‘Salmon Fishing Bothies on the Tay’; Second Article (4 August, 1888)

The following is the second article which discusses the state of the fishing stations and their accommodation along the river Tay in Perthshire.

Further Revelations.

Second Article.

Men Huddled Together Like Beasts.

Conversing at Abernethy with a Tay fisherman of over 50 years’ experience, we were informed that the bothies on the Earn and on the Tay down to Newburgh were pretty much the same as those we had visited. He said the proprietors would not allow their dogs to bide in them, much less their horses. They should be ashamed to allow their men to reside in them while they were in such an uninhabitable condition. The men were just huddled together like beasts. He understood that not long ago Dr Niven, Newburgh, had been appointed to examine the lodges on the Mugdrum estate, while Dr Laing had been asked to perform a similar duty in regard to those on the Earn.

On the Glove fishing station six men are employed at present instead of seven as usual. In the bothy there are seven beds. There is a great lack of ventilation. Light is provided by a little window which does not open. Here, too, there is no water supply and the men are frightened to use the Tay water. There is a general want of repair throughout at this lodge.

The Hen is another station which belongs to the Rev. A. Fleming, and the tenant is Mr Dunn, Newburgh. The bothy measures fourteen feet by eleven feet, and has a sloping roof about five feet high at the walls, and rising to between six and seven feet in the centre. Its peculiarity is that the door is not in the sleeping apartment. Before entering it you have to pass through a storeroom. The sleeping-room is so small that, when its seven occupants are all in the floor, there is just about standing room. For want of sufficient accommodation, the men have to take their meals in detachments. The heat just now is so great, they say, that unless they fall asleep at once after going to bed they seldom sleep at all.

Change in Fishermen’s Habits.

In the course of a conversation with Mr Pitcaithly, Elcho Castle, one of the largest tacksmen on the Tay, and a fisherman of from 50 to 60 years’ experience, several interesting items of information were gleaned. He says that with a little pressure the proprietors are improving the lodges year by year, but that much yet remains to be done. A sanitary officer has been in the district recently, and as a result of his visit there has been more whitewashing than usual. Some 30 or 40 years ago the fishings were leased by fewer tacksmen, and the bothies, many of which were never intended as permanent residences, were used principally by the men during working hours for cooking purposes only. In those days, he added, the cooking was not extensive, brose and porridge being the principal articles of diet. Now a days these are little appreciated, and in their place large quantities of tea and coffee and butcher meat are used. At that time the wages averaged 8s 6d to 9s; now the average pay is from 18s to 20s a week, some of the men having boot money in addition. When the fishings were broken up and the different stations belonging to one proprietor let separately, the men began to reside more in the bothies. Under the present system many more men are employed now than formerly. For example, on Seggieden there are at present twenty men whereas 30 or 40 years ago there were only five or six. While the bothies in many cases are very far from what they should be both as to accommodation and sanitation, he thinks the men might with a little trouble make themselves much more comfortable by being a little more cleanly in their habits. They never opened a window, and shovelled on coals on the fire till the place was like an oven. Contrasting the state of the lodges now with their condition in his younger days, he said that he recollected of a tent being erected with the bed sheets inside the wooden hut on the Hen station to prevent the snow getting in. He question whether the men were better off now than they were when thye had lower wages. In too many cases it all went on meat and drink. A great alteration for the better had been made by the passing of the Forbes M’Kenzie Act, for there were not nearly so many men that came drunk on the Sunday nights as formerly. Last year the Town of Perth renovated a number of their bothies. In Millhurst and Incherrat new beds were fitted up, the floors were laid with concrete, and the walls were whitewashed. The lodge on Seggieden, although not one of the best, has one privilege which a large number of the others want—that is a capital supply of excellent water. Continue reading “‘Salmon Fishing Bothies on the Tay’; Second Article (4 August, 1888)”

‘Salmon Fishing Bothies on the Tay’; First Article (28 July, 1888)

The following is the first of two articles which discuss the state of the fishing stations and their accommodation along the river Tay in Perthshire.

Disgraceful State of Matters.

First Article.

The saying that property has duties as well as rights declares a principle which, in the latter end of this nineteenth century, is likely to be driven home to some purpose. Well had it been for property, and well, too, for the common weal of the kingdom, had this plain but important precept been more put into practice since it first became a watchword of political progress—since the time when Thomas Drummond, as Under Secretary for Ireland, applied the words in condemnation of the unreasoning rapacity of the landlords in 1839. Much has been done at variance with this rule, but signs are not awanting that change is imminent. Sharp work will be made with many sacred and cherished rights of property, which too frequently represent wrongs of the people; and amongst these the sacred right to maintain human rookeries will certainly receive but short shrift.

A New Species of Piggery.

One way or another the public are fairly alive to the miseries of the hovel in city and the miseries of the bothy in rural life, but to the riparian proprietors of the Tay belongs the credit of creating a new species of piggery to which the attention of the public may usefully be turned. At the instance of this newspaper a voyage of inspection was made last week among the lodges which stud the backs of the Tay between Perth and Dundee. Of these hovels—for by no other name can many of the wretched structures be more fitly described—there are over a hundred, and more than thirty were made the subject of personal inspection, while enquiry concerning the conditions of their lives when at work was made among the fishermen at various other points along the course of the river. The result in brief is the revelation of a state of things hitherto unsuspected, and which, as more particularly set forth below, proves that beyond all doubt a portion at least of the “property” of Perthshire is inattentive to its duties in a degree which decidedly constitutes a public scandal. For seven months of the year, from the beginning of February till towards the end of August, a period embracing the extremes of cold in winter and heat in summer, some hundreds of men are lodged in rickety buildings, which at the best could only be considered as a better sort of pig-stye—so constructed, so dilapidated and dirty, so utterly devoid of all comfort and convenience, that no person, let alone a laird with the amour propre peculiar to his class, would think of devoting them to the accommodation of a dog or a horse in which be took ordinary interest.

One Small Room for Seven Men.

With few exceptions these lodges consist of one small room, which in the average case has to accommodate from five to seven able-bodied men. In combination with the disagreeable nature of their work, the plight of these men is truly such that one is inclined to think that surely the salmon fishers of the Tay touch bottom rock n their experience of material discomfort. Wet, tired, and weary, they are forced to spend the period of rest and largely of leisure in a small and stuffy apartment, one hour in which to an ordinary mortal is almost enough to neutralise the benefit derived form a day in the open air. At once kitchen, dining-room, and dormitory, these hovels present to the eye of the stranger a scene of dirt and confusion of which no real conception is possible apart from personal experience. In very few is any provision made for ventilation, and the majority have only one small window nailed down to the sash. In each case the greater part of the space is devoted to wooden boxes divided by boards into sleeping bunks. In some of these beds hay and straw are used for bedding like common litter, and though a mattress was not unfrequently to be seen, the conditions under which life was necessarily led in the majority of cases obviously forbade the introduction of good material into such dens.

Uncouth and Unclean.

To some extent it may indeed be considered a necessity of the case, or at least an almost unavoidable feature, that the interior of these lodges should present an uncouth and far from comely or clean appearance. The bulk of the men employed at the salmon fishing are not and indeed can hardly afford to be, very finical in their ideas of what constitute comfort while actively employed employed on the river. But located as they now are, comfort if it exists at all has reached the irreducible minimum, and an apathetic regard to the ordinary decencies of life is a natural outcome of this circumstance. No doubt part of the want of tidiness apparent is attributable to the carelessness of the men themselves. In many cases the bothies would be dirty however arranged or constructed, and whatever the facilities for keeping them clean.

Rats and Vermin.

But as things now are, men desirous of having order and cleanliness around them are disheartened by the abominable nature of their environment. In no case was a table or chair to be seen in the bothy, for the good and sufficient reason that in most of them there was no room where such could possibly have been set. Rats and other vermin abound; water for drinking and cooking has frequently to be carried great distances; and very often the atmosphere of the apartment is rendered insufferably foetid with the steam and smoke from wet clothing set out to dry before large fires put on for the purpose. Under such conditions it is only natural to find straw strewn about, a mountain of ashes piled up in the fireplace, lumps of coal and miscellaneous rubbish scattered all over the floor, and little hillocks of rubbish, composed of egg shells, tin boxes, and other material, defending the approach to the lodge from every direction. Continue reading “‘Salmon Fishing Bothies on the Tay’; First Article (28 July, 1888)”

‘A Stranger’s Glimpse of Dundee’ by A.S. (29 September, 1860)

The following is a sketch story about a steamship journey from Edinburgh to Dundee. The author, A.S., had several stories published in the ‘Journal’ around this time.

One morning in the latter end of last April, a large steamboat, crowded from stem to stern with a goodly company of men and women, young lads and lasses, belonging principally to the working-classes of Edinburgh, sailed from Leith harbour, bound on a cheap pleasure trip to a certain city in the North. The day was clear and bright, scarce a cloud obscured the sky, the sun shone brightly from above, and its reflection dazzled the eye from the rippling billows below. We were all in the best of spirits, light-hearted, social, and merry. The paddle-wheels, impelled by the powers of steam, churned the waters into milk-white foam, and urged the crowded vessel onward at a glorious rate. We were not long in passing the Bass Rock and the Isle of May on our right; Largo Law, Largo Bay, and the East Neuk of Fife, with its pleasant slopes dotted with white cottages and farm steadings, on our left. We soon doubled Fife Ness, and steered northward past St Andrews Bay, until at last we entered the Frith of Tay, and beheld, many of us for the first time, a dense cloud of smoke and a forest of tall chimneys, beneath which throbbed the hearts of the denizens of Dundee. We were but four hours on our voyage. We had two or three to wait before we started home, and we resolved to make the most of our time by scampering about the streets and seeing whatever was to be seen. We saw a large, prosperous city, full of life and activity, like a hive of busy, busy bees; full of people intent—as all Scotch folks are—on making, not honey, but that which rhymes to it and buys it, namely, money; a city full of shops that seem to drive a good trade; large factories where the inventions of Watt and Arkwright create a deafening sound, and convert the Russian flax into fine linen. We saw few idle people, either rich or poor , in Dundee; everybody seemed to have something to do, and to be doing it. There were no ridiculously dressed ladies, rustling in silks and satins, glittering with rings and jewels, such as may be seen any sunny day parading along Princess Street, Edinburgh—ladies as idle as they are useless, as proud as they are contemptible, who seem to imagine this world was made for no other purpose than to be trod under their feet, who have never done anything in their lives but eat and drink and create work for others. But then there were plenty of real ladies, neatly and tastily dressed, who did not go idle, but were out at the butcher’s, the baker’s, the grocer’s, or the linen draper’s, purchasing household necessaries, and making themselves useful and their homes happy by their frugal and industrious habits. These are the ladies we admire and honour, not those mincing votaries of fashion made up, for the most part, of millineries, sparkling jewels, and self-conceit. And then, oh ye gods are little fishes (as Robert Nicoll used to say), did we not see in that city a number of the prettiest girls that ever we saw! Bless their sweet eyes. Have we not dreamed of them every blessed night since, and do we not count ever day and hour between us and the next holiday when we may get back to see them once more! Of the male portion of Dundee folks, we have little to say. Sam Slick’s description of Scotchmen in America may be applied to them:—“Them ere fellars cut their eye-teeth afore they set foot on this country, I expect. When they get a bawbee they know what to do with it—that’s a fact;—they open their pouch and drop it in, and its got a spring like a fox-trap, it holds fast to all it gets like the grim death to a dead nigger.” Ditto with Scotchmen and their pouches everywhere. Continue reading “‘A Stranger’s Glimpse of Dundee’ by A.S. (29 September, 1860)”

‘An Old Newport Man: Mr John Jackson’ (19 December, 1891)

This was one of a series of portraits of significant local figures that appeared in the ‘People’s Journal’ in 1891. While this was not a competition winner, prize of one guinea was given to the best profile of a “well known man”. There are some lovely details about the Tay Ferries here, particularly that after eight o’clock those wanting to cross the river could hire out a small bout for 6s 9d.

There is nobody in Newport better known or more highly respected than Mr John Jackson, who for so many years has had charge of the parcel delivery work in connection with the Tay Ferries. Born in Dundee in 1820, Mr Jackson came to Newport at the age of ten, so that for the long period of sixty-one years he has been a resident in the beautiful suburb on the Southern shores of the Tay. He is almost the oldest inhabitant, there being only two others who can dispute the claim with him—Miss Gibb and Mr Robert Just. Mr Jackson’s father, Charles Jackson, carried on the business of a shoemaker in Dundee and Newport. He was a staunch Baptist, and for forty years, with unfailing regularity, he attended the Baptist Church at Tayport.

Newport Sixty Years Ago.

Sixty years ago, when Mr Jackson first came to Newport, there were no churches, no shops, no schools, and no resident medical man. At that time communication with the South was by stagecoach, and the delivery of parcels coming by coach was attended to by Mrs Brand, whose storehouse for articles arriving by coach, and also for bales of flax from Dundee by the ferry steamer, was the building opposite the pier now partly occupied by the Mission Hall. Mr Jackson entered the service of Mrs Brand, and was for some time engaged in delivering parcels on a hand-barrow. The last boat for Dundee left at eight o’clock, and those who wanted to cross the river after that hour had to hire the cutter, which was managed by four men, of whom Mr Jackson was one. The charge for a single trip was 6s 9d, and Mr Jackson has sometimes made as many as three trips in one evening. In due time Mr Jackson was promoted to the post of Piermaster, and at the same time looking after the delivery of parcels, a duty which he has always discharged with punctuality and despatch. When the daily newspapers were started in Dundee he undertook their distribution in Newport, and all those who have had dealings with him will testify that his branch of his business also has been attended to with unfailing regularity. The punctual appearance of the Dundee Advertiser on Newport breakfast tables every morning for so many years has been largely due to the efforts of Mr Jackson.

The Tay Ferries.

Mr Jackson has seen many changes in the Tay Ferries. When he first entered the service the Ferries were under the charge of the commissioners of Woods and Forests, and the boat on the passage was the Princess Royal, a twinsteamer, with a single paddle in the centre. The Princess Royal had a very large deck for goods, and could carry eight or nine hundred passengers, but she had no saloon; and when a saloon was added her engines were found to be too light for the extra weight, and she was discarded in favour of the Fifeshire. Afterwards the Forfarshire came upon the passage, and then the Dundee. The Newport Pier and the sea wall to the East were built in 1821-22. By and by the Ferries passed into the hands of the Scottish Central Railway, then into those of the Caledonian Railway, and finally they were taken over by the Dundee Harbour Commissioners, and placed under the charge of a Committee, of which the first Convener was the late Mr Harry Walker. Mr Jackson has served under six Superintendents—Captain Scott; Messrs John Leitch, Morrison, Cookston, Ritchie, and Captain Methven. Among those who have commanded the steamers in his day were Captains James Duncan, David Milne, and John Edwards. Another old Ferry hand is David Davidson, who, like Mr Jackson, was in the service of Mrs Brand. Mr Milne, the Newport Piermaster, has been twenty years in the Ferry service. Continue reading “‘An Old Newport Man: Mr John Jackson’ (19 December, 1891)”

Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 6: ‘The Tay Bridge’ (4 September, 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.


Sir,—I have read all that has been printed in your paper about the unfortunate Tay Bridge, and have paid attention to the different plans proposed and the speeches of others who have no plans, but whose aim seems to be to pull the thing to pieces.

I am not aware of any one proposing to sink a new pier outside of each of the old ones, if the old ones are faulty, which I don’t believe. I think when those girders fell with the train in them the piers got such a test as I hope they never will again. The leverage was something awful. When they stood that I think it was proof enough, but by sinking a new pier outside of each old one they may go any depth they please and make sure of the outside being right. If there should be anything wrong let them sheet-pile it where the dotted lines are and fill with concrete. I don’t think many will want it. The foundations, I believe, are a good job, but the columns and girders have been shameful. They talked of an unholy alliance. What gentleman builds an addition to his house by first pulling down the old one? Who mends an old coat with an old rag? Such trash carried weight before the Committee.—I am, &c.,

Torbain, Kirkcaldy. W. Johnstone.

Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 5: ‘The Tay Bridge Report—Mr Rothery and his Colleagues’ (17 July, 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. This collection of letters sent by the solicitors of Bouch to ‘The People’s Journal’ throw doubt on the operation of the inquiry surrounding their client. Thomas Bouch’s reputation as one of the worlds leading engineers was ruined by Tay Rail Bridge. He would die on 30 October 1880, less than a year after the disaster.


Sir,—We beg to send you copy of a correspondence which we, as solicitors for Sir Thomas Bouch, have had with Colonel Yolland and Mr Barlow, two of the members of the Court of Inquiry on the Tay Bridge disaster, in reference to the separate Report made by their colleague, Mr Rothery, to the Board of Trade. We shall feel obliged by your giving publicity to this correspondence, on which it is unnecessary for us to comment, as it speaks for itself.—We are, &c.,

A.J. & J. Dickson.

2 Queen Street, Edinburgh,

14th July 1880.


1. Letter—Messrs A.J. & J. Dickson, W.S., Edinburgh, to Colonel Yolland, R.E., Board of Trade.

Edinburgh, 9th July 1880.

Sir,—On perusing Mr Rothery’s Report, we find that it contains several most injurious (and, as we think, unjust) statements and charges reflecting on Sir Thomas Bouch, which appear to us to be inconsistent with the opinions and findings contained in the Joint Report of yourself and Mr Barlow, and which certainly are not countenanced by anything therein contained. Had these statements and charges been put forward simply as the opinions of Mr Rothery alone we should have said nothing, but Mr Rothery, at §137 of his Report, makes the following statement:—“The points on which we are not agreed are as to whether some facts which have come out in the course of the inquiry ought or ought not to be mentioned,” thereby implying, that you agree with him as to the truth of the facts. Again, at §142 Mr Rothery implies that you concur in the justice of his censures, although not thinking it your duty to say so. And in the closing words of his Report Mr Rothery states explicitly—“Although my colleagues have not thought fit to join in this Report they do not differ, except perhaps on very minor points, from the conclusions at which I have arrived.”

It is manifest that Mr Rothery has thereby represented that all the findings and censures of his Report, with some very minor exceptions, are concurred in by yourself and Mr Barlow, and entitled to the great additional weight which such concurrence would necessarily give. Continue reading “Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 5: ‘The Tay Bridge Report—Mr Rothery and his Colleagues’ (17 July, 1880)”

Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 4: ‘Proposed Reconstruction of the Tay Bridge’ (20 March, 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 John Roy, an engineer and architect in the United States gives his view on the reasons behind the bridge’s failure, and how it should be rebuilt.


Sir,—Pardon me for intruding upon you in the hour of your calamity. A friend sent me copies of your valuable Journal of the 10th, 17th, and 24th of January 1880, giving an account of the loss of life and destruction of the Tay Bridge at 7.16 P.M., December 28th, 1879.

The evidence shows the gale was unprecedented in that part of the world. Capt. Scott says, “In the gusts it came as high as 11, and at the time the wind was almost due west, directly at right angles to the high girders.” Eleven inches of water is equal to a pressure upon a square foot of 57 1/4 pounds, under which the wind travels 107 miles per hour. In this country the wind often blows so as a man cannot stand before it. On Mount Washington, in the State of New Hampshire, January 1878, the velocity of the wind was over 100 miles an hour during nine different days, but the highest registered is:—

November 29th, 1875 6 P.M. velocity, 170 miles per hour
December 13th, 1875 do. do. 108 do.
January — 1876 do. do. 132 do.
February 24th, 1876 do. do. 163 do.
March 22d, 1876 do. do. 100 do.
May 1st, 1876 do. do. 108 do.

From the testimony of Captain Scott I infer that no long, high, and light iron bridge with a single track ought to be built at right angles to the prevailing winds and sea in an exposed position like that of the Tay Bridge. Had the Tay Bridge been built on a curve to the west, the girders forming a polygon, only one girder would be exposed at right angles to any wind, and the two adjoining girders would form a strut or tie to the strained girder; this would form an arch against the west wind and sea, and a suspension bridge to resist eastern storms. The strength of such a bridge would be in proportion to the length of the versed sign of the segment, the tensile and compressive force of the iron would be brought into action in a more favourable manner, and much of the cross or transverse strain avoided. A long train would add to its lateral strength as a brace and poise The train itself forming part of a curve, the leverage of its wheel base would be increased in proportion to the length of the versed sign of the segment. Continue reading “Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 4: ‘Proposed Reconstruction of the Tay Bridge’ (20 March, 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)”