Today the Seated Liberty Quarter Dollar Coin remembers the cable splices of June 26, 1858, their successes and failures of laying the Atlantic Cable during the June month.
From The Story of the Telegraph, and a History of the Great Atlantic Cable by Charles Frederick Briggs and Augustus Maverick, published in 1858:
Saturday, June 26. — Calm, beautiful weather; Squadron close together; at 8 A.m. a telegraphic message from Agamemnon says : ” Will be ready to splice at 9 o’clock.”
Preparations are immediately made; hawsers sent on board of her, as also the end of the Telegraph Cable.
Everything auspicious and favorable — lat. 52° 2′, long. 33° 18′ W.
We are 15 days out at noon. At 1 o’clock we commence paying out Cable. At 3 o’clock we had 200 fathoms out; it is calm; the hawser is cast off from the Agamemnon, and the Niagara commences to pay out in earnest, as does the Agamemnon. At 3:45 just three miles of Cable had been paid out, the pressure 2,360 pounds, when, at that instant, as the Cable was coming out of the circle, the Cable got out of one of the grooves of the wheel and into another groove, and, before it could be liberated, it parted, by being cut by a tar-scraper attached to the wheel.
Thus the three miles from our ship was lost, and probably the same amount from the Agamemnon, as no doubt she did not make any attempt to save it.
The ships then again neared each other; spliced again at 5 P.M.; took in hawsers and commenced paying out under the most favorable prospects; sea smooth as a mill-pond, and weather calm. The sight is beautiful.
The Gorgon heads the Niagara — the Valorous heads the Agamemnon. We follow the N.W. 3/4 N”. — the Agamemnon a S.E. 3/4 S. course; our rate of speed, three miles per hour.
At 8 p.m., 12 miles and 270 fathoms have run out most beautifully, the pressure being very uniform at 2,400 pounds. The same continues till midnight, when this day ends.
Captain Hudson’s official report of the Expedition was as follows:
“United States Steam Frigate Niagara, Queenstown, Ireland, July 8, 1858.
“Sir, — I am somewhat mortified and disappointed to report the arrival of the Niagara at this port on the 5th inst., after three unsuccessful attempts at laying down the Telegraphic Cable.
“My last dispatch, of the 10th ult., informed you that the squadron were off Plymouth harbor, bound to the appointed rendezvous for uniting and running out the Telegraphic Cable.
“During the first three or four days of our passage, we had calms and light variable winds; the following eight days almost continuous gales from the west to the southwest, and the greater part of the time heavy sea; when the weather again moderated, and our vessels, which had separated during the gales, met together at the rendezvous on the 25th; the Agamemnon having shifted about one hundred miles of the upper portion of the Cable on her main hold tier during the gale, which portion they were engaged in running to the gun-deck when we fell in with them.
“On the 26th (Saturday) we commenced our operations by securing the Niagara and Agamemnon together, stern to, with hawsers, splicing the Cable, and easing it down gradually with two hundred fathoms paid out from each ship; the hawser let go by signal, and the ships separated on their respective courses, at a rate of three-fourths of a mile the hour. When we had paid out two miles and forty fathoms, as shown by our indicator, the Cable, being hauled in the wrong direction, through the excitement or carelessness of one of the men stationed by it, caught and parted in the Niagara’s machinery. A heavy fog and mist had set in soon after the ships separated. We were fortunate enough, however, to get together again in a short time, splice, lower down the Cable, and separate from each other as before stated. The Niagara’s speed at starting was short of one mile the hour, and gradually increased to two knots six fathoms up to 7 o’clock p.m., the Cable being paid out three and a half knots per hour; and from that hour till midnight, a uniform speed was maintained of three and a half miles the hour, and the Cable was paid out, as shown by the indicator, at four and a half miles the hour. Our machinery was working as well as we could desire, Cable running from the coils and going over it with ease and regularity, when to our great surprise, at 1:15 o’clock, a.m., on the 27th (Sunday), the electricians reported that there had been no signals from the Agamemnon for the last ten minutes. We kept going on slowly, as previously agreed upon, until 4:40 a.m. (in the meantime the electricians tested the Cable in the ship, and reported the continuity and insulations perfect), when the ship’s headway was entirely stopped, and we commenced heaving in with the machinery. The Cable parted at 4:56 A.M., and we lost on this occasion as measured by the indicator, 42 miles, 300 fathoms of Cable, and started for the rendezvous, where on Monday the 28th, the Agamemnon and Niagara were secured together, the splice made, lowered down, and the ships separated, as has been already described, at 7:30 P.M.
Our speed for the first hour was only three-quarters of a mile; second hour, 2.5 miles; third hour, 3 miles; and the fourth hour, 3.5 miles. From that time until 9:10 on Tuesday evening, the 29th (when we ceased to get signals from the Agamemnon, and the engines slowed down), the speed of the ship had been 4.5 miles the hour, and the Cable paid out 5.125 miles the hour, as shown by the indicator.
“The engines were stopped at 10 p.m., and the ship hung in a measure by the Cable until twenty minutes after midnight, when it parted, the indicator showing a loss on this occasion of 145 miles, 930 fathoms of the Cable. Our electricians again thoroughly tested all the Cable on board ship, and found the insulation and continuity all perfect, and there was but one opinion among those gentlemen, that the Cable parted at or near the Agamemnon, which we shall ascertain when she arrives at this port to fill up her coal.
“An arrangement had been made, when the ships separated on the 28th inst., that in the event of any accident to the Cable before either should have run one hundred miles, we were to return to the rendezvous, unite the Cable, and make another attempt to lay it out; if beyond that distance, the vessels were to proceed to Queenstown, fill up with coal, and again renew our efforts.
“In the Niagara we had all the coal that we required for laying down our part of the Cable. There were serious doubts, however, if we ran further, or any distance beyond the one named, whether the Agamemnon’s coal would hold out (without any expenditure in getting back to the rendezvous) and leave her enough to insure steaming back to Valentia Bay with the cable, in the event of no further casualty to it on the way there.
“Mr. Everett’s machinery has paid out the Cable with apparent ease and uniformity of strain, and we find it admirably adapted to the work it has to perform in all its parts.
“Her Majesty’s steamer Gorgon, which accompanied us, arrived here with the Niagara. We now await the arrival of the Agamemnon and the Valorous, when we hope to be off again for the rendezvous in seven or eight days, under more favorable auspices of weather than we experienced in the month of June.
“It affords me pleasure to report the continued good health of officers and crew.
“I have the honor to be, respectfully,
“Your obedient serv’t,
“Wm. L. Hudson, Captain.
“Hon. L Toucey, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.”
Chief Engineer Everett made report: —
“United States Steamer Niagara, at Sea, June 30, 1858.
To the Directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Company:
“Gentlemen — We beg to make the following report relating to the paying out of the Telegraph Cable from this ship. We sailed from Plymouth in company with the steamers Agamemnon, Valorous and Gorgon, on Thursday, June 10th inst., but did not meet the Agamemnon at the appointed rendezvous (latitude 52° 2′, longitude 33° 18′), until the 26th inst., as most of the voyage had been one continuous gale, and the vessels were unable to keep sight of each other. At 12:18, local time, the splice connecting the Cables of the two ships had been made, and we commenced paying out. At 1:45, the leading on the part of the Cable ran into the adjoining groove, and in the excitement of first starting, while attempting to put it into the proper groove, it was thrown completely off the wheel, and was parted on the handle on the tar-scraper. Two miles and forty fathoms of the Cable had been paid out.
“The splice was again made and we commenced paying out at 5:20 p.m., the ship going slowly ahead, and the Cable running out at the rate of three and a half knots per hour until 7 o’clock, when the ship’s speed was increased to three knots, and from this gradually to three and three-quarter knots, and the Cable was paid out from four and a half to five knots, the strain varying from 2,100 to 2,300 pounds. At 1:40 (27th) Mr. De Sauty, the electrician, reported that no signals had been received for the last quarter of an hour, and that from his tests he believed the Cable had parted at a considerable distance from the ship. The ship’s speed was reduced as much as possible, in order to pay out the least amount of Cable practicable, while the electricians made further experiments. At 4:50 a.m., the electricians having given an unqualified opinion that the Cable was parted, we decided to attempt hauling in. The engines were connected, and about one hundred fathoms recovered, when the Cable parted near the surface of the water. The wind was fresh, with considerable sea. Forty-two miles and three hundred fathoms had been paid out, and the running of the Cable from the coils and the mechanical arrangements for paying out had been perfectly satisfactory.
“On the 28th, soon after midday, the ships again met at the rendezvous, when Mr. Everett visited the Agamemnon to confer with the engineers, and ascertained that the Cable had not been broken on board that ship, but that they had supposed it had been broken on board the Niagara. It is conclusive that the Cable must have parted some distance from either ship, but from what cause, or the precise place, we have no means of ascertaining.
“At 6:07 P.M. the splice was again made and lowered, the ship moving ahead slowly, and we paid out the Cable as before, until 8 o’clock, when the speed was increased to three knots, and further increased to four knots by midnight.
“At 12 o’clock M. (29th), by observation, the ship had run 67 miles, and we had paid out 89 miles and 360 fathoms of Cable. During the past twelve hours, the speed of the ship had averaged about 4.5 knots, and 5.5 knots of Cable had been paid out per hour. Nearly the same rate of speed of ship and Cable as before was maintained until 6:18 P.M., when signals were again reported to have failed by the electricians. The ship’s speed was reduced, and the Cable paid out very slowly. At 11 o’clock, the electricians addressed us a note, and we determined to stop paying out and to let the ship ride by the Cable until it parted. Although the wind was quite fresh, the Cable held the ship for one hour and forty minutes before breaking, and not withstanding a strain of four tons. By soundings on chart the water was 1,650 fathoms.
“The ship had run on her course 109 miles, and 142 miles, 280 fathoms of the Cable had been paid out, or about thirty percent, more Cable than the distance run; but an allowance of ten miles at least must be made for the excess of Cable paid out immediately after the splice was made, which will reduce the percentage of loss to about twenty-one percent. There had been at no time a strain of a ton upon the Cable since the splice was last made, and the angle at which it was running out varied from twelve to nineteen degrees with the horizon. The paying-out machinery worked perfectly, and we have not had the slightest difficulty in any department; and up to the time of the failure in the receipt of signals we had the utmost confidence in the successful termination of the enterprise.
“There is now remaining in the ship 1,000 miles of cable, or about thirty percent, excess over the distance to be run, and should you think proper to renew the attempt, we feel confident there is sufficient Cable now in the ship to meet the requirements, and are ready to return so soon as the ship has obtained the necessary supply of coal.
“W. E. Everett
“W. H. Woodhouse.”
The Seated Liberty Quarter Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s image of a splice for an undersea cable in 1858.