History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
Cable Stamps - Pacific Cable 1902-26, COMPAC,
Thanks to Bill Glover for providing the stamp images and text for this page.
All material on this page is copyright © 2004 Bill Glover
PACIFIC CABLE 1902-26
PACIFIC CABLE 1902-26
The landing of the British Australian Telegraph Company submarine cable in Australia in 1871 renewed the campaign for a state-owned Pacific cable. Sir Sandford Fleming, chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway, was the man responsible for the idea. The Dominion governments held a conference in 1877; while a decision to proceed was not taken, suggestions for a route were invited. The only condition being that the cable had to land on British territory. To make this possible Fanning Island was formally annexed in 1888. The route selected was Bamfield, Vancouver Island - Fanning Island - Fiji - Norfolk Island. From Norfolk Island, two cables were laid. One went to Southport, Queensland, with a landline to Sydney, while the other landed at Doubtless Bay, Auckland.
It was decided to lay the Bamfield-Fanning Island section in one continuous length. At the time no cable ship existed that could carry the cable to do this, so the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company had CS Colonia built. Laying of the 3459 nautical mile long cable began at Bamfield on 18 September 1902, reaching Fanning Island on 6 October.
CS Anglia laid all the sections from Fanning Island to Australia and New Zealand during 1902
From Bamfield messages were sent over the Canadian Pacific Railway Telegraph to Montreal, from there to Newfoundland, then via a trans Atlantic cable company to Ireland and finally to England.
In 1912 HMCS Iris, built to maintain the Pacific cable, diverted the Norfolk Island - Doubtless Bay cable into Auckland. At the same time CS Silvertown, owned by the India Rubber, Gutta Percha and Telegraph Works Ltd., laid a cable from Sydney to Auckland. The company manufactured the 1225 nm cable at their factory at Woolwich Reach on the Thames.
In 1923 CS Stephan laid a cable from Southport to Sydney to replace the land line and a duplicate cable from Fiji to Auckland. This cable was made by the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Telcon) at Greenwich.
In 1926 the Pacific Cable Board decided to lay a loaded cable from Fiji to Bamfield. The Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company was awarded the contract for supplying and laying the Bamfield - Fanning Island section. As with the 1902 cable, this cable was to be laid in one piece. So once again a new cable ship, CS Dominia, was built to carry and lay the new cable. Loaded cables had an additional winding of "Mumetal" (UK) or "Permalloy" (USA) around the central conductor to improve transmission speeds.
The contract to manufacture and lay the Fanning Island - Fiji section was awarded to Siemens Brothers, who manufactured the cable at their Woolwich factory. CS Faraday (2) was used to lay the cable.
Fanning Island is one of the main Line Islands and is situated about 1600 miles east of Tarawa and about 150 miles north west of Christmas Island. Known as Tabuaeran locally, it was discovered on 11 June 1798 by Edmund Fanning, Captain of the US brig Betsy, on a voyage to China.
In 1846 two British subjects, Messrs. Lucett and Collie, who had been living in Tahiti, landed on the uninhabited island with a number of natives to harvest coconuts. They sold the rights to C.B. Wilson in 1851, he later sold them on to Captain Henry English. On 7 April 1857 English applied to the British Consul in Honolulu for permission to hoist the British flag on the island. Consent was given. Formal possession of the island was taken in 1861 by HMS Alert and annexation by HMS Caroline took place in 1888 when plans were being drawn up to lay a cable across the Pacific.
In 1859 English entered into a partnership with William Greig and George Bicknell and these three were joined by William Owens, owner of Washington Island, in 1860. Owens left the following year and English retired in 1864. Messrs. Greig and Bicknell were confirmed as lawful owners of both Fanning and Washington Islands by the British Consul in Honolulu on 2 September 1864. The Greig Bicknell partnership lasted until 1906 when they sold out to Father Rougier who in turn sold it on to Fanning Island Plantations Ltd., a Burns Philp subsidiary.
Like Cocos, Fanning Island received a visit from the German Navy. On 7 September 1914 the cruiser SMS Nurnberg, accompanied by SMS Leipzig, approached Fanning Island, flying the French flag. Landing an armed party the Germans set about wrecking equipment and cutting the two cables. They also took 3000 gold sovereigns from the safe, used to pay the staff, plus £71 in stamps and cash from the Post Office. Shortly after this incident the Nurnberg was sunk, with all hands, in an engagement with the Royal Navy known as the Battle of the Falkland Islands.
The decision to land COMPAC at Hawaii instead of Fanning Island brought about the closure of the cable station at the end of 1963. In 1964 it was taken over by the Hawaiian Oceanographic Institute as a Pacific Equatorial Research Laboratory for the study of Equatorial Currents.
COMPAC was part of a scheme to link the major countries of the Commonwealth with a round the world telephone cable. The route being, UK, South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and back to the UK. The decision of South Africa to leave the Commonwealth, along with the political situation that existed between India and Pakistan brought about a radical overhaul of the scheme.
The first part was CANTAT 1, laid in 1961. The Canadian section, 400 nm long with 20 repeaters, ran from Corner Brook, Newfoundland to Grosses Reach, Quebec and was laid by Alert (4). HMTS Monarch (4) laid the 2100 nm of cable from Oban, Scotland to Hampden, Newfoundland in three stages, during April, June and November 1961. HMTS Ariel laid the Scottish shore ends and CS Albert J. Myer the Newfoundland shore ends. All of the submarine cable was manufactured by Submarine Cables Ltd., Greenwich. The trans Newfoundland cable 65 nm in length was supplied by Standard Telephone and Cables Ltd., Greenwich.
The installation of COMPAC began with the laying of the Auckland and Sydney shore ends by CS Retriever (5) in April 1962. Then HMTS Monarch (4) laid the 1273 nm fifty repeater cable during June. This section opened for traffic in July 1962. The 1260 nm fifty repeater Auckland - Suva section followed in October 1962, with the same vessels carrying out the work. The Suva - Hawaii - Port Alberni cable 5500 nm in length with 218 repeaters, involved HMTS Monarch (4), CS Mercury and CS Retriever, the latter laying the shore ends. The final splice was made on 16 October 1963 with the system opening for traffic on 3 December 1963. Submarine Cables Ltd. manufactured 5500 nm of lightweight cable and 360 nm of armoured cable, 93 complete repeaters and 231 repeater housings. Standard Telephone and Cables Ltd. supplied 2800 nm of cable and 231 repeater units.
The link across Canada was along the Canadian Pacific Railway microwave system to Montreal and then to Grosses Reach, then via CANTAT 1 to the United Kingdom.
The capacity of COMPAC was eighty telephone circuits each of which could carry twenty two telegraph circuits.
The cable has been abandoned but the section between Hawaii and Fiji is used for scientific research.
The GB COMPAC stamp overprinted CANCELLED in red was attached to the Philatelic Bureau Bulletin and could not be obtained in any other way.
TRANS PACIFIC CABLES 1 & 3
SOUTH ATLANTIC TELEPHONE 1 and 2
Ascension 1993 20p Route of SAT 1
As mentioned in the COMPAC section South Africa left the Commonwealth in 1961 and so missed out on the Commonwealth telephone cable. To overcome this a new company, 'The South Atlantic Cable Company', was formed in South Africa by the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa and American Cable & Radio.
They awarded a contract to Standard Telephone and Cables Ltd to manufacture and lay a co-axial telephone cable between Sesimbra, Portugal and Melkbosstrand, South Africa. This was laid in 1968. The cable, known as SAT 1, was laid in four sections.
The following section was laid by CS Mercury.
Melkbosstrand, South Africa - Georgetown, Ascension 2594 nm with 277 repeaters.
The following sections were laid by HMTS Monarch (4).
Georgetown, Ascension - Baia da Mordeira, Cape Verde Islands
1698 nm with 179 repeaters.
CS John W. Mackay laid the shore ends.
The cable carried 360 telephone circuits, opened for traffic in February 1969 and was taken out of service in June 1993.
To provide a link to the UK for SAT 1, the GPO using HMTS Monarch (4) laid a cable from Goonhilly, Cornwall to Sesimbra, Portugal in 1969. The 951 nm cable and 128 repeaters were manufactured by Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd., Greenwich.
Built 1944 Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd.
Length 252.0 ft Breadth 36.4 ft Depth 22.3 ft Gross tonnage 1538
HMS Bullfrog was used for harbour defence work. In 1946 the vessel was sold to Cable & Wireless Ltd., renamed CS Retriever (4) and used for cable repair work. In 1961 she was sold to the Commercial Cable Company who named her CS Cable Restorer. The South Atlantic Cable Company purchased her in July 1972 to act as repair ship, for SAT 1, based at Cape Town. Taken out of service in 1993 and given to the Simonstown Maritime Museum.
Ascension 1993 25p, 30p, 70p CS Vercors off Ascension
In 1992 it was decided to replace SAT 1 with a fibre optic cable to be known as SAT 2. The cable ran from Funchal, Madeira and El Medano, Tenerife, to Melkbosstrand, South Africa.
The SAT 2 system was supplied by STC and Alcatel. STC provided the 62 regens (repeaters) from MLK north, as well as the terminal equipment at MLK. Submarcon provided the remaining 20 regens to FUN (18) & MED (2) as well as the BU (Branching Unit). Alcatel provided the 9500 km (5900 nm) of cable and the terminal equipment at the northern stations.
CS Vercors laid 5788 km of cable and 49 repeaters as follows. Melkbosstrand to repeater 18 and then from Funchal and Medano to repeater 51. Work commenced on 10 May 1992 and finished on 11 October 1992. The balance of the cable from repeater 18 to repeater 50, 3712 km and 33 repeaters was laid by CS Sovereign. Capacity is 15360 channels. The cable opened for service on 29 March 1993.
The above set of four stamps was issued to celebrate the 25 years of service of SAT 1. Information supplied by the Crown Agents stated, at the time of issue, that the vessel depicted was CS Sir Eric Sharp belonging to at that time Cable & Wireless (Marine) Ltd., now owned by Global Marine Ltd. The three values 25p, 30p, 70p show CS Vercors landing a shore end off Ascension but this cable did not land on Ascension and CS Vercors had not been built when SAT 1 was laid.
Built 1991 Van de Giessen de Noord, Netherlands.
Length 127.3 m Breadth 21 m Depth 7 m Gross tonnage 11242
Built for BT Marine Ltd. When Cable & Wireless (Marine) Ltd took over the BT cable fleet ownership of CS Sovereign was taken over by BT Forty Ltd. C&W acted as managers and operators of the vessel. When Global Marine Ltd. took over the C&W cable fleet similar conditions applied. The vessel's main duties are on Atlantic cable maintenance. Her home port is Portland, Dorset, UK.
Many additional stamps are shown on the pages linked from the Stamps Index page
Last revised: 12 March, 2013