British companies had already laid telegraph cables across the English Channel and under the waters of the Mediterranean, so Field next turned to them. He was fortunate in gaining the help of engineer Charles Bright and scientist William Thomson. He was not so fortunate in relying on Edward Whitehouse and (American) Samuel Morse. Their poor electrical advice, combined with the need Field felt to move as quickly as possible, led to difficulties and ultimate failure of the efforts in 1857 and 1858.
Gutta Percha, a tree sap from Malaysia, was the miracle substance of the Victorian age. At temperatures below boiling water it could be molded into any shape and was used in everything from furniture to jewelry to golf balls. It became known in Britain in the 1840s, in time to be used as cable insulation.
Gift of Bernard S. Finn
William Thomson to Field, 1862. Thomson’s help was crucial. He analyzed electric pulses, showed how they spread out, and designed sensitive instruments to detect them. These were used on the failing 1858 cable long enough to prove their value and provide confidence for future attempts. He also calculated the stresses on grapnels and tested improved designs.