« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
chap. xxxiii.] BANQUET AT BRUSSELS. 459
geologist, intimately conversant with the coal-bearing strata, who had already published an elaborate report on the nature and extent of the coal and mineral districts of the Sambre and Meuse. Mr. Stephenson went carefully over the whole length of the proposed line, as far as Couvin, the Forest of Ardennes, and Rocroi, across the French frontier. He examined the bearings of the coal-field, the slate and marble quarries, and the numerous iron mines in existence between the Sambre and the Meuse, carefully exploring the ravines which extended through the district, in order to satisfy himself that the best possible route had been selected. He was delighted with the novelty of the journey, the beauty of the scenery, and the industry of the population. His companions were entertained by his ample and varied stores of practical information on all subjects; and his conversation was full of reminiscences of his youth, on which he always delighted to dwell when in the society of his more intimate friends and associates. The journey was varied by a visit to the coalmines near Jemappe, where Mr. Stephenson examined with interest the mode adopted by the Belgian miners of draining the pits, their engines and brakeing machines, so familiar to him in his early life. At intervals of their journey, Mr. Stephenson prepared, in conjunction with Mr. Sopwith, the draft of a report embodying the result of their investigations, which was presented to the Sambre and Meuse Company, and afterwards published. The engineers of Belgium took the opportunity of Mr. Stephenson's visit to their country to invite him to a magnificent banquet at Brussels. The Public Hall, in which they entertained him, was gaily decorated with flags, prominent amongst which was the Union Jack, in honour of their distinguished guest. A handsome marble pedestal, ornamented with his bust, crowned with laurels, occupied one end of the room. The chair was occupied by M. Massui, the Chief Director of the National Railways of Belgium; and the most eminent scientific men in the kingdom were present. Their reception of “the father of railways” was of the most enthusiastic description. Mr. Stephenson was greatly pleased with the entertainment. Not the least interesting incident of the evening was his observing, when the dinner was about half over, a model of a locomotive engine placed upon the centre table, under a triumphal arch. Turning suddenly to his friend Sopwith, he exclaimed, “Do you see the ‘Rocket?” It was indeed the model of that celebrated engine; and Mr. Stephenson prized the compliment thus paid him, perhaps more than all the encomiums of the evening. The next day (April 5th) King Leopold invited him to a private interview at the palace. Accompanied by Mr. Sopwith, he proceeded to Laaken, and was very cordially received by his majesty. Nothing was more remarkable in Mr. Stephenson than his extreme ease and self-possession in the presence of distinguished and highly-educated persons. The king immediately entered into familiar conversation with him, discussing the railway project which had been the object of Mr. Stephenson's visit to Belgium, and then the structure of the Belgian coal-fields,-- the king expressing his sense of the great importance of economy in a fuel which had become indispensable to the comfort and well being of society, which was the basis of all manufactures, and the vital power of railway locomotion. The subject was always a favourite one with Mr. Stephenson, and, encouraged by the king, he proceeded to describe to him the geological structure of Belgium, the original formation of coal, its subsequent elevation by volcanic forces, and the vast amount of denudation. In describing the coal-beds, he used his hat as a sort of model to illustrate his meaning; and the eyes of the king were fixed upon it as he proceeded with his
J chap. xxxiii.] INTERVIEW WITH KING LEOPOLD. 461
interesting description. The conversation then passed to the rise and progress of trade and manufactures,-Mr. Stephenson pointing out how closely they everywhere followed the coal, being mainly dependent upon it, as it were, for their very existence. The king seemed greatly pleased with the interview, and at its close expressed himself obliged by the interesting information which Mr. Stephenson had given him. Shaking hands cordially with both the gentlemen, and wishing them success in all their important undertakings, he bade them adieu. As they were leaving the palace, Mr. Stephenson, bethinking him of the model by which he had just been illustrating the Belgian coal-fields, said to his friend, “By the bye, Sopwith, I was afraid the king would see the inside of my hat; it's such a shocking bad one !” Little could George Stephenson, when brakesman at a coal-pit, have dreamt that, in the course of his life, he should be admitted to an interview with a monarch, and describe to him the manner in which the geological foundations of his kingdom had been laid | In the course of the same year Mr. Stephenson paid a second visit to Belgium, for the purpose of examining the direction of the proposed West Flanders Railway, and of suggesting any alterations which his judgment might point out. The results of his investigations were set forth in his report of August, 1845, in which he recommended several important alterations, with a view to facilitate the execution of the works, and to increase the traffic of the line. The inspection of the country lasted ten days. After the concession of this railway had been made to the English Company, other parties appeared in the field, and projected lines which, if carried out, would seriously affect the success of the West Flanders project. The government of King Leopold, however, on a representation to this effect having
been made to them, at once distinctly stated that the lines already conceded would always be protected, and that no new lines would be granted, however little they might affect those already existing, without the proprietors of the latter being fully heard. Mr. Stephenson had scarcely returned from this second visit to Belgium, before he was requested to proceed to Spain, for the purpose of examining and reporting upon a scheme then on foot for constructing “the Royal North of Spain Railway.” He set out from London in the middle of September, accompanied by Sir Joshua Walmsley and several other gentlemen interested in the project. A concession had been made by the Spanish government of a line of railway from Madrid to the Bay of Biscay, and a numerous staff of engineers was engaged in surveying the proposed line. The directors of the Company had declined making the necessary deposits until more favourable terms had been secured, and the object of Sir Joshua Walmsley's journey was to press the Spanish government on the subject. Mr. Stephenson, whom he consulted, was alive to the difficulties of the office which Sir Joshua was requested to undertake, and offered to be his companion and adviser on the occasion, — declining to receive any recompense beyond the simple expenses of the journey. The railway mania was then at its height; and though Mr. Stephenson was not concerned in the multitude of new schemes which were daily coming out, he was engaged on some important measures, and, besides, had his own extensive collieries at Clay Cross to look after. He could therefore only arrange to be absent for six weeks, and he set out from England about the middle of September, 1845. The party was joined at Paris by Mr. Mackenzie, the contractor for the Orleans and Tours Railway, then in course of construction, who took them over the works, and accom
chap. xxx II.] JOURNEY TO SPAIN. 463
panied them as far as Tours. Sir Joshua Walmsley was struck during the journey by Mr. Stephenson's close and accurate observation. Nothing escaped his keen eye. The external features of the district passed through, every fissure or disruption in the mountain ridges, the direction of the rivers, the stratification and geological formation of the country, were carefully, though rapidly, noted. The modes of farming were also observed; and he compared the herds of cattle, the horses and mules, with those which he had observed in his own and other countries. Nor did he fail to observe closely the agricultural products, and the fruits and flowers grown in the gardens of the villages through which they passed. Of course he was fully alive to any important engineering works which came in his way. Thus, in crossing the river Dordogne, on the road to Bordeaux, he was struck with the construction of the stupendous chain bridge which had recently been erected there. Not satisfied with his first inspection, he walked back, and again crossed the bridge. On reaching the shore he said: “This bridge cannot stand; it is impossible that it can sustain the necessary pressure. Supposing a large body of troops to march over it, there would be so much oscillation as to cause the greatest danger; in fact it could not stand.” And he determined to write to the public authorities, warning them on the subject; which he did. His judgment proved to be quite correct, for only a few years after, no improvement having been made in the bridge, a body of troops marching over it under the precise circumstances which he had imagined, the chains broke, the men were precipitated into the river, and many lives were lost. They soon reached the great chain of the Pyrenees, and crossed over into Spain. It was on a Sunday evening, after a long day's toilsome journey through the mountains, that the party suddenly found themselves in one of those beautiful .