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

Valentia Cable Station 1885

Thanks to Jim Jones for supplying this article from The Telegraphist, No. 25, London, Tuesday December 1, 1885, and to Neil Perry for the 2005 photograph of the Valentia Memorial.

See also the page on James Graves, a cable engineer who supervised the manufacture of the 1865 cable and was from 1866 - 1909 superintendent of the Valentia Cable Station, Cornelia Connelly's article on the Irish cable stations, the Valentia Heritage Centre website, and the Telegraph Field website (archive copy).

-- Bill Burns



When the Atlantic Telegraph expedition was preparing to start in 1865, in full expectation of successfully laying the most perfect cable ever made up to that time, and opening it for public use, a temporary wooden building was erected about fifty yards from the edge of the cliffs at Foilhommerrum, at the western end of the Island of Valentia, for the accommodation of the staffs of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, the Atlantic Telegraph Company, the Electric and International Telegraph Company, and the British and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company.

The building was a plain one, of one story, and was about 70 ft. long, with a central passage-way from end to end, while the offices and sleeping apartments for part of the staffs engaged were ranged on each side of this passage. Those of the staffs who could not be accommodated upon the premises had to avail themselves of the hotel and other places some five miles distant from the landing-place of the cable.

Owing to the failure of the expedition, and the return of the Great Eastern after laying upwards of 1,200 miles of the cable, this lonely station was occupied by a limited number of the Maintenance Company's staff during the winter of 1865-6, but the turn of summer brought them some more company, and the successful completion of the 1866 cable under the auspices of the newly-formed Anglo-American Telegraph Company, enabled that company to open the station for public use on the 27th of July, 1866, and a few weeks later they had the satisfaction of receiving the news that the Great Eastern had succeeded in recovering and completing the 1865 cable, thus giving them two strings to their bow.

These two cables were worked from the temporary station at Foilhommerrum from the time of their completion until arrangements were made for the erection of a new and permanent station on a plot of land taken on lease at the eastern end of the island, and within a furlong from the pier and ferry. The distance between the island and the mainland, at Reenard Point, is about two-thirds of a mile, and in very bad weather is almost impassable for boats. The designs and plans for the new station were drawn up by Mr. Thomas N. Deane, architect, of Dublin, and included three separate blocks of buildings, the centre one adapted for a telegraph station, with quarters for the single men, and the two others as residences for the married members of the staff. The northern block contained the superintendent's and two other houses, and the southern block four more. These three blocks were erected upon a square plot of land containing four acres, the houses being erected across the centre, parallel with the public road and facing the sea, the ground at the rear of the houses being utilised as kitchen gardens, and that in front for flowers and shrubs. The new station having been completed and fitted up, and under-ground wires laid between it and the old station, the business was transferred to it in October, 1868.

The old wooden temporary station was then presented to the inhabitants, who had it removed to Kingstown, and converted it into a village hospital, for which purpose it has been used up to the present date. After twenty years' use, however, it is becoming rather rotten, and funds are now being collected for erecting a stone building to supersede it.

In 1880 two more acres of land were added to the Company's building ground at the northern end, and a fourth block of six houses was built for the further accommodation of the married clerks; notwithstanding this addition, several married men have to find house accommodation as best they can in the vicinity of the station.

The photograph from which the engraving is copied was taken from the southern end of the four blocks, - the second of which from the left is the telegraph station. The superintendent's residence, in the third block, is distinguished by the bay-window. The tall chimney, at the right side of the engraving, is that of the engine-room of the late Valentia Slate Works, which have been closed for nearly three years, throwing upwards of a hundred men and boys out of work. The Valentia slate is noted for its great hardness and its suitableness for the beds of billiard-tables, tomb­stones, and paving-flags.

The instrumental department of the Telegraph Station contains four siphon-recorders in connexion with four working cables, - three to Heart's Content, Newfoundland, duplexed, and one to Emden, North Germany: two sets of Wheatstone Automatic Apparatus in connexion with the two land-lines to London; a local Morse circuit in connexion with the Direct United States Cable Company's Station at Ballinskelligs Bay; and an Alphabetical Wheatstone communicating with the local post-office.

All batteries are placed in a separate room adjoining the mechanician's workshop, and are entirely removed from the instrumental department. The testing apparatus is fixed in the superintendent's office, and includes resistance slides, an astatic galvanometer, and one of Sir William Thomson's quadrant electrometers.

The single members of the staff are boarded and lodged for a fixed weekly sum, and are supplied by the company with a housekeeper and servants to look after their domestic comforts, and there is not the slightest doubt that many of those who have shared these privileges, and who are now scattered all over the world, must often look back upon the time when they were thus relieved of the care of providing for their daily wants.

As the climate of Valentia is so very wet, and outdoor amusements next to impossible during the few summer months, the staff have been most liberally supplied with a full-sized billiard-table, which is a great source of comfort and pastime for the clerks when off duty. A large boat is also furnished by the company for the use of the staff; which, although a capital safe family boat for picnic parties with children, is rather too heavy for a small crew, and it is, therefore, supplemented by a fleet of small punts and outriggers, the private property of the members of the staff, for smooth-water exercise.

When the weather permits during the summer-time the opportunity is embraced for joining in a little cricket practice, but it seldom happens that anything like a "field" can be mustered for that purpose owing to the necessary duty rotation. The "Anglo-American Cricket Club" was established in 1867, and has from time to time possessed some very fair cricketers, but of late there has been such an exodus of members who have joined other companies that it has left the club weaker than it ever was since its establishment. The company pay the annual rent of a cricket-field, but a good one cannot be obtained at any price. The managing director of the company is the president of the club, and the local superintendent still takes, as be always has done, an active interest in the welfare of the club, and captained it during the past season.

The monotony of the dreary winter months is from time to time relieved by a social gathering of the members of the staff, their wives, and families, for the enjoyment of some sweet music interspersed with dancing.

There are no less than thirteen pianofortes and one harmonium owned by the staff, - a goodly number of the ladies connected with the staff being proficient pianistes. All the rising generation are being musically trained, and not the least interesting and amusing is an occasional children's party.

For charitable purposes several public concerts have been given voluntarily by the staff, and have been highly appreciated by the inhabitants and the elite of the neighbourhood.

Although the climate is so wet and windy, it is never severely cold. During the last twenty years there has not been ice of sufficient thickness for skating on more than two or three occasions, and then of so short duration that some of the staff having at once sent for some skates were chagrined to find the ice gone when they arrived.

The fuchsia tree grows in profusion, all the garden hedges are made of it, and, if allowed to grow, would in a few years attain a height of 20 ft. During the summer, and even now in October, they are covered with blossoms and swarming with bees still "gathering honey all the day from every opening flower."

Veronicas, esculonias, and hydrangias flourish luxuriantly, and are now in blossom. Tulip, snowdrop, crocus, and gladiolus bulbs may be left in the ground all the winter and suffer no injury. Lilies grow outdoors and flower annually without any trouble. The largest fuchsia tree in the world is said to be that in the garden of the Knight of Kerry in this Island. It was the pride of the late Knight who used to carefully stake out and measure its extreme circumference every year.

Many clerks who have been sent here from England have, in a short time, had their health greatly improved, owing to their regular living and the fresh air always at their service. The air of the Island of Valentia is taken as the standard of purity. The warm moist climate, however, after a long residence has a very enervating effect upon one's system, and it requires a great effort to keep oneself au courant with the very rapid strides now being made in all departments of science, more especially in the electrical section.

By the liberality of the directors the staff is supplied with mental food in the shape of the Telegraphist, Electrician, English Mechanic, Knowledge, Graphic, Illustrated London News, Punch, and the Times daily, as also with an extensive library, added to annually, and now numbering some 800 volumes of textbooks of all kinds, - encyclopaedias and books of reference, and light reading in the shape of novels.

The periodicals are supplemented by several other papers subscribed for privately, so that there is no lack of reading matter to pass away a leisure hour.

Valentia Memorial
Photograph copyright © 2005 Neil Perry

In October, 2002 a memorial to commemorate the laying of the trans-Atlantic cable from Valentia to Newfoundland was unveiled on Valentia. Crafted of Valentia slate and designed and made by local sculptor Alan Ryan Hall, the memorial records the history of the telegraph industry on the island from 1857 forward. The memorial is 1.9 metres wide by 1.25 metres high..

Last revised: 20 December, 2019

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