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the stone. “At lifting heavy weights off the ground from between his feet, by means of a bar of iron passed through them, the bar placed against his knees as a fulcrum, and then straightening the spine, and lifting them sheer up, Stephenson was very successful. On one occasion, they relate, he lifted as much as sixty stone weight in this way—a striking indication of his strength of bone and muscle.”
When Mid Mill Pit was closed, George and his companion were sent to work another pumping-engine, near Throchley Bridge. While there, his services were adjudged worthy of man's hire. One Saturday evening the foreman paid him twelve shillings for his week's work, and told him that he was from that date advanced. On coming out he announced to his fellow-workmen his good fortune, declaring, with flushed face, and in a tone of triumpb, “I am now a made man for life !"
In another year he had got a-head of his father, being appointed engineman at a newly-opened mine, his father acting under him in the capacity of a fireman. George was yet only seventeen years old—a very youthful age for the position he was now occupying. His duties, nevertheless, were successfully performed. He assiduously applied himself to the study of the engine and its gearing, taking the machine to pieces in his leisure-hours, for the purpose of cleaning and mastering its various parts, and thereby soon acquiring a thorough practical knowledge of its construction and mode of working. While thus employed, he gained, by slow degrees, the character of a clever and improving workman. Whatever he was set to do, that he endeavoured to do well and thoroughly, never neglecting small matters, but aiming at being a complete workman at all points ; thus gradually perfecting his own mechanical capacity, and securing, at the same time, the respect of his fellow-workmen, and the increased confidence and esteem of his employers.
But at this point he began to be aware of a serious impediment which, unless it could be overcome, would hinder him from making much further progress as a skilled workman. To advance any considerable degree further, it was necessary to obtain a measure of scientific information, such as is derivable from books. But, unluckily, George Stephenson had never learnt to read; he was eighteen years of age, and did not know the English alphabet. Somewhat discouraged by his want of scholarly attainments, but by no means disheartened, he now resolved to try whether it was possible, at so late a season, to learn this wonderful art of reading. He was certainly bent on learning it if he could ; and with this purpose he took himself to a poor schoolmaster, who was striving to pick up a living among the colliers. The name of this worthy was Robin Cowens ; his place of residence the village of Walbottle, where for some time past he had kept a nightschool for the benefit of all comers. George began hy taking lessons in spelling and reading three nights in the week. Threepence weekly was the sum paid for this amount of teaching. Though the teacher was not very apt at his calling, George, being hungry for knowledge, and most eager to acquire it, shortly learned to read with tolerable success ; and by the time he was nineteen, he had also learned to write bis name in a bold round hand.
In the winter of 1799 he found it convenient to change his teacher for one of somewhat higher qualifications. A certain Scotch dominie, named Andrew Robertson, set up a night-school in the village of New
burn. It was more handy for George to attend this seminary, as it was nearer to his work, and not more than a few minutes' walk from Jolly's Close. Besides, Andrew had the reputation of being a skilled arithmetician; and the mystery of figures was a branch of knowledge that Stephenson was now desirous of acquiring. He accordingly began taking lessons in arithmetic of this learned pedagogue, paying for so doing at the rate of fourpence a-week. Andrew Gray, the junior fireman at the Water-row pit, began at the same time ; and he has since told Mr. Smiles, that George learned “figuring” so much faster than he did, that he (Andrew) could not make out how it was “he took to figures so wonderful.” Although the two started together from the same point, at the end of the winter George had mastered the rule of “ reduction,” while Andrew Gray was still grappling with the difficulties of “simple division.” “But George's secret,” says his biographer, "was his perseverance. He worked out the sums in his by-hours, improving every minute of his spare time by the engine-fire, there solving the arithmetical problems set for him upon his slate by his master. Having always a number of sums set for him beforehand, to be studied out as opportunity favoured, he made rapid progress, and soon attained a very creditable proficiency. “ Indeed, Andrew Robertson became somewhat proud of his pupil; and shortly afterwards, when the Waterrow pit was closed, and George removed to Black Callerton to work there, the poor schoolmaster, not having a very extensive connexion in Newburn, went with his pupils, and set up his night-school at Black Callerton, where they continued their instructions under him as before.”
The arts of reading, writing, and arithmetic being thus to some extent acquired, George Stephenson felt himself in a position to become a better qualified and more independent workman. He had been simultaneously learning the art of "brakeing”-a process connected with engine management requiring much caution and attention, but which cannot be explained to the uninitiated without entering into a long description. On removing to Black Callerton, in 1801, he was appointed brakesman at the Dolly Pit there, with wagęs averaging a little short of a pound a week. To add something further to his income, he employed his evenings in mending shoes, and afterwards tried his hand at shoemaking. He was stimulated to undertake this extra work by the desire to save a little money; which desire was to all appearance instigated by an attachment he had at this time formed for a respectable young woman of the village, named Fanny Henderson. “Fanny,” we are told, “was a servant in a neighbouring farmhouse; and George, having found her a bigh-principled young woman of excellent character, courted her with the intention of making her his wife, and setting up a house of his own." Amongst his various mendings of old shoes at Callerton, he was on one occasion favoured with Fanny's shoes to sole. Delighted with the work, he took extreme pride in esecuting it in a first-rate style. “A friend of his, still living, relates that, after he had finished the shoes, he carried them about with him in his pocket on the Sunday afternoon, and that from time to time he would whip them out and hold them up to sight—the tiny little shoes that they were-exhibiting them with exultation to his friend, and exclaiming, What a capital job he had made of them !'” No lover was ever more entranced by lovelock, glove, or handkerchief, bestowed by a beloved one in token of affection, than was George Stephenson by these dainty new-soled shoes.
Out of his earnings from shoe-mending at Callerton, the young man contrived to save his first guinea. Habitually sober and steady, he had now become a standing example of character to the other workmen. He never missed a day's wages by idleness or indiscretion. On payday afternoons, which occurred every alternate Saturday, when the workmen at the pit usually kept holiday, some spending their time at public-houses, and others in the adjoining fields, cock-fighting and dog-fighting, Stephenson, instead of either drinking or playing, used to take his engine to pieces for the purpose of obtaining insight and practical acquaintance with its details; and he made it a rule to clean all the parts and put the machine in thorough working order before leaving it. Thus his knowledge of its powers and of its mechanism became gradually complete, and he had the satisfaction of understand. ing its whole action and capabilities.
Meanwhile, he still enjoyed the exercise of agility and strength, and occasionally indulged in those vigorous and adroit feats for which, as we have seen, he bad gained a reputation. For once in his life, too, he gained the eredit of being an expert boxer, and administered a sound chastisement to the greatest bully of the neighbourhood. Ned Nelson, a roystering pitman, took offence at George's manner, as brakesman, of drawing him out of the pit, and threatened to kick him to a certain remote unmentionable locality for his alleged clumsiness. Stephenson defied him to kick him at all; whereupon Nelson challenged him to a pitched battle, and the challenge was accepted. Great was the excitement at Black Callerton when it was known that George Stephenson was going to "feight” with Bully Nelson. Everybody said that George was certain to be killed; for Nelson was a “great feighter,” and was understood to have never get met with his match. The young men and boys, with whom Stephenson was a favourite, came round him in the engine-house, with wonderment, in. quiring if it was really true that he was "goin' to feight Nelson ?"
Ay-never fear for me; I'll feight him,” said George. For some days before the contest, Nelson left off work to go into training, Stephenson worked on as usual ; went from a day's labour to the field of battle, and, with his wiry muscles and practised strength, after a few rounds, thrashed his adversary. It was the only encounter of the kind in which he was ever engaged. It is cited in illustration of his personal pluck and prowess, as being thoroughly characteristic of the man. He was the very reverse of quarrelsome, but he would not be put down by any tyrannous brute-force; and having no other way of dealing with the overbearing pitman, he brought him to reason by the only argument he could understand. When, in after life, he came to contend with the bullies of the railway world, he manifested, in another form, the same courage and daring, and taught them, in their turn, that he was not a fellow to submit to any unreasoning domination.
Not long after this memorable pitched battle, George Stephenson, having "by dint of thrift, sobriety, and industry," saved as much money as would enable him to set up housekeeping, entered without further dallying into the state of wedlock with Fanny Henderson. This event took place at Newburn Church, on the 28th of November,
1802, George being then in his twenty-second yeat. After the ceremony, the happy pair proceeded to the house of old Robert Stephenson and his wife Mabel, at Jolly's Close. This visit paid, they prepared to set out for their new home at Willington-quay, where George had lately been appointed brakesman to an engine standing on Ballast Hill. They went in a homely, old-fashioned style, though one quite usual in those days, while as yet there were neither macadamised roads or railways. Two stout farm-horses were borrowed of a friendly farmer, each being provided with a saddle and a pillion; and George having mounted one, his wife seated herself on the pillion behind him, holding on by her arms round bis waist. Robert Gray and Anne Henderson, in' like manner, mounted on the other horse ; and in this wise the wedding-party rode across the country, passing through the old streets of Newcastle, and then by Wallsend, to their home at Willington-quay-a long ride of about fifteen miles.
It was only to an upper-room in a small cottage beside the Ballast Hill that George took his bride, but both were content with their dwelling for the present, and lived together very pleasantly. Thirteen months after, their only son Robert, the present engineer, was born there. The husband's daily life was that of a regular, steady workman. While sitting by his wife in the evenings, however, he was usually occupied with some mechanical experiments. He got to work on the problem of perpetual motion, and constructed the model of a machine by which he thought he could secure it. Though the experiment failed, it was the means of sharpening his faculties, and of leading him on to more practical inventions. But much of his spare time was still occupied in mending and making shoes, whereby something was added to the income of the household. Moreover, an accident occurred about this time which had the effect of directing his industry into a new and still more profitable channel.
“ The cottage chimney took fire one day in his absence; the alarmed neighbours, rushing in, threw bucketfuls of water on the fire ; some, in their zeal, mounted on the ridge of the house, and poured volumes of water down the chimney. The fire was soon put out, but the house was thoroughly soaked. When George came home, he found the water running out of the door, everything in disorder, and his new furniture covered with soot. The eight-day clock, which hung against the wall one of the most highly-prized articles in the house was grievously injured by the steam with which the room had been filled. Its wheels were so clogged by the dust and soot, that it was brought to a stand-still
. George was always ready to turn bis band to anything, and his ingenuity, never at fault, immediately set to work for the repair of the unfortunate clock. He was advised to send it to the clockmaker, but that would have cost money; and he declared that he would repair it himself—at least be would try. The clock was accordingly taken to pieces and cleaned ; the tools which he had been accumulating by him, for the purpose of constructing the perpetual-motion machine, enabled him to do this; and he succeeded so well that, shortly after, the neighbours sent him their clocks to clean, and he soon became one of the most famous clockdoctors in the neighbourhood."
After having lived three years as brakesman at Willington-quay, George Stephenson removed to Killingworth, where he was made brakesman at the West Moor Colliery. He had scarcely settled down in his new home, ere he sustained a heavy loss in the death of his wife. Their married life had been very happy, and he felt the bereavement sadly. Shortly afterwards, he received an invitation from some gentlemen in Scotland, to go and superintend the working of one of Bolton and Watt's engines, at certain works in the neighbourhood of Montrose. Accepting this call, he left his little boy in charge of a neighbour, and proceeded on his journey on foot, carrying his kit upon his back. He was absent about a year, receiving rather higher wages than usual, and contrived to save twenty-eight pounds to carry back with him to Killingworth. During his absence, however, a serious accident had happened to his father. While engaged inside an engine making some repairs, a fellow-workman had inadvertently let the steam in upon him, which, striking him in the face, blinded him for the remainder of his life. George coming home from Scotland, paid the old man's debts, removed his parents from
Jolly's Close to Killingworth, and supported them until they died. He meanwhile resumed his situation as brakesman at the West Moor Pit, but with prospects less promising than he had hitherto experienced. The condition of the working-classes was then very discouraging. The war pressed heavily upon industry, and severely tried the resources of the country. Dear bread, lowness of wages, and scarcity of work, led to extensive discontent, and serious riots occurred in Manchester, Newcastle, and various other places. The constant drawings for the militia were a source of great vexation to working men. Amongst those who were drawn in the year 1807-8 was George Stephenson, who had to spend the remains of his savings in procuring a substitute. He then felt himself so disabled in his fortunes, that he thought of emigrating to America, and would certainly have gone, had it not been that he could not raise money enough to take him out. Speaking afterwards to a friend of his sorrows at this time, he said," You know the road from my house at the West Moor to Killingworth; I remember when I went along that road, I wept bitterly, for I knew not where my lot would be cast."
It was a slight advance in independence, although no advance in fortune, when Stephenson, at the age of twenty-seven, joined two other brakesmen in taking a small contract under the colliery lessees, for brakeing the engines at the West Moor Pit. There being two engines at work night and day, two of the three men were always in attendance, yet the average earnings of each did not amount to more than 18s. or 20s. 2-week. To eke out his income, Stephenson was always doing something in spare hours. His son Robert was growing up, and he was determined on giving him the best education within his power, having in his own case experienced the disadvantage arising from a deficiency of instruction. Stinted as he was for means at this timemaintaining his parents, and struggling with difficulties—this resolution to provide a proper culture for his son must, as Mr. Smiles says, be regarded as a noble feature in his character, and strikingly illustrative of his thoughtfulness and conscientiousness. Many years after, speaking on this matter, he said :-“ In the earlier period of my career, when Robert was a little boy, I saw how deficient I was in education, and I made up my mind that he should not labour under the same defect, but that I would put him to a good school, and give him a liberal train