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a wonderful lamp which burned under water, with which he was afterwards wont to amuse the Brandling family at Gosforth,-going into the fish-pond at night, lamp in hand, attracting and catching the fish, which rushed wildly towards the subaqueous flame.
Dr. Bruce tells of a competition which Stephenson had with the joiner at Killingworth, as to which of them could make the best shoe-last; and when the former had done his work, either for the humour of the thing, or to secure fair play from the appointed judge, he took it to the Morrisons in Newcastle, and got them to put their stamp upon it. So that it is possible the Killingworth brakesman, afterwards the inventor of the safety-lamp and the originator of the railway. system, and John Morrison, the last-maker, afterwards the translator of the Scriptures into the Chinese language, may have confronted each other in solemn contemplation over the successful last, which won the verdict coveted by its maker.
Sometimes he would endeavour to impart to his fellowworkmen the results of his scientific reading. Everything that he learnt from books was so new and so wonderful to him, that he regarded the facts he drew from them in the light of discoveries, as if they had been made but yesterday. Once he tried to explain to some of the pitmen how the earth was round, and kept turning round. But his auditors flatly declared the thing to be impossible, as it was clear that “ at the bottom side they must fall off !” “ Ah!” said George, “ you don't quite understand it yet.”
In elastic muscular vigour, George Stephenson was now in his prime, and he still continued to be zealous in measuring his strength and agility with his fellow-workmen. The competitive element in his nature was strong; and his success was remarkable in these feats of rivalry. Few, if any, could lift such weights, throw the hammer and putt the stone so far,
ver so great a space at a standing or running leap. One
day, between the engine hour and the rope-rolling hour, Kit Heppel challenged him to leap from one high wall to another, with a deep gap between them. To Heppel's surprise and dismay, George took the standing leap, and cleared the eleven feet at a bound. Had his eye been less accurate, or his limbs less agile and sure, the feat must have cost him his life.
But so full of redundant muscular vigour was he, that leaping, putting, and throwing the hammer were not enough for him. He was also ambitious of riding on horseback, and as he had not yet been promoted to the honour of keeping a riding horse of his own (which, however, he was shortly afterwards), he sometimes contrived to ride for “the howdie,” when the services of that official were required in the village. He would volunteer his services on such occasions, when the fleetest of the gin-horses were usually put in requisition. Sometimes, also, he borrowed the animal for a pleasure ride. On one of these latter occasions, he brought the horse back reeking; on which Tommy Mitcheson, the bank-horsekeeper, a rough-spoken fellow, exclaimed to him :-“ Set such fellows as you on horseback, and you'll soon ride to the De’il.” But Tommy Mitcheson lived to tell the joke, and to confess that, after all, there had been a better issue to George's horsemanship than that which he so hastily predicted.
Old Cree, the engine-wright at Killingworth, having been killed by an accident, George Stephenson was, in 1812, appointed engine-wright of the colliery at the salary of 1001. a year. He was also allowed the use of a galloway to ride upon in his visits of inspection to the collieries leased by the “Grand Allies ” in that neighbourhood. The “Grand Allies” were a company of gentlemen, consisting of Sir Thomas Liddell (afterwards Lord Ravensworth), the Earl of Strathmore, and Mr. Stuart Wortley (afterwards Lord Wharncliffe), the lessees of the Killingworth collieries. Having been informed of the merits of Stephenson, of his indefatigable industry, and the skill which he had displayed in the repairs of the pumping-engines, they readily acceded to Mr. Dodd's recommendation that he should be appointed the colliery engineer; and, as we shall see, they continued to honour him by distinguished marks of their approval.
He was now in a measure relieved from the daily routine of manual labour, and advanced to the grade of a higher class workman. He was no less a worker, but only in a different way. It might be inferred that he had now the command of greater leisure; but his leisure hours were more than ever given to work, either necessary or self-imposed.
When the High Pit had been sunk, and the coal was ready for working, Stephenson erected his first winding-engine to draw the coals-out of the pit, and also a pumping-engine for Long Benton colliery, both of which proved quite successful. Amongst other works of this time, he projected and laid down a self-acting incline along the declivity which fell towards the coal-loading place near Willington, where he had formerly officiated as brakesman; and he so arranged it, that the full waggons descending drew the empty waggons up the incline. This was one of the first self-acting inclines laid down in that district.
Afterwards, in describing his occupations at this period of his life before a Committee of the House of Commons *, he said, “ After making some improvements in the steam-engines above ground, I was then requested by the manager of the colliery to go underground along with him, to see if any improvements could be made in the mines, by employing machinery as a substitute for manual labour and horse-power in bringing the coals out of the deeper workings of the mine. On my first going down the Killingworth Pit there was a
* Evidence given before the Select Committee on Accidents in Mines, 1835.
steam-engine underground for the purpose of drawing water from a pit that was sunk at some distance from the first shaft. The Killingworth coal-field is considerably dislocated. After the colliery was opened, at a very short distance from the shaft, one of those dislocations was met with. The coal was thrown down about forty yards. Considerable time was spent in sinking another pit to this depth. And on my going down to examine the work, I proposed making the engine (which had been erected some time previously) to draw the coals up an inclined plane which descended immediately from the place where it was fixed. A considerable change was accordingly made in the mode of working the colliery, not only in applying the machinery, but employing putters instead of horses in bringing the coals from the hewers; and by those changes the number of horses in the pit was reduced from about 100 to 15 or 16. During the time I was engaged in making these important alterations, I went round the workings in the pit with the viewer, almost every time that he went into the mine, not only at Killingworth, but at Mountmoor, Derwentcrook, Southmoor, all of which collieries belonged to Lord Ravensworth and his partners; and the whole of the machinery in all these collieries was put under my charge.”
Mr. Stephenson had now many more opportunities for improving himself in mechanics than he had hitherto possessed. His familiar acquaintance with the steam-engine proved of great value to him. The practical study which he had given to it when a workman, and the patient manner in which he had groped his way through all the details of the machine, gave him the power of a master in dealing with it as applied to colliery purposes. His shrewd insight, together with his intimate practical acquaintance with its mechanism, enabled him to apprehend, as if by intuition, its most abstruse and difficult combinations.
Mr. himself in mechane with the sun
Sir Thomas Liddell was frequently about the works, and he encouraged Stephenson greatly in his efforts after improvement. The subject of the locomotive engine was already closely occupying his attention ; although as yet it was regarded very much in the light of a curious and costly toy, of comparatively small practical use. But Stephenson from the first detected the value of the machine,and formed an adequate conception of the gigantic might which as yet slumbered within it; and he was not slow in bending the whole faculties of his mind to the development of its extraordinary powers.
Meanwhile, the education of his son Robert at the Newcastle school proceeded apace, and the father contrived to make his progress instrumental in promoting his own improvement. The youth was entered a member of the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Institution, the subscription to which was 31. 3s, a year. He spent much of his leisure time there, reading and studying; and on Saturday afternoons, when he went home to his father's at Killingworth, he usually carried with him a volume of the Repertory of Arts and Sciences, or of the Edinburgh Encyclopædia, which furnished abundant subjects for interesting and instructive converse during the evening hours. Then John Wigham would come over from the Glebe farm to join the party, and enter into the lively scientific discussions which occurred on the subjects of their mutual reading. But many of the most valuable works belonging to the Newcastle Library were not permitted to be removed from the room ; these Robert was instructed to read and study, and bring away with him descriptions and sketches for his father's information. His father also practised him in the reading of plans and drawings without at all referring to the written descriptions. He used to observe to his son, “A good drawing or plan should always explain itself ; ” and, placing a drawing of an engine or machine before the youth, he would say, “ There, now,