Report from the Select Committee on Steam Carriages/Torrens
Veneris, 9o die Septembris, 1831.
Colonel Torrens, a Member of the Committee; Examined.
Have you considered the effect which will be produced upon British agriculture, by substituting, on common roads, Steam Carriages for Carriages drawn by horses?—I have.
What do you conceive that effect would be?—I think it would produce very beneficial effects upon agriculture.
State your reasons for believing that agriculture will be benefited by substituting inanimate for animal power, consuming the produce of the soil?—I conceive that agriculture is prosperous in proportion as the quantity of produce brought to market exceeds the quantity expended in bringing it there. If Steam Carriages be employed instead of Carriages drawn by horses, it will be because that mode of conveyance is found the cheapest. Cheapening the carriage of the produce of the soil must necessarily diminish the quantity of produce expended in bringing a given quantity to market, and will therefore increase the net surplus, which net surplus constitutes the encouragement to agriculture. For example, if it requires the expenditure of two hundred quarters of corn to raise four hundred, and the expenditure of one hundred more on carriage, to bring the four hundred to market, then the net surplus will be one hundred.—If, by the substitution of Steam Carriages, you can bring the same quantity to market, with an expenditure of fifty quarters, then your net surplus is increased from one hundred to one hundred and fifty quarters; and consequently, either the farmer's profit or the landlord's rent increased in a corresponding proportion. There are many tracts of land which cannot now be cultivated, because the quantity of produce expended in cultivation and in carriage exceeds the quantity which that expenditure would bring to market. But if you diminish the quantity expended in bringing a given quantity to market, then you may obtain a net surplus produce from such inferior soils, and consequently allow cultivation to be extended over tracts which could not otherwise be tilled. On the same principle, lowering the expence of carriage would enable you to apply additional quantities of labour and capital to all the soils already under cultivation. But it is not necessary to go into any illustrative examples to explain this, it being a well-known principle, that every improvement which allows us to cultivate land of a quality which could not previously be cultivated, also enables us to cultivate in a higher manner, lands already under tillage.
If horses were displaced from common roads, would not the demand for oats, beans, and for pasture, be diminished, and land thereby be thrown out of cultivation, and labour out of employment?—If Steam Carriages were very suddenly brought into use, and horses thereby displaced. I think the effect stated in the question would be produced for a time; but practically. Steam Carriages can be introduced only very gradually, and the beneficial effect upon the profits of trade, by bringing agricultural produce more cheaply to market, will tend to increase profits, to encourage industry, and to enlarge the demand for labour; so that by this gradual process there will probably be no period during which any land can actually be thrown out of cultivation, the increasing population requiring all the food which horses would With respect to the demand for labour, that demand consists of the quantity of food and raw materials which can be cheaply obtained; and as by the supposition the displacing of horses will leave at liberty more food and more material, the demand for labour will ultimately be greatly increased instead of being diminished. It has been supposed, I know not how accurately, that there are employed on the common roads in Great Britain, one million of horses, and a horse, it is calculated, consumes the food of eight men. If Steam Carriages could ultimately be brought to such perfection as entirely to supersede draught horses on the common roads, there would be food and demand for eight millions of persons. But when we take further into consideration, that lowering the expence of carriage would enable us to extend cultivation over soils which cannot now be profitably tilled, and would have the further effect of enabling us to apply, with a profit, additional portions of labour and capital to the soils already under tillage. I think it not unfair to conclude, that were elementary power on the common roads completely to supersede draught horses, the population, wealth and power of Great Britain would at least be doubled.
There are soils which are stated to be so poor, that oats alone can be raised upon them, would not the substitution of Steam for horse power have the effect, of throwing out of employment the labour required for the cultivation of such lands?—If there are soils of such a peculiar quality that oats is the only marketable product which they will yield, the persons employed in cultivating those lands would certainly be thrown out of that particular occupation; but the extension of tillage over other lands not of this peculiar quality, would create a demand for labour which would much more than absorb the persons thrown out from the culture of oats upon that land which would grow nothing else. But I doubt of there being any land which it is profitable to cultivate, which would not raise some other agricultural produce than oats either for man or cattle, for which the increasing population would create a demand.
The general impression on the minds of the Committee is, that Steam Carriages will, at least for the present, rather be substituted for horses used in conveying travellers than for the conveyance of bulky articles. Do you think that the substitution of Steam in this manner will be injurious to agriculture, and to the demand for labour without any adequate compensating advantages?—Upon the case supposed, namely, that Steam Carriages should be employed in conveying passengers only, and the whole change to be effected in a sudden manner. I think that there would in the first instance be a diminished demand for agricultural produce, but the following process would take place. As the demand for agricultural produce was diminished, the price of such produce would fall, food would become cheaper, and the cheapening of food would benefit partly the labouring class and partly the capitalists, the one obtaining higher real wages, and the other higher profits; this increase in real wages and in profits, would effect a great encouragement to manufacturing industry, and would necessarily lead to an increase in the manufacturing population, and to the amount of capital employed in manufactures. The consequence would be, that after some degree of pressure upon agriculture, the increased number of human beings would create the same demand for agricultural produce which the employment of horses formerly created. So that even upon the extreme and most improbable supposition, that Steam Carriages should never be employed in conveying agricultural produce to market at a cheaper rate, still the benefit to the country would be very great, inasmuch as we should have a vastly increased industrious population, and England would become much more extensively, than she is at present, the great workshop of the world. In point of fact, superseding horses by mechanical power, would have precisely the same effect in increasing the population and wealth of England, as would be produced were we to increase the extent of the country by adding thereto a new and fertile territory, equal in extent to all the land which now breeds and feeds all the horses employed upon common roads. Such addition to the extent of fertile territory in England suddenly effected, would in the first instance lower the value of agricultural produce, and be injurious to the proprietors of the old portion of the territory, but no person would therefore contend that if we could enlarge Digitized by Google the Island of Great Britain by additional tracts of fertile land, the public interests would be injured by such enlargement; this would be monstrously absurd. It is not less absurd to object to the increase of food available for human beings, by substituting mechanical power for horses.
In addition to the advantages you have already anticipated from the introduction of Steam conveyance, would not the increased speed and cheapness of intercourse occasion vast public benefits in which agricultural capitalists and labourers must greatly partake?—Certainly.
As it impossible to conceive that Steam should be generally substituted for horses, and be confined only to the conveyance of travellers, and, as it would necessarily be employed as Vans and Coaches are at present, for the speedy conveyance of light goods as well as travellers, (by the hypothesis Steam Carriages being cheaper than horse draft, or it would not be used), would not such cheapening of the conveyance of such goods have a considerable effect upon the demand for them, and thereby for labour and food?—On the principles that have been already stated with respect to agriculture, the cost of bringing all things to market is comprised of the cost of production and the cost of carriage. Reducing the cost of carriage is precisely the same thing in its effects as reducing the immediate cost of production, consequently the conveyance of light goods by Steam power, must cheapen all such goods to the consumers. This will necessarily enable them to consume a greater quantity of such goods, and the consumption of the greater quantity will enlarge the demand for labour, call a larger manufacturing population into existence, and thereby re-act on agriculture by increasing the de, mand for food. This cheaper mode of internal carriage will not only lower the price of light and refined manufactures to the Home consumer, but will lower their price also to the Foreign consumer. This will increase the advantages which we at present possess in the Foreign market, and tend to increase our Foreign commerce. So that here again there will be an Digitized by Google increased demand for manufactures and for a manufacturing population, and here again will be another beneficial re-action upon the soil. So that the more we contemplate the various effects produced upon the industry of the country by a cheaper mode of conveyance, the more we must be convinced that wealth and population will be increased, and that agriculture instead of being injured must necessarily partake in the increased prosperity of the country.—In addition to what I have already stated, the saving of expence and of time in conveying passengers and goods, and the rapidity of communication will produce effects, the amount of which it would be almost impossible to calculate.