That very day the cable breathed its last. Its insulation had been failing for some days, and the only signals which could be read were those given by the mirror galvanometer.[It is said to have broken down while Newfoundland was vainly attempting to inform Valentia that it was sending with THREE HUNDRED AND TWELVE CELLS!] The reaction at this news was tremendous. Some writers even hinted that the line was a mere hoax, and others pronounced it a stock exchange speculation. Sensible men doubted whether the cable had ever 'spoken;' but in addition to the royal despatch, items of daily news had passed through the wire; for instance, the announcement of a collision between two ships, the Arabia and the Europa, off Cape Race, Newfoundland, and an order from London, countermanding the departure of a regiment in Canada for the seat of the Indian Mutiny, which had come to an end.
Mr. Field was by no means daunted at the failure. He was even more eager to renew the work, since he had come so near to success. But the public had lost confidence in the scheme, and all his efforts to revive the company were futile. It was not until 1864 that with the assistance of Mr. Thomas (afterwards Lord) Brassey, and Mr. (now Sir) John Fender, that he succeeded in raising the necessary capital. The Glass, Elliot, and Gutta-Percha Companies were united to form the well-known Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, which undertook to manufacture and lay the new cable.
Much experience had been gained in the meanwhile. Long cables had been submerged in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. The Board of Trade in 1859 had appointed a committee of experts, including Professor Wheatstone, to investigate the whole subject, and the results were published in a Blue-book. Profiting by these aids, an improved type of cable was designed. The core consisted of a strand of seven very pure copper wires weighing 300 lbs. a knot, coated with Chatterton's compound, which is impervious to water, then covered with four layers of gutta-percha alternating with four thin layers of the compound cementing the whole, and bringing the weight of the insulator to 400 lbs. per knot. This core was served with hemp saturated in a preservative solution, and on the hemp as a padding were spirally wound eighteen single wires of soft steel, each covered with fine strands of Manilla yam steeped in the preservative. The weight of the new cable was 35.75 cwt. per knot, or nearly twice the weight of the old, and it was stronger in proportion.
Ten years before, Mr. Marc Isambard Brunel, the architect of the Great Eastern, had taken Mr. Field to Blackwall, where the leviathan was lying, and said to him, 'There is the ship to lay the Atlantic cable.' She was now purchased to fulfil the mission. Her immense hull was fitted with three iron tanks for the reception of 2,300 miles of cable, and her decks furnished with the paying-out gear. Captain (now Sir) James Anderson, of the Cunard steamer China, a thorough seaman, was appointed to the command, with Captain Moriarty, R.N., as chief navigating officer. Mr. (afterwards Sir) Samuel Canning was engineer for the contractors, the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, and Mr. de Sauty their electrician; Professor Thomson and Mr. Cromwell Fleetwood Varley were the electricians for the Atlantic Telegraph Company. The Press was ably represented by Dr. W. H. Russell, correspondent of the TIMES. The Great Eastern took on board seven or eight thousand tons of coal to feed her fires, a prodigious quantity of stores, and a multitude of live stock which turned her decks into a farmyard. Her crew all told numbered 500 men.
At noon on Saturday, July 15, 1865, the Great Eastern left the Nore for Foilhommerum Bay, Valentia Island, where the shore end was laid by the Caroline.
At 5.30 p.m. on Sunday, July 23, amidst the firing of cannon and the cheers of the telegraph fleet, she started on her voyage at a speed of about four knots an hour. The weather was fine, and all went well until next morning early, when the boom of a gun signalled that a fault had broken out in the cable. It turned out that a splinter of iron wire had penetrated the core. More faults of the kind were discovered, and as they always happened in the same watch, there was a suspicion of foul play. In repairing one of these on July 31, after 1,062 miles had been payed out, the cable snapped near the stern of the ship, and the end was lost. 'All is over,' quietly observed Mr. Canning; and though spirited attempts were made to grapple the sunken line in two miles of water, they failed to recover it.
The Great Eastern steamed back to England, where the indomitable Mr. Field issued another prospectus, and formed the Anglo-American Telegraph Company, with a capital of L600,000, to lay a new cable and complete the broken one. On July 7, 1866, the William Cory laid the shore end at Valentia, and on Friday, July 13,.about 3 p.m., the Great Eastern started paying-out once more. [Friday is regarded as an unlucky, and Sunday as a lucky day by sailors. The Great Eastern started on Sunday before and failed; she succeeded now. Columbus sailed on a Friday, and discovered America on a Friday.] A private service of prayer was held at Valentia by invitation of two directors of the company, but otherwise there was no celebration of the event. Professor Thomson was on board; but Dr. W. H. Russell had gone to the seat of the Austro-Prussian war, from which telegrams were received through the cable.
The 'big ship' was attended by three consorts, the Terrible, to act as a spy on the starboard how, and warn other vessels off the course, the Medway on the port, and the Albany on the starboard quarter, to drop or pick up buoys, and make themselves generally useful. Despite the fickleness of the weather, and a 'foul flake,' or clogging of the line as it ran out of the tank, there was no interruption of the work. The 'old coffee mill,' as the sailors dubbed the paying-out gear, kept grinding away. 'I believe we shall do it this time, Jack,' said one of the crew to his mate.