The first undersea cable of any significant length was laid by the steam tug Goliath in 1850 and thus was born the cableship, an entirely new breed of vessel reflecting the entrepreneurial spirit of invention encapsulated in the Victorian Age. Until 1872, those ships engaged in cable-laying had all been converted from existing vessel types, the two most notable being the old sailing battleship H.M.S. Agamemnon and Brunel's majestic though ill-fated Great Eastern, both of which had laid the pioneering trans-Atlantic cables. By the turn of the twentieth century however, the specialised cableship had been perfected and was seen to occupy a vital role in maintaining worldwide communication in the era preceding wireless telegraphy and, later still, extra-terrestrial satellites.
One such vessel was the Cambria, built on the Tyne at Newcastle by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson for the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Co. in 1905. Registered at 1,955 tons gross (1,016 net) and measuring 283 feet in length with a 37 foot beam, she was powered by two of her builder's own 6-cylinder triple-expansion engines giving a cruising speed of 12½ knots. Designed with three cable tanks amidships to accommodate 800 nautical miles of deep sea cable, she also had large holds fore and aft for additional storage capacity and was fitted with triple bow sheaves and a single stern sheave all 3ft. 6ins. in diameter.
First employed laying the Canadian end of a new transatlantic cable towards the end of 1905, she then laid two further cables before being sold to the Eastern Telegraph Co. in 1912. After working in the South Atlantic, off the coast of Brazil and Argentina in 1913, she was then based in the Red Sea for the duration of the Great War before being sent to Zanzibar as a repair ship in 1919. Later fulfilling the same role at Cape Town and then in the West Indies, she resumed cablelaying after a major refit in 1935, her first job being cable renewal between Montevideo and the Amazon. The Second World War provided much vital repair work in several locations until, having survived hostilities, she was accidentally run down and sunk in Montevideo harbour by the Uruguayan steamer Almirante Rodriguez Luis on 8th November 1945.