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 2: Chapter 24

From Graces Guide


In the early part of October, 1827, the writer, then a boy at Bodmin school, was asked by the master if any particular news had come from home. Scarcely had the curiosity of the boys subsided, when a tall man with a broad-brimmed Leghorn hat on his head entered at the door, and after a quick glance at his whereabouts, marched towards the master's desk at the other end of the room. When about half-way, and opposite the writer's class, he stopped, took his hat off, and asked if his son Francis was there. Mr. Boar, who had watched his approach, rose at the removal of the hat, and replied in the affirmative. For a moment a breathless silence reigned in the school, while all eyes were turned on the gaunt sun-burnt visitor; and the blood, without a defined reason, caused the writer's heart to beat as though the unknown was his father, who eleven years before had carried him on his shoulder to the pier-head steps, and the boat going to the South Sea whaler.

During the next six months father and son sat together daily, the one drawing new schemes and calculations, the other observing, and learning, and calculating the weight and size and speed of a poor swallow he had shot, that the proportions of wings necessary to carry a man's weight might be known. In these calculations cube roots of quantities were extracted, which did not accurately agree with Trevithick's figures, who, asking for explanations, received a rehearsal, word for word, of the school-book rule for such extractions, which threw no more light on his understanding than did his own self-made rule on the writer's comprehension, though both methods produced nearly the same result. Within a month of that time he heard of the arrival in England of Mr. Gerard, his companion in travel, from whom he had separated at Carthagena.

15th November, 1827.

I cannot express the extreme pleasure that the receipt of your favour of the 11th inst. from Liverpool gave me, as I had almost given up hopes of ever seeing you again, which you will see from the letters that I wrote Mr. Lowe; and after the severe rubs that we have undergone together, the parting us by shipwreck, as I supposed, at the close of our hardships, I doubly felt, and from your long absence, I supposed you must have encountered some severe gales; but thank God that we are safe landed to meet you and the dear boys again soon. We had a very good passage home, six days from Carthagena to Jamaica, and thirty-four days from thence for England; and on my return was so fortunate as to join all my family in good health, and also welcomed home by all the neighbourhood by ringing of bells, and entertained at the tables of the county and borough members, and all the first-class of gentlemen in the west of Cornwall, with a provision about to be made for me for the past services that this county has received from my inventions just before I left for Peru, which they acknowledge to be a saving in the mines since I left of above £500,000, and that the present existence of the deep mines is owing to my inventions. I confess that this reception is gratifying, and have no doubt but that you will also feel a pleasure in it. I should be extremely happy to see you down here; it is but thirty-six hours ride, and it will prepare you for meeting your London friends, as I would take you through our mines and introduce you to the first mining characters, which will give you new ideas and enable you to make out a prospectus that will show the great advantages in Costa Rica mines over every other in South America. I think it would not be amiss for you to bring with you a few specimens, and after you have seen the Cornish mines and miners I doubt not but we shall be able to state facts in so clear a light that the first blow well aimed will be more than half the battle, and prove a complete knock-down blow, which in my opinion ought to be completed previous to your opening your mining speculation in general in London. I have made a very complete model of the gun, and it is approved of by all who have seen it. Be so good as to remember me to the lads and the Manilla man, and write me by return of post. I have not as yet made any inquiry about the probability of getting adventurers for this new concern. I hope and trust that I shall see you in Cornwall previous to our being together in London, as it is my opinion that the nature of the concern requires it.

I remain, Sir,
Your humble servant,


No. 42, St. Mary Axe, London.

Trevithick's hopeful character enabled him to enjoy life in the midst of neglect and poverty. During the eleven years of absence in America his wife and family received no assistance from him. Shortly after leaving his Quebrada-honda mountains of gold and silver, he was penniless at Carthagena. On reaching England be possessed nothing but the clothes he stood in, a gold watch, a drawing compass, a magnetic compass, and a pair of silver spurs. His passage-money being unpaid, a chance friend enabled him to leave the ship. In a month from that time lie counted on getting a share of the £500,000 saved in the Cornish mines by the improvements he had effected in their steam-engines. The ringing of bells and the talk of the neighbourhood made him forget that he was a poor man, and the Costa Rica mines were, he believed, soon to be in full working though not a single adventurer had been found.

The two lads Montelegre, coming to England to be educated, were sons of a gentleman of influence and authority in Costa Rica. On their perilous journey an attack of measles increased their discomforts. Probably one of those gentlemen has since filled the honourable position in this country of minister representing the Republic of Costa Rica.

November 17th, 1827.

I arrived here from Liverpool last night, and this morning had the pleasure of receiving your kind letter of the 15th. The brig 'Bunker's Hill' in which we came from Carthagena to New York, was wrecked within a few hours' sail of the port. We were in rather a disagreeable situation for some time, but more afraid than hurt. The cargo was nearly all lost. The ship was got off, but a complete wreck. The cause, however, of my delay in arriving arose from the want of the needful. You recollect Mr. Stephenson and Mr. Empson, agents for the Colombian Mining Association, whom we met at Carthagena. They kindly offered to supply me, but having determined to visit the celebrated Falls of Niagara, they insisted on my accompanying them, which I did.

I am truly rejoiced to learn that your countrymen retain so lively a sense of the importance of your services. I think with you that before sounding the public or proceeding further, it might be well we should meet quietly to talk over everything and arrange our ideas, and that Cornwall, for the reasons you mention and others, would be the better place.

The boys are well, and desire their respects to you.

Your sincere friend,



Trevithick was friendly with George Stephenson when, in 1805, he nursed little Bobby. Twenty years afterwards, when George had comprehended Trevithick's locomotive, and desired his son's return to England to assist him in making it useful, Robert Stephenson, grown to manhood, met his father's friend in the wilds of Central America, both of them having been engaged in mining operations, and both on their return to England. George Stephenson's son made for himself a fortune and a name, his friend earned poverty and neglect. These two men, though well known to the engineering world, had no mutual attraction, and in their native land remained strangers to each other.

January 13th, 1828.

I had very unexpectedly a letter from Costa Rica this morning by the way of Jamaica, including two for you, which I have the pleasure of transmitting. Mine is from Montelegre, begun on the 25th of August, and finished on the 11th of September, when Don Antonio Pinto, with some people from the Alajuela, was to start by the road of Sarapique on his way to Jamaica. His intention was to find a better route as far as Buona Vista, after which he would probably nearly follow our course to the Embarcadero of Gamboa.

Whether he succeeded in finding a less rugged road to Buona Vista I do not know. That he reached his destination seems clear from our letters having come to hand; but from their old date it would appear that he had either met with difficulties on the road or with considerable detention at San Juan. Montelegre writes me that Don Yonge had effected a compromise on your account with the Castros. Gamboa got back to San Jose on the 18th August, twelve days after he parted from us, to the great joy of our mutual friends. Mr. Paynter had been unwell after our departure. Both he and Montelegre desire their kindest recollections to you.

Yours most sincerely,



The newly-discovered track taken by the homeward bound over the Cordilleras soon brought Don Antonio Pinto and others into the field in search of passable roads to the Atlantic. Twelve days required by Gamboa to effect his return to San Jose, a distance of perhaps sixty miles, indicate the difficulty. Mr. Gerard passed some weeks with Trevithick in Cornwall arranging the best means of getting together a company to work on a large scale the Costa Rica mines.

January 24th, 1828.

Yesterday I saw Mr. M. Williams, who informed me that he should leave Cornwall for London on next Thursday week, and requested that I would accompany him. If you think it absolutely necessary that I should be in town at the same time, I would attend to everything that would promote the mining interest. When I met the Messrs. Williams on the mining concerns some time since, they mentioned the same as you now mention of sending some one out with me to inspect the mines, and that they would pay me my expenses and also satisfy me for my trouble with any sum that I would mention, because such proceedings would be satisfactory to all who might be connected in this concern. I objected to this proposal on the ground that a great deal of time would be lost and that the circumstances of your contracts in San Jose would not admit of such a detention; for that reason alone was my objection grounded, and if that objection could have been removed I should have been very glad to have the mines inspected by any able person chosen for that purpose, because it would not only take off the responsibility from us, but also strengthen our reports, as the mining prospects there will bear it out, and that far beyond our report. Some time since I informed you that I had drawn on the company for £100 to pay £70 passage-money, and would have left £30 to defray my expenses returning to London. The time for payment is up but I have not as yet heard anything about it, therefore I expect there must be an omission by the bankers whose hands it was to have passed through for tendering it for payment. Perhaps in a day or two I shall hear something about it; I would thank you to inform me should you know anything about it. The unfavourable result of the gun I attribute in a great measure to the change in the Ministry and my not being present to explain the practicability of making the machinery about it simple. When Lord Cochrane has seen it, and a meeting takes place with him, my return to London may again revive its merits. This unfavourable report does not lessen its merits, neither will it deter me from again moving forward to convince the public of its practicability. I shall make immediately a portable model of the iron ship and engine, as they will be applicable to packets, which have been attempted at Falmouth, but found that the consumption of coals was so great that the whole of the ships' burthen would not contain sufficient coals to take them to Lisbon and return again, and on that account it was discontinued. That insurmountable object will now be totally removed, and I think that Lord Cochrane will make a very excellent tool to remove many weak objections made by persons not having sufficient ability to judge for themselves. His Lordship, being a complete master of science, is capable of appreciating their value from theory and from practice. I should not be surprised to see him down here to inspect it. It will be very agreeable if his Lordship comes here at the same time as yourself; he is a remarkably pleasant companion. My hearty thanks for your mother's good. wishes towards me.

Your humble servant,


42, St. Mary Axe, London.

Gerard and Trevithick believed in the great value of the Costa Rica mines, and in the feasibility of working them profitably could capital sufficient be obtained. After a year or two passed in fruitless attempts to form a mining company in England, Mr. Gerard visited Holland and France with no better success and while on this mission died in poverty in Paris, though brought up in youth as the expectant inheritor of family estates in Scotland. One of his letters says:-

Robert Stephenson has given us his experience that it was unwise to take many English miners or workers to such countries. The chief reliance must after all be placed on the native inhabitants, under the direction and training of a small but well-selected party of Englishmen.

Mining operations in that country are of such recent origin that a mining population can scarcely be said to exist. English workmen are not so manageable even in this country, and much less so in Spanish America, where they are apt to be spoiled by the simplicity and excessive indulgence even of the better classes, and where the high salaries they receive place them far above the country people of the same condition. All this tends to presumption and intolerance on their part, and ultimately to disputes and irreconcilable disputes between them and the natives.

Mr. Michael Williams, Mr. Gibson, Mr. Macqueen, and others, were anxious to take up the mining scheme. The former proposed to send a person to examine the mines. This was a safe course, but not convenient to those who had made engagements to return without loss of time with miners and material to Costa Rica.

Mr. M. Williams informed the writer's brother that at a meeting of several gentlemen in London, a cheque for £8,000 was offered to Trevithick for his mining grant of the copper mountain in South America. Words waxed warm, and the proffered money was refused. The next day Mr. Williams said to him, 'Why did you not pocket the cheque before you quarrelled with them?' Trevithick replied, 'I would rather kick them down stairs!'

In the end Trevithick got nothing for either his South American mines or those in Costa Rica.

See Also

Foot Notes