PK Cable Map 1880's

PK Cable Map 1880's

Monday, 19 December 2011

William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) archive material

A great wealth of archive material relating to William Thomson is to be found in both the Cambridge University Library and Glasgow University Library. Much of it ( and there really is a lot) is hard going due to Thomson's very scratchy/scrawly handwriting.

Quite by accident I recently came across some additional material held in the National Archives at Kew.
1. Records referenced BJ refer to Records of the Meteorological Office and BJ1/33 cover a large selection of letters written by William Thomson between around 1860 and 1867

2. Records prefixed PRO/30 refer to a whole bag of domestic records of the Public Records Office and within PRO/30/69 we can find the 1835 files covering James Ramsey McDonald ( a period covering 1793 to 1937) and eventually at PRO/30/69/949 is a file "Lord Kelvin. Various letters . Cable Impulse tape - HMS Agamemnon"
Within that file was the bundled-up length of tape shown in the picture above with the note attached by a somewhat rusty paper clip. It was clearly in a delicate state and I pointed this out to an archivist who was not too concerned and only commented on what an awful lot of conservation work they had to do !!

Much more research is required on both items above and also the tape.

Where was HMS Agamemnon on the date shown ?

There we go .............research is fun and invariably leads on to just having to take a peep at totally unconnected material. If you go to PRO/30/69/1766 for example you will find a file entitled " Poem for H G Wells' Birthday "

Happy Christmas to anyone who reads this before Dec 25th 2011



  1. That date is several weeks after Agamemnon and Niagara returned to England and offloaded the remaining cable from the 1857 expedition.

    In a letter dated 13 August 1857 Cyrus Field remarks that he had requested the Agamemnon (with Niagara and Susquehanna) to "remain in this deep part of the Atlantic for a few days, to try certain experiments which will be of great value to us". Briggs & Maverick note that all three ships arrived at Plymouth on August 14th.

    Could it be that Thomson mis-dated the note, and it was actually *August* 12th? The expedition started from Ireland with Niagara laying cable and Agamemnon accompanying, waiting to splice on the second length in mid-ocean. The cable broke about 300 miles out from Ireland early on August 12th; Field's letter goes on to state: " a few hours...the Niagara and Agamemnon were connected together by the cable and engaged in trying experiments...", so August 13th would be a much more likely date for signals to be recorded on Thomson's tape.

    More research definitely needed!

    Bill Burns

  2. Sorry about the missing photograph. I am not sure how it came to be deleted / moved ? and it now refuses to be re-entered into the text above. If anyone would like to see a copy please email me and I will send it along.