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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 Sherard Osborn
by Bill Glover


Built in 1878 by Scott and Co., Greenock.

Length 274.7 ft.  Breadth 32.2 ft.  Depth 21.0 ft.  Gross tonnage 1429.

Twin screw. Compound engines 900 hp. Schooner rig.

Admiral Sherard Osborn

Designed and built as a cable ship for the Eastern Extension, Australasia and China Telegraph Company. Launched 4 April 1878 and named after Rear Admiral Sherard Osborn, who died in 1875 after having been Managing Director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company from 1867 to 1874.

Fitted with standard paying out-picking up machinery, three cable tanks and bow and stern sheaves. Based at Singapore until transferred to the Eastern Telegraph Company in 1903.  Following the loss of Great Northern, Sherard Osborn moved to Zanzibar in July 1903, remaining there until 1919 when replaced by CS Cambria. At Zanzibar Sherard Osborn was responsible for the maintenance of cables running down the east coast of Africa from Aden to Durban.

Aden: Steamer Point. The Inner Harbour and Landing Pier.

The white ship is the Sherard Osborn.

The red roofed building is a sub office of the main cable station, used to relay last minute messages to and from ships in the harbour

CS Sherard Osborn at Zanzibar, 14 May 1910

This postcard was sent from Zanzibar in May 1910 by Francis Herbert Trethewey (1885-1963) to his brother Reg, and is reproduced here by kind permission of his great-niece, Sally Whiffing.

Trethewey (always known as Herbert or Bert) began his cable career with the Eastern Telegraph Company as a probationer in London in July 1902. In April 1903 he was transferred to the ETC’s main cable station and training school at Porthcurno, Cornwall, then back to London.

He was subsequently posted to various of the company’s cable stations: Aden; Alexandria; Durban; Fayal; Gibraltar; Seychelles; Suez; Vigo. He worked for the Eastern Telegraph Company (later one of the founding companies of Cable & Wireless) until his retirement in 1945.

According to his employment records, Trethewey was Electrician on board CS Sherard Osborn between March 1910 and January 1912.

Detail of CS Sherard Osborn

The ship was sold in 1921 to C. G. Smith and Company of Durban and converted into a factory ship producing fish oils. In 1937 the ship was sold to Mitchell Cotts & Co. (South Africa) Ltd. and renamed Città di Torino.

Sherard Osborn / Città di Torino was broken up in Savona, Italy in the first quarter of 1938.

Città di Torino awaiting breaking up in Savona, 1938
Image courtesy of Captain Paolo Piccardo

Full history of the ship at the Scottish Built Ships website.


Captain Worsley
1883 Hong Kong - Wusung, Shanghai, China

1884 Singapore - Hong Kong; Renewed large part of 1871 cable
1884 Hong Kong - Tonkin
1884 Hong Kong - Macau
1885 Flinders, Victoria - Low Head, Tasmania
Captain Worsley

Saddle Island - Port Hamilton

1889 Hong Kong - Saigon; Renewed large part of 1871 cable
1895 Australia - New Zealand; Renewed large part of 1876 cable
1897 Madras - Penang
1897 Manila - Capiz (Philippines)
1897 Taburam - Escalante (Philippines)
1897 Bacolod - Iloilo (Philippines)
1900 Foochow - Shanghai; Renewed large part of 1883 cable
1900 Tsingtau - Tschifu; 2 cables laid over this route
1900 Woosung - Tschifu
1903-1919 Maintenance work, based at Zanzibar

The Straits Times issue of 24 August 1878 had this report on the commissioning of the Sherard Osborn:

The Sherard Osborn is 270 feet long, 32 broad, and 23 deep. The twin screws are driven by engines of 900 horse pow­er nominal. The registered tonnage of the vessel is 875 tons, the gross tonnage, however, is 1,429 tons. There are four cable tanks, and water-tight bulkheads allow water ballast to be used to counteract the loss of weight when paying-out cable.

On Monday, 3rd June, in response to the invitation of Mr. John Pender, as chairman of the company, a large number of scientific gentlemen and others interested in the cause of electrical progress proceeded by special steamer to Greenwich to inspect the Sherard Osborn and the works of the company. The ship, fresh from the builders’ hands, and gaily decorated with bunting in honour of the occasion, excited the unqualified admiration of her visitors, who were none the less pleased that her fittings throughout betokened that strength and utility had not been sacrificed for the sake of mere outward effect. Admirably adapted for the performance of her special duties as a cable ship, the Sherard Osborn is however, not lacking in the elements of comfort necessary to those engaged in the arduous work of cable-laying in the burning climes for which she is destined.

The four large tanks were as yet empty. At the works, however, to which the visitors next proceeded, the cable about to be embarked was rapidly approaching completion, so that the elaborate process could be examined in all its stages. The experience gained during the past few years has shown that the deep sea cable has many foes, and a new feature in the construction of the one destined to form the first cargo of the Sherard Osborn had for its object the defeat of that most pertinacious enemy, the teredo navalis. For this purpose, amongst the eight coverings with which the precious copper is protected there has been introduced a wrapper of brass tape, and it is confidently anticipated that this final precaution will baffle even the teredo navalis.

Note: The “teredo tape” described in the article above had only just been introduced in 1878 by Henry Clifford, Chief Engineer of the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company of Enderby Wharf, Greenwich, where the Sherard Osborn was moored.

Last revised: 16 February, 2022

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