Back Reflection: The Man History Forgot (Part 3)
By Steward Ash and Bill Burns
December 2, 2020
As we explained in the September Issue, in the early months of 1862 Cyrus Field met with British Government officials in an attempt to obtain funding, or at least guarantees, for the laying of a new Atlantic cable. At the same time, he wrote to Sir Peter George FitzGerald (1808-80), 1st baronet and 19th Knight of Kerry, asking if he could use his Government contacts to advance the project. FitzGerald had promoted Valentia as the Irish landing site for the 1857 and 1858 cables, and he was anxious to maintain this position for a new cable. He was, of course, successful in this.
Cyrus Field (with chart) and Sir Peter FitzGerald (with cane)
selecting the landing point for the 1865 cable at Valentia
In the Knight of Kerry’s scrapbook of the Atlantic cable, now held at the IET Archives in London, is a letter to him from Bewicke Berry, manager of the Knight’s slate works at Valentia. Berry was in London in 1862 at the same time as Cyrus Field, and had met him at breakfast on 25 February, shortly before Field’s meeting with Earl Russell on 4 March, that we described in Part 2. In his letter, Berry gave the Knight this important information:
‘Field’s proposal, which however he has not yet made to the Government and wishes to be kept quiet at present, is that each of the three Gov(ernmen)ts of England, France and America should give an unconditional guarantee of one per cent for 30 years on the estimated outlay of £700,000.’
As we have seen, neither Field nor Stuart-Wortley had any success with the British Government, all their proposals being rejected. The next step was to try and persuade France to invest in the project, and the Atlantic Telegraph company took this in hand. One of the company’s directors was John Watkins Brett (1805-63), and Stuart-Wortley must have consulted him about approaching the French Government, as the next letter in the collection is dated 9 July 1862 and is from Brett to Stuart-Wortley.