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Canada and the States By Sir E. W. Watkin Characters: 15204

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

Towards the Pacific-Liverpool to Quebec.

Leaving Liverpool at noon of the 2nd September, 1886, warping out of the dock into the river-a long process-we arrived, in the fine screw steamer "Sardinian," of the Allan line, off Moville, at five on the following morning; and we got out of the inlet at five in the afternoon, after receiving mails and passengers. It may be asked, why a delay of twelve hours at Moville? The answer is-the Bar at Liverpool. The genius and pre-vision of the dock and harbour people at Liverpool keep the entrance to that port in a disgraceful condition, year after year-year after year. And the trade of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cheshire, and Derbyshire, is compelled to depend upon a sand-bar, over which, at low tide, there is eight feet of water only. Such a big ship as "The Sardinian" can cross the bar in two short periods, or twice in the twenty-four hours, over a range, probably, of three or four hours. On my return home I wrote the following letter about this bar to "The Times":-


"SIR,-You inserted some time ago in 'The Times' a letter from Professor Ramsay detailing the troubles arising to travellers from the other side of the Atlantic, owing to shallow water outside the entrance to Liverpool, and you enforced the necessity of some improvement, in a very able article. Professor Ramsay was at that time returning from the meeting of the British Association, held in the Dominion of Canada.

"Still, while time goes on, and the question becomes more and more urgent, the bar, with its eight feet of water at low tide, remains as it was, save that some navigators contend that it grows worse.

"Yesterday 340 passengers, of whom I was one, by the noble Cunard ship 'The Etruria,' experienced the difficulty in all its varieties of trouble.

"After rushing through very heavy seas and against violent winds for three or four days, we cast anchor a good way outside the bar at 5 o'clock yesterday (Sunday) morning. The weather was too rough for the fine tug-boat, 'The Skirmisher,' to come so far out. So, after swinging about till 10 o'clock, we moved slowly on, crossed the bar about half- past 11, and were off the northernmost dock later on. Here the usual process of hauling the ship round by the aid of the tug took place, and then the further process of putting the baggage on board the tug, in advance of taking the passengers. I was fortunate in being taken off the ship in a special tug-boat by some friends, got to the landing- stage, where the baggage is examined by the Customs, and, a carriage waiting for me, was at the Central Station at Liverpool at one o'clock. But, with all these comfortable arrangements, I had lost at least seven hours, and had missed all morning trains. The other passengers, I fear, did not get through for two or three hours later, and those for London would be lucky if they just caught the 4 o'clock train.

"It would not, I am told, be prudent to take a ship of the size and draught of 'The Etruria' over the bar till two hours before high water on a flowing, and one hour after on an ebbing, tide. Thus, for such a ship-and the tendency is to build larger and larger vessels-the margin, even in moderate weather, is probably three hours out of the twenty-four, or, in other words, exclusion from the port for twenty-one hours out of the twenty-four, more or less.

"Lancashire will soon have to say whether its manufactures and commerce are to be tied to the bar at Liverpool; and, in the new competition of ports, a port open at any time of tide must ultimately draw the trade and traffic.

"Before the Committee of the House of Commons, on Harbour Accommodation, on which Committee I had the honour to sit, it was proved that every country in Europe, having a sea-board, was making and improving deep-water harbours,-except England.

"Take the case of Antwerp, which is already attracting traffic to and from the great British possessions themselves by reason of its great facilities.

"Liverpool is a place where the dogma of absolute perfection is accepted as a religion. But some of us may be pardoned if, in both local and national interests, we must be dissenters.

"That the bar may be made better instead of growing worse is obvious. But the great cure is by cutting through the peninsula of Birkenhead and obtaining a second entrance to the Mersey, always accessible, and obviously alternative. This was the advice of Telford seventy years ago, and 'The Times' has called public attention to a practical way of working out the Telford idea, planned by Mr. Baggallay, C.E., and laid before the Liverpool authorities-in vain.

"I may add that if our ship had called at Holyhead, the London passengers might have left Holyhead on Saturday evening instead of Liverpool on Sunday afternoon, a difference of a day.

"I beg to remain very faithfully yours,


"Northenden, Oct. 18, 1886."

Some Liverpool cotton broker wrote to me to say that I had forgotten that there were two tides in the twenty-four hours. Nothing of the kind. There was one word miswritten, and, therefore, misprinted, which I have corrected: but the broad fact remains, and why my compatriots in the broad Lancashire district do not see the danger, I cannot comprehend, unless it be that some of them are up in the "Ship Canal" balloon, and others, the best of them, are indifferent.

Steaming along, after leaving Moville, we passed Tory Island, the scene of many wrecks, and of disasters around. It has a lighthouse, but no telegraphic communication with the shore at all.

I wrote a letter about that to the Editor of the "Standard." Here it is:-


"SIR,-Newspapers are not to be had here, but as this good ship is only a week out from Liverpool, and five days from out of sight of land to sight of land, I may fairly assume that Parliament is still discussing Irish questions.

"Thus I ask your indulgence to make reference to a question which is decidedly Irish, but is also Imperial, in the sense that it affects the lives of large numbers of persons, especially of the emigrant class, and is interesting to all the navigation and commerce of necessity passing the north-west extremity of Ireland.

"If your readers will refer to the map they will see, outside the north-west corner of the mainland of Ireland, Tory Island. It was on Tory Island that 'The Wasp' and her gallant captain were lost, without hope of rescue, for want of cable communication; and Tory Island itself has excited the interest of the philanthropist on many occasions. On Tory Island there is a lighthouse, with a fixed light, which can be seen sixteen miles. Not long ago, as I learn, a deputation from the Board of Irish Lighthouses went all the way to England to beg the Board of Trade, at Whitehall, to sanction the expenditure of eight hundred pounds, with a view to double the power of the light on Tory Island. Perhaps the Board of Trade, after some interval of time, may see their way to do what any man of business would decide upon in five minutes as obvious and essential. But that is not the point I wish to lay before you. My point is, that while the lighthouse on Tory Island is good for warning ships, and may, as above, be made more effective, no use is made of it in the way of transmitting ship intelligence.

"I ask, therefore, to be allowed to advocate the connection of Tory Island, by telegraph cable, with the mainland of Ireland and its telegraph system. The cost of doing this one way would, as I estimate, be two thousand five hun

dred pounds; the cost of doing it another way would be about six thousand pounds.

"The first way would be by a cable from the lighthouse on Tory Island, leaving either Portdoon Bay, on the east end of Tory Island, or leaving Camusmore Bay on the south of it, and landing either on the sandy beach at Drumnafinny Point, or at Tramore Bay, where there is a similarly favourable beach. The distance in the former case is six and a half, in the latter seven and a half miles, the distance being slightly affected by the starting point selected. Adopting this route at a cost of two thousand five hundred pounds, which would include about twenty miles of cheap land telegraphs, available for postal and other local purposes, would be the shortest and cheapest mode.

"The second way would be to lay a cable from Tory Island to Malin Head, where the Allan Steamship Company have a signal station. The distance is twenty-nine miles; the cost, as I estimate, about six thousand pounds. I should, however, prefer the former and cheaper plan, as I think it would serve a larger number of purposes and interests.

"From Portdoon Bay, on Tory Island, to Tramore Bay the sea-bottom is composed of sand and shells, very good for cable-laying; and there is a depth of water of from seventeen to nineteen fathoms.

"Tory Island is the turning point-I might say pivot point-for all steam and sailing vessels coming from the South and across the Western Ocean, and using the North of Ireland route for Liverpool, Londonderry, Belfast, Glasgow, and a host of other ports and places. It can be approached with safety at a distance of half-a-mile, near the lighthouse, as the water is deep close to, there being twenty fathoms at a distance of one-third of a mile from the Island.

"The steamers of all the Canadian lines pass this point-the Allan, the Beaver, the Anchor, the Dominion-while all the steam lines beginning and ending at Glasgow, Greenock, and other Scotch ports do the same. Again, all sailing vessels, carrying a great commerce for Liverpool and ports up to Greenock and Glasgow, and round the north of Scotland to Newcastle and the East Coast ports, would be largely served by this proposal. Repeating that this is a question of saving life and of aiding navigation at an infinitesimal cost, I will now proceed to show the various benefits involved.

"First of all it would save five hours, as compared with present plans, in signalling information of the passing to and fro of steamships. As respect all Canadian and many other steamers it would also expedite the mails, by enabling the steam tenders at Loch Foyle to come out and meet the ships outside at Innishowen Head; and this gain of time would often save a tide across the bar at Liverpool, and sometimes a day to the passengers going on by trains. As respects the Scotch steamers going north of Tory Island, it would enable the owners to learn the whereabouts of their vessels fourteen hours sooner than at present. In the case of sailing ships the advantages are far greater. Captain Smith, of this ship, a commander of deserved eminence, informs me that he has known sailing ships to be tacking about at the entrance of the Channel, between the Mull of Cantyre and the north coast of Ireland, for eighteen days in adverse and dangerous winds, unable to communicate with their owners, who, if informed by telegraph, could at once send tugs to their relief. Again, when eastern winds prevail, in the spring of the year, tugs being sent, owners would get their ships into port many days, or even weeks, sooner than at present.

"But it needs no arguing that to all windbound and to disabled ships the means of thus calling for assistance would be invaluable.

"For the above reason I hope the slight cost involved will not be grudged, especially by our patriots, who have taken the Irish and Scotch emigrants under their special protection. I respectfully invite them and every one else to aid in protecting life and property in this obvious way.

"I am, Sir, your obedient Servant,


"S.S. Sardinian, off Belle Isle,

"September 9, 1886."

Our voyage on to Quebec had the usual changes of weather: hot sun, cold winds, snow, hail, icebergs, and gales of wind, and, when nearing Belle Isle, dense fog, inducing our able, but prudent, captain to stop his engines till daylight, when was sighted a wall of ice across our track at no great distance. Captain Smith prefers to take the north side of Belle Isle. There is a lighthouse on the Island, not, I thought, in a very good situation for passing on the north side. But I found that there was no cable communication between Belle Isle and Anticosti. Thus, in case of disaster, the only warning to Quebec would be the non- arrival of the ship, and the delay might make help too late. I ventured to call the attention of a leading member of the Canadian Government to this want of means of sending intelligence of passing ships and ships in distress. In winter this strait is closed by ice, and the lighthouses are closed too. Inside the fine inlet of "Amour Bay," a natural dock, safe and extensive, we saw the masts of a French man-of- war. The French always protect their fishermen; we at home usually let them take care of themselves. This French ship had been in these English waters some time; and on a recent passage there was gun-firing, and the movement of men, to celebrate, as the captain learned, the taking of the Bastille. On the opposite coast is a little cove, in which a British ship got ashore, and was stripped by the local pirates of everything. Captain Smith took off the crew and reported the piracy; but nothing seems to have been done. A British war-ship is never seen in these distant and desolate northern regions. It may well be that the sparse population think all the coasts still belong to France, in addition to the Isles of St. Pierre and Miquelon. This is how our navy is managed. Can it be true that the Marquis of Lorne recommended that an ironclad should be sent to Montreal for a season, as an emblem of British power and sway-and was refused?

After some trouble with fog and wind, preceded by a most remarkable Aurora Borealis, and some delay at night at Rimouska, we reached Quebec, and got alongside at Point Levi, on the afternoon of Saturday, the 11th September; and I had great pleasure in meeting my old friend Mr. Hickson, who came down to meet Mrs. Hickson and his son and daughter, fellow-passengers of mine. I also at once recognized Dr. Rowand, the able medical officer of the Port of Quebec, who I had not set eyes on for twenty-four years. I stayed the night at Russell's Hotel; and next day renewed my acquaintance with the city, finding the "Platform" wonderfully enlarged and improved, the work of Lord Dufferin, a new and magnificent Courthouse being built, and, above all, an immense structure of blue-grey stone, intended for the future Parliament House of the Province of Quebec. The facility of borrowing money in England on mere provincial, or town, security, appears to be a Godsend to architects and builders, and to aid and exalt local ambition for fine, permanent structures. Well, the buildings remain. To find the grand old fortifications of Quebec in charge of a handful of Canadian troops, seemed strange. Such fortresses belong to the Empire; and the Queen's redcoats should hold them all round the world. I was told-I hope it is not true-that the extensive works above Point Levi, opposite Quebec, constructed by British military labour, are practically abandoned to decay and weeds.

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