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

Atlantic Telegraph Company
Report of the Directors to the Ordinary
General Meeting of Shareholders to be
held on the 18th day of February, 1858

Introduction: An Ordinary General Meeting of Shareholders of the Atlantic Telegraph Company was held in February 1858. This was the first public meeting of the company after the failure of the 1857 expedition.

Below is the full text of the Report of the Directors, prepared in advance and distributed before the meeting.

See also the full text of the Minutes of Proceedings at an Extraordinary General Meeting Held at the London Tavern, Bishopsgate Street (in the City of London) on Wednesday, December 15th, 1858, which reported on the partial success (but eventual failure) of the 1858 expeditions.

—Bill Burns

(Incorporated by Act of Parliament, Session 1857.)


NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN, that the Ordinary General Meeting of the Shareholders in the ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH COMPANY, will be held at the London Tavern, Bishopsgate-street, in the City of London, on Thursday, the 18th day of February, 1858, at Twelve o'clock at noon, for the purpose of receiving a Report and statement of Accounts from the Directors of the said Company, and for transacting the business of an Ordinary Meeting; and for the further purpose of authorizing or otherwise an increase of the Company's Capital, by such additional issue of Shares, in such manner, of such an amount per Share, and on such conditions as may then and there be determined upon; and for the further purpose of varying or altogether extinguishing by purchase or other arrangement all the rights and privileges at present enjoyed under certain agreements by the projectors of the Company; and for making arrangements or otherwise for reducing the nominal amount of the existing Shares.

By order,


29th January, 1858




Incorporated by Act of Parliament—Session 1857.






WILLIAM BROWN, M.P., Richmond Hill, Liverpool.

SAMUEL GURNEY, M.P., 65, Lombard Street, London.

3, Blythswood Square, Glasgow
2, Hanover Square, London.
14, New Broad Street, London
26, Booth Street, Manchester.
7, Fenchurch Street, London
Aigburth, near Liverpool.
Allerton Hall, near Liverpool.
64, Queen Street, Cheapside, London
Hallside, Cambuslang, Glasgow.
30, King Street, Liverpool
22, Old Broad Street, London.
Mount Street, Manchester.
11, Rumford Place, Liverpool
2, The College, Glasgow.







Of the Directors to be submitted at the Ordinary General Meeting of Shareholders in the Atlantic Telegraph Company, to be held at the London Tavern, Bishopsgate Street, London, at Twelve o'clock at noon, on Thursday, the Eighteenth day of February, 1858.



London, 29th January, 1858.

THE DIRECTORS having at length concluded a careful investigation into the various circumstances attendant upon this, Company's first attempt to establish Telegraphic communication with America; and having endeavoured, by every means in their power, to ascertain, for prospective guidance, the causes or omissions which led to a temporary disappointment, desire, in anticipation of the Ordinary Annual Meeting; to lay before the Shareholders the present position of the Company's affairs, and to submit to them the policy of the Board in reference to future proceedings.

The Atlantic Telegraph Company was registered under the Limited Liability Act, 1856, on the 21st of October in that year.

On the 5th of December, in the same year, the whole of the shares had been fully subscribed for, and in a few days afterwards the entire deposit of £200 per share had been paid up.

On the 9th of December, 1856, the present Board of Directors was appointed by the Shareholders.

The business had been managed up to that time by a Provisional Committee, some of the members of which had taken an active interest in the preliminary experiments upon various forms of cable suitable for submersion in the Atlantic.

Acting upon the information thus gained, the Provisional Committee had, prior to the formation of this Board, decided to adopt the form of cable preferred by them, and had entered into contracts for the manufacture of 2,500 miles.

The contracts so made by the Provisional Committee were sealed on the 31st December, 1856, and the 2,500 miles of cable thus contracted for, were completed by the first week in July, 1857, having occupied little more than six months in construction.

Shortly after their appointment, the Board, having discovered that the business could not be efficiently conducted under the constitution conferred on the Company by the Joint Stock Act, and proceeding under the advice of the Company's solicitors, resolved to carry forward an application to Parliament for leave to introduce a Bill, for which the requisite notices had been inserted by the committee in the London Gazette in the month of November previous; and the subsequent assent of the proprietors having been obtained to the Bill, at a public meeting, held on the 13th of June, 1857; an Act of complete incorporation was obtained during last session, which gives to the Company several necessary and important powers which were not obtainable without special enactment.

The borrowing powers, however, which had been applied for and inserted in the Bill of June last, were objected to by the Committee of the House of Lords, and are limited in amount to one-third of so much of the Company's capital as may at any time be subscribed for, but not called up;—the effect of which restriction is that, at the present time, the Company have no borrowing powers whatever.

To obviate this inconvenience, it may be necessary to go to Parliament for an amended Act; and, in order to secure the power of doing so during the present Session, the Directors (acting under the advice of the Company's Solicitors) have deposited a short Bill, in compliance with the standing orders of the House of Commons, which may be proceeded with or not, as thought desirable by the shareholders, when the question is formally brought before them.

The applications of the Directors to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty and to the Government of the United States for assistance from the naval resources respectively under their control, were most cordially responded to. Her Majesty's ship “Cyclops” was forthwith despatched under Lieutenant Dayman in May last to sound on the great circle arc between Valencia and Newfoundland, while Her Majesty's ships “Agamemnon” and “Leopard” were also commissioned; the former to receive and pay out one half of the cable, and the latter to assist in any emergency that might arise.

The United States frigates “Niagara” and “Susquehanna” were also most liberally appointed to act similarly with respect to the other half of the expedition. The Directors here desire to acknowledge with feelings of sincere gratitude the uninterrupted kindness, the considerate generosity, the numerous and continued facilities, and the deep national interest with which the undertaking intrusted to them has been regarded by the respective Administrations of England and the United States; as also the hearty and energetic co-operation of the officers and crews of all the ships composing the squadron engaged in its development.

It is also especially gratifying to the Board to be enabled at this point to inform the Shareholders that the good feeling manifested to this Company by both governments has not ceased with its temporary want of success.

The First Lord of the Admiralty has already promised to grant the use of Her Majesty's ship “Agamemnon” for conducting one moiety of the operations of the present year. The Government of the United States has also acted with corresponding liberality, by apportioning the United States' frigate “Niagara” to conduct the other half.

On the 23rd of July, Her Majesty's ship “Agamemnon,” having on board 1250 miles of cable, sailed from Greenwich, and on the 27th of the same month the United States frigate “Niagara,” having the remainder, amounting (inclusive of the shore ends) to 1,270 miles, left Birkenhead, each bound for the appointed rendezvous in the Harbour of Queenstown, where, on the 29th of the same month, both ships had anchored, in order to afford an opportunity to test the capability of the Company's arrangements for passing intelligible electric signals through the Atlantic line wire-2,500 miles in length. The experiment proved successful; and the report of the Electrician, hereto appended, will inform the Shareholders fully as to the capabilities of the apparatus under his charge and as to his subsequent practical experience in working through the entire cable.

The telegraphic squadron, comprising her Majesty's ships “Leopard,” “Agamemnon,” and “Cyclops,” and the United States frigates “Niagara,” and “Susquehanna,” left Queenstown on the 3rd of August, and arrived off Valentia the next day, On the 5th of August, the eastern end of the cable was drawn on shore from the Niagara, at Ballycarberry Bay, by the hands of American sailors, under the auspices of His Excellency the Earl of Carlisle, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who was so kind as to evince his interest in the undertaking by making a special journey from Dublin, at considerable personal inconvenience, in order to encourage, by his presence, the carrying out of those patriotic and international objects which the Shareholders and promoters of the Atlantic Telegraph have always desired to blend and identify with its commercial existence and prosperity.

At a short distance from Valentia an accident happened to the shore end of the cable, which occasioned some delay in starting, but on the 7th of August the squadron fairly bore away for the west with every prospect of success.

The detail of events from this time until the morning of the 11th of August will be best ascertained from the appended Reports of the Engineer and Electrician. At 3.45 on that morning, the Secretary, stationed at Valentia, ceased to receive the ordinary messages from the Niagara, and it was shortly afterwards discovered that the cable had been broken, at a point when a length of 380 miles had been paid out from the coast of Ireland. The entire squadron immediately returned,—the “Cyclops” to Valentia;—to give information of the accident, and the other ships to Plymouth, to await the further discussion induced by the position of affairs.

The Directors immediately called to their aid the presence and advice of the Commanding Officers of all the ships composing the Telegraphic Squadron, and those gentlemen, having promptly attended in London, and having afforded on every point the fullest information and assistance, were enabled, after a careful consideration of the whole circumstances, to concur unanimously for the guidance of the Board in expressing the following opinions, founded upon their experience in the undertaking, viz.:—

1st. “That the construction of the cable is suited for the object in view, and that no alteration therein is expedient.

2nd. “That the cause of the accident arose from an application of the brake at a time when the ship was stern down in the sea.”

3rd. “That considerable change and modification will be required in portions of the paying-out machinery before making another attempt to lay the cable.”

4th. “That an attempt to lay the cable during the month of October would be attended with hazard.”

5th. “That although on the present occasion the coma. ancement of operations at the coast has been attended with some advantage, it will in future be desirable to begin paying out the cable in mid-ocean.”

6th. “That the shore ends should he laid by separate vessels, irrespective of those containing the main cable.”

The Directors assent to the general principles expressed in the foregoing opinions. They think that the form of the cable is well suited to the object in view, and that with apparatus properly constructed and well tested, previously, there will be comparatively little difficulty in successfully laying it on the next occasion.

They also agree that, in the ensuing attempt, it will be desirable to join the cables in mid-ocean, instead of starting from either shore.

They are further of opinion that considerable modifications are required in the paying-out-machinery before a second attempt be made to lay the cable, and especially in that portion of it which relates to the retarding of the egress of the cable. The machinery has, therefore, been submitted to a scientific Committee consisting of Mr. Penn, of Greenwich, Mr. Joshua Field, of the firm of Maudslay, Sons, and Field, Mr. Lloyd, of the steam department of Her Majesty's Navy, and Mr. W.E. Everett, chief Engineer of the United States' frigate “Niagara.”

The Directors having solicited the United States Government to permit the return of Mr. Everett to this country, for the purpose of aiding this enterprise, are happy to state that their wishes have been complied with, and that Mr. Everett is now in England, devoting his entire attention, in conjunction with Messrs. Easton and Amos, and Mr. Bright, the engineer of the Company, in advising upon, and superintending, such modifications in the paying-out apparatus, as after a series of experiments, added to the practical knowledge gained during the late operations, may in their opinion be the best.

After due consideration as to the expediency of again attempting to lay the cable in the month of October last, the Directors concluded that the attempt would be imprudent and hazardous; and they therefore decided upon discharging the cable from the ships, for the purpose of having it carefully examined and recoiled, and of housing it until another season. To this end application was made to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, who, with great kindness, have appropriated to the use of the Company, at Keyham, a vacant powder magazine, and the surrounding premises, on which the Company has erected wooden tanks, properly roofed over, and suitable for receiving the cable. The cable itself has been passed through a mixture of tar, linseed oil, pitch, and bees-wax, previous to its being recoiled in the tanks, in order to its effectual preservation from atmospheric influence during the winter.

The premises granted by the Admiralty at Keyham, afford also room for the convenient carrying forward of the general electrical arrangements and for pursuing important scientific investigations tending to their improved efficiency. The manipulating staff are kept busily engaged in practice upon commercial messages of the same character that would be daily passing if the wire were open for traffic; by which means they will become thoroughly accustomed to the very peculiar mode of signalling adopted by this Company, whose system, owing to the unprecedented length of the Atlantic conductor, necessarily differs from that of any other Telegraph Company.

The Directors have thought it right to use their best endeavours to recover the sunken cable. With that object they chartered the “Leipzig” steamer early in the month of October, and notwithstanding a continuance of very heavy weather during the time she was engaged in the work, a length of fifty-seven miles has been successfully raised and landed at Devonport. The recovered cable having sustained little if any appreciable damage by its immersion, a considerable saving will be the result of this operation.

The Company have accepted an offer made by Mr. John Macintosh, for raising the remainder of the submerged cable; the basis of the arrangement being, that the Company incurs no risk or expense in case of failure; but undertakes to pay a stipulated rate or price per mile for all cable delivered in good order at Devonport.

The length of cable now at Devonport, including the recovered portion, is 2,163 miles. In addition to this the Directors have contracted with the Gutta Percha Company, and with Messrs. Glass, Elliot, and Company, for the manufacture of 400 miles of new cable, which is now in course of delivery. The total will thus be restored to 2,563 miles—a length, which in the first instance was thought to contain a sufficient margin for “slack,” and for all contingencies, but which the Directors, acting on subsequent experience, and impressed with the opinion that no point in the Company's operations on the next occasion should be left to uncertainty, are now disposed to think inadequate.

An outlay will consequently be involved for furnishing the further length of cable, now believed to be necessary (about 300 miles) which, as it had never been anticipated, was not provided for in the estimate upon which the first issue of shares took place; and the balance of subscribed capital being therefore inadequate to justify the Directors in entering into any further engagements, it will be necessary, in order to meet this originally unforeseen contingency, that an issue of new Capital be authorized at the meeting on the 18th February, and provided for without delay in such manner as may be resolved upon.

It was the wish of the Directors to have communicated earlier to the Shareholders so important a fact, but the inquiry itself in which they have been engaged has involved a great deal of time and consideration, and the subsequent pressure on the money-market rendered it expedient to defer for a time the calling of a public meeting.

As experience, however, has now fully satisfied the Directors that an increased length of cable is one of those points which, on the resumption of operations this year, may materially contribute to the success of the undertaking, it is presumed that the Shareholders and the public will readily assist in providing the moderate amount of additional Capital required for that purpose, and for leaving in hand a sufficient balance to meet any contingencies that may still be unforeseen.

It will be seen by the Financial Statement appended hereto, that up to December 31st, 1857, the Company had received on Capital and Interest account the sum of £347,398 13s. 11d. The expenditure to the same date had been £301,400 10s. 10d., leaving a total Balance of £49,698 3s. 1d. to meet existing and future engagements. This balance consisted of £45,998 3s. 1d. in cash and securities, and £3,700 calls unpaid at that period. The latter item has been reduced to £1,600, by payments made subsequently.

Deducting from this balance the liabilities of the Company in respect to the cable now being manufactured, &c., and the approximate estimate of probable charges that will occur in carrying forward the operation of laying the cable next season, amounting to £30,031, there would appear to be a balance of £13,667 3s. 1d. only, available to meet any unexpected expenditure.

The value of the cable on hand at Devonport and in course of manufacture is computed at £224,832, and the stores and miscellaneous property remaining in possession of the Company may be estimated at £11,900; making a total of available property in the hands of the Company, (inclusive of the balance of unexpended capital) amounting to £286,430.

The costs and expenses attending the manufacture of a further length of 300 miles of cable may be estimated, in round numbers, at £30,000.

It will therefore be necessary, in order to place the financial affairs of the Company in a state that would justify the Board in entering into this further liability, that an additional amount of capital should be raised. And, as the Directors feel confident that they will be enabled to conclude an arrangement on fair and equitable terms with the original projectors, for the extinction of all the extensive privileges secured to them, by an agreement made between them and the Provisional Committee on the 29th day of October, 1856, the Directors earnestly recommend that further provision may also be made for this purpose; and they would suggest that the requisite amount may be raised by the issue of new shares of £20 each; and that authority be taken from the shareholders, at the same time, to convert (after the Cable shall have been successfully laid) the entire capital into shares of the same nominal amount as the new shares.

Before proceeding further, the Directors are desirous to pass in review, for the information of the Shareholders, their opinions as to the true cause of the recent disappointment, and their reasons for full confidence in success on the next occasion.

It should not be forgotten that this undertaking was entirely unprecedented. No attempt had ever been made to submerge a Telegraphic Cable 2,500 miles long in any sea, or to submerge any cable in depths such as those of the Atlantic Ocean, or beneath a sea so liable to sudden and tempestuous agitation. No attempt had ever previously been made to practically grapple with the difficulties of a submarine conductor 2,500 miles in continuous extent.

The proposal, therefore, to establish a Telegraph to America was on its first announcement, from pure necessity, a theory—brilliant and probable, but still a theory—undeveloped and awaiting demonstration, but endued with public importance and surrounded with inducements and advantages arising out of the subsidies and protection of two powerful governments, which entitled, and still entitle it to the pecuniary support required for its accomplishment.

Under a miscalculation of the labour to be performed, it had been held out to the proprietors and to the public, in the first instance, that the work of manufacturing and laying the cable was to be concluded in the autumn of 1857; and the Directors are bound to say that the anxiety to fulfil this pledge has tended to curtail opportunities for experiment and research; by means of which it is possible that the knowledge since acquired might have been obtained in a less costly manner, and less alloyed by anxiety and disappointment.

Notwithstanding the regret for the past, however, there is no discouragement in the future. No element of failure has been developed which is not completely within the grasp of science;—no natural obstacle has arisen to forbid the most complete and satisfactory termination to the work; on the contrary, every anticipated difficulty has been practically surmounted.

Electric signals had been sent and received satisfactorily through the entire conductor, 2500 miles in length. The cable had been laid along one of the most difficult portions of the route with the greatest facility. The deep soundings of the Atlantic had been reached, and the perfect possibility of communicating by telegraph with America had advanced from theory into certainty, when the ripening hopes of the first year's labour were suddenly put an end to by a description of accident which in all human probability would never have occurred had more time been made available for the elaboration of the Company's arrangements, by postponing its operations until another year.

It seems, however, that the Atlantic Telegraph, in common with nearly every other undertaking of great and original conception, should have to obtain from temporary disappointment the knowledge that leads to success; and the Directors, so far from desponding on account of what they regard as a mere temporary and accidental impediment, have every reason to hope and believe that this enterprise is now on a surer basis than ever, and that a right use of the knowledge gained in August last will lead to complete success in the summer of 1858.

The importance of international communication by Telegraph to the commerce of England and America can scarcely be over-estimated, and has been strikingly illustrated, in a negative sense, during the recent monetary pressure that has occasioned so many disastrous failures on both sides of the Atlantic. It is confidently stated, that if this Company's Telegraph had been in operation, much of the distress that has been suffered might have been mitigated; and in support of this statement the Directors cannot avoid quoting the following remarks, extracted from the letter of the New York correspondent of the London “Times,” which appeared in that paper on the 8th of December, 1857. He says:—

“Under the first impression produced in Europe by the panic here, correct calculation of some of its anomalies was hardly possible, and, during the time required to develope some of them, measures have been adopted, which a daily knowledge of what was passing on this side would have rendered unnecessary. The disaster that befel the submarine cable has been more than ever lamented during the past six weeks. In this period it would have saved more than its cost to both countries, had it been at work, by dissipating alarm and preventing the useless dance of capital, and the ‘cross and change sides’ of specie. With the slender wire in the bed of the ocean, these freights of bullion would not have been sent on two profitless excursions over its surface. The fortunes of many firms really In broke with that cable, when it snapped on board the Niagara in August last.”

These observations exemplify not only the just importance attached by the public to the completion of the Atlantic Telegraph, but serve also to give the most satisfactory indications of a very handsome pecuniary return to the Shareholders, especially when taken in connexion with the annual subsidy of £14,000 a-year accruing from the English Government, and of an equal amount from that of the United States, making a total guaranteed income of £28,000 per annum, added to the protective privileges that have been accorded to this Company in Newfoundland and elsewhere.

For detailed information respecting the various proceedings in the Engineering and Electrical departments the Directors refer to the reports of Mr. Bright and Mr. Whitehouse respectively appended hereto.

The books of the Company are regularly posted up, and have been examined to the 31st December last, and a Balance Sheet is annexed for the satisfaction of the Shareholders. No opportunity having at present existed for the regular appointment of auditors by a meeting of proprietors, as required by the Act, the Directors have caused the accounts to be examined by Mr. Francis Le Breton, of London, and Mr. Henry W. Blackburn, public accountant, of Bradford, Yorkshire, two duly qualified shareholders, whose certificate is attached to the balance-sheet. Of these gentlemen, Mr. Le Breton declines to act as auditor except on the present occasion, but Mr. Blackburn is willing to accept that office, should the Shareholders see fit to appoint him; and in that case it will be necessary that the Shareholders select and appoint as his colleague, a gentleman resident in London, and also that the remuneration to be paid for auditing the accounts be fixed by the meeting.

The following Directors retire by rotation, under the provisions of the Companies' Clauses Act, but are eligible and offer themselves for re-election, with the exception of Mr. Crosbie, of Liverpool, and Mr. Carr, of London, who have resigned, viz.:—Mr. Carr, Mr. Crosbie, Mr. Brooking, Mr. Dugdale, Mr. Harrison, and Mr. Lampson.

From the first commencement of the Company's proceedings, it had been arranged that a certain number of gentlemen in America should be selected to hold a position as Honorary Directors. Under the original constitution there were no powers to effect this object, but in the Act obtained by the Company, during last session, a clause was inserted, giving the requisite authority, and it is therefore intended to propose to the Meeting on the 18th proximo, the election of the following gentlemen, ordinarily resident in America, as Honorary Directors under the clause above referred to—viz.:—

IN THE UNITED STATES—Archibald, the Hon. E.M., H.M. Consul, New York.

Belmont, Auguste, Banker.
Cooper, Peter, Merchant.
Corbin, Francis P., Esq.
Hunt, Wilson G., Merchant.
Low, A., Merchant.
Morgan, Matthew, Banker.
Sherman, Watts, Banker.

IN CANADA—Cartier, The Hon. Geo. E.
Ross, The Hon. John.
Young, The Hon. John.

IN NEW BRUNSWICK —Robertson, The Hon. John.

The Directors cannot close their observations to the Shareholders without bearing their warm and cordial testimony to the untiring zeal, talent, and energy that have been displayed on behalf of this enterprise by Mr. Cyrus W. Field, of New York, to whom mainly belongs the honour of having practically developed the possibility, and of having brought together the material means for carrying out the great idea of connecting Europe and America by a Submarine Telegraph.

He has crossed the Atlantic Ocean no less than six times since December, 1856, for the sole purpose of rendering most valuable aid to this undertaking. He has also visited the British North American Colonies on several occasions, and obtained concessions and advantages that are highly appreciated by the Directors, and he has successfully supported the efforts of the Directors in obtaining an annual subsidy for Twenty-five years from the Government of the United States of America—the grant of the use of their National ships in assisting to lay the Cable in 1857, and also to assist in the same service this year—and his constant and assiduous attention to everything that could contribute to the welfare of the Company from its first formation, have materially contributed to promote many of its most necessary and important arrangements. He is now again in England, his energy and confidence in the undertaking entirely unabated; and, at the earnest request of the Board, he has consented to remain in this country for the purpose of affording to the Directors the benefit of his great experience and judgment as General Manager of the business of the Company connected with the next expedition.

This arrangement will, doubtless, prove as pleasing to the Shareholders, as it is agreeable and satisfactory to the Directors.

By order of the Directors,


London, 29th January, 1858.


The Atlantic Telegraph Company
Balance Sheet, showing the Receipts and Payments of the
Company from its commencement to December 31st, 1857.


22, Old Broad-street,
London, January 23rd, 1858.

To the Directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Company.


In reviewing, at your request, for the information of the shareholders, the operations carried out in the engineering department of the Company, it is not necessary that I should enter into a description of the cable itself, since its form and capabilities are already well known to them.

It has met with the general approval of men of science and experience, qualified to appreciate the requirements of the undertaking. The combination of a great degree of flexibility and strength, and the proportionate weight and dimensions, appear to adapt it well to the peculiar conditions under which it has to be laid; and, notwithstanding that our first endeavour to lay it across the Atlantic has been temporarily unsuccessful, there is greater reason than ever for a full belief in the satisfactory completion of the enterprise on the next occasion.

The ends of the cable next the shore (where some danger might be apprehended of ship's anchors getting foul of the line) are made on a more massive scale; the size of the gutta percha case is increased by an additional coating, and outside this are laid twelve solid iron wires of the best charcoal iron, No. 1 gauge, gradually tapering down, at its union, to the smaller diameter of the main cable.

At the close of 1856 I became charged with the supervision of your works, having been occupied up to that time, together with Mr. Whitehouse, in the prosecution of some important electrical experiments. The duties of arranging the form of tenders and specifications, and the price of the cable, did not devolve upon me, as these had been already decided by the Provisional Committee, amongst other matters incidental to the first formation of the Company.

The circumstance that the cables manufactured by the two contractors differ in the direction of their lay having been publicly remarked upon, I should state that I am not responsible for this. A specimen made by hand, at Messrs. Glass, Elliot, and Co.'s works, in Greenwich, the lay of which happened to be opposite to that of their machine-made ropes, had been shown in November, 1856, to Messrs. Newall and Co. by a member of the Provisional Committee. Upon this specimen the Birkenhead contract was taken and the machinery erected there.

Undue importance has, however, been ascribed to this difference of lay in the two lengths of cable. The objection involved can be so readily disposed of, that it was not desirable, by altering the arrangements, to retard the works at a time when every day was of consequence in my calculations for readiness at the appointed season.

Early in the month of April, 1857, H.M.S. “Agamemnon” was placed at my disposal as your engineer; and the fittings necessary to adapt her to the reception of the cable having been carried out with the utmost rapidity, she was moored at her station at Greenwich to take in the eastern half of the cable.

On the 14th of May the U.S. frigate “Niagara” arrived in the Thames; but, on calculating the space available for our requirements, it was found that considerable alterations would be necessary to suit her interior to our purpose. These were put in hand at Portsmouth, and she finally proceeded to Birkenhead to receive her portion of the cable.

In the “Agamemnon,” by clearing her hold of the tanks and magazines, the available space allowed of the cable being made into one great coil, forty-eight feet in diameter and twelve feet high. In the “Niagara” it had to be disposed in five coils, three in the hold, orlop-deck and berth-deck forward, and two on the berth and main-decks aft.

It was necessary at Greenwich to employ a dredging-machine to clear out a berth for the “Agamemnon” off Morden Wharf, in order to keep her free of the bottom at low water; and at Birkenhead, owing to the outer dock-gates at the entrance to the float being only fifty feet wide,—five feet less than the “Niagara's” beam,—the cable had to be taken to the Sloyne by other vessels fitted to receive it.

These circumstances have materially increased the expenses chargeable to my department.

The machinery for regulating the egress of the cable from the paying-out vessels was constructed with regard to the great depth of water to be passed over, the constant strain, and the number of days during which the operation must be unceasingly in progress.

The cable was passed over and under a series of sheaves, having the bearings of their axles fixed to a framework composed of cast-iron girders bolted down to the ships' beams.

The sheaves were geared to each other, and to a pinion fixed to a central shaft revolving at a rate three times faster than that of the sheaves; two friction drums upon this shaft regulated the speed of paying-out, and the grooves of the sheaves (which were fixed to their axles outside the framework and bearings) were fitted to the semi-circumference of the cable, so as to grasp it firmly, without any pressure by which it could be injured.

I need not here enter into the arrangements for splicing, buoying, guard-ropes, staff, lights, and other minor details of the expedition, nor into the causes which led to your resolution that the laying of the cable should commence from Ireland, instead of from the centre as was at first contemplated. On the 29th of July the two ships, with the whole of the cable on board, met at Queenstown. On the 3rd of August, after uniting the two lengths, to test the conductivity of the entire line, and taking in coals and sundry stores, we started for Valentia, in company with H.M.S. “Leopard” and the U.S. frigate “Susquehanna,” two powerful paddlewheel steamers, appointed to render assistance in case of need.

At Valentia we were met by H.M.S. “Cyclops,” and on the 5th the end of the cable was landed at Ballycarberry strand from the Niagara which lay in the bay about two miles distant.

An accident to the heavy shore end cable shortly after weighing anchor on the 6th, deferred our final departure until the 7th of August.

For three days everything proceeded as satisfactorily as could be wished; the paying out machinery worked perfectly in shallow, as well as in the deepest water, and in rapid transition from one to the other; while the excellent adaptation of the cable in weight and proportions to the purpose was most forcibly demonstrated by the day's work previous to the mishap, during which one hundred and eighteen miles of the cable were laid, for one hundred and eleven miles run by the ship.

The details of the voyage from the 7th until the morning of the 11th are fully set forth in the following extract from a report made by me to the Board shortly afterwards:‑

“By noon on the 8th, we had payed out forty miles of cable, including the heavy shore end, our exact position at this time being in Let. 51° 59' 36" N., Long. 11° 19' 15" W., and the depth of water according to the soundings taken by the ‘Cyclops,’ whose course we nearly followed, ninety fathoms.

“Up to four p.m. on that day, the egress of the cable had been sufficiently retarded by the power necessary to keep the machinery in motion at a rate a little faster than the speed of the ship; but as the water deepened it was necessary to place some further restraint upon it by applying pressure to the friction drums, in connexion with the paying out sheaves; and this was gradually and cautiously increased from time to time, as the speed of the cable compared with that of the vessel and the depth of the soundings showed to be requisite.

“By midnight eighty-five miles had been safely laid, the depth of water being then a little more than 200 fathoms.

“At eight o'clock in the morning of the 9th we had finished the deck coil in the after part of the ship, having payed out 120 miles; the change to the coil between decks forward was safely made.

“By noon we had laid 136 miles of cable, the ‘Niagara’ having reached Let. 52° 11’ 40" N., Long. 13° 01' 20" W., and the depth of water having increased to 410 fathoms.

“In the evening the speed of the vessel was raised to five knots per hour; I had previously kept down the rate at from three to four knots for the small cable, and two for the heavy end next the shore, wishing to get the men and machinery well at work prior to attaining the speed which I had anticipated making.

“By midnight 189 miles of cable had been laid. At four o'clock in the morning of the 10th, the depth of water began to increase rapidly, from 550 fathoms to 1750, in a distance of eight miles. Up to this time 7 cwt. strain sufficed to keep the rate of the cable near enough to that of the ship; but, as the water deepened, the proportionate speed of the cable advanced, and it was necessary to augment the pressure by degrees, until in the depth of 1700 fathoms the indicator showed a strain of 15 cwt., while the cable and ship were running five and a half and five knots respectively. At noon, on the 10th, we had payed out 255 miles of cable, the vessel having made 214 miles from shore, being then in Let. 52° 27' 50" N., Long. 16° 00' 15" W.; at this time we experienced an increasing swell, followed late in the day by a strong breeze.

“From this period, having reached 2,000 fathoms water, it was necessary to increase the strain to a ton, by which the rate of the cable was maintained in due proportion to that of the ship.

“At six in the evening some difficulty arose through the cable getting out of the sheaves of the paying-out machine, owing to the tar and pitch hardening in the grooves, and a splice, of large dimensions, passing over them. This was rectified by fixing additional guards, and softening the tar with oil.

“It was necessary to bring up the ship, holding the cable by stoppers, until it was again properly disposed around the pulleys. Some importance is due to this event, as showing that it is possible to lay to in deep water without continuing to pay out the cable—a point upon which doubts have frequently been expressed. Shortly after this the speed of the cable gained considerably upon that of the ship, and up to nine o'clock, while the rate of the latter was about three knots by the log, the cable was running out from five and a half to five and three-quarter knots per hour. The strain was then raised to 25 cwt., but the wind and sea increasing, and a current at the same time carrying the cable at an angle from the direct line of the ship's course, it was not found sufficient to check the cable, which was at midnight making two and a half knots above the speed of the ship, and sometimes imperilling the safe uncoiling in the hold.

“The retarding force was, therefore, increased at two o'clock to an amount equivalent to 30 cwt., and then again, in consequence of the speed continuing to be more than it would have been prudent to permit, to 35 cwt.

“By this the rate of the cable was brought to a little short of five knots, at which it continued steadily until 3.45, when it parted, the length payed out at that time being 380 statute miles.

“I had up to this time attended personally to the regulation of the brakes; but finding that all was going on well, and it being necessary that I should be temporarily away from the machine to ascertain the rate of the ship, and to see how the cable was coming out of the hold, and also to visit the electrician's room, the machine was for the moment left in the charge of a mechanic, who had been engaged from the first in its construction and fitting, and was acquainted with its operation. I was proceeding towards the fore part of the ship, when I heard the machine stop. I immediately called out to ease the brake, and reverse the engine of the ship; but when I reached the spot the cable was broken.

“On examining the machine, which was otherwise in perfect order, I found that the brakes had not been released, and to this, or to the hand-wheel of the brake being turned the wrong way, may be attributed the stoppage, and the consequent fracture of the cable; when the rate of the wheels grew slower, as the ship dropped her stern in the swell, the brake should have been eased. This had been done regularly before whenever an unusually sudden descent of the ship temporarily withdrew the pressure from the cable in the sea.”

After the accident the commanders of the vessels proceeded to Devonport at my request, the dockyard at Keyham affording many facilities for unshipping the cable.

At a subsequent discussion the prudence of making a second attempt in October was considered, but the difficulty of obtaining sufficient additional line, and the uncertainty of the weather so late in the year, were cogent reasons against the adoption of such a course. It was, therefore, decided to store the cable until next summer, and (having been granted the use of a vacant space of ground by the Government) four large roofed tanks were constructed to receive it.

The cable, which is in good condition, was discharged from the “Niagara” first, and has subsequently been unshipped from the “Agamemnon.” It has been passed through a mixture of tar, pitch, linseed oil, and bees-wax, in such consistency and quantity as effectually to guard against rust.

The buoys, chains, hawsers, and other stores and tools are safely warehoused in an adjacent building.

Immediately upon the return of the expedition steps were taken to recover such part of the cable laid from Valentia as could be raised so soon as the equinoctial gales might be over.

The “Monarch,” a steamer employed upon the submarine lines laid between Orfordness and the Hague, and fitted with all the necessary appliances for picking up cables, was at first understood to be at our service for this work; but some delay to our plans for recovery arose from the fact that at the time she was expected to be available she was despatched by the company to whom she belongs upon another duty, and it thus became necessary for us to procure and equip another vessel.

In the middle of October I proceeded to Valentia with the “Leipzig,” a paddlewheel steamer of a sufficient capacity: after some hindrance by the gales which prevailed at that time, fifty-three miles of the small cable and four miles of the heavy cable were got up; the remainder of the shore-end was under-run, and is buoyed ready for splicing next year.

The sea and swell on that coast at this season are so unsuited to the work, that the attempt to regain the remainder must be deferred for some weeks; but if the contract which has been accepted by you is successfully carried out, it will be more satisfactory, as regards risk of outlay, than for us to renew the operation.

The recovered cable, which is in good order and fit for use again, has been delivered into store at Keyham.

Referring to the proposal to order a further length of three hundred miles of cable, in addition to the four hundred miles now in course of construction by Messrs. Glass, Elliot and Co., I would observe that while I anticipate that the appliances suggested by experience will enable us to lay the cable this year with much less slack than is expected, I quite agree with the recommendation of your Scientific Committee that more allowance should be made for contingencies, in laying a line of such extraordinary length.

It is doubtless a circumstance much to be lamented in the past history of our undertaking, that the time within which it was intended to be completed did not permit of experimental rehearsals of various plans of cable-laying in deep water, respecting which there had been no previous successful experience.

The result has been that experiment and practice have been mixed together in one operation; and hence, although all concerned actively in the undertaking are now fully alive to the means which will, in all human probability, secure success on the next occasion, yet great expense has been incurred without an adequate return, which might have been avoided had the needful time for experiment been available.

In conjunction with the Scientific Committee, I have been recently engaged in experiments for the determination of certain points connected with the modifications to be made in our arrangements during the ensuing expedition, and I have the fullest confidence that the appliances now being designed will effectually answer the purpose, and result in a happy consummation of the great work upon which we are engaged.

I have the honour to remain, Gentlemen,

Yours very faithfully,




January 4, 1858.

To the Directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Company.


It is with pleasure that I enter upon a brief resume of the doings in my department for the past twelve months.

Placed, at very short notice, in the responsible post which he now holds, your Electrician was called upon to examine into one of the latest and most difficult electrical problems of the day, involving considerations at once of the highest philosophical interest and of the utmost social and national importance. He was, moreover, pledged to achieve a practical success therein in the brief space of a few months; nor while engaged in this research could he for a moment be released from the equally important duty of personally superintending the manufacture, and testing the perfection and integrity of the cable as it grew from day to day at the Gutta-Percha Works at Birkenhead and at Greenwich.

The examination of the former required the prosecution of an extended series of researches, and the construction of new instruments for the purpose of determining with accuracy the available force of the electrical current as tested at different distances, and for the investigation of the peculiar and hitherto practically most embarrassing phenomena of Induction in submarine wires.

It was necessary, too, to approach the subject to a certain degree tentatively, and from time to time, as the increased length of cable admitted, to let our early telegraphic instruments grow with its growth and increase in strength or sensibility as the augmented distance required.

These indispensable researches naturally involved a somewhat considerable outlay in my department. They were not, however, entered into without most careful consideration, and have been fully justified by the important and practical bearing of the results which they have been the means of bringing to light.

Notwithstanding my endeavours, circumstances conspired to limit the range of these researches, while the fact of the cable having been made at two distant places rendered any full and satisfactory trial of instruments impossible, till the arrival of both vessels in Queenstown Harbour. That event was looked forward to with the most intense interest as affording a brief and yet valuable opportunity, which, up to that time, had not been enjoyed by any scientific man, at once of proving the practicability of recording intelligible electric signals through a submarine conductor of the unprecedented length of 2500 miles, and of trying on the extended scale the appliances for effecting this object, which up to that time had necessarily so far been constructed theoretically, as only to have been actually tried upon less than one-half of the entire line intended to be worked by the Company.

On the arrival of the vessels at Queenstown Harbour, the earliest opportunity was seized of connecting the halves of the cable on board the two vessels, by a temporary line extended between ship and ship, in order that I might thus be enabled to test the instruments whose construction was based on the results of previous experiment on shorter lengths. In doing this I had the advantage of the assistance and cooperation of Professor W. Thomson, who is one of our Directors.

These trials were made under every possible disadvantage of time, place, and circumstance; the connexion between ship and ship was imperfect, was interfered with inadvertently on several occasions, and was entirely destroyed at turn of tide.

The power of the instruments was found to be ample for the whole length of 2500 miles; the signals received were even stronger than necessary, but the time required to elapse between signal and signal in order to avoid the blending of electric waves in the wire was considerable.

An extemporaneous arrangement by Professor Thomson and myself enabled us to transmit actual despatches in spite of these difficulties.

Our experiments at Queenstown, therefore, successful though they were as furnishing a proof of the adequacy of the instruments to work through the whole distance, yet rendered it sufficiently evident that much time and attention might judiciously be bestowed upon these as well as on the details and peculiar arrangements required for signalling through so vast and untried a distance, in order to attain a thoroughly certain and commercially satisfactory rate of communication.

On the sailing of the expedition we commenced our communication with the ship by the use of the lowest battery power sufficient to effect our object in order to facilitate the detection of a fault or accident to the cable by those on board at the earliest possible moment after its occurrence.

An arrangement has been made by which, on the next occasion, on commencement from mid-ocean, either of the ships shall be able at any and every instant during the voyage to ascertain that all is right in her electrical connexion with the sister ship, though it is not deemed desirable to endanger the safety of the Company's complete and special telegraphic apparatus by an attempt to keep up, by its use during the voyage, a constant interchange of messages from ship to ship.

Proceeding in the path which the light of experiment has opened up to us in relation to the differential values of conducting media, we have, in the additional length of cable now in process of manufacture, adopted the recent suggestion of Professor W. Thomson, and have instituted a series of tests for the conductivity of copper wire. Every hank of wire to be used for our conductor is tested, and all whose conducting power falls below a certain standard is rejected.

We have thus secured a conductor of the highest value, ranging in conductivity from 28 to 30 per cent. above the average standard of unselected copper wire.

It is but due to the Gutta Percha Company to state, that in their anxiety to advance the interests of submarine telegraphy to the utmost, they have afforded us every possible facility in this laborious and important, but somewhat tedious and obstructive, operation.

The arrival of the vessels at Plymouth, and the unshipment of the whole of our cable, to be stored there during the winter, afford the opportunity which I have so long deemed necessary, of submitting the working powers of our instruments to the most rigid tests through the whole circuit, under every conceivable condition. I have, therefore, with the sanction of the Directors, removed thither the workshop, retaining a few of our most skilled hands for repairs and alterations of instruments, and the construction of any new ones deemed desirable. With these I have also removed our Superintendent, and the whole staff of manipulators or instrument clerks, proposing to give them during the winter constant occupation in the transmission of actual despatches through the whole length of the cable, thus rehearsing what will be the routine of their duties when our line is in operation.

The facilities afforded by the Government authorities at the Dockyard at Keyham have enabled me to fit up a complete telegraphic station here, in one of the buildings devoted to our use, in which the Superintendent and staff of clerks are now constantly engaged in transmitting despatches.

I have been able to examine most critically into the question of the highest speed of transmission attainable, carefully eliminating all mere instrumental or manipulative error from the results.

In doing this we have made use of an arrangement by which the accurate correspondence or otherwise of the transmitted with the received signal shall be most readily ascertained. The electric signals on their entrance into the cable are made to pass through an instrument, by means of which they record themselves upon the same slip of paper and side by side with those of the receiving instrument at the other or distant end of the line. We are thus enabled to scrutinize most closely the behaviour and transit of every signal. If a dot or dash be lost, it is instantly detected; and if even the slightest discrepancy occur in the length of the relative marks, it cannot fail in this way to be at once made evident.

The power of our apparatus, as already made, is seen to be ample for the purpose; the speed with which it can be worked so as to ensure accuracy in the transmission of a despatch is found, however, to depend so greatly upon the steadiness and mechanical truthfulness of the manipulating clerk, that I have been induced to devise an addition to the transmitting part of our apparatus which shall render manipulative error almost impossible.

This apparatus, though as yet merely in an experimental form, has enabled me, without the use of additional electrical power, to obtain a very considerable increase in our speed, not only without any sacrifice, but with an absolute gain in the accuracy of transmission.

By this means, and by the adoption of such an amount of abbreviation or code signals as we find it safe to use, we are now transmitting through the entire length of our cable despatches at the rate of four words in a minute.

I cannot refrain from an expression of the real gratification which the attainment of this step has afforded me,—the more so as I feel justified thereby in anticipating still further progress and higher results; —nor need I point out the direct and positive bearing of this question upon the commercial success of the Company.

Before I leave this subject, however, I think it right to mention, that as the undertaking we are engaged in is one of such unprecedented magnitude, the more recondite elements of complete success can only be developed successively by repeated processes of actual experiment and deduction, which may possibly yet involve occasional expense in their elaboration, but which will amply repay themselves by their ultimate commercial results.

I am, Gentlemen,
Yours faithfully,


Royston & Brown, Printers, 40 & 41, Old Broad-street.


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