Victorian London - Communications - Telegraph - Laying the Atlantic Cable


    The several extensions of the Electric Tele­graph present rare combinations of science and the arts, which are fraught with interest- Of the submarine cable which is to connect the Old and New Worlds the public has already heard much; but comparatively few persons are aware that it differs in structure, weight, and other conditions from most of the ropes hitherto laid, and embraces several valuable improvements suggested by suc­cesses or failures with previous lines.   
    The cable from Dover to Calais, that of the Magnetic Telegraph Company between Eng­land and Ireland, and others less generally known, being laid for the greater part of their length in comparatively shallow water, where the consideration of danger from anchors is a very grave point to he met, weigh seven or eight tons to the mile and are of strength sufficient to resist almost any strain to which they are liable, except, perhaps so enormous and exceptional a force as that to which the Ostend rope was subjected in the recent storms, when a large ship held on to the cable for a long time, but finally broke it asunder by the tremendous power of the gale. The injury was repaired on the renewal of fair weather, and the rarity of any interruption happening to lines of such calibre (this being the only instance of accident occurring to any of the stronger kinds of rope, while those of a lighter character laid in similar depths to the Hague and elsewhere have been frequently repaired, and require a large annual outlay for their maintenance) may be accepted as evidence of the sound judgment exercised in the selection of a heavy class of rope to span frequented and shallow seas.
    Near the shores of Newfoundland and Ireland, and until the depth is so increased as to be far beyond any risk of danger from anchorage or the grounding of icebergs, the Atlantic cable will ho stronger even than the most massive rope yet laid; but in the chief portion of the route, where the great depth bears with its disadvantages and difficulties the advantage of perfect rest and security for the wire when laid, the weight will not exceed a ton per mile.
    The Atlantic cable may be divided into two parts, the core and the armour—the former being the conductor to be actually employed in the transmission of electrical sensations under the
ocean between Europe and America, the latter only a protective and strengthening assistant whereby to deposit the insulated wire at the bottom of the sea- The core is composed of seven copper wires of the gauge known as No. 22, wound spirally together so as to form a strand or cord; the object of this arrangement, instead of a single wire of the same sectional area, being to provide against the possibility of any break of continuity taking place in the metal. This strand, which will stretch twenty per cent of its length, is covered with three layers of the purest gutta percha.
    The core of this gigantic cable (2500 miles in length) is now in the course of manufacture, tinder the superintendence of Mr. Samuel Statham, at the extensive works of the Gutta Percha Company, Wharf-road, City-road. London. The outer protection of iron wire has been committed to two eminent firms—viz., Messrs. Newall and Co., of Gateshead; and Messrs. Glass, Elliott, and Co., of East Greenwich. The core is conveyed to East Greenwich upon large reels, each containing rather more than a mile of wire, and there being placed on standards in a lower floor of the factory, the reels being so arranged as to allow of the wire being readily drawn off. Messrs. Glass and Co.’s works were erected in 1854 for the express purpose of manufacturing submarine telegraph cables. They have the advantage of a river frontage of 200 feet~ with great facilities for coiling the cables directly on board vessels lying within a distance easily connected by a floating platform. The depth of the wharf from the river front to the manufactory is 400 feet, and in this area are sunk tanks capable of containing from 2000 to 3000 miles of cable, with ready means of admitting water from the river to submerge the cable from time to time during the progress of manufacture, to prove the perfect insulation, if necessary.

Illustrated London News 1857


The shipping of the great cable has been a gigantic labour, of which we illustrate that portion which was executed at East Green­wich. Here the Agamemnon was moored off the wharf at Glass and Elliott’s yard. She had anything but a sightly aspect, the dead weight of the cable and the rather ponderous appliances for paying it out having altered her trim appearance for the worse. In the large Engraving of the vessel in the present Number the wire is being wound over the floating stages from the wharf into the hold of the vessel. The machine by which this is done registered each fathom, furlong, and mile as it passed, while the usual apparatus was employed to test the integrity of the conducting wire. From the small machine on deck it was wound at once to the hold, where it lay in one stupendous solid coil 45 feet in diameter, and nearly 14 feet high.
    The Agamemnon was to proceed at once to Queenstown, where the other vessels composing the squadron—the Niagara, Susquehanna, and Leopard—will also rendezvous. During the trip from Sheerness to Queens town experiments were to be made by laying down about 20 miles of cable, in order to ascertain that everything was in good working condition. After taking in coals at Queens town the four vessels were to start for Valentia Bay. The month of August has been chose for the submersion of the cable as likely to afford the best conditions for the enterprise in regard to weather.


The construction and shipment of this wonder of the age having already been fully illustrated in our Journal, it remains but to present to our readers, in picture and des­criptive detail, the laying of the cable from the extreme point of Ireland to St. John’s, Newfoundland. The Niagara and Agamemnon were the two vessels which actually contained the telegraphic cable to form the connecting  link between the two continents. Shortly after one o’clock (Wednesday, August 5)~ a boat well manned from the American vessel~ [the Niagara] was let down, and one of the paddle-box boats of the Leopard, with a crew, was placed immediately under the stem of the Niagara, when the operation of paying out; the shore end of the cable commenced. The expedition sailed on Thursday, but had - scarcely got four miles when the cable becoming entangled with the machinery. broke, and the ship’s boats were engaged. until the afternoon of Friday in under. running the cable from the shore to the place where it was broken, and there joining two ends. This operation was successfully per­formed, and the squadron set sail again on Friday. All went on smoothly to four o’clock on the following Tuesday. up to which period constant signals and messages had been received. At that period the signals suddenly ceased. The return of the squadron confirmed the fears entertained—the cable had broken in deep water. Although this unfortunate accident will postpone the completion of this cc great undertaking for a short time—possibly for the season—no doubts are entertained of its ultimate and even speedy completion. [August 22, 1857]

Illustrated London News 1857


The Agamemnon on the voyage out with the other vessels of the squadron encountered a succession of tremendous gales which scattered all the ships for some days. The Agamemnon rolled so heavily and danger­ously as to lead to serious fears that she would capsize completely and founder. In these heavy lurches the coals which were stowed in the main and lower decks broke away, and seriously injured several of the crew. Only on the 25th of June was the rendezvous made, and the other vessels sighted. The first splice was made on the 26th and was broken an hour afterwards on board the Niagara. After two other splices parted, the Agamemnon returned to the rendezvous and cruised for five days. Unfortunately, the Niagara did not return to the rendezvous, so that the only fine weather which the expedition had was totally lost, and the Agamemnon had to proceed to Queenstown on the 6th of July. There are still 2500 miles of wire on board the two ships. [July 1858.]

Illustrated London News 1858



Of the fate at New York on the 17th nit, we have the following particulars from the gentleman who supplied us with the sketch of the City Hall as it was illuminated on the night of the 17th, and which is engraved here:- The publication of her Majesty’s message to the President of the United States on the morning of August 17, carrying with it, as it did, the assurance that the telegraphic wires were really capable of transmitting des­patches, caused an outburst of enthusiasm in the Atlantic States which might almost be characterised by the American qualificative "universal.” Wherever the news penetrated there was a public jubilee. In Boston, Port­land, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and other places, bells were rung, salutes fired, illumi­nations spontaneously undertaken; but in New York the most thorough and systematic display of popular joy took place. A little after daybreak on the morning of the 17th the celebration was commenced by the discharge of cannon in the park; and as the sun rose above the heights of Long Island his rays fell upon an assemblage of cities-New York, Brooklyn, Jersey City, Hoboken, Williamsburgh,-decked in flags and resounding with the merry peak of a thousand bells. But the principal feature of the celebration was the illumination of the city at night, together with the display of fireworks provided by the municipality. Not only that unparallelled thoroughfare, Broadway, was illuminated and decorated for two or three miles of its length, but the lesser streets were also brilliant in many-coloured fires. XVaI1-street-the centre of American commerce and finance-glittered strangely under the quiet sky. Nassau-street, crowded with newspaper-offices, was a thoroughfare of light. Bonfires blazed in every direction. Transparencies were displayed upon every hotel and many private dwellings. Epigrammatic and laudatory mottoes glowed upon the fronts of granite and marble stores. The City Hall, which stretches its white façade half across the narrow, triangular park, was lit up as never before; every pane in its innumerable windows bore a light. The watcher in the illuminated clock-tower looked down (for the last time, as it proved) on a throng such as the park, used as it is to vast assemblages, has never before contained. The heavy foliage of the lime and elm trees with which it is studded was scarcely denser than the crowd assembled in expectation of the pyrotechnic display. The night was moonless, and a cloudy sky favoured the occasion, so that by eight o’clock the signal rockets were sent up, accompanied by fire-balloons. Streams of fiery particles and globules of variegated flame shot up far into the heavens, as if to announce to the lightning its final triumph in submission. Roman candles rose and fell in perpetual ebullition; erratic rockets hissed and surged upwards in contending streams; serpents, cometlike, darted through the air; and at length the great flame- structures erected upon the wings of the City Hall were fired. The illumination paled before their rippling lustre; and cheer after cheer arose from the immense assemblage as the designs became developed in succession. Among the most elaborate pieces was one representing a British and an American vessel, with the union-jack and the stars and stripes at each side, surmounted by the inscription-”All Honour to Cyrus W. Field! Franklin, Morse, and Field.” (Mr. Field is a gentleman, a resident of New York, who has been very active in the telegraphic enterprise, and Professor Morse was one of the first to elaborate the idea of electro-telegraphic communication.) Other pyrotechnics presented similar devices and allusions, during the continuance of which the National Anthem of Great Britain, together with ‘Hail Columbia!” and “St. Patrick’s Day,’ was played by an attendant band. With a further discharge of rockets the display was con­cluded, and by half-past nine the spectators had dispersed.
    It unfortunately happened that some sparks fell upon the woodwork of the clock- tower of the City Hall, and flames burst out there about midnight, which finally consumed the tower, and largely damaged the building itself. As the central fire-alarm was located on this spot, the intelligence could not be communicated instantly, as usual, to the engine-houses, and the delay which ensued proved fatal to the structure. The scene, however, was magnificent. The statue of Justice, a familiar sight to all New Yorkers, stood wrapt for a length of time la the flames of the grand illumination, and serenely endured the fiery glow for more than an hour, until at length she was observed to totter and fall into the flames. Many valuable paintings, and some relics of General Washington, were injured by the water; but the city and judi­cial records were, fortunately, not endangered. Fifty thousand dollars are required to repair the injury caused by this disaster. [September 25, 1858.]

Illustrated London News 1858