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The cable was cut by the German ship, Emden in World War One and I will briefly compare the experiences of the German attack on both islands. Despite these successes, the glittering prize of a trans-Atlantic cable was to remain elusive for the next few years.


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For many years scientists had faced the challenge of developing a cable that could operate under the sea. William Thompson, later Lord Kelvin, was widely identified with the technical advances and inventions of the era. The conductivity of the sea water surrounding a submarine cable caused problems by hugely increasing the capacity of the cable.

That cable was a dream that became reality due to the efforts of four men, Cyrus Field, a self-made businessman and entrepreneur; Charles Tilson Bright, an electrical engineer and a member of parliament; Edward Orange Wheatstone, an surgeon who had an amateur interest in telegraphy; and 6 ibid. An added difficulty was that the cable needed to be coated in gutta percha, an imperishable sub aqueous material from the latex of the Palaquium trees, found in a British possession, the Malay Peninsular, as well as in other places in South East Asia and the East Indies.

In order for it to retain these qualities it needed to be immersed in water. In fact it was so successful as a waterproofing and insulating material that its use continued until the development of polyethylene-based synthetics in the s. Cables were constructed using several layers surrounding a copper centre wire. These materials included gutta percha, jute beddings and a final layer of jute wrapping. Figure 1: a piece of submarine cable. Field achieved fame by assisting with negotiations after the American Civil War.

He also established a fund for the dependants of President Garfield, who was assassinated in This in fact happened during the laying of the Atlantic cable as, when signals stopped, an investigation showed that there was an extremely small piece of iron wire stuck into the cable; this was enough for the signal to be interrupted. At the time it was thought to be an act of sabotage. The lack of a survey resulted in the cable stretching between submarine mountain peaks and the tropical water had an adverse effect on the cable, worms ate through the insulation and barnacles covered it, weighing it down until it broke.

Not a single message ever sped along that single strand of copper wire. At the time there was no single ship big enough to undertake laying a cable alone, so two ships were used.

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The first attempt at laying the cable, albeit an 12 Clarke, p. After carefully paying out the cable for three days, the signal went dead; then, inexplicably, it came back; but several hours later the damage was done and the cable snapped due to the brake being applied on the paying-out apparatus. Nature was to have a say in this attempt and one of the worst Atlantic storms on record at that time gave the expedition a battering. The vessels, nevertheless, recovered enough to continue with their jobs and managed to reach the mid-Atlantic and splice the cables.

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This was to be an ill-fated trip because the cable broke three times, with no obvious explanation and the ships sailed back to Ireland. Never easily deterred, Field and Thomson mounted a persuasive argument for the attempt to be immediately restarted.

As a result, by 29th July the ships were back on the job in the Atlantic. But, on September 1st, the Atlantic Cable failed.

Given the 16 Clarke, p. A third of a million pounds of private capital had been sunk into the Atlantic. This time the cable had a core three times thicker than that of the cable. It was heavily armoured, and had a much higher breaking strain, but it was also nearly double the weight of its predecessor. The search for a ship capable of carrying that sort of weight began. Coincidentally, by , the ill-fated Great Eastern, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, had proved to be a dismal failure financially.

In the hope that perhaps some semblance of dignity could be retrieved from her failure, she was offered to Cyrus Field at no cost. A major refit ensued to enable her to carry the cables, indeed she was to carry the entire length of cable because she was large enough to do so, thus ending the need to splice the cable in mid Atlantic. While not without faults in both the cable and its laying, the expedition quietly and determinedly went on its way.

That is until August 2, when all signals stopped. They stopped for two weeks. The whole cable laying expedition had vanished. Had all the ships sunk in an Atlantic gale? The Great Eastern appeared to be a doomed ship before she set out, perhaps the voyage was the last straw.

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It transpired that a series of faults had led to the cable being cut but unfortunately no one thought to notify the station at Valentia Bay. But the cable, like the Commissariat cam-u-el in Mr. The Great Eastern returned to retrieve the cable lost in the previous expedition, along with the Medway, Albany and the Terrible, the latter two having marked the lost cable with buoys. After more frustration, with the cable being hooked, then dropped or broken, it was eventually recovered and discovered to be in perfect working order, so it was spliced with the end of the current cable to provide not only a cable that was miles long but also a second link to Europe.

The matter had been raised in connection with the development of the Canadian Pacific Railway and its accompanying telegraph, and, with his interest in the railway, Fleming argued that any business which could be routed through a Canadian system would naturally benefit the railway, and Canada would reap the rewards both commercially and politically. Burpee, Sandford Fleming, Empire Builder, , pp. In a Cape to Cairo railway was suggested, and the prevailing feeling was that there would be continuing improvement in international communications.

Fleming wanted the exclusive right to run a cable along the Canadian Pacific Railway telegraph posts, which would keep the line under his control. By calling attention to the imperial ethos, Fleming was able to attract the attention of many more people.

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Founded in and disbanded in , the League provided a platform for, among other things, closer examination of the means of communication between the far-flung parts of the British 29 McEnroe, p. Sir Charles Tupper was a member of the London branch, and he was able to submit topics for discussion, including postal and telegraphic issues.


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Sandford Fleming was a member of the Ottawa branch and Edward Stanhope, who served briefly as British Colonial Secretary, was vice-chairman of the League. New Zealand was in the forefront of dissatisfaction about the existing cable arrangements in , when Sir Julius Vogel refused to pay the ten year subsidy to the Eastern Extension Company for the use of the Sydney to Nelson cable.

Both the cable company and the government threatened to impose high tariffs on the other but Vogel held his ground, despite the efforts of New South Wales to make him change his mind. Fleming promoted the idea of a Pacific cable, using the dependence that the current cables had on foreign countries, such as Turkey, as his main argument. A hostile communication from Pender was read to the conference. Fleming responded, disputing his gloomy view of the project and pointing out that it was to be expected that there would be dissatisfaction about the plan on the part of the company which held the monopoly and therefore stood to lose the most.

He promoted his idea that the cable was means of civilising the colonies by providing Britain with greater ease of communication. For details of the conference discussions see McEnroe, pp , and Johnson, pp The paradox of Pender, a private businessman, being allowed to attend the Colonial Conference, and to have access to confidential government material was amply demonstrated with his attempts to tie colonies to The Eastern extension Company as their sole provider, by locking them into an agreement offering lower rates, so that they would have no incentive to support a competing line.

He contended that the depth of the ocean was too great, that there was no survey available and he raised questions about the reliability of transmission over the great distances required. The outcome of the conference was that two resolutions were moved. One commended the efforts being made towards 41 ibid. With opposition coming from those expected to support such a venture, such as the General Post Office and the British Navy, claims of protectionism and deceit continued to mar its development.

The British Navy Hydrographic department was implicated in such a conspiracy. Rear Admiral W.

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Wharton found that the physical nature of the Pacific seabed would be another hindrance to a Pacific cable. The great length of unbroken cable meant that the messages would be slower, at a time when there was a need to have high-speed communications in times of war. In , the Postal Conference in Sydney also requested that the Admiralty make a survey, with the cost being shared between Australia, Canada and Great Britain. New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia did not concur with the resolution and the Admiralty stubbornly resisted the suggestion. The Egeria was already in Sydney, about to embark on a mission to fix the position of islands that might be useful in establishing a New Zealand to Vancouver cable route.

This was not a detailed survey of a definite route but was a rather more general examination of possible islands and a rudimentary hydrographic survey.

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A more detailed survey would have taken three years, examining coral reefs and their surroundings. Subsequently, the British Admiralty delayed sending a properly equipped survey ship to 50 ibid.


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Morrell, Britain in the Pacific Islands, Oxford, , p. In June , both the cables serving Australia went dead. Without overseas news reports, they wondered if it could have been caused by a European war?