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

Central & South American Telegraph Company
Report on the Laying of the 1881-1882 Cable

Introduction: The Central & South American Telegraph Company was formed by the American cable entrepreneur James Scrymser in 1881 after he left the International Ocean Telegraph Company.

The India Rubber, Gutta Percha, and Telegraph Works Co., Limited was awarded a contract to manufacture and lay a cable from Mexico to Peru. The route was: Tehuantepec, Mexico – La Libertad, El Salvador – San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua – Puntarenas, Costa Rica – Balboa, Panama – Buenaventura, Colombia – Santa Elena, Ecuador – Payta, Peru – Chorillos, Peru.

To Martin L. Hellings by
Key West

Silvertown 9th Sept. 1884
Robert Kaye Gray

For each cable it laid the IRGP company produced a hardbound book as a complete record of the expedition, for distribution to its engineering staff and that of the client. This copy (No. 14) of the book for the 1881-1882 CSA cable was presented by Robert Kaye Gray to Martin L. Hellings, and was inscribed by Gray to Hellings on 9 September 1884.

Hellings was based at Key West as Superintendent of the International Ocean Telegraph Company for many years, and in September 1882, working with staff of the IRGP company, he had effected repairs of the Key West-Habana cable. In 1898 during the Spanish-American War, as a Captain in the Volunteer Army of the United States he was instrumental in cutting the French cable (New York-Hayti-Santiago) off the coast of Cuba, and later diverting it to be used for communication between Washington and the US forces in Cuba.

The book has an 11-page preface describing the scope of the expedition, 450 pages of detailed technical reports, and a further 54-page electrical report. See the contents page for further details.

Extracts from the Central & South American Telegraph Company book are reproduced below, and a list of all known volumes in the series may be found on this page.

--Bill Burns



Central and South American Cable



Presented by

The India Rubber, Gutta Percha and
Telegraph Works Co., Limited.



Preface v-xv
General Diary 1-334
List of Staff, &c. 337, 338, 340
Rates of Shipping Cable 339, 341
Loading Tables 339, 342
Dimensions of Cables and Machinery 338, 341
Engineer’s Log 343-420
Table of Soundings 423-438
The Island of Pedro Gonzales 441-442
The Isthmus of Tehuantepec 442-448
Letter of M. Casis 448
Chemical Report 449-450
Electrical Report 1-54

[pages v to xv]

THE contract for the manufacture and laying of cables to connect places on the coasts of Central and South America, as below enumerated, was signed on the 13th August, 1881, between Mr. James A. Scrymser, President, Mr. William Gaston Hamilton, Vice-President, representing the Central and South American Telegraph Company of New York, and the Directors of the India Rubber Gutta Percha and Telegraph Works Company of London. The last section of the cables, laid in accordance with this contract as subsequently modified, was submerged, and the whole system was in perfect electrical condition and working order, at an average distance of twelve thousand nautical miles from the place of manufacture, on the 13th August, 1882, or exactly one year after the signing of the first contract.

The original contract was for 2,433 nautical miles of Main, 200 N.M. of Intermediate and 43 N.M. of Shore-End cable, making a total length of 2,726 N.M., weighing 5,627 tons. The Works Company guaranteed that these quantities, together with 50 N.M. of Intermediate cable, already laid between Vera Cruz and La Barilla in the Gulf of Mexico (see Diary of Mexican Cable Expedition), would be sufficient to properly connect the following points:—

In the Pacific Ocean

A point near Panama with a point near Buenaventura, in the United States of Colombia.

A point near Buenaventura with Santa Elena Bay, in Ecuador. Santa Elena Bay with Payta, in Peru.

Payta with Chorines, near Callao, in Peru.

A point near Tehuantepec, in Mexico, with a point near San José, in Guatemala.

A point near San José with Culebra Bay, in Costa Rica.

In the Gulf of Mexico

Vera Cruz with a point near La Barilla.

In the Caribbean Sea

Port Limon, in Costa Rica, with Colon, on the Isthmus of Panama.

By a Supplemental Agreement, dated 30th August, 1881, the destination of the cable was modified so that the points to be connected became:‑

Vera Cruz with La Barilla.

Chorillos with Payta.

Payta with Santa Elena Bay.

Santa Elena Bay with a point near Buenaventura.

A point near Buenaventura with a point off Punta Mala, in Panama Bay, and thence by a T-piece to a point within two miles of Panama Town.

The said point off Punta Mala with Culebra Bay, in Costa Rica. Culebra Bay with a point near San José, in Guatemala.

A point near San José with a point near Tehuantepec, in Mexico;

and for these alterations 346 N.M. of Main and 10 N.M. of Intermediate type were added to the contract lengths, making these amount to a total of 3,082 N.M., weighing 6,224 tons.

Subsequently 7 N.M. of Intermediate Cable (30 tons) were added to the contract to enable the cable to be taken to Coatzacoalcos instead of to La Barilla; and on the 28th December, 1881, Salinas Bay was substituted for Culebra Bay, an additional length of 5 N.M. of Intermediate (212 tons) being ordered for that purpose. Thus the amount of cable finally contracted for was 3,094 N.M. (6,275 tons) of which 2,769 N.M. Were of Deep-sea, 282 N.M. of Intermediate, and 43 N.M. of Shore-End type.

In addition to this, a separate arrangement was made January 13th, 1882, by which the Works Company undertook to connect the Town of Buenaventura with the Landing-place at the mouth of the river by means of two cables of Intermediate type.

In order to carry out the portion of the contract that refers to cables in the Pacific Ocean, the s.s. “Dacia,” 1856 tons, and the s.s. “Silvertown,” 4,935 tons, made one voyage each, the s.s. “Retriever,” 775 tons, acting as tender throughout the expedition.

The “Dacia” was loaded with 826 N. miles (1581 tons) of cable at an average rate of 168 N.M. per day, the highest speed on a single run into one tank being 43 N.M. in 12 hours. The “Silvertown” took 2,370 N.M.  (4,881 tons); and on the night of February 1st-2nd as many as 62 N.M. were shipped into her main tank in 12 hours by a single watch of 24 men.

The highest speed attained in laying was on the Buenaventura-Pedro Gonzalez section, when between 4 p.m., May 30th, and 4 p.m., May 31st, 195 N.M. were paid out, and between 8 and 8.30 p.m. on the latter date the cable was running out at the rate of 10½ knots.

In selecting a good bottom on which to lay these cables about 800 soundings were taken, and the deepest water from which a specimen of the bottom was recovered was 2,004 fathoms. The chemical, as well as the physical character of the bottom was studied; and no trace of copper, manganese, or any other metal that would be injurious to cable-sheathing was found. To the west of Punta Mala, near Montuosa the difference in depth in short distances run is remarkable. From Cape Marzo, Panama Bay, southward to Payta, the bottom is generally deep, close up to shore. From Payta to Chorillos, except in the neighbourhood of Payta and Lobos de Afuera, the bottom is an easy and gradual slope. North of a line drawn between Piñas Point and Yguana Island, Panama Bay is comparatively shallow; on that line, however, and south of it, there is a very sudden descent. From Punta Mala to Punta Elena, near San Juan del Sur, the bottom is of much the same nature as that to southward of Panama, but from that point north-westward the bottom is easy in depth and soft in nature.

The s.s. “Dacia” left the Silvertown works for Greenhithe November 15th, 1881, loaded with 772 N.M. Deep-sea, 43 N.M. Intermediate, and 11 N.M. Shore-End—in all 826 nautical miles of cable, weighing 1581 tons—and having on board Mr. Wm. Falconer King, Engineer-in-charge, with a staff of 10 cable-engineers and electricians, 11 ship’s-officers and engineers, 30 cable-hands, and a crew of 62 men, together with Mr. Angus Kelly, representing Mr. J.B. Stearns, the engineer and general manager of the Central and South American Telegraph Company, making a total of 115 men.

At Greenhithe the “Dacia” took in a quantity of cable-gear, stores, and provisions, and sailed thence for Madeira at daybreak November 19th.

Encountering bad weather in the Channel, she put in to Plymouth November 21st; but proceeded on her voyage November 23rd, and after a rough passage across the Bay arrived safely off Funchal Dec. 1st. There she took in coals, water, and fresh provisions, and. sailed again the same day for Rio de Janeiro.

All having gone well, she came to anchor in Rio harbour December 19th; renewed her supply of coals and water, and sailed again the same day for Lota.

Passing through the Straits of Magellan and Smyth’s Channel, the “Dacia” arrived at Lota January 8th, 1882, after a passage of 46 days from Plymouth, and 50 days from London. There she filled up with coal, and proceeded on her voyage January 10th.

Having called for orders at Valparaiso, she reached Callao January 18th, and found the s.s. “Retriever”—the West Coast of America Company’s repairing ship, chartered by the Silvertown Company—awaiting her arrival, with Mr. E.W. Parsoné, Engineer and General Manager of the West Coast of America Telegraph Company, acting on board as Engineer-in-charge.

A brief summary, with dates, of the work performed during the expedition will serve as an index to the portions of the “General Log” given herewith which describe in detail the laying of the cables from Chorillos, near Lima, Peru, to Salina Cruz, Mexico.

After taking soundings off Chorillos, the “Retriever” sailed January 21st, to survey the proposed line of the cable to Payta, where she arrived January 25th, having taken 115 soundings en route.

The “Dacia” landed and buoyed the Chorillos Shore-End January 24th, and joined the “Retriever” at Payta January 27th. Here the “Dacia” landed and buoyed two Shore-Ends in False Bay—the northern January 29th, and the southern January 30th.

The “Retriever” took soundings off Payta and proceeded January 30th surveying the line to Santa Elena, where both ships came to anchor January 31st. There the “Dacia” laid and buoyed the northern Shore-End February 3rd, and landing the southern end February 5th, she proceeded towards Payta, paying out cable, the “Retriever,” in company, sounding as required.

On February 7th the buoyed end was picked up in False Bay, and the Payta-Santa Elena section was completed.

At Payta Messrs. Theophilus Smith, Rippon, and O’Brien, with 7 cable-hands, joined the “Dacia,” having left the s.s. “International” upon completion of the Vera Cruz-Coatzacoalcos section (see Diary of C. & S.A. Expedition, Atlantic side.)

The buoyed southern end was picked up February 9th, and the “Dacia” proceeded towards Chorillos laying cable, the “Retriever,” in company, sounding as required. When 226 miles had been paid out a fault appeared, necessitating the picking up of 11 miles. The fault having been recovered in that length, a splice was made and laying resumed. The final bight was slipped off Chorillos February 14th, and the two ships came to anchor at Callao whence, after transferring all her spare cable to the “Retriever,” the “Dacia” sailed for Valparaiso February 20th in search of a home cargo.

Messrs. Rymer Jones and Cann had been stationed at Santa Elena, Messrs. Rippon and Herbert Webb at Payta, Messrs. John Gray and Hawkins, with 5 cable-hands, had joined the “Retriever” for sounding duty, and Messrs. King, March Webb, O’Brien, and Balkwill, had left at Callao for Lima; Messrs. Daley and Belam, with 30 cable-hands, proceeded in charge of Mr. Theophilus Smith as far as Talcahuano in the “Dacia,” where they landed to await the arrival of the “Silvertown."

After some delay in procuring a cargo, the “Dacia” sailed from Lota March 23rd, and calling for coals at Bahia and Madeira reached Liverpool May 22nd, discharged her cargo, and proceeding to London May 27th was safely moored off the Works at Silvertown, June 1st, 1883, having been absent 198 days.

Meantime the “Retriever,” in charge of Mr. E.W. Parsoné, and having on board the chemist of the expedition, Mr. Geo. Darling, sailing from Callao, February 25th, made a preliminary survey of the proposed routes and landing places as far as Salina Cruz. During this survey 324 soundings were taken, and the landing places at Salina Bay, San José de Guatemala, and Salina Cruz were examined. Mr. Parsoné strongly reported to Mr. Scrymser, President of the Central and South American Telegraph Company, against landing at Salinas Bay, Nicaragua (see pp. 59-60), and in consequence of this report the cable was subsequently landed at San Juan del Sur instead of at Salinas Bay.

On her return voyage news was received at Panama that the West Coast Company’s Mollendo-Chorillos section was interrupted, and the “Retriever” had to hasten back to Callao without waiting to take supplementary soundings and examine the landings at Buenaventura as had been intended. She reached Callao April 18th, and proceeded at once to repair the Mollendo-Chorillos section.

The s.s. “Silvertown,” Mr. M.H. Gray, Engineer-in-charge, and having on board Mr. W.F. Stearns, representing Mr. J.B. Stearns, the Engineer and General Manager of the Central and South American Telegraph Company, sailed from Gravesend, February 28th, 1882, but a gale blowing in the Channel, she anchored in Margate Roads, and did not get under weigh again till March 3rd. Calling for coal at Madeira and St. Vincent, she passed through the Straits of Magellan, and reached Lota, April 24th, after a passage of 52 days from Weymouth. At Lota Mr. King, who had left Lima on account of ill-health, and Mr. Theophilus Smith, with the 3 members of the staff and 30 cable-hands, landed from the “Dacia” on the 23rd March, joined the ship. After filling up with coal and taking on board a quantity of cable-gear left by the “Dacia,” the “Silvertown” sailed for Callao, and anchored there May 6th.

At Callao, Mr. Theophilus Smith left the “Silvertown,” and proceeded by mail steamers, via Panama, where he was joined by Mr. J. Rymer Jones, to Kingston, Jamaica, to meet the “International,” and take charge of the Mexican Extension Expedition.

The “Retriever” returned from the Mollendo-Chorillos repair, and went into dry dock at Callao, May 11th. The “Silvertown” sailed northwards the same day, and on arriving off the cable-hut at Payta, May 13th, immediately started grappling for the Payta-Santa Elena cable for the purpose of substituting Intermediate for Deep-sea cable as far as the hundred fathom line, the “Dacia” having run short of the former type.

Mr. Robert Kaye Gray, who had come out via Panama, joined the “Silvertown” at Payta, and took charge of the expedition from that point.

After inserting a sufficient amount of Intermediate cable at Payta, the “Silvertown” proceeded, May 14th, to Santa Elena, where a similar operation was performed, and the Payta-Santa Elena section completed, May 17th. The buoy left by “Dacia” on the northern Shore-End having got adrift, the steam launch grappled, under-ran, and buoyed this end, May 18th.

The “Retriever” arrived from Callao next day, and the two ships were occupied until May 22nd transferring cable. The “Silvertown” then spliced on to buoyed Shore-End and started paying out towards Buenaventura, the “Retriever,” in company, sounding as required.

On May 25th, Deep-sea cable was cut and buoyed; and a suitable landing-place having been selected, the “Retriever” landed the Southern Shore-End (Intermed. type) at Malaga, and laying Intermediate out to the buoyed Deep-sea end completed the Santa Elena-Buenaventura section, May 27th. Mr. J.B. Stearns, Engineer and General Manager of the Central and South American Telegraph Company, joined the expedition at Buenaventura on the 27th May to represent that Company during the operations.

The northern Shore-End was laid by the “Retriever,” May 29th, and the “Silvertown,” having spliced on, paid out as far as Cape Marzo, where she buoyed Deep-sea cable, May 31st, and proceeded, with the “Retriever,” to make a minute survey with a view to finding the most suitable route to Panama. As a result of this survey, the proposed T-piece off Punta Mala was abandoned in favour of landing three Shore-Ends at one of the Pearl Islands.

On the 8th June the “Silvertown” landed the Shore-End of the Buenaventura Section at Pedro Gonzalez Island, and after laying and buoying Intermediate cable, proceeded to the Deep-sea end buoyed off Cape Marzo, where she spliced on and laid back to the buoyed Intermediate end, completing the Buenaventura-Pedro Gonzalez Section, June 11th. After calling at Pedro Gonzalez to test, the “Silvertown” anchored in Panama Roads, June 12th, but shifted her berth again the same day to the coaling station at Taboga Island.

Meanwhile the “Retriever” landed two Shore-Ends at Pedro Gonzalez, one towards Panama and one towards San Juan del Sur, and took soundings between Pedro Gonzalez and Panama. On June 15th she landed the Shore-End at Panama and then joined the “Silvertown” at Taboga. After taking in coal there, the “Silvertown” picked up the “Retriever’s” end buoyed off Panama and laid the main (Intermediate) cable towards Pedro Gonzalez, completing that section, June 21st. While the expedition was at Panama it had been arranged, after correspondence with Mr. Scrymser, that San Juan del Sur, in Nicaragua, should be substituted, as a landing-place, for Salinas Bay in Costa Rica.

The two ships sailed. June 24th, for San Juan del Sur, taking supplementary soundings en route. On arriving there, June 28th, the Shore-Ends were transferred to the “Retriever,” and laid by her next day. Ten knots of Shore-End were then paid out by the “Silvertown” along the coast and picked up at once by the “Retriever,” and eighteen knots of Intermediate were turned over from one tank to another on board the “Silvertown,” preparatory to laying the section from San Juan towards San José de Guatemala.

On July 2nd the “Silvertown” started laying this section, and buoyed . the Deep-sea end next day some forty miles off La Libertad del Salvador, it being still undecided by the C. & S.A. Co. whether the cable should be landed there, or at San José de Guatemala. After inspecting both those Ports the two ships proceeded to Salina Cruz and anchored there, July 8th. While at Salina Cruz Mr. R.K. Gray and Mr. J.B. Stearns corresponded by telegraph with Mr. Scrymser, the President of the Central and South American Telegraph Company, who was in New York. Mr. Scrymser ordered La Libertad to be selected as a landing-place in lieu of San José de Guatemala.

The Shore-End at Salina Cruz was laid by the “Retriever,” July 10th: the “Silvertown” spliced on and started paying out towards La Libertad, July 12th. The Deep-sea was cut and buoyed off that Port, July 16th. The “Retriever” landed the Northern Shore-End the same day, and the Southern Shore-End, July 17th. The “Silvertown” picked up the Northern Shore-End and laid out to the end of the Deep-sea, slipping the final bight of the La Libertad-Salina Cruz section, July 18th.

On July 20th the “Silvertown” picked up the Southern Shore End, and paid out to the Deep-sea End, which had been buoyed July 3rd, slipping the final bight of the San Juan del Sur-La Libertad section, July 21st. She then proceeded to join the “Retriever” at San Juan del Sur (July 23rd), where she at once spliced on to the buoyed Southern Shore-End; but a series of accidents delayed the start on the Pedro Gonzalez-San Juan section until July 25th. When 196 miles had been paid out (July 27th), a fault appeared 131 miles astern, and it was decided to buoy the cable, proceed to Pedro Gonzalez, and lay northwards towards this buoy.

The “Silvertown” Company’s available staff being greatly reduced in number owing to manning two ships and keeping two electricians at each landing-place of the completed cables, some difficulty was experienced in selecting a thoroughly competent electrician to take Charge of the Pedro Gonzalez hut. This was overcome by Mr. Parsoné, who kindly volunteered to undertake the duties. He had for one of his assistants Mr. Norton of the Central and South American Telegraph Company’s staff, who took duty there with Mr. Stearns’ permission.

Both ships arrived off Panama July 30th, and, having taken in coal and water, proceeded to Pedro Gonzalez August 3rd, where the “Silvertown” picked up the Shore-End, and, laying northwards to the Deep-sea End, buoyed July 27th, slipped the bight of the Pedro Gonzalez-San Juan del Sur section August 7th. The “Retriever” then picked up 10 miles of Deep-sea cable, paid out by the “Silvertown” along the coast, and sailed August 8th for San Juan del Sur to repair a fault which had appeared near the final bight of the San Juan-La Libertad section. The “Silvertown” grappled the Pedro Gonzales-San Juan del Sur section at the locality of the fault which had appeared July 27th, and, having recovered this fault, completed that section August 10th. After putting in to San Juan (August 11th) to ascertain that the tests of the Pedro Gonzalez-San Juan section were now perfect, the “Silvertown” proceeded to Panama, and anchored there August 17th.

Meantime the “Retriever” had repaired the fault near the original bight of the San Juan-La Libertad section August 13th; but on returning to La Libertad had found a fresh fault in this cable. Proceeding at once to San Juan, she remained at anchor there until August 19th, when, having communicated with Mr. Robert Gray at Panama, Mr. King sailed again in the “Retriever” to repair the second fault in the San Juan-La Libertad section. This was successfully effected August 21st, and the “Retriever,” having ascertained at San Juan that the cable was now perfect, proceeded, according to instructions, direct to Buenaventura. Arriving there August 27th, she was at once recalled to Panama, where she anchored alongside the “Silvertown” August 30th.

The two cables for the Buenaventura River were then transferred from the “Silvertown” to the “Retriever”; and the latter ship, having renewed her supply of coal and water, sailed September 5th to lay a double line of cable in the river between the hut at Malaga Point and the town of Buenaventura. This work was successfully accomplished on September 10th, but owing to her being short of Intermediate type of cable, Mr. King was obliged to lay 10 miles of Main type in the Southern River cable. On completing this the “Retriever” sailed from Buenaventura for Santa Elena to repair the Payta-Santa Elena section, which had broken down during an earthquake on the 15th September; and Mr. Parsoné, who by this time was on his way south to resume his duties as Engineer and General Manager of the West Coast of America Co.’s Cables, was stopped by telegram at Guayaquil, and asked to take charge of this repair.

Mr. Parsoné grappled the cable off C. Blanco September 30th, and the repair was completed October 3rd. The “Retriever” called at Payta to ascertain that the electrical condition of the cable was now perfect, and then sailing for Callao was re-delivered to the West Coast of America Telegraph Company at that port October 10th, 1882, having been in the service of the “Silvertown” Company for 245 days.

The first detachment of the cable staff had started on the return voyage to England on September 5th, 1882, when Messrs. M.H. Gray, J.K. Gray, H.M. Walter, G. Bailey, J. Mathieson, and 37 cable-hands left the s.s. “Silvertown” at Panama, and, crossing by rail to Colon, sailed thence in the R.M.S. “Nile”to Southampton, where they arrived September 29th.

The second detachment, consisting of Messrs. R. Balkwill and C.N. Evers (who had left Buenaventura upon completion of the River-cables), Mr. L.M. D. Campbell, and 18 cable-hands, followed by the same route in R.M.S. “Don,” sailing from Colon September 18th.

The s.s. “Silvertown,” having taken in coals at Taboga, weighed anchor September 12th, and, after laying 42 miles of spare cable in the Bay of Panama, landed the remaining members of the staff and cable-hands, and sailed for San Francisco September 13th. Calling at San Juan del Sur and Salina Cruz for orders, and at Acapulco for coal, she arrived at San Francisco October 15th, was docked and loaded with grain there, and sailed again for Hull November 17th.

On her home voyage the “Silvertown” called at Panama December 4th, took in coal at Taboga, and sailed again for Lota December 9th. Arriving there December 26th, she transferred 22 N.M. of cable to the s.s. “Retriever” for the West Coast of America Company, filled up with coal, and proceeded on her voyage January 4th, 1883. The “Silvertown” arrived at St. Vincent, Cape de Verd Islands, February 10th, took in coal, and sailed February 14th for Grimsby, where she came to anchor March 3rd. After discharging her cargo at Hull, the s.s. “Silvertown” sailed thence for London March 21st, and was safely moored in the Victoria Docks March 24th, 1883, after a voyage of 392 days.

On the 28th of September, 1882, Mr. R.K. Gray, accompanied by Messrs. W.F. King and W.F. O’Brien, left Panama and sailed from Colon for New York to negotiate settlement of contract with Mr. Scrymser, the President of the Central and South American Telegraph Company.

In this settlement between Mr. Scrymser and Mr. Robert Gray, it was agreed that the 42 nautical miles of Main type cable lying in Panama Bay should remain the property of the Silvertown Company, and that the Silvertown Company should, within a reasonable time, after the demand of the Central and South American Company, replace with Intermediate type the 10 miles of Main type laid in the Southern Buenaventura River cable.

The Pedro-Gonzalez San Juan Section was interrupted by an earthquake in the vicinity of Punta Mala, in February 1883, and in order to carry out the repair the Central and South American Telegraph Company hired the repairing steamer “Retriever” from the West Coast of America Telegraph Company, and bought the 42 miles lying in Panama Bay. The Silvertown Company, on the 24th August 1883, sent out to Callao in an iron tank fitted up on board the sailing vessel “Amelia Ross,” 12 miles of Intermediate type to replace the 10 miles Main type laid in the Buenaventura River cable. At Callao the cable is to be transferred to the “Retriever,” which has been hired from the West Coast of America Telegraph Company to carry out the substitution. By special agreement, the work is to be superintended by Mr. E.W. Parsoné, Engineer and General Manager of the West Coast of America Telegraph Company.

In accordance with instructions issued by Mr. R.K. Gray, the members of his staff stationed along the Line from Chorillos to Salina Cruz handed over the sections that had been left in their charge to the representatives of the Central and South American Telegraph Company on the 28th September 1882, and left their several stations for England.

Mr. E. March Webb remained at San Juan del Sur to represent the Works Company on the Coast until the settlement above referred to was effected between Messrs. Scrymser and Robert Gray in New York. He sailed from San Juan del Sur, October 26th, and returning via Panama and St. Thomas arrived in London, November 28th, 1882.

Messrs. J. Rippon and H.P. Daley sailed from Callao, October 12th, and were joined at Panama by Mr. A.E. Gilbert from Santa Elena, who returned with them via Jamaica and St. Thomas to Southampton.

Mr. H.L. Webb left Payta October 8th, and proceeded via the Isthmus of Panama to New York, whence he returned with Mr. W.F. O’Brien to Liverpool.

Messrs. G.H. Darling and J.T. Belam left San Juan del Sur, October 1st, and returned via Panama, Colon, Jamaica, and St. Thomas to Southampton.

Messrs. H.E. Cann and E. Stallibrass sailed from La Libertad del Salvador October 6th, and returned via the Isthmus of Panama and New York to Liverpool.

Messrs. W.S. Seaton and C. Bright, leaving Salina Cruz September 29th, rode across the isthmus of Tehuantepec to Coatzacoalcos, and sailing thence to Vera Cruz and New Orleans, returned via the United States to England.

Mr. W.F. King sailed from New York for Liverpool November 21st. Mr. Robert Kaye Gray remained in New York until January 17th, and landed at Liverpool, January 27th, 1883.


[pages 1 to 320]

[Note: As the 320-page General Diary is mostly day-by-day technical details, only sample pages are shown here. Transcribed from this section are the text of notes on the conclusion of the “Dacia” expedition, and on the survey made by “Retriever”.]

January 19th—February 20th, 1882.

Page 1: S.S. “Dacia” section

Page 2

Page 3

Page 54: End of “Dacia” section


[page 55]

NOTE.—Messrs. H.P. Daley and J.T. Belam, with 29 cable-hands, proceeded in the " Dacia " to Talcahuano, and thence, by rail, to Concepcion, where they remained in charge of Mr. Theophilus Smith until the arrival of the "Silvertown" at Lota (April 24). The following is a list of these cable-hands:—

D. Smith, W. Brinn, R. Parish,
J. Fraser, T. Stevens, J. Brisenden,
T. Read, R. Stephenson, B. Butcher,
W. Tilyer, Sr., W. Williams, E. Ireland,
W. Tilyer, Jr., W. Wheeble, F. Wright,
W. Bowden, J. Wigger, P.J. Harvey,
P. Pidwell, W. Fleming, G. Varney,
R. Low, J. Callaghan, W. Rodgers,
W. Baldey, C. James, J. Hanson.
C. Berry, W. M’Millan,  

The following cable-stores were landed from the "Dacia" at Lota, and taken on board the "Silvertown" on her arrival there:—

Buoys—4 20-class,
      "       1 90-class,
      "       1 80-class,
Chains—150 fathoms, ¾-in.,
      "          15,      "       11/16-in.
      "        130       "       5/8-in.
4 Short pieces of chain,
4 Chain boxes,
Bridles, 2 ¾-in., 4 5/8-in., & 5 ½-in.
Shackles (assorted), 58,
1 Old man,
2 Boat ropes,
8 Coils of 3-yarn spunyarn,
2     "      white Manilla, 18 and 15 thread,
1 Jointer’s tent and 3 tins of naphtha,
1 Sack barrow,
3 Chests of tools,
1 Bench,
1 Tap and die case,
19 Hammocks in bags and 3 pair clews,
5 Cases (electric light lamps and tools),
2 Leads for electric light,
2 Boatswain’s chairs,
1 Bale of canvas and hand flags,
4 Bales of serge,
2 Bales of small cap covers, ties, thread and braid.


[pages 56-60]

The s.s. “Retriever” sailed from Callao, February 25th, to survey the proposed lines and landing-places from Santa Elena (Ecuador) to Salina Cruz (Mexico). Mr. E.W. Parsoné was in charge of the expedition, and was assisted by Messrs. J.K. Gray, G.A. Darling, C. Hawkins and cable-hands, G. Garvie, J. Brown, C. Jackson, and H. Grimes.

The “Retriever” reached Panama March l0th, having taken 107 soundings en route; and sailed again, March 13th, for Salina Cruz, where she arrived, March the 26th, after having taken 152 soundings and examined the landing-places at Salinas Bay (Costa Rica) and San Jose de Guatemala.

Leaving Salina Cruz, March 29th, she took 65 supplementary soundings, and got back to Panama, April 6th. There news was received of the interruption of the West Coast of America Company’s Mollendo-Chorillos section on the night of March 10th-11th, in consequence of which Mr. Parsoné had to abandon the remainder of his programme, and take the “Retriever” back at once to Callao, where she arrived, April i8th, after an absence of 52 days from that port.

The soundings taken during this survey are included in the Table of Soundings given in the Appendix. Mr. George A. Darling accompanied the expedition as chemist and analysed all specimens of the bottom. These were found to consist of silicate of alumina, silica or sand, with small quantities of organic matter, oxide of iron, lime, and magnesia. No manganese, copper, magnetic oxide of iron, or other substance chemically injurious to cable-sheathing was found in any of them.

But the analyses and observations made during this expedition were less numerous and complete than had been intended, owing to three misfortunes. In the first place, the case containing all Mr. Darling’s apparatus, reagents, &c., was lost overboard by the Pacific Steam Navigation Company whilst being discharged from their ship in Callao Bay, and the contents were very much damaged before the case was recovered by divers. In the second place, Mr. Welsford, of the Central and South American Co., after announcing to Mr. Parsoné his intention of joining him at Panama, assumed that the “Retriever” would call at Buenaventura on her voyage northward, and went thither to meet her, carrying with him, doubtless in good part but officiously, the “Retriever’s” mail and a case of instruments (deep-sea thermometers, &c.), the property of the Silvertown Company. Lastly, the interruption of the West Coast Company’s Mollendo-Chorillos section prevented the more detailed survey of the Buenaventura-Panama section (where deep water had been encountered), and the examination of the landing-places at the mouth of the river and at the town of Buenaventura, all of which work was to have been performed on the voyage south.

The following extracts from letters and telegrams give concisely the results of the survey:—

No. I. LETTER from Mr. Parsoné, s.s. “Retriever,” Panama, April 6th, 1882, to Mr. R.K. Gray, Panama. To await his arrival.

We arrived here yesterday morning, Thursday 6th, direct from Salina Cruz, sounding some portions of the proposed line en route.

You will find some letters for you at the British Consul’s (Senor March), Panama, where I have also left a tracing of soundings in Panama Bay. I also wrote you, addressing Lima, making sure you would have passed through by this time. You had better also enquire at B. Consul’s, Colon, for letters.

At Salina Cruz I met with Mr. Mayo, who is building the land line across the Isthmus, and your brother Jack, myself, and Darling, accompanied him to Tehuantepec. At this place I was handed several telegrams from Mr. Scrymser embodying following questions:—

Distance of 100-fathom line from City of Panama?
       "                   "                   " Cape Mala?
       "                   "                   " Salinas Bay?
       "                   "                   " San Jose?
       "                   "                   " Salina Cruz?
Practicability of 3oo fathom line ?
Results of soundings Panama north in brief and relative positions of landing places at Salinas Bay and San Jose?
Distance off outside landing Buenaventura of too fathom line?




Parsoné, Tehuantepec,   To   France,
27th March, 1882,         City of Mexico.

Please wire Mr. Scrymser—The bottom on the whole line of the proposed system of cables between Chorillos and Salina Cruz could not be better for the cable to rest on; no rock of any kind being found.

Except the two sections laid the soundings for the Shore-ends and  Intermediate Cables have not been completed.-

Three hundred fathoms and over are easily obtainable. Soundings  north of Panama quite satisfactory.

Landing places at Salinas Bay and San Jose have so far been  adopted as per proposal. Intermediate soundings off Buenaventura  not yet fixed; we complete work returning south.

Sail to-morrow morning, calling Panama.

For your information I may tell you that I think the l00-fathom line is going to prove a serious difficulty.

Off Buenaventura (outside landing) it may be found within required distance, as also at T-piece (Point Mala) and at Salina Cruz. On proposed spot of T-piece there is 141 fathoms, but between this and Panama landing place I do not believe there is a sounding to be had over 80 fathoms, and this is in a distance of 95 knots. Off Salinas Bay and off San Jose the 100 fathoms does not present itself for a long way off shore. The deep-sea portions of the two northern sections, i.e., Salina Cruz—San Jose—Salinas Bay, is hardly up to 300 fathoms for some miles outside proposed line; but better water, both for depth and nature of bottom, could not possibly be desired. The only other feature of the soundings I need note at present is the very deep water encountered between Buenaventura and Point Mala, reaching 2,004 fathoms in the middle of Panama Gulf. This is the deepest cast we have had, but we also had deep water between Point Mala and Salinas Bay, especially in the first (south) part of the section.



No. 2. TELEGRAM from Mr. R.K. Gray, Panama, April 25th, to Mr. Theo. I. de Sabla (Vice-President C. & S.A.T.  Co.), Colon.

Parsoné’s chart received this forenoon shows Buenaventura-Panama section deep water notably between Cape Corrientes, Latitude Five Thirty, and Cape Marzo, Latitude Seven. From Cape Marzo straight across to Punta Mala we have two thousand fathoms. Ten miles west Cape Solano eighteen hundred no bottom found. This section will require special care selecting route. As Stearns will probably not be aboard Walter Stearns will require full power. I cannot accept responsibility choosing route alone in face of apparent difficulties. Shall I telegraph Scrymser. Stearns being at present in New York could consult with Scrymser on matter.




No. 3. TELEGRAM from Mr. Theo. I. de Sabla, Colon, April 25th, to
Mr. R.K. Gray, Panama.

Stearns leaving New York before my arrival, you had better consult Scrymser.

De Sabla.

NOTE.—This reply was not received by Mr. Gray until too late for him to get an answer from Mr. Scrymser before sailing for Payta.



No. 4. LETTER from Mr. Parsoné to Mr. Scrymser regarding the unfitness of Salinas Bay for a Telegraph Station.

s.s. “Retriever” at Sea,
10th April, 1882.

James A. Scrymser, Esq.,

Central & South American Tel. Coy., 55 Broadway, New-York.

Dear Sir,--On my arrival at Panama from Salina Cruz I had the unexpected pleasure of again meeting Mr. de Sabla, Vice-President of your Company, and in the course of conversation, the desirability of Salinas Bay as a point at which your cables should touch, was referred to. He also read me a telegram from you stating that I had approved of the situation. As a landing place for the cable my opinion is that there is not a better on the coast, and this is what I intended to infer in my reply to you from Tehuantepec, i.e.,  “Landing places at Salinas Bay and San Jose have so far been adopted as per proposal.” This, however, it appears, is not the only question to be considered, but they may be comprised thus:—

1st. Is Salinas Bay a suitable place to land cables?

2nd. Is Salinas Bay a desirable locality to establish a Telegraph station?

3rd. Is it to the interests of the Company that this spot should be chosen?

The first of these questions I have already taken upon myself without hesitation to answer in the affirmative.

As a locality for a Telegraph Station, or residence of any kind, I am not of the same opinion, in fact there is not a single feature in the place to recommend it for this purpose; one lands on a sound pebbly beach, fringed with thick tropical foliage to the water’s edge, not such growth as is generally found near the coast even in the tropics, but a virgin forest of full grown trees. Animal life is abundant in the shape of monkeys and parrots, and the ground swarms with large black ants and small shelled fish. A clearing would have to be made to erect even a small house, and the shallow percolating brooks which run into the Bay must render any foundation very damp. There is no settlement here, but on proceeding three or four miles towards the head of the Bay we fell in with a party of very primitive travelling fishermen drying fish for sale in the interior; from questions I put to these people they gave me to understand the place was quite healthy, but I should be loath to place great weight, or faith, in this opinion. One fisherman there is who appears to be a resident having a house at the head of the Bay, he told me no steamers or crafts of any kind ever call; altogether, the impression left after a short visit such as we made leaves me with the idea that the place could not well be more out of the world or furnished with less resources.

Touching Company’s interests or obligations, it would be presumption on my part to enquire, or advise, but had I at the time of visiting this part of the coast had any idea that there was any doubt about, or that the Salinas Bay landing was not definitely settled, I should have considered it part of my programme to have gone to San Juan del Sur and reported on its advantages over the place in question.

I think no objection can be found to San Jose, which appears to be quite a centre; both this place and Salina Cruz are reported by the foreign residents to be very healthy, they are very open and liable to heavy surf, and although there may be considerable difficulty in landing the shore-ends, the cables once on shore will be excellently located.

I remain,
Dear Sir,
Yours very obediently,
E.W. Parsoné.



The s.s. “Retriever” completed the repair of the West Coast Company’s Mollendo-Chorillos Cable May 7th, and joined the s.s. “Silvertown” at Callao May 9th, 1882.


[pages 335 to 342]

Mr. W.F. King        ...               ...        Engineer in Charge.
" J.K. Gray, ... ... Engineer  
" C. Hawkins, ... ... Assistant Engineer.
" H.P. Daley, ... ... " Accountant
" W.E. Cook, ... ... Assistant  
" E.M Webb, ... ... Chief Electrician
" J.R. Jones, ... ... Electrician
" R. Balkwill, ... ... Assistant Electrician
" J.K. Belam, ... ... " "
" H.E. Cann, ... ... " "
" H.L. Webb, ... ... " "
1. D. Smith, Foreman     16. R. Low, Carpenter
2. W. Tilyer, sen.,         "      mate 17. B. Butcher, Buoyman
3. W. Bowden,         "         " 18. G. Garvie, Cable-hand
4. W. Rogers, Leading hand 19. C. Campbell, "
5. P. Pidwell, Storekeeper 20. J. Wigger, "
6. W. Brinn, Jointer 21. J. Brissenden, "
7. R. Stephenson,        "     mate 22. J. Brown, "
8. T.J. Stevens, Instrument maker 23. G. Jackson, "
9. J. Fraser, Fitter 24. R. Wright, "
10. W. Baldey,     " 25. H. Grimes, "
11. G. Varney,     "    mate 26. T. Williams, "
12. W. M’Millan,     "       " 27. E. Parsons, "
13. C. Berry, Blacksmith 28. J. Fleming, "
14. R. Parish,         "            mate 29. P.J. Harvey, "
15. A.K. Brown, Carpenter 30. J. Garvie, "

Starboard Watch Station Port Watch
W. Bowden Foreman’s mate (over tank) W. Tilyer, sen.
T. Williams Leading hand (in tank) W. Rogers
G. Garvie In tank B. Butcher
J. Wigger      " C. Campbell
G. Jackson      " J. Brown
H. Grimes      " B.. Wright
J. Fleming ,      " E. Parsons
J. Garvie      " P. J. Harvey
J. Brissenden Lamp trimmer P. Pidwell
1 Sailor Messenger (quarter-deck) 1 Sailor
A. K. Brown Brakesman (dynamometer) R. Low
W. Baldey Fitter (machinery) J. Fraser
W. M’Millan      "        labourer (leads) G. Varney
  General Work.  
  D. Smith  
  C. Berry  
  R. Parish  

20TH NOVEMBER, 1881.
1.  P.M. Hayward, commander     46. T. Wilson, 5th engineer
2.  R. Draper, chief officer 52.  6 Firemen
3.  J.H.H. Iles, 2nd officer 57.  5 Trimmers
4.  J.S. Coathupe, 3rd officer 58.  W. Greenhedge, chief steward
5.  D. Campbell, 3rd officer 59.  J.T. Povey,        2nd        "
6.  P. Moor Wood, surgeon 60.  T. Hall, chief cook
7.  1 Carpenter 73.  13 Cooks, Stewards, Store-
keeper, Butcher, Baker, &c
8.  1 Boatswain  
10.  2      "        mates  
14.  4 Quartermasters   73 Total Crew
15.  1 Lamp-trimmer   11 Staff
36.  21 A.B.’s   30 Mechanics, Cable-hands, &c.
37.  1 Painter   1 Mr. Angus Kelly, assistant
engineer to C. and S.A.
Tel. Co.
41.  4 Boys  
42.  J. Foster, chief engineer  
43.  W. Redhead, 2nd     "        
44.  J. Middleton, 3rd     "     115 Total number on board.
45.  E. Stewart, 4th         "              
Mr. M.H. Gray        ...               ...        Engineer in Charge.
" H.M. Walter, ... ... Engineer  
" G.H. Bailey, ... ... Assistant Engineer.
" R.L. Swift, ... ... " Purser
" W.S. Seaton, ... ... Electrician
" A. E. Gilbert, ... ... Assistant Electrician
" E. Stallibrass, ... ... " "
" C. Bright, ... ... " "
" N.C. Evers, ... ... " "
" J. Mathieson, ... ... " "
1.  C. Cakebread, Acting Foreman     12. R. Jack, Cable-hand
2.  W. Gibbs,       "      Storekeeper 13. H. Kirk,           "
3.  J. Stafford,  Leading hand 14. D. Calnan,           "
4.  P. Holloway, Cable-hand 15. S. M'Dade,           "
5.  J. Burley,           " 16. R. Morris, Jointer
6.  J. Hart,           " 17. T. Phillips, Instrument maker
7.  J. Pollard, jun.,           " 18. D. Healy, Carpenter
8.  H. Weston,           " 19. J. Cochrane, Fitter
9.  J. Hibbard,           " 20. T. Price,     "    labourer
10.  G. Trimm,           " 21. F. Young, Blacksmith
11.  R. Potter,           " 22. C. Cooper,      "     mate

1.  J. Costello, master     49. E.W. Marsh, 4th engineer
2.  R. Hudson, chief officer 50.  C.W. James, 5th        "
3.  H. Dolman, 2nd officer 51.  1 Boilermaker
4.  P. Bates, 3rd officer 52.  1 Donkeyman
5.  E. Anderson, 4th officer 54. 2 Greasers
6.  C.H. Fowler, surgeon 63.  9 Firemen
7.  1 Carpenter 75.  12 Trimmers
8.  1         "       mate 76. C. Thick, chief steward
9.  1 Boatswain 77. A.A. Lewis, 2nd     "
11.  2         "        mates 78. G. Bigley, chief cook
12.  1 Sailmaker 95. 17 Cooks, Stewards, Store-
keeper, Butcher, Baker, &c
13.  1 Painter
17.  4 Quartermasters  
18.  1 Lamp-trimmer   95 Total Crew
41.  23 A.B.’s   10 Staff
43.  2 O.S.   30 Mechanics, Cable-hands, &c.
44.  1 Storekeeper   6 Staff of the C. and S.A.
Telegraph Company
45.  1 Boy
46.  J. Pratt, 1st engineer  
47.  A. Blane, 2nd     "           133 Total number on board
48.  J. Redhead, 3rd  "    


[pages 343 to 420]

[Note: As the 78-page Engineer’s Log is mostly day-by-day technical details, only sample pages are shown here.]


Page 345

Page 346


[pages 423 to 438]

[Note: As the 16-page Soundings section is a table of readings, only sample pages are shown here.]

Page 423

Page 424


[pages 439 to 450]


Central and South American Tel. Coy.,
37 Wall Street, City.

Dear Sir,

I give you an extract from a letter written by Mr. E. W. Parsoné, after a ten days’ stay on the Island of Pedro Gonzalez, and which may be of interest to you. In re arranging my papers to-day I found the letter among them.

Under date of Panama, Aug. 17th, 1882, Parsoné says:—"Before going on shore at the landing place, where the hut was erected, we made a tour of the Island in the ‘Retriever.’ We stopped the vessel and landed at three points on the East side of the Island at which a few huts on shore showed the presence of inhabitants. However, it was only at the last that we were able to make any arrangements for assistance and provisions. The head-man here is a negro named Cavallero, and he promised to send us the men we required and what provisions he could spare. In accordance with Mr. J. B. Stearns’ request I tried to arrange with him for watchmen to look after the hut, etc., and after some difficulty it was ultimately settled that two men should take this charge and receive four dollars per month for the performance of this duty. On landing at the hut I found all the instruments, etc., intact; we also discovered good fresh water flowing on to the beach about 150 yards south of the hut. The three shore-ends were well buried. I consider it very necessary, if any work is to be done from this place or watches kept, that a permanent house be built: say after the native fashion, that is, on piles with a good deck some feet above the ground. A tent is not sufficient protection from the frequent heavy rains. This house could be built by the natives. I was unable to make them understand the nature of a contract for this class of work, but they are perfectly willing to work for day wages.

“With the exception of Cavallero, who sets out the work of planting for the others, and collects the rents for the proprietor, the natives are not altogether to be trusted. However, the two employes of the Central and South American Coy., Messrs. Norton and Phillips, who were with me, can give Mr. Stearns information on this particular. The proprietor of the island resides in Panama.”

I send you the above as it may be useful to you and Mr. France. I do not know whether the arrangement as to watchmen is at present being carried out or not. I may also mention that in making the arrangement for the landing place at Panama we erected our hut on a squatter’s lot, and I promised the woman who occupies the lot 3 dollars per month, as rent for the ground taken from her, and on condition that she looked after the hut. This latter agreement Mr. Stearns endorsed when I informed him of it.

Yours faithfully,


Windsor Hotel, New York,
Friday, 29th December, 1882.



Extract from a Letter from Mr. W.S. SEATON to Mr. R.K. GRAY.

Starting from Salina Cruz Station, the Line for about a mile runs in a direction parallel with the beach over open ground, and then joins the road from the port to the town of Tehuantepec. With the exception of about half a mile near Zuleta Ranch, the whole of this road lies through forest until within the immediate vicinity of Santa Maria, a suburb of Tehuantepec, situated on the right bank of the river. The Tehuantepec river is easily spanned by the Line, and presents no obstruction to the linesman; for it is generally fordable, and there are plenty of canoes plying between Tehuantepec and Santa Maria during the rainy season, when the river is high.

From the town of Tehuantepec, which is some 14 miles from the Salina Cruz Station, the Line continues as far as the village of Comitancillo (27 miles) along a carriage road through forest, similar to that from the port to Santa Maria. At a short distance beyond Comitancillo, the line enters upon a somewhat barren plain, over which it runs for about 7 miles to San Geronimo (34 miles from Salina Cruz Station).

San Geronimo is the first repairing station on the Line. We halted here for the night; and from this point Mr. Bright and myself had the advantage of being joined by Mr. Swartz, the Superintendent of the Line, who escorted us across the rest of the Isthmus.

Passing through San Geronimo, the Line crosses the Juchitan River, which is easily spanned and always fordable, and follows a bullock-cart track through woods and cultivated fields to the Rio Verde at the entrance of the Chivela Pass (42 miles). The Rio Verde is narrow, but I am not sure that it is always fordable in the rainy season. I think, however, that there is high ground on both sides of the river; if so, it would be an easy matter for the linesmen to make a rough bridge above the reach of the flood, there being plenty of tall trees close at hand for the purpose.

The Chivela Pass constitutes the first difficulty of any magnitude. Here the Line frequently leaves the circuitous mule-track, and sometimes stretches by spans of considerable length across deep ravines. But the mule-track, though circuitous, is good; and the linesman has the advantage of being able to move rapidly from point to point along his Line when searching for a fault. The Pass extends for about 5 miles, after which the Line runs over an open plain for about 2 or 3 miles, and then follows the direct mule-track over the hills towards Sarabia. On the Chivela Plain we diverged from the Line, halting for the night at El Barrio de la Soledad, and falling in with the Line again next morning near the Xochiapa Hillocks. By this detour, we traversed some 17 or 18 miles, instead of the 10 or 12 of direct route; but all our way was over exceptionally easy ground, whereas I was told that on the direct route there was much hard climbing, and the Line in some parts can only be followed on foot. El Barrio seemed to me by far the pleasantest place on the Isthmus. The air was quite cool and refreshing there.

From a point a little beyond the Xochiapa Hillocks to the Sarabia river, a distance of about 10 or 12 miles, the ground is again difficult. It consists of mountainous forests where the mule-track is bad, winding up and down steep hill-sides, and through swampy bottoms covered with high grass and underwood. The Line follows the general direction of the mule-track, but it departs from it a little at several points where the track is circuitous.

The Malatengo River (71 miles), which has to be crossed, is comparatively broad, but well within an ordinary span. It is not always fordable, but, being sluggish, could be safely swum at all seasons. This is not the case, however, with the Sarabia River, which is narrow and so rapid when in torrent that there is no chance for man or horse if carried below the right landing-place at the ford. We were caught at this spot by a most drenching tropical deluge, and I did not notice the character of the banks very particularly; but, as far as I remember, on one side at least the ground was not high enough to save a tree-bridge from being swept away by the flood. Probably, however, some spot might be found not far off where such a bridge could be safely placed.

From the Sarabia River to the cattle-ranch of the Messrs. De Gyves, the ground is open and the Line free from danger. Here we halted for the night, and found everybody miserably sick with fever and ague, except Mr. Hennessy, the linesman of this district. There is much swamp in the neighbourhood, and the site of the house that had just been built for the repairing staff was unfortunately selected in the dry season.

From Sarabia Station to La Puerta, a distance of about 9 miles, the first half of the way lies over open ground like that between the river and the station, while the other half runs through forest, but over tolerably smooth ground, a considerable portion of it being along a broad timber-track.

At La Puerta (88 miles) there is a small ranch well placed on a high cliff above the Jumuapa River. Ferry-canoes are kept both here and on the Tortuguero Branch, which has to be crossed a little further on.

We had to halt at La Puerta after only a very short day’s march, as there is no ranch of any kind between there and Suchil; but on the next day the powers of our horses and mules were taxed to the very utmost. We followed the Line for a short distance from La Puerta, and found it in great jeopardy in one place, and at another it was completely down.

We freed it from its danger at the first spot where a partially broken branch was resting on the wire; and at the second place, where a tree had fallen and pinned the wire down for a long distance in the high wet grass and undergrowth, we restored communication at about 10 a.m. on October 4th.

At a point about 12 miles from La Puerta the Line diverges from the trail and runs northward through dense, and trackless forest for about 56 miles to Jaltipan. Between Jaltipan and Coatzacoalcos the ground is, I believe, all swampy; but for the last 12 of these 30 miles the Line has the advantage of being alongside the Tehuantepec Inter-Oceanic Rail-Road.

We continued our journey eastward to Suchil, and considered ourselves very fortunate in arriving there without accident. We had been incessantly climbing up and down steep hills all the day. The trail was in a terrible state of slime and deep mud, and we noticed several skeletons of mules that had perished on the way. From Suchil we proceeded by river to Coatzacoalcos.

From the foregoing description you will see that the Line traverses in all about 190 statute miles, of which, approximately, 25 are over open plains, 45 are along roads, 55 are in forest, but along or near to the track used by the caravans of pack-mules which cross the Isthmus in considerable numbers, and the remaining 65 miles are constructed over ground trodden only by the linesmen. I may here remark of the whole Line, that it seemed to be very little molested by human beings, animals, birds, or insects. In some places the lower part of the earthwire, which is attached to the wooden poles for a lightning-guard, had been stolen: and here and there we came across localities where several poles had been pecked by birds, in some cases to a very dangerous extent. Mr. Swartz told me that it was intended to gradually replace the wooden by iron poles: if this were done, of course both these dangers would vanish.

The 25 miles of open plains lie almost entirely on the southern half of the Isthmus. The Line is not exposed in these parts to any extraordinary danger whatever; but when, on comparatively rare occasions, accidents may occur the fault would be quickly reached and repaired, as the roads on this side of the Isthmus are good. When I was at Coatzacoalcos I had occasion to make particular inquiries concerning cyclones, and I learned that the Isthmus was never visited by them. The “ Northers,” so much dreaded on the Gulf coast, blow right across the Isthmus; but most of their violence is spent before they reach the patches of open ground which lie on the southern side.

The 45 miles of Line that run along roads are exposed to intermittent faults, if the growth of underwood and branches of trees be not kept efficiently in check; and in a modified degree they are liable to total interruptions caused by falling trees and branches. The roads are broad, allowing the Line to be placed clear of all but the tallest trees, on one side of it at least. Of these 45 miles, 30 lie between Salina Cruz and the Rio Verde over good solid ground, and the remaining 15 consist of the abandoned Tehuantepec Inter-Oceanic Rail-Road, which extends through a swamp from Coatzacoalcos towards Jaltipan.

Both the 55 miles of Line that run through forest, but along or in the neighbourhood of the mule-track, and the 65 miles that lie remote from any trail whatever, are exposed to enormous danger from forest fires in dry season and from floods between June and October. Practically there is no preventing the extremely frequent interruptions that occur in the forest. Labour is very dear, and I should think it would be out of the question to attempt to clear all the timber that in falling could reach the Line. As you are aware, the construction of this Line was carried out in great haste and under extraordinary difficulties; and it is no wonder, therefore, if room has been left for one or two minor improvements that may slightly reduce the liability to interruption. Here and there, by the substitution of steel for iron wire, and the consequent gain in length of span, the necessity of having a pole in a dangerous position might be avoided; and in swamps, where poles frequently fall, carrying the wire with them but not generally breaking it, it might be worth while to have an insulated conductor--say 3 No. 19 copper wires, stranded, covered with indiarubber and served with tarred hemp—looped up to the existing bare iron wire, which latter would here be cut out of the electrical circuit, and retained only as a mechanical support to the core. Again, in one or two places it might be desirable to divert the Line slightly from its present route, as, for instance, in the neighbourhood of El Barrio de la Soledad.

But after every practical precaution has been taken to reduce the liability to accidents, interruptions must nevertheless continue to be very frequent, and the point of main interest therefore is to consider the facilities afforded for rapid repairs.

About 40 out of the 55 miles of trail under discussion are good, and permit the linesmen to move quickly from point to point along the line; but over the remaining 15 miles of trail, and over the whole of the 65 miles that are trodden only by linesmen, locomotion is very slow and entails a very large expenditure of mules. I have no personal knowledge of these 65 miles, but I learned from Mr. Swartz and his linesmen that for the whole of that distance the ground was at least as bad as that between La Puerta and Suchil; and that this portion of the Line was worse situated than any other, in respect to rivers and torrents. When we crossed the Isthmus Mr. Swartz intended to have followed the Line to Coatzacoalcos, but he had to give up the idea in consequence of the great probability of being delayed several days, waiting for the Jaltipec to subside.

The rainy season was then drawing to its close, but I was assured on all sides that there had been a quite exceptional scarcity of rain, so that it was by no means at its worst that I saw the Line and gained experience of the difficulty of maintaining it. At that time there were 5 stations, and a staff consisting of a superintendent and 3 linesmen (all Americans), 3 operators, exclusive of those at the terminal (cable) stations, and 6 natives. But directly the Line was opened for public traffic this staff was found quite inadequate; and, before I left Coatzacoalcos, orders had been received for the immediate establishment of two new repairing stations, involving 2 more operators, 2 more linesmen, 2 more natives, and 4 more mules. These two new stations were to be added to the districts between La Puerta and Coatzacoalcos, in which four-fifths of the interruptions had occurred.

As I descended the Coatzacoalcos River I could not fail to be impressed with the fact that a light cable might have been laid along it in a position of great safety, at least from Suchil, if not from La Puerta, or even from some point further south. Had this been done nearly all the most difficult ground which the present overhead line traverses would have been avoided. This otherwise obvious route was neglected in favour of the one which was projected for the Tehuantepec Inter-Oceanic Rail-Road. If this railway existed in fact, it would of course be an easy matter to keep in repair the telegraph here alongside of it; but, unfortunately, the T.I.O.R.R. Co., whose headquarters are in New York, have had to suspend their operations. The time allowed them for completing their railway had expired and not a tithe of the work was done. The Company had expected to get an extension of the terms of their concessions, but they were disappointed.

At the time we crossed the Isthmus it was currently reported that the Mexican Government had decided to build and work this railway itself, and had granted a contract for the construction to one of its own citizens—Mr. Sanchez—who had had influence enough to secure very favourable terms. The Government is interested in thisrailway, not only in a general and indirect sense as an aid to the development of the country, but directly, inasmuch as it would enable them to move troops rapidly via Vera Cruz, Coatzacoalcos, and Salina Cruz, to places on the Pacific where political revolutions frequently occur. It was further reported that in this contract the Government undertook the payment, on account, as each kilometre was completed, of a certain fixed sum, being a large proportion of the total price per kilometre, and that the contractor was left perfectly free to arrange for himself the order in which the different portions of the work should be done. I have forgotten the amount of the payment on account per kilometre, but I remember that it was such as, by itself, to pay a handsome profit on the easy parts of the route, though insufficient to meet the cost of the more difficult portions.

It seemed to be a very general opinion on the Isthmus that Mr. Sanchez would commence operations not from Coatzacoalcos, which is more favourably situated for the import of material, and where already about twelve miles are made, but from Salina Cruz, whence there is a rise of easy gradient for about three miles to Zuleta, followed by about forty miles of perfectly level and solid ground. This constitutes by far the easiest portion of the whole line, the levelling up to Zuleta and the  bridging of the Tehuantepec and Juchitan Rivers being works of no magnitude; and it is possible that when this section is finished the contractor may suddenly realize the difficulties ahead, and, contenting himself with the profit made from the payments on account, leave the Government to find someone else to go on with the undertaking.

I mention these rumours and opinions as I heard them, but I am in no position to say what value should be attached to them. To the C. & S.A. Telegraph Company the question of the probability of this railway being constructed—especially on the northern half of the Isthmus—is one of prime interest.

Without the railway the cost of keeping the telegraph line in repair is, as I learned from Mr. Swartz, extremely heavy. I took his figures, and forming a rough estimate of the cost of a cable laid in or near the Coatzacoalcos River, I concluded that if it is thought improbable that the railway will be built within a reasonable time, it would be well worth the while of the C. & S.A. Co. to consider thoroughly the question of even now abandoning the northern half of their overhead line.

Such a question could not be satisfactorily discussed except in great detail and with definite data to hand; but the matter would be settled at once in favour of retaining the overhead line, if within, say ten years, the expense of its maintenance is to be reduced to a comparatively trifling sum through the existence of a railway alongside it.

Yours faithfully,


PANAMA, 27th de Junio, de 1882.


Con satisfacción se ha impuesto el Ciudadano Presidente del Estado de que en la tarde del 21. de este mes el vapor Silvertown completó la conexion telegráfica con la isla de “Pedro-Gonzalez,” y que el 22. se iniciaron partes telegráficos sobre asuntos de la colocación del cable, de este puerto á Chorillos, Lima.

El Gobierno y Pueblo del Estado felicitan á Ud. por el feliz éxito del acontecimiento que se ha servido comunicar con fecha del 23., y me honro con suscribirme.

De Ud. muy atento servidor,




The specimens of the bottom brought up during sounding operations varied very slightly. They consisted principally of green coloured mud, in some cases being dark coloured, and others, again, being of a lighter colour. Near the shore the bottom evidently consisted of sand, mixed occasionally with very small shells, but owing to its being washed out of the sinker during the time of heaving up there was never sufficient to examine it chemically; some few particles generally adhered to the sinker, and by pressing the finger against them they were found to be gritty to the touch.

As the ship got away from the land the sand gradually disappeared and larger samples were obtained; these, as above stated, consisted of green clayey mud, sometimes containing a considerable quantity of minute shells. On examination they were found to consist principally of silica or sand, alumina, with small quantities of organic matter, oxide of iron, lime and magnesia. No manganese, copper, or magnetic oxide of iron was found in any of them.

There was only one occasion where the specimen varied decidedly from the others—this was in sample No. 82, when a small white stone about the size of a pea was brought up. The sinker had evidently landed on the top of it by chance, and the sand being washed out while bringing to the surface, the stone was left. On analysis it proved to be a small piece of quartz.

I have refrained from giving the numbers of the samples examined, with the exception of sample No. 82, as the numbering was not at all satisfactory, and, in fact, could not be depended upon. It was impossible for one person to be present and attend to the numbering night and day, and although various expedients were resorted to, it was found that the samples invariably got mixed and out of order, the difficulty arising from the fact that on some occasions no sample was obtained. In future some arrangement might be made which would prove more effectual, and in my opinion this is absolutely necessary.

On account of the large number of specimens obtained during the sounding operations, it was found impossible to keep pace with the “Retriever” and analyze every sample as collected; it was determined, therefore, to pick out a number of samples obtained in the different sections and examine them more particularly.

Owing to a mistake the deep-sea thermometers which had been sent out went astray and did not arrive until too late. The thermometer which was employed had been in use for a considerable time, and possibly read too high. Some attempts were made to compare it with a standard, but owing to the high temperature of the atmosphere at the time, and also to the difficulty of procuring a suitable vessel for the purpose, it could not be tested satisfactorily. The temperature and specific gravity of the surface water was taken every day at noon while at sea.

Judging from the experience gained during this expedition, there are several points which might be attended to with considerable advantage in carrying out a similar investigation on a future occasion. In the first place, it is necessary that a place on board should be set aside for carrying out experiments, and it should be fitted up so that work could be commenced as soon as samples were obtained. Could this have been possible in this expedition, an accident which is explained elsewhere would have been avoided, and considerable time saved. The thermometers might, of course, be on board before starting, which would do away with any chance of their going astray, as above-mentioned.


Lima, Thursday, 27th April, 1882.


[pages 1 to 54, extracts]


To ROBERT KAYE GRAY, Esq., Submarine Telegraph Works,
Chief of Expedition. Silvertown, 1883.


I beg to hand you the following Electrical Report on the Central and South American Cable Expedition. I have not confined this report to exclusively electrical limits but have endeavoured to give a general idea of the nature of the enterprise, the manner in which the undertaking was brought to a successful conclusion, and a description not only of the cable, its manufacture, transport, and submersion, but also of the ships and staff employed and their distribution during the operations.

In this report I have given but a brief account of the laying of the Vera Cruz and Coatzocoalcos section, this being a continuation of the Central and South American Telegraph Company’s system on the Atlantic side; my report, with this exception, treating of the work executed on the Pacific side.

For the convenience of reference I have arranged this Report under different headings with an index, endeavouring so far as possible to separate the various subjects dealt with into divisions, the headings being a guide to the information contained in each such division.

I have been somewhat puzzled to know where to draw the line between a sufficiently explicit report and a too diffuse account of the work, for there are in an expedition of this magnitude, extending over such a considerable period, undergoing such changes in climate and ground, and consequently varying the nature of the operations, so many subjects of interest alike to the Electrician as to the Engineer, and, in  fact, interesting to all who share such work or who may be connected in any way with the undertaking, that it seems really impossible to give a just idea of the work without going far beyond the limits generally assigned to an “Electrical Report.” This, Sir, must be my excuse for touching upon subjects unconnected with the electrical condition of the cables, to which excuse may be added the advantage of having in a comparatively small space a general description of the whole undertaking.

You will perceive that but little mention is made of the laying and position of the Buenaventura River cables, the notes at my command being somewhat scanty.—I remain, Sir, very faithfully yours,

Chief Electrician


[Pages 5-9, extracts]

The ships employed in the laying of the Central and South American Co’s cable were:—

“International,” Wardroper, 1380 110 3
“Dacia,” Hayward, 1856 170 4
“Silvertown,” Costello,  4935 400 3
“Retriever,” Morton, 623 95 2

NOTE.--The “Retriever” is the property of the West Coast of America Telegraph Company, and was chartered by the India Rubber, Gutta Percha, and Telegraph Works Co. to assist in the work.

The “International” came off the works at Silvertown on October 26th, 1881. Shipping cable on her for the Vera-Cruz and Coatzocoalcos section (Atlantic side) of the Central and South American Cables was commenced on Nov. 3rd, 1881, and completed on Nov. 8th. She left the works for Greenhithe on November 9th, and sailed from the river on Nov. 11th for the Gulf of Mexico.

She took the following cable:—

Spare Intermediate,   1 .5926   7 .32
Spare Deep-sea   10 .67   17 .072
Shore-End,   6 .00   87 .6
Intermediate (main cable),   88 .00   378 .4
    106 .268   490 .392

[Note: Details of the distribution of the cable among the ship’s tanks have been omitted here and below.]

Of the above cable the 1.5926 N.M. of spare Intermediate (Peru and Chili), and the 10.67 N.M. of spare Deep-sea, also 14.36 of the 88.0 N.M. of Intermediate (main cable) were returned to Factory on arrival of ship after expedition.

The 14.36 N.M. of Intermediate were shipped on the “Silvertown.”

The “International” returned to works on February 18th, 1882, after completion of work.

The “Dacia” came off Silvertown works on November 1st, 1881. She left for docking on the 7th November. returning to the works on the 10th. Shipping cable for the Pacific stations of the Central and South American Cables was commenced on her on the same day (the 10th Nov.), and completed on 18th Nov., on which day she left the works for Greenhithe. She left the river, bound for Callao on Nov. 19th.

She took the following cable:—

Shore-End,   11 .00   161 .19
Intermediate,   43 .00   185 .33
Deep-sea,   771 .63   1234 .60
    825 .63   1581 .12

After completing the Chorillos-Payta section, and temporarily connecting Payta and Santa Elena by means of Deep-sea type instead of Intermediate, there not being sufficient of this latter type on board to complete this section according to contract, the “Dacia”  transferred to “Retriever” at Callao all cable remaining on board, viz.:—45.435 N.M. of Deep-sea type, and 4.68 N.M. of Intermediate. She then loaded with grain at Talcahuano, and copper at Lota for her voyage home.

For disposal of staff after departure of “Dacia”  from the West Coast see under “Staff.”

The “Dacia” landed the following Shore-Ends—Chorillos Shore-End, north and south Shore-Ends at Payta, and south Shore-End at Santa Elena.

The “Silvertown” came off works on Jan. 19th, 1882 from docking. Shipping cable on her for the Pacific sections of the Central and South American cables was commenced on Jan. 21st, 1882, and nearly completed off the works on Feb. 7th, when she left her moorings off Silvertown, and went into the Albert Docks. Here shipping was resumed on Feb. 17th, and completed on Feb. 21st. Between January 21st and February 7th, cable was also being shipped from the works into the West India and Panama Telegraph Company’s repairing ship “Tirante.” The “International” came off works (after laying Vera Cruz and Coatzocoalcos section) on February 18th, and part of her surplus cable, viz.: the 14.36 N.M. of new Intermediate, was discharged into a barge, taken round to the Albert Dock, and shipped on “ Silvertown.”

On February 22nd the ship left Albert Dock for Gravesend, whence she sailed for the Nore, on February 28th. On the 2nd March she left the Nore and anchored in Margate Roads, whence she sailed on the 3rd March. She went into Weymouth on the 4th March, and on same day sailed for the Pacific.

The only Shore-End landed by the “Silvertown” was at Pedro Gonzales Island for the Buenaventura section.

She took the following cable:—

Shore-End,   31 .270   456 .54
Intermediate,   252 .515   1085 .81
Deep-sea,   2086 .700   3338 .72
    2370 .485   4881 .07

Of above amount 3.24 N.M. of Shore-End, and 4.12 N.M. of Intermediate were old spare cable.

The “Silvertown” replaced the temporary Deep-sea in the Payta St. Elena section (as laid by “Dacia”) with the proper amounts of Intermediate at each end. She laid all the remaining sections, and put down in Panama Bay as spare cable 42 N.M. of surplus Deep-sea type. She transferred to “Retriever” 16.0 N.M. of Deep-sea, 1.0 N.M. of Shore-End (spare), and 2.1 N.M. of Intermediate, there remaining on board her 32.6 N.M. Deep-sea, 3.24 N.M. old Shore-End, and 2.02 N.M. of old Intermediate. She sailed from Panama for San Francisco on September 13th, 1882, to take a cargo of grain for home voyage.

On her homeward voyage the “Silvertown” touched at Lota, and there transferred to “Retriever” 22.03 N.M. of Deep-sea cable.

She anchored off Grimsby Roads on March 2nd, 1883, having then on board the following cable: 10.78 N.M. Deep-sea, 2.02 N.M. of Intermediate, and 3.24 N.M. of Shore-End. She here discharged her cargo of grain.

The West Coast of America Telegraph Company’s repairing ship “Retriever,” under charter to the India Rubber Gutta Percha & Telegraph Works Company, was awaiting arrival of “Dacia”  at Callao, when that ship entered the port on 18th January, 1882. Mr. E.W. Parsoné, the manager and engineer of the West Coast of America Tele graph Co., was at Callao also, and accompanied the expedition from beginning to end, lending most valuable assistance in superintending the soundings and surveys made by “Retriever,” and taking part in many of the operations carried out by the different ships.

The following work was carried out by the “Retriever” during the expedition: Soundings along proposed lines of cables between Callao, Peru, and Salina Cruz, Mexico.

Preliminary surveys of proposed landing places.

Landing North Shore-End at St. Elena.

Landing and laying North and South Intermediate cables at Buenaventura.

Landing at Pedro Gonzales the Shore-Ends for the Panama-Pedro Gonzales and San Juan-Pedro Gonzales sections.

Landing at Panama Shore-End for the Pedro Gonzales-Panama section, and laying part of same section.

Landing North and South Shore-Ends at San Juan, Libertad, and Salina Cruz.

Laying, with Mr. King, both Buenaventura River cables.

Repairing, with Mr. King, first fault in the San Juan-Libertad section.

Repairing, with Mr. King, the second fault in the San Juan-Libertad section.

Repairing, with Mr. Parsoné, the break in the Payta-St. Elena section.

Mr. Darling, the analytical chemist to the expedition, accompanied the “Retriever,” while sounding along lines of cables, for the purpose of examining the nature of the bottom.


[Pages 25-29]

Chorillos and Payta

The Shore-End, at Chorillos was laid by the “Dacia” on January 24th, 1882, shortly after her arrival at Callao. She then steamed north, and at Payta, after landing the Shore-End for the Santa Elena section she laid on January 30th, the Shore-End and Intermediate for the Chorillos section. The “Dacia” then proceeded to Santa Elena and laid the cable from there southwards to Payta. From Payta the “Dacia” laid the Deep-sea cable southwards towards Chorillos, commencing at the Intermediate End at Payta on February 9th, and splicing on to Intermediate on board off Chorillos on February 13th. On the night of the 13th the ship lay at anchor, it being too dark to run the Intermediate in to splice with the Shore-End on that day, and on the 14th the Intermediate was run in, the splice made with the Shore-End, and section completed.

Payta and Santa Elena

The Shore-End at Payta for this section was laid on January 29th. The “Dacia” then went north, and on February 4th laid the Santa Elena Shore-End. The contract requiring that the Intermediate should reach the 100-fathom line, it was found, on the necessary sounding being taken, that there would not be sufficient of that type on board to complete according to specification, the Intermediates on both the Chorillos-Payta, and Payta-Santa Elena sections, the 100-fathom line being so far from shore. Accordingly the Intermediate was reserved to complete in all respects the Chorillos-Payta section, and on February 6th and 7th Deep-sea type was laid southwards, between the Shore-Ends at Santa Elena and Payta. The first work the “Silvertown” did on her arrival on coast was to place Intermediate in instead of Deep-sea, at Payta on May 14th and at Santa Elena on May 17th.

On Sept. 16th this section was broken by an earthquake, probably causing a landslip on line of cable, and it was repaired by “Retriever” and lengthened by 8.01 N.M. Deep-sea type, on October 3rd.

Santa Elena and Buenaventura

The Santa Elena Shore-End was laid by the “Dacia” on February 2nd, and the Intermediate on May 22nd by the “Silvertown.” The latter ship from May 22nd to May 25th laid the Deep-sea portion from Santa Elena northwards to mouth of the Buenaventura River. No Shore-End was landed here, the “Retriever” on May 27th laying Intermediate from Malaga Bay on north side of entrance to River, out to the Deep-sea.

Buenaventura and Pedro Gonzales

No Shore-End was landed at Malaga Bay (Buenaventura) the “Retriever” laying the Intermediate on May 29th. The “Silvertown” commenced laying Deep-sea towards the Pearl Islands on May 30th. On May 31st cable was cut and buoyed off Cape Marzo, the ship proceeding to sound, and to survey the Pearl Islands in order to discover a suitable landing place. The Island of Pedro Gonzales was selected, the Shore-End was landed there on June the 8th, and the Intermediate on June 9th. On June 10th the “Silvertown” commenced laying Deep-sea from Pedro Gonzales, southwards, and on June 11th made splice with end buoyed off Cape Marzo, completing section.

Buenaventura River

The “Retriever” commenced laying two cables between hut at Malaga Bay and the town of Buenaventura (about 15 miles up the river) on September 7th. She completed both cables on September 10th. She proceeded south after some days spent at Buenaventura, and on her way repaired the Payta-Santa Elena section.

No. 1 cable consisted of 12.5 N.M. of Intermediate and 10 N.M. of Deep-sea. No. 2 cable was composed entirely of Intermediate, 22.0 N.M. in length.

Pedro Gonzales and Panama

The Shore-End at Pedro Gonzales was landed on June 9th, and the “Retriever,” assisted by a lighter (owing to the excessively shoal water) landed the Panama Shore-End on June 14th and 15th. The “Silvertown” then, on June 21st, laid the main cable from Panama Shore-End towards Pedro Gonzales. This main cable consisted entirely of Intermediate type.

Pedro Gonzales and S. Juan del Sur

The Shore-End at Pedro Gonzales was landed on June 9th, the “Silvertown” then laying the section to Panama, after which she proceeded north. On June 29th the Shore-End at San Juan del Sur was landed, and the ship then went northwards. On her return to San Juan del Sur, the Intermediate was laid on July 24th and 25th. Some difficulty was here experienced owing to a foul flake coming up and breaking Intermediate. On July 25th ship commenced paying out Deep-sea towards Pedro Gonzales, but on July 27th a fault declared itself some distance astern. The cable was cut and buoyed and ship proceeded to Panama. On August 4th, the Intermediate at Pedro Gonzales was laid, and on same day ship commenced paying out Deep-sea cable towards buoy on the San Juan end. On August 6th the cable was cut and buoyed, and ship steamed to buoy on San Juan end, which was picked up on August 7th, a splice made with cable on board and ship paid out to buoy on Pedro Gonzales end, a splice was made with this and bight let go. The ship then proceeded to grapple for cable near fault, and picked it up on August 9th. Cable was cut and Pedro Gonzales end buoyed, the fault being found towards S. Juan del Sur. The cable was picked up until fault came on board, a splice was made with cable in ship, and cable was paid out back to buoy on Pedro Gonzales end. The final splice was here made on August 10th, and section completed.

S. Juan del Sur and Libertad

The Shore-End at San Juan del Sur was landed on June 29th, and the Intermediate on July 2nd. Deep-sea cable was then paid out northwards. On July 3rd the Deep-sea cable was cut off Libertad, 227 N.M. of all types having been paid out and end buoyed. This was owing to some uncertainty on the part of the engineers of the Central and South American Co., as to whether the cable would be laid into Libertad or continued on to San José in Guatemala. The ships proceeded to San José, and there it was decided to make Libertad the cable station. The Libertad and Salina Cruz section was then laid. On July 17th the ships being at Libertad, the Shore-End for the southern section was landed, and on July 20th and 21st the Intermediate and Deep-sea necessary to run out to buoy on San Juan end was laid, and section completed on latter date. The ships (“Silvertown” and “Retriever”) then steamed for San Juan. On their arrival there it was found that a fault existed in the section (July 23rd). The “Retriever” repaired this fault on August 13th, and four hours after final splice was made, another fault was discovered in section on the usual tests after completion being made. This second fault was repaired by the “Retriever” on August 19th.

Libertad and Salina Cruz

This section was laid from Salina Cruz (the northernmost station on the line of cable in the Pacific) southwards towards Libertad. The Shore-End was landed at Salina Cruz on July 10th, by means of a rocket, employed to carry the lines, as no boat. could live in the tremendous surf. The Intermediate was laid on July 12th and 13th, the Deep-sea was then laid out and cut off Libertad on July 16th, and buoyed. The Shore-End was landed on July 17th. The Intermediate and Deep-sea necessary to run out to buoy on Salina Cruz end were laid on the 18th, final splice made, and section completed on that date.

Vera Cruz and Coatzocoalcos

This section (on the Atlantic coast) was composed entirely of Intermediate. Part of the section was laid in March, 1881, by “Dacia,” when, after completing the Mexican system, she laid her surplus cable, consisting of 49.7 N.M. of Intermediate to the south of Vera Cruz.

The “International,” on December 20, 1881, picked up the end of the cable laid by “Dacia” off Cabeza reef and buoyed end.

Owing to ship getting on a shoal, and weather being stormy, the Vera Cruz Shore-End was not landed until the 27th December.

On the 28th December the Intermediate was laid between Shore-End and the end buoyed previously (Dec. 20th) and splice made. The ship then steamed for the other end of the cable laid by “Dacia” off Monte Pio. This end was picked up on the 29th, but owing to bad weather the ship had to buoy it (after picking up some few miles) and run for Anton Lizardo.

On Dec. 31st the ship proceeded to Coatzocoalcos and landed the Shore-End there on January 1st, 1882. On 2nd January the Intermediate between Shore-End at Coatzocoalcos and the buoy on Intermediate end off Monte Pio was laid, final splice made and section completed on January 20.

Messrs. Theop. Smith, Rippon, and O’Brien and 7 cable hands left the “International” at Jamaica and proceeded per steamer “Don” to Colon, on their way to join the expedition on the Pacific side.


[Pages 42-43]

Chorillos and Payta Section

During the laying of this section by “Dacia” a fault occurred on February 11th, 1882, and was first noticed, the deflection suddenly going off scale, when 219 N.M. had been paid out from the Payta end. There had been no sign of anything amiss up to that moment, the readings being perfectly steady, and the continuity signals on board and on shore being quite satisfactory. On communicating with shore on mirror instrument we found that the continuity signals at hut decreased to a third of the ordinary throw at the moment the sudden rise of deflection was noticed on board. During the time we were communicating with shore and testing, the ship had continued to pay out cable, so that by the time the fault had been localised and the cable cut, the fault was found to be about 8 N.M. astern. 11 N.M. were picked up and the fault discovered in the piece picked up, and at 9.5 N.M. from the place where cable was first cut.

S. Juan del Sur and Libertad Section

Two days after this section was completed a fault appeared in it, on July 23rd, and was localised at 224 N.M. from San Juan del Sur. The cable was repaired by Mr. King in “Retriever” on August 13th.

The cable during the laying, and immediately after completion, had shown no sign of weakness.

Another fault appeared in this section immediately after the last repair on August 13th. The cable, prior to final splice in last repairs, had been tested from Libertad, San Juan, and “Retriever,” and appeared to be all right. Four hours after final splice, and while cable was being tested after completion, a fault declared itself. This was localised at 156 N.M. from San Juan del Sur, and repaired by “Retriever” on August 19th.

It was at first supposed that this fault was due to some damage done to cable by propeller on letting go the bight in the final splice in last repairs, but this was found, on picking cable up not to be the case.

S. Juan del Sur and Pedro Gonzales Section

During the laying of this section a fault declared itself on July 27th, when 214 N.M. had been paid out. It was localised at 80 N.M. from San Juan, but was discovered to be at 74 N.M. from that place when repaired by Mr. R.K. Gray in Silvertown on August 9th.

This section broke down on September 15th, nearly three months after its completion, and nearly two months after the guarantee of thirty days had elapsed, and the cable accepted by the Central and South American Co.’s representative.

The cable was found to be broken off Cape Blanco, and had been localised at 180 N.M. from Santa Elena. It was repaired by Mr. E.W. Parsoné, with “Retriever,” on October 3rd, 1882.

This break was undoubtedly due to a submarine landslip, caused by an earthquake of much severity felt along that part of the coast on the date the cable broke down.


[Pages 43-46]


The following gentlemen went out to the Gulf of Mexico on board the “International” to lay the section between Vera Cruz and Coatzocoalcos. Mr. Theop. Smith, engineer in charge; Mr. J. Rippon, electrician; Mr. W.F. O’Brien, secretary and purser; and Mr. J. Stoddart, assistant engineer. No representative of the Central and South American Telegraph Company accompanied the ship on her voyage out, but on her arrival at Vera Cruz Mr. Hiscott joined the expedition, on behalf of Mr. Stearns, the engineer to said Company. During the laying of this section Mr. Rippon kept watch on shore at Coatzocoalcos.

After completion of section, Messrs Smith, Rippon, O’Brien, and seven cable hands left the “International” and joined the “Dacia” at Payta, Peru via Jamaica, and Isthmus of Panama.


The following staff went out to the Pacific via the Straits of Magellan, on board the “Dacia.” Mr. W.F. King, engineer in charge; Messrs J.K. Gray, W.E. Cook, C. Hawkins, and H. P. Daley, assistant engineers; Mr. E. March Webb, chief electrician; and Messrs J. Rymer Jones, R. Balkwill, J.K.T. Belam, H.E. Cann, and H.L. Webb, assistant electricians. Mr. Stearns was represented during the voyage out by Mr. A. Kelly.

At Payta, on February 7th, 1882, the staff was increased by the arrival of Messrs Smith, Rippon, and O’Brien coming from the Gulf of Mexico after completion of the Vera Cruz and Coatzocoalcos section.

During the laying of the Payta-Santa Elena section Messrs J. Rymer Jones and H.E. Cann kept watch at Santa Elena end, and during the laying of the Chorillos-Payta section, Messrs J. Rippon and H.L. Webb kept watch at Payta hut. These gentlemen remained at their respective stations till the “Silvertown” arrived on the coast. After completion of these two sections the “Dacia,” on February 20th left Callao on her homeward voyage, Messrs W.F. King, E. March Webb, W.F. O’Brien, and R. Balkwill, remaining at Lima, while Messrs Theop. Smith, Belam, and Daley, with all cable hands, went in “Dacia” to Concepcion, Chile, where they remained till “Silvertown” arrived on coast. The cable hands were taken to Concepçion as this place in regard to healthiness of climate and cheapness of living offered greater advantages than any other easily accessible part of the West Coast of South America.

On arrival of “Dacia” at Callao, Mr. G.A. Darling, analytical chemist, joined the expedition, having come out per Royal Mail via Panama. He, with Messrs J. K. Gray and C. Hawkins, after the “Dacia” had completed her work, joined the “Retriever” under Mr. E.W. Parsonê (manager of West Coast of America Cable Co.), and proceeded north to take soundings and make preliminary surveys of landing places along line of cable between Santa Elena and Salina Cruz.

Mr. Darling was engaged by the India Rubber Gutta Percha and Telegraph Works Company to analyse and report upon the nature of the bottom as shown by the specimens brought up by the various soundings, so that in laying the cable any ground the nature of which could prove injurious to the cable might be avoided.


The following staff went out in the “Silvertown”: Mr. M.H. Gray, engineer in charge; and Messrs H.M. Walter, W.L. Swift, and G.H. Bailey, assistant engineers; Mr. W.S. Seaton, electrician in charge; and Messrs A.E. Gilbert, E. Stallibrass, C. Bright, C.N.C. Evers, and J. Mathieson, assistant electricians. Mr. Stearns was represented during voyage out by Messrs W.Stearns, W. Clarkson, and J. Milne.

On arrival of “Silvertown” on coast, the staff and cable hands left by “Dacia” at Concepçion, and the staff at Lima joined her, Messrs Seaton and Daley going on shore at Lima. Mr. Seaton later on joined the “Silvertown” at Panama, Mr. Daley remaining at Lima.

On arrival of “Silvertown” at Callao Messrs Theop. Smith and J. Rymer Jones left the expedition on the Pacific side to meet the “International” at Jamaica for the Mexican extension expedition. Previous to arrival of “Silvertown” at Callao the “Retriever” had returned from the sounding trip to the north. The staff on her came ashore to await arrival of “Silvertown,” and Mr. Parsoné with “Retriever” went south to repair the Chorillos-Mollendo section.

During the alterations to the Payta-Santa Elena section, Mr. Rippon and Mr. Cann kept watch at the Santa Elena hut. Mr. H.L. Webb remaining at Payta.

On arrival of “Silvertown” at Payta, Mr. Robert Kaye Gray, chief of expedition, having come out by Royal Mail via Panama, joined the expedition on May 13th.

During the laying of the Santa Elena-Buenaventura section, Messrs. Rippon and Gilbert kept watch at Santa Elena hut, Mr. Cann returning on board. Mr. Rippon subsequently joined the “Silvertown” at Panama, leaving Mr. Gilbert at Santa Elena.

During the laying of the Buenaventura-Pedro Gonzales section, Messrs Balkwill and Evers kept watch in hut at Malaga Bay, Buenaventura. They remained here during the remainder of the expedition.

During the laying of the Pedro Gonzales-San Juan del Sur section, Messrs Parsoné and Bailey watched at Pedro Gonzales, assisted by Messrs. Morton and Phillips, operators belonging to the Central and South America Telegraph Company, and at the San Juan end Messrs E. March Webb, Darling, and Belam, kept watch.

During the laying of the San Juan del Sur-Libertad section, Messrs Rippon and Belam kept watch at San Juan hut, and Messrs H.E. Cann and Stallibrass at Libertad. Mr. Rippon subsequently went to Panama and thence to Lima, leaving Mr. Belam at San Juan.

During laying of Libertad-Salina Cruz section, Messrs. W.S. Seaton and Bright kept watch at Salina Cruz hut.

After the completion of cables and during the 30 days’ guarantee, the staff was distributed as follows:—

Lima,   Messrs. Rippon and Daley.
Payta,   Mr. H.L. Webb.
Santa Elena,   Mr. Gilbert.
Buenaventura,   Messrs. Balkwill and Evers.
San Juan del Sur,   Messrs. E. March Webb, Darling, and Belam.
Panama,   Messrs. R. Kaye Gray, Parson6, and O’Brien.
La Libertad,   Messrs. Cann and Stallibrass.
Salina Cruz,   Messrs. Seaton and Bright.

Messrs W.F. King and C. Hawkins were engaged in laying the Buenaventura River cables.

Messrs M.H. Gray, J.K. Gray, Walter, Bailey, and Mathieson, left for England on arrival of “Silvertown” at Panama, after completion of northern sections.

The various members of the staff left their respective stations en route for England or New York on the following dates:—

Sept. 6   Messrs M.H. Gray, J.K. Gray, Walter, Bailey, and Mathieson.
" 15   Messrs. Balkwill and Evers.
" 28   Messrs. Robert K. Gray, W.F. King, and O’Brien.
" 28   Messrs. Seaton and Bright.
Oct. 1   Messrs. Darling and Belam.
" 6   Messrs. Cann and Stallibrass.
" 8   Mr. H.L. Webb.
" 11   Mr. Gilbert.
" 12   Messrs. Rippon and Daley.
" 26   Mr. E. March Webb.

Mr. C. Hawkins joined Mr. E.W. Parsoné on “Retriever,” having accepted service with the West Coast of South America Telegraph Company.


[Pages 47-54]

The traffic on the Central and South American Co.’s cables will be derived from two sources, the local traffic and the North American and European. I think there can be little doubt that the whole of the latter traffic from the West Coast and even from Buenos Ayres will take this route once the land line across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is placed in good working order, owing to the low rates at which the Central and South American Company seem determined to work, for it is evidently the interest of the Transandine Telegraph Company, the West Coast of America Telegraph Company, the Mexican Cable Company, and the land line companies in the States to further the development of this through traffic. Of course the Western Brazilian, the Brazilian Submarine, and the West India and Panama Telegraph Companies will suffer in consequence of such a strong competition.

The great drawback to a good local traffic is to be found in the want of satisfactory internal telegraph communication. The state of the land lines in the Central American Republics is lamentable, and in Ecuador and Colombia there is little if any internal telegraph development. Notwithstanding this we find that Buenaventura in Colombia and Libertad in Salvador are both doing a good business. There should be a satisfactory traffic from Guayaquil when the land line connecting that town with Santa Elena (the cable station) is completed.

From Lima and Payta little local work is to be expected. Panama will not come up to the original expectations. San Juan del Sur may furnish a couple of messages per day at the outside, and Salina Cruz is merely a transmitting station between the end of the cable system on the Pacific side, and the land line across Tehuantepec to Coatzocoalcos on the Atlantic side, where the cable system in the Gulf of Mexico commences.

In connection with the land lines in Central America, I may state that there is no united action between the Republics for the improvement of the land lines connecting one state with another, for they are continually quarrelling, and many petty jealousies exist. To add to this there is a universal lack of funds, the land lines are of the roughest and most temporary construction, and the instruments of the oldest type, to say nothing of the want of energy among the officials and the ignorance of the employes. The government of Nicaragua engaged Mr. Welsford, late of the Central and South American Company, to inspect their land lines and to advise as to their improvement. With the delivery of his report, how ever, the matter has ended for the present, there being no money for re-construction. Should the land lines connecting San Juan del Sur with the interior of Nicaragua and with the adjoining state of Costa Rica be put in fair working order, there is every likelihood of San Juan proving a profitable station. I think that Realejo, to the north of San Juan, would have been found a better station for the cable so far as traffic is concerned. For more business is done there, it being a better port and nearer to the commercial centres of Nicaragua, such as Leon, than is the small bay and village of San Juan. During the time of the Transit Company, when passengers and goods were carried to California via Greytown, on the Atlantic side, the River San Juan, the Lake of Nicaragua, and the Bay of San Juan, there was considerable business at the latter place, but since this traffic is now carried on by the Pacific Railway in the states, and by the Panama Railway, the only vessels ever seen at San Juan are the bi-monthly coasting steamers which trade between Panama and the central American ports, touching at San Juan for the mails.

Libertad is a very little place, it being the only port of any importance in the Republic of Salvador, though there is no shelter for vessels. The best harbour in this Republic is at La Union, in the Gulf of Fonseca, and a railway is being constructed from here into the interior. Another railway is being built from Sonsonate, a port to the north of Libertad, into the interior, and a railway is talked of for Libertad. The capital, San Salvador, is only 30 miles from this place, but the roads are very bad. The small extent of land line existing in this Republic is in the usual unsatisfactory condition.

A question arose whether the cable should be landed at Libertad or at San José in Guatemala. A railway is being constructed at the latter place, but is progressing slowly, and will not for some considerable time touch any place of commercial importance. Considering the business capabilities of the two places, Libertad has been wisely chosen, though the latter will before long experience considerable rivalry from Sonsonate.

To revert again to San Juan del Sur. This place has more land line communication than any other point touched at by the cables, it being connected not only with the system traversing the State of Nicaragua, but also with the land line system of Costa Rica, the adjoining Republic. The line from San Juan to Costa Rica runs through a very sparsely populated country, and suffers through want of roads and from tropical vegetation. The linesmen in Nicaragua are paid by the day, with a very large deduction for every day the lines are down, but even this stimulus to prompt repairs does not prevent the lines being down for five or six days together.

The nominal capital of the Republic of Nicaragua is the town of that name, about 23 miles distant from San Juan, but there is no business done there. The business centre is Leon, and the political Managua. After Leon, Granada is the most important town. A railway is being constructed from Realejo to Leon and Granada, and has already made considerable progress.

The traffic at Panama is fair, but without the impetus given to all kinds of business by the requirements of the Canal Company would not meet the original expectations. There has been, I believe, a steady decline in trade at this place for some years. There is always a certain amount of through goods traffic, but the exorbitant freight charged by the Railway Company must cripple this trade to a great extent. There is no land line communication between Panama and the rest of the Republic {Colombia).

A railway is being constructed from this place into the interior, and will tap some very productive districts, and it is expected that the cable traffic will prove very good. The cable landing is at the mouth of the river Buenaventura, some 16 miles from the town. The cables are connected with the town by two river cables laid in the river. There is a good depth of water in the channel, but the navigation is difficult owing to the numerous sharp curves. The. district, of which, Buenaventura is the port, is one, of the richest in the Republic of Colombia.

Santa Elena is the cable landing for the town of Guayaquil, the principal port in the Republic of Ecuador. A land line connects the cables at Santa Elena with the town of Guayaquil about 90 miles distant. I expect considerable trouble will be experienced on the Guayaquil half of the land line, as it has to pass through dense forest, and cross many creeks and rivers much flooded during the rainy season. The Santa Elena half passes through. dry and open country. There are no land lines connecting Guayaquil with the rest of the Republic, and there is but little business with the interior, the frequent political revolutions paralysing business. The traffic, though fair, can never I imagine prove very good.

This Peruvian port before the war did a little business with the interior, but beyond a small export of cattle there can be no trade for many years, the immediate neighbourhood producing nothing. A railway connected Payta with an interior town called Piura, but this has been destroyed. The only land line communication was with Lima, and this never very good. Nothing much can ever be expected in the way of cable traffic from Payta.

Owing to the war all business at Lima has suffered great depression, and the European traffic of course has fallen off in consequence. The principal part of the local traffic is with the southern ports, and there is little or no traffic to be expected from the interior which can benefit the Central and South American cables. At present nearly all the traffic at Lima will come from the West Coast of America Telegraph Company, being messages to the States and Europe from such southern ports as Yquique and Valparaiso, and from the Atlantic side, viz., Buenos Ayres and Monte Video.

I think a mistake has been made in landing the cables at Payta instead of some such place as Jupe, Casma, Huanchaco, Pacasmayo, or Zamabayequl, between Lima and Payta. All these ports have rich neighbourhoods, principally sugar estates, and most of them do a large business in cattle. The sugar estates have increased in value owing to the improvements in machinery, and there is certain to be a large business done at these ports so soon as peace is assured, for they are situated in the richest, I may say the only fertile, part of the Peruvian coast.

I have omitted to mention that the land line between Salina Cruz on the Pacific side and Coatzocoalcos on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec gives constant trouble, it being down on an average two days a week. There are six intermediate stations, with three linesmen at each station, and they cannot keep the line in order owing to the dense vegetation.

The length of this land line is about 180 miles. Mr. France, the present manager on the coast, has commenced clearing the forest on each side of the line, to prevent the interruptions caused by falling trees. To be of any use this should be done for at least twenty yards on each side of the line, and from my experience of much the same sort of work in a tropical forest, I can safely predict he has a long and expensive undertaking before him.

The instruments supplied to the stations were the Double Current Morse, Thomson’s Reflecting Mirror, and the new form of Siphon Recorder, but eventually the last named instrument was exclusively used on both long and short sections. It gave great satisfaction, being simple in its mechanism, and the condenser capacity easily adjusted. The Siphon is suspended to a pair of small coils (having a total resistance of 150 ohms), vibrating between the extremities of a large permanent horse shoe compound magnet. These coils are suspended with fine silk threads to an arm overhanging the magnet. The clockwork for drawing off the tape is driven by a falling weight. The ink is not electrified, and occasionally there is some trouble at the start in getting the ink to run.

The speed obtained between San Juan del Sur and Panama, on the Recorder, a distance of 721 N.M., besides the section to Buenaventura always in circuit, was about 18 words per minute. Occasionally it was possible to work tolerably well between San Juan and Buenaventura with the T piece to Panama in circuit, a distance of 1028 N.M., not including the T piece, but owing to the frequent interruptions from Panama it was not found practicable for regular work. Between San Juan and Salina Cruz (the cable ends being connected at Libertad), a distance of 703 the speed was about 25 words per minute. This speed only represents about one third of the possible working speed of the cable. 12 Daniell cells were used at San Juan for working to Panama, and to Salina Cruz.

The ordinary Thomson’s Reflecting Mirror was used between San Juan and Buenaventura with 15 large size Lechanché Agglomerates, at a speed of about 15 words per minute. From the cable hut at Chorillos to Panama (intermediate stations connecting cable ends), a distance of 1674 N.M., about 8 words per minute could be obtained on mirror.

The usual plan for working through traffic was to work from Lima to Santa Elena, Payta joining ends, from Santa Elena to Panama, Buenaventura connecting cable ends, Panama to San Juan del Sur, and San Juan del Sur to Salina Cruz, Libertad connecting ends. At first when Buenaventura had a through message for States or Europe, Panama insulated and Buenaventura worked direct to San Juan, the same being done if San Juan had any messages for the South. When Panama wished to speak Buenaventura, San Juan insulated, Buenaventura doing the same if Panama wished to speak with San Juan. This plan being found to work very badly was soon given up, and now Panama transmits all messages.

The batteries which gave most satisfaction were those composed of the large size Lechanché Agglomerate cells. The best form of this cell appears to be that in which an earthenware jar contains a circular zinc nearly the size of the jar enclosing a round carbon block surrounded by six agglomerate rods. The resistance of this cell is about 0.12 ohms, the electromotive force about 1.55 volts; it is remarkably constant.

As a proof of the excellence of this cell, the same battery of 10 cells has been used day and night for more than two years in working the electric bells for the testing rooms and cable shops in our factory, without anything whatever being done to the cells except occasionally adding a little water, when this thorough evaporation became low, and the battery works now as well as at first.

Our cable ships, and the huts were supplied with this form of cell for copper resistance, and it was also used for the speaking instruments in the huts. The stations employed Daniell cells, but the universal opinion of the operators along the cables was in favour of the Lechanché, it being cleaner to handle, and giving less trouble to keep in order.


Last revised: 12 March, 2011

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