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

Sir John Pender, 1816-1896

New York Times, Jul 8, 1896



His Great Work in Organizing the Cable Companies Whose Lines Now Gird the World—A Man Whom No Disasters Could Overwhelm, and Who Brought All His Enterprises to a Successful Issue—A Prosperous Merchant.

LONDON, July 7.— Sir John Pender, formerly member of Parliament for the Wick District, and known the world over as one of the chief, if not the foremost, of organizers and promoters of ocean telegraphy, died to-day from the effects of a second stroke of paralysis, he having had a similar attack last January, which compelled him to resign his seat in Parliament.

Sir John Pender, G.C.M.G., F.R.S., (Edinburgh and London,) F.S.A., (Scotland,) J.P., D.L., second son of the late James Pender of Vale of Leven, Dumbartonshire, was born in 1816. Sir John had the advantage of an early education. On leaving school he went into the accounting branch of a factory, and in two or three years, (about the time he had attained his majority,) he was general manager of the business.

The life of Sir John divides itself from this point into two parts—first, as a merchant in Glasgow and Manchester, and second, as introducer, executant, and extender of submarine and suboceanic telegraphy. In Manchester Sir John rose to the front rank in the export trade of that vast emporium of manufacture, and there laid the foundation of his still more conspicuous course in telegraphy, not only as regards ample personal means, but also a thorough commercial knowledge of India, China, America, and the colonies of Great Britain. When the immense Atlantic project was undertaken, he was one of the 345 who contributed £1,000 each to let the experiment be tried. His name appears from that time in the list of Directors of the Atlantic Company over seven or eight years, during which cable after cable had failed.

The final crisis of Atlantic prospects came when the ship Great Eastern steamed out, with capacity far greater than any other ship before or since, with a cable more nearly perfect than has before been made; yet the great ship parted with this precious cargo in mid-ocean, and the Atlantic Company was financially ruined. Its appeals to the public for subscription of capital had hitherto fallen flat; they were now utterly useless. But not so thought Sir John Pender and others like him, as to the attainable undertaking, and the Anglo-American Company (of £600,000) was then formed to lay a new cable and to recover the former if possible. Negotiations with Glass, Elliot & Co. and the Gutta Percha Company therefor had been under arrangement. But difficulties arose between the two manufacturing companies. The Gutta Percha Company found that it was surrendering its accustomed business in favor of a supreme object, and that in the failure of that one purpose it might lose all.

It was here that the genius of Sir John Pender rose to heroism. Delay would have been fatal to an Atlantic cable and to all the capital, approaching £2,000,000, that had been expended. The Gutta Percha Company was asked by Sir John what amount of guarantee they required. "A quarter of a million sterling," was the answer. "Will you take my personal guarantee for that amount?" "Yes." "Well, you have it." And in a few weeks more, Glass, Elliot & Co. and the Gutta Percha Company were formed into the Cable Construction and Maintenance Company, with Sir John as Chairman. The cable was not only successful—luckily for Sir John and the world—but the same expedition that laid it recovered the one that had been lost, and the two companies, Atlantic and Anglo-American, were brought back successfully to life and land.

This result would have been enough to crown the adventures of any one man, but Sir John had no sooner seen the Atlantic cables established than he proceeded to work indefatigably in the organization and development of the Mediterranean, Eastern, (India and China,) Australian, South African, and direct African cables—in short, a world system, of which the American is now but a segment. Sir John was virtually the dominant spirit of all submarine telegraphy.

Sir John Pender was a merchant in London, Glasgow, and Manchester; a B.L. for Lancashire and Middlesex; a J.P. for Middlesex, Manchester. Lancashire, Denbighshire, and Argyllshire. He published, in 1869, "Statistics of the Trade of the United Kingdom with Foreign Countries from 1840." He was a member of Parliament for Totnes in 1862-6, and was first returned for Wick burghs in 1872, which he represented in three Parliaments, till 1885. In 1892 he was again returned for Wick burghs.

On the occasion of a visit to Constantinople, Sir John was sent for by the Sultan, and, in recognition of the great part he had played in connection with submarine telegraphy , his imperial Majesty presented Sir John with the Grand Cordon of the Medjidiah. This is the highest honor the Sultan can grant to an alien. Sir John, many years ago, was the recipient of the Knight Commandership of the St. Saviour of Greece, and had also the order of the Rose of Portugal. He was also a Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George.

He married, first, in 1840, Marion, daughter of James Cearns, Esq.; second, Emma, daughter of the late Henry Denison, Esq., of Daybrook, Notts.

Last revised: 7 February, 2016

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