Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

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 6

From Graces Guide

CHAPTER VI. HIGH-PRESSURE WHIM-ENGINE.

Plate III. Kensington Model

TREVITHICK'S account-book gives:—

  • 1798.— To Prince William Henry, for a boiler, £38.
  • 1799.— To a boiler for new engine at Rosewall, £21.
  • To the same, for Wheal Seal-hole little engine, £21.
  • 1800.— For carrying the little engine to Wheal Hope, 10s. 6d.
  • To Arthur Woolf going to London as engine fireman with Shelland engine, at £30 a year.
  • To received 350 guineas from Mr. Millett for a steam-whim."


A short time ago the writer visited St. Agnes Head in search of evidences of times gone by. A miner,[1] in an almost idle mine, said,

This is Polberrow New Adventure; that engine works in Seal-hole shaft, but old Seal-hole shaft, a few yards to the west, where Captain Dick Trevithick put his puffer-engine, has run together. Them pit-holes and shafts we do call old men's workings for tin before steam-engines were made they do go down from 10 to 40 fathoms to the old adit in the cliff above the sea.


The models of 1796 grew rapidly into the practical high-pressure steam-puffer engine of 1798, and became active rivals of the low-pressure steam vacuum engine.

In 1800 a high-pressure portable steam-engine was carried in a cart to Wheal Hope, and one was sent to London in charge of Arthur Woolf, the well-known engineer. In the same year the first high-pressure steam-whim was made for Mr. Millett, at a comparatively small cost.

This latter application of steam, to supersede the horse-whim in raising mineral from the shafts, was of great importance to the miner. An old account-book, in Cook's Kitchen Mine, has entries bearing Trevithick's doings at that period.

  • 1798, June 23rd.- A survey held for setting the sump, Roger's and Bramblam's whims, on Dunkin's lode, to draw by the hundred kibbals for one year; and if the adventurers shall, during this time, think it proper to erect a steam whim or whims, to draw out of any shaft or shafts, then this contract to be void. Signed by nine working men, and one +, and by Captain Joseph Vivian for adventurers.
  • 1799.— The above agreement renewed for another year.
  • 1803. May.— To Thomas Tyack for making smith's work for the steam-whim.[2]


Trevithick then believed himself to be the originator of the steam-whim but a memorandum, written by him in 1830, has the following note:—

I have since heard that Boulton and Watt had before erected a steam-whim at Wheal Maid, which did not go well, and soon ceased to work.


William Pooly, working in Dolcoath, says: -

I worked in this mine, in 1816, a whim-engine, which they used to say was first put up in Wheal Maid, in Gwennap, by Boulton and Watt. I never heard what date it was; but people said it was the first steam-whim; that she was sent from Gwennap to Wales, and when Boulton and Watt were at the Herland mine with their engines, she was brought back from Wales and tried at Herland; she was moved from Herland and tried at Dolcoath, about 1816, when I worked her she worked with the old Boulton and Watt hearse-boiler. Several of Captain Trevithick's high-pressure whims were before that, working close by, some condensing and one or two puffers. captain Trevithick's boiler was like a cast-iron cylinder, with the fire- door in one end, and the steam-cylinder in the other end; two rods standing out from the cylinder end for guides, and a connecting rod going to the crank.[3]


Mr. Hugh Hunter, the oldest workman in the mine, says:—

I have been the foreman carpenter in Cook's Kitchen for sixty years. I went to the mine in 1802 or 1803; Captain Trevithick's whims worked there then; one was on Chapell's shaft, another on Bramblam's, and one called the Valley-puffer. Chapel l's engine, or Bramblam's, had two cylinders, and a double crank; the whim-cage was fixed high Hp, near the roof. The engines were fixed on to the boiler; it was something like the present boilers in shape. The piston-rod cross-head worked in guide-rods fixed to the cylinder; connecting rods went from the cross-heads to the cranks. Steam was turned off and on by a four-way cock. I recollect the engine, because the two cranks going one after the other was a new thing; and I recollect the valley engine, because she was a puffer, and you could hear her for miles. I can't recollect the kind of the third engine. They used to be called Trevithick's first steam-whims.[4]


This is the first mention of a double-cylinder high-pressure steam-engine in Cornwall, and it used the blast-pipe. Similar engines were erected in Wales about the same time.[5]

I am eighty years old, and still work in Dolcoath; in 1815 1 worked the valley-puffer engine; the cylinder was horizontal, and fixed in the end of the boiler the piston-rod worked in guides, not much above the ground, with a connecting rod from the cross-head to the crank on the winding cage. She puffed the waste steam into the air; the two other whims, close by in Cook's Kitchen, condensed; they were at work long before I saw them.[6]

James Hosking, working in 1869 one of Trevithick's first lot of steam-whims in Cook's Kitchen, knew the engine in 1838 she is exactly the same now as then. I wouldn't wish to work a handier engine you need not move from your seat, except to put coals in the boiler Mr. Samuel Hocking, the engineer, looked in a day or two ago, and said he had known her for fifty years, and could see no difference in her.

Captain Charles Thomas, the manager of Cook's Kitchen, says, the engine was erected by Trevithick in 1800 or 1801. It works extremely well with 25 lbs. of steam, and promises to do so for many years, and draws six kibbals per hour from the 264- fathom level. The gross weight, including the chain to the bottom of the shaft, is 70 cwt.; the mineral in each kibbal about 6 or 7 cwt.


These facts raise a question of much interest in meting out the just reward of praise to the improvers of the rotary steam-engine.

Did Trevithick construct the first engine using a crank in Cornwall and had he ever seen an engine with a crank before that of his own construction?

Watt's Wheal Maid failure, a low-pressure steam vacuum engine, erected about 1784, with sun-and-planet wheels, may be taken as the first rotary engine in Cornwall. Trevithick was a boy, and neither saw it nor heard of it; and moreover, it had not a crank, neither did the crank form a part of the steam-engine for some years after that date, and it certainly was not seen in Cornwall until Trevithick constructed his high-pressure steam models, working with a crank, in 1796. He had never been out of the county until about that time, when lie went to London to give evidence in the Watt Patent lawsuits. He probably heard of the crank disputes between Watt and Wasbrough, but the crank could not then have been in extensive use as a part of a steam- engine, and may never have been seen by Trevithick.

One of these mementoes of Trevithick's practical genius in 1800, still worked at Cook's Kitchen Mine in 1869

Trevithick's high-pressure expansive steam condensing whim-engine, erected at Cook's Kitchen, 1800 (See key below)

The accompanying drawing represents the only one of those three Cook's Kitchen engines still working.

The chief working engineer in the mine for thirty-two years has now replaced parts worn out by new pieces of precisely the form of the original.

The boiler is of wrought iron, cylindrical, with internal tube and fire-place; the plates have been renewed more than once. Steam is worked at 25 lbs. to the inch above the atmosphere. All the regulating or gear levers are within reach of the engineman without his moving from his seat. It has a Boulton and Watt air-pump and condenser. The parallel motion differs from Watt's patent, and is known as the spider parallel motion. A four-way cock is the only valve used, except the steam shut-off cock from the boiler, and the injection and feed cocks. Its present work is to lift three tons and a half; including the kibbal and chain, when starting from a depth of 1584 feet.

The adjoining mines of Dolcoath and Stray Park made similar use of Trevithick's high-pressure steam whim-engines, erected about the same time, and each of them on a different plan, two or three of which remained at work forty or fifty years.

Mr. John Vivian, of St. Ives Consols Mine, when a little boy, in 1801 or 1802, carried the pay-money to his uncle, Captain Andrew Vivian, for men working Trevithick's new high-pressure whim-engine in Stray Park Mine. Crowds of people came to see it.

Henry Vivian worked the first Trevithick high-pressure puffer whim-engine in Stray Park Mine. It worked with a four-way cock, and puffed the waste steam into the air; it was a wonder at that time.

Captain Joseph Vivian, of Reskadinnick, near Camborne, about 1800 or 1801 saw Trevithick's first puffer whim-engine in Stray Park Mine. The cylinder was in the boiler, and the piston-rod worked horizontally. Trevithick put up another whim-engine in the same mine, working with high-Pressure steam, and with the Boulton and Watt air-pump; it had a wooden beam. As a boy, he watched the engine with the beam, and the one without the beam to understand why they were different. In a year or two several were erected. People who were for Boulton and Watt were against Trevithick. A Boulton and Watt whim was, a year or two after, put up in Dolcoath to beat Trevithick's puffer-whim. The report was in favour of Boulton and Watt. I worked in Dolcoath at that said the agents were told beforehand which time. Everybody way the trial ought to go. Captain Glanville put up the Boulton and Watt low-pressure whim. Captain Trevithick's high-pressure puffer had a horizontal cylinder fixed in the boiler, and the steam puffed up the chimney.

Henry Clark, of Redruth, was a boy in Dolcoath smiths' shop in the valley, in 1799 or 1800, just after she went to work again. Captain Trevithick was the head engineer but the adventurers grumbled because he did not give all his time to the mine. Drawings came down from London for the new high-pressure puffer-whim for the valley; Henry Vivian put her up; but Benjamin Glanville, the mine carpenter, was made head man over the engines, because Captain Trevithick was away so much. The mine managers tried the new valley-puffer against a Boulton and Watt engine. When Captain Trevithick heard it, lie sent a letter that he would bet Glenville fifty pounds that his puffer should beat Boulton and Watt. Trevithick came down from London, and tried the puffer, and said to his brother-in-law (Captain Henry Vivian), ‘Why, how have you got the piston half an inch smaller than the cylinder?' A new brass piston was put in, and she beat Boulton and Watt all to nothing. I was landing the kibbals for the puffer, because we tried Captain Trevithick's new kibbal and pincers made in our shop; we unloaded the kibbals, and sent them down again, almost without stopping the engine. The adventurers fixed upon a trial for three or four days; coals were weighed to each engine, and persons appointed to take account of the kibbals raised and coals burnt. Captain Trevithick's engine did the best; and, after the trial, a little pit was found with coal buried in it, that Glanville meant to use in the Boulton and Watt engine. Trevithick's puffer had a cast-iron cylindrical boiler, about 6 feet in diameter, and 10 or 12 feet long, with cast- iron ends; a wrought-iron tube passed through the boiler, with a fire-place in one end of it, and a wrought-iron chimney at the other. The cylinder was let into the boiler, and the steam puffed off by the side. The trial was about 1804 or 1805, when several of Trevithick's whims, some of which condensed, were working in the adjoining mines.

James Richards, of Camborne, landed kibbals in 1832, with Trevithick's old whim-engine now in Camborne Vean Mine, but then in Stray Park; she is unaltered, except that the four-way cock is removed to make room for lifting valves. Henry Vivian was the first man to work her; she used to be called the first steam-whim in Cornwall.

William Eustace, for twenty years foreman smith in Camborne Vean Mine (1869), knew the old Trevithick whim when John West, the engineer, put in valves in place of Trevithick's four-way cock. The cock-pipe was stopped up with lead, and remained on the cylinder for many years, to make sure that the new valves were an improvement, before removing the cock: has often heard the old men talk of this beam condensing engine, and the machine whim with the fly-wheel up in the roof, with the piston-rod working in guides, and no beam, as the two first steam-whims ever put up. They then worked in Stray Park Mine.

Captain Nicholas Vivian, late of Camborne, was in 1809 appointed manager to re-work Wheal Abraham Mine, which had been idle for some years.

The old miners spoke of Captain Trevithick's puffer-engine with the cylinder in the boiler, which had worked in the mine just before she stopped.

Trevithick demanded payment, which the adventurers refused until a longer trial of the engine, or because the mine was going to stop; lie therefore took some men into the mine at nightfall, and by the morning the engine had disappeared.

Captain N. Vivian's first act as manager was to purchase for the mine a second-hand Trevithick high-pressure steam puffer-whim.

"The late Captain Samuel Grose said:- "In 1805 I say at the Weith Mine a portable engine made by Captain Trevithick, called a puffer the cylinder was fixed in the boiler, the steam pressure was 30 lbs. on the square inch above the atmosphere. A wood shed sheltered the engine. Their cheapness made them to be much used."


In the four or five years we have accounts of four or five distinct kinds of steam-whims—high-pressure condensing engines, with and without beam, having either One or two cylinders, working vertically or horizontally, either as high-pressure puffers or as condensers.

Those various forms were to meet special requirements. Thus an established engine-house with convenient condensing water, had a fixed condensing engine a temporary shaft had a portable puffer-engine.

Trevithick's aim in all his inventions was to utilize as much as possible the power of steam so that not only was the steam-engine made to assume various new forms, but many appliances connected with it received his careful attention, and still bear witness to his inventive genius.

Up to about 1800, mineral had been raised by horse- whims from the Cornish mines in buckets, barrels, or kibbals, made of wood, and bound with iron. The watchful care of the driver helped to lessen the breakage, or wear and tear, from the kibbals rubbing on the rough sides of the underlie shafts. The greater speed and power of the steam-whims increased the breakage, and led Trevithick to introduce the use of wrought-iron kibbals, shaped like an egg with flattened top and bottom. These improved kibbals worked with less friction and wear and tear than the wood kibbal. The method of emptying it was also much improved. The old bucket was turned over by manual labour, and the mineral shovelled into the barrow or tram-waggon the new plan caused the saving of this labour, by discharging the mineral into the waggon.

Henry Clarke was striker in the Valley smiths' shop in Dolcoath Mine in 1799 or 1800, and helped to make the first pincers and work for landing Captain Trevithick's new plan of iron kibbals, just then coming into use. William Branch, of Gwinear, was the smith.

Captain Trevithick was standing by, telling Branch the shape to make them. The first pincers had a spring to throw them open; after a few trials the spring was taken out, not being necessary. The pincers was exactly the same shape as those now used (1869), and so are the iron kibbals, only they may be a bit bigger.

Captain Joseph Vivian recollects Budge's spiral barrel, put aside by Captain Trevithick in his first steam-whims, because the power of his engine did not require them.

The weight of the whim-chain, reaching to the bottom of the shaft, was too much for the horses, or the horse-whim, to lift. Budge's spiral was like a watch-barrel. A stone at the end of the chain from the spiral rose or fell in a shaft; this equalized the work for the horses according as the chain and kibbal was near the bottom or the top of the shaft.

Mr. Tippet[7] helped to erect Captain Trevithick's puffer winding engine in Tin Croft Mine. The new iron kibbals were two or three times as large as the old ones for the horse-whim. The poppet-heads were raised, that the kibbal might go higher. The landing man said wonder who is going to land them big kibbals; I sha'nt land them.' Captain Trevithiek said, ' Can't you wait a bit?' When it was all complete the kibbal didn't want any landing. It turned upside down, and the stuff went into the waggon without any landing or shovelling. The engine •worked with very high-pressure steam. Saunders, who was Captain Dick's bead boiler-maker, brought a little plunger-pole pump for the feedwater; it worked by an eccentric on the fly-wheel shaft.


The new plan was to carry the loaded kibbal a certain distance above the waggon; a chain from one side and pincers were attached to a hook in the kibbal bottom; the loaded kibbal was then lowered the required distance; the fixed chain drawing the kibbal off the line of the shaft and over the waggon, and at the same time hanging it bottom upwards, turned its contents in to the waggon: a pull on a catch freed the pincers, and the kibbal dropped over the line of the shaft ready for descending. This method, introduced in 1800, is still in use, though square boxes of iron on wheels, sliding in guide-rods in the shaft, are now preferred. The eccentric working the feed-pole is the earliest record the writer has met with of its use.

The foregoing, especially if taken in conjunction with the various applications of Trevithick's high-pressure steam-engines in Wales and elsewhere, fully establish their rapid extension during the first five or six years of the present century: two of them remaining fit for use, after nearly seventy years, proves the original skill of their designer and constructor.

The best test of the relative value of the low-pressure steam vacuum, and high-pressure steam whim engines by the rival engineers, is in a comparison of their performance and durability.[8]

Boulton, writing to Watt, describes one used temporarily for such a purpose at the Consolidated Mines, in 1784:-

There was a full attendance: Jethro looked impudent, but mortified, to see the new little engine drawing kibbals from the two pits exceedingly well, and very manageable and afterwards it worked six steam-stamps, each 2.5 = 14 cwt. lifted twice at each revolution, or four times for every stroke of the engine. I suppose there were a thousand people present to see the engine work."[9]


This happened at Wheal Maid, in Gwennap, when Trevithick was thirteen years old.

Jethro was one of the Hornblowers, clever, practical engineers in Cornwall, before Watt brought his engine there, and strongly opposed to the new corner and his plans.

Trevithick's whim in Cook's Kitchen, of about 1800, was still at work in 1870, and lifting 70 cwt. The power of the Watt whim is not mentioned; but when used as a stamping engine it gave motion to but six stamp-heads, each 2.5 cwt.

Such a contrivance as Watt's could not continue to work long in a Cornish whim-engine, requiring most exact control, and frequent sudden stoppage and reversing, for which the sun-and-planet tooth-wheels were not suitable. Its failing to work well, and banishment to Wales during Trevithick's boyhood, accounts for his never having heard of it until forty or fifty years after the date of its erection, though he competed with it in Dolcoath in 1806, without knowing its travels or history under its improved face with a crank instead of its original sun-and-planet wheels, shortly, after which it finally disappeared.[10][10]

A steam-engine with a crank had never been seen in Cornwall when he made his first locomotive models and recommended the use of a steam-whim with crank.

Such was Trevithick's share in making steam useful for raising mineral from mines, and in adapting the kibbals and detail apparatus, suitable for the increased Power and speed of the high-pressure steam-engine.

Cook's Kitchen Mine and Steam-Whim

Foot Notes

  1. Capt. Robert Hancock
  2. Extracts from book in Cook's Kitchen Mine in 1870.
  3. Narrated in 1869.
  4. Mr. Hugh Hunter lived at Pool in 1869.
  5. See Mr. Crawshay's statement, chap. ix.
  6. Narrated by John Smith, 1869
  7. Mr. Tippet had been employed in Cornish mines, and was known to the writer in 1840.
  8. See Trevithick's letter, 5th January, 1804, chap. xx; 5th July, 1804, chap. xx; 2nd January, 1805, chap. xx.
  9. Letter from Boulton, 1784. Smiles' Lives of Boulton and Watt,' p 331.
  10. See Trevithick's letter; 18th February, 1806, chap. xx.

TREVITIUCK'S HIGH-PRESSURE EXPANSIVE STEAM CONDENSING WHIM-ENGINE, ERECTED AT COOK'S KITCHEN, 1800.

Description of condensing steam-whim of 1800, taken 1869, from the engine then at work:—

  • a, steam-cylinder, 19 inches in diameter, 5-feet stroke;
  • b, the four-way cock, by a quarter turn giving the steam in the top of the piston and that under it to the condenser, and vice versa on the return movement;
  • c, rod, joining the cock-lever with the Y-shaft lever;
  • u, the Y-posts;
  • d, the Y-shaft, carrying two gear-handles and the cock-lever;
  • e, the two tappets on the plug-rod, for moving the two gear-handles and four-way cock;
  • f, plug-rod;
  • g, two gear-handles;
  • h, steam regulating cock;
  • i, steam-pipe to boiler-house;
  • j, handle and rod to injection-valve;
  • k, exhaust-steam pipe to condenser;
  • 1, condensing system, containing air-pump and condenser;
  • m, main beam of oak;
  • n, piston-rod cap;
  • 0, parallel motion;
  • p, feed-pole and rod;
  • q, lever-working feed-pole;
  • r, door to boiler stoke-hole;
  • s, door to top of boiler;
  • t, floor of engine-house.

See Also