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Commissioners of the Caledonian Canal


Records of the Commissioners of the Caledonian Canal concerning the Caledonian Canal 1894-mid 20th century and the Crinan Canal 1887.


1887-mid 20th century

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These records are available immediately for research

Administrative /‚Äč Biographical history

The Commissioners of the Caledonian Canal were created with the passing of the authorisation Act in 1803. They appointed Thomas Telford as principle engineer and William Jessop as consultant engineer. John Rickman was Secretary to the Commissioners until 1830,and then the position was filled by Samuel Smith. Pressure from Parliament and repeated calls for the canal's abandonment forced the Commissioners to open it prematurely. As the work had dragged on, costs had risen and the Commissioners had become more concerned. Colonel Alexander Ranaldson MacDonnell, a landowner along Loch Oich, was involved in a bitter dispute with the commissioners about the route of the canal through his land. Control of the Crinan Canal was taken from the proprietors by the government in 1816. The Commissioners of the Caledonian Canal were given responsibility for it, and then in 1848 they were given permanent authority over it. Although cleared of mismanagement, the Commissioners were unable to make the Caledonian Canal into a successful business. It was opened just as a recession began and inferior construction hampered efforts to encourage traffic. Poor harvests further reduced the volume of goods transported on the Caledonian Canal, but at the same time the Commissioners hired more labourers than necessary to alleviate the plight of the Highlanders. Many of the problems experienced by the Caledonian Canal also plagued the Crinan Canal; poor workmanship, insufficient trade, and the area's fluctuating economic situation. Twice the Commissioners were given permission to lease the Caledonian Canal. No offers were received either time, which proves just what a poor investment the Caledonian Canal was considered to be. In 1860 the Commissioners received permission to lease the Crinan Canal to a private company for 99 years, but this fell through. In 1875 an inquiry was held into the Commissioners' alleged favouritism in charging rates and the poor condition of the Crinan Canal. The Ministry of Transport took over both canals from the Commissioners in 1919. For further information on the Commissioners of the Caledonian Canal see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations' and Jean Lindsay's 'The Canals of Scotland'.

System of arrangement

It has not been possible to ascertain any original structure of record-keeping from the small number of records held for this company. The fonds contains two subfonds, one for each canal the Commissioners owned. Within each subfonds the records have been arranged in chronological order.

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