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British Industrial History

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Submarine Telegraph Co

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1850 The Submarine Telegraph Company was provisionally registered by John Watkins Brett and other investors (it is not clear his brother Jacob was involved by this stage), after they had obtained landing rights from the French and British authorities allowing them to lay a submarine telegraph cable between the two countries. It would acquire Jacob Brett's patent on the electric printing telegraph[1]

The French concession was conditional on telegraphic communication being established by 1 September 1850.

1850 The Gutta Percha Co supplied its normal product, a single wire with gutta percha insulation, which was wound on a drum mounted on the deck of a paddle steamer. The cable was laid on 28 August by Reid Brothers. Contact was successfully made with England via the cable, which satisfied the conditions of the concession. A few hours later the cable failed due to damage by a fisherman.

1851 Having established the feasibility of cross-Channel cable, a new attempt was made the next year. Wilkins and Weatherley began to produce an armoured cable for the company but Newall sued for infringement of his patent and took over the job. R. S. Newall and Co carried out the bulk of the work at Weatherly's factory using men brought from their Gateshead factory[2], the rest being sub-contracted to Kuper and Co who held a similar patent.

The provisionally registered Submarine Telegraph Co applied to the Crown for the necessary powers[3]. The railway engineer, Thomas Crampton, was employed to design and supervise the laying of the cable. The 1851 cable consisted of four strands of copper wire, covered with a double layer of gutta percha, and surrounded by a covering of tarred hemp. This in turn was enclosed in spun yarn, and ten galvanised iron wires were wound in a spiral around this. The armouring wires were supplied by Richard Johnson Brothers of Manchester (later Richard Johnson and Nephew). However, insufficient length of cable had been supplied to complete the operation so an extra piece of cable had to be obtained from England. This cable operated for many years.

1852 The provisionally registered company applied for powers to operate a telegraph system in Britain and between Britain and the Continent[4]

1853 Further cables were laid, starting with England - Belgium.

1858 England - Germany cable

1859 Four cables: England - Heligoland, Heligoland - Denmark, England - France, and Jersey - Pirou.

1860 A telegraph service was opened with Germany when Sir Charles Bright laid a cable on behalf of the Magnetic and Submarine Telegraph Company[5].

1861 A further England - France cable

1865 Another England - France cable

1866 Another England - Germany cable, and one from England - Belgium

1870 England - France cable

c.1870 Two telegraph cables to Holland and one to Germany were acquired by the General Post Office in addition to the inland telegraphy companies; these cables were leased to the Submarine Telegraph Co.

1880 Jersey - Pirou cable

1889 The Post Office acquired the Submarine Telegraph Company's circuits to the Continent for £67,163. The Post Office also acquired the company's 760 ton paddlesteamer, The Lady Carmichael, named after the wife of the company's chairman. This cableship was renamed the Alert in 1894 and remained in service until being scrapped in 1915[6].

1890 The assets of the Submarine Telegraph Co were taken over by the General Post Office.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. London Gazette 26 November 1850
  2. R S Newall's 1882 account:
  3. London Gazette 18 February 1851
  4. London Gazette 6 April 1852
  5. BT Archive [1]
  6. BT Archives [2]
  • History of the Submarine Telegraph Co [[3]]
  • The Engineer 1863/02/06