HC Deb 08 June 1847 vol 93 cc240-3

wished to ask his hon. Friend the Chief Commissioner of Railways a question of some public interest, connected with the new class of railway accidents which had been attended with such loss of life. The necessity of making the inquiry he was about to propose, had been suggested to him by reading an opinion stated by the Times to have been expressed by Mr. Locke, the eminent engineer, with respect to the falling of the Dee bridge. In the report of the proceedings at the inquest on the bodies of the sufferers by that unfortunate accident, as published in the journal in question, the following passage occurred:— Mr. Locke, engineer of the Grand Junction Line, corroborated Mr. Stephenson's testimony. He said the bridge did not fall from any pressure downwards, but from a side blow; this the exa- mination of the fragments proved to him; he considered all manner of iron bridges objectionable, when brick and stone bridges could be had—as was the case—cheaper and better. 'Mr. Coroner and gentlemen of the jury,' said Mr. Locke, 'I believe that much blame lies at the doors of the Commissioners of the Admiralty, the Board of Trade, and the Commissioners of Railways, who require bridges built with too large a span, to answer their views as to shipping and other matters, without at all consulting the interest or safety of the public. I wish this to go forth to the world. I wrote a letter to the Government on the subject, and am sorry to say it was not attended to.' Before putting a question on the subject in that House, he felt it to be his duty to refer to Mr. Locke himself (than whom there was no gentleman of greater distinction in his profession), to know if the words attributed to him in the newspaper report were the exact expressions which he had used on the occasion in question. Mr. Locke at once told him what be bad stated at the inquest, and he (Mr. Gisborne) took a note of his expressions, which he would read to the House. What his friend had stated was to the following effect:— That the Admiralty and Board of Trade were disposed in many cases to attend more to the requirements of water-way and navigation, than to the safety of the public; and very unnecessarily placed on engineers the necessity of covering a width of space which could not be made entirely safe. That Mr. Stephenson, Mr. Brunei, and himself, addressed a joint letter to Lord Dalhousie, embodying this opinion, and that they never received any reply. Mr. Locke further added, that that opinion he was prepared to adhere to before any Select Committee or before any court of law. He (Mr. Gisborne) felt it to be his duty to give his hon. Friend the Chief Commissioner of Railways an opportunity for affording some explanation on the matter.


was obliged to his hon. Friend for putting the question, as his doing so afforded the opportunity for correcting a misapprehension to which an error in the newspaper report was calculated to give colour. As Mr. Locke's statement at first appeared, it conveyed a serious charge against three departments of the public service—the Board of Trade, the Board of Admiralty, and the Railway Board—namely, that they had caused bridges to be erected of an unnecessarily wide span, dangerous to the safety of the public. So far as the Commissioners of Railways were concerned, he begged to assure the House that on no occasion whatsoever had they interfered to cause bridges to be built of any span that could be productive of the slightest danger to the public. And so far from any remonstrance having been addressed to them by Mr. Locke, he begged to say that the Board had not received any communication whatsoever, whether by way of complaint, remonstrance, or representation, either from that gentleman or from any other quarter whatever on the subject referred to. This showed that there was no foundation whatsoever for the statement inaccurately reported in the newspapers, so far, at least, as that statement could be supposed to affect the present Board. But he had not stopped there. He had examined into the Minutes of the proceedings of the Railway Department of the Board of Trade, to see if there were any mention of such communications. He found a letter addressed on the subject of bridges to Lord Dalhousie by Mr. Locke and certain other engineers. Into the subject of that letter it was not necessary that he should just then enter; but this he would say, that it did not relate to the conduct of the Railway Department of the Board of Trade, nor to that of the Admiralty Board, or of any other department whatsoever of the public service. It had exclusive reference to a clause proposed to be introduced into the Railway Clauses Consolidation Act, and merely went to suggest an amendment in that Act. It had no relation whatever to the conduct of any public board, and solely referred to bridges not across rivers but across dry roads. With respect to the Board of Admiralty they had most useful functions to perform for the preservation of the lives of the public, in taking care that the regulations in reference to navigation were properly carried out. His hon. Friend the Secretary for the Board of Admiralty was in his place on Monday evening in the expectation that this question would be asked, in order that he might reply to it, so far as it concerned his department. If the hon. Member for Nottingham desired further information from the Admiralty, perhaps it would be as well that he should repeat his question when the hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Admiralty was present.


was in a position to corroborate the statement which had been made by the Chief Commissioner of Railways. No instance had ever come before the Railway Department of the Board of Trade, so long as he was connected with that department, in which they had in- sisted on bridges being constructed in any manner of which, an engineer could disapprove. With respect to the letter which had been addressed to Lord Dalhousie, it did not refer to bridges over water, but simply to bridges over roads. As for the Board of Admiralty, all they had to do was to see that the free navigation of rivers was not interfered with by railways or otherwise. It was for the engineers to decide whether, to prevent any such interference, bridges could be made of such strength and dimensions as to secure the safety of the public. On them alone rested the responsibility. He protested against their shifting it on any public departments. They alone were the responsible parties. If they did not think that the bridges could be constructed in such a manner as to ensure public safety, why did they not say so at once, and decline undertaking the task of erecting them?


had not intended to guarantee any statements whatsoever. He merely observed that a paragraph, conveying an imputation against three public boards, appeared in the Times, and he felt it to be his duty to afford to the authorities of those departments an opportunity for explanation.

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