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

Recent Correspondence
between Mr. Wildman Whitehouse
and the Atlantic Telegraph Company

Introduction: Edward O.W. Whitehouse, “Wildman Whitehouse” as he generally styled himself, was a surgeon by profession and an electrical experimenter by avocation. In 1856 he was appointed Electrician to the Atlantic Telegraph Company and was responsible for the testing of the 1857/58 cables, and for the design and operation of the equipment which would transmit the telegraph signals between Ireland and Newfoundland.

As part of his campaign against the directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Company, following his dismissal by them on August 17th 1858, Whitehouse conducted an acrimonious correspondence in the pages of various British newspapers. At the conclusion of this, he published a pamphlet entitled “Recent Correspondence between Mr. Wildman Whitehouse and the Atlantic Telegraph Company with an Appendix Containing Every Telegram and Letter for Reference”.

Below is the full text of the pamphlet, courtesy of the Digital Archives, Memorial University, St. John’s, Newfoundland. Scans of each page of the book may be seen at the Digital Archives site.

--Bill Burns

Title Page






The announcement made by the Secretary of the Atlantic Telegraph Company in your impression of this morning ought not, I am told, to be allowed to remain unnoticed by me.

As early as the fourth day after the landing of the cable at Valentia, I felt it my duty to urge in the strongest manner upon the Directors the immediate necessity for protecting the home end of our light and fragile cable, warning them of impending injury, and of the certain interruption of communication which would ensue therefrom. Of this no notice was taken by the Directors.

A few days later, I again brought the subject to their attention in the most forcible manner, both by post and telegraph. The injury which I had foreseen, and of which I had forewarned them, had then commenced close to the shore; I had detected and proved its existence, and for some considerable time all communication hence to Newfoundland ceased, though from obvious causes their signals to us were not equally embarrassed.

Left in responsible charge of the Valentia Station, without support or advice, without assistance of the engineer, and without the presence of a single Director, I took upon myself the onus of raising and repairing the faulty part of the cable, which was easily accessible; free intercommunication was thus re-established, and early the next morning the President’s reply to her Majesty’s message, which had been long waiting at Newfoundland, was transmitted from that station by the use of my instruments (carried out by the Niagara), and was received at Valentia, and recorded under my own patent. I then again, in language as forcible as I could command, declared to the Directors my conviction that this interruption might be expected to occur again at any time, and that we could not depend upon our cable for a single day so long as the slender part, prepared and fitted for deep sea use only, remained unprotected and exposed to the full force of the Atlantic swell on the Irish coast. I also felt it my duty to point out, in unmistakable language, the necessity for the presence of some part of the Executive body at the seat of operations.

Up to this period—the fourteenth day after the landing of the cable—neither Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Director, nor Secretary, had visited Valentia. Professor Thomson, who had most handsomely supplied my place during the expedition (which I was peremptorily forbidden by my physician to join), and also Mr. Bright, who had both landed there from the Agamemnon, having left, the one very shortly for London, the other a clay or two afterwards for Glasgow.

The whole of the details connected with this subject will probably ere long be laid by me before the public. Suffice it here to say, that intimately connected as I have been with the first and every electrical operation or communication night and day between the two countries (as, indeed, they had been wholly under my direction), my name seems to have been on all occasions studiously suppressed, while my most earnest wishes for the welfare of the undertaking have been misunderstood and my actions condemned without inquiry.

Whitehouse in 1858, from Les Merveilles de la Science

My duties as electrician-projector of the Atlantic Telegraph (my medical adviser having, as I have just stated, positively prohibited my joining the expedition), had been fulfilled, when I had demonstrated to the world by the use of my own instruments, after years of anxious toil, in spite of most grave doubts entertained by some of the highest scientific authorities of our day, the fact of the transmission of intelligence through the submerged cable between Europe and America, with absolute accuracy, and at a speed sufficient, under good management, to insure a brilliant commercial success to those who had hazarded their capital in the enterprise.

With this consciousness I now looked for a well-earned and honourable repose from the more pressing official details of my position, as indeed the terms of my agreement with the Company had allowed. Instead of this I received from the hands of one of the Directors an extract from the minutes of a recent Board, drawing my attention to the fact, “that my engagement as Electrician of the Company terminated when the cable was laid,” and intimating to me that “ my authority as an officer of the Company had now ceased,” this being conveyed in such terms and in such a manner as to amount in fact to a summary dismissal.

A fortnight has elapsed since I claimed, as a matter of justice, a full and complete investigation, towards which I am not aware that any steps have yet been taken. The Board, having summoned me to London to dismiss me, have now found it necessary to adjourn to Valentia.

The obstruction to the interchange of messages to which I have already alluded, and the recurrence of which the Directors had every reason, from my reports, to expect, has now, apparently, again manifested itself.

I think it right, therefore, towards the public and the Shareholders, no less than as a duty to myself, to state that the probability of this recurrence of injury had been anticipated and predicted by me with the utmost confidence, with a view to its prevention. There is, I apprehend, little real cause for anxiety, nor is there necessarily, so far as I am at present aware (for I know no details but those which your pages offer), anything in this obstruction calculated to damp the most sanguine hopes of ultimate complete success. It is apparently no more than a repetition, from continued exposure to the same causes, of the fault or injury, already once removed, and which ought by this time, so far as human means admit, to have been prevented or rendered impossible.

I am, Sir, your most obedient servant,


Electrician-Projector, and one of the Four Original
Promoters of the Atlantic Telegraph.






The letter of Mr. Wildman Whitehouse, in your columns of the 7th instant, has just been read with much astonishment at this place.

It will be fully replied to in the course of a few days—so soon as I am able to return to London, where it will be necessary to refer to telegrams and other documents at the chief office of the Company.

I will meanwhile observe that the greater part of that letter is grossly untrue, and that even the portion which has some foundation in fact, is so disingenuously garbled as to give an additional justification, if one were needed, to the “summary dismissal” complained of by the “Electrician-Projector.”

Yours truly,


VALENTIA, Sept. 11.





It is not surprising that the Directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Company are “astonished” at the publication of my letter, containing, as it did, facts which they did not wish should meet the public eye, and which, from the tone of their Secretary’s letter of to-day, they will doubtless still do their best either to distort or suppress. In a letter written to the Directors after my dismissal I used these words:-

“I therefore claim as a matter of justice at your hands a full and complete investigation of all the circumstances which have occurred since the laying of the cable, and upon which the Directors have thought right to found my summary dismissal, and I claim that this investigation shall take place at Valentia, where alone all the facts connected with it can be properly elicited and appreciated.”

The neglect or incompetence of those at the head of so great an undertaking—a national enterprise with which the government has so largely identified itself—is too serious a matter to be entertained on merely personal grounds and hushed up in a Board-room, or got rid of by the more summary process of dismissing an outspoken official. I now, therefore, suggest that the investigation above challenged, and not yet granted, shall take place at the hands of the Shareholders of the Company, to whom the Directors themselves are immediately responsible, and that every letter and every telegraphic despatch shall be published in full. This, Sir, is my answer to the unwarrantable language contained in the letter from the Secretary, which, after the lapse of so many days, has this morning appeared—language which, of itself, renders evident the animus which dictated it, and will, perhaps, satisfy the public that the investigation should be entrusted to other hands. A single expression in my published letter I now find, from more recent information, has unintentionally deprived a friend of credit due to hint. The President’s reply to her Majesty’s message, received shortly after my departure from Valentia, while it was transmitted from Newfoundland (as all others have been) solely by the use of my instruments there, was received and recorded at Valentia by the combined use of instruments of Professor Thomson, and my own.

I am, Sir,

Your most obedient servant,

Electrician-Projector of the Atlantic Telegraph.






Intense interest in the success of a work with which from the first I have been so largely identified—an interest which neither the sense of recent injury can extinguish, nor undeserved contumely destroy, leads me, in the present critical, and almost desperate, state of the Atlantic cable, to come forward and offer my services again to the undertaking.

All the opinions which the Board have published, as well as their acts founded upon those opinions, concur in leading irresistibly to the inference that the present condition of the cable is considered to be almost, if not absolutely, hopeless.

As one of the projectors, upon the faith of whose representations a large portion of the original capital was subscribed, as a late officer, whose position afforded him the very best opportunities of gaining experience, which may now be of value to the interests of the Company, and as one whose opinion may thus have some weight, even though diametrically opposite to that adopted and published by the Board, I feel that I am entitled, nay called upon, to offer my services at the present juncture.

I have not tested, nor in any way examined the state of the cable since my return to Valentia, nor shall I of course do so after all that has passed, until I receive definite permission from the Directors for such examination to be made by me.

It is therefore from previous observations and from a careful review of all that has occurred since my departure from Valentia, that I now state my strong conviction that our cable is recoverable—readily recoverable—and if such opinion be correct, the re-opening of communication with America must at once follow the adoption of the proper measures.

A few days’ testing, guided by the experience gained during the manufacture and subsequent use of the cable, will in all probability enable me to ascertain this beyond doubt.

If the result of this examination be such as to satisfy my own judgment, I shall then be prepared to make to the Company the following offer:

I will undertake at my own cost, and at my own risk, to reopen communication with Newfoundland, and, further, to maintain it for a given number of years, at a moderate percentage upon the gross receipts of the Company, this being payable so long only as the line shall be kept by me in good. working, order.

I now, therefore, request the Directors’ permission for such examination of the cable as shall be necessary to enable me to make an offer in the terms above stated.

I am, &c.,

Late Electrician to the Atlantic Telegraph Company.

VALENTIA, Oct. 23, 1858.



LONDON, Oct. 27th, 1858.


I am instructed to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated Valentia, October 23rd, and addressed by you simultaneously to the Directors of this Company, and the editors of the various newspapers in which it appears this day, wherein you request that the cable may be submitted to your further tests and experiments, for the purpose of enabling you to make an offer for restoring and maintaining it in efficient working order, under a condition as to percentage payments; and I am further instructed to inform you, that the Directors feel unable to comply with your request, or to enter into the proposal contemplated by you.

I am, Sir,

Yours, truly,

(Signed) GEORGE SAWARD, Sec.




TELEGRAM.—30th Oct., 1858.

Whitehouse, Valentia. To the Directors, Atlantic Telegraph Company, London.

Paid Message.

As I am remaining here a few days, I place my services at your disposal, gratuitously, for the testing required for the shore end if you wish it.



REPLY.—1st Nov., 1858.

Saward, London. To Whitehouse, Valentia.

The Directors decline to accept your assistance any way.





I have to acknowledge the receipt of a letter from your Secretary, dated 27th ult., declining to grant me permission to test the Atlantic cable, and conveying the Directors’ refusal to entertain any proposal which, after that testing, I might be prepared to make for the re-opening and maintenance of communication with Newfoundland. While awaiting this reply at Valentia, I endeavoured to serve the interests of the Company by careful experimental research upon a faulty piece of your cable (raised some weeks since from the harbour), with the special object of ascertaining the possibility or otherwise of accurately detecting the character of a fault, as well as the distance at which it might exist. The results of this examination, which I now lay before you, are decisive, corroborating in every respect the opinion which I have already given, that the system of testing hitherto confidently relied upon is to the last degree fallacious and inconclusive.

I have been able to imitate and reproduce at pleasure on this short length (less than two miles) every phase through which the Atlantic cable itself has been said to pass, the fault having been consecutively arranged by me, as apparently existing at 600, 500, 400, 300, and lastly at 280 and 240 miles distance, and subsequently at shorter and intermediate lengths. These phases were not produced either by adding to the length or by substituting fine wire, as equivalent to length, but simply by altering the degree or amount of the fault already existing, while the length of the cable as well as the position of the fault in all instances remained the same.

It is, therefore, manifestly impossible, by any multiplied appeals to such a mode of testing, to distinguish between a great fault at a considerable distance and a smaller fault near at hand, or, in fact, to ascertain at all with certainty the distance at which a fault exists, unless the degree or amount of such fault be already accurately known—given the distance, the amount of fault may be ascertained; given the amount of fault, the distance may be determined. As, however, in the present condition of the Atlantic cable, both are unknown, and the indications required of each are identical in character and inseparable from each other, it follows that by no nicety in the application of such tests can these two points be separately examined and determined with accuracy.

With such a source of error underlying all the electrical opinions which have been relied upon, the unequivocal demonstrations which I have obtained induce me, in justice to the enterprise, at once to impeach the validity of the accepted decision upon the state of the cable.

Bearing upon this subject, I here recall to mind an incident of which the Directors are perhaps unaware, wherein one of the gentlemen recently employed by them (Mr. C.F. Varley), in simple reliance, doubtless upon such tests, caused search to be made about 70 miles out at sea upon a cable for a fault or injury which was subsequently found to be on shore.* Another case has, indeed, very recently occurred, in which, unless I am misinformed, the difficulty experienced in ascertaining electrically the position of a fault in a cable of very limited length was only removed by the mechanical operation of under-running.

*I have since been informed that this in incorrect. W.W.

I will not enlarge upon the loss of capital and of public confidence certain to result from a too implicit reliance upon a system so open to error, and yet upon the unshaken belief in which the very existence of our enterprise has been for a long dine, and is at this moment suspended.

I have felt constrained to bring this matter thus prominently forward, because an error in judgment, adopted and acted upon blindly, may this decide adversely, and at the same time wrongly and irretrievably, a question involving to a great extent the interests of two nations, and the loss or otherwise of half a million of money.

The probabilities are vastly against any approach to accurate determination of the distance of the fault in such a manner; while, irrespective of my own testing and observations, which lead to an opposite opinion, the common-sense arguments, hitherto apparently overlooked, are wholly in favour of the fault being close at hand. I will briefly enumerate these:-

1. The cable has been long exposed to danger upon a coast for which its delicate structure is known to be utterly unfitted; we therefore have a right to expect injury.

2. The entire interruption which has occurred from injury no less than three times in as many months to another length of cable identical in structure—originally a part of our own—similarly situated in the harbour, and connecting the island with the mainland, does itself most strongly confirm this expectation.

3. The last portion of the cable laid out by the Agamemnon was believed to be less perfect than the rest, and it was hoped that it might not have been used at all; in fact, it would not have been but for the large amount lost upon the previous trip.

4. A considerable degree of fault was found to exist in that part of the Atlantic cable within the harbour, which was cut out, and on its removal and replacement by fresh cable, the signals from Newfoundland were so manifestly improved for a time that the subsequent receipt of messages was the very best and quickest work performed by the cable.

Lastly. No accident is known to have occurred during the paying out at the distance of 280 miles sufficient to lay bare the conductor for two inches, as is now inferred to be the case.

Having thus given my reasons for dissent from the received opinion upon the present state of the Atlantic cable, on the ground of its being based upon insufficient, and what now prove to be unsound electrical data, no less than opposed to all the arguments which common sense adduces, I may add that my confidence will be in no way shaken should the present tardy and feeble effort with reference to the shore end prove a failure. I regard the means employed as inadequate to the end to be attained.

I turn now with pleasure to recount to the Directors an incident which I have gleaned since my arrival at Valentia, and which, I doubt not, they will learn with equal gratification. Shortly after the repairs had been effected to which allusion has already been made, and when the cable was in its most perfect working order, the Superintendent at Newfoundland, when all the official messages of the day had been worked off, gave permission, in order to keep the clerks employed, for the exchange of conversational intercourse between Newfoundland and Valentia for a time. Freed thus from the fear of any responsibility attaching to errors from carelessness or haste, the clerks on duty manipulated at a higher speed than had ever before been attained; Newfoundland using my instrument and induction coils for transmission, while Valentia received the signals on Thomson’s galvanometer, and recorded by finger-key upon paper; the station clock marked the time upon the paper in hours, half-hours, and quarters, as well as minutes, so that there can be no error in the computation of speed. I have carefully examined the record then made; the signals are perfect, and the rate at which for a length of time that conversation was kept up in words at full length was such (if that speed alone could be maintained, and I am confident that it can even be increased) as would enable the Directors, after the payment of all working expenses, to declare a dividend at the rate of 10 per cent. per annum upon the present capital, while laying aside, within twelve months, a reserve of £50,000. This computation is made for the six working days only, allowing a margin of four hours per diem for unavoidable delays and interruptions.

These facts and these figures, together with the calculations upon which they are based, I am prepared at any time to submit and to substantiate before the Directors and Shareholders; and this is the condition to which I still believe the cable admits of being again safely and easily restored at an early day.

I am, Gentlemen, your obedient servant,

Late Electrician to the Atlantic Telegraph Company.

LONDON, Nov. 8, 1858.







MR. WHITEHOUSE’s LETTER OF Sept. 15, 1858.



August 6.


Electric communication is maintained perfectly. In answer to the signals from our coils they returned us this morning at 8.40 accurately to Greenwich time, as directed, the pre-arranged landing signal. The complete instruments which were on board Niagara for speaking cannot possibly he adjusted for use for some days.



August 6.

From WILDMAN WHITEHOUSE, Valentia, to MR. MCCURLEY, Atlantic Telegraph Company, London.

Please cancel special report from me which you will receive by this morning’s post, as it is now unnecessary.



August 7.

From WHITEHOUSE, Valentia, to G. SAWARD, London.

(Unpaid message.)

Newfoundland continues to send us ship signals as directed, until their instruments for speaking can be got ready. Communication has thus been to this hour maintained regularly. Are you coming here, or are any of the Directors? We are waiting to know, as we have not had a single word from head-quarters, and much requires to be arranged.

From SAWARD, London, to WHITEHOUSE, Valentia.

I was away in Paris till Thursday. I sent McCurley to Valentia immediately: he should be with you to-day. We have been anxiously waiting for reports from Bright and yourself as to the points requiring attention, but nothing has reached us. On my return I ordered the goods to be sent you from Plymouth.



August 9.

COMPANY, London.

(Atlantic message.)

Absolutely essential something immediately done to protect end of light cable in harbour; small sloop arriving at night, anchored directly over our cable; seeing her position, I immediately ordered her removal; cable fortunately untouched; yet eight days previously, dragging anchor, actually raised cable connecting Valentia with mainland.



August 9, 1858.

From G. SAWARD, Atlantic Co., London, to WHITEHOUSE and BRIGHT,
Atlantic Co., Valentia.

The Directors will be glad to have telegraph every day at present as to state of signals through cable, and any other interesting news.



August 10, 1858.

From SAWARD, London, to WHITEHOUSE, Valentia.

The Directors desire that before the Queen’s Message is forwarded through the cable, the following message may be sent; and they wish you to say, by telegraph, when it is gone:—The Directors Atlantic Telegraph Co., Great Britain, to the Directors in America. Europe and America are united by telegraph. “Glory to God in the highest: on earth peace, goodwill towards men.”



August 10, 1858.


(Atlantic message, Tuesday morning, 5 a.m.)

Newfoundland has commenced the use and adjustment of their special instruments for speaking. Last night at 11.15 P.M. we received coil currents for them at the rate of forty per minute perfect. They are now sending usual letters for adjustment of instruments, and we have received from them the words “repeat please,” and “please send slower for present,” spelt in full. They have also sent the sign for “repeat” frequently, proving that their receiving instruments are not yet adjusted with sufficient accuracy for them to read distinctly.

I forward by this post the slip of signals first transmitted and received across the Atlantic by the Company’s instruments.

I will telegraph again in a few hours.

The speed at which the letters came out, seems faster than that at Keyham, and the currents are apparently as strong.



August 10, 1858.

From WILDMAN WHITEHOUSE, Valentia, to the DIRECTORS of Atlantic
Telegraph Company, Old Broad Street, London.

(Atlantic message.)

Newfoundland continues the adjustment of instruments. Several more words have been received at intervals with perfect accuracy. The slips recording these will be sent by next post. The rate of transmission fully equals that obtained at Keyham.



August 10, 1838.

Front MR. SAWARD, Atlantic Telegraph Company, London, to

The Directors think it possible that the cable might be injured by the application of too much battery power; before applying any such power to the wires direct, they would be glad to have a report as to its strength and mode of application.



11 August, 1858.


Dear Sirs,— Before proceeding to other matters, allow me to congratulate you very sincerely on the successful laying of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable.

From the time you commenced using coils your signals have been received perfectly, and perhaps with greater certainty and accuracy than you are aware of, which this station did their best to assure you of, although unfortunately you did not understand them, in proof of which I send you a transcript of all your messages received up to this time, and enclose you two of the original slips.

I have a suspicion that the greater part of the loss there is upon the cable is so much nearer to our end than yours, as to throw the balance greatly in favour of our receiving your signals rather than we being able to communicate to you—our full energy current forcing its way to earth, of course in Larger proportion than your diminished current on its arrival to that part.

The discharge on the magnetometer at our end is less than one-tenth of the continuous run, instead of being very much greater than it in amount. So suspicious, indeed, are some of the circumstances connected with our end, that a few hours previously to the receipt of your first coil currents, I had determined to underrun the cable for a mile or two, deeming it likely I should find some faulty place.

I am so much pleased with the action of Thomson’s silk fibre suspension galvanometer with reflector index, that I am receiving and reading your signals upon it for comparison with our best needle relay, to which I must confess I find it superior in delicacy, accuracy, and facility of reading. It requires almost no adjustment, and even if the zero change to a considerable amount, say 30° or 40°, it produces no embarrassment in the reading of the signals.

I should wish you to have it habitually in circuit, and to use it (as I do) in the following manner. All the deflections observed on one side represent the throw of our relay against one stop, while the deflection to the other side may be regarded as the opposite contacts. Thus all right hand deflexions would give marks, and left-hand deflections blanks. Let the observer then have his hand upon a key which prints by a local battery on one of the styles on our chemical paper.

The duration of the deflection represents accurately dots and dashes on the one side, blanks and pauses on the other.

The slip marked 21, which I enclose, was recorded in this way from your signals by my own hand.

It thus appears that up to the present, the flow of intelligence is all one way; for though you have sent us so much, you have not acknowledged the receipt of a single word from us. Should this state of things arise from any permanent cause connected with the cable rather than with the adjustment of instruments, we shall still be able to receive intelligence from you, even though we should be reduced to the necessity of confining our acknowledgment thereof to a mere response by an “all right” signal, if read perfectly—a repeat signal, if anything were illegible,—or a faster or slower signal, as circumstances might require.

The particulars of these arrangements I will write out and enclose herewith.

We receive deflections of 100 to 120 divisions on Thomson’s galvanometer, and the instrument would show your current, if sent much faster, even though they lost considerably in strength in consequence.

Signals agreed upon with Newfoundland.

No. 1. All right —go on. 10 seconds reversals for 1 minute.

2. Repeat (last message) 5 or 6 half minute reversals.

3. Repeat any word indicated. No. 2 signal, followed by as many reversals of 5 seconds each as would represent the number of the word in the message.
If the word “Specie” stood as the fourteenth in a message, supposing it were desired that it should be repeated, the signal “Repeat” would be given, followed by 14 reversals of 5 seconds each.

4. Repeat after —
The first succeeded by the second “repeat” signal, thus pointing out the word, followed by the first repeat signal again.

5. Send slower.
Minute reversals —three or four.

6. Send faster.
Six reversals of 20 seconds each.



August 11, 1838.

From Directors of Atlantic Telegraph, London, to WHITEHOUSE, Valentia.

Can you draw up a simple code of alphabetical signals in case of necessity, for economising the voltaic current received regularly heretofore, so as to make them available for speaking in case any accident should occur to your large apparatus? If so, write in time for Saturday’s steamer.



August 11, 1858.

From WHITEHOUSE, Valentia, to PROFESSOR THOMSON, College, Glasgow.

(Atlantic unpaid message.)

Newfoundland speaks to us as before, and we have no difficulty in reading. We are using your Daniel’s, and have expended all the sulphate of copper. Please send half a ton by best and quickest means.



August 11, 1858.

From WILDMAN WHITEHOUSE, Valentia, to DIRECTORS of the Atlantic
Telegraph Company, London.

Newfoundland has sent throughout the night the usual adjustment signals. Several short messages, connected with signals, have been received from them, the longest containing seven words, also the word “Newfoundland,” all being spelt in full, and received and recorded with perfect accuracy. I have forwarded thirteen such slips by post this morning. I do not yet receive satisfactory assurance that they can read our signals perfectly. Till I do so I dare not attempt the transmission of her Majesty’s Message to the President, or that of European to American Directors.



August 12, 1858.

From WILDMAN WHITEHOUSE, Valentia, to the DIRECTORS of the
Atlantic Telegraph Company, 22, Old Broad Street, London.

(Atlantic message unpaid.)

Thursday, 6, morning. Newfoundland continues to send various requests connected with adjustment of instruments. They receive our signals, but cannot yet apparently read. I forward by to-day’s post, sixteen slips. Have just written De Sauty and Laws fully.



London, August 12, 1858.
(Received 15th.)

My dear Sir,— This will be presented to you by Mr. France, of the Mediterranean Company, who has been specially requested by the Board to proceed to Valentia to place at your disposal, for the benefit of this Company, his practical experience in the adjustment and arrangement of instruments for submarine circuits.

The Directors desire that every encouragement and assistance may be given to Mr. France, to enable him to aid your department in establishing regularity of communication between Newfoundland and Valentia.

Yours truly,

SAM. GURNEY, Chairman.

A. T. Co., Valentia.



August 13, 1858.

Front WILDMAN WHITEHOUSE, Valentia to the DIRECTORS of the
Atlantic Telegraph Company, London.

(Atlantic unpaid message.)

The receipt of a message of twenty-six words yesterday evening from Laws, relating to signals and instruments, has satisfied me as to the cause of delay in the full and free interchange of messages. He now reads and acknowledges our words accurately. We can receive at very good speed from him, while he can as yet only receive from its slowly. I hope to be able to transmit the Message from her Majesty to the President this afternoon.



August 13.


I have to report that the insulation of this end of the cable is less perfect than it was. As soon after the landing of the end as was practicable, I satisfied myself by the most careful tests and observations that there existed a considerable degree of fault close to the shore.

Yesterday and to-day there has been a gradual and perceptible increase of this defect; so much as to cause me very serious apprehensions as to the possibility of continuing to work until the shore end shall have been Laid down. I feel confident that a large portion, if not the whole of this defect, is situated within ten miles from this station; and that thus the laying of ten or fifteen miles of shore end proposed will remove the defective part and enable us to transmit messages to Newfoundland as perfectly and quickly as they even now can to us.



August 13, 1858.

From SAWARD, Atlantic Telegraph, London, to WHITEHOUSE, Valentia.

Your telegram received with great gratification. Transmit message from Directors in Great Britain to Directors in America, before the Queen’s Message.



August 13, 1858.

From SAWARD, Atlantic Telegraph, London, to WHITEHOUSE, Valentia.

Friday.—The Directors have arranged for Mr. France, of the Submarine Company, to proceed to Valentia to aid you in adjusting. He leaves London this night.



August 13, 1858.

From W. WHITEHOUSE, Valentia, to SAWARD, 22, Old Broad Street, London.

(Private and Confidential.)

Advise the Directors to recall France. They have made a great mistake.



August 14, 1858.

Company, London.

(Atlantic unpaid message.)

Our cable has been injured in some way within the harbour, and the tests show dead earth close at home. Verbal communication hence to Newfoundland is all but suspended. We still receive from them full details of the state of their instruments and of our signals as received by them. Mr. Canning is here, and is now, at my request, engaged in examining that part of the cable easily accessible. Is it the wish of the Directors that he shall continue to do so, as the fault can be readily, I believe, got at and repaired?

From WHITEHOUSE, Valentia, to SAWARD, Huntingdon Street, Caledonian Road, London.

(Atlantic unpaid message.)

Mr. Canning has already found five kinks and strained places in the cable in the harbour, and has buoyed the place where the Agamemnon anchored, at which spot three kinks exist. What is to be done?



August 14, 1868.


You are requested not to underrun or otherwise interfere with the submerged cable, without first reporting fully, and receiving permission to do so. Reply by telegraph, that we may know you have received this. Why did not Whitehouse telegraph the Directors, instead of Canning, about his difficulty?



August 14, 1858.

From SAWARD, London, to WHITEHOUSE, Valentia.

It is the opinion of Professor Thomson, and others, that you are mistaken as to there being any fault in the cable at Valentia. The cable must not be interfered with until a statement in full showing good excuse for such interference has been transmitted here, and proper permission given. No person must touch the submerged cable without authority. Why did you not tell the Directors and the Engineer yesterday what you thought was wrong? It was by mere accident, and not from yourself, that we knew it here this morning, although you were aware of it when you sent your despatch to the Directors yesterday. Mr. France is on his way to help. At a time like this practicable assistance must not be rejected. Please post before eight to-morrow morning written copies of all the words that have been received, and sent through the cable up to the last moment without fail.



August 14, 1858.

From WHITEHOUSE, Valentia, to SAWARD, Huntingdon Street,
Caledonian Road.

8 P.M. Immediate.

Newfoundland receives nothing from us. Their signals, as received by us, are gradually felt much weaker, though still perfectly legible. I await further instructions. Do beg Professor Thomson to come down at once—he cannot now mistake the evidence of earth. If something be not done at once, we may shortly bring our labours to a close.



August 14, 1858.

From SAWARD, London, to WHITEHOUSE, Valentia.

Saturday, 10 P.M.

Nothing so important as that which you have undertaken should have been done without proper sanction, much less in disobedience of positive instructions. You have assumed a serious responsibility, from which I cannot relieve you until Monday.



August 15, 1858.

From WHITEHOUSE, Valentia, to SAWARD, Huntingdon Street, Caledonian
Road, London.

Am I to continue receiving messages from Newfoundland before I am able to transmit those which were ordered to take precedence of all? I have already stopped one, and wait further instructions.
Sunday morning, 6.



August 15, 1858.

From W. WHITEHOUSE, Valentia, to SAWARD, London.

Newfoundland inquires whether we can receive message from Cunard to McIver relative to a casualty which has occurred at sea, to allay anxiety. I have telegraphed, “Wait until I inquire of Directors.”



August 15, 1858.

From SAWARD, London, to WHITEHOUSE, Valentia.

11.15. Yours just received. No trade messages, nor messages from individuals in America to persons in Europe to be taken, but if American Directors wish to speak English Directors on the business of the Company, receive it; adjustment messages of course continue; please give sender and receiver’s names of the message you have stopped.



August 15, 1858.

From SAWARD, London, to WHITEHOUSE, Valentia.

I am glad you have discovered you can telegraph to Newfoundland. Mr. France must be received properly and with distinction; he is sent by the Directors, and you know it would insult him to offer him such a post as you propose. You will hear further to-morrow.



August 15, 1838.

From SAWARD, London, to WHITEHOUSE, Valentia.

5.35 P.M. Received all messages from you; can reciprocate, but if they present indications of being paid commercial messages, stop them before completion, and refuse them; send any others up to me by post, unless of sufficient importance to send by telegraph.



August 15, 1858.

From WHITEHOUSE, Valentia, to SAWARD, London.

I find that we shall require immediately several more instrument clerks. Mr. France has arrived opportunely in this respect; with your sanction I shall be glad to engage him in this capacity: I cannot recognise him in any other.




Instrument Room, Valentia Station,
Aug. 15, 1858.

Midnight to Sunday Morning.

To the DIRECTORS of the Atlantic Telegraph Company.


With only two clerks on night duty, whose whole time and attention, as well as my own, is every minute devoted to the careful transmission and receipt of messages and signals between this and Newfoundland, I have been endeavouring to comply with your expressed wishes, received by telegraph shortly before midnight, relative to the transcription of our Message and Signals Journal, for the post which loaves at eight this morning.

Our superintendent and the clerks off duty equally with myself and those now with me, have had, during the last few days, greater amount of anxious watchfulness and exertion than can possibly be continuously sustained. The duties of the instrument room being incessant and onerous I have found it impossible therefore to comply with your request.

It is also quite beyond my power to arrange and digest a report of our proceedings in the Electrical Department; at least I could only have done so by withdrawing my personal attention for many hours daily from those duties which I have undertaken to perform. It is in my opinion imperative that either a quorum of Directors, or one bearing full authority to act, should, for the present at least, be permanently located in Valentia. There are numberless and important questions requiring immediate action, which, while it is impossible fully at once to report and explain them to the Directors in London, demand, and ought to receive, the attention of the Board. In the absence of any one at hand to whom I can instantly refer, it becomes my duty to act; in doing so I assume responsibility, and may herein be blamed by the Directors. I will endeavour to explain these matters more fully in a subsequent letter, but am at this moment feeling them deeply—it being Sunday, and there being no probability of even telegraphic communication with any one of the Directors for thirty hours.

There are, as I said before, points requiring immediate attention, not strictly falling under my own department, but which as an officer of the Company, it is my duty to point out in order that they may receive the attention of others. The cable in harbour is shifting about and rolling about with every tide, has gathered large masses of sea-weed, and has, itself entangled, become entangled inextricably with the other short line across to Ballycarbery. The recent accidents to the last-named line make me hourly tremble for the safety of our own, and will continue to do so till the heavy shore end is joined on. I believe that at this moment the decreasing force of the Newfoundland signals, and the increasing difficulty of our transmission to them, is due entirely to defects in our cable within the harbour. The deterioration of signals I have already pointed out to the Directors by telegraph, from whom, I understand, I can receive no reply or instructions till Monday morning. Before that time it is quite possible that our communication with Newfoundland may have entirely ceased.

I am, Gentlemen, yours, &c.,




August 16.

From WHITEHOUSE; Valentia, to SAWARD, London.

Pray get permission for Phillips to come down here at once. The clerks are incessantly occupied, and I have no time to write; he could repeat, having spent newly the whole of the last eight days and nights in the instrument room.



August, 16, 1858.

From SAWARD, Atlantic Company, to WHITEHOUSE, Atlantic Company, Valentia.

Phillips has left the Company’s service. I have telegraphed Mr. McCurley to give you his best assistance.



From Atlantic Telegraph Company, 22, Old Broad Street, London,
to W. WHITEHOUSE, Valentia.

August, 14th, 1858.
(Received, 16th.)


The Directors are much grieved and surprised at the course taken by you yesterday and to-day in respect to the cable.

It is now nine days since the cable was successfully laid, and since then there would seem to have been continuous difficulty and disappointment in your attempts to adjust your instruments, notwithstanding the electric force manifested at each end of the cable would seem to be ample and satisfactory for every practical purpose.

Although these difficulties have existed, the Board have not received a line from you on the subject, save such matters as could be communicated by telegraph; but, all at once, they are startled by the intelligence—which reached them in quite an accidental manner—that you are about to underrun the cable, and that without consulting them, or informing the engineer you had at the time when you were telegraphing your expectation of getting the Queen’s Message to America: Telegraphed for Mr. Canning—a gentleman whose official duties with the Company expired when he had laid the cable—ordering him to come and aid you in this matter, on the assumption (arrived at, as it is thought, without sufficient evidence), that there is some flaw in the cable at Valentia; which, if it existed, should have been reported to the proper quarter.

You are particularly requested in future not to take any steps whatever towards raising, or in any way touching, or allowing any one else to meddle with the submerged cable; but, in event of well-grounded suspicion arising that anything is wrong in the insulation, to communicate at once to head-quarters, where the subject will receive full investigation.

The Directors are very sorry and surprised that you should exhibit so great a distaste for receiving assistance in your department. Mr. France has had more practical experience than any man living in the adjustment of instruments to submarine lines, and it was believed that, if received in a proper spirit, very great assistance would be afforded to you by his presence, which was with great difficulty obtained.

It is quite manifest that you feel you have great obstacles to surmount, and it is felt that it is quite impossible to allow the concerns of a vast undertaking like the Atlantic Telegraph to be impeded by private concessions to the professional fame or jealousy of any individual.

The Directors will be obliged, and they particularly request that you will have the goodness to send up fair written copies of every word that has passed through the cable, and of every word that does pass through, from day to day, in future—the words that pass through up to seven o’clock every morning are to be posted at eight. The Directors desire that the utmost candour may be shown to them in respect to every difficulty that may arise, so that the best and most energetic means may be taken to overcome them.

Yours truly,

Secretary and Manager.

W. Whitehouse, Esq.,



August 16, 1858.

From SAWARD, Atlantic Company, LONDON, to WHITEHOUSE, Atlantic
Telegraph Company, Valentia.

When you telegraph the news that her Majesty’s Message has gone forward, please say how long it took to send and repeat it. We also want similar particulars as to the Directors’ Message.



August 16, 1858.

To GEORGE SAWARD, Esq., Secretary and Manager of the Atlantic
Telegraph Company.


Distance and the consequent want of personal intercourse with the Directors seem to have led to numerous misconceptions as to the real state of things hero; and it would appear to me that the Directors have in several instances been misled, especially as to electrical matters. To take these as they occur to me: your letter received to-day speaks of the electric force manifested at each end of the cable being ample and satisfactory for every practical purpose, and hence expresses disappointment at the want of adequate adjustment of the instruments. Now, there is at least as much of error as of truth in this, the fact being that the signals received here from Newfoundland are thoroughly satisfactory, notwithstanding a large ascertained leakage at our end of the cable; while Newfoundland reports to us that our signals received by them amount to half a degree of deflection upon their most sensitive detector; and that even this indication could not be obtained but by coaxing and tapping the instrument. That they manage at all under these circumstances to receive from us and read off any intelligible signals, is to me a matter of marvel, and reflects the highest credit on those on duty at that station.

That the signals from each of the two ships were reported as perfect, so long as the ends of the cable remained on shipboard is perfectly true, and that the cable up to that time was uninjured is undoubtedly established. Not, however, after the landing of our end; for while of the Newfoundland end we knew nothing for a length of time, except by the receipt of continuous voltaic currents, which prevented our testing, our own end was subjected to the risk of serious injury from the moorings of the Agamemnon. That vessel casting anchor on her arrival, swung round so as to place our cable, then hanging over her stern, in a direct line with her ponderous chain-cable and anchor. She rode heavily for several hours, dragging her anchor and veering out forty or fifty fathoms more of her own chain-cable. Still drifting towards the rocks, and in considerable danger from the heavy swell, she let go another anchor, also directly in the line of our cable. By these two anchors she rode, pitching heavily for many hours, requiring the use of her screw to keep her from dragging and drifting on the rocks, till by daybreak the following morning she raised her anchors and left the bay. Here then is surely sufficient cause to lead us to look for injury at that part of our cable which has been subjected to such rough handling. A close examination by testing and collation of the relative amount of electric force employed, and of signals received at either end, have left me absolutely without doubt as to the existence of a serious fault very close to our end of the cable.

The final conviction of this being the case has been forced upon me, rather by a continuance of repeated observations than by any one single act of testing. The apparently anomalous difference between the force of the signals received at the respective ends, by the use of the same amount of electric force, is perfectly explicable upon this, and I believe upon no other hypothesis; every other fact also connected with it, which has come under my observation, is referable to the same cause. I state it therefore unhesitatingly, as my opinion, that we have a very considerable amount of loss upon our cable within a few miles, or close to Valentia station. During the early days of electric communication with Newfoundland, it was impossible to determine how much of our embarrassment was due to this, or how much might be fairly attributable to other causes. Had any of the Directors been on the spot, all this would have come to their knowledge, and there would have been less surprise and disappointment at the non-establishment of immediate electric intercommunication. The cable, however, was left to take care of itself, and in the absence of the Engineer, whose duty it would have been had he remained here to look after it, what so natural as that the Electrician should wish it to be immediately attended to, the moment he had satisfied himself of the existence of such fault?

Perhaps I did wrong in interfering without previous consultation with the Board, yet I believed that the fault would be easily remedied within an hour without risk to the cable without creating a panic, as would have been the case had I made a formal report thereon to head-quarters, and also without the delay which must inevitably arise from reference to a Board of Directors sitting two days’ journey from the point of operations. Let me here correct another error into which you have fallen. It was not in disobedience to the instructions of the Directors, but before such instructions had arrived by telegraph, that the examination of the cable by Mr. Canning at my request was begun. At the instant of the arrival of the despatch, Mr. Canning had completed the most tedious part of his examination. He therefore attached a buoy and left the cable.

Again, what sudden panic in the Directors’ mind called forth your telegram of the 10th instant relative to the “possible injury of the cable by the application of too much battery power,” and the instructions to me to report as to the strength and mode of application thereof? The only batteries at my disposal were those with which the Directors must have been perfectly familiar, as having been in use at Keyham and on board the ships during the paying out. I must confess I was unable to understand the hidden meaning of the telegram, unless it were the Directors had been suddenly persuaded by some one that their Electrician was incompetent for his office, and unfit to have the charge of the Company’s line. To this telegram I therefore made no reply, the more especially as the Directors expressed a wish to have an antecedent report upon a scientific point, which it was, I think, their duty to leave entirely to the judgment of their officer.

Again, with regard to the mission of Mr. France; it can only be for want of further knowledge that my reception of that gentleman can be attributable to “jealousy” or to a “distaste to receiving assistance in my department” from those of practical experience. During the whole of my connection with the Atlantic Telegraph, it has always been prominently my wish to communicate freely to scientific and practical men the result of my observations and researches on the subject of submarine telegraphy, and to receive from them in return their suggestions and the results of their experience. Such intercommunication with others in the scientific world is in fact the very atmosphere in which I would most gladly live. Now, it is our Directors, and they alone, who have prevented me carrying out this wish, and gathering around me a circle of scientific men to whom I could have exhibited the remarkable phenomena of our cable, and from whom I should doubtless have gained much in return; and it is singularly enough, upon this very point of communication with scientific and practical men, that the most serious misunderstanding arose which has at any time existed between the Directors and myself. It is but a short time since that Mr. France held a position of signal clerk under our superintendent, Mr. Bartholomew. Thence he removed to the Submarine Office, where rising by his industry and attention, he made himself one of their best, if not their very best, practical Morse operator. His intelligence and zeal in his calling led, I believe, to his promotion as inspector of instruments at the Cornhill Office; a post identical in its duties with that to which I appointed Saunders in Newfoundland. Circumstances in which the name of one of the Directors of the Submarine Company appeared, recently led to the termination of his engagement with that Company. His place at Cornhill is now filled, I understand, by James Banks, a skilled workman, whose name was on the pay-sheet of our Electrical Department for several mouths last year. Admitting then, as I do, that Mr. France is an intelligent and skilled operator, and that he has had experience in the adjustment of instruments on submarine lines, and entertaining, as I do sincerely, a respect for his intelligence and personal qualities (for he is no stranger to me), is it right towards the chief officer in their Electrical Department, is it right towards their superintendent, on whose zeal and practical experience I can at all times most confidently rely;— is it right, I say, towards either of us; nay, is it not evincing an entire want of respect and sympathy towards us, or appreciation of our labours, that the Directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Company should, without any notice or consultation with their officers, send down a young man, who has never held other than the most subordinate positions, to advise, direct, and, I presume, report upon the operations of instruments which he has never seen, and of whose nature and construction he can have, from their novelty, the most superficial knowledge.

As one of the highest officers of the Company, I decline to acknowledge him in such a position; while, as a gentleman and a man of science, it would be my wish to show him the utmost courtesy on such an occasion.

Very faithfully yours,



August 17, 1858.

From WHITEHOUSE, Valentia, to SAWARD, London.

Our instruments at both ends of the line are in perfect adjustment—the only embarrassment arises from loss upon our cable. No unexplained source of difficulty exists. Mr. France has not entered the instrument-room, nor seen the cable; and, as I in no way require his services, I have said to him that he may return to London at his discretion.



August 17, 1858.

From SAWARD, London, to WHITEHOUSE, Valentia.

The Board, which is now sitting, request you to proceed to London to attend a meeting which has been summoned for the purpose, at 12 o’clock, Friday, the 20th inst. Reply by wire immediately.

Extract from the Minutes of the Proceedings of the Board of Directors
of the Atlantic Telegraph Company, held August 17th, 1858

The Board having had before them the various telegraphic messages which have passed within the last few days between Mr. Whitehouse and the Secretary, as well as the telegram from Mr. Canning of the 13th inst., and the letter of Mr. France of the 15th, from all which it appears that Mr. Whitehouse has been interfering with the cable by under-running the shore end without the authority of the Board, thereby endangering the property of the Company, and that he has refused admission to Mr. France to the instrument room at Valencia, in disobedience of the direct orders of the Board.

Resolved—That as Mr. Whitehouse’s engagement as electrician of the Company terminated when the cable was laid, that he be immediately summoned to London to attend the Board, or a committee of their number, and that it be intimated to him by the Directors then present that his engagement and authority as an officer of the Company have now ceased.



August 18, 1858.

From Valentia, to WHITEHOUSE, Mallow.

Repairs to cable not finished until 9 P.m. Fault between shore and Church Island. Deflection 45 degrees, now sending with coils and key, evidently they are not noticing received currents. Yet they have twice sent “call.” Left so long without signals they seem to go occasionally only to instrument.


“Valentia” says, message from “Saward” to join up cable at once; to sink it, and not meddle with it any more.



August 18, 1858.

From Valentia, to WHITEHOUSE, Killarney.

The cable has been underrun as far as Doulas Head and cut. Mr. Bartholomew tested with 120 Daniel’s in series, and found 35 degrees, on horizontal galvanometer. He also tested with 14 Sawdust, and found 45 degrees on same galvanometer. Mr. Bartholomew wants to know if this is as much as you expected. They purpose laying down the new as far as it will reach. Will telegraph you at Mallow if anything new, if not, call at Magnetic Office, Dublin; on arrival I will wire you there.



August 18.

WHITEHOUSE, Killarney, to BARTHOLOMEW, Valentia.

I hope this may be sufficient to re-open communication, but there is more to come out.



August 19, 1858.

From BARTHOLOMEW, Valentia, to WHITEHOUSE, Dublin.

Line was connected at 9.8 P.M., at 9.45 received currents. We returned coil currents which were not read. Our Daniel’s appear to have reached at 11.38, first intelligible word received. Again tried coils at 12.25; these reached, but were not readable. Daniel’s again used at 2.4; they reported very good currents but can’t read. Tried B.’s at 2.13, sent words by Daniel’s, some of which were received, rate about eight, sixteen, and twenty-four in seconds. At 3.32 were asked “Are you ready for news?” Our reply not understood. Up to present time, 6.45 Greenwich, endeavouring to get them to send message. Their currents to us are very much better, and read with ease; rate about fifty per minute, but we could receive double with ease.



August 19, 1858.

From BARTHOLOMEW, Valentia, to WHITEHOUSE, Dublin.

There is certainly a better discharge.



August 19th.


Dublin, 6 morning.

Left Valentia by mail yesterday morning. Examination of cable in harbour reported complete 9 P.M.

Serious fault, with great loss, discovered within the harbour, and cut out.

I am of opinion that further fault still exists, not far from shore.

We cannot rely upon the safety of our cable for a day while exposed to full force of Atlantic swell without protection of heavy shore end. The roll of breakers for days past greater than I have seen.

Newfoundland having previously reported to have received nothing for many hours, has since repair of cable acknowledged very good currents. The signals from them are also much stronger, and could be read at much higher speed.

We have still, however, so much loss at our end as to cause the greatest difficulty and delay in sending to them.

Though since repair they have received words from us, they have not confidence enough to send President’s Message, which is waiting.



From Valentia to WHITEHOUSE, Dublin.

Newfoundland sent a message. He got “understand” from Valentia. He is now going on with President’s Message beautifully. Marked improvement.



EUSTON HOTEL, August 23, 1858.

To the DIRECTORS of the Atlantic Telegraph Company.


In less than fourteen days from the time of landing the Niagara’s end of our cable and instruments in the almost wilderness, at the head of Trinity Bay, we have seen the full and complete establishment of electric intercommunication with Newfoundland, and this at a rate of working which even under our present tariff of 2s. 6d. per word, at once commands ample commercial success.

Valentia station has received readily from Newfoundland the President’s reply to her Majesty’s Message, and other subsequent intelligence, at the rate of about two words per minute, or 100 to 120 words per hour; the communication hence to Newfoundland, owing to well ascertained and easily remediable causes, is not at present quite so rapid, attaining only a speed of 1 1/2 word per minute, or 100 words per hour.

A little longer continuance of practice at each station will enable the clerks to attain with equal accuracy a considerable increase upon these rates; and the experience already gained enables me confidently to promise in a few weeks’ time, a simple addition to the instruments at present in use, which will ensure a further gain to the extent of from 60 to 80 per cent., by economising the currents.

The success of the mighty enterprise having now, therefore, become matter for the historian rather than the speculative and prophetic philosopher, I claim (and I hope not undeservedly) repose from the labours of my official position, in order that, amongst other things, I may occupy myself without distraction in improving and digesting the results of my present knowledge and past experience.

This, therefore, is the period to which (if it were ever to be realised) I had looked forward as one of well earned and honourable repose; it is, therefore, with deepest pain that I call your attention to certain circumstances connected with your resolution of Tuesday last, which I feel bound to lay before you prior to the Shareholders’ Meeting, which must shortly take place.

Some days after the landing of the cable, and after the ready interchange of signals had commenced, it became evident that there existed at times a variable and increasing source of difficulty: not so much in the receipt of signals from Newfoundland, as in the transmission of ours to them. These indications of embarrassment were unmistakable, but their origin was at first by no means clear.

Professor Thomson was at that time with me at Valentia, and between us we could for a while arrive at no certain conclusion as to the precise cause. It might possibly, we thought, be connected with some new phenomena which time would further develop; meanwhile, the testing threw no clear light upon it. The Professor shortly left us for Glasgow. The difficulty increased. Our signals for a considerable time ceased altogether to be received at Newfoundland, and at last, repeated close observation, and accurate tests, applied in various ways, convinced me of the existence of recent injury to our cable within the harbour at Valentia.

In the absence of the engineer, or of any of the Directors, I immediately took steps to remedy this, and having secured the assistance of Mr. Canning, who was still in Ireland, and who had been Mr. Bright’s coadjutor as engineer on board the Agamemnon, I reported by telegraph to the Directors that he was engaged at my request in examining the faulty part.

This part has since been cut out. The defect is unmistakable, and its removal and replacement by perfect cable has been followed by the establishment of full and complete reciprocity of communication with Newfoundland.

The total and prolonged absence of the Directors from the seat of operations, had thus the effect of throwing upon the chief resident officer at Valentia the onus of either allowing serious lass and injury to the Company to accrue under his own eye, and with the power of prevention in his hand, or of taking upon himself (unauthorised by the Directors it may be, but justifiably to his own conviction) the responsibility of remedying the fault he had discovered, and immediately reopening the communication hence to America, which, but for his unauthorised interference, would have remained probably to this day in abeyance.

I had thus a false and a difficult position forced upon me by the absence and apparent apathy of the Directors themselves. Having accepted this position, having done what I conceived my duty to the enterprise in it, having re-opened the communication and dared the consequences, I am instantly recalled to town to find, not that I am requested to give an explanation of any of the attendant circumstances which might be imperfectly known to the Directors, and which might have justified my acts, but to receive a copy of a resolution already passed, intimating to me that my “engagement and authority as an officer of the Company have now ceased.”

There is another minor point alleged as a collateral reason for this decision, into which I will not now enter further than to state, that it had reference to the last of several recent breaches of courtesy and respect towards myself, so marked, as in this instance to have appeared nothing less than an insult, and one which I felt it necessary quietly to set aside and repel.

The decision, however, of Tuesday last is an act of the Board in their collective capacity directed against one of their chief officers; it is an act to which, by their own showing, they have committed themselves without even an attempt at any careful examination or bearing of the subject.

I therefore claim, as a matter of justice, at your hands, a full and complete investigation of all the circumstances which have occurred since the laying of the cable, and upon which the Directors have thought right to found my summary dismissal; and I claim that this investigation shall take place at Valentia, where alone all the facts connected with it can be properly elicited and appreciated.

Nothing will induce me to re-accept the office which has now lapsed, and which I have also formally resigned; yet inasmuch as my connection with the subject of Atlantic Telegraphy has been far more intimate and more endearing than that of any of the Directors, I cannot consent calmly to subside under what may be made to bear the appearance of summary dismissal.

The legal terms of my agreement, as Projector, with the Company, imply, on my part, the continued devotion for life, of some portion of my time and attention to the welfare of the Atlantic Telegraph; probably, to define and mark this obligation, in accepting my resignation of past office, the Board will see fit to place my name as Honorary Consulting Electrician to the Company.

I have the honour to remain, Gentlemen, yours truly,




EUSTON HOTEL, August 19, 1858.

To the DIRECTORS of the Atlantic Telegraph Company.


The successful completion of our enterprise, and the full establishment of electrical communication with America, necessarily terminates the salaried office to which in the early days of the Company you did me the honour to appoint me.

Surrounded by a multitude of business details for which I felt myself unfitted, and other désagrémens, inseparable I suppose from the operations of a great commercial enterprise, the love which I have ever borne to the great work, and to the scientific problems which it involved, has carried me through a period of incessant labour and great anxiety.

The goal has been attained, my early aspirations are now realised, and I most heartily congratulate the Directors upon the brilliant event which allows my return to the more even tenor of my previous existence, gratified by the reflection that it has been my not unfulfilled mission to have laboured towards the accomplishment of so great a work.

I have the honour to be, Gentlemen, yours truly,




August 20, 1858.

From BARTHOLOMEW, Valentia, to WHITEHOUSE, London.

Newfoundland telegraphs for large circular galvanometer. Since last night he reads us much better. His signals are beautiful.



Valentia, August 20, Friday.

Telegraphs that signals through the cable to-day are first-rate, and that they are working faster than ever both ways.



August 20, 1858.

From BARTHOLOMEW, Valentia, to SAWARD, London.

Cunard’s message to D. and C. McIver, Liverpool. Arabia in collision with Europa, Cape Race, Saturday. Arabia on way here slightly injured. Europa lost bowsprit, cutwater, stem sprung; will remain in St. John’s, Newfoundland, ten days from sixteenth. Persia calls at St. John’s for mails and passengers. No loss of life or limb. Cunard’s, New York, Aug. 17, another message offered; shall I refuse?



August 21, 1858.

From THOMSON, Valentia, to WILDMAN WHITEHOUSE, London.

Telegraphed Directors to reconsider Tuesday’s decision. Promised good reason by post. Give your reasons in writing, if not already done.



August 21, 1858.

From THOMSON, Valentia, to WHITEHOUSE, London.

Whether you resign or not, claim investigation of all facts connected with reports before Board at recent meeting.



August 21.

WHITEH0USE, London, to THOMSON, Valentia, Ireland.

Thanks—have resigned—after recent occurrences cannot consent to accept mere reversal of Tuesday’s decision without ample honourable amends.



August 23, 1858.

From BARTHOLOMEW, Valentia, to SAWARD, London.

(Atlantic message.)

Reading easy in Newfoundland. Saturday our signals reported splendid; not so good this morning on either side. Thomson and France tested cable each night. We are now testing again.



EUSTON HOTEL, August 23, 1858.

To the SECRETARY of the Atlantic Telegraph Company.


The establishment of electric intercommunication with Newfoundland being now complete, I claim the delivery of the shares to which, as one of the original projectors of our Company, I am entitled under agreement.

If the signatures of these shares be not yet finished, I shall be obliged by your completion and delivery of them with as little delay as possible.

I have already, you will remember, by my signature appended to the deed in question, acknowledged their receipt.

You will, therefore, not be surprised at my reminding you of this.

I remain, dear Sir, yours,






EUSTON HOTEL, August 23, 1858.

To the SECRETARY of the Atlantic Telegraph Company.


Having heard, unofficially of course, that something will shortly be done about the shore end for our cable at Valentia.

Let me call your attention to the fact that neither the length at Keyham, nor that laid last year in Valentia harbour, and now marked with a buoy, has since last year been tested for insulation. The continuity I have proved right in both.

I am, dear Sir, yours truly,




EUSTON HOTEL, Wednesday Evening, 10 P.M.
August 25, 1858.

To the SECRETARY of the Atlantic Telegraph Company.


On Monday I placed in your hands a letter to the Directors requesting “full and complete investigation of all circumstances which have occurred since the laying of the cable, and upon which the Directors have thought fit to found my summary dismissal.” I have up to this time (the evening of the third day) received no answer from the Directors, nor any intimation from yourself leading me to expect one. Unless, therefore, I hear from you to the contrary, I shall conclude that silence will be their only response. The bearer will wait an answer.

I remain, dear Sir, yours truly,




August 26, 1858.


In reply to your letter received at my house last night, I have to inform you that a meeting of the Board has been called for Wednesday next, when your letter will be laid before them for consideration.

I am, dear Sir, yours truly,


W. WHITEHOUSE, Esq., Euston Hotel.



August 25, 1858.

From THOMSON, Valentia, to SAWARD, London.

(Atlantic, Unpaid.)

No message from Newfoundland since 8.30 this morning. Four messages here for Newfoundland detained. Very anxious to have Whitehouse’s assistance.



August 26, 1858.

From THOMSON, Valentia, to WHITEHOUSE, London.

Have asked Directors send you here if possible directly. Either you or I ought to be in the office night and day. Have been so almost entirely, but could not much longer.



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The Atlantic Cable website is non-commercial, and its mission is to make available on line as much information as possible.

You can help - if you have cable material, old or new, please contact me. Cable samples, instruments, documents, brochures, souvenir books, photographs, family stories, all are valuable to researchers and historians.

If you have any cable-related items that you could photograph, copy, scan, loan, or sell, please email me: [email protected]

—Bill Burns, publisher and webmaster: