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Matthew (1835-11-12)


“Dundee and Perth Railway”. Perthshire Advertiser, Thursday 12 November 1835, p.3 col.6 (pdf image)

(Letter written Nov 3 1835, published Nov 12 1835)
Matthew promotes the many advantages of a railway between Dundee and Perth, and also of a Tay bridge near Newburgh at Mugdrum Island to form the main “North and South Road” through Scotland. He then warns against the temptation to succumb to “petty interests” or “short sighted economy” when deliberating the optimal scheme for future use (as we shall see, these warning will go unheeded).

In his final paragraph, he notes that mankind’s present rate of progress is so rapid it “almost resembles a new creation” (shades here of Matthew’s arguments against Cuvier’s “new creation” hypothesis for living things following a periodic catastrophe, the point being that rapid change can give the illusion of new creation). With stirring oratory, Matthew also notes: “Political oppression, intolerance, blighting monopoly — all the demons of night, are reeling,— are vanishing with the shadows of darkness”. These themes will be central to his future support of the Chartist movement.



The importance of the proposed railway, and the amount of capital to be invested in the undertaking, will be sufficient cause for a private individual, who has some knowledge of the localities, in offering the following observations on the subject:—

It would be waste of time to illustrate how much the progress of improvement depends upon the facility of intercourse. It surely would be superfluous, at the present day, to point out the vast utility of railways; suffice it to observe, that they are extending in every direction, where civilised man is unfettered, and where improvement is progressive.

To one acquainted with the features and industry of Scotland, it must be visible at a glance, that the proposed railway through the Carse of Gowrie, possesses advantages superior to any other in the country. In it the following lines of communication coalesce:

1st, The Great North and South Road of Scotland.

2d, The communication line betwixt the great centres of improvement in the west and in the east,— Glasgow on the one hand, and Dundee and Aberdeen on the other; between which a railway the whole distance will soon be formed.

3d, The communication line between the large neighbouring towns of Dundee and Perth. Water communication of a rather inconvenient nature already exists, it true, between these cities; but were that water of the most convenient description, it would stand no competition with that of a good and moderately charging railway.

4th, The line by which the coal and lime (Forthar lime, the best in Scotland) of Fife can conveyed to Perth and Strathmore westward, and to the Carse of Gowrie and Dundee eastward; a branch of communication being carried across the Tay at Mugdrum island, by a wooden piled bridge and drawbridge, joining the proposed rail line through Fife at Newburgh. Were this bridge constructed, the Great North Road would cross the Tay here, and be diminished in length, at least 12 miles. This would cut off competition by the route northward from Perth through Strathmore for the line of the Great North Road, and reduce the chance of successful competition by the route of Dundee Ferry. A mound and bridge was some years ago carried across the Firth of Fleet, in Sutherlandshire, where the difficulties to contend with were a good deal similar what we have here, and where the object to be gained was not a twentieth part so great. Government assisted the construction of that across the Fleet, directly by a grant of money. Here Government at least would surely not refuse a negative assistance, by not charging duty on the necessary timber. This bridge, formed of Memel fir, not including duty, might cost about L.10,000.

5th, The advantage of passing through a district, in fertility second to none in Great Britain, and leading directly to market.

Having particularized the advantages of this proposed railway, I have only to warn those who may form the committee of management, to allow no local or petty interests, or short sighted economy to mar the success of so great a work (the present absurd turnpike from Dundee to Perth exemplifies the extent of injury which petty local interests can effect). It must be kept in view that employment from the extremities will ten times over exceed the employment from the country along the line. It must also kept in view, that although naturally the most favourable line, at once for the great longitudinal and lateral communication of Scotland, that there are other lines which may come into competition, and which may carry a preference, unless this railway be of the best possible construction: especially as the railways through Strathmore and by the Dundee Ferry, which may come into competition, will, in all probability, be formed posterior to the Carse railway, giving the constructors of the latest formed, the advantage of knowing the exact strength with which they have to compete; and also the further benefits of the improvements of time and practice. The straightest, shortest, available line between the two cities, should therefore be chosen. Four lines are under consideration; some of these circuitous by miles to suit local interests, and it is advanced by those concerned, that the loss of time, under so rapid a mode of conveyance, would be quite trifling. But it must never be lost sight of, that a few minutes sooner or later may decide the preference, especially in the mail conveyance.

The present time is an epoch in the history of man. Useful knowledge has at length prevailed over Monkish learning; genius is now occupied in a fruitful field; the rapid bound of improvement almost resembles a new creation. There is a freshness in all that is going on like the dawn — the dawn to a day of splendour, of which we, who have had our organs and conceptions fashioned, we may say, to the dark ages, can scarcely form an idea. Political oppression, intolerance, blighting monopoly — all the demons of night, are reeling,— are vanishing with the shadows of darkness. Trade is extending, cities are swelling in a manner unexampled in the past. Should Dundee continue to increase in the ratio of the last 20 years, those are born who may witness it with a population of a million of souls. Under such prospects, possessing so many concurring advantages, can there be any doubt that the proposed railway will prosper?

PAT. MATTHEW, Gourdie-hill, Nov. 3, 1835

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