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Life of Robert Stephenson by William Pole: Chapter VI

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CHAPTER VI. South America (age 20-24)

LANDING in La Guayra on July 23, 1824, Robert Stephenson had to direct his attention to three important affairs and report thereon to Messrs. Herring, Graham, and Powles— the propriety of constructing a breakwater before the harbour of La Guayra, the cost and policy of building a pier for the same port, and the possibility of uniting La Guayra and Caraccas by a line of railway.

His reports on these three propositions were full and decisive. Having ascertained the characteristics of the harbour, the nature and dechvity of the bottom of the shore, and the direction and force of the seas at different seasons, he pronounced that the construction of the breakwater would be a dangerous experiment.

A correct idea of the seas (he wrote) sometimes experienced in this port cannot well be conveyed by description. One circumstance, however, which may give some idea of their force is worthy of remark. It occurred during a storm last year, when a number of ships were wrecked. A large block of stone, upwards of two tons weight, measuring about eight feet long, four feet broad, and one foot thick, was thrown up by the waves four feet above the usual level of the sea, and such was the violence with which it was projected, that on its coming in contact with the other fragments of rocks on the shore, it was divided into two pieces, one of which now lies considerably out of the reach of ordinary seas. It is very remarkable that during the storm to which I have just now alluded, scarcely a breath of wind prevailed, while the sea raged with such violence as to drive every ship in the harbour from her anchors, and several were wrecked on the coast. The cause of this extraordinary phenomenon is yet unknown to us. It is not improbable that it was some branch of the Gulf Stream, modified by the conformation of the coast, the nature of the soundings, and many other circumstances combined, with which we are totally unacquainted.

Though he condemned the project of a breakwater, he advised the construction of a pier; and in support of this counsel he gave returns of the imports and exports of the harbour, the amount annually raised for wharfage of goods, and the insufficiency of the existing pier for the business of the port. The cost of such a pier as he advised (140 yards long and 24 feet wide at the top) would be £6,000, including the freight of workmen and of the necessary machinery to be sent out from England. The principal material of the structure would be the stone of the adjacent mountains, which could be conveyed by a short railroad to the site of the pier. In sinking the blocks of stone, he advised that care should be taken to ‘ give the pier a gradual slope on the seaward side, so that the waves might be completely broken, and consequently their force almost totally extinguished, before reaching the body of the pier.’

When he came to consider the third and most important of the three propositions — the construction of a railway between La Guayra and Caraccas — the advantages likely to follow from the undertaking, and the natural obstacles to the work, caused him much anxious thought. The ground was very different from any on which he had ever seen rails laid. Mounting a mule, he surveyed the road between the two towns, and found it ‘ a wonderful example of human industry — not of human skill.’ The ascents and descents were so precipitous that he wondered how his brute contrived to keep on its legs.

To give you an idea (he wrote to his father) of the trouble I have already had in seeking for a new road, and the trouble I shall yet have, would be an impossibility. You may attempt to conceive it by imagining to yourself a country, the whole surface of which, as far’ as the eye can reach, is thickly set with hills, several thousand feet high, from six to eight times as large as Brusselton Hill. There is a valley, however, which extends the whole way nearly between La Guayra and Caraccas, up which I think is the only situation we could get a good road; but even in this valley there are hills as high as Brusselton. I dare not attempt any tunnelling, because the first earthquake — and there is no knowing how soon it may come — would close it up, or at all events render it useless. This circumstance, you will agree with me, puts tunnelling out of the question. And to make any very extensive excavations with high sides would prove equally fatal on the occurrence of an earthquake.

As he rode up the valley of Caraccas, with mountains on either side, he saw that to put down a colliery tramway in Northumberland, and to lead a line of rails through such a ravine, were widely different tasks. Having thoroughly examined the proposed hue, he came to the conclusion that, with everything in his favour, he could lay down the contemplated railway for about £160,000. The great risks, "however, that would attend the operations made him see that speculators would not embark their money in the affair unless there was a probability of at least a 10 per cent, dividend. The annual goods traffic between La Guayra and Caraccas did not amount to more than 5,571 tons. Therefore, if the road were made and opened, Robert Stephenson could not see his way to more than £14,180 profit on each year’s transactions — an annual revenue that would only pay 10 per cent, on a capital of £140,000. Against the probability that the estimated £160,000 would be exceeded, he put the fact, that large quantities of goods, of which he could get no returns, were annually conveyed between the two towns. Again, traffic would be augmented by the stimulus which a railway would give to commerce and agriculture. The question admitted of much debate; but Robert Stephenson, with that prudence which preserved him in after life from brilliant indiscretions, concluded his report with saying : ‘ I think it would not be prudent at the present moment to commence the speculation.’

Whilst he was thus engaged at La Guayra and Caraccas, the miners with whom he went on to Carthagena, and thence along the River Magdalena.

As soon as he could mounted his mule, and, accompanied by a black servant and by Mr. Walker, the interpreter to the expedition, proceeded across the country to Santa Re de Bogota. The journey was one of fatigue and peril. Cut-throats and ruffians were numerous in the country; but being well, armed, Robert Stephenson went his way unconcerned. He was very anxious to reach Mariquita, near which place the principal mines of the Colombian Association were situated; but the nature of his duties forced him to travel slowly. Messrs. Herring, Graham, and Powles had instructed him to examine the mineralogical characteristics of the country in every direction; and in spite of the care he took to conceal the object of his journey, it soon leaked out that he was the engineer of a new mining company, and daily he was accosted by strangers, ready to mislead him with false information. More than once he was induced, by misrepresentations, to ride a hundred miles after a mare’s nest. On one occasion he spent several days in following a guide, who promised to bring him to a fissure in a rock abounding with quicksilver. On reaching the spot the quicksilver was there; and he could not account for its presence, till a former governor of the district told him that a bullock-wagon loaded with quicksilver had, some years before, been upset in that spot. On reaching Bogota, however, he wrote to his father on January 19, 1825, expressing great confidence in the mineral wealth of the country.

Having reached Mariquita, he forthwith proceeded to examine the mines of the surrounding country. On every side he found workings; some of which had evidently been deserted because they offered no prospect of gain, whilst the appearance of the others induced a belief that scarcity of labour and capital, during the revolutionary struggles of the country, had been the sole reason for leaving them.

Mariquita was a spectacle at once imposing and mournful. Two-thirds of its habitations were in ruins. Heaps of rubbish covered sites formerly occupied by palaces. Of the public buildings, none were in a state of repair, except five churches. The convents were untenanted, and in dilapidation. Such was the havoc wrought by earthquakes, stagnation of trade, and disturbed politics, that of the population of 20,000 who had once inhabited the city, only 450 persons remained to see the entrance of Robert Stephenson, and wonder what had brought him to their ill-starred city.

Honda being the extreme point of the Magdalena navigable by craft coming from Carthagena, he hastened to inspect the route between the river port and the city in the interior, to which his men with their ponderous implements and machinery were advancing. The distance between Honda and Mariquita is about twelve miles, and the features of the country can be briefly stated. On leaving Honda the road is for a short distance precipitous, after which it rises gently for about two miles to an extensive breadth of table-land, beautifully covered with delicate grasses, and studded with groups of trees, some of which are in blossom at all seasons of the year. At points this magnificent plain is bounded by small isolated ridges of alluvial rocks. Some of these rocks are almost perpendicular from their bases up to their irregularly serrated peaks. Onwards the scenery is of increasing loveliness, and before Mariquita is reached, the route passes through groves of palm and coco, orange, cinnamon, and almond trees, pines and mangoes.

On the whole, the roads from the Magdalena to the mines in the immediate vicinity of Mariquita (the mines of Santa Ana, La Manta, San Juan, and El Christo de Laxas) were good — that is to say, good for Spanish America. A moderate amount of labour would have rendered them passable for wheeled carriages, except at certain points where it was clear that wheels could never run. In these precipitous portions of the route, which mules took two hours to cross, Robert Stephenson saw at a glance difficulties of which he had not been forewarned, and for which he consequently was unprovided. The heavier portion of the machinery could not be moved across country except on wheeled carriages.

In due course the first party of miners arrived, but they had to leave the greater part of their machinery on the banks of the Magdalena, and proceed to the mines with only the lighter implements, which could be packed upon the backs of mules. Of course an urgent request was despatched to London that other machinery might be sent out, so constructed, that each large machine could be taken to pieces, small enough for transport on mides. But before this message reached the directors, they had shipped off from Newcastle a large quantity of iron goods, which, on being thrown upon shore by the peons at Honda, remained, and to this day probably remain, useless and cased with rust. Robert Stephenson, however, did not lose heart. Taking his men, and the few implements which they could carry with them, he hastened to the mines, reopened them, explored their workings, and commenced working for ore.

The best mines, of which the Association had obtained leases from the Colombian Government, were those of St. Ana and La Manta, adjacent to the village of St. Ana. The distance between Mariquita and St, Ana is about twelve miles; but those twelve miles comprised the worst portions of the way from the river. After leaving Mariquita, the miners had to traverse a plain for six miles, when they entered on a broken tract watered by two rivers, which it was necessary to ford. The next six miles lay up the sides of mountains. Often the way ran over bare rocks, through narrow passages worn by the floods of the wet season, and down declivities so nearly perpendicular that no beast of burden, except a mule, could descend them. Standing on an eastern slope of the Andes, the village of Santa Ana (containing when the miners first reached it about nine cottages) afforded a grateful contrast to the desolate grandeur of the city in the plain. Instead of the intense heat of the valley beneath, its temperature was about 75° in the shade, and during the night 6° or 8° lower. A breeze played through the trees; and the soil, rich as the mould of an artificial garden, yielded fruit and vegetables in abundance.

On all sides (Robert Stephenson wrote to his stepmother) is an immense forest of fine trees, which are always green, no winter being known in these climates. The leaves are always gradually falling, but they are immediately succeeded by fresh green leaves. The ground descends suddenly from the front of our house for above a mile, in which small distance the fall is no less than 800 feet. From the bottom of this descent, the ground rises rapidly to the height of 1,000 feet, forming a mountain ridge which is covered to the very summit with strong trees that are always green. Beyond this small ridge of hills rise others still higher and higher, until their tops are covered with everlasting snows, and where not a spot of vegetation is to be seen, all being white with snow and ice.

A grander panorama than that enormous ravine, walled by forests, and crowned with peaks of gleaming whiteness. cannot be conceived. Clothing the curves of the interior hills were tree-ferns and magnolias, groves of bamboo, acacias, palms, and cedars. Another picturesque feature added charm to the landscape. Ped by the gradual dissolution of distant snow, a river ran from the cool heights into the hot air of the valley. By tranquil pools pelicans watched for their prey, and overhead, in the branches, parrots and mocking-birds, monkeys and macaws, gave colour and animation to the picture. Plashing with metallic lustre humming-birds darted from flower to flower, disturbing the clouds of butterflies which floated through the luxurious atmosphere.

Amidst such scenery Robert Stephenson spent more than two years, endeavouring with inadequate means to cope with gigantic difficulties, and suffering under those petty troubles which are more vexatious than greater miseries.

In the immediate vicinity of Santa Ana, the mountain river, falling over ledges of granite, had worn deep basins in the rock. One of these tarns Robert Stephenson selected for a swimming bath. The granite sides of the pit being almost perpendicular, bathers could not walk gradually into the deep water. In the centre, however, was fixed a flat block of stone, the top of which was about thirty-six inches below the surface of the water, the distance between the bank and the stone being at one point not more than three feet. Bathers who could not swim used to jump from the side to this natural table. Unfortunately a sudden fall of rain caused a torrent of water to raise this ponderous mass of stone, and bear it downwards to the plain. A few days later, a gentleman attached to the mining expedition, who was unable to swim, went to the tarn. Having leaped from the point, where he expected to alight on the block, the bather in another instant was struggling in the pool, Fortunately Robert Stephenson, who was an expert swimmer, came up just in time to plunge into the basin, and catching the sinking man by the back of his neck, conveyed him safe to shore.

It was not till the end of October, 1825, that miners had been collected in sufficient numbers to commence great operations. In that month a strong staff of Cornish miners made their appearance, and with them for a time Robert Stephenson’s troubles greatly increased. Proper care had not been taken to select sober and steady men. It was right that English workmen engaged to encounter the perils of a South American climate should be well paid, but the terms on which these miners had been hired were far too high. Insolent from prosperity, and demoralised by the long-continued idleness of the voyage, they no sooner entered Honda than they roused the indignation of the inhabitants by excesses which outraged even South American morals, Before Robert Stephenson made the acquaintance of the men, he received a formal and angry remonstrance from the Governor of Honda with regard to their conduct. The only thing to be done was to get them to work with all speed.

I have no idea, (wrote Robert Stephenson from Mariquita to Mr. Illingworth, the commercial manager at Bogota,) of letting them linger out another week without some work being done, Indeed, some of them are anxious to get on with something. Many of them, however, are ungovernable. I dread the management of them. They have already commenced to drink in the most outrageous manner. Their behaviour in Honda has, I am afraid, incurred for ever the displeasure of the Governor, at all events so far as induces me to despair of being able to calculate upon his friendly cooperation in any of our future proceedings. I hope when they are once quietly settled at Santa Ana and the works regularly advancing, that some improvement may take place. To accomplish this, I propose residing at Santa Ana with them for awhile.

There was reason for uneasiness. Robert Stephenson spoke firmly to the men, but he saw that his language, though moderate and judicious, merely roused their resentment. Scarcely a day passed without some petty exhibition of disrespect and hostility; and though in Santa Ana they had fewer opportunities for gross licentiousness, they could not be weaned at once from habitual drunkenness and indolence. The supervisors or ‘ captains,’ as they were called, according to the custom of the Cornish miners, were the most mutinous. Mere workmen, and altogether ignorant of the science of their vocation, they were incredulous that any man could understand mining operations who had not risen from the lowest employments connected with them. In the Northumbrian coal field, a distich popular a generation since runs —

Trapper, trammer, hewer.

Under, overman, and then viewer.

The Cornish ‘ captains ’ in like manner were strongly in favour of promotion from the ranks, and were reluctant to obey the orders of a mere lad, and, what was worse still, a north-country lad. Their insolence was fostered by the ludicrous respect paid to ‘the captains ’ by the natives, both Spaniards and Indians, who, misled by the title, regarded them as superior to the young engineer-in-chief. The ‘captains’ themselves immediately saw their advantage - and in their drunkenness told both the workmen and the native population that Robert Stephenson was merely a clerk, sent out to pay them their wages and see that the expedition did not fail from want of funds.

Quitting Mariquita, where the rumbling of earthquakes had not allowed him many nights of unbroken rest, Robert Stephenson took up his residence on the mountains, the curate of Santa Ana putting a cottage at his disposal. A few weeks passed on, and there were alarming symptoms of a general mutiny of the workmen against his authority. A new arrangement of the men at the different mines was the occasion of open revolt. One night early in December, the most dangerous and reckless of the Cornish party assembled in an apartment of the curate’s cottage. Wearied with a long day’s work, Robert Stephenson had retired to rest in the next room, and was roused from his first slumber by the uproar of the rascals, who, mad with liquor, yelled out their determination not to obey a beardless boy. For more than an hour he lay on his bed listening to the riot - fearful that the disturbance might lead to bloodshed, and prudently anxious to avoid personal collision with the drunken rabble. Of course he knew that their insolent speeches were intended for his ears, yet he remained quiet. He was alone — his opponents were many. If the difficulty became an affair of blows, the weight of evidence would be all against him; and even if he were killed, he would be believed to have provoked the conflict by his own rashness. But when the insurgents proposed that the ‘ clerk ’ should forthwith be taught his proper place, he rightly judged that it would not do for him to remain longer in his private room when his presence might still the storm, and could not aggravate it. Rising, therefore, from his bed, he walked into the midst of the rioters — unarmed, and with no more clothing on him than his trousers and shirt.

At his first appearance there was a low murmur, followed by a deep silence. Taking up his place in the middle of the room, he drew himself up and calmly surveyed them. Silence having had its effect, he said quietly, ‘It won’t do for us to fight to-night. It wouldn’t be fair; for you are drunk, and I am sober. We had better wait till to-morrow. So the best thing you can do is to break up this meeting, and go away quietly.’

Cowed by his coolness, the men made no reply. For a minute they were silent, and turned their eyes on the ground; and then, rising from their seats, they stumbled out of the room into the open air, to surround the cottage and pass two or three hours in shouting, ‘ One and all! - one and all! ’ thereby declaring that they were one and all determined on revolt. Thus far master of the position, Robert Stephenson fit a cigar, and, sitting down in the room, allowed the tipsy scoundrels to see him through the open door calmly smoking.

The riot being renewed on a subsequent night, he left his cottage, and, accompanied by two friends, found refuge in the house of a native.

It appears remarkable (wrote Robert Stephenson to Mr. Illingworth, December 8, 1825) that having been all my life accustomed to deal with miners, and having had a body of them under my control, and I may say in my employ, that I should now find it difficult to contribute to their comfort and welfare. They plainly tell me that I am obnoxious to them, because I was not born in Cornwall; and although they are perfectly aware that I have visited some of the principal mines in that county, and examined the various processes on the spot, yet they tell me that it is impossible for a north-countryman to know anything about mining.

Fortunately, Robert Stephenson had a cordial ally in Mr. Illingworth at Bogota, who lost no time in sending word that Robert Stephenson was the head of the expedition, and that the men from high to low were to obey him, and him alone. And in due course these representations were rendered yet more emphatic by letters from the Board of Directors in London.

When a better feeling had been established between the miners and himself, Robert Stephenson encouraged them to spend their evenings in athletic sports. In casting quoits, lifting anvils, reaching, beams suspended by cords, and throwing the hammer, he had few equals; and by displaying his prowess in these and similar sports, he gradually gained the respect and affection of his men; but he was unable to work a complete reformation in their habits. To the last he could never get from any man more than half a day’s work each day, and he always had nearly a third of his hundred and sixty subordinates disabled by drink.

Having moved from Mariquita to Santa Ana, he had a cottage built for his own habitation. It contained two rooms, the outer and inner walls being composed of flattened bamboo, and the ceilings of smooth reeds, palm-leaves being used for the roof. The entire framework was tied together with cords of the tough and pliant bijuco. In this cottage, commanding a view of the ravine, he was so fortunate as to have congenial society. Visitors came from Bogota and Mariquita, and for weeks together he had with him M. Boussingault and Dr. Roullin. The former was an accomplished chemist and geologist; and the latter had been invited by the Government to become Professor of Mathematics in an University which it was proposed to establish in the new republic. Under their guidance Robert Stephenson studied with system and accuracy the higher branches of mathematics, and various departments of natural science. Occasionally he made excursions to Bogota and Mariquita, to attend the horse-races or the balls; but such trips were only occasional relaxations, after weeks of work and study at Santa Ana. At this time, also, he took especial pains to rub off the remains of that provincial roughness which had marked him in boyhood. With characteristic simplicity he begged the few English gentlemen of his acquaintance to correct him whenever he used the diction, idioms, or intonations of north-country dialect. Knowing the disposition with which they had to deal, his friends took him at his word; and though at first their criticisms were frequent and far from pleasant, they never produced in him even momentary irritation. In one of his letters to his mother at this period he speaks of himself as dividing his time ‘ between eating and study.’ In study he was perhaps intemperate, but in his diet he was habitually sparing and moderate. Occasionally he took wine and spirits, but his usual drink was water. He smoked regularly, but not immoderately.

To have a complete picture of Robert Stephenson’s South American life, the reader must remember his strong love of animals, and imagine the bamboo cottage of the Andes peopled with four or five monkeys, as many parrots, and a magnificent mule named ‘Hurry,’ who, as soon as his master’s dinner-hour arrived, used to enter the sitting-room, and patiently wait beside the table until he was presented with a loaf of bread.

Whilst he was thus living in his mountain-home he received on the whole but few letters from England. During the first twelve months, indeed, of his absence from his native land, he heard frequently from his father, as also from Mr. Edward Pease, Mr. Joseph Pease, Mr. Richardson, Mr. Longridge, Mr. John Dixon, Mr. Edward Storey, worthy Anthony Wigham of Killingworth, and Mr. Nicholas Wood; but as time went on, these correspondents became remiss, and Robert Stephenson learnt what grief it is to pine in a foreign land for one’s own country, and at the same time to feel neglected by those at home. During the last twelve months of his stay in Colombia he did not hear once from home, either through the miscarriage of letters or the neglect of his father and stepmother to write. In a letter to Mrs, George Stephenson in the June of 1826, he observes, with a burst of that strong affection which inspired him to the last: —

My dear father’s letter, which I received a few days ago, was an affectionate one, and when he spoke of his head getting grey and finding himself descending the hill of life, I could not refrain from giving way to feelings which overpowered me, and prevented me from reading on. Some, had they seen me, would perhaps call me childish: but I would tell them such feelings and reflections as crossed me at that moment are unknown to them. They are unacquainted with the love and affection due to attentive parents, which in me seems to have become more acute, as the distance and period of my absence have increased.

The longer he remained in South America the more painful was his position. A very brief acquaintance with the country satisfied him he was at the head of an enterprise projected by visionary speculators, who had no real knowledge of its difficulties. The letters which he received from England during the first year of his absence, showed that the unsoundness of the scheme was known to the best judges of such matters in London. It is not agreeable to be tied to a losing concern. He felt that no credit could come to him from his connection with the Colombian Mining Association, and he would gladly have ended it. This feeling was strengthened by his English correspondents. His partners in the concern at Newcastle begged him to return to look after the affairs of the factory, which were suffering by his absence. They represented to him that he had no legal agreement with the Company, and that Messrs. Herring, Graham, and Powles would not disapprove his immediate return.

But Robert Stephenson felt that he was bound to stay at the mines. It was true the Company had not a hold upon him in law, but it had in honour-, and he resolved to remain, at any cost, till the stipulated three years had expired, or until he had obtained formal permission from the directors to leave his post.

The following letter, written to Mr. Longridge at the close of 1825, when he had hopes of honourable liberation from his distasteful engagement before the expiration of the three years, shows his state of mind: —

Mariquita: December 15, 1826.

MY DEAR SIR,— About a fortnight ago I received your kind letter, dated July 21, 1825. I was glad to learn your family was in good health, to whom I beg to be remembered in the kindest manner, as well as to my other friends in your part of the world. Your account of affairs in England was to me exceedingly interesting, particularly that part respecting the progress of the railway undertakings. The failure of the Liverpool and Manchester Act, I fear, will retard much this kind of speculation; hut it is clear that they will eventually succeed, and I still anticipate with confidence the arrival of a time when we shall see some of the celebrated canals filled up. It is to be regretted that my father placed the conducting of the levelling under the care of young men without experience. Simple as the process of levelling may appear, it is one of those things that requires care and dexterity in its performance. Your advice regarding my leaving this country, should my agreement be transferred to the Colombian Association, I refrained from following, principally from what Mr. Richardson said in his letter, contained in the same sheet with yours, in which he requested me not to leave the country without the consent of my employers. This I was inclined to think was the most advisable, especially as I have already been so long from England, and that the stay of a few months longer might secure me their interest on my return, and I still entertain hopes of being able to leave this country previous to the expiration of three years, as the agents in Bogota have recently represented to the Board of Directors the assistance that I might be to them in England in arranging such machinery as may be required in this country. What they have sent out is a pretty good specimen of the ideas they have of the difficulties to be encountered in the conveyance of heavy materials. If Mexico presents as many obstacles, and of equal magnitude, as Colombia, I can say at once that a great number of the steam-engines that were being made when I left may as well be made use of at home.

Since I wrote to you last about the Isthmus of Darien, things have taken a turn. Messrs. Herring & Co. appear to have relinquished, in a great measure, the idea of embarking largely in making roads, and in consequence have raised a private association, consisting of a few of the most respectable houses in London, who have made such propositions to the Colombian Government as seem to leave little doubt but they will succeed in obtaining the privilege. Their wish is not so much to retain the road, after it is made, altogether to themselves, as to lend the Government money and supply them with English engineers under a certain interest, and afterwards to share with the Government a proportion of the profits arising from the road. These propositions display liberality, and are of such a nature as, in my opinion, will induce the acceptance of them. This arrangement put an end to those that had been entered into by the agents in Bogota, and consequently renders it uncertain whether I shall have to go or not. For the same reason, I suppose, the models that I wrote you about are lost sight of. At all events, I shall visit the isthmus in order to get local information which may be of use to me in England, as I feel quite satisfied that the scheme will go on. We have heard many objections urged against the project, such as the difficulty of procuring European workmen in sufficient numbers, and more especially the nature of the climate, which is said to be extremely bad, from the excessive and continual humidity which reigns more or less throughout the whole year, and gives rise to fever and ague. Much doubt, however, exists on this score. In obtaining the privilege for sending steam machinery to the country for the use of the road, I fear some obstacles have arisen since I wrote you. Congress, I believe, has thrown out some hints that more attention would hereafter be paid to granting monopolies of that description. I have had a good deal of conversation with the house in Bogota. They seem to think it better to mention it to Mr. Powles. I see no advantage in that; but I shall make such arrangements with E. S. Illingworth, the representative of the house, that, if nothing should be done before I leave, a correspondence may exist between us. I have had so much to do lately that I have not been able to pay any attention to this matter.

I have my health just now very well, though I cannot say am so strong as when I left England. The tropical climates are far from being so unhealthy as is generally supposed by those in northern latitudes. The rainy season is the only objectionable part. It occurs twice in one year. The first season of rain at Mariquita commences about the middle of March and continues till the middle of May. The second commences near the 11th and 12th of October, and is just now terminating. The remaining parts of the year are dry and hot, though not unhealthy. Thermometer hot: in the morning 79° or 80°, at mid-day 82° to 84°. During the rainy season it is 2° or 3° lower. I have once seen the thermometer as low as 73°, when I found it uncomfortably chilly., And at this moment it stands at 82°, and not the least sign of perspiration about me, though I have been walking. It is extraordinary how soon the human body becomes inured to high temperatures, without suffering much inconvenience. We have now got a steam-boat in action on the river Magdalena, being the second experiment; but the boat they have built last has the same fault as the first one—that is, drawing too much water. Much money has been spent in this speculation, chiefly from bad management. The engines are from the United States, where I have heard they have the finest steam-boats in the world; and as the communication from Carthagena to that country is frequent, I have some intention of seeing their steam machinery. It is the best way home, a regular packet being established between New York and Liverpool.

I hope soon to be able to give you some more certain details respecting my route home, as I fully expect from what has been said to the Board that I shall be liberated. I wrote to my father and mother about three weeks ago. I hope they have received my letter safe; but much uncertainty is connected with the forwarding of letters here. The post-office regulations are bad. The last letter that Mr. Pease wrote me came to hand open, from having been stuck to others by the melting of the sealing-wax, which almost invariably melts in these climates. Wafers are much preferable.

My kind love to my father and mother, and believe me, My dear Sir, Yours most sincerely, ROBERT STEPHENSON.

P.S.—May I beg the favour of your attending to the payment of my yearly subscription to the Lit. and Phil. Society? I rather suspect it has been neglected.

Michael Longridge, Esq. Bedlington Iron Works, near Morpeth, Northumberland.

So he remained, doing his best, and fighting with great difficulties. The amount of work he performed in the service of his employers was very great. He explored the country far and near; made assays of specimens of ore; wrote reams of letters and reports, many of which, besides being unexceptionable as business statements, have considerable literary merits; drew out a sketch for an efficient administration of mines; and in every way strove to earn and save money for the Association.

All these exertions met with no proper response in London. Instead of supplying him with the machinery for which he had written, the Directors sent out fresh cargoes of costly and ponderous apparatus, which could no more be conveyed over bridgeless rivers, and up mountain passes, than they could be wafted from the earth’s surface to another planet; and to add to his chagrin, the projectors wrote to him, complaining that he had not already sent home a freight of silver. Some ignorant and self-sufficient persons reported to him the careless speeches and votes of the directors in the most offensive form. In answer to a statement in one of Robert Stephenson’s reports, that the operations at Santa Ana might be accelerated if they had either steam, or water power wherewith to work certain machinery, one of the worthy officials reprimanded the engineer for not availing himself of such a noble river as the Magdalena. Of course he could only laugh at a proposition to turn the Magdalena up to the Andes. But when the Secretary undertook to criticise the investigations of M. Boussingault, the geologist and chemist employed by the Company, and presumed to sneer at the ‘theoretical services’ of the man of science, Robert Stephenson became indignant. ‘ These men,’ he wrote. ‘ prate about the superiority of practical men over scientific men, being themselves neither the one nor the other.’

In his comments on M. Boussingault’s proceedings, however, the London Secretary caused as much amusement as anger. In his report, the French savant had mentioned the advisability of using ‘chiens’ in the mines. On this information, the Secretary condemned in the strongest terms the cruelty of employing dogs as beasts of burden. In his next homeward despatch Robert Stephenson took an opportunity to inform the zealous protector of the canine race that the word chien in French, and Hund in German, was a mining term, signifying a kind of carriage with four wheels, which was not known in England by the name of dog, but by tram; and that in the north of England a somewhat similar sort of carriage was known as a rolley.

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