A MEMBER OF THE INSTITUTION OF CIVIL ENGINEERS.
SMITH, ELDER AND CO., 65 CORNHILL
It is understood that the “Atlantic Telegraph Company” intend applying to the Government, and, if necessary, to Parliament, for another grant of money, in the shape either of guarantee, or subsidy, to enable them to come before the public with proposals for a second capital, to enable them to lay down another cable from Valentia to Trinity Bay,—the one previously laid down being now confessed to be hopelessly defective, beyond the reach of either remedy or recovery; and the capital expended in its construction and submersion, by consequence, as hopelessly and irrevocably lost.
Mismanagement apart, (supposing it to have existed), there is every reason why their application should meet with a ready and favourable response, both from the Government and the public. Of the importance of the project, in both a national and commercial point of view, there can be no second opinion: and that it was undertaken in a spirit of patriotism, no less than of commercial gain, there is no doubt. It is well known that most of the first capital was nobly and liberally subscribed in comparative indifference as to remunerative results, so only that there was secured to this country and America the means of instantaneous interchange of communication. With all its imperfections, it was, altogether, a fact worthy of the two countries.
That the attempt should prove a failure, was perhaps a not unnatural consequence of a first experiment. The experiment, however, was made, and succeeded so far as to prove that success was at least practicable; (under what conditions will be presently examined); and, therefore, the projectors have unquestionably established a prima facie case for further help from the Government, and further capital from the public.
But the question immediately arises, whether the above project is, or is to be, the only one that is to accomplish the desired end? or whether it is only one of several, possibly many, schemes, which will be started for the same purpose, with equally or possibly superior claims in point both of practicability and utility? and if the latter, whether the Government are to be expected to countenance and foster all of them, by grants from the public purse, or to select one, to the exclusion of all the rest ?
That they should subsidise all, could hardly be expected. In selecting one, then, it would behove both the Government and the country to see that the one selected be the best, and that the public money be not misapplied by being granted for the furtherance of a scheme apparently plausible but practically impracticable, and withheld from others as demonstrably the reverse.
That the present Atlantic Telegraph will be the only one projected, or eventually laid clown, it would be absurd to suppose. It is, indeed, known that several projects are already in existence, and at this moment before Government, all desiring aid for their development; and it is quite probable that the Government, finding themselves in no small difficulty amid the doubt, and uncertainty, and ignorance, which confessedly prevail upon a subject as vet only in its infancy, may hesitate what course to pursue; or that their sympathies may not unnaturally lie with the first bold projectors of so hazardous and gigantic an undertaking, and towards the accomplishment of which something has at least been achieved.
If this be so, the following attempt to enlighten them, and the public generally, will, it is hoped, be not without its use. The object in view being, professedly, not unnecessarily to disparage the Atlantic project, still less to do so in any spirit of hostility, but, simply, by placing side by side with it one of the other schemes above referred to, viz., the " SOUTH ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH"—a chart showing the proposed route of which is hereto annexed—to establish a claim for at least equal consideration at the hands of both—a claim, that is, to share, with the Atlantic Telegraph Company, the patronage of the Government and the support of the commercial world.
Should that be denied—if the Government and Parliament are committed to the principle of granting aid out of the public purse to but one of such projects—then the SOUTH ATLANTIC fearlessly challenges for itself comparison with any scheme that has been, or can be projected for accomplishing the same end, viz., the telegraphic communication of England with America,—on any footing on which it can be placed,—and is quite content to abide the issue. All that is asked, is a careful perusal of the following pages, and a dispassionate judgment upon the facts adduced.
The writer has felt throughout that the greatest difficulty against which he has had to contend, in his endeavours to make himself intelligible, has arisen from the fact, that among all the operations for which the man of science requires the aid of the moneyed public, those relating to submarine telegraphs are probably the least understood, even by those most largely embarking in them. With the various trades and manufactures worked by companies, some of the directors, or at least of the shareholders, are more or less personally acquainted. Banking, Assurance, Railways, Canals, and operations of this class, are well understood by many connected with the management of the various associations. Finance, Engineering, Chemistry, Agriculture, all number many intelligent representatives in the money market; but the Electric Telegraph, none. Telegraph engineers (and of these there are no more than five or six) are not capitalists; and, beyond them, few, comparatively speaking, know anything of the matter. Good engineers are abundant enough, and there are, no doubt, many good electricians; but recent experience has abundantly shown that something beyond mere engineering skill, and something more than a mere familiarity with electricity, as a science, are required for the construction and successful working of submarine telegraphs*.
*To show the utter unacquaintance with the subject, exhibited by some of the projectors of these schemes, there is one that has been put forward as capable of accomplishment, which proposes to cross the Atlantic at a spot where soundings have been taken to the depth of six miles and no bottom found, and where the Gulf Stream sets across it at the rate of some seven miles an hour.
And the reasons for this are obvious. The conditions under which electric currents may be safely and successfully dealt with above ground, form little or no guide for those who would essay to render them available for practical purposes by conducting them through unknown depths at the bottom of the ocean to very great distances; and calculations and conclusions that are unimpeachable in the one case, prove to be altogether thrown out as untrustworthy in the other.
By those who are not practically conversant with the subject, the extent and importance of the distinction cannot possibly be duly appreciated; but by those who are, it will be at once readily and unhesitatingly acknowledged.
The late disastrous failure of the Atlantic Telegraph, and some others of minor value, chiefly from preventible causes, through the inexperience of those entrusted with these important operations, and the total ignorance of the public as to the real facts of the case, coupled with a very natural mistrust in enterprises whose issue appears, judging from the past, so doubtful, bid fair to deprive the nation entirely of all the benefits of international telegraphic communication, by destroying the confidence of capitalists, by whose aid alone can the necessary funds be raised for carrying them out. It is, however, believed that a careful perusal of the following pages will suffice to show that submarine telegraphs are not more speculative or insecure investments than railways or other ordinary works, where they are conducted by competent persons practically conversant with this branch of engineering; and, probably, the best way of demonstrating the practicability of ocean telegraph works generally, would be to analyse the causes of failure of the late Atlantic Telegraph, and then point out how each may be avoided in any future undertaking.
There can be little doubt that the primary cause of the non-success of the Atlantic Telegraph, lies in the appointment of an engineer and an electrician with divided. responsibilities and separate interests: such a division of responsibility being of itself, in the very nature of things, an element of failure. For, assuming it to be the business of the engineer to design and lay the cable, and that of the electrician to secure its insulation, and the means of working it when laid,—to the one, it would naturally be a matter of comparative indifference what damage the cable underwent, so long as the insulation appeared good; while to the other, it would he of secondary importance what was its state of insulation, provided he was only able to succeed in laying it.
Until now, it has always been required of a telegraph engineer that he should be his own electrician. lie should be competent to control and direct every portion of the work as it progresses; and the sole responsibility should be his. A plurality of counsel is certainly desirable in so great a work, but there should be no divided responsibility.
This vice, however, did unquestionably exist in the Atlantic project, and its inevitable consequences more or less pervaded the counsels of that undertaking.
It is now proposed to examine separately the different obstacles which stood in the way of success, and to which, more immediately, may be mainly attributed the ultimate loss of the cable.
These are of two classes; namely, those presented by nature, and those attributable, as the writer believes, to error.
The first are, the great distance to be traversed, the depth, and the stormy nature of the Atlantic.
Amongst the second are, the injudicious selection of the route;—the unsuitable design of the cable employed;—the unsatisfactory nature of the tests applied to it when complete;—the unmechanical construction of the break used in laying it down.
With regard to the selection of the route,—which is the first point, historically, to be. considered, inasmuch as that route involved all the obstacles presented by nature,—it must be confessed that it was, to say the least of it, a bold, if not a rash and improvident venture, to lay a cable worth 350,000l., in one length, in unknown depths, whence it could never be recovered. But no blame can be fairly attributable to any one for having selected, as points for starting and arriving, such as would enclose the least amount of sea-way, and consequently appeared to offer the most economical conditions of forming the desired communication. The bottom of the ocean, along the track selected, was pronounced to be more favourable for such an undertaking than any that could be found for many hundreds of miles either north or south, and the depth was affirmed to be of trifling importance.
It is no difficult matter to judge of these reasonings, or to estimate the value of the project now, after its failure; but it may be fairly questioned whether many of those who are among the foremost to condemn it, could, before its execution, have suggested a route which the public would have looked upon with equal confidence.
Now, however, that the many practical inconveniences which have developed themselves during each stage of the short existence of the Atlantic Telegraph,—from the first attempt to design a suitable cable, to the last endeavour to signal through the dilapidated wire that was ultimately laid down,—begin to be appreciated, it becomes a matter of considerable importance to investigate to what extent these difficulties have arisen from causes which are capable of being either avoided or controlled in any future enterprise of a similar nature; and it is believed, while treating the matter with the most perfect fairness and truth, that it can be shown that the projected SOUTH ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH, while it escapes some of them entirely, encounters the remainder in only a moderate and less dangerous degree.
Distance. The stretch from Valentia to Trinity Bay is, in round numbers, about 1,650 nautical miles; and 2,050 nautical miles of cable were laid between these two points. The disadvantages of a long telegraphic line, laid in deep water, are many. Among the principal are,—the great risk of so much capital upon one venture (in the case of the Atlantic Telegraph the whole capital of the company); the difficulty of constructing a cable, capable of being laid in great depths, which can be contained on board a single vessel; the risk being, of course, increased in proportion to the number of vessels employed to carry and lay it. The great expense of hiring vessel; of sufficient burthen for the purpose. (In the case of the Atlantic Telegraph this was not experienced, as the Governments of England and the United States lent two of their vessels of war.) The length of time required to lay it, which precludes the certainty of having only fair weather for the operation. And, finally, the difficulty of working through such a cable, when made and successfully laid at the bottom of the ocean. This is a purely scientific matter, and cannot be gone into fully in a pamphlet like the present. Suffice it, that it was well understood by telegraph engineers before the Atlantic Telegraph was designed.
Now, if all the other difficulties were overcome, there would still be this last to be surmounted; and it is the greatest of all. It is a difficulty which ( so far as our present knowledge goes) can never be entirely removed; it can only be partially modified, and that only at the price of a greatly increased expenditure. It is a difficulty which augments rapidly with the length of the cable, and, beyond all doubt, is one which must be fatal, in the end, to any telegraph cable of such a length as the Atlantic line from Ireland to Newfoundland.
This obstruction arises from the resistance offered by the conducting wire to the passage of the electrical current, and by the creation of an induced charge on the outside of the insulating medium; to overcome which, it is necessary to use powerful currents of electricity, which speedily burst the gutta percha coating, and destroy all insulation. It may be lessened by increasing the size of the conducting wire, and the thickness of the covering of gutta percha; but these augmentations must be limited, as is evident by the extra cost they entail. It is not at all probable that a cable, costing even 500l. a mile, could be made to conduct electricity upon a 2,000 mile length with greater facility than the wires first laid from England to Holland*, a distance of 114 miles; yet the insulation of these wires was frequently destroyed—in fact, several times every year, by the current bursting through the gutta percha, owing to the conductor and insulating coat being both too small. These wires, be it observed, were laid in shallow water, and were, consequently, repaired with ease; but a fault upon the Atlantic cable, as has been demonstrated, involves the total loss of the Company’s capital.
*The Dutch cables above alluded to cost about 90l. per mile, and the length of each when laid was only one-eighteenth of that of the Atlantic cable. Supposing, therefore, the resistance to increase only in direct proportion to the length, the Atlantic wire must have a conducting power eighteen times greater than these Dutch wires to arrive even at the same condition, which was found insufficient to prevent constant rupture
The Calais, Ostend, and Mediterranean wires have never been destroyed by the use of excessive currents; thereby proving that the conductors and insulation employed were sufficient for those lengths, without the necessity of using currents of a greater intensity than the gutta percha could bear; and a cable of suitable wires has now been laid down to Holland, upon which the resistance is diminished sufficiently to prevent the recurrence of the early failures upon that line. So also could lines up to, probably, 1,000 miles, be constructed with cables suited to the conditions, upon which currents that would not damage the insulation might be sent with sufficient rapidity to make the line commercially useful; but, upon a line 2,000 miles and upwards in extent, the enormous cost of such a cable would put its adoption out of the question, and the only resource would be to employ currents of higher intensity than accords with safety; and which must, sooner or later, be fatal to the cable, and, consequently, to the undertaking.
Therefore, this cause of failure is without remedy, and is one which must attach to all ocean telegraph lines of such extent as the Atlantic Telegraph.
The greatest length upon the SOUTH ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH line is but 890 miles. A cable for this length could be carried on board a single vessel, if required; would be laid in a comparatively short time, and, as has been shown above, may be so designed that when laid down it could be easily worked through with currents not exceeding in intensity the limits of safety.
It is believed that, with a suitable conductor, a speed of from six to ten words per minute may be attained. The loss, moreover, of this or any other of the lengths, would involve the loss of only a small proportion of the capital of' the Company instead of the whole.
Depth. The depths encountered by the Atlantic Telegraph ranged from two miles to two miles and a half, extending over about 1,500 miles in a single length; the remainder of the course was in easy soundings. The greatest depth lay in the middle of the stretch, the easy portions were those adjoining either shore.
The SOUTH ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH route (according to Maury’s chart) is everywhere in easy soundings, except for about 800 miles near the Island of St. Paul. A portion of this deep part is between St. Paul Island and Cape de Verd Islands; and the remainder between St. Paul Island and the Island of Fernando de Noronha. The Island of St. Paul is in about the middle of the deepest part, and the soundings in its immediate vicinity are given, by the same authority, as something over three miles.
These are the only difficult depths to be encountered during the whole route; the mode by which they are to be successfully overcome will be treated of fully when speaking of the nature of the cable to be employed. It is here only necessary to point out the great advantage of commencing not far from the shore with the deepest, and consequently most dangerous portion, and gradually going into easy soundings; as, in that case, if any accident should happen, it is almost certain to occur when only a comparatively small portion of the cable is laid; and the risk and loss will, therefore, be small in proportion.
The stormy climate of the North Atlantic in the latitude where the Atlantic cable is laid, is well known; while at Paul Island, on the contrary, which is within one degree of the equator, the sea is most propitious to such undertakings; all the other stretches will be laid in depths where the effects of wind and tide are of little consequence.
It is clear, therefore, that in the selection of the route, all the obstacles presented by nature are materially lessened upon that of the SOUTH ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH; whether considered with reference to the adaptation of the cable, laying it down, or working it, when laid.
If it be objected that the SOUTH ATLANTIC route is three times the length of the Atlantic line, the objection vanishes when it is considered that upon the latter wire, owing to its being in a single long length, only one message can travel at a time : while upon the SOUTH ATLANTIC cables as many messages can be passing simultaneously as there are separate and independent lengths. Each individual word would take rather longer in its passage from England to America, and vice versa, by the SOUTH ATLANTIC than by the Atlantic route, as in the former it would have to pass through about twelve stations; but in a day’s work, this first delay, being a constant quantity, would be speedily caught up, and the amount of despatches that could be sent upon the SOUTH ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH would very far exceed anything that could be hoped for upon the Atlantic wire.
For instance, supposing a new Atlantic wire were to be laid, of such costly construction as to be capable of carrying despatches at the increased rate of three words per minute, and that the cable on the longest length of the SOUTH ATLANTIC line were to be capable of transmitting ten words per minute, (which is the calculated rate), and it were proposed to send to New York from London a column of The Times by both, as a test of speed;—after the lapse of a certain period, the Atlantic line would begin to deliver its matter at the rate of three words per minute, and would continue at the same rate. Presently the first line would arrive at New York by the SOUTH ATLANTIC route, but the next would already be at New Orleans, the third at Havannah, the fourth at Dominica, and so on, and they would continue to pour into New York, as fast as the slowest sending, or longest, link could send them, namely, ten words per minute. The first delay (which would be inconsiderable, probably not exceeding a few lines,) would soon be caught up, and the whole column completed before the Atlantic route had come to a third of its task.
The Description of Cable.—Although previous to 1856, when the nature of the Atlantic cable was determined, many telegraph cables (amounting in the aggregate to about 2,500 nautical miles) had been successfully laid, none of the patterns upon which these had been made were considered in every point suited to that undertaking; consequently, an entirely new style of cable was designed.
Among the novel points to be embraced in it were—1st. That it should be of sufficiently small dimensions to allow of some 3,000 miles of it being stowed away in the holds of, at most, two vessels. 2nd. That its weight should not exceed the burden such two vessels were together capable of bearing. 3rd. That its strength should be such as to bear its own weight suspended in water at a depth of from two to three miles Ole depth of the Atlantic along the proposed track), with a considerable surplus, so as to allow for strains caused by the resistance of the water, lateral ocean currents, and the pitching of the ship. 4th. That its insulation should he such as to remain uninjured by the pressure due to the great depth, which would be between three and four tons to every square inch of surface, and by the electric current it would have to carry. 5th. That its conducting power should be equal to the rapid transmission of signals through a distance of upwards of 2,000 nautical miles.
The first three of these conditions led to the adoption of the small section and frail sheath which are now so well known. The only novelty by which to distinguish it, except by its dimensions, from any preceding cable, being, that the sheathing is composed of strands of small iron wires, instead of single wires of a greater section. This novelty was, it is believed, suggested by Mr. Brunel, with a view to giving greater flexibility to the cable, and also of preventing the formation of “kinks” during the processes of stowing away and paying out. This fine iron wire proved, however, an unfortunate innovation, as it could not be galvanized without being sensibly weakened by the process; and, in its ungalvanized state, the engineers were afraid to keep it immersed in water, from a fear of its being destroyed by rust, and the testing was, in consequence of this, palpably insufficient.
The form of the cable is stated by one of the Directors (Mr. J.W. Brett) to have been selected from a large number of specimens submitted to them, and to have borne the greatest strain, in proportion to its weight, of all excepting one, which latter was covered with steel instead of iron wires, contained three wires for conducting, weighed two tons to the mile, and bore a strain of twenty-four tons before breaking, against four tons, borne by the specimen selected for the Atlantic cable, which weighed one ton per mile.
A cable of this description loses about one-fifth of its weight when immersed in water; so that, while the Atlantic cable will sustain five miles of itself hanging vertically in the water, the steel specimen could have sustained (if the experiments were correctly made and stated) fifteen miles of itself, or three times as much as the Atlantic cable could—which is about the proportion of the tensile strength of steel to that of iron. This steel cable would, according to Mr. Brett, have been far superior to any cable that could have been employed; but, in addition to its greater cost, it was stated that. it would have been impossible to obtain the necessary quantity of wire in less than two years. That statement, however, there is reason to believe must have been founded in error. Perhaps no single firm might be capable of supplying the whole quantity necessary; but that it would take the whole of the manufacturing portion of this country two years to supply some 1,500 tons of steel wire is scarcely within belief.*
* Since writing the above, it has come to the knowledge of the writer that a well known and responsible firm has offered, elsewhere, to supply any required quantity of steel wire at the rate of 130 tons per week.
The Atlantic cable, as has been stated above, is capable of sustaining a strain of four tons, and weighed in water about sixteen hundredweight per mile. Its own weight, in a depth of two and a half miles, would thus be two tons, allowing, therefore, only two tons for the resistance of the water, lateral currents, and the movement of the ship on the waves, which is certainly too small a margin. It should also be remarked that, although the breaking strain of the Atlantic cable was stated to be four tons (and it is believed was guaranteed by the manufacturers to sixty hundredweight), it often broke .at less; in one instance, at less than one ton, viz., on June 29th, when paying out from the " Agamemnon," causing a loss of 146 miles of the cable payed out from that vessel, and about 100 more from the " Niagara."
The strength of the Atlantic cable has, therefore, proved clearly insufficient in proportion to its weight.
With regard to insulation, the Atlantic cable was as perfect in its design as, in the then state of knowledge, could be conceived. It was supplied with three separate coatings of gutta percha, and every care was taken that experience could suggest to ensure perfect insulation. The manifest imperfection in that respect, which has finally proved fatal to it, cannot, therefore, be attributed to the design; but must be set clown to errors which will be mentioned hereafter, and also to the effect of the immense currents passed through it.
The conducting medium of the Atlantic Telegraph consists of seven 22 gauge copper wires laid into one strand. This gives a section but little exceeding that which is used in ordinary short submarine cables, a section decidedly insufficient for so long a length. There can be no doubt but that the very best possible conductor that the undertaking could afford should have been selected for such. an unusual length—one, namely, that would offer the least resistance to the current from the battery, and so afford the least facility for tile formation of an induced or retarding current.
The conducting power of a wire varies in proportion to its sectional area, and the induction increases in proportion to its circumference. The larger the wire is, therefore, in a submarine cable, the greater will be its conducting power; for, with increase of diameter, its conducting power increases as the square, while the retarding influence increases only in regular proportions.
It was the fatal error of having adopted, upon a line upwards of 2,000 miles long, a conductor suited only to short lengths, which necessitated the use of such intense electric currents to produce the small effective speed of even one, or one and a half, word per minute, and which certainly finally determined its destruction.
It will be seen, then, that though the Atlantic cable was insulated in a most perfect and satisfactory manner, its strength was not sufficiently great in proportion to its weight, and that its conducting power was manifestly insufficient. To what limited extent only this last-mentioned defect can be remedied, practically, for such a long line as the Atlantic route, has been shown before, at page 13.
From many of the difficulties against which its predecessor had thus to contend, the SOUTH ATLANTIC cable will be altogether free; with respect to others, the designer will have the immense advantage of having previously seen the mishaps to which a first experiment is always more or less liable, and thus of profiting by the experience so acquired, and guarding against errors into which he might otherwise have fallen.
With respect to the Cable itself—the greatest length of any one section being but 890 miles, about 1,300 miles (which would allow say 400 miles surplus) would be the greatest quantity that would have to be shipped at one time; 1,000 miles only of which would be on board one vessel, and, on another, the remaining 300 miles, which would have to be laid in comparatively shallow water.
As regards strength.—There are several methods of increasing the strength of a cable in proportion to its weight. One is, by reducing both, but diminishing the weight in a greater ratio than the strength. For example, by substituting for the iron sheathing one of hemp, flax, or some other strong fibrous material of small specific gravity. Another is, by increasing the strength without adding to the weight. This may be done by employing steel instead of iron. Either of these conditions would effect the desired object with safety and certainty, and might be adopted as occasion required.
A hempen-coated cable would be easy to lay; and though there is no experience to show the effect of the sea-water upon such a combination, there is every reason to believe that such a cable might be chemically prepared to resist any deleterious action.
A steel-coated cable would, perhaps, be rather more difficult to lay; but experience has shown that, with proper machinery, it could be done with perfect certainty.
The expense would be probably increased by about 40l. a mile; but it would be satisfactory to know that, when down, it would, if properly protected by tarred yarn served round it, last for a very considerable period without injury. There is also another article recently introduced which appears likely to prove in the highest degree suited to the manufacture of submarine cables intended for great depths. This consists of a combination of hemp and iron wires, which, with a weight scarcely exceeding that of hempen rope, bears a strain nearly three times as great as a wire rope of the same weight. The whole scheme of the SOUTH ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH will not require more than about 910 miles of special cable—that is, cable of the description alluded to above; for all the remainder, cables of ordinary combination properly protected will suffice, they having to be laid only in easy depths.
If steel wires are used, it is proposed that they shall be of such dimensions that they can be galvanized without sensibly impairing their strength, in order that the cable may be kept under water, from the time of its manufacture to the day of its shipment, for testing purposes. A cable so constructed, and weighing a little over one ton per mile, would sustain about twelve miles of its own length vertically in water; and if, upon investigation, no objection be found to the employment of a cable formed of the combination of hemp and iron, alluded to above, such a cable would be able to sustain without injury about twenty miles of its weight hanging vertically in water.
It is proposed that the conducting wire of the SOUTH ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH, upon the long lengths, shall have a sectional area of four times that of the Atlantic conductor; and that it shall be, like this latter, composed of several copper wires of smaller section made up into one strand. It is calculated that such a conductor, properly insulated with a thick coating of gutta percha, will transmit, in perfect safety, from six to ten words per minute.
The break employed for the operation of submerging the Atlantic cable was of very unmechanical structure; and to its bad influence may certainly be attributed several of the failures to lay the cable. The cable was made to pass in succession round three large cast-iron wheels, which were geared together,—of itself a vicious arrangement; and the whole machine was of such a weight, that the force required to overcome the vis inertiae with every movement of the ship, caused such serious strain that the only mode of avoiding it was to have the break kept constantly in motion by hand, and so virtually do away with it altogether. It is said this idea was suggested by the captain of the " Agamemnon," and that the sailors were kept at it day and night during the successful trip, which was probably the main cause of the success.
The ordinary break (which has laid down every submarine cable except the Calais and the Atlantic), of a totally different make, which has been proved to be perfectly suited for such a purpose, would be employed for the SOUTH ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH.
Lastly. That the Atlantic cable was taken to sea in a state of inefficient insulation is now not denied.
In order to prevent the recurrence of such an error with the SOUTH ATLANTIC cables, in addition to having them one and all subjected to the most rigorous supervision during the course of construction, before being put on board the vessel they would be severely and repeatedly tested under water, until each should be proved to be as perfect in insulation as our present knowledge can make it, which was not done with the Atlantic cable.
Thus, then, apart from the obstacles presented by nature, and which are avoided upon the SOUTH ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH route, the Atlantic cable may be said to have failed chiefly, if not entirely, from preventible causes; it encountered no difficulties that might not have been foreseen; it met with no hindrance which might not have been overcome by a competent knowledge of the subject. That the errors committed were grave ones there is no denying; inseparable, perhaps, to some extent, from what may with some allowance be termed a maiden experiment; still, they were grave errors, and, as such, stand before the scientific world.
It is confidently hoped, and as confidently believed, that the SOUTH ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH, profiting by the experience of these errors, will be able to meet whatever lesser difficulties may stand in its way, without either real risk or danger.
It has, at least, the merit of being the first undertaking of the kind originating with, and thought and worked out, in all its details, by, an Engineer, who is known to have made the subject of submerged electricity his peculiar study, and to be, both practically and theoretically, thoroughly master of it.*
* Mr. Window has twice had honorary distinctions voted to him by the Institution of Civil Engineers, for papers on submerged electric conductors read there. And before the Atlantic cable (the manufacture of which he had himself witnessed) was laid down—when those who were supposed to be the best informed electricians of the clay, confidently affirmed that from six to ten words per minute world be transmitted by it—and when Faraday himself confessed it so difficult a question to determine, that he declined to commit himself to any opinion—Mr. Window steadily maintained that one and a half words per minute would be the speed attainable upon it, when in perfect working order. The speed actually attained was precisely what he predicted. He is, moreover, himself practically conversant with the laying down of electric cables.
Having now incontestably shown the immense superiority, physically speaking, of the route proposed for the SOUTH ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH, over that of the Atlantic Telegraph, a very few words will suffice to demonstrate also its far greater utility to the commerce of this nation. This must be at once evident, for IN ADDITION to all the advantages offered by the Atlantic scheme, it affords the means of communication with the West India Islands, Demerara, Brazil, and South America generally, the Atlantic Islands, Gibraltar, and the Mediterranean, Cadiz, and Lisbon.
Under the firm conviction that when completed the SOUTH ATLANTIC cable will be largely remunerative to all concerned, it is being now taken up* by gentlemen of the first standing in the mercantile world connected with this country, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, and the United States, by each of whom it has been brought under the notice of their respective Governments with a view to the obtaining from them concessions with exclusive powers and subsidies. Time has not yet allowed of a response from the foreign Governments. But, from the channels through which the applications to them have been transmitted, and from communications which have reached the projector, there is every prospect of its being more or less favourably regarded and responded to by them all.
* A company has been formed and registered, with limited liability, with a proposed capital of 1,600,000l.
That it is not only perfectly practicable, but that the route is the best that can be selected, is the conviction, not merely of the projector and his supporters, but also the expressed opinion of a large number of the most eminent civil engineers of this country, and consequently of the whole world.
From the English Government all that is asked is limited and conditional aid, for which a liberal equivalent will be given, with scarcely so much as the possibility of risk.
Under ordinary circumstances, and in ordinary times, such aid would probably have been neither asked nor needed; the commercial advantages of the project as a whole, when completed, being more than likely to be such as to have made the raising of the requisite capital a matter of no difficulty.
But the failure of the Atlantic cable and of other cables elsewhere, the fear of similar failures with any cable, the entire ignorance on the part of the public of the subject itself—of what have actually been the causes of past failures—how or whether they are capable of being remedied—the suspicions and wholesome fear of the existence of " jobbing" in connection with this, as with similar undertakings—and the interested combinations of individuals already embarked, or about to embark, in such schemes—render it undesirable to attempt to raise the requisite capital, unless the Government does, in some shape, and to some extent, give it aid and countenance at starting.
It is of paramount national and political importance, at any time—at this moment especially—to the Government, to be able to command immediate means of communication with our own dependencies and colonies, and with other points of distant, and, it may be, critical interest—take Gibraltar and Malta alone. It cannot be denied that it would be a matter of the highest importance to the country to have, at this moment, an independent submarine telegraph in reliable independent working order to these points.
It is proposed to make a commencement of the entire SOUTH ATLANTIC scheme by a first instalment to Gibraltar, and thence, if desired, to Malta; which could be begun upon the moment the requisite capital for so much was raised, the negotiations for the rest of the line being prosecuted while that portion was making. This first section, when made—and it would take but a very short time to construct—would be earning its own quota towards the common revenue of the whole, would be of immediate value to the country, would be an earnest to the public that the whole scheme not only could, but would be eventually carried out, and would be a test of the capacity of the engineer, and also of the fitness of the nature of cable selected.
It is suggested that the aid sought might be in the shape either of guarantee, subsidy, or subvention, viz., by the Company and the Government agreeing on the rate of charge per word per day for the transmission of Government messages, and commuting that rate into a fixed yearly sum, to commence on the completion of the line to the above points, subject to such conditions as might be eventually agreed on.
It is estimated that the comparatively small sum of 1.50,000l. would be sufficient for the construction of the line as far as Gibraltar; and there is no doubt that a conditional guarantee from the Government of an adequate rate of interest on this amount would suffice to induce capitalists to subscribe the requisite sum.
The alternative of a refusal of all aid on the part of the Government might lead to an entire abandonment of the scheme by the present, or any other set of English, projectors; and it would be quite within the range, not of possibility, but of probability, that it might in that case be taken up by foreigners, who would have it in their own power to exclude, and would, of course, exclude precisely at the time when it was most needed, the Government and commerce of this country from any use of a line, which they may now ensure the means of reserving (if necessary) exclusively to themselves.
That the SOUTH ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH is an undertaking the widespread benefits and advantages of which it is impossible either to limit or foresee, there can be no denying. Its cost has been calculated at 1,600,000l., with sufficient certainty to allow of its being confidently stated that that sum includes an ample margin that need never be overstepped; and that, with only ordinary care, in the hands of those who, by experience, are really competent to deal with such a matter, it is an enterprise that may be brought, without either real difficulty or delay, to a most successful issue.
OF THE INSTITUTION OF CIVIL ENGINEERS.
London, February, 1859.
London: Printed by Smith, ELDER and Co., Little Green Arbour Court, Old Bailey.