Yet, comparatively, the Mersey is a modern river; it was unknown, as it now is, to the Romans; at least their geographer Ptolemy makes no mention of it, though he names other and now smaller rivers. The stream in those old days must have peen a mere brook at the part where the ferry steamers now go, with probably marshes on each side of it. The bed has sunk, the marshes have been flooded by the river, and in process of time the present river appeared. This is confirmed by the appearance of remains of engulfed oak trees, that, not very long ago, were to be seen when the tide was out on the northern margin of the stream. Liverpool was the name of the estuary (then perhaps not much more than a "pool") that is now so magnificently wide - 1,200 yards at its narrowest.
Birkenhead, a town or suburb only forty years old, but almost a new Liverpool, gives a little picturesque land effect to the estuary, for it covers the nearer slopes, and thus towers, spires, and vistas of trees adorn them.
But inland it is impossible to think Liverpool picturesque; the ordinary hill, dale, and wood of lovely England are not to be seen here. But the sea-wall, the landing-stage, and the enormous extent of docks, as we have just said, is a variety of the same thing.
The landing-stage is a third of a mile in length, adjusting itself to every turn of the ride, and, covered with human beings who are experiencing almost every emotion, it is full of interest. Here dear friends part, perhaps for ever; some departing to the other side of the ocean, while others are arriving and warmly welcomed. Tears and smiles are side by side with fear and suspicion, as the criminal tries to escape from Liverpool to America. How many human tragedies are played on this landing-stage!
And then the water area of the docks - it covers 265 acres at least, we are told, and the quay margin is nearly twenty miles in length.
The ships that crowd the Mersey are another feature. Here are the great steamers of the Cunard, Allan, White Star, and Inman trade, with countless merchantmen, the South American steamers, and those that go to the East and West Indies, China, Japan, and the west coast of Africa; for Liverpool is the provider of the world, sending forth the wares of the nation, and also supplying the uncultivated lands with men; for the emigrants of many lands - not only England - go from hence to America, etc. Admirable arrangements are made for their departure, and hither come Danes, Swedes, and a few Russians, as well as English and Irish. In 1885, 183,502 emigrants embarked on the Mersey; of these 74,969 were English, 1,811 Scotch, 27,986 Irish; foreigners, 74,115. Our readers may imagine the piles of luggage, the babel of tongues, on the great landing-stage as these wanderers depart to till and people the waste places of the earth.
In fact, the landing-stage is an incessant scene of coming or departing ships, full of the trade and the travellers of the world High up the river a guard ship - a man-of-war - is stationed, and four old men-of-war that have become training ships for boy seamen. The Conway is for young officers; the Indefatigable gives gratuitous training to sons of sailors, or to homeless boys; the Akbar and the Clarence are reformatory ships, the one for Protestant boy criminals, the other for Catholics, and both have done good work in reforming juvenile offenders.
The loading and unloading of the enormous cargoes brought to Liverpool are done by dock-men under a stevedore, a person who contracts to do this work, and engages any number of men he may require for it. Most of the dock-men are Irish, and congregate together in certain parts of the town, where they still keep up their love of faction fights. Of course there are dart: places here as everywhere.
Liverpool is not a very ancient town. It was originally a fishing village, but the advantages of the estuary of the Mersey were perceived, and a charter was granted to it as a borough in 1207; yet in Edward I.'s time it consisted of less than three hundred houses, and for Edward III.'s French naval battle (at Sluys) Liverpool contributed only one bark and a crew of six men.
The church of St. Nicholas was erected about this time, but nothing remains of the original building. The body of the church was pulled down and rebuilt in 1774, and in 1815 the tower was removed and the present beautiful lantern tower built. The old graveyard, however, still remains, once full of trees. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of seamen as St. Peter is of fishermen.
Trade with Ireland was followed by trade with the North American plantations (or colonies), and the value of sugar induced Liverpool, as it had Bristol, to enter into the slave trade. There were good and wise men who protested against this wicked traffic, but vainly; and the first speech of Mr. Gladstone in the House of Commons was one in defence of his father's slave estates in the West Indies. The trade began in these towns by the barter of their manufactures for slaves, and the sale of the poor creatures afterwards to the sugar planters, and the Virginian tobacco planters.
In the first years of George III. slaves, both male and female, were sold by advertisement in Liverpool. We thank Heaven that the flag of England has been cleansed of this base stain, and in spite of all the opposition to Wilberforce and Clarkson, and the prophecies of ruin if it were abolished, we find we prosper more without the slave trade.
To Liverpool we owe the first of the great steamer Companies, i.e., the Peninsular and Oriental, followed by so many others; it was indeed on the Mersey the first steamboat steamed in 1815.
Liverpool, as we have quoted, is not a manufacturing town; it is the agency by which the products, mechanical or otherwise, of different places are dispersed over the habitable globe. The Liverpool merchant is in correspondence with the whole world, and supplies all its needs. They are the richest of all save those of London, and they spend their money liberally, even in a princely spirit.
Liverpool has fine public buildings; the best of them, however, is
St. George's Hall, which admirably reproduces rather than imitates the architecture
of ancient Greece. Its eastern facade is 400 feet in length, and at the southern
end is a Corinthian portico, beautifully and fully ornamented. furness_abbey.htmlThe Free Library,
the Art Gallery, Public Offices, and the Exchange, are fine buildings. The
Free Library is much frequented by readers, and the inhabitants of Liverpool
support literary and scientific institutions, and societies for music and
the fine arts very liberally. There are also numerous charitable and educational
institutions in this great Lancashire city.
In the reign of Charles II. a Liverpool merchant having sustained some damage by a Spanish man-of-war, brought an action in Westminster Hall against the king of Spain. His suit was successful, and the king of Spain was outlawed. This sentence sounds absurd, but it was not so, for it deprived the royal Philip of power to proceed in the English Courts against the British merchants upon whom he had claims, and Gondemar, his ambassador, was glad to settle any demands of the Liverpool merchant in order to replace his royal master within the pale of the English law.
Liverpool has given birth to many great and illustrious men and women. Mrs. Hemans, the poetess; William Roscoe; William Rathbone; and at Highfield, near Liverpool, was born James Parke, Lord Wensleydale, one of the ablest of our judges, a man of the highest intellect and great social talent. He died in 1868, greatly lamented.