HL Deb 02 June 1862 vol 167 cc232-5

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether Her Majesty's Government had taken any steps, or intended to take any steps for carrying into effect the recommendation of the Select Committee of their Lordships' House in 1860 upon floating breakwaters, &c., which was reported in the following terms:— The Committee are not prepared to recommend that the Government should undertake the task of constructing breakwaters on these principles; but looking to the vast cost of harbours constructed upon the systems hitherto in use, they are of opinion that a moderate sum may be advantageously expended by the Government in testing any plans which may offer a probability of important results in great future saving of money and in giving protection to life and property in various localities. To carry this object into effect the Committee recommend that a sum not exceeding £10,000 be placed at the disposal of the Admiralty. To show the importance of the subject, he might observe that the Committee stated in their Report that the annual loss of property off our coasts arising from casualties—that was shipwreck—had been, on the average of six years from 1852, £1,500,000, while 780 lives had been lost on the average during the same period. This was sufficient to prove that some protection was needed. A great many ingenious contrivances were submitted to the Committee for providing floating breakwaters at various places round the coast, which the Committee recommended should be experimented upon, and that a moderate sum should be appropriated to that purpose. Since that period very large sums had been voted for carrying out experiments in new inventions for the destruction of human life, and he thought Parliament could hardly grudge the outlay of the small sum suggested in an experiment the object of which was to preserve both life and property. He was quite aware that practical and scientific men had given opinions adverse to the probable efficiency of these floating breakwaters; but when it was remembered that practical and scientific opinions had been quite as strongly pronounced against steam navigation, railways, and that even now old artillery officers were as strongly prejudiced against the Armstrong gun, believing it to altogether inefficient compared to the old smoothbore, he hoped such opinions would not be allowed to prevail against devoting so small a sum for testing an invention which, if successful, would produce such beneficial results.


said, that two years ago a Committee of the House of Lords, of which he had the honour to be a member, was appointed to inquire into the subject of floating breakwaters. That Committee heard a great variety of opinions, both as to the advantage and disadvantage of floating breakwaters; so that the Committee were divided in opinion. For his part, he did not concur in the recommendation of the Committee, that a considerable sum of money should be placed in the hands of the Admiralty, and that the Admiralty should try the experiments. At the present time the Admiralty had got sufficient experiments on their hands, and he was not very much inclined to incur large expenditure for which the Admiralty would be responsible; for it was obvious, that if the plans for floating breakwaters succeeded, the gentlemen who proposed them would say that all the merit was theirs; and if they failed, as he (the Duke of Somerset) thought they would, they would say that the Admiralty had conducted the experi- ments in such a manner that they were certain to fail. Moreover, the sum mentioned in the Report of the Committee was entirely inadequate for the purpose. Every one knew that a light-ship could be so moored that it would not be moved by a storm; but to moor a floating breakwater a quarter or half a mile long was a very different matter, and the question was not how to moor it against an ordinary storm, but a great storm; and when that came, the probability was, that instead of protecting the shipping behind it, it would prove their destruction. For this reason the Admiralty had no wish to try experiments upon a large scale, and certainly to try experiments upon a small scale would be to throw money away. Since the Committee issued its Report two or three parties had proposed to try the experiment. The Admiralty replied that they would not withhold their permission from the operations, but they declined to make themselves responsible for any of the consequences which might happen to shipping. He had not heard lately that any companies were prepared to undertake these experiments; but, in case works of the kind were carried on, the Admiralty would watch them with great interest, and would be very glad if good results followed. The question of harbours of refuge was one involving enormous cost, though within the last few years engineers had discovered that they could be constructed for much less comparative expense than they formerly were. The Committee had done good by calling the attention of engineers and of the public to the subject, but on the part of the Government he was not prepared to give any positive promise of undertaking a work of this nature.


said, the reasons adduced by the noble Duke were not, to his mind, satisfactory. The principle of the invention having received the sanction of the highest authority, he did not see why an outlay of £10,000 might not he attended with beneficial results.


said, that no enormous outlay was proposed to be made in the first instance. It was distinctly stated in the evidence before the Committee that these breakwaters were in-tended to be constructed in small portions, and therefore the invention might be tested at a small outlay; for if a small portion were found to stand, the whole extent of a long breakwater would be equally good.