Submarine Telegraphy, 1872

While browsing Google Books today during lunch, I came across an interesting 1872 book on “submarine telegraphy”, i.e. the earliest trans-oceanic cables. I immediately found two things very interesting – the profit-sharing arrangements that were involved between various companies, and the downtime that was apparently considered permissible. Consider:

The [Anglo-American Telegraph Company] messages are taken from London to Valentia, through the Wexford cable, two wires being specially reserved for the American messages; at Heart’s Content they are handed to the New York, Newfoundland, and London Telegraph Company, who transmit them as far as Plaister Cove, whence they are sent by the Western Union Telegraph Company direct to New York.

From the opening of the Atlantic cable for traffic, on the 28th July, 1866, until the 15th August, 1869, the Anglo-American Company had no rival; but immediately upon the opening of the French Atlantic Company’s cable for traffic on the latter date, a sharp competition commenced, which resulted in an agreement being made between the two companies for a division of receipts, as follows :—

The gross receipts accruing to the two companies, from messages passing over their lines (the French Company being considered as commencing at Brest and ending at Boston, and the Anglo Company as beginning at Valentia and ending at Plaister Cove), to be divided, by giving the French Company 36 2/3 per cent., and the Anglo Company 63 1/3 per cent., irrespective of which company may have done the work. Special arrangements are also made in case of the breaking of all or any of the three cables, which are as follows :

1st. If the Anglo Company should be able to send messages through only one of its cables, for a period exceeding eighteen consecutive months, the division would be 60 per cent. to the Anglo Company, and 40 per cent. to the French Company; and if the one cable continue broken for more than thirty consecutive months, the division will be, until it is repaired, 50 per cent. to each company.

2nd. If the French Company should be unable to transmit messages through its one cable for more than six months, they shall only receive 27 per cent. of the receipts; after eighteen months they would only receive 20 per cent.; and after twenty-four months the Anglo Company would take the whole of the receipts.

3rd. If the Anglo Company should not be able to send messages through cither of its cables for more than six months, they would only receive 27 per cent. of the receipts; after eighteen months only 20 per cent.; and after two years the French Company would take the whole of the receipts.

4th. If either company is wholly unable to transmit messages for more than twenty-four consecutive months, the company which can transmit messages may give six months’ notice to determine the agreement; and if the company in default is at the end of this notice still unable to transmit messages, this agreement will be entirely cancelled.

This company, in conjunction with the French Company, has a steamer suitable for repairing cables, called the “Robert Lowe;” the former company paid 34/64-ths of the cost of purchasing the ship, and the French Company the remainder. Of the cost of keeping up the steamer, the Anglo Company have to pay 34/64-ths, and the French Company the remainder; but while repairs are actually going on the company whose cable is under repair has to bear the whole cost.

This company has an agreement with the Post Office that all messages sent for transmission to America at equal rates shall be handed to them, unless specially marked to go by some other line, and a similar agreement with the Western Union Telegraph Company in America with regard to messages to England.

The Anglo Company is in partnership with the New York, Newfoundland, and London Telegraph Company, and has to give that Company one-third of the receipts after division with the French Company, but receives back as a rebate the sum of 25,000l. per annum.

It may be desirable to know that the cable partially laid in 1865 (six and a-half years ago), and completed in 1866, has only been broken or interrupted once, that is, in December, 1870. On the other hand, the cable laid in 1866 has been injured seven times, viz.:—twice in 1867, once in 1868, three times in 1869 (that is, a break in two places at the Heart’s Content end, and a flaw at the Valentia end), and once in 1870, but not one of these accidents has been caused by any defect in the cable. Five times they occurred in shallow water close to Heart’s Content, and were, from the appearance of the cable, caused either by icebergs or an anchor. The fault discovered in the cable near Valentia was caused by a puncture during its laying or manufacture. The cable laid in 1866 has now been under-run for a hundred miles from Heart’s Content, and relaid with a much thicker type of cable, and by this operation the risk of future accidents is reduced to a minimum. It should be stated that the insulation of both cables has lately been affected, but not to the extent of in any way interfering with the forwarding or receiving of messages.

You could go eighteen months with no operable cables – no ability to actually engage in business – and still receive income. Amazing.

You can browse Google’s version of the book here or download the PDF here (2.9MB, local copy, since linking to the Google PDFs looks likely to break).

Published in: General, History | on July 1st, 2010| Comments Off on Submarine Telegraphy, 1872

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