Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

the barometer in order that they may issue from their multitudinous cells, rush to the surface of almost every pit mouth, and explode at any casual flame, laying waste the whole wealth and prosperity of old father Tyne,—the natural reflection on this view of the subject was—how, moment by moment, and on every side, are we in the merciful hands of God ;-how true it is in every sense, that by Him we live and move and have our being !

Here, as the year is closing, is a vast population busy with its festivities, or winding up its yearly toils, anticipating no evil, least of all dreaming of the volcano beneath its feet; meantime the barometer falls a little, the invisible deadly gases rise, spread invisibly, and touching the fire that passes at twenty yards' distance, the whole breath and throat of the subterranean monster shoots into flame. One hundred feet broad, forty feet high shoots forth this terrible tongue of fire, and there it burns, unquenched, unquenchable, for four hours !

How dreadful both to the ignorant and the intelligent inhabitants must this phenomenon have been ! The ignorant vaguely shaping unknown and hitherto unimagined dangers; the more experienced and philosophical alarmed lest the common air might find its way in quantity among the gases which filled all these subterranean chambers of death, and explode with an earthquake's force! For some hours the fate of Lisbon or Calabria must have seemed suspended over the awe-stricken inhabitants of South Shields.

No furnace of course could here be lighted for ventilation ; the danger was lest this huge furnace might draw such supplies of fresh air into the pit as to form a vast explosive mixture. The enemy was in possession. Nothing but the jets in this grave dilemma could save the mine,' says Mr. Mather. On the 14th May the jets were erected; on the 21st the mine was clear. * This valuable property,' continues the author, has thus been placed under command and in safety by the steam-jet, when no other power could be brought to bear.'

But we must hasten on, contenting ourselves with saying that better ventilation, greater care, a more perfect and general education of the mining population are the means recommended for lessening the dangers of the collieries, and increasing the production of coal than at present; that these are now seen by the mining population themselves to be necessary; that they have appealed, so far, successfully to Parliament, and that all classes, from the Duke of Northumberland, the greatest coal owner near the Tyne, to the meanest pit lad, are bent on the necessary reforms.

Injudicious speculations, wrong sites, dangers from water, dangers from fire, all these are now in number much lessened; modern geological science has enabled the miners to sink their shafts with great precision, while modern mechanical science has cheapened locomotion and enabled them to deliver enormous quantities of water from great depths. Thus then to come back to our economical argument, we must look to modern science, and to inspection, for the purpose of lessening the expense

of raising coal.* 'State care and better knowledge,' these are Mr. Mather's recommendations.

Having got the fuel to the pit mouth, immediately various exactions seize upon it. The land being chiefly in the hands of a few great proprietors, who are also the owners of the collieries, heavy monopolist charges are made for leave to the lessees to carry their coal to the places of shipment on the river Tyne. The 'tram-roads,' formerly wooden, now iron single lines of railway, passing to the river from the pit, pay, under the quaint old feudal names of wayleave,' double damage,' 'tentale,' &c., excessive tolls for the privilege. Free parliamentary lines of railway through the great coal-fields are the cure for this evil; and a vigorous effort, in the session of Parliament for 1852-3, to procure such a railway through the great northern fields of steam coal to the deep water docks at the mouth of the Tyne, though unsuccessful with regard to the proposed railway, because arrayed against the whole monopolist system, from the duke to the 'freeman,' which exists in and round Newcastle, had the effect of so completely opening the eyes of Parliament to the injustice of the 'wayleave system,' that no future railway will be permitted to be burdened with this impost. Meantime the wayleave tax remains to raise the price of coals on the Tyne, and as speedily as may be, it should be abolished. One great landowner alone on the Tyne levies a tax of £10,000 a year on coals in Wayleaves. The main objection to the system, however, is that it excludes large coal fields from the market, and combines with the other monopolies of Tyne side.

Next come the dangers and the dues of the river Tyne, both of them resulting from the rapacity and carelessness of the corporation of Newcastle.

The dues may soon be dismissed. Since the nineteenth century commenced, the town, the corporation--that is, the house landlords of Newcastle-have taken from the commerce of the nation on the Tyne at least A MILLION OF POUNDS STERLING, which has

* A proper staff of inspectors with liberal salaries ; an examining board, which should also be a board of appeal in cases where the government inspector's advice was rejected by a local viewer—some such organization as this scems required to secure the proper inspection of collieries. The expense is, of course, always the objection. Suppose the examining board cost £4000; six inspectors, £6000; twelve sub-inspectors, £2400; and that 500 lives were saved—as it is believed they would, by proper care—this at £25 a man would pay.'

been either wasted or used to pay the rates of these landlords, or abstracted from the soil of the Tyne, or applied to build up and aggrandize Newcastle town; while the river, from whose ships the dues were taken, under pretence of 'conserving' and improving its navigation, is, like the Thames, worse than when the century began.* There are no docks on the Tyne, which these dues might long ere this have built ;-no docks, but abundance of dangerous sands in the river; no piers to shut out the stormy billows at the mouth of the Tyne, though half the sum which the corporation has received during the last fifty years would have built them :--no piers to shelter the 42,000 arrivals and sailings of the Tyne, but there still are those deadly reefs, the Black Middens,' and the ‘Herd Sand,' with their manifold wrecks and perishing seamen annually, as the winter storms come round. It is awful to think of the tragedies which have occurred at the mouth of the Tyne ;-the gallant ships wrecked,—the gallant lives lost, - all

, or almost all of which might, in the opinion of the best engineers, have been saved, had the corporation of Newcastle been true to their trust on the river.

Thirty-six ships were wrecked at the entrance of the Tyne during the first week of January, 1854; during one storm alone thirty-six ships ! Multitudes of lives have been engulphed in the deadly breakers which stretch in every storm across the mouth of this great port,—appalling annual tragedies ! enacted before the eyes of thousands congregated on the cliffs, wives, children, friends, who have watched with quailing hearts the gallant vessel near the deadly reef, seen the fatal shock, and beheld the crew perish! Ah! the wild farewells waved by the doomed seamen, struggling among the breakers, which these cliffs and shores have seen! The wife, through streaming tears, has seen the manly arm-sole stay, protection, and hope of herself and her children-wave to her, steadily, mournfully, a last adieu of love and anguish; and as she raised her listening head from the vain, agonized effort to catch his voice, -oh, horror! there his body was hanging a lifeless corpse in the shrouds! All that the eye can behold of the tragic and the terrible; all that the human heart can suffer of horror and anguish, has been seen and suffered at the mouth of the Tyne. And but for the avarice of this corporation, the short-sighted selfishness of these landlords of Newcastle, these heartrending spectacles might have been replaced by vast protecting arms of stone to shelter the flying vessel and enable her to deliver her crew into the warm embraces of their friends! Oh! who can feel anything but fierce indignation and bitter scorn for these selfish and cruel men. Yes! the grand markets and quays of the town of Newcastle are built upon the bodies and cemented with the blood of the seamen of the Tyne; for had the shipping dues which have built them been expended for the protection and benefit of the shipping, millions of property, hundreds of lives would have been saved, which at the mouth of the Tyne alone have perished.

* Mr. S. Leach, engineer of the Thames, declared before the royal commission that it was worse; the Admiralty know well that the Tyne is worse.

While this million of money has thus been taken from the river and applied by the landlords of Newcastle to build their public edifices and relieve their municipal rates, the navigation of the river, as has been proved before several Admiralty commissions during the past few years, has been growing worse. The corporation of Newcastle on the Tyne, like that of London on the Thames, were the conservators or public trustees of the navigation; but the object of both has been, without much regard to their trust, to secure to themselves individually as much of the public revenues as possible.

The property along the shores of the river has been embanked, to the injury of the general navigation ; and, above all, to the great injury of the most important part of the navigation—that, viz., of the harbour and deep water near the sea. Every year, as the size of our ships is increasing,* the importance of preserving the deep water of our bars and harbours becomes greater, yet every year the old conservators are banking out the tidal water which can alone preserve the depth of the lower reaches of our navigable rivers, and scour down the bars. The land so embanked from the tidal bed—which really belongs to the public, and is under the protection, 'first of the Crown as chief custodier of all navigable rivers, then of the Admiralty as agent for the Crown, and finally of the conservators as local trustees or agents for the public—these valuable foreshores have been seized by the corporation or their friends, and converted into landed estates for themselves.

age of British ships entered inwards in foreign and colonial trades was in— 1814 145 tons. 1842

173 tons. 1825

* The average ton

.

[ocr errors]

149
1853.

247
1834

155 The average tonnage of British ships employed in all trades, steamers and sailing together (except river steamers), was in1849 170 tons. 1853

205 tons. 1851

185 The ships registered in the Port of Shields are, in 1854, above 1100 in number, containing 257,712 tons, averaging therefore 235 tons each,-about three millions of shipping property registered in Shields alone, the average size of the ships increasing every year. But the number of large vessels—those above 500 tons—which can never reach the upper part of the Tyne, is increasing rapidly; and soon there will be 20,000 arrivals and sailings of vessels, which can never pass above the deep water of Shields,

»

The corporation of London, indeed, declare that they now keep sacred the revenues derived from the river-side property, and apply it to the improvement of the river-a very questionable statement even at the present day; while every one who knows that after the Great Fire of London the intention of government was to preserve a noble quay from Westininster to Wapping, and that the whole site has been long since filched from the river, must be aware that the corporation of London has not always made even this pretence of honesty.

On the Wear, too, the river soil and foreshores are considered public property; but the Newcastle corporation is still unblushingly claiming for itself and its supporters these river-side estates, which could only have been embanked from the river by the authority they possessed as conservators or trustees for the public under the Admiralty and the Crown.

A royal commission to investigate this shameful business in the Tyne, with an admiral at its head, will meet, perhaps before these words see the light; and every friend of free trade and foe of such public depredations must hope that this royal commission will, at last, vindicate the ancient title of the Crown, as chief trustee for the public, to the soil and foreshores of all our navigable rivers. With our rapidly increasing commerce, and ships increasing in size in a corresponding ratio, to sacrifice a noble deep-water harbour like that of Shields, and the navigation of a great river like the Tyne, to a set of incorporate landlords, will surely no longer be tolerated by the government or the House of Commons. The Tyne is the greatest port in the north ; it has more arrivals and sailings than any port in the whole world; its tonnage is half as much as that of all Scotland, greater than that of all Ireland; yet with a million of money thus alienated from the ships to the town of Newcastle, the river Tyne has no docks ! During these fifty years, not fifty shillings have been spent on the harbour of Shields, where almost the whole of the ships lie on which that million of money has been levied, and beyond which the large ships never pass. Does not this call loudly for redress?

Again, the Tyne, Wear, and Tees, ports lying within thirty miles of each other, possess a larger tonnage than the three great ports of Britain-London, Liverpool, and Glasgow ;* the passing and repassing therefore of ships along the iron-bound eastern coast is enormously great; one-fourth of the whole of the wrecks of the United Kingdom take place within seventy miles of coast,

* The united outward-bound sailing tonnage of the Tyne, the Wear, and the Tees, amounted to 9400 ships more than there were from London, Liverpool, and Glasgow together; but that the tonnage of these was nearly equal.'‘Parliamentary Return, 1853.

See also a statement by Mr. James Mather, wherein this subject is ably handled, Mareh, 1854.

« PoprzedniaDalej »