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Life of Richard Trevithick by F. Trevithick: Volume 1: Chapter 7

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CHAPTER VII. CAMBORNE COMMON ROAD LOCOMOTIVE.

The late Mrs. Trevithick frequently spoke of models of her husband's early engines, the first of which worked at her house in Camborne, about the year 1796 or 1797. It was made by Mr. William West, and was to have been shown in the lawsuits between Boulton and Watt and the Cornish engineers.

Lord and Lady Dedunstanville, the large landed Proprietors in the mining district—embracing Dolcoath, Cook's Kitchen, Stray Park, and many more of the early Cornish mines — and Mr. Davies Gilbert, a friend of Trevithick's, came to her house to see the model work.

A boiler, something like a strong iron kettle, was placed on the fire; Davies Gilbert was stoker, and blew the bellows; Lady Dedunstanville was engine man, and turned the cock for the admission of steam to the first high-pressure steam-engine. The model was made of bright brass.

Shortly afterwards another model was made, which ran round the table, or the room. The boiler and the engine of this second model were in one piece hot water was poured into the boiler, and a red-hot iron but into an interior tube, just like the hot iron in tea-urns.

In a third model the boiler was heated by a spirit-lamp. This one was taken to London by a gentleman who came down for the purpose of seeing it work.

A model of Trevithick's, now in the Kensington Museum, spoken of by Mr. Radford[1] as having come from the engine-works of Messrs. Whitehead and Co., Soho Iron Works, Manchester, is probably one of those spoken of by Mrs. Trevithick as having been made prior to 1800. It is a perfect specimen of a high-pressure steam-engine, with cylindrical boiler, adapted to locomotive purposes. It served as a guide to Messrs. Whitehead and Co., who manufactured engines for Trevithick in 1804.

Plate III. Kensington Model

The drawing (Plate III) and description of this working model shadow forth the usefulness of the high- pressure steam-engine of the present day in many of its leading features the non-necessity for condensing water, the cylindrical boiler, the simplest form of crank, the absence of mason-work for the engine or boiler-flues, and its portability and power of locomotion, so nearly met all the requirements, as to entitle it to the designation, "the first high-pressure locomotive."

  • P is the iron-heater (used in the model to avoid smoke)
  • s, the safety-valve, kept down by a simple spring t, screw-plug for supplying water b, steam-cylinder let into boiler, with shell for the four-way cock, and pipe for conveying steam to the top and bottom of cylinder cast with it o, a four-way steam-cock, worked by a rod from the cross-head c, the cross-head f, the two side rods g, the crank-pins attached to the two driving wheels i, the steering wheel, fixed by a screw for running in curved or straight lines e, piston-rod d, guides for the piston-rod cross-bead; h two driving wheels j, two legs, by screwing out the lower part of which the driving wheels are lifted off the ground, making a stationary engine k, fly-wheel;
  • m, pinion and gear wheel, connecting the fly-wheel with the driving wheel;
  • n, plug-rod attached to cross-head for moving the four-way cock r, stay for the guide-rods; u, driving axle;
  • v, waste-steam pipe;
  • A, the cylindrical boiler, made of copper;
  • B, the boiler-tube.

Trevithick, after two years spent in numerous working experiments, under very trying circumstances — from the want of sufficient money, from the greatly depressed state of the mining interests in Cornwall, and from the disputes and lawsuits which had led mine adventurers and mine engineers to mistrust one another — had satisfied himself that a steam-engine would work without an air-pump or condensing water; that neither beam nor parallel motion, nor foundations of masonry, were absolutely necessary; and that the boiler, for conveniently supplying high-pressure steam, need not be one quarter of the weight, or cost, of the low-pressure boilers then in use, for producing an equal amount of power. He had conveyed an engine from mine to mine in a common cart, at a cost of 10s. 6d., and even this expense might have been saved by placing the engine on wheels, and driving them around by the force of the steam. The first commercial application of high-pressure steam was in the portable steam-whims, and then in the steam-carriage.

Trevithick's first passenger carrying common road locomotive, Camborne, 1801 (Front) See key below
Trevithick's first passenger carrying common road locomotive, Camborne, 1801 (Side) See key below
Trevithick's first passenger carrying common road locomotive, Camborne, 1801 (Top) See key below

An old account-book of Trevithick's, dated 1800, gives the detail items in the manufacture of the first steam-carriage. William West for two or three years received pay for constructing models. Other mechanics worked in different mines repairing or improving boilers working the new high-pressure engines; and when they could be spared from the mines, were employed on the new steam-carriage, then being put together in a smiths' shop in Camborne, having in it one small hand-lathe, and one or two smiths' fires.

  • Nov. 1800.—
    • To Richard Jeffry, about the fire-carriage, to end of November...£10 14 6
    • To boiler-plates for steam-carriage, 4 cwt. 1 qr. at 38s....£7 10 6
    • To send William West to the Dale for plates.
    • To James Oats, about little boiler.
    • To James Saunders, about little engine...£3 13 6
  • 1801.—
    • To Sam. Hambly, for steam- carriage....£1 2 6
    • To Francis May, for sundries, do….£4 5 0
    • To little Hocking, do....do.£3 0 0
    • To Arthur Woolf, for steam-gang and barometer from the Dale..£4 7 0
    • To Sam. Rowe and Wm. Branch, assisting Wm. Jeffry and Sam. Hambly about the carriage.
    • To Wm. West....£35 10 7
    • To Lemon, shoemaker, for a bellows for carriage..£1 7 0
    • John Hocking, for brasswork..£1 8 7
    • Files, drink, and oil..£0 7 6
    • Coals from my house....£0 15 0

In 1801 William West was "at Hayle, about the little boiler," "altering it with wrought-iron plates;" and in the same year "Richard Trevithick was in London about the patent, and in Merthyr Tydfil and Coalbrookdale." The accounts do not enable us to trace the time occupied in building the first steam-carriage, or the necessary alterations during its construction. It was in progress in 1800; and on Christmas-eve, 1801, conveyed the first load of passengers ever moved by the force of steam.

The start was from Tyack's smiths' shop, where the smaller parts had been made.[2] East and west ran the great main coach-road to London, on which the Cornish coach, at that time a van or covered waggon, conveyed the few who travelled on wheels. Northwards, towards the great house of Lord Dedunstanville, at Tehidy, the road was more hilly. The south road was a, rude country lane, in the Worst possible order, with a sharp curve at the commencement, and steeper gradients than either of the other roads.

As an indication of the greater difficulty of constructing an engine at that time in Cornwall, thirty years later, when the writer worked in Harvey's engine-factory at Hayle, in the building in which William West had constructed parts of the Camborne locomotive, there were but a few small hand-lathes fixed on wooden benches, a few drilling, machines, and but one chuck-lathe. Arthur Woolf was the engineer, and the writer his pupil, and served under the shop foreman, Jeffry, whose father had worked on the Camborne locomotive, and on the Jeffrie and Gribble engine at Dolcoath.

The following statement was given by old Stephen Williams[3] -

I knew Captain Dick Trevithick very well; he and I were born in the same year. I was a cooper by trade, and when Captain Dick was making his first steam-carriage I used to go every day into John Tyack's blacksmiths' shop at the Weith, close by here, where they put her together.

The castings were made down at Hayle, in Mr. Harvey's foundry. There was a deal of trouble in getting all the things to fit together. Most of the smiths' work was made in Tyack's shop.

In the year 1801, upon Christmas-eve, coming on evening, Captain Dick got up steam, out in the high-road, just outside the shop at the Weith. When we see'd that Captain Dick was agoing to turn on steam, we jumped up as many as could; may be seven or eight of us. 'Twas a stiffish bill going from the Weith up to Camborne Beacon, but she went off like a little bird.

When she had gone about a quarter of a mile, there was a roughish piece of road covered with loose stones; she didn't go quite so fast, and as it was a flood of rain, and we were very squeezed together, I jumped off. She was going faster than I could walk, and went on up the hill about a quarter or half a mile farther, when they turned her and came back again to the shop. Captain Dick tried her again the next day I was not there, but heard say that some of the castings broke. Recollect seeing pieces of the engine in the ditch years afterwards, and suppose she ran against the hedge.


In the same year Mr. Newton[4] informed the writer

. .that he knew Mr. Trevithick well, and was to have been his pupil in engineering. He rode on the engine the first evening it was tried. It went half a mile up a steep hill, and then returned to the workshop [we stood on the very ground while Mr. Newton told his story]. The fire was blown by a double-acting bellows, worked by the engine. Was well acquainted with Murdoch, and his friends in Cornwall, but never heard he had made a locomotive, or that Trevithick had been his pupil. The engine was called Captain Dick's puffer, from the steam and smoke puffing out of the chimney at each stroke of the engine.

Captain Nicholas Vivian saw the Camborne steam-carriage, and was familiar with the stories of the early trials, as his friends and relatives were interested in it. It ran part of the way up the Beacon hill when first tried. Something went wrong, and it was taken back to Tyack's smiths' shop; it worked again after that, but he did not know what was then done with it.


The stiffness of the incline on the Beacon bill prevented horse-vehicles from ascending at more than walking speed. In the present day it is straightened, but the old boundary-marks are still to be seen of a sharp curve at the commencement of the journey.

This southern road from Camborne was the worst of the four that were open to Trevithick's choice for testing his first locomotive, carrying as many passengers as could find standing-room on it — perhaps half a dozen or half a score. A piece of newly-made road with loose stones, just where the incline increased, and when the small boiler had expended its hoarded stock of high-pressure steam, heaped an insurmountable barrier against the small wheels of the engine, and baffled the engineer for the moment. While the road was being smoothed, the steam had increased its elastic force. Another progress was made, and the first half-mile had been travelled on a steam-horse.

The incline was still increasing, almost up to the steepness of the famous Mont Cenis, of 1 in 15 or 20, when the engineer was again beaten, and stuck fast. It was Christmas time: rain drenched the ambitious innovators, and cooled the steam-boiler, and coming darkness added to the gloom. The engine was turned about, and safely conveyed the passengers back again, down this dreadful circuitous hill, to the starting point at Tyack's smiths' shop.

Captain Joseph Vivian, of Roskadennick, says: When he was a boy about nine years old, he used to go into Tyack's smiths' shop at Camborne to see the steam-carriage Captain Trevithick was having made there.

Some of the turning work was done in Captain Andrew Vivian's workshop, where there was a small turning lathe. The castings came from Harvey's foundry at Hayle. The first day the new steam-carriage ran about the streets and up the Beacon hill. The next day it went down to Crane, a short mile, that Captain Andrew Vivian's family, who lived there, might see it. Old Mrs. Paul cried out, "Good gracious, Mr. Vivian! what will be done next? I can't compare un to anything but a walking, puffing devil"

It then went nearly three miles to Tehidy Park, that Lord Dedunstanville might have a ride, but something broke just before it reached the house.


The ‘Mining Journal,’ Oct. 2nd, 1858, has the following:—

With regard to the Cornwall engine, Mr. John Petherick, writing to his nephew, Mr. Edward Williams, says -

Cardiff, September 11th, 1858. I perfectly remember, when a boy, about the year 1800, seeing Trevithick's first locomotive engine, worked by himself, come through the principal street of Camborne, in Cornwall (Trevithick's native place).

This experiment was satisfactory only as long as the steam pressure could be kept up; and during that continuance Trevithick called upon the people to "jump up, so as to create a load on the engine, and it soon became covered with men, who did not seem to make any difference to the power of speed, as long as the steam was kept up. This was sought to be done by the application of a cylindrical horizontal bellows[5] worked by the engine itself, instead of a stack; but the attempt to keep up the power of the steam for any considerable time proved a failure. There were other experiments made which I heard of, but did not witness; but the same objection prevailing, caused the attempt to be laid aside for that time. This was the first public exhibition of the invention.

Henry Clark[6] says he was working in the Valley smiths' shop in Dolcoath, when Captain Dick's locomotive ran. It carried ten or twelve persons from Mr. Harris's gate to limp's Hotel, about a quarter of a mile, and up hill.

I worked many years for Captain Dick: he was a nice man. We went to his house in Camborne singing carols; Captain Dick touched his lady with his elbow; she was taking something out of her purse, when Captain Dick said, ‘Let me see!’ and he turned the purse upside down in my hand, and a pretty lot of silver we had.

Henry Vivian,[7] a nephew of Captain Andrew Vivian, recollects his father (Johnson Vivian) giving a lecture on the early locomotive in Camborne, and reading a letter he had received from Captain Andrew Vivian describing the trials in the London streets, sometimes going too fast, sometimes not fast enough.

The omnibus and cab drivers used to throw cabbage stumps, rotten onions, or eggs at them.

When describing the earlier experiments in Camborne, his father said it was put together in a smiths' shop at Wheal Gerry, near Roskear Mine. He worked about it.

They started to go to Tehidy House where Lord Dodunstanville lived, about two or three miles off. Captain Dick Trevithick took charge of the engine, and Captain Andrew was steering. They were going very well around the wall of Rosewarne; when they came to the gully (a kind of open watercourse across the road) the steering handle was jerked out of Captain Andrew's hand, and over she turned.


These several recollections from eye-witnesses, so long after the event, establish the broad facts, though details may be more or less wanting, showing two distinct experiments: the one up Beacon Hill, the other in the opposite direction, to Tehidy Park. Probably there were several trials, and some repairs and improvements during several weeks or even months.

The blast-pipe gave its puffs of steam and smoke from the chimney. The double-action bellows, for ensuring a good fire in case the steam-blast did not answer, was never used after this first experiment. Trevithick and Vivian became partners over their Christmas dinner of 1801, and then started for London to secure a patent.

LONDON, No. 1, SOUTHAMPTON STREET, STRAND,
16th Jan., 1802.

Mr. GIDDY,
No doubt ere this you have been in expectation of bearing from us; but so much time was taken up at Bristol and its environs, in contracting for engines, that we did not arrive here until last Wednesday night.

We waited on Mr. Sandys, who informed us that the caveat had been secured, and advised us to get the best information we could of persons who were well acquainted with patents and machines, of what title to give the machine, and what was the intended use of it. The next day waited on Mr. Davy with your kind letter, who with the greatest cheerfulness immediately waited on Count Rumford, to whom we had a letter of introduction from Mr. D. to wait on the Count on Friday morning, We found him a very pleasant man, and very conversant about fire-places, and the action of steam for heating rooms, boiling water, dressing meat, &c.; but did not appear to have studied much the action of steam on pistons, &c. The Count has given us a rough draft of a fire-place, which he thinks is best adapted for our carriage, and Trevithick is now making a complete drawing of it.

We are to wait on the Count when the drawing is completed, and he has promised to give us all the assistance in his power.

Mr. Davy says that a Mr. Nicholson, he thinks, will be a proper person to assist us in taking out the patent, and we are to be introduced to him tomorrow, and then shall immediately proceed with the business. We shall not specify without your assistance, and all our friends say that if we meet with any difficulty nothing will be so necessary as your presence.

When we delivered Lord Dedunstanville's letter to Mr. Graham, he said he would give us every assistance in his power gratis, if wanted.

Mr. Pascoe Grenfell says he can find a way to the Attorney-General, if wanted.

It is strongly recommended to us to get a carriage made here and to exhibit it, which we also believe must be done.

Trevithick called on Mr. Clayfield at Bristol, and is to call on his return from Coalbrookdale to go in the mine. Both Mr. Clayfields beg their most respectful compliments to you. Mr. Davy begins his lectures at the Royal Institution on Thursday next, and has given us tickets of admittance.
We remain in good health and spirits, Sir,
Your most obliged, humble servants,
R. TREVITHICH,
A. VIVIAN.


On January, 1802, the two partners were busy in London with the intricacies of the patent-laws. The legal men asked, What is the title of the machine? and what its intended use? But these apparently simple questions were not easily answered.

The common road locomotive had been worked. The tramroad and railroad engines were being designed: neither of those, or both combined, would serve as a title describing fully the objects of the patent. On their way from Cornwall to London they had contracted to erect their patent high-pressure engine for pumping and winding purposes on Mr. Clayfield's colliery.

The drawing to accompany the patent showed three distinct kinds of engines for different uses. How could Trevithick define a use which was to be general and universal? However, Sir Humphry Davy, Mr. Davies Gilbert, and Count Rumford, all well known for their scientific knowledge (and as active members of the Royal Society, the two former having been Presidents), came to his assistance and helped with their advice. Count Rumford was not quite up to the idea of the new steam-engine, to be worked solely by the pressure of steam on the piston; still he gave his opinion of a proper fire-place for the boiler of the steam-carriage.

Vivian returned to Camborne, and wrote:—

CAMBORNE,
Tuesday, February 23rd, 1802.

DEAR FRIEND,
I arrived here last evening safe and sound, and missing my wife, was soon informed she was at your house, where I immediately repaired. Your wife and little Nancy are very well but Richard is not quite well, having had a complaint which many children in the neighbourhood have been afflicted with; they are a little feverish when attacked, but it has soon worn off, as I expect your little son's will also; he is much better this morning, and talked to me very cheerfully.

Mrs. Trevithick is in pretty good spirits, and requested I would not say a word to you of Richard's illness, as she expected it would be soon over; but as I know you are not a woman, have given you an exact state of the facts. All my family, thank God, I found in perfect health, and all beg their kind remembrances to you, a, does everyone that I have met in the village.

"How do you do?" How is Captain Dick? with a shake by the hand, have been all this morning employed.

In a day or two you shall have all the particulars of mines, &c. Suffice for the time to say that N. B. Downs is as good as ever. Sold 83 tons, 4th inst., chiefly halvans, at £9-18s. per ton, and have not, as we supposed, postponed the sampling one month, but have sampled again 124 tons.

"In the Falmouth paper are the following lines:— "In addition to the many attempts that have been made to construct carriages to run without horses, a method has been lately tried at Camborne, in this county, that seems to promise success".

"A carriage has been constructed containing a small steam-engine, the force of which was found sufficient, upon trial, to impel the carriage, containing several persons, amounting at least to a ton and a half weight, against a hill of considerable steepness, at the rate of four miles an hour; upon a level road it ran at the rate of eight or nine miles an hour. We have our information from an intelligent and respectable man who CAMBORNE was in the carriage at the time, and who entertains a strong persuasion of the success of the project. The proprietors are now in London soliciting a patent to secure the property."

The same paper also mentions the increasive population of the parish of Camborne, viz. in one week nine women upraised, five pair of banns published on Sunday, and five more delivered to the clerk the Saturday following, eight children christened, and five weddings, a rare week's work, which have produced a few lines in verse, which I perused this morning; it describes the parson reprimanding the clerk, sexton, and organist for getting drunk, and himself at the same time reeling against the altar-piece at the Communion table and breaking one of the commandments.

Pray let me hear from you on the receipt of this. When you go on with the York Water Company be sure to remember in the agreement that the new engine is not to do more work than the old one unless paid in proportion, otherwise they may increase their number of tenants, and keep our engine constantly at work.

With most respectful compliments to Mr. and Mrs. Stamp, Mary, and the little ones,
I remain, dear Sir,
Yours most sincerely,

ANDREW VIVIAN.

Mrs. T. (your beloved wife) begs her love, and expects to hear from you often!

Mr. RICHARD TREVITHICK, Steam Engineer,
1, Southampton Street, Strand, London.


Trevithick returned to Cornwall, to go on with his experiments, and Vivian took his place in London about the patent: -

SOUTHAMPTON STREET,
Tuesday 23rd March, 1802.

Dear Friend,
Yours of yesterday came to my hand this moment, and Mrs. T. may rely on me to do the needful in procuring the balsam.

I arrived in town yesterday about three o'clock. I boxed Harry (that is I went without dinner) that no time might be lost. This I should not have done, you may easily suppose, had the whole of the business been my own; but here you are concerned, which puts all inconveniences to myself out of question. Of course I immediately repaired to Crane Court, where I was informed that the patent was to be sealed on Wednesday (to-morrow); and that they did not know whether the specification must be lodged on to-day, or a month from the sealing. They recommended me to Mr. Davy, at the Rolls Chapel Office, for information, where I immediately repaired, but could not find the gentleman. From there I shaped my course to Soho Square, and spent two or three hours with Mr. Nicholson; had the necessary alterations made in the rough copy of the specification.

At the Fantasmagoria Mary and Sarah Stamp and I got about eight o'clock, and returned about ten, well pleased. Today I have been again at Crane Court, to the Rolls Chapel Office, and to the Patent Office at the Adelphi, and have got the whole business in a proper train.

Mr. Horton promised me to get the specification engrossed immediately. Mr. H. soon followed me to the Rolls Chapel Office, to request Mr. Davy to engross it, as he knew more of the business. I spent some time with the little gentleman, and have confirmed my-opinion of him, that he is a very clever little fellow. He will do all in his power to get me out of town on Thursday evening; if so, you will see me on Saturday evening.

Mr. Davy by some means had heard of me, and says his sisters and self are well acquainted with Mrs. May, before and since she was married; and had I time we certainly should make a round party to some kind of diversion, but time will not permit me the pleasure. To-morrow having no business of the patent until eight in the evening, when I must call at the Patent Office for the great knob of wax; and the former part of the day will be to see Woolf, Watson, &c.

Mr. and Mrs. Stamp beg their compliments, also Mary, Sarah, and William; and must beg the favour of your best speeches to be employed in my kind remembrance to Mrs. Trevithick, Mrs. Harvey, and all that may happen to be at your house of your good family, and remain, dear friend, yours very sincerely,

ANDREW VIVIAN.


Davies Gilbert completes this history of the first locomotive by his recollections.

EASTBOURNE,
April 29th, 1839.

MY DEAR SIR,
The travelling engine took its departure from Camborne Church Town for Tehidy on the 28th of December, 1801, where I was waiting to receive it. The carriage, however, broke down, after travelling very well, and up an ascent, in all about three or four hundred yards.

The carriage was forced under some shelter, and the parties adjourned to the hotel, and comforted their hearts with a roast goose, and proper drinks, when, forgetful of the engine, its water boiled away, the iron became red hot, and nothing that was combustible remained, either of the engine or the house.

It must have been, I presume, in the preceding summer (that is, of 1801) that Trevithick and myself tried an experiment, on a one-horse chaise, as to the hold of the wheels on the ground for moving it up an ascent.

We placed the carriage in the middle of one of the roads leading to Camborne Church Town, and we discovered that none of the declivities were sufficient to make the wheels slide in any perceptible degree, as we forced the carriage forward by turning the wheels.

The success of the experiment induced Trevithick, in concert with Andrew Vivian, either to procure a patent, or to take measures about it.

After this I have not any distinct recollection of any particular fact, till, being in Oxford with my father and sisters in the winter and spring of 1804, I was earnestly entreated by Trevithick and by Mr. Samuel Homfray, a great ironmaster at Merthyr Tydfil, to come there and assist them in some experiment. I accordingly 1eft Oxford, and reached Merthyr Tydfil on the 12th of March, and on the 24th the engine which Trevithick had constructed for going on the railway, travelled from Pen-y-darren, Mr. Homfray's, to a works called Plymouth, and back again; but all the weight was accumulated on the same four wheels, with the engine, for none of us once imagined, if the weight was divided, that the wheels of the engine-carriage could possibly hold. In consequence of this great pressure, a large number of rails broke; and on the whole the experiment was considered a failure.

Within a year or two of this time, Trevithick thought of the iron tanks to be riveted to the timbers of a vessel.

He took out a patent, and associated himself with some adventurer, who became a bankrupt, and deprived Trevithick of all the advantages to be derived from this excellent adaptation.

DAVIES GILBERT.

J. S. ENYS, Esq.


Trevithick had spoken to Davies Gilbert in 1796[8] on the possibility of making an engine to work by the force of steam; and having made models with wheels again requested his friend to come to Camborne, and go with him in a one-horse chaise "to test the hold of its wheels on the ground for moving the carriage up an ascent."

This was the same post-chaise that we shall find was specially kept for Watt's use when in the neighbourhood of Redruth some sixteen years before, on his first residence in Cornwall. Mrs. Trevithick has spoken of drives with her husband in this much-envied post-chaise of three-quarters of a century ago, kept for the aristocracy by Mr. Harvey, who lived opposite Newton's Hotel, in Camborne. It was the only comfortable carriage to be let on hire, fit for gentlefolk, in the West of England, to supply the twenty or thirty miles of country from Truro to the Land's End.

Watt engaged the grand carriage for a week or more at a time; Trevithick and his wife only on special holidays and probably the use of the drag on the steep hills, or other trifling incident, taught Trevithick the amount of friction between a drag or a carriage-wheel, and the road on which it rested.

About 1800 Trevithick requested Mr. Davies Gilbert to come with him and witness the fact that carriages could be propelled by causing their wheels to turn round. The two friends removed the horse from the carriage when on a stiff hill, gave their strength to the spokes of the wheels, and the carriage progressed. This memorable carriage conveyed the two greatest of modern engineers while their thoughts were intent on schemes of national importance, and gave a proof to one of them that if its wheels were forced to turn, the carriage and its contents would progress; and on this hint the building was at once commenced of the first Camborne common road locomotive to be driven by the force of high-pressure steam, which in 1801 was reported in the Falmouth paper as "carrying several persons, amounting to at least a ton and half weight, against a hill of considerable steepness, at the rate of four miles an hour; and when upon a level road, of eight or nine miles an hour."

Stephen Williams was sure it was Christmas-eve when he rode. Davies Gilbert waited at Tebidy for the steam-carriage on the 28th December but it did not reach the end of its intended journey of three miles, because something broke. The gentlemen adjourned to the hotel for dinner and Cornish punch. Meanwhile the engine, being neglected, was burnt.

Williams heard that the engine ran on the 25th December, the day following that on which he had ridden. These different stories refer to one locomotive tried on various days, which shortly after its destruction was replaced by a new locomotive.

Mr. Hugh Hunter[9] recollects crowds of people going from Redruth to Tuckingmill to see Captain Trevithick's puffing devil. It worked from Camborne to Tuckingmill and back; the two places are a mile apart. It was a very hilly, bad road, much worse than it is now. 'Tis hilly enough now, but 'tis broad and straight; then it was narrow and very crooked. Some of the crooked parts of the old road may still be seen. I could not leave my work to go to Tuckingmill, but everybody was talking about it; and I thought I should like to work under Captain Dick, who was then engineer in Cook's Kitchen, and, after a, bit, I got in there as carpenter about 1802 or 1803, not long after Captain Dick had worked his locomotive; and I have been in the mine ever since, and had to do with many of Captain Dick's engines."

Mr. Anthony Michell[10] came to live at Redruth in November, 1802, and shortly after, about the spring of 1803, a great many persons went to Tuekingmill to see Captain Dick Trevithick's puffer locomotive that was going to run from Camborne to Redruth, about three or four miles: he was going with Mr. Hocking, a carpenter; Walter Bray, an innkeeper; and John Cole, a carpenter. I could not go. They said, that in going up the Tuckingmill hill toward Redruth, the driving wheels slipped around and sunk into the road, and they could not get her on; it was a very steep and crooked road. Everybody was talking about it, and they said that Captain Dick and Captain Andrew went before the King, and Captain Dick kissed the King's hand, but Captain Andrew was not asked.

My father, Richard Michell, was one of the old Cornish engineers; he made a model of Boulton and Watt's engine and took it to London for the trial against Bull, and losing that trial broke Bull's heart. There was no Post-chaise in Redruth at that time, but there was one in Camborne that used to be kept for Watt. Watt used to put a piece of his father's roll tobacco to dry on the steam-pipe, and then would roll it in his hands to make a pinch of snuff.

About twelve years ago my brother John made a working model of a steam-engine that stood upon a fourpenny-piece.


Mr. Hugh Hunter related these early incidents as one reading from a book. He had for more than sixty years worked in Cook's Kitchen Mine, where about 1809 he replaced the famous water-wheel, which fifty years before had, under the management of Trevithick, sen., been spoken of as the largest in the country. Hunter's new wheel was of the same size as the old one. It was of wood, 48 feet in diameter, and 3 feet in the breast.

The locomotive, says Hunter, ran between Camborne and Tuckingmill in 1802 or 1803, on the road to Redruth, from which place crowds of people went to see it, and the talk about it made him solicit employment under Trevithick. Mr. Michell, who belonged to the Eastern, or Watt Mines, spoke distinctly of the trial of the locomotive between Camborne and Redruth in the autumn of 1802, or spring of 1803, whenit stuck fast, because the driving wheels slipped round on going up a steep hill. The road is still in its altered state, pretty stiff; but thirty or forty rears ago the incline was 1 in 15 or 20.

He spoke with great glee of his father's going with Watt in the Camborne post-chaise, and making snuff out of his roll tobacco for the great engineer.

This second trial in Cornwall was a preparation for the greater experiment in the streets of London.[11]

Stuart thus speaks of the increased power of Trevithick's engine:-

The steam, however, is capable of a temperature considerably above that required merely to balance the piston, or 14.5 lbs. to each square inch; it would, as used in these engines, generally balance four or five times that weight; and, of course, the piston is impelled downwards in the cylinder. When it has made its stroke, the cock is turned by the lever or pin attached to the working beam or horizontal arm, into the opposite position. This opens a communication between the under side of the piston and the boiler, and between the upper side and the chimney," &c.[12]


Hebert, speaking of the origin of steam locomotion and of the marked difference between the Watt and the Trevithick engine, says:[13]

The merit of the first suggestion of steam-carriages has been attributed to different individuals, but the probability is, that the idea of applying the steam-engine for the purpose of locomotion was coeval with its first invention. Thus Savery, from having considered its possibility, and Dr. Robison, from having suggested it to Watt, have by some been regarded as the inventors; but almost as well might we regard the philosophic poet Darwin to have been the inventor, who prophesied:-

Soon shall thy arm, unconquered steam, afar,
Drag the slow barge, and drive the rapid car!

In a note to a late edition of Dr. Robison's ‘Mechanical Philosophy,' Mr. Watt states: 'My attention was first directed in the year 1759 to the subject of steam-engines by the late Dr. Robison, then a student in the University of Glasgow, and nearly of my own age. He at that time threw out the idea of applying the power of the steam-engine to the moving of wheel-carriages, and to other purposes; but the scheme was soon abandoned on his going abroad.'

In the patent granted to Mr. Watt in 1781 he gave an account of the adaptation of his mechanism to the propulsion of land-carriages. The boiler of this apparatus he proposed should be made of wooden slaves, joined together, and fastened with iron hoops like a cask. The furnace to be of iron, and placed in the inside of the boiler, so as to be surrounded on every side with water. The boiler was to be placed on a carriage, the wheels of which were to receive their motion from a piston working in a cylinder, the reciprocating motion being converted into a rotary one by toothed wheels, revolving with a sun-and-planet motion, and producing the required velocity by a common series of wheels and pinions.

By means of two systems of wheel-work, differing in their proportion, he proposed to adapt the power of the machine to the varied resistance it might have to overcome from the state of the road. A carriage for two persons might, he thought, be moved with a cylinder of 7 inches in diameter, when the piston had a stroke of 1 foot, and make sixty strokes a minute. Mr. Watt, however, never built a steam-carriage.

It is well known that Mr. Watt retained up to the period of his death, the most rooted prejudices against the use of high steam; indeed, he says himself: ‘I soon relinquished the idea of constructing an engine on this principle, from being sensible it would be liable to some of the objections against Savery's engine, vuz. The danger of bursting the boiler; and also that a great part of the power of the steam would be lost, because no vacuum was formed to assist the descent of the piston.' — Watt's Narrative.

The specification of the patent granted to Messrs. Trevithick and Vivian is descriptive of a high-pressure engine, the most simple and effective ever known, which has thus been characterized by the eloquent Mickleham:- ‘It exhibits in construction the most beautiful simplicity of parts, the most sagacious selection of appropriate forms, their most convenient and effective arrangement and connection: uniting strength with elegance, the necessary solidity with the greatest portability; possessing unlimited power, with a wonderful pliancy to accommodate it to a varying resistance; it may indeed be called The Steam-Engine!'


Stuart, writing fifty years after the date of the Watt patent, clearly defined the difference, in principle and in practice increased the steam pressure from one atmosphere, or 14.5 lbs. on the square inch, to 50 or 60lbs., and by it impelled the piston with four times the force of a Watt low-pressure steam vacuum engine. Hebert, who wrote thirteen years later, still illustrates the marked difference in the two men by pointing out that, in 1784, Watt gave his views of a steam-carriage, and Murdoch tried his hand at one. Watt proposed a wooden boiler, a cylinder 7 inches in diameter, with a stroke of 1 foot, and sun-and-planet wheels. It is not said that it was to carry condensing water, but such may reasonably be inferred. It was to convey two persons, but on further consideration, Watt said:

I soon relinquished the idea of constructing an engine on this principle (high-pressure steam principle), because of the danger of bursting, and also because no vacuum was formed to assist the descent of the piston.


Trevithick's high-pressure engine, which was worked by the force of steam 60lbs. or more on the square inch, wholly discarded the vacuum; and certainly without this radical change there could have been no locomotion.

No original drawing remains of this first passenger-carrying locomotive engine, but from the description of those who saw it, there is little doubt of the general correctness of the drawing made by the writer.

One of the gains from the Trevithick high-pressure engine was its portability and cheapness, when compared with the Newcomen or the Watt engine, neither of which could work without condensing water — which locomotive engines cannot procure. This engine had little or no resemblance to any steam-engine that had preceded it. No stone foundations, air-pump, condenser, condensing water, beam, or parallel motion, all the improvements of fifty years thrown aside; and the great and costly boiler of his predecessors was replaced by one so small that it seemed merely a part of the engine, as a stand-point on which to fix the mechanism.

The boiler was cylindrical, of cast iron, in which the steam-cylinder was fixed the tubular-boiler flues were of wrought iron, and entirely within the boiler. The exhausted steam having done its work in the cylinder, at a pressure of 60lbs. to the inch, passed into the chimney as a steam-blast, causing an intensely hot fire, and in its passage heated the feed-water.

The boiler-flues, together with the steam-cylinder, filled up a large portion of the interior of the boiler, reducing the weight of water carried to its lowest possible requirement, while a feed-pump, steam-gauge, safety-valve, and soft metal plug in the fire-tube, gave accurate supply of water, or escape of steam.

The feed-pole was constructed precisely like the plunger-poles he had fixed in the mine-shafts, and is unchanged to the present day.

Low-pressure boilers had no feed-pumps, being supplied by gravity of the water from a cistern above the boiler.

The heating the feed-water by the waste steam was also an application originating with him. The steam-cylinder had its steam-pipe and bottom cast as a part of it. The inlet and outlet of steam was performed by one simple piece called Trevithick's four-way cock. The piston-rod, cross-head, guide-rods, and connecting rods, were all of simple form. The boiler served as a framing for keeping the four wheels in their proper places, and also the cylinder and working parts. The two front or steering wheels were turned by a rod conveniently placed close to the engineman attending at the fire-door.

One result of these experiments was the immediate application for a patent, granted on the 24th March, 1802, to Richard Trevithick and Andrew Vivian, for steam-engines for propelling carriages, &c., which may be read and studied by the young engineer with pleasure and profit even in "this " age of greatly-improved steam mechanism.


TREVITHICK'S FIRST PASSENGER-CARRYING COMMON ROAD LOCOMOTIVE, CAMBORNE, 1801.

  • a, cylindrical boiler with wrought-iron ends, having inside it a wrought-iron tube bent as the letter U;
  • p, the fire-place, in one end of the tube;
  • v, fire-bars;
  • v, fire-bridge;
  • x, the ash-pit;
  • q, the return flue, leading to r, the chimney—the fire-door is not shown, as it would confuse the drawing;
  • z, the steam-gauge;
  • s, safety-valve;
  • t, soft metal safety-plug in top of fire-tube;
  • j, the bellows, blowing air into the close ash-pit, fixed to the guide-stays, and worked by the arm of its movable middle division connected with the piston-rod cross-head;
  • b, steam-cylinder let into the boiler, having a close top and bottom, with pipe for conveying steam to and from the bottom, and also the shell for the four-way steam-cock, and the steam-way from the boiler, all cast with the cylinder;
  • o, a four-way steam-cock, worked by a rod from the cross-head, with two tappets striking the lever, o, up and down, and having a handle, o, suitable for the engineman;
  • k, the feed pole-pump, worked from the cross-head; 1, the teed-pipe;
  • w, feed-water cistern;
  • n, case for heating feed-water by the passage of the waste steam through m, the waste-steam pipe, from the cylinder to the chimney;
  • c, the cross-head; f, the two side rods; g, the two cranks;
  • h, two driving wheels;
  • i, two steering wheels;
  • e, piston-rod;
  • d, guides for the piston-rod cross-head.

Foot Notes

  1. Letter from Mr. Joseph Radford, in 1850 states that it had been in his family since 1810
  2. The granite remains of the traditional granite steam-boiler at the Weath was within a short distance or Tyack's smiths' shop.
  3. Residing at Camborne in 1868
  4. Residing at Camborne in 1858
  5. The drawing of the Camborne locomotive, made from recollections of the various old men, who, when boys, had seen it, shows an ordinary smith's bellows of the present day. The writer had not then seen the statement of his friend Mr. Petherick, who is probably correct in stating that the bellows was cylindrical.
  6. Living at Redruth, 1869
  7. Working for Messrs. Harvey and Co., 1869
  8. See letter of Davies Gilbert, chap. iv.
  9. Living at Pool in 1869.
  10. Living at Redruth in 1869
  11. The writer is in possession of a small part of one of these locomotives been given by Trevithick to the late Mr. Francis Michell.
  12. See Stuart, 'History of the Steam-Engine,' p. 165; published 1824.
  13. See Luke Hebert 'On Railways,' p. 18; published 1837.

See Also

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