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

Cable Stamps - Pacific Cable 1902-26, COMPAC,
TPC1, TPC 3, SAT 1 & 2

Thanks to Bill Glover for providing the stamp images and text for this page.

All material on this page is copyright © 2004 Bill Glover


Colonia Ascension 50p 1999.JPG (37146 bytes) India Rubber Gutta Percha Cover.JPG (53089 bytes)
Faraday (2) Barbados 45c 1994.JPG (33831 bytes) CPR Telegraph Frank 1887.JPG (34040 bytes)
Sir Sandford Fleming Canada 12c.JPG (33472 bytes) Pacific Cable Board Office Fiji 3c 1979.JPG (35172 bytes)
Stephan Ivory Coast 125f 1986.JPG (47117 bytes) Dominia Liberia 25c 1976.JPG (54525 bytes)
 Anglia Nauru 7c 1977.JPG (23705 bytes) Iris Norfolk Is 30c 1968.JPG (27681 bytes) Anglia Nauru 20c 1977.JPG (23023 bytes)


Ascension 1999 50p CS Colonia
Australia 1898   India Rubber, Gutta Percha & Telegraph Works cover
Barbados 1994 45c CS Faraday (2)
Canada 1887   Canadian Pacific Railway Telegraph Frank
Canada 1977 12c Sir Sandford Fleming
Fiji 1979 3c Pacific Cable Board Cable Station (Now Fiji Telecomms)
Ivory Coast 1986 125f CS Stephan
Liberia 1976 25c CS Dominia
Nauru 1977 7-20c CS Anglia
Norfolk Island 1968 30c HMCS Iris

The landing of the British Australian Telegraph Company submarine cable in Australia in 1871 renewed the campaign for a state-owned Pacific cable. Sir Sandford Fleming, chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway, was the man responsible for the idea. The Dominion governments held a conference in 1877; while a decision to proceed was not taken, suggestions for a route were invited. The only condition being that the cable had to land on British territory. To make this possible Fanning Island was formally annexed in 1888. The route selected was Bamfield, Vancouver Island - Fanning Island - Fiji - Norfolk Island. From Norfolk Island, two cables were laid. One went to Southport, Queensland, with a landline to Sydney, while the other landed at Doubtless Bay, Auckland.

Pacific Cable Board Cable Station,
Southport, Queensland, Australia

It was decided to lay the Bamfield-Fanning Island section in one continuous length. At the time no cable ship existed that could carry the cable to do this, so the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company had CS Colonia built. Laying of the 3459 nautical mile long cable began at Bamfield on 18 September 1902, reaching Fanning Island on 6 October.

CS Anglia laid all the sections from Fanning Island to Australia and New Zealand during 1902

8-18 March Southport - Norfolk Island 837 nm.
20-25 March Doubtless Bay - Norfolk Island 519 nm.
3-10 April  Norfolk Island - Fiji 980 nm.
17-31 October Fanning Island - Fiji 2046 nm.

From Bamfield messages were sent over the Canadian Pacific Railway Telegraph to Montreal, from there to Newfoundland, then via a trans Atlantic cable company to Ireland and finally to England.

In 1912 HMCS Iris, built to maintain the Pacific cable, diverted the Norfolk Island - Doubtless Bay cable into Auckland. At the same time CS Silvertown, owned by the India Rubber, Gutta Percha and Telegraph Works Ltd., laid a cable from Sydney to Auckland. The company manufactured the 1225 nm cable at their factory at Woolwich Reach on the Thames.

In 1923 CS Stephan laid a cable from Southport to Sydney to replace the land line and a duplicate cable from Fiji to Auckland. This cable was made by the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Telcon) at Greenwich.

In 1926 the Pacific Cable Board decided to lay a loaded cable from Fiji to Bamfield. The Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company was awarded the contract for supplying and laying the Bamfield - Fanning Island section. As with the 1902 cable, this cable was to be laid in one piece. So once again a new cable ship, CS Dominia, was built to carry and lay the new cable. Loaded cables had an additional winding of "Mumetal" (UK) or "Permalloy" (USA) around the central conductor to improve transmission speeds.

The contract to manufacture and lay the Fanning Island - Fiji section was awarded to Siemens Brothers, who manufactured the cable at their Woolwich factory. CS Faraday (2) was used to lay the cable.


Fanning Island Cable Station.JPG (78609 bytes)

Cable Station

Fanning Island Cover 1944.JPG (91893 bytes)

Cover from a member of the cable station staff

Fanning Island is one of the main Line Islands and is situated about 1600 miles east of Tarawa and about 150 miles north west of Christmas Island. Known as Tabuaeran locally, it was discovered on 11 June 1798 by Edmund Fanning, Captain of the US brig Betsy, on a voyage to China.

In 1846 two British subjects, Messrs. Lucett and Collie, who had been living in Tahiti, landed on the uninhabited island with a number of natives to harvest coconuts. They sold the rights to C.B. Wilson in 1851, he later sold them on to Captain Henry English. On 7 April 1857 English applied to the British Consul in Honolulu for permission to hoist the British flag on the island. Consent was given. Formal possession of the island was taken in 1861 by HMS Alert and annexation by HMS Caroline took place in 1888 when plans were being drawn up to lay a cable across the Pacific.

In 1859 English entered into a partnership with William Greig and George Bicknell and these three were joined by William Owens, owner of Washington Island, in 1860. Owens left the following year and English retired in 1864. Messrs. Greig and Bicknell were confirmed as lawful owners of both Fanning and Washington Islands by the British Consul in Honolulu on 2 September 1864. The Greig Bicknell partnership lasted until 1906 when they sold out to Father Rougier who in turn sold it on to Fanning Island Plantations Ltd., a Burns Philp subsidiary.

Like Cocos, Fanning Island received a visit from the German Navy. On 7 September 1914 the cruiser SMS Nurnberg, accompanied by SMS Leipzig, approached Fanning Island, flying the French flag. Landing an armed party the Germans set about wrecking equipment and cutting the two cables. They also took 3000 gold sovereigns from the safe, used to pay the staff, plus £71 in stamps and cash from the Post Office. Shortly after this incident the Nurnberg was sunk, with all hands, in an engagement with the Royal Navy known as the Battle of the Falkland Islands.

The decision to land COMPAC at Hawaii instead of Fanning Island brought about the closure of the cable station at the end of 1963. In 1964 it was taken over by the Hawaiian Oceanographic Institute as a Pacific Equatorial Research Laboratory for the study of Equatorial Currents.


COMPAC Aus .JPG (40587 bytes) COMPAC Australia 2-3 1963.JPG (23903 bytes)
COMPAC Fiji.JPG (41425 bytes) Retriever (5) Fiji 1s 1963.JPG (31679 bytes)
COMPAC NZ.JPG (46714 bytes) COMPAC NZ2.JPG (25555 bytes)
COMPAC GB.JPG (43414 bytes) COMPAC GB2.JPG (27991 bytes)
 COMPAC Folder.JPG (166054 bytes)  Souvenir Folder issued for the opening of COMPAC on 3 December 1963 which contained four cards for the four countries issuing COMPAC stamps. The cable ship shown is CS Retriever COMPAC GB Cancelled.JPG (36908 bytes)

COMPAC was part of a scheme to link the major countries of the Commonwealth with a round the world telephone cable. The route being, UK, South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and back to the UK. The decision of South Africa to leave the Commonwealth, along with the political situation that existed between India and Pakistan brought about a radical overhaul of the scheme.

The first part was CANTAT 1, laid in 1961. The Canadian section, 400 nm long with 20 repeaters, ran from Corner Brook, Newfoundland to Grosses Reach, Quebec and was laid by Alert (4). HMTS Monarch (4) laid the 2100 nm of cable from Oban, Scotland to Hampden, Newfoundland in three stages, during April, June and November 1961. HMTS Ariel laid the Scottish shore ends and CS Albert J. Myer the Newfoundland shore ends. All of the submarine cable was manufactured by Submarine Cables Ltd., Greenwich. The trans Newfoundland cable 65 nm in length was supplied by Standard Telephone and Cables Ltd., Greenwich.

The installation of COMPAC began with the laying of the Auckland and Sydney shore ends by CS Retriever (5) in April 1962. Then HMTS Monarch (4) laid the 1273 nm fifty repeater cable during June. This section opened for traffic in July 1962. The 1260 nm fifty repeater Auckland - Suva section followed in October 1962, with the same vessels carrying out the work. The Suva - Hawaii - Port Alberni cable 5500 nm in length with 218 repeaters, involved HMTS Monarch (4), CS Mercury and CS Retriever, the latter laying the shore ends. The final splice was made on 16 October 1963 with the system opening for traffic on 3 December 1963. Submarine Cables Ltd. manufactured 5500 nm of lightweight cable and 360 nm of armoured cable, 93 complete repeaters and 231 repeater housings. Standard Telephone and Cables Ltd. supplied 2800 nm of cable and 231 repeater units.

The link across Canada was along the Canadian Pacific Railway microwave system to Montreal and then to Grosses Reach, then via CANTAT 1 to the United Kingdom.

The capacity of COMPAC was eighty telephone circuits each of which could carry twenty two telegraph circuits.

The cable has been abandoned but the section between Hawaii and Fiji is used for scientific research.

The GB COMPAC stamp overprinted CANCELLED in red was attached to the Philatelic Bureau Bulletin and could not be obtained in any other way.


 TPC 1 Japan cancellation.JPG (21935 bytes)  TPC1 Japan 10y 1964.JPG (26558 bytes)


Japan   1964     Special cancellation dated 19 June 1964
Japan   1964    10y    TPC 1 with Specimen Overprint   

TRANS PACIFIC CABLE 1:- On 18 June 1964 the first trans Pacific telephone cable was completed. The 5282 nm section from Hawaii to Japan via Midway, Wake and Guam, was laid by CS Long Lines during the first five months of that year. At Hawaii it linked up with COMPAC and HAW 1. The cable was manufactured by Standard Telephone and Cables Ltd., England, Western Electric, USA and the Ocean Cable Company, Japan. The 276 repeaters were manufactured by Western Electric.

TPC3 Japan 62y 1989.JPG (26125 bytes)


Japan       1987         62y         TPC 3 Cable route

This was the first fibre optic cable across the Pacific, running from Hawaii, where it linked up with HAW 4, to Japan via Midway and Guam with a branch to the Philippines. Laying was carried out by CS Long Lines and CS KDD Maru.


Cable map Ascension 20p 1993.JPG (30697 bytes)


Ascension    1993    20p     Route of SAT 1

As mentioned in the COMPAC section South Africa left the Commonwealth in 1961 and so missed out on the Commonwealth telephone cable. To overcome this a new company, 'The South Atlantic Cable Company', was formed in South Africa by the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa and American Cable & Radio.

They awarded a contract to Standard Telephone and Cables Ltd to manufacture and lay a co-axial telephone cable between Sesimbra, Portugal and Melkbosstrand, South Africa. This was laid in 1968. The cable, known as SAT 1, was laid in four sections.

The following section was laid by CS Mercury.

Melkbosstrand, South Africa - Georgetown, Ascension 2594 nm with 277 repeaters.

The following sections were laid by HMTS Monarch (4).

Georgetown, Ascension - Baia da Mordeira, Cape Verde Islands 1698 nm with 179 repeaters.
Baia da Mordeira - Santa Cruz, Tenerife 856 nm with 91 repeaters.
Santa Cruz - Sesimbra, Portugal 736 nm with 78 repeaters.

CS John W. Mackay laid the shore ends.

The cable carried 360 telephone circuits, opened for traffic in February 1969 and was taken out of service in June 1993.

To provide a link to the UK for SAT 1, the GPO using HMTS Monarch (4) laid a cable from Goonhilly, Cornwall to Sesimbra, Portugal in 1969. The 951 nm cable and 128 repeaters were manufactured by Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd., Greenwich.


Built 1944 Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd.

Length 252.0 ft Breadth 36.4 ft Depth 22.3 ft Gross tonnage 1538

HMS Bullfrog was used for harbour defence work. In 1946 the vessel was sold to Cable & Wireless Ltd., renamed CS Retriever (4) and used for cable repair work. In 1961 she was sold to the Commercial Cable Company who named her CS Cable Restorer. The South Atlantic Cable Company purchased her in July 1972 to act as repair ship, for SAT 1, based at Cape Town. Taken out of service in 1993 and given to the Simonstown Maritime Museum.


 Vercors Ascension 25p 1993.JPG (31109 bytes)  Vercors Ascension 30p 1993.JPG (31061 bytes) Vercors Ascension 70p 1993.JPG (28933 bytes)

Ascension    1993     25p, 30p, 70p    CS Vercors off Ascension

In 1992 it was decided to replace SAT 1 with a fibre optic cable to be known as SAT 2. The cable ran from Funchal, Madeira and El Medano, Tenerife, to Melkbosstrand, South Africa.

The SAT 2 system was supplied by STC and Alcatel. STC provided the 62 regens (repeaters) from MLK north, as well as the terminal equipment at MLK. Submarcon provided the remaining 20 regens to FUN (18) & MED (2) as well as the BU (Branching Unit). Alcatel provided the 9500 km (5900 nm) of cable and the terminal equipment at the northern stations.

CS Vercors laid 5788 km of cable and 49 repeaters as follows. Melkbosstrand to repeater 18 and then from Funchal and Medano to repeater 51. Work commenced on 10 May 1992 and finished on 11 October 1992. The balance of the cable from repeater 18 to repeater 50, 3712 km and 33 repeaters was laid by CS Sovereign. Capacity is 15360 channels. The cable opened for service on 29 March 1993.

The above set of four stamps was issued to celebrate the 25 years of service of SAT 1. Information supplied by the Crown Agents stated, at the time of issue, that the vessel depicted was CS Sir Eric Sharp belonging to at that time Cable & Wireless (Marine) Ltd., now owned by Global Marine Ltd. The three values 25p, 30p, 70p show CS Vercors landing a shore end off Ascension but this cable did not land on Ascension and CS Vercors had not been built when SAT 1 was laid.


CS Sovereign at Global Marine Systems Ltd. depot, Portland Harbour, Dorset, England. © Bill Glover, UK 2003

Built 1991 Van de Giessen de Noord, Netherlands.

Length 127.3 m Breadth 21 m Depth 7 m Gross tonnage 11242

Built for BT Marine Ltd. When Cable & Wireless (Marine) Ltd took over the BT cable fleet ownership of CS Sovereign was taken over by BT Forty Ltd. C&W acted as managers and operators of the vessel. When Global Marine Ltd. took over the C&W cable fleet similar conditions applied. The vessel's main duties are on Atlantic cable maintenance. Her home port is Portland, Dorset, UK.

Many additional stamps are shown on the pages linked from the Stamps Index page

Last revised: 12 March, 2013

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