Friday 23 September 2016

John Pender - The Cable King

The Cable King

As many readers will know, this year is the 150th anniversary of the completion of the first successful telegraph cables to be laid across the Atlantic.  The 1866 cable was completed between Valentia, Ireland and Heart’s Content, Newfoundland on 27th July and just six weeks later the 1865 cable was finally completed on the 8th September 1866.  Celebrations on both sides of the Atlantic have commemorated this historic event. However, there is another anniversary that is arguably more significant for the submarine cable industry.  2016 is the bi-centennial anniversary of the birth of the man who probably did more than any other individual to make the Atlantic Telegraph a success.  He then went on to found a submarine telegraph cable empire that encircled the earth and earned himself the epithet ‘Cable King’ before his death.  That man was John Pender (1816-96).

John Pender was born on 10th September 1816 in the village of Bonhill in the Vale of Leven, just 24 miles to the northwest of Glasgow.  He was the middle child of seven of James Pender and Marion

Wee Field Bonhill
née Mason.  In 1810, the Penders had moved from Campsie in Stirling to Bonhill so that James could take up a job in one of the printing and bleaching businesses that had grown up in the area.  John Pender’s obituary, published in the Dumbarton Herald in July 1896, indicates that James worked at the Bonhill Printworks known as ‘Wee Field’.  The family lived in a cottage on Burn Street and from 1823 John attended the village school, also in Burn Street.  He apparently showed a natural aptitude towards mathematics and drawing.

Sometime between 1824 and 1829, the Pender family moved to the Gorbals, which at that time was an area of up-market residences for the merchant classes, a mile or so outside the city of Glasgow to the south of the river Clyde.  This was the boom period for the Gorbals, and moving there at that time suggests a significant rise in the Pender family fortunes.

John was sent to Glasgow High School to continue his education.  Unfortunately all of the early nineteenth century records of the school were destroyed in a fire some years ago and no details of his academic performance have survived.  John left school at the age of 14 and took up an apprenticeship as a ‘Pattern Maker’ at Croftengea, one of the Bonhill calico print works.  In 1835, Croftengea became John Orr Ewing & Co, when it was taken over by John Orr Ewing (1809-78) and Robert Alexander, where they began producing ‘Turkey Red’ dyed products. John Orr Ewing was a business associate and friend of James Pender and, on completing his apprenticeship in 1837, Orr Ewing facilitated his son’s advanced into a management position. A report of 1839 in the New Statistical Account of Scotland described the company as employing 192 men, 142 women and 104 children with an output of close to three million yards of printed goods per year.

Croftengea Bonhill

John Pender married Marion Cairns, the daughter of a Glasgow tailor, on 20th November 1840.  The parish records give his profession as ‘Calico Printer’.  Marion quickly presented John with a son, James, born in Bonhill on 28th September 1841.  However, she died just a few weeks later, on the 16th December, her twenty-second birthday.  The cause of her death is unrecorded but it was most likely due to complications related to the birth of her son.

Crumpsall Hall c.1850

The business of John Orr Ewing & Co thrived and expanded, selling their Turkey Red products in Glasgow and Manchester, the centre of a growing export trade to China and India.  John Orr Ewing was making a fortune!  In late 1843 he decided to retire and sell his shares in the business to his partner, which he finally did in 1845.  The two John’s would become lifelong friends and it was Orr Ewing’s decision to quit the business,combined with the recent loss of his wife, that encouraged Pender to make a new start by moving to Manchester and start making money for himself.  In January 1844, he set up his own business, John Pender & Co ‘Commission Agents’ with offices at 20 David Street and took up residence at Grove House in Higher Broughton, then a small township to the north of the city.  The detached house was on the main Manchester road, and he lived there with his two year old son James and his youngest sister Marion who was his housekeeper.

John Pender c 1855

Over the next few years John Pender & Co flourished and John moved his offices to 29 Dale Street and his residence to Bredbury Hall in Stockport.  On 12 June 1851, he married Emma Denison (1816-90), an heiress from Daybrook in Nottingham, whose ancestry can be traced back to mid-sixteenth- century landed gentry.  Emma encouraged John to diversify his investments and so when the English & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Co was launched in Liverpool on 10th June 1852, she suggested that he should take a major stake in the company.  On 23rd May the following year, the chief engineer of the Magnetic, Charles Tilston Bright (1832-88), oversaw the installation of the first successful cable across the Irish Sea from Port Patrick to Donaghadee and a telegraph service between London and Dublin was then set up.  Pender closely followed the development of this service and it was this that stimulated his life-long interest in the electric telegraph.

Pender’s textile business continued to grow and by 1856 he sold Bredbury Hall and moved to the larger estate of Crumpsall Hall on the Middleton Road to the northwest of Manchester.  His family then comprised Emma and James plus Henry Denison Pender (b. 8th Oct1852), Anne Denison Pender (b. 9th Nov 1853) and John Denison Pender (b. 10th Oct 1855).
John Pender  1870

In October 1856, John Watkins Brett (1805-63), Charles Tilston Bright and Cyrus W Field (1819-92) came to Liverpool and Manchester promoting the Atlantic Telegraph Company and Pender was one of the first to take shares in this company.  Although he was appointed a director of the Atlantic Telegraph Co he did not take a leading role in the project at this stage.  At the end of that year his last child, Marion Denison Pender (b. 4th Dec 1856), was born at Crumpsall Hall.  The following year Pender was appointed Chairman of the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Co, which took over the English & Irish company and would provide a vital link in the Atlantic Telegraph.

Pender appears to have had very little to do directly with the 1857 attempt and 1858 failed Atlantic Telegraph cable. When the joint British Government and Atlantic Telegraph Co investigation report was published in April 1861, Pender was focused on his textiles business, because the early part of the American Civil War (12th April 1861 – 9th May 1865) had created a cotton famine in Manchester and alternative sources had to be found.

On the 12th December 1862, John Pender was elected the Liberal MP for Totnes in a by-election and, in order to undertake his parliamentary responsibilities, he purchased a London residence at 18 Arlington Street.

It was Richard Atwood Glass (1820-73) who recognised that if an Atlantic Telegraph was to be successful it would need a single company responsible for all aspects of the project.  Unfortunately, Glass did not have the standing or reputation to make this happen.  However, in late 1863 he shared his thoughts with Cyrus Field and Field took the idea to Pender.  Pender believed such a thing could be possible so he took on the task.  He was reappointed as a director of the Atlantic Telegraph Co on 17th March 1864, and then oversaw a merger between the Gutta Percha Co and Glass, Elliot & Co.

On 4th April 1864, the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Co known as Telcon was formed with Pender as its first Chairman.  To achieve this outcome Pender had put up a personal guarantee of £250K.  One month later Telcon was awarded the contract for a new Atlantic Telegraph.

As part of Pender’s grand plan, on 14th January 1864 a consortium led by Daniel Gooch (1816-89), and Thomas Brassey(1805-70)supported by John Pender purchased Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s (1806-59) ship, the SS Great Eastern, at auction in Liverpool for £25,000.  A new company, the Great Eastern Steamship Co, was established with Gooch as chairman and Pender and Brassey as directors. She was converted for cable work and, as part of the refit one of her five funnels (second from the stern) was removed to make way for a cable tank.  She was then chartered to Telcon for £50,000 worth of Telcon’s shares.
Soiree at Arlington Street 2nd July 1870

As is well known, the 1865 cable lay failed when the cable parted just 600 nautical miles short of Newfoundland.  Daniel Gooch was on board, and on the return passage he wrote a letter to a friend expressing confidence that they would return the following year and complete the task.  Prior to the Great Eastern sailing from Sheerness on 15th July, John Pender had been on the husting where he had been re-elected as the member for Totnes at the General Election on 12th July.

To Gooch’s disappointment, the Atlantic Cable Company was fully extended.  New capital was required to keep the dream alive, and due to the American Civil War, none could be expected from America.  Once again, it was Daniel Gooch and John Pender who answered the call.  They raised £600K of new investment, co-founding the Anglo-American Telegraph Company in March 1866.  Both became directors of this new company, and Richard Atwood Glass was appointed as its first Chairman.  This company took over Field’s New York, Newfoundland & London Telegraph Company, appointing Field as a non-executive director.  Unsurprisingly, a contract to build a new Atlantic cable was given to Telcon; the fee for this was paid in Anglo-American shares.

The SS Great Eastern sailed from Sheerness on 30th June 1866, and to confound long-held superstitions, the lay from Valentia commenced on Friday the thirteenth, with the well-known outcome, described earlier.

A number of the key men involved in the Atlantic Telegraph were recognised by Queen Victoria for their contribution to the success of this massive undertaking.  Captain James Anderson (1824¬-93), commander of the SS Great Eastern, Richard Attwood Glass, the managing director and Samuel Canning (1823¬-1908), the chief engineer of Telcon, were knighted.  Daniel Gooch and Curtis Miranda Lampson (1806-¬85) were created baronets.  Lampson was originally an American from New Haven, Vermont but had become a naturalised British citizen in 1849.  He had joined the board of directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Company in 1856, becoming its vice-chairman then,in 1866, he became a director of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company.  Although the contribution of Cyrus Field was recognised and greatly appreciated, it was considered inappropriate to offer an American citizen an English honour.

Despite his pivotal role in the final success of the Atlantic Telegraph, John Pender received no recognition whatsoever.  He was chairman of the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Co, founded and was Chairman of Telcon, a director of the Atlantic Telegraph Co, founder and director of the Anglo-American Telegraph Co and was also on the board of the Great Eastern Steamship Co.  He had taken more financial risk and almost certainly done more than any other individual to ensure the success of this project but no rewards came his way.

Great Eastern

Why this should have occurred has never been made public but it is almost certainly due to the Totnes General Election.  Shortly after the election, a petition alleging corrupt practices was brought by John Earle Lloyd and Edmund Tucker.  This led to a House of Commons Select Committee hearing under the chairmanship of Edward Pleydell Bouverie (1818-89).  Evidence was heard from 16-23 March 1866 and the outcome was that John Pender’s election was declared void, and in addition, he was found guilty of bribery by offering Robert Harris, a local blacksmith and Conservative agent, a position worth £300 per year, if he voted for him.

This type of vote buying was common practice in a number of so called ‘Rotten' or 'Pocket' Boroughs at that time.  Although Pender strenuously denied these accusations and Harris was exposed as a convicted perjurer, the political mood was for clamping down on such electoral practices.  On 6th June 1866, Queen Victoria ordered a Royal Commission to look into electoral corruption at the Great Yarmouth, Lancaster, Reigate and Totnes elections.  The commission finally reported in March 1867; the report was a precursor to Benjamin Disraeli’s (1804-81) Reform Act of 1867, under which Totnes was disenfranchised in 1868.  The Queen’s honours for the Atlantic Telegraph were made public on the 15 November 1866, so it would have been impossible for Pender’s key role to have been acknowledged by the Queen at that time.

In 1868, Pender stood down as chairman of Telcon and set about building the submarine cable empire that would become the Eastern & Associated Telegraph Companies.  By 1870, England was connected to India and from June 1872, messages could be sent from London to Sydney over Pender’s cables.

In January 1873, John Pender sold his Crumpsall Hall estate and the family moved to Arlington Street.  The entire contents of the house were sold at auction, promoting speculation in the newspapers that Pender was a ruined man.  The truth was that both Arlington Street and Minard Castle, his summer estate on the northwest bank of Loch Fyne in Argyll, were fully furnished and there was no room for the extra furniture.  Pender sold the Minard Castle estate at the end of 1875 and on 16th May 1876 he took out a 21-year lease on Foots Cray Place, a Palladian mansion in Kent, owned by Coleraine Robert Vansittart (1833-86).

Over the next few years his contribution to subsea telegraphy was recognised by many countries around the world, but it wasn’t until 1888 that it was finally acknowledged in Britain, when he was knighted Knight Commander of St Michael & St George (KCMG).  This was later elevated to Grand Cross of St Michael & St George (GCMG) in 1892.  Interestingly these awards were both granted while Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil (1830-1903), 3rd Marquis of Salisbury was Prime Minister.  Cecil’s London residence was at 20 Arlington Street,next door to Pender!

Foots Cray Place

Sir John Pender died at Foots Cray Place on 7 July 1896 and is buried in All Saints’ churchyard, Foots Cray, alongside his second wife Emma (d. 8th July 1890) and his son Henry (d.13th January 1881).  There is strong circumstantial evidence in the family papers to suggest that he was soon to be created Baron, but he died before Queen Victoria could sign the warrant.

Unquestionably John Pender was a major, if not the greatest, contributor to the success of the Atlantic Telegraph.  In building his submarine cable empire he did more for submarine cables than any other man and undoubtedly deserved the title ‘Cable King’.  His cable empire became Cable & Wireless, a name that like John Pender has now been consigned to history after the takeover of Cable & Wireless Communications by Liberty Global plc.

Sir John Pender c.1890

Friday 16 September 2016

Newcomen Telegraphy Conference

Newcomen Society Conference at the Royal Institution on 5th September 2016
Annihilating Space & Time
150 Years of Transatlantic Telecommunication

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the first successful Telegraph Cable system between Britain and America in 1866.  The idea for such a Conference, five years ago, by a world expert on international telecommunications, Bill Burns, was taken up by the Newcomen Society.

It also marks the bicentenary of the birth of John Pender, the “cable king”, who ensured that the 1866 cable system was built, and went on to establish the worldwide telegraph cable industry

Cyrus West Field was the American entrepreneur whose drive led to Transatlantic Telegraph Cable project being brought to a successful conclusion – and to interesting John Pender in it.
Conference attendees were given, courtesy of Stephanie Buffum Field, wife of Cyrus West Field IV, a commemorative badge depicting the cross section of the 1866 cable.  The diameter of the deep sea cable was 1⅛ inches – equal to the overall badge diameter, inclusive of the inscription.  Bill Burns helped with the design, but she very kindly produced these at her own expense for participants in two events in Ireland, a Newfoundland celebration and this conference.

Registration was set to start at 9.15 am, people mostly arriving early.  There were eight talks given in two morning and two afternoon sessions, with coffee and buffet lunch breaks between.  The day finished with a reception from 6pm.
This write-up of the conference is divided into three Parts.  It does not take the talks in the order in which they were given, but attempts to put together the various topics that were raised.  Some speakers are cited in more than one Part.  Errors are likely.

1.      The lead-up to a successful Transatlantic Telegraph
2.      Where the Telegraph went next
3.      Telephony and Data
Some technical details pertinent to this article:

        i.       Cable Core is a term with different connotations.  The original telegraph cables were made with a copper centre conductor with gutta percha insulation applied.  This was called the Core.  Cores produced by the Gutta Percha Co were shipped to a cable manufacturer who added armouring.
      ii.       Telegraph transmission was by Morse code – though not as Morse had first proposed but as improved by Frederick Gerke in 1848 and later accepted as the International Morse code.  For submarine cable transmission a positive pulse denoted a dot and a negative pulse a dash.  Even this had its drawbacks as in ordinary language there are more dots than dashes, so continual usage would tend to positively charge the cable; telegraphese, obviating this, was adopted.
    iii.       Nautical Mile and nanometre are both shown as ‘nm’ - the context indicates which is meant.
1 nautical mile is equal to 1 minute of longitude at the equator.  The original definition of the metre was one ten-millionth of the distance from the equator to theNorth Pole.  1 nm = 1.852 km
     iv.       Channel is another term with different connotations.  In relation to telephony it denotes a two way means of speech communication.
       v.       Optical Fibre - this year is the 50th anniversary of the paper by Charles Kao and George Hockham describing how information could be carried by light waves guided by a glass fibre.
     vi.       Optical Fibre system capacity is now quoted in bits per second – prefixed with G (giga, 109), T (tera, 1012) or P (peta, 1015).
It is impractical to quote the number of channels carried (although more are than ever before) - telephony being a small proportion of total traffic.

Part 1.     The lead-up to a successful Transatlantic Telegraph
Different aspects of the story leading to the transatlantic telegraph emerged from the different approaches taken by several of the speakers.  This part derives from presentations by:

Stewart Ash             “The ~First Steps – Joining the Dots & Dashes”
Donard de Cogan    “From Mirror Galvanometer to Telex – how they increased the bit rate”
Ronald Shearer       “An Urgent Message: North America’s obsession with the Atlantic Cable”
John Moyle              “Looking for a Needle in a Haystack – Locating Causes of Malfunction”

Stewart Ash set the scene by going back to communication by sending smoke signals.  The Navy developed an elaborate system of signal flags, and semaphore. Lines of beacons were replaced (first by the French) with mechanical semaphore systems.  The British Navy had just installed such a system when in 1816 Francis Ronalds devised a workable electric telegraph – and proposed they adopt it.  They didn’t.  But advances were being made in electrical theory, and the Daniel cell made for a convenient source of electricity.  In 1837 Cooke & Wheatstone patented an electrical telegraph and, once accepted, their equipment was conveniently installed along railways for their own and commercial use.  Several telegraph designs were soon installed worldwide.

Several attempts were made to waterproof telegraph cables, for instance to link parts of cities across rivers, but none succeeded (rubber was a contender but still an inadequately understood material)

Gutta Percha was introduced to London in 1842.  It is derived from the resin of SE Asian trees, where the inhabitants used it as an easily worked material, hard below about 65OC and waterproof.  Its properties were soon found ideal for many purposes, and a large import trade developed.  Faraday suggested it could be used to cover underground telegraph wires in areas of heavy rainfall.  Henry Bewley devised a machine to make gutta percha tubing and Charles Hancock modified the design to coat copper wire – to make “cable core”.  They formed the Gutta Percha Company in 1845.  Cable cores came to have three or four layers of gutta percha to prevent a defect in one from being catastrophic.

In 1849 an experimental (unarmoured) cable core was laid from a ship in Folkstone harbour and connected to the South Eastern Railway’s telegraph to London, and messages sent from the ship to London.  In 1850 the Brett brothers, John & Jacob, commissioned a cable to cross between Dover and Calais; it had a single copper wire with gutta percha insulation – and worked for a few days - long enough for the Brett Brothers to retain their exclusive license to land cables in France.

In 1851 an improved cable was laid.  It had four cores of the 1850 type helically wound together, bound in hemp saturated in pitch & tallow and 10 galvanised armour wires around the whole.  But the end of the cable ran out a mile short of the coast.  The extra cable needed to finish the system was made by W Kuper & Co. This firm was based in Camberwell on the Surrey Canal, but had recently expanded to Morden Wharf in Greenwich – it is possible that the extra cable was made there.  The system was completed and worked for a number of years.  More cables followed, between Britain and Europe, across the Irish Sea, and in the Mediterranean.

Americans were keen to get news from England – an example shows why.  One of Canada’s main exports was of grain to Britain; Montreal set the price paid to farmers – London paid according to British market conditions: normally the prices kept in step but the Irish famine caused major problems.  In 1850 the US, Canada, and Britain were all on the gold standard (£1 = $4.82), and coping with price fluctuations involved transhipments of gold.

Steamships had already reduced the transit time to two weeks instead of eight or so by sail.  If first landfall was at Halifax then news could be rushed by carrier pigeon to Boston and thence by telegraph a couple of days before the ship reached New York.  When the telegraph reached St John in 1849 a pony express across Nova Scotia was added to the mix – by the end of that year the telegraph reached Halifax.

The Superintendent of Lines in Nova Scotia was Frederick Newton Gisborne, an Englishman, and in 1852 he was the first to lay a (British) deep-sea cable in North America between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.  In 1854 he met Cyrus West Field in New York, and suggested a New York to Newfoundland cable; when “and London” was added Field became interested.  He approached the top experts in America, Matthew Maury an oceanography expert and head of the National Observatory and Professor Samuel Morse.  Both thought the idea feasible.  A survey across the North Atlantic had previously been made, showing a plateau at not too great a depth.  Surveys at that time were at widely spaced locations, and taken from ships unsuited to maintaining station while a plumb bob was slowly lowered to the deep ocean bed - this was a hundred years before Sonar.

Cyrus Field then went to England looking for the best firms to undertake the job, and for financial backing.  The Atlantic Telegraph Company was established as a business venture, with no in-house technical expertise.  One of the investors was John Pender, a Manchester cotton merchant.

By then Kuper & Co had become Glass, Elliott & Co.  In early 1857 they were awarded a contract for half the system (and expanded again onto Enderby Wharf just upstream from Morden Wharf); the other half went to R S Newall & Co.  The cable core, made by the Gutta Percha Co, had a seven strand copper wire and three layers of gutta percha.  The cable companies wound on 18, bought in, armour wires.  Extra armour was added for the shore ends to guard against cable chafing from wave action or anchor damage.  (Some modern fishing equipment can easily damage cables, but what was then in use was a minor concern).

The British and American governments provided the ships to lay the cable (as the ships were in commission there was no hiring charge): HMS Agamemnon loaded the Glass, Elliott cable at Greenwich, and USS Niagara the R S Newall cable at Birkenhead.  The lay was commenced but the cable parted and was lost after only 300 nm had been laid.  Cable still aboard was unloaded and more to replace what had been lost was made for another attempt in 1858.  Glass, Elliott & Co had found that winding the armour wires with a right hand lay made it possible to coil the cable in a clockwise manner; R S Newall & Co used the traditional rope-making left hand lay.  As cable is laid the tension rises as it takes the weight of what has just left the ship before it reaches the sea bottom, causing the armour wires to untwist – as the cable reaches the seabed the tension drops and they regain their original lay.  Jointing cables with oppositely laid armour wires would break the joint during the descent; this was circumvented with a joint housing that rigidly held both cables, lowering it to the ocean bed in the middle of the Atlantic, then laying the two cables to the terminals.

This time the lay was successful, but the system failed after a few weeks.  This was blamed on the excessive test voltages that had been applied to the cable, but another factor was that the cable kept since 1857 had been stored in the open and had been warmed by the sun sufficiently for the gutta percha to soften and allow the centre conductor to drop to one side.  (After 1858 cable was always stored in covered tanks that were kept wet – by flooding them, or by a continuous water spray.

The demise of the 1858 cable was a serious setback and even led to stories that the whole enterprise had been a hoax.  Nevertheless useful traffic had been carried, and a transatlantic telegraph shown to be practicable.  The British government and the Atlantic Telegraph Co set up a commission in 1859 to study both the design and manufacturing methods used in cable manufacture.  It published its report in 1861.  This led to the merger of the Gutta Percha Co and Glass, Elliott & Co to form the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company – known as Telcon – to be able to control the quality at all stages of manufacture.  The person to organise the merger and become the first Chairman was John Pender

Cyrus Field and the Atlantic Telegraph Co kept faith, and a new cable, to an improved design was ordered from Telcon.  The SS Great Eastern, built by Brunel, had failed commercially as a liner and was being sold off – but being big, with screw, paddle and sail propulsion was seen as ideal for laying cable.  With one funnel removed to make way for cable tanks, the ship was capable of taking the entire length of cable.  Too big to come to Greenwich, hulks were used to ferry the cable to her at Sheerness.  The lay started in July 1865.  But again the cable was lost, this time only 600 miles from America.

The Atlantic Telegraph Co could not afford a fourth cable.  The Anglo-American Telegraph company was set up and commissioned a new cable to be laid in 1866.  This was successful; and after laying it the Great Eastern went back to the end of the 1865 cable, and spliced on sufficient cable to complete that system too. By the end of 1866 both systems were working.  Messages were priced at £1 per 5 letter word for the first 20 words and 5s thereafter – leading to coded and abbreviated messages.  As it turned out the 1865 cable had the longer life.

Dr Moyle described the well documented tale of the completion of the 1865 trans-Atlantic telegraph cable: the failed recovery of the cable when it was lost, and then its pioneering recovery in 1866 leading to the completion of the system.  In 1865 the Great Eastern had sailed back behind the point they had reached, then sailed across the line of the cable with a grappling hook, had picked up the cable but the (steel) grappling rope broke.  This was repeated twice more.  In 1866, with a stronger grappling rope, they partially raised the cable and buoyed it off; they went further back and partially raised more of the cable.  Gradually they (there was an escort ship which assisted) recovered the end of the 1865 cable.

The grapple design had a shaft with rows of hooks along its length, the inner diameter of the hooks matched to the cable diameter.  When towed across the line of the cable it was hoped that one of the hooks would catch it.  This would be felt by a man feeling the grappling rope on board ship as it bumped over the seabed, and detecting it becoming taught.  The grappling rope would then be wound in and the strain on the winding engine monitored.  If the tension stayed the same they had caught a piece of debris; but an increase showed they had the cable, adding to the tension as it lifted off the seabed.

All the major American and British contributors to this triumph of engineering: Cyrus West who had seen it through, scientists, manufactures, engineers, ships’ captains, etc were honoured or otherwise rewarded – except John Pender.  He was out of favour in the British establishment having been embroiled in a bribery case while seeking election to a rotten borough.  However later in life he was awarded KCMG then GCMG, becoming Sir John Pender.  His London address was 18 Arlington Street (only a stone’s throw from the Royal Institution) - and the then Prime Minister, 3rd Marquis of Salisbury, lived at No.20.

Part 2.     Where the Telegraph went next

Nigel Linge     “Encircling the Globe”

The success of the Transatlantic Telegraph in 1866 was the trigger that unleashed a proliferation of submarine telegraph systems, which continued to 1903.  On busy routes, particularly across the Atlantic, systems were duplicated and triplicated.  The French put in a transatlantic system in 1869, made by Telcon, from Brest to Duxbury, then the longest system in the world.

On new routes segments were built by individual companies, so that difficulties encountered, and losses made, by one would not bring the whole scheme to a halt; once the whole system was established these companies were amalgamated.  John Pender resigned as chairman of Telcon – in order to organise the majority of this activity and chair such companies.  He naturally directed their cable purchases to Telcon.

The British were keen to have connections to the Empire, India being the first target.  This started with the Falmouth – Gibralta – Malta system; except that Falmouth had too much shipping for the safety of the cable and they went from Porthcurno instead.  Another cable reached the east of the Mediterranean, then there was an overland route through the Middle East to the Indian Ocean where a further cable went to Bombay.  Completion was in 1870.  The overland section in particular was slow, and it was bypassed by cables installed via Suez.  In 1872 the companies that built the several system segments were amalgamated into Eastern Telegraph Company with Pender as chairman – a post he held until he died in 1896.

The cable systems went on to the Far East, eventually to China and Australia, again with separate companies amalgamated later.

South Africa was first reached by a system which looped down the west coast from one country to the next.  This was slow and a cable via Zanzibar down the east coast was laid to speed things up.  A more direct cable was also laid down the Atlantic via Ascension Island in 1899 at the time of the Boer War (the British Government spent £5500 on its messages while the press spent ten times as much).

The Americas were opened up by routes in and through the Caribbean from the USA, by the Central & South American Telegraph Company from 1881-3.  The India-Rubber, Gutta-Percha & Telegraph Works Co Ltd at Silvertown were their main supplier.  With a landline across Panama, the northern, eastern and western coasts of South America were served.

When Pender died he had responsibility for one third of the mileage of telegraph cable wordwide, handling over 2 million messages a year, with 1800 staff, and 10 cable ships – he was called the Cable King.  One of his initiatives had been to set up the Global Trust Company – it had shares in telegraph cable systems worldwide, which overall made a consistent profit – and made a good investment for savers.

In 1902 the final link was made in an ‘all red line’, a cable system around the world where all the cable stations were in a part of the British Empire.  This was when the Pacific was crossed (its longest segment from Bamfield, Vancouver to Fanning Island); and made use of the trans-Canadian landline of 1871, masterminded by Sit Stanford Flemming.

Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, the year of the first telegraph patent; and died in 1901, just a year short of this ultimate achievement in submarine telegraphy.  Techniques, many devised at the outset, stood the test of time in cable manufacture, cable laying and system design.

Donard de Cogan       “From Mirror Galvanometer to Telex – how they increased the bit rate”

The first half of the 20th century saw a considerable increase in the capability of cable, with corresponding increase in the equipment at the terminals.

One thinks of ‘earth’ as having zero potential.  In one’s locality it does (except that an earth rod in resistive ground is unlikely to be perfect).  Across an ocean earth potentials can fluctuate significantly.

Mirror Galvanometer comprises a coil suspended by its input and output wires between the poles of a magnet, with a small mirror attached to the coil.  The incoming current from the cable is passed through the coil, causing it to rotate in the magnetic field.  A rising current will turn it one way, a negative current the opposite way.  A light shone on the mirror is reflected onto screen marked with a scale.  Before starting transmission the spot of light is centred.  From then the spot is read as a dot for a rising current and a dash for a falling current – even though the mean position of the spot wanders across the scale (due to earth potential fluctuations).  Two operators were needed – one to read the spot and the other to write down the message.

Syphon Recorder.  The first improvement was to replace the mirror with a syphon, fed with ink, its end just above a paper ribbon on which it traced a line corresponding to the input signal.  Only one operator was now needed.

Initially Simplex working was used, where a message was sent, and the cable given time to discharge before transmitting in the opposite direction.  Duplexworking, enabling transmission in both directions simultaneously, was introduced in 1873.  At both ends of the cable Send and Receive circuits were connected to two arms of a Bridge, the other connections being to the Cable and a balancing Artificial Line.  John Muirhead developed the form of duplex working used on submarine telegraph cables, and held the patent.

Drum Relay.  In 1899 S G Brown devised a relay to allow an incoming signal (after initial removal of earth potential fluctuations) to be retransmitted without operator interaction.  It was a modification of the syphon recorder, the syphon replaced by a probe which just touched the edge of a drum.  This was made of three discs with mica insulation between them, the probe running on the central disc with no signal, one side disc for a dot the other for a dash.

Cable Loading.  Oliver Heaviside postulated in 1890s that for distortionless transmission the inductance (L) of a cable mattered as well as its capacitance (C), resistance (R) and leakance (G), ie  RC = GL.  The inductance of telegraph cables was quite low and had not been taken into account: adding inductance to a cable would enable it to transmit at a higher rate.  Early experiments with added loading coils showed no improvement.  However, Western Electric developed Permalloy , a nickel-iron alloy, which could be wound as a tape around the centre conductor and provide the necessary inductance.  Shortly afterwards, in 1923, Telcon inventedMu‑metal, with small proportions of other metals, which was much easier to apply (as a wire) and just as effective.  Rates of 1000 words a minute became possible. Duplex working came with corresponding improvements in artificial lines (in temperature controlled rooms).  An early application was a new cable for the Vancouver to Fanning Island segment of the trans-Pacific Cable.  Cable manufacture then had a new lease of life as faster cables replaced the old ones.

1000 words a minute was far faster than could be sent by one operator.  Mechanisation came in.  The Kleinschmidt Perforator enabled the operator to perforate a paper tape at a manageable rate, the tape then fed to a machine for transmission at cable rate (with other operators’ tapes).

Cable loading did not reduce cable losses.  The Heurtley Hot Wire Magnifier was developed as a receiver, coming into service in 1919.  The incoming signal was passed through a platinum resistance wire arranged to move a needle as it warmed or cooled – and the movement used to operate a relay.  The magnifier was a very sophisticated piece of mechanical equipment and worked reliably (before the same could be said for valve electronics).

Multiplexers.  Several, eg 5, channels were connected to a single cable by a rotary switch.  Pulses from each channel were chopped to one fifth of their normal width and transmitted sequentially.  At the receiving end a similar switch distributed the pulses to ongoing channels where they were restored to their normal length. Once synchronised the switches were kept in step by tuning forks.  Other equipment included: Varioplex which divided its time between many channels, going faster if few were in use, or slower if the system was busier; and Translators which turned landline (Baudot) code to Telegraph code.

After 1922 staffing at Valencia dropped to 10% of its level in 1919.
It is postulated that during WWII that the latest trans-Atlantic telegraph cable was able to carry a single voice channel – between Churchill and Roosevelt.


There was a brief discussion about the non-use of valves (vacuum tubes) in Telegraph equipment.  Valves steadily gained in reliability and longevity during the 20thcentury, but designers remained dubious.  However, a feature of Telegraph was the very low frequency spectrum it used; to handle this very large capacitors would be needed – and these were notoriously unreliable until 1970s.

John Moyle     “Looking for a Needle in a Haystack – Locating Causes of Malfunction”

Accounts of cable systems ignore reliability!  But the number of repair ships in Victorian times was equal to the number of cable laying ships.

Malfunctions were of two types:
-          Cable Break (in particular the centre conductor) - service interrupted.
-          Cable Fault (defective insulation)

Records of malfunctions were rarely made public, and on routes with duplicate cables could escape notice.  The Eastern Telegraph Co registered 2.5 malfunctions per 1000nm.  However cables, no doubt with the odd repair, could attain a 50 year life.

There was a range of causes, some natural or due to outside agencies; others in-house:
-          Earthquakes and Volcanoes – Lightning - Boring Animals - Anchor damage.
-          Manufacturing Defects - Poor Jointing - Inadequate Surveying.
-          Chafing - Inadequate Slack – Poor Jointing – Storage.
Or: -   Malevolence.

- Earthquakes and Volcanoes: the mid-Atlantic Ridge and other sea bottom irregularities round the world were unknown.  There were also mud slides off edges of continental shelves, particularly by river deltas.

- Lightning: if a cable hut was struck a large earth current could flow through the cable to the sea.

- Boring Animals: it was found that brass tape wound around the outside of the gutta percha was too smooth for borers to get a start.

- Anchor damage: choose cable landing places away from ports (even if they are the eventual destination).

- Inadequate Surveying: it usually was - even with well separated positions it was a slow process.

- Chafing: inadequate trenching at the landing site, or insufficient armouring.

- Inadequate Slack: no one wanted a length of cable to be suspended between high points on the seabed.  Slack was usually set at 10% in shallow water and 20% in deep water in case of unexpected ruggedness of the sea bottom.  Loops of cable on the sea bed were accepted.

- Storage: lengths of repair cable mattered as well as cable awaiting the arrival of a cable laying ship.

- Malevolence: damage inflicted by rival companies; cutting enemy cables in war time.

Locating a break could be done from one or both ends of a system by measuring the resistance of the centre conductor (assuming a short to earth at the break) and comparing the result to measurements made in the cable tanks before laying.  Due allowance would be made for the sea bed temperature and the 0.3V effect of a copper/steel cell that would arise at the break.  Copper cores generally had a resistance of 10 ohm/nm but could differ.

Defective Insulation did not necessarily stop the cable working; if near shore a counter current could mitigate the effect until a repair could be made.

Dr Moyle had studied many records - of the cable companies, and in the press (who only covered the particularly noticeable malfunctions).  He had found that there was an average of one repair voyage per annum for every 500nm of cable.

Part 3.     Telephony and Data

Jacob Ward    “The Politics of Automating the Telephone Network in post-WWII Britain”

This was tangential to other papers in the conference, but fascinating.  It described a traditional political process gradually evolving as it grappled with technical advances.

Britain had a series of Strowger (relay operated) telephone exchanges each specifically wired for its location.  Updates to the system, such as adding a new exchange to serve more subscribers, meant physical changes to all the exchanges that would need to make connections to it.

A system using Group Routing and Charging Equipment (GRACE) was introduced in 1959 to allow subscriber trunk dialling, instead having operator assistance. This was a development of automation that London and other cities already had, and worked well.

Nevertheless General Purpose Electronic Exchanges were seen as the way forward - but they would have to work with existing exchanges until conversion was complete.

A major problem was ‘prestige’.  The Post Office (BT had not then been hived off) had a fine, international, reputation.  Problems were to be solved, however intractable, and the timetable met.  A prototype exchange was built.  It was soon found that the circuits (made with individual power hungry components) required far more power than a Strowger exchange – an extra fan floor was built.  1958 became 1963.  Other problems loomed – different subcontractors had used different component types - high pulse rate interconnections across the exchange interfered with low pulse rate input and output lines.  In 1965 they gave up and closed the exchange.  However lessons had been learnt and the next attempt was better managed

In 1967 Mr J Merriman revised the philosophy of a general purpose exchange, though telephony was still at its heart.  The Empress Exchange was to be the first System X exchange and use pulse code modulation, the design led by Roy Harris.  It was based on a ‘switch’, which was ready in 1976, but development continued to 1979 before a general launch.  The Carter Committee, 1975-7, made a major recommendation in its report to separate responsibility for procurement from development.

The idea for Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), first propounded by Kituhara of NTT in Japan in 1972, was taken up.  A series of specifications was prepared and completed in 1978.  This led to the use of packet switching where all types of data – telex, voice, video, etc - are coded into a standard digital form, put into packets with a header giving the destination and content details.

This is the traffic which optical fibre cables carry internationally.

“Mondial House”

At the time GRACE was introduced coaxial submarine cables carrying telephony (with some circuits given over to telegraphy) were superseding the telegraph cables - and experiencing a demand far greater than they could carry – so highly lucrative rates could be charged.  An international control centre in London was planned for them.  Construction of the massive Mondial House began in 1969 on a site just east of Cannon Street Station; it opened in 1978.  It flourished in 1980s, but did not survive the advent of the World Wide Web and in 2005 was sold and soon demolished.

Derek Cassidy     “Submarine Networks: the next stage of their evolution”

Overseas telephone connections have been wanted since the advent of the telephone – and some telegraph cables were able to provide a single channel.  In 1884 it was done across San Fransico Bay to Oakland.  In 1921 an inductively loaded cable from Key West to Havana was used successfully.

But what really made it practicable was coaxial cable, where a conductor of copper or aluminium, was put round the core to provide a controlled low resistance return path for the signal (as opposed to armour wires or brass tape).  This was patented in 1923.  In 1928 a coaxial system from Newfoundland to Ireland was proposed, but abandoned in 1930.  The first was the Trans-Atlantic Telephone (TAT 1) system in 1956 for 36 channels, with one cable for each direction of transmission and repeaters to amplify the signal.

In 1947 the Irish Post Office and GPO had laid a system from Dollymount to Holyhead comprising a pair of cables with balanced earth, capable of carrying 50 channels.
Submarine Networks took a giant step forward with the advent of the optical fibre – we now have repeatered systems across the Atlantic able to transmit 100 Gbit/s on a fibre pair (the practical limit for such a system being 6 fibre pairs).  Short systems up to 400km, only needing cable, can pack more fibres into the cable than might be prudent (a cable to Belgium has 98 fibre pairs and, if it were broken, would take four days just to splice).
The advent of new cable types made previous cables obsolete.  Not all old cables were scrapped – some were taken up for reuse.
In 1911 a cable was relaid in a loop and used to detect the current induced by the magnetism of shipping passing overhead.  This was developed by the British Navy in 1915 and used in both WWI and WWII.  The Oban Loop was one such, set up to guard the assembly point for convoys to Russia and America.
Sound Surveilance System, SOSUS, begun by the UK & US in 1949, reuses coaxial cable to connect a series of seabed hydrophones for longer range detection of submarines.
Other seabed users are bodies investigating climate change, seismographers, and renewable energy producers.  Universities use them for research.

Keith Schofield    “Today’s Guardians of Global Connectivity – Protecting Submarine Cables”
The 1884 Paris Conventionfor the Protection of Submarine Telegraph Cables, Article II, says:
It is a punishable offence to break or injure a submarine cable, wilfully or by culpable negligence, in such manner as might interrupt or obstruct telegraphic communication, either wholly or partially, such punishment being without prejudice to any civil action for damages.
This provision does not apply to cases where those who break or injure a cable do so with the lawful object of saving their lives or their ship, after they have taken every necessary precaution to avoid so breaking or injuring the cable.
ICPC  The International Cable Protection Committee, of which Mr Schofield is General Manager, was formed in 1958, providing a forum for cable operating companies, manufacturers, cable laying and repairing companies.  The cables are mainly for telecommunications, but include power cables.
Satellites are generally thought to carry significant traffic – they don’t, their contribution is only 0.17%.
There are now over 300 cables, most owned internationally; though businesses, including such as Facebook, are putting in their own cables to their ‘clouds’. System complexity means that the cable costs are about 5% of the total.
Optical fibre cable failures average out at 200 failures a year – in systems with a combined length of over a million km.  Most are in shallow water, only 4% being in deep water.  When a failure occurs its distance along the cable can be found by using an Optical Cable Time Domain Reflectometer (OCTDR) at the cable ends, and its position determined from the laying data.
Optical fibre repair equipment has been standardised – and uses a universal joint which has a housing within which fibres can be spliced.  All (optical cable) repair ships carry it, and can if need by pass a kit on to another ship that is awaiting a replacement.
Jointing a power cable involves much larger equipment, and a much bigger repair ship.
There are numerous cable crossings nowadays; if a repair is needed at or near a crossing the first ship to arrive takes charge.  If the lower cable needs repair, then if at all possible it will be done without disturbing the crossing cable.

The Newcomen Society is to be congratulated on organising the conference, which was generally declared to have been very successful.