HC Deb 27 April 1841 vol 57 cc1153-60
My. Freshfield

rose, in pursuance of his notice, to move for a "Select committee on the port of departure and arrival of the West-India mails, to whom shall be referred the reports of the committee appointed by the Lords of the Admiralty to inquire as to the comparative advantages afforded by different ports in the channel for the West-India mail service." Until a recent period no ports but Falmouth had been thought of for this service; but lately Southampton and other ports had been set up in competition. He advocated the claims of the port of Falmouth over that of Dartmouth, and hoped that Dartmouth would not be the port chosen for this service, and take it from Falmouth, in order to save about twenty-four minutes time. He was anxious, however, to have a committee of inquiry to determine as to the relative merits of the rival ports. All naval men were surprised that Dartmouth should be selected as a port of departure. In making his motion the hon. Gentleman stated, that all he sought was a full, fair, and impartial inquiry, and he would rest satisfied with a select committee appointed by the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies, provided it were composed of intelligent men.

Sir C. Lemon

seconded the motion. There appeared to be a determination in the Board of Admiralty to abide by the decision of the commissioners, whatever that decision might be. It struck him that the only ground to come before the House was, that there was either something defective in the evidence, or that certain matters lay without the field of the inquiry of the commissioners, and that the Government had taken the matter into their own hands.

Mr. F. H. Berkeley

rose to put in his claim on behalf of Bristol, the advantages of which as a station for the West-India packets, if not superior to any other, which he did not contend it was, certainly en- titled it to a hearing. It was well known, that Bristol possessed the chief part of the West-India commerce, at least as compared with any other port; and, as had been proved in the instance of the Great Western, could start steam-packets equal to any port of the kingdom.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that long before the contract was entered into for the conveyance of the West-India mails complaints were made to the Government of the inconvenience of Falmouth as a port of departure, and memorials were sent in, praying that the preference might be given to Dartmouth. Of course, if this matter were thrown open to competition, every port would put in its claim to He selected as the best adapted to the purpose. The Government, however, had felt it to be their duty not to regard local interests, but the general good, and to endeavour to make the system as perfect as possible. They felt, however, that they had no power to control the parties who had entered into the contract as to the place of departure, except in so far as the public convenience was concerned. That was the reply which he had invariably given to all the applications which had been made to him upon the subject. For his own part, he did not care whether the packets went from Portsmouth, or Devonport, or Falmouth; and so he had told the hon. Gentlemen who represented the last two places. The question was, which was the most convenient port? which was the best place for the departure of the mails? The Government had kept that question always in view; and he must say, that if he had entertained any idea of jobbing, he should certainly have jobbed in favour of Portsmouth. In order to arrive at the most satisfactory arrangement, a commission was appointed to investigate the matter. It was felt that the persons composing that commission ought to be unconnected with the several ports under consideration; and amongst others Sir James Gordon, who had been engaged in the eastern survey, and Mr. Lawrence, the secretary to the Post-office, were nominated. When it was publicly known of whom the commission consisted, from no one quarter or person did he hear a single objection to the gentlemen appointed, or to the course which was to be pursued. That commission collected a large mass of evidence, amongst which were allegations in favour of all the different ports, but they thought it best to collect the opinions of all parties upon this subject. Dartmouth, however, was the port recommended. He had thought that this was a point which he ought not to decide upon himself, and therefore his noble Friend, Lord Melbourne, was good enough to enter into the inquiry with him, and the result was, that the recommendation of the commission was adopted. He must oppose the motion.

Sir Hussey Vivian

said, it was not his intention to occupy the attention of the House at any length, but painful as it must be to him to differ from the noble Lord, and his other right hon. Friend, from, in fact, the Government, of which he was a member, on a question affecting the vital interests of those he had the honour to represent, he should be unworthy of the honour the electors of East Cornwall had done him, if he hesitated, when not only an injury but an injustice was about to be inflicted on them, and when, out of the proposed measure, no public advantage would arise, for if there were a public good to follow from the removal of the packets from the port of Falmouth, however individual or private interests might be affected, he would undertake to say, there was not a man in the county of Cornwall but would cheerfully bear it. He said he should be ashamed of himself if he hesitated and allowed any consideration for one instant, to interfere with the honest and faithful discharge of his duty to his constituents. When he applied the term injustice to the proposed measure, he must beg his Friends around him to understand, that he did not mean to attribute intentional injustice, either to the Government, or to the Commissioners—in respect to the Government he had no complaint to make. His opinion was, that they could not act otherwise than as they had done. A great change was to be carried out as to the manner in which the foreign mails were to be conveyed; it involved the question, whether some other port might not, with advantage, be substituted for that of Falmouth? The question had been raised by the contractors for the carriage of the mails. The Government appointed commissioners to examine and report their opinion. That opinion was in favour of Dartmouth, and the Government, very properly, were preparing to carry into effect measures formed on that opinion, believing it to have been formed after full consideration, and on just grounds, and he must say, that they had good reason for so doing. The commissioners, as may be seen by the first letter, amongst the voluminous papers which had been printed having, on the report being again, together with the representation of the different parties who objected to it, referred to them, adhered to their opinion. Let those who differed from the commissioners, those who thought that there should be some decided public benefit shewn, as certain of coming, from the removal of the packets, before they were removed from a port from which they had been despatched for nearly 200 years, and thousands of persons who were now dependant on the packet establishment for their daily bread, exposed to poverty and distress, let them assert that the commissioners were in error, and pray for further inquiry, before their recommendation was adopted. In fact there was an error, and we proposed to show it. And it was on this ground that he, for one, appealed to the House, and asked for a Committee: the commissioners had made their decision rest on a question of time. It was impossible to read their report, and not see this; it was then as to this question of a saving of time that he was at issue with them. He would not now trouble the House by going into the comparative merits of this or that port. He might, if he was disposed to take up the time of the House, say much on this part of the subject, but indeed it was not necessary that he should do so, so much having been already said, and so well, by the hon. Member for Falmouth, and his hon. Friend, the Member for West Cornwall. He would, therefore, refer to the question of time alone, and if he could show the House, as in a very few words, he hoped to be able to do, that the commissioners were mistaken in their calculation, he claimed to have established a case for further enquiry. The commissioners said that there was a saving of two hours by the embarkation of the mail from Dartmouth—from this, however, by their own admission in the first letter to which he had already referred, a deduction was to be made in consequence of their error in stating the distance from Exeter to Falmouth at 112 miles instead of 98. And here he could not help observing, that this admission was not made in the manner that he should have expected it would have been made. The Commissioners spake of another "available road"—available road indeed, from this expression, it really might have been supposed that they spoke of an available road; that it was some small bad road, over which a person might possibly travel on horseback—whereas it was the high road over which the mail coach had regularly passed since its first establishment. However the commissioners had admitted their error, and this at once abstracted an hour and a half from their saving of two hours, and now then he would further, on the authority of a letter he held in his hand from as good a seaman as ever went to sea (he would mention his name, it was Capt. Liddell, late of the Wellington East-Indiaman, an officer holding a commission as a lieutenant in the navy, and who, for many years past, had been engaged, as he had stated), he would at once, on his authority, demolish the remainder of the saving of time, and shew that so far from there being n saving of two hours by despatching the mails from Dartmouth, there was actually a loss of one hour, Capt. Liddel said, A direct course from Jamaica to the Start passes more than thirty miles to the north of the commissioners' "imaginary berth," and it is evident to every practical man, that to escape the north-east trade, a steamer would invariably take a more northerly route. But, assuredly, the natural question is, "What difference in distance is there between the West-Indies and Falmouth, and the West-Indies and Dartmouth?" Answer, fifty-six nautical, or sixty-five statute miles, in lieu of the forty-seven given by the commissioners ! It is, therefore, as demonstrable as any problem in Euclid, that instead of two hours being gained by going to Dartmouth, this strange error, added to the unaccountable mistake of one hour and forty-eight minutes in the mail-coach distance, leaves an actual balance of one hour in favour of Falmouth. If, then, Capt. Liddel was right, and there could not be the least doubt that he was right, surely a report in which there were such palpable errors, it would be the height of injustice to carry into effect a change so seriously, so grievously injurious to the interests of Falmouth, and to the in. habitants of the county of Cornwall, and one, moreover, from which the interests of the public in general, instead of deriving a benefit, must be exposed to inconvenience. It was on these grounds then that he had taken the part he had done on this question. It was on the justice of the cause, and on the justice of the House, that he relied; when, in common with the other representatives for the county of Cornwall, he asked that further enquiry might be gone into before a Committee of this House. Before he sat down, he must, in reply to those who said, that a committee of the House of Commons was not the body before whom an enquiry of this sort should be made, observe, that all he, and those with whom he acted, required was, a full, fair, and impartial investigation. Whether it was made before a Committee of the House of Commons, or any other impartial and competent tribunal, it mattered not; at the same time he must say, he saw no reason whatever why a number of intelligent Gentlemen, composing a committee of the House of Commons, should not have before them the evidence of naval officers, and others qualified to offer their opinions on the subject, and be thus enabled to come to a decision on the subject.

Lord Ingestrie

was in favour of inquiry, and thought the attention of the committee should be directed to the claims of Bristol, and the southern and western parts of Ireland.

Mr. Irving

said, it had been distinctly understood by the company, at the time when the contract was made, that they should have the choice of the port from, which the packet should start, and if that had not been so he could assure the House that the contract would not have been signed. He looked upon Southampton as the most convenient port for embarking both passengers and letters, and hoped that Government would adopt it for the latter. The letters would arrive more speedily if brought by the packets to Southampton, than if landed at Falmouth, and then conveyed to town.

Mr. O'Connell

said, he could not concur in the vote of the hon. Gentleman, though he did in his reasoning. The hon. Gentleman confined the wording his motion to the channel harbours. [Mr. Freshfield: I beg your pardon.] If the hon. Gentleman would include the Irish harbours in his inquiry, he should vote for the motion. There were some of the finest harbours in the world on the southwestern coast of Ireland, fitted, above all others, for South American and West-India packet stations. He might mention many of the Irish harbours, as Cork, Berehaven, and Valentia, the most western point in Europe. By a proper system of rail-roads, the distance would be made as nothing from thence to Dublin and London. For nine months in the year a south west wind blew up the channel. Even before steam navigation was in existence, he had known the voyage from Halifax to Valentia to be made in eight or nine days in heavy gales from the west certainly. At present, with the aid of steam, the passage between Halifax and Valentia need never occupy more than nine days. The claims of Ireland should be considered.

Lord Eliot

being connected with the county of Cornwall, hoped the House would listen to the few words he had to say in reference loan observation that had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of an additional sum of money being expended in consequence of Falmouth being a packet station. He saw by the report, that the opinion of the committee, of which the bon. Gentleman was chairman, was, that Dartmouth was a most unfit place for a station, and that Plymouth or Falmouth would be preferable to it. He considered that the commission had acted with fairness, but while he would not impugn their competency, he must say, that even on their own showing it was evident they had been led into error, and that their decision had been arrived at hastily. He would refer in proof of this to a place well known to naval men by the name of St. Just's pool, which was an admirable harbour, and by the adoption of which a saving of several miles would be effected. It being evident, then, that sufficient information had not been obtained, the House should be cautious how it took away from Falmouth an advantage which it had enjoyed for a period of 105 years, in order to effect an alleged saving of a few minutes. From what occurred so often with respect to the large steamers, and the difficulties they experienced, he considered mail-coach conveyance, where practicable, was preferable to even the first-class steam-packets.

Mr. Hume

gave great credit to the Government for the manner in which they had acted upon this subject. If further inquiry were necessary he would prefer a practical commission on the spot to a committee of that House. He concurred in the wishes of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dublin; but in conse- quence of the terms of the West India mail contract that could not take place for the present, or for ten years to come.

Viscount Duncan

advocated the plan of Southampton to be the port of departure. He had no doubt that the commissioners had acted according to the best of their judgment, but he owned it appeared to him to be a most inconvenient arrangement that the packets having sailed from Southampton, should be obliged to call at Dartmouth for the mail-bags. He would suggest that the bags should be put on board at Southampton, between which place and London the communication was now as direct and as rapid as the utmost facilities of railway transit could render it.

Colonel Seale

considered this not to be a mere local, but a national question. He should not object to put Dartmouth in comparison in point of fitness for the purpose of which it was recommended with any port in the country. The hon. and gallant Member, amidst cries of "Question," proceeded to argue on the superiority of Dartmouth harbour, which, though narrow in the extreme, was admirably safe and convenient, vessels of 2,000 tons having easy access thereto. He read a letter from lieutenant Engledue, of the Great Liverpool steam-ship, showing that Falmouth, on the contrary, was very deficient in depth of water, and that the pilots at the latter place had refused to take the Great Liverpool in, on the ground that there was not sufficient water. The Peninsular packets were unable to take their mails at Falmouth, but were obliged to keep a mile and a half off. The hon. Member read extracts from another letter addressed to himself, from a gentleman selected to give information before the committee, who stated, that he had showed the superiority of Falmouth over Plymouth and Southampton, but said not a word about Dartmouth, as that was unquestionably the best of the whole. When the lines of railroad were completed, Dartmouth would be much nearer than Falmouth. The hon. and gallant Member after apologising for departing from the question before the House, sat down amidst cries of "Divide."

The House divided; Ayes 54; Noes 50; Majority 4.

List of the AYES.
Antrobus, E. Bailey, J. jun.
Archbold, R. Basset, J.
Berkeley, hon. H. Muntz, G. F
Berkeley, hon. G. Norreys, Sir D. J.
Bewes, T. O'Connell, D.
Blackburne, I. Palmer, C. F.
Bolling, W. Pendarves, E. W. W.
Bridgeman, H. Praed, W. T.
Broadley, H. Protheroe, E.
Brooke, Sir A. Pryme, G.
Buller, C. Rolleston, L.
Collier, J. Rundle, J.
Craig, W. G. Salwey, Colonel
Dalrymple, Sir A. Spry, Sir S. T.
Duncan, Viscount Staunton, Sir G. T.
Eliot, Lord Stuart, Lord J.
Greig, D. Trotter, J.
Grimsdith, T. Turner, E.
Hardinge, rt. hn. Sir H. Vivian, Major C.
Hawkins, J. H. Vivian, J. H.
Heneage, G. W. Vivian, J. E.
Hodgson, R. Vivian, rt hn. Sir R. H.
Hutchins, E. J. Wilmot, Sir J. E.
Ingestre, Viscount Wodehouse, E.
Irving, J. Wood, B.
Litton, E.
Lowther, J. H. TELLERS.
Miles, P. W. S. Freshfield, J. W.
Morris, D. Lemon, Sir C.
List of the NOES.
Acland, Sir T. D. Langdale, hon. C.
Adam, Admiral Lister, E. C.
Baldwin, C. B. Marsland, H.
Baring rt. hn. F. T. Muskett, G. A.
Barnard, E. G. Pease, J.
Blake, W. J. Philips, M.
Brocklehurst, J. Pigot, rt. hon. D.
Brodie, W. B. Power, J.
Buck, L. W. Russell, Lord J.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Seale, Sir J. H.
Bulwer, Sir L. Seymour, Lord
Busfeild, W. Stanley, hon. E. J.
Dalmeny, Lord Strickland, Sir G.
Divett, E. Strutt, E.
Ellis, W. Style, Sir C.
Ewart, W. Thornely, T.
Gordon, R. Warburton, H.
Greene, T. White, A.
Harcourt, G. G. Wilde, Sir T.
Heathcoat, J. Williams, W.
Hobhouse, T. B. Wood, Sir M.
Hodges, T. L. Wood, G. W.
Howard, P. H. Wyse, T.
Hume, J. Yates, J. A.
Humphery, J. TELLERS.
Hutton, R. Parker, J.
Labouchere, rt. hn. H. O'Ferrall, M.

Committee to be nominated.

WATERLOO, &c. BRIDGES.] Sir Matthew Wood

presented a petition from the nobility, gentry, bankers, merchants, and other inhabitants of the metropolis and its environs, praying the House will adopt some means for opening Waterloo, Southwark, and Vauxhall bridges, free of tolls.—Laid on the Table.

Back to