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

CS Amberwitch
by Bill Glover


Published in the Illustrated London News of 13 September 1873, this shows Amberwitch hauling in cable into which a whale had become entangled. See the full story below.

Built in 1862 by Sir James Laing and Company, Sunderland

Length 175.0 ft  Breadth 27.0 ft  Depth 16.5 ft  Gross tonnage 441

Launched as the Charente and purchased in 1864 by the Indian Government, renamed Amberwitch and fitted out with two cable tanks, bow and stern sheaves and paying out-picking up machinery under the supervision of Sir Charles Bright, for cable duties in the Persian Gulf. In service until 1879 when replaced by Patrick Stewart (1).


1865 India
1866 India - Ceylon
With CS Tweed, Kirkham, Assaye, Marion Moore:
1864 Persian Gulf: Gwadar - Karachi
Gwadar - Cape Mussendom - Bushire - Fao
With CS Tweed, Calcutta:
1869 Bushire - Jask


A singular accident took place, on July 10 [1873], in that part of the Indian Ocean which extends between Western India and the shores of Muscat and Oman, the south-eastern provinces of Arabia, near the entrance to the Persian Gulf. The section of the Persian Gulf Submarine Telegraph, off the Beloochistan (Beluchistan, now in Pakistan)) coast, from Gwadar (Gwadur, now in Pakistan) to Kurrachee, (Karachi) was suddenly interrupted in its working. To find what was the matter, HMS Amberwitch, under the command of Captain Bishop, was dispatched next day from Kurrachee, in the direction indicated by the tests of electric communication, arriving at the supposed place of the fault in forty hours after the occurrence of the interruption.

After grappling the cable and picking up a short length towards the fault, it became evident, from the increased strain, that the cable had fouled something on the bottom, as the deck-engine, unassisted, was quite unable to bring the cable in; but on hauling it from all points of the compass the obstruction appeared suddenly to give way; and the body of a whale was brought to the surface, firmly secured by two and a half turns of the cable around its tail. Many of the outer wires of the cable were broken and twisted; and the conductor of the cable was broken.

The cable had evidently been hanging some distance in a bight over a sudden depression in the bottom, and the only explanation that can be offered is that the whale, while rubbing itself to get rid of the parasites that attach themselves to these animals, had turned suddenly in passing through the bight, and had thus twisted the cable round its body.

It is worthy of mention that a fault occurred about the same place a few years ago, when the cable broke while being hauled in. From the manner in which the cable was found to be twisted, it was always supposed that the damage had been caused by an anchor, but it is more than probable that a whale was then as now, the author of the mischief.

The cable for more than fifty or sixty yards in each direction from the fault was perfectly bright, but not worn, presenting the appearance of having been constantly rubbed against some soft substance. About two thirds of the whale, when raised to the surface, remained still uneaten by the sharks; but when, after completing the repairs of the cable, those employed in this work returned to the same place, they found nothing left of the whale but its tail and 14 ft. of its backbone.

Mr. Manow, the electrician, has furnished this account; and our sketch is contributed by Mr. Klingelhöfer, purser of the Amberwitch.

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Last revised: 2 September, 2015

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