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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,372 pages of information and 245,906 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Life of Sir William Fairbairn by William Pole: Chapter XIV

From Graces Guide

Note: This is a sub-section of Life of Sir William Fairbairn by William Pole


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 Rhine 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 into effect.

The flexibility of a bridge of this character would render it unsuited 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 are the views of your Excellency and the government, and I 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 of this great work, should it be executed, it is not my intention 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 and confidence

The following letter to the Prussian Consul in England will show Mr. Fairbairn's first impressions on arriving in Berlin:—

Berlin, October 29, 1849.

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 the 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 the Ambassador.

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 you 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, Bruxelles, on my way home.

Yours faithfully,



The king being absent, Mr. Fairbairn went to Dresden, from whence he wrote to the Baron von Humboldt as follows:—

Dresden, October 30, 1849.

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 on 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 valuable time.

And have the honour to be, dear Sir,

Your devoted humble servant,



The Baron answered:

Je recois, Monsieur, votre interessante lettre, datee de Dresde du 30 Octobre, si tard, que je suis incertain si ma reponse vous arrive a. temps. Le Roi, auquel j'ai pu dire combien vous etes presse de partir avec votre aimable famine, desire vous recevoir a diner demain, Jeudi 1" Novembre a 3 h. a Sans Souci, conjointement avec le Ministre de Commerce.

Agreez, je vous prie, l'expression de ma haute consideration. Mes respects a Lady Fairbairn.


A Potsdam, Mercredi sour,

[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:—

Potsdam, November 2, 1849.

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, so 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. Homer, 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 Chimborazo journey.

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 be 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 in 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 and 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 once 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 in 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,

Yours faithfully,


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, and the examination of the drawings and plans, illustrating the principle of the cellular or tubular construction, with particular applications to the projected bridge over the Rhine 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 offer 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 I 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, but 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 Humboldt.

The deep interest you have from the first taken in the project 1 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 n ade 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 be clone 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 Mr. --; 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 Heydt, 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 154 feet span. From Liverpool we proceeded, via Chester, to Conway and the Menai Straits in North 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 but that I deem it a duty to make you acquainted with everything that has transpired since I last had the pleasure of seeing you at Potsdam.

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. Fairbairn, Mr. Homer, and my son: they collectively and individually unite in kind enquiries, and that you may yet be long spared, with increasing health and honours, is the earnest wish of

Your Excellency's obliged and humble Servant,


His Excellency the Beaux con 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 I 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 Servant,


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 plans:—

9, Carlton Terrace, March 20, 1850.

My dear Mr. Fairbairn,—Allow me to introduce to you by these lines M. Kreuter, Engineer to H.111. the Emperor of Austria, a highly distinguished gentleman, whom that Government had charged in 1848 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 Humboldt 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 soon send me a programme about those bridges, or at least that over the Rhine. I 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, MO.

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 carry 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.

I 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 he knew would be distasteful to him.

Mon cher Monsieur,—Je suis bien coupable d'avoir tarde si longtemps a vous ecrire, a vous exprimer l'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 16 Avril, renferment 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 pendant votre trop court sejour parmi nous. Mon trop long silence n'a tenu ni au vif intertt qu'inspirent nos interets Germaniques, que j'embrasse avec la méme ardeur que notre digne and M. le Chevalier Bunsen, ni a un changement d'opinion a votre egard. Je suis rests silencieux comme j'ai l'habitude de le faire dans ma position aupres du Souverain aussi longtemps qu'il m'etait rests l'espoir de vous titre utile, mon cher Monsieur. J'aime 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 caracttre, de la courageuse sagacite 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 après avoir regu votre premiere lettre et des renseignements utiles que m'avait donnes M. le Chevalier Bunsen, je me suis rendu au ministre. La personae que vous avez vue a la tete de la commission a ete admise a la conversation. On a discute les frais, les difficultes de donner passage aux bateaux mates, la tendance de renoncer au passage des ' wagons' au moyen d'une locomotive, preferant (comme ebranlant moths) le passage au moyen des chevaux Le parti de ne pas se resoudre deflnitivement avant d'avoir parte le probleme devant le public m'etait dejA positivement annonce. Vous savez combien les discussions verbales ramtnent toujours les mémes motifs sans faire changer les resolutions prises d'avance I La declaration du contours publique a ete maintenue et vous avez vu a. quelles contestations les conditions proposes ont della donne lieu dans les journaux. Le ministre a commence a entrer en lutte avec la Gazette de Cologne. Tout cela m'a paru peu concluant, toute comparaison de frais tres vague, lorsque les localites difftrent taut de votre admirable et monumental ouvrage du grand Tubular Bridge! Tin evenement tristement instructif a eu lieu depuis en France. J'espere qu'il fera faire des serieuses reflexions sur ce changement mysterieux, mais suffisamment constate dans la forme et juxtaposition des molecules comme effet du mouvement ondulatoire. Les opinions ont aussi leur mouvement d'oscillation et le temps amene quelquefois des chances favorables. Puissiez vous jouir, mon cher Monsieur, dans l'heureuse independance que vous devez votre beau talent, de ce calme interieur et de cette serenite que donne la confiance 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 Germano-Suisse, l'expression renouvelee de mon devouement affectueux.

Mon respectueux hommage a Madame Fairbairn, votre digne epouse.

Votre t. h. et tres obeissant S.


A Potsdam, le 30 Avril, 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.'

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. Moorsom, 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 remained open.

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 Radowitz, 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 King directly.

I assure you that I deeply feel the kind confidence you 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,

Yours faithfully,


Mr. Fairbairn also wrote directly to Baron Humboldt at the same time, recommending the new plans to his further consideration.

The plans submitted by Mr. Fairbairn have been published by him.' They consisted of two different designs.

In the work above cited.

One was in four spans, the two middle ones 326 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 400,0001.

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 470,0001.

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 the 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 aesthetical 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 in appearance.

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, does 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.1

Mr. Fairbairn, being informed of this, wrote to Humboldt, on August 23, 1852, a letter from which the following is an extract:-

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 two 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.

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