George & Robert Stephenson

THE LIFE OF George Stephenson and his son Robert Stephenson

Comprising also a history of the invention and introduction of the railway locomotive. By Samual Smiles

With Portraits and Numerous Illustrations.




The present is a revised edition of the Life of George Stephenson
and of his son Robert Stephenson, to which is prefixed a history
of the Railway and the Locomotive in its earlier stages, uniform
with the early history of the Steam-engine given in vol. iv.
of “Lives of the Engineers” containing the memoirs of Boulton
and Watt. A memoir of Richard Trevithick has also been included
in this introductory portion of the book, which will probably
be found more complete than any notice which has yet appeared
of that distinguished mechanical engineer.

Since the appearance of this Life in its original form ten years
ago, the construction of Railways has continued to make extraordinary
progress. The length of lines then open in Europe was
estimated at about 18,000 miles: it is now more than 50,000
miles. Although Great Britain, first in the field, had then, after
about twenty-five years’ work, expended nearly 300 millions sterling
in the construction of 8300 miles of double railway, it has
during the last ten years expended about 200 millions more in
constructing 5600 additional miles.

But the construction of railways has proceeded with equal rapidity
on the Continent. France has now 9624 miles at work;
Germany (including Austria), 13,392 miles; Spain, 3161 miles;
Sweden, 1100 miles; Belgium, 1073 miles; Switzerland, 795
miles; Holland, 617 miles; besides railways in other states.
These have, for the most part, been constructed and opened during
the last ten years, while a considerable length is still under
construction. Austria is actively engaged in carrying new lines[iv]
across the plains of Hungary to the frontier of Turkey, which
Turkey is preparing to meet by lines carried up the valley of the
Lower Danube; and Russia, with 2800 miles already at work, is
occupied with extensive schemes for connecting Petersburg and
Moscow with her ports in the Black Sea on the one hand, and
with the frontier towns of her Asiatic empire on the other.

Italy also is employing her new-born liberty in vigorously extending
railways throughout her dominions. The length of Italian
lines in operation in 1866 was 2752 miles, of which not less
than 680 were opened in that year. Already has a direct line of
communication been opened between Germany and Italy through
the Brenner Pass, by which it is now possible to make the entire
journey by railway (excepting only the short sea-passage across
the English Channel) from London to Brindisi on the southeastern
extremity of the Italian peninsula; and, in the course of a
few more years, a still shorter route will be opened through France,
when that most formidable of all railway borings, the seven-mile
tunnel under Mont Cenis, has been completed.

During the last ten years, nearly the whole of the existing Indian
railways have been made. When Edmund Burke in 1783
arraigned the British government for their neglect of India in
his speech on Mr. Fox’s Bill, he said, “England has built no
bridges, made no high roads, cut no navigations, dug out no reservoirs….
Were we to be driven out of India this day, nothing
would remain to tell that it had been possessed, during the inglorious
period of our dominion, by any thing better than the orang-outang
or the tiger.” But that reproach no longer applies. Some
of the greatest bridges erected in modern times—such as those
over the Sone near Patna, and over the Jamna at Allahabad—have
been erected in connection with the Indian railways, of
which there are already 3637 miles at work, and above 2000 more
under construction. When these lines have been completed, at
an expenditure of about £88,000,000 of British capital guaranteed
by the British government, India will be provided with a[v]
magnificent system of internal communication, connecting the
capitals of the three Presidencies—uniting Bombay with Madras
on the south, and with Calcutta on the northeast—while a great
main line, 2200 miles in extent, passing through the northwestern
provinces, and connecting Calcutta with Lucknow, Delhi, Lahore,
Moultan, and Kurrachee, will unite the mouths of the Hooghly
in the Bay of Bengal with those of the Indus in the Arabian Sea.

When the first edition of this work appeared in the beginning
of 1857, the Canadian system of railways was but in its infancy.
The Grand Trunk was only begun, and the Victoria Bridge—the
greatest of all railway structures—was not half erected. Now,
that fine colony has more than 2200 miles in active operation
along the great valley of the St. Lawrence, connecting Rivière du
Loup at the mouth of that river, and the harbor of Portland in
the State of Maine, via Montreal and Toronto, with Sarnia on
Lake Huron, and with Windsor, opposite Detroit, in the State of
Michigan. The Australian Colonies also have during the same
time been actively engaged in providing themselves with railways,
many of which are at work, and others are in course of formation.
Even the Cape of Good Hope has several lines open,
and others making. France also has constructed about 400 miles
in Algeria, while the Pasha of Egypt is the proprietor of 360
miles in operation across the Egyptian desert.

But in no country has railway construction been prosecuted
with greater vigor than in the United States. There the railway
furnishes not only the means of intercommunication between already
established settlements, as in the Old World, but it is regarded
as the pioneer of colonization, and as instrumental in
opening up new and fertile territories of vast extent in the west—the
food-grounds of future nations. Hence railway construction
in that country was scarcely interrupted even by the great
Civil War; at the commencement of which Mr. Seward publicly
expressed the opinion that “physical bonds, such as highways,
railroads, rivers, and canals, are vastly more powerful for holding[vi]
civil communities together than any mere covenants, though
written on parchment or engraved on iron.”

The people of the United States were the first to follow the
example of England, after the practicability of steam locomotion
had been proved on the Stockton and Darlington and Liverpool
and Manchester Railways. The first sod of the Baltimore and
Ohio Railway was cut on the 4th of July, 1828, and the line was
completed and opened for traffic in the following year, when it
was worked partly by horse-power, and partly by a locomotive
built at Baltimore, which is still preserved in the Company’s
workshops. In 1830 the Hudson and Mohawk Railway was begun,
while other lines were under construction in Pennsylvania,
Massachusetts, and New Jersey; and in the course of ten years,
1843 miles were finished and in operation. In ten more years,
8827 miles were at work; at the end of 1864, not less than 35,000
miles, mostly single tracks; while about 15,000 miles more were
under construction. One of the most extensive trunk-lines still
unfinished is the Great Pacific Railroad, connecting the lines in
the valleys of the Mississippi and the Missouri with the city of
San Francisco on the shores of the Pacific, by which, when completed,
it will be possible to make the journey from England to
Hong Kong, via New York, in little more than a month.

The results of the working of railways have been in many respects
different from those anticipated by their projectors. One
of the most unexpected has been the growth of an immense passenger-traffic.
The Stockton and Darlington line was projected
as a coal line only, and the Liverpool and Manchester as a merchandise
line. Passengers were not taken into account as a
source of revenue; for, at the time of their projection, it was not
believed that people would trust themselves to be drawn upon
a railway by an “explosive machine,” as the locomotive was described
to be. Indeed, a writer of eminence declared that he
would as soon think of being fired off on a ricochet rocket as[vii]
travel on a railway at twice the speed of the old stage-coaches.
So great was the alarm which existed as to the locomotive, that
the Liverpool and Manchester Committee pledged themselves in
their second prospectus, issued in 1825, “not to require any clause
empowering its use;” and as late as 1829, the Newcastle and
Carlisle Act was conceded on the express condition that it should
not be worked by locomotives, but by horses only.

Nevertheless, the Liverpool and Manchester Company obtained
powers to make and work their railway without any such restriction;
and when the line was made and opened, a locomotive
passenger-train was ordered to be run upon it by way of experiment.
Greatly to the surprise of the directors, more passengers
presented themselves as travelers by the train than could conveniently
be carried.

The first arrangements as to passenger-traffic were of a very
primitive character, being mainly copied from the old stage-coach
system. The passengers were “booked” at the railway office,
and their names were entered in a way-bill which was given to
the guard when the train started. Though the usual stage-coach
bugleman could not conveniently accompany the passengers, the
trains were at first played out of the terminal stations by a lively
tune performed by a trumpeter at the end of the platform, and
this continued to be done at the Manchester Station until a comparatively
recent date.

But the number of passengers carried by the Liverpool and
Manchester line was so unexpectedly great, that it was very soon
found necessary to remodel the entire system. Tickets were introduced,
by which a great saving of time was effected. More
roomy and commodious carriages were provided, the original
first-class compartments being seated for four passengers only.
Every thing was found to have been in the first instance made
too light and too slight. The prize “Rocket,” which weighed
only 4-1/2 tons when loaded with its coke and water, was found
quite unsuited for drawing the increasingly heavy loads of passengers.[viii]
There was also this essential difference between the old
stage-coach and the new railway train, that, whereas the former
was “full” with six inside and ten outside, the latter must be
able to accommodate whatever number of passengers came to be
carried. Hence heavier and more powerful engines, and larger
and more substantial carriages, were from time to time added to
the carrying stock of the railway.

The speed of the trains was also increased. The first locomotives
used in hauling coal-trains ran at from four to six miles an
hour. On the Stockton and Darlington line the speed was increased
to about ten miles an hour; and on the Liverpool and
Manchester line the first passenger-trains were run at the average
speed of seventeen miles an hour, which at that time was
considered very fast. But this was not enough. When the London
and Birmingham line was opened, the mail-trains were run
at twenty-three miles an hour; and gradually the speed went up,
until now the fast trains are run at from fifty to sixty miles an
hour—the pistons in the cylinders, at sixty miles, traveling at the
inconceivable rapidity of 800 feet per minute!

To bear the load of heavy engines run at high speeds, a much
stronger and heavier road was found necessary; and shortly after
the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester line, it was entirely
relaid with stronger materials. Now that express passenger-engines
are from thirty to thirty-five tons each, the weight of
the rails has been increased from 35 lbs. to 75 lbs. or 86 lbs. to
the yard. Stone blocks have given place to wooden sleepers;
rails with loose ends resting on the chairs, to rails with their
ends firmly “fished” together; and in many places, where the
traffic is unusually heavy, iron rails have been replaced by those
of steel.

And now see the enormous magnitude to which railway passenger-traffic
has grown. In the year 1866, 274,293,668 passengers
were carried by day tickets in Great Britain alone. But
this was not all; for in that year 110,227 periodical tickets were[ix]
issued by the different railways; and assuming half of them to
be annual, one fourth half-yearly, and the remainder quarterly
tickets, and that their holders made only five journeys each way
weekly, this would give an additional number of 39,405,600 journeys,
or a total of 313,699,268 passengers carried in Great Britain
in one year.

It is difficult to grasp the idea of the enormous number of persons
represented by these figures. The mind is merely bewildered
by them, and can form no adequate notion of their magnitude.
To reckon them singly would occupy twenty years, counting
at the rate of one a second for twelve hours every day. Or
take another illustration. Supposing every man, woman, and
child in Great Britain to make ten journeys by rail yearly, the
number would fall short of the passengers carried in 1866.

Mr. Porter, in his “Progress of the Nation,” estimated that
thirty millions of passengers, or about eighty-two thousand a
day, traveled by coaches in Great Britain in 1834, an average
distance of twelve miles each, at an average cost of 5s. a passenger,
or at the rate of 5d. a mile; whereas above 313 millions are
now carried by railway an average distance of 8-1/2 miles each, at
an average cost of 1s. 1-1/2d. per passenger, or about three half-pence
per mile, in considerably less than half the time.

But, besides the above number of passengers, one hundred and
twenty-four million tons of minerals and merchandise were
carried by railway in the United Kingdom in 1866, and fifteen
millions of cattle, besides mails, parcels, and other traffic. The
distance run by passenger and goods trains in the year was
142,807,853 miles, to accomplish which it is estimated that four
miles of railway on an average must be covered by running
trains during every second all the year round.

To perform this service, there were, in 1866, 8125 locomotives
at work in the United Kingdom, consuming about three million
tons of coal and coke, and flashing into the air every minute
some thirty tons of water in the form of steam in a high state[x]
of elasticity. There were also 19,228 passenger-carriages, 7276
vans and breaks attached to passenger-trains, and 242,947 trucks,
wagons, and other vehicles appropriated to merchandise. Buckled
together, buffer to buffer, the locomotives and tenders would
extend for a length of about 54 miles, or more than the distance
from London to Brighton; while the carrying vehicles, joined
together, would form two trains occupying a double line of railway
extending from London to beyond Inverness.

A notable feature in the growth of railway traffic of late years
has been the increase in the number of third-class passengers,
compared with first and second class. Sixteen years since, the
third-class passengers constituted only about one third; ten years
later they were about one half; whereas now they form nearly
two thirds of the whole number carried. Thus George Stephenson’s
prediction “that the time would come when it would be
cheaper for a working man to make a journey by railway than
to walk on foot” is already realized.

The degree of safety with which this great traffic has been
conducted is not the least remarkable of its features. Of course,
so long as railways are worked by men, they will be liable to the
imperfections belonging to all things human. Though their machinery
may be perfect, and their organization as complete as
skill and forethought can make it, workmen will at times be forgetful
and listless, and a moment’s carelessness may lead to the
most disastrous results. Yet, taking all circumstances into account,
the wonder is that traveling by railway at high speeds
should have been rendered comparatively so safe.

To be struck by lightning is one of the rarest of all causes of
death, yet more persons were killed by lightning in Great Britain,
in 1866, than were killed on railways from causes beyond their
own control; the number in the former case having been nineteen,
and in the latter fifteen, or one in every twenty millions of
passengers carried. Most persons would consider the probability
of their dying by hanging to be extremely remote; yet, according[xi]
to the Registrar General’s returns for 1867, it is thirty times
greater than that of being killed by railway accident. Taking
the number of persons who traveled in Great Britain in 1866 at
313,699,268, of whom fifteen were accidentally killed, it would
appear that, even supposing a person to have a permanent existence,
and to make a journey by railway daily, the probability of
his being killed in an accident would occur on an average once
in above 50,000 years.

The remarkable safety with which railway traffic is on the
whole conducted, is due to constant watchfulness and highly-applied
skill. The men who work the railways are for the most
part the picked men of the country, and every railway station
may be regarded as a practical school of industry, attention, and
punctuality. Where railways fail in these respects, it will usually
be found that it is because the men are personally defective,
or because better men are not to be had. It must also be added
that the onerous and responsible duties which railway workmen
are called upon to perform require a degree of consideration on
the part of the public which is not very often extended to them.

Few are aware of the complicated means and agencies that are
in constant operation on railways day and night to insure the
safety of the passengers to their journeys’ end. The road is under
a system of continuous inspection, under gangs of men—about
twelve to every five miles, under a foreman or “ganger”—whose
duty it is to see that the rails and chairs are sound, all
their fastenings complete, and the line clear of obstructions.

Then, at all the junctions, sidings, and crossings, pointsmen are
stationed, with definite instructions as to the duties to be performed
by them. At these places signals are provided, worked
from the station platforms, or from special signal-boxes, for the
purpose of protecting the stopping or passing trains. When the
first railways were opened the signals were of a very simple kind.
The station-men gave them with their arms stretched out in different
positions; then flags of different colors were used; next[xii]
fixed signals, with arms or discs, or of rectangular or triangular
shape. These were followed by a complete system of semaphore
signals, near and distant, protecting all junctions, sidings, and

When government inspectors were first appointed by the Board
of Trade to examine and report upon the working of railways,
they were alarmed by the number of trains following each other
at some stations in what then seemed to be a very rapid succession.
A passage from a Report written in 1840 by Sir Frederick
Smith, as to the traffic at “Taylor’s Junction,” on the York and
North Midland Railway, contrasts curiously with the railway life
and activity of the present day: “Here,” wrote the alarmed inspector,
“the passenger trains from York, as well as Leeds and
Selby, meet four times a day. No less than 23 passenger-trains
stop at or pass this station in the 24 hours—an amount of traffic
requiring not only the most perfect arrangements on the part
of the management, but the utmost vigilance and energy in the
servants of the Company employed at this place.” Contrast this
with the state of things now. On the Metropolitan Line, 667
trains pass a given point in one direction or the other during the
eighteen hours of the working day, or an average of 36 trains an
hour. At the Cannon-street Station of the Southeastern Railway,
527 trains pass in and out daily, many of them crossing
each others’ tracks under the protection of the station signals.
Forty-five trains run in and out between 9 and 10 A.M., and an
equal number between 4 and 5 P.M. Again, at the Clapham
Junction, near London, about 700 trains pass or stop daily; and
though to the casual observer the succession of trains coming and
going, running and stopping, coupling and shunting, appears a
scene of inextricable confusion and danger, the whole is clearly
intelligible to the signal-men in their boxes, who work the trains
in and out with extraordinary precision and regularity.

The inside of a signal-box reminds one of a piano-forte on a
large scale, the lever-handles corresponding with the keys of the[xiii]
instrument; and, to an uninstructed person, to work the one
would be as difficult as to play a tune on the other. The signal-box
outside Cannon-street Station contains 67 lever-handles, by
means of which the signal-men are enabled at the same moment
to communicate with the drivers of all the engines on the line
within an area of 800 yards. They direct by signs, which are
quite as intelligible as words, the drivers of the trains starting
from inside the station, as well as those of the trains arriving
from outside. By pulling a lever-handle, a distant signal, perhaps
out of sight, is set some hundred yards off, which the approaching
driver—reading it quickly as he comes along—at once
interprets, and stops or advances, as the signal may direct.

The precision and accuracy of the signal-machinery employed
at important stations and junctions have of late years been much
improved by an ingenious contrivance, by means of which the
setting of the signal prepares the road for the coming train.
When the signal is set at “Danger,” the points are at the same
time worked, and the road is “locked” against it; and when at
“Safety,” the road is open—the signal and the points exactly

The Electric Telegraph has also been found a valuable auxiliary
in insuring the safe working of large railway traffics.
Though the locomotive may run at sixty miles an hour, electricity,
when at its fastest, travels at the rate of 288,000 miles a second,
and is therefore always able to herald the coming train.
The electric telegraph may, indeed, be regarded as the nervous
system of the railway. By its means the whole line is kept
throbbing with intelligence. The method of working electric
signals varies on different lines; but the usual practice is to divide
a line into so many lengths, each protected by its signal-stations,
the fundamental law of telegraph working being that two
engines are not to be allowed to run on the same line between
two signal-stations at the same time. When a train passes one
of such stations, it is immediately signaled on—usually by electric[xiv]
signal-bells—to the station in advance, and that interval of
railway is “blocked” until the signal has been received from the
station in advance that the train has passed it. Thus an interval
of space
is always secured between trains following each other,
which are thereby alike protected before and behind. And thus,
when a train starts on a journey of it may be hundreds of miles,
it is signaled on from station to station, and “lives along the
line,” until at length it reaches its destination, and the last signal
of “train in” is given. By this means an immense number of
trains can be worked with regularity and safety. On the Southeastern
Railway, where the system has been brought to a state of
high efficiency, it is no unusual thing during Easter week to send
570,000 passengers through the London Bridge Station alone;
and on some days as many as 1200 trains a day.

While such are the expedients adopted to insure safety, others
equally ingenious are adopted to insure speed. In the case of
express and mail trains, the frequent stopping of the engines to
take in a fresh supply of water occasions a considerable loss of
time on a long journey, each stoppage for this purpose occupying
from ten to fifteen minutes. To avoid such stoppages larger
tenders have been provided, capable of carrying as much as 2000
gallons of water each. But as a considerable time is occupied in
filling these, a plan has been contrived by Mr. Ramsbottom, the
locomotive engineer of the London and Northwestern Railway,
by which the engines are made to feed themselves while running
at full speed! The plan is as follows: An open trough, about
440 feet long, is laid longitudinally between the rails. Into this
trough, which is filled with water, a dip-pipe, or scoop attached
to the bottom of the tender of the running train, is lowered, and,
at a speed of 50 miles an hour, as much as 1070 gallons of water
are scooped up in the course of a few minutes. The first of such
troughs was laid down between Chester and Holyhead, to enable
the Express Mail to run the distance of 84-3/4 miles in two hours
and five minutes without stopping; and similar troughs have[xv]
since been laid down at Bushey, near London; at Castlethorpe,
near Wolverton; and at Parkside, near Liverpool. At these four
troughs about 130,000 gallons of water are scooped up daily.

Wherever railways have been made, new towns have sprung
up, and old towns and cities been quickened into new life.
When the first English lines were projected, great were the
prophecies of disaster to the inhabitants of the districts through
which they were proposed to be forced. Such fears have long
since been dispelled in this country. The same prejudices existed
in France. When the railway from Paris to Marseilles was
projected to pass through Lyons, a local prophet predicted that
if the line were made the city would be ruined—”Ville traversée,
ville perdue
;” while a local priest denounced the locomotive and
the electric telegraph as heralding the reign of Antichrist. But
such nonsense is no longer uttered. Now it is the city without
the railway that is regarded as the “city lost;” for it is in a
measure shut out from the rest of the world, and left outside the
pale of civilization.

Perhaps the most striking of all the illustrations that could be
offered of the extent to which railways facilitate the locomotion,
the industry, and the subsistence of the population of large
towns and cities, is afforded by the working of the railway system
in connection with the capital of Great Britain.

The extension of railways to London has been of comparatively
recent date, the whole of the lines connecting it with the provinces
and terminating at its outskirts having been opened during
the last thirty years, while the lines inside London have for the
most part been opened within the last ten years.

The first London line was the Greenwich Railway, part of
which was opened for traffic to Deptford in February, 1836.
The working of this railway was first exhibited as a show, and
the usual attractions were employed to make it “draw.” A band
of musicians in the garb of the Beef-eaters was stationed at the[xvi]
London end, and another band at Deptford. For cheapness’
sake, the Deptford band was shortly superseded by a large barrel-organ,
which played in the passengers; but when the traffic
became established, the barrel-organ, as well as the Beef-eater
band at the London end, were both discontinued. The whole
length of the line was lit up at night by a row of lamps on either
side like a street, as if to enable the locomotives or the passengers
to see their way in the dark; but these lamps also were
eventually discontinued as unnecessary.

As a show, the Greenwich Railway proved tolerably successful.
During the first eleven months it carried 456,750 passengers,
or an average of about 1300 a day. But the railway having
been found more convenient to the public than either the
river boats or the omnibuses, the number of passengers rapidly
increased. When the Croydon, Brighton, and Southeastern Railways
began to pour their streams of traffic over the Greenwich
Viaduct, its accommodation was found much too limited, and it
was widened from time to time, until now nine lines of railway
are laid side by side, over which more than twenty millions of
passengers are carried yearly, or an average of about 60,000 a
day all the year round.

Since the partial opening of the Greenwich Railway in 1836,
a large extent of railways has been constructed in and about the
metropolis, and convenient stations have been established almost
in the heart of the city. Sixteen of these stations are within a
circle of half a mile radius from the Mansion House, and above
three hundred stations are in actual use or in course of construction
within about five miles of Charing Cross. The most important
lines recently opened for the accommodation of the London
local traffic have been the London, Chatham and Dover Metropolitan
Extensions (1861), the Metropolitan (1863), the North
London Extension to Liverpool Street (1865), the Charing Cross
and Cannon-street Extensions of the Southeastern Railway
(1864-6), and the South London Extension of the Brighton[xvii]
Railway (1866). Of these railways, the London, Chatham and
Dover carried 5,228,418 passengers in 1867; the Metropolitan,
23,405,282; the North London, 17,535,502; the Southeastern,
17,473,934; and the Brighton, 12,686,417. The total number
carried into and out of London, as well as from station to station
in London, in the same year, was 104 millions of passengers.

To accommodate this vast traffic, not fewer than 3600 local
trains are run in and out daily, besides 340 trains which depart
to and arrive from distant places, north, south, east, and west.
In the morning hours, between 8 30 and 10 30, when business
men are proceeding inward to their offices and counting-houses,
and in the afternoon between four and six, when they are returning
outward to their homes, as many as two thousand stoppages
are made in the hour, within the metropolitan district, for the
purpose of taking up and setting down passengers, while about
two miles of railway are covered by the running trains.

One of the remarkable effects of railways has been to extend
the residential area of all large towns and cities. This is especially
notable in the case of London. Before the introduction
of railways, the residential area of the metropolis was limited by
the time occupied by business men in making the journey outward
and inward daily; and it was for the most part bounded
by Bow on the east, by Hampstead and Highgate on the north,
by Paddington and Kensington on the west, and by Clapham
and Brixton on the south. But now that stations have been established
near the centre of the city, and places so distant as
Waltham, Barnet, Watford, Hanwell, Richmond, Epsom, Croydon,
Reigate, and Erith can be more quickly reached by rail than the
old suburban quarters were by omnibus, the metropolis has become
extended in all directions along its railway lines, and the
population of London, instead of living in the city or its immediate
vicinity as formerly, have come to occupy a residential area
of not less than six hundred square miles!

The number of new towns which have consequently sprung[xviii]
into existence near London within the last twenty years has been
very great; towns numbering from ten to twenty thousand inhabitants,
which before were but villages, if, indeed, they existed.
This has especially been the case along the lines south of the
Thames, principally in consequence of the termini of those lines
being more conveniently situated for city men of business. Hence
the rapid growth of the suburban towns up and down the river,
from Richmond and Staines on the west, to Erith and Gravesend
on the east, and the hives of population which have settled on the
high grounds south of the Thames, in the neighborhood of Norwood
and the Crystal Palace, rapidly spreading over the Surrey
Downs, from Wimbledon to Guildford, and from Bromley to
Croydon, Epsom, and Dorking. And now that the towns on the
south and southeast coast can be reached by city men in little
more time than it takes to travel to Clapham or Bayswater by
omnibus, such places have become, as it were, parts of the great
metropolis, and Brighton and Hastings are but marine suburbs of

The improved state of the communications of the city with the
country has had a marked effect upon its population. While the
action of the railways has been to add largely to the number of
persons living in London, it has also been accompanied by their
dispersion over a much larger area. Thus the population of the
central parts of London is constantly decreasing, whereas that of
the suburban districts is as constantly increasing. The population
of the city fell off more than 10,000 between 1851 and 1861;
and during the same period, that of Holborn, the Strand, St Martin’s-in-the-Fields,
St. James’s, Westminster, East and West London,
showed a considerable decrease. But, as regards the whole
mass of the metropolitan population, the increase has been enormous,
especially since the introduction of railways. Thus, starting
from 1801, when the population of London was 958,863, we
find it increasing in each decennial period at the rate of between
two and three hundred thousand, until the year 1841, when it[xix]
amounted to 1,948,369. Railways had by that time reached
London, after which its population increased at nearly double the
former ratio. In the ten years ending 1851, the increase was
413,867; and in the ten years ending 1861, 441,753; until now,
to quote the words of the Registrar General in his last annual
Report, “the population within the registration limits is by estimate
2,993,513; but beyond this central mass there is a ring of
life growing rapidly, and extending along railway lines over a
circle of fifteen miles from Charing Cross. The population
within that circle, patrolled by the metropolitan police, is about

The aggregation of so vast a number of persons within so comparatively
limited an area—the immense quantity of food required
for their daily sustenance, as well as of fuel, clothing, and
other necessaries—would be attended with no small inconvenience
and danger but for the facilities again provided by the
railways. The provisioning of a garrison of even four thousand
men is considered a formidable affair; how much more so the
provisioning of nearly four millions of people!

The whole mystery is explained by the admirable organization
of the railway service, and the regularity and dispatch with which
it is conducted. We are enabled by the courtesy of the general
managers of the London railways to bring together the following
brief summary of facts relating to the food supply of London,
which will probably be regarded by most readers as of a very remarkable

Generally speaking, the railways to the south of the Thames
contribute comparatively little toward the feeding of London.
They are, for the most part, passenger and residential lines, traversing
a limited and not very fertile district bounded by the sea-coast,
and, excepting in fruit and vegetables, milk and hops, they
probably carry more food from London than they bring to it.
The principal supplies of grain, flour, potatoes, and fish are
brought by railway from the eastern counties of England and[xx]
Scotland; and of cattle and sheep, beef and mutton, from the
grazing counties of the west and northwest of Britain, as far as
from the Highlands of Scotland, which, through the instrumentality
of railways, have become part of the great grazing-grounds
of the metropolis.

Take first “the staff of life”—bread and its constituents. Of
wheat, not less than 222,080 quarters were brought into London
by railway in 1867, besides what was brought by sea; of oats,
151,757 quarters; of barley, 70,282 quarters; of beans and peas,
51,448 quarters. Of the wheat and barley, by far the largest
proportion was brought by the Great Eastern Railway, which delivered
in London last year 155,000 quarters of wheat and 45,500
quarters of barley, besides 600,429 quarters more in the form of
malt. The largest quantity of oats was brought by the Great
Northern Railway, principally from the north of England and
the east of Scotland—the quantity delivered by that company in
1867 having been 97,500 quarters, besides 24,664 quarters of
wheat, 5560 quarters of barley, and 103,917 quarters of malt.
Again, of 1,250,566 sacks of flour and meal delivered in London
last year, the Great Eastern brought 654,000 sacks, the Great
Northern 232,022 sacks, and the Great Western 136,312 sacks;
the principal contribution of the London and Northwestern Railway
toward the London bread-stores being 100,760 boxes of
American flour, besides 24,300 sacks of English. The total
quantity of malt delivered at the London railway stations in
1867 was thirteen hundred thousand sacks.

Next, as to flesh meat. Last year not fewer than 172,300 head
of cattle were brought into London by railway, though this was
considerably less than the number carried before the cattle
plague, the Great Eastern Railway alone having carried 44,672
less than in 1864. But this loss has since been more than made
up by the increased quantities of fresh beef, mutton, and other
kinds of meat imported in lieu of the live animals. The principal
supplies of cattle are brought, as we have said, by the western,[xxi]
northern, and eastern lines: by the Great Western from the
western counties and Ireland; by the London and Northwestern,
the Midland, and the Great Northern, from the northern counties
and from Scotland; and by the Great Eastern from the eastern
counties, and from the ports of Harwich and Lowestoft.

Last year also, 1,147,609 sheep were brought to London by railway,
of which the Great Eastern delivered not less than 265,371
head. The London and Northwestern and Great Northern between
them brought 390,000 head from the northern English
counties, with a large proportion from the Scotch Highlands;
while the Great Western brought up 130,000 head from the
Welsh mountains, and from the rich grazing districts of Wilts,
Gloucester, Somerset, and Devon. Another important freight of
the London and Northwestern Railway consists of pigs, of which
they delivered 54,700 in London last year, principally Irish;
while the Great Eastern brought up 27,500 of the same animal,
partly foreign.

While the cattle plague has had the effect of greatly reducing
the number of live-stock brought into London yearly, it has given
a considerable impetus to the Fresh Meat traffic. Thus, in addition
to the above large numbers of cattle and sheep delivered
in London last year, the railways brought 76,175 tons of meat,
which—taking the meat of an average beast at 800 lbs., and of
an average sheep at 64 lbs.—would be equivalent to about 112,000
more cattle, and 1,267,500 more sheep. The Great Northern
brought the largest quantity; next, the London and Northwestern—these
two companies having brought up between them, from
distances as remote as Aberdeen and Inverness, about 42,000 tons
of fresh meat in 1867, at an average freight of about 1/2d. a lb.

Again, as regards Fish, of which six tenths of the whole quantity
consumed in London is now brought by rail. The Great
Eastern and the Great Northern are by far the largest importers
of this article, and justify their claim to be regarded as the great
food lines of London. Of the 61,358 tons of fish brought by railway[xxii]
in 1867, not less than 24,500 tons were delivered by the former,
and 22,000 tons, brought from much longer distances, by the
latter company. The London and Northwestern brought about
6000 tons last year, the principal part of which was salmon from
Scotland and Ireland. The Great Western also brought about
4000 tons, partly salmon, but the greater part mackerel from the
southwest coast. During the mackerel season, as much as a hundred
tons at a time are brought into the Paddington Station by
express fish-train from Cornwall.

The Great Eastern and Great Northern Companies are also the
principal carriers of turkeys, geese, fowls, and game, the quantity
delivered in London last year by the former company having been
5042 tons. In Christmas week no fewer than 30,000 turkeys and
geese were delivered at the Bishopsgate Station, besides about
300 tons of poultry, 10,000 barrels of beer, and immense quantities
of fish, oysters, and other kinds of food. As much as 1600
tons of poultry and game were brought last year by the Southwestern
Railway; 600 tons by the Great Northern Railway; and
130 tons of turkeys, geese, and fowls by the London, Chatham
and Dover line, principally from France.

Of miscellaneous articles, the Great Northern and Midland
each brought about 3000 tons of cheese, the Southwestern 2600
tons, and the London and Northwestern 10,034 cheeses in number;
while the Southwestern and Brighton lines brought a splendid
contribution to the London breakfast-table in the shape of
11,259 tons of French eggs; these two companies delivering between
them an average of more than three millions of eggs a
week all the year round! The same companies last year delivered
in London 14,819 tons of butter, for the most part the produce
of the farms of Normandy, the greater cleanness and neatness
with which the Normandy butter is prepared for market
rendering it a favorite both with dealers and consumers of late
years compared with Irish butter. The London, Chatham and
Dover Company also brought from Calais 96 tons of eggs.


Next, as to the potatoes, vegetables, and fruit brought by rail.
Forty years since, the inhabitants of London relied for their supply
of vegetables on the garden-grounds in the immediate neighborhood
of the metropolis, and the consequence was that they
were both very dear and limited in quantity. But railways,
while they have extended the grazing-grounds of London as far
as the Highlands, have at the same time extended the garden-grounds
of London into all the adjoining counties—into East
Kent, Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk, the vale of Gloucester, and
even as far as Penzance in Cornwall. The London, Chatham
and Dover, one of the youngest of our main lines, brought up
from East Kent last year 5279 tons of potatoes, 1046 tons of vegetables,
and 5386 tons of fruit, besides 542 tons of vegetables
from France. The Southeastern brought 25,163 tons of the
same produce. The Great Eastern brought from the eastern
counties 21,315 tons of potatoes, and 3596 tons of vegetables and
fruit; while the Great Northern brought no less than 78,505
tons of potatoes—a large part of them from the east of Scotland—and
3768 tons of vegetables and fruit. About 6000 tons of
early potatoes were last year brought from Cornwall, with about
5000 tons of brocoli, and the quantities are steadily increasing.
“Truly London hath a large belly,” said old Fuller two hundred
years since. But how much more capacious is it now!

One of the most striking illustrations of the utility of railways
in contributing to the supply of wholesome articles of food to
the population of large cities is to be found in the rapid growth
of the traffic in Milk. Readers of newspapers may remember
the descriptions published some years since of the horrid dens in
which London cows are penned, and of the odious compound
sold by the name of milk, of which the least deleterious ingredient
in it was supplied by the “cow with the iron tail.” That
state of affairs is now completely changed. What with the
greatly improved state of the London dairies and the better
quality of the milk supplied by them, together with the large[xxiv]
quantities brought by railway from a range of a hundred miles
and more all round London, even the poorest classes in the metropolis
are now enabled to obtain as wholesome a supply of the
article as the inhabitants of most country towns.

The milk traffic has in some cases been rapid, almost sudden,
in its growth. Though the Great Western is at present the
greatest of the milk lines, it brought very little into London prior
to the year 1865. In the month of August in that year it
brought 23,474 gallons, and in the month of October following
the quantity had increased to 103,214 gallons. Last year the
total quantity delivered in London by this single railway was
1,514,836 gallons, or an average of 30,000 gallons a week. The
largest proportion of this milk was brought from beyond Swindon
in Wiltshire, about 100 miles from London; but considerable
quantities were also brought from the vale of Gloucester
and from Somerset. The London and Southwestern also is a
great milk-carrying line, having brought as much as 1,480,272
gallons to London last year, or an average of 28,000 gallons a
week. The Great Eastern brought nearly the same quantity,
1,322,429 gallons, or an average of about 25,400 gallons a
week. The London and Northwestern ranks next, having
brought 643,432 gallons in 1867; then the Great Northern,
455,916 gallons; the Southeastern, 435,668 gallons; and the
Brighton, 419,254 gallons. The total quantity of milk delivered
in London by railway last year was 6,309,446 gallons, or
above 120,000 gallons a week. Yet this traffic, large though it
may appear, is as yet but in its infancy, and in the course of a
few more years it will be found very largely increased, according
as facilities are provided for its accommodation and transit.

These great streams of food, which we have thus so summarily
described, flow into London so continuously and uninterruptedly,
that comparatively few persons are aware of the magnitude and
importance of the process thus daily going forward. Though
gathered from an immense extent of country—embracing England,[xxv]
Scotland, Wales, and Ireland—the influx is so unintermitted
that it is relied upon with as much certainty as if it only
came from the counties immediately adjoining London. The
express meat-train from Aberdeen arrives in town as punctually
as the Clapham omnibus, and the express milk-train from Aylesbury
is as regular in its delivery as the penny post. Indeed,
London now depends so much upon railways for its subsistence,
that it may be said to be fed by them from day to day, having
never more than a few days’ food in stock. And the supply is
so regular and continuous, that the possibility of its being interrupted
never for a moment occurs to any one. Yet, in these
days of strikes among workmen, such a contingency is quite
within the limits of possibility. Another contingency, arising in
a state of war, is probably still more remote. But, were it possible
for a war to occur between England and a combination of
foreign powers possessed of stronger iron-clads than ours, and
that they were able to ram our ships back into port and land an
enemy of overpowering force on the Essex coast, it would be sufficient
for them to occupy or cut the railways leading from the
north, to starve London into submission in less than a fortnight.

Besides supplying London with food, railways have also been
instrumental in insuring the more regular and economical supply
of fuel—a matter of almost as vital importance to the population
in a climate such as that of England. So long as the market
was supplied with coal brought by sea in sailing ships, fuel in
winter often rose to a famine price, especially during long-continued
easterly winds. But, now that railways are in full work,
the price is almost as steady in winter as in summer, and the supply
is more regular at all seasons. The following statement of
the coals brought into London by sea and by railway, at decennial
periods since 1827, as supplied by Mr. J. R. Scott, Registrar of
the Coal Exchange, shows the effect of railways in increasing the
supply of fuel, at the same time that they have lowered the price
to the consumer:


Years. Sea-borne Coal. Coals brought by
Price per Ton.
  Tons. Tons.   s.  d.
1827 1,882,321 nil 28   6
1847 3,280,420     19,336 20 10
1857 3,133,459 1,206,775 18   8
1867 3,016,416 3,295,652 20   8

Thus the price of coal has been reduced 7s. 10d. a ton since 1827,
while the quantity delivered has been enormously increased, the
total saving on the quantity consumed in the metropolis in 1867,
compared with 1827, being equal to £2,388,000.

But the carriage of food and fuel to London forms but a small
part of the merchandise traffic carried by railway. Above
600,000 tons of goods of various kinds yearly pass through one
station only, that of the London and Northwestern Company, at
Camden Town; and sometimes as many as 20,000 parcels daily.
Every other metropolitan station is similarly alive with traffic inward
and outward, London having since the introduction of railways
become more than ever a great distributive centre, to which
merchandise of all kinds converges, and from which it is distributed
to all parts of the country. Mr. Bazley, M.P., stated at a
late public meeting at Manchester that it would probably require
ten millions of horses to convey by road the merchandise traffic
which is now annually carried by railway.

Railways have also proved of great value in connection with
the Cheap Postage system. By their means it has become possible
to carry letters, newspapers, books, and post parcels in any
quantity, expeditiously and cheaply. The Liverpool and Manchester
line was no sooner opened in 1830 than the Post-office
authorities recognized its utility, and used it for carrying the
mails between the two towns. When the London and Birmingham
line was opened eight years later, mail trains were at once
put on, the directors undertaking to perform the distance of 113
miles within 5 hours by day and 5-1/2 hours by night. As additional
lines were opened, the old four-horse mail-coaches were
gradually discontinued, until, in 1858, the last of them, the “Derby[xxvii]
Dilly,” which ran between Manchester and Derby, was taken
off on the opening of the Midland line to Rowsley.

The increased accommodation provided by railways was found
of essential importance, more particularly after the adoption of
the Cheap Postage system; and that such accommodation was
needed will be obvious from the extraordinary increase which
has taken place in the number of letters and packets sent by post.
Thus, in 1839, the number of chargeable letters carried was only
76 millions, and of newspapers 44-1/2 millions; whereas, in 1865,
the number of letters had increased to 720 millions, and in 1867
to 775 millions, or more than tenfold, while the number of newspapers,
books, samples, and patterns (a new branch of postal business
begun in 1864) had increased, in 1865, to 98-1/2 millions.

To accommodate this largely-increasing traffic, the bulk of
which is carried by railway, the mileage run by mail trains in the
United Kingdom has increased from 25,000 miles a day in 1854
(the first year of which we have any return of the mileage run) to
60,000 miles a day in 1867, or an increase of 240 per cent. The
Post-office expenditure on railway service has also increased, but
not in like proportion, having been £364,000 in the former year,
and £559,575 in the latter, or an increase of 154 per cent. The
revenue, gross and net, has increased still more rapidly. In 1841,
the first complete year of the Cheap Postage system, the gross
revenue was £1,359,466, and the net revenue £500,789; in 1854,
the gross revenue was £2,574,407, and the net revenue £1,173,723;
and in 1867, the gross revenue was £4,548,129, and the net revenue
£2,127,125, being an increase of 420 per cent. compared with
1841, and of 180 per cent. compared with 1854. How much of
this net increase might fairly be credited to the Railway Postal
service we shall not pretend to say, but assuredly the proportion
must be very considerable.

One of the great advantages of railways in connection with
the postal service is the greatly increased frequency of communication
which they provide between all the large towns. Thus[xxviii]
Liverpool has now six deliveries of Manchester letters daily, while
every large town in the kingdom has two or more deliveries of
London letters daily. In 1863, 393 towns had two mails daily
from London; 50 had three mails daily; 7 had four mails a day
from London, and 15 had four mails a day to London; while 3
towns had five mails a day from London, and 6 had five mails a
day to London.

Another feature of the railway mail train, as of the passenger
train, is its capacity to carry any quantity of letters and post parcels
that may require to be carried. In 1838, the aggregate
weight of all the evening mails dispatched from London by twenty-eight
mail-coaches was 4 tons 6 cwt., or an average of about
3-1/4 cwt. each, though the maximum contract weight was 15 cwt.
The mails now are necessarily much heavier, the number of letters
and packets having, as we have seen, increased more than
tenfold since 1839. But it is not the ordinary so much as the
extraordinary mails that are of considerable weight, more particularly
the American, the Continental, and the Australian mails.
It is no unusual thing, we are informed, for the last-mentioned
mail to weigh as much as 40 tons. How many of the old mail-coaches
it would take to carry such a mail the 79 miles’ journey
to Southampton, with a relay of four horses every five or seven
miles, is a problem for the arithmetician to solve. But even supposing
each coach to be loaded to the maximum weight of 15
cwt. per coach, it would require about sixty vehicles and about
1700 horses to carry the 40 tons, besides the coachmen and guards.

A few words, in conclusion, as to the number of men employed
in working and maintaining railways. According to Mr. Mills,[1]
166,047 men and officers were employed in the working of 13,289
miles open in the United Kingdom in 1865, besides 53,923 employed
on lines then under construction. The most numerous[xxix]
body of workmen is that of the laborers (81,284) employed in the
maintenance of the permanent way. Being mostly picked men
from the laboring class of the adjoining districts, they are paid
considerably higher wages, and hence one of the direct effects
of railways on the laboring population (besides affording them
greater facilities for locomotion) has been to raise the standard
of wages of ordinary labor at least 2s. a week in all the districts
into which they have penetrated. The workmen next in number
is that of the artificers (40,167) employed in constructing and repairing
the rolling-stock; the porters (25,381), the plate-layers
(12,901), guards and brakesmen (5799), firemen (5266), and engine-drivers
(5171). But, besides the employés directly engaged
in the working and maintenance of railways, large numbers of
workmen are also occupied in the manufacture of locomotives
and rolling-stock, and in providing the requisite materials for the
permanent way. Thus the consumption of rails alone averages
nearly 400,000 tons a year in the United Kingdom alone, while
the replacing of decayed sleepers requires about 10,000 acres of
forest to be cut down annually and sawn into sleepers. Taking
the various railway workmen into account, with their families, it
will be found that they represent a total of about three quarters
of a million persons, or about one in fifty of our population, who
are dependent on railways for their subsistence.

While the practical working of railways has, on the whole,
been so satisfactory, the case has been very different as regards
their direction and financial management. The men employed
in the working of railways make it their business to learn it, and,
being responsible, they are under the necessity of taking pains to
do it well; whereas the men who govern and direct them are
practically irresponsible, and may possess no qualification whatever
for the office excepting only the holding of so much stock.
The consequence has been much blundering on the part of these
amateurs, and great loss on the part of the public. Indeed, what[xxx]
between the confused, contradictory, and often unjust legislation
of Parliament on the one hand, and the carelessness or incompetency
of directors on the other, many once flourishing concerns
have been thrown into a state of utter confusion and muddle,
until railway government has become a by-word of reproach.

And this state of things will probably continue until the fatal
defect of government by Boards—an extremely limited responsibility,
or no responsibility at all—has been rectified by the appointment,
as in France, of executives consisting of a few men of
special ability and trained administrative skill, personally responsible
to their constituents for the due performance of their respective
functions. But the discussion of this subject would require
a treatise, whereas we are now but writing a preface.

Whatever may be said of the financial mismanagement of railways,
there can be no doubt as to the great benefits conferred by
them on the public wherever made. Even those railways which
have exhibited the most “frightful examples” of scheming and
financing, so soon as placed in the hands of practical men to
work, have been found to prove of unquestionable public convenience
and utility. And notwithstanding all the faults and imperfections
that are alleged against railways have been admitted,
we think that they must, nevertheless, be recognized as by far the
most valuable means of communication between men and nations
that has yet been given to the world.

The author’s object in publishing this book in its original form,
some ten years since, was to describe, in connection with the
“Life of George Stephenson,” the origin and progress of the railway
system, and to show by what moral and material agencies
its founders were enabled to carry their ideas into effect, and to
work out results which even then were of a remarkable character,
though they have since, as above described, become so much
more extraordinary. The favor with which successive editions
of the book have been received has justified the author in his anticipation[xxxi]
that such a narrative would prove of general, if not of
permanent interest, and he has taken pains, in preparing for the
press the present, and probably final edition, to render it, by careful
amendment and revision, more worthy of the public acceptance.

London, May, 1868.




The following is a revised and improved edition of “The Life
of George Stephenson,” with which is incorporated a Memoir of
his son Robert, late President of the Institute of Civil Engineers.
Since its original appearance in 1857, much additional information
has been communicated to the author relative to the early
history of Railways and the men principally concerned in establishing
them, of which he has availed himself in the present

In preparing the original work for publication, the author enjoyed
the advantage of the cordial co-operation and assistance of
Robert Stephenson, on whom he mainly relied for information
as to the various stages through which the Locomotive passed,
and especially as to his father’s share in its improvement.
Through Mr. Stephenson’s instrumentality also, the author was
enabled to obtain much valuable information from gentlemen
who had been intimately connected with his father and himself
in their early undertakings—among others, from Mr. Edward
Pease, of Darlington; Mr. Dixon, C.E.; Mr. Sopwith, F.R.S.;
Mr. Charles Parker; and Sir Joshua Walmsley.

Most of the facts relating to the early period of George Stephenson’s
career were collected from colliers, brakesmen, engine-men,
and others, who had known him intimately, or been fellow-workmen
with him, and were proud to communicate what they
remembered of his early life. The information obtained from
these old men—most of them illiterate, and some broken down[xxxiv]
by hard work—though valuable in many respects, was confused,
and sometimes contradictory; but, to insure as much accuracy
and consistency of narrative as possible, the author submitted the
MS. to Mr. Stephenson, and had the benefit of his revision of it
previous to publication.

Mr. Stephenson took a lively interest in the improvement of
the “Life” of his father, and continued to furnish corrections
and additions for insertion in the successive editions of the book
which were called for by the public. After the first two editions
had appeared, he induced several gentlemen, well qualified to
supply additional authentic information, to communicate their
recollections of his father, among whom may be mentioned Mr.
T. L. Gooch, C.E.; Mr. Vaughan, of Snibston; Mr. F. Swanwick,
C.E.; and Mr. Binns, of Clayross, who had officiated as private
secretaries to George Stephenson at different periods of his life,
and afterward held responsible offices either under him or in conjunction
with him.

The author states these facts to show that the information contained
in this book is of an authentic character, and has been obtained
from the most trustworthy sources. Whether he has used
it to the best purpose or not, he leaves others to judge. This
much, however, he may himself say—that he has endeavored, to
the best of his ability, to set forth the facts communicated to him
in a simple, faithful, and straightforward manner; and, even if
he has not wholly succeeded in doing this, he has, at all events,
been the means of collecting information on a subject originally
unattractive to professional literary men, and thereby rendered
its farther prosecution comparatively easy to those who may feel
called upon to undertake it.

The author does not pretend to have steered clear of errors in
treating a subject so extensive, and, before he undertook the labor,
comparatively uninvestigated; but, wherever errors have
been pointed out, he has taken the earliest opportunity of correcting
them. With respect to objections taken to the book because[xxxv]
of the undue share of merit alleged to be therein attributed
to the Stephensons in respect of the Railway and the Locomotive,
there will necessarily be various opinions. There is
scarcely an invention or improvement in mechanics but has been
the subject of dispute, and it was to be expected that those who
had counter claims would put them forward in the present case;
nor has the author any reason to complain of the manner in
which this has been done.

While George Stephenson is the principal subject in the following
book, his son Robert also forms an essential part of it.
Father and son were so intimately associated in the early period
of their career, that it is difficult, if not impossible, to describe
the one apart from the other. The life and achievements of the
son were in a great measure the complement of the life and
achievements of the father. The care, also, with which the elder
Stephenson, while occupying the position of an obscure engine-wright,
devoted himself to his son’s education, and the gratitude
with which the latter repaid the affectionate self-denial of his
father, furnish some of the most interesting illustrations of the
personal character of both.

These views were early adopted by the author and carried out
by him in the preparation of the original work, with the concurrence
of Robert Stephenson, who supplied the necessary particulars
relating to himself. Such portions of these were accordingly
embodied in the narrative as could with propriety be published
during his life-time, and the remaining portions are now added
with the object of rendering more complete the record of the
son’s life, as well as the early history of the Railway System.






Schemers and Projectors.

Man’s Desire for rapid Transit.—Origin of the Railway.—Early Coal Wagon-ways
in the North of England.—Early Attempts to apply the Power of Wind to drive
Carriages.—Sailing-coaches.—Sir Isaac Newton’s Proposal to employ Steam-power.—Dr.
Darwin’s Speculations on the Subject.—Mr. Edgeworth’s Speculations.—Dr.
Darwin’s Prophecy.Page 47



Early Locomotive Models.

Watt and Robison’s proposed Steam-carriage.—Memoir of Joseph Cugnot and his
Road-locomotive.—Francis Moore.—James Watt’s Specification of a Locomotive-engine.—William
Murdoch’s Model.—William Symington’s model Steam-carriage.—Oliver
Evans’s model Locomotive.60



The Cornish Locomotive—Memoir of Trevithick.

Early Welsh Railway Acts.—Wandsworth, Croydon, and Merstham Railway.—Boyhood
of Trevithick.—Becomes an Engineer.—His Career.—Constructs a
Steam-carriage.—Its Exhibition in London.—Constructs a Tram-engine.—Its
Trial on the Merthyr Railroad.—Trevithick’s Improvements in the Steam-engine.—Attempts
to construct a Tunnel under the Thames.—His numerous Inventions
and Patents.—Engines ordered of him for Peru.—Trevithick a Mining Engineer
in South America.—Is ruined by the Peruvian Revolution.—His return Home.—His
last Patents.—Death and Characteristics.73





The Newcastle Coal-field—George Stephenson’s Early Years.

Newcastle in ancient Times.—The Coal-trade.—Modern Newcastle.—The Colliery
Workmen.—The Pumping-engines.—The Pitmen.—The Keelmen.—Wylam Colliery
and Village.—George Stephenson’s Birthplace.—The Stephenson Family.—Old
Robert Stephenson.—George’s Boyhood.—Employed as a Herd-boy.—Makes
Clay Engines.—Employed as Corf-bitter.—Drives the Gin-horse.—Appointed assistant




Newburn and Callerton—George Stephenson learns to be an Engine-man.

Stephenson’s Life at Newburn.—Appointed Engine-man.—Duties of Plugman.—Study
of the Steam-engine.—Experiments in Bird-hatching.—Learns to Read.—His
Schoolmasters.—Progress in Arithmetic.—His Dog.—Learns to Brake.—Duties
of Brakesman.—Begins Shoe-mending.—Fight with a Pitman.111



Engine-man at Willington Quay and Killingworth.

Sobriety and Studiousness.—Removal to Willington Quay, and Marriage.—Attempts
a Perpetual-motion Machine.—William Fairbairn, C.E., and George Stephenson.—Ballast-heaving.—Cottage
Chimney takes fire—Birth of his son Robert.—Removal
to West Moor, Killingworth.—Death of his Wife.—Appointed Engine-man
at Montrose.—Return to Killingworth.—Appointed Brakesman at West Moor.—Is
drawn for the Militia.—Thinks of Emigrating.—Takes a contract for Brakeing.—Improves
the Winding-engine.—Cures a Pumping-engine.—Is appointed Engine-wright
of the Colliery.121



The Stephensons at Killingworth—Education and Self-education.

Efforts at Self-improvement.—John Wigham.—Studies in Natural Philosophy.—Education
of Robert Stephenson.—Sent to Bruce’s School, Newcastle.—His boyish
Tricks.—Stephenson’s Cottage, West Moor.—Mechanical Contrivances.—The
Sun-dial at West Moor.—Stephenson’s various Duties as Colliery Engineer.137



The Locomotive Engine—George Stephenson begins its Improvement.

Slow Progress heretofore made in the Improvement of the Locomotive.—The Wylam
Wagon-way.—Mr. Blackett orders a Locomotive.—Mr. Blenkinsop’s Leeds
Locomotive.—Mr. Blackett’s second Engine a Failure.—The improved Wylam
Engine.—George Stephenson’s Study of the Subject.—His first Locomotive constructed.—His
Improvement of the Engine, as described by his Son.—Invention
of the Steam-blast.152



Invention of the “Geordy” Safety-lamp.

Frequency of Colliery Explosions.—Accidents in the Killingworth Pit.—Stephenson’s
heroic Conduct.—Proposes to invent a Safety-lamp.—His first Lamp and
its Trial.—Cottage Experiments with Coal-gas.—His second and third Lamps.—Scene
at the Newcastle Institute.—The Stephenson and Davy Controversy.—The
Davy and Stephenson Testimonials.—Merits of the “Geordy” Lamp.175



George Stephenson’s Farther Improvements in the Locomotive—Robert
Stephenson as Viewer’s Apprentice and Student.

Stephenson’s Improvements in the Mine-machinery.—Farther Improvements in the
Locomotive and in the Road.—Experiments on Friction.—Early Neglect of the
Locomotive.—Stephenson again meditates emigrating to America.—Employed as[xxxix]
Engineer of the Hetton Railway.—Robert Stephenson put Apprentice to a Coal-viewer.—His
Father sends him to Edinburg University.—His Studies there.—Geological
Tour in the Highlands.198



George Stephenson Engineer of the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

Failure of the first public Railways near London.—Want of improved communications
in the Bishop Auckland Coal-district.—Various Projects devised.—A Railway
projected at Darlington.—Edward Pease.—George Stephenson employed as
Engineer.—Mr. Pease’s Visit to Killingworth.—A Locomotive Factory begun at
Newcastle.—The Stockton and Darlington Line constructed.—The public Opening.—The
Coal-traffic.—The first Passenger-traffic by Railway.—The Town of
Middlesborough-on-Tees created by the Railway.216



The Liverpool and Manchester Railway Projected.

Insufficiency of the Communication between Liverpool and Manchester.—A Tram-road
projected by Mr. Sandars.—The Line surveyed by William James.—The
Survey a failure.—George Stephenson appointed Engineer.—A Company formed
and a Railroad projected.—The first Prospectus issued.—Opposition to the Survey.—Speculations
as to Railway Speed.—George Stephenson’s Views thought extravagant.—Article
in the “Quarterly”.247



Parliamentary Contest on the Liverpool and Manchester Bill.

The Bill before Parliament.—The Evidence.—George Stephenson in the Witness-box.—Examined
as to Speed.—His Cross-examination.—Examined as to the possibility
of constructing a Line on Chat Moss.—Mr. Harrison’s Speech.—Mr. Giles’s
Evidence as to Chat Moss.—Mr. Alderson’s Speech.—The Bill lost.—Stephenson’s
Vexation.—The Bill revived, with the Messrs. Rennie as Engineers.—Sir
Isaac Coffin’s prophecies of Disaster.—The Act passed.265



Chat Moss—Construction of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

George Stephenson again appointed Engineer of the Railway.—Chat Moss described.—The
resident Engineers of the Line.—George Stephenson’s Theory of a Floating
Road on the Moss.—Operations begun.—The Tar-barrel Drains.—The Embankment
sinks in the Moss.—Proposed Abandonment of the Works.—Stephenson’s
Perseverance.—The Obstacles conquered.—The Tunnel at Liverpool.—The
Olive Mount Cutting.—The Sankey Viaduct.—Stephenson’s great Labors.—His
daily Life.—Evenings at Home.281



Robert Stephenson’s Residence in Colombia and Return—The “Battle
of the Locomotive.”

Robert Stephenson appointed Mining Engineer in Colombia.—Mule Journey to Bogotá.—Mariquita.—Silver
Mining.—Difficulties with the Cornishmen.—His Cottage
at Santa Anna.—Resigns his Appointment.—Meeting with Trevithick.—Voyage
to New York, and Shipwreck.—Returns to Newcastle, and takes Charge[xl]
of the Locomotive Factory.—Discussion as to the Working Power of the Liverpool
and Manchester Railway.—Walker and Rastrick’s Report.—A Prize offered
for the best Locomotive.—Invention of the Multitubular Boiler.—Henry Booth.—Construction
of the “Rocket.”—The Locomotive Competition at Rainhill.—Triumph
of the “Rocket”.301



Opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and Extension of
the Railway System.

The Railway finished.—Organization of the Working.—The public Opening.—Fatal
Accident to Mr. Huskisson.—The Traffic begun.—Improvements in the Road,
Rolling Stock, and Locomotive.—Steam-carriages tried on common Roads.—New
Railway Projects.—Opposition to Railways in the South of England.—Robert
Stephenson appointed Engineer of Leicester and Swannington Railway.—George
removes to Snibston and sinks for Coal.—His character as a Master.329



Robert Stephenson constructs the London and Birmingham Railway.

The London and Birmingham Railway projected.—George and Robert Stephenson
appointed Engineers.—An Opposition organized.—Public Meetings against the
Scheme.—Robert Stephenson’s Interview with Sir A. Cooper.—The Survey obstructed.—The
Line resurveyed.—The Bill in Parliament.—Thrown out in the
Lords.—The Project revived.—The Act obtained.—The Works let in Contracts.—Difficulties
of the Undertaking.—The Line described.—Blisworth Cutting.—Primrose
Hill Tunnel.—Kilsby Tunnel.—Its Construction described.—Failures
of Contractors.—Magnitude of the Works.—The Railway navvies.349



Manchester and Leeds, Midland, and other Railways—General Extension
of Railways and their results.

Projection of new Lines.—Dutton Viaduct on the Grand Junction.—The Manchester
and Leeds.—Incident in Committee.—Summit Tunnel, Littleborough.—The
Midland Railway.—The Works compared with the Simplon Road.—Slip near
Ambergate.—Bull Bridge.—The York and North Midland.—The Scarborough
Branch.—George Stephenson on Estimates.—Stephenson on his Surveys.—His
quick Observation.—His extensive Labors.—Traveling and Correspondence.—Life
at Alton Grange.—Stephenson’s London Office.—Journeys to Belgium.—Interviews
with the King.—Public Openings of English Railways.—Stephenson’s
Assistants.—Results of Railroads.365



George Stephenson’s Coal-mines—Opinions on Railway Speeds—Railway

George Stephenson on Railways and Coal Traffic.—Leases the Claycross Estate.—His
Residence at Tapton.—His Appearance at Mechanics’ Institutes.—His Views
on Railway Speed.—Undulating Lines favored.—Stephenson on Railway Speculation.—Atmospheric
Railways projected.—Opposed by Stephenson.—The Railway
Mania.—Action of Parliament.—Rage for direct Lines.—Stephenson’s Letter to
Peel.—George Hudson, the “Railway King.”—His Fall.—Stephenson again visits
Belgium.—Interview with King Leopold.—Journey into Spain.392




Robert Stephenson’s Career—East Coast Route to Scotland—High-Level
Bridge, Newcastle.

Robert Stephenson’s Career.—His extensive Employment as Parliamentary Engineer.—His
rival, Brunel.—The Great Western Railway.—Width of Gauge.—Robert
Stephenson’s caution as to Investments.—The Newcastle and Berwick Railway.—Contest
in Parliament.—George Stephenson’s Interview with Lord Howick.—The
Royal Border Bridge, Berwick.—Progress of Iron Bridge-building.—Robert
Stephenson constructs the High-Level Bridge, Newcastle.—Pile-driving by
Steam.—Merits of the Structure.—The through Railway to Scotland completed.421



Chester and Holyhead Railway—Menai and Conway Bridges.

George Stephenson Surveys a line from Chester to Holyhead.—Robert Stephenson
afterward appointed Engineer.—The Railway Works under Penmaen Mawr.—The
Crossing of the Menai Strait.—Various Plans proposed.—A Tubular Beam
determined on.—Strength of wrought-iron Tubes.—Mr. William Fairbairn consulted.—His
Experiments.—Professor Hodgkinson.—Chains proposed, and eventually
discarded.—The Bridge Works.—The Conway Bridge.—Britannia Bridge
described.—Floating of the Tubes.—Robert Stephenson’s great Anxiety.—Raising
of the Tubes.—The Hydraulic Press bursts.—The Works completed.—Merits of
the Britannia Bridge.438



Closing Years of George Stephenson’s Life—Illness and Death.

George Stephenson’s Life at Tapton.—Experiments in Horticulture.—His Farming
Operations.—Affection for Animals.—Bee-keeping.—Reading and Conversation.—Rencounter
with Lord Denman.—Hospitality at Tapton.—His Microscope.—A
“Crowdie Night.”—Visits to London.—Visits Sir Robert Peel at Drayton
Manor.—His Conversation.—Encounter with Dr. Buckland.—Coal formed by the
Sun’s Light.—Opening of the Trent Valley Line and its Celebration.—Meeting
with Emerson.—Illness, Death, and Funeral.—Statues of George Stephenson.—Personal



Robert Stephenson’s Victoria Bridge, Lower Canada—Illness and Death—The
Stephenson Characteristics.

Robert Stephenson’s gradual Retirement from the profession of Engineer.—His Tubular
Bridge over the Nile.—Railways in Canada.—Proposed Bridge at Montreal.—A
Tubular Bridge proposed.—Robert Stephenson appointed Engineer.—Design
of the Victoria Bridge.—The Piers.—Getting in of the Foundations.—Progress
of the Works.—Erection of the Tubes.—Scene at the breaking-up of the Ice in
1858.—The Night-work.—Erection of main central Tube.—Completion of the
Works.—Robert Stephenson in Parliament.—His Opinion of the Suez Canal.—His
Honors.—Launch of the Great Eastern.—Last Illness and Death.—The Stephenson





Portrait of George Stephenson to face Title Page.
Portrait of Trevithick 46
Tyne Coal-staith 49
Flange-rail 50
Cugnot’s Steam-carriage 62
Murdock’s Model Locomotive 66
Symington’s Model Steam-carriage 69
Oliver Evans’s Model Locomotive 70
Trevithick’s Tram-engine 81
High-Level Bridge, Newcastle 96
Map of Newcastle District 98
Wylam 103
High-Street House, Wylam 104
Colliery Wagons 110
Newburn 111
Colliery Gin 120
Stephenson’s Cottage at Willington Quay 121
Stephenson’s Signature 123
West Moor Colliery 127
Killingworth High Pit 136
Glebe Farm-house, Benton 137
Rutter’s School-house at Long Benton 140
Bruce’s School, Newcastle 142
Stephenson’s Cottage, West Moor 146
Sun-dial, Killingworth 149
Colliers’ Cottages, Long Benton 151
Blenkinsop’s Leeds Engine 155
The Wylam Engine 160
Spur-gear 164
Killingworth Locomotive (Section) 168
Colliery Whimsey 174
Pit-head, West Moor 177
Davy’s and Stephenson’s Safety-lamps 187
Literary and Philosophical Institute, Newcastle 189
The Stephenson Tankard 197
Half-lap Joint 200
Old Killingworth Locomotive 201
West Moor Pit, Killingworth 214
Portrait of Edward Pease 223
Map of Stockton and Darlington Railway 224
Opening of Stockton and Darlington Railway 238
The First Railway Coach 241
No. 1 Engine at Darlington 244
Middlesborough-on-Tees 246
Map of Liverpool and Manchester Railway 250-1
Surveying on Chat Moss 264
Olive Mount Cutting 291
Sankey Viaduct 292
Baiting-place at Sankey 295
Chat Moss—Works in progress 299
Robert Stephenson’s Cottage at Santa Anna 306
The “Rocket” 321
Locomotive Competition at Rainhill 324
Railway versus Road 328
Map of Leicester and Swannington Railway 343
Alton Grange 346
Portrait of Robert Stephenson 347
Map of London and Birmingham Railway 354
Blisworth Cutting 355
Shafts, Kilsby Tunnel 357
Kilsby Tunnel (North end) 363
Dutton Viaduct 366
Littleborough Tunnel (West entrance) 368
Littleborough Tunnel (Walsden end) 369
Map of Midland Railway 370
Land-slip, Ambergate 372
Bull Bridge 373
Coalville and Snibston Colliery 391
Tapton House 392
Lime-works, Ambergate 394
Forth-Street Works, Newcastle 396
Claycross Works 420
Newcastle from High-Level Bridge 421
Royal Border Bridge, Berwick 429
Elevation and Plan of Arch, High-Level Bridge 435
Railway at Penmaen Mawr 440
Map of Menai Strait; Britannia Bridge 442
Construction of Britannia Tube on Staging 450
Conway Bridge 451
Menai Bridge 456
Floating First Tube, Conway Bridge 459
View in Tapton Gardens 460
Footpath to Tapton House 465
Trinity Church, Chesterfield 471
Tablet in Trinity Church 473
Victoria Bridge, Montreal 474
Elevation of Pier, Victoria Bridge 478
Works in Progress, Victoria Bridge 480
Erection of the Main Central Tube, Victoria Bridge 483
Stephenson Memorial Schools, Willington 496









It is easy to understand how rapid transit from place to place
should, from the earliest times, have been an object of desire.
The marvelous gift of speed conferred by Fortunatus’s Wishing
Cap was what all must have envied: it conferred power. It also
conferred pleasure. “Life has not many things better than this,”
said Samuel Johnson as he rolled along in the post-chaise. But
it also conferred comfort and well-being; and hence the easy and
rapid transit of persons and commodities became in all countries
an object of desire in proportion to their growth in civilization.

We have elsewhere[2] endeavored to describe the obstructions
to the progress of society occasioned by the defective internal
communications of Britain in early times, which were to a considerable
extent removed by the adoption of the canal system,
and the improvement of our roads and highways, toward the end
of last century. But the progress of industry was so rapid—the
invention of new tools, machines, and engines so greatly increased
the productive wealth of the nation—that some forty years since
it was found that these roads and canals, numerous and excellent
though they might be, were altogether inadequate for the accommodation
of the traffic of the country, which was increasing in
almost a direct ratio with the increased application of steam-power
to the purposes of productive industry.

The inventive minds of the nation, always on the alert—the
“schemers” and the “projectors,” to whom society has in all times
been so greatly indebted—proceeded to apply themselves to the
solution of the problem of how the communications of the country
were best to be improved; and the result was, that the power[48]
of steam itself was applied to remedy the inconveniences which
it had caused.

Like most inventions, that of the Steam Locomotive was very
gradually made. The idea of it, born in one age, was revived in
the ages that followed. It was embodied first in one model,
then in another—the labors of one inventor being taken up by
his successors—until at length, after many disappointments
and many failures, the practicable working locomotive was

The locomotive engine was not, however, sufficient for the
purposes of cheap and rapid transit. Another expedient was absolutely
essential to its success—that of the Railway: the smooth
rail to bear the load, as well as the steam-engine to draw it.

Expedients were early adopted for the purpose of diminishing
friction between the wheels of vehicles and the roads along which
they were dragged by horse-power. The Romans employed stone
blocks with that object; and the streets of the long-buried city
of Pompeii still bear the marks of the ancient Roman chariot-wheels,
as the stone track for heavy vehicles on our modern London
Bridge shows the wheel-marks of the wagons which cross it.
These stone blocks were merely a simple expedient to diminish
friction, and were the first steps toward a railroad.

The railway proper doubtless originated in the coal districts
of the North of England and Wales, where it was found useful
in facilitating the transport of coals from the pits to the shipping-places.
At an early period the coal was carried to the boats in
panniers, or in sacks upon horses’ backs. Next carts were used,
and tram-ways of flag-stone were laid down, along which they
were easily hauled. The carts were then converted into wagons,
and mounted on four wheels instead of two.

Still farther to facilitate the haulage of the wagons, pieces of
planking were laid parallel upon wooden sleepers, or imbedded
in the ordinary track. It is said that these wooden rails were
first employed by a Mr. Beaumont, a gentleman from the South,
who, about the year 1630, adventured in the northern mines with
about thirty thousand pounds, and after introducing many improvements
in the working of the coal, as well as in the methods
of transporting it to the staithes on the river, was ruined by his
enterprise, and “within a few Years,” to use the words of the[49]
ancient chronicler, “he consumed all his Money, and rode Home
upon his light Horse.”[3]


The use of wooden rails gradually extended, and they were
laid down between most of the collieries on the Tyne and the
places at which the coal was shipped. Roger North, in 1676,
found the practice had become extensively adopted, and he
speaks of the large sums then paid for way-leave—that is, the
permission granted by the owners of lands lying between the
coal-pits and the river-side to lay down a tram-way for the purpose
of connecting the one with the other.

A century later, Arthur Young observed that not only had
these roads become greatly multiplied, but formidable works had
been constructed to carry them along upon the same level. “The
coal wagon-roads from the pits to the water,” he says, “are great
works, carried over all sorts of inequalities of ground, so far as
the distance of nine or ten miles. The tracks of the wheels are
marked with pieces of wood let into the road for the wheels of
the wagons to run on, by which one horse is enabled to draw, and
that with ease, fifty or sixty bushels of coals.”[4]

Saint Fond, the French traveler, who visited Newcastle in 1791,
described the colliery wagon-ways in that neighborhood as superior
to any thing of the kind he had seen. The wooden rails
[50]were formed with a rounded upper surface, like a projecting
moulding, and the wagon-wheels being “made of cast iron, and
hollowed in the manner of a metal pulley,” readily fitted the
rounded surface of the rails. The economy with which the coal
was thus hauled to the shipping-places was urged by Saint Fond
as an inducement to his own countrymen to adopt a like method
of transit.[5]

Similar wagon-roads were early laid down in the coal districts
of Wales, Cumberland, and Scotland. At the time of the Scotch
rebellion in 1745, a tram-road existed between the Tranent coal-pits
and the small harbor of Cockenzie, in East Lothian; and a
portion of the line was selected by General Cope as a position
for his cannon at the battle of Prestonpans.

In these rude wooden tracks we find the germ of the modern
railroad. Improvements were gradually made in them. Thus,
at some collieries, thin plates of iron were nailed upon their upper
surface, for the purpose of protecting the parts most exposed
to friction. Cast-iron rails were also tried, the wooden rails having
been found liable to rot. The first iron rails are supposed to
have been laid down at Whitehaven as early as 1738. This cast-iron
road was denominated a “plate-way,” from the plate-like
form in which the rails were cast. In 1767, as appears from the
books of the Coalbrookdale Iron Works, in Shropshire, five or six
tons of rails were cast, as an experiment, on the suggestion of Mr.
Reynolds, one of the partners; and they were shortly after laid
down to form a road.


In 1776, a cast-iron tram-way, nailed to
wooden sleepers, was laid down at the
Duke of Norfolk’s colliery near Sheffield.
The person who designed and constructed
this coal line was Mr. John Curr, whose
son has erroneously claimed for him the
invention of the cast-iron railway. He
certainly adopted it early, and thereby met
the fate of men before their age; for his
plan was opposed by the laboring people
of the colliery, who got up a riot, in which
they tore up the road and burned the coal-staith, while Mr. Curr[51]
fled into a neighboring wood for concealment, and lay there
perdu for three days and nights, to escape the fury of the populace.[6]
The plates of these early tram-ways had a ledge cast on
their outer edge to guide the wheel along the road, after the manner
shown in the preceding cut.

In 1789, Mr. William Jessop constructed a railway at Loughborough,
in Leicestershire, and there introduced the cast-iron
edge-rail, with flanches cast upon the tire of the wagon-wheels to
keep them on the track, instead of having the margin or flanch
cast upon the rail itself; and this plan was shortly after adopted
in other places. In 1800, Mr. Benjamin Outram, of Little Eaton,
Derbyshire (father of the distinguished General Outram), used
stone props instead of timber for supporting the ends or joinings
of the rails. Thus the use of railroads, in various forms, gradually
extended, until they became generally adopted in the mining

Such was the growth of the railroad, which, it will be observed,
originated in necessity, and was modified according to experience;
progress in this, as in all departments of mechanics, having been
effected by the exertions of many men; one generation entering
upon the labors of that which preceded it, and carrying them onward
to farther stages of improvement. The invention of the
locomotive was in like manner made by successive steps. It was
not the invention of one man, but of a succession of men, each
working at the proper hour, and according to the needs of that
hour; one inventor interpreting only the first word of the problem
which his successors were to solve after long and laborious
efforts and experiments. “The locomotive is not the invention
of one man,” said Robert Stephenson at Newcastle, “but of a nation
of mechanical engineers.”

Down to the end of last century, and indeed down almost to
our own time, the only power used in haulage was that of the
horse. Along the common roads of the country the poor horses
were “tearing their hearts out” in dragging cumbersome vehicles
behind them, and the transport of merchandise continued to be
slow, dear, and in all respects unsatisfactory. Many expedients
were suggested with the view of getting rid of the horse. The[52]
power of wind was one of the first expedients proposed. It was
cheap, though by no means regular. It impelled ships by sea;
why should it not be used to impel carriages by land?

The first sailing-coach was invented by one Simon Stevinius,
or Stevins, a Fleming, toward the end of the sixteenth century.
Pierre Gassendi gives an account of its performances as follows:

“Purposing to visit Grotius, Peireskius went to Scheveling that
he might satisfy himself of the carriage and swiftness of a coach a
few years before invented, and made with that artifice that with
expanded sails it would fly upon the shore as a ship upon the sea.
He had formerly heard that Count Maurice, a little after his victory
at Nieuport [1600], had put himself thereinto, together with Francis
Mendoza, his prisoner, on purpose to make trial thereof, and that,
within two hours, they arrived at Putten, which is distant from
Scheveling fourteen leagues, or two-and-forty miles. He had, therefore,
a mind to make the experiment himself, and he would often
tell us with what admiration he was seized when he was carried
with a quick wind and yet perceived it not, the coach’s motion being
equally quick.”[7]

The sailing-coach, however, was only a curiosity. As a practicable
machine, it proved worthless, for the wind could not be
depended upon for land locomotion. The coach could not tack
as the ship did. Sometimes the wind did not blow at all, while
at other times it blew a hurricane. After being used for some
time as a toy, the sailing-coach was given up as impracticable,
and the project speedily dropped out of sight.

But, strange to say, the expedient of driving coal-wagons by
the wind was revived in Wales about a century later. On this
occasion, Sir Humphry Mackworth, an ingenious coal-miner at
Neath, was the projector. Waller, in his “Essay on Mines,” published
in 1698, takes the opportunity of eulogizing Sir Humphry’s
“new sailing-wagons, for the cheap carriage of his coal to the
water-side, whereby one horse does the work of ten at all times;
but when any wind is stirring (which is seldom wanting near the
sea), one man and a small sail do the work of twenty.”[8] It does
[53]not, however, appear that any other coal-owner had the courage
to follow Sir Humphry’s example, and the sailing-wagon was forgotten
until, after the lapse of another century, it was revived by
Mr. Edgeworth.

The employment of steam-power as a means of land locomotion
was the subject of much curious speculation long before any
practical attempt was made to carry it into effect. The merit
of promulgating the first idea with reference to it probably belongs
to no other than the great Sir Isaac Newton. In his “Explanation
of the Newtonian Philosophy,” written in 1680, he figured
a spherical generator, supported on wheels, and provided
with a seat for a passenger in front, and a long jet-pipe behind,
and stated that “the whole is to be mounted on little wheels, so as
to move easily on a horizontal plane, and if the hole, or jet-pipe,
be opened, the vapor will rush out violently one way, and the
wheels and the ball at the same time will be carried the contrary
way.” This, it will be observed, was but a modification of the
earliest known steam-engine, or Œolopile, of Hero of Alexandria.
It is not believed that Sir Isaac Newton ever made any experiment
of his proposed method of locomotion, or did more than
merely throw out the idea for other minds to work upon.

The idea of employing steam in locomotion was revived from
time to time, and formed the subject of much curious speculation.
About the middle of last century we find Benjamin Franklin,
then agent in London for the United Provinces of America,
Matthew Boulton, of Birmingham, and Erasmus Darwin, of Lichfield,
engaged in a correspondence relative to steam as a motive
power. Boulton had made a model of a fire-engine, which he
sent to London for Franklin’s inspection; and though the original
purpose for which the engine had been contrived was the
pumping of water, it was believed to be practicable to employ it
also as a means of locomotion. Franklin was too much occupied
at the time by grave political questions to pursue the subject;
but the sanguine and speculative mind of Erasmus Darwin was
inflamed by the idea of a “fiery chariot,” and he pressed his[54]
friend Boulton to prosecute the contrivance of the necessary
steam machine.[9]

Erasmus Darwin was in many respects a remarkable man. In
his own neighborhood he was highly esteemed as a physician, and
by many intelligent readers of his day he was greatly prized as a
poet. Horace Walpole said of his “Botanic Garden” that it was
“the most delicious poem upon earth,” and he declared that he
“could read it over and over again forever.” The doctor was
accustomed to write his poems with a pencil on little scraps of
paper while riding about among his patients in his “sulky.” The
vehicle, which was worn and bespattered outside, had room within
it for the doctor and his appurtenances only. On one side of
him was a pile of books reaching from the floor to nearly the
front window of the carriage, while on the other was a hamper
containing fruit and sweetmeats, with a store of cream and sugar,
with which the occupant regaled himself during his journey.
Lashed on to the place usually appropriated to the “boot” was a
large pail for watering the horses, together with a bag of oats
and a bundle of hay. Such was the equipage of a fashionable
country physician of the last century.

Dr. Darwin was a man of large and massive person, bearing a
rather striking resemblance to his distinguished townsman, Dr.
Johnson, in manner, deportment, and force of character. He was
full of anecdote, and his conversation was most original and entertaining.
He was a very outspoken man, vehemently enunciating
theories which some thought original and others dangerous.
As he drove through the country in his “sulky,” his mind
teemed with speculation on all subjects, from zoonomy, botany,
and physiology, to physics, æsthetics, and mental philosophy.
Though his speculations were not always sound, they were clever
and ingenious, and, at all events, they had the effect of setting
other minds a-thinking and speculating on science and the methods
for its advancement. From his “Loves of the Plants”—afterward
so cleverly parodied by George Canning in his “Loves
of the Triangles”—it would appear that the doctor even entertained
a theory of managing the winds by a little philosophic
artifice. His scheme of a steam locomotive was of a more practical[55]
character. This idea, like so many others, first occurred to
him in his “sulky.”

“As I was riding home yesterday,” he wrote to his friend Boulton
in the year 1765, “I considered the scheme of the fiery chariot,
and the longer I contemplated this favorite idea, the more practicable
it appeared to me. I shall lay my thoughts before you, crude
and undigested though they may appear to be, telling you as well
what I thought would not do as what would do, as by those hints
you may be led into various trains of thinking upon this subject,
and by that means (if any hints can assist your genius, which, without
hints, is above all others I am acquainted with) be more likely
to improve or disapprove. And as I am quite mad of this scheme,
I beg you will not mention it, or show this paper to Wyat or any

“These things are required: 1st, a rotary motion; 2d, easily altering
its direction to any other direction; 3d, to be accelerated,
retarded, destroyed, revived instantly and easily; 4th, the bulk, the
weight, and expense of the machine to be as small as possible in
proportion to its use.”[10]

He then goes on to throw out various suggestions as to the
form and arrangement of the machine, the number of wheels on
which it was to run, and the mode of applying the power. The
text of this letter is illustrated by rough diagrams, showing a
vehicle mounted on three wheels, the foremost or guiding wheel
being under the control of the driver; but in a subsequent passage
he says, “I think four wheels will be better.”

“Let there be two cylinders,” he proceeds. “Suppose one piston
up, and the vacuum made under it by the jet d’eau froid. That piston
can not yet descend because the cock is not yet opened which
admits the steam into its antagonist cylinder. Hence the two pistons
are in equilibrio, being either of them pressed by the atmosphere.
Then I say, if the cock which admits the steam into the
antagonist cylinder be opened gradually and not with a jerk, that
the first-mentioned [piston in the] cylinder will descend gradually
and not less forcibly. Hence, by the management of the steam
cocks, the motion may be accelerated, retarded, destroyed, revived
instantly and easily. And if this answers in practice as it does in
theory, the machine can not fail of success! Eureka!

“The cocks of the cold water may be moved by the great work,
but the steam cocks must be managed by the hand of the charioteer,
who also directs the rudder-wheel. [Then follow his rough
diagrams.] The central wheel ought to have been under the rollers,
so as it may be out of the way of the boiler.”[11]

After farther explaining himself, he goes on to say:

“If you could learn the expense of coals to a common fire-engine
and the weight of water it draws, some certain estimate may be
made if such a scheme as this would answer. Pray don’t show
Wyat this scheme, for if you think it feasible and will send me a
critique upon it, I will certainly, if I can get somebody to bear half
the expense with me, endeavor to build a fiery chariot, and, if it
answers, get a patent. If you choose to be partner with me in the
profit, and expense, and trouble, let me know, as I am determined
to execute it if you approve of it.

“Please to remember the pulses of the common fire-engines, and
say in what manner the piston is so made as to keep out the air in
its motion. By what way is the jet d’eau froid let out of the cylinder?
How full of water is the boiler? How is it supplied, and
what is the quantity of its waste of water?”[12]

It will be observed from these remarks that the doctor’s notions
were of the crudest sort, and, as he obviously contemplated
but a modification of the Newcomen engine, then chiefly employed
in pumping water from mines, the action of which was
slow, clumsy, and expensive, the steam being condensed by injection
of cold water, it is clear that, even though Boulton had taken
up and prosecuted Darwin’s idea, it could not have issued in a
practicable or economical working locomotive.

But, although Darwin himself—his time engrossed by his increasing
medical practice—proceeded no farther with his scheme
of a “fiery chariot,” he succeeded in inflaming the mind of his
young friend, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, who had settled for a
time in his neighborhood, and induced him to direct his attention
to the introduction of improved means of locomotion by steam.
In a letter written by Dr. Small to Watt in 1768, we find him
describing Edgeworth as “a gentleman of fortune, young, mechanical,
and indefatigable, who has taken a resolution to move
land and water carriages by steam, and has made considerable
[57]progress in the short space of time that he has devoted to the

One of the first-fruits of Edgeworth’s investigations was his
paper “On Railroads,” which he read before the Society of Arts
in 1768, and for which he was awarded the society’s gold medal.
He there proposed that four iron railroads be laid down on one
of the great roads out of London; two for carts and wagons, and
two for light carriages and stage-coaches. The post-chaises and
gentlemen’s carriages might, he thought, be made to go at eight
miles an hour, and the stage-coaches at six miles an hour, drawn
by a single horse. He urged that such a method of transport
would be attended with great economy of power and consequent
cheapness. Many years later, in 1802, he published his views on
the same subject in a more matured form. By that time Watt’s
steam-engine had come into general use, and he suggested that
small stationary engines should be fixed along his proposed railroad,
and made, by means of circulating chains, to draw the carriages
along with a great diminution of horse labor and expense.

It is creditable to Mr. Edgeworth’s forethought that both the
models proposed by him have since been adopted. Horse-traction
of carriages on railways is now in general use in the towns
of the United States; and omnibuses on the same principle regularly
ply between the Place de la Concorde at Paris and St.
Cloud, both being found highly convenient for the public, and
profitable to the proprietors. The system of working railways
by fixed engines was also regularly employed on some lines in
the infancy of the railway system, though it has since fallen into
disuse, in consequence of the increased power given to the modern
locomotive, which enables it to surmount gradients formerly
considered impracticable.

Besides his speculations on railways worked by horse and
steam power, Mr. Edgeworth—unconscious of the early experiments
of Stevins and Mackworth—made many attempts to apply
the power of the wind with the same object. It is stated in his
“Memoirs” that he devoted himself to locomotive traction by various
methods for a period of about forty years, during which he
made above a hundred working models, in a great variety of
forms; and though none of his schemes were attended with practical
success, he adds that he gained far more in amusement than[58]
he lost by his unsuccessful labors. “The only mortification that
affected me,” he says, “was my discovery, many years after I had
taken out my patent [for the sailing-carriage], that the rudiments
of my whole scheme were mentioned in an obscure memoir of
the French Academy.”

The sailing-wagon scheme, as revived by Mr. Edgeworth, was
doubtless of a highly ingenious character, though it was not practicable.
One of his expedients was a portable railway, of a kind
somewhat similar to that since revived by Mr. Boydell. Many
experiments were tried with the new wagons on Hare Hatch
Common, but they were attended with so much danger when the
wind blew strong—the vehicles seeming to fly rather than roll
along the ground—that farther experiments were abandoned, and
Mr. Edgeworth himself at length came to the conclusion that a
power so uncertain as that of the wind could never be relied
upon for the safe conduct of ordinary traffic. His thoughts
finally settled on steam as the only practicable power for this
purpose; but, though his enthusiasm in the cause of improved
transit of persons and of goods remained unabated, he was now
too far advanced in life to prosecute his investigations in that direction.
When an old man of seventy he wrote to James Watt
(7th August, 1813): “I have always thought that steam would
become the universal lord, and that we should in time scorn post-horses.
An iron railroad would be a cheaper thing than a road
on the common construction.” Four years later he died, and left
the problem, which he had nearly all his life been trying ineffectually
to solve, to be worked out by younger men.

Dr. Darwin had long before preceded him into the silent land.
Down to his death in 1802, Edgeworth had kept up a continuous
correspondence with him on his favorite topic; but it does not
appear that Darwin ever revived his project of the “fiery chariot.”
He was satisfied to prophesy its eventual success in the
lines which are perhaps more generally known than any he has
written—for, though Horace Walpole declared that he could
“read the Botanic Garden over and over again forever,” the
poetry of Darwin is now all but forgotten. The following was
his prophecy, published in 1791, before any practical locomotive
or steam-boat had been invented:


“Soon shall thy arm, unconquered steam, afar

Drag the slow barge, or drive the rapid car;

Or on wide-waving wings expanded bear

The flying chariot through the fields of air.

Fair crews triumphant, leaning from above,

Shall wave their flutt’ring kerchiefs as they move;

Or warrior bands alarm the gaping crowd,

And armies shrink beneath the shadowy cloud.”

The prophecy embodied in the first two lines of the passage
has certainly been fulfilled, but the triumph of the steam balloon
has yet to come.




The application of steam-power to the driving of wheel-carriages
on common roads was in 1759 brought under the notice
of James Watt by his young friend John Robison, then a student
at the University of Glasgow. Robison prepared a rough sketch
of his suggested steam-carriage, in which he proposed to place
the cylinder with its open end downward, to avoid the necessity
for using a working beam. Watt was then only twenty-three
years old, and was very much occupied in conducting his business
of a mathematical instrument maker, which he had only recently
established. Nevertheless, he proceeded to construct a
model locomotive provided with two cylinders of tin-plate, intending
that the pistons and their connecting-rods should act alternately
on two pinions attached to the axles of the carriage-wheels.
But the model, when made, did not answer Watt’s expectations;
and when, shortly after, Robison left college to go to
sea, he laid the project aside, and did not resume it for many

In the mean time, an ingenious French mechanic had taken up
the subject, and proceeded to make a self-moving road engine
worked by steam-power. It has been incidentally stated that a
M. Pouillet was the first to make a locomotive machine,[13] but no
particulars are given of the invention, which is more usually attributed
to Nicholas Joseph Cugnot, a native of Void, in Lorraine,
where he was born in 1729. Not much is known of Cugnot’s
early history beyond that he was an officer in the army, that he
published several works on military science, and that on leaving
the army he devoted himself to the invention of a steam-carriage
to be run on common roads.

It appears from documents collected by M. Morin that Cugnot[61]
constructed his first carriage at the Arsenal in 1769, at the cost
of the Comte de Saxe, by whom he was patronized and liberally
helped. It ran on three wheels, and was put in motion by an engine
composed of two single-acting cylinders, the pistons of which
acted alternately on the single front wheel. While this machine
was in course of construction, a Swiss officer, named Planta,
brought forward a similar project; but, on perceiving that Cugnot’s
carriage was superior to his own, he proceeded no farther
with it.

When Cugnot’s carriage was ready, it was tried in the presence
of the Duc de Choiseul, the Comte de Saxe, and other military
officers. On being first set in motion, it ran against a stone wall
which stood in its way, and threw it down. There was thus no
doubt about its power, though there were many doubts about its
manageableness. At length it was got out of the Arsenal and
put upon the road, when it was found that, though only loaded
with four persons, it could not travel faster than about two and a
quarter miles an hour; and that, the size of the boiler not being
sufficient, it would not continue at work for more than twelve or
fifteen minutes, when it was necessary to wait until sufficient
steam had been raised to enable it to proceed farther.

The experiment was looked upon with great interest, and admitted
to be of a very remarkable character; and, considering
that it was a first attempt, it was not by any means regarded as
unsuccessful. As it was believed that such a machine, if properly
proportioned, might be employed to drag cannon into the
field independent of horse-power, the Minister of War authorized
Cugnot to proceed with the construction of a new and improved
machine, which was finished and ready for trial in the
course of the following year. The new locomotive was composed
of two parts, one being a carriage supported on two wheels,
somewhat resembling a small brewer’s cart, furnished with a seat
for the driver, while the other contained the machinery, which
was supported on a single driving-wheel 4 ft. 2 in. in diameter.
The engine consisted of a round copper boiler with a furnace inside
provided with two small chimneys, two single-acting 13-in.
brass cylinders communicating with the boiler by a steam-pipe,
and the arrangements for communicating the motion of the pistons
to the driving-wheel, together with the steering-gear.



The two parts of the machine were united by a movable pin
and a toothed sector fixed on the framing of the front or machine
part of the carriage. When one of the pistons descended, the
piston-rod drew with it a crank, the catch of which caused the
driving-wheel to make a quarter of a revolution by means of the
ratchet-wheel fixed on the axle of the driving-wheel. At the
same time, a chain fixed to the crank on the same side also descended
and moved a lever, the opposite end of which was thereby
raised, restoring the second piston to its original position at
the top of the cylinder by the interposition of a second chain and
crank. The piston-rod of the descending piston, by means of a
catch, set other levers in motion, the chain fixed to them turning
a half-way cock so as to open the second cylinder to the steam
and the first to the atmosphere. The second piston, then descending
in turn, caused the driving-wheel to make another
quarter revolution, restoring the first piston to its original position;
and the process being repeated, the machine was thereby
kept in motion. To enable it to run backward, the catch of the
crank was arranged in such a manner that it could be made to
act either above or below, and thereby reverse the action of the
machinery on the driving-wheel. It will thus be observed that
Cugnot’s locomotive presented a simple and ingenious form of a
high-pressure engine; and, though of rude construction, it was a
highly-creditable piece of work, considering the time of its appearance
and the circumstances under which it was constructed.

Several successful trials were made with the new locomotive
in the streets of Paris, which excited no small degree of interest.
Unhappily, however, an accident which occurred to it in one of
the trials had the effect of putting a stop to farther experiments.
Turning the corner of a street near the Madeleine one day, when[63]
the machine was running at a speed of about three miles an hour,
it became overbalanced, and fell over with a crash; after which,
the running of the vehicle being considered dangerous, it was
thenceforth locked up securely in the Arsenal to prevent its doing
farther mischief.

The merit of Cugnot was, however, duly recognized. He was
granted a pension of 300 livres, which continued to be paid to
him until the outbreak of the Revolution. The Girondist Roland
was appointed to examine the engine and report upon it to
the Convention; but his report, which was favorable, was not
adopted; on which the inventor’s pension was stopped, and he
was left for a time without the means of living. Some years
later, Bonaparte, on his return from Italy after the peace of
Campo Formio, interested himself in Cugnot’s invention, and expressed
a favorable opinion of his locomotive before the Academy;
but his attention was shortly after diverted from the subject
by the Expedition to Egypt. Napoleon, however, succeeded
in restoring Cugnot’s pension, and thus soothed his declining
years. He died in Paris in 1804, at the age of seventy-five.
Cugnot’s locomotive is still to be seen in the Museum of the Conservatoire
des Arts et Métiers at Paris; and it is, without exception,
the most venerable and interesting of all the machines extant
connected with the early history of locomotion.

While Cugnot was constructing his first machine at Paris, one
Francis Moore, a linen-draper, was taking out a patent in London
for moving wheel-carriages by steam. On the 14th of
March, 1769, he gave notice of a patent for “a machine made of
wood or metal, and worked by fire, water, or air, for the purpose
of moving bodies on land or water,” and on the 13th of July following
he gave notice of another “for machines made of wood
and metal, moved by power, for the carriage of persons and
goods, and for accelerating boats, barges, and other vessels.”
But it does not appear that Moore did any thing beyond lodging
the titles of his inventions, so that we are left in the dark as to
what was their precise character.

James Watt’s friend and correspondent, Dr. Small, of Birmingham,
when he heard of Moore’s intended project, wrote to the
Glasgow inventor with the object of stimulating him to perfect
his steam-engine, then in hand, and urging him to apply it, among[64]
other things, to purposes of locomotion. “I hope soon,” said
Small, “to travel in a fiery chariot of your invention.” Watt replied
to the effect that “if Linen-draper Moore does not use my
engines to drive his carriages, he can’t drive them by steam. If
he does, I will stop them.” But Watt was still a long way from
perfecting his invention. The steam-engine capable of driving
carriages was a problem that remained to be solved, and it was a
problem to the solution of which Watt never fairly applied himself.
It was enough for him to accomplish the great work of
perfecting his condensed engine, and with that he rested content.

But Watt continued to be so strongly urged by those about him
to apply steam-power to purposes of locomotion that, in his comprehensive
patent of the 24th of August, 1784, he included an
arrangement with that object. From his specification we learn
that he proposed a cylindrical or globular boiler, protected outside
by wood strongly hooped together, with a furnace inside entirely
surrounded by the water to be heated except at the ends.
Two cylinders working alternately were to be employed, and the
pistons working within them were to be moved by the elastic
force of the steam; “and after it has performed its office,” he
says, “I discharge it into the atmosphere by a proper regulating
valve, or I discharge it into a condensing vessel made air-tight,
and formed of thin plates and pipes of metal, having their outsides
exposed to the wind;” the object of this latter arrangement
being to economize the water, which would otherwise be
lost. The power was to be communicated by a rotative motion
(of the nature of the “sun and planet” arrangement) to the axle
of one or more of the wheels of the carriage, or to another axis
connected with the axle by means of toothed wheels; and in other
cases he proposed, instead of the rotative machinery, to employ
“toothed racks, or sectors of circles, worked with reciprocating
motion by the engines, and acting upon ratched wheels fixed on
the axles of the carriage.” To drive a carriage containing two
persons would, he estimated, require an engine with a cylinder 7
in. in diameter, making sixty strokes per minute of 1 ft. each, and
so constructed as to act both on the ascent and descent of the piston;
and, finally, the elastic force of the steam in the boiler must
be such as to be occasionally equal to supporting a pillar of mercury
30 in. high.


Though Watt repeatedly expressed his intention of constructing
a model locomotive after his specification, it does not appear
that he ever carried it out. He was too much engrossed with
other work; and, besides, he never entertained very sanguine
views as to the practicability of road locomotion by steam. He
continued, however, to discuss the subject with his partner Boulton,
and from his letters we gather that his mind continued undetermined
as to the best plan to be pursued. Only four days
after the date of the above specification (i.e., on the 28th of August,
1784) we find him communicating his views on the subject
to Boulton at great length, and explaining his ideas as to how
the proposed object might best be accomplished. He first addressed
himself to the point of whether 80 lbs. was a sufficient
power to move a post-chaise on a tolerably good and level road
at four miles an hour; secondly, whether 8 ft. of boiler surface
exposed to the fire would be sufficient to evaporate a cube foot
of water per hour without much waste of fuel; thirdly, whether
it would require steam of more than eleven and a half times atmospheric
density to cause the engine to exert a power equal to
6 lbs. on the inch. “I think,” he observed, “the cylinder must
either be made larger or make more than sixty strokes per minute.
As to working gear, stopping and backing, with steering
the carriage, I think these things perfectly manageable.”

“My original ideas on the subject,” he continued, “were prior to
my invention of these improved engines, or before the crank, or
any other of the rotative motions were thought of. My plan then
was to have two inverted cylinders, with toothed racks instead of
piston-rods, which were to be applied to two ratchet-wheels on the
axle-tree, and to act alternately; and I am partly of opinion that this
method might be applied with advantage yet, because it needs no fly
and has some other conveniences. From what I have said, and from
much more which a little reflection will suggest to you, you will see
that without several circumstances turn out more favorable than
has been stated, the machine will be clumsy and defective, and that
it will cost much time to bring it to any tolerable degree of perfection,
and that for me to interrupt the career of our business would
be imprudent; I even grudge the time I have taken to make these
comments on it. There is, however, another way in which much
mechanism might be saved if it be in itself practicable, which is to
apply to it one of the self-moving rotatives, which has no regulators,[66]
but turns like a mill-wheel by the constant influx and efflux
of steam; but this would not abridge the size of the boiler, and I
am not sure that such engines are practicable.”

It will be observed from these explanations that Watt’s views
as to road locomotion were still crude and undefined; and, indeed,
he never carried them farther. While he was thus discussing
the subject with Boulton, William Murdock, one of the
most skilled and ingenious workmen of the Soho firm—then living
at Redruth, in Cornwall—was occupying himself during his
leisure hours, which were but few, in constructing a model locomotive
after a design of his own. He had doubtless heard of the
proposal to apply steam to locomotion, and, being a clever inventor,
he forthwith set himself to work out the problem. The plan
he pursued was very simple and yet efficient. His model was of
small dimensions, standing little more than a foot high, but it was
sufficiently large to demonstrate the soundness of the principle on
which it was constructed. It was supported on three wheels, and
carried a small copper boiler, heated
by a spirit-lamp, with a flue passing
obliquely through it. The cylinder,
of 3/4 in. diameter and 2 in.
stroke, was fixed in the top of the
boiler, the piston-rod being connected
with the vibrating beam attached
to the connecting-rod which
worked the crank of the driving-wheel.
This little engine worked
by the expansive force of the steam only, which was discharged
into the atmosphere after it had done its work of alternately raising
and depressing the piston in the cylinder.


Mr. Murdock’s son informed the author that this model was invented
and constructed in 1781, but, from the correspondence of
Boulton and Watt, we infer that it was not ready for trial until
1784. The first experiment with it was made in Murdock’s own
house at Redruth, when it successfully hauled a model wagon
round the room—the single wheel placed in front of the engine,
and working in a swivel frame, enabling it to run round in a

Another experiment was made out of doors, on which occasion,[67]
small though the engine was, it fairly outran the speed of its inventor.
It seems that one night, after returning from his duties
at the Redruth mine, Murdock determined to try the working of
his model locomotive. For this purpose he had recourse to the
walk leading to the church, about a mile from the town. It was
rather narrow, and was bounded on each side by high hedges.
The night was dark, and Murdock set out alone to try his experiment.
Having lit his lamp, the water soon boiled, when off started
the engine, with the inventor after it. Shortly after he heard
distant shouts of terror. It was too dark to perceive objects; but
he found, on following up the machine, that the cries proceeded
from the worthy pastor of the parish, who, going toward the town,
was met on this lonely road by the hissing and fiery little monster,
which he subsequently declared he had taken to be the Evil
One in propria persona!

Watt was by no means pleased when he learned that Murdock
was giving his mind to these experiments. He feared that it
might have the effect of withdrawing him from the employment
of the firm, to which his services had become almost indispensable;
for there was no more active, skillful, or ingenious workman
in all their concern. Watt accordingly wrote to Boulton, recommending
him to advise Murdock to give up his locomotive-engine
scheme; but, if he could not succeed in that, then, rather than
lose Murdock’s services, Watt proposed that he should be allowed
an advance of £100 to enable him to prosecute his experiments,
and if he succeeded within a year in making an engine capable
of drawing a post-chaise carrying two passengers and the driver
at four miles an hour, it was suggested that he should be taken
as partner into the locomotive business, for which Boulton and
Watt were to provide the necessary capital.

Two years later (in September, 1786) we find Watt again expressing
his regret to Boulton that Murdock was “busying himself
with the steam-carriage.” “I have still,” said he, “the same
opinion concerning it that I had, but to prevent as much as possible
more fruitless argument about it, I have one of some size
under hand, and am resolved to try if God will work a miracle
in favor of these carriages. I shall in some future letter send
you the words of my specification on that subject. In the mean
time I wish William could be brought to do as we do, to mind[68]
the business in hand, and let such as Symington and Sadler throw
away their time and money in hunting shadows.” In a subsequent
letter Watt expressed his gratification at finding “that William
applies to his business.” From that time Murdock as well
as Watt dropped all farther speculation on the subject, and left
it to others to work out the problem of the locomotive engine.
Murdock’s model remained but a curious toy, which he himself
took pleasure in exhibiting to his intimate friends; and though
he long continued to speculate about road locomotion, and was
persuaded of its practicability, he refrained from embodying his
ideas of it in any more complete working form.

Symington and Sadler, “the hunters of shadows” referred to
by Watt, did little to advance the question. Of Sadler we know
nothing beyond that in 1786 he was making experiments as to
the application of steam-power to the driving of wheel-carriages.
This came to the knowledge of Boulton and Watt, who gave him
notice, on the 4th of July of the same year, that “the sole privilege
of making steam-engines by the elastic force of steam acting
on a piston, with or without condensation, had been granted
to Mr. Watt by Act of Parliament, and also that among other
improvements and applications of his principle he hath particularly
specified the application of steam-engines for driving wheel
carriages in a patent which he took out in the year 1784.” They
accordingly cautioned him against proceeding farther in the
matter; and as we hear no more of Sadler’s steam-carriage, it is
probable that the notice had its effect.

The name of William Symington is better known in connection
with the history of steam locomotion by sea. He was born
at Leadhills, in Scotland, in 1763. His father was a practical
mechanic, who superintended the engines and machinery of the
Mining Company at Wanlockhead, where one of Boulton and
Watt’s pumping-engines was at work. Young Symington was
of an ingenious turn of mind from his boyhood, and at an early
period he seems to have conceived the idea of employing the
steam-engine to drive wheel-carriages. His father and he worked
together, and by the year 1786, when the son was only twenty-three
years of age, they succeeded in completing a working model
of a road locomotive. Mr. Meason, the manager of the mine,
was so much pleased with the model, the merit of which principally[69]
belonged to young Symington, that he sent him to Edinburg
for the purpose of exhibiting it before the scientific gentlemen
of that city, in the hope that it might lead, in some way,
to his future advancement in life. Mr. Meason also allowed the
model to be exhibited at his own house there, and he invited
many gentlemen of distinction to inspect it.


The machine consisted of a carriage and locomotive behind,
supported on four wheels. The boiler was cylindrical, communicating
by a steam-pipe with the two horizontal cylinders, one on
each side of the engine. When the piston was raised by the action
of the steam, a vacuum was produced by the condensation
of the steam in a cold-water tank placed underneath the engine,
on which the piston was again forced back by the pressure of the
atmosphere. The motion was communicated to the wheels by
rack-rods connected with the piston-rod, which worked on each
side of a drum fixed on the hind axle, the alternate action of
which rods upon the tooth and ratchet wheels with which the
drum was provided producing the rotary motion. It will thus
be observed that Symington’s engine was partly atmospheric and
partly condensing, the condensation being effected by a separate
vessel and air-pump, as patented by Watt; and though the arrangement
was ingenious, it is clear that, had it ever been brought
into use, the traction by means of such an engine would have
been of the very slowest kind.

But Symington’s engine was not destined to be applied to road
locomotion. He was completely diverted from employing it for[70]
that purpose by his connection with Mr. Miller, of Dalswinton,
then engaged in experimenting on the application of mechanical
power to the driving of his double paddle-boat. The power of
men was first tried, but the labor was found too severe; and when
Mr. Miller went to see Symington’s model, and informed the inventor
of his difficulty in obtaining a regular and effective power
for driving his boat, Symington—his mind naturally full of his
own invention—at once suggested his steam-engine for the purpose.
The suggestion was adopted, and Mr. Miller authorized
him to proceed with the construction of a steam-engine to be
fitted into his double pleasure boat on Dalswinton Lock, where
it was tried in October, 1788. This was followed by farther experiments,
which eventually led to the construction of the Charlotte
in 1801, which may be regarded as the first practical
steam-boat ever built.

Symington took out letters patent in the same year, securing
the invention, or rather the novel combination of inventions, embodied
in his steam-boat, but he never succeeded in getting it introduced
into practical use. From the date of completing his invention,
fortune seemed to run steadily against him. The Duke
of Bridgewater, who had ordered a number of Symington’s steam-boats
for his canal, died, and his executors countermanded the
order. Symington failed in inducing any other canal company
to make trial of his invention. Lord Dundas also took the Charlotte
off the Forth and Clyde Canal, where she had been
at work, and from that time the vessel was never more tried.
Symington had no capital of his own to work upon, and he seems
to have been unable to make friends among capitalists. The
rest of his life was for the most part thrown away. Toward the
close of it his principal haunt was London, amid whose vast population
he was one of the many waifs and strays. He succeeded
in obtaining a grant of £100 from the Privy Purse in 1824, and
afterward an annuity of £50, but he did not live long to enjoy it,
for he died in March, 1831, and was buried in the church-yard
of St. Botolph, Aldgate, where there is not even a stone to mark
the grave of the inventor of the first practicable steam-boat.


While the inventive minds of England were thus occupied,
those of America were not idle. The idea of applying steam-power
to the propulsion of carriages on land is said to have occurred[71]
to John Fitch in 1785; but he did not pursue the idea
“for more than a week,” being diverted from it by his scheme of
applying the same power to the propulsion of vessels on the water.[14]
About the same time, Oliver Evans, a native of Newport,
Delaware, was occupied with a project for driving steam-carriages
on common roads; and in 1786 the Legislature of Maryland
granted him the exclusive right for that state. Several
years, however, passed before he could raise the means for erecting
a model carriage, most of his friends regarding the project as
altogether chimerical and impracticable. In 1800 or 1801, Evans
began a steam-carriage at his own expense; but he had not
proceeded far with it when he altered his intention, and applied
the engine intended for the driving of a carriage to the driving
of a small grinding-mill, in which it was found efficient. In
1804 he constructed at Philadelphia a second engine of five-horse
power, working on the high-pressure principle, which was
placed on a large flat or scow, mounted upon wheels. “This,”
says his biographer, “was considered a fine opportunity to show[72]
the public that his engine could propel both land and water conveyances.
When the machine was finished, Evans fixed under
it, in a rough and temporary manner, wheels with wooden axle-trees.
Although the whole weight was equal to two hundred
barrels of flour, yet his small engine propelled it up Market
Street, and round the circle to the water-works, where it was
launched into the Schuylkill. A paddle-wheel was then applied
to its stern, and it thus sailed down that river to the Delaware, a
distance of sixteen miles, in the presence of thousands of spectators.”[15]
It does not, however, appear that any farther trial was
made of this engine as a locomotive; and, having been dismounted
and applied to the driving of a small grinding-mill, its employment
as a traveling engine was shortly forgotten.




While the discussion of steam-power as a means of locomotion
was proceeding in England, other projectors were advocating the
extension of wagon-ways and railroads. Mr. Thomas, of Denton,
near Newcastle-on-Tyne, read a paper before the Philosophical
Society of that town in 1800, in which he urged the laying down
of railways throughout the country, on the principle of the coal
wagon-ways, for the general carriage of goods and merchandise;
and Dr. James Anderson, of Edinburg, about the same time published
his “Recreations of Agriculture,” wherein he recommended
that railways should be laid along the principal turnpike-roads,
and worked by horse-power, which, he alleged, would have the
effect of greatly reducing the cost of transport, and thereby stimulating
all branches of industry.

Railways were indeed already becoming adopted in places
where the haulage of heavy loads was for short distances; and
in some cases lines were laid down of considerable length. One
of the first of such lines constructed under the powers of an Act
of Parliament was the Cardiff and Merthyr railway or tram-road,
about twenty-seven miles in length, for the accommodation of the
iron-works of Plymouth, Pen-y-darran, and Dowlais, all in South
Wales, the necessary Act for which was obtained in 1794. Another,
the Sirhoway railroad, about twenty-eight miles in length,
was constructed under the powers of an act obtained in 1801; it
accommodated the Tredegar and Sirhoway Iron-works and the
Trevill Lime-works, as well as the collieries along its route.

In the immediate neighborhood of London there was another
very early railroad, the Wandsworth and Croydon tram-way, about
ten miles long, which was afterward extended southward to Merstham,
in Surrey, for about eight miles more, making a total length[74]
of nearly eighteen miles. The first act for the purpose of authorizing
the construction of this road was obtained in 1800.

All these lines were, however, worked by horses, and in the case
of the Croydon and Merstham line, donkeys shared in the work,
which consisted chiefly in the haulage of stone, coal, and lime.
No proposal had yet been made to apply the power of steam as
a substitute for horses on railways, nor were the rails then laid
down of a strength sufficient to bear more than a loaded wagon
of the weight of three tons, or, at the very outside, of three and a
quarter tons.

It was, however, observed from the first that there was an immense
saving in the cost of haulage; and on the day of opening
the southern portion of the Merstham Railroad in 1805, a train
of twelve wagons laden with stone, weighing in all thirty-eight
tons, was drawn six miles in an hour by one horse, with apparent
ease, down an incline of 1 in 120; and this was bruited about as
an extraordinary feat, highly illustrative of the important uses of
the new iron-ways.

About the same time, the subject of road locomotion was again
brought into prominent notice by an important practical experiment
conducted in a remote corner of the kingdom. The experimenter
was a young man, then obscure, but afterward famous,
who may be fairly regarded as the inventor of the railway locomotive,
if any single individual be entitled to that appellation.
This was Richard Trevithick, a person of extraordinary mechanical
skill but of marvelous ill fortune, who, though the inventor
of many ingenious contrivances, and the founder of the fortunes
of many, himself died in cold obstruction and in extreme poverty,
leaving behind him nothing but his great inventions and the recollection
of his genius.

Richard Trevithick was born on the 13th of April, 1771, in the
parish of Illogan, a few miles west of Redruth, in Cornwall. In
the immediate neighborhood rises Castle-Carn-brea, a rocky eminence,
supposed by Borlase to have been the principal seat of
Druidic worship in the West of England. The hill commands
an extraordinary view over one of the richest mining fields of
Cornwall, from Chacewater and Redruth to Camborne.

Trevithick’s father acted as purser at several of the mines.
Though a man in good position and circumstances, he does not[75]
seem to have taken much pains with his son’s education. Being
an only child, he was very much indulged—among other things,
in his dislike for the restraints and discipline of school; and he
was left to wander about among the mines, spending his time in
the engine-rooms, picking up information about pumping-engines
and mining machinery.

His father, observing the boy’s strong bent toward mechanics,
placed him for a time as pupil with William Murdock, while the
latter lived at Redruth superintending the working and repairs
of Boulton and Watt’s pumping-engines in that neighborhood.
During his pupilage, young Trevithick doubtless learned much
from that able mechanic. It is probable that he got his first idea
of the high-pressure road locomotive which he afterward constructed
from Murdock’s ingenious little model above described,
the construction and action of which must have been quite familiar
to him, for no secret was ever made of it, and its performances
were often exhibited.

Many new pumping-engines being in course of erection in the
neighborhood about that time, there was an unusual demand for
engineers, which it was found difficult to supply; and young
Trevithick, whose skill was acknowledged, had no difficulty in
getting an appointment. The father was astonished at his boy’s
presumption (as he supposed it to be) in undertaking such a responsibility,
and he begged the mine agents to reconsider their
decision. But the result showed that they were justified in making
the appointment; for young Trevithick, though he had not
yet attained his majority, proved fully competent to perform the
duties devolving upon him as engineer.

So long as Boulton and Watt’s patent continued to run, constant
attempts were made in Cornwall and elsewhere to upset it.
Their engines had cleared the mines of water, and thereby rescued
the mine lords from ruin, but it was felt to be a great hardship
that they should have to pay for the right to use them. They
accordingly stimulated the ingenuity of the local engineers to
contrive an engine that should answer the same purpose, and enable
them to evade making any farther payments to Boulton and
Watt. The first to produce an engine that seemed likely to answer
the purpose was Jonathan Hornblower, who had been employed
in erecting Watt’s engines in Cornwall. After him one[76]
Edward Bull, who had been first a stoker and then an assistant-tender
of Watt’s engines, turned out another pumping-engine,
which promised to prove an equally safe evasion of the existing
patent. But Boulton and Watt having taken the necessary steps
to defend their right, several actions were tried, in which they
proved successful, and then the mine lords were compelled to disgorge.
When they found that Hornblower could be of no farther
use to them, they abandoned him—threw him away like a
sucked orange; and shortly after we find him a prisoner for debt
in the King’s Bench, almost in a state of starvation. Nor do we
hear any thing more of Edward Bull after the issue of the Boulton
and Watt trial.

Like the other Cornish engineers, young Trevithick took an
active part from the first in opposing the Birmingham patent, and
he is said to have constructed several engines, with the assistance
of William Bull (formerly an erector of Watt’s machines), with
the object of evading it. These engines are said to have been
highly creditable to their makers, working to the entire satisfaction
of the mine-owners. The issue of the Watt trial, however,
which declared all such engines to be piracies, brought to an end
for a time a business which would otherwise have proved a very
profitable one, and Trevithick’s partnership with Bull then came
to an end.

While carrying on his business, Trevithick had frequent occasion
to visit Mr. Harvey’s iron foundery at Hayle, then a small
work, but now one of the largest in the West of England, the
Cornish pumping-engines turned out by Harvey and Co. being
the very best of their kind. During these visits Trevithick became
acquainted with the various members of Mr. Harvey’s family,
and in course of time he contracted an engagement with one
of his daughters, Miss Jane Harvey, to whom he was married in
November, 1797.

A few years later we find Trevithick engaged in partnership
with his cousin, Andrew Vivian, also an engineer. They carried
on their business of engine-making at Camborne, a mining town
situated in the midst of the mining district, a few miles south of
Redruth. Watt’s patent-right expired in 1800, and from that
time the Cornish engineers were free to make engines after their
own methods. Trevithick was not content to follow in the beaten[77]
paths, but, being of a highly speculative turn, he occupied himself
in contriving various new methods of employing steam with
the object of economizing fuel and increasing the effective power
of the engine.

From an early period he entertained the idea of making the
expansive force of steam act directly on both sides of the piston
on the high-pressure principle, and thus getting rid of the process
of condensation as in Watt’s engines. Although Cugnot had employed
high-pressure steam in his road locomotive, and Murdock
in his model, and although Watt had distinctly specified the action
of steam at high-pressure as well as low in his patents of
1769, 1782, and 1784, the idea was not embodied in any practicable
working engine until the subject was taken in hand by Trevithick.
The results of his long and careful study were embodied
in the patent which he took out in 1802, in his own and Vivian’s
name, for an improved steam-engine, and “the application thereof
for driving carriages and for other purposes.”

The arrangement of Trevithick’s engine was exceedingly ingenious.
It exhibited a beautiful simplicity of parts; the machinery
was arranged in a highly effective form, uniting strength
with solidity and portability, and enabling the power of steam to
be employed with very great rapidity, economy, and force. Watt’s
principal objection to using high-pressure steam consisted in the
danger to which the boiler was exposed of being burst by internal
pressure. In Trevithick’s engine, this was avoided by using
a cylindrical wrought-iron boiler, being the form capable of presenting
the greatest resistance to the expansive force of steam.
Boilers of this kind were not, however, new. Oliver Evans, of
Delaware, had made use of them in his high-pressure engines
prior to the date of Trevithick’s patent; and, as Evans did not
claim the cylindrical boiler, it is probable that the invention was
in use before his time. Nevertheless, Trevithick had the merit
of introducing the round boilers into Cornwall, where they are
still known as “Trevithick boilers.” The saving in fuel effected
by their use was such that in 1812 the Messrs. Williams, of Scorrier,
made Trevithick a present of £300, in acknowledgment of
the benefits arising to their mines from that source alone.

Trevithick’s steam-carriage was the most compact and handsome
vehicle of the kind that had yet been invented, and, indeed,[78]
as regards arrangement, it has scarcely to this day been surpassed.
It consisted of a carriage capable of accommodating some
half-dozen passengers, underneath which was the engine and machinery
inclosed, about the size of an orchestra drum, the whole
being supported on four wheels—two in front, by which it was
guided, and two behind, by which it was driven. The engine
had but one cylinder. The piston-rod outside the cylinder was
double, and drove a cross-piece, working in guides, on the opposite
side of the cranked axle to the cylinder, the crank of the
axle revolving between the double parts of the piston-rod.
Toothed wheels were attached to this axle, which worked into
other toothed wheels fixed on the axle of the driving-wheels.
The steam-cocks were opened and shut by a connection with the
crank-axle; and the force-pump, with which the boiler was supplied
with water, was also worked from it, as were the bellows to
blow the fire and thereby keep up the combustion in the furnace.

The specification clearly alludes to the use of the engine on
railroads as follows: “It is also to be noticed that we do occasionally,
or in certain cases, make the external periphery of the
wheels uneven by projecting heads of nails or bolts, or cross
grooves or fittings to railroads where required, and that in cases
of hard pull we cause a lever, belt, or claw to project through the
rim of one or both of the said wheels, so as to take hold of the
ground, but that, in general, the ordinary structure or figure of
the external surface of those wheels will be found to answer the
intended purpose.”

The specification also shows the application of the high-pressure
engine on the same principle to the driving of a sugar-mill,
or for other purposes where a fixed power is required, dispensing
with condenser, cistern, air-pump, and cold-water pump. In the
year 1803, a small engine of this kind was erected after Trevithick’s
plan at Marazion, which worked by steam of at least 30
lbs. on the inch above atmospheric pressure, and gave much satisfaction.

The first experimental steam-carriage was constructed by Trevithick
and Vivian in their workshops at Camborne in 1803, and
was tried by them on the public road adjoining the town, as well
as in the street of the town itself. John Petherick, a native of
Camborne, who was alive in 1858, stated in a letter to Mr. Edward[79]
Williams that he well remembered seeing the engine, worked
by Mr. Trevithick himself, come through the place, to the
great wonder of the inhabitants. He says, “The experiment was
satisfactory only as long as the steam pressure could be kept up.
During that continuance Trevithick called upon the people to
‘jump up,’ so as to create a load on the engine; and it soon became
covered with men, which did not seem to make any difference
to the power or speed so long as the steam was kept up.
This was sought to be done by the application of a cylindrical
horizontal bellows worked by the engine itself; but the attempt
to keep up the power of the steam for any considerable time
proved a failure.”

Trevithick, however, made several alterations in the engine
which had the effect of improving it, and its success was such
that he determined to take it to London and exhibit it there as
the most recent novelty in steam mechanism. It was successfully
run by road from Camborne to Plymouth, a distance of about
ninety miles. At Plymouth it was shipped for London, where
it shortly after arrived in safety, and excited considerable curiosity.
It was run on the waste ground in the vicinity of the
present Bethlehem Hospital, as well as on Lord’s cricket-ground.
There Sir Humphry Davy, Mr. Davies Gilbert, and other scientific
gentlemen inspected the machine and rode upon it. Several
of them took the steering of the carriage by turns, and they
expressed their satisfaction with the mechanism by which it was
directed. Sir Humphry, writing to a friend in Cornwall, said,
“I shall soon hope to hear that the roads of England are the
haunts of Captain Trevithick’s dragons—a characteristic name.”
After the experiment at Lord’s, the carriage was run along the
New-road, and down Gray’s-Inn Lane, to the premises of a carriage-builder
in Long Acre. To show the adaptability of the engine
for fixed uses, Trevithick had it taken from the carriage on
the day after this trial and removed to the shop of a cutler,
where he applied it with success to the driving of the machinery.

The steam-carriage shortly became the talk of the town, and
the public curiosity being on the increase, Trevithick resolved on
inclosing a piece of ground on the site of the present Euston station
of the London and Northwestern Railway, and admitting
persons to see the exhibition of his engine at so much a head.[80]
He had a tram-road laid down in an elliptical form within the
inclosure, and the carriage was run round it on the rails in the
sight of a great number of spectators. On the second day another
crowd collected to see the exhibition, but, for what reason is
not known, although it is said to have been through one of Trevithick’s
freaks of temper, the place was closed and the engine removed.
It is, however, not improbable that the inventor had
come to the conclusion that the state of the roads at that time
was such as to preclude its coming into general use for purposes
of ordinary traffic.

While the steam-carriage was being exhibited, a gentleman was
laying heavy wagers as to the weight which could be hauled by
a single horse on the Wandsworth and Croydon iron tram-way;
and the number and weight of wagons drawn by the horse were
something surprising. Trevithick very probably put the two
things together—the steam-horse and the iron-way—and kept the
performance in mind when he proceeded to construct his second
or railway locomotive. In the mean time, having dismantled his
steam-carriage, sent back the phaeton to the coach-builder to
whom it belonged, and sold the little engine which had worked
the machine, he returned to Camborne to carry on his business.
In the course of the year 1803 he went to Pen-y-darran, in South
Wales, to erect a forge engine for the iron-works there; and,
when it was finished, he began the erection of a railway locomotive—the
first ever constructed. There were already, as above
stated, several lines of rail laid down in the district for the accommodation
of the coal and iron works. That between Merthyr
Tydvil and Cardiff was the longest and most important, and
it had been at work for some years. It had probably occurred
to Trevithick that here was a fine opportunity for putting to practical
test the powers of the locomotive, and he proceeded to construct
one accordingly in the workshops at Pen-y-darran.

This first railway locomotive was finished and tried upon the
Merthyr tram-road on the 21st of February, 1804. It had a cylindrical
wrought-iron boiler with flat ends. The furnace and
flue were inside the boiler, the flue returning, having its exit at
the same end at which it entered, so as to increase the heating
surface. The cylinder, 4-3/4 in. in diameter, was placed horizontally
in the end of the boiler, and the waste steam was thrown into[81]
the stack. The wheels were worked in the same manner as in
the carriage engine already described; and a fly-wheel was added
on one side, to secure a continuous rotary motion at the end
of each stroke of the piston. The pressure of the steam was
about 40 lbs. on the inch. The engine ran upon four wheels,
coupled by cog-wheels, and those who remember the engine say
that the four wheels were smooth.


On the first trial, this engine drew for a distance of nine miles
ten tons of bar iron, together with the necessary carriages, water,
and fuel, at the rate of five and a half miles an hour. Rees Jones,
an old engine-fitter, who helped to erect the engine, and was alive
in 1858, gave Mr. Menelaus the following account of its performances:
“When the engine was finished, she was used for bringing
down metal from the old forge. She worked very well; but
frequently, from her weight, broke the tram-plates, and also the
hooks between the trams. After working for some time in this
way, she took a journey of iron from Pen-y-darran down the
Basin Road, upon which road she was intended to work. On the
journey she broke a great many of the tram-plates; and, before
reaching the Basin, she ran off the road, and was brought back to
Pen-y-darran by horses. The engine was never used as a locomotive
after this; but she was used as a stationary engine, and
worked in this way for several years.”


So far as the locomotive was concerned it was a remarkable
success. The defect lay not in the engine so much as in the road.
This was formed of plate-rails of cast iron, with a guiding flange
upon the rail instead of on the engine wheels, as in the modern
locomotive. The rails were also of a very weak form, considering
the quantity of iron in them; and, though they were sufficient
to bear the loaded wagons mounted upon small wheels, as
ordinarily drawn along them by horses, they were found quite
insufficient to bear the weight of Trevithick’s engine. To relay
the road of sufficient strength would have involved a heavy outlay,
which the owners were unwilling to incur, not yet perceiving
the advantage, in an economical point of view, of employing engine
in lieu of horse power. The locomotive was accordingly
taken off the road, and the experiment, successful though it had
been, was brought to an end.

Trevithick had, however, by means of his Pen-y-darran engine,
in a great measure solved the problem of steam locomotion on
railways. He had produced a compact engine, working on the
high-pressure principle, capable of carrying fuel and water sufficient
for a journey of considerable length, and of drawing loaded
wagons at five and a half miles an hour. He had shown by his
smooth-wheeled locomotive that the weight of the engine had
given sufficient adhesion for the haulage of the load. He had
discharged the steam into the chimney, though not for the purpose
of increasing the draught, as he employed bellows for that
purpose. It appears, however, that Trevithick’s friend, Mr. Davies
Gilbert, afterward President of the Royal Society, especially
noticed the effect of discharging the waste steam into the chimney
of the Pen-y-darran engine. He observed that when the engine
moved, at each puff the fire brightened, while scarcely any
visible steam or smoke came from the chimney.

Mr. Gilbert published the result of his observations in “Nicholson’s
Journal” for September, 1805, and the attention of Mr.
Nicholson, the editor, having thereby been called to the subject,
he proceeded to make a series of experiments, the result of which
was that in 1806 he took out a patent for a steam-blasting apparatus,
by which he proposed to apply high-pressure steam to force
along currents of air for various useful purposes, including the
urging of furnace and other fires. It is thus obvious that the[83]
principle of the blast-pipe was known to both Gilbert and Nicholson
at this early period; but it is somewhat remarkable that
Trevithick himself should have remained skeptical as to its use,
for as late as 1815 we find him taking out a patent, in which,
among other improvements, he included a method of urging his
fire by fanners, similar to a winnowing machine.

In the mean time Trevithick occupied himself in carrying on
the various business of a general engineer, and was ready to embark
in any enterprise likely to give scope for his inventive skill.
In whatever work he was employed, he was sure to introduce new
methods and arrangements, if not new inventions. He was full
of speculative enthusiasm, a great theorist, and yet an indefatigable
experimenter. At the beginning of 1806—the year after the
locomotive had been taken off the Merthyr Tydvil tram-road—he
made arrangements for entering into a contract for ballasting all
the shipping in the Thames. At the end of a letter written by
him on the 18th of February in that year to Davies Gilbert, respecting
a puffer engine, he said, “I am about to enter into a contract
with the Trinity Board for lifting up ballast out of the bottom
of the Thames for all the shipping. The first quantity stated
was 300,000 tons a year, but now they state 500,000 tons. I am
to do nothing but wind up the chain for 6d. per ton, which is now
done by men. They never lift it above twenty-five feet high—a
man will now get up ten tons for 7s. My engine at Dalcoath
has lifted about 100 tons that height with one bushel of coals. I
have two engines already finished for the purpose, and shall be
in town in about fifteen days for to set them to work. They propose
to engage with me for twenty-one years.”[16] The contract was
not, however, entered into. Trevithick quarreled with the capitalists
who had found the money for the trials, and the “Blazer” and
“Plymouth,” the vessels in which his engines and machinery had
been fitted, fell into other hands.

Trevithick, nevertheless, seems to have been on the highway to
fortune, for, at the beginning of 1806, he had received orders for
nine engines in one month, all for Cornwall; and he expected
orders for four others. He had also in view the construction of
a railway; but nothing came of this project. More hopeful still,
as regarded immediate returns, was the Cornish engine business,[84]
which presented a very wide field. Now that the trade had been
thrown open by the expiry of Boulton and Watt’s patent, competition
had sprung up, and many new makers and inventors of engines
were ready to supply the demand.

Among the most prominent of these were Trevithick and Woolf.
Trevithick was the most original and speculative, Woolf the most
plodding and practical, and the most successful. Trevithick’s ingenuity
exhibited itself in his schemes for working Boulton and
Watt’s pumping-engine by high-pressure steam, by means of his
cylindrical wrought-iron boiler. He proposed to expand the
steam down to low pressure previous to condensation, thereby anticipating
by many years the Cornish engine now in use. The
suggestion was not, however, then acted on, and he fell back on
his original design of a simple non-condensing high-pressure engine.
One of these was erected at Dalcoath mine to draw the
ores there. It was called “the puffer” by the mining people, from
its puffing the steam direct into the air; but its performances did
not compare favorably with those of the ordinary condensing
engines of Boulton and Watt, and the engine did not come into
general use.

Trevithick was not satisfied to carry on a prosperous engine
business in Cornwall. Camborne was too small for him, and the
Cornish mining districts presented too limited a field for his ambitious
spirit. So he came to London, the Patent-office drawing
him as the loadstone does the needle. In 1808 he took out two
patents, one for “certain machinery for towing, driving, or forcing
and discharging ships and other vessels of their cargoes,” and the
other for “a new method of stowing cargoes of ships.” In 1809
he took out another patent for constructing docks, ships, etc., and
propelling vessels.

In these patents, Trevithick was associated with one Robert
Dickinson, of Great Queen Street, but his name stands first in
the specification, wherein he describes himself as “of Rotherhithe,
in the county of Surrey, engineer.” By the first of these
patents he proposed to tow vessels by means of a rowing wheel
shaped like an undershot water-wheel furnished with floats placed
vertically in a box, and worked by a steam-engine, which he also
proposed to employ in the loading and unloading of the vessel,
but it is not known that the plan was ever introduced into practical[85]
use. The patent of 1809 included a floating dock or caisson
made of wrought-iron plates, in which a ship might be docked
while afloat, and, after the water had been pumped out of the
caisson, repaired without moving her stores, masts, or furniture.
This invention has since been carried out in practice by the
Messrs. Rennie in the floating iron dock which they have recently
constructed for the Spanish government. Another invention
included in the specification was the construction of merchant
and war ships of wrought-iron plates strongly riveted together,
with their decks supported by wrought-iron beams, and the masts,
bowsprits, and booms also of tubular wrought iron, thereby anticipating
by many years the form and structure of vessels now
in common use.

While Trevithick lived at Rotherhithe, he entered upon a remarkable
enterprise—no less than the construction of a tunnel
under the Thames—a work which was carried out with so much
difficulty by Sir Isambard Brunel some twenty years later. Several
schemes had been proposed at different times for connecting
the two banks of the river by an underground communication.
As early as 1798, Ralph Dodd suggested a tunnel under
the Thames between Gravesend and Tilbury, and in 1802 Mr.
Vazie projected a tunnel from Rotherhithe to Limehouse. A
company was formed to carry out the latter scheme, and a shaft
was sunk, at considerable expense, to a depth of 76 feet below
high water. The works were from time to time suspended, and
it was not until the year 1807, when Trevithick was appointed
engineer of the work, that arrangements were made for proceeding
with the driftway under the bed of the Thames. After about
five months’ working, the drift was driven for a length of 953
feet, when the roof gave way and the water burst in. The opening
was, however, plugged by clay in bags thrown into the river,
and the work proceeded until 1028 feet had been accomplished.
Then the water burst in again, and the process of plugging and
pumping the water out of the drift was repeated. After seventy
more feet had been added to the excavation, there was another
irruption, which completely flooded the driftway, and the water
rose nearly to the top of the shaft. This difficulty was, however,
again overcome, and with great danger twenty more feet were
accomplished; but the bursts of water became so frequent and[86]
unmanageable that at length the face of the drift was timbered
up and the work abandoned. Trevithick, who had been promised
a reward of £1000 if the tunnel succeeded, thus lost both
his labor and his reward. The only remuneration he received
from the Company was a hundred guineas, which were paid to
him according to agreement, provided he carried the excavation
to the extent of 1000 yards, which he did.

Trevithick returned to Camborne in 1809, where we find him
busily occupied with new projects, and introducing his new engine
worked by water-power, the first of which was put up at the
Druid mine, as well as in perfecting his high-pressure engine and
its working by expansion. One of the first of such engines was
erected at the Huel Prosper mine, of which he was engineer;
and this, as well as others subsequently constructed on the same
principle, proved quite successful.

In 1815 Trevithick took out a farther patent, embodying several
important applications of steam-power. One of these consisted
in “causing steam of a high pressure to spout out against
the atmosphere, and by its recoiling force to produce motion in a
direction contrary to the issuing steam, similar to the motion produced
in a rocket, or to the recoil of a gun.” This was, however,
but a revival of the ancient Œolipile described by Hero, and
known as “Hero’s engine.”

In another part of his specification Trevithick described the
screw-propeller as “a screw or a number of leaves placed obliquely
round an axis similar to the vanes of a smoke-jack, which
shall be made to revolve with great speed in a line with the required
motion of the ship, or parallel to the same line of motion.”
In a second part of the specification, he described a plunger or
pole-engine in which the steam worked at high-pressure. The
first engine of this kind was erected by Trevithick at Herland in
1815, but the result was not equal to his expectations, though the
principle was afterward successfully applied by Mr. William Sims,
who purchased the patent-right.

In this specification Trevithick also described a tubular boiler
of a new construction for the purpose of more rapidly producing
high-pressure steam, the heating surface being extended by constructing
the boiler of a number of small perpendicular tubes,
closed at the bottom, but all opening at the top into a common[87]
reservoir, from whence they received their water, and into which
the steam of all the tubes was united.

While Trevithick was engaged in these ingenious projects, an
event occurred which, though it promised to issue in the most
splendid results, proved the greatest misfortune of his life. We
refer to his adventures in connection with the gold mines of Peru.
Many of the richest of them had been drowned out, the pumping
machinery of the country being incapable of clearing them of
water. The districts in which they were situated were almost inaccessible
to ordinary traffic, all transport being conducted on the
backs of men or of mules. The parts of an ordinary condensing
engine were too ponderous to be carried up these mountain
heights, and it was evident that, unless some lighter sort of engine
could be employed, the mines in question must be abandoned.

Mr. Uvillé, a Swiss gentleman interested in South American
mining, came over from Peru to England in 1811 for the purpose
of making inquiries about such an engine, but he received no encouragement.
He was about to return to Lima, in despair of accomplishing
his object, when, one day, accidentally passing a shop-window
in Fitzroy Square, he caught sight of an engine exposed
for sale which immediately attracted his attention. It was the
engine constructed by Trevithick for his first locomotive, which
he had sold some years before, on the sudden abandonment of
the exhibition of its performances in London. Mr. Uvillé was
so much pleased with its construction and mode of action that
he at once purchased it and took it out with him to South America.
Arrived there, he had the engine transported across the
mountains to the rich mining district of Pasco, about a hundred
miles north of Lima, to try its effects on the highest mountain

The experiment was so satisfactory that an association of influential
gentlemen was immediately formed to introduce the engine
on a large scale, and enter into contracts with the mine-owners
for clearing their shafts of the water which drowned them.
The Viceroy of Peru approved the plan, and the association dispatched
Mr. Uvillé to England to purchase the requisite engines.
He took ship for Falmouth about the end of 1812 for the purpose
of finding out Trevithick. He only knew of Trevithick by name,[88]
and that he lived in Cornwall, but nothing farther. Being full
of his subject, however, he could not refrain from conversing on
the subject with the passengers on board the ship by which he
sailed, and it so happened that one of them—a Mr. Teague—was
a relative of Trevithick, who promised, shortly after their landing,
to introduce him to the inventor.

Mr. Teague was as good as his word, and in the course of a few
days Uvillé was enabled to discuss the scheme with Trevithick at
his own house at Camborne, where he still resided. The result
was an order for a number of high-pressure pumping-engines,
which were put in hand at once; and on the 1st of September,
1814, nine of them were shipped at Portsmouth for Lima, accompanied
by Uvillé and three Cornish engineers, one of whom was
William Bull, of Chasewater, Trevithick’s first partner.

The engines reached Lima in safety, and were welcomed by a
royal salute and with public rejoicings. Such, however, was the
difficulty of transporting the materials across the mountains, that
it was not until the middle of the year 1816 that the first engine
was erected and set to work to pump out the Santa Rosa mine,
in the royal mineral territory of Yaüricocha. The association of
gentlemen to whom the engines belonged had entered into a contract
to drain this among other mines, on condition of sharing in
the gross produce of the ores to the extent of about 25 per cent.
of the whole amount raised. The result of the first working of
the engine was so satisfactory that the projectors were filled with
no less astonishment than delight, and they characterized the undertaking
as one from which they “anticipated a torrent of silver
that would fill surrounding nations with astonishment.”

In the mean time Trevithick was proceeding at home with the
manufacture of the remaining engines, as well as new coining apparatus
for the Peruvian mint, and furnaces for purifying silver
ore by fusion; and with these engines and apparatus he set sail
for America in October, 1816, reaching Lima in safety in the following
February. He was received with almost royal honors.
The government “Gazette” officially announced “the arrival of
Don Ricardo Trevithick, an eminent professor of mechanics, machinery,
and mineralogy, inventor and constructor of the engines
of the last patent, and who directed in England the execution of
the machinery now at work in Pasco.” The lord warden was ordered[89]
by the viceroy to escort Trevithick to the mines accompanied
by a guard of honor. The news of his expected arrival there
occasioned great rejoicings, and the chief men of the district came
down the mountains to meet and welcome him. Uvillé wrote to
his associates that Trevithick had been sent out “by heaven for
the prosperity of the mines, and that the lord warden proposed to
erect his statue in solid silver.” Trevithick himself wrote home
to his friends in Cornwall that he had before him the prospect of
almost boundless wealth, having, in addition to his emoluments as
patentee, obtained a fifth share in the Lima Company, which, he
expected, on a moderate computation, would yield him about
£100,000 a year!

But these brilliant prospects were suddenly blasted by the Peruvian
revolution which broke out in the following year. While
Mr. Boaze was reading his paper[17] before the Royal Geological
Society of Cornwall, in which these anticipations of Trevithick’s
fame and fortune were so glowingly described, Lord Cochrane
was on his way to South America to take the command of the
Chilian fleet in its attack of the ports of Peru, still in the possession
of the Spaniards.

Toward the end of 1818, Lord Cochrane hoisted his flag, and
shortly after proceeded to assail the Spanish fleet in Callao Harbor.
This proved the signal for a general insurrection, during
the continuance of which the commercial and industrial affairs
of the province were completely paralyzed. The pumping-engines
of Trevithick were now of comparatively little use in
pumping water out of mines in which the miners would no longer
work. Although Lima was abandoned by the Spaniards toward
the end of 1821, the civil war continued to rage for several
years longer, until at length the independence of Peru was
achieved; but it was long before the population were content to
settle down as before, and follow the ordinary pursuits of industry
and commerce.

The result to Trevithick was, that he and his partners in the
Mining Company were consigned to ruin. It has been said that
the engineer joined the patriotic party, and invented for Lord[90]
Cochrane an ingenious gun-carriage centred and equally balanced
on pivots, and easily worked by machinery; but of this no mention
is made by Lord Cochrane in his “Memoirs.” The Patriots
kept Trevithick on the mountains as a sort of patron and protector
of their interests; but for this very reason he became proportionately
obnoxious to the Royalists, who, looking upon him as
the agent through whom the patriotic party obtained the sinews
of war, destroyed his engines, and broke up his machinery wherever
they could. At length he determined to escape from Peru,
and fled northward across the mountains, accompanied by a single
friend, making for the Isthmus of Panamá. In the course of
this long, toilsome, and dangerous journey, he encountered great
privations; he slept in the forest at night, traveled on foot by day,
and crossed the streams by swimming. At length, his clothes torn,
worn, and hanging almost in shreds, and his baggage all lost, he
succeeded in reaching the port of Cartagena, on the Gulf of Darien,
almost destitute.

Here he encountered Robert Stephenson, who was waiting at
the one inn of the place until a ship was ready to set sail for England.
Stephenson had finished his engagement with the Colombian
Mining Company for which he had been working, and was
eager to return home. When Trevithick entered the room in
which he was sitting, Stephenson at once saw that he was an Englishman.
He stood some six feet in height, and, though well
proportioned when in ordinary health, he was now gaunt and hollow,
the picture of privation and misery.

Stephenson made up to the stranger, and was not a little surprised
to find that he was no other than the famous engineer,
Trevithick, the builder of the first patent locomotive, and who,
when he last heard of him, was accumulating so gigantic a fortune
in Peru. Though now penniless, Trevithick was as full of
speculation as ever, and related to Stephenson that he was on his
way home for the purpose of organizing another gold-mining
company, which should make the fortunes of all who took part
in it. He was, however, in the mean time, unable to pay for his
passage, and Stephenson lent him the requisite money for the
purpose of reaching his home in Cornwall.

As there was no vessel likely to sail for England for some time,
Stephenson and Trevithick took the first ship bound for New[91]
York. After a stormy passage, full of adventure and peril, the
vessel was driven on a lee-shore, and the passengers and crew
barely escaped with their lives. On reaching New York, Trevithick
immediately set sail for England, and he landed safe at Falmouth
in October, 1827, bringing back with him a pair of silver
spurs, the only remnant which he had preserved of those “torrents
of silver” which his engines were to raise from the mines
of Peru.

Immediately on his return home, Trevithick memorialized the
government for some remuneration adequate to the great benefit
which the country had derived from his invention of the high-pressure
steam-engine, and his introduction of the cylindrical
boiler. The petition was prepared in December, 1827, and was
cheerfully signed by the leading mine-owners and engineers in
Cornwall; but there their efforts on his behalf ended.

He took out two more patents—one in 1831, for a new method
of heating apartments, and another in 1832, for improvements in
the steam-engine, and the application of steam-power to navigation
and locomotion; but neither of them seems to have proved
of any service to him. His new improvement in the steam-engine
was neither more nor less than the invention of an apparatus similar
to that which has quite recently come into use for employing
superheated steam as a means of working the engine more effectively
and economically. The patent also included a method of
propelling ships by ejecting water through a tube with great force
and speed in a direction opposite to the course of the vessel, a
method since reinvented in many forms, though not yet successfully
introduced in practice.

Strange to say, though Trevithick had been so intimately connected
with the practical introduction of the Locomotive, he
seems to have taken but little interest in its introduction upon
railways, but confined himself to advocating its employment on
common roads as its most useful application.[18] Though in many
things he was before his age, here he was unquestionably behind[92]
it. But Trevithick was now an old man; his constitution was
broken, and his energy worked out. Younger men were in the
field, less ingenious and speculative, but more practical and energetic;
and in the blaze of their fame the Cornish engineer was

During the last year of his life Trevithick resided at Dartford,
in Kent. He had induced the Messrs. Hall, the engineers of that
place, to give him an opportunity of testing the value of his last invention—that
of a vessel driven by the ejection of water through
a tube—and he went there to superintend the construction of the
necessary engine and apparatus. The vessel was duly fitted up,
and several experiments were made with it in the adjoining creek,
but it did not realize a speed of more than four miles an hour.
Trevithick, being of opinion that the engine-power was insufficient,
proceeded to have a new engine constructed, to the boiler
of which, within the furnace, numerous tubes were attached,
round which the fire played. So much steam was raised by this
arrangement that the piston “blew;” but still the result of the
experiments was unsatisfactory. While laboring at these inventions,
and planning new arrangements never to be carried out, the
engineer was seized by the illness of which he died, on the 22d of
April, 1833, in the 62d year of his age.

As Trevithick was entirely without means at his death, besides
being some sixty pounds in debt to the landlord of the Bull Inn,
where he had been lodging for nearly a year, he would probably
have been buried at the expense of the parish but for the Messrs.
Hall and their workmen, who raised a sum sufficient to give the
“great inventor” a decent burial; and they followed his remains
to the grave in Deptford Church-yard, where he lies without a
stone to mark his resting-place.

There can be no doubt as to the great mechanical ability of
Trevithick. He was a man of original and intuitive genius in
invention. Every mechanical arrangement which he undertook
to study issued from his hands transformed and improved. But
there he rested. He struck out many inventions, and left them
to take care of themselves. His great failing was the want of[93]
perseverance. His mind was always full of projects; but his very
genius led him astray in search of new things, while his imagination
often outran his judgment. Hence his life was but a series
of beginnings.

Look at the extraordinary things that Trevithick began. He
made the first railway locomotive, and cast the invention aside,
leaving it to others to take it up and prosecute it to a successful
issue. He introduced, if he did not invent, the cylindrical boiler
and the high-pressure engine, which increased so enormously the
steam-power of the world; but he reaped the profits of neither.
He invented an oscillating engine and a screw propeller; he took
out a patent for using superheated steam, as well as for wrought-iron
ships and wrought-iron floating docks; but he left it to others
to introduce these several inventions.

Never was there such a series of splendid mechanical beginnings.
He began a Thames Tunnel and abandoned it. He went
to South America with the prospect of making a gigantic fortune,
but he had scarcely begun to gather in his gold than he was
forced to fly, and returned home destitute. This last event, however,
was a misfortune which no efforts on his part could have
prevented. But even when he had the best chances, Trevithick
threw them away. When he had brought his road locomotive to
London to exhibit, and was beginning to excite the curiosity of
the public respecting it, he suddenly closed the exhibition in a fit
of caprice, removed the engine, and returned to Cornwall in a
tiff. The failure, also, of the railroad on which his locomotive
traveled so provoked him that he at once abandoned the enterprise
in disgust.

There may have been some moral twist in the engineer’s character,
into which we do not seek to pry; but it seems clear that
he was wanting in that resolute perseverance, that power of fighting
an up-hill battle, without which no great enterprise can be
conducted to a successful issue. In this respect the character of
Richard Trevithick presents a remarkable contrast to that of
George Stephenson, who took up only one of the many projects
which the other had cast aside, and by dint of application, industry,
and perseverance, carried into effect one of the most remarkable
but peaceful revolutions which has ever been accomplished
in any age or country.


We now proceed to describe the history of this revolution in
connection with the Life of George Stephenson, and to trace the
locomotive through its several stages of development until we
find it recognized as one of the most vigorous and untiring workers
in the entire world of industry.





[By R. P. Leitch, after his Original Drawing.]





In no quarter of England have greater changes been wrought
by the successive advances made in the practical science of engineering
than in the extensive colliery districts of the North, of
which Newcastle-upon-Tyne is the centre and the capital.

In ancient times the Romans planted a colony at Newcastle,
throwing a bridge across the Tyne near the site of the low-level
bridge shown in the prefixed engraving, and erecting a strong
fortification above it on the high ground now occupied by the
Central Railway Station. North and northwest lay a wild country,
abounding in moors, mountains, and morasses, but occupied
to a certain extent by fierce and barbarous tribes. To defend
the young colony against their ravages, a strong wall was built
by the Romans, extending from Wallsend on the north bank of
the Tyne, a few miles below Newcastle, across the country to
Burgh-upon-Sands on the Solway Firth. The remains of the
wall are still to be traced in the less populous hill-districts of
Northumberland. In the neighborhood of Newcastle they have
been gradually effaced by the works of succeeding generations,
though the “Wallsend” coal consumed in our household fires still
serves to remind us of the great Roman work.

After the withdrawal of the Romans, Northumbria became
planted by immigrant Saxons from North Germany and Norsemen
from Scandinavia, whose eorls or earls made Newcastle their
principal seat. Then came the Normans, from whose New Castle,
built some eight hundred years since, the town derives its
present name. The keep of this venerable structure, black with
age and smoke, still stands entire at the northern end of the noble[98]
high-level bridge—the utilitarian work of modern times thus
confronting the warlike relic of the older civilization.


The nearness of Newcastle to the Scotch Border was a great
hinderance to its security and progress in the middle ages of English
history. Indeed, the district between it and Berwick continued
to be ravaged by moss-troopers long after the union of the
crowns. The gentry lived in their strong Peel castles; even the
larger farm-houses were fortified; and blood-hounds were trained
for the purpose of tracking the cattle-reavers to their retreats in
the hills. The judges of Assize rode from Carlisle to Newcastle
guarded by an escort armed to the teeth. A tribute called “dagger
and protection money” was annually paid by the sheriff of
Newcastle for the purpose of providing daggers and other weapons
for the escort; and, though the need of such protection has
long since ceased, the tribute continues to be paid in broad gold
pieces of the time of Charles the First.

Until about the middle of last century the roads across Northumberland
were little better than horse-tracks, and not many
years since the primitive agricultural cart with solid wooden
wheels was almost as common in the western parts of the county
as it is in Spain now. The track of the old Roman road long
continued to be the most practicable route between Newcastle
and Carlisle, the traffic between the two towns having been carried
on pack-horses until within a comparatively recent period.

Since that time great changes have taken place on the Tyne.
When wood for firing became scarce and dear, and the forests of[99]
the South of England were found inadequate to supply the increasing
demand for fuel, attention was turned to the rich stores
of coal lying underground in the neighborhood of Newcastle and
Durham. It then became an article of increasing export, and
“sea-coal” fires gradually superseded those of wood. Hence an
old writer describes Newcastle as “the Eye of the North, and the
Hearth that warmeth the South parts of this kingdom with Fire.”
Fuel became the staple product of the district, the quantity exported
increasing from year to year, until the coal raised from
these northern mines amounts to upward of sixteen millions of
tons a year, of which not less than nine millions are annually conveyed
away by sea.

Newcastle has in the mean time spread in all directions far beyond
its ancient boundaries. From a walled mediæval town of
monks and merchants, it has been converted into a busy centre
of commerce and manufactures inhabited by nearly 100,000 people.
It is no longer a Border fortress—a “shield and defense
against the invasions and frequent insults of the Scots,” as described
in ancient charters—but a busy centre of peaceful industry,
and the outlet for a vast amount of steam-power, which is exported
in the form of coal to all parts of the world. Newcastle
is in many respects a town of singular and curious interest, especially
in its older parts, which are full of crooked lanes and narrow
streets, wynds, and chares, formed by tall, antique houses,
rising tier above tier along the steep northern bank of the Tyne,
as the similarly precipitous streets of Gateshead crowd the opposite

All over the coal region, which extends from the Coquet to the
Tees, about fifty miles from north to south, the surface of the soil
exhibits the signs of extensive underground workings. As you
pass through the country at night, the earth looks as if it were
bursting with fire at many points, the blaze of coke-ovens, iron-furnaces,
and coal-heaps reddening the sky to such a distance that
the horizon seems like a glowing belt of fire.

Among the upper-ground workmen employed at the coal-pits,
the principal are the firemen, engine-men, and brakesmen, who
fire and work the engines, and superintend the machinery by
means of which the collieries are worked. Previous to the introduction
of the steam-engine, the usual machine employed for the[100]
purpose was what is called a “gin.” The gin consists of a large
drum placed horizontally, round which ropes attached to buckets
and corves are wound, which are thus drawn up or sent down the
shafts by a horse traveling in a circular track or “gin race.”
This method was employed for drawing up both coals and water,
and it is still used for the same purpose in small collieries; but
where the quantity of water to be raised is great, pumps worked
by steam-power are called into requisition.

Newcomen’s atmospheric engine was first made use of to work
the pumps, and it continued to be so employed long after the
more powerful and economical condensing engine of Watt had
been invented. In the Newcomen or “fire-engine,” as it was
called, the power is produced by the pressure of the atmosphere
forcing down the piston in the cylinder, on a vacuum being produced
within it by condensation of the contained steam by means
of cold-water injection. The piston-rod is attached to one end
of a lever, while the pump-rod works in connection with the other,
the hydraulic action employed to raise the water being exactly
similar to that of a common sucking-pump.

The working of a Newcomen engine was a clumsy and apparently
a very painful process, accompanied by an extraordinary
amount of wheezing, sighing, creaking, and bumping. When the
pump descended, there was heard a plunge, a heavy sigh, and a
loud bump; then, as it rose, and the sucker began to act, there
was heard a creak, a wheeze, another bump, and then a rush of
water as it was lifted and poured out. Where engines of a more
powerful and improved description were used, as is now the case,
the quantity of water raised is enormous—as much as a million
and a half gallons in the twenty-four hours.

The pitmen, or “the lads belaw,” who work out the coal below
ground, are a peculiar class, quite distinct from the workmen on
the surface. They are a people with peculiar habits, manners,
and character, as much so as fishermen and sailors, to whom, indeed,
they bear, in some respects, a considerable resemblance.
Some fifty years since, they were a much rougher and worse educated
class than they are now; hard workers, but very wild and
uncouth; much given to “steeks,” or strikes; and distinguished,
in their hours of leisure and on pay-nights, for their love of cock-fighting,
dog-fighting, hard drinking, and cuddy races. The pay-night[101]
was a fortnightly saturnalia, in which the pitman’s character
was fully brought out, especially when the “yel” was good.
Though earning much higher wages than the ordinary laboring
population of the upper soil, the latter did not mix nor intermarry
with them, so that they were left to form their own communities,
and hence their marked peculiarities as a class. Indeed, a
sort of traditional disrepute seems long to have clung to the pitmen,
arising perhaps from the nature of their employment, and
from the circumstance that the colliers were among the last classes
enfranchised in England, as they were certainly the last in
Scotland, where they continued bondmen down to the end of last
century. The last thirty years, however, have worked a great
improvement in the moral condition of the Northumbrian pitmen;
the abolition of the twelve months’ bond to the mine, and
the substitution of a month’s notice previous to leaving, having
given them greater freedom and opportunity for obtaining employment;
and day-schools and Sunday-schools, together with the
important influences of railways, have brought them fully up to
a level with the other classes of the laboring population.

The coals, when raised from the pits, are emptied into the wagons
placed alongside, from whence they are sent along the rails
to the staiths erected by the river-side, the wagons sometimes descending
by their own gravity along inclined planes, the wagoner
standing behind to check the speed by means of a convoy or
wooden brake bearing upon the rims of the wheels. Arrived at
the staiths, the wagons are emptied at once into the ships waiting
alongside for cargo. Any one who has sailed down the Tyne
from Newcastle Bridge can not but have been struck with the
appearance of the immense staiths, constructed of timber, which
are erected at short distances from each other on both sides of
the river.

But a great deal of the coal shipped from the Tyne comes from
above-bridge, where sea-going craft can not reach, and is floated
down the river in “keels,” in which the coals are sometimes piled
up according to convenience when large, or, when the coal is
small or tender, it is conveyed in tubs to prevent breakage. These
keels are of a very ancient model—perhaps the oldest extant in
England: they are even said to be of the same build as those in
which the Norsemen navigated the Tyne centuries ago. The[102]
keel is a tubby, grimy-looking craft, rounded fore and aft, with a
single large square sail, which the keel-bullies, as the Tyne watermen
are called, manage with great dexterity; the vessel being
guided by the aid of the “swape,” or great oar, which is used as
a kind of rudder at the stern of the vessel. These keelmen are an
exceedingly hardy class of workmen, not by any means so quarrelsome
as their designation of “bully” would imply—the word
being merely derived from the obsolete term “boolie,” or beloved,
an appellation still in familiar use among brother workers in the
coal districts. One of the most curious sights on the Tyne is the
fleet of hundreds of these black-sailed, black-hulled keels, bringing
down at each tide their black cargoes for the ships at anchor
in the deep water at Shields and other parts of the river below

These preliminary observations will perhaps be sufficient to explain
the meaning of many of the occupations alluded to, and
the phrases employed, in the course of the following narrative,
some of which might otherwise have been comparatively unintelligible
to the reader.

The colliery village of Wylam is situated on the north bank of
the Tyne, about eight miles west of Newcastle. The Newcastle
and Carlisle Railway runs along the opposite bank; and the traveler
by that line sees the usual signs of a colliery in the unsightly
pumping-engines surrounded by heaps of ashes, coal-dust, and
slag, while a neighboring iron-furnace in full blast throws out
dense smoke and loud jets of steam by day and lurid flames at
night. These works form the nucleus of the village, which is almost
entirely occupied by coal-miners and iron-furnace-men.
The place is remarkable for its large population, but not for its
cleanness or neatness as a village; the houses, as in most colliery
villages, being the property of the owners or lessees, who employ
them in temporarily accommodating the work-people, against
whose earnings there is a weekly set-off for house and coals.
About the end of last century, the estate of which Wylam forms
part belonged to Mr. Blackett, a gentleman of considerable celebrity
in coal-mining, then more generally known as the proprietor
of the “Globe” newspaper.

There is nothing to interest one in the village itself. But a[103]
few hundred yards from its eastern extremity stands a humble
detached dwelling, which will be interesting to many as the birthplace
of one of the most remarkable men of our times—George
Stephenson, the Railway Engineer. It is a common, two-storied,
red-tiled, rubble house, portioned off into four laborers’ apartments.
It is known by the name of High-street House, and was
originally so called because it stands by the side of what used to
be the old riding post-road or street between Newcastle and Hexham,
along which the post was carried on horseback within the
memory of persons living.


The lower room in the west end of this house was the home of
the Stephenson family, and there George Stephenson was born,
the second of a family of six children, on the 9th of June, 1781.
The apartment is now, what it was then, an ordinary laborer’s
dwelling; its walls are unplastered, its floor is of clay, and the
bare rafters are exposed overhead.

Robert Stephenson, or “Old Bob,” as the neighbors familiarly
called him, and his wife Mabel, were a respectable couple, careful
and hard-working. Robert Stephenson’s father was a Scotchman,[104]
who came into England in the capacity of a gentleman’s
servant.[19] Mabel, his wife, was the second daughter of Robert
Carr, a dyer at Ovingham. The Carrs were for several generations
the owners of a house in that village adjoining the church-yard;
and the family tomb-stone may still be seen standing
against the east end of the chancel of the parish church, underneath
the centre lancet window, as the tomb-stone of Thomas
Bewick, the wood-engraver, occupies the western gable. Mabel
Stephenson was a woman of somewhat delicate constitution, and
troubled occasionally, as her neighbors said, with “the vapors.”
But those who remembered her concurred in describing her as
“a real canny body;” and a woman of whom this is said by
general consent in the Newcastle district may be pronounced a
worthy person indeed, for it is about the highest praise of a woman
which Northumbrians can express.



For some time after their marriage, Robert resided with his
wife at Walbottle, a village situated between Wylam and Newcastle,
where he was employed as a laborer at the colliery; after
which the family removed to Wylam, where he found employment
as fireman of the old pumping-engine at that colliery.

George Stephenson was the second of a family of six children.[20]

It does not appear that the birth of any of the children was
registered in the parish books, the author having made an unsuccessful
search in the registers of Ovingham and Heddon-on-the-Wall
to ascertain the fact.

An old Wylam collier, who remembered George Stephenson’s
father, thus described him: “Geordie’s fayther war like a peer o’
deals nailed thegither, an’ a bit o’ flesh i’ th’ inside; he war as
queer as Dick’s hatband—went thrice aboot, an’ wudn’t tie. His
wife Mabel war a delicat’ boddie, an’ varry flighty. They war
an honest family, but sair hadden doon i’ th’ world.” Indeed,
the earnings of old Robert did not amount to more than twelve
shillings a week; and, as there were six children to maintain,
the family, during their stay at Wylam, were necessarily in very
straitened circumstances. The father’s wages being barely sufficient,
even with the most rigid economy, for the sustenance of
the household, there was little to spare for clothing, and nothing
for education, so that none of the children were sent to school.

Old Robert was a general favorite in the village, especially
among the children, whom he was accustomed to draw about him
while tending the engine-fire, and feast their young imaginations
with tales of Sinbad the Sailor and Robinson Crusoe, besides others[106]
of his own invention; so that “Bob’s engine-fire” came to be
the most popular resort in the village. Another feature in his
character, by which he was long remembered, was his affection
for birds and animals; and he had many tame favorites of both
sorts, which were as fond of resorting to his engine-fire as the
boys and girls themselves. In the winter time he had usually a
flock of tame robins about him; and they would come hopping
familiarly to his feet to pick up the crumbs which he had saved
for them out of his humble dinner. At his cottage he was rarely
without one or more tame blackbirds, which flew about the house,
or in and out at the door. In summer time he would go bird-nesting
with his children; and one day he took his little boy
George to see a blackbird’s nest for the first time. Holding him
up in his arms, he let the wondering boy peep down, through the
branches held aside for the purpose, into a nest full of young
birds—a sight which the boy never forgot, but used to speak of
with delight to his intimate friends when he himself had grown
an old man.

The boy George led the ordinary life of working people’s children.
He played about the doors; went bird-nesting when he
could; and ran errands to the village. He was also an eager listener,
with the other children, to his father’s curious tales, and he
early imbibed from him his affection for birds and animals. In
course of time he was promoted to the office of carrying his father’s
dinner to him while at work, and at home he helped to
nurse his younger brothers and sisters. One of his earliest duties
was to see that the other children were kept out of the way
of the chaldron wagons, which were then dragged by horses
along the wooden tram-road immediately in front of the cottage

This wagon-way was the first in the northern district on which
the experiment of a locomotive engine was tried. But, at the
time of which we speak, the locomotive had scarcely been dreamt
of in England as a practicable working power; horses only were
used to haul the coal; and one of the first sights with which the
boy was familiar was the coal-wagons dragged by them along the
wooden railway at Wylam.

Thus eight years passed; after which, the coal having been
worked out on the north side, the old engine, which had grown[107]
“dismal to look at,” as an old workman described it, was pulled
down; and then old Robert, having obtained employment as a
fireman at the Dewley Burn Colliery, removed with his family to
that place.

Dewley Burn, at this day, consists of a few old-fashioned, low-roofed
cottages standing on either side of a babbling little stream.
They are connected by a rustic wooden bridge, which spans the
rift in front of the doors. In the central one-roomed cottage of
this group, on the right bank, Robert Stephenson lived for a time
with his family, the pit at which he worked standing in the rear
of the cottages.

Young though he was, George was now of an age to be able to
contribute something toward the family maintenance; for, in a
poor man’s house, every child is a burden until his little hands
can be turned to profitable account. That the boy was shrewd
and active, and possessed of a ready mother-wit, will be evident
enough from the following incident. One day his sister Nell
went into Newcastle to buy a bonnet, and Geordie went with her
“for company.” At a draper’s shop in the Bigg Market Nell
found a “chip” quite to her mind, but on pricing it, alas! it was
found to be fifteen pence beyond her means. Girl-like, she had
set her mind upon that bonnet, and no other would please her.
She accordingly left the shop very much dejected. But Geordie
said, “Never heed, Nell; come wi’ me, and I’ll see if I canna win
siller enough to buy the bonnet; stand ye there till I come back.”
Away ran the boy, and disappeared amid the throng of the market,
leaving the girl to wait his return. Long and long she waited,
until it grew dusk, and the market-people had nearly all left.
She had begun to despair, and fears crossed her mind that Geordie
must have been run over and killed, when at last up he came
running, almost breathless. “I’ve gotten the siller for the bonnet,
Nell!” cried he. “Eh, Geordie!” she said, “but hoo hae ye
gotten it?” “Hauddin the gentlemen’s horses!” was the exultant
reply. The bonnet was forthwith bought, and the two returned
to Dewley in triumph.

George’s first regular employment was of a very humble sort.
A widow, named Grace Ainslie, then occupied the neighboring
farm-house of Dewley. She kept a number of cows, and had the
privilege of grazing them along the wagon-ways. She needed a[108]
boy to herd the cows, to keep them out of the way of the wagons,
and prevent their straying or trespassing on the neighbors’ “liberties;”
the boy’s duty was also to bar the gates at night after all
the wagons had passed. George petitioned for this post, and, to
his great joy, he was appointed, at the wage of twopence a day.

It was light employment, and he had plenty of spare time on
his hands, which he spent in bird-nesting, making whistles out of
reeds and scrannel straws, and erecting Liliputian mills in the little
water-streams that ran into the Dewley bog. But his favorite
amusement at this early age was erecting clay engines in conjunction
with his playmate, Bill Thirlwall. The place is still
pointed out where the future engineers made their first essays in
modeling. The boys found the clay for their engines in the adjoining
bog, and the hemlocks which grew about supplied them
with imaginary steam-pipes. They even proceeded to make a
miniature winding-machine in connection with their engine, and
the apparatus was erected upon a bench in front of the Thirlwalls’
cottage. Their corves were made out of hollowed corks;
their ropes were supplied by twine; and a few bits of wood
gleaned from the refuse of the carpenters’ shop completed their
materials. With this apparatus the boys made a show of sending
the corves down the pit and drawing them up again, much to
the marvel of the pitmen. But some mischievous person about
the place seized the opportunity early one morning of smashing
the fragile machinery, greatly to the grief of the young engineers.
We may mention, in passing, that George’s companion
afterward became a workman of repute, and creditably held the
office of engineer at Shilbottle, near Alnwick, for a period of
nearly thirty years.

As Stephenson grew older and abler to work, he was set to
lead the horses when plowing, though scarce big enough to stride
across the furrows; and he used afterward to say that he rode to
his work in the mornings at an hour when most other children of
his age were asleep in their beds. He was also employed to hoe
turnips, and do similar farm-work, for which he was paid the advanced
wage of fourpence a day. But his highest ambition was
to be taken on at the colliery where his father worked; and he
shortly joined his elder brother James there as a “corf-bitter,” or
“picker,” to clear the coal of stones, bats, and dross. His wages[109]
were then advanced to sixpence a day, and afterward to eightpence
when he was sent to drive the gin-horse.

Shortly after, George went to Black Callerton Colliery to drive
the gin there; and, as that colliery lies about two miles across the
fields from Dewley Burn, the boy walked that distance early in
the morning to his work, returning home late in the evening. One
of the old residents at Black Callerton, who remembered him at
that time, described him to the author as “a grit growing lad,
with bare legs an’ feet;” adding that he was “very quick-witted,
and full of fun and tricks: indeed, there was nothing under the
sun but he tried to imitate.” He was usually foremost also in
the sports and pastimes of youth.

Among his first strongly developed tastes was the love of birds
and animals, which he inherited from his father. Blackbirds
were his special favorites. The hedges between Dewley and
Black Callerton were capital bird-nesting places, and there was
not a nest there that he did not know of. When the young birds
were old enough, he would bring them home with him, feed
them, and teach them to fly about the cottage unconfined by
cages. One of his blackbirds became so tame that, after flying
about the doors all day, and in and out of the cottage, it would
take up its roost upon the bed-head at night. And, most singular
of all, the bird would disappear in the spring and summer
months, when it was supposed to go into the woods to pair and
rear its young, after which it would reappear at the cottage, and
resume its social habits during the winter. This went on for
several years. George had also a stock of tame rabbits, for
which he built a little house behind the cottage, and for many
years he continued to pride himself upon the superiority of his

After he had driven the gin for some time at Dewley and
Black Callerton, he was taken on as assistant to his father in firing
the engine at Dewley. This was a step of promotion which
he had anxiously desired, his only fear being lest he should be
found too young for the work. Indeed, he afterward used to relate
how he was wont to hide himself when the owner of the colliery
went round, in case he should be thought too little a boy to
earn the wages paid him. Since he had modeled his clay engines
in the bog, his young ambition was to be an engine-man;[110]
and to be an assistant fireman was the first step toward this position.
Great, therefore, was his joy when, at about fourteen years
of age, he was appointed assistant fireman, at the wage of a shilling
a day.

But the coal at Dewley Burn being at length worked out, the
pit was ordered to be “laid in,” and old Robert and his family
were again under the necessity of shifting their home; for, to use
the common phrase, they must “follow the wark.”

(Colliery Wagons)


NEWBURN ON THE TYNE.   [By R. P. Leitch.]



On quitting their humble home at Dewley Burn, the Stephenson
family removed to a place called Jolly’s Close, a few miles to
the south, close behind the village of Newburn, where another
coal-mine belonging to the Duke of Northumberland, called “the
Duke’s Winnin,” had recently been opened out.

One of the old persons in the neighborhood, who knew the
family well, describes the dwelling in which they lived as a poor
cottage of only one room, in which the father, mother, four sons,
and two daughters lived and slept. It was crowded with three
low-poled beds. The one apartment served for parlor, kitchen,
sleeping-room, and all.

The children of the Stephenson family were now growing
apace, and several of them were old enough to be able to earn
money at various kinds of colliery work. James and George,[112]
the two eldest sons, worked as assistant firemen; and the younger
boys worked as wheelers or pickers on the bank-tops; while the
two girls helped their mother with the household work.

Other workings of the coal were opened out in the neighborhood,
and to one of these George was removed as fireman on his
own account. This was called the “Mid Mill Winnin,” where
he had for his mate a young man named Coe. They worked together
there for about two years, by twelve-hour shifts, George
firing the engine at the wage of a shilling a day. He was now
fifteen years old. His ambition was as yet limited to attaining
the standing of a full workman, at a man’s wages, and with that
view he endeavored to attain such a knowledge of his engine as
would eventually lead to his employment as engine-man, with its
accompanying advantage of higher pay. He was a steady, sober,
hard-working young man, but nothing more in the estimation of
his fellow-workmen.

One of his favorite pastimes in by-hours was trying feats of
strength with his companions. Although in frame he was not
particularly robust, yet he was big and bony, and considered very
strong for his age. At throwing the hammer George had no
compeer. At lifting heavy weights off the ground from between
his feet, by means of a bar of iron passed through them—placing
the bar against his knees as a fulcrum, and then straightening his
spine and lifting them sheer up—he was also very successful.
On one occasion he lifted as much as sixty stones’ weight—a
striking indication of his strength of bone and muscle.

When the pit at Mid Mill was closed, George and his companion
Coe were sent to work another pumping-engine erected near
Throckley Bridge, where they continued for some months. It
was while working at this place that his wages were raised to 12s.
a week—an event to him of great importance. On coming out
of the foreman’s office that Saturday evening on which he received
the advance, he announced the fact to his fellow-workmen,
adding triumphantly, “I am now a made man for life!”

The pit opened at Newburn, at which old Robert Stephenson
worked, proving a failure, it was closed, and a new pit was sunk
at Water-row, on a strip of land lying between the Wylam wagon-way
and the River Tyne, about half a mile west of Newburn
Church. A pumping-engine was erected there by Robert Hawthorn,[113]
the duke’s engineer, and old Stephenson went to work it
as fireman, his son George acting as the engine-man or plugman.
At that time he was about seventeen years old—a very youthful
age at which to fill so responsible a post. He had thus already
got ahead of his father in his station as a workman; for the plugman
holds a higher grade than the fireman, requiring more practical
knowledge and skill, and usually receiving higher wages.

George’s duties as plugman were to watch the engine, to see
that it kept well in work, and that the pumps were efficient in
drawing the water. When the water-level in the pit was lowered,
and the suction became incomplete through the exposure of
the suction-holes, it was then his duty to proceed to the bottom
of the shaft and plug the tube so that the pump should draw:
hence the designation of “plugman.” If a stoppage in the engine
took place through any defect which he was incapable of
remedying, it was his duty to call in the aid of the chief engineer
to set it to rights.

But from the time that George Stephenson was appointed fireman,
and more particularly afterward as engine-man, he applied
himself so assiduously and successfully to the study of the engine
and its gearing—taking the machine to pieces in his leisure hours
for the purpose of cleaning it and understanding its various parts—that
he soon acquired a thorough practical knowledge of its
construction and mode of working, and very rarely needed to call
the engineer of the colliery to his aid. His engine became a sort
of pet with him, and he was never wearied of watching and inspecting
it with admiration.

There is, indeed, a peculiar fascination about an engine to the
person whose duty it is to watch and work it. It is almost sublime
in its untiring industry and quiet power; capable of performing
the most gigantic work, yet so docile that a child’s hand
may guide it. No wonder, therefore, that the workman who is
the daily companion of this life-like machine, and is constantly
watching it with anxious care, at length comes to regard it with
a degree of personal interest and regard. This daily contemplation
of the steam-engine, and the sight of its steady action, is an
education of itself to an ingenious and thoughtful man. And it
is a remarkable fact, that nearly all that has been done for the
improvement of this machine has been accomplished, not by philosophers[114]
and scientific men, but by laborers, mechanics, and engine-men.
Indeed, it would appear as if this were one of the departments
of practical science in which the higher powers of the
human mind must bend to mechanical instinct.

Stephenson was now in his eighteenth year, but, like many of
his fellow-workmen, he had not yet learned to read. All that he
could do was to get some one to read for him by his engine-fire,
out of any book or stray newspaper which found its way into the
neighborhood. Bonaparte was then overrunning Italy, and astounding
Europe by his brilliant succession of victories; and there
was no more eager auditor of his exploits, as read from the newspaper
accounts, than the young engine-man at the Water-row Pit.

There were also numerous stray bits of information and intelligence
contained in these papers which excited Stephenson’s interest.
One of them related to the Egyptian method of hatching
birds’ eggs by means of artificial heat. Curious about every thing
relating to birds, he determined to test it by experiment. It was
spring time, and he forthwith went bird-nesting in the adjoining
woods and hedges. He gathered a collection of eggs of various
sorts, set them in flour in a warm place in the engine-house, covered
the whole with wool, and waited the issue. The heat was
kept as steady as possible, and the eggs were carefully turned every
twelve hours; but, though they chipped, and some of them
exhibited well-grown chicks, they never hatched. The experiment
failed, but the incident shows that the inquiring mind of
the youth was fairly at work.

Modeling of engines in clay continued to be another of his favorite
occupations. He made models of engines which he had
seen, and of others which were described to him. These attempts
were an improvement upon his first trials at Dewley Burn bog,
when occupied there as a herd-boy. He was, however, anxious to
know something of the wonderful engines of Boulton and Watt,
and was told that they were to be found fully described in books,
which he must search for information as to their construction, action,
and uses. But, alas! Stephenson could not read; he had not
yet learned even his letters.

Thus he shortly found, when gazing wistfully in the direction
of knowledge, that to advance farther as a skilled workman, he
must master this wonderful art of reading—the key to so many[115]
other arts. Only thus could he gain an access to books, the depositories
of the wisdom and experience of the past. Although
a grown man, and doing the work of a man, he was not ashamed
to confess his ignorance, and go to school, big as he was, to learn
his letters. Perhaps, too, he foresaw that, in laying out a little of
his spare earnings for this purpose, he was investing money judiciously,
and that, in every hour he spent at school, he was really
working for better wages.

His first schoolmaster was Robin Cowens, a poor teacher in the
village of Walbottle. He kept a night-school, which was attended
by a few of the colliers’ and laborers’ sons in the neighborhood.
George took lessons in spelling and reading three nights
in the week. Robin Cowens’s teaching cost threepence a week;
and though it was not very good, yet George, being hungry for
knowledge and eager to acquire it, soon learned to read. He also
practiced “pot-hooks,” and at the age of nineteen he was proud
to be able to write his own name.

A Scotch dominie, named Andrew Robertson, set up a night-school
in the village of Newburn in the winter of 1799. It was
more convenient for George to attend this school, as it was nearer
his work, being only a few minutes’ walk from Jolly’s Close.
Besides, Andrew had the reputation of being a good arithmetician,
and this was a branch of knowledge that Stephenson was
very desirous of acquiring. He accordingly began taking lessons
from him, paying fourpence a week. Robert Gray, junior fireman
at the Water-row Pit, began arithmetic at the same time;
and Gray afterward told the author that George learned “figuring”
so much faster than he did, that he 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 “reduction,” while Robert Gray was still
struggling with the difficulties of simple division. But George’s
secret was his perseverance. He worked out the sums in his by-hours,
improving every minute of his spare time by the engine-fire,
there studying the arithmetical problems set for him upon
his slate by the master. In the evenings he took to Robertson
the sums which he had “worked,” and new ones were “set” for
him to study out the following day. Thus his progress was rapid,
and, with a willing heart and mind, he soon became well advanced[116]
in arithmetic. Indeed, Andrew Robertson became very
proud of his scholar; and shortly after, when the Water-row Pit
was closed, and George removed to Black Callerton to work there,
the poor schoolmaster, not having a very extensive connection in
Newburn, went with his pupils, and set up his night-school at
Black Callerton, where he continued his lessons.

George still found time to attend to his favorite animals while
working at the Water-row Pit. Like his father, he used to tempt
the robin-redbreasts to hop and fly about him at the engine-fire
by the bait of bread-crumbs saved from his dinner. But his chief
favorite was his dog—so sagacious that he almost daily carried
George’s dinner to him at the pit. The tin containing the meal
was suspended from the dog’s neck, and, thus laden, he proceeded
faithfully from Jolly’s Close to Water-row Pit, quite through
the village of Newburn. He turned neither to left nor right, nor
heeded the barking of curs at his heels. But his course was not
unattended with perils. One day the big, strange dog of a passing
butcher, espying the engine-man’s messenger with the tin can
about his neck, ran after and fell upon him. There was a terrible
tussle and worrying, which lasted for a brief while, and, shortly
after, the dog’s master, anxious for his dinner, saw his faithful
servant approaching, bleeding but triumphant. The tin can was
still round his neck, but the dinner had been spilled in the struggle.
Though George went without his dinner that day, he was
prouder of his dog than ever when the circumstances of the combat
were related to him by the villagers who had seen it.

It was while working at the Water-row Pit that Stephenson
learned the art of brakeing an engine. This being one of the
higher departments of colliery labor, and among the best paid,
George was very anxious to learn it. A small winding-engine
having been put up for the purpose of drawing the coals from
the pit, Bill Coe, his friend and fellow-workman, was appointed the
brakesman. He frequently allowed George to try his hand
at the machine, and instructed him how to proceed. Coe was,
however, opposed in this by several of the other workmen, one of
whom, a banksman named William Locke,[21] went so far as to
stop the working of the pit because Stephenson had been called[117]
in to the brake. But one day, as Mr. Charles Nixon, the manager
of the pit, was observed approaching, Coe adopted an expedient
which put a stop to the opposition. He called upon Stephenson
to “come into the brake-house and take hold of the machine.”
Locke, as usual, sat down, and the working of the pit was stopped.
When requested by the manager to give an explanation, he said
that “young Stephenson couldn’t brake, and, what was more, never
would learn, he was so clumsy.” Mr. Nixon, however, ordered
Locke to go on with the work, which he did; and Stephenson,
after some farther practice, acquired the art of brakeing.

After working at the Water-row Pit and at other engines near
Newburn for about three years, George and Coe went to Black
Callerton early in 1810. Though only twenty years of age, his
employers thought so well of him that they appointed him to the
responsible office of brakesman at the Dolly Pit. For convenience’
sake, he took lodgings at a small farmer’s in the village,
finding his own victuals, and paying so much a week for lodging
and attendance. In the locality this was called “picklin in his
awn poke neuk.” It not unfrequently happens that the young
workman about the collieries, when selecting a lodging, contrives
to pitch his tent where the daughter of the house ultimately becomes
his wife. This is often the real attraction that draws
the youth from home, though a very different one may be pretended.

George Stephenson’s duties as brakesman may be briefly described.
The work was somewhat monotonous, and consisted in
superintending the working of the engine and machinery by
means of which the coals were drawn out of the pit. Brakesmen
are almost invariably selected from those who have had considerable
experience as engine-firemen, and borne a good character
for steadiness, punctuality, watchfulness, and “mother wit.”
In George Stephenson’s day the coals were drawn out of the
pit in corves, or large baskets made of hazel rods. The corves
were placed together in a cage, between which and the pit-ropes
there was usually from fifteen to twenty feet of chain. The approach
of the corves toward the pit mouth was signaled by a
bell, brought into action by a piece of mechanism worked from
the shaft of the engine. When the bell sounded, the brakesman
checked the speed by taking hold of the hand-gear connected[118]
with the steam-valves, which were so arranged that by their
means he could regulate the speed of the engine, and stop or set
it in motion when required. Connected with the fly-wheel was
a powerful wooden brake, acting by pressure against its rim,
something like the brake of a railway carriage against its wheels.
On catching sight of the chain attached to the ascending corve-cage,
the brakesman, by pressing his foot upon a foot-step near
him, was enabled, with great precision, to stop the revolutions of
the wheel, and arrest the ascent of the corves at the pit mouth,
when they were forthwith landed on the “settle-board.” On the
full corves being replaced by empty ones, it was then the duty of
the brakesman to reverse the engine, and send the corves down
the pit to be filled again.

The monotony of George Stephenson’s occupation as a brakesman
was somewhat varied by the change which he made, in his
turn, from the day to the night shift. His duty, on the latter occasions,
consisted chiefly in sending men and materials into the
mine, and in drawing other men and materials out. Most of the
workmen enter the pit during the night shift, and leave it in the
latter part of the day, while coal-drawing is proceeding. The requirements
of the work at night are such that the brakesman has
a good deal of spare time on his hands, which he is at liberty to
employ in his own way. From an early period, George was accustomed
to employ those vacant night hours in working the sums
set for him by Andrew Robertson upon his slate, practicing writing
in his copy-book, and mending the shoes of his fellow-workmen.
His wages while working at the Dolly Pit amounted to
from £1 15s. to £2 in the fortnight; but he gradually added to
them as he became more expert at shoe-mending, and afterward
at shoe-making.

Probably he was stimulated to take in hand this extra work by
the attachment he had by this time formed for a young woman
named Fanny Henderson, who officiated as servant in the small
farmer’s house in which he lodged. We have been informed that
the personal attractions of Fanny, though these were considerable,
were the least of her charms. Mr. William Fairbairn, who
afterward saw her in her home at Willington Quay, describes her
as a very comely woman. But her temper was one of the sweetest;
and those who knew her were accustomed to speak of the[119]
charming modesty of her demeanor, her kindness of disposition,
and, withal, her sound good sense.

Among his various mendings of old shoes at Callerton, George
was on one occasion favored with the shoes of his sweetheart to
sole. One can imagine the pleasure with which he would linger
over such a piece of work, and the pride with which he would
execute it. 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
pull them out and hold them up, exclaiming “what a capital job
he had made of them!”

Not long after he began to work at Black Callerton as brakesman
he had a quarrel with a pitman named Ned Nelson, a roystering
bully, who was the terror of the village. Nelson was a
great fighter, and it was therefore considered dangerous to quarrel
with him. Stephenson was so unfortunate as not to be able
to please this pitman by the way in which he drew him out of
the pit, and Nelson swore at him grossly because of the alleged
clumsiness of his brakeing. George defended himself, and appealed
to the testimony of the other workmen. Nelson had not
been accustomed to George’s style of self-assertion, and, after a
great deal of abuse, he threatened to kick the brakesman, who
defied him to do so. Nelson ended by challenging Stephenson
to a pitched battle, and the latter accepted the challenge, when a
day was fixed on which the fight was to come off.

Great was the excitement at Black Callerton when it was
known that George Stephenson had accepted Nelson’s challenge.
Every body said he would be killed. The villagers, the young
men, and especially the boys of the place, with whom George was
a great favorite, all wished that he might beat Nelson, but they
scarcely dared to say so. They came about him while he was at
work in the engine-house to inquire if it was really true that he
was “goin’ to fight Nelson.” “Ay; never fear for me; I’ll fight
him.” And fight him he did. For some days previous to the
appointed day of battle, Nelson went entirely off work for the
purpose of keeping himself fresh and strong, whereas Stephenson
went on doing his daily work as usual, and appeared not in the
least disconcerted by the prospect of the affair. So, on the evening
appointed, after George had done his day’s labor, he went[120]
into the Dolly Pit Field, where his already exulting rival was
ready to meet him. George stripped, and “went in” like a practiced
pugilist, though it was his first and last fight. After a few
rounds, George’s wiry muscles and practiced strength enabled him
severely to punish his adversary and to secure an easy victory.

This circumstance is related in illustration of Stephenson’s personal
pluck and courage, and it was thoroughly characteristic of
the man. He was no pugilist, and the reverse of quarrelsome.
But he would not be put down by the bully of the colliery, and
he fought him. There his pugilism ended; they afterward shook
hands, and continued good friends. In after life Stephenson’s
mettle was often as hardly tried, though in a different way, and
he did not fail to exhibit the same courage in contending with
the bullies of the railway world as he showed in his encounter
with Ned Nelson, the fighting pitman of Callerton.

(Colliery Gin)





George Stephenson had now acquired the character of an expert
workman. He was diligent and observant while at work,
and sober and studious when the day’s work was done. His
friend Coe described him to the author as “a standing example
of manly character.” On pay-Saturday afternoons, when the pitmen
held their fortnightly holiday, occupying themselves chiefly
in cock-fighting and dog-fighting in the adjoining fields, followed
by adjournments to the “yel-house,” George was accustomed to
take his engine to pieces, for the purpose of obtaining “insight,”
and he cleaned all the parts and put the machine in thorough
working order before leaving her. His amusements continued
to be principally of the athletic kind, and he found few that
could beat him at lifting heavy weights, leaping, and throwing
the hammer.

In the evenings he improved himself in the arts of reading and
writing, and occasionally he took a turn at modeling. It was at
Callerton, his son Robert informed us, that he began to try his[122]
hand at original invention, and for some time he applied his attention
to a machine of the nature of an engine-brake, which reversed
itself by its own action. But nothing came of the contrivance,
and it was eventually thrown aside as useless. Yet not
altogether so; for even the highest skill must undergo the inevitable
discipline of experiment, and submit to the wholesome correction
of occasional failure.

After working at Callerton for about two years, Stephenson received
an offer to take charge of the engine on Willington Ballast
Hill at an advanced wage. He determined to accept it, and
at the same time to marry Fanny Henderson, and begin housekeeping
on his own account. Though he was only twenty-one
years old, he had contrived, by thrift, steadiness, and industry, to
save as much money as enabled him, with the help of Fanny’s
small hoard, to take a cottage dwelling at Willington Quay, and
furnish it in a humble but comfortable style for the reception of
his bride.

Willington Quay lies on the north bank of the Tyne, about six
miles below Newcastle. It consists of a line of houses straggling
along the river side, and high behind it towers up the huge mound
of ballast emptied out of the ships which resort to the quay for
their cargoes of coal for the London market. The ballast is
thrown out of the ships’ holds into wagons laid alongside. When
filled, a train of these is dragged to the summit of the Ballast
Hill, where they are run out, and their contents emptied on to
the monstrous accumulation of earth, chalk, and Thames mud already
laid there, probably to form a puzzle for future antiquaries
and geologists when the origin of these immense hills along
the Tyne has been forgotten. At the foot of this great mound
of shot rubbish was a fixed engine, which drew the trains of
laden wagons up the incline by means of ropes working over
pulleys, and of this engine George Stephenson acted as brakesman.

The cottage in which he took up his abode was a small two-storied
dwelling, standing a little back from the quay, with a bit
of garden ground in front;[22] but he only occupied the upper[123]
room in the west end of the cottage. Close behind rose the Ballast

When the cottage dwelling had been made snug and was ready
for his wife’s reception, the marriage took place. It was celebrated
in Newburn Church on the 28th of November, 1802.
George Stephenson’s signature, as it stands in the register, is that
of a person who seems to have just learned to write. With all
the writer’s care, however, he had not been able to avoid a blotch.
The name of Frances Henderson has the appearance of being
written by the same hand.

(Signatures of George Stephenson and Frances Henderson)

After the ceremony, George and his newly-wedded partner
proceeded to the house of old Robert Stephenson and his wife
Mabel at Jolly Close. The old man was now becoming infirm,
though he still worked as an engine-fireman, and contrived with
difficulty “to keep his head above water.” When the visit had
been paid, the bridal party prepared to set out for their new
home at Willington Quay. They went in a style which was quite
common before traveling by railway had been invented. Two
farm-horses, borrowed from a neighboring farmer, were each provided
with a saddle and a pillion, and George having mounted
one, his wife seated herself behind him, holding on by her arms
round his waist. The brideman and bridemaid in like manner
mounted 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 Willington Quay—a long ride of about
fifteen miles.

George Stephenson’s daily life at Willington was that of a
steady workman. By the manner, however, in which he continued
to improve his spare hours in the evening, he was silently
and surely paving the way for being something more than a manual
laborer. He diligently set himself to study the principles of[124]
mechanics, and to master the laws by which his engine worked.
For a workman, he was even at that time more than ordinarily
speculative, often taking up strange theories, and trying to sift
out the truth that was in them. While sitting by the side of his
young wife in his cottage dwelling in the winter evenings, he was
usually occupied in studying mechanical subjects or in modeling
experimental machines.

Among his various speculations while at Willington, he tried
to discover a means of Perpetual Motion. Although he failed,
as so many others had done before him, the very efforts he made
tended to whet his inventive faculties and to call forth his dormant
powers. He actually went so far as to construct the model
of a machine for the purpose. It consisted of a wooden wheel,
the periphery of which was furnished with glass tubes filled with
quicksilver; as the wheel rotated, the quicksilver poured itself
down into the lower tubes, and thus a sort of self-acting motion
was kept up in the apparatus, which, however, did not prove to be
perpetual. Where he had first obtained the idea of this machine—whether
from conversation, or reading, or his own thoughts, is
not known; but his son Robert was of opinion that he had heard
of an apparatus of this kind as described in the “History of Inventions.”
As he had then no access to books, and, indeed, could
scarcely yet read, it is probable that he had been told of the invention,
and set about testing its value according to his own methods.

Much of his spare time continued to be occupied by labor more
immediately profitable, regarded in a pecuniary point of view.
In the evenings, after his day’s labor at his engine, he would occasionally
employ himself for a few hours in casting ballast out
of the collier ships, by which means he was enabled to earn a few
shillings weekly. Mr. William Fairbairn, of Manchester, has informed
the author that, while Stephenson was employed at the
Willington Ballast Hill, he himself was working in the neighborhood
as an engine apprentice at the Percy Main Colliery. He
was very fond of George, who was a fine, hearty fellow, besides
being a capital workman. In the summer evenings young Fairbairn
was accustomed to go down to Willington to see his friend,
and on such occasions he would frequently take charge of
George’s engine for a few hours, to enable him to take a two or
three hours’ turn at heaving ballast out of the ships’ holds. It is[125]
pleasant to think of the future President of the British Association
thus helping the future Railway Engineer to earn a few extra
shillings by overwork in the evenings, at a time when both
occupied the rank but of humble working men in an obscure
northern village.

Mr. Fairbairn was also a frequent visitor at George’s cottage
on the Quay, where, though there was no luxury, there was comfort,
cleanness, and a pervading spirit of industry. Even at home
George was never for a moment idle. When there was no ballast
to heave, he took in shoes to mend; and from mending he
proceeded to making them, as well as shoe-lasts, in which he was
admitted to be very expert. William Coe, who continued to live
at Willington in 1851, informed the author that he bought a pair
of shoes from George Stephenson for 7s. 6d., and he remembered
that they were a capital fit, and wore very well.

But an accident occurred in Stephenson’s household 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, when the alarmed neighbors, rushing in,
threw quantities of water upon the flames; and some, in their
zeal, even mounted the ridge of the house, and poured buckets 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, every thing 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 seriously damaged 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 complete stand-still.

George was advised to send the article to the clock-maker, but
that would cost money; and he declared that he would repair it
himself—at least he would try. The clock was accordingly taken
to pieces and cleaned; the tools which he had been accumulating
for the purpose of constructing his Perpetual Motion machine
readily enabled him to do this, and he succeeded so well that,
shortly after, the neighbors sent him their clocks to clean, and he
soon became one of the most expert clock-cleaners in the neighborhood.

It was while living at Willington Quay that George Stephenson’s[126]
only son was born on the 16th of October, 1803.[23] The
child was from the first, as may well be imagined, a great favorite
with his father, and added much to the happiness of his evening
hours. George Stephenson’s strong “philoprogenitiveness,”
as phrenologists call it, had in his boyhood expended itself on
birds, and dogs, and rabbits, and even on the poor old gin-horses
which he had driven at the Callerton Pit, and now he found in
his child a more genial object for the exercise of his affection.

The christening of the boy took place in the school-house at
Wallsend, the old parish church being at the time in so dilapidated
a condition from the “creeping” or subsidence of the ground,
consequent upon the excavation of the coal, that it was considered
dangerous to enter it.[24] On this occasion, Robert Gray and
Anne Henderson, who had officiated as brideman and bridemaid
at the wedding, came over again to Willington, and stood godfather
and godmother to little Robert, as the child was named, after
his grandfather.

After working for about three years as a brakesman at the
Willington machine, George Stephenson was induced to leave his
situation there for a similar one at the West Moor Colliery, Killingworth.
It was not without considerable persuasion that he
was induced to leave the Quay, as he knew that he should thereby
give up the chance of earning extra money by casting ballast
from the keels. At last, however, he consented, in the hope of
making up the loss in some other way.

The village of Killingworth lies about seven miles north of
Newcastle, and is one of the best-known collieries in that neighborhood.
[127]The workings of the coal are of vast extent, and give
employment to a large number of work-people. To this place
Stephenson first came as a brakesman about the end of 1804. He
had not been long in his new home ere his wife died of consumption,
leaving him with his only child Robert. George deeply
felt the loss, for his wife and he had been very happy together.
Their lot had been sweetened by daily successful toil. George
had been hard-working, and his wife had made his hearth so
bright and his home so snug, that no attraction could draw him
from her side in the evening hours. But this domestic happiness
was all to pass away, and the bereaved husband felt for a time as
one that had thenceforth to tread the journey of life alone.

WEST MOOR COLLIERY.   [By R. P. Leitch.]

Shortly after this event, while his grief was still fresh, he received
an invitation from some gentlemen concerned in large
spinning-works near Montrose, in Scotland, to proceed thither
and superintend the working of one of Boulton and Watt’s engines.
He accepted the offer, and made arrangements to leave
Killingworth for a time.

Having left his boy in charge of a respectable woman who
acted as his housekeeper, he set out on the journey to Scotland[128]
on foot, with his kit upon his back. While working at Montrose,
he gave a striking proof of that practical ability in contrivance
for which he was afterward so distinguished. It appears that
the water required for the purposes of his engine, as well as for
the use of the works, was pumped from a considerable depth, being
supplied from the adjacent extensive sand strata. The
pumps frequently got choked by the sand drawn in at the bottom
of the well through the snore-holes, or apertures through
which the water to be raised is admitted. The barrels soon became
worn, and the bucket and clack leathers destroyed, so that
it became necessary to devise a remedy; and with this object,
the engine-man proceeded to adopt the following simple but
original expedient. He had a wooden box or boot made, twelve
feet high, which he placed in the sump or well, and into this he
inserted the lower end of the pump. The result was, that the
water flowed clear from the outer part of the well over into the
boot, and was drawn up without any admixture of sand, and the
difficulty was thus conquered.[25]

During his stay in Scotland, Stephenson, being paid good
wages, contrived to save a sum of £28, which he took back with
him to Killingworth, after an absence of about a year. Longing
to get back to his kindred, and his heart yearning for the boy
whom he had left behind, our engine-man bade adieu to his Montrose
employers, and trudged back to Killingworth on foot as he
had gone. He related to his friend Coe, on his return, that when
on the borders of Northumberland, late one evening, footsore
and wearied with his long day’s journey, he knocked at a small
farmer’s cottage door, and requested shelter for the night. It
was refused; and then he entreated that, being sore tired and
unable to proceed any farther, they would permit him to lie[129]
down in the out-house, for that a little clean straw would serve
him. The farmer’s wife appeared at the door, looked at the
traveler, then retiring with her husband, the two confabulated a
little apart, and finally they invited Stephenson into the cottage.
Always full of conversation and anecdote, he soon made himself
at home in the farmer’s family, and spent with them some pleasant
hours. He was hospitably entertained for the night, and
when he left the cottage in the morning, he pressed them to
make some charge for his lodging, but they refused to accept
any recompense. They only asked him to remember them kindly,
and if he ever came that way, to be sure and call again.
Many years after, when Stephenson had become a thriving man,
he did not forget the humble pair who had thus succored and
entertained him on his way; he sought their cottage again when
age had silvered their hair; and when he left the aged couple on
that occasion, they may have been reminded of the old saying
that we may sometimes “entertain angels unawares.”

Reaching home, Stephenson found that his father had met
with a serious accident at the Blucher Pit, which had reduced
him to great distress and poverty. While engaged in the inside
of an engine, making some repairs, a fellow-workman inadvertently
let in the steam upon him. The blast struck him full in
the face; he was terribly scorched, and his eyesight was irretrievably
lost. The helpless and infirm man had struggled for a time
with poverty; his sons who were at home, poor as himself, were
little able to help him, while George was at a distance in Scotland.
On his return, however, with his savings in his pocket, his
first step was to pay off his father’s debts, amounting to about
£15; and, shortly after, he removed the aged pair from Jolly’s
Close to a comfortable cottage adjoining the tram-road near the
West Moor at Killingworth, where the old man lived for many
years, supported by his son.

Stephenson was again taken on as a brakesman at the West
Moor Pit. He does not seem to have been very hopeful as to
his prospects in life at the time. Indeed, the condition of the
working classes was then very discouraging. England was engaged
in a great war, which pressed upon the industry, and severely
tried the resources of the country. Heavy taxes were imposed
upon all the articles of consumption that would bear them.[130]
There was a constant demand for men to fill the army, navy, and
militia. Never before had England witnessed such drumming
and fifing for recruits. In 1805, the gross forces of the United
Kingdom amounted to nearly 700,000 men, and early in 1808
Lord Castlereagh carried a measure for the establishment of a
local militia of 200,000 men. These measures were accompanied
by general distress among the laboring classes. There were riots
in Manchester, Newcastle, and elsewhere, through scarcity of
work and lowness of wages. The working people were also liable
to be pressed for the navy, or drawn for the militia; and
though people could not fail to be discontented under such circumstances,
they scarcely dared even to mutter their discontent
to their neighbors.

George Stephenson was one of those drawn for the militia.
He must therefore either quit his work and go a-soldiering, or
find a substitute. He adopted the latter course, and borrowed
£6, which, with the remainder of his savings, enabled him to
provide a militia-man to serve in his stead. Thus the whole of
his hard-won earnings were swept away at a stroke. He was almost
in despair, and contemplated the idea of leaving the country,
and emigrating to the United States. Although a voyage
thither was then a much more formidable thing for a working
man to accomplish than a voyage to Australia is now, he seriously
entertained the project, and had all but made up his mind to
go. His sister Ann, with her husband, emigrated about that
time, but George could not raise the requisite money, and they
departed without him. After all, it went sore against his heart
to leave his home and his kindred, the scenes of his youth and
the friends of his boyhood, and he struggled long with the idea,
brooding over it in sorrow. Speaking afterward to a friend of
his thoughts at the time, he said: “You know the road from my
house at the West Moor to Killingworth. I remember once
when I went along that road I wept bitterly, for I knew not
where my lot in life would be cast.” But his poverty prevented
him from prosecuting the idea of emigration, and rooted him to
the place where he afterward worked out his career so manfully
and victoriously.

In 1808, Stephenson, with two other brakesmen, took a small
contract under the colliery lessees, brakeing the engines at the[131]
West Moor Pit. The brakesmen found the oil and tallow; they
divided the work among them, and were paid so much per score
for their labor. There being two engines working night and day,
two of the three men were always on duty, the average earnings
of each amounting to from 18s. to 20s. a week. It was the interest
of the brakesmen to economize the working as much as possible,
and George no sooner entered upon the contract than he proceeded
to devise ways and means of making the contract “pay.”
He observed that the ropes with which the coal was drawn out
of the pit by the winding-engine were badly arranged; they
“glued” and wore each other to tatters by the perpetual friction.
There was thus great wear and tear, and a serious increase in the
expenses of the pit. George found that the ropes which, at other
pits in the neighborhood, lasted about three months, at the West
Moor Pit became worn out in about a month. He accordingly
set himself to ascertain the cause of the defect; and, finding that
it was occasioned by excessive friction, he proceeded, with the
sanction of the head engine-wright and of the colliery owners, to
shift the pulley-wheels so that they worked immediately over the
centre of the pit. By this expedient, accompanied by an entire
rearrangement of the gearing of the machine, he shortly succeeded
in greatly lessening the wear and tear of the ropes, to the advantage
of the owners as well as of the workmen, who were thus
enabled to labor more continuously and profitably.

About the same time he attempted an improvement in the
winding-engine which he worked, by placing a valve between
the air-pump and condenser. This expedient, although it led to
no practical result, showed that his mind was actively engaged in
studying new mechanical adaptations. It continued to be his
regular habit, on Saturdays, to take his engine to pieces, for the
purpose at the same time of familiarizing himself with its action,
and of placing it in a state of thorough working order; and by
mastering the details of the engine, he was enabled, as opportunity
occurred, to turn to practical account the knowledge thus diligently
and patiently acquired.

Such an opportunity was not long in presenting itself. In the
year 1810, a pit was sunk by the “Grand Allies” (the lessees of
the mines) at the village of Killingworth, now known as the
Killingworth High Pit. An atmospheric or Newcomen engine,[132]
originally made by Smeaton, was fixed there for the purpose of
pumping out the water from the shaft; but, somehow or other,
the engine failed to clear the pit. As one of the workmen has
since described the circumstance—”She couldn’t keep her jack-head
in water: all the engine-men in the neighborhood were
tried, as well as Crowther of the Ouseburn, but they were clean
bet.” The engine had been fruitlessly pumping for nearly twelve
months, and came to be regarded as a total failure. 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 were much water in the mine,
the engine could never keep it under. Of course, as he was only
a brakesman, his opinion was considered to be worth very little
on such a point. He continued, however, to make frequent visits
to the engine to see “how she was getting on.” From the bank-head
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 afternoon he went over to the High Pit to examine
the engine more carefully than he had yet done. He had
been turning the subject over in his mind, and, after a long examination,
he seemed to have satisfied himself as to the cause of the
failure. Kit Heppel, one of the sinkers, asked him, “Weel, George,
what do you mak’ o’ her? Do you think you could do any thing
to improve 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.”

Heppel at once reported this conversation to Ralph Dodds, the
head viewer, who, being now quite in despair, and hopeless of
succeeding with the engine, determined to give George’s skill a
trial. George had already acquired the character of a very clever
and ingenious workman, and, at the worst, he could only fail,
as the rest had done. In the evening Dodds went in search of
Stephenson, and met him on the road, dressed in his Sunday’s
suit, on his way to “the preaching” in the Methodist Chapel,
which he at that time attended. “Well, George,” said Dodds,[133]
“they tell me that you think you can put the engine at the High
Pit to rights.” “Yes, sir,” said George, “I think I could.” “If
that’s the case, I’ll give you a fair trial, and you must set to work
immediately. We are clean drowned out, and can not get a step
farther. The engineers hereabouts are all bet; and if you really
succeed in accomplishing what they can not do, you may depend
upon it I will make you a man for life.”

Stephenson began his operations early next morning. The
only condition that he made, before setting to work, was that he
should select his own workmen. There was, as he knew, a good
deal of jealousy among the “regular” men that a colliery brakesman
should pretend to know more about their engine than they
themselves did, and attempt to remedy defects which the most
skilled men of their craft, including the engineer of the colliery,
had failed to do. But George made the condition a sine quâ non.
“The workmen,” said he, “must either be all Whigs or all Tories.”
There was no help for it, so Dodds ordered the old hands
to stand aside. The men grumbled, but gave way; and then
George and his party went in.

The engine was taken entirely to pieces. The cistern containing
the injection water was raised ten feet; the injection cock,
being too small, was enlarged to nearly double its former size,
and it was so arranged that it should be shut off quickly at the
beginning of the stroke. These and other alterations were necessarily
performed in a rough way, but, as the result proved, on
true principles. Stephenson also, finding that the boiler would
bear a greater pressure than five pounds to the inch, determined
to work it at a pressure of ten pounds, though this was contrary
to the directions of both Newcomen and Smeaton.

The necessary alterations were made in about three days, and
many persons came to see the engine start, including the men
who had put her up. The pit being nearly full of water, she had
little to do on starting, and, to use George’s words, “came bounce
into the house.” Dodds exclaimed, “Why, she was better as she
was; now, she will knock the house down.” After a short time,
however, the engine got fairly to work, and by ten o’clock that
night the water was lower in the pit than it had ever been before.
The engine was kept pumping all Thursday, and by the Friday
afternoon the pit was cleared of water, and the workmen were[134]
“sent to the bottom,” as Stephenson had promised. Thus the alterations
effected in the pumping apparatus proved completely

Mr. Dodds was particularly gratified with the manner in which
the job had been done, and he made Stephenson a present of ten
pounds, which, though very inadequate when compared with the
value of the work performed, was accepted with gratitude. George
was proud of the gift as the first marked recognition of his skill
as a workman; and he used afterward to say that it was the biggest
sum of money he had up to that time earned in one lump.
Ralph Dodds, however, did more than this; he released the brakesman
from the handles of his engine at West Moor, and appointed
him engine-man at the High Pit, at good wages, during the time
the pit was sinking—the job lasting for about a year; and he also
kept him in mind for farther advancement.

Stephenson’s skill as an engine-doctor soon became noised
abroad, and he was called upon to prescribe remedies for all the
old, wheezy, and ineffective pumping-machines in the neighborhood.
In this capacity he soon left the “regular” men far behind,
though they, in their turn, were very much disposed to treat
the Killingworth brakesman as no better than a quack. Nevertheless,
his practice was really founded upon a close study of the
principles of mechanics, and on an intimate practical acquaintance
with the details of the pumping-engine.

Another of his smaller achievements in the same line is still
told by the people of the district. At the corner of the road leading
to Long Benton there was a quarry from which a peculiar
and scarce kind of ochre was taken. In the course of working
it out, the water had collected in considerable quantities; and
there being no means of draining it off, it accumulated to such an
extent that the farther working of the ochre was almost entirely
stopped. Ordinary pumps were tried, and failed; and then a
windmill was tried, and failed too. On this, George was asked
what ought to be done to clear the quarry of the water. He said
“he would set up for them an engine, little bigger than a kailpot,[135]
that would clear them out in a week.” And he did so. A
little engine was speedily erected, by means of which the quarry
was pumped dry in the course of a few days. Thus his skill as
a pump-doctor soon became the marvel of the district.

In elastic muscular vigor Stephenson was now in his prime,
and he still continued zealous in measuring his strength and agility
with his fellow-workmen. The competitive element in his
nature was always strong, and his success in these feats of rivalry
was certainly remarkable. Few, if any, could lift such weights,
throw the hammer and put the stone so far, or cover so great a
space at a standing or running leap. One day, between the engine
hour and the rope-rolling hour, Kit Heppel challenged him
to leap from one high wall to another, with a deep gap between.
To Heppel’s surprise and dismay, George took the standing leap,
and cleared the eleven feet at a bound. Had his eye been less
accurate, or his limbs less agile and sure, the feat must have cost
him his life.

But so full of redundant muscular vigor was he, that leaping,
putting, or throwing the hammer, were not enough for him. He
was also ambitious of riding on horseback; and, as he had not
yet been promoted to an office enabling him to keep a horse of
his own, he sometimes borrowed one of the gin-horses for a ride.
On one of these occasions he brought the animal back reeking,
when Tommy Mitcheson, the bank horse-keeper, a rough-spoken
fellow, exclaimed to him, “Set such fellows as you on horseback,
and you’ll soon ride to the De’il.” But Tommy Mitcheson lived
to tell the story, and to confess that, after all, there had been a
better issue of George’s horsemanship than what he had predicted.

Old Cree, the engine-wright at Killingworth High Pit, having
been killed by an accident, George Stephenson was, in 1812, appointed
engine-wright of the colliery at the salary of £100 a year.
He was also allowed the use of a galloway to ride upon in his visits
of inspection to the collieries leased by the “Grand Allies” in
that neighborhood.

The “Grand Allies” were a company of gentlemen, consisting
of Sir Thomas Liddell (afterward Lord Ravensworth), the Earl of
Strathmore, and Mr. Stuart Wortley (afterward Lord Wharncliffe),
the lessees of the Killingworth collieries. Having been informed
of the merits of Stephenson, of his indefatigable industry,[136]
and the skill which he had displayed in the repairs of the pumping-engines,
they readily acceded to Mr. Dodds’s recommendation
that he should be appointed the colliery engine-wright; and, as
we shall afterward find, they continued to honor him by distinguished
marks of their approval.






George Stephenson had now been diligently employed for
several years in the work of self-improvement, and he experienced
the usual results in increasing mental strength, capability,
and skill. Perhaps the secret of every man’s best success in life
is to be found in the alacrity and industry with which he takes
advantage of the opportunities which present themselves for well-doing.
Our engine-man was an eminent illustration of the importance
of cultivating this habit of life. Every spare moment
was laid under contribution by him, either for the purpose of
adding to his earnings or to his knowledge. He missed no opportunity
of extending his observations, especially in his own department
of work, aiming at improvement, and trying to turn all
that he did know to useful practical account.

He continued his attempts to solve the mystery of Perpetual
Motion, and contrived several model machines with the object of
embodying his ideas in a practical working shape. He afterward
used to lament the time he had lost in these futile efforts, and said
that if he had enjoyed the opportunities which most young men
now have, of learning from books what previous experimenters
had accomplished, he would have been spared much labor and
mortification. Not being acquainted with what other mechanics[138]
had done, he groped his way in pursuit of some idea originated
by his own independent thinking and observation, and, when he
had brought it into some definite form, lo! he found that his supposed
invention had long been known and recorded in scientific
books. Often he thought he had hit upon discoveries which he
subsequently found were but old and exploded fallacies. Yet
his very struggle to overcome the difficulties which lay in his
way was of itself an education of the best sort. By wrestling
with them, he strengthened his judgment and sharpened his skill,
stimulating and cultivating his inventiveness and mechanical ingenuity.
Being very much in earnest, he was compelled to consider
the subject of his special inquiry in all its relations, and thus
he gradually acquired practical ability through his very efforts
after the impracticable.

Many of his evenings were spent in the society of John Wigham,
whose father occupied the Glebe farm at Benton close at
hand. John was a fair penman and good arithmetician, and Stephenson
frequented his society chiefly for the purpose of improving
himself in writing and “figuring.” Under Andrew Robertson
he had never quite mastered the Rule of Three, and it was
only when Wigham took him in hand that he made progress in
the higher branches of arithmetic. He generally took his slate
with him to the Wighams’ cottage, when he had his sums set, that
he might work them out while tending his engine on the following
day. When too busy with other work to be able to call upon
Wigham in person, he sent the slate by a fellow-workman to have
the former sums corrected and new ones set. Sometimes also, at
leisure moments, he was enabled to do a little “figuring” with
chalk upon the sides of the coal-wagons. So much patient perseverance
could not but eventually succeed; and by dint of practice
and study, Stephenson was enabled to master the successive
rules of arithmetic.

John Wigham was of great use to his pupil in many ways. He
was a good talker, fond of argument, an extensive reader as country
reading went in those days, and a very suggestive thinker.
Though his store of information might be comparatively small
when measured with that of more highly cultivated minds, much
of it was entirely new to Stephenson, who regarded him as a very
clever and extraordinary person. Wigham also taught him to draw[139]
plans and sections, though in this branch Stephenson proved so
apt that he soon surpassed his master. A volume of “Ferguson’s
Lectures on Mechanics” which fell into their hands was a great
treasure to both the students. One who remembers their evening
occupations says he “used to wonder what they meant by
weighing the air and water in so odd a way.” 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, while Wigham
found the scientific rationale. The opportunity 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 received from John Wigham, the farmer’s son.

His leisure moments thus carefully improved, it will be inferred
that Stephenson continued a sober man. Though his notions
were never extreme on this point, he was systematically temperate.
It appears that on the invitation of his master, Ralph Dodds—and
an invitation from a master to a workman is not easy to
resist—he had, on one or two occasions, been induced to join him
in a forenoon glass of ale in the public house of the village. But
one day, about noon, when Mr. Dodds had got him as far as the
public-house door, on his invitation to “come in and take a glass
o’ yel,” Stephenson made a dead stop, and said, firmly, “No, sir,
you must excuse me; I have made a resolution to drink no more
at this time of day.” And he went back. He desired to retain
the character of a steady workman; and the instances of men
about him who had made shipwreck of their character through
intemperance were then, as now, unhappily too frequent.

But another consideration besides his own self-improvement
had already begun to exercise an important influence upon his
life. This was the training and education of his son Robert, now
growing up an active, intelligent boy, as full of fun and tricks as
his father had been. When a little fellow, scarce big enough to
reach so high as to put a clock-head on when placed upon the
table, his father would make him mount a chair for the purpose;
and to “help father” was the proudest work which the boy then,
and ever after, could take part in. When the little engine was[140]
set up at the Ochre Quarry to pump it dry, Robert was scarcely
absent for an hour. He watched the machine very eagerly when
it was set to work, and he was very much annoyed at the fire
burning away the grates. The man who fired the engine was a
sort of wag, and thinking to get a laugh at the boy, he said,
“Those bars are getting varra bad, Robert; I think we maun cut
up some of that hard wood, and put it in instead.” “What would
be the use of that, you fool?” said the boy, quickly. “You would
no sooner have put them in than they would be burnt out again!”


So soon as Robert was of a proper age, his father sent him
over to the road-side school at Long Benton, kept by Rutter, the
parish clerk. But the education which he gave was of a very
limited kind, scarcely extending beyond the primer and pothooks.
While working as a brakesman on the pit-head at Killingworth,
the father had often bethought him of the obstructions he had
himself encountered in life through his want of schooling, and
he formed the determination that no labor, nor pains, nor self-denial
on his part should be spared to furnish his son with the
best education that it was in his power to bestow.

It is true, his earnings were comparatively small at that time.[141]
He was still maintaining his infirm parents, and the cost of living
continued excessive. But he fell back, as before, upon his old
expedient of working up his spare time in the evenings at home,
or during the night shifts when it was his turn to tend the engine,
in mending and making shoes, cleaning clocks and watches,
making shoe-lasts for the shoemakers of the neighborhood, and
cutting out the pitmen’s clothes for their wives; and we have
been told that to this day there are clothes worn at Killingworth
made after “Geordy Steevie’s cut.” To give his own words:
“In the earlier period of my career,” said he, “when Robert was
a little boy, I saw how deficient I was in education, and I made
up my mind that he should not labor under the same defect, but
that I would put him to a good school, and give him a liberal
training. I was, however, a poor man; and how do you think
I managed? I betook myself to mending my neighbors’ clocks
and watches at nights, after my daily labor was done, and thus I
procured the means of educating my son.”[27]

By dint of such extra labor in his by-hours, with this object,
Stephenson contrived to save a sum of £100, which he accumulated
in guineas, each of which he afterward sold to Jews, who
went about buying up gold coins (then dearer than silver), at
twenty-six shillings apiece; and he lent out the proceeds at interest.
He was now, therefore, a comparatively thriving man.

When he was appointed engine-wright of the colliery, he was,
of course, still easier in his circumstances; and, carrying out the
resolution which he had formed as to his boy’s education, Robert
was sent to Mr. Bruce’s school in Percy Street, Newcastle, at mid-summer,
1815, when he was about twelve years old. His father
bought for him a donkey, on which he rode into Newcastle and
back daily; and there are many still living who remember the
little boy, dressed in his suit of homely gray stuff cut out by his
father, cantering along to school upon the “cuddy,” with his wallet
of provisions for the day and his bag of books slung over his

When Robert went to Mr. Bruce’s school he was a shy, unpolished
country lad, speaking the broad dialect of the pitmen; and
the other boys would occasionally tease him, for the purpose of[142]
provoking an outburst of his Killingworth Doric. As the shyness
got rubbed off by familiarity, his love of fun began to show
itself, and he was found able enough to hold his own among the
other boys. As a scholar he was steady and diligent, and his
master was accustomed to hold him up to the laggards of the
school as an example of good conduct and industry. But his
progress, though satisfactory, was by no means extraordinary.
He used in after life to pride himself on his achievements in
mensuration, though another boy, John Taylor, beat him at arithmetic.
He also made considerable progress in mathematics; and
in a letter written to the son of his teacher, many years after, he
said, “It was to Mr. Bruce’s tuition and methods of modeling the
mind that I attribute much of my success as an engineer, for it
was from him that I derived my taste for mathematical pursuits,
and the facility I possess of applying this kind of knowledge to
practical purposes, and modifying it according to circumstances.”


During the time Robert attended school at Newcastle, his father
made the boy’s education instrumental to his own. Robert
was accustomed to spend some of his spare time at the rooms of
the Literary and Philosophical Institute, and when he went home[143]
in the evening he would recount to his father the results of his
reading. Sometimes he was allowed to take with him to Killingworth
a volume of the “Repertory of Arts and Sciences,” which
father and son studied together. But many of the most valuable
works belonging to the Newcastle Library were not permitted to
be removed from the rooms; these Robert was instructed to read
and study, and bring away with him descriptions and sketches
for his father’s information. His father also practiced him in
the reading of plans and drawings without at all referring to the
written descriptions. He used to observe to his son, “A good
drawing or plan should always explain itself;” and, placing a
drawing of an engine or machine before the youth, 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. Both father and son profited by
this excellent practice, which shortly enabled them to apprehend
with the greatest facility the details of even the most difficult
and complicated mechanical drawing.

While Robert went on with his lessons in the evenings, his father
was usually occupied with his watch and clock cleaning, or
contriving models of pumping-engines, or endeavoring to embody
in a tangible shape the mechanical inventions which he found described
in the odd volumes on Mechanics which fell in his way.
This daily and unceasing example of industry and application,
working on before the boy’s eyes in the person of a loving and
beloved father, imprinted itself deeply upon his mind in characters
never to be effaced. A spirit of self-improvement was thus
early and carefully planted and fostered in him, which continued
to influence his character through life; and toward the close of
his career he was proud to confess that if his professional success
had been great, it was mainly to the example and training of his
father that he owed it.

Robert was not, however, exclusively devoted to study, but, like
most boys full of animal spirits, he was very fond of fun and
play, and sometimes of mischief. Dr. Bruce relates that an old
Killingworth laborer, when asked by Robert, on one of his last
visits to Newcastle, if he remembered him, replied with emotion,
“Ay, indeed! Haven’t I paid your head many a time when you
came with your father’s bait, for you were always a sad hempy?”


The author had the pleasure, in the year 1854, of accompanying
Robert Stephenson on a visit to his old home and haunts at
Killingworth. He had so often traveled the road upon his donkey
to and from school that every foot of it was familiar to him,
and each turn in it served to recall to mind some incident of his
boyish days.[28] His eyes glistened when he came in sight of Killingworth
pit head. Pointing to a humble red-tiled house by the
roadside at Benton, he said, “You see that house—that was Rutter’s,
where I learned my A B C, and made a beginning of my
school learning; and there,” pointing to a colliery chimney on
the left, “there is Long Benton, where my father put up his first
pumping-engine; and a great success it was. And this humble
clay-floored cottage you see here is where my grandfather lived
till the close of his life. Many a time have I ridden straight
into the house, mounted on my cuddy, and called upon grandfather
to admire his points. I remember the old man feeling the
animal all over—he was then quite blind—after which he would
dilate upon the shape of his ears, fetlocks, and quarters, and usually
end by pronouncing him to be a ‘real blood.’ I was a great
favorite with the old man, who continued very fond of animals,
and cheerful to the last; and I believe nothing gave him greater
pleasure than a visit from me and my cuddy.”

On the way from Benton to High Killingworth, Mr. Stephenson
pointed to a corner of the road where he had once played
a boyish trick upon a Killingworth collier. “Straker,” said he,
“was a great bully, a coarse, swearing fellow, and a perfect tyrant
among the women and children. He would go tearing into
old Nanny the huxter’s shop in the village, and demand in a savage
voice, ‘What’s ye’r best ham the pund?’ ‘What’s floor the
hunder?’ ‘What d’ye ax for prime bacon?’—his categories usually
ending with the miserable order, accompanied with a tremendous
oath, of ‘Gie’s a penny rrow (roll) an’ a baubee herrin’!’
The poor woman was usually set ‘all of a shake’ by a visit from
this fellow. He was also a great boaster, and used to crow over
the robbers whom he had put to flight; mere men in buckram,[145]
as every body knew. We boys,” he continued, “believed him to
be a great coward, and determined to play him a trick. Two
other boys joined me in waylaying Straker one night at that corner,”
pointing to it. “We sprang out and called upon him, in
as gruff voices as we could assume, to ‘stand and deliver!’ He
dropped down upon his knees in the dirt, declaring he was a poor
man, with a sma’ family, asking for ‘mercy,’ and imploring us, as
‘gentlemen, for God’s sake, t’ let him a-be!’ We couldn’t stand
this any longer, and set up a shout of laughter. Recognizing
our boys’ voices, he sprang to his feet again and rattled out a
volley of oaths, on which we cut through the hedge, and heard
him shortly after swearing his way along the road to the yel-house.”

On another occasion Robert played a series of tricks of a somewhat
different character. Like his father, he was very fond of
reducing his scientific reading to practice; and after studying
Franklin’s description of the lightning experiment, he proceeded
to expend his store of Saturday pennies in purchasing about half
a mile of copper wire at a brazier’s shop in Newcastle. Having
prepared his kite, he set it up in the field opposite his father’s
door, and bringing the wire, insulated by means of a few feet of
silk cord, over the backs of some of Farmer Wigham’s cows, he
soon had them skipping about the field in all directions with their
tails up. One day he had his kite flying at the cottage-door as
his father’s galloway was hanging by the bridle to the paling,
waiting for the master to mount. Bringing the end of the wire
just over the pony’s crupper, so smart an electric shock was given
it that the brute was almost knocked down. At this juncture
his father issued from the house, riding-whip in hand, and was
witness to the scientific trick just played off upon his galloway.
“Ah! you mischievous scoondrel!” cried he to the boy, who ran
off, himself inwardly chuckling with pride, nevertheless, at Robert’s
successful experiment.[29]

At this time, and for many years after, Stephenson dwelt in a[146]
cottage standing by the side of the road leading from the West
Moor Pit to Killingworth. The railway from West Moor crosses
this road close by the easternmost end of the cottage. The dwelling
originally consisted of but one apartment on the ground floor,
with a garret overhead, to which access was obtained by means
of a step-ladder. With his own hands Stephenson built an oven,
and in the course of time he added rooms to the cottage, until
it became expanded into a comfortable four-roomed dwelling, in
which he remained as long as he lived at Killingworth.


He continued as fond of birds and animals as ever, and seemed
to have the power of attaching them to him in a remarkable degree.
He had a blackbird at Killingworth so fond of him that
it would fly about the cottage, and on holding out his finger the
bird would come and perch upon it directly. A cage was built
for “blackie” in the partition between the passage and the room,
a square of glass forming its outer wall; and Robert used afterward
to take pleasure in describing the oddity of the bird, imitating
the manner in which it would cock its head on his father’s
entering the house, and follow him with its eye into the inner


Neighbors were accustomed to call at the cottage and have
their clocks and watches set to rights when they went wrong.
One day, after looking at the works of a watch left by a pitman’s
wife, George handed it to his son: “Put her in the oven, Robert,”
said he, “for a quarter of an hour or so.” It seemed an odd way
of repairing a watch; nevertheless, the watch was put into the
oven, and at the end of the appointed time it was taken out,
going all right. The wheels had merely got clogged by the oil
congealed by the cold, which at once explains the rationale of the
remedy adopted.

There was a little garden attached to the cottage, in which,
while a workman, Stephenson took a pride in growing gigantic
leeks and astonishing cabbages. There was great competition in
the growing of vegetables among the villagers, all of whom he
excelled excepting one, whose cabbages sometimes outshone his.
To protect his garden-crops from the ravages of the birds, he invented
a strange sort of “fley-craw,” 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 but himself could enter
it. His cottage was quite a curiosity-shop of models of engines,
self-acting planes, and perpetual-motion machines. The last
named contrivances, however, were only unsuccessful attempts to
solve a problem which had already baffled hundreds of preceding

His odd and eccentric contrivances often excited great wonder
among the Killingworth villagers. 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 alarm 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 afterward
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 toward the flame.

Dr. Bruce tells of a competition which Stephenson had with
the joiner at Killingworth as to which of them could make the
best shoe-last; and when the former had done his work, either
for the humor of the thing or to secure fair play from the appointed
judge, he took it to the Morrisons in Newcastle, and got[148]
them to put their stamp upon it; so that it is possible the Killingworth
brakesman, afterward the inventor of a safety-lamp and
originator of the locomotive railway system, and John Morrison,
the last-maker, afterward the translator of the Scriptures into the
Chinese language, may have confronted each other in solemn
contemplation of the successful last, which won the verdict coveted
by its maker.

Sometimes George would endeavor to impart to his fellow-workmen
the results of his scientific reading. Every thing that
he learned from books was so new and so wonderful to him, that
he regarded the facts he drew from them in the light of discoveries,
as if they had been made but yesterday. Once he tried to
explain to some of the pitmen how the earth was round, and kept
turning round. But his auditors flatly declared the thing to be
impossible, as it was clear that “at the bottom side they must fall
off!” “Ah!” said George, “you don’t quite understand it yet.”
His son Robert also early endeavored to communicate to others
the information which he had gathered at school; and Dr. Bruce
relates that, when visiting Killingworth on one occasion, he found
him engaged in teaching algebra to such of the pitmen’s boys as
would become his pupils.

While Robert was still at school, his father proposed to him
during the holidays that he should construct a sun-dial, to be
placed over their cottage-door at West Moor. “I expostulated
with him at first,” said Robert, “that I had not learned sufficient
astronomy and mathematics to enable me to make the necessary
calculations. But he would have no denial. ‘The thing is to be
done,’ said he, ‘so just set about it at once.’ Well, we got a ‘Ferguson’s
Astronomy,’ and studied the subject together. Many a
sore head I had while making the necessary calculations to adapt
the dial to the latitude of Killingworth. But at length it was
fairly drawn out on paper, and then my father got a stone, and
we hewed, and carved, and polished it, until we made a very respectable
dial of it; and there it is, you see,” pointing to it over
the cottage door, “still quietly numbering the hours when the sun
shines. I assure you, not a little was thought of that piece of
work by the pitmen when it was put up, and began to tell its
tale of time.” The date carved upon the dial is “August 11th,
MDCCCXVI.” Both father and son were in after life very proud of[149]
their joint production. Many
years after, George took a party
of savans, when attending
the meeting of the British Association
at Newcastle, over to
Killingworth to see the pits,
and he did not fail to direct
their attention to the sun-dial;
and Robert, on the last visit
which he made to the place, a
short time before his death,
took a friend into the cottage,
and pointed out to him the
very desk, still there, at which
he had sat when making his calculations of the latitude of Killingworth.

(Sun-dial, Killingworth)

From the time of his appointment as engineer at the Killingworth
Pit, George Stephenson was in a measure relieved from
the daily routine of manual labor, having, as we have seen, advanced
himself to the grade of a higher-class workman. He had
not ceased to be a worker, though he employed his industry in a
different way. It might, indeed, be inferred that he had now the
command of greater leisure; but his spare hours were as much
as ever given to work, either necessary or self-imposed. So far
as regarded his social position, he had already reached the summit
of his ambition; and when he had got his hundred a year,
and his dun galloway to ride on, he said he never wanted to be
any higher. When Robert Wetherly offered to give him an old
gig, his traveling having so much increased of late, he accepted
it with great reluctance, observing that he should be ashamed to
get into it, “people would think him so proud.”

When the High Pit had been sunk and the coal was ready for
working, Stephenson erected his first winding-engine to draw the
coals out of the pit, and also a pumping-engine for Long Benton
colliery, both of which proved quite successful. Among other
works of this time, he projected and laid down a self-acting incline
along the declivity which fell toward the coal-loading place
near Willington, where he had formerly officiated as brakesman;
and he so arranged it that the full wagons, descending, drew the[150]
empty wagons up the railroad. This was one of the first self-acting
inclines laid down in the district.

The following is Stephenson’s own account of his various duties
and labors at this period of his life, as given before a Committee
of the House of Commons in 1835:[30]

“After making some improvements in the steam-engines above
ground, I was requested by the manager of the colliery to go underground
along with him, to see if any improvements could be made
in the mines by employing machinery as a substitute for manual
labor and horse-power in bringing the coals out of the deeper workings
of the mine. On my first going down the Killingworth pit,
there was a steam-engine underground for the purpose of drawing
water from a pit that was sunk at some distance from the first shaft.
The Killingworth coal-field is considerably dislocated. After the
colliery was opened, at a very short distance from the shaft, one of
those dislocations was met with. The coal was thrown down about
forty yards. Considerable time was spent in sinking another pit to
this depth. And on my going down to examine the work, I proposed
making the engine (which had been erected some time previously)
to draw the coals up an inclined plane which descended
immediately from the place where it was fixed. A considerable
change was accordingly made in the mode of working the colliery,
not only in applying the machinery, but in employing putters instead
of horses in bringing the coals from the hewers; and by those
changes the number of horses in the pit was reduced from about
100 to 15 or 16. During the time I was engaged in making these
important alterations, I went round the workings in the pit with
the viewer almost every time that he went into the mine, not only
at Killingworth, but at Mountmoor, Derwentcrook, Southmoor, all
of which collieries belonged to Lord Ravensworth and his partners;
and the whole of the machinery in all these collieries was put under
my charge.”

It will thus be observed that Stephenson had now much better
opportunities for improving himself in mechanics than he had
heretofore possessed. His practical knowledge of the steam-engine
could not fail to prove of the greatest value to him. His
shrewd insight, together with his intimate acquaintance with its
mechanism, enabled him to apprehend, as if by intuition, its most
abstruse and difficult combinations. The study which he had[151]
given to it when a workman, and the patient manner in which
he had groped his way through all the details of the machine,
gave him the power of a master in dealing with it as applied to
colliery purposes.

Sir Thomas Liddell was frequently about the works, and took
pleasure in giving every encouragement to the engine-wright in
his efforts after improvement. The subject of the locomotive engine
was already occupying Stephenson’s careful attention, although
it was still regarded in the light of a curious and costly
toy, of comparatively little real use. But he had at an early period
recognized its practical value, and formed an adequate conception
of the might which as yet slumbered within it, and he
now proceeded to bend the whole faculties of his mind to the development
of its powers.





The rapid increase in the coal-trade of the Tyne about the beginning
of the present century had the effect of stimulating the
ingenuity of mechanics, and encouraging them to devise improved
methods of transporting the coal from the pits to the
shipping-places. From our introductory chapter, it will have
been observed that the improvements which had thus far been
effected were confined almost entirely to the road. The railway
wagons still continued to be drawn by horses. By improving
and flattening the tram-way, considerable economy in horse-power
had been secured; but, unless some more effective method of
mechanical traction could be devised, it was clear that railway
improvement had almost reached its limits.

Notwithstanding Trevithick’s comparatively successful experiment
with the first railway locomotive on the Merthyr Tydvil
tram-road in 1804, described in a former chapter, he seems to
have taken no farther steps to bring his invention into notice.
He was probably discouraged by the breakage of the cast-iron
plates, of which the road was formed, which were crushed under
the load of his engine, and could not induce the owners of the
line to relay it with better materials so as to give his locomotive
a fair trial.

An imaginary difficulty, also, seems to have tended, among
other obstacles, to prevent the adoption of the locomotive, viz.,
the idea that, if a heavy weight were placed behind the engine,
the “grip” or “bite” of its smooth wheels upon the equally
smooth iron rail must necessarily be so slight that they would
whirl round upon it, and, consequently, that the machine would
not make any progress.[31] Hence Trevithick, in his patent, provided[153]
that the periphery of the driving-wheels should be made
rough by the projection of bolts or cross-grooves, so that the adhesion
of the wheels to the road might thereby be better secured.

Trevithick himself does not seem to have erected another engine,
but we gather from the evidence given by Mr. Rastrick in
the committee on the Liverpool and Manchester Bill in 1825,
that ten or twelve years before that time he had made an engine
for Trevithick after his patent, and that the engine was exhibited
in London. “A circular railroad was laid down,” said Mr. Rastrick,
“and it was stated that this engine was to run against a
horse, and that which went a sufficient number of miles was to
win.” It is not known what afterward became of this engine.

There were, however, at a much earlier period, several wealthy
and enterprising men, both in Yorkshire and Northumberland,
who were willing to give the locomotive a fair trial; and had
Trevithick but possessed the requisite tenacity of purpose—had
he not been too soon discouraged by partially successful experiments—he
might have risen to both fame and fortune, not only
as the inventor of the locomotive, but as the practical introducer
of railway locomotion.

One of Trevithick’s early friends and admirers was Mr. Blackett,
of Wylam. The Wylam wagon-way is one of the oldest in
the north of England. Down to the year 1807 it was formed of
wooden spars or rails, laid down between the colliery at Wylam—where
old Robert Stephenson worked—and the village of Lemington,
some four miles down the Tyne, where the coals were
loaded into keels or barges, and floated down past Newcastle, to
be shipped for London. Each chaldron-wagon had a man in
charge of it, and was originally drawn by one horse. The rate
at which the wagons were hauled was so slow that only two journeys
were performed by each man and horse in one day, and
three on the day following. This primitive wagon-way passed,
as before stated, close in front of the cottage in which George
Stephenson was born, and one of the earliest sights which met
his infant eyes was this wooden tram-road worked by horses.


Mr. Blackett was the first colliery owner in the North who
took an active interest in the locomotive. He had witnessed the
first performances of Trevithick’s steam-carriage in London, and
was so taken with the idea of its application to railway locomotion
that he resolved to have an engine erected after the new
patent for use upon his tram-way at Wylam. He accordingly
obtained from Trevithick, in October, 1804, a plan of his engine,
provided with “friction-wheels,” and employed Mr. John Whinfield,
of Pipewellgate, Gateshead, to construct it at his foundery
there. The engine was made under the superintendence of one
John Steele,[32] an ingenious mechanic, who had been in Wales,
and worked under Trevithick in fitting the engine at Pen-y-darran.
When the Gateshead locomotive was finished, a temporary
way was laid down in the works, on which it was run backward
and forward many times. For some reason or other, however—it
is said because the engine was too light for drawing the
coal-trains—it never left the works, but was dismounted from
the wheels, and set to blow the cupola of the foundery, in which
service it long continued to be employed.

Several years elapsed before Mr. Blackett took any farther
steps to carry out his idea. The final abandonment of Trevithick’s
locomotive at Pen-y-darran perhaps contributed to deter
him from proceeding farther; but he had the Wylam wooden
tram-way taken up in 1808, and a plate-way of cast iron laid[155]
down instead—a single line furnished with sidings to enable the
laden wagons to pass the empty ones. The new iron road proved
so much smoother than the old wooden one, that a single horse,
instead of drawing one, was enabled to draw two, or even three
laden wagons.


Although the locomotive seemed about to be lost sight of, it
was not forgotten. In 1811, Mr. Blenkinsop, the manager of the
Middleton Collieries, near Leeds, revived the idea of employing
it in lieu of horses to haul the coals along his tram-way. Mr.
Blenkinsop, in the patent which he took out for his proposed engine,
followed in many respects the design of Trevithick; but,
with the help of Matthew Murray, of Leeds, one of the most ingenious
mechanics of his day, he introduced several important
and valuable modifications. Thus he employed two cylinders of
8 in. diameter instead of one, as in Trevithick’s engine. These
cylinders were placed vertically, and immersed for more than
half their length in the steam space of the boiler. The eduction[156]
pipes met in a single tube at the top, and threw the steam into
the air. The boiler was cylindrical in form, but of cast iron.
It had one flue, the fire being at one end and the chimney at the
other. The engine was supported on a carriage without springs,
resting directly upon two pairs of wheels and axles unconnected
with the working parts, and which merely served to carry the
engine upon the rails. The motion was effected in this way:
the piston-rods, by means of cross-heads, worked the connecting-rods,
which came down to two cranks on each side below the
boiler, placed at right angles in order to pass their centres with
certainty. These cranks worked two shafts fixed across the engine,
on which were small-toothed wheels working into a larger
one between them; and on the axis of this large wheel, outside
the framing, were the driving-wheels, one of which was toothed,
and worked into a rack on one side of the railway.

It will be observed that the principal new features in this engine
were the two cylinders and the toothed-wheel working into
a rack-rail. Mr. Blenkinsop contrived the latter expedient in order
to insure sufficient adhesion between the wheel and the road,
supposing that smooth wheels and smooth rails would be insufficient
for the purpose. Clumsy and slow though the engine was
compared with modern locomotives, it was nevertheless a success.
It was the first engine that plied regularly upon any railway,
doing useful work; and it continued so employed for more than
twenty years. What was more, it was a commercial success, for
its employment was found to be economical compared with horse-power.
In a letter to Sir John Sinclair, Mr. Blenkinsop stated
that his engine weighed five tons; consumed two thirds of a hundred
weight of coals and fifty gallons of water per hour; drew
twenty-seven wagons, weighing ninety-four tons, on a dead level,
at three and a half miles an hour, or fifteen tons up an ascent
of 2 in. in the yard; that when “lightly loaded” it traveled at a
speed of ten miles an hour; that it did the work of sixteen horses
in twelve hours; and that its cost was £400. Such was Mr. Blenkinsop’s
own account of the performances of his engine, which
was for a long time regarded as one of the wonders of the neighborhood.[33][157]
The Messrs. Chapman, of Newcastle, in 1812 endeavored to
overcome the same fictitious difficulty of the want of adhesion
between the wheel and the rail by patenting a locomotive to
work along the road by means of a chain stretched from one end
of it to the other. This chain was passed once round a grooved
barrel-wheel under the centre of the engine, so that when the
wheel turned, the locomotive, as it were, dragged itself along the
railway. An engine constructed after this plan was tried on the
Heaton Railway, near Newcastle; but it was so clumsy in action,
there was so great a loss of power by friction, and it was found
to be so expensive and difficult to keep in repair, that it was very
soon abandoned. Another remarkable expedient was adopted by
Mr. Brunton, of the Butterley Works, Derbyshire, who in 1813
patented his Mechanical Traveler, to go upon legs working alternately
like those of a horse.[34] But this engine never got beyond
the experimental state, for, at its very first trial, the driver,
to make sure of a good start, overloaded the safety-valve, when
the boiler burst and killed a number of the by-standers, wounding
many more. These, and other contrivances with the same object,
projected about the same time, show that invention was busily at
work, and that many minds were anxiously laboring to solve the
problem of steam locomotion on railways.

Mr. Blackett, of Wylam, was encouraged by the success of Mr.
Blenkinsop’s experiment, and again he resolved to make a trial
of the locomotive upon his wagon-way. Accordingly, in 1812,
he ordered a second engine, which was so designed as to work
with a toothed driving-wheel upon a rack-rail as at Leeds. This[158]
locomotive was constructed by Thomas Waters, of Gateshead,
under the superintendence of Jonathan Foster, Mr. Blackett’s
principal engine-wright. It was a combination of Trevithick’s
and Blenkinsop’s engines; but it was of a more awkward construction
than either. Like Trevithick’s, it had a single cylinder
with a fly-wheel, which Blenkinsop had discarded. The boiler
was of cast iron. Jonathan Foster described it to the author in
1854 as “a strange machine, with lots of pumps, cog-wheels, and
plugs, requiring constant attention while at work.” The weight
of the whole was about six tons.

When finished, it was conveyed to Wylam on a wagon, and
there mounted upon a wooden frame, supported by four pairs of
wheels, which had been constructed for its reception. A barrel
of water, placed on another frame upon wheels, was attached to
it as a tender. After a great deal of labor, the cumbrous machine
was got upon the road. At first it would not move an
inch. Its maker, Tommy Waters, became impatient, and at length
enraged, and, taking hold of the lever of the safety-valve, declared
in his desperation that “either she or he should go.” At length
the machinery was set in motion, on which, as Jonathan Foster
described to the author, “she flew all to pieces, and it was the
biggest wonder i’ the world that we were not all blewn up.” The
incompetent and useless engine was declared to be a failure; it
was shortly after dismounted and sold; and Mr. Blackett’s praiseworthy
efforts thus far proved in vain.

He was still, however, desirous of testing the practicability of
employing locomotive power in working the coal down to Lemington,
and he determined on making yet another trial. He accordingly
directed his engine-wright, Jonathan Foster, to proceed
with the building of a third engine in the Wylam workshops.
This new locomotive had a single 8-inch cylinder, was provided
with a fly-wheel like its predecessor, and the driving-wheel was
cogged on one side to enable it to travel in the rack-rail laid
along the road. The engine proved more successful than the
former one, and it was found capable of dragging eight or nine
loaded wagons, though at the rate of little more than a mile an
hour, from the colliery to the shipping-place. It sometimes took
six hours to perform the journey of five miles. Its weight was
found too great for the road, and the cast-iron plates were constantly[159]
breaking. It was also very apt to get off the rack-rail,
and then it stood still. The driver was one day asked how he
got on. “Get on?” said he, “we don’t get on; we only get off!”
On such occasions, horses had to be sent out to drag the wagons
as before, and others to haul the engine back to the workshops.
It was constantly getting out of order; its plugs, pumps, or cranks
got wrong, and it was under repair as often as at work. At length
it became so cranky that the horses were usually sent after it to
drag it along when it gave up, and the workmen generally declared
it to be a “perfect plague.” Mr. Blackett did not obtain
credit among his neighbors for these experiments. Many laughed
at his machines, regarding them only in the light of crotchets—frequently
quoting the proverb of “a fool and his money are
soon parted.” Others regarded them as absurd innovations on
the established method of hauling coal, and pronounced that they
would “never answer.”

Notwithstanding, however, the comparative failure of the second
locomotive, Mr. Blackett persevered with his experiments.
He was zealously assisted by Jonathan Foster, the engine-wright,
and William Hedley, the viewer of the colliery, a highly ingenious
person, who proved of great use in carrying out the experiments
to a successful issue. One of the chief causes of failure
being the rack-rail, the idea occurred to Mr. Hedley that it might
be possible to secure sufficient adhesion between the wheel and
the rail by the mere weight of the engine, and he proceeded to
make a series of experiments for the purpose of determining this
problem. He had a frame placed on four wheels, and fitted up
with windlasses attached by gearing to the several wheels. The
frame having been properly weighted, six men were set to work
the windlasses, when it was found that the adhesion of the smooth
wheels on the smooth rails was quite sufficient to enable them to
propel the machine without slipping. Having then found the
proportion which the power bore to the weight, he demonstrated
by successive experiments that the weight of the engine would
of itself produce sufficient adhesion to enable it to draw upon a
smooth railroad the requisite number of wagons in all kinds of
weather. And thus was the fallacy which had heretofore prevailed
on this subject completely exploded, and it was satisfactorily
proved that rack-rails, toothed wheels, endless chains, and[160]
legs, were alike unnecessary for the efficient traction of loaded
wagons upon a moderately level road.[35]

From this time forward, considerably less difficulty was experienced
in working the coal-trains upon the Wylam tram-road.
At length the rack-rail was dispensed with. The road was laid
with heavier rails; the working of the old engine was improved;
and a new engine was shortly after built and placed upon the
road, still on eight wheels, driven by seven rack-wheels working
inside them—with a wrought-iron boiler through which the flue
was returned so as largely to increase the heating surface, and
thus give increased power to the engine.[36] Below is a representation
of this improved Wylam engine.



As may readily be imagined, the jets of steam from the piston,
blowing off into the air at high pressure while the engine was in
motion, caused considerable annoyance to horses passing along
the Wylam road, at that time a public highway. The nuisance
was felt to be almost intolerable, and a neighboring gentleman
threatened to have it put down. To diminish the noise as much
as possible, Mr. Blackett gave orders that so soon as any horse, or
vehicle drawn by horses, came in sight, the locomotive was to be
stopped, and the frightful blast of the engine thus suspended until
the passing animals had got out of sight. Much interruption was
thus caused to the working of the railway, and it excited considerable
dissatisfaction among the workmen. The following plan
was adopted to abate the nuisance: a reservoir was provided immediately
behind the chimney (as shown in the opposite cut)
into which the waste steam was thrown after it had performed its
office in the cylinder, and from this reservoir the steam gradually
escaped into the atmosphere without noise. This arrangement
was devised with the express object of preventing a blast in the
chimney, the value of which, as we shall subsequently find, was
not detected until George Stephenson, adopting it with a preconceived
design and purpose, demonstrated its importance and value—as
being, in fact, the very life-breath of the locomotive engine.

While Mr. Blackett was thus experimenting and building locomotives
at Wylam, George Stephenson was anxiously studying
the same subject at Killingworth. He was no sooner appointed
engine-wright of the collieries than his attention was directed to
the means of more economically hauling the coal from the pits to
the river side. We have seen that one of the first important improvements
which he made, after being placed in charge of the
colliery machinery, was to apply the surplus power of a pumping
steam-engine fixed underground, for the purpose of drawing the
coals out of the deeper workings of the Killingworth mines, by
which he succeeded in effecting a large reduction in the expenditure
on manual and horse labor.

The coals, when brought above ground, had next to be laboriously
dragged by means of horses to the shipping staiths on the
Tyne, several miles distant. The adoption of a tram-road, it is
true, had tended to facilitate their transit; nevertheless, the haulage
was both tedious and expensive. With the view of economizing[162]
labor, Stephenson laid down inclined planes where the nature
of the ground would admit of this expedient being adopted.
Thus a train of full wagons let down the incline by means of a
rope running over wheels laid along the tram-road, the other end
of which was attached to a train of empty wagons placed at the
bottom of the parallel road on the same incline, dragged them up
by the simple power of gravity. But this applied only to a comparatively
small part of the road. An economical method of
working the coal-trains, instead of by means of horses—the keep
of which was at that time very costly, in consequence of the high
price of corn—was still a great desideratum, and the best practical
minds in the collieries were actively engaged in trying to solve
the problem.

In the first place, Stephenson resolved to make himself thoroughly
acquainted with what had already been done. Mr. Blackett’s
engines were working daily at Wylam, past the cottage where
he had been born, and thither he frequently went[37] to inspect the
improvements made by Mr. Blackett from time to time both in
the locomotive and in the plate-way along which it worked. Jonathan
Foster informed us that, after one of these visits, Stephenson
declared to him his conviction that a much more effective engine
might be made, that should work more steadily and draw
the load more effectively.

He had also the advantage, about the same time, of seeing one
of Blenkinsop’s Leeds engines, which was placed on the tram-way
leading from the collieries of Kenton and Coxlodge, on the 2d of
September, 1813. This locomotive drew sixteen chaldron wagons,
containing an aggregate weight of seventy tons, at the rate
of about three miles an hour. George Stephenson and several of
the Killingworth men were among the crowd of spectators that[163]
day; and after examining the engine and observing its performances,
he remarked to his companions that “he thought he could
make a better engine than that, to go upon legs.” Probably he
had heard of the invention of Brunton, whose patent had by this
time been published, and proved the subject of much curious
speculation in the colliery districts. Certain it is that, shortly
after the inspection of the Coxlodge engine, he contemplated the
construction of a new locomotive, which was to surpass all that
had preceded it. He observed that those engines which had been
constructed up to this time, however ingenious in their arrangements,
were in a great measure practical failures. Mr. Blackett’s
was as yet both clumsy and expensive. Chapman’s had been removed
from the Heaton tram-way in 1812, and was regarded as
a total failure. And the Blenkinsop engine at Coxlodge was
found very unsteady and costly in its working; besides, it pulled
the rails to pieces, the entire strain being upon the rack-rail on
one side of the road. The boiler, however, having shortly blown
up, there was an end of that engine, and the colliery owners did
not feel encouraged to try any farther experiment.

An efficient and economical working locomotive engine, therefore,
still remained to be invented, and to accomplish this object
Stephenson now applied himself. Profiting by what his predecessors
had done, warned by their failures and encouraged by
their partial successes, he commenced his labors. There was
still wanting the man who should accomplish for the locomotive
what James Watt had done for the steam-engine, and combine
in a complete form the best points in the separate plans of others,
embodying with them such original inventions and adaptations
of his own as to entitle him to the merit of inventing the
working locomotive, as James Watt is to be regarded as the inventor
of the working condensing engine. This was the great
work upon which George Stephenson now entered, though probably
without any adequate idea of the ultimate importance of
his labors to society and civilization.

He proceeded to bring the subject of constructing a “Traveling
Engine,” as he then denominated the locomotive, under the
notice of the lessees of the Killingworth Colliery, in the year
1813. Lord Ravensworth, the principal partner, had already
formed a very favorable opinion of the new colliery engine-wright[164]
from the improvements which he had effected in the colliery
engines, both above and below ground; and, after considering
the matter, and hearing Stephenson’s explanations, he authorized
him to proceed with the construction of a locomotive,
though his lordship was by some called a fool for advancing
money for such a purpose. “The first locomotive that I made,”
said Stephenson, many years after,[38] when speaking of his early
career at a public meeting in Newcastle, “was at Killingworth
Colliery, and with Lord Ravensworth’s money. Yes, Lord Ravensworth
and partners were the first to intrust me, thirty-two
years since, with money to make a locomotive engine. I said to
my friends, there was no limit to the speed of such an engine, if
the works could be made to stand.”

Our engine-wright had, however, many obstacles to encounter
before he could get fairly to work with the erection of his locomotive.
His chief difficulty was in finding workmen sufficiently
skilled in mechanics and in the use of tools to follow his instructions
and embody his designs in a practical shape. The tools
then in use about the collieries were rude and clumsy, and there
were no such facilities as now exist for turning out machinery
of an entirely new character. Stephenson was under the necessity
of working with such men and tools as were at his command,
and he had in a great measure to train and instruct the workmen
himself. The engine was built in the workshops at the West
Moor, the leading mechanic being John Thirlwall, the colliery
blacksmith, an excellent mechanic in his way, though quite new
to the work now intrusted to him.


In this first locomotive constructed at Killingworth, Stephenson
to some extent followed the plan of Blenkinsop’s engine.
The wrought-iron boiler was cylindrical, eight feet in length and
thirty-four inches in diameter, with an internal flue-tube twenty
inches wide passing through it. The engine had two vertical
cylinders of eight inches diameter
and two feet stroke let into
the boiler, which worked the propelling
gear with cross-heads and
connecting-rods. The power of
the two cylinders was combined[165]
by means of spur-wheels, which communicated the motive power
to the wheels supporting the engine on the rail, instead of, as in
Blenkinsop’s engine, to cog-wheels which acted on the cogged
rail independent of the four supporting wheels. The engine
thus worked upon what is termed the second motion. The chimney
was of wrought iron, round which was a chamber extending
back to the feed-pumps, for the purpose of heating the water
previous to its injection into the boiler. The engine had no
springs, and was mounted on a wooden frame supported on four
wheels. In order to neutralize as much as possible the jolts and
shocks which such an engine would necessarily encounter from
the obstacles and inequalities of the then very imperfect plate-way,
the water-barrel which served for a tender was fixed to the
end of a lever and weighted, the other end of the lever being
connected with the frame of the locomotive carriage. By this
means the weight of the two was more equally distributed,
though the contrivance did not by any means compensate for
the total absence of springs.

The wheels of the locomotive were all smooth, Stephenson
having satisfied himself by experiment that the adhesion between
the wheels of a loaded engine and the rail would be sufficient for
the purpose of traction. Robert Stephenson informed us that
his father caused a number of workmen to mount upon the wheels
of a wagon moderately loaded, and throw their entire weight
upon the spokes on one side, when he found that the wagon
could thus be easily propelled forward without the wheels slipping.
This, together with other experiments, satisfied him, as it
had already satisfied Mr. Hedley, of the expediency of adopting
smooth wheels on his engine, and it was so made accordingly.

The engine was, after much labor and anxiety, and frequent
alterations of parts, at length brought to completion, having been
about ten months in hand. It was placed upon the Killingworth
Railway on the 25th of July, 1814, and its powers were tried on
the same day. On an ascending gradient of 1 in 450, 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.

Although a considerable advance upon previous locomotives,
“Blucher” (as the engine was popularly called) was nevertheless[166]
a somewhat cumbrous and clumsy machine. The parts were
huddled together. The boiler constituted the principal feature;
and, being the foundation of the other parts, it was made to do
duty not only as a generator of steam, but also as a basis for the
fixings of the machinery and for the bearings of the wheels and
axles. The want of springs was seriously felt; and the progress
of the engine was a succession of jolts, causing considerable derangement
to the machinery. The mode of communicating the
motive power to the wheels by means of the spur-gear also caused
frequent jerks, each cylinder alternately propelling or becoming
propelled by the other, as the pressure of the one upon the wheels
became greater or less than the pressure of the other; and, when
the teeth of the cog-wheels became at all worn, a rattling noise
was produced during the traveling of the engine.

As the principal test of the success of the locomotive was its
economy as compared with horse-power, careful calculations were
made with the view of ascertaining this important point. The
result was, that it was found the working of the engine was at
first barely economical; and at the end of the year the steam-power
and the horse-power were ascertained to be as nearly as
possible upon a par in point of cost.

We give the remainder of the history of George Stephenson’s
efforts to produce an economical working locomotive in the words
of his son Robert, as communicated to the author in 1856, for
the purposes of his father’s “Life.”

“A few months of experience and careful observation upon the
operation of this (his first) engine convinced my father that the complication
arising out of the action of the two cylinders being combined
by spur-wheels would prevent their coming into practical application.
He then directed his attention to an entire change in the
construction and mechanical arrangements, and in the following
year took out a patent, dated February 28th, 1815, for an engine
which combined in a remarkable degree the essential requisites of
an economical locomotive—that is to say, few parts, simplicity in
their action, and great simplicity in the mode by which power was
communicated to the wheels supporting the engine.

“This second engine consisted as before of two vertical cylinders,
which communicated directly with each pair of the four wheels that
supported the engine by a cross-head and a pair of connecting-rods;[167]
but, in attempting to establish a direct communication between the
cylinders and the wheels that rolled upon the rails, considerable difficulties
presented themselves. The ordinary joints could not be
employed to unite the engine, which was a rigid mass, with the
wheels rolling upon the irregular surface of the rails; for it was evident
that the two rails of the line of railway could not always be
maintained at the same level with respect to each other—that one
wheel at the end of the axle might be depressed into a part of the
line which had subsided, while the other would be elevated. In
such a position of the axle and wheels it was clear that a rigid
communication between the cross-head and the wheels was impracticable.
Hence it became necessary to form a joint at the top of
the piston-rod where it united with the cross-head, so as to permit
the cross-head always to preserve complete parallelism with the
axle of the wheels with which it was in communication.

“In order to obtain the flexibility combined with direct action
which was essential for insuring power and avoiding needless friction
and jars from irregularities in the rail, my father employed the
‘ball and socket’ joint for effecting a union between the ends of the
cross-heads where they united with the connecting-rods, and between
the end of the connecting-rods where they were united with
the crank-pins attached to each driving-wheel. By this arrangement
the parallelism between the cross-head and the axle was at all
times maintained, it being permitted to take place without producing
jar or friction upon any part of the machine.

“The next important point was to combine each pair of wheels
by some simple mechanism, instead of the cog-wheels which had
formerly been used. My father began by inserting each axle into
two cranks at right angles to each other, with rods communicating
horizontally between them. An engine was made on this plan, and
answered extremely well. But at that period (1815) the mechanical
skill of the country was not equal to the task of forging cranked
axles of the soundness and strength necessary to stand the jars incident
to locomotive work; so my father was compelled to fall back
upon a substitute which, though less simple and less efficient, was
within the mechanical capabilities of the workmen of that day,
either for construction or repair. He adopted a chain which rolled
over indented wheels placed on the centre of each axle, and so arranged
that the two pairs of wheels were effectually coupled and
made to keep pace with each other. But these chains after a few
years’ use became stretched, and then the engines were liable to irregularity
in their working, especially in changing from working[168]
back to forward again. Nevertheless, these engines continued in
profitable use upon the Killingworth Colliery Railway for some
years. Eventually the chain was laid aside, and the front and hind
wheels were united by rods on the outside, instead of by rods and
crank-ankles inside, as specified in the original patent; and this expedient
completely answered the purpose required, without involving
any expensive or difficult workmanship.


“Another important improvement was introduced in this engine.
The eduction steam had hitherto been allowed to escape direct into
the open atmosphere; but my father, having observed the great velocity
with which the waste-steam escaped, compared with the velocity
with which the smoke issued from the chimney of the same engine,
thought that by conveying the eduction steam into the chimney,
and there allowing it to escape in a vertical direction, its velocity
would be imparted to the smoke from the engine, or to the ascending
current of air in the chimney. The experiment was no sooner
made than the power of the engine became more than doubled;
combustion was stimulated, as it were, by a blast; consequently,
the power of the boiler for generating steam was increased, and,[169]
in the same proportion, the useful duty of the engine was augmented.

“Thus, in 1815, my father had succeeded in manufacturing an engine
which included the following important improvements on all
previous attempts in the same direction: simple and direct communication
between the cylinder and the wheels rolling upon the rails;
joint adhesion of all the wheels, attained by the use of horizontal
connecting-rods; and, finally, a beautiful method of exciting the
combustion of fuel by employing the waste steam which had formerly
been allowed uselessly to escape. It is, perhaps, not too much
to say that this engine, as a mechanical contrivance, contained the
germ of all that has since been effected. It may be regarded, in
fact, as a type of the present locomotive engine.

“In describing my father’s application of the waste steam for the
purpose of increasing the intensity of combustion in the boiler, and
thus increasing the power of the engine without adding to its
weight, and while claiming for this engine the merit of being a type
of all those which have been successfully devised since the commencement
of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, it is necessary
to observe that the next great improvement in the same direction,
the ‘multitubular boiler,’ which took place some years later,
could never have been used without the help of that simple expedient,
the steam-blast, by which power only the burning of coke was
rendered possible.

“I can not pass over this last-named invention of my father’s
without remarking how slightly, as an original idea, it has been appreciated;
and yet how small would be the comparative value of
the locomotive engine of the present day without the application
of that important invention!

“Engines constructed by my father in the year 1818 upon the
principles just described are in use on the Killingworth Colliery
Railway to this very day (1856), conveying, at the speed of perhaps
five or six miles an hour, heavy coal-trains, probably as economically
as any of the more perfect engines now in use.

“There was another remarkable piece of ingenuity in this machine,
which was completed so many years before the possibility of
steam-locomotion became an object of general commercial interest
and Parliamentary inquiry. I have before observed that up to and
after the year 1818 there was no such class of skilled mechanics,
nor were there such machinery and tools for working in metals, as
are now at the disposal of inventors and manufacturers. Among
other difficulties of a similar character, it was not possible at that[170]
time to construct springs of sufficient strength to support the improved
engines. The rails then used being extremely light, the
roads became worn down by the traffic, and occasionally the whole
weight of the engine, instead of being uniformly distributed over
four wheels, was thrown almost diagonally upon two. In order to
avoid the danger arising from such irregularities in the road, my
father arranged the boiler so that it was supported upon the frame
of the engine by four cylinders which opened into the interior of
the boiler. These cylinders were occupied by pistons with rods,
which passed downward and pressed upon the upper side of the
axles. The cylinders, opening into the interior of the boiler, allowed
the pressure of steam to be applied to the upper side of the piston,
and that pressure being nearly equal to the support of one
fourth of the weight of the engine, each axle, whatever might be
its position, had the same amount of weight to bear, and consequently
the entire weight was at all times nearly equally distributed
among the wheels. This expedient was more necessary in
this case, as the weight of the new locomotive engines far exceeded
that of the carriages which had hitherto been used upon colliery
railways, and therefore subjected the rails to much greater risk
from breakage. And this mode of supporting the engine remained
in use until the progress of spring-making had considerably advanced,
when steel springs of sufficient strength superseded this
highly ingenious mode of distributing the weight of the engine uniformly
among the wheels.”

The invention of the Steam-blast by George Stephenson in
1815 was fraught with the most important consequences to railway
locomotion, and it is not saying too much to aver that the
success of the locomotive has been in a great measure the result
of its adoption. Without the steam-blast, by means of which the
intensity of combustion is maintained at its highest point, producing
a correspondingly rapid evolution of steam, high rates of
speed could not have been kept up; the advantages of the multitubular
boiler (afterward invented) could never have been fully
tested; and locomotives might still have been dragging themselves
unwieldily along at little more than five or six miles an

As this invention has been the subject of considerable controversy,
it becomes necessary to add a few words respecting it in
this place. It has been claimed as the invention of Trevithick[171]
in 1804, of Hedley in 1814, of Goldsworthy Gurney in 1820, and
of Timothy Hackworth in 1829. With respect to Trevithick, it
appears that he discharged the waste steam into the chimney
of his engine, but without any intention of thereby producing a
blast;[39] and that he attached no value to the expedient is sufficiently
obvious from the fact that in 1815 he took out a patent
for urging the fire by means of fanners, similar to a winnowing
machine. The claim put forward on behalf of William Hedley,
that he invented the blast-pipe for the Wylam engine, is sufficiently
contradicted by the fact that the Wylam engine had no
blast-pipe. “I remember the Wylam engine,” Robert Stephenson
wrote to the author in 1857, “and I am positive there was no
blast-pipe.” On the contrary, the Wylam engine embodied a contrivance
for the express purpose of preventing a blast. This is
clearly shown by the drawing and description of it contained in
the first edition of Nicholas Wood’s “Practical Treatise on Railroads,”
published in 1825. This evidence is all the more valuable
for our purpose as it was published long before any controversy
had arisen as to the authorship of the invention, and, indeed,
before it was believed that any merit whatever belonged to
it. And it is the more remarkable, as Nicholas Wood himself,
who published the first practical work on railways, did not at
that time approve of the steam-blast, and referred to the Wylam
engine in illustration of how it might be prevented.

The following passage from Mr. Wood’s book clearly describes
the express object and purpose for which George Stephenson invented
and applied the steam-blast in the Killingworth engines.
Describing their action, Mr. Wood says:

“The steam is admitted to the top and bottom of the piston by
means of a sliding valve, which, being moved up and down alternately,
opens a communication between the top and bottom of the
cylinder and the pipe that is open into the chimney and turns up[172]
within it
. The steam, after performing its office within the cylinder,
is thus thrown into the chimney, and the power with which it
issues will be proportionate to the degree of elasticity; and the exit
being directed upward, accelerates the velocity of the current of heated
air accordingly

And again, at another part of the book, he says:

“There is another great objection urged against locomotives,
which is, the noise that the steam makes in escaping into the chimney;
this objection is very singular, as it is not the result of any
inherent form in the organization of such engines, but an accidental
circumstance. When the engines were first made, the steam escaped
into the atmosphere, and made comparatively little noise; it was
found difficult then to produce steam in sufficient quantity to keep
the engine constantly working, or rather to obtain an adequate rapidity
of current in the chimney to give sufficient intensity to the
fire. To effect a greater rapidity, or to increase the draught of the
chimney, Mr. Stephenson thought that by causing the steam to escape
into the chimney through a pipe with its end turned upward, the velocity
of the current would be accelerated, and such was the effect
but, in remedying one evil, another has been produced, which,
though objectionable in some places, was not considered as objectionable
on a private railroad. The tube through the boiler having
been increased, there is now no longer any occasion for the action
of the steam to assist the motion of the heated air in the chimney.
The steam thrown in this manner into the chimney acts as a trumpet,
and certainly makes a very disagreeable noise. Nothing, however,
is more easy to remedy, and the very act of remedying this
defect will also be the means of economizing the fuel.”[41]

Mr. Wood then proceeds to show how the noise caused by the
blast—how, in fact, the blast itself, might be effectually prevented
by adopting the expedient employed in the Wylam engine; which
was, to send the exhaust steam, not into the chimney (where alone
the blast could act with effect by stimulating the draught), but
into a steam-reservoir provided for the purpose. His words are

“Nothing more is wanted to destroy the noise than to cause the
[173]steam to expand itself into a reservoir, and then allow it to escape
gradually to the atmosphere through the chimney.
Upon the Wylam
railroad the noise was made the subject of complaint by a neighboring
gentleman, and they adopted this mode, which had the effect
above mentioned.”[42]

It is curious to find that Mr. Nicholas Wood continued to object
to the use of the steam-blast down even to the time when
the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Bill was before Parliament.
In his evidence before the Committee on that Bill in
1825, he said: “Those engines [at Killingworth] puff very much,
and the object is to get an increased draught in the chimney
Now (by enlarging the flue-tube and giving it a double turn
through the boiler) we have got a sufficiency of steam without it,
and I have no doubt, by allowing the steam to exhaust itself in
a reservoir, it would pass quietly into the chimney without that
noise.” In fact, Mr. Wood was still in favor of the arrangement
adopted in the Wylam engine, by which the steam-blast had been
got rid of altogether.

If these statements, made in Mr. Wood’s book, be correct—and
they have never been disputed—they render it perfectly clear that
George Stephenson invented and applied the steam-blast for the
express purpose of quickening combustion in the furnace by increasing
the draught in the chimney. Although urged by Wood
to abandon the blast, Stephenson continued to hold by it as one
of the vital powers of the locomotive engine. It is quite true that
in the early engines, with only a double flue passing through the
boiler, run as they were at low speeds, the blast was of comparatively
less importance. It was only when the improved passenger
engine, fitted with the multitubular boiler, was required to be run
at high speeds that the full merits of the blast were brought out;
and in detecting its essential uses in this respect, and sharpening[174]
it for the purpose of increasing its action, the sagacity of Timothy
Hackworth, of Darlington, is entitled to due recognition.

(Colliery Whimsey)




Explosions of fire-damp were unusually frequent in the coal-mines
of Northumberland and Durham about the time when
George Stephenson was engaged in the construction of his first
locomotives. These explosions were often attended with fearful
loss of life and dreadful suffering to the work-people. Killingworth
Colliery was not free from such deplorable calamities; and
during the time that Stephenson was employed as brakesman at
the West Moor, several “blasts” took place in the pit, by which
many workmen were scorched and killed, and the owners of the colliery
sustained heavy losses. One of the most serious of these
accidents occurred in 1806, not long after he had been appointed
brakesman, by which ten persons were killed. Stephenson was
near the pit mouth at the time, and the circumstances connected
with the explosion made a deep impression on his mind, as appears
from the graphic account which he gave of it to the Committee
of the House of Commons on accidents in mines, some
thirty years after the event.

“The pit,” said he, “had just ceased drawing coals, and nearly
all the men had got out. It was some time in the afternoon, a little
after midday. There were five men that went down the pit;
four of them for the purpose of preparing a place for the furnace.
The fifth was a person who went down to set them to work. I sent
this man down myself, and he had just got to the bottom of the
shaft about two or three minutes when the explosion took place.
I had left the mouth of the pit, and had gone about fifty or sixty
yards away, when I heard a tremendous noise, looked round, and
saw the discharge come out of the pit like the discharge of a cannon.
It continued to blow, I think, for a quarter of an hour, discharging
every thing that had come into the current. Wood came
up, stones came up, and trusses of hay that went up into the air
like balloons. Those trusses had been sent down during the day,
and I think they had in some measure injured the ventilation of the[176]
mine. The ground all round the top of the pit was in a trembling
state. I went as near as I durst go; every thing appeared cracking
and rending about me. Part of the brattice, which was very
strong, was blown away at the bottom of the pits. Very large
pumps were lifted from their places, so that the engine could not
work. The pit was divided into four by partitions; it was a large
pit, fourteen feet in diameter, and partitions were put down at right
angles, which made four compartments. The explosion took place
in one of those four quarters, but it broke through into all the others
at the bottom, and the brattice or partitions were set on fire at
the first explosion.

“Nobody durst go near the shafts for some time, for fear of another
explosion taking place. At last we considered it necessary
to run the rope backward and forward, and give the miners, if there
were any at the bottom of the shaft, an opportunity of catching the
rope as it came to the bottom. Several men were safely got up in
this way; one man, who had got hold of the rope, was being drawn
up, when a farther explosion took place while he was still in the
shaft, and the increased current which came about him projected
him as it were up the shaft; yet he was landed without injury: it
was a singular case…. The pit continued to blast every two or
three hours for about two days. It appears that the coal had taken
fire, and as soon as the carbureted hydrogen gas collected in sufficient
quantity to reach the part where it was burning, it ignited
again; but none of the explosions were equal to the first, on account
of many parts of the mine having become filled with azotic
gas, or the after-damp of the mine. All the ditches in the countryside
were stopped to get water to pour into the pit. We had fire-engines
brought from Newcastle, and the water was poured in till
it came above the fire, and then it was extinguished. The loss to
the owners of the colliery by this accident must have been about

Another explosion took place in the same pit in 1809, by which
twelve persons lost their lives. The blast did not reach the shaft
as in the former case, the unfortunate persons in the pit having
been suffocated by the after-damp. More calamitous still were
the explosions which took place in the neighboring collieries, one
of the worst being that of 1812, in the Felling Pit near Gateshead,
a mine belonging to Mr. Brandling, by which no fewer than ninety[177]
men and boys were suffocated or burnt to death; and a similar
accident occurred in the same pit in the year following, by which
twenty-two men and boys perished.

The Pit Head, West Moor.   [By R. P. Leitch.]

It was natural that Stephenson should devote his attention to
the causes of these deplorable accidents, and to the means by
which they might, if possible, be prevented. His daily occupation
led him to think much and deeply on the subject. As engine-wright
of a colliery so extensive as that of Killingworth, where
there were nearly 160 miles of gallery excavation, in which he
personally superintended the working of inclined planes, along
which the coals were sent to the pit entrance, he was necessarily
very often under ground, and brought face to face with the dangers
of fire-damp. From fissures in the roofs of the galleries carbureted
hydrogen gas was constantly flowing; and in some of the
more dangerous places it might be heard escaping from the crevices
of the coal with a hissing noise. Ventilation, firing, and all
conceivable modes of drawing out the foul air had been tried,
while the more dangerous parts of the galleries were built up.
Still the danger could not be wholly prevented. The miners must
necessarily guide their steps through the extensive underground
ways with lighted lamps or candles, the naked flame of which,
coming in contact with the inflammable air, daily exposed them
and their fellow-workers in the pit to the risk of death in one of
its most dreadful forms.


One day in the year 1814, a workman hurried into Stephenson’s
cottage with the startling information that the deepest main
of the colliery was on fire! He immediately hastened to the pit-head,
about a hundred yards off, whither the women and children
of the colliery were running, with wildness and terror depicted
in every face. In a commanding voice, Stephenson ordered the
engine-man to lower him down the shaft in the corve. There
was danger, it might be death, before him, but he must go.

He was soon at the bottom and in the midst of the men, who
were paralyzed at the danger which threatened the lives of all in
the pit. Leaping from the corve on its touching the ground, he
called out, “Are there six men among you who have the courage
to follow me? If so, come, and we will put the fire out.” The
Killingworth pitmen had the most perfect confidence in their engine-wright,
and they readily volunteered to follow him. Silence
succeeded the frantic tumult of the previous minute, and the men
set to work with a will. In every mine, bricks, mortar, and tools
enough are at hand, and by Stephenson’s direction the materials
were forthwith carried to the required spot, where, in a very
short time, a wall was raised at the entrance to the main, he himself
taking the most active part in the work. The atmospheric
air was by this means excluded, the fire was extinguished, most
of the people in the pit were saved from death, and the mine was

This anecdote of George Stephenson was related to the writer,
near the pit-mouth, by one of the men, Kit Heppel, who had been
present, and helped to build up the brick wall by which the fire
was stayed, though several of the workmen were suffocated.
Heppel relates that, when down the pit some days after, seeking
out the dead bodies, the cause of the accident was the subject of
some conversation between himself and Stephenson, and Heppel
then asked him, “Can nothing be done to prevent such awful
occurrences?” Stephenson replied that he thought something
might be done. “Then,” said Heppel, “the sooner you begin the
better, for the price of coal-mining now is pitmen’s lives.”

Fifty years since, many of the best pits were so full of the inflammable
gas given forth by the coal that they could not be
worked without the greatest danger, and for this reason some
were altogether abandoned. The rudest possible means were[179]
adopted of producing light sufficient to enable the pitmen to
work by. The phosphorescence of decayed fish-skins was tried;
but this, though safe, was very inefficient. The most common
method employed was what was called a steel mill, the notched
wheel of which, being made to revolve against a flint, struck a
succession of sparks, which scarcely served to do more than make
the darkness visible. A boy carried the apparatus, working the
wheel; and by the imperfect light thus given forth the miner
plied his dangerous trade. Candles were only used in those parts
of the pit where gas was not abundant. Under this rude system
not more than one third of the coal could be worked, while two
thirds were left.

What the workmen, not less than the coal-owners, eagerly desired
was a lamp that should give forth sufficient light, without
communicating flame to the inflammable gas which accumulated
in certain parts of the pit. Something had already been done
toward the invention of such a lamp by Dr. Clanny, of Sunderland,
who, in 1813, contrived an apparatus to which he gave air
from the mine through water, by means of bellows. This lamp
went out of itself in inflammable gas. It was found, however, too
unwieldy to be used by the miners for the purposes of their work,
and did not come into general use. A committee of gentlemen
interested in coal-mining was formed to investigate the causes of
the explosions, and to devise, if possible, some means of preventing
them. At the invitation of that committee, Sir Humphry
Davy, then in the full zenith of his reputation, was requested to
turn his attention to the subject. He accordingly visited the collieries
near Newcastle on the 24th of August, 1815, and at the
close of that year, on the 9th of November, 1815, he read before
the Royal Society of London his celebrated paper “On the Fire-damp
of Coal Mines, and on Methods of Lighting the Mine so as
to prevent its Explosion.”

But a humbler though not less diligent and original thinker
had been at work before him, and had already practically solved
the problem of the Safety-lamp. Stephenson was, of course, well
aware of the desire which prevailed in the colliery districts for
the invention of a lamp which should give light enough for the
miners to work by without exploding the fire-damp, and the painful
incidents above described only served to quicken his eagerness
to master the difficulty.


For several years he had been engaged, in his own rude way,
in making experiments with the fire-damp in the Killingworth
mine. The pitmen used to expostulate with him on these occasions,
believing the experiments to be fraught with danger. One
of the sinkers, called M’Crie, observing him holding up lighted
candles to the windward of the “blower” or fissure from which
the inflammable gas escaped, entreated him to desist; but Stephenson’s
answer was, that “he was busy with a plan by which
he hoped to make his experiments useful for preserving men’s
lives.” On these occasions the miners usually got out of the way
before he lit the gas.

In 1815, although he was very much occupied with the business
of the collieries and the improvement of his locomotive engine,
he was also busily engaged in making experiments upon
the inflammable gas in the Killingworth Pit. As he himself afterward
related to the Committee of the House of Commons which
sat on the subject of Accidents in Mines in 1835, he imagined
that if he could construct a lamp with a chimney so arranged as
to cause a strong current, it would not fire at the top of the chimney,
as the burnt air would ascend with such a velocity as to prevent
the inflammable air of the pit from descending toward the
flame; and such a lamp, he thought, might be taken into a dangerous
atmosphere without risk of exploding.

Such was Stephenson’s theory, when he proceeded to embody
his idea of a miner’s safety-lamp in a practical form. In the
month of August, 1815, he requested his friend Nicholas Wood,
the head viewer, to prepare a drawing of a lamp according to the
description which he gave him. After several evenings’ careful
deliberations, the drawing was prepared, and it was shown to
several of the head men about the works. “My first lamp,” said
Stephenson, describing it to the committee above referred to,
“had a chimney at the top of the lamp, and a tube at the bottom
to admit the atmospheric air, or fire-damp and air, to feed the
burner or combustion of the lamp. I was not aware of the precise
quantity required to feed the combustion; but to know what
quantity was necessary, I had a slide at the bottom of the tube
in my first lamp, to admit such a quantity of air as might eventually
be found necessary to keep up the combustion.”

Accompanied by his friend Wood, Stephenson went into Newcastle,[181]
and ordered a lamp to be made according to his plan by
the Messrs. Hogg, tinmen, at the head of the Side—a well-known
street in Newcastle. At the same time, he ordered a glass to be
made for the lamp at the Northumberland Glass-house in the
same town. This lamp was received from the makers on the
21st of October, and was taken to Killingworth for the purpose
of immediate experiment.

“I remember that evening as distinctly as if it had been but
yesterday,” said Robert Stephenson, describing the circumstances
to the author in 1857. “Moodie came to our cottage about dusk,
and asked ‘if father had got back with the lamp.’ ‘No.’ ‘Then
I’ll wait till he comes,’ said Moodie; ‘he can’t be long now.’ In
about half an hour, in came my father, his face all radiant. He
had the lamp with him! It was at once uncovered and shown
to Moodie. Then it was filled with oil, trimmed, and lighted.
All was ready, only the head viewer hadn’t arrived. ‘Run over
to Benton for Nichol, Robert,’ said my father to me, ‘and ask
him to come directly; say we’re going down the pit to try the
lamp.’ By this time it was quite dark, and off I ran to bring
Nicholas Wood. His house was at Benton, about a mile off.
There was a short cut through Benton Church-yard, but just as
I was about to pass the wicket I saw what I thought was a white
figure moving about among the grave-stones. I took it for a
ghost! My heart fluttered, and I was in a great fright, but to
Nichol’s house I must get, so I made the circuit of the church-yard;
and when I got round to the other side I looked, and, lo!
the figure was still there. But what do you think it was? Only
the grave-digger, plying his work at that late hour by the light
of his lantern set upon one of the grave-stones! I found Wood
at home, and in a few minutes he was mounted and off to my father’s.
When I got home I was told they had just left—it was
then about eleven—and gone down the shaft to try the lamp in
one of the most dangerous parts of the mine.”

Arrived at the bottom of the shaft with the lamp, the party
directed their steps toward one of the foulest galleries in the pit,
where the explosive gas was issuing through a blower in the roof
of the mine with a loud hissing noise. By erecting some deal
boarding round that part of the gallery into which the gas was
escaping, the air was thus made more foul for the purpose of the[182]
experiment. After waiting about an hour, Moodie, whose practical
experience of fire-damp in pits was greater than that of
either Stephenson or Wood, was requested to go into the place
which had thus been made foul; and, having done so, he returned,
and told them that the smell of the air was such that if
a lighted candle were now introduced an explosion must inevitably
take place. He cautioned Stephenson as to the danger both
to themselves and to the pit if the gas took fire; but Stephenson
declared his confidence in the safety of his lamp, and, having lit
the wick, he boldly proceeded with it toward the explosive air.
The others, more timid and doubtful, hung back when they came
within hearing of the blower; and, apprehensive of the danger,
they retired into a safe place, out of sight of the lamp, which
gradually disappeared with its bearer in the recesses of the mine.
It was a critical moment, and the danger was such as would have
tried the stoutest heart. Stephenson, advancing alone, with his
yet untried lamp, in the depths of those underground workings,
calmly venturing his life in the determination to discover a mode
by which the lives of many might be saved, and death disarmed
in these fatal caverns, presented an example of intrepid nerve
and manly courage more noble even than that which, in the excitement
of battle and the collective impetuosity of a charge, carries
a man up to the cannon’s mouth.

Advancing to the place of danger, and entering within the
fouled air, his lighted lamp in hand, Stephenson held it firmly
out, in the full current of the blower, and within a few inches of
its mouth. Thus exposed, the flame of the lamp at first increased,
then flickered, and then went out; but there was no explosion of
the gas. Returning to his companions, who were still at a distance,
he told them what had occurred. Having now acquired
somewhat more confidence, they advanced with him to a point
from which they could observe the experiment repeated, but still
at a safe distance. They saw that when the lighted lamp was
held within the explosive mixture, there was a great flame; the
lamp was almost full of fire; and then it seemed to be smothered
out. Again returning to his companions, he relighted the lamp,
and repeated the experiment. This was done several times, with
the same result. At length Wood and Moodie ventured to advance
close to the fouled part of the pit; and, in making some[183]
of the later trials, Mr. Wood himself held up the lighted lamp to
the blower.[44] Such was the result of the first experiments with
the first practical Miner’s Safety-lamp, and such was the daring
resolution of its inventor in testing its qualities.

Before leaving the pit, Stephenson expressed his opinion that,
by an alteration of the lamp which he contemplated, he could
make it burn better. This was by a change in the slide through
which the air was admitted into the lower part of the lamp, under
the flame. After making some experiments on the air collected
at the blower, by means of bladders which were mounted
with tubes of various diameters, he satisfied himself that, when
the tube was reduced to a certain diameter, the explosion would
not pass through; and he fashioned his slide accordingly, reducing
the diameter of the tube until he conceived it was quite safe.
In about a fortnight the experiments were repeated in the pit, in
a place purposely made foul as before. On this occasion a larger
number of persons ventured to witness the experiments, which
again proved successful. The lamp was not yet, however, so efficient
as the inventor desired. It required, he observed, to be[184]
kept very steady when burning in the inflammable gas, otherwise
it was liable to go out, in consequence, as he imagined, of the
contact of the burnt air (as he then called it), or azotic gas, which
lodged round the exterior of the flame. If the lamp was moved
backward and forward, the azote came in contact with the flame
and extinguished it. “It struck me,” said he, “that if I put more
tubes in, I should discharge the poisonous matter that hung round
the flame by admitting the air to its exterior part.”

Although he had then no access to scientific works, nor intercourse
with scientific men, nor any thing that could assist
him in his inquiries on the subject besides his own indefatigable
spirit of inquiry, Stephenson contrived a rude apparatus,
by means of which he proceeded to test the explosive properties
of the gas and the velocity of current (for this was the direction
of his inquiries) required to permit the explosion to pass through
tubes of different diameters. In making these experiments in
his cottage at the West Moor, Nicholas Wood and George’s son
Robert usually acted as his assistants, and sometimes the gentlemen
of the neighborhood—among others, William Brandling
and Matthew Bell, who were interested in coal-mining—attended
as spectators. One who was present on such an occasion remembers
that, when an experiment was about to be performed, and
all was ready, George called to Mr. Wood, who worked the stop-cocks
of the gasometer, “Wise on [turn on] the hydrōgen,

These experiments were not performed without risk, for on
one occasion the experimenting party had nearly blown off the
roof of the cottage. One of these “blows up” was described by
Stephenson himself before the Committee on Accidents in Coal
Mines in 1835:

“I made several experiments,” said he, “as to the velocity required
in tubes of different diameters, to prevent explosion from
fire-damp. We made the mixture in all proportions of light carbureted
hydrogen with atmospheric air in the receiver, and we
found by the experiments that when a current of the most explosive
mixture that we could make was forced up a tube four tenths
of an inch in diameter, the necessary current was nine inches in a
second to prevent its coming down that tube. These experiments
were repeated several times. We had two or three blows up in[185]
making the experiments, by the flame getting down into the receiver,
though we had a piece of very fine wire-gauze put at the
bottom of the pipe, between the receiver and the pipe through
which we were forcing the current. In one of these experiments
I was watching the flame in the tube, my son was taking the vibrations
of the pendulum of the clock, and Mr. Wood was attending
to give me the column of water as I called for it, to keep the current
up to a certain point. As I saw the flame descending in the
tube I called for more water, and Wood unfortunately turned the
cock the wrong way; the current ceased, the flame went down the
tube, and all our implements were blown to pieces, which at the
time we were not very well able to replace.”

The explosion of this glass receiver, which had been borrowed
from the stores of the Philosophical Society at Newcastle for the
purpose of making the experiments, caused the greatest possible
dismay among the party, and they dreaded to inform Mr. Turner,
the secretary,[45] of the calamity which had occurred. Fortunately,
none of the experimenters were injured by the accident.

Stephenson followed up these experiments by others of a similar
kind, with the view of ascertaining whether ordinary flame
would pass through tubes of a small diameter, and with this object
he filed off the barrels of several small keys. Placing these
together, he held them perpendicularly over a strong flame, and
ascertained that it did not pass upward. This was a farther
proof to him of the soundness of the principle on which he had
been proceeding.

In order to correct the defect of his first lamp, he accordingly
proceeded to alter it so as to admit the air to the flame by several
tubes of reduced diameter instead of by a single tube. He inferred[186]
that a sufficient quantity of air would thus be introduced
into the lamp for the purposes of combustion, while the smallness
of the apertures would still prevent the explosion passing
downward, at the same time that the “burnt air” (the cause, in
his opinion, of the lamp going out) would be more effectually
dislodged. The requisite alterations were made in the lamp by
Mr. Matthews, a tinman in Newcastle, and it was so altered that
the air was admitted by three small tubes inserted in the bottom,
the openings of which were placed on the outside of the
burner, instead of having (as in the original lamp) the one tube
opening directly under the flame.

This second or altered lamp was tried in the Killingworth Pit
on the 4th of November, and was found to burn better than the
first lamp, and to be perfectly safe. But, as it did not yet come
up entirely to the inventor’s expectations, he proceeded to contrive
a third lamp, in which he proposed to surround the oil vessel with
a number of capillary tubes. Then it struck him that if he cut
off the middle of the tubes, or made holes in metal plates, placed
at a distance from each other equal to the length of the tubes,
the air would get in better, and the effect in preventing the communication
of explosion would be the same.

He was encouraged to persevere in the completion of his safety-lamp
by the occurrence of several fatal accidents about this
time in the Killingworth Pit. On the 9th of November a boy
was killed by a blast in the A pit, at the very place where Stephenson
had made the experiments with his first lamp; and, when
told of the accident, he observed that if the boy had been provided
with his lamp, his life would have been saved. On the 20th of
November he went over to Newcastle to order his third lamp from
Mr. Watson, a plumber in that town. Mr. Watson referred him
to his clerk, Henry Smith, whom Stephenson invited to join him
at a neighboring public house, where they might quietly talk over
the matter, and finally settle the plan of the new lamp. They
adjourned to the “Newcastle Arms,” near the present High-Level
Bridge, where they had some ale, and a design of the lamp was
drawn in pencil upon a half-sheet of foolscap, with a rough specification
subjoined. The sketch, when shown to us by Robert
Stephenson some years since, still bore the marks of the ale. It
was a very rude design, but sufficient to work from. It was immediately[187]
placed in the hands of the workmen, finished in the
course of a few days, and experimentally tested in the Killingworth
Pit like the previous lamps on the 30th of November, by
which date neither Stephenson nor Wood had heard of Sir Humphry
Davy’s experiments, nor of the lamp which that gentleman
proposed to construct.


An angry controversy afterward took place as to the respective
merits of George Stephenson and Sir Humphry Davy in respect
of the invention of the Safety-lamp. A committee was formed
on both sides, and the facts were stated in various ways. It is
perfectly clear, however, that Stephenson had ascertained the fact
that flame will not pass through tubes of a certain diameter—the
principle on which the safety-lamp is constructed—before Sir
Humphry Davy had formed any definite idea on the subject, or
invented the model lamp afterward exhibited by him before the
Royal Society. Stephenson had actually constructed a lamp on
such a principle, and proved its safety, before Sir Humphry had
communicated his views on the subject to any person; and by the
time that the first public intimation had been given of his discovery,
Stephenson’s second lamp had been constructed and tested in[188]
like manner in the Killingworth Pit. The first was tried on the
21st of October, 1815; the second was tried on the 4th of November;
but it was not until the 9th of November that Sir Humphry
Davy presented his first lamp to the public. And by the 30th of
the same month, as we have seen, Stephenson had constructed and
tested his third safety-lamp.

Stephenson’s theory of the “burnt air” and the “draught” was
no doubt wrong, but his lamp was right, and that was the great
fact which mainly concerned him. Torricelli did not know the
rationale of his tube, nor Otto von Guericke that of his air-pump;
yet no one thinks of denying them the merit of their inventions
on that account. The discoveries of Volta and Galvani were in
like manner independent of theory; the greatest discoveries consisting
in bringing to light certain grand facts, on which theories
are afterward framed. Our inventor had been pursuing the Baconian
method, though he did not think of that; his sole object
being to invent a safe lamp, which he knew could only be done
through the process of repeated experiment. Hence his numerous
experiments on the fire-damp at the blowers in the mine, as
well as on carbureted hydrogen gas in his cottage by means of
the apparatus above described. By experiment he distinctly ascertained
that the explosion of fire-damp could not pass through
small tubes; and he also did what had not before been done by
any inventor—he constructed a lamp on this principle, and repeatedly
proved its safety at the risk of his life. At the same
time, there is no doubt that it was to Sir Humphry Davy that the
merit belonged of elucidating the true law on which the safety-lamp
is constructed.

The subject of this important invention excited so much interest
in the northern mining districts, and Stephenson’s numerous
friends considered his lamp so completely successful—having
stood the test of repeated experiments—that they urged him to
bring his invention before the Philosophical and Literary Society
of Newcastle, of whose apparatus he had availed himself in the
course of his experiments on fire-damp. After much persuasion
he consented to do so, and a meeting was appointed for the purpose
of receiving his explanations on the evening of the 5th of
December, 1815. Stephenson was at that time so diffident in
manner and unpracticed in speech, that he took with him his friend[189]
Nicholas Wood to act as his interpreter and expositor on the occasion.
From eighty to a hundred of the most intelligent members
of the society were present at the meeting, when Mr. Wood
stood forward to expound the principles on which the lamp had
been formed, and to describe the details of its construction. Several
questions were put, to which Mr. Wood proceeded to give replies
to the best of his knowledge. But Stephenson, who up to
that time had stood behind Wood, screened from notice, observing
that the explanations given were not quite correct, could no longer
control himself, and, standing forward, he proceeded in his strong
Northumbrian dialect to describe the lamp down to its minutest
details. He then produced several bladders full of carbureted
hydrogen, which he had collected from the blowers in the Killingworth
mine, and proved the safety of his lamp by numerous
experiments with the gas, repeated in various ways, his earnest
and impressive manner exciting in the minds of his auditors the
liveliest interest both in the inventor and his invention.


Shortly after, Sir H. Davy’s model lamp was received and exhibited
to the coal-miners at Newcastle, on which occasion the
observation was made by several gentlemen, “Why, it is the same
as Stephenson’s!”


Notwithstanding Stephenson’s claim to be regarded as the first
inventor of the Tube Safety-lamp, his merits do not seem to have
been generally recognized. Sir Humphry Davy carried off the
larger share of the éclat which attached to the discovery. What
chance had the unknown workman of Killingworth with so distinguished
a competitor? The one was as yet but a colliery engine-wright,
scarce raised above the manual-labor class, without
chemical knowledge or literary culture, pursuing his experiments
in obscurity, with a view only to usefulness; the other was the
scientific prodigy of his day, the pet of the Royal Society, the
favorite of princes, the most brilliant of lecturers, and the most
popular of philosophers.

No small indignation was expressed by the friends of Sir Humphry
Davy at Stephenson’s “presumption” in laying claim to the
invention of the Safety-lamp. The scientific class united to ignore
him entirely in the matter. In 1831, Dr. Paris, in his
“Life of Sir Humphry Davy,” thus wrote: “It will hereafter be
scarcely believed that an invention so eminently scientific, and
which could never have been derived but from the sterling treasury
of science, should have been claimed on behalf of an engine-wright
of Killingworth, of the name of Stephenson—a person
not even possessing a knowledge of the elements of chemistry.”

But Stephenson was really far above claiming for himself an
invention not his own. He had already accomplished a far
greater thing even than the making of a safety-lamp: he had
constructed a successful locomotive, which was to be seen in daily
work on the Killingworth Railway. By the improvements he
had made in the engine, he might almost be said to have invented
it; yet no one—not even the philosophers—detected as yet the
significance of that wonderful machine. It excited no scientific
interest, called forth no leading articles in the newspapers or the
reviews, and formed the subject of no eloquent lectures at the
Royal Society; for railways were as yet comparatively unknown,
and the might which slumbered in the locomotive was scarcely,
as yet, even dreamed of. What railways were to become rested
in a great measure with that “engine-wright of Killingworth, of
the name of Stephenson,” though he was scarcely known as yet
beyond the bounds of his own district.


As to the value of the invention of the safety-lamp there could
be no doubt, and the colliery owners of Durham and Northumberland,
to testify their sense of its importance, determined to
present a testimonial to its inventor. The friends of Sir H. Davy
met in August, 1816, to take steps to raise a subscription for the
purpose. The advertised object of the meeting was to present
him with a reward for the invention of his safety-lamp. To
this no objection could be taken; for, though the principle on
which the safety-lamps of Stephenson and Davy were constructed
was the same, and although Stephenson’s lamp was unquestionably
the first successful lamp that had been constructed on such
principle, and proved to be efficient, yet Sir H. Davy did invent
a safety-lamp, no doubt quite independently of all that Stephenson
had done; and having directed his careful attention to the
subject, and elucidated the true theory of explosion of carbureted
hydrogen, he was entitled to all praise and reward for his labor.
But when the meeting of coal-owners proposed to raise a subscription
for the purpose of presenting Sir H. Davy with a reward
for “his invention of the safety-lamp,” the case was entirely
altered, and Stephenson’s friends then proceeded to assert his
claims to be regarded as its first inventor.

Many meetings took place on the subject, and much discussion
ensued, the result of which was that a sum of £2000 was presented
to Sir Humphry Davy as “the inventor of the safety-lamp;”
but, at the same time, a purse of 100 guineas was voted
to George Stephenson, in consideration of what he had done in
the same direction. This result was, however, very unsatisfactory
to Stephenson, as well as to his friends; and Mr. Brandling,
of Gosforth, suggested to him that, the subject being now fairly
before the public, he should publish a statement of the facts on
which his claim was founded.

But this was not at all in George Stephenson’s line. He had
never appeared in print before, and it seemed to him a far more
formidable thing to write a letter for publication in “the papers”
than even to invent a safety-lamp or design a locomotive. Having
called his son Robert to his assistance, he set him down before
a sheet of foolscap, and when all was ready, he said, “Now,
put down there just what I tell you.” The composition of this
letter, as we were informed by the writer of it, occupied more[192]
evenings than one; and when it was at length finished after
many corrections, and fairly copied out, the father and son set
out—the latter dressed in his Sunday’s round jacket—to lay
the joint production before Mr. Brandling, at Gosforth House.
Glancing over the letter, Mr. Brandling said, “George, this will
never do.” “It is all true, sir,” was the reply. “That may be;
but it is badly written.” Robert blushed, for he thought it was
the penmanship that was called in question, and he had written
his very best. Mr. Brandling then requested his visitors to sit
down while he put the letter in a more polished form, which he
did, and it was shortly after published in the local papers.

As the controversy continued for some time longer to be carried
on in the Newcastle papers, Mr. Stephenson, in the year
1817, consented to publish the detailed plans, with descriptions,
of the several safety-lamps which he had contrived for use in the
Killingworth Colliery. The whole forms a pamphlet of only
sixteen pages of letter-press.[46]

His friends, being fully satisfied of his claims to priority as
the inventor of the safety-lamp used in the Killingworth and
other collieries, proceeded to hold a public meeting for the purpose
of presenting him with a reward “for the valuable service
he had thus rendered to mankind.” Charles J. Brandling, Esq.,
occupied the chair; and several resolutions were passed, of which
the first and most important was as follows: “That it is the
opinion of this meeting that Mr. George Stephenson, having discovered
the fact
that explosion of hydrogen gas will not pass
through tubes and apertures of small dimensions, and having
been the first to apply that principle in the construction of a
, is entitled to a public reward.”

A subscription was immediately commenced with this object,
and a committee was formed, consisting of the Earl of Strathmore,
C. J. Brandling, and others. The subscription list was
headed by Lord Ravensworth, one of the partners in the Killingworth
Colliery, who showed his appreciation of the merits of
Stephenson by giving 100 guineas. C. J. Brandling and partners
gave a like sum, and Matthew Bell and partners, and John
Brandling and partners, gave 50 guineas each.[193]
When the resolutions appeared in the newspapers, the scientific
friends of Sir Humphry Davy in London met, and passed a
series of counter-resolutions, which they published, declaring
their opinion that Mr. Stephenson was not the author of the discovery
of the fact that explosion of hydrogen will not pass
through tubes and apertures of small dimensions, and that he
was not the first to apply that principle to the construction of a
safety-lamp. To these counter-resolutions were attached the
well-known names of Sir Joseph Banks, P.R.S., William Thomas
Brande, Charles Hatchett, W. H. Wollaston, and Thomas Young.

Mr. Stephenson’s friends then, to make assurance doubly sure,
and with a view to set the question at rest, determined to take
evidence in detail as to the date of discovery by George Stephenson
of the fact in question, and its practical application by him
in the formation and actual trial of his safety-lamp. The witnesses
examined were George Stephenson himself, Mr. Nicholas
Wood, and John Moodie, who had been present at the first trial
of the lamp; the several tinmen who made the lamps; the secretary
and other members of the Literary and Philosophical Society
of Newcastle, who were present at the exhibition of the third
lamp; and some of the workmen who were present at the Killingworth
Colliery, who had been witnesses of Stephenson’s experiments
on fire-damp made with the lamps at different times
before Sir Humphry Davy’s investigations had been heard of.
This evidence was quite conclusive to the minds of the gentlemen
who investigated the subject, and they published it in 1817,
together with their Report, in which they declared that, “after a
careful inquiry into the merits of the case, conducted, as they
trust, in a spirit of fairness and moderation, they can perceive no
satisfactory reason for changing their opinion.”[47][194]
The Stephenson subscription, when collected, amounted to
£1000. Part of the money was devoted to the purchase of a
silver tankard, which was presented to the inventor, together
with the balance of the subscription, at a public dinner given in
the Assembly Rooms at Newcastle.[48] But what gave Stephenson
even greater pleasure than the silver tankard and purse of
sovereigns was the gift of a silver watch, purchased by small subscriptions
collected among the colliers themselves, and presented
to him by them as a token of their esteem and regard for him as
a man, as well as of their gratitude for the perseverance and
skill with which he had prosecuted his valuable and life-saving
invention to a successful issue. To the last day of his life he
spoke with pride of this watch as the most highly-prized gift he
had ever received.

However great may be the merits of Stephenson in connection
with the invention of the tube safety-lamp, they can not be regarded
as detracting in any degree from the reputation of Sir
Humphry Davy. His inquiries into the explosive properties of
carbureted hydrogen gas were quite original, and his discovery
of the fact that explosion will not pass through tubes of a certain
diameter was made independently of all that Stephenson had
done in verification of the same fact. It would even appear
that Mr. Smithson Tennant and Dr. Wollaston had observed the
same fact several years before, though neither Stephenson nor
Davy knew of it while they were prosecuting their experiments.
Sir Humphry Davy’s subsequent modification of the tube-lamp,
by which, while diminishing the diameter, he in the same ratio
shortened the tubes without danger, and in the form of wire-gauze[195]
enveloped the safety-lamp by a multiplicity of tubes, was
a beautiful application of the true theory which he had formed
upon the subject.

The increased number of accidents which have occurred from
explosions in coal-mines since the general introduction of the
Davy lamp led to considerable doubts being entertained as to its
safety, and inquiries were consequently made as to the means by
which it might be farther improved; for experience has shown
that, under certain circumstances, the Davy lamp is not safe.
Stephenson was himself of opinion that the modification of his
own and Sir Humphry Davy’s lamp, by combining the glass cylinder
with the wire-gauze, would give the best lamp. At the
same time, it must be admitted that the Davy and the Geordy
lamps alike failed to stand the severe tests to which they were
submitted by Dr. Pereira, before the Committee on Accidents in
Mines. Indeed, Dr. Pereira did not hesitate to say that, when
exposed to a current of explosive gas, the Davy lamp is “decidedly
unsafe,” and that the experiments by which its safety had
been “demonstrated” in the lecture-room had proved entirely

It is worthy of remark that, under circumstances in which the
wire-gauze of the Davy lamp becomes red-hot from the high explosiveness
of the gas, the Geordy lamp is extinguished; and we
can not but think that this fact testifies to the decidedly superior
safety of the Geordy. An accident occurred in the Oaks Colliery
Pit at Barnsley on the 20th of August, 1857, which strikingly
exemplified the respective qualities of the lamps. A sudden
outburst of gas took place from the floor of the mine along
a distance of fifty yards. Fortunately, the men working in the
pit at the time were all supplied with safety-lamps—the hewers
with Stephenson’s, and the hurriers with Davy’s. On this occasion,
the whole of the Stephenson lamps, over a space of five
hundred yards, were extinguished almost instantaneously; whereas
the Davy lamps were filled with fire and became red-hot, so
that several of the men using them had their hands burnt by the
gauze. Had a strong current of air been blowing through the
gallery at the time, an explosion would most probably have taken
place—an accident which, it will be observed, could not, under
such circumstances, occur from the use of the Geordy,[196]
which is immediately extinguished as soon as the air becomes

Nicholas Wood, a good judge, has said of the two inventions,
“Priority has been claimed for each of them—I believe the inventions
to be parallel. By different roads they both arrived at
the same result. Stephenson’s is the superior lamp. Davy’s is
safe—Stephenson’s is safer.”

When the question of priority was under discussion at Mr.
Lough’s studio in 1857, Sir Matthew White Ridley asked Robert
Stephenson, who was present, for his opinion on the subject. His
answer was, “I am not exactly the person to give an unbiased[197]
opinion; but, as you ask me frankly, I will as frankly say, that
if George Stephenson had never lived, Sir Humphry Davy could
and most probably would have invented the safety-lamp; but
again, if Sir Humphry Davy had never lived, George Stephenson
certainly would have invented the safety-lamp, as I believe
he did, independently of all that Sir Humphry Davy had done in
the matter.”

To this day the Geordy lamp continues in regular use in the
Killingworth Collieries, and the Killingworth pitmen have expressed
to the writer their decided preference for it compared
with the Davy. It is certainly a strong testimony in its favor
that no accident is known to have arisen from its use since it was
generally introduced into the Killingworth pits.





Stephenson’s experiments on fire-damp, and his labors in connection
with the invention of the safety-lamp, occupied but a
small portion of his time, which was necessarily devoted, for the
most part, to the ordinary business of the colliery. From the
day of his appointment as engine-wright, one of the subjects
which particularly occupied his attention was the best practical
method of winning and raising the coal. Nicholas Wood has
said of him that he was one of the first to introduce steam machinery
underground with that object. Indeed, the Killingworth
mines came to be regarded as the models of the district; and
when Mr. Robert Bald, the celebrated Scotch mining engineer,
was requested by Dr. (afterward Sir David) Brewster to prepare
the article “Mine” for the “Edinburg Encyclopædia,” he proceeded
to Killingworth principally for the purpose of examining
Stephenson’s underground machinery. Mr. Bald has favored us
with an account of his visit made with that object in 1818, and
he states that he was much struck with the novelty, as well as
the remarkable efficiency of Stephenson’s arrangements, especially
in regard to what is called the underdip working.

“I found,” he says, “that a mine had been commenced near the
main pit-bottom, and carried forward down the dip or slope of the
coal, the rate of dip being about one in twelve; and the coals were
drawn from the dip to the pit-bottom by the steam machinery in a
very rapid manner. The water which oozed from the upper winning
was disposed of at the pit-bottom in a barrel or trunk, and
was drawn up by the power of the engine which worked the other
machinery. The dip at the time of my visit was nearly a mile in
length, but has since been greatly extended. As I was considerably
tired by my wanderings in the galleries, when I arrived at the[199]
forehead of the dip, Mr. Stephenson said to me, ‘You may very
speedily be carried up to the rise by laying yourself flat upon the
coal-baskets,’ which were laden and ready to be taken up the incline.
This I at once did, and was straightway wafted on the wings
of fire to the bottom of the pit, from whence I was borne swiftly up
to the light by the steam machinery on the pit-head.”

The whole of the working arrangements seemed to Mr. Bald
to be conducted in the most skillful and efficient manner, reflecting
the highest credit on the colliery engineer.

Besides attending to the underground arrangements, the improved
transit of the coals above ground from the pit-head to the
shipping-place demanded an increasing share of Stephenson’s attention.
Every day’s experience convinced him that the locomotive
constructed by him after his patent of the year 1815 was far
from perfect, though he continued to entertain confident hopes
of its complete eventual success. He even went so far as to say
that the locomotive would yet supersede every other traction-power
for drawing heavy loads. It is true, many persons continued
to regard his traveling engine as little better than a dangerous
curiosity; and some, shaking their heads, predicted for it “a
terrible blow-up some day.” Nevertheless, it was daily performing
its work with regularity, dragging the coal-wagons between
the colliery and the staiths, and saving the labor of many men
and horses.

There was not, however, so marked a saving in the expense of
haulage as to induce the colliery masters to adopt locomotive
power generally as a substitute for horses. How it could be improved,
and rendered more efficient as well as economical, was
constantly present to Stephenson’s mind. He was fully conscious
of the imperfections both in the road and the engine, and
gave himself no rest until he had brought the efficiency of both
up to a higher point. Thus he worked his way inch by inch,
slowly but surely, and every step gained was made good as a basis
for farther improvements.

At an early period of his labors, or about the time when he
had completed his second locomotive, he began to direct his particular
attention to the state of the Road, perceiving that the extended
use of the locomotive must necessarily depend in a great
measure upon the perfection, solidity, continuity, and smoothness[200]
of the way along which the engine traveled. Even at that early
period he was in the habit of regarding the road and the locomotive
as one machine, speaking of the Rail and the Wheel as
“Man and Wife.”

All railways were at that time laid in a careless and loose manner,
and great inequalities of level were allowed to occur without
much attention being paid to repairs. The consequence was a
great loss of power, as well as much wear and tear of the machinery,
by the frequent jolts and blows of the wheels against the
rails. Stephenson’s first object, therefore, was to remove the inequalities
produced by the imperfect junction between rail and

At that time (1816) the rails were made of cast iron, each rail
being about three feet long; and sufficient care was not taken to
maintain the points of junction on the same level. The chairs,
or cast-iron pedestals into which the rails were inserted, were flat
at the bottom, so that whenever any disturbance took place in the
stone blocks or sleepers supporting them, the flat base of the chair
upon which the rails rested being tilted by unequal subsidence,
the end of one rail became depressed, while that of the other was
elevated. Hence constant jolts and shocks, the reaction of which
very often caused the fracture of the rails, and occasionally threw
the engine off the road.


To remedy this imperfection, Mr. Stephenson devised a new
chair, with an entirely new mode of fixing the rails therein. Instead
of adopting the butt-joint which had hitherto been used in
all cast-iron rails, he adopted the half-lap joint, by which means
the rails extended a certain
distance over each
other at the ends like a
scarf-joint. These ends,
instead of resting on the
flat chair, were made to
rest upon the apex of a
curve forming the bottom of the chair. The supports were also
extended from three feet to three feet nine inches or four feet
apart. These rails were accordingly substituted for the old cast-iron
plates on the Killingworth Colliery Railway, and they were
found to be a very great improvement on the previous system,[201]
adding both to the efficiency of the horse-power (still used on the
railway) and to the smooth action of the locomotive engine, but
more particularly increasing the efficiency of the latter.

This improved form of the rail and chair was embodied in a
patent taken out in the joint names of Mr. Losh, of Newcastle,
iron founder, and of Mr. Stephenson, bearing date the 30th of
September, 1816. Mr. Losh being a wealthy, enterprising iron-manufacturer,
and having confidence in George Stephenson and
his improvements, found the money for the purpose of taking
out the patent, which in those days was a very costly as well as
troublesome affair. At the same time, Mr. Losh guaranteed Stephenson
a salary of £100 per annum, with a share in the profits
arising from his inventions, conditional on his attending at the
Walker Iron-works two days a week—an arrangement to which
the owners of the Killingworth Colliery cheerfully gave their


The specification of 1816 included various important improvements
in the locomotive itself. The wheels of the engine were
improved, being altered from cast to malleable iron, in whole or
in part, by which they were made lighter as well as more durable
and safe. The patent also included the ingenious and original[202]
contrivance by which the steam generated in the boiler was made
to serve as a substitute for springs—an expedient already explained
in a preceding chapter.

The result of the actual working of the new locomotive on the
improved road amply justified the promises held forth in the
specification. The traffic was conducted with greater regularity
and economy, and the superiority of the engine, as compared with
horse traction, became still more marked. And it is a fact worthy
of notice, that the identical engines constructed by Stephenson in
1816 are to this day in regular useful work upon the Killingworth
Railway, conveying heavy coal-trains at the speed of between five
and six miles an hour, probably as economically as any of the
more perfect locomotives now in use.

George Stephenson’s endeavors having been attended with such
marked success in the adaptation of locomotive power to railways,
his attention was called by many of his friends, about the year
1818, to the application of steam to traveling on common roads.
It was from this point, indeed, that the locomotive had started,
Trevithick’s first engine having been constructed with this special
object. Stephenson’s friends having observed how far behind he
had left the original projector of the locomotive in its application
to railroads, perhaps naturally inferred that he would be equally
successful in applying it to the purpose for which Trevithick and
Vivian had intended their first engine. But the accuracy with
which he estimated the resistance to which loads were exposed
on railways, arising from friction and gravity, led him at a very
early stage to reject the idea of ever applying steam-power economically
to common road traveling. In October, 1818, he made
a series of careful experiments, in conjunction with Mr. Nicholas
Wood, on the resistance to which carriages were exposed on railways,
testing the results by means of a dynamometer of his own
contrivance. The series of practical observations made by means
of this instrument were interesting, as the first systematic attempt
to determine the precise amount of resistance to carriages moving
along railways. It was then for the first time ascertained by
experiment that the friction was a constant quantity at all velocities.
Although this theory had long before been developed
by Vince and Coulomb, and was well known to scientific men as
an established truth, yet, at the time when Stephenson made his[203]
experiments, the deductions of philosophers on the subject were
neither believed in nor acted upon by practical engineers. To
quote again from the MS. account supplied to the author by
Robert Stephenson for the purposes of his father’s “Life:”

“It was maintained by many that the results of the experiments
led to the greatest possible mechanical absurdities. For instance,
it was maintained that, if friction were constant at all velocities
upon a level railway, when once a power was applied to a carriage
which exceeded the friction of that carriage by the smallest possible
amount, that same small excess of power would be able to convey
the carriage along a level railway at all conceivable velocities.
When this position was put by those who opposed the conclusions
at which my father had arrived, he felt great hesitation in maintaining
his own views; for it appeared to him at first sight really
to be—as it was put by his opponents—an absurdity. Frequent
repetition, however, of the experiments to which I have alluded,
left no doubt upon his mind that his conclusion that friction was
uniform at all velocities was a fact which must be received as positively
established; and he soon afterward boldly maintained that
that which was an apparent absurdity was, instead, a necessary
consequence. I well remember the ridicule that was thrown upon
this view by many of those persons with whom he was associated
at the time. Nevertheless, it is undoubted, that, could you practically
be always applying a power in excess of the resistance, a
constant increase of velocity would of necessity follow without any
limit. This is so obvious to most professional men of the present
day, and is now so axiomatic, that I only allude to the discussion
which took place when these experiments of my father were announced
for the purpose of showing how small was the amount of
science at that time blended with engineering practice. A few
years afterward, an excellent pamphlet was published by Mr. Silvester
on this question; he took up the whole subject, and demonstrated
in a very simple and beautiful manner the correctness of all
the views at which my father had arrived by his course of experiments.

“The other resistances to which carriages were exposed were
also investigated experimentally by my father. He perceived that
these resistances were mainly three—the first being upon the axles
of the carriage; the second, which may be called the rolling resistance,
being between the circumference of the wheel and the
surface of the rail; and the third being the resistance of gravity.


“The amount of friction and gravity he accurately ascertained;
but the rolling resistance was a matter of greater difficulty, for it
was subject to great variation. He, however, satisfied himself that
it was so great, when the surface presented to the wheel was of a
rough character, that the idea of working steam-carriages economically
on common roads was out of the question. Even so early as
the period alluded to he brought his theoretical calculations to a
practical test; he scattered sand upon the rails when an engine
was running, and found that a small quantity was quite sufficient
to retard and even stop the most powerful locomotive engine that
he had at that time made. And he never failed to urge this conclusive
experiment upon the attention of those who were wasting
their money and time upon the vain attempt to apply steam to
common roads.

“The following were the principal arguments which influenced
his mind to work out the use of the locomotive in a directly opposite
course to that pursued by a number of ingenious inventors,
who, between 1820 and 1836, were engaged in attempting to apply
steam-power to turnpike roads. Having ascertained that resistance
might be taken as represented by 10 lbs. to a ton weight on a level
railway, it became obvious to him that so small a rise as 1 in 100
would diminish the useful effort of a locomotive by upward of fifty
per cent. This fact called my father’s attention to the question of
gradients in future locomotive lines. He then became convinced
of the vital importance, in an economical point of view, of reducing
the country through which a railway was intended to pass to as
near a level as possible. This originated in his mind the distinctive
character of railway works as contradistinguished from all other
roads; for in railroads he early contended that large sums would
be wisely expended in perforating barriers of hills with long tunnels,
and in raising low ground with the excess cut down from the
adjacent high ground. In proportion as these views fixed themselves
upon his mind, and were corroborated by his daily experience,
he became more and more convinced of the hopelessness of
applying steam locomotion to common roads; for every argument
in favor of a level railway was an argument against the rough and
hilly course of a common road. He never ceased to urge upon the
patrons of road steam-carriages that if, by any amount of ingenuity,
an engine could be made which could by possibility traverse a
turnpike road at a speed at least equal to that obtainable by horse-power,
and at a less cost, such an engine, if applied to the more
perfect surface of a railway, would have its efficiency enormously[205]
enhanced. For instance, he calculated that if an engine had been
constructed, and had been found to travel uniformly between London
and Birmingham at an average speed of 10 miles an hour—conveying,
say, 20 or 30 passengers at a cost of 1s. per mile, it was
clear that the same engine, if applied to a railway, instead of conveying
20 or 30 people, would have conveyed 200 or 300 people,
and instead of a speed of 10 or 12 miles an hour, a speed of at least
30 to 40 miles an hour would have been obtained.”

At this day it is difficult to understand how the sagacious and
strong common-sense views of Stephenson on this subject failed
to force themselves sooner upon the minds of those who were
persisting in their vain though ingenious attempts to apply locomotive
power to ordinary roads. For a long time they continued
to hold with obstinate perseverance to the belief that for such
purposes a soft road was better than a hard one—a road easily
crushed better than one incapable of being crushed; and they
held to this after it had been demonstrated in all parts of the
mining districts that iron tram-ways were better than paved
roads. But the fallacy that iron was incapable of adhesion upon
iron continued to prevail, and the projectors of steam-traveling
on common roads only shared in the common belief. They still
considered that roughness of surface was essential to produce
“bite,” especially in surmounting acclivities; the truth being
that they confounded roughness of surface with tenacity of surface
and contact of parts, not perceiving that a yielding surface
which would adapt itself to the tread of the wheel could never
become an unyielding surface to form a fulcrum for its progression.

Although Stephenson’s locomotive engines were in daily use
for many years on the Killingworth Railway, they excited comparatively
little interest. They were no longer experimental, but
had become an established tractive power. The experience of
years had proved that they worked more steadily, drew heavier
loads, and were, on the whole, considerably more economical than
horses. Nevertheless, eight years passed before another locomotive
railway was constructed and opened for the purposes of coal
or other traffic.

It is difficult to account for this early indifference on the part
of the public to the merits of the greatest mechanical invention[206]
of the age. Steam-carriages were exciting much interest, and
numerous and repeated experiments were made with them. The
improvements effected by M’Adam in the mode of constructing
turnpike roads were the subject of frequent discussions in the
Legislature, on the grants of public money being proposed, which
were from time to time made to him. Yet here at Killingworth,
without the aid of a farthing of government money, a system
of road locomotion had been in existence since 1814, which was
destined, before many years, to revolutionize the internal communications
of England and of the world, but of which the English
public and the English government as yet knew nothing.

But Stephenson had no means of bringing his important invention
prominently under the notice of the public. He himself
knew well its importance, and he already anticipated its eventual
general adoption; but, being an unlettered man, he could not
give utterance to the thoughts which brooded within him on the
subject. Killingworth Colliery lay far from London, the centre
of scientific life in England. It was visited by no savans nor
literary men, who might have succeeded in introducing to notice
the wonderful machine of Stephenson. Even the local chroniclers
seem to have taken no notice of the Killingworth Railway.
The “Puffing Billy” was doing its daily quota of hard work, and
had long ceased to be a curiosity in the neighborhood. Blenkinsop’s
clumsier and less successful engine—which has long since
been disused, while Stephenson’s Killingworth engines continue
working to this day—excited far more interest, partly, perhaps,
because it was close to the large town of Leeds, and used to be
visited by strangers as one of the few objects of interest in that
place. Blenkinsop was also an educated man, and was in communication
with some of the most distinguished personages of his
day on the subject of his locomotive, which thus obtained considerable

The first engine constructed by Stephenson to order, after the
Killingworth model, was made for the Duke of Portland in 1817,
for use upon his tram-road, about ten miles long, extending from
Kilmarnock to Troon, in Ayrshire. It was employed to haul the
coals from the duke’s collieries along the line to Troon harbor.
Its use was, however, discontinued in consequence of the frequent
breakages of the cast-iron rails, by which the working of the line[207]
was interrupted, and accordingly horses were again employed as

There seemed, indeed, to be so small a prospect of introducing
the locomotive into general use, that Stephenson—perhaps conscious
of the capabilities within him—again recurred to his old
idea of emigrating to the United States. Before entering as
sleeping partner in a small foundery at Forth Banks, Newcastle,
managed by Mr. John Burrell, he had thrown out the suggestion
to the latter that it would be a good speculation for them to emigrate
to North America, and introduce steam-boats on the great
inland lakes there. The first steamers were then plying upon the
Tyne before his eyes, and he saw in them the germ of a great
revolution in navigation. It occurred to him that the great lakes
of North America presented the finest field for trying their wonderful
powers. He was an engineer, and Mr. Burrell was an
iron-founder; and between them, he thought they might strike
out a path to fortune in the mighty West. Fortunately, this idea
remained a mere speculation so far as Stephenson was concerned,
and it was left to others to do what he had dreamed of achieving.
After all his patient waiting, his skill, industry, and perseverance
were at length about to bear fruit.

In 1819, the owners of the Hetton Colliery, in the county of
Durham, determined to have their wagon-way altered to a locomotive
railroad. The result of the working of the Killingworth
Railway had been so satisfactory that they resolved to adopt the
same system. One reason why an experiment so long continued
and so successful as that at Killingworth should have been so
slow in producing results perhaps was, that to lay down a railway
and furnish it with locomotives, or fixed engines where necessary,
required a very large capital, beyond the means of ordinary
coal-owners; while the small amount of interest felt in railways
by the general public, and the supposed impracticability of
working them to a profit, as yet prevented the ordinary capitalists
from venturing their money in the promotion of such undertakings.
The Hetton Coal Company were, however, possessed of[208]
adequate means, and the local reputation of the Killingworth
engine-wright pointed him out as the man best calculated to lay
out their line and superintend their works. They accordingly
invited him to act as the engineer of the proposed railway. Being
in the service of the Killingworth Company, Stephenson felt
it necessary to obtain their permission to enter upon this new
work. This was at once granted. The best feeling existed between
him and his employers, and they regarded it as a compliment
that their colliery engineer should be selected for a work so
important as the laying down of the Hetton Railway, which was
to be the longest locomotive line that had, up to that time, been
constructed in the neighborhood. Stephenson accepted the appointment,
his brother Robert acting as resident engineer and
personally superintending the execution of the works.

The Hetton Railway extended from the Hetton Colliery, situated
about two miles south of Houghton-le-Spring, to the ship-places
on the banks of the Wear, near Sunderland. Its length
was about eight miles; and in its course it crossed Warden Law,
one of the highest hills in the district. The character of the
country forbade the construction of a flat line, or one of comparatively
easy gradients, except by the expenditure of a much
larger capital than was placed at Stephenson’s command. Heavy
works could not be executed; it was therefore necessary to form
the line with but little deviation from the natural conformation
of the district which it traversed, and also to adapt the mechanical
methods employed for its working to the character of the gradients,
which in some places were necessarily heavy.

Although George Stephenson had, with every step made toward
its increased utility, become more and more identified with
the success of the locomotive engine, he did not allow his enthusiasm
to carry him away into costly mistakes. He carefully drew
the line between the cases in which the locomotive could be usefully
employed and those in which stationary engines were calculated
to be more economical. This led him, as in the instance
of the Hetton Railway, to execute lines through and over rough
countries, where gradients within the powers of the locomotive
engine of that day could not be secured, employing in their stead
stationary engines where locomotives were not practicable. In
the present case, this course was adopted by him most successfully.[209]
On the original Hetton line there were five self-acting
inclines—the full wagons drawing the empty ones up—and two
inclines worked by fixed reciprocating engines of sixty-horse power
each. The locomotive traveling engine, or “the iron horse,”
as the people of the neighborhood then styled it, worked the rest
of the line. On the day of the opening of the Hetton Railway,
the 18th of November, 1822, crowds of spectators assembled from
all parts to witness the first operations of this ingenious and powerful
machinery, which was entirely successful. On that day five
of Stephenson’s locomotives were at work upon the railway, under
the direction of his brother Robert; and the first shipment of
coal was then made by the Hetton Company at their new staiths
on the Wear. The speed at which the locomotives traveled was
about four miles an hour, and each engine dragged after it a
train of seventeen wagons weighing about sixty-four tons.

While thus advancing step by step—attending to the business
of the Killingworth Colliery, and laying out railways in the
neighborhood—he was carefully watching over the education of
his son. We have already seen that Robert was sent to school at
Newcastle, where he remained about four years. While Robert
was at school, his father, as usual, made his son’s education instrumental
to his own. He entered him a member of the Newcastle
Literary and Philosophical Institute, the subscription to
which was three guineas a year. Robert spent much of his leisure
hours there, reading and studying; and when he went home
in the afternoons, he was accustomed to carry home with him a
volume of the “Repertory of Arts and Sciences,” or of some
work on practical science, which furnished the subject of interesting
reading and discussion in the evening hours. Both father
and son were always ready to acknowledge the great advantages
they had derived from the use of so excellent a library of books;
and, toward the close of his life, the latter, in recognition of his
debt of gratitude to the institution, contributed a large sum for
the purpose of clearing off the debt, but conditional on the annual
subscription being reduced to a guinea, in order that the
usefulness of the Institute might be extended.

Robert left school in the summer of 1819, and was put apprentice
to Mr. Nicholas Wood, the head viewer at Killingworth, to
learn the business of the colliery. He served in that capacity for[210]
about three years, during which time he became familiar with
most departments of underground work. His occupation was
not unattended with peril, as the following incident will show.
Though the use of the Geordy lamp had become general in the
Killingworth pits, and the workmen were bound, under a penalty
of half a crown, not to use a naked candle, it was difficult to enforce
the rule, and even the masters themselves occasionally broke
it. One day Nicholas Wood, the head viewer, Moodie, the under
viewer, and Robert Stephenson, were proceeding along one of the
galleries, Wood with a naked candle in his hand, and Robert following
him with a lamp. They came to a place where a fall of
stones from the roof had taken place, on which Wood, who was
first, proceeded to clamber over the stones, holding high the naked
candle. He had nearly reached the summit of the heap, when
the fire-damp, which had accumulated in the hollow of the roof,
exploded, and instantly the whole party were blown down, and the
lights extinguished. They were a mile from the shaft, and quite
in the dark. There was a rush of the work-people from all quarters
toward the shaft, for it was feared that the fire might extend
to more dangerous parts of the pit, where, if the gas had exploded,
every soul in the mine must inevitably have perished. Robert
Stephenson and Moodie, on the first impulse, ran back at full
speed along the dark gallery leading to the shaft, coming into collision,
on their way, with the hind quarters of a horse stunned by
the explosion. When they had gone half way, Moodie halted,
and bethought him of Nicholas Wood. “Stop, laddie!” said he
to Robert, “stop; we maun gang back and seek the maister.” So
they retraced their steps. Happily, no farther explosion took
place. They found the master lying on the heap of stones, stunned
and bruised, with his hands severely burnt. They led him to
the bottom of the shaft; and he afterward took care not to venture
into the dangerous parts of the mine without the protection
of a Geordy lamp.

The time that Robert spent at Killingworth as viewer’s apprentice
was of advantage both to his father and himself. The evenings
were generally devoted to reading and study, the two from
this time working together as friends and co-laborers. One who
used to drop in at the cottage of an evening well remembers the
animated and eager discussions which on some occasions took[211]
place, more especially with reference to the growing powers of
the locomotive engine. The son was even more enthusiastic than
his father on the subject. Robert would suggest numerous alterations
and improvements in detail. His father, on the contrary,
would offer every possible objection, defending the existing arrangements—proud,
nevertheless, of his son’s suggestions, and often
warmed and excited by his brilliant anticipations of the ultimate
triumph of the locomotive.

These discussions probably had considerable influence in inducing
Stephenson to take the next important step in the education
of his son. Although Robert, who was only nineteen years of age,
was doing well, and was certain, at the expiration of his apprenticeship,
to rise to a higher position, his father was not satisfied
with the amount of instruction which he had as yet given him.
Remembering the disadvantages under which he had himself labored
through his ignorance of practical chemistry during his investigations
connected with the safety-lamp, more especially with
reference to the properties of gas, as well as in the course of his
experiments with the object of improving the locomotive engine,
he determined to furnish his son with a better scientific culture
than he had yet attained. He also believed that a proper training
in technical science was indispensable to success in the higher
walks of the engineer’s profession, and he determined to give
Robert the education, in a certain degree, which he so much desired
for himself. He would thus, he knew, secure an able co-worker
in the elaboration of the great ideas now looming before
him, and with their united practical and scientific knowledge he
probably felt that they would be equal to any enterprise.

He accordingly took Robert from his labors as under viewer in
the West Moor Pit, and in October, 1822, sent him for a short
course of instruction to the Edinburg University. Robert was
furnished with letters of introduction to several men of literary
eminence in Edinburg, his father’s reputation in connection with
the safety-lamp being of service to him in this respect. He lodged
in Drummond Street, in the immediate vicinity of the college,
and attended the Chemical Lectures of Dr. Hope, the Natural
Philosophy Lectures of Sir John Leslie, and the Natural History
Class of Professor Jameson. He also devoted several evenings
in each week to the study of practical Chemistry under Dr. John[212]
Murray, himself one of the numerous designers of a safety-lamp.
He took careful notes of the lectures, which he copied out at
night before he went to bed, so that, when he returned to Killingworth,
he might read them over to his father. He afterward had
the notes bound up and placed in his library.

Long years after, when conversing with Thomas Harrison, C.E.,
at his house in Gloucester Square, he rose from his seat and took
down a volume from the shelves. Mr. Harrison observed that the
book was in MS., neatly written out. “What have we here?” he
asked. The answer was, “When I went to college, I knew the
difficulty my father had in collecting the funds to send me there.
Before going I studied short-hand; while at Edinburg I took down
verbatim every lecture; and in the evenings, before I went to bed,
I transcribed those lectures word for word. You see the result
in that range of books.” From this it will be observed that the
maxim of “Like father, like son,” was one that strictly applied to
the Stephensons.

Robert was not without the pleasure of social intercourse either
during his stay at Edinburg. Among the letters of introduction
which he took with him was one to Robert Bald, the mining engineer,
which proved of much service to him. “I remember Mr.
Bald very well,” he said on one occasion, when recounting his
reminiscences of his Edinburg college life. “He introduced me
to Dr. Hope, Dr. Murray, and several of the distinguished men of
the North. Bald was the Buddle of Scotland. He knew my father
from having visited the pits at Killingworth, with the object
of describing the system of working them in his article intended
for the ‘Edinburg Encyclopædia.’ A strange adventure befell
that article before it appeared in print. Bald was living at Alloa
when he wrote it, and when finished he sent it to Edinburg
by the hands of young Maxton, his nephew, whom he enjoined
to take special care of it, and deliver it safely into the hands of
the editor. The young man took passage for New Haven by one
of the little steamers which then plied on the Forth; but on the
voyage down the Firth she struck upon a rock nearly opposite
Queen’s Ferry, and soon sank. When the accident happened,
Maxton’s whole concern was about his uncle’s article. He durst
not return to Alloa if he lost it, and he must not go on to Edinburg
without it. So he desperately clung to the chimney chains[213]
with the paper parcel under his arm, while most of the other passengers
were washed away and drowned. And there he continued
to cling until rescued by some boatmen, parcel and all, after
which he made his way to Edinburg, and the article duly appeared.”

Returning to the subject of his life in Edinburg, Robert continued:
“Besides taking me with him to the meetings of the
Royal and other societies, Mr. Bald introduced me to a very
agreeable family, relatives of his own, at whose house I spent
many pleasant evenings. It was there I met Jeannie M——.
She was a bonnie lass, and I, being young and susceptible, fairly
fell in love with her. But, like most very early attachments,
mine proved evanescent. Years passed, and I had all but forgotten
Jeannie, when one day I received a letter from her, from
which it appeared that she was in great distress through the ruin
of her relatives. I sent her a sum of money, and continued to do
so for several years; but the last remittance not being acknowledged,
I directed my friend Sanderson to make inquiries. I afterward
found that the money had reached her at Portobello just
as she was dying, and so, poor thing, she had been unable to acknowledge

One of the practical sciences in the study of which Robert
Stephenson took special interest while at Edinburg was that of
geology. The situation of the city, in the midst of a district of
highly interesting geological formation, easily accessible to pedestrians,
is indeed most favorable to the pursuit of such a study;
and it was the practice of Professor Jameson frequently to head
a band of his pupils, armed with hammers, chisels, and clinometers,
and take them with him on a long ramble into the country,
for the purpose of teaching them habits of observation, and reading
to them from the open book of Nature itself. The professor
was habitually grave and taciturn, but on such occasions he would
relax and even become genial. For his own special science he
had an almost engrossing enthusiasm, which on such occasions he
did not fail to inspire into his pupils, who thus not only got their
knowledge in the pleasantest possible way, but also fresh air and
exercise in the midst of glorious scenery and in joyous company.

At the close of this session, the professor took with him a select
body of his pupils on an excursion along the Great Glen of[214]
the Highlands, in the line of the Caledonian Canal, and Robert
formed one of the party. They passed under the shadow of Ben
Nevis, examined the famous old sea-margins known as the “parallel
roads of Glen Roy,” and extended their journey as far as
Inverness, the professor teaching the young men, as they traveled,
how to observe in a mountain country. Not long before
his death, Robert Stephenson spoke in glowing terms of the great
pleasure and benefit which he had derived from that interesting
excursion. “I have traveled far, and enjoyed much,” he said,
“but that delightful botanical and geological tour I shall never
forget; and I am just about to start in the Titania for a trip
round the east coast of Scotland, returning south through the
Caledonian Canal, to refresh myself with the recollection of that
first and brightest tour of my life.”

Toward the end of the summer the young student returned to
Killingworth to re-enter upon the active business of life. The
six months’ study had cost his father £80—a considerable sum to
him in those days; but he was amply repaid by the additional
scientific culture which his son had acquired, and the evidence of
ability and industry which he was enabled to exhibit in a prize
for mathematics which he had won at the University.


We may here add that by this time George Stephenson, after
remaining a widower fourteen years, had married, in 1820, his
second wife, Elizabeth Hindmarsh, the daughter of a respectable
farmer at Black Callerton. She was a woman of excellent character,[215]
sensible, and intelligent, and of a kindly and affectionate
nature. George’s son Robert, whom she loved as if he had been
her own, to the last day of his life spoke of her in the highest
terms; and it is unquestionable that she contributed in no small
degree to the happiness of her husband’s home.

The story was for some time current that, while living at Black
Callerton in the capacity of engine-man, twenty years before,
George had made love to Miss Hindmarsh, and, failing to obtain
her hand, in despair he had married Paterson’s servant. But the
author has been assured by Mr. Thomas Hindmarsh, of Newcastle,
the lady’s brother, that the story was mere idle gossip, and altogether
without foundation.




It is not improbable that the slow progress made by railways
in public estimation was, in a considerable measure, due to the
comparative want of success which had attended the first projects.
We do not refer to the tram-roads and railroads which
connected the collieries and iron-works with the shipping-places.
These were found convenient and economical, and their use became
general in Durham and Northumberland, in South Wales,
in Scotland, and throughout the colliery districts. But none of
these were public railways. Though the Merthyr Tydvil Tram-road,
the Sirhoway Railroad, and others in South Wales, were
constructed under the powers of special acts,[51] they were exclusively
used for the private purposes of the coal-owners and iron-masters
at whose expense they were made.

The first public Railway Act was that passed in 1801, authorizing
the construction of a line from Wandsworth to Croydon,
under the name of “The Surrey Iron Railway.” By a subsequent
act, powers were obtained to extend the line to Reigate,
with a branch to Godstone. The object of this railway was to
furnish a more ready means for the transport of coal and merchandise
from the Thames to the districts of south London, and
at the same time to enable the lime-burners and proprietors of
stone-quarries to send the lime and stone to London. With this
object, the railroad was connected with a dock or basin in Wandsworth
Creek capable of containing thirty barges, with an entrance
lock into the Thames.

The works had scarcely been commenced ere the company got
into difficulties, but eventually 26 miles of iron-way were constructed[217]
and opened for traffic. Any person was then at liberty
to put wagons on the line, and to carry goods within the prescribed
rates, the wagons being worked by horses, mules, and
donkeys. Notwithstanding the very sanguine expectations which
were early formed as to the paying qualities of this railway, it
never realized any adequate profit to the owners. But it continued
to be worked, principally by donkeys for the sake of cheapness,
down to the passing of the act for constructing the London
and Brighton line in 1837, when the proprietors disposed of their
undertaking to the new company. The line was accordingly dismantled;
the stone blocks and rails were taken up and sold; and
all that remains of the Wandsworth, Croydon, and Merstham Railway
is the track still observable to the south of Croydon, along
Smitham Bottom, nearly parallel with the line of the present
Brighton Railway, and an occasional cutting and embankment,
which still mark the route of this first public railway.

The want of success of this undertaking doubtless had the effect
of deterring projectors from embarking in any similar enterprise.
If a line of the sort could not succeed near London, it
was thought improbable that it should succeed any where else.
The Croydon and Merstham line was a beacon to warn capitalists
against embarking in railways, and many years passed before
another was ventured upon.

Sir Richard Phillips was one of the few who early recognized
the important uses of the locomotive and its employment on a
large scale for the haulage of goods and passengers by railway.
In his “Morning Walk to Kew” he crossed the line of the Wandsworth
and Croydon Railway, when the idea seems to have occurred
to him, as it afterwards did to Thomas Gray, that in the
locomotive and the railway were to be found the germs of a
great and peaceful social revolution:

“I found delight,” said Sir Richard, in his book published in 1813,
“in witnessing at Wandsworth the economy of horse labor on the
iron railway. Yet a heavy sigh escaped me as I thought of the inconceivable
millions of money which have been spent about Malta,
four or five of which might have been the means of extending
double lines of iron railway from London to Edinburg, Glasgow,
Holyhead, Milford, Falmouth, Yarmouth, Dover, and Portsmouth.
A reward of a single thousand would have supplied coaches and[218]
other vehicles, of various degrees of speed, with the best tackle for
readily turning out; and we might, ere this, have witnessed our
mail-coaches running at the rate of ten miles an hour drawn by a
single horse, or impelled fifteen miles an hour by Blenkinsop’s
steam-engine. Such would have been a legitimate motive for over-stepping
the income of a nation, and the completion of so great and
useful a work would have afforded rational ground for public triumph
in general jubilee.”

There was, however, as yet, no general recognition of the advantages
either of railways or locomotives. The government of
this country never leads in any work of public enterprise, and is
usually rather a drag upon industrial operations than otherwise.
As for the general public, it was enough for them that the Wandsworth
and Croydon Railway did not pay.

Mr. Tredgold, in his “Practical Treatise on Railroads and Carriages,”
published in 1825, observes:

“Up to this period railways have been employed with success
only in the conveyance of heavy mineral products, and for short
distances where immense quantities were to be conveyed. In the
few instances where they have been intended for the general purposes
of trade, they have never answered the expectations of their
projectors. But this seems to have arisen altogether from following
too closely the models adopted for the conveyance of minerals,
such modes of forming and using railways not being at all adapted
for the general purposes of trade.”

The ill success of railways was generally recognized. Joint-stock
companies for all sorts of purposes were formed during the
joint-stock mania of 1821, but few projectors were found daring
enough to propose schemes so unpromising as railways. Hence
nearly twenty years passed between the construction of the first
and the second public railway in England; and this brings
us to the projection of the Stockton and Darlington, which
may be regarded as the parent public locomotive railway in the

The district lying to the west of Darlington, in the county of
Durham, is one of the richest mineral fields of the North. Vast
stores of coal underlie the Bishop Auckland Valley, and from an
early period it was felt to be an exceedingly desirable object to
open up new communications to enable the article to be sent to[219]
market. But the district lay a long way from the sea, and, the
Tees being unnavigable, there was next to no vend for the Bishop
Auckland coal.

It is easy to understand, therefore, how the desire to obtain an
outlet for this coal for land sale, as well as for its transport to
London by sea, should have early occupied the attention of the
coal-owners in the Bishop Auckland district. The first idea that
found favor was the construction of a canal. About a century
ago, in 1766, shortly after the Duke of Bridgewater’s Canal had
been opened between Worsley and Manchester, a movement was
set on foot at Darlington with the view of having the country
surveyed between that place and Stockton-on-Tees.

Brindley was requested to lay out the proposed line of canal;
but he was engrossed at the time by the prosecution of the works
on the Duke’s Canal to Liverpool, and Whitworth, his pupil and
assistant, was employed in his stead; George Dixon, grandfather
of John Dixon, engineer of the future Stockton and Darlington
Railway, taking an active part in the survey. In October, 1768,
Whitworth presented his plan of the proposed canal from Stockton
by Darlington to Winston, and in the following year, to give
weight to the scheme, Brindley concurred with him in a joint
report as to the plan and estimate.

Nothing was, however, done in the matter. Enterprise was
slow to move. Stockton waited for Darlington, and Darlington
waited for Stockton, but neither stirred until twenty years later,
when Stockton began to consider the propriety of straightening
the Tees below that town, and thereby shortening and improving
the navigation. When it became known that some engineering
scheme was afoot at Stockton, that indefatigable writer of
prospectuses and drawer of plans, Ralph Dodd, the first projector
of a tunnel under the Thames, the first projector of the Waterloo
Bridge, and the first to bring a steam-boat from Glasgow
into the Thames, addressed the Mayor and Corporation of Stockton
in 1796 on the propriety of forming a line of internal navigation
by Darlington and Staindrop to Winston. Still nothing
was done. Four years later, another engineer, George Atkinson,
reported in favor of a water-way to connect the then projected
Great Trunk Canal, from about Boroughbridge to Piersebridge,
with the Tees above Yarm.


At length, in 1808, the Tees Navigation Company, slow in
their movements, obtained an act enabling them to make the
short cut projected seventeen years before, and two years later
the cut was opened, and celebrated by the inevitable dinner.
The Stockton people, who adopted as the motto of their company
“Meliora speramus,” held a public meeting after the dinner to
meditate upon and discuss the better things to come. They appointed
a committee to inquire into the practicability and advantages
of forming a railway or canal from Stockton by Darlington
to Winston. Here, then, in 1810, we have the first glimpse
of the railway; but it was long before the idea germinated and
bore fruit. The collieries must be got at to make the new cut a
success, but how for a long time remained the question.

Sixteen months passed, and the committee at Stockton went to
sleep. But it came up again, and this time at Darlington, with
Edward Pease as one of the members. The Darlington committee
met and made their report, but they could not decide between
the respective merits of a railroad and a canal. It was felt that
either would be of great advantage. To settle the question, they
determined to call the celebrated engineer, John Rennie, to their
aid, and he was ready with his report in 1813. His report was
not published, but it is understood that he was in favor of a canal
on Brindley and Whitworth’s line, though he afterward inclined
to a tram-road. Still nothing was done. War was on foot in
Europe, and enterprise was every where dormant. The scheme
must therefore wait the advent of peace. At length peace came,
and with it a revival of former projects.

At Newcastle, a plan was set on foot for connecting the Tyne
with the Solway Firth by a canal. A county meeting was held
on the subject in August, 1817, under the presidency of the high
sheriff. Previous to this time, Sir John Swinburne had stood up
for a railway in preference to a canal; but when the meeting
took place, the opinion of those present was in favor of a canal—Mr.
William Armstrong (father of the present Sir William) being
one of the most zealous advocates of the water-road. Yet
there were even then railroads in the immediate neighborhood of
Newcastle, at Wylam and Killingworth, which had been successfully
and economically worked by the locomotive for years past,
but which the Northumbrians seem completely to have ignored.[221]
The public head is usually very thick, and it is difficult to hammer
a new idea into it. Canals were established methods of conveyance,
and were every where recognized; whereas railways
were new things, and were struggling hard to gain a footing.
Besides, the only public railway in England, the Wandsworth,
Croydon, and Merstham, had proved a commercial failure, and
was held up as a warning to all speculators in tram-ways. But,
though the Newcastle meeting approved of a canal in preference
to a railway from the Tyne to the Solway, nothing was really
done to promote the formation of either.

The movement in favor of a canal was again revived at Stockton.
A requisition, very numerously signed by persons of influence
in South Durham, was presented to the Mayor of Stockton
in May, 1818, requesting him to convene a public meeting “to
consider the expediency of forming a canal for the conveyance
of coal, lime, etc., from Evenwood Bridge, near West Auckland,
to the River Tees, upon a plan recently made by Mr. George
Leatham, engineer.” Among the names attached to the petition
we find those of Edward, John, and Thomas Pease, and John
Dixon, Darlington. They were doubtless willing to pull with
any party that would open up a way, whether by rail or by water,
between the Bishop Auckland coal-field and Stockton, whether
the line passed through Darlington or not.

An enthusiastic meeting was held at Stockton, and a committee
was appointed, by whom it was resolved to apply to Parliament
for an act to make the intended canal “if funds are forthcoming.”
Never was there greater virtue in an if. Funds were
not forthcoming; the project fell through, and a great blunder
was prevented. When the Stockton men had discussed and resolved
without any practical result, the leading men of Darlington
took up the subject by themselves, determined, if possible, to
bring it to some practical issue. In September, 1818, they met
under the presidency of Thomas Meynell, Esq. Mr. Overton,
who had laid down several coal railways in Wales, was consulted,
and, after surveying the district between the Bishop Auckland
coal-field and the Tees, sent in his report. Mr. Rennie also
was again consulted. Both engineers gave their opinion in favor
of a railway by Darlington in preference to a canal by Auckland,
“whether taken as a line for the exportation of coal or as one[222]
for a local trade.” The committee accordingly reported in favor
of the railway.

It is curious now to look back at the modest estimate of traffic
formed by the committee. They considered that the export trade
in coal “might be taken, perhaps, at 10,000 tons a year, which is
about one cargo a week!” It was intended to haul the coal by
horse-power; a subsequent report stating “on undoubted authority”
that one horse of moderate power could easily draw downward
on the railway, between Darlington and Stockton, about ten
tons, and upward about four tons of loading, exclusively of the
empty wagons. No allusion was made to passengers in any of
the reports; nor did the committee at first contemplate the accommodation
of traffic of this description.

A survey of the line was then ordered, and steps were taken to
apply to Parliament for the necessary powers to construct the
railway. But the controversy was not yet at an end. Stockton
stood by its favorite project of a canal, and would not subscribe
a farthing toward the projected railway; but neither did it subscribe
toward the canal. The landlords, the road trustees, the
carriers, the proprietors of donkeys (by whom coals were principally
carried for inland sale), were strenuously opposed to the new
project; while the general public, stupid and skeptical, for the
most part stood aloof, quoting old saws and keeping their money
in their pockets.

Several energetic men, however, were now at the head of the
Stockton and Darlington Railway project, and determined to
persevere with it. Among these, the Peases were the most zealous.
Edward Pease might be regarded as the back-bone of the
concern. Opposition did not daunt him, nor failure discourage
him. When apparently overthrown and prostrate, he would rise
again like Antæus, stronger than before, and renew his efforts
with increased vigor. He had in him the energy and perseverance
of many men. One who knew him in 1818 said, “He was
a man who could see a hundred years ahead.” When the author
last saw him in 1854, a few years before his death, Mr. Pease was
in his eighty-eighth year; yet he still possessed the hopefulness
and mental vigor of a man in his prime. Still sound in health, his
eye had not lost its brilliancy, nor his cheek its color, and there was
an elasticity in his step which younger men might have envied.



In getting up a company for surveying and forming a railway,
Mr. Pease had great difficulties to encounter. The people of the
neighborhood spoke of it as a ridiculous undertaking, and predicted
that it would be ruinous to all concerned in it. Even those
most interested in the opening up of new markets for the sale of
their coal were indifferent, if not hostile. Mr. Pease nevertheless
persevered in the formation of a company, and he induced many
of his friends and relations to follow his example. The Richardsons
and Backhouses, members, like himself, of the Society of
Friends, influenced by his persuasion, united themselves with him;
and so many of the same denomination (having confidence in
these influential Darlington names) followed their example and
subscribed for shares, that the railway obtained the designation,
which it long retained, of “The Quakers’ Line.”

The Stockton and Darlington scheme had to run the gauntlet
of a fierce opposition in three successive sessions of Parliament.
The application of 1818 was defeated by the Duke of Cleveland,[224]
who afterward profited so largely by the railway. The ground
of his opposition was that the line would interfere with one of
his fox-covers, and it was mainly through his influence that the
bill was thrown out, but only by a majority of thirteen, upward
of one hundred members having voted for the bill. A nobleman
said, when he heard of the division, “Well, if the Quakers in these
times, when nobody knows any thing about railways, can raise
such a phalanx in their support, I should recommend the country
gentlemen to be very wary how they oppose them in future.”

The next year, in 1819, an amended survey of the line was
made, and, the duke’s fox-cover being avoided, his opposition was
thus averted; but, on Parliament becoming dissolved on the death
of George III., the bill was necessarily suspended until another

In the mean time the local opposition to the measure revived,
and now it was led by the road trustees, who spread it abroad that
the mortgagees of the tolls arising from the turnpike-road leading
from Darlington to West Auckland would be seriously injured
by the formation of the proposed railway. On this, Edward Pease
issued a printed notice, requesting any alarmed mortgagee to apply
to the company’s solicitors at Darlington, who were authorized
to purchase their securities at the prices originally given for them.
This notice had the effect of allaying the alarm spread abroad;
and the bill, though still strongly opposed, passed both houses of
Parliament in 1821.


The preamble of the act sets forth the public utility of the proposed[225]
line for the conveyance of coal and other commodities from
the interior of the county of Durham to Stockton and the northern
parts of Yorkshire. Nothing was said about passengers, for
passenger-traffic was not yet contemplated; and nothing was said
about locomotives, as it was at first intended to work the line entirely
by horse-power. The road was to be free to all persons
who chose to place their wagons and horses upon it for the haulage
of coal and merchandise, provided they paid the tolls fixed
by the act.

The company were empowered to charge fourpence a ton per
mile for all coal intended for land sale, but only a halfpenny a
ton per mile for coal intended for shipment at Stockton. This
latter proviso was inserted at the instance of Mr. Lambton, afterward
Earl of Durham, for the express purpose of preventing the
line being used in competition against his coal loaded at Sunderland;
for it was not believed possible that coal could be carried
at that low rate except at a heavy loss. As it was, however, the
rate thus fixed by the act eventually proved the vital element of
success in the working of the undertaking.

While the Stockton and Darlington Railway scheme was still
before Parliament, we find Edward Pease writing letters to a
York paper, urging the propriety of extending it southward into
Yorkshire by a branch from Croft. It is curious now to look
back upon the arguments by which Mr. Pease sought to influence
public opinion in favor of railways, and to observe the very
modest anticipations which even its most zealous advocate entertained
as to their supposed utility and capabilities:

“The late improvements in the construction of railways,” Mr.
Pease wrote, “have rendered them much more perfect than when
constructed after the old plan. To such a degree of utility have
they now been brought that they may be regarded as very little inferior
to canals

“If we compare the railway with the best lines of common road,
it may be fairly stated that in the case of a level railway the work
will be increased in at least an eightfold degree. The best horse is
sufficiently loaded with three quarters of a ton on a common road,
from the undulating line of its draught, while on a railway it is
calculated that a horse will easily draw a load of ten tons. At
Lord Elgin’s works, Mr. Stevenson, the celebrated engineer, states[226]
that he has actually seen a horse draw twenty-three tons thirteen
cwt. upon a railway which was in some parts level, and at other
parts presented a gentle declivity!

“The formation of a railway, if it creates no improvement in a
country, certainly bars none, as all the former modes of communication
remain unimpaired; and the public obtain, at the risk of the
subscribers, another and better mode of carriage, which it will always
be to the interest of the proprietors to make cheap and serviceable
to the community.

“On undertakings of this kind, when compared with canals, the
advantages of which (where an ascending or descending line can
be obtained) are nearly equal, it may be remarked that public opinion
is not easily changed on any subject. It requires the experience
of many years, sometimes ages, to accomplish this, even in
cases which by some may be deemed obvious. Such is the effect
of habit, and such the aversion of mankind to any thing like innovation
or change. Although this is often regretted, yet, if the
principle be investigated in all its ramifications, it will perhaps be
found to be one of the most fortunate dispositions of the human

“The system of cast-iron railways is as yet to be considered but
in its infancy. It will be found to be an immense improvement on
the common road, and also on the wooden railway. It neither presents
the friction of the tram-way, nor partakes of the perishable
nature of the wooden railway, and, as regards utility, it may be
considered as the medium between the navigable canal and the
common road. We may therefore hope that as this system develops
itself, our roads will be laid out as much as possible on one
, and in connection with the great lines of communication
throughout the country.”

Such were the modest anticipations of Edward Pease respecting
railways in the year 1821. Ten years later, an age of progress,
by comparison, had been effected.

Some time elapsed before any active steps were taken to proceed
with the construction of the railway. Doubts were raised
whether the line was the best that could be adopted for the district,
and the subscribers generally were not so sanguine about
the undertaking as to induce them to press it forward.

One day, about the end of the year 1821, two strangers knocked
at the door of Mr. Pease’s house in Darlington, and a message[227]
was brought to him that some persons from Killingworth wanted
to speak with him. They were invited in, on which one of the
visitors introduced himself as Nicholas Wood, viewer at Killingworth,
and then turning to his companion, he introduced him as
George Stephenson, engine-wright, of the same place.

Mr. Pease entered into conversation with his visitors, and was
soon told their object. Stephenson had heard of the passing of
the Stockton and Darlington Act, and desiring to increase his
railway experience, and also to employ in some larger field the
practical knowledge he had already acquired, he determined to
visit the known projector of the undertaking, with the view of
being employed to carry it out. He had brought with him his
friend Wood for the purpose at the same time of relieving his
diffidence and supporting his application.

Mr. Pease liked the appearance of his visitor: “there was,” as
he afterward remarked when speaking of Stephenson, “such an
honest, sensible look about him, and he seemed so modest and
unpretending. He spoke in the strong Northumbrian dialect of
his district, and described himself as ‘only the engine-wright at
Killingworth; that’s what he was.'”

Mr. Pease soon saw that our engineer was the very man for
his purpose. The whole plans of the railway were still in an undetermined
state, and Mr. Pease was therefore glad to have the
opportunity of profiting by Stephenson’s experience. In the
course of their conversation, the latter strongly recommended a
railway in preference to a tram-road. They also discussed the
kind of tractive power to be employed, Mr. Pease stating that
the company had based their whole calculations on the employment
of horse-power. “I was so satisfied,” said he afterward,
“that a horse upon an iron road would draw ten tons for one ton
on a common road, that I felt sure that before long the railway
would become the king’s highway.”

But Mr. Pease was scarcely prepared for the bold assertion
made by his visitor, that the locomotive engine with which he
had been working the Killingworth Railway for many years past
was worth fifty horses, and that engines made after a similar
plan would yet entirely supersede all horse-power upon railroads.
Stephenson was daily becoming more positive as to the superiority
of his locomotive, and hence he strongly urged Mr. Pease[228]
to adopt it. “Come over to Killingworth,” said he, “and see
what my engines can do; seeing is believing, sir.” Mr. Pease
accordingly promised that on some early day he would go over
to Killingworth, and take a look at the wonderful machine that
was to supersede horses.

The result of the interview was, that Mr. Pease promised to
bring Stephenson’s application for the appointment of engineer
before the directors, and to support it with his influence; whereon
the two visitors prepared to take their leave, informing Mr.
Pease that they intended to return to Newcastle “by nip;” that
is, they expected to get a smuggled lift on the stage-coach by
tipping Jehu—for in those days the stage-coachmen regarded all
casual roadside passengers as their proper perquisites. They had,
however, been so much engrossed by their conversation that the
lapse of time was forgotten, and when Stephenson and his friend
made inquiries about the return coach, they found the last had
left, and they had to walk eighteen miles to Durham on their
way back to Newcastle.

Mr. Pease having made farther inquiries respecting Stephenson’s
character and qualifications, and having received a very
strong recommendation of him as the right man for the intended
work, he brought the subject of his application before the directors
of the Stockton and Darlington Company. They resolved
to adopt his recommendation that a railway be formed instead of
a tram-road; and they farther requested Mr. Pease to write to
Stephenson, desiring him to undertake a resurvey of the line at
the earliest practicable period.

A man was dispatched on a horse with the letter, and when
he reached Killingworth he made diligent inquiry after the person
named on the address, “George Stephenson, Esquire, Engineer.”
No such person was known in the village. It is said that
the man was on the point of giving up all farther search, when
the happy thought struck some of the colliers’ wives who had
gathered about him that it must be “Geordie the engine-wright”
the man was in search of, and to Geordie’s cottage he accordingly
went, found him at home, and delivered the letter.

About the end of September Stephenson went carefully over
the line of the proposed railway for the purpose of suggesting
such improvements and deviations as he might consider desirable.[229]
He was accompanied by an assistant and a chainman, his son
Robert entering the figures while his father took the sights. After
being engaged in the work at intervals for about six weeks,
Stephenson reported the result of his survey to the Board of Directors,
and showed that, by certain deviations, a line shorter by
about three miles might be constructed at a considerable saving
in expense, while at the same time more favorable gradients—an
important consideration—would be secured.

It was, however, determined in the first place to proceed with
the works at those parts of the line where no deviation was proposed,
and the first rail of the Stockton and Darlington Railway
was laid with considerable ceremony, near Stockton, on the 23d
of May, 1822.

It is worthy of note that Stephenson, in making his first estimate
of the cost of forming the railway according to the instructions
of the directors, set down, as part of the cost, £6200 for
stationary engines, not mentioning locomotives at all. It was
the intention of the directors, in the first place, to employ only
horses for the haulage of the coals, and fixed engines and ropes
where horse-power was not applicable. The whole question of
steam-locomotive power was, in the estimation of the public, as
well as of practical and scientific men, as yet in doubt. The
confident anticipations of George Stephenson as to the eventual
success of locomotive engines were regarded as mere speculations;
and when he gave utterance to his views, as he frequently
took the opportunity of doing, it even had the effect of shaking
the confidence of some of his friends in the solidity of his judgment
and his practical qualities as an engineer.

When Mr. Pease discussed the question with Stephenson, his
remark was, “Come over and see my engines at Killingworth,
and satisfy yourself as to the efficiency of the locomotive. I will
show you the colliery books, that you may ascertain for yourself
the actual cost of working. And I must tell you that the economy
of the locomotive engine is no longer a matter of theory,
but a matter of fact.” So confident was the tone in which Stephenson
spoke of the success of his engines, and so important
were the consequences involved in arriving at a correct conclusion
on the subject, that Mr. Pease at length resolved on paying
a visit to Killingworth in the summer of 1822, in company with[230]
his friend Thomas Richardson, a considerable subscriber to the
Stockton and Darlington undertaking,[52] to inspect the wonderful
new power so much vaunted by their engineer.

When Mr. Pease arrived at Killingworth village, he inquired
for George Stephenson, and was told that he must go over to the
West Moor, and seek for a cottage by the roadside with a dial
over the door—”that was where George Stephenson lived.” They
soon found the house with the dial, and, on knocking, the door
was opened by Mrs. Stephenson. In answer to Mr. Pease’s inquiry
for her husband, she said he was not in the house at present,
but that she would send for him to the colliery. And in a
short time Stephenson appeared before them in his working dress,
just as he had come out of the pit.

He very soon had his locomotive brought up to the crossing
close by the end of the cottage, made the gentlemen mount it,
and showed them its paces. Harnessing it to a train of loaded
wagons, he ran it along the railroad, and so thoroughly satisfied
his visitors of its power and capabilities, that from that day Edward
Pease was a declared supporter of the locomotive engine.
In preparing the Amended Stockton and Darlington Act, at Stephenson’s
urgent request Mr. Pease had a clause inserted, taking
power to work the railway by means of locomotive engines, and
to employ them for the haulage of passengers as well as of merchandise[53]
The act was obtained in 1823, on which Stephenson
was appointed the company’s engineer, at a salary of £300 per
annum; and it was determined that the line should be constructed
and opened for traffic as soon as practicable.

He at once proceeded, accompanied by his assistants, with the
working survey of the line, laying out every foot of the ground
himself. Railway surveying was as yet in its infancy, and was
slow and difficult work. It afterward became a separate branch
of railway business, and was intrusted to a special staff. Indeed,
on no subsequent line did George Stephenson take the sights
through the spirit-level with his own hands and eyes as he did
on this railway. He started very early—dressed in a blue tailed
[231]coat, breeches, and top-boots—and surveyed until dusk. He was
not at any time particular as to his living; and, during the survey,
he took his chance of getting a little milk and bread at
some cottager’s house along the line, or occasionally joined in a
homely dinner at some neighboring farm-house. The country
people were accustomed to give him a hearty welcome when he
appeared at their door, for he was always full of cheery and
homely talk, and, when there were children about the house, he
had plenty of humorous chat for them as well as for their seniors.

After the day’s work was over, George would drop in at Mr.
Pease’s to talk over the progress of the survey, and discuss various
matters connected with the railway. Mr. Pease’s daughters
were usually present; and, on one occasion, finding the young
ladies learning the art of embroidery, he volunteered to instruct
them.[54] “I know all about it,” said he, “and you will wonder
how I learned it. I will tell you. When I was a brakesman at
Killingworth, I learned the art of embroidery while working the
pitmen’s button-holes by the engine fire at nights.” He was never
ashamed, but, on the contrary, rather proud, of reminding his
friends of these humble pursuits of his early life. Mr. Pease’s
family were greatly pleased with his conversation, which was
always amusing and instructive; full of all sorts of experience,
gathered in the oddest and most out-of-the-way places. Even at
that early period, before he mixed in the society of educated persons,
there was a dash of speculativeness in his remarks which
gave a high degree of originality to his conversation; and he
would sometimes, in a casual remark, throw a flash of light upon
a subject which called up a train of pregnant suggestions.

One of the most important subjects of discussion at these meetings
with Mr. Pease was the establishment of a manufactory at
Newcastle for the building of locomotive engines. Up to this
time all the locomotives constructed after Stephenson’s designs
had been made by ordinary mechanics working at the collieries
in the North of England. But he had long felt that the accuracy
and style of their workmanship admitted of great improvement,
and that upon this the more perfect action of the locomotive[232]
engine, and its general adoption, in a great measure depended.
One principal object that he had in view in establishing the
proposed factory was to concentrate a number of good workmen
for the purpose of carrying out the improvements in detail which
he was from time to time making in his engine; for he felt hampered
by the want of efficient help from skilled mechanics, who
could work out in a practical form the ideas of which his busy
mind was always so prolific. Doubtless, too, he believed that the
manufactory would prove a remunerative investment, and that,
on the general adoption of the railway system which he anticipated,
he would derive solid advantages from the fact of his establishment
being the only one of the kind for the special construction
of locomotive engines.

Mr. Pease approved of his design, and strongly recommended
him to carry it into effect. But there was the question of means;
and Stephenson did not think he had capital enough for the purpose.
He told Mr. Pease that he could advance £1000—the
amount of the testimonial presented by the coal-owners for his
safety-lamp invention, which he had still left untouched; but he
did not think this sufficient for the purpose, and he thought that
he should require at least another £1000. Mr. Pease had been
very much struck with the successful performances of the Killingworth
engine; and, being an accurate judge of character, he
believed that he could not go far wrong in linking a portion of
his fortune with the energy and industry of George Stephenson.
He consulted his friend Thomas Richardson in the matter, and
the two consented to advance £500 each for the purpose of establishing
the engine factory at Newcastle. A piece of land was
accordingly purchased in Forth Street, in August, 1823, on which
a small building was erected—the nucleus of the gigantic establishment
which was afterward formed around it; and active operations
were begun early in 1824.

While the Stockton and Darlington Railway works were in
progress, our engineer had many interesting discussions with
Mr. Pease on points connected with its construction and working,
the determination of which in a great measure affected the
formation and working of future railways. The most important
points were these: 1. The comparative merits of cast and
wrought iron rails. 2. The gauge of the railway. 3. The employment[233]
of horse or engine power in working it when ready
for traffic.

The kind of rails to be laid down to form the permanent road
was a matter of considerable importance. A wooden tram-road
had been contemplated when the first act was applied for; but
Stephenson having advised that an iron road should be laid down,
he was instructed to draw up a specification of the rails. He
went before the directors to discuss with them the kind of material
to be specified. He was himself interested in the patent for
cast-iron rails, which he had taken out in conjunction with Mr.
Losh in 1816, and, of course, it was to his interest that his articles
should be used. But when requested to give his opinion on
the subject, he frankly said to the directors, “Well, gentlemen, to
tell you the truth, although it would put £500 in my pocket to
specify my own patent rails, I can not do so after the experience
I have had. If you take my advice, you will not lay down a
single cast-iron rail.” “Why?” asked the directors. “Because
they will not stand the weight, and you will be at no end of expense
for repairs and relays.” “What kind of road, then,” he
was asked, “would you recommend?” “Malleable rails, certainly,”
said he; “and I can recommend them with the more confidence
from the fact that at Killingworth we have had some
Swedish bars laid down—nailed to wooden sleepers—for a period
of fourteen years, the wagons passing over them daily, and
there they are, in use yet, whereas the cast rails are constantly
giving way.”[55]

The price of malleable rails was, however, so high—being then
worth about £12 per ton as compared with cast-iron rails at about
£5 10s.—and the saving of expense was so important a consideration
with the subscribers, that Stephenson was directed to provide
in the specification that only one half of the rails required—or
about 800 tons—should be of malleable iron, and the remainder
of cast iron. The malleable rails were of the kind called
“fish-bellied,” and weighed 28 lbs. to the yard, being 2-1/4 inches[234]
broad at the top, with the upper flange 3/4 inch thick. They were
only 2 inches in depth at the points at which they rested on the
chairs, and 3-1/4 inches in the middle or bellied part.

When forming the road, the proper gauge had also to be determined.
What width was this to be? The gauge of the first
tram-road laid down had virtually settled the point. The gauge
of wheels of the common vehicles of the country—of the carts
and wagons employed on common roads, which were first used
on the tram-roads—was about 4 feet 8-1/2 inches. And so the first
tram-roads were laid down of this gauge. The tools and machinery
for constructing coal-wagons and locomotives were formed
with this gauge in view. The Wylam wagon-way, afterward the
Wylam plate-way, the Killingworth railroad, and the Hetton railroad,
were as nearly as possible on the same gauge. Some of
the earth-wagons used to form the Stockton and Darlington road
were brought from the Hetton Railway; and others which were
specially constructed were formed of the same dimensions, these
being intended to be afterward employed in the working of the

As the period drew near for the opening of the line, the question
of the tractive power to be employed was anxiously discussed.
At the Brusselton incline, fixed engines must necessarily
be made use of; but with respect to the mode of working the
railway generally, it was decided that horses were to be largely
employed, and arrangements were made for their purchase.

Although locomotives had been regularly employed in hauling
coal-wagons on the Middleton Colliery Railway, near Leeds, for
more than twelve years, and on the Wylam and Killingworth
Railways near Newcastle for more than ten years, great skepticism
still prevailed as to the economy of employing them for the
purpose in lieu of horses. In this case, it would appear that seeing
was not believing. The popular skepticism was as great at
Newcastle, where the opportunities for accurate observation were
the greatest, as any where else. In 1824 the scheme of a canal
between that town and Carlisle again came up, and, though a few
timid voices were raised on behalf of a railway, the general opinion
was still in favor of a canal. The example of the Hetton
Railway, which had been successfully worked by Stephenson’s
locomotives for two years past, was pointed to in proof of the[235]
practicability of a locomotive line between the two places; but
the voice of the press as well as of the public was decidedly
against the “new-fangled roads.”

“There has been some talk,” wrote the “Whitehaven Gazette,”
“from a puff criticism in the ‘Monthly Review,’ of an improvement
on the principle of railways; but we suspect that this improvement
will turn out like the steam-carriages, of which we
have been told so much, that were to supersede the use of horses
entirely, and travel at a rate almost equal to the speed of the
fleetest horse
!” The idea was too chimerical to be entertained,
and the suggested railway was accordingly rejected as impracticable.

The “Tyne Mercury” was equally decided against railways.
“What person,” asked the editor (November 16th, 1824), “would
ever think of paying any thing to be conveyed from Hexham to
Newcastle in something like a coal-wagon, upon a dreary wagon-way,
and to be dragged for the greater part of the distance by a
ROARING STEAM-ENGINE!” The very notion of such a thing was
preposterous, ridiculous, and utterly absurd.

When such was the state of public opinion as to railway locomotion,
some idea may be formed of the clearsightedness and
moral courage of the Stockton and Darlington directors in ordering
three of Stephenson’s locomotive engines, at a cost of several
thousand pounds, against the opening of the railway.

These were constructed after Stephenson’s most matured designs,
and embodied all the improvements which he had contrived
up to that time. No. 1 engine, the “Locomotion,” which
was first delivered, weighed about eight tons. It had one large
flue or tube through the boiler, by which the heated air passed
direct from the furnace at one end, lined with fire-bricks, to the
chimney at the other. The combustion in the furnace was quickened
by the adoption of the steam-blast in the chimney. The
heat raised was sometimes so great, and it was so imperfectly abstracted
by the surrounding water, that the chimney became almost
red-hot. Such engines, when put to their speed, were found
capable of running at the rate of from twelve to sixteen miles an
hour; but they were better adapted for the heavy work of hauling
coal-trains at low speeds—for which, indeed, they were specially
constructed—than for running at the higher speeds afterward[236]
adopted. Nor was it contemplated by the directors as
possible, at the time when they were ordered, that locomotives
could be made available for the purposes of passenger traveling.
Besides, the Stockton and Darlington Railway did not run through
a district in which passengers were supposed to be likely to constitute
any considerable portion of the traffic.

We may easily imagine the anxiety felt by George Stephenson
during the progress of the works toward completion, and his mingled
hopes and doubts (though his doubts were but few) as to the
issue of this great experiment. When the formation of the line
near Stockton was well advanced, the engineer one day, accompanied
by his son Robert and John Dixon, made a journey of
inspection of the works. The party reached Stockton, and proceeded
to dine at one of the inns there. After dinner, Stephenson
ventured on the very unusual measure of ordering in a bottle
of wine, to drink success to the railway. John Dixon relates with
pride the utterance of the master on the occasion. “Now, lads,”
said he to the two young men, “I venture to tell you that I think
you will live to see the day when railways will supersede almost
all other methods of conveyance in this country—when mail-coaches
will go by railway, and railroads will become the great
highways for the king and all his subjects. The time is coming
when it will be cheaper for a working man to travel on a railway
than to walk on foot. I know there are great and almost insurmountable
difficulties to be encountered, but what I have said
will come to pass as sure as you now hear me. I only wish I
may live to see the day, though that I can scarcely hope for, as
I know how slow all human progress is, and with what difficulty
I have been able to get the locomotive introduced thus far, notwithstanding
my more than ten years’ successful experiment at
Killingworth.” The result, however, outstripped even George
Stephenson’s most sanguine anticipations; and his son Robert,
shortly after his return from America in 1827, saw his father’s
locomotive adopted as the tractive power on railways generally.

Tuesday, the 27th of September, 1825, was a great day for Darlington.
The railway, after having been under construction for
more than three years, was at length about to be opened. The
project had been the talk of the neighborhood for so long that
there were few people within a range of twenty miles who did[237]
not feel more or less interested about it. Was it to be a failure
or a success? Opinions were pretty equally divided as to the
railway, but as regarded the locomotive the general belief was
that it would “never answer.” However, there the locomotive
was—”No. 1″—delivered on to the line, and ready to draw the
first train of wagons on the opening day.

A great concourse of people assembled on the occasion. Some
came from Newcastle and Durham, many from the Aucklands,
while Darlington held a general holiday, and turned out all its
population. To give éclat to the opening, the directors of the
company issued a programme of the proceedings, intimating the
times at which the procession of wagons would pass certain points
along the line. The proprietors assembled as early as six in the
morning at the Brusselton fixed engine, where the working of
the inclined planes was successfully rehearsed. A train of wagons
laden with coals and merchandise was drawn up the western
incline by the fixed engine, a length of 1960 yards, in seven and
a half minutes, and then lowered down the incline on the eastern
side of the hill, 880 yards, in five minutes.

At the foot of the incline the procession of vehicles was formed,
consisting of the locomotive engine No. 1, driven by George
Stephenson himself; after it six wagons loaded with coals and
flour, then a covered coach containing directors and proprietors,
next twenty-one coal-wagons fitted up for passengers (with which
they were crammed), and lastly six more wagons loaded with

Strange to say, a man on a horse, carrying a flag, with the
motto of the company inscribed on it, Periculum privatum utilitas
, headed the procession! A lithographic view of the
great event, published shortly after, duly exhibits the horseman
and his flag. It was not thought so dangerous a place after all.
The locomotive was only supposed to be able to go at the rate of
from four to six miles an hour, and an ordinary horse could easily
keep ahead of that.

Off started the procession, with the horseman at its head. A
great concourse of people stood along the line. Many of them
tried to accompany it by running, and some gentlemen on horseback
galloped across the fields to keep up with the train. The
railway descending with a gentle incline toward Darlington, the[238]
rate of speed was consequently variable. At a favorable part of
the road Stephenson determined to try the speed of the engine,
and he called upon the horseman with the flag to get out of the
way! Most probably, deeming it unnecessary to carry his Periculum
farther, the horseman turned aside, and Stephenson
“put on the steam.” The speed was at once raised to
twelve miles an hour, and, at a favorable part of the road, to fifteen.
The runners on foot, the gentlemen on horseback, and the
horseman with the flag, were consequently soon left far behind.
When the train reached Darlington, it was found that four hundred
and fifty passengers occupied the wagons, and that the load
of men, coals, and merchandise amounted to about ninety tons.

[Fac-simile of a local lithograph.]

At Darlington the procession was rearranged. The six loaded
coal-wagons were left behind, and other wagons were taken on
with a hundred and fifty more passengers, together with a band
of music. The train then started for Stockton—a distance of
only twelve miles—which was reached in about three hours. The
day was kept throughout the district as a holiday; and horses,
gigs, carts, and other vehicles, filled with people, stood along the
railway, as well as crowds of persons on foot, waiting to see the
train pass. The whole population of Stockton turned out to receive
the procession, and, after a walk through the streets, the[239]
inevitable dinner in the Town Hall wound up the day’s proceedings.

All this, however, was but gala work. The serious business
of the company began on the following day. Upon the result
of the experiment now fairly initiated by the Stockton and Darlington
Company the future of railways in a great measure depended.
If it failed, like the Wandsworth, Croydon, and Merstham
undertaking, then a great check would unquestionably be
given to speculation in railways. If it succeeded, the Stockton
and Darlington enterprise would mark the beginning of a new
era, and issue in neither more nor less than a complete revolution
of the means of communication in all civilized countries.

The circumstances were on the whole favorable, and boded
success rather than failure. Prudent, careful, thoughtful men
were at the head of the concern, interested in seeing it managed
economically and efficiently; and they had the advantage of the
assistance of an engineer possessed of large resources of mother
wit, mechanical genius, and strong common sense. There was
an almost unlimited quantity of coal to be carried, the principal
difficulty being in accommodating it satisfactorily. Yet it was
only after the line had been at work for some time that the extensive
character of the coal traffic began to be appreciated. At
first it was supposed that the chief trade would be in coal for
land sale. But the clause inserted in the original act, at the instance
of Mr. Lambton, by which the company were limited to
1/2d. per ton per mile for coal led to Stockton for shipment, led to
the most unexpected consequences. It was estimated that only
about 10,000 tons a year would be shipped, and that principally
by way of ballast. Instead of which, in the course of a very few
years, the coal carried on the line for export constituted the main
bulk of the traffic, while that carried for land sale was merely
The anticipations of the company as to passenger-traffic were
in like manner more than realized. At first passengers were
not thought of, and it was only while the works were in progress
that the starting of a passenger-coach was seriously contemplated.
Some eighty years since there was only one post-chaise in Darlington,
which ran on three wheels. There are people still living
who remember when a coach ran from Stockton three days in
the week, passing through Darlington and Barnard Castle; but
it was starved off the road for want of support. There was then
very little intercourse between the towns, though they were so
near to each other, and comparatively so populous; and it was
not known whether people would trust themselves to the iron
road. Nevertheless, it was determined to make trial of a railway
coach, and George Stephenson was authorized to have one built
at Newcastle at the cost of the company. This was done accordingly,
and the first railway passenger-carriage was built after our
engineer’s design. It was, however, a very modest, and, indeed,
a somewhat uncouth machine, more resembling a showman’s caravan
than a passenger-coach of any extant form. A row of seats
ran along each side of the interior, and a long deal table was
fixed in the centre, the access being by means of a door at the
back end, in the manner of an omnibus. This coach arrived
from Newcastle on the day before the opening, and formed part
of the procession above described. Stephenson was consulted as
to the name of the coach, and he at once suggested the “Experiment;”
and by this name it was called. Such was the sole passenger-carrying
stock of the Stockton and Darlington Company
in the year 1825. But “The Experiment” proved the forerunner
of a mighty traffic; and long time did not elapse before it was
displaced, not only by improved coaches (still drawn by horses),
but afterward by long trains of passenger-carriages drawn by locomotive

The “Experiment” was fairly started as a passenger-coach on
the 10th of October, 1825, a fortnight after the opening of the[241]
line. It was drawn by one horse, and performed a journey daily
each way between the two towns, accomplishing the distance of
twelve miles in about two hours. The fare charged was a shilling,
without distinction of class; and each passenger was allowed
fourteen pounds of luggage free. The “Experiment” was not,
however, worked by the company, but was let to contractors, who
worked it under an arrangement whereby toll was paid for the
use of the line, rent of booking-cabins, etc.[57]


The speculation answered so well that several private coaching
companies were shortly after got up by innkeepers at Darlington
and Stockton for the purpose of running other coaches upon the
railroad, and an active competition for passenger-traffic sprang
up. The “Experiment,” being found too heavy for one horse to[242]
draw, besides being found an uncomfortable machine, was banished
to the coal district. Its place was then supplied by other
and better vehicles, though they were no other than old stage-coach
bodies purchased by the company, each mounted on an
under-frame with flange wheels. These were let on hire to the
coaching companies, who horsed and managed them under an arrangement
as to tolls, in like manner as the “Experiment” had
been worked. Now began the distinction of inside and outside
passengers, equivalent to first and second class, paying different
fares. The competition with each other upon the railway, and
with the ordinary stage-coaches upon the road, soon brought up
the speed, which was increased to ten miles an hour—the mail-coach
rate of traveling in those days, and considered very fast.

Mr. Clephan, a native of the district, has communicated to the
author the following account of the competition between the
rival coach companies:

“There were two separate coach companies in Stockton, and
amusing collisions sometimes occurred between the drivers, who
found on the rail a novel element for contention. Coaches can not
pass each other on the rail as on the road, and, as the line was single,
with four sidings in the mile, when two coaches met, or two
trains, or coach and train, the question arose which of the drivers
must go back. This was not always settled in silence. As to
trains, it came to be a sort of understanding that empty should give
way to loaded wagons; and as to trains and coaches, that passengers
should have preference over coals; while coaches, when they
met, must quarrel it out. At length, midway between sidings, a
post was erected, and the rule was laid down that he who had
passed the pillar must go on, and the ‘coming man’ go back. At
the Goose Pool and Early Nook it was common for the coaches to
stop, and there, as Jonathan would say, passengers and coachmen
‘liquored.’ One coach, introduced by an innkeeper, was a compound
of two mourning-coaches—an approximation to the real railway-coach,
which still adheres, with multiplying exceptions, to the
stage-coach type. One Dixon, who drove the ‘Experiment’ between
Darlington and Shildon, is the inventor of carriage-lighting
on the rail. On a dark winter night, having compassion on his passengers,
he would buy a penny candle, and place it lighted among
them on the table of the ‘Experiment’—the first railway-coach
(which, by the way, ended its days at Shildon as a railway cabin),[243]
being also the first coach on the rail (first, second, and third class
jammed all into one) that indulged its customers with light in

The traffic of all sorts increased so steadily and so rapidly that
considerable difficulty was experienced in working it satisfactorily.
It had been provided by the first Stockton and Darlington
Act that the line should be free to all parties who chose to use it
at certain prescribed rates, and that any person might put horses
and wagons on the railway, and carry for himself. But this arrangement
led to increasing confusion and difficulty, and could
not continue in the face of a large and rapidly-increasing traffic.
The goods trains got so long that the carriers found it necessary
to call in the aid of the locomotive engine to help them on their
way. Then mixed trains of passengers and merchandise began
to run; and the result was that the Railway Company found it
necessary to take the entire charge and working of the traffic.
In course of time new coaches were specially built for the better
accommodation of the public, until at length regular passenger-trains
were run, drawn by the locomotive engine, though this was
not until after the Liverpool and Manchester Company had established
this as a distinct branch of their traffic.

The three Stephenson locomotives were from the first regularly
employed to work the coal-trains, and their proved efficiency
for this purpose led to the gradual increase of the locomotive
power. The speed of the engine—slow though it seems now—was
in those days regarded as something marvelous. A race actually
came off between No. 1 engine, the “Locomotion,” and one
of the stage-coaches traveling from Darlington to Stockton by
the ordinary road, and it was regarded as a great triumph of mechanical
skill that the locomotive reached Stockton first, beating
the stage-coach by about a hundred yards! The same engine
continued in good working order in the year 1846, when it headed
the railway procession on the opening of the Middlesborough
and Redcar Railway, traveling at the rate of about fourteen miles
an hour. This engine, the first that traveled on the first public
locomotive railway, has recently been placed upon a pedestal in
front of the railway station at Darlington.

For some years, however, the principal haulage of the line was
performed by horses. The inclination of the gradients being toward[244]
the sea, this was perhaps the cheapest mode of traction, so
long as the traffic was not very large. The horse drew the train
along the level road until, on reaching a descending gradient,
down which the train ran by its own gravity, the animal was unharnessed,
when, wheeling round to the other end of the wagons,
to which a “dandy-cart” was attached, its bottom being only a
few inches from the rail, and bringing his step into unison with
the speed of the train, he leaped nimbly into his place in the hind
car, which was usually fitted with a well-filled hay-rack.


The details of the working were gradually perfected by experience,
the projectors of the line being scarcely conscious at first
of the importance and significance of the work which they had
taken in hand, and little thinking that they were laying the foundations
of a system which was yet to revolutionize the internal
communications of the world, and confer the greatest blessings
on mankind. It is important to note that the commercial results
of the enterprise were considered satisfactory from the opening
of the railway. Besides conferring a great public benefit upon
the inhabitants of the district, and throwing open entirely new
markets for the almost boundless stores of coal found in the
Bishop Auckland district, the profits derived from the traffic created[245]
by the railway enabled increasing dividends to be paid to
those who had risked their capital in the undertaking, and thus
held forth an encouragement to the projectors of railways generally,
which was not without an important effect in stimulating
the projection of similar enterprises in other districts. These results,
as displayed in the annual dividends, must have been eminently
encouraging to the astute commercial men of Liverpool
and Manchester, who were then engaged in the prosecution of
their railway. Indeed, the commercial success of the Stockton
and Darlington Company may be justly characterized as the turning-point
of the railway system. With that practical illustration
daily in sight of the public, it was no longer possible for Parliament
to have prevented its eventual extension.

Before leaving the subject of the Stockton and Darlington
Railway, we can not avoid alluding to one of its most remarkable
and direct results—the creation of the town of Middlesborough-on-Tees.
When the railway was opened in 1825, the site
of this future metropolis of Cleveland was occupied by one solitary
farm-house and its out-buildings. All round was pasture-land
or mud-banks; scarcely another house was within sight.
The corporation of the town of Stockton being unwilling or unable
to provide accommodation for the rapidly increasing coal
traffic, Mr. Edward Pease, in 1829, joined by a few of his Quaker
friends, bought about 500 or 600 acres of land five miles lower
down the river—the site of the modern Middlesborough—for the
purpose of there forming a new sea-port for the shipment of coals
brought to the Tees by the railway. The line was accordingly
extended thither; docks were excavated; a town sprang up;
churches, chapels, and schools were built, with a custom-house,
mechanics’ institute, banks, ship-building yards, and iron factories,
and in a few years the port of Middlesborough became one
of the most thriving on the northeast coast of England. In ten
years a busy population of some 6000 persons (since swelled to
about 25,000) occupied the site of the original farm-house. More
recently, the discovery of vast stores of ironstone in the Cleveland
Hills, close adjoining Middlesborough, has tended still more rapidly
to augment the population and increase the commercial importance
of the place.

It is pleasing to relate, in connection with this great work—the[246]
Stockton and Darlington Railway, projected by Edward Pease
and executed by George Stephenson—that when Mr. Stephenson
became a prosperous and a celebrated man, he did not forget the
friend who had taken him by the hand, and helped him on in his
early days. He continued to remember Mr. Pease with gratitude
and affection, and that gentleman, to the close of his life, was
proud to exhibit a handsome gold watch, received as a gift from
his celebrated protégé, bearing these words—”Esteem and gratitude:
from George Stephenson to Edward Pease.”





While the coal proprietors of the Bishop Auckland district
were taking steps to connect their collieries with the sea by means
of an iron railroad, the merchants of Liverpool and Manchester
were considering whether some better means could not be devised
for bringing these important centres of commerce and manufacture
into more direct connection.

There were canals as well as roads between the two places, but
all routes were alike tedious and costly, especially as regarded the
transit of heavy goods. The route by turnpike road was thirty-six
miles, by the Duke of Bridgewater’s Canal fifty miles, by the
Mersey and Irwell navigation the same, and by the Leeds and
Liverpool Canal fifty-six miles.

These were all overburdened with traffic. The roads were
bad, the tolls heavy, and the haulage expensive. The journey by
coach occupied from five to six hours, and by wagon nearly a
day. But very few heavy goods went by road. The canals nearly
monopolized this traffic, and, having contrived to keep up the
rates, the canal companies charged what they liked. They conducted
their business in a drowsy, sleepy, stupid manner. If the
merchant complained of delay, he was told to do better if he
could. If he objected to the rates, he was warned that if he did
not pay them promptly his goods might not be carried at all.

The canal companies were in a position to dictate their own
terms, and they did this in such a way as to disgust alike the senders
and the receivers of goods, so that both Liverpool and Manchester
were up in arms against them. Worse even than the
heavy charges for goods was the occasional entire stoppage of the
canals. Sometimes they were frozen up; sometimes they were
blocked by the press of traffic, so that goods lay on the wharves
unmoved for weeks together; and at some seasons it occupied a
longer time to bring cotton from Liverpool to Manchester by canal-boat[248]
than it had done to bring it from New York to Liverpool
by sailing ship.

Was there no way of remedying these great and admitted evils?
Were the commercial public to continue to be bound hand and
foot, and left at the mercy of the canal proprietors? Immense
interests at Liverpool and Manchester were at stake. The Liverpool
merchants wanted new facilities for sending raw material
inland, and the Manchester manufacturers for sending the manufactured
products back to Liverpool for shipment. Vast populations
had become settled in the towns of South Lancashire, to
whom it was of vital importance that the communication with
the sea should be regular, constant, and economical.

These considerations early led to the discussion of some improved
mode of transit from Liverpool into the interior for heavy
goods, and one of the most favored plans was that of a tram-road.
It was first suggested by the corn-merchants of Liverpool, who
had experienced the great inconveniences resulting from the canal
monopoly. One of the most zealous advocates of the tram-road
was Mr. Joseph Sandars, who took considerable pains to ascertain
the results of the working of the coal lines in the North,
both by horse and engine power, and he satisfied himself that
either method would, if adopted between Liverpool and Manchester,
afford the desired relief to the commercial and manufacturing
interests. The subject was ventilated by him in the local papers,
and in the course of the year 1821 Mr. Sandars succeeded in getting
together a committee of Liverpool gentlemen for the purpose
of farther considering the subject, and, if found practicable,
of starting a company with the object of forming a tram-road between
the two towns.

While the project was still in embryo, the rumor of it reached
the ears of Mr. William James, then of West Bromwich, an enthusiastic
advocate of tram-roads and railways. As a land-surveyor
and land-agent, as well as coal-owner, he had already laid down
many private railroads. He had also laid out and superintended
the execution and the working of canals, projected extensive
schemes of drainage and inclosure, and, on the whole, was one of
the most useful and active men of his time. But a series of unfortunate
speculations in mines having seriously impaired his fortunes,
he again reverted to his original profession of land-surveyor,[249]
and was so occupied in the neighborhood of Liverpool when
he heard of the scheme set on foot for the construction of the
proposed tram-road to Manchester.

He at once called upon Mr. Sandars and offered his services as
its surveyor. We believe he at first offered to survey the line at
his own expense, to which Mr. Sandars could not object; but his
means were too limited to enable him to do this successfully, and
Mr. Sandars and several of his friends agreed to pay him £300
for the survey, or at the rate of about £10 a mile. Mr. James’s
first interview with Mr. Sandars was in the beginning of July,
1821, when it was arranged that he should go over the ground
and form a general opinion as to the practicability of a tram-way.

A trial survey was then begun, but it was conducted with great
difficulty, the inhabitants of the district entertaining much prejudice
against the scheme. In some places Mr. James and his
surveying party had even to encounter personal violence. At St.
Helen’s one of the chain-men was laid hold of by a mob of colliers,
and threatened to be hurled down a coal-pit. A number
of men, women, and children assembled, and ran after the surveyors
wherever they made their appearance, bawling nicknames
and throwing stones at them. As one of the chain-men was
climbing over a gate one day, a laborer made at him with a pitchfork,
and ran it through his clothes into his back; other watchers
running up, the chain-man, who was more stunned than hurt,
took to his heels and fled. But that mysterious-looking instrument—the
theodolite—most excited the fury of the natives, who
concentrated on the man who carried it their fiercest execrations
and most offensive nicknames.

A powerful fellow, a noted bruiser, was hired by the surveyors
to carry the instrument, with a view to its protection against all
assailants; but one day an equally powerful fellow, a St. Helen’s
collier, cock of the walk in his neighborhood, made up to the
theodolite bearer to wrest it from him by sheer force. A battle
took place, the collier was soundly pommeled, but the natives
poured in volleys of stones upon the surveyors and their instruments,
and the theodolite was smashed in pieces.

Met by these and other obstructions, it turned out that the survey
could not be completed in time for depositing the proper[250]
plans, and the intended application to Parliament in the next session
could not be made. In the mean time, Mr. James proceeded
to Killingworth to see Stephenson’s locomotives at work. Stephenson
was not at home at the time, but James saw his engines,
and was very much struck by their power and efficiency. He
saw at a glance the magnificent uses to which the locomotive
might be applied. “Here,” said he, “is an engine that will, before
long, effect a complete revolution in society.” Returning to
Moreton-in-the-Marsh, he wrote to Mr. Losh (Stephenson’s partner
in the patent) expressing his admiration of the Killingworth engine.
“It is,” said he, “the greatest wonder of the age, and the
forerunner, as I firmly believe, of the most important changes in
the internal communications of the kingdom.” Shortly after,
Mr. James, accompanied by his two sons, made a second journey
to Killingworth, where he met both Losh and Stephenson. The
visitors were at once taken to where one of the locomotives was
working, and invited to “jump up.” The uncouth and extraordinary
appearance of the machine, as it came snorting along, was
somewhat alarming to the youths, who expressed their fears lest
it should burst; and they were with some difficulty induced to


The engine went through its usual performances, dragging a
heavy load of coal-wagons at about six miles an hour with apparent
ease, at which Mr. James expressed his extreme satisfaction,[251]
and declared to Mr. Losh his opinion that Stephenson “was
the greatest practical genius of the age,” and that, “if he developed
the full powers of that engine (the locomotive), his fame in
the world would rank equal with that of Watt.” Mr. James informed
Stephenson and Losh of his survey of the proposed tram-road
between Liverpool and Manchester, and did not hesitate to
state that he would thenceforward advocate the construction of a
locomotive railroad instead of the tram-road which had originally
been proposed.


Stephenson and Losh were naturally desirous of enlisting
James’s good services on behalf of their patent locomotive, for
as yet it had proved comparatively unproductive. They believed
that he might be able so to advocate it in influential quarters as
to insure its more extensive adoption, and with that object they
proposed to give him an interest in the patent. Accordingly,
they entered into an agreement by which they assigned to him
one fourth of any profits which might be derived from the use
of the patent locomotive on any railways constructed south of a
line drawn across England from Liverpool to Hull. The arrangement,
however, led to no beneficial results. Mr. James endeavored
to introduce the engine on the Moreton-on-Marsh Railway,
but it was opposed by the engineer of the line, and the attempt
failed. He next urged that a locomotive should be sent for trial
upon the Merstham tram-road; but, anxious though Stephenson[252]
was as to its extended employment, he was too cautious to risk an
experiment which might bring discredit upon the engine; and
the Merstham Road being only laid with cast-iron plates which
would not bear its weight, the invitation was declined.

The first survey made of the Liverpool and Manchester line
having been found very imperfect, it was determined to have a
second and more complete one made in the following year. Robert
Stephenson, though then a lad of only nineteen, had already
obtained some practical knowledge of surveying, having been engaged
on the preliminary survey of the Stockton and Darlington
Railway in the previous year, and he was sent over to Liverpool
by his father to give Mr. James such assistance as he could. Robert
Stephenson was present with Mr. James on the occasion on
which he tried to lay out the line across Chat Moss—a proceeding
which was not only difficult, but dangerous. The Moss was
very wet at the time, and only its edges could be ventured on.
Mr. James was a heavy, thick-set man; and one day, when endeavoring
to obtain a stand for his theodolite, he felt himself suddenly
sinking. He immediately threw himself down, and rolled
over and over until he reached firm ground again, in a sad mess.
Other attempts which he subsequently made to advance into the
Moss for the same purpose were abandoned for the same reason—the
want of a solid stand for the theodolite.

As Mr. James proceeded with his survey, he found a host of
opponents springing up in all directions, some of whom he conciliated
by deviations, but others refused to be conciliated on any
terms. Among these last were Lords Derby and Wilton, Mr.
Bradshaw, and the Strafford family. The proposed line passed
through their lands, and, regarding it as a nuisance, without the
slightest compensating advantage to them, they determined to oppose
it at every stage. Their agents drove the surveyors off their
land; the farmers set men at the gates armed with pitchforks to
resist their progress; and the survey proceeded with great difficulty.
Mr. James endeavored to avoid Lord Derby’s Knowsley
estate, but as he had received instructions from Messrs. Ewart
and Gladstone to lay out the line so as to enable it to be extended
to the docks, he found it difficult to accomplish this object
and at the same time avert the hostility of the noble lord. The
only large land-owners who gave the scheme their support were[253]
Mr. Legh and Mr. Wyrley Birch, who not only subscribed for
shares, but attended several public meetings, and spoke in favor
of the proposed railroad. Public opinion was, however, beginning
to be roused, and the canal companies began at length to
feel alarmed.

“At Manchester,” Mr. James wrote to Mr. Sandars, “the subject
engages all men’s thoughts, and it is curious as well as amusing to
hear their conjectures. The canal companies (southward) are alive
to their danger. I have been the object of their persecution and
hate; they would immolate me if they could; but if I can die the
death of Samson, by pulling away the pillars, I am content to die
with these Philistines. Be assured, my dear sir, that not a moment
shall be lost, nor shall my attention for a day be diverted from this
concern, which increases in importance every hour, as well as in the
certainty of ultimate success.”

Mr. James was one of the most enthusiastic of men, especially
about railways and locomotives. He believed, with Thomas Gray,
who brought out his book about this time, that railways were yet
to become the great high roads of civilization. The speculative
character of the man may be inferred from the following passage
in one of his letters to Mr. Sandars, written from London:

“Every Parliamentary friend I have seen—and I have many of
both houses—eulogizes our plan, and they are particularly anxious
that engines should be introduced in the south. I am now negotiating
about the Wandsworth Railroad. A fortune is to be made
by buying the shares, and introducing the engine system upon it.
I am confident capital will treble itself in two years. I do not
choose to publish my views here, and I wish to God some of our
Liverpool friends would take this advantage. I have bought some
shares, but my capital is locked up in unproductive lands and

As the survey of the Liverpool and Manchester line proceeded,
Mr. James’s funds fell short, and he was under the necessity of
applying to Mr. Sandars and his friends from time to time for
farther contributions. It was also necessary for him to attend to
his business as a surveyor in other parts of the country, and he
was at such times under the necessity of leaving the work to be
done by his assistants. Thus the survey was necessarily imperfect,
and when the time arrived for lodging the plans, it was[254]
found that they were practically worthless. Mr. James’s pecuniary
difficulties had also reached their climax. “The surveys
and plans,” he wrote to Mr. Sandars, “can’t be completed, I see,
till the end of the week. With illness, anguish of mind, and inexpressible
distress, I perceive I must sink if I wait any longer;
and, in short, I have so neglected the suit in Chancery I named
to you, that if I do not put in an answer I shall be outlawed.”

Mr. James’s embarrassments increased, and he was unable to
shake himself free from them. He was confined for many months
in the Queen’s Bench Prison, during which time this indefatigable
railway propagandist wrote an essay illustrative of the advantages
of direct inland communication by a line of engine railroad
between London, Brighton, and Portsmouth. Meanwhile
the Liverpool and Manchester scheme seemed to have fallen to
the ground. But it only slept. When its promoters found that
they could no longer rely on Mr. James’s services, they determined
to employ another engineer.

Mr. Sandars had by this time visited George Stephenson at
Killingworth, and, like all who came within reach of his personal
influence, was charmed with him at first sight. The energy which
he had displayed in carrying on the works of the Stockton and
Darlington Railway, now approaching completion; his readiness
to face difficulties, and his practical ability in overcoming them;
the enthusiasm which he displayed on the subject of railways
and railway locomotion, concurred in satisfying Mr. Sandars that
he was, of all men, the best calculated to help forward the undertaking
at this juncture; and having, on his return to Liverpool,
reported this opinion to the committee, they approved his
recommendation, and George Stephenson was unanimously appointed
engineer of the projected railway. On the 25th of May,
1824, Mr. Sandars wrote to Mr. James as follows:

“I think it right to inform you that the committee have engaged
your friend George Stephenson. We expect him here in a few
days. The subscription-list for £300,000 is filled, and the Manchester
gentlemen have conceded to us the entire management. I very
much regret that, by delays and promises, you have forfeited the
confidence of the subscribers. I can not help it. I fear now that
you will only have the fame of being connected with the commencement
of this undertaking.”


It will be observed that Mr. Sandars had held to his original
purpose with great determination and perseverance, and he gradually
succeeded in enlisting on his side an increasing number
of influential merchants and manufacturers both at Liverpool
and Manchester. Early in 1824 he published a pamphlet, in
which he strongly urged the great losses and interruptions to the
trade of the district by the delays in the forwarding of merchandise;
and in the same year he had a Public Declaration drawn
up, and signed by upward of 150 of the principal merchants of
Liverpool, setting forth that they considered “the present establishments
for the transport of goods quite inadequate, and that a
new line of conveyance has become absolutely necessary to conduct
the increasing trade of the country with speed, certainty,
and economy.”

A public meeting was then held to consider the best plan to
be adopted, and resolutions were passed in favor of a railroad.
A committee was appointed to take the necessary measures; but,
as if reluctant to enter upon their arduous struggle with the
“vested interests,” they first waited on Mr. Bradshaw, the Duke
of Bridgewater’s canal agent, in the hope of persuading him to increase
the means of conveyance, as well as to reduce the charges;
but they were met by an unqualified refusal. He would not improve
the existing means of conveyance; he would have nothing
to do with the proposed railway; and, if persevered in, he would
oppose it with all his power. The canal proprietors, confident in
their imagined security, ridiculed the proposed railway as a chimera.
It had been spoken about years before, and nothing had
come of it then; it would be the same now.

In order to form a better opinion as to the practicability of the
railroad, a deputation of gentlemen interested in the project proceeded
to Killingworth to inspect the engines which had been so
long in use there. They first went to Darlington, where they
found the works of the Stockton line in progress, though still unfinished.
Proceeding next to Killingworth with George Stephenson,
they there witnessed the performances of his locomotive engines.
The result of their visit was, on the whole, so satisfactory,
that on their return to Liverpool it was determined to form a
company of the proprietors for the construction of a double line
of railway between Liverpool and Manchester.


The original promoters of the undertaking included men of
the highest standing and local influence in Liverpool and Manchester,
with Charles Lawrence as chairman, Lister Ellis, Robert
Gladstone, John Moss, and Joseph Sandars as deputy chairmen;
while among the ordinary members of the committee were Robert
Benson, James Cropper, John Ewart, Wellwood Maxwell, and
William Rathbone, of Liverpool, and the brothers Birley, Peter
Ewart, William Garnett, John Kennedy, and William Potter, of

The committee also included another important name—that of
Henry Booth, then a corn-merchant of Liverpool, and afterward
the secretary and manager of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
Mr. Booth was a man of admirable business qualities, sagacious
and far-seeing, shrewd and practical, of considerable literary
ability, and he also possessed a knowledge of mechanics,
which afterward proved of the greatest value to the railway interest;
for to him we owe the suggestion of the multitubular
boiler in the form in which it has since been employed upon all
railways, and the coupling-screw, as well as other important mechanical
appliances which have come into general use.

The first prospectus, issued in October, 1824, set forth in clear
and vigorous language the objects of the company, the urgent
need of additional means of communication between Liverpool
and Manchester, and the advantages offered by the railway over
all other proposed expedients. It was shown that the water-carriers
not only exacted the most arbitrary terms from the public,
but were positively unable to carry the traffic requiring accommodation.
Against the indefinite continuance or recurrence of
those evils, said the prospectus, the public have but one security:
“It is competition that is wanted; and the proof of this assertion
may be adduced from the fact that shares in the Old Quay Navigation,
of which the original cost was £70, have been sold as high
as £1250 each!” The advantages of the railway over the canals
for the carriage of coals was also urged, and it was stated that
the charge for transit would be very materially reduced.

“In the present state of trade and of commercial enterprise (the
prospectus proceeded), dispatch is no less essential than economy.
Merchandise is frequently brought across the Atlantic from New
York to Liverpool in twenty-one days, while, owing to the various[257]
causes of delay above enumerated, goods have in some instances
been longer on their passage from Liverpool to Manchester. But
this reproach must not be perpetual. The advancement in mechanical
science renders it unnecessary—the good sense of the community
makes it impossible. Let it not, however, be imagined that,
were England to be tardy, other countries would pause in the march
of improvement. Application has been made, on behalf of the Emperor
of Russia, for models of the locomotive engine; and other of
the Continental governments have been duly apprised of the important
schemes for the facilitating of inland traffic, now under discussion
by the British public. In the United States of America,
also, they are fully alive to the important results to be anticipated
from the introduction of railroads; a gentleman from the United
States having recently arrived in Liverpool, with whom it is a principal
object to collect the necessary information in order to the establishment
of a railway to connect the great rivers Potomac and

It will be observed that the principal, indeed almost the sole,
object contemplated by the projectors of the undertaking was the
improved carriage of merchandise and coal, and that the conveyance
of passengers was scarcely calculated on, the only paragraph
in the prospectus relating to the subject being the following:
“Moreover, as a cheap and expeditious means of conveyance for
travelers, the railway holds out the fair prospect of a public accommodation,
the magnitude and importance of which can not
be immediately ascertained.” The estimated expense of forming
the line was set down at £400,000—a sum which was eventually
found quite inadequate. The subscription list, when opened, was
filled up without difficulty.

While the project was still under discussion, its promoters, desirous
of removing the doubts which existed as to the employment
of steam-power on the proposed railway, sent a second deputation
to Killingworth for the purpose of again observing the
action of Stephenson’s engines. The cautious projectors of the
railway were not yet quite satisfied, and a third journey was
made to Killingworth in January, 1825, by several gentlemen of
the committee, accompanied by practical engineers, for the purpose
of being personal eye-witnesses of what steam-carriages were
able to perform upon a railway. There they saw a train, consisting[258]
of a locomotive and loaded wagons, weighing in all 54 tons,
traveling at the average rate of about 7 miles an hour, the greatest
speed being about 9-1/2 miles an hour. But when the engine
was run with only one wagon attached containing twenty gentlemen,
five of whom were engineers, the speed attained was from
10 to 12 miles an hour.

In the mean time the survey was proceeded with, in the face
of great opposition on the part of the proprietors of the lands
through which the railway was intended to pass. The prejudices
of the farming and laboring classes were strongly excited against
the persons employed upon the ground, and it was with the greatest
difficulty that the levels could be taken. This opposition was
especially manifested when the attempt was made to survey the
line through the properties of Lords Derby and Sefton, and also
where it crossed the Duke of Bridgewater’s Canal. At Knowsley,
Stephenson and his surveyors were driven off the ground by the
keepers, and threatened with rough handling if found there again.
Lord Derby’s farmers also turned out their men to watch the surveying
party, and prevent them entering on any lands where they
had the power of driving them off. Afterward Stephenson suddenly
and unexpectedly went upon the ground with a body of
surveyors and their assistants who outnumbered Lord Derby’s
keepers and farmers, hastily collected to resist them, and this time
they were only threatened with the legal consequences of their

The same sort of resistance was offered by Lord Sefton’s keepers
and farmers, with whom the following ruse was adopted. A
minute was concocted, purporting to be a resolution of the Old
Quay Canal Company to oppose the projected railroad by every
possible means, and calling upon land-owners and others to afford
every facility for making such a survey of the intended line as
should enable the opponents to detect errors in the scheme of the
promoters, and thereby insure its defeat. A copy of this minute,
without any signature, was exhibited by the surveyors who went
upon the ground, and the farmers, believing them to have the
sanction of the landlords, permitted them to proceed with the
hasty completion of their survey.

The principal opposition, however, was experienced from Mr.
Bradshaw, the manager of the Duke of Bridgewater’s canal property,[259]
who offered a vigorous and protracted resistance to the survey
in all its stages. The duke’s farmers obstinately refused permission
to enter upon their fields, although Stephenson offered to
pay for any damage that might be done. Mr. Bradshaw positively
refused his sanction in any case; and being a strict preserver
of game, with a large staff of keepers in his pay, he declared
that he would order them to shoot or apprehend any persons
attempting a survey over his property. But one moonlight
night a survey was effected by the following ruse. Some men,
under the orders of the surveying party, were set to fire off guns
in a particular quarter, on which all the gamekeepers on the
watch made off in that direction, and they were drawn away to
such a distance in pursuit of the supposed poachers as to enable
a rapid survey to be made during their absence. Describing before
Parliament the difficulties which he encountered in making
the survey, Stephenson said: “I was threatened to be ducked in
the pond if I proceeded, and, of course, we had a great deal of
the survey to take by stealth, at the time when the people were
at dinner. We could not get it done by night; indeed, we were
watched day and night, and guns were discharged over the
grounds belonging to Captain Bradshaw to prevent us. I can
state farther that I was myself twice turned off Mr. Bradshaw’s
grounds by his men, and they said if I did not go instantly they
would take me up and carry me off to Worsley.”

The same kind of opposition had to be encountered all along
the line of the intended railway. Mr. Clay, one of the company’s
solicitors, wrote to Mr. Sandars from the Bridgewater Arms, Prescott,
on the 31st of December, that the landlords, occupiers, trustees
of turnpike roads, proprietors of bleach-works, carriers and
carters, and even the coal-owners, were dead against the railroad.
“In a word,” said he, “the country is up in arms against us.”
There were only three considerable land-owners who remained
doubtful; and “if these be against us,” said Mr. Clay, “then the
of the great proprietors along the whole line are dissentient,
excepting only Mr. Trafford.”

The cottagers and small proprietors were equally hostile.
“The trouble we have with them,” wrote Mr. Clay, “is beyond
belief; and those patches of gardens at the end of Manchester
bordering on the Irwell, and the tenants of Hulme Hall, who,[260]
though insignificant, must be seen, give us infinite trouble, all of
which, as I have reason to believe, is by no means accidental.”
There was also the opposition of the great Bradshaw, the duke’s
agent. “I wrote you this morning,” said Mr. Clay, in a wrathful
letter of the same date, “since which we have been into Bradshaw’s
warehouse, now called the Knot Mill, and, after traversing
two of the rooms, we got very civilly turned out, which, under all
the circumstances, I thought very lucky, and more than we deserved.
However, we have seen more than half of his d—d cottagers.”

There were also the canal companies, who made common cause,
formed a common purse, and determined to wage war to the knife
against all railways. The following circular, issued by the Liverpool
Railroad Company, with the name of Mr. Lawrence, the
chairman, attached, will serve to show the resolute spirit in which
the canal proprietors were preparing to resist the bill:

Sir,—The Leeds and Liverpool, the Birmingham, the Grand
Trunk, and other canal companies having issued circulars, calling
upon ‘every canal and navigation company in the kingdom’ to oppose
in limine and by a united effort the establishment of railroads
wherever contemplated, I have most earnestly to solicit your active
exertions on behalf of the Liverpool and Manchester Railroad Company,
to counteract the avowed purpose of the canal proprietors, by
exposing the misrepresentations of interested parties, by conciliating
good will, and especially by making known, as far as you have
opportunity, not only the general superiority of railroads over other
modes of conveyance, but, in our peculiar case, the absolute necessity
of a new and additional line of communication, in order to
effect with economy and dispatch the transport of merchandise between
this port and Manchester.

Charles Lawrence, Chairman.”

Such was the state of affairs and such the threatenings of war
on both sides immediately previous to the Parliamentary session
of 1825.

When it became known that the promoters of the undertaking
were determined—imperfect though the plans were believed to
be, from the obstructions thrown in the way of the surveying parties—to
proceed with the bill in the next session of Parliament,
the canal companies appealed to the public through the press.[261]
Pamphlets were published and newspapers hired to revile the
railway. It was declared that its formation would prevent the
cows grazing and hens laying, while the horses passing along the
road would be driven distracted. The poisoned air from the
locomotives would kill the birds that flew over them, and render
the preservation of pheasants and foxes no longer possible.
Householders adjoining the projected line were told that their
houses would be burnt up by the fire thrown from the engine
chimneys, while the air around would be polluted by clouds of
smoke. There would no longer be any use for horses; and if
railways extended, the species would become extinguished, and
oats and hay be rendered unsalable commodities. Traveling by
rail would be highly dangerous, and country inns would be ruined.
Boilers would burst and blow passengers to atoms. But
there was always this consolation to wind up with—that the
weight of the locomotive would completely prevent its moving,
and that railways, even if made, could never be worked by steam-power.

Although the press generally spoke of the Liverpool and Manchester
project as a mere speculation—as only one of the many
bubble schemes of the period[58]—there were other writers who entertained
different views, and boldly and ably announced them.
Among the most sagacious newspaper articles of the day, calling
attention to the application of the locomotive engine to the purposes
of rapid steam-traveling, on railroads, was a series which appeared
in 1824, in the “Scotsman” newspaper, then edited by Mr.
Charles Maclaren. In those publications the wonderful powers of
the locomotive were logically demonstrated, and the writer, arguing
from the experiments on friction made more than half a century
before by Vince and Coulomb, which scientific men seemed
to have altogether lost sight of, clearly showed that, by the use of
steam-power on railroads, the cheaper as well as more rapid transit
of persons and merchandise might be confidently anticipated.[262]
Not many years passed before the anticipations of the writer,
sanguine and speculative though they were at that time regarded,
were amply realized. Even Mr. Nicholas Wood, in 1825, speaking
of the powers of the locomotive, and referring doubtless to
the speculations of the “Scotsman” as well as of his equally sanguine
friend Stephenson, observed: “It is far from my wish to
promulgate to the world that the ridiculous expectations, or rather
professions, of the enthusiastic speculist will be realized, and
that we shall see engines traveling at the rate of twelve, sixteen,
eighteen, or twenty miles an hour. Nothing could do more harm
toward their general adoption and improvement than the promulgation
of such nonsense.”[59]

Among the papers left by Mr. Sandars we find a letter addressed
to him by Sir John Barrow, of the Admiralty, as to the
proper method of conducting the case in Parliament, which pretty
accurately represents the state of public opinion as to the practicability
of locomotive traveling on railroads at the time at
which it was written, the 10th of January, 1825. Sir John
strongly urged Mr. Sandars to keep the locomotive altogether in
the background; to rely upon the proved inability of the canals
and common roads to accommodate the existing traffic; and to
be satisfied with proving the absolute necessity of a new line of
conveyance; above all, he recommended him not even to hint at
the intention of carrying passengers.

“You will at once,” said he, “raise a host of enemies in the proprietors
of coaches, post-chaises, innkeepers, etc., whose interests
will be attacked, and who, I have no doubt, will be strongly supported,
and for what? Some thousands of passengers, you say—but
a few hundreds I should say—in the year.”

He accordingly urged that passengers as well as speed should
be kept entirely out of the act; but, if the latter were insisted on,
then he recommended that it should be kept as low as possible—say
at five miles an hour!

Indeed, when George Stephenson, at the interviews with counsel
held previous to the Liverpool and Manchester Bill going into
Committee of the House of Commons, confidently stated his expectation
of being able to run his locomotive at the rate of twenty
miles an hour, Mr. William Brougham, who was retained by[263]
the promoters to conduct their case, frankly told him that if he
did not moderate his views, and bring his engine within a reasonable
speed, he would “inevitably damn the whole thing, and be
himself regarded as a maniac fit only for Bedlam.”

The idea thrown out by Stephenson of traveling at a rate of
speed double that of the fastest mail-coach appeared at the time
so preposterous that he was unable to find any engineer who
would risk his reputation in supporting such “absurd views.”
Speaking of his isolation at the time, he subsequently observed at
a public meeting of railway men in Manchester: “He remembered
the time when he had very few supporters in bringing out
the railway system—when he sought England over for an engineer
to support him in his evidence before Parliament, and could
find only one man, James Walker, but was afraid to call that gentleman,
because he knew nothing about railways. He had then
no one to tell his tale to but Mr. Sandars, of Liverpool, who did
listen to him, and kept his spirits up; and his schemes had at
length been carried out only by dint of sheer perseverance.”

George Stephenson’s idea was at that time regarded as but the
dream of a chimerical projector. It stood before the public
friendless, struggling hard to gain a footing, scarcely daring to
lift itself into notice for fear of ridicule. The civil engineers
generally rejected the notion of a Locomotive Railway; and
when no leading man of the day could be found to stand forward
in support of the Killingworth mechanic, its chances of
success must indeed have been pronounced but small.

When such was the hostility of the civil engineers, no wonder
the Reviewers were puzzled. The “Quarterly,” in an able article
in support of the projected Liverpool and Manchester Railway,
while admitting its absolute necessity, and insisting that there was
no choice left but a railroad, on which the journey between Liverpool
and Manchester, whether performed by horses or engines,
would always be accomplished “within the day,” nevertheless
scouted the idea of traveling at a greater speed than eight or
nine miles an hour. Adverting to a project for forming a railway
to Woolwich, by which passengers were to be drawn by locomotive
engines moving with twice the velocity of ordinary
coaches, the reviewer observed: “What can be more palpably
absurd and ridiculous than the prospect held out of locomotives[264]
traveling twice as fast as stage-coaches! We would as soon expect
the people of Woolwich to suffer themselves to be fired off
upon one of Congreve’s ricochet rockets, as trust themselves to the
mercy of such a machine going at such a rate. We will back old
Father Thames against the Woolwich Railway for any sum. We
trust that Parliament will, in all railways it may sanction, limit
the speed to eight or nine miles an hour, which we entirely agree
with Mr. Sylvester is as great as can be ventured on with safety.”





The Liverpool and Manchester Bill went into Committee of
the House of Commons on the 21st of March, 1825. There was
an extraordinary array of legal talent on the occasion, but especially
on the side of the opponents to the measure. Their
wealth and influence enabled them to retain the ablest counsel
at the bar; Mr. (afterward Baron) Alderson, Mr. Stephenson, Mr.
(afterward Baron) Parke, Mr. Rose, Mr. Macdonnell, Mr. Harrison,
Mr. Erle, and Mr. Cullen, appeared for various clients, who made
common cause with each other in opposing the bill, the case for
which was conducted by Mr. Adam, Mr. Sergeant Spankie, Mr.
William Brougham, and Mr. Joy.

Evidence was taken at great length as to the difficulties and
delays in forwarding raw goods of all kinds from Liverpool to
Manchester, as also in the conveyance of manufactured articles
from Manchester to Liverpool. The evidence adduced in support
of the bill on these grounds was overwhelming. The utter
inadequacy of the existing modes of conveyance to carry on satisfactorily
the large and rapidly-growing trade between the two
towns was fully proved. But then came the main difficulty of
the promoters’ case—that of proving the practicability of constructing
a railroad to be worked by locomotive power. Mr.
Adam, in his opening speech, referred to the cases of the Hetton
and the Killingworth railroads, where heavy goods were safely
and economically transported by means of locomotive engines.
“None of the tremendous consequences,” he observed, “have
ensued from the use of steam in land carriage that have been
stated. The horses have not started, nor the cows ceased to give
their milk, nor have ladies miscarried at the sight of these things
going forward at the rate of four miles and a half an hour.”
Notwithstanding the petition of two ladies alleging the great[266]
danger to be apprehended from the bursting of the locomotive
boilers, he urged the safety of the high-pressure engine when the
boilers were constructed of wrought iron; and as to the rate at
which they could travel, he expressed his full conviction that
such engines “could supply force to drive a carriage at the rate
of five or six miles an hour.”

The taking of the evidence as to the impediments thrown in
the way of trade and commerce by the existing system extended
over a month, and it was the 21st of April before the committee
went into the engineering evidence, which was the vital part of
the question.

On the 25th George Stephenson was called into the witness-box.
It was his first appearance before a committee of the House
of Commons, and he well knew what he had to expect. He was
aware that the whole force of the opposition was to be directed
against him; and if they could break down his evidence, the canal
monopoly might yet be upheld for a time. Many years afterward,
when looking back at his position on this trying occasion,
he said: “When I went to Liverpool to plan a line from thence
to Manchester, I pledged myself to the directors to attain a speed
of ten miles an hour. I said I had no doubt the locomotive
might be made to go much faster, but that we had better be
moderate at the beginning. The directors said I was quite right;
for that if, when they went to Parliament, I talked of going at a
greater rate than ten miles an hour, I should put a cross upon
the concern. It was not an easy task for me to keep the engine
down to ten miles an hour, but it must be done, and I did my
best. I had to place myself in that most unpleasant of all positions—the
witness-box of a Parliamentary committee. I was not
long in it before I began to wish for a hole to creep out at! I
could not find words to satisfy either the committee or myself.
I was subjected to the cross-examination of eight or ten barristers,
purposely, as far as possible, to bewilder me. Some member
of the committee asked if I was a foreigner,[60] and another[267]
hinted that I was mad. But I put up with every rebuff, and
went on with my plans, determined not to be put down.”

George Stephenson stood before the committee to prove what
the public opinion of that day held to be impossible. The self-taught
mechanic had to demonstrate the practicability of accomplishing
that which the most distinguished engineers of the time
regarded as impracticable. Clear though the subject was to himself,
and familiar as he was with the powers of the locomotive, it
was no easy task for him to bring home his convictions, or even
to convey his meaning, to the less informed minds of his hearers.
In his strong Northumbrian dialect, he struggled for utterance,
in the face of the sneers, interruptions, and ridicule of the opponents
of the measure, and even of the committee, some of whom
shook their heads and whispered doubts as to his sanity when he
energetically avowed that he could make the locomotive go at
the rate of twelve miles an hour! It was so grossly in the teeth
of all the experience of honorable members, that the man “must
certainly be laboring under a delusion!”

And yet his large experience of railways and locomotives, as
described by himself to the committee, entitled this “untaught,
inarticulate genius,” as he has been described, to speak with confidence
on the subject. Beginning with his experience as a
brakesman at Killingworth in 1803, he went on to state that he
was appointed to take the entire charge of the steam-engines in
1813, and had superintended the railroads connected with the
numerous collieries of the Grand Allies from that time downward.
He had laid down or superintended the railways at Burradon,
Mount Moor, Springwell, Bedlington, Hetton, and Darlington,
besides improving those at Killingworth, South Moor,
and Derwent Crook. He had constructed fifty-five steam-engines,
of which sixteen were locomotives. Some of these had
been sent to France. The engines constructed by him for the
working of the Killingworth Railroad, eleven years before, had
continued steadily at work ever since, and fulfilled his most sanguine[268]
expectations. He was prepared to prove the safety of
working high-pressure locomotives on a railroad, and the superiority
of this mode of transporting goods over all others. As to
speed, he said he had recommended eight miles an hour with
twenty tons, and four miles an hour with forty tons; but he was
quite confident that much more might be done. Indeed, he had
no doubt they might go at the rate of twelve miles. As to the
charge that locomotives on a railroad would so terrify the horses
in the neighborhood that to travel on horseback or to plow the
adjoining fields would be rendered highly dangerous, the witness
said that horses learned to take no notice of them, though there
were horses that would shy at a wheelbarrow. A mail-coach
was likely to be more shied at by horses than a locomotive. In
the neighborhood of Killingworth, the cattle in the fields went
on grazing while the engines passed them, and the farmers made
no complaints.

Mr. Alderson, who had carefully studied the subject, and was
well skilled in practical science, subjected the witness to a protracted
and severe cross-examination as to the speed and power
of the locomotive, the stroke of the piston, the slipping of the
wheels upon the rails, and various other points of detail. Stephenson
insisted that no slipping took place, as attempted to be
extorted from him by the counsel. He said, “It is impossible for
slipping to take place so long as the adhesive weight of the wheel
upon the rail is greater than the weight to be dragged after it.”
There was a good deal of interruption to the witness’s answers
by Mr. Alderson, to which Mr. Joy more than once objected. As
to accidents, Stephenson knew of none that had occurred with
his engines. There had been one, he was told, at the Middleton
Colliery, near Leeds, with a Blenkinsop engine. The driver had
been in liquor, and put a considerable load on the safety-valve,
so that upon going forward the engine blew up and the man was
killed. But he added, if proper precautions had been used with
that boiler, the accident could not have happened. The following
cross-examination occurred in reference to the question of

“Of course,” he was asked, “when a body is moving upon a
road, the greater the velocity the greater the momentum that is
generated?” “Certainly.” “What would be the momentum of[269]
forty tons moving at the rate of twelve miles an hour?” “It
would be very great.” “Have you seen a railroad that would
stand that?” “Yes.” “Where?” “Any railroad that would
bear going four miles an hour: I mean to say, that if it would
bear the weight at four miles an hour, it would bear it at twelve.”
“Taking it at four miles an hour, do you mean to say that it
would not require a stronger railway to carry the same weight
twelve miles an hour?” “I will give an answer to that. I dare
say every person has been over ice when skating, or seen persons
go over, and they know that it would bear them better at a greater
velocity than it would if they went slower; when they go
quick, the weight in a measure ceases.” “Is not than upon the
hypothesis that the railroad is perfect?” “It is; and I mean to
make it perfect.”

It is not necessary to state that to have passed through his
severe ordeal scatheless needed no small amount of courage, intelligence,
and ready shrewdness on the part of the witness.
Nicholas Wood, who was present on the occasion, has since stated
that the point on which Stephenson was hardest pressed was that
of speed. “I believe,” he says, “that it would have lost the company
their bill if he had gone beyond eight or nine miles an
hour. If he had stated his intention of going twelve or fifteen
miles an hour, not a single person would have believed it to be
practicable.” Mr. Alderson had, indeed, so pressed the point of
“twelve miles an hour,” and the promoters were so alarmed lest
it should appear in evidence that they contemplated any such extravagant
rate of speed, that immediately on Mr. Alderson sitting
down, Mr. Joy proceeded to re-examine Stephenson, with the
view of removing from the minds of the committee an impression
so unfavorable, and, as they supposed, so damaging to their
case. “With regard,” asked Mr. Joy, “to all those hypothetical
questions of my learned friend, they have been all put on the
supposition of going twelve miles an hour: now that is not the
rate at which, I believe, any of the engines of which you have
spoken have traveled?” “No,” replied Stephenson, “except as
an experiment for a short distance.” “But what they have gone
has been three, five, or six miles an hour?” “Yes.” “So that
those hypothetical cases of twelve miles an hour do not fall within
your general experience?” “They do not.”


The committee also seem to have entertained some alarm as to
the high rate of speed which had been spoken of, and proceeded
to examine the witness farther on the subject. They supposed
the case of the engine being upset when going at nine miles an
hour, and asked what, in such a case, would become of the cargo
astern. To which the witness replied that it would not be upset.
One of the members of the committee pressed the witness a little
farther. He put the following case: “Suppose, now, one of these
engines to be going along a railroad at the rate of nine or ten
miles an hour, and that a cow were to stray upon the line and get
in the way of the engine; would not that, think you, be a very
awkward circumstance?” “Yes,” replied the witness, with a
twinkle in his eye, “very awkward—for the coo!” The honorable
member did not proceed farther with his cross-examination;
to use a railway phrase, he was “shunted.” Another asked if
animals would not be very much frightened by the engine passing
at night, especially by the glare of the red-hot chimney?
“But how would they know that it wasn’t painted?” said the

On the following day (the 26th of April) the engineer was
subjected to a most severe examination. On that part of the
scheme with which he was most practically conversant, his evidence
was clear and conclusive. Now, he had to give evidence
on the plans made by his surveyors, and the estimates which had
been founded on those plans. So long as he was confined to
locomotive engines and iron railroads, with the minutest details
of which he was more familiar than any man living, he felt at
home and in his element. But when the designs of bridges and
the cost of constructing them had to be gone into, the subject being
comparatively new to him, his evidence was much less satisfactory.

He was cross-examined as to the practicability of forming a
road on so unstable a foundation as Chat Moss.

“‘Now, with respect to your evidence upon Chat Moss,’ asked
Mr. Alderson, ‘did you ever walk on Chat Moss on the proposed
line of the railway?’ ‘The greater part of it, I have.’

“‘Was it not extremely boggy?’ ‘In parts it was.’

“‘How deep did you sink in?’ ‘I could have gone with shoes;
I do not know whether I had boots on.’


“‘If the depth of the Moss should prove to be 40 feet instead of
20, would not this plan of the railway over this Moss be impracticable?’
‘No, it would not. If the gentleman will allow me, I will
refer to a railroad belonging to the Duke of Portland, made over a
moss; there are no levels to drain it properly, such as we have at
Chat Moss, and it is made by an embankment over the moss, which
is worse than making a cutting, for there is the weight of the embankment
to press upon the moss.’

“‘Still, you must go to the bottom of the moss?’ ‘It is not necessary;
the deeper you get, the more consolidated it is.’

“‘Would you put some hard materials on it before you commenced?’
‘Yes, perhaps I should.’

“‘What?’ ‘Brushwood, perhaps.’

“‘And you, then, are of opinion that it would be a solid embankment?’
‘It would have a tremulous motion for a time, but would
not give way, like clay.'”

Mr. Alderson also cross-examined him at great length on the
plans of the bridges, the tunnels, the crossings of the roads and
streets, and the details of the survey, which, it soon appeared, were
in some respects seriously at fault. It seems that, after the plans
had been deposited, Stephenson found that a much more favorable
line might be laid out, and he made his estimates accordingly,
supposing that Parliament would not confine the company to the
precise plan which had been deposited. This was felt to be a serious
blot in the Parliamentary case, and one very difficult to get

For three entire days was our engineer subjected to cross-examination
by Mr. Alderson, Mr. Cullen, and the other leading
counsel for the opposition. He held his ground bravely, and defended
the plans and estimates with remarkable ability and skill,
but it was clear they were imperfect, and the result was, on the
whole, damaging to the bill. Mr. (afterward Sir William) Cubitt
was called by the promoters, Mr. Adam stating that he proposed
by this witness to correct some of the levels as given by Stephenson.
It seems a singular course to have been taken by the promoters
of the measure, for Mr. Cubitt’s evidence went to upset the
statements made by Stephenson as to the survey. This adverse
evidence was, of course, made the most of by the opponents of the

Mr. Sergeant Spankie then summed up for the bill on the 2d[272]
of May, in a speech of great length, and the case of the opponents
was next gone into, Mr. Harrison opening with a long and eloquent
speech on behalf of his clients, Mrs. Atherton and others.
He indulged in strong vituperation against the witnesses for the
bill, and especially dwelt upon the manner in which Mr. Cubitt,
for the promoters, had proved that Stephenson’s levels were wrong.

“They got a person,” said he, “whose character and skill I do
not dispute, though I do not exactly know that I should have gone
to the inventor of the treadmill as the fittest man to take the levels
of Knowsley Moss and Chat Moss, which shook almost as much as
a treadmill, as you recollect, for he (Mr. Cubitt) said Chat Moss
trembled so much under his feet that he could not take his observations
accurately…. In fact, Mr. Cubitt did not go on to Chat
Moss, because he knew that it was an immense mass of pulp, and
nothing else. It actually rises in height, from the rain swelling it
like a sponge, and sinks again in dry weather, and if a boring instrument
is put into it, it sinks immediately by its own weight.
The making of an embankment out of this pulpy, wet moss is no
very easy task. Who but Mr. Stephenson would have thought of
entering into Chat Moss, carrying it out almost like wet dung? It
is ignorance almost inconceivable. It is perfect madness, in a person
called upon to speak on a scientific subject, to propose such a
plan…. Every part of the scheme shows that this man has applied
himself to a subject of which he has no knowledge, and to
which he has no science to apply.”

Then, adverting to the proposal to work the intended line by
means of locomotives, the learned gentleman proceeded:

“When we set out with the original prospectus, we were to gallop
I know not at what rate—I believe it was at the rate of twelve
miles an hour. My learned friend, Mr. Adam, contemplated—possibly
alluding to Ireland—that some of the Irish members would
arrive in the wagons to a division. My learned friend says that
they would go at the rate of twelve miles an hour with the aid of
the devil in the form of a locomotive sitting as postillion on the fore
horse, and an honorable member sitting behind him to stir up the
fire, and keep it at full speed. But the speed at which these locomotive
engines are to go has slackened: Mr. Adam does not go faster
now than five miles an hour. The learned sergeant (Spankie)
says he should like to have seven, but he would be content to go
six. I will show he can not go six; and probably, for any practical[273]
purposes, I may be able to show that I can keep up with him by
the canal
…. Locomotive engines are liable to be operated upon
by the weather. You are told they are affected by rain, and an attempt
has been made to cover them; but the wind will affect them;
and any gale of wind which would affect the traffic on the Mersey
would render it impossible to set off a locomotive engine, either by
poking of the fire, or keeping up the pressure of the steam till the
boiler was ready to burst.”

How amusing it now is to read these extraordinary views as to
the formation of a railway over Chat Moss, and the impossibility
of starting a locomotive engine in the face of a gale of wind?

Evidence was called to show that the house property passed by
the proposed railway would be greatly deteriorated—in some
places almost destroyed; that the locomotive engines would be
terrible nuisances, in consequence of the fire and smoke vomited
forth by them; and that the value of land in the neighborhood
of Manchester alone would be deteriorated by no less than £20,000!
Evidence was also given at great length showing the utter impossibility
of forming a road of any kind upon Chat Moss. A Manchester
builder, who was examined, could not imagine the feat
possible, unless by arching it across in the manner of a viaduct
from one side to the other. It was the old story of “nothing like
leather.” But the opposition mainly relied upon the evidence of
the leading engineers—not, like Stephenson, self-taught men, but
regular professionals. Mr. Francis Giles, C.E., was their great
card. He had been twenty-two years an engineer, and could speak
with some authority. His testimony was mainly directed to the
utter impossibility of forming a railway over Chat Moss. “No
engineer in his senses,
” said he, “would go through Chat Moss if
he wanted to make a railroad from Liverpool to Manchester. In
my judgment, a railroad certainly can not be safely made over
Chat Moss without going to the bottom of the Moss
.” The following
may be taken as a specimen of Mr. Giles’s evidence:

“‘Tell us whether, in your judgment, a railroad can be safely
made over Chat Moss without going to the bottom of the bog?’
‘I say, certainly not.’

“‘Will it be necessary, therefore, in making a permanent railroad,
to take out the whole of the moss to the bottom, along the whole
line of road?’ ‘Undoubtedly.’


“‘Will that make it necessary to cut down the thirty-three or
thirty-four feet of which you have been speaking?’ ‘Yes.’

“‘And afterward to fill it up with other soil?’ ‘To such height
as the railway is to be carried; other soil mixed with a portion of
the moss.’

“‘But suppose they were to work upon this stuff, could they get
their carriages to this place?’ ‘No carriage can stand on the moss
short of the bottom.

“‘What could they do to make it stand—laying planks, or something
of that sort?’ ‘Nothing would support it.’

“‘So that, if you would carry a railroad over this fluid stuff—if
you could do it, it would still take a great number of men and a
great sum of money. Could it be done, in your opinion, for £6000?’
‘I should say £200,000 would not get through it.’

“‘My learned friend wishes to know what it would cost to lay it
with diamonds?'”

Mr. H. R. Palmer, C.E., gave evidence to prove that resistance
to a moving body going under four and a quarter miles an hour
was less upon a canal than upon a railroad; and that, when going
against a strong wind, the progress of a locomotive was retarded
“very much.” Mr. George Leather, C.E., the engineer of
the Croydon and Wandsworth Railway, on which he said the
wagons went at from two and a half to three miles an hour, also
testified against the practicability of Stephenson’s plan. He considered
his estimate a “very wild” one. He had no confidence
in locomotive power. The Weardale Railway, of which he was
engineer, had given up the use of locomotive engines. He supposed
that, when used, they traveled at three and a half to four
miles an hour, because they were considered to be then more effective
than at a higher speed.

When these distinguished engineers had given their evidence,
Mr. Alderson summed up in a speech which extended over two
days. He declared Stephenson’s plan to be “the most absurd
scheme that ever entered into the head of man to conceive:”

“My learned friends,” said he, “almost endeavored to stop my
examination; they wished me to put in the plan, but I had rather
have the exhibition of Mr. Stephenson in that box. I say he never
had one—I believe he never had one—I do not believe he is capable
of making one. His is a mind perpetually fluctuating between opposite
difficulties: he neither knows whether he is to make bridges[275]
over roads or rivers of one size or of another, or to make embankments,
or cuttings, or inclined planes, or in what way the thing is
to be carried into effect. Whenever a difficulty is pressed, as in
the case of a tunnel, he gets out of it at one end, and when you try
to catch him at that, he gets out at the other.”

Mr. Alderson proceeded to declaim against the gross ignorance
of this so-called engineer, who proposed to make “impossible
ditches by the side of an impossible railway” over Chat Moss;
and he contrasted with his evidence that given “by that most respectable
gentleman we have called before you, I mean Mr.
Giles, who has executed a vast number of works,” etc. Then Mr.
Giles’s evidence as to the impossibility of making any railway
over the Moss that would stand short of the bottom was emphatically
dwelt upon; and Mr. Alderson proceeded:

“Having now, sir, gone through Chat Moss, and having shown
that Mr. Giles is right in his principle when he adopts a solid railway—and
I care not whether Mr. Giles is right or wrong in his estimate,
for whether it be effected by means of piers raised up all the
way for four miles through Chat Moss, whether they are to support
it on beams of wood or by erecting masonry, or whether Mr.
Giles shall put a solid bank of earth through it—in all these schemes
there is not one found like that of Mr. Stephenson’s, namely, to cut
impossible drains on the side of this road; and it is sufficient for
me to suggest, and to show, that this scheme of Mr. Stephenson’s is
impossible or impracticable, and that no other scheme, if they proceed
upon this line, can be suggested which will not produce enormous
expense. I think that has been irrefragably made out. Every
one knows Chat Moss—every one knows that Mr. Giles speaks
correctly when he says the iron sinks immediately on its being put
upon the surface. I have heard of culverts which have been put
upon the Moss, which, after having been surveyed the day before,
have the next morning disappeared; and that a house (a poet’s
house, who may be supposed in the habit of building castles even
in the air), story after story, as fast as one is added, the lower one
sinks! There is nothing, it appears, except long sedgy grass, and
a little soil, to prevent its sinking into the shades of eternal night.
I have now done, sir, with Chat Moss, and there I leave this railroad.”

Mr. Alderson, of course, called upon the committee to reject
the bill; and he protested “against the despotism of the Exchange[276]
at Liverpool striding across the land of this country. I
do protest,” he concluded, “against a measure like this, supported
as it is by such evidence, and founded upon such calculations.”

The case of the other numerous petitioners against the bill still
remained to be gone into. Witnesses were called to prove the
residential injury which would be caused by the “intolerable
nuisance” of the smoke and fire from the locomotives, and others
to prove that the price of coals and iron would “infallibly” be
greatly raised throughout the country. This was part of the case
of the Duke of Bridgewater’s trustees, whose witnesses “proved”
many very extraordinary things. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal
Company were so fortunate as to pick up a witness from Hetton
who was ready to furnish some damaging evidence as to the use
of Stephenson’s locomotives on that railway. This was Mr.
Thomas Wood, one of the Hetton Company’s clerks, whose evidence
was to the effect that the locomotives, having been found
ineffective, were about to be discontinued in favor of fixed engines.
The evidence of this witness, incompetent though he was
to give an opinion on the subject, and exaggerated as his statements
were afterward proved to be, was made the most of by
Mr. Harrison when summing up the case of the canal companies.

“At length,” he said, “we have come to this—having first set
out at twelve miles an hour, the speed of these locomotives is reduced
to six, and now comes down to two or two and a half. They
must be content to be pulled along by horses and donkeys; and all
those fine promises of galloping along at the rate of twelve miles an
hour are melted down to a total failure; the foundation on which
their case stood is cut from under them completely; for the Act of
Parliament, the committee will recollect, prohibits any person using
any animal power, of any sort, kind, or description, except the projectors
of the railway themselves; therefore I say that the whole
foundation on which this project exists is gone.”

After farther personal abuse of Mr. Stephenson, whose evidence
he spoke of as “trash and confusion,” Mr. Harrison closed
the case of the canal companies on the 30th of May. Mr. Adam
replied for the promoters, recapitulating the principal points of
their case, and vindicating Mr. Stephenson and the evidence
which he had given before the committee.

The committee then divided on the preamble, which was carried[277]
by a majority of only one—thirty-seven voting for it, and
thirty-six against it. The clauses were next considered, and on a
division, the first clause, empowering the company to make the
railway, was lost by a majority of nineteen to thirteen. In like
manner, the next clause, empowering the company to take land,
was lost; on which Mr. Adam, on the part of the promoters,
withdrew the bill.

Thus ended this memorable contest, which had extended over
two months—carried on throughout with great pertinacity and
skill, especially on the part of the opposition, who left no stone
unturned to defeat the measure. The want of a new line of communication
between Liverpool and Manchester had been clearly
proved; but the engineering evidence in support of the proposed
railway having been thrown almost entirely upon George Stephenson,
who fought this, the most important part of the battle,
single-handed, was not brought out so clearly as it would have
been had he secured more efficient engineering assistance, which
he was not able to do, as all the engineers of eminence of that
day were against the locomotive railway. The obstacles thrown
in the way of the survey by the land-owners and canal companies,
by which the plans were rendered exceedingly imperfect, also
tended in a great measure to defeat the bill.

Mr. Gooch says the rejection of the scheme was probably the
most severe trial George Stephenson underwent in the whole
course of his life. The circumstances connected with the defeat
of the bill, the errors in the levels, his severe cross-examination,
followed by the fact of his being superseded by another engineer,
all told fearfully upon him, and for some time he was as terribly
weighed down as if a personal calamity of the most serious kind
had befallen him. It is also right to add that he was badly
served by his surveyors, who were unpracticed and incompetent.
On the 27th of September, 1824, we find him writing to Mr. Sandars:
“I am quite shocked with Auty’s conduct; we must throw
him aside as soon as possible. Indeed, I have begun to fear that
he has been fee’d by some of the canal proprietors to make a botch
of the job. I have a letter from Steele,[61] whose views of Auty’s
conduct quite agree with yours.”[278]
The result of this first application to Parliament was so far
discouraging. Stephenson had been so terribly abused by the
leading counsel for the opposition in the course of the proceedings
before the committee—stigmatized by them as an ignoramus,
a fool, and a maniac—that even his friends seem for a time to
have lost faith in him and in the locomotive system, whose efficiency
he continued to uphold. Things never looked blacker for
the success of the railway system than at the close of this great
Parliamentary struggle. And yet it was on the very eve of its

The Committee of Directors appointed to watch the measure
in Parliament were so determined to press on the project of a
railway, even though it should have to be worked merely by
horse-power, that the bill had scarcely been defeated ere they
met in London to consider their next step. They called their
Parliamentary friends together to consult as to their future proceedings.
Among those who attended the meeting of gentlemen
with this object in the Royal Hotel, St. James’s Street, on the 4th
of June, were Mr. Huskisson, Mr. Spring Rice, and General Gascoyne.
Mr. Huskisson urged the promoters to renew their application
to Parliament. They had secured the first step by the
passing of their preamble; the measure was of great public importance;
and, whatever temporary opposition it might meet
with, he conceived that Parliament must ultimately give its sanction
to the undertaking. Similar views were expressed by other
speakers; and the deputation went back to Liverpool determined
to renew their application to Parliament in the ensuing season.

It was not considered desirable to employ George Stephenson
in making the new survey. He had not as yet established his
reputation beyond the boundaries of his own district, and the
promoters of the bill had doubtless felt the disadvantages of this
in the course of their Parliamentary struggle. They therefore
resolved now to employ engineers of the highest established reputation,
as well as the best surveyors that could be obtained. In[279]
accordance with these views, they engaged Messrs. George and
John Rennie to be the engineers of the railway; and Mr. Charles
Vignolles, on their behalf, was appointed to prepare the plans
and sections. The line which was eventually adopted differed
somewhat from that surveyed by Stephenson, entirely avoiding
Lord Sefton’s property, and passing through only a few detached
fields of Lord Derby’s at a considerable distance from the Knowsley
domain. The principal parks and game preserves of the district
were also carefully avoided. The promoters thus hoped to
get rid of the opposition of the most influential of the resident
land-owners. The crossing of certain of the streets of Liverpool
was also avoided, and the entrance contrived by means of a tunnel
and an inclined plane. The new line stopped short of the
River Irwell at the Manchester end, and thus, in some measure,
removed the objections grounded on an anticipated interruption
to the canal or river traffic. And, with reference to the use of
the locomotive engine, the promoters, remembering with what
effect the objections to it had been urged by the opponents of the
measure, intimated, in their second prospectus, that, “as a guarantee
of their good faith toward the public, they will not require
any clause empowering them to use it; or they will submit to
such restrictions in the employment of it as Parliament may impose,
for the satisfaction and ample protection both of proprietors
on the line of road and of the public at large.”

It was found that the capital required to form the line of railway,
as laid out by the Messrs. Rennie, was considerably beyond
the amount of Stephenson’s estimate, and it became a question
with the committee in what way the new capital should be raised.
A proposal was made to the Marquis of Stafford, who was principally
interested in the Duke of Bridgewater’s Canal, to become
a shareholder in the undertaking. A similar proposal had at an
earlier period been made to Mr. Bradshaw, the trustee for the
property; but his answer was “all or none,” and the negotiation
was broken off. The Marquis of Stafford, however, now met the
projectors of the railway in a more conciliatory spirit, and it was
ultimately agreed that he should become a subscriber to the extent
of a thousand shares.

The survey of the new line having been completed, the plans
were deposited, the standing orders duly complied with, and the[280]
bill went before Parliament. The same counsel appeared for the
promoters, but the examination of witnesses was not nearly so
protracted as on the former occasion. Mr. Erle and Mr. Harrison
led the case of the opposition. The bill went into committee on
the 6th of March, and on the 16th the preamble was declared
proved by a majority of forty-three to eighteen. On the third
reading in the House of Commons, an animated, and what now
appears a very amusing discussion, took place. The Hon. Edward
Stanley (since Earl of Derby, and prime minister) moved that the
bill be read that day six months. In the course of his speech he
undertook to prove that the railway trains would take ten hours
on the journey, and that they could only be worked by horses;
and he called upon the House to stop the bill, “and prevent this
mad and extravagant speculation from being carried into effect.”
Sir Isaac Coffin seconded the motion, and in doing so denounced
the project as a most flagrant imposition. He would not consent
to see widows’ premises and their strawberry-beds invaded; and
“what, he would like to know, was to be done with all those who
had advanced money in making and repairing turnpike roads?
What with those who may still wish to travel in their own or
hired carriages, after the fashion of their forefathers? What
was to become of coach-makers and harness-makers, coach-masters
and coachmen, innkeepers, horse-breeders, and horse-dealers?
Was the House aware of the smoke and the noise, the hiss and
the whirl, which locomotive engines, passing at the rate of ten or
twelve miles an hour, would occasion? Neither the cattle plowing
in the fields or grazing in the meadows could behold them
without dismay. Iron would be raised in price 100 per cent., or
more probably exhausted altogether! It would be the greatest
nuisance, the most complete disturbance of quiet and comfort in
all parts of the kingdom that the ingenuity of man could invent!”

Mr. Huskisson and other speakers, though unable to reply to
such arguments as these, strongly supported the bill, and it was
carried on the third reading by a majority of eighty-eight to forty-one.
The bill passed the House of Lords almost unanimously, its
only opponents being the Earl of Derby and his relative the Earl
of Wilton. The cost of obtaining the act amounted to the enormous
sum of £27,000.




The appointment of principal engineer of the railway was
taken into consideration at the first meeting of the directors held
at Liverpool subsequent to the passing of the act of incorporation.
The magnitude of the proposed works, and the vast consequences
involved in the experiment, were deeply impressed on
their minds, and they resolved to secure the services of a resident
engineer of proved experience and ability. Their attention was
naturally directed to George Stephenson; at the same time, they
desired to have the benefit of the Messrs. Rennie’s professional
assistance in superintending the works. Mr. George Rennie had
an interview with the board on the subject, at which he proposed
to undertake the chief superintendence, making six visits in each
year, and stipulating that he should have the appointment of the
resident engineer. But the responsibility attaching to the direction
in the matter of the efficient carrying on of the works would
not admit of their being influenced by ordinary punctilios on the
occasion, and they accordingly declined Mr. Rennie’s proposal,
and proceeded to appoint George Stephenson principal engineer
at a salary of £1000 per annum.

He at once removed his residence to Liverpool, and made arrangements
to commence the works. He began with the “impossible
thing”—to do that which some of the principal engineers
of the day had declared that “no man in his senses would
undertake to do”—namely, to make the road over Chat Moss!
It was, indeed, a most formidable undertaking, and the project
of carrying a railway along, under, or over such a material as
that of which it consisted would certainly never have occurred
to an ordinary mind. Michael Drayton supposed the Moss to
have had its origin at the Deluge. Nothing more impassable
could have been imagined than that dreary waste; and Mr. Giles
only spoke the popular feeling of the day when he declared that[282]
no carriage could stand on it “short of the bottom.” In this bog,
singular to say, Mr. Roscoe, the accomplished historian of the
Medicis, buried his fortune in the hopeless attempt to cultivate
a portion of it which he had bought.

Chat Moss is an immense peat-bog of about twelve square
miles in extent. Unlike the bogs or swamps of Cambridge and
Lincolnshire, which consist principally of soft mud or silt, this
bog is a vast mass of spongy vegetable pulp, the result of the
growth and decay of ages. Spagni, or bog-mosses, cover the
entire area; one year’s growth rising over another, the older
growths not entirely decaying, but remaining partially preserved
by the antiseptic properties peculiar to peat. Hence the remarkable
fact that, though a semifluid mass, the surface of Chat Moss
rises above the level of the surrounding country. Like a turtle’s
back, it declines from the summit in every direction, having
from thirty to forty feet gradual slope to the solid land on all
sides. From the remains of trees, chiefly alder and birch, which
have been dug out of it, and which must have previously flourished
on the surface of the soil now deeply submerged, it is probable
that the sand and clay base on which the bog rests is saucer-shaped,
and so retains the entire mass in position. In rainy
weather, such is its capacity for water that it sensibly swells, and
rises in those parts where the moss is the deepest. This occurs
through the capillary attraction of the fibres of the submerged
moss, which is from twenty to thirty feet in depth, while the
growing plants effectually check evaporation from the surface.
This peculiar character of the Moss has presented an insuperable
difficulty in the way of draining on any extensive system—such
as by sinking shafts in its substance, and pumping up the water
by steam-power, as has been proposed by some engineers. For,
supposing a shaft of thirty feet deep to be sunk, it has been calculated
that this would only be effectual for draining a circle of
about one hundred yards, the water running down an incline of
about 5 to 1; indeed, it was found, in the course of draining the
bog, that a ditch three feet deep only served to drain a space of
less than five yards on either side, and two ditches of this depth,
ten feet apart, left a portion of the Moss between them scarcely
affected by the drains.

The three resident engineers selected by Mr. Stephenson to superintend[283]
the construction of the line were Mr. Joseph Locke,
Mr. Allcard, and Mr. John Dixon. The last was appointed to
that portion which included the proposed road across the Moss,
the other two being any thing but desirous of exchanging posts
with him. On Mr. Dixon’s arrival, about the month of July,
1826, Mr. Locke proceeded to show him over the length he was
to take charge of, and to instal him in office. When they reached
Chat Moss, Mr. Dixon found that the line had already been staked
out and the levels taken in detail by the aid of planks laid upon
the bog. The cutting of the drains along each side of the proposed
road had also been commenced, but the soft pulpy stuff
had up to this time flowed into the drains and filled them up as
fast as they were cut. Proceeding across the Moss on his first
day’s inspection, the new resident, when about half way over,
slipped off the plank on which he walked, and sank to his knees
in the bog. Struggling only sent him the deeper, and he might
have disappeared altogether but for the workmen, who hastened
to his assistance upon planks, and rescued him from his perilous
position. Much disheartened, he desired to return, and even for
the moment thought of giving up the job; but Mr. Locke assured
him that the worst part was now past; so the new resident plucked
up heart again, and both floundered on until they reached
the farther edge of the Moss, wet and plastered over with bog
sludge. Mr. Dixon’s assistants endeavored to comfort him by the
assurance that he might in future avoid similar perils by walking
upon “pattens,” or boards fastened to the soles of his feet, as they
had done when taking the levels, and as the workmen did when
engaged in making drains in the softest parts of the Moss. Still
the resident engineer could not help being puzzled by the problem
of how to construct a road for a heavy locomotive, with a
train of passengers or goods, upon a bog which he had found to
be incapable of supporting his own individual weight!

Stephenson’s idea was that such a road might be made to float
upon the bog simply by means of a sufficient extension of the
bearing surface. As a ship, or a raft capable of sustaining heavy
loads, floated in water, so, in his opinion, might a light road be
floated upon a bog which was of considerably greater consistency
than water. Long before the railway was thought of, Mr. Roscoe
had adopted the remarkable expedient of fitting his plow-horses[284]
with flat wooden soles or pattens, to enable them to walk upon
the Moss land which he had brought into cultivation. These
pattens were fitted on by means of a screw apparatus, which met
in front of the foot and was easily fastened. The mode by which
these pattens served to sustain the horse is capable of easy explanation,
and it will be observed that the rationale alike explains
the floating of a railway. The foot of an ordinary farm-horse
presents a base of about five inches diameter, but if this
base be enlarged to seven inches—the circles being to each other
as the squares of the diameters—it will be found that, by this
slight enlargement of the base, a circle of nearly double the area
has been secured, and consequently the pressure of the foot
upon every unit of ground on which the horse stands has been
reduced one half. In fact, this contrivance has an effect tantamount
to setting the horse upon eight feet instead of four.

Apply the same reasoning to the ponderous locomotive, and it
will be found that even such a machine may be made to stand
upon a bog by means of a similar extension of the bearing surface.
Suppose the engine to be twenty feet long and five feet
wide, thus covering a surface of a hundred square feet, and, provided
the bearing has been extended by means of cross sleepers
supported upon a matting of heath and branches of trees covered
with a few inches of gravel, the pressure of an engine of twenty
tons will be only equal to about three pounds per inch over the
whole surface on which it stands. Such was George Stephenson’s
idea in contriving his floating road—something like an elongated
raft—across the Moss; and we shall see that he steadily kept it
in view in carrying the work into execution.

The first thing done was to form a footpath of ling or heather
along the proposed road, on which a man might walk without risk
of sinking. A single line of temporary railway was then laid
down, formed of ordinary cross-bars about three feet long and an
inch square, with holes punched through them at the end and
nailed down to temporary sleepers. Along this way ran the wagons
in which were conveyed the materials requisite to form the
permanent road. These wagons carried about a ton each, and
they were propelled by boys running behind them along the narrow
bar of iron. The boys became so expert that they would run
the four miles across at the rate of seven or eight miles an hour[285]
without missing a step; if they had done so, they would have sunk
in many places up to their middle.[62] The slight extension of the
bearing surface was sufficient to enable the bog to bear this temporary
line, and the circumstance was a source of increased confidence
and hope to our engineer in proceeding with the formation
of the permanent road alongside.

The digging of drains had been proceeding for some time along
each side of the intended railway, but they filled up almost as
soon as dug, the sides flowing in and the bottom rising up, and it
was only in some of the drier parts of the bog that a depth of
three or four feet could be reached. The surface-ground between
the drains, containing the intertwined roots of heather and long
grass, was left untouched, and upon this were spread branches of
trees and hedge-cuttings; in the softest places rude gates or hurdles,
some eight or nine feet long by four feet wide, interwoven
with heather, were laid in double thicknesses, their ends overlapping
each other; and upon this floating bed was spread a thin
layer of gravel, on which the sleepers, chairs, and rails were laid
in the usual manner. Such was the mode in which the road was
formed upon the Moss.

It was found, however, after the permanent road had been thus
laid, that there was a tendency to sinking at those parts where the
bog was the softest. In ordinary cases, where a bank subsides,
the sleepers are packed up with ballast or gravel, but in this case
the ballast was dug away and removed in order to lighten the
road, and the sleepers were packed instead with cakes of dry turf
or bundles of heath. By these expedients the subsided parts were
again floated up to the level, and an approach was made toward
a satisfactory road. But the most formidable difficulties were
encountered at the centre and toward the edges of the Moss, and
it required no small degree of ingenuity and perseverance on the
part of the engineer successfully to overcome them.

The Moss, as has been already observed, was highest in the[286]
centre, and it there presented a sort of hunchback with a rising
and falling gradient. At that point it was found necessary to
cut deeper drains in order to consolidate the ground between
them on which the road was to be formed. But, as at other
parts of the Moss, the deeper the cutting the more rapid was the
flow of fluid bog into the drain, the bottom rising up almost as
fast as it was removed. To meet this emergency, a quantity of
empty tar-barrels was brought from Liverpool, and, as soon as a
few yards of drain were dug, the barrels were laid down end to
end, firmly fixed to each other by strong slabs laid over the joints,
and nailed; they were then covered over with clay, and thus
formed an underground sewer of wood instead of bricks. This
expedient was found to answer the purpose intended, and the
road across the centre of the Moss having thus been prepared, it
was then laid with the permanent materials.

The greatest difficulty was, however, experienced in forming
an embankment on the edge of the bog at the Manchester end.
Moss, as dry as it could be cut, was brought up in small wagons
by men and boys, and emptied so as to form an embankment;
but the bank had scarcely been raised three or four feet in height
when the stuff broke through the heathery surface of the bog
and sunk overhead. More moss was brought up and emptied in
with no better result, and for many weeks the filling was continued
without any visible embankment having been made. It
was the duty of the resident engineer to proceed to Liverpool every
fortnight to obtain the wages for the workmen employed under
him, and on these occasions he was required to color up, on
a section drawn to a working scale suspended against the wall of
the directors’ room, the amount of excavation, embankment, etc.,
executed from time to time. But on many of these occasions
Mr. Dixon had no progress whatever to show for the money expended
on the Chat Moss embankment. Sometimes, indeed, the
visible work done was less than it had appeared a fortnight or a
month before!

The directors now became seriously alarmed, and feared that
the evil prognostications of the eminent engineers were about to
be fulfilled. The resident himself was greatly disheartened, and
he was even called upon to supply the directors with an estimate
of the cost of filling up the Moss with solid stuff from the bottom,[287]
as also the cost of piling the roadway, and, in effect, constructing
a four-mile viaduct of timber across the Moss, from
twenty to thirty feet high. But the expense appalled the directors,
and the question then arose whether the work was to be proceeded
with or abandoned!

Stephenson himself afterward described the alarming position
of affairs at a public dinner given at Birmingham on the 23d of
December, 1837, on the occasion of a piece of plate being presented
to his son after the completion of the London and Birmingham
Railway. He related the anecdote, he said, for the
purpose of impressing upon the minds of those who heard him
the necessity of perseverance.

“After working for weeks and weeks,” said he, “in filling in materials
to form the road, there did not yet appear to be the least
sign of our being able to raise the solid embankment one single
inch; in short, we went on filling in without the slightest apparent
effect. Even my assistants began to feel uneasy, and to doubt of
the success of the scheme. The directors, too, spoke of it as a hopeless
task; and at length they became seriously alarmed, so much
so, indeed, that a board meeting was held on Chat Moss to decide
whether I should proceed any farther. They had previously taken
the opinion of other engineers, who reported unfavorably. There
was no help for it, however, but to go on. An immense outlay had
been incurred, and great loss would have been occasioned had the
scheme been then abandoned, and the line taken by another route.
So the directors were compelled to allow me to go on with my plans,
of the ultimate success of which I myself never for one moment

During the progress of this part of the works, the Worsley and
Trafford men, who lived near the Moss, and plumed themselves
upon their practical knowledge of bog-work, declared the completion
of the road to be utterly impracticable. “If you knew as
much about Chat Moss as we do,” they said, “you would never
have entered on so rash an undertaking; and depend upon it, all
you have done and are doing will prove abortive. You must
give up altogether the idea of a floating railway, and either fill
the Moss up with hard material from the bottom, or else deviate
the line so as to avoid it altogether.” Such were the conclusions
of science and experience.


In the midst of all these alarms and prophecies of failure, Stephenson
never lost heart, but held to his purpose. His motto was
“Persevere!” “You must go on filling in,” he said; “there is
no other help for it. The stuff emptied in is doing its work out
of sight, and if you will but have patience, it will soon begin to
show.” And so the filling in went on; several hundreds of men
and boys were employed to skin the Moss all round for many
thousand yards, by means of sharp spades, called by the turf-cutters
“tommy-spades;” and the dried cakes of turf were afterward
used to form the embankment, until at length, as the stuff
sank and rested upon the bottom, the bank gradually rose above
the surface, and slowly advanced onward, declining in height and
consequently in weight, until it became joined to the floating
road already laid upon the Moss. In the course of forming the
embankment, the pressure of the bog turf tipped out of the wagons
caused a copious stream of bog-water to flow from the end of
it, in color resembling Barclay’s double stout; and when completed,
the bank looked like a long ridge of tightly-pressed tobacco-leaf.
The compression of the turf may be understood
from the fact that 670,000 cubic yards of raw moss formed only
277,000 cubic yards of embankment at the completion of the

At the western, or Liverpool end of the Chat Moss, there was
a like embankment; but, as the ground there was solid, little
difficulty was experienced in forming it, beyond the loss of substance
caused by the oozing out of the water held by the moss-earth.

At another part of the Liverpool and Manchester line, Parr
Moss was crossed by an embankment about a mile and a half in
extent. In the immediate neighborhood was found a large excess
of cutting, which it would have been necessary to “put out
in spoil-banks” (according to the technical phrase) but for the
convenience of Parr Moss, into which the surplus clay, stone, and
shale were tipped, wagon after wagon, until a solid but congealed
embankment, from fifteen to twenty feet high, was formed, although
to the eye it appears to be laid upon the level of the adjoining
surface, as at Chat Moss.

The road across Chat Moss was finished by the 1st of January,
1830, when the first experimental train of passengers passed over[289]
it, drawn by the “Rocket;” and it turned out that, instead of being
the most expensive part of the line, it was about the cheapest.
The total cost of forming the line over the Moss was £28,000,
whereas Mr. Giles’s estimate was £270,000! It also proved to be
one of the best portions of the railway. Being a floating road, it
was as smooth and easy to run upon as Dr. Arnott’s water-bed is
soft and easy to lie upon—the pressure being equal at all points.
There was, and still is, a sort of springiness in the road over the
Moss, such as is felt when passing along a suspended bridge; and
those who looked along the Moss as a train passed over it said
they could observe a waviness, such as precedes and follows a
skater upon ice.

During the progress of the works the most ridiculous rumors
were set afloat. The drivers of the stage-coaches, who feared for
their calling, brought the alarming intelligence into Manchester
from time to time that “Chat Moss was blown up!” “Hundreds
of men and horses had sunk in the bog; and the works were
completely abandoned!” The engineer himself was declared to
have been swallowed up in the Serbonian bog; and “railways
were at an end forever!”

In the construction of the railway, George Stephenson’s capacity
for organizing and directing the labors of a large number of
workmen of all kinds eminently displayed itself. A vast quantity
of ballast-wagons had to be constructed for the purposes of
the work, and implements and materials had to be collected, before
the mass of labor to be employed could be efficiently set in
motion at the various points of the line. There were not at that
time, as there are now, large contractors, possessed of railway
plant, capable of executing earthworks on a large scale. Our engineer
had, therefore, not only to contrive the plant, but to organize
the labor, and direct it in person. The very laborers themselves
had to be trained to their work by him; and it was on the
Liverpool and Manchester line that Mr. Stephenson organized
the staff of that formidable band of railway navvies, whose handiworks
will be the wonder and admiration of succeeding generations.
Looking at their gigantic traces, the men of some future
age may be found to declare, of the engineer and of his workmen,
that “there were giants in those days.”

Although the works of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway[290]
are of a much less formidable character than those of many lines
that have since been constructed, they were then regarded as of
a stupendous kind. Indeed, few works of such magnitude had
before been executed in England. It had been the engineer’s
original intention to carry the railway from the north end of
Liverpool round the red sandstone ridge on which the upper part
of the town is built, and also round the higher rise of the coal
formation at Rainhill, by following the natural levels to the north
of Knowsley. But the opposition of the land-owners having
forced the line more to the south, it was rendered necessary to
cut through the hills, and go over the high grounds instead of
round them. The first consequence of this alteration in the plans
was the necessity for constructing a tunnel under the town of
Liverpool a mile and a half in length, from the docks at Wapping
to the top of Edgehill; the second was the necessity for
forming a long and deep cutting through the red sandstone rock
at Olive Mount; and the third and worst of all was the necessity
for ascending and descending the Whiston and Sutton hills by
means of inclined planes of 1 in 96. The line was also, by the
same forced deviation, prevented passing through the Lancashire
coal-field, and the engineer was compelled to carry the works
across the Sankey valley at a point where the waters of the brook
had dug out an excessively deep channel through the marl-beds
of the district.

The principal difficulty was experienced in pushing on the
works connected with the formation of the tunnel under Liverpool,
2200 yards in length. The blasting and hewing of the
rock were vigorously carried on night and day; and the engineer’s
practical experience in the collieries here proved of great
use to him. Many obstacles had to be encountered and overcome
in the formation of the tunnel, the rock varying in hardness and
texture at different parts. In some places the miners were deluged
by water, which surged from the soft blue shale found at the lowest
level of the tunnel. In other places beds of wet sand were
cut through, and there careful propping and pinning were necessary
to prevent the roof from tumbling in until the masonry to
support it could be erected. On one occasion, while Stephenson
was absent from Liverpool, a mass of loose moss-earth and sand
fell from the roof, which had been insufficiently propped. The[291]
miners withdrew from the work; and on the engineer’s return
he found them in a refractory state, refusing to re-enter the tunnel.
He induced them, however, by his example, to return to
their labors; and when the roof had been secured, the work went
on again as before. When there was danger, he was always
ready to share it with the men; and, gathering confidence from
his fearlessness, they proceeded vigorously with the undertaking,
boring and mining their way toward the light.

OLIVE MOUNT CUTTING.   [By Percival Skelton.]

The Olive Mount cutting was the first extensive stone cutting
executed on any railway, and to this day it is one of the most formidable.
It is about two miles long, and in some parts more than
a hundred feet deep. It is a narrow ravine or defile cut out of
the solid rock, and not less than four hundred and eighty thousand
cubic yards of stone were removed from it. Mr. Vignolles, afterward[292]
describing it, said it looked as if it had been dug out by

SANKEY VIADUCT.   [By Percival Skelton.]

The crossing of so many roads and streams involved the necessity
for constructing an unusual number of bridges. There were
not fewer than sixty-three, under or over the railway, on the thirty
miles between Liverpool and Manchester. Up to this time
bridges had been applied generally to high roads, where inclined
approaches were of comparatively small importance, and in determining
the rise of his arch the engineer selected any headway
he thought proper. Every consideration was indeed made subsidiary
to constructing the bridge itself, and the completion of
one large structure of this sort was regarded as an epoch in engineering
history. Yet here, in the course of a few years, no fewer
than sixty-three bridges were constructed on one line of railway!
Mr. Stephenson early found that the ordinary arch was inapplicable
in certain cases, where the headway was limited, and yet the[293]
level of the railway must be preserved. In such cases he employed
simple cast-iron beams, by which he safely bridged gaps
of moderate width, economizing headway, and introducing the
use of a new material of the greatest possible value to the engineer.
The bridges of masonry upon the line were of many kinds;
several of them were skew bridges, while others, such as those at
Newton and over the Irwell at Manchester, were straight and of
considerable dimensions. But the principal piece of masonry on
the line was the Sankey viaduct.

This fine work is principally of brick, with stone facings. It
consists of nine arches of fifty feet span each. The massive piers
are supported on two hundred piles driven deep into the soil;
and they rise to a great height—the coping of the parapet being
seventy feet above the level of the valley, in which flow the Sankey
brook and Canal. Its total cost was about £45,000.

By the end of 1828 the directors found they had expended
£460,000 on the works, and that they were still far from completion.
They looked at the loss of interest on this large investment,
and began to grumble at the delay. They desired to see
their capital becoming productive; and in the spring of 1829
they urged the engineer, to push on the works with increased
vigor. Mr. Cropper, one of the directors, who took an active interest
in their progress, said to Stephenson one day, “Now, George,
thou must get on with the railway, and have it finished without
farther delay: thou must really have it ready for opening by the
first day of January next.” “Consider the heavy character of
the works, sir, and how much we have been delayed by the want
of money, not to speak of the wetness of the weather: it is impossible.”
“Impossible!” rejoined Cropper; “I wish I could get
Napoleon to thee—he would tell thee there is no such word as
‘impossible’ in the vocabulary.” “Tush!” exclaimed Stephenson,
with warmth, “don’t speak to me about Napoleon! Give me
men, money, and materials, and I will do what Napoleon couldn’t
do—drive a railroad from Liverpool to Manchester over Chat
Moss!” And truly the formation of a high road over that bottomless
bog was apparently a more difficult task than the making
even of Napoleon’s far-famed road across the Simplon.

The directors had more than once been embarrassed by want
of funds to meet the heavy expenditure. The country had scarcely[294]
yet recovered from the general panic and crash of 1825, and it
was with difficulty that the calls could be raised from the shareholders.
A loan of £100,000 was obtained from the Exchequer
Loan Commissioners in 1826; and in 1829 an act was passed
enabling the company to raise farther capital, to provide working
plant for the railway. Two acts were also obtained during the
progress of the undertaking, enabling deviations and alterations
to be made; one to improve the curves and shorten the line near
Rainhill, and the other to carry the line across the Irwell into
the town of Manchester. Thanks to the energy of the engineer,
the industry of his laborers, and the improved supply of money by
the directors, the railway made rapid progress in the course of the
year 1829. Double sets of laborers were employed on Chat Moss
and at other places in carrying on the works by night and day,
the night shifts working by torch and fire light; and at length,
the work advancing at all points, the directors saw their way to
the satisfactory completion of the undertaking.

It may well be supposed that Stephenson’s time was fully occupied
in superintending the extensive and for the most part
novel works connected with the railway, and that even his extraordinary
powers of labor and endurance were taxed to the utmost
during the four years that they were in progress. Almost
every detail in the plans was directed and arranged by himself.
Every bridge, from the simplest to the most complicated, including
the then novel structure of the “skew bridge,” iron girders,
siphons, fixed engines, and the machinery for working the tunnel
at the Liverpool end, had all to be thought out by his own head,
and reduced to definite plans under his own eyes. Besides all
this, he had to design the working plant in anticipation of the
opening of the railway. He must be prepared with wagons,
trucks, and carriages, himself superintending their manufacture.
The permanent road, turn-tables, switches, and crossings—in
short, the entire structure and machinery of the line, from the
turning of the first sod to the running of the first train of carriages
on the railway, went on under his immediate supervision.
And it was in the midst of this vast accumulation of work and
responsibility that the battle of the locomotive engine had to be
fought—a battle not merely against material difficulties, but
against the still more trying obstructions of deeply-rooted mistrust[295]
and prejudice on the part of a considerable minority of the

He had no staff of experienced assistants—not even a staff of
draughtsmen in his office—but only a few pupils learning their
business, and he was frequently without even their help. The
time of his engineering inspectors was fully occupied in the actual
superintendence of the works at different parts of the line,
and he took care to direct all their important operations in person.
The principal draughtsman was Mr. Thomas Gooch, a pupil
he had brought with him from Newcastle. “I may say,” writes
Mr. Gooch, “that nearly the whole of the working and other
drawings, as well as the various land-plans for the railway, were
drawn by my own hand. They were done at the company’s
office in Clayton Square during the day, from instructions supplied
in the evenings by Mr. Stephenson, either by word of
mouth, or by little rough hand sketches on letter-paper. The
evenings were also generally devoted to my duties as secretary,
in writing (mostly from his own dictation) his letters and reports,
or in making calculations and estimates. The mornings
before breakfast were not unfrequently spent by me in visiting
and lending a helping hand in the tunnel and other works near
Liverpool—the untiring zeal and perseverance of George Stephenson
never for an instant flagging, and inspiring with a like
enthusiasm all who were engaged under him in carrying forward
the works.”[63]


The usual routine of his life at this time—if routine it could
be called—was to rise early, by sunrise in summer and before it
in winter, and “break the back of the day’s work” by midday.
While the tunnel under Liverpool was in progress, one of his first
duties in the morning before breakfast was to go over the various
shafts, clothed in a suitable dress, and inspect the progress of the[296]
work at different points; on other days he would visit the extensive
workshops at Edgehill, where most of the “plant” for the
line was manufactured. Then, returning to his house in Upper
Parliament Street, Windsor, after a hurried breakfast, he would
ride along the works to inspect their progress, and push them on
with greater energy where needful. On other days he would
prepare for the much less congenial engagement of meeting the
board, which was often a cause of great anxiety and pain to him;
for it was difficult to satisfy men of all tempers, some of which
were not of the most generous kind. On such occasions he might
be seen with his right-hand thumb thrust through the topmost
button-hole of his coat-breast, vehemently hitching his right
shoulder, as was his habit when laboring under any considerable
excitement. Occasionally he would take an early ride before
breakfast, to inspect the progress of the Sankey viaduct. He
had a favorite horse, brought by him from Newcastle, called
“Bobby”—so tractable that, with his rider on his back, he would
walk up to a locomotive with the steam blowing off, and put his
nose against it without shying. “Bobby,” saddled and bridled,
was brought to Stephenson’s door betimes in the morning, and,
mounting him, he would ride the fifteen miles to Sankey, putting
up at a little public house which then stood upon the banks of
the canal. There he had his breakfast of “crowdie,” which he[297]
made with his own hands. It consisted of oatmeal stirred into
a basin of hot water—a sort of porridge—which was supped
with cold sweet milk. After this frugal breakfast he would go
upon the works, and remain there, riding from point to point for
the greater part of the day. If he returned home before midday
it would be to examine the pay-sheets in the different departments
sent in by the assistant engineers, or by the foremen of
the workshops; all this he did himself with the greatest care, requiring
a full explanation of every item.

After a late dinner, which occupied very short time and was
always of a plain and frugal description,[64] he would proceed to
dispose of his correspondence, or prepare sketches of drawings,
and give instructions as to their completion. He would occasionally
refresh himself for this evening work by a short doze, which,
however, he would never admit had exceeded the limits of “winking,”
to use his own term. Mr. Frederick Swanwick, who officiated
as his secretary after the appointment of Mr. Gooch as resident
engineer to the Bolton and Leigh Railway, has informed us
that he then remarked—what in after years he could better appreciate—the
clear, terse, and vigorous style of Stephenson’s dictation;
there was nothing superfluous in it, but it was close, direct,
and to the point—in short, thoroughly business-like. And if,
in passing through the pen of the amanuensis, his meaning happened
in any way to be distorted or modified, it did not fail to escape
his detection, though he was always tolerant of any liberties
taken with his own form of expression, so long as the words written
down conveyed his real meaning. His strong natural acumen
showed itself even in such matters as grammar and composition—a
department of knowledge in which, it might be supposed, he[298]
could scarcely have had either time or opportunity to acquire
much information. But here, as in all other things, his shrewd
common sense came to his help, and his simple, vigorous English
might almost be cited as a model of composition.

His letters and reports written, and his sketches of drawings
made and explained, the remainder of the evening was usually
devoted to conversation with his wife and those of his pupils who
lived under his roof, and constituted, as it were, part of the family.
He then delighted to test the knowledge of his young companions,
and to question them upon the principles of mechanics. If they
were not quite “up to the mark” on any point, there was no escaping
detection by evasive or specious explanations on their part.
These always met with the verdict of, “Ah! you know naught
about it now; but think it over again, and tell me the answer
when you understand it.” If there was even partial success in
the reply, it would at once be acknowledged, and a full explanation
was given, to which the master would add illustrative examples
for the purpose of impressing the principle more deeply upon
the pupil’s mind.

It was not so much his object and purpose to “cram” the minds
of the young men committed to his charge with the results of
knowledge as to stimulate them to educate themselves—to induce
them to develop their mental and moral powers by the exercise
of their own free energies, and thus acquire that habit of self-thinking
and self-reliance which is the spring of all true manly
action. In a word, he sought to bring out and invigorate the
character of his pupils. He felt that he himself had been made
stronger and better through his encounters with difficulty, and
he would not have the road of knowledge made too smooth and
easy for them. “Learn for yourselves—think for yourselves,” he
would say: “make yourselves masters of principles—persevere—be
industrious—and there is then no fear of you.” And not the
least emphatic proof of the soundness of this system of education,
as conducted by George Stephenson, was afforded by the after
history of the pupils themselves. There was not one of those
trained under his eye who did not rise to eminent usefulness and
distinction as an engineer. He sent them forth into the world
braced with the spirit of self-help—inspired by his own noble example;
and they repeated in their after career the lessons of earnest[299]
effort and persistent industry which his daily life had taught

Mr. Stephenson’s evenings at home were not, however, exclusively
devoted either to business or to the graver exercises above
referred to. He would often indulge in cheerful conversation
and anecdote, falling back from time to time upon the struggles
and difficulties of his early life. The not unfrequent winding up
of his story, addressed to those about him, was, “Ah! ye young
fellows don’t know what wark is in these days!” Mr. Swanwick
delights recalling to mind how seldom, if ever, a cross or captious
word, or an angry look, marred the enjoyment of those evenings.
The presence of Mrs. Stephenson gave them an additional charm:
amiable, kind-hearted, and intelligent, she shared quietly in the
pleasure of the party; and the atmosphere of comfort which always
pervaded her home contributed in no small degree to render
it a centre of cheerful, hopeful intercourse, and of earnest,
honest industry.


When Stephenson retired for the night, it was not always that
he permitted himself to sink into slumber. Like Brindley, he
worked out many a difficult problem in bed; and for hours he
would turn over in his mind and study how to overcome some
obstacle, or to mature some project, on which his thoughts were[300]
bent. Some remark inadvertently dropped by him at the breakfast-table
in the morning served to show that he had been stealing
some hours from the night in reflection and study. Yet
he would rise at his accustomed early hour, and there was no
abatement of his usual energy in carrying on the business of
the day.




We return to the career of Robert Stephenson, who was absent
from England during the construction of the Liverpool Railway,
but was now about to rejoin his father and take part in “the
battle of the locomotive” which was impending.

We have seen that, on his return from Edinburg College at
the end of 1821, he had assisted in superintending the works of
the Hetton Railway until its opening in 1822, after which he
proceeded to Liverpool to take part with Mr. James in surveying
the proposed railway there. In the following year we found him
assisting his father in the working survey of the Stockton and
Darlington Railway; and when the Locomotive Engine Works
were started in Forth Street, Newcastle, he took an active part
in that concern. “The factory,” he says, “was in active operation
in 1824; I left England for Colombia in June of that year,
having finished drawing the designs of the Brusselton stationary
engines for the Stockton and Darlington Railway before I left.”[65]

Speculation was very rife at the time, and among the most
promising adventures were the companies organized for the purpose
of working the gold and silver mines of South America.
Great difficulty was experienced in finding mining engineers
capable of carrying out those projects, and young men of even
the most moderate experience were eagerly sought after. The
Colombian Mining Association of London offered an engagement
to young Stephenson to go out to Mariquita and take charge of
the engineering operations of that company. Robert was himself
desirous of accepting it, but his father said it would first be
necessary to ascertain whether the proposed change would be for
his good. His health had been very delicate for some time,
partly occasioned by his rapid growth, but principally because of[302]
his close application to work and study. Father and son proceeded
together to call upon Dr. Headlam, the eminent physician
of Newcastle, to consult him on the subject. During the examination
which ensued, Robert afterward used to say that he felt
as if he were upon trial for life or death. To his great relief, the
doctor pronounced that a temporary residence in a warm climate
was the very thing likely to be most beneficial to him. The appointment
was accordingly accepted, and, before many weeks had
passed, Robert Stephenson had set sail for South America.

After a tolerably prosperous voyage he landed at La Guayra,
on the north coast of Venezuela, on the 23d of July, from thence
proceeding to Caraccas, the capital of the district, about fifteen
miles inland. There he remained for two months, unable to proceed
in consequence of the wretched state of the roads in the interior.
He contrived, however, to make occasional excursions in
the neighborhood with an eye to the mining business on which
he had come. About the beginning of October he set out for
Bogotá, the capital of Colombia or New Granada. The distance
was about twelve hundred miles, through a very difficult region,
and it was performed entirely upon mule-back, after the fashion
of the country.

In the course of the journey Robert visited many of the districts
reported to be rich in minerals, but he met with few traces
except of copper, iron, and coal, with occasional indications of
gold and silver. He found the people ready to furnish information,
which, however, when tested, usually proved worthless. A
guide, whom he employed for weeks, kept him buoyed up with
the hope of finding richer mining places than he had yet seen;
but when he professed to be able to show him mines of “brass,
steel, alcohol, and pinchbeck,” Stephenson discovered him to be
an incorrigible rogue, and immediately dismissed him. At length
our traveler reached Bogotá, and after an interview with Mr. Illingworth,
the commercial manager of the Mining Company, he
proceeded to Honda, crossed the Magdalena, and shortly after
reached the site of his intended operations on the eastern slope
of the Andes.

Mr. Stephenson used afterward to speak in glowing terms of
this his first mule-journey in South America. Every thing was
entirely new to him. The variety and beauty of the indigenous[303]
plants, the luxurious tropical vegetation, the appearance, manners,
and dress of the people, and the mode of traveling, were altogether
different from every thing he had before seen. His own
traveling garb also must have been strange even to himself. “My
hat,” he says, “was of plaited grass, with a crown nine inches in
height, surrounded by a brim of six inches; a white cotton suit;
and a ruana of blue and crimson plaid, with a hole in the centre
for the head to pass through. This cloak is admirably adapted
for the purpose, amply covering the rider and mule, and at night
answering the purpose of a blanket in the net-hammock, which is
made from the fibres of the aloe, and which every traveler carries
before him on his mule, and suspends to the trees or in
houses, as occasion may require.”

The part of the journey which seems to have made the most
lasting impression on his mind was that between Bogotá and the
mining district in the neighborhood of Mariquita. As he ascended
the slopes of the mountain range, and reached the first step of
the table-land, he was struck beyond expression with the noble
view of the valley of Magdalena behind him, so vast that he failed
in attempting to define the point at which the course of the
river blended with the horizon. Like all travelers in the district,
he noted the remarkable changes of climate and vegetation as he
rose from the burning plains toward the fresh breath of the
mountains. From an atmosphere as hot as that of an oven he
passed into delicious cool air, until, in his onward and upward
journey, a still more temperate region was reached, the very perfection
of climate. Before him rose the majestic Cordilleras,
forming a rampart against the western sky, and at certain times
of the day looking black, sharp, and even at their summit almost
like a wall.

Our engineer took up his abode for a time at Mariquita, a fine
old city, though then greatly fallen into decay. During the period
of the Spanish dominion it was an important place, most of
the gold and silver convoys passing through it on their way to
Cartagena, there to be shipped in galleons for Europe. The
mountainous country to the west was rich in silver, gold, and other
metals, and it was Mr. Stephenson’s object to select the best
site for commencing operations for the company. With this object
he “prospected” about in all directions, visiting long-abandoned[304]
mines, and analyzing specimens obtained from many quarters.
The mines eventually fixed upon as the scene of his operations
were those of La Manta and Santa Anna, long before worked
by the Spaniards, though, in consequence of the luxuriance
and rapidity of the vegetation, all traces of the old workings had
become completely overgrown and lost. Every thing had to be
begun anew. Roads had to be cut to open a way to the mines,
machinery had to be erected, and the ground opened up, when
some of the old adits were eventually hit upon. The native peons
or laborers were not accustomed to work, and they usually contrived
to desert when they were not watched, so that very little
progress could be made until the arrival of the expected band of
miners from England. The authorities were by no means helpful,
and the engineer was driven to an old expedient with the object
of overcoming this difficulty. “We endeavor all we can,”
he says, in one of his letters, “to make ourselves popular, and
this we find most effectually accomplished by ‘regaling the venal
beasts.'” He also gave a ball at Mariquita, which passed off
with éclat, the governor from Honda, with a host of friends, honoring
it with their presence. It was, indeed, necessary to “make
a party” in this way, as other schemers were already trying to
undermine the Colombian Company in influential directions.
The engineer did not exaggerate when he said, “The uncertainty
of transacting business in this country is perplexing beyond description.”
In the mean time laborers had been attracted to
Santa Anna, which became, the engineer wrote, “like an English
fair on Sundays: people flock to it from all quarters to buy beef
and chat with their friends. Sometimes three or four torros are
slaughtered in a day. The people now eat more beef in a week
than they did in two months before, and they are consequently
getting fat.”[66]

At last Stephenson’s party of miners arrived from England,
but they gave him even more trouble than the peons had done.
They were rough, drunken, and sometimes ungovernable. He[305]
set them to work at the Santa Anna mine without delay, and at
the same time took up his abode among them, “to keep them,”
he said, “if possible, from indulging in the detestable vice of
drunkenness, which, if not put a stop to, will eventually destroy
themselves, and involve the mining association in ruin.” To add
to his troubles, the captain of the miners displayed a very hostile
and insubordinate spirit, quarreled and fought with the men, and
was insolent to the engineer himself. The captain and his gang,
being Cornishmen, told Robert to his face that because he was
a North-country man, and not brought up in Cornwall, it was
impossible that he should know any thing of mining. Disease
also fell upon him—first fever, and then visceral derangement,
followed by a return of his “old complaint, a feeling of oppression
in the breast.” No wonder that in the midst of these troubles
he should longingly speak of returning to his native land. But
he stuck to his post and his duty, kept up his courage, and by a
mixture of mildness and firmness, and the display of great coolness
and judgment, he contrived to keep the men to their work,
and gradually to carry forward the enterprise which he had undertaken.
By the beginning of July, 1826, quietness and order
had been restored, and the works were proceeding more satisfactorily,
though the yield of silver was not as yet very promising,
the engineer being of opinion that at least three years’ diligent
and costly operations would be necessary to render the mines

In the mean time he removed to the dwelling which had been
erected for his accommodation at Santa Anna. It was a structure
speedily raised after the fashion of the country. The walls
were of split and flattened bamboo, tied together with the long
fibres of a dried climbing plant; the roof was of palm-leaves,
and the ceiling of reeds. When an earthquake shook the district—for
earthquakes were frequent—the inmates of such a fabric
merely felt as if shaken in a basket, without sustaining any
harm. In front of the cottage lay a woody ravine, extending almost
to the base of the Andes, gorgeously clothed in primeval
vegetation—magnolias, palms, bamboos, tree-ferns, acacias, cedars;
and towering over all were the great almendrons, with
their smooth, silvery stems, bearing aloft noble clusters of pure
white blossom. The forest was haunted by myriads of gay insects,[306]
butterflies with wings of dazzling lustre, birds of brilliant
plumage, humming-birds, golden orioles, toucans, and a host of
solitary warblers. But the glorious sunsets seen from his cottage-porch
more than all astonished and delighted the young
engineer, and he was accustomed to say that, after having witnessed
them, he was reluctant to accuse the ancient Peruvians of


But all these natural beauties failed to reconcile him to the
harassing difficulties of his position, which continued to increase
rather than diminish. He was hampered by the action of the
board at home, who gave ear to hostile criticisms on his reports;
and although they afterward made handsome acknowledgment
of his services, he felt his position to be altogether unsatisfactory.
He therefore determined to leave at the expiry of his three years’
engagement, and communicated his decision to the directors accordingly.[67][307]
On receiving his letter, the board, through Mr. Richardson, of
Lombard Street, one of the directors, communicated with his father
at Newcastle, representing that if he would allow his son to
remain in Colombia the company would make it “worth his
while.” To this the father gave a decided negative, and intimated
that he himself urgently needed his son’s assistance, and
that he must return at the expiry of his three years’ term—a decision,
Robert wrote, “at which I feel much gratified, as it is
clear that he is as anxious to have me back in England as I am
to get there.”

At the same time, Edward Pease, a principal partner in the
Newcastle firm, privately wrote Robert to the following effect,
urging his return home: “I can assure thee that the business at
Newcastle, as well as thy father’s engineering, have suffered very
much from thy absence, and, unless thou soon return, the former
will be given up, as Mr. Longridge is not able to give it that attention
it requires; and what is done is not done with credit to
the house.” The idea of the manufactory being given up, which
Robert had labored so hard to establish before leaving England,
was painful to him in the extreme, and he wrote to Mr. Illingworth,
strongly urging that arrangements should be made for enabling
him to leave without delay. In the mean time he was
laid prostrate by another violent attack of aguish fever; and
when able to write, in June, 1827, he expressed himself as “completely
wearied and worn down with vexation.”

At length, when he was sufficiently recovered from his attack
and able to travel, he set out on his voyage homeward in the beginning
of August. At Mompox, on his way down the River
Magdalena, he met Mr. Bodmer, his successor, with a fresh party[308]
of miners from England, on their way up the country to the quarters
which he had just quitted. Next day, six hours after leaving
Mompox, a steam-boat was met ascending the river, with Bolivar
the Liberator on board, on his way to St. Bogotá; and it was
a mortification to our engineer that he had only a passing sight
of that distinguished person. It was his intention, on leaving
Mariquita, to visit the Isthmus of Panamá on his way home, for
the purpose of inquiring into the practicability of cutting a canal
to unite the Atlantic and Pacific—a project which then formed
the subject of considerable public discussion; but Mr. Bodmer
having informed him at Mompox that such a visit would be inconsistent
with the statements made to the London Board that
his presence was so anxiously desired at home, he determined to
embrace the first opportunity of proceeding to New York.

Arrived at the port of Cartagena, he found himself under the
necessity of waiting some time for a ship. The delay was very
irksome to him, the more so as the place was then desolated by
the ravages of the yellow fever. While sitting one day in the
large, bare, comfortless public room of the miserable hotel at
which he put up, he observed two strangers, whom he at once
perceived to be English. One of the strangers was a tall, gaunt
man, shrunken and hollow-looking, shabbily dressed, and apparently
poverty-stricken. On making inquiry, he found it was
Trevithick, the builder of the first railroad locomotive! He was
returning home from the gold mines of Peru penniless. Robert
Stephenson lent him £50 to enable him to reach England; and
though he was afterward heard of as an inventor there, he had
no farther part in the ultimate triumph of the locomotive.

But Trevithick’s misadventures on this occasion had not yet
ended, for before he reached New York he was wrecked, and
Robert Stephenson with him. The following is the account of
the voyage, “big with adventures,” as given by the latter in a
letter to his friend Illingworth:

“At first we had very little foul weather, and, indeed, were for
several days becalmed among the islands, which was so far fortunate,
for a few degrees farther north the most tremendous gales
were blowing, and they appear (from our future information) to
have wrecked every vessel exposed to their violence. We had two
examples of the effects of the hurricane; for, as we sailed north, we[309]
took on board the remains of two crews found floating about on
dismantled hulls. The one had been nine days without food of any
kind except the carcasses of two of their companions who had died
a day or two previously from fatigue and hunger. The other crew
had been driven about for six days, and were not so dejected, but
reduced to such a weak state that they were obliged to be drawn
on board our vessel by ropes. A brig bound for Havana took part
of the men, and we took the remainder. To attempt any description
of my feelings on witnessing such scenes would be in vain.
You will not be surprised to learn that I felt somewhat uneasy at
the thought that we were so far from England, and that I also
might possibly suffer similar shipwreck; but I consoled myself with
the hope that fate would be more kind to us. It was not so much
so, however, as I had flattered myself; for on voyaging toward
New York, after we had made the land, we ran aground about midnight.
The vessel soon filled with water, and, being surrounded by
the breaking surf, the ship shortly split up, and before morning our
situation became perilous. Masts and all were cut away to prevent
the hull rocking, but all we could do was of no avail. About eight
o’clock on the following morning, after a most miserable night, we
were taken off the wreck, and were so fortunate as to reach the
shore. I saved my minerals, but Empson lost part of his botanical
collection. Upon the whole, we got off well; and, had I not been
on the American side of the Atlantic, I ‘guess’ I would not have
gone to sea again.”

After a short tour in the United States and Canada, Robert
Stephenson and his friend took ship for Liverpool, where they
arrived at the end of November, and at once proceeded to Newcastle.
The factory, we have seen, was by no means in a prosperous
state. During the time Robert had been in America it
had been carried on at a considerable loss; and Edward Pease,
very much disheartened, wished to retire from it, but George Stephenson
being unable to raise the requisite money to buy him
out, the establishment was of necessity carried on by its then
partners until the locomotive could be established in public estimation
as a practicable and economical working power. Robert
Stephenson immediately instituted a rigid inquiry into the working
of the concern, unraveled the accounts, which had been allowed
to fall into confusion during his father’s absence at Liverpool,
and very shortly succeeded in placing the affairs of the factory[310]
in a more healthy condition. In all this he had the hearty
support of his father, as well as of the other partners.

The works of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway were now
approaching completion. But, strange to say, the directors had
not yet decided as to the tractive power to be employed in working
the line when opened for traffic. The differences of opinion
among them were so great as apparently to be irreconcilable. It
was necessary, however, that they should come to some decision
without farther loss of time, and many board meetings were accordingly
held to discuss the subject. The old-fashioned and
well-tried system of horse-haulage was not without its advocates;
but, looking at the large amount of traffic which there was to be
conveyed, and at the probable delay in the transit from station
to station if this method were adopted, the directors, after a visit
made by them to the Northumberland and Durham railways in
1828, came to the conclusion that the employment of horse-power
was inadmissible.

Fixed engines had many advocates; the locomotive very few:
it stood as yet almost in a minority of one—George Stephenson.
The prejudice against the employment of the latter power had
even increased since the Liverpool and Manchester Bill underwent
its first ordeal in the House of Commons. In proof of this,
it may be mentioned that the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway
Act was conceded in 1829 on the express condition that it should
not be worked by locomotives, but by horses only.

Grave doubts still existed as to the practicability of working a
large traffic by means of traveling engines. The most celebrated
engineers offered no opinion on the subject. They did not believe
in the locomotive, and would scarcely take the trouble to examine
it. The ridicule with which George Stephenson had been assailed
by the barristers before the Parliamentary Committee had not
been altogether distasteful to them. Perhaps they did not relish
the idea of a man who had picked up his experience in Newcastle
coal-pits appearing in the capacity of a leading engineer before
Parliament, and attempting to establish a new system of internal
communication in the country.

The directors could not disregard the adverse and conflicting
views of the professional men whom they consulted. But Stephenson
had so repeatedly and earnestly urged upon them the[311]
propriety of making a trial of the locomotive before coming to
any decision against it, that they at length authorized him to proceed
with the construction of one of his engines by way of experiment.
In their report to the proprietors at their annual meeting
on the 27th of March, 1828, they state that they had, after due
consideration, authorized the engineer “to prepare a locomotive
engine, which, from the nature of its construction and from the
experiments already made, he is of opinion will be effective for
the purposes of the company, without proving an annoyance to
the public.” The locomotive thus ordered was placed upon the
line in 1829, and was found of great service in drawing the wagons
full of marl from the two great cuttings.

In the mean time the discussion proceeded as to the kind of
power to be permanently employed for the working of the railway.
The directors were inundated with schemes of all sorts for
facilitating locomotion. The projectors of England, France, and
America seemed to be let loose upon them. There were plans
for working the wagons along the line by water-power. Some
proposed hydrogen, and others carbonic acid gas. Atmospheric
pressure had its eager advocates. And various kinds of fixed
and locomotive steam-power were suggested. Thomas Gray
urged his plan of a greased road with cog-rails; and Messrs. Vignolles
and Ericsson recommended the adoption of a central friction-rail,
against which two horizontal rollers under the locomotive,
pressing upon the sides of this rail, were to afford the means
of ascending the inclined planes.

The directors felt themselves quite unable to choose from amid
this multitude of projects. Their engineer expressed himself as
decidedly as heretofore in favor of smooth rails and locomotive
engines, which, he was confident, would be found the most economical
and by far the most convenient moving power that could
be employed. The Stockton and Darlington Railway being now
at work, another deputation went down personally to inspect the
fixed and locomotive engines on that line, as well as at Hetton
and Killingworth. They returned to Liverpool with much information;
but their testimony as to the relative merits of the two
kinds of engines was so contradictory, that the directors were as
far from a decision as ever.

They then resolved to call to their aid two professional engineers[312]
of high standing, who should visit the Darlington and Newcastle
railways, carefully examine both modes of working—the
fixed and the locomotive—and report to them fully on the subject.
The gentlemen selected were Mr. Walker, of Limehouse,
and Mr. Rastrick, of Stourbridge. After carefully examining
the working of the Northern lines, they made their report to the
directors in the spring of 1829. They concurred in the opinion
that the cost of an establishment of fixed engines would be somewhat
greater than that of locomotives to do the same work, but
they thought the annual charge would be less if the former were
adopted. They calculated that the cost of moving a ton of goods
thirty miles by fixed engines would be 6·40d., and by locomotives,
8·36d., assuming a profitable traffic to be obtained both ways. At
the same time, it was admitted that there appeared more grounds
for expecting improvements in the construction and working of
locomotives than of stationary engines. “On the whole, however,
and looking especially at the computed annual charge of
working the road on the two systems on a large scale, Messrs.
Walker and Rastrick were of opinion that fixed engines were
preferable, and accordingly recommended their adoption to the
directors.”[68] And in order to carry the system recommended by
them into effect, they proposed to divide the railroad between
Liverpool and Manchester into nineteen stages of about a mile
and a half each, with twenty-one engines fixed at the different
points to work the trains forward.

Such was the result, so far, of George Stephenson’s labors.[313]
The two best practical engineers of the day concurred in reporting
substantially in favor of the employment of fixed engines.
Not a single professional man of eminence could be found to coincide
with the engineer of the railway in his preference for locomotive
over fixed engine power. He had scarcely a supporter,
and the locomotive system seemed on the eve of being abandoned.
Still he did not despair. With the profession against him,
and public opinion against him—for the most frightful stories
went abroad respecting the dangers, the unsightliness, and the
nuisance which the locomotive would create—Stephenson held
to his purpose. Even in this, apparently the darkest hour of the
locomotive, he did not hesitate to declare that locomotive railroads
would, before many years had passed, be “the great highways
of the world.”

He urged his views upon the directors in all ways, in season,
and, as some of them thought, out of season. He pointed out
the greater convenience of locomotive power for the purposes of
a public highway, likening it to a series of short unconnected
chains, any one of which could be removed and another substituted
without interruption to the traffic; whereas the fixed-engine
system might be regarded in the light of a continuous chain
extending between the two termini, the failure of any link of
which would derange the whole.[69] But the fixed-engine party
were very strong at the board, and, led by Mr. Cropper, they
urged the propriety of forthwith adopting the report of Messrs.
Walker and Rastrick. Mr. Sandars and Mr. William Rathbone,
on the other hand, desired that a fair trial should be given to the
locomotive; and they with reason objected to the expenditure
of the large capital necessary to construct the proposed engine-houses,
with their fixed engines, ropes, and machinery, until they
had tested the powers of the locomotive as recommended by their[314]
own engineer. George Stephenson continued to urge upon them
that the locomotive was yet capable of great improvements, if
proper inducements were held out to inventors and machinists
to make them; and he pledged himself that, if time were given
him, he would construct an engine that should satisfy their requirements,
and prove itself capable of working heavy loads
along the railway with speed, regularity, and safety. At length,
influenced by his persistent earnestness not less than by his arguments,
the directors, at the suggestion of Mr. Harrison, determined
to offer a prize of £500 for the best locomotive engine,
which, on a certain day, should be produced on the railway,
and perform certain specified conditions in the most satisfactory

The requirements of the directors as to speed were not excessive.
All that they asked for was that ten miles an hour should
be maintained. Perhaps they had in mind the animadversions
of the “Quarterly Reviewer” on the absurdity of traveling at a
greater velocity, and also the remarks published by Mr. Nicholas[315]
Wood, whom they selected to be one of the judges of the competition,
in conjunction with Mr. Rastrick, of Stourbridge, and
Mr. Kennedy, of Manchester.

It was now felt that the fate of railways in a great measure
depended upon the issue of this appeal to the mechanical genius
of England. When the advertisement of the prize for the best
locomotive was published, scientific men began more particularly
to direct their attention to the new power which was thus
struggling into existence. In the mean time public opinion on
the subject of railway working remained suspended, and the progress
of the undertaking was watched with intense interest.

During the progress of this important controversy with reference
to the kind of power to be employed in working the railway,
George Stephenson was in constant communication with his
son Robert, who made frequent visits to Liverpool for the purpose
of assisting his father in the preparation of his reports to
the board on the subject. Mr. Swanwick remembers the vivid interest
of the evening discussions which then took place between
father and son as to the best mode of increasing the powers and
perfecting the mechanism of the locomotive. He wondered at
their quick perception and rapid judgment on each other’s suggestions;
at the mechanical difficulties which they anticipated
and provided for in the practical arrangement of the machine;
and he speaks of these evenings as most interesting displays of
two actively ingenious and able minds stimulating each other to
feats of mechanical invention, by which it was ordained that the
locomotive engine should become what it now is. These discussions
became more frequent, and still more interesting, after the
public prize had been offered for the best locomotive by the directors
of the railway, and the working plans of the engine which
they proposed to construct had to be settled.

One of the most important considerations in the new engine
was the arrangement of the boiler and the extension of its heating
surface to enable steam enough to be raised rapidly and continuously
for the purpose of maintaining high rates of speed—the
effect of high-pressure engines being ascertained to depend
mainly upon the quantity of steam which the boiler can generate,
and upon its degree of elasticity when produced. The quantity
of steam so generated, it will be obvious, must chiefly depend[316]
upon the quantity of fuel consumed in the furnace, and, by necessary
consequence, upon the high rate of temperature maintained

It will be remembered that in Stephenson’s first Killingworth
engines he invited and applied the ingenious method of stimulating
combustion in the furnace by throwing the waste steam into
the chimney after performing its office in the cylinders, thereby
accelerating the ascent of the current of air, greatly increasing
the draught, and consequently the temperature of the fire. This
plan was adopted by him, as we have seen, as early as 1815,
and it was so successful that he himself attributed to it the
greater economy of the locomotive as compared with horse-power.
Hence the continuance of its use upon the Killingworth

Though the adoption of the steam-blast greatly quickened combustion
and contributed to the rapid production of high-pressure
steam, the limited amount of heating surface presented to the fire
was still felt to be an obstacle to the complete success of the locomotive
engine. Mr. Stephenson endeavored to overcome this
by lengthening the boilers and increasing the surface presented
by the flue-tubes. The “Lancashire Witch,” which he built for
the Bolton and Leigh Railway, and used in forming the Liverpool
and Manchester Railway embankments, was constructed with
a double tube, each of which contained a fire, and passed longitudinally
through the boiler. But this arrangement necessarily
led to a considerable increase in the weight of those engines,
which amounted to about twelve tons each; and as six tons was
the limit allowed for engines admitted to the Liverpool competition,
it was clear that the time was come when the Killingworth
engine must undergo a farther important modification.

For many years previous to this period, ingenious mechanics
had been engaged in attempting to solve the problem of the best
and most economical boiler for the production of high-pressure

The use of tubes in boilers for increasing the heating surface
had long been known. As early as 1780, Matthew Boulton employed
copper tubes longitudinally in the boiler of the Wheal
Busy engine in Cornwall—the fire passing through the tubes—and
it was found that the production of steam was thereby considerably[317]
increased.[71] The use of tubular boilers afterward became
common in Cornwall. In 1803, Woolf, the Cornish engineer,
patented a boiler with tubes, with the same object of increasing
the heating surface. The water was inside the tubes,
and the fire of the boiler outside. Similar expedients were proposed
by other inventors. In 1815 Trevithick invented his light
high-pressure boiler for portable purposes, in which, to “expose a
large surface to the fire,” he constructed the boiler of a number
of small perpendicular tubes “opening into a common reservoir
at the top.” In 1823 W. H. James contrived a boiler composed
of a series of annular wrought-iron tubes, placed side by side and
bolted together, so as to form by their union a long cylindrical
boiler, in the centre of which, at the end, the fireplace was situated.
The fire played round the tubes, which contained the
water. In 1826 James Neville took out a patent for a boiler
with vertical tubes surrounded by the water, through which the
heated air of the furnace passed, explaining also in his specification
that the tubes might be horizontal or inclined, according to
circumstances. Mr. Goldsworthy Gurney, the persevering adaptor
of steam-carriages to traveling on common roads, applied the
tubular principle in the boiler of his engine, in which the steam
was generated within the tubes; while the boiler invented by
Messrs. Summers and Ogle for their turnpike-road steam-carriage
consisted of a series of tubes placed vertically over the furnace,
through which the heated air passed before reaching the chimney.

About the same time George Stephenson was trying the effect
of introducing small tubes in the boilers of his locomotives, with
the object of increasing their evaporative power. Thus, in 1829,
he sent to France two engines constructed at the Newcastle works
for the Lyons and St. Etienne Railway, in the boilers of which
tubes were placed containing water. The heating surface was
thus considerably increased; but the expedient was not successful,
for the tubes, becoming furred with deposit, shortly burned
out and were removed. It was then that M. Seguin, the engineer[318]
of the railway, pursuing the same idea, is said to have adopted
his plan of employing horizontal tubes through which the heated
air passed in streamlets, and for which he took out a French

In the mean time Mr. Henry Booth, secretary to the Liverpool
and Manchester Railway, whose attention had been directed to
the subject on the prize being offered for the best locomotive to
work that line, proposed the same method, which, unknown to
him, Matthew Boulton had employed, but not patented, in 1780,
and James Neville had patented, but not employed, in 1826; and
it was carried into effect by Robert Stephenson in the construction
of the “Rocket,” which won the prize at Rainhill in October,
1829. The following is Mr. Booth’s account in a letter to the

“I was in almost daily communication with Mr. Stephenson at
the time, and I was not aware that he had any intention of competing
for the prize till I communicated to him my scheme of a multitubular
boiler. This new plan of boiler comprised the introduction
of numerous small tubes, two or three inches in diameter, and less
than one eighth of an inch thick, through which to carry the fire,
instead of a single tube or flue eighteen inches in diameter, and
about half an inch thick, by which plan we not only obtain a very
much larger heating surface, but the heating surface is much more
effective, as there intervenes between the fire and the water only a
thin sheet of copper or brass, not an eighth of an inch thick, instead
of a plate of iron of four times the substance, as well as an inferior
conductor of heat.

“When the conditions of trial were published, I communicated
my multitubular plan to Mr. Stephenson, and proposed to him that
we should jointly construct an engine and compete for the prize.
Mr. Stephenson approved the plan, and agreed to my proposal. He
settled the mode in which the fire-box and tubes were to be mutually
arranged and connected, and the engine was constructed at the
works of Messrs. Robert Stephenson and Co., Newcastle-on-Tyne.

“I am ignorant of M. Seguin’s proceedings in France, but I claim
to be the inventor in England, and feel warranted in stating, without
reservation, that until I named my plan to Mr. Stephenson, with
a view to compete for the prize at Rainhill, it had not been tried,
and was not known in this country.”

From the well-known high character of Mr. Booth, we believe[319]
his statement to be made in perfect good faith, and that he was
as much in ignorance of the plan patented by Neville as he was
of that of Seguin. As we have seen, from the many plans of
tubular boilers invented during the preceding thirty years, the
idea was not by any means new; and we believe Mr. Booth to
be entitled to the merit of inventing the method by which the
multitubular principle was so effectually applied in the construction
of the famous “Rocket” engine.

The principal circumstances connected with the construction
of the “Rocket,” as described by Robert Stephenson to the author,
may be briefly stated. The tubular principle was adopted in a
more complete manner than had yet been attempted. Twenty-five
copper tubes, each three inches in diameter, extended from
one end of the boiler to the other, the heated air passing through
them on its way to the chimney; and the tubes being surrounded
by the water of the boiler, it will be obvious that a large extension
of the heating surface was thus effectually secured. The
principal difficulty was in fitting the copper tubes in the boiler-ends
so as to prevent leakage. They were manufactured by a
Newcastle coppersmith, and soldered to brass screws which were
screwed into the boiler-ends, standing out in great knobs. When
the tubes were thus fitted, and the boiler was filled with water,
hydraulic pressure was applied; but the water squirted out at
every joint, and the factory floor was soon flooded. Robert went
home in despair; and in the first moment of grief he wrote to
his father that the whole thing was a failure. By return of post
came a letter from his father, telling him that despair was not to
be thought of—that he must “try again;” and he suggested a
mode of overcoming the difficulty, which his son had already anticipated
and proceeded to adopt. It was, to bore clean holes in
the boiler-ends, fit in the smooth copper tubes as tightly as possible,
solder up, and then raise the steam. This plan succeeded
perfectly, the expansion of the copper tubes completely filling up
all interstices, and producing a perfectly water-tight boiler, capable
of withstanding extreme external pressure.

The mode of employing the steam-blast for the purpose of increasing
the draught in the chimney was also the subject of numerous
experiments. When the engine was first tried, it was
thought that the blast in the chimney was not sufficiently strong[320]
for the purpose of keeping up the intensity of the fire in the furnace,
so as to produce high-pressure steam with the required velocity.
The expedient was therefore adopted of hammering the
copper tubes at the point at which they entered the chimney,
whereby the blast was considerably sharpened; and on a farther
trial it was found that the draught was increased to such an extent
as to enable abundance of steam to be raised. The rationale
of the blast may be simply explained by referring to the effect of
contracting the pipe of a water-hose, by which the force of the
jet of water is proportionately increased. Widen the nozzle of
the pipe, and the jet is in like manner diminished. So is it with
the steam-blast in the chimney of the locomotive.

Doubts were, however, expressed whether the greater draught
obtained by the contraction of the blast-pipe was not counterbalanced
in some degree by the negative pressure upon the piston.
Hence a series of experiments was made with pipes of different
diameters, and their efficiency was tested by the amount of vacuum
that was produced in the smoke-box. The degree of rarefaction
was determined by a glass tube fixed to the bottom of the
smoke-box, and descending into a bucket of water, the tube being
open at both ends. As the rarefaction took place, the water
would of course rise in the tube, and the height to which it rose
above the surface of the water in the bucket was made the measure
of the amount of rarefaction. These experiments proved
that a considerable increase of draught was obtained by the contraction
of the orifice; accordingly, the two blast-pipes opening
from the cylinders into either side of the “Rocket” chimney, and
turned up within it, were contracted slightly below the area of
the steam-ports; and before the engine left the factory, the water
rose in the glass tube three inches above the water in the

The other arrangements of the “Rocket” were briefly these:
the boiler was cylindrical, with flat ends, six feet in length, and
three feet four inches in diameter. The upper half of the boiler
was used as a reservoir for the steam, the lower half being filled
with water. Through the lower part the copper tubes extended,
being open to the fire-box at one end, and to the chimney at the
other. The fire-box, or furnace, two feet wide and three feet
high, was attached immediately behind the boiler, and was also[321]
surrounded with water. The cylinders of the engine were placed
on each side of the boiler, in an oblique position, one end being
nearly level with the top of the boiler at its after end, and the
other pointing toward the centre of the foremost or driving pair
of wheels, with which the connection was directly made from the
piston-rod to a pin on the outside of the wheel. The engine, together
with its load of water, weighed only four tons and a quarter;
and it was supported on four wheels, not coupled. The tender
was four-wheeled, and similar in shape to a wagon—the foremost
part holding the fuel, and the hind part a water-cask.


When the “Rocket” was finished, it was placed upon the Killingworth
Railway for the purpose of experiment. The new
boiler arrangement was found perfectly successful. The steam
was raised rapidly and continuously, and in a quantity which
then appeared marvelous. The same evening Robert dispatched
a letter to his father at Liverpool, informing him, to his great joy,
that the “Rocket” was “all right,” and would be in complete
working trim by the day of trial. The engine was shortly after
sent by wagon to Carlisle, and thence shipped for Liverpool.


The time so much longed for by George Stephenson had
now arrived, when the merits of the passenger locomotive were
about to be put to the test. He had fought the battle for it until
now almost single-handed. Engrossed by his daily labors and
anxieties, and harassed by difficulties and discouragements which
would have crushed the spirit of a less resolute man, he had held
firmly to his purpose through good and through evil report. The
hostility which he experienced from some of the directors opposed
to the adoption of the locomotive was the circumstance that
caused him the greatest grief of all; for where he had looked for
encouragement, he found only carping and opposition. But his
pluck never failed him; and now the “Rocket” was upon the
ground to prove, to use his own words, “whether he was a man
of his word or not.”

Great interest was felt at Liverpool, as well as throughout the
country, in the approaching competition. Engineers, scientific
men, and mechanics arrived from all quarters to witness the novel
display of mechanical ingenuity on which such great results
depended. The public generally were no indifferent spectators
either. The populations of Liverpool, Manchester, and the adjacent
towns felt that the successful issue of the experiment
would confer upon them individual benefits and local advantages
almost incalculable, while populations at a distance waited for
the result with almost equal interest.

On the day appointed for the great competition of locomotives
at Rainhill the following engines were entered for the prize:

  • 1. Messrs. Braithwaite and Ericsson’s
    [72] “Novelty.”
  • 2. Mr. Timothy Hackworth’s “Sanspareil.”
  • 3. Messrs. R. Stephenson and Co.’s “Rocket.”
  • 4. Mr. Burstall’s “Perseverance.”

Another engine was entered by Mr. Brandreth, of Liverpool—the
“Cycloped,” weighing three tons, worked by a horse in a
frame, but it could not be admitted to the competition. The
above were the only four exhibited, out of a considerable number
of engines constructed in different parts of the country in anticipation[323]
of this contest, many of which could not be satisfactorily
completed by the day of trial.

The ground on which the engines were to be tried was a level
piece of railroad, about two miles in length. Each was required
to make twenty trips, or equal to a journey of seventy miles, in
the course of the day, and the average rate of traveling was to be
not under ten miles an hour. It was determined that, to avoid
confusion, each engine should be tried separately, and on different

The day fixed for the competition was the 1st of October, but,
to allow sufficient time to get the locomotives into good working
order, the directors extended it to the 6th. On the morning of
the 6th the ground at Rainhill presented a lively appearance, and
there was as much excitement as if the St. Leger were about to
be run. Many thousand spectators looked on, among whom
were some of the first engineers and mechanicians of the day.
A stand was provided for the ladies; the “beauty and fashion”
of the neighborhood were present, and the side of the railroad
was lined with carriages of all descriptions.

It was quite characteristic of the Stephensons that, although
their engine did not stand first on the list for trial, it was the first
that was ready, and it was accordingly ordered out by the judges
for an experimental trip. Yet the “Rocket” was by no means
the “favorite” with either the judges or the spectators. Nicholas
Wood has since stated that the majority of the judges were
strongly predisposed in favor of the “Novelty,” and that “nine
tenths, if not ten tenths, of the persons present were against the
‘Rocket’ because of its appearance.”[73] Nearly every person favored
some other engine, so that there was nothing for the
“Rocket” but the practical test. The first trip made by it was
quite successful. It ran about twelve miles, without interruption,
in about fifty-three minutes.

The “Novelty” was next called out. It was a light engine, very
compact in appearance, carrying the water and fuel upon the
same wheels as the engine. The weight of the whole was only
three tons and one hundred weight. A peculiarity of this engine
was that the air was driven or forced through the fire by means
of bellows. The day being now far advanced, and some dispute[324]
having arisen as to the method of assigning the proper load for
the “Novelty,” no particular experiment was made farther than
that the engine traversed the line by way of exhibition, occasionally
moving at the rate of twenty-four miles an hour. The “Sanspareil,”
constructed by Mr. Timothy Hackworth, was next exhibited,
but no particular experiment was made with it on this day.
This engine differed but little in its construction from the locomotive
last supplied by the Stephensons to the Stockton and Darlington
Railway, of which Mr. Hackworth was the locomotive


The contest was postponed until the following day; but, before
the judges arrived on the ground, the bellows for creating the
blast in the “Novelty” gave way, and it was found incapable of
going through its performance. A defect was also detected in
the boiler of the “Sanspareil,” and some farther time was allowed
to get it repaired. The large number of spectators who had assembled
to witness the contest were greatly disappointed at this
postponement; but, to lessen it, Stephenson again brought out
the “Rocket,” and, attaching to it a coach containing thirty persons,
he ran them along the line at the rate of from twenty-four
to thirty miles an hour, much to their gratification and amazement.
Before separating, the judges ordered the engine to be in
readiness by eight o’clock on the following morning, to go through
its definitive trial according to the prescribed conditions.

On the morning of the 8th of October the “Rocket” was again
ready for the contest. The engine was taken to the extremity of[325]
the stage, the fire-box was filled with coke, the fire lighted, and
the steam raised until it lifted the safety-valve loaded to a pressure
of fifty pounds to the square inch. This proceeding occupied
fifty-seven minutes. The engine then started on its journey,
dragging after it about thirteen tons’ weight in wagons, and made
the first ten trips backward and forward along the two miles of
road, running the thirty-five miles, including stoppages, in an
hour and forty-eight minutes. The second ten trips were in like
manner performed in two hours and three minutes. The maximum
velocity attained during the trial trip was twenty-nine miles
an hour, or about three times the speed that one of the judges of
the competition had declared to be the limit of possibility. The
average speed at which the whole of the journeys were performed
was fifteen miles an hour, or five miles beyond the rate specified
in the conditions published by the company. The entire performance
excited the greatest astonishment among the assembled spectators;
the directors felt confident that their enterprise was now
on the eve of success; and George Stephenson rejoiced to think
that, in spite of all false prophets and fickle counselors, the locomotive
system was now safe. When the “Rocket,” having
performed all the conditions of the contest, arrived at the “grand
stand” at the close of its day’s successful run, Mr. Cropper—one
of the directors favorable to the fixed engine system—lifted up
his hands, and exclaimed, “Now has George Stephenson at last
delivered himself.”

Neither the “Novelty” nor the “Sanspareil” was ready for trial
until the 10th, on the morning of which day an advertisement appeared,
stating that the former engine was to be tried on that
day, when it would perform more work than any engine on the
ground. The weight of the carriages attached to it was only
about seven tons. The engine passed the first post in good style;
but, in returning, the pipe from the forcing-pump burst and put
an end to the trial. The pipe was afterward repaired, and the
engine made several trips by itself, in which it was said to have
gone at the rate of from twenty-four to twenty-eight miles an

The “Sanspareil” was not ready until the 13th; and when its
boiler and tender were filled with water, it was found to weigh
four hundred weight beyond the weight specified in the published[326]
conditions as the limit of four-wheeled engines; nevertheless, the
judges allowed it to run on the same footing as the other engines,
to enable them to ascertain whether its merits entitled it to favorable
consideration. It traveled at the average speed of about
fourteen miles an hour, with its load attached; but at the eighth
trip the cold-water pump got wrong, and the engine could proceed
no farther.

It was determined to award the premium to the successful engine
on the following day, the 14th, on which occasion there was
an unusual assemblage of spectators. The owners of the “Novelty”
pleaded for another trial, and it was conceded. But again it
broke down. Then Mr. Hackworth requested the opportunity
for making another trial of his “Sanspareil.” But the judges
had now had enough of failures, and they declined, on the ground
that not only was the engine above the stipulated weight, but
that it was constructed on a plan which they could not recommend
for adoption by the directors of the company. One of the
principal practical objections to this locomotive was the enormous
quantity of coke consumed or wasted by it—about 692 lbs. per
hour when traveling—caused by the sharpness of the steam-blast
in the chimney, which blew a large proportion of the burning
coke into the air.

The “Perseverance” of Mr. Burstall was found unable to move
at more than five or six miles an hour, and it was withdrawn
from the contest at an early period. The “Rocket” was thus the
only engine that had performed, and more than performed, all
the stipulated conditions, and it was declared to be entitled to the
prize of £500, which was awarded to the Messrs. Stephenson and
Booth accordingly. And farther to show that the engine had
been working quite within its powers, George Stephenson ordered
it to be brought upon the ground and detached from all incumbrances,
when, in making two trips, it was found to travel at the
astonishing rate of thirty-five miles an hour.

The “Rocket” had thus eclipsed the performances of all locomotive
engines that had yet been constructed, and outstripped
even the sanguine expectations of its constructors. It satisfactorily
answered the report of Messrs. Walker and Rastrick, and
established the efficiency of the locomotive for working the Liverpool
and Manchester Railway, and, indeed, all future railways.[327]
The “Rocket” showed that a new power had been born into the
world, full of activity and strength, with boundless capability of
work. It was the simple but admirable contrivance of the steam-blast,
and its combination with the multitubular boiler, that at
once gave locomotion a vigorous life, and secured the triumph of
the railway system.[74] As has been well observed, this wonderful
ability to increase and multiply its powers of performance with
the emergency that demands them has made this giant engine
the noblest creation of human wit, the very lion among machines.
The success of the Rainhill experiment, as judged by the public,
may be inferred from the fact that the shares of the company
immediately rose ten per cent., and nothing farther was heard of
the proposed twenty-one fixed engines, engine-houses, ropes, etc.
All this cumbersome apparatus was thenceforward effectually
disposed of.

Very different now was the tone of those directors who had
distinguished themselves by the persistency of their opposition to
George Stephenson’s plans. Coolness gave way to eulogy, and
hostility to unbounded offers of friendship, after the manner of
many men who run to the help of the strong. Deeply though
the engineer had felt aggrieved by the conduct exhibited toward
him during this eventful struggle by some from whom forbearance
was to have been expected, he never entertained toward
them in after life any angry feelings; on the contrary, he forgave
all. But, though the directors afterward passed unanimous
resolutions eulogizing “the great skill and unwearied energy” of[328]
their engineer, he himself, when speaking confidentially to those
with whom he was most intimate, could not help pointing out
the difference between his “foul-weather and fair-weather
friends.” Mr. Gooch says that, though naturally most cheerful
and kind-hearted in disposition, the anxiety and pressure which
weighed upon his mind during the construction of the railway
had the effect of making him occasionally impatient and irritable,
like a spirited horse touched by the spur, though his original good
nature from time to time shone through it all. When the line
had been brought to a successful completion, a very marked
change in him became visible. The irritability passed away,
and when difficulties and vexations arose they were treated by
him as matters of course, and with perfect composure and cheerfulness.





The directors of the railway now began to see daylight, and
they derived encouragement from the skillful manner in which
their engineer had overcome the principal difficulties of the undertaking.
He had formed a solid road over Chat Moss, and
thus achieved one “impossibility;” and he had constructed a locomotive
that could run at a speed of thirty miles an hour, thus
vanquishing a still more formidable difficulty.

A single line of way was completed over Chat Moss by the 1st
of January, 1830, and on that day the “Rocket,” with a carriage
full of directors, engineers, and their friends, passed along the
greater part of the road between Liverpool and Manchester. Mr.
Stephenson continued to direct his close attention to the improvement
of the details of the locomotive, every successive trial of
which proved more satisfactory. In this department he had the
benefit of the able and unremitting assistance of his son, who, in
the workshops at Newcastle, directly superintended the construction
of the engines required for the public working of the railway.
He did not by any means rest satisfied with the success,
decided though it was, which had been achieved by the “Rocket.”
He regarded it but in the light of a successful experiment;
and every successive engine placed upon the railway exhibited
some improvement on its predecessors. The arrangement of the
parts, and the weight and proportion of the engines, were altered
as the experience of each successive day, or week, or month
suggested; and it was soon found that the performances of the
“Rocket” on the day of trial had been greatly within the powers
of the improved locomotive.

The first entire trip between Liverpool and Manchester was
performed on the 14th of June, 1830, on the occasion of a board
meeting being held at the latter town. The train was on this[330]
occasion drawn by the “Arrow,” one of the new locomotives, in
which the most recent improvements had been adopted. George
Stephenson himself drove the engine, and Captain Scoresby, the
circumpolar navigator, stood beside him on the foot-plate, and
minuted the speed of the train. A great concourse of people assembled
at both termini, as well as along the line, to witness the
novel spectacle of a train of carriages drawn by an engine at the
speed of seventeen miles an hour. On the return journey to Liverpool
in the evening, the “Arrow” crossed Chat Moss at a speed
of nearly twenty-seven miles an hour, reaching its destination in
about an hour and a half.

In the mean time Mr. Stephenson and his assistant, Mr. Gooch,
were diligently occupied in making the necessary preliminary
arrangements for the conduct of the traffic against the time when
the line should be ready for opening. The experiments made
with the object of carrying on the passenger traffic at quick velocities
were of an especially harassing and anxious character.
Every week, for nearly three months before the opening, trial
trips were made to Newton and back, generally with two or three
trains following each other, and carrying altogether from two to
three hundred persons. These trips were usually made on Saturday
afternoons, when the works could be more conveniently stopped
and the line cleared for the occasion. In these experiments
Mr. Stephenson had the able assistance of Mr. Henry Booth, the
secretary of the company, who contrived many of the arrangements
in the passenger carriages, not the least valuable of which
was his invention of the coupling screw, still in use on all passenger

At length the line was finished and ready for the public opening,
which took place on the 15th of September, 1830, and attracted
a vast number of spectators from all parts of the country.
The completion of the railway was justly regarded as an important
national event, and the ceremony of its opening was celebrated
accordingly. The Duke of Wellington, then prime minister,
Sir Robert Peel, Secretary of State, Mr. Huskisson, one of
the members for Liverpool and an earnest supporter of the project
from its commencement, were among the number of distinguished
public personages present.

Eight locomotive engines, constructed at the Stephenson works,[331]
had been delivered and placed upon the line, the whole of which
had been tried and tested, weeks before, with perfect success. The
several trains of carriages accommodated in all about six hundred
persons. The “Northumbrian” engine, driven by George Stephenson
himself, headed the line of trains; then followed the
“Phœnix,” driven by Robert Stephenson; the “North Star,” by
Robert Stephenson senior (brother of George); the “Rocket,” by
Joseph Locke; the “Dart,” by Thomas L. Gooch; the “Comet,”
by William Allcard; the “Arrow,” by Frederick Swanwick; and
the “Meteor,” by Anthony Harding. The procession was cheered
in its progress by thousands of spectators—through the deep ravine
of Olive Mount; up the Sutton incline; over the great Sankey
viaduct, beneath which a multitude of persons had assembled—carriages
filling the narrow lanes, and barges crowding the
river; the people below gazing with wonder and admiration at
the trains which sped along the line, far above their heads, at the
rate of some twenty-four miles an hour.

At Parkside, about seventeen miles from Liverpool, the engines
stopped to take in water. Here a deplorable accident occurred
to one of the illustrious visitors, which threw a deep shadow over
the subsequent proceedings of the day. The “Northumbrian” engine,
with the carriage containing the Duke of Wellington, was
drawn up on one line, in order that the whole of the trains on the
other line might pass in review before him and his party. Mr.
Huskisson had alighted from the carriage, and was standing on
the opposite road, along which the “Rocket” was observed rapidly
coming up. At this moment the Duke of Wellington, between
whom and Mr. Huskisson some coolness had existed, made a sign
of recognition, and held out his hand. A hurried but friendly
grasp was given; and before it was loosened there was a general
cry from the by-standers of “Get in, get in!” Flurried and confused,
Mr. Huskisson endeavored to get round the open door of
the carriage, which projected over the opposite rail, but in so
doing he was struck down by the “Rocket,” and falling with his
leg doubled across the rail, the limb was instantly crushed. His
first words, on being raised, were, “I have met my death,” which
unhappily proved true, for he expired that same evening in the
parsonage of Eccles. It was cited at the time as a remarkable
fact that the “Northumbrian” engine, driven by George Stephenson[332]
himself, conveyed the wounded body of the unfortunate gentleman
a distance of about fifteen miles in twenty-five minutes,
or at the rate of thirty-six miles an hour. This incredible speed
burst upon the world with the effect of a new and unlooked-for

The accident threw a gloom over the rest of the day’s proceedings.
The Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel expressed a
wish that the procession should return to Liverpool. It was, however,
represented to them that a vast concourse of people had assembled
at Manchester to witness the arrival of the trains; that
report would exaggerate the mischief if they did not complete
the journey; and that a false panic on that day might seriously
affect future railway traveling and the value of the company’s
property. The party consented accordingly to proceed to Manchester,
but on the understanding that they should return as soon
as possible, and refrain from farther festivity.

As the trains approached Manchester, crowds of people were
found covering the banks, the slopes of the cuttings, and even the
railway itself. The multitude, become impatient and excited by
the rumors which reached them, had outflanked the military, and
all order was at an end. The people clambered about the carriages,
holding on by the door-handles, and many were tumbled
over; but, happily, no fatal accident occurred. At the Manchester
station the political element began to display itself; placards
about “Peterloo,” etc., were exhibited, and brickbats were thrown
at the carriage containing the duke. On the trains coming to a
stand in the Manchester station, the duke did not descend, but remained
seated, shaking hands with the women and children who
were pushed forward by the crowd. Shortly after, the trains returned
to Liverpool, which they reached, after considerable delays,
late at night.

On the following morning the railway was opened for public
traffic. The first train of 140 passengers was booked and sent on
to Manchester, reaching it in the allotted time of two hours; and
from that time the traffic has regularly proceeded from day to
day until now.

It is scarcely necessary that we should speak at any length of
the commercial results of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
Suffice it to say that its success was complete and decisive. The[333]
anticipations of its projectors were, however, in many respects at
fault. They had based their calculations almost entirely on the
heavy merchandise traffic—such as coal, cotton, and timber—relying
little upon passengers; whereas the receipts derived from
the conveyance of passengers far exceeded those derived from
merchandise of all kinds, which for a time continued a subordinate
branch of the traffic. In the evidence given before the Committee
of the House of Commons, the promoters stated their expectation
of obtaining about one half of the whole number of
passengers which the coaches then running could carry, or about
400 a day. But the railway was scarcely opened before it carried
on an average about 1200 passengers daily; and five years
after the opening, it carried nearly half a million of persons
yearly. So successful, indeed, was the passenger traffic, that it
engrossed the whole of the company’s small stock of engines.

For some time after the public opening of the line, Mr. Stephenson’s
ingenuity continued to be employed in devising improved
methods for securing the safety and comfort of the traveling
public. Few are aware of the thousand minute details
which have to be arranged—the forethought and contrivance
that have to be exercised—to enable the traveler by railway to
accomplish his journey in safety. After the difficulties of constructing
a level road over bogs, across valleys, and through deep
cuttings have been overcome, the maintenance of the way has to
be provided for with continuous care. Every rail, with its fastenings,
must be complete, to prevent risk of accident, and the road
must be kept regularly ballasted up to the level to diminish the
jolting of vehicles passing over it at high speeds. Then the stations
must be protected by signals observable from such a distance
as to enable the train to be stopped in event of an obstacle,
such as a stopping or shunting train being in the way. For some
years the signals employed on the Liverpool Railway were entirely
given by men with flags of different colors stationed along
the line; there were no fixed signals nor electric telegraphs; but
the traffic was nevertheless worked quite as safely as under the
more elaborate and complicated system of telegraphing which
has since been established.

From an early period it became obvious that the iron road, as
originally laid down, was quite insufficient for the heavy traffic[334]
which it had to carry. The line was in the first place laid with
fish-bellied rails of only thirty-five pounds to the yard, calculated
only for horse-traffic, or, at most, for engines like the “Rocket,”
of very light weight. But as the power and the weight of the
locomotives were increased, it was found that such rails were
quite insufficient for the safe conduct of the traffic, and it therefore
became necessary to relay the road with heavier and stronger
rails at considerable expense.

The details of the carrying stock had in like manner to be settled
by experience. Every thing had, as it were, to be begun
from the beginning. The coal-wagon, it is true, served in some
degree as a model for the railway-truck; but the railway passenger-carriage
was an entirely novel structure. It had to be
mounted upon strong framing, of a peculiar kind, supported on
springs to prevent jolting. Then there was the necessity for contriving
some method of preventing hard bumping of the carriage-ends
when the train was pulled up, and hence the contrivance
of buffer-springs and spring-frames. For the purpose of stopping
the train, brakes on an improved plan were also contrived,
with new modes of lubricating the carriage-axles, on which the
wheels revolved at an unusually high velocity. In all these contrivances
Mr. Stephenson’s inventiveness was kept constantly on
the stretch; and though many improvements in detail have been
effected since his time, the foundations were then laid by him of
the present system of conducting railway traffic. As a curious
illustration of the inventive ingenuity which he displayed in contriving
the working of the Liverpool line, we may mention his
invention of the Self-acting Brake. He early entertained the
idea that the momentum of the running train might itself be
made available for the purpose of checking its speed. He proposed
to fit each carriage with a brake which should be called
into action immediately on the locomotive at the head of the
train being pulled up. The impetus of the carriages carrying
them forward, the buffer-springs would be driven home, and, at
the same time, by a simple arrangement of the mechanism, the
brakes would be called into simultaneous action; thus the wheels
would be brought into a state of sledge, and the train speedily
stopped. This plan was adopted by Mr. Stephenson before he
left the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, though it was afterward[335]
discontinued; and it is a remarkable fact, that this identical
plan, with the addition of a centrifugal apparatus, was recently
revived by M. Guérin, a French engineer, and extensively employed
on foreign railways.

Finally, Mr. Stephenson had to attend to the improvement of
the power and speed of the locomotive—always the grand object
of his study—with a view to economy as well as regularity in the
working of the railway. In the “Planet” engine, delivered upon
the line immediately subsequent to the public opening, all the
improvements which had up to this time been contrived by him
and his son were introduced in combination—the blast-pipe, the
tubular boiler, horizontal cylinders inside the smoke-box, the
cranked axle, and the fire-box firmly fixed to the boiler. The
first load of goods conveyed from Liverpool to Manchester by
the “Planet” was eighty tons in weight, and the engine performed
the journey against a strong head wind in two hours and a
half. On another occasion, the same engine brought up a cargo
of voters from Manchester to Liverpool, during a contested election,
within a space of sixty minutes. The “Samson,” delivered
in the following year, exhibited still farther improvements, the
most important of which was that of coupling the fore and hind
wheels of the engine. By this means the adhesion of the wheels
on the rails was more effectually secured, and thus the full hauling
power of the locomotive was made available. The “Samson,”
shortly after it was placed upon the line, dragged after it a
train of wagons weighing a hundred and fifty tons at a speed of
about twenty miles an hour, the consumption of coke being reduced
to only about a third of a pound per ton per mile.

The rapid progress thus made will show that the inventive
faculties of Mr. Stephenson and his son were kept fully on the
stretch; but their labors were amply repaid by the result. They
were, doubtless, to some extent stimulated by the number of competitors
who about the same time appeared as improvers of the
locomotive engine. But the superiority of Stephenson’s locomotives
over all others that had yet been tried induced the directors
of the railway to require that the engines supplied to them by
other builders should be constructed after the same model. Mr.
Stephenson himself always had the greatest faith in the superiority
of his own engines over all others, and did not hesitate[336]
strongly to declare it. When it was once proposed to introduce
the engines of another maker on the Manchester and Leeds line,
he said, “Very well; I have no objection; but put them to this
fair test. Hang one of ——’s engines on to one of mine, back
to back. Then let them go at it; and whichever walks away
with the other, that’s the engine.”

The engineer had also to seek out the proper men to maintain
and watch the road, and more especially to work the locomotive
engines. Steadiness, sobriety, common sense, and practical experience
were the qualities which he especially valued in those
selected by him for that purpose. But where were the men of
experience to be found? Very few railways were yet at work,
and these were almost exclusively confined to the northern coal
counties; hence a considerable proportion of the drivers and
firemen employed on the Liverpool line were brought from the
neighborhood of Newcastle. But he could not always find skilled
workmen enough for the important and responsible duties to
be performed. It was a saying of his that “he could engineer
matter very well, and make it bend to his purpose, but his greatest
difficulty was in engineering men.” He often wished that he
could contrive heads and hands on which he might rely, as easily
as he could construct railways and manufacture locomotives. As
it was, Stephenson’s mechanics were in request all over England—the
Newcastle workshops continuing for many years to perform
the part of a training-school for engineers, and to supply
locomotive superintendents and drivers, not only for England,
but for nearly every country in Europe—preference being given
to them by the directors of railways, in consequence of their previous
training and experience, as well as because of their generally
excellent qualities as steady and industrious workmen.

The success of the Liverpool and Manchester experiment naturally
excited great interest. People flocked to Lancashire from
all quarters to see the steam-coach running upon a railway at
three times the speed of a mail-coach, and to enjoy the excitement
of actually traveling in the wake of an engine at that incredible
velocity. The travelers returned to their respective districts
full of the wonders of the locomotive, considering it to be
the greatest marvel of the age. Railways are familiar enough
objects now, and our children who grow up in their midst may[337]
think little of them; but thirty years since it was an event in
one’s life to see a locomotive, and to travel for the first time upon
a public railroad.

In remote districts, however, the stories told about the benefits
conferred by the Liverpool Railway were received with considerable
incredulity, and the proposal to extend such roads in all
directions throughout the country caused great alarm. In the
districts through which stage-coaches ran, giving employment to
large numbers of persons, it was apprehended that, if railways
were established, the turnpike roads would become deserted and
grown over with grass, country inns and their buxom landladies
would be ruined, the race of coach-drivers and hostlers would become
extinct, and the breed of horses be entirely destroyed. But
there was hope for the coaching interest in the fact that the government
were employing their engineers to improve the public
high roads so as to render railways unnecessary. It was announced
in the papers that a saving of thirty miles would be effected
by the new road between London and Holyhead, and an
equal saving between London and Edinburg. And to show what
the speed of horses could accomplish, we find it set forth as an
extraordinary fact that the “Patent Tally-ho Coach,” in the year
1830 (when the Birmingham line had been projected), performed
the entire journey of 109 miles between London and Birmingham—breakfast
included—in seven hours and fifty minutes!
Great speed was also recorded on the Brighton road, the “Red
Rover” doing the distance between London and Brighton in four
hours and a half. These speeds were not, however, secured without
accidents, for there was scarcely a newspaper of the period
that did not contain one or more paragraphs headed “Another
dreadful coach accident.”

The practicability of railway locomotion being now proved,
and its great social and commercial advantages ascertained, the
extension of the system was merely a question of time, money,
and labor. A fine opportunity presented itself for the wise and
judicious action of the government in the matter, the improvement
of the internal communications of a country being really
one of its most important functions. But the government of the
day, though ready enough to spend money in improving the old
turnpike roads, regarded the railroads with hostility, and met[338]
them with obstructions of all kinds. They seemed to think it
their duty to protect the turnpike trusts, disregarding the paramount
interest of the public. This may possibly account for the
singular circumstance that, at the very time they were manifesting
indifference or aversion to the locomotive on the railroad,
they were giving every encouragement to the locomotive on turnpike
roads. In 1831, we find a Committee of the House of Commons
appointed to inquire into and report upon—not the railway
system, but—the applicability of the steam-carriage to common
roads; and, after investigation, the committee were so satisfied
with the evidence taken, that they reported decidedly in favor of
the road locomotive system. Though they ignored the railway,
they recognized the steam-carriage.

But even a Report of the House of Commons, powerful though
it be, can not alter the laws of gravity and friction; and the road
locomotive remained, what it ever will be, an impracticable machine.
Not that it is impossible to work a locomotive upon a
common road, but to work it to any profit at all as compared with
the locomotive upon a railway. Numerous trials of steam-carriages
were made at the time by Sir Charles Dance, Mr. Hancock,
Mr. Gurney, Sir James Anderson, and other distinguished gentlemen
of influence. Journalists extolled their utility, compared
with “the much-boasted application on railroads.”[75] But, notwithstanding
all this, and the House of Commons’ Report in its
favor, Stephenson’s first verdict, pronounced on the road locomotive
many years before, when he was only an engine-wright at
Killingworth, was fully borne out by the result, and it became
day by day clearer that the attempt to introduce the engine into
general use upon turnpike roads could only prove a delusion and
a snare.

Although the Legislature took no initiative step in the direction
of railway extension, the public spirit and enterprise of the
country did not fail it at this juncture. The English people,
though they may be defective in their capacity for organization,
are strong in individualism, and not improbably their admirable
qualities in the latter respect detract from their efficiency in the
former. Thus, in all times, their greatest national enterprises
have not been planned by officialism and carried out upon any[339]
regular system, but have sprung, like their Constitution, their
laws, and their entire industrial arrangements, from the force of
circumstances and the individual energies of the people. Hence
railway extension, like so many other great English enterprises,
was now left to be carried out by the genius of English engineers,
backed by the energy of the British public.

The mode of action was characteristic and national. The execution
of the new lines was undertaken entirely by joint-stock
associations of proprietors, after the manner of the Stockton and
Darlington, and Liverpool and Manchester companies. These
associations are conformable to our national habits, and fit well
into our system of laws. They combine the power of vast resources
with individual watchfulness and motives of self-interest;
and by their means gigantic undertakings, which elsewhere
would be impossible to any but kings and emperors with great
national resources at command, were carried out by the co-operation
of private persons. And the results of this combination of
means and of enterprise have been truly marvelous. Within the
life of the present generation, the private citizens of England engaged
in railway extension have, in the face of government obstructions,
and without taking a penny from the public purse,
executed a system of communications involving works of the
most gigantic kind, which, in their total mass, their cost, and
their public utility, far exceed the most famous national undertakings
of any age or country.

Mr. Stephenson was, of course, actively engaged in the construction
of the numerous railways now projected by the joint-stock
companies. During the formation of the Manchester and
Liverpool line he had been consulted respecting many projects of
a similar kind. One of these was a short railway between Canterbury
and Whitstable, about six miles in length. He was too
much occupied with the works at Liverpool to give this scheme
much of his personal attention; but he sent his assistant, Mr.
John Dixon, to survey the line, and afterward Mr. Locke to superintend
the execution of the works. The act was obtained in
1826, and the line was opened for traffic in 1830. It was partly
worked by fixed engine-power, and partly by Stephenson’s locomotives,
similar to the engines used upon the Stockton and Darlington


But the desire for railway extension principally pervaded the
manufacturing districts, especially after the successful opening
of the Liverpool and Manchester line. The commercial classes
of the larger towns soon became eager for a participation in the
good which they had so recently derided. Railway projects
were set on foot in great numbers, and Manchester became a
centre from which main lines and branches were started in all
directions. The interest, however, which attaches to these later
schemes is of a much less absorbing kind than that which belongs
to the early history of the railway and the steps by which
it was mainly established. We naturally sympathize more with
the early struggles of a great principle, its trials and its difficulties,
than with its after stages of success; and, however gratified
and astonished we may be at its results, the interest is in a great
measure gone when its triumph has become a matter of certainty.

The commercial results of the Liverpool and Manchester line
were so satisfactory, and, indeed, so greatly exceeded the expectations
of its projectors, that many of the abandoned projects of
the speculative year 1825 were forthwith revived. An abundant
crop of engineers sprang up, ready to execute railways of any
extent. Now that the Liverpool and Manchester line had been
made, and the practicability of working it by locomotive power
had been proved, it was as easy for engineers to make railways
and to work them as it was for navigators to find America after
Columbus had made the first voyage. Mr. Francis Giles himself
took the field as a locomotive railway engineer, attaching himself
to the Newcastle and Carlisle and London and Southampton
projects. Mr. Brunel appeared, in like manner, as the engineer
of the line projected between London and Bristol; and Mr.
Braithwaite, the builder of the “Novelty” engine, as the engineer
of a line from London to Colchester.

The first lines, however, which were actually constructed subsequent
to the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway
were in connection with it, and principally in the county of Lancaster.
Thus a branch was formed from Bolton to Leigh, and
another from Leigh to Kenyon, where it formed a junction with
the main line between Liverpool and Manchester. Branches to
Wigan on the north, and to Runcorn Gap and Warrington on
the south of the same line, were also formed; and a continuation[341]
of the latter, as far south as Birmingham, was shortly after projected,
under the name of the Grand Junction Railway.

The last-mentioned line was projected as early as the year 1824,
when the Liverpool and Manchester scheme was under discussion,
and Mr. Stephenson then published a report on the subject. The
plans were deposited, but the bill was thrown out on the opposition
of the land-owners and canal proprietors. When engaged in
making the survey, Stephenson called upon some of the land-owners
in the neighborhood of Nantwich to obtain their assent,
and was greatly disgusted to learn that the agents of the canal
companies had been before him, and described the locomotive to
the farmers as a most frightful machine, emitting a breath as
poisonous as the fabled dragon of old; and telling them that if a
bird flew over the district when one of these engines passed, it
would inevitably drop down dead! The application for the bill
was renewed in 1826, and again failed; and at length it was determined
to wait the issue of the Liverpool and Manchester experiment.
The act was eventually obtained in 1833, by which
time the projectors of railways had learned the art of “conciliating”
the landlords—and a very expensive process it proved. But
it was the only mode of avoiding a still more expensive Parliamentary

When it was proposed to extend the advantages of railways to
the population of the midland and southern counties of England,
an immense amount of alarm was created in the minds of the
country gentlemen. They did not relish the idea of private individuals,
principally residents in the manufacturing districts, invading
their domains, and they every where rose up in arms
against the “new-fangled roads.” Colonel Sibthorpe openly declared
his hatred of the “infernal railroads,” and said that he
“would rather meet a highwayman, or see a burglar on his
premises, than an engineer!” Mr. Berkeley, the member for
Cheltenham, at a public meeting in that town, re-echoed Colonel
Sibthorpe’s sentiments, and “wished that the concoctors of every
such scheme, with their solicitors and engineers, were at rest in
Paradise!” The impression prevailed among the rural classes
that fox-covers and game-preserves would be seriously prejudiced
by the formation of railroads; that agricultural communications
would be destroyed, land thrown out of cultivation, land-owners[342]
and farmers reduced to beggary, the poor-rates increased through
the number of persons thrown out of employment by the railways,
and all this in order that Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham
shop-keepers and manufacturers might establish a monstrous
monopoly in railway traffic.

The inhabitants of even some of the large towns were thrown
into a state of consternation by the proposal to provide them with
the accommodation of a railway. The line from London to Birmingham
would naturally have passed close to the handsome
town of Northampton, and was so projected. But the inhabitants
of the place, urged on by the local press, and excited by men of
influence and education, opposed the project, and succeeded in
forcing the promoters, in their survey of the line, to pass the town
at a distance. The necessity was thus involved of distorting the
line, by which the enormous expense of constructing the Kilsby
Tunnel was incurred. Not many years elapsed before the inhabitants
of Northampton became clamorous for railway accommodation,
and a special branch was constructed for them. The additional
cost involved by this forced deviation of the line could
not have amounted to less than half a million sterling; the loss
falling, not upon the shareholders only, but upon the public.

Other towns in the south followed the example of Northampton
in howling down the railways. When the first railway
through Kent was projected, the line was laid out so as to pass
by Maidstone, the county town. But it had not a single supporter
among the townspeople, while the land-owners for many miles
round continued to oppose it. A few years later the Maidstone
burgesses, like those of Northampton, became clamorous for a
railway, and a branch was formed for their accommodation. In
like manner, the London and Bristol (afterward the Great Western)
Railway was vehemently opposed by the people of the towns
through which the line was projected to pass; and when the bill
was thrown out by the Lords—after £30,000 had been expended
by the promoters—the inhabitants of Eton assembled, under the
presidency of the Marquis of Chandos, to rejoice and congratulate
themselves and the country upon its defeat. Eton, however,
has now the convenience of two railways to the metropolis.

During the time that the works of the Liverpool and Manchester
line were in progress, our engineer was consulted respecting[343]
a short railway proposed to be formed between Leicester and
Swannington, for the purpose of opening up a communication
between the town of Leicester and the coal-fields in the western
part of the county. Mr. Ellis,
the projector of this undertaking,
had some difficulty in
getting the requisite capital
subscribed for, the Leicester
townspeople who had money
being for the most part interested
in canals. George Stephenson
was invited to come
upon the ground and survey
the line. He did so, and then
the projector told him of the
difficulty he had
in finding subscribers
to the
concern. “Give
me a sheet,” said
Stephenson, “and
I will raise the
money for you in
Liverpool.” The
engineer was as
good as his word,
and in a short
time the sheet was returned with the subscription complete. Mr.
Stephenson was then asked to undertake the office of engineer
for the line, but his answer was that he had thirty miles of railway
in hand, which was enough for any engineer to attend to
properly. Was there any person he could recommend? “Well,”
said he, “I think my son Robert is competent to undertake the
thing.” Would Mr. Stephenson be answerable for him? “Oh
yes, certainly.” And Robert Stephenson, at twenty-seven years
of age, was installed engineer of the line accordingly.


The requisite Parliamentary powers having been obtained,
Robert Stephenson proceeded with the construction of the railway,
about sixteen miles in length, toward the end of 1830. The
works were comparatively easy, excepting at the Leicester end,
where the young engineer encountered his first stiff bit of tunneling.
The line passed under ground for a mile and three quarters,[344]
and 500 yards of its course lay through loose running sand.
The presence of this material rendered it necessary for the engineer,
in the first place, to construct a wooden tunnel to support
the soil while the brick-work was being executed. This measure
proved sufficient, and the whole was brought to a successful termination
within a reasonable time. While the works were in
progress, Robert kept up a regular correspondence with his father
at Liverpool, consulting him on all points in which his greater experience
was likely to be of service. Like his father, Robert was
very observant, and always ready to seize opportunity by the forelock.
It happened that the estate of Snibston, near Ashby-de-la-Zouch,
was advertised for sale, and the young engineer’s experience
as a coal-viewer and practical geologist suggested to his
mind that coal was most probably to be found underneath. He
communicated his views to his father on the subject. The estate
lay in the immediate neighborhood of the railway; and if the
conjecture proved correct, the finding of the coal must necessarily
prove a most fortunate circumstance for the purchasers of
the land. He accordingly requested his father to come over to
Snibston and look at the property, which he did; and after a
careful inspection of the ground, he arrived at the same conclusion
as his son.

The large manufacturing town of Leicester, about fourteen
miles distant, had up to that time been exclusively supplied with
coal brought by canal from Derbyshire, and the Stephensons saw
that the railway under construction from Swannington to Leicester
would furnish a ready market for any coals which might be
found at Snibston. Having induced two of his Liverpool friends
to join him in the venture, the Snibston estate was purchased in
1831, and shortly after Stephenson removed his home from Liverpool
to Alton Grange, for the purpose of superintending the
sinking of the pit.

Sinking operations were immediately begun, and proceeded
satisfactorily until the old enemy, water, burst in upon the workmen,
and threatened to drown them out. But by means of efficient
pumping-engines, and the skillful casing of the shaft with
segments of cast iron—a process called “tubbing,”[76] which Stephenson[345]
was the first to adopt in the Midland Counties—it was
eventually made water-tight, and the sinking proceeded. When
a depth of 166 feet had been reached, a still more formidable
difficulty presented itself—one which had baffled former sinkers
in the neighborhood, and deterred them from farther operations.
This was a remarkable bed of whinstone or greenstone, which had
originally been poured out as a sheet of burning lava over the
denuded surface of the coal measures; indeed, it was afterward
found that it had turned to cinders one part of the seam of coal
with which it had come in contact. The appearance of this bed
of solid rock was so unusual a circumstance in coal-mining that
some experienced sinkers urged Stephenson to proceed no farther,
believing the occurrence of the dike at that point to be altogether
fatal to his enterprise. But, with his faith still firm in the
existence of coal underneath, he fell back on his old motto of
“Persevere!” He determined to go on boring; and down through
the solid rock he went until, twenty-two feet lower, he came upon
the coal measures. In the mean time, however, lest the boring
at that point should prove unsuccessful, he had commenced sinking
another pair of shafts about a quarter of a mile west of the
“fault,” and, after about nine months’ labor, he reached the principal
seam, called the “main coal.”

The works were then opened out on a large scale, and George
Stephenson had the pleasure and good fortune to send the first
train of main coal to Leicester by railway. The price was immediately
reduced there to about 8s. a ton, effecting a pecuniary
saving to the inhabitants of the town of about £40,000 per annum,
or equivalent to the whole amount then collected in government
taxes and local rates, besides giving an impetus to the manufacturing
prosperity of the place, which has continued to the
present day. The correct principles upon which the mining operations
at Snibston were conducted offered a salutary example
to the neighboring colliery owners. The numerous improvements
there introduced were freely exhibited to all, and they were afterward
reproduced in many forms all over the Midland Counties,
greatly to the advantage of the mining interest.


Nor was Mr. Stephenson less attentive to the comfort and well-being
of those immediately dependent upon him—the work-people
of the Snibston Colliery and their families. Unlike many of
those large employers who have “sprung from the ranks,” he was
one of the kindest and most indulgent of masters. He would
have a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wages, but he never forgot
that the employer had his duties as well as his rights. First of
all, he attended to the proper home accommodation of his work-people.
He erected a village of comfortable cottages, each provided
with a snug little garden. He was also instrumental in
erecting a church adjacent to the works, as well as Church schools
for the education of the colliers’ children; and with that broad
catholicity of sentiment which distinguished him, he farther provided
a chapel and a school-house for the use of the Dissenting
portion of the colliers and their families—an example of benevolent
liberality which was not without a salutary influence upon
the neighboring employers.



Robert Stephenson.

Engraved by W. Hall, after a photograph by Claudet.





Of the numerous extensive projects which followed close upon
the completion of the Liverpool and Manchester line and the locomotive
triumph at Rainhill, that of a railway between London
and Birmingham was the most important. The scheme originated
at the latter place in 1830. Two committees were formed,
and two plans were proposed. One was of a line to London by
way of Oxford, and the other by way of Coventry. The object
of the promoters of both schemes being to secure the advantages
of railway communication with the metropolis, they wisely determined
to combine their strength to secure it. They resolved to
call George Stephenson to their aid, and requested him to advise
them as to the two schemes which were before them. After a
careful examination of the country, Stephenson reported in favor
of the Coventry route. The Lancashire gentlemen, who were
the principal subscribers to the project, having confidence in his
judgment, supported his decision, and the line recommended by
him was adopted accordingly.

At the meeting of gentlemen held at Birmingham to determine
upon the appointment of the engineer for the railway, there was
a strong party in favor of associating with Stephenson a gentleman
with whom he had been brought into serious collision in the
course of the Liverpool and Manchester undertaking. When the
offer was made to him that he should be joint engineer with the
other, he requested leave to retire and consider the proposal with
his son. The two walked into St. Philip’s church-yard, which adjoined
the place of meeting, and debated the proposal. The father
was in favor of accepting it. His struggle heretofore had
been so hard that he could not bear the idea of missing so promising
an opportunity of professional advancement. But the son,
foreseeing the jealousies and heartburnings which the joint engineership[350]
would most probably create, recommended his father to
decline the connection. George adopted the suggestion, and, returning
to the committee, announced to them his decision, on
which the promoters decided to appoint him the engineer of the
undertaking in conjunction with his son.

This line, like the Liverpool and Manchester, was very strongly
opposed, especially by the land-owners. Numerous pamphlets
were published, calling on the public to “beware of the bubbles,”
and holding up the promoters of railways to ridicule. They
were compared to St. John Long and similar quacks, and pronounced
fitter for Bedlam than to be left at large. The canal
proprietors, land-owners, and road trustees made common cause
against them. The failure of railways was confidently predicted—indeed,
it was elaborately attempted to be proved that they had
failed; and it was industriously spread abroad that the locomotive
engines, having been found useless and highly dangerous on
the Liverpool and Manchester line, were immediately to be abandoned
in favor of horses—a rumor which the directors of the
company thought it necessary publicly to contradict.

Public meetings were held in all the counties through which
the line would pass between London and Birmingham, at which
the project was denounced, and strong resolutions against it were
passed. The attempt was made to conciliate the landlords by explanations,
but all such efforts proved futile, the owners of nearly
seven eighths of the land being returned as dissentients. “I
remember,” said Robert Stephenson, describing the opposition,
“that we called one day on Sir Astley Cooper, the eminent surgeon,
in the hope of overcoming his aversion to the railway. He
was one of our most inveterate and influential opponents. His
country house at Berkhampstead was situated near the intended
line, which passed through part of his property. We found a
courtly, fine-looking old gentleman, of very stately manners, who
received us kindly, and heard all we had to say in favor of the
project. But he was quite inflexible in his opposition to it. No
deviation or improvement that we could suggest had any effect
in conciliating him. He was opposed to railways generally,
and to this in particular. ‘Your scheme,’ said he, ‘is preposterous
in the extreme. It is of so extravagant a character as to be
positively absurd. Then look at the recklessness of your proceedings![351]
You are proposing to cut up our estates in all directions
for the purpose of making an unnecessary road. Do you think
for one moment of the destruction of property involved by it?
Why, gentlemen, if this sort of thing be permitted to go on, you
will in a very few years destroy the noblesse!’ We left the honorable
baronet without having produced the slightest effect upon
him, excepting perhaps, it might be, increased exasperation against
our scheme. I could not help observing to my companions as
we left the house, ‘Well, it is really provoking to find one who
has been made a “Sir” for cutting that wen out of George the
Fourth’s neck, charging us with contemplating the destruction of
the noblesse because we propose to confer upon him the benefits
of a railroad.'”

Such being the opposition of the owners of land, it was with
the greatest difficulty that an accurate survey of the line could
be made. At one point the vigilance of the land-owners and
their servants was such that the surveyors were effectually prevented
taking the levels by the light of day, and it was only at
length accomplished at night by means of dark lanterns. There
was one clergyman, who made such alarming demonstrations of
his opposition, that the extraordinary expedient was resorted to
of surveying his property during the time he was engaged in the
pulpit. This was managed by having a strong force of surveyors
in readiness to commence their operations, who entered the
clergyman’s grounds on one side the moment they saw him fairly
off them on the other. By a well-organized and systematic
arrangement, each man concluded his allotted task just as the
reverend gentleman concluded his sermon; so that, before he
left the church, the deed was done, and the sinners had all decamped.
Similar opposition was offered at many other points,
but ineffectually. The laborious application of Robert Stephenson
was such that, in examining the country to ascertain the best
line, he walked the whole distance between London and Birmingham
upward of twenty times.

When the bill went before the committee of the Commons in
1832, a formidable array of evidence was produced. All the
railway experience of the day was brought to bear in support of
the measure, and all that interested opposition could do was set
in motion against it. The necessity for an improved mode of[352]
communication between London and Birmingham was clearly
demonstrated, and the engineering evidence was regarded as
quite satisfactory. Not a single fact was proved against the utility
of the measure, and the bill passed the committee, and afterward
the third reading in the Commons, by large majorities.

It was then sent to the Lords, and went into committee, when
a similar mass of testimony was again gone through. But scarcely
had the proceedings been opened when it became clear that
the fate of the bill had been determined before a word of the evidence
had been heard. At that time the committees were open
to all peers; and the promoters of the measure found, to their
dismay, many of the lords who were avowed opponents of the
measure as land-owners, sitting as judges to decide its fate.
Their principal object seemed to be to bring the proceedings to
a termination as quickly as possible. An attempt at negotiation
was made in the course of the proceedings in committee, but
failed, and the bill was thrown out on the motion of Earl Brownlow,
one of Lady Bridgewater’s trustees; but, though carried by
a large majority, the vote was far from unanimous.

As the result had been foreseen, measures were taken to neutralize
the effect of this decision as regarded future operations.
Not less than £32,000 had been expended in preliminary and
Parliamentary expenses up to this stage; but the promoters determined
not to look back, and forthwith made arrangements
for prosecuting the bill in a future session. A meeting of the
friends of the measure was held in London, attended by members
of both houses of Parliament and by leading bankers and
merchants, when a series of resolutions was passed, declaring their
conviction of the necessity for the railway, and deprecating the
opposition by which it had been encountered. Lord Wharncliffe,
who had acted as the chairman of the Lords’ Committee, attributed
the failure of the bill entirely to the land-owners; and Mr.
Glyn subsequently declared that they had tried to smother it by
the high price which they demanded for their property. It was
determined to reintroduce the bill in the following session (1833),
and measures were taken to prosecute it vigorously. Strange to
say, the bill on this occasion passed both houses silently and almost
without opposition. The mystery was afterward solved by
the appearance of a circular issued by the directors of the company,[353]
in which it was stated that they had opened negotiations
with the most influential of their opponents; that “these measures
had been successful to a greater extent than they had ventured
to anticipate; and the most active and formidable had
been conciliated.” An instructive commentary on the mode by
which these noble lords and influential landed proprietors had
been “conciliated” was found in the simple fact that the estimate
for land was nearly trebled, and that the owners were paid about
£750,000 for what had been originally estimated at £250,000.
The total expenses of carrying the bill through Parliament
amounted to the enormous sum of £72,868.

The land-owners having been thus “conciliated,” the promoters
of the measure were at length permitted to proceed with the
formation of their great highway. Robert Stephenson was, with
his father’s sanction, appointed engineer-in-chief of the line, at a
salary of £1500 a year. He was now a married man, having become
united to Miss Frances Sanderson in 1829, since which his
home had been at Newcastle, near to the works there; but, on receiving
his new appointment, he removed with his wife to London,
to a house on Haverstock Hill, where he resided during the
execution of the Birmingham Railway.

Steps were at once taken to proceed with the working survey,
to prepare the working drawings, and arrange for the prosecution
of the undertaking. Eighty miles of the line were shortly under
construction; the works were let (within the estimates) to contractors,
who were necessarily, for the most part, new to such
work. The business of railway construction was not then well
understood. There were no leviathans among contractors as
now, able to undertake the formation of a line of railway hundreds
of miles in length; they were, for the most part, men of
small capital and slender experience. Their tools and machinery
were imperfect; they did not understand the economy of time
and piece labor; the workmen, as well as their masters, had still
to learn their trade; and every movement of an engineer was attended
with outlays, which were the inevitable result of a new
system of things, but which each succeeding day’s experience
tended to diminish.

(Map of London and Birmingham Railway)

The difficulties encountered in the construction of this railway
were thus very great, the most formidable of them originating in[354]
the character of the works themselves. Extensive
tunnels had to be driven through unknown
strata, and miles of underground excavation
had to be carried out in order to
form a level road from valley to valley under
the intervening ridges. This kind of work
was the newest of all to the contractors of
that day. Robert Stephenson’s experience in
the collieries of the North rendered him well
fitted to grapple with such difficulties; yet
even he, with all his practical knowledge,
could scarcely have foreseen the serious obstacles
which he was called upon to encounter
in executing the formidable cuttings, embankments,
and tunnels of the London and
Birmingham Railway. It would be an uninteresting,
as it would be a fruitless task, to
attempt to describe these works in detail;
but a general outline of their extraordinary
character and extent may not be out of place.

The length of railway to be constructed
between London and Birmingham was 112-1/2
miles. The line crossed a series of low-lying
districts, separated from each other by considerable
ridges of hills, and it was the object
of the engineer to cross the valleys at as high
an elevation, and the hills at as low a one as
possible. The high ground was therefore cut
down, and the “stuff” led into embankments,
in some places of great height and extent, so
as to form a road upon as level a plane as
was considered practicable for the working
of the locomotive engine. In some places
the high grounds were passed in open cuttings,
while in others it was necessary to bore
through them in tunnels with deep cuttings
at either end.

The most formidable excavations on the
line are those at Tring, Denbigh Hall, and[355]
Blisworth. The Tring cutting is an immense chasm across the
great chalk ridge of Ivinghoe. It is two miles and a half long,
and for a quarter of a mile is fifty-seven feet deep. A million
and a half cubic yards of chalk and earth were taken out of this
cutting by means of horse-runs, and deposited in spoil-banks, besides
the immense quantity run into the embankment north of
the cutting, forming a solid mound nearly six miles long and
about thirty feet high. Passing over the Denbigh Hall cutting,
and the Wolverton embankment of a mile and a half in length
across the valley of the Ouse, we come to the excavation at Blisworth,
a brief description of which will give the reader an idea
of one of the most formidable kinds of railway work.

BLISWORTH CUTTING.   [By Percival Skelton.]

The Blisworth Cutting is a mile and a half long, in some places
sixty-five feet deep, passing through earth, stiff clay, and hard
rock. Not less than a million cubic yards of these materials
were dug, quarried, and blasted out of it. One third of the cutting
was stone, and beneath the stone lay a thick bed of clay, under
which were found beds of loose shale so full of water that
almost constant pumping was necessary at many points to enable[356]
the works to proceed. For a year and a half the contractor went
on fruitlessly contending with these difficulties, and at length he
was compelled to abandon the adventure. The engineer then
took the works in hand for the company, and they were vigorously
proceeded with. Steam-engines were set to work to pump
out the water; two locomotives were put on, one at either end of
the cutting, to drag away the excavated rock and clay; and eight
hundred men and boys were employed along the work, in digging,
wheeling, and blasting, besides a large number of horses.
Some idea of the extent of the blasting operations may be formed
from the fact that twenty-five barrels of gunpowder were exploded
weekly, the total quantity used in forming this one excavation
being about three thousand barrels. Considerable difficulty was
experienced in supporting the bed of rock cut through, which
overlaid the clay and shale along either side of the cutting. It
was found necessary to hold it up by strong retaining walls, to
prevent the clay bed from bulging out, and these walls were farther
supported by a strong invert—that is, an arch placed in an
inverted position under the road—thus binding together the walls
on both sides. Behind the retaining walls, a drift or horizontal
drain was run to enable the water to escape, and occasional openings
were left in the walls themselves for the same purpose. The
work was at length brought to a successful completion, but the
extraordinary difficulties encountered in executing the undertaking
had the effect of greatly increasing the cost of this portion of
the railway.

The Tunnels on the line are eight in number, their total length
being 7336 yards. The first high ground encountered was Primrose
Hill, where the stiff London clay was passed through for a
distance of about 1164 yards. The clay was close, compact, and
dry, more difficult to work than stone itself. It was entirely free
from water; but the absorbing properties of the clay were such
that when exposed to the air it swelled out rapidly. Hence an
unusual thickness of brick lining was found necessary; and the
engineer afterward informed the author that for some time he
entertained an apprehension lest the pressure should force in the
brick-work altogether, as afterward happened in the case of the
short Preston Brook tunnel upon the Grand Junction Railway,
constructed by his father. The pressure behind the brick-work[357]
was so great that it made the face of the bricks to fly off in minute
chips, which covered his clothes while he was inspecting the
work. The materials used in the building were, however, of excellent
quality, and the work was happily brought to a completion
without accident.

At Watford the chalk ridge was penetrated by a tunnel about
1800 yards long, and at Northchurch, Lindslade, and Stowe Hill
there were other tunnels of minor extent. But the chief difficulty
of the undertaking was the execution of that under the
Kilsby ridge. Though not the largest, this is in many respects
one of the most interesting works of the kind. It is about two
thousand four hundred yards long, and runs at an average depth
of about a hundred and sixty feet below the surface. The ridge
under which it extends is of considerable extent, the famous battle
of Naseby having been fought upon one of the spurs of the
same high ground, about seven miles to the eastward.


Previous to the letting of the contract, the character of the underground
soil was fairly tested by trial shafts, which indicated
that it consisted of shale of the lower oolite, and the works were[358]
let accordingly. But they had scarcely been commenced when
it was discovered that, at an interval between the two trial-shafts,
which had been sunk about two hundred yards from the south
end of the tunnel, there existed an extensive quicksand under a
bed of clay forty feet thick, which the borings had escaped in the
most singular manner. At the bottom of one of these shafts, the
excavation and building of the tunnel were proceeding, when the
roof at one part suddenly gave way, a deluge of water burst in,
and the party of workmen with the utmost difficulty escaped with
their lives. They were only saved by means of a raft, on which
they were towed by one of the engineers swimming with the rope
in his mouth to the lower end of the shaft, out of which they were
safely lifted to the daylight.

The works were of course at that point immediately stopped.
The contractor who had undertaken the construction of the tunnel
was so overwhelmed by the calamity that, though he was relieved
by the company from his engagement, he took to his bed
and shortly after died. Pumping-engines were erected for the
purpose of draining off the water, but for a long time it prevailed,
and sometimes even rose in the shaft. The question arose whether,
in the face of so formidable a difficulty, the works should be
proceeded with or abandoned. Robert Stephenson sent over to
Alton Grange for his father, and the two took serious counsel together.
George was in favor of pumping out the water from the
top by powerful engines erected over each shaft, until the water
was fairly mastered. Robert concurred in that view, and, although
other engineers who were consulted pronounced strongly
against the practicability of the scheme and advised the abandonment
of the enterprise, the directors authorized him to proceed,
and powerful steam-engines were ordered to be constructed and
delivered without loss of time.

In the mean time Robert suggested to his father the expediency
of running a drift along the heading from the south end of
the tunnel, with the view of draining off the water in that way.
George said he thought it would scarcely answer, but that it was
worth a trial, at all events until the pumping-engines were got
ready. Robert accordingly gave orders for the drift to be proceeded
with. The excavators were immediately set to work, and
they had nearly reached the quicksand, when one day, while the[359]
engineer, his assistants, and the workmen were clustered about
the open entrance of the drift-way, they heard a sudden roar as
of distant thunder. It was hoped that the water had burst in—for
all the workmen were out of the drift—and that the sand-bed
would now drain itself off in a natural way. Instead of which,
very little water made its appearance, and on examining the inner
end of the drift, it was found that the loud noise had been
caused by the sudden discharge into it of an immense mass of
sand, which had completely choked up the passage, and thus prevented
the water from draining off.

The engineer now found that nothing remained but to sink numerous
additional shafts over the line of the tunnel at the points
at which it crossed the quicksand, and endeavor to master the water
by sheer force of engines and pumps. The engines, which
were shortly erected, possessed an aggregate power of 160 horses;
and they went on pumping for eight months, emptying out an almost
incredible quantity of water. It was found that the water,
with which the bed of sand extending over many miles was
charged, was in a great degree held back by the particles of the
sand itself, and that it could only percolate through at a certain
average rate. It appeared in its flow to take a slanting direction
to the suction of the pumps, the angle of inclination depending
upon the coarseness or fineness of the sand, and regulating the
time of the flow. Hence the distribution of the pumping power
at short intervals along the line of the tunnel had a much greater
effect than the concentration of that power at any one place. It
soon appeared that the water had found its master. Protected
by the pumps, which cleared a space for engineering operations—carried
on, as it were, amid two almost perpendicular walls of
water and sand on either side—the workmen proceeded with the
building of the tunnel at numerous points. Every exertion was
used to wall in the dangerous parts as quickly as possible, the excavators
and bricklayers laboring night and day until the work
was finished. Even while under the protection of the immense
pumping power above described, it often happened that the bricks
were scarcely covered with cement ready for the setting ere they
were washed quite clean by the streams of water which poured
from overhead. The men were accordingly under the necessity
of holding over their work large whisks of straw and other[360]
appliances to protect the bricks and cement at the moment of

The quantity of water pumped out of the sand-bed during
eight months of this incessant pumping averaged two thousand
gallons per minute, raised from an average depth of 120 feet. It
is difficult to form an adequate idea of the bulk of water thus
raised, but it may be stated that if allowed to flow for three hours
only, it would fill a lake one acre square to the depth of one foot,
and if allowed to flow for an entire day it would fill the lake to
over eight feet in depth, or sufficient to float a vessel of a hundred
tons’ burden. The water pumped out of the tunnel while
the work was in progress would be nearly equivalent to the contents
of the Thames at high water between London and Woolwich.
It is a curious circumstance, that notwithstanding the
quantity of water thus removed, the level of the surface in the
tunnel was only lowered about two and a half to three inches
per week, showing the vast area of the quicksand, which probably
extended along the entire ridge of land under which the railway

The cost of the line was greatly increased by the difficulties
thus encountered at Kilsby. The original estimate for the tunnel
was only £99,000; but by the time it was finished it had cost
about £100 per lineal yard forward, or a total of nearly £300,000.
The expenditure on the other parts of the line also greatly exceeded
the amount first set down by the engineer, and, before the
railway was complete, it had been more than doubled. The land
cost three times more than the estimate, and the claims for compensation
were enormous. Although the contracts were let within
the estimates, very few of the contractors were able to finish
them without the assistance of the company, and many became
bankrupt. Speaking of the difficulties encountered during the
construction of the line, Robert Stephenson subsequently observed
to us: “After the works were let, wages rose, the prices of materials
of all kinds rose, and the contractors, many of whom were
men of comparatively small capital, were thrown on their beam-ends.
Their calculations as to expenses and profits were completely
upset. Let me just go over the list. There was Jackson,
who took the Primrose Hill contract—he failed. Then there
was the next length—Nowells; then Copeland and Harding;[361]
north of them Townsend, who had the Tring cutting; next Norris, who
had Stoke Hammond; then Soars; then Hughes: I think
all of these broke down, or at least were helped through by the
directors. Then there was that terrible contract of the Kilsby
Tunnel, which broke the Nowells, and killed one of them. The
contractors to the north of Kilsby were more fortunate, though
some of them pulled through only with the greatest difficulty.
Of the eighteen contracts in which the line was originally let,
only seven were completed by the original contractors. Eleven
firms were ruined by their contracts, which were relet to others
at advanced prices, or were carried on and finished by the company.
The principal cause of increase in the expense, however,
was the enlargement of the stations. It appeared that we had
greatly under-estimated the traffic, and it accordingly became
necessary to spend more and more money for its accommodation,
until I think I am within the mark when I say that the expenditure
on this account alone exceeded by eight or ten fold the
amount of the Parliamentary estimate.”

The magnitude of the works, which were unprecedented in
England, was one of the most remarkable features in the undertaking.
The following striking comparison has been made between
this railway and one of the greatest works of ancient times.
The great Pyramid of Egypt was, according to Diodorus Siculus,
constructed by three hundred thousand—according to Herodotus,
by one hundred thousand—men. It required for its execution
twenty years, and the labor expended upon it has been estimated
as equivalent to lifting 15,733,000,000 of cubic feet of stone one
foot high; whereas, if the labor expended in constructing the
London and Birmingham Railway be in like manner reduced to
one common denomination, the result is 25,000,000,000 of cubic
feet more than was lifted for the Great Pyramid; and yet the
English work was performed by about 20,000 men in less than
five years. And while the Egyptian work was executed by a
powerful monarch concentrating upon it the labor and capital of
a great nation, the English railway was constructed, in the face
of every conceivable obstruction and difficulty, by a company of
private individuals out of their own resources, without the aid of
government or the contribution of one farthing of public money.

The laborers who executed these formidable works were in[362]
many respects a remarkable class. The “railway navvies,”[77] as
they were called, were men drawn by the attraction of good
wages from all parts of the kingdom; and they were ready for
any sort of hard work. Many of the laborers employed on the
Liverpool line were Irish; others were from the Northumberland
and Durham railways, where they had been accustomed to similar
work; and some of the best came from the fen districts of
Lincoln and Cambridge, where they had been trained to execute
works of excavation and embankment. These old practitioners
formed a nucleus of skilled manipulation and aptitude which
rendered them of indispensable utility in the immense undertakings
of the period. Their expertness in all sorts of earth-work,
in embanking, boring, and well-sinking—their practical knowledge
of the nature of soils and rocks, the tenacity of clays, and
the porosity of certain stratifications—were very great; and,
rough-looking as they were, many of them were as important in
their own department as the contractor or the engineer.

During the railway-making period the navvy wandered about
from one public work to another, apparently belonging to no
country and having no home. He usually wore a white felt hat
with the brim turned up, a velveteen or jean square-tailed coat, a
scarlet plush waistcoat with little black spots, and a bright-colored
kerchief round his Herculean neck, when, as often happened,
it was not left entirely bare. His corduroy breeches were retained
in position by a leathern strap round the waist, and were
tied and buttoned at the knee, displaying beneath a solid calf and
foot incased in strong high-laced boots. Joining together in a
“butty gang,” some ten or twelve of these men would take a contract
to cut out and remove so much “dirt”—as they denominated
earth-cutting—fixing their price according to the character
of the “stuff,” and the distance to which it had to be wheeled
and tipped. The contract taken, every man put himself to his
mettle; if any was found skulking, or not putting forth his full
working power, he was ejected from the gang. Their powers
of endurance were extraordinary. In times of emergency they
would work for twelve and even sixteen hours, with only short[363]
intervals for meals. The quantity of flesh-meat which they consumed
was something enormous; but it was to their bones and
muscles what coke is to the locomotive—the means of keeping
up the steam. They displayed great pluck, and seemed to disregard
peril. Indeed, the most dangerous sort of labor—such as
working horse-barrow runs, in which accidents are of constant
occurrence—has always been most in request among them, the
danger seeming to be one of its chief recommendations.

KILSBY TUNNEL.   [North End.]

Working together, eating, drinking, and sleeping together, and
daily exposed to the same influences, these railway laborers soon
presented a distinct and well-defined character, strongly marking
them from the population of the districts in which they labored.
Reckless alike of their lives as of their earnings, the navvies
worked hard and lived hard. For their lodging, a hut of turf
would content them; and, in their hours of leisure, the meanest
public house would serve for their parlor. Unburdened, as they
usually were, by domestic ties, unsoftened by family affection,
and without much moral or religious training, the navvies came[364]
to be distinguished by a sort of savage manners, which contrasted
strangely with those of the surrounding population. Yet, ignorant
and violent though they might be, they were usually good-hearted
fellows in the main—frank and open-handed with their
comrades, and ready to share their last penny with those in distress.
Their pay-nights were often a saturnalia of riot and disorder,
dreaded by the inhabitants of the villages along the line
of works. The irruption of such men into the quiet hamlet of
Kilsby must, indeed, have produced a very startling effect on the
recluse inhabitants of the place. Robert Stephenson used to tell
a story of the clergyman of the parish waiting upon the foreman
of one of the gangs to expostulate with him as to the shocking
impropriety of his men working during Sunday. But the head
navvy merely hitched up his trowsers and said, “Why, Soondays
hain’t cropt out here yet!” In short, the navvies were little better
than heathens, and the village of Kilsby was not restored to
its wonted quiet until the tunnel-works were finished, and the engines
and scaffolding removed, leaving only the immense masses
of débris around the line of shafts which extend along the top
of the tunnel.




The rapidity with which railways were carried out, when the
spirit of the country became roused, was indeed remarkable.
This was doubtless in some measure owing to the increased force
of the current of speculation at the time, but chiefly to the desire
which the public began to entertain for the general extension of
the system. It was even proposed to fill up the canals and convert
them into railways. The new roads became the topic of
conversation in all circles; they were felt to give a new value to
time; their vast capabilities for “business” peculiarly recommended
them to the trading classes, while the friends of “progress”
dilated on the great benefits they would eventually confer
upon mankind at large. It began to be seen that Edward Pease
had not been exaggerating when he said, “Let the country but
make the railroads, and the railroads will make the country!”
They also came to be regarded as inviting objects of investment
to the thrifty, and a safe outlet for the accumulations of inert
men of capital. Thus new avenues of iron road were soon in
course of formation, branching in all directions, so that the country
promised in a wonderfully short space of time to become
wrapped in one vast network of iron.

In 1836 the Grand Junction Railway was under construction
between Warrington and Birmingham—the northern part by Mr.
Stephenson, and the southern by Mr. Rastrick. The works on
that line embraced heavy cuttings, long embankments, and numerous
viaducts; but none of these are worthy of any special
description. Perhaps the finest piece of masonry on the railway
is the Dutton Viaduct across the valley of the Weaver. It consists
of 20 arches of 60 feet span, springing 16 feet from the perpendicular[366]
shaft of each pier, and 60 feet in height from the
crown of the arches to the level of the river. The foundations
of the piers were built on piles driven 20 feet deep. The structure
has a solid and majestic appearance, and is perhaps the finest
of George Stephenson’s viaducts.


The Manchester and Leeds line was in progress at the same
time—an important railway connecting Yorkshire and Lancashire,
passing through a district full of manufacturing towns and
villages, the hives of population, industry, and enterprise. An
attempt was made to obtain the act as early as the year 1831;
but its promoters were defeated by the powerful opposition of
the land-owners, aided by the canal companies, and the project
was not revived for several years. The act authorizing the construction
of the line was obtained in 1836; it was amended in
the following year, and the first ground was broken on the 18th
of August, 1837.

An incident occurred while the second Manchester and Leeds
Bill was before the Committee of the Lords which is worthy of
passing notice in this place, as illustrative of George Stephenson’s
character. The line which was authorized by Parliament in 1836
had been hastily surveyed within a period of less than six weeks,
but before it received the royal assent the engineer became convinced
that many important improvements might be made in it,[367]
and he communicated his views to the directors. They determined,
however, to obtain the act, although conscious at the time
that they would have to go for a second and improved line in the
following year. The second bill passed the Commons in 1837
without difficulty, and was expected in like manner to pass the
Lords’ Committee. Quite unexpectedly, however, Lord Wharncliffe,
who was interested in the Manchester and Sheffield line,
which passed through his colliery property in the south of Yorkshire,
conceiving that the new Manchester and Leeds line might
have some damaging effect upon it, appeared as an opponent of
the bill. Himself a member of the committee, he adopted the
unusual course of rising to his feet, and making a set speech
against the measure while the engineer was under examination.
He alleged that the act obtained in the preceding session was one
that the promoters had no intention of carrying out, that they
had only secured it for the purpose of obtaining possession of the
ground and reducing the number of the opponents to their present
application, and that, in fact, they had been practicing a deception
upon the House. Then, turning full round upon the witness,
he said, “I ask you, sir, do you call that conduct honest?”
Stephenson, his voice trembling with emotion, replied, “Yes, my
lord, I do call it honest. And I will ask your lordship, whom I
served for many years as your engine-wright at the Killingworth
collieries, did you ever know me to do any thing that was not
strictly honorable? You know what the collieries were when I
went there, and you know what they were when I left them. Did
you ever hear that I was found wanting when honest services
were wanted, or when duty called me? Let your lordship but
fairly consider the circumstances of the case, and I feel persuaded
you will admit that my conduct has been equally honest throughout
in this matter.” He then briefly but clearly stated the history
of the application to Parliament for the act, which was so satisfactory
to the committee that they passed the preamble of the
bill without farther objection; and Lord Wharncliffe requested
that the committee would permit his observations to be erased
from the record of the evidence, which, as an acknowledgment
of his error, was allowed. Lord Kenyon and several other members
of the committee afterward came up to Mr. Stephenson,
shook him by the hand, and congratulated him on the manly way[368]
in which he had vindicated himself from the aspersions attempted
to be cast upon him.

In conducting this project to an issue, the engineer had the
usual opposition and prejudices to encounter. Predictions were
confidently made in many quarters that the line could never succeed.
It was declared that the utmost engineering skill could
not construct a railway through such a country of hills and hard
rocks; and it was maintained that, even if the railway were practicable,
it could only be made at a cost altogether ruinous.


During the progress of the works, as the Summit Tunnel near
Littleborough was approaching completion, the rumor was spread
abroad in Manchester that the tunnel had fallen in and buried a
number of the workmen. The last arch had been keyed in, and
the work was all but finished, when a slight accident occurred
which was thus exaggerated by the lying tongue of rumor. An
invert had given way through the irregular pressure of the surrounding
earth and rock at a part of the tunnel where a “fault”
had occurred in the strata.


A party of the directors accompanied the engineer to inspect
the scene of the accident. They entered the tunnel mouth preceded[369]
by upward of fifty navvies, each bearing a torch. After
walking a distance of about half a mile, the inspecting party arrived
at the scene of the “frightful accident,” about which so
much alarm had been spread abroad. All that was visible was a
certain unevenness of the ground, which had been forced up by
the invert under it giving way; thus the ballast had been loosened,
the drain running along the centre of the road had been displaced,
and small pools of water stood about. But the whole of the walls
and the roof were as perfect as at any other part of the tunnel.
The engineer explained the cause of the accident; the blue shale,
he said, through which the excavation passed at that point, was
considered so hard and firm as to render it unnecessary to build
the invert very strong there. But shale is always a deceptive material.
Subjected to the influence of the atmosphere, it gives but
a treacherous support. In this case, falling away like quicklime,
it had left the lip of the invert alone to support the pressure of
the arch above, and hence its springing inward and upward.
Stephenson then directed the attention of the visitors to the completeness
of the arch overhead, where not the slightest fracture
or yielding could be detected. Speaking of the work in the[370]
course of the same day, he said, “I will
stake my character, my head, if that tunnel
ever give way, so as to cause danger
to any of the public passing through
it. Taking it as a whole, I don’t think
there is another such a piece of work
in the world. It is the greatest work
that has yet been done of this kind, and
there has been less repairing than is
usual—though an engineer might well
be beaten in his calculations, for he can
not beforehand see into those little fractured
parts of the earth he may meet
with.” As Stephenson had promised,
the invert was put in, and the tunnel
was made perfectly safe.

(Map of Midland Railway)

The construction of this subterranean
road employed the labor of above a
thousand men for nearly four years.
Besides excavating the arch out of the
solid rock, they used 23,000,000 of
bricks and 8000 tons of Roman cement
in the building of the tunnel. Thirteen
stationary engines, and about 100 horses,
were also employed in drawing the
earth and stone out of the shafts. Its
entire length is 2869 yards, or nearly a
mile and three quarters, exceeding the
famous Kilsby Tunnel by 471 yards.

The Midland Railway was a favorite
line of Mr. Stephenson’s for several reasons.
It passed through a rich mining
district, in which it opened up many
valuable coal-fields, and it formed part
of the great main line of communication
between London and Edinburg.
The line was originally projected by
gentlemen interested in the London and
Birmingham Railway. Their intention[371]
was to extend that line from Rugby to Leeds; but, finding themselves
anticipated in part by the projection of the Midland Counties
Railway from Rugby to Derby, they confined themselves to
the district between Derby and Leeds, and in 1835 a company
was formed to construct the North Midland line, with George
Stephenson for its engineer. The act was obtained in 1836, and
the first ground was broken in February, 1837.

Although the Midland Railway was only one of the many
great works of the same kind executed at that time, it was almost
enough of itself to be the achievement of a life. Compare
it, for example, with Napoleon’s military road over the Simplon,
and it will at once be seen how greatly it excels that work, not
only in the constructive skill displayed in it, but also in its cost
and magnitude, and the amount of labor employed in its formation.
The road of the Simplon is 45 miles in length; the North
Midland Railway 72-1/2 miles. The former has 50 bridges and 5
tunnels, measuring together 1338 feet in length; the latter has
200 bridges and 7 tunnels, measuring together 11,400 feet, or
about 2-1/4 miles. The former cost about £720,000 sterling, the
latter above £3,000,000. Napoleon’s grand military road was
constructed in six years, at the public cost of the two great kingdoms
of France and Italy, while Stephenson’s railway was formed
in about three years by a company of private merchants and
capitalists out of their own funds and under their own superintendence.

It is scarcely necessary that we should give any account in detail
of the North Midland works. The making of one tunnel so
much resembles the making of another—the building of bridges
and viaducts, no matter how extensive, so much resembles the
building of others—the cutting out of “dirt,” the blasting of
rocks, and the wheeling of excavation into embankments, is so
much matter of mere time and hard work, that it is quite unnecessary
to detain the reader by any attempt at their description.
Of course there were the usual difficulties to encounter and overcome,
but the railway engineer regarded these as mere matters of
course, and would probably have been disappointed if they had
not presented themselves.


On the Midland, as on other lines, water was the great enemy
to be fought against—water in the Claycross and other tunnels—water[372]
in the boggy or sandy foundations of bridges—and water
in cuttings and embankments. As an illustration of the difficulties
of bridge building,
we may mention the
case of the five-arch
bridge over the Derwent,
where it took two
years’ work, night and
day, to get in the foundations
of the piers
alone. Another curious
illustration of the
mischief done by water
in cuttings may be
briefly mentioned. At
a part of the North
Midland line, near Ambergate,
it was necessary
to pass along a
hill-side in a cutting
a few yards deep. As
the cutting proceeded,
a seam of shale was
cut across, lying at an
inclination of 6 to 1; and shortly after, the water getting behind
it, the whole mass of earth along the hill above began to move
down across the line of excavation. The accident completely
upset the estimates of the contractor, who, instead of fifty thousand
cubic yards, found that he had about five hundred thousand
to remove, the execution of this part of the railway occupying
fifteen months instead of two.

The Oakenshaw cutting near Wakefield was also of a very
formidable character. About six hundred thousand yards of
rock shale and bind were quarried out of it, and led to form the
adjoining Oakenshaw embankment. The Normanton cutting was
almost as heavy, requiring the removal of four hundred thousand
yards of the same kind of excavation into embankment and spoil.
But the progress of the works on the line was so rapid during
1839 that no less than 450,000 cubic yards of excavation were accomplished
per month.



As a curiosity in construction, we may also mention a very
delicate piece of work executed on the same railway at Bull
Bridge in Derbyshire, where the line at the same point passes
over a bridge which here spans the River Amber, and under the
bed of the Cromford Canal. Water, bridge, railway, and canal
were thus piled one above the other, four stories high. In order
to prevent the possibility of the waters of the canal breaking in
upon the railway works, Stephenson had an iron trough made, 150
feet long, of the width of the canal, and exactly fitting the bottom.
It was brought to the spot in three pieces, which were
firmly welded together, and the trough was then floated into its
place and sunk, the whole operation being completed without in
the least interfering with the navigation of the canal. The railway
works underneath were then proceeded with and finished.

Another line of the same series, constructed by George Stephenson,
was the York and North Midland, extending from Normanton—a
point on the Midland Railway—to York; but it was
a line of easy formation, traversing a comparatively level country.
The inhabitants of Whitby, as well as York, were projecting
a railway to connect these towns as early as 1832, and in the[374]
year following Whitby succeeded in obtaining a horse line of
twenty-four miles, connecting it with the small market-town of
Pickering. The York citizens were more ambitious, and agitated
the question of a locomotive line to connect them with the
town of Leeds. Stephenson recommended them to connect their
line with the Midland at Normanton, and they adopted his advice.
The company was formed, the shares were at once subscribed
for, the act was obtained in the following year, and the
works were constructed without difficulty.

As the best proof of his conviction that the York and North
Midland would prove a good investment, Stephenson invested in
it a considerable portion of his savings, being a subscriber for
420 shares. The interest taken in this line by the engineer was
on more than one occasion specially mentioned by Mr. Hudson,
then Lord-mayor of York, as an inducement to other persons of
capital to join the undertaking; and had it not been afterward
encumbered and overlaid by comparatively useless and profitless
branches, in the projection of which Stephenson had no part, the
sanguine expectations which he early formed of the paying qualities
of that railway would have been more than realized.

There was one branch, however, of the York and North Midland
Line in which he took an anxious interest, and of which he
may be said to have been the projector—the branch to Scarborough,
which proved one of the most profitable parts of the
railway. He was so satisfied of its value, that, at a meeting of
the York and North Midland proprietors, he volunteered his gratuitous
services as engineer until the company was formed, in addition
to subscribing largely to the undertaking. At that meeting
he took an opportunity of referring to the charges brought
against engineers of so greatly exceeding the estimates: “He had
had a good deal to do with making out the estimate of the North
Midland Railway, and he believed there never was a more honest
one. He had always endeavored to state the truth as far as was
in his power. He had known a contractor who, when he (Mr.
Stephenson) had sent in an estimate, came forward and said, ‘I
can do it for half the money.’ The contractor’s estimate went
into Parliament, but it came out his. He could go through the
whole list of the undertakings in which he had been engaged, and
show that he had never had any thing to do with stock-jobbing[375]
concerns. He would say that he would not be concerned in any
scheme unless he was satisfied that it would pay the proprietors;
and in bringing forward the proposed line to Scarborough, he
was satisfied that it would pay, or he would have had nothing to
do with it.”

During the time that our engineer was engaged in superintending
the execution of these undertakings, he was occupied upon
other projected railways in various parts of the country. He
surveyed several lines in the neighborhood of Glasgow, and afterward
alternate routes along the east coast from Newcastle to
Edinburg, with the view of completing the main line of communication
with London. When out on foot in the field on these
occasions, he was ever foremost in the march, and he delighted
to test the prowess of his companions by a good jump at any
hedge or ditch that lay in their way. His companions used to
remark his singular quickness of observation. Nothing escaped
his attention—the trees, the crops, the birds, or the farmer’s
stock; and he was usually full of lively conversation, every thing
in nature affording him an opportunity for making some striking
remark or propounding some ingenious theory. When taking a
flying survey of a new line, his keen observation proved very
useful, for he rapidly noted the general configuration of the country,
and inferred its geological structure. He afterward remarked
to a friend, “I have planned many a railway traveling along
in a post-chaise, and following the natural line of the country.”
And it was remarkable that his first impressions of the direction
to be taken almost invariably proved correct; and there are few
of the lines surveyed and recommended by him which have not
been executed, either during his lifetime or since. As an illustration
of his quick and shrewd observation on such occasions,
we may mention that when employed to lay out a line to connect
Manchester, through Macclesfield, with the Potteries, the gentleman
who accompanied him on the journey of inspection cautioned
him to provide large accommodation for carrying off the water,
observing, “You must not judge by the appearance of the
brooks; for after heavy rains these hills pour down volumes of
water, of which you can have no conception.” “Pooh! pooh!
don’t I see your bridges?” replied the engineer. He had noted
the details of each as he passed along.


Among the other projects which occupied his attention about
the same time were the projected lines between Chester and Holyhead,
between Leeds and Bradford, and between Lancaster and
Maryport by the west coast. This latter was intended to form
part of a western line to Scotland; Stephenson favoring it partly
because of the flatness of the gradients, and because it could be
formed at comparatively small cost, while it would open out a
valuable iron-mining district, from which a large traffic in ironstone
was expected. One of its collateral advantages, in the
engineer’s opinion, was that, by forming the railway directly
across Morecambe Bay, on the northwest coast of Lancashire, a
large tract of valuable land might be reclaimed from the sea, the
sale of which would considerably reduce the cost of the works.
He estimated that, by means of a solid embankment across the
bay, not less than 40,000 acres of rich alluvial land would be
gained. He proposed to carry the road across the ten miles of
sands which lie between Poulton, near Lancaster, and Humphrey
Head on the opposite coast, forming the line in a segment of a
circle of five miles’ radius. His plan was to drive in piles across
the entire length, forming a solid fence of stone blocks on the
land side for the purpose of retaining the sand and silt brought
down by the rivers from the interior. The embankment would
then be raised from time to time as the deposit accumulated, until
the land was filled up to high-water mark; provision being
made, by means of sufficient arches, for the flow of the river waters
into the bay. The execution of the railway after this plan
would, however, have occupied more years than the promoters of
the West Coast line were disposed to wait, and eventually Mr.
Locke’s more direct but less level line by Shap Fell was adopted.
A railway has, however, since been carried across the head of the
bay, in a modified form, by the Ulverstone and Lancaster Railway
Company; and it is not improbable that Stephenson’s larger
scheme of reclaiming the vast tract of land now left bare at every
receding tide may yet be carried out.

While occupied in carrying out the great railway undertakings
which we have above so briefly described, George Stephenson’s
home continued, for the greater part of the time, to be at Alton
Grange, near Leicester. But he was so much occupied in traveling
about from one committee of directors to another—one week[377]
in England, another in Scotland, and probably the next in Ireland,
that he often did not see his home for weeks together. He
had also to make frequent inspections of the various important
and difficult works in progress, especially on the Midland and
Manchester and Leeds lines, besides occasionally going to Newcastle
to see how the locomotive works were going on there.
During the three years ending 1837—perhaps the busiest years
of his life[78]—he traveled by post-chaise alone upward of 20,000
miles, and yet not less than six months out of the three years were
spent in London. Hence there is comparatively little to record
of Mr. Stephenson’s private life at this period, during which he
had scarcely a moment that he could call his own.

To give an idea of the number of projects which at this time
occupied our engineer’s attention, and of the extent and rapidity
of his journeys, we subjoin from his private secretary’s journal the
following epitome of one of them, on which he entered immediately
after the conclusion of the heavy Parliamentary session of

“August 9th. From Alton Grange to Derby and Matlock, and
forward by mail to Manchester, to meet the committee of the South
Union Railway. August 10th. Manchester to Stockport, to meet
committee of the Manchester and Leeds Railway; thence to meet
directors of the Chester and Birkenhead, and Chester and Crewe
Railways. August 11th. Liverpool to Woodside, to meet committee
of the Chester and Birkenhead line; journey with them along
the proposed railway to Chester; then back to Liverpool. August
12th. Liverpool to Manchester, to meet directors of the Manchester
and Leeds Railway, and traveling with them over the works in
progress. August 13th. Continued journey over the works, and
arrival at Wakefield; thence to York. August 14th. Meeting with
Mr. Hudson at York, and journey from York to Newcastle. August
15th. At Newcastle, working up arrears of correspondence.
August 16th. Meeting with Mr. Brandling as to the station for the[378]
Brandling Junction at Gateshead, and stations at other parts of the
line. August 17th. Carlisle to Wigton and Maryport, examining
the railway. August 19th. Maryport to Carlisle, continuing the
inspection. August 20th. At Carlisle, examining the ground for
a station; and working up correspondence. August 21st. Carlisle
to Dumfries by mail; forward to Ayr by chaise, proceeding up the
valley of the Nith, through Thornhill, Sanquhar, and Cumnock.
August 22d. Meeting with promoters of the Glasgow, Kilmarnock,
and Ayr Railway, and journey along the proposed line; meeting
with the magistrates of Kilmarnock at Beith, and journey with them
over Mr. Gale’s proposed line to Kilmarnock. August 23d. From
Kilmarnock along Mr. Miller’s proposed line to Beith, Paisley, and
Glasgow. August 24th. Examination of site of proposed station
at Glasgow; meeting with the directors; then from Glasgow, by
Falkirk and Linlithgow, to Edinburg, meeting there with Mr. Grainger,
engineer, and several of the committee of the proposed Edinburg
and Dunbar Railway. August 25th. Examining the site of
the proposed station at Edinburg; then to Dunbar, by Portobello
and Haddington, examining the proposed line of railway. August
26th. Dunbar to Tommy Grant’s, to examine the summit of the
country toward Berwick, with a view to a through line to Newcastle;
then return to Edinburg. August 27th. At Edinburg, meeting
the provisional committee of the proposed Edinburg and Dunbar
Railway. August 28th. Journey from Edinburg, through Melrose
and Jedburg, to Horsley, along the route of Mr. Richardson’s
proposed railway across Carter Fell. August 29th. From Horsley
to Mr. Brandling’s, then on to Newcastle; engaged on the Brandling
Junction Railway. August 30th. Engaged with Mr. Brandling;
after which, meeting a deputation from Maryport. August
31st. Meeting with Mr. Brandling and others as to the direction of
the Brandling Junction in connection with the Great North of England
line, and the course of the railway through Newcastle; then
on to York. September 1st. At York; meeting with York and
North Midland directors; then journeying over Lord Howden’s
property, to arrange for a deviation; examining the proposed site
of the station at York. September 2d. At York, giving instructions
as to the survey; then to Manchester by Leeds. September 3d.
At Manchester; journey to Stockport, with Mr. Bidder and Mr.
Bourne, examining the line to Stockport, and fixing the crossing of
the river there; attending to the surveys; then journey back to
Manchester, to meet the directors of the Manchester and Leeds
Railway. September 4th. Sunday at Manchester. September 5th.[379]
Journey along part of the Manchester and Leeds Railway. September
6th. At Manchester, examining and laying down the section
of the South Union line to Stockport; afterward engaged on the
Manchester and Leeds working plans, in endeavoring to give a
greater radius to the curves; seeing Mr. Seddon about the Liverpool,
Manchester, and Leeds Junction Railway. September 7th.
Journey along the Manchester and Leeds line, then on to Derby.
September 8th. At Derby; seeing Mr. Carter and Mr. Beale about
the Tamworth deviation; then home to Alton Grange. September
10th. At Alton Grange, preparing report to the committee of the
Edinburg and Dunbar Railway.”

Such is a specimen of the enormous amount of physical and
mental labor undergone by the engineer during the busy years
above referred to. He was no sooner home than he was called
away again by some other railway or business engagement.
Thus, in four days after his arrival at Alton Grange from the
above journey into Scotland, we find him going over the whole
of the North Midland line as far as Leeds; then by Halifax to
Manchester, where he staid for several days on the business of
the South Union line; then to Birmingham and London; back
to Alton Grange, and next day to Congleton and Leek; thence
to Leeds and Goole, and home again by the Sheffield and Rotherham
and the Midland works. And early in the following
month (October) he was engaged in the north of Ireland, examining
the line, and reporting upon the plans of the projected Ulster
Railway. He was also called upon to inspect and report
upon colliery works, salt works, brass and copper works, and such
like, in addition to his own colliery and railway business. He
usually also staked out himself the lines laid out by him, which
involved a good deal of labor since undertaken by assistants.
And occasionally he would run up to London, attending in person
to the preparation and depositing of the plans and sections
of the projected undertakings for which he was engaged as engineer.

His correspondence increased so much that he found it necessary
to engage a private secretary, who accompanied him on his
journeys. He was himself exceedingly averse to writing letters.
The comparatively advanced age at which he learned the art of
writing, and the nature of his duties while engaged at the Killingworth[380]
Colliery, precluded that facility in correspondence which
only constant practice can give. He gradually, however, acquired
great facility in dictation, and had also the power of laboring continuously
at this work, the gentleman who acted as his secretary
in the year 1835 having informed us that during his busy season
he one day dictated no fewer than thirty-seven letters, several of
them embodying the results of much close thinking and calculation.
On another occasion he dictated reports and letters for
twelve continuous hours, until his secretary was ready to drop off
his chair from sheer exhaustion, and at length pleaded for a suspension
of the labor. This great mass of correspondence, though
closely bearing on the subjects under discussion, was not, however,
of a kind to supply the biographer with matter for quotation,
or to give that insight into the life and character of the
writer which the letters of literary men so often furnish. They
were, for the most part, letters of mere business, relating to works
in progress, Parliamentary contests, new surveys, estimates of cost,
and railway policy—curt, and to the point; in short, the letters of
a man every moment of whose time was precious.

Fortunately, George Stephenson possessed a facility of sleeping,
which enabled him to pass through this enormous amount of
fatigue and labor without injury to his health. He had been
trained in a hard school, and could bear with ease conditions
which, to men more softly nurtured, would have been the extreme
of physical discomfort. Many, many nights he snatched
his sleep while traveling in his chaise; and at break of day he
would be at work, surveying until dark, and this for weeks in succession.
His whole powers seemed to be under the control of his
will, for he could wake at any hour, and go to work at once. It
was difficult for secretaries and assistants to keep up with such a

It is pleasant to record that in the midst of these engrossing
occupations his heart remained as soft and loving as ever. In
spring-time he would not be debarred of his boyish amusement
of bird-nesting, but would go rambling along the hedges spying
for nests. In the autumn he went nutting, and when he could
snatch a few minutes he indulged in his old love of gardening.
His uniform kindness and good temper, and his communicative,
intelligent disposition, made him a great favorite with the neighboring[381]
farmers, to whom he would volunteer much valuable advice
on agricultural operations, drainage, plowing, and labor-saving
processes. Sometimes he took a long rural ride on his favorite
“Bobby,” now growing old, but as fond of his master as ever.
Toward the end of his life “Bobby” lived in clover, his master’s
pet, doing no work; and he died at Tapton in 1845, more than
twenty years old.

During one of George’s brief sojourns at the Grange he found
time to write to his son a touching account of a pair of robins
that had built their nest within one of the empty upper chambers
of the house. One day he observed a robin fluttering outside the
windows, and beating its wings against the panes, as if eager to
gain admission. He went up stairs, and there found, in a retired
part of one of the rooms, a robin’s nest, with one of the parent
birds sitting over three or four young—all dead. The excluded
bird outside still beat against the panes; and on the window being
let down, it flew into the room, but was so exhausted that it
dropped upon the floor. Stephenson took up the bird, carried it
down stairs, and had it warmed and fed. The poor robin revived,
and for a time was one of his pets. But it shortly died too, as if
unable to recover from the privations it had endured during its
three days’ fluttering and beating at the windows. It appeared
that the room had been unoccupied, and the sash having been let
down, the robins had taken the opportunity of building their nest
within it; but the servant having closed the window again, the
calamity befell the birds which so strongly excited the engineer’s
sympathies. An incident such as this, trifling though it may
seem, gives a true key to the heart of a man.

The amount of his Parliamentary business having greatly increased
with the projection of new lines of railway, the Stephensons
found it necessary to set up an office in London in 1836.
George’s first office was at No. 9 Duke Street, Westminster, from
whence he removed in the following year to 30-1/2 Great George
Street. That office was the busy scene of railway politics for several
years. There consultations were held, schemes were matured,
deputations were received, and many projectors called upon
our engineer for the purpose of submitting to him their plans of
railways and railway working. His private secretary at the time
has informed us that at the end of the first Parliamentary session[382]
in which he had been engaged as engineer for more companies
than one, it became necessary for him to give instructions as to
the preparation of the accounts to be rendered to the several companies.
In the simplicity of his heart, he directed Mr. Binns to
take his full time at the rate of ten guineas a day, and charge the
railway companies in the proportion in which he had actually
been employed in their respective business during each day.
When Robert heard of this instruction, he went directly to his father
and expostulated with him against this unprofessional course;
and, other influences being brought to bear upon him, George at
length reluctantly consented to charge as other engineers did, an
entire day’s fee to each of the companies for which he was concerned
while their business was going forward; but he cut down
the number of days charged for, and reduced the daily amount
from ten to seven guineas.

Besides his journeys at home, George Stephenson was on more
than one occasion called abroad on railway business. Thus, at
the desire of King Leopold, he made several visits to Belgium to
assist the Belgian engineers in laying out the national lines of the
kingdom. That enlightened monarch at an early period discerned
the powerful instrumentality of railways in developing a country’s
resources, and he determined at the earliest possible period to
adopt them as the great high roads of the nation. The country,
being rich in coals and minerals, had great manufacturing capabilities.
It had good ports, fine navigable rivers, abundant canals,
and a teeming, industrious population. Leopold perceived that
railways were eminently calculated to bring the industry of the
country into full play, and to render the riches of the provinces
available to the rest of the kingdom. He therefore openly declared
himself the promoter of public railways throughout Belgium.
A system of lines was projected at his instance, connecting
Brussels with the chief towns and cities of the state, extending
from Ostend eastward to the Prussian frontier, and from
Antwerp southward to the French frontier.

Mr. Stephenson and his son, as the leading railway engineers
of England, were consulted by the king, in 1835, as to the best
mode of carrying out his intentions. In the course of that year
they visited Belgium, and had several interesting conferences
with Leopold and his ministers on the subject of the proposed[383]
railways. The king then appointed George Stephenson by royal
ordinance a Knight of the Order of Leopold. At the invitation
of the monarch, Mr. Stephenson made a second visit to Belgium
in 1837, on the occasion of the public opening of the line from
Brussels to Ghent. At Brussels there was a public procession,
and another at Ghent on the arrival of the train. Stephenson
and his party accompanied it to the Public Hall, there to dine
with the chief ministers of state, the municipal authorities, and
about five hundred of the principal inhabitants of the city; the
English embassador being also present. After the king’s health
and a few others had been drunk, that of Mr. Stephenson was
proposed; on which the whole assembly rose up, amid great excitement
and loud applause, and made their way to where he sat,
in order to “jingle glasses” with him, greatly to his own amazement.
On the day following, our engineer dined with the king
and queen at their own table at Laaken, by special invitation,
afterward accompanying his majesty and suite to a public ball,
given by the municipality of Brussels in honor of the opening
of the line to Ghent, as well as of their distinguished English
guests. On entering the room, the general and excited inquiry
was, “Which is Stephenson?” The English engineer had not before
imagined that he was esteemed to be so great a man.

The London and Birmingham Railway having been completed
in September, 1838, after being about five years in progress, the
great main system of railway communication between London,
Liverpool, and Manchester was then opened to the public. For
some months previously the line had been partially open, coaches
performing the journey between Denbigh Hall (near Wolverton)
and Rugby—the works of the Kilsby tunnel being still incomplete.
It was already amusing to hear the complaints of the
travelers about the slowness of the coaches as compared with the
railway, though the coaches traveled at a speed of eleven miles
an hour. The comparison of comfort was also greatly to the
disparagement of the coaches. Then the railway train could
accommodate any quantity, whereas the road conveyances were
limited; and when a press of travelers occurred—as on the occasion
of the queen’s coronation—the greatest inconvenience was
experienced, as much as £10 having been paid for a seat on a
donkey-chaise between Rugby and Denbigh. On the opening[384]
of the railway throughout, of course all this inconvenience and
delay was brought to an end.

Numerous other openings of railways constructed by George
Stephenson took place about the same time. The Birmingham
and Derby line was opened for traffic in August, 1839; the Sheffield
and Rotherham in November, 1839; and in the course of
the following year, the Midland, the York and North Midland,
the Chester and Crewe, the Chester and Birkenhead, the Manchester
and Birmingham, the Manchester and Leeds, and the
Maryport and Carlisle railways, were all publicly opened in whole
or in part. Thus 321 miles of railway (exclusive of the London
and Birmingham), constructed under Mr. Stephenson’s superintendence,
at a cost of upward of eleven millions sterling, were, in
the course of about two years, added to the traffic accommodation
of the country.

The ceremonies which accompanied the public opening of these
lines were often of an interesting character. The adjoining population
held general holiday; bands played, banners waved, and
assembled thousands cheered the passing trains amid the occasional
booming of cannon. The proceedings were usually wound
up by a public dinner; and in the course of his speech which
followed, Mr. Stephenson would revert to his favorite topic—the
difficulties which he had early encountered in the promotion of
the railway system, and in establishing the superiority of the locomotive.
On such occasions he always took great pleasure in
alluding to the services rendered to himself and the public by
the young men brought up under his eye—his pupils at first, and
afterward his assistants. No great master ever possessed a more
devoted band of assistants and fellow-workers than he did; and
it was one of the most marked evidences of his admirable tact
and judgment that he selected, with such undeviating correctness,
the men best fitted to carry out his plans. Indeed, the ability to
accomplish great things, to carry grand ideas into practical effect,
depends in no small measure on that intuitive knowledge of character
which our engineer possessed in so remarkable a degree.

At the dinner at York, which followed the partial opening of
the York and North Midland Railway, Mr. Stephenson said “he
was sure they would appreciate his feelings when he told them
that, when he first began railway business, his hair was black,[385]
although it was now gray; and that he began his life’s labor as
but a poor plowboy. About thirty years since he had applied
himself to the study of how to generate high velocities by mechanical
means. He thought he had solved that problem; and
they had for themselves seen, that day, what perseverance had
brought him to. He was, on that occasion, only too happy to
have an opportunity of acknowledging that he had, in the latter
portion of his career, received much most valuable assistance
particularly from young men brought up in his manufactory.
Whenever talent showed itself in a young man, he had always
given that talent encouragement where he could, and he would
continue to do so.”

That this was no exaggerated statement is amply proved by
many facts which redound to Stephenson’s credit. He was no
niggard of encouragement and praise when he saw honest industry
struggling for a footing. Many were the young men whom,
in the course of his career, he took by the hand and led steadily
up to honor and emolument, simply because he had noted their
zeal, diligence, and integrity. One youth excited his interest
while working as a common carpenter on the Liverpool and
Manchester line; and before many years had passed he was recognized
as an engineer of distinction. Another young man he
found industriously working away at his by-hours, and, admiring
his diligence, he engaged him as his private secretary, the gentleman
shortly after rising to a position of eminent influence and
usefulness. Indeed, nothing gave the engineer greater pleasure
than in this way to help on any deserving youth who came under
his observation, and, in his own expressive phrase, to “make
a man of him.”

The openings of the great main lines of railroad communication
shortly proved the fallaciousness of the numerous rash
prophecies which had been promulgated by the opponents of
railways. The proprietors of the canals were astounded by the
fact that, notwithstanding the immense traffic conveyed by rail,
their own traffic and receipts continued to increase; and that, in
common with other interests, they fully shared in the expansion
of trade and commerce which had been so effectually promoted
by the extension of the railway system. The cattle-owners were
equally amazed to find the price of horseflesh increasing with the[386]
extension of railways, and that the number of coaches running
to and from the new railway stations gave employment to a
greater number of horses than under the old stage-coach system.
Those who had prophesied the decay of the metropolis, and the
ruin of the suburban cabbage-growers, in consequence of the approach
of railways to London, were disappointed; for, while the
new roads let citizens out of London, they also let country-people
in. Their action, in this respect, was centripetal as well as centrifugal.
Tens of thousands who had never seen the metropolis
could now visit it expeditiously and cheaply; and Londoners
who had never visited the country, or but rarely, were enabled,
at little cost of time or money, to see green fields and clear blue
skies far from the smoke and bustle of town. If the dear suburban-grown
cabbages became depreciated in value, there were
truck-loads of fresh-grown country cabbages to make amends for
the loss: in this case, the “partial evil” was a far more general
good. The food of the metropolis became rapidly improved, especially
in the supply of wholesome meat and vegetables. And
then the price of coals—an article which, in this country, is as
indispensable as daily food to all classes—was greatly reduced.
What a blessing to the metropolitan poor is described in this
single fact!

The prophecies of ruin and disaster to landlords and farmers
were equally confounded by the openings of the railways. The
agricultural communications, so far from being “destroyed,” as
had been predicted, were immensely improved. The farmers
were enabled to buy their coals, lime, and manure for less money,
while they obtained a readier access to the best markets for their
stock and farm-produce. Notwithstanding the predictions to the
contrary, their cows gave milk as before, the sheep fed and fattened,
and even skittish horses ceased to shy at the passing trains.
The smoke of the engines did not obscure the sky, nor were farmyards
burnt up by the fire thrown from the locomotives. The
farming classes were not reduced to beggary; on the contrary,
they soon felt that, so far from having any thing to dread, they
had very much good to expect from the extension of railways.

Landlords also found that they could get higher rent for farms
situated near a railway than at a distance from one. Hence they
became clamorous for “sidings.” They felt it to be a grievance[387]
to be placed at a distance from a station. After a railway had
been once opened, not a landlord would consent to have the line
taken from him. Owners who had fought the promoters before
Parliament, and compelled them to pass their domains at a distance,
at a vastly increased expense in tunnels and deviations,
now petitioned for branches and nearer station-accommodation.
Those who held property near towns, and had extorted large
sums as compensation for the anticipated deterioration in the value
of their building land, found a new demand for it springing
up at greatly advanced prices. Land was now advertised for
sale with the attraction of being “near a railway station.”

The prediction that, even if railways were made, the public
would not use them, was also completely falsified by the results.
The ordinary mode of fast traveling for the middle classes had
heretofore been by mail-coach and stage-coach. Those who
could not afford to pay the high prices charged by such conveyances
went by wagon, and the poorer classes trudged on foot.
George Stephenson was wont to say that he hoped to see the day
when it would be cheaper for a poor man to travel by railway
than to walk, and not many years passed before his expectation
was fulfilled. In no country in the world is time worth more
money than in England; and by saving time—the criterion of
distance—the railway proved a great benefactor to men of industry
in all classes.

Many deplored the inevitable downfall of the old stage-coach
system. There was to be an end of that delightful variety of incident
usually attendant on a journey by road. The rapid scamper
across a fine country on the outside of the four-horse “Express”
or “Highflyer;” the seat on the box beside Jehu, or the
equally coveted place near the facetious guard behind; the journey
amid open green fields, through smiling villages and fine old
towns, where the stage stopped to change horses and the passengers
to dine, was all very delightful in its way, and many regretted
that this old-fashioned and pleasant style of traveling was
about to pass away. But it had its dark side also. Any one who
remembers the journey by stage from London to Manchester or
York will associate it with recollections and sensations of not unmixed
delight. To be perched for twenty-four hours, exposed to
all weathers, on the outside of a coach, trying in vain to find a[388]
soft seat—sitting now with the face to the wind, rain, or sun, and
now with the back—without any shelter such as the commonest
penny-a-mile Parliamentary train now daily provides—was a miserable
undertaking, looked forward to with horror by many whose
business required them to travel frequently between the provinces
and the metropolis. Nor were the inside passengers more agreeably
accommodated. To be closely packed in a little, inconvenient,
straight-backed vehicle, where the cramped limbs could
not be in the least extended, nor the wearied frame indulge in
any change of posture, was felt by many to be a terrible thing.
Then there were the constantly-recurring demands, not always
couched in the politest terms, for an allowance to the driver every
two or three stages, and to the guard every six or eight; and
if the gratuity did not equal their expectations, growling and open
abuse were not unusual. These désagrémens, together with the
exactions practiced on travelers by innkeepers, seriously detracted
from the romance of stage-coach traveling, and there was a
general disposition on the part of the public to change the system
for a better.

The avidity with which the public at once availed themselves
of the railways proved that this better system had been discovered.
Notwithstanding the reduction of the coach-fares on many of the
roads to one third of their previous rate, the public preferred
traveling by the railway. They saved in time, and they saved in
money, taking the whole expenses into account. In point of comfort
there could be no doubt as to the infinite superiority of the
locomotive train. But there remained the question of safety,
which had been a great bugbear with the early opponents of railways,
and was made the most of by the coach-proprietors to deter
the public from using them. It was predicted that trains of
passengers would be blown to pieces, and that none but fools
would intrust their persons to the conduct of an explosive machine
such as the locomotive. It appeared, however, that during
the first eight years not fewer than five millions of passengers
had been conveyed along the Liverpool and Manchester Railway,
and of this vast number only two persons had lost their lives by
accident. During the same period, the loss of life by the upsetting
of stage-coaches had been immensely greater in proportion.
The public were not slow, therefore, to detect the fact that traveling[389]
by railways was greatly safer than traveling by common
roads, and in all districts penetrated by railways the coaches were
very shortly taken off for want of support.

George Stephenson himself had a narrow escape in one of the
stage-coach accidents so common thirty years since, but which are
already almost forgotten. While the Birmingham line was under
construction, he had occasion to travel from Ashby-de-la-Zouch
to London by coach. He was an inside passenger with
several others, and the outsides were pretty numerous. When
within ten miles of Dunstable, he felt, from the rolling of the
coach, that one of the linchpins securing the wheels had given
way, and that the vehicle must upset. He endeavored to fix himself
in his seat, holding on firmly by the arm-straps, so that he
might save himself on whichever side the coach fell. The coach
soon toppled over, and fell crash upon the road, amid the shrieks
of his fellow-passengers and the smashing of glass. He immediately
pulled himself up by the arm-strap above him, let down
the coach-window, and climbed out. The coachman and passengers
lay scattered about on the road, stunned, and some of them
bleeding, while the horses were plunging in their harness. Taking
out his pocket-knife, he at once cut the traces and set the
horses free. He then went to the help of the passengers, who
were all more or less hurt. The guard had his arm broken, and
the driver was seriously cut and contused. A scream from one
of his fellow-passenger “insides” here attracted his attention: it
proceeded from an elderly lady, whom he had before observed to
be decorated with one of the enormous bonnets in fashion at the
time. Opening the coach-door, he lifted the lady out, and her
principal lamentation was that her large bonnet had been crushed
beyond remedy! Stephenson then proceeded to the nearest village
for help, and saw the passengers provided with proper assistance
before he himself went forward on his journey.

It was some time before the more opulent classes, who could
afford to post to town in aristocratic style, became reconciled to
the railway train. It put an end to that gradation of rank in
traveling which was one of the few things left by which the nobleman
could be distinguished from the Manchester manufacturer
and bagman. But to younger sons of noble families the
convenience and cheapness of the railway did not fail to commend[390]
itself. One of these, whose eldest brother had just succeeded
to an earldom, said to a railway manager, “I like railways—they
just suit young fellows like me, with ‘nothing per annum
paid quarterly.’ You know, we can’t afford to post, and it used
to be deuced annoying to me, as I was jogging along on the box-seat
of the stage-coach, to see the little earl go by, drawn by his
four posters, and just look up at me and give me a nod. But
now, with railways, it’s different. It’s true, he may take a first-class
ticket, while I can only afford a second-class one, but we
both go the same pace

For a time, however, many of the old families sent forward
their servants and luggage by railroad, and condemned themselves
to jog along the old highway in the accustomed family
chariot, dragged by country post-horses. But the superior comfort
of the railway shortly recommended itself to even the oldest
families; posting went out of date; post-horses were with difficulty
to be had along even the great high roads; and nobles and
servants, manufacturers and peasants, alike shared in the comfort,
the convenience, and the dispatch of railway traveling. The
late Dr. Arnold, of Rugby, regarded the opening of the London
and Birmingham line as another great step accomplished in the
march of civilization. “I rejoice to see it,” he said, as he stood
on one of the bridges over the railway, and watched the train
flashing along under him, and away through the distant hedgerows—”I
rejoice to see it, and to think that feudality is gone forever:
it is so great a blessing to think that any one evil is really

It was long before the late Duke of Wellington would trust
himself behind a locomotive. The fatal accident to Mr. Huskisson,
which had happened before his eyes, contributed to prejudice
him strongly against railways, and it was not until the year 1843
that he performed his first trip on the Southwestern Railway, in
attendance upon her majesty. Prince Albert had for some time
been accustomed to travel by railway alone, but in 1842 the queen
began to make use of the same mode of conveyance between
Windsor and London. Even Colonel Sibthorpe was eventually
compelled to acknowledge its utility. For a time he continued
to post to and from the country as before. Then he compromised
the matter by taking a railway ticket for the long journey,[391]
and posting only a stage or two nearest town; until, at length, he
undisguisedly committed himself, like other people, to the express
train, and performed the journey throughout upon what he had
formerly denounced as “the infernal railroad.”



TAPTON HOUSE.   [By Percival Skelton.]



While George Stephenson was engaged in carrying on the
works of the Midland Railway in the neighborhood of Chesterfield,
several seams of coal were cut through in the Claycross
Tunnel, when it occurred to him that if mines were opened out
there, the railway would provide the means of a ready sale for
the article in the midland counties, and even as far south as the
metropolis itself.

At a time when every body else was skeptical as to the possibility
of coals being carried from the midland counties to London,
and sold there at a price to compete with those which were
sea-borne, he declared his firm conviction that the time was fast
approaching when the London market would be regularly supplied
with North-country coals led by railway. One of the great
advantages of railways, in his opinion, was that they would bring
iron and coal, the staple products of the country, to the doors of
all England. “The strength of Britain,” he would say, “lies in[393]
her iron and coal beds, and the locomotive is destined, above all
other agencies, to bring it forth. The lord chancellor now sits
upon a bag of wool; but wool has long since ceased to be emblematical
of the staple commodity of England. He ought rather
to sit upon a bag of coals, though it might not prove quite so
comfortable a seat. Then think of the lord chancellor being addressed
as the noble and learned lord on the coal-sack! I am
afraid it wouldn’t answer, after all.”

To one gentleman he said: “We want from the coal-mining,
the iron-producing and manufacturing districts, a great railway
for the carriage of these valuable products. We want, if I may
so say, a stream of steam running directly through the country
from the North to London. Speed is not so much an object as
utility and cheapness. It will not do to mix up the heavy merchandise
and coal-trains with the passenger-trains. Coal and
most kinds of goods can wait, but passengers will not. A less
perfect road and less expensive works will do well enough for
coal-trains, if run at a low speed; and if the line be flat, it is not
of much consequence whether it be direct or not. Whenever
you put passenger-trains on a line, all the other trains must be
run at high speeds to keep out of their way. But coal-trains run
at high speeds pull the road to pieces, besides causing large expenditure
in locomotive power; and I doubt very much whether
they will pay, after all; but a succession of long coal-trains, if
run at from ten to fourteen miles an hour, would pay very well.
Thus the Stockton and Darlington Company made a larger profit
when running coal at low speeds at a halfpenny a ton per mile,
than they have been able to do since they put on their fast passenger-trains,
when every thing must needs be run faster, and a
much larger proportion of the gross receipts is consequently absorbed
by working expenses.”

In advocating these views, George Stephenson was considerably
ahead of his time; and although he did not live to see his
anticipations fully realized as to the supply of the London coal-market,
he was nevertheless the first to point it out, and to some
extent to prove, the practicability of establishing a profitable
coal-trade by railway between the northern counties and the metropolis.
So long, however, as the traffic was conducted on main
passenger-lines at comparatively high speeds, it was found that[394]
the expenditure on tear and wear of road and locomotive power—not
to mention the increased risk of carrying on the first-class
passenger traffic with which it was mixed up—necessarily left a
very small margin of profit, and hence our engineer was in the
habit of urging the propriety of constructing a railway which
should be exclusively devoted to goods and mineral traffic run at
low speeds as the only condition on which a large railway traffic
of that sort could be profitably conducted.

LIME-WORKS AT AMBERGATE.   [By Percival Skelton.]

Having induced some of his Liverpool friends to join him in a
coal-mining adventure at Chesterfield, a lease was taken of the
Claycross estate, then for sale, and operations were shortly after
begun. At a subsequent period Stephenson extended his coal-mining
operations in the same neighborhood, and in 1841 he himself
entered into a contract with owners of land in the townships
of Tapton, Brimington, and Newbold for the working of the coal
thereunder, and pits were opened on the Tapton estate on an extensive
scale. About the same time he erected great lime-works,
close to the Ambergate station of the Midland Railway, from
which, when in full operation, he was able to turn out upward of
two hundred tons a day. The limestone was brought on a tram-way
from the village of Crich, about two or three miles distant
from the kilns, the coal being supplied from his adjoining Claycross
Colliery. The works were on a scale such as had not before[395]
been attempted by any private individual engaged in a similar
trade, and we believe they proved very successful.

Tapton House was included in the lease of one of the collieries,
and as it was conveniently situated—being, as it were, a
central point on the Midland Railway, from which the engineer
could readily proceed north or south on his journeys of inspection
of the various lines then under construction in the midland
and northern counties—he took up his residence there, and it
continued his home until the close of his life.

Tapton House is a large, roomy brick mansion, beautifully
situated amid woods, upon a commanding eminence, about a
mile to the northeast of the town of Chesterfield. Green fields
dotted with fine trees slope away from the house in all directions.
The surrounding country is undulating and highly picturesque.
North and south the eye ranges over a vast extent of
lovely scenery; and on the west, looking over the town of Chesterfield,
with its church and crooked spire, the extensive range of
the Derbyshire hills bounds the distance. The Midland Railway
skirts the western edge of the park in a deep rock cutting, and
the locomotive’s shrill whistle sounds near at hand as the trains
speed past. The gardens and pleasure-grounds adjoining the
house were in a very neglected state when Mr. Stephenson first
went to Tapton, and he promised himself, when he had secured
rest and leisure from business, that he would put a new face upon
both. The first improvement he made was in cutting a woodland
footpath up the hill-side, by which he at the same time added
a beautiful feature to the park, and secured a shorter road to
the Chesterfield station; but it was some years before he found
time to carry into effect his contemplated improvements in the
adjoining gardens and pleasure-grounds. He had so long been
accustomed to laborious pursuits, and felt himself still so full of
work, that he could not at once settle down into the habit of
quietly enjoying the fruits of his industry.


He had no difficulty in usefully employing his time. Besides
directing the mining operations at Claycross, the establishment
of the lime-kilns at Ambergate, and the construction of the extensive
railways still in progress, he occasionally paid visits to
Newcastle, where his locomotive manufactory was now in full
work, and the proprietors were reaping the advantages of his[396]
early foresight in an abundant measure of prosperity. One of
his most interesting visits to the place was in 1838, on the occasion
of the meeting of the British Association there, when he acted
as one of the Vice-Presidents in the section of Mechanical
Science. Extraordinary changes had taken place in his own fortunes,
as well as in the face of the country, since he had first appeared
before a scientific body in Newcastle—the members of
the Literary and Philosophical Institute—to submit his safety-lamp
for their examination. Twenty-three years had passed over
his head, full of honest work, of manful struggle, and the humble
“colliery engine-wright of the name of Stephenson” had
achieved an almost world-wide reputation as a public benefactor.
His fellow-townsmen, therefore, could not hesitate to recognize
his merits and do honor to his presence. During the sittings of
the Association, the engineer took the opportunity of paying a
visit to Killingworth, accompanied by some of the distinguished
savans whom he numbered among his friends. He there pointed
out to them, with a degree of honest pride, the cottage in which
he had lived for so many years, showing what parts of it had
been his handiwork, and told them the story of the sun-dial over
the door, describing the study and the labor it had cost him and
his son to calculate its dimensions and fix it in its place. The[397]
dial had been serenely numbering the hours through the busy
years that had elapsed since that humble dwelling had been his
home, during which the Killingworth locomotive had become a
great working power, and its contriver had established the railway
system, which was now rapidly becoming extended in all
parts of the civilized world.

About the same time, his services were very much in request
at the meetings of Mechanics’ Institutes held throughout the
northern counties. From a very early period in his history he
had taken an active interest in these valuable institutions. While
residing at Newcastle in 1824, shortly after his locomotive foundery
had been started in Forth Street, he presided at a public
meeting held in that town for the purpose of establishing a Mechanics’
Institute. The meeting was held; but, as George Stephenson
was a man comparatively unknown even in Newcastle
at that time, his name failed to secure “an influential attendance.”
Among those who addressed the meeting on the occasion was Joseph
Locke, then his pupil, and afterward his rival as an engineer.
The local papers scarcely noticed the proceedings, yet the
Mechanics’ Institute was founded and struggled into existence.
Years passed, and it was felt to be an honor to secure Mr. Stephenson’s
presence at any public meetings held for the promotion
of popular education. Among the Mechanics’ Institutes in his
immediate neighborhood at Tapton were those of Belper and
Chesterfield, and at their soirées he was a frequent and a welcome
visitor. On these occasions he loved to tell his auditors of the
difficulties which had early beset him through want of knowledge,
and of the means by which he had overcome them. His grand
text was—Persevere; and there was manhood in the word.

On more than one occasion the author had the pleasure of listening
to George Stephenson’s homely but forcible addresses at
the annual soirées of the Leeds Mechanics’ Institute. He was
always an immense favorite with his audiences there. His personal
appearance was greatly in his favor. A handsome, ruddy,
expressive face, lit up by bright dark blue eyes, prepared one for
his earnest words when he stood up to speak, and the cheers had
subsided which invariably hailed his rising. He was not glib,
but he was very impressive. And who, so well as he, could serve
as a guide to the working-man in his endeavors after higher[398]
knowledge? His early life had been all struggle—encounter
with difficulty—groping in the dark after greater light, but always
earnestly and perseveringly. His words were therefore all the
more weighty, since he spoke from the fullness of his own experience.

Nor did he remain a mere inactive spectator of the improvements
in railway working which increasing experience from day
to day suggested. He continued to contrive improvements in the
locomotive, and to mature his invention of the carriage-brake.
When examined before the Select Committee on Railways in
1841, his mind seems to have been impressed with the necessity
which existed for adopting a system of self-acting brakes, stating
that, in his opinion, this was the most important arrangement that
could be provided for increasing the safety of railway traveling.
“I believe,” he said, “that if self-acting brakes were put upon every
carriage, scarcely any accident could take place.” His plan
consisted in employing the momentum of the running train to
throw his proposed brakes into action immediately on the moving
power of the engine being checked. He would also have
these brakes under the control of the guard, by means of a connecting
line running along the whole length of the train, by
which they should at once be thrown out of gear when necessary.
At the same time he suggested, as an additional means of safety,
that the signals of the line should be self-acting, and worked by
the locomotives as they passed along the railway. He considered
the adoption of this plan of so much importance that, with a view
to the public safety, he would even have it enforced upon railway
companies by the Legislature. He was also of opinion that
it was the interest of the companies themselves to adopt the plan,
as it would save great tear and wear of engines, carriages, tenders,
and brake-vans, besides greatly diminishing the risk of accidents
upon railways.

While before the same committee, he took the opportunity of
stating his views with reference to railway speeds, about which
wild ideas were then afloat, one gentleman of celebrity having
publicly expressed the opinion that a speed of a hundred miles
an hour was practicable in railway traveling! Not many years
had passed since Mr. Stephenson had been pronounced insane
for stating his conviction that twelve miles an hour could be performed[399]
by the locomotive; but, now that he had established the
fact, and greatly exceeded that speed, he was thought behind the
age because he recommended it to be limited to forty miles an hour.
He said: “I do not like either forty or fifty miles an hour upon
any line—I think it is an unnecessary speed; and if there is danger
upon a railway, it is high velocity that creates it. I should
say no railway ought to exceed forty miles an hour on the most
favorable gradient; but upon a curved line the speed ought not
to exceed twenty-four or twenty-five miles an hour.” He had,
indeed, constructed for the Great Western Railway an engine
capable of running fifty miles an hour with a load, and eighty
miles without one. But he never was in favor of a hurricane
speed of this sort, believing it could only be accomplished at an
unnecessary increase both of danger and expense.

“It is true,” he observed on other occasions,[79] “I have said the
locomotive engine might be made to travel a hundred miles an
hour, but I always put a qualification on this, namely, as to what
speed would best suit the public. The public may, however, be
unreasonable; and fifty or sixty miles an hour is an unreasonable
speed. Long before railway traveling became general, I said to
my friends that there was no limit to the speed of the locomotive,
provided the works could be made to stand. But there are
limits to the strength of iron, whether it be manufactured into
rails or locomotives, and there is a point at which both rails and
tires must break. Every increase of speed, by increasing the
strain upon the road and the rolling stock, brings us nearer to
that point. At thirty miles a slighter road will do, and less perfect
rolling stock may be run upon it with safety. But if you
increase the speed by say ten miles, then every thing must be
greatly strengthened. You must have heavier engines, heavier
and better-fastened rails, and all your working expenses will be
immensely increased. I think I know enough of mechanics to
know where to stop. I know that a pound will weigh a pound,
and that more should not be put upon an iron rail than it will
bear. If you could insure perfect iron, perfect rails, and perfect
locomotives, I grant fifty miles an hour or more might be run
with safety on a level railway. But then you must not forget[400]
that iron, even the best, will ‘tire,’ and with constant use will become
more and more liable to break at the weakest point—perhaps
where there is a secret flaw that the eye can not detect.
Then look at the rubbishy rails now manufactured on the contract
system—some of them little better than cast metal: indeed,
I have seen rails break merely on being thrown from the truck on
to the ground. How is it possible for such rails to stand a twenty
or thirty ton engine dashing over them at the speed of fifty
miles an hour? No, no,” he would conclude, “I am in favor of
low speeds because they are safe, and because they are economical;
and you may rely upon it that, beyond a certain point, with
every increase of speed there is a certain increase in the element
of danger.”

When railways became the subject of popular discussion, many
new and unsound theories were started with reference to them,
which Stephenson opposed as calculated, in his opinion, to bring
discredit on the locomotive system. One of these was with reference
to what were called “undulating lines.” Dr. Lardner,
who at an earlier period was skeptical as to the powers of the locomotive,
now promulgated the idea that a railway constructed
with rising and falling gradients would be practically as easy to
work as a line perfectly level. Mr. Badnell went even beyond
him, for he held that an undulating railway was much better
than a level one for purposes of working.[80] For a time this theory
found favor, and the “undulating system” was extensively
adopted; but George Stephenson never ceased to inveigh against
it, and experience has proved that his judgment was correct.
His practice, from the beginning of his career until the end of
it, was to secure a road as nearly as possible on a level, following
the course of the valleys and the natural line of the country;
preferring to go round a hill rather than to tunnel under it or
carry his railway over it, and often making a considerable circuit
to secure good workable gradients. He studied to lay out his
lines so that long trains of minerals and merchandise, as well as
passengers, might be hauled along them at the least possible expenditure
of locomotive power. He had long before ascertained,
by careful experiments at Killingworth, that the engine expends
half its power in overcoming a rising gradient of 1 in 260, which[401]
is about 20 feet in the mile; and that when the gradient is so
steep as 1 in 100, not less than three fourths of its power is sacrificed
in ascending the acclivity. He never forgot the valuable
practical lessons taught him by these early trials, which he had
made and registered long before the advantages of railways had
become recognized. He saw clearly that the longer flat line
must eventually prove superior to the shorter line of steep gradients
as respected its paying qualities. He urged that, after all,
the power of the locomotive was but limited; and, although he
and his son had done more than any other men to increase its
working capacity, it provoked him to find that every improvement
made in it was neutralized by the steep gradients which the
new school of engineers were setting it to overcome. On one occasion,
when Robert Stephenson stated before a Parliamentary
committee that every successive improvement in the locomotive
was being rendered virtually nugatory by the difficult and almost
impracticable gradients proposed on many of the new lines, his
father, on his leaving the witness-box, went up to him, and said,
“Robert, you never spoke truer words than those in all your

To this it must be added, that in urging these views George
Stephenson was strongly influenced by commercial considerations.
He had no desire to build up his reputation at the expense of
railway shareholders, nor to obtain engineering éclat by making
“ducks and drakes” of their money. He was persuaded that, in
order to secure the practical success of railways, they must be so
laid out as not only to prove of decided public utility, but also to
be worked economically and to the advantage of their proprietors.
They were not government roads, but private ventures—in
fact, commercial speculations. He therefore endeavored to render
them financially profitable; and he repeatedly declared that
if he did not believe they could be “made to pay,” he would have
nothing to do with them.[81] Nor was he influenced by the sordid[402]
consideration merely of what he could make out of any company
that employed him, but in many cases he voluntarily gave up his
claim to remuneration where the promoters of schemes which he
thought praiseworthy had suffered serious loss. Thus, when the
first application was made to Parliament for the Chester and Birkenhead
Railway Bill, the promoters were defeated. They repeated
their application on the understanding that in event of
their succeeding the engineer and surveyor were to be paid their
costs in respect of the defeated measure. The bill was successful,
and to several parties their costs were paid. Stephenson’s
amounted to £800, and he very nobly said, “You have had an
expensive career in Parliament; you have had a great struggle;
you are a young company; you can not afford to pay me this
amount of money; I will reduce it to £200, and I will not ask
you for the £200 until your shares are at £20 premium; for,
whatever may be the reverses you have to go through, I am satisfied
I shall live to see the day when your shares will be at £20
premium, and when I can legally and honorably claim that £200.”[82]
We may add that the shares did eventually rise to the premium
specified, and the engineer was no loser by his generous conduct
in the transaction.

Another novelty of the time with which George Stephenson
had to contend was the proposed substitution of atmospheric
pressure for locomotive steam-power in the working of railways.
The idea of obtaining motion by means of atmospheric pressure
originated with Denis Papin more than a century and a half ago;
but it slept until revived in 1810 by Mr. Medhurst, who published
a pamphlet to prove the practicability of carrying letters and
goods by air. In 1824, Mr. Vallance, of Brighton, took out a
patent for projecting passengers through a tube large enough to
contain a train of carriages, the tube ahead of the carriages being
previously exhausted of its atmospheric air. The same idea
was afterward taken up, in 1835, by Mr. Pinkus, an ingenious
American. Several scientific gentlemen, Dr. Lardner and Mr.
Clegg among others, advocated the plan, and an association was[403]
formed to carry it into effect. Shares were created, and £18,000
raised; and a model apparatus was exhibited in London. Mr.
Vignolles took Mr. Stephenson to see the model; and after carefully
examining it, he observed emphatically, “It won’t do: it is
only the fixed engines and ropes over again, in another form;
and, to tell you the truth, I don’t think this rope of wind will answer
so well as the rope of wire did.” He did not think the
principle would stand the test of practice, and he objected to the
mode of applying the principle. The stationary-engine system
was open to serious objections in whatever form applied; and
every day’s experience showed that the fixed engines could not
compete with locomotives in point of efficiency and economy.
Stephenson stood by the locomotive engine, and subsequent experience
proved that he was right.

Messrs. Clegg and Samuda afterward, in 1840, patented their
plan of an atmospheric railway, and they publicly tested its working
on a portion of the West London Railway. The results of
the experiment were considered so satisfactory, that the directors
of the Dublin and Kingstown line adopted it between Kingstown
and Dalkey. The London and Croydon Company also adopted
the atmospheric principle; and their line was opened in 1845.
The ordinary mode of applying the power was to lay between the
line of rails a pipe, in which a large piston was inserted, and attached
by a shaft to the framework of a carriage. The propelling
power was the ordinary pressure of the atmosphere acting
against the piston in the tube on one side, a vacuum being created
in the tube on the other side of the piston by the working of
a stationary engine. Great was the popularity of the atmospheric
system; and still George Stephenson said, “It won’t do; it’s but
a gimcrack.” Engineers of distinction said he was prejudiced,
and that he looked upon the locomotive as a pet child of his own.
“Wait a little,” he replied, “and you will see that I am right.”
It was generally supposed that the locomotive system was about
to be snuffed out. “Not so fast,” said Stephenson. “Let us wait
to see if it will pay.” He never believed it would. It was ingenious,
clever, scientific, and all that; but railways were commercial
enterprises, not toys; and if the atmospheric railway
could not work to a profit, it would not do. Considered in this
light, he even went so far as to call it “a great humbug.”


No one can say that the atmospheric railway had not a fair
trial. The government engineer, General Pasley, did for it what
had never been done for the locomotive—he reported in its favor,
whereas a former, government engineer had inferentially reported
against the use of locomotive power on railways. The House of
Commons had also reported in favor of the use of the steam-engine
on common roads; yet the railway locomotive had vitality
enough in it to live through all. “Nothing will beat it,” said
George Stephenson, “for efficiency in all weathers, for economy
in drawing loads of average weight, and for power and speed as
occasion may require.”

The atmospheric system was fairly and fully tried, and it was
found wanting. It was admitted to be an exceedingly elegant
mode of applying power; its devices were very skillful, and its
mechanism was most ingenious. But it was costly, irregular in
action, and, in particular kinds of weather, not to be depended
upon. At best, it was but a modification of the stationary-engine
system, and experience proved it to be so expensive that it was
shortly after entirely abandoned in favor of locomotive power.[83]

One of the remarkable results of the system of railway locomotion
which George Stephenson had by his persevering labors
mainly contributed to establish was the outbreak of the railway
mania toward the close of his professional career. The success
of the first main lines of railway naturally led to their extension
into many new districts; but a strongly speculative tendency soon
began to display itself, which contained in it the elements of great

The extension of railways had, up to the year 1844, been mainly
effected by men of the commercial classes, and the shareholders
in them principally belonged to the manufacturing districts—the
capitalists of the metropolis as yet holding aloof, and prophesying
disaster to all concerned in railway projects. The Stock
Exchange looked askance upon them, and it was with difficulty[405]
that respectable brokers could be found to do business in the
shares. But when the lugubrious anticipations of the City men
were found to be so entirely falsified by the results—when, after
the lapse of years, it was ascertained that railway traffic rapidly
increased and dividends steadily improved—a change came over
the spirit of the London capitalists. They then invested largely
in railways, the shares in which became a leading branch of business
on the Stock Exchange, and the prices of some rose to nearly
double their original value.

A stimulus was thus given to the projection of farther lines,
the shares in most of which came out at a premium, and became
the subject of immediate traffic. A reckless spirit of gambling
set in, which completely changed the character and objects of
railway enterprise. The public outside the Stock Exchange became
also infected, and many persons utterly ignorant of railways,
but hungering and thirsting after premiums, rushed eagerly
into the vortex. They applied for allotments, and subscribed for
shares in lines, of the engineering character or probable traffic of
which they knew nothing. Provided they could but obtain allotments
which they could sell at a premium, and put the profit—in
many cases the only capital they possessed[84]—into their pockets,
it was enough for them. The mania was not confined to the
precincts of the Stock Exchange, but infected all ranks. It embraced
merchants and manufacturers, gentry and shop-keepers,
clerks in public offices, and loungers at the clubs. Noble lords
were pointed at as “stags;” there were even clergymen who were
characterized as “bulls,” and amiable ladies who had the reputation
of “bears,” in the share-markets. The few quiet men who
remained uninfluenced by the speculation of the time were, in
not a few cases, even reproached for doing injustice to their families
in declining to help themselves from the stores of wealth that
were poured out on all sides.

Folly and knavery were for a time in the ascendant. The
sharpers of society were let loose, and jobbers and schemers became
more and more plentiful. They threw out railway schemes[406]
as lures to catch the unwary. They fed the mania with a constant
succession of new projects. The railway papers became
loaded with their advertisements. The post-office was scarcely
able to distribute the multitude of prospectuses and circulars
which they issued. For a time their popularity was immense.
They rose like froth into the upper heights of society, and the
flunkey Fitz Plushe, by virtue of his supposed wealth, sat among
peers and was idolized. Then was the harvest-time for scheming
lawyers, Parliamentary agents, engineers, surveyors, and traffic-takers,
who were ready to take up any railway scheme however
desperate, and to prove any amount of traffic even where none
existed. The traffic in the credulity of their dupes was, however,
the great fact that mainly concerned them, and of the profitable
character of which there could be no doubt.

Parliament, whose previous conduct in connection with railway
legislation was so open to reprehension, interposed no check—attempted
no remedy. On the contrary, it helped to intensify
the evils arising from this unseemly state of things. Many of
its members were themselves involved in the mania, and as much
interested in its continuance as the vulgar herd of money-grubbers.
The railway prospectuses now issued—unlike the original
Liverpool and Manchester, and London and Birmingham schemes—were
headed by peers, baronets, landed proprietors, and strings
of M.P’s. Thus it was found in 1845 that no fewer than 157
members of Parliament were on the lists of new companies as
subscribers for sums ranging from £291,000 downward! The
projectors of new lines even came to boast of their Parliamentary
strength, and of the number of votes which they could command
in “the House.” At all events, it is matter of fact, that many
utterly ruinous branches and extensions projected during the
mania, calculated only to benefit the inhabitants of a few miserable
boroughs accidentally omitted from Schedule A, were authorized
in the memorable sessions of 1844 and 1845.

George Stephenson was anxiously entreated to lend his name
to prospectuses during the railway mania, but he invariably refused.
He held aloof from the headlong folly of the hour, and
endeavored to check it, but in vain. Had he been less scrupulous,
and given his countenance to the numerous projects about
which he was consulted, he might, without any trouble, have thus[407]
secured enormous gains; but he had no desire to accumulate a
fortune without labor and without honor. He himself never
speculated in shares. When he was satisfied as to the merits of
an undertaking, he would sometimes subscribe for a certain
amount of capital in it, when he held on, neither buying nor
selling. At a dinner of the Leeds and Bradford directors at
Ben Rydding in October, 1844, before the mania had reached its
height, he warned those present against the prevalent disposition
toward railway speculation. It was, he said, like walking upon a
piece of ice with shallows and deeps; the shallows were frozen
over, and they would carry, but it required great caution to get
over the deeps. He was satisfied that in the course of the next
year many would step on to places not strong enough to carry
them, and would get into the deeps; they would be taking shares,
and afterward be unable to pay the calls upon them. Yorkshiremen
were reckoned clever men, and his advice to them was to
stick together and promote communication in their own neighborhood—not
to go abroad with their speculations. If any had
done so, he advised them to get their money back as fast as they
could, for if they did not they would not get it at all. He informed
the company, at the same time, of his earliest holding of
railway shares; it was in the Stockton and Darlington Railway,
and the number he held was three—”a very large capital for
him to possess at the time.” But a Stockton friend was anxious
to possess a share, and he sold him one at a premium of 33s.; he
supposed he had been about the first man in England to sell a
railway share at a premium.

During 1845, his son’s office in Great George Street, Westminster,
was crowded with persons of various conditions seeking interviews,
presenting very much the appearance of the levee of a
minister of state. The burly figure of Mr. Hudson, the “Railway
King,” surrounded by an admiring group of followers, was often
to be seen there; and a still more interesting person, in the estimation
of many, was George Stephenson, dressed in black, his
coat of somewhat old-fashioned cut, with square pockets in the
tails. He wore a white neckcloth, and a large bunch of seals
was suspended from his watch-ribbon. Altogether, he presented
an appearance of health, intelligence, and good humor, that it
gladdened one to look upon in that sordid, selfish, and eventually
ruinous saturnalia of railway speculation.


Being still the consulting engineer of several of the older companies,
he necessarily appeared before Parliament in support of
their branches and extensions. In 1845 his name was associated
with that of his son as the engineer of the Southport and Preston
Junction. In the same session he gave evidence in favor of the
Syston and Peterborough branch of the Midland Railway; but
his principal attention was confined to the promotion of the line
from Newcastle to Berwick, in which he had never ceased to take
the deepest interest.

Powers were granted by Parliament in 1845 to construct not
less than 2883 miles of new railways in Britain, at an expenditure
of about forty-four millions sterling! Yet the mania was
not appeased; for in the following session of 1846, applications
were made to Parliament for powers to raise £389,000,000 sterling
for the construction of farther lines; and they were actually
conceded to the extent of 4790 miles (including 60 miles of
tunnels), at a cost of about £120,000,000 sterling.[85] During this
session Mr. Stephenson appeared as engineer for only one new
line—the Buxton, Macclesfield, Congleton, and Crewe Railway—a
line in which, as a coal-owner, he was personally interested;
and of three branch lines in connection with existing companies
for which he had long acted as engineer. At the same period
all the leading professional men were fully occupied, some of
them appearing as consulting engineers for upward of thirty
lines each!

One of the features of this mania was the rage for “direct
lines” which every where displayed itself. There were “Direct
Manchester,” “Direct Exeter,” “Direct York,” and, indeed, new
direct lines between most of the large towns. The Marquis of
Bristol, speaking in favor of the “Direct Norwich and London”
project at a public meeting at Haverhill, said, “If necessary, they
might make a tunnel beneath his very drawing-room rather than
be defeated in their undertaking!” And the Rev. F. Litchfield,
at a meeting in Banbury on the subject of a line to that town,
said, “He had laid down for himself a limit to his approbation[409]
of railways—at least of such as approached the neighborhood
with which he was connected—and that limit was, that he did not
wish them to approach any nearer to him than to run through his
bedroom, with the bedposts for a station
!” How different was
the spirit which influenced these noble lords and gentlemen but
a few years before!

The course adopted by Parliament in dealing with the multitude
of railway bills applied for during the prevalence of the
mania was as irrational as it proved unfortunate. The want of
foresight displayed by both houses in obstructing the railway system
so long as it was based upon sound commercial principles
was only equaled by the fatal facility with which they now granted
railway projects based upon the wildest speculation. Parliament
interposed no check, laid down no principle, furnished no
guidance, for the conduct of railway projectors, but left every
company to select its own locality, deter