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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 Edward Wilshaw
by Bill Glover

CS Edward Wilshaw, the largest of the cable repair fleet owned by Cable & Wireless, setting out on her maiden voyage on 28 July 1949 from Surrey Commercial Docks to Mombasa, via Plymouth, Gibraltar and Suez.


Built in 1949 by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd., at a reported cost of £300,000.

Length 313 ft 2 in.
Breadth 41ft 2 in.
Draught 19 ft.
Gross tonnage 2522

Built for Cable and Wireless for cable repair duties. Three tanks were fitted, No 1, 27 ft by 13 ft; No’s 2 & 3, 28 ft by 13 ft, giving a capacity of 18,850 cubic feet of cable.

Three bow sheaves of 3 ft 6 in. diameter were fitted, but no stern sheaves. The bow sheaves were later replaced with ones 6 ft diameter. The cable machinery was fitted on the main deck.

Based at Mombasa, Kenya, during the 1950s. 1965-70 based at Gibraltar; 1970-79 covered Australasian waters, the Pacific Ocean and the West Coast of America.

CS Edward Wilshaw was scrapped in 1979.

This article from the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia, 28 January 1950) was published shortly after the launch of CS Edward Wilshaw:

Most Modern Cable Ship
by Douglas R.A. Alexander

The ocean cable has not been outmoded by beam wireless. Unlike, the latter, which is affected by atmospheric conditions, cables go on working a full 365 days of the year. And now science has taken a hand in facilitating repairs and locating breaks.

A new ship recently hoisted the Blue Peter in Surrey Commercial Docks London, preparatory to sailing to Mombassa. She was the cable ship, Edward Wilshaw — 2400 tons of all that is new in the cable repairs scheme, and named after Sir Edward Wilshaw, the last chairman of Cable and Wireless before nationalisation overtook the company two years ago.

She joined a fleet of ships whose work is seldom brought before the public eye.

The fleet has to maintain a 155,000 miles network of cables connecting the various parts of the Empire, as well as some points outside it.

Many people think that cables are things of the past — that this is the age of radio. The truth is that a cable laid away back in 1890 can still carry messages 365 days of the year, while a radio beam circuit may be “off the air” for hours, even days, because of unfavourable atmospheric conditions. The traffic of the beam wireless has then to be diverted through the cable circuit.


During the war the Allies would have been hard pressed at times for lines of communication if there had been no cable network, over which the most secret of signals passed because it was impossible to tap them.

When a cable is broken through a volcanic eruption on the sea bed or by the ever present chemical action of corrosion, the ship’s job is to put through a repair on the spot as soon as possible. The job may be hundreds of miles from the nearest land. So very accurate navigation is required to bring the vessel over a certain spot under adverse conditions.

When you consider that cables are laid in any depth of water from a few fathoms down to 3,500 fathoms, (3½ miles), and that the cable itself is only about 2½ inches. in diameter, the difficulties of navigation can be realised.

That was the reason for the Edward Wilshaw being fitted out with the most modern aids to navigation so far invented. These machines include two echo sounding machines, one sounding to a depth of 700 fathoms, and the other to a depth of 2250 fathoms.


These machines work by sending out an electrical impulse from the bottom of the ship which is reflected back to the ship by the ocean bed. The time taken to return gives the depth of water.

For greater depths than this (over 2500 the echo sounder is not too accurate) a wire sounding machine is carried. This machine can drop a lead to a depth of 3,500 fathoms.

The use of radar in this ship will give the officer of the watch a much easier task than his predecessors. In earlier days it caused much eye-strain to keep a mark buoy in sight when, because of bad weather, work had to be abandoned and the ship hove to.

Now the officer will be able to keep in contact with the buoy by radar without discomfort to himself.

The ship’s installations would be hard to surpass in any vessel of her size. Within a hull 311 ft. long and a 41 ft. beam (giving a storage capacity of 18,600 cubic ft.) the builders have managed to stow an electrician’s dream.

She has three steam 40 kwt. generators, plus a diesel one of 35 kwt, an electrician’s workshop, an engineer’s workshop, a blacksmith’s shop and forge, and an all-electric laundry, with a laundry man to work it.

This may seem a waste of space to old hands, but as she carries a crew of 105 (18 officers, 10 petty officers and 77 ratings); and can stay at sea up to seven weeks, something must be done to keep up a supply of clean linen and clothes.

As all cable repairs are done over the bow of the ship, the foredeck becomes the working deck. Thus good lighting is required in order that work can be proceeded with regardless of the time of day.

In the case of the Edward Wilshaw special floodlights are fitted so that every corner of the deck is lit up as though the sun never set. Two 24-inch searchlights are fitted for the picking-up of buoys at night.

The bridge is of the modern type and completely enclosed. The deck officer, conning the ship during cable work, has at hand a twenty-line telephone system linking up every part of the ship with the bridge. The vessel is also wired for music, which is relayed from a little ante-room off the dining saloon. Perhaps it is a case of “music while you work” even on the high seas.


The Edward Wilshaw is commanded by Captain H.W.M. Milne, D.S.C., who was with the company for many years and “stood by” practically throughout the period of building so that everything would be precisely as  specified.

The twenty-first cable ship  built by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson, of Tyneside, the vessel carries a crest which shows Neptune holding a key instead of his usual trident. It is the design of her chief officer  (Mr. Muckleston).

Article text courtesy of the National Library of Australia's Trove digital newspaper archive.


CS Edward Wilshaw at Mombasa, 1961
Image courtesy of Mike Breeze

Captain Harold W.M. Milne
The first Commander of the Edward Wilshaw, Captain Milne had a long and distinguished career in the service of the Eastern Telegraph Company.

Barry Waterhouse
Barry Waterhouse, whose memories of the cable industry may be seen on the Recorder (3) page, joined the Edward Wilshaw in 1955 at Aden, the ship’s station being Mombasa at that time, and stayed with her until November 1956 when he returned to the UK.

Peter Edwards

Pete Edwards’ father, Peter Anthony John Edwards, served on the Edward Wilshaw in 1953 as First Mate, and Pete sends this weather reports map from the Wilshaw drawn by his father:

Image courtesy of and copyright © 2006 Pete Edwards

John G. Wells

Tim Wells’ grandfather, John G. Wells, joined Cable & Wireless at about age 20 and spent many years living and working in Africa as a cable engineer. He eventually returned to the UK, where he died in 2003 aged 97.

Tim’s father, Michael Wells, was a commercial artist and creative director of a highly successful advertising agency, and in 1959 he painted this watercolour of the Edward Wilshaw in dry dock at Durban:

CS Edward Wilshaw in dry dock, Durban, South Africa, 1959
Watercolour by Michael Wells

Image courtesy of and copyright © 2011 Tim Wells

Last revised: 15 October, 2012

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