History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
Laying the Atlantic Telegraph Cable from Ship to Shore
A SERIES OF SKETCHES
DRAWN ON THE SPOT BY JOHN R. ISAAC
PROOFS ON INDIA PAPER
The Atlantic Telegraph Cable
Narrative and Explanatory Details of the Plates
On the morning of the 5th of August , accompanied by an eminent Professor, I embarked in a two-oared boat, on an expedition for the purpose of making short-hand sketches of that interesting operation, laying the shore cable of the Atlantic Telegraph from the United States steam frigate “Niagara,” through the harbour of Valencia, a distance of two miles-and-a-half to the Irish coast. Here, a trench, indicated in Plate VI., had been cut for its reception, communicating with the temporary office, from whence eventually a correspondence between the Old World and the New will be maintained, the future beneficial effects of which are incalculable.
Astir early in the morning, we found it blowing somewhat fresh, and an uncertainty prevailed as to the Cable being then laid; towards ten A.M., however, it cleared off, and having taken possession of our boat, we rowed for the little island of Beginnis, situated in the middle of the stream of the North-western entrance of the harbour. We had some difficulty in effecting a landing, from the rock-bound coast and swell of the Atlantic, which caused our little bark to toss and dance not in the most agreeable manner. Having succeeded, we directed our course to the highest point of land in the centre of the island, called “Pilot’s Point,” and from this obtained a full and perfect view of the surrounding country, with the ships, according to their disposition, in the onset of this mighty undertaking.
In the West there lay that noble specimen of English marine architecture, the “Agamemnon,” with her share of the treasure coil on board, which, forcing her deep into the water, caused her to keep a prudent distance out, besides, not being required in the day’s operations; as she heaved to and fro, she formed a beautiful contrast with those picturesque and singular rocks called the Blasquets.
Northward, close under our feet, the “Niagara” was anchored, broadside to the stream, the full swell of the Atlantic beating against her massive but gracefully-formed hull. As she rose and descended, the various craft around her felt the powerful influence, and it became a somewhat perilous task to ascend her steep sides; in the attempt some partook of a semi-bath quite unlooked for; our party did not altogether escape. We observed some of the fair sex, with the characteristic intrepidity of the beautiful daughters of Erin for the love of adventure, and natural desire to gratify their curiosity, place themselves in an arm chair, suspended over the ship’s side by a strong hawser from the yard-arm, and being lashed to the same, and gracefully decorated at the lower extremities with the stars and stripes of Columbia, hauled up from boat to deck, and fearlessly return by the same means.
Turning to the South, the Island of Valencia, with its picturesque hills, gentle slopes studded with neat, clean-looking cottages, the mansion of the generous Knight of Kerry, the little town teeming with bustle, sending forth numerous boats from its convenient pier, all more or less engaged in the business of the day, produced an agreeable picture not easily to be effaced.
Eastward, before us lay the shore, with its tent and trench, ready to embrace the cable on its arrival. On the left, Dowlas Head, Dingle Bay, the mainland diminishing into the back ground of distant mountains of varying and singular outline; Ballycarberry Castle; the thriving town of Cahirciveen; the river gently winding its course till lost in distance, combined to form a scene of beauty not frequently to be met with.
After noting down such particulars as we thought necessary, and collecting a few of the fine and rare ferns growing on the rocks around, we made for the boat, and danced our way to the “Niagara.” Having boarded this noble vessel, we found the leading scientific men engaged in the undertaking, directing the delivery of the shore cable into the boats of the “Leopard” and “Susquehana,” and the steam-tug “Willing Mind.” These, when fully laden, were to be towed into shore by H.M.S. “Advice,” as far as there was water. She was then to give place to the tug and boats, arranged to tow the cable boats into shallow water, from whence the cable was to be hauled into the trench.
Learning these particulars, we descended from the “Niagara” to our boat, and after many attempts, succeeded in rowing alongside the “Willing Mind,” scrambling over tarred ropes and coils of cable, bags of coal, &c. on to her deck. Here taking a position on the paddle-box, we observed the paying out of the cable, which proved a dangerous and difficult task.
From the absence of machinery, the weight of the cable caused it to run out more rapidly than was required, and the men employed were unable to arrest its progress. In attempting to do so, their lives were frequently endangered. Many times I expected to see half-a-dozen whipped up and pitched overboard, but by picking up a coil or more, and throwing it over the larboard side, and allowing this length to run and then stopping it by means of temporary breaks, and placing boats astern to act as buoys at certain distances, the operation was satisfactorily performed. (See Plate 4.)
After proceeding up the harbour for about a mile in tow of the “Advice,” on getting into shallow water, she had to give way to the “Willing Mind,” who, having delivered to the deep her share of the cable, took her place in front, and steamed on with the American row boats and cable boats, until getting into shallow water the row boats took up the lead, into the foremost of which we were fortunate enough to jump, and pulling into shore, had the gratification of seeing the cable hauled up into the trench. Here the scene was very exciting - the numerous craft on sea, and the myriads of human kind on land, hastening to the spot-the extraordinary rush of the latter to grasp that subtle line destined, we hope, to bind in lasting concord, two great nations-the Lord Lieutenant’s active pull speeches-prayers-and responses, have been too faithfully recorded by the press to need further remark here. After a day of toil and peril, not unmingled with pleasure, consoling one’s self with the idea, that every man this day had done his duty, and thinking very hopefully on the result of our labour, a good night’s rest restored the wearied limbs and enabled us to rise sufficiently early in the morning to witness the departure of the squadron, the “Niagara” being in full view four miles out, just at the period of the shore cable breaking. Taking a last rapid sketch of this scene, we turned our steps towards home, but not without heartily praying for the complete success of this undertaking, coupled with the wish that it might prove of lasting benefit to the dear “Sister Isle,” a land of beauty, song, and generous hearts.
*** The subsequent disaster, by which the accomplishment of this noble undertaking has been temporarily retarded, is already known to the public. It was certainly an event unlooked for after the success which attended the initiatory proceedings, but it is consolatory to know that all is not yet lost, and that the opinion of scientific gentlemen and professional seamen is unanimous as to the ultimate fulfilment of this grand design of linking the two greatest portions of the earth in instantaneous intercommunion, and uniting the nations in the bonds of amity and peacefulness.
PRINTED FOR JOHN R. ISAAC, LIVERPOOL.
As the Diaries of Messrs. Bright and Field are extremely interesting, we think we cannot present to our readers a more agreeable matter of information in connection with the Atlantic Telegraph than a brief synopsis of each. We will take that of Mr. C. T. Bright first. He commences by recording the departure of the “Agamemnon” from Queenstown, at 2 p.m., on the 18th July , and reaching the rendezvous on the night of the 28th. On the morning of the 29th, the sea being smooth, the “Agamemnon” and “Niagara” were connected by a hawser stern to stern, the end of the cable on board the latter ship was then brought to the former by the boats of the “Valorous” and “Agamemnon,” and at one o’clock the splice was effected, the position of the ships being lat. 52° 8’: long. 22° 27’W. [this is a typo in the original; the actual position was 32° 27’W. - see Cyrus Field’s notes below]; distance 938 2/10 statute or 815 nautical miles from the White Strand Bay, Valentia. After the cable was dropped overboard the “Agamemnon” proceeded slowly, paying out slack freely for the first three hours, after which the speed of the ship increased to 4, and at 7 to 5 knots an hour. At 7-45 p.m., after passing the cable from the outside to the centre of the coil in the main hold, there was found an injury to the coil, it being squeezed between the side of the curve in the eye of the coil and the end of the piece of wood by which the leading-in part of the coil was defended. The injury having been quickly repaired, during which operation Mr. Bright bears testimony to the skill of his assistants, signals were again exchanged with the “Niagara,” which had been temporarily suspended. At this time 46 nautical miles of cable had been payed out from the “Agamemnon.” The depth of water at the time of this stoppage was 2,030 fathoms, on the 30th at noon, 135 nautical miles had been payed out, being then in lat. 52° 24’: long. 29° 50’ and 718 miles distant from Valentia. At this period the “Niagara” reported that she had payed out 130 miles of cable. At midnight the wind was blowing hard, and so great a consumption of coal took place, that it was feared, if the bad weather continued, there might be an insufficiency in the supply of fuel. On the 31st at noon the “Agamemnon” had payed out 280 miles and the “Niagara” 285 miles of cable. The dead reckoning made the position of the “Agamemnon” at this period to be about 605 miles from Valentia, and the depth of the ocean to be 2,400 fathoms, being the utmost depth attained during the voyage. During the day the wind continued to blow hard and the sea to run high. At midnight the barometer fell, and there was every indication of severe weather; 358 miles of cable on this day had been payed out, the “Niagara” signalling that she had parted with 365 miles. On Sunday, August 1, the “Agamemnon” was 478½ miles from Valentia, being in lat. 52° 26’ 30": long. 23° 16’ 30”, 434 miles of coil having been payed out from the “Agamemnon,” and 440 by the “Niagara.” The weather after this gave some signs of amendment, but a heavy swell remained, and the ship pitched much.
By noon on the 2nd the “Agamemnon” was in lat. 52° 35’, long. 19° 48’, 351 1/6 miles from Valentia, 605 miles of cable having been laid from the “Agamemnon,” and 615 from the “Niagara.” In the Afternoon the wind went down considerably, making the motion of the ship easier. At 3 p. m. the course of the ship had to be altered to avoid a three-masted schooner. The weather in the evening was squally. At 4 the next morning there appears to have been considerable excitement on board in consequence of a barque bearing down upon the starboard beam of the “Agamemnon.” She was, however, hove to on being intercepted by the “Valorous.” On the 3rd August 776 miles of cable were paid out, being then in lat. 52° 26’, long. 16° 7’ 40”, the “Niagara” having laid 780 miles of cable. After this the depth of water, which had averaged 2,000 fathoms since the 1st instant, began to lessen. At 5 p.m. the greatest variation occurred, being from 1,750 fathoms to 550, within about ten miles. By midnight the depth had decreased to 216 fathoms. At 4 a.m. of the 4th the large coil in the main hold was paid out and a commencement of the coil upon the upper deck was made. At noon the water deepened again to 400 fathoms. This was in lat. 52° 11’, long. 12° 40’, being then 89½ miles from Valentia, 924 miles of cable having been payed out. The “Niagara” had laid 925 miles. On approaching within 50 miles of Valentia the “Valorous” steamed ahead to make out the land. The water now began shoaling rapidly. At 8-30, the second coil having been finished, a change was effected to the Orlop deck. At midnight the upper Skellig light was made; and at dawn on the 5th the “Agamemnon” was abreast of the Blasquets, steaming slowly towards Valentia. At 6 a.m. the “Agamemnon” was brought to anchor in Doulas Bay, 2,026 nautical miles of cable having been payed out between the two ships. At 3 p.m. of the 5th the end of the cable was safely taken to the beach and passed into the station-house at Knightstown.
The strain on the cable, Mr. Bright states, varied during the paying out under different circumstances of weather, depth of water, and speed of ship. Some inconvenience was experienced by the great accumulation of pitch and tar, but it was found to be ultimately of great advantage, as preventing the cable from running out too quickly. The amount of slack payed out amounted to 22 per cent. Mr. Bright bears strong testimony to the laborious zeal and untiring patience exhibited by Captain Preedy and the officers of the “Agamemnon;” and also his obligations to Messrs. Canning, Clifford, Hoar and Moore, the engineers acting under his direction. He also favourably mentions the exertions of Captain Hudson, and the officers of the “Niagara,” and also of Messrs. Everett and Woodhouse, the engineers on board the latter ship.
The following is from Mr. CYRUS FIELD’S “Notes.”
Thursday, July 29. -Lat. 52° 59 N., long. 32° 27. Fleet in sight. Sea smooth. Light wind. At 1 p.m. splice effected. Perfect signals passed between the ships; depth of water 1,550 fathoms. Distance to Valentia Harbour 813 nautical miles, 827 nautical miles to Trinity, N.F., and from thence to Telegraph House at head of bay, Bull Arm, 60 miles, making in all 882 miles. 1,100 miles of cable on board the “Niagara” and “Agamemnon.” At 7 p.m. signals ceased, but at 11-30 p.m. perfect signals were again received.
Friday, July 30. -Lat. 51° N. Distance run in 23 hours 89 miles; payed out 131 miles, 900 fathoms over the distance run, equal to 48 per cent. Depth of water 1,550 to 1,970 fathoms. At 3-30 finished the maindeck coil and commenced that from the berth-deck. The “Agamemnon” had payed out 150 miles. At 2-34 p.m. the “Niagara” had payed out 150 miles.
Saturday, July 31. -Distance run in the last 24 hours, 137 miles, payed out 159 miles: 853 fathoms of cable on a surplus of 22 miles; 843 fathoms over the distance equal to 13 per cent. Depth of water 1,657 to 2,250 fathoms; weather cloudy; a little rain and some sea. Total amount of cable payed out 201 miles 730 fathoms. Total distance run 236 miles; surplus cable payed out over the distance, 65 miles 730 fathoms, equal to 29 per cent. At 11-4 p.m. paid out from the “Niagara” 300 miles of cable. At 2-45 p.m. received signals from the “Agamemnon” that they had payed out her 300 miles; at 5-37 finished the coil on the berth-deck, and commenced paying out from the lower deck.
Sunday, August 1. -Lat. 50° 32’ N., long. 41° 55’ W. Distance run during the last 24 hours 145 miles; payed out 164 miles and 83 fathoms, as a surplus of 19 miles 630 fathoms over the distance equal to 14 per cent. Depth of water 1,950 to 2,424 fathoms; weather cloudy and misty, and heavy swell. Total amount of cable payed out 456 miles 400 fathoms; total amount of distance run by observation, 371 miles; total amount of surplus cable payed out over distance run, 85 miles 600 fathoms, equal to 23 per cent. At 3-5 p.m. finished the coil on the lower deck and changed coil to the lower hold.
Monday, August 2. -Lat. 49° 52’ N., long. 45° 48’ W. Distance run in the last 24 hours 154 miles; payed out 177 miles 15 fathoms of cable or a surplus of 23 miles 100 fathoms on the distance, equal to 15 per cent. Depth of water 1,600 to 2,380 fathoms; “Niagara” getting light, rolled very much. Total amount of cable payed out 633 miles 500 fathoms; total distance run 525 miles; total surplus cable payed out over distance run 100 miles 500 fathoms, or less than 21 per cent. At 12-38 imperfect insulation of the cable detected, which continued until 5-40 a.m. The fault was found in the Ward-room or in about 60 miles from the lower end. Defective part taken out of circuit.
Tuesday, August 3. -Lat. 45° 17’N., long. 49° 23’ W.[this is a typo in the original; the actual position was 49° 17’N.], distance run by observation in the last 24 hours, 147 miles; payed out 162 miles 61 fathoms of cable, or a surplus of 14 miles 613 fathoms over the distance run, equal to 10 per cent.; depth of water 742 to 1,827 fathoms; weather pleasant. Total amount of cable payed out, 795 miles 300 fathoms. Total distance run, 672 miles. Total surplus cable payed out over the distance 123 miles 300 fathoms, less than 19 per cent. At 8-26 a.m. finished paying out the coil from the hold and commenced paying out from the ward room, 305 miles remaining on board at noon. At 11-15 a.m. ship’s time, received a message from the “Agamemnon” that they had payed out 780 miles of cable. During the afternoon and evening passed several icebergs. “Agamemnon” signalled at 9-10 a.m. that she was in 200 fathoms of water. At 10-20 ship’s time, the “Niagara” was in 200 fathoms. Wednesday, 7 at night, lat. 48° 17’N., long. 52° 43’ W., distance run, 146 miles, payed out 154 miles, 160 fathoms of cable, or a surplus of 8 miles 360 fathoms over the distance run, equal to 6 percent; depth of waterless than 200 fathoms. Weather fine and calm. Total amount of cable payed out 949 miles 660 fathoms. Total surplus cable over distance run 131 miles 660 fathoms, about 16 per cent. At noon received signals that the “Agamemnon” had payed out her 940 miles of the cable; passed several icebergs; made the land of Trinity bay at 8 a.m. Entered Trinity Bay at 12-30 p.m. At 2-20 p.m. ship’s time, stopped making signals. Recommenced signalling at 2-40 p.m. At 7-30 piloted into Trinity Bay by H. M. steamer “Porcupine.”
Thursday, August 5. -1-45, the “Niagara” anchored. Distance run since previous day 64 miles; amount of cable payed out, 66 miles 353 fathoms, being a loss of less than 4 per cent. Total amount of cable payed out since the splice was made, 1,016 miles 600 fathoms; total distance run 882 miles; total amount of cable payed out over distance run 134 miles 600 fathoms, being a surplus of about 15 per cent. At 2 a.m. went ashore, informed the people at the telegraph house that the cable was ready for landing. At 2-45 received signal from the “Agamemnon” that she had payed out 1,010 miles of cable. At 5-15 a.m. The Telegraph Cable was landed. At 6 a.m. the shore end of the cable was carried to the Telegraph House and a strong current of electricity was received from the other side of the Atlantic. Captain Hudson received messages at 11 a.m. H. M. steamer fired a salute of 21 guns.
One fact worth recording above all others shows strongly the importance of the work. This may be seen by the first message sent through the wires from America to England, which was that conveying the information of the collision between the “Europa” and “Arabia,” the effect of which would be to allay all popular alarm that must have been felt by the detention of the “Europa.” Had that information not been received £50,000 at least would have been expended in insurance owing to the delay in the arrival of the vessel.
We conclude this brief account of the Telegraph Cable by appending the message from Her Majesty Queen Victoria to the President of the United States, and his reply.
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Last revised: 5 May, 2015