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

Affairs at Hearts Content: August 1866
by R.M.S.

Introduction: This light-hearted report from “R.M.S.,” the correspondent of the New York Times at Heart's Content, Newfoundland, paints a picture of the ship and the men of the 1866 Atlantic Cable expedition after its successful conclusion. Written on 4 August 1866, it was published in the 18 August issue of the newspaper.

-- Bill Burns

 

From Newfoundland

Affairs at Hearts Content–
The Great Eastern–Her Officers, &c.

Correspondence of the New-York Times.
Heart’s Content, N.F., Saturday, Aug. 4, 1866.

Since I wrote you on the 27th ult., via Montreal, I have had the good fortune to see as much of the Great Eastern and her people as most of the visitors to this secluded village, now rendered so famous by the advent of the cable, that messenger of civilization and peace. I have eaten, drank, danced an& slept on beard, and been so favored as to make the acquaintance of almost every one I would care to know, from Capt. Anderson downwards.

Internally the great ship is fitted up as solidly as it is possible to imagine a thoroughly well-built house ashore, and latterly her appearance, as far as cleanliness is concerned, has made mighty strides. Of course, when we consider the aggregation of bipeds and quadrupeds, and the immense amount of work being done, in coaling, victualing, &c., we need not feel much surprise at finding this vessel less tidy than the yacht of a Vanderbilt. Yet it is marvelous to see the improvement made in so short a space, and the very particular way in which every man out of her hundreds is looked after and employed; no idleness or malingering is allowed, but the men have ample roam for amusing themselves, of which they take full advantage.

The transference of the cable and coiling it in the various tanks of the big ship is progressing rapidly, and it really is extraordinary to    see the method, closeness and regularity with which it is stowed away, resembling nothing more than one huge coil of rope. The Medway discharges, and the Eastern receives at the rate of about 3½ miles an hour. The men employed in the tank sit upon the edge of the coil, and as each new round comes to them they catch it by stretching out their feet, the heels acting as a species of grappling irons, and the    hands afterward doing the packing process.

I have no intention of undertaking a description of the vessel, but some of your readers might find an account of the leading officers interesting.

Capt. Anderson is a Scotchman, from Dumfries. He is about six feet in height, well built, has a handsome face and profile, and a profusion of brown hair covering a well shaped head: whiskers auburn. On the wrong side of 40, say 42—but time has dealt very leniently with him, as he has not a gray hair, and his blue eyes are clear as possible; the eyelids have, however, a tendency to nervous twitching occasionally. The Captain does not excel as a reader (I heard him read prayer on board) but he is a neat and even forcible speaker, not hurrying himself as he does in reading. No one could doubt his having a will of his own in spite of the peculiarly pleasant smile that brightens his face up and makes it so attractive.

Mr. R.C. Halpin, chief officer, (Capt. Halpin,) is a gentleman of about 30 years of age, stout, fair, has brown hair and whiskers, and one would say that he has more goodness in one look of him than one man in ten thousand. Every inch a sailor, as much the gentleman; bold as a lion and gentle as a lamb—Halpin is never weary of doing kindness. On the passage of the Great Eastern from Sheerness to Beerhaven one of the men up in the rigging lost his presence of mind and was coming down right into the engine-room, when Capt. Halpin, to the great risk of his own life, rushed up the rope and by sheer bodily strength supported the poor fainting man down to deck. On another occasion in the depth of Winter, when the Eastern was at Sheerness, a boat containing two ladies and an equal number of gentlemen was upset while leaving the ship; without waiting for one moment even to pull off some of his heavy clothing, he sprang at a height of 18 feet into the water and held the ladies up although they nearly drowned him by clinging to the hair of his head. So much for Capt. Halpin, who looks an Englishman—a regular John Bull—but is nothing else than a County Dublin man and one of which that County and Ireland may well be proud.

Prof. Thomson, the Consulting Electrician on board, is a Scotchman, a native of Glasgow. He is one of those scientific gentlemen whose brains are too great for their bodies. At all events, the mind of this gentleman seems to be bringing his person into a state of emaciation. His manner is very suave and gentle, so quiet and diffident that no one would take him to be the inventor of the new mode of telegraphing, the “Marine Mirror Galvanometer,” now in course of operation on the Atlantic wires. His kindness in showing your correspondent and his friends the modus operandi of his, to us complex, yet to him simple, instrument, entitles him to our best thanks. It would be difficult to guess his age, but his attainments as a scholar are well enough known. At Cambridge University he was Senior Wrangler, took the Smithsonian prize and gold medal, a feat almost unprecedented in that great institution.

The Chief Electrician afloat is Mr. Willoughby Smith, and at Heart's Content our friend Mr. Lundy is in full force. Both are young men of very great mental calibre, and worthy of the trust imposed in them.

Mr. Canning is the Chief Engineer, and has the appearance of being, and is, the right man in the right place. Over forty, I should say, and any of your photographers who desire a life-like picture of his present Imperial Majesty of the French had better come down to Heart's Content and get a sitting from Mr. Canning. The latter is every inch a gentleman, however, and an honest man, with more real merit than twenty Napoleons. He is exceedingly liked by all who know him, and I have only mentioned his resemblance to the Emperor Louis because it is so remarkable as to attract the notice of the most unobservant, and it would be inexcusable not to mention the circumstance.

His staff are principally Scotchmen. Mr. Biddulph, an Englishman from Warwickshire, is an exception, and a more intelligent young fellow your correspondent never had the pleasure of talking to. One of the doctors of the ship plays the violin exquisitely, but his name is not now present to my memory. Altogether, the assembled officers of the Great Eastern and the Atlantic Telegraph Cable are as scientific looking a body of men as one would expect to find them, and they ought to be. It will, therefore, be a matter of no small surprise if, with the powerful machinery they have for the purpose, they do not grapple the cable of last year and lay it in good order and condition. The Captain expects to sail on the 9th, and to be back with it, please God, in three weeks or a month. May success attend the undertaking.

Mr. Cyrus W. Field, looking wiry and ubiquitous, is just the picture of an American, and a good one at that. Courteous to all, he is much respected on board and ashore. Friendly and kind like his countrymen, his information is unstintedly given when consistent with a due regard to the interests he so largely represents. It is the general belief that he never sleeps, and there seems to be solid ground for believing the fact; for, go anywhere, at any time, and there you meet Mr. Field.

In connection with the successful laying of the cable, Mr. T. Harrison Ridley, of the firm  of Messrs. Ridley & Sons, of Harbor Grace, gave a grand supper and entertainment to the officers of the ship, the Telegraph Company, and to the principal families of the country and visitors of the ship. I had the honor of being one of the invited, and, as a matter of course, went, and I have only to say that although I have been to many a good meetings of the sort, I never yet was present at a more magnificent reception. Indeed, everything was on a princely scale, and the welcome was very cordial. A tent was erected expressly for the purpose of gratifying the tastes of those devoted to Terpsichore, and most handsomly decorated it was, with the flags of the two great nations just brought together—Great Britain and the United States. At the top of the room, in good, bold print, was the following inscription:

“The Atlantic Cable; may it ever bind England and America in ties of peace. Landed July 27, 1866.”

The affair was really a national or an international one, and Mr. Harrison Ridley deserves the thanks of all for the spirit he exhibited and the example he set. If I remember aright, the first toast was an eulogium of Mr. C.W. Field, who was unfortunately unable to attend. I imagine he must have some sort of idea that his beloved cable would go wrong unless he was near it!

Those of your readers of both sexes, who have not been in Newfoundland, may probably feel some curiosity to know what style of people the Newfoundlanders are, so far as personal appearance is concerned. Well, I assure them that the island can boast of what the Scotch would call “handsome men and bonnie lassies,” in as large a degree for its size as any country I ever visited. Health and good complexions, and the wholesome appearance of plenty of genuine color, are principal points of attraction. Then the ladies here do not affect “rats,” “mice,” or “waterfalls,” and those abominations which disfigure the pretty faces of our New-York belles. Here the simple braid is the order of the day, and very becoming it is, too.

The news of the fishing is very discouraging all over the country, and I fear there will be more real distress in the island this Winter than its friends would wish, unless matters mend considerably within the next month.

I may as well say, while I am about it, that the road hence to Harbor Grace is just as like the public thoroughfares in the worst parts of the Highlands of Scotland as can be conceived, with this difference, that in the latter country I never traveled anything so cruelly break-neck, heart-breaking and trying as the first few miles from here. The scenery is pretty fair on a fine day, but not sufficiently attractive to induce a second visit on a wet one.

Let me note the fact, that the President's  message to the Queen was  honored with a long and loud salute from the guns of the Great Eastern, and that both Her Majesty's telegram and His Excellency's reply are exhibited at the door of the electrician's office on board, With a memorandum of the exact time of the receipt and dispatch I think the President's took eleven minutes in going to Osborne.

K.L.S.


 

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