HC Deb 04 March 1880 vol 251 cc305-14

in rising to call attention to the necessity for additional lighthouses on the island of Galita, in the Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden; and to move for Papers, said, that the value of the trade passing between Great Britain and India had been computed at no less than £98,000,000 sterling, and nothing which affected so vast a commerce could be set aside as unimportant. Since the opening of the Suez Canal, our trade with the East had been largely diverted to that route. The tonnage which passed through the Canal in 1877 was 2,050,000; but it had increased in 1878 to 3,250,000. England led the way with 1,117 ships; France followed with only 87 ships; Italy came next with 44; and Germany last, with 27 ships. He thought it unnecessary to say more in order to show how deeply interested we were in everything which could add to the safety of navigation on this main route from Europe to the East. Of the various aids to the navigator which science had afforded, lighthouses were the most important, not only as a means of saving life and property, but as a means of shortening the passage. With the growth of commerce, the number of lighthouses on our own shores had been rapidly increased. We had now one light for every 10½ miles of coast. The illumination of the French coasts was equally perfect. While, however, the coasts of the great maritime Powers were now efficiently lighted, lighthouses had been seriously neglected in the hands of Governments with exhausted Treasuries; and the coasts of barbarous or half-civilized countries, in the absence of concerted action on the part of the maritime Powers, must remain in total darkness. Hitherto, with one notable and praiseworthy exception, no attempt had been made to organize such concerted action. Taking an ima- ginary voyage from England to the East, the first point where a lighthouse was required was on the coast adjacent to Cape Finisterre. It was one of the most important land-falls in the world. It was true a first-class light was exhibited from Finisterre; but the position was badly chosen, and the light itself was not in good order. He was within range of Cape Finisterre for several hours during the night of the 27th of January, and on that occasion the light did not revolve. Another first-class light was urgently required on Cape Villano, 25 miles north-east of Finisterre. The range of the existing light was only eight miles. In consequence of the insufficient lighting of this coast, vessels were compelled to steer many miles further to the westward than would be necessary if a powerful light were exhibited on Villano. Continuing eastwards and entering the Mediterranean, the southern shores of Spain, and the long range of the north coast of Africa, in the hands of the French Government, were well protected with lights. But when we reached the coast of Tunis the lighthouses were too few in number. The Island of Galita, which was under the jurisdiction of the Bey of Tunis, was one of the most important pivot points on the voyage to the East. Ships navigating the Mediterranean made a straight run of 690 miles from Gibraltar, until they arrived off the north end of Galita, when they altered their course two points and steered for the Malta Channel. In the night, or in the thick weather prevailing near Galita in the winter, the prudent navigator would pass the Island at a distance of from 10 to 15 miles. With a first-class light a margin of five miles would be ample. If the passage to the south of the Island were taken, which would be perfectly practicable in clear weather, the saving of distance would be still more considerable. The necessity that existed for such a light on Galita had been repeatedly urged by the Committee of Lloyd's. On this point Captain Angove, the commander of the Peninsular and Oriental steamer Poonah, had written as follows:— The absence of a light on the Island of Galita has often caused me great anxiety. In the winter months the weather is frequently dirty in that vicinity, and the currents are strong. Passing onwards on the voyage to the East, the navigator was assisted by an adequate number of lights until he emerged from the Gulf of Suez into the Red Sea. At a distance of 95 miles north of the light on the Dædalus shoal, which was the southernmost light at present shown in this part of the Rod Sea, the track of steamers ran close to two rocks called "The Brothers," only 20 feet above water. They were invisible at night, and the current in that part of the Red Sea was strong and uncertain. A few years ago the Dutch steamer Prinz Hendrik, carrying troops to Batavia, was totally wrecked on these rocks. A light of the second or third order, visible at a distance of say 10 miles, was very necessary at this point. Proceeding down the Red Sea, for a distance of 720 miles, no lights were absolutely required, until within 100 miles of the Island of Perim. At its southern end the shores of the Red Sea were fringed with reefs, which ran out seawards for some distance on each side of the channel, and here the experienced commanders in the Peninsular and Oriental Service urgently asked for two additional lights—a light with a range of 20 miles, on the islet of Aboo-Ail, off the north end of the Island of Jebel-Zuker, and a light on the bank off Mocha. The Peninsular and Oriental steamer Alma was wrecked on Jebel-Zuker, and the steamer Penguin was quite recently lost on the same spot. The value of lighthouses as a means of saving life might be illustrated by a statement lately made to him by Captain White, a commander in the Peninsular and Oriental Service. On a recent occasion, arriving off Aboo-Ail in the evening, he was obliged to close the Arabian shore, and to navigate the vessel by the lead, until he arrived off the Island of Perim, a distance of 90 miles. With a light on Aboo-Ail, he might have run boldly on and have made the passage in eight hours. Not having the assistance of the light, the time actually occupied was 18 hours. The detention in these intricate spots in the case of vessels commanded by masters not intimately acquainted with the Red Sea must necessarily be more serious. Captain Symons, in an interesting letter on this subject, very justly said that the Red Sea was now the highway of the world for Eastern traffic. On his last homeward voyage he had passed nine large steamers in one watch of four hours. Ten years ago, an equal number would not have been seen in a month. Considering the value of property, mostly carried in English ships, that now passed through the Red Sea, it was imperatively necessary that the coasts should be properly lighted. The mail steamers, especially, were called upon to maintain a high rate of speed, were timed to arrive to the hour, and were liable to heavy penalties if late. They certainly ought to have the benefit of any modern invention for facilitating navigation on a dangerous coast. Continuing an imaginary voyage to the East, the next important point on which a lighthouse was required was Cape Guardafui. Here 12 large steamers had gone ashore within the last six years. The list included the Meikong, of the French Messageries Service, and the Garonne, a steamer of the Orient Line recently established between London and Australia. Ten of these ships were totally wrecked. Among the shipowners interested in the trade to the East who had strongly recommended the establishment of a light on Cape Guardafui, he might more particularly refer to the General Shipowners' Association, and the owners of the Glen, the Castle, and the Ducal lines. The directors of the British India Company, while expressing a strong opinion as to the desirability of establishing a light on Cape Guardafui, recommended that it should be erected by the British Government, under international arrangement, and not by the Egyptian Government. It might be necessary to explain that the Egyptian Government had contemplated the erection of two lighthouses—the one on Ras-Hafoon, the other on Guardafui, in compliance with suggestions from the British Government. The objections of the British Indian Company were fully shared by Captain Roberts, the Superintendent of the Peninsular and Oriental Company at Suez. The expenditure for the two lights, as estimated by the Egyptian Government, was £48,000, and they proposed to levy an additional tax upon passing ships of 2d. per ton. Efficient lighthouses could be erected at a much more moderate cost. He was unwilling to trouble the House with nautical details, and would not, therefore, enter into the various considerations which had been urged by those who doubted the utility of a light on Guardafui during the period when the south-west monsoon was at its height. Opinions were unanimous as to the value of the light through at least eight months of the year. A light on Ras-Hafoon, 90 miles south of Guardafui, would be valuable at all seasons to ships engaged in the important trade with the Mauritius and the East Coast of Africa. He had only to mention two other points on the route to the East on which lights were required. One was the east end of the Island of Socotra, which was passed by all vessels bound to and from Bombay, and in the south-west monsoon also by vessels navigating to and from Galle. The other point to which he referred was Minicoy, a small Island of the Laccadive group, upon which some years ago the Peninsular and Oriental steamer Colombo was totally lost, and which must be passed by every vessel bound from the Red Sea to Ceylon, the Bay of Bengal, the Eastern Archipelago, China, and Japan. All the lights which he had enumerated would, if established, be of the greatest advantage to navigation. At Cape Guardafui it might be necessary to erect a fort, and to provide a small garrison for the protection of the light. In the other cases nothing more than an ordinary lighthouse was required. None of these lights, however, could be erected except under international agreement; and in bringing the subject under the notice of the House his desire was to urge the Government, without delay, to secure the concerted action of the maritime Powers. Sir Travers Twiss, in a paper read at the Guildhall in August last, had suggested that the Convention signed at Tangier between the Sultan of Morocco and the Representatives of the European Powers furnished a precedent that might be conveniently followed. Under the terms of this Convention, the Sultan of Morocco had erected a lighthouse on Cape Spartel, and made over the entire administration to the contracting Powers, each of whom contributed £60 a-year towards the maintenance of the light. The light on Cape Spartel afforded the greatest assistance in the navigation of the Straits of Gibraltar; and it belonged to England, as having by far the deepest interest in the trade with the East, to take the initiative in negotiating similar arrangements with reference to the additional lights required on the voyage from Europe to the East. The House would doubtless share the hope expressed by Sir Travers Twiss that hereafter international lighthouses would be among the trophies of peace which the civilization of Europe would set up in the Islands of the far East. The aggregate expenditure on the lighthouses would be small, it would be readily shared by other nations, and it was absolutely trifling in comparison with the loss of, perhaps, £250,000 in a single steamer. When the lighthouses which he had enumerated were completed premiums of insurance would be reduced voyages would be accelerated, the dangers to life would be diminished, and the anxieties of harassed commanders would be relieved. The hon. Member concluded by moving for Papers on the subject.


in seconding the Motion, said, everyone must agree with him that the immense amount of trade which now passed through the Suez Canal and traversed the Mediterranean and the Red Sea rendered it highly desirable that the channel should be safely lighted. His hon. Friend had made an imaginary voyage from England; he would make the return voyage from India. Everyone acquainted with the shores of India must be of opinion that the great channel by which Bombay was approached ought certainly to be lighted. The nine degree and the eight degree channel were divided by the Island of Minikoi under the Government of Ceylon, and a light on that island seemed indispensable. On a late occasion one of the largest steamers, filled with passengers, ran on the Island of Minikoi, and was eventually relieved after three months' detention. On going towards the Gulf of Aden during the south-western monsoon, all vessels, except those of the greatest power, usually went to the southward and approached the coast of Africa. A careful navigator might navigate his ship with safety, and the lead was a sufficient guide. Many masters of merchant ships, however, were not careful navigators, and were not provided with the most recent charts. Perhaps it would be found that the owners did not provide charts, and that the master supplied himself with. the cheapest he could get. Masters of that kind, instead of timing their arrival so as to sight the land in daylight, took a glass of grog, turned in, and trusted to Providence. The consequence was that their vessels often ran ashore. It was, therefore, desirable that a light should be placed on Ras-Hafoon; but that was not so important as a light on Cape Guardafui itself. It was said that there was great difficulty in procuring water at that place; but that ought not to be regarded as a very serious objection in these days, when it was an easy matter to obtain water by the process of distillation. If, however, it was not intended to place a lighthouse on Cape Guardafui, it would be necessary to build one in a small valley about eight miles south-south-west of that point; though the better plan would be, if possible, to light the promontory itself; for during the south-west monsoons a thick yellow haze made it all but impossible to observe the land, which showed through the haze almost identical in colour. This necessitated the erection of a powerful light. He agreed with his hon. Friend as to the desirability of placing a light on the east end of Socotra, where powerful steamers often took shelter; but oven that was not so necessary as that Cape Guardafui should be lighted. Proceeding up the Gulf of Aden, and after passing Perim, ships encountered a variety of dangers which materially impeded their progress. Considering the importance of time and the cost of delay, especially to mail steamers, it would be seen that a lightship might be very usefully established in the Turkish waters off the town of Mocha, and a lighthouse on Ali Khel, and then the lighting of the Southern part of the Rod Sea would be satisfactory. He strongly recommended the erection of a lighthouse on "The Brothers," a very dangerous shoal further north, which lay right in the fairway and caused much loss of time to vessels in the endeavour to avoid all risk in connection with it. He hoped soon to hear that negotiations were in progress with reference to that shoal. Coming through the Suez Canal, and continuing the voyage past Malta, he found a light necessary at Galita, west-south-west of which were the Sorelli Rocks, which were still unlighted. It was a moot point as to the precise spot on which the light should be placed; his own opinion was that the Sorelli Rocks would probably be the best, though perhaps not the cheapest, position. Those rocks belonged to Tunis, on the coast of which State there were already several creditable lights; and it would be necessary to make an arrangement with the French and the Tunisian Governments in order to remove the last danger of the Mediterranean. With the lighting to the west of those rocks he was quite satisfied; but the points he had mentioned—Minikoi, west end of Socotra, Ras-Hafoon, Cape Guardafui, a light-ship off Mocha, Ali Khel, "The Brothers," and Galitana or the Sorelli Rocks—ought to be lighted, and he hoped that his suggestions would be considered by the Government.


said, that the House and the Government were very much indebted to the two hon. Gentlemen who had spoken for the information they had given on a subject so interesting to all Englishmen, and particularly to the President of the Board of Trade. He thoroughly agreed with his hon. Friends as to the desirability of having more lighthouses in difficult and dangerous seas; but the first difficulty was that they were not independent in the matter, but had to negotiate with other Powers, some of whom were not very largely provided with funds. All such obstacles resolved themselves into questions of money. He could assure his hon. Friends that the Government had not been idle in the matter. It was not easy to interfere with respect to the first point to which attention had been called; but as regarded Galita, the Government had been in communication with the French Government, and last year they received an assurance from Lord Lyons that France and Tunis were likely jointly to erect a proper lighthouse there. He might remind the House that the existing lights in the Canal and the Red Sea were owing, in a great measure, to the exertions of former British Governments. In the year 1870 the Hydrographer of the Navy and Colonel Clarke had been sent to the Red Sea to make investigations into the subject, and had made a Report thereon. They had pressed the matter on the Khedive, and had asked the French Government to enter into an arrangement. The question mainly turned on the necessary expense, and the French Government set the matter aside for the time. It had been raised again by the Indian Government in 1874; but France had not been willing to make any pecuniary engagements till 1879. But in 1877 the Khedive had agreed, on the representations of the British Government, to erect a lighthouse on Cape Guardafui, provided that certain tolls were allowed; and the British Government bad then attempted to bring about an agreement between the maritime Powers, and ascertained that they would all agree to pay the requisite tolls as soon as it was settled where the lighthouse should be erected. The Khedive then proceeded to send an engineer to make a survey of that part of the country, and Her Majesty's Government had only been put in possession of his Report last year. That gentleman had found difficulties about erecting a lighthouse at the point which had been indicated, and recommended that it should be placed some eight miles south of the promontory of Guardafui. So the matter remained at present, and it would be necessary to wait till the Egyptian Government had made up its mind. At any rate, some progress had been made, for the country had been surveyed, and the maritime Powers had come to an agreement. He could hardly give an opinion as to the Indian lights; but he might assure hon. Members that the Government fully acknowledged the importance of the subject, and would do their best to induce other Powers to co-operate with them in future.


after thanking the noble Lord for his speech, remarked that Ways and Means ought not to stand in the way of the object he had in view. The actual cost of all the existing lighthouses was insignificant compared with the far greater importance of safety and speed in navigation. As representing a maritime constituency, he would urge upon the Government that time should not be lost in doing the work. It was of the greatest importance, as it would effect an economy of time by materially shortening the voyage. The most important element of the question was that the work would bring our Indian Empire much nearer to us. It was a great practical undertaking, in which this great maritime nation should allow no delay.


said, that the House ought to be obliged to the hon. Member for Hastings for having called the attention of the House to that subject. He thought it would be better to have a light to avoid the outer danger than the inner danger in the case of a passage between two reefs. There was a tendency to forget that, though steamers were taking the place of sailing ships, to a great extent the latter still existed. One of the most dangerous shoals in the Mediterranean, lying right in the track of the passage to Gibraltar and Malta, was Smith's Reef. It would be remembered that it was on that reef, owing to the absence of lighthouse or lightship, Her Majesty's ship Athenian was lost. He would, therefore, strongly recommend that a light should be placed at that point without delay.


said, that he would not press his Motion, and thanked the noble Lord for the attention which he had given to the subject.