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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 Grappler
by Bill Glover


Built in 1880 by J. Laing and Company, Sunderland

Length 208.5 ft.  Breadth 29.3 ft.  Depth 16.2 ft. Gross tonnage 868

W. I. & P. Co's Cable Ship “Grappler

Designed and built as a cable repair ship for the West India and Panama Telegraph Company and based in the Caribbean until its loss in 1902.

On the 8th May 1902 CS Grappler was working off St. Pierre, Martinique, when Mount Pelée erupted. Grappler and seventeen other vessels were lost with all hands and the town of St. Pierre was completely destroyed.

The Wreck Site has an eyewitness account of the eruption, and more information on CS Grappler.

The New York Times had these subsequent reports:

25 May 1902

The West India and Panama Cable Company announces that it has chartered and properly fitted up the steamer Newington, which will leave London in about three weeks, to replace the cable repair steamer Grappler, which, with her entire crew, was lost during the first of the recent outbreaks of Mont Pelée. The Newington will take the place of the Grappler until a new steamer can be built.

More than a hundred miles of cable was lost aboard the Grappler. Four cable sections are now interrupted.

12 October 1902

Strands Lifted from 2,000 Fathoms of Water Where It Had Lain on Volcanic Ash.

ST. THOMAS, D.W.I., Oct. 11.—Repairs to the St. Lucia-Grenada cable were completed  yesterday. The cable was lifted from about 2,000 fathoms of water, and, owing to the fact that it was buried in volcanic mud, the strain was very great. The cable used in the repair work is valued at between £25,000 and $30,000.

The Lord Mayor of London, Sir Marcus Samuel, has donated $3,750 from the Mansion House Relief Fund to aid the families of the crew of the cable repair steamer Grappler, which was lost with all on board last May as a result of the eruption of Mont Pelée.


Built 1883 by Workman Clark & Co., Belfast.

Length 217.3 ft.  Breadth 31.9 ft.  Depth 15.4 ft. Gross tonnage 1,132

Newington was a commercial steamship operated by the New Lines Steamship Company of Leith. She had been fitted out for cable repair duties some time prior to the Grappler disaster, as a public health report from Santiago de Cuba, dated 26 March 1902, notes that “the British cable steamer Newington entered this port, eight days from Cienfuegos, without bill of health.”

The report of the fifty-first ordinary general meeting of the West India and Panama Telegraph Company describes the chartering of Newington as a temporary replacement for CS Grappler [The Electrician 23 November 1902]:

To supply the place of the “Grappler,” we have contracted with Messrs. Napier and Miller of Glasgow to build us a new ship, to be delivered in the Thames not later than May 31. It will be of somewhat larger tonnage than the “Grappler.” Meanwhile we had to provide another ship by way of stop-gap. We made many enquiries and entered into some fruitless negotiations, and at last we decided to charter the “Newington.”

She had recently been engaged in cable repairing operations in the West Indian waters. and was then on her way home from Cuba. She had on board her cable machinery and cable tanks, and those we arranged to hire. She was bare of everything else. Accordingly, to prepare her for sea. she had to be completely fitted out with stores and other equipments of various sorts. A large amount of cable for repairing purposes had to be procured and stowed in the tanks, and a good cable staff had also to be engaged. All this was no light and easy business to be carried through efficiently in a short space of time.

At the request of the Board, Mr. Brown took the heavy task upon his shoulders, and, acting throughout with Mr. Holmes, he set to work with such goodwill, as he does in everything which he undertakes, and with such good success, that the “Newington” had her stores and equipment on board and 83 miles of new cable, and a thoroughly efficient technical staff, and was ready for sea and under way on June 14, barely five weeks after we received tidings of the loss of the “Grappler.”

Since the “Newington” reached the West Indies she has repaired for us the Barbados duplicate cable and the original Grenada-Trinidad cable, both of them excellent operations and of great service to us, but as such work, fortunately, could be done in comparatively shallow water, it caused no exceptional delay or difficulty.

The tug-of-war began with the St. Lucia-Grenada cable. The “Newington” lifted that cable in 1,700 fathoms, nearly 2 miles of water, and she buoyed the St. Lucia end of it, but, unluckily, rough weather and the great depth of water, and the breaking of a pinion wheel, prevented her at that time from finishing the work, and it was not until later that that section was repaired and through communication restored. The “Newington,” when engaged in this operation, picked up a piece of cable which had been down about four years. that was twisted and crushed and mangled in a most serious fashion by volcanic action.

When the new pinion wheel had been cast, and the ship was again ready for sea, we thought it best for her to set to work next upon the St Lucia—St. Vincent cable, where the water is somewhat less deep. After several unsuccessful efforts, she lifted that cable in 1,500 fathoms, and buoyed the St. Lucia end of it, and laid in 31 knots of the new cable, and repaired the section on September 16, thus restoring communication to all stations, except, of course, Martinique. Most unfortunately, within 48 hours that section was again interrupted off the coast of St. Vincent, and not far from the Soufrière, manifestly, therefore, through some volcanic disturbance.

As the ship was on the spot the officials on board communicated with us, and then decided to make an attempt to repair that section again. They set to work, but in the midst of their operations, without a moment's warning. there was a most violent eruption of the Soufrière at St. Vincent, and it seems clear that the “Newington” barely escaped suffering the same fate as the “Grappler.” Like the “Roddam,” she sought and found safety in a precipitate flight, putting on all steam and forging full speed ahead.

Mr. Morrell, our superintendent in the West Indies, was on board at the time, and has written home a graphic description of the incident. Mr. Morrell adds to his account: “It would be absolute folly to attempt completing the St. Vincent-St. Lucia. repair at present.” Accordingly, we have suspended operations upon that section, though I may say we must endeavour to possess our souls in patience, and leave that section in repair until the return of a state of things less disturbing and perilous.

Newington remained in cable service until June 1903, when she was replaced with the newly built CS Henry Holmes. The ship returned to England from the West Indies and the charter was terminated.

Last revised: 28 January, 2015

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