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ART. III.-1. Report of His Majesty's Commissioners appointed
to inquire into the subject of the Administration of the Port
of London and other matters connected therewith, 1902. 2. First Report of the Select Committee of the House of
Commons on Steamship Subsidies, 1901. 3. The German Empire of To-day. By VERITAS.' London :
Longmans & Co. 1902. 4. Commercial Trusts. By John R. Dos Passos. New
York and London : G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1901. BSERVERS of political thought and feeling have seen in
this country at the opening of the twentieth century two very differently coloured streams flowing side by side. On the one hand there has been a larger sense than ever before existed of the greatness and possible destinies of the British Empire; on the other a doubt as to the soundness of the heart of that Empire. The way in which the South African war affected the public mind is, as it were, a microcosm of a more general feeling. The national spirits were raised by the exhibition of the solidarity and resources of the different parts of the Empire, but depressed by the revelation of a military system so unprepared to meet the changes produced by new weapons that it was necessary to take costly lessons from the enemy and remodel the art of war during a campaign. The result was a feeling of vast resources inefficiently applied. It is clear to anyone who studies the writing and listens to the talk of the day that many persons well fitted to judge are haunted by a suspicion, stronger in some and weaker in others, that the British Empire may be in the position of a man who has attained to the height of power, wealth, and fame, but finds his tenure of these advantages threatened by an incipient heart disease. Like a gloomy undertone this feeling pervades discussions on military and even naval affairs, on the procedure and condition of Parliament, on the work of public offices, on statistics of population and trade, on education, on industrial methods. It breathes in the exhortation of the Prince of Wales to his fellow-countrymen to 'wake up,' in the stress laid by Lord Rosebery on the word efficiency. It is not, we think, a mere passing recrudescence of the eternal spirit of pessimism, or a fall in the moral temperature. The feeling is derived from a study of facts and figures, and from a rational comparison of ourselves with others.
Just as the art of war is always changing, just as tactics successful in the Seven Years' War broke down in that of the Revolution, and those successful in the Crimea failed in South Africa, so also methods of government and commerce adequate to the facts of one age may, in a changed environment, lead to the ruin of those who fail to adapt themselves. History shows, it is written on the streets of Venice and Cadiz, how swiftly commerce, wealth, and empire can pass from one centre to another, and how specially rapid the process may be when a nation's pre-eminence rests upon maritime superiority. Matthew Arnold, in a fine poem, wrote that
'Empire after empire, at their height
And drooped, and slowly died upon their throne.' Let us hope that in our own case the boding sense may have come in time to permit salutary reconstruction, as the early discovery of a disease may save the life of a patient.
We propose to discuss in this article the conditions which make for success in the modern commercial, maritime, world competition, and to consider whether any modifications of national policy are necessary in order to meet those conditions.
The oldest and most permanent condition of maritime success is that a nation should have ports capable of receiving conveniently the largest ships of the time. From this point of view, and because the whole story illustrates to perfection certain general deficiencies in English methods, we desire to advert at some length to the Report made last June by the Royal Commission on the Port of London.
London has an admirable position for maritime commerce. It is situated at a corner of the English coast, near to the Continent, upon a river not subject to excessive floods, but with tides sufficient to transport traffic with ease; the banks of the river are not steep or rocky, but suitable for dock and canal excavation, for building, and for access by road. These advantages have at all times given to London the position of the leading port in England, and the rise of England has made this port by far the greatest in the world. Already, in 1685, as Macaulay writes, ‘London had in the world
only one commercial rival, now long outstripped, the ' mighty and opulent Amsterdam.' Just at that date London was leaving Amsterdam behind in the race, and since then her pre-eminence as a commercial port has been uncontested. This pre-eminence was never so absolute, before or since, as it was during the last fifty years of the eighteenth century and the first fifty of the nineteenth. The old maritime rivals were almost extinct, and the new ones had not yet arisen. For a time the only really formidable competitors were the Americans with their fast-sailing Atlantic ships. About the time when the 'Edinburgh Review' was born the Port of London was in a condition which called for remedies, the growth of the trade having outstripped that of the accommodation. There were not then, however, as there are now, formidable rivals, just across the North Sea, well-equipped and ready to take advantage of any weakness of London. The maritime commerce of France and Holland had been ruined during the long wars, and it was long before the birth of the modern German Empire.
In 1799 there were no docks in the Thames, except one small dock on the south side. Ships were loaded and discharged as they lay moored in the stream, or at quays and wharves. When, as was the case in sailing days, large fleets arrived about the same time, the river was so crowded that it was difficult to pass up and down, and there were consequently endless delays and irritations. This state of things was prejudicial also to the interests of Government, as it was âifficult, under these circumstances, to prevent frauds on revenue. Committees inquired and reported, and it was agreed that the remedy was the construction of docks. Acts were, therefore, passed authorising the incorporation of dock companies and their encouragement by a system of temporary monopolies. So, for instance, the Act of 1799, constituting the West India Dock Company, provided that, for a period of twenty-one years, all ships in the West India trade should load and discharge exclusively in the docks to be built by the company. Under this system dock construction proceeded rapidly. Companies arose, built docks, fought each other, and, according to the usual law of developement in these matters, often terminated an expensive contest by amalgamation. The East and West India Dock Companies were amalgamated in 1838; the London and St. Katharine Companies in 1864. These two combinations competed ardently, and, in the course of the contest, the latter group built the costly Albert Dock, and the former the still more expensive Tilbury Docks. In 1888 the two combinations ended their war of rates' by entering into a working union. The amalgamation was formally completed in 1900, and the system is now controlled by the London and India Docks Company. This company bas almost a monopoly of the large liners trading to London, but in certain special trades, such as corn and timber, the Surrey Commercial Docks Company on the south side, also the result of several amalgamations, and the Millwall Company, do a considerable business, while almost half of the whole tonnage using the port still load and discharge in the stream or at the numerous wharves which line the river for miles.
Till the year 1857 the general control of the river, including maintenance of the channels and regulation of the traffic, was exercised, or was supposed to be exercised, by the City Corporation. Everywhere these were originally municipal functions, but in all our leading ports, except Bristol, they have been during the last fifty years transferred to specially constituted authorities. These and other powers and duties were, by an Act of 1857, vested in the Thames Conservancy. This body governs the river from Cricklade in Wiltshire to a line between Essex and the Isle of Sheppy. It now consists of representatives of the riparian county councils and boroughs, with a few representatives of shipowners, and barge-owners, dock companies and wharfingers. It is not, therefore, distinctively constituted for Port of London purposes.
Other functions in the Port of London are discharged by the Trinity House Brethren, who control pilotage, buoying, and lighting ; by the medieval guild called the Watermen’s Company, who license and regulate boats and barges; by the City Corporation, who are the sanitary authority ; by the Metropolitan Police, who police the river and docks; and by other bodies. Thus there is a wide distribution among dock companies and public authorities of powers which are in most foreign ports, and even at home, concentrated in the hands of a single administration.
The appointment in 1900 of the Royal Commission on the Port of London was immediately due to certain steps taken in Parliament by the London and India Docks Company, but, in a wider sense, it was due to the breakdown of the whole system of the Port of London in face of the revolution which has taken place in recent years in shipping and commerce. A port which does not adapt itself to these changes is lost. The Commissioners point to some signs of evil omen. It is true that the aggregate maritime trade of London, wbether measured by value of goods or by shipping
tonnage, has rapidly and steadily increased during recent years. This increase is due to the growth in magnitude and purchasing power of the vast population on the banks of the Thames. But the ancient and considerable portion of London trade, which consists in the import, warehousing, and re-export of goods, has experienced during the last twenty years a singular arrest, and even decline. In the opinion of the Commissioners the decadence of London as the world's central maritime junction is due in part to outside causes, such as the construction of the Suez Canal and the trans-continental American railways, and the efforts of various countries to develope their commercial marine ; partly to internal deficiencies, which might be remedied. They point out that, if London becomes less convenient or more expensive for the reception of large ships than Hamburg, Antwerp, or Rotterdam, it is quite possible that the transhipment trade may pass to these ports. It is even possible that goods destined for British ports, and for London itself, should be transhipped from ocean steamers at Rotterdam or Antwerp, and carried across the narrow seas in small steamers, the glory and profit of receiving the great steamers thus departing from London. It takes little to deflect the course of great steamers, to whose owners time is most literally money. These considerations,' say the Commissioners, point to the advantage of adapting the Thames in every way to the requirements of modern ocean-going ships.'
The Commissioners then call attention to the revolution which has taken place in maritime conditions. This is due to two chief causes—first, the displacement of sailing ships by steamships, and, secondly, the great increase in the average size of ships. It is not too much to say that the dimensions of vessels employed in the main liner services have been quadrupled within the last forty years. The construction of ships has also been revolutionised, ships built like rectilineal oblong boxes on keels taking the place of the gradually curved vessels of former times. This fact is of importance because dock entrances built with a view to the older construction of ships have to be reconstructed, even if their depth is sufficient. The largest ship afloat in 1901 was the Celtic,' of the now Americanised White Star line. Her gross tonnage is 20,880; her length 680 feet, breadth 75 feet, and depth 45 feet. These dimensions, say the Commissioners, give some idea of the possible class of ship for whose reception the channels and docks of any port which desires to remain in the first rank must