HC Deb 05 June 1863 vol 171 cc428-32

said, he wished to call the attention of the House to the Correspondence between the Trinity Board and the Board of Trade, and to ask the President of that Board whether, in his opinion, the experience had of the Electric Light during nearly two years, is not sufficient to warrant its adoption at Portland? In their Correspondence the Trinity House omitted all reference to the most important fact that the Electric Light was distinguishable from all others; and while complaining that it had during nine months been extinguished, once for two minutes, once for thirty seconds, and eighteen other times for much shorter periods, they overlooked the facts that under the existing system it was necessary to extinguish the lamps every night at least once, for a quarter of an hour, to trim them. It was also said that the light depended entirely upon the care and attention of the engineer; yet, al- though that person had during the nine months so grossly neglected his duty that there was frequently danger of the boilers exploding, the light had perversely gone on exceeding all others in brilliancy and power. Its illumination could also be seen long before the light itself rose above the horizon. The Trinity House referred to the fact that two vessels had gone on shore in spite of the light; but the fact was that one of these vessels was in charge of a drunken captain and crew, while the other was the case of a light collier which would not answer her helm, and being on a lee shore was driven aground. It was also alleged that a large amount of skill and care was required in the engine-room, but the truth was that the most ordinary attention to the proper working of the engine was sufficient to insure the good action of the light. It was also much less costly than oil lamps. He did not impute to the Trinity House any desire or disposition to falsify facts, but he thought that they had not fully recognised the merits, and had greatly exaggerated the defects of this light. In short, the objections urged against the electric light were of much the same value as those which were brought forward when gas was proposed to be substituted for oil in the streets.


said, he had some difficulty in Answering the Question of the noble Lord, because on a scientific subject of the kind, of great interest and importance to the shipping interest, he could not form an opinion of his own except upon the advice and testimony of others fully acquainted with the matter. The exact position of the Board of Trade on such questions was this:—Whatever power they exercised in reference to light-houses and lights they possessed under the Merchant Shipping Act, but that Act gave them no power to initiate or propose any expenditure upon new light-houses or in carrying out any new processes for their illumination. Their duty was simply to control the expenditure; and when the Corporation of the Trinity House—the body charged by law with the administration of the light-house system—proposed any expenditure, it was submitted to them, and could not be incurred without their sanction. When the Trinity House proposed to re-construct the light house at Portland, and improve the lights, the Board of Trade went as far as the Act permitted them, and suggested that before they gave their sanction to the improve meats it might be well to clearly ascertain whether that light-house could not be pre- pared to receive the electric light, and they requested that the improvements should be postponed until the electric light had had a full trial. A certain amount of experience had been obtained of the electric light, but the Trinity Corporation was of opinion that it was not sufficient to satisfy them that it would be prudent to rely altogether upon the new method of illumination; and in forming an opinion they had the advantage of the aid of Mr. Faraday, one of the most competent men in the kingdom. He himself regarded the trial at Dungeness as most satisfactory; and, as far as he was competent to judge, the experiment promised exceedingly well. The noble Lord had acquitted the Trinity Corporation of any deliberate wish to retard improvement; and he would assure him further that the Masters and Elder Brethren were only desirous of arriving at a sound conclusion. Beyond the question of efficient lighting there were considerations of expense by which, of course, that corporation must necessarily be guided to some extent. Although it might be advisable to employ the electric light, if ultimately approved, in particular situations, there were other positions where ordinary lights would answer nil the purposes of commerce and navigation. No obstacles would be thrown in the way of introducing the electric light; but it was necessary that those charged with the responsibility should take sufficient time to satisfy their minds that it was really a valuable and reliable invention. At the same time, he was quite prepared to admit that there was a reasonable limit of time within which they ought to make up their minds one way or the other; but as far as the Board of Trade and the Trinity Corporation were concerned, every means would be adopted to test the efficiency of this light; and if it proved to be all they had heard, he had no doubt it would be adopted at other stations besides Dungeness.


said, he had attended as closely as possible to all that had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, but had been unable to discover what he intended to do. The official experience of his right hon. Friend had converted him into the most perfect piece of Ministerial caution he was acquainted with. The terms of the question addressed to him were clear and categorical. His noble Friend had asked, "Will you, as the head of the Department immediately connected with a question so important to our commerce and navigation, give us some assurance that this great improvement shall be adopted on this particular spot?" The right hon. Gentleman had not alluded to that spot in his answer. He had also been in hopes that the right hon. Gentleman would have alluded to the Start light-house, where an improvement was greatly required, but he had not mentioned it. The right hon. Gentleman's generalities were amusing. The right hon. Gentleman said the Board of Trade were desirous of obtaining the best scientific assistance. Would he allow him (Sir John Pakington) to suggest that the Trinity Board was the one where persons would least think of applying for scientific assistance. Even the noble Viscount, who held a distinguished position in connection with that corporation, would hardly lay much stress on its scientific, attainments. But the right hon. Gentleman had mentioned one of the highest names in science—that of Mr. Faraday, and Mr. Faraday's opinion was in favour of the electric light. The right hon. Gentleman asked for time; what amount of time would satisfy him? It was clear from the right hon. Gentleman's own statement that he could not deny the advantages of the electric light. The Portland lights were bad, and required repair. The Start light was out of repair. There was twelve months' experience of the electric light at Dungeness; and it had remained in operation during that period with unbroken success. The answer of the right hon. Gentleman was not so clear and decisive as the commercial interests of the country had, he thought, a right to expect. He trusted that the Government would hesitate before they rejected the light, and that they would do all in their power to secure the great advantages which it promised to the shipping interests.


said, he drew a more favourable augury from the reply of the President of the Board of Trade than the right hon. Baronet had done. It had been admitted by the right hon. Gentleman that the Board of Trade knew the great advantage of the light, and there could be no doubt that it was the best light which could be adopted for light-houses; but there were two difficulties in the way—its permanence and its cost. Its permanency was the principal difficulty; but he hoped no long time would elapse before the Trinity Board arrived at the opinion, that though in that respect, and also as regarded the cost, there might be some objection, it ought not to stand in the way of the adoption of the light.


said, that both the Board of Trade and the Trinity Board quoted Professor Faraday in justification of their hesitation to adopt the electric light. And what said Professor Faraday? In a Report dated December 23rd, 1862, that eminent scientific authority stated that the evidence went to show that the electric light had not failed once in sixteen months, and that on examining it on the spot he found it to be in every point satisfactory; and in a second Report, dated in February of the present year, he repeated his favourable testimony of the great superiority of the new optical apparatus over the old system of lighting light-houses.