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Library and Archives - Transatlantic Cables, Mermaids and Messages in Bottles
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March 16, 2015
Transatlantic Cables, Mermaids and Messages in Bottles

The IET Archives has several important collections of papers, photographs and other material related to transatlantic telegraph cables. In particular collections related to the 1st and 2nd transatlantic cable expeditions of 1858 and 1865/66 respectively are frequently consulted by researchers. 

More information about these expeditions, including images, can be found on the IET Archives web pages here The First Transatlantic Telegraph 1858 and also here The Transatlantic Telegraph Cables 1865-1866. The IET Archives also holds segments of various transatlantic cables. The image below shows a section of what was to become the 2nd transatlantic cable.

 

 

The cable has been set in a brass ring and mounted on a wooden block probably intended as a presentation gift. The words inscribed on the brass ring are ‘ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH CABLE 1864’. The date might be a little perplexing as the 2nd transatlantic telegraph cable expedition didn’t commence until 1865. However, the cable for this 2nd expedition was already being manufactured by the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Co. Ltd (Telcon) in 1864 and the cable was being stowed, and continually tested, on board the ship Great Eastern where the water tanks protected and preserved the gutta percha insulation (see ‘The Cable: The Wire That Changed the World’, by Gillian Cookson, 2003, p.140).

The manufacture of the cable was eventually completed in May 1865 and an invitation was sent out by Telcon to witness the completion of the cable’s manufacture on 29 May 1865 (invitation shown below in included in the ‘1865 Telegraph Album’, reference SC MSS 254).

 

 

Mermaids and the Early Transatlantic Cables

The state of progress with the transatlantic telegraph cable project featured regularly in the pages of the press of the day, and cartoonists often took the opportunity to poke fun often employing images of Neptune and mermaids. The illustration below is one such cartoon, published in Punch, 5 August 1865, and it accompanied a 5 verse poem titled, ‘Neptune to the Mermaids’ which celebrated the cable but implored the mermaids to leave it alone!

 

 

The caption for the cartoon titled, ‘a word to the mermaids’, has Neptune saying, “Ahoy there! Get off of that ‘ere cable can’t yer – that’s the way t’other one was wrecked!!!”

Later Transatlantic Cables

Another transatlantic cable collection in the IET Archives is that of Cecil Herbert Finnis (1885-1951), an electrical and mechanical engineer involved with Siemens Brothers’ cable laying vessel the CSS Faraday. (collection SC MSS 77). This includes Cecil’s handwritten diary from a cable repairing expedition carried out by the CSS Faraday in 1903. The cable to be repaired was that belonging to the Direct United States Cable Company (DUSCC) which had been laid in 1875.

The extensive diary entries include depth soundings and weather conditions from every one of the 73 days spent at sea beginning May 19th 1903. The diary begins, “started from Charlton [on the Thames river], opposite the works at about 6 pm. Father and some of the gents accompanies us to Gravesend & left at 8pm with the cry, ‘Simla’ after a lunch at 7 pm.”

The CSS Faraday was built in 1874 at Newcastle upon Tyne and was purpose-built for Siemens Brothers as William Siemens had found chartering vessels for cable-laying totally unsuitable. Over 50 years SS Faraday laid over 50,000 metres of cable before being sold for scrap in 1924. More information about the CSS Faraday can be found on the website titled History of the Atlantic Cable. Siemens’ own website also has a history of Siemens involvement with the transatlantic cable the DUSC and the CSS Faraday and can be found here Siemens and the CSS Faraday.

The image below is one of several photographs taken by Finnis on that expedition using a Kodak box camera and shows individuals on the deck of the CSS Faraday.

 

 

Message in a bottle

One of the more unusual items in the Finnis collection is a handwritten note that Finnis originally put into a bottle and dropped into the sea on Thursday 23 July 1903, the day on which the final splice of the DUSC took place. In that letter shown below, Finnis offered to pay a reward and expenses to any finder of the message in a bottle who returned it to Finnis at his home in Chiswick.

 

 

The letter was found over 5 months later by Joseph Andrew on Praa Sands beach near Marazion in Cornwall, UK on 12th January 1904 and it was returned by Mr Andrew to Cecil Finnis in order to obtain the reward (letter shown below).

 

 

To view and consult any of the items mentioned above please contact the IET Archive Centre.



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Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology

   

    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 16 March 2015 03:48 PM     Archives  

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