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

The Atlantic Telegraph
by W.H. Russell L.L.D.

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W.H. Russell
Photograph by
Roger Fenton, 1855.
LoC LC-USZC4-9183

William Howard Russell’s book is perhaps the most spectacular work on the Atlantic Cable, with lithographs after the original watercolours made by Robert Charles Dudley on the 1865 Great Eastern cable expedition, along with others made by Dudley at that time representing scenes from the earlier expeditions.  Page size is 11¼" x 8"; image size approximately 8¾" x 6".

The original Robert Dudley watercolours from the book, together with others not used and oil paintings perhaps commissioned by Cyrus Field were given by Field in 1892 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, along with other cable memorabilia from his collection.

In 2005 Nonsuch Publishing released a new paperback edition of Russell’s book, with full-colour illustrations and the complete text of the original. See the Current Bibliography page for more information.

Shown here is a complete set of the images from the original 1865 publication (the title page, 24 coloured lithographs, and the chart of the voyage, 26 plates in all), alongside the original art for each image where available.

The images in the left-hand column below are from Russell’s book. The captions for each image in this column are reproduced verbatim from the book.

The images in the right-hand column below (where noted in the text) are of the Robert Dudley originals, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: www.metmuseum.org. The captions for each image in this column are those of the original art, and the accession number links at the beginning of each line are to the Met’s catalog page for each image.

A number of Dudley’s watercolours and paintings in the museum’s collection were not used in Russell’s book; these are shown at the end of this section.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Archives in London has four additional cable watercolours by Dudley; these are also reproduced here by kind permission of the IET.

 
The Book: The Atlantic Telegraph
 

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Front cover of Standard Edition
The contract for the book suggested the possibility of inserting a “veneer” or thin slice of the actual cable into the cover of the book, but this was not done. A drawing of the cable cross-section was used instead.

 

Title Page of Deluxe Edition
92.10.57: The Great Eastern weighing anchor off the Maplin Sands at the Nore, July 15, 1865

     
Coloured lithographs, as
published in Russell’s book
  Original artwork, courtesy of
the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Title Page of Standard Edition
The Atlantic Telegraph
By W.H. Russell L.L.D.
Illustrated by Robert Dudley
Dedicated by
Special Permission
to His Royal Highness
Albert Edward Prince of Wales

Day & Son Limited
6 Gate Street London

Weighing Anchor off the
Maplin Sands, Nore, July 15th

 

Title Page of Standard Edition
92.10.100
: The Atlantic Telegraph



     

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Page 14: The reels of gutta-percha-covered conduction-wire conveyed into tanks at the works at Greenwich.

 

92.10.52: The reels of gutta-percha covered conducting wire conveyed into tanks at the Works of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, at Greenwich

     

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Page 18: Valentia in 1857-58 at the time of the laying of the former cable.

 

92.10.85: Bay of Heart’s Content from the Hills, Looking towards Trinity Bay, Newfoundland

The Metropolitan Museum’s catalog entry for the original artwork (above right) includes this note:

Inscribed in graphite at center of verso of mount: “The Bay of Heart’s Content from the Hills, looking towards Trinity Bay”

Accordingly, either the Met's caption or the one in the book (above left) must be in error.

   

Page 26: Trinity Bay, Newfoundland: exterior view of telegraph house in 1857-58.

 

92.10.49: Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, Exterior View of the Telegraph House, 1858

     

Page 28: Telegraph house, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland: interior of messroom, 1858.

 

92.10.50: Telegraph House, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland: Interior View of the Mess Room, 1858

   

Page 28: H.M.S. Agamemnon laying the Atlantic telegraph cable in 1858: a whale crosses the line.

 

92.10.68: H.M.S. Agamemnon laying the Atlantic Cable in 1858; a whale across the line

     

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Page 36-7: Coiling the cable in the large tanks at the works at Greenwich.

 

92.10.53: Coiling the Cable in the large tanks at the works of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company of Greenwich, 1865

   

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Page 38: The cable passed from the works into the hulk lying in the Thames at Greenwich.

 

92.10.54: The Cable passed from the works into the hulk (the old frigate Iris) lying in the Thames at Greenwich

     

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Page 39: The old frigate with her freight of cable alongside the Great Eastern at Sheerness.

 

92.10.55: The old frigate Iris with her freight of cable alongside the Great Eastern at Sheerness. The cable passed from the hulk to the Great Eastern

   

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Page 40: Paying-out machinery

 

92.10.63: The paying out machinery in the stern of the Great Eastern

     

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Page 42: Coiling the cable in the after-tank on board the Great Eastern at Sheerness: visit of H.R.H. The Prince of Wales on May 24.

 

92.10.56: Coiling the cable in the after tank on board the Great Eastern at Sheerness. Visit of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales on May 23rd, 1865

   

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Page 44: Foilhummerum Bay, Valentia, looking seawards from the point at which the cable reaches the shore.

 

92.10.58: Foilhommerum Bay, Valencia, looking seawards from the point at which the Cable reaches the shore of Ireland

   

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Page 46: The cliffs, Foilhummerum Bay: point of the landing of the shore end of the cable, July 22.

 

92.10.60: The Cliffs, Foilhommerum Bay, Valencia, the Point at which the shore end of the Cable was landed on July 22nd, 1865

   

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Page 48: Foilhummerum Bay, Valencia, from Cromwell Fort: the Caroline and boats laying the earth-wire, July 21.

 

92.10.61: General View of Point Magee and Foilhommerum Bay, Valencia, from the heights below Corn Bag. The Caroline laying the shore end of the Cable on July 22nd, 1865

   

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Page 52: The Great Eastern under weigh, July 23: escort and other ships introduced being the Terrible, the Sphinx, the Hawk, and the Caroline.

 

92.10.88: Telegraph Cable Fleet at Sea, 1865

   

Page 56: Chart, showing the track of the steam-ship Great
Eastern on her voyage from Valentia to Newfoundland.
Detail of recovery attempts.

     

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Page 57: Splicing the cable (after the first accident) on board the Great Eastern, July 25.

 

92.10.64: Splicing the Cable (after the first accident) on board the Great Eastern, July 25th, 1865

   

Page 63: View (looking aft) from the port paddle-box of Great Eastern: showing the trough for cable, etc

 

92.10.89: Deck of Great Eastern

   

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Page 68: The forge on deck; night of August 9: preparing the iron plating for capstan.

 

92.10.71: The Forge on Deck, Night of August 9th. Preparing the iron plating for capstan.

     

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Page 71: Searching for fault after recovery of the cable from the bed of the Atlantic, July 31.

 

92.10.67: Searching for the fault after hauling back the cable from the bottom of the Atlantic, July 31st, 1865

   

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Page 77: In the bows, August 2: the cable broken and lost: preparing to grapple.

 

92.10.72: Forward deck of the Great Eastern cleared for the first attempt to grapple for the lost cable, August 11th, 1865

   

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Page 79: Getting out one of the large buoys for launching, August 2.

 

92.10.69: Getting out one of the Ocean buoys for launching, August 2nd, 1865

   

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Page 80: General view of Port Magee, &c., from the heights below Cora Beg; the Caroline laying the shore end of the cable, July 22.

 

92.10.59: Foilhommerum Bay, Valencia, looking from Cromwell Fort. The Caroline and boats laying the earth wire, July 21st, 1865

   

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Page 86: Interior of one of the tanks on board the Great Eastern: cable passing out.

 

92.10.66: Interior of one of the tanks on board the Great Eastern. The cable passing out

   

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Page 88: Launching buoy on August 8, in Lat. 51 23' 30"; Long. 30 46' (marking spot where cable had been grappled).

 

92.10.51: In the bows of the Great Eastern. The cable broken and lost, preparing to grapple, August 2nd, 1865

     

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Page 93: Forward deck cleared for the final attempt at grappling, August 11.

 

92.10.83: The Picking up Machinery in the bows of the Great Eastern

 
End of plates and artwork from The Atlantic Telegraph
 

The Robert Dudley oil paintings and watercolours shown below are also from the collection of Cyrus W. Field at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the images are displayed here courtesy of the Museum: www.metmuseum.org. All are watercolours unless noted as (Oil). The Museum website has only black and white images of five of the oil paintings.

This group of images includes ten pieces from 1865 which were not used in the book, and fifteen others from on the 1866 expedition. They are shown here in approximate chronological order of the events depicted.

 
1865 Oil Paintings and Watercolours - Original Artwork
 

92.10.48:. Valencia from the Harbor, opposite Knight’s-town, at the period of laying the cable of 1857

 

92.10.90: The cable fleet leaving Ireland, July 1858

     

92.10.91: The Bay of Bull Arms, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, bonfires lighted on the hills to notify of the arrival of the cable fleet on August 5th, 1858

 

92.10.73: The Atlantic telegraph cable fleet assembled at Berehaven (S.W. Coast of Ireland)

     

92.10.76: View of the interior of one of the tanks on board the Great Eastern

 

92.10.84: News Received through the Atlantic Cable from all parts of the world, etc.

     

92.10.62: The Great Eastern under weigh, July 23rd, 1865. Escort and other ships, H.M.S. Terrible, H.M.S. Sphinx, the Hawk and the Caroline

 

92.10.70: Launching the buoy from the bow of the Great Eastern on August 8th, 1865

     

92.10.82: Getting out one of the great buoys. The deck of the Great Eastern looking from the forecastle

 

92.10.45 (Oil): Grappling for the Lost Cable [August 1865]

 
1866 Oil Paintings and Watercolours - Original Artwork
 

92.10.74: The heights over Foilhommerum Bay, Valencia, the William Corey heading seawards, laying the shore end of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable, July 7th, 1866

 

92.10.47 (Oil): Atlantic Telegraph Cable Expedition of 1866— / Making the splice between the shore end and the Ocean Cable on board / the "Great Eastern," off Valencia. Latde 51°-50' Longde 11°-6' / July 13th 1866

     

92.10.77: A Night Scene. The cable entangled and nearly broken, July 18th, 1866

 

92.10.65: View looking aft from the port paddle box of the Great Eastern, showing the trough for the Cable, etc.

     

92.10.75: Deck of Great Eastern, aft, the paying out machinery [1866]

 

92.10.78: Deck of the Great Eastern, the cable trough, etc., 1866

     

92.10.43 (Oil): Awaiting the Reply [1866]

 

92.10.79: Arrival in Trinity Bay, Newfoundland. The cable passed to the paddle box boat of the Terrible, etc.

     

92.10.44 (Oil): Landing the Shore End of the Atlantic Cable.
Signed and dated (lower left): R. Dudley l866.

 

92.10.46 (Oil): Landing at Newfoundland

   

 

92.10.80: The Settlement and Church of Heart’s Content, Newfoundland

 

92.10.86: First Telegraph House at Hearts Content, Newfoundland, 1866

   

 

92.10.81: The Albany buoying a bight of the cable of 1865 on the night of August 26th, 1866

 

92.10.87: September 8th at Heart’s Content, the day of the successful termination of the work of laying, recovering, completing and testing the Atlantic Telegraph Cables of 1865 and 1866

     

92.10.42 (Oil): Homeward Bound: "The Great Eastern" Signed and dated (lower left): R. Dudley 1866.

   
End of images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
www.metmuseum.org
(link is to master index of all artwork)

 
IET Robert Dudley Watercolours - Original Artwork

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) in London, founded in 1871 as the Society of Telegraph Engineers, has in its archives four additional Robert Dudley watercolours from the Atlantic cable expeditions which were deposited by Mr Percy Rosling in 1934. Images of these watercolours are reproduced here by kind permission of the IET Archives.

 

Interior of cable hut, Valentia, Ireland
IET Archives: UK0108 OPC/1/37/01

 

Bringing in the cable (shore end) at Valentia
IET Archives: UK0108 OPC/1/37/02

     

Breaking of deep sea cable on board the Great Eastern, near Heart's Content, Newfoundland
IET Archives: UK0108 OPC/1/37/03

 

Erecting land lines in the Irish interior.
IET Archives: UK0108 OPC/1/37/04


This interesting letter from William Russell to Robert Dudley is dated Nov. 19, 1865, and discusses the book.
RussellDudleyS.jpg (91500 bytes) 18 Sumner Place
  Onslow Square
    South Kensington SW
Nov. 19  65

My dear Dudley

I have been waiting ever since the receipt of your note of Oct 26. to have the pleasure of seeing you and the plates you spoke of. But I suppose I will see them in the book when it is out. How and where are you?

 Yours always truly

                     WH Russell

Russell also stayed in touch with Sir James Anderson, captain of the Great Eastern on the 1865 cable expedition. Russell’s sons Willie and Johnny had accompanied him on that voyage, and in 1869 Russell wrote to Anderson requesting help with placing his son John into telegraphy:

17 St James Place
May 17  69

My dear Anderson,

I want your aid very much as regards my second son John whom I wish to put to telegraphy in accordance with the suggestion of our friend Lord W.M. Hay & after this week it would be easy for me to keep an appt. if you have time to make one with me.

I hope you are well - I’m sure you are busy. Pray bring me to Lady Anderson’s recollection. Perhaps it would suit you for me to call on you at your private address [?].

Yours always truly

WH Russell

W.H. Russell
Harper’s, 22 June 1861


Russell had a long-standing correspondence with Lord William Hay, whom he mentions in his letter to Anderson. Russell’s letters to Hay are held by the National Library of Scotland, reference MS 14467.

Lord William Hay was a director of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company.
Source: Broadside entitled "The Marine Electric Telegraphs Bill. Speeches by Mr Cyrus W. Field and Lord WM. Hay, before the Senate Committee, Saturday March 17th" [1875].

Lord Hay was also chairman of the Malta and Alexandria Telegraph Company

The Publication of the Book

Almost nothing has been written on the origins of Russell’s book, except that he was engaged to write it by the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company. But in the Telcon archive at the National Maritime Museum is a copy-book of contracts for the 1865 expedition, a hardbound volume containing copperplate handwritten copies of the agreements among some of the parties to the project.

These were: The Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company, which made and laid the cable; the Atlantic Telegraph Company, its promoter; Webster & Horsfall, the supplier of 1,667 tons of armouring wire; Gillespy & Scott, provider of 6,000 tons of coal for the Great Eastern; and Day & Son and William H. Russell for the writing and publication of the book.

Also included are further contracts for the following year with the Anglo-American Telegraph Company, and The Great Eastern Ship Company.

As well as writing the text for the book, Russell kept a daily diary of the events on board ship. This was reproduced by lithography during the expedition in many copies, intended to be sent to newspapers in Britain and North America at the conclusion of the voyage.

The full text of the agreements for Russell’s book is reproduced below. Russell was a freelance writer, and so had his own contract with Telcon, while Robert Dudley was a regular artist for Day & Son, and was presumably paid by them directly.

London, 1 May 1865

In consideration of your engaging to purchase from the Company of Day & Son (Limited) one thousand copies of the First Edition (which is not to exceed 2050 copies) of the Volume illustrated as agreed between the undersigned the Managing Director of the Company, and Mr. John C. Deane at one guinea each, and to pay for the same on delivery, and to afford to the Company and its Artists every facility in your power for the production of the necessary views and details for illustration.  The Company agrees to undertake the whole risk and expenditure of producing and publishing the work – being provided by you free of cost with letter press from the pen of W.H. Russell, Esq. L.L.D. or failing his writing the same from the pen of some other competent person descriptive of the laying of the New Atlantic Telegraph Cable and of other matter incidental to the History of Submarine Telegraphy.

And if you think it advisable being provided free of cost with Veneers of the Atlantic Cable for insertion in the Cover of the Volumes. We undertake to issue the first edition (limited as aforesaid) with all possible despatch after the delivery of the letter press to us and to deliver you one thousand Copies within fourteen days after the publication of the work.

The Copyright of the second and any subsequent editions is to be vested in you and the Company agrees to publish any further edition that you may require, you agreeing to purchase and on deliver to pay for any number of Copies up to Five Hundred at the price of 10/. each and if more than five hundred be required to purchase and on delivery to pay for not less than one thousand Copies at the price of 8/. each and as many more copies as you may require the Company to publish.

On behalf of Day & Son Limited

Wm. Day
Managing Director

To R.A. Glass, Esq.
Managing Director
Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Co. Limited
54 Old Broad St. E.C.


London, 1 May 1865

To Day & Son Limited
Gale Street
Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

In consideration of your Company undertaking the whole risk and expenditure of producing and publishing a volume illustrated as agreed between the Managing Director Mr. William Day and Mr. John C. Deane according to the agreement of which a copy of which is hereunto annexed I agree to provide the Company free of cost with the necessary letter press from the pen of W.H. Russell, Esq. L.L.D. or failing his writing the same from the pen of some other competent person and if I think it advisable  with Veneers of the Atlantic Cable for insertion in the Cover of the Volumes And I agree to purchase from the Company 1,000 copies of the First Edition of the volume such first edition not to exceed 2,050 copies and to pay for the same on delivery at the rate of one guinea each.

The Copyright of any subsequent editions is vested in me and if I require your Company to publish another edition I engage to purchase and on delivery to pay for any number of Copies up to Five Hundred at the price of 10/. each and if more than 500 be required to purchase and on delivery to pay for not less than 1,000 Copies at the price of 8/. each and as many more Copies as I may require the Company to publish.

R.A. Glass
Managing Director
Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company Limited
54 Old Broad St. E.C.


London, June 9th 1865

To R.A. Glass, Esqre.
Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company
54 Old Broad St.

Dear Sir,

I propose to proceed in the Great Eastern Steamer on the voyage on which she is now about to take for the purpose of laying the Atlantic Cable between Valentia & Newfoundland, and to prepare and furnish to you acting on behalf of the Directors of The Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Co. a full account of the incidents of the voyage as well as of all such other matters in relation to the subject as may be of interest, giving you full liberty to publish such account and derive all advantages from it without any reservation in my favour. I make this proposal on and subject to the following terms and conditions—

First—That I shall receive from you on behalf of the Directors of The Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Co. a sum of Six hundred pounds (£600)—one moiety thereof to be paid to me on the acceptance of this proposal, and the other moiety on the final completion of my part of the Agreement—

Secondly—That in the event of the undertaking proving successful The Directors are further and in addition to transfer into my name so many fully paid up Shares of the Company as they may consider me entitled.

W.H. Russell.


London, 54 Old Broad St. June 16th 1865

To William Howard Russell

Dear Sir

On my own behalf and on that of The Directors of The Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company I accept the above proposal and agree to carry out its provisions.

R.A. Glass
as Managing Director.


The book was favourably received by The Popular Science Review, Vol. V, 1866:

THE ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH.

The beautiful volume before us is a fitting record of the great labour which last year saw begin and terminate. It is the history of the voyage, written by Dr. W.H. Russell, and while it is instructive and interesting as a narrative, it is highly ornamental as a sketch-book. Messrs. Day and Sons have reproduced Mr. Dudley’s drawings in the best style of chromolithography, and altogether the book is one of which it would be hard to speak too favourably. Dr. Russell gives an account of the earlier efforts to unite the old and new continents, and shows us that the first submarine telegraph cable projected on the other side of the Atlantic was the scheme of an English engineer. The melancholy circumstances attending the rupture of the cable are conveyed as only Dr. Russell is capable of conveying them. Every little incident in connection with the great project is sketched with minuteness, and the reader’s attention and sympathies are excited and engaged by this fascinating writer.

Perhaps the most noteworthy portion of the work is that which refers to the probability of success attending the next effort to lay the cable. The cable of 1865, though capable of bearing a strain of seven tons, did not experience more than 14 cwt. in being paid out into the deepest water of the Atlantic. Owing to the improvements introduced into the manufacture of gutta-percha, it insulated a hundred times better than cables made in 1858, and still working. The improvements, too, effected since the beginning of 1851 in the conducting power of the copper wire, by selecting it, have increased the rate of signalling through long submarine cables by more than 33 per cent. Now, if a steam-engine be attached to the paying-out machinery, so as to permit of hauling in the cable immediately a fault is discovered, and a slight modification made in the construction of the external sheath, the cause of the faults which have yet presented themselves will be entirely done away with, and even should a fault occur, it can be picked up before it has reached the bottom of tho Atlantic.

All these things should make us hopeful of the success of the effort which is soon about to be made, and for which the Great Eastern is undergoing the necessary alterations. “Remembering,” says Dr. Russell, “all that has occurred,—how well-grounded hopes were deceived, just expectations frustrated,—there are still grounds for confidence, absolute as far as the nature of human affairs permits them in any calculation of future events to be, that the year 1866 will witness the consummation of the greatest work of civilized man, and the grandest exposition of the development of tho faculties bestowed on him to overcome material difficulties. The last word transmitted through the old telegraph from Europe to America was ‘Forward,’ and ‘Forward’ is the motto of the enterprise still!”


See also this page on Sir James Anderson for a note from Robert Dudley about another of his paintings of the Great Eastern.
Additional works by Robert Dudley, mostly illustrations from Shakespeare, may be viewed at the Folger Library.


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