HL Deb 21 June 1855 vol 138 cc2300-7

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


in moving the second reading of this Bill said, it was not intended to make any change in the present law of tonnage, but he was desirous that some addition should be made to the existing law as affected measurement and registration. He regretted that certain returns which he had moved for, and which would have thrown considerable light on the question, had not yet been made. The Government had recently employed in the transport service 210,000 tons of shipping at an expenditure of 3,000,000l., and he believed there was an estimated amount of about 5,000,000l. more to be paid. It was not surprising, therefore, that he should inquire whether they were paying so large a sum of money for tonnage that was as available as it might have been for public purposes. The question of tonnage really meant power of carriage coupled with speed. The mode of ascertaining tonnage by measurement was of very ancient date; it seemed to have been satisfactory to merchants and builders, and it was a system which met the wants and wishes of the country so long as vessels were propelled by wind and sails; but the application of steam to purposes of navigation had materially altered the circumstances of the case, and afforded cogent reason for a total change in the system of registration and measurement. Now, the internal measurement of a ship, by which the tonnage was at present calculated, was merely an imperfect statement of its room, and of its means of holding a certain quantity of materials within a given space; but, then, the question arose, what materials these might be? Say that a ship contained 100 cubic feet of space, if that space were filled with iron the weight might be twenty or thirty tons; if it were filled with lead the weight would be still greater; while if it were filled with straw the weight would be considerably less;—so that it was clear that the means a ship had of carrying weight were not at all indicated by her internal vacant space. It was, however, necessary that persons who wished to purchase the use of a ship, or to obtain her services, should possess the means of ascertaining accurately what quantity of materials she would carry. He would show their Lordships, by the case of two of her Majesty's ships, that it was possible for the tonnage of a vessel to represent by measure an amount which her real power of carrying did not approach, while, on the other hand, the tonnage of a ship by measurement might in reality be very much beneath her real capacity. Her Majesty's yacht Fairy measured 313 tons, but could only carry 176 tons, and, supposing the Government or a merchant were to hire a vessel of the same form as the Fairy, paying upon a tonnage of 313 tons, and were to put that quantity of goods on board, the ship would undoubtedly sink. The Cruiser, another of Her Majesty's ships, measured 540 tons by the present legal mode of registering tonnage, but owing to her form would carry 1,013 tons. He thought, therefore, these facts showed that the mode in which tonnage was now measured and registered did not truly represent the capacity of a ship. He would now refer to the question of steam power. At the present moment no law whatever existed in this country for the registration of steam power. There was no law that fixed any unit of power by which merchants or the Government could tell at what speed a steam-vessel could be propelled, or for what period of time she could be enabled to sustain that degree of propulsion, or what her carrying powers were in conjunction with her speed. He considered that it was imperative upon the Government and the country, for the advantage of merchants, shipbuilders, hirers of ships, and all persons concerned in transit on the ocean, that an approximation to a unit of power should be established by law. James Watt, to whom the invention of the steam-engine had been attributed, put down the unit of horsepower at 33,000 lb. raised one foot per minute, and this was yet regarded by the makers of steam-engines as the unit by which steam power was to be calculated; but such had been the improvements effected in the steam-engine of late years that that unit was entirely useless for all calculations. He would mention the case of four of Her Majesty's ships—the Trident, the Retribution, the Caradoc, and the Elfin. The Trident was nominally of 350 horse-power, but her indicators snowed her to be of 492 horse-power; the engines of the Retribution were nominally of 400 horse-power, but when worked they were found to be 1,092; the engines of the Caradoc were nominally of 350 horse-power, but they worked up to 1,600 horse-power; and the engines of the Elfin, nominally of 40 horse-power, worked up to 244. He found also that the real horsepower of the Encounter was double her nominal power; the real power of the Agamemnon was three times, and that of the Undine four times, of the Banshee five times, and of the Elfin six times the nominal power of those several ships. He wished their Lordships to consent to establish a new unit as the unit of power, approximating to the real power of the steam-engine, so that the public might be enabled to calculate the value of a steam-vessel. A scientific friend of his, who had directed his attention to the question of steamship capabilities, had laid down a unit, which he proposed to be taken as a standard of what might be called in future "marine horse-power." In making his calculations, the gentleman in question took ten vessels, and by taking their nominal horse-power in the first instance, then deducting 15 per cent for friction and other matters connected with the engine itself, and dividing the whole sum of the indicated horse-power of the ten vessels by the nominal horse-power, it was found that 132,000 lb. raised one foot per minute was the unit of the horse-power of the ten vessels. The vessels, however, were of a peculiar construction, and therefore 32,000 lb. were deducted, which left 100,000 lb. raised one foot per minute as the unit of the horse-power. By adopting this unit the House would have some groundwork upon which to calculate the power of the steam-engine, and having once embodied in the law and registered a power to be called "the marine horse-power," taking 100,000 lb. raised one foot per minute as the unit, they would supply the public with data upon which to form an accurate estimate in future of the power and capabilities of any vessel they might engage. He now came to another part of the subject having reference to the change which he proposed to introduce into the system of measuring steam-vessels. In substituting a new system for that already in practice, he thought that nothing could be easier than to rectify an error which had crept into the present system. In every ship now built the builder was perfectly acquainted with the "displacement" of every vessel that left his yard—the quantity of water which she put aside, and displaced in her immersion in the water. All that he desired now was to have a register of the displacement, which would give the weight of the hull of a vessel, and indicate what she could carry in weight. The present measurement might be retained; and having thus accurately shown both the roomage and tonnage, any merchant engaging a vessel would be enabled to calculate exactly what she would be able to carry. At present, when a vessel was constructed upon the stocks, the builder was compelled by law to mark an indelible line upon her stem and sternposts and amidships, showing her draught of water, previous to receiving on board any of her equipment or engines, and thus the exact weight of her body was ascertained. He now proposed that, in addition to the launching draught of the ship, her light draught, showing the displacement of water when she was fitted up with machinery and rigged and equipped for service, and also her deep draught, representing what she would carry when loaded, should be marked in indelible marks upon her stem and sternposts and amidships. A clause embodied in the Bill would compel the builder, under penalties, to delineate these lines upon the hull of the vessel. Under the present law it was perfectly impossible that a merchant could know even what roomage tonnage he would be entitled to have, because the roomage tonnage must depend upon the quantity of fuel put into her before the use of her was obtained. Suppose a vessel of 5,000 tons displacement were engaged to make a passage of 1,000 miles, at the rate of eight knots, or miles an hour, 172 horse-power would be all that would be required to propel that vessel, and she would be enabled to carry a cargo of 2,738 tons. But if she were engaged to go the same distance at the rate of ten miles an hour, she would require 336 horse-power, and would be enabled to carry a cargo, not of 2,738, but of 2,524 tons. To go at the rate of eighteen miles an hour—a speed now frequently obtained—she would require 1,961 horse-power, and would only be able to carry a cargo of 585 tons. If they wished for a speed of twenty miles an hour, she would carry no cargo at all, because upon a voyage of 1,000 miles driven at that speed her whole available space would be required for the coal she would consume upon her voyage; and this, he thought, was an additional reason why they should know the actual capacity of a ship. He had thus shortly endeavoured to state the grounds upon which he desired that the law should enable us to obtain the weight-carrying powers of our vessels, and at the same time their true powers of propulsion and speed. He had ventured, also, to put into the Bill a clause which, he thought, would be of great value to the passenger traffic of the country, forbidding any steam-vessel having passengers on board to load beyond her deep-draught water line. If this were done, it would effectually secure to the passengers safety from those accidents which now often arose from overloaded ships, while, on the other hand, was not too much to require from the builder and the merchant, on the part of the public, that the immersion of the ship should not be inconsistent with her perfect security. He was confident that at the present moment, and according to the present mode of dealing with shipping power and tonnage, no man would be very willing to engage in shipping affairs who had not some previous knowledge on the subject; but, if these matters were placed upon a clear and intelligible footing, so that the buyer and the hirer might know perfectly what they were about, it would tend very much to the improvement of the shipping interest generally, by inducing many persons to enter into the business. He was sure that this subject would be taken up by the public, and that the Government would be compelled to adopt at some period or other, if not the details, at all events, the principles of the Bill the second reading of which he now proposed. If they permitted routine to interfere on this occasion—not proper and necessary routine, but that which, under cover of some obsolete law, took no heed of the science and ability of the country—he was convinced that ultimately this subject would be forced upon Parliament from out of doors. Let the Government call together scientific men and take up this question, acting on the advice of those who could guide them; and, if they did so, he should with great pleasure place this Bill in their hands, and leave it to them to pass into a law, with such improvements as they might think fit.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


said, that if the noble Earl, with all his professional knowledge of the subject, felt its technical difficulties, he might well be excused if he owned that it was impossible for him to argue this question upon its own merits and to enter into details with which he was not competent to deal. But he hoped, on general grounds, to show sufficient reasons to induce their Lordships to believe that they would not be committing an error if they declined to entertain the second reading of this Bill. The object of the measurement of ships was, first, to procure a test of the size of a ship for the purpose of paying light, dock, and other dues; and, secondly, to get a fair estimate of its capacity to carry. Of the two modes of testing the capacity of a ship—first, by displacement, in order to ascertain her weight; and, secondly, by measurement, to ascertain the available space—it was obviously, for ordinary purposes, more important to ascertain the number of cubic feet in a vessel; and to accomplish that object the late alterations were made, in accordance with the principle formerly observed, so as to give a more perfect and accurate measurement of the capacity of a ship in cubic feet. The subject had been brought before the consideration of the Government by a Commission, which heard evidence and considered plans from different parts of the country. That Commission recommended Moorsom's plan for adoption, and this plan was submitted to all the local marine boards, the Trinity House, Lloyd's, and to the Admiralty, in order to ascertain whether they thought the mode of measurement in question was the best which could be adopted. The result was, that these important bodies universally recommended the adoption of Moorsom's plan, the only dissentients being one assistant-surveyor and one master shipwright in Her Majesty's dockyard. The system now in operation was not, therefore, as had been stated, an obsolete and effete one, showing an adherence to routine of the worst description, nor had the Government refused to open their eyes and ears to the recommendations of men of science. So far from this being the case, the Government were at all times most ready to receive any objections to the existing system, or communications as to the introduction of a better; but up to this moment not one single objection had been urged to the present mode of measurement, either by the Mercantile Marine Boards or the Admiralty; and, therefore, he thought no sufficient case had been made out for the adoption of a new system. Besides this, he had consulted with the principal authorities, with the Surveyor of the Navy, the Assistant Surveyor, and the Chief Engineer, who assured him that the plan proposed in this Bill was impracticable, and that, even if it could be carried into effect, it would be useless. All seemed to depend on this—whether it was possible to ascertain the draught water line upon launching a ship. Now, as he was informed, it was impossible to ascertain this until the vessel actually went to sea, and even then it depended upon many circumstances which were not always the same. Four eminent shipbuilders had decided against the plan proposed by the noble Earl, and how could it be expected that in all the ports of this country, where ships were built, ordinary shipbuilders would be able to fix the line of flotation? The noble Earl had stated that by the plan which he proposed it would be known at once what amount of goods a ship contained; but he thought that the system at present in use effected that purpose. The noble Earl had also stated that the present system was an arbitrary one; but, in his opinion the plan proposed by the noble Earl would be equally so. He himself was not competent to deal with such questions, but he had been guided by the opinions of those who were most competent to do so, and all those persons whom he had consulted were unanimous in favour of the existing system, and thought that no substantial benefit would be gained by adopting the present proposal. The present mode of measurement was adopted, with variations, by all the nations in the world; and, as at present advised, he could not ask their Lordships to change it for the system set forth in the Bill of the noble Earl.

Amendment moved to leave out "now," and insert "this day six months."


maintained that the present system of measurement was extremely defective, and, therefore, he thought that their Lordships ought to be much obliged to his noble Friend (the Earl of Hardwicke) for having called their attention to this important subject. He thought that the Bill which had been proposed adopted those scientific improvements which the reports of various Commissions justified, and he hoped, therefore, that their Lordships would give it a second reading.


replied. He thought that the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) had overlooked one fact entirely, namely, that no system of tonnage registration existed. That which was now called the tonnage was, in fact, the room-age of a ship. He would illustrate the nature of the present mode of measurement by an example. A ship might be filled—all her so-called tonnage entirely occupied—by ladies' bonnets, and yet she would not draw one foot more water than she did when empty; while, on the other hand, she might be laden with cannon balls which would barely cover one of her decks to the depth of one foot, and yet bring her down below her water line. To put the matter on a more satisfactory footing, and give to every one the means of knowing the real capabilities of vessels, was the object of this Bill. But even if the Government were resolved to reject his system of measurement, there was no reason why they should decline to adopt the other part of his Bill—that which related to the establishment of a register of marine horse-power.

On Question, that "now" stand part of the Motion,

Their Lordships divided:—Content 21; Not Content 28: Majority 7.

Resolved in the negative. Then the Question as amended was agreed to; and Bill to be read 2a on this day six months.

House adjourned till To-morrow.