The Coal Question

William Stanley Jevons
Jevons, William Stanley
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
First Pub. Date
London: Macmillan and Co.
Pub. Date
2nd edition.
17 of 22

Chapter XIII


IT has been suggested by many random thinkers that when our coal is done here, we may import it as we import so many other raw materials from abroad. "I can conceive," says one writer, "the coal-fields of this country so far exhausted, that the daughter in her maturity shall be able to pay back to the mother more than she herself received. May we not look forward to a time when those 'water-lanes' which both dissever and unite the old and new world, shall be trod by keels laden with the coal produce of America for the ports of Britain? and in such a traffic there will be abundant use for vessels as capacious and swift as the Great Eastern."


I am sorry to say that the least acquaintance with the principles of trade, and the particular circumstances of our trade, furnishes a complete negative to all such notions. While the export of coal is a vast and growing branch of our trade, a reversal of the trade, and a future return current of coal, is a commercial impossibility and absurdity.


But why, it may be asked, can we now export millions of tons of coal, and distribute them to all the ports of the globe, and yet cannot hope to bring back our lost riches in the improved vessels of the future? We have been able to reverse the woollen, linen, and cotton trades; to import the copper and tin and lead ores, which we used to draw from our own veins; to buy our supplies of food—wheat, dairy produce, butcher's meat, and eggs from abroad; and, even in such a bulky material as timber, to replace our own oak and elm and beech, by the deal and pine, mahogany and teak, of distant forests. If by our manufacturing skill we can thus successively reverse every great trade, buying raw materials with finished goods, instead of finished goods with raw materials, why not also reverse the coal-trade? Is not Free Trade the sheet anchor that will never fails us? Unfortunately not. There is a false step of analogy in such reasoning. Mark what accompanies the reversal of each branch of commerce—it is the increased employment of coal, and coal-driven labour at home, in the smelting-furnace or the factory. The reversal of every other branch of trade is the work of coal, and the coal-trade cannot reverse itself. And the facts which may be adduced concerning the coal-export trade, so strikingly illustrate the importance of our coal-mines to our maritime and commercial position, that I shall give, at some length, arguments which demonstrate, more than sufficiently, the impossibility of importing coal.


Trade is manifestly reciprocal, and free trade only allows the development of any peculiar excellence, or advantage, and the exchange of the products for those more easily procured else-where. One most peculiar advantage is the force which coal, skilfully used, places at our disposal. It is our last great resource—the one kind of wealth by the sufficient employment of which we might reverse every other trade, draw every other material from abroad until the kingdom was one immense Manchester, or one expanse of "Black Country." But take away that resource, and our expectations from free trade must be of a very minor character. "Easy access to the raw material," said Mr. Gladstone, "and abundant supplies of fuel, lead to the creation of manufactures. Put these two conditions together, and you have the combination which makes South Lancashire a busy manufacturing country, with the great town of Liverpool behind it." But observe that the fuel of South Lancashire is a condition as well as the raw material from abroad.


The truth is that if coal as well as other raw materials were found abroad in Pennsylvania, Prussia, New South Wales, or Brazil, the whole cost of freight would be a premium upon establishing the system of coal-supported industry on the spot. Even the narrow seas of St. George's and the English Channels are impassable by coal-driven industry. Ireland, especially Dublin, has drawn coal from Whitehaven time out of mind, for domestic purposes and local manufactures. But the practical non-existence of coal-mines in Ireland has rendered it impossible for any branch of manufacture consuming much coal to exist there. If a work paid at all in Ireland, there must be a margin of profit in transferring the work to an English coal-field. Similarly, it is explained in a recent very able Report*1 upon the coal-trade of France, that no great branch of coal-consuming industry could ever arise in France upon English coal.


"We cannot expect," says the reporter, M. Rouher, "to make foreign coal the basis of a great branch of industry. Coal is a cumbersome commodity, and its cost is doubled or tripled by lading and unlading, and conveying it 100 or 200 miles. To demand coal from England and compete with the products raised upon English coal-fields in manifestly to place ourselves in an inferiority. About two tons and a half of coal, for instance, are required to produce one ton of cast iron. It is much easier to draw our cast iron direct from Glasgow, than to transport a weight of coal two and a half times greater. It requires two or three tons of coal to convert cast iron into wrought iron; that is to say, five tons at least are needed to make wrought iron from the ore. It is most economical, then, to demand from England the finished article."


No one will properly understand the trade in coal who forgets that coal is the most bulky and weighty of all commodities. In this, as in other respects, it stands wholly by itself. No other commodity at all approaches it in the vast quantity required, and it is even said that the weight of coal carried over English railways is double the weight of all other merchandise put together.*2 The cost of carriage is the main element of price everywhere except in the coal-field, or its close neighbourhood. The best coal is put on board at Newcastle for 9s. per ton. Before it reaches France, it is about trebled; in the Mediterranean ports, Genoa, or Leghorn, it is quadrupled, while in many remote parts of the world coal cannot be purchased for less than 3l. or 3l. 10s. per ton.*3


To go back to the suggestion with which we started, that our coal supplies will sometime be imported from America, let us consider that about 1,200 colliers of the size of the Great Eastern would be required to maintain our present supplies only. And whatever the size of the steam-vessels in which we may suppose the coal carried, their united tonnage would be at least five times the whole of our tonnage now employed in every trade and in every part of the world. The cost of such an unheard-of fleet would be the weight acting against us and in favour of American industry. And as all the colliers, railways, and canals cannot supply London with coal much under twenty shillings per ton, it is extravagant to suppose that coal could reach us from America for less than forty or sixty shillings per ton. Our industry would then have to contend with fuel, its all-important food, eight or twelve times as dear as it now is in England and America.


The complete commercial absurdity of the supposition renders any more accurate calculations superfluous.


But it is asked, How is a large export trade of coal possible, if an import trade is commercially impossible? This export trade is far the most weighty and wide-spread trade in the world. Taking the Mineral Statistics for 1862, we notice with some wonder that shipments of coal, in amounts from five tons up to 482,179 tons (Hamburg), are made to the following number of ports in the several countries:—

 No. of Ports.
France... 122
Denmark... 135
Norway... 50
Sweden... 37
Russia... 25
Austria... 7
Germany... 54
Prussia... 17
Holland... 24
Belgium... 7
Spain... 36
Portugal... 8
Italy... 18
Mediterranean... 18
Greece... 5
Turkey... 17
Africa... 22
Australia... 9
East Indies... 34
West Indies... 37
North America... 38
South America... 43
Channel Islands... 3
Heligoland... 1
Iceland... 1
Azores... 3
Canaries... 3
Madeira... 1
Ascension... 1
St. Helena... 1
Falkland Islands... 1
New Zealand... 4
Sandwich Islands... 1
Number of Coal-Ports in Europe... 580
Number of Coal-ports elsewhere... 203
Total number of Coal-Ports... 783


In short, excluding some of the extremely distant North Pacific ports, it may be said that British coal is bought and consumed in every considerable port in the world. It competes on equal terms and gives the price to native coal or other fuel, in nearly all maritime parts of the world. This extraordinary fact is partly due to the unrivalled excellence of Newcastle and Welsh steam-coals, and the cheapness with which they can be put on board ship. But it is mainly due to the fact that coal is carried as ballast, or makeweight, and is subject to the low rates of back-carriage.


The subject of the variation of freights and their influence on the currents of trade is a very curious one, but has been so overlooked by writers on trade and economy, that I may be pardoned giving a few illustrations of its nature and importance.


Whether the mode of conveyance be by vessel, canal-boat, waggon, carriage, or pack-horse, the vehicle is always required to return back to the place whence it started. The whole gains of a trip must on the average pay all expenses and leave a margin for profit, but it is immaterial whether the necessary fare or freight-charges be paid on the whole, or any part of the journey. Usually, a hackney coach, post-chaise, or canal-boat starts full, upon its outward trip, without calculating upon any return fare. In hackney-coach regulations the return fare is usually fixed at half the chief fare, but in the case of post-chaises, canal-boats, and perhaps some other conveyances, the return fare is usually the perquisite of the drivers. In the old mode of pack-horse conveyance the same was probably the case.


The advantage of gaining something by a return journey is so obvious that journeys are often planned to allow of profitable return freights. For instance, in the days of pack-horse conveyance, Sir Francis Willoughby built Wollaton Hall, in 1580, of stone brought on horseback from Ancaster in Lincolnshire, thirty-five miles away, but it was arranged that the trains of pack-horses should load back with coal, which was taken in exchange for the stone. And when efforts were made at the beginning of this century to bring Staffordshire coal to London in order to destroy the previous monopoly of the northern coal-owners, it was expected that the expense of canal conveyance would be reduced by the back carriage of manure from London thirty or forty miles up the country, and of flints all the way from Harefield to the Potteries.*4


The railway tolls on goods traffic, again, are not fixed at an uniform rate per ton, or per cubic foot, as might seem most fair and simple, but are adjusted in a complicated tariff so as to encourage as large a traffic as possible and give the best return. And one chief principle of this is to encourage back traffic by low or almost nominal rates. Trucks carrying various materials into towns may be used to carry manures and refuse out. Waggons carrying coals in one direction may carry back ores, slates, bricks, building-stone, flints, limestone, &c.


But it is in over-sea conveyance that we find the most important instances of the arrangement of freights.


In the year 1325 a vessel is recorded to have brought corn from France to Newcastle and to have returned laden with coal. This is one of the earliest notices of the coal-trade, but it furnishes the exact type of what it has ever since been, a simple exchange of cargoes. And King Charles seems to have been intelligently aware of the reciprocal nature of the coal-trade when at Oxford, in November 1643, he wrote to the Marquis of Newcastle to send a vessel full of coals to Holland and get much-needed arms in return.*5


The following is perhaps the most remarkable example of an exchange of freight:—"In Cornwall there exist mines of copper and of tin, but none of coal. The copper ore, which requires the largest quantity of fuel for its reduction, is conveyed by ships to the coal-fields of Wales, and is smelted at Swansea, whilst the vessels which convey it take back cargoes of coal to supply the steam-engines for draining the mines, and to smelt the tin, which requires a much less quantity of fuel for that purpose."*6 In this way the copper-smelting trade has been carried across an arm of the sea and settled in a place where there is no copper ore, by the joint attraction of cheap fuel and gratuitous carriage. Vessels must have conveyed coals to the Cornish engines whether they brought back ores or not, and to carry coals for copper smelting too would require a second fleet or vessels.


The whole coasting trade of the British coasts is, and always has been, greatly dependent on coal. Coasters going to any point of the coast to bring away slates, stone, lime, agricultural produce, &c. go out from Liverpool, Cardiff, the Clyde, Newcastle, or other large ports, with a cargo of coals, which everywhere meets a ready sale. Double freights are thus ensured.


In many cases a more complicated circle of traffic is established. Vessels bringing iron from Cardiff to Liverpool, on its way to America, often go on with Lancashire coal to Ulverston, and return to Cardiff with the hæmatite ores required for mixture with the Welsh argillaceous ores. Vessels, again, carrying slates or stone to Bristol from the Welsh quarries often take steam-coal to Liverpool and return to the welsh coast with bituminous coal for household use, the difference of quality being sufficient to establish an exchange trade. By such natural arrangements, not only are the great currents of industrial traffic bound together into one profitable whole, but coal is supplied cheaply to all parts of the coast, where it is landed at the nearest convenient place to a village, or group of villages, and retailed from a central coal-yard. The household coal, with smith's small coal, culm for lime-burning, draining-tiles, and a few other articles, form the only common and general coasting cargoes. On the other hand, whenever there is a great preponderance of freight in one direction, the shipping must necessarily return empty like the railway coal-waggons from London. The sailing or steam-colliers which supply the London market not only have no outward freight as a usual thing, but they have to purchase ballast in the Thames and discharge it in the Tyne. The ballast-wharves of the Tyne are often mentioned in the very early history of Newcastle, and the heaps of gravel, and stones, and rubbish drawn from the ships have grown from those days to these.

"To carry on the coasting trade in coal to London, 10,000 tons of gravel are weekly supplied in the Thames, and establishments in the North are actually paid for discharging and conveying it to a convenient place of deposit."*7


At one period of his life, George Stephenson was brakesman to the fixed engine which hauled up the ballast upon the heap, "a monstrous accumulation of earth, chalk, and Thames mud, already laid there to form a puzzle for future antiquarians."*8 And Stephenson often earned extra wages in the evening by taking a turn at heaving the ballast out of the collier vessels, while his engine was taken in charge by his friend Fairbairn.


In the foreign trade the influence of freights is far more distinct and important. A ship is often chartered for a specific voyage out and home, freight being provided both ways; but more commonly the homeward freight is the chief object the British shipowner aims at, and he sends the ship out often at a loss upon the outward passage, depending upon the captain or foreign agents to find a profitable home cargo. This important circumstance concerning the shipping and trading interests has often been alluded to, in pamphlets, speeches, or parliamentary reports. Dr. Buckland, for instance, thus explained the curious fact that Netherland coal was exported to America and avoided France, so much in want of it for her manufactures, by attributing it to the want of back carriage.*9 Mr. T. Y. Hall, again, stated clearly:—"The owners of vessels trading between England and France find that coal answers the purpose of ballast when other goods cannot be obtained at remunerative freights."*10 But the most distinct statement is in a pamphlet called forth by Sir Robert Peel's proposal, in 1842, to revive the export tax on coal.*11

"The proposed duty would produce also an indirect but injurious effect upon the importation of the raw materials of manufactures into this country at the lowest cost. It is well known that most of these articles are of a bulky nature; it is important to reduce the expense of freight upon them, and this the present facility for exporting coal secures to a considerable degree, being an article that provides an outward freight to a ship. This is peculiarly illustrated in the Baltic, from whence tallow, hemp, flax, and timber, articles of low value but great bulk, constitute the objects of imports, while our principal articles of export are indigo, cochineal, dyes, drugs, gums, &c., articles of great value but small bulk; so that it is necessary to have some compensating article of low value for our own exportation, to equalize and reduce the rate of freight. The same reasoning applies to our imports from the Mediterranean, and indeed most places of our intercourse from whence we derive our raw materials; while the export of common goods, such as anchors, chains, and other heavy commodities, of which whole cargoes can never be made up, had materially increased at Newcastle and Sunderland since the facility of shipment of coal by exporting ships has been provided."


In British trade, especially under the present free-trade policy, there is a great preponderance of homeward cargoes. Our imports consist of bulky raw materials and food. Nearly the whole of the corn, fruits, live stock, provisions, sugar, coffee, tea, tobacco, spirits, are consumed here. Timber, hemp, guano, hides, bones, with dye and tan materials; such as logwood, indigo, valonia, are either consumed here, or contribute little to the bulk of our exports. Cotton, silk, wool, and flax are either used up in this country, or returned of a smaller bulk. Our exports of cast and wrought iron, hardwares, and general manufactures are rather heavy than bulky, and of a far higher value than the imports proportionally to the bulk. A large part of our shipping would thus have to leave our ports half empty, or in ballast, unless there were some makeweight or natural supply of bulky cargo as back carriage.


Salt to some extent supplies the Liverpool shipowners with outward cargo, and it is remarkable that the tenth Earl of Dundonald, a man as ingenious and energetic as the late Earl, clearly foresaw the value of the salt-trade in this respect, and urged its extension upon the nation in an able pamphlet*12 of the year 1785. Though the Northern nations then drew their salt from Spain, Portugal, or Sardinia, he held that "salt may become a great article of export trade from this country" to Flanders, Holland, part of Germany, Prussia, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Russia, because two-thirds of the outward-going vessels to some of these countries sail in ballast, making their freight upon their homeward voyage, and it was not to be doubted that they would rather accept half freights which, however small, are a clear gain, than incur the cost of ballast. Our export of salt exactly fulfils the purpose explained by the Earl, but on a more extensive scale than he could possibly have anticipated. In 1861 about 700,000 tons of salt were exported from England, by far the largest part of which comes down the Weaver from the Cheshire works to Liverpool, and is there shipped.*13


There is a curious relation too between the earthenware manufacture and the shipping interest of the Western ports. From early times indeed the Staffordshire earthenware trade has presented a remarkable instance of the arrangement of freights. The materials of earthenware, fuel, flintstones, and clay are never found together like the materials of the iron manufacture; the finished earthenware too is of so bulky a nature when packed in crates, that a large part of its cost depends upon the cost of conveyance. Proximity to a coal-field is the first requisite of a pottery; proximity to a market the next requisite. Both these requisites are combined in the Staffordshire potteries. In the days of pack-horse conveyance their central position was of great importance, because the pack-horses, which brought the flints and clay from the nearest ports, could be used to carry and distribute the crockery slung in crates over the horses' backs. The flints were brought from the chalk districts of the south-east of England, by sea to Hull, and thence up the Trent as far as possible; while the clay came from Devonshire and Cornwall, either by the Severn as far as Bewdley, or up the Mersey and Weaver to Winsford.*14


In later days the early opening of canal communication and the commercial proximity of the potteries to Liverpool have been of the highest importance to both. So much iron and other heavy articles are shipped at Liverpool, that the shipowners need some light, bulky article to fill up the higher parts of the ships' holds. A considerable part of the produce of the Staffordshire potteries, accordingly, goes to Liverpool, the export of crockery being stimulated by the favourable freights offered. And such is the demand for crockery at the port, that several attempts have been made to attract the manufacture itself to Liverpool or Birkenhead. Further, the Clyde shipowners, having a great superfluity of heavy iron cargoes, and experiencing a like want of light freight to complete the loading of their ships, have actually attempted to create a pottery manufacture about Glasgow with that purpose.*15


At Liverpool indeed the whole products of the Lancashire factories, the earthenware and hardware of Staffordshire, the iron of South Wales, added to the salt of Cheshire, furnish a large mass of outward cargo, and the export of coal has hitherto been of minor importance. But with the progress of trade, that port will receive such immense masses inwards, that outward cargoes of coal will come more into demand. In 1850, Mr. William Laird urged the suitability of Liverpool for the export of coal, and there cannot be a doubt that in the natural progress of our trade, coal-staiths at Liverpool or Runcorn, supplied by direct lines from the South Lancashire field, will ship great amounts of coal ballast.


At other ports coal is, and long has been, an inestimable benefit to the shipowners. It is destructive to their profits to keep a vessel long in port waiting for cargo, and it is worse to send her off in ballast. Where there are coal-staiths, however, she can be loaded and dispatched in a day or two, with a cargo that will at least pay expenses, and find a ready sale in any part of the world. It is on this principle that the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway are raising Grimsby into a port. Just in proportion, it is found, as they offer outward cargoes of coal can they induce vessels to resort to the port with their inward cargoes.


It is in the rates of freight that we can best study the relative demand and supply of cargo. A want of outward cargo causes shipowners to bid for what is to be had, and reduce their prices of freight accordingly. Were there no ballast cargo like coal available, the outward rates must become quite nominal, until it would be profitable to send bricks, flagstones, and paving stones on long sea voyages. But the fact that coal may always be shipped establishes a certain minimum rate of freight depending upon the price at which we can compete with foreign coal or other fuel, and force a trade so essential to our shipowners.


In the current rates of freight (May, 1864) we may detect many effects of demand and supply, as well as a general confirmation of the facts stated. Thus the outward freight to Bombay is only 20s. per ton, the homeward freight being 60s. or three times as much, owing to the large shipments thence of cotton, rice, seeds, &c. The outward rate to Aden, however, is 30s. and to Suez 50s., owing chiefly to the considerable demand at those points for coal for the Peninsular and Oriental Mail steamers, with the absence of freights thence.


At the following Eastern ports the large preponderance of the homeward freights of cotton, sugar, tea, jute, and other Eastern produce, causes the inward to exceed the outward coal-freight several times.

Calcutta... 17 6 75 0
Singapore... 27 0 75 0
Shanghai... 40 0 72 10
Mauritius... 20 0 50 0

In South America, again, the demand for carriage of hides, bones, nitrate of soda, &c. raises the freight to England in a considerable ratio.

Rio de Janeiro... 28 0 45 0
Pernambuco... 19 0 41 0
Rio Grande... 40 0 50 0

Throughout the West Indies the demand for shipment of coffee, sugar, logwood, mahogany, &c. raises home freights to double the outward.

Porto Rico... 25 6 52 6
Jamaica... 28 0 43 0
St. Jago de Cuba... 27 0 60 0
Havannah... 27 6 55 0

The homeward freights from New York chiefly depend upon the shipments of corn. Taking the rate at 6s. and 3d. per quarter, we find the following relation by weight:—

New York... 22 0 30 0

For Canadian ports there is a greater disproportion, owing to the inward excess for timber freights and the less outward demand.

Montreal (wheat)... 30 0
Halifax... 17 0


In the Mediterranean ports there is far less disproportion on the average, and it is curious that the preponderance of freights is opposite at the two ends. At the lower, or Western ports, outward exceed inward freights, as at Marseilles.

Marseilles... 20 0 16 0


At the higher or Eastern ports on the contrary, the fruit freights from the Archipelago, or the wheat, tallow, and other freights from the Black Sea, raise the homeward rates as follows:—

Smyrna... 23 6 37 6
Odessa... 23 0 45 0


On the West Coast of South America we meet with an immense excess of homeward cargo. Not only are there large quantities of nitrate of soda, copper ore, and wool to ship to Europe, but there is also the guano trade from Callao, a most remarkable instance of the conveyance of bulky material. Now, as our coal has to compete with the native Chilian bituminous coal on most unequal terms, we find the following immense disproportion of outward coal and homeward guano freights.

Callao... 24 0 80 0


A curious exchange has recently sprung up of Newcastle coal for Spanish or Esparto grass, a material much required to make paper for The Times newspaper, and the vast masses of recent periodical literature. The following are the rates:—

Outward to the Spanish Ports.Homeward to Tyne.
23 0 18 0


The demand for coal apparently is so good in Spain that the coal bears almost the same freight as if sent to the West Coast of South America! And thus while we almost make the Peruvians a present of our coal, the Spaniards in a less degree may be said to make us a present of the materials of paper.


With few exceptions, then, homeward freights are in excess of outward freights from one and a half to three or four-fold. And the very exceptions, arising from an extraordinary foreign demand for coal would, if examined, confirm the view of the important part that coal plays in our trade.


That the facilities for getting coal freights from Newcastle and the other Eastern coal-ports appreciably reduce rates of freights to those ports is clearly shown in the following rates from Dantzig to the east coast of England, during 1861*16:—

 Timber per Load.Wheat Per Quarter.
To Coal Ports... 14 0 3
To other ports... 17 3 3 9


Thirty years ago it was stated that there was no considerable amount of back freight for vessels bringing timber from Memel except coal.*17


One of the most curious effects of the balance of freights is seen in the North American coal trade. In 1862 we shipped coal to the amount of 448,601 tons to thirty-eight ports of the United States, Canada, and the other British Colonies on the Western seaboard of North America. At the same time an export trade in coal is constantly carried on from the Cape Breton mines, along the coast to New York and Philadelphia. Lastly, there is a trade in American coals to the extent, in 1860, of 140,607 tons from the Pennsylvanian field to the West Indian Islands, probably by the return voyage of vessels bringing sugar, coffee, fruits, and other tropical products. Such a circulation of a bulky, cheap commodity like coal, and the fact that coal is actually shipped to Philadelphia, the port of the American coal-fields, is as paradoxical as carrying coals to Newcastle, and is inexplicable except as a consequence of the balance of freights.


It would be difficult to over-estimate the benefits the trade in coal has conferred upon us. Writers for some centuries back have been unanimous in regarding the Newcastle collier fleet as the nursery of our seamen. The "Newcastle voyage is...if not the onely, yet the especiall nursery and schoole of seamen: For, as it is the chiefest, so it is the gentlest, and most open to landmen."*18 And no one could better have expressed than the writer of the above, the way in which an Englishman regards a ship. "As concerning ships, it is that which every one knoweth, and can say, they are our weapons, they are our ornaments, they are our strength, they are our pleasures, they are our defence, they are our profit; the subject by them is made rich, the Kingdome through them strong; the Prince in them is mighty; in a word by them in a manner we live, the kingdome is, the king reigneth."*19


Another able anonymous writer, in arguing against the old 5s. tax upon seaborne coal, expresses similar views, his chief purpose being "to show how pernicious this tax upon coal is to Trade and Navigation, the safety and glory of England."*20

"The collier trade is the true parent and support of our navigation."


"The collier fleet," he says again,*21 "is the great body of the shipping of England, and all our other trades are served by detachments from it. Our East country, Norway, and a great part of the West Indian fleet, are but parts of the collier fleet; from which they may depart one or two voyages in the year, as the contingency of the market abroad, or a chance freight at home offers. From which as soon as performed, they return again into the collier trade; that is indeed, the refuge, as well as the nursery of our navigation." But in the following he expresses still more exactly the part that coal now plays in our coasting and foreign shipping. "It's the collier trade alone that affords constant work to the navigation of England. It is there that every idle ship and every idle saylor are sure never to want a voyage or a berth to Newcastle."*22

"The collier trade is the most huge and bulky trade that possibly can be managed, and therefore in its nature most proper, above all others, to employ not only vast numbers of people upon it, but to afford continual work for them. All our other trades are by fits and starts. Ships and sailors must have constant work."*23


And the French so clearly perceive the maritime advantages this trade gives, that they attribute to us in the present day the policy of promoting exportation.

"The English Government uses every possible means to stimulate an exportation which contributes powerfully to its maritime preponderance without hurting its industrial preponderance."*24


And the Newcastle manufacturers are well aware of the advantages they enjoy.


"The ready communication," they say, "which has been obtained with foreign ports, by means of the numerous vessels employed in the exportation of coals, has greatly facilitated the sale of the various articles manufactured by your memorialists, and has consequently increased the value of property employed in manufactures in this district."*25


Our exports of coal now amount to about nine million tons in a year, the sale of which in foreign ports must return fully four millions sterling to our coalowners, and six millions or more in the shape of freight to our shipowners. To prohibit this trade would therefore be to incur a burden equal to the income tax at its worst. And though the greater part of this burden would be borne by the community in general as the consumers of foreign produce, it would be inflicted through that branch of our industry, our navigation, which is truly the safety and glory of England.


But on the other hand we cannot look upon our growing exports without anxiety. The following numbers show the extraordinary rate of growth since the repeal of the export tax:—

Year.Amount of Coal
Coal duty per ton.Rate of increase
per cent of exports
in ten years. 
1821 170,941 7 6  
1831 356,419 4 0 109
1841 1,497,197 0 0 320
1851 3,468,545 0 0 132
1861 7,855,115 0 0 126
1865 9,170,477 0 0 47


Our exports were more than quadrupled in ten years under a repeal of the duty, and have more than doubled themselves in each subsequent ten years. And though there is a slight check in the last few years, from some fluctuation of commerce, no one can doubt that the extension of our commerce and the growth of continental industry will demand a continued increase of exports.

"Independent of the superiority of the article, the freights of vessels from our shores are getting so low, and the distance between Great Britain and the coast of France is so short, that we shall always be able to have the advantage over Belgian and even French coal in the seaport towns."


And the inevitable progress of free trade will ever increase the tendency to export coal. As we subsist more and more upon foreign corn, meat, sugar, rice, coffee, tea, fruit, &c. and work more and more on foreign timber, ores, cotton, silk, wool, dye-woods, oils, seeds, &c. while returning the costly and elaborate products of our steam-driven factories, there must be an ever-growing surplus of inward freights and a corresponding demand for outward ballast freights.


Our foreign coal trade has been, is, and will be an integral and essential part of our system. It is the alpha and omega of our trade. As it was the earliest nursery of our seamen, so it is now their especial support, and it bids fair to hasten us to an early end. It makes our limited fields the common property of the sea-coast inhabitants of all countries. The Newcastle mines are almost as high a benefit to the French, Dutch, Prussian, Danish, Norwegian, Russian, Spanish, and Italian coast-towns, as to our own. And foreigners not unnaturally think we are simple enough in thus lending ourselves to them. "It has often been repeated, for some time past, that there is one simple means of competing with England in her manufactures. It is to buy her coal from her, and England has lent herself to this design by developing and facilitating her exportation of coal in every possible way."*26


The extraordinary progress of our steam marine was noticed in a previous chapter. Its close connexion with the export trade of coal cannot escape attention. Our lines of steam-vessels create a demand for coal at the most distant and widely extended points of the globe; while low, outward freights enable coal to be sent cheaply to those points. Accordingly, as long as Britain maintains her present commercial and maritime position, not only the continental and other sea-coasts, in most parts of the world, but also the greater part of the steam-vessels plying on every sea, will draw their supplies from those seaboard coal-fields of Newcastle, South Wales, the Clyde, and the Mersey, which, taken as a whole, in the various quality of their fuel, in their facilities of shipment, and their supply of over-sea freight, are wholly unrivalled by any other coal-fields.


The absurdity of the notion of this country importing coals on any large scale, will now be apparent. The fact that we now export large quantities of coal instead of showing the possibility of a return current, shows its commercial impossibility. The coal exported acts as a make-weight, to remedy in some degree the one-sided character of our trade. Coal is to us that one great raw material which balances the whole mass of the other raw materials we import, and which we pay for either by coal in its crude form, or by manufactures which represent a greater or less quantity of coal consumed in the steam-engine, or the smelting furnace. To import coal as well as other raw materials would be against the essentially reciprocal nature of trade. The weight of our inward cargoes would be multiplied many times, and but little weight left for outward carriage; almost every influence which now acts, and for centuries has acted, in favour of our maritime and manufacturing success, would then act against it, and it would be arrogance and folly indeed to suppose that even Britain can carry forward her industry in spite of nature, and in the want of every material condition. In our successes hitherto it is to nature we owe at least as much as to our own energies.

Notes for this chapter

Situation de l'Industrie Houillère en 1859, p. 8.
Situation de l'Industrie Houillère en 1859, p. 53.
Ryder. Treatise on the Economy of Fuel on board Men-of-War Steamers, p. 3.
Second Report on the Coal-Trade, 1800, p. 22.
Brand's History of Newcastle, vol. ii. p. 286.
Babbage in Barlow's Cyclopædia, 1851, p. 55.
Dunn on the Winning and Working of Coal Mines, p. 338.
Smiles' Lives of the Engineers, vol. iii. pp. 38-41.
Report on the Coal-Trade, 1830.
Trans. N. of England Institute of Mining Engineers, vol. vi. p. 106.
Observations on the proposed Duties on the Exportation of Coals. London, 1842, pp. 14, 15.
The Present State of the Manufacture of Salt Explained. By the Earl of Dundonald. London: 1785.
Braithwaite Poole. On the Commerce of Liverpool, 1854, p. 33.
Smiles' Engineers, vol. i. p. 447.
Hearn's Plutology, p. 310, quoting Journal of the Statistical Society, vol. xx. p. 134.
Commercial Reports from Foreign Consuls, 1862, p. 155
Committee on Manufactures, 1833. Queries, 7,420-5, &c.
The Trades' Increase, p. 25.
The Trades' Increase, p. 2.
The Mischief of the Five-Shilling Tax upon Coal. London, 1699, p. 3
Ibid. p. 5.
The Mischief of the Five-Shilling Tax upon Coal. London, 1699, p. 5.
Ibid. p. 6.
Situation de l'Ind. &c. p. 27.
Memorial of the Manufacturers of the Tyne, of iron, lead, glass, rope, alkali, sail-cloth, &c. (1842?)
Situation de l'Industrie Houillère en 1859.

Chapter XIV

End of Notes

17 of 22

Return to top