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

Books: 1865/66 - The Atlantic Telegraph

The Atlantic Telegraph: Its History, from the Commencement of the Undertaking in 1854, to the Return of the “Great Eastern” in 1865.
Accompanied with a familiar explanation of the theory of telegraphy; a chronological summary of the progress of the art; and a tabular list of the submarine cables now in operation; also an account of the leading submarine and land lines in progress and projected. From authentic sources.
iv, 117 pp., illustrations, 2 folding maps, folding plate, 3 portraits. 20 cm. London, Bacon & Co., 1865.

This is the first edition (of three), all published by George Washington Bacon of London, whose main business was in maps and atlases. Bacon also published broadsides on The Atlantic Telegraph, with editions in 1865 and 1866.

Entries for The Atlantic Telegraph as catalogued by OCLC list three portraits, but this copy has four real photographs - see below.

Copies of the first edition are held at: Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut; Dibner Library at the Smithsonian Institution Washington, DC; Detroit Public Library, Detroit, Michigan; University of Texas Library, Austin, Texas.

Two further editions of the book were published in 1866; one before and one after the successful expedition of that year:

The Atlantic Telegraph; its History from the Commencement of the Undertaking in 1854, to the Sailing of the Great Eastern in 1866. ... London, G.W. Bacon, 1866. 8vo, pp. 166.

The Atlantic Telegraph; its History from the Commencement of the Undertaking in 1854, to the final success in 1866. London, G.W. Bacon, 1866. 12mo, pp. 116.

[Data from Dictionary of Books Relating to America, from Its Discovery to the Present Time, by Joseph Sabin. Published by the author, New-York, 1867. Links are to Google Books].

1865AT02a.jpg (53571 bytes) 1865AT01.jpg (107142 bytes)

Shown above is the first edition, published in 1865 after the return of the Great Eastern from the unsuccessful cable laying voyage of that year.  The book includes two maps showing existing cables, a fold-out diagram of the Great Eastern, and four tipped-in real photographs of Cyrus Field and other members of the expedition.

It seems likely that this copy was a special production, as other copies are listed as having three portraits, and these are line drawings rather than photographs. See below.

In the Catalogue of the Wheeler Gift (entry 1633), Latimer Clark’s copy of this book is described as having two photographic portraits:

The Atlantic telegraph; its history from the commencement of the undertaking in 1854, to the return of the Great Eastern, in 1865. 117 pp. pl. & maps. 12mo. London, 1865. The book contains photographs of Cyrus W. Field and Prof. Thomson, (Lord Kelvin).

The sad remains of the Wheeler Gift Collection are now languishing largely inacessible at the New York Public Library, and I have not been able to check this copy.

Kirsten van der Veen notes that the Dibner Library’s copy of this edition has line-drawing portraits of Cyrus Field (between p.16-17), William Thomson (between p.24-25) and Cromwell F. Varley (between p.56-57).

In the copy shown on this page, however, the three line drawings have evidently been removed and replaced with four photographs: Cyrus Field has been moved to page 5 and William Thomson to page 16; Henry Clifford replaces William Thomson at page 24; and Samuel Canning replaces Cromwell F. Varley at page 56. The three original line drawings may be seen at the end of this page.

The photographs from this copy are shown below; for comparison, the sketches are by Henry O’Neil. Originally published in the ship’s newspaper on board Great Eastern in 1865, O’Neil’s sketches were reproduced in Willoughby Smith’s 1891 book The Rise and Extension of Submarine Telegraphy.

Charles Bright, in his 1898 book Submarine Telegraphs, says of the 1865 and 1866 expeditions:

Mr O’Neil also brought out an illustrated comic journal during this and the following expedition, issued at periodic intervals, which was a source of much amusement to those who had time for perusing.

Facing page 5

Cyrus Field, in a pose reflecting the classic 1858 Matthew Brady photograph, with the addition of Great Eastern in the background

Facing page 16

Professor William Thomson, later Lord Kelvin, was scientific adviser to the Atlantic Telegraph Company, and inventor of the mirror galvanometer used to detect the extremely faint signals from the cable

Facing page 56

Samuel Canning, an engineer with Glass, Elliot & Co., was consulted by Cyrus Field in 1856 during the planning of the first Atlantic cable. Canning also represented the contractors, the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (successors to Glass, Elliot), on the 1865 Great Eastern expedition.

Facing page 24

Henry Clifford designed the cable-laying machinery used on Great Eastern for the 1865 and 1866 voyages, and was Samuel Canning’s assistant engineer. He subsequently became Chief Engineer of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, and worked in the cable industry until 1894. Clifford was also an accomplished artist in watercolours and oils and rendered a number of views of ships and scenery on his cable voyages.

The line drawings from the copy in the Dibner Library are shown below:

Cyrus W Field
Facing page 16

William Thomson
Facing page 24

Cromwell F Varley
Facing page 56

Line drawing images courtesy of the
Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology,
Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

See also G.W. Bacon’s broadsides on The Atlantic Telegraph, with editions published in 1865 and 1866.

Last revised: 1 December, 2016

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