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

HMS Amethyst
HMS Iris
by Bill Glover


Built at Plymouth Dockyard

Length 131 ft.  Breadth 41 ft.  Draught 10.75 ft.  Tonnage 923

A 26-gun 6th-rate frigate of the Spartan Class. The third Royal Navy vessel to carry the name.

Launched 7 December 1844 and commissioned July 1856 under the command of Captain Sidney Grenfell. Saw action mainly in the Far East. Laid up at Chatham at the end of 1860.

Loaned with HMS Iris to the Atlantic Telegraph Company in 1864, and its successor, The Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company (Telcon), in 1866 and 1868. Sold to Telcon on 16 October 1869.

On all three occasions, both ships were used as hulks to transport cable between the company’s Greenwich works and the Great Eastern at Sheerness.

HMS Amethyst on a 1972 Christmas Island stamp


Built at Pembroke Dockyard.

Length 131 ft.  Breadth 40.5 ft.  Draught 10.75 ft.  Tonnage 906

A 26-gun 6th-rate frigate of the Spartan Class.

Laid down September 1838, launched 14 July 1840 and completed at Chatham Dockyard 11 January 1841. Commissioned 20 August 1841 and saw action in the Far East.

Along with HMS Amethyst loaned to Telcon in 1864, 1866 and 1868, and sold to the company on 16 October 1869.

William Russell’s 1865 book, The Atlantic Telegraph, has this illustration by Robert Dudley showing Iris next to Great Eastern:

The old frigate Iris with her freight of cable alongside the Great Eastern at Sheerness. The cable passed from the hulk to the Great Eastern

A contemporary newspaper account gives these details:

The Lords of the Admiralty granted the loan of two sailing ships which had been “laid up in ordinary” (i.e. mothballed) at Chatham, HMS Amethyst and HMS Iris. These ships had to undergo considerable alterations to render them suitable for the work, portions of the main deck being removed fore and aft to make room for watertight tanks to hold the cable.

Log Book Vol 14. Article by Tom Lloyd: ShipStamps.co.uk
Pembroke Dockyard and the Old Navy” by Lt. Cdr. Lawrie Phillips.

Cableships Index Page

Last revised: 23 April, 2015

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