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

Facts and Observations Relating to the
Invention of the Submarine Cable
by R.S. Newall (1882)

Introduction: Newall was one of the pioneers in submarine cable production, having been involved in cable making since 1850. There were many conflicting claims for priority in the early development of the cable industry, and in 1882, Newall published the following pamphlet to present his view of the historical events.

See also Frederick R. Window's 1857 paper, some of the history of which Newall rebuts in his section 18 below.

-- Bill Burns












Price Sixpence


1. A paper, dated Paris, October 11, 1881, and addressed by M. Bede to M. Dumas, Membre de l'Institut, President du Jury du Groupe 1, de l'Exposition International d'Electricité à Paris, has lately come into my possession.

2. It is chiefly composed of extracts from papers which have been read at the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, which contain statements very much at variance with the truth; and credit has been given to those to whom it was not due, while it has been withheld from those who most deserved it, and regarding whom the most false statements have been made.

3. Before dealing with these mis-statements I must narrate some facts, connected with the invention of the submarine cable, which date prior to the mis-statements.

4. I believe that I had in my possession some of the first specimens of gutta percha that ever came to this country. They were sent from Sumatra by Mr. John Colville in 1837. No one was then aware of the valuable property of insulation afforded by gutta percha, which, I believe, was first published by Faraday in a letter, dated 9th February 1848, published in the Philosophical Magazine on March 1, 1848. This attracted my attention; for at that time I was asked to advise as to the best means of carrying a line of telegraph across the Hudson river between New York and New Jersey.

5. On March 15, 1848, I wrote a letter suggesting two plans, one to cross by a wire cord suspended on high poles and in one span of 5,000 feet; and the other plan in the following words. "We cannot but think that the cheapest plan would be to lay the wire across the river under water. We believe it might be coated so as to insulate it completely."

6. This, so far as I am aware, was the first suggestion of a submarine cable, and it was made by me.

7. Shortly after writing the above letter, I made a piece of wire cable, which had as a core four copper wires insulated in one mass of gutta percha. I afterwards made another piece containing four separately insulated copper wires.

8. On August 28 1850, a copper wire, insulated in gutta percha, about half an inch in diameter, of less specific gravity than water, but kept down by leaden weights attached every 1/16 of a mile, was submerged between Dover and Cape Grisnez, near Calais, by Messrs. Brett, Reid, Wollaston and Edwards. This lasted one day, until it was broken by chafing on the rocks. It served the purpose of proving that messages could be conveyed across the channel by means of electricity.

9. In July, 1850, Mr. Robert, McCalmont published (by Trelawney Saunders) a pamphlet on steam communication between England and Ireland by means of express boats; and

10. On September 19, 1850, he published a second edition, with a postscript, containing the following statement: "Since the foregoing statement was published, a plan of forming submarine telegraphs has been suggested by Mr. Newall, of Gateshead, which is so likely to be successful that the establishment of message boats between Donaghadee and Port Patrick will probably be unnecessary. He proposes that the gutta percha lines containing insulated wire should be surrounded with strong wire rope; that a rope of gutta percha cords, with their insulated wire wicks, should, in fact, constitute the core of a strong wire cable, to lie at the bottom of the sea."

"The assumption in my letter of 13th July, that a durable submarine telegraph would be impracticable, I now judge to be erroneous, and consequently the part of my letter founded on that assumption falls to the ground. It will soon be tried."

11. After the failure of the experimental wire in August, 1850, my partner had several meetings with Mr. C.J. Wollaston, the engineer of the Anglo-French Telegraph Company, and

12. On September 19, 1850, we sent to him in Paris a piece of submarine cable which he had been shown at our office in London, and which he wished to show to the President of the French Republic; and it was on seeing this specimen that the concession was renewed. We gave Mr. Wollaston all the information he required, on the understanding that we were to be employed to manufacture the cable.

13. On June 4, 1851, we sent him a tender for covering with ten galvanised iron wires of 5/16 diameter twenty-three miles of core, containing four insulated wires, which he was to supply. In our tender we say, "We can do the twenty-three miles now required in two months from the time of receiving the order, or even in less time if required; but me would like as long notice as possible in order to prepare the wire." To this we got no reply.

14. In [date missing in original], 1850, I had obtained an injunction against Wilkins and Weatherly, ropemakers, for infringing my patent for machinery for making wire rope, and their works were consequently closed.

15. On July 29, 1851, I was informed that Mr. T. R Crampton, whose name I heard for the first time in connection with submarine cables, had contracted with Mr. Edward Weatherly, a clerk in a Proctor's office in Doctor's Commons, and nominally the successor of Wilkins and Weatherly, to make the cable for the Dover and Calais line. I also heard that a machine had been ordered from a North Country mechanic on the 15th July for making a submarine cable, but it was to be so arranged that it would put a slight twist in to each of the 10 wires which it was to lay round the core. This was done by having one tooth fewer in the ten outside wheels than was in the central fixed wheel, with the view of evading my Patent! which was for preventing all twist of the individual wires and laying them round a core. This suggestion of Mr. Crampton's when carried out, as it was before we got hold of the machine, proved that neither he nor Weatherly understood wire-rope making, for the twist accumulated in the wires, and actually twisted them in two, and also prevented them from lying close together as they do in my patent rope. We therefore had to change the wheels before we could work the machine.

16. On August 5, 1851, I obtained an injunction v. E. Weatherly, restraining him from infringing my patent; and as the concession for telegraphic communication between France and England would lapse unless the cable were laid before the 30th September, Mr. Crampton found himself compelled to arrange with me for its manufacture. My firm therefore under took to manufacture it on the premises of Wilkins and Weatherly, which we hired for the purpose, and we brought our men from Gateshead, and took over part of the materials which had been contracted for. We found it necessary to erect an additional steam engine, and had to alter the machinery, which was of the very roughest description and constantly breaking down, causing great delay in repairs. We, however, started on August 28, and made one mile; next day; 900 yards; on the 30th, 1,060 yards, working night and day; and on the September 24 we had completed the twenty-four miles contracted for. It was shipped by noon on board the "Blazer," and within an hour the vessel was under weigh and being towed down the river.

17 We had nothing whatever to do with the laying of the cable. It was so managed by Mr. Crampton that, although the sea was as smooth as glass the whole day of September 25, from 4 o'clock in the morning, when he started to lay the cable, until 6 P.M., when he arrived near the French coast, about a mile from the shore, all the cable was paid out. This was not to be wondered at, seeing that he had no proper apparatus for controlling the paying out of the cable. We supplied him with an additional mile of cable, and the line was completed on October 17, 1851, and opened for the transmission of messages about November 13, under a concession for ten years, granted on October 23, 1851, by the French Government to Lord de Mauley, the Hon. F.W. Cadogan, Sir James M. Carmichael, and John W. Brett.

18. In a paper read by Mr. Window, at the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, on July 13, 1857, he states: "Mr. Crampton professed confidence in the feasibility of the scheme, and engaged not only to put the mechanical and engineering portion to a practical shape, on his own responsibility, but to provide one-half of the necessary capital." And in the quotation given by M. Bede in his "Observations" at the bottom of page 26, Mr. Crampton is reported to have said at the discussion of Mr. Window's paper: "Messrs. Davis & Campbell, the solicitors, having confidence in Mr. Crampton's representations, offered to provide three-fourths of the capital, if he, Mr. Crampton, would subscribe one quarter and undertake the direction of the enterprise."

19. I meet this by the following statement. We were assured both by Mr. Crampton and Mr. Wollaston that the capital of the Submarine Company would not exceed £25,000, and on that assurance we agreed to take in part payment of our contract,

Paid-up shares




On September 1, 1851, we received from

Mr. Crampton




On October 1




On November 1







On November 1, 1851, Crampton's acceptances

at 3 months, due 1/4 February





Cash for one mile of cable supplied October 7





To this has to be added the cost of the gutta

percha wires



And the cost of laying down and land connec-

tions, say







Total cost


From the above statement it will be seen that we advanced more than half the cost of the cable.

A company was registered in 1849 with a capital of £25,000 of which Wollaston, Edwards, & Brett were to have £10,000 for giving up the French concession, for certain expenses, and for the use of Brett's printing telegraph. £5,000 in shares were taken up by the public.

20. In 1851, August 15, a general assembly of shareholders (the public £5,000 and Wollaston, Edwards, & Brett £10,000) was held, and they voted modifications of the original deed and proceeded to register a new deed, altering the' capital from £25,000 to £100,000, of which £50,000, instead of £10,000, was allotted free to Wollaston, Edwards, & Brett. We were not told of this until October 17, after our contract was completed. We were glad to get out of such company by selling our £4,000 shares.

21. In the discussion which followed the reading of Mr. F.C. Webb's paper on July 23, 1858, Mr. Crampton stated, "The operations were commenced on a calm day, but shortly a strong gale came on, and the towing rope parted, the vessel holding on to the cable on board, drifting about 1 3/4 mile down the Channel before it was again taken in tow." I was at Dover the whole day of the laying down, and can certify that the gale came on the next day!

22. Mr. Crampton also stated, in the discussion which followed Mr. Window's paper of July 13, 1857 (p. 25 of M. Bede's "Observations":

(1) "He was, in fact, the first to realise an important project, whereby the world, by common consent, was materially benefited."

(2) "No single individual, however, could execute a work of that kind in seven or eight weeks, and he had great pleasure in acknowledging the material assistance he received from Mr. Wollaston, an early labourer in the field."

(3) "And also from Messrs. Wilkins and Weatherly who contracted for the manufacture of the cable,"

(4) "And designed in so short a time the machinery for constructing it."

(5) "This machinery answered perfectly, although it was considered impracticable by Mr. Newall and Professor Gordon, who were supposed to be best acquainted with such matters."

(6) "The manufacture of the cable was proceeding most satisfactorily when, owing to circumstances to which it was unnecessary further to allude, it passed into the hands of Mr. Newall & Co., by whom the same machinery and workmen were employed."

These six statements of Mr. Crampton are each and all simply untrue.

The first is contradicted by paragraph 10, if not by paragraph 8.

The second is contradicted by paragraph 13, where we offer, in June, 1857, to complete 23 miles of cable in seven or eight weeks.

The third is contradicted by paragraph 14. There was no contract with Wilkins & Weatherly, who (fourth) had pirated my machinery.

The fifth and sixth are contradicted by paragraph 15.

23. At pages 17 and 29 of Bede's "Observations" Mr. Preece is reported to have said, at a meeting of the Society of Telegraph Engineers of London in 1876, "Mr. Crampton was the man who found half the capital and means, and had the spirit and courage to submerge the first actual cable between England and France; and more than that, he was the means of designing and adopting that form of cable which has never been departed from. The wire rope constituting the first cable characterises every one laid since. Mr. Crampton's wire rope remains the type of all submarine cables."

24. I presume that Mr. Preece, when he knows the facts which I have here stated, will not give the credit to Mr. Crampton for all that I did prior to the laying of the Dover and Calais cable, and that he will render me credit for what I have done since in matters connected with submarine telegraphy, viz. the invention of efficient break apparatus for laying cables, and the mode of landing the shore ends by means of empty barrels instead of a great number of boats and men, and my invention of the mode of coiling cables in circular tanks, with a central cone and rings, which has been extensively pirated by Messrs. Glass & Elliot, who, after losing the first cable they contracted to lay, used my apparatus in laying every cable they afterwards made, and against whom I obtained repeated verdicts for infringing my Patents. They were followed by the Telegraph Construction Company, Mr. John Pender, Chairman, against whom I also obtained verdicts. Mr. C.W. Siemens and the Silvertown Indiarubber Company have used my apparatus in all their expeditions; in short, no cable has been laid since 1854 without my apparatus; and the cables, almost without exception, have been based on my invention of wire rope.

25. The article from the Times of 25th September, 1881, given at p. 29 of Mr. Bede's "Observations," was written by the Times Correspondent when reporting on the late Electrical Exhibition in Paris.

26. I wrote to him, pointing out the great mistake he had made in his statement, viz.: "Too great credit can hardly be paid to the man who thus completed so desirable an object. Immediately afterwards a well-known firm failed in three attempts to connect England with the Continent; and had these failures occurred before Mr. Crampton's success, it is difficult to conjecture how long it would have been before submarine telegraphy would have been looked upon as feasible."

27. We did not fail in any attempt to connect England with the Continent. On the contrary, we laid with the most perfect success a heavy cable, containing seven insulated wires, from Dover to Ostend, on 6th May, 1853. (See Illustrated News, 14th May, 1853.)

28. It is not true, as stated in Mr. Window's paper, quoted at the bottom of p. 21 of Mr. Bede's "Observations," that "Messrs. Newall, the contractors for the Ostend cable, offered a large sum of money to be released from the responsibility of laying it down; but on Mr. Crampton, at the time one of the engineers of the Company, offering to undertake it, the opera tion was subsequently performed by the contractors with perfect success."

29. The truth being that we refused to lay it down in the stormy weather of December unless the Directors would agree to pay the extra premium demanded by the underwriters for insuring it at that season.

30. We laid three cables successfully between England and Holland, a distance of 120 miles, for the International Telegraph Company in 1853.

31. I have already corrected some of these misstatements nearly thirty years ago (see Times 12th November, 1852), and hope this is the last occasion I shall have to do so.


GATESHEAD: May 22, 1882.



For more information on Newall and wire rope, see the article:
Wire Rope and the Submarine Cable Industry: the origins of cable-making technology.

Last revised: 31 July, 2013

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