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The Life of Thomas Telford by Smiles by Samuel Smiles

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"the immense importance of this improvement on the old practice is
apt to be lost sight of at the present day by those who overlook
the enormous size and strength of masonry which would have been
required to support a puddled channel at the height of 120 feet."
Mr. Hughes, however, claims for Mr. Jessop the merit of having
suggested the employment of iron, though, in our opinion, without
sufficient reason.

Mr. Jessop was, no doubt, consulted by Mr. Telford on the subject;
but the whole details of the design, as well as the suggestion of
the use of iron (as admitted by Mr. Hughes himself), and the
execution of the entire works, rested with the acting engineer.
This is borne out by the report published by the Company
immediately after the formal opening of the Canal in 1805, in which
they state: "Having now detailed the particulars relative to the
Canal, and the circumstances of the concern, the committee, in
concluding their report, think it but justice due to Mr. Telford to
state that the works have been planned with great skill and
science, and executed with much economy and stability, doing him,
as well as those employed by him, infinite credit. (Signed)

*[7] Letter to Mr. Andrew Little, Langholm, dated Shrewsbury,
16th Sept., 1794.

*[8] lbid.

*[9] Letter to Mr. Andrew Little, Langholm, dated Salop, 20th Aug.,



Shrewsbury being situated in the immediate neighbourhood of the
Black Country, of which coal and iron are the principal products,
Telford's attention was naturally directed, at a very early period,
to the employment of cast iron in bridge-building. The strength as
well as lightness of a bridge of this material, compared with one
of stone and lime, is of great moment where headway is ofimportance,
or the difficulties of defective foundations have to be encountered.
The metal can be moulded in such precise forms and so accurately
fitted together as to give to the arching the greatest possible
rigidity; while it defies the destructive influences of time and
atmospheric corrosion with nearly as much certainty as stone itself.

The Italians and French, who took the lead in engineering down almost
to the end of last century, early detected the value of this material,
and made several attempts to introduce it in bridge-building;
but their efforts proved unsuccessful, chiefly because of the
inability of the early founders to cast large masses of iron,
and also because the metal was then more expensive than either stone
or timber. The first actual attempt to build a cast iron bridge was
made at Lyons in 1755, and it proceeded so far that one of the
arches was put together in the builder's yard; but the project was
abandoned as too costly, and timber was eventually used.

It was reserved for English manufacturers to triumph over the
difficulties which had baffled the foreign iron-founders. Shortly
after the above ineffectual attempt had been made, the construction
of a bridge over the Severn near Broseley formed the subject of
discussion among the adjoining owners. There had been a great
increase in the coal, iron, brick, and pottery trades of the
neighbourhood; and the old ferry between the opposite banks of the
river was found altogether inadequate for the accommodation of the
traffic. The necessity for a bridge had long been felt, and the
project of constructing one was actively taken up in 1776 by
Mr. Abraham Darby, the principal owner of the extensive iron works
at Coalbrookdale. Mr. Pritchard, a Shrewsbury architect, prepared
the design of a stone bridge of one arch, in which he proposed to
introduce a key-stone of cast iron, occupying only a few feet at
the crown of the arch. This plan was, however, given up as
unsuitable; and another, with the entire arch of cast iron, was
designed under the superintendence of Mr. Darby. The castings were
made in the works at Coalbrookdale, and the bridge was erected at a
point where the banks were of considerable height on both sides of
the river. It was opened for traffic in 1779, and continues a most
serviceable structure to this day, giving the name to the town of
Ironbridge, which has sprung up in its immediate vicinity. The
bridge consists of one semicircular arch, of 100 feet span, each of
the great ribs consisting of two pieces only. Mr. Robert Stephenson
has said of the structure--"If we consider that the manipulation of
cast iron was then completely in its infancy, a bridge of such
dimensions was doubtless a bold as well as an original undertaking,
and the efficiency of the details is worthy of the boldness of the

[Image] The first Iron Bridge, Coalbrookdale.

It is a curious circumstance that the next projector of an iron
bridge--and that of a very bold design--was the celebrated, or
rather the notorious, Tom Paine, whose political writings Telford
had so much admired. The son of a decent Quaker of Thetford, who
trained him to his own trade of a staymaker, Paine seems early to
have contracted a dislike for the sect to which his father
belonged. Arrived at manhood, he gave up staymaking to embrace the
wild life of a privateersman, and served in two successive
adventures. Leaving the sea, he became an exciseman, but retained
his commission for only a year. Then he became an usher in a
school, during which he studied mechanics and mathematics. Again
appointed an exciseman, he was stationed at Lewes in Sussex, where
he wrote poetry and acquired some local celebrity as a writer.
He was accordingly selected by his brother excisemen to prepare their
petition to Government for an increase of pay, *[2] -- the document
which he drew up procuring him introductions to Goldsmith and
Franklin, and dismissal from his post. Franklin persuaded him to go
to America; and there the quondam staymaker, privateersman, usher,
poet, an a exciseman, took an active part in the revolutionary
discussions of the time, besides holding the important office of
Secretary to the Committee for Foreign Affairs. Paine afterwards
settled for a time at Philadelphia, where he occupied himself with
the study of mechanical philosophy, electricity, mineralogy, and
the use of iron in bridge-building. In 1787, when a bridge over
the Schnylkill was proposed, without any river piers, as the stream
was apt to be choked with ice in the spring freshets, Paine boldly
offered to build an iron bridge with a single arch of 400 feet
span. In the course of the same year, he submitted his design of
the proposed bridge to the Academy of Sciences at Paris; he also
sent a copy of his plan to Sir Joseph Banks for submission to the
Royal Society; and, encouraged by the favourable opinions of
scientific men, he proceeded to Rotherham, in Yorkshire, to have
his bridge cast.*[3] An American gentleman, named Whiteside, having
advanced money to Paine on security of his property in the States,
to enable the bridge to be completed, the castings were duly made,
and shipped off to London, where they were put together and
exhibited to the public on a bowling-green at Paddington.
The bridge was there visited by a large number of persons, and was
considered to be a highly creditable work. Suddenly Paine's attention
was withdrawn from its further prosecution by the publication of
Mr. Burke's celebrated 'Thoughts on the French Revolution,' which
he undertook to answer. Whiteside having in the meantime become
bankrupt, Paine was arrested by his assignees, but was liberated by
the assistance of two other Americans, who became bound for him.
Paine, however, was by this time carried away by the fervour of the
French Revolution, having become a member of the National
Convention, as representative for Calais. The "Friends of Man,"
whose cause he had espoused, treated him scurvily, imprisoning him
in the Luxembourg, where he lay for eleven months. Escaped to
America, we find him in 1803 presenting to the American Congress a
memoir on the construction of Iron Bridges, accompanied by several
models. It does not appear, however, that Paine ever succeeded in
erecting an iron bridge. He was a restless, speculative, unhappy
being; and it would have been well for his memory if, instead of
penning shallow infidelity, he had devoted himself to his original
idea of improving the communications of his adopted country.
In the meantime, however, the bridge exhibited at Paddington had
produced important results. The manufacturers agreed to take it
back as part of their debt, and the materials were afterwards used
in the construction of the noble bridge over the Wear at Sunderland,
which was erected in 1796.

The project of constructing a bridge at this place, where the rocky
banks of the Wear rise to a great height oh both sides of the
river, is due to Rowland Burdon, Esq., of Castle Eden, under whom
Mr. T. Wilson served as engineer in carrying out his design.
The details differed in several important respects from the proposed
bridge of Paine, Mr. Burdon introducing several new and original
features, more particularly as regarded the framed iron panels
radiating towards the centre in the form of voussoirs, for the
purpose of resisting compression. Mr. Phipps, C.E., in a report
prepared by him at the instance of the late Robert Stephenson,
under whose superintendence the bridge was recently repaired,
observes, with respect to the original design,--"We should probably
make a fair division of the honour connected with this unique
bridge, by conceding to Burdon all that belongs to a careful
elaboration and improvement upon the designs of another, to the
boldness of taking upon himself the great responsibility of
applying. this idea at once on so magnificent a scale, and to his
liberality and public spirit in furnishing the requisite funds
[to the amount of 22,000L.]; but we must not deny to Paine the credit
of conceiving the construction of iron bridges of far larger span
than had been made before his time, or of the important examples
both as models and large constructions which he caused to be made
and publicly exhibited. In whatever shares the merit of this great
work may be apportioned, it must be admitted to be one of the
earliest and greatest triumphs of the art of bridge construction."
Its span exceeded that of any arch then known, being 236 feet, with
a rise of 34 feet, the springing commencing at 95 feet above the
bed of the river; and its height was such as to allow vessels of
300 tons burden to sail underneath without striking their masts.
Mr. Stephenson characterised the bridge as "a structure which, as
regards its proportions and the small quantity of material employed
in its construction, will probably remain unrivalled."

[Image] Wear Bridge, at Sunderland.

The same year in which Burdon's Bridge was erected at Sunderland,
Telford was building his first iron bridge over the Severn at
Buildwas, at a point about midway between Shrewsbury and Bridgenorth.
An unusually high flood having swept away the old bridge in the
Year 1795, he was called upon, as surveyor for the county, to
supply the plan of a new one. Having carefully examined the bridge
at Coalbrookdale, and appreciated its remarkable merits, he
determined to build the proposed bridge at Buildwas of iron; and as
the waters came down with great suddenness from the Welsh mountains,
he further resolved to construct it of only one arch, so as to
afford the largest possible water-way.

He had some difficulty in inducing the Coalbrookdale iron-masters,
who undertook the casting of the girders, to depart from the plan
of the earlier structure; but he persisted in his design, which was
eventually carried out. It consisted of a single arch of 130 feet
span, the segment of a very large circle, calculated to resist the
tendency of the abutments to slide inwards, which had been a defect
of the Coalbrookdale bridge; the flat arch being itself sustained
and strengthened by an outer ribbed one on each side, springing
lower than the former and also rising higher, somewhat after the
manner of timber-trussing. Although the span of the new bridge was
30 feet wider than the Coalbrookdale bridge, it contained less than
half the quantity of iron; Buildwas bridge containing 173, whereas
the other contained 378 tons. The new structure was, besides,
extremely elegant in form; and when the centres were struck, the
arch and abutments stood perfectly firm, and have remained so to
this day. But the ingenious design of this bridge will be better
explained by the following representation than by any description
in words.*[4] The bridge at Buildwas, however, was not Telford's
first employment of iron in bridge-building; for, the year before
its erection, we find him writing to his friend at Langholm that he
had recommended an iron aqueduct for the Shrewsbury Canal,
"on a principle entirely new," and which he was "endeavouring to
establish with regard to the application of iron."*[5] This iron
aqueduct had been cast and fixed; and it was found to effect so
great a saving in masonry and earthwork, that he was afterwards
induced to apply the same principle, as we have already seen,
in different forms, in the magnificent aqueducts of Chirk and

The uses of cast iron in canal construction became more obvious
with every year's successive experience; and Telford was accustomed
to introduce it in many cases where formerly only timber or stone
had been used. On the Ellesmere, and afterwards on the Caledonial
Canal, he adopted cast iron lock-gates, which were found to answer
well, being more durable than timber, and not liable like it to
shrink and expand with alternate dryness and wet. The turnbridges
which he applied to his canals, in place of the old drawbridges,
were also of cast iron; and in some cases even the locks were of
the same material. Thus, on a part of the Ellesmere Canal opposite
Beeston Castle, in Cheshire, where a couple of locks, together
rising 17 feet, having been built on a stratum of quicksand, were
repeatedly undermined, the idea of constructing the entire locks of
cast iron was suggested; and this unusual application of the new
material was accomplished with entirely satisfactory results.

But Telford's principal employment of cast iron was in the
construction of road bridges, in which he proved himself a master.
His experience in these structures had become very extensive.
During the time that he held the office of surveyor to the county
of Salop, he erected no fewer than forty-two, five of which were of
iron. Indeed, his success in iron bridge-building so much
emboldened him, that in 1801, when Old London Bridge had become so
rickety and inconvenient that it was found necessary to take steps
to rebuild or remove it, he proposed the daring plan of a cast iron
bridge of a single arch of not less than 600 feet span, the segment
of a circle l450 feet in diameter. In preparing this design we
find that he was associated with a Mr. Douglas, to whom many
allusions are made in his private letters.*[6] The design of this
bridge seems to have arisen out of a larger project for the
improvement of the port of London. In a private letter of Telford's,
dated the 13th May, 1800, he says:

"I have twice attended the Select Committee on the Fort of London,
Lord Hawkesbury, Chairman. The subject has now been agitated for
four years, and might have been so for many more, if Mr. Pitt had
not taken the business out of the hands of the General Committee,
and got it referred to a Select Committee. Last year they
recommended that a system of docks should be formed in a large bend
of the river opposite Greenwich, called the Isle of Dogs, with a
canal across the neck of the bend. This part of the contemplated
improvements is already commenced, and is proceeding as rapidly as
the nature of the work will admit. It will contain ship docks for
large vessels, such as East and West Indiamen, whose draught of
water is considerable.

"There are now two other propositions under consideration. One is
to form another system of docks at Wapping, and the other to take
down London Bridge, rebuild it of such dimensions as to admit of
ships of 200 tons passing under it, and form a new pool for ships
of such burden between London and Blackfriars Bridges, with a set
of regular wharves on each side of the river. This is with the view
of saving lighterage and plunderage, and bringing the great mass of
commerce so much nearer to the heart of the City. This last part of
the plan has been taken up in a great measure from some statements
I made while in London last year, and I have been called before the
Committee to explain. I had previously prepared a set of plans and
estimates for the purpose of showing how the idea might be carried
out; and thus a considerable degree of interest has been excited on
the subject. It is as yet, however, very uncertain how far the
plans will be carried out. It is certainly a matter of great
national importance to render the Port of London as perfect as

Later in the same year he writes that his plans and propositions
have been approved and recommended to be carried out, and he
expects to have the execution of them. "If they will provide the
ways and means," says he, "and give me elbow-room, I see my way as
plainly as mending the brig at the auld burn." In November, 1801,
he states that his view of London Bridge, as proposed by him, has
been published, and much admired. On the l4th of April, 1802, he
writes, "I have got into mighty favour with the Royal folks. I have
received notes written by order of the King, the Prince of Wales,
Duke of York, and Duke of Kent, about the bridge print, and in
future it is to be dedicated to the King."

The bridge in question was one of the boldest of Telford's designs.
He proposed by his one arch to provide a clear headway of 65 feet
above high water. The arch was to consist of seven cast iron ribs,
in segments as large as possible, and they were to be connected by
diagonal cross-bracing, disposed in such a manner that any part of
the ribs and braces could be taken out and replaced without injury
to the stability of the bridge or interruption to the traffic over it.
The roadway was to be 90 feet wide at the abutments and 45 feet
in the centre; the width of the arch being gradually contracted
towards the crown in order to lighten the weight of the structure.
The bridge was to contain 6500 tons of iron, and the cost of the
whole was to be 262,289L.

[Image] Telford's proposed One-arched Bridge over the Thames.

The originality of the design was greatly admired, though there
were many who received with incredulity the proposal to bridge the
Thames by a single arch, and it was sarcastically said of Telford
that he might as well think of "setting the Thames on fire."
Before any outlay was incurred in building the bridge, the design
was submitted to the consideration of the most eminent scientific
and practical men of the day; after which evidence was taken at
great length before a Select Committee which sat on the subject.
Among those examined on the occasion were the venerable James Watt
of Birmingham, Mr. John Rennie, Professor Button of Woolwich,
Professors Playfair and Robison of Edinburgh, Mr. Jessop,
Mr.Southern, and Dr. Maskelyne. Their evidence will still be found
interesting as indicating the state at which constructive science
had at that time arrived in England.*[8] There was a considerable
diversity of opinion among the witnesses, as might have been
expected; for experience was as yet very limited as to the
resistance of cast iron to extension and compression. Some of them
anticipated immense difficulty in casting pieces of metal of the
necessary size and exactness, so as to secure that the radiated
joints should be all straight and bearing. Others laid down certain
ingenious theories of the arch, which did not quite square with the
plan proposed by the engineer. But, as was candidly observed by
Professor Playfair in concluding his report--"It is not from
theoretical men that the most valuable information in such a case
as the present is to be expected. When a mechanical arrangement
becomes in a certain degree complicated, it baffles the efforts of
the geometer, and refuses to submit to even the most approved
methods of investigation. This holds good particularly of bridges,
where the principles of mechanics, aided by all the resources of
the higher geometry, have not yet gone further than to determine
the equilibrium of a set of smooth wedges acting on one another by
pressure only, and in such circumstances as, except in a
philosophical experiment, can hardly ever be realised. It is,
therefore, from men educated in the school of daily practice and
experience, and who to a knowledge of general principles have
added, from the habits of their profession, a certain feeling of
the justness or insufficiency of any mechanical contrivance, that
the soundest opinions on a matter of this kind can be obtained."

It would appear that the Committee came to the general conclusion
that the construction of the proposed bridge was practicable and
safe; for the river was contracted to the requisite width, and the
preliminary works were actually begun. Mr. Stephenson says the
design was eventually abandoned, owing more immediately to the
difficulty of constructing the approaches with such a head way,
which would have involved the formation of extensive inclined
planes from the adjoining streets, and thereby led to serious
inconvenience, and the depreciation of much valuable property on
both sides of the river.*[9] Telford's noble design of his great
iron bridge over the Thames, together with his proposed embankment
of the river, being thus definitely abandoned, he fell back upon
his ordinary business as an architect and engineer, in the course
of which he designed and erected several stone bridges of
considerable magnitude and importance.

In the spring of 1795, after a long continued fall of snow, a
sudden thaw raised a heavy flood in the Severn, which carried away
many bridges--amongst others one at Bewdley, in Worcestershire,--
when Telford was called upon to supply a design for a new structure.
At the same time, he was required to furnish a plan for a new
bridge near the town of Bridgenorth; "in short," he wrote to his
friend, "I have been at it night and day." So uniform a success had
heretofore attended the execution of his designs, that his
reputation as a bridge-builder was universally acknowledged.
"Last week," he says, "Davidson and I struck the centre of an arch
of 76 feet span, and this is the third which has been thrown this
summer, none of which have shrunk a quarter of an inch."

Bewdley Bridge is a handsome and substantial piece of masonry.
The streets on either side of it being on low ground, land arches
were provided at both ends for the passage of the flood waters;
and as the Severn was navigable at the point crossed, it was
considered necessary to allow considerably greater width in the
river arches than had been the case in the former structure.
The arches were three in number--one of 60 feet span and two of 52
feet, the land arches being of 9 feet span. The works were
proceeded with and the bridge was completed during the summer of
1798, Telford writing to his friend in December of that year--
"We have had a remarkably dry summer and autumn; after that an early
fall of snow and some frost, followed by rain. The drought of the
summer was unfavourable to our canal working; but it has enabled us
to raise Bewdley Bridge as if by enchantment. We have thus built a
magnificent bridge over the Severn in one season, which is no
contemptible work for John Simpson*[10] and your humble servant,
amidst so many other great undertakings. John Simpson is a
treasure--a man of great talents and integrity. I met with him
here by chance, employed and recommended him, and he has now under
his charge all the works of any magnitude in this great and rich

[Image] Bewdley Bridge.

Another of our engineer's early stone bridges, which may be
mentioned in this place, was erected by him in 1805, over the river
Dee at Tongueland in the county of Kirkcudbright. It is a bold and
picturesque bridge, situated in a lovely locality. The river is
very deep at high water there, the tide rising 20 feet. As the
banks were steep and rocky, the engineer determined to bridge the
stream by a single arch of 112 feet span. The rise being
considerable, high wingwalls and deep spandrels were requisite; but
the weight of the structure was much lightened by the expedient
which he adopted of perforating the wings, and building a number of
longitudinal walls in the spandrels, instead of filling them with
earth or inferior masonry, as had until then been the ordinary
practice. The ends of these walls, connected and steadied by the
insertion of tee-stones, were built so as to abut against the back
of the arch-stones and the cross walls of each abutment. Thus great
strength as well as lightness was secured, and a very graceful and
at the same time substantial bridge was provided for the
accommodation of the district.*[11]

[Image] Tongueland Bridge.

In his letters written about this time, Telford seems to have been
very full of employment, which required him to travel about a great
deal. "I have become," said he, "a very wandering being, and am
scarcely ever two days in one place, unless detained by business,
which, however, occupies my time very completely." At another time
he says, "I am tossed about like a tennis ball: the other day I was
in London, since that I have been in Liverpool, and in a few days I
expect to be at Bristol. Such is my life; and to tell you the
truth, I think it suits my disposition."

Another work on which Telford was engaged at this time was a
project for supplying the town of Liverpool with water conveyed
through pipes in the same manner as had long before been adopted in
London. He was much struck by the activity and enterprise apparent
in Liverpool compared with Bristol. "Liverpool," he said,
"has taken firm root in the country by means of the canals"
it is young, vigorous, and well situated. Bristol is sinking in
commercial importance: its merchants are rich and indolent, and in
their projects they are always too late. Besides, the place is
badly situated. There will probably arise another port there
somewhat nearer the Severn; but Liverpool will nevertheless
continue of the first commercial importance, and their water will
be turned into wine. We are making rapid progress in this country--
I mean from Liverpool to Bristol, and from Wales to Birmingham.
This is an extensive and rich district, abounding in coal, lime,
iron, and lead. Agriculture too is improving, and manufactures
are advancing at rapid strides towards perfection. Think of such a
mass of population, industrious, intelligent, and energetic, in
continual exertion! In short, I do not believe that any part of the
world, of like dimensions, ever exceeded Great Britain, as it now
is, in regard to the production of wealth and the practice of the
useful arts."*[12] Amidst all this progress, which so strikingly
characterized the western districts of England, Telford also
thought that there was a prospect of coming improvement for Ireland.
"There is a board of five members appointed by Parliament, to act
as a board of control over all the inland navigations, &c., of
Ireland. One of the members is a particular friend of mine, and at
this moment a pupil, as it were, anxious for information. This is
a noble object: the field is wide, the ground new and capable of
vast improvement. To take up and manage the water of a fine island
is like a fairy tale, and, if properly conducted, it would render
Ireland truly a jewel among the nations."*[13] It does not,
however, appear that Telford was ever employed by the board to
carry out the grand scheme which thus fired his engineering

Mixing freely with men of all classes, our engineer seems to have
made many new friends and acquaintances about this time. While on
his journeys north and south, he frequently took the opportunity of
looking in upon the venerable James Watt--"a great and good man,"
he terms him--at his house at Heathfield, near Birmingham.
At London he says he is "often with old Brodie and Black, each the
first in his profession, though they walked up together to the
great city on foot,*[14] more than half a century ago--Gloria!"
About the same time we find him taking interest in the projects of
a deserving person, named Holwell, a coal-master in Staffordshire,
and assisting him to take out a patent for boring wooden pipes;
"he being a person," says Telford, "little known, and not having
capital, interest, or connections, to bring the matter forward."

Telford also kept up his literary friendships and preserved his
love for poetical reading. At Shrewsbury, one of his most intimate
friends was Dr. Darwin, son of the author of the 'Botanic Garden.'
At Liverpool, he made the acquaintance of Dr. Currie, and was
favoured with a sight of his manuscript of the ' Life of Burns,'
then in course of publication. Curiously enough, Dr. Currie had
found among Burns's papers a copy of some verses, addressed to the
poet, which Telford recognised as his own, written many years
before while working as a mason at Langholm. Their purport was to
urge Burns to devote himself to the composition of poems of a
serious character, such as the 'Cotter's Saturday Night.' With
Telford's permission, several extracts from his Address to Burns
were published in 1800 in Currie's Life of the poet. Another of
his literary friendships, formed about the same time, was that with
Thomas Campbell, then a very young man, whose 'Pleasures of Hope'
had just made its appearance. Telford, in one of his letters, says,
"I will not leave a stone unturned to try to serve the author of
that charming poem. In a subsequent communication*[15] he says,
"The author of the 'Pleasures of Hope' has been here for some time.
I am quite delighted with him. He is the very spirit of poetry.
On Monday I introduced him to the King's librarian, and I imagine
some good may result to him from the introduction."

In the midst of his plans of docks, canals, and bridges, he wrote
letters to his friends about the peculiarities of Goethe's poems
and Kotzebue's plays, Roman antiquities, Buonaparte's campaign in
Egypt, and the merits of the last new book. He confessed, however,
that his leisure for reading was rapidly diminishing in consequence
of the increasing professional demands upon his time; but he bought
the 'Encyclopedia Britannica,' which he described as "a perfect
treasure, containing everything, and always at hand." He thus
rapidly described the manner in which his time was engrossed.
"A few days since, I attended a general assembly of the canal
proprietors in Shropshire. I have to be at Chester again in a
week, upon an arbitration business respecting the rebuilding of the
county hall and gaol; but previous to that I must visit Liverpool,
and afterwards proceed into Worcestershire. So you see what sort
of a life I have of it. It is something like Buonaparte, when in
Italy, fighting battles at fifty or a hundred miles distance every
other day. However, plenty of employment is what every
professional man is seeking after, and my various occupations now
require of me great exertions, which they certainly shall have so
long as life and health are spared to me."*[16] Amidst all his
engagements, Telford found time to make particular inquiry about
many poor families formerly known to him in Eskdale, for some of
whom he paid house-rent, while he transmitted the means of
supplying others with coals, meal, and necessaries, during the
severe winter months,--a practice which he continued to the close
of his life.

Footnotes for Chapter VII.

*[1] 'Encyclopedia Britannica,' 8th ed. Art. "Iron Bridges."

*[2] According to the statement made in the petition drawn by Paine,
excise officers were then (1772) paid only 1s. 9 1/4d. a day.

*[3] In England, Paine took out a patent for his Iron Bridge in
1788. Specification of Patents (old law) No. 1667.

*[4] [Image] Buildwas Bridge.

The following are further details: "Each of the main ribs of the
flat arch consists of three pieces, and at each junction they are
secured by a grated plate, which connects all the parallel ribs
together into one frame. The back of each abutment is in a
wedge-shape, so as to throw off laterally much of the pressure of
the earth. Under the bridge is a towing path on each side of the
river. The bridge was cast in an admirable manner by the
Coalbrookdale iron-masters in the year 1796, under contract with
the county magistrates. The total cost was 6034L. l3s. 3d."

*[5] Letter to Mr. Andrew Little, Langholm, dated Shrewsbury,
l8th March, 1795.

*[6] Douglas was first mentioned to Telford, in a letter from
Mr. Pasley, as a young man, a native of Bigholmes, Eskdale, who had,
after serving his time there as a mechanic, emigrated to America,
where he showed such proofs of mechanical genius that he attracted
the notice of Mr. Liston, the British Minister, who paid his
expenses home to England, that his services might not be lost to
his country, and at the same time gave him a letter of introduction
to the Society of Arts in London. Telford, in a letter to Andrew
Little, dated 4th December, 1797, expressed a desire "to know more
of this Eskdale Archimedes." Shortly after, we find Douglas
mentioned as having invented a brick machine, a shearing-machine,
and a ball for destroying the rigging of ships; for the two former
of which he secured patents. He afterwards settled in France, where
he introduced machinery for the improved manufacture of woollen
cloth; and being patronised by the Government, he succeeded in
realising considerable wealth, which, how ever, he did not live to

*[7] Letter to Mr. Andrew Little, Langholm, dated London, l3th May,

*[8] The evidence is fairly set forth in 'Cresy's Encyclopedia of
Civil Engineering,' p. 475.

*[9] Article on Iron Bridges, in the 'Encyclopedia Britannica,'
Edinburgh, 1857.

*[10] His foreman of masons at Bewdley Bridge, and afterwards his
assistant in numerous important works.

*[11] The work is thus described in Robert Chambers's ' Picture of
Scotland':--"Opposite Compston there is a magnificent new bridge
over the Dee. It consists of a single web, the span of which is 112
feet; and it is built of vast blocks of freestone brought from the
isle of Arran. The cost of this work was somewhere about 7000L.
sterling; and it may be mentioned, to the honour of the Stewartry,
that this sum was raised by the private contributions of the
gentlemen of the district. From Tongueland Hill, in the immediate
vicinity of the bridge, there is a view well worthy of a painter's
eye, and which is not inferior in beauty and magnificence to any in

*[12] Letter to Mr. Andrew Little, Langholm, dated Salop,
13th July, 1799.

*[13] Letter to Mr. Andrew Little, Langholm, dated Liverpool,
9th September, 1800.

*[14] Brodie was originally a blacksmith. He was a man of much
ingenuity and industry, and introduced many improvements in iron
work; he invented stoves for chimneys, ships' hearths, &c. He had
above a hundred men working in his London shop, besides carrying on
an iron work at Coalbrookdale. He afterwards established a woollen
manufactory near Peebles.

*[15] Dated London, l4th April, 1802.

*[16] Letter to Mr. Andrew Little, Langholm, dated Salop,
30th November, 1799.



In an early chapter of this volume we have given a rapid survey of
the state of Scotland about the middle of last century. We found a
country without roads, fields lying uncultivated, mines unexplored,
and all branches of industry languishing, in the midst of an idle,
miserable, and haggard population. Fifty years passed, and the
state of the Lowlands had become completely changed. Roads had been
made, canals dug, coal-mines opened up, ironworks established;
manufactures were extending in all directions; and Scotch
agriculture, instead of being the worst, was admitted to be the
best in the island.

"I have been perfectly astonished," wrote Romilly from Stirling,
in 1793, "at the richness and high cultivation of all the tract of
this calumniated country through which I have passed, and which
extends quite from Edinburgh to the mountains where I now am.
It is true, however; that almost everything which one sees to admire
in the way of cultivation is due to modem improvements; and now and
then one observes a few acres of brown moss, contrasting admirably
with the corn-fieids to which they are contiguous, and affording a
specimen of the dreariness and desolation which, only half a century
ago, overspread a country now highly cultivated, and become a most
copious source of human happiness."*[1] It must, however, be
admitted that the industrial progress thus described was confined
almost entirely to the Lowlands, and had scarcely penetrated the
mountainous regions lying towards the north-west. The rugged
nature of that part of the country interposed a formidable barrier
to improvement, and the district still remained very imperfectly
opened up. The only practicable roads were those which had been
made by the soldiery after the rebellions of 1715 and '45, through
counties which before had been inaccessible except by dangerous
footpaths across high and rugged mountains. An old epigram in
vogue at the end of last century ran thus:

"Had you seen these roads before they were made,
You'd lift up your hands and bless General Wade!"

Being constructed by soldiers for military purposes, they were
first known as "military roads." One was formed along the Great
Glen of Scotland, in the line of the present Caledonian Canal,
connected with the Lowlands by the road through Glencoe by Tyndrum
down the western banks of Loch Lomond; another, more northerly,
connected Fort Augustus with Dunkeld by Blair Athol; while a third,
still further to the north and east, connected Fort George with
Cupar-in-Angus by Badenoch and Braemar.

The military roads were about eight hundred miles in extent,
and maintained at the public expense. But they were laid out for
purposes of military occupation rather than for the convenience of
the districts which they traversed. Hence they were comparatively
little used, and the Highlanders, in passing from one place to
another, for the most part continued to travel by the old cattle
tracks along the mountains. But the population were as yet so poor
and so spiritless, and industry was in so backward a state all over
the Highlands, that the want of more convenient communications was
scarcely felt.

Though there was plenty of good timber in certain districts, the
bark was the only part that could be sent to market, on the backs
of ponies, while the timber itself was left to rot upon the ground.
Agriculture was in a surprisingly backward state. In the remoter
districts only a little oats or barley was grown, the chief part of
which was required for the sustenance of the cattle during winter.
The Rev. Mr. Macdougall, minister of the parishes of Lochgoilhead
and Kilmorich, in Argyleshire, described the people of that part of
the country, about the year 1760, as miserable beyond description.
He says, "Indolence was almost the only comfort they enjoyed.
There was scarcely any variety of wretchedness with which they were
not obliged to struggle, or rather to which they were not obliged to
submit. They often felt what it was to want food.... To such an
extremity were they frequently reduced, that they were obliged to
bleed their cattle, in order to subsist some time on the blood
(boiled); and even the inhabitants of the glens and valleys
repaired in crowds to the shore, at the distance of three or four
miles, to pick up the scanty provision which the shell-fish
afforded them."*[2]

The plough had not yet penetrated into the Highlands; an instrument
called the cas-chrom*[3]

[Image] The Cas-Chrom.

--literally the "crooked foot"--the use of which had been forgotten
for hundreds of years in every other country in Europe, was almost
the only tool employed in tillage in those parts of the Highlands
which were separated by almost impassable mountains from the rest
of the United Kingdom.

The native population were by necessity peaceful. Old feuds were
restrained by the strong arm of the law, if indeed the spirit of
the clans had not been completely broken by the severe repressive
measures which followed the rebellion of Forty-five. But the people
had hot yet learnt to bend their backs, like the Sassenach, to the
stubborn soil, and they sat gloomily by their turf-fires at home,
or wandered away to settle in other lands beyond the seas. It even
began to be feared that the country would so on be entirely
depopulated; and it became a matter of national concern to devise
methods of opening up the district so as to develope its industry
and afford improved means of sustenance for its population.
The poverty of the inhabitants rendered the attempt to construct
roads--even had they desired them--beyond their scanty means; but
the ministry of the day entertained the opinion that, by contributing
a certain proportion of the necessary expense, the proprietors of
Highland estates might be induced to advance the remainder; and on
this principle the construction of the new roads in those districts
was undertaken.

The country lying to the west of the Great Glen was absolutely
without a road of any kind. The only district through which
travellers passed was that penetrated by the great Highland road by
Badenoch, between Perth and Inverness; and for a considerable time
after the suppression of the rebellion of 1745, it was infested by
gangs of desperate robbers. So unsafe was the route across the
Grampians, that persons who had occasion to travel it usually made
their wills before setting out. Garrons, or little Highland ponies,
were then used by the gentry as well as the peasantry. Inns were
few and bad; and even when postchaises were introduced at Inverness,
the expense of hiring one was thought of for weeks, perhaps months,
and arrangements were usually made for sharing it among as many
individuals as it would contain. If the harness and springs of the
vehicle held together, travellers thought themselves fortunate in
reaching Edinburgh, jaded and weary, but safe in purse and limb,
on the eighth day after leaving Inverness.*[4] Very few persons
then travelled into the Highlands on foot, though Bewick, the father
of wood-engraving, made such a journey round Loch Lomond in 1775.
He relates that his appearance excited the greatest interest at the
Highland huts in which he lodged, the women curiously examining
him from head to foot, having never seen an Englishman before.
The strange part of his story is, that he set out upon his journey
from Cherryburn, near Newcastle, with only three guineas sewed in
his waistband, and when he reached home he had still a few
shillings left in his pocket!

In 1802, Mr. Telford was called upon by the Government to make a
survey of Scotland, and report as to the measures which were
necessary for the improvement of the roads and bridges of that part
of the kingdom, and also on the means of promoting the fisheries on
the east and west coasts, with the object of better opening up the
country and preventing further extensive emigration. Previous to
this time he had been employed by the British Fisheries Society--
of which his friend Sir William Pulteney was Governor--to inspect
the harbours at their several stations, and to devise a plan for
the establishment of a fishery on the coast of Caithness.
He accordingly made an extensive tour of Scotland, examining, among
other harbours, that of Annan; from which he proceeded northward by
Aberdeen to Wick and Thurso, returning to Shrewsbury by Edinburgh
and Dumfries.*[5] He accumulated a large mass of data for his
report, which was sent in to the Fishery Society, with charts and
plans, in the course of the following year.

In July, 1802, he was requested by the Lords of the Treasury, most
probably in consequence of the preceding report, to make a further
survey of the interior of the Highlands, the result of which he
communicated in his report presented to Parliament in the following
year. Although full of important local business, "kept running,"
as he says, "from town to country, and from country to town, never
when awake, and perhaps not always when asleep, have my Scotch
surveys been absent from my mind." He had worked very hard at his
report, and hoped that it might be productive of some good.

The report was duly presented, printed,*[6] and approved; and it
formed the starting-point of a system of legislation with reference
to the Highlands which extended over many years, and had the effect
of completely opening up that romantic but rugged district of country,
and extending to its inhabitants the advantages of improved
intercourse with the other parts of the kingdom. Mr. Telford
pointed out that the military roads were altogether inadequate to
the requirements of the population, and that the use of them was in
many places very much circumscribed by the want of bridges over
some of the principal rivers. For instance, the route from
Edinburgh to Inverness, through the Central Highlands, was
seriously interrupted at Dunkeld, where the Tay is broad and deep,
and not always easy to be crossed by means of a boat. The route to
the same place by the east coast was in like manner broken at
Fochabers, where the rapid Spey could only be crossed by a
dangerous ferry.

The difficulties encountered by gentlemen of the Bar, in travelling
the north circuit about this time, are well described by Lord
Cockburn in his 'Memorials.' "Those who are born to modem
travelling," he says, "can scarcely be made to understand how the
previous age got on. The state of the roads may be judged of from
two or three facts. There was no bridge over the Tay at Dunkeld,
or over the Spey at Fochabers, or over the Findhorn at Forres.
Nothing but wretched pierless ferries, let to poor cottars, who
rowed, or hauled, or pushed a crazy boat across, or more commonly
got their wives to do it. There was no mail-coach north of
Aberdeen till, I think, after the battle of Waterloo. What it must
have been a few years before my time may be judged of from Bozzy's
'Letter to Lord Braxfield,' published in 1780. He thinks that,
besides a carriage and his own carriage-horses, every judge ought
to have his sumpter-horse, and ought not to travel faster than the
waggon which carried the baggage of the circuit. I understood from
Hope that, after 1784, when he came to the Bar, he and Braxfield
rode a whole north circuit; and that, from the Findhorn being in a
flood, they were obliged to go up its banks for about twenty-eight
miles to the bridge of Dulsie before they could cross. I myself
rode circuits when I was Advocate-Depute between 1807 and 1810.
The fashion of every Depute carrying his own shell on his back, in
the form of his own carriage, is a piece of very modern
antiquity."*[7] North of Inverness, matters were, if possible,
still worse. There was no bridge over the Beauly or the Conan.
The drovers coming south swam the rivers with their cattle. There
being no roads, there was little use for carts. In the whole
county of Caithness, there was scarcely a farmer who owned a
wheel-cart. Burdens were conveyed usually on the backs of ponies,
but quite as often on the backs of women.*[8] The interior of the
county of Sutherland being almost inaccessible, the only track lay
along the shore, among rocks and sand, and was covered by the sea
at every tide. "The people lay scattered in inaccessible straths
and spots among the mountains, where they lived in family with
their pigs and kyloes (cattle), in turf cabins of the most
miserable description; they spoke only Gaelic, and spent the whole
of their time in indolence and sloth. Thus they had gone on from
father to son, with little change, except what the introduction of
illicit distillation had wrought, and making little or no export
from the country beyond the few lean kyloes, which paid the rent
and produced wherewithal to pay for the oatmeal imported."*[9]
Telford's first recommendation was, that a bridge should be thrown
across the Tay at Dunkeld, to connect the improved lines of road
proposed to be made on each side of the river. He regarded this
measure as of the first importance to the Central Highlands; and as
the Duke of Athol was willing to pay one-half of the cost of the
erection, if the Government would defray the other--the bridge to
be free of toll after a certain period--it appeared to the engineer
that this was a reasonable and just mode of providing for the
contingency. In the next place, he recommended a bridge over the
Spey, which drained a great extent of mountainous country, and,
being liable to sudden inundations, was very dangerous to cross.
Yet this ferry formed the only link of communication between the
whole of the northern counties. The site pointed out for the
proposed bridge was adjacent to the town of Fochabers, and here
also the Duke of Gordon and other county gentlemen were willing to
provide one-half of the means for its erection.

Mr. Telford further described in detail the roads necessary to be
constructed in the north and west Highlands, with the object of
opening up the western parts of the counties of Inverness and Ross,
and affording a ready communication from the Clyde to the fishing
lochs in the neighbourhood of the Isle of Skye. As to the means of
executing these improvements, he suggested that Government would be
justified in dealing with the Highland roads and bridges as
exceptional and extraordinary works, and extending the public aid
towards carrying them into effect, as, but for such assistance, the
country must remain, perhaps for ages to come, imperfectly opened up.
His report further embraced certain improvements in the harbours of
Aberdeen and Wick, and a description of the country through which
the proposed line of the Caledonian Canal would necessarily pass--
a canal which had long been the subject of inquiry, but had not as
yet emerged from a state of mere speculation.

The new roads, bridges, and other improvements suggested by the
engineer, excited much interest in the north. The Highland Society
voted him their thanks by acclamation; the counties of Inverness
and Ross followed; and he had letters of thanks and congratulation
from many of the Highland chiefs. "If they will persevere," says he,
"with anything like their present zeal, they will have the
satisfaction of greatly improving a country that has been too long
neglected. Things are greatly changed now in the Highlands. Even
were the chiefs to quarrel, de'il a Highlandman would stir for them.
The lairds have transferred their affections from their people to
flocks of sheep, and the people have lost their veneration for the
lairds. It seems to be the natural progress of society; but it is
not an altogether satisfactory change. There were some fine
features in the former patriarchal state of society; but now
clanship is gone, and chiefs and people are hastening into the
opposite extreme. This seems to me to be quite wrong."*[10]
In the same year, Telford was elected a member of the Royal Society
of Edinburgh, on which occasion he was proposed and supported by
three professors; so that the former Edinburgh mason was rising in
the world and receiving due honour in his own country. The effect
of his report was such, that in the session of 1803 a Parliamentary
Commission was appointed, under whose direction a series of
practical improvements was commenced, which issued in the
construction of not less than 920 additional miles of roads and
bridges throughout the Highlands, one-half of the cost of which was
defrayed by the Government and the other half by local assessment.
But in addition to these main lines of communication, numberless
county roads were formed by statute labour, under local road Acts
and by other means; the land-owners of Sutherland alone
constructing nearly 300 miles of district roads at their own cost.

[Image] Map of Telford's Roads.

By the end of the session of 1803, Telford received his
instructions from Mr. Vansittart as to the working survey he was
forthwith required to enter upon, with a view to commencing
practical operations; and he again proceeded to the Highlands to
lay out the roads and plan the bridges which were most urgently
needed. The district of the Solway was, at his representation,
included, with the object of improving the road from Carlisle to
Portpatrick--the nearest point at which Great Britain meets the
Irish coast, and where the sea passage forms only a sort of wide

It would occupy too much space, and indeed it is altogether
unnecessary, to describe in detail the operations of the Commission
and of their engineer in opening up the communications of the
Highlands. Suffice it to say, that one of the first things taken in
hand was the connection of the existing lines of road by means of
bridges at the more important points; such as at Dunkeld over the
Tay, and near Dingwall over the Conan and Orrin. That of Dunkeld
was the most important, as being situated at the entrance to the
Central Highlands; and at the second meeting of the Commissioners
Mr. Telford submitted his plan and estimates of the proposed
bridge. In consequence of some difference with the Duke of Athol as
to his share of the expense--which proved to be greater than he had
estimated--some delay occurred in beginning the work; but at length
it was fairly started, and, after being about three years in hand,
the structure was finished and opened for traffic in 1809.

[Image] Dunkeld Bridge.

The bridge is a handsome one of five river and two land arches.
The span of the centre arch is 90 feet, of the two adjoining it 84
feet, and of the two side arches 74 feet; affording a clear
waterway of 446 feet. The total breadth of the roadway and foot
paths is 28 feet 6 inches. The cost of the structure was about
14,000L., one-half of which was defrayed by the Duke of Athol.
Dunkeld bridge now forms a fine feature in a landscape not often
surpassed, and which presents within a comparatively small compass
a great variety of character and beauty.

The communication by road north of Inverness was also perfected by
the construction of a bridge of five arches over the Beauly, and
another of the same number over the Conan, the central arch being
65 feet span; and the formerly wretched bit of road between these
points having been put in good repair, the town of Dingwall was
thenceforward rendered easily approachable from the south. At the
same time, a beginning was made with the construction of new roads
through the districts most in need of them. The first contracted
for, was the Loch-na-Gaul road, from Fort William to Arasaig,
on the western coast, nearly opposite the island of Egg.

Another was begun from Loch Oich, on the line of the Caledonian
Canal, across the middle of the Highlands, through Glengarry,
to Loch Hourn on the western sea. Other roads were opened north
and south; through Morvern to Loch Moidart; through Glen Morrison
and Glen Sheil, and through the entire Isle of Skye; from Dingwall,
eastward, to Lochcarron and Loch Torridon, quite through the county
of Ross; and from Dingwall, northward, through the county of
Sutherland as far as Tongue on the Pentland Frith; while another
line, striking off at the head of the Dornoch Frith, proceeded
along the coast in a north-easterly direction to Wick and Thurso,
in the immediate neighbourhood of John o' Groats.

There were numerous other subordinate lines of road which it is
unnecessary to specify in detail; but some idea may be formed of
their extent, as well as of the rugged character of the country
through which they were carried, when we state that they involved
the construction of no fewer than twelve hundred bridges. Several
important bridges were also erected at other points to connect
existing roads, such as those at Ballater and Potarch over the Dee;
at Alford over the Don: and at Craig-Ellachie over the Spey.

The last-named bridge is a remarkably elegant structure, thrown
over the Spey at a point where the river, rushing obliquely against
the lofty rock of Craig-Ellachie,*[11] has formed for itself a deep
channel not exceeding fifty yards in breadth. Only a few years
before, there had not been any provision for crossing this river at
its lower parts except the very dangerous ferry at Fochabers.
The Duke of Gordon had, however, erected a suspension bridge at that
town, and the inconvenience was in a great measure removed.
Its utility was so generally felt, that the demand arose for a second
bridge across the river; for there was not another by which it
could be crossed for a distance of nearly fifty miles up Strath Spey.

It was a difficult stream to span by a bridge at any place, in
consequence of the violence with which the floods descended at
particular seasons. Sometimes, even in summer, when not a drop of
rain had fallen, the flood would come down the Strath in great
fury, sweeping everything before it; this remarkable phenomenon
being accounted for by the prevalence of a strong south-westerly
wind, which blew the loch waters from their beds into the Strath,
and thus suddenly filled the valley of the Spey.*[12] The same
phenomenon, similarly caused, is also frequently observed in the
neighbouring river, the Findhorn, cooped up in its deep rocky bed,
where the water sometimes comes down in a wave six feet high, like
a liquid wall, sweeping everything before it.

To meet such a contingency, it was deemed necessary to provide
abundant waterway, and to build a bridge offering as little
resistance as possible to the passage of the Highland floods.
Telford accordingly designed for the passage of the river at
Craig-Ellachie a light cast-iron arch of 150 feet span, with a rise
of 20 feet, the arch being composed of four ribs, each consisting
of two concentric arcs forming panels, which are filled in with
diagonal bars.

The roadway is 15 feet wide, and is formed of another arc of
greater radius, attached to which is the iron railing; the
spandrels being filled by diagonal ties, forming trelliswork.
Mr. Robert Stephenson took objection to the two dissimilar arches,
as liable to subject the structure, from variations of temperature,
to very unequal strains. Nevertheless this bridge, as well as many
others constructed by Mr. Telford after a similar plan, has stood
perfectly well, and to this day remains a very serviceable

[Image] Craig-Ellachie Bridge.

Its appearance is highly picturesque. The scattered pines and beech
trees on the side of the impending mountain, the meadows along the
valley of the Spey, and the western approach road to the bridge cut
deeply into the face of the rock, combine, with the slender
appearance of the iron arch, in rendering this spot one of the most
remarkable in Scotland.*[13] An iron bridge of a similar span to that
at Craig-Ellachie had previously been constructed across the head
of the Dornoch Frith at Bonar, near the point where the waters of
the Shin join the sea. The very severe trial which this structure
sustained from the tremendous blow of an irregular mass of fir-tree
logs, consolidated by ice, as well as, shortly after, from the blow
of a schooner which drifted against it on the opposite side, and
had her two masts knocked off by the collision, gave him every
confidence in the strength of this form of construction, and he
accordingly repeated it in several of his subsequent bridges,
though none of them are comparable in beauty with that of

Thus, in the course of eighteen years, 920 miles of capital roads,
connected together by no fewer than 1200 bridges, were added to the
road communications of the Highlands, at an expense defrayed partly
by the localities immediately benefited, and partly by the nation.
The effects of these twenty years' operations were such as follow
the making of roads everywhere--development of industry and
increase of civilization. In no districts were the benefits
derived from them more marked than in the remote northern counties
of Sutherland and Caithness. The first stage-coaches that ran
northward from Perth to Inverness were tried in 1806, and became
regularly established in 1811; and by the year 1820 no fewer than
forty arrived at the latter town in the course of every week, and
the same number departed from it. Others were established in
various directions through the highlands, which were rendered as
accessible as any English county.

Agriculture made rapid progress. The use of carts became
practicable, and manure was no longer carried to the field on
women's backs. Sloth and idleness gradually disappeared before the
energy, activity, and industry which were called into life by the
improved communications. Better built cottages took the place of
the old mud biggins with holes in their roofs to let out the smoke.
The pigs and cattle were treated to a separate table. The dunghill
was turned to the outside of the house. Tartan tatters gave place
to the produce of Manchester and Glasgow looms; and very soon few
young persons were to be found who could not both read and write

But not less remarkable were the effects of the road-making upon
the industrial habits of the people. Before Telford went into the
Highlands, they did not know how to work, having never been
accustomed to labour continuously and systematically. Let our
engineer himself describe the moral influences of his Highland
contracts:--"In these works," says he, "and in the Caledonian
Canal, about three thousand two hundred men have been annually
employed. At first, they could scarcely work at all: they were
totally unacquainted with labour; they could not use the tools.
They have since become excellent labourers, and of the above number
we consider about one-fourth left us annually, taught to work.
These undertakings may, indeed, be regarded in the light of a
working academy; from which eight hundred men have annually gone
forth improved workmen. They have either returned to their native
districts with the advantage of having used the most perfect sort
of tools and utensils (which alone cannot be estimated at less than
ten per cent. on any sort of labour), or they have been usefully
distributed through the other parts of the country. Since these
roads were made accessible, wheelwrights and cartwrights have been
established, the plough has been introduced, and improved tools and
utensils are generally used. The plough was not previously
employed; in the interior and mountainous parts they used crooked
sticks, with iron on them, drawn or pushed along. The moral habits
of the great masses of the working classes are changed; they see
that they may depend on their own exertions for support: this goes
on silently, and is scarcely perceived until apparent by the
results. I consider these improvements among the greatest
blessings ever conferred on any country. About two hundred thousand
pounds has been granted in fifteen years. It has been the means of
advancing the country at least a century."

The progress made in the Lowland districts of Scotland since the
same period has been no less remarkable. If the state of the
country, as we have above described it from authentic documents,
be compared with what it is now, it will be found that there are few
countries which have accomplished so much within so short a period.
It is usual to cite the United States as furnishing the most
extraordinary instance of social progress in modem times. But
America has had the advantage of importing its civilization for the
most part ready made, whereas that of Scotland has been entirely
her own creation. By nature America is rich, and of boundless
extent; whereas Scotland is by nature poor, the greater part of her
limited area consisting of sterile heath and mountain. Little more
than a century ago Scotland was considerably in the rear of Ireland.
It was a country almost without agriculture, without mines, without
fisheries, without shipping, without money, without roads.
The people were ill-fed, half barbarous, and habitually indolent.
The colliers and salters were veritable slaves, and were subject to
be sold together with the estates to which they belonged.

What do we find now? Praedial slavery completely abolished;
heritable jurisdictions at an end; the face of the country entirely
changed; its agriculture acknowledged to be the first in the world;
its mines and fisheries productive in the highest degree; its
banking a model of efficiency and public usefulness; its roads
equal to the best roads in England or in Europe. The people are
active and energetic, alike in education, in trade, in manufactures,
in construction, in invention. Watt's invention of the steam
engine, and Symington's invention of the steam-boat, proved a
source of wealth and power, not only to their own country, but to
the world at large; while Telford, by his roads, bound England and
Scotland, before separated, firmly into one, and rendered the union
a source of wealth and strength to both.

At the same time, active and powerful minds were occupied in
extending the domain of knowledge,--Adam Smith in Political
Economy, Reid and Dugald Stewart in Moral Philosophy, and Black and
Robison in Physical Science. And thus Scotland, instead of being
one of the idlest and most backward countries in Europe, has,
within the compass of little more than a lifetime, issued in one of
the most active, contented, and prosperous,--exercising an amount
of influence upon the literature, science, political economy, and
industry of modern times, out of all proportion to the natural
resources of its soil or the amount of its population.

If we look for the causes of this extraordinary social progress,
we shall probably find the principal to consist in the fact that
Scotland, though originally poor as a country, was rich in Parish
schools, founded under the provisions of an Act passed by the
Scottish Parliament in the year 1696. It was there ordained
"that there be a school settled and established, and a schoolmaster
appointed, in every parish not already provided, by advice of the
heritors and minister of the parish." Common day-schools were
accordingly provided and maintained throughout the country for the
education of children of all ranks and conditions. The consequence
was, that in the course of a few generations, these schools,
working steadily upon the minds of the young, all of whom passed
under the hands of the teachers, educated the population into a
state of intelligence and aptitude greatly in advance of their
material well-being; and it is in this circumstance, we apprehend,
that the explanation is to be found of the rapid start forward
which the whole country took, dating more particularly from the
year 1745. Agriculture was naturally the first branch of industry
to exhibit signs of decided improvement; to be speedily followed by
like advances in trade, commerce, and manufactures. Indeed, from
that time the country never looked back, but her progress went on
at a constantly accelerated rate, issuing in results as marvellous
as they have probably been unprecedented.

Footnotes for Chapter VIII.

*[1] Romilly's Autobiography,' ii. 22.

*[2] Statistical Account of Scotland,' iii. 185.

*[3] The cas-chrom was a rude combination of a lever for the
removal of rocks, a spade to cut the earth, and a foot-plough to
turn it. We annex an illustration of this curious and now obsolete
instrument. It weighed about eighteen pounds. In working it, the"
upper part of the handle, to which the left hand was applied,
reached the workman's shoulder, and being slightly elevated, the
point, shod with iron, was pushed into the ground horizontally; the
soil being turned over by inclining the handle to the furrow side,
at the same time making the heel act as a fulcrum to raise the
point of the instrument. In turning up unbroken ground, it was
first employed with the heel uppermost, with pushing strokes to cut
the breadth of the sward to be turned over; after which, it was
used horizontally as above described. We are indebted to a
Parliamentary Blue Book for the following representation of this
interesting relic of ancient agriculture. It is given in the
appendix to the 'Ninth Report of the Commissioners for Highland
Roads and Bridges,' ordered by the House of Commons to be printed,
19th April, 1821.

*[4] Anderson's 'Guide to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland,'
3rd ed. p.48.

*[5] He was accompanied on this tour by Colonel Dirom, with whom he
returned to his house at Mount Annan, in Dumfries. Telford says of
him: "The Colonel seems to have roused the county of Dumfries from
the lethargy in which it has slumbered for centuries. The map of
the county, the mineralogical survey, the new roads, the opening of
lime works, the competition of ploughing, the improving harbours,
the building of bridges, are works which bespeak the exertions of
no common man."--Letter to Mr. Andrew. Little, dated Shrewsbury,
30th November, 1801.

*[6] Ordered to be printed 5th of April, 1803.

*[7] 'Memorials of his Time," by Henry Cockburn, pp. 341-3.

*[8] 'Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Sir John Sinclair, Barb,'
vol. i., p. 339.

*[9] Extract of a letter from a gentleman residing in Sunderland,
quoted in 'Life of Telford,' p. 465.

*[10] Letter to Mr. Andrew Little, Langholm, dated Salop, 18th
February, 1803.

*[11] The names of Celtic places are highly descriptive.
Thus Craig-Ellachie literally means, the rock of separation; Badenoch,
bushy or woody; Cairngorm, the blue cairn; Lochinet, the lake of nests;
Balknockan, the town of knolls; Dalnasealg, the hunting dale;
Alt'n dater, the burn of the horn-blower; and so on.

*[12] Sir Thomas Dick Lauder has vividly described the destructive
character of the Spey-side inundations in his capital book on the
'Morayshire Floods.'

*[13] 'Report of the Commissioners on Highland Roads and Bridges.'
Appendix to 'Life of Telford,' p. 400.



No sooner were the Highland roads and bridges in full progress,
than attention was directed to the improvement of the harbours
round the coast. Very little had as yet been done for them beyond
what nature had effected. Happily, there was a public fund at
disposal--the accumulation of rents and profits derived from the
estates forfeited at the rebellion of 1745--which was available for
the purpose. The suppression of the rebellion did good in many ways.
It broke the feudal spirit, which lingered in the Highlands long
after it had ceased in every other part of Britain; it led to the
effectual opening up of the country by a system of good roads;
and now the accumulated rents of the defeated Jacobite chiefs were
about to be applied to the improvement of the Highland harbours for
the benefit of the general population.

The harbour of Wick was one of the first to which Mr. Telford's
attention was directed. Mr. Rennie had reported on the subject of
its improvement as early as the year 1793, but his plans were not
adopted because their execution was beyond the means of the
locality at that time. The place had now, however, become of
considerable importance. It was largely frequented by Dutch
fishermen during the herring season; and it was hoped that, if they
could be induced to form a settlement at the place, their example
might exercise a beneficial influence upon the population.

Mr. Telford reported that, by the expenditure of about 5890L., a
capacious and well-protected tidal basin might be formed, capable
of containing about two hundred herring-busses. The Commission
adopted his plan, and voted the requisite funds for carrying out
the works, which were begun in 1808. The new station was named
Pulteney Town, in compliment to Sir William Pulteney, the Governor
of the Fishery Society; and the harbour was built at a cost of
about 12,000L., of which 8500L. was granted from the Forfeited
Estates Fund. A handsome stone bridge, erected over the River Wick
in 1805, after the design of our engineer, connect's these
improvements with the older town: it is formed of three arches,
having a clear waterway of 156 feet.

The money was well expended, as the result proved; and Wick is now,
we believe, the greatest fishing station in the world. The place
has increased from a little poverty-stricken village to a large and
thriving town, which swarms during the fishing season with lowland
Scotchmen, fair Northmen, broad-built Dutchmen, and kilted
Highlanders. The bay is at that time frequented by upwards of a
thousand fishing-boats and the take of herrings in some years
amounts to more than a hundred thousand barrels. The harbour has
of late years been considerably improved to meet the growing
requirements of the herring trade, the principal additions having
been carried out, in 1823, by Mr. Bremner,*[1] a native engineer
of great ability.

[Image] Folkestone Harbour.

Improvements of a similar kind were carried out by the Fishery
Board at other parts of the coast, and many snug and convenient
harbours were provided at the principal fishing stations in the
Highlands and Western Islands. Where the local proprietors were
themselves found expending money in carrying out piers and harbours,
the Board assisted them with grants to enable the works to be
constructed in the most substantial manner and after the most
approved plans. Thus, along that part of the bold northern coast of
the mainland of Scotland which projects into the German Ocean, many
old harbours were improved or new ones constructed--as at Peterhead,
Frazerburgh, Banff, Cullen, Burgh Head, and Nairn. At Fortrose,
in the Murray Frith; at Dingwall, in the Cromarty Frith;
at Portmaholmac, within Tarbet Ness, the remarkable headland of the
Frith of Dornoch; at Kirkwall, the principal town and place of
resort in the Orkney Islands, so well known from Sir Walter Scott's
description of it in the 'Pirate;' at Tobermory, in the island of
Mull; and at other points of the coast, piers were erected and
other improvements carried out to suit the convenience of the
growing traffic and trade of the country.

The principal works were those connected with the harbours situated
upon the line of coast extending from the harbour of Peterhead,
in the county of Aberdeen, round to the head of the Murray Frith.
The shores there are exposed to the full force of the seas rolling in
from the Northern Ocean; and safe harbours were especially needed
for the protection of the shipping passing from north to south.
Wrecks had become increasingly frequent, and harbours of refuge
were loudly called for. At one part of the coast, as many as
thirty wrecks had occurred within a very short time, chiefly for
want of shelter.

The situation of Peterhead peculiarly well adapted it for a haven
of refuge, and the improvement of the port was early regarded as a
matter of national importance. Not far from it, on the south, are
the famous Bullars or Boilers of Buchan--bold rugged rocks, some
200 feet high, against which the sea beats with great fury, boiling
and churning in the deep caves and recesses with which they are
perforated. Peterhead stands on the most easterly part of the
mainland of Scotland, occupying the north-east side of the bay,
and being connected with the country on the northwest by an isthmus
only 800 yards broad. In Cromwell's time, the port possessed only
twenty tons of boat tonnage, and its only harbour was a small basin
dug out of the rock. Even down to the close of the sixteenth
century the place was but an insignificant fishing village. It is
now a town bustling with trade, having long been the principal seat
of the whale fishery, 1500 men of the port being engaged in that
pursuit alone; and it sends out ships of its own building to all
parts of the world, its handsome and commodious harbours being
accessible at all winds to vessels of almost the largest burden.

[Image] Peterhead

It may be mentioned that about sixty years since, the port was
formed by the island called Keith Island, situated a small distance
eastward from the shore, between which and the mainland an arm of
the sea formerly passed. A causeway had, however, been formed
across this channel, thus dividing it into two small bays; after
which the southern one had been converted in to a harbour by means
of two rude piers erected along either side of it. The north inlet
remained without any pier, and being very inconvenient and exposed
to the north-easterly winds, it was little used.

[Image] Peterhead Harbour.

The first works carried out at Peterhead were of a comparatively
limited character, the old piers of the south harbour having been
built by Smeaton; but improvements proceeded apace with the
enterprise and wealth of the inhabitants. Mr. Rennie, and after
him Mr. Telford, fully reported as to the capabilities of the port
and the best means of improving it. Mr. Rennie recommended the
deepening of the south harbour and the extension of the jetty of
the west pier, at the same time cutting off all projections of rock
from Keith Island on the eastward, so as to render the access more
easy. The harbour, when thus finished, would, he estimated, give
about 17 feet depth at high water of spring tides. He also
proposed to open a communication across the causeway between the
north and south harbours, and form a wet dock between them, 580
feet long and 225 feet wide, the water being kept in by gates at
each end. He further proposed to provide an entirely new harbour,
by constructing two extensive piers for the effectual protection of
the northern part of the channel, running out one from a rock north
of the Green Island, about 680 feet long, and another from the Roan
Head, 450 feet long, leaving an opening between them of 70 yards.
This comprehensive plan unhappily could not be carried out at the
time for want of funds; but it may be said to have formed the
groundwork of all that has been subsequently done for the
improvement of the port of Peterhead.

It was resolved, in the first place, to commence operations by
improving the south harbour, and protecting it more effectually
from south-easterly winds. The bottom of the harbour was
accordingly deepened by cutting out 30,000 cubic yards of rocky
ground; and part of Mr. Rennie's design was carried out by
extending the jetty of the west pier, though only for a distance of
twenty yards. These works were executed under Mr. Telford's
directions; they were completed by the end of the year 1811, and
proved to be of great public convenience.

The trade of the town, however, so much increased, and the port was
found of such importance as a place of refuge for vessels
frequenting the north seas, that in 1816 it was determined to
proceed with the formation of a harbour on the northern part of the
old channel; and the inhabitants having agreed among themselves to
contribute to the extent of 10,000L. towards carrying out the
necessary works, they applied for the grant of a like sum from the
Forfeited Estates Fund, which was eventually voted for the purpose.
The plan adopted was on a more limited scale than that Proposed by
Mr. Rennie; but in the same direction and contrived with the same
object,--so that, when completed, vessels of the largest burden
employed in the Greenland fishery might be able to enter one or
other of the two harbours and find safe shelter, from whatever
quarter the wind might blow.

The works were vigorously proceeded with, and had made considerable
progress, when, in October, 1819, a violent hurricane from the
north-east, which raged along the coast for several days, and
inflicted heavy damage on many of the northern harbours, destroyed
a large part of the unfinished masonry and hurled the heaviest
blocks into the sea, tossing them about as if they had been
pebbles. The finished work had, however, stood well, and the
foundations of the piers under low water were ascertained to have
remained comparatively uninjured. There was no help for it but to
repair the damaged work, though it involved a heavy additional
cost, one-half of which was borne by the Forfeited Estates Fund and
the remainder by the inhabitants. Increased strength was also
given to the more exposed parts of the pierwork, and the slope at
the sea side of the breakwater was considerably extended.*[2]
Those alterations in the design were carried out, together with a
spacious graving-dock, as shown in the preceding plan, and they
proved completely successful, enabling Peterhead to offer an amount
of accommodation for shipping of a more effectual kind than was at
that time to be met with along the whole eastern coast of Scotland.

The old harbour of Frazerburgh, situated on a projecting point of
the coast at the foot of Mount Kennaird, about twenty miles north
of Peterhead, had become so ruinous that vessels lying within it
received almost as little shelter as if they had been exposed in
the open sea. Mr. Rennie had prepared a plan for its improvement
by running out a substantial north-eastern pier; and this was
eventually carried out by Mr. Telford in a modified form, proving
of substantial service to the trade of the port. Since then a
large and commodious new harbour has been formed at the place,
partly at the public expense and partly at that of the inhabitants,
rendering Frazerburgh a safe retreat for vessels of war as well as

[Image] Banff.

Among the other important harbour works on the northeast coast
carried out by Mr. Telford under the Commissioners appointed to
administer the funds of the Forfeited Estates, were those at Banff,
the execution of which extended over many years; but, though
costly, they did not prove of anything like the same convenience as
those executed at Peterhead. The old harbour at the end of the
ridge running north and south, on which what is called the
"sea town" of Banff is situated, was completed in 1775, when the
place was already considered of some importance as a fishing station.

[Image] Banff Harbour.

This harbour occupies the triangular space at the north-eastern
extremity of the projecting point of land, at the opposite side of
which, fronting the north-west, is the little town and harbour of
Macduff. In 1816, Mr. Telford furnished the plan of a new pier
and breakwater, covering the old entrance, which presented an
opening to the N.N.E., with a basin occupying the intermediate
space. The inhabitants agreed to defray one half of the necessary
cost, and the Commissioners the other; and the plans having been
approved, the works were commenced in 1818. They were in full
progress when, unhappily, the same hurricane which in 1819 did so
much injury to the works at Peterhead, also fell upon those at
Banff, and carried away a large part of the unfinished pier.
This accident had the effect of interrupting the work, as well as
increasing its cost; but the whole was successfully completed by
the year 1822. Although the new harbour did not prove very safe,
and exhibited a tendency to become silted up with sand, it proved
of use in many respects, more particularly in preventing all swell
and agitation in the old harbour, which was thereby rendered the
safest artificial haven in the Murray Firth.

It is unnecessary to specify the alterations and improvements of a
similar character, adapted to the respective localities, which were
carried out by our engineer at Burgh Head, Nairn, Kirkwall, Tarbet,
Tobermory, Portmaholmac, Dingwall (with its canal two thousand
yards long, connecting the town in a complete manner with the Frith
of Cromarty), Cullen, Fortrose, Ballintraed, Portree, Jura,
Gourdon, Invergordon, and other places. Down to the year 1823,
the Commissioners had expended 108,530L. on the improvements of
these several ports, in aid of the local contributions of the
inhabitants and adjoining proprietors to a considerably greater
extent; the result of which was a great increase in the shipping
accommodation of the coast towns, to the benefit of the local
population, and of ship-owners and navigators generally.

Mr. Telford's principal harbour works in Scotland, however, were
those of Aberdeen and Dundee, which, next to Leith (the port of
Edinburgh), formed the principal havens along the east coast.
The neighbourhood of Aberdeen was originally so wild and barren that
Telford expressed his surprise that any class of men should ever
have settled there. An immense shoulder of the Grampian mountains
extends down to the sea-coast, where it terminates in a bold, rude
promontory. The country on either side of the Dee, which flows
past the town, was originally covered with innumerable granite
blocks; one, called Craig Metellan, lying right in the river's
mouth, and forming, with the sand, an almost effectual bar to its
navigation. Although, in ancient times, a little cultivable land
lay immediately outside the town, the region beyond was as sterile
as it is possible for land to be in such a latitude. "Any wher,"
says an ancient writer, "after yow pass a myll without the tonne,
the countrey is barren lyke, the hills craigy, the plaines full of
marishes and mosses, the feilds are covered with heather or peeble
stons, the come feilds mixt with thes bot few. The air is temperat
and healthful about it, and it may be that the citizens owe the
acuteness of their wits thereunto and their civill inclinations;
the lyke not easie to be found under northerlie climats, damped for
the most pairt with air of a grosse consistence."*[3] But the old
inhabitants of Aberdeen and its neighbourhood were really as rough
as their soil. Judged by their records, they must have been
dreadfully haunted by witches and sorcerers down to a comparatively
recent period; witch-burning having been common in the town until
the end of the sixteenth century. We find that, in one year, no
fewer than twenty-three women and one man were burnt; the Dean of
Guild Records containing the detailed accounts of the "loads of
peattis, tar barrellis," and other combustibles used in burning
them. The lairds of the Garioch, a district in the immediate
neighbourhood, seem to have been still more terrible than the
witches, being accustomed to enter the place and make an onslaught
upon the citizens, according as local rage and thirst for spoil
might incline them. On one of such occasions, eighty of the
inhabitants were killed and wounded.*[4] Down even to the middle of
last century the Aberdonian notions of personal liberty seem to
have been very restricted; for between 1740 and 1746 we find that
persons of both sexes were kidnapped, put on board ships, and
despatched to the American plantations, where they were sold for
slaves. Strangest of all, the men who carried on this slave trade
were local dignitaries, one of them being a town's baillie, another
the town-clerk depute. Those kidnapped were openly "driven in
flocks through the town, like herds of sheep, under the care of a
keeper armed with a whip."*[5] So open was the traffic that the
public workhouse was used for their reception until the ships
sailed, and when that was filled, the tolbooth or common prison was
made use of. The vessels which sailed from the harbour for America
in 1743 contained no fewer than sixty-nine persons; and it is
supposed that, in the six years during which the Aberdeen slave
trade was at its height, about six hundred were transported for
sale, very few of whom ever returned.*[6] This slave traffic
was doubtless stimulated by the foreign ships beginning to
frequent the port; for the inhabitants were industrious, and their
plaiding, linen, and worsted stockings were in much request as
articles of merchandise. Cured salmon were also exported in large
quantities. As early as 1659, a quay was formed along the Dee
towards the village of Foot Dee. "Beyond Futty," says an old
writer, "lyes the fisher-boat heavne; and after that, towards the
promontorie called Sandenesse, ther is to be seen a grosse bulk of
a building, vaulted and flatted above (the Blockhous they call it),
begun to be builded anno 1513, for guarding the entree of the
harboree from pirats and algarads; and cannon wer planted ther for
that purpose, or, at least, that from thence the motions of pirats
might be tymouslie foreseen. This rough piece of work was finished
anno 1542, in which yer lykewayes the mouth of the river Dee was
locked with cheans of iron and masts of ships crossing the river,
not to be opened bot at the citizens' pleasure."*[7] After the
Union, but more especially after the rebellion of 1745, the trade
of Aberdeen made considerable progress. Although Burns, in 1787,
briefly described the place as a "lazy toun," the inhabitants were
displaying much energy in carrying out improvements in their
port.*[8] In 1775 the foundation-stone of the new pier designed by
Mr. Smeaton was laid with great ceremony, and, the works proceeding
to completion, a new pier, twelve hundred feet long, terminating in
a round head, was finished in less than six years. The trade of
the place was, however, as yet too small to justify anything beyond
a tidal harbour, and the engineer's views were limited to that
object. He found the river meandering over an irregular space about
five hundred yards in breadth; and he applied the only practicable
remedy, by confining the channel as much as the limited means
placed at his disposal enabled him to do, and directing the land
floods so as to act upon and diminish the bar. Opposite the north
pier, on the south side of the river, Smeaton constructed a
breast-wall about half the length of the Pier. Owing, however,
to a departure from that engineer's plans, by which the pier was
placed too far to the north, it was found that a heavy swell
entered the harbour, and, to obviate this formidable inconvenience,
a bulwark was projected from it, so as to occupy about one third of
the channel entrance.

The trade of the place continuing to increase, Mr. Rennie was
called upon, in 1797, to examine and report upon the best means of
improving the harbour, when he recommended the construction of
floating docks upon the sandy flats called Foot Dee. Nothing was
done at the time, as the scheme was very costly and considered
beyond the available means of the locality. But the magistrates
kept the subject in mind; and when Mr. Telford made his report on
the best means of improving the harbour in 1801, he intimated that
the inhabitants were ready to cooperate with the Government in
rendering it capable of accommodating ships of war, as far as their
circumstances would permit.

In 1807, the south pier-head, built by Smeaton, was destroyed by a
storm, and the time had arrived when something must be done, not
only to improve but even to preserve the port. The magistrates
accordingly proceeded, in 1809, to rebuild the pier-head of cut
granite, and at the same time they applied to Parliament for
authority to carry out further improvements after the plan
recommended by Mr. Telford; and the necessary powers were
conferred in the following year. The new works comprehended a
large extension of the wharfage accommodation, the construction of
floating and graving docks, increased means of scouring the harbour
and ensuring greater depth of water on the bar across the river's
mouth, and the provision of a navigable communication between the
Aberdeenshire Canal and the new harbour.

[Image] Plan of Aberdeen Harbour

The extension of the north pier was first proceeded with, under the
superintendence of John Gibb, the resident engineer; and by the
year 1811 the whole length of 300 additional feet had been
completed. The beneficial effects of this extension were so
apparent, that a general wish was expressed that it should be
carried further; and it was eventually determined to extend the
pier 780 feet beyond Smeaton's head, by which not only was much
deeper water secured, but vessels were better enabled to clear the
Girdleness Point. This extension was successfully carried out by
the end of the year 1812. A strong breakwater, about 800 feet long,
was also run out from the south shore, leaving a space of about 250
feet as an entrance, thereby giving greater protection to the
shipping in the harbour, while the contraction of the channel, by
increasing the "scour," tended to give a much greater depth of
water on the bar.

[Image] Aberdeen Harbour.

The outer head of the pier was seriously injured by the heavy
storms of the two succeeding winters, which rendered it necessary
to alter its formation to a very flat slope of about five to one
all round the head.*[9]

[Image] Section of pier-head work.

New wharves were at the same time constructed inside the harbour;
a new channel for the river was excavated, which further enlarged
the floating space and wharf accommodation; wet and dry docks were
added; until at length the quay berthage amounted to not less than
6290 feet, or nearly a mile and a quarter in length. By these
combined improvements an additional extent of quay room was
obtained of about 4000 feet; an excellent tidal harbour was formed,
in which, at spring tides, the depth of water is about 15 feet;
while on the bar it was increased to about 19 feet. The prosperity
of Aberdeen had meanwhile been advancing apace. The city had been
greatly beautified and enlarged: shipbuilding had made rapid
progress; Aberdeen clippers became famous, and Aberdeen merchants
carried on a trade with all parts of the world; manufactures of
wool, cotton, flax, and iron were carried on with great success;
its population rapidly increased; and, as a maritime city, Aberdeen
took rank as the third in Scotland, the tonnage entering the port
having increased from 50,000 tons in 1800 to about 300,000 in

Improvements of an equally important character were carried out by
Mr. Telford in the port of Dundee, also situated on the east coast
of Scotland, at the entrance to the Frith of Tay. There are those
still living at the place who remember its former haven, consisting
of a crooked wall, affording shelter to only a few fishing-boats or
smuggling vessels--its trade being then altogether paltry, scarcely
deserving the name, and its population not one fifth of what it now
is. Helped by its commodious and capacious harbour, it has become
one of the most populous and thriving towns on the east coast.

[Image] Plan of Dundee Harbour.

The trade of the place took a great start forward at the close of
the war, and Mr. Telford was called upon to supply the plans of a
new harbour. His first design, which he submitted in 1814, was of
a comparatively limited character; but it was greatly enlarged
during the progress of the works. Floating docks were added, as
well as graving docks for large vessels. The necessary powers were
obtained in 1815; the works proceeded vigorously under the Harbour
Commissioners, who superseded the old obstructive corporation; and
in 1825 the splendid new floating dock--750 feet long by 450 broad,
having an entrance-lock 170 feet long and 40 feet wide--was opened
to the shipping of all countries.

[Image] Dundee Harbour.

Footnotes for Chapter IX.

*[1] Hugh Millar, in his 'Cruise of the Betsy,' attributes the
invention of columnar pier-work to Mr. Bremner, whom he terms "the
Brindley of Scotland." He has acquired great fame for his skill in
raising sunken ships, having warped the Great Britain steamer off
the shores of Dundrum Bay. But we believe Mr. Telford had adopted
the practice of columnar pier-work before Mr. Bremner, in forming
the little harbour of Folkestone in 1808, where the work is still
to be seen quite perfect. The most solid mode of laying stone on
land is in flat courses; but in open pier work the reverse process
is adopted. The blocks are laid on end in columns, like upright
beams jammed together. Thus laid, the wave which dashes against
them is broken, and spends itself on the interstices; where as,
if it struck the broad solid blocks, the tendency would be to lift
them from their beds and set the work afloat; and in a furious
storm such blocks would be driven about almost like pebbles.
The rebound from flat surfaces is also very heavy, and produces
violent commotion; where as these broken, upright, columnar-looking
piers seem to absorb the fury of the sea, and render its wildest
waves comparatively innocuous.

*[2] 'Memorials from Peterhead and Banff, concerning Damage
occasioned by a Storm.' Ordered by the House of Commons to be
printed, 5th July, 1820. [242.]

*[3] 'A Description of Bothe Touns of Aberdeene.' By James Gordon,
Parson of Rothiemay. Reprinted in Gavin Turreff's 'Antiquarian
Gleanings from Aberdeenshire Records.' Aberdeen, 1889.

*[4] Robertson's 'Book of Bon-Accord.'

*[5] Ibid., quoted in Turreff's 'Antiquarian Gleanings,' p. 222.

*[6] One of them, however, did return--Peter Williamson, a native
of the town, sold for a slave in Pennsylvania, "a rough, ragged,
humle-headed, long, stowie, clever boy," who, reaching York,
published an account of the infamous traffic, in a pamphlet which
excited extraordinary interest at the time, and met with a rapid
and extensive circulation. But his exposure of kidnapping gave
very great offence to the magistrates, who dragged him before their
tribunal as having "published a scurrilous and infamous libel on
the corporation," and he was sentenced to be imprisoned until he
should sign a denial of the truth of his statements. He brought an
action against the corporation for their proceedings, and obtained
a verdict and damages; and he further proceeded against Baillie
Fordyce (one of his kidnappers, and others, from whom he obtained
200L. damages, with costs. The system was thus effectually put a
stop to.

*[8] 'A Description of Bothe Touns of Aberdeene.' By James Gordon,
Parson of Rothiemay. Quoted by Turreff, p. 109.

*[8] Communication with London was as yet by no means frequent,
and far from expeditious, as the following advertisement of 1778
will show:--"For London: To sail positively on Saturday next, the
7th November, wind and weather permitting, the Aberdeen smack.
Will lie a short time at London, and, if no convoy is appointed,
will sail under care of a fleet of colliers the best convoy of any.
For particulars apply," &c., &c.

*[9] "The bottom under the foundations," says Mr. Gibb, in his
description of the work, "is nothing better than loose sand and
gravel, constantly thrown up by the sea on that stormy coast,
so that it was necessary to consolidate the work under low water by
dropping large stones from lighters, and filling the interstices
with smaller ones, until it was brought within about a foot of the
level of low water, when the ashlar work was commenced; but in
place of laying the stones horizontally in their beds, each course
was laid at an angle of 45 degrees, to within about 18 inches of
the top, when a level coping was added. This mode of building
enabled the work to be carried on expeditiously, and rendered it
while in progress less liable to temporary damage, likewise
affording three points of bearing; for while the ashlar walling was
carrying up on both sides, the middle or body of the pier was
carried up at the same time by a careful backing throughout of
large rubble-stone, to within 18 inches of the top, when the whole
was covered with granite coping and paving 18 inches deep, with a
cut granite parapet wall on the north side of the whole length of
the pier, thus protected for the convenience of those who might
have occasion to frequent it."--Mr. Gibb's 'Narrative of Aberdeen
Harbour Works.'



The formation of a navigable highway through the chain of locks
lying in the Great Glen of the Highlands, and extending diagonally
across Scotland from the Atlantic to the North Sea, had long been
regarded as a work of national importance. As early as 1773,
James Watt, then following the business of a land-surveyor at Glasgow,
made a survey of the country at the instance of the Commissioners
of Forfeited Estates. He pronounced the canal practicable, and
pointed out how it could best be constructed. There was certainly
no want of water, for Watt was repeatedly drenched with rain while
he was making his survey, and he had difficulty in preserving even
his journal book. "On my way home," he says, "I passed through the
wildest country I ever saw, and over the worst conducted roads."

Twenty years later, in 1793, Mr. Rennie was consulted as to the
canal, and he also prepared a scheme: but nothing was done. The
project was, however, revived in 1801 during the war with Napoleon,
when various inland ship canals--such as those from London to
Portsmouth, and from Bristol to the English Channel--were under
consideration with the view of enabling British shipping to pass
from one part of the kingdom to another without being exposed to
the attacks of French privateers. But there was another reason for
urging the formation of the canal through the Great Glen of Scotland,
which was regarded as of considerable importance before the
introduction of steam enabled vessels to set the winds and tides at
comparative defiance. It was this: vessels sailing from the
eastern ports to America had to beat up the Pentland Frith, often
against adverse winds and stormy seas, which rendered the navigation
both tedious and dangerous. Thus it was cited by Sir Edward Parry,
in his evidence before Parliament in favour of completing the
Caledonian Canal, that of two vessels despatched from Newcastle on
the same day--one bound for Liverpool by the north of Scotland, and
the other for Bombay by the English Channel and the Cape of Good Hope
--the latter reached its destination first! Another case may be
mentioned, that of an Inverness vessel, which sailed for Liverpool
on a Christmas Day, reached Stromness Harbour, in Orkney, on the
1st of January, and lay there windbound, with a fleet of other
traders, until the middle of April following! In fact, the Pentland
Frith, which is the throat connecting the Atlantic and German Oceans,
through which the former rolls its, long majestic waves with
tremendous force, was long the dread of mariners, and it was
considered an object of national importance to mitigate the dangers
of the passage towards the western Seas.

As the lochs occupying the chief part of the bottom of the Great
Glen were of sufficient depth to be navigable by large vessels,
it was thought that if they could be connected by a ship canal,
so as to render the line of navigation continuous, it would be used
by shipping to a large extent, and prove of great public service.
Five hundred miles of dangerous navigation by the Orkneys and
Cape Wrath would thereby be saved, while ships of war, were this
track open to them, might reach the north of Ireland in two days
from Fort George near Inverness.

When the scheme of the proposed canal was revived in 1801,
Mr. Telford was requested to make a survey and send in his report on
the subject. He immediately wrote to his friend James Watt, saying,
"I have so long accustomed myself to look with a degree of reverence
at your work, that I am particularly anxious to learn what occurred
to you in this business while the whole was fresh in your mind. The
object appears to me so great and so desirable, that I am convinced
you will feel a pleasure in bringing it again under investigation,
and I am very desirous that the thing should be fully and fairly
explained, so that the public may be made aware of its extensive
utility. If I can accomplish this, I shall have done my duty; and
if the project is not executed now, some future period will see it
done, and I shall have the satisfaction of having followed you and
promoted its success." We may here state that Telford's survey
agreed with Watt's in the most important particulars, and that he
largely cited Watt's descriptions of the proposed scheme in his own

Mr. Telford's first inspection of the district was made in 1801,
and his report was sent in to the Treasury in the course of the
following year. Lord Bexley, then Secretary to the Treasury, took
a warm personal interest in the project, and lost no opportunity of
actively promoting it. A board of commissioners was eventually
appointed to carry out the formation of the canal. Mr. Telford,
on being appointed principal engineer of the undertaking, was
requested at once to proceed to Scotland and prepare the necessary
working survey. He was accompanied on the occasion by Mr. Jessop
as consulting engineer. Twenty thousand pounds were granted under
the provisions of the 43 Geo. III. (chap. cii.), and the works
were commenced, in the beginning of 1804, by the formation of a
dock or basin adjoining the intended tide-lock at Corpach, near

[Image] Map of Caledonian Canal

The basin at Corpach formed the southernmost point of the intended
canal. It is situated at the head of Loch Eil, amidst some of the
grandest scenery of the Highlands. Across the Loch is the little
town of Fort William, one of the forts established at the end of
the seventeenth century to keep the wild Highlanders in subjection.
Above it rise hills over hills, of all forms and sizes, and of all
hues, from grass-green below to heather-brown and purple above,
capped with heights of weather-beaten grey; while towering over all
stands the rugged mass of Ben Nevis--a mountain almost unsurpassed
for picturesque grandeur. Along the western foot of the range,
which extends for some six or eight miles, lies a long extent of
brown bog, on the verge of which, by the river Lochy, stand the
ruins of Inverlochy Castle.

The works at Corpach involved great labour, and extended over a
long series of years. The difference between the level of Loch Eil
and Loch Lochy is ninety feet, while the distance between them was
less than eight miles. It was therefore necessary to climb up the
side of the hill by a flight of eight gigantic locks, clustered
together, and which Telford named Neptune's Staircase. The ground
passed over was in some places very difficult, requiring large
masses of embankment, the slips of which in the course of the work
frequently occasioned serious embarrassment. The basin on Loch Eil,
on the other hand, was constructed amidst rock, and considerable
difficulty was experienced in getting in the necessary coffer-dam
for the construction of the opening into the sea-lock, the
entrance-sill of which was laid upon the rock itself, so that there
was a depth of 21 feet of water upon it at high water of neap tides.

At the same time that the works at Corpach were begun, the dock or
basin at the north-eastern extremity of the canal, situated at
Clachnaharry, on the shore of Loch Beauly, was also laid out, and
the excavations and embankments were carried on with considerable
activity. This dock was constructed about 967 yards long, and
upwards of 162 yards in breadth, giving an area of about 32 acres,
--forming, in fact, a harbour for the vessels using the canal. The
dimensions of the artificial waterway were of unusual size, as the
intention was to adapt it throughout for the passage of a 32-gun
frigate of that day, fully equipped and laden with stores. The
canal, as originally resolved upon, was designed to be 110 feet
wide at the surface, and 50 feet at the bottom, with a depth in the
middle of 20 feet; though these dimensions were somewhat modified
in the execution of the work. The locks were of corresponding
large dimensions, each being from 170 to 180 feet long, 40 broad,
and 20 deep.

[Image] Lock, Caledonian Canal

Between these two extremities of the canal--Corpach on the
south-west and Clachnaharry on the north-east--extends the chain of
fresh-water lochs: Loch Lochy on the south; next Loch Oich; then
Loch Ness; and lastly, furthest north, the small Loch of Dochfour.
The whole length of the navigation is 60 miles 40 chains, of which
the navigable lochs constitute about 40 miles, leaving only about
20 miles of canal to be constructed, but of unusually large
dimensions and through a very difficult country.

The summit loch of the whole is Loch Oich, the surface of which is
exactly a hundred feet above high water-mark, both at Inverness and
Fort William; and to this sheet of water the navigation climbs up
by a series of locks from both the eastern and western seas.
The whole number of these is twenty-eight: the entrance-lock at
Clachnaharry, constructed on piles, at the end of huge embankments,
forced out into deep water, at Loch Beady; another at the entrance
to the capacious artificial harbour above mentioned, at Muirtown;
four connected locks at the southern end of this basin;
a regulating lock a little to the north of Loch Dochfour;
five contiguous locks at Fort Augustus, at the south end of Loch Ness;
another, called the Kytra Lock, about midway between Fort Angustus
and Loch Oich; a regulating lock at the north-east end of Loch Oich;
two contiguous locks between Lochs Oich and Lochy; a regulating
lock at the south-west end of Loch Lochy; next, the grand series of
locks, eight in number, called "Neptune's Staircase," at Bannavie,
within a mile and a quarter of the sea; two locks, descending to
Corpach basin; and lastly, the great entrance or sea-lock at Corpach.

The northern entrance-lock from the sea at Loch Beauly is at
Clachnaharry, near Inverness. The works here were not accomplished
without much difficulty as well as labour, partly from the very
gradual declivity of the shore, and partly from the necessity of
placing the sea-lock on absolute mud, which afforded no foundation
other than what was created by compression and pile-driving.
The mud was forced down by throwing upon it an immense load of earth
and stones, which was left during twelve months to settle; after
which a shaft was sunk to a solid foundation, and the masonry of
the sea-lock was then founded and built therein.

In the 'Sixteenth Report of the Commissioners of the Caledonian
Canal,' the following reference is made to this important work,
which was finished in 1812:-- "The depth of the mud on which it may
be said to be artificially seated is not less than 60 feet; so that
it cannot be deemed superfluous, at the end of seven years, to
state that no subsidence is discoverable; and we presume that the
entire lock, as well as every part of it, may now be deemed as
immovable, and as little liable to destruction, as any other large
mass of masonry. This was the most remarkable work performed under
the immediate care of Mr. Matthew Davidson, our superintendent at
Clachnaharry, from 1804 till the time of his decease. He was a man
perfectly qualified for the employment by inflexible integrity,
unwearied industry, and zeal to a degree of anxiety, in all the
operations committed to his care."*[1]

As may naturally be supposed, the execution of these great works
involved vast labour and anxiety. They were designed with much
skill, and executed with equal ability. There were lock-gates to
be constructed, principally of cast iron, sheathed with pine
planking. Eight public road bridges crossed the line of the
canal, which were made of cast iron, and swung horizontally.
There were many mountain streams, swollen to torrents in winter,
crossing under the canal, for which abundant water-way had to be
provided, involving the construction of numerous culverts, tunnels,
and under-bridges of large dimensions. There were also powerful
sluices to let off the excess of water sent down from the adjacent
mountains into the canal during winter. Three of these, of great
size, high above the river Lochy, are constructed at a point where
the canal is cut through the solid rock; and the sight of the mass
of waters rushing down into the valley beneath, gives an impression
of power which, once seen, is never forgotten.

These great works were only brought to a completion after the
labours of many years, during which the difficulties encountered in
their construction had swelled the cost of the canal far beyond the
original estimate. The rapid advances which had taken place in the
interval in the prices of labour and materials also tended greatly
to increase the expenses, and, after all, the canal, when completed
and opened, was comparatively little used. This was doubtless
owing, in a great measure, to the rapid changes which occurred in
the system of navigation shortly after the projection of the
undertaking. For these Telford was not responsible. He was called
upon to make the canal, and he did so in the best manner.
Engineers are not required to speculate as to the commercial value
of the works they are required to construct; and there were
circumstances connected with the scheme of the Caledonian Canal
which removed it from the category of mere commercial adventures.
It was a Government project, and it proved a failure as a paying
concern. Hence it formed a prominent topic for discussion in the
journals of the day; but the attacks made upon the Government
because of their expenditure on the hapless undertaking were
perhaps more felt by Telford, who was its engineer, than by all the
ministers of state conjoined.

"The unfortunate issue of this great work," writes the present
engineer of the canal, to whom we are indebted for many of the

Book of the day: