Sunday, 13 August 2017

Cable at Middle Cove

In July 1866, the first trans-Atlantic cable made it to Heart's Content, Newfoundland, connecting North America and Europe. Over the next century, cables were landed in various coves and bays around Newfoundland, often with some difficulty given Newfoundland's rough waters and rocky shores.
Middle Cove Beach from Marine Drive. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2017.

One such cable was landed on Middle Cove Beach in 1953. In an article in The Atlantic Guardian titled "Tales of Logy Bay", the story of one of the cable landing attempts is chronicled. This cable was owned by Cable and Wireless Limited, who were once the Direct United States Telegraph Company (DUSTC) then the Imperial and International Communications Company. They operated the harbour Grace station, which closed in 1953. In 1943, the cable that connected Halifax to Harbour Grace failed in 1943 and although attempts were made to repair it, it wasn't until 1952 with the HMTS Monarch that the cable was repaired. The following year, the HMTS Monarch was used to divert that cable from Harbour Grace to Middle Cove where it could be connected to a St. John's office.
Ridley Hall, the cable office in Harbour Grace. Image from Patrick Collins and the Conception Bay Museum.

The HMTS Monarch was the largest telegraph ship in the world. Built in 1946 on the Tyne, the ship had a gross tonnage of 8,065, a speed of 14 knots (cable laying was done at half that speed) and was such a reliable ship that other countries would wait for the Monarch to be available. In this case, the ship and 137 crew were chartered for three months with Cable and Wireless Ltd.
Middle Cove Beach from the HMTS Monarch. From LBMCOC Museum 011.21.3.
On the forth attempt to land the cable at Middle Cove, crews were working quickly to attempt to bring the cable to shore before an impeding gale. A group of fishermen were hired to help from the beach side, and could do nothing but wait to see if the cable would be lowered. Once sailors from the Monarch got their attention, the fishermen moved to the water, ready to haul the cable. The fishermen worked together to haul ropes of increasing size. These ropes were attached to a small tractor to bring the ropes further on shore to a heavy truck which brought the ropes further up the road. The heavy ropes and cables were buoyed by empty oil drums, which, as they were dragged to the beach, were removed by the Newfoundlanders working that day. The drums were brought, by boat, back to the water to be attached once again to the heavy rope.
From Middle Cove Beach. Note the oil drums being used as buoys. From the LBMCOC Museum 011.21.1.
The afternoon continued, and there was no apparent change in the weather, but at 2:15pm, a signal was sent to cease pulling in the cable, and the sailors worked to cut the rope, collect the buoys, and return to the ship. The fifth attempt, a few days later, finally saw the cable land at Middle Cove.
Fishermen cutting a drum from the line. From Strawbridge 1954.
The cable itself was one in in diameter and weighed 2.6 tons per mile. It measured a total distance of 15,252 miles. The core of the cable was insulated with Telcothene, a product developed by Telcon which enabled much higher carrier frequencies meaning more speech channels could be carried over the one conductor.
A view of Middle Cove Beach, the fishermen and sailors working to pull in the cable, and the HMTS Monarch. From the LBMCOC Museum 011.21.2.


Dean, J.N.
2017 The Anglo-Dutch Telephone CableHistory of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications from the First Submarine Cable of 1850 to the Worldwide Fiber Optic Network. [accessed 13 Aug 2017].

Glover, B.
2017 Direct United States Cable Company. History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications from the First Submarine Cable of 1850 to the Worldwide Fiber Optic Network. [accessed 13 Aug 2017].

Strawbridge, M.S.
1954 Tales of Logy Bay. Atlantic Guardian, 11(1): 17-21.

Tarrant, D.R.
1994 Telegraph and Telephone Companies. Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, 5:346-352.

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