HL Deb 14 August 1860 vol 160 cc1252-5

wished to call the attention of the House to the present state of telegraphic communication with India. He complained that notwithstanding all the efforts made by the present and preceding Governments, and the large sums lavished in the expectation of carrying out a regular line of telegraph by land and sea to India via the Mediterranean, every scheme hitherto attempted had failed, and we were now in the same position as respected telegraphic communication with the East that we were in three years ago. The first attempt which was made was to procure a concession from the Porte to make a direct line from Constantinople to Alexandria, from thence to Suez, and on to Aden. A subsidy was granted for that purpose, and he stated at the time that, although it might be necessary, it was a very extravagant outlay of the public money. That line at this moment was completely destroyed and the outlay thrown away. The Government undertook to guarantee 4½ per cent on the expenditure of £800,000 or £1,000,000, without making its success conditional, or that it should continue in operation. It had now ceased to be of any use whatever. There was another line projected at the same time under the auspices of the Turkish Government, by which the Turkish Government undertook to make a line from Constantinople across Asia Minor to Bussorah; but there seemed as yet to be no satisfactory assurance that that line would ever be carried out, or any line involving the laying out a great length of ocean cable. After the failure of the Atlantic cable there was very little probability of cables laid in deep water being capable of working successfully for any length of time. He understood that a scheme had been started, towards which a subsidy of £3,900 had been granted for a line through the Austrian dominions by way of Corfu to Alexandria; but that line was objectionable on the ground that it would be necessarily under the control of a foreign Government. There was another scheme projected, which had been favourably entertained by the late Government, of a line from Falmouth to Gibraltar, and thence through our great Mediterranean fortress to Alexandria. This, in the event of war, would be undoubtedly the best mode of communication, being at once the most direct and entirely under the control of the Government. He had recently seen a proposition to divert the cable intended for that line to carry out a line of communication between Rangoon and Singapore at the joint expense of the English and Indian Governments, and he wished to know whether the Government seriously contemplated such a diversion. The Turkish line had failed, the Austrian line had failed, there was no communication to Malta except through Sicily on the one hand, or to Corfu on the other. He wished, therefore, to know what was the state of the negotiations with the Turkish Government, and what progress had been made towards procuring an efficient telegraphic communication between this country and India.


entirely concurred with his noble Friend as to the extreme importance of establishing a good line of telegraphic communication with India, and regretted that the efforts made to effect it had hitherto proved unsuccessful. With respect to the Red Sea line, he regretted that after the cable had been laid down all the way, it would not work, and, notwithstanding all the efforts which were made, there were very light hopes of this line ever being carried out as an effective line of telegraphic communication. With regard to the alternative line through Asia Minor via Bagdad, referred to by his noble Friend, that was in a more favourable position, the Turkish Government having, by the aid of English engineers engaged for the purpose, succeeded in establishing the line as far as Mosul; and the Turkish Government were now in communication with Her Majesty's Government, for continuing that line to India, the Indian Government, on its part, being willing to undertake the submarine line. As to the Mediterranean telegraph, it was true that the only means of communication with Malta at present existing was by a line through Sicily. The state of that line was this. A subsidy had been granted for a cable laid down between Cagliari on the one side, and Malta and Corfu on the other, which had continued to work some time. After the failure of that cable an application was made to the Government for permission to establish a line through Sicily to Malta, and, by way of Otranto, to Corfu; and the Company had asked that the subsidy should be transferred from the original line to this line. It being thought right that we should have some line of communication to Malta and Corfu, the Government had consented provisionally to this arrangement. With regard to the line from Ragusa to Alexandria, a convention was, in April 1859, concluded with the Austrian Government, but no progress had yet been made with the laying down of the cable. The reason of this was that when application was made to the Porte for a firman authorizing the landing of the cable at Alexandria, it was stated that the Turkish Government had conceded to Messrs. Bewail the exclusive right of landing cables in Egypt and in all the Asiatic dominions of the Porto. Strong remonstrances were made against this, but it was not until the present year that the Porto cancelled the concession to Messrs. Bewail, and signed a convention with the British and Austrian Governments by which the permission necessary for landing the cable was given. At the last moment, when the convention was about to be ratified at Vienna, Her Majesty's Government was informed by the Austrian Government that, in consequence of the failure of the numerous attempts to lay deep sea lines, no company could be found who would undertake to lay this cable upon the terms originally stipulated for, and that, if the scheme was to be carried out, those terms must be advanced. That communication was received only three or four days ago, and no decision had been come to upon it. In his opinion, however, the British Government ought not to enter into any new and less favourable arrangement without maturely considering the whole subject of telegraphic communications in the Mediterranean. The line projected between Falmouth and Gibraltar would, he agreed with his noble Friend, be most valuable to this country, because it would be an independent line. The cable had been constructed—and constructed, he believed, upon the soundest principles—but it had been thought by the Government that, considering the great risk which would attend the operation of laying it down, and the sacrifice of capital which would result from its loss, further experiments should be made by competent engineers as to the best mode of hiving these cables. A Committee of engineers was appointed, which was presided over by the late Mr. Robert Stephenson, and of which Mr. Wheatstone and other eminent electricians were Members. That Committee had made experiments, the results of which were, he was informed, likely to throw much light upon this subject; but their report was at present not in a state to be acted upon. In the mean time, as the carrrying out of this plan was not abandoned but rather postponed; and as it was thought that the Red Sea line and the line from Ragusa to Alexandria would soon be in operation, it was thought desirable, considering what was now going on in China, to complete the communication with Singapore by laying down the cable, which had been prepared for the line between Falmouth and Gibraltar, between Rangoon and that place. Now that the Red Sea line had failed, and it was doubtful whether that between Rangoon and Alexandria would be carried out, Her Majesty's Government would consider whether it was still desirable that this cable should be laid down between Rangoon and Singapore, or whether it might not be more usefully employed at some other portion of the line of communication with India.


said, the noble Lord had answered his questions satisfactorily. He understood that the French Government were considering the propriety of making a telegraphic line from Algeria to Tunis, Tripoli, and along the whole coast of Africa to Egypt. It was worthy considering whether it might not be desirable for us to connect Malta with that line. He hoped that on the whole we might soon see a further attempt made to complete a communication so essential to the interests of India and the rest of our Empire.


thought that in a military point of view electric telegraphs were not likely to prove so advantageous as was once supposed. If war broke out, one of the first objects of any enemy would be to destroy our telegraphic lines between Gibraltar, Malta, and other points in the Mediterranean, and thus to prevent our communication with our fortresses and with India. Where the lines were laid down in deep water their success was doubtful, and the wires in shoal water could easily be destroyed. It would be far better to secure a more rapid and less expensive overland communication with our Eastern possessions.

House adjourned at Seven o'clock, to Thursday next, quarter before Five o'clock.