Copy of a report made by Captain Moorsom, C.E., to the Board of Admiralty, relative to the Bay of Balcary, in the Solway Firth.

Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be Printed, 6 May 1846.
Great George-street, Westminster, Sir, 30 April 1846.

Your letter of the 6th March conveys the direction of their Lordships that I should proceed to Castle Douglas, meet Mr. McCallam, the engineer of the Ayrshire and Galloway Railway Company, and accompany him to Balcary Bay, proposed by the above company for the terminus of their railway; that Mr. McCallam would inform me of the proposal of this company to form a pier and quay for the shipment of their traffic at all times of tide, or to construct a harbour there, in addition to the port, by means of a breakwater, to afford protection to the coasting trade; and that I should report the result of my inquiries as soon as possible.

On the 7th of March I proceeded to Balcary Bay, met Mr. McCallam on the 10th, and remained with him in the neighbourhood until the 12th, examining the various features of the locality, and receiving information, as well from residents around the bay, as from masters of coasting vessels accustomed to the navigation of the Solway Firth.

On the general character of the measure I conferred with Mr. Maxwell, of Munches, one of the largest landed proprietors; Mr. Gordon, nephew of Mrs. Gordon, of Balcary House, where he has formerly been resident; and Mr. Macknight, of Barlochan. I also called on Mrs. Gordon, who is an invalid, and who appears to have been an objector, not to the port, but to the railway, which presses close to her dwelling-house. The engineering points were shown to me by Mr. McCallam, and the nautical ones by two masters of vessels navigating the Firth, and resident at Auchencairn, one fisherman resident near Balcary Point, and one old master and owner of a vessel resident at present at Allonby, but who has for many years been on all parts of this coast.

Finding that there was some discrepancy in the information elicited, as compared with the soundings marked on several charts which were shown in the course of these inquiries, and that the charts themselves did not give sufficient information to enable me to report as directed, I requested Mr. McCallam to take farther soundings, and to procure an authentic statement of the traffic expected to be shipped at the Railway terminus, and also a statement of the number of vessels and the amount of tonnage frequenting annually the ports of the Solway which have connection with Balcary Bay, as a possible place of refuge. On the 20th April these documents reached me, with the exception of that which I requested to show the expected trade to and from the railway, which has not yet been received.

Balcary Bay seems well described in Commander Robinson's chart and description, of which an extract was supplied to me from the Hydrographer's Office. It is, in fact, the highest point of the Solway that can be said to combine freedom from the shifting sands (which prevail higher up the Firth), with deep water and good access, and which at the same time is so well sheltered by natural features, that it can be rendered useful to a large extent of shipping at a moderate expense. The most severe and most dangerous gales being from the southward and westward, it is desirable to find shelter as far to leeward as other circumstances will admit: the dangerous sands of the upper part of the Solway limit the deep-water line on the north-eastern shores to a little above Balcary, so that from this cause it is not desirable to run more to the eastward ; and if, on the other hand, a point of shelter were selected more to the westward, it would probably be far less useful for the numerous vessels which, in their course towards the upper ports of the Firth, would be unable to bear up for such westerly points in the event of the southwest gales causing them to run for shelter. On this subject I enclose, by way of Appendix, a note of the evidence of five masters of vessels accustomed to the Solway, which is in addition to the verbal evidence alluded to in a former part of this report.

The Railway Company have also decided on this point for their terminus, and no facts have been adduced before me which induce the belief that they are wrong in so doing as applied to the object of getting a good shipping place for their trade.

The site of the Railway terminus having been thus decided, and consequently the trade being induced to the spot, it becomes necessary to consider the position with reference to that trade, as well as with reference to the more extended purposes of security for shipping bound to other places.

The Railway Company appear to have the impression that a high-water shipping place would be sufficient for their purposes, and that anything beyond this is a matter of national rather than of private importance, and ought, consequently, to be provided for by national funds. I do not concur in this view; but am of opinion, that the Railway Company, for their own purposes (such as they have been stated to me, unaccompanied by tables of traffic), ought to have a low-water harbour fitted to receive large merchantmen, and more especially steamers, at any time of tide ; nor will this be difficult to accomplish The shore affords abundant material of good quality for general purposes, and the neighbourhood will supply at a moderate cost any material that can be required for peculiar buildings.

A breakwater, forming on its lee side a shipping place as well for passengers as for merchandize, might be formed at a reasonable cost, so as to give nearly half a mile of wharfage (the length of wharfage being from time to time increased as the trade might require) with water alongside, varying from 18 to 22 feet at low water springs. The head of this breakwater should be so placed as to cover in a sufficient area, protected from the south-easterly gales, which not infrequently throw an ugly swell into Balcary Bay, so as (in its present unsheltered state) to prevent vessels from taking advantage of the anchorage, Heston Island not giving any shelter on such occasions; and the line of breakwater should be so directed as to carry the flood-current clear off towards Heston, and diminish the intensity of flow into Auchencairn Bay. These objects would be met by making the head of the breakwater bear nearly east (magnetic) from the extreme easterly point of Balcary Head, and the outer side of the breakwater would then form a slightly curved line between these points: the area included within the two-fathom line at low-water springs and the breakwater would in such case amount to about 30 acres, and the area within the three-fathom line to about ten acres. The rise of springs is about 23 feet. The entrance would be about 250 fathoms wide, and accessible with any winds, except those between N. W. and N. N. E.,when blowing hard, and at such times Balcary Head is a windward shore, with good anchorage off the breakwater. The entrance is well marked (as Commander Robinson has observed) by headlands, but a light should be placed in the most judicious spot (probably the head of the breakwater) in the event of such structure being made.

This course of proceeding would at once provide an efficient port for the railway trade, and a most beneficial place of security for the general trade of the Solway, the extent of which, as exhibited by returns from the different Custom-houses, furnished at my request, of vessels entered inwards, appears to have been, in the year ending with January 1846, about 12,075 vessels, with an aggregate of 812,216 tons, the ports or creeks furnishing the return being Kirkcudbright, Wigtown, Creetown, Garliestown, Gatehouse, Auchencairn, Urr, Annan, Barlochan, Maryport, Harrington, Workington, Whitehaven, Pilmore, Allonby, Douglas, Ramsay, Peel Darlinghaven, Port William, Isle of Whitehorn, and Carlisle. It is evident, from these returns, that the shipping trade is large, which would derive more or less advantage from the construction of a harbour such as that above pointed out; on the other hand, the railway traffic ought to be considerable, if the resources of the country be such as are represented to me, and which I have no reason to discredit.

For the south-western division of Scotland this railway will be the nearest, and, probably, the cheapest, line to the great manufacturing districts of England and to the metropolis. A large coal and iron field underlies some part of the railway, and pits are already at work to open it. Under such circumstances the united resources of the railway trade and harbour dues, whether for trade or for shelter, ought to be able to afford a remuneration upon an outlay of £24,000, which would provide sufficient accommodation for the opening trade and for shelter. The Railway Company must determine whether their interests are such as can incur this outlay ; if they resolve not to do so, but, as has been hinted to me, only to run out a pier to give a low-water depth of one fathom, and to include about four acres for shelter, it appears to me that such a construction would not only be unfitted for the purposes required in this part of the Firth, but would do harm in tending to prevent further improvements ; but if they should determine to make such a harbour as that above indicated, and to carry out the subsidiary works of simple character which would prevent the probability of any shifting sands or deposit of mud affecting the anchorage or wharfage, then, it appears to me, that the project would assume a character of general utility, which should insure the encouragement and influence of their Lordships, accompanied by due supervision to see that the general interests of navigation are duly regarded.

I have, &c.

(signed) W. S. Moorsom.

PRECOGNITION in regard to the Merits of Balcary and Southerness Points for a Harbour. - [Copy supplied to Captain Moorsom by Mr. Mackay, Secretary of the Ayrshire and Galloway Railway Company, 20 April 1846.]

Captain Gibson has navigated the Solway for 40 years; is acquainted with the Dee, Balcary Point, the Urr, and Southerness; says, that the banks are getting higher towards the mouth of the Nith, and have a direct tendency to injure the navigation. The channel from Southerness is so narrow, that, during the prevalent west and south-west winds, it is difficult to work out to sea; and in stormy weather it is found necessary to run into Balcary, or the Urr, owing to the danger of getting further up the Firth. Is of opinion, that a little expense would make Gibbshole the most eligible tidal harbour; that the channel of the Urr has gradually deepened within his recollection, and that he remembers the bar nearly dry at low water, where there is now six feet at low water, neap tides; the sand-bank at the mouth of the river is diminishing, and the sand has been regularly accumulating in Rough Firth. The channel has changed its course within the last year considerably towards the west, and has already gained an additional depth of one foot within that period; thinks that by confining the channel, and directing its course judiciously, the depth could be greatly increased.

Captains John Black and Maxwell Edgar, who now constantly navigate the Solway, and Captain John Wilson, entirely coincide in the above statement; and all concur in condemning Southerness as a Harbour, in consequence of its exposure to all winds, the intricacy of the channel, and its consequent danger to vessels sailing at night; the shortness of the tidal intervals for getting out or in, and the unavoidably great expense which the construction of any efficient harbour would involve. That a cursory sight of Captain Robinson's chart shows that these inconveniences do not apply to the Urr, which may be entered by any vessel drawing eight to nine feet water, for eight hours during each tide.

With regard to Balcary Point, they have frequently taken shelter at that place, even with gales at south, and at dead low water. The access to it is unobstructed by any banks, so that, even with contrary winds, if a deep-water harbour were made here, a ship has sufficient sea-room to work out of the Bay at all times of the tide.

The bar at the mouth of the Dee is much about the same as that at the Urr, viz. about eight feet water, at two hours'-flood, but the channel is much more dangerous. They recollect, about 25 years since, that 11 vessels were stranded there in one gale, and six of them were totally wrecked, and nearly all the crews perished. It is much more exposed than the Urr. None of them can remember any accident befalling a vessel when once within the bar of the Urr, nor at Balcary. With south and south-west gales there is much more sea, and consequent danger, at the mouth of the Dee. On the 23d January 1836 a Kirkcudbright vessel (the Susan) was driven by a south-west gale upon the bar of the Urr, and was got off uninjured next tide.

Captain Conning examined.

Has commanded the Nithsdale steamer during the last ten years, running between the Nith and Liverpool; knows the Solway; thinks if a low-water harbour is to be made, that Balcary Bay is in every respect preferable to Southerness, the run into it being entirely free from the danger arising from the numerous sand-banks in the Solway, and it being, by the high land, already protected from the south and west winds. Should a harbour, not altogether a low-water one, be thought desirable, the best place on the whole coast is Gibbshole, in the mouth of the Urr, which is protected from all storms. Recollects his father, who was a navigator on the Solway, say that he could save a vessel at any time of the tide, and in any storm, without either anchor or cables, by running her into Balcary. Thinks a harbour at Southerness would be most difficult to be rendered a place of safety, as there is no natural protection whatever, and that it would be more liable to be much sanded up than Balcary.

(signed) Antony Conning