Escher.gif (426 bytes)

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

Robert Charles Dudley (1826-1909)
by Bill Burns

We know Robert Charles Dudley mainly through his work as an artist and designer, which engaged him for almost all of the second half of the 19th century. Of special interest here are his sketches, watercolours and paintings of cable expeditions, made on four occasions between 1865 and 1870.

Born in Hackney, London in 1826, Dudley was the child of a well-to-do family. His father, Charles Stokes Dudley, an Irish provision merchant, writer and philanthropist, was noted on Robert’s baptismal record (and also on his marriage certificate) as “Gentleman”. On the 1851 census, Robert Dudley at age 25 was a lodger at 95 Stanhope Street, St Pancras, and listed his profession as “Architect.”

On 4 August 1859 at age 33, Robert Dudley was married in Liverpool to Amelia (Amy) Hunt, aged 26. Amelia’s father Andrew Lucas Hunt was also an artist [Marriage register], as was her brother Alfred William Hunt. In 1857 Alfred had given Robert a watercolour of a coastal scene inscribed “To R. Dudley from A.W. Hunt[Auction record], and this perhaps indicates Dudley’s interest in the sea, which was to be the subject of so many of his paintings from the 1860s into the 1890s. On the 1861 census Dudley is listed as “Artist in Painting”.

After their marriage the Dudleys lived at 32 Sussex Place, Kensington, London, where they had two children: Guildford, born 1860, and Robert Ambrose, born circa 1867. A letter to Henry Clifford dated April 1868 has the Kensington address, but by the time of the 1871 census the family had moved to 31 Lansdowne Road in Notting Hill, where Dudley lived until his death on 28 April 1909 (mis-stated on many art sites as 1900). Probate was granted on 2 July 1909 to his widow Amelia and her sons, with Dudley’s estate valued at £9,388 17s 6d.

Amelia Dudley continued to live at Lansdowne Road until her death on 25 December 1921, and her sons retained the house as their residence until the deaths of Guildford (20 November 1933), and finally of Ambrose (16 November 1951).
[Death dates from UK Probate Registry]

Today the Notting Hill house, the right-hand member of the semi-detached pair shown below, is a listed building described as:

“Pair of classical stucco houses. Circa 1840. Three storeys plus basement. Each 3 windows. End bays slightly set forward. Rusticated pilasters to ground floor. Pilasters and pediments to first floor windows. Bracketed cornice and blocking course. Stucco porches. Part of a group of similar houses with Nos 33-47”.
[Text courtesy of Historic England. Crown Copyright, used by Open Government License.]

29 and 31 Lansdowne Road

Of independent means, and without the necessity of having to work, Robert Dudley was free to pursue a varied career in the arts. The first published mention of his name is in the 10 March 1849 issue of the Illustrated London News. A classified advertisement signed by Robert C Dudley and Wm. W Deane as Hon. Secs. promotes an exhibition of “drawings, models, &c., in connexion with architecture” at the Gallery of the New Society of Painters in Water Colours, 53, Pall Mall in London.

In the early 1850s Dudley was principal draughtsman for the architect Matthew Digby Wyatt, and was later engaged by Day & Son, a leading firm of chromolithographers, to illustrate many of their lavish picture books. He was Special Artist for the Illustrated London News for many years, and was also a well-regarded book cover designer. The Victorian Web has a page showing some of his books, together with a detailed list.

Dudley worked extensively in watercolours and also produced many oils, showing 47 paintings between 1865 and 1891 at London venues, including 24 at the Royal Academy and others at the New Water-Colour Gallery, Suffolk Street, and various exhibitions [Graves, A Dictionary of Artists]. His works occasionally come up for sale at auction today, and his cable-related paintings and watercolours are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York); the Smithsonian Institution (Washington DC); the National Maritime Museum, the Science Museum, the Institution of Civil Engineers, and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (all London); and Library and Archives Canada.

Robert Dudley oil painting “Presented to Lady Canning by a few friends and coadjutors of Sir Samuel Canning, Feb 1868”, showing the scene on board Great Eastern on the morning of September 2nd, 1866 after the recovery of the 1865 cable. The National Maritime Museum has in its archives a letter from Dudley to his fellow-artist, cable engineer Henry Clifford, regarding this painting.
Image courtesy of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, where the painting hangs in the President’s office. Canning was a member of the ICE.

As well as being described as the ‘Special Artist” of the Illustrated London News, Dudley was also mentioned by name in some of the reports on cable expeditions. Wood engravings based on his sketches appeared in the newspaper to accompany stories on the 1865 and 1866 Atlantic cables between Ireland and Newfoundland; the 1869 French Atlantic cable; and the 1870 cable from Porthcurno in Cornwall to Portugal.

Robert Dudley painting of Great Eastern (untitled).
This painting hung for many years at Enderby House on the Greenwich site where many Atlantic cables were made by the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company. It is now in the conference room of Alcatel Submarine Networks, the successor to Telcon.
Photograph by Stewart Ash

While on the 1865 and 1866 expeditions aboard Great Eastern, Dudley made a large number of paintings of particular interest to undersea cable historians. Many of the ones from 1865 were reproduced as colour lithographs in William Russell’s book, The Atlantic Telegraph, published in early 1866 by Day & Son. Dudley also designed the cover for this book about the 1865 Atlantic Cable expedition.

Although by that time photography was reasonably well established, the only photographs of the 1865 and 1866 cable expeditions are of the machinery on board ship, and a small number of stereoviews with similar subjects. Dudley’s sketches, watercolours and oils are thus the only comprehensive pictorial record of the entire expedition. By kind permission of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Science Museum, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, and Library and Archives Canada, over sixty of Dudley’s original paintings may be seen at the book page linked above.

A contemporary review of the Atlantic Telegraph book included these remarks:

“The beautiful volume before us is a fitting record of the great labour which last year saw begin and terminate. It is the history of the voyage, written by Dr. W.H. Russell, and while it is instructive and interesting as a narrative, it is highly ornamental as a sketch-book. Messrs. Day and Sons have reproduced Mr. Dudley’s drawings in the best style of chromolithography, and altogether the book is one of which it would be hard to speak too favourably.”

A contact in January 2016 with a descendant of Robert Dudley’s sister-in-law led me to a 1933 article by another family member, Frank Hall Childs, who was married to Dudley’s niece Amelia. The article includes the text of a letter written by Dudley on 8 September 1866 to his sister-in-law Sophia Hunt. At that time he was again on board Great Eastern as Special Artist for the Illustrated London News, and he wrote the letter on the day that the ship returned to Heart’s Content after the recovery of the 1865 cable from the depths of the North Atlantic.

The article and letter were published in the August 1st, 1933 issue of the trade magazine Telegraph and Telephone Age, and give some insights into Dudley’s life and family at the time of the 1866 Atlantic cable expedition. Both are reproduced in full below.


Telegraph and Telephone Age, August 1, 1933

Life Aboard First Cable Steamship Great Eastern
Told in “Home Letter” by Artist Robert Dudley
As Ship Landed a Line, Then “Fished” One at Sea

By Frank Hall Childs, LL.B.

A recent news item announcing the death, at the age of 97, of a member of the steamship Great Eastern’s crew of 600 men who helped lay the Atlantic cable, and stating that only two other members of the crew now survive, prompts me to bring to public attention a letter in my possession, written by Robert Dudley, one of the reporters accompanying the vessel, a copy of which is appended. Mr. Dudley, whose photograph I have, afterwards became a noted London artist. He married Miss Amy Hunt, a sister of my wife’s mother, Sophia (Mrs. Edwin) Hunt, of Chicago, to whom the letter was addressed. My wife’s maiden name was also Amy Hunt, having been named for her aunt. Mr. Dudley has two sons, Guildford and Ambrose, who are artists now residing in London, the former being mentioned in the letter.

The first cable which ever spanned an ocean was laid in 1858, but it ceased to function after having been in operation about a month. I have a piece of that cable.

On July 23, 1865, the Great Eastern started from Valentia, Ireland, with the second cable. On August 2nd this cable snapped by overstraining, 1064 miles from Ireland, and after unsuccessful attempts to recover it, the Great Eastern returned to England. In July of the following year on Friday, the 13th, the Great Eastern again left Valentia with a third cable, and after a successful trip reached Hearts Content, Newfoundland, on the 27th. The Great Eastern left Hearts Content on August 9th to attempt the fishing up of the second cable which had broken the year before. On September 1st the second cable was fished up and spliced, and the Great Eastern reached Hearts Content again on the 8th with this additional cable, so that the two continents were connected by two working cables. It was on that date that Mr. Dudley wrote his letter in which he describes the termination of the trip during which the second cable was laid, and the intense moments when the broken cable of 1865 was successfully brought to the surface.

I have a badly worn copy of “Frank Leslie’s Atlantic Cable Pictorial” of eight pages containing an account of the laying of the first cable in 1858, and of the second cable in 1866. Unfortunately there is no date on the “Pictorial,” but its contents clearly indicate that it was published about August 1, 1866. It contains many woodcuts, and also the “ballad” beginning:

“Come listen all unto my song,
  It is no silly fable
’Tis all about the mighty cord
  They call the Atlantic Cable.”

I quote from its sixth page in regard to the first speaking message over the cable, July 6, 1866: “The first speaking message from the shore to the vessel laying the shore end was an inquiry after the health of Mr. Dudley, the artist who had been engaged it making a sketch of the scene connected with the shore end. The question: ‘How is Dudley?’ was promptly sent, with the answer: ‘Dudley sleeps’.”

The autographs mentioned in Mr. Dudley’s letter, and which I now possess, are as follows: “Very truly your friend, Cyrus W. Field.” (Mr. Field financed the laying of the cable.) “Yours very truly, James Anderson, R.N.R.” (Commander of the Great Eastern.) “Yours truly, S. Canning,” (Engineer in Chief of the Expedition.) “Henry A. Moriarty,” (Staff Commander in Her Britannic Majesty’s Navy, assisting in all nautical observations and in the navigation of the ship associated with Captain Anderson.) “Yours truly, Willoughby Smith,” (Chief Electrician to the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company) “William Thomson,” (LL.D of both Oxford and Cambridge, F.R.S., Professor of Natural Philosophy in the University of Glasgow, Consulting Electrician to the Expedition.) “Yours very truly, Henry Clifford.” (Engineer superintending the Machinery Department.)

Mr. Dudley’s letter is presented in full, not only for its historical value concerning the laying of the Atlantic cable but also as a contribution from the fine literary style of nearly seventy years ago when kinsfolk and friendships occupied so much of life’s interest. The letter is as follows:

Anglo-American Telegraph Co., Limited.
Great Eastern Steamship,
September 8th, 1866.

My dear Sophia.

It was truly pleasant to me to receive your letter very shortly before we started from “Hearts Content” on our little fishing excursion in the middle of the Atlantic. I need not say that the success of having laid the Cable had given us very sanguine hopes for the final and even more unprecedented enterprise. We left on August 9th (and so soon after I had received your letter, with some from Amy, that I could not reply to yours properly before we sailed) and here we are just about a month after that date in Trinity Bay and we trust in less than an hour to enter the little land-locked harbor of Hearts Content once more and by this evening to have the second shore end (that we hoped to lay last year!!) safely landed and the two telegraphic wires of nearly 2,000 miles each, transmitting words with almost the speed of thoughts. I think with you that these charming twins will very much help to hold together in peace and right understanding America and England.

It would indeed have been a very great delight to me to have seen you or Edwin, or in fact any of my nephews or nieces (though I have written these last I hope they will understand that I meant to give “place aux dames”), and you or they could scarcely have failed to have found abundant occupation for such time as could have been spent on board the leviathan ship and on shore. Not that Hearts Content Bay or its neighborhood is by any means exceptionally picturesque; rather the contrary, the surrounding hills are of no great elevation and the only foliage that I have been able to see in this particular locality consists of one or two kinds of fir and juniper, not growing to any height but stunted and thickly covering the hill sides, of course a certain tameness and monotony of effect and tint is the result. They tell me that nearer to St. John’s the scenery is far more vivid, grand, and picturesque generally, but I had for my own part such full occupation during the whole time the ship was lying here, in obtaining all the material needed for future use that I was, with regret, obliged to abandon any idea of paying a visit to St. John’s.

Captain Anderson told me lately that the ship would not remain here on this occasion any time longer than would be absolutely essential, and indeed we are all I think anxious now to have the ship’s head turned eastward and to be “homeward bound.” There is even a talk of sailing tomorrow morning, therefore I intend to have this letter ready to be posted off to you before we leave. I will certainly obtain and send (if not enclose herein) for my niece the autographs of the few principal leaders of the expedition, and wish I could have the pleasure of giving them to her personally.

Last night the “Terrible” frigate (one of our consorts) brought us out the second batch of letters we have received since we left the Irish coast July 13th, Three letters from Amy were thoroughly welcomed by me, though I was made very anxious by reading one on August 2nd, telling me that she had been very ill and was then at Glengyle Lodge writing in bed and under medical care. It seems to have been an attack somewhat similar in character to that from which she suffered much last autumn, a kind of low fever. The danger then was its degeneration into gastric fever; this I am thankful to say appears to have been averted, and though still weak a letter dated the following day (August 3rd) tells me she had “taken quite a turn for the better and felt getting rapidly into ordinary health,” though as you will well believe I should have been under much anxiety on dear Amy’s account had I not received since then (on September 2nd) a telegram through the then recovered cable of last year, intimating that both Amy and Guildford were well.

Saturday night, Septr. 8.

Since the commencement of my letter was written the shore end has been most successfully laid and after nearly the whole day spent in this work a large party of about 80 sat down to dinner in the saloon of the Great Eastern, which by the bye ought by this time to have become possessed of wonderfully elastic properties, for you would have been astonished at the numbers who, coming from St. John’s or other parts, appeared quite comfortably to take part in the festivities, whether of the dancing or dining order, and of which we really had quite sufficient during our former stay here.

Note: This watercolour by Robert Dudley was not part of the 1933 article, but is shown here because he painted it on the day that he wrote this section of the letter:

92.10.87: September 8th at Heart’s Content, the day of the successful termination of the work of laying, recovering, completing and testing the Atlantic Telegraph Cables of 1865 and 1866
Image courtesy of metmuseum.org, gift of Cyrus W. Field, 1892

As you will have read above the account of Amy’s illness, I ought to add now that this morning’s mail brought by the “Hawk” from St. John’s gives us letters a fortnight later than August 4th, so that I have now a letter—the latest dated—from Amy, August 17th in which she writes of herself as getting quite well again although forbidden by Mr. Turner (our medical man) to undertake anything like a journey she had with very pleasant anticipation proposed to undertake to Liverpool, to spend some time with your mother. I had exceedingly wished that this could be done provided Amy did not feel the house dull, as they all seem to think it. Jessie and Ella were going down and it would have been just the opportunity; however, we must bear these crosses of hopes patiently though I do feel much for poor Amy who had looked forward to that visit sometime during my absence. She is now at home and will ere long be, if all is well, looking out for the return of the Great Eastern.

We go to Liverpool, hoping to be there on about the 20th instant. Any news I could give you would no doubt by the time this reaches you be no news. To tell of all our hopes and fears, of the cable once (as you will have read perhaps) raised to the surface of the sea, held there under a tremendous strain and the sea running high at the time, until having borne this for five minutes the cable parted and the two ends, alas! suddenly shot like lightning into the water. Still that was something accomplished, never before known, at least until the grappling of last year.

We had actually seen the cable brought up from a depth of two miles in the Atlantic and under a heavy rise and fall of the sea and it was felt that weather was the assistant required, weather was essential for the success of the attempt and after many subsequent weary days, and much hope deferred that had to say the least of it well nigh made the heart sick, after these trials of patience! we enjoyed two comparatively calm and clear days and it was we may well believe something more than a merely “fortunate” circumstance that we hooked the cable 80 or 100 miles to the eastward of the break last year, at that very time.

The end was buoyed and the Great Eastern and the Medway again grappled and both caught the cable. We were between the buoy and the Medway, some 2 or 3 miles from either, the cable doubtless hanging in festoons between the grapnels. The Medway, to the west, broke her cable and that gave us a loose end and relieved the strain. It was in fact, although hardly to be expected so soon, just the best thing to occur, and the rest you know, viz. that on the night of September 1st at 10 minutes past 2 we saw the long lost treasure slowly drawn in over the bow sheave—for an hour and a half it had been hanging over the ship’s huge prow whilst the necessary work was done in securing the precious wire and in freeing it from the grapnel, in the flukes of which it had become entangled. Though knowing that such work must be well, and thoroughly well, done, and that time must be given to effect such, still it was indeed an anxious time to all hanging in mental suspense and in physical straining over the bow bulwarks.

At about 3.30 or a little before, the first reply from Valencia flashed along the scale of the galvanometer watched by many eager eyes in the darkened “electricians’ room” announcing that the recovered cable was in perfect electrical condition and giving us practical assurance that doubt could exist no longer but that we might hail the happy accomplishment of—I think it may be said—the grandest enterprise of Submarine Telegraphy.

Note: This oil painting by Robert Dudley was not part of the 1933 article, but is shown here to illustrate the scene he describes above:

92.10.43: Awaiting the Reply
Image courtesy of metmuseum.org, gift of Cyrus W. Field, 1892

But I have reached the fourth page of my sheet and have been saying but little about yourself or matters more immediately interesting to you. Indeed upon glancing back at what I have written a good deal too much of personal matter has crept in. Well, my excuse for inflicting the last page upon you (all of which you have probably read previously in other words as published now throughout the States as well as the old country) must be that especially on this day the interest is intensely felt, and that perhaps even a few particulars noted by an eye-witness have generally an interest of their own.

You do not say when you take up your abode in your new residence; what a thorough pleasure it must be to have one built exactly as you desire. I only wish, even to a moderate extent of meeting one’s requirements such a house were more easy to meet with in London or its neighborhood than we have found it to be. It would be right pleasant to see you in your own, and that the “pleasant surprise” hinted at by your daughters could be in that respect accomplished, but our stay here this time will be very brief, and were it otherwise I am becoming as you will readily imagine very anxious to reach home again. We shall have been out very nearly three months.

Amy tells me that Mr. Turner insists upon her waiting to leave home until I return and that then “I am to take her away from town.” So visions of a seaside sojourn present themselves and if Amy is gathering a renewal of health and I can settle into work at some such place, it appears to me the best plan we can adopt. Guildford is, I learn, in “perfect health;” the little fellow has been running wild at his Aunt’s, and Alick and Sarah have, I am sure, been full of kindness and attentive care for Amy. Your mother appears to be tolerably well considering all things, but I hope to take the opportunity of the ship’s returning to Liverpool to see them in Oxford street for at least a “flying visit.” Alfred talks very decidedly I hear about going up to reside in or near London—”must do it at once,” etc. But I have known so many similar resolutions come to naught that it will indeed be a surprise to find this a fact, upon my return. I wish he would, and think it would, professionally, be a good thing to do, though indeed no one can in such matters fairly judge for another.

Pray give my love to Edwin and to all of my nieces and nephews. We shall trust that your hint as to coming over to England next year may be acted upon. Believe me, my dear Sophia, affectionately yours,

Robert Dudley


In January 1934 the magazine printed a follow-up to the August article in the form of a letter from another family member, Robert Dudley’s great-nephew Harwood [Hunt] Frost:

Telegraph and Telephone Age, January 1, 1934

More About Artist Robert Dudley, Who Portrayed
In Paintings Laying of the First Atlantic Cable

Frank Hall Childs, of Pacific Palisades, California, whose article on “Life Aboard the First Cable Steamship Great Eastern as Told in a Home Letter by Artist Robert Dudley,” was published in the August 1 edition of Telegraph and Telephone Age, has received letters of congratulation from many readers who are or have been connected with the land telegraph and ocean cable companies. One of the most interesting of the letters was from Harwood Frost, of Chicago, Ill., from which Mr. Childs has forwarded extracts as follows:

“I was glad to get the copy of the Telegraph and Telephone Age with your article about Robert Dudley, but I do not think that you went far enough with it. You did not say that he was on the trip for the special purpose of painting the scenes of the laying of the cable, in order to pass on to posterity that important incident. In that day they did not have the facilities of photography, and he was engaged by Cyrus Field for this special work. He painted a considerable series of views, and for a long time these were in the possession of the Western Union Telegraph Company, in New York, but now some of them are in London and some in New York, and they are the only authentic pictures of the work of laying the cables. Mr. Dudley has told me personally of that trip and of the breaking and reclaiming of the cable, and I am sorry that I cannot remember enough of the details to give you, for his story was much more detailed than it was in that letter, and in many ways much more interesting, for he was a good story teller and he had every detail in his mind. He often talked about his experiences on the Great Eastern.

Then also, I do not know whether you got from Guildford and Ambrose anything of the story of other matters in relation to Robert Dudley—his family connections with the old Earl of Leicester who nearly became the husband of Queen Elizabeth, but who lost his head instead. His family is the rightful owner of the old castle of Kenilworth, and I have been at the old home of the Earl of Leicester, and have seen a painting of the Earl himself, which you would take for a portrait of our Uncle Robert—he inherited all the old Dudley features. As you know, Robert Dudley (the Earl) married Amy Robsart, and he used to tell how the name of Amy ran through the family. Also the present family inherited part of the old Irish estate of the Earl through the Earl’s brother, John Dudley, who escaped from England and took up his residence in Ireland. Also the names of Guildford and Ambrose are descended from the Earl, whose son was Lord Guildford Dudley.

Then also it is of interest, as well as showing something of the reputation he had as an artist, that he was engaged by Queen Victoria to paint the scene of the marriage of Edward, Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII. He lived at Windsor for some months while doing this work, and became well acquainted with Victoria, who gave him an old book of a history of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and talked with him personally about his own rights to that title and to the estate of Kenilworth, but said that it was impossible for her either to restore the title to him or to restore the estate. He told me a lot about his life at Windsor and his conversations with Queen Victoria, which were very interesting.

Probably you know that Guildford was engaged in telegraph work for some years also, having lived for some years on the east coast of Africa, in the employ of the Eastern Telegraph Company, and is now a pensioner of that company. My brother, Edwin Hunt Frost, 27 Morsemere Place, Yonkers, N.Y., has among his various treasures a set of the pictures of the laying of the Atlantic cable, and they were later printed in book form, or in folio—I do not remember—but I recollect seeing them at his home. One time I had occasion to call on George Gould, at a time when he was the largest stockholder of the Western Union. and at that time George Gould had three of Robert Dudley’s original paintings in his office in New York. Anyway your story was interesting and I appreciated it.”


The 1866 letter reproduced above, sent by Robert Dudley to his wife’s sister in America, gives a personal account of the recovery of the 1865 cable. In the Illustrated London News issue of 13 October 1866 he wrote up the story for the general reader and accompanied it with several illustrations:

The Great Eastern Picking up the
Atlantic Telegraph Cable of 1865
ILN 13 October 1866

Testing the Recovered Atlantic Telegraph Cable of 1865
ILN 13 October 1866
Compare with Dudley’s watercolour "Transmitting" and his oil painting“Awaiting the Reply

The Atlantic Telegraph Cable of 1865: Chairing Sir Samuel
Canning at Heart’s Content, Newfoundland
ILN 13 October 1866

Dudley also wrote about the 1865 Atlantic cable expedition in a letter published in the 16 August 1893 issue of The Electrical Engineer (New York). In a story about Sir James Anderson, commander of Great Eastern for the 1865 and 1866 expeditions, the trade newspaper had published this image of the ship showing the scene after the loss of the 1865 cable:

“The Great Eastern, having grappled the lost cable of 1865 three times, getting it from the bottom ¾ of a mile, ¼ and ½ a mile, in the several attempts, finds her tackling exhausted, steers homeward, a gale springing up, and night coming on—August 12th, 1865.”—James Anderson.

The “Great Eastern” Under Command Of Capt. Anderson, Cable Grappling, 1865.

The illustration published in The Electrical Engineer was taken from a photograph of a painting by Robert Dudley, who in a letter to the newspaper gave further information about the details of the image:

THE STORY OF A CABLE BUOY.

In your number for June 14 last appeared an illustration accompanying Mr. A.E. Kennelly’s “Reminiscences of Sir James Anderson.” Perhaps your courtesy will permit me, as the artist who accompanied the Atlantic Telegraph Expeditions of 1865 and 1866, to say that the illustration you give is reproduced from a photograph of a picture painted by me in 1865 for Sir James Anderson, who, not long before his decease, showed me one of the excellent photographs taken from it. The photograph, however, cannot correctly be called “an original” as, of course, only the picture can be so termed. It was in the Royal Naval Exhibition of 1891. I am induced to write a few lines to supplement the short description given beneath your illustration.

The story told by the picture has a great point of interest in the buoy in the foreground (or forewater)—the disadvantage pictorially of this object having, from its prominence, a tendency to dwarf the ship, is counterbalanced by the interest of the story of the buoy. It had been lowered from the bulwarks of the great ship, and was anchored, so far as almost exhausted means of tackling would permit, at a depth of some 2¼ miles, to mark the spot where the electric cable had gone down, and were lay buried—then—so many and such sanguine hopes.

A sketch of mine of this buoy appeared in the Illustrated London News of September 2, 1865. The buoy itself, driven by the storms of the succeeding winter into far distant seas, was—as I saw subsequently mentioned in some paper—discovered by the captain of a ship at sea and identified by that sketch.

The ship in the offing is H.M.S. “Terrible” the consort of the “Great Eastern” in the memorable expeditions of 1865 and 1866. The scene, in fact, pictures the parting of the ships over the grave of the lost cable.

No doubt all these particulars bear especial interest for those in whom the memory of the events is still living and keen; but any record of such enterprise must possess some interest for all—even after many years.

Robert Dudley, 31 Lansdowne Road, Notting Hill, London.

July 18, 1893.

Robert Dudley’s painting from which the illustration above was taken

Dudley evidently also made another painting for Sir James Anderson. This hand-lettered presentation certificate is in the archives of the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum [PIC///152/] and describes a painting of the scene on the night of September 1st 1866 when the lost cable of 1865 was recovered. The location of the painting itself is not presently known.


As noted in Harwood Frost’s letter responding to Frank Childs’ 1933 article, Dudley’s eldest son Guildford had also worked in the cable industry, for the Eastern Telegraph Company. The company had a house magazine, The Zodiac, which published news of interest to its employees. In an issue believed to be that of April 1933, there appeared a full-page reproduction of one of Robert Dudley’s watercolours of Great Eastern. According to the caption, the scene is of the ship leaving Sheerness after loading the cable for the 1865 expedition. Too large to sail any further upriver, Great Eastern was also loaded at Sheerness for the 1866 and 1869 Atlantic cable voyages.

The “Great Eastern” with the 1865 Atlantic Cable on Board,
from a Water Colour Sketch by Robert Dudley, the Artist, who
accompanied the expedition and represented “The Illustrated
London News.”
The ship is shown leaving Sheerness after loading the cable. Great Eastern was too big to moor at the Greenwich works where the cable was made, and had to be loaded downriver for all three of her Atlantic Cable expeditions.

The National Maritime Museum has an oil painting by Dudley, “From Sheerness to Valentia,” showing the scene in June 1865 on board Great Eastern during the voyage to Ireland, where the cable laying would begin.

In 1868 Robert Dudley was on the Executive Committee for a “Banquet Held in Honour of Cyrus W. Field, Esq. of New York, in Willis’s Rooms, London, on Wednesday, 1st July, 1868.” He also designed the commemorative illustration for the event:

Archives of the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum

In 1869 Dudley sailed for the last time on Great Eastern, again as Special Artist for the Illustrated London News, and recorded the laying of the first French Atlantic cable. His first sketch for the newspaper, published in the edition of 26 June 1869, was of a similar scene to the 1865 view above:

The Great Eastern Steam-Ship Leaving Sheerness
with the French Atlantic Cable
ILN 26 June 1869

Landing of the Shore End of the French Atlantic
Telegraph Cable at Minou, near Brest
ILN 3 July 1869

The French Atlantic Telegraph: Arrival of the Great Eastern off Brest
ILN 10 July 1869

The Chiltern Preparing to Lay the Shore End of the Cable
ILN 10 July 1869

The Hawk Leading the Way to where
the Shore End of the Cable was Buoyed
ILN 10 July 1869

Robert Dudley’s last work on cable expeditions for the Illustrated London News was in 1870, when he was at Porthcurno in Cornwall for the landing of the cable from Portugal. This was the first section of the cable to India, and also the inaugural cable for the Porthcurno station, which was opened that year. CS Hibernia commenced laying cable on 2 June and arrived at Porthcurno on 8 June 1870. CS Investigator laid the Porthcurno shore ends. Dudley’s sketches accompanied an article on the cable published in the Illustrated London News issue of 25 June 1870.

The Cliffs at Porthcurnew Bay
ILN 25 June 1870

Landing the Cable at Porthcurnew Bay
ILN 25 June 1870

As well as making these sketches for the ILN, Dudley also painted at least three watercolours while in Cornwall. One is of the landing of the cable to Portugal, described when it was sold at auction in 1995 as “Landing the telegraph cable at Porthcurnow, Cornwall, 2nd June 1870, England to Lisbon”. No image of this painting is presently available, but it it quite possibly based on the sketch immediately above. It also seems likely that this is the same watercolour described in the 1894 catalogue of John Pender’s art collection as “Landing the Telegraph Cable at Porthcurnow, Cornwall, 1870, 14.5" x 22",” which was sold by Christie’s in 1897 as Lot 147 of the Pender sale.

Another Dudley watercolour listed in the 1894 Pender catalogue is just 8" x 5", and shows “Sir John Pender, G.C.M.G., M.P. at Porthcurnow.—Writing the first telegram to be sent by the British-India, Falmouth and Malta line, June 8, 1870, in the Telegraph hut.” Pender’s extensive collection was dispersed at auction after his death in 1896, and the present location of the painting is not known. However, a black & white reproduction of it appeared in the 50th Jubilee edition (August 1922) of The Zodiac, the Eastern Telegraph Company’s house magazine, together with a description of the scene:

Left to right :
Sir S. Canning, Mr. Latimer Clark or Mr. J.C. Laws, Mr. John Pender
8" x 5"

The First Message on the Falmouth-Gibraltar Cable.

This interesting drawing was done in sepia wash by Mr. Robert Dudley, on June 8th, 1870, and represents Sir John Pender (then Mr. Pender) dictating the first message through the Falmouth and Gibraltar Cable (afterwards a portion of the Eastern Telegraph Company’s system). The artist seems to have been uncertain whether the figure standing in the centre was Mr. Latimer Clark or Mr. J.C. Laws and evidently took his work home intending to identify the figures later on. Mr. Dudley’s two sons, Guildford and Ambrose, were both at the Reception. Guildford is on the retired staff of the Eastern Telegraph Company and Ambrose is a well-known painter, his allegorical designs, reproduced in colour on the programme, were very much admired.

See below for Ambrose Dudley’s 1922 paintings.

The third 1870 watercolour is in the archives of the Atlantic Cable website. It is titled “Tol-pedn, Penwith”, and shows the rocky Cornish coast at Gwennap Head (a little over a mile to the west of Porthcurno) with a steamship offshore; this may be a ship of the cable fleet:

Tol-pedn, Penwith, 1870
14.25" x 21.5"
Detail of ship

One further cable landing drawing appeared in the ILN for 9 July 1870, and although uncredited, this must also have been by Dudley. The drawing accompanied an article on the Scilly Islands cable, which after numerous difficulties finally opened for service on 20 June 1870. Its landing point was at Zawn Reeth near Land’s End, a site about a mile further west from Tol-Pedn. This cable suffered many difficulties, and after a final break in 1877 was eventually diverted to Porthcurno.

Zawn Reeth, near the Land’s-End, the Landing-Place
of the Scilly Islands Telegraph Cable
ILN 9 July 1870
This 2005 photograph by Derek
Harper shows a very similar view.

The map above shows the Porthcurno cable station complex at the right with the approximate locations of Tol-pedn and Zawn Reeth to the west. This larger map has a key to all the marked locations.

In 1873 Robert Dudley was a guest at an “Anniversary Banquet given by Mr. Cyrus W. Field, of New York at the Buckingham Palace Hotel, London, on Monday, the 10th March, 1873, in Commemoration of the Signature of the Agreement on the 10th of March, 1854, for the Establishment of a Telegraph across the Atlantic.”

In 1875/76 Dudley was at Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. A watercolour titled “The Painted Bridge, Lucerne” is dated 1875; another titled “Tell’s Platz, Lake Lucerne” is dated 1876 and has a note on the back in Dudley’s handwriting describing the legend of William Tell and the historical context of the site shown in the painting. This watercolour was evidently owned by Dudley’s friend and fellow artist, cable engineer Henry Clifford, as there is a subsequent note on the back in Clifford’s hand, “Lent for Exhibition at the meeting of Tuesday 24 Feb 1885,” perhaps referring to the New Water-Colour Society. Clifford is recorded as a member of this society, and we know from his exhibition records that Dudley was also a member for many years.

In 1879, on the occasion of a celebration in New York of the 25th anniversary of Cyrus Field’s first involvement with the Atlantic cable project, the official record notes that among many other letters from abroad, one was received from “Robert Dudley, the English artist, who accompanied the Expedition in the Great Eastern, and took the sketches from which he executed the series of paintings which now adorn Mr. Field’s house.” These are the watercolours and oil paintings which Field subsequently donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the collection included all of the images used in William Russell’s book on the 1865 cable expedition, as well as many others.

In 1890, for the 50th wedding anniversary of Cyrus West Field and Mary Bryan Stone Field, an illuminated address was presented to the couple by their many British friends and associates. One of the signatories was Robert Dudley, and the document looks very much like his work, although this has yet to be confirmed. Compare this document to Dudley’s presentation certificate to Sir James Anderson in 1866, above.

Although Robert Dudley recorded no cable scenes after 1870 (that we know of), he continued painting and exhibiting oils and watercolours for most of the rest of the 19th century. He illustrated several more books, including Monthly Maxims in 1882, for which he also wrote the text, and created artwork for many Christmas cards.

Invoice to George Frost for paintings by Dudley

Letters from Dudley dated 1895 and 1896 have details of the sale of a number of his paintings to George H. Frost of Plainfield, New Jersey, USA. George Henry Frost was married to Louisa Hunt, a niece of Robert’s wife Amelia, and from remarks in the letters the Frosts had visited the Dudleys in London at least once during that period.

Robert Dudley’s final connection to the cable industry was through his two sons, Guildford and Ambrose. As noted above, Guildford worked for the Eastern Telegraph Company as an “electrician” (the 19th century term for an electrical engineer); the exact dates have yet to be determined, although the August 1922 issue of The Zodiac noted that he was “on the retired staff of the Eastern Telegraph Company”. And Ambrose, who was also an artist (recorded as exhibiting portrait paintings at the Royal Academy in 1890 and 1891), provided artwork for a number of the Eastern group’s celebrations of various cable anniversaries between 1894 and 1922.

In 1894 Ambrose illustrated the program for one of the celebrations in London of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of submarine telegraphy with the Far East. Ambrose was one of an estimated 5,000 guests at the first of these events (although neither Robert nor Guildford Dudley are listed as attending). A number of historic cable items were on display for the edification of the guests, as well as:

Symbolical Drawings, by Ambrose Dudley, representing Europe, America. Asia (including Australasia), and Africa, which were placed over the instruments working to those quarters of the world. were much admired. The Prince of Wales making particular enquiries as to the artist.

There is no information as to the disposition of these drawings, and the only known illustration by Ambrose Dudley is this invitation to Sir John Pender, which was reproduced in the official book commemorating the events:

As described in Frank Childs’ 1934 letter above, Robert Dudley was the namesake and reputed descendant of the 16th century Earl of Leicester, and the names of his two sons (and by coincidence, that of his wife Amy) are also family names of that period. Perhaps as a tribute to both his father and his ancestor, in 1900 Ambrose Dudley exhibited this painting at the Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts MDCCCC: “Item 959: Oil Painting, Robert Dudley Esq., by Ambrose Dudley”. The location of this painting is not presently known.

In 1903 Ambrose illustrated the programmes for a "Dinner given by the Submarine Telegraph Companies at the Hotel Cecil, London, Thursday 28th May 1903", and a “Fete Given by the Submarine Telegraph Companies in the Gardens of the Royal Botanical Society, Monday 29th June”. Both events were part of the festivities at the International Telegraph Conference held in London that year.

Finally, in 1922 Ambrose created artwork for events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of the Eastern Telegraph and Associated Companies. He first produced this elaborate invitation, signed “A. Dudley” at the bottom left, requesting Sir John Denison-Pender to attend a presentation by the staffs of the Eastern companies on July 8th 1922:

Archives of the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum [PIC///76]

Later that month his artwork appeared in the large-format programme issued for a series of events held at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Regent’s Park on July 24th. For this impressive document, Ambrose painted full-colour allegorical illustrations for the front and back covers, showing how the industry had matured between 1872 and 1922. He also made two interior sketches on the same theme, along with drawings of the cable ships Great Eastern and Lady Denison-Pender. The August 1922 issue of The Zodiac commented that “...Ambrose is a well-known painter, his allegorical designs, reproduced in colour on the programme, were very much admired.”

The official record of the 1922 event, a book published by the company and titled Fifty Years of "Via Eastern", does not have any of Ambrose Dudley’s artwork, but does include a monochrome reproduction of Robert Dudley’s 1865 oil painting of Great Eastern, which was presented by him to Sir James Anderson after the conclusion of the voyage. The book records both Ambrose and his brother Dudley as being on the guest list for the reception and fete at the Royal Botanic Society’s Gardens, Regent’s Park.

At least for the moment, except for occasional mentions in The Zodiac of Robert Dudley’s paintings of Great Eastern (see above, for example), this is the last record of the 57-year engagement of the Dudleys with the cable industry.


Acknowledgements and Notes: Some details of Robert Dudley’s life and work are taken from on-line articles at The Victorian Web and the Look & Learn History Picture Library. The staff of the Cable & Wireless Archive at the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum helped me discover additional cable industry connections for Robert Dudley and his sons Ambrose and Guildford when I visited the museum in April 2016.

Special thanks to Sarah Wessels, who donated a small archive of letters and documents with details on Robert Dudley’s involvement with the Atlantic cable expeditions as well as his other artistic endeavours. These provided further background on Dudley’s life and family and led to the discovery of some of the previously unknown material recorded in this article.

For anyone conducting genealogical research on the families of Robert Dudley and his wife Amelia Hunt, I have prepared a family tree based on publicly available information. The notes to that page include some additional details of the letters and documents in Sarah Wessels’ archive.

Last revised: 19 November, 2017

Return to Atlantic Cable main page

Search all pages on the Atlantic Cable site:

Research Material Needed

The Atlantic Cable website is non-commercial, and its mission is to make available on line as much information as possible.

You can help - if you have cable material, old or new, please contact me. Cable samples, instruments, documents, brochures, souvenir books, photographs, family stories, all are valuable to researchers and historians.

If you have any cable-related items that you could photograph, copy, scan, loan, or sell, please email me: billb@ftldesign.com

—Bill Burns, publisher and webmaster: Atlantic-Cable.com