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

Great Northern Stories
by J.T.Joergensen

Background: Beginning in 1868, the Dane C.F. Tietgen set up three small telegraph companies to connect Scandinavia, England and Russia. These were the Danish-Norwegian-English Telegraph Company, the Danish-Russian Telegraph Company, and the Norwegian-English Telegraph Company. By 1870 Tietgen had merged the three companies to form the Great Northern Telegraph Company, which continues in business today as GN Store Nord. More information on the company and its cableships may be found on the main Great Northern page.
--Bill Burns

John Tofte Joergensen's father, P.T. Joergensen, sailed in the 1950s and 60s on the Great Northern Telegraph Company's ships Edouard Suenson and Store Nordiske(2) as radio operator and cable tester. J.T. shares here some photographs and stories of his father's experiences on cable ships, and other interesting material on the Great Northern company.

P.T. Joergensen at his workplace in the Test Room on board the Edouard Suenson in 1953

These 8mm film clips by P.T. Joergenson show CS C.E. Krarup battling ice in the North Atlantic while repairing a cable in the winter of 1959-60, and a cable landing in Japan (unknown Japanese ship).

CS C.E. Krarup at Korsoer, Denmark


1966: Store Nordiske (2) at Hong Kong, my own experience:

I was 9 years old when we moved to Denmark from Tokyo. On the way we made a one-week stop in Hong Kong, as I was born there, and to see old friends. The afternoon we arrived my father went directly to the habour to see if Store Nordiske was there. It was - it lay at anchor between Kowloon and Hong Kong island. He asked my mother and me to wait for a moment, and went down into the horde of small Chinese boats lying everywhere. Soon after he waved at us to come. A Chinese fisherman rowed us out in his small boat between ferries and large ships making waves, so the boat went up and down.

Foreground: CS Store Nordiske(2)
Background: CS Pacific

As we neared the Store Nordiske my father stood up and waved, and I heard someone on board call out: "Haj - Det er gnisten!" - "Hey - it´s the sparks!" (Danish slang for a radio operator). We came on board, tea was served, and I was taken on a tour all over the ship. It was very old-fashioned, as was the radio equipment to my father's annoyance, but very comfortable, and seemed like a happy ship, where all on board were friendly to each other, all the way from the Captain to the Chinese ship`s boy.

Suddenly a big brown dog appeared. My father was surprised as they never used to have pets on board. The Captain explained that it had been on board for six months. On a mission to fix a cable far out to sea, a lookout had spotted it swimming in the smooth water. It was taken on board and dried with towels, after which it drank 5 liters of water, he said, and then slept for 24 hours. The horizon was empty all the way around when they found it, and there were no ships visible on the radar. They never found out were it came from.

CS Store Nordiske (2) at Hong Kong, 1965
Photograph courtesy of and copyright © 2007 Carl Hansen


March 1870: How Mr. Hemmingsen came into the firm:

I entered Tietgen's office, where he was sitting behind his desk.

He did not say good morning, didn´t ask me to sit, and didn´t look up at me from some documents, he was signing.

"I ask for employment, Sir!"

"As what?"

"Doesn't matter, anything!"

"What are you?"

"Danish law student."

"Can you correspond in English?"

"No."

"Then, what can you do?"

"Nothing, Sir, but I can learn it!"

For the first time Tietgen looked up at me.

"You have too high an opinion of yourself, but you don´t seem to have any superfluous baggage to drag with you. Have you thought about going abroad?"

"No."

"Would you like too?"

"Yes."

"To China?"

"Why not!"

"When can you leave?"

"This afternoon!"

"O.K., you are hired!"

Hemmingsen went to China and worked first as a telegraph operator, eventually advancing to chief of the company's station in Shanghai. He began studying Chinese and later became a Mandarin, one of very few foreigners to do so.


1880: CS H.C. Oersted, from an old book:

H.C. Oersted, which was based in the Far East, was called home to Denmark for a major overhaul of the boilers, and left Shanghai in August with a load of tea for Hamborg, Germany. The journey went smoothly to Aden, where coal was taken on board, and the course was taken through the Red Sea towards the Suez Canal. But now trouble began.

CS H.C. Oersted

A strong contrary wind, which lasted for days, slowed the ship, and on top of that it turned out that the coal was of poor quality and burned without giving enough heat. One fine day the coal was gone, and there was still a long way to Suez. The Captain, who had the same name as the ship, cursed over the damned coal. He succeeded in buying some from a passing ship, but in one day this too was gone, and there was still a long way to go.

Just as in Verne's Around the World in 80 days, Captain Oersted gave orders to stoke the fire with all the woodwork that was not necessary for the ship's safety. Masts, deck planks, furniture, even now and then a box of tea went into the boilers. So they manged to reach Suez. But the trouble was not over yet. In the Mediterranean they were hit by a fearful storm, which broke the main mast, and made a lot of havoc. Finally they reached Hamburg with most of the cargo of tea intact - except for a missing box or two.


CS Edouard Suenson landing a cable at Newbiggin, England

Text and images copyright © 2014 J.T. Joergensen unless otherwise noted

Last revised: 12 March, 2014

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