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

1853 England - Holland Cable
(Orfordness - Scheveningen/The Hague)

by Bill Glover


119 nm in length, the cable consisted of 1 no 16 BWG copper wire
covered with gutta percha to No 1 BWG, taped, covered with yarn
and armoured with 10 No 8 BWG galvanised iron wires. The plaque on
the sample notes that the cable was picked up off Alderney in 1895.

Recovered cable sample image courtesy of Jim Kreuzer

Factory sample of 1853 cable

The Electric & International Telegraph Company contracted R.S. Newall & Company to manufacture and lay this cable from Orfordness, England to Scheveningen, Holland. Newall’s had a full order book and so the armouring of the core supplied by the Gutta Percha Company was carried out by the firm of Spencer & Thomas Ltd. 119½ nm of cable was supplied and the distance between the two landing places was 115 nm.

Recovered cable sample image courtesy of Jim Kreuzer

Factory sample of 1853 cable

The Electric had purchased the commercial ship Monarch and converted her for cable work. The vessel picked up the cable in Sunderland and sailed down to Orfordness with the cable crew on board. The Admiralty loaned HMS Adder, commanded by Lt. E. Burstal, to assist. This vessel had placed buoys along the route and would lead Monarch during laying, as she was unable to use her compasses because of interference from the large mass or iron wire forming the cable armouring. Steam tug Goliath was hired by the company to provide assistance should Monarch have any problems.

The shore end had been laid previously and the necessary connections had been made to the telegraph equipment housed in the Orfordness lighthouse. The shore end was spliced onto the cable aboard Monarch and the fleet set off from Orfordness at 9.00 am Monday 30 May with Monarch being towed by Goliath and HMS Adder leading the way. When it was realised that Monarch would be able to keep station without the aid of the tug the tow was cast off and the laying speed was gradually increased to 3½ knots.

All went well until around 10.00 pm when the wind started to get up and by 11.00 pm it had reached gale force, accompanied by a rising sea. Goliath turned for home as the other two vessels carried on. The brake operator had to be lashed to his post and Monarch’s funnel stays had to be replaced after breaking. Adder signalled the sighting of each buoy by firing rockets and showing a blue light.

Monarch just passing a route marker buoy
with HMS Adder leading the way

The crossing took thirty four hours of which twenty two were in rough seas and a gale. Attempts were made to take the shore end in on Wednesday but the sea was to heavy and it was postponed until Thursday. The first messages were passed over the line on Thursday afternoon.

This was the first of four individual cables laid over this route in May, June, and September 1853, and September 1855. All consisted of 1 No. 16 BWG copper wire covered with gutta percha to No. 1 BWG, which was then taped, covered with yarn and armoured with 10 No. 8 BWG galvanised iron wires.

Orfordness Lighthouse, where the
telegraph equipment was housed.

The Mechanic's Magazine, No. 1557 for Saturday, June 11, 1853, reported on the cable expedition as follows:


Electric telegraph communication between England and Holland has been successfully accomplished, the cable having been submerged from Orfordness, on the coast of Suffolk, to Schevening, on the Dutch coast, a distance, in a straight line, of 115 miles. The engineering arrangements for the purpose were under the superintendence of Mr. Edwin Clark, engineer in chief to the Electric Telegraphic Company, assisted by Mr. F.C. Webb; and the expedition was under the command of Lieut. Burstall, R.N. Three vessels were engaged in the operation,—the Monarch, paddle-steamer, 540 tons (a vessel purchased by the Company for carrying out this and other submarine undertakings in contemplation), having on hoard the cable, 130 miles in length, and 300 tons in weight; the Goliath, steam-tug, in attendance, as a precaution, in case of any casualty to the engines of the Monarch; and the Adder, Government steamer, which was kindly lent by the Admiralty, to assist in this national enterprise.

The course having been previously buoyed by Lieutenant Burstall in the Adder, the squadron left Orfordness at nine A.M., Monday week, the weather being in every way propitious, and the operation was conducted without the slightest difficulty, and a constant communication kept up with the English shore. About nine P.M., however, the barometer suddenly fell one-tenth of an inch, and as suddenly rose again; about midnight the wind increased to a fresh gale from the north-east, with a heavy sea; and although messages from the English coast announced perfectly fine weather, it was afterwards discovered that it was at the same time blowing a gale on the Dutch coast. The Monarch, loaded as she was with a dead weight so near her keel, rolled to an alarming extent, and great fears were entertained for the safety of the funnel, the chains of which parted. The “cable-break” began also to tear itself from the deck from the working of the vessel. These defects were, however, speedily remedied, though Mr. Spencer, who had charge of the “break,” was lashed to his post, which he never quitted during the operation.

The difficulty of uncoiling the cable became exceedingly formidable, and almost baffled the perseverance and determination of the men engaged in that duty, who belonged to the establishment of Messrs. Newall, the manufacturers of the cable. During the day the buoys were successfully made without difficulty; but, as night approached, great apprehensions were felt as to the probability of holding a correct course. The Adder being always in advance to pilot the Monarch, keeping up a communication with the latter by rockets and blue and red lights, was however observed to remain for some time stationary; and on the Monarch closing, she called attention, by the hearty cheers of her crew, to the position of the buoy, barely visible through the darkness under her larboard bow. So closely, indeed, was the direct course followed, that only two buoys, out of fourteen laid down, were missed during the whole voyage. A fresh departure was then taken; and, notwithstanding the darkness of the night, the haze of the morning, the heavy sea, and the numerous difficulties which they had to contend with, the Dutch coast was reached on Tuesday night without accident. On reaching the Dutch coast, the surf was so heavy on the beach that it was impossible to effect a landing. An attempt was, however, made on Wednesday, but it was not until early on Thursday that the end of the cable was brought on shore.

Communications between the Hague and England were effected for the first time at 9:15 A.M., and messages were immediately sent from England to the King of Holland, and from Sir Ralph Abercrombie, British minister at the Hague, to the Earl of Clarendon; and numerous other official communications took place throughout the day.

The steering of the Monarch was successfully managed by Mr. Webb, assisted by Mr. Sergeant, boatswain to the Adder, while the management of the communication with England, and the constant testing of the cable at intervals of 30 seconds, was ably conducted by Mr. Latimer Clark. The secretary of the Electric Telegraph Company was present on board the Monarch; Mr. Newall and Mr. Statham, of the Gutta Percha Company, were also anxious to have been present, but arrived, unfortunately, too late at Orfordness; and after a short telegraphic conversation with the squadron, which was then about 30 miles from the coast, returned to London.

The Monarch proved herself a thoroughly good sea-going boat, especially adapted for the purpose, and is the first steamer which accomplished such an operation without the assistance of a tug. Whether we consider the unusual length of the voyage,—nearly double any which has hitherto been attempted,—the unprecedented occurrence of so heavy a gale, or the inhospitable nature of the coast, the operation certainly ranks as the most bold and successful hitherto chronicled in the annals of telegraphic engineering.

Last revised: 28 October, 2017

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