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cHAP. xix.] , EXAMINATION IN COMMITTEE. 229
and went on with my plans, determined not to be put down.”. Mr. Stephenson stood before the Committee to prove what the public opinion of that day held to be impossible. The self-taught mechanic had to demonstrate the practicability of accomplishing that which the most distinguished engineers of the time regarded as impracticable. Clear though the subject was to himself, and familiar as he was with the powers of the locomotive, it was no easy task for him to bring home his convictions, or even to convey his meaning, to the less informed minds of his hearers. In his strong Northumbrian dialect, he struggled for an utterance, in the face of the sneers, interruptions, and ridicule of the opponents of the measure, and even of the Committee, some of whom shook their heads and whispered doubts as to his sanity, when he energetically avowed that he could make the locomotive go at the rate of twelve miles an hour ! It was so grossly in the teeth of all the experience of honourable members, that the man must certainly be labouring under a delusion 1 And yet his large experience of railways and locomotives, as described by himself to the Committee, entitled this “untaught, inarticulate genius,” as he has so well been styled, to speak with confidence on such a subject. Beginning with his experience as brakesman at Killingworth in 1803, he went on to state that he had been appointed to take the entire charge of the steam-engines in 1813, and superintended the railroads connected with the numerous collieries of the Grand Allies from that time downwards. He had laid down or superintended the railways at Borrerton, Mount Moor, Spring Darlington, Bedington, Hetton, and Darlington, besides improving * Speech at Newcastle on the opening of the Newcastle and Darlington Railway.
those at Killingworth, South Moor, and Derwent Brook. He had constructed fifty-five steam-engines, of which sixteen were locomotives. Some of these had been sent to France. The only accident that had occurred to any of these engines was on the occasion of the tubes in one of them wearing out, by which a man and boy were slightly scalded. The engines constructed by him for the working of the Killingworth Railroad, eleven years before, had continued steadily at work ever since, and fulfilled his most sanguine expectations. He was prepared to prove the safety of working high-pressure locomotives on a railroad, and the superiority of this mode of transporting goods over all others. As to speed, he said he had recommended eight miles an hour with twenty tons, and four miles an hour with forty tons; but he was quite confident that much more might be done. Indeed, he had no doubt they might go at the rate of twelve miles. As to the charge that locomotives on a railroad would so terrify the horses in the neighbourhood, that to travel on horseback or to plough the adjoining fields would be rendered highly dangerous, the witness said that horses learnt to take no notice of them, though there were horses that would shy at a wheelbarrow. A mail coach was likely to be more shied at by horses than a locomotive. In the neighbourhood of Killingworth, the cattle in the fields went on grazing while the engines passed them, and the farmers made no complaints. Mr. Alderson, who had carefully studied the subject, and was well skilled in practical science, subjected the witness to a protracted and severe cross-examination as to the speed and power of the locomotive, the strokes of the engine, the slipping of the wheels upon the rails, and various other points of detail. Mr. Stephenson insisted that no slipping took place, as attempted to be extorted from him by the
cHAP. xix.] EXAMINATION IN COMMITTEE. 231
counsel. He said: “It is impossible for slipping to take place so long as the adhesive weight of the wheel upon the rail is greater than the weight to be dragged after it.” There was a good deal of interruption to the witness's answers by Mr. Alderson, to which Mr. Joy more than once objected. As to accidents, Mr. Stephenson knew of none that had occurred with his engines. There had been one, he was told, at the Middleton Colliery, near Leeds, with a . Blenkinsop engine. The driver had been in liquor, and had put a considerable load on the safety valve, so that upon going forward the engine blew up, and the man was killed, But he added, that if proper precautions had been used with that boiler the accident could not have happened. The following cross-examination occurred in reference to the question of speed:—
“Of course,” (he was asked), “when a body is moving upon a road, the greater the velocity the greater the momentum that is generated 7” “Certainly.”—“What would be the momentum of forty tons moving at the rate of twelve miles an hour?” “It would be very great.”— “Have you seen a railroad that would stand that?” “Yes.” —“Where?” “Any railroad that would bear going four miles an hour: I mean to say, that if it would bear the weight at four miles an hour, it would bear it at twelve.”— “Taking it at four miles an hour, do you mean to say that it would not require a stronger railway to carry the same weight twelve miles an hour?” “I will give an answer to that. I dare say every person has been over ice when skating, or seen persons go over, and they know that it would bear them at a greater velocity than it would if they went slower; when it goes quick, the weight in a measure ceases.” —“Is not that upon the hypothesis that the railroad is perfect P” “It is ; and I mean to make it perfect.”"
* Evidence, p. 203.
Mr. Alderson had so pressed the point of “twelve miles an hour,” and the promoters were so alarmed lest it should appear in evidence that they contemplated any such extravagant rate of speed, that immediately on Mr. Alderson sitting down, Mr. Joy proceeded to re-examine Mr. Stephenson, with the view of removing from the minds of the Committee an impression so unfavourable, and, as they supposed, so damaging to their case. “With regard,” asked Mr. Joy, “to all those hypothetical questions of my learned friend, they have been all put on the supposition of going twelve miles an hour: now that is not the rate at which, I believe, any of the engines of which you have spoken have travelled?” “No,” replied Mr. Stephenson, “except as an experiment for a short distance.”—“But what they have gone has been three, five, or six miles an hour?” “Yes.”—“So that those hypothetical cases of twelve miles an hour do not fall within your general experience?” “They do not.”"
The Committee also seem to have entertained some alarm as to the high rate of speed which had been spoken of, and proceeded to examine the witness further on the subject. They supposed the case of the engine being upset when going at nine miles an hour, and asked what, in such a case, would become of the cargo astern. To which the witness replied that it would not be upset. One of the members of the Committee pressed the witness a little further. He put the following case: –“Suppose, now, one of these engines to be going along a railroad at the rate of nine or ten miles an hour, and that a cow were to stray upon the line and get in the way of the engine; would not that, think you, be a very awkward circumstance?” “Yes,” replied the witness, with a twinkle in his eye, “very awkward indeed— for the coo!” The honourable member did not proceed
* Evidence, p. 207.
cii Ap. xix.] EXAMINATION IN COMMITTEE. 233
further with his cross-examination; to use a railway phrase, he was “shunted.” On the following day (the 26th April), Mr. Stephenson was subjected to a most severe examination. On that part of the scheme with which he was most practically conversant, his evidence was clear and conclusive. Now, he had to give evidence on the plans made by his surveyors, and the estimates which had been founded on such plans. So long as he was confined to locomotive engines and iron railroads, with the minutest details of which he was more familiar than any man living, he felt at home, and in his element. But when the designs of bridges and the cost of constructing them, the geological formation of the country and the borings of the strata through which the line passed, the levels and surveys made in detail by the surveyors appointed by the Company had to be gone into, it may well be imagined that Mr. Stephenson, whose special attention had been little directed to such subjects, felt embarrassed and confused in the face of the array of distinguished counsel and engineers who were now bent on upsetting his evidence. Mr. Alderson cross-examined him at great length on the plans of the bridges, the tunnels, the crossings of the roads and streets, and the details of the survey, which, it soon clearly appeared, were seriously at fault. At one part of the line, the survey was so far wrong that it would be necessary, in crossing a road, to work the railway, if made, by means of an inclined plane. It also appeared that, after the plans had been deposited, Mr. Stephenson found that a much more favourable line might be made; and he thus explained certain discrepancies which appeared in his estimates: —“The plan being made before I commenced my estimates, I could not alter the line then, but I made my estimates upon different data from those on which the plan was laid down, when I found a more favourable line to go upon, and made such