Transatlantic Cable Ensemble (Canada)
Newfoundland and Labrador
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Transatlantic Cable Ensemble
The Transatlantic Cable Ensemble is a transnational serial nomination comprising the shore-end termini of the world’s first permanent trans-oceanic submarine electric telegraph: the Eastern Terminus, Valentia Island, County Kerry, Ireland (two component parts) and the Western Terminus, Heart’s Content, Newfoundland, Canada (two component parts).
From 1857 to 1865 various attempts were made to lay a cable between Valentia and Newfoundland. These met with a mixture of brief technical success and commercial failure. Finally, in 1866, a successful and enduring connection was made and in 1868 a new permanent cable station was built at Knightstown on Valentia followed by one in 1875/76 at Heart’s Content. These two well-preserved cable stations, together with associated features at both sites and officers’ accommodations at Valentia, comprise the nominated property. At Valentia, the architecturally complete station does not contain its original equipment, while at Heart’s Content there is a complete set in-situ.
The first transatlantic telegraphic message of 1858 from the Slate Yard in Valentia to Newfoundland represents a turning point in world history. The successful permanent Valentia- Heart’s Content connection from July 1866 revolutionised global communications by the ability to instantly and accurately communicate between continents separated by oceans. The nineteenth century cable stations at both sites are outstanding surviving testimony to the genius and perseverance behind this remarkable scientific and engineering feat, which many at the time believed to be impossible.
Name(s) of the component part(s)
Heart’s Content Cable Station: N47° 52' 21.1476'' W53° 22' 7.1292''
Valentia Cable Station: N51° 55' 19.2108'' W10° 17' 21.2604''
Description of the component part(s)
Heart’s Content Transatlantic Cable Station
The Heart’s Content Cable Station is situated in the community of Heart’s Content, on the eastern shore of Trinity Bay on the island of Newfoundland, Canada.
The .03 ha site comprises the 1875-6 cable station building, the shoreline where six telegraph cables from Valentia came ashore from 1866-1894 (five are still visible protruding from the shoreline), and a greenspace between the station and shoreline.
One of the best preserved 19th century cable stations worldwide, the Heart’s Content Cable Station is a 1 ½ story red brick building with Gothic bargeboard and a steep slate roof – an extension was added in 1918. This style of architecture, and its accompanying decorative features, was exceptional for outport communities in 19th century Newfoundland and Labrador. The exterior and interior features/layout of the building remain virtually unchanged from the time of construction and height of operations. The 1918 section still retains much of the original equipment used up to the time the site closed in 1965.
Valentia Transatlantic Cable Station
Valentia Transatlantic Cable Station (1868-1966) is an architectural set-piece in 2.37 ha of grounds facing the sea at Knightstown. It represents the social and technical organisation of a model cable station and comprises the central telegraph ‘office’ (1868), a two-storey square block in ‘ecclesiastical Gothic’ style, flanked symmetrically by terraces of married staff housing (1870). Extensions to the office date from the late nineteenth century (rear) and early twentieth century (sides). An additional terrace is from 1880.
A second component part comprises the remains of the ‘First Message Building’ in the Slate Yard, Knightstown.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
The Transatlantic Cable Ensemble is an exceptionally well-preserved monument to the world’s first successful trans-oceanic submarine telegraph cable, briefly connected in 1858 and successfully connected from Valentia to Heart’s Content in 1866. It represents one of the major milestones in global communications, and the birth of our modern telecommunications age.
Heart’s Content and Valentia were the respective western and eastern termini of the grandiose mid-19th century plan to connect North America and Europe via a 2000-mile submarine telegraph cable. The trans-Atlantic cable provided the ability to instantly and accurately communicate between the old and new worlds, resulting in global altering commercial, political, military, media, and social impacts. Five subsequent cables were successfully laid between the two sites, establishing both as global communication hubs for the next one hundred years.
Valentia Transatlantic Cable Station (1868-1966) is the world’s first permanent trans-oceanic telegraph station. Its layout illustrates full social and technical organisation and provided a model for all cable stations worldwide. Heart’s Content Transatlantic Cable Station (1875-1965) is one of the world’s most intact historic cable stations and retains in situ original equipment to illustrate the technical heritage of the technology.
The historic Heart’s Content and Valentia Cable stations are the complete surviving testament to the outstanding genius and perseverance behind this remarkable scientific and engineering feat, which many at the time believed to be impossible. The well-preserved and highly authentic ensemble provides vivid testimony to one of the most important scientific accomplishments of the nineteenth century. Global communications and diplomacy, commercial and financial markets, news media and social institutions were changed forever - a prelude to the Information Age and our modern networked world.
Criterion (ii): The Transatlantic Cable Ensemble represents the outstanding and remarkable advances in communication technology during the mid to late nineteenth century. These advances were quickly and widely copied and proliferated globally, with immediate and subsequent outstanding influences on communications between countries and continents. The successful laying of the cable proved that telegraphic communication beneath oceans was indeed possible, and established telegraphy as the principal form of long-distance telecommunications for the next one hundred years.
Criterion (iv):The Transatlantic Ensemble is an outstanding and well preserved example of industrial heritage representing the technological achievements of the mid to late nineteenth century which resulted in the birth of our modern telecommunications age, a significant stage in human history. The linking of the two sites pushed telecommunications technology of that age to its furthermost point with effects that transcended regional boundaries for the first time in history.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
Attributes of the Transatlantic Cable Ensemble truthfully and credibly express Outstanding Universal Value. The exterior form, design, materials, and substance, as well as the location and setting are genuine and virtually identical to what it was when the buildings were opened in 1876 and 1868 respectively.
Heart’s Content Transatlantic Cable Station
At Heart’s Content Transatlantic Cable Station, a shoreline section of the original 1866 cable lies underground perpendicular to the current main street, in a location near the original wooden cable station (approximately 180 metres from the current brick station). In its current subterranean state, it is physically protected from the elements. The cable has also been entered into the Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Archaeological Site Inventory, which provides the site with a high level of regulatory protection.
The Heart’s Content Transatlantic Cable Station property encompasses the iconic 1876 cable station building, which remains in excellent condition, the shoreline where the cables came ashore, and a clear sightline to the harbour where the cable arrived from Valentia. The site is only missing the original 1866 temporary wooden cable house, of which there are no known surviving features.
The exterior and interior features and layout of the current cable station building remain virtually unchanged from the time of construction and height of operations, with only minor modifications due to changing technology and operational requirements. The 1918 section still retains all of the equipment and hardware used up to the time the site closed in 1965. The adjacent shoreline portion of the property is also virtually identical to what it was in the mid-19th century. Six later cables are still visible from the shoreline going into the station and all can be seen connecting inside the station building.
The location and setting - a long, deep harbour on the east coast of Newfoundland with a low shoreline - was ideal to accommodate the cable laying SS Great Eastern, the largest ship in the world at that time, and for landing a submarine telegraph cable. The sightlines from the cable station out through the harbour are intact and the landscape looking out the harbour is virtually identical to the mid-19th century, when the SS Great Eastern sailed in with the live cable.
The Heart’s Content component is of adequate size to ensure the complete representation of contributing attributes. These attributes are in an excellent state of conservation due to high standards of conservation under provincial government ownership, protection through legislation, and the presence of year round onsite operational and maintenance staff. There are also no known threats from development or otherwise.
Valentia - Statement of Authenticity
The Authenticity of Valentia Transatlantic Cable Station is high. In terms of location, setting, and key views, a compatible environment conveys the historical situation exceptionally well, contributing positively to spirit and feeling. This favourable situation reflects circumstances of comparative remoteness (yet proximity to Knightstown), sensitive ownership, lack of development pressure, and comprehensive legal protection for the complex and adjacent coastal and open water environment.
Form and design, materials and substance of the cable station are highly authentic, from principal constructions to well-crafted internal joinery. Externally, authenticity of the terraces and historical landscaped grounds is high, including boundary wall, gateways, carriageway and pathways. All equipment was removed from the cable room, part of the ground floor being re-used for light industrial purposes, although installations are light-touch and substantially reversible. The first floor remained unused after 1966, preserving substantial original features.
Spatial arrangement and structure remain faithful to operational evolution, and many original fittings survive (glazing and sash windows, staircase and balustrading, doors, fireplaces, ironmongery, central heating, wooden floors, bathrooms). Loss of use and function came with the closure of Valentia Cable Station in 1966, although terraced housing remained in occupation.
First Message Building (1857-60) is an authentic ruin, the masonry shell of a building that once contained the equipment from which the first ‘instant’ transatlantic message was exchanged, between Queen Victoria and US President James Buchanan, on 16 August 1858.
Knowledge of the property is founded on extensive primary archive material, an extensive photographic collection, supported by a conservation-led buildings survey and further archaeological investigation.
Valentia – Statement of Integrity
Integrity of the cable heritage of Valentia Island is represented by the main Valentia Transatlantic Cable Station (1868-1966) and its nearby precursor First Message Building (1857-60). These sites contain the principal attributes.
Integrity of Valentia Transatlantic Cable Station is met in the context of the series. Functional integrity is conveyed by intact spatial layout of original buildings and extensions from the peak period of operation (including rooms and circulation spaces). Ancillary buildings also remain, all set in landscaped grounds with flanking terraced housing, accessways, tennis court and gardens. The lack of original equipment in the cable room (much table-top/floor-mounted), while undeniably impacting on integrity, is compensated for by the in-situ survival of equipment at the sister Heart’s Content Transatlantic Cable Station. A future concept comprises reinstatement of technically credible and contemporary historical equipment loaned by Heart’s Content.
Flanking cable terraces, gardens and recreational spaces reference a tangible socio-technical dimension of highly educated and well-paid staff, and their families, brought to this remote part of Ireland. Building extensions reflect peak operations. Terraces, in broadly symmetrical composition, are by the same architect (T.N. Deane) as the main station block.
Visual integrity of the cable station in the landscape is high, and the property is not threatened by neglect or inappropriate development.
Integrity of the First Message Building is limited to the standing masonry ruin of the building in its industrial context of the Slate Yard, facing the foreshore. The site has recently (2021) been acquired by the Community and is no longer under threat (urgent works to follow conservation management plan, 2022).
Justification of the selection of the component part(s) in relation to the future nomination as a whole
The Heart’s Content and Valentia Transatlantic Cable Stations were the respective western and eastern termini of the first successful trans-oceanic submarine telegraph cable in 1866, which resulted in global altering commercial, political, military, media, and social impacts.
The iconic and well preserved Heart’s Content and Valentia Transatlantic Cable Stations, opened in 1876 and 1868 respectively, are the complete surviving testament to the outstanding genius and perseverance behind this remarkable scientific and engineering feat, which many at the time believed to be impossible. Although not built until after the first successful connection in 1866, the current sister cable stations eventually became the end points of the 1866 and all subsequent cables, establishing them as global communication hubs for their respective sides of the Atlantic.
Comparison with other similar properties
In terms of similar properties on the World Heritage List, there is actually only one that relates to telecommunications - the Grimeton Radio Station in Varberg, Sweden, built 1922-24.
The Transatlantic Cable Ensemble is distinguished from this property in two ways: Varberg is a twentieth-century site which represents wireless transatlantic communication, a completely different technology; and the Transatlantic Cable Ensemble is a pioneering property that pushed telecommunications technology of that age to its furthermost point.
There are a number of factors that distinguish the Transatlantic Cable Ensemble from the similar heritage properties around the world. Most significantly, they are distinguished from all other remaining submarine telegraph cable stations in that they are the two oldest and uniquely represent both shore-end points where the first permanent trans-oceanic telegraph cable operated. These two sites also remained connected by future cables for the next century.
Of the approximately twenty trans-oceanic cable stations and offices built on both sides of the Atlantic during the pioneering period of this activity (mid to late 19th century), the Heart’s Content and Valentia Cable Station ensemble are two of only seven that remain. Of these, three have long been converted to private residences.
When compared to the cable stations in the United States and United Kingdom, the Transatlantic Cable Ensemble is distinguished in a number of areas: it is a monument to the first successful laying of a trans- oceanic submarine telegraph cable - a significant milestone in human history and communications, they are the two oldest, the two sites were connected for a century, and the Orleans cable station was terminus for only one trans-oceanic cable versus the multiple cables at Heart’s Content and Porthcurno (UK).
Another comparison is the early Marconi wireless sites in the United Kingdom: Bass Point and Poldhu, Cornwall and Canada: Signal Hill (St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador) and Glace Bay (Nova Scotia). As with Varberg, these sites represent a completely different and successor (competing) technology and, unlike Heart’s Content and Valentia, these sites either do not contain any remaining authentic physical elements of the wireless activities or may only contain some archaeological remains.