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Again, James Newland, another salesman, and master of a vessel sixteen years in the trade, when examined by the commission stated,
“ That eels have not lived in Thames water as they did formerly. First observed the difference five or six years ago, and finds it get worse every summer. Other fish are also affected by bad water, and will endeavour to get out of it on to pieces of floating wood.* Another witness, I. I. De Jong, twenty years in the trade, stated that he noticed the difference in water eight years ago, and that every year it gets worse. An hour after high water, eels (he added) will die in so short a time, that I have had 3000 lbs. weight dead in half an hour. Furthermore, Thomas Hatherill and William Hatherill stated to the commission that they had been brought up as fishermen from the age of twelve years, and used to catch flounders, eels, roach, smelts, salmon, &c., in the Thames, between Putney and Woolwich ; but the fishing dropt off, and became worse and worse every year, until they were obliged to drop the trade. I have seen the flounders,' says Thomas Hatherill 'put up their heads above the water, and if there was a bundle of weeds in the river they would get on it out of the water.'t Mr. John Goldham, the yeoman of Billingsgate, further de. poned, that as clerk of the market, it was his business to ascertain the quality of fish, and seize and condemn that which was bad; that twenty-five years ago, above and below London Bridge, between Deptford and Richmond, 400 fishermen, each having a boy and boat, gained their livelihood by fishing in the river ; that he had known them take 3000 smelt and 10 salmon at one haul : the Thames were then the best salmon, and frequently sold for 3s. or 4s. per pound; but about fourteen or fifteen years ago the quantities began to fall off, and there has been ever since a diminution, so that now the fishery is gone, and no salmon are to be caught.”
The evidence of this witness as to the causes of this change in the condition of the river proceeds in the following terms :“ What do you attribute as the cause of the loss of this fishery ? "
First, the Docks. Near the West India Docks there was an inlet of ten or twelve feet water, where the smelts used to resort, but the gates of the dock being occasionally opened, the water was let out, which was very impure, from the bilge-water and the effect of the copper-bottomed vessels, and this I consider as the cause why all the smelts have left this spot. This water is so impure, that if a man falls into it, it generally proves fatal. Another reason is, that all the common sewers run into the Thames,
“ Was it not always so ?”
“ No. There are now a much greater number of drains, which run into the common sewers, as well as privies and water-closets. Formerly the scavengers used to carry away the soil at night, but that practice has of late years been much diminished. The filth that they used to carry away is passed by the drains into the sewers. In the river, at Billingsgate, we have many Dutch boats with eels; I have been on board and seen 4000 alive in the wells and coffs, and the next morning three fourths have been dead; and the same proportion of loss has been sustained by all the Dutch vessels.”
“ What is the cause of the death of the eels ?”
“ When there is but little water in the river they do not die so much, as the water is less disturbed ; but on heavy rains, after a dry season, the filth which had been accumulating in the drains and sewers is washed into the river and disturbs the general sediment ; the water is thus rendered very impure, and contributes in producing the above effect.”
“ Is it a matter of fact, that fish suffer more after rains than in dry weather ?”
“ Yes. Other causes of the increased impurity of the river, or its being worse than it formerly was, is from the accumulation of filth brought down by rains after dry weather, the great fall at London Bridge, and the steam-boats stirring up the filth of the Thames, and keeping it in a state of almost continual agitation. Another nuisance is the gas ; I have noticed at twelve o'clock at night — the gas liquor is let out in the middle of the night – the river is often covered with it, having the appearance of an oily substance, in patches of three or four feet square. The tide ebbs seven hours, and goes about three miles an hour, and this will carry it on this side of Gravesend ; and as the tide flows five hours, this substance returns with the tide. As a proof of the impurity of the water of the Thames, the founders which are brought up from sea reach Medway, &c. ; when they get to Woolwich fly about in the wells of the boats, through which the water flows, and they turn up and die.”
“Do you think that the increase of manufactories within the last ten years have tended to injure the water?"
“ Yes. And it can be proved that many fishermen have been ruined by the change in the water." I • Report of the Commissioners, p. 69.
+ Ibid. p. 70. # Ibid. p. 71, 72
The whole of this evidence proves unequivocally that the water of the Thames, which supplies more than half the city, has for years been undergoing progressive deterioration, and as the causes by which these unhappy effects have been induced are still in active operation, the evil complained of not only continues, but manifestly becomes more and more aggravated. That some of the water companies have endeavoured, since the publication of this Report, to give a purer supply, by drawing the water off higher up the river, and introducing an iniproved system of filtration, we cheerfully concede, but these measures are not adequate to produce the desired end. The water from the most polluted parts of the Thames is still drunk by upwards of one half the inhabitants of London, and by no artificial means whatever can it be purified. The reason is evident. The contamination of water arises partly from extraneous and noxious substances, mechanically diffused through the fluid, and partly from the water holding in solution certain deleterious principles, which have been derived from the decomposition of the substances exposed to its action. The former may, by subsidence and filtration, perhaps be thoroughly got rid of, but not the latter, — for no process of clarification or filtration will remove the deleterious qualities which are chemically combined with, and enter, as it were, into the very constitution of the water itself. The particles of matter, too, which are mechanically diffused through water, are for the most part less injurious to the animal economy than the substances held in solution. Thus, particles of earth, whether argillaceous or calcareous, exuviæ, larvæ, even living insects, will not, however they may irritate, produce any specific disease; but being for the most part inert substances in themselves, will pass through the alimentary canal without seriously disturbing the system; but the gases disengaged during the decomposition of animal, vegetable, and more especially mineral substances, produce recombinations when held in solution, which may be productive of serious effects.
It is well known that from the disengagement of certain gases by volcanic action, whole continents have been found covered with dead fish, and, accordingly, we infer from the observations we have made, that the most mischievous effects of impure water arise, not so much from extraneous substances mechanically dispersed through it, as from the deleterious substances which it holds in solution. Hence, Dr. Paris observed, “ The impurity of the water, which so greatly injures the health of the inhabitants, arises not from particles of matter floating in the fluid, but from the quantities of matter which are held in chemical solution, which cannot be separated from it by any mechanical means whatever.” Accordingly the filters introduced into private families are no prophylactic instruments of protection ; and it ought to be constantly recollected that the clearness and sparkling brightness of water are no positive criteria of its salubrity.
Having only briefly, in proportion to the importance of the subject, referred to the impurities of the river waters that supply this metropolis, we come at once to the remedy; and only marvel that any amount of capital, or widely-spread pecuniary interests, should so far retard the progress of improvement as to prevent every advantage being taken of obtaining a pure adequate supply from the resources which are manifestly within our reach. As an opprobrium on geological ignorance, an anecdote is somewhere related of a certain building stone having been carried from a great distance, at an enormous expense, to the very spot in which immense strata of it lay concealed; and we easily predict that an opprobrium of a similar kind will in a few years be cited against the goodly citizens of London, who, it will be alleged, contented themselves with drinking for many years the impurities
of the river Thames rather than take advantage of a purer and more adequate supply of water, which lay at the same time slumbering under their
We allude to the water which it is now ascertained may be obtained by Artesian Wells, from below the plastic clay formation on which London is built. Here, however, it may be proper to state, that the term Artesian Springs is derived from this method of procuring water having been extensively adopted in the province of Artois, in France. The principle of their formation is geologically easily explained. The water which descends from the atmosphere percolates through the porous strata which it meets with, and, when unable to make its way through impervious strata, accumulates as in a reservoir below the surface of the earth. Thus, in the subjoined diagram,
let A represent a porous stratum, on which rests B, an impervious stratum, and underneath C, another impervious stratum ; it is evident that the water which descends from the hilly region, not being able to escape, must accumulate, and then, if an Artesian well be sunk at D, a plentiful supply will rush up through the tube or aperture. The instrument employed in excavating these wells is a large auger, and the aperture made is about four inches in diameter. If a hard rock be met with, it is triturated by an iron rod, and the small fragments, or powder, are readily extracted. To prevent the sides of the well from falling in, a jointed pipe is introduced, sometimes formed of wood, but more generally of metal. The process is thus a very simple and practicable one, and the water so obtained is exceedingly pure.“ The water afforded by these wells,” says Connybeare, referring to London, “and which arises from the sands of the plastic clay formation underlying it, is very limpid, and remarkably free from salts; it is therefore what is called soft in a remarkable degree, is adapted to every domestic purpose, and never fails.” * The testimony of all the scientific men who have analysed this water is to the same effect; and from the analysis of the springs in different parts of the metropolis yielding the same results, it is presumed that they communicate with each other, or arise from the same natural reservoir. Hence, whenever the bed of clay which overlays the chalk formation has been properly pierced or bored, a bed of fine sand has been discovered which separates the clay from the chalk, and from this an abundance of pure water has been immediately obtained. We have in our possession the results of a multitude of experiments, showing that enormous quantities of water, far more than is required for the use of the whole metro
thus easily be procured; and accordingly, notwithstanding the water companies persist in drugging us with river water, the proprietors · of almost all the great breweries, distilleries, sugar-refining, vinegar, colour, soap, and gas manufactories, &c., have sunk Artesian springs on their own
* Outlines of Geology of England and Wales. 1822. p. 35,
account. The abundance of water which can thus be commanded is attested by every scientific and practical man who has fairly investigated the subject.
“At Sheerness, by the mouth of the Thames, a well was bored,” says the eminent geologist, Mr. Lyell, “on a low tongue of land near the sea, through 300 feet of the blue clay of London, below which a bed of sand and pebbles was entered, belonging doubtless to the plastic clay formation; when this stratum was pierced, the water burst up with impetuosity, and filled the well. By another perforation at the same place, the water was found at the depth of 328 feet below the clay; it first rose rapidly to the height of 189 feet ; and then, in the course of a few hours, ascended to an elevation of eight feet above the level of the ground. In 1824, a well was dug at Fulham near the Thames, at the Bishop of London's, to the depth of 317 feet, which, after traversing the tertiary strata, was continued through sixty-seven feet of chalk. The water immediately rose to the surface, and the discharge was above fifty gallons per minute. In the garden of the Horticultutal Society at Chiswick, chalk was also reached at a depth of 329 feet, from which the water rose to the surface. At the Duke of Northumberland's, above Chiswick, the borings were carried to the extraordinary depth of 620 feet into the chalk, when a considerable volume of water was obtained, which rose four feet above the surface of the ground. In a well of Mr. Brooks's, at Hammersmith, the rush of water from a depth of 360 feet was so great as to inundate several buildings, and do considerable damage ; and at Tooting, a sufficient stream was obtained to turn a wheel, and raise water to the upper stories of the houses.”
In the neighbourhood of London these Artesian springs are already very numerous:— there are at Hammersmith 6; Brentford 3; Uxbridge 8; Rickmansworth 4; Watford 9, one of which produces 22,500,000 gallons weekly, partly supplying the river Colne; St. Alban's 2. In London itself there are 174, of which 30 produce 30,000,000 gallons weekly ; indeed, it is clearly ascertained that the quantity of water which any one of these wells will yield depends on, and is proportioned to, the diameter of the bore.t It has been calculated that the quantity of water supplied to the metropolis by all the water companies on both sides the river, may be estimated at 38,000,000 gallons daily; and one orifice from a single Artesian well, with a diameter of six feet, would yield more than sufficient to meet this demand.
Here we shall briefly advert to the arguments which may be urged in favour of the present system, being well aware that some of the water companies have, at no mean sacrifice, endeavoured to overcome the evils they have to contend against. In so doing we can only regret that so much industry and capital should not have been diverted into another and better channel, which would yield as abundant, as pure, and as salubrious a supply as can possibly be desired. It may be argued that the water of the Grand Junction is almost entirely exempt from the impurities complained of, because this company draws its resources a short distance above Brentford, thereby avoiding the sewerage of that town, Isleworth, Hammersmith, &c.; and further, that very shortly it will relinquish altogether its establishment at Chelsea, and derive its supply exclusively from this source. cheerfully concede to be an improvement; nevertheless, it ought clearly to be understood, that this, which is the most unexceptionable water that can from this river source be obtained, is only in a comparative state of purity, because, previous to reaching this point, the Thames flowing through a large tract of country, receives the drainage of all the towns and villages through which it passes; - Oxford, Abingdon, Wallingford, Henley,'Marlowe, Kingston, &c., all empty their filth into the “ silver Thames," as it progresses onwards towards the great metropolis. In no part, therefore, of its course
Lyell's Geology, vol. i. p. 288. 1834. + See also Lettre de M. Lefebvre, rélatif à un Voyage dans le Sennaar et aux Puits Artésiens des Oases d'Egypte, Annales de Chimie et de Physique, Juin, 1839.
can its waters be compared for purity with the water of Artesian wells. The West Middlesex, also, has endeavoured to avoid the London drainage by establishing its reservoirs on the Surrey side of the river, about three miles below the Grand Junction; but being nearer the source of contamination, its supply is less pure than that of the Junction. Hence, these two companies, giving them every possible credit, only mitigate the evil in a small degree, inasmuch as apart from the above consideration they accommodate comparatively only a small portion of the metropolis, while other water companies which supply the most densely inhabited districts of the city draw their resources directly from the most polluted parts of the
Again, it has been urged that the complicated and elaborate process of filtration, adopted by the Chelsea Company, expurgates Thames water of all its impurities. But this is distinctly a fallacy, because it is evident that filtration can only act mechanically, and will not affect the deleterious matters held in chemical solution. The verdict of the commission before the House of Commons, which was founded on the concurrent evidence of numerous scientific and practical men, must be held as conclusive on this point. It is thus stated: “It must be recollected that insects and suspended impurities only are separated by filtration, and that whatever substances may be employed in the construction of filtering beds, the purity of the water, as dependent upon matters held in a state of solution, cannot be improved by any practicable modification of the process. If, therefore, it can be shown, that water taken from the parts of the river whence the companies draw their supplies, either is or is likely to be contaminated by substances dissolved or chemically combined, it will follow that the most perfect system of filtering can effect only a partial purification.”* Others, again, have even alledged that Thames water is endowed with the marvellous virtue of purifying itself
, and that its soft qualities render it more eligible than any other description of water for being employed in brewing, and for a variety of domestic purposes. It is, we believe, observed by sailors, that Thames water on its way out to sea, after emitting an intolerable stench, ceases to be disagreeable to the senses, and acquires a certain degree of clearness. The reason of this is obvious. When water becomes stagnant, as in the tank on board ship, the putrefactive process commences, and the animal and vegetable matters it contains undergo spontaneous decomposition. During this process various pungent gases are generated and thrown out, giving rise to the offensive odour. These, however, gradually disappear, partly by being absorbed by the charred sides of the vessel, and partly by escaping, so that the water at length ceases to smell, and at the same time the subsidence of the foreign matters which floated in it to the bottom of the vessel renders it tolerably clear. This is the entire mystery; and whatever sailors may think of the self-purifying virtues of Thames water, no man of science would ever maintain that by such a process it can be rendered really pure or salubrious. However, on this subject there is much whimsical reasoning. Thus, in a certain History of Hammersmith, we read, that among other advantages which the inhabitants enjoy, is that of being supplied with the purest water; because (so argues the learned historian) at this part of the river the London meets the country drainage, and the two waters mixing together neutralise and purify each other! Then as to the superiority of Thames water for brewing, &c., it is true that for such purposes soft is preferable to hard water ; but it may be sufficient to observe, that Barclay's,
* Report, p. 8.