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

Memorabilia & Ephemera

1865-66 Atlantic Cable Badge

This recently discovered souvenir item measures about 2" x 2" and is made of thin sheet metal, probably brass or copper. It is an embossed badge or plaque, and has the wording “LAYING THE ATLANTIC CABLE” around its border.

LAYING THE ATLANTIC CABLE
Photograph by Stewart Ash

It was found in 2020 on the beach at Strachur, a village on the east shore of Loch Fyne in Argyll and Bute, Scotland, and passed on by the finder to Crown Estate Scotland. They in turn sent it to the Atlantic Cable website for further research, as it is a previously unknown item.

As well as the wording, the border includes two symbols. The first is a double link, with two larger links connected by a smaller one, perhaps symbolizing the two continents connected by the cable. The decoration across the bottom edge of the badge may represent the seabed profile of the Atlantic Ocean between Ireland and Newfoundland, with a cable descending into it on each side (clearly visible on the left side, but partially missing in the corrosion loss on the right).

Another symbol somewhat like a fleur-de-lis is at the bottom center of the border, perhaps representing a two-prong grapnel, although upside down if that is what it is supposed to be.

The link symbol

The “fleur-de-lis” symbol

The main feature in the center of the badge is Great Eastern at sea. The illustration correctly shows four funnels for this period of the ship’s career, as one of the original five funnels had been removed during the conversion for cable laying in 1864.

A little way off from the big ship is a small three-masted vessel flying a flag at the stern; this would have been one of the support ships which performed operations near shore and also accompanied Great Eastern across the Atlantic while laying the cable from Valentia in Ireland to Heart’s Content in Newfoundland. This small ship appears to have a single funnel between the foremast and the main mast.

Great Eastern and support ship

There is nothing on the badge to indicate whether it was made in 1865 or 1866. The failure of the 1865 expedition somewhat dampened the enthusiasm for souvenirs, so it’s possible that it was produced after the successful laying of the cable in 1866.

One important question is, how did the badge end up on the beach at Strachur over 150 years after it was made?

The Atlantic cables were made in London, and Great Eastern had sailed from Sheerness, over 500 miles to the south of Loch Fyne, so it seems unlikely that anyone in this remote part of Scotland would have had any connection to the cable enterprise. However, my colleague Stewart Ash, a cable consultant and historian, suggests exactly that possibility!

Stewart recently wrote the definitive biography of Sir John Pender, “The Cable King,” one of the key figures in the 19th century cable industry in Britain. Born in Bon Hill near Glasgow in 1816, Pender became a very successful cotton merchant in Manchester and was an early investor in cable companies in the 1850s. Then in 1864, he was largely responsible for the organization and funding of the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company, formed by the merger of Glass, Elliot & Co and the Gutta Percha Company. Known as Telcon, this firm then contracted with the Atlantic Telegraph Company in 1865, and the Anglo-American Company in 1866, to lay the Atlantic cables using Great Eastern.

In 1865, Pender bought Minard Castle on Loch Fyne, and many of the Atlantic Telegraph Projectors visited him there in the summers, up to and including 1875, when the Penders sold the Minard estate. The Penders had a close association with the Campbells, and in 1870 the Campbells purchased the Strachur Park estate. It seems likely that the Penders and their guests may have visited Strachur, which is on the opposite shore of Loch Fyne from Minard Castle, about eight miles northeast by boat.

Loch Fyne is open to the sea, and Pender was able to sail to and from Minard Castle in his yacht, Sunbeam. Sir William Thomson, another key figure in the cable industry, also visited the Penders at Minard in his yacht Lalla Rookh. An excursion to Strachur by boat to visit the Campbells would have been just a short sail, far easier than the 34-mile road trip. Is it then possible that the badge was lost near Strachur by one of Pender’s family or guests while visiting the Campbells?

We may never know if this is the case, or if the badge has a completely different history, but if any site visitor recognizes this souvenir or knows anything further about it, I would appreciate an email using the link below.

Loch Fyne, showing the locations of Minard Castle and Strachur Beach
View at Google Maps

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Last revised: 7 December, 2020

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You can help - if you have cable material, old or new, please contact me. Cable samples, instruments, documents, brochures, souvenir books, photographs, family stories, all are valuable to researchers and historians.

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—Bill Burns, publisher and webmaster: Atlantic-Cable.com