MACAULAY (THOMAS BABINGTON) Autograph draft for a parliamentary report on Brunel's atmospheric railway, [1845]
Lot 111
MACAULAY (THOMAS BABINGTON) Autograph draft for a parliamentary report on Brunel's atmospheric railway, [1845]
Sold for £1,250 (US$ 2,101) inc. premium
Lot Details
Autograph draft for a parliamentary report on Brunel's atmospheric railway ('The Committee entertain some doubts about the fitness of the line in an engineering point of view...'), with extensive sections crossed out, 4 pages, written in his most scrawling script, Britannia watermark, S. Evans & Co 1845, contemporary inscriptions identifying the handwriting as Macaulay's, hinge, folio, [mid 1845]


  • ' consequence of these doubts they have thought it their duty to depart from the course ordinarily followed with respect to private bills... {They have been informed by Mr Brunel that the line which has been under their deleted} It is admitted by the promoters of the proposed line that, if it were intended to use locomotive engines a better line might be found. The question therefore whether the proposed line ought to receive the final sanction of parliament must depend on the question whether the atmospheric mode of propulsion shall be deserving of adoption. The committee have been unwilling to reject bills brought forward at a great charge on account of doubts which the experience of the next six months may possibly remove. They have therefore thought it on the whole best to report the bill to the House, and to recommend that it be...proceeded with only so far as may be necessary to entitle it to the protection which parliament may be disposed to give to railway-bills postponed on account of the advanced period of the Session...'

    Brunel was converted to the ill-fated atmospheric or pneumatic railways, first mooted in 1810, after witnessing a demonstration in Ireland in September 1844. The system, which had been patented in 1838, entailed the use of a cast-iron tube laid between rails, to which carriages were attached by a valve. Pumping stations powered by steam engines at the side of the track forced air out of the tubes, thereby creating a vacuum to one side of the carriages and an 'atmosphere' to the other, thus propelling them along. But the whole project was dogged by practical problems, not the least being the difficulty of securing a moveable airtight seal between tube and carriage. Brunel's colleague Daniel Gooch said of it: 'I could not understand how Mr Brunel could be so misled. He had so much faith in his being able to improve it that he shut his eyes to the consequences of failure'; George Stephenson called it 'a great humbug', and his son Robert compared it to rope-haulage.

    The South Devon Railway Company Act received the Royal Assent on 4 July 1844. Brunel was consulted by the directors, and he successfully urged them to adopt the atmospheric system. On 4 April the following year, Brunel appeared before the Parliamentary Select Committee for the Atmospheric Railway, of which Macaulay was a member, and was made to answer 399 questions. The present Report, from its reference at the end to 'the advanced period of the Session' (which that year ended in August), was no doubt drafted that summer. The atmospheric system never really worked and cost the company an enormous amount of money, much of the equipment being sold as scrap. The South Devon eventually opened as a locomotive-hauled railway in 1849. It became known to Devonians as the 'Atmospheric Caper'.

    In 1843 Macaulay was observed running along the pavement towards the Athenaeum Club shouting 'It's out! it's out!' -- everyone knew to what he referred: Brunel had been delivered of the gold coin that had lodged in his throat for fourteen days, a tracheotomy proving less successful than being strapped to a table, turned upside down and struck on the back. At the time that Macaulay was drafting the present report, he was also working on the History that was to astonish the world in 1848.

    Manuscripts (other than letters) by Macaulay are rare: only two (other than letters) having appeared at auction in the last twenty-five years.
  1. Simon Roberts
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
    Montpelier Street
    London, SW7 1HH
    United Kingdom
    Work +44 20 7393 3828
    FaxFax: +44 20 7393 3879
Similar items
BINDINGS MACAULAY (THOMAS BABINGTON) The History of England, 8 vol., 1858-1862; and a quantity of others (quantity) GIBBON (EDWARD) The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 8 vol. BINDINGS PROCTOR (ROBERT) Omerou Odussia [in Greek], LIMITED TO 225 COPIES BINDINGS MACAULAY (THOMAS BABINGTON) The Lifre and Letters of Lord Macaulay MACAULAY (THOMAS BABINGTON) The History of England, 5 vol., 1849-1861; Critical and Historical Essays, 3 vol., 1854; Miscellaneous Writings, 2 vol., 1860, Longman Macaulay, Thomas Babington.  1st Baron Macaulay.