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

1859: Was the Atlantic Cable a Humbug!

Introduction: When the Atlantic Cable failed after three weeks of operation in 1858, many suspected that it had all been a fraud or a hoax, despite the evidence of messages having been sent and received which could have been transmitted by no other method. In its issue of February 3rd, 1859, the Boston Courier published “Was the Atlantic Cable a Humbug!”, a long article from a correspondent identified only as “Observer, Boston, Jan. 17, 1859”. This issue of the Courier is not presently available for reference, but the article was reprinted in the February 19th issue of The New-York Saturday Press, and the text of that publication is reproduced here.

In his article, “Observer” does concede that the cable had been successfully laid between Ireland and Newfoundland, but presents his case for the operation of the cable having been a fraud, arguing that messages purported to have been sent over the cable had been either pre-arranged at both ends or were carried by other means.

A few days after “Observer”’s article appeared, the Boston Courier published a rebuttal from “Vindex”. Again, the original is not available, but The New-York Saturday Press also reproduced this article in its issue of February 26th 1859, and that version is transcribed here after the one by “Observer”.

A follow-up by “Observer” to comments in the Courier of February 4th of yet another correspondent (“A Passenger on Board the Arabia”) was published in the Courier on February 10th, 1859; these letters are also transcribed here.

The Minutes of Evidence of the official inquiry into the failure of the cable, the report of which was published in 1861, include a complete transcript of all messages carried over the cable, day by day, and these confirm that the information contained could only have been received via cable. Henry Field’s book, History of the Atlantic Telegraph also discusses the Humbug article and refutes some of its assertions..

Thanks to Stewart Ash for raising the topic of Humbug, and especially to Bill Glover for transcribing the very poor quality microfilm copy of the 6800-word “Observer” article! The Microtext Department of the Boston Public Library was also very helpful in providing text from the Boston Courier which was not available elsewhere.

— Bill Burns

Was the Atlantic Cable A Humbug!

To the Editor of the Courier.

This work of huge pretensions, and of evanescent glory, which was born and died amid one and the same roar of cannon, and in the light of the same rocket, rests in the popular mind of the would-be-conjoined continents, beneath the significant epitaph of the amazed infant:–

“Since I have been so soon done for,
  I wonder what I was begun for!”

But we are inclined to think the innocence of the short lived infant will not rest upon the memory of the Cable Telegraph Company.

On the contrary, an absurd public confidence – a maltreated public generosity and sympathy, have demands upon the cable company and its officers, on both sides of the Atlantic, for explanations of what seem to be grave doubts upon the integrity of their dealings with the public.

The proofs seem tom point unerringly to a studied system of fraud and imposition, which could have had the only motive of an unwarranted speculation in the sale of the company’s stock to the unsuspecting and uninitiated, both in this country and abroad.

The arrival of the Arabia at New York, with English papers to the 7th of August, furnished the New York papers with the following among other significant extracts about the cable stock:–

“From the London Shipping Gazette (City Article). Aug. 5 – Atlantic telegraph shares which were yesterday down to £300, have today risen up to £840 to £1000.”

It is said, upon high authority, as a fact, and to be susceptible of incontrovertible proof, that Mr. Cyrus W. Field had £75,000 or $375,000, of the stock of the cable company, subject to the condition of not being sold until the cable should have been successfully laid; and that other parties, on the other side of the Atlantic, had large numbers of that stock under similar restrictions.

The London Times Of the 6th of August, says:- “The financial and general position of the Atlantic  Telegraph Company now appears to be as follows: Their original paid up capital was £350,000, and this has since been increased to £450,000, an additional £31,000 having been raised a short time back, and £75,000 in shares, having been created TO BE HANDED OVER, IN PAYMENT FOR THE EXCLUSIVE PRIVILEGES assigned to the Company, immediately on the SUCCESSFUL COMPLETION OF THE UNDERTAKING. Although the amount for participation in dividends is £456,000, the capital actually received is £381,000,” showing the bonus account to Mr. Field and others to have been £75,000 or $375,000.

In a memorial presented to Congress, in March, 1858, by Hon. Amos Kendall and others, Committees of the Magnetic and Union Telegraph Companies, the following historical gem of the cable company, on this side of the Atlantic, is in this connection not uninstructive:–

 The stock of the Atlantic Telegraph Company was raised, at least in part, upon the representations of a Circular marked (“Private”). The amount of stock was fixed at £300,000 since increased to £350,000, equal to about $1,700,000.

That Circular represented that “upon a very moderate computation of profits, the capital will yield a return exceeding 40 per cent.

These profits are not to be divided among all the Stockholders in the ordinary way; but one-half of the amount over ten per cent. is to go to four individuals, three of them British subjects, and one of them a citizen of the United States.

That citizen is the gentleman who procured the Act of the Legislature of Newfoundland, incorporating the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company; the same who got up the American Telegraph Company; the same who doubtless originated the present plan of the Atlantic Telegraph Company; and the same who is now said to be entrusted with the duty of superintending the laying of the Atlantic cable.

Of the one-half of the profits over ten per cent, this gentleman is to receive thirteen parts out of twenty four, which, if the estimates of profits as held out to subscribers shall be realized, will give him an annual income exceeding $120,000 in addition to 25 per cent. upon his stock in common with other stockholders.

As this estimate was promulgated before application was made to Congress for assistance, and there was no mention of any bounty from the British Government, it would seem that the eight per cent. per annum said to be secured from the two Governments for a term of years was not included in the 40 per cent estimate, and while four per cent. is to go to swell the dividends of the stockholders beyond twenty five per cent., the other four is to be divided – thirteen parts to the American citizen, and eleven parts to the British subjects herein before alluded to.

The public have certainly been informed of one other bonus to Mr. Whitehouse, the chief, and Valentia electrician of the Company, amounting to £12,000 or $60,000.*

*In an official communication over the signature of Geo. Saward, Secretary, and addressed “to the shareholders in the Atlantic Telegraph Company,” in reply to Mr. Whitehouse’s published letters of the 6th and 15th of September 1858, we have this statement:-

“It must be understood, that the present Directors are in no way responsible for the introduction of Mr. Whitehouse into the electrical concerns of this company, by which introduction he has derived an absolute bonus of £12,000 in free shares, and a handsome salary.”

If the reader is curious to know who is responsible for the introduction of Mr. Whitehouse into the Company, he will find the evidence in a published letter of Mr. John W. Brett, (the originator on the English side of the Company), dated September 22, 1858. In that letter he says:

“Mr. Whitehouse at this time became acquainted with Mr. Cyrus W. Field, who had proposed to unite with me on equal grounds in carrying out the Atlantic Telegraph; and it was on Mr. Field’s so strenuously urging the admitting of Mr. Whitehouse, and Sir Charles Bright to participate in our labours, that I finally consented to their association with our project.”

It would be without its significance to the public if the Company officers were made to disclose, how many, to whom, and in what sums, bonuses were distributed, anterior to the reputed laying of the cable.

Such facts might furnish a satisfactory solution of the motives of many of the official and semi-official representations that have been made respecting the cable.

The first general fact, however, that startles every mind that investigates, is, that no representation made on the English side of the Atlantic, respecting either the laying, or the working of the cable, is found consistent with the representation of the same fact, made public on the American side of the Atlantic; which indicates, that while there was a concert upon generalities, there has been a disagreement upon particulars; proving the want of honesty in the matter among the immediate actors.

Thus, as to the landing of the cable at Valentia:- Turn to any of the American city papers of August 6th, and this despatch will be found dated at Trinity Bay, where Mr. Cyrus W. Field then was, viz:–

“TRINITY BAY, August 5th.
The Agamemnon arrived at Valentia, Ireland, yesterday, and landed her end of the cable. The Niagara landed her end here today. The electric current is perfect, and signals pass freely.”

The above despatch is reported as received at Boston, New York etc., at 5 P.M. of August 5th, making the cable landed at Valentia on the 4th of August. Everybody was led to suppose the fact to have been derived from Valentia over the cable.

Now for the other side of the Atlantic:- In the London papers of August 6th is published a telegram from Mr. Whitehouse of that date, from Valentia, saying:- “The end of the cable was landed safely close by the pier at Kingstown, yesterday afternoon, the paddle-box boat of the Valorous conveying it.”

These statements disagree to the extent of one whole day – Trinity Bay reporting on the 5th of August, that the landing of the cable at Valentia had been made on the 4th of August, and Valentia reporting that the cable was not landed until the afternoon of the 5th of August.

This was good guessing; but not exactly accurate telegraphing! But it was a “good enough Morgan” upon which to raise public confidence in the value of the cable company’s stock, through the simultaneous furore excited over both continents, by the Associated Press monopoly of the telegraph.

In connection with this last sentiment, it may be well to bear in mind a despatch published in the Boston and other papers of the associated Press, in other cities, dated as follows:–

TRINITY BAY, August 27th P.M.
The only news despatches thus far received through the Atlantic cable, have been addressed to the agent of the Associated Press, New York. No special or private despatches of European News have been passed over this line to any other address, and none will be until after the cable shall have been thrown open to the public.”

But now comes a more astounding piece of testimony.

By the arrival of the mail steamer Niagara, with European news to the 11th of September, the following will be found among the published extracts of New York, and other city papers, from the London papers, viz:–

“Lieutenant Francis Higginson, R.N., writes to the Daily News:- ‘The telegraph cable was broken in the attempt to submerge it on the 29th July at 7 34 P.M. between the Agamemnon and Niagara, when electrical signals immediately and finally ceased; nor were the broken ends of the cable ever afterwards recovered or repaired.’ It is therefore needless to say, that no message of any kind whatever, public or private, ever could have been actually passed along the telegraph wire rope, between Ireland and Newfoundland.”

“I have nothing to do with motives, but am at any time prepared to produce evidence, on oath, by eyewitnesses, to substantiate the facts herein defined, and until that can be done, request you will thus distance the public of a dangerous delusion, into which it has been generally and unavoidably misled; it being almost impossible to credit the extent to which individual oppression and popular deception have been carried.”

The curious will find in the Boston Courier of the 27th of October last, a report from the London Star of the 15th of October, brought out in the steamer Persia, of an extraordinary scene at the Guild Hall Police Court in London, on the complaint of Lieut. Higginson, against the Cable Company, upon an alleged fraud by the Company upon him, as a £1,000 stockholder, he alleging the whole operation to have been fraudulent.

But in confirmation of Lieut. Higginson there comes a startling admission of nearly the same fact, from an indisputable source.

On the 21st of September, Mr. Saward, Secretary of the Cable Company, published, officially, the report of Mr. “Varley, the electrician to the Electric and International telegraph Company,” adding of him as follows:- “ he is one of the gentlemen who have been consulted by the Board, in reference to the present state of the Atlantic Cable.”

In this report to the Directors, Mr. Varley, after describing his tests and opinions of the defects in the cable, says:–

“From authentic data shown me at Valentia, I am of opinion, that there was a fault on board the Agamemnon before the cable was submerged, at a distance of about 560 miles from one end and 640 from the other.” He then gives the data referred to, and proceeds as follows:–

“I am also informed that the currents through the cable, even immediately after it was submerged, were so  weak that relays* were useless, and that not one perfect message was recorded by them—everything that was received being read from the deflection of a galvanometer.  .  .  .

“The inference, by rough calculation, therefore, is, that there was a fault, offering a resistance equal to 1000 or 1200 miles of cable, situated at a distance about 560 miles from one end of the 1200 miles coil on board the Agamemnon.

“This however, cannot be the first fault attested to, situated at about 270 miles from Valentia, but may have been the one which caused such alarm when the ships were 500 miles from Ireland, and when the signals ceased altogether,  and never certainly recovered.”

*Meaning relay magnets, used to receive currents too feeble to record with, but strong enough to close a local and fresh battery, acting with a current strong enough to work a recording magnet and instrument.

Now upon this evidence we do not undertake to say, the cable was not laid from Valentia to Trinity Bay; for, we believe it was laid, under a determination of Mr. Field and his associate, Mr. Bright, to lay it, happen what might; and if it worked, or if it did not work, it was bound to be a success! Seventy-five thousand pounds (equal to $375,000) of gratuitous stock was pending on one side, and twelve thousand pounds (equal to $60,000) in Mr. Whitehouse’s, the Valentia electrician’s hands, were pending on that success, on the other side; and how much the now Sir Charles Bright had suspended for its value on the same demonstration of success, has not yet been expressly made known to the public.

 Now we do not undertake to say that the cable was not laid without a break of the inside wires, although of this we have some doubts, independent of Lieut. Higginson’s positive assurance, and of Mr. Varley’s report already cited. But these doubts we will not now stop to elucidate or justify.

But, what we do maintain is, that reliable and unimpeachable evidence is wanting, that one solitary intelligible sentence ever passed upon the cable from either continent to the other, or that there ever has been an available, manageable, practical electric current pass upon the cable, equal to any intelligible result, beyond that which is conveyed in the hoot of an owl, or the howl of a wolf. All which the current that has so passed, ever meant, or in that meaning it ever conveyed, was, that an electric current was there, and that it came and disappeared from what, to its managers, have been and still are, in appearances, wholly inexplicable causes, and in defiance of all practical results.

Now as to the testimony.

Mr. Whitehouse is the only man who has vouched to the public, upon the pretence of actual knowledge at the Valentia station, that a single sign of intelligence was ever communicated from Trinity Bay to Valentia upon the Cable.

Of Mr. Whitehouse, we ourselves know nothing. But we do know, however, that he stands impeached in his character for truthfulness, and convicted of duplicity, by the reports made to the public by the Board of Directors, over the signature of the Secretary, Mr. George Saward.

We now allude, specifically, to Mr. Whitehouse’s published letters of Sept. 6th and 15th, on one side, and the flat refutation of them by the Directors, in their published answer thereto.

Then again, Mr. Whitehouse is flatly impeached in many of his representations, by Mr. J.W. Brett, one of the Company Directors, in his reply, dated Sept. 22, to Mr. Whitehouse’s letters.

It would make this article too tedious to the general reader to array these impeachments in detail here; and yet, if the cable company elect to rest their reputed success upon Mr. Whitehouse’s testimony, the proof of their own exhibition against his veracity will be produced, to put their defence upon a proper consideration with the public.

Upon the Trinity Bay side, the company’s only witness, known to the public, that any sign of intelligence of greater import than we have indicated above, ever came there over the cable from Valentia, is the Frenchman, De Santy or De Sauty, who has never been, and still is, to the American public at least, a sort of myth – not sufficiently identified to be yet known by a positive name, or his reality to be positively credited. Hence, in his sympathy with the nervousness of the public feeling in respect to this mysterious personage, one of the staid New England Editors thus gave vent at one time to his impatience:–

“Thou operator, silent, glum,
Why will you act so haughty?
Do tell us what your name is, come –
De Santy, or De Sauty.

Don’t think to humbug, any more,
Shut up there in your shanty,
But solve the problem once for all –
De Sauty, or De Santy!”

We have yet to learn that any satisfactory response has ever been made to this earnest imploration of our New England editor, from the historical “Cyrus Station,” or from Cyrus himself; so that all is dark and mysterious as ever around the questionable personage. But we will show ere we finish, that much as Mr. Whitehouse has been proved by his Board of Directors, unreliable and untrustworthy, the Frenchman at Trinity Bay is equally destitute of all claim to the public confidence in this matter; and yet, what motive he could have had for deceiving the public, independent of the service put upon him by the officers of the Company (or for its quid pro quo), and independent of that motive which is to be found in the stock bonuses, held conditionally upon establishing a certain success, by certain parties, has not yet been made known to the public.

Then comes one other witness, who has spoken for, and in the name of the whole board, as to the working of the cable. We mean Mr. George Saward, their Secretary. If he does not fail of all claim to credit by the public,  when we shall have finished our exhibits, we will admit all our positions of disbelief in the success of the cable, beyond the fact of its being laid in the waters of the ocean, full; and that Whitehouse and the Frenchman at Trinity Bay, and George Saward, and Mr. Field, and all the others immediately concerned in the bonuses of the Cable Company’s stock are “all honourable men.”

And, first and foremost, let us advert to one piece of evidence that seems to have fastened itself on the public mind as conclusive of the successful working of the cable. We mean the reputed report through the cable, to Valentia and in London, on the day following of the collision, which took place off Cape Race, on the coast of Newfoundland, of the steamship Europa, bound from Boston to Liverpool, with the steamship Arabia, bound from Liverpool to New York.

That no such report was so made, either at Valentia, or in London, on the next day, nor on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th day succeeding the accident, is a fact, which, if established, will put to shame this falsely reputed achievement of the cable.

Now for the facts. If any one will turn to the card published over the signatures of forty-five of the passengers of the Arabia, on her arrival at New York, he will be satisfied the collision took place “about 11 o’clock on the evening of Saturday, August 14, off Cape Race.”

If he will again turn to any of the London daily papers of Saturday, August the 21st, being the 7th day after the collision, he will there find in startling capitals this announcement:

by the
Collision in the Atlantic between
The Europa and Arabia.”

Then follows, over George Saward’s official signature as Secretary, an alleged despatch, said to have been received by the directors on the previous (Friday) evening, that “the Europa and Arabia have had a collision” – and another, also that the collision took place “on Saturday last.” Thus was this news six days and six nights old before it reached Valentia, and in its seventh day before it was published in London.

Now turn to the shipping reports of any city paper, and it will there be found that the Quebec and Galway steamers are almost sure of making their voyages from the coast of Newfoundland to Ireland in less time than was taken to get this news to London over the Atlantic cable. *

*In the Boston Post of January 7 1859, in a letter dated Dublin, Ireland, Dec 17 1858 in illustration of the above fact, says:-
| “The Prince Albert has just arrived, in five days sixteen hours from land to land – St. Johns, N.F. to Galway – a Winter passage, bringing six days’ later news,” &c.

A great feat this, surely, and worthy of a knighthood to Mr. Charles Bright, and a burning down of the City Hall of New York, to add éclat to an ovation in honour of Mr. Cyrus W. Field.

But, unexplained, it was “a good enough Morgan” to prove the Atlantic Cable a success, and to release £75,000 of stock from restrictions upon its sale.

Yet, what says the Trinity Bay Frenchman, about this collision message?

A despatch in the New York Tribune of August 26th, will answer. That paper say:–

“The following despatches from Trinity Bay and Carbonear, were received on Friday morning by Cyrus W. Field, Esq.

“CARBONEAR, Thursday Aug. 19, 1858.
The cable is working beautifully today. I reached Cyrus station this evening.   A. MACKAY.”

“TRINITY BAY, Aug. 19, 1858.
We sent a very explicit message this morning to Mr. McIvor, of Cunard Steamers in Liverpool, respecting the disaster to the steamship Europa.    DE SAUTY.”

Now if this is true, it was five days after the disaster – not on the next day, that De Sauty sent the news, and if it is true, moreover, in being sent the Thursday, the 19th, it was certainly all that day and all the next, in getting over the cable to Valentia, for the Secretary, Saward, says this news was received on the evening of Friday the 20th!

The consistency of these two witnesses is on a par with that of the Trinity Bay report on the 5th of August, that the cable had been landed on the day before (4th) at Valentia, while the Valentia report when received by steamer, established the fact, that it was not landed until the afternoon of the 5th. There is only a discrepancy of one day and one night between these witnesses in each case; or, if no discrepancy be admitted, we must take the statements as proof positive, that it takes one day and one night for a message started at one end of the cable to reach the other end!

But we will now proceed to other extraordinary evidences of the tax that has been imposed on the public, evidently by the managers of the Ocean Cable. We have already given incontrovertible testimony, in a note to this article, that five days and sixteen hours has become ample time for even the Winter voyages of the Galway steamers, between Ireland and Newfoundland; and we now state it as an additional fact, requiring explanation from the cable managers, that every important event, which they have professed to have transmitted from Europe to America, has been six days and upwards old on its arrival in this country, and so old enough in each case to have been brought by the Galway steamers, and obtained off Cape Race! What are the striking events with which these managers have thus attempted to arrest public attention in this country, under the pretence of their having been transmitted across the Atlantic with lightning speed?

The message from the Queen of England to the President of the United States, will be remembered as one of remarkable emphasis,  causing the ringing of bells, firing of cannon, burning of rockets, orations by grave senators, and sermons by enthusiastic clergymen, and the drinking of extra toasts at every clubhouse, and winding up with the burning of the City Hall of the commercial metropolis of the United States!

The announcement of a treaty of peace concluded by China with England and France, was another magnificent achievement by the cable managers, striking the gaping masses of newspaper readers throughout the United States with new and unmeasured astonishment, and paralysing all the old-fashioned calculations of mercantile men.

If it should turn out, in the proofs we are about to submit, that, notwithstanding the official solemnity with which the former message was surrounded in its announcement to the public on both sides of the Atlantic, the whole reported transmission was a stupendous fraud and imposition upon the credulity of the world, and that the latter China peace message was old enough in European prints, before the pretended receipt of it here by Cable Telegraph, to have crossed the Atlantic in some Galway or Quebec steamer, the public will hardly require us to go into other proofs, that all the other pretensions of the cable managers have been gross humbugs.

1st – Let us present to the reader the facts in respect to the Queen’s message. In the London papers of August 18, 1858, was addressed to the respective editors, under date of August 17, an official communication of what purports to have transpired on the previous day, viz: August 16, and as follows:

To the Editor of the Morning Post:

Sir,—I have the pleasure to inform you that the line from Valentia to Newfoundland is now working satisfactorily both ways. The following message was despatched yesterday evening from the Directors in England to the Directors in America:

“Europe and America are united by telegraph. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.”

This message, including the addresses of senders and receivers, occupied 25 minutes in transmission, and consisted of 31 words. Immediately afterwards a message from Her Majesty the Queen to His Excellency the President of the United States, consisting of 99 words, was received by Newfoundland in 67 minutes. Both messages were repeated back to Valentia to test their accuracy, and were found to have been taken with great exactness. Of course, unless permission were given, the contents of Her Majesty’s despatch cannot be made public.

This morning we had the following message, the last 30 words of which were received in 23 minutes, from Cyrus W. Field, who is at Newfoundland:

Cyrus W. Field, Newfoundland, to Directors Atlantic Telegraph Company, London – Newfoundland, Monday – Entered Trinity Bay, noon of the 5th. Landed cable on the 6th. On Thursday morning ship at once to St. John’s. Two miles of shore cable, with end ready for splicing.

When was cable landed at Valentia? Answer by telegraph and forward by letter to New York.”

It will thus be seen that the line is now capable of being worked with perfect accuracy, and the Company will now proceed, as rapidly as is consistent with the establishment of a proper system, to make the necessary arrangements for opening the communication to the public; in doing which, however, some delay must necessarily occur.

Yours truly,

GEORGE SAWARD, Secretary and Manager.
Chief Office, 11 Old Broad Street, London, August 17.

The minuteness of the above information would seem to admit of no plea of either ignorance or misinformation, on the part of the managers of the cable. It gives not only the day, but the number of minutes employed in the wonderful achievement; and the exact number of words that crossed the ocean on the wire during those now historically memorable minutes! Not content with that, our cable managers meant not to leave the public without the most complete test, that no imposition had been practised by the freaks of the lightning in the ocean upon the senses of those managers; and hence, they state for a further fact, that the two messages were repeated back to Valentia from Trinity Bay, and were found to have been received at Trinity Bay with “great exactness!” And all this on the 16th of August.

Let us now glance at the facts bearing the same date of August 16th, 1858, on this side of the Atlantic. On the afternoon of that day the rumour ran throughout the country, on the lightning of the “associated press,” that a message from the Directors in Europe to the Directors in America, and the Queen’s message to the President, had come over the cable; and on the following morning every newspaper in the land screamed in triumphant capitals thus:

The following despatches were then given as the genuine transmissions of the cable, viz:

To the Directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Company, New York:
Europe and America are united by Telegraph.
“Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth Peace, Good Will towards Men.”


of the
and of the
As transmitted over the Atlantic telegraph cable.


To the Hon. the President of the United States:
Her Majesty desires to congratulate the President upon the successful completion of this great international work, in which the Queen has taken the deepest interest.

The meagreness of the Queen’s message, and being without date, arrested public attention; and doubts of the authenticity of it were very generally expressed. And yet, simultaneously with its publication on the 17th of August, the President’s reply, under date of the 16th, was given, and imparted to the alleged Queen’s message the aspect of reality. We will remark in this connection that we have heard from a seemingly reliable source, that the President had been furnished, informally, several weeks before, with a copy of the Queen’s contemplated message; and on receiving the fragment above given, he questioned its authenticity, and did not consent to furnish his answer until he had sent to the Department of State and obtained the informal copy above named; and that he entrusted the reply to the care of Peter Cooper, Esq., on the condition that it should not be forwarded until the whole of the Queen’s message should be furnished.

Certain it is that Mr. Cooper caused to be published the following message, as having been transmitted by him to the President.

“NEW YORK, August 17.

To the Honourable, the President of the United States:

I beg to transmit a message, this moment received from Trinity Bay, explaining the cause which prevented the whole of the Queen’s message being telegraphed from Valentia, yesterday.

Shall we consider your message to Her Majesty a full reply, and date it this day accordingly? The operators at Trinity Bay wait your answer.   PETER COOPER.”

Thus we have Mr. Coopers evidence that the Queen’s message was not transmitted from Valentia to Trinity Bay, on the 16th of August, in “sixty-seven minutes,” and “consisting of ninety-nine words,” as solemnly announced in the London papers by the secretary of the cable managers.

Thus we have the evidence of Mr. Cooper that the Queen’s message of ninety-nine words was not repeated back to Valentia to test its accuracy, on the 16th of August, and found to have been taken with “great exactness.” On that day at Trinity Bay!

Have the public been humbugged by the Cable managers, or have they not? If they were cheated on the 16th of August, who can say when the cheat ceased? But let us turn to the explanation referred to in Mr. Cooper’s message to the President.

It was published in the papers on the 18th of August as follows:–

“ST JOHNS, N.F., Aug. 17

The reception of the Queen’s message was commenced early yesterday morning, and not finished until this morning: but it was stopped for several hours to allow of repairs to the cable. The fragment of the message transmitted yesterday was handed to the Newfoundland line as the genuine entire message, and was supposed to be such until this morning.”

Who is to be believed – Saward, in London or De Sauty, at Trinity Bay? Have the cable managers humbugged the public? We forbear comment, but rather let the public judge.

Now as to the China news: On the 26th of August the papers of the country teemed again with glaring capitals, thus:–




Office Associated Press,
BOSTON, Aug. 26.

The following news has just been received from Europe via Trinity Bay:-


The following news has just been received from Valentia, Ireland.  DE SAUTY.

“A treaty of peace has been concluded with China, in which indemnification has been secured to England and France.

Later India news has been received – Bombay dates to 19th July having reached England. The mutiny in that country is being rapidly quelled.”

To prove the above information contained in Bombay dates to the 19th of July to have been something more than six days old in London at the time when the cable managers represented it as having come with lightning speed from that city over their cable, it is only necessary for the reader to turn to the Morning Chronicle of the 20th of August, in which he will read the following announcement:–

“BOMBAY MAIL. – The letters and journals brought by the overland mail from Bombay, via Suez and Marseilles, were delivered yesterday. The dates are to the 19th of July.”

It will be seen, then, that the boasted news of the cable of the 25th August was in the letters and journals that were delivered in London on the 19th of August, or six days previously!

Again: the papers of this country on the evening of the 27th of August, blaze in capitals as follows:–

From the

Further particulars of the
The whole Empire thrown open to Trade.
Foreign Ambassadors to be received.
Religious Toleration Required.

“LONDON, Friday, Aug. 27.

St. Petersburg dates of 21st inst., state the conditions the peace settlement between England and France and China. The Chinese Empire is to be open to all trade; the Christian religion is to be allowed and recognised; foreign diplomatic agents are to be admitted to the Empire, and indemnity is to be made to France and England. A despatch from Alexandria, of the 9th, says the steamer Madras arrived at Suez on the 7th, with news from Bombay to the 19th of July.”

Now this beautiful and trustworthy Atlantic Cable concern, and the scarcely less delectable associated press news arrangement, through which only one man was announced as the sole recipient of news from Europe over the cable (as herein before copied), begin to stand out to the public comprehension for – what they are worth! Why nobody else but the agent of the associated press was allowed to approach this august cable divinity during all this period of humbuggery, is no longer a profound mystery. But for this arrangement, all the press of the country could not have been made at the same hour the instruments of this cool imposition upon the whole public of this Union, nor could the editorial corps of this whole country have been made alike the dupes of this one agent at one and the same moment.

“TRINITY BAY, August 27.

The above is received from Mr. Saward, Secretary of the Atlantic Telegraph Company.  DE SAUTY.”

To the above was appended the following, to keep up the gusto of the thing:–


“Mr. De Sauty, the chief electrician at Trinity Bay, telegraphed that he expects more news shortly.”

To fulfil the last promise, the later editions of the evening papers of the 27th of August, contain the following announcement:–


The Gwalior Insurgent Army Broken Up!

Trinity Bay, Aug. 27, P.M.

The only additional intelligence received from London since our report this afternoon, is that the Gwalior insurgent army has been broken up, and much progress has been made in the establishment of order throughout all the disturbed districts.

To illustrate the consummate impudence with which the preceding despatches were imposed upon the press and the people of the United States as genuine London news of the 26th and 27th of August, received from Valentia over the cable, it is only necessary to invite the reader again to the above named London Morning Chronicle of the 20th of August, for a long summary of events respecting the pursuit of the Gwalior fugitives by Gen. Napier, extracted from the Bombay Times of the 19th of July.

And by turning to the London Sun of Monday, August 23rd, he will find the following article, copied from the Paris Moniteur of the previous Saturday, being August the 21st, and the contents of which were evidently received from St. Petersburg by telegraph, as early as August the 20th, giving the whole of the news respecting the treaty with China, religious freedom, reception of ambassadors, and freedom of trade, contained in the above despatch of the 27th of August, making the news of the despatch six and seven days old, viz:

PARIS, Saturday, 21st, 6 P.M. – The Moniteur contains the following note, which, if correct, will put an end to the Chinese war:-

“A courier who left Tien-Tuin on the 27th June, and travelled overland, has brought to Prince Gortachakoff the intelligence that a treaty has been concluded between China and Russia similar in its general basis to those which have been concluded between China and the other Powers. The ports are opened, the free exercise of the Christian religion is conceded, the establishment of consuls admitted, as well as the reception of diplomatic agents in Pekin if necessary. England and France have, moreover, obtained a considerable pecuniary indemnity.”

This despatch comes from the Duke de Montebello, the French Ambassador at St. Petersburg, and is dated August 20th. We may therefore conclude that the mandarins sent to negotiate with the allied admirals and envoys had full powers. The most important question is whether the Emperor of China will receive French and English embassies at Pekin. The despatch says such will be accorded “if necessary.” China then, according to the instructions for demands given to the allied envoys, is now open to all the world, and the possibility of future difficulties avoided by permission to send ambassadors to Pekin.

We are at a loss to understand, how men hitherto reputed upright and honourable in their business relations, can excuse themselves, or hope to be excused by the public, with the above proofs before them, from disavowing their knowledge of the dishonesty of the transactions herein exposed. The imposition is undeniable. To purge the record of their participation in it, would seem to be incumbent on them, to confess themselves to have been victimised by the artful managers, in common with the world at large.

 We have had occasion to use the name, in this article, of Mr. Peter Cooper, and in doing so, we desire to say, that we believe no living man less capable than himself, of giving countenance to a fraud upon the public, of any grade; and much less of the stupendous magnitude, that has dared to suborn the invocation of Holy Writ, and the names and stations of the highest rulers in the affairs of men – the Queen of England and the President of the United States – to its sordid purposes. His whole life is a guaranty against his intentional partisanship in such an act. No more could the editorial corps of this nation aid, knowingly, in such a stupendous farce and falsehood. We shall wait with curious impatience for a response to this exposition, by men on both sides of the Atlantic, who have a responsibility to the public, far above the Sawards and the De Sautys, who have been made principal outward actors in this extended plot of the Ocean Cable and Associated Press Agency. It will afford us, no less than others, the profoundest satisfaction, to know how the extraordinary facts we have presented can be explained, consistently with the just requirements of truth and of the world – and until then, we will forbear further comment.

Boston, Jan. 17 1859.

The following paragraph was added by the editors of The New-York Saturday Press:

NOTE. – In justice to Mr. Field it is proper to state that since the above article was written there has appeared in the financial articles of several New York papers of February 1st, this statement. It may be as well to state, as erroneous statements on the subject have found their way into the papers, that Mr. Cyrus W. Field sold one and only one share of his stock in the Atlantic Telegraph during the period when the belief in its successful accomplishment was universal. He is still one of the largest stockholders in the Company.


Soon after “Observer”’s article was published, the Boston Courier published a response from another correspondent, “Vindex”. This version of the text is reproduced from The New-York Saturday Press issue of February 26th, 1859.

Was the Atlantic Cable a Humbug?

To the Editor of the Boston Courier:

In your paper of February the 3d, there appears under the above caption an article by “Observer,” in which the assertion is made, positively and without reservation, that the Atlantic Ocean Cable has never worked effectively since it was submerged—has never sent a message across its wires—and, consequently, that all the despatches heretofore published as genuine cable productions, were bogus. The writer does not adduce one particle of proof to sustain this extraordinary statement, although he admits, as he could not help admitting, that several despatches, purporting to have been transmitted through the cable, were published last Autumn in the newspaper, on both sides of the Atlantic, in “six or seven days.” He attempts, however, to account for these despatches by starting the theory that they were taken across the Atlantic by the Galway and Quebec steamers, which steamers, be asserts, “are almost sure of making their voyages from the coast of Newfoundland to Ireland in less time than was taken to get this news to London over the Atlantic Cable.” And it is on so flimsy an assumption as this that “Observer” impugns the truthfulness of the Directors of the Ocean Cable, and makes gross charges of collusion and fraud against gentlemen whose names are in this country synonymous for personal worth and mercantile honor.

Having filled three columns of the Courier with his baseless charges, sly inuendos, and malignant comments, “Observer” calls for a response from some one in behalf of the Cable, saying he shall “wait with curious impatience” until he gets it. He shall have that response.

In the first place, I will proceed to demolish the Galway theory of “Observer” by showing that, on no one occasion, even if all the Galway steamers had made passages of but three days’ duration instead of six, could they by any chance or possibility have carried out the particular despatches under consideration, so as to have them published in London or in New York within six days after they left the respective shores of Ireland and America. The times of the departure and arrival of these steamers during the period in question did not coincide in a single instance with the time included within the dates at which certain facts transpired on one side of the Atlantic and the dates of their publication on the other. Here are the facts and figures on this point.

The Atlantic Cable was professedly working from about August 6th, to September 1st, when all communication for practicable purposes appears to have ceased. During this time, but one steamer left this side on the Galway route. That was the Prince Albert, which sailed from New York for Galway direct, on the 21st of August, arriving out on the 1st of September, after a run of nine days, and carrying later American news to Europe. She of course could not have carried out any of the cable despatches which were published in London previously to her arrival out. The very suggestion has an air of the ridiculous about it.

Now let us note the passages of the Galway steamers from the other side. The first vessel on the Galway route which left the Irish coast for America during the period mentioned above was the Propeller. She sailed from Galway August 21st, and arrived at St. Johns on the 28th, after a passage of seven days. The Pacific followed her from the same port on the 26th of August, arriving at St. Johns on the 2d of September, having made the run in eight days. These two were the only steamers on the Galway route which left the other side during the period above specified.

It will be seen that of the three passages noted above, not one of them is set down as less than seven days. But, in computing the age of news transmitted by a steamer or sailing vessel, the days of departure and arrival should always be deducted. This process would have made the news brought by the Propeller, which performed the passage from Galway in seven days, at least nine days old when it appeared in the newspapers. But that news, in reality, was not published in this country until it was ten days old— a fact which “Observer” and his friends can ascertain for themselves by turning to the Boston or New York papers of August 26th.

In order to shorten this communication, I purposely omit from this place the result of my inquiries touching the possibility of the Quebec steamers having had a hand in facilitating the passage of the alleged bogus despatches across the ocean. I have the figures, however, on this point, and if “Observer” would like to see them, be shall be gratified. I suspect, however, that before he reads this communication through, he will not care to hear anything further about his Quebec and Galway steamer theory.

Having thus pretty effectually demolished, as I think, “Observer’s” Galway six-days’ theory, I will proceed to adduce incontestible proofs of the fact, which I now assert, that the Atlantic Cable was in working order at the time its managers claimed it to be, and also that the despatches which “Observer” denounces as bogus, were true and bona fide cable messages, and that they could have reached their destination at the time they did by no other method than by transmission through the ocean wires. I assert, also, and am prepared to prove my assertion, that not one of the despatches selected by “Observer” consumed six days, as he asserted they all did, or even five, in its passage from Europe to America.

The first of these despatches on which “Observer” turns his batteries, is that announcing the collision off Cape Race between the steamships Europe and Arabia. In his comments on this despatch, “Observer” is peculiarly disingenuous—totally ignoring the facts in the case, and deducing from his own garbled statements a conclusion which, if he were as well posted on the subject as he pretends to be, he must have known to be false.

In order to make out his point in this case, “Observer” alludes to the despatch as one which was “reputed” to have gone through the cable to London on the day next following the collision, and then triumphantly exclaiming, “now for the facts,” be proceeds exultingly to demolish this “humbug” of his own concocting.

Now, the real facts with regard to this despatch are that no person connected with the cable or with the Associated Press, ever pretended that the despatch reached London on the day following the collision. It would have been silly for them to have done so, for that despatch originated in New York, where the fact of the collision was not known until the third day after it happened. All the incidents attending the transmission of this despatch are lucidly explained in an article published in the New York Herald of January the 7th, from which I make the following extract bearing on this point. Says the Herald, in substance:

“The collision off Cape Race between steamships Arabia and Europa, occurred on Saturday, August 14th, and a despatch announcing it was published in the London Times of the 21st of the same month. Here a lapse of seven days is apparent between the date of the collision and the time of its publication in London. This delay is partially accounted for by the fact that the news of the collision did not reach New York until Tuesday the 17th, and that the despatch for Liverpool via the Cable Telegraph was not sent from this city by Mr. Cunard until that day.  And then, when the despatch reached Trinity Bay, the operator there refused to transmit it through the Cable to London, alleging, as an excuse, his peremptory orders not to send any private business messages until the line was fully open to the public. On learning this fact, Mr. Cunard made application to Mr. Cyrus W. Field, in New York, to induce him to use his influence with the directors for a relaxation of their rules, so far as to meet the exigencies of this case. Mr. Field did so, and the result was, that the message, with Mr. Field’s indorsement, was resent from New York on the evening of the nineteenth, was received in London on the 20th, and published in the Times on the 21st, as already stated.”

Here it will be seen that although the news was “six days old” when it reached London, it nevertheless was but two days on the passage from New York to that city.

But there is connected with this “collision” despatch another significant fact, which “Observer” has entirely ignored, but which, for his edification, I will here introduce, quoting again from the Herald’s article:

“When,” says that journal, “the news of the collision was first received in London, which was on Friday, the 20th of August, as before stated, the information it conveyed was deemed by the agents to be too meagre, and therefore a despatch asking for further particulars was transmitted from that city over the cable to Newfoundland. This despatch left London at five o’clock on the afternoon of that day, and an answer giving this information sought was received over the cable at seven o’clock on the evening of the same day! This fact is explicitly vouched for in an editorial in the London Times of the 21st, which published both despatches in full on that day."

Here we have unmistakable evidence that, during the few weeks the cable was in working order there was a certain time when, to use the languor of the Herald, “the telegraphic communication between the two shores was almost perfect.”

I now come to the next “news” despatch noticed by “Observer”—that announcing the treaty of peace with China. Upon this point “Observer” lays considerable stress, and evidently thinks, if one judge of his thoughts from his actions, and exultant language, that he has really made a damaging matter out of it.  But what are the facts in the case? According to “Observer’s” own version, when stripped of its verbiage and its irrelevant matter, we find that the China news was first published in London on Monday, the twenty-third of August, and in this city, and the other cities of the country on the TWENTY-SEVENTH of the same August! Here, it will be noted, was the lapse of four days only. What has become of “Observer’s” Galway six-days theory when he let this remarkable admission slip through his pen—an admission which instantly and completely demolished the three solid columns of hard writing – and, I might add, of hard swearing also—which he had been putting up against the integrity of the Atlantic cable. And where, too, was his Galway steamer? It is of no great account, now, where the latter was; but still, as the steamer then en route from Ireland to St. Johns happened to be the only one which came within a gunshot of answering the conditions of “Observer’s” six-days Galway theory, it may be interesting to the reader, if it is not to “Observer,” to know something about her movements at this time.

By referring, therefore, back to the paragraph noting the passages of the various steamers on the Galway route, it will be found that the Propeller which made the shortest time of any steamer then plying between the two countries, left Galway August 21st, two days before the China news transpired in London, and arrived at St. Johns on the evening of the 28th, one day after the news in question was published in this country! Is it now any longer a mystery to the reader why “Observer,” while advocating his Galway theory perfectly neglected to furnish the public with these facts and figures concerning the performances of the Galway steamers, which were absolutely necessary to enable them to judge whether he was keeping good faith with them, or not!

It was my intention to have noticed some other points in “Observer’s” long communication; but I have already, I fear, stretched my remarks to too great a length. I will, therefore, add but one more proof, just as a clincher to my article, and than commend the whole thing to “Observer” for digestion.

On Monday, the twenty-third of August, 1858, Mr. James Eddy, the general Superintendent of the American Telegraph Company, died at Burlington, in Vermont. The announcement of his death was telegraphed to Newfoundland, and thence over the Atlantic Cable to London, which city it reached on the twenty-fourth - that is, on the next day after the death occurred at Burlington, and the fact was duly recorded in the London Times of the twenty-fifth!

Now, I think even “Observer” will agree with me that here is a case in which there could have been no “collusion.” Mr. Eddy was a gentleman and a Christian, as every man who ever knew him will freely acknowledge, and the thought is not to be entertained for a moment that he would have conspired with others, and contracted to die on a certain day in order that the fact of his death might be sent to London in advance, and the announcement there palmed off upon the public in the shape of a cable dispatch, for the purpose of enabling certain parties to swindle the community! But how else could the announcement of his death at Burlington, in Vermont, have reached London on the day following it, if the Atlantic Cable was not then in working order? I should like to have “Observer” answer me this question through the columns of the papers, and, in the meantime, to use his own language, I shall wait with “curious impatience” to see the answer.



A letter from “A Passenger on Board the Arabia”, supporting the transmission by cable of the news of the collision of the Arabia and Europa, was published in the Boston Courier of February 4th, 1859:

“Was the Atlantic Cable a Humbug?”

To the Editor of the Boston Courier:

I have read with interest the communication of Observer on the Atlantic Telegraph. According to his showing there are many facts in the proceedings of the Company which need explanation, and I suppose the managers, if they have explanations to give, will feel obliged to produce them.

But I cannot assent to his unqualified assertion, that no message was ever really transmitted across the ocean. I think the evidence—so far as now known—very strong that the news of the collision between the Arabia and the Europa was first received in London by this line.

That collision took place at 11 o’clock on the evening of Saturday, Aug. 14. The Europa was so much damaged that she was obliged to put into St. Johns. She arrived at that port in the afternoon of Sunday, Aug. 15. The news was telegraphed to New York on Monday the 16th! The Arabia did not arrrive in New York until Friday, Aug. 20, and the particulars were telegraphed to Trinity Bay, as understood at the time from the Cunard agent, immediately on the arrival of the Arabia. If this were the case, its circulation in the London morning papers of Saturday, the 21st, would be a conclusive proof that the news could only have been conveyed by the Telegraph.

But, if a Galway steamer is known to have procured the information from the Europa before she entered St. Johns, or at the time of her arrival, and to have arrived in Ireland so as to telegraph the news to London in season for the Saturday papers—then, of course, the explanation  of OBSERVER is possible; otherwise it is absolutely impossible. Did any such steamer leave St. Johns at that time, and, taking the news from the Europa, transmit it from Galway to London the following Friday? This is a question of fact decisive of the whole matter. Perhaps OBSERVER can answer it. But it is singular that he has passed it over in silence.



Clearly the writer was making the same point as “Vindex” (above) about the transmission of the news of the collision to London. This response by “Observer” was published in the Courier on February 10th, 1859:

“Was the Atlantic Cable a Humbug!”

To the Editor of the Boston Courier:

“Observer” has read the article of “A Passenger on Board the Arabia” - in your paper of the 4th inst. He says:

“The Arabia did not arrive at New York until Friday, August 20, and the particulars were telegraphed to Trinity Bay, as I understood at the time, from the Cunard agent, immediately on the arrival of the Arabia. If this was the case, its circulation in the London morning papers of Saturday the 21st would be conclusive proof that the news could only have been conveyed by the telegraph.”

“Observer” would concur unhesitatingly in the conclusion to which “a Passenger” comes, if his premises were true.

But unfortunately for such conclusion, the premises stated are not in the record.

It is not correct, that the dispatch supposed to have been sent to Trinity Bay after the arrival of the Arabia in New York on the 20th, was the despatch circulated in the London papers of the 21st.

The contrary appears in two ways, viz:—

1st. De Sauty telegraphed Mr. Field, as quoted by “Observer’s” former article, on Thursday, 19th of August, one day before the arrival of the Arabia at New York, that he had on that morning “sent a very explicit message to Mr. McIver, of Cunard steamers in Liverpool, respecting the disaster to the steamship Europa.”

2d. In the despatch circulated in the London morning papers of the 21st, on the authority of Mr. Seward, Secretary of the Cable Company, it is expressly stated as a part of that dispatch, as follows:—

“Arabia on her way to New York, slightly injured.

So, of course, that despatch was not written after the Arabia had arrived in New York, and the premises of “A Passenger” are wholly disproved.

All sorts of versions to prop up the misgivings of the public mind respecting this collision message have been resorted to, and played off with an artistic skill quite unnecessary if it were a matter of fact.

For instance, a long article of half column, closely printed, appeared in the Boston Journal, of the 4th of January, (perhaps other papers,) under the telegraph head, dated New York, Jan. 3, the introductory of which is as follows:– [The same article was reproduced on the 7th of January in the New York Herald as editorial.]

“The efforts which were commenced some three months since to injure the credit of the Atlantic cable, by denying the authority of the despatches transmitted through it, having been recently revived with great virulence by the friends of a kindred enterprise, we have gone to the trouble of searching the files of the American papers, and the London Times, respectively, for the purpose of satisfying the public in a matter so important.

Such is the beginning of the article. Further on, it says:–

“1st. The collision off Cape Race between the steamships Arabia and Europa occurred on Saturday, August 14th, and was published in the London Times on the 21st. Here an elapse of seven days is seen between the date of the disaster and the announcement in London. This delay is particularly accounted for by the fact that the news of the collision did not reach New York until Tuesday, 17th, and that the despatch to London was sent on that day from this city by Mr. Cunard.

“When, however, that despatch reached Trinity Bay, the operators refused to transmit it, alleging as an excuse his peremptory order there not to transmit any private business messages, until the line was fully open to the public. On learning this fact, Mr. Cunard made application to Mr. Field, to induce him to use his influence with the directors for a relaxation of their rules so far as to meet the exigencies of this case. Mr. Field did so, and the result was, that the message was re-sent from New York, with Mr. Field’s indorsement, on the evening of the 18th, and was published in London on the 20th.”

Amid such contradictory accounts of a simple transaction, is any one of them credible?

Believe it who may. A Passenger on board of the Arabia cannot believe it on the hypothesis he advanced, for that is fully disproved.


Boston, February 9, 1859.


This was the end of the discussion in the pages of the Boston Courier, and “Observer”, “Vindex”, and the “Passenger on Board the Arabia” were never heard from again.

Were they just concerned citizens - or were they in the pay of rivals or supporters of the Atlantic Telegraph Company? The controversy continued in some of the other newspapers which reprinted the Courier’s articles, with comments by both editors and readers—spin doctors are by no means a modern invention. And as noted in the introduction to this page, the matter was settled in favor of the Atlantic Cable when the detailed message texts were later released.

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