HC Deb 23 May 1811 vol 20 cc278-87
Mr. Foster

presented a Petition from the Royal Canal Company of Ireland, praying for relief from their embarrassments, in any manner which the House pleased to adopt.

The Speaker

inquired whether the Petition, being an application for pecuniary relief, came recommended in the usual manner?

Mr. Secretary Ryder

signified the assent of his royal highness the Prince Regent.

Sir J. Newport

expressed his determination to oppose the prayer of the Petition, on account of the conduct of the company, who had squandered their money unnecessarily.

Mr. Foster

observed, he merely would move that the Petition should lie on the table, without pledgnig himself as to his future conduct.

Mr. W. Pole

slated, that documents would be presented to the House, which would afford every information on the subject, particularly the Report of the Commissioners of Inland Navigation in Ire land, to whom the inspection of the affair" of the company had been referred.

The Petition was then read, setting forth:

"That in the 29th year of his present Majesty's reign, several noblemen and gentlemen of distinction in Ireland, anxious for the improvement of their country, proposed to become undertakers of, and to subscribe large sums of money for completing a navigable canal from Dublin to Tarmonbury, on the river Shannon, a distance of about 70 miles; and that, from the plans, levels, and estimates, made at their desire by the persons then generally reputed most skilful in such matters, they were induced to believe that their said scheme might be carried into execution for a sum of 200,000l.; and that, for an object of so great public utility, it was conceived reasonable to solicit the sanction and aid of the legislature; and accordingly, in the said year, petitions were presented to both Houses of Parliament, subscribed by many of the first names in the land, offering, on behalf of themselves and others, to engage in this great undertaking, from whence the population, the commerce, the agriculture, and the wealth of the country were likely to derive so vast an increase; stating the line and level by which they conceived the plan might be accomplished, and praying some aid from the revenues of the nation which was so much interested in the event; and that there was then in Ireland a company incorporated some time before under the name of the Grand Canal Company, for the purpose of conducting a navigable canal from Dublin to a more southern part of the same river, a work in which they had then made some progress; and that the members of that company, alarmed at the idea of competition, petitioned both Houses of Parliament against the proposed undertaking, as an encroachment on that monopoly, the hope of which, as they alledged, had induced them to proceed so far; and that the matter of both the said petitions was much canvassed in parliament; and to the objection made by the Grand Canal Company it was answered, that the Shannon was river of vast extent, flowing through countries of great fertility, abounding with mines of various descriptions, and wanting nothing but facility of conveyance to diffuse wealth and industry over the nation; that nature has divided this great river into two tracts of perhaps equal value, separated from each other by a lake called Lough Ree, into which the river spreads, and of which the navigation has too much of difficulty and danger for river-boats to encounter; that the Grand Canal would connect the southern tract with the metropolis and the coast; of Great Britain, while the proposed navigation would afford the same advantages to the northern part of the river, and thus, without hazard of competition, an object was held forth to each sufficient to excite their zeal and industry, and, by means of both, a complete system of internal communication would be farmed to the unspeakable advantage of the country; after a full consideration of the subject, the legislature decided in favour of the proposed canal to Tarmonbury; and by an act then passed, 29 Geo. 3, c. 33, for the promotion and encouragement of inland navigation, amongst several clauses of a similar nature, a sum of 06,000l. was granted under the terms therein mentioned to such persons as were or should be undertakers for completing the said canal; and that, by his Majesty's royal letters patent, bearing date at Dublin the 1st day of October, in the 29th year of his Majesty's reign, several noblemen and gentlemen, by name, and all such persons as then had or thereafter should have any share in the joint stock therein mentioned, were incorporated in the usual form under the name of the Royal Canal Company; and it was thereby provided, that their capital stock should be 200,000l., to wit, 66,000l. so granted, and I 134,000l. to be subscribed by the individual members, who were thereby empowered to complete the said navigation from certain parts of Dublin therein specified to or near Tarmonbury aforesaid by a line to be carried on through or near Kilcock, Kinnegad, and Mullingar, and for that purpose to purchase and hold all such lands, buildings, goods, and chattels, as should be necessary, and to alien or sell the same, or any part thereof, at their pleasure; and that it having been found, on examination, that the course prescribed by the said charter was ineligible, and that some farther powers were necessary, an act was in the ensuing year (30 Geo. 3, c. 20) passed in the said parliament, intituled, "An act for the better enabling the Royal Canal Company to carry on and complete the Royal Canal from the city of Dublin to Tarmonbury on the river Shannon," whereby a new line is prescribed for the said canal in Dublin and the parts near thereto; and the said canal is directed to be carried on to or near Tarmonbury by a line near Lucan, Leixlip, Maynooth, Kilcock, Kinnegad, and Mullingar, still adhering to Tarmonbury as the ultimate destination, and guarding, the rights of the Grand Canal Company by a clause prohibiting any approach with in a shorter distance than lour miles from their canal, but with that restriction, leaving to the discretion of the Royal Canal Company those deviations which unforeseen circumstances might from time to time suggest; and that the Royal Canal was shortly after begun near the circular road of Dublin, and carried on in the direction appointed, but before it had extended any considerable distance the whole of the 200,000l. was expended; and that, although the original estimates thus plainly appeared to have been fallacious, it was a fallacy in which the company had no other concern than the misfortune of being the principal sufferers by it, the expenditure (which alone was their province), had been faith- fully made; and so plain did this appear, that, under the provisions of an act made in the year 1798, a farther sum of 25,000l was advanced as a loan by the public to the company, on the terms of their binding themselves by recognizance to complete their canal to Thomastown, a distance from Dublin of 33 miles; and that, after expending on the works the said sum of 25,000l. and a further sum of 90,000l. raised by the company for the purpose, they once more found themselves in want of money to enable them to proceed; and that, for obtaining such money, the first expedient which occurred was an application for aid to the directors general, at whose disposal a sum of 500,000l. had been then recently placed by the legislature for the advancement of in-land navigation in Ireland; and that the directors general, conceiving themselves bound to obtain the best terms in their power for the public, proposed to grant a sum of 95,806l. 7s. 10d. to the company on the terms of their reducing for ever the tolls of their canal in no instance less than one third, on some specified articles two thirds, and on potatoes brought from Dublin no less than five sixths of the former rate; it was farther required that the company should engage to extend their canal at both its extremities, so as to have it complete from the river Liffey and Constitution hill, in the city of Dublin, to the town of Coolnahay: and that a cut should be made from the canal to communicate with Lough Owell, a body of the purest water, so situate as to command the summit level, and sufficient to supply the whole canal from Dublin to Tarmonbury, and so extensive, that it has since enabled them permanently to supply the pipes by which the northern half of Dublin is provided with water: this proposal was accepted; the terms were reduced into the form of a contract, which bears dale November 3d 1801, and that contract has been completely fulfilled, on the 2Sth day of December in the year 1808, the whole of the works so stipulated was complete, which was done at an expence, not of the said sum of 95,866l. 7s. 10d. but of considerably more than 200,000l; and that, to make up that sum, and many others expended on the works at different times, the corporation raised money on debentures; that in all the debentures so issued previous to the year 1798, the principal sums raised with interest thereon, at 6 per cent. were made charges and liens on the tolls and all other estates of the Company, but ail debentures issued by the said company after that year, were in the nature of perpetual annuities charged on the tolls and other property; from the general confidence in their future welfare, the sum required was always procured without difficulty, in whatever form the debentures were prepared; and that the loss sustained by the reduction of tolls above-mentioned amounted in the year 1809 to no less a sum than 4,363l. 8s. 5¼d.; to what extent it may hereafter increase, by the advancement of wealth and intercourse, cannot now be calculated, but even at the present rate the sum received by the company does not amount to 22 years purchase of the income thus extinguished for ever; and that the petitioners therefore presume to consider this transaction not as a gift to them, but as a bargain in which a permanent benefit to the public has been purchased by the directors general, at a price certainly not above its value; and that the canal having been thus extended to Coolnahay, a distance of 46 miles from Dublin, it remained that the company should take measures for the continuation of it to Tarmonbury, according to the provisions of their charter, of the acts of parliament abovementioned, and of many others since made from time to time for the regulation or aid of the company; for this purpose they caused the most exact surveys and estimates to be prepared of the different possible lines, by all which it appeared, that to complete the canal in the direction first suggested would require a sum of 340,525l 15s. 11d. and a period of ten years; that by turning from that course near Tinnelick, and going a little farther to the southward, a new line might be followed, which, without deviating in any pan more-than a mile from the former, should return to it at Mosstown, nut more than nine miles from the commencement of the deviation, and according to which the whole might be Completed for a sum of 186,087l. 16s. 11d. and in "bout three years, being a saving, by means of this small alteration, of seven years in lime, and of no less than 154,437l. 19s. in money; and that it was suggested that the Company might perhaps find some mode of reaching the Shannon by a Canal farther to the northward, which being, so much more distant from the Grand Canal, might diminish at least, if not remove, competition injurious, as it was said, to both; and that the petitioners accordingly directed surveys to be made with a view to that object, though certainly with little, if any, hope as to the event, some of the petitioners well remembering, and the rest of them fully believing, that that matter had been carefully considered previous to the formation of the Company, or to the charter and acts of Parliament, by all of which they had been directed to Tarmonbury; and that accordingly it turned out that the shortest practicable line which could be found farther to the north, was one turning off from the present Canal near the twentieth lock, about 34 miles from Dublin, and reaching the Shannon at Roosky, which would leave many miles of the Canal already made almost useless, and would require a sum of 497,748l. 12s. 1d. and a period of 15 years to complete it; and that the petitioners had no funds for the execution of any of those works, and therefore applied for aid once more to the directors general, communicating at the same time the result of the different surveys; and that the directors general, having examined carefully the several plans above-mentioned, naturally preferred that which could be executed at the smallest price and in the shortest time, but not having funds sufficient for the entire even of that line, desired that the Company should lay before them a proposal for proceeding as far as Ballymahon, on the line so preferred; this being accordingly done, the estimate amounted to above 106,638l. 1s. 3d.; and that the Grand Canal Company, having heard of the above circumstances, presented a petition to the directors general, complaining that the Royal Canal had from the beginning been an injury to them, and an encroachment on their monopoly, but that of late, by its extension and the reduction of its tolls, it had operated to their prejudice with increased effect; and that by coming nearer to them, it must be still more injurious, and praying that no assistance should be given to the petitioners from the public money, unless they would agree to proceed in a direction farther to the northward; and that the directors general conceived that the original question between the two companies had been long since disposed of by supreme authority, that a reduction of tolls, purchased for the public benefit, and with the public money, ought not to be turned to the injury of the petitioner", or made the ground for withholding any grant they might otherwise be entitled to; and that the mere circumstance of the line approaching nearer to the Grand Canal by a single mile could not be considered as a sufficient reason for the refusal of all aid, more especially as the distance between the two canals would still be 20 miles, five times as great as that which the legislature had though proper to prescribe as the limit; and that, when the Royal Canal should have reached the Shannon, to which the Grand Canal had already arrived, the profits which both companies might be expected soon to derive from the different tracts of that great river, with which they must respectively communicate, would extinguish all competition between them; and that the directors general accordingly ordered to the petitioners the sum of 71,092l. 0s. 10d.on the terms of their contracting to complete the Canal to Ballymahon, which order was duly approved of according to the act of Parliament; and that, on an appeal from this order, the lord lieutenant and council were pleased to reverse it, as tending to the injury of the Grand Canal Company, an opinion founded, as the petitioners humbly conceive, not on the small deviation above-mentioned, but on a general view of the consequences expected to follow from a continuation of the Royal Canal in any line leading so far to the southward as Tarmonbury; and that the petitioners therefore consider it as now finally determined, that they must either renounce all pretensions to aid from the directors general, or adopt the line to Roosky, which no aid within the power of that board could enable them to accomplish; and that the petitioners bow with the humblest deference to the judgment of the lord lieutenant and council, and make no doubt that the petitioners must have flattered themselves with ill-founded hopes, but they humbly submit that they were led into this error by a combination of various circumstances, and of high authorities; that their original undertaking was sanctioned by the legislature of Ireland, and though the Grand Canal Company, in their letter to the directors general, more than insinuate that that was chiefly effected by the influence of those concerned, the petitioners cannot deem so unworthily of the constituted authorities, as to suppose that the great council of the nation was led from its duty by personal consideration for them; and that, from the commencement of the Royal Canal to this hour, every step of its progress was approved by the board of Inland Navigation, and though the imputation of partiality has been cast on that board also from the same quarter, yet the petitioners cannot conceive that names so high and honourable stand in need of any vindication: and that even the Grand Canal Company contributed to the error into which the petitioners have fallen, as they looked in silence on the contract of 1801, by which the petitioners were bound to proceed to Coolnahay, far from the line which leads to the northward, and also to reduce their toils, a circumstance which is now complained of as so ruinous to the Grand Canal, though the injury, if any, has happened by means which were the natural consequence of the reduction, and as such must have been then foreseen, to which it is not immaterial to add, that the Grand Canal Company had then the same rights of petitioning and appealing which they have now exerted with effect, as the whole treaty was founded on an advance of money out of the same public fund; so that it may perhaps not be too much to infer that the Grand Canal Company willingly permitted the petitioners to advance to Coolnahay, several miles out of the line now suggested, in the hope that, after such a waste of their time, their money and their credit, a blow given to them must be mortal; and that, whether this was so designed or not, its effects have been such as to reduce the petitioners to the necessity of now bringing forward a statement of their present condition, and of imploring the interference of the House in their favour; and that the petitioners have, as already mentioned, completed their Canal to a distance of 46 miles; that in so doing they have expended, with diligence and fidelity, the original subscription of 134,000l., the grant then made of 66,000l., the farther sum of 38,964l. raised by an increase of their stock, the loan of 25,000l., the sum of 95,866l. 7s. 10d. purchased by the reduction of their tolls, and divers sums raised by them on debentures, as above mentioned, at several times, for no less an amount than 842,550l.; that they are still at a considerable distance from the river Shannon, from whence their chief profits were expected to arise, and have no funds to enable them to arrive at it; and that the general confidence in their future prosperity has hitherto afford-ed the petitioners great facility in raising money, and, looking with confidence to an increase of income sufficient to answer all demands, they considered themselves well warranted in accepting the sums thus freely advanced; but their hopes of reaching the river Shannon are now at an end; without effecting that object they see no prospect of any considerable increase to their tolls; and at present the whole income of the petitioners is little more than sufficient to defray the necessary charges of their establishment; and that the stockholders of the Royal Canal Company amount to no less than 283 persons; that it is now more than 20 years since those persons and their predecessors advanced to the funds of the Company sums amounting to 172,964l., which in so great a length of time has produced to them little more than the common interest of their money for a single year, insomuch, that every holder of stock to the amount of 100l. is at this day a loser in money alone to the amount of 250l.; and now, after so great privations, and after so many years of unremitting attention to the business of the Company and of the public, they find themselves bereft of the hope which sustained them, and consigned to the wearisome office of directing repairs, scrutinizing accounts, and regulating the details of an income that is nearly exhausted in the expence of collecting it; and that however gloomy this picture may be, the calamitous situation of the creditors of the Company presents not a more cheering aspect; payments of interest and annuities have been hitherto indeed regularly made, by reason of which circum-stance and of the general confidence in the future prosperity of inland navigation, the debentures of the Company have been sought for with avidity by all those to whom punctuality of payment is of the greatest importance, by unmarried women, by the aged and infirm, the orphan, and the widow; many of them have entrusted the whole of their little properties on this security, and the eagerness of competition with which payment is sought for as soon as due is the strongest proof of its importance to the holders of the debentures; and when, therefore, it is considered, that the sums so due for interest and annuities amount to no less than 49,824l. 10s. yearly, and that without the aid of the House, the whole must from this moment cease, it is impossible to think without horror, on the extent of misery that may ensue, and that amidst this scene of calamity the public and the inhabitant-of Dublin alone have profited by the under- taking, the country has a canal of perfect construction amply supplied with water, communicating with the capital and the sea, extending more than 46 miles through tracts of the highest fertility', and subject to tolls so low as to be no obstruction to trade or intercourse, and Dublin has for its pipes an abundant supply of the purest water; and that the petitioners therefore in their distress have this consolation, that their time and labour, though lost to themselves and their families, have not been unprofitable to their country; and that the petitioners having now no other refuge, humbly beg leave to approach the House with this representation of their case, and to implore from its humanity and wisdom such relief as may seem meet, the petitioners hereby offering to accede to any terms that may be thought reasonable; if the House shall deem it proper that the northern line leading to Roosky, or any other line of canal should be adopted, and are disposed to defray the expense of it, the Royal Canal Company are willing to devote to it their time, industry, and experience; but in that case, they presume, they will not be thought unreasonable in hoping that the payment of the annuities secured by their debentures, together with the necessary expenses of the establishment, may be provided for by the public until the funds of the company shall be sufficient for that purpose; and that if on, the other hand it shall be thought more advisable that the Royal Canal should become public property, and be placed under the management of public officers, the petitioners are ready to accede thereto on such terms as may be agreed on; and therefore praying, such relief in the premises as to the House shall seem fit."

Ordered, That the said Petition do lie upon the table.