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

Indian Cables
by Bill Glover

Persian Gulf cables of 1864
Detail of cables

The failure of the Red Sea and India cable laid by R. S. Newall in 1859 left India still effectively isolated, with a 30 day delay for mail to reach either destination. Determined to overcome the problem the Indian Government instructed the Royal Engineers to come up with a solution. At the time the Director General of the Indian Telegraph service was Lt. Colonel Patrick Stewart, CB. RE.

The Turkish Government was in the process of constructing a landline from Constantinople to Baghdad and Stewart approached them to see if they would provide a connection to India if the Indian Government provided a terminus at Gwadar. Eventually agreement was reached between the two Governments to run a line to Fao at the head of the Shat-el-Arab waterway. The Indian and Persian Governments also agreed to build an extension to their network from Tehran to Bushire on the Persian Gulf.

At first it was decided to connect all three places with a landline, but it was then changed to a submarine cable. The Gutta Percha Company were awarded a contract for the core, with W. T. Henley Telegraph Works Company armouring and laying the cables. Sir Charles Bright was engaged as Consulting Engineer. Five sailing ships, Marian Moore, Cospatrick, Kirkham, Tweed and Assaye were chartered and a steamer, Amberwitch, was purchased to act as a repair vessel. The ships were loaded at Henley’s works with cable as follows.

Marian Moore 174.91 nm of deep sea cable.

Kirkham 181.24 nm of deep sea cable and 6.36 nm of shore ends.

Assaye 363.98 nm of deep sea cable.

Tweed 347.53 nm of deep sea cable.

Cospatrick 101.5 nm of deep sea cable and 23 nm of shore ends and 12 nm of double armoured shore ends.

Amberwitch 12.5 nm of shore ends.

One other vessel was chartered, Comet, a flat bottomed vessel used to lay the shore ends in the shallows of the Shat-el-Arab estuary.

Marian Moore left England on 15 August 1863, arriving at Bombay on 23 December followed by Kirkham, which left England on 12 September, arriving on 6 January 1864. The two were towed by two steamers to Gwadar where Kirkham began laying cable towards Mussendom paying out at a rate of 5½-6 knots, Marian Moore took over off Jask and completed the run to Mussendom. Tweed then took over and headed for Bushire, the run to Fao being completed by Assaye.

At Fao problems occurred when Comet was unable to get closer than four miles to the shore. To overcome the problem ten of the expedition’s small boats were lashed together and sufficient cable to reach shore was loaded aboard. Even then these boats were unable to get closer than one mile and the cable had to be manhandled through the mud to reach the shore.

The Gwadar - Karachi section was laid by Assaye and Cospatrick during April and May 1864. Amberwitch then took up repair duties. The through line to England didn’t open until 1865, as the Turks had failed to complete the line because of continuous attacks from local Arabs. Eventually agreement was reached with the local sheikhs to provide guards for the construction gangs, and the line was eventually completed.

See also the Telegraph Island page, which includes present-day photographs of the cable station location at Mussendom, and an 1865 story from the Illustrated London News describing the work of laying the cable in the regsion.

1869 Duplicate Cable

Traffic on the line was so heavy that it was decided to lay another cable from Bushire to Jask. From Bushire a landline ran to Tehran. In January 1870 the Indo-European Telegraph Company Ltd., owned by Siemens Bros., completed a line which reached Tehran via Germany and Russia. See below for a contemporary account of the laying of this cable.

The core of the 1869 cable was manufactured by Hooper’s Telegraph Works, and W. T. Henley again armoured and undertook the laying with Sir Charles Bright acting as Consulting Engineer. Tweed was again chartered along with another sailing vessel, Calcutta. Amberwitch already being on station.

Calcutta left England on 29 January 1869 loaded with 273 nm of cable and a new steam pinnace for Amberwitch. Shortly after releasing her tow she collided with a barque off the Lizard and began taking on water. It was decided to offload part of the cable and the forward tank was opened up and the cable passed over the side. Eventually the weight of the cable was sufficient to drag it overboard without manual help. One of Henley’s men took a rough bearing as to where the offloading commenced. One of the ships boats managed to get ashore and the Royal Navy was asked to take Calcutta in tow, which they did taking the ship into Plymouth.

One of Henley’s ships, the Caroline, was given the task of recovering the cable, which she did. Because the cable fed out without any form of control it came up full of kinks and bends. These were cut out and the pieces jointed together; in all 300 joints were made. After repairs the cable was reloaded aboard Calcutta and she and Tweed set off for Bombay and successfully laid the cable.

Later developments

In 1869 the British-Indian Telegraph Company submarine cable was opened and traffic on the older lines dropped off dramatically. Amberwitch acted as repair ship until replaced by Patrick Stewart (1) in 1879. This vessel remained in service until 1924 when replaced by Patrick Stewart (2).

In 1931 the submarine cables belonging to the Indo-European Telegraph Department were absorbed by Imperial and International Communications Ltd., later Cable and Wireless. All of the cables were eventually abandoned.

CABLE SHIPS

AMBERWITCH

Built in 1862 by Sir James Laing and Co., Sunderland

Length 175.0 ft. Breadth 27.0 ft. Depth 16.5 ft. Gross tonnage 441.

Amberwitch investigating a break caused by a whale
becoming entangled in the Persian Gulf cable.
Illustrated London News 13 September 1873

Named Charente when launched. Purchased in 1864 and fitted out for cable repair work under the direction of Sir Charles Bright. Fitted with two cable tanks, two bow and stern sheaves as well as paying out and picking up gear. In service until 1879

PATRICK STEWART (1)

Built in 1879 by J. Key and Sons, Kirkcaldy.

Length 226.0 ft. Breadth 30.75 ft. Depth 16.5 ft. Gross tonnage 1,130.

Named after the first Director General of India Telegraphs. Fitted with four cable tanks and bow sheaves, with the cable machinery situated on a forward well deck. Based at Karachi and in service until 1924.

Laid a cable from Jask to Muscat in 1901.The cable being brought out from Siemens Bros by the freighter Hadley It was loaded aboard at Muscat.

PATRICK STEWART (2)

Built in 1924 by William Simons Ltd., Renfrew.

Length 248.0 ft. Breadth 37.5 ft. Depth 13.25 ft. Gross tonnage 1,572.

Arrived at Karachi August 1925. Taken over by the 1930 Eastern Telegraph Company in 1930 and kept by them for two years and then sold to the Royal Indian Navy. Converted into a survey vessel and renamed Investigator, remaining in use until 1951

Two independent sets of cable machinery were supplied by Messrs Clarke, Chapman and Company Limited which was installed on the main deck forward.

Also equipped with cabins for seven first class and six second class passengers.

MARIAN MOORE

Length 165.0 ft. Breadth 24.0 ft. Depth 23.0 ft. Gross tonnage 1,036.

Chartered from Moore and Company for the 1864 Persian Gulf cable.

COSPATRICK

Built in 1856 at Moulmein. Sailing vessel.

Length 190.0 ft. Breadth 34.0 ft. Depth 23.5 ft. Gross tonnage 1199

Chartered from J. Fleming and Company for the 1864 Persian Gulf cable.

KIRKHAM

Built in1856 at Birkenhead. Sailing vessel.

Length 201.1 ft. Breadth 34.1 ft. Depth 26.0 ft. Gross tonnage 1061

Chartered from Jacob and Company for the 1864 Persian Gulf cable.

Temporarily fitted out for cable laying.

ASSAYE

Built in 1853 at Greenock. Sailing vessel.

Length 161.3 ft. Breadth 29.1 ft. Depth 20.4 ft. Gross tonnage 1,528.

Built as paddle frigate for the Royal Indian Navy and then purchased by Stewart and Company who removed the engines out. Chartered for the 1864 expedition. Foundered off the West Coast of Ireland 28 January 1865 on the return voyage.

TWEED

Built at Moulmein.

Gross tonnage 1,744.

Built originally for the Royal Indian Navy as a paddle wheel frigate named Punjaub. Purchased by John Willis and Company in 1863 and fitted out as a barque. Chartered in 1864 by the Indian Government for the first Persian Gulf cable and again in 1869 for the duplicate cable.

CALCUTTA

Built in 1837 at Moulmein. .

Originally a screw steamer and built for the Golden Fleece Line. When chartered in 1869 from Irvine and Company she had been converted to sail.

COMET

Operated by the Bombay Marine Service and used to land the shore end of 1864 cable at Fao.


THE SECOND PERSIAN GULF CABLE.
From “The Bombay Gazette.”

It may be remembered that more than a year ago the Government decided to submerge a second telegraph cable in the Persian Gulf, extending from Bushire to Jashk, on the coast of Mekran. At the present moment there is a double line of communication from Kurrachee to Jashk, the one by submarine, the other by aerial telegraph; and from Bushire to England there is the line by Turkey (just now unfortunately interrupted by the Arabs), and a second through Persia and Russia —the organization of which, at Messrs. Siemens’ hands, will not, in all probability, be thoroughly carried out until the end of November. The laying, therefore, of the second cable between Jashk and Bushire will complete the duplicate chain of communication between India and Europe, and will relieve the old cable from a weight of traffic already nearly too much for its capabilities.

So far back as July, 1868, the manufacture was commenced in England, under the management of Mr. Latimer Clark, who was engaged to superintend the construction and submersion of the new cable. The general direction of the arrangements was intrusted to Major Champain, assistant to Colonel Goldsmid, the head of the Indo-European Telegraph Department. This is the first cable of importance where the old gutta-percha covered core has been discarded, and india-rubber, prepared by Mr. Hooper, the well-known chemist in Pall Mall, used in its stead. The superior insulating properties of the latter substance have long been recognized; but difficulties in properly preparing it, and numerous other causes, have hitherto prevented its general adoption. The excellent qualities of Hooper’s core have, however, been satisfactorily proved by many severe tests. An experimental length has for a long time been laid near Bushire; the new core was also used for the existing Ceylon cable; many miles have been sent out to India for river crossings; and a considerable quantity was purchased and sent out in 1867 for telegraphic purposes during the Abyssinian campaign. The cable under consideration was covered by Mr. Henley, of North Woolwich, and shipped last winter on board the two fine-sailing vessels, the Tweed and the Calcutta. It was at first intended to lay the new line in the spring of the present year; but the whole arrangement had to be altered in January, in consequence of the disastrous collision of the Calcutta near the Lizard, when seventy miles of the cable had to be thrown overboard, and the vessel at last abandoned in a sinking state in Channel. The captain of the Calcutta and thirty of his crew, including three cable hands, lost their lives; but the ship was eventually picked up and towed into Plymouth by her Majesty’s frigate Terrible. The seventy miles of jettisoned cable were grappled and recovered under the immediate supervision of Mr. Webb, Mr. Latimer Clark’s assistant, and after great labor the Calcutta was able to sail again at the end of June, closely followed by the Tweed.

Both ships reached Bombay on the same day, and are now lying off the Apolla Bunder, preparatory to the final start for the Persian Gulf.

It was from the first determined to lay the cable out of sailing vessels in tow of steamers—a plan which involves some risk, and which is never adopted in latitudes where settled weather cannot be counted on. In this instance the vessel actually paying out will be towed by the Dacca, a steamer just chartered for the expedition by the Bombay Government. The second vessel will be towed by the Earl Canning, and the Amber Witch has already started for Jashk, to lay the shore ends in advance. The original length of 525 miles of cable shipped has been reduced by ten miles, in consequence of loss in splicing and repairing the seventy miles jettisoned off the Lizard. The operations will commence about the 1st of November, and the cable will be laid up the gulf from Jashk to Bushire, the Tweed first paying out her stock and the Calcutta completing the last half to Bushire. It is confidently expected that the ships will be back in Bombay by the beginning of December, to have their tanks removed and their decks and beams replaced.

Last revised: 26 November, 2010

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