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

CS Hooper/Silvertown
by Bill Glover

CS HOOPER/SILVERTOWN

Length 338.2 ft. Breadth 55.0 ft. Depth 34.6 ft. Gross tonnage 4,935.

Built 1873 by C. Mitchell and Co., Newcastle.

Single screw. Compound engine of 1800 hp. Speed 10½ knots.

Originally built to carry the whole of the cable to be laid between England and Bermuda for the Great Western Telegraph Company, the ship was going to be named Great Western. When this scheme was abandoned the ship was named Hooper. Fitted with 3 cable tanks, all 32 ft. deep and diameters of 46 ft. 53 ft. and 51 ft., giving a coiling capacity of 88,900 cubic feet.

Sold to the India Rubber, Gutta Percha and Telegraph Works in 1881 and renamed Silvertown. Sold to the Anglo-American Oil Company in 1912 and used as an oil tanker until 1918 when relegated to an oil hulk until 1924 and then a coal hulk, at Algiers, with the name Francunian II. Sold to Dutch shipbreakers in 1936.

CABLE WORK AS HOOPER

1873 Para - Maranham - Ceara - Pernambuco - Bahia - Rio Janeiro
1874 Para - Demerara, British Guiana - Cayenne, French Guiana
1875 Ponce, Puerto Rico ‑ St Croix
St Croix - Trinidad
St Croix­ - St Thomas
1881 Batabano - Cienfuegos - Santiago de Cuba, Cuba

CABLE WORK AS SILVERTOWN

1881 Tehuantepec, Mexico - La Libertad, Salvador - San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua -
Puntarenas, Costa Rica - Balboa, Panama - Buenaventura, Colombia - San Elena,
Ecuador - Payta & Chorillos, Peru
1885-6 St Louis & Dakar, Senegal - Bathurst, Gambia - Boloma, Portuguese Guinea -
Bissau - Konakry, French Guinea - Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Bassam, Ivory Coast - Accra, Gold Coast - Cotonou, Dahomey ‑ St Thomas - Luanda,
Angola.
St Thomas - Principe - Libreville, Gabon.
1889 Luanda - Mossamedes, Angola.
Bonny, Nigeria - Principe
Mossamedes - Benguela - Luanda, Angola
1890 Chorillos - Iquique - Valparaiso
1891‑2 Pernambuco ‑ Bahia­ - Rio de Janeiro ‑ Santos
Pernambuco - Ceara (renewal of the 1873 cable)
1892 Dakar, Senegal - Fernando de Noronha - Pernambuco
1893 Tehuantepec­ - San Juan - San Elena - Chorillos
1895 Cienfuegos ‑ Casilda
Tunas ‑ Casilda
Tunas ‑ Jucaro
Jucaro ‑ Cape Cruz
Cape Cruz ‑ Manzanillo
1896 Bacton ‑ Emden 2
1900 Waterville, Ireland - Weston super Mare, England
1902 San Francisco - Honolulu
1906 Manila, Philippines - Shanghai, China
1907 New York - Havana, Cuba
1912 Sydney - Auckland
1913 England - Denmark

CS Silvertown at Zaandam, Netherlands (to the right of Euterpe)
Postcard image courtesy of Chris Kleiss, who notes that
this must date after 1903 when Euterpe was built.

CS Silvertown was broken up in 1936, but the ship’s clock survives. Evan Samuel shares this story of what happened to the clock, which is now in his care. The article was published in the BTR house magazine in the 1960s or 70s.

Putting Back the Clock

Not many things last very long these days—and stay in working order. Which makes the story about Peggy Baber’s clock so interesting.

Peggy Baber

Peggy is Mr John Hardman’s secretary at Silvertown House. In her office, quietly ticking away, is rather a special clock which once hung in the wardroom of the SS Silvertown almost 100 years ago.

The Silvertown was a cable laying ship which belonged to one of BTR Leyland’s ancestral companies, the India Rubber, Gutta Percha and Telegraph Works Company Limited, which was established in 1864.

Cable making and laying was one of the main areas of this company’s operation. It was also famous for the manufacture of the Silver King golf ball and the Palmer Cord motor tyre.

For cable laying, the company’s engineers employed a number of cable laying ships such as the Dacia, Buccaneer, International and the Sunbeam. After many successful years in the cable laying business the Silvertown-based company, in London E16, received a record order.

Robyn Samuel, Peggy Baber's great-niece, holds the restored clock in 2011
(click for color version)

Three thousand knots of cable were to be laid on the west coast of Central and South America. To carry out the order the company needed a much larger ship. They bought the telegraph steamship Hooper from Messrs Hooper, telegraph engineers. It was re-christened Silvertown and was the first ship expressly designed as a cable ship.

The cable engineer may have been Mrs Baber’s great uncle! For her family have been regular employees of the company right up to the present time. Look at this list: husband, grandfather, great grandfather, two uncles, three aunts and a brother!

Anyway, where were we? Oh, yes... the cable engineer responsible for the SS Silvertown drew three circles representing the diameter and depth of the cable tanks he wanted, and the naval architect was instructed to "build a ship around them". When launched she was the largest cargo ship afloat, except for the Great Eastern.

The Silvertown became a very well travelled ship and at intervals during her cable laying, carried general cargo.

On one occasion the ship sailed from New Orleans conveying the largest load of grain that had ever crossed the Atlantic. During the Chilean civil war, in 1891, she was present at the bombardment of Iquique and gave temporary shelter to a number of English women and children who were driven from the town.

Landing shore-end at Waikiki, Honolulu [1902]

During its lifetime the vessel carried hundreds of miles of cable coiled in the huge tanks—5,000 tons of it. It laid 1,500 miles of cable between Auckland and Sydney and a length between San Francisco and Honolulu—where it is featured in a drawing reproduced in this story.

By 1912 the Silvertown and the four other cable laying ships mentioned earlier, had laid over 60,000 miles of cable.

As time went on the Silvertown was scrapped and the clock eventually came into Mrs Baber’s possession, having been handed to her by her last employer.

CS Silvertown’s clock in September 2011
Image courtesy of Evan Samuel

Last revised: 12 September, 2011

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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.

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