History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
Reply to the Statement of the
STATEMENT OF THE DIRECTORS OF THE
PUBLISHED IN THE “DAILY NEWS,” OF SEPTEMBER 20,
EDWARD ORANGE WILDMAN WHITEHOUSE
Unconscious of the blow which has been secretly endeavoured to be struck against my character and conduct—engaged in peaceful and philosophical pursuits—unwilling to enter the arena of hostile controversy, and desirous only to deprecate an obloquy undeserved; urged by a just respect for the public of two worlds, who are interested in the success of the mightiest of undertakings, and discomfited by its failure: I come forward openly and boldly to answer all the accusations that have been untruly and unjustly brought against me, and to declare, that if Science—as has often been the case—must have its victims, I will not fall the butt of unrefuted slander and detraction. I had long been aware that sinister and unseen influences were at work. There is a feeling in the mind of every man, which tells him of forthcoming evil; yet here, at least, in this enterprise, it might have been hoped that unity and sincerity would have gone hand in hand, and that pretended friends should not have been so suddenly perverted into foes.
The charges levelled against my ignorant unsuspicion are three: three of the most derogatory and detrimental, not merely to the fame of a public, but to the character of a private man. In the one case, however, error is but human; in the other, disgrace. The charges are—I do not blink them; I feel them in their full force—incompetency for the task I had undertaken and the position I filled; duplicity in reporting one thing to the Directors, and yet acting in virtual contradiction to my report; and disobedience to orders of my masters—travelling heedlessly out of my province to disobey and defy them. These charges I retort upon themselves. The incompetency was theirs—the duplicity was theirs; and though they could not disobey their own commands, yet there are cases (and mine I believe to have been one) in which disobedience is not merely a duty, but a virtue. A simple narrative of facts, and a mere reference to telegrams and letters that have passed between us in the position of now opposing parties, will show at once the accuracy of my statements, and the justice of my complaint.
The manifesto put forth by the Directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Company, and professing to meet my desired appeal to the Shareholders for a decision, evades the real question at issue, so far as it regarded their own conduct, introducing instead much that is irrelevant and personal. The Directors shrink from the investigation challenged, “into all the circumstances which have occurred since the laying of the cable, and upon which the Directors have thought right to found my summary dismissal,” namely, as assigned by themselves (in their resolution of August 17, 1858), “the underrunning of the cable without the authority of the board; and my refusal to admit Mr. France to the instrument-room, at Valentia.” In both which circumstances the conduct of the Directors will be found to have justified my acts,—while they are unable to disprove the truth of a single assertion contained in my letter of the 6th, to which their secretary ventured to give at that-time so unqualified and unwarrantable a denial. Meantime, the neglect of their duty by the Directors has become a fact, patent and incontrovertible, and of which they stand self-convicted, by having on the previous occasion thought it necessary to assemble at Valentia in considerable numbers, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the ships till the receipt of the unwelcome tidings of their failure; while on the recent occasion more than fourteen days were allowed to elapse from the successful landing of the cable, before the arrival of any of the executive body at the seat of operations. The engineer had left without waiting to complete the engineering operations, and the Directors vouchsafed no reply to my urgent appeal, by telegraph, on the fourth day, for the necessary protection of the cable by the heavy shore-end, which remains to this hour a duty unfulfilled. My words were, “absolutely essential something immediately done to protect end of light cable in harbour.” In the midst of the difficulties and anxieties of the position, spending almost every hour, day and night, in the instrument room,—left, as I was, from this time, without support or advice, without assistance of the engineer, or the presence of a single Director for counsel and aid,—I assert that it was the absence and palpable neglect of the executive body which led, nay compelled me, in the exercise of my judgment, to take the very steps of which they subsequently complain.
I will now follow the Directors categorically, but as briefly as possible, through their statement.
And first as to the money part of the question, which though the meanest, and unmentioned by me, has been so ostentatiously foisted before the eyes of the public. The amount of bonus in shares which the Directors thought worth while to Offer for my services is thrust prominently, and not very delicately, into notice. Will it be credited, that I have not to this day been able to obtain possession of a single share? At the strong instance of the Secretary, and to avoid inconvenience to some of the Directors, I signed a necessary deed acknowledging their receipt months ago, just before the sailing of the first expedition in this year. I trusted to him as a friend, a gentleman, and a man of honour, that they would be forthcoming at the right time; in this I have been, as perhaps I deserved to be, disappointed. I have since applied formally on more than one occasion for the delivery of these shares (ready months since, wanting only the signature of the Directors); they are not yet forthcoming. I have instead, a note, admitting indeed my right to them, but apologising for their non-delivery. The secretary has had in his possession for a month, written orders from me for the transfer of shares to the Knight of Kerry, and seven other persons, to whom I promised them. These orders have not yet been attended to. One of my fellow-projectors, more wisely, received every share that was due to him, duly signed, before he executed the deed above alluded to. The “handsome salary,” also, so politely mentioned by the Directors, was not equal to the position which I had resigned, in order to join the other projectors in this enterprise.
Feeling and reasoning like men whose only standard is that of money, the Directors now, ungenerously and most disingenuously, for the first time put forward as a plea for my dismissal, my inability from illness to accompany the ships, one of the duties for which it is said I was “engaged” and “paid,” and which now is called “by far the most important,” though at midsummer no sort of objection was offered to my remaining at home: and I was even confidentially advised by their secretary to do so. The state of my health was at that time well known to him, it was known also that is was due solely to continuous over-application to the details of the electrical operations under my charge. I was not bound to accompany the expedition; my personal services were not needed, my place being efficiently supplied; and to make this after-thought the subject of a serious charge against their officer, is futile and fallacious.
I was not informed of any “full meeting of the Board to be held on the 9th for receipt of reports from the scientific officers,” and the only telegram I received on that day, at all bearing on the subject, was in these words—“The Directors will be glad to have a telegraph every day, at present, as to the state of signals through cable, and any other interesting news,” and the only letter received at that time, and dated the 6th, contained no allusion to the subject. I had already telegraphed to Broad Street, using these words, “absolutely essential something immediately done to protect end of light cable in harbour.” It is true the Secretary said by telegram on the 7th, “we have been anxiously waiting for reports,” but I had asked, by telegraph, “when they were coming, as there were many arrangements requiring to be made,” and was most naturally in daily expectation of the arrival of the Board, their Secretary and Engineer, at the seat of operations; therefore had every right to expect their arrival; indeed, seeing that a letter to or from head-quarters, and its reply, would consume five days; I thought it impossible but that they should adjourn to Valentia. Part of the complaint of the Directors I understand to be, that under these circumstances I forwarded them no written report. They had it under my own hand at the earliest opportunity, that such report could only have been given by withdrawing my personal attention, for many hours daily, from the more important duties I had undertaken to perform. While, therefore, penning this censure, they knew that that which they expected from me was impossible.
With admirable consistency, the Directors complained of being “kept in ignorance of my opinion as to any faults in the cable;” while they, almost in the same breath, mention my having already “expressed an opinion to Professor Thomson that a defect existed in the cable in the harbour,” and admit that the Professor Was at this time “most effectually representing at Valentia the general body of the Directors in London.” Thus, then, prior to the 10th, I had reported my opinion to the representative of the Board at Valentia, and yet we are told that “up to the morning of the 14th the Board in London was kept in ignorance of the fact.” I pass over the allusions to mechanical “difficulty and some unnecessary delay in the adjustment of instruments,” as being points upon which the Board were not competent to Offer any opinion, as indeed they had taken no pains to form one;—a delay, which was at the time attributed to want of adjustment of the instruments, but in reality arising solely from the state of the cable.
The telegram sent by me to the Directors on the 13th, at mid-day, by which they say “they were led to hope that all difficulty was at an end,” shows only how completely, though unintentionally on my part, the Directors had misunderstood its real import. We had received from Newfoundland such details as supplied the only link wanting in the evidence, and satisfied me absolutely that the defective insulation at our end of the wire was the only cause of delay. Our mode of working was then modified to suit the altered condition of the conductor, voltaic currents of low intensity being employed, and the signals being sent at their request much more slowly than before. Intercommunication was then opened, and I was satisfied that the cause of delay thus ascertained was remediable. I reported, therefore, and truly, “Newfoundland now receives and acknowledges our signals accurately. We can receive at very good speed from him, while he can as yet only receive from us slowly. I hope to be able to transmit the Queen’s message this afternoon.”
Nor was there anything inconsistent with the utmost openness of purpose in making the inquiry at that time by telegraph, whether, during the absence of the engineer, his coadjutor, Mr. Canning, were still in Ireland and at hand, as I had reason to believe, or finding him to be so, in requesting his immediate return to Valentia, to examine the cable in the harbour. It betrays, to my mind, an amount of littleness and jealousy on the part of the person by whom this information was “by mere accident” carried to the Directors, instead of being made the subject of advice and aid, or if necessary, of courteous remonstrance to myself. From the first, my advice and wishes as projector had been disregarded and overruled; and as an officer, I had constantly been thwarted and obstructed in my operations. I do not shrink, therefore, from the avowal, that accustomed to such treatment, and aware of the incompetence and division of counsel existing in the Board, I determined to do my best on my own responsibility, to save the enterprise from destruction, by doing the only thing that seemed capable of meeting the emergency—raising the cable, removing the defective part, re-opening communication, and then reporting to the Board my success. This operation, suspended during performance by the Directors, was resumed only on the day of my departure for London.
The Directors next assert that “the entry made in my own log” (meaning the signals’ diary), after cutting and testing the cable in the harbour, disproves the correctness of my opinion as to loss of insulation at the home end of the cable. Any entry which may have been made in the signals’ diary after the cutting of the cable could only have been written some hours at least after my departure from Valentia; I am, therefore, of course, as unaware of its nature as I am of its author. But I do most positively assert that the amount of leakage or loss ascertained to exist upon the half mile of cable nearest shore, and reported to me by telegraph during my journey to town, was nearly, if not quite, a hundred times as much as existed upon an equal length of Atlantic cable examined and approved by me at the Gutta-percha Works during the process of its manufacture. And further, I give it as my unhesitating opinion, that a very few miles of cable, similarly and equally imperfect at our own end of the line, would produce the variable embarrassment of signals which we have found, and give precisely the results obtained by the recent testings of the Electricians employed by the Company.
We have next a fact stated in few words, but so disingenuously put, as to convey an impression the very opposite of the truth. It is implied that my operations upon the cable had positively injured its condition. Professor Thomson had tested the cable before his departure from Valentia on the 10th, at a period, that is, when the injury close at home, though existing, was so slight as not to have been recognised by him, though suspected by myself, and mentioned to him. The gradual increase of this injury led first to the embarrassment, then to the entire interruption of intercommunication,—an interruption temporarily remedied by the removal of a portion of this defect, but gradually accruing again from the same causes. Could Professor Thomson then expect to find the condition of the cable on the 21st as good as it had been on the 10th?—when for eleven days it had been subjected to these destructive influences, which might have been counteracted, but for the neglect of the Directors to protect the fragile cable, lying on the most exposed part of the coast of the United Kingdom, by the use of the massive shore-end constructed for the purpose.
That my opinion upon the partial and temporary nature of this remedy may not be supposed to be an ex-post-facto statement, I appeal to the telegrams which passed between Valentia and myself at Killarney on that occasion, and also to a telegram from myself at Dublin to the Directors at London, “I am of opinion that further fault still exists not far from shore. We cannot rely upon the safety of our cable for a day, while exposed to full force Atlantic swell without protection of heavy shore-end.” Mr. Bartholomew, at Valentia, reporting the discovery of a fault giving 45 degrees of leakage, inquires, “if that is as much as I had expected,” to which my immediate reply was, “I hope it may be sufficient to re-open communication, but there is more still to come out.” At Mallow, Valentia had reported that “orders had come from Mr. Saward to join up cable, at once to sink it, and not meddle with it any more.”
It is contrary to fact that Professor Thomson at that time “pointed out to me” the existence of “a variable defect” in the cable, at a distance of from 240 to 300 miles. The Professor stated boldly, as the result of careful investigation, that he believed there was “dead earth at 600 miles.” I went through his experiments with him, and clearly his mode of reasoning admitted of no other deduction. I essayed to offer another explanation; but no; his confidence in the result remained unshaken. It has since been stated to be 500 miles, and now with equal confidence is placed at 240 to 300 miles.
Is it conceivable that an actual open place giving “dead earth” shall thus move day by day some hundreds of miles along the line? Is it not more consonant with reason and common sense that a variable fault, gradually increasing in degree, and arising from injury existing as I have said within ten or twelve miles of the shore, shall from time to time give increased evidence of loss from continued exposure to the strain and attrition upon the Irish coast? The unbiassed opinion of one of the Electricians engaged by the Company, in recent investigations upon the cable, has been, I am told, suppressed, because it coincided more nearly with my own than was agreeable to some of the Directors. At least, this opinion has not been published, and the public are thus deprived of another means of arriving at a satisfactory conclusion.
A fact of great significance has, within the present week, come to my knowledge, in connection with the probable seat of injury to the cable; a fact which I do not think I should be justified in withholding from the public. The officers of H.M.S. Shamrock, surveying that part of the coast, have recently given a strong opinion, that, “from soundings taken by themselves, the cable crosses a bar, called the ‘Coast Guards’ Patch,’ rising from about seventy fathoms to nine fathoms, almost perpendicularly.” This is situated just outside Doulas Bay; and, to quote further the words of a note received upon the subject, “it is their opinion, that every swell of the tide rolls the cable from one side to the other, and is thus literally sawing it in two.” Another letter describes it as a “sudden rocky descent, from nine to seventy fathoms, across which the cable lies.”
I cannot here refrain from directing attention also strongly to the fact, that the short cable across the harbour, which has heretofore connected Valentia Island to the mainland, identical in structure with, and, in fact, a spare piece of the deep sea cable, lying for some distance in the same line with the Atlantic Cable, has recently become injured, and all communication through it ceased for some days. It has been underrun and raised. It is found, I am told, to have been subjected to great mechanical strain and attrition; it has, moreover, become, by the swing of the tide, almost inextricably entwined with part of the Atlantic Cable itself, having tons of seaweed entangled between them, and requiring the exercise of considerable force and dexterity to dissever the connection; and so weakened had it become, that in raising it, even in that shallow water, it broke asunder, some of the outside wires at that part being found to be worn as fine as a needle point, and in other places also nearly worn through.
Thus the strongest possible evidence seems to accumulate (independently of any professional opinion upon the testing) as to the high degree of probability of the existence of a fault near to the shore.
On the 12th ult. an arrangement was made by the Board unknown to me, that a gentleman, sometime instrument clerk to the Submarine Company, and now holding a higher situation in the Mediterranean Company, should “proceed to Valentia to place at your (my) disposal, for the benefit of the Company, his practical experience in the adjustment and arrangement of instruments for submarine circuits” (I copy the terms of his credentials verbatim); and I was further desired to give him “every encouragement and assistance.” I am then ordered by telegram to receive him “with distinction, he is sent by the Directors,” &c.; and these instructions were followed up by a letter (14th ult.) from the Secretary, evincing on the part of the Directors their entire want of comprehension of the facts before them, as well as of their readiness to accept any suggestion unfavourable towards myself.
“It is now nine days since the cable was successfully laid, and since then there would seem to have been continuous difficulty and disappointment in your attempts to adjust your instruments, notwithstanding the electric force manifested at each end of the cable would seem to be ample and satisfactory for every practical purpose,” &c.
There was not at that time, nor had there ever been, “continuous difficulty and disappointment” in my attempt to adjust the instruments. And the very messages received from Newfoundland, and laid before the Directors, did themselves bear testimony to the utter fallacy of the latter part of the sentence, having reference to the amount of electric force. The superintendent at that station was, in consequence of the loss of current at our end of the line, as he reported to us by telegraph, reading our signals by a movement of only half a degree upon his best detector, and even that indication was only obtained by the greatest care and management.
A feeling of self-respect, of self-defence and self-reliance, very far removed from jealousy, led me to decline at once and decidedly the proffered aid. It came in a most questionable form, at a time and in a manner calculated to do the utmost damage possible to the reputation of the Company’s officers—I speak of others as well as myself—and it was, moreover, wholly unnecessary; and, therefore, while capable of deeply injuring some, could in no way benefit the material interests of the Company. There was not an instrument in use which this gentleman had ever seen, or whose construction he understood—there was not one requiring any alteration or adjustment; they were invented and designed by myself, and had been constructed under my superintendence. Where, then, the reason for discharging my valued assistant, and sending an entire stranger “to aid me in the adjustment of my instruments?”
There did not exist a source of embarrassment to the signals, except such as was wholly referable to the injury of the cable. I confidently appeal to facts to show that I was right in my opinion, and right in acting. I had already, that morning, written to the Board, that the duties of the instrument-room required “a greater amount of anxious watchfulness than could possibly be continuously sustained.” I now telegraphed, “I find that we shall require, immediately, several more instrument clerks. Mr. France has arrived opportunely in this respect; with your sanction, I shall be glad to engage him in this capacity: I cannot recognise him in any other.” And again, after a telegram ordering me to “receive him with distinction”—“Our instruments at both ends of the line are in perfect adjustment—the only embarrassment arises from loss upon our cable. No unexplained source of difficulty exists. Mr. France has not entered the instrument-room, nor seen the cable; and as I in no way require his services, I have said to him, that he may return to London at his discretion.” And I honestly conceive, that though I should have been most happy to accept straightforward advice and assistance from Mr. France or any other competent party, I should have been unfit for my post, and deficient in respect for my own character, if I had, for one moment, surrendered my instruments to his charge.
I notice a statement attributed to me in the early part of the paragraph relative to my dismissal, simply to deny it. A reference to my published letter will show that I did not state that which the Directors affirm I did. It would redound less to their discredit if they refrain, at least in this petty way, from distorting the meaning of my language. That statement being, “that I had received my dismissal, one Director, only, being present on that occasion.” The Secretary says “on which occasion two members, and not one Director, only, as stated by Mr. Whitehouse, were present.” I certainly did receive my dismissal at the hands of one of the Directors (being the precise terms of my statement). This statement is not incompatible with the presence of twenty Directors: while the Secretary is actually anxious to show that there were really two members constituting the Board.
I come now to the last part of the Directors’ letter, intended evidently at once to crush, and for ever extinguish, my claim to the slightest credit connected with the success of the undertaking. They impugn, either directly or by implication, the efficiency of every part of the apparatus made to my design and under my superintendence, for the Company, asserting that they have the evidence of the persons on duty at Valentia to that effect, To this they add the gratuitous assertion that “Mr. Whitehouse had established no means of concerted action between Valentia and Newfoundland station in case of difficulty.” A letter written to the superintendent at Newfoundland, proves how far I had anticipated this very difficulty. It shows that the subject was by no means overlooked, and that an arrangement for signalling had been prepared to be made use of under those difficulties, though not precisely the mode which the Directors at present think proper to adopt.
Of the statements made by them with regard to the efficiency of my instruments; if I condescend to adopt, or imitate, the language which the Directors sanction in the mouth of their Secretary, I should say that “they are grossly and wilfully untrue.” I know the extent of the pressure that has been put upon the clerks at Valentia station, to extort from them any admission which could be made use of against me; and if necessary can bring evidence upon this point. Suffice it that, labouring as I was at that time, in all honesty of purpose, solely and unsuspiciously, for the welfare of the enterprise, I fortunately did not part with all the slips, upon the irrefragable testimony of which, at this time, the truth can be established.
On the receipt and recognition of coil currents from Newfoundland, to quote the entry made in the signals’ diary, by the superintendent on duty at the time, August 9, my “relay was put in circuit, and worked splendidly,” and then “received V.’s and B.’s (adjustment letters) very distinctly;” from this period, every slip printed and sent up daily to the Board was received upon my instruments solely, until, for comparison, I made use of a finger-key, in order to record at the same time the signals visible upon Professor Thomson’s galvanometer. I have in my possession upwards of twenty duplicate message slips, in which these two modes of recording were used by adjacent styles, and thus their respective records stand side by side upon the same slip of paper for comparison. The currents from Newfoundland were communicated direct to my own apparatus, and it was in no way necessary in the working off those messages to have recourse to the galvanometer of Professor Thomson; it was used at the same time simply and solely for the purpose of strict comparison of the respective instruments under like conditions. Can stronger evidence be required of the adequacy of my instruments, or of the care which I took to compare them with others? At a later period, indeed, when, owing to the injury of our cable, the strength of signals began seriously to fail, Thomson’s galvanometer was, from its exceeding delicacy, preferred by me, and usually employed alone under those circumstances.
From the period of the cessation of ship signals to the time of my leaving Valentia, the currents received from Newfoundland, possessed such features as could be immediately recognised as due to coil currents alone; and were identified as such by the whole staff. No voltaic battery at Newfoundland could have transmitted an equal number of currents in the same space of time. I have also in my possession evidence incontrovertible (both in writing and by telegram) that the messages from Newfoundland were transmitted solely by the use of my apparatus at that station. I now assert, without fear of contradiction, that from the cessation of ship signals up to and including the President’s reply to her Majesty, every message sent from Newfoundland was worked off at that station solely by the use of my instruments, and was received at Valentia in the manner I have already described. I may go further, and state that every message from Newfoundland has been so worked off. I will not, however, do so till time affords me the additional testimony required. Yet the Directors have the hardihood to affirm that it has not been possible for my “apparatus to work off, unaided, a single complete message.”
On the 10th, I was able to report to the Directors as follows:-
“VALENTIA. Tuesday Morning, 5 A.M.
“Newfoundland has commenced the use and adjustment of their special instruments for speaking. I forward by this post the slip of signals first transmitted and received across the Atlantic by the Company’s instruments. The speed at which the letters come out seems faster than that at Keyham, and the currents are apparently as strong.
(Signed) “WILDMAN WHITEHOUSE.”
Thus, before midnight on the fourth day after the landing of the cable, the special instruments for speaking (designed by me, and constructed under my own patent), which had been taken out on board the Niagara, had been landed in the wilderness at the head of Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, had been put together, adjusted, and during the night brought into speaking order; nay, further, had even then proved their, capability of speaking at a rate adequate to ensure the commercial success of our great enterprise.
Within a few hours from the transmission of this report to the head office, I received from the Directors ,the following telegram:-
“The Directors think it possible that the cable might be injured by the application of too much battery power; before applying any such power to the wires direct, they would be glad to have a report as to its strength and mode of application.”
To this telegram I made no reply. There were no batteries on the island except such as had always been at Professor Thomson’s or my own disposal, either at Keyham or on board the Agamemnon. I felt it, moreover, useless to contend against the utter childishness of expecting that our great work, in all its vastness, and yet multiplicity of detail, could be minutely regulated and governed by those at a distance from the seat of operations. This, if it be true at all, must be more specially so in reference to scientific details, with which it was not to be expected the Directors should be conversant, but rather that they should leave them to the judgment of their officers. But if it were not childishness—what was it?—that animus of evil influence, which knowing that it took a period of five days for postal intercommunication between themselves and their officers, affected to misdoubt, and desired to limit, the use of a battery-power that had been in constant operation.
It was about this time that the injury to the cable within the harbour, to which reference is subsequently made, began to cause, at intervals, serious embarrassment in our signals. From the very nature of the embarrassment, and the mode in which it manifested itself, it had been for a time impossible either to trace it to its source, or to define its existence accurately. My telegrams to the Directors of the 12th and 13th, detailed to them all which at that time it was in my power to give. Our coadjutators in Newfoundland aided us in the solution of the problem, and I reported to head-quarters as follows, by telegraph:—"The receipt of a message of twenty-six words yesterday evening from Newfoundland, relative to signals and instruments, has satisfied me as to the cause of delay in the full and free interchange of messages—they now read and acknowledge our words accurately. We can receive at very good speed from them, while they can as yet only receive from us slowly. I hope to be able to transmit the message from her Majesty to the President this afternoon.”
On the succeeding day I reported by telegraph:—“Our cable has been injured in some way within the harbour, and the tests show dead earth close at home. Verbal communication hence to Newfoundland is all but suspended; we still receive from them full details of the state of their instruments and of our signals as received by them. Mr. Canning is here, and is now at my request engaged in examining that part of the cable easily accessible. Is it the wish of the Directors that he shall continue to do so? The fault can be readily, I believe, got at and repaired.”
An hour or two later the following:—
“Mr. Canning has already found five kinks and strained places in the cable in the harbour, and has buoyed the place where the Agamemnon anchored, at which spot three kinks exist. What is to be done?”
Subsequently, as follows, 8 P.M.:—
“Newfoundland receives nothing from us; their signals, as received by us, are gradually getting weaker, though still perfectly legible. I await further instructions. Do beg Professor Thomson to come down at once—he cannot now mistake the evidence of ‘Earth.’ If something be not done at once, we may shortly bring our labours to a close.”
It has been asserted in the manifesto of the Directors, that I could at any time have had their advice in less than two hours. To this telegram of mine I certainly had a reply dated within two hours to the following effect:—
“Nothing so important as that which you have undertaken should have been done without proper sanction, much less in disobedience of positive [denied] instructions. You have assumed a serious responsibility, from which I cannot relieve you till Monday.”
So that while I could have advice in a short time, a long period must elapse before I could have had the sanction or instructions asked for.
All these reports of mine produced thus nothing but an intercurrent series of telegrams denouncing my interference, suggesting that my doings had been the source of injury, that I was mistaken in my opinion, and holding me responsible for any such result. This was followed up by severe censure and written instructions dispatched the same day by post to the effect, that no steps whatever were to be taken “towards raising, or in any way touching, or allowing any one else to meddle with the submerged cable;” but that “in the event of well-grounded suspicion arising, that anything is wrong in the insulation, to communicate at once to head-quarters, where the subject will receive full investigation.” It must be apparent that it was physically impossible for a board of Directors in London to investigate the condition of the cable at Valentia. It has been stated in a telegram of the Secretary, that I had acted “in disobedience of positive instructions.” Now, this is a most disingenuous proceeding upon most dangerous grounds. Had I done so, I should, indeed, have been culpable. But the Directors are aware that the cable had been raised before the telegram arrived—and blame is thus sought to be attached to an action which was not merely innocent, but laudable. The cable was raised, a faulty piece taken out, and communication restored.
On the departure of the squadron from Plymouth, a large quantity of tools and fittings of the workshop which had been in use at Keyham, together with various instruments which would be required at Valentia, and which having been made use of in our experiments till the last, had not yet been removed, were ordered by me to be sent round forthwith to Valentia. Counter orders emanating from Broad Street delayed them. On the departure of the second and successful expedition, I again raised the question, explaining that in the event of the safe arrival of the ships, I should be put to inconvenience in the electrical operations if these things were not at hand. I fixed the sailing of one particular steamer by which they could come round at the expense of very few pounds, and could be delivered on the quay at Valentia about a week before the possible arrival of the ships, and went so far as to give instructions to my assistant, who was then at Plymouth, that this should be done. My arrangement was countermanded by the Directors, and the workshop material, tools, and instruments in question, which I had stated to be wanted at Valentia, were not allowed to leave Plymouth till two days after the arrival of the Agamemnon with the cable. They left Cork on the morning of the fifth day, and arrived at Valentia about as many days after the landing of the cable as they ought to have been in anticipation of that event.
About this time, Mr. Samuel Phillips, my skilled electrical assistant, for years an old and valued friend in science, who had been officially connected with me from the commencement of the undertaking, and had obtained the experience to be derived from testing with me every mile of the cable as it was made, was dismissed without my knowledge. On my summoning him to Valentia at a time when I needed assistance, such as none but he could render, I received from the Secretary the pithy reply, “Phillips has left the Company’s service,” when, in fact, he had been summarily dismissed, without it being accompanied by one word of explanation or of apology. The determination thus manifested to obstruct and interfere with me in the discharge of my duties; the secret and unexplained dismissal of my confidential, assistant; the ill-concealed mistrust of the Directors as to all my operations (every one of which had been patent and approved beforehand)—these things, though they failed to open my eyes to the full amount of those secret influences, before alluded to, and which were at that time culminating, did yet most forcibly convince me, that I must look for no sympathy nor co-operation from head-quarters; and that, if the cable failed, it would inevitably be made to appear that, right or wrong, I was the party to blame, and should be the one to suffer. It was in consequence of this, and I boldly affirm it to the public—who are now the arbiters in this, matter—that I under-ran the cable, either to complete the operation and resign, or still more nobly to succeed, and rescue, the undertaking.
Thus, then, the Directors of this vast undertaking-the foremost of time—have, I think, truly shown themselves in actions and in words, to have been what I charge than with, incapable and insincere. As the conductors of such an enterprise, their judgment should be sound. As the depositors of such a trust, their motives should be above suspicion. Positive neglect has been the least of their sins of omission, to pretermit their treatment of myself. They have assumed to themselves at the earliest moment an opportunity of laudation for zeal and activity in the public service, in a passage of Mr. Saward’s letter of the 22nd, with respect to the collision of the Europa. Now, although their order as to the non-reception of private or business messages, was fitting and proper during the operations necessary previous to the opening of the line, will it be believed that they had the notification of “a casualty at sea”—so important a matter to a commercial country like England—in their Board-room four full days before they communicated it to the public? A telegram from Valentia, requesting permission to receive details “to allay anxiety,” was in the Board-room early on the Tuesday. Full particulars could have been received from Newfoundland in time for publication on the evening of the same day, or at latest on the following morning. They did not appear until Saturday. What does that say for the competency and sincerity of the Directors with the public? This makes the pathos of the Directors assume the character of the ridiculous, for instead of hastening, they delayed to communicate “the news of safety which it conveyed to many an anxious heart.”
All their discomfitures they fain would cover by having recourse to most unscrupulous means to damage their late officer. I speak of no Board-room blunders. I specify no sinister influences. I mention no private names. I only appeal on the whole showing of the case, that I have not been guilty of incompetency, duplicity, or wilful and blind disobedience.
Inserted by order of the Directors on the same occasion is the report of Mr. Varley, one of the electricians consulted by them, and which, as it thus becomes part and parcel of the Directors’ document, it is my duty to notice. On the 10th inst., if I mistake not, that gentleman wrote at the desire of Professor Thomson a simple unvarnished report or statement of the tests he had used, of his calculations, and of the opinions founded thereon, which, from its straight-forwardness, would at least have commanded respect. I am sorry for his sake to find that since his return to London this report has been recast in a different mould; whether this arose from a change through conviction of his previous sentiments, or is to be considered as another proof of pressure from within, is a problem which I cannot take upon myself to solve.
Almost half the report is now devoted to a recapitulation of tests taken by another person on another occasion, he does not know when or where. This evidence is dragged in by head and shoulders, to enable him to offer an opinion as to the state of the Agamemnon’s cable before the sailing of the expedition, and in order to account for the “alarm” experienced when the ships “were about 500 miles from Ireland, when: signals ceased altogether, and never certainly recovered.” The whole of this ex-post-facto reasoning, as well as the superstructure intended to be raised thereon, falls to the ground, when we find by such careful collation of times and diaries as my present opportunities admit, that the alarm of “dead earth” and loss of continuity that occurred on board the Agamemnon coincides accurately with the detection, excision, and repair of a fault in the ward-room coil of the Niagara. cable at the same time. The simple code of ship signals contained no provision for the communication of this piece of intelligence, else, doubtless, those on board, the Agamemnon would not have been left in ignorance of the fact. I am sorry also to see that he adopts and repeats, on hearsay evidence, without investigation, untrue statements, calculated seriously to injure the position of another. With his opinion upon the use of induction coils I shall not quarrel, but beg to retain my own, based on experience of their value and perfect harmlessness. It may, however, surprise Mr. Varley to learn that when (in the forced experiment made as he described) the coils had done their worst in enlarging the hole prepared for the purpose in the gutta-percha, the subsequent use of the battery, which he deems safe, actually more than doubled the size of the orifice left by the coil currents.
With respect to Mr. Brett, I have very little to say, except to give him the full benefit of the ingenious problem which he says he submitted to me, namely, “If such a charge is retained in 300 miles, what may be the resistance in 2000 miles?” As to the question of registrations, concessions; and precedence of dates—I also admit his accuracy. I did not think necessary to refer to his earlier and unsuccessful efforts—terminating, as he well knows, in lapsed concessions. I gave that, which as I believed, was his first successful project. From the tone of Mr. Brett’s letter, one would suppose that he, and he only, had contemplated the possibility of an Atlantic line—while he only in self-jubilation seems to emulate the frantic fooleries Of the Americans in the person of Mr. Cyrus Field.
Much odium has been endeavoured to be cast upon me; most unjustly, in reference to an opinion given by me upon the merits of the Hughes’ printing instrument—one of the latest propositions, which has obtained the sanction of the Directors, for the restoration of their line. For use on overground wires I have seen nothing at all comparable to his instrument as a type printer for simplicity, accuracy, and speed; but, until Mr. Hughes arrived at Plymouth a very few weeks before the departure of the vessels, he himself assured me that he had had no opportunity of experimenting upon a submarine cable of any sort, and that his knowledge of the subject had been derived chiefly from observations published by myself. It is with surprise, therefore, that I see it stated by Mr. Field, in a letter dated New York, 8th instant, that “the Directors despairing of satisfactory results from the systems of Professors Whitehouse and Thomson, had arranged with Professor Hughes to take charge of the electrical department of the company’s business,”—one (confessedly) so inexperienced in every specialty connected with the matter. The experiments made by Mr. Hughes upon the cable at Keyham, and the information given him by myself, have doubtless opened his eyes to some of the difficulties experienced in working instruments on long submarine circuits, and may, as I said to him, enable him to remodel his instruments accordingly; but his various attempts on that occasion to work through our cable, should be regarded leniently as first efforts; in any other light they can only be spoken of as absolute failures. I confess to having experienced a feeling of astonishment on hearing of a signal success achieved some few days after his arrival at Keyham: so many words, in so many minutes, transmitted and received without error or difficulty: but my surprise gave place to a most painful feeling, on ascertaining that this success had been reserved for Americans only, and non-electricians to witness; that none of our own staff had been admitted, though all were in an adjacent room at the time; and lastly, I found by Mr. Hughes’ own admission to me, that he did not think it otherwise than correct, so to coax and humour the recording part of the instrument during the dispatch, as to prevent it by hand from printing all letters which came in error or surplusage, and to allow it to record only those which were correct. Mr. Hughes himself informed me, that on that occasion every single wave of electrical force would have printed three or four letters instead of one, but that by hand he allowed the one, and prevented the others from being printed..
In a modification of his instrument to overcome this difficulty; he abandoned the Roman type-printing altogether, and adopted the combination of the numerals 1 to 5, the use of which, with their permutations, would, he thought, greatly facilitate his operations. At a subsequent trial, which at Mr. Hughes’ request, I saw, it appeared to me that he had, in fact, abandoned the very strong point of his own instrument, the letter-printing, and that it was more than questionable whether he had not made a step in the wrong direction. He was unable on that occasion to bring out a single word, or any varied permutations of figures desired; nor could I find that on any previous or later occasion he was able to show to our superintendent, my assistant, or clerks, a single satisfactory experiment through the whole cable. These notable failures have recently been bruited about as glorious successes, and the American papers have teemed with accounts thereof; it being always studiously kept out of view that Hughes was at that time entirely dependent Upon my induction coils for his working power, and upon a relay of my own design for actuating his printing instrument.
I had reason to believe that a great effort would at that time be made to induce the Directors to purchase the patent-right or licence to use the instrument, and at an exorbitant price. I stated to the Board and to Mr. Hughes frankly what I thought of it, and of its capabilities of adaptation to our purpose, offering, at the same time, to do my best to render it practically available to the Atlantic Telegraph; stipulating only that no extra premium should be received from the Company in virtue of any improvements introduced into the instrument by myself, but that I should participate in these advantages, if used upon other and non-competing lines. My offer was refused. I now find from Mr; Field’s letter, already alluded to, that “it was expected that Hughes’ printing telegraph instrument would be placed at Trinity Bay and Valentia on or about the 20th or 21st instant, and from the experiments made while the cable was at Plymouth, there was no reasonable doubt that Professor Hughes will be able to transmit intelligence through the cable reliably, and at the rate of about 300 words per hour”! The most exaggerated expectations are thus promulgated by Mr. Field, and fostered by bombastic articles in some of the American papers known to be immediately under his influence; to one of which, indeed, Mr. Field’s private secretary, during the expedition, was special correspondent.
I pass over the systematic detraction of my own doings used, as a means of exalting another, and which is observable in the American papers throughout; but would direct attention to the fact that another effort is now being made to obtain the conditional purchase by the Company of this patent (in which the late manager, Field, is known to be largely interested), on terms supposed to be equitable, but which will require the payment of 5000l. bonus, and a royalty of 200l. per annum for each wire worked, at a rate inferior to that at which the Company’s instruments, under my patent, have already transmitted messages across the Atlantic. This bonus and royalty to increase pro rata with any additional speed attained. I call attention also to the fact, that it is expressly stated in the proposal, “We use the generating power of the Company such as it may be;” that is to say, they are to avail themselves of he induction coils constructed under my patent, and which have already proved their value, and for which Mr. Hughes’ patent offers no efficient substitute. Thus—while the Directors in England are ostensibly making much of the name, the aid, and opinion, of one so deservedly high in the scientific world as Professor Thomson—their manager in America, in a letter written to restore the waning confidence on the other side of the water, reveals the secret that they are at that very time despising Professor Thomson’s operations, and have actually made arrangements to supersede and dismiss him.
I have thus at length replied to the garbled manifesto of the Directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Company. I do it as a duty to myself, my profession, and the public. I am a supplanted man, as others will be after me; sacrificed to private and personal considerations. I know-have proved it—but do not resent it. I make no appeal ad misericordiam, I seek for no sympathy on scientific grounds—sufficient for me that I have been identified, and from the first, with that prodigy of this age, which may become a new starting-point in history till the end of time. The effect of even this defeat has been to awaken in America a feeling which was unknown before. Two nations, naturally united, but historically estranged, have instantaneously clasped the hand of brotherhood. A great responsibility rests upon those who have in any way contributed to the failure of this enterprise; but for my own part, I can safely say, that neither zeal, labour, caution, nor anxiety, was wanting upon the part of
EDWARD ORANGE WILDMAN WHITEHOUSE.
ROYAL INSTITUTION, ALBEMARLE STREET,
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Last revised: 12 May, 2011