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

Henry A.C. Saunders

Introduction: Henry Saunders’ introduction to the cable enterprise was in 1854, when he was asked by Wildman Whitehouse to design an instrument for working the proposed Atlantic cable. He worked for fifty years in the industry, retiring in 1904; this report of his testimonial dinner was published in The Electrician, London.

--Bill Burns

The Electrician, 16 December 1904

Retirement of Mr. H.A.C. Saunders

Mr. H.A.C. Saunders, electrician-in-chief of the Eastern and Associated Telegraph Companies, having decided to retire at the end of the current year from active service, his colleagues and friends have arranged to recognise this event suitably and at the same time to commemorate his 50 years’ connection with submarine cable enterprise by presenting him with a testimonial at a dinner (to be held at the Trocadero Restaurant on Wednesday, January 18th next) at which Sir John Denison-Pender, K.C.M.G., has kindly consented to preside. Subscriptions to the testimonial can be forwarded to Mr. A. R. Hardie (Electra House, Finsbury-pavement, E.C.). The cost of the dinner tickets, including wines, will be 25s. each.


The Electrician, 20 January 1905

Dinner to Mr. H.A.C. Saunders

On his retirement from the position as Electrician-in-Chief of the Eastern and Associated Telegraph Companies, and to celebrate his 50 years’ connection with submarine telegraphy, Mr. H.A.C. Saunders was entertained at dinner by his friends and colleagues at the Trocadero Restaurant, Piccadilly, on Wednesday evening. The occasion was also availed of to present him with a handsome testimonial, consisting of a tea tray, sets of waiters and fruit dishes, hot water kettle, pair of candlesticks, clock, and other pieces of silver, together with a model in copper of Cleopatra’s Needle, all bearing inscriptions commemorative of the function. A choice pair of diamond and pearl earrings was subscribed for Mrs. Saunders. The card inviting Mr. Saunders to the dinner was specially designed and beautifully decorated, above the invitation being a representation, handpainted, of four cable ships, including the celebrated "Great Eastern" and the "Patrol," the latter being the latest of the companies’ vessels.

The chair was taken by Sir J. Denison-Pender, K.C.M.G., who had on his immediate right the guest of the evening, and the company included Rear-Admiral Sir W.J. Wharton, K.C.B., Sir John Wolfe Barry, K.C.B., Mr. A. Siemens (President of the Institution of Electrical Engineers), the Hon. George Peel, the Hon. A.G. Brodrick, Mr. F. Alex. Johnston, Mr. Kenneth Anderson, Mr. John Ardron, Mr. G. Von Chauvin, Mr. John Gavey, C.B., Mr. D.H. Goodsall, Dr. Ducat, Mr. R. Kaye Gray, Mr. C.W. Adye, Mr. H. Ansell, Mr. J.W. Barnes, Mr. W.C. Barnes, Mr. Charles Bright, Mr. F. Broadbent, Mr. A.C. Brown, Mr. B.T. Brown, Mr. S.G. Brown, Mr. W.H. Burman, Mr. P. Burroll, Mr. J. Cambrook, Mr. T. Clark, Mr. S. Collett, Mr. F. Dawes, Mr. J.C. Denison-Pender, Mr. A. De Sauty, Mr. E. Dickens, Mr. W. Dover, Mr. G. Draper, Mr. G. Dudley, Mr. W.J. Finnis, Mr. F. Fischer, Mr. A. Fraser, Mr. A.Y. Gahagan, Mr. D. Gair, Mr. A. Gardner, Mr. J.I. Geddes, Mr. G. Gibson, Mr. Jas. Gibb, Mr. E.W. Glover, Mr. S.S. Goodman, Mr. W.P. Granville, Mr. H. Gurney, Mr. C. Haines, Mr. J.F. Harrap, Mr. A.C. Hesse, Mr. H.F. Hesse, Mr. A.W. Hibberdine, Mr. R.L. Hibberdine, Mr. F.H.W. Higgins, Mr. W.W. Howell, Mr. B.S. Hunt, Mr. P. Isaac, Mr. G.C. Jack, Mr. H. Jamieson, Mr. W. Claude Johnson, Mr. W. Judd, Mr. W.C. Langdon, Mr. B. London, Mr. F.R. Lucas, Mr. W.B. Lyne, Mr. B.D. Mellor, Mr. G.B. Neilson, Mr. G.B. Osborn, Capt. G. Pattison, Mr. E.D. Payne, Mr. H.W. Pinnell, Mr. H.E. Plank, Mr. H.F. Porter, Mr. A.E. Powell, Mr. F.T. Preddle, Mr. F.C. Raphael, Mr. J. Reid, Mr. G.F. Rogers, Mr. F. Ryan, Mr. Horace Saunders, Mr. H. St. L. Smith, Mr. W.O. Smith, Mr. W.S. Smith, Mr. J.H. Stephens, Mr. C.E. Stuart, Mr. H.W. Sullivan, Mr. F.A. Taylor, Mr. L.P. Trenaman, Mr. G. Tucker, Mr. J. Tucker, Mr. A.A. Wallet, Mr. F. Ward, Mr. A.C.M. Weaver, Mr. H.D. Wilkinson, Mr. J.E. Young, Mr. J.G. Youngson. The vice-chairs were occupied by Mr. F.E. Hesse, Mr. A.R. Hardie, Mr. W. Hibberdine, Mr. T.A. Bullock, and Mr. E. Steer Hodson.

After the loyal toasts bad been duly honoured, the Chairman proposed, amid cheers, “The Guest of the Evening,” and prefaced his remarks by reading telegrams from Admiral Sir Leopold Heath (who the chairman remarked was in his 84th or 85th year, and whose age alone prevented him from being present), from Mr. F.C.C. Nielsen (Great Northern Telegraph Co., unavoidably absent), from Mr. H.V. Browne (Barcelona), from Mr. W. Bolton (Liverpool), and from Prof. A. Jamieson. Resuming, the Chairman said he felt that his position on that occasion ought to have been taken by Sir John Wolfe Barry, but Sir John was contemplating a trip and a short holiday, and he might not have been able to be with them. Sir John was also suffering at the time from an attack of influenza, from which they were all glad to see he had recovered, and was able to be with them after all.

When the committee asked him (the speaker) to preside, it was not without feelings of sincere regret that he accepted the honour conferred upon him —regret that the time had arrived when Mr. Saunders had found it necessary, although more active and as energetic as many a man 20 years his junior, to consider the question of his retirement. He knew perfectly well that what had influenced their friend in coming to his final decision was to make way for his juniors. They were met to honour one who had taken a very considerable part in the development of submarine cables over a period exceeding 50 years (cheers). He would not himself detain the company because Mr. Saunders would, he was sure, recall to them incidents connected with the enterprise which all present were associated with—incidents which would interest them very greatly. He would, however, give a brief outline of the career of their guest, and call attention to certain points which Mr. Saunders’ modesty would prevent him from referring to.

They had to go back many years to start with their friend’s first introduction to cable enterprise, for it was in 1854 that he was called upon by Mr. Whitehouse to assist him in designing an instrument which would work the then proposed Atlantic telegraph cable. Shortly afterwards Mr. Saunders came to London, and was placed in charge of a workshop established by Mr. Whitehouse and Mr. Brett, who was also well known to them, and they were engaged in working out what he believed was called “the Roman Type Printer.” In 1857 Mr. Whitehouse was appointed electrician-in-chief to the Atlantic Cable Co., which was also joined by Mr. Saunders, and it was in this year, too, that the latter first saw a cable laid in Atlantic waters. But these were the very early days, and after some 300 or 400 miles of the cable had been laid, the ship—the “Niagara”—returned to Plymouth, and he believed that the cable was lost and never recovered.

In 1858 Mr. Saunders found himself—in succession to Mr. de Sauty—in Newfoundland, where his duty was to organise a station; but he had again to suffer disappointment, for the cable having been laid and landed, he watched and watched for the signals which never came. Two years later Mr. Saunders entered the service of Messrs. Glass and Elliott, the famous firm of cable makers and layers, now known all over the world as the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Co. For the next four years their friend was occupied in laying and repairing cables in shallow waters in the Mediterranean; and he (the speaker) believed that at that time there was a great deal more repairing than laying (laughter).

In 1865 Mr. Saunders returned to his first love, the Atlantic, and in that year he went out in an expedition on the “Great Eastern,” under the command of the late Sir James Anderson. This particular expedition proved—he thought he might say— the turning point in submarine telegraphy, as far as its commercial side was concerned, because the cable when it was lost was lifted. It was true that it was not lifted very far, but what was done showed that cables could be successfully raised from the deep. This fact made the financiers come forward.

In 1870 the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Co. lost the services of Mr. Saunders, who took a position with the British India Co , which was one of the companies that formed later on the Eastern Telegraph Co. Five years afterwards—or just 30 years ago— their guest was appointed as head of the electrical staff of the Eastern Company. Subsequently, when the Associated Companies became practically one undertaking as far as management was concerned, Mr. Saunders took charge of all the work in connection with his position. For 30 years, therefore, to the end of December last, their friend had the full control of the electrical establishment of their companies, and they knew how well he had done his work and of the success which had attended their enterprise (cheers).

He (the chairman) had given them but a very brief history of their guest’s career, as he had not wished to detain them unduly, He might have said a great deal more, but his association with Mr. Saunders, although a long one, had been entirely confined to the years in which their friend had been associated exclusively with their companies; and he was sure that Mr. Saunders would agree with him that with the gentlemen who had honoured them that night as their guests—all men who had made their mark in the cable world—it would ill befit him to dwell upon any special work which had been done by the companies with which they were associated. There was, however, one fact which he felt he must mention, as it was only fair to Mr. Saunders to do so—namely, that when their guest first took charge of the electrical department in 1875, the company owned barely 2,000 miles of cable {he believed the exact length was 1,700 miles), whereas when he resigned his charge, a few weeks ago, the Associated Companies had over 100,000 knots of cable laid—knots, not miles (cheers).

As they could all understand, Mr. Saunders must feel deeply the severance of his active connection with the companies which he had served so ably and so long, but he was very fond of painting and extremely fond of studying Egyptian history, and these and his other tastes would occupy him in his retirement, which would also be rendered easier for him by the knowledge that the reins which he had held so long were to be handed over to Mr. Walter Judd, who had had great experience in many parts of the world, both in connection with the electrical and commercial sides of the company’s business, and who for some years had acted as second in command to their friend. He was sure that all present would join him in hoping that Mr. Saunders, after his long and busy life, would enjoy his well-earned retirement with Mrs. Saunders (cheers). He might also say that when Mr. Saunders retired the directors made arrangements by which he could feel that he had the right to attend at the offices in connection with the electrical part of their work (cheers).

The Chairman then presented Mr. Saunders with the testimonial above referred to.

Mr. Walter Judd then expressed the regret of the members of the electrical department, over which Mr. Saunders had presided so long, at that gentleman’s retirement, and said that this feeling was held by no one more strongly than by himself. They all felt that they had lost a considerate chief and a kind friend (cheers). Their numbers had latterly increased very considerably, and they proposed later on to ask Mr. Saunders to accept an album containing the portraits of those working at home and abroad. Their friend might rest assured that whenever he opened the album he would see the faces of none but the sincerest friends who would remember him in his retirement with the kindest and most affectionate regard (cheers).

The toast was then drunk with musical honours.

Mr. Saunders, who, in rising to respond, was received with prolonged cheers, expressed his heartiest thanks for the great kindness which had been shown to him. He thanked Sir John Denison-Pender for presiding, and remarked that their chairman had for the last 12 years been in almost daily communication with him, and therefore knew his work. The fact that he was presiding on that occasion might, he thought, be regarded by himself as an indication that he had done his duty (cheers). Of course, on such an occasion as that, regret was felt by the man who had joined the ranks of the veterans, but his own regret had been removed by the kindness of Sir John Denison-Pender in having taken the chair and by the high compliment which Sir John Wolfe Barry and the Directors of the Associated Companies had shown him in still retaining his services as consulting electrician (cheers).

He afterwards cordially thanked the chairman for the kind manner in which he had proposed the toast and the company generally for the cordiality with which they had drunk it. In regard to his relation to his colleagues he doubted whether there was another large company in the City where the heads of the departments worked so harmoniously together, and the remark applied not only to the Eastern but also to the Allied Companies. The staff ashore and afloat had always been on the best of terms, and as regarded the electrical department the members had been loyal to him as their immediate chief, they had done their duty in the interests of the service, and he was sure that they would work as well with Mr. Judd, his able successor (cheers).

Mr. Saunders then referred to many interesting incidents in what he termed the “romantic period of submarine telegraphy,” touching on the leading features of his connection with the enterprise, and alluding to many of those who had been prominently identified with its inception and development. In conclusion, he again cordially thanked those who had honoured him on that occasion, and remarked that he had been treated with the utmost kindness by everyone concerned In one respect he might say that he was like the Gothic chief in that he bad no enemies (cheers). But whereas the Gothic chief was in that position because he had killed all his enemies; he himself had never had any (laughter and renewed cheers)

Sir J. Wolfe Barry afterwards proposed “Electrical Engineering.” He remarked that if Sir John Denison-Pender were not presiding, he would himself have liked to do so, in order to do honour to Mr. Saunders; but from the outset he had felt that there was no one so fit to express the sentiments of all those who were associated with the cable companies as their chairman of that evening (cheers). He joined heartily in their congratulations to Mr. Saunders, and wished him every happiness in the retirement which he had so well earned.

With respect to the toast which had been entrusted to him, it was one of the highest importance. It was a remarkable feeling which came across one, when reflecting on electrical engineering, to think of how young the whole business was. It all seemed to have been crowded, as far as they knew, in a few decades of the 19th century, so far as regarded the application of electrical knowledge to the use and convenience of mankind. Those, however, who remembered the early stages of electricity, when they contemplated what had been done, could not help feeling how old they were. Electricity had been of inestimable advantage in promoting the convenience, the comfort, and the happiness generally of mankind; and looking at it from a national point of view, it was impossible to exaggerate the influence it had had in removing misunderstandings between nations and in promoting peace and goodwill throughout the world (cheers). How many wars in former times might have been prevented by the clearing up of mistakes and misunderstandings, which it was now possible to do, but in the past was impossible when communications from one place to another took weeks and even months to effect.

It afforded him the utmost pleasure to couple with the toast the name of Mr. Alexander Siemens (cheers)—a name so well known in all electrical matters that it was quite a household word. He referred to the importance of the discoveries of the late Sir William Siemens and to the great services rendered by him to England, the country of his adoption. In Germany, too, the name of Siemens was one of the most prominent in connection with electrical matters. Their friend, Mr. Alexander Siemens, was a most worthy representative of a most worthy family.

Before sitting down, he desired to add that it had been a great pleasure to those who had been desirous of doing honour to Mr. Saunders to know that his Majesty’s Post Office was also represented at their gathering by Mr. Ardron and Mr. Gavey. He felt sure that when Mr. Siemens responded, be would not only tell them something of what had been done by electrical engineering in the past, but that he would turn his “prophetic eye” on the twentieth century, and tell them, from his knowledge as President of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, what their position in the matter would be later on (cheers and laughter).

Mr. A. Siemens, in the course of a humorous response, observed that Sir John Wolfe Barry had already referred to what had been done in connection with electrical engineering. Their friend, however, wanted him to prophesy, but this was too dangerous a thing for him to do (laughter). He assured them that the Institution of Electrical Engineers (which, he reminded them, began as the Society of Telegraph Engineers), would continue to do their utmost in connection with the promotion of electricity to the welfare of mankind (cheers).

The health of the chairman was afterwards cordially drunk, on the invitation of Rear-Admiral Sir W.J.L. Wharton.

During the evening a selection of vocal and instrumental music was given. It may be added that the details of this interesting function were admirably carried out by a committee, which was presided over by Mr. F.E. Hesse, and of which Mr. A.R. Hardie acted as treasurer.

Last revised: 9 July, 2011

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