HC Deb 28 May 1869 vol 196 cc924-36

said, he rose to call attention to the advantages to the public service of embarking and landing the Mails at a Western Port. It must be admitted on all hands that cæteris paribus, mails were carried more quickly and more certainly by land than by sea. This was the case in the days of the mail coaches and the sailing vessels, and it continued to be so in these days of railway trains and steamboats. It seemed obvious, therefore, that on general grounds, the most westerly English port should be selected for the arrival and dispatch of the mails. Prom 1688 to 1834 those mails for distant places across the sea which were now embarked and landed at Southampton had been embarked and landed at Falmouth. When the change was made, in 1S34, steam had been adopted for mail boats, but the railway system had not been generally adopted in this country; and as steam vessels had the advantage over coaches, Southampton at that time had an advantage over Falmouth which it did not at present possess. Falmouth was now in a position, to receive the full advantages of her superior natural position. The feeling in her favour was widely spread among merchants and nautical men. In 1865 there was presented a memorial from a large number of merchants of London to Lord Stanley of Alderley, who wan at that time Postmaster General. That memorial was signed by sixty leading houses, including the firms of Frühling and Goschen, and of T. Daniel and Company; the former being the firm of which the present President of the Poor Law Board (Mr. Goschen) was the head, and the latter that of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shore-ham the late Vice President of the Board of Trade (Mr. S. Cave) was then the principal. The memorialists urged that in order to substitute a fixed day of the week and to obtain greater dispatch these mails should be made up on the evening of the first and third Thursdays of every month; that they should be embarked at Falmouth; that the homeward mails should be landed as that port; and that the letters should be sorted on board the packets during the voyage. It was confidently esti- mated that by the adoption of this route at least one day would be gained by London in the course of post, while to Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Glasgow, and the other northern towns, with the whole of Ireland, the saving of time would be still greater. In regard to persons living in the North, the inconveniences they endured from the mails being landed at Southampton, and having to pass through London were extremely serious. The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and Manufactures, the Man-Chester Chamber of Commerce, the West India Association of Glasgow, the provost, magistrates, and town council of Aberdeen, the provost and corporation of Greenock, and of Paisley, and several Chambers of Commerce of leading towns in England, besides those which he had named had all presented memorials in favour of Falmouth. The memorial of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce stated that the port of Falmouth was admirably adapted for a packet station, and so lately as 1850 it was partially used for that purpose. There could now be no objection to Falmouth, because the docks were completed, and the port was connected with the railway. Among the nautical opinions favourable to Falmouth were those of Captains Walker and Bedford, who were connected with the Marine Department of the Board of Trade. Captain Bedford pointed out the superior weather position of Falmouth, which became of the utmost importance in case of stormy weather. Admiral Beaufort, the Hydrographer to the Admiralty, had expressed his unequivocal opinion that Falmouth from its southwestern position had great advantages over other ports; that the mails should be carried on the land as far as possible; and that the railroad when constructed to Falmouth, would confirm it still more as the best port in England for a packet station. Admiral J. B. Sullivan, C. B., who was for years at the head of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, in a letter addressed to The Times, dated Nov. 22, 1865. stated, that— If Falmouth were made the mail port, some hours each way would be saved in the case of the London mails; for the northern districts the saving would be much more, while the additional risks and delays caused by logs being more prevalent to the eastward, in the neighbourhood of the Isle of Wight and Southampton especially, made it still more desirable to land the mails at a western port. Captains Symonds and Evans, of the Royal Navy, and Sir Alexander Gordon had expressed an equally emphatic opinion in favour of Falmouth. Now, he had no doubt that the hon. Member for Plymouth would be prepared to advocate the claims of that port with his accustomed ability, but the facts were against him. In the recent case of the Tasmanian, in regard to which he had put a question to the noble Marquess opposite, it was admitted by him that her mails had to be sent on by special train from Plymouth, though they might have been landed at Falmouth in time for the ordinary train through Bristol; and he had been informed that on the 13th of this month the Seine passed Falmouth in time for the mails to have been sent by the ordinary train, whereas they had to be sent specially from Plymouth. In respect to the capabilities of Falmouth as a port of call, there was satisfactory evidence. He held in his hand a letter from Mr. Dymond, who represented the Loan Commissioners at Falmouth, stating that— The vessels of the New York and Havre United States Mail Steam Ship Company carried passengers and mails between New York, Falmouth, and Havre. They commenced running in or about December, 1865, and ceased in November, 1867. The company had two vessels of their own and chartered two others, and they ceased running because the latter became unavailable, and because of the competition with a highly subsidized French line, the American vessels being unable to equal the French in speed. They called at Falmouth sixty-two times, and the average time of detention of the ship for landing mails and passengers was twenty minutes. It was a very exceptional circumstance for the steamer to drop her anchor or come to moorings, and the time occupied in transit of mails and passengers from ship to landing-place, which is close to the railway-station, varied from ten to twenty-five minutes. On making the Lizard, a ship was fifty-four miles from Plymouth and eighteen from Falmouth, a difference of thirty-six miles, which the ship in very fair weather could run in three hours, the time the mail train took by land from Falmouth to Plymouth. But it must be remembered that these calculations were based on the presumption of fair weather in the Channel; the time taken by the vessel in making the distance in bad weather might be six hours instead of three, whereas the train service was always punctual. A saving of three hours in the despatch of telegrams was often of great importance to the merchant, and might sometimes be of the utmost importance to the Government. Finally as regarded railway accommodation, the chairman of the Cornwall Railway Company had written to him-— You may state a special mail can be run over the Cornwall line from Falmouth to Plymouth in from 2 to 2¼ hours, and that at an interview had with Lord Stanley of Alderley, when he was Postmaster General, I was authorized to state on behalf of the Cornwall Railway and the associated Companies, that they were prepared to run a special mail from Falmouth to Paddington in 9 hours, and this can still be done. Thus a clear saving of time would be made. Without further detaining the House, he begged to thank hon. Members for the attention they had given him. and he hoped that the subject would receive from the noble Marquess the Postmaster General the consideration its importance deserved.


said, he thought it a great been to the country at large that the mails should be landed at the first port reached. Men of business in the North were seriously inconvenienced, often being hardly able, for want of time, to answer properly by the next mails their letters from the West Indies. Whether Falmouth or Plymouth was to be preferred was a question for the Post Office, but certainly either was preferable to Southampton.


said, that if it was a question of a westerly port he represented a county (Pembrokeshire) which could offer a most excellent port more westerly than any other, and that was Milford Haven, the advantages of which were so notorious that it would be almost a work of supererogation to recount them. The great capabilities of Milford Haven and the close proximity of the Glamorganshire coal fields made that port a desirable one for the mails. The selection of Milford would involve no expenditure of public money, and the communications could be maintained with perfect regularity.


said, that as representing Plymouth, he felt bound to say a few words in reply to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Falmouth (Mr. R. N. Fowler), but he would respectfully suggest to the House that, as this was a question which involved so many matters of minute detail, it rather came within the province of the Executive Government or of some small body, such as a Committee of that House; and on behalf of Plymouth he had to express the perfect readiness of his constituents to face any such investigation. By the change in the mails from Southampton to Plymouth a great gain in point of time had been effected, especially in the case of the northern towns, and the extra expense had been very slight indeed. He was not prepared to argue at any length against the claims of Milford Haven, but he had always understood that the tide at that port ran too strongly to allow of its being a good packet station. Practically he believed the battle lay between Falmouth, Southampton, and Plymouth. Now, the advantages in point of time in landing at Plymouth were very great. The conclusion arrived at by the Post Office authorities with regard to the saving of time to the merchants of London by the landing of the mails at Plymouth instead of Southampton was that it would only amount to three hours. That, of course, was something. In regard, however, to the northern towns the gain was very much greater, because the mails might branch off from Bristol and be sent direct to their destinations, instead of being forwarded through London. This estimate, however, was based purely upon calculations from the time tables and similar sources, and took no account of contingencies which might arise from fogs and arrivals at night. It should be remembered that from the West Indies to the Channel it was all plain sailing, and that the danger lay almost solely in the Channel, and that danger was increased by every twenty miles added to the navigation of the Channel, in addition to the extra chances of detention by fogs. The approach to the port of Southampton also, by the Needles, was so dangerous that few ships cared to enter the passage at night without securing the services of a pilot, and some vessels even preferred to go round the Isle of Wight and approach the port by way of Spithead. The position of the Eddystone lighthouse seemed of itself to point out Plymouth as a great mail packet station, for when a ship had once made the Eddystone light it could make its way to Plymouth harbour by compass in the darkest night. The hon. Member for Falmouth in referring to the arrival of the Tasmanian last year had stated that if that vessel had put in at Falmouth the mails could have been despatched by the ordinary train, but, that by proceeding to Plymouth, although the passage was a fair one, they had to be forwarded by special train. It was true that such a thing might happen in a single instance; but if the vessels put in at Falmouth it would also frequently happen that the ordinary train would have left, and the mails would have to be forwarded by special train over sixty extra miles of railway. Moreover, he was informed that, on the occasion referred to by the hon. Gentleman, the Tasmanian had to make her way up the Channel not in fair weather, but in a heavy gale, and that, owing to the number of merchant vessels that had sought refuge at Falmouth, it would have been impossible for the Tasmanian to make her way into Falmouth harbour at all. The hon. Gentleman in urging the claims of Falmouth had stated that the difference in sea passage between that port and Plymouth was thirty-six miles. The hon. Gentleman had taken his measurement from a point just six miles south of the Lizard, but in dark weather ships kept as far from the Lizard as they could. The hon. Gentleman had also taken the distance as marked in the map, as Falmouth people generally did; but as a matter of fact it was necessary for ships passing by the Lizard into Falmouth harbour to make a wide circuit in order to avoid the Manacles Rock. Casualties had occurred at Falmouth through ships dragging their anchors, but those that had occurred inside Plymouth Breakwater were traceable to bad ground tackle, for which the port was not to blame. Falmouth was a great calling place, and the harbour often crowded, which made the handling of large unwieldy steamers a dangerous operation; and, though Plymouth was often crowded, it had the inestimable advantage of two entrances, which were so easy to navigate that vessels often came in without pilots. While the landing of the mails at Falmouth occupied twenty-five minutes, it would only occupy twelve minutes at Plymouth. An objection to Falmouth was the absence of dock accommodation. There was a magnificent scheme for Falmouth docks, but as yet they were castles in the air. Plymouth, on the other hand, had splendid docks, and one of the finest graving docks in the world. Again, a glance at the map showed that, while ships coming up the Channel would make a straight course to Plymouth, Falmouth was out of the way, and what might be gained by the speed of the railway from Falmouth to Plymouth was lost by the detour that had to be made, first at sea and then by the railway, which to some extent followed the curve of the bay. Although the chairman of the railway company said the distance could be run in two hours and a-quarter, the express trains took three hours. This matter had not been decided in a hurry. It first came under the consideration of Lord Stanley of Alderley, and the late Government displayed great care and assiduity in determining it; and no good reason had been adduced for interfering with an experiment which had been tried for two years with the most perfect success.


said, he knew many West India merchants felt strongly that the time had conic for the selection of a western port for the arrival and departure of the mails; and, although he might be benefited indirectly by the choice of Milford, he could admit its superior claims. But he thought Falmouth possessed some advantages which other ports did not. The expense of removal from (Southampton would soon be recouped in the saving of dues and coaling.


said, that the further this discussion went the more the House must be convinced that this was not the proper arena for its discussion; it was utterly impossible for a House constituted as that to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion from the conflicting accounts they had received from Members for the different localities interested in the matter. From the Notice on the Paper he had come prepared for a triangular duel, but he had not expected to see a quadrangular duel, as it had now turned out to be. At the same time, if they were to judge by the facility of obtaining coals, he must say that Milford Haven had a good claim as compared with Falmouth. He did not mean to enter into the discussion at any length; but, after the observations which had been addressed to the House as to the merits of different ports, he should scarcely be doing justice to his constituents if he did not say a word in favour of Southampton, especially when he had heard an hon. Gentleman opposite remark that he trusted the House would not listen to anything in favour of Southampton, as it must proceed from selfishness and no other motive. He could not help expressing his surprise in hearing this matter discussed that no reference should have been made to a most important Post Office Return-which had been laid upon the table, and which threw a good deal of light on this question. The hon. Member who had referred to the great benefits derived by Glasgow from the change to Plymouth (Mr. Crum-Ewing) could scarcely have looked at the document to which he (Mr. Russell Gurney) alluded, for if he had he would have seen that of thirty-three voyages made under the new system, in twenty-four there had been in Glasgow neither gain nor loss; and of the remaining nine voyages in four cases there was a gain by landing at Plymouth, and in five cases there was a loss. The gain that had recently been derived by Scotland and the northern towns had not resulted from the landing of the mails at Plymouth, but from the change that had been introduced by the sorting of the letters on board, and then despatching them by the cross mails, instead of sending them up to London. If the same plan had been adopted and the letters had been sent through Basingstoke instead of going up to London the northern towns would have gained more by having the mails landed at Southampton than at Plymouth. The northern towns were very important, but London was of even more importance, as, in fact, three-fourths of the correspondence came to London. "With respect to London there was an earlier delivery by landing at Plymouth in one case only out of the whole thirty-three, in nineteen cases there was no gain and no loss, and in no less than thirteen the mails would have been delivered sooner if Southampton had remained the port of landing. It was more important to look to the results of actual experience during the last two years than to the predictions of hon. Gentlemen as to what would be the case in future. The House had been told of the dangers of coming up the Channel, and the delays likely to occur in consequence of fogs. But captains of ships from the West Indies with whom he had been in communication had implored him to use whatever influence he had to keep them from enter- ing the port of Falmouth, or standing off that port, in consequence of the fogs which prevailed there; and the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Morrison) had admitted that in no case had there been a delay in consequence of fogs when Southampton was the port. In his opinion the best thing that could be done, and that from which the most satisfactory results could be obtained. would be to have an official inquiry.


said, it would perhaps be expected of him that he should address a few words to the House on this subject, though he was sure the speeches which they had heard would convince the House, if of nothing else, at any rate of this, that the House of Commons was not the place in which a question like this, full of technical details, could be advantageously discussed. Although the Notice of the hon. Member for Falmouth (Mr. R. N. Fowler) referred to the questions both of embarking and landing the mails at a western port, the speeches which had been delivered by hon. Gentlemen dealt almost exclusively with the place for landing them. When the question was last tinder the consideration of the Treasury and the Post Office, it was ascertained to the satisfaction of those Departments that there would be decidedly no advantage in embarking the mails at a more western port than Southampton; and, therefore, he might confine his observations to the subject of landing the mails. As to the question between Plymouth and Southampton, he was quite aware that the arrangement now in force was made as an experiment. He was not sure whether any definite period had been fixed upon for the duration of the experiment; but when it had been tried for a sufficient time to test its general working, it would be the duty of the Department over which he presided to come to a final decision on the subject. If the present systems were not found satisfactory, the mails would return to Southampton. The Notice of the hon. Member for Falmouth, as he understood it, referred chiefly to the question between Plymouth and Falmouth, and the advantages of those two ports had been ably urged in that House by their respective advocates. This was not the first occasion by many on which that question had been considered, and considered very carefully. It had been so considered by Lord Stanley of Alderley, and also by the Duke of Montrose; and after what was, as far as he could judge, a perfectly impartial investigation of the merits of these two ports, in 1867 the decision come to was that Plymouth should be the port selected for making the experiment. He was not aware that there had since been any change in the circumstances, and for himself he did not see any good reason for now altering what was then settled, and adopting Falmouth. The Post Office had ascertained, by consultation with the Royal Mail Company, which must be admitted to be competent to give information on the matter, that they were not prepared to allow more than three hours' steaming as the difference between Plymouth and Falmouth. And it was also ascertained that the railway journey between those two places would occupy only two hours and a-quarter. In addition to that, there was this very great objection—that there existed only a single line of rails between Falmouth and Plymouth, which it was thought would offer a. serious impediment to the running of special trains. In conclusion, he could not hold out any assurance on the part of the Government that the present arrangement would be altered.


said, he rose to support the views of his hon. Colleague (Mr. R. N. Fowler). He could not at all agree with the noble Lord the Postmaster General, or with the right hon. and learned Member who preceded him (Mr. Russell Gurney), that that House was not a proper place for the discussion of the question. He could not see why a Committee of that House was unfit to consider the subject. Questions affecting postal conventions were referred to such a tribunal, as were also the most intricate questions of railway engineering, and why should not a question like the present one be so referred? He thought the whole gist of the question lay in a sentence which occurred in a Report that had been referred to by his hon. Colleague—he meant the Report of the Commission presided over by Sir James Gordon, in 1840. It was there said—"If we had found a railroad as far as the Land's End and a harbour there we should have selected it." Now, what did that mean? it meant that communication by rail was so superior in point of certainty and celerity over communication by sea, that the former ought to be adopted wherever it possibly could be. The Commission could not find a harbour at the Land's End, but they found one near the Lizard, which, for all practical purposes, was to the mariner the real laud's end of England. He himself had made the homeward voyage from South America and the West Indies, and, having constantly examined the charts, he knew that vessels coming from those parts made a wide circuit to the west. The Lizard, therefore, was the point winch all vessels coming from the south or from the west endeavoured to make; and the Lizard was within seventeen miles of Falmouth, the advantages of which, as a port, were undeniable. How great those advantages were was shown by the fact that, though the railway from Southampton to London was opened in May, 1840, it was not, till ten years after—not till 1850—that Falmouth was entirely disestablished as a mail packet station. He felt certain that if there had been a railway through Cornwall to Falmouth, at the time when the Commissioners made their Report, that port would have been chosen for the dispatch and arrival of the mails in question. A railway now existed in Cornwall, and though the line was now single it might soon become a double one. Moreover, there were now admirable docks, with a railway carried down to the very water's edge; and, therefore, the time had come when Falmouth should be restored to the position to which its natural advantages entitled it as the great south-western port of England. By such an arrangement, a great acceleration of the delivery of letters would be obtained, not only in London, but also in Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow, and other great commercial cities. The distance by sea from Falmouth to Southampton was 180 miles, or eighteen hours, and to this must be added two and a-half hours of rail, making a total of twenty and a-half hours. Thus, even allowing ten hours for an express train from Falmouth to London, there would be a gain often and a-half hours on this route over that by Southampton. But from Falmouth to Bristol by Exeter was only six and a-half hours, and from Falmouth to Liverpool and Glasgow, by the same route, only eleven and three-quarter and seventeen and a-quarter hours; and, supposing the letters to be sorted in the steamer or the train, there was no reason why they should not reach Glasgow three hours before they now reached London. So much for the Southampton route; and he had to thank the hon. Member for Plymouth for the arguments he had used against it. But some of those arguments were applicable in favour of the Falmouth route against that by Ply-mouth. He would not dispute with the hon. Member whether the distance from Falmouth, to Plymouth by sea was thirty or thirty-five miles, but supposing it to be only twenty, still, there were the same dangers of fog and storm over those twenty miles, as over the longer distance. As to the journey by rail from Falmouth to Plymouth occupying three hours, the distance between the two places was only sixty miles, which might surely be travelled by express train in two hours. Thus, valuable time would be saved by the Falmouth route; and as most of the important communications of the great mercantile houses were sent by telegraph, still further advantage would thus be gained by the adoption of that route. Again, Ply-mouth was a most unsatisfactory port for the landing of the mails; and the Lords of the Admiralty, in their official reply to the Post Office, of the 13th of April, 1867, stated, that it would take two hours to land the mails there. Those two hours had to be added to the three hours lost by sea in going to Plymouth instead of to Falmouth. He would cite another testimony against the port of Plymouth, and that was the memorial of the Union Steam Shipping Company, of March. 1866, which says— With regard to the harbour of Plymouth, it is scarcely necessary to state that, in rough weather, we have had great difficulty and delay in landing and shipping the mails; and that instances have occurred when it has been impossible for the ship to communicate with the shore. Before concluding, he must add a few words as to the great natural advantages of Falmouth as a port. It was most accessible; there was no necessity of employing a pilot in entering it, as was proved by the numerous memorials which had been presented against compulsory pilotage with regard to it; and it was a mistake to suppose that it was necessary to take a wide circuit in making for it. Long experience proved that the Mana- cles—which had been referred to as a source of danger to vessels approaching Falmouth—in no way interfered with safe access to its excellent harbour. In. the 140 years during which the mail packets sailed from Falmouth there had never been an instance of such a vessel having been wrecked upon the Manacles. He thought the whole matter ought to be referred to a Select Committee; and he regretted that his hon. Colleague had not concluded with a Resolution to that effect. Should the subject not meet with proper attention from the Government, he should himself move for a Select Committee to inquire into the question.


said, he must dissent from the statement that there had not been a wreck on the Manacles for 140 years while Falmouth had the mails.


said, that his hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth (Mr. Morrison) was perfectly correct in his statement that the landing of the mails at Plymouth occupied, on the average, only twelve minutes.