The Sydney Morning Herald
18 May 1846
Under the head of "English Extracts," from Simmonds's Colonial Magazine, quoted in your paper of the 29th ultimo, and which has just reached me, I observe an allusion made to a correspondence of mine upon the subject of' "Railways," penned in reply to a proposition of Dr. Lang's for establishing a communication by rail between Port Phillip and the Middle District.
I should not notice the matter at all, but that the paper from which you quote assumes Dr. Lang's reasoning and arguments had "ably refuted" my "objections;" and the writer of the article does not appear to have any other ground for the expression or adoption of such an opinion than the simple fact, that "much discussion had taken place on the subject of railways in Australia, and a Company was actually formed for the purpose of carrying the project into effect," &c, &e.
Now, really, (in the absence of all data as to the amount of traffic likely to be engaged upon the rails,) these appear to me to be no reasons at all; and it is my impression that Dr. Nicholson and others in the colony, who appear by their movements to feel the deepest interest in the consummation of the project, are yet unable to form any idea of the propable return of the various contemplated "lines" in which they are individually interested; and how a writer at the antipodes can decide such a point I cannot conceive.
He appears, however, to be satisfied that Dr. Lang was right, and the "originator" of a project for the establishment of a railroad from "Melbourne to Sydney," and deems me wrong, because "a Company is actually formed to construct railroads in Australia."
In ascribing to Dr. Lang the credit of "originating" a proposal for a "way" to "Sydney from Melbourne," he awards honour where none is due, and is unjust in condemning my objections, as they were adduced against a plan to which that of the "Railway Company," in England, for the construction of railroads here, bears no analogy.
When my letter was penned, the formation of an English Company was not suspected, and the arguments which were urged against railway communication with the interior at that time, and under the Lang system, do not wholly apply now,- therefore, as my objections were started to Dr. Lang's proposed scheme, and not to that of the Railway Company in England, (which then did not exist) I consider that the opinion of Simmond's Colonial Magazine has neither established the soundness of the Doctor's reasoning, or the fallacy of my objections.
Dr, Lang did not propose, as is stated, to connect two of the most thriving commercial towns of Australia by a railway, else would I have been less inclined to object (although his prospectus contained such monstrous propositions that under his direction no beneficial result could be hoped for, even by the formation of a railroad from Melbourne to Sydney;) but he merely projected a line from "Melbourne to the Hume!" and this was the proposed line to which I objected, as also to the mode of completing it.
I do not consider Dr. Lang ever "refuted" my objections.
Our argument, if the correspondence may be dignified by such a term, turned chiefly on the expense, and the Doctor referred to American railroads to establish the possibility of a cheap construction thereof with wood, &c., and in doing so made choice of the two most inexpensive lines in the United States, as affording an average!!
By extracts from Mr. Pitkin's Work on American Railways, I proved him manifestly in error, both as the expense of erection and the return; and so far as such a work as that may be relied on, the cost of constructing railways in America, though infinitely less than in England, is or was far too great to warrant the people of Port Phillip adopting Dr. Lang's proposition; and I am perfectly assured that, admitting I failed to convince the Doctor, he failed equally in his attempt to convince the public.
I have since that correspondence conversed with many Port Phillip gentlemen, who unanimously declared that when the Doctor's proposed railway scheme, and the plan for carrying it out appeared in print in Melbourne, some fears were entertained for his sanity, but it was generally believed personal motives influenced the "originator;" and such they say was the case, for on his trip from Melbourne to Gundagai, be was twice thrown from Her Majesty's Mail, and on the authority of "coachey" it is reported that on "righting" himself the second time upon the seat, he exclaimed- "Ah we must have a railroad here."
Now, although I am aware the mightiest results frequently proceed from the most trifling causes, I do not believe the shock of an upset could have "originated" in the Doctor's brain a scheme for a railway from "the Hume to Melbourne;" I am inclined to view it now, as I did at first, merely as a chimerical emenation from the brain of a "popularity hunter," and as a piece of political jugglery, performed for the special gratification of the "separationiats;" particularly as in one of the Doctor's late letters on the propriety of establishing a strongly marked , natural boundary for the division of the Middle and Port Phillip Districts, he very disinterestedly recommends the " Hume" as adapted for the purpose!!
The establishment of an English Company for the construction of railroads in Australia, by means of English capital, &c., removes the powerful and insurmountable objections to Dr. Lang's plan of pledging the lands of Port Phillip under a heavy interest, for the purpose of raising the enormous sum of money required to complete his baseless visionary scheme; a scheme which all classes condemned as fraught with ultimate ruin to the district he represented.
Although I am of opinion that railroads beyond the county of Cumberland will prove a dead loss to the shareholders, I think within that county they may pay, and the Company have at least chosen the fittest routes for the contemplated lines, carrying them into thriving and comparatively wealthy districts; but did Dr. Lang do so? No.
One end of his line was in Melbourne, and the other rested in the wilderness!
And yet he gets credit for "a thorough knowledge of the condition and capabilities of the country!"
My argument was not against the formation of railroads, or the benefits accruing to a country possessing them, whose internal commerce was sufficiently extensive to give remunerative employment to a steam-carriage; every person not exactly idiotic must be aware of the inestimable and incalculable advantages arising and likely to arise to a wealthy and densely populated country from rapid communication between its distant and various points; but to draw a comparison between the traffic of this pigmy colony (as regards its trade and population) and such countries as England and America, (where, in a single week, on a single railway, an amount of goods and passengers equal to our whole exports and population are transmitted,) does appear to me preposterous; and more ridiculous still is the argument, that because a railway from London to Liverpool or Manchester pays well, one from Sydney to Goulburn would pay also.
I contend that we are not yet in a position to employ railroads in the interior, nor within the low counties, if the colony is to pay for them.
Having them constructed for us by experimentalists who have more cash than they can profitably invest in England, is another matter, and although we may gladly avail ourselves, of the accommodation they will afford to the country when completed, we are in no condition to construct them ourselves.
And this, was the gist of my former argument, based on a proposition of Dr. Lang's to incur an enormous debt to England on the security 0f our lands, in order to possess railroads at any sacrifice to the country.
There is a general cry throughout the length and breadth of the land at this moment for labour;- if we get it not, farewell prosperity!
The effects of the scarcity is already manifesting itself, and many who at this moment are proposing to purchase railway shares, will shortly be compelled to sacrifice their stock to pay men's wages, if some sound system of immigration is not speedily resorted to, or arranged - better we suffered from the inconvenience of bad roads twenty years longer, than that, we should have no property to convey thereon; and it would be far more judicious and patriotic in our large and important body of graziers,if they would devote their energies and spare cash to the promotion and establishment of some system of immigration, rather than to such an untimely bubble scheme as the formation of railroads through the interior, a scheme which is unlike "the baseless fabric of a vision, "only because it will leave a wreck behind."
We all look with much interest for the Committee's report of the traffic upon the southern road, when the subject of a railway will present something tangible for the basis of an argument.
I remain, gentlemen, yours, faithfully,
Frederick A. Tompson.
Lower Murrumbidgee, May 9