« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
chap. xxi.] SUSPENSION OF PUBLIC OPINION. 279
judges of the competition, in conjunction with Mr. Rastrick of Stourbridge and Mr. Kennedy of Manchester." It was now generally felt that the fate of railways in a great measure depended upon the issue of this appeal to the mechanical genius of England. When the advertisement of the prize for the best locomotive was published, scientific men began more particularly to direct their attention to the new power which was thus struggling into existence. In the meantime public opinion on the subject of railway working remained suspended, and the progress of the undertaking was watched with the most intense interest.
* Many persons of influence declared the conditions published by the directors of the railway chimerical in the extreme. One gentleman of son.e eminence in Liverpool, Mr. P. Ewart, who afterwards filled the office of government inspector of Post Office steam-packets, declared that only a parcel of charlatans would ever have issued such a set of conditions; that it had been proved to be impossible to make a locomotive engine go at ten miles an hour; but if it ever was done, he would eat a stewed engine-wheel to his breakfast !
WE now return to the history of the locomotive factory commenced by Mr. Stephenson and his associates at Newcastle in the year 1824. Its establishment at that early period was a most important step in the progress of the railway system, and mainly contributed to the eventual triumph of the locomotive. Mr. Stephenson engaged skilled mechanics in the workshops, by whose example others were trained and educated. Having their attention specially directed to the fabrication of locomotives, they acquired a skill and precision in the manufacture of the several parts, which gave to the Stephenson factory a prestige which was afterwards a source of no small profit to its founders. It was a school or college, in which the locomotive workmen of the kingdom were trained; and many of the most celebrated engineers of Europe, America, and India, acquired their best practical knowledge in its workshops. Several years, however, passed before the factory so much as paid expenses. For the first four or five years it was carried on at considerable loss; and Edward Pease wished to retire, but Mr. Stephenson could not provide the necessary money to buy him out. It must therefore be persevered in until the locomotive had established itself in public estimation as a practicable and economical motive power. And that time was now fast approaching. It will be remembered that Robert Stephenson set out for the mines of Columbia in South America in the year 1824, during the time that the works of the Stockton and Darlington
chap. xxii.] RENCONTRE WITH TREVITHICK. 281
Railway were in progress. He remained there until the middle of 1827, when he received a letter from his father urging him to come home and take charge of the Newcastle works, as the time was coming when there would probably be a fair chance for the locomotive. Mr. Stephenson felt that he was now engaged in the greatest enterprise of his life; and he wanted some fast friend and helper to stand by him and aid him in developing his plans as to the locomotive railway system. He knew that he could rely upon the now matured judgment of his son; and he urged him to return home forthwith. Accordingly, Robert made immediate arrangements to leave Columbia for England, which he reached in December, 1827. On his way home, Mr. Stephenson had a singular rencontre with a person well known in connection with the early history of the locomotive. He was waiting for a ship in which to embark for New York, at the small town of Cartagena on the gulf of Darien. No vessel being ready to sail, he was under the necessity of staying for some days in the place, then desolated by the ravages of the yellow fever. Sitting one day in the large, bare, comfortless room of the miserable hotel of the almost deserted town, he observed two strangers, whom he at once perceived to be English. One of the strangers was a tall gaunt man, with shrunken flesh, on which his shabby clothes hung loosely. On making inquiry he found it was Trevithick | He was on his way from the gold mines of Peru, and was penniless I Still he was full of speculation, and was returning to England, where he proposed to organise a gold-mining company that was to make the fortunes of thousands. Trevithick and his friend had lost everything in their journey across the country from Peru. They had forded rivers and wandered through forests, leaving all their baggage behind them, and had reached thus far with only the clothes upon their backs. Their money was all spent, and they were only too happy to have arrived at Cartagena with their lives. The adventures of Trevithick in connection with his goldmining speculations, have almost the air of romance. It will be remembered that his high-pressure engine, adapted for travelling on roads, was invented as early as 1802. The model was beautifully finished, and found its way to London as a mechanical curiosity. There it remained until the year 1811, when M. François Uvillé arrived in England from Peru, for the purpose of obtaining steam machinery wherewith to clear the gold mines of water, by which some of the richest in that country had been totally drowned, and consequently fallen into decay. Uvillé, however, found little encouragement to pursue his plan. The rarity of the atmosphere in the lofty regions of the Cordilleras, and the impracticability of conveying large engines over almost inaccessible mountains, presented difficulties apparently too great to be surmounted. He was about to leave England in despair, when one day passing through a street leading out of Fitzroy-square in London, he accidentally observed the model of a steam-engine exposed for sale in the shop of a Mr. Roland. It was Trevithick's model of his locomotive engine. Uvillé was struck with its simplicity and excellence of construction, and bought it at once for twenty guineas. He carried the model with him to Lima, and tried its effects on the highest ridges of Pasco. The action of the engine exceeded even his sanguine expectations. An association was formed in Lima for the purpose of contracting with the proprietors of the flooded gold mines, to clear them of water by powerful engines similarly constructed; and M. Uvillé again embarked for England, to discover Trevithick and enlist him in the speculation. Trevithick's sanguine mind was inflamed by the prospects held out by his new friend. He entered into an engagement
cHAP. xxii.] ADVENTURES OF TRE WITHICK. 283
to provide nine pumping engines made after his locomotive model at a cost of about 10,000l. ; and they were made and shipped for Lima in September, 1814. Trevithick was meanwhile engaged in providing further supplies of steam-engines, as well as in constructing coining apparatus for the Peruvian mint, and furnaces for purifying the silver ore by fusion. In October, 1816, he set sail for Lima, thinking no more of the locomotive engine, which was now safe in the hands of George Stephenson. Trevithick had a more immediate prospect before him of both fame and gain. On landing at Lima, he was received with public honours and rejoicings, was immediately presented to the Viceroy, and most graciously received. His advent was described as forming an epoch in the prosperity of Peru. The Viceroy ordered a guard of honour to attend him; and M. Uvillé, writing to his associates, declared that Heaven had sent them Don Ricardo Trevithick for the prosperity of the mines, and that “the Lord Warden had proposed to erect his statue in massy silver.” His friends at home hailed with delight the triumphant success of Trevithick; and in describing these transactions, they stated that his emoluments from the mines, taken at a moderate estimate, amounted to 100,000l. year!” Robert Stephenson's surprise may therefore be imagined, when he found this potent Don Ricardo in the inn at Cartagena, reduced almost to his last shilling, and unable to proceed further. Trevithick had realised the truth of the Spanish proverb, that a “silver mine brings misery, a gold mine ruin.” Mr. Stephenson lent him 50l., and thus helped him on his way back to England; but although Trevithick was heard of in England afterwards, he had no part in the ultimate triumph of the locomotive.f
* Geological Transactions of Cornwall, vol. i. p. 222. f On the 12th August, 1831, Mr. Trevithick appeared as a witness before