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Samuel Canning

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Sir Samuel Canning (1823–1908), civil and electrical engineer

1823 July 21st. Born at Ogbourne St Andrew, Wiltshire

Educated at Salisbury

1848-9 gained his first engineering experience with Locke and Errington on the Great Western Railway extensions, and as resident engineer on the Liverpool, Ormskirk and Preston Railway.

1852 Moved to Glass, Elliot and Co, cable manufacturers,

1855–6 Laid the Canadian cable connecting Cape Breton Island with Newfoundland.

1857 Assisted Charles Tilston Bright with the first trans-Atlantic cable.

Laid cables in the Mediterranean and elsewhere.

1859 Married Elizabeth Ann Gale of Grately, Hampshire; they had three sons and three daughters.

1865 Appointed chief engineer of the new Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Co. In charge of the manufacture and laying of the Atlantic cables of 1865 and 1866

1866 After breakage of the first and replacement with a second cable, Canning recovered the broken cable using grappling machinery he devised. For this he was knighted in 1866.

1869 he laid the French Atlantic cable between Brest and Duxbury, Massachusetts.

Was a consulting engineer in telegraphy. Supervised the laying of the Marseilles–Algiers and other cables for the India Rubber, Gutta Percha and Telegraph Works Co. Adviser to other telegraph companies.

Advised Callender's on machinery for wire work for manufacturing insulated cable.

1883 Appointed to Callender's board in March but resigned in December after a dispute over his remuneration.

1908 died at Whatley, Twyford, Hampshire, on 24 September; buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.


Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement

CANNING, Sir SAMUEL (1823–1908), a pioneer of submarine telegraphy, born at Ogbourne St. Andrew, Wiltshire, on 21 July 1823, was son of Robert Canning of that place by his wife Frances Hyde.

Educated at Salisbury, he gained his first engineering experience (1844–9) as assistant to Messrs. Locke and Errington on the Great Western railway extensions, and as resident engineer on the Liverpool, Ormskirk and Preston railway.

From railway work he turned in 1852 to submarine telegraphy, and entering the service of Messrs. Glass and Elliot, laid in 1855–6 his first cable that connecting Cape Breton Island with Newfoundland.

In 1857 he assisted (Sir) Charles Bright in the construction and laying of the first Atlantic cable, and he was on board H.M.S. Agamemnon during the submergence of the cable in 1857 and 1858. Subsequently until 1865 he laid, while in the service of Messrs Glass, Elliot & Company, cables in the deep waters of the Mediterranean and other seas.

When the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company was formed in 1865, Canning was appointed its chief engineer, and in that capacity had charge of the manufacture and laying of the Atlantic cables of 1865 and 1866, for which the company were the contractors. This work involved the preparation and fitting-out of the Great Eastern. On 2 Aug. 1865 the cable broke in 2000 fathoms of water.

After a second cable had been successfully laid by the Great Eastern (13–27 July 1866) Canning set to work to recover the broken cable, using special grappling machinery, which he devised for the purpose. After several failures the cable was eventually recovered on 2 Sept. 1866. For these services he was knighted in 1866; the King of Portugal conferred upon him the Order of St. Jago d'Espada, and the Liverpool chamber of commerce presented him with a gold medal. In 1869 he laid the French Atlantic cable between Brest and Duxbury, Massachusetts.

After his retirement from the service of the Telegraph Construction Company, he practised as a consulting engineer in matters connected with telegraphy, and, among other work, superintended the laying of the Marseilles-Algiers and other cables for the India Rubber, Gutta Percha and Telegraph Works Company, acting later as adviser to the West Indian and Panama and other telegraph companies.

He was a member both of the Institution of Civil Engineers (from 1 Feb. 1876) and of that of Electrical Engineers. He died at 1 Inverness Gardens, Kensington, on 24 Sept. 1908, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery. He married in 1859 Elizabeth Anne (d. 1909), daughter of W. H. Gale of Grately, Hampshire, by whom he had three sons and three daughters.

His portrait in oils, by Miss B. Bright, is in the possession of his only surviving daughter, Mrs. Morris.


1909 Obituary [1]

SIR SAMUEL CANNING, who died on the 24th September, 1908, at the advanced age of 85, was one of the pioneers of submarine telegraphy, and his name is indissolubly associated with those of Lord Kelvin, Sir Charles Tilston Bright and the other engineers and electricians whose talent and indomitable perseverance accomplished, despite all obstacles, the successful laying of the Atlantic cables.

The son of Mr. Robert Canning, of Ogbourne St. Andrew, Wiltshire, the subject of this notice, was born in 1823, and received his education at Salisbury, He gained his early practical experience in the railway branch of the profession, as assistant to Messrs. Locke and Errington on the Great Western Railway extensions, as Resident Engineer on the Liverpool, Ormskirk and Preston Railway, and on other work. This occupied the period between 1846 md 1852, in which latter year he turned his attention to submarine telegraphy.

In 1856 he laid his first cable, connecting Cape Breton Island and Newfoundland, and in the following year his services were procured by the late Sir Charles Bright to assist in the construction and laying of the first Atlantic cable. He was then engaged for some years in laying cables for Messrs. Glass, Elliot and Company in the deep waters of the Mediterranean and other seas.

On the formation of the Telegraph Maintenance and Construction Company in 1865, he was appointed their chief engineer, and in that capacity he had charge of the manufacture and laying of the Atlantic cables of 1865 and 1866. The alterations to, and the fitting-out of the “Great Eastern ” and the accompanying ships were under his direction, and he had control of the expedition for the contractors, whilst Sir Charles Bright and Mr. Latimer Clark acted as Consulting Engineers to the proprietors. The 1865 cable broke in 2,000 fathoms of water, but the 1866 cable was successfully laid. Sir Samuel (then Mr.) Canning at once set out to recover the first, cable, for which purpose he had devised special grappling machinery, and eventually, after considerable trouble, success crowned his efforts, and, for the first time, a cable was recovered from the ocean depths. For these important services, the honour of knighthood was conferred upon him in 1866. Later he was decorated by the King of Portugal with the Order of St, Jago d’Espada, received a gold medal from the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce.

In 1869 he laid the French Atlantic cable between Brest and Duxbury. On his retirement from the service of the Telegraph Maintenance and Construction Company, Sir Samuel Canning continued in active practice as a Consulting Engineer on matters connected with telegraphy, and, amongst other work, he superintended the laying of the Marseilles-Algiers and other cables for the India Rubber, Guttx Percha and Telegraph Works Company. Subsequently he acted as technical adviser to the West India and Panama, and other telegraph companies. He married, in 1859, Elizabeth Anne, daughter of Mr. W. 1%. Gale, of Grateley, Hants.

Sir Samuel Canning was elected a member of The Institution on the 1st February, 1876.


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Sources of Information

  • Biography, ODNB