Page images
[ocr errors]

want of opportunity on the part of the farmer to profit by per-
sonal observation in those improved districts from whence he might
draw a useful lesson to guide his operations at home.
But now I
hope to see the farmers of the south of England enabled to make ex-
cursions to Norfolk and Lincolnshire, and to observe and profit by
the superior methods of cultivation in use in those counties. The
farmers will also quickly find that railways give them a means of
extending their operations, and deriving advantage from produce
which is now comparatively of small importance-milk, for ex-
ample, might at this moment be transported fifty miles with less
injury than it receives in the common modes of conveyance during
a journey of five miles. Farmers will therefore be able (and they
will soon perceive the advantage) to send out quantities of their
produce to large towns, which hitherto they have consumed at
home. The monopoly of peculiar localities will in this manner be
destroyed, and the whole agricultural community will enjoy the
benefit of equal and profitable markets, while the public will
derive advantage from the increased area from whence their sub-
sistence can be drawn; and every town in England will, by means
of this more easy conveyance, obtain at a cheaper rate all the com-
forts, and luxuries, and neccessaries of life. The means of trans-
port offered by railways for articles of general consumption is
one of the most important points in this case; and as an instance
of the manner in which the facilities offered by a railway tend to
increased traffic of this kind, I will read a statement relative to
the employment of railway carriage for the conveyance of fish for
the consumption of the town of Manchester.

"Until recently very little fish had been used in Manchester by any of the labouring classes, except the Catholics; the more regular consumption was limited to the higher and the middle classes: the quantity was small, and the price was high. It was observed by Captain Lawes, R.A., the Manager of the Leeds Railway, that the fishery on the east coast was languishing from the low state of demand for their fish, though their 'catch' was good. The railway directors had followed the example of all carriers, and deeming fish a luxury which must be taken, had charged high prices for the transit. The captain, however, succeeded in inducing them to reduce their charges; he got the fishermen on the coast to sell all the fish they took at one regular fixed price, whether the catch was great or small; he got a stand opened at Manchester, at which the best cod-fish was retailed at from 14d. to 2d. per pound. The general prices had previously been from 8d. to Is. per pound; on occasions of great plenty, it was sold at 4d., its lowest price. It never then got beyond the middle classes, and was not used by them very frequently. At 1d. to 24. per pound, it got to artisans and persons of the labouring class. The reduction brought the commodity within the means and inclination of so large a class of customers, as to raise a demand that has kept a-head of the supply. Before the arrangement was made, the quantity of fish sent by the east coast by railway was only three tons and a half per week; but within the last year it has risen to eighty tons per week. The whole answered extremely well as a commercial speculation to the fishermen on the coast, to the railway directors, and the salesmen; and it has led to the habitual use of fish by large numbers of persons, who rarely tasted it before The example has brought in increased and cheap supplies from other quarters, and made a market from whence they have been distributed into the adjacent district."

Before the full advantage of railway trading can be obtained, however, for the poorer part of the community, the rates of charge must be greatly diminished. It is obvious that our labourers could hardly be expected to reap great advantages from railroads unless the fares be regulated on an exceedingly moderate scale; and I do trust that the means of communication will soon become so easy and so cheap, that the labourer will be enabled to leave those parts of the country in which wages are low, and proceed to those in which wages have been permanently higher, or where a greater temporary demand exists for labour. At this present moment, however, I shall not do more than allude to this part of the subject in the few words I have already employed. It will be necessary hereafter for me to treat more at length the whole of this important branch of the subject.

While on the subject of the probable advantages to be derived from railway communication, I must be permitted to suggest to the landed interest, that they, perhaps, more than any other class, will profit by the universality and cheapness of this means of conveyance. It is obvious, if we consider them as a class, that the landowners must derive benefit from any means of transport which enable them easily to convey the produce of the land to the great towns which constitute the great markets for that produce. The monopoly advantages now enjoyed by some parties who have property near the great towns, will certainly be diminished; but the immense majority will profit by the many markets which will thus be thrown open to them. This, however, is but one item of benefit. If the cost of carriage be diminished, as I shall show hereafter it can and ought to be, then all heavy articles will be easily and cheaply transported by railways. Coal, and lime, and stone will be easily transmitted from place to place, and the value of those estates, which, lying at a great distance from the sea or from any large town, and which produce any of these articles, will of necessity be raised. Besides, as the science of agriculture becomes improved, we shall learn accurately the constituent parts of fertile soils, and be able to create permanent fertility by a due admixture of the requisite ingredients. Thus we shall obtain not the mere temporary benefit now gained by manures, but we shall be able to create a permanently fertile soil. If at a cheap rate we could transport sea-sand, chalk, lime, or the refuse of cities, the whole face of a district might be changed.

There is another advantage depending upon cheapness of transport, to which, in passing, I would solicit the attention both of the public generally, and of the landed interest in particular. If these heavy articles I have spoken of were transported at a cheap rate, new trades would spring up in various localities which now possess none, or a comparatively small one. Illustrating my position by a particular case, I will suppose, for example, that stone could be easily and cheaply carried to any part of the country; any place having quarries of stone of a fine quality, would

at once find itself possessed of a commodity which would create a trade, not merely with the small locality to which it is now sent, but with the whole of England. Coal, too, which has hitherto been a monopoly article, supplied at a high rate, and with a niggard hand, to the wretched poor of this country, might thus be brought within the reach of the poorest, and many of the sorest physical ills of life seriously alleviated. That this is no mere speculation of my fancy daily experience is proving. Coal is now, by railways, made cheaper in London, and in districts not hitherto within the reach of the inland coal-fields. All that is needed is so to lower the rate of charge for carriage, as to render the transport cheap, and, while cheap, profitable. Before I sit down I hope to be able to show how this may be accomplished.

Now, Sir, if we reflect for a moment upon the simultaneous existence of all those various circumstances, the result that must necessarily follow will, I think, be obvious at once to us all; and that result is, that railway travelling must extend to every part of the country, and in time put an end to all other means of communication and transport. The great high-roads have already been superseded-canals will soon share the same fate-and even the coasting trade will soon be greatly affected. With all the disadvantages resulting from the novelty of the experiment, and the want of all experience connected with it, the railroads have already most seriously affected every other mode of transit. But every day brings with it some improvement which diminishes expense, and gives to the railway an increased superiority. We may be assured that the activity of men of science, and the energy of our trading and monied classes, will not fail to bring about many great and important improvements in the whole system of railway travelling; and the necessary result, I confidently predict, will be the complete, or very nearly complete, superseding of all other means of conveyance. England will then be on a great scale what a town now is on a small one; and as you can at all times of the day, and nearly all times of the night, get rapidly and cheaply from one street to another, so you will be enabled as rapidly and cheaply to pass from one distant part of the country to the other. There will be the same rapid interchange of thought in the country as in the town; the whole community will be on the same level as to knowledge and civilization. All parts of the country, all sections of the community, will be mutually known to each other, and the collision of thought and feeling will raise the whole people in the scale of civilization. Their intelligence and their morality will be alike improved ; and then, indeed, we shall see that this application of its power is one of the greatest benefits yet conferred by steam upon mankind.

But while such are the mighty benefits which may be made to flow from this great effort of human ingenuity, we must not shut our eyes to the evils with which it also threatens us. Perceiving

them clearly, we may perhaps be enabled to guard against-or to remove them.


The very result to which I have already directed the attention of the house, viz., the destruction of all other means of communication, clearly points out the evil we have to apprehend. The enormous capital required to establish a railway, the nature of the road, and the rapidity of the travelling, make, of necessity, every railway a monopoly a fact the extent and importance of which has not as yet, been duly estimated. Up to the present time no very great danger has been apprehended-a sort of vague feeling has prevailed that some might arise-but the prospect and expectation of the evil have been so faint, that no real fear has been created, no anxiety has been felt, and consequently no precautions have been taken. Another reason too has existed for the sort of apathy that has been shown, and the small favour that has hitherto been extended to the railway reformer. The most active minds of the community have, by the enormous funds at the command of the persons forwarding these schemes, been retained as agents on their behalf. Engineers, secretaries, attorneys, counsel, possessors of idle capital, and persons hoping to be employed in some of the many situations which the construction and management of railways afford,-all these, together with their numerous friends and dependents, are now active advocates of the railway system, and prepared to meet with vehement opposition any one who should attempt to regulate that system, and render it notwhat it has hitherto been-merely a means of private gain, but also a matter of great national advantage. This state of things has greatly contributed to strengthen the new monopoly-apathy on the part of the public on the one side, and a vigorous pursuit of private gain on the other, have brought us to a dangerous crisis; and the country is threatened with a despotism of a novel and most formidable description, which, from the peculiar circumstances which now attend it, will create for the legislature unexpected and extraordinary difficulties.

These circumstances, indeed, are not of unmixed evil. The very strength of the promoters of the new system is chiefly founded on the daily improvements which are taking place, and the increased benefits which they are thereby enabled to offer to the public.

When these schemes of railroad were first propounded, the whole was a hazardous experiment, and uncertain speculation. The cost of making the road was enormous, the opposition on the part of the landowners very vehement, and, from the want of experience, the current expense in the management of such roads as were actually constructed, was so large, as to make all chance of profit very problematical, Now, however, the state of things is very different. The experiment, in spite of all difficulty and all opposition, has succeeded-one immediate effect, a beneficial one, I allow, if properly taken advantage of—is the daily decreasing opposition offered by the landed proprietors; added to this,

our experience is now extensive, and calculations respecting the cost of making the roads, and the probable revenue to be derived from it by way of transport of goods and passengers have arrived at an astonishing accuracy. Increased skill in the actual making of the road has also greatly diminished the expense; gradients that formerly would have been considered as offering insuperable obstacles are now adopted without fear or difficulty, so that roads are now projected and made through districts which, at the commencement of the system, were supposed beyond the reach of railway travelling. The lessons of experience which were thus beneficial in the actual construction of the road, were equally profitable in the working of the line when constructed. The expense, too, of attending to and keeping a railway in repair, is, in consequence of the consolidation of the works, and of the knowledge daily acquired, gradually diminishing. So great, indeed, has been the result from all these various savings of expense, that we have been told by the Board of Trade, that in parts of the West of England railroads could now be made at an expense per mile of from 10,000l. to 12,000l., whereas the cost of construction of the Great Western line was known to have amounted to a sum exceeding 50,000l. per mile. The cost of working locomotive power appears, from the report of the Board of Trade, to be about 1s. 4 d. per mile: and I have reason to believe that the whole cost of running a train does not exceed 2s. per mile. This sum, which is the same as the cost of a single pair of post-horses, will, I am convinced, be greatly diminished as the traffic continues to be further developed. But while the cost of constructing and working railways has thus decreased, the probable income and the probable expenses are so accurately estimated, as to render the construction of a railway among the safest and most certain of mercantile speculations. Its results can now be counted on with far greater certainty than those of a speculation in banking, or of almost any other undertaking requiring a large capital.

These various circumstances prove that the question is now no longer one of private consideration, but one of great public policy; a matter not to be left to the control of inferior boards, or private companies, but one which ought to be subject to the interference of parliament, and guided by the wisdom of the government. A great social change is in the act of taking place; and it is to this great subject that I invite the attention of the House, of the Government, and more particularly of the Right Honourable Baronet at the head of the administration; and I entreat him to look at this question as one great whole, and not to regard it in detached and isolated details and fragments. If he will view it in all its many and important ramifications—if he will estimate the combined effects that are certain to follow from this extraordinary combination of influences—he will, I think, agree with me in believing the subject to be one of the greatest moment-one fraught with unspeakable benefits, if properly directed; but if neglected or misinanaged, threatening us with evil of portentous magnitude.

« PreviousContinue »