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

The Great Northern Telegraph Company
Annual Reports for 1883 & 1884

Introduction: Site visitor Penny McLennan has provided these reports of the 1883 and 1884 Annual General Meetings of the Great Northern Telegraph Company. This was a period of expansion and prosperity for the company, and the reports give an interesting insight into its operations and management.

The notes on cable protection and redundancy in the 1883 report are as relevant now as they were then; the main cause of damage to modern fiber optic cables is still ship anchors and trawls. The international regulations which were then under discussion were eventually implemented and remain in effect today.

The two documents are reproduced in full below; the ship images are contemporary but were not included in the original reports.

--Bill Burns



F. ZAHLE, ESQ., Presided.

The Chairman, C. F. TIETGEN, ESQ., in reporting upon the condition of the Company’s Cables, observed, that with regard to those in Europe, the past year had been the most favourable that the Company had experienced. One of the short Cables between Finland and the Aland Islands, had been interrupted in the month of January, but fortunately the Gulf of Bothnia, which is generally closed at that time of the year, was free from ice, and the Company had therefore been able to effect the repairs within eleven days. With this exception no interruption had occurred, and even the Danish-French Cable, which had in former years given much trouble, had not suffered during the year, and the valuable traffic carried by that Cable had thus not been disturbed.

It had been different with regard to the Cables in the far East, where the interruptions from the usual causes, say, anchors and fishing, had been numerous. The Cable between Wladiwostock and Nagasaki had been interrupted once for twenty-three days; the Nagasaki-Shanghai Cable six times, for thirty days in all; and the Cable between Shanghai and Hong-Kong eight times for sixty-two days. These interruptions might almost be called epidemic, as they nearly all occurred in the early part of the year, whilst during the last six months of the year there had not been a single repair to effect.

Notwithstanding these interruptions there had been an increase in the traffic receipts, mainly owing to the successful working of the European Cables.

The Company’s European Cable Steamer, the “H.C. Oersted,” had not been idle, as she had been employed in repairing Cables for other parties. Thus she had in the month of May repaired the Direct Spanish Telegraph Company’s Cable near Bilbao, and in November, the Sound Cable, belonging to the Danish Government. Notwithstanding the amount of work there had been for the Company’s Cable Steamer in the far East, the “Store Nordiske,” she had also been able to undertake outside work, and had repaired the Cable in the Tsugar Strait, belonging to the Japanese Government.

CS Store Nordiske

The receipts derived from this extra work had considerably contributed to diminish the ordinary expenses of the two ships.

It was to be hoped that the proposed measures for the protection of Cable property, signed in November last at Paris by delegates from Governments of all parts of the world, would have the desired effect of diminishing the injury which was constantly being done to Cables by anchors and fishing operations. It had been adopted in principle that all damage done wilfully, or in consequence of culpable negligence,  should be punishable by fine or imprisonment, or both. It was to be regretted that it had been impossible to get inserted into this protection convention a clause with regard to the actual control of the construction and condition of the different fishing apparatus (amongst which was that Cable scourge, the trawl, from which the Company’s Danish-French Cable had suffered so much); but, as it was, a good beginning had been made, as a basis for international legislation had been established, which would no doubt be further developed in the future.

But with all this, the best, the safest mode of ensuring regularity in the service of Telegraph routes, was undoubtedly duplication. This not only increased speed under ordinary circumstances, but prevented cessation of work during a breakage. The excellent results of this duplication, and he might with regard to some routes say triplication, as introduced in the Company’s European system, had for some time past had the full attention of the Board as regarding the Company’s lines in the far East, for which it had hitherto been impossible to provide such a reserve. The Company had, however, during the past year succeeded in obtaining the desired conditions for carrying out such duplication in the far East. It being in the interest of the Japanese Government, and also in that of the Russian Government on account of their land line system, that this duplication should be carried out, the Company had been enabled to make satisfactory arrangements with both Governments. The Japanese Government had given the Company the exclusive right to connect Japan by Telegraph Cables with the Continent of Asia and the adjacent Islands for the next twenty years, which term may subsequently be extended. The Russian Government, following the example of Sweden and Norway, had likewise extended all the concessions of the Company for their connections with the Russian Coasts up to the year 1912.

These preliminaries having all been arranged, the Company had made a contract with the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, in London, for the making and laying of the Cables from Wladiwostock to Nagasaki, and from Nagasaki to Shanghai. The manufacture of the same had now been nearly completed, and the Cables were expected to be laid and in working order in August and September this year. With reference to the Cable between Shanghai and Hong-Kong, the duplication of which was of as great importance to the Company as that of the other sections, the Company had, always with a view to the consent of the Chinese Government, made arrangements with the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company to the effect that the latter should undertake that part of the duplication. That arrangement was based upon the terms of previous agreements existing between the two Companies, and the terms were such that this Company would derive the same benefit as if they had themselves undertaken the duplication.

In order to meet the expense of the new lines of the Company, the Directors being duly authorised, had, on the 1st of March, issued £300,000 five per cent. obligations, redeemable in not exceeding 30 years. The obligations had been offered to the Shareholders and the general public by the Private Bank of Copenhagen, and by Messrs. C.J. Hambro & Son, of London, where nearly the whole amount had been placed. It was a satisfactory proof of the growing confidence of the Shareholders in the Company’s undertakings that the raising of so considerable a loan had in no wise affected the price of the Shares, nor was there any reason why that should have been so, as the interest and redemption would only absorb £20,000 per annum, an amount which might fairly be expected to be earned by an increase of traffic consequent upon the duplication. But even if this expectation should not be realised, which was hardly probable, the amount would easily be covered out of the large sums which had hitherto every year been set aside for the Reserve Fund, which fund would in future, after the establishment of the duplication, not require such large augmentations.

After referring to the different items of the Balance Sheet, the Chairman closed his remarks by assuring the Shareholders of the Directors’ continued confidence in the future of the Company, a confidence they had shown by proposing an increase in the dividend, which would thus be 8 per cent. for the past year.

Without discussion, the Report was then unanimously adopted, the Accounts were passed, and discharge given to the Board of Directors.

The retiring Director, C.A. BROBERG, Esq., was re-elected.

The Shareholders’ Auditors, His Excellency Admiral BILLE, and A. BERNER, Esq., were also re-elected.

A final Dividend of 6s. per Share for 1882 is now payable at the Company’s Bankers, Messrs. C.J. Hambro & Son, 70, Old Broad Street, London, E.C.



F. ZAHLE, ESQ., Presided.

The Chairman, C.F. TIETGEN, Esq., in opening his address to the meeting, with regard to the Company’s business during the past year, remarked that he saw no occasion to tire those present with a specific list of the different interruptions of the Company’s Cables, the more so as these interruptions had not interfered either with the Company’s capability to transmit the traffic as usual, or with the ordinary receipts accruing from the latter. Notwithstanding these interruptions, of which the greater part occurred in the latter half of the year, the condition of the Cables had, on the whole, been satisfactory, and the engineers had, with the help of. the Company’s ships, effected the repairs very promptly, and also effectually supervised the state of the Cables.

What had, however, contributed most to the equanimity with which the Directors could look upon these interruptions, was mainly the progress made in the perfectioning of the Company’s system, which had taken place last year, partly by the duplication of the Hongkong-Shanghai Cable, which had been undertaken by the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, partly, and mainly, by the Company’s duplication of the Cables between Shanghai, Nagasaki and Wladiwostock. The new Hongkong-Shanghai Cable was already opened for traffic between these two places on the 23rd May, and on the 18th of June it was further carried into Foochow, thus bringing this important commercial place into connection with the Company’s Cable system. The manufacture of this Company’s new Shanghai-Nagasaki-Wladiwostock Cables was commenced in January last year by the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, in London, under the supervision of the Company’s Engineers. The Cables were then shipped on board and successfully laid from that Company’s Cable steamers, the “Scotia” and the “Seine,” and all connections were finally completed in September.

The Company had further undertaken, for their own account, the establishment of a Cable communication between Japan and Corea, a Cable which starts from the eastern coast of the Island of Kiusiu, connecting Nagasaki with Fusan on the western coast of Corea and touching at the Islands of Iki and Tsusima. It was owing to a convention between Japan and Corea, that the Company had been placed into the position to connect telegraphically these two countries, of which the latter had lately been opened to Europeans. What the financial result of this undertaking would be for the Company, depended, of course, upon the future development of Corea.

In Europe the Company had also laid a new Cable, viz: between Sweden and Russia, thus triplicating the existing connection. This Cable, which had been laid in the month of September, by the Company’s own steamer, the “H.C. Oersted,” will henceforth be the means of greater security on a route which is of great importance to the Company, and where repairs to Cables in winter time, while the Gulf of Bothnia is covered with ice, can only be effected with great difficulty.

CS H.C. Oersted

On the whole, it would be seen that the Company had, during the past year, besides giving their full attention to the development of the traffic, also shown great activity in rendering the whole Cable system as complete as possible. The number of the Company’s Cables now amounted to 17, not reckoning intermediate sections, and the total length of the same was 6,162 nautical miles. All the Cables in the Far East had, as it were, been duplicated, and although the original Cables, now 13 years old, had constantly been maintained and renewed as occasions arose, the knowledge of the existence of a duplication by new and strong Cables would be very reassuring to the Shareholders.

The confident expectations as to the future financial results, which the Board expressed at the last General Meeting, had been justified. As the statistics would show, the gross Telegraph receipts for the past year had been 6,362,200 francs, about £255,000, or about £13,200 more than in 1882. This satisfactory increase had not only been owing to the effects of the duplication itself, as referred to, but also to exceptional correspondence called forth by political events in connection with the Tonkin affair.

Political events had also contributed very much to the development of telegraphic enterprise in the interior of China. During last year, several land lines of great importance had been constructed in China: thus from Tientsin to Tungchow a few miles from Pekin, from Shanghai to Ningpo (in the present year extended to Foochow) etc., whilst at the present moment a line was being built between Canton and Foochow, and between Nankin and Hankow, and lines to Pekin and Paotingfoo were contemplated.

The Chairman might refer to an interesting but less important matter, viz.: that the Company had taken part in the Electrical Exhibition at Vienna, by successfully exhibiting apparatus and instruments manufactured in their own workshops at Copenhagen.

During the past year the Company had also come to the conclusion that it would be desirable to issue new Share Warrants. The Coupons on the old Warrants had now been exhausted, and as such new sheets would thus at any rate have to be issued, it had been considered advisable to print new complete Warrants with the Coupon sheets attached, not only because the Warrants of 1872 had been gradually dilapidated, but also as objection had been taken to the French translation label which had been affixed to the back of many of the Warrants. The Share Warrants would, therefore, in future appear not only with the English and Danish, but also with the French text imprinted on the front.

From the Balance Sheet, which had already been placed before the Shareholders, it would appear that after the ordinary charges for interest and amortization of Debentures, the payment of the usual 5 per cent. interim dividend during the past year, etc., had been provided for, there remained an amount of £127,033 5s. 2d., which the Directors submitted to the meeting to deal with as follows: £45,833 6s. 8d. to be divided amongst the Shareholders as an extra dividend of 3 per cent. (making the dividend for the year, including the interims already paid, 8 per cent.); £55,555 11s. 1d. to be added to the Reserve and. Renewal Fund, and £25,644 7s. 5d. to be carried forward to next year’s account.

In the division of the net earnings of the Company it will have been observed that the exceptional amount of £2,222 4s. 6d. has been allotted to the Pension Fund of the Staff. The object had been to strengthen that Fund, in a prosperous year like the past, in order that it may efficiently fulfil the intentions of the Company when the Fund was started. It was, however, understood that the extra allowance would be subject to certain changes in the rules and regulations which appear to be necessary.

The Company had great regret in announcing that Vice-Admiral Steen Bille had died in the spring of last year. The Admiral had consented to act as an auditor from the very formation of the Company, and had since then shown the warmest sympathy in the well-being of the Company. The Company had, in the meantime, requested Mr. J.A. Garde, formerly Governor of the Danish West Indian Islands, a gentleman who had always taken a great interest in the Company, to act as Shareholders’ Auditor for the year 1883.

Without discussion the Report was then unanimously adopted, the Accounts were passed, and discharge given to the Board of Directors.

The retiring Director, JULIUS SICK, Esq., was re-elected.

A. BERNER, Esq., was re-elected, and J.A. GARDE, Esq., was elected as Shareholders’ Auditors.

The final dividend of 6s. per Share for 1883 is now payable at the Company’s Bankers, Messrs. C.J. Hambro & Son, 70, Old Broad Street, London, E.C.

Further reading:
J.T. Joergensen shares stories and photographs of his father’s work with Great Northern, and other information on the company, on this Cable Stories page. See also the Great Northern Centenary Book and the main page for the Great Northern Telegraph Company.

Last revised: 27 September, 2014

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