Captain Robert Halpin
Captain Robert Charles Halpin (1836-1894) was an Irish Master Mariner, Marine Engineer and visionary who played a pivotal role in connecting the World’s continents via submarine telegraph cables. Halpin’s pioneering work at sea, his extraordinary feats of seamanship, his vision and his innovative problem solving abilities made possible the first real-time communication between continents, ushering in the telecommunications age.
In 1865 a company was formed to convert and operate Brunel’s famous ship the SS Great Eastern as a cable layer. The objective was to lay what would become the first reliable submarine transatlantic telegraphy cable between Europe and the Americas. Robert Halpin was given the post of First Officer aboard the Great Eastern and entrusted with the task of laying the 2,600 mile cable from Valentia Island, County Kerry to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia. In the first attempt during 1865, after 1,862 miles of cable had been laid out from Valentia the cable broke and the effort had to be abandoned. In 1866, this time with Halpin on board as Captain the SS Great Eastern put to sea again. In a feat of extraordinary seamanship Halpin brought the vessel to the exact spot where the broken cable from the 1865 attempt lay, successfully recovered it from the seabed and repaired it. In July that year, Halpin brought his ship into Hearts Content, Newfoundland completing the connection between the continents, a connection that has continued without interruption ever since.
"Thomson was actually aboard the Great Eastern, the ship which laid the cable. The first officer and key navigator was another Irishman, Robert Halpin from Wicklow Town. Halpin was soon appointed captain of the ship, and went on to earn further distinction for cable laying, earning the nickname "Mr Cable".: Biographical notes on William Thomson (Lord Kelvin).
Halpin went on to lay an estimated 26,000 miles (41,800 km) of communications cable around the world including the French Transatlantic Cable from Brest to St. Pierre-Miquelon in 1866, the 1869 Bombay-Aden-Suez cable, and the Australia-New Zealand-East Indies, Madras-Singapore-Penang, and Madeira-Brazil cables. Captain Robert Halpin’s cable laying voyages were the first steps towards what would become the “global village” that we all live in today. Almost 150 years later seafarers continue to follow in Captain Halpin’s footsteps as technology enablers – playing critical roles in supporting the global energy, communications and transport industries.
Today, the HALPIN Centre for Research and Innovation at the National Maritime College of Ireland carries out cutting edge Maritime Operations and Maritime Mechatronics research and innovation with the same can-do, will-do, must-do attitude that characterised Robert Halpin's career and life. The HALPIN team believe it is an appropriate, deserved and fitting tribute to the man, an Irish Mariner and a visionary whose skills as an ocean navigator, marine & mechanical engineer and innovator helped to usher in a new era for humanity – the telecommunications age.