« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
290 THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION. Chap. JT
the same time. A considerable lull had now taken place ii railway speculation, principally caused by the severe monetary pressure; only five new railway companies haves obtained acts of incorporation in the two sessions of 1838 aac 1839, and in 1840 not a single railway act was passed. Indeed it was not until 1844 that the tide of railway speculation rose again, and in the following year burst all bounds, break. ing out in the wildest fury of speculation.
In the mean time Air. Stephenson, though not engaged in surveys of new lines nor in parliamentary contests, continued fully occupied in superintending the large extent of railway under construction; in the intervals of his leisure— if leisure it could be called—directing the mining operations commenced at Claycross. He occasionally also paid visits to Newcastle to see how the locomotive works there were getting on, as well as to confer with the promoters of the East-coast line from Newcastle to Edinburgh, which, however, lay dormant for some years longer.
One of his most interesting visits to Newcastle was in 1838, on the occasion of the meeting of the British Association in that town, when he acted as one of the Vice-Presidents in the section of Mechanical Science. Extraordinary changes had occurred 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 enginewright of the name of Stephenson" had achieved an almost world-wide reputation as a great public benefactor. His fellow-townsmen, therefore, could not hesitate to recognise his merits and do honour to his fame. During the sittings of the Association, Mr. Stephenson took the opportunity of paying a visit to Killingworth, accompanied by some of the distinguished savans whom he numbered amongst 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, showed what parts of it had been
Chap. XV. COAL-MINING OPERATIONS. 291
his own handiwork, and told them the story of the sun-dial over the door, describing the study, and the labour it had cost him and his son to calculate its dimensions, and fix it in its place. The 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 world.
When the extensive series of railways to which we have alluded had been completed and opened for traffic, Mr. Stephenson began to express a wish to retire from the labours and anxieties of the engineering profession. At Blackburn, in 1840, he publicly expressed his intention of withdrawing from its active pursuit; and shortly after he proceeded to resign the charge of several of the railways of which he had been chief engineer. He was now sixty years of age, and though his constitution was sound, he could scarcely be expected much longer to exhibit that activity and energy which had heretofore distinguished him. There were now large numbers of rising engineers competing for employment; and, having done his full share of railway work, he naturally desired rest and retirement in his approaching old age. He nevertheless continued to take an active interest in all railway questions, and even to the last he was professionally concerned for several important companies.
After this comparative retirement from railway engineering, Mr. Stephenson extended his coal-mining operations in the neighbourhood of Chesterfield; in 1841, he entered into a contract with certain owners of land in the townships of Tapton, Brimington, and Newbold, for the working of the whole of the coal thereunder, and shortly after he proceeded to commence mining operations at Tapton on an extensive scale. About the same time he erected great limeworks, close to the Ambergate station of the Midland Eailway, from which, when in full operation,
be was able to turn out upwards of two bundred tons a day. The limestone was brought on a tramway from the village of Cricb, about two or three miles distant from the kilns, the coal wherewith to burn it being supplied from bis adjoining Clay Cross colliery. The works were on a scale such as had not before been attempted by any private individual engaged in a similar trade; and their success amply compensated the projector.
Lime-works at Ambergate.
Mr. Stephenson's partial retirement from the profession of railway engineer led many persons interested in railways, to moot the subject of presenting him with a testimonial, in consideration of the eminent services which be had rendered to the public by contributing so greatly to the establishment of this new power. Eailways had now been in full work for ten yeais, and, having struggled through trials and difficulties almost unparalleled, were now established as the chief mode of internal communication throughout Great Britain; they had also been largely adopted by Belgium, France, and the United States.
Chap. XV. RECOGNITION OF HIS SERVICES. 293
Twenty-five hundred miles of railway, almost all of them double lines, had been laid down in these Islands alone, connecting the principal towns and provinces with the capital; joining in a more close and intimate union the va rious branches of the body politic, commercial and literary, with that great centre. Many new and important branches of industry bad been entirely created by this new agency; and a stimulus had been given to all the existing departments of trade, as well as to the development of the bountiful resources of the soil, by which largely increased employment had been, secured to the labouring classes. Some sixty millions of money had already been expended in forming railways; and this large investment was now returning about five millions yearly to the capitalists, for re-investment and further extension of the system. This vast iron revolution had been accomplished in a period of about ten years. So extraordinary a movement, powerfully affecting as it did all our social and commercial relations, and coming so closely home to the interests of every member of the community, had never before been experienced in our nation's history.
George Stephenson, above all others, had been the zealous propagandist of this great change. His ingenuity and perseverance had made the railway system practicable. His zeal and devotion had secured its success. What more natural than that some public mark of honour should be conferred upon him in recognition of his wonderful discovery,—for such, in point of fact, it was. Had he been a Frenchman or a Belgian, the honours of the state would have been showered upon him. Had he invented a shell or a bullet to the satisfaction of the Board of Ordnance, the British Government might have recognised him. Perhaps, had he pointed out to the country gentlemen some improved mode of patching up the old common roads and preserving turnpike trusts, he might have been honoured and rewarded as Macadam was. But who would now venture to compare the improver of turnpikes with the inventor of railroads, looking at the public benefits conferred 294 PROPOSED TESTIMONIAL. Chap. XV.
by the respective systems? Yet Mr. Stephenson, though he had solved the great social problem of rapid and easy transit from place to place—the subject of so much parliamentary inquiry—not only remained without any parliamentary recognition of his distinguished public services, but almost the whole of his professional career was a prolonged struggle against the obstructiveness of the legislature. Certain it is, that he never contemplated receiving any reward or recognition from that quarter. Amidst all his labours, it was the last thing that would have crossed his mind; and it is well that our greatest men in England can undertake questions of public utility, and carry them to a successful issue in the face of stupendous difficulties, without the stimulus of an expected medal or riband, or any government prize or acknowledgment whatever. Mr. Stephenson was, however, on one occasion offered a piece of government patronage, thus recorded by his son:—" I remember my father once refusing to accept from the Government what they thought a piece of valuable patronage, and it was almost, if not absolutely, the only piece of patronage they ever offered him. It was the appointment of a walking postman between Chesterfield and Chatsworth, who was to walk eight miles there and eight miles back every day with the letter-bags, and who was to receive the immense stipend of twelve shillings a week !" *
A movement, was made by some leading railway men, in February, 1839, under the presidency of Alderman Thompson, M.P., to offer Mr. Stephenson some public testimonial in recognition of his distinguished services. A committee was formed, and an appeal was made to the public for subscriptions.
A list was opened, but filled slowly. Many other engineers who had been his pupils, and numerous resident engineers who had superintended the execution of the works planned by him, had received public recognition of their
* Reply of Robert Stephenson, Esq., M.P., President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, to Observations in the Second Report of the Postmaster , General, May 20th, 1856.