Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brett, John Watkins

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BRETT, JOHN WATKINS (1805–1863), telegraphic engineer, was the son of a cabinetmaker, William Brett of Bristol, and was born in that city in 1805. Brett has been styled, with apparent justice, the founder of submarine telegraphy. The idea of transmitting electricity through submerged cables is said to have been originated by him in conjunction with his younger brother. After some years spent in perfecting his plans he sought and obtained permission from Louis-Philippe in 1847 to establish telegraphic communication between France and England, but the project did not gain the public attention, being regarded as too hazardous for general support. The attempt was, however, made in 1850, and met with success, and the construction of numerous other submarine lines followed. Brett always expressed himself confident as to the ultimate union of England and America by means of electricity, but he did not live to see it accomplished. He died on 3 Dec. 1863 at the age of 58, and was buried in the family vault in the churchyard of Westbury-on-Trim, near Bristol. Brett published a work of 104 pages, 'On the Origin and Progress of the Oceanic Telegraph, with a few brief facts and opinions of the press' (London, 8vo, 1858), and contributed several papers on the same subject to the Institute of Civil Engineers, of which he was a member. A list of these contributions will be found in the index of the 'Proceedings' of that society.

[Notes and Queries. 3rd ser. viii. 203, &c.; Catalogue of the Ronalds Library.]

R. H.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.36
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
283 ii 1-2 Brett, John W.: for but he did not live to see it accomplished read and an electric telegraph cable across the Atlantic was completed in 1858, though it failed to work after the transmission of a few messages
4 for Trim read Trym