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Laying the Pacific Cable from Bondi, Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand

Date: 16 November 1912
Medium: Emulsion on glass
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Glass plate negative
Object No: 00035494
Place Manufactured:Bondi Beach

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    This photograph depicts the cable steamer SILVERTOWN at sea while men onshore at Bondi Beach, Sydney work on laying the Pacific Cable. Crowds, including surf lifesavers, appear surrounding the ditch and observing the work being carried out. As the work commenced on 16 November 1912, Pacific Cable Board officials were present overseeing a collection of workmen with shovels, telescopes and signalling flags. The cable steamer reportedly had 1,400 miles of cable on its end, as it made its way from Bondi to Muriwai in Auckland, New Zealand. This photograph was taken the day the work commenced on 16 November 1912 and was published on page viii of 'The Australasian' on 23 November 1912.
    SignificanceThe Samuel J Hood photographic collection records an extensive range of maritime activity on Sydney Harbour, including sail and steam ships, crew portraits, crews at work, ship interiors, stevedores loading and unloading cargo, port scenes, pleasure boats and harbourside social activities from the 1890s through to the 1950s. They are also highly competent artistic studies and views - Hood was regarded as an important figure in early Australian photojournalism. Hood’s maritime photographs are one of the most significant collections of such work in Australia.
    HistoryIn November 1912, work commenced on the laying of the Pacific Cable from Bondi, Sydney to Muriwai in Auckland, New Zealand. The Pacific Cable Board employed workmen to ensure the laying of the cable in Bondi Beach. Spectators gathered to watch the work being carried out while the cable steamer SILVERTOWN was underway, gradually laying the cable down.

    The cable steamer arrived at the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company's buoy in Neutral Bay early in the morning on 12 November 1912. At 6am Saturday 16 November, SILVERTOWN made its way round Ben Buckler in North Bondi toward Bondi Beach. Despite the heavy surf conditions, the vessel manoeuvred as close as possible to the shoreline. Onshore, there were signalmen at work with flags trying to ascertain the movements and decisions of those on board the vessel. The surf was too heavy at one point, so a message was sent from the ship saying 'We will try again after breakfast'.

    An article in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' notes that the process from that point on was rather less exciting:

    'When you get as far as this cable laying becomes almost as fascinating as fishing, or watching for sea serpents. That was what the spectators recognised, for they crowded round the beach where the thin, important little line was working, and presently, of course the cable itself appeared out of the water, floating on a string of buoys.'
    [SMH, 18 Nov 1912, p 5]

    Once the cable was set on the Bondi end, SILVERTOWN started the 1,250-mile voyage to Muriwai. The SMH also reported that there was about 1,400 miles of cable on board, with some of it weighed as much as 26 tons to the mile. The rate at which the cable was laid was around 180 miles per day at eight or nine knots.
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