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

From Sheerness to Valentia - July 1866
J.C. Parkinson
Special Correspondent of the
Daily News (London)

Introduction: The story of the Great Eastern expedition to lay the 1866 cable and subsequently recover and complete the 1865 cable has been written many times, but less well-documented are the events preceding the laying of the cable and the activity at the Valentia cable station during the lay.

Joseph Charles Parkinson
by Oliver François Xavier Sarony
albumen carte-de-visite, circa 1863
NPG Ax29687
© National Portrait Gallery, London

In the articles on this page the “Special Correspondent” of London’s Daily News, J.C. Parkinson, begins his reports with the voyage aboard Great Eastern from Sheerness (in the Thames Estuary about 35 miles downriver from Greenwich), where the cable had been loaded, via Berehaven (Bantry Bay, Ireland), where the cable squadron assembled, to her station near Valentia ready to begin laying the cable to Heart’s Content.

As no extraneous personnel were permitted on board Great Eastern once she had arrived at Valentia, Parkinson then took a position near the site of the cable station at Foilhummerum Bay on the west end of the island. From there he reported the news received from Great Eastern over the cable as it was being laid, together with events at Valentia.

While Parkinson was writing the story of the first days of the expedition, its official artist, Robert Dudley, was painting watercolours of some of the scenes described and sending sketches to the Illustrated London News for later publication. Several of these pieces are included here to illustrate the text. Dudley also drew the cover for the programme of the amateur theatrical performance which amused the ship’s passengers on the way to Ireland.

The first part of this narrative immediately precedes John Deane’s diary of the main part of the expedition, and provides information that has not been recorded in detail elsewhere. Parkinson had also reported on the 1865 expedition, so he was quite familiar with the technical aspects of cable laying, as well as the financial relationship between the Atlantic Telegraph Company (which had laid the 1865 cable), and the Anglo-American Telegraph Company (formed to lay the 1866 cable).

Although uncredited in the Daily News, the “Special Correspondent” was identified by the Illustrated London News in its issue of 28 July 1866, p.94, as J.C. [Joseph Charles] Parkinson (1833-1908). He and N.A. [Nicholas Augustus] Woods of the Times are also credited as writers of the amateur dramatic production performed on board Great Eastern during the voyage from Sheerness. See the description and cover illustration in his article of 5 July below.

In 1870 Parkinson wrote the book “The Ocean Telegraph to India,” an account of the Great Eastern’s laying of the cable from Bombay to Aden. Further biographical information may be found in Angela Dunston's 2009 entry for Parkinson in the Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism.

—Bill Burns


Note: The reports by Joseph Parkinson, together with official telegraph messages and other stories published in the Daily News, are reproduced here in the order they were written, rather than by the date of publication.


Report dated 1 July 1866, published 2 July, Daily News, London.


Eighteen inches between failure and success puts in a slightly sensational form one of the difficulties triumphantly surmounted yesterday. Last year the Great Eastern moved to the Nore, and took in coals there a fortnight before she started for Ireland. On this occasion, as the coals and many of the stores are to be shipped at Berehaven, she started from the Medway, and anchored here as a first resting place, before resuming her voyage by to-day’s tide. She is now lying about a mile and a half to the north of the Mouse Light, or ten miles from Sheerness, and to gain her present position has passed through channels and cleared mudbanks, where sticking fast, or running aground, would have involved serious delay, and possible failure, and for this reason: the great vessel is so well laden, that she now draws 31½ feet at her fore-part, while in certain portions of the Little Nore and the Sheerness Break, over which we passed yesterday, there are but 21, 22, and even 18 feet at low water. High tide adds 15 feet to these soundings, so that from 18 inches to three or four feet has been over certain bars and patches the extent of the margin to be reckoned on.

The Alexandra Channel, through which we are to pass by to-day’s high tide, though long known to the fishermen, was only buoyed a few years ago, and was first formally used when the Princess Alexandra came over to this country. The Bullock Channel, by which the Great Eastern left last year, has not been buoyed by the Trinity-house authorities, so that the newer route is a necessity. Mr. Brockman, who is a master in the royal navy, and commands H.M.S. Wildfire, yesterday occupied the position filled by Mr. Moore, the pilot of last year, and aided Captain Anderson in directing operations from the bridge, while Mr. Halpin, the chief officer, and Mr. Beckwith, the head (ship’s) engineer, acted as generals of division, and despatched to other officers their aides to and from various parts of the ship as the exigencies of the situation required. Every man on board was busy and pre-occupied from the time the anchor was weighed to the moment it was cast again.

Just as the somewhat numerous party of ladies and gentlemen who have accepted the directors’ invitation to accompany the expedition to Ireland, were joyously exchanging cheers and congratulations with a steamer laden with London excursionists, the motion of the great vessel was checked, and the word went round that we were about to stop for the day. But we were in reality over one of the hazardously shallow parts of the little channel, and were waiting for the tide to be at its full, to reduce the chances of grounding to a minimum.

At a quarter past 3 yesterday afternoon Captain Anderson gave the word to cast anchor, and by half past everything was taut and trim for the night. The great vessel is now lying in 12 fathoms water, and is held by a 60 fathom cable and a 10 ton Trotman’s anchor. To go further with her present draught was impossible yesterday for the Great Eastern, so she waits here comfortably and confidently for the tide. When leaving what yachtsmen know as the Great Shoal, and the Oaze Deep behind, she will pass up the Alexandra Channel and the Prince’s Channel, and so through the deep waters of the Downs. She will then proceed to Berehaven without delay, arriving there on Wednesday next.

The improvement in the behaviour of the ship is very marked. The thorough cleansing of her bottom, on which the ingenious apparatus invented by Captain Anderson has been employed for months past, while a professional diver has gone down almost daily to report progress, may be credited with a portion of this improvement; while her boiler-power has been materially strengthened since last year. The cable-tanks, of course, still occupy the place of two boilers, but the remaining one hare been carefully hauled over and repaired, and the joint result is that, with several thousand tons more weight in her than when she started last year, her speed is fully a knot and a half higher.

Six months ago Mr. Glass, the managing director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, fixed upon “Saturday, the 30th June, at noon,” as a fit time for starting the expedition of this year, and a few weeks since Mr. Cyrus Field crossed the Atlantic, upon the understanding that “Sheerness mid-day, 30th June,” should be the hour at which the Great Eastern would commence her voyage, and up to which joining her would be practicable and easy. This time has been kept literally to the minute. There had been some fiddling and singing among the men heaving the anchor, their labours being cheered, as last year, by a violin player seated on the capstan, and giving the inspiriting strain of “Slap Bang,” and a few congratulatory shots from the pretty steam yachts belonging to Mr. Pender and Mr. Edwards, moored near. But the actual start was so quietly made that some gentlemen chatting on deck, watches in hand, only discovered we were off by finding it to be twelve o’clock, and looking at a landmark on the shore. Engineers, electricians, sailors, savants, and guests are unanimous in their jubilations, and half contemptuous references to the inferior speed of 1865 are by no means uncommon. The implication seems to be that the clogged pace of the Great Eastern was then an ill omen we neglected, and that the increase in the speed of to-day is a sure harbinger of success. It is certain that the Great Eastern is in much finer working order than before. The sailors praise her as more “lively;” the engineers tell us that she was only at little more than half speed yesterday when doing her six knots, and that from eight to nine knots will be an easy matter as soon as we get through the channel of to-day; while the cable-layers and electricians, who never want more than a uniform speed of five knots for laying, are satisfied and confident.

On Friday night what is called “putting in the eyes” of the main cable tank was in progress. Entering the hut-covering of this, you look down the interior of the coil for some 30 feet, exactly as if standing on the brink of a coal-pit. The sides of the pit are the coils of the cable, while the grimy mechanists at work at the bottom might pass very well for colliers. Perfectly dark, save for the lamps they carry, the huge black hole made by the hollow centre of the coil is in width and depth, and even roundness, nothing but a mine. The “eyes” being put in are iron plates keeping the wooden shorings together. These branch out and are bound round like the framework of a huge Catherine wheel. When the cable is being paid out they act telescopically, and by the simple action of a wheel descend as the coil diminishes, so as to keep it constantly in its place. All the time the men were at work here, and, indeed, during the whole of yesterday and to-day, the most careful electrical tests have been continuously applied, and “Answering beautifully!” is the invariable verdict of the operators. A new dynamometer, the invention of Mr. Fleeming Jenkin, F.R.S., is here. Among the advantages of this instrument is, that the cable cannot be snapped by it, for long before the strain rises to breaking point it slips the coil.

The increased “trimness” of the Great Eastern, concerning which every one is so congratulatory, must not be held to apply, save in a purely nautical sense. She is far dirtier than last year. The spars and beams, cattle sheds, pens, huts, houses, forges, and blacksmith’s shops are still standing on her deck; and free walking save on her bridge and round her paddle-boxes is an impossibility. She is so full of guests that some gentlemen have had to sleep on sofas, not for lack of cabin room, but because the demand for bedding has exceeded the supply, vast as the latter was. From seventy to one hundred tons of ice, and between five and six hundred pounds worth of bottled beer, are on board, and these are fair samples of the vast scale on which victualling and stores for the voyage have to be carried on. The cattle, sheep, and fowls, will be shipped at Berehaven, where the bulk of the people now filling the grand saloon will take their leave. Mr. and Mrs. Glass, Mr. Elliot, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Elliot and the Miss Elliots, Mr. Daniel Gooch, M.P.; Mr. Varley, Professor Thomson, Mr. Cyrus Field, Colonel de Bathe, Captain Hamilton, Mr. Barclay, and Mr. Barber, are among those on board; but those directly interested in the expedition are accompanied by so many friends that the two dinner tables yesterday looked like the table d’hote at a large American hotel, while the appearance of the saloon later in the evening, when both ladies and gentlemen vied with each other in keeping the piano in full work, was that of a pleasant London drawing room.

Apart from the critical care displayed in piloting yesterday, the voyage down here had the usual features. Yachts, prominent among which was the pretty Ada, belonging to Mr. Barclay, danced saucily round the huge monster steadily pursuing its way; the men of war we passed dipped their ensigns, manned their yards, and cheered us lustily; the Alexandra excursion boat brought its deck and saloon full of patrons within a few yards of us, while its brass band, after oscillating wheezily between “Rule Britannia” and “Yankee Doodle, subsided into a plaintive “I’m leaving thee in sorrow” as she sped on her way. All along the shore, from house to house and field to field, wherever the Great Eastern passed, there was some mark of good will. At Garrison Point we were so near in shore that the colours of the ladies’ bonnets could be easily seen. The crowd assembled seemed paralysed at the prodigious size of the floating monster they were gazing on, and forgot to cheer until we had fairly passed, when as with one accord running round the fort in course of erection handkerchiefs and parasols were fluttered, and the “hurrahs” were prolonged until they were lost in the expanse of water they had to cross.


The Great Eastern passed here at half-past eight, steaming about seven and a half knots. All well. She landed her pilot here.


Report dated 5 July 1866, published 9 July, Daily News, London.


The Great Eastern arrived here this morning at 6.45 a.m., after a rough passage of four days. Her speed has averaged six to seven knots in spite of her heavy cargo, and the strong head wind, and the boisterous seas, against which she has had to contend. The voyage has been favourable throughout, and has increased the confidence in the great ship’s strength, speed, and docility. She has consumed about 183 tons of coals per day, her screw has worked at the rate of 25 per hour, while the revolutions of her paddle wheels have been from 6 to 7 per minute. Lord Hastings, Mr. D. Gooch, M.P.; Mr. S. Gurney, M.P.; Mr. Cyrus Field; Mr. Glass, managing director, and Mrs. Glass; Mr. Elliot, Mr. R. and Mrs. R. Elliot; the Miss Elliots; Mr. Barber; Mr, and Mrs. Smith; Mr. H. F. Barclay; Captain Hamilton; Mr. Dudley: Captain Bolton; Dr. Ward; Mr. G. Dudley Ward; and Mr. J.C. Parkinson were among those on board.

At 10:30 a.m. on Sunday [July 1st], the capstan was manned, and in another hour and a quarter the huge Trotman’s anchor was heaved in. The wind had changed in the night, and the morning was dull and wet. Land was barely visible through the thick rain, while sky and sea vied with each other in heavy leaden hue. The few people who ventured on deck, besides those whose duties kept them there, appeared in every variety of protective disguise. Waterproof helmets, cloaks, and coats, weird wraps and cloths enveloped the capitalists, suivants, and idlers who clustered listlessly under the bridge, and looked wearily for the traditional “Dutchman’s breeches “ in the angry clouds. Again did the Great Eastern’s steady regular motion deceive those watching for the start. Steaming slowly on, and only using her screw, until safely through the Alexandra Channel, those on deck received “she moves!” with more incredulity than the inquisitors of old. This difficulty in convincing people that the vessel they are on is really in motion is one of the characteristics of the great | ship which was never entirely lost during the first two days. Even when fairly in the blue water, and when the yachts and steamers near were rocking merrily on the waves, we had but to pass into the saloon to be transferred to land again, and to be seated in the drawing-room of some vast house. During one of the many drenching showers ail adventurous spirit, who had been ostentatiously airing his mackintosh armour wherever the water fell heaviest, announced the much coveted “bit of blue sky” as in sight. This was a few minutes before prayers, and at their conclusion the sun was shining brightly and every one went on deck.

Life on the Great Eastern is anything but monotonous. Seamen and officers, stokers and engineers, cable-layers and electricians, directors and their friends, lady visitors and theirs, make up about 500 souls, all directly or indirectly interested in the great cable, all as sanguine as if failure were unknown, and all bent on associating pleasant reminiscences with the expedition of 1866. While a snug party of capitalists may be seen in conclave at one table, some of the leading scientific men of the day are comparing elaborate calculations at another; foot races are being run, jumps tried, and leap-frog played on deck by the younger men; amateur vocal and instrumental concerts are fashionably attended; prospectuses of companies are critically compared by leading shareholders; a representative from each party in the House of Commons confer on politics; the lithographer and his staff are rapidly reproducing some spirited sketches made on board; a perfect regiment of sailors are standing shoulder to shoulder, as if on parade, each man answering to his name on the roll call and receiving his allowance of grog; ladies are paying and receiving visits; the massive machinery for picking up is being fixed and tested by the engineers; a large staff of clerks are at work on account-books and pay-sheets, and signals and cheers are interchanged with the various craft, which alter their course to sail near and wish god-speed to the Great Eastern.

The varieties of life in the big ship seem as endless is her resources; most phases are represented concurrently, and none clash with the other. The paramount object of interest is the cable, but the never-failing topic of conversation is the ship. The time of her arrival at Berehaven, the increase in her power since last year, her marvellous steadiness and abundant comfort, were themes upon which scientific and simple agreed, and which apparently derived perennial freshness from discussion. The huge black rabbit-hutch disfiguring the deck and covering the main tank may often be visited without either difficulty or a guide. The “eyes” are all fixed now, the telescopic wooden “shoring” is level with the topmost coil, and the visitor has but to cross the deck, enter the open doorway, and look down to see the great rope upon which so much depends. A watchman is supposed to guard it, but on more than one occasion within the last few days the tank has been open to all comers. Nor must it be supposed that this has involved the slightest risk to the cable. It perhaps indicates the old theory of malicious injury to have been abandoned, and shows the confidence of those interested to rest on something more secure than mere mechanical precautions against cable assassins, imaginary or otherwise.

Night and day in the testing-room, a little further down the deck, the indicator is at work, and the faintest injury to any portion of the coil would be made known within a few seconds of its occurrence. It is the rising superior to “faults” and unforeseen contingencies, their instantaneous discovery and speedy remedy, upon which the electrician and engineers plume themselves this year; and which it is far more assuring to hear dwelt upon than the absolute perfection of any human effort. On Monday afternoon some gentlemen on board were allowed to send messages through the entire cable, 2,300 miles. Artificial faults were also created at various distances, some within half a mile of the end, some at a few hundred miles from it, and others at its extreme end. The indicator upon which these are shown, and by which messages are read off by the operator, is a scale not unlike those used for measuring distances. On this a ray of light descends, which flickers and flies off the instant the insulation is affected.

The remaining part of Sunday continued fine, the waves increasing in size, and the head wind being strong. At 2.44 p.m. the Great Eastern passed the light ship in Prince’s Channel, and two hours later was abreast the North Foreland. About 8 p.m. Mr. Brockman, R.N., whose services as pilot were mentioned in a previous letter, left in a steam-tug, which also took the ship’s letter-bag. Hearty cheers were interchanged, and the great vessel having now parted one by one with the little fleet of convoys which accompanied her from the Nore, pursued her way alone. Mr. Edwardes’s and Mr. Pender’s steam yachts, Mr. Barclay’s pretty little sailing cutter the Ada, the steam-tugs Victoria and Napoleon, the graceful rowing-boat which looked fitter for the Thames than the Nore, but in which a party of Oxford rowing men pulled round the great ship, the crowded little pleasure steamers and fishing smacks which darted out from the watering places we passed, had all been seen for the last time; and scouring the horizon with telescope and field-glass for the William Corry became the occupation of the hour. This vessel plays the part allotted to the clumsy but useful old Caroline last year, and is now on her way to Berehaven, and from thence to Foilhummerum Bay with the shore-end of the cable. Whether she is preceding or lagging behind the Great Eastern is so far a matter of uncertainty, and whenever the smoke of a steamship appears on the horizon, those on deck look eagerly for a second funnel, in the hope of announcing it to be the ship herself.

[Note: The ship referred to as “William Corry” throughout these articles is named “William Cory” in other references of the period and most later ones.]

But in spite of the escort named, and the hailing and congratulations from the shore, the expedition of this year has started more quietly than that of last. The boatsful of pleasure-seeking gazers were fewer, the salutes less numerous, and the excitement more restrained. It might astonish those who regard the attempt of last year is an utter failure to hear the calm confidence with which the future working of the 1865 cable is spoken of here. Professor Thomson maintains the views he expressed before the Royal Society of Edinburgh last December, and basing his estimates of the forces concerned on dynamical principles, is confident that the cable now lying in the Atlantic will be recovered, and completed into a second electrically perfect line.

Mr. Cyrus Field’s calculations as to the vast benefits about to be conferred upon England and America are all based on the supposition that the two cables will be speedily in working order; and similar confidence is felt—perhaps modified in some cases by temperament–-in the absolute success of both experiments; and as the commercial conditions on which this year’s cable is laid seem imperfectly understood by the public, it may be useful to state briefly the proportion of interest held by the Atlantic Telegraph and the Anglo-American Company owning the new cable. The shares in the latter are practically from 20 to 25 per cent. preference ones. Its paid-up capital is £500,000, of which £100,000 is held by the Telegraph Construction Company, £100,000 by ten gentlemen who put down £10,000 each, while £300,000 has been taken in £10 shares by the general public. With the exception of from £3,000 to £4,000 every penny of this has been paid up. This £500,000 is expended on the new cable and the expedition of this year, the Construction Company receiving an extra £100,000 if the cable be successfully laid. For this £600,000 the Anglo-American Company will be paid the first £125,000 per annum out of the receipts for messages between England and America. This done, the £5 preference shares of the Atlantic Telegraph Company now in the market will have their dividend of 8 per cent., and when this is paid the holders of the old £1,000 shares of 1858 will receive 4 per cent. Any profit remaining after these three dividends, amounting together to some 35 per cent., are received, is to be divided equally between the two classes of shareholders; but, assuming the highly improbable contingency that they do not exceed £125,000 a year, the Anglo-American Company would receive them all. The Telegraph Construction Company is merely the manufacturer; and, though its directors have large personal stakes in the two companies, having a direct interest in the cable when laid, the company’s own holding is limited to the £100,000 already quoted, against which must be put the sum charged for, and the profits on, the manufacture of the cable,

The wind became higher and higher as night wore on, and by midnight on Sunday, by which time the Great Eastern was off Dungeness, it blew what sailors call a gale. The movement was imperceptible below, and those most sensitive to sea sickness laughed at it as an impossibility. At 3.30 next morning she was off Beechy Head, and by 10.30 abreast to Owers light-vessel. Monday was a lovely day. The sea was a bright green, and the crested waves tossed and tumbled merrily as the stately monster ploughed her way amongst them. Many ships, both steam and sailing, altered their course to run alongside; distant ones signalled “success to you;” and whenever we were near enough to the houses on shore, their population could be seen turned out to do us honour. In the afternoon of Monday the Great Eastern passed Ventnor, Bonchurch, and the Needles. The trees round Mr. Seely’s house, at Brooke, where Garibaldi stayed; the break in the cliffs near Freshwater, beyond where the poet-laureate lives; “the ridge of the noble down” named in the latter’s “Letter to the Rev. F.D. Maurice,” were all distinctly seen from dock. Nothing could look more exquisitely beautifully than Bonchurch and the Undercliff, their white houses glistening in the sunlight against the foliage round and seen across the foreground of crisp and curly waves. The wreck of a large three masted vessel was lying broken backed, helpless and deserted off Pembridge Point, and looked strangely incongruous amid so much calm and peaceful beauty, and spoke significantly of the changefulness of the power which tumbled to and fro so smilingly to-day.

The wind freshened in the night, and Tuesday morning was rough and squally. The Great Eastern passed the Eddystone Lighthouse just after breakfast, soon after which the thick and blinding rain so increased that the number of look-out men were doubled, and the dismal screech of the fog whistle was heard every few minutes. This lasted until afternoon, when there was a gleam of sunshine, and men spoke cheerily of the weather clearing up. The great vessel had begun to show symptoms of increasing “liveliness,” and the possibility of her pitching if the sea was rougher begin to be reluctantly admitted. We had passed the Lizard Point at noon, and had now to face the mighty waves which came tumbling in from the Atlantic. The sun soon went in again, as if satisfied with a hasty peep at the great vessel, and the weather became worse and worse. The fresh breezes had welded themselves into a stiff gale by midnight, with passing squalls and showers, while the heavy head sea dashed furiously against the sponsons, and covered the fore-part of the ship with spray.

There were but few who slept through the discordant noises of Tuesday night. The great ship behaved gallantly, but her vivacity was undoubted, and she made night hideous with her strains and groans. These were of the most varied and extraordinary character. Sometimes continual double knocks seemed to be given on the ironwork outside, at others myriads of sea demons were apparently punching, tapping, and hooting in the remote caverns of her hold; while paviors, hard at work with their hammers, coal-heavers emptying sacks, omnibuses, Pickford’s vans, and runaway locomotives first rumbling to and fro, and then having a series of collisions; claps of thunder; the crashing of falling timbers, and an awkward squad of undisciplined volunteers at rifle practice; ghosts compelled to wander forth and clank their chains; were seemingly at work above, below, and on all sides of the hapless people who tried to sleep. It all meant nothing. When the foiled slumberers met on deck in the dead of the night they found all to be going well; and that even the two heavy waves which caught the ship at 1.30 and at 4 had done no damage. There had been first a heavy rumbling crash, then a perceptible quiver through the vast bulk of wood and iron-work, not unlike the tremble preceding the butchered ox’s fall. But by the time two or three passengers had rushed up on deck this had subsided, and all there was to see was the water left by the wave, and the heavy stately up-and-down movement of stern and prow.

The deck, though considerably clearer than when we left the Nore, is still hampered up with as many wooden houses, sheds, and workshops as would hold some hundred souls. The effect of this mass of buildings, as they tossed up against the sky, was as if some genii had taken up a small village bodily, and were now dandling it in his hand. For the Great Eastern does not roll when carrying her present heavy weight. Her movement is a slow and steady pitch, which sends her up and down much after the fashion of a swing-boat at a country fair. The gigantic waves which came tumbling in during Tuesday night and Wednesday morning would have made “bad weather” for any other vessel in the world. Captain Anderson said that for summer it was a strong Atlantic gale; and there is no doubt that the Great Eastern behaved splendidly under decidedly adverse circumstances. The fact of her being more heavily laden forward than aft explained her pitching; and even when the waves were largest there was no difficulty in walking to and fro. Standing on the sponson platform, near the paddle-wheel, these waves looked literally like mountains at play, as they plunged and tossed angrily onwards, now licking the vast sides of the Great Eastern almost to her bulwarks, now rushing many feet below her water-line, as if longing to show her keel. These waves so increased in magnitude, and the head wind gathered strength so steadily, that the stewards made the usual preparations for severe weather. The long tables in the grand saloon were spread with wooden frames for fixing the plates and glasses; both ladies and gentlemen betrayed a morbid eagerness to vaunt their perfect health; a snug little luncheon party was made up on deck, who ate after the Roman fashion, lying at full length on their sides—not, it was carefully asserted, because those engaged in it were feeling unwell, but for the reason that the sea air was found more bracing than usual; and the great vessel went on plunging with the same suggestiveness of a monstrous swing boat.

For hours there was not a sail in sight. Sea and sky, both angry and lowering, made up the only prospect, and when dinner was announced most people looked forward to another stormy night. But another hour changed the aspect of affairs. The wind went down, and the sea became comparatively still, as if to favour the amusements originally fixed for the evening, but which it had been intended to postpone out of consideration for the lamentable physical condition of those engaged in them.

On the preceding night a highly successful mesmeric seance had been held in the grand saloon. Mr. Oliver Smith, the brother of Mr. Willoughby Smith, the electrician-in-chief, picked half-a-dozen sailors at random out of the crew, and having subjected three of their number to mesmeric influences, made them lose memory, imagine their noses were several feet long, forget their own names, laugh immoderately and continuously, follow him about the cabin on hands and knees like dogs, and generally comport themselves as patients are wont to do when this class of experiment is successful. But Wednesday night being the anniversary of American independence, it had been determined to give an amateur theatrical performance. An extravagant bit of nonsense was accordingly written for the occasion by Mr. W.A. Woods and Mr. J.C. Parkinson, and as one or two practised amateur actors were on board there was no difficulty in selecting and arranging an admirable cast. The writers of the trifle in question designedly confined themselves to the Atlantic cable and those principally concerned in it, and despite the unavoidable difficulties attending a dramatic performance at sea, it was produced before a numerous and even fashionable audience with entire success. After the speeches made at the festivities prolonged in honour of the day, and at which Mr. Cyrus Field, as the representative of America, was duly honoured, as the ladies declared themselves well enough to listen and the gentlemen to act, it was decided to proceed with the performance.

Amateur Dramatic Entertainment on Board
the Great Eastern Steam-Ship at Sea
Robert Dudley: Illustrated London News 28 July 1866

Omitting some atrocious puns, in which liberties were taken with the names of the leading people on board, the following was the bill of the evening, tastefully printed in coloured ink on tinted paper by the lithographer on board, and admirably illustrated by Mr. Robert Dudley, whose graceful sketches have thrown so much light upon last year’s attempt at cable-laying, and who is to accompany the expedition as its special artist now:

Being a Cableistic and Eastern Extravaganza.
By N.A. Woods and J.C. Parkinson.
By permission of Amphitrite And ‘er Son James.

Can Inglishmen do more?

Glass (a young man from the country) by Mr. Dudley.
Neptune (an old man of the sea) Colonel de Bathe.
Gooch (not Daniel Lambert, but a Great Eastern) Mr. G.W. Elliot.
Field (of the cloth of Gold) Captain Bolton.
Clifford (“Master” of “the Hunchback”) Lord Hastings.
A Sea Monster (a A-B-Sea-one) Mr. H.F. Barclay.
1st Mermaid (Poor though Virtuous) Mr. Poore.
2nd Mermaid (a vaunting female) Mr. Vaughan.
Several Tritons (Right ’uns and tight ’uns though trite ’uns) Unavoidably absent.

Manager, Captain Bolton.
Leader of the Orchestra, Dr. Ward.

Cover for "A Field Glass"
by Robert Dudley

Surmounting the field glass which headed this bill were caricature heads of Mr. Gooch, M.P., Mr. Glass, and Mr. Cyrus Field, while the two practical heads of the expedition, Captain Anderson and Mr. Samuel Canning, the engineer-in-chief, supported a mainmast encircled by the Atlantic cable on either side. The gentlemen acting the mermaids were elaborately made up with long ringlets of tow prepared by the sailors, and with dresses lent by the ladies on board. The other costumes and stage properties were equally elaborate and astounding considering the little piece was put upon the stage at three days’ notice, and was written in as many hours. Captain Anderson sent a staff of workmen to fit up a temporary theatre in the grand saloon, which was handsomely decorated with the English and American flags, and the entire scene was so exceptional and interesting that a sketch of it will probably appear in the Illustrated London News. The sea became calmer every hour, and the last evening spent in the Great Eastern by the party bound in her for Ireland will long be remembered by them for its prolonged merriment and hearty mirth. She anchored here about a mile and a half from each shore at a quarter before seven this morning [5 July], and immediately prepared to take in coal from the two steamers waiting for her.

It will now be useful to recapitulate the chief points of difference between the expeditions of 1865 and 1866. In the construction of this year’s cable the homogeneous iron wire is partly annealed and not so hard as last year. It is also galvanised to prevent it from rusting. The Manilla yarn surrounding the iron wires is not saturated with anything but water,

The copper conductor and the gutta percha forming the core are precisely the same as in last year’s cable.

The effect of the softer iron wire is very marked. It will stretch just so much as to tighten, and to so enable the Manilla yarn to bear its proportion of the strain; and the result is a stronger and more flexible cable.

The yarn being free from tar is easily held by the rope stoppers when necessary. The tar in the old cable acted like grease, under the strain caused by the weight of two miles of cable, when the operation of recovering was performed, and made it almost impossible to hold it.

The picking-up machine, in the bow of the vessel, is of colossal size, dimensions and strength. It is driven by two large steam cylinders, supplied from the main boilers of the ship. There will, therefore, be no stopping this time from want of steam, or from the breaking of the machinery. The paying-out machine has been greatly strengthened, and to it has been added a similar steam engine to that attached to the machinery in the bow. This engine can be connected to the paying-out machine in a few minutes, and by its means the latter is made into a hauling-in machine. The invention of Mr. F. Jenkin, F.R.S., mentioned in my last letter, is added to this apparatus, and gives perfect control over it as regards the strain. This apparatus, like Appold’s break, can be regulated to any desired weight or strain, and the moment the strain on the cable exceeds the allotted amount, the machine eases itself without stopping the steam engine.

Besides the strengthening the great ship’s boilers have undergone, her bottom has been well scoured by the new and ingenious brush, constructed by Captain Anderson, and made to press hard against the vessel by large floats, and by this means the mussels and other marine growths which were in many places two feet thick, have been cleared off, and the vessel has a much higher speed than last year. Her paddle wheels have been so arranged that either of them can be cast loose, and then only one will rotate. With this one wheel, combined with the screw, the Great Eastern can be made to rotate upon her axis nearly as well as a Liverpool tug with disconnecting reversible paddle wheels.

The expeditions of 1858 and 1865 have shown that to lay a wire or rope at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean requires so little strain to be put upon the rope, that it is a comparatively easy engineering operation. But to do this with a rope containing a conductor, insulated from the water by a soft substance like gutta percha, without injuring the integrity of this substance, has proved more difficult. This year there is an entire change in the arrangements. Mr. C.F. Varley and Processor W. Thomson are now the consulting electricians of the company. Mr. Willoughby Smith, the inventor of the material known as Chatterton’s Compound, and of the beautifully simple apparatus for instantaneous tests previously named, takes the place of Mr. De Sauty as electrician in chief, while Professor W. Thomson and Mr. C.F. Varley are engaged professionally by the Telegraph Construction Company, as consulting electricians, instead of acting, as last year, for the Atlantic Telegraph Company, or its substitute, the Anglo-American Company. These three gentlemen have agreed upon a system which ensures that the cable shall never be a minute without the insulation test being on, consequently should a fault occur it will be instantly known. The shore station will this year keep up a series of important tests, and will telegraph the results to the ship continually.

The information which the shore can give to the ship is of the utmost value in determining rapidly the nature and locality of a fault. The resistance coils, for determining the insulation of the cable, consist of 101 coils, of a resistance each equal to 1,000 ohmads. A double slide traverses these coils, and in three or four seconds the amount of resistance required can be obtained. This is the invention of Professor W. Thomson and Mr. Jenkin. The double slide is connected to another box of 100 resistance coils, each equal to 20 units. This arrangement was suggested by Mr. C.F. Varley, and by it, without augmenting the resistance seriously, the power of the battery on the main resistance coils can be subdivided with extreme accuracy to 10,000 parts. A similar apparatus is fixed at Valencia, and by these the electric potential of the cable will be taken simultaneously on shore and on board ship. By these two readings, and the known resistance placed in circuit between the cable and the ship’s battery, either of the three following points can be ascertained in a few seconds:

1. The end of the cable on shore being free, the insulation of the cable.

2. The end on shore being to earth, the resistance of the conductor.

3. The end on shore being free, the distance of a fault, should one occur, its resistance, and the strength of the disturbance arising from earth currents.

The resistance invented by Mr. Willoughby Smith is of great magnitude. This is attached between the cable on shore and a galvanometer whose other pole is to earth. This resistance draws off a mere driblet of electricity from the cable, an amount too small to be perceived on board ship, and yet sufficient to enable the shore to know what is going on, or the ship to call the shore at any time. Mr. Varley has constructed a condenser of large capacity—equal to eighty-five miles of the cable—which insulates so perfectly that no sensible current passes through it when once charged; but by applying a battery to this condenser impulses can be sent to and from the ship of a definite magnitude, and thus the shore can speak to the ship at any time without destroying the most vital test, viz., that for the insulation of the line. Mr. Willoughby Smith has also arranged to use a smaller condenser, which will be charged from the cable on shore, and discharged every five minutes, and thus a notice will be sent to the ship which will enable him to see that the copper wire has not broken. The shore will also use this as a second method for determining the potential of the electricity at that station.

The apparatus for working the cable when laid are the same as last year, but they have been considerably improved in detail, and during constant tests have been found to work better and faster than before. These apparatus are the joint invention of Professor W. Thomson and C.F. Varley, and are known as the curb key and the reflecting galvanometer. To cut off the effects of the disturbance arising from thunderstorms, a cable a few miles in length, whose conductor terminates in a lump of zinc, has been laid at Valencia, and a similar one will be laid at Newfoundland. This is an invention of Mr. C.F. Varley’s.

To enable the telegraphists at each end of the line to ascertain how their instruments are acting through the cable, two artificial telegraph cables have been constructed, of similar slowness to the Atlantic cable: these will be fixed at each extremity of the line, and thus the electricians at each end can ascertain at a moment’s notice how their signals should be at the distant end,

Mr. Varley has constructed an artificial cable which can be varied in the course of a few minutes, so as to represent every submarine cable that has been laid. By means of this it is an easy matter to study the variations of that subtle force electricity in its flight through long and short conductors. It will be seen from the foregoing that substantial improvements have been made in ship, machinery, cable, and electrical arrangements. Another matter likely to become of international and commercial importance is the new system of transmitting telegraphic messages by code. This is the invention of Captain Frank Bolton, of the 12th Regiment, who has been for several years employed by the government in conducting experiments in telegraphy and signalling for army purposes. This telegraph code is an arrangement of figures by which every word and many sentences of English or of any other language expressed in English characters can be transmitted with a speed hitherto unknown through long telegraphic lines, and with complete accuracy in the rendering of messages.

Captain Bolton has, during the last two months, made many important experiments on board the Great Eastern with this new system, and the results have been such as to augur well for its ultimate and universal adoption for the working of long lines. The benefits to be derived by its application in the telegraphic communication between this country and India must be incalculable, because by the system now in use on those lines messages often become so mutilated as to be unintelligible. while by Captain Bolton’s code this is not likely to occur, as messages can be transmitted in any language, whether known to the operator or not. Another very great advantage claimed for this new system is that an enormous saving in time, equal to one half, is effected in sending a message through a long line. This economy of time is by no means the measure of what it is expected to obtain when Captain Bolton’s code is generally understood. Persons having frequent recourse to the use of the telegraph (for commercial purposes especially) have frequently to use the same form of words. When these are once ascertained they can by this system be transmitted by a few figures, thus effecting a saving in time, and keeping the line free and rendering the delay of a message unnecessary. Captain Bolton’s code has occupied his attention during the last four years, and has only been completed after considerable labour and thought, upwards of 250,000 signals referring to sentences, words, names of places, &c., having been coded.


The following telegrams have been received by Reuter’s Telegram Company (Limited) from Mr. R.A. Glass, managing director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company:

Shore end of the Atlantic cable successfully landed at 3 p.m. Tests perfect. The William Cory proceeding to sea paying out slowly. Weather fine. Cable of 1865, tested at noon to-day, is perfect as when laid.

The Novel, Blackbird, Pedlar, Skylark, and William Cory returned to Berehaven at 3.30 a.m. All vessels will complete coaling at Berehaven to morrow night, and will proceed to sea to splice main cable to shore end on Wednesday morning, weather permitting. All going well.



Report dated 8 July 1866, published 11 July, Daily News, London.



The shore end of the Atlantic cable of 1866 has been laid with complete success, and with unexpected promptitude. Out of the large party on board the Great Eastern but very few were present at what is, perhaps, one of the most interesting, as it was certainly one of the most important and pictureseque, incidents in the expedition. The attractions of Irish scenery, the exquisite beauty of Glengariffe and Killarney, the facilities offered by the little steam-tug, which left the great ship twice daily for the latter place; the absence of news either of the William Corry, carrying the shore-end, or of the Albany, with stores, all tended to thin the party. The latter vessel was one in which such Great Eastern passengers as decided upon going to Valentia by sea were to travel, and as nothing was heard of her, many thought it more prudent to hurry on by land. There is no telegraphic communication with Bantry Bay or Berehaven, and it became a mere balancing of probabilities as to which was the safer course. To be present at the laying of the shore end was the unanimous wish, and the time of doing this depended solely on the arrival of the vessel carrying it and the weather. About 1 p.m. on Friday the smoke of a steamer was seen from the bridge of the Great Eastern, and shortly afterwards the William Corry rounded one of the rugged promontories of Beresland, and an hour later was moored about half a mile from the great ship. There was still no news of the Albany, and after due consideration Mr. Glass determined on sending the Corry on to Foilhummeram Bay the same night, The latter is a well-known cable vessel, and under her present captain, Mr. Donaldson, has laid more shore ends and submarine wires successfully than any other ship afloat.

92.10.73: Robert Dudley:
The Atlantic telegraph cable fleet assembled
at Berehaven (S.W. Coast of Ireland). July 1866

About six o’clock she steamed slowly round to the entrance to Bantry Bay, and took up her position within a few miles of where her Majesty’s ship Terrible lay in readiness to accompany the Great Eastern as a guard of honour when the latter has fairly started on her way. Some four hours later the steam-tug took Mr. and Mrs. Glass and a few gentlemen, including Mr. Willoughby Smith and Mr. Varley, and others of the electrical staff, who preferred keeping with the shore end and a night upon deck to waiting for the promised comforts of the Albany. No one had a doubt of the latter’s appearing in ample time for the ceremony of laying the shore end, which by all but common consent vas declared impossible for at least the next six-and-thirty hours. The sky looked louring, and the murky and threatening clouds thickened as the evening wore on. It was pitch dark when we finally weighed anchor and fired off a couple of rockets to announce our departure. The sailors prognosticated a stormy morning and a rough sea, and no one but Mr. Glass spoke of shore-end laying as an immediate possibility. The rough weather of the last fortnight, and the roll of the heavily laden Corry as she ploughed along the Atlantic promised badly for the morrow, for absolute calmness is a necessity for laying the massive coil composing the shore-end, and on this wild and rugged const heavy breakers occasionally set in for weeks together.

There is absolutely nothing but the ocean between Foilhummeram and America, and with westerly or north-westerly winds the waves dash in with a force and fury which utterly prevents any such attempts as were brought to a successful issue yesterday. The bay—or rather cove, for it is but a mile to a mile and & half wide—is of horseshoe shape, at its northern extremity the promontory of Bray Head stretches far into the sea, while a large green patch of rocky ground, called Butler’s Island, runs from left to right, and with a group of smaller rocks and islands narrows the opening and shelters the bay. This landing the shore end is of vital importance to the enterprise, and at day-break, when the Corry sighted the quaint rocks known as the Skelligs, all on board peered eagerly through the cold damp mist to ascertain the condition of the surf on shore. It began to be rumoured that an attempt would be made, directly we cast anchor, and when after a hundred contrary opinions had been given and exchanged, we steamed slowly past the Skelligs, and anchored off Foilhummerum, vague rumour gave way to positive belief.

The Atlantic Telegraph Fleet at Berehaven, Bantry Bay
Robert Dudley: Illustrated London News 28 July 1866

Those on board had been agreeably surprised at the resources of the Corry, and warmly congratulated Captain Donaldson—the cheeriest of sailors—upon the first stage of the voyage having been brought to a satisfactory issue. For the sullen calm increased as morning advanced, and when, soon after 6 a.m., the anchor was dropped a few hundred yards from shore, we seemed in a motionless saltwater lake, hemmed in by tremendous natural walls, which rise perpendicularly from the water, and towering several hundred feet above, stood out sharp and clear against the leaden sky. This magnificent natural amphitheatre looked strangely familiar as we recognised point after point indelibly associated with the proceedings of last year. The large wooden hut, still looking like the summer establishment of some watering-place photographer, had been newly painted white, but all else was unchanged. So near was the Corry to the shore that the trench in which the old coil lays could be plainly seen from the deck, while with the aid of an opera glass the cable itself was easily discovered in the few yards which had been prepared for the new laying. This lay precisely as when we left it to be covered in, after it had been reverently laid to earth by a procession of capitalists, savans, gentry, priests, and peasants. The closer examination we made subsequently confirmed first impressions. The outer wire ropes protecting the electric core looked as bright and new as if they had left Mr. Henley’s works the day before, and the twelve months spent underground have not left the faintest taint upon their surface.

Watching Manoeuvers from the Dunes,
Foilhummerum Bay, Valentia (1865)

Science Museum 1985-2294

The Corry had arrived so suddenly that the place was completely taken by surprise. Besides the white hut, which is the temporary station of the Telegraph Company, there are a few thatched hovels, on the brink of the cliff leading to Bray Head. Some dozen out of the inhabitants of these squatted on the edge of the precipice, and looked curiously down upon the unwonted visitor. With these exceptions there was no sign of life. Not a boat was visible. The telegraph station had not a single flag flying. The improvised banners, the rags and petticoats fluttering from old broom-handles, the tents for the sale of liquor, the usual accompaniments of an Irish fair, which fringed the cliffs last year, were all absent now; and when Mr. Glass landed there was as little demonstration as has attended many another pioneer of civilisation, who has set foot upon savage and lonely shores. An hour later the scene became more animated. The natives, half peasants, half fishermen, dotted the cliffs one by one, a solitary pig and a couple of the pretty little cows in miniature for which Kerry is celebrated peered curiously over as if to ascertain the truth on behalf of their human fellow-dwellers in the cabins at home, two children held up a coloured pocket handkerchief by its four corners to form a flag, and to these moderate signs of welcome the rest of the party on board the Corry were rowed to shore. On landing at the foot of one of the tremendous cliffs up which a craggy pathway runs to the telegraph house on our way to Knightstown, the capital of the island of Valentia, and the seat of its only hotel, it was soon perceptible that the news of our arrival had preceded us. The inevitable result followed. It was all-important that the business determined on should be commenced forth with. A few hours delay, and the bad weather we were threatened with might set in, and the entire expedition be delayed possibly for weeks.

As last year, the heavy cable was to be brought to shore by a bridge of boats spanning the water between the trench running up the cliff to the station and the Corry. This method was suggested by Commander White, of the coast-guard, to whose indefatigable and disinterested exertions the company were also indebted for the discovery of a natural channel in the rocks near shore, in which the cable wits securely laid. The aborigines, who show a strange mixture of simplicity and shrewdness, and would share their last crust with a stranger, while higgling for the advantage in a bargain for hours, taught by experience the value of their boats, and the necessity of speed, naturally estimated their services highly. The ship’s boat had been sent back for fear of delaying the proceedings by its absence, and it is a fact that it was only after the people landed from the Corry had themselves moved their heavy luggage from the rising tide that a capitulation was arrived at and they were rowed on to Knightstown. The abnormal demand gave an artificial value to labour, and the poor people were shrewd enough to act upon what we are taught are sound commercial principles. A similar effect was produced by the call for coaling-hands when the Great Eastern anchored at Berehaven. Five shillings per day of nine hours, with board and lodging, had to be paid to some hundred and fifty peasants, who toiled languidly and ate heartily off meat on every day but Friday, when they preferred keeping their usual fast-day, and dining off biscuits and coffee on the deck. How unusual such an influx of specie must be may be estimated from the prices asked by the country people for the articles they flocked on board to sell. Fine fowls at 4d. and 5d., large lobsters at 2d., and crabs at ld. each, were eagerly bought up by the sailors and stewards, and even those prices were reduced later in the day. At Valentia the sudden demand for boats and boatmen had its natural effect, but time was precious, and a bargain was speedily struck.

Meanwhile Captain Armitage, of H.M.S. Racoon, stationed here to guard against Fenian attempts, sent up other men and boats, and the process of paying-out was commenced about noon. At one p.m. the line of boats was perfect, and before three the cable was successfully landed, and its end brought up into the white hut. Signals were interchanged between ship and shore immediately. Mr. Willoughby Smith and Mr. Collet, accompanied by Mr. Cyrus Field, who with characteristic energy had seen Glengariffe, and hurried through a two days’ land journey in ten hours, went into the testing-room, and in a few minutes “working beautifully, all well,” was announced as the message from the ship. The Corry then stood out to sea, and proceeded to lay the rest of the shore end, consisting of some thirty miles of thick and heavy cable. At three this morning she telegraphed that her work was done, and after buoying the part entrusted to her in 130-fathom water, rejoined the Great Eastern at Berehaven. The whole affair was accomplished before those on board the great vessel, or those who were journeying hither by way of Glengariffe, knew it had been commenced, and in its leading features presented a striking difference to the ceremony of last year. Earnest gravity and a deep-seated determination to repress all show of the enthusiasm of which everybody was full was very manifest. The excitement was below, instead of above, the surface. Speech-making, hurrahing, public congratulations, and vaunts of confidence were, as it seemed, avoided of a set purpose. Sir Robert Peel was prevented being present. The Knight of Kerry, Mrs. and the Miss Fitzgerald and a few other leading local gentry; Mr. and Mrs. Glass, Captain Armitage and Lady Hotham, Captain Bolton, Mr. Cyrus Field, Mr. Willoughby Smith, Mr. C.F. Varley, and a few others, stood upon the rocks and huge fragments of wreck near, and men, women, and children of all ages, and in every variety of ragged costume, were perched at strange angles in the cliffs and studded the narrow fringe of shingle.

92.10.44 [Oil]: Robert Dudley:
Landing the Shore End of the Atlantic Cable [at Valentia].
Depicted are Sir Richard Glass, the Knight of Kerry, Mr. Cromwell F. Varley, Mr. Latimer Clark, Mr. N. Woods, Mr. Cyrus W. Field, and others.

The forty boats, each a boat’s length apart, were first steadied by a guide-rope from the ship, which kept them in position. Mr. Temple, jun., superintended the arrangement of these, and made constant flag signals to the ship, and to those in charge of the boat next to it. Before commencing operations the local boatmen were earnestly exhorted not to repeat their error of last year, when they delayed matters at a critical time for nearly two hours, by flinging the cable into the sea that they might cheer their own success at having so nearly landed it. The faithful promises they made were duly kept, and with the exception of an unimportant misapprehension of a signal which momentarily delayed the paying out, the cable was laid without a single hitch. As last year, the heavy cable was to be brought to shore by a bridge of boats spanning the water between the trench running up the cliff to the station and the Corry. This method was suggested by Commander White, of the coast-guard, to whose indefatigable and disinterested exertions the company were also indebted for the discovery of a natural channel in the rocks near shore, in which the cable wits securely laid.

Laying the Shore End of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable,
at Foilhommerum, Isle of Valentia
Robert Dudley: Illustrated London News 28 July 1866

The aborigines, who show a strange mixture of simplicity and shrewdness, and would share their last crust with a stranger, while higgling for the advantage in a bargain for hours, taught by experience the value of their boats, and the necessity of speed, naturally estimated their services highly. The ship’s boat had been sent back for fear of delaying the proceedings by its absence, and it is a fact that it was only after the people landed from the Corry had themselves moved their heavy luggage from the rising tide that a capitulation was arrived at and they were rowed on to Knightstown. The abnormal demand gave an artificial value to labour, and the poor people were shrewd enough to act upon what we are taught are sound commercial principles. A similar effect was produced by the call for coaling-hands when the Great Eastern anchored at Berehaven. Five shillings per day of nine hours, with board and lodging, had to be paid to some hundred and fifty peasants, who toiled languidly and ate heartily off meat on every day but Friday, when they preferred keeping their usual fast-day, and dining off biscuits and coffee on the deck. How unusual such an influx of specie must be may be estimated from the prices asked by the country people for the articles they flocked on board to sell. Fine fowls at 4d. and 5d., large lobsters at 2d., and crabs at ld. each, were eagerly bought up by the sailors and stewards, and even those prices were reduced later in the day. At Valentia the sudden demand for boats and boatmen had its natural effect, but time was precious, and a bargain was speedily struck.  

Strong and heavy as was the shore-end of 1865, that brought from the William Corry yesterday was more gigantic and ponderous still. The few hundred yards running from low-water mark up the cliff into the electrical room were, it is true, dwarfed by their predecessor in the same trench. These, though abundantly strong, are comparatively slender, having been made the same size as the cable designed to cross the Atlantic, and for a double reason. First, as they are to lie buried in the earth, uninfluenced by tides or weather, it would have been a useless waste of money and material to manufacture them of the same stoutness as the ponderous rope intended to brave the fury of Atlantic waves breaking upon the coast. Secondly, mere weight would have made it difficult to carry it up the cliff. It is the strongest wire cable ever made, and, in short lengths, is as little flexible as stiff posts and rails. Thanks to its enormous weight, it was paid out almost straight from the ship, and did not vary 4 per cent. from the line chalked out for it.

There was something far more touching in the quiet and reverent solemnity of the spectators yesterday, than in the slightly boisterous joviality of the peasantry last year. Nothing could prevent the scene being intensely dramatic, but the prevailing tone of the drama was serious instead of comic and triumphant, The old crones in tattered garments who cowered together, dudheen in mouth, their gaily coloured shawls tightly drawn over head and under the chin—the barefooted boys and girls, who by long practice walked over sharp and jagged rocks, which cut up boots and shoes, with perfect impunity, and with an instinctive clinging of the toes to all projections, which reminded one of birds on a perch—the men at work uncovering the trench, and winding in single file up and down the hazardous path cut by the cablemen in the otherwise inaccessible rock—the patches of bright colour furnished by the red petticoats and cloaks—the ragged garments only kept from falling to pieces by bits of string and tape—the good old parish priest, who exercises mild and gentle spiritual stay over the loving subjects, of whom the ever popular Knight of Kerry is the temporal head, looking on benignly from his car—the bright eyes, supple figures, and innocent faces of the peasant lasses—and the earnestly hopeful expression of all made up a picture impossible to describe with justice. Add to this, the startling abruptness with which the tremendous cliffs stand flush out of the water, the alternations of bright wild flowers and patches of verdure with the most desolate barrenness, the mountain sheep indifferently cropping the short sweet grass, and the undercurrent of consciousness of the mighty interests at stake, and few scenes will seem more important and interesting than that of yesterday.

92.10.74: Robert Dudley:
The heights over Foilhommerum Bay, Valencia, the William Corey heading seawards, laying the shore end of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable, July 7th, 1866

Professor Thomson and others connected with the expedition arrived in the Albany to-day, to learn with pleased astonishment that they were too late, and that the shore-end had been securely laid. The promised rough weather had already come, and the Albany pitched and rolled during the night until the sea washed her deck from stem to stern. These signs had been observed as the Corry steamed out, and it was no mean proof of her special aptitude for cable-laying that she discharged her precious freight without difficulty or delay. It should be mentioned that the extreme thickness of this heavy shore-end is moderated every eight miles, when it gradually tapers off until at the point where the splice is to be made it is of the same diameter as the deep-sea cable. Until well over the shelving land known as the Irish Bank, and about 260 miles from shore, last year’s cable will be used. The stronger rope of this year will be then spliced on and laid up to Newfoundland. The Albany rejoins the Great Eastern early in the morning, and the whole squadron are expected to leave Berehaven and to effect the splice with the shore end, 30 miles off, on Thursday next.

On the voyage to Berehaven experiments were made with Captain Bolton’s code of signalling, and with the most complete success. It was established beyond a doubt that a saving of from 80 to 100 per cent, can be effected by it. Arrangements will probably be made for its constant use when the line is opened between England and America, and by this means every single cable will be made to do the work of two.


Published 10 July 1866

The following telegram has been received by Reuter's Telegram Company (Limited) from Mr. R.A. Glass, managing director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company:—

The Albany arrived here yesterday afternoon; has landed stores for this station, and sailed to-day at noon to join the cable fleet at Berehaven.
Her Majesty's frigate Racoon, Captain Armitage, is in this harbour, and will proceed to sea to assist in the operation of splicing on Wednesday next."

Published 12 July 1866

Her Majesty's frigate Racoon left this morning to join the cable fleet, which is waiting the arrival of the steamship Medway, supposed to be detained by fog, which has prevailed on this coast since Sunday last. It is now quite clear, and sea calm. May expect to complete splice to-morrow.


Report dated 12 July 1866, published 16 July, Daily News, London.



News of the Corry arrived at Valentia a few minutes before the Racoon’s boat took off the party bound here. Almost immediately after the shore end was paid out and buoyed at three on Sunday morning, a deep haze set in, and this, in a few hours, turned into a deep, heavy, sea fog. From Sunday until mid-day on Tuesday, the Corry beat up and down, unable to take bearings, and only anxious to keep off land. In the printed programme of proceedings, signed by Mr. Canning, and approved by Mr. Glass, this cable vessel is told to keep by the buoy until relieved by the Great Eastern. This was reversed verbally by Mr. Glass just before the Corry left, and wisely; for the tide was found to be so strong that at one time she drifted for more than nine miles when attempting to lay-to. Once in the dreary time which followed the Skelligs were seen peering through the moist pea-soup fog on the starboard bow. Once, too, H.M. gunboat Hyena loomed up suddenly at the stern, when her commander was at once asked if he knew where he was. “Nine miles off Mizenpoint,” gave the astute Captain Donaldson the information he required; and the Corry tacked and turned through the fog for some hours more. All this time it was impossible to see more than a ship’s length ahead, and there was no sign of the weather clearing. There was no positive danger; but when guessing at a ship’s whereabouts is the only way of ascertaining her bearings, the rocky character of the coast beyond begins to suggest itself with unpleasant distinctness.

Besides Mr. Dudley there were the cable-hands belonging to the Great Eastern, and when Tuesday morning came without change it was greatly feared that the fog would delay the expedition. About noon, however, it began to clear, and so near was the Corry to her destination that two hours later she fired her gun and anchored beside the Great Eastern. Her work being over, and the Medway and the Albany being here, it was decided to send her home, and she sailed yesterday morning for Cardiff.

The voyage hither in the Racoon yesterday was varied by some gunnery practice at the smallest Skellig. Captain Armitage, at the request of Mr. Glass, had agreed to give Mr. Elliot, Professor Thomson, Mr. Latimer Clark, and a few other gentlemen, a passage to the Great Eastern, and as our anxiety respecting the Corry had been allayed, he availed himself of the natural target made by the quaint weird rock we passed to lay-to and give his gunners exercise. It should be stated that the Admiralty had given general instructions that the expedition should be aided as much as possible, and on Mr. Glass showing Captain Armitage that he could confer a considerable benefit, the latter promptly acceded, and at once came round.

After arriving at Berehaven, and consulting Captain Commeral, V.C, of her Majesty’s ship Terrible, moored here, his senior officer, Captain Armitage arranged to accompany the Great Eastern and her little fleet to the point, 30 miles distant, where the splice with the shore-end is to be made. The Racoon will accordingly make for the rendezvous today, taking with her a limited number of gentlemen directly or indirectly connected with the expedition. Both men and material for which the Great Eastern has no further use will be also taken charge of by Captain Armitage, who returns to Valentia after the splice, and the Great Eastern has been seen on her way. The contrast between the neat trimness and exquisite cleanliness of the Queen’s ship and the crowded dirty lumber of the great vessel was very marked, when we left one for the other last night. The Racoon was the Duke of Edinburgh’s ship, and his cabin and his pet monkey are both shown to visitors, while his frank unaffected bearing and the pleasant times his presence on board gave to his comrades are constantly referred to.

The Great Eastern’s deck is so crowded that those unacquainted with her inexhaustible resources would find it difficult to understand how she can be made ready for the start this evening. The natives, eagerly bent on sight-seeing, are becoming a serious nuisance. Avoiding the regular companion ladder, they swarmed on deck yesterday, blocking up the few avenues left free by timber and machinery, and utterly impeding the men at work. Captain Anderson gave orders that they should be sent back, when the geniality of these children of nature showed itself in hoots, curses, and finally in blows. For a few minutes there was an unseemly disturbance, for the people who had declined to come on board even at 5s. a day when there was work to be done resented permission to hamper the labour of others being denied to them. Meanwhile, amid other absorbing work, stores are being rapidly penned and housed. Ten bullocks, 1 milch cow, 114 sheep, 20 pigs, 29 geese, 14 turkeys, and 500 fowls make up the live stock on board at noon to-day; while to that must be added 28 dead bullocks, 22 sheep, 4 calves, 4 pigs, 300 fowls, and 18,000 eggs.

The official telegram announcing the laying of the shore-end, which appeared in the London journals of Monday, was as amusingly wrong as it well could be. It stated the massive coil to have been laid on Friday afternoon, when the Corry was moored quietly in Berehaven, and had not even been to Foilhummeram; while the ships “Novel, Blackbird, Pedlar, and Skylark,” stated to have accompanied her here, have no existence. These words were part of a private code arranged by Mr. Glass, and referred solely to the insulation and other virtues of the cable. The telegraph clerk copied the message literally, and hence an announcement which mystified those engaged in the expedition perhaps more than readers at home.

Her Majesty’s ship Terrible, with both Medway and Albany, left early this morning, and Captain Armitage has just come off from the Racoon to hold a final conference with Captain Anderson and Mr. Canning. Every hand on the great ship is hard at work, “Halpin’s Nest”—as the snug little upper chamber running from and on a level with the bridge on deck from which Staff-Commander Moriarty takes his observations, is called-—at this moment holds Mr. Gooch, M.P., Mr. Barber, Mr. H. F. Barclay, and Mr. Elliot, directors, in close conclave. Mr. Canning and Mr. Clifford are busily superintending the labours of their several staffs, or walking the deck note-books in hand, seeing that no last trifle has been overlooked. Captain Anderson keeps on the bridge, directing his officers, and despatching messages to distant districts of the vast wild he governs. Mr. Halpin is ubiquitous, and alternately cheers and encourages the seamen hauling in the anchor; objurgates shirkers, and makes promises certain of fulfilment if they do not work with a will. Mr. Beckwith, the chief (ship’s) engineer, is proudly confident of the department he represents, and says, with perfect truth, that whatever other vicissitudes the Great Eastern may have known as a cable layer, her engines have never failed her for an instant, but have performed the duties required of them with consummate delicacy and skill.

Mr. Willoughby Smith, Professor Thomson, and Mr. Laws have just left the electrical chamber, now swept and garnished for its constant work, and smilingly announce the result of the latest test and the absolute perfection of the cable. Mr. Dudley is putting in the finishing touches to his admirable water-colour sketches of the shore-end laying, the Atlantic cable fleet at anchor in Berehaven Harbour [see above for these], and of the final scene in the burlesque; and Dr. Ward and every other departmental head are making their last survey prior to the start. Another of the thick fogs so prevalent on this coast set in at noon, and fears were entertained that it might delay the finding of the buoy out at sea. But the sky is clearing now, and word was passed at lunch that the Racoon is to leave at 6 this evening, preceding the Great Eastern by a couple of hours. All not going to America will leave the great ship for the Racoon before she starts, as owing to the difficulty of landing from small boats in an Atlantic sea, Captain Anderson wishes to have no one on the Great Eastern at the final moment save those bound for Heart’s Content.

The Great Eastern, together with the Albany, Medway, and H.M.S. Terrible, have been supplied with all the necessary apparatus for carrying on communication by signals both by day and by night, and during fogs, with the flashing system of signals, lately introduced into the Royal Navy and the Army by Commander Colomb, R.N, and Captain Bolton, 12th Regiment. This system of signalling promises soon to be universally adopted. This system is already adopted in the army, and has been extensively used in the Channel fleet, and Mediterranean and West Indian squadrons during the last three years. The Austrians have adopted it as their means of night-signalling, and it is at present under trial in the fleets of Russia, France, Denmark, America, and Holland. By it, night-signalling (which was long looked upon as next to impossible) has become in advance of day-signalling, and signals can now be transmitted with rapidity and accuracy at the rate of one signal per minute, at distances and under circumstances hitherto deemed impracticable.

The extremely delicate electrical instruments on board have only been brought to their present perfection by slow degrees. Heavy mirrors of accurately ground plate glass, or of polished steel, suspended by strong bundles of silk fibre, were first used in Germany for magnetic and electro-magnetic experiments, having been introduced probably first by the great mathematician Gauss. The image of a divided scale from one of these mirrors was viewed through a telescope to observe deflections. The indicating ray of light giving an accurately focussed line or spot of light to read deflections on a fixed scale was first introduced by Professor Thomson, in 1858. The telescope would not answer well for telegraphic use. These instruments were much slower in their indications than simple suspended needles, because of the great weight of the magnets and mirrors used in them, amounting sometimes to 30 or 40lbs., and never to less than several hundred grains. Joule, of Manchester, brewer and amateur of science, the founder of the modern dynamical theory of heat, first introduced very light needles, hung by single silk fibres, for galvanometers, and thus got comparatively quick indications. Some of his needles were only ¼ inch long; and to get visible indications of their deflections he attached very light glass bars (3 or 4 inches long) to them.

In 1858, finding that the instruments which had been made for the Atlantic Telegraph Company gave only one word a minute instead of seven, as had been promised, Professor Thomson introduced a very light mirror as indicator. The mirror was only three-eighths of an inch in diameter, and of thin microscopic glass silvered; it only weighed about a grain. This was infinitely quicker than any mirror galvanometer that had ever been made, and several times quicker than Joule’s light needles with glass pointers. By it signalling at the rate of four words a minute was performed through 2,000 miles or more of coiled cable at Keyham before the expedition started in 1858. When the cable was laid, and had become so defective in insulation that no signals at all could be had through any of the other instruments that had been supplied, messages were received daily at each end at rates of from 1 to 2 words per minute,

Having introduced it for the purpose of receiving signals, the light mirror galvanometer was, with single fibre suspension, extremely useful for testing on land, and the marine suspension was introduced to allow it to be used at sea. The first and second marine galvanometers (with stretched platinum wire bearing the magnet and mirror) were used on board the Agamemnon and Niagara throughout the operations at sea in 1858. It was soon found that stretched silk fibre was better than platinum wire, which, even when of the finest gauge, was too stiff against torsion to give the desirable sensibility to the instrument. The last improvement (made in 1862) consisted in enclosing the instrument in a thick iron case (an inch or more thick), with only a port for the ray of light to enter and leave, with deflection through a sufficient range, and scuppers for the wires leading out and in the electric current. These “iron-clads” have now quite superseded the old marine galvanometers. Their advantage is cutting off almost entirely the disturbance produced by terrestrial magnetism, so that the ship may turn through all points of the compass, without producing any sensible deflection of the suspended magnetic needle, which is kept in its middle position by a strong horseshoe magnet fixed inside the iron case.

In the marine galvanometers which are now on board, the mirror weighs only one-third of a grain, the magnet attached to it about two-fifths, and the whole suspended mass—mirror, magnet, cement, and counterpoises—about three-quarters of a grain. Counterpoises are cemented to the back of the mirror or needle to bring the centre of gravity of the whole accurately into the line of the fibre. When mirror and magnet are thus well balanced, the whole instrument (iron-clad and lamp and scale all rigidly attached to a stiff board) may be inclined to 45 degrees in any direction, and turned round all points of the compass without producing a hair’s breadth shifting of the spot of light.


Report dated 13 July 1866, published 17 July, Daily News, London.


The splice of the main coil with the shore end was made to-day, and the final preliminaries of this vast enterprise brought to a satisfactory conclusion. H.M.S. Terrible, H.M.S. Racoon, the Medway, and the Albany, succursals to the expedition, were all within signalling distance, the ocean buoy left by the William Corry was found with but little delay, and at three yesterday afternoon the Great Eastern started for Newfoundland, after giving the significant words, “Splice made and all right,” and receiving a parting salute from the Racoon,

About six yesterday evening Captain Armitage sent a boat to the Great Eastern, to take off those whose duties had detained them on board till the last moment. This was the final opportunity for leaving the great ship, as it had been wisely decided to admit no visitors, either during the operation of splicing or while Mr. Canning and his staff were engaged in picking up the buoy. Last year Sir Robert Peel, the Knight of Kerry, and other well wishers, paid a parting visit from the Hawk, while Mr. W.H. Russell, Mr. J.C. Deane, and Mr. Dudley, joined the cable-vessel in the same way. But passing from ship to ship in small boats involves both difficulty and danger in the Atlantic, and it was fully understood that those accompanying the expedition to America should tender their parting good wishes last night. Accordingly Mr. Gurney, M.P., Mr. H.F. Barclay, Mr. Elliot, Captain Bolton, Mr. Barber, Mr. Latimer Clarke, and a few other gentlemen were taken on board the Racoon, Captain Armitage having courteously given them invitations to go out in her to see the splice made. Directly afterwards both ships got up their steam, and slowly passing out of the magnificent natural harbour they were in, proceeded to the rendezvous.

For the first few hours the evening was bright and clear, and the Racoon kept the Great Eastern and her passengers well in sight. Foilhommerum Bay and the white telegraph house, the Skelligs, Brayhead, the inlet leading to the spot where the shore-end of 1858 was laid, and the quaint crags and rocks of the coast were all easily discerned, and it was not until dusk that Captain Armitage’s intention of keeping the Great Eastern’s mast lights in view throughout the night was found to be impossible. Once more a heavy, lowering mist set in, and an interchange of dismal wheezy screeches from fog horns was the only sign each ship had of the other’s vicinity, The Racoon is emphatically a lively vessel. She does not take in water, and with the head wind of yesterday did not roll. But she lifted to the waves, and plunged gaily at and over them with a playfulness not a little embarrassing to men whose “sea legs” had been attuned to the stately motions of the Great Eastern.

Every moment the fog grew denser. First gently touching the upper spars of the huge floating mass we were all watching, it gained courage as darkness approached and enveloped it like a pall. Just before the Great Eastern was finally hidden this mist produced a curious optical effect. The distance between her and the Racoon was increased, and her size and bulk augmented by it, so that masts and hull and ropes waxed larger and larger as they became more and more wavy and indistinct. A few seconds more and the enormous shadowy outline was merged into the mass of rain-laden vapour we were ploughing through, and was seen no more until the morning.

The tacit support given by the Admiralty to the expedition and the hearty co-operation afforded by Captain Commerell, of the Terrible, is already known. The same warm interest in everything pertaining to the Atlantic cable was very marked on board the Racoon. Out of the two hundred and ninety-five men who make up her roll of officers and crew there was not one who did not manifest the heartiest feeling for the undertaking. At the different messes and coteries of last night the one subject seemed always uppermost. At the midshipmen’s merry party in the gun-room American songs were the ditties of the hour, while from the captain’s cabin to the forecastle the all-pervading topic was the Great Eastern and her prospects of success.

The fog made the time of finding the buoy a matter of some uncertainty. The strong currents running in these seas make keeping in one position long a sheer impossibility for an unanchored ship, and it was thought that even if the buoy had been discovered, and were now being steamed round by the Terrible, the Medway, and the Albany, they might all three miss it again in the night, and cause the splice to be deferred. To every faint-hearted surmise of this nature, the hoot of the fog-horn made dismal reply, and the sailors agreed that the present “dirty weather” heralded a wet and probably foggy day for the morrow. Many an anxious visit was paid to the deck that night by those vainly endeavouring to peer through the pitchy darkness for some slight sign of clearing up. But the night grew worse and worse, and at 12 o’clock a heavy blinding rain set in.

A couple of hours later there seemed some hope of change, and at 4 o’clock, when word was passed that the Great Eastern and her squadron were all to be seen, the mist had so far lessened that signals were interchanged with the Terrible. The buoy had not yet been seen, and it was nearly half-past 6 when a gun was fired from the Racoon to announce its discovery to the great ship. The bearings given by Captain Donaldson, of the Corry, as to the whereabouts of the buoy were incorrect; for, as is frequently the case, his ship’s compass was affected by the amount of cable on board, and calculations made by it were considerably thrown out. The hours following the discovery of the buoy were both tedious and critical. The squadron was nearly thirty miles from land—the Terrible, the Albany, the Medway, and the Racoon all keeping within a mile or so of the Great Eastern. Time after time did the latter steam up to and pass the buoy. This, though a massive affair weighing 7 tons, bobbed up and down upon the water—its red flag fluttering gaily in the wind, as if exulting in defeating the huge creature bent upon carrying off its prey. Moored by what is known as a mushroom grapnel by means of 120 fathoms of stout chain, this buoy really remained stationary, though to those on board the other vessels it seemed to frequently change its course.

The Great Eastern signalled the Terrible for a boat, and sent two down of her own—one of these remained close by the buoy, while the other plied busily to and fro. It was essential that the Great Eastern should bring her stern fairly up to the buoy to avoid unduly straining the cable, and in attempting to do this she overshot her mark again and again. Meanwhile the weather again thickened. Heavy rain, and blinding fog banks came up, until the Great Eastern alone was visible, while her consorts were hidden in the heavy mist. Then it would suddenly clear, and the ships would be seen to have changed their relative positions, and to be now in dangerous proximity. After some hours of suspense, and long after the buoy’s flag had been transferred to the Great Eastern’s stern, the anxious lookers on discerned a palpable strain, and soon afterwards the boat guarding it went back. The good news that the Great Eastern had fairly got the buoy went from ship to ship, and Captain Armytage put off from the Racoon alone to congratulate Captain Anderson and Mr, Canning, and to take charge of the last letters for shore. While he is on the deck of the Great Eastern the end of the cable is brought on board.

Making joint to Shore End [13 July 1866]
Science Museum 1979-355 Pt3

From this time until five minutes to 3 in the afternoon the operation of splicing went on. Tenderly carrying the shore end into a little covered hut on deck, where it met the end of the coil brought from the tank furthest aft, busy fingers were soon at work upon both. The protecting Manilla twist and galvanised iron wire were speedily unravelled, until several feet of cable were bare to the gutta-percha skin, and of the size and appearance of a bit of piping. The gutta-percha itself was next removed, and the fine copper wires which, twisted together, form the cable’s core, were unwound. Different lengths of these were strongly twined together from each cable’s end, so that no two joints should be in one place. A light threadlike wire was bound round each junction, and the whole carefully soldered so as to form one solid wire. Then came thin layers of gutta-percha, like scarf-skin, each layer receiving a coat of the glutinous insulating material called “Chatterton’s Compound.” The galvanised outer wires and the Manilla twist were next plaited over it, and communication was at once established between the Great Eastern and the receiving-house at Foilhummerum Bay.

Here Mr. Glass, Mr. Varley, Mr. May, and the rest of the staff, had been waiting anxiously since early morning. At twenty minutes before 11 those watching the galvanometer previously described saw its stationary light move rapidly across the scale, and the following message was immediately afterwards read:—”Got the Shore end; going to make the splice. Everything is right.” A few cheery words were sent in reply, and one or two other messages were passed between ship and shore, the signals in each case being wonderfully rapid and distinct. Then the flickering speck of light stood stern and motionless, and all in the hut knew that the real work of splicing had commenced. The next few hours were spent in anxiously waiting for another message through. “Splice all O.K.; we are going off,” at last gladdened the eyes of those watching the galvanometer, and after “God speed you” had been sent in reply, the recently spliced cable was cut adrift from the Great Eastern, and steaming slowly out by her screw, and subsequently with one paddlewheel, she sped on her way to America. The messages sent and received after the splice was made went through the entire length of the cable, the ends from the three tanks being joined together, so that every message tests the whole 2,370 miles. Throughout every experiment the words were given by the beautifully simple dot and dash code, and were more than usually strong, forcible, and easy to read.

Immediately after the splice was made the Great Eastern held an animated conversation with the ships attending her by means of the collapsing cone. To the Racoon she simply announced that all was done, upon which Captain Arinytage fired a gun, and by the time handkerchiefs and caps had waved farewell, the trimly disciplined men-of-war’s men had unfurled the sails, and their ship was, by aid of steam and wind, coming back at the rate of ten to eleven knots per hour. “We have no doubt of your success,” and “Farewell“ were signalled by flags, as an accompaniment to the salute, and shortly afterwards the Great Eastern was out of sight.

The meeting of the squadron, and their rapid changes of position, had reminded one of the preliminaries to a naval engagement. The Terrible, the Medway, the Albany, and the Great Eastern, as seen from the Racoon’s deck, appeared to alter their relative situations as frequently as if they had been dealt out like cards. Now the Terrible was nearly out of sight, while the Medway bore down upon us as if bent on breaking in the ship’s side. Now the Albany receded into the far distance, and the Terrible drew near; while all along the Great Eastern was the pivot upon which her four companions turned. Not a sail was visible but those belonging to the ships named, and the day continued to be wet and miserable up to the time we bade the cable-laying squadron farewell. Then, indeed, we had a transient gleam of sunshine, which, from the direction of the rays, was known to be gleaming fully on the Great Eastern and her work.

Although, owing to the fog and the greater distance kept by the Queen’s vessel than by the steamer belonging to the company, the Hawk, talking from ship to ship and shouting congratulations was impossible, a powerful telescope enabled us to recognise most of the familiar figures. When the Racoon was nearest the great ship, after the safety splice was announced, both Mr. Canning and Mr. Clifford were seen among the aft machinery as well as the two Mr. Temples. Captain Anderson standing on the bridge, with Mr. Cyrus Field, Mr. Gooch, and Captain Hamilton on the nearest paddle-box, were easily made out, and efforts to show recognition by improvised signals from pocket handkerchief flags were easily made. Throughout the day the Racoon’s signals were placed in the charge of Captain Bolton, who was called up at 4 a.m., and who kept on the ship’s bridge whenever communication was required.

The Racoon got back to Valentia before dusk, and the latest information from Foilhummerum yesterday evening was, that nearly 80 miles of cable were paid out, and all going well. Although the leading incidents connected with the start of the expedition are over, the little capital of Valentia Island, Knightstown, is fuller than ever. Two military men from Killarney, finding it impossible to procure beds, have camped out on the adjacent common, and in spite of the heavy rain and humid atmosphere, declare that they fare better than at any inn. On Thursday, while the process of splicing was expected to have been going on, a religious service, under the auspices of Mr. Bewley and Mr. Bevan, who are large stakeholders in the enterprise was held. Many eloquent speeches were made, and fervent prayers offered up for God’s blessing upon one of the mightiest enterprises ever attempted by man. Visitors from Dublin, which is two days’ journey from here, and from more distant parts still, flocked into this ordinarily secluded region in such shoals that many of them preferred returning to Killarney, a six hours journey, to accepting the only accommodation it was possible to obtain.

The weather has been stormy and boisterous ever since the Great Eastern left, and the rain is now pouring down in torrents, while the wind sighs and soughs past the hills of the mainland and to the sea with more of sound and fury than is pleasant. But the telegram giving the distance paid out up to nine last evening, reported all to be well with the great ship. The cable was being paid out slowly and regularly, and though moving slowly to the sea she was surprisingly steady. Telegrams of the distance run, and the amount of cable paid out, will be sent every hour in the twenty-four, and will be supplemented by bulletins of the weather and position of the ship until she has passed the deepest part of the Atlantic. The really critical part of the voyage will, it is estimated, be over in about a week from now. Until then we must content ourselves with repeating that every precaution human wisdom can devise has been taken; that skill, thought, and capital have been lavished on bringing all machinery connected with the cable or its laying to the highest attainable perfection; and that every authority connected with the undertaking, scientific, nautical, and financial, has the fullest confidence in success.

Published 13 July 1866

The following telegram was received by Reuter's Telegram Company (limited), at 1 17 p.m. yesterday from Mr. R.A. Glass, managing director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (limited):—

The Great Eastern and attendant ships will leave Berehaven this afternoon, arriving at the buoys on the shore end at daylight to-morrow morning, where the splice will be made, weather permitting.

Published 14 July 1866


The following telegrams were received by Reuter's Telegram Company (Limited) yesterday, from Mr. R. A. Glass, managing director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Limited):

Her Majesty's ship Terrible arrived off here last night. She reported having left the steamers Medway and Albany stationed at the buoys attached to the shore end of the cable, waiting the arrival of the Great Eastern at daylight this morning. No communication has yet been received through the cable, probably owing to the dense fog which set in late last night, and still continues. Weather calm. Barometer rising.

Splice completed all right. Great Eastern commenced paying out. Signals perfect through whole length of cable.

Published 16 July 1866

The following telegrams have been received by Reuter’s Telegram Company (Limited) from Mr. R.A. Glass, managing director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Limited);

The following has been received from the Great Eastern:—” Noon, ship’s time, July 14. Canning to Glass. Latitude 52, longitude 14.1. Cable payed out, 144¼  miles. Distance run, 135¾ miles. Weather fine; all going well.”

The following telegram received from Great Eastern:—”Noon, ship’s time, July 15. Canning to Glass. Latitude 51 N., longitude 17.29 W. Cable payed out, 283 miles. Distance run, 263. Insulation and continuity perfect. Weather fine; all going on well. Seaman fell overboard from Terrible, but was picked up; life saved.”

Published 17 July

The following telegram has been received by Reuter’s Telegram Company (Limited) from Mr. R.A. Glass, managing director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Limited):

The following telegram received from the Great Eastern this day:—Noon (ship’s time), July 16. Canning to Glass. Latitude 52 deg. 6 north, longitude 20 deg. 36 west. Cable paid out, 420 miles; distance run, 378 miles. Weather fine. All on board well. Gooch to Glass.—Nothing can be more satisfactory than everything is going on on board. Weather glorious.


Report dated 16 July 1866, published 19 July, Daily News, London.


The Irish bank, as the long shelving ridge which the Great Eastern has cleared in safety is called, is one of the most crucial situations in Atlantic telegraphy. Here the cable of 1857 parted some 300 miles from land, and here, too, the first serious hitch in the proceedings of last year occurred. The soundings taken show this huge shoal to have a soft oozy bottom, and to vary in depth from 1,200 feet to as many thousands. Up to six o’clock this evening the three days’ run of the Great Eastern have been as follows: July 14, at noon, 135 miles run, 144 miles of cable paid out; July 15, 263 miles run, 283 miles paid out; and to-day, 381 miles run, and 447 miles paid out. The slack has been about 13 per cent, and the difference between depth and depth has been nearly a mile. Herein lies one of the dangers of the Irish bank. For though its entire gradient is known to be not steeper than that of many London streets, there are parts of it where the cable passes in a few hours over submarine depths almost as vast as any it has yet to encounter. The bottom of the Atlantic, as shown by the careful soundings taken by Mr. Hoskyn, R.N., by order of the Admiralty, is a soft fine ooze nearly all along the line chalked out for the Great Eastern. At one place, where the submarine surface rises nearly a mile, shingle takes the place of ooze, and it is hoped to lay the cable over this about Friday next. The ooze, when dried, is found to be composed of a powder as fine as the down upon a butterfly’s wing. Viewed through the microscope, it is seen to be composed of minute shells, but to the naked eye it is simply a soft white mud, in which there is great improbability of the cable sinking below its own depth.

The Great Eastern is now passing over the lengthy table-land which follows the Irish bank. After this come considerable undulations, and it is only when the great depths in which the cable of last year parted have been left behind that those interested in the cable may congratulate each other upon success. That meeting between the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Gulf Stream, and the Greenland seas, to the deposit from which is due the Banks of Newfoundland, is away from the route of the cable, and will not affect it, and it is only their enormous depth, superadded to the lengths already paid out, which makes the waters yet to be passed through critical.

Up to to-day the tests for insulation and conductivity show the cable to be gradually and surely improving. The messages are stronger and the electrical condition of the vast coil superior to when it left the factory. The cause of this is easily explained. The Atlantic acts favourably both on copper and gutta-percha, the one becomes a better conductor and the other a better insulator the colder and deeper the water in which each is placed. The insulating power of gutta-percha increases, too, by pressure, so that the improvement in the cable is a mere fulfilment of obvious and simple rules.

When the deepest parts are reached, if the weather be as favourable as now, the Great Eastern will be put at the greatest speed allowed to her during the trip, and will steam at six knots and pay out cable at the rate of seven knots an hour. This is slow when compared with last year, when eight knots were sometimes run. It has been wisely determined, however, that the great ship shall under no circumstances exceed six knots, and Captain Anderson has formal instructions to this effect. By this precaution the strain in paying out is reduced to its minimum, and the cable leaves the ship’s side at a maximum rate of seven knots an hour. Another important change is the system of tank-watching. On board the Great Eastern are many young seamen serving before the mast, who are certificated by the Board of Trade as chief mates. Interest in the expedition, love of enterprise, and an anxiety to see the cable laid, has enabled Captain Anderson to select picked men for his crew, and to a selection of these will be entrusted the task of removing the cable from the tanks. Mr. Canning, Mr. Clifford, or the Messrs. Temple, will always be present, and the young engineers on board are to be told off into watches, one or other of which will keep permanent watch in the tanks. Thus every precaution is taken against a recurrence of the distressing suspicions of last year, and if faults occur it will be while men of some position are vainly guarding against them.

Directly the shallow waters off Newfoundland are gained the cable may be considered laid. Picking up at a thousand fathoms, even if an accident were to occur at the last moment, would be a comparative trifle, the worst effect of which would be a trifling delay; and when the Great Eastern has once passed into this depth congratulations may be exchanged. Every provision has been made to open the line for commercial purposes forthwith, and, if all go well, the merchants of London and New York, and the general public of England and America, will be able to hold telegraphic communication with each other the very day after it is certified as laid.

Foilhummerum Bay and the telegraph house continue objects of attraction to pilgrims. The grass-grown words, “Success to the Cable,” cut in last year’s turf, have been carefully freshened and made deeper by some modern Old Mortality. Tourists and natives flock thither, and peer curiously in at the windows of the house, as if seeking to master electrical mysteries at sight. The boatmen employed in laying the shore end pay visits of ceremony of a more or less disinterested character to Mr. Glass, and it has been found necessary to affix “No admission on any pretence” to its doors. The gentleman just named is on duty throughout the day, and is summoned back to the hut by a flag signal if a message arrive during one of the brief absences he allows himself from his post.

Mr. C.F. Varley, Mr. May, and the rest of the staff are fully occupied, for apart from the minute and delicate tests constantly carried on, frequent messages are sent to and arrive from the great ship. Time and space seem literally annihilated when gentlemen with nearly five hundred miles of sea between them are chatting familiarly together about the weather, the funds, politics, and the crops. “Send us more news for our paper,” was one of the messages received from the Great Eastern. Accordingly arrangements have been made with Mr. Reuter for a telegraphic synopsis of the latest intelligence. The accouchement of the Princess Alice of Elesse, the stoppage of the Birmingham Banking Comnany, the outbreak of cholera at Liverpool, the disastrous fire in Norway, and the latest action of the ministry, were all known by the Great Eastern’s passengers soon after their publication here.

More interesting still will be the news of the next few days, for, assuming all to go well, it will be carried to Newfoundland concurrently with its occurrence. The ordinary American mail will convey the facts already telegraphed, and they will be spread over the United States by the time the Great Eastern reaches land. But from to-morrow the intelligence sent is expected to forestall every other source of information, and a complete budget of “latest intelligence” will accumulate during the next few days. Mr. Reuter will forward Mr. Glass a short epitome daily, and I have undertaken to make a brief précis of the leading facts in to-day’s and future issues of the Daily News directly it is delivered here. This will be at once telegraphed to the Great Eastern, be there printed off by Messrs. Day and Son’s lithographer, and published on board, so that the passengers and crew in mid-Atlantic will be actually better informed as to the world they have left than half the dwellers in our country towns at home. Further, Mr. Cyrus Field is carefully filing each of these itens of intelligence, and will telegraph the whole to the agent of the Associated Press in New York the instant the Great Eastern is in communication with Heart’s Content. By this means it is hoped to astonish the United States by announcing, together with the intelligence of the successful laying of the cable, news from Europe posted up to the very day.

The practical value of immediate communication between ship and shore was amusingly illustrated on Saturday. On the evening the Great Eastern left Berehaven three of her sailors deserted. Advance notes for wages had been given then, and these under ordinary circumstances must have been paid on presentation to the company’s agents in London. But Captain Anderson simply sent a message to Mr. Glass, who forwarded it to London—”Brown, Jones, and Robinson deserted ship at Berehaven, please stop advance notes,” and the intended fraud was checked. The astonishment of runaway Jack, on presenting his note, or the chagrin of the crimp or outfitter who has cashed it, will in its way be as fitting a commentary upon successful cable-laying as the news of the man overboard from the Terrible. This incident, and the picking up the drowning sailor by the Great Eastern were known here a few minutes after they occurred, and the record kept of the messages transmitted between ship and shore shows in minute touches the inner life of the expedition. “O.K.,” which is telegraphic slang for “all correct,” occurs with pleasing frequency, while Mr. Gooch, one of the directors on board, almost soars into poetry in too terse encomiums on the good working of every one concerned, and the glorious weather they have enjoyed.

Mr. Glass is the official medium of communication. To him all messages are addressed, and through him all news is sent to the Great Eastern. The first exception made to this rule occurred this afternoon, when, on the invitation of Mr. Glass, Mr. J.C. Parkinson telegraphed a message to Mr. Deane, the secretary of the Anglo-American Company on board, and shortly afterwards received his reply. Nothing can exceed the sanguine tone of engineers and electricians, whether stationed here, or on the ship. The days yet to be spent in cable-laying, the depths to be traversed, and the time when the line will be fairly opened are as frequent topics of conversation, and are as confidently alluded to as they were last year before the fatal break. Yet it is obvious that there must be strong grounds for anxiety, until the shallow waters off Newfoundland are gained, and it is the next few days which will virtually decide the fate of the cable. Every hour up to Monday night, when it may be fairly hoped the trial will be over, is of the gravest consequence to the expedition. That all the undulations of the Atlantic bottom should be passed, and the entire line paid out without check or hitch is almost too much to expect. If the precautions adopted meet their purpose, and the rapid reversal of engines, and the detection and remedying of stray faults prevent their being fatal, all interested will be amply satisfied.

At present everything has gone smoothly as a pleasant dream, The speed of the ship, the percentage of slack, and the records of the electricians, all point to unadulterated success. Captain Anderson’s instructions are under no circumstances to exceed six knots an hour in speed, and five and a half knots is the pace run, whereas the hazardous rate of eight knots was sometimes made during the cable laying of last year. Twelve per cent. was the estimated percentage of slack, and 11.8 per cent. is the last return, while the beaming faces of the electricians tell outsiders in better language than the most ingenious code, that in their department all is going well.

It was nearly three o’clock this afternoon before those waiting at Foilhummerum learnt the bearings of the great ship at twelve o’clock. For the change in position has already delayed the noon of the big ship to this extent, and as it will of course continue to augment as she gets nearer and nearer to America, amusing calculations are made as to the date of the news sent by telegraph and published on board. It is curious to sit silently in the large white wooden building here, and when listening to the monotonous click click of the instrument in the adjoining chamber to know that it is recording messages as quickly as they leave the lips or hands of the senders, and that in spite of this there are technically some hours between their delivery and receipt. Absolute silence is of course enforced in the darkened chamber known as the instrument-room, and the entire building is so light and fragile that the same rule has to be observed throughout it. In vain do tourists plead for and impulsive natives endeavour to take for themselves permission to examine the process of reading off messages from the sea. The place is carefully guarded against intrusion, and Dr. Varley, Mr. May, and their staff, alone watch the mysterious steady spark of light as it moves to and fro upon the scale, and expresses thought, and hope, and feeling, as accurately as if it had a soul.


Published 18 July


The following telegram has been received by Reuter’s Telegram Company (Limited) at 4.54 pm., July 17, from Mr. R. A. Glass, managing director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Limited):


The following telegram has been received from the Great Eastern to-day:—Noon (ship's time), July 17. Canning to Glass. Latitude, 52.15 N., longitude, 23.48 W. Cable payed out, 557.82 miles. Distance run, 495.5 miles. All going on well.


Published 19 July

The following telegram has been received by Reuter’s Telegram Company (Limited) at 6.15 p.m., July 18, from Mr. R.A. Glass, managing director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Limited):

The following telegram has been received from the Great Eastern to-day:—Noon (ship’s time), July 18. Canning to Glass. Latitude, 52.01 N., longitude, 26.37 W. Cable payed out, 682.48 miles, Distance run, 600.9 miles. All going on well.


Report dated 19 July 1866, published 21 July, Daily News, London.


A few hours more, and the Great Eastern will have paid out the whole of the cable in the aft tank, and will proceed with the coil stowed in the tank forward. The contents of the main or mid-tank will not be touched until the other two are emptied, so that when 840 miles of cable are laid, the paying out will be from the opposite end of the ship to now. The object of thus skipping, as it were, over the 804 miles stowed in the centre of the great vessel, is to preserve as far as possible a level keel. This is one of the essentials in cable laying, and as a large proportion of the contents of the main tank will remain untouched while those fore and aft are emptied, water is pumped into the Great Eastern as rapidly as the cable leaves her. But for this she would now be considerably down by the head, instead of in the good trim which enables her to proceed so satisfactorily and regularly with her great work.

Up to the present the cable has been carried direct from its resting-place to the machinery at the stern, and from thence into the ocean. Now it must be brought along the trough running from stem to stern on the deck of the Great Eastern, and when the watchers pass the word that the last of the huge rings of rope in the aft tank is about to be paid out, both mechanicians and cable hands will be on the alert to see that the portion of line between tank and tank runs freely along the paying-out trough, and that the transfer is properly made, The immense length of the Great Eastern makes this one of the many critical points in the expedition. Fortunately it will occur, according to present calculations, about 3 to-morrow afternoon, and darkness will not be added to the minor risks inevitably attending so long a “lead” from tank to sea.

The first 20 miles laid after the splice with the shore end were guarded by French charcoal iron wire, which is less strong, but cheaper than any other, and is used for comparatively shallow depths of water. Next came 267 miles of the cable not used last year, while the remaining 346 miles are covered with the galvanic wire and Manilla twist so frequently described. The whole of the 670 miles now to be paid out from the fore tank are likewise the present cable of 1866. When this is laid, and the paying out from the main tank commences, the first 217 miles will be also of this cable, while the remaining 647 miles in the middle tank are thus made up—165 miles covered with charcoal iron wire, and 482 miles of the cable of 1865.

Out of the total 2,375 miles of deep sea cable which the Great Eastern carried from England but 1,800 miles will be required for the line between Foilhommerum and Heart’s Content, so that no further portion of the 1865 cable will be required for the present experiment. This calculation includes a liberal allowance for slack, and it will be seen that the amount of new cable in the fore and main tanks, when added to the 840 miles paid from the tank aft, make up 1,892 miles. The charcoal iron wire will be used last, that it may be spliced with the shore end at Newfoundland, while the surplus cable is designed to join the portion now lying broken in the Atlantic, so as to complete the second line.

The tests frequently applied to this broken part continue to show it to be as electrically perfect as when laid, and its ultimate usefulness as a second Atlantic line is fully believed in by the leading authorities here. At the present rate of paying out the cable unused on board the Great Eastern when she reaches Heart’s Content will be nearly 600 miles. The Albany carries a like quantity, so that there will be more than enough to make the second cable complete, should the picking up be successful, and the 1,060 miles now lying useless in the sea brought into work.

The telegram received from the Great Eastern this afternoon says that 600 miles have been run, and 682 miles paid out. A heavy sea, and strong head wind, under which the Albany was seen to be rolling heavily, while the Great Eastern maintained her steadiness, together with the usual “O.K.,” made up the bulletin, which reached us in the midst of sunshine and sweltering heat; for the weather has changed here suddenly, and whereas during the days following the splice an overcoat was a necessity, it is now such complete midsummer weather that the Great Eastern’s complaint of cold struck us as a curious but refreshing paradox.

Early on Tuesday morning this telegram was received: “Don’t forget to send précis of news by wire directly the post comes in.” And, in accordance with the promise made the day before, an abstract from Monday’s Daily News and Times was drawn up, and forwarded to the Great Eastern.

It was acknowledged immediately, and forthwith printed off and disseminated among the passengers and crew. This course was repeated, at even greater length yesterday, and the editor of the little journal, lithographed and published on board, will be supplied with a similar budget every twenty-four hours. The appetite for news grows at sea, as on land, by what it feeds on, and requests come constantly to Mr. Glass for intelligence on subjects of special interest to those on the Great Eastern. On the other hand, whenever a question arises as to what Mr. Canning or Captain Anderson is likely to think or say on points mooted, it is solved as rapidly as it occurs by the simple process of passing word to the testing-room, “Glass to Canning or Anderson,” and waiting for their reply.

Ample evidence, too, of roused interest in the cable, and increased public belief in its success, is forthcoming. Many applications for priority of messages have been telegraphed to the managing director from London, and the chief capitals of commerce. Among the earliest of these was from the representative of one of the leading journals in New York, and there seems little doubt that the intelligence of the line between England and America being opened will be followed by a perfect flood of messages from every part of Europe. It is, perhaps, unnecessary to add that in no case will any engagement be entered into until the cable is certified, and communication established. After this, all messages will be taken in the order they are received. The English government alone will have a guaranteed right of priority, and it is now confidently hoped that messages of congratulation will be exchanged between her Majesty and the President of the United States before many days have passed. With but one line at work, it is obvious that should the demand for communication approach what is anticipated, contracts for first messages would involve hardship to the general public, and be opposed to the interests of the company. Captain Bolton’s code will become a necessity directly the demand exceeds the powers of the cable, and it is satisfactory to know that the means of doubling or trebling its capacity are at hand.

When alluding in previous letters to the warm cooperation afforded by all the officers of her Majesty’s Government whose duties have enabled them to give the Great Eastern a helping hand, the name of Captain King Hall, C.B., superintendent of Sheerness dockyard, has been inadvertently omitted. But for the active and practical aid given by this gentleman in allowing the dockyard labourers to assist in getting the great ship ready for sea, it is more than certain that the agreement for leaving Sheerness, Saturday, 30th June at noon, made by Mr. Glass six months before, could not have been kept. Captain Anderson was keenly alive to the substantial help given him by Captain Hall, and one of his latest cares before weighing anchor at Berehaven was to write the officer a letter of hearty thanks.


The above report of 19 July was the last by the Special Correspondent. The Daily News continued to provide updates on the progress of the expedition by publishing telegrams received from Valentia, movements in the stock market of shares of the Atlantic Telegraph and Anglo-American companies, and other related news and editorial material.



Published 20 July

The following telegram has been received by Reuter's Telegram Company (Limited) at 7.55 p.m. from Mr. R.A. Glass, managing director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company:—

The following telegram has been received from the Great Eastern this day:—Noon (ship's time), July 19. Canning to Glass. Latitude, 51.54 N.; longitude, 29.39 W. Cable payed out, 811.14 miles. Distance run, 712.9 miles. Insulation and continuity perfect. Weather fine. All going well.


Published 21 July

The following telegram has been received by Reuter's Telegram Company (Limited) at 7.35 p.m. from Mr. R.A. Glass, managing director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company:—

The following telegram received from Great Eastern this day:-Noon (ship’s time), July 20. Canning to Glass. Latitude 51.36 N., longitude 32.57 W. Cable payed out, 938.6 miles. Distance run 894 miles. All going on well. Insulation and continuity perfect. Weather fine. Shifted from after to fore tank at 1.14 this morning, without any difficulty.


Published 23 July


The following telegram has been received from Great Eastern this day:—Noon (ship’s time), July 21. Canning to Glass. Latitude 51.18 N., longitude 36.1 W. Cable payed out, 1,074.33 miles. Distance run, 952.3 miles. Insulation and continuity perfect. Weather fine.

5.34 P.M.:—The following telegram has been received from the Great Eastern:-Noon (ship’s time), July 22. Latitude, 50.48 N.; longitude, 39.14 W. Cable payed out, 1,207.47 miles. Distance run, 1,075.7 miles. Insulation and continuity perfect. Weather fine.


Published 25 July


The following telegram has been received by Reuter’s Telegram Company (Limited), at 6.26 p.m, July 24, from Mr. R.A. Glass, managing director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company.

VALENTIA, JULY 24, 5.30 P.M.
The following telegram received from the Great Eastern this day:—Noon (ship’s time), July 24. Canning to Glass. Latitude 49.30 N., longitude 45.21 W. Cable payed out, 1,480.06 miles. Distance run, 1,319.67 miles. Insulation and continuity perfect. All going on well. Foggy. Sea calm. We change from fore to main tank about 2 a.m. to-morrow.


Published 26 July


The following telegram has been received by Reuter’s Telegram Company (Limited), at 7.5 p.m. July 25, from Mr. R. A. Glass, managing director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Limited):

The following telegram received from the Great Eastern this day:—Noon (ship's time), July 25, Canning to Glass. Latitude 49.30 N.; longitude 48.11 W. Cable payed out, 1,610 miles. Distance run, 1,430 miles. Insulation and continuity perfect, Weather foggy, with wind and rain. No observation. All going on well.


Published 27 July

Twelve months ago yesterday we were all startled and alarmed by the first cessation of messges between the Great Eastern and the shore. Then came reassurances and explanations. The ship sent out from Valentia brought back word that “the fault had occurred quite accidentally,” and reported further that “the paying out was now all perfection.” A few days later another fault was announced, and anxiety again aroused. Again, after an intermittent spasm of renewed confidence, the fatal stoppage of the 4th of August came, and we can all remember the period of suspense which followed. A limited system of siganalling had been agreed upon, which only enabled those on board the Great Eastern to announce her position every fifty miles, and to give an assurance that all was well. No other messages could be, or at all events were, sent, and the final cessation of the signals gave rise to an infinite variety of ingenious hypothesis and wild conjecture. Our own columns and those of our contemporaries contained, day after day, “guesses at truth” from men whose professional and practical experience entitled them to a hearing, or whose scientific eminence gave their theories weight. Apart from the dismal supposition that the great ship had foundered, the mind of the general public was awakened to a knowledge of magnetic storms. Electrical technicalities respecting under-currents, deflections, faults in insulation, and conductivity, went glibly from mouth to mouth, and the upshot of it all was profound ignorance veneered with scientific phraseology, in the place of ignorance unadulterated and pure.

When the Great Eastern returned, the story of the breakage, the manful attempts at picking up, the inadequate machinery and the brittle ropes, was received with divided interest. As a narrative it obtained universal attention and admiration. As a logical sequence of facts, pointing to a given conclusion, it was a failure. The avowed confidence of the mechanical and nautical authorities of the expedition was silently resented as presumptuous by the conventional middle-class mind, and this feeling was not without its basis of common sense. Complete faith in the perfection of cable and appliances lad been vaunted a few weeks before, and the only tangible results seemed to be a broken cable and an announcement of failure. It was patent to all that the former confidence had been misplaced. It needed more penetration and sagacity than are vouchsafed to many to discern that the hopes now avowed were not equally illusory and unsound.

To trace what followed is to draw as on a chart the rocks, shoals, and quicksands avoided by navigators who have been at once prudent and bold. Warned by the highest legal authorities that the necessary capital could not be raised in what then seemed the only practicable way, a few leading spirits banded themselves together, with the determination of trying another experiment this year. This pledged them to an outlay of between five and six hundred thousand pounds, which has been almost entirely provided by these far-seeing gentlemen and their friends. The Anglo-American Company, as the practical owners of the successful cable are termed, have received little support from the outside public. Their shares have been rarely named in the Stock Exchange list, and we venture to say that the great bulk of those who have read of the Great Eastern and her precious freight have done so in complete ignorance of the agencies through which she was sent to sea. The time is at hand when the strong convictions of those who not only equipped this year's expedition but who have been firm believers in, and faithful servants of, the cause of Atlantic telegraphy will reap their reward in honour and repute, as well as in more material forms.

Nor should the marked contrast between the proceedings of this year and last pass without a word of praise. The scriptural injunction as to the different demeanour becoming those putting on armour and those taking it off has been remembered; and if the fault of the expedition of 1865 was too much promise and too little performance, it has been amply expiated by that of 1866. Not a lesson enforced by experience but has been taken to heart and borne fair fruit. The few occasions for public speaking have been marked by modesty and reticence, for it was wisely resolved that success should be assured before the means by which it was attained were held up for praise. It is possible that a comparatively languid public interest has been the result; and it is certain that the number of those sanguine of success has been infinitesimal as compared with last year. Even now, within a few hours of the line being opened for commercial purposes, prophets may be found who doubt its reality, and deny the possibility of its permanence.

The temporary success of the cable of 1858, the enthusiastic jubilations following the messages passed between the Queen and the President of the United States, followed by the speedy collapse, and the final dumbness, are still occasionally quoted against Atlantic telegraphy. But to those conversant with the subject they are so many strong points in its favour. Manufactured in two parts by rival contractors, who were then at variance, and who have since fought many a stout battle in our courts of law; joined together in mid ocean with such ingenious clumsiness that one half the coil is said to have acted as an unraveller to the other half; full of make-shift splices which the veriest bungler in cable-making would laugh at now:—the marvel is, not that the utterances of the 1858 cable were uncertain and shortlived, but that in the face of so many adverse circumstances it should have spoken at all.

In the eight years that have passed since that attempt submarine telegraphy has taken enormous strides. Nearly forty electric cables now successfully working have in this time been manufactured and laid by the company in whose hands is the cable now approaching completion at Newfoundland. Improvements in material, in manufacture, in scientific adjuncts, in modes of laying, in testing, and in working, may be all quoted in favour of the lasting powers of this, the most carefully made submarine cable in the world. Time alone must show whether the opinions of those best qualified to form an opinion on its durability are fallacious or sound, but it is certainly reasonable to defer to the keen and practised intellects who saw ultimate success when others only sneered at failure, and who now speak with the calm confidence of conviction of the future of the Atlantic Cable so nearly laid.

These comments have been purposely confined to the purely practical side of this grand undertaking. It is not in the first blush of victory that its full import is always seen, or that the guerdon can be most fairly thrown. The Atlantic Cable joins two of the mightiest nations in the world, and is, we trust, the pledge of continued peace and good-will among brethren of the same religion, language, and blood. But neither the news of its success, nor its probable effects, can be fully realised yet. In future years its construction and laying down will form an important chapter in the history of civilization, and the names of the energetic, thoughtful men who have promoted it, in spite of contumely, opposition, and indifference, will rank with those of Stephenson and Franklin, of Wheatstone and Watt.


Published 27 July


The following telegrams have been received by Reuter's Telegram Company (Limited), at 12.27 p.m. July 26, from Mr. R.A. Glass, managing director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Limited):

(Canning to Glass, On board the Great Eastern, July 26, 11.20 a.m., Greenwich time.)
We are now in 130 fathoms soundings, and 80 miles from rendezvous ship off Trinity Bay. All going well. Weather foggy, but calm.

The following was received from the Great Eastern at 4 a.m. this day:—Anderson to Glass. Have desired the Albany to proceed in to make the station ship or land and return to lead us in, Should the weather become clear she would be back to us by 8 p.m. With a few hours clear weather we could establish with our convoy a line of ships to lead us in even with fog. I anticipate a clear day after so much rain and fog.

The following telegram received from the Great Eastern:—12 Noon (ship's time). Latitude 48.45 ; longitude 51.16. Payed out, 1,744 miles. Distance run, 1,558 miles. Slack, 11.93 per cent. All going well. Weather foggy. Sea calm.

The following has been received from the Great Eastern, 6 p.m.:
Frigate and Albany in sight. Weather clear.


Published 28 July

HOUSE OF COMMONS.—Friday July 27.


Mr. Hunt, in moving the adjournment of the house, said he understood that the first message had been received through the completed Atlantic cable. He desired to know from his hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) whether such was the fact.

Mr. Childers said he had just seen the message. (Hear, hear.) It was no doubt a source of great satisfaction to the house and the country that this great undertaking had been carried to a successful termination. Cheers.)

An Hon. Member said he held in his hand the message that had been received, and he had no doubt communication with New York would be opened to-morrow. (Cheers.)

The house adjourned at 20 minutes to 2 o'clock.


Published 28 July

The following telegram has been received by Reuter’s Telegram Company (Limited) at 2.30 a.m. on July 28, from Mr. R.A. Glass, Managing Director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Limited):

Following telegram received from Newfoundland:—Gooch to Glass::—”Our shore end has just been laid, and a most perfect cable, under God’s blessing, completes telegraphic communication between England and the continent of America. I cannot find words to express my deep sense of the untiring zeal and the earnest and cheerful manner in which everyone on board, from the highest to the lowest, has performed the anxious and arduous duties they, in their several departments, have had to perform. Their untiring energy and watchful care night and day for the period of two weeks required to complete this work can only be fully understood and appreciated by one who, like myself, has seen it. All have faithfully done their duty, and glory in their success, and join with me in hearty congratulations to our friends in England who have in various ways laboured in carrying out this great work.”


Published 28 July

It was announced to-day by the British and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company, by public notice affixed on their doors, that “There is no reasonable doubt of the Atlantic line being open for messages to America to-morrow morning.” The Electric and International Telegraph Company have likewise intimated this day that the Atlantic Telegraph cable “having been successfully laid by the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, messages for any telegraph station in the United States can, in all probability, be accepted at any of the Electric and International Telegraph Company's stations to-morrow.” The tariff is fixed as follows, viz.:—100 letters, £20; and every additional five letters, £1.

The announcement that the Atlantic Telegraph expedition has arrived safely at Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, caused a fresh outburst of speculation today in the shares of the companies concerned, but the best prices of the day were not maintained at the close. Under the influence of the prevailing excitement, the shares of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company touched 12 3/8, but closed at 11 7/8 to 12 1/8), or 2 prem., being 15s. higher than yesterday. The £5 eight per cent. preference shares of the Atlantic Telegraph Company, after improving to 4 ½, closed at 3 7/8 to 4 1/8, being 5s. to 7s. 6d. lower than yesterday. We do not hear of any transactions in the original shares of this company, which, indeed, are of so heavy a denomination as to be very difficult to negotiate, It is believed, however, that £300 to £350 per £1,000 represents about the present market value. Telegraph Construction shares were steady at 1/8 dis. to 1/8 prem.


Published 30 July


The following telegram has been received by Reuter'\’s Telegram Company (Limited) at 5.10 p.m. on July 28, from Mr. R. A. Glass, Managing Director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Limited):

Communication with Newfoundland is rapid and perfect, but no American news has yet been received.


Published 30 July


On this memorable Saturday, July 28, 1866, I have seen the first telegram forwarded from the American continent to Paris by the Atlantic Submarine Telegraph. The following was received, at the American legation, No. 15, Rue du Centre, at half-past 5 this morning:—less than six hours after its date in Newfoundland:
His Excellency the American Minister, Paris.--Friday, 11 p.m.--The Atlantic cable is successfully laid. May it prove a blessing to all mankind.
CYRUS FIELD, Newfoundland.

Mr. Bigelow was momentarily absent from the legation when this joyful despatch arrived, and Mrs. Bigelow was called up to sign & receipt for it. All day long it lay upon Mrs. Bigelow's drawing-room table, where it was eagerly read and re-read by the numerous American visitors who called. It forcibly occurred to me when I read the generous sentiment contained in Mr. Cyrus Field's telegram that an American minister in busy times may be tempted to think that to him personally the Atlantic cable is not likely to be quite so great a blessing as, of course, he must wish it to prove to the rest of mankind. The hours when the mails went out and came in could be calculated, and there was time for repose in the intervals. But now an American Minister in Europe will be within call of Washington, and must be on the look out to send news home every hour of the day and night.


Published 31 July


The following telegram has been received by Reuter's Telegram Company (Limited), at 5.55 p.m. July 30, from Mr. R.A. Glass, managing director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Limited):

The annexed despatch will explain the absence of intelligence from the United States and Canada, and the delay in the transmission of messages to places west of Newfoundland. The public will be glad to know that the obstruction is only temporary, and likely to be removed in the course of the present week. The Atlantic cable works with great perfection, the communication is rapid and distinct, at 6 words or about 34 letters per minute:--
"Cyrus Field, Newfoundland, to Stewart and Glass, Valentia.--Many thanks for your congratulations. On our arrival here I learnt with much regret that Mr. Mackay had not been able, with the appliances he had, to repair the cable across [the Cabot Strait]. I at once chartered the steamer Bloodhound, and she is now alongside the Medway, taking in cable grapnels, &c., and leaves to-night, Sunday. We hope to get the cable repaired this week. I have chartered the steamer Dauntless to carry the messages across until cable repaired, and she left for her destination this morning, and will be there on Monday night."

One of the earliest messages transmitted by the cable was the following:
The Queen congratulates the President on the successful completion of an undertaking which she hopes may serve as an additional bond of union between the United States and England.


Public enthusiasm for the final success of the Atlantic Cable was far more subdued than in 1858. There were no parades or celebrations in Britain, and other than broadsides and maps, no commercial sales of souvenirs. One of the few recognitions of the great achievement was advertised in the Daily News on 31 July 1866:

CRYSTAL PALACE.—A portion of the ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH CABLE is on view in Centre Transept. Also Maps showing the route of the present Cable, as well as the former Cables.

The last day of July makes a convenient place to end this record of the Daily News coverage of the laying of the 1866 cable. Great Eastern remained at Heart’s Content until 9 August then set out to recover and complete the lost 1865 cable, which was finally completed on 9 September 1866, following which the ship returned to England.

Last revised: 31 October, 2020

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