Back Reflection The Man History Forgot (Part 1)
By Bill Burns and Stewart ash
July 20, 2020
Regular readers of Back Reflection will know that after the 1858 failure of the first attempt to lay the Atlantic Telegraph, six years would pass before the next attempt could be organised. We know that Cyrus West Field (1819-92) continued to campaign ceaselessly for it, and that after the collapse of the Red Sea cable project, the British Government and the Atlantic Telegraph Co set up a joint committee to inquire into the construction of submarine telegraph cables under the Chairmanship of Captain Douglas Strutt Galton (1822-99). The Committee had its first meeting on 1 December 1859 and the final report was issued in April 1861.
However, little progress was made in gaining support for a second attempt at laying an Atlantic cable until Cyrus Field convinced John Pender (1816-96) to re-join the board of the Atlantic Telegraph Co, a conversation which took place during a walk from Pender’s residence, 18 Arlington Street, to the Houses of Parliament. Shortly afterwards, in 1864, Pender founded the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Co. Very little was known or had been written about what went on in the interim. However, just before the Covid-19 lockdown, we were contacted by Caroline Oldridge, a descendant of James Stuart-Wortley (1805-81), and she provided us with a collection of documents that sheds a great deal more light on the important six years from 1858 to 1864 which resulted in the successful completion of two Atlantic cables in 1866. Over the next four Issues we will relate the previously untold story of this remarkable man’s significant contribution to the success of the 1865 and 1866 Atlantic Telegraph cables.
James Archibald Stuart-Wortley was born in St James’s Square, London, on 3 July 1805, the youngest son of James Archibald Stuart-Wortley-Mackenzie (1776-1845), 1st Baron Warncliffe, and Elizabeth, Caroline, Mary née Creighton (1779-1856), daughter of John Creighton (1731-1828), 1st Earl of Erne. James’ father was Lord Privy Seal under Robert Peel (1788-1850), a soldier and the son of Prime Minister John Stuart (1713-92), 3rd Earl of Bute, so James was very much a member of the British Upper Class establishment. He was educated at Christ Church College, Oxford, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1826 and a Master of Arts in 1831. He was called to the Bar of the Inner Temple and went on the Northern Circuit before becoming a Queen’s Counsel ‘Silk’ in 1841.