HC Deb 18 March 1858 vol 149 cc327-39

said, he rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the circumstances connected with the erection of the Godrevy Lighthouse. He must, in the first place, beg to repudiate the charge which had been brought against him upon a previous occasion by the right hon. Gentleman the late Vice President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Lowe), that in moving for papers relative to the Godrevy Lighthouse he had asked only for those which supported his own view of the case. No gentleman who knew him would give the slightest credit to that accusation, and he stated without hesitation that he had called for every paper essential to show the merits of the question. He was willing to admit that, to some extent, the question was one of expenditure; but it was not true, as the late Vice President of the Board of Trade had stated, that the difference was whether the outlay should be an outlay of £8,000 or £50,000. There was a good deal of exaggeration in the Estimates which were prepared by Messrs. Walker, the engineers employed by the Trinity House, and he thought the respective sums might be fairly stated at £6,000 and £30,000 But, looking at the great interests at stake, he hoped the House would not attach much importance to the mere matter of expense, for considering the necessity for the work it was of little importance whether it cost £50,000 or even £100,000. Now, the opinion of all the authorities concurred that the proper situation for the lighthouse was on the "Stones," as they were called, outside the harbour. Attention was first directed to the necessity of establishing a lighthouse at Godrevy in 1855 by the wreck of the Nile steamer, and many other vessels on these "Stones," with the loss of forty lives. An application was then made to the Trinity House to erect a lighthouse, and the Elder Brethren reported that a lighthouse should be erected on the island, provided it could not be placed on the "Stones," for at that time it was supposed that there were insuperable engi- neering difficulties in the way of the adoption of the latter site. Those difficulties, however, had entirely disappeared upon examination, and all the authorities who had been consulted, including those connected with the Admiralty, Admiral Beechey and Captain Williams, concurred in recommending that the lighthouse should be erected on the "Stones," and not on the island; and their report, when submitted to the Trinity House, received their approval. The matter then slumbered for more than a year in consequence of a delay on the part of the Hoard of Trade. He believed that the Trinity House had ample funds at their disposal, and therefore he hoped no objection would be raised on the score of expense, as he saw by the Returns that there was a surplus of £2,000 a year from a lighthouse within thirty miles of the one now under discussion; and this surplus should be applied to the maintenance of so important a work as that proposed to be undertaken. If it should be determined to construct a harbour of refuge in this part of the country it would be impossible to leave the "Stones" without a lighthouse on them, as otherwise they would present great danger to the navigation. Now, he would call attention to the merits of the case as affecting the mercantile marine. This was not to be considered as a question merely affecting the local shipping, but it affected the whole of the shipping which came from the North and the shipping bound homeward, whether by the Bristol or the English Channel. It frequently happened that vessels coming from Liverpool were drawn up the Bristol Channel by the great in-draft of water, when their proper destination was round the Land's End. In consequence of the want of a lighthouse on this spot, many vessels, which really had no business there, being bound round the Land's End, were wrecked, and a similar fate sometimes befell homeward-bound vessels, in consequence of the North-West coast of Cornwall being mistaken for the coast of Brittany. Therefore, wherever the lighthouse was placed, care should be taken to distinguish the lights from those on the coast of France. He thought that the Trinity House did not figure very favourably in the printed papers, and there must be something wrong in the constitution of that Board, or they would have shown more adherence to their own judgment, and varied their own opinion less in com- pliance with the determination of higher powers. This circumstance, however, was the less surprising, when the constitution of the Trinity Mouse was considered. It had always been a close Corporation, and, according to the Reports of Committees of that House, had been in very bad odour in former days, being notorious for gross jobbing. It still continued a close Corporation; and the consequence was that the management of the Trinity House was in the hands of a small clique of the Elder Brethren, who allowed no one on the Board who was not a friend of their own. He trusted that a Motion would be made to inquire, not only into the whole system of the management of the Trinity House, but also into its constitution. He was not aware whether any other reasons than those which appeared in the papers influenced the decision of the Board of Trade; but, if that were so, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would state what those reasons were. As this was not a mere local question, but one which affected the whole mercantile marine of the country, on which its greatness so much depended, he hoped it would receive the serious consideration of the House of Commons. He concluded by moving for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the circumstances connected with the erection of the Godrevy Lighthouse, and to report their opinion as to the proper position for the same.


said, he would beg to second the Motion. He had presented petitions on the subject, and had had an interview with the late President of the Board of Trade, whom he had urged to reconsider the matter, but his Lordship had peremptorily refused to do so. That reply was so peremptory that he (Mr. Paull) believed nothing more could be done, and that it could only he left, for experience to demonstrate whether or not an error had been committed. The real questions were, whether Godrevy Island was a suitable site for a lighthouse, whether proper attention had been given to the recommendations of persons competent to give information on the subject, and whether due expedition had been used for the completion of a light-house. At any rate, he thought the House would be of opinion that a lighthouse erected a mile and a quarter from the point of danger was not calculated to insure the desired result.

Motion made and Question proposed,— That a Select Committee be appointed to in quire into the circumstances connected with the Godrevy Lighthouses, and to report their opinion as to the proper position for the same.


said, he could assure the hon. Gentleman that he was fully aware of the importance of the subject, but he hoped the House would be cautious as to the course they pursued. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. Smith) had stated that attention was first called to the subject in 1855, but he (Mr. Henley) believed it would be more correct to say that some of the memorials were sent to the Trinity House in the autumn or winter of 1854, and three years had therefore elapsed without anything having been done. The attention of the authorities was called to the importance of erecting a lighthouse at Godrevy, by memorials from persons engaged in the coasting trade; and he believed that additional representations as to the necessity for such a structure were made in consequence of the sad wreck of a steam vessel, with the loss of many lives. But, be that as it might, the memorials represented the necessity of something, and it was somewhat remarkable that four out of eight memorials presented by the persons interested in the coasting trade indicated as the best site for a lighthouse the very spot to which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Smith) so strongly objected. There. were four other memorials, which requested that a lighthouse might be erected in some; suitable position, without naming any particular site. The subject was brought under the notice of the Board of Trade, and it seemed likely to be decided that a lighthouse should be erected upon the island of Godrevy; but circumstances induced the Board to inquire whether any more fitting place for such a structure could be found. The matter was referred to a Gentleman who was at that time adviser to the Board, and whose name he need only mention to the House to prove that the case had been referred to a competent authority—he alluded to the late Admiral Beechy. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. A. Smith) and the hon. Member who had seconded his Motion, seemed to think it was actually necessary, in order to affered the most effectual guard against the danger, that the lighthouse should be erected on the dangerous spot itself. Now, very considerable doubt was thrown upon that proposition, even by so high an authority as Admiral Beechy. For what had that gallant officer recommended? After a survey on the spot, he wanted to put the lighthouse, not within a short mile of the "Stones," but at St. Ives He arrived at the conclusion that that would be the best site for it. Well, this suggestion led to the introduction of a third party into the discussion, which had hitherto been conducted between the Board of Trade and the Trinity House — namely, Lord Panmure, the head of the War Department. Admiral Beechy recommended the erection of a lighthouse in a place where the War Department wished to establish a battery, and, as might have been expected, the battery succeeded against the lighthouse. Admiral Beechy then said, that in his judgment, the next best place for a light would be upon the "Stones" themselves. He (Mr. Henley) thought, therefore, as it seemed to be extremely doubtful which of the positions recommended was the more preferable, that some of the blame which had been thrown upon the Trinity House in connection with the subject might have been spared. He ought to have mentioned that Admiral Beechy, when on the spot, examined the master mariners of St. Ives, and, with one exception, all those with whom he communicated selected Godrevy Island as the best site for a lighthouse. After Admiral Beechy's death, the Board of Trade were advised by another gentleman, who, from his professional position and ability, was competent to give valuable advice, and his opinion was in favour of the original recommendation. Under these circumstances, it became the duty of the Board of Trade to determine what was the best course for them to pursue. He thought it was not unreasonable that, in a case of this kind, where great difference of opinion existed, both the questions of cost and of time should be fully considered. Three years had been lost in deciding what should be done, and it certainly was unfortunate that, up to the present time, nothing had been accomplished towards saving life. The hon. Gentleman had stated that the estimate for erecting a lighthouse on the island was some £8,000 or £9,000, and that the estimate for building it upon the "Stones" themselves would be £40,000 or £50,000. He (Mr. Henley) might inform the House, however, that persons would contract for the erection of works on dry land, such as Godrevy Island, at a certain price, and there was a reasonable prospect that such works would be executed for the estimated sum; but persons would not undertake contracts for works the foundations of which were under water, except at a very high rate. Indeed, it had been found in practice by the Trinity House that works of that nature could be carried out by day labour better than by contract. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that Mr. Walker's estimate of £40,000 might be reduced; but he (Mr. Henley) was afraid that experience would show that, in the great majority of instances, such works exceeded, instead of coming below the estimate. As to the suggestion that lighthouses should always be placed exactly on the spot which was considered dangerous, he had official returns which showed that that course had been anything but a general rule. Thus, the Manacles Rocks, between the Lizard and Falmouth, were a mile off the shore, and the nearest light Was six miles distant. Then, in the case of Trevose Head, Padstow, there was a rock a mile and a half off, with a passage between, and yet, though it Was much less difficult to build on than the "Stones," the lights were on the Head. In the case of Nash Point, the sands were dry at half tide one mile off the shore, with a passage inside, but lights were on the point. The outer Fain Light presented very similar features to the case of Godrevy. The rocks outside wore dry at half-tide, a passage was left inside them half-a-mile wide, yet the light was on the island. These were instances nearly in point, and they showed that the position of the lights was by no means uniformly on the spot supposed to be dangerous. In this case the greater part of the trade went between the "Stones" and the Godrevy Island. There was a channel half-a-mile wide, and many persons were of opinion that to place the light on the island was safer for the purpose of lighting the channel inside and outside the "Stones" than even to place it on the "Stones" themselves. The greater number of wrecks, too, appeared to have taken place on the "Stones" during the day time, and some of them even in fine weather. Now, he had shown that the "double Government" of the Trinity House and the Board of Trade had involved a delay of three years before anything was done; and if this question were carried into a Committee, what time would be lost then? If such matters were to be taken from the Executive Government and sent to Committees of this House, they would never get anything done at all in any reasonable time. If they squared two—the number of the Departments already involved in the dis- pute—they got a delay of three or four years. If they took the square of three they would have a delay of nine years. He might mention that the Trinity House had determined to place a floating light while this work was going on, so that its bearings should he as nearly as possible the same as those of the light now about to be placed on Godrevy Island. As to the proposal to put a sort of floating lighthouse on the "Stones," he presumed this would be somewhat on the principle of the beacon put up some years back on the Goodwin Sands, which beacon disappeared one fine morning, and no exact account had been received of it since. The Board of Trade, however, did not think it right to intrust lives in a floating lighthouse, when the Goodwin beacon had played so slippery a trick as to inarch off without notice. He thought no practical good could result from this inquiry before a Committee. On the contrary, he believed that such a proceeding would involve a further loss of time in providing against shipwrecks on the coast, and he, therefore, felt bound to oppose it. Further, he believed that if a Committee were to sit for six months they would obtain no more information than the paper afforded; and therefore, with all due respect for the hon. Member, he must oppose the Motion, and hoped that it would not be pressed to a division.


said, he did not think the answer of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) satisfactory. He admitted the opinion of Admiral Beechey would, after St. Ives, have been in favour of the "Stones" for a site for the lighthouse. That was the ground on which the supporters of the Motion rested their case, and against that opinion the only authority adduced by the right hon. Gentleman was that of the four memorials. This was not so much a matter of expense as of utility; and he believed that the site selected by the- Board of Trade was not the best for the purpose. In the instances referred to, where lights had been erected at a distance from the point of danger, the channels, currents, and other circumstances were different. He did not think it unreasonable to ask for a Committee to obtain evidence on a question so deeply affecting the trade of the empire. The feeling of a very large portion of the county of Cornwall certainly was not in favour of the plan supported by the Board of Trade.


said, he was glad the subject had been introduced to the House, but he much regretted that his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade would not give his sanction to any further investigation. It struck him, with great deference to the acuteness which he (Mr. Henley) brought to bear on all questions which came under his observations, that he had not understood the object of the hon. Member for Truro in bringing this matter forward. There was one admission which he was happy to hear from his right hon. Friend. He had ascribed to the double Government of the Board of Trade and the Trinity House the inconvenience of the delay which arose in matters of this kind, and he (Mr. Bentinck) only hoped they should, on a coming occasion, have the powerful assistance of his right hon. Friend in removing that evil. He (Mr. Henley) had told them that nothing had been done during three years. Whose fault was that? The fault of the Board of Trade, because there had been repeated representations made on the subject, and that Board had not taken the active stops, which they were bound to take, where a case involving life and property was brought under its consideration. The delay was partly ascribable to the Trinity House also, which was composed of professional men, who were supposed to be peculiarly conversant with matters of this kind, and who were bound to impress upon the Board of Trade the necessity of attentively, but without delay, considering the question. It appeared to him that the conduct of the Trinity House, in first giving such a decided opinion upon the subject, and then all at once turning round and assenting to the objections of the Board of Trade, showed that they could not have been practically conversant with this question, or that they had neglected an imperative duty. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) had stated that many master mariners of St. Ives were of opinion that Godrevy Island was a more convenient locality for a light. That it might be as convenient for thorn, he (Mr. Bentinck) did not doubt, but more convenient it could not be. This, however, was not a local question, it was a general question, and a light of this kind would be of advantage to the whole trade of the Bristol Channel. The House was bound, therefore, to look upon it in a national point of view, and to deal with it as a matter which simply affected the port of St. Ives was not treating it in the manner it deserved. But, after all, it was a question of money versus life; and it would be found, not from any want of humanity, but from the total ignorance which prevailed on the subject, and which was attributable to the Board of Trade not being composed of professional men, that that Board invariably; set aside questions which affected the saving of life, and confined themselves to the saving of money. That, he contended, was not the spirit in which a national question of this kind ought to be treated. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to two or three other cases, and especially to that of the Manacles light, but any person at all conversant with that locality would at once see that the cases were not by any means parallel. He admitted that in some instances lights were badly placed, but he saw no reason in that for erecting others in positions equally objectionable and ill selected. He did not know whether the hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. Smith) would consider it to be worth his while to divide the House; if he did, he (Mr. Bentinck) should feel bound to vote with him, and he hoped the House would bear in mind that the question was one which involved an attempt to save a vast amount of life and property which was now annually lost by the wreck of vessels upon the rocks in question.


said, that when local Members were dissatisfied with a decision on the subject of lights, and proposed to refer it to a Committee, it was a point well worthy the consideration of the House whether acceding to such a course was the means most likely to promote the great objects which they all ought to have in view — namely, first, the preservation of the lives of those who navigated the dangerous coasts of the kingdom; and second, the due administration of the revenue, which was raised by a charge upon the mercantile marine of the country. No doubt it would be the duty of the House, in the last resort, to step in; but before they resolved to institute an inquiry into the subject they ought, in his opinion, to ascertain whether those men to whom, because of their nautical experience and scientific knowledge, the consideration of the question had been submitted had honestly carried into effect the investigation which they had been intrusted to make. At the time when he had the honour to be connected with the Board of Trade that department had had the advantage of being served by a most efficient public servant— he meant Admiral Beechy; and all he could say with regard to the gentleman who at present filled that office was, that he believed he was the fittest man the navy could afford as a successor to that gallant Admiral. Admiral Beechy's opinion was in favour of placing a light at St. Ives' Head. It, had, however, been found that that locality was admirably suited to be made the site of a battery, and the consequence was that it had been determined, after the matter had been duly investigated to erect a lighthouse on the Godrevy Inland, and a beacon on the "Stones." The matter was carefully examined by scientific men, and when the hon. Gentleman spoke disparagingly of the Trinity Board, he (Mr. Cardwell) must say, that if it were in contemplation to bring forward a Motion, making a systematic attack on that body, it would be preferable to withhold those observations until the proper occasion should have arrived for stating them, and not to throw them parenthetically into a discussion of the present character. But in reference to the opinion which had been expressed, with respect to our system of lights he might be permitted to state in justice to the Trinity House, that a few years ago great dissatisfaction prevailed in the United Slates of America on occount of the manner in which the lightning of the American coasts was conducted. A Commission was therefore appointed, who came over to this country, and inquired into the mode in which the Trinity House conducted their business. They found that the works were entrusted to eminent engineers, and that the system of lights was under the superintendence of no less a person than Professor Faraday; and upon their return to America they advised that the management of the lights there should be assimilated as nearly as possible to that of the Trinity House in England. That, he (Mr. Cardwell) thought, should not be forgotten, when charges were brought against the body of men who were entrusted by law with the management of the lights of this country. An hon. Member had termed the Trinity House a "jobbing corporation; but he (Mr. Cardwell) denied that that was a term which could fairly be applied to them. That was not a charge likely to be made with good foundation against a body, of which, at the time, the late Duke of Wellington was the head. It was true that they formerly applied their money in a manner which that House thought objectionable; and, in consequence, a law was passed which rendered it impossible to apply the money in the same manner for the future. But it was never charged against them that they had made application of the money in a jobbing manner. On the contrary, it had been legally applied, and in strict accordance with the manner required by the charter under which they acted; and when they found that Parliament and the Executive Government were of opinion that it was not right to continue that mode of administering the funds, they had in the handsomest manner waived all personal consideration, and submitted to the judgment of Parliament and the Government. He would only further observe, that a contract bad already been entered into for this lighthouse; and, if a new inquiry were instituted, they would have to suspend the works, and certainly incur additional expense and delay. He submitted, therefore, that no sufficient case had been made out to induce the House to believe that a Committee would arrive at a more satisfactory conclusion than that which had been already come to by those who were entrusted by law with the administration of these affairs.


said, he must express his astonishment that such a matter as this should not be entrusted entirely to the Executive; who, moreover, according to the account given of the memorials sent them, appeared to act not only on the best opinion, but in accordance with the local wishes on the subject. He thought if the House wore to grant the Committee which had been moved for, they would be furnishing an excuse for continual applications hereafter to interfere in other similar matters. He would further remark that the late Admiral Beechy could have had no interest in recommending the erection of the lighthouse in one place more than another, and his only object could be to place it in that position where it would be of most service.


observed, that all he could say bad been so well stated by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, that it was unnecessary for him to detain the House for many minutes. He only rose, lest by his silence it might be thought that he objected to any of the statements made by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley), who bad very accurately stated the facts and fully done justice to the noble Lord who had lately presided over that Department. There was only one point to which he wished particularly to allude. The question was, whether a lighthouse should be placed upon Godrevy Island or upon certain "Stones" which were covered at half-tide three-quarters of a mile to the northward, with a good navigable channel intervening. If the lighthouse were erected upon those "Stones," it must be placed upon the outermost part of them, and the effect would be that, unless there was a lighthouse also upon Godrevy Island, the navigation of the channel would be exceedingly dangerous, for the "Stones" extended over a considerable distance. That was the opinion of Captain Sullivan, who was a most able and efficient officer. In the report of the first committee of the Trinity House, it was stated that the erection of a lighthouse upon the "Stones" was an undertaking which, even if practicable, would require a much greater outlay of money than was considered compatible with the objects in view. The Committee also were of opinion, that the erection of a lighthouse upon Godrevy Island would indicate the vicinity of the "Stones" with sufficient precision to warn vessels of the danger, and that in that position it would be also very convenient for vessels steering along that coast, more especially those bound for St. Ives. In another part of the same Report the Committee pointed out the immense difficulties which would attend the construction of a lighthouse upon the "Stones," they being covered at half-tide, and consequently only a portion of the day being available for proceeding with the works, which would be, moreover, liable to interference and damage from storms and bad weather. Under those circumstances the Board of Trade did not think lit to undertake a work that would certainly have cost £45,000, and probably much more, especially as they were advised by competent authorities that the objects would be fully met by placing a lighthouse upon Godrevy Island. The hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) had accused the Board of Trade of causing delay; but in truth one of the causes of the delay was the variation of opinion at the Trinity House. The Members of that body, whose opinion the Board of Trade was bound to respect, had at one time strongly advised one course, and subsequently they as strongly advised an opposite proceeding. He trusted that the House would not grant the Committee which was asked for, as to do so would be granting an appeal from a perfectly competent scientific officer—Captain Sullivan —to a certain number of Members of Par- liament who, however well qualified to deal with such matters, could not be supposed to possess that complete scientific knowledge that was necessary in the professional advisers of the Board of Trade. He thought it would be adopting a very bad principle, and whatever benefits might result from the appointment of a Committee would be neutralized by the danger of weakening the hands of the Executive Government.

MR. A. SMITH, in reply, said, there was nothing in the papers to show that Admiral Beechy had changed his opinion that the "Stones" were the proper site for the lighthouse He might further state, that since he had given notice of his Motion, no less than three vessels had been lost upon the "Stones."

Motion negatived.