« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Chap. III. HIS WIFE'S DEATH. 37
that it was considered dangerous to enter it. On this occasion, Eobert Gray and Anne Henderson, who had officiated as bridesman and bridesmaid at the wedding, came over again to Willington, and stood as godfather and godmother to little Eobert, 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.
This village lies about seven miles north of Newcastle, and is one of the best known collieries in that neighbourhood. The workings of the coal are of vast extent, and give employment to a large number of workpeople. The colliery stands high, and commands an extensive view of the adjacent country; it overlooks the valley of the Tyne on the south, and the pinnacles of the Newcastle spires may be discerned in the distance, when not obscured by the clouds of smoke which rise up from that hive of manufacturing industry.
To this place George Stephenson first came as a brakesman in the year 1804. He had scarcely settled down in his new home, ere he sustained a heavy loss in the death of his wife, for whoni he cherished the sincerest affection. Their married life had been happy, sweetened as it was by daily successful toil. The husband was sober and hardworking, and his young wife 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 twinkling feet, for which the lover had made those tiny shoes at Callerton, were now to be hidden for evermore from his eyes. It was a terrible blow; and he long lamented his bereavement, cherishing tenderly his dear wife's memory.
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 38 GOES TO SCOTLAND. Chap. III.
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 worthy neighbour, he set out upon his long journey to Scotland on foot, with his kit upon his back. It was while working at Montrose that he first gave proofs of that remarkable readiness in contrivance for which he was afterwards 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 engineman 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.
During his short stay, being paid good wages, Stephenson contrived to save a sum of 281., which he took back with him to Killingworth, after an absence of about a year. Longing to get back to his own kindred—his heart yearning for his son whom he had left behind, our engineman took leave of 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 further, they would permit him to lie down in the outhouse, for that a little clean straw would
Chap. III. SUPPORTS HIS INFIRM FATHER. 39
Berve him. The farmer's wife appeared at the door, looked at the traveller, 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 a few pleasant hours, lle 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 would not hear of such a thing. They 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 succoured 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."
Eeaching 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 fellowworkman accidentally 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 151.; soon afterwards he removed the aged pair from Jolly's Close to a comfortable cottage adjoining the tramroad near the West Moor at Killingworth, where the old man lived for many years, supported entirely by his son. He was quite blind, but cheerful to the last. One of his greatest pleasures, towards the close of his life, was to receive a visit from his grandson Kobert, who would ride straight into the cottage mounted on his "cuddy," and call upon 40 DRAWN FOR THE MILITIA. Chap. III.
his grandfather to admire the points of the animal. The old man would then dilate upon the ears, fetlocks, and quarters of the donkey, and generally conclude by pronouncing him to be a "real blood."
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 about the time (1807-8). Indeed the condition of the working class generally was then very discouraging. England was engaged in a great war, which pressed heavily 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. 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 produced great and general distress amongst the labouring 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 men could not fail to be discontented under such circumstances, they scarcely dared, in those perilous times, even to mutter their discontent to their neighbours.
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 paid a considerable sum of money to a militiaman to serve in his stead. Thus nearly 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. A voyage thither was then a more formidable thing for a working man to-accomplish than a voyage to Australia is now. But he seriously entertained the project, and had all but made up his mind. His sister Ann with her husband emigrated about that time, Chap. III. HIS SON ROBERT. 41
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; but he struggled long with the idea, brooding over it in sorrow. Speaking afterwards to a friend of his thoughts at the time, he said— "You know the road from my house at the West Moor to Killingworth. 1 remember, when 1 went along that road I wept bitterly, for I knew not where my lot would be cast." But Providence had better and greater things in store for George Stephenson than the lot of a settler in the wilds of America. It was well that his poverty prevented him from prosecuting further the idea of emigration, and rooted him to the place where he afterwards worked out his great career so manfully and victoriously.
In 1808, Stephenson, with two other brakesmen, named Eobert Wedderburn and George Dodds, took a small contract under the colliery lessees, for brakeing the engines at the West Moor Pit. The brakesmen found the oil and tallow; they divided the work amongst them, and were paid so much per score for their labour. There being two engines working night and day, two of the three men were always at work; the average earnings of each amounting to from 18s. to 20s. a week. But Stephenson resorted to his usual mode of ekeing out his earnings. His son Eobert would soon be of an age to be sent to school; and the father, being but too conscious, from his own experience, of the disadvantages arising from the want of instruction, determined that his boy should at least receive the elements of a good education. Stinted as he was for means at the time, maintaining his parents, and struggling with difficulties, this early resolution to afford his son proper culture must be regarded as a noble feature in his character, and strikingly illustrative of his thoughtfulness and conscientiousness. Many years after, speaking of the resolution which he thus early formed, he said, "In the earlier period of my career, when Eobert was a little boy, I saw how deficient I was in education, and I made up my mind that ho should