Dundee Advertiser, Friday 28 January 1870
(Letter written Jan 19 1870, published Jan 28 1870)
In another long letter, Matthew adds earthquakes to his list of possible disasters for the Tay Bridge if built at Dundee. He also predicts economic disaster for the shareholders from litigation; he outlines again the advantages of his alternative bridge scheme at Newburgh; and he again outlines the moral argument for using the money thus saved on the “sanitary improvement of Dundee”. He refers, once again, to the letter he wrote to Sir John Gladstone around 1835 regarding the advantages of his Newburgh bridge scheme.
In a footnote, he argues the case for decentralisation and a devolved, more independent Scotland.
Unfortunately, the British Newpaper Archive is missing all issues of the Dundee Advertiser for 1870. The text below has been reproduced from “Evolutionary concepts in the Nineteenth Century: Natural Selection and Patrick Matthew” (Dempster 1996).
SIR,— It would seem the leading men of Dundee looked upon the Tay Bridge has a trophy of constructive power-beating creation — as an imposing, magnificent object in the vista, reflecting grandeur upon the city, and evincing the spirit of the citizens of Dundee. There is, however a reverse picture, a failure in the construction, even at double the estimated cost, or a breakdown after being constructed, either of which is highly probable, and neither of which would throw much fame upon Dundee engineering. Here it is not to enthusiastic engineers that the citizens of Dundee must trust, but to their own good sense of judgement. Even were they to succeed, not in obtaining a return of interest for the capital invested (sunk is a better word) — that is out of the question — but in erecting the bridge, I could not admire it. I would only put the rainbow bridge, with its disposition to destruction, into one scale, and the sanitary improvement of the impure heart of the city, along with the superior bridge at Newburgh, in the other scale; which would kick the beam?
Need I mention that there is a sleeping giant buried under the Comrie district, whose struggles are felt every season, and which sometimes extend all around over a radius including Dundee, and of which I have felt several in the Carse of Gowrie? Comrie is apparently an especial centre of earthquake action. More than fifty of these shocks have been felt in the neighbourhood, some of them such as to crack walls. Tt is not at all improbable that these motions may come to a greater head, and ‘wee bit shackle, as the Dundonian term is, extend to Dundee, scarcely sufficient to throw down one or two of the tallest and slimmest chimneys, but quite sufficient to capsize the Wormit Bridge, which, being so high and top heavy — so crank, like a narrow boat with tall people standing on it — would be easily upset. The dry earthquake wave in the lower region of the Mississippi has been so great that the tops of tall trees are said to have thrashed the ground, and to have resumed their former position when the wave has passed. The Wormit Bridge which, from its great length across the probable line of the earthquake wave, although the wave was slight, would thrash the water, but would not really rise again, even by the help of man.
The cost of Dundee Bridge, such a bridge as might stand till it was surveyed according to contract specifications, and paid for — but such as would likely ere long prove a man-trap (a suitable name) — is estimated between two and three hundred thousand pounds. But in all probability the cost would be much more than double to erect a bridge that any sensible man would trust his life upon. The cost of the bridge, &c. at Newburgh would not exceed fifty thousand, immediately above the harbour, and which would command confidence, while in utility, and even as regards Dundee, it would surpass the other. To me it seems especially in the interest of the North British to adopt the Newburgh line. A Wormit line, even at the present estimated cost, along with extensive repairs, would throw an amount of bridge rent and responsibility upon their line, which would render their shares unsaleable, or at less than nothing, at a minus cost per share. The Newburgh line is the only practical means of raising their shares. I cannot but regard the Wormit bridge scheme being grassed by the North British, as a drowning man catching at straws. The North British, as well as some of the Dundee people, seem too much in the hands of scheming engineers, whose love of fame has interfered with their better judgement and prudence. Should the Wormit bridge scheme be carried out, or even be commenced, litigation is almost certain to insue between the Bridge Company, the Railway Company, and the undertakers, which no one can see the end of or the consequences but where the Company parties in such cases are generally outwitted by the undertakers. In such schemes, hazardous, liable to unforeseen accident, incalculable in cost, even impracticable, or too low taken, they end in litigation and loss. I see in this ternary proposed agreement a future disagreement and entanglement productive of a loss to all concerned. My desire is the well-being of the North British, as well as the improved railway accommodation of Dundee. I cannot see why the Newburgh rail should not join the Caledonian east of Errol station. Here I would say, “Gree, bairns, gree”. Such junctions should be submitted by Act of Parliament to arbitration. Railways have been made under Parliamentary sanction, and that they remain under Parliamentary control. Were the North British getting into funds, and especial railway could be carried on from the Newburgh crossing through the Carse right to Dundee. Previous to the commencement of the railway from Edinburgh to Dundee, I pointed out to old Sir John Gladstone that a crossing at Newburgh was necessary — that one crossing of the line by water was bad enough, but two crossings by water should be avoided. He replied that their schemes were already too far advanced to change. I returned an answer simply that if this was the case the sooner the plans were changed the better for all concerned. Facts have borne me out; and the sooner the present scheme of a Wormit bridge be changed, the better for all concerned.
Upon further thought, I have come to the opinion that the Newburgh bridge should be immediately above the shore at Newburgh. Here the higher land approaches close to the river, and where a bridge of 300 yards would be sufficient. The line would then cross the island, and be carried on to the north side on piles, or by a mound. On the north side of the island no vessel ventures. This would lengthen the line by about a mile, but it would save upwards of fifty thousand pounds. This line and bridge, as far as the north shore, could be accomplished for about fifty thousand, while the Wormit bridge is doubly and quadruply and centuply hazardous!
Were the Newburgh line adopted, and nine tenths of the probable cost of the Wormit bridge wisely and economically invested upon the sanitary improvement of Dundee, what an immense saving would ensue, in children now sacrificed (shall we say to Mammon or Baal?), constitutions broken, degeneracy of the tree of life in our working population — pain, misery, and sin. Should the depopulation of our country villages and cottages go on, from whence will a new supply of stamina of race be derived to supply the waste of cities? These evils are all remediable, but which people calling themselves Christians do not remedy. While were this great amount of capital sunk in a monster bridge, it would ere long, in all probability, be entirely lost, accompanied by a great sacrifice of human life, the remains forming a Golgotha islet in the Firth — the natural punishment of human folly. Here the blunder is worse than a crime. Which of the two would be preferred by the people of Dundee, if put to the vote? To have the abominable nests of disease and child murder in the heart of Dundee cleared out, and also a bridge, in every way superior to Dundee railway accommodation, further up the river; or, in place, have a slim dangerous bridge at Wormit Bay? I am, &c. —
Gourdiehill, 19 January 1870
P.S. The Emperor of France, after doing all he was able to centralise France into himself, has turned over a new leaf, and is now attempting to decentralise in both cases. We have some need to follow his example at least in decentralising in Scotland from London, and have more power to conduct our own affairs ourselves. At least, Parliamentary sanction to improvements ought to be simplified and lowered in cost. Parliament, in self-defence, over-loaded with the weight of power, seems to permit excessive charges upon obtaining Bills to prevent being pestered with distant local trifles. But why can local trifles not be settled at home by those best acquainted with the circumstances? P.M.