Escher.gif (426 bytes)

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

The West Highland Telegraph
by Steven Roberts

Is this the smallest independent cable company? - The West Highland Telegraph.

At the same time as the first successful Atlantic Cables of 1865 and 1866, and the heroic battles of men and iron on the oceans, there appeared in that period what might be the smallest of all independent submarine cable companies. It was popularly known as the West Highland Telegraph and in its 230 mile system it owned five miles and thirty chains of underwater circuits.

The “Cantyre” or Kintyre line of the West Highland Telegraph crossed some of the wildest and most beautiful country in Britain, connecting Glasgow with the small towns and villages of north-west Scotland alongside of the lochs and across mountains. It opened from Glasgow to Campbeltown on the Mull of Cantyre on September 5, 1865.

Its lines ran from the centre of Glasgow along the north bank of the Clyde river to Helensburgh, Row, Roseneath, Blairmore, Cot House and East Craighead to West Craighead; West Craighead north along the road around Loch Awe to Inverary and Oban; West Craighead south down the Cantyre peninsula to Ardrishaig, Campbeltown and the Cantyre Light on the tip of the Mull; and from Cot House south past Holy Loch along the west bank of the Clyde to Dunoon, Toward, Ardrie Point, Ardbeg and Rothesay.

View larger map with marker descriptions

To achieve this there were four submarine cables:

  • A 60-chain cable across the Gare Loch from Row to Roseneath

  • A 2-mile cable from Cove, across Loch Long to Cot House

  • A 1-mile 40-chain cable from East Craighead to West Craighead across Loch Fyne

  • A 1-mile 50-chain cable across the northern Kyle of Bute from Ardrie Point to Ardbeg for Rothesay

In all the West Highland Telegraph worked ten individual lines; to give some idea of its extent it had stations at Ardrishaig, Barrhead, Blairmore, Bowling, Campbeltown, Cove, Dumbarton, Dunoon, Glasgow—St Vincent Place, Glasgow—Bridge Street Station, Glasgow—Charing Cross, Govan, Greenock, Helensburgh, Hillhead, Innellan, Inverary, Lochgilphead, Minaird, Oban, Partick, Roseneath, Rothesay, Tarbert and Toward.

It was in all ways an unusual telegraph; it was entirely privately financed, in fact it was owned by the Universal Private Telegraph Company, whose primary business was building complex networks of private wires in industrial cities. In operation it was an example of “self-help”; it was managed by a local committee in Glasgow, there were no employees on the line only volunteer Agents who took no pay but worked the telegraph in addition to their principal business or even in their own homes as a public service. To achieve this it used Wheatstone’s universal telegraph in its circuits, which required no batteries and indicated the ordinary alphabet on dials.

The telegraphs were lodged with a carpenter, a banker, an apothecary, a hotel, a wine merchant, a forester, a stationer, several grocers and a “newspaper stall”.

John Pender, the managing director of the Atlantic Telegraph Company and a director of the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company, who had a country house on the line, guaranteed £40 a year to maintain the station at Minaird.

The overhead wires and submarine cables for the West Highland’s Cantyre lines were all constructed during 1864 and 1865 by Reid Brothers, the telegraph engineers and contractors, of University Street, London at a cost of £6,244. As William Reid & Sons, the firm had made some of the earliest telegraph instruments in Britain during the 1830s.

For more information on the West Highland Telegraph and the Universal Private Telegraph Company see

Damaged landline insulator marked "Reid Bros London", found in the sand on the beach at low tide at Ardmore Point, near Helensburgh, Scotland, by site visitor Joyce Garson. Helensburgh was on the West Highland Telegraph's Cantyre lines, which were constructed by Reid Brothers.

Last revised: 26 November, 2010

Return to Atlantic Cable main page

Search all pages on the Atlantic Cable site:

Research Material Needed

The Atlantic Cable website is non-commercial, and its mission is to make available on line as much information as possible.

You can help - if you have cable material, old or new, please contact me. Cable samples, instruments, documents, brochures, souvenir books, photographs, family stories, all are valuable to researchers and historians.

If you have any cable-related items that you could photograph, copy, scan, loan, or sell, please email me: [email protected]

—Bill Burns, publisher and webmaster: