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Matthew (1870-02-11)

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Dundee Advertiser, Friday 11 February 1870

(Letter written Jan 23 1870, published Feb 11 1870)
Matthew argues that the proposed bridge at Dundee would silt up Dundee’s harbour; would be inferior to one placed at Newburgh; would consume money that would be better spent improving Dundee’s unsanitary slums; and would be an economic disaster for its investors:

When so much requires to be done with capital within the city, it is injudicious, is wrong — is it not so far criminal? — to divert so large an amount of capital away from where in utility, in humanity, it is so much needed — and for what? To carry out that which every thinking man must regard as a wild and dangerous scheme — a Rainbow Bridge, unprecedented in height, and so stormy a position, and about three miles in length, over an arm of the sea.

Matthew refers to a letter (not yet uncovered) published “many years ago” on “a proposal to convey all the sewage of the town to Barry sands, east of Broughty”. He also refers to a failed enterprise, “the old Fife Bank”, that “emptied the pockets of most clergymen in Fife, and of not a few of those of the farmers”. He doesn’t mention his own bankruptcy of 1848, or clarify whether this scheme played a part. He also has a change of heart regarding Dundee’s public buildings. In Matthew (1866-04-19) he campaigned for “proper sites for public buildings”. Now, however, he argues that “it is not superb buildings that are required. There is nothing more hateful than useless grand temple edifices…”.

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 always ought to be kept in mind that a Bridge at Dundee would greatly interfere with the naval use of the Firth of Tay upwards, especially on the Fife side, cities and harbours may yet be erected. I do not, therefore, think that Parliament should sanction such a bridge, more especially when a superior position, in every respect more favourable, exists immediately above the shore at Newburgh, the natural position where the firth ends and the river begins. In the actual case of a Bridge at Dundee of about three miles in length, in place of one at Newburgh of 300 yards, it is highly probable that the repairs of such a length of bridge under such precarious circumstances, which I have in former letters pointed out, may exceed the income derived from it, even should it be possible to keep it in repair. It might therefore be necessary that in the case of a Bill being obtained for such a Bridge, that should Government at any future time see the utility of taking the railways of Scotland in its own hands, when, no doubt, it would proceed to erect a bridge at Newburgh, that it be stated in the Bill that no contract entered into between the North British and the Dundee Bridge Company should be binding on the part of the Government, so that the costly Bridge might be left alone in its glory. It would not be right that the country should be assessed to keep up a mischievous, useless, and expensive bridge that ought never to have been erected. It ought also to be stated in the Bill that any accumulation of sand or mud injurious to Dundee Harbour caused by the Bridge should be removed by the Bridge company.

With regard to the tunnel from the west end of the town to the east end, it might be well to delay it till the bridge at Newburgh was erected, more especially as there is so much to do in improving the sanitary conditions of the heart of the city, at present remaining a disgrace to humanity — a horrible crime of past neglect. Many years ago I published in a Dundee paper a proposal to convey all the sewage of the town to Barry sands, east of Broughty. The new streets necessary to give full ventilation to the heart of the city would require a new drainage, so placed as be best suited to fall into two cisterns low down at the east end of the city, placed close together, so that when one was being cleaned out, the engine might raise the water in the other to the height required.

It ought not to be forgotten that in most public Company undertakings there are two objects in view, to obtain some apparently desirable purpose, which, like our proposed Wormit Bridge, is being hung up in the public eye by paintings or writings en couleur de rose, and thus aided by mesmeric influence; while there is an underneath object of procuring employment to the self-interested proposers and lawyer business. The number and amount of losses caused by these Companies have of late years been enormous. The old Fife Bank many years back is one of these nearest to ourselves, where it is said every share of £100 cost more than £500, and emptied the pockets of most clergymen in Fife, and of not a few of those of the farmers. To me the proposed Wormit Bridge appears one of the most hazardous of these schemes that have been brought before the public. Perhaps I ought to apologise to the men of Dundee for appearing to mistrust their judgement so far as to think it was necessary to waste ink upon a subject they are quite as well able to judge as I am. I certainly would not have done so, at least to such extent, had I not had two other subjects to introduce, one of which I have truly at heart — the sanitary improvement of the town of Dundee. In this I may hope my ink will not be spilt in vain.

I cannot exonerate the Magistrates of a city who are content to remain inactive when within their own jurisdiction such a horrible destruction of infant life and lasting injury to the human organism is allowed to go on, the cause of which is patent to all, and removable. The fabled slaughter of the innocents has been again and again related to us, and painted by the first masters. The wholesale murder of the children of Palestine, as well as their parents, by fanatic Arab robbers has been told us without much comment. In China and in some parts of the Pacific Islands child murder has been described as existing in all its horrors. But to no account of child destruction that we have heard related, fact or fabled, can match in cruel lingering sufferings the attempt to rear children in the fetid slums of Dundee. If the Magistrates have no power to clear out of these abominations — not to permit any house proprietor to let a dwelling where a healthy family cannot be reared, or grown-up life can remain in health — they ought to procure power, or resign their charge. I would ask the Magistrates and leading men in Dundee — Is half-a-million sterling to be sunk upon a Bridge at Dundee when one-tenth of the sum would suffice to erect a Bridge where it ought to be, and where it would not injure Dundee Harbour, nor interfere with the navigation of the upper firth? When so much requires to be done with capital within the city, it is injudicious, is wrong — is it not so far criminal? — to divert so large an amount of capital away from where in utility, in humanity, it is so much needed — and for what? To carry out that which every thinking man must regard as a wild and dangerous scheme — a Rainbow Bridge, unprecedented in height, and so stormy a position, and about three miles in length, over an arm of the sea.

The Dundee Magistrates have a noble work before them — a glorious though difficult work, and which I hope they will be enabled to work out so as to obtain the blessing of every working man in the city. It is not superb buildings that are required. There is nothing more hateful than useless grand temple edifices, mingled with wretched hovels for the great body of the people, or, what is worse, with crowded dens of misery and disease. It is these latter that the intelligent Magistrates of Dundee have before them to remove. What is wanting in Dundee is not middle-class houses, but good airy, open streets of houses for working men, not more than three stories high, with dry, open back spaces for children playing in and clothes drying, with broad street pavement in front. Here it will not be possible to get houses for each family, and the double house, with numerous rooms, well lighted from both sides, with two or perhaps four families in each flat, with inside divisions with walls of bricks, must be adopted from economy as most suited but always to have spacious stone stairs, so broad in the step that children could not tumble down. Plans of such houses, with prizes for the best, might be requested. I notice in your paper of the 20th a statement that what I urged against the Wormit Bridge told equally against Newburgh Bridge. How can that be? A bridge of 300 yards can be easily repaired, and in a few days, while a bridge of three miles might require years for repair, being at least in the double ratio of the length, would be upwards of thirty times more likely. My opinion is that the proposed bridge at Wormit Bay would never pay the expenses of repairs, should it stand to require repairs. I trust I may not again think it necessary to spill more ink upon such a nonentity as the Wormit Bridge. I am &c. —

PATRICK MATTHEW
Gourdiehill, Errol, 23 January 1870

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