‘Home Rule and the Land Laws’ by A Christian Democrat (31 January, 1880)

The following is an editorial that appeared in the ‘People’s Journal’ under the name ‘A Christian Democrat’. The issue of Home Rule for Ireland was key ahead of the 1880 general election. Charles Stewart Parnell had just assumed leadership of the Home Rule League which would consolidate its dominant position in Ireland that year at the polls. I believe this editorial demonstrates that the issue was a confusing one for Scottish Liberals at this relatively early stage in the movement. A tentative support for the Irish right to self-governance was tempered by an axiomatic belief that a united ‘British’ state was a force for good domestically and internationally. This can be clearly seen in the overt ‘British’ exceptionalism of the final paragraph.

To the Editor of the People’s Journal.

Sir,—In this letter I propose to discuss what we ought to do for Ireland, and what we ought not to do. First of all, we ought not to do anything to raise false hopes nor awaken false fears. The integrity of Britain must remain, property in Ireland must be protected, and order must be preserved. We must do nothing to cause capital to leave Ireland nor to awaken hopes doomed to bitter disappointment. All this being clearly understood, I do think we should hear what Irishmen really wish to be done. Mr Gladstone, it is true, has done more for Ireland than all the statesmen who ever loved her. I am constantly feeling anger rising in my heart towards Irishmen when I see their want of gratitude to the truest, greatest friend they ever had. But sir, when I remember the cruel wrongs of Ireland, the generations who have suffered grossest injustice, I check this rising anger and feel that if I were an Irishman as I am a Scotchman I should probably retain too keen a sense of the past to be as grateful as I ought to e to even Mr Gladstone. It is because we forget the past, which is more than most Irishmen can do, that we are so impatient of Irish unrest and dissatisfaction. Sir, let us try to shut our ears to all foolish clamour. Neither intimidated by threats, nor careful to gain temporary popularity, let us look at the Irish questions fairly in the face, and while clearly stating what cannot be conceded to any clamour, let us see what can be fairly and justly done. Sir, I appeal to Scotchmen. We know what English oppression means. Scotland felt it over and again, and we can sympathise with Irishmen. I rejoice to know that a noble and gallant young Scotchman is likely to represent Liverpool [Referring to John Ramsay, the future 13th Earl of Dalhousie, then styled Lord Ramsay]. Irishmen, if they were wise, would vote for him to a man, and ask no questions.

The first thing I would give to Irishmen is a fair hearing. Even Mr Bright, generous as he is, and just as he ever wishes to be, is not an Irishman. I wish to hear Irishmen state their own case. What do they mean by “Home Rule?” Do not let us be frightened by a bogey. I wish to approach this fearful thing, to hear it speak, and to know what it has to say for itself.

We in Scotland are about to raise a loud clamour for “Home Rule.” We wish the counties put under “Home Rule;” we wish the liquor traffic put under “Home Rule;” we wish more “Home Rule” at our Parochial Boards, and less dictation by a central government. Our educational and borough affairs are already under “Home Rule.” Let us quietly hear what Ireland really does mean by “Home Rule” before we refuse it.

Students of history know that when Ireland had a Parliament of her own it was neither a blessing nor an honour to her. But, sir, we are not all students of history. The people who are about to elect a new Parliament need to be informed. The knowledge may exist in the brains of students or in dusty blue-books. I wish living Irishmen to state what they know, and what they propose, for the information of the present electors. If the Parliament of Ireland was a curse and not a blessing, this is a most important fact, which an honest inquiry would make plain to Irishmen themselves, and is a strong argument in favour of inquiry. Let us hear Irishmen state their own case in their own way. What are the real wishes, their genuine aspirations? What do they, “in the heart of them,” as Carlyle would say, mean by “Home Rule?” Then, sir, I do earnestly wish to know what Mr Parnell wants. Is there a real injustice yet left in the Land Laws in Ireland? I fear there must be, else he would be powerless. What is wrong? What is wanting? In what is Mr Gladstone’s great measure defective? Continue reading “‘Home Rule and the Land Laws’ by A Christian Democrat (31 January, 1880)”

‘Political Oppression in the Counties’ by A Christian Democrat (17 January, 1880)

The following is an editorial that appeared in the ‘People’s Journal’ under the name ‘A Christian Democrat’. This powerful attack on the undemocratic actions of Conservative parliamentary candidates and the established church’s failure to mobilise voters appeared in the buildup to the 1880 general election. Readers were urged to go to the polls, high turnout was the way to defeat the Conservative government of Disraeli. Perhaps the most interesting passage is the attack on the government’s wars in Southern Africa and Afghanistan (the infamous battle of Isandlwana would still have been in the minds of many).

“How will our missionaries look the people of India in the face as messengers of peace on earth and goodwill to men now? How will they go to Zululand with the Gospel? We have ravaged the homes of the people, sent fire and sword into peaceful valleys, and trampled every principle of righteousness under foot, and then we send missionaries to convert the countries we have made desolate with most cruel and unjust war. The voters of Scotland must take this responsibility. If they wish an end put to this kind of policy they must come as Christian men to the poll, and send men to Parliament who will demand with authority that all this shall be changed.”

The 1880 election saw victory for Gladstone’s Liberals, and a reduction in the Tory vote in Scotland (winning just 6 of 58 seats, down from 18 in 1874).

To the Editor of the People’s Journal.

Sir,—I appeal to the people. No abuse, however powerfully defended, can resist the will of the people. A great crime is being done, a cruel wrong, under the protection of the law, is being inflicted, and there is no helper. I invoke the indignation of a people who love justice and hate oppression. In all our counties some proprietors of the soil are forcing the very best men and women to leave their homes or to violate their conscience. In Perthshire, for example, the Earl of Mansfield is inflicting most cruel wrong on a population whose only fault is their liberal opinions. Here are two facts:—In 1843 on the Logie-Almond estate there were 87 cottagers belonging to the Established Church. In 1878 only 23 remained. Of the twenty-one men who voted for Mr Parker in 1868 only four now remain on the estate. Sir, I accuse the noble Earl of a deliberate attempt to violate the Constitution. I denounce him as a setter of class against class, as a destroyer of that happy and cordial relationship which should exist between laird and tenant. I ask for Parliamentary inquiry. The House of Commons is insulted and its privileges and rights violated y this Earl, who uses the rights of property in this unrighteous way. Noble Christian men are banished from the homes of their fathers; families are torn up and flung houseless upon the world; men are forced to abandon their lawful calling—all for purely political honesty. They have committed no crimes; they have only exercised the rights put into their hands by Parliament. Sir, I call on Parliament to defend these honest men, who are punished for doing honestly the work Parliament gave them to do. Nor is the Earl of Mansfield the sole offender. All over our counties, and in Perthshire particularly, is this cruel and unconstitutional policy being pursued. I warn such violators of the spirit of the law that they shall not escape public censure. But, sir, they care for nothing. Public opinion they defy. They know they are abhorred, and that all honourable men despise their conduct. Parliament must instantly assert its power, and punish these violators of the equitable spirit of our law.

A host of little factors and small country bankers infest our counties. They know every man and his circumstances. If there is a bill to be renewed, if in consequence of bad seasons there is an arrear of rent, if there is any little difficulty perplexing a voter, then is the opportunity of these official oppressors. They have no shame, no delicacy. They come to the voter and simply say—“Now, are you to vote for our candidate? Give me your hand and your word that you will!” In vain the poor man tries to evade a direct reply. His wife, his daughters, his sons see his humiliation and burn with shame and rage. They all know the situation; they belong to the Free Church or the United Presbyterian; they are humbled and distressed. The shameless coward presses his advantage and the vote is promised. In hundreds of homes in Scotland this plan is pursued. And when stalwart noble men, like those at Logie-Almond, declare themselves staunch, out of twenty-one in a few years only four are left—the rest driven helpless from their homes. Sir, you as the editor of the People’s Journal have great influence. I call on you to wield it now. Especially I ask the voters in the villages who have feus to vote to a man against a system like this. I ask the Liberal candidates for burghs to raise this question. I call on the House of Commons to defend its privileges. I ask every honest man to stamp the cruel, cowardly conduct of these petty factors and pompous little bankers with their contempt. I ask Boards of Directors of our great banks to see that their influence and wealth are not used in this degrading oppression.

But, sir, I appeal chiefly to Christian men, who hold aloof from politics. I claim their help. Is Christianity only an affair of prayer meetings and religious observances on Sabbath days? No verily. The other side are organised. The licensed spirit trade to a man vote, and try to influence other voters. Their money interest is at stake, and they unite and make a mighty power, not in towns only but in counties. A languid and fitful opposition will not avail against an organisation like this. I wish to press on Christian men their duty as citizens. In municipal elections and in parliamentary voting I ask them to come to the poll. Men of high character are returned indeed by small majorities against men who are a shame to constituencies, but the majorities are too small—they should be overwhelming. The reason is that good, easy-going men do not trouble themselves to vote. A Scottish man with stuff in him should despise even being sent for or conveyed to the poll. To vote is his duty, his principle, he ought to vote frankly and openly too, giving all the influence he possesses to the side his conscience approves. The real weight of the Christian sentiment of the country is never felt in Parliament. A great statesman like Mr Gladstone requires to be insulted and driven from office before the good men of Britain are roused to take an interest in politics. Sir John Lawrence, and Lord Northbrook, and the Duke of Argyle have all entered their solemn protest against this unrighteous war in India. They have protested in vain. Why in vain? Because Christian men stayed away from the poll at the last election, and said that Whig and Tory had nothing to do with their religion. Sir, these men are responsible for this war. They did not support the right men at the right time, and the affairs of the county have fallen into the hands of men who “go in for gunpowder and glory.” Continue reading “‘Political Oppression in the Counties’ by A Christian Democrat (17 January, 1880)”

Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 3: ‘The Tay Bridge of the Past and Future’ (31 January, 1880)

On the 28 December 1879, the Tay Rail Bridge designed by Thomas Bouch collapsed in a terrible storm. The disaster claimed the lives of all 75 passengers (although only 60 bodies were found). Naturally the tragedy featured heavily in ‘The People’s Journal’ and large features on the inquests were regularly found in the paper throughout 1880. Amongst the reporting there were also letters from readers published about the events. In this letter William Leslie from Alyth dismisses some of the previous letters to the paper about the bridge’s faults. There is also a note from a correspondent from Derbyshire who decries the cheapness of the materials used.


Sir,—I have read with much interest all the various letters on the above subject which have lately appeared in your paper, some of these written by more indignant than experienced persons. One correspondent writes—”No doubt the weakness of the Bridge was its length.” There, I may say, he is decidedly under a mistake, for the Bridge was designed so as to be equally strong between any two of the highest pillars as between the first pillar and the land, and if these pillars were to blame the error lay in the calculation of their strength and not in the length of the Bridge. Another says that, “seeing the iron pillars were tubular and filled with cement, perhaps water had got into them, and when the frosty weather came the water expanded and the iron contracted, so damaging the pillars.” This is right so far, although no water could have got into these pillars. Nevertheless, seeing firmed cement has no yield, the contraction of these pillars should have been provided against. This could easily have been done by putting between the cement and the pillars oneply of ordinary pipe bagging. Another condemns the Bridge at once as “a wind trap,” and tries to make out that the lattice girders strain the supporting piers greater than the plates. In support of his theory he says—”Had the side of the Bridge presented a solid body to the wind the current would have divided before it reached the Bridge, and passed above and underneath it.” Now, if this was the case, bridges built on the solid or plated design (such as tubular bridges) would require no extra support to provide against oscillation, and would be recommended above all others. But such is not the case. Although the Bridge had presented a solid body to the wind, and divided the current into two parts, the space between the currents was not a vacuum, but compressed air equal in strength to the passing currents, and the stronger these currents grew the lesser grew this space, and the greater the pressure against the side of the Bridge. The lattice girder prevented this pressure, was equal to any other pattern in strength, superior in beauty, and I believe inferior in price. Yet, for one fault, I would condemn the bare lattice girder, that fault being the want of protection to the passing train from the wind. I believe this will be one of the most difficult points to settle in the reconstruction of the Bridge. Although no carriage was ever proved to be overturned by the wind, yet it would be well to provide against it, seeing the wind once before blew one of these girders—far heavier than any carriage—from the top of the Bridge into the river. As to the question of rebuilt, continuing the levels where the Bridge is broken. This would only lower the shipping height some twelve or fifteen feet, to which the town of Perth could not reasonably object, as it would not lessen their shipping interest nor diminish their traffic. Yet it would not be commendable to allow the North British Railway Company to run passenger trains across the Bridge until another line of rails was added, b a new Bridge built alongside the present one and firmly connected with it, both having supports slanting out into the river as far as the fallen engine lies from the base of the upright piers, thus forming a bridge that would meet the demands of the public, and on which the most timid passengers could safely venture.—I am &c.,

Cumno, Alyth. Wm. Leslie. Continue reading “Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 3: ‘The Tay Bridge of the Past and Future’ (31 January, 1880)”

Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 2: ‘The Tay Bridge A Wind-Trap’ (17 January, 1880)

On the 28 December 1879, the Tay Rail Bridge designed by Thomas Bouch collapsed in a terrible storm. The disaster claimed the lives of all 75 passengers (although only 60 bodies were found). Naturally the tragedy featured heavily in ‘The People’s Journal’ and large features on the inquests were regularly found in the paper throughout 1880. Amongst the reporting there were also letters from readers published about the events. In this letter “A.H.” discusses a perceived design flaw in the bridge.


“A.H.” writes:—The Tay Bridge was a wind-trap because it was constructed with open lattice work. Those who understand the matter know this; those who do not may think the statement ridiculous. The latter believe, and the engineers who designed the Bridge seem to have believed, that by constructing the sides with open lattice work the wind would pass through without exerting its full powers on the Bridge. Let us examine the facts and illustrate them. Any one who has stood by the side of an exposed wall in a snow-storm and watched the driving snowflakes must have noticed that the current becomes deflected a good distance before reaching the wall, and, instead of striking the wall, as one would at first sight suppose, passes right over. This is what always happens with a wall close from bottom to top. Watch it as it blows towards an open, sparred wall of the same height, and you will see it make straight for the opener fence, which it will strike with great force and will not pass through to the extent one might suppose (just as in the case of the close wall), which it strikes with very much more force than would at first sight appear. From where this is written there are some narrow strips of plantation; one of them is protected by a boarding 5 feet high, and this boarding is close. The other was protected in the same way, but with this important difference, it was composed of sparred work. The spare were nailed on perpendicularly, with two inches between them; they are 4 inches broad. What is the result? Equally exposed, the sparred fence has been utterly demolished. Pieces of it too large for two men to carry were blown twenty, and in one instance forty-five yards. The close one is a little awayed, but has sustained no serious damage. Mark this difference in the way each was secure. The close one was put up carefully, the posts to which it was nailed being of a substantial nature, and they were carefully secured in the ground. Its purpose was to shelter a plantation, and it only incurred the force of the gale at a little distance beyond where it was put. The other was equally well put up, and had the additional support of a very securely fixed stay (buttress) to every post. Those who put it up were acquainted with the above facts as to the manner wind behaves with close and lattice work, and yet it is wholly ruined, while the other stands. While it stood it afforded much better shelter than the close one; it caught the current of wind; the other (close) one deflected it. Continue reading “Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 2: ‘The Tay Bridge A Wind-Trap’ (17 January, 1880)”

Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 1: ‘The Moral of the Tay Bridge Disaster’ (10 January, 1880)

On this day (28 December) in 1879, the Tay Rail Bridge designed by Thomas Bouch collapsed in a terrible storm. The disaster claimed the lives of all 75 passengers (although only 60 bodies were found). Naturally the tragedy featured heavily in ‘The People’s Journal’ and large features on the inquests were regularly found in the paper throughout 1880. Amongst the reporting there were also letters from readers published about the events. The first of these, by ‘A Christian Democrat’, discussed the way competition had harmed the rail system and, ahead of his time, called for the nationalisation of the railways.



Sir,—The destruction of the Tay Bridge teaches several important lessons to all who are interested in railway enterprise. The Bridge was too high and too narrow for its width. This is the simple explanation of the disaster. From the first it should have been a double line. The Bridge must be rebuilt all on the same level, made firm and good, and the traffic resumed as quickly as possible on the single line. Then a new Bridge should be made alongside the present structure, and the two Bridges united firmly together with tie-rods. It requires no engineering skill at all to see that this is the effectual remedy for all the trouble. Then the traffic will flow in a grand unbroken stream. The capital must be provided, and to the great Companies really interested the money required is not considerable. In the present mood of London it will not be difficult to raise the money with a guarantee by the East Coast lines of even a small minimum dividend. The most practical help to the shareholders of the North British, who deserve well of the public, would be a speedy and influential movement in this direction. Shares should be issued at one pound each. The working men of England will feel a pride in coming forward in their thousands to share in the honour of great national work like this. They know that failure is the usual road to real and permanent success. Often mechanical difficulties seem about to frustrate a clever idea, but they know that careful attention to the causes of errors in the end ensures safety and triumph. Let Sir Thomas Bouch take heart; the working men of Scotland will help him, and all classes will join in strengthening his hands in this hour of trial. Continue reading “Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 1: ‘The Moral of the Tay Bridge Disaster’ (10 January, 1880)”