“Unite the old world and the new”

Subscribers to the St. John’s newspaper, The Courier on  (November 8, 1850) read about the feasibility of an underwater electric cable running from Ireland to Newfoundland. The letter to the Editor read:

“I hope the day is not far distant when St. John’s will be the first link in the electric chain which will unite the Old World and the New.”

Previous to this proposal all discussion about this new form of communication “telegraphic communication” had suggested Halifax as the terminus.

The writer of the letter Bishop John Thomas Mullock, the Catholic Bishop of Newfoundland in making the proposal was the first to suggest Newfoundland as the terminus rather that Nova Scotia. Mullock wrote:

“Now would it not be well to call the attention of England and America to the extraordinary capabilities of St. John’s, as the nearest telegraphic point? It is an Atlantic port, lying, I may say, in the track of the ocean steamers, and by establishing it as the American telegraphic station, news could be communicated to the whole American continent forty-eight hours, at least, sooner than by any other route.”

Prior to penning the letter Mullock had done his home work. Critics had for example argued that an underwater electric cable would not be safe from icebergs. Mullock had read extensively on the subject collecting a number of books on the electric telegraph. He also subscribed to a number of geological publications and collected geological maps and surveys. Based on his research he argued in the letter that the electric cable will be perfectly safe from icebergs. These book and maps now form part of the collection in the Basilica Museum Library in St. John’s.

In 1854, Frederick Gisborne secured financial backers, including American capitalist Cyrus Field and British telegraph engineer, John Brett. The New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company was incorporated in 1854; the Newfoundland legislature granted the company exclusive rights to the submarine telegraph for 50 years and a government subsidy. The company successfully installed the transatlantic cable between Heart’s Content and Ireland (1866); and Heart’s Content and Valentia (Ireland) (1873-1874).

Recommended Archival Collection: Take some time to explore MG 570 at the Rooms Provincial Archives. MG 570 are the records of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company (Harbour Grace) fonds. The collection consists of letter books received, outgoing correspondence, general orders, rules, and regulations and service messages sent and received.

Recommended Book: Atlantic Sentinel by D.R. Tarrant, Fkanker Press. Atlantic Sentinel is illustrated with sixty vintage photographs and maps. The illustrations range from sketches of the early transatlantic attempts in the 1850s and 1860s to photographs of cable station staff in the twentieth century

Recommended Reading: Frederic Gisborne, Cyrus Field and the Atlantic Cable of 1858  By Ted Rowe Newfoundland Quarterly: Fall 2008, Volume 101 Number 2 .