HC Deb 26 April 1853 vol 126 cc553-8

said, be rose to move for a Select Committee, to examine into the present state of the communication between England and Ireland. As he had been informed that the Motion would not be opposed, it would be unnecessary for him to address the House at any length; he would therefore leave all matters of detail for the consideration of the Committee. He wished, however, to make out a primâ facie case in favour of his Motion, and to show, that while we were accelerating each year the communication between Australia, India, and America, nothing whatever was done to facilitate communication between England and Ireland. Ever since the union of the two countries the subject had been regarded as of the utmost importance, and up to 1850 it had been viewed as a vital national question. In that year a change was made which had led to the worst consequences, but for which he attributed no blame to the Government of the day. An inquiry was at that time instituted into the nature of the contracts between the City of Dublin Company and the Government, and the report completely exonerated the Government from all blame. He could not but regret, however, that a subject which up to that period had been regarded as of great national importance, should have been looked upon as a departmental question. When the noble Lord the Member for the City of London introduced his Bill for abolishing the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, he had observed, as one of the arguments in favour of the measure, that science had superseded the attributes of the gods, and had annihilated both time and space, so perfect had the communication become between the two countries. That communication, however, he was sorry to say, did not in any way deserve the eulogium passed upon it by the noble Lord. Before concluding, he wished to say a word with respect to the conveyance of troops between the two countries. A great deal of time had been spent in that House, and much discussion had taken place in the country, with reference to our national defences. Every one who had considered the subject knew that our means of defence, in case of invasion, depended not so much upon the number of our troops, as on the power of concentrating them on a given point. Now, he asked hon. Members to consider what accommodation we had at present for the transmission of troops between England and Ireland in the event of any sudden emergency arising? Should such an emergency now arise, it would be impossible to withdraw troops from Ireland without great delay, as the present vessels employed for the conveyance of mails and passengers were wholly inadequate for such a service. Motion made, and Question proposed— That a Select Committee be appointed, to examine and report upon the present state of the communication between England and Ireland, as regards the expeditious conveyance of the mails, the transport of troops, and the convenience afforded to the public, and to the Irish Representatives in particular, in their attendance on this House, and to report what improvements modern science can suggest to establish a more speedy and commodious communication between the two countries.


said, that so far from opposing the Motion of the hon. Member for Kerry, he should give it every possible support in his power, being assured that it would tend to the ultimate advantage of both countries. He had the honour of being a director of the steam packet company to which the hon. Member had referred; and, on the part of that company, he must take the liberty of saying that he could not agree with the hon. Member that the communication between Dublin and Holyhead had deteriorated during the period he had spoken of. If the hon. Member would refer to the official returns, he would find the contrary to be the fact. The contract between the Government and the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company was entirely inadequate for the service to be performed. Vessels of larger size and greater speed were required to carry the mails and passengers with that rapidity which the temper and spirit of the age desired. He held in his hand a correspondence which showed that the Dublin Steam Packet Company was ready to accelerate the passage across the Channel; but in order to enable it to do so, it was absolutely necessary that a fresh contract should be entered into with the Government. With respect to the conveyance of troops, he was sure the Select Committee would find the Dublin Steam Packet Company willing to afford them every facility in that respect. He did not anticipate any difficulty upon this score, when he considered that a fleet of twenty vessels could be got ready at twenty-four hours' notice for the transport of troops between the two countries. He hoped the Committee would succeed in improving the communication between London and Dublin. Not long ago the journey occupied from fourteen to sixteen hours, but it was now made in eleven hours, of which about three and a half were occupied by the passage across the Channel. He did not think the sea part of the journey could be much shortened; but he believed the object of the hon. Member for Kerry might be accomplished, to some extent at least, by an arrangement with the railway companies between Holyhead and Loudon.


said, that although not one of the representatives of Ireland, he knew very well that at the time of the Union it was distinctly understood that the communication between the two countries should be made as perfect as possible. He had often heard that from the late Lord Congleton, under whose auspices upwards of 1,000,000l. was expended on a road between London and Holyhead, which was now perfectly useless. The late Sir Robert Peel, when he permitted the Chester and Holyhead Railway Company to become proprietors of steamers, said very properly that Dublin, not Holyhead, was the terminus of the line. Under the present system, all the convenience that Irish Members derived on the road from London to Holyhead, was lost in the sea passage between that port and Dublin. There was one packet that sailed at 6 o'clock in the evening; and Gentlemen knew what a time that was for sailing in a winter evening, with probably a wife and family on board. Another one sailed at 2 in the morning, and a third at 6, and that was all the accommodation afforded to Peers and Members of Parliament whose duties called them frequently to London. What Temple Bar was described to be to timid females travelling in London, the sea passage from Holyhead was to Irish travellers—four hours and a half of unmitigated dirt, discomfort, and some danger. There was no day communication with Ireland—a want which had recently given rise to a lamentable accident. The Prince Arthur started lately from Holyhead with a large number of passengers, amongst whom were two gentlemen and their wives. The night being stormy the ladies went to bed, there being no similar accommodation for gentlemen. When about half seas over the Prince Arthur was run into by a schooner, and her starboard paddle-box stove in. In the confusion a general rush took place, the ladies rushed on deck, and the husbands with natural anxiety rushed in search of them. Unfortunately in the confusion and darkness of the night, a lamentable mistake took place, and the gentlemen exchanged wives. High words, and then blows followed, and the captain of the ship had a double difficulty, that of clearing his vessel from the schooner, and of separating the gentlemen who had been thus wrath-fully excited. Now this mistake was all occasioned by the darkness of the night, and the ladies being in their night dresses. Seeing, then, that this was a matter that materially affected important sections of the community, he trusted that the inquiry would be conceded.


said, he thought that the Dublin Steam Packet Company should be more amply remunerated for their services, and that a new and more efficient arrangement with respect to the communication between England and Ireland should thus be secured.


said, that the transit of the mails from Dublin to London was not so expeditious as it was from London to Dublin. He thought that the Postmaster General ought to direct his attention to the matter, in order to ensure the more speedy progress of the mails between Ireland and this city.


said, that as one who was well acquainted with the south of Ireland, he wished to bear his testimony to the importance of an efficient means of communication between England and that portion of Her Majesty's dominions. He hoped that not only would a Committee be appointed to inquire into the subject, but that the Government would consider the question as one which deeply affected the prosperity of Ireland. The whole system of postal arrangement in that country was most deficient, and required immediate revision.


said, that if a high rate of speed was to be maintained between Holyhead and Kingstown, it was essential, as the hon. Baronet the Member for Anglesea (Sir R. Bulkeley) had remarked, that the passages should be made in the daytime.


said, that although he was an English and not an Irish Member, he happened to know something about this matter, in consequence of having been a director of the unfortunate Chester and Holyhead Railway. He was sorry to say that, in his opinion, the efforts of Government had of late years tended to retard rather than to promote the means of communication between the two countries. In the first place, they obliged the unhappy company to which he had referred to make an enormous and expensive bridge across the Menai Straits, because it had been represented to the Admiralty that a bridge of an ordinary form of construction would throw some petty impediments in the way of sloops navigating the strait. The Admiralty, looking at the question merely as one affecting the company on the one hand, and the navigation of the strait on the other—and not as an Imperial question—insisted upon the company forming a bridge, which cost them not less than 1,000,000. sterling. As soon as this was done, then came the question of the most speedy passage across the Channel, for it was obvious that there would be little advantage in a railway between London and Holyhead, unless there was connected therewith a relay of vessels between Holyhead and Kingstown. Well, then another department of Government, instead of looking at that as an Imperial question, pitted the Chester and Holyhead Company against the City of Dublin Steam packet Company, and screwed them down to the lowest sum, giving the contract at last to the latter. Now, if the passage between Holyhead and Kingstown was to be performed in the most rapid and safe way, and free from those accidents which the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Bulkeley) had described, the Government must be prepared to be much more liberal in their terms than they had hitherto been.


said, he thought it would be impossible to accelerate the communication between both countries without very considerable expense. That object could be accomplished only by the employment of a larger and a swifter class of vessels than at present were engaged in the packet service. He believed that the passage between Holyhead and Kingstown was made, upon an average calculation, in four hours and a half. Now, it might be accomplished in a shorter time by the employment of an improved class of vessels; but they should not think of building a class of vessels of a description superior to those which at present perform the Channel service, until they had made such alterations in the harbour at Holyhead as would enable steamers to ride there in safety.


said, he was of opinion that the steam packet service between Kingstown and Holyhead could be placed upon an improved footing at the same amount of expense as was formerly incurred at a time when it worked efficiently.


said, that, to prevent their English brethren being alarmed at the dangers encountered by the Irish representatives in crossing the Channel, he might state that he believed a quarter of a century had elapsed since any passenger lost his life between Kingstown and Holyhead. He was recently asked to attend a meeting in the City, where a number of scientific shipbuilders demonstrated the practicability of constructing vessels capable of making the passage between Holyhead and Kingstown in two hours and a half. It was a mere question of money—an embarrassing question, no doubt; but he hoped the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer would relieve them from that as well as from all the other difficulties with which they were surrounded.

Motion agreed to.