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cHAP. xiv.] THOMAS GRAY. 169

his “Observations on a General Iron Railway,” in which, with great cogency, he urged the superiority of a locomotive railway over common roads and canals, pointing out, at the same time, the advantages of this mode of conveyance for merchandise and persons, to all classes of the community. That Mr. Gray had obtained his idea from Blenkinsop's engine and road, is obvious from the accurate engraving which he gives in his book of the cogwheeled engine then travelling upon the Middleton cogged railroad. The Treatise seems to have met with a ready sale; for we find that, two years after, it had already passed into a fourth edition. In 1822, Mr. Gray added to the book a diagram, showing a number of suggested lines of railway, connecting the principal towns of England, and another in like manner connecting the principal towns of Ireland. In his first edition, Mr. Gray suggested the propriety of making a railway between Manchester and Liverpool, “which,” he observed, “would employ many thousands of the distressed population” of Lancashire. The publication of this essay must have had the effect of bringing the subject of railway extension more prominently under the notice of the public than it had been brought before. Although little able to afford it, Gray also pressed his favourite project of a general iron road on the attention of public men—mayors, members of Parliament, and prime ministers. He sent memorials to Lord Sidmouth in 1820, and to the Lord Mayor and Corporation of London in 1821. In 1822, he addressed the Earl of Liverpool, Sir Robert Peel, and others, urging the great national importance of his system. In the year following, he petitioned the ministers of state to the same effect. He was so pertinacious, that public men pronounced him to be a “bore,” and in the town of Nottingham, where he then lived, those who knew him declared him to be “cracked.”

* Observations on a General Iron Railway (with Plates and Map illustrative of the plan), showing its great superiority, by the general introduction of mechanic power, over all the present methods of conveyance by turnpike roads and canals; and claiming the particular attention of merchants, manufacturers, farmers, and indeed every class of society. London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1820.

William Howitt, who frequently met Gray at that time, has published a lively portraiture" of this indefatigable and enthusiastic projector, who seized all men by the button, and would not let them go until he had unravelled to them his wonderful scheme. With Thomas Gray, “begin where you would, on whatever subject— the weather, the news, the political movement or event of the day—it would not be many minutes before you would be enveloped with steam, and listening to an harangue on the practicability and immense advantages, to the nation and to every man in it, of “a general iron railway.’”f

While Thomas Gray was thus agitating the general adop

* People's Journal, August 1st, 1846. Art. “A word for Thomas Gray, the author of the General Railway System.”

f Thomas Gray never got beyond his idea of Blenkinsop's cogged wheel and cogged rail. Probably he was not aware that Blackett and Stephenson had both, as early as 1814, demonstrated the cogs to be not only unnecessary, but positive impediments to the working of the locomotive engine, through the jo'ting and friction which they caused. Notwithstanding the triumphant success of the smooth-wheeled locomotive and the smooth rail on the Liverpool and Manchester line in 1830, we find Thomas Gray, in the following year (Mechanics' Magazine, May 14th, 1831), declaring it to be an expensive blunder. He urged the adoption of a greased road, with his favourite device of cog-rails and racks placed outside the smooth rails. Had the advice of this “founder of the railway system,” as his friends have styled him, been adopted, the modern railway system would have been simply impracticable. But Thomas Gray himself never claimed to be the inventor or discoverer of railways. He laboured under the disadvantage of not being a mechanic. His engraving of a railway train, prefixed to his book, shows that, if once set in motion, it could not have been pulled up without going to pieces.

chap. xiv.] THOMAS GRAY. 171

tion of railways, George Stephenson was doing much more — he was making railways, and building efficient locomotives with which to work them. Although he had not lost faith in the powers of the locomotive, he had now waited for so many years without observing any prospect of their extended use, that his old idea of removing his skill and small capital to the United States seems for a time to have revived. Before becoming a sleeping partner in a small foundry at Forth Banks, in Newcastle, managed by Mr. John Burrell, he had thrown out the suggestion that it would be a good speculation for them to emigrate to North America, and introduce steam-boats upon the great inland lakes. The first steamers were then plying upon the Tyne before his eyes; and he saw in them the germ of a great revolution in navigation. It occurred to him that North America presented the finest field on which to try their wonderful powers. He was an engineer, and Mr. Burrell was an ironfounder; and between them, he thought they could strike out a path to success in the mighty West. Fortunately, this remained a mere speculation, so far as Mr. Stephenson was concerned; and it was left to others to do what he had dreamt of achieving. After all his patient waiting, his skill, industry, and perseverance were at length about to bear fruit. In 1819, the owners of the Hetton Colliery, in the county of Durham, determined to have their waggon-way altered into a locomotive railroad. The result of the working of the Killingworth Railway had been so satisfactory that they resolved to adopt the same system. One reason why an experiment so long continued and so successful as that at Killingworth should have been so slow in producing results, perhaps was, that to lay down a railway and furnish it with locomotives, or fixed engines where necessary, required a very large capital, beyond the means of ordinary coal-owners, whilst the small amount of interest felt in railways by the general public, and the supposed impracticability of working them to a profit, as yet prevented the ordinary capitalists from venturing their money in the promotion of such undertakings. The Hetton Coal Company was, however, possessed of adequate means; and the local reputation of the Killingworth engine-wright pointed him out as the man best calculated to lay out their line and superintend their works. They accordingly invited him to act as the engineer of the proposed railway. Being in the service of the Killingworth Company, Mr. Stephenson felt it necessary to obtain their permission to enter upon this new work. This was at once granted. The best feeling existed between him and his employers; and they regarded it as a compliment that their colliery engineer should be selected for a work so important as the laying down of the Hetton Railway, which was to be the longest locomotive line that had, up to that time, been constructed in the neighbourhood. Mr. Stephenson accepted the appointment, his brother Robert acting as resident engineer, and personally superintending the execution of the works. The Hetton Railway extended from the Hetton Colliery, situated about two miles south of Houghton-le-Spring, in the county of Durham, to the shipping-place on the banks of the Wear, near Sunderland. Its length was about eight miles; and in its course it crossed Warden Law, one of the highest hills in the district. The character of the country forbade the construction of a flat line, or one of comparatively easy gradients, except by the expenditure of a much larger capital than was placed at Mr. Stephenson's command. Heavy works could not be executed : it was, therefore, necessary to form the line with but little deviation from the natural conformation of the district which it traversed, and also to adapt the mechanical methods employed for the working of the railway to the character of the gradients, which in some places were necessarily heavy.


Although Mr. Stephenson had, with every step made towards its increased utility, become more and more identified with the success of the locomotive engine, he did not allow his enthusiasm to carry him away into costly mistakes. He carefully drew the line between the cases in which the locomotive could be usefully employed, and those in which stationary engines were calculated to be more economical. This led him, as in the instance of the Hetton Railway, to execute lines through and over rough countries, where gradients within the powers of the locomotive engine of that day could not be secured, employing in their stead stationary engines where locomotives were not practicable. In the present case, this course was adopted by him most successfully. On the original Hetton line, there were five self-acting inclines, - the full waggons drawing the empty ones up, — and two inclines worked by fixed reciprocating engines of sixty-horse power each. The locomotive travelling engine, or “the iron horse,” as the people of the neighbourhood then styled it, did the rest. On the day of the opening of the Hetton Railway, the 18th of November, 1822, crowds of spectators assembled from all parts to witness the first operations of this ingenious and powerful machinery, which was entirely successful. On that day, five of Stephenson's locomotives were at work upon the railway, under the direction of his brother Robert; and the first shipment of coal was then made by the Hetton Company, at their new staiths on the Wear. The speed at which the locomotives travelled was about four miles an hour, and each engine dragged after it a train of seventeen waggons, weighing about sixty-four tons.

Thus another important practical step was effected towards the more general adoption of the railway system.

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