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Tidal Harbours

Volume 76: debated on Tuesday 16 July 1844

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, in bringing forward his Motion relative to the Harbours of the kingdom, said, he wished it had fallen into the hands of Government, who might have given it official importance. Many harbours, formerly capable of receiving ships of large dimensions, could now scarcely admit boats, and the evil was going on from day to day to an extent of which he had had no idea until his attention was directed to it. The right hon. Baronet had instituted an inquiry, which had led to the formation of harbours of refuge, where there were no natural harbours, and he trusted that that inquiry would be extended by a commission to Tidal Harbours. The law was not defective, because it had given a power to the Admiralty to prevent encroachments on Harbours; but by the practice of successive Administrations for the last two centuries, as far as he could get the records from some of the harbours, encroachments had been allowed till many of those harbours which formerly received ships of large dimensions were now entirely shut up. It was well known what was the state of the Cinque Ports in former days. In a decision about two years ago, one of the Judges speaking of the harbour of Rye, said, that it was impossible any time could bar the removal of embankments and impediments interfering with the navigation of this or any other port. In the reign of Charles II., a 64-gun ship could enter Rye, but latterly, until 1819, scarcely a boat could enter. It was the same with Newhaven and Southwold. In the latter case twenty-four clergymen were appointed Harbour Commissioners; and there was scarcely a harbour where proper Commissioners had been appointed. They were generally parties having local interests connected with the land, who enclosed the land over which the tide flowed, and thus prevented the scour of the river, and caused an accumulation of sand. In Southwold upwards of 3,000 acres were enclosed, and 30,000,000 of tons of water were excluded from the harbour. Similar effects had been produced at the harbour of Wells and Clay, in Norfolk, and at the month of the Exe. He believed that these evils arose from a desire, on the part of the Admiralty, not to interfere unnecessarily in these matters; they waited till complaints were made; but that ought not to be the conduct of a public body; they ought to have the supervision and care of every Tidal Harbour, and should not allow of any encroachments without an equivalent being given. His object was to point out to the Government the absolute necessity there existed, that they should awaken the Admiralty, and set them to work to prevent the encroachment going further. The hon. Gentleman then quoted from a Re- port made by Mr. Samuel Nicholson upon the River Medway, also Reports from Messrs. Rennie and Walker, in order to show that the inquiry was absolutely necessary. He would even go further, and inquire whether those encroachments which had been made, were made against the law, and, if so, he would take immediate steps to have them abated. Any one going down the Channel must see hundreds of vessels spreading all along the coasts. What would become of them in case of a war, if they were shut out of our rivers in consequence of these bars and encroachments of which he complained? Steam had changed every feature of war; and if they were unable to take shelter in our harbours and our rivers, every one of them would be picked up by the enemy. To maintain this proposition the hon. Member quoted largely from the evidence given by the Duke of Wellington before the Shipwreck Committee of 1843. The Prince de Joinville had had the sagacity to see what was the weak point on the English side in case of a war—he urged his countrymen to increase their steam navy, because, by doing so, in case of a war with England, they would be enabled to harass her commercial navy, and so weaken the confidence of the English people in their insular position as would greatly advance the interests of France. He did not think there could be any opposition to his Motion. If the evil was allowed to go on, and if the encroachments were still permitted, our harbours would be lost in the same manner as the Port of Sandwich had been, and then their loss could never be supplied. He had many other authorities, but he did not think it necessary to detain the House by referring to them: the Motion, at all events, ought to be unanimously agreed to, because the matter was important and the case urgent. No doubt something might be said upon the question of expense, but even that might be obviated in a great degree by very simple means. Instead of leaving it to private individuals to make complaint to the Admiralty, he would have our whole coast parcelled out and placed under the superintendence of public officers. He would have every creek surveyed and opened to as large boats as possible—he would have engineer officers appointed to a certain portion of the coast and it should be their duty to remove improper obstructions and encroachments in harbours and rivers, and prevent them in future. He was one who deeply deplored the encroachments and embankments which had been made in the Thames. He opposed the embankments for the new Houses. He knew that many thought by narrowing the stream they would deepen it, but in that they were in error; it was the great flow of water which operated for good. The Government must not allow any municipal officer to usurp their authority; if the Lord Mayor were the conservator of the Thames, the Admiralty must be the conservator of the Lord Mayor, so as to see that no injury should arise to the public from his carelessness. He considered his Motion of so much importance that he did not anticipate any opposition to it; he would, therefore, detain the House no longer, but move,

"An address to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to appoint a Commission, to inquire into the past and present condition of the several Tidal Harbours, Ports, and Creeks of the United Kingdom, with the view of ascertaining the state of navigation, and the depth of water of these Harbours, &c.; whether the depth of water was greater formerly than at the present time, and whether any and what extent of land over which the tide flowed at any former period has been enclosed; under what authority the several enclosures were made, the effects of such inclosures of land, and of the erection of Piers, Jetties, &c. In decreasing the depth, or in improving or injuring the navigation of the several Harbours, Creeks, &c.; to call for and examine all general Reports of Civil Engineers and Public Commissioners, relative to the construction, improvement, or preservation of the several Ports, Harbours, Creeks, and Navigable Waters of the United Kingdom which have been regulated by Act of Parliament since 1800, the operations under such Acts, and whether the result has been beneficial or injurious to the navigation of the said Ports:—Also, to inquire into the nature of the powers intrusted to the Board of Admiralty, under any Acts of Parliament, for protecting the navigation of the Ports and Harbours of the United Kingdom, and in what manner they have exercised those powers, and whether more extensive and more defined powers may be requisite to enable them to protect and to improve the Harbours of this Kingdom."

, in seconding the Motion, wished to ask the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, whether they might expect, before the rising of the House, any Report from the Commissioners on the Harbours of Refuge.

would answer the question of the gallant Captain first. He could assure him and the House that the Commissioners who had been appointed to report upon the proper places for harbours of refuge had, ever since their appointment, been diligently and assiduously applying themselves to the subject referred to them. He rather thought they would not make any Report before they had made a personal examination of all those places which came at all into competition as suitable for harbours of refuge. He believed the first Report might be expected soon after the 1st of August, but he would be very sorry to urge them to make a Report in any hurry, as it would be much more expedient that they should well weigh all the circumstances belonging to each place, rather than make an ill-digested Report. With respect to the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose, he really thought the public were under deep obligations to the hon. Gentleman for paying so much attention to, and directing the attention of the public to, a question of so much national importance, he would willingly give his assent to the Motion, but he begged it to be understood that he did so assent in reference to the mercantile view of the question, and without any reference to the warlike consideration suggested by the hon. Gentleman. He would offer no objection to the proposed inquiry, but he might quarrel with the terms of the Motion. However, as he understood the hon. Gentleman, all he wanted was, that there should be, on the part of the Crown, a searching inquiry into the matters alluded to. He promised that that should be done, and, therefore, the terms in which the Motion was couched, were of little importance. It must, however, be understood that all he consented to was a preliminary inquiry. If ulterior measures were to be taken the Parliament must be consulted again. But he hoped that the hon. Member would not in his old age lead them into any extravagant expense, which in his younger days the hon. Member had deprecated. The hon. Gentlemen said, that on every part of the coast there must be harbours of refuge to protect the trade of this country in the contingency of war. Now, if we were likely to be attacked, and were to go to the extent of expense which this proposal of the hon. Gentleman would involve, he thought we should never diminish, but, on the contrary, materially increase, the present amount of the national debt. In some of the cases which the hon. Gentlemen had mentioned, he thought that natural causes, such as the retiring of the sea, and not individual encroachments, had operated to destroy the harbours. These natural causes it might be difficult to contend with by any engineering schemes. Sandwich and Richborough were probably ports in which the operation of such natural causes had been going on; but he was willing to have an inquiry, postponing, however, all further steps until he saw what was the result of the inquiry, and what the expense of any measures that might be recommended. One thing he thought was certain—that the Admiralty was not to blame in this matter; they had frequently endeavoured to get the control over the harbours, but had always been defeated in the other House. With respect to the Thames he quite agreed with the hon. Gentlemen, that Parliament ought to require that no encroachments be made on the Thames, to interfere with the navigation. He would add that he meant to have the commission composed of a few professional men, with limited remuneration, and he made this known in order that there might not be numerous applications for the appointments.

merely rose to advise the right hon. Baronet not to treat with too much contempt the Prince de Joinville's pamphlet. The right hon. Baronet might depend upon it, that in the event of a war steam would be found to have given France such a power as it would not do to despise. Steam had given an attacking enemy such power that you never knew from what quarter you might expect an attack. A great many harbours would be wanted to save our merchantmen from attacks, which might be made from any quarter.

said, that Tyre and Sidon had lost their harbours for want of looking after them; probably they might have been preserved if due means had been taken. In days like these, and in a country like this, nothing ought to be omitted to deliver to future ages the advantages we had derived from the past. France had lost various excellent harbours from neglect, and we ought to exert every nerve to prevent the same result.

Motion agreed to.