« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
92 STEPHENSON'S CLAIMS TO THE FIRST Chap. VI.
proved to be efficient,—yet Sir H. Davy did invent a safetylamp, no doubt quite independent of all that Stephenson had done; and having directed his careful attention to the subject, and elucidated the true theory of explosion of carburetted hydrogen, he was entitled to all praise and reward for his labours. 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 safetylamp," the case was entirely altered; and Mr. 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.
This was not at all in George Stephenson's line. He had never appeared in print before; and it seemed to him to be a more formidable thing to write a letter for publication in "the papers," than even to invent a safety-lamp or design a locomotive. However, he called to his aid his son Robert, set him down before a sheet of foolscap, and when all was ready, told him to "put down there just what I tell you." The writing of this letter occupied more 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 not do." "It is all true, sir," was the reply. "That may be; but it is badly written." Eobert blushed, for he thought it was the penmanship that was called in question, and he had Chap. VI. INVENTION OF THE SAFETY-LAMP. 03
written his very best. Mr. Brandling 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.
In that and subsequent communications, Mr. Stephenson treated as an ungenerous insult the insinuation made against him, that he was pretending to run a race of science with Sir Humphry Davy. "With means," said he, " too limited to allow me to indulge myself by purchasing many of those beautiful instruments that facilitate the labours of the experimental philosopher,—with not always one day's respite in the week from a laborious employment,—it is impossible that Mr. Hodgson (his controversial opponent) could have imagined I had the folly and presumption to enter the lists with a gentleman of talents and fortune, whose time has long been and still is devoted to the pursuit, who has an opportunity of having his ideas brought immediately to the test of experiment, and who for that purpose (an advantage beyond all others) can command the assistance of such an artist as Mr. Newman. Whether or not Mr. Brandling be justified in the opinion he has expressed, it appears to me may easily be decided; and if it can be proved that I took advantage in the formation of the Safety-Lamp, of any suggestions, except the printed opinions of scientific men, I deserve to lose the confidence of my honourable employers and the good opinion of my fellow-men, which I feel an honest pride in declaring, even in my humble situation of life, is of more value in my estimation than any reward that generous but indiscriminating affluence can bestow."
As a vehement controversy continued to be carried on in the Newcastle papers as to the relative merits of the respective claimants, 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 letterpress.
His friends, being fully satisfied of his claims to priority as the inventor of the safety-lamp used in the Killingworth 94 TESTIMONIAL TO STEPHENSON. Chap. VI.
and other collieries, proceeded to hold a puhlic 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 a series of 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 safety lamp, 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 Eavensworth, 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 fifty guineas each.
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.E.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 at Killingworth colliery, who had been witnesses of Mr. Stephenson's experiments on firedamp, made with the lamps at various periods, considerably before Sir Humphry Davy's investigations were heard of. This evidence was quite conclusive to the gentlemen who investigated the subject, and they published it in 1817, together with their report, in which they solemnly 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."
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. 96 TESTIMONIAL TO STEPHENSON. Chap. VI.
at a public dinner given in the Assembly Rooms at Newcastle. The tankard bore the following inscription:—" This piece of plate, purchased with a part of the sum of 1000?., a subscription raised for the remuneration of Mr. George Stephenson for having discovered the fact that inflamed firedamp will not pass through tubes and apertures of small dimensions, and having been the first to apply that principle in the construction of a safety-lamp calculated for the preservation of human life in situations formerly of the greatest danger, was presented to him at a general meeting of the subscribers, Charles John Brandling, Esq., in the Chair. January 12th, 1818."
Mr. Brandling, on presenting the testimonial, observed: —" A great deal of controversy, and, he was sorry to say, of animosity, had prevailed upon the subject of the ' safetylamp ;' but this, he trusted, after the example of moderation that had been set by Mr. Stephenson's friends, would subside, and all personalities would cease to be remembered. As to the claim of that individual, to testify their gratitude to whom they were that day assembled, he thought every doubt must have been removed from the minds of unprejudiced persons by a perusal of the evidence recently laid before the public. He begged Mr. Stephenson's acceptance of this token of their esteem, wishing him health long to enjoy it, and to enable him to employ those talents with which Providence had blessed him for the benefit of his fellow-creatures.''
On returning thanks for the honour done him, Mr. Stephenson said: " I shall ever reflect with pride and gratitude that my labours have been honoured with the approbation of such a distinguished meeting; and you may rest assured that my time, and any talent I may possess, shall hereafter be employed in such a manner as not to give you, gentlemen, any cause to regret the countenance and support which you have so generously afforded me." That Stephenson amply fulfilled this promise and pledge to his friends, his future career abundantly proved.
Now that all angry feelings between the contending