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would tell them that the humblest amongst them occupied a much more advantageous position than he had done on commencing his life of labour. They had teachers who, going before them, had left their great discoveries as a legacy and a guide; and their works were now accessible to all, in such institutions as that which he addressed. But he remembered the time when there were none thus to guide and instruct the young mechanic. With a free access to scientific books, he knew, from his own experience, that they could be saved much unnecessary toil and expenditure of mental capital. Many ingenious young mechanics, if they failed to profit by the teaching of those who had preceded them, might often be induced to believe that they had hit upon some discovery in mechanics; and when they had gone on spending both time and money, they would only arrive at the unpleasant discovery that what they had cherished as an original invention had been known many years before, and was to be found recorded in scientific works.”
On another similar occasion, speaking before the same audience*, he observed that “all his life through he had felt very severely the want of education. He had set out in life without much learning,—nay, he might almost say, without any at all. Now, without education of some sort, it was scarcely possible for a man to succeed in any undertaking. But with a sound and comprehensive education, many a humble mechanic might attain to the rank of civil engineer. PERSEVERANCE was one of the principal qualifications requisite on the part of any young man who entered that profession. The civil engineer had many difficulties to contend with; but if a man wished to rise to the higher grades of that, or, indeed, any other profession, he must never see any difficulties before him. Obstacles might appear to be difficulties; but
* Soirée of the Leeds Mechanics’ Institute, 10th September, 1842.
CHAP. XIII.] THE SUN-DIAL AT KILLINGWORTH.
the engineer must be prepared to throw them overboard, or to conquer them. This was the course which he had himself pursued.”
These characteristic sentiments illustrate the man, and show the fibre of which he was made. His views respecting the importance of education were in him firmly-rooted convictions; and when he had an opportunity of speaking to young men, he never failed to urge them. Since the time when, tending the engine at the West Moor Pit during the night shifts, he had employed his spare minutes in cleaning the pitmen's clocks and mending their shoes, that he might save enough money to send his boy to school, experience had only served to strengthen and confirm them.
Mr. Stephenson accordingly steadily carried out these views in the education of his son Robert. For about three years the youth attended Bruce's school, at Newcastle, one of the best seminaries of the district, where he acquired the rudiments of a sound education. It was expensive; but the father did not grudge it, for he held that the best legacy he could leave his son was a well-nurtured mind. He encouraged him to read and study for himself; and he made him, as we have seen, in a measure, the instrument of his own better education, by getting the youth to read for him at the library in Newcastle, and bring home the results of his weekly readings, and often a scientific book, which father and son studied together. Many were the discussions in which the two engaged, on subjects more immediately bearing upon the business of the colliery, such as the steam-engine, pumping-engines, and, above all, the favourite subject of the locomotive.
On one occasion, they determined to construct a sun-dial for the front of the cottage at West Moor. Robert brought home Ferguson's “ Astronomy," and, under his father's directions, he carefully drew out on paper a dial suited to the latitude of Killingworth; then a suitable stone was procured, and, after much hewing and polishing, the stone dial was at length completed, and fixed immediately over the cottage door, greatly to the wonderment of the villagers. It stands there yet; and we trust it will be long before it is removed. The date carved upon it is “ August 11th, MDCCCXVI” – a year or two before Robert left school. George Stephenson was very proud of that sun-dial, for it had cost him much thought and labour ; and, in its way, it was a success. Many years after, in 1838, when the British Association met at Newcastle, he took over some of his scientific friends to Killingworth, and pointed out his sun-dial with honest exultation, as also the other parts of the cottage which had been his own handiwork. And afterwards, in 1843, when engaged with Mr. John Bourne, engineer, in making the preliminary survey of the Newcastle and Berwick Railway, he drove him round by the cottage in order to point out the sun-dial, and relate to him how and when he had made it.
On leaving school, in 1818, Robert Stephenson was put apprentice to Mr. Nicholas Wood, at Killingworth, to learn the business of the colliery; and he served under him for three years in the capacity of an under viewer in the West Moor Pit. He thus became familiar with all departments of underground work. The occupation was not unattended with peril, as the following incident will show. Though the Geordy lamp was now in general use in the Killingworth pits, and the workmen were bound, under a penalty of half-a-crown, not to use a naked candle, yet it was difficult to enforce the rule, and even the masters themselves occasionally broke it. One day, Mr. Nicholas Wood, the head viewer, accompanied by Robert Stephenson and Moodie, the under viewer, was proceeding along one of the galleries, Wood with a naked candle in his hand, and Robert following him with a lamp. They came to a place where a fall of stones from the roof
EDUCATION OF HIS SON.
had taken place, and Nicholas Wood, who was first, proceeded to clamber over the stones, holding high the naked candle. He had reached nearly the summit of the heap, when the fire-damp, which had accumulated in the hollow of the roof, exploded, and instantly the whole party were blown down, and the lights extinguished. They were a mile from the shaft, and quite in the dark. There was a rush of the work-people from all quarters towards the shaft, for it was feared that the fire might extend to more dangerous parts of the pit, where, if the gas had exploded, every soul in the mine must inevitably have perished. Robert Stephenson and Moodie, on the first impulse, ran back at full speed along the dark gallery leading to the shaft, coming into collision, on their way, with the hind quarters of a horse stunned by the explosion. When they had gone half-way, Moodie halted, and bethought him of Nicholas Wood. “Stop, laddie!” said he to Robert, “stop; we maun gang back, and seek the maister.” So they retraced their steps. Happily no further explosion had taken place. They found the master lying on the heap of stones, stunned and bruised, with his hands severely burnt. They led him back out of the pit; and he afterwards took care never to venture into the dangerous parts of the mine without the protection of a Geordy lamp.
The time that Robert spent at Killingworth as under viewer was of advantage both to his father and himself. The evenings were generally devoted to reading and study, the two from this time working together as friends and co-labourers. One who used to drop in at the cottage of an evening, well remembers the animated and eager discussions which on some occasions took place, more especially with reference to the then comparatively unknown powers of the locomotive engine, daily at work on the waggon way. The son was even more enthusiastic than the father on this subject. Robert