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

1868 Malta - Alexandria Cable

In 1868 Daniel Gooch replaced John Pender as Chairman of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Telcon), as Pender was now engaged in forming a group of companies which would link all parts of the world to Britain. The 1868 Malta - Alexandria cable was the first cable to be ordered for this network, its owner being the Anglo-Mediterranean Telegraph Company.

The cable was manufactured by Telcon and laid by Scanderia and Chiltern, commencing on 26 September 1868 at Malta. Traffic on the cable was so heavy that a duplicate was laid in 1870.

The conductor consisted of seven copper wires, insulated by three layers of gutta percha, and finished with a layer of hemp and 18 armouring wires. The cable length was 943 nm.

Information from Haigh, illustration from Schellen.

The Illustrated London News
Supplement, October 31, 1868

The new telegraph cable between Malta and Alexandria has been successfully laid. It has long been considered necessary to connect these two important ports by telegraphic communication, and so far back as 1858 a cable was laid between them. Owing, however, to the failures which, up to that time, had been experienced in laying deep‑sea, cables, it was thought advisable to lay this one in shoal water, which was done by taking it from Malta to Tripoli, and then following the coast of Africa to Alexandria. Since it was laid it has been continually breaking down, owing to the action of the sea causing it to chafe against the hard rocky ground at the bottom, and a ship has been almost constantly employed in repairing it.

The success attending the laying of the Atlantic cable immediately turned the attention of the Mediterranean Telegraph Company to providing a deep-sea cable between Malta and Alexandria, and a contract was entered into with the Telegraph Maintenance Company for a cable to be laid between the two ports suited to the requirements of the bed of the Mediterranean.

The cable differs in some important particulars from the Atlantic cable, being much smaller and heavier in proportion to its size. The copper wires which serve as the conductor, as well as the outer covering of gutta-percha, are nearly identical with that of the Atlantic, but the outer covering is essentially different, the protection to the latter being formed by strands of iron wire overlaid with Manilla hemp laid round the jute which protects the gutta-percha, while the Mediterranean cable is protected by iron wire.

The steam-ships Chiltern and Scanderia arrived in Malta, with the cable on board, on Sept. 14 and 23 respectively; and HM ships Endymion and Newport were ordered by the Admiral to accompany and render assistance to the expedition. The latter ship, having previously sounded the whole route to ascertain the depth and nature of the bottom, was selected to guide the expedition.

Laying the Submarine Cable between Malta and Alexandria

On Sept. 26 the end of the cable was landed at Malta from the Chiltern, and at seven p.m. she left the harbour, accompanied by HMS Endymion, Newport, and steam-ship Scanderia, with the deep sea cable on board. At ten p.m. all the shore end was paid out. At seven a.m. the next day, being then fifty-five miles south-east of Malta, the end of the cable was transferred by boats to the Scanderia, when it was spliced, which took about four hours to complete. At two p.m., everything being satisfactory, the expedition again proceeded, the Scanderia paying out cable.

The weather was all that could be desired – light, favourable winds and calms prevailing the whole passage; the cable paying out with the regularity of clockwork until the morning of Oct. 1, when just as the people had gone to breakfast on board the Scanderia, the engines stopped and went full speed astern, the reason for which was found to be an order from the foremost cylinder (from which the cable was being paid out) to the engine-room in consequence of a foul flake. The ship only just stopped in time to prevent the cable carrying away, as the foul part was all but in the paying-out machinery when she began to gather stern way; and, had it not been for the smartness of the engineer on watch, it must certainly have parted. The foul part was soon cleared, and the ship again proceeded.

On the evening of Oct. 2, at ten p.m., the cable was screwy in the hold, and eventually got kinked. The ship was immediately stopped and backed; but the kink had caused a fault in the cable, which, therefore, had to be hauled in and cut out, the way of the ship carrying the fault about half a mile astern before it could be stopped. The kink having been cut out and the cable re-spliced, the ship went on, everything working with the utmost regularity.

Landing the Shore End of the Cable at the New Port of Alexandria
Detail of the landing

The land at Alexandria was sighted at two p.m. on Oct. 3, and at five p.m. the end of the deep sea cable was buoyed and slipped from the Scanderia in 35 fathoms water about seven miles north of the lighthouse. On the following morning the Chiltern landed the shore end, assisted by the boats of HMS Endymion and Newport, and steamed out with it to the buoy, when it was picked up and the shore end was spliced to the deep-sea part. The communication being found perfect, the whole undertaking was a grand success.

We are indebted to Mr. F. Hyndman, Paymaster of HMS Newport, for the sketches engraved.

Copyright © 2007 FTL Design

Last revised: 29 August, 2008

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