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

The Lay of the Electricians
by William H. Russell (1865)

Introduction: The words for a humorous song entitled “The Lay of the Electricians” appeared in The Atlantic Telegraph for Wednesday August 2nd, 1865. This was the shipboard newspaper published on board Great Eastern during the Atlantic cable expedition of 1865 for the amusement of the staff and crew, the run of which is reproduced by Willoughby Smith in Appendix A of his 1891 book The Rise and Extension of Submarine Telegraphy.

“The Lay of the Electricians” was written by William H. Russell, who was on board Great Eastern to write a book about the expedition. The words were to be sung to the tune of “Over the Sea”, a popular song of the time written by Mrs Groom.

On August 2nd, the same day that Russell's song was published in The Atlantic Telegraph, the end of the cable had been lost and attempts were under way to retrieve it from the depths of the Atlantic ocean. This was ultimately unsuccessful, and the expedition was abandoned for that year.

In September of 1857, after the failure of the first Atlantic cable expedition, James Clerk Maxwell had also written words to this tune, his version entitled “The Song of the Atlantic Telegraph Company”.

—Bill Burns

For site visitors who would like to sing along with the 1865 cable crew, an MP3 file of the tune may be played by clicking here. Thanks to David Morton for rendering the Victorian sheet music for this song, probably for the first time in over a hundred years!

The Lay of the Electricians (Tune—“Over the Sea.”)


Under the sea! under the sea! Here’s what de Sauty is saying to me,
Such testing as this is the perfectest bliss! Insulation is coming it strong,
So we’ll test! test! test! with coils and rheometers! keys, galvanometers!
Test! test! test! Test each minute all night and day long.


Copper and zinc! acid and stink! tink-a-tank-tink-a-tank-(tint-a-tank-tink).
Copper and zinc! acid and stink! success to con-tin-u-i-ty.


Under the sea! under the sea! Signals and currents of every degree.
Down in the sea! down in the sea! Resistance is creeping along.
So it’s test! test! test! By the units of Siemens with cunning of demons
We’ll test! test! test! and watch our con-tin-u-i-ty.

Chorus—Copper and zinc, &c., &c.


Down in the sea! deep in the sea! lay we our coils of elec-tricity.
Under the sea! under the sea! Success to con-tin-u-i-ty.
So it’s test! test! test! Come with wire and bells, with magnets and cells.
And it’s test! test! test! all through our con-tin-u-i-ty.

Chorus—Copper and zinc, &c., &c.


From shore-end to sea! shore-end and sea! See what Valentia is saying to me.
Mark May’s strong relay, in units B.A. of millions and trillions again.
It’s so grand I can hardly trust Thomson or Varley to test! test! test!
Such a lovely con-tin-u-i-ty.

Chorus—Copper and zinc, &c., &c.


Ah! down in the sea! what’s this I see ? Home’s law is playing the devil with me.
Down in the sea this moment I see a token that something is wrong.
For just as we’re speaking the light that’s my beacon has marched! marched! marched!
Marched off my con-tin-u-i-ty.

Chorus—Copper and zinc, &c., &c.


Up from the sea! up from the sea! Coy little coiler come hither to me.
Come Clifford and Canning! Pick up, tackle manning. Haul up that cable to me.
Mind dynamometers! hang galvanometers. Haul! haul! haul!
That fault from the depths of the sea.

Chorus—Copper and zinc, &c., &c.


Once upon deck! once upon deck! little for dead earth or faults do we reck
Up on the deck—let’s get hold of his neck! we’ll splice him and test him again.
What a lark! lark! lark! In this immensity of watery density
Now our spark with intensity travels along.


Rises and sinks! coilings and kinks! long life to our copper and acids and zincs.
As long as man’s able we’ll stick to our cable, and splice him and test him again.


It is suggested that the above song be sung in the tanks when empty, and then, to use the words of William Russell (not Lord John of that ilk), “we may rest and be tank-full.”

Last revised: 1 November, 2017

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