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

Old Cable Stories Retold
by Frederick Charles Webb

Introduction: Frederick C. Webb was one of the first cable engineers, and also a writer and lecturer on the subject. Between 1884 and 1886 he wrote a series of short articles in The Electrician recounting his experiences on the early cables, and these are reproduced on this page. More information on Webb’s work and life may be found in a short biography and other articles on Webb published in the London trade paper The Electrician.

One of his more technical papers, presented to the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1857, is also available: On the Practical Operations connected with the Paying-Out and Repairing of Submarine Telegraph Cables.

Illustrations shown here were not part of the original articles.

-- Bill Burns

Old Cable Stories Retold—Index

1. The Unarmoured Line from Dover to Cape Grisnez.

F.C. Webb
The Electrician
4 Dec 1885

2. The First Cable Cruises of the Old “Monarch.”
3. Some “Repairs” and “Recoveries” in the Mediterranean in 1856
4. The Atlantic Expedition of 1857.
5. The Cagliari, Malta, and Corfu Cables.
6. The Red Sea and India Cable of 1859—60.
7. The Persian Gulf Cable of 1863-4.
8. The Calcutta Calamity, 1869
9. Some Notes on the History of Cable Repairing

The Electrician, 12 July 1884:


“Come, get up, Mr. Webb, here’s the ’lectric talegraph in the harbour.” Thus I was aroused by Captain F. Bullock’s old one-eyed steward on board H.M.S. “Widgeon” in Dover Harbour on the morning of August 25, 1850. I hardly knew then what the “’lectric talegraph” meant, and was soon up and prying about on the quays of Dover Harbour till I found a London tug with a great reel of smooth brown-looking stuff across her deck just abaft the funnel. I was only a visitor on board the “Widgeon,” but some help being asked from Captain Bullock, Lieutenant Burstal (now Captain Burstal, secretary to the Thames Conservancy Board) was sent with some dozen men on board the “Goliath” (tug) to render any assistance required, and I accompanied them.

The first attempt at a submarine telegraph across the Straits was about to be made. The wire was simply a copper wire insulated with a single covering of gutta percha to a thickness of about half an inch. It was wound on a reel extending across the deck. A cast-iron reel had at first been supplied, but this was so ponderous and heavy that a spar of wood with cast-iron ends was prepared by the late Mr. W. Reid, who was employed by Mr. Wollaston, the engineer in charge on the work. To sink the line and moor it flat leaden weights with a groove running diagonally across them were prepared, so that they could be easily riveted on to the wire. Half the number had two holes in them, and the other half were cast with projecting studs of a size to fit the holes and project a little through. A blow with a hammer on each projecting stud thus riveted them quickly and securely. Some softened gutta percha was placed in the groove to give the wire better protection from the edges of the metal. For shore end the wire was encased in lead.

We went outside the harbour, and the tug anchored close off the works of the Admiralty Pier, then only just begun. There were on board Mr. Wollaston (in charge), Mr. Crampton (a visitor), Mr. H. Brett, the concessionaire, and some other gentlemen. The lead-covered wire was already down the pier, and the end from the tug was joined on to the primitive shore end in a boat. I can well recollect Mr. William Reid (better known by telegraph engineers of that day as “old Reid”) standing up in the boat with a soldering iron in his hand, with which he had done something to the lead-covered wire. As soon as we started there was a difficulty in finding a convenient place for riveting the weights together on. I suggested shipping the hawser-bridge. This was done, and a workman sat astraddle across it and had a good place to rivet the lead weights on. At first we stopped altogether to rivet the weights, but after a little while we collected some slack near the taffrail, and then only slowed down and eased the slack over, during which time the weights were being riveted. There was a break on the drum, and at the stern our men from the “Widgeon” had some wet canvas and held this round the wire. Little Mr. Brett came fussing about our men with such impracticable orders that at last they deliberately entangled him in the loose slack, so that he did not come there again. I have no knowledge of the distances the weights were apart, but probably they numbered about 16 or 20 to the mile. I know that a gentleman (I think a Mr. Wollaston, and relative of Mr. Wollaston, the engineer in charge) gave the time to ease down with a whistle. The ship was then eased, a man ran along with a piece of warm gutta percha, clapped it on the lower weight, the wire was pressed into it, another piece put on top, and the top weight put on, two blows given on .the projecting studs, and the weight was handed along as the wire slowly paid out again. On the taffrail was a little wooden roller, but no guide of any kind to keep the line on it.

When we got off Cape Grisnez we anchored, and a type printing instrument was put in circuit in the cabin. The instrument began to print off a jumble of letters, and Mr. Brett tore the slip up, although it was a record of the first signals across the Straits. This so incensed Mr. Wollaston that I thought he was going to box Mr. Brett’s ears. Being of an archaeological turn of mind, I saved a piece and carefully pasted it on paper and labelled it. Captain Bullock requested it of me, and I of course gave it him, and he presented it to the old Duke of Wellington, then staying at Walmer Castle. We joined our own ship, the “Widgeon,” soon after this, and did not see the landing of the Grisnez end.

This was my first connection in any way with telegraphy. Of those that were on board Mr. Wollaston, Mr. Crampton, Captain Burstal, Mr. Willoughby Smith, and myself are alive. Mr. Brett died some years ago.

The line was laid to save the concession, which required that telegraphic communication across the Straits should be made before a certain date. The wire answered this purpose, but was cut the day after it was laid by a fisherman, who hooked it up off Cape Grisnez and cut it through with a knife. Dr. Russell, in his work on the Atlantic cable, in alluding to the incident, calls this fisherman a “pescatore ignobile.”

The Electrician, 31 May 1884:


In 1852 the Electric Telegraph Company had decided to lay cables from Orfordness to Scheveningen, in Holland, and a company was formed, styled “The International Telegraph Company.” This company was practically a mere department of the older company, and the whole concern soon afterwards took the name of “The Electric and International Telegraph Company.” Mr. E. Clark was engineer to both companies.

At that time only the Dover and Calais cable had been laid, and it was determined to lay four cables with single conductors instead of a heavy compound cable with four conductors, as not only the risk of loss during laying would be less, but the risk of total interruption when the cables were laid would be less. This proved eventually correct, for during the four years I had charge of the cables only once was there total interruption, and that only for a few hours, when during some operations I broke the last cable by accident at night, but repaired it at dawn of day; whereas, on the other hand, the Dover and Calais cable and Dover and Ostend cables were once broken by the same ship, and total interruption ensued for several weeks, the “Monarch,” then with me at Holyhead, having to be chartered by the Submarine Telegraph Company, and brought round to Dover to execute the repairs. But the cables were no doubt too light for the locality, and have since been taken up. Compound cables were laid in their place, which have resulted in total interruption for months; and yet a new compound cable is now about to be laid by the Post Office in their new steamer the “Monarch.”

The core for these four “Hague cables,” as they were generally termed, was supplied direct to the company from the Gutta Percha Company in Wharf-road—now a part of the Telegraph Construction Company. The iron wire was supplied also direct to the company from Messrs. Tupper and Carr, and the contract for serving and sheathing was given to Messrs. R.S. Newall and Co., who had erected temporary works at the North Dock, Sunderland, where they were making the Ostend cable. All the core was taped, tarred, and sanded previous to its being handed to Messrs. Newall and Co. Most of this work was done by Mr. H.V. Physick, in London, but a part was done by the company, under my direction, with the company’s machinery placed in Mr. Newall’s works.

I was appointed by Mr. E. Clark to superintend the testing and watch the manufacture at Sunderland. I strongly recommended testing the cables, as manufactured, under water. This was agreed to, and I constructed a dock at Messrs. Newall’s works for this purpose. The ground was pure sea-sand, so I determined on wood and concrete. The bottom was made of 9in. concrete, with a layer of tar, pitch, and sand about an inch thick over it. The sides were timber piles, planked and caulked and tarred. The shape was nearly square on plan, with one comer cut off. The dock held water perfectly, in spite of many prophecies to the contrary. The work was carried out by men on time work without any contractors, and only cost about £200.

The cables were manufactured two at a time, and coiled into the dock direct from the machines, the water being kept level with the top of the coils, which were oblong, with a row of piles between them to separate them. On Saturday nights the dock was pumped up full and extra tests taken on Sundays when the cables had been submerged for some hours. To get the water off I used a gutta percha pipe as a syphon over the quay into the harbour. Our tests were of course primitive, but still were more than had previously been taken. For insulation a deflection was taken on a horizontal galvanometer with certain battery power, the deflection with one cell on short circuit being also noted. We had no resistance coils in those days, but as I foresaw we should require some means of testing the distance of a fault I took the deflection on the galvanometer with the cable in circuit with one element as every ten miles was added to the circuit, and tabulated the results, and from these all the faults in the cables for four years were localised with sufficient accuracy for repairs.

These were the first cables tested in their entirety under water before shipment, and the process was not adopted again (except on the Irish cables made at Fenton’s Works, Queen’s Ferry, near Chester, where I constructed a brick and cement tank) until after the failure of the ’58 Atlantic cable. All the welds in the iron wire of the Hague cables were galvanised, a galvanising tank being placed between the machines, and I believe these are the only cables on which this process has been carried out.

By the terms of the contract with Messrs. Newall, the Electric Telegraph Company were to find a ship, and Messrs. Newall to find men; but if I recollect right nothing was said in the contract, which was only on a sheet of note paper, about machinery. The price to be paid for the men was only £500. No payments depended on success in any way. The whole transaction, in fact, was quite different to anything done in the present day. When the two first cables were nearly ready it became necessary to look about for a ship. Lieut.(now Captain) Burstal, R.N., and I were deputed to look out for one. It was decided that a paddle was better adapted for the work than a screw, as when the ship is going slow, with the wind on the beam, the lee paddle helps to keep the ship up to the wind.

After visiting several ports we pitched on the “Monarch,” a paddle-wheel steamer of about 500 tons, belonging to Messrs. Brownlow and Pearson, of Hull. The ship had holds less interfered with by beams than anything of the size we had been able to find. The price was £6,200, and to avoid the cost of bankers’ commission the accountant of the Electric Telegraph Company was sent down to Hull with the money in notes. Being of a cautious disposition, Mr. Bennett had the notes sewn into the lining of his frock-coat. The next morning after his arrival we went to Messrs. Brownlow and Pearson. Mr. Pearson, who received us, had only one arm, and taking the notes in his only hand he crunched them up in a lump and thrust them into his trousers pocket as if they were so much waste paper, at the same time that Mr. Bennett gave a deep sigh of relief at the end of his responsibility.

I fitted up some machinery for paying out, and Mr. E. Clark and Mr. Robert Stephenson came down to see it. The brake consisted of two horizontal drums at the end of vertical shafts, with certain guides, and one drum could be shifted down suddenly, so as to disengage the cable entirely if necessary in case a kink came, which in those days were our bugbears. Mr. Stephenson did not express much opinion, except that all the places where the men had to stand should be cased in with light iron plating. Mr. Newall, however, claimed to use his own brake, and called mine rubbish, and eventually Mr. E. Clark telegraphed from York to me to remove my brake, saying afterwards to me verbally that it would be childish to dispute about a brake. So mine was removed, and Mr. Newall’s placed instead, and I am bound to say that, looking back, Mr. Newall’s was the best, for mine was made in a great hurry, and the workmanship was not very good. On the other hand, in preparing the holds, of which there were two, I arranged them for paying out from the centre of the coils, which were oblong.

But it was argued that the end of the coil was the proper place to pay out from, because that was what had been done before in the “William Hutt” screw steamer when laying the Ostend cable, which had just been laid. The beams I had taken out were replaced, and one at the end of the coils taken out. Further experience has since shown that the centre of the coil is the proper place to pay out from.

Mr. Newall’s brake was a vertical drum brake, and with side place for strap on same drum. The drum was in one casting, and the spokes in a separate one secured to the drum by screws. There was a knife to fleet the cable, and a trough to lead the feed cable under it. It was, in fact, the father of the brakes used at the present day, and it always appears to me that Mr. Newall has never received sufficient credit for this design. I am not aware whether it could have been patented, because the knife for fleeting had been used for colliery ropes, but certainly the adoption of it for submarine cables was due to Mr. R, S. Newall.

There was no stern sheave as we have now, but about 10ft. inboard from the taffrail the cable passed over a roller and between two pulleys, and then played freely round the taffrail and side rails over curved castings fitted all round on the rails. This was my arrangement, and was intended to give the cable less power to tug at the stern when growing on the quarter when tide or wind is on the beam, and would tend to prevent the cable in these circumstances affecting the steering of the ship. The Port Patrick and Donaghadee cable had previously been lost by the ship swinging to the cable in a heavy lee-tide. As we know stern sheaves are now adopted, and the cables are so light and the ships so large that the brake-power applied to the cable does not affect the ship’s steering much, even with a beam wind and tide. We had no picking-up gear in those days and only two buoys. These were intended to buoy the tag-ends of the shore ends, which, composed as they were of six separate cables and a central wire laid up together, would have three spare ends, even when the four cables were laid. There was no special testing room, and the “board-ship” testing appliances consisted of a vertical galvanometer in gimbals and a single-needle instrument for speaking to shore. When paying out we exchanged signals with shore every quarter of an hour on the single-needle instrument for continuity, and tested for insulation between times with our 288 elements. The deflection was 50° on starting, decreasing to 40° when the cable was all submerged.

It had been determined to lay two of the main cables direct from shore to shore, and lay the shore ends afterwards to save time, as our concession was nearly expiring and the shore ends were not ready.

Accordingly the ship was loaded with one cable, about 130 miles. The cable was coiled into the after-tank first, then back into the fore-tank, and then back into the main-tank, and then into fore-tank again. Thus the ship was never much out of trim when paying out.

We arrived in the “Monarch” off Orfordness on Sunday, May 29, ’53, and found there H.M.S. “Adder,” commanded by Captain Burstal, which had been specially lent by the Admiralty to assist us, and the “Goliath” tug, of London. Captain Burstal had previously marked the line out by flag buoys all the way across the North Sea from Orfordness to Scheveningen. These buoys were barrels with a mast through them, weighted by a pig of ballast, and carrying a staff and flag, and were the same as those used in the surveying service. They were placed about every ten miles. On board the “Monarch” were Mr. E. Clark, Mr. L. Clark, Mr. Foudrinier (the secretary to the Electric Telegraph Company), myself, and two clerks on the part of the company, and Mr. Spencer and Mr. Thomson on the part of Mr. Newall. Mr. Newall was to meet us at Orfordness, but had not arrived. Doctor (afterwards Sir William) O’Shaughnessy and Mr. H. Vernon Physick, who before had been assistant engineer to the Electric Telegraph Company, came on board, but not to accompany the expedition.

We anchored close to Orfordness, and ran a warp ashore, and waited patiently for Mr. Newall. The wind came on the land, and we buoyed and slipped the end of the hawser, and anchored in Hollesley Bay. On Monday we again anchored close to shore. A consultation was held, and as our concession expired in three days if the cable was not laid by that time, Mr. E. Clark determined to proceed without Mr. Newall. We signalled the “Adder” and “Goliath” to get underway. At eight a.m. we had end ashore, and at nine we started. The “Goliath” had us in tow whilst we were weighing anchor, as we were close to the beach, and she continued towing for ten miles, when we cast her off. We left the “Adder” behind to bring off Mr. Thomson (Mr. Newall’s engineer), and a clerk who had gone up the river for a sail. We kept some high trees on with Orfordness Lighthouse till lost sight of, which brought us to the first buoy : then we kept the buoy astern, bearing W.N.W., altering our own course so as to keep that bearing on until we sighted the next buoy, which we kept on an E.S.E. bearing, and so on throughout. I attended to the steering of the ship, and Mr. Sargent, a boatswain from the “Adder” attended to the signals from the “Adder,” and assisted in steering when I was below. The “Adder” anchored at times, and took set and rate of tide and signalled to us, and she also kept ahead, and when she sighted a buoy placed herself on the line, and made a signal when she was on the bearing, so that sometimes we took her as a mark before we could see the next buoy. Thus the line was regularly ranged out in proper engineering fashion.

Mr. Thomson, as I have said, and one of the clerks not knowing we were going to start, had gone in a boat up the river Aide, and when we were some ten miles out a message came from the lighthouse saying, “Mr. Thomson is now coming down the river.” Somebody repeated this on deck, and I recollect exclaiming, “How can you see them at this distance?” I had quite forgotten that we could speak to the shore or the shore to us, as this was my first experience of a message from shore to a ship under way at sea. I can well recollect the strange feeling it gave of novelty at the time. Soon after the “Adder” caught us up, and the clerk had a wigging from Mr. Foudrinier, ending with a “Go forward, sir,” in true nautical style. Towards night it came on to blow, and soon increased to a gale, from N.E. The tug bore up and ran for Harwich, and had a part of her paddle box carried away. Mr. Newall had by the evening arrived at the lighthouse, and a series of messages passed between him and Mr. Clark. Mr. Newall told Mr. Clark that he was now responsible for anything that might happen, and Mr. E. Clark replied that the fact of Mr. Newall saying so would not alter the circumstances one way or the other. In the night the “Monarch” was rolling considerably, with a heavy beam sea on. Mr. Spencer had to be lashed near the brake, at which post he kept steadily throughout the work. Down below Mr. L. Clark attended to the testing, and when the rolling compelled a reclining position on the sofa, he had a string fast to the handle of the single needle, at which he tugged every quarter of an hour to give the continuity signal. One of the lanyards of the funnel stays got chafed through by the lifeboat rubbing against it, and the funnel was tottering at every roll. The captain, a very old man, rove a new one, at the peril of having his hand smashed. As the ship rolled to leeward and separated the boat by about four inches from the stay he quickly passed one turn, withdrawing his hand just in time before the next roll brought the boat back on the stay with a thud. I never saw so old a man, and not many young ones, do anything half so smartly. The changes of hold were managed well by Mr. Thomson and a foreman of Mr. Newall’s, named Dingwell. In the morning the “Adder” was rolling till we could see her keel. We only missed one buoy in the night. At times, to keep our course when the cable in fore hold was all out. we had the helm hard down for an hour together. As we got near Scheveningen we got a little to the southward of the line, but nothing has been laid across the North Sea as straight as this cable. The distance is 114½ statute miles, and we only paid out 119½.

We anchored just at dusk a little to S.W. of Scheveningen. The next morning I was awoke by Mr. E. Clark coming down, laughing, and telling us all to come on deck, as “there were a lot of penguins alongside.” On going on deck we found a Dutch schuyt rolling about at anchor near us, and four or five disconsolate people in oil-skins and sou’-westers sitting in a row on the boom. They were Mr. Ruysenhaars (the concessionaire) and some other gentlemen, who, with a zeal for the company’s interest, had put out at night to board the expedition, had been unable to fetch us, and had passed a miserable night, without anything to eat, in this most uncomfortable and penguin-like position. We got a hambone, some bread and grog to them as soon as we could. I had not had much experience of catering for telegraph ships, and the hambone was all that remained, and I was chaffed for many days about that poor bone. We did not get the end ashore until the day after this, and in this work I passed a night rolling about in a schuyt.

The two next cables and shore ends were laid soon after. The fourth was not laid until a year afterwards. When paying out this cable on a dark night, rolling along before the wind and sea, a foul flake occurred. About two tons of cable came up in a great skein, and crashed down the iron saddle, supported about 10ft. high on four 6in. timber legs, just where I had been standing an instant before. A portion of the skein wound round the drum, and of course stopped it dead. The cable streamed out astern towards the horizon. I had a smart foreman with me named Windle (who was afterwards with the Telegraph Construction Company). He got the stray chain of the buoy on the cable, and we just had time to cut the cable with an axe close to the rolling hitch, and away flew the end. Another instant and the cable would have parted. Yet when we came back three weeks afterwards we found the end safe fast to the stray chain.

We had by this time fitted the “Monarch” with our own machinery, including the first single drum picking-up gear ever made. I had four years on and off in the old ship, repairing and altering the course of the cables. The three first cables were laid too close together, but the fourth I laid about ten miles away to the northward of the others. This cable I also took up once and relaid. The fishermen used to hook a cable, heave it up, and let it go again, but during this time they would drift over another, and thus the cables used to come up regularly laid up in places like a rope, and to disentangle them without breaking one of the working cables was the great problem, and it was often very complicated and tedious work. It was very different work to repairing a single cable free from all others. We did not dare to dredge with the ship near a working cable, and I have had many a night in boats being towed to windward by the ship. The tide, too, off Orfordness at springs often runs four knots, and the cables, when lifted on the bight, having been laid quite tight, would not, of course, bear the weight of the ship hanging at right angles to their course. The paddles had, therefore, to be kept going at times fully half speed. When working on such occasions with boats under the bows on a dark night this was always a dangerous job, as there was the chance of a boat drifting into the wheel. I am happy to say I never lost any men, but, soon after I left, one was thus crushed to death in the wheel, and a cable foreman was killed in the picking-up gear.

The old “Monarch,” if she could not go fast—about seven and a half knots was her fastest, if I recollect right—could creak to perfection (she was a wooden ship, and twenty-three years old when we bought her). She used to begin with a deep groan below the deepest growl of a Lablache, or a Formes, and then slur up to a note an octave higher than the highest note of a Patti.

We were much bothered, too, by fishing vessels. Once, when re-laying the fourth cable, such a large and closely-packed fleet of fishing vessels were sighted right in our course that I was obliged to deviate the cable round them. At times, too, when steaming out to the buoys their flash lights would crop up under our bows, and as fast as the helm was over one way there was a yell and a light, and we had to put it over the other. We used in spite of all this to lose patent logs, and rarely came into port without finding pieces of nets in our wheels. They used, too, to unshackle our buoys, and then bring them in and claim salvage.

Once when anchored off Scheveningen, in the summer, I brought off from the shore to lunch on board M. Eugene Sue, the celebrated author of “The Wandering Jew.” Mr. Maas, the owner of the hotel, had introduced me to him, and had told me before I saw him that he answered exactly his own description of his Wandering Jew, as his eyebrows met over the nose. This I found was the case. When coming off in the boat I asked him, amongst other things, if he had read any of Charles Dickens’s works, “Oui,” he said, “mais je prefere le Sire Valter Scott,” which was to me a curious comparison.

it must not be supposed that the “Monarch” was solely engaged on the Hague cables. Two cables from Holyhead to Howth were laid from her and several times repaired. The Firth of Forth and Tay cables we also laid from her, but it would make this article too long to describe any of the work.

During the four years I gradually organised the system of buoys, mushroom anchors, bridles, grapnels, &c, which, with the picking up gear and brake, caused the “Monarch” to be the first ship regularly equipped for cable repairing, and she may consequently be fairly considered the father of the fleet of repairing steamers, amounting to some twenty-five, at the present day.

When I quitted the Company in 1857 I left the four Hague cables all in working order after some heavy repairing work. I telegraphed through from Orfordness to Mr. Weaver at Amsterdam the fact that the last repairs were completed, and I recollect for his reply he sent the words from the last duet in “La Favorite”—“Va dans une autre patrie cacher ton bonheur.” Those were the last words I received through the Hague cables, and ended my connection with the cable cruises of the “Old Monarch.”

Three water colour drawings by me, one representing the old ship laying the first Hague cable in a gale; the second representing her picking up a cable with another crossing it, or what we called “coming to a crossing,” and the third representing our boats dredging, hung for many years in the board room of the Electric and International Company. A sketch by me of the “Monarch” paying out in the gale appeared in the Illustrated London News in June, 1853.

The old “Monarch” laying Cable from England to Holland, 1853.
H.M.S. “Adder” in company.

The Electrician, 18 October 1884:


The Cagliari (or rather Chia) and Bona cable did not give results that satisfied the officers of the Mediterranean Telegraph Company and the French Government; and it was decided that we should proceed to work at it in the “Elba.” We had also to pick up all the cable remains of four attempts made by Mr. Brett to lay cables from Chia to Algeria. These consisted of two pieces of heavy 6-conductor cable and two pieces of 3-conductor cable. The 6-conductor cable had been laid from shore in the sailing ship “Result” in tow to some 30 miles; then there had been a run, and the cable had to be cut. They then under-run a few miles from shore, cut, and spliced on, and paid out about 22 knots, and then had a run and cut. The 3-conductor cable, laid from the “Dutchman” steamer, had been laid to some 60 miles, when there had been a run, and cable was broken or cut. Then they under-run from shore some 20 miles, cut and spliced on, and paid out till they ran short of cable near a small island on the coast of Algeria. They then hung on for some days till the cable chafed through on the rough bottom. We had therefore to try to pick up four different sections, two of which had ends on the beach, the other two lying isolated from the shore.

The “Elba” was fitted with a picking-up machine designed by Mr. Fleeming Jenkin, under the superintendence of Messrs. Newall, Liddell, and Gordon. On March 1st we had a discussion about the machine. It was thus arranged: drum 6ft. diameter; spur-wheel, 9ft.; pinion, 2ft. 6in. Brake drum to be loose on shaft, but connected by palls to the cable drum, so that, if cable overpowered engine, pawls brought the brake into play, and as near as I recollect this was all carried out. The drum, spur gear, and brake were all between the bearings; the bow sheave was also properly fitted; and wooden buoys, designed by me and made by Cooper, of Hull, were supplied for the work, as also buoy and grapnel ropes of Manilla.

I left to take charge of the work until Mr. Liddell could come out to us, and arrived at Bona on the 2nd of June. The “Elba” arrived there on the 3rd. There was much correspondence with Government officials, and some tests that detained us there till the 5th. Whilst lying off Bona, an English tug, with a crowd of gentlemen on board, came steaming up to us, and an Englishman in his shirt sleeves dashed on board and asked us for a ton of coals, as they had run short and could not fetch Bona without them. I found in the Englishman an old friend, Mr. J. Player, a civil engineer, who, with Mr. T. Snowden, of Middlesboro’, had an interest in some mines near Bona. On board the tug was M. Thalabout (the Stephenson of France), and a number of French engineers and financiers. As a slight courtesy in return for ours, M. Thalabout sent us two bottles of brandy that had been kept for seven years on the roof of his house at Marseilles. It was so superfine that we only treated ourselves to a small liqueur glass of it after dinner; but when the first bottle was exhausted we found that the steward had consumed the other in making his own nightly grog.

We arrived at Cagliari on the 6th. Mr. Liddell arrived the next day, and we started that night for Chia, and arrived there the next morning. We had with us Mr. Fleeming Jenkin, Mr. Francesi, Mr. Ternant, and Mr. Löffler. After various tests, it was determined to pick up some of the Bona cable, and on the 9th we got the end off the beach and began picking up, and picked up to 30.25 miles by the 12th, when we were in about 800 fathoms and had cut out a slight fault. We hung on till the 15th, in a fresh breeze, putting cable to rights, and then got cable aft and began paying out. We anchored with kedge when 4½ miles from shore to splice on some shore end, and again at one mile from shore, to splice on a new shore end, and then landed end. This was all the practical work we performed on the Bona cable; but we afterwards had ten days’ testing from a martello tower at Chia, as I shall relate further on.

On the 16th we grappled close to shore for Brett’s 6-conductor cable, got it, hove it up, and buoyed end of seaward part, and picked up shore part into three fathoms, and then cut it. Went off to Cagliari, back again next day, and made some more official tests of Bona cable, and then got end we had buoyed onboard, and began picking up. Had some difficulty in getting the slack carried away from drum. Rigged up a pulley to press on cable and keep it tight on drum, as the cable was a very stiff one, and the men could not keep it tight. We came to a splice which marked the spot where the 20 mile length began. Picked up to 14 miles, and came to a crossing of the 3-conductor cable, which we had been given to understand did not overlay it. We cut and buoyed with two nun buoys and Manilla rope, and put flag buoy near. We then went to work to get the end of the 3-conductor cable off the beach, but, after expending much labour in digging up ashore, we suddenly caught sight of it from the ship, just under us, and hove it up and cut it, and got end onboard on June 21st. We picked up to our buoys on the 6-conductor cable, and then found the 3-conductor cable we were picking up was chafed through by the thick one, and the end came on board. We then picked up 6-conductor cable again, and picked up about a mile, so as to be clear of our 3-conductor, and cut and buoyed again.

This brought us to the 23rd, when we commenced dredging for the 3-conductor. Got it on 24th, cut it, buoyed sea end, and picked up short piece. Blowing too hard for work till 27th, when we picked up buoy on our 3-conductor length, and commenced picking up again. Came to splice that marked the shoremost end of the 40 mile length of 3-conductor cable in 105 fathoms. Took angles to mark position. Kinks now kept coming in at the rate of 40 to the mile. Picked up 13 miles, when cable parted (in about 600 fathoms) just as a bunch of bends and kinks came to the bows. We did not try to grapple for the rest of this section. On the 28th we grappled for the shoremost end of the 40 mile length of three conductors. Hooked it one mile outside end, cut it and buoyed shoremost end of seaward section. Picked up the one mile; back to buoy, got end up, and commenced picking up. Got forty-two kinks in two and a half miles. At seven and a half miles, cable broke at a kink in about 400 fathoms. On the 29th we got hold of buoys on the 6-conductor section we had been working at. At 7:15 p.m. came to a heavy lift. Belt got off, but the pawls prevented drum from paying out; and Mr. Fleeming Jenkin was pleased, for he had strongly insisted on the pawls, although I was against them. When we had got the belt on we gradually hove in an immense skein of cable, consisting of three bights and a loose end. We had to stop it together and coil it down just as it was, and it covered the whole floor of the main cable hold. I have no note of the exact length of this skein, but it was at the end of the section which was twenty-two knots long.

On the 30th we dredged near shore for the second portion of the 6-conductor cable. Got it, cut it, and buoyed short piece, and commenced picking up seawards. We continued picking up steadily until 4 a.m. of July 2nd, when, having twenty-seven miles in, we came to a grand kinkation, evidently at the end, although in cutting some of it away to get it on board we cut the actual old end off. We had to get tackles on mast end and yard arms to get it in. A photograph of this kinkation was to be seen for several years in the shop window of Mr. R.S. Newall in the Strand. In picking up one of our buoys the ship drifted on to the boat that was unshackling the buoy, and the fluke of the anchor caught on the back a poor fellow named Oliver, who was formerly mate of the old “Monarch,” and hurt him seriously. We went off to Cagliari, and the Italian doctors said no bones were broken, but they resorted to their favourite remedy—they bled him. He was ill for many weeks at Cagliari.

More tests had to be taken of the Bona cable, as its state was under dispute; and on the 7th of July I landed at Chia with Messrs. Francesi, Cavalli, and Pacetti. There was a martello tower perched up on a high promontory, and this was to be our abode. It had not been inhabited for years. The entrance was about 18 or 20 feet from the ground, and we had to procure a ladder to get in. When we went in an old owl and a falcon flew out, and we found a nest of young falcons inside. Into this tower we took provisions and some bedding, and stopped there altogether 10 days. I slept in the casemate the first night, but the feeling that all sorts of slimy things were dropping about from the walls caused me to move the next night on to the roof, where we always took our meals. We had rigged up a sail, and tried to keep it quiet with numerous crossings of No. 8 wire; but from the exposed position of the tower the wind generally kept it flapping about in such a furious way that we could hardly hear one another speak at times. We used to go down the grassy slope of the hill in our night gear to a little cove to bathe; but when we were coming away I noticed the dorsal fin of a shark right in this little cove, and I do not think I should have bathed if I had seen him before. We were pretty jolly, and got on very well together. I learnt some more Italian; and, by the time we left, my three Italian friends knew considerably more pieces of recitatives from Italian opera than they did before, and were constantly bursting out with them.

We had the wires led up into the tower and made experiments on them every day, Mr. Liddell, Mr. France, and Mr. Löffler being at Fort Genois, near Bona, at the other end of the cable. A prods verbal was finally drawn up, but I do not know how matters ended. I should have mentioned that Spartivento and Chia are considered to be most deadly, unhealthy places. In fact, they used to say that Italian men-of-war would always sheer away from the land when obliged to pass near there, and it was considered fearfully dangerous to sleep ashore. Nevertheless, Mr. Liddell, and Mr. Löffler, and a whole party of men were caught ashore there one night by its coming on to blow, and had to pass the night in the open air. When they came off to the ship, all took some quinine in case of accidents, but nothing occurred. Of our party in the Chia Tower, one of the servants got the fever, but the rest of us escaped. There were certainly some nasty stagnant looking ponds near; and very likely it was the strong sea breeze that prevented Mr. Liddell’s party from getting the fever.

In 1858 the Cagliari and Malta cable broke down, and I repaired it in January, 1859, in the “Elba.” The fault was near Adventure Bank in 175 fathoms; but there was nothing in the case that would be of interest now, as the repair of cables of that type and lying away from others is now constantly being carried out.

The Electrician, 2 August 1884:


On June the 5th, 1857, H.M.S. “Agamemnon,” a 91-gun screw line of battle ship, arrived off Messrs. Glass and Elliot’s works, Morden Wharf, Greenwich, to ship one half of the first Atlantic cable, a work which at that time was looked forward to with intense interest by the general public, as well as by the engineering profession.

The cable was by that time nearly all manufactured, one half (1,250 miles deep sea and 15 miles shore end) having been made by Messrs. Glass and Elliot, and the other half by Messrs. R.S. Newall, at temporary works in some warehouses at Birkenhead. The American Government had sent over their crack frigate the “Niagara,” to carry half the cable, and that ship arrived at Gravesend in May, and on the 16th was visited by Messrs. C. Bright, Canning, and Woodhouse, and myself (engineers to the Atlantic Company), Messrs. Whitehouse (the electrician to the company), Statham (the manager of the Gutta Percha Company’s works), and R Glass. We found the ship greatly cut up by engines, decks, and bulkheads, and no holds to speak of. It was evident we must coil between decks, but then the finely-decorated ward room, of which the ship’s officers were very proud, would have to be cut into. The captain and officers wanted us to coil the cable on the main deck in a kind of horseshoe form down two sides of the engine room hatch, and it was not until actual experiments were tried that they were convinced of the impracticability of this plan, and gave full permission to have their bulkheads cut away in all directions, and eventually the coils in her were as follow:—

In hold, forward of engines 352 miles D.S.
On lower deck, exactly above this 182 D.S.
On main deck, exactly above this 294 D.S.
On main deck, between main and mizen masts 297 D.S.
On upper deck, above the last 130 D.S.
On upper deck, forward of foremast 10 S.E.


All these coils were in circular wooden structures, and had Newall’s cones and rings fitted under Mr. Woodhouse’s directions, who had before served on expeditions with Mr. Newall.

In the “Agamemnon” one large wooden tank of a peculiar shape was made in the hold, forward of the mainmast. It was nearly circular at its top and elliptical at its base. The cone had to be of a still more peculiar shape, for, to take the same number of thickness of cable in every direction at any flake between cone and sides of tank, it was made elliptical at bottom and nearly circular at top, and the top had to be less in diameter than the minor axis of the ellipse. A longitudinal section of it was like an exaggerated dumpy Eddystone Lighthouse, and a cross section was nearly like an ordinary cone. This was very cleverly worked out by Mr. (now Sir Samuel) Canning and Mr. Clifford. In this tank the whole of the 1,250 miles of deep sea cable was coiled, and 15 miles of shore-end was coiled on the orlop deck just forward of the main coil, thus leaving her lower main and upper decks quite clear of cable.

The paying-out gear in both ships consisted of four grooved wheels, on horizontal shafts, placed in series one behind the other, the two middle ones being a little higher than the others. These wheels overhung the frame. On each shaft was a spur wheel. These were geared in pairs, and between the two pairs was a pinion gearing into one wheel of each pair, and on the shaft of this pinion was a Prony brake and dynamometer. The cable fed on to top of No. 2 wheel, went three-quarters round and on to top of No. 1, then coming off bottom of No. 1, went straight to bottom of No. 4, off top of No. 4 to bottom of No. 3, then three-quarters round and off altogether at top of No. 3 to the stern sheave. But I am not going to discuss the machinery. A full drawing of this paying-out gear is given in my paper read at the Institution of Civil Engineers in February, 1858, and its merits and faults are there discussed.

Coiling on board the “Agamemnon” began on June 16th. On the 28th (a Monday) it was found that the top flake of the coil in the yard, which had been standing all Sunday, showed signs of the gutta percha being melted. It was visible in little pimples (the size of a pea) outside the wires. The cable was cut 30 miles down, and tested by Mr. Whitehouse, and the portion below the cut passed. On the 16th of July places were found where the copper was quite through the gutta percha, and these were cut out.

The “Niagara” took her cable on board in the Mersey, as she could not enter the Birkenhead Dock, where Messrs. Newall and Co. were making the half of the cable that she was to carry. It was brought out in a small sailing ship. On the 20th of July a dinner was given at the Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool, to the officers of the United States frigates, “Niagara” and “Susquehana.”

The “Agamemnon” was officered in a curious way, four masters—that is, what are termed staff commanders now—were appointed, one to do duty as captain, one as master, and the other two as lieutenants.

On July 24 we started in the “Agamemnon” from Greenwich. It was a very high tide, and as we passed Blackwall we seemed from the poop of the ship to tower up above the place, and had a bird’s-eye view of the crowd on the wharf, that cheered us lustily. All the way down to Gravesend all passing ships cheered us. Now telegraph steamers are so common that notice is scarcely taken of them—at any rate, in the Thames. When we arrived off Gravesend it was strong ebb, and as the anchor was let go without first bringing the ship round head to tide, she swung round with such a spin that it nearly took us off our legs on the poop. I had given up my poop cabin to some ladies—relations of Mr. Nodall, R.N., who commanded the ship—and took one of a row of temporary cabins erected on the main deck. The next morning, just at dawn, the ship was getting her anchor, and I was suddenly awoke by a tremendous noise, with cries of “Lie down, men, lie down,” and then a crash against the door of my cabin. I got up, and with some difficulty got out of my cabin, as one of the large capstan bars had been hurled against it. The ship had been steamed ahead before the anchor was off the ground and the cable having “taken charge of the capstan,” the capstan was dragged round reverse way at a fearful velocity, knocking all the men over. The swiftsure then broke, and all the capstan bars flew out and came crashing amongst the men, who were lying about in every direction stunned. Three had broken legs, and seventeen others had to be laid up in the sick ward, but there were many more that were merely stunned. It looked just as if a shell had burst. We sent the three serious cases back by a tug to Woolwich. We anchored in Sea Reach for this, and got into Sheerness at 4 p.m. We left Sheerness on 27th for Cove.

When past Dover we tried the machinery by paying out a bit of cable and heaving it in again. The paying-out gear was made to haul in with. Again on the 28th we tried some experiments, and I have a note that slack accumulated between the two end sheaves of paying-out gear. On the 29th we paid out a piece of cable rove through a rough-made machine which Professor Thomson (now Sir William) proposed for catching the cable if it broke. We cut the cable, but the end flew through without being caught. I have a note, too, that the brakes put a great deal too much strain on even when they were “hard off”—that is, when entirely released. On the 29th we came into Cove, and found the “Niagara,” the “Susquehana,” and H.M.S. “Leopard” all there. The “Susquehana” played “God save the Queen” as we passed her. Crowds of people came on board both cable ships. On the 31st I left with Mr. Cyrus Field and the Knight of Kerry for Valentia to choose a landing place for the cable. On the 1st August Mr. Field and I selected a place, and a tent was rigged up. Batteries and clerks arrived in H.M.S. “Cyclops” and the steam tug “Advice.” On the 3rd the Lord-Lieutenant arrived at Valentia, and the next day a grand déjeuner was given in his honour by the Knight of Kerry. The other ships arrived the same day, and on the 5th we landed the end of the cable from the “ Niagara.” For this we used the paddlebox boats of the paddle frigates, and also the “Willing Mind” tug. When the end was ashore there were prayers, and then a speech from the Lord-Lieutenant.

The “Agamemnon” had remained outside cruising about in the bay, and I went off at 10 p.m. to her in a tug with several clerks and luggage. She was rolling heavily, although it was fine weather, but a swell on. She lowered a cutter and took me on board, but would not take the unfortunate clerks. When I got alongside it was not an easy matter to get up her side, as one minute the side ropes were scarcely within reach, and the next minute her lower deck ports were in the water. I managed a grasp at the side ropes, and the next second the boat was thirty or forty feet below me. When I got on deck I found the commander, Mr. Nodall, in a towering rage at having to lower a cutter at that time of night, when the ship was rolling so heavily.

“Here we have been,” he said, “rolling about to that extent, sir, that we have had to set up the rigging afresh twice, and then you come off at this time of night with a lot of clerks and luggage.” I said I could not help it as it was Mr. Bright’s orders. “It’s my opinion, sir,” he replied, “that Mr. Bright does not know whether he is standing on his head or his heels, sir.” This was scarcely a polite remark, so I went below to the ward room, and had some supper. I was now on board the “Agamemnon,” and all the three other engineers on board the “Niagara,” it having been arranged that Mr. Canning, who was appointed at first to the “Agamemnon,” should go with the “Niagara,” so as to make three engineers in the “Niagara” during the time of her paying out her cable, leaving me in charge in the “Agamemnon.” I can only relate, therefore, what I saw from my own ship, and indeed these articles are not intended as complete histories, but only one person’s experience.

On the 6th the “Niagara” started paying out, and was soon seen to turn back, and then forward again, and then back into harbour; then out again, apparently dredging, and then in again. On the 7th we sent a boat ashore with letters; boat came back, and we learnt that in paying out “Niagara” had got shore end of cable foul round axle of break, and had broken it. Had now under run in paddle box boat to a mile out, and then cable was cut, and shore end handed to the “Leopard,” and end from “Niagara” passed also to “Leopard,” and splice made in “Leopard.” She started again at about 5 p.m., and at night we saw her stationary for some time. On the 8th, at 2 a.m., “Niagara” was about two miles from land; at 8 a.m. the whole fleet, consisting of “Agamemnon,” “Niagara,” “Leopard,” “Susquehana,” and “Cyclops,” twenty-four miles from land; at noon thirty-seven miles paid out. On the 9th, at 8 a.m., “Niagara” signalled “coil on quarter deck out.” At noon we were ninety-eight miles from land, and “Niagara” signalled ninety-nine miles out. I have a note saying, according to agreement, this would be in last twenty-four hours. At night “Niagara” was going very fast. On 10th at noon we had run 112 miles since noon the day before, and “Niagara” had paid out 111 miles. Probably this discrepancy is due to errors of longitude. At 5 p.m. “Niagara” suddenly backed, then we saw a large bight go over, after which “Niagara” signalled “all right.”

The next morning my servant, who had been with me in the old “Monarch,” came to me with the awful words, “Cable parted, sir!” and sure enough when I looked out of my port I missed the familiar thin line that used to be streaming away over the stem of the “Niagara.”

We then closed with the “Niagara” to try some experiments. We passed end of cable to “Niagara” and broke cable. Passed it afresh, got out five miles, and then broke it; strain by the dynamometer, about two tons. “Niagara” tried to haul in her five miles from stern and broke it also. Mr. Canning now came back to the “Agamemnon,” and all the fleet started, the “Agamemnon” and “Niagara” for Plymouth, where we arrived much disappointed on the 14th. Thus ended the first Atlantic cable expedition of 1857.

The Electrician, 30 August, 13 September, 20 September 1884:


I ended my last article on the Atlantic Expedition of 1857 rather abruptly. I cannot help adding a few general remarks here. First, as regards the melting of the gutta percha at East Greenwich, it seems to me this never should have been allowed to take place. That a cable exposed to the rays of the sun ran considerable risk was so well known to me that I always, when landing cable at Lowestoft, covered it with a thick layer of hay, and had water pumped over it to keep the hay wet and cool by evaporation, and this work of pumping water over the hay was the only work carried on by our men on Sundays when in harbour. But there was another danger which the Atlantic cable incurred. The cable was passed through tanks of hot Stockholm tar; these tanks were heated by jets of gas under them. On my first visit to Messrs. Glass and Elliot’s yard I arrived there at dinner hour, and found the cable leading from some six or seven machines, which were stopped, still in the tar tanks, and although the gas was turned down the tanks were quite hot to the hand, and must have been at a temperature considerably above blood heat. I was greatly astonished, and wrote to Mr. Bright, and received a note thanking me for the information, and saying it should be attended to. Who was responsible for the hot tar tanks, or the exposure of the cable to the sun? Was it the contractors or the company?

As regards the paying-out gear, it was designed by Mr. Bright and Mr. De Bergue, and I was told, on commencing to criticise the drawings, that nothing could be altered except the size of the V sheaves. That machine, although it was very ingenious in some respects, has never been used since, and it was an entire departure from what had been previously used. Indeed, the machine made for the 1858 expedition (which consisted of two independent drums with four or five V scores on each) has never been repeated. A return has been made to the drum and knife machine as used on the earlier cables, in some cases, it is true, with the “Appold” (or rather “Amos”) brake, and in some cases with the ordinary brake straps arranged in various ways as regards the manner in which the strap is attached to the lever or is attached to the frame. But this subject could not be discussed without diagrams.

Passing on to history, or rather personal experience, the Atlantic Company had to reduce expenses, and as I had only an agreement which expired with the failure of the 1857 expedition, whilst the other three engineers had agreements which bound the company to keep them on till the completion of the cable, I had to look out for other work, and was engaged by Messrs. Newall and Co., who had engaged to lay the Cagliari, Malta, and Corfu cables, and had also to complete a four-conductor cable which they had attempted to lay between Bona (in Algeria) and Chia Bay near Cape Spartivento, the extreme southern point of the Island of Sardinia. The cable had been laid to within about 15 miles of Chia, when they ran short of four-conductor cable. They therefore spliced on some 10 miles of single wire cable which they had on board, and paid out till that ran short, and the end was let go a few miles from Cape Spartivento.

On October 21st, 1857, I started for Marseilles with Mr. Newall, and arrived there on the 23rd. The Liverpool steam tug “Blazer” (Captain Parry) was there, and the brake, 8ft. in diameter, was being fitted on the quarter deck. There was a length of 20 miles of four-conductor cable in a circular wooden structure in her hold, with proper cone and rings. We went on board on the evening of the 24th, and were about to start when there was a delay caused by a young Frenchman, who had to receive payment for the coal which had just been placed on board. Mr. Newall had naturally drawn a bill on his own firm for the amount of the coal bill, but the young Frenchman wanted, I suppose, for some particular personal profit of his own, to get a part of the sum paid in gold, and began by asking for a portion of the payment in gold. This was refused. He then began lowering his terms as regards the amount of gold, but in proportion as his terms lowered, his temper, or pretence of temper, increased. When he had got down to about £75 in gold, he was stamping about the cabin. I was translating the conversation between him and Mr. Newall, who was reclining on a sofa. At last the Frenchman began the trial of taunts. “Comment,” he said, “des gen-tel-mans, voyageant comme vous, vous n’avez pas même cinquante livres en or.” I translated this. “I wish I had him down a coal mine in the north,” said Mr. Newall, sotto voce, and stroking his beard to keep his temper. I am afraid there would have been very little left of the Frenchman if Mr. Newall had had his wish. The little Frenchman, finding even his final grand taunt useless, gradually subsided, and carried away his bill, which, it is almost needless to remark, was his full and proper payment, and indeed it was not likely that Mr. Newall would use the £150 in gold he had provided on board for petty expenses at hotels, boats, &c, in paying coal bills. To carry gold enough to pay coal bills in telegraph expeditions would nearly sink the ship.

We went over to Bona, arriving on the 27th, and left there one of Messrs. Siemens’s staff, with an induction coil instrument to speak to us when we hooked the cable off Spartivento. We started back same night for Spartivento, and arrived there on morning of 28th, and dredged without success for the cable. We had no picking up gear of any kind and no bow sheave, but I rigged up a temporary bow sheave. The next day (29th) we grappled again, got cable one mile from end, hove it up, cut it, and buoyed the short piece, and then hauled in the other nine miles by hand, came to four conductor cable, and made splice during night on to cable on board. The next morning (30th) we paid out towards shore, and landed the end.

I landed to bathe for the first time in Italian waters, and I was all alone. I was always devotedly fond of Italian opera, and seeing a strange gentleman, with long black moustache and piercing black eyes (who I soon knew afterwards as the Chevalier Franchesi, in charge of the telegraph) advancing towards me on the sea beach, I felt that now or never was the time to make use of some of the phrases I had gathered from the recitatives and duets in Italian operas. Taking my cap off and bowing in as near approach as I could to the exquisitely graceful bows I had seen the late Signor Mario make to various Queens and Kings in “The Huguenots,” “Favorita,” &c, I began boldly with “Salute Signore.” “Aha! parlate Italiano,” said Signor Franchesi delighted, and he launched forth in the purest Italian—for he was of an old Milanese family—a torrent of the “soft bastard Latin” that made me ignominiously cry for quarter by asking, “Vous parlez Français Monsieur?” and I had to take to that useful language for the rest of our acquaintance. But I was intent on recognising anything I could in the way of Italian that I was at all familiar with, and I can well recollect that the only words that struck me as familiar were when Signor Franchesi, seated before a double-needle instrument in the open air with a coloured handkerchief over his head to keep away the mosquitoes, and trying to speak to Cagliari with a failing battery, suddenly exclaimed, “Sacrrremento!! mi manca la pila.” I was at once reminded of “Mi manca la voce! in “Semiramide,” and reflected on the difference in the situation, and what would have been the effect on the audience if that energetic “Sacrrremento!” had prefaced the words in the celebrated quartet?

On the 31st we left for Cagliari, where Messrs. Newall’s ship “Elba,” with the cable to be laid between Cagliari, Malta, and Corfu was to meet us. We arrived there in the middle of the night, landed, and were making our way quietly up the solitary streets, when we were fetched back by gendarmes, and placed in a kind of cage, like wild beasts, on account of sanitary ideas, until the captain was fetched from the ship, and certain papers were examined. We were at last released, and then had to knock for about an hour at the Hotel della Concordia to gain admittance, as nobody was expected at that hour from anywhere.

On 1st November, 1857, therefore, I found myself at Cagliari, and before I proceed further let me point out to those who may have to refer to this town by name for the first time that it is by Englishmen often erroneously pronounced Cagliâri. The French quite as erroneously call it Cagliarî, whereas the Italians—and I suppose they ought to know—call it Câgliari. I was there with Mr. Newall for several days before we started and once or twice afterwards, and I have a kindly—I might say a “lively”—remembrance of the place, in spite of many of the “petites mise[grave]res de la vie,” which abound there. In the first place I never know any town where church bells kept up such a ringing and clashing. As fast as you thought you had heard the end of a tolling in one quarter a fresh peal would burst out in another. I believe half an hour in Cagliari would drive even a Salvation “Captain” mad. And then the mosquitoes, with no curtains to your bed. But, oh, the chamois! I mean the chamois mentioned by Mark Twain in his “Tramp Abroad.” I don’t think even Mark Twain could have found such a quarry for chamois as Cagliari. Ladies in Cagliari, so I was credibly informed, at an evening reception, think nothing of taking a “chamois” off another lady’s white dress, with a graceful bow and a “scusate,” and giving it a pinch, and throwing it aside. The chamois abound all over the floor in the chinks of the red tile pavement. But then this is scarcely to be wondered at. The wash-hand basins are of the smallest possible dimensions, and even this small item it was difficult to get emptied and replenished. After stamping, and fuming, and bawling, a waiter would at last appear, and, sulkily taking the small basin in one hand, would sprinkle the dirty contents over the floor, evidently to feed the chamois. When these small but lively animals are deliberately fed in this manner, how can you expect them not to appear at evening parties? It is these “chamois” that gave me a lively remembrance of Cagliari.

The Cagliarites, I learnt, are very proud of their town, which runs up the side of a hill, bearing a resemblance to Algiers, though I do not know that there is much to boast of in that. I can recollect, however, some mountains on the opposite side of the bay, which at times in the evening presented such lovely tints of purple and blue as would delight the eye of an artist, and puzzle him to reproduce.

Cagliari, I found, was the birth-place of Mario, and I felt infinitely more pleasure in gaining information about that idol of my early days than I am afraid I shall ever feel about the antecedents of any telegraphic or electrical knight or baronet past or present. But this is not the journal in which to write what I gleaned, and I must pass on to the dry and thread-worn subject of cable laying.

H.M.S. “Desperate,” a screw corvette, was at Cagliari waiting for us. She was told off by the Admiralty to assist us, as the Cagliari, Malta, and Corfu cables were to be laid for the Mediterranean Extension Telegraph Company, which company had a guarantee (as long as the cables were in working order) from our Government. In those days submarine cable expeditions frequently had the assistance of Her Majesty’s ships. Lieutenant Watson, who was first lieutenant of the “Royal Albert” flag-ship at Malta, was in temporary command of the “Desperate,” and a very nice fellow he, Lieutenant Watson, was. We went round on November 1 in his gig to look at the landing-place for the cable near Cape St. Elias, a few miles from Cagliari.

The “Elba” did not arrive until the 10th, and during the interval of ten days the “Desperate” went out and took soundings, and we made two trips in the “Blazer” to Chia to take tests of the Bona cable. The English Consul at Cagliari, who was a Scotchman, dined with us once or twice, and I recollect that he spoke Italian with a strong Scotch accent, which was very peculiar. Yet he had been Consul there for many years, and the Italians could never make out why he had that peculiar pronunciation. The “Elba” had had a fearful passage across the Bay. She had lost three boats and the carpenter, and part of her bulwarks. There were no Plimsoll marks in those days, and the ship was very deeply laden—in fact too deeply, for when she arrived after burning all her coal she had only fifteen inches free board. The chief officer described to me that the covered passage on each side of the deck house was at times completely filled with green sea. Had a hatch-cover given way she must have gone down like a stone. The crew had at one time begged of the captain to turn back, but the old man stuck to his orders and came on. We did not consider it safe to go to sea and have the hatch covers off without taking first thirty miles of deep sea cable out of her aftermost hold to lighten her. We got the brake off the “Blazer” by means of the “Desperate,” and then the “Elba” went alongside the “Desperate,” and took it in. The coils in the “Elba” were all circular wooden structures, with cones and rings. The coils were as follow :—

    D.S.   S.E.
Fore   388  
Main   492  
After { 10   9.5
{   7.5
Aftermost   70  
Total   977    

The deep sea weighed nearly a ton to the mile, but I forget what the shore end weighed, probably about five tons to the mile. There was no picking up gear or bow sheave, but there was a dynamometer, which answered fairly well. A rough sketch of this is given in the report of what I said at the discussion of one of the papers on submarine cables at the Telegraph Engineers, but I forget the date. We anchored close to landing place on the 13th. When we were placing the buoy down a few days before, I had constantly urged its being placed further out than even where Lieutenant Watson thought safe—and this was further out than Mr. Newall wanted it—so as to provide for the wind coming on the land and the ship tailing in, and I shook my head when Lieutenant Watson at last said, “Well, Webb, surely here will do,” and down went the buoy. Events proved I was right. It was not far enough out. We got 500 yards of shore end into boats, and commenced landing end, but ran short and got some slack from ship, and at last got end ashore at 8 p.m. in the dark, and joined it on to land wires—a horrible thing to do, but no hut had been provided. This was a sin we had never perpetrated on any of the work I did for the Electric Telegraph Company. We laid at anchor all night, with our head in towards land, the wind being off the land. At daylight we under-run cable to shore to see there were no kinks and found all right. Weather then looked bad, and we determined to wait a bit, and Mr. Newall and Mr. Liddell went to Cagliari. They had not gone long before the wind came on the land, and the ship tailed round and struck on the rocks. The “Blazer” saw what had occurred and came down to us, and we got a hawser out to her. The ship hung fast for twenty minutes and then started off. We paid out a bit of slack we had on the forecastle, but ran short, and as bight went over got some kinks in. Got them on board and cut cable. Tested to shore and found dead earth. Disconnected land lines. Still dead earth. Under-run off and found ship had grounded on the cable and smashed it flat. Cut cable and hauled end from ship and made splice in boat. All this trouble and a narrow squeak of losing the ship through anchoring too close in order to save the trouble of landing a few fathoms more cable in boats.

On November 14 (1857), at 8 p.m., we started paying out, the “Blazer” towing for a few miles. Shore end was four and a half miles.

On the morning of the 15th it came on to blow, and by about 10 p.m. the ship was rolling very heavily, and the trough in which the cable was led from the fore hold to the brake fetched away, and was replaced by some temporary arrangements after some trouble. The ship was now lightening forward, but the sea came over the after part of the deck, and we were in about two feet of water at the brake, and had to put boards up in front of the door of deck house (which contained the saloon and cabins) and bale the water out of the saloon with buckets. Towards night the wind, which was logged down 6 (or half a gale) on board the “Desperate,” moderated. The next day (16th) we sighted the Island of Maritimo, and soon after the “Elba’s” engines broke down, and the “Blazer” took her in tow for a short time till we got our engines right. At noon we had payed out 230 miles, and logs showed 198. As regards testing arrangements, Mr. Löffler and another German gentleman, who had been sent from Messrs. Siemens, of Berlin, had brought induction coil Morse instruments foe speaking, but for testing only horizontal needle galvanometers unfit for testing work at sea. I therefore rigged up a simple upright galvanometer and reduced battery power till we got a readable deflection. At one time when I was on deck Mr. Löffler pulled my connections down. I reported to Mr. Newall that we were thus paying out without any tests, on which he came down and told Mr. Löffler, in plain and forcible language, that if they interfered again he would throw all their instruments overboard.

At one time we were alarmed by an increase of deflection on our galvanometer, and stopped and spoke to Cagliari, and found it had been raining, and thus the land lines had given more earth, so we went on feeling pretty sure this was the cause, and soon after the needle resumed its normal deflection, the sun having come out and dried the insulators. But it was not—speaking in a telegraphic engineering sense—a pleasant situation. We could not disconnect land line to make absolutely sure that cable was perfect, and as we had no picking-up gear we could not pick up, and having no buoys, could not have cut and buoyed. During the night of the 16th, at one time the cable kept slipping out faster than we wished, and Mr. Liddell and I kept putting more weights on, but with very little effect, and soon the cable was going out at nearly nine knots, and at last fouled round one of the horns of the rings in the cable-hold. We stopped, turned astern, and cleared cable, but could not detect what was wrong with the brake till Mr. Newall, coming out of the saloon in his night gear, listened, and his quick mechanical ear missed the slight grating noise of the iron brake strap on the cast-iron drum. On asking then in the engine room where they were pumping the water on to the brake from, we learnt they had turned the donkey-pump on to the bilge, and had thus been pumping greasy water on to the brake, and thus lubricated it. We cleaned brake with waste, and went on all right; but we had had a narrow escape of losing the cable through this thoughtless act in the engine room.

On the 17th we had a fine morning. At 4 p.m. we had 358 miles out and 308 by logs. Mr. Newall went on ahead in the “Desperate” to arrange about landing place, the “Blazer” following her. At about 7 p.m. we came up to “Blazer” moored, and showing a green light to indicate position where we were to cut and splice on shore end. We cut, made splice, and payed out to a boat with a red light, moored at entrance to St. George’s Bay, Malta. Tried to drag end ashore. Failed. Coiled into boats and payed out and landed end safely by 4 a.m. on the 18th. We had the assistance of two cutters and jolly boat from “Desperate,” and a crowd of men. It was pitch dark work in the little rocky bay. When we had landed the end it was led up into a little hut of some sort, and a Morse instrument put in circuit by Mr. Löffler. A crowd of men-of-war’s men and natives were trying to peep in and get a look at the novelty. I was quietly smoking a pipe away from the crowd, when two blue jackets, who had just had a peep, passed me, and I overheard one say to the other in a mysterious whisper, “What humbugs me up, Jack, is where the devil all that tape comes from?” The paper slip in those days was allowed to froth up all over the place, and had certainly a very Wizard of the North sort of effect. We went back to the “Elba” at 5 a.m., and several of the officers of the “Desperate” joined us over a glass of champagne. We were all very tired and untidy, and Mr. Liddell was sitting in a corner, with his hair rather out of order. There was a flagging of the conversation, when one of the naval officers suddenly exclaimed, “Why, Liddell, you look just like ‘Dizzy’ out on a spree!” We all looked up, and the likeness to the late Lord Beaconsfield in his younger days was at the moment so striking that there was a general burst of laughter, in which Mr. Liddell heartily joined.

At about nine we went into Malta, landed, and went up to Dunsford’s Hotel, and I never shall forget the comfort that night of a clean English hotel, with snow white mosquito curtains to our beds, after our experiences at Cagliari. We were at Malta till the 24th surveying and erecting the land lines from Valletta to St. George’s Bay, testing cable, and sending messages. I found a friend in Lieutenant George Campbell, of the 71st, an old schoolfellow of mine. His brother, Sir Donald, also an old friend, was one of the engineers on the construction of the Balaclava Railway during the Crimean War, and just after he died, a few years ago, Dr. Russell, who was at the Cape, noticing his death in the papers, wrote home half a column to the Daily Telegraph about Sir Donald, whom he had known in the Crimea, calling him the “genial clever engineer.” Donald was always full of fun, and as he spoke French perfectly, and mixed both with the English and French officers in the Crimea, he had many a curious story to tell when he came home. George was a fine, tall fellow, and about the most lively, boisterous fellow in the regiment. He was my guide about Malta, and dined me at the club, and took me to opera, &c. Poor fellow, he, too, has joined the majority.

We had a party of Sappers to help us to put up the land line to St. George’s Bay, and having started the work we left on the 24th in the “Elba” for Corfu. We arrived there on the 26th. The “Desperate” took soundings between Malta and Corfu, and came in on the 27th, reporting 1,800 fathoms as the deepest water, and this on that part of line nearest to Mount Etna. We were at Corfu until December 1st, and during this time drove several times across the island to the landing place for the cable, through lovely scenery, with masses of olive, Cyprus, and orange trees. We went to a ball at the Governor’s (Sir George Young), and saw there the Italian lady who for several years was known as the belle of the Ionian Islands, and has now long since been married to an English officer. That lady’s beauty-has much to answer for. Several of the “Desperate’s” officers were desperately gone. I say nothing about our own party. But, however, belles have nothing to do with cable laying.

Just before we were at Corfu a regiment had been stationed there which had made itself celebrated by a trial in a court of law on a question of practical jokes on one of the officers who was not popular. The questions asked by counsel were nearly always answered by the convenient reply, “I really don’t remember.” This stuck to the regiment, and when the men of-war’s men at Corfu wanted to irritate a soldier of this regiment, they always said carelessly as they went by, “I say, Bill, I really don’t remember.”

On December 1st, we landed the end from the “Elba” at 9 a.m., and secured it in a ruined church. We paid out a mile and a half of shore end, and then got a kink just where shore end joined on to the 10 miles of cable we had picked up off Spartivento. We hauled back, cut it out, made a splice and started again by 2 p.m. The 10 miles of picked up cable was troublesome to pay out, and it was 6 p.m. before we got it out, and we then went on at a much faster rate. At noon on the 2nd we had payed out 109 miles and run 86 miles by log. The next morning we sighted Mount Etna. At noon we were about 70 miles from the Mount, which seemed to tower up as if it was only 10 miles off. Every little line and crack in the snow-capped summit was clear and distinct, while the lower part faded off into the haze. By noon we had payed out 253 miles, and logs showed 211. On the 4th we sighted Malta, and at half past noon had payed out 406 miles, when we anchored and spliced on shore end; then slipped anchor and steamed close into bay; anchored and landed end at 7 p.m., having payed out 408 miles. Tried to weigh anchor and carried away chain cable and went into Malta Harbour.

On the 9th Messrs. Newall gave a dinner at Dunsford’s to the officers of the “Desperate” and some others, and we sat down a large party. When the breaking up was taking place on the landings of the hotel stairs the youngsters began knocking off all tall hats. I had saved mine once, and placed it in a room. I went in to fetch it, when I found a young midshipman quietly kicking it round the table all to himself, and I rescued it again. At last all had gone down stairs, and as I only heard a faint amount of conversation in the street I concluded it was safe to go out for a stroll, and, lighting a cigar, I went leisurely into the street. But directly I got outside the door there was a cry of “Here’s another hat,” and in an instant my hat was off and being played football with, for nearly all the party were there. The next morning I received in bed a flat brown paper parcel; it was my hat, sent to me with the compliments of the gun room mess of the “Desperate.”

During our stay at Malta I dined once at the ward room mess of H.M.S. “Royal Albert,” 131 guns, flag ship. A dinner on board this grand old ship, in full commission as flag ship on a crack station, with her fine ward room, the number of officers and guests, the band playing, and all the paraphernalia of a man-of-war was an imposing sort of entertainment not easily to be forgotten, and is scarcely to be equalled on board our modern ironclads.

We left for Cagliari and Marseilles on the 13th, leaving Mr. Löffler in charge of cables and land-lines.

Altogether the laying of these two cables was a success. The cone and rings and the brake answered perfectly; the dynamometer was the first ever used, and answered fairly well. As regards having no picking-up gear, Mr. Newall informed me that one had been made, but was so heavy he would not have it fixed on board. As regards buoys, I do not know why none had been supplied, for I had nothing to do with the work till I joined the ship at Cagliari. The next trip the “Elba” made we had a fine picking-up machine and bow sheave, which Mr. (now Professor) Fleeming Jenkin designed, with some little advice from me on some points, and we also had a proper set of buoys, ropes, and chains; but this does not belong to the narrative of the laying of the Cagliari, Malta, and Corfu cables.

The Electrician, 6 December 1884, 2 May, 5 June, 16 October 1885:

[Note: Webb gives the ships’ names variously as Imperidor/Imperador and Imperatrix; other sources have the names as Imperador and Imperatriz, which I believe are correct.]


The British Government never took any very deep interest in Atlantic cables, but they were very anxious, even as early as 1858, for telegraphic communication with India, and in 1859 a company had been formed for laying cables from Suez to India, having a guarantee of 4 per cent. for fifty years, whether the cable worked or not, for no money could be raised then on a guarantee conditional on the cable working. The cable was to start from Suez, and touch at Cosire, Suakim, Aden, Kooria-Mooria Islands and Muscat, ending at Kurrachee.

Messrs. Newall and Co. had the contract for making and laying the cables, and by the middle of 1859 the sections from Suez to Aden had been laid from the steamers “Imperidor” and “Imperatrix."

Towards the latter part of 1859 I was engaged by the Red Sea Telegraph Company to proceed to India and test the sections about to be laid from Aden to Kurrachee, and on the 9th of November I started for India via Paris. On the 10th I was assisted in getting my instruments, &c., passed through the Custom House at Paris by my old friend Mr. Spiers (father of the Mr. Spiers of refreshment room improvement celebrity). Mr. Spiers always knew the best piece to see at the theatres, and where best to dine. That day we dined together at Vefours. He was a Director of the Submarine Telegraph Company, and so knew something of submarine cables, and as he was agent to the London General Steam Navigation Company he was well known by the Custom House authorities. He gave me letters to friends at Marseilles to facilitate the clearance of my instruments there. He was a genial, kind-hearted man and good man of business, and I never used to pass through Paris on any of my trips without calling on him, but can do so no more, as he died some three years ago.

I arrived at Marseilles on the 11th. The English mail “Vectis” was quite full, so I had to take passage for Alexandria in the Messagerie Imperiale steamer “Danube,” which started on the 13th. During my stay at the Hotel des Ambassadeurs I made acquaintance with Mr. Stanley, the Consul at Jeddah, in the Red Sea, and soon found he was another of my old Brussels schoolfellows. Jeddah had some months before been the scene of a massacre; the English Consul had been killed, and H.M.S. “Cyclops” had been ordered to bombard the town. Then this order was countermanded, but the ship carrying the message of countermand in some way passed the “Cyclops” in the night, and went on past Jeddah, and the “Cyclops” arrived and bombarded, but did it in a merciful way, for after the first few shots they slung a 68-pounder and fired right over the town to show what they could do if they liked. The “Cyclops” had been taking soundings in the Red Sea, &c., for the cable, and was one of the ships that I was afterwards on board for a month.

We arrived at Alexandria on the 20th. Mr. Brunton (formerly under Mr. Statham at the Gutta Percha Works, Wharf-road) was the general manager of the line, and was at Alexandria, and I reported myself to him. Mr. (now Captain) Mayes, R.N., was also there. He had been master of the “Cyclops,” but was at the time I allude to in the service of the Red Sea Telegraph Company, and was to have the command of the repairing ship. This ship had not arrived out up to the time I left the whole work, and I am not sure that she ever came out at all. I don't know what her name was or who fitted her up, or when she was bought. She seemed to me a kind of “Mrs. Harris,”* although, I suppose, she must have had some sort of existence. Mr. Gisborne (a relative of Mr. Lionel Gisborne, the engineer) was the superintendent at Alexandria, and I lunched at his house on the 22nd. He had a beautiful little tame gazelle that strolled about in the dining room.

On the 23rd I went on to Cairo. For some distance from Alexandria one of the land lines had L. Clark’s double cup insulators. I put up, of course, at Shepherd’s. On the 24th did the Pyramids with two American gentlemen named Fetridge and Millar, who had been fellow passengers with me from Malta. I could have got up to the top of Cheops without any great stress of muscle or breath, but that the Arabs who drag and pull and push at you got singing such ridiculous bits of broken English, ending each stanza with “Oh! Englishman very good man. He give backsheesh when he get to the top!” that I got into a fit of laughter, and the more I laughed the faster they pulled, so that when I did get to the top I had no breath left at all, and could only lie down on my back and pant for a good ten minutes. A lady who was at the top said that all the others that came up were red in the face, whereas I was deadly pale. The fact was, I believe a little more and the Arabs would have been dragging up a smiling corpse. I made a sketch of the other pyramid from the top of Cheops, and have it now. After lunch we went inside the king and queen’s chambers, and then looked at sphinx, and I took a sketch of that. Then back to Shepherd’s by 7 p.m. to dinner. When chatting with my two American friends one said, in the course of a political question, “Why on earth don't you Britishers take Egypt and have done with it?” I thought it a very good idea, though I don't know that it was a very novel one, and have no doubt if we had taken it in ’59 or ’60 the country would have been by this time in a respectable and settled state.

On the 25th I did the mosque, &c. In the evening the passengers from Bombay arrived, and I suppose it would be difficult to find any hotel where passengers arrive in such great crowds all at once as at Shepherd’s. It was a very curious scene of confusion, bustle, and jabber, with a band playing outside to add to the general noise. It may be more so now, or less if there are more hotels, that I cannot say, but at that time it was one of the most curious sights I had ever seen.

I started for Suez on the 26th, at 8 a.m., by a train that was not taking the eastward general flood of passengers through. There was only one second class carriage, and no first class. My two American friends, two French ditto, Mr. Stanley, and Mr. Sheath (formerly clerk in charge at the Hague) were with me. A water train broke down in front of us when we were about half way to Suez, and stopped us for an hour. There were four railway wires, with Edwin Clark’s zinc cap insulators. The Red Sea telegraph line had Siemens and Halske insulators, and this line did not keep to the railway, but made short cuts in different places. We got on to a station in the desert, and had some lunch at this station. It was only a station; there were no houses or huts. I found there a telegraph clerk who I had known in the Electric Telegraph Company. It was quite delightful to find a friend in such a lonely place. We got to Suez about 2 p.m., and I saw my friend Mr. Stanley start off for Jeddah in an Egyptian steamer.

The hotel at Suez was a very different place to what I expect they have there now, and there were very few people in it. In the evening we were smoking a cigar in the proprietor’s room. There was an English baronet, who was on his way to New Zealand, and he had about a dozen partridges that he was taking out to his lands there. He had started from England with seventeen more, all of which had died up to that time. The remainder were therefore getting very precious, considering the percentage that had died and the distance still to be traversed to New Zealand. The birds were in cases with a kind of cage-front made of battens, and had been brought up into this room and placed with the battens against the wall. Now the master of the hotel had a tame mongoose. The little creature had been running about the table and amusing us with his pranks. He had disappeared, and we were chatting, when suddenly the baronet jumped to his feet, rushed like a maniac at his cages, tore off some battens, and the next instant the mongoose was high in the air describing a trajectory to the other end of the room. But five more of the partridges had gone the way of their own majority. The little sly wretch of a mongoose had got in between the wall and the cage and then between the battens, and would have slaughtered the whole lot had not the owner of the partridges heard a faint cry from the fifth. I always wondered, firstly, how it was the baronet did not get bitten, for he had seized the mongoose regardless of consequences, secondly, how it was the mongoose was not killed when he struck earth (or floor); and lastly, I always wondered whether the baronet ever got a single partridge to New Zealand. I hope he got a brace there, for he was a very nice fellow, and I had travelled with him from Marseilles; but his case was not hopeful at Suez. In fact, from the above particulars I should estimate, as an engineer, that to get a couple of brace of partridges to New Zealand from England you ought to start with at least a thousand.

I am afraid this is scarcely about cables, but you must recollect, Mr. Editor, that I am, or was, waiting at Suez for a ship to take me on to Bombay. On the 27th I went with my American friends, Fetridge and Millar, in a boat to Moses’s Well, about ten miles down the Red Sea, on the Arabian coast. It was a Sunday morning, and one of the Americans was of a rather serious turn of mind, and wore spectacles, and he took his Bible with him, and as we sailed along endeavoured to glean from the Arab boatmen something about any traditions that might exist as to where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. He had his Bible open, and was constantly asking questions of the boatmen, who gave answers which, as far as we could make out, gave us no information, indeed continued to puzzle us more and more. At last the less serious of my two friends said, “Now, let me try to get at it;” then to the Arabs, “Now, look here, who was it that were after the Israelites?” There was instantly a chorus of “Rascally Bedouins, sar!” They thought we were talking of a murder that had taken place three weeks ago, when some poor traveller was murdered by some Bedouin Arabs. The serious American shut up his Bible, and his friend indulged in a tremendous fit of laughter, and afterwards wrote in the visitors' book at Suez Hotel, “Discovered that the Israelites were not pursued by the Egyptians, but by rascally Bedouins,” and signed it “A Seeker after Knowledge.” There was not much to see at the wells. There are fifteen wells with the crazy picturesque water wheels carrying an endless rope with small earthenware pots to bring up the water. There were two or three huts there, but one of these we could not go into, because some ladies from a harem were there. A jolly old Arab lent us two camels to ride back to the boat, and the jovial American and I rode on one, and we were greatly amused at the peculiar motion and the groans the animal uttered when made to lie down by the Arab in charge.

I left Suez on November 30 for Aden, with Mr. Brunton and Mr. Mayes, in the P. and O. steamer “Emeu.” On the 1st December the thermometer was only 75° in the shade, but by the 4th it was 92° on deck, 93° in cabin, 117° in engine room, and 150° in stoke hole. The ship was very crowded.

On the 5th we passed the wreck of the “Alma,” on board which ship Mr. Gordon (of Newall, Liddell and Gordon) and Mr. Lionel Gisborne were passengers at the time of the wreck a few months before. They were taken off the island by “Cyclops.” We arrived at Aden on December 7th. Mr. and Mrs. Newall were there waiting for the “Imperidor” and “Imperatrix” to arrive. Mr. Long (formerly, and, I believe, now again with Negretti and Zambra) was superintendent in charge at Aden. We arrived at Bombay on the 15th; left the next day for Kurrachee in a wretched steamer called the “Scindian.” She only went six knots an hour, and yet we had to stop at night to cool bearings. Arrived on 20th at Kurrachee. Found H.M.S. “Cyclops” there, and we breakfasted on board her; then to Europe Hotel, a curious little building, with a round tower at each corner just like a small Bastile. The only other persons in the hotel were four officers, just down from Delhi, and who had been through the Indian mutiny.

The “Imperidor” arrived and anchored outside on the 24th. A length of 200 miles of cable had been laid several months before from Aden towards Kooria Morria Islands. The “Imperidor” had on her way from Aden hooked up the end and found it covered with coral. The length had become faulty. Mr. Newall at first refused to take Mr. Mayes on board. He had also refused to take from Aden the furniture for Khooria Mooria and Muscat, and had also refused to bring on my batteries, which I had brought as far as Aden, and he refused me a passage in the paying-out ship, although I had a special order from the Board of Directors. He even tried to get Mr. Forde to go in one of the accompanying men-of-war.

The position of the engineers for what may be termed the buying company in submarine telegraphy has always been a peculiar one. The ship and staff for laying the cable are under the contractor, and the unfortunate engineers for the buying company are entirely at the contractor’s mercy. I know this from my own experience. I have had also, however, to act for contracting firms as their agent, and I have always looked upon the representatives of the telegraph companies as gentlemen whom it was the interest of my employers to conciliate as far as possible, consistently with a due regard for the solid interests of my employers. But I am afraid this has not always been the key note of many submarine contractors or their agents.

After reams of correspondence at Kurrachee it was finally arranged between Mr. Brunton and Mr. Newall that I should take passage in H.M.S. “Retribution” (32-gun paddle frigate), which ship had arrived at Kurrachee to assist in the expedition.

On January 13 I went on board the “Retribution,” commanded by Commodore Harry Edgell, and was introduced to the ward room mess. Fortunately there was a spare ward room cabin, in which I was installed. It was as dark as Erebus, and indeed the ward room itself was nearly as dark as it was on the lower deck, and the after part where the stores, &c., were kept had constant lights burning in the day time.

On the 13th, the “Imperidor” and “Imperatrix” brought up close to Manora Point. The end was landed from the “Imperidor” at 8 a.m., and at 2:10 p.m. she commenced to pay out the first cable for joining India with Europe. She paid out at about 5 knots. We skirted the Mekran coast, and on 14th were going 6½ knots. At about 5 p.m. we sighted “Cyclops” which had gone ahead to sound, and at 5:30 she joined the expedition. At noon this day 119 miles had been run. On 15th “Cyclops” had much difficulty in keeping up with the rest of us, as we were going 7 knots. We went on ahead, sounded, found 15 fathoms and anchored at 2 p.m., 173 miles from Manora Point. “Imperidor” came up paying out and anchored. “Cyclops” reported having sounded across towards Muscat and found 1,900 fathoms as deepest water. On the 16th we got under way at 7:30 a.m., and kept W. by S. in 12 to 16 fathoms. At about 9:45 deepened water, deepened to 500 fathoms by noon. At 10:45 p.m., 99¼ on patent log; “Imperidor” fired rocket. Answered it, and changed course to S.W. and we plunged towards the dreaded deep water. On the 17th high land near Muscat in sight, about 15 miles off; by 9 a.m. went on ahead near to where cable was to land. Noon “Imperidor” arrived. Made signal “Congratulate you.” As they came up to us we accompanied them, the ship’s company cheering, and the band playing “See the Conquering Hero Comes” (192 by patent log).

“Imperidor” brought up to splice on shore end, to pay out to a small bay on the south-western side of Muscat Harbour. The “Retribution” then went into Muscat Harbour, and saluted the flag of the Imaum of Muscat. It was found, however, that although 22 guns were loaded, only 20 had been fired, and the Commodore sent ashore a lieutenant to apologise, and to offer to fire the salute over again, but this was politely declined by the Imaum. The salute was returned by the Imaum from batteries in various concealed places high up amongst the rocks that tower round the harbour, and was a most peculiar sight, which was even novel to the experienced and travelled officers of the ship. Two or three guns were fired apparently out of the rocks in one place, and this was taken up by three or four on the opposite side high up, and then the other side would take it up on a lower level, and you could never tell where the next were coming from, so perfectly concealed were the batteries of this old kind of pirate’s nest. Our boats then towed a French sailing frigate further up the harbour.

The shore-end was landed from the “Imperador” on the 17th January, but was not immediately connected to the main cable, the ship lying with the main cable at bow sheave and shore end astern. On the 19th the ship was still in the same position, and the office fittings were being got into order by Messrs. Buffleb and Meyer, of Messrs. Siemens’ staff. On this day the “Cyclops” left with Mr. Forde to arrange the landing place at Hellania (one of the Kooria Mooria Islands), which would form the next station. On the 20th, at night, it came on to blow, and the “Retribution’s” anchor began to come home, and the ship to drive. Let go another anchor, and got up steam. By 4 a.m. of 21st blowing half a gale; at 7 a.m. wind veered more to the westward, bringing our stern so near rocks that we weighed one anchor, slipped the other, and steamed out to sea, and in doing so passed so close to rocks that a biscuit could have been thrown ashore. It was a very narrow squeak. On the 22nd, after standing on and off, towards afternoon wind dropped, and at 5 p.m. we came in again. The “Imperatrix” had gone round to Telegraph Bay, as we christened the bay where the ends were landed. The “Imperador” during the gale had swung to her anchor, and dragged the shore end off the beach. This end was landed again by light of blue lights, &c. On the 23rd the “Imperador” commenced paying out shore end and picking up main cable till the three miles of shore end were payed out, and at 4 p.m. final splice was made, thus completing cable between India and Arabia.

Imperador and Imperatriz

The “Imperatrix” this day landed end of shore end of the Muscat-Kooria Mooria section. On 24th left Muscat in the “Retribution,” and the “Imperatrix” began to pay out. Paid out till 11 a.m. (15 miles out), when a stoppage occurred, and the “Imperatrix” made signal, “I must cut cable.” We ran down to them. They said they had under-run cable one mile, and would be ready in half an hour. About 4:30 they sent a boat to under-run back again. When about a mile back the boat made a signal, and another boat went to them. It was now dark, so we anchored with a kedge; then weighed and dodged round the “Imperatrix,” still at anchor. On 25th, at 0:30 a.m., the “Imperatrix” began paying out. When eight miles more were out (making 23) stopped, and began to haul back by hand. Then she cut cable and buoyed end, and ran back to last night’s anchorage, and dredged there. The “Imperador” arrived from Muscat. Mr. Newall asked commodore also to dredge for cable in the “Retribution.” All three ships dredged with boats astern until 8;45 p.m. The “Imperatrix” hooked cable, and made signal with blue lights. On 26th the “Imperatrix” had cut cable, and got part leading to shore over stern. The “Imperador” picked up isolated section, and at 4 p.m. the “Imperatrix” began paying out, the “Retribution” ahead. At 5:35 got to point where the “Imperatrix"stopped yesterday,viz., 23 miles from Muscat. Going seven knots in about 40 fathoms.

On 27th, 4 a.m., passed Ras-el-Had, about 2½ miles from land. On 28th, 2 a.m., abreast of island of Myseera. At 45 minutes past noon the “Retribution’s” engines broke down, and she instantly made all sail. The “Imperatrix” made the signal, “Well done, brave old commodore.” We concluded this message was composed by the lady on board. Disconnected starboard engine, and by 7 p.m. were steaming with port engine and going seven knots. The “Imperatrix” had passed us and gone on a long way ahead. On 29th got abreast of the “Imperatrix,” which ship was brought up seven miles from landing place at Hellania, and was splicing on shore end and was going to pay out at night. On 30th we went into regular anchorage at 9 a.m. At 11:30 a.m. the “Imperatrix” began to pay out shore end and landed it same day.

At Hellania there is a magnificent bluff, higher by some hundred feet than the Rock of Gibraltar. On the island there were about a dozen miserable, half-starved Arabs, who live on fish, which abound. One day the officers of the “Retribution” took the ship’s Seine net ashore, and at the first haul got a boat load of fish of very great variety. The doctors were eagerly consulting their books on natural history, and made out some of the species, amongst which was the toad fish, which when rubbed swells into a ball. The huts of the Arabs resemble nothing so much as what schoolboys make when playing at “making houses.” They were not more than about 4ft. high, and the walls, enclosing about a space of 7ft. by 7ft. of court yard, were about 1ft. 6in. high. For what purpose these can be constructed I am at a loss to imagine, as I cannot call to mind any animal that could possibly be kept out by them.

The office at Hellania was a tolerably well designed building, in wood, with detached buildings for the staff. A party of Royal Marine Artillery from the “Cyclops” were landed to guard the station, as the Arabs from the main land (about seven miles off) occasionally came across and plundered the unfortunate islanders, carrying off anything of value, and sometimes some of the fair sex.

I was told by Mr. Brunton that I could not test the Kooria Mooria-Muscat section, as the end was buried at Muscat. The arrangements for testing whilst paying out included a clock arrangement which put cable to instrument, insulated it, put it to earth or to battery for a certain number of minutes out of each hour. This arrangement I had used for several years on the Hague cables, it having been suggested by Mr. Latimer Clark, the only difference being that in our case it did not put line to instrument, as we had no clerk at the end at all.

On Feb. 4 the “Imperatrix” landed end of Kooria Mooria-Aden section at 8 p.m. At 2 p.m. we started in “Retribution,” and went slowly on towards Aden, but the “Imperador” and “Imperatrix” did not follow. At sunset we buried a poor boy who died the day before during amputation of the leg, rendered necessary by inflammation of the bone. Laid to for night. On February 5, 8 a.m., “Imperatrix” paying out, with “Imperador” in attendance; at about 10 they came up to us. On 6th passed Ras Furtak. On 7th “Imperatrix” made signal:—“I must cut cable.” “Imperatrix” backed astern and hauled in. Told us to go on. She made signal:—“All well.”

On 8th, 10 a.m., passed Maculla, distant 10 miles; 1:30 p.m., brought up in a sandy bay, 25 miles south of Maculla. “Imperador” there at anchor, had got boats away, and had weighed buoy on end of cable payed out from Aden months ago; 3 p.m. “Imperatrix” arrived, and brought up ahead of us. She had only a quarter of a mile of cable left in her. She got end of part leading to Aden on board, and spoke to Aden and sent messages, but found defect between ship and Aden, but thought it near Aden. On 9th still at anchor. Sent paddle-box boats to coal “Imperatrix ” from “Imperador.” They were testing all day. Distance from Aden about 240 miles. Nobody was allowed to land here, as Mr. Rassam (of Abyssinian fame), who was with us as political agent, pronounced it to be unsafe.

On the 10th in same position. At 8 a.m. the “Imperador,” with Mr. Newall and Mr. Meyer, left to grapple up the cable 20 miles nearer Aden for testing purposes. They cut the cable in the evening, and found the fault in the 20 miles, so buoyed—the end of part leading to Aden—and commenced picking up towards us. On 11th still at same anchorage; the “Imperador” appeared in sight picking up, and soon brought up near the “Imperatrix,” and spliced on some new cable she had on board to the part paid out from Kooria Mooria by the “Imperatrix,” which ship being the free one now started off to pick up buoy on end 20 miles off. The “Imperador” started paying out. We followed and passed, the “Imperador” stopped short of her distance. We afterwards passed “Imperatrix” at the buoy on end of part leading to Aden. Anchored near her, 45 miles south of Maculla.

On the 12th the “Imperador” arrived, and made final splice, thus completing, the first line of telegraph between India and Aden. We went on for Aden. Passed the Indian Navy ship “Aukland,” which saluted the commodore’s flag with eleven guns. We were going to return the salute when the key of the magazine could not be found, and there was general silent consternation, for somebody was to blame, and the purser quietly whispered to me, “suppose a Russian frigate was alongside.” The key was at last found, and the salute returned, but the “Aukland” was nearly out of sight.

Landing of the Red Sea Telegraph cable at Aden.
From a photograph by Dr. James Walsh.

Detail of ships: Imperatriz is the ship nearest the shore

On the 13th we arrived at 8 a.m. at Aden. Found line all right to Kurrachee; but broken down to Suakim. Prof. Gordon came on board, having been laying a cable at Batavia. The “Imperador” and “Imperatrix” arrived at 11 a.m. On the 14th the “Cordilliere,” the French frigate which had been at Muscat, arrived.

A number of salutes were fired, we saluted the Brigadier in charge of Aden, and returned the salute of the French frigate; and whilst this was being thundered forth by the main deck guns we read below our letters from home.

On the 14th February, on going ashore, we learnt that the Suakim-Aden section failed gradually until it broke down altogether on the 6th February, and as far as could be judged the fault was about half way on the section. Mr. Brunton and Mr. Forde came off to H.M.S. “Retribution ” to ask for H.M.S. “Cyclops” to go up the Red Sea, and for the “Retribution” to take me to Muscat to test. “Cyclops” question was agreed to; but before “Retribution” question came on Mr. Newall arrived on board, and Mr. Brunton and Mr. Forde left.

On the 15th Mr. Brunton and Mr. Forde arranged with Mr. Newall to repair the Suakim and Aden section in the “Imperador,” which ship had still 400 miles of surplus cable left in her; Mr. Mayes, R.N., and Mr. Long were to go in her to watch proceedings. Mr. Brunton gave me a note, requesting me to hold myself in readiness to go to Hellania, the island of the Kooria Mooria group where the station existed, and to Muscat in H.M.S. “Cyclops,” which ship he would apply for immediately.

During the ten days I was in Aden there were various festivities, in honour of the cable, on board the men-of-war (English and French), and the cable ships, and ashore at the military mess. On the 16th I see by my diary that there were races, of which, not being a horsey man, I have not the slightest remembrance. The officers of the “Cyclops” on this day dined with Mr. Long, the superintendent of the station. On the 17th the commodore gave a grand dinner to Mr. Newall, &c. I learnt that the Cosire and Suez section had also failed on Feb. 5 (two days before the Suakim and Aden section failed), but they had no idea where the fault was.

It is said that on the average it only rains once in five years at Aden, but when it does it is done thoroughly. The water accumulates on a plateau of table land, and pours down a ravine in the rocks. At the site of the tanks, especially constructed to collect the water, the ravine has been dammed up. Two ancient circular water tanks have also hero been discovered and cleared of débris that had been washed into them. A heavy storm of rain, however, in May, 1859, brought such a flood of stone and water down that the new works were partly destroyed, and one of the ancient tanks was half filled up with stones. Five inches of rain fell in three hours.

On the 19th Mr. Newall gave a dinner on board the “Imperatrix;” the commodore and others went. I heard that Mr. Newall, in returning thanks when his health was toasted, asserted that “the cable would last for one hundred years!”

On the 23rd the “Imperador” and “Imperatrix” left at 9 a.m. to repair the Aden-Suakim section. I tested this section roughly, and made the fault about 130 nautical miles from Aden. On the 24th I tested Aden-Kooria Mooria section. In the evening one of the cable ships spoke to Aden from off Perim. On the 25th I shifted from H.M.S. “Retribution” to H.M.S. “Cyclops” (6-gun paddle wheel corvette), Captain Pullen.

On the 26th I tried to get further tests of the Aden-Kooria Mooria section, but was stopped by a German gentleman, named Weyrich, because he said it would interfere with his testing the Aden-Suakim section. On the 27th I tried again to test, with the same result.

I went on board the “Cyclops” at noon, and at 7:30 p.m. we left for the Kooria Moorias with a small Indian navy schooner called the “Constance” in tow. The lieutenant in command of this small craft was said to be very eccentric, and one of his eccentricities nearly had rather serious results. He took it into his head one morning, when lying in harbour at Aden, to fire round shot at some seagulls on the beach, and nearly shot the Brigadier commanding at Aden, who was out for his morning walk, and was greatly astonished at a bang from the little schooner, and then by a round shot bounding along within a few inches of his legs.

Nothing particular occurred on our passage from Aden to Hellania, the principal island of the Kooria-Mooria group (where we arrived on March 4), except that we saw a large shoal of dolphins playing at leap-frog. Mr. Nichols was the local superintendent in charge of the station at Hellania, and Mr. Sannemans, from Messrs. Siemens and Halske, was in charge on the part of Messrs. Newall, Liddell and Gordon. I landed next day, and the “Cyclops” went off to Gibli, another island of the group, where there are guano deposits. I got my batteries and instruments ready at once. The “Constance,” commanded by Lieutenant Cookson, I.N., was now anchored off the island for protection, but the marine artillery guard were still on the island.

Lieutenant Cookson came ashore and had tea with us, and I could see nothing in his manner to denote any eccentricity of character. On the 7th I tried to test, but was constantly stopped by Aden persisting in sending messages. On the 8th I again tried to test, but Mr. Long kept sending long messages, first to Hellania, then to Muscat, and then to Kurrachee. At last, in evening, I got a few tests of Aden-Hellania section. On the 9th I cut off Aden to enable me to use office batteries, and tested Hollania-Muscat section. At 3 p.m. joined up to Aden and asked them to let me have line at 7 p.m.; but at 7 they were transmitting to Kurrachee, and continued to do so until 9 p.m. Then Mr. Long sent a long message to me saying that they had been waiting for me at instrument since 7 p.m., and that it was not their fault, &c. The “Cyclops” arrived from Gibli this day, and was to sail the next day for Muscat.

On the 10th, after some trouble, I got Aden to let me test. At noon Aden took line, saying they wanted it for one hour only. At 1:30 I called and wanted line, but Aden said they were in the middle of a Government message. I said I could not help it, I must have the line. Then there was a long argument between Long, De Conde, and I, and at last I got line and finished testing about 7 p.m., and about 10 p.m. got some test-message slips for proof of speed of working.

At 11 p.m. I took passage in the “Cyclops;” Mr. Sannemans also came, and the Marine Artillery Guard were also embarked, leaving the station to the care of Lieut. Cookson and the “Constance.” I do not know whether he fired any more round shot at the shore, but the monotony of the situation would excuse even grape and canister. Commodore Edgell said that anyone who stopped there a year ought to have a pension of a £1,000 a year for the rest of his life. On the 11th, at 4 a.m., we started for Muscat, where we arrived on the 15th. I went ashore at 9 a.m., and tested Muscat to Hellania section. Mr. M’Gill was in charge for the company, and Mr. Buffleb of Messrs. Siemens and Halske, on the part of Newall, Liddell, and Gordon.

On the 16th I made tests of Muscat-Kurrachee section, and at 10 p.m. started in the “Cyclops” for Kurrachee, Mr. Buffleb taking passage also in the ship. Arrived in Kurrachee on the 20th, when I began making test from the telegraph office at Manora Point of Kurrachee-Muscat section. I slept at office, and finished tests of section by half-past three p.m. I then wanted to get some tests right through to Aden, but, after a great deal of sending and squabbling, Muscat said that they could not get Hellania, so I had to give it up.

On the 23rd I left for Bombay, and arrived there on the 26th, where I found my old friend the “Retribution.” In the evening I went on board the Indian navy paddle-wheel frigate “Punjaub,” then in full commission. This magnificent ship and her almost sister ship, the “Assaye,” were sold in 1863 to Mr. John Willis, of London. The engines of both ships were taken out, and they were converted into sailing ships, the “Punjaub” being rechristened the “Tweed.” Mr. Willis sold the “Assaye” to a Captain De Busch, and then (wonderful are the ways of Governments) the Government chartered both ships for laying the Persian Gulf cable. The “Tweed” was designed by Mr. Oliver Lang, of Woolwich Dockyard, at the time he was designing the present royal yacht, the “Victoria and Albert,” and it was said that she had exactly the same lines as the royal yacht. She was built at Bombay Dockyard, of teak, with close timbers, like all wooden men-of-war, and was launched at night, as the night tides are a few inches higher than the day tides. She was one of the five sailing ships that took out the first Persian Gulf cable, the “Assaye” being another.

The “Assaye” was lost on the west coast of Ireland on her way home, but the “Tweed” was one of the two ships that took out the second Persian Gulf cable. She gained the first prize at the Havre Maritime Exhibition,and is probably the finest sailing ship in the British merchant service, and the Parsee shipwrights of Bombay dockyard, who look upon her as their pet child, are justly proud of her. The brass in her engines fetched £5,000. When smoking a cigar on board her I little thought that I should have to cut her and the “Assaye” about in 1863, and be on board the “Assaye” in charge of cable laying in 1864 and fit the “Tweed” up again in 1868 for cable laying. I left Bombay for Aden in the “Ottawa” on the 27th March at 10 p.m., and arrived at Aden on April 4th at 10 a.m. I found that the “Imperador” and the “Imperatrix” had been at Aden about the 29th of February, and had cut out seven miles of cable from the Suakim-Aden section, and laid it down again. On March 2 they had gone back to the other side of Perim, and had cut and found a fault near Suakim, and had gone there. During the time of their passage to Suakim Aden spoke to Suakim, and then the cable failed again.

When the vessels arrived at Suakim the staff were greatly astonished to find that Aden had been able to speak to Suakim, and would scarcely believe it. The “Imperatrix” had then left for Suez, where she embarked some of the Royal Artillery with Armstrong guns for China. The “Imperador” went to work again, and had many difficulties, fell short of coals, returning to Aden on March 29 to coal; she left again on March 31. In the office at Aden they could not get Hellania up to the time I left in the “Ottawa” for Suez. This is all I can tell of the repairing operations, which I believe finally resulted in their inserting about 300 miles of new cable in the section. The line was for about a day workable from Kurrachee to Suez. It was one of the days between March 20 and March 23 inclusive, for a message from me at Kurrachee to my wife in London passed right through, and was one of the few messages that ever went through from India to England in 1860.

The testing appliances at the stations supplied by Messrs. Siemens and Halske were an immense step in advance of any previously used. The arrangement of the Wheatstone bridge with high resistances was a novelty to me, and I of course at once saw the great advantage thus offered to practical electricians, and, with the permission of Messrs. Siemens’ staff, I availed myself of these instruments to take my tests, a few particulars of which I here append :—

We should think very little of a line in these days which only gave 70 meg. per nautical mile.

With regard to the machinery and tanks, &c., I cannot speak, as I did not go on board either cable ship. I have, however, a large and complete drawing of the brake employed, given me by Mr. Newall; but it would be impossible to describe it in writing alone. I shall some day, I hope, exhibit it, with many others of machinery I have used, at a lecture on the subject of cable engineering. The cable was never repaired in all its sections, and some years later a quantity of the cable was recovered in the “Sir James Duke,” under the superintendence of Mr. L. Clark, assisted by the late Mr. J.C. Laws.

The cruise, by what I gathered from the staff on its return, was not a pleasant one as regards personal comfort, the accommodation being simply execrable. Major Green, at Muscat, I have heard, said that he would sooner go into general action than live one week on board the ship. The discomfort was, however, borne with great good humour and patience by the staff, throe of whom have since died, viz., Mr. J.C. Laws, Mr. Alexander, and Mr. Suter. The latter, who was my assistant in the “Old Monarch,” died during the expedition at Aden, and is buried there.

Some of the cable was recovered, and the “Sir James Duke” had her screw taken out at Aden, and sailed for England, the late Mr. Alexander being on board. She took a fabulous time to get home, and stuck about the Cape for several months, hundreds of ships passing her. Like a second “Flying Dutchman,” the captain “tried in vain his oath to keep” to get home in three months. Mr. Alexander gave me an account of the voyage home. After the first month they had nothing but salt provisions—except some very long-legged, bony fowls— and the captain had but one story, which he began regularly to tell after his first post-prandium glass of grog, till poor Alexander got so sick of it that he would bluntly interrupt the captain at the very first word by a “Suppose we go on deck, Captain.” On arriving off Falmouth Mr. Alexander went ashore in the pilot boat, rushed to an hotel, and ordered supper. The waiter brought in a fowl, which so incensed my poor friend that he hove it at the astonished waiter’s head, and then ordered baked potatoes and champagne; and this was about the last incident connected with the Red Sea and India cable of 1859-60.—R.I.P.

*"The Mysterious Mrs. Harris"
Charles Dickens character in Martin Chuzzlewit.

A fictitious person invented by Sairy Gamp, for the purpose of enforcing her statements by quoting the opinions of Mrs. Harris upon the subject under discussion.

Sarah Gamp, whose dress is fully described in the novel “Martin Chuzzlewit,” sits in her room at a table, with her teapot before her on a round table, from which she furnishes all comers with a cup of tea and a salad, if desired, with biscuits, pickles, and other relishes. She also keeps for sale a choice assortment of home-made pickles, jellies, preserves, etc., in addition to which visitors can have their fortunes told. They can consult the oracle by whispering any questions into a telephone mouth-piece or common tunnel, which is fastened into the wall, and replies more or less appropriate are soon returned in the same manner by Mrs. Harris, who is, of course, never seen. She can also have a variety of quotations from the poets, or any ambiguous replies to any questions, written on cards, one of which she pushes through a small aperture of the curtain, which conceals her when called for. Only one person at a time can consult Mrs. Harris, as, of course, her answers are strictly confidential, and a small fee is charged by Mrs. Gamp for the privilege.

The Electrician, 9 July 1886:


Although the cable laid from Kurrachee to Suez, for the Red Sea and India Telegraph Company, had proved a costly failure to our Government, and consequently to the country—for the four per cent. absolute guarantee for fifty years saddled the country with a considerable sum—yet so determined was Government to obtain telegraphic communication with India that steps were at once taken towards accomplishing that object by means of land lines, via Constantinople and Bagdad to Bussorah and Fao, and thence by a submarine cable along the shallow waters of the Persian Gulf to Kurrachee, where the land lines of India had their western terminus.

The history of how this line was initiated does not belong, to the subject of “Old Cable Stories Retold.” It must, however, have been very shortly after the failure of the Kurrachee-Aden and Suez cables that Lieut.-Col. Biddulph, R.A., was engaged to erect a land line with two wires from Constantinople through Bagdad to Fao.

The late Lieut.-Col. Patrick Stewart (then Major) was intrusted by the Government of India with the superintendence of the work of establishing the cable from Fao to Kurrachee, touching at Guadar (on the Mehran coast), Mussendom (on the Arabian coast), and Bushire (the principal port of Persia).

The construction of the lines through Persia was entrusted to Lieut.-Col. Champain, R.E. (then Captain), and Sir Arnold Kemball, H.M. political agent at Bagdad.

A land line with two wires was also being constructed along the Mekran coast, between Kurrachee and Guadar, under the superintendence of the late Mr. Isaac Walton, the route having been previously surveyed by Sir Frederick Goldsmid. Lieut.-Col. Stewart’s first step was to take the advice of scientific men as to the type of cable to be employed, and it was finally decided on as follows:—A copper conductor, to weigh 225lb. per nautical mile, to be formed by a process proposed by Mr. Latimer Clark, which was to have the advantages of a strand conductor, viz., immunity from breakage inside the insulating medium, combined with the advantage of the smaller surface given by a single cylindrical conductor over one composed of strands. To accomplish this the copper was to be formed by four pieces having each the section of a quadrant of a circle. Four of these, properly placed, would form a circular conductor, and were to be kept in place by a fifth piece—a tube—in which the other four pieces were placed. The mode of manufacture was to cast the five sections in stout bars, to be placed together, and then drawn down to the required size. The conductor thus formed was to be covered with three coatings of gutta percha, with Chatterton’s compound between the coatings.

There was no single contract entered into for the making and laying of the cable. The gutta percha covered copper wire was bought from the Gutta Percha Company, Wharf-road. Tenders were called for the serving of wire covering and outer serving. Mr. W.T. Henley’s tender was accepted, being some £13,000 below that of Messrs. Glass and Elliot.

This decision, it may here be mentioned, resulted in the amalgamation of Glass and Elliot with the Gutta Percha Company soon afterwards, forming the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company. Messrs. Bright and Clark were engaged not only to watch the manufacture of the cable, but also to superintend and carry out, without the intervention of any contractor, its shipment and submergence. At the Gutta Percha Works, in Wharf-road, the late Mr. J.C. Laws, assisted by Mr. F. Lambert, tested the single coils of wire, and made certain careful experiments on the effects of temperature on the resistance of gutta percha, and from this data curves were formed by means of which the observed resistance at any temperature could be reduced to that which any particular wire tested would give at the chosen standard temperature of 75° F., to which temperature all tests were reduced, and were thus directly comparable whatever the temperature might be at which the test was performed. At Mr. Henley’s works I superintended the testing, assisted by Mr. Alfred Brasher, Mr. J.T. Woods, the late Mr. T. Alexander, and the late Mr. E. Donovan.

There was one fault that recurred in one of the sections which is worth mentioning. It was very minute and variable; but what puzzled us most was that with high battery power it increased its resistance, even where reversals were used. It was whipped by a clock night and day with high battery power, and we were at last able to localise it by the loop test to within a short length. This was cut up, and when reduced to within a few fathoms the core was stripped, and the fault found to be caused by a small stone pressing into the gutta percha. The theory that accounted for its increase in resistance with high battery power was that the strong currents decomposed and consequently destroyed the film of moisture that laid between the stone and its matrix in the gutta percha. It gave us a deal of trouble, but we were proud of routing him out at last.

The work of manufacture proceeded, of course, night and day, and some of our staff had to be there at night, for our tests were the only tests taken, Mr. Henley being satisfied with them. If anything had gone wrong with them between, say, 10 p.m. and midnight, I am afraid that the attractions of North Woolwich Gardens, then in full swing, would have had much to answer for.

It soon became necessary to think about ships. The cost of sending 5,000 tons of cable (exclusive of tanks, water, and machinery) round the Cape in steamers would have been very great. The question of employing sailing ships to take the cable to Bombay and there utilising the large paddle frigates of the disbanded Indian Navy was therefore carefully considered at the India Office and found to work out cheaper than steamers all the way. There was every prospect of calm weather, and even, if cutting and buoying, on account of strong head winds, should become necessary, there could be no great delay or risk, as the depth of water along the whole line did not exceed sixty fathoms. Sailing ships were consequently decided on and tenders sought. There were, of course, a number of tenders sent in, and it must have taken a considerable time to sort them down, judging from what I myself witnessed of the same process when two ships only were required for the second Persian Gulf cable in 1868; but I had nothing to do with that part of the work in 1863. At last the following sailing ships were taken up:—The “Tweed” (formerly the “Punjaub,” paddle frigate of the Indian Navy), the “Assaye” (formerly also a paddle frigate of the Indian Navy), the “Kirkham” (an iron ship), the “Marion Moore,” and the “Cospatrick,” a teak ship, built at Moulmain. The ss. “Charente,” re-christened the “Amberwitch,” was also bought and entirely refitted with new deck houses, &c., and re-rigged, previous to her being fitted with tanks and deck machinery as a permanent repairing ship, to be stationed at Kurrachee for the maintenance of the line.

It is curious that although a repairing ship was thus thought of and provided from the first, and although a large staff, which comprised numerous experienced and highly qualified electricians, was carefully selected for the permanent service, no person was engaged who had ever even seen a telegraph cable repaired. The ship was to be commanded by Lieut. Arthur Stiff, I.N., who had for years been engaged under Captain Constable, I.N., in surveying the Persian Gulf, and on whom would have devolved the duty of repairing the cable at the very first break-down, although his great knowledge of the Gulf could scarcely have compensated for his total inexperience in submarine cable engineering.

The ships were each fitted with three cable tanks, with Newall’s patented cones and rings, a royalty being paid to Mr. R.S. Newall, although by law Government need pay no royalties. The cones were built up of wood, secured by angle irons to the bottom of the tanks. The rings were of gas pipe with radiating arms, having a short piece telescoping into their ends, with set screws to clamp them, so that when once adjusted to any particular height the ring could not move horizontally. To resist upward pressure, straight pieces of gas pipe were attached to the radiating arms, and these pieces passed through the deck, cast-iron collars being fixed to the deck, these collars having screws to clamp the uprights in. Thus the rings—when lowered by their tackle to any position—as the surface of the coils lowered, were held rigidly in position. Loops in the rings, temporarily closed at their mouths by an iron block held by two tapered pins, permitted the lower end of the coil to pass up practically inside the ring; for on knocking out the two pins the block fell to the bottom of the tank, and the part of the cable leading to the next tank was inside the ring, thus allowing the bight to pass up out of the tank without any unscrewing of bolts to open the ring. On the second Persian Gulf cable I improved this arrangement to a self-acting opening piece since adopted by the India Rubber Company and the French Government. Each sailing ship, except the “Cospatrick,” was fitted with a paying-out machine, so that there was no occasion to shift machinery from one ship to the other. The frames were of wood, the drum overhanging, with a break for contingencies on the drum itself. The working break pulley, for ordinary strains, was within the frame. Stern sheaves were also fitted to each ship, but no bow sheaves.

The “Amberwitch” had bow and stern sheaves, a paying-out gear, and picking-up machine. The latter had overhanging drum with internal spur gear into which the pinion worked, thus preventing any strain coming on the spokes of the drum. I believe this was the first instance of internal spur gear being adopted, or, indeed, of a picking-up machine with overhanging drum. The after knife of the machine could be made to fall away from the drum by merely pulling out a large cutter having a loop handle to it, so as to allow of the turns being taken off the drum. The bow sheave was countersunk into the side cheeks, so that by no possibility could the cable or rope get between the flange and casting.

A Gwynn centrifugal pump and engine were fitted to each ship for pumping up the tanks. Thus equipped, the ships took in their cable, in some cases two at a time, and then were taken to the Victoria Docks, where the cable was decked over in each tank. The ships left the works or Victoria Docks in the following order:—“The Marion Moore,” Aug. 15th, 1863, Mr. E. Donovan in charge, with 174.92 N.M. of deep sea; “The Kirkham,” Sept. 12 or 13, 1863, Mr. Walker in charge, with 181.25 N.M. of deep sea, and 6.36 L.M. of shore end “The Assaye,” Oct. 2nd, 1863, Mr. J.T. Woods in charge, with 367.98 N.M. of deep sea: The ss. “Amberwitch,” Oct. 21st, 1863, with 12.5 N.M. of shore ends and tapers; “The Tweed,” Oct. 24th, 1863, Mr. Moseley, with 347.53 N.M. of deep sea; “The Cospatrick,” with 103.15 N.M. of deep sea, 23 N.M. of shore end, and 12 N.M. of double shore end. This ship had also five lengths of experimental cable of different types by different manufacturers. The total of cable was therefore 1,228.97 N.M., excluding the lengths of experimental cables.

The Electrician, 26 April 1884:


In 1868 the Indian Government had decided to duplicate a portion of the Persian Gulf cable by laying a cable between Jask, on the Mekran coast, and Bushire, a distance of about 500 miles. The core used was Hooper's, and this was sheathed at Mr. Henley's works, North Woolwich. The ships engaged for carrying the cable were the “Tweed” (formerly the Indian Navy paddle frigate “Punjaub”) and the “Calcutta”. Both were sailing ships, and the “Tweed” had been engaged on the laying of the first Persian Gulf cable. The “Calcutta” was an iron ship, formerly a screw steamer, of the Golden Fleece line. The “Calcutta” was loaded with some 273 miles of cable, weighing about 1,200 tons, and sailed from the Victoria Docks on January 28, 1869. On the 25th a lunch was given on board by the owners, at which sixty or seventy persons were present. One of the part owners was Mr. Sothern, the well-known actor, and he, Mr. Compton, and several other actors were present, as also Mr. G.A. Sala. The latter returned thanks in an amusing speech for the ladies, and finished by saying that “They double all our woes, and halve all our pleasures”—then pretending to have made a slip of the tongue, he corrected himself amidst much laughter. Mr. Sothern returned thanks for the owners, and said that when he came on board he understood that he was to return thanks for the ladies, and that being little used to speaking in public he had been in a great state of anxiety as to what he should say, and whilst the rest of the company were looking at the tanks and machinery he was constantly consulting his friend, Mr. Sala, as to whether this or that would do, and consequently all the clever things Mr. Sala had said were due to him. He also said that part of the ship belonged to him, but what part he did not know, whether it was the larboard stove or the lee scuppers, but whatever it was if he did not get as much applause as Mr. Sala he would have his part out with a hatchet.

The ship sailed from Gravesend on the 29th, with a very poor looking set of men on board as crew. She had with her, however, twelve tried and experienced cable hands and a storekeeper (Mr. Slater) as passengers, all in the employ of the Indian Government. As easterly winds prevailed the Government had her towed down to a point twenty miles S.W. of the Lizard, where the tug left her on Feb. 5. On Feb. 6, at night, under sail, she came into collision with a Prussian barque, which was sunk. On Feb. 9 we received a telegram from the storekeeper, Mr. Slater, at Penzance, saying the “Calcutta” was sinking at sea. Lieut.-Col. Champain R.E., Director-in-Chief of the Government Indo-European Telegraph Company, one of the owners, and I went to the Admiralty and saw Admiral Dacres, who instantly telegraphed to the Commander-in-Chief at Plymouth to send out H.M.S. “Terrible,” paddle steam frigate, after her, and on the 10th the “Terrible” brought the “Calcutta” into Plymouth Sound. Colonel Champain and I left by mail that night for Plymouth, and were on board the “Calcutta” on the morning of the 11th.

A more curious and sad sight as regards the sudden change in the appearance of a ship I have rarely seen. When she left the Victoria Docks she was in spic and span order. The three tanks, full of cable, were all carefully sealed over with three inch planking caulked, the machinery neatly lashed and packed on the main deck, and the magnificent saloon was in perfect order to receive the staff that were to meet her in Bombay. Now the ship was some 8ft. down by the head, the fore compartment was full of water, and the main compartment had 12ft. of water forward and about 7ft. aft. But the fore cable tank situated in this compartment was empty, the cable having been run overboard, as we shall see further on, and this had saved the ship. The foretopmast was carried away and hanging over the side, and the jibboom and part of bowsprit gone. On deck there was a mass of wreckage, and a fine steam pinnace, which was being sent out to the cable- repairing ship in the Persian Gulf, was lying askew on the deck, an attempt having been made to launch her. Down below was a more curious sight still ; the deck was strewed with open chests, bibles, and other books, shirt collars, sextant boxes, preserved meat tins, broken plates, old clothes, knives and forks, jam-pots, and every conceivable thing used in a cabin. Having to gather information as to the position of the jettisoned cable, &c., I had to take the evidence of all survivors, and the following is, as well as I can recollect, what had occurred.

The ship, in trying to put her helm hard over to avoid the collision, had carried away the wheel ropes. The collision then occurred, the barque was sunk with all her crew, and the “Calcutta” commenced to make water. The fore compartment slowly filled, and began to wash over into the main compartment. Our cablemen then began to take the covering off the fore tank, and, after much difficulty in getting the first plank out, succeeded in ripping off all the planking and taking up the cross bearers. They then rigged up two little fairlead sheaves (the same kind as those used at Henley’s on the jack stays when shipping cable). One was placed over the centre of the cone, and the other made fast to the rigging over the starboard side. They rove the end of the cable through these, attached a chain and buoy, and let the end go. The ship was then drifting helplessly up Channel, as her rudder was useless. The captain, thinking the ship was about to founder, ordered off our men—they being legally passengers—in two boats. One with the storekeeper and six men fetched Penzance, and the storekeeper telegraphed to us in London. The other fetched a Greek brig. This boat had an old cable foreman named Chamberlain, who had been with me in the old “Monarch.” It was he who had got the cable deck up and buoyed the end of the cable. He had also the thought directly he was on board the brig to take a bearing and estimate his distance from the Wolf Rock, and also the same of the “Calcutta,” and from this information I was able to plot the position of one end of the cable. In getting on board the brig one poor fellow, an engine driver, got foul of some ropes over the stern and was drowned with his head downwards whilst hanging from the ship, and another cable hand, a fine young fellow, who was with me as a fireman on the Havanna cable when I lost so many hands from yellow fever, and where he was always one of the volunteers for burials, was also drowned. He was a strong swimmer, but for some reason they could not get to him.

In the meantime on board the “Calcutta” the captain was preparing his largest boat to leave with most of the crew. He was down below getting his chronometers, &c., together, when about thirty of the ragamuffins that I had seen at Gravesend had got into the boat, cut the painter, and with a cheer left the ship. Curiously this boat turned up at Penzance without anybody in her; she was not bottom up, but floating properly and with a file in her, which showed she had not been capsized. It was thought that the missing men had got on board some passing ship, but nothing was ever heard of them as far as I know, and if they were not drowned they pretty nearly deserved it. This left on board the captain and some thirteen officers and men, including three young midshipmen. And now comes a most painful incident as it was told me. The boats left on board were the captain’s gig and a small dingy. The captain got ten men and officers into the gig whilst she hung from the davits, and saying “Good bye” to the three little midshipmen, with tears in his eyes, left them in the sinking ship to do the best they could with the dingy. But in lowering the gig the eye-bolt of the after tackle drew, and the boat, hanging by one fall, sent the captain and five of the rest into the sea, and they were all drowned. The other five scrambled on board, thus leaving eight on board. One of the midshipmen (the son of a captain in the navy) was asked by one of Lloyd’s officers, an old merchant captain, what they did then. “Fired away all our powder and blue lights, sir.” Well, and what then? “Oh! we went down below and had some supper,” was the reply, which seemed to amuse the old salt. The eight were eventually taken off by the Cadgwith lifeboat. This left the “Calcutta” drifting up Channel a derelict. The last end of the sixty-three miles of cable in the fore tank had -gone over before she passed the Lizard.

A fisherman boarded her and sent his own boat into Plymouth to give the intelligence, but was careful to get another boat to stand by him. A Falmouth tug came out and got the big derelict in tow, but parted all her hawsers, and was on her way back to Falmouth for fresh ones when she was met by H.M.S. “Terrible,” the captain of which ship asked for the bearings of the “Calcutta.” These were given; and when the “Terrible” came up to her they found the wide-awake fisherman pretending to steer her with the ropeless wheel to show that she was his find. A lieutenant and some 20 men were with some difficulty put on board, and the ship was towed into Plymouth. The ship was found to have a jagged hole about 2ft. diam. in her port bow close to the cutwater, but within the collision compartment. This compartment was a covered-in compartment, and only held a few tons of water, so that little harm would have occurred to the ship, but that the small hand-tap leading from this into the fore compartment proper had been left open, thus filling the fore compartment. The emptying of the fore-cable tank by jettisoning the cable, weighing some 250 tons, clearly saved the ship, and this was entirely due to our cablemen, but they got no reward for this from the underwriters, although the wide-awake fisherman got some £200.

The cable that was run out had all to pass through the two fairleads previously mentioned, and as these were only big enough to allow the cable to pass, no kink could have left the ship, which speaks well for the Newall cone principle. Had there been any telescoping arrangement, with nobody to lower it, it is pretty certain that the cable would have clung round it when the coil was low, and something would have been carried away.

I plotted down the position of the cable from the information given me by Chamberlain's bearings, and the time given when the other end went over. We went out in Henley's steamship, the old “Caroline,” and grappled to get the cable a few miles from the last end paid out. We hooked the cable at first dredge at fourteen miles by cable from the end. As the sixty-three miles of cable covered only twenty-five miles of ground, from being paid out without any breaks, this was really within about three or four miles by ground of the cable end, which, considering the case, was not a bad shot. The end of the fourteen miles was buoyed, and the balance picked up to the end, about eighteen miles from Scilly. During the latter portion of this work the old “Caroline,” getting beam on to the sea on the weather tide, rolled furiously. This just at dinner time. There was Captain Galilee at the head of the table, Mr. Frasi on his right, and Mr. Herbert Taylor and myself on the other side. The ship gave such a lurch that the bench Mr. Taylor and I were sitting on came up by the roots and we dropped gracefully over to leeward. At the same time Mr. Frasi clutched at the table, but Captain Galilee having a brand new carving knife in his hand tried to save the leg of mutton, and thus brought the carving knife down on Mr. Frasi's fingers, inflicting a serious cut. The cable end soon after this peculiar incident came on board.

The cable, including the other fourteen miles, was all recovered, but from its having been lying on the ground in numerous half hitches was full of kinks. They came on board at times regularly every eighth of a mile. All this cable was landed at Keyham Dockyard, the kinks cut out and splices made, some 300 in all. The cable in the main tank and after tank of the “Calcutta” had also to be landed to allow the ship to be docked. It was eventually put back in the “Calcutta,” including three or four miles formed of pieces too short to splice. The expedition was detained for some months, as the season was lost, and the “Calcutta” finally sailed on June 27, with a total of 269.4 n. miles of cable, and the “Tweed,” with 265.9 n. miles, left on June the 30th. During the work of splicing up this cable I made the experiment with an insulated room described in the Philosophical Magazine.

The staff, under Lieut.-Colonel Champain, R.E., including Mr. L. Clark, Mr. Herbert Taylor, Mr. G. Preece, and some fifteen foremen, artificers, &c., went overland to meet the ships at Bombay, and were wrecked in the P. and 0. steamer “Carnatic” on an island in the Red Sea. Some thirty of the ship’s crew were drowned, and after some narrow escapes the rest were for several days on a desert island—Mr. L. Clark with his collar-bone broken.

The cable was eventually successfully laid in spite of a heavy gale, but a description of this would form a separate story. It is curious that the section forming the cable picked up, and which had the 300 splices in it, tested better than any of the others when the ships arrived at Bombay, that section giving 3,513 megohms per knot, the highest of the others being 1,700. All the numerous joints and pieces in the sixty-three miles had been carefully tested by Mr. Herbert Taylor, and to this may be attributed in a great measure this perfection.

The expenses caused by the accident to the “Calcutta” had to be recorded in a separate series of accounts, and to distinguish them they were kept under the heading I have given to this narrative, viz., the “‘Calcutta’ Calamity.”

The Electrician, 10 November 1883:


H.M.’s telegraph steamer “Monarch” has arrived in the Thames, and is being fitted with her cable machinery. The addition of another cable repairing steamer to the some thirty that before existed is not of itself a subject of great novelty, but this steamer is named after and replaces the “Monarch” steamer—or “Old Monarch,” as she was familiarly called—which ship was the first of this line of useful steamers. When I say replaces I mean that she will be engaged in continuing the work which the old original “Monarch” was last employed on, namely, the repair of the system of cables belonging to H.M.'s Post Office Telegraphic Department. She thus replaces the first telegraph repairing ship that ever existed, and this forms an epoch in the history of submarine telegraphic engineering.

The old “Monarch” was bought by the Electric and International Telegraph Company on the 14th of May, 1853, or more than thirty years ago. She was a paddle-wheel steamer, of about 500 tons, and was bought at Hull from Messrs. Brownlow and Pearson for £6,250. She was built in 1830. She served the Electric and International Telegraph Company until the transfer to the Post Office, and was then handed over to the Post Office and soon afterwards condemned.

The first brake used in her for the laying of the Hague cables was fitted up by Messrs. R.S. Newall and Co. This was a drum brake with fleeting knife, which Mr. Newall had previously employed, and to Mr. Newall is distinctly due the credit of designing the first drum and knife brake. It was removed after the laying of the three first Hague cables, and one designed by myself permanently fitted by the company. This had a small improvement in the employment of three rollers to form the feed guide.

The “Monarch” was chartered by Messrs. Newall and Co. for the picking up of the Donaghadee and Port Patrick cable, which had run short, and that firm made the first picking up gear ever used, consisting of two grooved drums geared together by a pinion and a bow sheave between two baulks of timber. Afterwards (in October, 854) a picking-up machine, designed by me, was fitted permanently. This machine was different. It consisted of a single drum with fleeting knife, and this formed the first example of the picking-up machines which, with some improvements, such as overhanging drum and hauling-off gear, are used at the present day. A drawing of this machine is given in my paper read before the Institution of Civil Engineers on February 23, 1858.

The first cable I ever repaired was one of the Hague cables, in August, 1853. It was not repaired in the “Monarch,” but in the “Copeland” tug. The cable was found cut in two, just outside the shore end, off Scheveningen. This was the first example of a cable being repaired after being laid complete from shore to shore.

For four years afterwards various repairs were executed by me in the “Monarch,” and one cable taken up and relaid at a greater distance from the others, and up to the time I left the company, in 1857, no other picking-up gear had been made by any firm or company. During this time buoys, mushroom anchors, bridles, grapnels, &c., were employed by me, and the work of repairing thoroughly organised.

The next picking-up gear used were those made for the Atlantic Telegraph Company, from Sir Charles Bright’s designs in 1857, and these were double drum machines and were overhanging. In 1858 Messrs. Newall made a single drum machine, in the design of which I had some voice. Mr. (now Professor) Fleeming Jenkin making the drawings, calculating the strengths and arranging the details with great skill and judgment.

With this machine in the ss. “Elba” some very heavy cables were recovered in the Mediterranean by Messrs. Newall and Co., at which work Professor Fleeming Jenkin and I assisted. With this ship and machinery I afterwards repaired the Cagliani and Malta cable, about half way between the two places. This was the first cable repaired after being fully laid from shore to shore in the Mediterranean.

It was the experience of the casualties to which cables are subjected, and the knowledge of the means necessary for repairing them that caused me to insist so strongly in my evidence before the Committee of the Board of Trade, and since then in various articles, on the necessity of having repairing ships always ready to go to work, and of a duplicate cable to carry on the traffic when one is out of working order, steps which are now fully acknowledged as necessary to the permanent success of any submarine telegraph.

The Red Sea Telegraph Company of 1859 was the first company after the Electric Company to adopt the idea of a repairing ship, but not until too late, for the cables failed, and the company broke up before their vessel could be got away from England. The next permanent repairing ship to the “Monarch” I also had much to do with; this was the “AmberWitch.” The Indian Government, on the advice of Col. Patrick Stewart and Messrs. Bright and Clark, included her as repairing ship from the very first in their programme. She was fitted with a picking-up gear, which I designed as chief of Messrs. Bright and Clark's staff. The drum was overhanging, and this was the first picking-up gear with single drum and knife in which the main drum is overhanging, and with an internal spur gearing to lessen the overhang by the width of the teeth. Overhanging drums are now used by the India Rubber Company, and by Messrs. Siemens, and were by Mr. Henley, but the Construction Company's machines have generally two drums, one for heavy work between the bearings of the shaft and another smaller and lighter one for light work overhanging the bearings. Mr. Henley was the first to make a paying-out machine with overhanging drum.

Bow sheaves have been much improved since the first one used by Mr. Newall at the picking up of the Donaghadee cable. That one was 6ft. diameter, and very narrow, and with wrought-iron spokes. The only guide for the cable was formed by the prolongation of the timbers beyond the sheave, and a bolt passed through to keep the cable in. In the “Monarch” I placed a wrought-iron guide shield under the timbers, afterwards replaced by a casting. Circular cheeks were used on the 1857 Atlantic cable. These followed the sheave round, which for a bow sheave I found dangerous, and made them vertical above the level of the shaft of the sheave in the “Resolute” in 1861. In fitting the “AmberWitch” in 1863 I countersank the sheave in the casting of the cheek. Double, and even treble sheaves are now fitted in some ships.

Last revised: 25 December, 2020

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