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

African Direct Telegraph Company
by Bill Glover

The Eastern Telegraph Company set up the African Direct Telegraph Company in 1885 to provide a link between England and her West African Colonies.

One cable ran from Bathurst, Gambia to St Vincent, Cape Verde Islands to connect into the Western Telegraph Company cables to Carcavelos, Portugal and from there to England via the Eastern network. This cable was manufactured and laid by the India Rubber, Gutta Percha and Telegraph Works Company using CS’s Dacia and Buccaneer.

The Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company manufactured and laid the other cable using CS’s Scotia and Britannia (2). The cable ran from Bathurst, Gambia - Freetown, Sierra Leone - Accra, Gold Coast - Lagos - Brass - Bonny, all in Nigeria. CS Britannia extended this cable in 1893 from Bonny to Calabar and Duala in the German Cameroons.

The Cable Office, Marina, Lagos, Nigeria

A further cable was laid in 1902 from Lagos to Cotonou, Dahomey by CS John Pender (2). CS’s Colonia and Transmitter laid the last cable for the company in 1914 between Freetown and Accra. The company became part of Imperial & International Communications Ltd., on its formation in 1929.

Cover for the African Direct Telegraph Company, 31 Dec 1896.
Detail of embossed logo

The African Direct Telegraph Co. Ltd.
Postmarked “Registered  1 Feb 05  Brass”

These two images are courtesy of Gerald Bodily, who also provides these notes:

Brass is a town near the coast of Nigeria, situated on the East bank of the Brass River, with Akassa a little way to the west. The minimal address, just a name and town, is quite normal for the times, as the European population of the area was small and well-known.

The undated cover below has a different function. It is intended for the delivery of a message to the cable head at either Brass or Lagos for onward transmission. The stamps are from the Nigerian Coastal Protectorate, which existed under that name from 1893-1900. The envelope is postmarked September 1898 on the reverse.

The Superintendent
African Direct Telegraph Co. Ltd.
Steamers first call at

It’s always interesting to add a personal note to the cable company histories, and site visitor Sally Swanson sends these details of an employee of the African Direct Telegraph Company who died in England in 1901 and was buried at a local cemetery. She writes:

I came across this headstone in a graveyard situated in the old grounds of Darenth Park Hospital, near Dartford in Kent. The inscription on the stone reads as follows: 

“In memory of Ebenezer J. Palmer of Accra, West Africa. The beloved husband of Jane E. Palmer born Jan 13th 1863 died Aug 30th 1901. This stone was erected by his widow and the officials and staff of the African Direct Telegraph Company Limited who he faithfully served for 15 years.”

Ebenezer Palmer’s grave and headstone
Image courtesy of and copyright
© 2015 Sally Swanson

The hospital was founded in 1878 as Darenth School for children with learning disabilities. By 1890 it housed over 1,000 children and adults, and it continued to provide services in this field until its closure in 1988 and subsequent demolition. The grounds now make up part of the Darenth Country Park, an open area bordered by woodland and popular with dog walkers.

As the African Direct Telegraph Company was established in 1885, and its first cable landed at Accra (where Ebenezer Palmer was from, according to the headstone), he presumably joined the company there shortly after its inception. It is not known when Palmer moved to England, but the official probate record for his will gives some information on the cause of his death at the early age of 38:

PALMER Ebenezer Jonathan of Kamp-house Christiansborg Accra Gold Coast-colony West Africa died 30 August 1901 on a hospital-ship off Longreach Kent Administration (Limited) London 14 January to Henry Edward Plank secretary the attorney of Jane Eliscotte Palmer widow Effects £461 16s. 2d.

At the time Palmer died in 1901, there was a smallpox epidemic; these had plagued the world at regular intervals for many years. In 1888 a smallpox convalescent hospital had been built in Darenth wood, and a genealogy site says “The [Darenth] cemetery received burials from the isolation hospital ships moored at Dartford.” A note on another genealogy site quotes a former employee of the hospital as saying of the cemetery, “... the only graves with headstones are the ‘important’ people.”

It seems likely that Ebenezer Palmer died of smallpox while in the African Direct Telegraph Company’s service. Perhaps the company arranged for his burial at Darenth, including providing what must have been a fairly expensive headstone.

The Gold Coast colony is now part of Ghana.

Last revised: 29 April, 2021

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