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George Burns, His Times and Friends
Chapter XIII. New Enterprises

It was the custom of Mr. Burns to travel on the Continent almost every year. He loved the “sights” of strange cities and countries, the variety and novelty of foreign experiences, and the freedom from business care which could not follow the traveller in those days as it can now.

In 1847, the year of distress, when famine was in the Highlands of Scotland as well as in Ireland, Mr. Bums was asked by the Admiralty to render what assistance he could in conveying supplies, and he at once placed some of the Western Highland Steamers, the whole of which were at that time in his hands, at the disposal of the Government. Captain Hamilton, with whom he was on terms of intimacy, was then Permanent Secretary to the Admiralty, and when Mr. Burns was in London on his way to the Continent in the summer of that year, he called upon him.

As soon as I saw him (says Mr. Burns), he said, warmly, ‘ You’re the very man 1 wanted to see. We have got the Grand Duke Constantine to look after; he wishes to go to the Western

Highlands, and I want you to tell me what you can about them.’ In conversation with Captain Hamilton, it transpired that it was the intention of the Admiralty to place at the disposal of the Grand Duke the surveying steamer they had there, under the command of Captain, now Admiral, Robinson. I replied, ‘I will give you one far better for the purpose.’ He said, 'Oh ! but that will he too expensive.’ I replied, 'It will not cost you a farthing. I will give it free.’ He then expressed his regret that I should he from home, but I told him that Mr. Hutcheson, our head man in the office, Avonld do everything necessary. And I added, 'As a compliment to the Grand Duke, in giving him officially a Captain of the Navy to attend upon him in full uniform, I would suggest that you should desire Captain Rawsterne to attend throughout the voyaging. It will also be a great compliment to him, and he will be delighted to mount his cocked hat and epaulettes.’ My absence consequently left to others all the gold snuff-boxes which the Imperial Russian family were wont to scatter in their route.

Mr. Burns proceeded to Paris :—

It was the year of threatened revolution (he says). Nevertheless, I fully intended going on to Holland, where I had never been before; but there were staying in the same hotel (Meurice’s) who English judges, who took alarm at the aspect of affairs, which pointed to war on the Continent, and the judges thought it prudent to return immediately to England. As I had no desire to be a captured in France, we followed their lead, and lost Holland, for which I was sorry, as the threatened war did not break out.

When at Boulogne, on my homeward journey, I read in the newspapers that the Queen had determined to journey on the same route that tin4. Grand Duke Constantine had taken in his tour in the Highlands. I immediately hastened homewards, and called on Captain Hamilton at the Admiralty, when he asked me to take charge of the voyaging and pilotage. I readily assented, hurried back to Scotland, and rigged out the small passenger boat from the Crman Canal in the best way I could, taking out of my own drawing-room, in Glasgow, a large mirror to place in the saloon. When the Queen arrived in the Clyde in the Royal yacht Victoria and Albert, she was accompanied by H.M.S. Scounje, in command of my old friend Captain Caflin, and went up to Dumbarton Rock to inspect it and the garrison. While she was there, I went on board her yacht to confer with Lord Adolphus FitzClarence, who was in command. In the evening we proceeded to Rothesay, which was on the occasion illuminated, and lay off there, the Queen being on board. The day following, the Queen went to visit the Duke of Argyll at Inveraray, where everything was, of course, in high preparation for her. I remained at Ardrishaig waiting her return, to conduct her through the Canal, the Victoria and Albert and the Scourtie being sent round to join her at the other end. The canal boats were at that time tracked by horses through the Canal, and I clothed the boys who ran the horses in scarlet. We went through the Canal in the track boat already mentioned. There my brother joined, me, and subsequently my son, James Cleland, and I did all that was necessary for the occasion. I went through the Highlands with Her Majesty. The Highland Service then received the popular name of ‘The Royal Route’—a name it has ever since retained.

Her Majesty refers to the incident in her “Leaves from a Note Book in the Highlands” as follows :—

We and our people drove through the little village (Lochgilphead) to the Crinun Canal, where we entered a most magnificently decorated barge, drawn by three horses, ridden by postillions in scarlet. We glided along very smoothly, and the views of the hills —The range of Cruachan—were very fine indeed.

Captain Caffin (afterwards Admiral Sir Crawford Caffin) wrote to Mr. Burns :—

I am delighted to hear everybody speak so highly of your arrangements; Lord Adolphus FitzClarence told me they were admirable, and the silent system so well preserved, which pleases Her Majesty more than anything.

Between Mr. Bums and Captain Caffin the most cordial relations existed. They had a strong interest in each other’s personal welfare; they took counsel on subjects connected with ships and navigation; they were in complete harmony on religious matters, and there was on the part of each a keen desire to be more closely associated. The following correspondence throws light upon their friendship, and upon the movements in which Mr. Burns was at this time engaged :—

From Captain Coffin, R.N., to Mr. Burns.

H. M. S. Srourye, Lisbon, Nor. 9. 1847.

My dear Mr. Burns,—As you were kind enough to say you wished I would write to you from Madeira, I must find time to send you a line from hence, if only to announce that which I dare say the papers have already done, namely, my promotion. This is joyous news, and I am sure I have the good wishes and prayers of yourself and Mrs. Burns and family on this happy occasion. I don’t know anything more delightful than the prospect of returning to the bosom of one’s family, and that too from an existence on board ship. This you can hardly appreciate, never having been dragged from your own happy home. I do hope this may be my last service afloat, and I trust in God’s providence it may be, and yet I hope I should not murmur if it were to be made clear to me that my duty was to glorify God afloat, and not on shore, by a life spent in my profession. I desire to have no will of my own in these matters ; but I find this so hard a task as not to be able to perform, and I pray most earnestly that I may be permitted to spend the rest of my days with my family, yet not my will, but it is be done. He has been so merciful to me hitherto through life, that it would be the deepest ingratitude on my part were I not to trust Him for the future. I am thankful to say we landed the Queen Dowager at Funchal, quite safe and well, on the 2nd, after a most delightful passage out. We performed a novel feat in towing the ship upwards of 800 miles across the Bay of Biscay—little wind, but a very heavy swell; such an experiment in towing has never before been tried. My relief (Captain Hingson) has come out, and taken my ship from me. I hope to return before the next packet, if any man-of-war arrives homeward bound. I must bring this to a conclusion, by praying that God, whom you serve, may guide and direct you in all your concerns, and finally lead you and yours to the mansions of eternal glory. God bless you. With kindest Christian love to Mrs. Burns and all your family,

Ever am very affectionately,

J. Crawford Caffin.

Mr. Burns to Captain Cajfin, R.N.

Glasgow, Dec. 15, 1847.

My dear Captain Caffin,—In the middle of November I went to London with my wife, in order to arrange with the Admiralty and the Post Office for the commencement of our increased service between Liverpool and America on the 1st of January, and which arrangement I accomplished most satisfactorily. I told Mr. Cowper we were bound to do two things on the 1st of January, viz., to give an increased number of sailings, and to have an increased number of vessels ready for survey. The first we could accomplish with ease; the second we could not, Owing to the heavy nature of the work. But, as a set-off, I said if Government would grant a little indulgence as to the new vessels, we would fill up, at our Own expense, the sailings in the middle of December, which by our present contract -we were not bound to do; but which, in the excited circumstances of mercantile affairs, would be received as a great boon by the public. This arrangement was at once entered into, as being very advantageous for all parties. It prevented a return to the old system of monthly sailings in winter, and in effect started the new scale at once. I added likewise in reference to our own vessels that we were giving 700 horse-power, whereas, by contract, we were only hound to give 400 horse-power. This, no doubt, was for our own benefit; but it was also good for the Government, and accounted for the delay in having the work completed. I met Mr. Cowper in private, and had a talk about you. Whilst in London, I received your letter from Lisbon, and it gave Mrs. Burns and myself very great pleasure to hear that, having got your step, you were likely so very soon to be in the bosom of your family. It is true I have not gone through the same experience that you have; but nevertheless I have had my trials arising from separation. There is, moreover, if not uniformity in the great features of God’s dealings with His people, at least such an analogy as enables them well to sympathise with each other. If one member suffers, all suffer. There is such a wondrous adaptation in the discipline applied to individual believers, that it not only suits their peculiar cases, but it is so wisely apportioned that it appears to be the very kind of discipline and none other that could have reached the secrets of their hearts ; and yet it so expands their views that they are enabled to rejoice witb those who rejoice and to mourn with those that mourn, to look not each man on his own things, but on the things of others. This is, in a sense. ‘filling up the afflictions of Christ in our flesh for His body’s sake, which is the Church.’ In dealing out afflictions to us, and in shaking us terribly out of our spirit of selfdependence and ease, as God frequently does, how blessed is it for us if. taught by His Spirit, we are able to say, as Hezekiah did, ‘O Lord, by these things men live; and in all these things is the life of my spirit.’ . . .

When I was in London I was asked to meet some of the parties engaged in the Australian scheme, but declined seeing them, assigning to the party who spoke to me as a reason, that not being at present prepared to go forward in the matter, I wished to leave them entirely free to follow their own course, which, in the present state of money matters, will be (as an Irishman would express it) to stand still. I repeated, as I had done before, that there were two points in the inquiry: first, would the question be entertained at all; and second, if so, the merits of it must be examined carefully;—but never having decided on the first, it was needless to entertain the second. I said, ‘Go on irrespectively of me, and if at any future stage you should choose to renew your communication to me, what I have now said need not prevent it ’ (this I had said before); but I was very careful to add that even this was not to lead them to found any expectation on me. It would be unfair to them not to say so expressly. On the first view of the subject it occurred to me that the only way I could contemplate any connection on the line proposed, would be through the instrumentality of our smaller vessels, now employed in the Halifax trade. When in London, I alluded in general terms to this, as being the ground on which I felt inclined to turn the matter over in my mind. So far as the employment of our smaller vessels in any new trade, or in any portion of a trade, is concerned, I can readily conceive that, .under some circumstances, it might be done to advantage; but so far as amalgamation with the Australian Company is to be viewed, I think it certain, that even if we were ready, they would be found not ready. I have been told I might get the control very much into my own hands ; so, very possibly, in the present state of matters, I might, but that could only effectively be got by taking a grasp far beyond what any prudent man would attempt. I am in this view for the present, setting aside all Christian scruples, which might probably be found insurmountable by an enlightened conscience. I can conceive that although not on so rich a field, but on a safer one in every point of view, employment might be found at a future period for our smaller vessels, which would enable us to bring on larger ones for our American trade; but in making this remark, I have no specific object in view (I have sometimes thought of the Cape of Good Hope and branching out). I make this remark as I have done all the rest I have written, for the purpose of making you acquainted with my inmost thoughts on the subject. Most thankful would I be, if, in the course of God’s providence, you and I were to be brought together, either in steam arrangements or in any other suitable way; and although I see not an inch before me at the present moment, I shall not hesitate to write to you on any subject that may occur, and may seem to hold out even a chance of being suitable. From what you said to me, I would not be deterred from bringing before you even an object unconnected with ships and confined to land affairs, if it came in my way.

I feel very much obliged to you for the kind interest you have expressed towards me in reference to the Queen’s visit.

My wife, Margaret, John and James, all unite in kindest remembrances and in good wishes for the welfare of Mrs. Caffin and your family, and I remain,

Most affectionately yours,

G. Burns.

The narrow escape of Mr. Burns from accepting the Australian mail contract, is told in a further letter to Captain Caffin, written early in the following year:—

Mr. Burns to Captain Caffin, R.N.

Brando® Place, Glasgow, Felt. 22, 18-18.

My dear Captain Caffin,— ... I had an unexpected visit from a gentleman from London about ten days ago, who said he had come down for the purpose of informing me that the Grand Australian Company was now in the hands of five gentlemen; that the Admiralty had (and he laid before me the official letters) applied to them to contract for the conveyance of the mails from Marseilles to Malta, and Malta to Alexandria, in connection with the Indian mails. Liverpool to Malta would probably follow, in fact it must have been made part of the scheme. He said the matter is now narrowed down, and that I had it in my power to mould the company to anything I pleased, &c., &c. I went at large into the business with him, and recommended him to go to Mr. Maclver, of Liverpool, and talk it over with him, equally confidentially as he had done with me. He started that same night by railroad, and next day Mr. Maclver wrote to me the result of their meeting, which was favourable to the proposal. I had previously expressed to him, very strongly, that my grey whiskers admonished me to be gathering in, rather than spreading out; at the same time we had vessels very suitable for the proposed work, and I should wait till I heard what Mr. Maclver said to it. If we made up our minds to go into it, I said, I saw it would be necessary for me to join him in London, which I would try to do in about a fortnight.

My intention was to have brought Mrs. Burns up with me, and to have seen you either at Ryde or at London. Do you know what it is to have a thing that at one period of your life would have looked quite dazzling, brought before you, and to feel sad thereat, and to wish that it had never been offered to you ? Such was my case. In the midst of my uncertainty, the news of the French revolt came like a thunder-clap, and has dissipated the dream. For the present, at all events, my being called on to take any fresh part in steam navigation seems to be ended. Well, God is perhaps, in tender mercy, keeping both you and me out of much trouble and vexation. Blessed is the thought, 'The Lord reignetli.’ Looking at His dealings beyond the narrow circle of our own interests, how wonderful are His dealings at present among the nations—yet I fear they will not repent of their deeds. The Lord has scattered the wisdom of men. The talk used to be, we were to have no more wars, the people were now too enlightened to permit it. Poor, vain man! but the counsel of the Lord, it shall stand.

Believe me yours affectionately,

G. Burns.

The year 1849 was eventful in every phase of George Burns’s life. The principal event in the domestic circle, was the engagement and marriage of Margaret, his onl}r surviving daughter, to Mr. Charles Beddie, tlie son of James Beddie, advocate in Edinburgh, who had become To urn Clerk of the City of Glasgow. He was, in early life, an intimate friend of Henry, afterwards Lord, Brougham, who left on record, in his writings, a very strong opinion of his legal knowledge and sound judgment. An amiable and able gentleman was old Mr. Beddie. Hr. John Leyden, the celebrated Eastern traveller and linguist, refers to him in the following extract from a letter written to Mr. Chalmers in 1798.

Edinburgh, Sept. 24, 1798.

My dear Friend,— ... I am not anxious to transport myself to St. Andrew’s from the charming coterie of true hearts and sound heads which, almost in spite of myself, attaches me to Edinburgh, and when* one numbers Erskine, Ueihffr, Brown and family, Dr. Anderson, Thomson the poet. ... If you can come to Edinburgh, it will be very agreeable to us. . . . Compliments from Brown, Brougham, Erskine, and Beddie, who regrets he did not see you again.

1 am, ever yours,

John Leyden.

In announcing to a friend the approaching marriage of his daughter, Mr. Burns wrote :—

Our Maggie is going to change her name from that of Burns to Beddie. Our friend belongs to the legal profession, as his father has done for more than half a century before him. His father was an advocate in Edinburgh, but for a long period has filled the situation of Town Clerk in Glasgow, and as a consulting lawyer has ranked at the head of his profession here. . . . You will not be surprised when I say that our feelings on this occasion are of a mingled character. We lost all Margaret’s sisters in early childhood. Healthy children they were, but were carried off by children’s complaints. She has been left alone, and her removal from us now will cause a blank in our domestic circle. The blank might have been of a very different character. We have had our trials, but God has dealt with us in tenderness, and we trust is still leading us and ours in the right way.

In commercial matters the great event of the year 1819 was in connection with a new and important enterprise. In 1825 (the year in which the Company was formed with which Mr. MacTear of Belfast and the Messrs. Burns of Glasgow were associated), steam was first employed in the conveyance of the Scotch and Irish mails. But Her Majesty’s mails were carried with “regular irregularity,” and at a sluggish pace, between Port Patrick and Donaghadee, while Messrs. Burns were sending goods and passengers between the Clyde and Belfast in larger and swifter ships, and with such punctuality and despatch that it was a saying of the times that people along the line of route set their watches by the passing vessels.

Irrespective of the outlay for the maintenance of harbours—and wretched harbours they were—the annual cost of this Mail Service to the Government was some T6,000. It was reported that, “Except in respect of the shortness of its sea voyage, this postal route was remarkable for little else than its costly defectiveness,” nevertheless Government apologists bolstered it up, and for twenty-four years it continued in its defective state, a practical inconvenience to the commercial and general interests of society.

Although, on the direct Clyde route, Messrs. Burns had things very much their own way, on the Ardrossan route they met with considerable opposition. The sea passage via Ardrossan is much shorter than that via Greenock, and in 1849 an influential company started opposition vessels on the Ardrossan route. The}7 were supported by the Glasgow and South Western Railway Company and by the late Lord Eglinton, owner of the harbour and lord of the manor of Ardrossan, who brought all their influence to bear to divert the mails, from the ineffective route from Port Patrick to Donaghadee, to their Ardrossan route. Lord Eglinton was very sanguine of success, and even went so far as to let it be known that Lord Clanricarde, then Postmaster-General, had come to him in the House of Lords and had said, “We intend to give you the mails to carry between Ardrossan and Belfast.” But in the meantime George Burns had appeared upon the scene, and had offered to carry Her Majesty’s mails free of all charge between Greenock and Belfast; to put on extra and faster vessels which should sail from each port every evening in the week except Sunday, and at such hours as might be fixed by the Post Office!

Colonel Maberley, with whom Mr. Burns had already been brought much in contact, was then the Secretary to the Post Office, and when he heard the offer he exclaimed, “Burns, you are a fool!” However, he sent for Mr. William Page, and they discussed the matter fully, when, after hearing the details, the Colonel said, “No, Burns is no fool. He knows what he is about! ”

The offer of the Glasgow Company, it is hardly necessary to say, was accepted by the Marquis of Clanricarde, Postmaster-General, to the discomfiture of the other party.

For some time the extra sailings between the Clyde and Belfast entailed a considerable loss, but the service was, from the first, admirable, and the mails were from that time earned free of expense for thirty-three years.

Of course, in the long run, the scheme was a financial success. The route was popular; travellers from Scotland to Ireland seemed to prefer a night passage and sleep to a day passage and scenery, and objected to being transferred at Ardrossan out of the railway into the steamer.

For a long time the competition was very keen, but an arrangement was entered into between the Ardrossan Company and the Messrs. Burns as to fares, rates of freights, number of sailings, and so forth, which was acted upon by both parties down to the year 1882, when, by amicable and friendly negotiations, the Ardrossan steamers were purchased by the Messrs. Burns. Prior to this there was a heavy contest between the Glasgow Company and the Directors of the Glasgow and South Western Railway, who applied to Parliament for an Act to incorporate their vessels with the railway, and thus to get the mails on the Ardrossan and Belfast route. This Mr. Burns opposed, on grounds which led him to oppose many similar undertakings, and which are clearly set forth in the following letter to Lord Canningl:—

Howchin’s Hotel, St. James’s Street, April 21, 1805.

My Lord,—For thirty years I have been assiduously engaged in rearing a trade between Glasgow and Belfast by means of steam vessels, and with my partners have expended a large amount of capital upon it. Our exertions having been attended with success, I felt justified in offering to the Postmaster-General to carry Her Majesty’s mails, every day, Sundays excepted, between these two ports free of charge, and accordingly a contract to this effect was concluded of date July 1(5, 18-49; since which period we have performed the service with entire satisfaction to the Post Office and the public.

I claim no exemption from ordinary competition by private traders like myself-—1 have been all my life accustomed to it, and in the most formidable shapes. But I dread opposition from an incorporation of railroads and steam-boats. Such a competition is proposed by the Glasgow and South Western Railway, in a Bill now before Parliament for the purpose of enabling them to own and run steam vessels between Ardrossan and Belfast. There is at present a private company engaged in sailing steam vessels between these two ports. From Glasgow there are two routes to Belfast, one via Greenock Railway, and the other via Ardrossan Railway, and the fares being in all respects on an equality, the public can choose, without suffering any pecuniary disadvantage, whichever way they please. In reference to the postal service, it is a fact notorious that the Glasgow and South Western Railway Company are most anxious to divert the conveyance of the mails from Greenock to Ardrossan, for the purpose of obtaining from Government a contract payment for the same. A formal application was made to me nearly four years ago, by a deputation from the Railway Company consisting of the present chairman and a number of the directors, to obtain my co-operation to bring this about, which I unhesitatingly declined.

If the Railway Company to Ardrossan obtain power to incorporate steam vessels with their land operations, the Caledonian Railway Company to Greenock are equally entitled to obtain power for a similar amalgamation—which, being consummated, there will be an end put to all private trading. I repeat I have no right to complain of competition by private companies unincorporated with railroads, but it would be most impolitic, and injurious to public interests, were the Steam-boat Bill of the Glasgow and South Western Company allowed to pass. It is not called for on any grounds of necessity whatever, and the mail service which I have performed during six years, with the utmost efficiency and regularity, without cost to the country, having well supplied all postal requirements, I respectfully snbmit whether on public grounds your lordship, as Postmaster-General, may not consider it necessary to object to the passing of the Bill in question by calling the special attention of the Right Hon. Lord Stanley of Alderley, President of the Board of Trade, to it, or by such other steps as may seem proper to your lordship to take. I beg to add that, as the Bill before the House of Commons is to be in Committee on Tuesday next, the 24th of April, the case will speedily be determined.

I have the honour to be, &c ,

George Burns.

To the Right Hon. Viscount Canning.

Referring to the Parliamentary inquiry which ensued, Mr. Burns says:—

Sir Andrew Orr was Chairman of the Railway Company, and he was examined at great length. I was examined for 4 hours before the Parliamentary Committee ; and after the examination I was asked if I wished to make any remarks, which I did, pointing out the Impolicy of allowing railway companies with large capital to shelter steam vessels against private competition. There was a great crowd, and on coming out a gentleman shook hands with me and said, ‘ You have converted Sir Stafford Northcote ’ (who was Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee) ‘ by your lecture 011 political economy.’ I did not know who the gentleman was, but Mr. Graham, parliamentary solicitor, told me it was Mr. Wason. M.P. for Dumfries.

I may mention a very handsome compliment paid to me by the Earl of Eglintou. He was asked by the Committee about Ardrossan, which he said belonged to him, and about the steamers in which he was interested sailing from thence. ‘Are they doing well?’ ‘No,’ said he, ‘I am sorry to say they are not.’ He was then asked, ‘Has not Mr. Burns steamers running from Glasgow and Greenock to Belfast, and are not they well managed?’ ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘And are they not doing well?’ ‘I understand they are,’ he replied; and turning round to me and making a bow, he said, *And long may they continue to do so!’ This was very handsome in an opponent, and I have never forgotten it.

The project of the Glasgow and South Western Railway Company was defeated, and Messrs. Burns triumphed. That same day the Directors of the Company, headed by Sir Andrew Orr, came in a body to Howchin’s Hotel, St. James’s Street, at which Mr; Burns was staying, to urge a compromise. But, as shown in his letter to Lord Canning, the question with Mr. Bums was one of principle, and not all the offers of all the railway companies combined, could move him when a matter of principle was at stake.

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