Australia - Cable Ships.
Special ships and those operating in Australian/New Zealand/Pacific waters to about 1930.

There were a number of ships which were used to lay telegraphic cables to Australia as well as in and around Australian waters and the Pacific. Details and images of some of these are presented below (together with a snapshot of the Great Eastern)..

The cable ships referenced below are:

      1. C. S. Agnes;
      2. C. S. Anglia;
      3. C. S. Colonia;
      4. C.S. Domina;
      5. C. S. Edinburgh;
      6. C. S. Faraday - both ships with this name.
      7. C. S. François Arago;
      8. C. S. Hibernia;
      9. C. S. Investigator;
      10. C. S. Iris;
      11. C. S. Kangaroo;
      12. C.S. Monarch;
      13. C. S. Patrol;
      14. C. S. Scotia;
      15. C. S. Seine;
      16. C. S. Silvertown;
      17. H.M.C.S. Victoria;
      18. S.S. Great Eastern;
C. S. Agnes.

An Eastern Extension Australasia and China Telegraph Company cable ship. In 1871, Eastern Extension (under the name of The China Submarine Telegraph Company) used the Agnes and two other ships to lay the Singapore-Saigon-Hong Kong cable.

In November 1876, she laid the second cable across Cook's Strait in New Zealand after which she also remained on repair duties based in New Zealand.

C.S. Anglia.

In 1901, the Anglia laid the 417 nm cable from Durban to Mauritius and then continued with the 2,157 nm Mauritius-Rodriguez-Cocos cable.

The Anglia, which laid the first sections, had already coupled a large number of cables in different parts of the world but was specially built for this Durban service. 

Anglia Cocos Anglia stamp
C.S. Colonia.

The Colonia was built in 1902 by Swan, Hunter Wigham Richardson. She has a length of 487 ft., a breadth of 56ft and a gross register of 7,891 tons. Her size can be evaluated from the fact that she could carry 5,000 tons of cable - a far greater load than even the Great Eastern had been capable of carrying. She had an appropriate name for a ship whose maiden enterprise was to assist in connecting the great colonies of the Empire.

The C.S. Colonia at the Telcon Works, Greenwich in 1909.

When the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company won the contract to manufacture and lay the Pacific cable, it was decided to lay the Bamfield - Fanning Island section cable in one operation. As none of the existing cable ships had sufficient storage capacity to carry the 3,458 nm of cable, Colonia was specially built for the task. 

Cable laying in Australia and the Pacific:

  • 1902: the Vancouver to Fanning Island section of the Pacific Cable'
  • 1903: the Honolulu - Midway Island - Guam - Manila cable for the US Pacific cable;
  • 1914: the Aden-Colombo, Ceylon-Penang-Singapore-Hong Kong cables;
  • 1923: the Penang-Colombo cable;
  • 1926: the duplicate cable from Cocos to Cottesloe.
C.S. Dominia.

The Dominia was built in 1926 for the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company for the specific purpose to lay the duplicate loaded telegraph cable from Bamfield to Fanning Island for the Pacific Cable Board.

The Dominia was of 9,273 gross tons and was the largest cable ship in the world when she was built in 1926 by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd. It carries 3,500 miles of cable weighing 8,500 tons.

The Dominia was slightly larger than the Colonia. She had a length of 488.9 feet, a breadth of 59 feet. Her steaming range was nearly double that of the Colonia. She could last at sea for about 45 days while steaming at 11½ knots.

In electing the equipment for the Dominia, which used oil fuel instead of coal, the greatest care was given to the selection of instruments and apparatus of the most up-to-date kind. Of special note were the recently invented wireless direction finder, an echo depth sounder (which enabled almost continuous soundings of the depth of the sea to be taken without stopping the ship), a range finder (for use in cable work as well as in navigation) and a revolution telegraph giving control of the revolution of their triple expansion engines -- a most important matter in cable work).

She had four cable tanks with a total capacity of 180,000 cubic feet.

In November 1926, the Vancouver-Fanning Island section was duplicated by the Dominia and the Faraday. The cable was paid out at a rate of 300 miles of cable each day - allowing 6 per cent of slack for the hills and valleys of the ocean bed. This assignment was the only one the Dominia undertook in the Pacific. Her other tasks were off Africa, Europe and the Americas.

When the cable divisions of Telcon and Siemens Bros. merged in 1935, there was only sufficient work for one ship. The Dominia was then sold to the Russians and renamed Nickolai Ejov.

The large sheaves shown here at the front of the Dominia were used for hauling the cable back up for repair.

C. S. Edinburgh.

The Edinburgh was not a large ship - its largest tank being 32 feet in diameter.

Cable laying in relation to Australia and the Pacific:

  • 1870: the 1,408 nm Madras to Penang cable for the British Indian Extension Telegraph Company in association with the C. S. Scanderia;
  • 1870: the 557 nm Singapore to Batavia cable for the British Australia Telegraph Company;
  • 1871: the 1082 nm cable from Banjoewangie to Darwin cable in association with the C. S. Hibernia;
  • 1876: the 1,283 nm cable from Sydney to Wellington, New Zealand for the newly formed Eastern Extension Company also in association with the C. S. Hibernia;
  • 1879: the Singapore-Banjoewangie section of the duplicate Eastern Extension cable in association with the C. S. Scotia laid and then completed the link to Darwin with the C.S. Seine;
  • 1879: the Penang to Singapore cable with a landing at Malacca in association with the C. S. Scotia .

After that, the Edinburgh remained as the repair ship.

C. S. Faraday - two ships with the same name.

The first C. S. Faraday was purpose designed and built for Siemens Bros. to lay the Atlantic cable in 1874 (Rye Beach, New Hampshire, USA - Tor Bay, Nova Scotia - Ballinskelligs, Ireland). She had a length of 360 feet and was of 5,052 gross tons. The two funnels were placed side by side and the bow and stern were of similar design which gave the vessel a unique appearance

In 1909, the Faraday laid the Tasmanian cable from Flinders to Port Dalrymple, George Town. This was her only Australian/Pacific/Far East operation.


Faraday 1
The first C. S. Faraday.
The second C. S. Faraday was built in 1922-23 as a replacement for the first. She was 415 feet in length and of 5,622 gross tons. She was owned by Siemens Brothers and retained by them after a merger with the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company to form Submarine Cables Ltd. 

In 1926, the Faraday laid the duplicate Fanning Island - Fiji cable after which she returned to Sydney for 30 days until the cable was taken over and then loaded general cargo to return to London.

This was her only Australian/Pacific/Far East operation.

On 25 March 1941, the Faraday received instructions to join a convoy of 25 ships which were due to leave Falmouth for Milford Haven. Due to severe weather, only five ships, including Faraday, sailed but they soon lost contact with each other due to poor visibility. Faraday came under attack at about 7.45 pm from a Heinkel 111 which dropped two bombs and strafed the ship with machine gun fire killing eight of the crew and injuring twenty five. The bombs exploded in the oil bunkers causing a serious fire and the crew abandoned ship which eventually ran aground off St Anne´s Head. The Heinkel was shot down by Faraday´s gunners. The wreck of the Faraday now lies in depths of water between 5 and 16 meters under the cliffs at Hoopers Point, Pembrokeshire. 

Faraday 2
The second C. S. Faraday.
After deck
The dynamometer and the stern sheaves on the after deck.
C.S. François Arago.

The C.S. François-Arago was built in 1882 by the Sunderland Shipbuilding Company but sailed under the name the C.S. Westmeath. She was 320 feet in length, 42.4 feet in breadth and had a gross tonnage of 3,342 tons. She was owned by the W. T Henly Telegraph works but chartered in 1887 to La Société Française des Télégraphes Sous-Marin. In 1902, she was sold to La Société Industrielle des Téléphones and renamed François Arago.

She could carry upwards of 2,000 tons of cable on board divided into four tanks - the largest one containing 600 knots (1,112 km).

The Arago laid 11 cables in various parts of the world before laying the New Caledonia cable. Some of those cables were laid in deep water under the most trying environments. In some cases the cables were over 1,200 miles long and were laid in 1900 to 2,900 fathoms.

1902: the Bundaberg to New Caledonia cable.

In 1914, she was sold again and renamed the Peronne.


C. S. Hibernia.

The Hibernia was a large ship of 3,000 tons and had three tanks 30 feet in diameter and 26 feet in depth. Each tank held approximately 450 miles of cable.

In 1870, the C.S. Hibernia laid the cable from Singapore to Batavia and then, in 1871, both the Hibernia and the C. S. Edinburgh laid the 1,082 nm cable from Banjoewangie to Darwin cable.

In 1876, the newly formed Eastern Extension company used both the Hibernia and Edinburgh again to lay the 1,283 nm cable from Sydney to Wellington, New Zealand. An excellent and very complete description of the Hibernia and its role in laying the cable to New Zealand is given elsewhere.

In 1877, the Hibernia worked with the C. S. Kangaroo to lay the Burma-Rangoon-Penang cable.

The Hibernia, Edinburh and Scanderia.
1870 Wood Engraving - China Telegraph Expedition.

C. S. Investigator.

The Investigator is a smart looking iron clipper of 700 tons gross and 569 tones register. She was built on the Tyne at Mitchell and Co.'s yard, and is of exceedingly strong proportions, her ribs being only 20 in. apart.

The Investigaor measures 204 feet in length with a 28 feet beam and a depth of hold of 16 feet.

She is propelled by a screw and her engines, which are on the inverted double acting principle, were made and fitted by T. D. Marshall, of Shields. They are of 160 horse power nominal and in moderate weather the speed attained by the vessel is between seven and eight knots. A greater rate of speed could be accomplished but for the insufficient oiler accommodation. She is also fitted up with steam appatatus for condensing water at the rate of 1200 gallons per diem.

The Investigator, when quite a new craft, was purchased by the home Government during the time of the Crimean war to convey railway plant to the scene of operations in the Crimea.

Subsequently she was purchased by the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company and came to Tasmania under their auspices in 1869 to lay the second Tasmanian-Victorian cable. She was then transferred to the West Indian and Panama Telegraph Company.

The Investator was commanded during her Tasmanian visit by Captain   D. Cruikshank, a brother of the late Mr. Andrew Rose Cruikshank, who was well known in commercial circles in Tasmania as one of the promoters of the National Bank and a partner in the then firm of Dalgety, Cruikshank. and Co.

H.M.C.S. Iris.

The H.M.C.S Iris was built in 1902 by D. J. Dunlop & Company, Glasgow She was 295 feet in length, 40.7 feet in breadth and had a gross tonnage of 2,253 tons. She was built to maintain the 1902 Trans Pacific Cable and was owned by the Pacific Cable Board as their repair ship. She was the first vessel to carry the H.M.C.S. prefix.

Cable duties in relation to Australia/New Zealand/Pacific:

  • 1908: survey work in Bass Straits for the Commonwealth as it was intended to lay two new cables in those waters;
  • 1912: diverted the Norfolk Island - Doubtless Bay cable into Auckland;
  • 1937: Cook Strait, New Zealand telephone cable.

In 1929, the Iris was transferred to Imperial & International Communications Ltd. and renamed Recorder. In 1937, she was attempting a repair near Batavia without navigation lights while in Dutch in territorial waters. She was apprehended by a Dutch submarine and requested to accompany the submarine into port. Holland was still neutral at that time. After formalities clarified the situation, the  Recorder was able to return and carry out the repair to the cable.

From 1929 to the start of the War, the Recorder was based at Auckland. After the War, she was assigned duties in Gibraltar and Aden until she was sold for scrap in 1952.

C. S. Kangaroo.

In 1871, the C. S. Kangaroo, in concert with the Agnes, Belgian and the Minia laid the important Singapore-Saigon-Hong Kong cable. In 1877, the Kangaroo worked with the C. S. Hibernia to lay the Burma-Rangoon-Penang cable.

In 1884, the Kangaroo laid the Tonkin-Hue-Saigon-Hong Kong cable working with the C. S. Calabria.


C.S. Monarch.

The first ship permanently fitted out to lay cables.

She had been built in 1830 as a paddle-steamer but was outfitted as a cable ship by the Electric Telegraph Company in 1853.

There have been five ships named the Monarch. In 1973, the fifth C.S. Monarch was launched. She was broken up in 2003.

C. S. Patrol.

The Cocos-Batavia cable was laid in 1908 by C.S. Patrol.

C. S. Scotia.

The C. S. Scotia was built in 1861 for Samuel Cunard for the Atlantic service. She was 379 feet in length, 47.8 feet in breadth and has a gross tonnage of 3,871 tons. She was purchased by the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company in 1879 and converted for cable laying and fitted with new engines by Laird Brothers.

Cable laying associated with Australia:

  • 1879: immediately after her conversion, she laid the duplicate Eastern Extension cable, together with the C.S. Edinburgh, from Penang to Singapore with a landing at Malacca and then they went on to lay the duplicate Singapore-Banjoewangie section of the cable;
  • 1883: extended the cable from Hong Kong to Shanghai with a landing being made at Foochow;
  • 1890: laid the duplicate Sydney to Wellington, New Zealand cable;
  • 1894: laid out a different route between Singapore and Hong Kong with a 2,002 nm cable landing at Labuan, North Borneo;
  • 1901-2: laid the 1,721 nm Cocos-Cottesloe (Perth) cable and then the 2,525 nm Cottesloe-Glenelg (Adelaide) cable. 

The C. S. Scotia was sold in 1903 and broke her back on a reef at Catalan Island, Guam in 1904.

Scotia Cocos
C. S. Seine.

The C. S. Seine began cable work in 1873 after servig as a twin funnelled paddle steamer for the Royal Mail on its West Indian routes. She was converted to screw propulsion in 1872.

Subsequently, the Seine laid many cables across the world including:

  • the second Banjoewangi (Java) - Port Darwin cable in 1880 in conjunction with the C. S. Edinburgh,;
  • the third cable - from Banjoewangie to Roebuck Bay (Broome) W.A. in February 1889.
  • a section of the Para - Pernmabuco - Rio de Janeiro - Maldonado - Montevideo cable from 30 October 1889 to 1 December 1889.
  • the New York to Coney Island cable and the Coney Island to Haiti cable in 1896.

She was finally scapped in 1905.

C. S. Silvertown.

In March 1873, the first purpose-built cable-laying ship was built by C. Mitchell & Co of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. She was named the C.S. Hooper and immediately commissioned to lay the Para-Maranham-Ceara-Pernambuco-Bahia-Rio de Janeiro cable for the Western and Brazilian Telegraph Company.

She as 338 feet in length and 55 feet in breadth.


In 1881, the Hooper was renamedPerhaps the new name was not accidental and the sale was already nearing completion. C.S. Silvertown and, in the following year, she was sold to the India Rubber, Gutta Percha and Telegraph Works Ltd. As shown by the receipt, the Gutta Percha Company was based at Silvertown.

In 1916, she was purchased by the Anglo-American Oil Company for use as an oil carrier and for bunkering oil. After two other lives, she was sold to Italian shipwreckers in 1935.

Cable laying in association with Australia and the Pacific:

  • 1902-03: laid the US Pacific cable from San Francisco to Shanghai, China.
  • 1912: laid a cable from Bondi, Sydney to Auckland.

The Steamer "Newsboy" (left of centre) paying out the lne along the metal buoys.
The C.S. Silvertown is waiting (at the right) to pick up the end.

H.M.C.S. Victoria.

The H.M.C.S. Victoria laid the cable in 1859 from Victoria to Tasmania in conjunction with the Omeo.

S.S. Great Eastern.

Built at the Millwall Iron Works on the River Thames in England. At the time of her lauch in 1858, she was the biggest ship ever built. Her designer I. K. Brunel called her "The Great Babe" - and unfortunately he died soon after her maiden voyage.

The "Babe" was converted to a cable ship and laid the first cable (to last) across the Atlantic in 1866. There had been several attempts to lay the cable - in July/August 1865, 1,062 miles oof cable had been laid before the cable snapped near the end of the ship and the cable was lost. The Anglo-American Telegraph Company was then inaugurated to lay a new cable and that task was competed successfully on 27 July 1866 when the cable on the Eastern reached Heart's Content in Newfoundlan. The Great Eastern finished her career as a floating music hall and advertising hoarding in Liverpool. She was broken up in 1889.

As Wikipedia notes, there is no foundation for the legend that a phantom riveter had been accidently sealed in the gigantic hull.

The top mast was purchased by the Liverpool Football Cub and is used as a flagpole at their Anfield ground alongside Spion Kop.