Après Tay

The Tay Bridge disaster at the end of 1879, it's hard to appreciate now, had quite an impact upon the British psyche for some time. In February 1881 for example, the Solway Viaduct failed - but without loss of life - due to a spot of icing up.


WITHIN little more than a year after the Tay Bridge disaster, we have to report the failure of the Solway Viaduct, near Annan, forming the most important part of the Solway Junction Railway, and until this week, a connecting link between England and Scotland. On Sunday and the two following days a large portion of the Viaduct was swept away, as already reported in our columns, by the shoals of ice, which, since the thaw set in, have been drifting down the channel. In former years the thaw has been accompanied by high winds, breaking up the ice and saving the Viaduct; but this season no wind has arisen, and the packs have been carried down in unbroken masses, hurling themselves against the piers, carrying everything before them. The accident has been unattended by any loss of life, owing to the vigilance of the railway authorities, who had watchmen stationed, who gave timely warning.

People were still nervous of steam engines. And with some reason, because boilers exploded rather more often than one would wish. An issue of The Engineer, from early in 1881, carries a report about an MP - Hugh Mason - who wished to do something about this.

THE president of the Manchester Steam Users’ Association, Mr. Hugh Mason, M.P. for Ashton-under-Lyme, is bringing in a bill for the prevention of these catastrophes, by which so many lives are constantly sacrificed. This bill is to be read a second time on Wednesday, the 16th inst. The following is a circular letter which has been addressed to each member of Parliament, and gives in brief the scope of the measure :—

Boiler Explosions Bill. – Second reading, February 16th.
House of Commons, February 4th, 1881.
SIR, — You cannot fail to he aware of the frequency of steam boiler explosions, and the lamentable loss of life resulting therefrom. By two explosions that occurred last year – one at Walsall, on the 15th of May, and the other at Glasgow, on the 5th of March – as many as fifty persons were killed, and forty-nine others injured.

The measure proposed with a view to preventing these disasters is of a very simple character. Its object is to make better provision for inquiries with regard to boiler explosions, whether fatal or not, so that the true cause may be arrived at in every case, and the responsibility brought home to the right party. In the event of a boiler explosion at sea, such an investigation as that proposed in this bill is held under the Merchant Shipping Acts 1874 to 1876; and in the event of a railway disaster — as, for instance, the fall of the Tay Bridge — such an investigation is held under the Regulation of Railways Act, 1871. The Boiler Explosions Bill, 1881, therefore, does not propose to introduce any new principle, but only to extend one already adopted, and to secure as full an investigation for every explosion occurring on land as that already secured for every explosion occurring at sea.

There is no doubt that the majority of boiler explosions could be prevented by competent periodical inspection; but it is not proposed in this measure to go so far as to render inspection compulsory. It is thought better to be content – for the present at all events – with a more moderate measure, trusting that the institution of a searching investigation in the case of every explosion will prove sufficient to arouse steam users to a due sense of their responsibility, and thus render further legislation unnecessary.

It will be seen that this measure does not in any way lessen the boiler owners’ responsibliity.

We trust we may have your support in bringing this measure forward, feeling sure you will agree with us in the importance of arresting, as far as possible, the present sacrifice of human life from steam boiler explosions.

Hugh Mason,
Thos. Burt,
Henry Lee,
Henry Broadhurst.

An act was passed in 1882, and another in 1890. They have been neither repealed nor superseded

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