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thus comes through the collectors; and upon their fitness and faithfulness depends, therefore, to a great extent, the efficiency of the system. There is in this, as in other important respects, a striking difference between the organization of the Establishment in this country, and that of Great Britain and France. In the former country, the Light-Houses are managed by three associations:–the Trinity House, of Deptford Strond, chartered in the reign of Henry VIII., has since that time had charge of the Light-Houses of England; those of Scotland are under the control of the Commissioners of Northern Lights, established by Act of Parliament in 1786; and those of Ireland, originally placed in charge of the Board of Customs of Dublin, somewhat as ours are now, were in 1810 confided to a new Board, composed of the principal merchants, under the name of the “Corporation for improving and preserving the port and harbor of Dublin.” Of these three boards, the Trinity Corporation is of course the most important. It consists of 31 persons, of whom twenty are efficient for actual service. The members are formed into seven committees, to each of which are assigned special duties; and as very considerable emoluments depend upon the vigilance and efficiency with which their duties are performed, the working of the system is, in general, good. In France the organization is still more erfect. The administration of the Lightouses of the kingdom is committed, by an ordinance of the King, to a LightHouse Board, composed of members chosen from the most distinguished scientific characters, and the inspectors of roads and bridges. Attached to this board is a scientific engineer, who, through a large corps of assistants and secretaries, has the general charge of the most important practical duties of the Establishment. That, in most respects, the French organization is conceded to be superior to the system which prevails in Great Britain, may fairly be inferred from the fact, that a Committee of the British Parliament, in 1834, recommended in very strong terms, that all the Light-Houses of the United Kingdom should be committed to a single Central Board, and that such changes should be made in the regulations, as should enrol among the members a still greater number of scien
tific persons." Some of these changes were effected, though the general plan recommended was not adopted in its full extent. The primary defect in the organization of our Light-House Establishment, as compared with those of Great Britain or France, is that it is not entrusted to the most competent hands. Collectors of the Customs have not necessarily any o whatever, for the collateral uty which has been superadded to the ordinary business of their office. They may be good merchants, or good lawyers, or both ; and if they are honest men, and have rendered full party service, they may be competent, even according to the degenerate practice of the present day, to the discharge of all their common duties. But none of these accomplishments qualifies them, either to choose with discretion the proper location for lighted beacons, or to see that they are firmly and securely built, or to judge what methods of illumination are the most powerful and will best answer the purpose for which Light-Houses are erected. These are matters which require different knowledge. Under the existing laws, the construction of LightHouses is performed by contract with the “lowest bidder,” whose qualifications are not disputed, and who can give bonds for the execution of his work. No provision is made for a skillful examination of the site, or for the preparation of a suitable design. The specifications in all these points have uniformly been made by the contractor himself. And yet it is evident that neither the Treasury officials to whom the subject is committed, nor the Custom House Collectors who are the inspectors, nor the contractors, are the proper persons to decide upon these points. The proper distribution of beacons, the determination of the points where they are most and where least needed, is to be best ascertained by actual experience; and should therefore be submitted to the judgment of naval officers or intelligent seamen. The erection of towers, often under the most difficult circumstances, upon unstable foundations and under exposure to various and peculiar impulses, is a matter evidently to be entrusted only to skillful and experienced engineers, who can adapt, on scientific principles, the building required to the character of the
site. As at present effected without this intelligent supervision, it has been remarked by engineers, that in all our Light-Houses a strong family-likeness is exhibited, no matter how opposite may be the character of their locations. “Be it the rocks of Maine, the sands of the Carolinas, or the mud banks of Louisiana, the same formula of construction is observed throughout.” Still more essential is the aid of science in the selection and construction of optical apparatus for deriving the greatest effect from a given quantity of light, for penetrating fogs, for combining and varying revolving lights, so as to distinguish one House from another, and for keeping pace in all respects with the advance of invention and of art. These duties require an extensive and thorough knowledge of the principles of optics and of their application, and none but scientific men are competent to their discharge. Here, then, are three classes of men, whose combined knowledge and observation are essential to the proper supervision of a Light-House System:experienced Seamen, thoroughly instructed Engineers, and men of Science, possessing , both theoretical and practical knowledge of everything relating to Optics. But under our system, not the slightest provision is made for any of them. In the Treasury estimate for the year 1838 appears an item of $4,000, as the expense of a “board of navy officers,” whose duty it was to make an annual inspection of Light-Houses: but although the item was retained, naval officers were never afterwards employed. So also an engineer was appointed in 1842, under the direction of the Treasury Department, to make a similar inspection of the seacoast lights. His report comprised a very full account of the Light-Houses on the coasts of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts; but at this limit he was stopped, and the abuses and defects of the remainder of the Establishment remain unrevealed. And at present, as for a long time past, no scientific or strictly competent men are connected with the management of the system. Under circumstances so unpropitious, it is certainly a matter of surprise that our Light-House Establishment should have reached its present actual efficiency. In 1789, when, by act of Congress, the general government took from the several States the responsibility of sus
taining the system, there were but eight Light-Houses in the United States. In 1800 the number had doubled, and prior to the year 1812, 49 had been erected. In 1822 they had increased to 70; and in 1842 the whole number in the United States was 256, maintained at an annual expense of $474,000. These Lights have rendered the greatest service to commerce, and have certainly been managed with a good degree of economy, so far, at least, as the aggregate expense of the whole is concerned. The credit of this is unquestionably due to those in whom the supervision of the system has been vested. Their intelligence and good management have been forced to supply the deficiencies of the system ;-and if all has not been done i. may seem desirable, more certainly has been accomplished than could rightfully have been expected from so bad a system. These advantages, however, have been fortuitous, and would be forfeited, of course, by a change of agents. The only security for the preservation of the establishment in its existing efficiency, to say nothing of increased advantages, must lie in improving the system. We owe it to the position we hold among enlightened nations, to place this great department of the public service upon the most perfect footing possible. There is no reason why our Light-House system should not fully equal that of any o nation. An American ship should be guided into her own harbors as safely as into those of Great Britain or France. Our Light-Houses should be as judiciously distributed, as firmly built, and as brilliantly illuminated as those of either of the European powers. Science and skill should preside over our LightHouse Establishment, as well as over theirs. We have already alluded to the lack of proper discrimination in distributing lights along the coast. The authority for building a new Light-House is dérived from the act of Congress, making the appropriation for its erection. Such acts are usually passed in consequence of petitions from persons residing where lights are said to be required. The constituents of some honorable member . become impressed with the conviction that, even if useless sea-ward, a LightHouse on their coast would be highly valuable to them, as ensuring a constan
* House Doc. 183, 27 Cong., 3d Session.
and considerable disbursement of the ublic money in their immediate vicinity. etitions, of course, and a sense of his responsibility at the ballot-boxes, impress him with a similar conviction: and it becomes his business to force a bill, by any available means, through the forms of legislation. Hence it will readily be seen that a populous district, where petitions will be numerously signed, though its coast be perfectly clear, is far more likely to secure a light than some rocky promontory, full of danger and terror to the mariner, if it chance to be unsettled. To this influence, and the lack of proper checks upon it, is to be ascribed the fact that, while the safest and most populous parts of our Atlantic seaboard are thickly studded with lights, the more dangerous portions are quite neglected. It was one object of the law of 1837, to remedy this defect. It provided that before the building specified in the act of appropriation should be commenced, the site should be examined by the Board of Commissioners, o composed, and very properly, of naval officers. Under the operation of this law, during a single year, 31 of the LightHouses for which appropriations were made by the act of March 30, were declared unnecessary, and the sum of $168,000 was thus saved to the government. But even this provision was defective. Though it gave to the qualified Board the power of preventing the erection of needless Light-Houses, it still committed the original selection of the site to the superintendent of the district, who was always the collector of customs;– and seldom, if ever, possessed of the combined knowledge of the engineer and the seaman, so essential to the proper discharge of this duty: and the building was of necessity adapted, not to the locality, but to the sum appropriated.”
The effect of this very defective arrangement, may be seen by a glance at a chart on which the Light-Houses of the sea board are marked. The New England coast, comparatively safe and wellknown, the Hudson River, the Inland Lakes, the Chesapeake, Delaware, and Narragansett Bays, and the whole internal navigation of the country, are thickly studded with lights, supported by the munificent appropriations of Congress, and subject only to the casual and infreuent inspection of the Custom House ollectors. On the coast of Massachusetts from Newburyport to Plymouth, lights are placed at an average distance of six miles apart, less than half the distance at which each light should be visible. Look, on the other hand, at the coast of Florida, the most dangerous sea track on our Sea-Board. For hundreds of miles not a light is to be seen, though every wave hides some lurking danger. Between Key West and Cape Canaveral, the entire coast of three hundred miles, swept by a current, the Gulf Stream, rapid and uncertain in its direction, one of the most dangerous portions of the Atlantic Sea-Board, has but a single wretched floating light on Carysfoot Reef! And even this, from the ignorance which fixed its position, serves little purpose except to lure vessels from a chance of escape in darkness, to the certainty of destruction. If the light-house system on this coast were what it should be, could a fleet of fifty “wreckers” be sustained, and their thousand cormorants be enriched, by the proceeds of their semi-piratical profession 2 The salvage awarded to these men, during a single year, has amounted to $170,000, a third of the sum required to sustain our whole Light-House Establishment of hese facts, with many others which meet the eye in the most cursory exam
* See the letter of the Fifth Auditor of the Treasury, appended to the Report of Lieut. BAcHE, House Doc. No. 24, A. 25th Congress, 3d Session.
f The Key West Correspondent of the Courier and Enquirer, in the number of that paper for the 22d of February, gives a list of twenty-three vessels wrecked at Key West, during the past year, on which the wreckers received a total salvage of $98,369. He also makes the following statement of the annual amount of salvage decreed at that
place since 1831:—
1831, - - . $39,487. # . . . . . . § 1834, . . . 32,042. 1835, - - - 87,249. 1836, . - - . 174,132. 1837, - - - 107,495.
1838, . $34,578. 1839, . . 90,797. 1840, 85,113. 1841, 71,173. 1842, 38,103. 1843, . 83,811. 1844, 98,369.
Here is an aggregate of $1,027,032, awarded to the wreckers of Key West since 1831, The aggregate expense of the whole Light House Establishment of the
ination, make it evident that our LightHouses are not always placed were they are needed most; and this most serious defect arises from the fact that their distribution is fixed by unqualified persons. The evil has been felt for a long time, and attempts have been made, as already stated, to apply a remedy. . The same radical defect in the System, is felt in the construction of the buildings. When an appropriation for a Light-House is made, a site is selected by a Collector of Customs in the district within which it falls. Not being a seaman, he is of course ignorant of the precise spot from whic the light would afford the most assistance to the mariner; and not being an engineer, he knows little of the nature of the foundation, or of the action of the sea and the currents in its neighborhood. When the site has been chosen, the plan of the building is furnished by the Fifth Auditor of the Treasury, and the Superintendent of the district advertises for proposals to build in accordance with it. A mechanic is employed to examine the work, and on his certificate that it is properly done, it is accepted." Under this system, as is inevitable, many buildings have been very badly constructed. One at Black Rock, Conn., built in 1829 at a cost of over $6,000, fell down in a very few days after it had been accepted. In 1835 it was rebuilt, at a cost of $8,748; in the spring of 1836 it was saved from being swept away, only by timely repairs at an expense of $6,500, nearly its original cost.f The same gross defects have been officially proved to exist in the construction of others. The visitation and inspection of LightHouses is obviously of the utmost importance to their proper management. It is, in this country, as we have already stated, committed to the Collectors of the Customs, who are, ex officio, superintendents of Light-Houses within their respective districts. No one acquainted with the duties of the Collectorship, especially in the large seaports, where the Light-House supervision should be of the most exact and rigid character, can fail to see that they are scarcely able even nominally to perform this superadded duty. The Collector of New York,
in addition to his other multiplied duties, can scarcely command time to visit and
roperly inspect even once a year, the intervals required by law, the ten or twelve Light-Houses, hundreds of miles apart, which fall within his superintendence; and the same thing, though perhaps to a less extent, is true of the same officers at other ports. In point of fact, as is well known, the Light-Houses are rarely or never visited by the superintendents at all; and the only security for the performance of the keepers' duty, lies in the supposed surveillance of the Contractors, who, in turn, are said to be watched by the keepers. . These are the checks provided by law for the proper regulation of these establishments; what provision has been made for the, at least supposable, contingency of collusion between keepers and contractors for their mutual benefit, the Fifth Auditor of the Treasury Department does not inform us. How differently, are these things managed in England and France : i. that portion of the British System controlled by the Trinity House, special agents are appointed for every Light—though, in some cases, one has charge of several. Their salaries vary according to their duties. Sometimes, though rarely, they are Customs' Collectors, and frequently retired masters in the maritime service. In many cases their whole time is occupied in the visitation, examination, and general supervision of the Houses placed under their charge. We have before us a statement of the number of visits made by each of these agents to each LightHouse during the year 1833. By twenty of these agents nearly 500 visits of inspection had been made during the year, an average of twenty-five visits for each. The utmost exactness is required of the keepers in the discharge of all their duties, and the absence of one, for a single hour, from his post is severely punished. The nineteenth article of the î. for the Light-Keepers of the Northern Light-Houses, declares that they “ have permission, on such occasions as prudence may direct, to attend church, and also to go from home to draw their salaries; but in such cases, only one keeper shall be absent from the Light-House at
United States in any year never exceeded $613,376, the amount reached in 1839
one and the same time.” In this country it is notorious that some of our principal Light-Houses are left for days in charge of incompetent and irresponsible persons, not recognized by the regulations of the Superintendent at Washington.” These irregularities must be replaced by an exact and thorough police, before our system can reach desired efficiency. The absence of scientific men from the direction of the Light-House Establishment of this country, has the farther injurious effect, of retarding the adoption of important improvements in the methods of illumination. None but men of science can properly appreciate scientific discoveries; and if the control of the Light-House Establishments of Great Britain and of France, had been as carefully withheld from men of this stamp as it is in this country, they and we might still have been burning tallowcandles on the tops of towers, as was the case in the Eddystone Light-House as recently as 1803. France has always taken the lead in improvements upon the methods of lighting beacons, simply because she has always entrusted the matter to her most distinguished engineers and men of science. In 1784, her Tour de Corduan exhibited the Argand lamp, placed in the focus of the parabolic silvered mirror of the Chevalier de Borda; and it was not until they had satisfied themselves, by long trials and experiments, conducted “at considerable expense, and with unremitting trouble and solicitude,” of the expediency of so bold an innovation, that the elder brethren of the Trinity House, ventured to introduce it to the Light-Houses under their jurisdiction. This was done in 1788, and in 1805 these reflectors were introduced in the Scottish lights, by Robert Stevenson, the engineer to the Board of Commissioners. #. 1808, the Light-House at Holyhead was erected, and the next year was o with the apparatus of De Borda, to the great benefit of navigation in the Irish channel. In 1812, the Government of the United States purchased, at the round price of $20,000, the patent for this method of illumination—the patent for a method which had been twentyeight years in use in France, and more than twenty in England Nor was this all. Not content with patenting an old invention, and buying the patent for
$20,000, the government included in their purchase a capital contrivance to destroy the light which the filched patent was intended to create. This was a lens, consisting of one solid piece of glass, very thick and very bad. This was stolen, too, from the English light at the North Foreland. It was placed before the reflector; and the result, as described by Lieut. Drummond in his testimony before the Committee of Parliament in 1834, was “entirely to destroy the effect of the reflection;" and, “ in fact,” says he, “it was absolutely putting a shade before a very good light. In ordinary cases a window of a lantern is of thick, clear plate-glass; but here, instead of the plate-glass, they put a lens in front of each, which destroyed the parallelism of the beam of light from the reflector, and entirely injured its effect. The reflector, it is true, did not interfere with the action of the lens; but from the thickness and badness of the glass, and other causes of an optical nature, the effect of the lens was far inferior to that of the reflector when unobstructed by the lens. The expense of each of these lenses was, l believe, about £40 or £50, and I think there were fifteen of them in the Light-House. I believe it had been in use about twenty or thirty years at the North Foreland. By removing the lenses, the light was rendered much more brilliant; but these lenses when removed, were fit for nothing; they were mischievous in the Light-House, and useless when removed. An original expense had been incurred to the amount of £750, to DESTRoy A Good LIGHT.”f And the United States Government, not satisfied with incurring the expense of fitting up such an apparatus, paid twenty thousand dollars for the patent And in 1840, one of these very light destroying contrivances was used in a Light-House on Long Island. This fact alone speaks trumpet-tongued in proclamation of the utter lack of all scientific knowledge, which has pervaded the superintendence of our Light-House Establishment. The parabolic reflectors, thus patented by our government more than a quarter of a century after their use in France, continued to be for a long time, and indeed are still, in general use in Great Britain and in this country. They were invented, as already stated, by De Borda,
* See letter of Capt. M. C. Perry, Senate Doc. 619, 26th Congress, 1st Session. f Minutes of Evidence taken before Committee, Report of 1834, 2997-3003.