History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
James Nicol's Notebook: Cable Voyages 1870 - 1874
I made fourteen (14) voyages in the s.s. “Pennsylvania” from February 13th 1868 to December 1st 1869, same sort of cargo and passengers, Dutch, Poles, Russians, English, Scotch and Irish emigrants. Sometimes 300 other times as many as 1400. We went one voyage to Boston, which is one of the oldest cities in America, narrow streets and old fashioned houses, the people are very slow going very conservative, but it is a fine city.
I only had one holiday during that time and that was one week while the ship was in dry dock in Liverpool, then I took a run over to Desart, Ireland, to see my Mother and the rest of my family, but had several days while we were in New York, then I used to go by rail to Pennsylvania, Chicago and the Falls of Niagara and elsewhere. They are fine cities and a fine country well worth seeing. The parks, places of amusement and buildings are marvelous.
On our twelveth voyage crossing to New York, we ran a small barque down, laden with iron ore, in a dense fog off Nantucket, it was their own fault, did not use the fog signals, we picked up four of the crew, the Captain and five were drowned. The case was tried in New York, we were acquited, then after we made two voyages, we had to go from Liverpool to London, to be tried at Westminster at the Admiralty Court which lasted for a week, got acquited again, when we returned to Liverpool again, our steamer had sailed.
I was kept on shore to superintend the lengthening of one of our steamers in the Herculanian dock, the s.s. “Holland”, which was cut in two drawn asunder, sixty feet put in the middle, new engines and high pressure boilers. I was looking after that job for four months.
When she was ready for sea, I met Captain Cato who was in our service about twelve months previous, was Chief Officer of the s.s. “Denmark” when Captain Grogan was washed overboard and drowned in mid Atlantic during a very heavy storm, they were bound for New York, we passed them the day after, we were bound for Liverpool.
He now had command of the s.s. “Edinburgh” belonging to the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company London, had just returned from laying a telegraph cable from Bombay to Aden, up the Red Sea to Suez, now she was in Lairds dock Birkenhead, getting new engines and boilers. He wished me to go with him as Second Officer, which I did in June 1870, when the work was completed, we sailed for London with runners for a crew. Lay at Gravesend for a week, then went to the companies works East Greenwich to take in a section of the cable from (for) Penang to Madras, (a) section of the first Australian cable. We took on board 1300 miles of cable, which took us three weeks to take it in coiled in three tanks, fitted up the machinery. The s.s. “Hibernia” was loading at the same time, took in about 1500 miles. It was on the 21st August 1870 when we had all in and left Mordon Wharf East Greenwich (Sunday) went down the river to Greenhythe where we anchored to take in stores and discharge ninety tons pig iron. We were then drawing forward 22 feet 9 inches, aft 24 feet 9 inches water.
James Tidmarsh R.N.R. was Chief Officer, we sailed the day after, “Hibernia” sailed same time, with fine weather. We were bothe very heavily rigged, heavy yards to skysail yards, when the wind was favourable and we could sail over three miles an hour we had to let out the fires in the engineroom and disconnect the propeller. We had fine weather down the English Channel, across the Bay of Biscay, went close past Madeira and Cape de Verd Islands on the east side, got the north east trade winds, disconnected our propeller and sailed. Passed the Island of St. Antonio making good sailing for several days, untill we entered the equatorial belt of calms, light the fires got steam up connected the propeller and steamed through them, caught the south east trades and made sail again, disconnected again. When getting near the Cape of Good Hope we sent down our skysail yards, made all secure for bad weather. We had parted with the s. s. “Hibernia” some days before, we ran our easting down in about the latitude 40 south for 3000 miles, then we steered northward for Achun Head (Aceh) the north point of Sumatra, which we made on the morning of November 8th and anchored in Penang harbour the day following. The s.s. “Hibernia” arrived a few days later, we had to coal on arrival, clean ship and get all ready for the laying of the cable.
We lay there for a month, had a fine time picnicking on shore, had several cricket matches with the soldiers and officers of the fort. When we were cleaned up and everything ready, the ships were thrown open for the people on shore to come on board to see how the cable was to be laid. Had a very pleasant time there.
Captain Halpin came out in charge in the s.s. “Scanderia” and “William Cory” two smaller steamers with the shore ends and staff, they come by the Suez canal which had been opened for ships to pass through the year before, 1869. The two small steamers went to Singapore, laid the cable from Batavia to Singapore, from there through the Straits of Malacca to Penang. We had to go out with our boats to meet them when they arrived, the s.s. “Hibernia” laid the section from Batavia, the “William Cory” from Singapore to within (100) one hundred miles of Penang, and the s.s. “Scanderia” the shore and out to the end which was buoyed spliced on and that section was completed. s.s. “Scanderia” then laid the shore end of the Madras section the next day, we all started in company, sounding ahead of her. Captain Need, Royal Navy, was navigating with us on this expedition, the cable is laid 18 miles north of the Island of Pera, and straight for the channel between the Nicobar Islands which is narrow and a very strong tide running through. The soundings are very irregular between Penang and the Nicobars, from 600 fathoms to 2650 fathom deep, while in the channel is comparatively shoal (shallow) water.
The s.s. “Scanderia” buoyed her end, we picked it up spliced ours on to it and proceeded laying to Madras across the Bay of Bengal. We had an electrician testing room fitted up on board each ship, a full staff of electricians who were testing continually while we were laying to the shore in case there was any fault. When about ten miles off Madras we cut and buoyed the end and went into the harbour and anchored. Next morning 31st December 1870, we went in shore as close as we could, got a line on shore, got rafts and surf boats to get the shore end hauled on shore by natives through the surf which is heavy there. Got it landed and brought the end to the cable house and secured. We laid out to the buoy with the other and got it on board, the test perfect, bothe ends spliced it together and draped it overboard which completed that section with three ringing cheeres from all the ships.
We then returned to Madras roads and anchored, many visitors came on board to dinner. They gave a great ball on shore at the town hall to which we were all invited, it was a grand afair. Next day being New Years day was a holiday, all the ships decorated, concerts and balls many. We remained there for a fortnight, landed our spare cable and cleaned up, then we sailed for Coconada (now Kakinada) up the Malabar coast to load cargo for London 13th January 1871.
11 p.m. next night got the native pilot on board, I was in charge of the watch on the bridge, and when I telegraphed to go ahead, the Captain and pilot were standing on the end of the bridge talking. It was a dark night, I caught hold of the iron rail to tell the boatmen which was towing alongside to look out, the boat was rolling about and her mast top caught my little fingre and next on right hand between the rail, took the point of little fingre off and crushed the other to pieces to the first joint. I told the Captain to look out as my fingers were off (and) I would go and rouse out the Doctor. He laughed, said I was joking, however I roused the Doctor out, he slept in the surgery under the bridge, he thought I was only coming off watch and was having a lark with him, but I lit his lamp and showed it to him, he then got up and dressed it. I then went to my room, next morning he dressed it again, put it in splint, I was on the sick list then, having it dressed twice every day for a long time.
We got into Coconada Roads, no harbour, had to anchor about two miles from the town, shoal water, a dangerous place in bad weather but this was the fine season. We loaded cotton, indigo, coffee, hides etc., finished loading, and sailed 24th January. On next day anchored again in Madras to fill up with cargo, sailed for London 2nd February, had light airs and fine weather all the way down the Coramandel coast round Ceylon and across the Bay of Bengal to Aden.
But our Chief Engineer Mr. Helliot, who was a British Navy Chief Engineer previously, rather given to drink, he burned the boilers which were leaking badly, had to stop every other day to pick out the salt, at best then could only steam five miles, and went into Aden harbour on 20th February to get the boilers stayed and tubes plugged. I went on shore there, still on the sick list with my hand in a sling. Found a great alteration in the town since I was there in 1859, there were a good many good houses, and many buildings where the native buildings or bamboo huts were, and towards the point, and two good Hotels, one French, one English.
Sailed again on 24th for Suez up the Red Sea, steaming about seven miles an hour, passed through 'Hells Gates', Straits of Babelmandeb, but while going up the Red Sea our boilers got worse and could only steam two miles an hour by the time we arrived at Suez on the 7th March, we never thought we would reach there unless we were towed. All the Islands we passed, and the coast we saw, were very barren and sandy, all the Islands are of volcanic formation. We were three days in Suez cleaning and fixing up our boilers, entered the Canal on 10th, the pilot was a Greek, could not speak a word of English. Our steamer steered very badly and often got on shore or across the Canal, at that time so many steamers on shore blocking the Canal.
When we got into the Canal about ten miles had to make fast at one of the sidings, telegraph for two steam tugs to tow us through, which came from Port Said next day took us in tow, at that time the banks were strewed from end to end bothe sides with all sorts of machinery, trucks and old iron, a terrible lot of dredges in the Canal, could only go very slow. When we were lying in Ismalia Lake, Sir John Pender, the Managing Director of our company and the Duke of Sutherlin (Sutherland) came on board 15th March. Arrived at Port Said, took in coal, 16th sailed for Alexandria where we arrived next day, which is a fine harbour and town, swarming with Arabs. The Hiram is a splendid building on the north east, Cleopatra's Needles standing between it and the sea and Pompies (Pompey's) Pillar standing on the west side.
Had to get our boilers fixed up again and take in coal. My hand was still in the sling, I only kept my watch from Aden. 23rd March we were ready and sailed again, steaming badly, had strong wind and high sea, to Malta and Gibraltar where we put in to clean tubes and boilers, and sailed again. Had fine weather through the Straits of Gibraltar up the Portuguese coast and across the Bay of Biscay, steaming very badly, made St. Catherins point, took channel pilot, went into and anchored at Spithead on 13th April, on 14th proceeded but a strong east blowing could make no headway and run back to anchor. Blowing a strong gale for two days and nights, steam up all the time, telegraphed to London for tugboats to meet us. Sailed on 16th, met our tug off Dover, when off Marget (Margate) the wind come strong ahead, took another tug, arrived at Gravesend and went into Victoria dock the next day, 18th April 1871.
All the crew were paid off next day, I went to Ireland, home to Desart, my hand still in a sling healing slowly. Took a trip to Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Deeside, Banchory, Aboyne, Balmoral, Braemar, through glen and mountain. Went north as far as Spey, through the Duke of Gordon's castle and grounds. My Aunt and family, Mrs. Rae, were living at Tugnet, at the mouth of the Spey River, my sister Maggie, cousins John and Lizzie were with me, we went to Peterhead, Elgin, Banff, Logie Newton where my cousin Mrs. Cruickshank lived, where we did some hill climbing even to the top of Benachie, then through Stathdon by rail and coach, to another relation Mr. Forbes who had a farm on the river side at Strathdon. We arrived there at night, dark and raining very heavy, we had to walk about two miles through the mud, got there about ten o'clock, it looked a very dismal place through the glens, with high dark looking mountains on bothe sides, and a dark rainy night was not at all comfortable, but were soon made so when the old Highland man came to know how we were.
He soon produced the bottle of whisky which was the real MacKie, a good stiffener or two, while supper was getting ready, all the rough weather was forgotten, although the wind howled all night through the glen and rained in torrents. We got to bed and slept comfortably all night, next morning still the same and the river coming down a banker, over a lot of his land which he did not like. We stayed three days, then we walked through the heather hills to the river Dee at Banchory where we had dinner, and took train to Aboyne, where my Uncle Gideon Kemlo had a farm and floure mill under Lord Aboyne. Next day my cousin John Farquharson went home to his farm, the Mains of Catterlin, near Stonehaven. The rest of us stayed there for a week, returned to Aberdeen, visited the Old Bridge of Don, my native place, which is very little altered since then, after a short stay we went to Catterlin, Bervie, Laurnskirk and the How of the Mearn Fordon Montrose, Dundee and Brechin, where more of my cousins were. Back to Glasgow, Irvin, Ayre Doon. Saw Robbie Burns house where he was borne, Allawa Kirk where he saw the witches, and the Brig o Doon where he rode over at racing speed that night followed by one of the witches, it is a lovely spot and the Braes o Doon (also).
Returned again to Ireland, my fingres were now well and in a few days got notice to return to London, join the “Edinburgh” again. She had been to Liverpool in Lairds dock, got new boilers and taking in cable at the companies works, part of the Australian section. So I rejoined her, was there about three weeks, had a very good tine, three watches, one day on board and two days off till we were finished taking in. The s.s. “Hibernia” was also taking part of same section, sailed together again on 31st July 1871. Went into Portland harbour for orders, got them next day to sail for Cape of Good Hope. We sailed together, kept company for sixteen days, when the north east trade winds got strong we sailed away from her, had fine weather all the way to Table Bay where we arrived 14th September 1871, went inside the breakwater.
Next day commenced coaling, when a strong south easter came on, had to let go a second anchor to hold us even inside the breakwater. 17th s.s. “Hibernia” arrived, three days after us. 19th we sailed again for Port Darwin, draught forward 22 feet, aft 24 feet 8 inches, after rounding the Cape we went south to 39°, intending to run down our easting, go between the islands of Amsterdam and St. Pauls, but after being out nine days the weather was very bad, the seas washing over us, carrying square sails, when I heard the Captain and Chief Officer taking in the sails. I was in my cabin, my watch below, I went on the bridge (and) asked them what they intended to do. Captain Cato said he was going to take the sails in and go with lower topsails and reefed fore sail.
I told him if he did that we would founder in a very short time, the only chance we had was to pile on the canvas, get steam up in the meantime, connect as soon as possible, alter our course to the northward when we would soon run out of it. It was nearly noon then and I came on then to take charge till four o'clock afternoon, the Captain then went below to his cabin, told me to do what I thought best. I set the sails again, altered the course from east to north east, got steam up, connected the propeller, went full speed along with the sails, got all the pumps to work, let the water out of the cable tanks and pumped it out, to lighten the ship a little, but one heavy sea came on board, carried away about fifty feet of the bullwarks close to the bridge, shifted the buoys on deck.
Started the engineroom, it was a very stiff typhoon but by four o'clock when my watch was up we were getting into finer weather. I called the Captain who had been sleeping through it all, told him of the damage done, but he said that was all right, the weather was better and we would soon be out of it now, which I said we would by keeping our northerly course which we did making straight for the north west cape of Australia. When we got clear of that storm had fine weather all the way, and anchored at 6 p.m. between Point Charles (Charles Point) and West Point in ten fathoms of water, to remain there untill next morning and feel our way, our charts were not reliable, but we got a good meridian observation of the moon that night which gave us our latitude, we got no observations for two days previous, the weather hazy and very hot, thermometer 90° in shade, water 89°.
Next morning we hove up the anchor, steamed slowly in feeling our way by the hand leads going constantly, we were surveying and making a chart and laying mark buoys in the channel until we got into harbour, anchored off the landing place at Palmerston. (Note: Port Darwin named 1839, the settlement established 1864 called Palmerston, Northern Territory put under Federal control 1911 and name changed back to Darwin). It has a fine entrance between two high headlands and a splendid safe harbour when inside. Captain D(o)uglas, the Resident, came off in his boat. He and his family, the storekeeper and his wife and four men were all the white population there then, who were sent there from Adelaide to meet us and render us every assistance. There were only two houses there then. Next morning we went off with our boats, an officer in charge of each to survey the entrance and buoy a channel outside where was best to lay the cable, and returned late at night. The next morning we steamed out twenty (20) miles, laid one of our large buoys with a flag on it, and a box with letters and sailing directions for the s.s. “Hibernia” and s.s. “Investigator”, which had to arrive, steamed in again, laid another smaller buoy about half way in the channel.
This was the work for the first arrival, we returned to harbour and took up a more convenient berth, we had to water ships with our own boats and casks from the only well then of fresh water which was at the Botanical Gardens on a sandy beach. There was a friendly tribe of natives there about (40) fourty, who lived on a sandy beach about half a mile from the township on the north side. We came in contact with them while watering, they were very quiet and lazy, carrying their spears, we were armed with revolvers and side arms the sight of which was quite enough for then. They wore no clothes, only when they were going to the township they had to wrap a blanket round them, Captain Duglas gave each one when he arrived there and (told) them to do so.
One boats crew had to go to the eastern entrance (of the) cape, cut wood in the afternoon and burn a beacon all night as a guide for the other ships till they arrived, we were cleaning ship and getting our machinery ready for laying the cable, rigging up tents on shore for the electric staff to live in and an operating room for them to fix up the instruments. Six days after we arrived the s.s. “Hibernia” arrived, when she hove in sight Captain Cato and I went to meet her, boarded and piloted her into her anchorage, two days after the s.s. “Investigator” arrived with Captain Halpin who had charge of the laying, and his staff, they came from London by the Suez Canal.
After they arrived we were there a week getting everything ready for a start, dug a trench from the beach to the cable house, bury two anchors to make the cable fast to, but about three days before we started the natives told Captain Duglas that there was a strange bad tribe caning to fight and steal. He sent the women and children on board of our ships for safety, and the next morning they did come. We mustered about two hundred armed and went on shore, marched from the landing to the cliffs over the sandy beach where the two tribes were fighting.
The tribes were sitting about fifty yards from one another, it was single combat one from each tribe would be up throwing their spears, their lubra standing behind them to pick up the spear and to hand it to her blackfellow. We looked on for some time untill two or three on bothe sides were wounded, then Captain Duglas called one of the friendly tribe, told him to tell the other tribe to stope and to clear, they would not. After telling them three times then we fired a volley over their heads when they all roared, and fled into the scrub. Captain Duglas and some of us officers were on horseback, we gave them chase tracked them for about four miles but never saw one of them again, they never came back there again.
On 7th November 1871, everything was ready the s.s. “Hibernia” came into position close in shore, all the crews of the three steamers assisted to land and secure the shore end and bury it in the trench, she then steamed away laying the cable. We went to our own steamers, hove up anchor and convoyed her out through our marked channel, we had to pick up our buoys which we laid first to mark the way in and took up our position sounding occasionaly depth of water for four hundred miles from Port Darwin 30 to 80 fathoms, mud, a splendid bed for the cable. On the morning of the 11th November the “Hibernia” had paid all hers out, we took the end from her, spliced on to ours, transferred the staff on board of us, splice finished tested all right it was droped from the bow and from s.s. “Hibernia” we then took up the laying, and soon got into very irregular depths of water from 500 to 1800 fathoms, rocky bottom, “Hibernia” sounding while we were laying, passing the Islands from 2 to 6 miles off, laying the position of the cable on our chart by observations and cross bearings to a few yards of its true position to make it easy to recover.
At 2 p.m. 17th November, cut and buoyed the end of cable south east of Bally (Bali) Island in 49 fathoms water, steamed into Bangiwangi (Banyuwangi) arrived 18th November. Sunday morning 19th November we landed the shore end and laid out to the buoy, picked the end up and spliced it, draped it overboard and returned to Bangiwangi at midnight, fired two guns which was answered from the fort, this was the day the first telegraph communication was between England and Australia. We had messages of congratulation from England and from Australia when we arrived that night, all working satisfactory, next day we were coaling and getting machinery dismantled then cleaning up ship. We lay at anchor there for one month landing cable, buoys, machinery and stores wanted for repairing, during which time we had many picnics and shooting parties on the Island of Bally, wild pig, deer, monkey and bird shooting. There are some splendid hot sulpher springs on the beach on the N.W. point, we had a very good tine while there boat racing and other sport.
2nd December (1871), I was promoted Chief Officer to the s.s. “Investigator” to remain on the station repairing ship for eighteen months. I relieved Mr. St. Clair who did not get on well with Capt. Halpin, he took my place in the “Edinburgh” which was going home with cargo from Singapore. Captain Halpin gave a great Christmas dinner to all the three steamers company, staff and people on shore, on board the s.s. “Hibernia”, Captain Walsh was master of her, Captain Tidmarsh was Chief Officer, he was to remain Captain of s.s. “Investigator” to relieve Captain Moody who was to go home to London with Halpin.
Sunday 16th, got orders to sail for Batavia (now Jakarta), Mr. Stuart 2nd Officer “Hibernia” came with seventeen sailors on board to get our anchors up, Tidmarsh come to go passenger with us, when we got under way Stuart returned to his own ship, and when we were passing the other ship were cheered. I remained on the bridge piloting through the Bally Straits clear of the coral reefs which I knew very well, Captain Moody did not, it was in the evening when we got clear.
Wm. Halpin was 2nd Officer left him in charge while we had tea, I lay down then to have a sleep untill midnight, and when I went on the bridge found Captain Moody and Halpin bothe very drunk, which was bothe their failing. I could not get any information from them as to the course they had been steering and the night very dark.
I got bothe to their rooms, steamed on till two o'clock morning, could see nothing of the Island of Muldura (Madura) so I stopped till daylight. It was not in sight then but I went full speed when I could see and at nine o'clock was passing between the Islands when Captain Moody came on the bridge not in the best of humour. Wanted to know what I was doing and why I did not call him before entering the channel, I told him I could do very well without him, that he was not in a fit state to have charge and if he did not mind himself I would lock him in his cabin, that he would better go and sleep again which he did. I kept the deck untill I anchored in Batavia harbour, was very glad as that would be the last trip of Captain Moody's command.
A few days after the s.s. “Hibernia” arrived, took Moody on board, I bought all his nautical instruments, charts and books from him. They stayed in Batavia two days and sailed for Singapore to load cargo for London. Captain Tidmarsh now in command, I Chief, left to ourselves, under orders from Mr. Pell the Superintendent of the telegraph. We lay there for two months having nothing to do, I used to go boat sailing round amongst the Islands which are coral and numerous, got some fine specimens of coral and shells. Two of the Islands had been used many years ago to bury the dead and were now filled up, and when walking round by the sea, see a great many skelitons, the earth had been washed away by rough seas and exposed them.
Same beautifull sets of teeth, I took one set, cut the bone away to look like a faulse set, our Chief Engineer had a faulse set, and when he would have his afternoon sleep on the couch, his teeth would fall out on the deck. When I had my real ones ready I watched him sleeping, his teeth fell out, I picked them up (and) put mine down, waited to see him wake. He picked up the new set, tryed to put them in his mouth but they would not fit, he tried for a long time, could not manage them. He left them upon his bed in his room and went to the engineroom, when he was there I lifted them (and) left his own in their place, when he returned he put them in his mouth all right. He could not understand why they would not fit before, after a couple of days I asked him what he was swearing at about his teeth, when he told me I showed him the set which I had said no wonder they would not fit, I got them out of a blackfellow's skeliton on the graveyard island. He got a start, laughed but did not like such a practical joke.
Two months after we got orders to sail for Port Darwin via Banjiwangi with provisions and livestock for the staff, took in the provisions at Batavia, stock at Bangiwangi, they wired to say they wanted buffalos. I told Mr. Pell it was surely bullocks they meant, he wired again asking them, but they said buffalos. I told him that there was no use taking many for when they killed one they would not be able to eat it, would not want the second. However we had about eight of them, bothe sects (sex), the deck full of bullocks, cows, goats, fowl and duck.
When sailing from Bangiwangi we fouled a Dutch barque, took his bowsprit out and cleared one side of our own ship from the bridge to stern of boats. I wanted Captain Tidmarsh to stop, go on board, survey the damage, which I thought his damage would be about twenty pounds. He told me to mind my own business and we went on. Had fine weather, passed close along the south shore of the archipeligos to Koepang (Kupang) harbour on the Island of Timor, where we had mails for, sailed again passed close to Sandalwood Island and arrived in Port Darwin 23rd February 1872, landed our stock and stores.
They tried one of the buffaloes, could not eat it, let the rest go at large. There are now a good many in North Queensland sprung from them.
We lay in port for two weeks shifting the shore end and doing some repairs, sailed again for Bangiwangi and Batavia, very heavy rain all the way through the Banda Sea, remained one day in Bangiwangi where Captain Tidmarsh was informed that the damage he had done to the Dutch barque was £348 which had to be paid, and if he had done what I proposed to him at the time it would not have cost more than thirty pounds. The damage was done by his own carelessness, he tried to put the blame on to the engineers. Sailed for Batavia, passed to the west of Madura, east of Gillan Island and Carriman Javas (Karimunjawa), anchored in Batavia harbour 23rd March 1872.
While there Captain Tidmarsh took the Java fever bad, had to go up the mountains by doctors orders to get clear of it, the weather up there was very cool, splendid hotels and every comfort. I had to do the business while he was away, on shore every day to see Mr. Pell, and put up at the hotels which were Dutch but very good and comfortable, every convenience, splendid food, curries and fruit. I had to superintend the digging of a deep trench from the beach through the town to the telegraph office, about three miles, lay a new cable taken from our steamer, landed, laid along and buried in the trench and filled in.
Put the steamer on the government iron floating dry dock, or pontoon, to get her cleaned and painted, which was wanted badly. When Tidmarsh returned well, we had to take a trip for the Dutch with mails and passengers to all the Islands along the eastern archipelago which was very interesting, there are so many of them, we called at about fifty, through Macassar Straits and Celebes, and back to Batavia. Lambok is the most interesting, the town is situated on the north east point, has been a large place some hundreds of years ago, some very fine specimens of stone sculpture of ancient gods and beasts of very large size and some splendid caves, which had been used for Hindu temples, this island was the holy one amongst them, full of priests, none there now, they have left their gods behind them in very good preservation.
On the 4th July 1872 the cable was interupted between Java and Port Darwin. We got steam up and sailed for Surabay(a), shipped a Dutch crew, then on the Bangiwangi, took on board buoys and stores, electrical staff who had located the break and sailed for the spot. When we got there sounded the depth of water which was very irregular from 666 to 1800 fathoms, rocky bottom. We let go a mushroom and 1800 fathoms of rope and a buoy attached, but it was too small to carry the weight so it sank like a whale diving, we did not see it again.
We returned to Bangiwangi for two large buoys and returned, put one mark buoy down, which floated but deep. We grappled for several days, hooked the cable several times but in heaving up broke our grapnel rope and lost all. Weather got bad, we had to return to Bangiwangi without repairing (cable), telegraphed to London to send out another supply. Went back to Surabaya, discharged the crew, and on to Batavia where we arrived on 13th August, lay there untill 26th September. Sailed for Singapore through the Banka and Riho Straits, arrived alongside Cloughtons Wharf where the s.s “Agnes” repairing steamer for the China cable company (was). Took in coal, got everything ready, 5th October the P & 0 mail steamer “China” arrived from London with our gear, we went alongside her and took it on board.
Captain Walsh, Messrs. London, Nessers, Browne & Fisher came passengers by the mail steamer from London, to come with on the repairing job. Sailed for Bangiwangi, then on to where the cable was broken where we arrived on 14th October, put mark buoys down. Next morning started grappling, hooked the cable Java end, hove it up, found it all right (and) buoyed that end. Went for the Australian end 18th, hooked it and hove it up on three prongs of the grapnel, spliced on to our cable in tank laid to the Java end, got it on board, telegraphed to bothe ends, found all right, spliced them together then droped it. Picked up our buoys and returned to Bangiwangi, arrived 20th October 1872 to find it was a success and working very satisfactory. We got many messages of congratulations from London and Australia, returned to Batavia and Singapore, arrived at Cloughtons Wharf 1st November 1872.
s.s. “Agnes” lying there, Mr. Lacey Chief Officer of her. Thermometer from 80° to 100° there always day and night. There was a large place built there and furnished well for the acomidation of Captains and officers. Splendid bedrooms, dining room and billiard room and tables, built by Captain Cloughton when he was making the dry dock and wharf. We had our quarters there which was much cooler than on board ship, we had a steam launch when we wanted it, belonging to the dock company, which we made free use of.
The Maharajah of Johore's brother lives close to on the sea side, quite a large native village, Malays, he was a great sport and good shot, he often came on board, and we would go to his house. He would send us word when he was going wild boar shooting, we would go with him, his men were out with us beating the jungle to start the game, which we would shoot. They being Mohamdins would not touch a pig, we would tie their feet together, they carried them on a bamboo on board, leave than on the deck and go home. Often we would steam round the Island of Singapore, call on the Maharajah at his palace at Johore, he was always pleased to see us, and entertain us. Sometimes he would come with us up the river opposite his palace, which is a good size and deep water, thick jungle to the water edge where we shot some large tiger, this river runs north through Malacca up to the high mountains where they are working splendid tin mines which belong to the Maharajah.
We only had the one repairing to do during our eighteen months guarantee (period), when that was up the company took it over, then we landed all the cable we had into tanks on shore, all our gear and stores, cleaned up the ships holds and tanks, loaded cargo for London, sailed 16th January 1873.
Went into Point de Galle harbour, took in water and coal, sailed again, passed the Islands of Minicoy and Socotra, passed Aden, Perim, and up the Red Sea, arrived Suez 17th February and entered the Canal 19th, arrived at Port Said, watered and coaled. Sailed again 20th, met very rough weather passing Malta, after passing Cape Bon could do nothing against the wind and sea, ran back and anchored under the lee of the Cape for a day and night. When the gale moderated we proceeded, went into Gibraltar, coaled and proceeded throught the Straits, passed Trafalgar Bay, Cadiz, round Cape St. Vincent passed Lisbon, Burrling Island (Berlenga), Cape Finisterre, across the Bay of Biscay, took London pilot off Dungeness. Had strong wind, hazy and much rain all the way from Gibraltar.
Arrived at Gravesend 19th March, on 20th went into the London West Indian dock to discharge. When discharged the ship was to be sold, I left her, had an interview with Captain Halpin, dined with him at Queens Hotel before I went to Ireland for a holiday, got two weeks when I got a letter from Halpin to come and join the s.s. “Hibernia”. I left Desart 28th April, in London next day went to the office 38 Old Broad Street. Saw Captain Halpin who sent me to join the s.s. “Hibernia” at Sheerness, 1st May signed on a crew, 5th sailed down the channel for Brest in France to repair the French American cable.
Brest is a very dangerous port to make, from Ushant there are a great many dangerous rocks, the tide runs fast, generally thick rainy weather but when inside the harbour is large well sheltered and good anchorage. It was blowing a strong gale while we were in harbour for three days. We sailed on 11th May got into position next day, put down mark buoy 90 fathoms water, put grapnel down, hooked cable on 13th May and buoyed the Brest end, blowing fresh, went ninety miles west, put mark buoy down, hooked the west end, hove it up but it broke at the bow. We droped another buoy to mark the place, grappled again, picked it up, it was very much worse. Tested the American end all right, spliced on to ours in the tank, laid back to the east end which was buoyed, got that end on board, spliced them together and droped it. Picked up our buoys and returned to Brest, everything satisfactory, sailed the next morning for Sheerness, arrived 24th May 1873, the Queens birthday.
We were taking in intermediate cable from bulk, part of a new Atlantic cable, and sailed 3rd June in company with “Great Eastern” which had the deep sea section, “Robert Law” which had the shore end from Valentia (Valencia Is.) Ireland, s.s. “Edinburgh” which had part section from Newfoundland to Sydney, Cape Breton (Island, Nova Scotia). All steamed into Portland harbour (Dorset) like men of war, took up our position according to orders from “Great Eastern”, took in water and got cable machinery in order.
On 8th got orders to sail in convoy for Bear Haven, south of Ireland, our position was starboard quarter of “Great Eastern”, the s.s. “Edinburgh” on port quarter, next morning passed between the Lizards and Wolf Rock then across the Irish channel to Fastnet and coasted along the Irish coast, strong N.W. gale, confused sea. 11th we all sailed into Bantam Bay, Bear Haven, anchored in our positions, it is a fine safe harbour, narrow between the Bear Island and mainland which is high mountains rising from the shore, the anchorage is about four miles from the town of Castletown. Captain Halpin went with s.s. “Edinburgh” to Valencia to lay the shore end from. (s.s. “Robert Low”, Captain Tidmarsh, Captain Man(n)ing s.s. “Edinburgh”.) We were filling our bunkers with coal from our fore hold, when the shore end was laid and buoyed, the “Edinburgh” left to watch the buoy. Captain Halpin returned to “Great Eastern”, we got ready to sail together, into position, lowered our boats, went to “Great Eastern”, got the end of cable on board spliced on to “Eastern” and returned to our ships, secured our boats and followed the “Great Eastern” laying, soundings 370 fathoms, fine sand from bottom.
Next day it came on to blow hard with rough sea, shipping much water, damaged two of our boats and other damage about decks, but the “Eastern” was laying cable all the time, signalled us to go ahead and prepare for a heavy blow as the barometer was low and falling, much rain. Next day the storm moderated, “Great Eastern” laying six miles an hour, we droped again into position, soundings 183 fathoms.
We got a telegram in mid Atlantic to say Tichborn(e) got 14 years hard labour, through the cable the “Great Eastern” was laying, the news daily from England.
27th June 1873, when about (90) ninety miles from Hearts Content Newfoundland, soundings 180 fathoms, cut and buoyed the cable and droped another buoy one mile west, and sailed up Trinity Bay for Hearts Content passing a great many icebergs, many of them aground and on shore. We anchored in harbour, next morning we went into position close to shore, landed the shore end and laid out to the buoy, which we soon picked up, got the end of cable on board, found all right bothe ends, spliced and droped, picked up the buoys and returned to harbour amongst the ice and bergs. Fired two guns going in which was answered from the fort and “Great Eastern”, this completed another Atlantic cable without a hitch. We went alongside the “Great Eastern”, put some of our cable into her, and droped clear of her when finished. 6th July s.s. “Edinburgh” sailed for Placentia Bay on the other side of Newfoundland, we sailed on the 7th for same place, passed St. Johns, round Cape Race and arrived in Placentia on 9th. The s.s. “Edinburgh” was not there, she arrived on 13th, had run into an iceberg off Cape Race and did considerable damage to her bow and machinery.
We had some good fishing while there, splendid lobster & cod. Dug a trench on shore for shore end of cable which the s.s. “Kangaroo” had on board, 15th landed shore end from “Kangaroo”, all our hands and boats were emploied, then she sailed laying, we returned to our steamers and followed her. Next morning we took the end from “Kangaroo”, spliced on to our cable and took the laying to Sydney, Cape Breton, thick rainy weather, passed to westward of the French island St. Pierre, when off Sydney cut the cable and buoyed it, and steamed into harbour. Next day shifted to the coal companys wharf under the tipps to take in coal. When the s.s. “Edinburgh” repaired her damage we went on board of her with our hands on 23rd July to land the shore end. She proceeded to our buoy to finish, we returned on board our steamer “Hibernia”, heavy thundre storms and rain, we filled up our tanks with coal, cleaned up ship, put all. our gear away.
6th August sailed for Hearts Content, but the “Great Eastern” had sailed to a position over the 1866 cable where it was broken to try and recover and repair, on the 9th we got orders to go to her to assist which we did 11th. We found her in a fog which we had all the way. She was lying by her mark buoy, very bad weather, we had to just ly there untill the weather cleared, soundings 1600 fathom, mud, we put mark buoys down. On 21st we lowered our grapnel and dragged for two hours, we got no indication, but the “Great Eastern” got about (30) thirty fathoms of the 1858 cable, the first one laid. 23rd, tried again 2100 fathoms rope out to our grapnel, got no indications, bad weather came on, could do nothing but ly by our buoy. The weather was very stormy, sometimes lost our buoy for days, but found it again, lay there untill 9th September, did not get a chance to try again for bad weather.
We got orders to pick up our mark buoy and follow the “Great Eastern” home which we did and came up on her three days afterwards in very rough weather. Made Brae Head and when off Crookhaven (Ireland) sent a telegram on shore, sea running too high for “Eastern” to go by Wolf Rock so we went south of Scilly Islands to Portland then to Sheerness where the “Great Eastern” went. We proceeded to Victoria dock London.
In November I was appointed Chief Officer to s.s. “Kangaroo” to take in cable for the West Indies to connect the islands, pick up and repair the one laid by Sir Charles Bright five years previous which was (done, or) not working. During the time I was in London a wire came from Newfoundland to say that Captain Tidmarsh had lost the s.s. “Robert Low” which was repairing steamer on that station, with himself and all hands drowned on a sunken rock off St. Mary's south of Newfoundland while going from Placentia Bay to St. Johns 6th December 1873.
We sailed from London, with Mr. Lander river pilot on board to Gravesend then Mr. Martin channel pilot to Dover, we then went on ourselves, took our departure from the Bill of Portland. Captain Lusk (?) fell ill with rhumatic gout, I took charge to do his duties as well as my own, we had fresh breeze, squally and rain untill we got the north east trades then light airs and calms.
We made Porto Rico (Puerto Rico) Island first, two days after we made Morant Light, Jamaica at 4 a.m., anchored in Port Royal, Kingston at noon 31st December 1873. We lay there for six days getting our machinery ready and coaling. Had some fine picnics and invitations on shore to balls and drives into the country. The town and wharfs are very good which must have been very lively when there was so much sugar, rum and molasses shipped from there. But when the emancipation of the slaves came into force the blacks would not work on the plantations, then the owners of the plantations had to give up growing the sugar cane, now very little trade doing, but still a great many blacks, who seem to live well fishing principally, they grow their own vegitables and fruit. All seem to be happy and lazy, the negro ladies dress well at night, in silks of the very gayest of colours, they give splendid entertainments and are very hospitable.
On the 6th January 1874 we lifted anchor and sailed in company with the s.s. “Minia” for Holland Bay on the south east side of the island where we were to land the shore end of the cable. Next day it was landed, we laid ten miles and buoyed the end, s.s. “Minia” picked it up and spliced on the deep sea cable, commenced laying to Ponce harbour, Puerto Rico, we kept her company, sounded off Alto Valley 624 fathoms, white sand and mud, when nearing the Puerto Rico end we steamed into position off Port Guanica, soundings 420 and 262 fathoms, blue mud. When the “Minia” come up to us she cut the cable and buoyed the end, we then steamed into Ponce harbour into position to lay the shore end, which we did the next morning, laid out to the buoy, got the end on board, spliced the two ends together and droped which completed that communication of nearly 600 miles. We picked up our buoys and returned to port.
Next day we went alongside s.s. “Minia”, took on board what cable she had left, five days later the “Minia” sailed for London (and) took our mails, we had to remain there for one month in case anything went wrong with the cable. We coaled and watered, cleaned up the ship and (it was) thrown open for inspection, crowds came off from the town and from many miles in the country, the Spaniards planters with their wives and families who were very nice and very much interested. We received them, took them round in batchs, explained all the working of the machinery, laying and picking up, the cable in the tanks, and entertained them, gave several concerts and balls.
They were very much pleased, gave us the officers invitations to visit them, which we did, they were remarkably kind. Sent their conveyences for us, sent us from one station to another, in fact they wanted us to stay with them altogether, we had a splendid time.
It is a splendid island, very fertile and good climate. There is another small island about 6 miles south where we used to sail to, it is not inhabited, nothing but huge square blocks of lava, swarming with sea fowl, it must have been an upheave. On Sunday the first Church of England on the Island was finished and was consicrated, the Minister asked us to bring as many of our crew which we did, mustered them in the morning, lowered the boats and went on shore, made the boats fast, fell in and marched about fifty in uniform like the Navy into church. After the service was over we marched them back to the boats and off to the ship. Eight of us remained on shore, went for a long walk in the country which looked beautifull, plenty of small streams of splendid water, we walked about eight miles, then returned.
On the road we called at a house, asked them if they could give us something to eat. They said they could give us curry and rice if we could wait for half an hour, which we did and lay down in their garden under the orange trees where there was plenty of ripe oranges. They called a negro who brought out a gun, shot two fowl which was running about, cleaned, cooked into a curry, rice boiled and brought out to us where we were, which we enjoied immensely, they would not accept payment. We returned to town, when within about half a mile of there, was a long rough shed in a paddock a little off the road where we heard some kind of music playing. We went to see what it was, this was a negro dance, men and women dancing, rough home made musical instruments, flutes, whistles and two floure casks, skins on each end, they were lying on their side, two negros on each back to back hammering away like drums. A lot of women negrosses who were not dancing but sitting round, were singing the same tune as was playing at the top of their voices, the persperation running down their faces like rain which made their skin shine like polished ebeny. We were very much amused, looked on for a while, they took no notice of us. Then when we got to the Hotel got dinner, opposite were the theater and gardens, the band was playing in the gardens where all the townspeople were walking. Then when the music stoped, we went to the theater saw the play and returned on board well satisfied with our days performance and pretty tired.
14th February, sailed from Ponce for Guadiloupe and Dominica, 16th anchored in Charlott Bay, next day we went to position near the cable house on north side of the town, took the end of the cable on board, commenced picking up. When we had picked up thirteen miles it was so imbedded in the coral that it broke, we then returned landed a new end on shore and layed a fresh cable further off the land in deeper water to avoid the coral, layed on to St. Pierre harbour, Martinique, landed shore end there and sailed for Kingstown, St. Vincent. The electrician went on shore where the fault was, soundings from 35 to 450 fathoms, coral and black sand, we droped a mark buoy, lost a patent sounding machine and 450 fathoms of line, blowing a strong gale with high sea.
We ran back to Kingstown harbour where we lay for three days untill the storm was past, and went out to our mark buoy, lowered the grapnel 350 fathoms, coral bottom, very rough (and) broke some of our grapnels, tried for two days to pick it up without success. Returned to Kingston, got the shore end and under runn it, cut and buoyed the shore end and picked up the deep sea for sixteen miles when it parted, being laid under the Granada cable. We soon picked it up again, spliced on to our cable which was in our tanks, laid back to the end we buoyed, spliced and droped. While splicing we caught some very large sharks, which were very plentifull round us, we picked up our buoys and returned to Kingstown harbour where we ascertained the cables were working satisfactory.
We then proceeded to Barbados where we arrived next morning, anchored off the government wharf, took in provisions, water and coal. This island is low and sandy with a good harbour, the people are nearly all halfcasts, live principally by fishing. We lay here for a week, when the work was all done satisfactory, we sailed for London. The day before we sailed Captain Lusk was unable to move about, so I had to do all the work and navigating myself, we had fine (weather) all the passage, passed on the north side of Graciosa (in the Azores) and St. Georges Island (Bermuda), when making the English Channel got a fresh gale with thick rainy weather. Made Beachy Head light, got pilot and arrived in Victoria dock London 6th March 1874.
Moored alongside s.s. “Africa”, “Hibernia” and “Edinburgh” - lay there for five weeks, discharged the old cable we picked up, cleaned ship in dry dock, took some more cable on board, took in stores, got our crew on board.
Sailed 18th April 1874, stoped all night at Gravesend, next morning Mr. Martin our channel pilot came on board then we sailed down channel, stopped off Dover, landed pilot, passed St. Catherins point, Isle of Wight, Portland and took our departure from start point, and passed Ushant the next morning.
The next day in the Bay of Biscay we passed the Dutch schooner “Johanna” dismasted and waterloged and a large vessel in the same state, part of a long boat painted green. We steamed past them on our way to Funchal, Madeira where we anchored on 26th. Mr. Fisher and (Mr.) Johnson [perhaps W.C. Johnson] electricians went on shore testing the cable between Lisbon and Madeira to locate the break, this is a section of the Brazilian cable laid last year by Captain Walsh while we were laying the Atlantic cable. We lay in Funchal harbour two days, it is a beautifull island and harbour, a good sized town at the foot of the mountain at the water edge, plenty fruit grapes, oranges.
We sailed along the line of cable towards Lisbon to the place of break, the s.s. “Africa” went into Lisbon to locate the break from there, and when we came to the spot the “Africa” was there. When we come close to her we lowered a boat, sent it for Mr. Lucas who was engineer in charge. At noon when we got our position by observation we lowered a mark buoy with 2000 fathoms rope, then commenced to lower our grapnel with 2400 fathoms rope, steamed gently draging across the cable several times, no indication of hooking the cable. Then a storm came on which lasted five days, we could not work only ly by the buoy. On 5th May the weather and sea moderated, we lowered our grapnels again at 3 p.m. We hooked the cable and the “Africa” hooked at the same time although we were four miles apart, but signaled to each other. We hove it up 400 fathoms and buoyed, went along the line of cable seven miles, lowered the grapnel again and draged, hooked it again. Must have been near the break for when heaving up it slipped off our grapnel.
The s.s. “Africa” took up her buoy, commenced heaving up, we were dragging two miles from her and broke the cable, the “Africa” broke it also while heaving it up, a nine ton strain on it. The weather got too bad to work, had to wait till it moderated, when it did we went to our buoys, hove up the cable about 400 fathoms more at a time, had three on to it about one mile apart, we went from one to another heaving up to a thirteen ton strain, and buoy. The “Africa” hove up the Madeira end, telegraphed through it was all right and buoyed. We then went north east twenty miles, let go a mark buoy and went through the same performance, soundings here 3200 fathoms, mud on the bottom. Five days storm, could not work but when it moderated again we lowered our grapnels and soon hooked the cable again which we hove up part of the way and buoyed. Had another storm for four days, then we hove up the cable further and buoyed. Ran into Lisbon where we arrived on 28th May, steamed up the river and lay off. the government arsenal in the man of war ground, we were always treated as men of war.
We took in fresh provisions, water, stores and regulated our machinery. I went on shore, had a good drive all round the city and out in the country, it is a very nice clean city, the surrounding country is poor. We lay there three days and returned to our buoys on the working ground and hooked the cable again on 3rd June but while heaving up it broke, but on 13th got it to the bow, cut it, found it all right to Lisbon, spliced on and slipped from the buoys laying towards the Madeira end, picked it up, found all right bothe ways, spliced the final and dropped it from ship and buoys at same time.
Picked up our buoys and returned to Lisbon, found cable satisfactory, sailed for London, “Africa” in company, arrived in Alfred Dock on 22nd June 1874, made the s.s. “Kangaroo” and s.s. “Africa” fast alongside all the other steamers belonging to the company, which completed that repairing, and my services with the company as they had no further cable work to do and all officers and men were discharged. I had served four years in that service which is the best service in the world for liberal treatment and pay.
I now took a long holiday, through England, Ireland and Scotland, assisted my brother Robert with his farm work and harvest through that summer and returned to London in November to go to sea again.
Editor's note: This is the last section of the notebook to deal with cable voyages. The rest of Nicol's career until his final command in 1882 was on merchant ships.
Last revised: 21 December, 2019