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

1865 Great Eastern Diary

Introduction: In 1865 the complement of the Great Eastern Atlantic cable expedition included William Howard Russell, who was under contract with the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company to write a book about the voyage, with illustrations by Robert Dudley, to be published by Day & Son. Russell also wrote an article summarizing and anlyizing the main events of the voyage, which was published as "De Profundis" in The Fortnightly Review later that year.

During the expedition, a manuscript diary of the events of the voyage was reproduced by lithography on board Great Eastern, and following the loss of the cable and the abandonment of the project for that year, copies were circulated to newspapers and to members of the expedition. The Great Eastern had a lithographic printing press which was used to produce a shipboard newsletter and other documents during the 1865 and 1866 expeditions; the diary is of a similar form to these documents.

An article in the Mechanics Magazine of 25 August 1865 reported that:

“Literature was not neglected in the big ship during the expedition, a lithographer being specially retained on board. His duty it was to lithograph and print the previous day’s diary of events, as written by Mr. Russell and copied out by Mr. J.C. Deane. Envelopes addressed to the editors of twenty-five American journals, and to the editors of sixty-five published in England, Scotland, and Ireland, were kept in readiness, and as each day’s news was told off it was added to the stock already folded for posting. By this means the letters were sent off simultaneously, and without a moment’s unnecessary delay.”

Several copies of this document are known; one is in the Telcon archive at the National Maritime Museum; researcher Albert H. Whitaker, Jr. in the United States owns another. Mr Whitaker has transcribed his copy and compared the text with other accounts of the 1865 voyage and with Russell’s book, and has concluded that the diary was written by Russell.

With the availabllity of on-line newspaper archives, I have confirmed that the text of the diary was published in the Times (London) on Saturday, 19 August 1865, in the Boston Post on Saturday, 26 August 1865, and in the New York Times the following day. See the notes in the text below for differences in the British and American stories.

A full transcription of the manuscript diary, including Russell’s corrections and amendments, is reproduced below by kind permission of, and with an introduction by, Mr Whitaker.

--Bill Burns
 

Al Whitaker writes: This thirty-four (34) page account of the 1865 attempt to lay a transatlantic cable appears to have been written by William H. Russell, a correspondent for The Times who was on board the Great Eastern for the purpose of reporting the event. Throughout, the manuscript will be referred to as the “Russell Journal.”

To the unpracticed eye, the manuscript would seem to be handwritten. Actually, it appears to be a duplicated version of a handwritten item. Likely, it was prepared from an original holograph by way of a mechanical duplicating process. At the time of the expedition, duplicates of handwritten materials could be prepared through letter press copying, or the hectographic process.

The information has been applied to paper of a grey/blue color. The dimensions of the paper are approximately thirteen and one-quarter inches by eight and one-quarter inches. The paper is of a fairly inexpensive nature. Some pages consist of a single sheet, while others are formed of a larger piece of paper folded in half with writing on the front and back. The manuscript is paginated.

The pages are held together by a brass fastener which punctures the pages in the upper left-hand corner. The fastener contains the following detail on its head: Hart’s Patent.

The manuscript contains a detailed account of the events and circumstances surrounding the 1865 attempt to lay a successful transatlantic cable.  It is done in a journal format with daily entries.  Entries are very descriptive and detailed.  It is written with considerable enthusiasm.  While generally the composition is well structured in grammatical terms, there are places where expressive phrases and incomplete sentences occur.  In no way does this diminish the drama of the account.

The account opens with four pages, containing a summary of what had been happening on July 21st, 22nd , and 23rd in preparation for the expedition.  Dated entries begin to appear on page five under the date, Monday, July 24.  Thereafter, each entry is dated up through and including [Wednesday] August 9.  The account ends abruptly with the August 9th entry.  This is an anomaly inasmuch as his published book, like the contemporary narrative of John C. Deane, does contain entries dated August 10 and 11. It is possible that several pages of the “Russell Journal” were removed from the end at some point. [See below for further thoughts on this].

A few words about the transcription are in order. First, I have replicated the original in preparing the draft. This means that each page contains the material as it stands in the manuscript. I also maintained the text on a line-to-line basis as it is in the original. For this reason, some of the lines are longer, and occasionally a single line of the manuscript will wrap here onto a second line in order to show everything in a line as it was in the original.

Page 1 of the diary

Also, Russell’s narrative is fairly casual as regards punctuation, spacing, and, in some instances, spelling. To the extent possible, I have copied the original as closely as possible. For example, misspellings have not been corrected. It will be seen that in a few instances, Russell repeated a word in the narrative. These have been placed in parentheses. Words crossed out by Russell in the original are shown as strikethroughs. An underlined space which is left blank in the draft means that I was unable to decipher the word in the manuscript.

One particular feature of the draft needs to be explained. You will note that on page 20 there are two lines at the bottom of the page underneath a line. This is as it appears in the manuscript. In point of fact, I found that those two lines belong with two lines found at the bottom of the next page, page 21. In the draft, I repeated those two lines and italicized them on page 21 to the end of having the text make sense. My guess is that, when Russell prepared these pages, he ran out of space on page 21and returned to the bottom of page 20, inscribed a line, and then put the two lines in below that line.

I have spent a fair amount of time comparing this Russell manuscript with Russell’s book, The Atlantic Telegraph, as well as the narrative of John C. Deane. My objective was to test the authorship. On the basis of that, I believe that it is conclusive that Russell was the author of the manuscript with which I have been working.

There are some points of similarity as between the two Russell items, and that of Deane. For the most part, however, these are data points such as mileage information (to/from Valentia, Heart’s Content), latitude/longitude, etc. The similarity between the two Russell items and Deane’s narrative, in this connection, can be explained on the basis of their receiving this information from a common source on the Great Eastern. At one point in his account (page 23), Russell specifically mentions that Captain Moriarty was posting daily statements regarding the ship’s position. This would explain similarities in the respective accounts of Deane and Russell.

On the other hand, the use of words and phrases found in Russell’s narrative account are found almost verbatim in his published book. For example, under date of July 25, in the manuscript narrative (page 8) Russell compares the picking up of the cable by the Great Eastern to an elephant lifting a straw to its proboscis. The same language is used in the published work under that date. Similarly, on page 9 of the manuscript, under the same date, Russell refers to “...the dreary work of Penelope.” In the published book, at page 66, he uses a reference to Penelope. Under the date of July 29 in the manuscript, Russell employ’s the sentiment: “Happy is the nation that has got no history!" In the book (page 70), this expression becomes: “Happy is the Cable-laying that has no history.”

I only did this parallel reading through the entries up to the date of August 1. I am confident that the same outcome would result for extending the comparison beyond that date. Other similarities between the two can be found in the manuscript on page 10 (the word “chimera”), page 11 (Thames Steamer), etc.

Thus, even though the manuscript nowhere has an indication of the author’s identity, I am satisfied that Russell did prepare it.


 

The version of the diary published in the New York Times has this preamble:

THE ATLANTIC CABLE

Official History of the Grand Experiment

The following is Dr. W.H. Russell’s account of the recent trip of the Great Eastern and the attempt to lay the Atlantic Telegraph Cable. Mr Russell was engaged by the Directors of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company to make a report of the proceedings, and enjoyed unusual facilities for obtaining full and authentic particulars of all that was important in the voyage. It is written in his usual brilliant style, and will be found to be quite interesting.

MR RUSSELL’s DIARY.
THE GREAT EASTERN AT SEA.
AUG. 11—7 P. M.,
LAT. 51 29, LONG. 39 6.

The struggle which has excited all our hopes and fears for nine long days has just been terminated by a truce—not a final defeat. In the ensuing narrative, written from day to day, there is an abstract in the form of a diary of the proceedings in connection with the laying of the Atlantic cable to this point from the time we left Valentia. It is all summarized in the brief statement that the last effort to recover the cable has just been frustrated by the snapping of our last available hawser, as the grapnel was coming up from 1,400 fathoms water with the cable attached to it. That such a feat as finding the cable three times in more than two miles deep of water should have been accomplished with the inadequate means at our disposal, is ample justification of the hope entertained by all on board that the Great Eastern will be able, when she is provided with proper apparatus, to recover and consummate the great work which was suspended and impeded simply by the failure of the cable itself in its electrical capacity.

The body of the text of the manuscript diary then follows, with the grammar, spelling, and punctuation tidied up.

Here is Mr Whitaker’s verbatim transcription of the manuscript diary:

The Laying of the Atlantic Cable  (1)
Diary of Events

The narrative of events connected with this great operation
up to the departure of the Great Eastern from the shores of Ireland
is already before the public on both sides of the Atlantic. As our
readers are aware, an Earth Cable on Mr. Varleys plan
was laid from the Telegraph Station at Foilhummerum
on Friday July 21st , & on Saturday July 22d, the thick
shore end of the Atlantic Cable was carried on board
from the Caroline, over a bridge formed of 25 fishing
yawls of the district, and was hauled up the cliff in
the channel made for the purpose to the Telegraph
House. This operation was regarded with the greatest
interest by the people, & in the Safe arrival of the
terminal wire in the Building, brief addresses were
delivered by Sir R. Peel Chief Secretary for Ireland, and
by the Knight of Kerry, which were received with
enthusiasm. The Caroline attended by the Princess
Alexander Yacht of the Ballast Board proceeded to
sea towed by the xxx Hawk veering out the shore
end of the Cable in the track buoyed out by Lieut
White in charge of the Coast Guard of Valentia and
his men, amid great cheering & at 10:30 dropped the end
26 miles W. N. W. of Valentia, and stood by the Buoy all night.
The intelligence being transmitted through the Cable on shore.

 

(2)

a dispatch was sent to the Great Eastern in Berehaven
to announce the event - Although it was near midnight
when the dispatch was received, the Great Eastern got up
steam, and anchorxxx with such diligence, that her arrival,
attended by the H. M. S. Terrible and Sphynx off Valentia Harbor
was reported at 7:45 next morning. The weather was most
favorable. A gentle breeze from the Westward scarcely
ruffled the Surface of the Sea, although not even the Great Eastern
herself could be indifferent to the grand roll of the Atlantic
As the operation of the splicing the thick shore end to
the main cable was one of importance, and nicety, the
advantage of the calm sea was appreciated by all interested
in the undertaking. The end of the main cable was
passed on board the Caroline, from the Great Eastern
the terminus of the shore end was also hauled up
and got on board with the assistance of the boats of the
Men of War, and the operators of the Company began
the splice which was subsequently subjected to rigid tests
for some hours by the Telegraphic staff and found to
be satisfactory. It was also ascertained, that the insulation
of the shore end had been greatly improved by its
immersion in the water.

 

3

The Hawk with Sir R. Peel, the Knight of Kerry, Lord
John Hay and a party of ladies & gentlemen on board left
Valentia harbor soon after 10:00 a.m. and came up with the flotilla
about 1 o’clock - The scene was full of interest- In the centre of the
picture lay the Great Eastern with flags flying from her six trucks,
including the United States xxx ensign, and the flag which was flown
by the Agamemnon on the laying of the first Atlantic Cable and with
the blue ensign over her taffrail. Her boats with those of the Terrible
and Sphynx now lost sight of in the trough of the sea and rising high
on the crest of the swell were gliding to and fro, busy with the work of
the day, and close at hand, the Caroline pitching and rolling, afforded
an additional contrast to the almost impassive vastness of the Great
Leviathan. With some little difficulty a party from the Hawk including
Sir Robert Peel, the Knight of Kerry, Mr. Canning Chief Engineer for
laying the cable, Mr. Barber etc. got on board the Great Eastern
in several trips and enjoyed her terrestrial steadiness for some hours, but
the ladies could not venture on the danger of embarking in the boats
and boarding- At 4:50 the testing of the splice was finished and
the bight of the rope was slipped from the Caroline  and soon afterwards
the Hawk returned to Valentia with her distinguished passengers who
left the Great Eastern amid the cheers of officers, crew and visitors
which were returned from the vessel. The Terrible and the Sphynx soon
afterwards ranged up within a few hundred yards, and boats were got
in and after a short detention caused by taking in some of the men
from the Caroline, the Great Eastern got in readiness for her course
to xxx west. As she steamed slowly ahead cheer, after cheer, were
given by her to her companions and escorts, and they (manning the rigging)
returned the compliment with hearty good will; and after “one cheer more”
 at 7:16 the first fathom of the cable glided slowly over the stern
and sank into the depths of the ocean. The evening was all that
could be desired; the paying out machinery worked with the
utmost ease, and regularity, and after a while the speed of the
vessel was increased from 2½ to 3½ and ultimately to 6½ miles
an hour- All the while signaling with the shore, gave the

 

(4)

most gratifying results, respecting the electrical condition of the cable.
At 10:47 P.M. Greenwich time 50 miles of cable had been paid out
and up to midnight the laying out proceeded xxx without impediment in calm weather
with favouring wind and sea.

 

5

Monday July 24 - At 3:15 o’clock a. m. when 84 miles of
cable had been paid out, & all appeared to be going on most
favourably, the electrician, engaged in signaling to the Shore
Station was astonished to perceive an aberration of the index
light which showed some singular cause of disturbance in the
Current. After testing the cable for some time by signals to,
and from the land, it became apparent that there was a fault
as it is technically termed in the cable. A gun was fired from
the Great Eastern a little before 4. a. m. to call the attention of the
Terrible and Sphinx to the accident. The paying out of the cable
was discontinued, and the attention of the Staff of Electricians
was directed to the discovery of the place where the fault had
occurred but notwithstanding the perfection of the testing apparatus
and the experience of the gentlemen engaged, a wide difference
was exhibited in the results of various calculations though it was
generally maintained that the injury existed at some spot
from 42 to 60 miles distant from the ship - Some of the
experimentalists thought the defect lay between the land and
the seaward end of the shore cable, and others who inclined
to the contrary belief, admitted, they could not pronounce within
the limits even of conjecture whereabouts in the main cable the
injured portion lay. The regret and disappointment created
by this sudden detection of a flaw in work pronounced by the best
authorities to be so faultless, were increased by the reflection, that if
the cable were liable to accidents of this kind, after immersion
in the sea; no human skill, precaution, or knowledge could afford
any guarantee for the success of the undertaking. The insulation
of a wire subjected to continuous scrutiny of the severest character,
and most searching nature, by the most accomplished men in the
Kingdom in their branch of science; without detection of a blemish,
was suddenly, and as far as they knew causelessly, rendered

 

6

imperfect when the cable was for the first time, called upon
to stand a practical strain of the nature to which it was intended
to be continuously subjected. A feeling of gloom for some time spread
over the ship; but the electricians worked away in their dark chamber with
unflagging zeal - It was finally determined by Mr. Canning, to send the cable over
the stern, having first secured its end to hawsers made fast from the bow, and
carried round astern, and then to take it in over the bow till the fault
was discovered. The operation proved difficult, and tedious, and when the end
of the cable was hauled in over the bow, after great delay, and a drifting
of some 10 miles to leeward, it was found, that the boiler intended
to supply the engine for hauling in the cable, could not keep up a
sufficient head of steam to work the machinery with effect. The strain
on the wire rope secured to the cable at times was exceedingly severe; and
when the machine began to work the utmost care and nicety were needed
to prevent the cable itself being subjected to without injury as the ship
rose and fell in the sea over the 400 fathoms of iron and copper wire which
hung from its bow to the bottom. The operation of taking up x cable from
such depths is at all times difficult, but the size of the Great Eastern
and the want of power in the apparatus added to the ordinary sources of
tediousness. –A mile an hour was regarded as an achievement, and at no
time was the rate over a mile and a half an hour, whilst it now and then
fell to zero. As the fault was supposed to be near the shore end,
it may be imagined the prospect of returning towards Ireland at Such a
pace was not regarded with pleasure. Meantime Mr. Saunders one of the
staff of electricians who had devoted much time to the examination of
the test current, and had acquired a great deal of experience in that
department of electrical science, arrived at the conviction that the injury was
not more than 10 to 11 miles away, but he could not express it with certainty, or state
any precise grounds for the deductions he made from his observations. All the time
signals were transmitted between the ship and the land, but it appeared as if an impediment existed to a distinct understanding between gentlemen working at each end of the cable In the evening Mr. Canning

 

7

sent a message to Mr. Glass the Managing Director at Valentia
to dispatch the Hawk to the Great Eastern and the Caroline to the
spot where the Seaward end of the Shore Cable and the landward end
of the main cable, were spliced, intending to return in the Hawk to
ascertain if the defect existed in the shore cable, and if not, to make
a new splice and Sacrifice for the time, the portion of the cable already laid
down - Weather cloudy, but fine - position as far as could be
ascertained, Lat 52, long. 12.. Sphinx busy sounding all round –
in depths varying from 400 to 480 fathoms. In the course of the evening
a message was received from Mr. Glass, that the Hawk should start
as soon she had coaled the Caroline - The Terrible sent her
first Lieutenant Mr. Prowse on board to see if she could render
any assistance and displayed every desire to be of service in the
emergency, and the Sphinx exhibited similar sympathies Fortunately
the weather continued very moderate. Towards midnight the operation
gained ground that the fault was not much further than Mr. Saunders
supposed and the work of picking up the cable was continued
very cautiously and slowly during the night. The dropping from
the rope showed a coating of ooze of a grayish dun colour in which
it was asserted there were many xxx microscopic shells.

 

8

July 25. At an early hour in the morning, the Hawk  was
observed coming up from the Eastward it being prudently determined to
send her out from Valentia without delay, instead of Keeping her to coal
the Caroline. The picking up process had gone on all night very slowly &
at 7:15 Greenwich time, 9 ½ miles of cable had been received from
the deep. Fortunately the weather was rather favorable, and wind
and sea were low. The Great Eastern steered beautifully and the
monster ship, hanging over the cable seemed to take it up as
delicately as an elephant lifts a straw to its proboscis. There were
no further indications of the position of the fault, but Mr. Varley
who all along held to the belief that the locality was not far
distant from the ship, had soon reason to be satisfied with the
Soundness of his judgment, in which as we have seen Mr. Saunders
participated. A second cut of the cable was made; but the fault
was still in the Sea. At 9. a m when a little more than ten miles
of Cable had been picked up, to the great joy of the Ship the
fault came on board. The cause of all our trouble & anxiety,
delay, and expense was a piece of iron about two inches long rather
crooked and sharp at the end, as if cut off with a nippers from
an end of wire about the diameter of a straw, which had been
forced right through the coating of the cable, and the gutta
percha till it came in contact with the wire - No one could give
an idea of the manner in which it got in to the tank; but there
was a general impression, that the mischief was the result of
accident and that the Scrap having fallen in was pressed against
the hemp covering of the cable by subsequent acts so as to travel
out with it to the paying out machinery, where in passing thro
the wheels it was driven in to the core of the cable. It is difficult
to imagine when the injury was so pronounced xxx how the tests
were so variable. However, the great satisfaction caused by the
discovery overcame any tendency to indulge in censure. A signal
was made to the men of war, that the fault had been found,
and the Terrible signaled back “I congratulate you”. A disposition

 

9

to cheer everybody prevailed at breakfast, and preparations
for making a splice, were at once commenced on deck. First, the splice
was made of the cable between the after and the fore tanks, and
then, the communication was effected between the end of the
Seaward cable, and the topmost coil of the after tank, the 10
miles of cable which had been down and picked up being
left in coil on the deck some of it a good deal strained
by the pressure. The splicings and jointings took some time
to make, and test, and meantime the Hawk returned to
Valentia. It was near two o’clock by ships time, before the
cable was passed aft, and at rather a critical moment the
testing was suspended, in order to make the splice between the
after and fore tanks. But at length, the Great Eastern put
her head to the West, and the cable once more ran over her
stern with satisfactory indications that insulation, and communications
were perfect. At 3 o’clock when somewhat more than 1½ mile of
cable had dropped slowly over the shore end became mute to the consternation of the operators
Not a signal. - not a signal – the news spread from xxx end to end of
the vast ship. Faces a moment before radiant became suddenly
as dark as night. Heads were shaken in wise despondency, and
gloomy forebodings – anxious groups gathered near the test house
and watched the countenances of the officials who went in and
out as tho they were arbitrees of fate & and as minutes accumulated
into an hour and the cable still remained dumb a feeling
of utter disbelief in Atlantic cables no doubt prevailed in the
breasts of most men.  At 3.15 the cable between the tanks was
again cut and an examination was made of the end of the
various wires to ascertain whether there might not be some
mistake in the communications - Once more preparations were
made to transfer the end of the cable from the stern to the
bow and to recommence the dreary work of Penelope with the
single thread - Tests for (for) fore and main tanks were found
to work satisfactorily, but the Sea-ward cable lay in sullen
silence & the comparitively unimportant breakage of the wire at

 

10

3.25 PM which took place by fouling the paddle box gear
as it was passed from one end of the ship to the other increased
the sense of misfortune and “ill luck” which weighed on all
 Even Mr. Cyrus Field in that Sad hour may be supposed to have given
way to an apprehension that the dream of his life was a chimera
Picking up again! Men looked at each other with a
sickly smile or a grim fortitude. But whilst the aching
eyes of wearied and worn watchers were straining through
the darkness of the little chamber in which is gathered
all the apparatus by which the invisible Ariel was
slated to do her spiriting ever so gently. for the smallest
sign of obedience, the faint light which had So long
stood fixed on the index began to steal like a xxx ghost
across its prescribed track. Was it deception? Again the
pale ray moves on - Yes! There can be no doubt of it now
the shore is speaking – for the index light talks a xxx language
here all can understand - It tells in plainest manner
that all our fears are groundless Communication still
exists with shore. The signals increase in strength Mr.
De Sauty comes out joyously, and calls Professor Thompson
to witness the grateful phenomena. Mr Canning is sent
for to the bow where he is preparing the picking up
apparatus. The exchange of currents between ship & shore and
vice versa becomes strong & regular x as if there were only a few miles apart
The cable is paid out with increasing velocity: Once more Terrible &
Sphinx in much perplexity long time because of the fresh delay
are apprised of the good news. At 4.15 P. M communication is reported
“all right” the ship proceeded on her course through the night at the
rate of 6 to 6½ Knots an hour till after midnight when the wind
and sea rose a little and it was considered prudent to diminish
speed to 5 Knots an hour. It is impossible to determine here the cause of
this extraordinary detention & error, but an impression prevails on board
the ship that the cause must exist in the station on shore.

 

11

July 26th. All during last night the cable was paid out
uninterruptedly and at 8. a m the good ship was 150 miles from
Valentia. The loss of cable paid out was 7.68 miles per 100 making
a total distance of cable laid of 161½ miles including shore end
The morning was hazy and the wind from the N. W. with rising
Sea, but the Great Eastern did not feel it more than a Thames
Steamer does a rough joggle in Chelsea reach whilst the Terrible
on our post quarter was thumping through it with unmistak-
able vivacity and now and then buried her figure head in
the crest of a wave which flew in foam over her forecastle
The Sphinx busily engaged in taking soundings was away on our
starboard quarter having rather a harder time of it, and as
the wind increased she dropped further astern till she was
more than hull down. At noon our course was W. N. W. ¾ h
with the wind strong on port bow, thick all round with drizzling
mist. At 1.45, Terrible signaled we were going too fast for
Sphinx but the cable was running out so beautifully that
it was not thought advisable to relax our speed. Three hours later
the Terrible which had sent down top gallant masts signaled
to a similar effect, but the Great Eastern did not relax her
rate of going respecting which there was some diversity of
opinion as the log showed far less than the actual length
of cable in the miles run off every hour from the drums.
The inconvenience of leaving the Sphinx so far astern was
experienced by the Great Eastern when she needed soundings,
for the Terrible on being asked for them replied “We have
got no sounding machine on board”. It must be remembered
that the deep sea soundings in such depths as we were now in,
a special apparatus is required, and that the ordinary leads
and lines used on board men of war could merely penetrate
the upper waters of the Valley over which the Great Eastern
was passing at the rate of 6 miles an hour; trailing out
the cable it flew with admirable regularity till miles away
it touched ooze 2000 fathoms  down. The Wind came
round to N. W. and in the night the ships course was

 

12

altered to N. W. ½ W. As the cable was paid out in
deep water, the insulation improved and the transmission
of signals to and from the shore which went on incessantly
as usual gave the most excellent indications. It may be
readily imagined that under such circumstances the spirits
of all on board rose, even though the wind and sea rose
too. At dusk, the Terrible drew up close abreast of
us working both boilers and the hull of the Sphinx
appeared above the horizon astern of us

 

13

July 27 In the night the wind came round a little. The
Ships course was N. W. ½ W. The sea scarcely felt by the Great
Eastern but still high and adverse enough to cause the electricians
who had been on board the Niagara to remark that the
operation of paying out the cable from her would not have been practi-
cable under the same circumstances. At 8.30 a m, the total
distance run was 302 miles – from the last splice 235 miles
showing an average speed of 5.87 miles an hour of cable paid
out – total loss of cable in direction from straight line
9.32 per cent on the whole distance 8.3 per cent. The cable
continued to run with the most perfect regularity in a depth
of 2000 fathoms striking the water at a distance of 213 feet
from the stern. As confident hopes were now entertained
that the after tank would be emptied by Sunday the
apparatus for paying out the cable from the fore tank
was prepared and the frame work of the
runners & channel fitted on deck over the tank. At
noon the results of observations gave the ships position
Lat 52°- 34 N. Long. 191' W. distance run since
yesterday 142 miles - whole distance from Valentia
320 miles - The Terrible with both boilers going
and top gallant masts down Kept on our port beam
The Sphinx when last seen had sent down topmasts
made no mark on the horizon and doubts were expressed
whether she could run on to her rendezvous if the wind
lasted as probably her coals would be exhausted
There was no alteration in the wind or the course of the Ship
during the day. The signalling between the ship and
the shore went on without hindrance and to the Satisfaction
of the electricians An observation taken by means of the Pole star
at 11 P. M. gave our latitude as 52° 38 average speed 6 Knots

 

14

July 28th. All during the night the work went on Smoothly
the insulation increasing. Course N. W ½ W. Wind W. N. W. at
7 o’clock a m we had run 119 miles, paddle working 6.75 L
screw 27.35 revolutions. Sky clear. Sphinx not visible. Terrible
on port beam, At noon lat. 52° - 45, long 23° -18 – 4" distance
run 155 miles distance from Hearts Content 1188 – 6 miles-
Cable running out at the rate of seven miles an hour. Total
number of revolutions of paying out machine at 8.30 152 . 900
equal to 476 – 6 miles giving 176 – 73 miles delivered since
yesterday. At noon 531 – 57 nautical miles of cable had
been paid out in water varying from 1529 to 1950 fathoms.
our distance from Valentia being 476 miles. The Terrible
was signaled to prevent any vessel crossing the course of
the Cable astern, and replied that she would do so if
possible. She steamed round on our starboard quarter
& remained throughout the day.

 

15

Saturday July 29th. Happy is the nation that has got no history!
When morning came, it seemed as if the day would pass with all
the monotony of successful progress. The paying out gear worked away
the donkey engines travailed, the tests answered from end to end. –
deep called to shore, and shore replied again, & indeed in the
sameness which gave a delightful languor to our thoughts it was
some excitement to conjecture why the Terrible had vanished clean
out of sight during the night although she came up sturdily again
in the morning, and took up her station on our starboard quarter.
All through the 12 hours from midnight to noon, the cable glided
at somewhat more than its usual rate, the ship going from 6 to 6½
Knots an hour, on its usual course with the same north westerly
breeze ahead, Keeping up the draught in our boilers. The day
was grey & misty but we were beginning already to talk of lotteries
about the time of arrival in Hearts Content, & to indicate our easy
confidence that the present was a fair guage (sic) of the future. In
the night we had passed over 2400 fathoms deep, and at 9. a m
were in 2000 fathoms only: At noon our position was Lat 52° - 38' – 30"
Long. 27° - 40' – distance from Valentia 634 – 4 miles - distance to run
1028 miles. About ten minutes past one o’clock ships time, there was a
slight commotion and excitement in the neighborhood of the testing room,
& soon afterwards with great quickness indeed, the engines were stopped,
and the ship ceased to move. Up swarmed at the ominous quiet all
the lazy life of the floating city, & buzzed about the deck. And soon
the cause was known – this time no “fault” – far worse “dead earth”
total and complete destruction to the insulated channel, so that
its subtle current rushed from some gaping wound into the Sea
and was lost in the great reservoir of the world never to be heard
of more. At 3° - 3' -30" Greenwich time, the operator in the testing
room who was watching the passage of a current saw the light on the
index suddenly fly beyond the limits, there being just 716.4 miles
of cable out and the tests up to the very instant being most satisfactorily
The Electricians were at once in consultation, but the nature of the
injury was So manifest that there could be no doubt as to the only course
to be pursued.  Still in order to make

 

16

assurance doubly sure it was resolved in the saddest and
slowest of all retrogressive operations “picking up” was resorted to,
to make decisive cuts in the cable whilst the steam was got up 
in the engines forward; so as to be in readiness in case of need - On the
first cut, a test was passed through the whole length of the cable;
and the results gave “dead earth” not far overboard. The Cable
was then cut at the bottom of the after tank, & gave the same
results. A third time the cable was cut at the top of the after
tank, and the test confirmed the preceding indications. Then
whilst the cable ran out with a strain varying from 8 cwt. to 19 cwt.
the necessary steps were taken to secure the end of the cable to
the wire ropes & slip it overboard so that it might be brought in over the
bow, and secured to the picking up machine, and with trouble
and hazard, and care which can not be imagined by one who has
not witnessed the operation, wound up again from the bed of the Atlantic.
The apparatus of stoppers, bights, and slips seems crude and full
of dangerous contingencies, but the experienced gentlemen in bow
were more confident than the sailors, and certainly were more
sanguine than the uninitiated who gazed over the stern with wonder
and alarm at the feeble looking black thread at which the
Great Eastern seemed tugging with all her giant might at every
swell of the sea. – For there while the ship was drifting was the cable
running out still - the strain at one time rising to 24 cwts
which caused it to hiss through the water with an edge of foam
& when the end was let go & length after length of wire rope
disappeared after it & a crowd of men hanging over the sides
climbing among boats & ladders & hauling on hawsers to clear the
sides shouted & clamored though obedient to command, when fouls
and hitches occurred & when the paddle boxes resolved to coil up everything
that came near them in spite of Mr. Halpin’s incessant exertions, it
required all one’s faith in the skill of Capt Anderson in guiding his
great ship and in the activity, experience, and judgment of Mr. Canning
to inspire a ray of hope that the end of that cable would ever be seen
on deck again. But at last the Great Eastern began to tug away
at the wire rope from the bow and the excitement of

 

17

the day was transferred to the other end of the ship. To shorten
a long story it may be at once stated that at 5° 40' Greenwich
time owing to great caution and skill in managing the ship, &
machinery, and perhaps to wonderful luck in a sea of unusual
calm the end of the cable was hauled in over the bow, and the
picking up machinery began to work it back again. This was
an exceedingly anxious & trying time. The strain on the cable,
was indicated at times to be 2½ Tons; but it came up very
easily, whenever the machinery was provided with proper steam
power. At 9.50 P. M by ships time,/ Greenwich time two hours
later/ the portion of the cable where the mischief existed
was got on board; and preparations made for a new joint
& splice & for the transfer of the cable to the paying out machine
About midnight after nearly two hours of much anxiety, &
trouble, the cable was recoiled & measures were taken to begin
paying out with the early dawn

 

18

Sunday July 30th. The night and early morning were periods
of great anxiety for Mr. Canning & his staff and for Captain
Anderson and the officers of the ship. The weather was exceedingly
thick, but it was a dead calm & when the splice and joint
was made Mr. Canning considered it advisable to wait for
a gleam of daylight ere he began the paying out of the cable
again. On the first attempt to transfer the cable from the
bow to the stern it flew off the bow drum and xxx before
it could be stopped it was jammed in the machinery
& subjected to such injury that it was found necessary to cut away a
considerable portion & make two new joints & splices - At length at 10.8 a m
Greenwich time & 8:10 ships time the cable  was running out over the stern
in a supposed depth of 2000 fathoms. The sight & sound of the machinery thus
restored to active functions after 19 hours of dreary rest were most grateful to all
on board & when Capt. Anderson came down to breakfast after an ordeal on deck
from 6 o’clock yesterday morning we all experienced a sensation of relief. For
indeed the danger of losing the cable by a moments neglect or an instantaneous
accident was felt rather than openly expressed. As Captain Anderson on whom the
difficulty of the task of laying the cable made a considerable impression
observed “one felt so powerless and could do so little” whilst the great ship & the then cable
were adjusting their mutual relations all thro the long dark night & care weighted
morning. When we began to pay out, there were but 133 miles left in the after tank
& it was a matter of calculation that at our present rate the coil there would be
exhausted in the course of the ensuing night, & the coil in the fore tank would commence
running out The insulation tests showed (showed) a high degree of excellence (150,0000000
B. A units). At noon ships time our position was Lat 52° - 30’ Long 28. 17, distance
From Valentia 650 miles cable paid out 745 miles. Divine service was postponed till
2:30 p.m in order to give some time for officers & men to rest. All through the day & night
the cable maintained her average rate & the cable ran on with delightful
monotony, wind light nearly ahead. Course N. W by W, sea smooth Weather
hazy and cold, temperature of water 54.0 The Sphinx supposed to have
come up & passed us in the night. The Terrible at her post on our
starboard quarter

 

19

Monday July 31st. At 3. a m the screw engines were stopped & at
3.30 ships time the paddles were slowed in order to allow the last coil of the after
tank to run out & the operation of paying out to be transferred to the fore tank
not the slightest difficulty was experienced in the transfer & at 10 minutes to 3 a m or
a little before 3.5 Greenwich time the Great Eastern steamed ahead lowering the cable
at a decreased rate of speed. At noon the distance run was 753 miles the cable paid
out 903, the tests showing a great improvement so as to elevate the standard of the cable
very much above the quality specified in the contract. The Latitude 52.9. Long 31 53
An examination was now made of the portion of cable in which the “Dead Earth was known to
exist by a series of exhausted electrical tests. Slowly xx but surely the defective portion of the
cable was reached & cut out. A very painful discovery was then made. An incision
was visible in one strand of the hemp covering an external wire & on unraveling the
strands so as to expose the insulated wires a piece of broken wire was found driven
through the gutta percha covering so as to project x beyond it on each side to the extent of the
diameter of the cable, one end was sharp as if cut with a nippers the other was broken
off abruptly & the diameter on the gage on being applied correspondent  with that of
wire covering the cable. It was impossible to resist the irritating & sorrowful
Conviction that such an injury was the work of some lurid cable assassin or some
purposeless malefactor. Mr Canning showed the cable and the stab to the cablemen who
admitted that the mischief could not have occurred accidentally and those who were in
the tank when the cable was injured being the same gang as that which was on duty
when another piece of wire was forced into the cable were transferred to other duties on deck
The gentlemen on board the ship formed a corps of supervisors who undertook to watch in
the tank turn about. & the men employed gave their acquiescence A dead calm
prevailed nearly the whole of the day xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx the waters
were unbroken even by the gentle ripple.

Tuesday Augt 1st We have passed the fatal spot where lie buried all that remains
of the Atlantic cables. The ships position at Noon Lat. 51 – 52 – 30. Long 36-8-30
 distance from Valentia 946 miles. 717 from Hearts Content. Cable paid out 1081 miles
During the day nothing whatever occurred to interrupt the uniform progress of the
operation. It is supposed were (sic) in the soundings between 1975 fathoms & 2250
The weather although overcast & grey was favourable. The wind from the N. W
Altering to S. W The ships course N. W by ¾ W. The Terrible in her usual position
Expectations entertained of seeing land on Saturday morning

 

20

Wednesday August 2d. A sad & memorable day in the annals of Atlantic
telegraphy. After midnight the wind rose accompanied by heavy showers
of rain & dense drift of fog. & increased to a strong gale to the S.W but the ship scarcely
felt it and went on paying out cable without let or hindrance at a high
rate of speed 7 Knots an hour. About daybreak, the winds suddenly shifted to N. N. W
& fell to a light breeze, & at 4 a m the course was altered to N. W by W ½ W the sea
falling. Morning broke beautifully & the cable ran out easily at the rate
of seven miles an hour At 5:35 a m ships time, the paddles were stopped,
and at 5.45 & the ship was stopped by orders from the electrician’s room. In fact
at 8. a m Greenwich time or a minute after whilst the electricians were passing
the first of the half hourly series of currents to the shore; the galvanometer
Suddenly detected a flow of electricity which indicated a serious fault. The
tests gave no results as to locality for the fault was very varying but it was
generally believed to be not far from the stern of the ship. It appears that while
Mr. Cyrus Field was on watch in the tank, a little before the time of the accident
a grating noise was audible as the cable flew over the coil astern. One of the
experienced hands immediately said “there is a piece of wire” & called to
the look out man above to pass the information aft; but no notice
appears to have been taken of the circumstances. After the ship was
stopped & the remainder of the flake plaid out, a piece of wire xxxxx
xxx was seen projecting out of the cable in the flake underneath that of which the fault
was suspected to exist & on one of the men taking it in his fingers & trying to bend it down
the wire broke short off. It was nearly three inches long & evidently hard ill tempered
metal, which had flown out through the strands in the tank. The discovery was in
some measure a relief to mens minds, that one certainly, & the second possibly of
the previous faults, might have been the result of accident. It was remarked however,
that this fault occurred on the same watch as all the previous ones. As the fault was too
serious to be overlooked & as there was a difficulty in detecting its situation, preparation
was made to get the picking up apparatus ready. Previous to doing so, two cuts were
made in the cable; the first near the old splice between the main and the fore tank –
Cable all right. The second cut three miles inboard which showed the fault to be overboard
The wire rope and the chain were now secured to the cable forward which showed a maximum
strain of 23½ cwt. & at 9.55 Greenwich time the cable was severed & went over the stern 1186 miles having
been paid out when the end splashed into the water. With less difficulty than usual
____________________________________________________________________
drum which we must supposed to be behind the spectator & coiled up as fast as it was delivered from
remained motionless and as the ship was drifted by the wind from right to left & slightly forward at last

 

21

in fact with comparative facility, the cable was hauled in over the bow at 10.8
Greenwich time. It had been hauled by the port side of the ship & as the wind stood
she drifted over the course of the cable, but it came up readily the strain on it
according to the indicator being from 50 to 55 cwt although the latter figure represented
the maximum only reached on one occasion We were however in nearly 2000 fathoms
water, but it was considered a favorable circumstance that we had not got
a few miles farther as we should have then been in the very deepest part of
the Atlantic plateau. As far as could be ascertained the ship was now over
a gentle elevation on the top of which there was only 1950 fathoms of water. The
picking up was as usual exceedingly tedious, & one hour & 46 minutes
elapsed before one mile was got on board, then one of the engine’s eccentric
gears got out of order, so that a man had to stand by with a handspike
aided by a wedge of wood & an elastic band to aid the wretched engine.
Next the supply of steam failed & when the steam was got up it was found
that there was not water enough in the boiler & so the picking up ceased
altogether.  Then occurred the great misfortune. Lunch was just over
some had left the table others were about leaving. The scientific gentlemen
had rather cheered us by starting an hypothesis rather stating a prediction
they believed the fault was only six miles away and so ere dead night fall we might
hope to have the fault on board, make a new splice & proceed on our way to Hearts
Content geographically about 600 miles away. Suddenly Mr. Canning appeared
in the salon & in a (in a) manner which told all said “It is all over.” “It is gone”
then hastened onwards to his cabin. Mr. Field ere the thrill of surprise & pain
occasioned by those words had passed away came from the companion into the
salon & said with composure admirable under the circumstances, though his lip
quivered and his cheek was blanched. “The cable has parted & has gone overboard
All were on deck in a moment & then indeed a glance revealed the truth –
I will endeavor now to explain to you how the fatal accident occurred. I say
fatal - for although as I write we are drifting down upon the spot in the hope of
getting hold of the cable with grapnels I scarce venture to hope the attempt will be
covered with Success. Let the reader turn his face towards a window & imagine
that he is standing on the bows of the Great Eastern & then of course on his right will
be the starboard on his left the port side of the ship. When the cable was hauled
round on the left hand side and passed over the V wheel it was carried over a
drum which we must suppose to be behind the spectator & coiled up as fast as it was delivered from
the picking up apparatus. But when the engines failed to work this apparatus of course the cable
remained motionless and as the ship was drifted by the wind from right to left & slightly forward at last
the cable came close up to the bow & under the forefoot of the Ship. There as the bows

 

22

of the Great Eastern two large hauseholes, the iron rims of which project far more
than a foot beyond the line of the stern. Against one of these the cable caught on the
left hand side whilst the ship Kept moving to the left & thus chafed & strained the
cable greatly against the bow The Great Eastern could not go astern lest the
cable should be snapped and without motion some way there is no power
of steerage At this critical moment too the wind shifted so as to render
it more difficult to keep the head of the ship up to the cable. As the cable
than chafed so much that in two places damage was done to it a shackle
chain & a wire rope belonging to one of the cable buoys were passed over the
Cable & secured in a bight below the hause holes. These were hauled
so as to bring the cable to the right hand side of the bow the ship still
drifting to the left. It was necessary to do this instead of veering away
as we were near the end of the cut of Cable. In the bow there is a
large iron wheel with a deep groove in the circumference (technically
a V wheel from the groove) by the side of which is a similar but
smaller wheel on the same axis. The cable &the wire rope together were
coming in over the bows in the groove in the larger wheel, the cable being
wound upon a drum behind by the machinery which was once more in
motion & the wire rope being taken in round the capstan by bars
But the rope & cable were not coming up in a right line but were being
hauled in with a great strain on them at an angle from the right-hand
Side so that they did not work directly in the V in the wheel. Still
up they came. The strain was shown on the indicator to be very high but
not near breaking strain. At last up came the cable & wire rope
shackling together on the V wheel in the bow They were wound round
on it slowly & were passing over the wheel together, the first damaged
part being inboard when a jar was given to the Dynamometer
which flew up from 60 cwt the highest point marked with a Sudden
jerk 3 ½ inches - in fact the chain shackle & wire rope clamber
as it were up out of the groove on the right hand side of the V
of the wheel - got on the top of the rim of the V Wheel & rushed
down with a crash on the smaller wheel giving no doubt a severe
shock to the cable to which it was attached. The machinery was still in
motion – the cable & the rope travelled (sic) aft together one towards the capstan

 

23

The other towards the drum – when just as the cable reached the
Dynamometer it parted & with one bound & leaped as it were over
a few feet of intervening space & flashed into the Sea. It is not possible
for any words to portray the dismay with which the sight was witnessed
& the news heard. It was to move to tears! and when a man came aft
with a piece of the inner end lashed still to the chain & one saw the
tortured strands – torn wires - the lacerated core, it is no exaggeration
to say that a strange feeling of pity as tho’ for some sentient creature
mutilated & dragged asunder by brutal force passed through the
hearts of the spectators. But of what was sentimental abstraction
when instant strenuous action was demanded? Alas! action!
There around lay the placid Atlantic smiling on the Sun &
not a dimple to show where lay so many hopes buried (of cables
of as men) till the Sea gives up her dead. But there was no
blank despair, & if any felt it the Suppressed the expression
of it, whilst by far the greatest number of those on board were
actually animated not by the loss itself, but by the accidental nature
of the occurrence & felt greater confidence than ever in the laying
of the cable. Captain Moriarty was first coming to the foot of
the companion to put up his daily statement of the ships position
having had excellent observations – when the news came “I fear
“ he said we will not feel much interested now in Knowing how
Far we are from Hearts Content” However it was something to
Know though it was little comfort that we had at noon run
precisely 116.4 miles since yesterday that we were 1062.4 miles
from Valentia 606.6 miles from Hearts Content that we were in
Lat 51. 25’. Long 39. 6 our course being 76S & 25.W. The Terrible
has signaled the cable has parted & was requested to bear down
to us which she did & came to off our port beam. After a
brief consideration Mr. Canning whose presence of mind & self
possession never left him (all but egregious folly it seemed)
to seek for the cable in the bottom of the Atlantic - to get
out his grapnels & drop down on it & pick it up again. Never
had Alchemists less chance of finding gold

 

24

buttons in the dross from which he was seeking aurum potabile a
philosophers stone. But then what would they say in England if not
even an attempt had been made however desperate had been made. There
were men on board who had picked up cables from the Mediterranean full
1400 fathoms down. The weather was beautiful, and even if
there xxx was no soundings & the depth beneath us was matter of confidence
it was settled at last that the Great Eastern should steam ten or
twelve miles to windward & eastward of the position in which she was
when the cable went down - out with the grapnels & wire rope & drift
down across the course of the track in which the cable was supposed to
be lying. Although all utterance of hope was suppressed & no word of
confidence escaped the lips of the mocking shadows of both was treasured
in some quiet nook of the fancy. The doctrine of chance could not
touch such a contingency as we had to speculate upon. And now
came forth the grapnels two five armed Anchors with flukes
sharply curved & tapering to an oblique tooth like end. The hooks
with which the Giant despair was going to fish from the Great
Eastern for a take worth with all its belongings more than a
million.- The ship stood away some 13 or 14 miles from the spot
where the accident occurred & then lay to in smooth water with the
Terrible in company. The grapnels weighting 3 cwt, shackled & secured
to a length of wire buoy rope of which there were five miles on board
(breaking strain calculation at 10 tons) was brought up to the bows
& at 3. 20 ship’s time was thrown over “& whistled thro” the Sea a
prey to fortune. At first the xx iron sank but slowly, but soon
the momentum of descent increased so as to lay great stress on
the picking up machinery which was rendered available to lowering
the novel messenger with warrant of search for the fugitive
hidden in mysterious caverns beneath. Length flew after
length over cog wheel & drum ’till the iron warming with
work heated at last so as to convert the water thrown upon
the machinery into clouds of steam. The time passed heavily indeed!
All life had died out in the vessel & no noise was heard except
the dull grating of the wire cable over the wheels at the bows. The
most apathetic & indifferent would have sacrificed much to have

 

25

heard the rumble of the cable again & have thought & esteemed it
the most grateful music in the world. The Electricians room was
closed, all their subtle apparatus stood functionless & cell – zinc
& copper threw off superfluous currents in the darkened chamber
The jockeys had run their race & reposed in their iron saddles - the
Drums beat no more - then long reveilles was ended at last in the
Muffled roll of death - that which had been broken could give no
trouble to break & man shunned the region where all those
mute witnesses were testifying to the vanity of human wishes
 Away flew the wire strands length after length ocean was
indeed insatiable “more” & “more” cried the daughter of horse leech
from the black night of waters & still the rope descended. One
thousand fathoms - fifteen hundred fathoms – Two thousand
fathoms - hundreds again mounting up - till at last at
5 – 6 p. m the strain was diminished & at 2.500 fathoms
or 15.000 ft. the grapnels reached the bed of the Atlantic & set
to its task of finding and holding the cable. Where that
lay was of course beyond human Knowledge, but as the ship
drifted down across its course, there was just a sort of head-shaking
surmise that the grapnel might catch it - that the ship
might feel it - that the iron rope might be brought up
again - and that the cable if across it might - here
was the most hazardous hitch of all; might come up without
breaking - But 2500 fathoms. “Alas - and so in the
darkness of the night - not more gloomy than her errand
the Great Eastern having cleared away one of the great
Buoys & got it over her bow was left as a sport to the
wind and drifted at the rate of 70 feet a minute
down upon the imaginary line beneath which the cable
had sunk to useless rest

 

26

Aug 3 d - Throughout the night drove the Great Eastern over
the Atlantic dragging in her course the grapnels & two miles & a half
length of line with which she was fishing for the lost Cable. When morning came
and when she was supposed to have gone beyond the track of her prey, several
miles, the watchers of the line who had once ere dawn been joyously agitate
by the news that the grapnels were holding & as it proved deceived prepared
to haul in the wire rope and seek their fortune. At 6.40 a.m. Greenwich
time the picking up machine reinforced by the capstan eventually
was set to work to haul up the cable, which being a strain of ten tons
At first it came up easily & the dynamometer showed only a strain
of 18 cwt. But the resistance of the rope rapidly increased till it
reached a point indicated by 70 cwt. At 7.15 a m one hundred
fathoms had been recovered. At 7.25 two hundred fathoms – the
strain increasing to 75 cwt. At 8. a m three hundred fathoms were
in, & it became evident to all on board that the grapnel was holding
on & lifting “something” from the bottom. And what could that something
be but the cable? The scientific men calculated the strain and
determined it could not be from the wire rope & grapnel solely, & it could only be
inferred then that as the bottom of the Atlantic is free from rocks here, and as the
depth at which the rope began to resist agreed with the supposed soundings it
had really grappled the prize. At 8. 9 the spur wheel of the picking up apparatus
broke and the operation of taking in the rope became dangerous as well as difficult
for it flew up at times with such force as to knock down those near it & one of
the most valuable of Mr. Canning’s staff received a severe cut on the cheek &
another had an ugly injury inflicted on his face from that cause. The weather which
had been very thick & hazy now settled down into a dense fog & we lost sight of the
Terrible but the conviction that the cable was really once more attached to the Great Eastern
no matter how precariously & no matter how far off afforded too much matter for congratulation
competition & suspence to allow much room for other thoughts There is a chance just a
chance that the cable might be dragged up from the deep & every hundred fathom of
hauser hauled in over the bow was joyously recorded & marked as an additional
step in the march of the forlorn hope. The hawser toiled & pulled as if it were
a living thing & stuck out at a considerable angle from the bow as if it were
towed by some giant force underneath & away from the steamer.  When 500

 

27

fathoms were on board the most sceptical admitted the cable must be in the
iron hooks & anxiety & suspence rose higher just as the probability of
recovering the cable became less wild. But at 3.20 Ship’s time all our
fears & hopes were abruptly ended. The drum flew round rapidly - the
tail of the rope flourished in the air as it flew on board & with a
light splash the other end dived into the Atlantic. One of the iron swivels
had yielded to the strain. The rope used was divided into lengths of 100
fathoms each having a shackle at the end with a heavy iron swivel
The head of the bolt of one of these had been drawn right through the
iron collar as 900 fathoms had been secured. Not a moment was lost
in deciding what measures to pursue. It was rather encouraging than the
reverse to have made the trial so abruptly concluded for it was demonstrated
that the grapnel could pick up the cable in more than 2000 fathoms
& the only question now was whether the wire rope or the cable itself
would bear the purchase & weight of hauling it up from such vast depths
There was wire rope enough left to make another attempt to save the cable
It was concluded that the best course to pursue would be to drift to a point
a couple of miles to the westward of the place where the cable & grapnel
were supposed to be so as to avail ourselves of the slack caused by
the endeavour to get it on board and it was calculated that it would
be necessary to get the cable up from that end & that the insulation would
probably be perfect eastwards of the grapnel as the ship would be at
the Valentia side of the fault which had caused such disaster. Captain
Anderson prepared to run 14 or 15 miles back & drift down as nearly as
possible across the line of the cable as described, but the wind was not very
favorable. On starting 1.30 p. m ship’s time, the Great Eastern fired a
gun to warn the Terrible she was moving & after some time a distant thud
through the fog made us aware that the Terrible had heard the signal
Still as nothing more was heard from her the Great Eastern blew fog horns
& steam whistles & fired more guns as she steamed away & after a time
it was thought we had lost our sole but rather distant companion. No
observation could be had & our position was matter of surmise, but when the
Great Eastern had made her 15 miles or so, engines were stopped & she lay
to for the night in a smooth Sea

 

28

Augst 4 th. Drifting!  By no means exciting but still necessary as
we had no other means of getting at the very unrecognizable locality where
we were to begin operations. The sea was calm & as we had no observations
yesterday a line was patched up to take soundings & bottom was touched at
2.300 fathoms. But of what the bottom was composed, there was no means
of judging, for the line broke in hauling up after 300 fathoms had been
got on deck. The Terrible found us out early in the forenoon, one of her
boats after a pull of some two miles came up with Lieut. Prowse to know
what we were doing and what we intended to do. The one was more easily
told than the other; but as a general result he was informed, we meant
to “keep pegging away” as long as we had tackle left. At noon
an observation was snatched at , which gave our position Lat 51° -34' 30"
Lon 37° - 54' showing that we had drifted 34 miles which with 12 miles
steamed made 46 miles from our position when the cable parted. It
was resolved to make a raft on which to place a Buoy to slip over
with 2½ miles of the cable itself attached to a mushroom anchor as soon
as we had reached the spot where we grappled the cable yesterday. After
a long uneventful day the Great Eastern arrived at the place estimated,
dropped the buoy & anchor, & steamed off again at 10 P. M Greenwich
time so as to drag across the cable next morning.

Saturday August 5th. Another night of drifting, looking out for our
buoy. The weather so thick, we could see neither sun nor horizon & the
navigation was left to the resources of internal consciousness to calculate
our position. As we were soon in a dense fog in the body corporate and in
the mind, maritime patience became not so much a virtue as an
undesirable necessity if we would alleviate the ignorance of the world
in which we were having our being of not moving very rapidly. The Terrible
was lost to sight & when last seen was  as distant as Bunsby himself
of “Cautious Clara” could have desired, but when least expected she did us a
service - In the forenoon the only break in the monotony of floating on this
grey Atlantic in a grey sky was afforded by a school of porpoises & grampuses
which found us too slow for their tasks & soon abandoned us for some lively
timber ships. After midday the haze lifted & there lay the Terrible near the
horizon on our port beam. At 2.30 she signaled to us that the buoy was 3
miles distant & gave us bearings. The Great Eastern steamed up and passed

29

the buoy at 3.45 She signaled to the Terrible to remain by the buoy during the
night & then steamed N. W by N for 6 miles intending to drift and put
down the grapnel if the wind changed.

6th. August Sunday. A night of fog and drizzling rain was followed by
a morning & day of very little better weather. The Terrible was seen early in
the morning through a break in the pall of thick grey clouds which floated
over the water but was lost sight of in a short time & of course the buoy was
invisible. There has been no good observation now for three days & we can only
guess where we are The sea remained exceedingly calm and we drifted
along so steadily that it has been difficult for one in the saloon to believe he
was afloat in the Atlantic. The fog whistle sounded its dismal warning,
continually throughout the day. At 10.45 a.m. Church. At noon Staff
Commander Moriarty deduced a Latitude & Longitude from his experience
& from many calculations & devices to make up for the absence of a Sun
& the horizon. At 4 o’clock P. M the buoy was supposed to be some 15 miles
of us N. W. ½ W. The wind being E. S. E. It thus appears we have been
drifting against the wind. Therefore people say “the Gulf stream”
& explain everything. Night coming as we lay to in fog as before
& contented ourselves with hoping for the future...

 
30

Monday August 7th The weather was thick in the night but cleared
away towards 4 A. M. & the Terrible soon after day break was visible near
the buoy from which we had drifted 12 miles. Signal was made to inquire
if we were going to grapple for the cable to which the Great Eastern answered
in the affirmative & the ships then exchanged Lat. & Longitude. At 8:30 a.
m. the Great Eastern passed the buoy & steared (sic) N. W. so as to get veering
room for the grapnel and for drifting down on the course of the cable. At
10:40 a.m. the Terrible being distant about 12 miles the Great Eastern
was stopped & at 11-10 ships time 1-47 greenwich time  the grapnel
with 2500 fathoms of cable was hove over. So much was the machinery
improved that the grapnel was only half the time in reaching the bottom
& at 12 – 5 the dimunition the strain on the dynamometer showed
that it was resting on ooze. The day turned out most favorable
a steady breeze from the north – drifting the ship towards the cable
at the rate of a mile an hour broadside on. At noon excellent
observations were taken which put our position at Lat. 51 . 27’
Lon 38 . 42’ For several hours the grapnel dragged (dragged) the bottom
without obstruction the dynamometer indicated a varying resistance to its progress
At 6:15 the strain increasd from 45 cwt to 48 cwt & soon began to rise steadily towards
55 cw. & then to 60 cwt Presently the anxious eyes which were fixed on the compass
& on the head of the Great Eastern observed a very slight tendency in her
head to come round to the wind. It was slow – very slow  indeed The ship seems
little to notice the influence to which she was becoming   plainly subjected
disdaining the feeble clue which solicited her attention to the labyrinth of cable
beneath, but in an hour & a half she came round E by S½ S to E. ¾ N. The strain
was greater every moment. There could be no longer any doubt – the cable
was caught again. Here was a triumph of seamanship & perserverance The ship’s
head was brought round to the wind by the sales & the capstan engine was set to
work to aid the new machinery of the picking up gear to haul up the cable
At 7:49 P. M. ships time (10:30 G. T.) the strain ran up to 66 cwt & at 8 P. M.
the ill fated machinery broke down at the bow & a slight delay occurred, but the
main part of the work being transferred to the capstan the rope was steadily
hauled in at the rate of 150 fathoms per hour. At 11:30 ship’s time
300 fathoms were in & the dynamometer showed a steady strain
of 62 to 66 cwt A lovely moonlight and a calm sea & favoring

 

 31

breeze increased the pleasure with which all not engaged in duty
retired to rest & be thoughtful for the brightest hopes for tomorrow. In
the words of one signal to the Terrible we were “going on hopefully”
 Tuesday August 8th Skill, seamanship, perseverance have failed
our hopes appeared so near then greater that the disappointment
is doubly severe. By the utmost care & constant watchfulness Capt
Anderson & Staff Commander Moriarty picked up the buoy as described
& drifted across & caught the cable yesterday. There could be no doubt
about it. The strain proved it for it increased steadily and
constantly.  Between 5 & 6 a.m. the Dynamometer rose from 82 cwt to
85 cwt & thence to 87 cwt & it was calculated that the grapnel with
the cable was then rising from the bottom. The rope had come on steadily
at an average of 150 fathoms an hour, during the night. At 7:30 a. m.
there was a strong infusion of confidence in our success, and great gladness
on board. The one mile mark was hauled in, and we had
demonstrated the fact , that a ship could pick up a cable in 2500
fathoms of water & pull it one mile from the bottom. The cable was now
suspended 1500 fathoms or one mile & a half below us in the ocean.  The strain
increased to 80 cwt, at one sudden tug indeed it came up to 90 cwt
We had signalled the good news to the Terrible.  In an instant more
whilst our flags were still flying all was over. One of the shackles
& swivels which form each length of wire rope to the other had come over
the bow , had passed over the drum & was in the third round of rope
taken in by the capstan when the head of the swivel pin gave way, & quick
as lightening, the end flourishing the iron shackle like a mailed fist in the
air right & left as if menacing with death the hardy enemy who dared
stand in its desperate way; glanced aloft & leaped exultantly into the
sea to join the cable & the 1500 fathoms of wire rope which still hung
from the grapnel. Now all the shackles & swivels had been
examined minutely before they were put over, & every care taken to prevent
the recurrence of accident which had already frustrated our exertions. The
work was of Brown Lennox Ltd.  no better names. the strain was not near
that put down as the breaking point & yet there was the painful result
The news was signaled to the Terrible & her answer had not long been flown when
her boat put off with Lieut. Prowse to learn what course we were about to pursue

 

32

At 9:50 a second buoy secured on a raft & casks was lowered with
2500 fathoms of telegraph cable moored to a broken spar wheel. It
carries a black ball at the end of a staff & below the ball floats a flag
red white & red in three horizontal bars. The buoy is marked in white
letters on red ground “Telegraph No 3” it floats low & has been let
go as close as possible to the spot where the grapnel rope sank. If
these buoys do not break adrift they will be of great Service when a
renewed attempt is made to lift the cable. Lt. Prowse told us
that on Sunday morning, the Terrible saw a Schooner lying to by the first
buoy & on ranging alongside was hailed by the master whose name I do not
know to enquire if she was looking for the buoy. The honest sailor had come
up with it & though the wind was fair for him he resolved to do what he
could to aid the work & so lay to ‘till the Terrible came up. H expressed
a lively regret when he was told that the cable had parted & I am glad
that the name of the little vessel is known at all events. Success to the
“First Fruits” of Bridport & may she reach “Harbour grace” in safety!
After some deliberation with Mr. Gooch Capt Anderson & others Mr Canning
decided on making another attempt to grapple the cable & take it on
board & orders were given all wire rope & hausers fit for the purpose
in readiness. Lieutenant Prowse returned to the Terrible to communicate the
result & Mr. Clifford & his staff prepared for the last effort. To obviate
the evils which had arisen from the picking up machinery failing a
casing is to be put round the capstan to increase its diameter by 4
feet & each shackle and swivel of the wire rope will be removed &
replaced by a new system of bolts. This will take two days to accomplish
The Great Eastern & Terrible Kept by the buoy till 5 oclock when the
increasing wind & sea rendered it expedient for them to keep their
heads to the W. N. W. & up to midnight both vessels in tolerably close company
steamed to W. N. W. in half a gale of wind which the Great Eastern met
without the smallest inconvenience –

 

33

August 9 During the night a strong breeze which even sailors
called a summer gale blew from the W. N. W. & raised a heavy sea
which set the Great Eastern rolling a little & caused the production of
“fiddles” on the salon tables at lunch time as a precautionary measure
to check the play of plates & dishes. The rolls were very stately &
regular - one to eleven Seconds or thereabouts. Of course it was impossible
to Keep near the buoy under such circumstances & at 6 P. M. [correction: a m] it was
calculated we had run 35 miles. At that hour the ships course was
altered so as to let her bear down on the buoy & she steered nearly N N E
towards the Terrible which was in sight lying for so as to give rise to the
hope that she was hanging as near our missing sea mark as was
prudent. At noon our position was Lat 51 . 29 30 Lon 39 . 6’0”. The
Terrible in reply to our signals said she did not see the buoy, but
 believed it to be S. S. E of her. At 12:30 the Great Eastern was abreast of the
Terrible & altered her course to S. by E ½ E & both ships with look out
men in the tops renewed their scrutiny of the heaving waters at
some distance apart. It was a difficult & exciting chase. At a mile
distant the buoy was but a speck on the ocean, Currents & gales had been
driving the vessels about all night. The buoy might have been carried
away in the heavy sea which was running. Again at about 3:30
ships time, the Terrible & Great Eastern came near enough to exchange
signals “Have you seen the buoy” asked the latter. The answer was
“No” & then followed more signals as to mutual positions. Captain Anderson
& Staff Commander Moriarty were working out calculations & exhausting
the resources of their art in fixing the bearings & distance of the missing
object. They scarcely differed a mile in their respective results although
the ship had been steering several courses & short distances on each
It was positive at last that if the buoy floated at its moorings
We were not farther than 3 or 4 miles from it. In reply to another
signal the Great Eastern informed the Terrible that she was going
to grapple for the cable again. Suddenly the much sought for
flag staff was discovered from the Great Eastern and as her flags
were going aloft to announce the fact to the Terrible, a signal
from the latter was giving up her discovery of it & its position to
the Great Eastern - At 4:40 P. M. the Great Eastern was

 

 34

abreast of the buoy, slowed her engines & put her helm to
starboard in order to stay as close to it as possible. Our missing friend
had evidently put in a hard night of it & had pulled his flags so tight
round his staff that not a vestige of it was visible except the red bars
The Terrible came up & Kept on our port beam so as to watch the
buoy at the other side. Towards evening the wind moderated very
much & the sea gradually ran itself down. The work of
preparation went on busily & at night the decks were lighted
up with forge fires & quivered under the blows of sledges as
anvils rang & iron glowed for the work of tomorrow. The capstan
is to be cased in iron & by degrees most of the picking up
machinery has been removed for simpler gear. A number
of swivels have been removed & simple shackles substituted so as
to make the grapnel tackle as safe as possible. Our hopes are
rising!

 

Editor’s notes:

Mr Whitaker’s copy of the diary stops at this point, while the NMM copy has three further pages numbered 35 to 37 (plus a final page with corrections); these pages were published as the conclusion of the article in the Times.

The version of the diary printed in the American newspapers on August 26th/27th also has further entries for August 10th and 11th, but with a different, shorter, text than that published in London. Both versions are reproduced below for comparison.

Chronology:

The expedition was abandoned on August 11th 1865, and the Great Eastern then set off on her return to Crookhaven in Ireland, while the Terrible sailed for Newfoundland, carrying “our letters to America”.

Getting the story to Boston and New York: We can surmise that as of the parting of the two ships, the diary had been printed aboard Great Eastern up until the end of the entry for August 9th, and this version was sent with the Terrible for publication in America, along with a handwritten summary of the last two days of the expedition.

The Halifax (Nova Scotia) Morning Chronicle published in its issue of August 28th Russell’s diary up until August 9th, with this note:

The foregoing comprises all the report by Dr. Russell, received here by H.M.S. Galatea. When the Great Eastern and Terrible parted company, on the 11th inst., it is not probable the diary of the 10th and 11th had been copied.

The Terrible arrived at Newfoundland on August 15th, and on the 18th the New York Times published a brief summary of the loss of the cable with extracts from Cyrus Field’s diary. A “More Complete Account of the Misfortune” appeared in the next day’s issue, reproducing Russell’s diary entry for August 2nd when the cable was lost. As noted above, the full diary was not printed in the American newspapers until August 26th/27th, perhaps for contractual reasons, or perhaps because that was when printed copies of the diary were received by the newspapers.

The Guardian, quoting the correspondent of the Daily News in its issue of August 22nd, has more information on this:

The Terrible took the American bag, and would forward it from Newfoundland, and as on the rough day on which she parted company with the Great Eastern it was impossible to keep her boat alongside while the final sheet of diary was being lithographed, all the letters but one were sealed without it, Dr. Russell writing to the agent of the Associated Press at New York, to telegraph the last part of the news to the 24 journals unsupplied.

Getting the story to London: Meanwhile, on board Great Eastern, Russell finished compiling the final pages of the diary for British distribution (including the “Postscript for Printer and Reader” which made corrections to pages 33 through 37). The ship reached Crookhaven on the south west coast of Ireland at 7 a.m. on Thursday August 17th, and Russell disembarked there. On Friday August 18th the Times published a short article about the voyage, noting the return of the Great Eastern to Crookhaven and including this note:

Arrival of the Great Eastern. We published in a portion of our first impression yesterday [17 August] a telegram announcing the safety of the Great Eastern. We have since received the following telegraphic despatches: CROOKHAVEN, Aug. 17...

These despatches must have been telegraphed from Crookhaven to London via the lines of the South-Western of Ireland Telegraph Company on the section from Crookhaven to Cork and those of the London & South-of-Ireland Direct Telegraph Company from Cork to London.

The Liverpool Mercury, in its issue of August 19th, confirms that news was telegraphed from Crookhaven:

The anxiously awaited announcement of the arrival of the Great Eastern off the coast of Ireland has come at last. The great ship arrived at Crookhaven on Thursday morning, and all speculations as to the fate of the Atlantic cable were settled by a telegram which stated that the rope parted on the 2nd instant in soundings of 3900 yards, after 1212 miles had been paid out, and that attempts to recover it, though nearly successful in three instances, had to be abandoned owing to the loss of the hoisting tackle. After fixing buoys to mark the course along which the cable is laid, the Great Eastern returned home to procure fresh ropes and grapnels. A telegram from Mr. Varley, the chief of the staff of electricians on board the Great Eastern, says that “all entertain hopes that the lost end of the 1200 miles can be recovered, and the line successfully completed to Newfoundland.”

The Great Eastern then sailed on to England, discharging passengers at Brighton “early in the morning of the 19th”, according to Daniel Gooch. But the full publication of the diary by the Times appeared in its edition of that same day [Saturday], so there would not have been time to get a paper copy of the diary from Brighton to London in time for publication. Nor was there any faster scheduled route to get a hard copy from Crookhaven to London than that taken by the Great Eastern.

After sending his first dispatch from Crookhaven by telegraph, is it possible that Russell also had the full text of the diary, over 12,000 words, telegraphed to London? The importance of the story would certainly have justified the time and cost involved, but the transmission would have taken many hours and would have been subject to errors. Perhaps circumstantial evidence against this is that a number of other dispatches were marked “by telegraph” when published, but the diary was not. Also, the introduction to the full story of the expedition published in the Times on Saturday August 19th as “The Diary of the Atlantic Cable”, has this note, which makes it clear that it was not telegraphed from Crookhaven but arrived in London by other means:

The fuller particulars of the voyage of the Great Eastern confirm the conclusion forced upon us by the telegraphic summary from Crookhaven...

The Diary as published concludes with the following sentence, added by the editors in London immediately after the last sentence on page 37 of the National Maritime Museum manuscript transcribed below:

On Thursday morning [the Great Eastern] ran in shore to Crookhaven, and thence proceeded to the Downs, where she will probably arrive in the afternoon of today [19 August].

If the manuscript had been sent from Brighton, this would have been mentioned in the note above, but at the time of publication the editors believed that the Great Eastern was proceeding directly to the Downs, so they did not know of the brief port of call at Brighton on the morning of 19 August. So from the published evidence, it is clear that Russell's manuscript was transmitted to the Times in London neither from Crookhaven nor from Brighton, so it must have been sent from somewhere in between these two places. Based on his study of ship and train schedules of the period, Steve Roberts suggests two further options:

Russell could have commandeered a steamer from Crookhaven to Cork, then the railway or another steamer from Cork to Milford Haven. From there he could have taken the express or a special train to Paddington. Sparing no expense for these charters, he could just have done it in 18 hours, arriving in London on Friday in time for the diary to be published in the Times on Saturday.

Alternatively, the Great Eastern could have dropped a “canister” to a steam-tug waiting off Plymouth on Friday, where there was access to the railway. This could have been arranged at Crookhaven. The express train from Plymouth took 7½ hours to reach London; a “special train” could have done the trip even faster. The Times often hired special trains.

The track of the Great Eastern was reported “by telegraph” in Saturday’s Times:

PLYMOUTH, FRIDAY, 10 P.M.

At 11 o'clock this morning the Great Eastern was off Falmouth. At 2 this afternoon from Plymouth Hoe her smoke was descried to the westward of the Sound. At 3 o'clock, the haze having lifted, her hull was clearly observed as she passed up Channel to the eastward.

At 4 10 p.m., Start Point being seven miles distant west by north, the Great Eastern was abreast of the Waterford company’s steam vessel Aurora, Captain Castle, from London for Plymouth, where she arrived at 8.

The Great Eastern was working four smoke funnels. She had two square topsails set. Wind, westerly, very light.

Captain Castle calculates that if she continued the same speed—about nine knots—she would be off Dover at 10 o'clock to-morrow (Saturday) morning.

This leaves open the feasibility of the diary having been sent via a canister dropped by the Great Eastern as she passed off Plymouth on Friday, as Steve Roberts suggests above; this could then have arrived in London late on Friday evening. However, such an event would surely have been mentioned in this telegraphed news update from Plymouth.

No matter how the diary made its way to London by Friday, the compositors at the Times were used to setting sixteen pages of type every day, the newspaper having no illustrations at that time, so the 12,000+ words of Russell’s diary, occupying just over one full page of the paper, could have been set in time for the edition of Saturday morning.

Russell himself, in his book on the expedition published later that year, notes that: “The narrative of the voyage, which was written on board, and sent to all the principal journals before the Great Eastern arrived at the Nore...” Unfortunately, he gives no details of how this was done.

 

[National Maritime Museum manuscript]

35

Thursday August 10th. It was almost a dead calm part of the night but a
slight breeze which sprang up did not suffice to counteract the effect of a
strong current which set the Great Eastern 6 or 7 miles to eastward between 9 p.m. of
9 August & 4 a.m. this morning. Soon after dawn we came down on Buoy
No 1 which guided us to buoy No 2 and for some time both of them were in sight
from the deck, but the ship bore away gradually to the NW so as to get a good offing to drift
down on the line of cable At 10.30 a m Greenwich time the grapnel touched the bottom
& the Great Eastern with fore & aft canvas & Topsails set slowly drifted & forged ahead
for a point about a mile west of the last grapple. The strain on the grapnel line varied
from 40 ctw to 45 ctw. but at 11. a m ships time it increased to 50 ctw, and the ships
head showed a disposition to come to the N. Sail was eased but the xxx came away
again & proceeded to drift southweards & westward. Her head varied from Nx by N
to N.Wd by N. The Buoy bearing S E. At 1 p m the strain rose to 60 cwd. &
the Great Eastern came 3 points to the N, but the check was only momentary
and at 3 p m it was plain she had drifted over the spot & had failed to catch
the cable. The only thing to be done ws to take up the Grapnel & to renew
the attempt to recover the cable next day. The machinery was set to work
for the purpose of hauling up the grapnel & as the wire rope came in over
the bows it was remarked that it was strained considerably & that in various
places the strands had unlaid themselves. This circumstance gave rise
to serious apprehensions regarding the capacity of the only tackle left to
work with & it became a question of dispute whether the swivels had not
been used too much in ___ though some agreed [argued] that they were no use
at all. All the afternoon & all the evening the anxious but monotonous
labor of dragging in the grapnel taxed the energies of the Engineers & Cable-
men but at midnight 1400 fathoms was safely xxx coiled on board of the ship

Friday August 11th. The long struggle is over at last. It is suspended by an unwilling
___. No one accepts the result as a final and conclusive defeat. But there are no
means left of continuing the contest & the passive resistance of the enemy has for the moment
triumphed. At 5.20 a m the grapnel was hauled up on deck & it was discovered that the
chain to which the shank was attached had taken a half hitch round one of the flukes so as to have
prevented the instrument catching on the bottom. It appeared from the length of wire rope
covered with ooze that there was not more than 1950 fathoms [of water] where it was down. A host of amateurs
more or less scientific scraped out the [ooze from the] sand & shells and bottled it with assiduity. It appeared
like liquid putty in color & such imperfect microscopes as were on board failed to show any
organic substances in it [but Mr Ward ships Surgeon took a very small shell like a barnacle from the cable which gave signs of containing a living inhabitant]. A grapnel with a shorter stock was substituted for the next trial

 

36

All the damaged rope was replaced & repaired as far as the means at the disposal
of Mr. Canning permitted. A line consisting of 1600 fathoms of wire rope 220 fathoms of
hemp rope & 510 fathoms of manilla ws prepared & carefully examined of which 1760 fathoms
was pronounced good, the rest being rather suspicious. At 7.25 a m the Great Eastern was
alongside No 2 Buoy. The Terrible in company & hauling from N. E to S.E. At 11.30 the Great
Eastern signalled Terrible “We are going to make a final effort” & then “We are sorry you have
had such uncomfortable waiting” The ships head being W. by S and the buoy No 2 bearing E by N
about 2 miles the grapnel was let go at 1.56 p.m Greenwich time the wind being S.W would drift
the Great Eastern to N.E right across the cable & fore & aft canvas was set to overcome the
current. The grapnel soon touched the bottom as the new machinery enable the men
to pay out the rope at the rate of 50 fathoms a minute. For some time the ship drifted
onwards but at 3.50 p.m ships time the strain on the rope rose to 60 cwt, as it came
in over the bows though it was taken easily by the new capstan improvements
effected by Mr Clifford. The ships head varied from WNW to W by S and as the rope came in
the screw was set gently to work at times to keep it to the wind which had increased somewhat
accompanied by showers of rain. The dynamometer index rose higher & higher ’till it reached
80 cwt. and as a shackle came through the machinery flew up to 105 cwt. It was a
certainty than the Atlantic cable had been caught for the third time & was held fast in the
grapnel coming up from its oozy bed. Is there need to say that the alternations of hope & fear
which agitated all on board reached their climax? There was an intensity of quite excitement
among us such as men feel when they await some supreme decree - Some remained
below - others refused to go forward where the least jar of the machinery put their hearts in
their mouths others walked in the saloon or up on the after deck abstractly. In the bows
Captain Anderson Mr Canning Mr Clifford & their men toiled on and from them
came constant signals through an acoustic tube & whistle to the bridge to go ahead with
the screw or to stop as the strain on the dynamometer moderated. I had come up from dinner
leaving many at table and was walking forward from the bridge when I heard the whistle blow
& a cry of “stop it” from the bow. Captain Moriarty had just come up from below with the information
that we must certainly have gone over the cable, but the commotion in the bow and exclamations
of grief & regret told us our last bolt had been sped - At 9.40 p.m Greenwich time
just as 765 fathoms had been got in a shackle on the hemp hawser passed through
the machinery & in a moment afterwards the rope parted near the capstan and flew over
the bow with a whistling rush which carried death with it like the march of a
round shot. In all the crowd of labourers not one was touched because the men held on to
their stoppers & kept the end straight, but the danger appeared so great that with the
shout “It is gone” mingled the eager demand from Mr Canning & others who rushed

 

37

to the bow. Is any one hurt? None. But there lay the cable beneath us once
more, buried under coils of rope & wire to which had just been added 1750 fathoms
more. Signal was at once made to the Terrible, orders were given to get up steam & all haste
made to return from the disastrous spot which will bear no ___ monument of such solicitious energy
such noble toil! such ill requited labours. The buoys which mark the place where so much
went down will soon be waifs and strays in the strong seas of Autumn, & nothing will be left of the
expedition but entries in log books. Lat. 51° 24'. Lon 38° 59' End of cable N.50.W. 1¾ miles &
such memories who have witnessed brave fights with adverse fortune & are encouraged to
persevere in the same connection that the good work will be accomplished in the end. The
boat of the Terrible with Lieut. Prowse bearing our letters to America has just left
the lee of the Great Eastern in a stormy sea. The flash of the gun which lighted up the
darkness from the moment from her decks to recall the boat & the glare of a blue
light over the water which the pinnace burned as she neard the heaving hull, render
the gloom which follows all more heavy. There is great silence on board the vast ship
as she turns moodily towards the East as if yearning to pursue her course & bow her
head to the angry sea in admission of defeat. The signal flashes from the “Farewell”
our answering lights pierce the night “Good bye thank you” and then parting in mid
sea each speeds on her course. The Great Eastern free from the trailing cable and
favoured by a strong breeze makes nearly 9 miles an hour & marks with broadest wake
that ever traced its snowy path on the ocean her way to the Eastward.

 

[As published in the Boston Post/New York Times]

Aug. 10.—The Great Eastern drifted from six to seven miles to the eastward, against the wind, between 9 P. M. last night and 6 A. M. this morning, in obedience to a strong current. At 10:30 A. M., Greenwich time, the grapnel was hove overboard, with 2,450 fathoms wire rope and hawser attached, and at 11:18 A. M. had run out all the line. The ship, then under canvas, bore down across the line of cable about a mile or so west of the place where the grapnel line parted on the 8th.

At 11:10 A. M., ship’s time, there was some slight sign of the grapnel holding on below, but the ship’s head soon recovered. At noon our position was lat. 57 26, long. 38 59, heading W. N. W. At 1 P. M., her head came three points to the North, and the strain on the cable, which had varied from forty-five to fifty cwt., went up to sixty cwt., but this was soon over. At 3:30 P. M., it was clear we had passed over the ground unsuccessfully. The Captain had yet no wish to take in the grapnel line, which was up and down, and came in considerably injured. At midnight 1,4000 fathoms still remained overboard.

FRIDAY, AUG. 11.—At 5:20 A. M., the grapnel was hove on board and preparations made for another attempt to recover the cable, which was rendered more hopeful by finding that the grapnel had been hitched by the chain on going down, and could not have caught our prey as it passed over it. At 1:56 P. M., Greenwich time, the grapnel, with 1,600 fathoms of wire rope, 200 fathoms of manilla, and 610 fathoms of hemp hawser, was hove overboard for a last effort, and the Great Eastern drifted down across the line of cable. At 3:30 P. M. ship’s time. the strain on the dynamometer and the deflection of the ship’s head told that the grapnel was holding. At 4:10 P. M., the strain increased from 60 cwt. to 90 cwt. and at one time to 105 cwt., and the ship’s head varied from W. N. W. to W. by S. At 6:48 P. M., ship’s time, the strain being at 90 cwt. for some time previously, suddenly rose to 105 as a shackle on the hawser came on board, and the rope parted at once near the capstan as 765 fathoms had been got in, leaving about 1,750 fathoms to sink to the bottom with the cable. The Terrible was at once signaled to, and has come alongside for our letters, and the Great Eastern returns to Sheerness with Mr. Field and all the staff forthwith, much strengthened by the convictions that but for the faults in the cable the Old World and the New would have been ere this united by the Atlantic Telegraph, and animated by the firmest belief in ultimate success.

Last revised: 17 December, 2016

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Research Material Needed

The Atlantic Cable website is non-commercial, and its mission is to make available on line as much information as possible.

You can help - if you have cable material, old or new, please contact me. Cable samples, instruments, documents, brochures, souvenir books, photographs, family stories, all are valuable to researchers and historians.

If you have any cable-related items that you could photograph, copy, scan, loan, or sell, please email me: billb@ftldesign.com

—Bill Burns, publisher and webmaster: Atlantic-Cable.com