History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
1862: Epitome of Proceedings
WITH a view of drawing particular attention to the increased facilities for accomplishing, and the great political and commercial requirement now presented, for again uniting Great Britain and America by the electric telegraph, Mr. Samuel Gurney, M.P. issued invitations for a conversazione on this important object.
The soirée was attended by a distinguished and brilliant company, and among the persons present were
The Earl and Countess of Shaftesbury, Lord and Lady Monteagle, the Duke of Somerset, Lord Alfred Churchill, the Marquis D'Azeglio (Italian minister), Countess of Gainsborough and Lady Victoria Noel, Lord and Lady Robert Churchill, the Right Hon. Stuart Wortley (Chairman of the Atlantic Telegraph Company), Sir Emmerson Tennent, Mr. Adams (United States minister), the Bishop of Ohio, Sir Cresswell Cresswell, Chevalier and Madame de Bunsen, Chevalier Bonelli, Lady Victoria Ashley, Sir Culling and Miss Eardley, Hon. and Rev. Noel and Miss Noel, Mrs. Wortley, Mrs. C. Buxton, Mrs. Adams, Miss Alderson, Miss Ashley, Miss Marshall, Sir Fowell Buxton, Mons. Musurus Bey, the Hon. Gerald Noel, Hon. A. Kinnaird, M.P., M.C. Buxton, M.P., Mr. Lefroy, M.P., Mr. Crum-Ewing, M.P., Mr. E. Egerton, M.P., Mr. Banbury Roberts, M.P., Mr. Hubbard, M.P., Mr. J.C. Ewart, M.P., Mr. Robert Hanbury, M.P., Mr. Pease, M.P., Mr. J.H. Gurney, M.P., Mr. Thomson Hankey, M.P., Mr. T. Brassey, M.P., Mr. Cyrus W. Field, Mr. J. W. Brett, Mr. T.H. Brooking, Mr. Lampson, Sir Thomas Trowbridge, Sir Charles Bright, General Wylde, Captain Du Cane, Captain C.L. Peel, Colonel Cavan, Hon. E. Ashley, Alderman Rose, Dr. Wallich, Dr. and Mr. Protheroe Smith, Dr. Kine, Dr. and Mrs. Lushington, Rev. Dr. King, Dr. Stephenson, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Reynolds, Mr. Henry Ford Barclay, Mr. Gerard Cresswell, Mr. Cropsey, Mr. B. Schutze Wilson, Professor Wheatstone, Professor Rogers, Mr. and Mrs. Gurney Hoare, Mr. Gurney Barclay, Mr. Schenley, Mr. Glass, Mr. Edwards. Mr. George Saward, Mr. Morgan, Mr. Varley, Mr. Lightly Simpson, Mr. Chatterton, Mr. Bewley, Mr. W.H. Stevenson, Mr. E. Gurney, Mr. Godwin, Mr. Peter Coates, Mr. Austin, Mr. Robert Taylor, Mr. Curtoys, Mr. Gutteres, Mr. Dyer, Mr. Scamell, Mr. C. Pelly, Mr. and Mrs. Savill, Mr. Fry, Mr. Cassell, Mr. J.T. Henley, Mr. Whitehouse, Mr. Gisborne, Mr. Walker, Mr. E. Clarke, Mr. Passmore Edwards, Mr. Branscombe, Mr. Henry C. Orton, Mr. T.A. Masey, Mr. Kersting, Mr. Boyes, &c. &c. &c.
For this important occasion, the Submarine Telegraph Company, the London District, the British and Irish Magnetic, and the Electric and International Telegraph Companies' wires, were extended to Mr. Gurney's house.
Here, for the first time, perhaps, a gentleman's library was brought into instantaneous communication with all the capitals of Europe, Malta, Alexandria, and the East, as well as with all parts of Great Britain, Ireland and Scotland.
The telegraphic instruments used, and now almost universally adopted, were those invented by Professor Morse, which records the telegrams in cyphers of long and short dashes upon a continuous strip of paper.
The Submarine Telegraph Company gave a direct communication to all the capitals of Europe, as well as to Constantinople and Alexandria, via their cables to France, Hanover, Belgium and Denmark.
The British and Irish Magnetic Company, placed at the disposal of the guests, a direct and unbroken communication to Dublin.
The Electric and International Telegraph Company transmitted messages to Falmouth, Edinburgh, Glasgow, also to Berlin and Odessa.
The London District Telegraph Company communicated to all parts of London.
During the evening, messages were despatched to, and received from, all parts of Europe, much to the amusement and astonishment of the guests.
To illustrate the marvellous facility of transmitting thought by the aid of lightning, the Earl of Shaftesbury sent a message to St. Petersburgh, through Berlin, enquiring after the health of the Emperor of Russia, and in four minutes he received word from the banks of the Neva, a distance of 2,000 miles, that he was in good health.
It was then proposed that the correspondence should proceed along a line making a tour of the whole of the continent of Europe, passing through Russia, Austria, Italy, and, thence home through France to the starting point in London.
In telegraphing over a great extent of land, it is necessary to provide relays of electricity, at various intervals along the line, to refresh and invigorate the lightning. Because, not all the electric fluid communicated to the wire will reach its destination. Some part will escape and be lost on the road, while a portion will lag on the way; it, therefore, becomes necessary to have charges of electricity, like post horses, waiting to carry on the signal. When a languishing current arrives at a relay, it communicates its mission instantaneously, and starts the fresh current off to the next relay, while it returns itself down a wire into the earth back to the place it came from, ready again to do the bidding of the operator.
In order fully to realize this wondrous achievement, it is necessary to trace the progress of a message along the above route.
The transmitting instrument, in connection with the battery generating the electricity, is set in motion—a flash of lightning is liberated and wings its way from the library at 25, Prince's Gate, under the busy streets of London, along the turnpike roads, to Folkstone—thence, under the surging waves through the submarine cable, peacefully lying at the bottom of the Channel, to Boulogne. Here it reappears upon land, traverses the intermediate country to Brussels, where a relay of electricity is waiting ready to revive its strength—reinvigorated, it pursues its silent and instantaneous flight to Berlin, from whence it continues its way through towns and villages without stopping, but every now and then receiving assistance and, new life, till it arrives at St. Petersburg—thence, with increased power, it reaches Moscow in a thought—from here it is flashed through the snowy regions to Kiev, in Southern Russia—thence, in an imperceptible quickness of tune, it traverses the vast tract of territory intervening to Temeswar, an important fortified town in Southern Hungary, near the frontier of Turkey—thence on to Trieste, to Venice, to Verona. Here it was telegraphed that the projected circuit of correspondence could not be completed in consequence of an accident to the lines westward between there and Turin. But the telegraph line as above described, extending from London to Verona, completed an unbroken circuit of upwards of 5,000 miles; and the time occupied in the transit of the electricity, over the whole route, was something less than two seconds. The estimated speed at which electricity travels is at the rate of 288,000 miles in a second.
Amongst other messages received was one from the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, at Dublin Castle, bidding success to the Atlantic Company's enterprise, and expressing a hope that if the Atlantic cable were laid again it would take its start from Valentia.
Messages were also interchanged with Lord Otho Fitzgerald at Maynooth.
In addition to Morse's apparatus, with which the correspondence was maintained, Sir C. Bright's and Mr. Henley's instruments were also exhibited, and put in action, supplying a fund of amusement to numerous fair amateur operators. Charts, maps, and specimens of telegraphic cables, were likewise displayed for the inspection of the company, and no little interest was created by the production of the original reply in telegraphic stenography of President Buchanan to the Queen's message, and which was received at Valentia on the 10th of August, 1858, and the first service message which arrived at Trinity Bay, from Valentia, three days after.
The company having adjourned to the drawing room,
Mr. CYRUS W. FIELD said he had received the thanks of friends in America for bringing before the United States Government the necessity of making a communication between Old Point and Washington, by a wire across the Chesapeake, the laying of which was completed directly after the engagement of the Monitor With the Merrimac, and the first telegram was the one announcing that successful engagement. He quoted an article from the New York Times announcing this fact. The excitement in New York was intense. The fact that he had received the warm thanks of friends in America rewarded him for the time he had devoted to the service of telegraphy; and if it had caused satisfaction that such a small obligation should have been rendered, what would be thought hereafter that they had been the means of laying a cable between England and America? He believed the time would come when those in London who had so liberally contributed towards this enterprise would be rewarded. The importance of its completion could not be over-estimated, and it was useless for him to add one word of his about it.
Mr. CROMWELL F. VARLEY was then called upon by the Right Honourable Stuart Wortley, and introduced to the company as the Electrician of the Electric and International Telegraph Company, and also of the Atlantic Telegraph Company. He stated that had a little more notice been given him, he might probably have been able to illustrate to them practically some of the great improvements that had been recently introduced in the manufacture of materials, upon which the success of the Atlantic cable chiefly depends. It would be useless for him to say anything about the question of successfully laying the cable across the Atlantic; that had already been once accomplished, and not only been done, but had been repeated across the Mediterranean on three occasions; on two of which, namely, in the cable between France and Algiers, and the cable between Toulon and Corsica, depths had been passed over successfully which were equal to any which would have to be met with from Newfoundland to Valentia. The question then simply resolved. itself into, two points; the first, the question of insulation, which was the vital one; and the second, the speed of communication that was to be obtained, when the cable was submerged. Neither of these subjects were any longer in doubt. At the time that the Atlantic telegraph was laid telegraphy was in its infancy. But fifteen years since, the Electric Telegraph Company commenced its lines, and then, people scarcely believed in the possibility of sending a message from London to Birmingham; and had any one ventured to prophecy that this evening, Saint Petersburgh, Austria, Odessa, and other places, would have communicated direct to this house, he would have been set down as little less than a madman. Such were the strides that electric telegraphy bad made during the last fifteen years. Gutta percha was the substance that had been hitherto successfully used for insulating the conducting wire from the ocean, and it was due to the Gutta Percha Company to say, that since the failure of the Atlantic telegraph they had set to work with perseverance, and had brought all available practical science to bear on the subject, and they brought out results that could scarcely have been expected. If he had had an opportunity of producing a piece of the thin sheet gutta percha as manufactured three years ago, and a piece of what is, now made, the one would have had the appearance of white calico, and the other of glass, owing to the present high state of perfection in the manufacture of the material. That which was originally a porous material was now no longer so. With regard to the speed, the experiments that had been recently made with the cable submerged between Malta and Alexandria, set at rest the doubts as to the law on which the speed depended. Professor Thomson explained the theory by mathematical reasoning, and he had the satisfaction of constructing an instrument that confirmed the theory by actual experiment. The subject that had given rise to fear, more than any other, had been whether gutta percha was porous or not; would it be penetrated by sea-water when it was placed at such enormous depths of the Atlantic? There was some reason for this fear, for it would be remembered that an experiment was made many years ago to ascertain that water was compressible; and it was tried by compressing water in a ball of gold. When the ball was compressed, the surface of the gold was found covered with dew; the water had passed through the pores of so perfect a material as solid pure gold. When bottles had been sunk to a great depth in the ocean they had invariably come up filled with water. Now had that water passed through the glass or through the cork? To decide that question, and to make the matter more certain, the cork was sealed over, and when the bottle came up the cork was found to be upside down. They had made a still better experiment in the Red Sea and Mediterranean, in the soundings for the purpose of telegraphy. In order to ascertain the temperature at great depths, thermometers had been lowered down to the bottom of the ocean, and although their thin bulbs withstood the pressure, it was thought they might be compressed, and give false results. The first bulb was then encased in another exhausted glass bulb, so that if the outer one were compressed, it should exercise no compression whatever on the inner one. These bulbs were sent down and taken up many times, and in no case had water passed through the glass. Gutta percha is a soft substance, and fears had been entertained that pressure would cause water to penetrate into its supposed pores; but Mr. Fairbairn, who was appointed by Government to examine into this subject, and others, had found that the insulation of gutta percha under a compression equal to many miles of ocean depth, was invariably improved. In one experiment which he (Mr. Varley) had made with india rubber covered wire, in which the layers of india rubber were not properly united, the insulation was found to be almost perfect; but when the pressure was taken off, the coatings were found to have separated. The reason why no fear should exist on the subject of porosity he thought was simple. Everybody knew who had walked through the snow, how snow water penetrated into the leather. Yet it is this same leather that is used to make the joint of the hydraulic ram, and that leather, owing to the water compressing it upon itself, becomes impervious. As to the advantage of an Atlantic communication, so much had already been said, that he (Mr. Varley) would only add a very few words. It must be borne in mind that it was to connect the whole telegraphic system of Europe with a continent possessing a network of telegraphs unrivalled anywhere, and a country shortly to be peopled as thickly; and all Europe was as much interested as America in seeing it carried out. The Trent affair had already occasioned on the part of the British Government an expenditure sufficient to lay down many Atlantic cables, and when they took into consideration the injury done to business, and the stagnation of trade during the interval of suspense between peace and war, they would find, at a very moderate calculation, that money enough was lost to have bound England with America more than twenty times over. It is an interesting fact to know that from Valentia to Newfoundland really a very large amount of communication did take place, too insufficient prominence had been given to that fact. The cable worked for a period of about 20 days, and during that interval, 271 messages were sent from Newfoundland to Valentia, consisting of 2,885 words, and 13,968 letters. From Valentia to Newfoundland there had been transmitted 129 messages, consisting of 1,474 words, and 77,253 letters. Some of the messages which had passed through that cable had already been alluded to, and the fact that messages of such importance having passed, showed that if an Atlantic cable should only last twelve months, it would be cheap to the country to lay one annually. Experience, however, had shown that the old gutta percha cable, laid ten years ago, is now better in an electrical sense, than on the day it was laid; and the consequence was, that gutta percha night be looked upon at present as imperishable; he knew of no end to it. He added, (at the request of Mr. Wortley,) that with regard to the speed of communication through the contemplated cable, he thought it would be four words per minute; but the improvement of gutta percha would probably enable them to step one wave higher than they had hitherto been able to do, and that wave signified double the speed. It was probable that with improved apparatus they would be able to step one wave higher still, which would give them the speed of four times four, or sixteen words per minute; in a word, it was not too sanguine to anticipate that science would show them how to work at four times the speed obtainable four years ago.
Mr. CASSELL asked what prospect there was at present of a communication being established between England and America.
Mr. WORTLEY said that a most remarkable overture had been made by the American Government to Her Majesty's Government, with a view to obtain their co-operation in laying down the cable. It was not confined to any particular company, but it might be supposed that the American Government were friendly to the plan of the old company, inasmuch as the gentleman they had sent over, Mr. Cyrus Field, was connected with that company. The proposal was still before Her Majesty's Government, and he was not able to go into details with regard to it; but he saw no reason why the despatch of the American Government should not be laid before the public. It showed the most friendly disposition on the part of that Government towards our Government, and a strong desire to remain on peaceful terms with this country.
Mr. PEASE, M.P., said, supposing the English agreed to the arrangement, how long would the company be in making and laying down the cable?
Mr. WORTLEY said the great fault in connection with the first cable was the anxiety of all to get it laid down in a very short time. That cable was made by eminent manufacturers, but they were hurried in the work; and although no blame attached to them, the defects which caused the failure arose from the ill-treatment the cable received owing to that hurry. This was shown by the specimens of the cable which had been taken up from the sea. With regard to the question, he could not give a precise answer without consulting his colleagues, but they did not contemplate laying it down in the coming summer. He had already applied to her Majesty's Government to employ ships in surveying the route—more especially the first few hundred miles from each shore—and he trusted that in the following summer they would make a successful attempt to lay it down.
Mr. PEASE asked if they intended to take the old route.
Mr. WORTLEY said it was their opinion, after much deliberation, that the old route, which had at least been proved practicable, was the best. That was the conclusion of the best scientific and practical men on the subject; but the point still remained open for discussion.
Mr. KINNAIRD thought that whatever doubt might be entertained as to the Government giving a guarantee, there could be none as to their granting the use of sailing vessels.
Mr. H. E. CRUM EWING, M.P., said there could be no difficulty in raising the capital if the Government gave a guarantee, and he thought that even those members of Parliament who were loudest in their cry against subsidies to steam-packet companies, would be in favour of one for an Atlantic cable.
In reply to Mr. Cassell,
Mr. CASSELL thought that when all the facts became known, the country at large, looking to the comparatively trifling guarantee would call upon her Majesty's Government to unite with the American Government in carrying out the project.
Mr. ADAMS, the American Minister who had been alluded to by Mr. Wortley, said—On the part of the United States I entirely reciprocate the spirit in which Mr. Wortley and others have spoken. I believe that such a project would be for the interest of both countries, but for many reasons it seems to me obviously proper that Great Britain should take the initiative in the matter. All I am authorized to say on behalf of the Government of the United States is, that they will co-operate in any plan proposed by the Government of Great Britain, having great confidence in their judgment, and believing that they will not adopt any plan without mature consideration. (These liberal sentiments of his Excellency elicited warm applause.)
At the conclusion of this conversation the guests retired to the dining-rooms for refreshment, and it was past twelve o'clock before many began taking their departure and just as the company had separated the following interesting despatch arrived from Alexandria, which was sent from there at 12.20 a.m., and arrived at Hyde Park at 1 a.m., occupying only 40 minutes in its transit from Egypt to Mr. Gurney's drawing-room:—
"The Prince of Wales leaves Cairo for Alexandria to-morrow, and leaves for Jaffa and the Holy Land on Friday. He is highly delighted with his visit to Egypt and the Nile trip. He has had good sport and is quite well.
"The Duke and Duchess of Saxe-Cobourg and suite leave Suez, per Odin, for Massowah, on a shooting excursion.
"The Japanese ambassadors left Alexandria at 6 a.m. on the 25th, per Himalaya, for Marseilles. They intend first visiting France.
"The Viceroy is ill at Kafir-el-Mis.
"There is no political news here.
"The weather is fine, and staff all well.
"Mr. Gurney's nephew, Mr. E. N. Buxton, and wife, left Alexandria for Syria on the 24th."
The great but short-lived success of the Atlantic cable, although disheartening for the time, is cheering to the projectors of a new line, from the certain and established fact, that the cause of the last failure can be entirely guarded against for the future, and a final success predicted as a certainty.
In fact, so many improvements have been made, both in the manufacture and mode of working submarine cables, that distance and speed of transmission appear to have now no limit, for to such perfection has the paying-out machinery been brought, that perfect success of submersion is only a question of fine weather; and even if rough weather occurred, it would not interfere with the operation to any very great extent.
Since the Atlantic cable was laid, several long deep-sea telegraph lines have been safely submerged and worked with great success in the Mediterranean.
The danger attending these operations was far greater, and required much more engineering skill and attention than the paying out of a line would along the almost level plateau existing between Ireland and Newfoundland; because the bottom of the Mediterranean presents the same geographical formation as the Alps. At one time the cable is resting on the top of a Submarine Mountain, while at another it makes an almost perpendicular descent of more than a mile's depth to reach the bottom of the ocean; yet in spite of this difficulty no less than 2,340 miles of telegraphic cable has been successfully laid and worked by Messrs. Glass and Elliot during the last two years; viz., between France and Algiers, Toulon and Corsica, Corfu and Otranto, Malta and Alexandria.
This fact at once indisputably establishes the entire practicability of laying and working a telegraph cable between Great Britain and America.
THE following is a description of a cable just submitted, by Messrs. Glass, Elliot, and Company, to the Atlantic Telegraph Company as the one they would propose to lay, and to a considerable extent to guarantee as to working efficiency, between Ireland and Newfoundland, requiring a length of 1,900 nautical miles.
The electric conductor is composed of seven copper wires, each one-sixteenth diameter, and laid into a strand rendered perfectly solid by the six outer wires being embedded in Chatterton's compound upon the centre wire. The conductor weighs 510 pounds per nautical mile, and is calculated to transmit (under the old system of working) 22 letters, equal to 4&fc12; words per minute, but is certified by Mr. C. F. Varley to be capable of being worked by means of recent improvements at the rate of 60 letters or 12 words per minute between Ireland and Newfoundland.
The conductor is insulated by eight coatings, four of the purest gutta percha and four of Chatterton's compound, laid on in alternate layers, forming together a thickness of three-sixteenths of an inch from the centre; the external diameter of the whole core being nine-sixteenths of an inch, weighing, with conductor, 1,060 pounds per nautical mile. It is proposed to do away with the tarred hemp, hitherto surrounding telegraph cores, and, as a protection to the core, to use strands consisting each of three best charcoal iron wires, gauge .055, each strand being separately covered with Chatterton's compound and gutta percha to prevent decay; these coated strands, 13 in number, are then laid round the core, spirally by the usual machinery, and the finished cable passed out of the covering machine into tanks filled with water, there to wait till the whole length required is ready for shipment; water tanks will also be provided on board ship, so that from the very infancy of the cable to its final submersion it will be continuously every moment under tests of the most certain and delicate description.
The dispensing with the tarred yarn hitherto in use renders the instant detection of any flaw in the gutta percha core an absolute certainty; these were often temporarily concealed by the wrapping of tar which is, to some extent, an insulator, and only broke out after the cable had been laid and worked through for some short period. Every part of the external surface of the cable being thus also of a nature quite indestructible in, and , impervious to, water, there is no fear of deterioration either before or after submersion; and none of the original strength being lost by decaying it would be possible to lift this cable, if required, even from very deep water.
T. PIPER, PRINTER, 32, PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON
[Text courtesy of Special Collections, Smithsonian Institution Libraries]
Last revised: 10 February, 2012