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ing. I was, however, a poor man; and how do you think I managed ? I betook myself to mending my neighbours' clocks and watches at nights after my daily labour was done, and thus I procured the means of educating my son."
"* While engaged as brakesman at the West Moor Pit, Stephenson suggested to his employers various little improvements in the engine-tackle and other apparatus of the pit which, on being tried, turned out very convenient and successful. His opinion on points of mechanical difficulty thus came to be considered worth attending to, and he was frequently consulted on occasions of slight emergency, when the matter in hand did not seem important enough to call in a regular engineer. In the year 1810, an opportunity occurred which enabled him to exhibit his skill and ingenuity in a new direction, and in a manner which raised him to a position of considerable local credit and distinction. A new pit was sunk, called the Killingworth High Pit, where an atmospheric engine, originally made by Smeaton, was fixed for the purpose of pamping out the water from the shaft. Somehow or other this engine failed to clear the pit. It went on fruitlessly pumping for nearly twelve months, and began to be regarded as a totally incapable concern. Stephenson had gone to look at it when in course of erection, and then observed to the over-man that he thought it was defective ; he also gave it as his opinion, that if there was much water in the mine, the engine would never keep it under. Of course, as he was only a brakesman, his opinion on such a point was not considered worth much, and no more was thought about it. He continued, nevertheless, to make frequent visits to the engine, to see “how she was getting on.” From the bankhead, where he worked his brake, he could see the chimney smoking at the High Pit, and as the workmen were passing to and from their work, he would call out and inquire “if they had gotten to the bottom yet ?". and the reply was always to the same effect-the pumping made no progress, and the workmen were still “ drowned out. One Saturday after, noon he went over to the High Pit to examine the engine carefully. He had been turning the subject over in his mind, and after a close investigation, he seemed to satisfy himself as to the cause of the failure. When he had done, Kit Heppel, who was sinker at the pit, said to him— “ Weel, George, what do you mak' o' her?" “Man," said George, in reply, “I could alter her, and make her draw; in a week's time from this I could send you to the bottom.”
This conversation was reported to Ralph Dodds, the head viewer ; and Dodds, having sought help from all the engineers in that part of the country without result
, and being now almost in despair, determined to give George's skill a trial. At the worst, he thought, the man could only fail, as the rest had done. George was therefore authorized to do what he considered needful. Selecting his own workmen, he set to work, took the whole engine to pieces, reconstructed it with improvements, and really did, in a week's time after his talk with Heppel, clear the pit of water. Mr. Dodds was particularly gratified with the manner in which the job was done, and made him a present of ten pounds. More than this, he appointed him engineman at the High Pit, on good wages,
* Speech at Newcastle, 18th June, 1844, on the opening of the Newcastle and Darlington Railway.
until the work of sinking was completed. The job lasted about a year. Stephenson's skill as an engine-doctor, meanwhile, became noised abroad, and he was called upon to prescribe remedies for all the old, wheezy, and ineffective pumping machines in the neighbourhood. The regular engineers called him a quack; but there was no denying that he perfectly understood the constitution of an engine, and that he often effected cures when the regular men were beaten. One day as he passed a drowned quarry at which a windmill worked an inefficient pump, he told the men “he would set up for them an engine no bigger than a kail-pot that would clear them out in a week.” This promise he fulfilled; the quarry was pumped dry in a few days, and soon Stephenson's local celebrity in such matters became considerable, and went on increasing
While thus engaged in curing pumping-engines, and making himself generally of service as a practical engineer, George continued diligently to employ his evenings in self-improvement. At this time he became associated with a young man named John Wigham, a farmer's son, who was also bent on advancing himself in knowledge. John was a good arithmetician, and was willing to teach Stephenson something of what he knew. Under Andrew Robertson he had never mastered the rule of three, and it was only when this new preceptor took him in hand, that he made any decided progress towards the higher branches of arithmetic. Wigham had acquired some elementary knowledge of chemistry and natural philosophy, and possessed a volume of Ferguson's Lectures on Mechanics, which proved a great treasure to both students. They used to make experiments together, and thus test the accuracy of what they read.
“ One who remembers their evening occupations, says he used to wonder what they meant by weighing, the air and water in their odd ways. They were trying the specific gravities of objects, and the devices which they employed, the mechanical shifts to which they were put, were often of the rudest kind. In these evening entertainments, the mechanical contrivances were supplied by Stephenson, whilst Wigham found the scientific rationale. The opportunities thus afforded to the former of cultivating his mind by contact with one wiser than himself, proved of great value, and in after-life Stephenson gratefully remembered the assistance which, when a humble workman, he had derived from John Wigham, the farmer's son."
The engine-wright at Killingworth having been killed by an accident, George Stephenson was, in 1812, appointed to the vacant situation, at a salary of £100 a-year. He was now in a measure relieved from the daily routine of manual labour, and advanced to the grade of a higherclass workman. It might be inferred that he had now the command of greater leisure; but, it seems, his leisure hours were more than ever devoted to work, either necessary or self-imposed. He devised many improvements in connexion with the colliery, which were the means of saving both time and labour. He invented machinery whereby the number of horses employed in the pit were reduced from a hundred to about fifteen or sixteen, and he was constantly hitting upon some ingenious scheme or other which tended to diminish the difficulties or expense of the mining operations entrusted to his inspection.
In his own humble dwelling-house he had also been making im
provements from time to time, till from being a single apartment on the ground floor, with a garret overhead that was reached by a step-ladder, it grew into a comfortable four-roomed tenement, supplied with almost every convenience. He took great pride, too, in his cottage-garden, and was renowned for the magnitude of his leeks and cabbages. To protect his garden-crops from the ravages of the birds, he invented a strange sort of scarecrow, which moved its arms with the wind ; and he fastened his garden-door by means of a piece of ingenious mechanism, so that no one could enter it but himself. His odd and eccentric contrivances of all kinds excited much marvel amongst the Killingworth villagers. “Thus, he won the women's admiration by connecting their cradles with the smoke-jack, and making them self-acting! Then he astonished the pitmen by attaching an alarum to the clock of the watchman whose duty it was to call them betimes in the morning. He also contrived a wonderful lamp which burned under water, with which he was afterwards wont to amuse the Brandling family at Gosforth, going into the fish-pond at night, lamp in hand, attracting and catching the fish, which rushed wildly towards the subaqueous flame.” His cottage was a curiosity-shop of models, engines, self-acting plans, and perpetual-motion machines—which last, however, with all his ingenuity, baffled him, as every invention of the kind had baffled all previous experimenters.
The year 1814 may be presumed to have been a memorable one to Stephenson, inasmuch as, on counting up his savings in this year, he found he had accumulated £100. The money was in great part the produce of his earnings in over-hours, and had been saved up with the object of putting his son to school. This year, accordingly, Robert was sent to Mr. Bruce's academy at Newcastle, where he began to be trained in a course of sound elementary instruction. His father was now a comparatively thriving man, well respected wherever he was known, and looked upon by all as a person of excellent sense and shrewd ability. The son was worthy of the father. He made rapid progress in his school studies, and spent his leisure time in reading in the library of the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Institution, to which he induced his father to subscribe for him, at the rate of three guineas a-year.
“On Saturday afternoons," we are told, “ when he went home to his father's at Killingworth, he usually carried with him a volume of the Repertory of Arts and Sciences, or of the Edinburgh Encyclopædia, which furnished abundant subjects for interesting and instructive converse during the evening hours. Then John Wigham would come over from the Glebe farm to join the party, and enter into the lively scientific discussions which occurred on the subject of their mutual reading. But many of the most valuable works belonging to the Newcastle Library were not permitted to be removed from the room; these Robert was instructed to read and study, and bring away with him descriptions and sketches for his father's information. His father also practised bim in the reading of plans and drawings without at all referring to the written descriptions. He used to observe, “A good drawing or plan should always explain itself ;' and placing a drawing of an engine or machine before the youih, he would say, • There, now, describe that to me—the arrangement and the action. Thus he taught him to read
a drawing as easily as he would read a page of a book. This practice soon gave to both the greatest facility in apprehending the details of even the most difficult and complicated mechanical drawing."
The connexion of Robert with the Philosophical Society of Newcastle brought him into communication with the Rev. William Turner, one of the secretaries of the institution. That gentleman took an early interest in the studious youth from Killingworth, with whose father also he soon became acquainted. He cheerfully and even zealously helped them in their joint inquiries, and did his utmost to satisfy their eager thirst for scientific information.
About this time the subject of locomotive engines was occupying the attention of certain scientific persons, and it was naturally a subject that very readily recommended itself to the notice of George Stephenson. It was as yet generally regarded only in the light of a curious and costly toy, of comparatively small practical value ; and Stephenson was one of the first, if not the very first, to perceive the full nature and importance of its capabilities. Wooden railroads were already common in the neighbourhood of the collieries, but as yet they had only been worked with horses. Latterly, however, various experiments had been made upon them with locomotive engines. One had been tried upon the Wylam tramroad, which went by the cottage in which Stephenson was born. George brooded intently upon the subject, worked out for himself the theory of their construction, and made it his business to see one of the new engines in operation. The one on the Wylam tramroad he frequently visited and inspected; and after mastering its arrangements and observing its mode of working, he did not hesitate to declare that he could make a better one-one that would draw steadier, and work more cheaply and effectively.
On bringing the matter under the notice of the lessees of the Killingworth Colliery, Stephenson was authorised to construct an engine in accordance with his own particular notions. Lord Ravensworth, the principal partner, had formed a high opinion of his skill, from the improvements he had effected in the machinery of the mines, and provided him with money. There was great difficulty in finding mechanics at that period sufficiently qualified to perform the work; and the best man Stephenson could get was the colliery blacksmith, who, though an excellent workman in his way, was quite new to the business now entrusted to him. By his means, however, and the aid of a number of rough hands still less competent, the engine was built at the West Moor workshops in the space of ten months. On the 25th of July, 1814, its powers were tried upon the Killingworth Railway. “On an ascending gradient of 1 in 150," says Dr. Smiles, “the engine succeeded in drawing after it eight loaded carriages of thirty tons' weight, at about four miles an hour; and for some time after it continued regularly at work. It was indeed the most successful engine that had yet been constructed."
The name given to this engine was Blutcher; and although it was considerably superior to all previous locomotives, it was nevertheless a somewhat clumsy and cumbrous machine. Stephenson noted its defects, and resolved to construct another in which they should be avoided. In conjunction with Mr. Dodds, who supplied the necessary funds, he took out a patent in February, 1815, for a new locomotive,
and in the same year a greatly improved engine, called Puffing Billy, was set to work on the Killingworth Railway. According to Dr. Smiles, who minutely describes its mechanical construction, this engine contained the germ of all that has since been effected, and may be regarded as the original type of our present locomotives. In particular, it embodied a discovery which was peculiarly Stephenson's, and without which the steam locomotive could never have been practically successful. The first locomotives let off their waste steam into the open atmosphere; but it occnrred to Stephenson to carry the waste steam up the chimney, whereby the draft was much increased, and the intensity of combustion in the furnace consequently augmented. The power of the engine was by this expedient doubled. Combustion being stimulated by the blast, the generation of steam was immensely quickened, and the effective power of the engine augmented in precisely the same proportion.
Thus at the end of the year 1815, George Stephenson had outstripped every competitor in the field of locomotive invention. Henceforth he did not disguise his opinion that the steam-locomotive was destined to supersede every other tractive power, and to come into universal use over the world. For lack of opportunity, however, he made no further progress for the present. His attention was, meanwhile, directed to the mitigation of an evil to which the collieries had always more or less been subjected. Explosions of fire-damp were frequently occurring, and were commonly attended with fearful loss of life and dreadful suffering to the colliery workers. Calamities of this kind several times happened in the Killingworth pits. One in 1814, of a very terrific nature, led Stephenson to ponder on the possible chances of preventing such occurrences. He began to exercise his ingenuity towards the discovery of a miner's safety-lamp. By a mechanical theory of his own, tested by experiments made boldly at the peril of his life, he arrived at the construction of a lamp, less simple, though similar in principle, to that which was about the same time devised by Sir Humphry Davy. It seems that Stephenson and Davy were, unknown to each other, working during the same year on the same problem. Stephenson's solution was arrived at a few weeks earlier than Davy's, and upon this circumstance there subsequently arose a great and unpleasant controversy. Into the particulars of this controversy we cannot enter. Suffice it to say that both lamps were original inventions—their constructors having no knowledge of each other's proceedings. Davy received immediate honours and a high reward for his discoveries, while Stephenson's merits were scarcely recognised ; but eventually, after a careful investigation of his claims, he was honoured by a public subscription of a thonsand pounds; and his lamp, called the “Geordie,” is still in use in the Killingworth Pits, where it is reckoned superior to the “Davy."
From 1815 to 1820, Stephenson's time was mainly devoted to the engineering business of the colliery. But during this period his attention was almost constantly directed to the improvement of his locomotive, which every day's observation and experience satisfied him was still far from being perfect. Puffing Billy, though it did
very well, was nearly as expensive in the working as horse-power. Other engines, which had been tried elsewhere, were generally abandoned as failures. There was no expectation anywhere that steam-locomotives could ever be made to answer economically. Stephenson alone retained his con