Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Life of Richard Trevithick by F. Trevithick: Volume 1: Chapter 2

From Graces Guide


Gilbert, in his 'Survey of Cornwall,' says:—

The name of Trevithick is certainly of great antiquity in the county of Cornwall, and the family is supposed to have been resident at Trevimider for many descents before the seventeenth century.

A monument in St. Eval Church, to the memory of the Rev. William Trevithick, in 1692, and one with the impalement of the arms of Leach and Trevithick, in 1672; and several places or properties in that neighbourhood called Trevithick, point to their Cornish origin. Arms—Argent, a unicorn rampant.

Anne Trevithick, the sole heiress of William Trevithick, of Trevimider, married Francis Leach Llewellan, Sheriff of Cornwall, in 1740. The arms of Llewellan seem to denote their descent from the ancient Princes of Wales.

Trevithick, formerly a seat of the Arundells and Trevithick, formerly a seat of the Polomounters.

Trelissick, formerly a seat of the Tremaynes. The house appears to have been built by the Hookers, and in the glass of the windows are preserved the family arms, with the letters J. V. H. Trevithick.

The 'Parochial History of Cornwall' says of the St. Eval monument to Trevithick:

In remembrance of William Trevithick, of Trevimider, in St. Eval, Gent., who died the 3rd day of Nov., 1731, aged 52.

Farewell kind friends,
Farewell dear wife and brother;
Peace be your ends,
United to each other.

Polwheles 'History of Cornwall' has the following -

I have first to remark that Alfred devised Cornwall to his eldest son Edward, and that he devised it under the name of Trieonshire.

The natives that occur as men of property, or who probably held lands here before the Conquest, have been distinguished by Carew under the appellations of Tre, Pol, and Pen, and it seems worthy of remark that as representatives of Tre and Pol, if not of Pen, there exist several families, who have possessed lands from all antiquity.

By Tre, Pol, and Pen, you shall know the Cornishmen.

In olden time property and birth gave power and influence to the family of Trevithick. History traces the last male Trevithick, of Trevimider, down to 1731, and shortly after his death, his daughter and sole heiress married Francis Leach Llewellan, who believed himself a descendant of the Princes of Wales. Some poor branch of the male line survived unnoticed, for Richard Trevithick, sen., was born in 1735. He is said to have walked a day's journey to make the acquaintance of one known by his almost obsolete name but little trace remains of where he was born or how lie was brought up, though the writer has talked with those who knew him well in his old age, and who spoke of him with respect, as of one above his fellows.

The writer's first reliable evidence of his acts is from his old account-books, some of which, after his death, were fortunately retained by his son, that their unfilled leaves might serve for his rough draft letters. Three of these books still remain, showing that when thirty years of age, Richard Trevithick, sen., was the manager of the leading mines in Cornwall Dolcoath Mine, the oldest, richest, and most famous in Cornish history, being at that time his headquarters, while his place of residence was in Mogan parish, midway between the mine and Carn Brea Hill.

How long he had filled the position of leading man in Cornish mines, prior to the dates in the writer's possession, is an unanswered question — certainly for several years, for to be manager of the great Dolcoath at the age of thirty implies unusual ability but to be at the same time manager of several other of the leading mines, proves that at that early age he was a man of eminent practical experience. Borlase thus speaks of Cornish mining when Trevithick, sen., was a child in 1738:— "All these are easily performed when the workings are near the surface; but the difficulty increases with the depth, and skill and care become still more and more necessary and, indeed, all the mechanical powers, the most forcible engines, and the utmost sagacity of the chief miner, are often too little and vain when the workings are deep and many."

In the year 1760 Richard Trevithick, sen., when twenty-five years old, married Miss Anne Teague, whose family were mine managers in the Redruth district; their forefathers were said to have been driven from Ireland during a rebellion. Richard Trevithick, sen., and his wife, their four daughters, and one son, averaged 5 feet 11 inches in height.

In 1765 he was the manager of Dolcoath Mine, and constructed "the deep adit," a work of difficulty and importance in those days, still serving as the lowest practical drain for numerous mines, and reducing the adit level for the exit mine-water by 60 or 70 feet.

Arthur and John Woolf were in his pay the father and uncle of Arthur Woolf the well-known engineer, and of his brother who mutinied on board the fleet at the Nore, under an assumed name.

The Dolcoath Mine at that time used two atmospheric steam pumping engines, the water from which, on its way to the lower level of the new adit, by its passage over two water-wheels with cranks on their axles attached to beams, worked pumps.

Residence of Trevithick, Sen., in 1760, as it appeared in 1871

The mineral from the mine was raised by horse-whims, and water was elevated by the same means in buckets or kibbals from the shallow levels, showing that the steam pumping apparatus had not driven the horse quite out of the field in 1765, nor had the pump-barrel entirely superseded the original tub.

The merciful care in supplying wholesome air to the underground miner, exercised by Richard Trevithick a hundred years ago, is now enforced by the strong arm of the law. Those who carried out the detail in sending air into the mine by the power of the steam-engine, were the fathers of the men who, in after years, prominently helped in the detail manufacture of the first locomotive.

In Trevithick's accounts of 1765 is the following entry:-

  • To William Jeffry and partner for driving north from Bullan Garden (a part of Dolcoath) fire-engine shaft.
  • To clearing and timbering from the western end of Tonkin's Ground to the western water-engine shaft.
  • To bringing air from the little engine to the ends.
  • To winding kibbals (of water or stuff), at 5d. per hundred kibbals.

The notable re-erection by Richard Trevithick, sen., of the old Carloose engine, just before Watt's first engine in Cornwall, forms an era in the history of the steam-engine. The following extract from his account-book, closing in 1775, gives the items of chief interest:—

This worn-out Carloose engine, bought for £414. 12s. 3d., had been one of Newcomen's early erections, of perhaps forty or fifty years before, but in 1775 the gear and valves were improved and made self-acting, and it became a new engine, with the exception of a few large parts, such as cylinder, large bob, &c., and was named Dolcoath New Engine.

The greatest improvement, however, was Trevithick's new semicircular boiler top, which, at a cost of £93. 8s. 9d., took the place of the original flat top, weighted down by slabs of granite. The cylindrical sides, and indented or curved bottom, of the Newcomen boilers gave strength to those parts; but its flat weak top prevented the use of steam of a higher pressure. Newcomen's steam-boilers were simply the ordinary household boilers used in cooking, on an enlarged scale, with the lid or top weighted down, to enable them to retain steam of one, or from that to two pounds on the square inch. Richard Trevithick, sen., removed the objectionable flat top every part was made more or less circular, giving uniform and greater strength. The increased pressure of steam in the stronger boiler, by only a pound or two on the inch, materially increased the effective force of the engine, and practically pointed out the true source of the further increase in the power and usefulness of steam.

A story of Trevithick, sen., when at Bristol ordering cast-iron work for this engine, is still told by Captain Joseph Vivian.

When dining at the inn the waiter remained in the room after the dinner had been placed on the table. Trevithick not wanting him, said, ‘What are you doing here? "Oh, sir! it is my business to wait upon you sir!" Well, but I do not want you here; peeping upon every bit I put in my mouth. Will you be off now? Oh no, sir, I am ordered to remain! You won't be oft, won't you? We'll soon see then! and striding towards the waiter with an evident inclination to shake him, he drove him out.

Trevithick, sen., also went to Coalbrookdale, which supplied much of the cast-iron work for the manufacture of the early steam-engines, for the art of casting pumps was not then known in Cornwall. The John Harvey who worked to fix the improved boiler in its house was then a country smith, at Carnhill Green, a small village a few miles from Dolcoath. He having discovered how to cast iron pipes, established the now famous Harvey and Co.'s engineering foundry at Hayle.

Newcomen Atmospheric Engine, Improved and re-erected by Richard Trevithick, Sen., at Bullan Garden, Dalcoath, in 1775

The improvement and re-erection of this engine by Trevithick, sen., was an important event. Fifty-five years had passed since Newcomen had worked his first Cornish pumping engines. The Carloose engine was one of them and having done its share or work, old age and growing improvements had caused it to be set aside by the Carloose adventurers the manager of Dolcoath Mine, however, determined to give a new life to this discarded engine. When re-erected in its improved form it cost £2,040. A man then earned from 1s. to 1s. 6d. a day. With the present rate of wages the engine would have cost £6,000 or £7,000. It was, therefore, of great importance in those rude times, and in its new form was esteemed as the most perfect steam-engine in Cornwall.

Mr. Budge was the working engineer erecting, it. The cylinder was removed from its objectionable seat on the granite-boiler top, and placed on cross beams from wall to wall of the engine-house thus avoiding the jar of the steam-cylinder, resting on the weak boiler and masonry, which had been a source of trouble in the early Newcomen.

The wrought-iron and the timber work were prepared in the mine, Arthur Woolf, sen., working on it as mine carpenter at ls. 5d. a day.

This 45-inch open-top cylinder engine, erected by Trevithick, sen., is shown and described by Pryce.

Mr. Newcomen and Mr. J. Cawley contrived another way to raise water by fire, where the steam to raise the water from the greatest depths of mines is not required to be greater than the atmosphere; and this is the structure of the present fire-engine, which is now of about seventy years' standing.

B is a large boiler, whose water, by the fire under it, is converted into an elastic steam. The great cylinder C, C, is fixed upon it, and communicates with it by the pipe d; on the lower orifice of which, within the boiler, moves a broad plate, by means of the steam-cock, or regulator E 10, stopping or opening the passage to prevent or permit the steam to pass into the cylinder, as occasion requires. The diameter of the pipe d is about 4 inches.

The steam in the boiler ought always to be a little stronger than the air, that, when let into the cylinder, it may be a little more than a balance to the external air, which keeps down the piston to the bottom d, n. The piston being by this means at liberty, the pump-rod will, by its great weight, descend at the opposite end to make a stroke, which is more than double the weight of the piston, &c., at the other end. The end of the lever at the pump, therefore, will always preponderate and descend when the piston is at liberty. The handle of the steam-cock E 10, being turned towards n, opens a pipe d to let in the steam; and being turned towards 0, it shuts it out, that no more can enter. The piston is now raised towards the top of the cylinder at C, and the cylinder is full of steam. The lever 0, I, must then be lifted up to turn, by its teeth, the injecting cock at N, which permits the water, brought from the cistern g by the pipe g M N, to enter the bottom of the cylinder at n, when it flies up in the form of a fountain, and striking against the bottom of the piston, the drops, being driven all over the cylinder, will, by their coldness, condense the steam into water again, and precipitate it to the bottom of the cylinder.

Now this whole operation of opening and shutting the steam-regulator and injection-cock will take up but little more than three seconds, and will therefore easily produce sixteen strokes in a minute.

The water in the boiler which wastes away in steam, is supplied by a pipe I i, about 3 feet long, going into the boiler about a foot below the surface of the water. On the top of this pipe is a funnel I, supplied by the pipe W with water from the cup of the cylinder, which has the advantage of being always warm, and therefore not apt to check the boiling of the water. That the boiler may not have the surface of the water too low, which would endanger bursting, or too high, which would not have room enough for steam, there are two gauge-pipes at G, one going a little below the surface of the water when at a proper height, and the other standing a little above it. When everything is right, the stop-cock of the steam-pipe, being open, gives only steam, and that of the long one water but if otherwise, both cocks will give steam when the surface of the water is too low, and both give water when it is too high; and hence the cock which feeds the boiler at I may be opened to such a degree as always to keep the surface of water to its due height, lest the steam should grow too strong for the boiler and burst it. There is a valve fixed at h, with a perpendicular wire standing up from the middle of it to put weights of lead upon, in order to examine the strength of the steam pushing against it from within.

The steam has always a variable strength, yet never one-tenth stronger or weaker than common air for it has been found that the engine will work well when there is the weight of 1 lb. on each square inch of the valve. This shows that the steam is one-fifteenth part stronger than the common air.

Now as the height of the feeding pipe from the funnel F to the surface of water G s is not above 3 feet, and 3.5 feet of water is one-tenth of the pressure of the air if the steam were one-tenth part stronger than air, it would push the water out at F.

Among the great improvements of this engine, we may reckon that contrivance by which the engine itself is made to open and shut the regulator and injection-cock, and that more nicely than any person attending could possibly do it. For this purpose, there is fixed to an arch 12, at a proper distance from the arch P, a chain, from which hangs a perpendicular piece or working beam Q Q, which comes down quite to the floor and goes through it in a hole which it exactly fits. This piece has a long slit in it and several pin-holes and pins for the movement of small levers destined to the same office of opening and shutting the cocks, after the following manner: between two perpendicular pieces of wood, on each side, there is a square iron axis A, B (upper Fig., p. 25), which has upon it several iron pieces of the lever kind. The first is the piece G, E, D, called the Y, from its representing that letter, inverted by its two shanks E and D; on the upper part is a weight F to be raised higher or lower, and fixed as occasion requires. This Y is fixed very fast upon the said iron axis A, B. From the axis hangs a sort of iron stirrup I, K, L, G, by its two hooks I, G, having on the lower part two holes K, L, through which passes a long iron pin L, K, and keyed in the same. When this pin is put in, it is also passed through the two holes in the ends E, N, of the horizontal fork or spanner E, Q, N, joined at its end Q to the handle of the regulator V 10. From Q to 0 are several holes, by which the said handle may be fixed to that part of the end which is most convenient. Upon this axis A, B, is fixed at right angles to the Y, a handle or lever G 4, which goes on the outside of the piece Q2, Q2, and lies between the pins. Another handle is also fastened upon the same axis, viz. 11 5, and placed at half a right angle to the former G 4; this passes through the slit of the piece Q 2, Q 2, lying on one of the pins. Hence we see that when the working beam goes up, its pin in the slit lifts up the spanner H 5, which turns about the axis so fast as to throw the Y, with its weight F, from C to 6, in which direction it would continue to move after it had passed the perpendicular, were it not prevented by a strap of leather fixed to it at Q e, and made fast at the ends m and n, in such a manner as to allow the Y to vibrate backwards and forwards about a quarter of a circle, at equal distances, on this side and that of the perpendicular.[1]

The Newcomen Pool engine of 1746, followed by the Trevithick Bullan Garden engine with improved working gear, allowing the engineman to sit at ease, while the engine moved at the increased speed of sixteen strokes a minute, and the improved boiler, give a good idea of the state and progress of the steam-engine from its first really useful working days, up to Trevithick, sen., in 1775, or even to Watt, who erected his first engine in Cornwall shortly after that date.

Trevithick's, sen., account-books, commencing in 1765, prove the use, ten years before the erection of his engine, of two steam-engines in the Dolcoath Mine, the Bullan Garden fire-engine, and the little engine and many others were then at work, for Borlase said in 1746 "there are several other very considerable mines now worked by the fire-engine in Cornwall, —Huelrith in Godolphin Hill, Herland, Bullan Garden, Dolcoath, The Pool, Bosprowal, Huel-ros, and some others."

Feed-water was supplied from a cistern three or four feet above the boiler, serving also as a safety-valve should the steam become of greater pressure than the weight of the head of water, thus allowing the steam to escape on the water becoming lower than the bottom of the feed-pipe; two gauge-cocks and a weighted safety-valve showed the water level and the steam pressure.

A plug-rod, so called from its shifting plugs or pins, worked the gear-handles for moving the steam and injection valves or cocks; and Y shafts, named from the shape of the levers fixed on them, moved the valves. A cataract regulated the time of rest of the piston at the top of the cylinder water from a regulating cock ran into a balanced tub, which when full descended, and capsizing its contents, returned to its former level, having during its movement opened the injection-valve, and caused the piston to descend.

These contrivances are used in the present day, in an improved form, but still retaining their old names.

Borlase wrote hopefully of a coming boiler to give more highly elastic steam; Pryce, with the accumulative improvements of twenty years, said, "The steam has always a variable strength, yet never one-tenth stronger or weaker than common air for it has been found that the engine will work well when there is the weight of 1 lb. on each square inch of the valve."

The last words in Pryce's book relate to Watt and his expected improvements; and his view of the best steam-pressure was just that which Watt adopted and acted on.

It is unimportant whether Trevithick, sen., used the increased pressure of the steam he certainly constructed a boiler on scientific principles that allowed of its use. Stuart, fifty years after Pryce, gave a copy of Pryce's drawing of Trevithick's engine erected in Bullan Garden, a part of Dolcoath Mine but Stuart in error calls it "a view of the atmospheric engine as improved by Beighton." The detail accounts of its construction by Trevithick, sen., make no mention of the name of Beighton The reader who cares to examine the drawings by Pryce and Stuart will observe that this copy is in perspective, while the other drawings by Stuart are not. Pryce states that his drawing of the engine was made at his own expense and was dedicated to his kinsman John Price, late High Sheriff for the county of Cornwall. Trevithick, sen., was the mineral agent for the great mining property of Lord Dedunstanville and Basset, in which were situated the leading mines of that day, retaining the post for twenty-two years, to the time of his death.

In 1776 he received a grant from Sir Francis Basset, of the mine sett of Roskear (or Wheal Chance), which became a large mine, and is still at work.

Another of his account-books, commencing January, 1777, contains a list of sixty-four different Cornish copper mines then at work the greater number of which must have used steam-engines. It also gives particulars of the sale of copper at the Cornish ticketings for the two years 1777 and 1778, showing a yearly produce of about 24,000 tons of copper ore, worth £156,000.

These account-books show that he was the manager of Dolcoath, Wheal Chance, now Roskear, Wheal Treasury, and Eastern Stray Park, at £2. a month from each, the greatest pay in the cost-books of the time: being the lord's agent he had the leading authority in the principal Cornish mines situated on the Basset property.

In the year following Trevithick's engine, Watt erected his first working engine.

In 1776 Watt, after much difficulty, erects his first working engine; and in 1777 erects his first engine in Cornwall at Wheal Busy Mine. Here he met the Hornblowers, who had been erecting engines for fifty years, and Bonze, who had five engines at work, with cylinders of 60 to 70 inches in diameter.

In 1778 Watt is again in Cornwall, and says the Chacewater engine goes satisfactorily, making fourteen strokes per minute, and others are ordered. Even the infidels of Dolcoath are now obliquely inquiring after our terms.

He would almost as soon have wrestled with the Cornish miners as higgled with them. They were shrewd, practical men, rough in manner and speech, yet honest withal.

In 1779 Murdoch joined Watt in Cornwall. Watt, in writing to Boulton, says - At Wheal Union account our savings were ordered to be charged to the interest of Messrs. Edwards and Phillips; but when to be paid, God knows! Bevan said in a month. After all this was settled, in came Captain Trevithick, I believe on purpose, as he came late, and might have heard that I was gone there. He immediately fell foul of our account, in a manner peculiar to himself; laboured to demonstrate that Dolcoath engines not only surpassed the table, but even did more work with the coals than Wheal Union did, and concluded with saying that we had taken or got the advantage of the adventurers. I think he first said the former, and then edged off by the latter statement. Mr. Phillips defended, and Mr. Edwards, I thought, seemed staggered, though candid. Mr. Phillips desired the data, that he might calculate it over in his way. Mr. Edwards slipped away; but I found afterwards that he was in another room with Captain Gundry (who, and Hodge also, behaved exceedingly well; I believe Gundry to be a very sincere, honest man). I went out to speak to Joseph, and on my return found only Trevithick, Bevan, Hodge, and some others. Soon after, Mr. Edwards called out Trevithick to him, and Gundry. I heard them very loud, and waited their return for an hour; but they not seeming ready to return, night coming on, and feeling myself very uncomfortable, I came away, so know not what passed further. During all this time I was so confounded with the impudence, ignorance, and overbearing manner of the man, that I could make no adequate defence, and indeed could scarcely keep my temper, which, however, I did, perhaps to a fault; for nothing can be more grievous to an ingenuous mind than the being suspected or accused of deceit. To mend the matter, it had been an exceedingly rainy morning, and I had got a little wet going thither, which had rather hurt my spirits. Yesterday I had a violent headache and could do nothing. Some means must be taken to satisfy the country, otherwise this malicious man will hurt us exceedingly. The point on which Mr. Edwards seemed to lay the most stress was the comparing with a 77.1 cylinder, as he alleged they would not have put in so large an engine; and in this there is some reason, as I do not think they believe that the engine would be so powerful as it is. Add to this that the mine barely pays its way. Trevithick made a great noise about short strokes at setting on, etc. The Captains seemed to laugh at that and I can demonstrate that were it allowed for, it would not come to 2s. 6d. per month. I believe they can be brought to allow that they would have put in a 70-inch. Now query if we ought to allow this to be calculated from a 70 (at which it will come to near £400. a year), and on making this concession insist on our having a good paymaster to pay regularly once a month, and not be obliged to go like beggars to their accounts to seek our due, and be insulted by such scoundrels into the bargain. As to Hallamanin, they have not met yet, and when they do meet I shall not go to them. I cannot bear such treatment but it is not prudent to resent it too warmly just now. I believe you must come here. I think fourteen days would settle matters. Besides my inability to battle such people, I really have not time to bestow on them.

In the autumn of 1780 Boulton went into Cornwall for a time, to look after the business there; several new engines had been ordered, and were either erected or in progress, at Wheal Treasury, Tresavean, Penrydel, Dolcoath, Wheal Chance, Wheal Crenver, and the United Mines.

One of the principal objects of his visit was to settle the agreements with the mining companies for the use of these engines. It had been found difficult to estimate the actual savings of fuel, and the settlement of the accounts was a constant source of cavil.[2]

In 1779 Watt, with his low-pressure steam vacuum engine, had declared war against Trevithick, sen., and his improved higher pressure steam-engine. Watt's first impression of "the infidels of Dolcoath" was that they were " obliquely inquiring "; but after a year's unfruitful negotiation, he "was so confounded with the impudence, ignorance, and overbearing manner of the man- (Trevithick, sen.), that he could make no adequate defence.

In the autumn of 1780 several new engines had been ordered from Watt for Cornwall, for Wheal Treasury, Tresavean, Penrydel, Dolcoath, Wheal Chance, Wheal Crenver, and the United Mines.

The spirit of rivalry and even of mistrust arose of necessity between Trevithick, sen., and Watt; but it is much to the credit of the former that, within three years of the erection of Watt's first engine in Cornwall, he, as manager, ordered his rival's engine for Wheal Treasury, Dolcoath, and Wheal Chance, being three out of the seven mines that at that time had agreed to try Watt's engine.

The Watt Dolcoath engine had a cylinder of 63 inches in diameter, with a cylinder cover, and an air-pump and condenser, and was called the great 63-inch double engine. It was erected near to a 63-inch Newcomen engine, mentioned by Watt as Bonze's, with open-top cylinder, and known as the fire-engine, and was also close alongside of the 45-inch open-top cylinder Carloose, erected by Trevithick, sen., known afterwards as the Shammal engine, because those two engines pumped from the same shaft, which was called Shamalling.

The oldest account-book now in Dolcoath Mine going back to 1783, has the entry of £52. paid to Boulton and Watt for a month's saving by their patent engine.

As these three engines will be frequently spoken of, it may here be mentioned that the birth of the two oldest is lost in obscurity. The 45-inch cylinder Carloose, after her first life-time, was renewed in 1775. The little fire-engine is mentioned as working, in Trevithick's account-book of 1765, but there is no intimation of when the 63-inch atmospheric began to work. Watt's 63-inch double engine dates from 1780.

The oldest account-book in Cook's Kitchen Mine shows that under the management of Trevithick, sen., in 1794, Watt was paid £18 a month for the saving of coal The account-books of Trevithick, sen., as manager of Wheal Treasury Mine, in 1795, show that Bull, Trevithick, jun., and Watt were all rivals, and received payment for the saving of coal by their respective engines but at this date the powers given to Watt under his patent pressed with a leaden weight on the inventive skill of Cornish engineers.

Trevithick, sen., was, as an engineer, the forerunner and liberal fellow-workman and patronizer of Watt's improvements, but a determined opponent of all illiberal and exclusive acts tending to curtail the growing usefulness of the steam-engine. He has been called a mine manager, because in his time the mine manager was understood to be an engineer. All repairs, and even new work, with the exception of large castings, were made in the mine: thus he was a man of all-work.

One of his Dolcoath account-books is headed "Furnace cost for 1771," showing that in those days the Halvans, or inferior portions of the copper ore, not worth the cost of carriage to the neighbouring copper-smelting works at Copperhouse, were partially smelted in the mine, in the same way as it now comes from South America under the name Regulus. The account is continued for three years, and gives a sample of the labour and wages of the time:—

  • Richard Williams, 30 days, at 32s. per month.
  • Mary Osbron, 4 days at 5d. per day.
  • Ann Heather, for bucking 319 barrows of calcined work, at 6s. for every 15 barrows.
  • To filling, heaving, and carrying 1,190 sacks of Halvans, at 3s. per hundred sacks.
  • To 1 dozen candles from the adventurers, 6s. 9d.
  • William John, for a lantern and book, 3s.
  • Richard Woolf, for a watering-pot, 3s. 6d.
  • Doctor column, ls. 6d.

Presuming that the labourer's wages at 32s. per month meant four weeks, he then worked for ls. 4d, a day, while a woman earned 5d. a day. Candles at 6 3/4d. each seems strange but there are frequent entries at the same rate. Lanterns and books were supplied by the same man; and the ancestors of Arthur Woolf, the engineer, sold watering-pots. A monthly subscription of ls. 6d. to 2s. was paid, by the furnace account, to help the sick, under the head Doctor column.

As lord's agent and leading mine manager, he attended the Cornish ticketings. His account-book shows that at the four weekly ticketings at Redruth, in the month of February, 1777, from thirteen mines, 1,939 tons of copper ore were sold, worth about £12,748 a month.

The mines selling ore during the two years of 1777 and 1778 are given, that their names may not be lost.[6] They amount to sixty-four mines, and probably each of them used one or more steam-engines. It was at this period that Watt erected his first Cornish engine the early use of the steam-engine in Cornwall having caused him to visit it in search of orders.

The mine manager was responsible for the proper carrying out of the underground operations, and the de,cription by Pryce, together with the account-books of Trevithick, sen., establish the fact that, prior to Watt's first working engine in 1776, three steam pumping engines had been at work in Dolcoath under Trevithick, sen., probably for many years, for the Little fire-engine was at work ten or more years before, and during those ten years the 63-inch and the 45-inch cylinder Newcomen atmospherics were erected. Watt saw them on his first visit to Dolcoath Mine in 1777, with the bobs and cranks in the water-engine shafts, spoken of by Trevithick, sen., in 1765, a dozen years before Wasbrough patented the crank as his invention when applied to the steam-engine. Pryce's drawing, Plate I., showing the new adit by Trevithick, fixes the period of a most important stride in the science of mining in Cornwall. The vertical lines represent shafts, the horizontal lines levels the large central space, excavated lode, downward from level to level the bottom line of this excavation shows the slight slope of the ground for drainage toward the bottom of the mine, where the wind-bore or lowermost pipe in the pump-lift is fixed.

Plate I. Dalcoath Mine (See foot notes for key)

Immediately after 1778 such a change was effected by Trevithick, sen., in the principle of mining, that a comparison of modern workings with those given by Pryce makes evident its importance and from that time the miner, instead of breaking ground under his feet, broke it from over his head, lie having first sunk the drainage shaft to the required' depth for a lower level, from which the ore may be excavated. up to the level above, while by this process the drainage and the railway for removing the broken rock are not disturbed.

The light portions show the extent of the lode worked away, 500 or 600 feet in length, and 400 or 500 feet in depth the width of the mineral lode varying from a few inches to two or three, or more feet, in many places widening out to several feet. The shafts for raising water and mineral are shown vertical a cross-section would show many of them in very varying inclines, following the underlay of the lode. The main-pump shaft is generally perpendicular for the convenience of the pump-work, in which case the course of the lode is not followed, the shaft being sunk to meet the underlying lode at an understood depth. The horizontal lines are levels on the course of the lode, 4 or 5 feet wide by 6 or 7 feet high. The levels branch from the shaft 50 or 60 feet one below another.

If the lode is too unproductive for profit, the level is continued in search of better portions or bunches; when such are found, the whole ground is excavated from level to level, of the width of the lode.

The old plan was for each miner to dig or break the ground at his feet, destroying the road over which the broken rock had to be conveyed in barrows, and also preventing the free drainage of water from the miner's work. The new plan is for the miner to work upwards, towards the level above him by this means the very serious inconvenience of working in a pool of water is avoided, and the roadway kept good. Apply such changes to hundreds of men breaking and removing hard rock, in the cramped space and unhealthy atmosphere of a mine, and its importance is evident.

Mr. Henwood believes that the idea was brought to Dolcoath from Germany, by Mr. Raspe, about 1782;[3] the putting it into practice was the work of Trevithick, sen., the manager,[4] and this system of working is now universal in the Cornish mines.

Dolcoath of the present day is 1800 feet deep, employs 1,000 work-people, and yields annually £50,000 worth of tin; during the sixteen years ending 1865, it sold £748,891. worth of ore, giving a profit to the shareholders of £130,655. The invested capital is only nominal, outlay for new machinery being paid for as a working expense. Trevithick's accounts take us back more than a hundred years, but Dolcoath must have been a mine many years before that, for two steam pumping engines worked there in 1765.

In 1796, Watt, writing to Boulton, says of Cornishmen:- The rascals seem to have been going on as if the patent was their own. we have tried every lenient means with them in vain; and since the fear of God has no effect upon them, we must try what the fear of the Devil can do.

Legal proceedings were begun accordingly. The two actions on which the issues were tried were those of Boulton and Watt v. Hornblower and Maberley and they were fought on both sides with great determination.

The proceedings extended over several years, being carried from Court to Court; but the result was decisive in both cases in favour of Boulton and Watt.

It was not until January, 1799, that the final decision of the judges was given, almost on the very eve of expiring of the patent which had not then a full year to run.[5]

When Watt, in 1796, challenged Trevithick, sen., he could answer for himself, but at the last-mentioned period the son had buckled on his father's armour.

An account-book of Richard Trevithick, sen., headed "Wheal Treasury Cost," commencing March, 1795, says:—

To paid Bull £20. per month for the saving of fuel by his engine.

To paid Richard Trevithick, jun., for saving of coals by his engine, £18 per month.

In April, 1796, is the following:—

Note of transfer of a share in the mine, with five engines, &c., subject to pay any demands, which may be hereafter made, by Messrs. Boulton and Watt, for savings in the said mine.

In May of the same year:—

At a meeting at Praze-an-Beeble, it was unanimously resolved, That the savings claimed by Boulton and Watt should not be paid until the validity of their patent should be fully proved.

The last twenty years in the life of Trevithick, sen., were passed among events of great engineering importance. Watt's arrival in 1777 broke up the old friendly clique of Cornish engineers and mine managers: practical mine workers on one side, and influential mine shareholders on the other, had different views of the proposals of the new engineers. A depressed metal market 'added to the difficulty. Mines made little or no profit. Many ceased to work and among them the famous Dolcoath was closed in 1789. Boulton and Watt not only got their monthly payments with difficulty, but had patent lawsuits with the Cornish engineers and mine proprietors.

In 1796 Wheal Treasury, under the management of Trevithick, sen., which had been paying Watt for the saving by his engine, had also at work a rival engine by Bull, and another by Richard Trevithick, jun., each of the three engineers receiving pay for his improved engine, while a unanimous decision was come to by the shareholders to resist Watt's patent claims.

In April, 1797, the accounts in Wheal Treasury ceased to be entered by the old hand and in December of that year another made up the account, closing with an entry, — "Paid John Glasson for making up the accounts in this book to December, 1797." Trevithick's hand was cold. He had passed his life in the midst of Cornish mines, having numerous steam-engines working around him — the best engines of the day — on his own particular mines, before Watt had erected an engine. When, in 1777, Watt and his first improved steam-engine appeared in Cornwall, Trevithick cautioned him not to promise too much, or to tempt the mine speculators by offering to supply engines on the promise to pay a monthly hire, based on the saving in the consumption of coal, as compared with the Cornish engines then in use, but Trevithick did not oppose its introduction.

Boulton and Watt's patent lawsuits resulted in a verdict in their favour, on the eve of the expiration of their patent. Richard Trevithick, sen., having lived to see his son an engineer, competing with Watt, and married to the daughter of his old friend, John Harvey, died on the 1st August, 1797, at Penponds, near Camborne, and was buried in Camborne churchyard. For many years he had enjoyed friendship, and frequently companionship, with the great religious reformer, John Wesley, who on his visits to Cornwall made a home of the house of Richard Trevithick, and used it as a place of meeting of the brotherhood, Trevithick being the class-leader in his district. This was a dark time for Cornwall, — death, law proceedings, and poverty were rife; and the numerous and prosperous mines of twenty years before had dwindled down to bare walls and barren mine heaps. In the once busy district of Mogan and Camborne only four steam-engines remained at work out of the forty or fift9r which Trevithick, as lord's agent, had helped to set in motion. Stone from the engine-houses on the idle Dolcoath were taken to build the present inn at Camborne; miners' houses were untenanted, and the people without employ.

Trevithick, sen., in his active life of half a century, took part in this rise and fall of Cornish mining and engineering. The prosperous part was before the use of Watt's improved engines while the fall came with their introduction, and so nearly buried Watt in the ruins, that he contemplated giving up their construction, to lead a less harassing and more profitable life.

A little more than half a century has again passed, and that same district now employs one hundred steam-engines; and in this revival we shall find that Richard Trevithick, jun., took an active part.

No sculptured stone points out the resting-place of Trevithick, sen, who lies not far from the Druids’ rocks and ancient castle of Carn Brea.

Foot Notes

  1. Pryce's Treatise on Minerals, Mines, and Minig in Cornwall, 1778
  2. Lives of Boulton and Watt by Smiles, p270
  3. Raspe has been called the author of 'Baron Munchausen.'
  4. Address to the Royal Institution of Cornwall,' by William Jory Henwood, F.R.S., F.G.S. 1869.
  5. Smiles' Life of Watt

The average price was £6-13s per ton, giving a monthly value of £12,748 during the two years. the monthly sales increase slightly.

The names of the various mines selling during the two years are:-

  • Dalcoath Mine key
    • 8. Old fire engine, Tye pumps
    • 16. New fire engine, Tye pumps
    • 25. Eastern water engine, Tye pumps
    • 31. The old level or adit
    • 32. The new level or deeper adit
    • N.N. Fire engine
    • O.O.O. Ehyms
    • Q.Q. Water engine wheels
    • S.S. Water engine bobs (a)

See Also