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Boats and carts unloading a brig anchored at Porthcurno, Cornwall


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Gallery locationNot on display

Object details:

Object ID PAJ3524
Description Until December 2019, this drawing was titled 'Landing of a Cable End at Porthcurno', which appears to have been an old mistake though the subject may relate to It. On 6 June 1870 at Porthcurno in Cornwall, the ship 'Investigator' - a three-masted steam auxiliary vessel just over 200 feet long - landed the UK end of the Eastern Telegraph Company's submarine cable to India, known as the ‘Red Sea Line’. It was the last section of the cable, running from Carcavelos, near Lisbon in Portugal.On 8 June the 'Hibernia' completed the final splice and (Sir) John Pender (1816-96), founder of the Company and (Sir) Samuel Canning (1823-1908) the chief engineer of the Telephone Construction and Maintenance Co. (Telcon) together dictated the first test message sent over Pender’s system to Bombay. They did so from a temporary wooden cable hut on the site of the future Porthcurno cable station, which is today a related museum. The artist Robert Dudley (1826-1909) had also come to Porthcurno to record the event for the 'Illustrated London News' and a wood engraving based on his drawing of 'Investigator' landing the cable was published in its edition of 25 June 1870, together with a general view of the bay taken from inland. (The ILN account called it the 'Falmouth to Gibraltar' cable, from where it went east, and its British end was moved to Porthcurno so as not to conflict with busy shipping at Falmouth.) Dudley later also gave a drawing of the cable-landing to Pender - who was a noted art collector - together with a sketch of him and Canning sending their message from the wooden hut. This watercolour (PAJ3524) and PAJ3428 - which is a historical view of the site showing a Spanish raid on Porthcurno around 1590 - appear to be two also based on Dudley's visit that he gave to another friend, Henry Clifford (1821-1905). Clifford was a marine engineer who rose to be Chief Engineer of Telcon and was responsible for the cable machinery on board the 'Great Eastern' while laying the 1865 and 1866 Atlantic Telegraph cables. He was also a competent amateur artist in both watercolours and oils, and did a number of oil paintings of the 'Great Eastern' cable-laying operations: the Museum also has examples of these. The two men met on the ship in 1865, became life-long friends and are known to have exchanged artistic work. These two are examples from Dudley's side and were bequeathed to the Museum by Clifford's grandson, Henry Dalton Clifford (1911-91) as the delayed part of a larger gift of family papers, drawings and photographs in 1988. His list of items then intended for the Museum wrongly identifies the subject here as the landing of the cable, which was probably an old family error. It in fact shows Porthcurno bay looking west, with local boats transferring heavy cargo from a small anchored brig to carts on shore. These are taken down to the sea by just one or two horses but require larger teams to pull them up the beach, as shown at centre, while the next team goes down on the left. A shovel on top of the cart coming up suggests it is loose cargo. Typically this might be coal but if the drawing relates to the cable operations it may be limestone to be burnt down for lime to build the permanent stone cable station just inland, or other material for that project. Two other boats are drawn up the beach to the right, with two beach windlasses used to assist this at far right. The drawing is signed 'R Dudley' at the bottom: PAJ3428, of the reimagined Spanish raid on the bay, is dated 1871 and both were probably done about the same time. We are grateful to Stewart Ash and Bill Burns for their assistance in cataloguing this item.
Date made circa 1870-71

Artist/Maker Dudley, Robert
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials watercolour
Measurements Sheet: 344 x 525 mm
  • Boats and carts unloading a brig anchored at Porthcurno, Cornwall (PAJ3524)
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