THE ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH: FAILURE (1857-58)
The Life of William Thomson, Volume 1, Chapter VIII. Pages 325 to 396.
Hitherto Thomson’s work had been mainly in pure science, mathematics, the flow and transformations of heat, the mathematical theory of electric equilibrium, the mathematical theory of magnetism, hydrodynamics, and the dynamical problems of bodies in revolution. But in the middle of the ’fifties, while he was still immersed in thermodynamic studies and wrestling in his laboratory with the properties of matter, events were progressing which drew him with irresistible force towards the practical applications of science which made him famous.
Half a century earlier Volta had startled the world with his discovery of the “pile,” the primitive battery capable of producing a steady and continuous silent flow of electricity through the conducting wire which constituted a circuit. Oersted had discovered the power of the current to deflect a compass-needle. Ampere and Arago had investigated further the magnetic relations thus revealed. Sturgeon had invented the soft-iron electromagnet the magnet which is controlled from a distance through the electric wire that conveys the current to it the magnet which attracts only when the circuit is completed, and, obedient to the hand of the distant operator, ceases to attract from the moment when the circuit is broken. Faraday had laid the foundations for the future development of electrical engineering by his discoveries of the electro magnetic rotations in the first primitive revolving motors of his design, and of the induction of cur rents from the motion of magnets the principle by which the dynamo generates currents mechanically. The first-fruits of all this scientific activity for the purposes of human industry had been the electric telegraph. Men had long thought and speculated on the possibility of transmitting intelligence by signals through an electric wire. The flood of discovery showed how such possibilities might become realities. Electric telegraphy was in the air.
The year 1837 saw the telegraph of Cooke and Wheatstone in commercial operation in England, while in America the telegraph of Morse was at work by 1840. The former depended upon the deflexion of a magnetized needle by the influence of the current circulating in a small surrounding coil of wire; the latter was based upon the attraction of an iron keeper by an electromagnet, thereby moving a lever which printed dots and dashes, or gave audible sounds in its movement. Land lines, for the transmission of signals thus spelled out, were soon erected in both continents; and, as experience led to practical improvements, the distances to which telegraphic messages could be sent were extended over hundreds of miles. By the year 1850 overland telegraphy had become a prosperous business, and was rapidly extending. Just at the appropriate moment, too, the discovery of gutta-percha put into the hands of the engineers a material far more fit than any previously known india-rubber, bitumen, or tarred hemp to serve as the insulating coating to prevent the electric current from leaking away from the copper wire conductor. Already, in 1849, short lengths of submarine cables had been laid; and in 1851 the successful Dover-Calais line was laid by Crampton, followed by others, connecting England with Ireland, Scotland, Holland, and other countries. In 1856 Newfoundland was joined to Cape Breton, and thence overland to New York. But all these were short lengths compared with the two thousand miles which separated Great Britain from the American Continent, the spanning of which stirred the hopes and ambitions of telegraph engineers, and stimulated the project of an Atlantic cable.
Confronting such a project were great difficulties. The weight and cost of such a cable were enormous. There was much dispute as to whether the cable should be protected by an external armouring of iron wires or not. The manufacture required new machinery and the creation of a new class of operatives. The laying of such a cable across an ocean known to be three miles deep presented an engineering problem of the first magnitude. No single ship existed of sufficient size to hold the cable if it were constructed. But above all these difficulties there supervened an electrical objection of a very discouraging kind. The working speed of signalling through cables of such a length was believed to be very slow. Faraday had predicted the existence of a retardation of the signals in long cables, a retardation arising from the charging of the surface of the gutta-percha coating by the current on its way to the distant end. The Anglo-Dutch cable of no miles, the longest then laid, showed this defect slightly. Even the subterranean telegraph wires from London to Manchester were embarrassed by it. What retardation might be expected from a cable 2000 miles long? Would it not so greatly reduce the speed of signalling as to make the undertaking unremunerative? Several electricians had made experiments on lengths of underground cable to investigate the matter, but the results were not decisive.
Thomson’s handling of Fourier’s mathematics in the problems of the flow of heat through solids had led him from the first to perceive that the diffusion of an electric current through a conducting wire, though immensely quicker, obeyed the same laws and was amenable to similar calculations. In 1854, when his attention had been directed to the problems of submarine telegraphy by the experiments of Mr. Latimer Clark on retardation in the Anglo-Dutch cables, and by Faraday’s investigation of the same, he began new calculations. These he communicated to Stokes in two letters, the substance of which was subsequently given  to the Royal Society in a paper “ On the Theory of the Electric Telegraph.”
 Proc. Roy. Soc. vii. p. 382, May 1855, and Math. and Phys. Papers, vol. ii. p. 6 1.
In this very important paper he showed that in cable signalling there is no regular or definite velocity of transmission, but that a signal which is sent off as a short, sharp, sudden impulse, in being transmitted to greater and greater distances is changed in character, smoothed out into a longer-lasting impulse, which rises gradually to a maximum and then gradually dies away. Even though at the distant station the commencement of the signal may be practically instantaneous, an appreciable time may elapse for the retarded impulse to reach its maximum; and so the signal is for effective purposes retarded. Thomson showed now for the first time the law governing such retardation: that it varied in direct proportion with the “capacity” and with the “resistance” of the cable. As each of these quantities is, in a cable of given type of construction, proportional to its length, it followed that the retardation would be proportional to the square of the distance. If a cable 200 miles long showed a retardation of 1/10th second, one 2000 miles long, if of similar thickness, would have a retardation 100 times as great, or 10 seconds. It became immensely important, therefore,  to know how to combat this effect. By increasing the thickness of the copper the “resistance” could be reduced. By increasing the thickness of the gutta-percha coating the “capacity” could be reduced. Or, by increasing the diameter of the wire and of the gutta-percha coating in proportion to the length of the cable, the retardation of the long cable could be kept the same as that of the short one.
 Thomson emphasized this in his B.A. Paper of 1855 (see p. 310) on peristaltic induction, by reference to the shorter cable between Varna and Balaclava, urging experiments to be used hereafter for estimating the proper dimensions for future long cables. “ Immense economy,” he concluded, “may be practised in attending to these indications of theory in all submarine cables constructed in future for short distances; and the non-failure of great undertakings can alone be ensured by using them in a preliminary estimate.”
This “law of squares” discovered by Thomson did not pass unchallenged; neither were his practical deductions accepted at once. Mr. O. E. Wildman Whitehouse, a retired medical man, who had taken up electrical studies, and was interesting himself in cable projects, read to the British Association meetings in 1855 at Glasgow, and in 1856 at Cheltenham, papers in which he professed to disprove by experiments  the doctrine of squares, declaring that, if it was true, signalling through long cables would be quite impracticable. Thomson was not present, being in Germany with his wife; but the matter being reported in The Athenaeum of August 30th, 1856, he addressed to that journal, on September 24th, from the Isle of Arran, a letter which appeared on October 4th. Whitehouse had objected to Thomson’s warning, based on the theory which he had worked out, that in a cable of this length it might be necessary to provide more than ordinary lateral dimensions of copper wire or of insulating coating, if sufficient rapidity of signalling were to be attained. Thomson now wrote to say that Whitehouse’s experimental results, if rightly interpreted, were consistent with the true theory adding that he came to this conclusion from “a know ledge of the theory itself, which, like every Theory, is merely a combination of established truths.” He pointed out that Whitehouse’s observations, as reported, did not show at what speed such a succession of signals as is required for the letters of a word can be sent through the greatest length of wire which he used; and that experiments of a more practical kind were required to show at what rate the irregular non-periodic alternations of currents required to spell out words may be reproduced at the distant end of a long cable.
 Whitehouse’s paper was issued as a pamphlet in 1855. Articles by Whitehouse on his experiments and instruments were also published in the Engineer of Sept. 26, 1856, and Jan. 23, 1857. In Lord Kelvin’s copy of the last named he has written: “The best account of what is good in Whitehouse’s experiments and instruments. The conclusions, however, are fallacious in almost every point.”
Whitehouse replied somewhat testily, reasserting his statements as to the retardations he had observed, though these were in reality due in part to his particular mode of using the current, and in part to the sluggishness of his own heavy instruments. Thomson returned to the matter in a second letter in The Athenaeum of November 1st. Courteously admitting the accuracy of the observations of Whitehouse, he pointed out that if instead of the operations therein used, certain definitely specified electrical operations in signalling (such as the application of the electromotive force of a powerful battery for one-twentieth of a second) had been employed, and the retardations observed in cables of various lengths from 150 to 2400 miles, the law of squares would have been almost exactly fulfilled. He therefore concluded that the receiving instruments used by Mr. Whitehouse had, by reason of the sluggishness of their own electromagnetic action and inertia, masked the result. He also noted that since in some of Whitehouse’s tests the battery current was applied for a whole second at a time, the inconstancy of the battery itself would influence the phenomena. He insisted on the need, in a strict test, of a constant battery (such as Daniell s), and of short sharp sending at the battery end of the cable. Then turning to the question of the dimensions of conductor and insulation, he reiterated his preference for a thick copper wire, or one made thick by stranding together a number of small wires; pointing out that Whitehouse’s test, in which three thin separately insulated wires were used, furnished no disproof of his calculations.
In November 1856 Thomson communicated to the Royal Society a paper “On Practical Methods for Rapid Signalling by the Electric Telegraph,” followed by another on December 11th. Here he explained a proposed system likely to give nearly the same rapidity of utterance by a submarine one-wire cable of ordinary lateral dimensions, between Ireland and Newfoundland, as is attained on short submarine or land lines. The plan of signalling was to employ a regulated galvanic battery to impart during a limited time a definite transient rise of potential; the end of the cable being immediately put to “earth.” Guided by Fourier’s theorems of the conduction of heat, he proposed to regulate the time of contact with the battery so that the coefficient of the simple harmonic term, in the Fourier series which expresses the distribution of electric potential, shall vanish resulting in the retarding electrification of the coating of the cable being discharged four times as fast as would be the case for an ordinary electrification. For receiving the message” he proposed a form of Helmholtz’s galvanometer, in which the suspended magnet is provided with a copper damper, adjusted so that during the reception of an electric pulse the magnet would turn to its position of maximum deflexion, and fall back to rest. Adopting the “subjective” method of observation, the observer will watch through a telescope the image of a scale reflected from the polished side of the magnet, or from a small mirror carried by it, “and will note the letter or number which each maximum deflexion brings into the middle of his field of view.” This method was soon abandoned. The plan of letter signals first suggested was to inscribe on the scale of the instrument the 26 letters of the alphabet, and to arrange 13 positive and 13 negative strengths of current, such as to give deflexions that would bring one or other of the letters into the observer’s field of view. But he foresaw that this might be impracticable, and assuming that only 3 or 4 different strengths of current might be available in practice, he suggested combinations of two or three signals for each letter, assigning the simplest combinations to the most frequently used letters.
He also suggested the possibility of a plan for rapid self-recording of signals by an apparatus, the description of which he reserved for a future time.
In the second communication he suggested a modification of the plan of sending, attaining greater rapidity by use of the third harmonic term; being a foreshadowing of the plan of curb-signalling by which, after the application of the battery, the cable is momentarily connected to a reversed electro motive force before being put to earth. He added an ingenious device suitable for rapid signalling on short lines, by introduction of electro-chemical relays.
The galvanometer was strongly on his mind, for he saw that the heavy electromagnetic relays pro posed by Whitehouse introduced retardations of their own. In an enterprise involving so great a capital expenditure as an Atlantic cable, the earning power depended mainly on the attainable rapidity of signalling. A light, quick-moving instrument that would give instantaneous response at the distant end was a prime desideratum; and, if it would work with minute currents, the delays in the cable itself (due to the accumulating electric charges in transit) would be reduced, thus further augmenting the speed. Accordingly he looked around for suit able instrumental aids, as the following letter to Helmholtz shows:—
FORTBREDA, BELFAST, Dec. 30th, 1856.
MY DEAR HELMHOLTZ—I have been long wishing to write to you regarding your galvanometer, but have been prevented by pressure of business that would not bear delay.
Could you give me any idea of the dimensions of the two sizes of wire referred to in the enclosed letter from Siemens and Halske, and of the sensibility of the galvanometer with one or the other? For instance, what are the lengths of wire in the coils of the galvanometer in the two cases? What is the diameter of each copper wire, or the weight of copper per metre of length? How many turns of wire are there on each coil of the galvanometer with one wire and with the other? What are the dimensions of the coils themselves, and what their distances from the centre of the suspended magnet? Do you know the amount of deflection produced by any particular electro motive force—that of a single cell of Daniell’s, for instance, or any sub-multiple of that of a single cell of Daniell s, or a copper and bismuth thermo-electric element with stated temperatures, or two plates of copper, one dipped in a solution of sulphate of copper and the other in a porous cell immersed in the same, and containing sulphuric acid? . . .
Can the instrument be made so that different coils can be substituted for one another upon it? If making the coils removable would introduce any inconvenience or defect I would rather have them fixed, as I believe they are in your instrument. But in this case I should probably want two instruments, as I shall certainly wish to have coils of small resistance for thermo-electric measurements, and I shall probably wish to have an instrument giving indications with very small absolute strengths of current to test a plan for telegraphing through great lengths of submarine wire which I have proposed.
The Atlantic Telegraph is now in the process of manufacture, 2500 miles of cable are to be finished and ready to go to sea by the end of May (the distance between Valencia in Ireland and Trinity Bay near St. John’s being only 1900 miles), and if no accident happens electric messages will be passing between Ireland and Newfoundland before July. I have been appointed one of the directors, and what I feel most anxious about now is the laying of the cable. The plans must be better arranged than they have been in all such operations hitherto, in which there have been almost as many failures as successes. However, the circumstances are in some respects more favourable than they have been in former cases. We have a soft level bottom (consisting of fine sand and microscopic shells) the whole way across, nowhere more than 3 1/3 miles deep, which will be much better than the Alpine precipices and valleys below the waters of the Mediterranean. The cable is much lighter than any hitherto laid, weighing only 18 x 112 lbs. per mile, or in water only 10 x 112. The practical men engaged have all the experience of previous failures, and it is to be hoped have learned some of the causes and will know to avoid them. Altogether, I think there is a good chance of success.
I have been very much occupied since our return from Germany, chiefly bringing out a paper on “Mathematical Theory of Elasticity,” and a long paper describing those electrical experiments I have spoken to you about, through the press.
I have worked a good deal, too, at the solution of problems (exactly like those of Fourier) regarding the propagation of electricity through submarine wires. It is the most beautiful subject possible for mathematical analysis. No unsatisfactory approximations are required; and every practical detail, such as imperfect insulation, resistance in the exciting and receiving instruments, differences between the insulating power of gutta-percha and the coating of tow and pitch round it, mutual influence of the different conductors (when, as is not the case of the Atlantic cable, more than one distinct conductor is used), attempts to send messages in both directions at the same time, gives a new problem with some interesting mathematical peculiarity.
I am here for a few days of “Christmas holidays,” and I return to Largs (in Scotland) to-morrow, where I left my wife. She is, on the whole, much better than last winter, but is still much of an invalid. I hope, however, that she is really advancing to a complete recovery of health.
I must be at my post in Glasgow on Monday next, so if you write address me No. 2, College, Glasgow. Will you at the same time enclose Siemens and Halske’s letter? The price they mention is much more, I think, than you told me (45 Th., I believe) they had charged for the instrument. I think they ought not to charge more, or not so much more, as they have drawings and other facilities in making a fourth and fifth specimen of the instrument, which should make it less expensive to them than the first.
Give my respects to Mrs. Helmholtz, and believe me,
—Yours very truly, WILLIAM THOMSON.
P.S. When will your book on the eye be completed, or is it so already? I find people greatly interested in it, especially regarding the adjustments.
I was out with a shooting party a few days ago at Largs, and looked into the eyes of various birds immediately after death. I saw the three images of the sun well in a woodcock’s eye, but was puzzled by the position of the image by reflection at the posterior surface of the lens. I had a very curious view of the interior by simply pressing my eyeglass on the front of the cornea so as to nearly flatten it. Have you seen an owl’s eye? It is a splendid thing. I cut one open, but learned nothing more than that the cornea is very tough.
This letter shows that events had been moving rapidly towards the great enterprise of the Atlantic Cable. Before the end of the year the project took definite shape.
Certain concessions having been obtained in Newfoundland, and arrangements having been made with the British and United States Governments for aid, in the form of ships, to assist in the laying, and of guarantees of subsidies for the working of the proposed cable, an association was formed on October 20, 1856, called The Atlantic Telegraph Company. The active promoters of the enterprise were Mr. Jacob Brett, Mr. (afterwards Sir) Charles Bright, Mr. Cyrus Field of New York, and with them Mr. O. E. W. Whitehouse. The flotation of this company was remarkable. No prospectus was issued, no promotion money paid; there was no advertising, nor any commissions to brokers; the directors were elected by the shareholders after allotment; and the promoters were to receive no remuneration until the shareholders profits should reach 10 per cent per annum. The capital was £350,000, in shares of £1000 each, of which less than one-twelfth was subscribed in America. Many of the subscribers were shareholders in the earlier telegraph companies; but many outsiders, parliamentarians, lawyers, and literary men, including Thackeray, subscribed for shares. Of the 18 directors elected in December 1856, 7 were from London, 6 from Liverpool, 2 from Manchester, and 2 from Glasgow, including Professor William Thomson.
Often as the story of the Atlantic Cable has been told, the precise part which Thomson played in the enterprise has never been fully stated. The work which he undertook for it was enormous; the sacrifices he made for it were great. The pecuniary reward was ridiculously small. The actual position which he held was relatively subordinate, and must have been at times galling. Yet he bore himself throughout with the most unswerving courtesy and delicacy of feeling. Never was more conspicuous that “laborious humility” which fifty years after wards was noted by Lord Rosebery as the keynote of his career. Thomson joined the enterprise simply as a director, selected by the suffrages of the Scottish shareholders. He held no technical position.
The board appointed Bright as engineer-in-chief, Whitehouse as electrician, and Cyrus Field general manager. This staff had no sooner entered on its work than it discovered that the provisional committee which registered the company had, in its anxiety to save time, already entered into contracts for the manufacture of the cable. They had had before them some sixty-two samples of proposed types of construction, and had adopted a very light core with only 107 lbs. of copper per nautical mile for the conductor, and only 261 lbs. of gutta-percha per nautical mile as insulation. Bright advocated a copper conductor of 392 pounds, and an equal weight of gutta-percha. Whitehouse supported the adoption of a small core; while Varley and Thomson urged a larger one. It was, however, too late to change the contracts. With its sheathing of stranded iron wires the weight was about one ton per nautical mile. The contract for the core (the copper conductor and its coating) was assigned to the Gutta-Percha Company, while that for the iron sheathing was divided between two firms, Messrs. Glass, Elliot, and Co., of Greenwich, and Messrs. Newall and Co., of Birkenhead. So loosely was the specification drawn up, that not until the manufacture was completed was it discovered that the two halves had been made with opposite directions of twist in the armouring! The cable was manufactured in 1,200 pieces of two miles length each. It was then joined into eight pieces each 300 miles long. Although various deep-sea cables had already been made, the processes of manufacture were still very crude. There was no regular test for the conductivity of the copper; the gutta-percha was laid on in a manner that would not be tolerated to-day, and which did not ensure that the copper conductor should remain central within its coating.  The manufacturers were bound to complete their work within six months, and, in fact, the delivery was completed by July 6, 1857.
 A curious commentary on the state of knowledge is afforded by the fact that the Prince Consort urged on one of the directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Company that the proper plan would be to enclose the copper wire in a flexible tube of glass throughout its entire length. On being told that this was impracticable, he took down a volume of the writings of Petronius Arbiter to prove that flexible glass was a known substance!
All through the preceding months Thomson, with his laboratory corps, had been engaged upon a research on the conductivity of copper. He had realized the prime importance, in speed of signal ling, of reducing the resistance that is offered by the conducting wire. To raise the speed you must have a better conductor; and the conductor could be bettered either by increasing its cross-section (and weight per mile) or by improving the conductivity of the metal itself. On procuring samples from various manufacturers of copper, and measuring the wires, he “was surprised” to find great differences in their conductive quality. Even a small percentage of impurity might reduce the conductivity by as much as 30 or 40 per cent. In a paper “On the Electric Conductivity of Commercial Copper,” read to the Royal Society in June 1857, he detailed his investigations, giving, in terms of an “absolute” system of measurement, a table of the results of his own experiments, and comparisons with the standard wires used by Weber, Kirchhoff, and Jacobi.
In July 1857 there was issued by order of the Board a pamphlet of 70 pages, signed “R.J.M.,” describing the project. It eulogized Mr. Whitehouse’s particular inventions. To test the current he proposed to supersede the galvanometer with an instrument named the “magneto-electrometer,” a sort of steelyard with sliding weights to counter poise the pull on a suspended iron armature of a soft iron electro-magnet, the coils of which were traversed by the current. It was this very instrument which had in 1856 led him to dispute the law of squares, which law was still bluntly dismissed with the words: “Nature recognizes the existence of no such law”! He also designed some induction-coils 36 inches long, with fine-wire secondaries capable of yielding discharges at a high electromotive force, with which he purported to have proved that magneto-electric currents travel more quickly than voltaic currents along gutta-percha covered conductors. For testing the insulation and continuity of the cable he proposed a species of relay, working an alarm bell. To operate his induction coils the source of current was to be a voltaic battery of ten giant cells, called the “Whitehouse laminated or perpetual maintenance battery,” the cells being large Smee cells with multiple replaceable plates. As receiving instrument he devised a relay having a small permanent magnet of horse-shoe form suspended between the poles of a large soft iron electro-magnet, the coils of which were to be connected at the receiving end of the cable. This relay was to work a Morse embossing recorder.
By a sort of irony, the compiler of this pamphlet inserted the statement that “the scientific world is particularly indebted to Professor W. Thompson (sic), of Glasgow, for the attention he has given to the theoretical investigation of the conditions under which electrical currents move in long insulated wires, and Mr. Whitehouse has had the advantage of this gentleman’s presence at his experiments, and counsel, upon several occasions, as well as the gratification resulting from his countenance and co operation as one of the Directors of the Company.” There was another side to that story.
Meantime arrangements had been made for the laying of the cable. The British Government furnished H.M.S. Agamemnon, a screw-propeller battleship (which had been the admiral’s flag-ship in the Crimean war), and the United States Government lent the U.S. frigate Niagara, a screw-corvette of 5200 tons. The paying-out gear had to be rather hurriedly constructed. Its brake -wheel was governed by a clutch controlled by hand; and it was so heavy, that its grip of the cable was difficult to relax, nor could it accommodate itself readily to sudden strains on the cable due to pitching of the ship. No opportunity was afforded Thomson for testing the cable before laying.
The ships met at Queenstown on July 30th and proceeded to Valencia Bay, where on August 5th the shore-end was landed. The Niagara began to pay out her part; it having been arranged that, when half-way over, the Agamemnon should splice her half of the cable to that already laid, and complete the laying. The electrician of the company, Mr. Whitehouse, did not accompany the expedition, and excused himself at the last moment on the score of ill-health, the chief of the electrical staff on board being Mr. De Sauty. When it was found that Mr. Whitehouse could not undertake the voyage, at the request of the directors, and without any salary or position other than his membership of the Board of Directors, Thomson agreed to join the expedition, and was quartered on the Agamemnon. On August 5th the shore-end was landed from the Niagara, while great cheers went up from the other ships, gaily dressed from stem to stern in bunting, and from the party who, headed by the Lord-Lieutenant, stood on the shore to watch the American sailors haul up the end. After the Niagara had laid 330 nautical miles, owing to mismanagement on the part of a mechanic attending the paying-out brake, the cable parted in water of 2000 fathoms, and the expedition returned to Plymouth. The cable was unloaded at Keyham Harbour, and re-coiled in tanks in a shed, to be stored for the winter. An additional length of 700 miles was manufactured, and new paying-out machinery was designed in readiness for the renewal of the enterprise the next year.
Thomson went to the British Association meeting at Dublin, and there on August 28, 1857, he gave an evening lecture on the Atlantic Tele graph. In the sectional meetings he read three papers. One was “On the Effects of Induction on Long Submarine Cables”; a second “On Mr. Whitehouse’s Relay and Induction Coils in action on Short Circuit.” That Thomson should sink his amour-propre in the interests of the Atlantic Telegraph Company by thus associating himself with Whitehouse’s apparatus, is a surprising but characteristic action. The third, “On Machinery for Laying Submarine Telegraph Cables,” was printed in the Engineer of September 11th. In it he discussed the curvature of the portion hanging from the stern of the ship during laying, and the forces acting upon it, and declared that one necessity was a mechanism that would, like the action of the fly-fisher in yielding to any sudden tug on the part of the fish, afford play in the event of any sudden strain that otherwise might snap the cable. After leaving Dublin he wrote on the question to his brother James, to whose experience as a practical engineer he often resorted:—
ELK STR. OFF CARRICKFERGUS,
Sep. 3, 1857.
MY DEAR JAMES—I have been thinking of the cable settling curve, and I find that after all it was right that it will be really a curve even when the tension is equal to the weight of a length going perpendicularly to the bottom from any point. Mr. Hart was wrong in saying that the motion is rigorously perpendicular to the length when the paying out is uniform and there is no slack. Universally, if the paying out is uniform with no slack, the direction of the absolute motion of any part of the cable must bisect the angle between the line running horizontally forwards and the direction of the cable obliquely down wards, as may be inferred from the consideration of the preceding case, or as we see by considering that the velocity of the cable relatively to the ship (that is, the relative velocity with which it passes away from the stern pulley), is equal to the velocity of the ship, and that the absolute velocity of the cable is the resultant of these two. Hence there is always in uniform paying out with no slack a motion which will give rise to tangential component of resistance of the water helping to bear the weight. This conclusion is very important, as it shows that less resistance than the weight of a portion hanging vertically to the bottom will always suffice to stretch the cable firmly on the bottom. It is clear still that if the resistance be such as to give, first, no tension at the bottom, but no slack, the cable will go down in an inclined straight line; but if it be resisted in leaving the ship with any greater resistance than that, it will go out in a curve which is convex upwards in its upper part and concave upwards in its lower part. The inclination of this curve to the vertical at its point of inflection will be exactly the same as that of the straight line in which the cable goes down when the speed is the same, and the resistance only just enough to prevent slack.
If my paper is not gone to the Engineer, will you alter the part in which I say that the motion is rigorously perpendicular to the length? If not, will you send an extract of this after it as an antidote? Of course in this case you would cut out the sentence in which I speak of Hart being wrong. I write this to give it to the post at Greenock in the morning for you, so it may reach you on Saturday.—Your affectionate brother,
The Engineer of October 16 contained the amending addition. To his sister Mrs. King, then in Vevey, he wrote:—
INVERCLOY, ARRAN, BY ARDROSSAN,
Sep. 22, 1857.
MY DEAR ELIZABETH—I am afraid I have done little to improve my character as a correspondent since you left England, but my old excuse has been more valid than ever this summer. Ever since I last saw you in London I have had a very disturbed time with a few short intervals. Latterly the Atlantic Telegraph business has been very urgent, and I have been repeatedly called by it to London. I had only returned here three days from the meeting of the British Association, which kept me a week at Dublin, and was just beginning to feel settled with the prospect of an unbroken time of quiet till the beginning of the session, when I was called away to London to attend a meeting of the Board of Directors, and I had to make a journey to Devonport to look after the cable on board the ships there, and arrangements for the electrical department before I got home again. I trust I shall now have no more such disturbances, and get a little rest before the beginning of my winter’s work. I quite feel the necessity of getting myself freed from the various engrossing occupations which have for a long time prevented me from ever having my mind off work, and I intend for some time to come to limit myself very strictly to the duties of my professorship. It will be a novelty to me to have no paper in progress and no proof sheets coming in at all unreasonable times, and I quite enjoy looking forward to it.—. . . Your affectionate brother, W. THOMSON.
Whatever Thomson’s expressed intention as to devoting himself more exclusively to the duties of his Chair, he could not keep his mind from the cable problems. He had begun with a Helmholtz galvanometer. Now he was to step forward with his own. He had been impressed with the necessity, if signalling was to be rapid, of working with the smallest possible currents, so that time might not be lost while the pulse received from the sending end rose to its full value. He wanted an instrument that would work with a smaller fraction of current. So he determined to lighten the moving part—the suspended magnet—substituting for the heavy needle a minute bit of steel watch-spring (or two or three such bits), which he cemented to the back of a light silvered glass mirror suspended within the wire coil by a single fibre of cocoon silk. Then he got rid of the observing telescope used with the German galvanometers, by the device of directing upon the mirror a beam of light from a lamp, which beam, reflected on the mirror, fell upon a long white card, marked with the divisions of a scale, which was shaded from daylight, or set up in a dark corner. When on the arrival of an electric current the suspended magnet turned to right or left it deflected the spot of light to right or left upon the scale, and so showed the signal; the beam of light serving as a weightless index of exquisite sensitiveness, magnifying the most minute movements of the “needle.” It is said and the story is believed to be true that this happy idea of using the mirror on the “objective” plan arose from noticing casually the reflexion of light from the monocle which, being short-sighted, he habitually wore hung around his neck with a ribbon.
This mirror galvanometer, which with sundry modifications  was embodied in his patent taken out February 20, 1858, proved to be of enormous importance in the subsequent history and development of submarine telegraphy. It served not only as a “speaking” instrument for receiving signals, but as an absolutely invaluable appliance both at sea and in the laboratory  for the most delicate operations of electric testing. He also patented an improved brake for paying out cables from ships.
 The patent specification, No. 329 of 1858, describes two early forms of electrometer for testing, and several varieties of the mirror galvanometer, with single, bifilar, and anchored suspensions, and with arrangements of con trolling magnets or controlling currents in auxiliary coils. It also contains several suggestions for duplex working; and describes an early plan of curbing the signals by applying first a positive electromotive force for a short time, then a slightly greater negative electromotive force for an equal duration, followed by a much smaller positive one for a third equal period. It also suggested a device for utilizing a cable that might be able to transmit messages twice as fast as any one clerk could send by providing at each end synchronous circuit charges, so that the letters of two messages should be alternated in transmission, and gives the following example: “Suppose that at one station there are two instruments and two clerks, and that at the other station the following series of signals arrive, PFRROETEETCR TAIDOEN, a clerk at the second station taking these letters alternately, finds that the first clerk transmitted the word PROTECTION, and the second the words FREE TRADE.”
A surprising addendum to the specification is a telewriter for transmitting lines, figures, letters, or symbols by means of two separate circuits, acting at the distant end on a beam of light by the movement of two mirrors to combine two component movements at right angles to one another, with a third wire to cut off the beam when the sender lifts his tracing point from the writing surface.
In the Encyclopedia Britannica (8th edit., of 1860), Thomson says: “The marine galvanometer constructed by the writer for use on board the Agamemnon and Niagara, differs from the land mirror galvanometer only in the use of still higher directive force on the needle, and in the mode of suspension of the mirror and needle, which was by means of a fine platinum wire, or, as has since been found better, a stout bundle of twenty or thirty silk fibres, firmly stretched between two fixed points of support.” The substitution of a silvered bit of microscope glass for a metal mirror was suggested by James White the optician. The mirror weighed but one-third grain, and the magnet and counterpoise attached at the back about as much, the whole being less than one grain.
The above patent was not actually Thomson’s first. He had in 1854, along with Rankine, taken out a patent, No. 2547, for improvements in electrical conductors for telegraphic communication, in which they proposed a stranded multiple conductor. For some reason this patent was abandoned. The 1858 patent was, in 1871, extended for another eight years by decision of the Privy Council.
 Thomson’s galvanometer stimulated Clerk Maxwell to pen the following characteristic parody, which appeared in Nature of May 16, 1872:
A LECTURE ON THOMSON’s GALVANOMETER.
[Delivered to a Single Pupil in an Alcove with Drawn Curtains.}
The lamp-light falls on blackened walls,
And streams through narrow perforations;
The long beam trails o er pasteboard scales,
With slow decaying oscillations.
Flow, current! flow! set the quick light-spot flying!
Flow, current! answer, light spot! flashing, quivering, dying.
O look! how queer! how thin and clear,
And thinner, clearer, sharper growing.
This gliding fire, with central wire
The fine degrees distinctly showing.
Swing, magnet! swing! advancing and receding;
Swing, magnet 1 answer, dearest, what’s your final reading?
O love! you fail to read the scale
Correct to tenths of a division;
To mirror heaven those eyes were given,
And not for methods of precision.
Break, contact! break! set the free light-spot flying!
Break, contact! rest thee, magnet! swinging, creeping, dying.
To Glasgow he took with him some sample pieces from the unlaid portion of the cable, and from other cables, to investigate the conductivity of the copper. Finding them to differ greatly amongst themselves, he selected five specimens, the conductivities of which, in terms of a certain standard, were respectively 42, 71.3, 84.7, 86.4, and 102 per cent; he sent them for analysis to Hofmann, who pronounced the percentages of copper in them to be 98.76, 99.20, 99.53, 99.57 and 99.20 respectively. Observing that the conductivity was in the order of the purity of the copper, he procured over forty other specimens that had been specially alloyed with various minute proportions of other metals. These he later described to the Royal Society (Feb. 1860). A sample of Rio Tinto copper examined by Matthiessen had a conductivity no better than that of iron! Calling the attention of the Directors of the Atlantic Cable Company to these deficiencies of conductivity, he was vexed to find them apathetic. They had been assured by their official electrician that the speed of signalling was not affected by the resistance of the conductor. Not until he took up an obstructionist attitude, and persevered at successive meetings in opposing all other business, did they listen to his insistence on proper testing of material; and he ultimately secured the insertion of a clause requiring “high conductivity” in the contract for 700 miles of new cable ordered in the late autumn of 1857 to supply the place of the portion lost in the first expedition. When this clause was first submitted to the contractors they declared  it impossible, but eventually consented at an increased price. To ensure compliance with this provision, Thomson set up at the factory a set of testing appliances, thus establishing for the first time a factory testing laboratory. After this practical engineers came to believe in the reality of the existence of these differences in quality. “ From that time to the present,” wrote Thomson in 1883, “there has never been a question, on the part of either companies or contractor, as to the necessity for the stipulation of ‘high conductivity’; and a branch of copper manufacture has grown up in the course of these twenty-six years for producing what is called in the trade ‘conductivity copper.’”
 “I fear,” wrote the secretary, Mr. Saward, to Thomson on October 6, “that difficulty in carrying out your views about copper will arise from the Gutta-Percha Company, who state that they cannot contract to deliver within a specified time if the close examination you contemplate is to be undergone.”
A fortnight later he wrote: “The conductivity question is occupying the best attention of all of us every hank of wire is being carefully tested to a given standard. The attention of the most eminent smelters is being directed to the matter, and they have been invited to the gutta-percha works to see for themselves the variations in conducting power of the several parcels sent in.”
Still occupied with the questions of cable-laying, Thomson wrote, in March 1858, to his brother James:—
BlRKENHEAD, March 19, 1858.
MY DEAR JAMES I was so busy the whole week after you left that I could not manage to write a line in reply. I was incessantly occupied getting my model ready, and I had a new one made with various appliances to illustrate how I would work in reality shifting the chain when worn, regulating the pressure, etc. The plan you propose does not fulfil the condition which I think of greatest importance in connection with my plan that is, having the part of the chain which is under small tension simply fixed, while the regulation of stress is to be effected at the end under heavy tension. My reason for making this of importance is that the whole resistance cannot possibly exceed the tension at the heavily stretched part, and will always fall short of it by an amount (the tension at the slightly stretched part) which is necessarily only a small fraction of the whole, and which may therefore be safely left to vary with friction; though it should double itself the diminution of resistance on the whole need not be more than 3 or 4 per cent.
The plan of a self-acting regulator by a movable pulley has been much considered, and may possibly be used. I rather think it will be better, however, to be content in reply with an indicator of that kind, to show the tension of the cable leaving the machinery, and to regulate when necessary by hand. With my brake nothing will be required but to put on a safe load on the heavily stretched end and leave it to itself. I propose, however, to have a plan by a lever at the lightly stretched end by which in an instant this weight may be let down and the brake entirely released a plan, in fact, like yours, but worked by the hand and (what is the essential feature of my plan) incapable of doing more than allow the full load at the other end to act. I have altered the arrangement of chain so as to give it only one straight lead from drum to drum; this makes the pressure on the bearings as little as need be, or as can be, with any form of brake. I put a guard and support to keep this horizontal part in its place and prevent it from rocking when the tension is slack, and the effect is excellent. I have not a doubt of the whole plan being right.—Your affectionate brother,
2 COLLEGE, GLASGOW, April 19, 1858.
MY DEAR JAMES—... I am having instruments made for both Valencia and Newfoundland to work the telegraph, and must have them finished and tested before the 14th of May. I only commenced last Wednesday, having just returned from Devonport, where I verified the mathematical theory (with marvellous closeness, partly by chance), and got, with care, a letter every three seconds through 2700 miles.—In haste, your affectionate brother,
The early summer of 1858 found the “wire squadron” preparing for the second attempt to lay the cable. The Agamemnon and the Niagara were again commissioned; but the plan of campaign was altered. This time they were to proceed to mid-Atlantic, there effect a splice, and begin to pay out in both directions at once. Also it was determined to have a preliminary trial trip to the Bay of Biscay to gain experience. Immense activity was manifest. The cables were once more being coiled in the ships. The Directors throughout April and May were meeting daily, as the minutes of the Board show. On April 7 the Directors were asked to say which of them would accompany the expedition. Disquieting reports were received on April 10 and 12 as to defects found in the cable in the process of coiling it in the tanks on board at Devonport. Thomson, still at his duties at Glasgow until May 1, was writing about improvement for quicker signalling, and about his improved paying-out brake. On April 13 he asked the Directors to grant £2000 to cover the cost of constructing new signalling instruments. On April 21 he gets his reply: “The Directors, having regard to the reports and observations of Mr. Whitehouse, and particularly to the financial state of the Co., are of opinion that it would not be expedient to advance so large a sum under present circumstances . . . and, therefore, desire to postpone their decision upon the form of instrument to be ultimately used for working through the cable until the task of submerging it shall have been successfully accomplished.” On 23rd he replies, asking for £500 for instruments. The Board gives him by a bare majority authority to complete the instruments he has on hand, but entreating him to keep down the cost.
On 27th the Board receives from him an acknowledgment, when he adds that he will not expect the Company to take his instruments unless they realize a speed of three words a minute after the cable is laid; he also requests that he may be allowed the use of the cable (as coiled on ship) for two or three hours on the 3rd or 4th of May to make some tests. The Board foreseeing difficulties makes a formal minute:—“Ordered that Mr. Whitehouse be requested to desire his assistants at Devonport to render Professor Thomson all possible attention and facilities, and to follow his directions with respect to the experiments he desires to make on the cable.” The same day the secretary is directed to address to Mr. Whitehouse a letter, requesting him to inform the Board on which of the ships he intends to embark. On May 14, a letter is read from Mr. Whitehouse, advising the Board of his intention to embark on the Agamemnon, but expressing doubts as to his accompanying the experimental trip. “Ordered that Mr. Whitehouse be informed that the Board desires his presence on board H.M.S. Agamemnon during the experimental trip, and that he be requested to make his arrangements accordingly.” But on May 29, when the fleet set out for the Bay of Biscay, Whitehouse excused himself. Thomson, waiting anxiously for the arrival of the latest instruments from Glasgow, was almost the last man to go aboard, a precious package being handed up to him at the last moment by his assistant Donald MacFarlane, who had brought it by express. It contained an object like a small brass pot standing on four legs—the “marine mirror galvanometer,” constructed during the preceding fortnight. One of these instruments is preserved in the Natural Philosophy Laboratory of the University of Glasgow. The cut is from a photograph of the instrument by kind permission of Professor Andrew Gray.
Thomson’s Marine Mirror Galvanometer
Used on board the Niagara, 1858.
All went well on the trial trip. In water nearly three miles in depth they practised making splices and lowering them, paying out and hauling in the cable, changing from upper to lower hold, buoying the cable and picking it up, and passing the cable from stern to bow—operations which might be necessary if anything should go wrong in the laying of the line across the Atlantic. This trial trip being successfully over, the ships returned to Plymouth on June 3.
Saward, the Secretary of the Company, has put on record the following comment:—
On arriving at Plymouth the condition of the electrical department was found to be such as to cause great anxiety to the Directors. They had given instructions to the electrician during the winter to employ the Company’s operators in constant practice upon the instruments which were supposed to be in preparation for final use in working through the cable; and as the whole of the latter was coiled in one building at Keyham, it was supposed that they would have the opportunity of sending and receiving messages through its whole length during several months, and be thus prepared for all the peculiarities of a conductor so long and special in its character. The Directors were, therefore, greatly disappointed to find that not only had this not been done, but they found on their assembling at Plymouth that the instruments were not in a state, nor of a nature calculated to work the cable to a commercial profit.
The expedition sailed westwards on June 10. Charles Bright was again chief engineer, on board the Agamemnon, with Canning and Clifford as assistants; and was represented on the Niagara by Everett and Woodhouse. Cyrus Field was on board the Niagara; De Sauty was electrician on board the Agamemnon. Whitehouse, being again unable to go to sea, repaired to Valencia to await the arrival of the Irish end of the cable. At the request of the Directors Thomson consented to supervise the arrangements of the testing-room on the Agamemnon in an honorary capacity. It was a difficult position, for he had had little opportunity of making any tests on the state of the cable since it left the factory. His urgent representations as to the necessity of providing proper resistance coils and other testing apparatus on board had been ignored. Even his instruments had only been allowed on sufferance to be inserted in the circuit on his arrival in Ireland. He was in no way responsible for the instruments provided by the official electrician for the tests on board, upon which reliance was supposed to be placed. But before consenting to go to sea he made it a condition that permission should be given to have his marine galvanometer in circuit, because by it he expected to have more definite information than he could have by watching the tests that were prepared.
When less than two days out the Agamemnon encountered an Atlantic storm  of most exceptional violence, which lasted for eight days. Laden as the ship was in her hold, and with a dead weight of some 250 tons coiled on her upper deck, the Agamemnon was ill fitted to encounter such a trying occurrence. Her deck planks already gaped an inch apart, and when rolling in the heavy seas they opened wide and closed again at every oscillation. The electrical testing cabin was flooded. A portion of the coiled cable was seriously displaced and damaged; the cargo of coal broke loose; and ten of the crew were injured.
 A wonderfully graphic account of this really terrible storm was written by Mr. Nicholas Woods, the Times correspondent on board the Agamemnon in the Times of August 11, 1858. It is reprinted in Mr. Charles Bright’s Life Story of Sir Charles T. Bright.
On the return of fine weather the squadron met at their rendezvous in mid-ocean fifteen days after leaving Plymouth. It took two days to uncoil and re-coil the tangled section, nearly 100 miles long, of cable. On June 26 a splice was made and paying-out began; but the cable broke on board the Niagara when about 6 miles had been paid out. A second splice was made, but again the cable failed when some 80 miles had been laid. On the 28th a third splice was effected, but the day after, when each ship had paid out over a hundred miles, the cable parted at the stern of the Agamemnon, giving way at a point where it had been damaged by the disturbance of the flooring of the tank during the storm. During foggy days which succeeded, the Agamemnon failed to find her sister ship at the rendezvous, and therefore returned to Oueenstown to meet her. Queenstown was reached on July 12, after being thirty-three days out of sight of land. No sooner did the ships meet here than Thomson had the two halves of the cable temporarily spliced, and transmitted signals through the entire length, thus showing once more that the difficulties were mechanical, not electrical.
Faced with this failure the Directors were divided; some of those most concerned commercially, being convinced that the project was impracticable, now advocated a realization of assets and winding up of the Company. Against these despairing counsels the men of action stood for a final effort. Bright, Brett, Field, Whitehouse, and Lampson were all eager to go on. Thomson, who had never once despaired of ultimate success, was emphatic for continuing the attempt. After keen discussion, followed by the resignation of the Vice-chairman, the Board ordered the immediate sailing of the expedition on what to all but themselves seemed truly a forlorn hope.
After taking in coal the ships steamed away from Queenstown, the Niagara and the two consorts, the Gorgon and the Valorous, leaving on July 17, and the Agamemnon, with Thomson on board, on the day following. They met at the rendezvous on July 29, and the same day spliced ends and began paying out. The weather was mostly bad, and there were several temporary mishaps which only the vigilance and energy of the staff prevented from becoming disasters. Owing to the inertia of the paying-out wheels and machinery, the stress on the cable fluctuated with every rise and fall of the ship’s stern, so that to save the cable from snapping the run of the wheels had to be regulated by the sailors’ hands, under the immediate supervision of officers, without intermission day and night. Both ships reached land on the same day, August 5, and landed their respective ends of the cable.
Of the resourceful energy of the chief engineer, and the devotion and ability of the captain, it would be impossible to speak too highly, and they are rightly praised in the contemporary narratives where for the most part the unassuming services of Thomson are but slightly recorded; and little is said of the personal part he took. Happily a contemporary account in the Sydney Morning Herald, in a letter written by a junior member of the electrical staff, supplies a few notes that are of more than personal interest:—
The electrical room is on the starboard side of the main deck forward. The arrangements have been altered several times in order to avoid the water which showers down from the upper deck. At one end of the little place the batteries are ranged on shelves and railed in. At the other stands a table with the various instruments arranged in electric series. On one side stand the “detectors” of the old system, so called from being chiefly used in testing for faults; and Whitehouse’s beautiful “Magnetometer,” called by some one his “pet child.” These are under the eye of one of the clerks on duty. On the opposite side of the table is Thomson’s marine galvanometer, so called because it combines delicacy with perfect stability at sea. It is closed up in a plain deal box, which is placed on a frame, equally primitive, attached to springs. Yet this little “Jack-in-the-box,” as we often call it, does the work of every instrument on the table in its own peculiar way, and a deal more accurately. The indication is given by a little mirror which reflects the light of a paraffin lamp, through a lens, on a scale. This little mirror is fixed to a very small magnet, which, being influenced by the current, moves it, and therefore the spot, over so many degrees. We send and receive during alternate ten minutes. The current is sent through Dr. Thomson’s galvanometer to the lower end of the “orlop” coil, which will be brought to shore, through all the cable on board, over the stern, under the sea, to the Niagara, where it traverses all her cable before reaching instruments exactly similar. The most valuable observation is taken in sending on the marine galvanometer. Three seconds before it is taken, the clerk at the opposite side of the table who times all the observations by a watch regulated by a chronometer too valuable to bring into so wet a place, says “ Look out.” The other clerk at once fixes his eye on the spot of light, and immediately the word is given “ Now,” records the indication. This testing is made from minute to minute, so that a flow is detected the moment it occurs. Indeed, on one occasion, a break which happened between the taffrail and the water was observed before it reached the sea, which of course made it at once evident enough.
July 29. It is rather an exciting occupation to watch the tell-tale signals as we pay out. Even the most indifferent “holds his breath for a time” when their story is of dubious or ominous import. We are regarded by the engineers about the paying-out machinery as birds of evil omen. If one of our number rushes upon deck or approaches with a hurried step, they look as a Roman husbandman might have done at a crow on a blasted tree. Indeed it is almost impossible to realise the anxiety and heart-interest everybody manifests in the undertaking. No one seems to breathe freely. Few, but the men, even sleep soundly. Professor Thomson frequently does not put off his clothes at night.
To-night, but a few hours after starting, we had an alarming crisis. We had signalled to the Niagara, “Forty miles submerged,” and she was just beginning her acknowledgment, when suddenly, at 10 P.M., communication ceased. According to orders those on duty sent at once for Dr. Thomson. He came in a fearful state of excitement. The very thought of disaster seemed to overpower him. His hand shook so much that he could scarcely adjust his eyeglass. The veins on his forehead were swollen. His face was deadly pale. After consulting his marine galvanometer, he said the conducting wire was broken, but still insulated from the water. Mr. Bright noticed the Professor hurrying to the electrical room, and followed close on his heels. He supposed the fault might lie in a suspicious portion which had been observed in the main coil. The cable was tested on both sides of this place, but it was all right there. The fault was not on board, but between the ships. There did not seem to be any room to hope; but still it was determined to keep the cable slowly going out, that all opportunity might be given for a resuscitation. The scene in and about the electrical room was such as I shall never forget. The two clerks on duty, watching, with the common anxiety depicted on their faces, for a propitious signal; Dr. Thomson, in a perfect fever of nervous excitement, shaking like an aspen leaf, yet in mind clear and collected, testing and waiting, with half-despairing look for the result; Mr. Bright, standing like a boy caught in a fault, his lips and cheek smeared with tar, biting his nails as if in a puzzle, and looking to the Professor for advice; Mr. Canning, grave, but cool and self-possessed, like a man fully equal to such an emergency; the captain, viewing with anxious look the bad symptoms of the testing as indicated on the galvanometer and pointed out by Dr. Thomson. Behind, in the darker part of the room, stood various officers of the ship.
Round the door crowded the sailors of the watch, peeping over each other’s shoulders at the mysteries, and shouting “gangway!” when any one of importance wished to enter. The eyes of all were directed to the instruments, watching for the slightest quiver indicative of life. Such a scene was never witnessed save by the bedside of the dying. Things continued thus. Dr. Thomson and the others left the room, convinced they were once more doomed to disappointment. Still the cable went slowly out, while in the hold they were re-splicing the suspected portion. The clerks continued sending regular currents. All at once the galvanometer indicated a complete breaking in the water. We all made the dread interpretation, and looked at each other in silence. Suddenly one sang out, “Halloa! the spot has gone up to 40 degrees.” The clerk at the ordinary instrument bolted right out of the room, scarcely knowing where he went for joy; ran to the poop, and cried out, “Mr. Thomson! the cable’s all right; we got a signal from the Niagara.” In less than no time he was down, tested, found the old dismal result, and left immediately. He had not disappeared in the crowd when a signal came which undoubtedly originated in the Niagara. Our joy was so deep and earnest that it did not suffer us to speak for some seconds. But when the first stun of surprise and pleasure passed, each one began trying to express his feelings in some way more or less energetic. Dr. Thomson laughed right loud and heartily. Never was more anxiety compressed into such a space. It lasted exactly one hour and a half, but it did not seem to us a third of that time.
As we drew nearer Ireland the storm began to abate, and things became altogether so cheerful in aspect that we dared to hope. Still, to the last, we never were entirely free from anxiety from one cause or another. The signals failed once altogether. The only instrument which kept us from despair was Dr. Thomson’s. I could compare him, watching the slight quivering indication, only to one holding a mirror to the lips of a dying relative to see whether so much of breath remained as would dim its surface. Twice, also, we narrowly missed having a collision with vessels, in each case American. On one occasion the unlucky craft was a small anomalous-looking schooner. But the crew made all possible amends, as soon as they saw the cable at our stern, dipping their ensign some half-dozen times, and cheering lustily.
On the night of the 3rd August we got into shallow water. About ten Dr. Thomson came into the electrical cabin, evidently in a state of enjoyment so intense as almost to absorb the whole soul and create absence of mind. His countenance beamed with placid satisfaction. He did not speak for a little, but employed himself stretching scraps of sheet gutta-percha over the hot globe of our lamp; watching them with an absent eye as they curled and shrank. At last he said: “At half-past eleven you may send the 200 fathoms soundings signal.” He then proceeded to congratulate those present on being connected with such an expedition, regarding its object as already un fait accompli.
When we got close inshore we threw off the cable-boat. Before our prow grated on the strand her impetus had taken her ashore. The Valorous, in the distance, fired her guns. The end was seized by the jolly tars and run off with; a good-humoured scuffle ensued betwixt them and the gentlemen of the island for the honour of the pulling the cable up to the office. The Knight of Kerry was upset in the water. As soon as it got fairly on terra firma a bevy of ladies gave it a make-believe haul just so much as to tar their gloves or white hands, and give occasion for a nice business-like little fuss in getting butter or other oleaginous matter to remove the stain! Meanwhile we were thrown rather behind. Seeing that those who most deserved the honour were likely to lose it, Dr. Thomson, followed by Anderson a clerk, and myself, jumped out of the boat and waded ashore, but in time only to tar our hands ineffectually, like the ladies. The end was taken to the slate works, where the Company’s offices are temporarily fixed. About five minutes to four Dr. Thomson sent the first current from shore to shore, to test the state of the cable. All was right. At four we received the first current.
Thus was the grandest undertaking of the century terminated with success, and just a year after the commencement of last expedition. The ships started first 5th August 1857; we brought in the cable 5th August 1858
[Editor’s note: The extracts above were condensed from the account as published in the Sydney Daily Herald. The full text of this version, as well as a much longer article published in The West of Scotland Magazine in 1859, may be read on this page.]
Unbounded were the rejoicings on both sides of the Atlantic. In every American city there were wild celebrations and gay displays and processions. In New York the church bells were rung, and a salute of a hundred guns fired. The success of the cable became “the theme of innumerable sermons and a prodigious quantity of doggerel.” In England the rejoicings were more restrained, but the Irish cities were scenes of wild delight. Bright received knighthood at the hands of the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and the Directors congratulated themselves on the success which crowned their efforts.
Thomson has recorded, in his Presidential Address of 1889 to the Institution of Electrical Engineers, the following generous note:—
The first Atlantic cable gave me the happiness and privilege of meeting and working with the late Sir Charles Bright. He was the engineer of this great undertaking, full of vigour, full of enthusiasm. We were shipmates on the Agamemnon on the ever-memorable expedition of 1858, during which we were out of sight of land for thirty-three days. To Sir C. Bright’s vigour, earnestness, and enthusiasm was due the laying of the cable.
And Bright has given us the following little silhouette of Thomson:—
As for the Professor ... he was a thorough good comrade, good all round, and would have taken his “turn at the wheel” of the paying-out brake if others had broken down. He was also a good partner at whist when work wasn't on; though sometimes, when momentarily immersed in cogibundity of cogitation, by scientific abstraction, he would look up from his cards and ask, “Wha played what?”
Throughout the voyage Thomson’s mirror galvanometer had been used for the continuity tests and for signalling to shore with a battery of seventy-five Daniell’s cells. The continuity was reported perfect, and the insulation had improved on submersion. On August 5 the cable was handed over to Mr. Whitehouse and reported to be in perfect condition.
On August 6 the Secretary wrote to Thomson: “The Directors desire very heartily to congratulate you upon the successful accomplishment of the great work in which we have been engaged, which has created the greatest and most lively wonder and satisfaction among all classes of society here.” He further enclosed an extract from the Board minutes, giving strict orders that no person was to send messages of any description except Professor Thomson and Mr. Whitehouse in Ireland, and Mr. De Sauty and Mr. Laws in Newfoundland, followed by other regulations pending the opening of the regular service. On the 10th the Directors passed a formal vote of thanks, which was later presented to Thomson, framed in decorative form. It ran:—
Resolved: That the sincere thanks of this Board be given to their distinguished colleague Professor Thomson of Glasgow for his exertions on behalf of the Company, more especially for the great sacrifices he has made in twice accompanying the Atlantic squadron during its perilous course, and for the important aid he has rendered towards bringing this great undertaking to a successful issue.
Whitehouse at once abandoned the Thomson mirror instruments, and began working with his own patented apparatus, using heavy relays and his special transmitter with induction coils. He sent in no report to the Directors for a week, while he made ineffectual attempts with bigger induction coils to get his apparatus to work. To the Directors he sent the excuse that he was still “adjusting” the instruments. Days passed, and still no messages were transmitted. The public began to murmur. The Directors became uneasy. Thomson, who had remained at Valencia to assist Whitehouse—when permitted—had left early on the 10th August for Glasgow—from which he had been absent since 2nd May. Board-meetings held in London on the 9th, 10th, and 11th of August awaited impatiently for reports from Whitehouse as to the state of things. After more than a week the reflecting galvanometer and ordinary Daniell cells were resumed at Valencia, and only on August 13 the first clear messages were interchanged and international congratulations passed. But at Newfoundland they were still using the older instruments, and the signalling was very slow, and was often interrupted. A congratulatory message from the Queen to the President of the United States, containing but 99 words, took 16½ hours to transmit! Yet the same message was repeated back from Newfoundland without a mistake in 67 minutes. Clearly there was something seriously wrong. Whitehouse had told Thomson before he left that he suspected a fault about two miles away in the shallow water of Valencia harbour mouth. Thomson assured him that there was no evidence in the tests for this, but that probably the fault lay about 300 miles to the west, where the ocean deepens. Whitehouse proposed to raise the cable in the harbour to look for the supposed fault. The Board issued strict orders that he must not attempt this. They also sent Mr. France, a skilled cable operator, to aid in unravelling the difficulties; but on reaching Valencia he was refused admission by Whitehouse. Receiving only evasive replies, and learning a few days later that, in contravention of their orders, Whitehouse had underrun the cable to the harbour mouth, and had cut and buoyed it at Doulas Head, the Board on the 17th declared his appointment terminated, and summoned him to London.
The Board then addressed to Thomson the following authority to take sole charge:—
ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH COMPANY,
22 OLD BROAD STREET,
LONDON, August 18, 1858.
DEAR SIR—You are hereby authorised and empowered to take charge and possession (until further arrangements can be made) of this Company’s office and Electrical apparatus at Valencia, and to issue in respect to the adjustment and working of the instruments such instructions as you may deem best. It is also hereby ordered and authorised that no person whatever is to be allowed on any pretence to enter the Company’s electrical department without your special order and permission. We are, dear sir, yours truly,
C. M. LAMPSON,
Professor W. Thomson, LL.D.,
Thomson, on arriving at Valencia on the 21st, was at first disposed to defend Whitehouse, telegraphing twice, and then dispatching a long report. To his surprise he had found his own instrument installed instead of Whitehouse’s!
In the subsequent enquiry it came out that from the first Whitehouse had been unable to receive messages satisfactorily with his instruments. Part of his method of working was to relay the signals, as received, upon an automatic Morse recorder, which printed dots and dashes of the message upon a tape. When his own relays proved too clumsy for the delicate impulses that came from Newfoundland, he had them read on Thomson’s galvanometer by a clerk who watched the movements of the spot of light, and who, working by hand a signalling key on the table before him, joined by wires to the Morse recorder on the other side of the table, printed the dots and dashes on tape as though they had been received by relay. The receiving clerk, in fact, acted the part of relay. These slips were sent by Whitehouse to the Directors in London, who were thus misled into supposing that the messages had been received by means of his own apparatus. But it was otherwise at Newfoundland; for there the operators, obedient to instructions, as soon as the Thomson instrument at their end showed that signals were being transmitted, at once threw it out and substituted a common telegraph detector and the Whitehouse relay; and finding the incoming currents too weak to read, signalled back to Valencia for slower currents to be sent. Whitehouse at Valencia put on bigger induction-coils, emitting more powerful discharges.
Thomson now changed all this. After trying fruitlessly for a whole day to get the Newfoundland operators to understand, he succeeded in directing them to substitute his galvanometer for reading the signals, and at once communication was restored. Thomson had previously been led to pronounce the opinion that Whitehouse was to blame for the failure of Newfoundland to receive signals. He now with an excess of generosity asked the Board to condone Whitehouse’s errors of judgment, and to reconsider the resolution of the 17th. The Directors, on the 25th, sent a reply to Thomson that his own benevolent and kindly feelings must have obscured his more reflective judgment. Their criticism of Whitehouse was unsparing. The following is taken from the official letter:—
Mr. Whitehouse has been engaged some 18 months in investigations, which have cost some £12,000 to this Company, so that he has been in a position to avail him self of every resource that would tend to accomplish the objects on which he was at work, and now! when we have laid our cable, and the whole world is looking on with impatience to realise some results from our success, we are, after all, only saved from being a laughing stock because the Directors are fortunate enough to have an illustrious colleague who has devoted his mind to this subject, and whose inventions produced in his own study—at small expense—and from his own resources; are avail able to supersede the useless portions of apparatus prepared at great labour and enormous cost for this special occasion.
It cannot, therefore, on your own evidence, be admitted, that Mr. Whitehouse “has been conducting his own proper business in a thoroughly efficient and successful manner” but on the contrary the evidence, as given by yourself, demonstrates that there has been neither “efficiency” nor “success,” nor can the Directors agree with you in believing him to be “one of their most devoted officers.” On the first sailing of the Atlantic squadron he abandoned his post without notice without any indication to any one up to the last moment that he intended to do so. On the last occasion he again refused to go out, and had it not been for yourself, we should consequently have been placed in serious difficulty. He has run counter to the wishes of the Directors on a great many occasions—disobeyed time after time their positive instructions, in respect to incurring liabilities on behalf of the Company—thrown obstacles in the way of every one, except yourself, whom the Directors desired to consult, and acted in every way as if his own fame and self-importance were the only points of consequence to be considered in dealing with his department. These matters, if you will give them due reflection, will, it is trusted, show you that the quality of devotion to this Company which you claim for our late electrician does not exist.
But your letter leaves undefended the chief and most important point in Mr. Whitehouse’s conduct, and which rendered his dismissal inevitable and imperative, viz., his recent acts in reference to the under-running of the cable and his treatment of Mr. France. These acts are only the climax of many previous and similar ones, and it has now become a question whether Mr. Whitehouse or the Directors are to govern this undertaking.
What are the facts? From the 5th to the 13th instant Mr. Whitehouse has undisturbed possession of the cable, he finds difficulties and perplexities which he cannot combat, and towards the solution of which he calls in no extraneous aid. On the 13th he sends to the Directors a message which conveys gratifying and satisfactory intelligence respecting the working of the cable. They publish it, little thinking that at the moment this very message was on its way to them another and secret message was being sent. To whom? Not to the recognised engineer of the Company! Not to the Directors! but to Mr. Canning! ordering him to come to Valencia to under-run the cable, thus jumping at once to the conclusion—which no subsequent circumstances have proved—that a fault existed in the work of another department of the Company, but denying to the head of that department the opportunity of showing that his work was done properly, and taking upon himself the ungenerous task of overhauling another’s labours, without seeking or obtaining the least approval or assent from the Directors in doing so, an assent which he could have obtained in a couple of hours.
On Mr. Whitehouse’s arrival in town his demeanour is precisely on a par with his previous behaviour. He tells the Vice-chairman that the Directors have grossly neglected their duties, that they have insulted him, and that he would on similar occasions act exactly as on the last. It is plain either Mr. Whitehouse or the Directors must resign, and we do most respectfully beg of you to reconsider your whole judgment of this matter, and to support, as it is thought you are in justice bound to do, the dignity and authority of your colleagues.
If anything could prove Thomson’s entire disinterestedness,—for even this letter did not open his eyes,—it is the circumstance that his reply pleaded that Mr. Whitehouse’s name should still remain connected with the Company!
Meantime it became evident that the cable was showing distinct enfeeblement under the treatment it had received. The tests showed its insulation to be far worse than it was before submergence.
More feeble grew the signals. Official messages could be sent to Newfoundland only with the greatest difficulty and many repetitions of words; yet the messages back were always clear and distinct, even if weak. The President’s reply to Queen Victoria’s message was read with comparative ease. News of peace with China and of the end of the Indian Mutiny was transmitted with difficulty. On August 31 a Government message was sent to the Canadian government countermanding the sailing of troops from Canada; and a second, of great importance, on September 1st. Then a great change for the worse came, and it was almost impossible to make the signals understood at Newfoundland. On September 3rd a dinner was given at Killarney to the Chairman and Directors of the Company at which Thomson spoke. He was as ever modest as to his own part, optimistic, and generous. Dealing with the special difficulty that beset cable signalling—the retardation due to capacity—he said:—
The genius of Faraday anticipated the difficulty; mathematicians calculated it. They gave a necessary warning, and, as events have proved, a perfectly correct estimate of the amount of embarrassment to be overcome. The elaborate and preliminary experiments of Mr. Whitehouse had a large influence in removing from the public mind doubts felt as to the practicability of telegraphing through 2000 miles of submarine cable at a sufficient rate for practical purposes; and to him in a great measure is due the present existence of the Atlantic telegraph. ... Sir Charles Bright was the man who had undertaken and executed the impossible task. . . . The possibility of sending currents through 2500 miles of submarine cable was not reasonably doubted.
Slowly matters drifted from bad to worse. On the twenty-third day from landing, the last consistent message was received at Valencia from Newfoundland ending with: “Forty-eight words. Right. Right.” The last message received at Newfoundland from Valencia ended with the words “now in position to do best to forward.” Altogether 732 messages had been conveyed. After that the cable spoke no more, though for several weeks Varley and other electricians who were called in attempted with partial success to restore operations. The very last intelligible phrase came through on October 20: “Two hundred and forty tk . . . two Daniells now in circuit.” Almost as dramatic as its success was its end.
Unhappily there now broke out angry recriminations between Whitehouse and the Directors. In The Times of September 7, Whitehouse attacked the Board in a number of wild statements. Thomson telegraphed from Valencia to the Directors:—
It is not correct, as stated in Whitehouse’s letter to Times, that the President’s reply was received and recorded here under Whitehouse’s patent. It was received on my land reflection galvanometer and recorded by hand. Signal book contains full evidence. For instance, take following extract. . . .
I trust you will send an authorized correction on this point to The Times if you have not already done so. Please reply.
The Directors did reply, and very emphatically, in The Times and other journals, showing how their late electrician had misled and disobeyed them; and Whitehouse rejoined unsparingly with bitter personalities.
Thomson himself wrote a private letter to Whitehouse, of which the draft has been preserved:—
Your letter to the Times has given me more pain than any one of the many painful incidents of the last three weeks. How could you possibly have allowed yourself so far to forget the facts as to say that the President’s reply had been received and recorded here under your patents? Should the Directors not give a decided reply on this point, it would become necessary for me to reply in my own name. I regret extremely, too, that you should have committed yourself so, as regards a fault in the harbour, to an opinion which is certainly mistaken, and which cannot but have a most hurtful effect on the public as regards the value of the Co.’s property. I was most anxious to pass over what I knew to be a mistake all along, and to have as little said about it as possible, but now it becomes quite necessary that the public should be told what the amount of the fault in the cable really was, which was supposed to have caused the break of signals complained of at the other end. I wrote to you from London a warning, in the anxious hope that you might not commit yourself further, and felt greatly disappointed that you did not meet me in the spirit of candid inquiry into the truth, rather than go on defending a hasty step, for which the extreme perplexity of the circumstances in which you acted afforded the only justification. You will, I hope, believe me, that I say all this in no unfriendly spirit, but in self-justification. There would be a want of sincerity now in concealing from you the views which I cannot longer conceal from others without a violation of truth. I cannot forget the regard and esteem I have felt for you, nor the pleasure which intercourse with you has given me; and although I cannot understand the course you are now taking, I hope that we shall meet again without allowing anything that may come before the public to alter the kindly relations between us.
Whitehouse’s reply to the foregoing is unknown, but its contents and tone may be judged of by the strong rejoinder it drew from Thomson, here given from the carefully corrected draft in his own hand writing. The passage here printed in brackets is scored out in this draft:—
VALENCIA, September 23, 1858.
MY DEAR WHITEHOUSE—Your reply to my last letter has made me feel how widely we differ in much that is essential for true friendship. You had surely learned long before that “no difference of opinion need separate friends,” in the example of our own intercourse. It is not now a question of difference of opinion, but of truth and honour that has risen.
The impression conveyed by your second letter to the Times is that your first statement regarding the President’s reply was a mere inadvertence, attributable to your absence from Valencia, and that what you had said of it was true of other messages. I can find no evidence, after the most minute investigation, that it was true of any one complete message, or that any other system than that by which the President’s reply was received, was ever depended on for doing business at this station from the time when I showed you the dots and dashes on my galvanometer, on the night when telegraphic signals first came from Newfoundland.
I want no one to explain my galvanometer to the world, or to boast of its capabilities. I look for no acknowledgment in the newspapers of what I have done [either for you or for the Company]; but I want truth. If this had been maintained not only with reference to what more immediately concerns myself, but by the correction of such falsehoods as appeared in a letter signed T.S., in a Liverpool paper in which telegrams were dealt with, in a manner implying that the writer had had access to them from you, I should gladly have left to time the settlement of all questions between us, either as to science or as to the art of telegraphing. Three weeks ago I could not have believed it possible that under any circumstances you could act as you have done, and a most painful feeling of disappointment would be removed, if it could still be proved that I was not thus mistaken.—I remain, yours faithfully, W.T.
E. O. Wildman Whitehouse, Esq.,
British Association, Leeds.
The next day Thomson wrote to the Secretary:—
24th Sept. 1858.
MY DEAR SIR—The results of experiments on the cable, quoted by Mr. Varley as having been communicated to him here, were not, as he naturally conjectures, made at Queenstown, but chiefly on board the Agamemnon during her last cruise. By a comparison which I made of them after landing, with a few hasty memoranda of observations I had made at Keyham (the last set quoted by Mr. Varley), I was led to infer that the part of the cable on board the Agamemnon had all along been in a much worse state as to insulation than the average of the whole cable. Even the observations at Keyham alone showed that the A.’s portion had some much worse insulation in some part of it than the Niagara’s. I mentioned this to Mr. Whitehouse, and he said he was aware of it, and that it was owing to the improved manufacture of the cable of this year, which was then being put on board the Niagara, and chiefly influenced the tests I applied. A thorough system of testing applied to the cable from the beginning, and regularly continued during the various changes to which it has been subjected, would probably have obviated the disaster by which the whole has been ruined. Even the doubt which is now felt as to whether the fault is 240 or 300 miles off, could not have existed if each part of the cable had been tested for inductivity. I mention this not to imply censure on the past management, but rather to call attention to what we should aim at if we are to continue the great undertaking. The thorough testing to which I refer has not yet been fully carried out on any cable or other telegraphic conductor, but I believe that I shall be able to show that it can be done with ease, and without any increased expense, by a little arrangement beforehand.
There is one part of Varley’s opinion in which I cannot quite agree with him—that the resistance of the fault is equal to at least 10 miles of the cable. From observations I have made, both before and after his visit to Valencia, I feel convinced that it must be much less (or the effect of the fault much greater) than he supposes. I do not think the resistance can possibly be greater than from 2 to 5 miles, but I shall repeat my observations with care, and let you know the result. It may be still that there is ground for Varley’s conclusion that another fault is necessary to account for the extreme weakness of the signals, but I believe the removal of the fault about 300 miles off, if successfully accomplished, will be sufficient to restore the cable to working order. It is chiefly with reference to anticipations on this score that a more accurate determination of the resistance of the known fault is desirable. I remain, etc., W. T.
P.S.—Varley’s report is, in my opinion, evidence of high scientific and practical talent.
Thomson worked on at Valencia, still nursing the unconquerable hope. On September 25th he wrote to Joule:—
Instead of telegraphic work, which, when it has to be done through 2400 miles of submarine wire, and when its effects are instantaneous exchange of ideas between the old and new worlds, possesses a combination of physical and (in the original sense of the word) metaphysical interest, which I have never found in any other scientific pursuit—instead of this, to which I looked forward with so much pleasure, I have had, almost ever since I accepted a temporary charge of this station, only the dull and heartless business of investigating the pathology of faults in submerged conductors. A good deal that I have learned in this time has, I believe, a close analogy with some curious phenomena you have described, and which you partially showed me last winter, regarding intermittent effects of resistance to the passage of an electric current between two metal plates in a liquid. . . . On the fourth day after the cable was landed here, I found that a positive current entering from ten cells of constant battery fell in the course of a few minutes to half strength. When the battery was next suddenly reversed the negative current rose, and remained after that nearly constant, at about the same degree of strength as that at which the positive current had commenced.
Incidentally, the phenomenon mentioned in the closing sentences of this letter furnishes the first-recorded instance of an electric valve which gives more ready passage to an electric current flowing in one direction than to a current flowing in the reverse.
Thomson also wrote to the Board respecting the sum granted in May for constructing instruments, telling that he had personally expended upwards of £1000, and that his three months absence from England had entailed on him additional expenses which he could ill afford.
By thus remaining at Valencia he missed the British Association meeting at Leeds, where the Abbé Moigno addressed to him a letter asking for the latest news. The reply gives additional facts at first hand:—
INVERCLOY, Oct. 23, 1858.
MY DEAR SIR—I have only this day received the copy of Cosmos for the 17th September, which you were so good as to address to me. Your letter of the 18th preceded it in reaching me, but both were much delayed, being forwarded to Glasgow at the conclusion of the Leeds meeting, thence to Valencia, and from Valencia by very slow posts to this other island, where I try to escape from “the cable,” and get some rest before recommencing my professional duties at Glasgow at the beginning of November. I have endeavoured to lose no time on collecting facts to reply; and I can now assure you that you were perfectly correct in stating that the 99 words of the Queen’s message had come through the cable in 67 minutes. It is true that the transmission of her Majesty’s message from Valencia to Newfoundland was very tedious. It occupied 16½ hours in consequence of the great difficulties experienced at that time by Newfoundland in reading. As soon as they had received it complete, they repeated it back, every word spelled in full, within a period of 68 minutes, including the initial “attack” signal and the “finis” signal, without a single mistake. A word and a half per minute was the common rate at which messages came from Newfoundland to Valencia, and it was sometimes considerably exceeded. A message of as many as 76 words a message from the Directors of the New York, Newfoundland, and London Telegraph Company to the Directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Company occupied only 36 minutes in its transmission from Newfoundland, and was received correctly at Valencia.
Again (August 20), I find a short message of 13 words, containing 60 letters, completed and read with perfect ease at Valencia within 7 minutes. While messages were received at so good a speed, and read so perfectly at Valencia, the greatest difficulty was experienced in conveying any intelligence whatever to Newfoundland through the cable, and after the 2Oth August the rate of half a word a minute had been rarely, if ever, attained. On the night preceding that day they replied in the affirmative to a message from Valencia directing them to read on “Thomson’s galvanometer.” On Saturday the 21st we learned from them that they had introduced my instrument. Their message to us was, “Land galvanometer in circuit. Signals beautiful.” Immediately afterwards we sent them a message of 35 words in 34 minutes, which they understood at once; and thenceforward they received with nearly the same ease as we, never requiring a slower rate from us than one word per minute. At Valencia, on the night of the 9th of August, when letters and words first began to come through the cable, I put one of my land galvanometers into circuit, and called Whitehouse’s attention to its availability as a receiving instrument for Morse signals. I left next morning for Glasgow and London, and returned to Valencia on the 21st, when I found my instrument regularly installed, and learned from the clerks that every message from the beginning [had] been read on it. During the first two days (the 10th and 11th) Mr. Whitehouse’s relay was also in circuit, and several letters were recorded by it, but Mr. W. himself was led to abandon it in consequence of the comparison, and during the night following the 11th sent the message, “Use T.’s galvanometer,” which was repeated over and over again to Newfoundland from day to day, but was never replied to till the 19th, after which, as I have said, my instrument came to be used at both ends.
After repeated trials during the 10th and 11th, the use of the induction coils at Valencia was abandoned, and my battery (the sawdust Daniell’s) was brought into use as the only available means by which intelligible signals could be conveyed to the other end, and after the 11th it has been exclusively used, with the exception of several further trials of the coils, which confirmed the previous result. Since the failure of the line a large magneto-electric machine of Mr. Henley’s has been tried, but as yet it is not known whether with any effect. From the beginning I have always advocated the use of D.’s battery, applied direct to the line, as preferable for every kind of submarine signalling through a long submarine line to induction coils, but Mr. W.’s system was part of the basis on which the Atlantic Telegraph Coy. was founded, and he never would be persuaded that any other system could reach the advantages he supposed to be derivable from properly constructed coils. It appears now that my battery at Newfoundland has succeeded in conveying a perfectly distinct communication (“Daniell’s in circuit”) thro the cable after a period of seven weeks, during which the coils had not sent a single word intelligibly.
As regards the instruments actually used at the two stations, the state of the case is shortly this. At Valencia the whole work has been done by my battery and receiving instruments. Not a single message has been sent otherwise. Every letter, word, and message that came was read on my galvanometer. No complete message was received by the relay, but only trial letters, and a few words or parts of words. Newfoundland, until the last few days, has always sent by Whitehouse’s coils, and until the beginning of September, when the thing failed, we had no difficulty in reading their signals. There they used only their own instruments for reading also, at first, and scarcely succeeded in reading at all, until they complied with directions to read on my instruments. They never succeeded in reading anything on the relay, and all that they did read before the introduction of my instruments was, I believe, on a common telegraph galvanometer.
I have given these details with more minuteness than would otherwise have been necessary, because I think you may have seen incorrect statements on the subject, which appeared in the newspapers during Mr. Whitehouse’s unfortunate discussion with the Board. . . .
The theory of induction in a submarine conductor led me, as early as 1854, by the aid of the analysis of your immortal countryman Fourier, to give a complete mathematical expression of the circumstances (Proceedings R. Society, May 1855). The numerical data which I subsequently obtained from Weber’s measurement of the electric conductivity of copper in absolute electro-magnetic units, and his comparison between electro-magnetic and electrostatic units, enabled me to estimate the actual amounts of retardation to be experienced in telegraphing through 2400 miles of just such a cable as has since been constructed for the Atlantic Telegraph (see my letter in Athenaeum, October 6, 1858), and now confirmed by observations on the cable both before and after submergence.
In the bitter polemics in the press between Whitehouse and the Directors Thomson took no part until, on October 14th, he wrote (from Arran) to the Morning Chronicle to correct an opinion falsely attributed to him as to the position and nature of the fault in the cable. To this he added a brief postscript:—
“I refrain for the present from making any reply to the gross perversions and misrepresentations in Mr. Whitehouse’s article regarding the instruments by which the messages were received at Valencia. The Directors’ statement requires no defence against his attacks. It is with the deepest regret that I find myself in any way compelled to enter personally into this controversy.”
On October 25th, Thomson wrote to his brother:—
INVERCLOY, Oct. 25, 1858.
MY DEAR JAMES—I got your note at the Gresham, but was very sorry not to be able to take the opportunity of going to see you, as we had just time to drive direct from the hotel to the steamer. As it turned out she did not sail till three-quarters of an hour after her time, but we could not trust to that, although if I had known there would be so much time I should have tried to get you down to the steamer by a message.
I need not tell you about doings at Valencia, as you will have heard enough about it in the newspapers, and had some details, no doubt, supplied by W. Bottomley. You would see that after all a message came through last Wednesday, I rather think it was in reality by no extraordinary or unsafe power, but simply by the application of my battery, which from the beginning, or from before the beginning, I have always advocated as the best means of working the telegraph. The chief danger to be apprehended now from battery power of any brand is, I think, that it is certain to eat away the wire when it is exposed by positive currents out through the leak. I have therefore enforced the use of “negative currents” as much as possible, that is to say, of such electrical arrangements at both ends as shall keep the wire throughout negative relatively to the water and earth beside it. The wire itself would be preserved indefinitely by this (and might be eaten through in a few days or weeks by the reverse), but the leak may get even worse, whatever we may do. As it is, no good work can be expected, I believe, from this wire, and the best, if not the only chance, is by lifting it as far as the fault. The most probable distance to this along the line is 254 statute miles; that of the “bank” 242 (also measured along the line). The estimate for the fault may be 15 miles wrong either in excess or defect, and it is possible, therefore, that it may be found in shallow water. Margaret has not been so well as she was in summer The journey to Valencia and stay there were not fortunate, but she is now rather better.—Your affectionate brother, W. THOMSON.
The last spark of life had flickered out from the cable on October 20th. There is no doubt that from the first it suffered from defects caused by the dam age received on board during the storm; but its actual failure was due to Whitehouse’s bungling use of induction coils—some five feet long—working at some 2000 volts.
A year later, when a Departmental Committee  inquired into the circumstances, Thomson gave evidence which throws some light on the facts, and on the self-repression which he exercised during this trying time. The following are extracts:—
There was a very great omission in the apparatus on board in the want of standard resistance coils. I had urged on the electrician of the Company, as early as the month of May 1857, the very high importance of having a set of resistance coils properly made, giving a resistance at least equal to the resistance of the whole cable, and admitting of variations to the smallest measurable quantity. I urged this strongly, but the electrician of the Company had his own system of testing, which he considered satisfactory. The great want in our system of testing was a good constant battery and a set of resistance coils. The constant battery I supplied, as far as I could, from the resources which I, for another reason, had provided. A sufficient set of resistance coils could not at the time be extemporised, and, accordingly, much of the testing was necessarily mere guess work.
I had the very strongest misgivings as to the condition of the cable from the Monday forenoon  of the laying.
 Report of the Joint Committee appointed by the Lords of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade, and the Atlantic Telegraph Company, to inquire into the Construction of Submarine Telegraph Cables, together with the Minutes of Evidence and Appendix, 1861. The members of this Committee were R. Stephenson, Wheatstone, Fairbairn, and Bidder, for the Board of Trade; and Edwin Clark, C. F. Varley, L. Clark, and G. Saward for the Company.
 A few months later Thomson wrote:—“Those who were engaged in the undertaking were fully convinced that the cable they were laying was in perfect condition. It was not until rather more than half the cable had been laid that signs of defective insulation manifested themselves. When the ships had come to anchor on the two sides of the Atlantic, the signals which passed between them were of so satisfactory a character that none of us had then any doubt as to the complete and final success of the undertaking.”
From the handing over of the cable to Whitehouse on the forenoon of August 5 till August 9 near midnight, they never received anything that they could be quite sure was a signal current. On that night there were good signals; the first words being “Please repeat slower.” Asked about the underrunning of the cable to the harbour mouth with a view to the discovery of a supposed fault, Thomson replied that it had been done “in opposition to the orders of the Board of Directors, and against my strongly expressed advice, and during my temporary absence.” After Thomson left Valencia, on August 10, Whitehouse put in his own patented recording devices, by which there were “some indications of legible signals recorded, but not one complete sentence.” “I have,” said Thomson, “had all the slips, which were preserved by the Board, to examine, but these contain very little of the work of the first four days, the slips corresponding to those days having been all abstracted from the possession of the Company. The longest word I find correctly given is the word ‘be.’”
Official documents show that those slips had been taken away by Whitehouse in October 1858 from the office of the Company in the absence of the Secretary, and were shown about by him at the Royal Institution as the performances of “his” inventions.
Writing in 1860, in his article “Telegraph, Electric,” in the Encyclopedia Britannica (eighth edition), Thomson says: “It was only in consequence of fallacious interpretation of experiments on the relative capabilities of ‘battery’ and ‘induction coils’ that the latter were ever introduced into the service of the Atlantic Telegraph.” He added the following note:—
The induction coils were superseded by Daniell’s battery at Valencia, after a few days trial through the rapidly failing line had seemed to prove them incapable of giving intelligible signals to the Newfoundland station; but, owing to the immediate introduction and continued use of an entirely new kind of receiving instrument—the mirror galvanometer, introduced for long submarine telegraphs by the writer—at Valencia, the signals from the Newfoundland coils were found sufficient during the three weeks of successful working of the cable. It is quite certain that, with a properly adjusted mirror galvanometer as receiving instrument at each end, twenty cells of Daniell’s battery would have done all the work that was done, and at even a high speed, if worked by a key devised for diminishing inductive embarrassment, according to the indications of the mathematical theory; and the writer, with the knowledge derived from disastrous experience, has now little doubt but that, if such had been the arrangement from the beginning, if no induction coils and no battery power, either positive or negative, exceeding twenty cells of Daniell’s had ever been applied to the cable since the landing of its ends, imperfect as it then was, it would be now in full work day and night, with no prospect or probability of failure.
In 1863 a very unworthy attempt to revive an old sore was made by an anonymous article in The Electrician, vol. iv. p. 109, of July 10, purporting to quote a letter of Cyrus Field’s of September 8, 1858, containing a statement that Thomson’s system was “regarded by all practical telegraphers as perfectly childish.” In the issue for July 17, 1863, p. 132, Thomson replied that this alleged letter of Field’s was a forgery long ago disclaimed by Field; and in the number for July 31, p. 153, Field himself wrote, giving extracts from the New York Tribune of September 10, 1858, containing his repudiation.
Thomson returned to his winter’s work at Glasgow worn but not disheartened. Scotland welcomed him with no uncertain voice. Professor George Wilson of Edinburgh, lecturing on the Telegraph on November 6th, spoke of Thomson as the Columbus of this voyage, and compared him watching the quivering magnet of his galvanometer on board the Agamemnon with Columbus watching the compass needle on his ship four centuries before.
In acknowledgment of Professor Thomson’s services in connection with the Atlantic Telegraph a banquet was given to him by his fellow-citizens in the Queen’s Rooms, Glasgow, the Lord Provost in the chair, on January 20th, 1859; Professors Rankine, Rainy, and others, the Parliamentary representatives, and many prominent local leaders being present. The Lord Provost, in proposing the toast of his health, spoke of the event as a public proof of the esteem with which he was valued as Professor in the College, and as the most efficient scientific promoter of the great Transatlantic under taking. Professor Thomson had consented, along with Sir J. Anderson, M.P., and Mr. W. Logie, to act as Directors representing on the London Board the Scottish shareholders, and it would not be forgotten how considerable a share in the accomplishment of the great work he had had, as he was the only one of the Directors who had shared the dangers and hardships of the expeditions, the last of which had achieved success amid such universal enthusiasm as probably was never before called forth by anything short of a great national victory. He mentioned how, amongst the messages delivered before the cable broke down, there was one assuring the Cunard Company of the safety of the ship Arabia after collision off the banks of Newfoundland. He also read letters of regret from Mr. Stuart Wortley, and from Sir David Brewster, who was prevented from accepting the invitation to assist “in paying honour to one of the most distinguished philosophers that Scotland has produced, and one to whom those who are about to quit the field of labour willingly confide the scientific reputation of their country.”
Professor Thomson in replying to the toast said:—
In returning you my thanks for the honour you have done me this evening, my sense of what I owe to your kindness cannot but be intensified by the consideration that while in general success is the criterion which determines the approbation of the world, you have taken the rare and generous part of attributing merit to efforts which have resulted in failure. After the harassments and disappointments of a year, when wealth and labour, care and anxiety, skill and invention might appear to have been absolutely thrown away, and to have gone to swell the vast amount of profitless labour which is done under the sun, it is no small solace to meet with such sympathy as you now manifest. For the too generous construction which you have placed on my own part in these events I thank you with the deepest gratitude. At the same time, impressed as I am with a sense of the kindness which you have shown to me, I cannot but be aware that a feeling beyond anything personal to myself has influenced you, and that by your presence here this evening you show an interest in the great undertaking, animated by a conviction that the foundation of a real and lasting success is securely laid upon the ruins which alone are apparent as the results of the work hitherto accomplished. (Cheers.) Am I right in supposing that you entertain such a conviction? That you do entertain it, and that you have good reason for entertaining it, I firmly believe. What has been done can be done again, as marvellous as it is; improbable, impossible as it seemed only six months ago chimerical and merely visionary as such a project seemed ten short years earlier instantaneous communication between the Old and the New Worlds is now a fact. It has been attained. What has been done will be done again. The loss of a position gained is an event unknown in the history of man’s struggle with the forces of inanimate Nature.
If it will not be considered that I am trespassing on your patience too much, I shall endeavour to explain, in as few words as I can, something of the great physical problem which now stands solved before the world and ready for application to promote the national, commercial, and social interests of the countries on the two sides of the Atlantic. The difficulties to be overcome in establishing telegraphic communication with America have not been magnified in the popular imagination. It was indeed among men, the most profoundly versed in mechanical and electrical science, and men of the greatest experience in nautical, in engineering, and in telegraphic enterprises, that those difficulties were considered most formidable. The forces tending to break the cable in laying it across an ocean of such depth—even in the most favourable circumstances of weather—seemed to present an almost insurmountable obstacle to the project. What is known of hydrostatics and of the laws of fluid friction gave but little encouragement, and to get the cable laid unbroken in a dead calm was about as much as the most sanguine dared to hope for. But we were not all sure of a dead calm over the whole Atlantic every day of June. So we went out, praying for fair weather, to lay the cable. And after nearly losing it in a storm, before any attempt could be made to lay it, we had as fair weather as could be desired. We did at last recognise that promised feature of the Atlantic which is so often, by a slight stretch of imagination, compared to a mill-pond. But a smooth sea did not bring safety. The cable, running out under the most favourable circumstances, broke away once from the Niagara and once from the Agamemnon. Another time it was quite away from each ship in consequence of a sudden and total loss of electric communication in the part paid out.
After laying and losing 500 miles of cable in three successive trials the ships returned to Queenstown harbour. Permission having been granted by the Admiralty and the Board of Directors to renew the attempt, which seemed hopeless to all except those who had gained the experience by failures, the expedition again put to sea bound for the mid-ocean rendezvous. On 20th July the Agamemnon and Niagara lost sight of one another, steaming west and east with a thread between them, which was never broken, and now joins the Old and New Worlds. (Cheers.) Many important experiments, many exciting incidents, many periods of intense anxiety, some long intervals scarcely illuminated by a ray of hope, there were, which can never be forgotten by those who took part in the operations of the three Atlantic cruises of the telegraph ships. The raising of the splice from three miles depth in the Bay of Biscay was an unparalleled achievement of nautical mechanics. The Agamemnon, moving round within her own length, more like a living animal than a ship 270 feet long, did what could scarcely be expected even of “Sir Edmund Lyons’ brougham,” and during this evolution the passing of the cable from her stern to her bow, while it hung down with a strain of more than two tons, completed a performance which is not marvellous only to those ignorant of the difficulties attending such manoeuvres. But the story of the Agamemnon at sea has been so well told by the graphic pen of The Times correspondent that I need not weary you by a weak repetition of any part of it.
I cannot, however, refrain from alluding to that hopeless period when at the height of the gale in June the main coil—a thousand miles of cable—began to move in the Agamemnon’s hold. Each day the evil increased, and when the storm began to subside the precious freight seemed irretrievably ruined. Now it was that unflinching determination was tested, and Sir Charles Bright and Mr. Canning had a task before them such as few engineers have ever had to deal with, and boldly they faced it without a shadow of encouragement, except from their own investigations and their own conclusions as to the state of the unseen part of the cable. They began their labours while the storm in the hold was still exhausting its fury on the luckless wire, while the ship was still rolling so that men could scarcely stand; and almost as soon as the gale had subsided, “the Company’s men,” assisted by as many blue-jackets as could be spared from the still more important work on deck and aloft, had, not without danger and hard knocks, and even broken limbs, pulled out from the tangled mass one hundred miles of cable, weighing as many tons, and deposited it in clear coils, wherever in any part of the ship space and support could be had for such a load. By these efforts the cable was saved and a year gained, I believe, if only a year, in the first attainment of telegraphic communication with America. But looking under the all ruling Power to human agency, we must regard the skill, constancy, and unflinching performance of duty manifested by Captain Preedy, his officers and men, as having saved the ship and cable and all on board. (Great cheering.) I cannot pass from the Agamemnon without expressing the sense I entertain of the value of the assistance and support rendered by Captain Preedy to the engineers of the Company in some of their most difficult mechanical operations. The part taken in the actual laying of the cable by the officers and men under his command was, I believe, the most essential contribution towards the success which was achieved.
The electrical conditions of the grand problem strike the imagination even more than the mechanical difficulties thus so perfectly overcome. This line of metal, stretching away two thousand miles under the Atlantic, must convey the subtle influence. Touch our European end: a magnet must instantaneously move in America. Timed repetitions of the simple signal compose letters, words, and sentences, till ideas flow through the wire. Astonishing result of science, from which no degree of familiarity can remove wonder! The speed with which these operations may be performed, each giving its own distinct effect through ordinary land telegraphs suspended on poles in the air, or the shorter submarine lines, has no limits yet discovered; and signals succeeding each other more rapidly than the hand can send or the eye follow, can be turned to account by using the proper mechanism at each end. But if “quick as thought” is an inadequate expression for common telegraphic operations, even lightning becomes slow through the Atlantic telegraph. The most sudden electric shock at one end gives a sluggish, long protracted current through the other which, after a quarter of a minute, is still working its way feebly out of the wire. That such would be the action through a telegraphic cable of ordinary construction, connecting Britain and America, was pointed out by Faraday long before the existence of the Atlantic Telegraph Company. An exact mathematical investigation of the circumstances showed that a sufficiently large-sized conductor and insulating coat would entirely remedy the anticipated embarrassment. But a cable of such dimensions as the calculations showed to be required for signalling through two thousand miles at the rapid rate of our ordinary telegraph would be too unwieldy and too costly to be thought of in a first attempt. Therefore the Atlantic Telegraph Company, in adopting the improvement which I suggested, did not carry it further than to making the quantities of copper and of gutta-percha in any part of their cable nearly double of those in an equal length of any previously constructed telegraph line, so far at least as their first cable was concerned, and prudently, in my opinion, they left the further mitigation of the anticipated slowness to be worked out by improvements in the methods and instruments to be used for the transmission and the receipt of messages.
When the Niagara and Agamemnon, bearing the two halves of the cable from Birkenhead and Greenwich, met in Queenstown harbour on 29th July 1857, trials were made through the whole length of 2500 miles united in one conducting line, and the most unpalatable warnings of the mathematical theory were too surely fulfilled to the letter. This was only what was to be expected, but the result in reality was most satisfactory. Messages were transmitted with accuracy through the whole length by means of instruments constructed by Mr. Whitehouse for the Company, although not at the rate anticipated by those who ignored reason and trusted to fallacious experiments. Even the one word a minute which those trials seemed to promise is not to be regarded as a small result. Of what value would not sixty words every hour be, continued night and day between the Old and New Worlds? Who can put a limit to the value of two words transmitted in any two minutes when an ocean flows between? It is true that a sevenfold higher speed had been confidently promised, but that more than one word a minute was not to be had with the ordinary receiving instruments was finally learned by trials continued until the ships left Keyham Dockyard in May 1858. During the last four weeks of that period a new kind of receiving instrument and a new mode of working gave promise of a double or triple speed, and fulfilled theoretical estimates which had been published before the Atlantic Telegraph Company had commenced their undertaking.
It would be unsuitable to the present occasion that I should give any minute or detailed statement regarding different systems of telegraphic operations; but the general character of the difficulty at first denied, and the solution at last brought into practice with reference to the Atlantic Telegraph will be sufficiently understood if I am allowed to tax your patience with a few words of explanation. The long continued effect received at one end, which I have already described as the result of a sharp signal at the other, when the communication is through a submarine line of great length and of ordinary lateral dimensions, renders it necessary that time enough be given from signal to signal to allow each to show its effect distinctly at the remote end. Ordinary receiving instruments can only show fresh signals after being almost perfectly relieved from the residual effects of previous operations. An instrument capable of distinctly marking a new signal when still under the influence of ten-fold or twenty-fold accumulations or undischarged residues from currents which have already told their tale must obviously give a higher speed of working. It is thus that messages at the rate of two fully spelled words a minute without a doubtful letter were received through the submerged and failing cable. Another way of increasing the speed has been found by making each signal in such a manner that its effects may subside very rapidly after the first indication has been received at the remote end. By a combination of these two principles a considerably more rapid rate was obtained in the transmission of messages through three thousand miles of cable on board the ships at Devonport than afterwards, by the application of the former alone, was realised between Valencia and Newfoundland. There can be no doubt, however, but that the combined use of both principles will be found perfectly practicable whenever a cable in fair condition is available for telegraphic communication with America.
But I have forgotten how little these facts and these anticipations can interest you when no Atlantic cable exists from which useful work can be reasonably expected. When approaching Valencia on board the Agamemnon the last critical operation of changing from coil to coil was made, and the bight of cable came up easily and straightened itself quietly till the rope began running out with perfect smoothness in its new course through the ship. The enthusiastic clapping of hands and the three hearty cheers which resounded on all sides from the crowd of sailors and marines standing round anticipated the expressions of feeling which the electric nerves of Europe and America called forth on the following day, the ever memorable 5th of August 1858. (Cheers.) How much pleasure would have been lost if it had been known that after the 2nd of September the cable for all practical purposes would be worthless. “Prudens futuri temporis exitum; caliginosa nocte premit Deus.” The bewildering feeling of having done that which the sanguine scarcely hoped to do, and which nobody on shore considered possible; the excitement of bringing the end to land, and the delight of seeing the first words thrown from the needle in the Valencia instrument room—though these were only, “Please repeat slower”—were soon followed by the most harrowing anxiety.
The signals had been becoming very weak and vague during the days preceding that on which words began to come—so much so that the Niagara’s end run short and landed somewhere without battery or instruments was the only explanation suggested to obviate the conclusion that the insulation of the cable, which the tests had shown to be imperfect during the three days before the landing, must be rapidly deteriorating. When the signal currents came only one-thousandth of the strength which the battery power employed would have sent through a well-insulated line of the same length, they became lost in the earth currents; and disturbances owing to chemical action at the leak, and vague fluctuations of the needle (watched day and night by weary eyes in the now cheerless station-house at Valencia and the dismal swamp at the head of Bull’s Arm Bay), never even told whether electrical tides were ruled by the moon or sun.
Sooner or later we all believe another Atlantic cable will be laid, but will it last any longer? Will it do any more work than the one which has raised and cast down so many hopes? Will another experiment be another gigantic failure? And will material locomotion be again fallen back upon as the only means of communication between the Old and New Worlds? That the next trial will not be a failure no man living can say is more than probable; although on no one point can it be said that there is any insurmountable difficulty, and least of all on that which has proved the cause of ruin in the present case. Increased caution in the manufacture and preservation, even without improvements in the material of the insulating cover, with a more searching system of detection for faults, might, I believe, make very sure against any recurrences of such a failure. The great risk which the enterprise undeniably involves depends not on any one source of danger, but on the multiplied chances of accident inseparable from the exposure of so great a length of cable to so great a variety of contingencies.
You have spoken of the sacrifices I made to give my assistance in the undertaking. If I have made sacrifices, so have all the Atlantic Telegraph Company. The cheerful and uncomplaining spirit with which an apparently total loss of interest and capital has been met by the subscribers to the Atlantic Telegraph most forcibly demonstrates the high character of the motives with which they have entered upon an undertaking of which the success would have been of such large benefit to mankind. It is true that sacrifices have been made by those who have been most closely connected with the work. I shall always esteem it as an honour to have belonged to the Board of Directors, and in this capacity to have acted along with men who have devoted them selves with so much earnestness and at so great personal sacrifices to carry into execution a project of such high national importance. Under circumstances of the greatest discouragement the Directors have persevered with an untiring energy and undaunted resolution worthy of the great enterprise. Many among them continue day after day, and month after month, sacrificing their own convenience and setting aside their own business avocations to promote the interests of the Company. The unremitting daily attention given by the Executive Committee, the zealous co-operation of the general manager, Mr. Cyrus W. Field, and the able and energetic services of the secretary, Mr. Saward, may well be remembered with gratitude both now and when the final and complete success is attained. Nor in speaking of an undertaking in which all mankind are interested, would I omit to claim for our own city its contribution to the general resources; to the assistance of students of the University of Glasgow, and to the high ability and energy of Glasgow instrument makers, by whom scientific principles, novel in conception, were understood and carried out with extraordinary promptitude, we are indebted for the realisation of ideas which, without the aid of the practical element, must have remained powerless to achieve material results.
In conclusion, Professor Thomson again returned thanks for the honour which they had done him. It was an honour which he did not expect, and which he did not think he was entitled to receive. The learned Professor sat down amid loud cheering.—From the “Glasgow Herald” 21st January 1859.
“That is a noble speech of William Thomson’s, so like himself. I have sent it to Thackeray. You may well be all proud of him.” So wrote Dr. John Brown to James Crum, on January 24. What Thackeray’s comment was is unknown; but we have heard already, p. 324, what a high opinion of Thomson he entertained.
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