21st February 1877
The Channel Islands were cut off from the outside world
The Channel Islands have long relied on cable communications to stay in touch with the outside world. Less than four decades after Morse invented the telegraph, Guernsey was part of the global network – the Internet of its day. Many considered it an essential part of modern life, allowing them to send messages more quickly than by ship.
Guernsey was the hub of the network, with cables from the Dartmouth in Devon landing there. Operators in Guernsey routed the signal to Jersey, and took down messages from Jersey to send on to the mainland.
It all worked perfectly until in the late 1870s. Without a backup cable, a break in the sole link in February 1877 left the islands cut off.
Communication had to revert to the steam packet, the regular mail ship service. Effectively aping the broken part of the cable, it dropped off all messages for the Channel Islands at Guernsey. Any that needed forwarding on were opened and telegraphed from there. Any that the operators had received from Jersey were written out and handed to the steam packet’s captain to ferry back to the mainland.
The break was a serious blow to the speedy, efficient communication the Channel Islands had enjoyed to that point. To put it into context, it would be like going from broadband back to dial-up today.
Fixing the fault was a long, drawn-out process. The ship that had been contracted to do the work – the International – only arrived at Dartmouth on 22 March. By then, more than a month had passed since the original break.
International reached Guernsey a week later and started her survey. The crew located the break in the cable 25 miles off Guernsey’s coast, and set about repaiding it. Services were finally restored on Sunday 7 April, six weeks after the connection had first been lost.
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