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

Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Stewart, R.E.
The Indo-European Telegraph

Illustrated London News, July 8, 1865


As a fitting, accompaniment to our illustrations of the laying of the Indo-European Telegraph to the head of the Persian Gulf, where it joins the land line constructed through Persia and Asiatic Turkey, we give a portrait of the late Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Stewart, a most able and active officer of the Royal Engineers, to whose personal exertions, as managing Director-General of this great undertaking the success of its operations is in a great measure to be ascribed. This highly-promising and already much distinguished member of the scientific branch of our military service died at Constantinople at the beginning of this year, having just accomplished the most difficult part of his task by the completion of the telegraphic line from Bagdad, to Bushire.

The Late Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Stewart, Director-General of the Indo-European Telegraph

He was only thirty-two years of age, but had run a very brilliant career. At the College of Addiscombe he won the good-conduct prize. a sword with inscription, the Pollock gold medal, and the first Engineers' appointment for the term, as being the best conducted and most proficient of the cadets in his year. He was the first who ever combined, in his own person, these academical distinctions. 

Having gone out to India, his scientific attainments and activity recommended him for various employments, in which he won golden opinions from his superiors; and when the mutiny broke out he was attached to the Telegraph Department, which, under Sir W. O'Shaughnessy, was then spreading its branches all over India. He was specially appointed to keep the column under Sir Colin Campbell in communication with the Government during the advance upon Lucknow, and he served throughout the first advance, the second advance, the siege, and subsequent operations in Oude under Lord Clyde, always displaying the same coolness, courage, and zeal which made him conspicuous even in such a gallant and distinguished corps as the Bengal Engineers. He was the first who ever marked the successive days’ progress of an army by telegraph posts and stations, and his escapes from the enemy's horse were numberless; but nothing could daunt his spirit of enterprise and energy. Lord Canning Lord Clyde, Sir James Outram – all those, in fact who could appreciate devotion to duty, fearlessness skill, and modesty - regarded him as one of the most rising officers in the Army.

On his return to England he was favourably received; and corroborated, by his aptitude for affairs and extraordinary intelligence, the impression produced on those who recommended him to the notice of the authorities at home. He was eventually selected to superintend the construction of the telegraphic route to India, and left England, at the close of 1863, for the purpose of laying the Indo-European sea-cable along the coast of Beloochistan and Persia. He successfully escorted his important charge up to the head of the Persian Gulf, at Fao, reaching the shores Turkish Arabia, in a few weeks after leaving Kurrachee, and then moved up to Bagdad to see what was the prospect of ensuring an efficient communication to and from that city.

Unfortunately, though the Ottoman Government had agreed to bring their land line to the Persian Gulf, at the mouth of the Shat ul Arab, in time to meet the Indian sea-cable, it was found, on the arrival of the latter, that a gap of 170 miles of the Turkish section still remained unfinished between Bagdad and Bussora. Nor was there a promise even of speedy completion. The Turks wished to put up the line; the Arabs would not let them. The matter would have been trivial to a Power like England; it was a long-standing obstacle in Turkish Asia. We should have subsidised the rebellious Monteuks into guardians of the line. The obstinacy of a Turkish Pacha made them his bitter enemies, and consequently hostile to the telegraph whichhe wished to erect. Under these circumstances, Colonel Stewart returned to India from Bagdad in April. After making his arrangements in Bombay he embarked for Egypt, and Constantinople, landing at Galata in July.

From that time to the period of his death he was constantly engaged in urging the Ottoman authorities to organise at least one thoroughly efficient wire for the Anglo-Indian telegraph service. In the first instance his attention was given to certain amendments in their Asiatic lines, inspected and re-inspected by British officers; to placing a competent staff of clerks and signallers along the line sufficiently acquainted with English to prevent a recurrence of the absurd mistakes heretofore committed by the misuse of that language and incorrect translations; and to framing a full convention with the Turkish Government which would meet all future requirements on the subject of international telegraph communication. It then appeared that, while perfecting the Asiatic system, there was danger of deterioration on the European side. Attention was consequently drawn to the Danubian and Adriatic lines of Turkey. But Colonel Stewart's energy and perseverance at length prevailed over the apathy of the Turkish officials, and the whole system was put into a good working condition.

He had an able assistant in Major Champain, a brother officer of Engineers. This gentleman has held charge of the Persian line of telegraph, which, branching off from the Turkish line at Bagdad, takes a long course to the Persian Gulf through Teheran, and joins the Indian Sea cable at Bushire. The completion of this alternative line would render the failure between Bagdad and Bussora of comparatively little importance; for the correspondence would then have effect front Constantinople to Bagdad, from Bagdad to Bushire, and from Bushire by submarine cable, to Gwadur or Kurrachee, at each of which places is a terminus of the Indian system. The rest was a political battle, which the director of the Anglo-Indian Telegraph was hardly called upon to fight. Colonel Stewart, however did fight it, in conjunction with our diplomatists: but in serving the State as a true and loyal soldier, at the desk as in the field, he overtaxed his energies.

Sharp and severe Indian sicknesses, constant warnings of danger from fevers which pursued him to Europe, and daily increasing sensitiveness to matters of duty, were reasons for a relaxation of labour. He had not been well for many weeks; but he could not be persuaded to quit Constantinople, which he seemed to consider for the time the post of honour. It was, in fact, the central point for a joint European and Asiatic line on the eve of completion, and especially favourable for watching and correcting defects when once the working had begun. Besides, the mal-administration of Turkish telegraphs called for the closest observation and care in the early operations of the Indian line.

He had at length made up his mind to leave the place, but must delay for one more interview at the Porte to obtain some further concessions. This interview, though a day had been fixed, never took place. About Christmas he was seriously ill. On the 28th of December his malady assumed the form of cerebral affection; an intermittent fever supervened, followed by a complication of disorders. He died on the 16th of January, and now rests in Scutari about fifty yards from the monument to the Crimean heroes.

Last revised: 12 February, 2010

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