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

Edward Orange Wildman Whitehouse

Edward Orange Wildman Whitehouse – “Wildman Whitehouse” as he generally styled himself – was a surgeon by profession and an electrical experimenter by avocation. In 1856 he was appointed Electrician to the Atlantic Telegraph Company and was responsible for the testing of the 1857/58 cables, and for the design and operation of the equipment which would transmit the telegraph signals between Ireland and Newfoundland.

Whitehouse’s signature from his membership form for the Society of Telegraph Engineers in 1871. Whitehouse was a founding member of the Society, now the IET.

It has been generally accepted that Whitehouse’s insistence on using high voltage induction coils was the primary cause of the failure of the cable, although recent research has shown several contributing factors which were out of his control. When difficulties arose in operating the cable, the Board of Directors of the Company fired Whitehouse (on 17 August 1858) and issued a statement censuring him. Whitehouse replied publicly to this, initially through a series of letters in the British newspapers Daily News and The Times. Soon afterwards the rebuttal was published by Whitehouse as a pamphlet; the diatribe probably did not help his case.

Undated photograph of Whitehouse, courtesy of Allan Green

After the Atlantic cable failure Whitehouse had only one further involvement in the cable industry: in 1861 he was consultant for several months on the Malta-Alexandria cable project for Glass, Elliot, & Co., on which he worked with Henry Clifford.

Little has been written of Whitehouse’s life before and after the Atlantic cable; what is known, or can be found in public records, is given here.

Whitehouse was clearly a man of great scientific curiousity, making contributions to medicine, telegraphy, astronomy and meteorology. He was issued 35 patents between 1848 and the early 1880s, for inventions ranging from telegraphy to roller skates. Details of Whitehouse’s telegraph patents are shown below, and a full list is on the main patent page.

Given his continued relationship with William Thomson and Latimer Clark (and the Telegraphers in general) it seems he retained considerable respect among his peers through the 1870s. This is not the version that “history” has handed down.

An exemplar of the Victorian gentleman scientist, Whitehouse had the added advantage of his medical training, and perhaps, on the Atlantic cable project, the disadvantage of a surgeon’s belief in his own omnipotence. His many achievements have been overshadowed by the almost exclusively negative reports on his Atlantic cable work, echoed by successive writers down to the present time. It’s clear that his own reaction to criticism was largely responsible for this, but one must wonder how much he was made a scapegoat for the failure of the cable in 1858.

--Bill Burns and Steven Roberts

Research Request

Allan Green is researching Wildman Whitehouse’s induction coils. If any site visitor has further information on Whitehouse’s large induction coils please contact Allan via the Atlantic Cable website.

Wildman Whitehouse Chronology

1816 1 October. Born in Liverpool.
[Allan Green: Whitehouse family documents, by email, January 2009]
1836-38 Articled Student of Royal College of Surgeons.
[In the report on Whitehouse’s “New Casts for Anatomical Specimens”, published in Transactions of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture, and Commerce during the session 1837-8, Whitehouse signs himself thus. The Transactions also notes that Whitehouse’s "Samples of his Method of making Casts from soft Anatomical Specimens" were “received during the session 1836-37”]
1838 Letter to the Editor: “New Casts for Anatomical Specimens” by W. Whitehouse.
[Medical Gazette, 29 September 1838]
1838 Awarded Silver Medal of the Society of Arts: “Mr. Wildman Whitehouse, Francis-terrace, Kentish-town...for his method of making casts from morbid anatomical preparations”.
[The Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c. for the year 1838, pp. 376-377].
1838-39 September 1838. Residing at 8 Brunswick Square, London WC1. Nominated to University College London by J P Vincent Esq. Subjects studied in 1838-39: Anatomy & Physiology, Practical Anatomy, Medicine, Chemistry, Midwifery, Medical Jurisprudence, Botany.
John Painter Vincent was a notable surgeon of the day, and a Shareholder at UCL.
[UCL Records Office, by email, January 2009]
1839-40 Residing at 23 Henrietta Street, London WC2. Subjects studied in 1839-40: Practical Anatomy, Medicine, Midwifery, Anatomy & Physiology.
[UCL Records Office, by email, January 2009]
1840 4 August. Admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons.
[Medical Times, No. 46 Vol II. 8 August 1840]
Whitehouse had trained as a surgeon, but gave up his practice in the 1850s when he became interested in electricity and telegraphy. He is often referred to as “Dr. Whitehouse” in contemporary accounts of the Atlantic cable project.
1840 Awarded a silver medal by University College London for Second Prize in Practice of Medicine.
[Medal sold at auction, March 2006].
The UCL Annual Report for 1841 records the names of winners of numerous gold and silver medals, and first, second and third certificates. In the Faculty of Medicine, Class of Principles and Practice of Medicine, Session 1839-40, Wildman Whitehouse was awarded the First Silver Medal, the second prize in this class.
[UCL Annual Report, 1841]

Cuncti Adsint
Meritaeque Expectent Praemia Palmae

Let all come who by merit deserve the most reward. 1828

2nd Prize

University College London
Session 1839-40
Awarded to
Wildman Whitehouse
Practice of Medicine
Second Prize

1840 29 October. Awarded Certificate of the Society of Apothecaries.
[The London Medical Gazette, 6 November 1840]
1841 Employed as House Surgeon at Sussex County Hospital.
[Census, 6 June 1841]
Elected House Surgeon on 31st March 1841 at a salary of £90-0-0 per annum. Although Whitehouse’s departure is not minuted a Mr Lowdell was appointed House Surgeon on Dec 8th 1842.
[Hospital Archives via Allan Green, 6 May 2009]
1842 Review of Whitehouse’s “An Essay on the Nature of Epidemic, Endemic and Contagious Poisons” published in The Medical Times. The review notes that the essay was written while Whitehouse was an Articled Student of the Royal College of Surgeons and Member of the University College Medical Society.
[The Medical Times, 14 May 1842].
1844 Recorded as Member of the Brighton chapter of the Sydenham Society. The Sydenham Society was, essentially, a medical book club. Founded in 1843, the Society offered to its members medical books in translation, and otherwise unavailable classics of medicine.
[Animal Chemistry. With Reference to the Physiology and Pathology of Man. Dr. J. Franz Simon. London. Printed for the Sydenham Society, 1845]
1848 Signed a Memorial in Favour of the Proposition of the Colleges for the Settlement of the Question of Medical Reform as E. Wildman Whitehouse, M.R.C.S. L.S.A., Brighton (Member of the Royal College of Surgeons and Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries)
[The London Medical Gazette. 19 May 1848].
1852 19 October. Partnership of Richard Price Philpott, Edward Orange Wildman Whitehouse, and Samuel King Scott, Brighton, Sussex, dissolved.
[London Gazette]
1853 Awarded first patent, on telegraphic communications.
(See Patents section below)
1855 May. Demonstrated his Electric Harmoniograph at the Royal Polytechnic Institution:
“The last work of interest inspected by the Royal visitors was a scientific application to pianofortes and harmoniums, ‘The Electric Harmoniograph,’ invented by Wildman Whitehouse, Esq., of Brighton. It records all the music which is played on the instruments, and will be very useful to those who have neither time, nor, probably, the aptitude required for attempting written compositions.”
[The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, Vol. 7, No. 146 (Jun. 1, 1855), pp. 28-29].

Experimented with long telegraph cables and developed large induction coils. Whitehouse’s patent 2,617 of 1855 has a section titled “Improvements in induction coils”.

An article published in the Illustrated London News on 6 October 1855 described Whitehouse’s experiments on the Mediterranean Electric Telegraph Company’s cable prior to its being laid. Whitehouse had his paper printed for private circulation that same month.

1855 Elected Member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
[Report of the Thirty-Fourth Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1865].
1856 March. Demonstrated his Electric Harmoniograph at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton.
[The Art-Journal, April 1, 1856, p.117].
1856 21 August. “Mr Wildman Whitehouse, for many years a distinguished member of the medical profession of Brighton, has, we understand, given up the practice of medicine, and left Brighton in order to direct his talents to the perfection and extension of the Electric Telegraph, in which branch of science Mr Whitehouse has already made several important discoveries.”
[Brighton Gazette].
1856 29 September. Entered into an agreement with Cyrus Field, Charles Bright, and John Watkins Brett “with the view and for the purpose of forming a company for establishing and working electric telegraphic communication between Newfoundland and Ireland, such company to be called the ‘Atlantic Telegraph Company,’ or by such other name as the parties hereto shall jointly agree upon.”
See the 1856 prospectus for more information.
1856 22 November. Dinner with Scottish industrialist and philanthropist Sir Michael Connal. Whitehouse had perhaps met Connal at the meeeting of the British Association in Glasgow the previous year.
“Had Dr. Wildman Whitehouse at dinner on Saturday, 22nd November. Showed specimens of shells drawn from depths of the Atlantic. Attended meeting about the Atlantic Telegraph in Council Hall on Wednesday, the 9th November .”
[Diary of Sir Michael Connal 1835 to 1893, John C. Giboson, Glasgow, 1895].
1856-58 Atlantic cable work. See details in Additional Reading section below.
1857 2 March. Elected Member of the Royal Institution.
[Notices of the Proceedings at the Meetings of the Members of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, Vol II 1854-1858].
1857 Devised the Whitehouse Perpetual Maintenance Battery.
[Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts. Volume VII, Number 190, Saturday, August 22, 1857]
1858 22-29 September. Presented five papers on the Atlantic cable at the annual meeting of the British Association.
1859 15 December. Gave evidence before the Joint Committee Appointed by the Lords of the Committee of the Privy Council for Trade and the Atlantic Telegraph Company to Inquire into the Construction of Submarine Telegraph Cables.
1859-60 Associated with the Telegraph(ic) Cable Company, Millwall. "Some short while after the cessation of signals through the Atlantic cable an opposition company was started by Mr. F.N. Gisborne, Mr. Croskey, Mr. Magnus and Mr. Whitehouse, for the purpose of establishing telegraphic communication with Canada by way of the Straits of Belle Isle..."
The company proved unsuccessful, and its assets were sold at auction in July 1861.
[The Mechanics’ Magazine, p.24, 12 July 1861]
The British Archives has a record for the company as BT 31/410/1579; No. of Company: 1579; Telegraph Cable Company Ltd. 1859.

Consultant for a good part of the year on the Malta-Alexandria cable for Glass, Elliot, & Co.
18 May. At Valetta, Malta:
“Mr. Wildman Whitehouse ... has arrived here on the part of Messrs. Glass, Elliot, and Co.
[The Times, 23 May 1861]

5 July. At Malta:
“The English screw steamer Rangoon...arrived on Monday night ... The Rangoon, having on board Messrs. Canning, Clifford, Dr. Whitehouse, De Sauty ... started on the following day [6 July] ... paying out the cable.”
[Malta Times, 18 July 1861, via The Times]

27 August, in Paris at the Hotel du Louvre with Henry Clifford:
“Dr Whitehouse has many cases of Electrical Instruments which seem to require much looking at by the officers here. Unfortunately many are broken owing to the rough treatment they got on the journey.”
[Clifford Family History, Henry Dalton Clifford, unpublished typescript, page 184].
7 November, leaving Malta:
“Mediterranean Telegraphs. Dr Whitehouse, under whose able superintendence the electrical department for Messrs. Glass, Elliot, and Co., has been conducted, took his departure on Friday last ... for England, via Marseilles, his mission being fulfilled.”
[Malta Times, 7 Nov 1861, via The Times]

1862 Early 1862, exact date unknown. Visited Latimer Clark’s London office. Finding Clark absent, Whitehouse left a note before returning to Brighton by train:
“Let me remind you of the ‘joint testing’ which you can [use] for your lengthy Red Sea line during its manufacture at Glass’s without any charge for royalty or otherwise - as their arrangement with me includes it. - You have only to write and request it to be done.”
This was probably written early in 1862 when the Telegraph to India Company’s Red Sea cable was in manufacture at Glass Elliot’s works. Bright & Clark were the India Company’s engineers. Whitehouse refers to his patent 2,027 of 1860 on testing joints made when connecting lengths of submarine cable at the factory.
1862 19 March. Elected Member of the Meteorological Society, listed as Wm. O. Wildman Whitehouse.
[Proceedings of the Meteorological Society, Vol I, 1863]
1862 26 March. Attended a “Telegraphic Soirée, given by Samuel Gurney, Esq., M.P., At 25, Prince’s Gate, Hyde Park”.
“With a view of drawing particular attention to the increased facilities for accomplishing, and the great political and commercial requirement now presented, for again uniting Great Britain and America by the electric telegraph, Mr. Samuel Gurney, M.P. issued invitations for a conversazione on this important object”.
1868 Listed as a Director of the Residual Products Company Ltd, of which Whitehouse’s long-time associate Samuel Elkens Phillips was Secretary. The purpose of the company was to exploit several patents relating to the use of “certain vegetable and bituminous products”; one of the patents (April 23 1868—No. 1336. Joseph Rogers) referred to “a material suitable for coating telegraphic wires”. It is not known if the company ever made any products - no accounts were filed after (and possibly before) 1870, and the firm was was wound up in 1883.
[Notes from Martin E. Phillips, 2016]
1869 Elected to Council of the Meteorological Society.
[Proceedings of the Meteorological Society, Vol IV, 1869]
Member of Council in 1870, 1872, 1874, 1875 also.
[Scientific Opinion, Vol III, 1870 p. 553; Nature, 29 January 1874; Nature, 28 January 1875].
1870 6 December. Elected Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers (resigned 1877).
[Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Vol XXI; 1871, Vol LI, 1878]
1871 Founding member of the Society of Telegraph Engineers.
[The History of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, Rollo Appleyard, London, IEE, 1939]. “Mr. Wildman Whitehouse, who occupied the Chair at the inaugural meeting, had already attained to distinction as a submarine telegraph engineer...”
1872 28 February. Attended first regular general meeting of the newly-formed Society of Telegraph Engineers, held at the Institution of Civil Engineers, London.
[Morning Post, 29 February 1872].
1872 Proposed for election to the Royal Society.
[Proceedings of the Royal Society, 7 March 1872].
1872 13 December. Elected Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.
[Monthly Notices of the Roya lAstronomical Society, Vol. XXXIII No. 2, December 1872].
1875 Again proposed for election to the Royal Society.
[Proceedings of the Royal Society, 4 March 1875].
1875 12 June. Described at the Physical Society “some experiments he had made on the electrical conductivity of graphite.” [The full report shows that the material was actually glass]
[Nature, 17 June 1875].
1876 8 June. Admitted as Fellow of the Royal College Of Surgeons.
“At the last meeting of the Council, Mr. Edward Orange Wildman Whitehouse, of Hurling, Sussex, was admitted a Fellow of the College, his diploma of Membership bearing date June 8, 1876”.
[Medical Times and Gazette, 1876 Vol II]
1876 Exhibited “Several Thermographs” at a meeting of the Meteorological Society.
[Quarterly Journal of the Meteorological Society,Vol III, 1877].
1877 Obtained permission “to disinter the remains (skeletons)” of casualties of the Civil War, found on the South Downs on the estate of Mrs Fetherstonhaugh. Whitehouse resided at Down Place, South Harting, at the time.
[Further Traces, on the South Downs, of the Winter Campaign of the Civil War of 1643. Rev. H.D. Gordon. Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol XXVIII, 1878].
1879-83 Corresponded with telegraph historian John J. Fahie about his work on the Atlantic cable project. Full transcripts of Whitehouse’s letters to Fahie are at the link above, and provide an interesting insight into the authorship of the 1867 book The Atlantic Telegraph: A History of Preliminary Experimental Proceedings...,
1881 Listed as a member of the Society of Telegraph Engineers, residing at Down Place, Harting, Petersfield; an asterisk against Whitehouse’s name indicated that he had served on the Council.
[Journal of the Society of Telegraph Engineers and of Electricians, Vok X, 1881]
1882-83 Listed in The Naturalists’ Directory as E.O. Wildman Whitehouse, Down Place, Petersfield, Hants.
[The International Scientists’ Directory. Boston, Samuel Cassino, 1882]
1885 Listed in the Electricians’ Directory as E.O. Wildman Whitehouse, 19 Salisbury Road, West Brighton.
[The Electricians’ Directory with Handbook for 1885]
1890 26 January. Died at his home in Brighton, aged 73.
Whitehouse was a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons; Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries; Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society; Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers; Founding Member of the Society of Telegraphic Engineers (later the IEE, now the IET); and a Member of the Royal Institution, the Royal Meteorological Society, the Physical Society, and the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Telegraph Patents
(a separate page lists all Whitehouse’s patents)

1853 12 December 2,885 Improvements in effecting telegraphic communication. A chemical telegraph requiring a six wire circuit, with 64 keys, also records the words of a speaker and music. See Whitehouse’s Electric Harmoniograph of 1855 for an application of this patent.
1854 2 June 1,225 Effecting telegraphic communication
An improved chemical telegraph, the “magneto-electric decomposition printer” and a new relay
1855 20 November 2,617 Improvements in electro-telegraphic apparatus, parts of which are also applicable to other purposes. Igniting fuses of ordnance and charges in mines.
Induction coils and relays (the “Atlantic Relay”), needle and dial telegraphs
1856 21 July 1,726 An improvement in the arrangements for or working of electric telegraphs (with Samuel Statham of Islington)
Proposing a common return wire for several circuits. Provisional protection only
1860 1 August 1,862 Testing insulated conductors
1860 23 August 2,027 Improvements in testing insulated conductors.
This invention refers to testing the joints of electric telegraph cables.
1868 21 October 3,224 A new (or improved) mode of protecting insulated telegraph wires.
1869 15 June US 91,393 Improved mode of protecting insulated telegraph wires.
United States patent with claims almost identical to those of Whitehouse’s 1868 GB patent 3,224 above.
1871 29 July 1,998 Improvement in receiving and recording instruments for electric telegraphs, and in the utilisation of Earth Currents at Telegraphic Receiving Stations


1838 Letter from Whitehouse: “New Casts for Anatomical Specimens”, 4 Francis Terrace, Kentish Town, 18 April 1838.
[Transactions of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture, and Commerce during the session 1837-8]
1838 Letter to the Editor: “Casts of Anatomical Specimens” by Wildman Whitehouse, Liverpool, September 13, 1838..
[The London Medical Gazette, 29 September 1838]
c. 1839 “An Essay on the Nature of Epidemic, Endemic and Contagious Poisons.” Written while Whitehouse was an Articled Student of the Royal College of Surgeons and Member of the University College Medical Society. A review of the essay was published in 1842 in The Medical Times.
[The Medical Times, 14 May 1842].
1855 Experimental observations on an electric cable.”
Presented at the Glasgow meeting of the British Association, 12-19 September 1855. A short summary of Whitehouse’s presentation; see the next entry for the full text of the paper.
[British Association Reports, 25, 1855, pp. 23-24]
1855 Report of a Series of Experimental Observations on Two Lengths of Electric Cable, Containing, in the Aggregate, 1,125 Miles of Wire.”
[23 pp. 5 plates. Brighton 1855. Listed in Catalogue of the Wheeler Gift as item 4539].
Whitehouse’s self-published pamphlet containing the full text of his British Association paper.
1855 An article and letter published in the Illustrated London News on 6 October 1855 described Whitehouse’s experiments on the Mediterranean Electric Telegraph Company’s cable prior to its being laid.
1856 On the Construction and Use of an Instrument for determining the Value of Intermittent or Alternating Electric Currents for purposes of Practical Telegraphy.
[British Association Reports 1856 Part 2, pp. 19-21].
1856 The Law of the Squares: Is it applicable or not to the Transmission of Signals in Submarine Circuits?
[British Association Reports 1856 Part 2, pp. 21-23].
1856 A letter and article published in the Illustrated London News on 13 September 1856 described the method and apparatus used to take soundings on the proposed route for the Atlantic Telegraph.
1857 Reports and Opinions in Reference to the Selection
of the Best Point for Laying the Cable. July, 1857
Whitehouse contributed to this discussion among the principals and employees of the Atlantic Telegraph Company.
[Bound with the copy at Cornell University Library of: Report by Mr Scudamore on the Re-Organization of the Telegraph System of the United Kingdom. Presented to the House of Commons by Command of Her Majesty, Frank Ives Scudamore, 1871 HMSO.]
1858 Atlantic Telegraph Instruments.
British Association.
[The Mechanics’ Magazine, p.395, 23 October 1858]
1858 Testing Submarine Cables.
British Association.
[The Mechanics’ Magazine, p. 417, 30 October 1858]
1858 The Keyham Experiments on the Atlantic Cable.
British Association.
[The Mechanics’ Magazine, p.366, 16 October 1858]
1858 Electric Telegraph Conductors.
British Association.
[The Mechanics’ Magazine, p. 418, 30 October 1858]
1858 Electric Telegraph Insulators: Effect of Temperature on the Insulating Power of Gutta Percha.
British Association.
[The Mechanics’ Magazine, p.396, 23 October 1858]
1858 Reply to the Statement of the Directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Company...
A pamphlet published by Whitehouse on 27 September 1858; a compendium of letters he had written to English newspapers defending his position on the failure of the 1858 Atlantic cable.
[Printed by Bradbury & Evans, Whitefriars. 28pp., 1858].
1858 Recent Correspondence between Mr. Wildman Whitehouse and the Atlantic Telegraph Company with an Appendix Containing Every Telegram and Letter for Reference
A pamphlet published by Whitehouse as a follow up to the above.
[Printed by Bradbury & Evans, Whitefriars. 37pp., 1858].
1858 Atlantic Telegraph: Letter from a Shareholder to Mr Whitehouse, and His Reply
A pamphlet published by Whitehouse towards the end of 1858, contents as described by the title.
[Printed by Bradbury & Evans, Whitefriars. 11pp., 1858].
1871 On a new Instrument for recording minute Variations of Atmospheric Pressure.” (also listed as “Differential microbarograph for recording minute Variations of Atmospheric Pressure.”)
[Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Vol 19, p. 491, 1871].
1872 On a new hygrometer.”
[Quarterly Journal of the Meteorological Society, N.S. Vol 1, pp 63-69, London 1872].
This paper was read before the Royal Society by Sir William Thomson on 6 January 1872.
1875 12 June. Physical Society: “On the Electrical Conductivity of Glass,” by Mr Wildman Whitehouse.
[The Chemical News, 11 June 1875].

Personal Life

1816 Born in Liverpool, Lancashire, 1 October 1816.
[Allan Green: Whitehouse family documents]
1836-38 Articled Student of Royal College of Surgeons.
1840 Graduated from University College London. Admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons on 4 August 1840.
1841 6 June
Census: at Sussex County Hospital.
Age 25. House Surgeon.
1847 16 December
Age 31.
Marriage to Emma Parry, age ~18:
[The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 183, March 1848 p.303: “Marriages: 16 [Dec 1847] At Southampton, Wildman Whitehouse, esq. surgeon, of Montpellier road, Brighton, to Emma, youngest dau. of William Harvey Parry, esq. of Montague-sq.”]
Free BMD Marriage Index has his name as “Whitehorne”. This was correctly transcribed from an error in the original document.
1849 14 March
Birth of daughter Adele Emma Wildman Whitehouse (see 1851 census below).
[Blackwood’s Lady’s Magazine, April 1849, page 164: “On the 14th ult., the lady of Wildman Whitehouse, Esq., of Brighton, of a daughter”].
1851 30 March
Census: at Montpellier Road, Brighton.
Age 34. Surgeon.
Married to Emma age 22.
Also on census:
Adele [Emma Wildman] Whitehouse age 2, daughter.
Whitehouse’s sister Mary (a widow at age 28), niece Bertha and nephew George.
Four servants.
1855 Residing at Bexley-place, Greenwich, Kent
[British Association records]
1857 On applying for membership of the Royal Institution gave his address as 16 Hyde Vale, Blackheath [R.I. records].
He was elected a member on 2 March that year.
1858 Portrait of “Mrs. Wildman Whitehouse” by miniature painter Charles J. Basebé exhibited at the Royal Academy.
[The Royal Academy of Arts. A Complete Dictionary of Contributors... Vol I. Algernon Graves, 1905.]

“Mrs. Wildman Whitehouse” by Charles J. Basebé. This is Emma, Wildman’s first wife. Richard Orange-Bromehead believes that this was probably painted in 1847 on the occasion of her marriage, as she was from a well-to-do family.
Image courtesy of Richard Orange-Bromehead

1861 7 April
No entries for Whitehouse or his family. He may have been abroad at the time, consulting on the Malta-Alexandria cable for Glass, Elliot, although Henry Clifford (one of the engineers on the project, along with Samuel Canning) was in London on census day, and the first newspaper report of Whitehouse’s involvement with this cable is dated 18 May (see above).
1862 12 February
Death of Emma Whitehouse, aged 33, at York Lodge, Brighton.
[Hampshire Advertiser, 15 February 1862]
1864 27 October
Age 48.
Marriage to Hannah Statham age 26. Hannah was the daughter of Samuel Statham of the Gutta Percha Company. She died in 1869.
[Marriage records, Islington; Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 01 November 1864.]

Witehouse, ingenieur electricien du cable atlantique.

Undated portrait of Whitehouse, published in 1868 in an article on the Atlantic cable in Les Merveilles de la Science. His name is mis-spelled “Witehouse” throughout the article.

1865 25 September
Birth of son Arthur S[tatham] Wildman Whitehouse
[Who Was Who: A Companion to Who’s Who Containing the Biographies of Those who Died During the Period 1897-1915 Published by A. & C. Black, 1967 (but see note below at 1884 on Arthur’s date of death)].
1868 2 February
Birth of daughter Hilda Mary Wildman Whitehouse (died 1903)
[Richard Orange-Bromehead]
21 October
Residing at Stoke Newington, Middlesex
[patent records]
1869 11 April
Death of Hannah Statham, aged 31, at Stoke Newington. Whitehouse's residence given as Fairview, Hawkhurst, Kent.
[Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, Saturday 17 April 1869; The Register and Magazine of Biography, May 1869]
1870 9 August
Age 54.
Marriage of Wildman Whitehouse of Hampstead to Eliza Jane Palmer age 31.
[Marriage records, Towcester; Bedfordshire Mercury, 13 August 1870]
1871 2 April
Census: at Rosslyn Hill House, Hampstead.
Age 54. M.R.C.S. London, not practising.
Married to Eliza Jane age 32.
Also on census:
Edith Emma Wildman Whitehouse age 32, daughter [but see note below].
Arthur S[tatham] Wildman Whitehouse age 5, son.
Hilda M. Wildman Whitehouse age 3, daughter.
Three servants.

Wildman Whitehouse
in an undated portrait photograph

1881 3 April
Census: at Down Place, Harting. In a letter to JJ Fahie dated September 1879, Whitehouse says “here I have been now nearly three years”.
[IET Archives]
Age 64. Fellow of College of Surgeons, London, not practising.
Married to [Eliza] Jane age 42.
Also on census:
Hilda Whitehouse age 13, daughter.
Four servants.

21 March
Death of Whitehouse’s sister Charlotte Mary Gorst at Saxby Rectory, Melton Mowbray, aged 73.
[London Gazette, 28 May 1886]


3 September
Letter from Down Place to JJ Fahie:
“We are almost in the throes of removal to Brighton - where we have taken a house from Michaelmas for seven years.”
[IET Archives]


23 October
Whitehouse’s son Arthur Statham Wildman Whitehouse, aged 19, was matriculated at Oriel College, Oxford (from Winchester), and was a scholar there from 1884-1886.
[Alumni Orgonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford 1715-1886. Vol. IV, 1888]
Elected Scholar, 20 Feb. 1884, from Winchester College: admitted, 10 Oct.: Caution received, £10.Third Class in Classical Moderations, 1886. Name removed, 24 June 1887.
[Registrum Orielense. Oriel College, 1902]
To U.S.A.; cattle-ranching. Deceased. [but see below]
[Winchester College, 1836-1906: a register. Winchester, 1907, p. 365 ]

29 May 1886, Arthur appointed Lieutenant in 1st Oxfordshire (Oxford University) [London Gazette, 28 May 1886]

Contrary to the statement in the Winchester College Register, Richard Orange-Bromehead notes that Arthur returned from the USA to Glasgow on 6 May 1927 and died on 23 May 1944 at Bearsden, near Glasgow. He was Principal of the Glasgow Veterinary College at the time of his death.
[Confirmed by London Gazette, 3 June 1927; The Scotsman, Thursday 25 May 1944; Scottish death records].
The following details of Arthur Whitehouse’s life in America are from research based on documents very kindly provided by John Beyer of Laramie.
Whitehouse arrived in the USA on July 15th 1887 and settled in Wyoming. He wrote a codicil to his will at Laramie in 1888, and worked as a cattle rancher there until at least 1897, when he and his wife leased 8,000 acres of pasture to a sheep farmer for a year. By 1907 he was a practising veterinary surgeon in Laramie (as “A.W. Whitehouse”). He returned to Britain for further qualifications, receiving a B.A. at Oxford in 1919, and is subsequently listed as Professor of Anatomy at the State Agricultural College, Fort Collins, Colorado, school year 1922/23, although his 1944 obituary notes that he was appointed Principal of the Glasgow Veterinary College in 1922. On the 1910 and 1920 US Census his wife is recorded as Sara Whitehouse (profession in 1920, “Artist: Portrait Painting”); she was two years younger than Arthur . No children are listed.

Arthur and Sara Whitehouse, from a 1921 US passport application

1890 26 January
Edward Orange Wildman Whitehouse died at age 73 at Salisbury Road, Brighton, and was buried in the town’s extramural cemetery.
[Death records, Steyning]
1890 15 May
Death of Whitehouse’s widow Eliza Jane at Andermatt, Switzerland.
[Sussex Agricultural Express, 24 May 1890]
1893 12 February
Marriage of Whitehouse’s younger daughter Hilda Mary at Brecon to Percy Lamb.
[Morning Post (London), 23 February 1893

Wildman Whitehouse was married three times, each time to a woman younger than himself—by 12, 22 and 22 years respectively. He had a daughter Adele by his first wife Emma in 1849; a son Arthur by his second wife Hannah in 1865, and a daughter Hilda by Hannah in 1868. He had no children with his third wife, Eliza Jane.

The 1871 census also records a daughter named Edith Emma Wildman Whitehouse, aged 32 and born in Brighton. This would put her birth date in 1839 when Whitehouse would have been 23 years of age and a medical student at University College London. However, I can find no record of an earlier marriage for Whitehouse than that of 1847 to Emma Parry, no birth record for an Edith Whiteshouse around 1839, and no appearance of her name on any prior or subsequent census. Given this, it is perhaps possible that the census taker recorded the name as Edith Emma Wildman age 32 (born Brighton) instead of Adele Emma Wildman age 22 (also born Brighton). This is supported by Adele’s name not appearing here or elsewhere on the 1871 census.

Wildman Whitehouse and Lady Byron

On the front page of the Atlantic Cable website is displayed a stock certificate for the Atlantic Telegraph Company dated 19th May 1858. These shares were owned by Lady Byron, and I have always wondered how she came to invest in the great cable venture.

Image courtesy of Jim Kreuzer

Bruce Hunt notes that Wildman Whitehouse was a good friend at Brighton of the famous clergyman Frederick William Robertson (1816-1853), known as “Robertson of Brighton”; they were neighbors on Montpellier Road in Brighton. When Whitehouse died in 1890 he was buried near Robertson’s grave in the Brighton Extramural Cemetery.

Lady Byron was a very great admirer of Robertson’s as well (and according to some accounts, rather more than just an admirer) and there is little doubt that she knew Whitehouse, since they all moved in the same circles in Brighton. It seems likely that it was through Whitehouse that Lady Byron was led to make her ill-fated investment in the Atlantic Telegraph Company.

Additional Reading

Transcribed here in chronological order for easy reference are original writings by Wildman Whitehouse, historical documents on Whitehouse and his work, and articles and papers by Stewart Ash, Donard de Cogan, Allan Green, Bruce J. Hunt, and Steven Roberts, which appear by kind permission of their authors.

Whitehouse’s Patents - complete list, including non-telegraph patents.

Whitehouse’s Electric Harmoniograph.
[The Musical Times and Singing Class Circulars, June 1, 1855]

Experimental Observations on Two Lengths of Submarine Electric Cable. Paper on his experiments with long cables, presented to the British Association meeting in 1855 and subsequently privately published by Whitehouse.

The Atlantic Telegraph. Cyrus Field’s 1856 prospectus for the company defines Whitehouse’s role and terms of remuneration.

The Whitehouse Perpetual Maintenance Battery.
[Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts. Volume VII, Number 190, 1857]

Whitehouse contributed to a discussion among the principals and employees of the Atlantic Telegraph Company: Reports and Opinions in Reference to the Selection of the Best Point for Laying the Cable. July, 1857.

Extract from The Atlantic Telegraph: A History of Preliminary Experimental Proceedings..., a book published in 1857 by the Atlantic Telegraph Company, which gives further details of Whitehouse’s transmitting apparatus.

Allan Green’s notes on and transcript of a letter from William Thomson to the Board of the Atlantic Telegraph Company dated August 21st 1858

Allan Green’s Further Evidence in the Defence of Wildman Whitehouse?

Edward O.W. Whitehouse: The Atlantic Telegraph. The Rise, Progress, and Development of its Electrical Department. Published by the author, 18 September 1858. Whitehouse’s story of his involvement in the Atlantic cable project and the beginning of the defence of his actions.

Papers presented by Whitehouse at the annual meeting of the British Association, August 1856. Two papers, including “The Law of the Squares” in rebuttal of William Thomson.

Papers presented by Whitehouse at the annual meeting of the British Association, 22-29 September 1858. Five papers on the theory, testing, and working of the Atlantic cable.

Edward O.W. Whitehouse: Reply to the Statement of the Directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Company.... Published by the author, 27 September 1858. Whitehouse’s defence of his operation of the 1858 cable, reprinted from his letters to the Daily News and The Times.

John W. Brett: The Atlantic Telegraph. Brett’s response and counter to Whitehouse’s letters to the Daily News and The Times.

Wildman Whitehouse: Recent Correspondence between Mr. Wildman Whitehouse and the Atlantic Telegraph Company with an Appendix Containing Every Telegram and Letter for Reference. Published by the author, 1858. A follow up to Whitehouse’s Reply to the Statement (above).

Letters from Samuel E. Phillips regarding the failure of the 1858 Atlantic cable. Two letters to London newspapers from Whitehouse's associate Samuel Phillips, published in October 1858.

The Atlantic Telegraph: Failure - an extract from Silvanus P. Thompson’s two-volume biography of William Thomson, published in 1910, which gives another view of the events of 1858.

Wildman Whitehouse: Evidence before the Joint Committee Appointed by the Lords of the Committee of the Privy Council for Trade and the Atlantic Telegraph Company to Inquire into the Construction of Submarine Telegraph Cables. 1861.

Wildman Whitehouse and John J. Fahie: correspondence from Whitehouse to the telegraph historian. 1879.

Stewart Ash: “Electrical Failure of the 1858 Atlantic Telegraph

Donard de Cogan: “Dr E.O.W. Whitehouse and the 1858 transatlantic cable
[History of Technology, 10 (1985), 1–15]

Allan Green: “Wildman Whitehouse’s Induction Coils” (preliminary notes)

Allan Green: “A Meeting of Minds? Dr E.O. Wildman Whitehouse, Electrician to The Atlantic Telegraph Company and his relationship with Professor William Thomson during the development and construction of the first transatlantic telegraph cable 1857/8”

Bruce J. Hunt: “Scientists, Engineers and Wildman Whitehouse: Measurement and Credibility in Early Cable Telegraphy
[British Journal for the History of Science, vol. 29, no. 100 (1996) pages 155-169]

Steven Roberts: “Wildman Whitehouse’s Telegraph Patents

Whitehouse letters in the Kelvin Papers, University of Glasgow (not consulted)


Steven Roberts, Donard de Cogan, Allan Green, Bruce Hunt, and Stewart Ash have each made significant contributions to this section on Wildman Whitehouse, and I thank them for their help.

--Bill Burns

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