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

1860 Barcelona-Port Mahon Cable

Laid in September 1860 for the Spanish Government, the cable was manufactured by W.J. Henley, and has a single 7-strand conductor, gutta percha insulation, and 16 iron amouring wires. It was laid by the Stella from Barcelona, Spain to Port Mahon, Island of Minorca. Length 180 nm.

Sir Charles Bright was the engineer in charge.

The cable sample has a handwritten paper label:

Spanish Cable between Port Mahone & Barcelona

In the biography of Sir Charles Bright written after his death by his brother, Edward Brailsford Bright, and his son (also named Charles), the laying of this cable is described:

The Balearic Islands connected with Spain

For a number of years, from 1855, the deep waters of the Mediterranean had proved a sort of bête noir to cable layers, commencing with Mr. Brett's unsuccessful efforts between Sardinia and Bona in Algeria; continued by three failures, in 1858 and 1859, to connect Candia with Alexandria; followed by two mishaps, in 186o and 1861, when laying a cable between Algiers and Toulon; and culminating in the untoward essays, thrice repeated, to lay a short line of 113 miles between Oran and Cartagena, in 1864.

In 1860, however, Sir Charles Bright broke the spell for a time, by laying, with success, an important series of four cables for the Spanish Government—viz., between Barcelona and Port Mahon, Minorca, 18o miles; Minorca to Majorca, 35 miles; Majorca to Ivica, 74 miles; and Ivica to San Antonio, Spain, 76 miles—in all 365 nautical miles.

These cables were submerged in great depths, that between Barcelona and Port Mahon being in 1,400 fathoms. They were manufactured by Mr. W.T. Henley. The sections between the three islands contained two conductors each, protected by eighteen outer wires, and weighed 1 ton 18 cwt. to the nautical mile; and the two to the mainland were single wire cables, cased with sixteen wires, and weighing a ton and a quarter per nautical mile.

Sir Charles fitted out a vessel—the s.s. Stella—for the purpose of laying the cables.

The work was carried out with great expedition. On the 29th August, 1860, Bright laid the Minorca to Majorca section, completing the shore end and connections next day. The 31st saw the shore end and connections made at the opposite end of the island; and the following day the cable was laid between Majorca and Ivica, the landing portion being carried out on the 2nd September. Rough weather delayed operations for two days; but on the 5th, Ivica island was put into telegraphic communication with the Spanish mainland at Javea Bay, alongside Cape Antonio.

The remaining section to be laid was that between Barcelona and Minorca—a distance of about 100 miles. Sir Charles mentions in his diary relating to the laying of this last length “Weather very bad, and ship pitching and rolling much.”

After laying the shore end at Javea Bay, and making the connections with the Spanish land lines, he went on to Barcelona to complete the longest section—180 miles—thence to Port Mahon, Minorca; but here he met with considerable delay, first by a fault a long way down the main coil, which rendered it necessary for the cable to be turned over into “the after hold to get clown to the defect —hands to work day and night.” Then on the 15th September, when ready to start, there came a message from the Spanish Government, “from Madrid, to detain the Stella until the arrival of Senor d'Oksza,” the Director of Telegraphs. This gentleman was of Polish origin, his full name being Count Thaddeus Orzechowski, which he had thoughtfully abbreviated for business purposes.

After waiting till the 17th September, it began blowing heavily till the 21st, when Bright's diary states—

6 a.m., steam up, ready to leave, but it appears the Bonaventura (Spanish gunboat to accompany the Stella) was not informed yesterday, and cannot leave this morning. Weather fine.

Saturday, September 22.—5 a.m., steam up, but delayed in lifting anchor by the chain of a brig fouling ours. 6.45, steaming out of harbour. 10 o'clock, all ready for starting, but no current through cable! Found that Spaniards had cut the cable and led it up a pole on shore!! 11.55 a.m., started paying out.

At 1.55 next morning, when in 1,300 fathoms, Sir Charles enters:—

Drum stopped; brakesman asleep; found Suter doing Bank's work, having been up all the time himself in the hold. Luckily it was seen to in time.

The latter part was laid in a heavy sea, and there were several troubles from broken outer wires but the laying to Port Mahon was successfully finished at night.

These cables worked well for years.

By a coincidence when leaving Port Mahon, homeward bound, on the 26th September, the Stella, with Sir Charles on board, passed the William Cory (commonly known as the “Dirty Billy”) . The latter vessel had just been disappointed in attempting to lay the Algiers-Toulon cable. On board her was Bright's former coadjutor, Mr. (afterwards Sir Samuel) Canning, accompanied by Mr. Donaldson. They were then about to fish for the Algiers end of the cable in shallow water, where they had passed Minorca, to take it into Port Mahon, and thus open communication between Algiers and France, through Spain, by means of the cables which Sir Charles had just laid.

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