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

1871 Singapore - Hong Kong Cable

Introduction: The China Submarine Telegraph Company was set up by John Pender in 1869 to link Hong Kong into his growing network of cable companies. Telcon manufactured the cable and used CS Agnes, Kangaroo, Belgian and Minia to lay it from Singapore-Cochin China-Hong Kong. The work took place in 1871; the information below is from trade papers of the time. Cochin China was the name at the time for the southern third of Vietnam; the cable landed at Saigon.

In 1873 the China Submarine Telegraph Company, the British Australian Telegraph Company, and the British-Indian Extension Company merged to form the Eastern Extension, Australasia & China Telegraph Company.

Further mergers over the next 60 years eventually resulted in the formation of Imperial & International Communications Ltd., which in 1934 changed its name to Cable & Wireless Ltd. The full story of these companies may be found on the Cable & Wireless page.

In 1901 CS Sherard Osborn picked up a section of the 1871 cable, and the images of the recovered cable on this page, shown next to the period descriptions of the cable construction, are courtesy of David Warwick.

--Bill Burns


Engineering, 3 March 1871

Submarine Cables For China.— The Telegraph Construction Company, under contract to the China Submarine Company, have despatched vessels with a cable to connect Singapore and Hong Kong, and this line will, barring accidents, be completed in April.

Engineering, 5 May 1871 p.325
Mechanics’ Magazine 23 September 1871 p.231

The China Submarine Company. The total length of cable manufactured is 1632 knots, divided into two sections: Singapore to Cochin China, 778 knots; and Cochin China to Hong Kong, 854 knots—1632 knots.

The total length is subdivided into the following types:

Shore ends 70 knots
Intermediate 805  
Main cable 1257  
Total 1632  

The core of this cable is similar to that of the Australian cable, and consists of a strand of 7 copper wires weighing 107 lbs. per nautical mile, insulated with three coatings of Chatterton'e compound, alternating with three coatings of Willoughby Smith's improved material, whereby the “inductive capacity” is so much reduced, bringing gutta percha by this improvement to a level as regards indnctive capacity with india-rubber. The weight of insulating material is 140 lbs. per nautical mile, so that the total weight of core is 247 lbs. per nautical mile.

Recovered cable section with tag

Hong Kong & Singapore Cable
Laid 1871
Picked up by SS Osborn 1901
Depth 800 fathoms

The completed cable gave a resistance of conductor equal to 94 per cent, of the conductivity of pure copper, and the insulation resistance was 200 million units, at the temperature of 75° Fahr., the capacity (in which lies the improvement in this core) was as low as .285 microfarads, showing an improvement of about 20 per cent. over ordinary gutta-percha.

The sheathing of the various types of cable was as follows:

Shore ends. The core served with jute yarn tanned, was sheathed with 10 B.B. galvanised iron wire of No. 00 B.W.G., .375 in. diameter.

Intermediate. Sheathing of 10 B.B. galvanised iron wires, No. 6 B.W.G., .200 in. diameter.

Main Cable. Sheathing of 12 B.B. galvanised iron wires, No. 9 B.W.G., .150 in. diameter.

Main (deep sea) cable, with seven-strand
copper conductor and twelve armouring wires

All the above types were protected outside the sheathing with two coats of jute yarn laid on in opposite directions, and two of Clark's compound.

The whole of this cable is now on its way out, and in all probability, before long, we may hear of the successful completion of the work. The following ships were engaged for the work: Agnes, Belgian, Kangaroo, and Minia.

The Architect, 27 May 1871 p.280

Telegraphic Communication with China.—An expedition, consisting of four steamers of the Telegraphic Construction and Maintenance Company, under charge of Messrs. Laws and London, and conveying 1,632 knots of submarine telegraph cable, belonging to the China Submarine Telegraph Company, commenced the operation of connecting Singapore with Hongkong on the morning of Friday, May 19.

Mechanics’ Magazine, 2 December 1871 p.432

The report of the China Submarine Telegraph Company, presented on the 22nd [November], states that from the opening of the line in June last the gross receipts up to the 4th of November have amounted to £26,896, and the estimated expenses to £6,560, and that the directors therefore anticipate they will be able on the 1st of January to declare an interim dividend of 6 per cent, per annum for the half-year terminating on that date.

The New York Times gave the completion date of the cable as 11 June 1871.

Last revised: 15 October, 2011

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