HL Deb 22 May 1860 vol 158 cc1605-8

asked, what were the intentions of the Government with respect to the further prosecution of the Ceylon Railway? He believed that this question was first raised when the noble Lord opposite (Lord Taunton) was at the head of the Colonial Office, and that he sent out Captain Moorsom as the engigineer to survey the line, and make an estimate of the cost. Captain Moorsom estimated the line at a minimum expense of £800,000, but as a margin to cover all contingencies, he put the maximum at £1,200,000. This was in the year 1856. Since then he believed no progress had been made in the line, though a company had been formed on a contract with the local Government of Ceylon, by which the colony guaranteed 6 per cent on the minimum cost of £800,000, and 5 per cent on its cost above that sum, on the understanding that the additional sum would not be more than £400,000. This was the position of affairs in 1856. But since then a serious difficulty had arisen. Doubts apparently had suggested themselves of the sufficiency of the estimate, and the company which undertook the line had sent out their own engineer, Mr. Doyne, who stated that the line could not be made under £2,200,000, and even that, he said, was only an approximate estimate. Now this was a very serious question of economy; because though the revenues of the colony might very well bear a charge of 6 per cent on £800,000, and 5 per cent on £400,000, it became a very different question if they were to pay the 6 per cent on £800,000, and 5 per cent on £1,400,000, or indeed on any indefinite amount which might be required—for it must be understood that, though the agreement between the colony and the company was based on Captain Moorsom's estimate, yet there was no fixed sum stated in the contract on which the 5 per cent was to be paid. He believed that the colony had offered to reimburse the company for all the expenses to which they had been put, and to cancel the contract. On the other hand, the company had referred the question to his noble Friend at the head of the Colonial Office, and were ready to abide by his decision. What he wished to know, therefore, was, what stops his noble Friend had taken in the matter?


said, the circumstances connected with this railway had been correctly described as in an unfortunate state of embarrassment. The proposition to construct the line had been agitated at the time of his former connection with the Colonial Office in 1854; but the preliminary arrangements were made during the term of office of his successor (Lord Taunton). The noble Lord opposite had correctly detailed the steps which were taken for the survey of the line, and the estimate which was made by Captain Morsom, which amounted to £856,000. A contract was entered into between the colonial Government of Ceylon and the railway company formed to carry out this undertaking, which was based on Captain Moorsom's estimate, and on the principle of the guarantee which had been alluded to. The next step taken by the company was to send out Mr. Doyne, a civil engineer, for the purpose of superintending the works; and between the period of his departure in 1857 and the year 1859 the embarrassments arose to which their Lordships' attention had now been called. The ground was undoubtedly broken, but very little progress had been otherwise made with the works. But in June last a report was made by Mr. Doyne, estimating the cost of constructing the line, not at £856,000, but at £2,214,000. This estimate was received at the Colonial Office at a time when he (the Duke of Newcastle) was at the head of that Department, and one of the first matters he had to deal with was the complication arising on the subject of this railway. The colonists naturally remonstrated against the increased estimate sent home by Mr. Doyne, and under these circumstances he (the Duke of Newcastle) thought it quite impossible to allow the works to proceed without some further inquiry, and most thorough and complete investigation, and he accordingly felt it necessary to call to his aid the best practical advice which he was able to obtain. Although at that time retired from professional occupations, the late Mr. Robert Stephenson, at his request, undertook to inquire into the details, with a view of arbitrating, as far as was practicable, between the parties. It was agreed that two firms of contractors, Messrs. Brassey and Co., and Messrs. Waring and Co., should be allowed to send out agents, because the tenders which they were afterwards to submit would afford material assistance in determining on the course which ought to be adopted. Mr. Doyne likewise was recalled in order that he might lay the fullest information before Mr. Stephenson. But, to the disadvantage not merely of this undertaking, but he might say of society generally, Mr. Stephenson died in the meantime. In his place Mr. Hawkshaw consented to undertake the reference, and Captain Moorsom, after some correspondence, had promised to put himself in communication with that gentleman. The contractors to whom he had alluded, Messrs. Brassey and Waring, respectively sent in tenders to Mr. Hawkshaw en the 10th instant, and as soon as he had fully considered the question he would make his report. Within the last two or three days some difficulties had arisen which would create a slight delay, but he hoped that by the close of the present month they would be in receipt of Mr. Hawkshaw's views. No contract would be binding which had not received the consent of the Government; and on the part of the Colonial-Office there was every disposition to promote a settlement of this question.


stated that the proposition for constructing this railway originated in the period of office of his predecessor, Lord John Russell, to whom strong representations had been made by the colonists as to the advantages which the carrying out of this project would confer upon Ceylon. The noble Lord referred the matter for the opinion of the Colonial Government; but before its reply could be received a change had taken place in the home Administration; by which the further control of the undertaking devolved upon himself. He gave every assistance in his power to the project, with a due regard to the interests of those whose money he was administering; and had acted throughout on the principle of consulting the Government of Ceylon, who were to find the guarantee, and who being on the spot were necessarily better acquainted with the circumstances than he could be; and at the time he wont out of office the matter was in a most prosperous way. Captain Moorsom was appointed by him to make the survey in consequence of the high character as an engineer which he possessed; and he greatly regretted, and certainly had never foreseen, that any circumstances could have occurred to bring about the present unsettled condition of affairs.

House adjourned at Eight o'clock till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.