CHAPTER XII. CYRUS W. FIELD.
Cyrus far we have been considering the struggles of men who have risen from obscure positions in life, by the aid of their own genius, industry, and courage, to the front rank of their respective callings. We shall now relate the story of one who having already won fortune, periled it all upon an enterprise in which his own genius had recognized the path to fame and to still greater success, but which the almost united voice of the people of his country condemned as visionary, and from which they coldly held aloof until its brilliant success compelled them to acknowledge the wisdom and foresight of its projector.
Fifteen years ago very few persons had heard of Cyrus W. Field. Ten years ago he had achieved considerable notoriety as a visionary who was bent on sinking his handsome fortune in the sea. To-day, the world is full of his fame, as the man to whom, above all others, it is indebted for the successful completion of the Atlantic Telegraph; and those who were formerly loudest in ridiculing him are now foremost in his praise. "Nothing succeeds like success," and what was once in their eyes mere folly, and worthy only of ridicule, they now hail as the evidences of his courage, foresight, and profound wisdom, and wonder that they never could see them in their true light before.
Cyrus West Field was born at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, on the 30th day of November, 1819, and is the son of the Rev. David Dudley Field, a distinguished clergyman of that State. He was carefully educated in the primary and grammar schools of his native county, and at the age of fifteen went to New York to seek his fortune. He had no difficulty in obtaining a clerkship in an enterprising mercantile house in that city, and, from the first, gave evidence of unusual business capacity. His employers, pleased with his promise, advanced him rapidly, and in a few years he became a partner in the house. His success as a merchant was uniform and marked—so marked, indeed, that in 1853, when only thirty-four years old, he was able to partially retire from business with a large fortune as the substantial reward of his mercantile career.
Mr. Field had devoted himself so closely to his business that, at his retirement, he resolved to seek recreation and change of scene in foreign travel, and accordingly he left New York, and passed the next six months in journeying through the mountains of South America. Upon his return home, at the close of the year 1853, he declared his intention to withdraw entirely from active participation in business, and to engage in no new schemes.
He had scarcely returned home, however, when his brother, Mr. Matthew D. Field, a successful and well-known civil engineer, informed him that he had just become acquainted with a Mr. Frederick N. Gisborne, of Newfoundland, who had come to New York for the purpose of interesting some American capitalists in a company which had been organized in Newfoundland for the purpose of procuring news in America and Europe, and transmitting it between the two continents with greater dispatch than was possible in the then existing mode of communication between the two countries. The scheme of Mr. Gisborne had commended itself to Mr. Matthew Field, and he urged his brother to meet that gentleman and hear his statements. Mr. Cyrus Field at once declined to undertake any share in the enterprise, and said that it would be useless for him to meet Mr. Gisborne; but his brother was so urgent that he at last consented to grant Mr. Gisborne an interview, and at least hear what he had to say. At the appointed time, Mr. Field received Mr. Gisborne at his house, and was there made acquainted with the proposed plan of operations of the "Electric Telegraph Company of Newfoundland." This company had gone into bankruptcy a short time previous, but Mr. Gisborne hoped to be able to revive it by the aid of American capital. The scheme which he laid before Mr. Field, can not be better stated than by quoting the following extract from the charter which the Legislature of Newfoundland had granted the bankruptcy company:
"The telegraph line of this company is designed to be strictly an 'Inter-Continental Telegraph,' Its termini will be New York, in the United States, and London, in the Kingdom of Great Britain; these points are to be connected by a line of electric telegraph from New York to St. John's, Newfoundland, partly on poles, partly laid in the ground, and partly through the water, and a line of the swiftest steamships ever built, from that point to Ireland. The trips of these steamships, it is expected, will not exceed five days, and as very little time will be occupied in transmitting messages between St. John's and New York, the communication between the latter city and London or Liverpool, will be effected in six days, or less. The company will have likewise stationed at St. John's a steam yacht, for the purpose of intercepting the European and American steamships, so that no opportunity may be lost in forwarding intelligence in advance of the ordinary channels of communication."
Mr. Field listened attentively to his visitor, but declined to commit himself to more than an expression of sympathy with the enterprise. After the departure of his guest, he took the globe which stood in his library, and turning it over, began to examine the proposed route of the telegraph line and the distance to be traversed by the steamers. While engaged in this examination, the idea flashed across his mind that instead of undertaking such a complicated scheme, it would be better to attempt to stretch a telegraph wire entirely across the ocean, from the shores of Newfoundland to the coast of Ireland. The vastness of this scheme pleased him, and its usefulness to the entire world, if it could be carried out, was clear to his mind from the first.
He at once set to work to ascertain if such an undertaking as an Atlantic telegraph was practicable. He wrote to Lieutenant Maury, then the Chief of the National Observatory at Washington, and asked if the laying of such a wire was possible; and to Professor Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, to know if such a wire would be available for sending messages if it could be laid. Lieutenant Maury promptly replied, inclosing a copy of a report he had just made to the Secretary of the Navy on the subject, from which Mr. Field learned that the idea of laying a telegraph across the ocean was not original with himself. In this report Lieutenant Maury demonstrated the entire practicability of such an enterprise, and sustained his conclusions by a statement of the recent discoveries concerning the bed of the ocean, made by Lieutenant Berryman. Professor Morse came in person to visit Mr. Field, and assured him of his entire faith in the possibility of sending telegraphic messages across the ocean with rapidity and success.
The two highest authorities in the world thus having assured him of the entire practicability of the undertaking, Mr. Field declared his readiness, if he could procure the assistance of a sufficient number of capitalists in the United States, to undertake the laying of a telegraph across the Atlantic between Europe and America. Further deliberation only made him better satisfied with the undertaking, and he set to work to find ten capitalists, each of whom he proposed should contribute one hundred thousand dollars, making the capital of the proposed company one million of dollars. Mr. Field was convinced that the undertaking would be expensive, but he had then but a faint conception of its magnitude, and was very far from supposing that "he might yet be drawn on to stake upon its success the whole fortune he had accumulated; that he was to sacrifice for it all the peace and quiet he had hoped to enjoy, and that for twelve years he was to be almost without a home, crossing and recrossing the sea, urging his enterprise in Europe and America."
The scientific questions involved in the undertaking were so little understood at the time by the public, and the popular judgment regarded the attempt to stretch a cable across the deep, mysterious ocean with so much incredulity, that Mr. Field had considerable trouble in finding gentlemen willing or prepared to share his faith in the enterprise. His first effort was to induce Mr. Peter Cooper, of New York, his next door neighbor, to join him, and he succeeded so well that Mr. Cooper consented to do so if several others would unite with them. Encouraged by his success with Mr. Cooper, whose name was a tower of strength to his cause, Mr. Field renewed his efforts, and succeeded in winning over the following gentlemen, and in the order named: Moses Taylor, Marshall O. Roberts, and Chandler White. These gentlemen were very slow to accept the views of Mr. Field, but, once having done so, they never lost faith in the ultimate success of the undertaking. The more thoroughly they became acquainted with its magnitude and costliness, the stronger grew their confidence in it, for this increase of knowledge not only showed them more plainly its difficulties and dangers, but developed new grounds on which to base their hopes.
Mr. Field was about to continue his efforts to procure additional names, when Mr. Cooper proposed that the five gentlemen already pledged to the scheme should undertake its entire cost without waiting for the other four. The proposition was agreed to, and it was decided to take the necessary steps to procure a charter for their company from the Legislature of Newfoundland. Mr. Field consented to undertake this, and at once set off for St. John's, accompanied by his brother, Mr. David Dudley Field, who was made the legal adviser of the company. At St. John's they were greatly aided by Mr. Archibald, then the Attorney-General of the Colony, and afterward the British Consul at New York, and by the Governor of Newfoundland. They succeeded in obtaining a charter from the Legislature under the name of the "New York, Newfoundland, and London Telegraph Company," with liberal grants in land and money. This accomplished, they assumed and paid the liabilities of the old Telegraph Company which had been brought to Mr. Field's notice by Mr. Gisborne, and thus removed the last difficulty in their way. This much accomplished, Mr. Field hastened back to New York, and on the 6th of May, 1854, the Company was formally organized at the residence of Mr. David Dudley Field. Messrs. Cooper, Taylor, Field, Roberts, and White were the first directors. Mr. Cooper, was made President of the Company, Mr. White, Vice-President, and Mr. Taylor Secretary. A capital of one million and a half of dollars was subscribed on the spot, Mr. Field contributing about two hundred thousand dollars in cash.
Work was at once begun on the section between New York and St. John's. There was no road across the island of Newfoundland, and the Company had not only to build their telegraph line, but to construct a road by the side of it through an almost unbroken wilderness. It was a work which required the highest executive ability, and the services of an army of men. The distance across the island was four hundred miles, and there were numerous rocky gorges, morasses, and rivers in the way. The country was a desolation, and it was found that supplies would have to be transported from St. John's. The execution of the work was committed to Mr. White, the Vice-President, who went to St. John's to act as the general agent of the Company, and to Mr. Matthew D. Field, who was appointed constructing engineer. These gentlemen displayed such skill and energy in their respective positions that in two years the Company had not only built a telegraph line and a road of four hundred miles across the island, but had constructed another line of one hundred and forty miles in the island of Cape Breton, and had stretched a submarine cable across the Gulf of St. Lawrence. [F] The line was now in working order from New York to St. John's, Newfoundland, a distance of one thousand miles, and it had required about a million of dollars for its construction. It now remained to complete the great work by laying the cable between Newfoundland and Ireland.
It being desirable to examine still further the bed of the ocean over which the cable was to be laid, Mr. Field requested the Government of the United States to send out an expedition over the route for the purpose of taking deep sea soundings. His request was promptly granted, and an expedition under Lieut. Berryman was dispatched, which proceeded to examine the ocean bed, with the most satisfactory results. This was accomplished in the summer of 1856, and the next year the same route was surveyed by Commander Daymon, with the British war steamer Cyclops—this survey being ordered by the Lords of the Admiralty, at Mr. Field's request. These surveys made it plain beyond question that a cable could lie safely on the bed of the sea, at a depth sufficient to protect it from vessels' anchors, from icebergs, and from submarine currents, and that it would receive sufficient support from that bed to free it from all undue tension. There was no doubt of the ultimate success of the enterprise in the minds of the directors, but it was necessary to convince the public in both Europe and America that it was not an impossibility, and also to enlist the sympathies of the Governments of Great Britain and the United States, and secure their assistance.
Mr. Field, who had made several voyages to England and to Newfoundland in behalf of the company, was elected Vice-President after the death of Mr. White, in 1856, and was charged with the duty of proceeding to England to obtain the assistance of the British Government, and to organize the company in London. Thus far the directors had borne the entire cost of the undertaking, and it was but fair that they should seek the means for completing their work in the country which was to be so much benefited by it. Mr. Field sailed for England in the summer of 1856, and upon reaching that country proceeded to consult some of its most eminent engineers and electricians. The English people were slow to believe that so long a cable could be successfully worked, even if laid intact, and to remove their doubts, the opinions of Professor Morse and Lieutenant Maury were published in their newspapers; and this publication brought out communications from many scientific men on the subject, a number of them advocating the undertaking. Thus, the attention of the English public was gained. Experiments were made by Professor Morse, Mr. Bright, and Dr. Whitehouse, which proved beyond all doubt the ease with which a continuous line of more than two thousand miles of wire could be worked; and Professor Morse was able, from these experiments, to declare his conviction that an electric current could pass between London and New York, on such a wire, in the space of one second.
Science had now done its utmost, and had in every thing sustained the great plan. It was now necessary to ask the aid of Her Majesty's Government. This effort was intrusted to Mr. Field, who carried it through successfully. The English Government agreed to furnish the ships necessary for making soundings and surveys, and to furnish vessels to assist in laying the cable. It also agreed to pay to the company an annual subsidy of fourteen thousand pounds for the transmission of the government messages until the net profits of the company were equal to a dividend of six pounds per cent., when the payment was to be reduced to ten thousand pounds per annum, for a period of twenty-five years. Provision was made for extra payment, in case the government messages exceeded a certain amount; and it was provided that the messages of the Governments of Great Britain and the United States should be placed upon an equal footing, and should have priority in the order in which they arrived at the stations. This last provision exhibited a decided liberality on the part of the English Government, since both ends of the proposed cable would be in British territory. Indeed, throughout the whole negotiation, Great Britain cheerfully accorded to the United States every privilege which she claimed for herself.
Having secured the aid of the Queen's Government on such liberal terms, Mr. Field now undertook the organization of the company, in addition to the task of raising a capital of three hundred and fifty thousand pounds. In both efforts he was effectively assisted by Mr. John W. Brett, who had laid the first cable across the English Channel, and by Mr. Charles T. Bright and Dr. Edward O.W. Whitehouse. The efforts of these gentlemen were successful. In a few weeks the whole capital was subscribed. It had been divided into three hundred and fifty shares of a thousand pounds each. One hundred and one of these were taken up in London, eighty-six in Liverpool, thirty-seven in Glasgow, twenty-eight in Manchester, and a few in other parts of England. Mr. Field, at the final division of shares, took eighty-eight. He did not design making this investment on his own account, but thinking it but fair that at least one-fourth of the stock should be held in America, he made this subscription with the intention of disposing of his shares after his return home. Owing to his continued absence from New York, and the straitened condition of the money market, it was nearly a year before he could succeed in selling as much as twenty-seven shares. The company was organized in December, 1856, a Board of Directors elected, and a contract made for the cable, half of which was to be made in London and the other half in Liverpool.
The day after the organization of the company, Mr. Field sailed for New York, from which place he at once made a voyage to Newfoundland, to look after some matters which required his presence. Returning home, he hurried to Washington, to secure the aid of the General Government. He met with more opposition here than he had encountered in England. A powerful lobby opposed him, and a spirit of hostility to his bill exhibited itself in Congress, and to such a degree that the measure passed the Senate by a majority of only one vote. It came very near failing in the House, but at length got through, and received the President's signature on the 3d of March, 1857.
In the summer of 1857, Mr. Field having returned to England, the cable was declared to be in readiness for laying. The United States Government now placed at the disposal of the Telegraph Company the magnificent new steam frigate "Niagara," as the most suitable vessel for laying the cable, and ordered the "Susquehanna," the largest side-wheel frigate in the service, to accompany her in the expedition. The British Government provided the steam frigate "Agamemnon," a splendid vessel, which had been the flagship of the English fleet at the bombardment of Sebastopol, and ordered the "Leopard" to accompany her as an escort. The "Niagara" was commanded by Captain W.L. Hudson, of the United States Navy, and the "Agamemnon" by Captain Noddal, of the Royal Navy. The "Niagara" took on her share of the cable at Liverpool, and the "Agamemnon" received hers at London. It was agreed that the "Niagara" should begin the laying of the cable, and continue it until her portion of it should be exhausted in mid-ocean, when her end of it should be united with the cable on board the "Agamemnon," which ship should continue laying the line until the shores of Newfoundland were reached. After taking on the cable, the ships were ordered to Queenstown.
The vessels left England in the midst of general rejoicings, and arrived at the rendezvous at the proper time. Thence they sailed for the harbor of Valentia, which was to be the eastern terminus of the line and the starting point of the expedition. They were greeted every-where with enthusiasm, and the greatest confidence in the success of the enterprise was manifested by those on board. Mr. Field, Professor Morse, and several other officers of the company were on board the "Niagara," as that ship was to conduct the first part of the sinking of the cable.
At length all was in readiness. The shore end of the cable was landed and made fast on Wednesday afternoon, the 5th of August, and the next morning the fleet stood out to sea. "Before they had gone five miles the heavy shore end of the cable caught in the machinery and parted. The 'Niagara' put back, and the cable was 'underrun' the whole distance. At length the end was lifted out of the water and spliced to the gigantic coil, and as it dropped safely to the bottom of the sea, the mighty ship began to stir. At first she moved very slowly, not more than two miles an hour, to avoid the danger of accident; but the feeling that they are at last away is itself a relief. The ships are all in sight, and so near that they can hear each other's bells. The 'Niagara,' as if knowing that she is bound for the land out of whose forests she came, bends her head to the waves, as her prow is turned toward her native shores.
"Slowly passed the hours of that day. But all went well, and the ships were moving out into the broad Atlantic. At length the sun went down in the west, and stars came out on the face of the deep. But no man slept. A thousand eyes were watching a great experiment, as those who have a personal interest in the issue. All through that night, and through the anxious days and nights that followed, there was a feeling in every soul on board as if a friend in the cabin were at the turning-point of life or death, and they were watching beside him. There was a strange, unnatural silence in the ship. Men paced the deck with soft and muffled tread, speaking only in whispers, as if a loud voice or a heavy footfall might snap the vital cord. So much had they grown to feel for the enterprise, that the cable seemed to them like a human creature, on whose fate they hung, as if it were to decide their own destiny.
"There are some who will never forget that first night at sea. Perhaps the reaction from the excitement on shore made the impression the deeper. What strange thoughts came to them as they stood on the deck and watched that mysterious cord disappearing in the darkness, and gliding to its ocean bed! There are certain moments in life when every thing comes back upon us—when the events of years seem crowded into an hour. What memories came up in those long night hours! How many on board that ship thought of homes beyond the sea, of absent ones, of the distant and the dead! Such thoughts, mingling with those suggested by the scene around, added to the solemnity of the hour, had left an impression which can never be forgotten.
"But with the work in hand all is going on well. There are vigilant eyes on deck. Mr. Bright, the engineer of the company, is there, and Mr. Everett, Mr. De Sauty, the electrician, and Professor Morse. The paying-out machinery does its work, and though it makes a constant rumble in the ship, that dull, heavy sound is music to their ears, as it tells them that all is well. If one should drop to sleep, and wake up at night, he has only to hear the sound of 'the old coffee-mill,' and his fears are relieved, and he goes to sleep again."
Saturday and Sunday passed away without accident, but on Monday, when two hundred miles at sea, in deep water, and safely beyond the great submarine mountain, the electrical continuity was suddenly lost. This interruption amazed and perplexed all on board, but no one was able to remedy it, or to account for it satisfactorily. It lasted for two hours, and then, just as the order was about to be given to cut the cable and endeavor to wind it in, it came back as suddenly and mysteriously as it had disappeared. The greatest delight was now manifested by all on board. "You could see," says the correspondent of the London Times, "the tears of joy standing in the eyes of some as they almost cried for joy, and told their mess-mates that it was all right."
That night, however, the expedition came to grief. The cable was running out freely at the rate of six miles per hour, while the ship was making only four. This was supposed to be owing to a powerful undercurrent. To check this waste of the cable the engineer applied the brakes firmly, which at once stopped the machine. The effect was to bring a heavy strain on the cable that was in the water. The stern of the ship was down in the trough of the sea, and as it rose upward on the swell, the pressure was too great, and the cable parted. The alarm was at once given, and the greatest consternation and grief prevailed on board. "It made all hands of us through the day," says Captain Hudson, "like a household or family which had lost their dearest friend, for officers and men had been deeply interested in the success of the enterprise."
The fleet immediately put about and returned to England, where Mr. Field at once informed the directors of the extent of the disaster. The remaining portions of the cable were landed and stored safely away, and the vessels were returned to their respective Governments. Orders were given for the manufacture of seven hundred miles of cable to replace the portion which had been lost, and to allow for waste in paying it out, and the most energetic preparations were made for another attempt.
Being satisfied that the machine used for paying out the cable was defective, Mr. Field went to Washington and procured from the Navy Department the services of Mr. Wm. E. Everett, the chief engineer of the "Niagara," stating to that gentleman the necessity for a new machine, and urging him to invent it. This Mr. Everett succeeded in doing during the winter. His machine was regarded as a great improvement on that which had been used on the "Niagara." "It was much smaller and lighter. It would take up only about one third as much room on the deck, and had only one fourth the weight of the old machine. Its construction was much more simple. Instead of four heavy wheels, it had but two, and these were made to revolve with ease, and without danger of sudden check, by the application of what were known as self-releasing brakes. These were the invention of Mr. Appold, of London, a gentleman of fortune, but with a strong taste for mechanics, which led him to spend his time and wealth in exercising his mechanical ingenuity. These brakes were so adjusted as to bear only a certain strain, when they released themselves. This ingenious contrivance was applied by Mr. Everett to the paying-out machinery. The strength of the cable was such that it would not break except under a pressure of a little over three tons. The machinery was so adjusted that not more than half that strain could possibly come upon the cable, when the brakes would relax their grasp, the wheels revolve easily, and the cable run out into the sea 'at its own sweet will.' The paying-out machine, therefore, we are far from claiming as wholly an American invention. This part of the mechanism was English. The merit of Mr. Everett lay in the skill with which he adapted it to the laying of the Atlantic cable, and in his great improvements of other parts of the machinery. The whole construction, as it afterward stood upon the decks of the 'Niagara' and the 'Agamemnon,' was the combined product of English and American invention."
In January, 1858, the Board of Directors offered Mr. Field the sum of five thousand dollars per annum if he would assume the post of general manager of the company. He at once undertook the duties of the position, but declined all compensation.
Every thing being in readiness for the second attempt at laying the cable, the "Niagara" sailed from New York in March, 1858, to take on her portion of the cable at Plymouth. The "Agamemnon" was again ordered to assist in the undertaking, and the "Gorgon" was made her consort Mr. Field had hoped that the "Susquehanna" would again be the consort of the "Niagara," but a few days before the sailing of the fleet he was officially informed that he could not have the ship, as she was then in the West Indies, with the greater part of her crew down with the yellow fever. This was a keen disappointment, as every arrangement had been made with the expectation of having the assistance of the "Susquehanna." It was too late to ask the Government at Washington for another ship, and it was by no means certain that the request would be granted if made. In this dilemma Mr. Field frankly stated his disappointment to the Lords of the Admiralty of England, and asked for a ship to accompany the "Niagara." He was informed that the English Government was at that moment chartering vessels to convey troops to Malta, as it had not ships enough of its own, and that it was doubtful whether it could contribute a third ship to the expedition. Still, so greatly did the government desire the success of the enterprise, that a little later on the same day the "Valorous" was ordered to take the place of the "Susquehanna" in the telegraph fleet. This generous assistance was all the more praiseworthy, as it was given at a time when the need of England for ships was very urgent.
After shipping the cable, the squadron sailed from Plymouth on the 29th of May, 1868, for the Bay of Biscay, where the cable was subjected to numerous and thorough tests, which demonstrated its strength and its sensitiveness to the electric current. This accomplished, the vessels returned to Plymouth.
"Among the matters of personal solicitude and anxiety at this time, next to the success of the expedition, was Mr. Field himself. He was working with an activity which was unnatural—which could only be kept up by great excitement, and which involved the most serious danger. The strain on the man was more than the strain on the cable, and we were in fear that both would break together. Often he had no sleep, except such as he caught flying on the railway. Indeed, when we remonstrated, he said he could rest better there than anywhere else, for then he was not tormented with the thought of any thing undone. For the time being he could do no more; and then, putting his head in the cushioned corner of the carriage, he got an hour or two of broken sleep.
"Of this activity we had an instance while in Plymouth. The ships were then lying in the Sound, only waiting orders from the Admiralty to go to sea; but some business required one of the directors to go to Paris, and, as usual, it fell upon him. He left on Sunday night, and went to Bristol, and thence, by the first morning train, to London. Monday he was busy all day, and that night went to Paris. Tuesday, another busy day, and that night back to London. Wednesday, occupied every minute till the departure of the Great Western train. That night back to Plymouth. Thursday morning on board the 'Niagara,' and immediately the squadron sailed."
The plan of operations this time was for the vessels to proceed to a given point in mid-ocean, and there unite the two ends of the cable, after which the "Niagara" should proceed toward Newfoundland and the "Agamemnon" toward Ireland, and it was supposed that each vessel would make land about the same time. This was believed to be a better plan than the one pursued in the first expedition.
The squadron sailed from Plymouth on the 10th of June. The weather was favorable for the first two or three clays of the voyage, but on the 13th a severe gale set in, which lasted for over a week, and came near causing the "Agamemnon" to founder beneath her immense load, a portion of which broke loose in her hold. All the vessels succeeded in weathering the storm, however, and on the 25th reached the rendezvous in mid-ocean. The next day the splice was made, and the ships set out for their respective destinations. Before they had gone three miles the machinery of the "Niagara" caught the cable and broke it. A second splice was made, but when each ship had paid out about forty miles, the electric current suddenly ceased. The cable was cut promptly, and the two vessels at once returned to the rendezvous, where they rejoined each other on the 28th. A comparison of the logs of the two ships "showed the painful and mysterious fact that at the same second of time each vessel discovered that a total fracture had taken place, at a distance of certainly not less than ten miles from each ship, in fact, as well as can be judged, at the bottom of the ocean." A third splice was made without delay, and the two ships again set out for the opposite shores of the Atlantic. This time about two hundred miles of the cable were successfully laid, when it parted about twenty feet from the stern of the "Agamemnon." The "Niagara," being unable to communicate with the English frigate, bore away for Queenstown, where she was joined a few days later by the "Agamemnon."
This second failure greatly disheartened the directors, and it required all Mr. Field's persuasiveness to induce them to sanction another attempt. Yet he prevailed, and, hastening from London to Queenstown, sailed with the telegraph fleet on the third attempt to lay the cable, leaving Queenstown on the 17th of July. The rendezvous was reached on the 28th, and on the 29th the splice was made; and the "Niagara" and "Agamemnon" parted company. This time the undertaking was successful. The cable was laid across the Atlantic, the "Niagara" reaching Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, on the 5th of August, and the "Agamemnon" arriving at Valentia, Ireland, a few hours later on the same day. Signals were sent across the entire length of the line, from shore to shore, with ease and rapidity, and nothing occurred to mar the success of the mighty undertaking.
The successful laying of the cable was hailed with the liveliest joy on both sides of the Atlantic, and those who had participated in it were regarded as heroes. But great as was the achievement, it was not destined to be a lasting success. After working for four weeks, the electric current suddenly ceased on the 1st of September. It never worked perfectly at any period of its existence, but it did transmit a number of messages with intelligibleness, and thus put an end to all doubt in the minds of the scientific men of the expedition of the feasibility of laying a successful line across the ocean.
The public generally and the directors of the company were greatly disappointed, and many of-the latter and nearly all of the former declared that all such attempts must of necessity fail. Some persons even went so far as to avow their belief that the statements as to the successful transmission of signals over the wire were false; but the proofs that the wire did work properly for awhile are too strong to allow us to accord the slightest weight to this disbelief. But whether signals had passed over the wire or not, there could be no doubt that the cable had ceased to respond to the efforts of the electricians, and was a total failure, and the discouragement of nearly every one connected with it was most profound.
Mr. Field and one or two others were the only persons who retained the slightest confidence in the enterprise, and it was clear to them that any further effort to secure the aid of private capital would be useless just then. An appeal was made to the British Government. It was urged that the work was too great to be undertaken by private capital alone, and that, since it was to be more of a public than a private nature, it was but just that the Government should undertake it. The company asked the Government to guarantee the interest on a certain amount of stock, even if the second attempt should not prove a complete success. The failure of the Red Sea cable, to which the British Government had given an unconditional guarantee, had just occurred, and had caused a considerable loss to the treasury, and the Government was not willing to assume another such risk. Anxious, however, for the success of the Atlantic telegraph, it increased its subsidy from fourteen thousand to twenty thousand pounds, and agreed to guarantee eight per cent, on six hundred thousand pounds of new capital for twenty-five years, upon the single condition that the cable should be made to work successfully.
This was not all, however. The Government caused further soundings to be made off the coast of Ireland, which effectually dispelled all the fears which had been entertained of a submarine mountain which would prove an impassable barrier in the path of an ocean telegraph. In addition to this, it caused the organization of a board of distinguished scientific men for the purpose of determining all the difficult problems of submarine telegraphy. This board met in 1859, and sat two years. The result of its experiments and investigations was a declaration, signed by the members, that a cable properly made, "and paid into the ocean with the most improved machinery, possesses every prospect of not only being successfully laid in the first instance, but may reasonably be relied upon to continue many years in an efficient-state for the transmission of signals."
Meanwhile, Mr. Field labored energetically to revive the company. The war which had broken out in the United States brought home to our Government the urgent need of telegraphic communication with Europe, and Mr. Field had no difficulty in obtaining from the President an assurance that this Government would be most happy to join with Great Britain in promoting this great international work. He addressed meetings of merchants in various American cities, and displayed the greatest energy in his efforts to enlist the aid of American capital. Very little was accomplished, however, until 1863. By this time the success of the lines in the Mediterranean and in the Persian Gulf had demonstrated the practicability of long submarine telegraphs, and the public confidence in the attempt had been revived to such an extent that the directors ventured to call for proposals for the manufacture of a cable. Seventeen offers were made, from which that of Messrs. Glass, Elliott & Co., of London, was selected. Mr. Field now renewed his indomitable efforts, and in a few months the new capital of six hundred thousand pounds was subscribed, Messrs. Glass, Elliott &, Co. taking three hundred and fifteen thousand pounds, besides one hundred thousand pounds in bonds. This was accomplished in 1864, and work on the cable was immediately begun. The cable now adopted was very different from, and much more sensitive than, those which had been used before. It was heavier, and less liable to be injured by the water.
The "Great Eastern" steamship, the greatest wonder of naval architecture, was at this time advertised for sale, and it occurred to several of the gentlemen interested in the telegraph company that she was the best vessel for laying the cable that could be found. They at once organized themselves into a company, purchased the ship, and fitted her up for that service. They were fortunate in securing the services of Captain James Anderson, and placing him in charge of her, sent her to Sheerness, where the cable was sent down to her in lighters from the factory at Greenwich. When the cable was on board, and all the other arrangements had been completed, the big ship left the Thames and sailed for Valentia harbor.
The point of landing had been changed from Valentia harbor, five or six miles, to Foilhommerum Bay. On the 23d of July, 1865, the shore end was connected with the cable on board the ship, and the voyage was begun. It would be interesting to follow the huge steamer on this remarkable voyage, and to relate to the reader the almost marvelous manner in which faults were detected in the line hundreds of miles from the shore, and how the cable was successfully hauled in and the damage repaired. All went well until twelve hundred miles of cable had been paid out, and the ship was but six hundred miles from the shores of Newfoundland, when the cable broke again and plunged into the sea.
Mr. Canning, the engineer in charge, was dismayed, but not disheartened. For nine days the ship hung around the spot grappling for the cable, in the hope of raising it, and sinking its grapnels for this purpose to a depth of two miles. The cable was caught several times, but the rope which held the grapnel broke each time, and the precious coil fell back again into the deep. At length, having marked the place where the cable was lost with buoys, the ship put back for England, and the enterprise was abandoned for that year.
Though unsuccessful in carrying the cable across the ocean, this expedition was by no means a failure. Its results are thus summed up by the officers in charge of it:
1. It was proved by the expedition of 1858 that a submarine telegraph cable could be laid between Ireland and Newfoundland, and messages transmitted through the same.
By the expedition of 1865 it has been fully demonstrated:
2. That the insulation of a cable improves very much after its submersion in the cold deep water of the Atlantic, and that its conducting power is considerably increased thereby.
3. That the steamship "Great Eastern," from her size and constant steadiness, and from the control over her afforded by the joint use of paddles and screw, renders it safe to lay an Atlantic cable in any weather.
4. That in a depth of over two miles four attempts were made to grapple the cable. In three of them the cable was caught by the grapnel, and in the other the grapnel was fouled by the chain attached to it.
5. That the paying-out machinery used on board the Great Eastern worked perfectly, and can be confidently relied on for laying cables across the Atlantic.
6. That with the improved telegraphic instruments for long submarine lines, a speed of more than eight words per minute can be obtained through such a cable as the present Atlantic one between Ireland and Newfoundland, as the amount of slack actually paid out did not exceed fourteen per cent., which would have made the total cable laid between Valentia and Heart's Content nineteen hundred miles.
7. That the present Atlantic cable, though capable of bearing a strain of seven tons, did not experience more than fourteen hundred-weight in being paid out into the deepest water of the Atlantic between Ireland and Newfoundland.
8. That there is no difficulty in mooring buoys in the deep water of the Atlantic between Ireland and Newfoundland, and that two buoys even when moored by a piece of the Atlantic cable itself, which had been previously lifted from the bottom, have ridden out a gale.
9. That more than four nautical miles of the Atlantic cable have been recovered from a depth of over two miles, and that the insulation of the gutta-percha covered wire was in no way whatever impaired by the depth of water or the strains to which it had been subjected by lifting and passing through the hauling-in apparatus.
10. That the cable of 1865, owing to the improvements introduced into the manufacture of the gutta-percha core, was more than one hundred times better insulated than cables made in 1858, then considered perfect and still working.
11. That the electrical testing can be conducted with such unerring accuracy as to enable the electricians to discover the existence of a fault immediately after its production or development, and very quickly to ascertain its position in the cable.
12. That with a steam-engine attached to the paying-out machinery, should a fault be discovered on board whilst laying the cable, it is possible that it might be recovered before it had reached the bottom of the Atlantic, and repaired at once.
It was now placed beyond the possibility of a doubt that the cable would be laid within the next year. More than this, it was determined not only to lay a new cable between the two continents, but to fish up the cable of 1865, splice it and continue it to Newfoundland, thus giving the company two working lines.
It was necessary, however, to raise more capital, and in this effort Mr. Field again put forth his restless and indomitable energies. As the public confidence in the scheme had been effectually restored, it was resolved to raise six hundred thousand pounds of new capital by the issue of one hundred and twenty thousand shares of five pounds each, which should be preferential shares, entitled to a dividend of twelve per cent, before the eight per cent, dividend to be paid on the former preference shares, and the four per cent, on the ordinary stock. They at once proceeded to issue these bonds, when they were informed by the Attorney-General that the proceeding was contrary to law.
In this dilemma work on the new cable was at once stopped, and the money which had been paid in returned to the subscribers. As Parliament was not in session, and a new issue of stock could not be made by the company without its authorization, and as to wait for this would be to postpone the laying of the cable for another year, Mr. Field was now advised by Mr. Daniel Gooch, M.P., that the only way out of the difficulty was to organize a new company at once, which should assume the work, issue its own shares, and raise its own capital. Eminent legal gentlemen sustained Mr. Gooch in this opinion, and Mr. Field again set to work to organize a new company, under the name of the "Anglo-American Telegraph Company." The capital was fixed at six hundred thousand pounds, Mr. Field taking ten thousand pounds. The whole amount was raised in a short time, and the company "contracted with the Atlantic Cable Company to manufacture and lay down a cable in the summer of 1866, for doing which it is to be entitled to what virtually amounts to a preference dividend of twenty-five per cent., as a first claim is secured to them by the Atlantic Telegraph Company upon the revenue of the cable or cables (after the working expenses have been provided for) to the extent of one hundred and twenty-five thousand pounds per annum, and the New York, Newfoundland, and London Telegraph Company undertake to contribute from their revenue a further annual sum of twenty-five thousand pounds, on condition that a cable shall be working during 1866."
Once more the furnaces glowed and the hammers rang in the manufacture of the cable. Great improvements were made in the cable itself and in the machinery for laying it, and the "Great Eastern" was thoroughly overhauled. The cable was completed and put on board in June, and the big ship left the Medway on the last of the month and proceeded to Berehaven, in Ireland, where she took on her final stores of coal. This done, she proceeded to Valentia, where she arrived on the seventh of July.
The shore end was successfully laid and made fast to the cable on board the "Great Eastern," and on Friday morning, the 13th of July, 1866, the huge ship set sail for Newfoundland, accompanied by her consorts of the telegraph fleet. The voyage occupied fourteen days, the ship making an average run of about one hundred and eighteen miles per day, and paying out about one hundred and thirty-one miles of cable in the same period of time. The weather was fair during the whole voyage, but the anxiety of the officers in charge was none the less on that account. There were accidents to be dreaded more than unfavorable weather. The ship was run at moderate speed all the way, as it was thought she had once or twice run too fast on the last voyage, and exposed the cable to danger. "The total slack of the cable was less than twelve per cent., showing that the cable was laid almost in a straight line, allowing for the swells and hollows in the bottom of the sea.
"As the next week drew toward its close, it was evident that they were approaching the end of their voyage. By Thursday they had passed the great depths of the Atlantic, and were off soundings. Besides, their daily observations, there were many signs well known to mariners that they were near the coast. There were the sea-birds, and even the smell of the land, such as once greeted the sharp senses of Columbus, and made him sure that he was floating to some undiscovered shore. Captain Anderson had timed his departure so that he should approach the American coast at the full moon; and so, for the last two or three nights, as they drew near the Western shore, the round orb rose behind them, casting its soft light over sea and sky; and these happy men seemed like heavenly voyagers, floating gently on to a haven of rest.
"In England the progress of the expedition was known from day to day, but on this side of the ocean all was uncertainty. Some had gone to Heart's Content, hoping to witness the arrival of the fleet, but not so many as the last year, for the memory of their disappointment was too fresh, and they feared the same result again. But still a faithful few were there, who kept their daily watch. Two weeks have passed. It is Friday morning, the 27th of July. They are up early, and looking eastward to see the day break, when a ship is seen in the offing. She is far down on the horizon. Spy-glasses are turned toward her. She comes nearer; and look, there is another, and another! And now the hull of the 'Great Eastern' looms up all glorious in that morning sky. They are coming! Instantly all is wild excitement on shore. Boats put off to row toward the fleet. The 'Albany' is the first to round the point and enter the bay. The 'Terrible' is close behind; the 'Medway' stops an hour or two to join on the heavy shore end, while the 'Great Eastern,' gliding calmly in as if she had done nothing remarkable, drops her anchor in front of the telegraph house, having trailed behind her a chain of two thousand miles, to bind the old world to the new.
"Although the expedition reached Newfoundland on Friday, the 27th, yet, as the cable across the Gulf of St. Lawrence was broken, the news was not received in New York till the 29th. It was early Sunday morning, before the Sabbath bells had rung their call to prayer, that the tidings came. The first announcement was brief: 'Heart's Content, July 27th. We arrived here at nine o'clock this morning. All well. Thank God, the cable is laid, and is in perfect working order. Cyrus W. Field.'"
There was no failure in the communication this time. The electric current has continued to flow strongly and uninterruptedly from that day until the present, and experience has demonstrated for the wonderful wire a capacity far beyond the hopes of its projectors.
Having laid the cable, the "Great Eastern" proceeded with surprising accuracy to where the line had been lost the year before, and succeeded in grappling and raising it to the surface. It was tested, and found to be in perfect order, messages being sent with ease from the ship to Valentia, and from that point back again. A splice was then made, and the line was continued to Newfoundland. Both cables are still working, and bid fair to be serviceable for many years to come.
Many persons had contributed to this great success, but to Cyrus W. Field must be assigned the chief praise. His energy and perseverance kept the subject constantly before the public. His courage inspired others, and his faith in its ultimate success alone kept its best friends from abandoning it in its darkest hours. In its behalf he spent twelve years of constant toil, and made over fifty voyages, more than thirty of which were across the Atlantic. He devoted his entire fortune to the undertaking, of which he was the projector and cheerfully incurred the risk of poverty rather than abandon it. Therefore, it is but just that he, who was the chief instrument in obtaining for the world this great benefit, should receive the chief measure of the praise which it has brought to all connected with it.