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nation to another is a question of convenience, luxury, or economy; but in this it assumes a more important character, for it involves to a great extent the preservation of life and property.
The advantage of the light being fully recognised, attention may now be exclusively directed to remove some of those minor obstacles that might render its use in lighthouses objectionable; and I have great pleasure in adding, that the Trinity Corporation are desirous that every facility in their power should be afforded with a view to effect this object, and that a series of preliminary experiments is accordingly to be carried on at their expense.”
It was but for a short time that Mr Drummond was free to prosecute such inquiries. He was engaged in them up to the spring of 1831. In a letter to his mother, dated February 22, 1831, he writes : “ Truly this same light gives no small trouble.
In the last paper which I sent to the Commissioners, I stated that the French light equals, if it does not surpass, the best of the lights in our lighthouses in splendour, while it is superior to them in economy and facility of management. This Stevenson either denies, or has hitherto been negligent in ascertaining
The experiments at Inchkeith have been ordered by the Commissioners (of the Northern Lights], with a view to judge of the point themselves, and not trust to Stevenson's opinion. It is a question between the present method and the French light, not between mine and either. Their relative values have been ascertained by the Trinity House and Blackwall experiments, in a way which admits of no doubt. To recommence similar experiments would be mere trifling. There are obstacles in my way of a different kind, relating to the manufacture of the gas, management, &c., which I am now endeavouring to remove. With respect to brilliancy there can be no doubt." By the middle of the year, however, his political employment commenced ; and though he never lost sight of the subject, he was never able again to recur to it. This abstraction of Mr Drummond's attention,” says General Larcom, “ at the moment when he was nearest to success, must, so far as the light is concerned, be considered matter of regret: with its projector it has dropped ; but if it be practicable, ingenuity will, doubtless, sooner or later, be directed to render it available, and the Drummond light may yet cheer the home-bound mariner from the Great Skellig or the Tuskar.”*
* For some time the Drummoud light has gone out of public notice. The interest and the expectations it excited at one time may be gathered from a question put to Mr Drummond when under examination as a witness before the Select Committee on Lighthouses in April 1834. “The Committee would like very much to have it on their minutes what circumstances gave rise to this very great and important discovery, which is likely to be of such infinite use to the world at large ?” In an article in the “Edinburgh Review” for April 1835, reviewing the Report of this Committee, a suggestion of Sir David Brewster's that the Drummond light should be employed as a separate instrument in every lighthouse for occasional use, is considered and adopted. The occasional light was proposed to be used only in hazy weather, when other lights are either altogether obscured, or lose their characteristic appearances. “The general system of illumination by oil or gas lamps and lenses is adequate, in ORDINARY WEATHER, to every want oft he navigator; and nothing could be more irrational than to introduce the lime-ball light into lighthouses as a general mode of illumination-unless it could be done as cheaply, as safely, and as effectually as the present improved system with oil or gas lights.
The lime-ball light holds out to us an admirable resource in seasons of occasional danger; but we cannot approve of the idea of making an unnecessary glare upon our coasts, with the inseparable accompaniments of unnecessary expense and unnecessary danger.” The inadequacy of the ordinary lights for other than ordinary weather, i.e., for all occasions when their aid is most wanted, is here confessed. On the other hand, that greater expense and danger are inseparable from the use of the Drummond light is assumed, but is
And here a break may be made in this monotony of scientific detail, by quoting an amusing letter, written by Mr Drummond to his mother, describing his visit to the king for the purpose of presenting to him a copy of the paper, read before the Royal Society, on the Trinity House experiments. The letter, which sets Drummond in a new light, tells its own story so fully that no words of introduction to it are necessary, unless, indeed, it
proper to prefix the postscript : “ It takes a long time to tell a story on paper. If I had anticipated such a ‘long yarn,' I am afraid I should not have attempted it. But I hope it will amuse you, and that was my object.”
LONDON, January 24, 1831. “MY DEAR MOTHER,—I have begun with a sheet as large as your own, but whether I shall fill it as well is another question. The business part of your letter shall be first answered, and the remainder of the sheet devoted to amuse you. Now, as you sent me a description of the lecture [most probably a lecture delivered in Edinburgh on the Drummond light], I mean to send you a description of another scene which may not gratify you so much, but which, I hope, will nevertheless interest you. Believe me, my dear mother, the chief, perhaps the only
by no means certain. Had Mr Drummond been free for a little longer to follow up the subject, it is not improbable that his ingenuity would have enabled him to overcome these objections, and that ere now his light would have superseded every other for lighthouse purposes. The following recommendation of the Committee on Lighthouses seems not to have been attended to. They say—“Captain Drummond stated to the Committee all the objections to the present use of his light in lighthouses ; , but your Committee are so strongly impressed with its importance, and with the merits and ability of Captain Drummond, that they recommend that means should be adopted without delay for prosecuting still farther the experiments recommended by him, and under his direction if possible; or, if he cannot superintend them, then under some fit person.”
pleasure which I received from the account of the lecture arose from your being there to hear it; and if with you I mourn the absence of those, from sickness or from death, who would have participated in your feelings, still I am gratified that among those who did witness it my dearest mother was one. Now, to return to my promised description-for one forgets there are limits to a sheet of paper. Among others to whom it was considered proper that a copy of my paper should be presented was a certain illustrious personage called the King. Now, at the mention of this word away goes your imagination long before my description, and you conclude at once that I am on the high-road to honour, rewards, emoluments, and so forth. Not so, however. Yet have I had honour to a certain extent —as much as could with propriety be bestowed, and more than was expected. Well, then, the reason for presenting the paper to the King was, that his Majesty is still Master of the Trinity House, and had, as Duke of Clarence, been present at many of the experiments. It was necessary to obtain the King's permission to present the book in question, which he was graciously pleased to give to the Deputy-Master, Captain Woolmore, his old friend. Next came the question, how it was to be presented. I had intended sending a copy in its blue cover to Mr Woolmore for this purpose, but I was given to understand that that would not be according to etiquette ; and it was finally resolved that the little pamphlet should be made into a little book, bound in morocco, and stamped with the royal arms, and furthermore, that I should accompany Captain Woolmore to Brighton, when he went to present the monthly report of the Trinity House to the King as Master. This being settled, another difficulty arose about uniform. Our uniform has been lately changed; it was considered improper not to go in uniform, and, alas ! no alternative remained but that I should get the necessary paraphernalia without delay-Robe [a brother officer who at the time lived with Drummond] being like 'two single gentlemen rolled into one,' his garments are of no use to any one but the owner.
With great exertion I got everything ready, and by Monday evening, the 9th inst., I found myself at Brighton, where, according to arrangement, I met old Woolmore, who had come from another quarter the same evening. At ten the next morning we walked over to the Palace, and put our names in the book of audience. One of the pages carried them to the King, who was still in the breakfast-room, and returned almost immediately, saying that the King desired we should have our breakfast, and that his Majesty would see us afterwards. As we had breakfasted previously, we declined the royal hospitality; but if we had not, we should then have been conducted to the room where the equerries breakfast, and where all strangers and visitors, coming, as we did, of the class of gentlemen and noblemen, are received. We were then conducted into the ante-room of the King's private room, and shortly afterwards he passed through, and we followed him into his room. He seated himself at a writing-table, Woolmore and I standing at the opposite side. I then presented my book, and accompanied it with some explanation. I had, indeed, prepared a little speech for the occasion, but somehow or other I could not get it in. Nevertheless, I contrived to express the gratification which it afforded us to have had the honour of exhibiting some of the experiments before his Majesty, and to have witnessed the interest which he was pleased to take in them; and furthermore, I told him of the continuation of the experiments afterwards from the lighthouse at Purfleet, knowing full well that he would never look at the book, notwithstanding the above-mentioned interest, and I mentioned the remarkable fact of a shadow being cast at the distance of ten miles. Whereupon his Majesty was pleased to exclaim, God bless my soul; that's very wonderful!' Some further conversation ensued, and then he asked what I intended doing when I returned. I replied, that having fulfilled the object of my visit to Brighton in being permitted the honour of presenting the paper to his Majesty, I had purposed returning to London that day.