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

John Connellan Deane
by Steven Roberts

Introduction: While not strictly a cable pioneer, John C. Deane sailed on the 1865 and 1866 Atlantic cable expeditions and wrote a diary for each voyage. He was Secretary of the Anglo-American Telegraph company, and had other involvement in the cable industry in the 1860s.

Deane has until now been somewhat of a mystery figure; here Steven Roberts presents the results of current research into Deane’s life and work.

See also Deane's diaries for the 1865 and 1866 Atlantic cable expedition.

–Bill Burns

John Connellan Deane: 1816 - 1887

J C Deane was born in 1816 in the City of Cork, Ireland, the eldest son of the eminent Irish architect Sir Thomas Deane Kt, by his first wife, Catherine Connellan.  He came from a long line of architects and builders, and lived for the early part of his life at his father’s practice in Deane Street, Lapp’s Island, Cork, before the family acquired the 683 acre estate of Ummera, Timoleague, Cork, in 1820.

Deane was initially educated at Midleton College, Cork, before matriculating in 1831 at Trinity College, Dublin, at the age of sixteen. Despite his architectural background, an occupation which was also followed by his brothers, he chose the law as a profession and trained for the Bar at King’s Inn, Dublin, before being admitted to Gray’s Inn in London on June 6, 1838 at age 23. He does not appear to have ever practiced at law and had to be rescued from debt on a number of occasions during his youth.

Returning to Ireland, John Connellan Deane of Dundanlon, St Finnbarr’s, County Cork, age 24, married Catherine Creighton of 2 Upper Pembroke Street, Dublin, age 28, on August 6, 1839 at St Peter’s Church, Aungier Street, Dublin. Miss Creighton had been born in Westminster, London. They were to have three sons and four daughters together over the subsequent twelve years. Their last child, Caroline Julia, was baptised at the same St Peter’s Church, on May 28, 1852, when the Deanes were living at Durra Villa, Upper Leason Street, Dublin.

Deane gained a modest income from reporting on bankruptcy proceedings for the Irish Equity Reports on Points of Practice during 1840 and 1841.

Despite Deane’s “settling down”, his father was writing to a friend in December 1843, when his own business was poor, that his son had run up debts of £2,000 “on another fling”.

After this Deane seems to have applied himself to serious work, becoming a Temporary Inspecting Officer under the Relief Commission for Ireland during the Famine Year, working with the Poor Law Unions, which handled the distribution of food, at Inishowen, County Donegal, in 1846, and Clifden, County Galway, in 1847. He wrote and distributed a paper on encouraging Irish fisheries in January 1847, and promoted the woollen stocking industry of his home city in 1849. He joined the Royal Dublin Society in February, 1847, and the Royal Irish Academy in 1850, whilst living at 12 Waterloo Road, Dublin, still professing to be a Barrister at Law. He was removed from membership of the Dublin Society for non-payment of his subscription on January 25, 1849.

His life was not all serious. In 1851 Deane was a member of the cast of The Mystics, performed by “The Strollers”, an amateur theatrical troupe in Dublin, and he never lost his interest in the theatre, as will be seen later.

Between May 12 and October 31, 1853 Dublin hosted its Great Industrial Exhibition in its own ‘Crystal Palace’ near Merrion Square. It was entirely paid for by the great Irish railway contractor, William Dargan, anticipating a renewal of industry in Ireland. Deane was appointed Assistant Secretary to the organising committee and took on the job of bringing together the artistic and cultural exhibits, gaining, it seems, a reputation for connections and efficiency in an unfortunate environment. Although the exhibition was well-attended, the Irish people in the countryside showed little interest, English manufacturers gave only feeble support and the railways were loath to offer excursion fares. Dargan lost £9,000 on his investment.

Deane then moved to London. There he became a prominent member of the Society of Arts at the Adelphi, specialising in the fine arts and architecture, and worked with the Crystal Palace Company in organising cultural exhibits at its permanent home in Sydenham, Kent. He became a member of the Garrick Club in 1854, at which time he was of the Court Temple.

After his experience as one of the secretaries assembling the art exhibits at Dublin, on February 10, 1856, Deane suggested to Thomas Fairbairn, son of the Manchester ironmaster William Fairbairn (a guarantor of the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London), that an even grander show of art be created in his city. Encouraged by Fairbairn, J C Deane presented his proposal at a great public meeting at Manchester Town Hall on March 26, 1856, “Suggestions for an Exhibition at Manchester 1857 of the Art Treasures of Great Britain”. This was to lead to one of the most incredible public exhibitions ever undertaken. The citizens of Manchester threw themselves into the project; an immediate guarantee of £70,000 was raised and detailed plans commenced.

J C Deane was appointed General Commissioner of the Art Treasures Exhibition in May 1856 with a salary of £1,000 a year. He was to manage the project in concert with a General Committee, assembling the materials, supervising the construction of the halls and co-ordinating the participation of the public. He even approached Charles Dickens about presenting the play “The Frozen Deep” at the exhibition, and performances at the Free Trade Hall on 21, 22, and 24 August 1857 were attended by thousands.

A huge temporary iron and glass hall, 700 feet by 200 feet, was built at Old Trafford, on the outskirts of Manchester, a “safe distance from the tall chimneys” of the industrial city, with its own station on the Manchester, South Junction & Altrincham Railway. It possessed a Great Hall, a Picture Gallery, a Transept with an Oriental Gallery and a Hertford Gallery, a Water Colour Gallery, as well as First and Second Class Refreshment Rooms.

The Art Treasures Exhibition was to assemble 16,000 works of art, the largest collection ever assembled in one place:

“The collection embraced 1,178 ancient, and 689 modern pictures, many of them of the highest value; 386 portraits, 969 water-colour drawings, 10,000 objects of art in the General Museum, 260 sketches and original drawings, 1,475 engravings, 500 miniatures, 597 photographs, 63 architectural drawings, and 160 pieces of sculpture.”

Over 1,300,000 people attended the ATE between May 5 and October 17, 1856, including the Emperor of the French, the King of Belgium and the Queen of the Netherlands, as well as Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and their children. Deane negotiated with the pioneer tour organiser, Thomas Cooke, and with the railway companies to ensure that the workers of Britain could share the enlightenment as well.

And although there were cost over-runs on the building, the Art Treasures Exhibition made a profit, albeit a very small one! It also saw the founding of the Hallé Orchestra, created to add a musical artistic element at the ATE, as a lasting legacy.

[The Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire published a long article on the Art Treasures Exhibition in Vol. 10 of its Journal (1857-58). This includes a number of mentions of J C Deane.]

But the glory quickly slipped away. By 1861 Deane was living at 6 Sydney Place, Onslow Square, Kensington, with his considerable family, as a “Barrister-at-law, out of practice”. In that year he suggested to the Society of Arts in London that an even bigger, “Great International Exhibition of the Arts”, be held in London.

In January 1854 Deane had been admitted a member of the Garrick Club, the haunt of gentlemen authors, writers and artists, of which he was to become a great ornament for twenty years. It is likely that Deane met the legendary journalist William Howard Russell at the Garrick. They were both of Anglo-Irish descent and had much in common. They became close friends. ‘Billy’ Russell described ‘Johnnie’ Dean as “a fellow of infinite jest and humour”. Others noted that Deane had “a colourful character” and “a good singing voice”.

It was Deane who suggested in 1859 that Russell capitalise on his war reporting by founding the Army & Navy Gazette, Journal of the Militia and Volunteer Forces. The first edition, owned and edited by Russell, appeared in January 1860 and was continued as a voice of the armed forces until 1936.

As well as the house in Sydney Place, Deane had use of a property in Bath, in the West of England, where he and his wife looked after W H Russell’s wife after a long and painful birth in February 1861.

No doubt based on his experience with the Crystal Palace Company and the Art Treasures Exhibition, J C Deane was appointed General Manager of the Alexandra Park Company in June 1863. The company was intended to develop the eponymous space in north London as a public attraction, with, among other things a great hall and a race course. It ran out of money and was wound-up on February 15, 1865.

Whilst still managing the Alexandra Park, on December 1, 1864, John Connellan Deane was declared Bankrupt. The nature of his indebtedness and the identity of his creditors are unknown, but he had to abandon the house at Sydney Place and move, or flee, to remote Ashford in Middlesex. His insolvency was not discharged until 1873. And on 12 May 1865, Deane’s wife Catherine died at Hornsey, Middlesex, aged 54.

Despite these calamities his friends, probably W H Russell, seem to have rallied round. During the summer of 1865, after the dissolution of the Alexandra Park Company, Deane was on board the mighty steamer, the Great Eastern, as it attempted to lay the telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean. Russell was employed by The Times newspaper to chronicle the epic voyage from on board the Great Eastern, and seems to have taken Deane along as amanuensis. Deane waited for a week at Valentia in west Ireland before joining the Great Eastern at sea, 27 miles off the coast, on July 23, whilst the coastal section of the circuit was being spliced to the deep water section.

Literature was not neglected in the big ship during the expedition, a lithographer being specially retained on board. His duty it was to lithograph and print the previous day’s diary of events, as written by Mr. Russell and copied out by Mr. J.C. Deane. Envelopes addressed to the editors of twenty-five American journals, and to the editors of sixty-five published in England, Scotland, and Ireland, were kept in readiness, and as each day’s news was told off it was added to the stock already folded for posting.
                                                                          [Mechanics Magazine, 25 August 1865]

‘Billy’ Russell was the official (and very well-paid) chronicler of the Atlantic cable expedition of 1865, but ‘Johnnie’ Deane also kept a detailed diary of events. This diary was published in Macmillan’s Magazine on September 12, 1865.

Although the 1865 cable broke in mid-ocean, the site was buoyed and the Great Eastern returned to Britain. The Atlantic Telegraph Company and its technical advisers had absolute confidence that a cable could be laid between Ireland and Canada, even that the broken cable could be recovered and continued to Newfoundland. All that was needed was more money.

Deane, on his return to Britain early in September 1865, was immediately in touch with Sir Robert Peel Bt, MP, Chief Secretary for Ireland, enclosing the narrative of the voyage, sketches and a chart, to ensure that the confidence of the engineers in the cable project was made known to the government. This lobbying led him further into the telegraph industry.

Fate then intervened: the Atlantic Telegraph Company was limited by law as to the amount of money it could raise without having to amend its legal powers by going to Parliament, a long and expensive process. The alternative was to establish a new company under the newly-introduced joint stock laws to raise the money separately. In February 1866 the makers of the cable and their allies formed the Anglo-American Telegraph Company with new capital to make a new cable and to repair the old one on behalf of the original Atlantic Telegraph Company. It was an emergency solution; as part of the emergency John Connellan Deane was appointed Secretary to the new board of directors. His only experience of the telegraph business was having travelled as an observer on the first expedition at the instance of W H Russell.

Even though the City of London entered a period of financial melt-down in April 1866, with the collapse of the largest financial institution in the world and all of its subsidiaries, Anglo-American raised its needed capital in England, ordered another cable and sufficient extra to complete the old one, loaded it all on the Great Eastern and set off on the second expedition.

It was a triumph. After a slight hiccup when the second cable broke, it was immediately recovered and on July 27, 1866, Europe was successfully connected with America by electric telegraph. As promised, the Great Eastern then raised the 1865 cable and on September 7, 1866, completed its laying to Newfoundland. And instead of W H Russell recording these momentous events, it was left to the Secretary of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company, J C Deane, to write another detailed diary of the expedition. This was published in The Newfoundlander on July 30, 1866, and in the Illustrated London News on September 15 and 29, 1866; extracts also appeared in The Times during the voyage, and later in New York.

The expedition did not all go well for Deane; on August 15, 1866, he fell off the bridge of the Great Eastern on to the deck and broke his arm. Fortunately it was his left arm, so he could still use a pen.

Title page for Contentina,
printed on board Great Eastern
Illustration by Robert Dudley

Deane and C V Poore, the medical officer on board the Great Eastern, wrote and performed a burlesque called Contentina on the homeward voyage; Deane had always been fascinated by the theatre. The libretto was published and printed aboard ship with a cover by Robert Dudley, who had also accompanied the 1865 expedition and painted the watercolours for William Russell’s book.

The artist Henry Nelson O’Neil, A.R.A., Deane’s friend and fellow Garrick Club member, wrote this review, published in London Society magazine as part of his account of the expedition:

As we were going up the Channel we betook ourselves to our old amusement, the drama. A play was written expressly for the occasion by Messrs. Deane and Poore, entitled Contentina; or the Rope, the Grapnel, and the Yankee Doodle! which, I need hardly say, consisted of a series of songs and hits at the successful voyage. Everything was done in correct style, including the advertising, and we had a regular ‘sandwich’ parading the deck, carrying a famous sensation poster, concocted by Mr. Dudley. The performance went off with great éclat, and applause was liberally awarded. The final song seemed to take the popular mind, and was vigorously redemanded; it was to the air of ‘’95,’ and was a sort of history ot the successful grappling.

With the great engineering success of completing the two trans-Atlantic cables, the Anglo-American Telegraph became a trading business. The profits from working the circuits were immense, an initial dividend of 33% was declared, and the Anglo-American company tail began to wag the Atlantic Telegraph dog. The old company wanted to acquire the new one, but could not raise any more money as Anglo-American were too successful. The Atlantic eventually gave up and sold its rights to the new firm. J C Deane stayed in position as Secretary through all this, until competition came from a new cable from France to Canada.

Deane appears to have performed his duties as Secretary to the Anglo-American board well and without criticism. He was vigorous in defending its interests in the public press in the disputes with the old Atlantic Telegraph Company, as well as engaging in correspondence with the governments of Britain and the United States.

The Anglo-American Telegraph Company was to spawn the Anglo-Indian Telegraph Company, with a series of cables from Italy though Egypt to Aden and Bombay. J C Deane was nominated Secretary of that, too. It was a cable too far—no capital could be raised in 1867.

On 25 May 1869, Deane married Emily Charlotte Bolton at Kilbrogan Church, Bandon, County Cork. Emily was the youngest daughter of the late Chichester Francis Bolton of Louth, a member of the Irish landed gentry,

J C Deane c.1871

During 1871 Henry Weaver, formerly the Secretary and General Manager of the Electric & International Telegraph Company, by far the largest domestic service provider in Britain, just nationalised by the British Parliament, was appointed General Manager of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company. He implemented new efficiencies and was to become Managing Director within a few years, staying with Anglo-American for the rest of his life.

J C Deane was immediately displaced.

The Census of 1871 shows another radical change in Deane’s status. He was now aged 55, and with his new wife, Emily, age 27, was residing at 13 Gloucester Terrace, back in smart Kensington, still a “Barrister”.

1871 was also the year that his father, Sir Thomas Deane Kt, who supported him financially for much of his life, died in Dublin, on October 2.

On November 30, 1872, Deane was on the board of directors of the Newfoundland Mining Company when it was launched in London. It was formed to work the lead mine at La Manche, Newfoundland, owned by the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company, a close associate of Anglo-American Telegraph. The mine had been opened in 1857 by the telegraph company on land granted to it by the Newfoundland government, and had been operated by several American concerns without success; predictably the new mining company also failed. Deane was then living at 70 St George’s Road, in less-than-fashionable Pimlico.

There is little mention of the next fifteen years of Deane’s life in the public record. Only on June 14, 1873, did he manage to pay the first and only dividend of 1s. 5¾d. in the pound (7.4%) to his creditors of 1864. It is assumed that he left Britain with his new, young wife at about this time to take up residence abroad. 

Some additional information on Deane’s activities during this period come from a diary kept by his son-in-law, Charles John Wills, whose wife was Deane’s daughter Meliora. According to entries in the diary for the first quarter of 1877, Deane’s loss of involvement with the cable company had evidently precipitated further financial catastrophes. He was still living at St George’s Road, and was occasionally giving small sums to Charles in repayment of a debt.

Charles and Meliora’s own situation was very poor at this time, as Charles had been unemployed since September 1876. To make ends meet, Meliora was selling some of her belongings, and Charles, although seeking a post as a medical assistant, had to pawn his microscope and sell some of his medical books. Charles was also borrowing from whomever he could while seeking legal advice on recovering the debt from his father-in-law. Deane did make a few further payments against the debt in the course of the next eighteen months, but by July 1877 he had left the country.

At this point Deane appears to have completely abandoned his family; there is a reference on 13 July 1877 to his being in Paris (funded by his creditors, one must assume). And his other two daughters, Nina and Carrie, seem to have had their own financial problems.

When Meliora and Charles went to St George’s Rd on 5 February 1878, they learned that Deane and his young wife had gone to Egypt. On 18 February the bailiffs were at St George’s Rd. On 19 February a Mr Marx entered a proceeding for a debt against Deane, and the solicitor advised the family that he would have a receiver put on Ummera, the family estate in Ireland, in order to protect the children’s interests.

On 25 March 1878 Charles found the St George’s Rd house “all shut up and looking desolate”. The house and its contents were auctioned on 12 June 1878, and on 14 March 1879 Deane consented to the sale of Ummera. The diary abruptly ends the next month. How Deane came to be in Italy remains a mystery.

John Connellan Deane died at Posillipo, Naples, Italy, on February 24, 1887. His address was given as Ummera, County Cork, Ireland; his father’s old estate. He is buried at Naples in the “Cimitero degli inglesi”, the Protestant burial ground.

In 1890, Deane’s old friend Henry O’Neil (the artist) presented to the Garrick Club a painting he had made in 1869 titled "Sir Charles Taylor and others (Forty three members in the billiard room of the Garrick Club)". The forty three members pictured in the painting included John Deane and William Russell. This is the only known image of John Connellan Deane.

Deane’s widow, Emily, returned to London in 1900; she stayed for some time at the Bolton Mansions Hotel, 11-14 Bolton Gardens West, Kensington. Emily Deane was accompanied by Harry Deane, born at Castellammare di Stabia, Naples, in 1879. In 1901 Harry Deane was an electrical engineer with the National Telephone Company.

J C Deane’s eldest son by his first wife, Thomas Deane, born May 12, 1841, joined the 21st Hussars, a regiment formed from former officers of the East India Company’s Bengal Native Cavalry in India, in 1862. Transferring to the Indian Staff Corps in Bengal in 1868 Thomas Deane remained with that Corps to the end of his life, rising to the rank of Colonel and Director of the Army Remount Department by 1897. 

Notes: The bulk of this biography has been culled from the newspapers and magazines of the time made available by Google and, as well as from resources provided by Bill Burns of Atlantic Cable. Substantial use has also been made of the British Census returns and the London Gazette. Notes on Deane and his family after the failure of the Newfoundland Mining Company are from the diary of Deane’s son-in-law, and are reproduced here by kind permission of Ann Morrison.

Recently published works consulted include:
The Architecture of Deane and Woodward, Frederick O’Dwyer, Cork University Press, Cork, 1997
Once Upon a Mine; story of pre-confederation mines on the island of Newfoundland; Wendy Martin, Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, 1983

Last revised: 7 May, 2019

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