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

Eastern Extension Telegraph Company
Singapore Cable Offices - 1895

The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 23 November 1895

New Premises on RAFFLES Quay.

To-morrow, Sunday, may be said to mark at once the completion of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company’s new offices on Raffles Quay and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Company in Singapore, it being announced elsewhere that on and after midday to-morrow telegrams will be accepted and transmitted at the company’s new premises, advantage being taken of the smaller traffic on Sunday to effect the necessary changes. And in view of the importance of the telegraph in modern life, of its obvious effect upon commerce, and the additional safety which it confers by strengthening the control by Government of the foreign affairs of the state, a brief account of the history of telegraph communication in the East may not on this occasion be out of place.

The possibility of submarine communication, proved by the success attending the Atlantic cables of 1865 and 1866, and, what was more, the fact that a heavy cable when laid could be recovered from the bed of the ocean and repaired, were of immense importance in stimulating telegraphic enterprise. Before long various schemes were afloat to connect India with England, no less than £2,000,000 being subscribed for this purpose between 1868 and 1869, and by March 15th, 1870, Bombay was in communication with Great Britain, the various companies concerned amalgamating in November, 1872, under the title of the Eastern Telegraph Co. The issue, never in doubt, being successful from the outset, the healthy stimulus of competition came into play, and even before the formation of the Eastern Telegraph Co., the British India Extension Co. (an enterprise associated with the company of a similar name then working the line between Bombay and Suez) had been formed to place Singapore in communication with Madras. A second company, the China Submarine Telegraph Co., was floated to work cables running from Singapore to Saigon, Hongkong and China, and still another, the British Australian, to connect Singapore with Java and the Australian Colonies. Some twenty years ago, there or thereabouts, these three decided to amalgamate, the result being the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company as it exists to-day.

To repeat what we gave in our issue of March 31st, 1894, cable communication between Singapore and London was first established on Wednesday, the 4th January, 1871, and although the British Indian Extension Telegraph Co. was not the first to broach the extension of the cable system from India towards China and Australia, whilst the other companies were thinking over the project, prospecting land and obtaining concessions for such lines, it set to work in earnest, and by January, soon after obtaining the necessary concessions, had already completed half its work, the Singapore, Penang and Madras section being by that time available to the public. This line was supplemented the same year by two more cables, one to Hongkong, and the other to Java and Australia. The telegraph cable between Singapore and Hongkong was successfully laid by the 4th June, and six days afterwards the line was thrown open to traffic. On the 31st July Saigon was placed in communication with Singapore and Hongkong by the carrying of a small section of the cable into that port from the main cable between here and Hongkong. The Australian line, however, would not appear to have been opened until early in 1872, although the cable to Port Darwin was completed on the 6th December, 1871, the delay occurring through the non-completion of the land-lines of the South Australian Government.

Ever since the opening of the Singapore branch the Company have been the tenants of H.H. the Sultan of Johore, and have occupied the well-known premises in Prince Street, but the volume of the Company’s business has grown so enormously with the increasing importance of the place that the present accommodation has proved entirely inadequate, and the directors have been for some time under the necessity of seeking for larger and more suitable premises. As far back as 1891 the Company decided to purchase from Government at a cost of $18,000, the very eligible site on Raffles Quay, but it was not until June, 1893, when the plans and specifications of the new offices were finally approved, that work could actually be commenced. And though the building has now for some time been practically ready for occupation various delays have occurred, owing to circumstances beyond the Company’s control, which have made it impossible to open the new offices until the present time. As in the majority of the more recent buildings in Singapore, those at least with any pretence to architectural significance, the style adopted is Renaissance, the treatment of the detail being bold, though proceeding more on classical lines, perhaps, than has hitherto been attempted, the object in view having been to secure as much projection and depth, in the absence of a verandah, as would afford coolness and shade. Originally it was the intention of the directors to erect a three-story building, but owing to the instability of the Reclamation at that time, it was found necessary to curtail the designs somewhat, the foundations receiving special attention at the hands of Messrs. Swan and MacLaren, the architects. As it is, however, the Company are in possession of a handsome and imposing block of buildings, with a frontage to the sea, whilst the other side overlooks the Town Market.

Eastern Telegraph Co. Lmtd. Singapore
Circa 1906

On the ground floor most of the work within reach of the public is constructed of granite, with an abundance of granite columns; and it is here that the battery room, workshops, dynamo and engine rooms, stores and lavatories are situated. The entrance is from Raffles Quay by means of an attractive and ornamental porch from which a wide and handsomely treated staircase leads to a central and well-lighted hall with domed cupola and elaborate mural decorations. Directly opposite the head of the staircase is the receiving counter; to the left the rooms of the Superintendent, the Electrician-in-Chief and the General Manager; to the right the record room, messengers’ quarters, tiffin room and stationery store. The remainder of the space is devoted to the instrument room, measuring 42 feet by 57 feet, which is open on two sides, the longer of which faces the sea. Light and air and the comfort of the operators, who are on duty night and day, having been the primary consideration in this disposition of the Company’s premises.

At the present time, to say nothing of duplicate and triplicate cables, four important sections radiate from Singapore, two to Madras, one to China, another to Australia, and a fifth has recently been added in the Labuan-Hongkong cable. Accordingly in the instrument room, fully equipped with improved apparatus of the most modern construction, are to be found eight siphon recorders, for the most part of the Muirhead model, placed on very convenient and curiously constructed benches. In one corner are the testing room, and against it the terminal board (constructed in the Company’s workshop), complex enough in appearance but simplicity itself in the working, rendering it possible to connect any particular operator with any particular cable. These and many other novel arrangements are due to Mr. J.C. Cuff, the Electrical Engineer of the Company.

Close to the operating benches, stowed away in the handsome woodwork of a partition, are other sets of apparatus associated with the name of Dr. A. Muirhead, which renders a duplex working of the cables possible or, in other words, admits of a message being sent both ways along a cable at the same time; and working in connection with these are supplementary siphon recorders at each transmitting instrument furnishing copies of all messages sent out from the local office, which, being stored, are available for reference in cases of doubt or difficulty. For the rest it may be added that the new premises are well designed, commodious and in every way convenient for the transaction of the Company’s business; and the architects are to be congratulated on the success of their work. It may also be added that the screen and counter, which are tasteful and substantial, have been supplied by Messrs Powell and Co.

Last revised: 21 February, 2016

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