Page images
PDF
EPUB

are as clearly under a higher law of progression as are the physical and vital appointments of the globe itself, and to the philosophical conception all great mutations are merely successive stages towards the broader and higher attainment.

But be this as it may, to our country these Old CoalMeasures have been invaluable : they are the mainspring of her mechanical power and the stay of her commercial greatness, and everything that tends to economise their use or prevent their unnecessary consumption should be hailed as a national advantage. By their aid mankind has gained new triumphs over the powers of nature, and modern civilisation been infinitely accelerated. One cannot, indeed, reflect for a moment on the utilities of this single formation, without discerning how intimately the most recent period in geology is connected with the most remote, and how all are inseparably woven into one beautiful and. harmonious world-plan. Strange, that the mere physical operations of the earth's remotest ages should be so intimately associated with the industrial and intellectual operations of the present! Inexplicable, if creation were not the unfolding of a great moral as well as of a great physical scheme—a scheme in which every element and operation in time past as in time present plays an essential part, and from which not a jot or tittle could be abstracted without marring the symmetry and perfection of the whole.

WHAT WE OWE TO OUR COAL-FIELDS.

Britain's Supremacy In Mechanical And Manufacturing InDustry DEPENDENT ON HER COAL-FIELDS—PHASES OF MODERN AS COMPARED WITH THOSE OF ANCIENT CIVILISATIONS—DIFFERENCES ARISING CHIEFLY FROM THE USE OF COAL AND IRON —SPECIAL PRODUCTS OF OUR COAL-FIELDS—COAL AND ITS VARIETIES—IRON AND THE AGE OF IRON—LIMESTONES AND MARBLES— SANDSTONES AND THEIR RELATIONS TO ARCHITECTURE—FIRE-CLAY AND FIRE - CLAY FABRICS—SHALES, AND THE EXTRACTION OF ALUM, COPPERAS, PARAFFIN, AND PARAFFIN OILS—ORES OF LEAD, ZINC, AND SILVER—RELATIONS OF MECHANICAL AND MANUFACTURING INDUSTRY TO COAL AND IRON—RELATIONS OF INDUSTRY AND COMMERCE TO CIVILISATION AND REFINEMENT.

Every man of thought must be more or less impressed with the conviction that much of Britain's supremacy in mechanical and manufacturing industry has arisen from her rich and readily-accessible coal-fields. A high degree of civilisation, as the histories of ancient nationalities demonstrate, may be attained without the possession of coalfields; but the peculiar phases of civilisation, in all that relates to mechanical appliances, manufactures, locomotion, and intercommunication, are the direct results of coal and iron. The fine arts, literature, philosophy, social refinement, and political institutions have existed, and may yet exist, where coal-fields are unknown; but that machinepower, if we may so express it, which coal and iron put into the hands of man to subdue the forces of nature, and thereby promote the wider advancement of his race, intellectually as well as materially, is a thing dependent alone

M

upon the existence of a Coal-formation. There is no artificial source of heat (and heat is the spirit of all force) so compact, so portable, so safe, and so readily available as coal; no substance so adaptive, so strong, and so enduring as iron. There is no artificial power so titanic, and withal so submissive and tractable, as a few pounds of ignited coal acting through the medium of water; no harness save one of iron sufficiently strong to yoke that giant power in the services of human industry. These two substances, coal and iron, have been the main factors in all recent progress; and that which most broadly distinguishes the Britain of the present from the Britain of the preceding centuries is the extended and extending use of these substances through the instrumentality of the steam-engine. Nor is it for these two minerals alone that we are indebted to the Carboniferous system; for from the same formation we obtain numerous other products, all useful in the arts, and some of them indispensable auxiliaries to the employment of coal and iron. These are the sandstones, limestones, marbles, fire-clays, oil-shales, alum-shales, and copperas-shales, and not unfrequently in some localities the ores of lead, zinc, and silver.

Taking Coal as the chief product, we find it in many varieties and in all degrees of purity :—Caking coal, bike that of Newcastle, which is tender and bituminous, and cakes together in burning; cubic or rough coal, which is harder, burns open, and leaves much ashy residue; splint or slate, coal, like that of Fife, which is hard and laminated, and bums open, with the emission of great heat; and cannel or pairot coal, compact and jet-like in texture, rich in bitumen, and now chiefly used in our gas-works. One or other of these varieties is found in every coal-field, and according to its quality (for, like all mixed rocks, coal is very variable in quality) is fitted for some special purpose—domestic fuel, steam-raising, gas-making, oil-making, or metallurgy. For these and kindred purposes upwards of 100,000,000 tons are now annually raised from British coal-fields; and when we reflect on the necessity for fuel in our northern climate, on the advantages of a cheap and convenient light like gas, on the importance of our manufacturing machinery which is moved by steam-power, and on the impulse which steam has given to our intercommunication by land and sea, it is impossible to over-estimate the importance of this single mineral. In young and newly-settled countries the forest may supply its place; but as population increases, as the land must be cleared for grain-crops, and as the forest-growth necessarily disappears, coal is yet the only available source of heat, and happy the nation that possesses it in accessible abundance! To Britain it is all-important; and when we consider the amount of capital, skill, and industry employed in procuring it, the myriad economical purposes to which it is applied, the facility with which it can be carried, and the safety and readiness with which it can be used, we may well wonder what would have been the condition of our country without it. This, then, we owe to our Coal-fields; and considering the enormous amount raised from so small an area, the rapidly-increasing demand, and the undoubted limits of the supply, everything that tends to facilitate its full and careful extraction or economise its use should be hailed as a boon of no common importance.

We have alluded to the enormous amount of coal raised from so small an area, and the aggregate of the coal-fields of Britain, though large in comparison with what is possessed by other European countries, does not greatly exceed 5000 square miles. Even in this area much of the coal is of inferior quality, much is also unworkable, and a considerable amount must always be left in the process of extraction. Under these circumstances, and with a consumption that has trebled itself within the last thirty years, it is not to be wondered that some uneasiness has been felt as to the duration of our coal-supply, and a Eoyal Commission was appointed in 1866, to inquire into the probable amount that still lies unworked, and which seems to be fairly accessible. Whatever be the issue of this inquiry, two things are certain —first, that the supply is limited, and that at the present rate of consumption it will be wholly exhausted in a few hundred years; and, second, should the coal-measures be found to extend under the newer formations, it would be impossible, with our present appliances, to extract the mineral at these enormous depths; and even if engineering skill were enabled to surmount the difficulty, the increased cost would be tantamount, in all ordinary cases of consumption, to closing the supply. In the mean time, and without dwelling on this most unwelcome prospect, our duty is clearly to encourage every plan for the fuller and more careful extraction of the mineral, and to do what we can, individually and nationally, to economise the consumption.

Eegarding Iron as the product of next importance, it may be said to occur in two varieties in our coal-fields— namely, as a rough clay-carbonate in bands and nodules, and as a finer clay-carbonate in beds of varying thickness, and mingled less or more with coaly or bituminous matter. The former constitutes the "clay-band" of the miner, and the latter the "black-band "—the former being the more abundant, the latter the more valuable, as containing enough of coaly matter for its calcination without the addition of extraneous fuel. There are other and more abundant sources of iron than the coal-formation (the haematites and siderites); but, considering that these ores cannot be reduced to the metallic state without the addition of fuel, the conjunction of ironstone and coal in the same formation—in the same

« PreviousContinue »