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The Laying of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable

The Illustrated London News, vol. 47, no. 1327, p. 122-124.

August 5, 1865


...As most of our readers are probably aware, the shore-end of the cable, extending 27 miles from land on this side of the ocean, was manufactured separately from the main length of 2300 miles, by Mr. W. T. Henley, of North Woolwich, and was conveyed to Valencia by a vessel belonging to him, the screw-steamer Caroline, which the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company had chartered for that portion of the work. This piece of the cable is the largest and heaviest ever made, weighing above twenty tons to the mile, and measuring 2½ in. in diameter, at the shore end, but diminishing gradually, in the last 500 yards outwards, to the ordinary size of the main deep-sea cable, with which it has been joined. The core or heart of it is a cable precisely similar to the main length, but wrapped up in jute yarn, and covered outside by a winding of twelve strands of galvanised iron wires, three wires to the strand, and each wire a quarter of an inch thick. Its strength is estimated as equal to a breaking-strain of ninety tons. Such is the shore-end cable...The voyage of the Caroline to Valencia, burdened with this cumbrous section of the telegraphic line, seems to have been the most difficult and hazardous task that has yet been performed in the whole progress of the undertaking. The Great Eastern, with the main length of 2300 miles of cable stowed in three iron tanks, as lately described--making, with 7000 tons of coal and her other stores, an aggregate burden of 24,000 tons--left her anchorage at the Nore

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on Saturday, July 15; and, with her insufficient steam-power, had enough to do in getting down the Channel, by screw and paddles, at the rate of six or seven miles an hour; but, when she came off the Land's End; on the Monday, she found the Caroline, which had started ten days before, and had lain weather-bound a week in Falmouth Harbour, unable to proceed without help. The Great Eastern was then obliged to take the Caroline in tow, from the Monday to the Wednesday morning, against a rough south-westerly wind and the tremendous swell of the open Atlantic, which, though scarcely felt by the huge Great Eastern, almost overwhelmed the unhappy Caroline. There was real danger of her being swamped, or rather dragged under the sea, as she went round the south coast of Ireland, on the Tuesday night, the waves continually dashing over her decks from stem to stern, so that the men on deck were up to their waists in water. The officers and crew, who might have relieved themselves by casting off the tow-rope, endured this severe trial rather than fail to perform their part of the great work; but it must be considered that the Caroline was ill chosen for this service, and that, with better arrangements, the shore-end cable should have been safe at Valencia some time before the Great Eastern set forth. As it happened, the tow-rope accidentally breaking when a few miles off the Skelligs Rocks, at five o'clock on the Wednesday morning, the Great Eastern first arrived alone at Valencia, which is about twenty miles distant, and the Caroline made her way in as soon as she could in the forenoon of that day. The Great Eastern, after landing two or three of the official gentlemen concerned in the enterprise, went into Bearhaven, in Bantry Bay, where she was to lie securely till the Caroline should have completed the laying of the shore end, in readiness to meet the Great Eastern and to form the junction with the main length of cable some twenty or thirty miles out at sea.

The Great Eastern was accompanied by H.M.S. Terrible and Sphinx, which met her at Valencia, and are to keep with her in her voyage to Newfoundland. It should have been mentioned above that the Great Eastern was assisted likewise in her start from the Nore by another of the Queen's ships, the surveying-steamer Porcupine, under Staff-Commander Calver, by whose guidance she was enabled to pass through a deep channel, recently explored and very seldom used, much more convenient for her than either the Swin or the Alexandra channel, ordinarily frequented by vessels leaving the Thames or Medway for the North Sea. But we must return to the Caroline, where we left her, at Foilhommerum in Port Magee, a narrow inlet of the strait which separates the Isle of Valencia from the neighbouring coast of Kerry to the south. To that remote part of the United Kingdom, thirty or forty miles west of Killarney, had the Telegraph Construction Company suddenly removed the scene of its operations, which we noticed so lately at East Greenwich and in the Medway prosperously carried forward under the eye of the London world; yet, by means of the pens of the reporters...the public are now made acquainted with the minutest details of this mighty work.

The road to Valencia, either from Killarney or from Kenmare and Glengariff, at the head of Bantry Bay, was travelled not without some delays by the few persons from London who, having made the best of their way to see the landing of the cable, succeeded in getting there on the morning of Saturday week. The local staff of the Telegraph Construction Company had been engaged for some weeks past in various preparations on the spot...The poles on which the wire is stretched have, for the most part, been replaced by new and larger ones. It happened, rather unluckily, that one of these poles had been knocked down, some say by "an impulsive Irish cow," others by a drunken Irish car-driver, on the very day the cable was landed, so that the news could not be transmitted to us in London quite so quickly as we should have been glad to receive it; but this defect was soon repaired.

...The actual landing of the cable from the ship Caroline [took place] in the small haven at Foilhommerum....This place lies just under and within Bray Head, the mountain promontory which forms the south-west corner of the Isle of Valencia, projecting into the Atlantic Ocean. It is distant six or seven miles across the island from Knightstown, the port, which occupies a position on the strait like that of Sonderburg in the Isle of Alsen....A contemporary reporter gives this description of the scenery:--"We now reach nearly at the summit of the last hill a low wooden hut, painted black, and not unlike the summer establishment of some watering-place photographer. This is the temporary office of the Atlantic Telegraph Company. Along the waste land, at some distance to the right, are half a dozen thatched hovels, while a few feet from the grass-grown turf-wall which divides the field containing this office from the cliff, you look down upon the Caroline, which is in communication with the land by a lengthy floating bridge of boats. To the right and left precipitous rocks rise nearly 300 ft. from the sea, so hollowed at each side as to give to the securely-sheltered little haven, which is scarcely a mile from end to end, the conformation of a horseshoe. Rugged, steep, and utterly inaccessible, save where a rude and broken path has been formed by the cablemen, these cliffs are studded with wild flowers and ferns, and variegated by large patches of the brightest verdure, which alternate with masses of tangled seaweed and huge blocks of slate and parti-coloured rock. Butler's Island, a large grass-grown strip of stony ground stretching from left to right, from the far point of the bay, lessens the opening to the sea, and materially helps to shelter this beautiful nook, though, as there is of course neither land nor breakwater between its entrance and America, it will be readily understood that in rough weather it presents a very different appearance to the one it wore yesterday. Then all was smiling, sunny, and calm...The telegraphic colours, represented by rosettes of red, white, and blue, made and presented by Lady Capel Molyneux, decorated the coats or hats of those immediately interested in the enterprise; and, out of the three or four hundred employed on the boats and shore to assist in hauling the cable in, it is scarcely necessary to say no two figures were attired alike. The high-collared, swallow-tailed blue coat--new, perhaps, before the electric telegraph was invented, and sadly soiled and threadbare now--worked side by side with the ragged nondescript garment which had been fustian, but had reached the stage of hardly-kept-together tatters. Shirts which blushed darkly at being exposed; jersies blue, red, and brown; caps and hats of every variety and shape; bare heads, bare legs, and feet, and arms—made up the line. The boats were similarly manned, and continued this line from the stern of the Caroline, some 700 yards off, so that the cable was passed literally from hand to hand from ship to shore." The appearance of this long row of boats was very striking, and they varied from the smart cutters of the ships and the trim gig of the coastguard to the ordinary fishing-boat of the coast. Besides those which formed the line, having eight or ten men, labourers or fishermen, in each boat, to hand the cable along, there were detached boats passing up and down, with the experienced persons who were to direct the landing--about thirty-five boats in all. On shore, where a trench, 2ft. deep, had been cut across the narrow beach and up the face of the cliff, to receive the cable, a hundred or more of the country people, encouraged by the presence of their popular landlord, Mr. Fitzgerald, the Knight of Kerry, were pulling and shouting in their Irish fashion, with the utmost enthusiasm, but with less discretion--for, not being aware that it was necessary to bring in and lodge upon the beach a certain quantity of cable in excess of the distance from the ship to the shore, in order that it might be passed up the cliff and across a couple of fields to the Telegraph House, these Irishmen, as soon as they got hold of the end of the future line of communication with America, threw it upon the ground, and raised a wild "Hurroo!" This was caught and repeated by the crews of the boats, who, concluding that their work was well done, at once proceeded to heave the massive rope into the sea. From boat to boat the first bad example was followed by all until, to the dismay of the cablemen, who could not gain a hearing amid the continued cheers, every fathom up to the stern of the Caroline was thrown overboard. The result of this touching enthusiasm was that every foot had to be underrun, preparatory to the whole operation beginning de novo. It took some time to effect this, during which the Irish were silent enough.

"When the cable bad been underrun, hauled into the boats again, and the shore end really began to come on land, and was stowed away in gigantic circles at the foot of the cliff, the scene was one of extraordinary animation. Numbers of men were in the water up to their waists or shoulders easing the cable over the rocks, while along the steep path up the cliffs was a close row of figures, men and boys, of every rank, from the well-to-do farmer down to the poorest cottier, all pulling at the cable with a will, and, as if in atonement for their first fault of enthusiasm, obeying with silent and almost childlike docility every signal made by Mr. Glass or Mr. Canning as to when they were to haul or slack away." Mr. Temple, assistant to Mr. Canning, with another of the staff, was in the water up to his neck working as hard as any. By twelve o'clock the cable was well up the groove which had been cut in the face of the cliff for its reception; and from this point the work of carrying its massive coils across the meadows to the Telegraph House beyond was soon accomplished; and at a little before one o'clock the end, taken over roads, hedges, and ditches, was brought close up to the house, or hut, a plain wooden building, already mentioned....Here several of the gentlemen chiefly

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interested in the great enterprise were assembled, with Sir Robert Peel, Chief Secretary to the Government of Ireland, and Lord John Hay, who had both come with the Knight of Kerry, having, as well as Mr. Glass, the managing director of the Telegraph Construction Company (and manufacturer of the main length of cable) been the guests of the Knight of Kerry, at his mansion of Glenleam, Knightstown. The simple ceremony with which the cable was introduced to the telegraph station has not been noticed by other reporters, but our Artist says, "The end of the cable was taken up by Mr. Glass and handed to Sir Robert Peel, who passed it through a hole left for the purpose in the building which forms, pro tem., the station, where it was speedily connected with the batteries in the in instrument-room. A signal was then interchanged with the Caroline, proving that the electric communication was perfect. Three cheers for the Queen were called for meanwhile, and given with Irish warmth. The Knight of Kerry briefly addressed the large concourse of ladies and gentlemen, yeomen and peasantry, now gathered about him. He expressed his gratification at this auspicious commencement of the work, and called for three cheers for the Atlantic Telegraph Cable, and three cheers for Sir Robert Peel. These were most heartily given, and, of course, were followed by a speech from Sir Robert Peel...He spoke, with his wonted energy, of the political, social, and commercial benefits which would be secured if the cable should prove successful; and, after invoking the aid of Divine Providence, called for three cheers for the Queen and three for Mr. Glass. In replying, Mr. Glass said that all human skill could achieve had been applied to the furtherance of the object, which he hoped was now near its consummation. Sir R. Peel, having called for three cheers for the President of the United States, and the Doxology having been sung, Mr. Glass formally announced the success of the test that had been just applied, and then the men returned to the beach and filled in the trench in which the cable lay. Soon after twelve the Hawk arrived from Knightstown, and towed the Caroline out of the bay to lay the cable, which was done slowly but safely, under the able superintendence of Mr. Canning, chief engineer of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, assisted by Mr. Henley and Captain White, the officer commanding the Coastguard stations along this coast, and who has devoted much care and attention to obtaining correct soundings along the route to be taken by the shore end. The Caroline started from the bay at 2.10 p.m. (Irish time)....Telegrams were constantly received from the Caroline at Foilhommerum station, showing that all was going on well....It was nearly twelve o'clock at night when a message was received by Mr. Glass that the Caroline had laid the whole of the shore-end cable with perfect success, and that its electric continuity was quite perfect.

On the next day (Sunday week) the operation of joining the shore end of the cable to the main length was performed at about fifteen miles beyond the most western of the rugged rocks on the coast of Ireland. Here the Great Eastern, attended by the Terrible and Sphinx, was approached by the Caroline, bearing the last half mile of the shore end. The spectators of the work were on board the Hawk, a steam-yacht belonging to Mr. Glass, which came upon the scene as the cable was being drawn from the stem of the Great Eastern to the Caroline. Among those on board the Hawk were Lord John Hay; Sir R. Peel, M.P.; the Knight of Kerry, with his daughters, the Misses Fitzgerald; Captain White, R.N.; and Captain Hamilton; with Mr. W. H. Russell and Mr. Robert Dudley, who are appointed to be the historian and the artistic illustrator of the voyage of the Great Eastern across the Atlantic....Soon after one o'clock the coils of the deep-sea cable were safely wound on board the Caroline, and the work of splicing them at once commenced. This was done by stripping both ends of hemp, outside wires, and gutta-percha for a short distance, till the copper conductor of the line was laid bare, and pared down to a fine wedge-shaped point at each end. The connecting conductors were then overlapped in the form known as a "scarf" joint, and firmly bound together with fine threads of copper wire, till the junction was made even stronger than the main portions of the line. The threads and conductor were then soldered together thickly, and strips of soft gutta-percha, like bands of brown tape, were wound layer over layer, and their edges closely pressed, so as to form one homogeneous mass, till a certain thickness was completed. Then came a coating of insulated material called Chatterton's compound, and then again another layer of gutta-percha tape, until the whole was inclosed in four rings of the gutta-percha and three of the compound. The joint was then immersed in cold water for testing, and, the signals proving perfect, the last protection of hemp and outside wire was added, and the joint sunk again into the sea, that its perfectness as to conductivity and insulation might be ascertained from the extreme end of the whole length of the cable on board the Great Eastern. It was past four o'clock before the last of these tests was concluded, and in every case they proved to be most satisfactory. At 4.30 the signal was given and the last fastenings which held it to the Caroline were cast adrift, and, with a great splash, the final joint of the Atlantic telegraph and the first thirty miles of its length went down slowly into the blue water, the depth here being 100 fathoms. The Hawk then gave the Great Eastern a parting cheer; the Great Eastern fired a salute of three guns, took a turn ahead, and was fairly off; floating from her trucks she bore the white jack, an American ensign, the burgee of the company--the union jack and American stars quartered together, the words "Atlantic Telegraph" being on the tail; a red ensign, a union jack, and the French flag; and from her peak the blue ensign, which she flies because Captain Anderson is an officer of the naval reserve. In the five ships thus lying near together all the British ensigns were used, the Caroline having red, the Great Eastern and the Hawk blue, the latter because she ranks as a yacht, and the two men-of-war white. Just before the start, the Captain of the Terrible, who was on board the Great Eastern, consulting with Captain Anderson, retired to his own ship, which presently took her place on the starboard quarter of the big vessel, the Sphinx taking the port quarter; and so they went away to the West. The Caroline had before this turned her head to the shore, and now the Hawk followed, and soon caught her; the Great Eastern and the men-of-war, which had been passing out of sight on the horizon, were by this time discernible only by the bank of cloudlike smoke which lay in the golden pathway of the setting sun....

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