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James Anderson (Captain)

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James Anderson (1824–1893), later Sir James Anderson, was born in Dumfries and educated at the local academy. He was captain of the SS Great Eastern when the ship laid a Transatlantic telegraph cable in 1865 and 1866. He later took over the position of managing director of the Eastern Telegraph Company, which became the largest submarine cable firm in the world.

Telegraph cables such as this did not carry voice communication, which was not possible until TAT-1 was laid in 1956. Prior to this, messages had to be sent using codes, such as Morse.

The SS Great Eastern was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and was five times bigger than any previous ship. It remained so until the construction of the the series of ships which included the Titanic.

Around 1862 or 1863 he was invited to captain of the Great Eastern in its first voyages intended to lay the Transatlantic Cable

The first attempt to lay such a cable in 1858 had only been partially successful, but had still served to prove the feasibility of the project. Further attempts were made in 1865 and 1866.

His first attempt in 1865 failed, with so many things going wrong on the voyage it was even suspected a saboteur was on board, planted by a rival firm to disrupt the operation.

Despite this failure, carrying the cable on board meant the ship had been in contact with land throughout the sailing, they returned home to find that their partial success had led to renewed interest, and they set off again the following year.

Valentia Island Telegraph Memorial, 2005
Valentia Island
Telegraph Memorial 2005
© Andy Stephenson

The 1865 voyages sailed from from Valentia Island, one of the most westerly points on the Irish coast, to Heart's Content, Newfoundland. This sailing was so successful they not only completed laying the second cable, but were able to recover the first and complete two links under the Atlantic.

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