HC Deb 21 September 1841 vol 59 cc685-91
Mr. Rennie

Mr. Speaker—The object of the motion which I am now about to submit to the House, is a remedial and effectual measure for the prevention of those lamentable and unnecessary sacrifices of life, which occur so frequently in the Royal parks of this metropolis. Sir, I trust, if the House will accord to me its indulgence for a very few minutes, I shall be able to show that this subject, involving as it does a deplorable and constantly recurring loss of life requires, and is entitled to the most serious consideration of Parliament. These accidents are not of the nature of those which may be considered extraordinary—every precaution which the most vigilant superintendence can suggest is put in practice—no pains or expense have been spared by the Royal Humane Society in their praiseworthy efforts to protect the lives of their fellow subjects, and yet every returning season exhibits the impossibility of attaining their object by the means at present in use. Sir, I hold in my hand a very interesting statistical document, furnished to me by the Royal Humane Society—it contains a carefully drawn up return of the number of persons who have been drowned in the Royal parks during the last six years; but, before reading this statement, I must beg the attention of the House to what passed at a meeting of that Society, convened especially to lake into consider-anon the expediency and practicability of the measure which I shall conclude by submitting to the House. That upon a careful consideration of the danger to which the public is exposed during the bathing and skating seasons of the year, from the numerous accidents of a critical nature which have occurred in the parks, it is the confident opinion of this committee, that the proposed measure is of the utmost consequence, inasmuch as it would effectually secure the public against the dangers to winch it is now most unnecessarily exposed; whilst it would enable the Royal Humane Society to turn its attention to the preservation of life on the river Thames, by appropriating the large annual expenditure now incurred in the parks, with very great advantage to the safeguard of the public, particularly at those places where accidents have lately become so numerous as to require the watchful aid of the Institution, and which its limited income is not otherwise adequate to meet. I will now, Sir, read to the House, the return of the number, and the nature of these accidents, which I conceive it to be the duty of Parliament to take cognizance of.

Years. Hyde Park Bathing. Hyde Park Ice-breaking. St. James's Ditto. Regent's Ditto.
1835 2 7 3
1836 2 7 3
1837 2 1 3
1838 2 2 3
1839 2 2 3
1840 3 1 5
1841 2 1 5
15 11 8
RECOVERED. Attempted Suicides. Suicides.
Years. Hyde Park. St. James Regent's
1835 37 26 4 2 4
1836 19 1 3 10 1
1837 19 5 3 10 3
1838 49 11 10 14 1
1839 34 11 5 12 9
1840 49 5 26 11 3
1841 35 11 8
242 54 59 67 21
Total Recovered ‥ 355 Total Drowned … 55
Sir, I trust, that I have shown to the House, that I have requested its attention to no trivial matter—that in little more than five years thirty-four people have met with an untimely end; that these thirty-four individuals, full of health and vigour, thinking only of recreation and amusement, unreflecting and unprepared —were hurried into eternity, and into the presence of their Maker, and shall we be free from blame, shall we be exonerated from a most awful responsibility, if, after the proof which I have adduced, that these calamities cannot be arrested by any ingenious precautions, such as are in use at present, we neglect or refuse to adopt a remedy—a remedy which persons whose study and attention has been given for a long series of years to the preservation of life, tell us is the only effectual means of preventing those shocking and heartrending "occurrences. But, Sir, let me consider the question in a practical shape. By the statement which I have read to the House, it appears, that no fatal accidents have occurred in the Regent's-park water—this, I am told, is in consequence of there being very few deep places; and I will, therefore, say for this present, confine the remedies to the Serpentine and St. James's-park waters. Now, Sir, looking at these two lakes, hon. Members must not suppose, that they are bottomless pits, nor of any depth either impracticable or difficult to fill. I am assured, that the deepest pool in the Serpentine does not exceed twelve or thirteen feet. A very great portion of the eastern end is not more than four or five feet deep, and although I confess I am not prepared to state the exact number of cubic yards of material, that would be required to accomplish my object—thus much I know, that any quantity can be had and laid down at the water's edge at little or no expense. The immense volume of old materials which builders and others frequently find difficulty in knowing where to get rid of, could be brought to some one convenient spot, without cutting up or injuring the walks or drives, and thence conveyed in boats to the places requiring to be made shallow. If a better description of bottom be considered necessary, a coating of gravel, which can be obtained in the park itself, would be laid over the surface of the material which had been used previously. I can believe, that, probably, some bold and adventurous swimmers may say, you would injure our sport. I would ask them how many of those who have been drowned bathing, were swimmers, or persons unable to swim? Sir, the Serpentine has several cold and chilling springs, which I am told produce cramp, and paralyse in an instant the skill and energies of the most expert—that the larger number of casualties are of swimmers, who have sunk from the cause I have mentioned. But Sir, the thousands who are invited, for I say they are, to a certain degree, invited to bathe, by placards indicating the hours at which it is permitted, should be protected, should have the means of cleanliness, which is so necessary for the health of this vast metropolis, made accessible to them without the risk to all, and the certainty of death to a certain number annually. But, Sir, those whose amusement, at a different season of the year, I am also anxious to protect, will admit that their diversion would be much promoted, as it is too obvious to require illustration, that shallow water freezes in much less time than deep, and consequently the ice would bear with a less intensity or duration of frost than it does at present. Sir, great and much to be deplored as the accidents which I have enumerated from the returns of the Royal Humane Society are, it must not be concluded that the evil is not much further extended. Of the 355 persons who have been recovered by medical process, how many are there whose health and constitution have met with shocks from which they never recovered. Sir, I have no wish to exaggerate—no exaggeration is required. But when every expedient has been adopted which skill, ingenuity, and invention can contrive, when every care, vigilance, and superintendence has been exercised by a society, perhaps unexampled in its philanthropic intentions to preserve the lives of its fellow-citizens, and when that society, after a very large expenditure, comes forward and declares that the remedy which I now propose is the only effectual one which that society has heard devised, I think, Sir, that this House will incur a very heavy responsibility if it refuses to adopt the means of preserving the lives of so many of her Majesty's subjects, and when it is considered that her Majesty is herself the patroness of this very society, which now calls upon you to promote its objects. Sir, the right hon. Baronet, in his speech on Thursday last, passed a most just and well-deserved eulogium on the administration of Lord Duncannon, in so far as relates to the improvement of the walks, drives, and plantations of the parks. But, Sir, I have shown a much more important task yet remains to be performed, and I implore the right lion. Baronet to accede to the address which lam about to propose. I entreat of him to consider that the benefits he will confer on humanity by consenting to this measure in the royal parks, will not be confined to those places, for the funds which are now expended by the Royal Humane Society in endeavouring to protect the parks will be transferred to the river Thames, where the accidents which the increase of steam navigation has so multiplied, require a superintendence, to which the means of the society are inadequate. And, Sir, when my hon. Friends on this side of the House shall be reinstated in power, as I am sure they are convinced they will be, some time or other, I should be delighted to hear an eulogy of the right hon. Baronet's administration in this department as well merited as Lord Duncannon's has been. Sir, deducting the suicides, for which I profess to offer no remedy, we have an average of about seven lives sacrificed annually at the shrine of amusement, in places sanctioned by authority—an effectual and practicable remedy is proposed. What can be the objections? if objections there are. I know of none, I can imagine none, but the expense—and will Parliament consent to the sacrifice of life which occurs annually, for the trifling outlay which this work would occasion. Sir, I cannot believe it, but if the remedy is refused, I think it is the duty of this House to take measures for absolutely prohibiting all access to those waters. The law inflicts a punishment on the attempts to commit suicide, and yet you allow the multitude, nay, you invite the multitude to an amusement which is certain death to some of them. I entreat and implore the right hon. Baronet to consent to the address on the grounds of humanity. For, Sir, if this motion be not acceded to, no inference can be drawn, other than that the lives of the public are valued at less than the unimportant sum which I pledge myself that this work would cost. I cannot sit down without expressing my thanks to the House for the patience with which they have listened to me. The hon. Member then moved the following address:— That an bumble Address be presented to her Majesty, that she will be graciously pleased to direct her Commissioners of Land Revenues to take measures for rendering safer the recreations of bathing and skating on the ornamental waters of Hyde-park, St. James's, and the Regent's-park, by filling up the deep and dangerous places, so as not exceeding four feet depth of water, in any of the above-mentioned parks.

Mr. Ewart

seconded the motion.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

trusted that the hon. Member opposite would not think he was derogating from his claims to merit, for the interest he took in the subject which he had introduced to the House, when he stated his intention to vote against it. It must afford gratification to all those who were interested in the exertions of the Royal Humane Society to hear testimony borne to the great exertions they had made to prevent those fatal occurrences. The hon. Member opposite had described the advantages which would result from the adoption of the plan to which he referred, but he hoped to be able satisfactorily to show some difficulties which would attend the carrying into effect of that proposal. In offering his opposition to the large expense which would attend it, he felt that he was justified upon that ground alone; however, he remembered that in the early part of his life, a great deal of money had been expended in deepening that water, which the hon. Member now sought to render of less depth. He was not able to say what amount of expenditure would be required to effect the object which the hon. Gentleman desired; but taking his own calculation, that it would be no more than for a railway embankment of the same extent, he did not think that he would be justified under the circumstances, in agreeing to that expenditure, for the purpose of lessening the depth of that water, in deepening which so much expense was incurred at a former period. Before these waters were deepened, in consequence of the deposits made in them, they were attended by an offensive smell, which was extremely injurious to health, and annoying, not only to those who went there to bathe, but to the inhabitants of London generally who went there to enjoy the recreation and fresh air which the open spaces in these parks afforded them. The hon. Member must take into account what injury would follow to the community at large, supposing that the filling up of these spaces would be attended with a recurrence of the same effects. With respect to the enjoyment of those who went there to enjoy the manly and invigorating exercise of swimming, if these waters were filled up so as to be made only four feet in depth, would it be practicable for these parties to continue to take that exercise. The consesequence of filling up those places in the: way sought for by the hon. Member would be, to compel those who resorted to those places to bathe, to go elsewhere, to the Thames, or other places, where the same provision was not made to ensure their safely, and the loss of life that would occur would, in all probability, be much greater. For these reasons, he hoped the hon. Gentleman would consent to withdraw his motion, and not place him (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) in the situation of opposing it.

Mr. Rennie

said, that the accumulation of mud which occurred formerly had been caused by a sewer, which had since been removed. However, as the motion was opposed, he would consent to withdraw it, but hoped that the subject would receive the attention of the Government, at a future time.

Motion withdrawn.