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Art. IX.-Report from the Select Committee on Steam Carriages, with
the Minutes of Evidence and Appendix. Printed by order of the
House of Commons. 1831. As inquiry connected with the permanent truths of science should be conducted by men not only free from the imputation, but altogether above the suspicion of prejudice or partiality. We are well aware that it is not from corrupt motives alone that one man will seek to deceive another; a credulous and sanguine mind will often be made the ready instrument of the diffusion of very false notions upon questions, respecting which it is very desirable that right ones should be entertained. In the Report before us we have a remarkable example of the importance of paying attention to the principles which we have just laid down. It proceeds, as its title sets forth, from a Select Committee of the House of Commons, which was appointed for the purpose of inquiring into the following subjects : The comparative amount of tolls which are and which ought to be paid for steam carriages when passing through turnpike gates : the present state and future prospects of land carriages by means of wheeled vehicles propelled by steam or gas, on common roads; and the probable utility which the public may derive from them. There being only one method open to the committee, (namely, the collection of testimony from competent witnesses) for procuring the necessary information, they entered upon the investigation, and in less than nine days completely established, to their own satisfaction at least, that steam carriages were the sovereign'st thing on earth" for this much degenerate country. In order that the true merits of the report before us may be made manifest, it is absolutely necessary that we should declare the names and descriptions of the very small number of witnesses whose sentiments and councils are recommended to the public by the very highest authority:
Mr. Goldsworthy Gurney, the first witness, is a patentee of a steam carriage, and is deeply interested in the success of steam vehicles. Mr. Walter Hancock is the propietor of a steam carriage, running, at the time he was sworn, on a turnpike road, and is deeply interested in the success of steam vehicles. John Farey, Esq., the third witness, is an engineer, and a preparer of specifications of patents, and is deeply interested in keeping up the spirit of speculation in the phenomena of steam. Mr. Richard Trevithick, the fourth witness, who has invented a high pressure engine, and who says “he means to do a great deal with steam on common roads," is obviously a principal sharer in the interest which his predecessors so uniformly avowed for the mode of conveyance by steam. We have next Mr. Nathaniel Ogle, who is “ pursuing the introduction of ocomotive engines on common roads ;” Mr. Alexander Gordon, who is connected, as he declares, with locomotive engines, and, we
have no doubt, with Mr. Gurney likewise; Mr. Joseph Gibbs, "the patentee of a new method of more economically and safely generating steam for steam carriages ;” Mr. William Alltoft Summers, an engineer, who superintends the building of steam carriages ; Mr. James Stone, the superintendant of Sir Charles Dance's steam carriage. The remaining witnessess are Messrs. Telford, McAdam, and Mac Neil, who, as engineers, with the superintendance of the public roads in their hands, are naturally anxious to give all the interest in their power to the immediate object of their care.
Two more names will conclude the catalogue of those who gave testimony on the occasion. They both belong to members of the committee, , and need we ask how these gentlemen must have felt as judges when they volunteered their services as witnesses in the cause? Mr. Davies Gilbert, the first of these members, is too confirmed an amateur of every species of mechanical novelty not to have patronized such a wonder as a steam coach; and, with respect to Colonel Torrens, the other member of the committee who gave evidence, the bare chance that such an invention would be found conformable to the laws of political economy, was quite sufficient to induce him to give it his most determined support.
Such being the nature of the tribunal, and the evidence, every boily will easily anticipate the nature of the final judgment. It will excite no surprise, in any quarter, to find that one and allCourt and witnesses-united in one common decision in favour of Steam Carriages, and with one voice call upon the legislature to extend the most liberal patronage to all the existing speculators in steam vehicles. We think, then, that we are justified in representing this Report, with the evidence which it contains, as a mere exparte statement, nothing more than the simple case of the plaintiff, a verdict, in fact, not founded on the merits, but suffered to be taken by default. We need scarcely add, that, throughout the whole examinations, there does not appear the slightest intimation of any opposition to the feelings by which the committee appears to have been actuated. No witnesses were called, who, by possibility, night suggest a motive for restraining the scientific ardour of that body; and not a single question seems to have been put to any of those who were examined, which could betray the smallest degree of diffidence in the triumphant establishment of steam conveyance, in every part of the empire.
It is proper, however, that we should not allow the reader to conclude, that we feel the least disposition to discourage the spirit of scientific enquiry, particularly when directed to so wonderful an agent as steam power has recently proved. We are governed by far different views, and if we have stepped forward to call public attention to the proceedings of which the Report before us is the record, it is solely with the view of vindicating the true interests of science, and protecting them from the hands of her unthinking and short-sighted votaries. There is no reasonable man in the
country, who bears the faithful statement which we have just made respecting the committee, and the witnesses who were brought before it, but must have his mind filled with doubt and suspicion, when he finds that he can refer every single word of the testimony thus given, to the wishes of the parties who deliver it, The evidence may be true,—the Report may be only a moderate attestation to the vast benefits which steam power will ultimately confer upon the kingdom. The witnesses, for aught we know, deserve that every part of their representations should be received with implicit faith, by every one who reads them; but all that we contend for is, that the delightful intelligence which they bring, however palatable, must be regarded as very questionable, from such messengers. We are of opinion, that no respect will be generally paid to the authority of men so peculiarly circumstanced, that the thinking portion of the community will be induced to forbear from lending assistance to a project which presents itself before them with so equivocal an aspect, -and that, as a natural result, the progress of scientific improvement will be retarded.
The committee, in an early part of their Report, declare their belief, that
• The substitution of inanimate for animal power, in draught on common roads, is one of the most important improvements in the means of internal communication ever introduced. Its practicability they consider to have been fully established ; its general adoption will take place more or less rapidly, in proportion as the attention of scientific men shall be drawn by public encouragement to further improvement.'— Report, p. 4.
Most sincerely do we wish that the anticipation may be realized ; but when we meditate on the grounds which the committee recognise, as justifying their expectations, we feel that they form a subject which merits the most deliberate attention of the public. Mr. Gurney, one of the authorities, describes his hopes and speculations, in the following manner.
I would state generally, in regard to the main improvements on Steam Engines, by which this country has been so much benefitted, and the prospects of advantage arising from Steam Carriages, that they have almost always been in a direct ratio with that of removing of horses; that the great and splendid improvements of Mr. Watt have generally been supposed to be principally connected with the separate condenser of the Steam Engine, and the saving of fuel ; but before Mr. Watt's day, we could empty our mines of water in Cornwall
, and we could do a variety of other simple work by the Steam Engine, and so far the improvement of Mr. Watt was simply with respect to the saving of fuel; but I consider that the great national advantage arising from Mr. Watt's improvement, has been his application of the Steam Engine to machinery; and the extent of that advantage to the community has been in a direct proportion to the removal of horse power, a most unproductive labourer and a dead expense to the country. If this view of the subject be entertained, the application of steam to propelling carriages on common roads will be as important above its application to machinery generally, as the number of horses
employed in locomotion exceed those necessary to machinery, which bears no proportion with respect to each other. At Hounslow alone, there are at this moment upwards of 1,000 horses employed in stage coaches and posting. On the Paddington Road, a distance of five miles only, there are upwards of 1,000 horses employed at this moment.Throughout Great Britain it is almost impossible to say how many horses are employed, but I should perhaps be within bounds if I were to say millions, in posting and stage coaches. If it is possible to remove those horses by an elementary power, which I firmly believe is practicable, the national advantage must be in proportion to the number of horses so removed ; for if it is shown that one carriage horse can be removed from the road by the present state of Steam Carriages, I see no reason why every horse so em ployed should not be so removed. It has been decided that the consumption of a horse is equal to that necessary for eight individuals, so for every horse that is removed and is supplied by elementary power, we make way for the maintenance of eight individuals. If it is possible to carry the idea so far, and I see no objection to it, to do the principal work of horses by steam, or if can be done by elementary power, the committee may imagine to what extent we may provide for our increasing population. I think we may do much by political laws and enactments, but natural laws will do more, and when pointed out by the finger of Providence, may be made to provide for his wise dispensations. I firmly believe that the introduction of Steam Carriages will do more than any other thing for this country; I have always had this impression ; I left an honourable and lucrative profession, in which I was extensively engaged, in order to attend to this subject, because I was convinced of its importance and practicability; I have always entertained the same idea as I do at present. Imperfections will exist in the machinery; but I conceive that the main points of difficulty have been removed by the experiments I have made, and that all those now remaining are practical difficulties, which will be removed by further experience; and if there is no cause opposed by the legislature, or any other source, I will be bold to say, that in five years Steam Carriages will be generally employed throughout England. I have not hesitated, having these feelings, to devote all my time for the last six years to the subject, and am mentally recompensed by the present state of the subject. Private carriages also will be used. Under this opinion, I have given directions for building a small one. I expect it will go quicker, safer, more easily, and certainly more independently than a common carriage, because it does not need the food of a horse.
• Do you apprehend much decrease in the price of your engines? I do, and I also anticipate that steam will be supplanted by the use of other elementary power ; but I do not think that will take place in our day. I think that steam will be generally introduced, and that the public will feel the importance of it; and that scientific men will be directed to examine and employ in its stead other substances, and new compounds are continually turning up, and some will eventually be applied to mechanical purposes.
believe that there will be other ways of raising steam ?-I do not now speak of steam, but certain compounds; I do not specify any particular compound at this moment; I state those generally which are known to produce power by chemical change; some peculiar explosive
and aëriform bodies for instance. I ain informed that at present there are between 20 and 40 different carriages building or about to be built by different persons, all of which have been occasioned principally by the decided journey which I took of 200 miles in 1829, and which convinced not only the public of its practicability, but also some of those very men who are now employed in this object, and who previously had laughed at the idea and considered it chemerical.'— Report, pp. 31, 32.
If we were to credit all that Mr. Gurney and bis brother patentees state, we should say that the government of the country was most culpably supine, in hesitating for a moment to abolish the use of horses, and crowd the high roads with carriages propelled by steam. There is hardly any worldly blessing equal to a steam coach in the eyes of these gentlemen. It travels faster and longer than any set of horses can possibly do; it affords a healthier, an easier, and a safer mode of conveyance for the travelling public than the very best of our modern stages : it will go thirty miles in an hour, at the most moderate expense, and will ascend the highest hills with an expedition truly surprising. As for the suggestion that new roads will be required for steam coaches, because the old roads would not do, it is treated as a bugbear; and Mr. Nathaniel Ogle, one of the witnesses, goes so far as to entertain some compassion for the benighted creatures who still retain the least partiality for rail-roads—things, he says, 'which are altogether behind the age, (p. 69,) and which will be ruinous to those who now embark capital in their construction.
The witnesses, however, do not seem to be equally well prepared upon all the minute points of this important question. Some very remarkable discrepancies between the statements of several of them will not fail to strike the reader upon the most cursory perusal of the evidence. One example, in proof of our assertion, will be sufficient.
The facility with which steam-coaches can ascend steep hills, formed an obvious subject of inquiry in the course of this investigation. Mr. Gurney states, that all his steam-carriages, from the rudest to the most improved specimen of his invention, were propelled up hill with the greatest possible ease. Mr. Hancock declares that his carriage runs up a hill without any difficulty whatever, and Mr. A. Summers's carriage dashed up the steepest hill in the New Forest, at the rate of fifteen miles an hour. Now the opinions which Mr. Farey expressed on this very point appear to us so strongly opposed to the above statements, that we are surprised at finding no notice taken of the contradiction in the Report of the committee. Mr. Farey, it should be remembered, has been much employed by inventors to assist them in bringing forward discoveries in mechanical science. He has devoted a great deal of his time to the subject of steam-carriages, and that in a way which imposed upon him the necessity of studying the principles and the progress of the invention throughout all their minutest details. He