Изображения страниц
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

its outer wall; and on the master entering, the bird would cock his head aside, and follow him with his eye into the inner apartment.


Stephenson's Gutuige at the WestMwr, Killingworth.

Often neighbours called to have their clocks and watches set to rights, sometimes when there was but little need. One day, after looking at the works of a watch left by a pitman's wife, he handed it to his son; "Put her in the oven, Eobert," said he, " for a quarter of an hour or so." It seemed an odd way of repairing a watch; nevertheless, the watch went into the oven, and at the end of the appointed time it was taken out again 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 astounding cabbages. There was Chap. IV. INGENIOUS CONTRIVANCES. 53

great competition amongst the villagers in the growth of vegetables, all of whom he excelled, excepting one of his neighbours, whose cabbages sometimes outshone his.

In the protection of his garden-crops from the ravages ot 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. Indeed, his odd and eccentric contrivances excited much marvel amongst the Killingworth villagers. Thus, he won the women's admiration by connecting their cradles with the smoke-jack, and making them self-acting! Then he astonished the pitmen by attaching an alarum to the clock of the watchman whose duty it was to call them betimes in the morning. The cottage of Stephenson was a sort of curiosity-shop of models, engines, self-acting planes, and perpetual-motion machines,—which last contrivance, however, baffled him as effectually as it had done hundreds of preceding inventors. He also contrived a wonderful lamp which burned under water, with which he was afterwards wont to amuse the Brandling family at Gosforth,—going into the fish-pond at night, lamp in hand, attracting and catching the fish, which rushed wildly towards the subaqueous flame.

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 humour of the thing, or to secure fair play from the appointed judge, he took it to the Morrisons in Newcastle, and got them to put their stamp upon it. So that it is possible the Killingworth brakesman, afterwards the inventor of the safety-lamp and the originator of the railway system, and John Morrison, the last-maker, afterwards the translator of the Scriptures into the Chinese language, may have confronted each other in solemn contemplation over the successful last, which won the verdict coveted by its maker.

Sometimes he would endeavour to impart to his fellow54 HIS PHYSICAL VIGOUR. Chap. IV.

workmen the results of his scientific reading. Everything that he learnt 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."

In elastic muscular vigour, George Stephenson was now in his prime, and he still continued to be zealous in measuring his strength and agility with his fellow workmen. The competitive element in his nature was strong; and his success was remarkable in these feats of rivalry. Few, if any, could lift such weights, throw the hammer and putt 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 them. 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 vigour 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 the honour of keeping a riding-horse of his own (which, however, he was shortly afterwards), he sometimes contrived to ride for "the howdie," when the services of that official were required in the village. He would volunteer his services on such occasions, when the fleetest of the gin-horses was usually put in requisition. Sometimes, also, he borrowed the animal for a pleasure ride. On one of these latter occasions, he brought the horse back reeking; on which Tommy Mitcheson, the bank-horsekeeper, 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 joke, and to confess that, after all, there had been a better issue to George's horsemanship than that which he predicted.

Old Cree, the engine-wright at Killingworth, 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 neighbourhood. The "Grand Allies" were a company of gentlemen, consisting of Sir Thomas Liddell (afterwards Lord Eavensworth), the Earl of Strathmore, and Mr. Stuart Wortley (afterwards Lord Wharncliffe), the lessees of the Killingworth collieries. Having been informed of the merits of Stephenson, of his indefatigable industry, and the skill which he had displayed in the repairs of the pumping-engines, they readily acceded to Mr. Dodds' recommendation that he should be appointed the colliery engineer; and, as we shall see, they continued to honour him by distinguished marks of their approval.

He was now in a measure relieved from the daily routine of manual labour, and advanced to the grade of a higherclass workman. He was no less a worker, but only in a different way. It might be inferred that he had now the command of greater leisure; but his leisure hours were more than ever given to work, either necessary or self-imposed.

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


Afterwards, in describing his occupation at this period of his life before a Committee of the House of Commons,* he said, "After making some improvements in the steamengines above ground, I was then 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 labour 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 1 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 Eavensworth and his partners; and the whole of the machinery in all these collieries was put under my charge."

Mr. Stephenson had now many more opportunities for improving himself in mechanics than he had hitherto possessed. His familiar acquaintance with the steam-engino

* Evidence given before the Select Committee on Accidents in Mines, 1835.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »