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

1865: Choosing the Site for the Shore End of the Cable at Valentia

The newspaper articles on this page provide a good description of how the location was chosen where the shore end of the 1865 cable would be laid at Valentia, and also includes some details of the first cable building.

The first story was published in the Cork Examiner issue of Tuesday Evening, 18 July 1865, and is titled simply “The Atlantic Telegraph.” It has a short description of how the landing place was chosen, and details of the cable building constructed in a field above Foilhommerum Bay.

The more detailed second article, “Choosing the Site for the Shore End of the Cable,” was published in the New York Daily Herald issue of 20 June 1865. The story was written by Charles H. Farrell, who had been dispatched to London and Ireland to cover the preparations for the cable expedition. Farrell was accompanied by Joseph Becker, staff artist for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, also of New York , and Becker’s sketches of the cable scenes were published in that paper.

See also this article on the landing of the shore end at Valentia.

The Atlantic Telegraph.

[Cork Examiner, 18 July 1865]

The preparations for laying the cable, so far as regards the land, have been completed a week ago. Two short cables have been carried across the Valencia ferry, a line of post have been placed along the principal road to Foilhummerum, and on these the wire now runs. A temporary wooden station has been built above the creek. This consists of six rooms, in one of which, facing north and south, is placed a table of Valencia slate. The piers of this table are formed of huge blocks weighing several tons each, and the slab that covers it is about three inches thick, fifteen feet in length, and three in breadth. The object has been to provide such a resting place for the instruments as will be perfectly secure against vibration, and enable the needles to tell their story with perfect certainty at a distance of 2,000 miles from the place where the current was set in motion.

Choice has not been made of this landing place without due consideration. It was recommended by Captain White, R.N., who commands the coast guard of this locality, and who is thoroughly acquainted with all the soundings upon the coast. The advantages which are said to render it superior to all other places in the island, are, firstly the shelter it obtains from the high promontories on each side of the Channel, and secondly, the smoothness of the seal bott which slopes gradually over a bank of sand into a depth of thirty fathoms. The cable will run about six miles north of the lesser Skellig, and after a distance of about thirty miles, will reach that plateau of even sand of which so much has been written. Here it may rest securely until its mission is accomplished. For, be it remembered that a cable cannot last for ever. Its life generally terminates in ten years, and if, by reason of its superior strength, it endures longer, at the expiration of twenty its vitality must be exhausted. So, at least, say the most experienced electricians.

It is right to mention that in view of the success of the Atlantic Telegraph a new line of posts have been erected from Valencia Ferry to Killarney. All the arrangements described have been made under the directly of Mr. B.D. Watlock, the skilful and experienced engineer of the British and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company.

It is hoped that the laying of the shore end of the cable, which is to be effected by the Caroline steamer, will commence on Monday, and as the Great Eastern is expected on Tuesday there need be no delay. Mr. Glass, the contractor, and some of the principal directors of the company have already arrived, and these gentlemen, with a number of invited guests will accompany the Great Eastern in the Hawk, for at least thirty miles of her voyage. That the weather may be as propitious as hitherto is the prayer of all who wish success to the undertaking.

(By Special Telegram.)

Valencia, Monday Night.

The Hawk arrived here at 5 p.m. on Saturday, having left Plymouth at 4 p.m. on the previous day. On her passage she encountered a very heavy sea. The Terrible passed the Skelligs at 4 p.m. this evening, and is now entering the harbour of Valencia. The Great Eastern is expected in the course of to-morrow. The Caroline is also on her way. Weather very unsettled.

Correspondent of the Irish Times.

Choosing the Site for the Shore End of the Cable

[by Charles H. Farrell, correspondent of the New York Daily Herald]

Our Valentia Bay Correspondence.
KNIGHTSTOWN, Valentia Bay, Ireland, June 5, 1865.

Choosing the Site for the Shore End of the Cable – The Commission and Who Composed It – Irish Scenery – Killarney and Sweet Innisfallen – Surveying and Sounding  in Valentia Bay – The Site Unanimously Fixed Upon – Promised Co-operation of the Viceregal Court – A Good Beginning of a Great Work, &c.

I left London on the evening of Thursday, the 1st inst., for Valentia bay, south coast of Ireland, to be present at the ceremony of selecting the site for the British terminus of the great cable.  The scientific corps chosen to perform this important duty consisted of Cyrus W. Field, of New York, on behalf of the Atlantic Telegraph Company; Mr. C.F. Varley, assistant electrician to the same company; Mr. John Temple, engineer to the Telegraph and Maintenance Company; Mr. B. Dawson Wardock [actually Watlock], superintendent in Ireland of the Atlantic Telegraph Company; Mr. W.T. Ansell, superintendent engineer and inspector of the International Electric Telegraph Company.  The Knight of Kerry, a gentleman who has been one of the strongest advocates and supporters of the project, accompanied the commission.  Mr. J.A. Becker, artist to Frank Leslies’s Illustrated Paper, and your correspondent made up the party.  A portion of the commission were to join the other on the route.  We arrived in Dublin early on the morning of the 2d, and crossed the Irish Channel on the model steamship Connaught.   The party stopped at the Gresham Hotel to make the final preparations for the trip.  Mr. Field visited the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland on official business, the nature of which did not transpire; but that functionary assured him that he, with other of the governmental officers of Ireland, would be present at the commencement of laying the new cable.

The commission started in the early train on the Great Western and Southern Railroad for Killarney en route for Valentia.  The day was pleasant, and the trip through the counties of  Dublin, Kildare, Kings, Queens, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Limerick, Waterford and Cork was highly enjoyable and appreciated. The scenery on the route was in many places delightful, and, accompanying a good mentor who had travelled in Ireland, I had pointed out to me the residences of some of the leading gentlemen and nobility of Ireland, among which were Celbridge Abbey, the residence of H. Grattan; the magnificent seat near Dublin of the Duke of Leinster; Carton; Lyons, the residence of Lord Conslurry; Palmerston House, seat of the Earl of Mayo; Moore Abbey, the property of the Marquis of Drogheda; Dawson Grove, the demesne of the Earl of Dawson; Ballyfin, the residence of Sir Charles Coote, Bart., and others too numerous to mention in a newspaper letter.  Some of the places seen were of very ancient date, and brought vividly to my memory my early reading of the wars of the Irish chiefs, with the towering deed of Brian Boroimme, and still later the Cromwellian wars.

The party reached the Lakes of Killarney shortly after three o’clock P.M., where dinner, which had been ordered by telegraph by Mr. Field, was on the table of the Railroad Hotel.  At the close of the repast carriages were waiting at the door of the hotel to take the party direct to Valentia Island, which was forty Irish miles distant.  Several of these present had never visited the lakes before and expressed a desire to delay an hour or two to enjoy the beauties of the scenery; but Mr. Field, who was the acknowledged chief, placing business before pleasure, vetoed the suggestion, and the journey was ordered to be resumed at once, but with the qualification that when the delegates had concluded their mission they might return and give the Lakes of Killarney a thorough inspection.

The vehicle prepared for the journey was a four-wheeled jaunting car – a carriage indigenous to Ireland, and, as I think, the most uncomfortable thing in the world.  The excitement of the occasion served to dissipate many of the inconveniences which would otherwise have been experienced.  Our route was on the Cahirsivein road.  In passing through the town of Killarney there were many things that were novel to the visitor, among which were the Roman Catholic cathedral, Gortrue Lodge, Round Castle, and the Round Tower.  Part of the route was along the lake, the island in the middle of which seemed to be covered with magnificent timber and gigantic evergreens;  but I was assured the interior of the islands are replete with a variety of scenery.  On the margin of the lake are beautiful glades and lawns, embellished by thickets of flowering shrubs and evergreens, among which the arbutus and hollies seem to predominate.  Prominent among the island referred to is Innisfallen, so beautifully alluded to by the Irish poet Moore: -

Sweet Innisfallen, fare thee well!
May calm and sunshine long be thine;
How fair thou art let others tell,
While but to feel how fair be mine, &c.

After losing sight of the lakes we came in view of the beautiful river Laune, which runs parallel to the road and is famous for its salmon fishing. Twenty miles from Killarney is the pretty little village of Rossberg.  The other half of the journey to Valentia was decidedly uninteresting and bleak, as nothing was to be seen but barren hills, herds of goats, the mud cabins of the peasantry, sans chimneys, sans windows, sans chairs, sans everything of a civilized character, and peopled only by bare legged and half clad men, women and children.

Our party reached Reenard Point, extending into the harbor of Valentia, at eleven o’clock at night, tired, jaded and careworn.  Fortunately a ferryboat (a large row or surf boat) was in waiting to take us across the harbor to the pretty village of Knightstown (named in honor of the Knight of Kerry), a place of seven hundred inhabitants.  Good cheer was awaiting us there, after partaking of which we gratefully retired for the night.

Early next morning the commission took such conveyances as Valentia Island affords and proceeded from Knightstown to the westerly portion of the island (seaward), to survey points on one of which to lay the cable.  Reaching the village, if I may so call it, the party made a direct diversion to the southward until they reached the margin of the of the harbor opposite Aghagadda point.  Here we were met by the coast guard barge, under command of Lieutenant White, Royal Navy, who volunteered his services to assist the operations of the day.  After a consultation it was agreed that Mr. John Temple, the principal engineer for the commission, should accompany Lieutenant White in making soundings of the water near the southerly shore of the harbor, while others by land examined the westerly shore. The commission had to guide them in their researches the excellent chart of Valentia Island and harbor from surveys made by Commodore J. Wolfe and Lieutenant W.H. Church, Royal Navy, in 1849.  Mr. Temple pushed his inquiries on the south of the harbor from Kilkea Point to [Reincarrah] Point, while the other party investigated the practicability of the coves and outlets from Donnebrook to Cromwell Fort, near Foilhommurum Cliff.  At the latter point all parties met, and a full discussion and comparison of observations were had.  The cliff is here fifty feet high, the sea beating longitudinally upon the cable, and thus reducing the risk or that abrasion, which is fatal to submarine telegraphs, to a minimum.  From a point on the water fifty fathoms from land the bottom, which is of sand, gradually recedes for miles beyond ordinary soundings.

Doonroe Bay, near Bray Head, the point at the Port Magee entrance to Valentia harbor, was suggested; but the commission soon determined upon its impracticability.  The question then came back upon the adoption of Foilhonmurrum Cliff, which was subsequently accepted as the proper point to land the new Atlantic cable.

The point for the terminus of the telegraph cable having been determined on, the party started for Bray Hill, the western or sea end of Valentia Island.  Bray Hill, at its summit, is one thousand feet above the level; it has no woods on it, and but spare pasturage, over which the cattle and sheep of the peasantry have free access.  There is nothing of importance noticeable except an old coast naval tower, erected in feudal times.  On the sea side of Bray Hill the rock is very precipitous, as indeed is all of the south Irish coast.  During a gale the waves dash up its sides to several hundred feet, and by this constant attrition the island is by degrees washing away.

From the old signal tower at Bray Head, looking eastward, there is an unobstructed view of Valentia Island and harbor.  In the background are the lofty peaks of Cloghanlinapan, Mount Killelan and Foughel;  to the right, Reenard Point, directly opposite which is the village of Knightstown.  The village has substantial stone houses, neatly whitewashed, and is beyond doubt one of the most thriving little places in Ireland.  It contains an Episcopal church, small, but neat; the buildings of the Royal Coast Guard, several well filled stores, and is the headquarters of the Lifeboat Association for the south coast of Ireland.  Following up the view towards this point of observation on the inner side of Valentia Island, we find the pleasant villages of Reenglam, Reenantina, Reenabougan, Dennebrook, Coahabeg, &c.  The little farms on either side of the harbor present themselves in vari-shades of green, and make up a scene worthy of the limner’s art.  On the sea side the island is one system of precipitous and irregular cliffs, great masses of rock, in a thousand fantastic shapes; the sea beating against these has worn deep fissures into the mountains.  Evidences of prosperity are apparent everywhere, and Valentia Island may, without hesitation, claim to be the most thriving part of the county of Kerry.

The shore end of the old cable was landed on the night of the 6th of August, 1857, in Doulas bay, the east entrance of the harbor.  At that time this was thought to be the best site for that purpose; but from subsequent investigations relative to the sea bottom and the currents of the harbor a different opinion has been arrived at by scientific men.

The Island of Valentia suffered fearfully during the famine of 1848, and hundreds died of starvation on the road side or in their miserable dwellings, in which their bodies were found many weeks after their death, unburied and presenting horrible signs of emaciation.

The island will again enjoy considerable importance from the fact that it will be the terminus of the great Atlantic cable.  Every room in the hotel at Kingstown has been booked for the month of July, when the Lord Lieutenant will visit the island to take part in the cable ceremony.

The telegraph company will at once commence the erection of a building at Foilhonmurrum Cliff for the accommodation of their employes and the housing of their electrical instruments; it will be completed in about one month.

The scientific commission having completed their labors, made up their reports and forwarded them to the directors in London.  In the event just described there was a unanimity of feeling which is the forerunner of success in all great enterprises.

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