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

New Zealand Cables
by Bill Glover

The first attempt to link the two islands across the Cook Strait took place in 1866 when W.T. Henley’s Telegraph Works manufactured the cable and chartered a merchant ship, Weymouth, to carry out the lay between Lyall Bay on the North Island and Whites Bay on the South. This attempt failed, but a second expedition that same year was successful.

In December 2020, Dallas Elvy’s book “Whites Bay - the story of the bay, its cable station & characters” was published by Steele Roberts of Lower Hutt, New Zealand. This well-illustrated book tells the story of the Whites Bay cable station and its characters, and also includes a good deal of local history. The book covers the entire period of cable operations at Whites Bay, from the laying of the first cable in 1866 up to the 1944 withdrawal from service of the last one, six cables in all.

The Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company laid further cables on this route in 1876, using CS Hibernia and CS Edinburgh, and in 1880, when CS Kangaroo laid a cable between Wanganui and Wakapuaka.

Two telephone cables were laid: one in 1937, and one in 1945 by CS Recorder (2). Both of these cables were manufactured by Submarine Cables Ltd.

The first international cable landing on New Zealand soil was that laid in 1876 by the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company for the Eastern Extension, Australasia and China Telegraph Company, using CS’s Hibernia and Edinburgh. The cable ran from Sydney, Australia, to Wakapuaka, New Zealand. CS Sherard Osborn renewed the major part of this cable in 1895. A second cable between Australia and New Zealand was laid in 1890 between Sydney and Wellington by the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, using CS Scotia.

Cable Station, Nelson, New Zealand. South Island terminus of the 1876 cable from Sydney and the 1880 cable across the Cook Strait.

In 1901 the Pacific cable from Norfolk Island was landed in Doubtless Bay, North Island, by CS Anglia. In 1912 HMCS Iris (1) diverted this cable into Auckland, and CS Silvertown laid a 1225 nm long cable from Sydney to Auckland. In 1923 the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, using CS Stephan, laid a cable direct from Suva, Fiji to Auckland, bypassing Norfolk Island.

At the Commonwealth Telecommunications Conference held in London in 1945, the New Zealand Government signed the agreement whereby they took over responsibility for external communications. The assets of Cable and Wireless were purchased and the New Zealand Post Office became responsible for external as well as internal telecommunications services. Later projects involving the NZPO were COMPAC, ANZCAN and TASMAN.

The Auckland - Sydney section was the first part of COMPAC to be laid, CS Retriever (5) laying the shore ends in April 1962, followed by HMTS Monarch (4) laying the 1273 nm cable and 50 repeaters during June 1962. This section opened for traffic in June of that year. In October 1962 the section Auckland - Suva was laid, with the same vessels carrying out the work. The cable was 1260 nm with 50 repeaters. Submarine Cables Ltd., and Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd., manufactured the whole of the COMPAC system including repeaters.

TASMAN 1 was a joint venture between the NZPO and OTC, Australia, and consisted of a 1258 nm cable with 155 repeaters manufactured by Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd., and laid by CS Mercury in 1975.

Norfolk Island cover showing the ANZCAN cable station
Image courtesy of David Watson

Laid as a replacement for COMPAC, ANZCAN, which had a capacity of 1384 circuits, followed the same route with the addition of a landing at Norfolk Island. The whole system was installed during 1983-4, with CS Mercury laying the 730 nm Norfolk Island - Auckland section as well as the shore ends at Auckland. Cable and repeaters were manufactured by Fujitsu. HMNZS Monowai surveyed the route and CS Retriever (5) undertook the rerouting of part of the Fiji - Auckland COMPAC cable.



Built in 1896 by D. J. Dunlop and Co., Port Glasgow.

Length 205.6 ft. Breadth 30.1 ft. Depth 14.8 ft. Gross tonnage 811.

A multi-purpose ship; as well as cable laying and repair the vessel was used as Government Yacht, lighthouse tender, minesweeper and ferry. In 1900 she took a Government party on a tour of the Pacific Islands. Johnson and Phillips supplied the cable machinery which was designed and built so it could be lifted out in one piece.. Two 3 ft 2½ in. diameter bow sheaves were fitted and the picking up-paying­ out machine was a double system driven by a twin cylinder steam engine capable of a lift of 20 tons at 1 knot. Finally used as a ferry between South Island and Stewart Island


Built in 1930 by Hawthorn Leslie and Co. Ltd., Newcastle upon Tyne.

Length 219.0 ft. Breadth 30.1 ft. Depth 14.8 ft. Gross tonnage 1050

The cable machinery fitted in Matai was that removed from Tutanekai. Also used in a variety of roles including harbour defence work for the Royal New Zealand Navy. Followed her predecessor in becoming the South Island - Stewart Island ferry in October 1959 Sold in 1963 to the Hong Kong Shipping Company (Panama) and renamed Zetai Star.

Last revised: 20 January, 2021

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