Telegraph Island: The Indo-European Telegraph 1863-65

Jul 03, 2010 1 Comment by

Telegraph Island (Jazirat al Maqlab) is a tiny, rocky island in the Musandam Peninsula region of Oman, which with its spectacular fjords is often called the Norway of the Middle East. The general location of the island is shown by the red circle on this map of the area.The failure of the 1859 Red Sea and India Telegraph Company cable left a need to speed up communications between Great Britain and India. The Indian, Turkish, and Persian governments agreed to interconnect their landline systems, which required a cable to be laid between Fao, Bushire, and Gwadar.

A survey conducted by Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Stewart, CB, RE, Director General of Indian Telegraphs, showed that a land connection would have been through very difficult terrain (and there was a high risk of pilfering by hostile natives), so a submarine cable route in the Persian Gulf was chosen, which also allowed the cable to be extended eastwards from Gwadar to Karachi.

Accordingly, in 1864 the Gutta Percha company was contracted by the Government of India to manufacture the core, with armouring being done by Henley’s Telegraph Works, and Sir Charles Bright was engaged as consulting engineer to lay the 1,250 miles of cable from Gwadar – Cape Mussendom – Bushire – Fao, which at that time were all in Arabia.

At Cape Mussendom (now called the Musandam Peninsula), the cable was landed on on a small rocky island in the Elphinstone Inlet, about a mile offshore. This is now known as Telegraph Island. The British cable construction crew built their station on the island rather than the mainland to make it easier to defend the installation against the hostile local inhabitants.

Masandam; with telegraph station on Elphinstone Island

The through connection to Europe was delayed until 1865, as the Turks encountered considerable difficulties in completing their line to Fao. The line construction gangs were regularly attacked by Arabs, until finally the Turks made agreements with the local sheikhs to post Arab guards every few miles along the line. See the full story of the laying of the cable from the Illustrated London News, below.

In December 1868 the Persian Gulf cable was diverted from Elphinstone Island to Henjam & Jask, and the cable station on the island was abandoned.

Diagram of the diversion of the Persian Gulf Cable from
Elphinstone Island to Henjam & Jask, December 1868

Detail view of old and new station locations

In 1870 the direct line of the British Indian Submarine Telegraph Company was laid by Great Eastern from Bombay to Aden, and traffic on the Persian Gulf cables fell off considerably.

The view from Google Earth (below) shows a satellite image of Telegraph Island (with a white circle drawn around it) and the surrounding terrain. The town shown as “Hasab” on the western side of this image is actually “Khasab” in the official Oman spelling, as shown on the map above.

This page on Musandam gives detailed background information on the region and has many photographs.

Simon J. Arrol, an engineer based in Dubai, is interested in the history of Telegraph Island, and would appreciate hearing from anyone with further information, particularly drawings or photographs of the original cable buildings on the island. Please contact him directly.

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One Response to “Telegraph Island: The Indo-European Telegraph 1863-65”

  1. لحن المطر says:

    Interesting information and very few people know this. Thanks for the nice article.

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