HC Deb 05 March 1850 vol 109 cc376-82

Sir, it is here quite unnecessary to enter into the advantages which arise to both France and England, from a facility of communication: the mutual benefits are evident, and need not be expatiated on at present; I will, therefore, at once enter into the subject. Formerly, in days of sailing vessels, before steamboats came into general use, the communication between England and France was usually by Dover and Calais; and gradually as steamboats were used, the route to Boulogne was preferred by the public—for example, in the year 1831, about thirty-oight thousand persons went to Calais from England, and only eleven thousand to Boulogne, but in the year 1847, we find seventy-eight thousand to Boulogne, and sixteen thousand to Calais. Now, if the mass of the public preferred the route by Folkestone and Boulogne, it seems that route must be the shortest and the best, and this supposition seems confirmed by the distance saved, as appears by the following statement:—

It is 82 miles from London to Folkestone,
27 miles from Folkestone to Boulogne,
169 miles from Boulogne to Paris.
278 miles from London to Paris, by Folkestone and Boulogne.
It is 88 miles from London to Dover,
28 miles from Dover to Boulogne,
169 miles from Boulogne to Paris.
285 miles from London to Paris, by Dover and Boulogne.
It is 88 miles from London to Dover,
23 miles from Dover to Calais,
235 miles from Calais to Paris (by railway viâ Lille).
346 miles from London to Paris, by this route.
Now, as to the time occupied in the transit. It appears, that on the 11th of December, 1849, an express of the Times went from London to Paris in 8½ hours; it started with the morning paper at half-past four A. M., and arrived in Paris, at one o'clock P. M. Again, on the 3rd of January, 1850, an express through Boulogne and Folkestone reached London from Paris at 7h. 15m. A.M., having started from Paris at 8h. 30m. P.M. about eleven hours, having been detained some time on the road by peculiar circumstances: this express reached London as stated, at half-past eight o'clock, A.M.; whilst the mail which started from Paris at the same time, only reached London for letters to be delivered at four o'clock, P.M., making a difference of nearly seven hours. Now, it seems strange that the official intercourse between the two countries, should, in so short a distance, he greater by seven hours in private than in official communication: such ought not to be case. Now, as to the great question which has been stated—the difficulty of reaching the harbour of Boulogne, when a strong westerly wind was prevalent, and the greater facilities found in Calais harbour—this is not proved. It appears by the tables, that in one year, the irregularities by Calais were twenty-six, and by Boulogne thirty-two, making a difference of only six, and even these six were from causes not likely again to occur. Besides, it appears that when a strong westerly wind renders the entrance into the harbour or off the harbour of Boulogne difficult, the boat can with case make the harbour of Calais; and no time is lost, for then you are only, as you are at present, going to Calais; whereas, if your route is always through Calais, if a strong easterly wind blows, you return in that case to Dovor. As a proof that the Boulogne harbour is not unsafe, it appears that since 1843, the South Eastern Company's packets have made 4,000 voyages there and back from Folkestone without a single accident. Now, if the accelerated communication between Folkestone and Boulogne is adopted, it would appear that a day mail would be unnecessary, whereby an immense saving of expense would be gained. Added to this, it is possible to save from twenty to twenty five thousand a year to the country by the conveyance of the mails by contract, as the South Eastern Company, it is asserted, will undertake to convey the bags for the Post Office at a saving of that sum to the public. It seems. Sir, needless for me to expatiate more at length at present on the subject, and I will only move that a Select Committee be appointed for the purpose to which I have alluded.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That a Select Committee be appointed, to ascertain the most expeditious and least expensive mode of Postal Communication between London and Paris.


seconded the Motion.


said, there was no objection on the part of the Government to the appointment of the Committee moved for by the hon. Gentleman; but he did not anticipate any very great advantage from it, except that the statements which the hon. Gentleman had made would then be sifted and examined. He thought the hon. Gentleman attached too much importance to the express which he had referred to; for he believed it would appear that an express which went by the line of Calais arrived within sixteen minutes of the one on which the hon. Gentleman so much relied; but the point to be looked to in making these postal arrangements was not the question by which line they could on a particular occasion travel with the utmost rapidity; but by which line the greatest amount of certainty could be maintained through the whole year. Now, from the peculiarities of Boulogne harbour, it did appear to the Government, from their experiments of one year, that there was the greatest uncertainty and irregularity; and it was a greater evil to those receiving correspondence to receive it at at different hours than to have it regularly at a later hour. The harbour at Boulogne had such disadvantages for landing the mails, that during the period they were sent by that route the Admiralty were obliged to allow them five hours and a half between the one railway station and the other; whereas on the Calais route the time allowed was only four hours. He could only say, that as a Committee was to be appointed, it might be better to survey the whole subject; and in addition to that branch of the mail-packet service at Dover which ran through France, to consider the other branch that ran to Ostend, because there were many reasons for supposing that the mails might be sent to the north of Europe through France without any additional expense, thus merging the two lines in one, and at the same time keeping up the same amount of speed as at present.


said, that as the Government did not oppose this Motion, it was not his intention to object to it; but it appeared to him that this question would be more satisfactorily settled by the Government themselves than it possibly could be by a Committee. It should be determined by the principle so correctly stated by the hon. Member for Hertford, that they were not to look to a route upon which, upon any particular occasion, under special circumstances, with all preparations beforehand, they could establish a communication, but to that which, in all states of the weather and tides, they could conduct their postal communications with the greatest regularity; for whether they were to receive their letters from the Continent at an earlier or later hour in the day was of small importance compared with their receiving them regularly. The question which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertford had mentioned, of the mails to Belgium and the north of Europe, was a very important one, and the attention of the Committee ought to be directed to it. But, it was stated in the very able report of the Earl of Dalhousie, as chairman of the Railway Committee of the Board of Trade, it was of the greatest importance that a quick communication between London and Dovor should be established. The present route from London by Reigate was most circuitous and inconvenient as a route for transmitting the mails from London to the Continent. The Board of Trade, at the time he was connected with the Government, pointed out the importance of having a direct communication between London and Dovor; and the South Eastern Company proposed a scheme by which they would transmit the mails direct from London to Dovor; and the Board of Trade, thinking the guarantees then offered would have secured the completion of it within a short time, gave the preference to the South Eastern Company; but five years had now passed, and nothing whatever had been done with it. A petition for the Bill was presented this year, but it was checked in its progress on the Standing Orders. He hoped the Committee would not lose sight of that important part of the subject, to sec how much the means of accelerating the mails from the Continent were in our own hands, by completing a direct line from London to Dovor, and which could now he done with comparative facility, whilst on the other hand they had little control over the routes on the other side of the Channel. These were matters deserving of deliberate consideration. They were not able sometimes to take the shortest lines, but must take into consideration the peculiarities of ports and harbours, and also the shortness of sea passage. He had no doubt whatever that the port of Dovor did possess facilities which had caused it at all times to be the port of departure, and the important works which had been for some time in progress when completed, would give to it the peculiar advantage, besides being a tidal harbour, of rendering it accessible at all times. He believed also that the works that had recently been carried on at Calais would enable vessels, except at very low water, to get alongside of the harbour. Those were circumstances which justified the opinion stated by the hon. Member for Hertford, that they were not to look for quickness of communication so much as to security and regularity.


said, that anything which would facilitate and expedite the postal communication between the two countries would be of great importance to the commercial and every other interest in the country. But he rose on the present occasion to suggest that the advantages of the penny post should be extended to the communications between this country and the colonies. He looked on the penny postage as the greatest boon which had been conferred on this country, at least since he sat in Parliament; and as they paid a certain sum to a vessel for taking out letters, it could make no difference whether it took out fifteen boxes or thirty-five.


said, that he did not attach much importance to the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Lymington, and when he had been conducting the Committee for some time, he thought the hon. Member would see reason to change the opinion which he appeared at present to entertain. His hon. Friend said that the communication would be shortened two hours. He believed it would be shown that the real difference between the two routes of communication was forty-two minutes, and not two hours. The reason why so many persons went formerly by Boulogne instead of Calais was that they avoided the three hours' journey by diligence between Calais and Boulogne. But it was different now that the railway from Calais was opened. His hon. Friend said, that during the prevalence of a south-westerly wind, if the boat could not make Boulogne, it could go to Calais, but that a boat going to Calais, and not being able to reach in consequence of a northeasterly wind, must return to Dovor. Now, if a south-westerly wind would bring a boat going to Boulogne into Calais, it was clear that a north-eastern wind would take a boat going to Calais into Boulogne, so that it need not return to Dovor. Passengers might go to Boulogne because they could go when the tide answered, and in the day time; but Boulogne would not answer for boats reaching it at night, as the mails must do, because it had a steep shore, and afforded no soundings. The fact was, there had been a constant system of puffing, in the public papers, and in pamphlets, in favour of the route by Boulogne. But if they wished to shorten the transit between Loudon and Paris, they must facilitate the making of a direct railway between London and Dovor. He believed that all the landlords in the county of Kent were prepared to support such a line, and he hoped that in another Session it would be carried out.


considered the subject a very important one, which should be fully investigated before a Committee, with a view to elicit further information. It was to be regretted that there existed no direct line of railway between London and Dovor; but he hoped public spirit, backed by the exertions of the hon. Members for Dovor, would soon establish such direct line of communication.


said, that although the saving of time proposed to be effected—be it two hours or only forty minutes—might be of comparatively little importance to London, it would be of great value to Manchester, Liverpool, and the other great towns in the north of England, because it would enable the Post Office to despatch letters to those places by the morning mail, which, at present, were sent by the evening mail, and were not delivered until the following morning. He rejoiced at the prospect of the appointment of a Committee by which the question would be fairly investigated.


said, that two hours might be saved by having an early express from Dovor.


was not surprised that the hon. Members for Dovor should advocate the interests of the town which they represented, even though they clashed with those of the public. It was perhaps material the House should know that if the Government should think fit to enter into a contract with the South Eastern Company for carrying the mails, they would undertake to do so at a saving to the public of from 20,000l. to 25,000l. The Com- mittee would be governed solely by the evidence placed before them. He was perfectly willing to make the addition to his Motion that was suggested by the hon. Member for Hertford.

Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words, "And the Northern parts of Europe."

Question, "That those words be there added," put, and agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.