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

Alf Newsome
by David Hall

Introduction: David Hall’s maternal grandfather, Albert Crutchley Newsome (always known as “Alf” ), was born in Southampton in 1868, and during the course of his career at sea served on cableships Silvertown, Dacia, Mexican, and Electra.

David shares here some photographs, papers, and stories from his grandfather’s life in the cable industry.

--Bill Burns

Alf Newsome

My maternal grandfather, Albert Crutchley Newsome, was always known as “Alf” to distinguish him from his father, who had the same name. Alf was born in Southampton (So’ton) in 1868. His father was a Mariner; so I suppose it didn’t suprise anybody when Alf, at the age of seventeen, went to sea himself as a Cabin Boy. His first voyage was on the SS Stockholm City to Boston. He subsequently sailed (always as a ship’s steward of some kind) many times to Cape Town, and various ports in Australia and the east coast of the United States.

A part page from Alf Newsome’s photo album showing the “cut-out” head of Alf as a young man, and years later (about 1910) as Purser on board the CS Electra.

All this is known from details on some 40 certificates of discharge (in the possession of my cousin in Australia), recording Alf Newsome’s voyages between 1886 and 1901.

In 1889, at the age of twenty and having been “at sea” for less than three years, Alf signed on as an Officer’s Servant and gained his first experience on a cable ship, the Silvertown, which sailed from London in March 1889 for the purposes of cable laying. The ship laid two cables that year: Mossamedes - Benguela - Luanda for the Eastern & South African Telegraph Co., and Bonny, Nigeria - Island of Principe, for the West African Telegraph Co.

The Silvertown returned to London at the end of the cable expedition and Alf signed off on 7th July 1889.

Now for a little history, to set the scene for a major event in Alf Newsome’s life. About the year 1859, William Thomas Henley established a cable works on the north side of the river Thames at a place that had only about that time become known as North Woolwich... “We are accustomed to hear of the rapid growth of cities in America and the colonies, yet few equal the marvellous development which has been going on,as it were, beneath our very eyes” . I realise here that I am repeating something that we already know. But perhaps it is not known that W.T. Henley built adjacent to his cable works small houses to accommodate some of his workers. These two rows of houses facing each other were given the address of Victoria Street, North Woolwich, Kent.

Some thirty three years later, North Woolwich was a cosmopolitan area and a hive of industry and commerce. At this time the 23-year-old Alf Newsome, now on ships of the Union Castle Line, had made eight three-month voyages from the nearby Royal Docks to Cape Town. (He was destined to make ten more such trips).

Whilst Alf was sailing in and out of London, at the same time (around 1890), just outside the docks in Victoria Street, in one of Mr. Henley’s houses there lived a widower named Edwin Crutchley and his daughter of about 18 years, Leonora. Edwin Crutchley was employed as a “Wire Drawer” at the Henley Cable Works. Somehow, obviously, the paths of Albert Newsome and Leonora Crutchley crossed, for in June 1892 they were married. Alf, for some reason, took “Nolly’s” surname as his second name and therefter always signed himself “A.C. Newsome” .

Albert and Leonora had been married for some three years, during which time he had continued his trips to South Africa, when in 1895 he joined the CS Dacia. Until I saw Alf’s discharge certificates I had always thought that it was because he served on cable ships that he met my grandmother. It now seems that the reverse is the case.

Alf signed on the CS Dacia in October 1895 as a Second Steward/Storekeeper, on which occasion he sailed to Tenerife. Between then and January 1901 Alf made four short duration voyages on the Dacia, which was engaged around the Canary Islands for the purposes of cable laying and cable repairs.

His final recorded trip in this period was to New York, as Chief Steward on the SS Mexican in 1901 where he was discharged. Based in Galveston, the ship performed maintenance work for the Mexican Telegraph Company, whose first cables had been laid by cable ships Dacia and International. It’s not recorded how long Alf stayed in New York after leaving the Mexican, nor how he returned to England.

This is Alf’s Discharge Book,covered in dark brown morocco leather and bearing the Board of Trade emblem. There are dire warnings to the bearer of a Discharge Book, threatening possible imprisonment with hard labour if misused.

Front cover of Alf’s British seamen’s discharge certificate wallet, always called a Discharge Book.

The inside front and back cover of Alf’s book.


Discharge Certificate from the Cable Ship Silvertown July 1889.
A 20 year old “Officers’ Servant” pays off the CS Silvertown after a four month voyage “Cable Laying” .

The first trip to the Canaries on CS Dacia.
Engaged: London, 20.X.95 Discharged: London, Dec 11 1895
Description of Voyage:
Foreign Teneriffe
Master of the Ship: R. Hudson

A six week voyage to the Canary Islands on CS Dacia.
Engaged: London,2.7.96
Discharged: London,Aug 17 1896
Description of Voyage:
Canary Is Cable Repairs
Master of Ship: D.Morton

Another six week trip on CS Dacia, but to where?
Engaged: Tilbury,4.5.97
Discharged: Ldon,22.6.97
Description of Voyage:
Cable laying
Master of Ship: R. Hudson

Albert Crutchley Newsome now a “Storekeeper” sailed out on CS Dacia in the last year of the 19th Century and returned safely in the 20th.
Engaged: London, 15.10.1900
Discharged: London, 27 Jan 1901
Description of Voyage: Cable Laying
Master of Ship: T.W. Sharp

U.S. Discharge Certificate from CS Mexican, 21st September 1901, New York

These documents were in the possession of Alf’s son Herbert Newsome, a seaman himself and torpedoed twice, and have come down in the family.

After this there is no more official documentation recording Albert Crutchley Newsome’s career, but three photos belonging to him, (of a tropical atoll showing palm trees that appear to be growing out of the sea) and which are marked, Cocos Islands. There was a cable station on Direction Island in the Cocos. So was Alf there? We may never know.

However, some time around 1905, Alf joined the Eastern Telegraph Company’s Cable Ship Electra.

The following photographs are from a small album, about 9” x 9”, which belonged to Alf Newsome. The album, entitled “Impressions of People and Places” has tiny higgledy-piggledy photographs on its pages, mainly of his family, but dispersed amongst them are pictures from his cable voyages. What I “know” about them is what I have been told over the years, because sadly there are no captions, save for a few written in faint pencil in Alf’s hand. They are very hard to read, so when I put names to a photo it is my transcription, but I think correct.

Albert Crutchley Newsome in the naval uniform of the Eastern Telegraph Company

Alf’s Calling Card

Mr. Langram, CS Electra

Mr. Watkins, CS Electra

Unknown officers, CS Electra

Officers Pickthall and Peyton, CS Electra.

Mr. R. Ball, 4th Engineer CS Electra

An officer of the CS Electra.Nothing is known of this young man,looking very smart in his formal uniform.

Mssrs Langram and Watkins on shore leave.
Langram is seated on a camel, whose
head appears on another page.

Deck Officers of the Eastern Telegraph Company’s
CS Electra in the Suez Canal about 1910.

“Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst...”
(Kipling: Mandalay).

This photo from Suez is my favourite picture from Alf Newsome’s album! It is a complete photo of postcard size and although faded, it captures the esprit de corps that existed between these men on cable ships. They had to live together at sea for weeks on end, often not sailing like normal mariners, but anchored hundreds of miles offshore going about their business.

Apparently the deck officers of the Electra always donned the fez when they entered the Suez Canal. In North Africa a fez was (and still is) an emblem of authority and commanded respect to its wearer and conversely showed respect towards the natives.

A caricature of Alf Newsome, entitled “Where is that ----------! halfpenny?”

A caricature of an unknown officer, entitled “Happy moments, day by day”

These two small water colours are painted on scraps of brown paper, and I imagine that they were done by a crew member of the Electra perhaps when there was time to kill.

The next document I have is a letter from Alf which he wrote from Aden whilst on board the CS Electra in 1908. The letter is written to a Mr. Fred Davis; the two men and their wives were one time next-door-neighbours who became good friends. This letter gives a little insight into the life of a cable ship crew member, which I find interesting in its simplicity. I wonder what Alf would have thought if he knew that strangers across the world (which includes me) were reading his letters 100 years later!

The original letter in Albert Newsome’s hand

Address all letters Aden

C.S. “Electra”

Aden. Jan: 7th 1908
Dear Fred
Just a few lines
to let you know I joined
my ship again on Dec 16th
I had to stay five days in
Aden as the ship was not
there & I got fairly sick of
the place. I had to proceed
to Perim in a small boat
that runs from Perim to Aden
every Monday. had to sleep

in a deck chair all night
felt pretty well tired out when
I arrived. Every one is strangers
on our ship, excepting 3rd officer
& Ball whom I found all right
The ship had a hockey match
on same afternoon, so I got let
in for my old place in goal
I did not feel like it though
being down in the mouth. We
beat 113th Native infantry 4-0
Got orders on the 18th proceed to
repair Aden - Bombay cable 400
miles off Aden, so left on the
19th & have only just returned

to Aden for coal & provisions
& the job incompleted, we have
lost all our ropes(steel) buoys
& mushrooms & have only got one
end & we expect to leave here
again tomorrow to finish the
job, or try to, we have been at
sea now nearly 20 days & Lord
knows how long we shall be this
time. Tell Mrs Newsome not
to worry about not getting
any letters for I cannot post
at sea. When we have finished
this job we expect to be
packed off to Mombassa as
the Zanzibar cable has broken

down & the C/S Sherard Osborn is
broken down with a broken shaft.
I have not had a letter from you
about the dance,but I had some
rot on a programme from E
Dallibar. I hope you spent a
pleasant Christmas & New Year eve
ours was a miserable one everyone
hard at work I have been feeling
very seedy of late & now do not
feel up to the mark remember
me to Mr Savage & give my
best wishes to Mrs Davis &
Mrs Wright & I hope you are
all in the best of health
I think I have told you all
the news at present & will now
close with kind regards to all
from your sincere chum Alf.

The date on this letter was changed in pencil from the 7th to the 6th.Perhaps the ship docked a day earlier than anticipated.

In this letter to Fred Davis Alf Newsome mentioned that after the Aden - Bombay cable had been repaired the crew of the CS Electra expected to be “packed off” to Mombassa to repair the Zanzibar cable: because “the CS Sherard Osborn is broken down with a broken shaft” . That indeed appears to be what happened. Here is a post card (albeit of Aden), dated March 1908, that Alf posted to Fred from Mombassa.

There are two more letters written by Albert Crutchley Newsome, the Chief Steward or Purser on board the the Eastern Telegraph Company’s cable ship Electra. Whilst they are naturally of a personal nature, they convey the joy, sadness, and worries that people have normally, but which on board an anchored ship hundreds of miles from land, are amplified by the frustration of not being able to do anything about them.

The next letter from Alf to his good friend Fred is an example. This letter is coincidentally written exactly a year after the one above. The CS Electra is again hundreds of miles off Aden, repairing the Aden- Bombay submarine telegraph cable, and at home the annual dance is giving Alf much concern, because Mr E. Dallibar seems to be up to his tricks again.(I have no doubt that the man was a Cad and a Bounder and grandmother Nollie was lucky not to have been tied to a railway line somewhere).

C.S Electra Jan: 9th. 1909 Aden-Bombay Cable. At sea 400 miles off Aden

Dear Fred

In answer to your letter of Dec: 10th that I received in Aden on the night of Jan 6th. To-day is Saturday & I am writing this out at sea as you will see above, for there is always a rush when we get into port unless we are going to stay any length of time. (Tell Mr Savage his P.C. are written all that way off as well). I was very pleased when I got your letter for it relieved my mind of a great load, when the wife wrote & told me about

her going to the dance she gave me not the straightest detail, as to how many went, but she told me how after the finish, she came home with Mr Dallibar having missed you all. I am afraid old man, I have written to her pretty straight on the subject for I cannot see how it was possible for to miss you & the wife & all friends were there & if she goes any where I prefer her to be in your company and the wifes. You need not mention I have written to you about it. But I felt mad & perhaps wrote more than I intended. Well old chum enough of this subject first a little news of my self. I must tell you I spent

the most miserable Christmas & New Year that I ever spent in my life, I thought of you all at home & how you must have been enjoying yourselves. We were on cable work & at night after. every thing & dinner was finished people were that dead tired they turned in, excepting of course the officer on the bridge, It was the same on New Year Eve. I turned in but at 11/45 the 4th Eng—Ball & the 3rd officer called me and we had a drink to all friends at home at midnight but there was not much joyfulness about it for I think there was more heart

soreness than laughter among us all,being fresh from the old country. There is no one who stays at home Fred, has any conception of the black times & the blues that all get at times, when away from all friends & home ties. You will think I am a lively writer but Mareish. I received the Xmas card & also the one from Mrs Davis. Tell her my feet are all right but how are the ginger nobs.? Tell her I shall get drunk the day I get the news, paint the town Red & dye my hair ginger, but still give her my best wishes & hope all all things will come right. I should dearly like a photo of Bob, can

CS Electra

you print two when you have taken it, why not put Ruby in it as well, try and do me the ones of Bob if you can. & when you see Mr Dear the butcher give him my best thanks for looking after Bob as he did Jan 11th. Well old man we are still hanging on here & no luck the weather is too bad to work we are now diving into the seas & rolling very heavy, I wish you were (here) for a change & to bring some of the bile off your stomach it would do you good, I am hanging on

with one hand & writing with the other, you will see by the post mark what time we get back to port, I dont know how long we shall be, but old man look after those at home for me, for I trust you above all others in this world, & will write to you again as soon as I can & now with best wishes & all sucess to yourself & kindest regards to Mrs Davis & Maggie I remain your sincere Chum


The pen Nollie sent me is a God send. A C N

Bob, as you have probably guessed, was Alf’s dog. He didn’t ask for a picture of his wife! The word “Mareish” (it could be Marlish) I don’t know and can’t find it in my dictionary, I can only think it is jargon for “sea sick” or more likely “sick of the sea”. It’s a wonder Alf didn’t jump overboard !

Nollie & Alf Newsome with their dog “Bob”, about 1910

“Friends” Fred Davis (standing) & Alf Newsome, about 1910

Here is a post card to Alf’s friend Fred Davis, written from Perim on 27th November 1910.

“Hoping you will find yours truly
on the other side”

The other side: Alf Newsome
and Officers, CS Electra

It’s strange that Alf should challenge the reader to “find yours truly on the other side” because my cousin Lavinia has marked the man sitting at the centre of the group as Alf Newsome. I am therefore at variance with her because I have no doubt that Alf is the man with the moustache standing behind. What would a steward be doing in the centre of such a photograph? Unless of course they were all stewards. Would there be that many stewards on such a small vessel? What I like about this picture though, is the crew member standing behind the group watching the picture being taken. He appears to be dressed in a quite modern fashion, in a sweat shirt, belt and tailored slacks. Over that man’s right shoulder (in the far distance) is another crewman watching.

The next post card; again written to his best friend Fred DAVIS is from Aden, Arabia and is dated 29th June 1911.

Alf, in the white suit with Mr. Watkins of the CS Electra.
The other two white men are also probably from the ship

Detail of postcard

The year 1911 was “Coronation Year” when King George V was crowned. Whether it was as a celebration of this event I don’t know, but in August that year Albert (Alf) Newsome, the Chief Steward of the Eastern Telegraph Company’s, cable ship Electra, was joined in Egypt by his wife Leonora ( Noll or Nollie).

Albert (left) & Leonora Newsome with a friend
at the Sphinx & Great Pyramid, August 1911

I don’t know who financed Nollie’s trip to Egypt, but I would I have thought it beyond the realms of Alf’s income to do so. Perhaps she was invited by the Company, or it may have subsidised the cost of travel. I don’t know if other wives were included, but I think of the two-part photos of officers in their white uniforms sitting on the deck with a glimpse of well dressed women behind. Perhaps a special occasion for a special event!

In those days not many ordinary people were able to make such an exotic trip. Nollie must have been thrilled and awestruck. At the time Nollie was 39 and Alf 43: they had four children, my mother being the youngest, born in 1906.

It is only as a result of this photo (and a later discovery of a letter written by Alf), that I know that Nollie went to Egypt at all. By the time I started to ask questions about it none of their children could tell me anything. I never knew Nollie, my grandmother; she died Christmas Eve 1937 and I was born five days later.

How long Leonora Newsome was in Egypt with her husband I don’t know, but it must have been a great adventure for her. They spent most of their time in Cairo and stayed at the Eden Palace Hotel, apparantly not far from the pyramids.

However their time together soon came to an end, and they parted, Nollie returning to England and Alf resuming his duties on the Electra. A few days later Alf wrote a short reminiscent letter to Nollie in which he addressed her as “Fairest Egyptian”.

The Eastern Telegraph Company Limited,
Cable Ship Electra
Port Perim
Sept. 3rd 1911

Fairest Egyptian
we havejust arrived at Perim, but do not
know yet if we shall be stopped from going
further. I suppose dear you are busy packing
to-day & off by the Caledonian tomorrow
she is a good ship & very fast in fact the
fastest in the Company, I hope you have
had a good time going home & were you short
of money, I have been thinking of you all
this week, & wishing I was coming home
with you, Never mind we had a fine time
at Cairo didn’t we girl, if we had been
millionares we could not have done better
or received more attention than we did,
Fancy our Noll on a camel, write me
a nice long letter dear & tell me everything
from the time I left you, till you got home
& all about your reception, did you wear
your toupee at E. Ham, or call anyone
“boy Taala Henna”, Did you get a trunk
from Speiros all right & did Musa give you
any more “fleurs” before you left, I ought to

The Eastern Telegraph Company Limited,
Cable Ship

have rec: £ 3- 7- 0 more, on the morning we
left, there was an overcharge in my a/c
but it was such a rush dear, there was
no time for anything was there, write to
Aden, when you write & let me know all
the news & send all the football papers
every week, I should have liked to seen
Bob. did he try & scoff you, How did you
manage with Polly is he all right. Well
the heat has been & is now intense we
are all in a semi boiled condition again
I am far from feeling up to the mark but
no doubt the change will do us all good
Do not mind this short note dear, for all is
such a rush again, if no orders come we shall
be off again in a few hours, you know now
how things are on board don’t you, it is not
exactly like paradise is it. Well darling
give my love to all the children & Aunt &
remember to Fred & Mrs Davis I hope she is
all right again, Not forgetting Mrs Bore ect: &
now with fondest love to my dear Sit .
from her loving Z o g A l f *) Luna

On the back of this letter in pencil, Alf has written....

Would you like to see the “Ladies ?
on the balcony again, & have a glass of cold
Cirish, or a Mango Ice

I have written to Papa

Polly, mentioned in the letter, was an African Grey parrot that Alf bought for his children whilst Nollie and he were in Cairo. Polly lived for many years afterwards and learned to speak very well.

On 16th September 1911 Alf sent a postcard to his son Herbert, written on board the CS Electra at the Seychelles and posted from there.

In his letter to Nollie Alf had said that he was “far from feeling up to the mark” ; but who would have predicted the sad turn of events that were to follow less than two months later, which were conveyed to Leonora in a letter from the Company Secretary of the Eastern Telegraph Company, London.

Albert Crutchley Newsome, aged 43, Chief Steward/Purser of the Cable Ship Electra was dead. Alf and Nollie’s sojourn in Egypt turned out to be their last time together.

“The wisest of us know not when” !

A letter of sympathy from
“Papa Doodledum”

Alf Newsome was buried in Aden on 1st October 1911. The only member of the family ever to visit Alf’s grave was his son, Herbert Crutchley Newsome, who by this time was a mariner himself, an Engineer Officer with the British India Line. Bert took this photo after his ship made an unscheduled stop at Aden in the early thirties. I wonder if the cemetery, let alone the grave, is still there!

Alf's grave marker in Aden

Alf’s death certificate shows the cause
of death as Pneumonia & Neuritis.

As a footnote: not very long after Alf died his best friend, Fred Davis, lost his wife, and a respectful while later Fred married Leonora. They were together for many years and Fred or “Davo”, as he was known, was a much-loved stepfather to my mother and the other children.

—David Hall, August 2007

Last revised: 12 December, 2018

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