Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts | Licence: CC0 1.0
Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts | Licence: CC0 1.0

The Cable Passed From the Works into the Hulk (the Old Frigate Iris) Lying in the Thames at Greenwich

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From the Collection


One of the 19th century's great technological achievements was to lay a telegraphic cable beneath the Atlantic, allowing messages to speed back and forth between North America and Europe in minutes, rather than ten or twelve days by steamer. An initially successful attempt in 1858, led by Cyrus W. Field and financed by the Atlantic Telegraph Company, failed after three weeks. Two working cables were finally laid in July and September 1866, the result of repeated efforts by the indefatigable Field, a cadre of engineers, technicians, and sailors, two groups of financial backers, and significant help from the British and United States navies. This watercolor by Dudley shows the cable being transferred from the manufacturing works at Greenwich onto a hulk in the Thames which would carry it down-river to the Great Eastern, moored off the Kent coast. 2,400 miles of cable weighing 4,000 pounds per nautical mile would be loaded onto the great steamer in 1865. Part of a series documenting the long, arduous process, this image was reproduced as a color lithograph in William H. Russell's 1866 book "The Atlantic Telegraph" (92.10.100 and 61.536.5). In 1892 Field donated art works by Dudley, a copy of Russell's book, commemorative medals, memorabilia, and specimens of cable to the Museum. Medium: watercolor over graphite with touches of gouache.
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Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts

From the Watercolour World


Greenwich, London, England