The Man History Forgot (Part 5)
By Stewart Ash and Bill Burns
March 30, 2021
As we explained in January, new funding was required to keep the dream of an Atlantic cable alive, and perhaps in part because of the adverse publicity of the 1865 failure, securing British investment was once again proving difficult. Also, in the aftermath of the American Civil War, which had ended in May 1865, Cyrus Field found little enthusiasm in America for supporting another attempt at laying the cable. Once again it was Daniel Gooch and John Pender who answered the call. They raised £600,000 of new investment, contributing £10,000 each and co-founding the Anglo-American Telegraph Co in March 1866. Both became Directors of this new company, and Richard Atwood Glass was appointed as its first Chairman. The company took over the remaining equity in Field’s New York, Newfoundland & London Telegraph Co, appointing Field as a non-executive Director. Unsurprisingly, a new contract to manufacture and lay a second Atlantic cable was given to Telcon; the fee for this was to be paid in shares of the Anglo-American Telegraph Co. There has been no correspondence found to date to indicate that James Stuart-Wortley played any active role in setting up this new company, although he remained Chairman of the Atlantic Telegraph Co.
Telcon had already started manufacture of the cable at their own risk, allowing the work to be completed quickly. All the cable was loaded by late June, so the Great Eastern was able to sail for Ireland from Sheerness on 30 June 1866. The lay commenced from Bantry Bay on 13 July, and this time all went well. Just two weeks later, on 26 July, Great Eastern reached Heart’s Content in Newfoundland, and the cable end was landed the following day. On 9 August, Great Eastern, together with a small squadron of support ships, sailed from Heart’s Content in search of the buoy marking the position of the lost end of the 1865 cable. After thirty attempts the cable end was finally brought on board on 2 September and a 600nm length of new cable spliced on. The completed cable was tested successfully to Ireland, then laid back to Heart’s Content, and on 8 September the lay of the 1865 cable was finally completed when the shore end was landed.
On 19 September 1866, the Great Eastern returned to Liverpool in triumph and, to celebrate this great achievement, the American Chamber of Commerce in Liverpool, an association founded in 1801 to promote trade between Britain and the USA, put on a gala dinner chaired by Sir Stafford Northcote (1818-87), 1st Earl of Iddesleigh. At the dinner, Sir Stafford read out a letter he had received from Edward George Geoffrey Smith-Stanley (1799-1869), 14th Earl of Derby, then Prime Minister, conferring by order of Queen Victoria a number of decorations on some of the major contributors to the project. There were baronetcies for Daniel Gooch and Curtis Miranda Lampson (1806-85), and knighthoods for James Anderson, Richard Atwood Glass, Samuel Canning and William Thomson. Despite his very large part in the success of the enterprise, John Pender was denied an honour, and regular readers will know the reasons for this. However, it also appears that James Stuart-Wortley and Augustus Hamilton both refused the offer of honours. The next letter in the collection alludes to all not being well with this process, but tantalisingly gives no clear indication of what the problems might have been.
On 4 October, Stuart-Wortley sent a letter of congratulation to Samuel Canning in anticipation of the honour to be bestowed on him. Having received no reply, he sent a follow-up note on 13 October. Canning replied on 14 October, apologising for not replying sooner, and concluded with the following note:
‘Although I am of opinion that from some cause or other the privilege of merit could not well be put in a more objectionable manner either to Mr Glass or myself. I have now to inform you that it is not my intention to refuse the distinction offered me by Her Majesty’.