Next year Great Britain and Ireland were linked together. In May, 1853, England was joined to Holland by a cable across the North Sea, from Orfordness to the Hague. It was laid by the Monarch, a paddle steamer which had been fitted for the work. During the night she met with such heavy weather that the engineer was lashed near the brakes; and the electrician, Mr. Latimer Clark, sent the continuity signals by jerking a needle instrument with a string. These and other efforts in the Mediterranean and elsewhere were the harbingers of the memorable enterprise which bound the Old World and the New.
Bishop Mullock, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Newfoundland, was lying becalmed in his yacht one day in sight of Cape Breton Island, and began to dream of a plan for uniting his savage diocese to the mainland by a line of telegraph through the forest from St. John's to Cape Ray, and cables across the mouth of the St. Lawrence from Cape Ray to Nova Scotia. St. John's was an Atlantic port, and it seemed to him that the passage of news between America and Europe could thus be shortened by forty-eight hours. On returning to St. John's he published his idea in the COURIER by a letter dated November 8, 1850.
About the same time a similar plan occurred to Mr. F. N. Gisborne, a telegraph engineer in Nova Scotia. In the spring of 1851 he procured a grant from the Legislature of Newfoundland, resigned his situation in Nova Scotia, and having formed a company, began the construction of the land line. But in 1853 his bills were dishonoured by the company, he was arrested for debt, and stripped of all his fortune. The following year, however, he was introduced to Mr. Cyrus Field, of New York, a wealthy merchant, who had just returned from a six months' tour in South America. Mr. Field invited Mr. Gisborne to his house in order to discuss the project. When his visitor was gone, Mr. Field began to turn over a terrestrial globe which stood in his library, and it flashed upon him that the telegraph to Newfoundland might be extended across the Atlantic Ocean. The idea fired him with enthusiasm. It seemed worthy of a man's ambition, and although he had retired from business to spend his days in peace, he resolved to dedicate his time, his energies, and fortune to the accomplishment of this grand enterprise.
A presentiment of success may have inspired him; but he was ignorant alike of submarine cables and the deep sea. Was it possible to submerge the cable in the Atlantic, and would it be safe at the bottom? Again, would the messages travel through the line fast enough to make it pay! On the first question he consulted Lieutenant Maury, the great authority on mareography. Maury told him that according to recent soundings by Lieutenant Berryman, of the United States brig Dolphin, the bottom between Ireland and Newfoundland was a plateau covered with microscopic shells at a depth not over 2000 fathoms, and seemed to have been made for the very purpose of receiving the cable. He left the question of finding a time calm enough, the sea smooth enough, a wire long enough, and a ship big enough,' to lay a line some sixteen hundred miles in length to other minds. As to the line itself, Mr. Field consulted Professor Morse, who assured him that it was quite possible to make and lay a cable of that length. He at once adopted the scheme of Gisborne as a preliminary step to the vaster undertaking, and promoted the New York, Newfoundland, and London Telegraph Company, to establish a line of telegraph between America and Europe. Professor Morse was appointed electrician to the company.
The first thing to be done was to finish the line between St. John's and Nova Scotia, and in 1855 an attempt was made to lay a cable across the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, It was payed out from a barque in tow of a steamer; but when half was laid a gale rose, and to keep the barque from sinking the line was cut away. Next summer a steamboat was fitted out for the purpose, and the cable was submerged. St. John's was now connected with New York by a thousand miles of land and submarine telegraph.
Mr. Field then directed his efforts to the completion of the trans- oceanic section. He induced the American Government to despatch Lieutenant Berryman, in the Arctic, and the British Admiralty to send Lieutenant: Dayman, in the Cyclops, to make a special survey along the proposed route of the cable. These soundings revealed the existence of a submarine hill dividing the 'telegraph plateau' from the shoal water on the coast of Ireland, but its slope was gradual and easy.
Till now the enterprise had been purely American, and the funds provided by American capitalists, with the exception of a few shares held by Mr. J. W. Brett. But seeing that the cable was to land on British soil, it was fitting that the work should be international, and that the British people should be asked to contribute towards the manufacture and submersion of the cable. Mr. Field therefore proceeded to London, and with the assistance of Mr. Brett the Atlantic Telegraph Company was floated. Mr. Field himself supplied a quarter of the needed capital; and we may add that Lady Byron, and Mr. Thackeray, the novelist, were among the shareholders.
The design of the cable was a subject of experiment by Professor Morse and others. It was known that the conductor should be of copper, possessing a high conductivity for the electric current, and that its insulating jacket of gutta-percha should offer a great resistance to the leakage of the current. Moreover, experience had shown that the protecting sheath or armour of the core should be light and flexible as well as strong, in order to resist external violence and allow it to be lifted for repair. There was another consideration, however, which at this time was rather a puzzle. As early as 1823 Mr. (afterwards Sir) Francis Ronalds had observed that electric signals were retarded in passing through an insulated wire or core laid under ground, and the same effect was noticeable on cores immersed in water, and particularly on the lengthy cable between England and the Hague. Faraday showed that it was caused by induction between the electricity in the wire and the earth or water surrounding it. A core, in fact, is an attenuated Leyden jar; the wire of the core, its insulating jacket, and the soil or water around it stand respectively for the inner tinfoil, the glass, and the outer tinfoil of the jar. When the wire is charged from a battery, the electricity induces an opposite charge in the water as it travels along, and as the two charges attract each other, the exciting charge is restrained. The speed of a signal through the conductor of a submarine cable is thus diminished by a drag of its own making. The nature of the phenomenon was clear, but the laws which governed it were still a mystery. It became a serious question whether, on a long cable such as that required for the Atlantic, the signals might not be so sluggish that the work would hardly pay. Faraday had said to Mr. Field that a signal would take 'about a second,' and the American was satisfied; but Professor Thomson enunciated the law of retardation, and cleared up the whole matter. He showed that the velocity of a signal through a given core was inversely proportional to the square of the length of the core. That is to say, in any particular cable the speed of a signal is diminished to one-fourth if the length is doubled, to one-ninth if it is trebled, to one-sixteenth if it is quadrupled, and so on. It was now possible to calculate the time taken by a signal in traversing the proposed Atlantic line to a minute fraction of a second, and to design the proper core for a cable of any given length.