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

The Evolution of Cable & Wireless, Part 3
by Bill Glover

In 1902 the Eastern Telegraph Company and The Eastern Extension, Australasia & China Telegraph Company merged to form The Eastern & Associated Telegraph Companies, and many smaller companies, described below, were also incorporated into the merged entity.

EATCBrochureMap.jpg (94048 bytes)

Unless otherwise stated all cables mentioned in these articles were manufactured and laid by the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company Ltd.


This was another John Pender company, formed on 8 January 1873. The Portuguese expressed preference for a British company to connect Portugal to Brazil. Already established at Carcavelos, Pender was able to set up the Brazilian Submarine Telegraph Company to link Carcavelos to Pernambuco via Madeira and Cape Verde Islands.

Not surprisingly, Telcon were awarded the contract to manufacture and lay the complete system. CS Seine on her maiden voyage as a cable ship, assisted by CS Minia, laid the section from Carcavelos to Madeira, beginning in August 1873. During the lay a fault was detected some 180 nm away from the ship, which was ignored for the moment, and then, after a splice was made, the cable fouled the paying-out gear and was lost in very deep water. It took a month of grappling before the cable was recovered and the line completed to Madeira. An attempt was then made to repair the fault discovered earlier (which had left the cable only partially working), but adverse weather resulted in the loss of the ship's stock of grapnel rope and the breaking of the cable.

This section was finally brought into service the following year by CS Africa and CS Kangaroo, which recovered the cable and repaired it in six days in April 1874. Shortly after this, CS Hibernia and CS Edinburgh laid the section from Madeira to St Vincent, Cape Verde Islands, with CS Investigator laying the shore ends in June 1874.

The cables were later duplicated: in 1882 the Carcavelos-Madeira section by CS Seine, and in 1884 the Madeira-St Vincent section by CS Scotia, and the St Vincent-Pernambuco section by CS Scotia and CS Calabria. These were the last cables laid before the change of name to the Western Telegraph Company (see below).


WBT Co uniform button. Compare with the TCM Co (Telcon) button on this page

Co-directors of William Hooper put forward a scheme to set up the Great Western Telegraph Company to lay a cable from England to the USA and on to Bermuda. They had been attracted by the profits being made by the Anglo American Telegraph Company. The Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company who had a substantial holding of shares in Anglo American, offered them its South American concessions on the condition they dropped the transatlantic plan, which they did. These concessions had been granted by the Brazilian Emperor to Sir Charles Tilston Bright who in turn sold them to Telcon. The Great Western Telegraph Company was wound up and the Western and Brazilian Telegraph Company (W&B) was set up in its place.

The cable already manufactured by Hooper's Telegraph Works for the Atlantic was used on the east coast of South America between Para and Rio de Janeiro. CS Hooper laid the cables during 1873 from Para-Maranham-Ceara-Pernambuco-Bahia-Rio de Janeiro.

1873 Rio de Janeiro to Para cable sample case
(Hunterian Museum, Glasgow)

Another company set up by the same directors was the Central American Telegraph Company to link Para, the northern end of the W&B system, to the West India & Panama Telegraph Company. The cable, laid in 1874 between Para and Demerara by CS Hooper, was abandoned in 1876 and the two systems had to rely on a landline connection until La Société des Télégraphes Sous-Marin laid a cable from Para to Martinique.

The Companhia Telegrafica Platino-Brasilera [alternatively Platino-Brasileira] was set up in Brazil in 1874 to lay a cable from Rio de Janeiro to Chuy, Uruguay with the W&B company operating the service. This they did until 1879, when they took over the company and renamed it the London Platino Brazilian Telegraph Company. The 1026 nm cable was manufactured by Siemens Brothers who also undertook the installation. During the expedition two cable ships were lost. Two vessels, Ambassador and Gomos, were chartered and fitted out for the expedition. Ambassador laid her section of the cable, but Gomos ran aground on a sandbar in the Rio Grande do Sul and became a total loss. CS La Plata was chartered from W.T. Henley to lay the replacement cable, but foundered in the Bay of Biscay on 29 November 1874, with the loss of 58 lives. Ambassador collected another replacement cable and successfully laid it.

1874 Platino-Brasilera cable sample case
Siemens Brothers, London
Silver medal issued in 1874 to commemorate the laying of the cable

At Chuy, a cable laid by W.T. Henley using CS Mazeppa ran to Montevideo and was owned by the Montevideo and Brazilian Telegraph Company. This company was also taken over by the W&B. From Montevideo a landline followed the River Plate for about sixty miles and then crossed into Argentina via a 25 nm cable laid by W.T. Henley in 1866. In 1873 the IRGP laid a cable from Montevideo to Punta Lara, Argentina, and this was later diverted to replace the landline. These cables were owned by the River Plate Telegraph Company and this company was also taken over by W&B. Connections to the West Coast of America Telegraph Company were made via the landlines of the Pacific and Europe Telegraph Company.

1924 River Plate Telegraph Company telegram.
Detail of route map

Telcon were awarded a contract in 1877 to link Maranham to Pernambuco. On arrival CS Hibernia was taken up river by a pilot and anchored. During the night she touched bottom and began to take in water. As the tide rose the weight of water broke her back. About 150 nm of the cable on board was recovered. The cable was eventually laid by CS Calabria and CS Kangaroo in 1879. At the same time CS Kangaroo also laid a cable between Para and Maranham.

On 1 January 1900 the Western Telegraph Company acquired the share capital of the Western & Brazilian Telegraph Company. The merger had been approved by the Brazilian Government on 6 June 1899.


Formed in 1875 by some of the directors of the IRGP, the company had a cable laid between Valparaiso and Lima by CS Dacia with landings at La Serena, Caldera, Antofagasta, Iquique, Arico and Mollendo. This was the only cable laid by the company. The company encountered financial difficulties in the first two years of operation and was taken over by John Pender's Eastern Telegraph Company; a new company with the same name was incorporated in 1877.

The Central and South American Telegraph Company had a terminus at Chorillos, Lima and traffic was exchanged between the two companies in Lima, then the Central was granted an extension to Valparaiso so the West Coast moved its southern terminus to Concepcion.

On 12 April 1897 the 1877 company was liquidated and a new company again with the same name was formed. This is the company that became part of Cable & Wireless.


The Western & Brazilian Telegraph Company set up the Amazon Telegraph Company in 1895 to lay a cable up the River Amazon. A fifty-year concession was granted to the company by the Brazilian Government. Siemens Brothers were awarded the contract to manufacture and lay the cable.

CS Faraday (1) was used to lay the 1600 nm of cable between Para (Belem) and Manaos. The ship encountered many problems while laying, on one occasion being stranded on a sandbar for nine days. CS Viking (1) was transferred from the Western and Brazilian and converted for repair work under the Amazon conditions. This ship was scrapped in 1901, and CS Viking (2) then took over, joined in 1912 by CS Ramos.

When the concession expired in 1945 all assets of the company were transferred to the Brazilian Government.


In the mid-1880s the Brazilian Submarine Telegraph Company (see above) changed its name to the Western Telegraph Company. One of the first tasks undertaken by the new company was to lay cables from Para to Montevideo. CS Scotia undertook the laying.

Para-Pernmabuco 1390 nm
Pernambuco-Rio de Janeiro 1372 nm
Rio de Janeiro-Maldonado 1093 nm
Maldonado-Montevideo 72 nm.

Western Telegraph Company Cable Station, St Vincent, Cape Verde Islands

Inscribed on the reverse:
New quarters on left
Old quarters in centre
Office on right

The Eastern Telegraph Company improved links with the Western company by laying a cable from Madeira-St. Vincent, Cape Verde Islands, in 1901 using CS Anglia and CS Britannia (2) to lay the 1130 nm cable. This was followed by a 1375 nm cable from Madeira to Porthcurno laid by the same two cable ships

In 1906 the Western had a cable laid from St. Vincent to Fayal, Azores, where it connected with the Europe and Azores Telegraph Company which provided another link to Porthcurno. CS Colonia laid this 1467 nm cable.

The reverse of this telegram lists the cable
routings for various worldwide destinations.

CS Colonia was in action again in 1910 in the area, laying a cable St. Vincent-Ascension-Buenos Aires. The section from Ascension to Buenos Aires was the second longest cable ever laid, being 3145 nm in length. CS Cambria assisted and CS Cormorant (2) laid the cable up the River Plate. In 1919 CS Colonia laid a 2103 nm cable Ascension-Rio de Janeiro.

Two more postcard views of the Western Telegraph
Company Cable Station, St Vincent, Cape Verde Islands

While connections to Europe were good, those to the USA were poor, as messages had to travel over a number of different systems. In 1920 the Western Telegraph Company and the Western Union Telegraph Company agreed to lay a cable from Miami to Maranham. Western Union laid the section from Miami to Barbados. This cable was laid by CS Stephan, and CS Colonia with Western Union's CS Robert C. Clowry laid the Miami shore ends. When CS Colonia arrived off the coast of America she was prevented from connecting to the shore end by US destroyers. So she dropped the end of the cable outside the three mile limit and proceeded towards Barbados. Eventually the political difficulties were sorted out and the whole cable came into use in 1922. The Western company cable ran from Barbados to Maranham and was also laid by CS Colonia and CS Stephan.

"Via Ascension" and "Via Madeira"
Telegram forms and receipt, 1914

CS Colonia laid cables from Pernambuco-Maranham and Santos-Rio de Janeiro during 1922.

During the 1914-8 war a cable was laid from Montevideo to the Falkland Islands for the Admiralty. After the war the cable was abandoned and large parts of it were recovered and used elsewhere.

A 1945 Western Telegraph Company
telegram with world route map
Comunicaciones Mundiale
Via Imperiale y Via Western Union

The reverse of this 1952 telegram lists the abbreviations
for the various stations throughout the network.

A 1962 Western Telegraph Company
telegram with modern logo

This article from The Pan American Magazine, May 1915, has an overview of the Western Telegraph Company and its history:

The Western Telegraph Co.

The beginning of the Western Telegraph Company’s operations in Brazil dates back to the year 1873, when the first cable was laid along the coast between Rio and Bahia. In 1874 a cable was carried across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe, for the first time linking up the great South American country to the Old World so that news could fly across in the space of a few seconds. It is a tribute to the genius of the first inventors of the cable system that there has been practically no change in the course of years in the composition of the protected rope that swings beneath the deep seas; the make-up of the cables that are laid to-day is about the same as the original, except that the new ones are multiplied in size, containing more wires in the core.

At Pernambuco seven cables belonging to the Western Telegraph Company enter the sea; they run down the Brazilian coast and farther south to Buenos Aires, Argentina; other lines are laid north to Para. Of these coastal cables some go direct to the most important towns, while others enter smaller ports. At Buenos Aires a cable leads directly to the Azores, via the islands of St. Vincent and Ascension, a distance of 3,144 nautical miles, making it one of the longest in the world. One from Pernambuco across the Atlantic goes by way of the Cape Verde Islands, St. Vincent, and Madeira, to Lisbon; at this point and at the Azores the Western company connects with the cables of the Eastern Telegraph Company, an associate in the group of allied telegraph companies operated with British capital.

Since the inauguration of the overseas cables there has been a steady increase in business, and improvement in the service in response to public needs, and from time to time the rates have been decreased—they have never been raised. Within the last few years the system of deferred telegrams has been instituted. These are sent at night at half rates, but must be written in what the company calls “Plain language,” no codes being permitted for this series.

The number of messages passing daily over the wires varies according to commercial conditions, and while there is a constant and steady increase in the public use of cable service, the effects of the War are reflected here as in every other business. The Company is in the habit of paying a steady dividend of 6 per cent., with a bonus of about 1½ per cent.

In normal times the Western Telegraph Company has two competitors in transatlantic service, although possessing a monopoly of coastwise cables; there is a French line which runs across to the West Coast of Africa to Dakar, thence connecting with Cadiz and Brest; also a German cable running to the West Coast of Africa at Monrovia, and thence to Emden by way of Tenerife. This latter has been out of commission since the commencement of the European War, but, with an eye to the future is completing its handsome new offices in Recife.

The Western Telegraph Company has been preparing to enter the fine new headquarters which have been also building, in common with many of the important firms of Pernambuco, since the impetus for improvement of the water-front of the city commenced. The popular Superintendent of the Company, Mr. George Gibbs, who has been resident in Brazil long enough to see a new generation grow up, displays with pride this beautiful edifice, with its shining white exterior and its cool interior. All of the floors are inlaid with glowing hardwood from Para, golden and brown, and the great tables and desks of the offices are also made from exquisite Brazilian timber.

The arrangement of these new offices has been carefully studied to obtain the maximum of efficiency; there are pneumatic tubes to carry messages from the public counters to the instrument room; there is a cool room with mosaic floor where the little Brazilian messenger boys sit waiting to take telegrams over the City, and a lift runs up to the second floor. The clerical room is splendidly equipped, and on another floor is the repair workshop where any fault is speedily put right. The electricians’ room is beyond my comprehension, but I give whole-hearted admiration to the magnificent apparatus room at the top of the building, with its huge windows looking over half of the city, and its wonderful arrangement of wires running about the ceiling and brought down in groups to the different tables.

In another room are Aladdin caves full of strange secrets; here is a harmless looking cupboard, but it is full of wires that are bunched here with their silent messages from all over the world passing over them; great covers in another place hang over an extraordinary apparatus that effects the duplexing of all main lines—that is to say, messages can be sent in each direction at the same time by this method, over one wire. The room where the batteries are kept—the real life-blood of the cables—is surprising in its modesty; it does not seem possible that these few unobtrusive-looking jars should really be the parents of so much activity—an activity that carries messages half way round the world. In reply to some such remark, I was told that very little force is needed to send words flying along the wires; the Company used to work the cable between Madeira and Lisbon, a distance of 600 miles, with four cells—“less force than it takes to ring an electric bell.”

The entire building is practically fireproof, with its asbestos ceiling and walls of cement, steel, and brick. The private electric light plant of the company is installed on the ground floor.

The total staff employed by the Western Telegraph Company in Recife is about one hundred, of whom more than forty are Europeans and the remainder are Brazilians.


This was another John Pender company, set up in 1879 to link Aden and Cape Town with landings at the British and Portuguese colonies on the east coast of Africa. Telcon were awarded the contract to make and lay the 3900 nm cable.

Eastern&SouthAfricanPC.JPG (85541 bytes)

Aden-Zanzibar laid by CS Scotia
Zanzibar-Mozambique laid by CS Seine and CS Calabria
Mozambique-Lorenzo Marques laid by CS Calabria
Lorenzo Marques-Durban laid by CS Kangaroo
Durban was connected to Cape Town by landline.

To maintain the cables CS Great Northern was purchased from Hoopers Telegraph Works and based at Zanzibar. As the number of cables grew another ship, the Nentwater, was purchased from W. Dickinson of Newcastle and converted for cable repair work. Named CS Duplex her main area of work was on the west coast of Africa.

Mossamedes Cable Station

Lorenzo Marques Cable Station

In 1889 cables were laid on the west coast of Africa to link up with the West African Telegraph Company cables. Telcon carried out the links: Cape Town-Nolloth-Mossamedes, Angola. CS Scotia laid the 1584 nm cable. IRGP then laid a cable from Mossamedes to Benguela and Luanda, Angola. These were followed in 1890 by two cables, one linking Zanzibar with Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika, the other connecting Zanzibar to Mombasa, Kenya. Three years later Telcon were awarded contracts to connect Zanzibar to the Seychelles and Mauritius.

Seychelles 1r 1993.JPG (29608 bytes) CW via Imperial Mauritius.JPG (35038 bytes) Seychelles 3r 1993.JPG (31116 bytes)
Seychelles 4r 1993.JPG (31664 bytes) Seychelles 10r 1993.JPG (30485 bytes) Mauritius 3r 1993.JPG (29107 bytes)
Mauritius 4r 1993.JPG (29382 bytes) Mauritius 8r 1993.JPG (28355 bytes) Mauritius 40c 1993.JPG (30270 bytes)

CS Scotia and CS Britannia (2) laid this 1128 nm long Zanzibar-Seychelles cable as well as the 1067 nm Seychelles-Mauritius cable. The last major cable to be laid in this area was the Aden-Seychelles cable of 1922 which was laid by CS Colonia and CS Stephan.

Eastern Telegraph Company's Office - Victoria, Mahé
(Eastern & South African Telegraph
Company Cable Station, Seychelles

Eastern Telegraph Cos. Quarters - Zanzibar
(Eastern and South African Telegraph Company Station)


In 1902 when the new group came into being it left the ETC offices at 66 Old Broad Street and moved into new offices at Electra House, 84 Moorgate, London EC2. From this address it acquired the name of the 'Electra House Group'. This was both the administrative centre and also the main telegraph station linked to Porthcurno by landlines leased from the GPO. It was also the year that the Pacific Cable came into operation, the first time that the Eastern group had had competition within the British Empire. Other than that not much else changed in the running of the various companies which made up the group, they still operated under their original names.

A year previously Marconi had transmitted his first signal across the Atlantic from Poldhu, Cornwall to Signal Hill, St. Johns, Newfoundland. While Marconi was carrying out his experiments at Poldhu the ETC set up a listening station just above Porthcurno, close to the site of the present day Minack Theatre, to find out what Marconi was up to and whether it posed a threat to their cable business. They concluded that it would not. At the time this was a true assessment but things were to change and the E&A were not ready for it when it came.

The decision to go ahead with the Pacific cable (See Pacific Cables 1902-26) brought about price reductions by the Eastern group and many said that that was a good enough reason for laying the cable. When the Pacific service opened on 9 December 1902 the rate to Canada from Australia was 2s-4d per word against the Eastern groups 3s-0d. Prior to a number of reductions made by the E&A the rate had been 4s-9d. Another advantage of the Pacific cable was that it took an hour to transmit a telegram from Australia to England whereas the E&A route took almost a day.

Apart from this one minor inconvenience the E&A carried on as normal, the first World War helped to boost its profits and its shareholders continued to receive satisfying dividends. Even the GPO Imperial cables across the Atlantic (See GPO Cables) didn't cause them any problems.

On the 50th anniversary of the group, in 1922, a commemoration was held in London, and the souvenir book included maps of the cable system in 1872 and 1922.

In 1925 a method of regenerating submarine telegraph signals automatically came into use which led to large scale redundancies amongst operators at the various relay stations throughout the network. This enabled the company to reduce costs. The benefit was shortlived.

When the short wave 'Beam' system developed by Marconi, and operated by the GPO, came into service during 1926-7 the E&A found itself with serious problems. Within six months of the service, known as Empiradio, opening it took away 65% of the Eastern and Eastern Extension social traffic. They were hit where it hurt most, in their profits. They were not the only ones to suffer the Pacific cable also lost a considerable amount of traffic, a case of a government owned cable system losing business to a government owned wireless telegraph system.

Consequently at the end of 1927, the Chairman of the group, Sir John Denison Pender, approached the Government of the day to help them. The alternative was to liquidate the group and pay out the shareholders. Negotiations took place between the cable companies, Marconi's company and the Government. The outcome was a merger of the two. On 8 April 1929 the new operating company Imperial & International Communications Ltd. and the holding company Cables & Wireless Ltd., came into being.

EATCBrochure.JPG (112372 bytes) EATCGreetingsTelegramForm.JPG (106944 bytes) EATCBrochureReverse.JPG (116115 bytes)

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Last revised: 22 December, 2022

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