HC Deb 10 March 1871 vol 204 cc1778-88

rose to call attention to the imperfect harbour accommodation which existed in India, and to ask for a Copy of the instructions given to Mr. Robertson, the eminent civil engineer, ordered to report on the subject. It was, he said, a subject of the greatest interest in a commercial point of view. For the last 10 years there had practically been no marine department connected with the India Office, and when it was taken into account that we had in the East something like 4,000 miles of coast, abounding with harbours of the greatest importance to the country, that circumstance was, he thought, somewhat extraordinary. For a period of nine years—he might add, since the surveyors had been discharged—the hydrographical superintendence of the coast of India had been almost completely suspended — a statement which was fully corroborated by a letter which he had received from an officer whose services had been of the greatest value to that department. Now, beginning on the Western Coast with the port of Kurrachee; the mouths of the Indus had been surveyed 20 years ago I by the surveyors of the Indian Navy, than whom no abler men ever served any Government, and it was found that the rapidity of the currents made it impracticable to form ports at any of the mouths of that river. But, at the present time, the plans for the harbour at Kurrachee, which had been prepared by the late Mr. Walker, were in a state approaching completion. The harbour, he believed, would be a good one, which would be connected with the railway, which, he hoped, would be carried to Mooltan, and united with the Punjaub Railway, so that the products of that district might be brought down to the coast, passing the Gulfs of Kutch and Cambay. At Bombay there had been, principally by means of private enterprize, set on foot most extensive works of reclamation, which, in the course of time, would supply that city with partial harbour accommodation. But, when it was borne in mind that Bombay would probably, within the next 10 years, be the third or fourth mercantile city in the world, it would, he thought, be well that the Government of India should give such assistance—of a recuperative kind—as would enable the work in progress to be carried on more rapidly. Dry docks were exceedingly necessary at Bombay, and the first which had been built there was, he believed, constructed by a Parsee; its position being so well chosen that by simply lengthening it out, a dock some 400 feet long might be secured, which in itself would be a very great convenience. The Government of India, however, had erected a hydraulic lift at a place called Hog Island, some eight or nine miles off, where every appliance connected with the dockyard must be carried — thus causing great delay in operations connected with the repair of ships; whereas, the old dockyard, by making a slight encroachment on the harbour, might be utilized. Proceeding southward, the first point to which he wished to call the attention of the House was the want of lights on the coast of India. Taken altogether, there were only 40 lights, of which very few were first class. There was an urgent want of first-class lights at the following 14 points on the Malabar Coast:—1, Severndroog; 2, Rettna Geria; 3, Viziadroog; 4, Cape Ramus; 5, Pigeon Island; 6, Mangalore; 7, Mount Dilly; 8, Sacrifice Rock; 9, Calicutt; 10, Cochin; 11, Quilon; 12, Cape Comorin; 13, Minicoy, an island in the Eight Degree Channel; and, 14, one of the Laccadives, abreast Cannanore. The hon. Baronet described in detail the points at which, in his opinion, harbours might be advantageously formed, docks constructed, or lights established, and said that, knowing what he did of these subjects, and having been requested by gentlemen deeply interested in the trade of India, he felt it his duty, though having no longer any personal interest in the matter, to press the subject upon the attention of the Government and of Parliament. The want of lights on the Malabar Coast was very great, and it was almost impossible to approach it with any degree of safety. As an example of the accidents which now happened, he would mention that the General Outram steamer had foundered within easy access of Viziadroog Harbour, between Goa and Bombay, which, in 1844, 1855, 1859, and 1870 had been indicated to the authorities as a natural harbour of refuge, only requiring a light; the Honourable Company's steam frigate Memnon was lost on Cape Guardafui from bad charts; and one of the Peninsular and Oriental Company's ships was wrecked upon Minicoy from the want of a light there. On the Coromandel Coast there would be no difficulty in clearing the harbour of Negapatam, the outlet of the whole of the magnificent delta of Tanjore, one of the most fertile regions on the face of the earth. The mouth of the river at that place continued very shallow, and laden boats were unable to cross it, except at high water. In 1837 the quantity of grain imported was 650,000 bushels, valued at £149,000; but in 1865 the quantity had increased to 4,694,000 bushels, the value of which was £ 1,703,000; but rice was principally imported into Ceylon from Negapatam, and there would be no difficulty in clearing away the bar and greatly improving the harbour of Negapatam; but the Government of India would not make the outlay necessary for the purpose. With regard to the harbour of Madras, it was much to be regretted that no steam-tug was stationed there. Some years ago a pier was built for the landing of passengers and goods, to avoid the passage through the surf; but it was hardly finished, when a small French ship broke loose and lodged in the centre of it. Had there been a steam-tug attached to the harbour of Madras, that ship might have been laid hold of and towed clear of the jetty and anchored in some convenient position, or allowed to go ashore; but the repairs of the damage cost £20,000 or £30,000. The intensity of the cyclones occurred pretty nearly in the latitude of Madras, and therefore it was requisite to have two good steam-tugs attached to the roadstead there, so that when ships got into trouble they might be laid hold of and towed out to sea. To the north of Madras there was a harbour called Port Blackwood, formed by a bank of sand and gravel about two miles off shore; and it was only necessary to construct a small breakwater, at little cost, to make it a safe harbour. The want of a light also tended to make the port of Blackwood a dead letter. With these alterations ships would be able to run safely for the harbour when caught in a cyclone. Considering how much had been done by steam dredges to open a way to India through the Suez Canal, he thought that the Government of India would do well to employ one of such dredges to keep open the port of Coringa on the Godavery, and others at the places he had previously described. The works he had now alluded to were absolutely necessary for the development of the trade of India. In the harbour of Coconada a great number of vessels were built; but it was feared that the mouth of the harbour was silting up. There were various points also on the shore of Orissa where, if they were dredged, light-draught steamers would be able to go. Had that work of dredging been effected before the time of the famine, light-draught steamers, such as he referred to, might have been used in conveying food to the inhabitants during the famine, and thereby vast numbers of human lives might have been saved. He considered it one of the first duties of a Government to turn their attention to. There was a vicious system of centralization in India. The Supreme Government, which consisted of Bengal civilians, assisted by one eminent man from each Presidency, settled all the disbursements to be laid out, even to the smallest sum; and, as Bengal civilians were not so well acquainted with those parts of India where they had not themselves served, they did not attach that importance to the coasting trade of India which it really deserved. Cochin was the best harbour on the Malabar Coast, to the south of Carwar, and by a very little dredging it might be put in such a state that any ship might go there; but although the present state of things had been reported over and over again to the Supreme Government, no improvement had been made. There was a breach in the coast which, if not filled up, would increase, and the safety of the harbour of Cochin be endangered. As they had sent an eminent engineer, Mr. Robertson, to India for the purpose of surveying these harbours, he should be ordered to survey every harbour in India, and report on each seriatim, without waiting to complete the work, so that measures might at once be taken for this improvement piecemeal. Harbour works were the first efforts made by civilization for a country, and he did not see why the Government of India should not place themselves in communication with the Government of this country, with a view to avail themselves of some such means as were intended to be applied to improve the harbour of Galle—he meant a loan from the Imperial Government, to be paid off in 30 years. He was sure that, as the result of these measures, trade would be increased, and the shipping of India would always be ready to pay moderate dues for increased safety, light, and comfort in making their voyages.


Sir, I have no wish to delay the House from entering on the discussion of another question which, perhaps, may be more generally interesting; but as I have had the honour of serving in the seas alluded to, and was a Member of the Committee of a former Parliament, which reported on the Paumben Channel, one of the most material subjects alluded to by my hon. and gallant Friend, it will not be necessary for me to speak at any length, for my hon. and gallant Friend has treated the subject in so complete, clear, and exhaustive a manner, that there is little to be added to his general statement. I desire, however, to confirm from personal knowledge one or two of the matters which he has brought under the notice of the House. And, first, let me express the great regret which must be entertained, not only by all Englishmen, but by all the maritime nations of the world, at the abolition of the famous old Hydrographical Office of India, whose surveys for 100 years held the highest rank, quite equal to the magnificent old Spanish surveys, which even now bear the test of modern investigation; or of those which the distinguished surveying officers of our own Navy, under the Hydrographical Office of the Admiralty, produced for the benefit of navigators in all parts of the world. When we remember the enormous seaboard which is within our dominions in the East, and for whose safety we are responsible, I think the House must feel that it would have been wiser if the retrenchment which sacrificed that office some 10 years ago had not occurred. I do not say this with any desire to find fault with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Grant Duff), who is not responsible for the reduction. Indeed, I think the hon. Gentleman has taken a very proper step in sending out Mr. Robertson to make inquiries; and, though these inquiries are only of a limited nature, and the appointment is not a permanent one, as it should be where there is so large a field for observation and survey, I must tender my thanks for even this limited inquiry. But a permanent and continuous maritime survey would certainly be most advantageous to India, and to the general commerce of the East. On one or two of the other points so exhaustively treated by my noble and gallant Friend, I desire, by the indulgence of the House, to make a few short remarks. And, first, as to the necessity for improvements in the harbour of Bombay. Few ports in the world have a larger commercial importance; and yet during half the year, whilst the south-west monsoon prevails, the shelter necessary for discharging the most valuable cargoes in that harbour was utterly insufficient. The House will remember, in proof of this, that the only part of the great expenditure in the Abyssinian War which could be called unprofitable was due to the impossibility of discharging the transports which crowded the harbour of Bombay, after the necessity for their services had ceased. It surely would be to the interest of the Imperial Government, as well as of the Indian Government, to take steps to improve the harbour of Bombay, so as to afford that protection to shipping which, in almost all other great commercial harbours, was afforded to vessels when loading or discharging cargo. The evils of the absence of the Hydrographical Department is also shown by the want of supervision, instanced in the case of the lighthouse built by the Rajah of Travancore. An enlightened potentate, desirous of contributing in a material manner to the safety of the commerce of India, was unable to obtain the proper advice as to the spot where his generous gift might be most useful, and, as pointed out by my hon. and gallant Friend, the money has been wasted for want of proper supervision. On one other point I desire to corroborate what has fallen from the hon. and gallant Member. I think the hon. Member (Mr. Grant Duff) is mistaken if he considers that the opening of the Paumben Channel is a work for which the revenues of Ceylon should be specially chargeable. So far as Ceylon is concerned, there is now a channel from Palk's Straits to the Gulf of Manaar, through which vessels of light draft can readily pass, and convey the supplies of rice, or other commodities, in which Ceylon is specially interested, from the Coromandel Coast to Colombo. The object of deepening the channel from the Gulf of Manaar to Palk's Straits is for ocean-going steamers, and, since the opening of the Suez Canal to the class of vessels which navigate it, has become of still greater importance. To make the matter clear to the House, let me point out that the islands of Ceylon and of Ireland are about the same size. Let us assume that the trade from Glasgow to Liverpool were interrupted by a narrow isthmus of four miles wide, stretching from Portpatrick to Ireland, and that all the important trade between these two ports had to circumnavigate Ireland by Cape Clear—would the nation which had constructed our great railways and canals hesitate to cut through the obstruction, and shorten the route to that which now exists? Well, the present trade from Western to Eastern India had to pass round the whole island of Ceylon, adding both considerable risk and 320 miles to the voyage; and for a comparatively small sum of £300,000 the whole of this could be saved to our trade. Let me suggest to the hon. Gentleman to consider whether some arrangement similar to that adopted in the building of lighthouses on the Basses, in the same neighbourhood, might not be adopted, and a sum of money advanced in order to complete this work rapidly under the authority of the Public Works Loan Commissioners. The tolls to be collected would be easily adjusted on a consideration of the saving effected in the length and risk of the voyage, and I feel certain would be readily contributed by the commerce of all nations trading to India. Thanking the House for their patience, I would commend this matter to the consideration of the Under Secretary of State for India.


said, he quite concurred with the hon. and gallant Member who had introduced the subject, that it was one of the great duties which the Indian Government was bound to discharge towards the people of India to provide proper harbours and lights along its coasts. Great improvements in those respects were, he believed, very necessary, especially on the coast of Malabar. A new survey of that coast was also much required. An annual charge of £56,000 was made on the Indian Government for the use of the vessels of war we sent out to the Indian Seas; and his impression was that those vessels might be utilized with great advantage in surveying the coasts of India, instead of being generally kept in harbour at Bombay, Calcutta, or some other port. Moreover, the traffic between this country and India by the Red Sea was fast increasing; but he believed that no steps had yet been taken with the view of having the Red Sea re-surveyed, although such an operation was now most urgently needed. Last year he himself put a Question on the subject, owing to a statement made in the public journals that the charts of the Red Sea were so inaccurate as to lead to the probable loss of life and property. It was said that some of the rocks were laid down quite four miles from their real position.


said, his hon. Friend had already brought before the House the various plans that had been recommended to the Indian Government with respect to the water way between the island of Ceylon and the mainland of India; but he was not sorry that he had thought fit to call attention to the defective harbour accommodation of India. In a country like India, where the Government was obliged to take the initiative in almost every improvement, the number of public works which it had to call into existence was so enormously great that there was a perpetual battle for life going on among them. One great authority was all for canals, another declared that railways were of the greatest importance, another pointed to common roads, a fourth was for improving the navigation of the back waters, and making half navigable rivers wholly navigable. Every man had his pet project, and five-sixths of the projects were really exceedingly good in themselves, if sometimes a little premature. Under those circumstances, it was perfectly right and reasonable that sailors, who had experienced the want of good harbours and harbour accommodation in India, should come forward and tell them so. The Government of India most fully admitted the existence of the want, and if those who took it to task did not quite do justice to its good intentions and good acts, they nevertheless really strengthened its hands. The remarks of the hon. Baronet (Sir James Elphinstone) fell under two heads—first, harbours; and, second, lights. The hon. Baronet spoke of the Indian Seas from his own knowledge, and, in so far as he himself (Mr. Grant Duff) had any means of checking what he said from books and conversation, his remarks, except with regard to the Paumben Channel and its neighbourhood, under both those heads appeared to him generally correct. He was assured by competent persons that—especially on the Western side of India—there were not a few places where very fair harbours, and two or three where admirable harbours might be made, and at comparatively little expense. He must, however, draw attention to the fact that the best sites for harbours in Western India—Poshetra, Seraia, Marmagao—were all, by an unfortunate accident not in British territory, the first belonging to a feudatory of the Guicowar; the second to another Native Prince, whose name might not be altogether familiar to all hon. Members, the Jam of Nowa Nugga; and the third to the Portuguese. He had no doubt the time would come when we should have several very good harbours on the Western Coast of India, even in British territory—he was told, for example, that an excellent harbour of refuge might be made behind the Vingorla Rocks. But when the hon. Baronet blamed the Government of India for not having done all that might be done in creating harbours of refuge on the Indian Coasts, he should remember that similar negligence had prevailed elsewhere. The hon. Baronet knew something of the difficulty of getting harbours of refuge made even in England. He himself sat with his hon. Friend on a Committee 13 years ago, under the presidency of Mr. James Wilson, to see whether harbours of refuge could not be provided along the British Coasts—at Peterhead and elsewhere—but up to this day it had been found wholly impossible to get the harbours made, because no one could show how the money was to be provided. Everybody admitted they would be desirable; but the number of desirable things on which the nation had set its heart was so great that the desirable things of the few were crushed down under the rush for other desirable things on which a larger number of people had set their hearts. It was very far from true that the Government of India had altogether neglected the harbours of India. Kurrachee had cost, first and last, nearly £400,000, and would cost much more. This was no inconsiderable share of the money which the India Government could reasonably appropriate to the work of harbour improvement. Carwar had cost more than £70,000, and a good deal had been spent at Cochin, in the Hooghley, and elsewhere. But in India much more was thought about the land than about the sea. The mere fact of the Govern- ment of India having asked them to send out the engineer, about whose instructions the hon. Baronet asked, showed that his remarks had been anticipated by the suggestions of persons connected with that Government. Mr. Robertson was appointed to prosecute inquiries with a view to the improvement of some of the minor harbours on the Indian coast. The Indian authorities, however, in this country were not in possession of his instructions. Mr. Robertson was directed to report himself to the Government of India, and to receive his instructions from it, except as regards the harbour of Aden, with respect to which he was put in communication with the Government of Bombay. Then as to lights; no doubt, the coast of India was indifferently lighted. There was a light about every 70 miles, from the Indus round to the south of Burmah; but we ought to have more, say one every 50 miles. For instance, Dwarka Point, Viziadroog, Deria Bahadur Ghur in our own territory, and Jinjeera and Enciam Island in non-British territory, were places where it was very desirable that lights should be placed. The establishing of lights at all these places, and at many others, however, was a mere question of time and opportunity, and, above all, of the relative urgency of the demands upon the purse of the Government; but Rome was not built in a day, and they could not do everything at once. It only remained for him to add a few words with reference to the points raised by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Gourley). He (Mr. Grant Duff) was obliged to admit that the Indian marine surveys were in anything but a satisfactory condition, forming a most remarkable contrast to the land surveys. Up to about a generation ago this was very far from being the case, the marine surveying work, which was done in the first 40 years of this century along the Indian Coasts, being very creditable. Then, however, the service began to languish; and in 1861, when the passion for incorporating all Indian things with the things of the Imperial Government was at its height, the whole of the Indian marine surveys were, or were meant to be, handed over to the Admiralty; and the then Secretary of State in Council announced to the then Viceroy that all future surveys and charts would, proceed from the Royal Navy at Imperial expense. Whether, however, the Admiralty ever definitely accepted the full responsibility with which the Secretary of State in Council believed that it had become charged was another question. It was enough to say that nothing had been done by the Admiralty to satisfy Indian surveying requirements, and that a great deal of marine surveying work was very urgently needed. The attention of the present Secretary of State in Council having been recently called to this most important matter, a despatch was just about to be sent to India, pointing out the pressing necessity of attending to it, and he hoped the Government would lose no time in informing the Home Government of its views as to what surveys are most wanted to correct and complete the existing charts of the Indian Seas and Coasts. He quite agreed in what the hon. Member had said of the importance of marine surveys, and was very glad that this conversation in the House of Commons should synchronize with, and give further emphasis to the despatch of the Secretary of State in Council.