A most able cable

Look­ing back years at a wa­ter­shed mo­ment in global com­mu­ni­ca­tion

Canadian Geographic - - HISTORY - By Harry Wil­son*

HERE’S A SNEAKY trivia ques­tion that will have your friends ei­ther scratch­ing their heads or curs­ing you: by how many kilo­me­tres did the dis­tance be­tween Europe and North Amer­ica shrink on July 27, 1866? The an­swer? 3,429, or 1,852 nau­ti­cal miles — the length of the first last­ing transat­lantic sub­ma­rine tele­graph cable, which stretched be­tween Valen­tia Bay, Ire­land, and Heart’s Con­tent, N.L., as shown on this map. When the cable was hauled ashore 150 years ago — as de­picted in Robert Dud­ley’s paint­ing Land­ing of the At­lantic Cable of 1866 at Heart’s Con­tent, New­found­land ( above) — it marked a new era of in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion, one that would see elec­tronic mes­sages cross the ocean at a rate of six to eight words per minute in­stead of the sev­eral days it took let­ters to do so by ship. The po­lit­i­cal, com­mer­cial and eco­nomic im­pli­ca­tions of the cable were huge, and or­ches­trat­ing this 19th-cen­tury equiv­a­lent of be­ing able to send an email was no small feat. Be­gin­ning in 1857, mul­ti­ple at­tempts had been made, each fruit­less. A cable was suc­cess­fully laid be­tween Ire­land and New­found­land in 1858, but failed af­ter about a month of sub­par per­for­mance. It would be another eight years be­fore the ven­ture was to suc­ceed. The im­por­tance of the cable was such that the map was an­no­tated with the mes­sages ex­changed be­tween Queen Vic­to­ria and U.S. Pres­i­dent An­drew John­son shortly af­ter the transat­lantic link was es­tab­lished. The queen con­grat­u­lated John­son, say­ing that she hoped the cable would “serve as an ad­di­tional bond of union be­tween” the two na­tions, and John­son re­cip­ro­cated the sen­ti­ment. Had New­found­land joined Con­fed­er­a­tion less than a year later, the an­swer might well have been penned by the leader of the newly minted na­tion where the eastern end of the cable ac­tu­ally ended: Sir John A. Macdon­ald.

*with files from Is­abelle Char­ron, early car­to­graphic ar­chiv­ist, Li­brary and Archives Canada

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.