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

La Société du Câble Transatlantique Française
by Bill Glover


The success of the two Atlantic cables completed in 1866 led Baron d'Erlander and Julius Reuter, with the help of British finance, to set up a company to lay a cable from France to the United States of America. The Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company was awarded the contract and payment was partly in the form of shares in the new company. The cable fleet consisted of CS's Great Eastern, Scanderia, Chiltern, Hawk and William Cory.

The Great Eastern left Portland Harbour, Dorset, England at about 8.30 pm on Saturday the 19th June 1869 heading for Brest, accompanied by CS Scanderia. The ship arrived in Brest at around 3 pm on the Sunday and found CS Hawk and CS Chiltern already there. The shore end, which had been laid by CS Hawk, was spliced on to the cable aboard and preparations were made to sail as soon as possible. Great Eastern finally got away at 2 am on the Monday morning and by noon was 41 miles out from Brest. By noon on the Tuesday the distance from Brest was 171 miles and 178 miles of cable had been paid out which included the 107 miles of intermediate cable.

Everything went well until around 3.30 am on the Thursday when a fault appeared. The ship was stopped and 1¼ miles of cable was brought aboard and the faulty piece cut out and laying started up again. The fault a small hole in the gutta percha was thought to have occurred during manufacture and the strain on the cable opened it up. Another fault appeared on the Saturday requiring the recovery of ¾ of a mile of cable before the fault came aboard. As well as these faults one other gave the electricians problems in that they were unable to locate or isolate it. On the Saturday afternoon Willoughby Smith reported that the fault had cleared itself, only for it to return later. Wednesday the 30th June, a gale was blowing when the light on the Mirror Galvanometer flew off the scale, only to return, then flew off again, this time staying off. The ship was stopped and preparations made to haul in the cable. The strain on the cable caused it to break; fortunately this occurred between the paying out gear and the picking up machine and was prevented from going over the side. Buoys were launched and the Great Eastern sailed around them until the gale blew itself out.

By early Friday morning the sea was calm enough for the recovery of the cable to go ahead. Work started around 4.30 am and the fault was cut out and the ship was underway by 10.30 am. This fault was caused by one of the scarfs (used to join the ends of the armouring wires) breaking off and piercing the gutta percha. Thoughts of sabotage occurred to members of the technical staff and from then on an engineer or ship's officer was stationed in the cable tanks. However Daniel Gooch sent a message to Telcon suggesting they find a new method of jointing the armouring wires to prevent similar problems happening in the future.

Other than another gale, laying went well, and early in the morning of Monday 12th July Great Eastern arrived off St. Pierre with CS Scanderia taking over the splicing of the main cable and the shore end. The Gulnare (a Canadian survey vessel) took the electricians and equipment to the St. Pierre cable landing site. Great Eastern then proceeded to Miquelon to meet up with CS William Cory which had previously laid shore ends at both St. Pierre and Miquelon. On its return Great Eastern made for the town of St. Pierre where Sir Daniel Gooch visited the Governor to pay his respects and invite him to dinner aboard the Great Eastern. With all the pleasantries over Great Eastern headed for England while CS's Chiltern, Scanderia and William Cory began laying the cable from St. Pierre to Duxbury, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where CS Robert Lowe, belonging to the Anglo American Telegraph Company, had laid the shore ends.

The Duxbury Cable Office on a 1907 postcard

In 1873 this company was taken over by the Anglo American Telegraph Company.

See also the page on the French Atlantic Cable, which includes details of the cable and stereoviews of the cable landing at Duxbury.

Last revised: 14 July, 2011

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