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Friday, 28 January 2011

The Depth is Far Too Great to Admit of the Use of the Diving-Bell’ Or: An 1862 Proposal for a Channel Railway

Although the Channel Tunnel was opened for business in 1994, six years after the first tunnelling begun in France, the idea for a means of transport across the Channel between England and mainland Europe is by no means a modern idea.
As early as 1802 the idea was put to Napoleon, when a French engineer, Albert Mathieu proposed a tunnel under the Channel. His plan, which now seems rather quaint, was for the tunnel to be illuminated by oil lamps and have horse drawn coaches take passengers and goods between England and France. In the middle of the Channel would be an artificial island for the carriage to put down its tired horses and pick up new ones.

Around thirty years later, another Frenchman, Aime Thome de Gamond became the first person to perform hydrographical and geological surveys on the English Channel between Dover and Calais, to asses the practicability of an underwater crossing.
He came up with several ideas, before, in 1856, he presented Napoleon III with a proposal for a mined railway tunnel from Cap Gris-Nez in Calais, to Eastwater Point in England. His proposal for the tunnel was, he estimated, to cost around 170 million francs – less that £7 million.

Six years later, in 1862, an English engineer, Mr. Chambers, put forth a plan to the periodical, The London Journal, and as I thumbed through the said periodical of 1862 earlier this week I came by the article, and, having taken my first trip on the Eurostar late last year, decided to read on.
The article gives a brief introduction, and then reprints Chambers’ idea, including his cost estimates, as he compares his plan to that of Aime Thome de Gamond from six years previous. Here is the article, and the picture that caught my eye:

 The important and interesting discussion of the feasibility of connecting the railways of England and Continental Europe is again occupying public attention.
The question of a Channel Railway which would effect this object is one which involves many considerations of vital importance to us all. Can the natural barrier which the ocean has placed between England and the Continent be removed without obstructing the Channel, and without endangering our national safety in the event of a war, especially a war with France?
It has long been a matter of doubt whether such a connexion was desirable, and whether its influence on trade and traffic, and on the communities interested in it, would be sufficiently beneficial to warrant the expenditure.
The doubts, however, of the expediency of a Channel Railway have already been resolved in its favour, and a competent authority has expressed the opinion, “that such a scheme, if carried out, would be remunerative to shareholders, and highly advantageous to the countries on both sides of the Channel.” As the same periodical gives it as the decision of the leading scientific, literary, and commercial authorities, that the scheme is really feasible, and that it will doubtless be accomplished some day, we will give, in Mr. Chambers’ own words, the plan which he proposes for carrying out this scheme, with the probable cost of the construction, and his estimate of the profit which would accrue from the working of the Channel Railway: -

It is sixty years since a scheme for a roadway under the English Channel was laid before Napoleon. After the introduction of railways, several plans were proposed to connect the roads of England and the Continent. The one that attracted most attention was the plan of a French engineer, in 1857. He proposed to form thirteen islands in the Channel, by carrying material out to sea, dig down through the said islands into terra firma, and tunnel east and west.
The consideration which this plan received in certain influential quarters, and from the scientific men, warrants the belief that any feasible scheme would receive more countenance now, as the removal of the French passport system, and the adoption of the new commercial treaty, will greatly increase the trade and travel between England and the Continent.
The plan I propose will give a double line of rails for two gauges, capable of carrying all ordinary trains at the usual speed on the best roads. The work could be completed in five years in a substantial manner, for £12,000,000, and the statistics of trade and travel between England and the Continent warrant the assumption that the revenue would equal ten per cent per annum on this amount. My scheme consists in submerging tubes of suitable demensions, and loading them down, and makes ample provision for ventilation, light, safety and comfort, while the shore embankments would form magnificent harbours of refuge on each side of the Channel. I will be happy to show plans, sections, elevations and detailed specifications and estimates to parties interested.
The method of joining the tubes under water has been pronounced by competent engineers ingenious, simple and efficient.

(Estimated) Abstract of Cost

1 Deep Sea Tower, or Ventilator,
placed in 27 fathoms……………………………...£485,000
2 ditto, in 11 fathoms……………………………...£475,000
264 Tubes, each 400 ft. long, 25 ft.
diam., @ “23 per ton………………………………£4,199,184
528 Flanges for ditto, @ £125 each……………..£63,360
Laying ditto, @ £4,000 each tube of
400 ft………………………………………………..£1,056,000

1,320 Anchors, or Boxes, for stone-loading,
5 each tube, each 23 tons @ £16………………£485,760
Levelling Bottom, and Covering Tubes with
Broken Stones &c. 7,431,108 yards, @ 5s……£1,857,777
Embankments, Blocks of Stone, Chalk, &c.,
2,900,000 yards, @ 5s…………………………...£725,000
Tunnel Approaches……………………………….£400,000
Roadway, Triple Rails for Two Gauges………...£150,000
Engines and Furnishings for Ventilators………..£30,000
1,000 Lamps and Fittings, @ £20 each………...£20,000
Preliminaries, Tools and Contingencies………..£2,052,919

(Estimated) Probable Revenue

1,095,000 Passengers per annum,
@ 8s 9d………………………………………………£479,062
912,500 Tons freight, ditto @ 12s 6d……………...£570,312
Express Mails, Bullion, Extra Baggage,
Per annum (say)…………………………………….£250,000
(Estimated) Annual Expenditure…………………..£76,187
Nett revenue………………………………………...£1,223,187

The estimates of the French engineer above alluded to, made from data furnished by the railway and steamboat companies in 1856 were –
Freight and passage……………………………….£1,041,666

My estimates, 1861, without data, or any knowledge of his, were –
Freight and passage……………………………….£1,049,375

A scientific contemporary considers the means proposed by Mr. Chambers for guiding the tubes correctly to their position under water as insufficient, but he by no means doubts the practicability of placing the sections of a large tube correctly on the bottom of the Straits of Dover.
As regards the joining of the sections, he sees no insurmountable difficulty, as the immense hydrostatic pressure forcing the flanges together would, in his opinion, right the tube, even if it were somewhat out of line. The arrangements for keeping down the tubes are considered by the same authority sufficient and reliable as far as they go; and, on the whole, there seems to be a general conviction of the feasibility of connecting the railway systems of England and the Continent by means of a roadway with submerged tubes.

The peculiar feature of Mr. Chalmers’ scheme, which should not be lost sight of, is, as our contemporary remarks, the hydrostatic pressure, in enabling him to join his tubes from the inside, as the depth is far too great to admit of the use of the diving-bell for connecting the sections on the outside. The value of this principle can only be tested by experiments, for which the forthcoming summer will be the most convenient time, as the  International Exhibition of 1862 will bring together scientific men from all parts of the globe.
Chambers’ idea is not wholly dissimilar to what we currently have. But, it seems his idea, like many others, would fall by the wayside. Three years later, in 1865, a group led by Conservative MP George Ward Hunt proposed the idea of a channel tunnel to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, William Gladstone. (A year later, When Benjamin Disraeli became Prime Minister, he would appoint Hunt as Chancellor, replacing Gladstone) but, the costs being too high, nothing came of it.

The closest Victorian attempt at a Channel crossing came in 1870, when engineer William Low attempted to construct the crossing. His effort was the first practical attempt after so many proposals and ideas. He bought land near Dover and Calais in order to carry out the scheme, but, as the British government had not funded his plans, Low had to pay for the project himself. 

William Low
The first tunnel chamber was excavated at Shakespeare Cliff near Dover in 1870, but his plans were ended by the Franco-Prussian war and the fact that he ran out of money.
In 1881, however, Low, by now aged 70, recommenced his work and actually managed to complete over 1000 yards of the tunnel at Dover, until fears were raised that the French could use the tunnel to invade Britain and he was stopped.

It was not until 1986 – 184 years after Mathieu’s first proposal and, and 105 years after William Low gave up on his attempt, that the Treaty of Canterbury – a document giving the go ahead for the design and build of the first Channel Tunnel connecting England to mainland Europe – was signed by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Miterand.

Had the Victorians had the technology that we had in the late 20th century, the Channel Tunnel could have been a very different piece of engineering. 

Saturday, 22 January 2011

‘‘The Queen is Slowly Sinking” Or: The 110 Year Anniversary of the Death of Our Greatest Age:

On 1st January 1900, Queen Victoria sat in her writing room at her desk in Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight. She was 80 years old and in her sixty-third year as Queen of the United Kingdom and Ireland and her twenty-fourth as Empress of India. She opened her journal knowing that she was in the final stages of life. She wrote:

“I begin today a new year and a new century, full of anxiety, and fear of what may be before us! May all near and dear ones be protected. I pray that God may spare me yet a short while to my children, friends and dear country…”

“A short while” she was indeed to be spared, and she saw in another new year twelve months later, but by then, all was not well with the ageing matriarch. The first entry in her journal for January 1901 was:
“Another year begun and I am feeling so weak and unwell that I enter upon it sadly.”

A few weeks later, on 14th January 1901, she was to receive a visit from Lord Roberts, field marshal of the British Army currently fighting an ugly and unimpressive campaign in South Africa against the Boers. He had returned to England to receive some of his many honours, leaving Kitchener in charge in South Africa.
After spending a little time with the Queen (whom he had also visited a fortnight prior to this meeting) 68 year old Roberts left, appearing shaken and emotional. He returned to the war office and cancelled all his arrangements and engagements for the foreseeable future. What had happened to upset this seasoned war campaigner? Roberts could not have known, of course, that he had just left what would be the last official engagement of Queen Victoria. Or did he sense that possibility?

People close to the Queen were puzzled by Roberts’ behaviour. She seemed to be her usual self to her family and staff; those she was closest to, but perhaps they were too close to her to notice the changes as she slowly deteriorated, and it took an occasional visitor to notice the differences that the Queen was going through between meetings.

Another visitor who noticed changes to the Queen was her German eye specialist; Dr Pagenstecher, who had served the Queen for a number of years – her eyesight being poor. He noted that since his last visit her eyesight had not got any worse, but her overall health had appeared to diminish considerably. He informed the Queen’s personal doctor; Sir James Reid.

James Reid
 James Reid kept extensive and detailed notes and diaries of his contact with the Queen, and was in a position of trust with her, and a valued member of the Royal household. In his notes can be read his secret fears that the Queen’s mind was closing down; a process he called ‘cerebral degeneration’. He had noted that she found it difficult to concentrate and when she woke up in the mornings it took a few minutes for her to realise where she was and who the maids – her closest and most intimate servants – were.
For the first time in her service Reid saw and examined the Queen in her bed – his presence whilst she was in such an intimate state had previously been forbidden and against the etiquette regarding the Queen’s dignity. He had always examined her whilst she was upright, but on the morning of the 16th January, her maids became worried when she seemed unable to wake up properly. The breaking of the etiquette rule by Reid is something the Queen was likely to not have even noticed as she was incredibly drowsy. Reid noted that although she appeared unable to wake entirely from her dozing sleep, she appeared well enough on the whole.

Despite his generally positive diagnosis, Reid informed the Queen’s assistant private secretary; Fritz Ponsonby, that she was too ill to see anyone or receive telegrams or letters. Ponsonby – aware of the strict household rules – resisted the idea, but Reid eventually had the secretary begrudgingly agree to his wishes to withhold all meetings and correspondence with the Queen.

It was late in the evening before the Queen was awake enough to be moved from her bed and into her wheelchair, although she was still dazed and confused and her speech somewhat laboured and slurred. Reid brought in a second doctor, Sir Francis Laking – physician to the Prince of Wales, Edward Albert – to examine the Queen. After spending 45 minutes with her, Laking disagreed with the Royal Doctor’s diagnosis, and said to Reid that he believed the Queen was fine. He said she had talked to him with interest and vigour on a number of different topics and was ‘quite herself’.
The two doctors’ argued, with Reid suggesting that Laking tell the Prince of Wales that his mother was ill, but Laking refused and left. Reid feared that Laking had merely seen what he had wanted to see, or more accurately, what he wanted to tell the Prince of Wales.
Fritz Ponsonby

Within ten minutes of Laking leaving, Reid was called by the maids to see the Queen again. If Laking had stayed, Reid would have been able to question his diagnosis before him, as the elderly Queen was exhausted and confused. Reid grew angry and concerned that his efforts to inform the correct people of the seriousness of the Queen’s condition were being ignored. He took it upon himself to write to the Prince of Wales and tell him the truth.

Early morning on the 17th January Reid examined the Queen. His concern was growing; her face appeared flat down one side and she was even more drowsy and confused than the previous day; Indications that she had suffered a stroke. Reid recorded his fears in his diary;

‘I did not at all like her condition and thought she might die within a few days.’
He realised the enormity of the event that was about to occur and felt the responsibility of his role increase. Not only was Victoria his patient, but she was also the Queen and Empress. He had a duty to both care for her, and to let the public know what condition their monarch was in. After all, he knew that she may not be their monarch for much longer. He wrote:

‘being so anxious to prepare the public for what I feared was coming, and also thinking that her condition was too serious for it to be kept longer from the public, I thought a statement ought to be made in the Court Circular.’

The Court Circular was a list of announcements of events and news from the Royal Court given to the newspapers every day – the equivalent of what we today call a press release – and had been used for the whole of Victoria’s reign to keep the public informed on their Queen’s movements and activities such as honours she was bestowing and what esteemed visitors she was receiving. Ponsonby was tasked with ‘editing’ the circular so that the Queen herself could approve it before it was sent to Fleet Street in London to be placed in the papers. Despite the deteriorating health of the Queen, the circular never mentioned anything of the kind, and made it appear that everything was fine with the monarch, and even gave the impression that she was riding out in an open carriage down Newport high street in the unseasonably inclement January sunshine.

The circular was not complete fabrication – this carriage ride did happen, it just happened ten days earlier than reported. During it, the Queen had to be constantly awakened with coughs and tugs at her petticoats from her daughters. To avoid upsetting the public, the circular was merely “selectively edited”.

On 19th January (Incidentally, the day the Queen, aged 81 years and 240 days became Britain’s oldest ever monarch.) Reid’s concerns about her health were growing. Victoria had woken more confused than before, and as her breakfast was spooned into her mouth she appeared not to even realise that she was eating. She was growing weaker and her mind deteriorating before him with each day, yet her other aides, servants and even family appeared to be blind to the situation. Some even commented on how she appeared much brighter. Princess Helena; Victoria and Albert’s fifth child, wrote a telegram to her brother, the Prince of Wales, saying she was a lot happier about their mother’s condition.

Reid was appalled. He ordered that the Prince of Wales be telephoned at once and told that he should not go shooting in Sandringham as he planned, but stay in London, and be ready to get to the Isle of Wight. A train at Victoria station was readied for the Prince of Wales, and his sister, Princess Louise.
Princess Helena

Just over two hours later, The Royal Household at Osbourne was on tenterhooks. Amidst the distress over the fast approaching end of the Victorian era, there were many tasks to be carried out; the press had to be kept informed and arrangements made for the inevitable death. Ponsonby received message after message from concerned well-wishers; Lords and Ladies, Dukes and Duchesses and foreign dignitaries who were receiving the news. Members of the Royal family were arriving from all over the country and world in dribs and drabs, Osbourne was filling with people and food had to be arranged as well as sleeping arrangements. Carriages were on almost constant errands to meet visitors from ferries landing on the Isle. From Germany, the Kaiser, Victoria’s Grandson – son of Victoria and Albert’s eldest child Princess Victoria – was already on his way.

Victoria's Grandson - The Kaiser
By the 20th January the nation was aware of the news and the Empire fell into an expectant and fearful hush. On the tiny Isle of Wight, which had become the centre of that empire in the last few days, the Queen lay dying, surrounded by almost her whole family. In London, thousands of people turned up at St Paul’s Cathedral where prayers were held for ‘The Mother to Our Nation’. All around the country churches were filled with subjects thinking of the Queen. People congregated at Mansion House, Buckingham Palace and Marlborough House hoping for news and fearing the worst.

The Queen continued to decline and woke the following morning extremely confused and restless. Her breathing had become laboured and difficult and so was given an oxygen mask to help her. She could not move herself, and could not help those trying to move her in any way. Bulletins were issued regularly to the press outside Osbourne keeping them up to date with the Queen’s health. None of them contained good news. That evening, the Queen’s family surrounded her in her bed. She lay before them, hardly able to speak, breathing shallowly, struggling to swallow, barely conscious and barely recognising any of them.
At midnight, the Bishop of Winchester was woken by a loud knock at his door. When he went to see who it was he was met with a messenger from Ponsonby, who instructed him to come to Osbourne immediately. He was also told that he could expect to remain there. Reid knew the end was drawing near.

On Tuesday 22nd January Reid examined the Queen as her family stood anxiously about her bed. By now she could not swallow and her lungs were congested. Her cough was meek and as she breathed her windpipe rattled. Reid brought The Bishop of Winchester into the bedroom where he said prayers for Victoria with the family and Reid joining in. A bulletin was issued to the reporters outside at 4p.m which read:
‘The Queen is Slowly Sinking’
At 6p.m, with the Bishop dismissed, the Prince of Wales sat at his mother’s bedside in a chair as each member of the family took their turn to whisper their goodbyes’ in her ear.

At 6:25p.m the Bishop was called urgently back in, as he began to pray, Victoria looked up at Reid and the Prince of Wales, but the Bishop observed that she did not appear to look directly at the two men. An observation shared by Princess Helena:
‘Then came a great change of look and complete calmness. She opened her dear eyes quite wide, and one felt and knew she saw beyond the Border land and had seen and met all her loved ones.’

As Reid held the Queen’s wrist to feel for a pulse the Bishop finished administering the last rites. Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India drew her last breath at exactly 6:30p.m on January 22nd 1901 as the bulletin presented to the press simply states. This example, from The London gazette:

The Queen’s death – due to the somewhat ‘rose tinted’ circulars issued to the press in the last few months of her life – came with seemingly little warning and caused huge shock to her subjects. The whole of the Empire was unsettled by the news. To us it may seem strange that her death had not been considered; she was a very old woman in an age where life expectancy in some cases was half of what we see today, and yet, despite her being that old, nobody appeared to have ever thought of, or even contemplated her not being there. She was a monarch that people had grown to depend upon; true as the sun will rise in the morning, the Queen will be on the throne.
For 64 years she had been Queen; most common Victorians could only dream of even living that long. In an ever changing world, the Queen was one constant.
All over the country, upon hearing the news of her death, people wept openly in the streets. The whole country was overcome with an immense sense of loss and fear for the future.
There was a mass outpouring of mourning. All adults dressed in black, banners of black and purple banners hung from shop windows and public areas where anything was painted black, such as iron railings were given fresh coats of black paint.
Eyes turned to the forthcoming funeral.
The Queen had often contemplated her death and thought of her funeral. Her wishes were for a Military style funeral as she was the head of the British Army.

On the 1st February 1901, the coffin of Queen Victoria started its journey to her final resting place in Windsor, leaving Osbourne for the Royal yacht, Alberta, where it sailed to Portsmouth, accompanied by the sound of gunfire from the warships in the Solent. The Prince of Wales, Albert Edward – now King Edward VII at the age of 61 – followed behind. From there, the coffin was to make its way by train to London – appropriately arriving at Victoria station on 2nd February.

In London, immense crowds gathered about the station as the coffin – carried by gun carriage and decorated with the Imperial Crown, orb, sceptre and the collar of the Order of the Garter – made its procession through the soldier-lined streets. Behind the coffin followed the New King; Edward VII, along with a huge list of dignitaries from all over the world including the Queen’s Grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm II, King George I of the Hellenes, King Carlos of Portugal, King Leopold II of the Belgians and Archduke Franz Ferdinand to name a few. It was estimated that well over a million people from all classes and backgrounds had descended to London to bid farewell to the Queen.
Princess Maud noted that despite the vast number of mourning subjects in London, not a sound emanated from the crowds as the coffin passed them. From London, the coffin would travel to Winsdor on the Royal train from Paddington station

On 4th February crowds gathered in Windsor and wept as they watched the gun carriage carry the Queen's coffin from the train station to Windsor Castle, where it was to lay in state in the Albert Memorial Chapel. From there, the Queen was accompanied by her family to the mausoleum where she was to be laid to rest next to her husband, Albert, who had died 40 years earlier - an event the Queen had mourned for the rest of her long life. After a moving service and the Blessing in the Mausoleum, the Royal family passed in single file over the platform overlooking the grave containing the two coffins of Victoria and Albert side by side. The new King knelt by the grave with his wife and young son, in silence for a few minutes, before walking on.

A white stone figure of the Queen had been sculpted by Baron Marochetti at the same time as he had sculpted the figure of Prince Albert which had lay upon his grave since his death in 1861. The figure of the Queen had been stored, laying in wait for her death for forty years, until now. The figure of the Queen was placed on the tomb so that Queen Victoria’s face was inclined to Prince Albert, the love of her life, with whom she was, at last after forty long years, reunited.

The subjects of the old Queen had followed many of her fashions, one of which being extensive mourning. As the public geared up for a long period of wearing black in honour of Victoria, her son King Edward VII limited the period of mourning for his mother to three months.

When mourning finished, the empire the old Queen had presided over reflected on its past and contemplated its future. The Boer War, which had not been going particularly well for  the British, appeared as a metaphor for the state of the Empire in general. The military, which had conquered vast swathes of the world over the last century, now appeared incompetent, along with the politicians in government. 
The Queen’s death appeared to signal the end of the all-conquering British mentality, particularly in government, where things were not going completely according to plan in India or Ireland, which would soon lead to huge reforms in the former, and the Empire losing the latter. Even further down the line, the First World War would rock the vulnerable Empire even further, and lead to future events that would eventually see the British Empire diminish and crumble. Victoria’s reign was a reign of no compromise in any quarter – military, political, scientific and social, and an age of so many advances that we are certain to never see its like again. The reign of Edward VII, from 1901 (official coronation in August 1902) until his death in 1910 meant a new era, and one which would be completely different to all that had gone before.

It’s interesting to read what the newspapers said the day after Queen Victoria died. Not only did they love the Queen, but there was a huge sense of pride and patriotic feeling for her era. The Times, in particular did this well, with an article I have posted below this one as a separate blog post; I didn’t want this one to be over long…

Today, 110 years after Victoria’s death the Empire is no more, and depending on which commentators or papers you read, Britain is, and has been for a long while, the desperate little sibling of all powerful America. It seems that with the death of the empire, the patriotic nature of the country suffered a fatal blow, and suffered until it eventually died out some time between the 1960’s and 70’s.

Edward VII Coronation Portrait
Of course, we are currently subjects of a long-reigning and elderly Queen, but the monarchy certainly doesn’t seem to be held in the high regard it was during Victoria’s reign, and quite possibly never will again. It seems to me a sad fact that once Queen Elizabeth passes, the Royal family ties that connect her to Victoria will be so diluted, antiquated and distant that the dissolution of the monarchy may be a step closer.

The kind of grief we saw when Princess Diana died is probably the only thing I can think of in my lifetime that may have come close to replicating the scenes in London in February 1901 as Queen Victoria made her last journey, and from exploring history, the death of Churchill in 1965 may be ‘in third place’ to put it crassly, but It will be interesting to see the scenes that take place when Queen Elizabeth passes on – a Queen who, in many ways is very similar to Victoria in terms of age and length of rein. Having said that, I must also add that I hope her reign lasts many a year from now.

Who knows what the country will be like when the Prince of Wales succeeds his mother to the throne (if he does) and mirrors the ascension of Edward VII – both men having waited a terrifically long time to become monarch. The country is certainly in a period of uncertainty and vulnerability – just as it was in 1901.

The ‘Hero’ of the story, Sir James Reid would, just over nine years later, be present at the death of the man by whom he stood as his mother passed away – King Edward. Just as with the death of Queen Victoria, Reid kept detailed and extensive notes over the course of the King’s four-day illness until his death after four days on 2nd May 1910.

Although he would remain with the Royal Family after Edward’s death as Physician-in-Ordinary to George V, his role as medical advisor to the Royal Family gradually ceased, although he remained a close friend to the Royal family, most notably to Queen Mary whom he attended in Scotland at Balmoral, the two becoming good friends who would ride out in carriages together and visit the tenants and cottagers, often taking tea. Sir Bertrand Dawson, a younger man, was Reid’s replacement as doctor to the monarch, and was the physician used most by George V.

In June 1923, James Reid suffered an attack of phlebitis – inflammation of a vein – and died five weeks later on 29th June at the age of 73. Lord Stamfordham wrote in The Times:

“Among the remarkable men of the later Victorian group, Sir James Reid stood somehow or other by himself. The niche which he created and filled remains in the truest sense inimitable”.


The dreaded blow has fallen, and a world-wide Empire mourns its irreparable loss. Our beloved QUEEN, full of years and of honour, has passed to her rest. There are no words to express the general grief, the universal sense of national and personal bereavement, awakened by the event which it is our melancholy duty to chronicle to-day.

For nearly sixty-four years Queen Victoria has watched, at first with conscientious diffidence, later with ever-maturing experience, but always with the sympathetic insight of a sensitive yet finely-balanced nature, over every development of national policy and destiny. Through that long period she has commanded the esteem of those who direct the affairs of the world, and has won the affection and the confidence of the vast majority, whose judgment must be formed upon general and external indications of character.
Only a rare combination of sweetness and strength, only a subtle blending of the highest qualities of head, and heart, can achieve that double success. This generation can never know, save in the most general and imperfect way, the extent of the beneficent influence wielded by the Queen at once over the great and over the lowly ones of the earth. The earlier years of her reign have so far passed into history that we know much of the inner life of politics which remains secret while the principal actors are alive. As regards the later portion of her reign we have no such materials, yet it was in that portion that her experience was ripest, her contribution to government most valuable, and her influence with the Sovereigns and statesmen who rule the world most firmly established.

The condition of Europe when she ascended the Throne was one of extreme instability. A few years later it became one of turmoil and confusion, in which dynasties were overthrown and high potentates had to seek asylum. That the British Throne came through that troublous time, not merely unscathed, but with added prestige and security, must be held due in no small measure to the character of its occupant. Our own country by no means escaped the infection of the ideas that convulsed the Continent; nor was it exempt from the grave economic and social evils that formed a legitimate ground for discontent. There are few among us who can recall the attitude of the people towards the Monarchy in the thirties and forties, but all have material enough to show them how striking is the contrast presented by the state of public opinion at the present day.
We must not forget that many causes combined to effect a fundamental amelioration of the social conditions, and that many minds contributed to the triumph of larger and nobler conceptions of government. But, if we have had orderly evolution where other nations have gone through devastating internal conflicts, if the Monarchy held its own while new buttresses were being built for its support, and if it now stands not only broad-based upon the people's will, but strong in the affections of kindred nations over sea, we owe these results, to a degree which it is hardly possible to over estimate, to the womanly sweetness, the gentle sagacity, the utter disinterestedness, and the unassailable rectitude of the QUEEN.

  The nation owes her much more, though, for the reasons just alluded to, the proofs are not yet available in their fullness. Though always scrupulously careful not to overstep the limits marked out for her by the Constitution, the Queen has never forgotten the rights and duties that the Constitution confers and imposes. She has always played her part in Government as the Chief Magistrate of the nation, and has known how, when occasion demanded, to assert the rights of the Throne against a too autocratic Minister.
By the extent of her family connexions and the friendly correspondence she maintained with Continental monarchs, she brought to bear upon international questions a kind of information which Ministers do not always possess, and a knowledge of personal equations which British Ministers, in the opinion of many, are not sufficiently careful to seek. The confidence inspired by her personal character enabled her on many occasions to use her intimate knowledge with effect in smoothing the rugged places of international relations, or in modifying a policy which through sheer inadequacy of information would have led to undesirable and undesired friction. History alone can do justice to her influence over the politics of Europe, but enough is known even now to assure us that, both by her informed criticism at home and by the deference paid to her abroad, she rendered from time to time very valuable services alike to her own country and to the peace of the world.

There are yet other ways in which a Sovereign may profoundly affect, for good or bad, the fortunes of a nation. We have to thank the Queen for an influence of the most potent kind, consistently and vigorously used to enforce high ideals of social and personal virtue, of religious faith, and of the Christian life. Her own life was by choice, and as far as the necessities of her position would permit, one of almost austere simplicity and homeliness. Her Court has been absolutely unsullied by the vices which had come to be regarded as the inseparable concomitants of Courts, and if society at large has not quite-reached her standard, at least it cannot plead the want of a shining example.
In a yet larger sense the Queen has conferred an incalculable boon upon the nation. Her whole life, public and private, has been one great and abiding lesson upon the paramount importance of character. No lesson is more needed in days when superficial cleverness, or real ability untrammelled by scruples, too often fills the public eye by the meretricious aid of the self advertisement which the Queen abhorred. Her triumphs have been won by sheer force of character. Though richly endowed with saving common sense, and with that sanity of judgment which is the highest of intellectual gifts, the Queen was not especially remarkable for high development of any specialized intellectual force. It was by the combination of sanity of judgment with inflexible integrity and unwavering grasp of the fundamental principles of conduct that she attained results far beyond the reach of the most brilliant intellectual endowments wanting that basis of character.

Epochs sometimes find names that do not very accurately fit them, but we can speak with singular accuracy of the Victorian age. So far as any period in the development of a nation can be taken out of its context and treated as a chapter by itself, the period covered by the reign of Queen Victoria can be so treated with quite unusual felicity. Her reign coincides very accurately with a sort of second renaissance, an intellectual movement accomplishing in a brief term more than had been done in preceding centuries. Since the days of Elizabeth there has been no such awakening of the mind of the nation, no such remarkable stride in the path of progress, no such spreading abroad of the British race and British rule over the world at large, as in the period covered by the reign whose end we now have to deplore.
In art, in letters, in music, in science, in religion, and, above all, in the moral and material advancement of the mass of the nation, the Victorian age has been a time of extraordinary activity. It is not easy without some concentration of thought to picture the transformation that has been wrought in the habits, ideas, and circumstances of the people of Great and Greater - Britain since the Queen ascended the Throne. Nor is it easy, though the task is well worth attempting, to realize with any adequacy how differently that transformation might have worked out but for the personal character and example of the Queen, and the beneficence of the silent, persistent influence she exerted upon those who in turn influenced the shaping of events.
There is much in what we see around us that we 'may easily and rightly wish to see improved. The laudator temporis acti may even contend that we have lost some things that had better have been preserved. But no permissible deductions can obscure the fact that the period in question has been one of intellectual upheaval, of enormous social and economic progress, and, upon the whole, of moral and spiritual improvement. It is also true, unfortunately, that the impetus has to some extent spent itself. At the close of the reign we are finding ourselves somewhat less secure of our position than we could desire, and somewhat less abreast of the problems of the age than we ought to be, considering the initial advantages we secured. 

The "condition of England question" does not present itself in so formidable a shape as at the beginning of the reign, but it does arouse the attention of those who try to look a little ahead of current business.
Others have learned our lessons and bettered our instructions while we have been too easily content to rely upon the methods which were effective a generation or two ago. In this way the Victorian age is defined at its end as well as at its beginning. The command of natural forces that made us great and rich has been superseded by newer discoveries and methods, and we have to open what may be called a new chapter.
But "the first of the new in our race's story beats the last of the old." If we now enter upon our work in the spirit embodied in the untiring vigilance and the perpetual openness of mind that distinguished the Queen, if, like her, we reverence knowledge and hold duty imperfectly discharged until we have brought all attainable knowledge to bear upon its performance, her descendants will witness advance not less important than that of her long and glorious reign.


Friday, 14 January 2011

The Staplehurst Rail Crash, Or; How We Nearly Lost Charles Dickens Early:

Any fan of Dickens will know that he died before he could finish ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’. But, if not for him surviving a train accident in Kent in 1865, his last piece of work could well have been ‘Our Mutual Friend

On the 9th June 1865, Dickens was traveling back from a holiday in France in a first class carriage at the front of the Folkestone Boat Express train. Ellen Ternan, the actress for whom he had left his wife Catherine Hogarth two years previously, and her mother were traveling with him. Also accompanying them was another important passenger; the manuscript of the latest installment of the novel he was writing at the time; ‘Our Mutual Friend’.

The train tracks in an area immediately prior to a low cast iron girder bridge near Staplehurst were in the process of being renovated and repaired. The timber baulks of the bridge – which crossed the little River Beult – were in the process of being replaced, but at the time of the crash these replacements had not yet been fitted.
The Folkestone Boat Express train carried passengers who had arrived on the south coast of England on ferries and ships, and so its departure times were largely dependant on the tides, which often altered the times that boats arrived at port, and therefore the times at which the trains ran.

The foreman of the track works, John Benge, was carrying out the work in the time between trains, rather than close the track off. He had a copy of the timetable which showed the running times of normal trains and also the boat trains. He had been informed that there were two hours until the next train would be passing by the work site, and had posted a lookout, John Wiles, a little further down the track to give the workers and train driver warning, should a train unexpectedly appear chugging down the tracks toward the work site.

Unfortunately, John Benge had misread the timetable, thinking the train was due to pass by the works at 17:20. In fact, it was due at 15:15. 

John Wiles, the lookout, should have been posted a thousand yards from the work site, from which distance he may have effectively been able to warn the driver about the lack of track ahead in time. John Benge had placed him only 554 yards from the work site, meaning he was not far away enough from the works to give adequate warning to the fast approaching train.

As an additional safeguard for such situations, the standard practice was to place detonators on the track at 250 yard intervals over a distance of around a thousand metres. The detonators would explode under the wheels of any unexpected train as it drove over them and the driver would thus be warned of danger ahead. These detonators should have been placed on the track by John Wiles, but he had been given only two detonators rather than the three required. He had also been told that the detonators need not be placed on the track unless visibility was poor, saying that the driver would see the lookout and stop. It was a bright sunny afternoon; detonators were not put in place.

Work carried on at the site, where two 21ft lengths of rail still needed to be laid on the bridge, and the train trundled down the track on its way to London, everyone involved was unaware of what lay ahead – including Charles Dickens.

The driver of the train saw John Wiles waving his red warning flag, but, being only just over 550 yards from the work site and the unsafe – largely unsupported – bridge, it was too late for the driver to stop the train, which was traveling at 30mph. (Quite fast in a time when the only other means of transport was a horse – pulled cab or carriage)
The engine and the first part of the train went across the 21 foot breach, avoiding plunging into the River Beult through a mixture of momentum and luck. Coaches in the middle and the rear of the train, however, fell through the breach and plunged into the river below. All of the first class coaches fell into the river, apart from one: The coach that carried Charles Dickens and his companions.
Although their carriage did not fall through the gap, it was hanging dangerously off the bridge as the picture below - from the Illustrated London News - shows. Dickens and Ellen Ternan’s mother were unharmed, whilst Ellen suffered minor injuries. They were extremely lucky.

Ten people were killed and about fifty were injured.

The Illustrated London News Picture - Dickens' Carriage is to the Right of the Image, Hanging From the Bridge

Dickens helped Ellen and her mother from the coach before going about tending to fellow passengers and assisting people to escape from other carriages.

He bravely went back into the train where he managed to recover his top hat and a flask of brandy. He used his hat as a vessel, filling it with water for the injured to drink or wash their wounds and gave people mouthfuls of the brandy, including a badly injured lady he had found by a tree. The next time he passed this lady, she was dead. 

The already shocked passengers who recognized him must have thought they had received a particularly bad knock to the head – looking up to see this famous author tending to them.  
A male passenger could be seen, but nobody could reach him. He was pinned beneath the train. He later died where he lay. For three hours Dickens went about the survivors doing what he could to help and assist until help arrived.
As the accident site and the remaining carriages were being cleared and evacuated by the emergency services, Dickens remembered about the other important passenger that had accompanied he and the Ternans’.

He made the dangerous journey back into the wrecked carriage in which he had been traveling, which still hung precariously from the bridge. He risked his life, but managed to rescue his other companion: the latest installment of ‘Our Mutual Friend’.

In the post-script of the above novel, Dickens referenced the accident, writing:

On Friday the Ninth of June in the present year, Mr and Mrs Boffin (in their manuscript dress of receiving Mr and Mrs Lammle at breakfast) were on the South Eastern Railway with me, in a terribly destructive accident. When I had done what I could to help others, I climbed back into my carriage— turned over a viaduct, and caught aslant upon the turn—to extricate the worthy couple. They were much soiled, but otherwise unhurt. The same happy result attended Miss Bella Wilfer on her wedding day, and Mr Riderhood inspecting Bradley Headstone's red neckerchief as he lay asleep. I remember with devout thankfulness that I can never be much nearer parting company with my readers for ever, than I was then, until there shall be written against my life, the two words with which I have this day closed this book:—THE END

He became a public hero for his efforts in helping the dying and injured passengers, but the experience affected Dickens psychologically for the rest of his life. He wrote the short story ‘The Signal-Man’ a few years after the accident, in which a rail crash occurs in a tunnel. For the rest of his life Dickens would try to avoid travel by high speed rail, and even suffer from sudden feelings of anxiety when he was traveling by slower, stopping train services, which he made every effort to do in a bid to avoid faster, direct trains.  

Ellen Ternan and Dickens
Dickens wrote an account of the incident in a letter to an old school friend Thomas Mitton, five days after it occurred. In it, the author describes his experiences in helping the injured, and his distress can be keenly felt in his words. Note also how he does not refer to Ellen or his mother in any familiar terms:

My dear Mitton, 
I should have written to you yesterday or the day before, if I had been quite up to writing. I am a little shaken, not by the beating and dragging of the carriage in which I was, but by the hard work afterwards in getting out the dying and dead, which was most horrible.

I was in the only carriage that did not go over into the stream. It was caught upon the turn by some of the ruin of the bridge, and hung suspended and balanced in an apparently impossible manner. Two ladies were my fellow passengers; an old one, and a young one. This is exactly what passed:- you may judge from it the precise length of the suspense. Suddenly we were off the rail and beating the ground as the car of a half emptied balloon might. The old lady cried out “My God!” and the young one screamed.
I caught hold of them both (the old lady sat opposite, and the young one on my left) and said: “We can't help ourselves, but we can be quiet and composed. Pray don't cry out.” The old lady immediately answered, “Thank you. Rely upon me. Upon my soul, I will be quiet.” The young lady said in a frantic way, Let us join hands and die friends.”

We were then all tilted down together in a corner of the carriage, and stopped. I said to them thereupon: “You may be sure nothing worse can happen. Our danger must be over. Will you remain here without stirring, while I get out of the window?” They both answered quite collectedly, “Yes,” and I got out without the least notion of what had happened.

Fortunately, I got out with great caution and stood upon the step. Looking down, I saw the bridge gone and nothing below me but the line of the rail. Some people in the two other compartments were madly trying to plunge out of the window, and had no idea there was an open swampy field 15 feet down below them and nothing else! The two guards (one with his face cut) were running up and down on the down side of the bridge (which was not torn up) quite wildly. I called out to them “Look at me. Do stop an instant and look at me, and tell me whether you don't know me.” One of them answered, “We know you very well, Mr Dickens.” “Then,” I said, “my good fellow for God's sake give me your key, and send one of those labourers here, and I'll empty this carriage.”

We did it quite safely, by means of a plank or two and when it was done I saw all the rest of the train except the two baggage cars down in the stream. I got into the carriage again for my brandy flask, took off my travelling hat for a basin, climbed down the brickwork, and filled my hat with water. Suddenly I came upon a staggering man covered with blood (I think he must have been flung clean out of his carriage) with such a frightful cut across the skull that I couldn't bear to look at him. I poured some water over his face, and gave him some to drink, and gave him some brandy, and laid him down on the grass, and he said, “I am gone”, and died afterwards.

Then I stumbled over a lady lying on her back against a little pollard tree, with the blood streaming over her face (which was lead colour) in a number of distinct little streams from the head. I asked her if she could swallow a little brandy, and she just nodded, and I gave her some and left her for somebody else. The next time I passed her, she was dead.

Then a man examined at the Inquest yesterday (who evidently had not the least remembrance of what really passed) came running up to me and implored me to help him find his wife, who was afterwards found dead. No imagination can conceive the ruin of the carriages, or the extraordinary weights under which the people were lying, or the complications into which they were twisted up among iron and wood, and mud and water.

I don't want to be examined at the Inquests and I don't want to write about it. It could do no good either way, and I could only seem to speak about myself, which, of course, I would rather not do. I am keeping very quiet here. I have a – I don't know what to call it – constitutional (I suppose) presence of mind, and was not in the least flustered at the time. I instantly remembered that I had the MS of a Novel with me, and clambered back into the carriage for it. But in writing these scanty words of recollection, I feel the shake and am obliged to stop. 
Ever faithfully, 
Charles Dickens

It’s clear – particularly from the last few lines – the effect the crash had on the 53 year-old Dickens. For his entire career his writing had been prolific, but after the crash he finished ‘Our Mutual Friend’  and for the next four and a half years wrote very little, but performed public readings of his work. His next novel was ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ which started serialization in April 1870.

On 9th June 1870 – on the five year anniversary of the Staplehurst crash – Charles Dickens suffered from the last of a series of strokes at his home at Gad’s Hill Place. This stroke was fatal and he never awoke, dying at the age of 58 leaving ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ only half finished.

His last words according to his obituary in The Times were:
“Be natural my children. For the writer that is natural has fullfilled all the rules of art.”

Of course, nobody knows whether Dickens would have lived any longer had the Staplehurst crash not occurred, but it is something that will always be wondered. One of the real tragedies of Dickens dying when he did is that, had he lived only another seven years or so, we may have had a sound recording of him speaking, or even reading one of his novels at a public reading.