboard, and left to be picked up at leisure by the other ship after the gale has subsided.

I confess my convictions are so strong that this mode would accomplish the safe union of the cable, even in a gale of wind, that I am curious to learn what objections can be raised against it.

Certainly, if this difficulty can be overcome by this or any other mode, the other risks of the electrical department will, in a great measure, be overcome.

With great respect.
Your obedient servant,

To the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the
Atlantic Telegraph Company,
22, Old Broad Street, London.



I take it that the means of assuring ourselves of the electrical safety of the whole extent of our cable is a matter of paramount importance during the entire process of paying out, and this equally so whether it be done by the two ships consecutively or simultaneously.

If all go well, and signals are at no time interrupted during the voyage, either mode may he adopted with almost equal facility, so far as the electrical element is concerned; but if any accident occur to either end, the first thing that will inevitably arise will be the total interruption of all electrical communication.

Thus, then, our signals cease at the very moment when intercommunication is more than ever necessary for the guidance of the engineers.

It would seem to me to be scarcely justifiable to place our great undertaking in such a position as that one end of the cable having been irretrievably lost from either of the ships, the other vessel should still deliberately continue to throw away the whole of her remaining cargo of 1,000 miles or upwards into the sea.

I propose, therefore, to lay before you the possible occurrence of certain casualties as contingencies against which we ought to provide. And on the occurrence of any one of which we must be armed with such, remedies and resources as nautical engineering and electrical science can furnish.

Under each of these circumstances, the paying out from two ships simultaneously, seems greatly to increase the risk and the amount of loss; in the event of an accident occurring it deprives the electrician on board each vessel of the counsel and co-operation of his coadjutor in the other ship, while it leaves him to bear the onus, during the whole period of the voyage without repose for a single hour; his anxieties are unrelieved even for an interval, and he may thus be rendered unfit for any emergency that may arise.

The new plan, on the other hand, though it prolong the time, yet gives the advantage of mutual counsel and support, while it affords also the opportunity of obtaining necessary rest at intervals.


The Temporary Cessation of Signals from Occurrence of Loss of Insulation—Upwards of 500 Miles paid out.

Original Plan—The vessel, over the stern of which it has occurred, readily detects the accident, repairs it, and continues her journey: this may have occurred six to thirty-six hours. Not so the other vessel, who detects the accident only by receiving no signals; she tests and finds “dead earth,” but cannot possibly ascertain whether the insulation is merely temporarily destroyed by the conductor having been laid bare to some extent, or whether the end may not have been lost altogether.

What is she to do? and how long to wait? She cannot stop, for by doing so she would necessarily endanger the safety of her own cable. If she knew the other end of the cable were lost, of course she would pay out no more; if she thought the injury capable of repair, she might continue her voyage without hesitation.

New Plan—No such hesitation or difficulty could be encountered, inasmuch as the accident speaks for itself on board the one ship to which it has occurred, and the course to be pursued is clear. The other end of the cable is known to be resting safely and free from such risks.


Temporary Cessation of Signals from Loss of Continuity—Insulation remaining perfect upwards of 1000 miles paid out—Weather fine.

Original Plan.—The vessel over the stern of which it has occurred, detects it readily, and begins to haul up, examine, test, and repair. This may occupy several hours; meantime the other vessel knows of the accident only by getting no signals, and the same difficulty and doubt arises as in the previous case.

New Plan.—The only vessel employed detects the accident readily, raises the cable, and takes such measures as enable her to repair it, without undue haste, conscious that there is no vessel at, the other end anxiously awaiting signals for the guidance of her future movements.


All having gone well for a certain time, the vessels being from 1,200 to 1,500 miles apart, one of them meets with bad weather, and the instruments get damaged, or the batteries are rendered for a time unserviceable; she may possibly receive signals, but can send none; the bad weather lasts several days, during which she continues to pay out her cable slowly and safely.

Original Plan.—The first vessel continues her course as soon as the gale permits, and may finish laying her portion successfully; meantime the other vessel may have been three days without any signals, and is unable by testing to ascertain the cause.

What course is she to pursue? Is she to assume, without any evidence, that all is right with the other vessel, and therefore to continue her course? or is she to suppose that the cable has been lost, and that it is her duty to save what may remain on board?

New Plan.—No such difficulty could arise.


On the second or third day after commencing operations, 4 or 500 miles having been paid out, the weather becomes bad, the ship begins to pitch heavily if the wind be contrary, or if the wind be fair, she runs so fast that a kink may come up out of the hold, and the insulation of the cable be injured;—signals fail; she determines to “lay to,” and the storm increasing, it is not deemed safe to attempt to raise the cable lest it should end in total loss; it is therefore carefully and safely buoyed, the rough weather continues for three or four days, the buoy is lost sight of, but found again on the fourth or fifth day, and the cable, on examination, found to be all right, after hauling in a mile or two.

Old Plan.—The other ship not being able to ascertain whether the cable is totally lost or buoyed, must either go on hoping against hope, finding by her testing that there is entire loss of insulation, and having had no signals for five or six days; or on the other hand she must begin to haul up the cable, thus throwing away what might otherwise have been a success.

New Plan.—No such uncertainty could arise, the one vessel employed finding the cable all right at the buoy, would resume her operations.


Two days after parting in mid-ocean, one vessel, either from being overtaken by foul weather, or from some other accident, loses her end of the cable; the other ship receiving no signals, but being unable to assure herself of the cause, continues her voyage, not being able to be overtaken, and thus sails on deliberately, throwing the whole of her cable into the sea, under a blind belief that, probably, all may yet be right with the other vessel.


The very probable occurrence of terrestrial induced currents, of considerable force, in our wire when laid.

This may for some time embarrass the working of our instruments, and though this difficulty can ultimately be met by the resources of electrical science, yet it must be remembered that electric resources are necessarily limited on ship-board; and that until time has been given for such resources to be tried, each vessel must necessarily remain without signals from, and therefore be in ignorance of, the state of the other end of our cable.

Finally, let it be distinctly understood that when a distance of eleven or twelve hundred miles or upwards intervenes between the ends of the cable, I believe it to be impossible by any of the highest resources of electrical testing, or, indeed, by anything short of the receipt of actual signals from the distance, to assure ourselves of the condition of the remote end of the cable.


Greenwich, July 9th, 1857.



United Service Club, Pall Mall,
July 9th, 1857.


In accordance with the wish expressed by the Chairman of the Meeting yesterday, I proceed to give a written opinion on the question, whether it would be preferable to commence laying down the Atlantic Cable from mid-ocean or from the coast of Ireland.

The principal risk in the first case appears to be, that it is not impossible that the Agamemnon may be driven by a heavy gale from the westward, so fast as to endanger the Cable.

Should the gale be extremely violent, I can conceive little difficulty in the ship's lying to, when her drifts would be of course in the direction in which the Cable is to be laid, but since examining, the Agamemnon yesterday, and her arrangements I feel convinced, that should she even scud at the rate of ten miles an hour, there is little danger of the cable fouling.

The principal risks in the other case seems to be in the passing the end of the Cable from one ship to the other, splicing it, and then bringing the weight and strain gradually, and without jerk on the new Cable; and all this to be done in a gale of wind (for as we have supposed a gale in the one case, it is but fair to have one in the other), and in the deepest water, where the Cable would have the greatest tendency to run out with speed.

I think the difficulties and the risks of injuring the Cable at this point, under these circumstances, would be very great, and if it were here to break, 1,200 miles of it would at once be lost.

These considerations, combined with the fact, that by starting from mid-ocean the time and consequently the risks in laying down the Cable will be reduced to one-half; that fine weather would be ensured for lowering the most tender part (the splice) to the bottom; that there is little chance at this time of the year of a gale of wind so violent as to affect a powerful ship like the Agamemnon; that supposing the ship bring her end to within twenty or thirty miles of the coast, it would be so much easier to buoy it (the water being shoaler) in case of fog or storm, rendering a nearer approach unadvisable, have brought me to the conclusion, after bestowing my best judgment upon it, that it will be preferable to commence laying down the Cable from mid-ocean.

I have the honor to be, Sir, your obedient Servant,
J.F.B. WAINWRIGHT, Captain, R.N.
H.M.S. Leopard.



H.M.S. Agamemnon,
Greenwich, 9th July, 1857.


Having heard with attention the discussion yesterday relative to the merits of the plans proposed for connecting the Atlantic Telegraphic Cable with Ireland and Newfoundland, I am of opinion that the nautical advantages of starting with the end secured to Ireland, and connecting with the other ship's Cable when the first half is paid out, are greater than the plan of proceeding to mid-ocean and primarily connecting there; but in either case, the difficulties, as far as we sailors are concerned, can be met with comparative ease.

Mr. Bright and his able coadjutors in the Engineers' Staff, who have been practically engaged in laying down Submarine Cables, having all expressed such decided opinions as to the positive danger likely to accrue in uniting the Cable when one half is submerged, and they having devoted their attention to this question for so long a period, I should, if Mr. Whitehouse's objections can be satisfactorily met, bow to their judgment.

I am, Sir, your obedient Servant,
C. NODDALL, Master,
Commanding Agamemnon.



2, Hanover Square,
July 7th, 1857.

To the Chairman
Atlantic Telegraph Company,

Our co-Director, Mr. Brooking, having called the attention of the Directors to a consideration of the question, whether it would be preferable, in paying out the Atlantic Cable, to commence from the Coast of Ireland rather than in Mid-ocean, I promised to lay before you the result of my own reflections on this question.

My attention was, I believe, first called to this subject by our co-Director, Mr. Samuel Gurney, many months since, (when our Company was first started,) since then I have thought seriously upon the matter, although I had not entered into any discussion upon it before it was proposed for consideration by Mr. Brooking, at our last meeting; these views therefore, as the result of my own reflections only, may be considered as crude and open to discussion.

First, as to the union in Mid-ocean and paying out the cable from two vessels starting from the same point in opposite directions; I am at a loss to conceive any real advantage from this mode of proceeding, except such as may arise from the probability of fine weather being limited to but a few days continuance from the commencement of the operation, and even this it appears to me may be over balanced by the chances of starting with fine weather from the coast where all such probabilities may be calmly discussed; on the other hand, if we should not meet with fair weather at mid-ocean, we may lose much more time and incur greater risks in effecting a junction of the cables.

Starting with one end of our cable from land, we should have one junction less to effect at sea, and test our machinery near to shore, thus proceeding with encouragement, moreover we should proceed in unison to mid-ocean with our whole experienced staff united; and there, should it be decided for the Agamemnon to return, we should be enabled to draw off our most experienced hands from that ship, to unite with those on board the Niagara, to proceed onward to Newfoundland.

Once at mid-ocean proceeding as I have described, the joining the end of the unlaid portion from the Niagara to the end of that already laid down, would in fact be only a continuation of the act of paying out, which appears to me in every way preferable to commencing in mid-ocean, where the junction or centre of a curved line has to be dropped to a depth of upwards of two miles. In fact, I here see considerable difficulty, even supposing fine weather to exist in getting this down straight, from the tendency of the centre to intwine itself and form kinks in descending. That it may be possible to obviate this by passing large balls of heavy wood, or a tube threaded on the centre I admit, but in the junction of the end of the portion on board the Niagara to the end of the portion already laid down from the Agamemnon, no such difficulty would arise (the junction once effected), it would only be a continuation of paying out; and suppose the weather on our arriving at mid-ocean too unfavorable for uniting the Cable, it will only be necessary to buoy the end of the Cable, and lay by for a few days; a small attendant steamer could keep a look-out for the buoy, to which I would suggest (if approved by nautical men) a lighter, with a mast should be attached; and supposing several buoys to be attached, the lighter to ride by the outermost, to prevent a strain upon the Cable.

These views therefore resolve themselves into the following considerations in favor of commencing at the coast of Ireland:—

1st—The assurance of fine weather for a start.

2nd—The reducing of three junctions of the Cable to be effected at sea to two.

3rd—The advantage of saving the whole experienced staff united throughout the operation, instead of being divided; and especially the fact, that in the event of an accident, the whole force would be on the spot and acquainted with its causes; whereas, supposing a rupture of one portion of the Cable, or the electric current to occur when the vessels are one hundred, or say, a thousand miles distant, the vessel whose portion might be perfect would be paralyzed, she could neither move forward or backward, until she had learnt the cause. Thus supposing each vessel to have paid out 500 miles, which would place them 1000 miles apart, it would be almost impossible to communicate by a messenger steamer in time to be of utility, this in fact appears to me the gravest question against the opinion for commencing at Mid-Ocean.

As to the vessels losing sight of each other, it appears to me, as the speed would not exceed five to six knots per hour, and that there would be a convoy of four vessels instead of two, this would not be likely to occur; but the eminent nautical opinions, we have to aid us, will be able to satisfy us on these and other nautical questions.

I remain, my dear Sir, yours very truly,

Wm. Brown, Esq., M.P.



London, July 10th, 1857.

To the Directors of
The Atlantic Telegraph Company.


I beg to lay before you my views in regard to the proposition for altering the original plan of laying the Atlantic Telegraph Cable, by starting from the Irish Coast instead of commencing from the centre as previously determined upon.

It is urged that from the possibility of a westerly gale arising during the progress of the Agamemnon from the centre to the eastern terminus of the Cable at Valentia, there is some risk of the lowest speed at which under such circumstances, she could make being so great as to endanger the successful laying of the line, and that it might be difficult, if not impossible, in unfavorable weather to bring her with safety so near to the coast of Ireland as to land the shore end of the Cable at Valentia.

It is further advanced that the adoption of the new plan would be more desirable in the electrical department, on account of the difficulty which would exist under the original plan in ascertaining the nature of the fault in the event of any interruption of communication between the two vessels.

I have considered the former objections (which may be called the nautical difficulties), before, and have discussed them carefully with the Engineers who will assist me in laying the Cable, but I have not been able so maturely to weigh the importance of the electrical points as compared with the danger which I and my colleagues see in other respects in a change at this late period from the original plan, having only heard them suggested for the first time at the conference on Wednesday.

I think from what passed at the Meeting that the nautical difficulty may be overcome, at all events I consider that the risk which will be encountered by laying the Cable from the Irish Coast, instead of commencing midway between Ireland and Newfoundland is of infinitely greater importance.

By reversing the Propeller of the “Agamemnon,” and by using some Drag, such as that suggested by Sir Baldwin Walker, or by employing the Leopard in the manner proposed by Captain Wainwright, or by heaving-too the ship and allowing her to drift, the rate of the “Agamemnon” would be retarded sufficiently to deliver the Cable into the sea with safety; and in this we should be assisted by having the largest and most complete coil which has ever yet been made for such a purpose, and by the improved machinery fitted for paying out this line.

The difficulty of making Valentia, should the weather on the Irish Coast be unfavorable, is not of great consequence, for should it be necessary to part with the Cable on approaching land, the comparative shallowness of the water would allow of its being easily buoyed, and connected with the shore at a more suitable time. Sub-marine Cables are continually buoyed in the North Sea, at distances varying from ten to fifteen miles from land, where they are frequently left for weeks, and are then taken up and joined to the shore.

On the other hand by starting from Ireland, we encounter the probability of losing the rope in the attempt to join it in the middle of the Atlantic, with a strain of two thousand fathoms upon it, for it must be remembered that we have been compelled, in order to keep down the bulk and weight of the Cable, to make its proportions and materials such, that we cannot rely upon its sustaining a greater strain than would arise from supporting a weight of three tons and a half.

When we have to change from one ship to another, the egress of the Cable must be stopped for a time, and even in fine weather this would be an operation of considerable risk; and should there be the least wind or current, the drifting of the ships would bear upon the Cable in a manner that would, to say the least, be very dangerous.

But it should be borne in mind that the occurrence of bad weather at the time when the splice must be made, would make the loss of the line an absolute certainty.

Lieutenant Maury, whose data as to the frequency of gales in the North Atlantic have been generally accepted, gives the average of gales in the month of August, between 35° and 30° long, (the part where the splice must be made) as 2, and between 30° and 25° as 1. The other parts of our route, except those next to the shores of Ireland and Newfoundland, are estimated by comparison as 0.

Thus the 5° of longitude in the central portion of our line, where the weather is of the most vital consequence, present almost the greatest liability to gales of the entire route. In addition to this we are informed that the probability of fogs occurring in the five degrees immediately preceding the above (that is to say, between 30° and 25° long,) may be estimated at 6, which, as will be seen from the scale below, is greater than at any other point except on approaching the coast of Newfoundland.

  55   50   45   40   35   30   25   20   15   10  
Gales   1   1   0   0   2   1   0   0   4    
Fogs   6   8   8   2   0   6   1   0   3    

So that just before we enter the region where the splice must be made we run considerable risk of parting company, which would involve the danger of holding on by the Cable until the vessels could meet again.

By commencing from Ireland we should double the time occupied in laying the Cable, and proportionately increase the risk of losing it by meeting with bad weather.

It has been put forward as an argument in favor of the new method, that half the Cable would be saved in the event of any accident arising in effecting the junction; but under the original plan we meet with our greatest difficulty at the outset by starting midway in the deepest water. If we lay the first 100 miles-50 from each ship—safely, we have every reason to rely upon the expedition being crowned with success. If the Cable is lost it will probably be in the deep water, and nearly the whole of the line will then be brought home.

Under the original plan we are sure of the junction being well made: we proceed to the centre, and, should not the weather be propitious, we can wait as long as may be necessary, and if any failure should occur in making the first joint, we can repeat the operation again and again, with the loss of few miles only of the Cable.

In the new plan the failure of passing the bight overboard in changing from the Agamemnon to the Niagara, which would be attended under the most favourable circumstances with very great risk, would at once lose 1,200 miles of Cable, and any plan of buoying the Cable to relieve the strain, such as proposed at the conference yesterday, would add to the complication of the work, which, it must be remembered, might have to be attempted at night or in bad weather.

The mode of effecting the splice in itself presents a serious difficulty in the new plan. The ends of the Cable being different in the direction of their lay, each would have a tendency to unwind, and the gutta percha covered copper wire would then be twisted and broken off.

This must be met by serving wires reverse to the lay of each rope for at least two miles to form a neutral length at the splice.

This would nearly double the weight of the Cable in the neighbourhood of the junction, bringing a tension when the ordinary Cable again passes from the vessel, more than it is capable of bearing.

For the above reasons I am in an engineering point of view most strongly in favor of adhering to the plan originally adopted for commencing in mid-ocean, and in this opinion I am supported by the Engineers who are co-operating with me.

With regard to the electrical reasons which have now been suggested, for altering our previous arrangements, I must say, that I have been completely taken by surprise at this new source of objection.

Of course, if the communication is suddenly stopped, although it is easy for the Electrician to tell whether the fault is near to his ship, or remote from it, and therefore, probably occurring within two or three miles from the other ship, still he will be unable to know what steps are being taken to remedy the defect.

This difficulty must have existed from the first, and it is peculiarly embarrassing to me that the discussion of its importance as compared with the other conditions necessary to success should have been deferred until a fortnight previous to our departure, when we are under so great a pressure for time, if the undertaking is to be carried out this year.

Should any defect arise between the shore and the vessel, in the new plan, the same electrical difficulty would arise if the paying-out ship, not knowing the nature of the fault, but supposing it to be on the shore, should proceed on her voyage, continuing to pay out the Cable. It is true that the chances of such an emergency do not appear so great, but we are to a certain extent trying an experiment, and although we believe from the soundings taken from 30 to 50 miles apart, that the bottom is soft and level, there may yet be sharp rocky points where the Cable may be destroyed.

In conclusion, the points which have to be decided by you, appear to me to resolve themselves into the choice between the almost certain loss of 1,200 miles of the Cable by commencing from the coast of Ireland or by keeping to the original plan: the possibility of paying out some additional length of Cable at one end, should it happen that the other end is altogether lost.

I am, Gentlemen, yours faithfully,


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