Изображения страниц


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 travelling 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 travelling twice as fast as stage coaches! We should 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 Eailway 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 article was, however, in other respects so favourable to the proposed railway, that allegations were even made by the opponents of the bill, when in committee, that the writer had been bought by the Liverpool and Manchester party; which was, of course, a mere licence of counsel. As for the objections urged by the reviewer against the high speed attainable on railways,—then a mere matter of speculation,—they were also entertained by nearly all the practical and scientific men of the kingdom, and by the public generally.



Parliamentary Contest On The Liverpool And
Manchester Bill.

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. (since Baron) Alderson, Mr. Stephenson, Mr. (afterwards Baron) Parke, Mr. Bose, Mr. Macdonnell, Mr. Harrison, Mr. Erle, and Mr. Cullen, made common cause with each other in their opposition to the bill; the case for which was conducted by Mr. Adam, Mr. Serjeant 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 gist of the promoters' case—the evidence to prove the practicability of 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 1G2 STEPHENSON IN THE WITNESS-BOX. Chap. X.

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 danger to be apprehended from the bursting of the boilers of such engines, 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. Mr. Eastrick, then a manufacturer of steam-engines at Stourbridge, near Birmingham, was examined as to the safety of highpressure engines. He had made a travelling engine of this sort for Mr. Trevithick about twelve years before (in 1813), which was exhibited in London, when a circular railroad was laid down, and the engine was run against a horse for a wager. He had also seen the locomotive engine of Mr. Stephenson at work on the Killingworth and Hetton railroads. He had examined them together with Mr. Cubitt, Mr. James Walker, Mr. Sylvester, and others, and was satisfied of their applicability to the purposes of railway traction. He described to the Committee the proper form of the boiler, and the arrangement of the valves, so as to secure complete safety in the working of the locomotive. He was of opinion that such an engine might be constructed as would take forty tons weight at the rate of six miles an hour, with perfect ease and safety.

On the 25th of April, Mr. 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 Chap. X. THE INARTICULATE GENIUS. J 63

might yet oe upheld, for a time. Many years afterwards, 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. 1 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, and another hinted that I was mad. But I put up with every rebuff, and went on with my plans, determined not to be put down."

...Mr. 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 164 STEPHENSON'S EVIDENCE. Chap. X.

of honourable members, that the man must certainly be labouring 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 so well been styled, to speak with confidence on such a 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 downwards. He had laid down or superintended the railways at Borrerton, Mount Moor, Spring Darlington, Bedington, Hetton, and Darlington, besides improving those at Killingworth, South Moor, and Derwent Brook. He had constructed fifty-five steam-engines, of which sixteen were locomotives. Some of these had been sent to France. The only accident that had occurred to any of these engines was on the occasion of the tubes in one of them wearing out, by which a man and boy were slightly scalded. The engines constructed by him for the working of the Killingworth Eailroad, eleven years before, had continued steadily at work ever since, and fulfilled his most sanguine 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 neighbourhood, that to travel on horseback or to plough the adjoining fields would be rendered highly dangerous, the witness said that horses learnt 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

[ocr errors]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »