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

CS Agnes
by Bill Glover


Built in 1870 by Backhouse and Co., Middlesborough

Length 200 ft.  Breadth 29 ft. Depth 16.7 ft.  Gross tonnage 781

Purchased in 1870 by the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Co., while under construction at the shipyard. Fitted with two tanks, one forward 25 ft dia. by 12 ft. 6 ins deep, one aft 24 ft. 6 ins. dia. by 13 ft deep giving a total coiling capacity of 10,341 cu. ft. A single combined paying out-picking up machine was fitted forward and a single paying out machine aft. Sold to the British-Indian Extension Telegraph Co., following the 1871 Singapore - Saigon cable expedition. Transferred to the Eastern Extension, Australasia and China Telegraph Co., in 1873, and based at Singapore until 1886 when sold for commercial trading,  to  T. Rodenacker, a company registered in Danzig. Scrapped in 1901.


1870 Cephalonia - Zante: Cephalonia - Ithaca
1870 Santa Maura - Ithaca: Santa Maura - Corfu

  Capt. J. Moody

1870 Ithaca - Santa Maura: Zante - Trepito: Sunium - Thermia
  Capt. F. Worsley

Singapore - Saigon

1876 Cook Strait No 2: Whites Bay, South Island - Lyall Bay, North Island, New Zealand

According to this newspaper report in the Evening News (Sydney, Australia, 27 Feb 1877), the Cook Strait cable was not completed until March 1877:

The Cable Ship Agnes.

The Eastern Extension Australasia and Chinai Telegraph Company’s cable ship, the Agnes, may be expected here about the 20th of March. Mr. Grigor Taylor started yesterday morning early for Melbourne, en route to Wellington, New Zealand, to complete the work which has detained the ship there since November, viz., the laying of the second Cook’s Straits cable. If there should be fine weather in the Straits after the 6th March, it is expected that the work will be fnished by the 10th, and that the ship will be in Sydney by the 20th.

Later in 1877 CS Agnes repaired the 1869 Tasmanian cable (Evening News (Sydney, Australia, 12 June 1877):

The Tasmanian Cable.

The Agnes, repairing steamer, has picked up the broken cable, and the necessary repairs having been effected communication was restored yesterday afternoon with Tasmania.

CS Agnes made further repairs to this cable in December 1879.

An 1880 article in the Illustrated Sydney News and New South Wales Agriculturalist and Grazier gives some later history of CS Agnes:

In Johnstone’s Bay, Sydney Harbour, lies a vessel, the commercial and scientific, nay, political importance of which is little suspected by the hundreds of passengers which daily use the Balmain ferry boats, for the screw steamer Agnes possesses few external features to lead the uninitiated to perceive that her work is of a nature very different to that in which most vessels are engaged. She is of about 900 tons capacity, and was built on the Tyne about twelve years ago, and was specially fitted as a cable ship. She was for some time employed connecting the Greek Islands, completing the link of communication that connects them with Athens; but when the Eastern Extension Australasia and China Telegraph Company extended their lines to Singapore, she was selected for that station, and worthily performed her work for seven years, in maintaining tho several lines radiating from that colony.

The Agnes is commanded by Captain G.R. Sims, for several years of the s.s. Great Eastern while she was employed cable-laying, and an officer of considerable experience in cable work in the Atlantic and on the China coast. Mr. Jas. Ronald McLean is chief engineer, having charge also of the elaborate machinery we see on the fore and after deck. Mr. McLean was for several years Chief Paddle Engineer of the Great Eastern, and accompanied her in all her cable expeditions. The Electrical work is in charge of Mr. W. Gregor Taylor, who is also superintendent of the New Zealand section of the Company’s cables. He always accompanies the ship when she goes to sea repairing the cables under his control. Before being selected representative of the Company here, Mr. Taylor was for some years in the Admiralty, for three years in the Telegraph Construction Co., making and laying cables in all parts of the world, and subsequently spent three years at the cable stations on the Spanish coast, in the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

The work of the Agnes is exclusively with the cable between this colony and New Zealand. It may be remembered that the Colonies of Australia had enjoyed direct telegraphic communication with the world for five years before the like boon was extended to our Island sister Colony, New Zealand. In December, 1875, the cable ships Hibernia and Edinburgh arrived in our port with the cable to be submerged between this colony and New Zealand, and, early in 1876 the work was completed, and congratulatory messages passed between the respective Governors. Fitly chosen were the two landing places, strangely allied as they were with the part France played in discoveries in these southern seas. On our side the cable was brought ashore and fixed in that part of Botany Bay known as La Perouse, on the spot where that French navigator careened the Astrolabe, and fitted her for her last ill-fated voyage. On the New Zealand coast the cable was landed, and is worked from the beach, under the shadow of Pepin Island-close to D’Urville Point, not far from the French Pass—places whose name recalls the earliest of French dynasties, and the unhappy days when the century was young, and French and English flags were at bitter enmity “from Indus to the Pole.” Profiting by the experience and fate of former long cables, the two contracting colonies of New Zealand and New South Wales, with commendable foresight, stipulated with the Eastern Extension Australasia and China Telegraph Company, which laid and worked the cable, that a cable ship, fitted for repairing work, should be stationed on the adjacent coasts, at any port not further distant than Brisbane. For six months after the opening of the line the s.s. Edinburgh was stationed here; afterwards an exchange of stations was made between the same Company’s other repairing steamer Agnes, which for seven years, had been performing a similar duty at and around Singapore.

In 1876 the Company kindly lent the Agnes to the New Zealand Government to lay a new cable connecting the North and Middle Islands across the stormy Cook’s Straits, a work which was promptly and excellently performed.

Last revised: 23 August, 2016

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