Following closely on the great Welsh bridges,
and arising out of Mr. Fairbairn's connection with them, was another design
of a similar character which, though it was not carried into execution by
him, made his name favourably known on the Continent, and brought him into
contact with some very eminent men. This was a plan submitted by him in
1849-50 for a large bridge across the Rhine at Cologne.
Mr. Fairbairn gives the following account of the
circumstances that led to this commission :—
During the progress of the construction of the
Britannia and Conway Tubular Bridges, and shortly after the completion of
the latter, in October 1849, I was invited by his Excellency the Prussian
Minister, Chevalier Bunsen, to visit Berlin and the Rhenish Provinces, for
the purpose of conferring with the authorities on the expediency of erecting
a tubular bridge for carrying the railway and general traffic across the
Rhiue at Cologne.
Some time previous to that visit a chain
suspension bridge from the designs of the government engineer had received
the sanction of the government, and preparations were being made to carry it
The flexibility of a bridge of this character
would render it un-suited to the support of railway traffic, and to remedy
this serious defect it was intended to split the trains into sections, and
after raising them by machinery to the required level of the bridge, to drag
them piecemeal by means of horses from one side of the river to the other. A
more complicated and unsatisfactory plan, and one better calculated to
create delay and inconvenience, could hardly have been devised.
Although this plan had received the Royal
assent, it was, at his Majesty's request, postponed until the government
could make themselves acquainted with the system about to be adopted in the
great railway bridges in England.
The Chevalier Bunsen visited Manchester in
September 1849, and entered into communication with Mr. Fairbairn, and the
following letter was written soon afterwards :—
Manchester, October 7. 1849.
Dear Sir,—The completion of the drawings
convinces me of the superior efficiency of the tubular girder bridge to meet
all the requirements of railway and general traffic across the Rhine at
Cologne. I am further convinced, now that the scheme is more fully
developed, that the bridge will be constructed for less money, and prove
more durable than any other description of bridge calculated to attain the
conveniences contemplated in this design.
Having attained this conviction, and your
Excellency having done me the honour to request that I would visit Cologne,
and submit the whole project to the proper authorities in that city, I would
respectfully suggest how far it would be advisable for me to proceed direct
to Berlin, and fortified with your kind recommendations, to lay the whole of
the designs before his Majesty and the Prussian government, after which I
would return to Cologne.
I offer this suggestion from having heard that a
difference of opinion exists between the government and the authorities [of
the city] as to the propriety of making the proposed bridge double
acting, for the united purpose of railway and general traffic. The
Corporation of Cologne, as I understand, require a bridge only for carriages
and foot-passengers, whereas upon the plan I propose both objects can be
obtained without incurring much, if any, additional cost. I think these arc
the views of your Excellency and the government, and 1 shall deem it a great
honour to be the engineer to carry these objects into effect.
I am sure your Excellency will pardon me, if in
this, as in all other transactions, I speak freely and openly. On the
construction oi this great work, should it be executed, it is not my
iutention to become the contractor; the government or the authorities of
Cologne shall make their own selection as to those who shall do the work,
but I shall give all the designs and working drawings, superintend, and take
the responsibility of the execution and security of the work, and that upon
some scale of remuneration which may hereafter be agreed upon.
I have the honour to be your Excellency's
faithful obedient servant,
His Excellency the Chevalier Bunsen, &c. &c.
This proposal was agreed to, and Mr. Fairbairn
left for Berlin towards the end of October. He had been given letters of
introduction by the Chevalier Bunsen, and was met on his arrival by the
Baron Alexander von Humboldt, who, although occupying no official position
in the Prussian government, was residing at Potsdam, in immediate
communication with the King, and was honoured with his Majesty's friendship
The following letter to the Prussian Consul in
England will show Mr. Fairbairn's first impressions 011 arriving in Berlin
Berlin, October 29, 1819.
My dear Sir,—You will be somewhat surprised to
hear of my being in Berlin, but I was hurried off from Manchester without
the possibility of consulting with you before my departure.
A recent visit of the Ambassador Chevalier
Bunsen to Manchester, whom I had the honour to meet at the Bishop's,
suggested the propriety of this visit, for submitting to th» authorities
here and at Cologne, a project for the construction of a bridge upon a new
principle across the Rhine at the latter city. It was my intention to have
written you direct from that place, but I found so many conflicting
opinions, that I was under the necessity of extending my journey here to
deliver letters to the different ministers, with which I was entrusted by
I was in hopes, after consulting with the
different authorities, by whom I have been most kindly received, that I
should be enabled to write von definitely upon this subject; but I find so
many difficulties to encounter with the different interests as almost oblige
me to leave the matter as we found it. Some gentlemen will, however, be sent
over from this country to investigate the properties of this new description
of bridge, and I should be delighted, should the business go on, to see it
entirely in your hands. I hope to be in London in the course of a week or
ten days, when I shall do myself the pleasure of calling on you immediately
on my return. In the meantime a note will find me at the Hotel de Belle Vue,
Bruxeles, on my way home.
B. Hebeller, Esq.
The king being absent, Mr. Fairbairn went to
Dresden, from whence he wrote to the Baron von Humboldt as follows:—
Dresden, October 30, 1819.
My dear Sir,—I send you a rough draft of a
letter I have addressed to the Minister of Commerce. It contains my views
respecting the construction of the bridge across the Rhine; and the minister
having taken great interest in my new principle of construction, and I think
being fully aware of its importance, he proposes accompanying me on Thursday
to Potsdam, in order through your kindness to present me to his Majesty. I
shall bring the model of the bridge with me, and I hope through your
considerate attention to impress his Majesty with the importance of having
the work executed on a permanent and solid principle of construction. My
chief object is to offer to the Prussian government and the Prussian public
a bridge that shall be permanent and secure, and cm a plan that has been
eminently successful. I do not deny that it will be exceedingly grateful to
my feelings to become the instrument of its introduction. I shall wait the
commands of his Majesty, which you will probably communicate to me, at the
Hotel de Russie.
I have to apologise for this intrusion upon your
And have the honour to be, dear Sir,
Your devoted humble servant,
The Baron von Humboldt, &c. &c.
The Baron answered:
Je refois, Monsieur, votre interessante lettre,
datee de Dresde du 30 Octobre, si tard, que je suis incertain si ma reponse
vous arrive a temps. Le Eoi, auquel j'ai pu dire combien vous^es presse de
partir avec votre aimable famille, desire vous recevoir a diner demain,
Jeudi ler Jfovembre a 3 h. a Sans Souci, con-jointement avec le Ministre de
Agreez, je vous prie, l'expression de ma haute
consideration. Mes respects a Lady Fairbairn.
Le Bakon de Humboidt.
A Potsdam, Mercredi soir, [Oct. 31] 1819.
The following is a translated extract of a
letter written by Humboldt to Chevalier Bunsen the day after Mr. Fairbairn's
reception by the King:—
Postdam, November '2, 1819.
Most honoured Friend,—The haste with which the
excellent Mr. Fairbairn, the creator of the gigantic structure, will leave
us, after coming back from Dresden, obliges me to thank you only with a few
lines for your letter of October 12. I cannot be grateful enough to you for
having made us acquainted with a man possessing so much knowledge, so highly
esteemed by all, so amiable and so modest.
The designs for suspension bridges, which Mr.
Fairbairn deems very dangerous, were already decided upon for the Rhine and
Vistula; but the presence of this celebrated man. which we owe to you, has
made such a deep impression upon the Minister of Commerce, M. von der Heydt,
that he begins to be undecided about his designs for suspension bridges. He
has occupied himself very much and very kindly with Mr. Fairbairn by means
of interpreters, and has accompanied him to Potsdam, when the latter was
invited to the King's table, and showed, till half-past six in the evening,
the model, as well as all the drawings for tubular bridges.
When Mr. Fairbairn arrived I made haste
immediately for Berlin, to offer my services to him and to his family, as
well as to the most amiable Mr. Horner, son of the astronomer, the companion
of Krusenstern. The King was then hunting for many days in the Harz. I
advised, therefore, Mr. Fairbairn, who wanted to leave already the next day,
to come here again from Dresden for a few days only. I knew for certain
that, according to your wish, w warmly expressed, the King would receive Mr.
Fairbairn immediately after his arrival in Sans Souci, and the departure of
the Queen for Vienna.
The King was enchanted by the demeanour of the
great man,, and Mr. Fairbairn did not like less the frank and hearty
demeanour of the King. The King was very much pleased too, to see Mr.
Horner, having made the acquaintance of his father at Konigsberg on his
return from Russia to Zurich, and having got his likeness in a painting of
Krusenstern's travels, which he ordered as pendant to a painting of the
The family, which I expect in an hour for
viewing the palaces, will start this evening for Ostend.
As the King himself has no personal influence in
the matter, and the minister being dragged along by the councillors, it is
yet unknown to me whether the. propositions will tie definitely adopted or
not. For my part I do all that is in my power to show clearly the boundless
resistance of the cellular system, &c.
The next day Mr. Fairbairn left Berlin, after
writing a warm letter of thanks to Baron Humboldt, for the cordial reception
he had been honoured with at the Prussian court. The following letter to an
old and intimate friend, Dr. Robinson of Armagh, gives his impression of the
Berlin journey :—
London, November 14, 1849.
My dear Sir,—We have just returned from a tour
in Prussia, which you will recollect was iu contemplation when we had the
pleasure of your company in Manchester. Mrs. Fairbairn and my son George
have been with me first to Cologne and Coblentz, and subsequently to Berlin.
In my visits to these cities I went fortified with introductions from the
Chevalier Bunsen, not only in furtherance of the objects of my journey—the
bridge across the Rhine—but to most of the ministers and leading members of
the Prussian government, amongst others to the distinguished traveller and
philosopher Humboldt. From all these gentlemen I received the most marked
attention, but above all from the Baron Humboldt, who, at the great age of
eighty, came all the way from Potsdam to Berlin to pay his respects to Mrs.
Fairbairn and myself. It was my duty to have gone to him, and I am sure it
was a great deal more than I could possibly deserve or expect for him to
come to me. But be this as it may, I am certainly indebted to his Excellency
for the gracious reception I received from his Majesty a few days
afterwards, and to whose table I was invited to dinner.
I dare not inform Dr. Robinson of the sayings
and doings which took place on that occasion. It would savour too much of a
weakness which I fear I have in common with many others. I must endeavour to
suppress this rising vanity, and reserve what I have to say for a private tete-a-tete with
Mrs. and Miss Robinson. I must, however, inform you that I was seated with
feelings of pride and gratification beside a greater man than the King, and
enjoyed the benefit of a conversation similar to that I had the pleasure to
listen to on the occasion of a recent visit of a highly-valued friend of
kindred mind and pursuits. I cannot express to you how much I valued the
society of this amiable anil distinguished man. At eighty years of age he
possesses the mental energies of a man of forty, and retains what appears to
me to be the desideratum of advancing years, a mind susceptible of
impressions, with a power of discernment and retention which can only be
looked for in the maturity of life. Such, however, is the mind of Humboldt,
perfectly alive to every improvement and every development in the
advancement of his favourite studies.
By the different ministers I was kindly
received, and (by the help of a model) explained to them the principle of
the construction which I ventured to recommend for the bridge across the
Rhine at Cologne. I did not, however, make much progress until Humboldt made
himself master of the subject, when the difficulties quickly disappeared,
and the authorities at ones, saw the advantage of a perfectly rigid bridge
supporting a continuous line of railway, instead of the flexible
chain-bridge which had partly been decided upon, and the transport of the
carriages by horses one by one from one side of the river to the other. I
have urged upon the government the necessity of avoiding this expensive and
complex process, and of having the power not only to have a continuous
uninterrupted traffic from one extremity of the Prussian dominions to the
other, but I have further recommended a double bridge, one side for the
railway and the other for general traffic, as exhibited m the following
rough sectional sketch which you will clearly understand.
The bridge in this case would be composed of
three principal girders, with galleries outside for foot passengers, and the
river being 1,288 feet wide, it would be composed of four spans of 320 feet
width. This plan I am convinced would not only meet the requirements of the
railway, but that of general traffic, and procure ample accommodation for
the public and citizens of Cologne. I must apologise for thus troubling you
with matters that more immediately concern myself. The interest you have all
along taken in the development of this new principle of construction must,
however, plead my excuse. Believe me to be, my dear Sir, with kind
remembrance to Mrs. and Miss Robinson,
The following official acknowledgment of Mr.
Fairbairn's proposals followed in a few weeks, after the government had had
time to consider their general nature:—
9 Carlton Terrace, November 29, 1849.
Sir,—Although you will have received verbally
the expression of the high satisfaction which the inspection of your model,
the examination of the drawing and plans,
illustrating the principle of the cellular or tubular construction, with
particular applications to the projected bridge over the Khiue at Cologne,
has given not only to the committee, charged with examining the same, and to
the Ministers of Trade, of the Home Department and Engineering, and of
Finance, to whose departments this subject particularly refers, but to his
Majesty in person; I have been ordered to express to you officially the high
sense of the value of that construction and of those plans and proposals
which his Majesty's government entertains.
Although the plan for a suspension bridge
(which, of course, could only have served for the ordinary passage) had
already been approved of, the government are so convinced of the superior
advantages of your system, calculated as well for the railway passage as the
ordinary passage of carriages, horses, and foot passengers, that they have
ordered two of their most experienced engineers to avail themselves of your
kind oifer to show to them the constructions already terminated or in
progress in England, according to the plan of tubular bridges, and to lay
before the government without delay a professional report, preparatory to
his Majesty's government's final decision, of which in due time I shall have
the honour of informing you. I remain, Sir, with high consideration,
Your obedient servant,
"William Fairbairn, Esq., Manchester.
The commissioners arrived in England soon after
this date, and their proceedings, so far as Mr. Fairbairn was concerned, are
related in the following letter which he wrote to Baron Humboldt:—
Manchester, December 3, 1819.
My dear Sir,—The Chevalier Bunsen, our mutual
and excellent friend, has communicated to me the flattering terms in which
you have written to him on the occasion of my late visit to Berlin. For
these kind expressions 1 am most grateful, and notwithstanding they are so
far beyond my deserts, I nevertheless receive them with no small degree of
satisfaction; not in the vain hope of approaching the distinguished eminence
of the donor, hut with a sincere desire, by future exertions and honourable
conduct, to merit their application. It will indeed be one of the most
fortunate events of my life to have the good opinion, and I hope along with
it the friendship of an intellect so highly cultivated and so universally
honoured as that of the Baron Hnmboldt.
The deep interest you have from the first taken
in the project I have in contemplation, not only for the extension of the
useful arts, but for the benefit of Prussia, induces me to hazard your
displeasure by making you acquainted with the progress I have made with the
gentlemen of the commission appointed to enquire into the nature of the
construction I have had the honour to propose for acceptance in Prussia.
That commission consists of (three names illegible). The' first is a
gentleman of talent and discernment, and I think will take a fair and candid
view of the subject; the second is highly respectable, but having originated
the project of the chain-bridge across the Rhine, it cannot be expected that
his mind will be free from bias which naturally inclines in the direction of
his own design. The other gentleman is equally committed to the flexible
structure, as the author of the chain-bridge across the Vistula, and unless
the superior strength, rigidity, and safety of the tubular system which I
have exhibited to them has brought conviction to his mind, I should look in
vain for support in that direction.
I must, however, do the whole of these gentlemen
the justice to state that they collectively expressed themselves satisfied
with what they witnessed at the gigantic operations now going forward in the
floating and raising the large tubes at the Menai Straits. They further
acknowledged their surprise at the immense strength and solidity of the
Conway tube when standing in the middle of it during the passage of the
trains. Altogether I hope their journey has not been unprofitable either as
regards the interests of practical science or the introduction of those
improvements into Prussia and other parts of the Continent of Europe.
On the return of the Commission to Berlin it is
more than probable you will become acquainted with the result of their
labours, and I have no doubt they will report in full as to what should he
done in the case, not only of the bridges at Cologne and the Vistula, but of
all other bridges of similar import and character. As to the nature of the
Report I am unable to form an opinion, but whatever it may be, it must come
from the sound judgment of Sir. ---; and I have no doubt, from the opinions
laid before him and the experimental tests made in his presence, that he
will speak favourably of this new principle of construction, and recommend
it for adoption both at Cologne and the Vistula.
The Minister of Commerce and Public Works, M.
Van der Hevdt, will undoubtedly be guided by the Report he receives from
this gentleman, and to enlarge the objects of the Commission I shall write
to his Excellency in a few days, with a statement of the different bridges
these gentlemen have seen, and the places visited by them. To your
Excellency I will simply state that I met the gentlemen in London, and
accompanied them to Lincoln, and from thence to Gainsbro', where they were
shown the tubular bridge of two spans 160 feet each, and the model of which
I had the honour to exhibit at Potsdam and Berlin. At this bridge they had
an opportunity of witnessing three different railway trains run in
succession over it at full speed ; and at Liverpool they examined two
bridges of the same kind each 114 feet span. From Liverpool we
proceeded, via Chester, to Conway and the Menai Straits in forth Wales,
where they had ample means for forming a judgment as to the efficiency of
the immense structures, partly finished and partly in progress, and with
which your Excellency has done me the honour to make yourself fully
acquainted. At the Conway Bridge, which is finished, the gentlemen stood in
the middle of one of the tubes (400 feet span) when the train ran through it
at nearly thirty miles an hour, and I believe with no more vibration or
yielding than is found in a stone tunnel or on the solid ground. All these
experiments were made and exhibited before the eyes of the deputation, and
having completed their survey, they proceeded direct for Scotland, called
here again on Thursday, and are now in London, after having visited the
Great Western and Devon Railways, Plymouth Dockyards, &c.
I have much reason to apologise for the trouble
I am inflicting upon you in the perusal of so long a letter, and should not
have ventured to do so hut that I deem it a duty to make you acquainted with
everything that has transpired since I last had the pleasure of seeing you
I retain a lively recollection of the great
satisfaction I experienced on the occasion of making your acquaintance, and
the pleasure which the meeting gave to Mrs. Fairbaim, Mr. Horner, and my son
: they collectively and individually unite iu kind enquiries, and that you
may yet be long spared, with increasing health and honours, is the earnest
Your Excellency's obliged and humble Servant,
His Excellency the Bibon von Humboldt.
The Baron answered this letter, as the answer is
alluded to in a correspondence, about a month later, between Mr. Fairbairn
and General (afterwards Sir Edward) Sabine, President of the Royal Society;
but unfortunately it has not been preserved.
Towards the end of February Mr. Fairbairn,
becoming impatient, again wrote Baron Humboldt a letter, which he enclosed
to the Ambassador with the following :—
Manchester, February 23, 1850.
My dear Chevalier Bunsen,—It would appear
ungracious and unbecoming on my part if I attempted to forward my
communication. relative to the propositions I had the honour to make at
Berlin, without your sanction and approval. Next to yourself, there is none
I so much reverence and highly esteem as the good and talented philosopher
to whom the accompanying letter is addressed. It is your Excellency to whom
I am indebted for the kind and flattering introduction which first ushered
me into the presence of his Majesty Frederick William, and also into that of
your friend, and 1 hope mine also, the Baron Humboldt.
I can assure you the good opinion and friendship
of such men is to me of more value than the building of a thousand bridges.
Still I have a profession, and must be useful in it, and I feel impressed
with the conviction that I owe to myself and our distinguished friend, to
use my best efforts, and leave nothing undone, to substantiate your good
opinion and kind recommendation I have received. To do so effectually I must
build the bridge across the Rhine, and that in a manner which I make no
doubt will redound to the honour of all concerned. It is from this feeling
that I venture so often to trouble your Excellency, and again to thrust
myself upon the notice of our friends at Berlin. I hope I am not doing so
inopportunely, but finding some energetic competitors on the spot, and me at
a distance, is one of the reasons which induce me to commit the enclosed to
your care. If you think such a letter is proper and will be well received,
you will do me the honour to transmit it to its destination. On the
contrary, should you think it premature and likely to do harm, pray return
it, and oblige
Your Excellency's faithful and very obedient
P.S.- We are going to have a public meeting on
Tuesday, on the Great Exposition of 1851. I remarked you in the ' Times' on
Friday, and will send you a paper showing what we are about. Do you think it
will be possible for me to have an interview with H.R.H. Prince Albert next
time I am in town. I should like him to see the drawings of Westminster
Bridge and the model, in which I think he will take much interest. His R.H.
fully understands the subject.
The following is the reply, which it will be
seen begins to convey some doubts as to the acceptance of Mr. Fairbairn's
9, Carlton Terrace, March 20, 1850.
My dear Mr. Fairbairn,—Allow me to introduce to
you by these lines M. Kreuter, Engineer to H.M. the Emperor of Austria, a
highly distinguished gentleman, whom that Government had charged in 1818
with the plan of a railway From Semlin to the Adriatic, a plan which he has
published with all details, and which is highly approved. He wishes now to
study your tubular bridge system, and in general your new constructions on
railways. I therefore take the liberty of addressing him to you. He has also
been lately at Berlin.
Your two letters arrived safely. The letter to
Hunboldt was sent immediately. I delayed writing, because the newspapers
communicated the resolution of government to lay before the Chamber next
summer or in November their proposals respecting the two bridges on the
Rhine and Vistula, but had first to receive the proposals and objections of
the Municipality of Cologne. Soon afterwards I received a despatch from
government, announcing they would soo-n send me a programme about those
bridges, or at least that over the Rhine. [ am in daily expectation of
receiving it, and then alone shall I feel able to judge how far they are
dealing justly with you or not, and what guarantees are demanded and given
as to projects presented. A gentleman of the War-Engineering Office of
Berlin, who was here for some other business, told me the Cologne people had
declared they would never consent to a bridge being made 15 feet in height,
which would obstruct the view of Cologne from Deutz! I suppose this all
turns about the selection of the place for the bridge. I expect that not
much will be done before the great German business is settled. As soon as I
hear something I shall let you know.
Ever yours sincerely,
The next intimation of the state of matters is
contained in a letter from Mr. Fairbairn to Mrs. Edgeworth (a relation of
Maria Edgeworth), whose acquaintance he had made shortly before :—
Manchester, April 16, 1850.
Dear Mrs. Edgeworth,—I have purposely delayed my
reply to your kind and interesting letter until I had ascertained my
movements relative to a journey which I am about to undertake to Sweden and
Russia. I have' now fixed the time, and shall probably leave this country
about the middle of the ensuing month.
I entertain a lively recollection of my hurried
but interesting visit to Edgeworth Town, and I am sure I ought to apologise
for the unceremonious manner in which, a total stranger, I came upon you.
But having the railway to .Mullingar, and my friend Hemans as a companion, I
could not resist the temptation of becoming acquainted with a family I had
long respected and had heard so much about.
These tubular bridges are a never-ending theme
of discussion; in the scientific world they seem to engage the attention of
those who are very competent to judge of their merits. . .
My late journey to Prussia is likely to turn out
a fruitless one, as I have just received a letter from the Minister of
Public Works, thanking me for the information I have given them, but the
government have come to the conclusion to put up the bridge across the Rhine
to competition, and a programme has been issued stating that they will not
require the bridge to early the railway, as they have concluded to split the
trains into a number of pieces, and send them across the bridge, bit by
bit, by men or horses. This is the decision of government, having before
their eyes a solid bridge which I offered to construct for less money; that
it should open a continuous railway communication from one extreme of the
kingdom to the other; that it should not obstruct the currents or the
navigation of the stream, and that it should carry railway trains with
double engines at all speeds, and give all the facilities required for
general traffic; also splendid galleries for pedestrians outside the
girders. All this I offered, and this was approved by his Majesty and
declared to be correct by Humboldt; and yet, in the face of the whole, this
wise government is going to build a bridge whose rickety and palsied frame
will shudder at the sight of a locomotive.
1 have written my friend Humboldt about it.
The letter to Humboldt expressed, at much length
and in somewhat strong terms, Mr. Fairbairn's remonstrance against the
proposed measure. The Baron's answer was as follows, and it is impossible
not to admire the skilful way in which he conveyed to Mr. Fairbairn, under
cover of the most courteous and even flattering expressions, information
which Ik; knew would be distasteful to him.
Mon cher Monsieur,—Je suis bien coupable d'avoir
tarde si longtemps a vous ecrire, a vous exprimer 1'hommage de ma vive
reconnaissance de tout ce que deux de vos lettres, et surtout celle dont
vous venez de m'honorer, en date du 15 Avril, renfer-ment d'aimable pour moi.
Soyez bien persuade que les impressions que vous avez laissees dans les
regions que j'habite, sont restees les memes que penilant votre trop court
sejour parmi nous. Mon trop long silence n'a tenu ni au vif interet
qu'in-spirent nos interets Germaniques, quo j'embrasse avec la meme ardeur
que notre digne ami M. le Chevalier Bunsen, ni a un changement d'opinion a
votre egaxd. Je suis reste silencienx comme j'ai 1'habitude de le faire dans
ma position auprks du Souverain aussi longtemps qu'il m'etait reste l'espoir
de vous etre utile, mon cher Monsieur. J'aiine mieux agir qu'ecrire sur des
choses non terminees. Le Roi, qui a conserve une haute opinion de votre
talent, de la dignite de votre caractere, de la courageuse sagarite avec
laquelle vous avez lutte avec les elemens, n'a pas ete dans la situation
d'exercer une influence directe et active dans une affaire toute materielle
et technique. La nature de notre gouvernement constitutionnel laisse la
liberte d'action et la responsabilite au ministre du commerce et des travaux
publics. Deux jours apres avoir reyu votre premiere lettre et des
renseignements utiles que m'avait Amnes M. le Chevalier Bunsen, je me suis
rendu au ministre. La personne que vous avez vue a la tete de la commission
a ete admise a la conversation. On a discute les frais, les ditEcdtes de
doimer passage aux bateaux mates, la tendance de renoncer au passage des
'wagons' au moyen d'une locomotive, preferant (comme ebranlant moins) le
passage au moyen des chevaux.....Le parti de ne pas se resoudre
definitivement avant d'avoir porte le probleme devant le public m'etait deja
positivement annonce. Vous savez comliien les discussions verbales ramenent
toujours les memes motifs sans faire changer les resolutions prises d'avance!
La declaration du eoncours publique a ete main-tenue et vous avez vu a
quelles contestations les conditions proposes ont deja donne lieu dans les
journaux. Le ministre a commence ft entrer en lutte avec la Gazette de
Cologne. Tout cela m'a paru peu concluant, toute comparaison de frais tres
vague, lorsque les localites different tant de votre admirable et monumental
ouvrage du grand Tubular Bridge! Un evenement tristement instructif a eu
lieu depuis en France. J'espere qu'il fera faire des serieuses reflexions
snr ce ehangement- myste'rienix, ma is suffisamment constate dans la forme
et juxtaposition des molecules comme etfet du mouvement ondulatoire. Les
opinions ont aussi leur mouvement d'oscillation et le temps amene <]uelquefois
des chances favorables. Puissiez vous jouir, mon cher Monsieur, dans
l'heureuse independance que vous devez a votre beau talent, de ce calme
interieur et de cette serenite que donne la eonfiance des propres forces et
l'aspect du bien que vous regardez autour de vous. Je vous prie d'agreer
vous-meme, Monsieur, votre fils, et mon aimable compatriote Grermano-Suisse,
l'expression renouvelee de mon devouement affectueux.
Mon respeetueux hommage a Madame Fairbairn,
votre digne epouse.
Votre t. h. et tr^s obeissant S.
A. V. Humboldt,
A Potsdam, le 20O April, 1850.
A month before the date of this letter, namely,
on March 30, 1850, the government issued a notification inviting engineers,
either Prussian or foreign, to send in designs for the bridge in
competition. The conditions were that it was to be built in a line with the
Cathedral, that it was to provide for the ordinary road traffic, and also
for the railway so far as to allow loaded carriages and waggons to pass over
without locomotives. The designs were to be sent in by August 1 in the same
year, and the two best designs were to be rewarded with prizes.1
Sixty-one designs were sent in, and the prizes
were awarded, one to a Prussian engineer, Mr. Schwedler, for a suspension
bridge; the other to Captain W. Moorsoin, the well known English engineer,
for a lattice bridge on the American plan.
The judges, however, came to the resolution that
none of the plans, not even the rewarded ones, were so satisfactory as to
warrant their recommending them for adoption. and so the question still
The government then determined to send over a
second time to England for the purpose of examining further into the nature
and the merits of the iron bridges that had been erected for the railways in
this country. The commissioner this time was General Eadowitz, a
distinguished military engineer.
This measure emboldened Mr. Fairbairn to
persevere in his project, and he accordingly proceeded to prepare his plans
and estimates with more completeness, and they were despatched to Berlin in
March 1851, as appears by the following letter :—
9, Carlton Terrace. March 11, 1851.
My dear Mr. Fairbairn,—To-day your beautiful
drawings and memoir are in the hands of General Radowitz. They came just in
time for the King's messenger. The General will report on the same to the
I assure you that I deeply feel the kind
confidence yon have shown me and my illustrious friend on this occasion, and
I hope it will not be without final good effect in Prussia. I am sorry to
find that you have been confined to your room, and hope soon to wish you joy
in person here for your perfect recovery.
Believe me, dear Mr. Fairbairn,
Mr. Fairbairn also wrote directly to Baron
Humboldt at the same time, recommending the new plans to his further
The plans submitted by Mr. Fairbairn have been
published by him.1 They consisted of two different designs.
One was in four spans, the two middle ones 32
feet each from centre to centre of the piers, and the two end ones 244 feet.
There were to be three parallel lines of wrought-iron box-girders, on the
plan patented by Mr. Fairbairn, providing between them for railway and
carriage roads, and having external footpaths on each side. The cost of this
structure was estimated to be about 400,000/.
The other design was for two spans only, of 570
feet each, and for these Mr. Fairbairn proposed two lines of hollow
rectangular tubular girders, similar to those of the Britannia Bridge, but
larger. Each tube would admit one line of railway within it, and there was
to be a carriage way between them, and footpaths on the sides. The cost of
this was estimated at 470,000/.
The result of the further consideration of the
matter in Berlin was, that the Government abandoned their own scheme of a
suspension bridge, with an interruption of the railway traffic, and adopted
Mr. Fairbairn's suggestion so far as it comprised a strong and rigid
structure over which the trains could cross in their complete state. This
measure of establishing a free railway connection between tlie north and
south banks of the river was really the great point of his recommendation.
But the Government, while adopting his ideas as
to the general nature of the bridge, demurred to his proposed mode of
construction, that of large tubes formed of solid wrought-iron. They
probably attached more weight than he did to assthetical considerations of
design, and in such a situation they feared that a bridge of the same
description as that of the Britannia and Conway tubes would be objectionable
Whether, under these circumstances, they ever
entered into communication with Mr. Fairbairn (as it would have been not
only courteous but just for them to do) with a view to inducing him to
modify the construction, docs not appear. But, however this may be, the
Government decided that the bridge should be constructed on the lattice or
open-work principle, which had been shortly before adopted for a large
bridge carrying one of the Prussian railways over the Vistula.
Mr. Fairbairn, being informed of this, wrote to
Humboldt, on August 23, 1852, a letter from which the following is an
From the condescending manner in which I was
received by his Majesty, and the unwearied attention you personally bestowed
on the objects of my journey, I was taught to believe that at no very
distant period I should again have the pleasure of meeting you, and that the
projected bridge across the Rhine at Cologne, in which you took so deep an
interest, would sooner or later have been carried into effect. I believe
this is now likely to be accomplished, not upon the principle I recommended,
but some other construction, which doubtless the authorities believe
superior to those I had the honour to lay before them. One important
consideration was, however, obtained by our united exertions, and that was
to condemn an imperfect and abortive construction, and to direct the public
mind to the importance of having a structure that was not only capable of
supporting the railway, but all the other objects contemplated in the
requirements of the public traffic. These objects have now been attained; at
least I am so informed; and that the drawbridges, as well as the hoisting
and lowering of the carriages from one level to another, are to be dispensed
with. This, you will recollect, is what we contended for; and I consider it
fortunate for the country that his Majesty suspended the perpetration of a
project that would never have realised the expectations of the Government or
the wants of the public.
Mr. Fairbairn then goes on to criticise the
proposed plan of construction, and to vindicate the superiority of his own,
after which he adds :—-
Altogether, I trust the investigation of this
subject has not been without its use; and although I have received official
notice that the authorities decline adopting the system I have recommended,
I nevertheless still hope to find their constructions founded upon the same
principles I have had the honour to advocate, and which I make no doubt will
be for the benefit as well as the security of the public.
No further reference seems to have "been made to
Mr. Fairbairn, but the plans, according to the new conditions, were
elaborated by tw70 Prussian engineers, Messrs. Wallbaum and Lohse, and after
several changes, resolved themselves into the form of the present bridge,
which was commenced in 1855, and finished some years later. It crosses the
river, in a line with the axis of the cathedral, in four spans, each 313
feet wide in the clear, and consists of two pairs of girders, side by side,
one pair carrying a double line of railway, and the other the road traffic.
The girders are formed of open lattice-work, instead of plates, as Mr.
Fairbairn had proposed; but in other respects there has not been much
material departure from Mr. Fairbairn's designs.