Charles Dickens

Wages, as you know very well, cannot be high where competition is great, and you also know very well that railway directors, in the bargains they make, and the salaries which they pay, have to deal with the money of the shareholders, to whom they are accountable. Thus it necessarily happens that railway officers and servants are not remunerated on the whole by any means splendidly, and that they cannot hope in the ordinary course of things to do more than meet the ordinary wants and hazards of life. But it is to be observed that the general hazards are in their case, by reason of the dangerous nature of their avocations, exceptionally great, so very great, I find, as to be stateable, on the authority of a parliamentary paper, by the very startling round of figures, that whereas one railway traveller in 8,000,000 of passengers is killed, one railway servant in every 2,000 is killed.

Hence, from general, special, as well, no doubt, for the usual prudential and benevolent considerations, there came to be established among railway officers and servants, nine years ago, the Railway Benevolent Association. I may suppose, therefore, as it was established nine years ago, that this is the ninth occasion of publishing from this chair the banns between this institution and the public. Nevertheless, I feel bound individually to do my duty the same as if it had never been done before, and to ask whether there is any just cause or impediment why these two parties--the institution and the public--should not be joined together in holy charity. As I understand the society, its objects are five-fold--first, to guarantee annuities which, it is always to be observed, is paid out of the interest of invested capital, so that those annuities may be secure and safe--annual pensions, varying from 10 to 25 pounds, to distressed railway officers and servants incapacitated by age, sickness, or accident; secondly, to guarantee small pensions to distressed widows; thirdly, to educate and maintain orphan children; fourthly, to provide temporary relief for all those classes till lasting relief can be guaranteed out of funds sufficiently large for the purpose; lastly, to induce railway officers and servants to assure their lives in some well- established office by sub-dividing the payment of the premiums into small periodical sums, and also by granting a reversionary bonus of 10 pounds per cent. on the amount assured from the funds of the institution.

This is the society we are met to assist--simple, sympathetic, practical, easy, sensible, unpretending. The number of its members is large, and rapidly on the increase: they number 12,000; the amount of invested capital is very nearly 15,000 pounds; it has done a world of good and a world of work in these first nine years of its life; and yet I am proud to say that the annual cost of the maintenance of the institution is no more than 250 pounds. And now if you do not know all about it in a small compass, either I do not know all about it myself, or the fault must be in my "packing."

One naturally passes from what the institution is and has done, to what it wants. Well, it wants to do more good, and it cannot possibly do more good until it has more money. It cannot safely, and therefore it cannot honourably, grant more pensions to deserving applicants until it grows richer, and it cannot grow rich enough for its laudable purpose by its own unaided self. The thing is absolutely impossible. The means of these railway officers and servants are far too limited. Even if they were helped to the utmost by the great railway companies, their means would still be too limited; even if they were helped--and I hope they shortly will be--by some of the great corporations of this country, whom railways have done so much to enrich. These railway officers and servants, on their road to a very humble and modest superannuation, can no more do without the help of the great public, than the great public, on their road from Torquay to Aberdeen, can do without them.