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to promote the wellbeing of the nation by facilitating social intercourse and commerce.
After the Union, projects were more than once mooted for improving the condition of the Irish, by employing them as day-labourers on the systematic reclamation of waste and bog lands. On these projects committees and commissioners had been appointed to report. They always reported favourably, but nothing was ever done. Drummond believed that much good might be done in this way under a proper system of management. The public works which he himself most favoured, and which he projected, were a national system of railroads for Ireland, somewhat similar to the governmental systems which have been so successful in some continental countries.
Dr Madden states very briefly, and I believe correctly, what Drummond's views were as to the manner in which, at that juncture, such public works might affect Ireland :-“He believed that the great thing for the British Government to apply itself to in Ireland was the consideration of the vast mass of the people. For schemes of Government he cared little, and it was not the tendency of his mind to regard politics in that light in which they are regarded by the statesman, strictly so called. He looked upon Ireland with a practical eye, and thought that a British ruler need not be overanxious about future danger from the Irish. He considered that it was impossible to raise a middle class in Ireland without tranquillity, and that there could not be quiet unless the people were employed. Hence he was such an advocate of railways upon an extensive plan, because,-1. They would give temporary employment to the peasantry, and drain off some of the competitors for land. 2. By employing the peasantry the
class above them would temporarily profit. 3. A lull would be created, in which the social structure would be knit more firmly together. 4. Private capital would gradually find its way into the country, and employ the labour disengaged on the completion of the railways.”
This scheme for the redemption of Ireland had probably been matured before 1835; the state of landed titles, as a source of the national evils, seems never to have struck Drummond. He had great faith in the scheme, and devoted all his energies to carrying it out. Other reasons for seeking a general national system of railways for Ireland were no doubt present to his mind. The private companies, which were acquiring monopolies of the carrying business of England, were already beginning to show what they must come to. Already had ruinous parliamentary contests cost, in some cases, nearly as much money as might have sufficed to form the projected lines. Railway interests were becoming a power in Parliament, and threatening to be able soon to control legislation on railway subjects,—to make it wholly in their own favour and adverse to the public; railway fares were high, and railway carriages uncomfortable. It was thus natural that he should desire to prevent Ireland being handed over to private railway companies. The soil was virgin, only six miles of rail-between Dublin and Kingstown-being as yet, in 1835, in the course of construction. The one idea, however, which led him to become the advocate and the martyr of the Irish national railroad scheme was undoubtedly that, through some such steps as those stated by Dr Madden, it might be the means of permanently improving the condition of the mass of the Irish people.
* “ Ireland and its Rulers," Part III. 55.
There is no doubt that the scheme was purely and solely Drummond's. Earl Russell is clear as to this, and so is General Sir J. F. Burgoyne, who acted with Drummond on the Railway Commission. Professor Barlow also, another of the Commissioners, has recorded the fact that it was generally understood that the whole idea was Drummond's. What the negotiations were, however, which preceded the appointment of the Commission, I am not in a position to state. After the concurrence of the Cabinet was secured, it was arranged that the best course was to begin by resolution in the House of Lords. In the course of the session of 1835–36, the Marquis of Lansdowne proposed in that House a resolution in favour of an address to His Majesty William IV., begging him “ to appoint persons of competent authority to consider and report upon the principal lines of communication in Ireland, with reference to the comparative advantages and facilities they afford for the construction of railways, and that with a view to ascertain the best lines between any of the principal places in Ireland which it may be advisable to connect by railways, and for which works Jointstock Companies may be willing hereafter to apply to Parliament.” The resolution was unanimously agreed to, and in pursuance of it the King, on the 20th October 1836, issued the Commission. The Commissioners appointed were Mr Drummond (who, already overwhelmed with work, volunteered to undertake this new labour in which he was so much interested);* Colonel (now General Sir John Fox) Burgoyne, R.E.; Mr Peter Barlow, professor of mathematics in the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich; and Mr (now Sir) Richard
* Letter from Lord Normanby to Mr Drummond's mother, 30th July 1838.
Griffith, the geologist.* They were directed,-First, To consider as to a general system for railways in Ireland in such manner, either by causing surveys to be made of the leading lines, or otherwise, as may serve best to guide the Legislature in the consideration of the projects that may be brought before it. Secondly, To consider as to the best mode of directing the development of the said new and important means of intercourse to the channels whereby the greatest advantages may be obtained by the smallest outlay, taking into consideration not only the existing means which the country presents, but those which may be anticipated from the resources which may in future be developed. Thirdly, To make inquiry as to the port or ports on the west or south coast of Ireland, from whence the navigation to America may be best carried on by steam or sailing vessels; and to investigate particularly the facilities for the construction of lines of railroad across Ireland to such port or ports in connection with the greatest possible collateral benefits to internal communications. And, fourthly, to inquire into all such matters as may appear essential to the useful prosecution and result of their investigations.
It will be seen at a glance that the proposed inquiry was a very large one, and demanded a rare combination of qualities in the Commissioners. Had its object been merely to ascertain the series of lines of railroad which, diverging from the capital, would, with the smallest length, open the greatest space of country, the inquiry would have been difficult. It would have been much more intricate were it farther necessary that the series of lines should be the best possible provision for the
* Short biographical and critical notices of the Commissioners will be found in an article, “ Railroads in Ireland,” in the Quarterly Review, vol. Ixiii. p. 42.
traffic existing in the districts to be opened. Yet would the problem to be solved, even in the latter case, have still been much less complex and difficult than that the solution of which was the object of the proposed inquiry. This demanded not only great engineering skill, but forethought,-a power of prevision to be attained only through a comprehensive survey of the effects on traffic of the new means of locomotion wherever it had been introduced. The Commissioners had to consider and determine what places it would be most advantageous to connect by the new species of road, and the best directions for the lines from point to point of the system of points to be connected; and they had to lay out the lines, moreover, not with a view to the existing traffic, but with a view to a traffic to be created, and in whose creation it has been well said, the lines were, by a sort of inverted parentage, to bear a part. The difficulties of their task did not end even here. They had not only to consider the intrinsic merits of the scheme to be proposed, but its feasibility--the likelihood of its meeting with public approval,-no easy task, since the country, new as a colony in respect to its industrial channels, was yet old in respect to the number of the vested interests which fell to be consulted and, if possible, to be conciliated.
Let us see how the delicate and arduous duty was performed by the eminent persons who were selected to discharge it.
The Commissioners were required to report by the 10th of April 1837. They made a first Report on the 11th March of that year. Later in the year the Commission fell on the death of the King. A new Commission was issued by Queen Victoria on 4th November. The second and final Report of the Commissioners is dated 11th July 1838.