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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.

Life of Robert Stephenson by William Pole: Chapter VII (Volume 2)

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CHAPTER VII. (Volume 2). Robert Stephenson in London Society. (Age 47-55)

THE year 1851 was the period when Robert Stephenson may be regarded as at the fullness of prosperity. There were few names more honoured, no man more generally popular. On questions either immediately or remotely connected with engineering, to state Robert Stephenson’s opinion was in general society to terminate discussion. In the House of Commons and the clubs he was always welcome—his sociable disposition rousing sympathy by means of a fine presence, a countenance singularly frank, an unaffected bonhomie, and that pleasant richness of voice that impresses the hearer with an idea of intellectual and moral excellence. He was to be seen frequently in the parks, where as he took his riding exercise he was pointed out to visitors from the country as one of the most notable of existing ‘ lions.’

Following the fashion of the day, Robert Stephenson, between 1851 and his death, used at times to wear beard and moustaches; at other times his lips and chin were shaved.

Of his martial appearance, at the times when his beard and moustache were at their fullest, a good story is told. Ten or twelve years since, in one of the streets of Soho, there was a pretender who undertook to tell persons’ characters by an infallible method. He employed a mechanical contrivance composed of a crystal globe and a framework, placed in the centre of the chief table in his reception-room ; the crystal globe being suspended from the frame in such a manner that it oscillated like the pendulum of a clock. Of course any disturbance to the frame or the table affected the vibrations of the glass ball. The ‘ wise man’s ’ visitors were separately made to take up a position against the table, leaning or lounging upon it, and by observations of the movement of the globe and of the images upon it, while the table was subjected to such pressure, the seer professed to be able to tell the mental and moral characteristics of those who consulted him. The imposture made a sensation. The knave was honoured with visits from great ladies; and the gossip of the ladies induced men of scientific reputation and high political influence to call on the quack. Amongst many others, Robert Stephenson went to look at the charlatan. In an ante-room leading into the chamber devoted to the wizard and his globe, he was requested to write his name and address in a book. Instead of complying with the request, he entered in the register the name and address of a friend, of whom there was small chance that the character-reader would have any knowledge ; that done, he passed on to the inner room, reclined against the table, and exchanged a few sentences with his entertainer. He took his leave, with the understanding that his ‘ character,’ duly written out, would be sent in the course of the next day to his residence. According to promise, the ‘ character ’ arrived at the given address : ‘ Frankness and decision are your leading characteristics. Of timidity and caution you are altogether ignorant. Bold, fearless, dashing, reckless, you would make an admirable cavalry officer, but it is clear that you are utterly devoid of mechanical talent.’ Such was the purport of ‘the character.’ Robert Stephenson’s imposing height and moustache had completely imposed on the impostor.

At 34 Gloucester Square, Robert Stephenson entertained his friends with liberal hospitality. Few private entertainments in London were more pleasant than his ‘ Sunday lunches,’ at which many chiefs of literature and science were in the habit of meeting. Baden Powell, Sir R. Murchison, Sharpe (the Egyptian scholar), M. Bonomi, Captain Pim, Sir James and Lady Prior, Mr. Lough (the sculptor). Dr. Mayo, Dr. John Percy, Brunel, and other not less eminent persons came to Gloucester Square for these receptions.

Robert Stephenson left Cambridge Square for Gloucester Square somewhere about the November of 1847. The purchase of the lease of his last residence (together with sums expended on alterations and repairs) involved an outlay of nearly £10,000.

Amongst the more important works of art contained in the house at the time of his death, were—

1. A full length, life-size portrait of George Stephenson, painted by Lucas.

2. ‘The Evening Gun,’ by Danby. This picture was exhibited at the Manchester Exhibition. After Robert Stephenson’s death, Mr. George Robert Stephenson presented it to Mr. Bidder.

3. ‘ The Twins,’ by Landseer. On this picture Robert Stephenson set great value. An opulent gentleman, breakfasting with him one morning, offered him £5,000 for it. ‘ But,’ said the owner, repeating the circumstance of the offer to his friends, ‘ he stood a worse chance of getting it by setting so high a value on it, as I knew him to be an excellent judge.’

4. ‘ Killingworth Colliery,’ by Lucas.

5. ‘ The Stepping Stones,’ by Lucas. This picture, painted at Robert Stephenson’s order, represents a girl carrying a child over a stream in Wales. The Britannia Bridge is seen in the distance.

6. Portraits of engineers and others, grouped in consultation with Robert Stephenson about the Britannia Bridge, by Lucas.

7. Railway arch at Newcastle-on-Tyne, by Richardson.

In sculpture Robert Stephenson manifested his taste by purchasing Power’s ‘ Fisher Boy,’ the companion of the ‘ Greek Slave,’ in the Exhibition of 1851.

The drawing-rooms of 34 Gloucester Square were so liberally stocked with works of curious contrivance, and philosophical toys, that they had almost the appearance of a museum. Singularly constructed clocks, electric instruments, and improved microscopes, by Smith and Beck, and Pillischer were arranged on all sides.

Robert Stephenson’s cabinet of microscopic specimens was most elaborate and extensive ; and any contribution to it was an attention he always cordially acknowledged. He had long desired to have some specimens of North American coal, and also of coal brought by him from South America, prepared for the microscope; but no one had been able to reduce the mineral substances to the necessary degree of thinness. After months of ineffectual labour, however, Mr. Stockman had the good fortune to get some specimens suffciently thin for the purpose. On receiving them Robert Stephenson was greatly delighted, and gave expression to his satisfaction by presenting Mr. Stockman with a costly microscope.

In society Stephenson was a charming companion. A ready talker, he was also a courteous listener. Never presuming on his reputation and position, he encouraged perfect freedom of discussion, and even on questions of engineering, he would hear patiently, and answer with respect, the views of his opponents. He was never guilty of dogmatism towards the young, or superciliousness to the timid. It would be difficult to imagine a man more considerate of the feelings of others. No description of his demeanour in the society of men would be complete which did not contain the word ‘ jolly.’ He was the embodiment of joviality, without the faintest touch of boisterous awkwardness. ‘ I never in all my life knew a more clubable man than Robert Stephenson: it is impossible for a more clubable man than Robert Stephenson to exist,’ is the emphatic testimony of Mr. John Percy. But merely one-half of the man’s social capabilities were known to those who saw him only in the society of men. His courteous bearing to ladies possessed the style of ancient chivalry.

In his own profession, Robert Stephenson’s popularity was even greater than his popularity in general society, or with the public. Perhaps no man of such eminence has ever had less of jealousy and detraction embittering success. In Great George Street he exercised a sort of feudal sway over a numerous body of engineers, who had served either under him or his father. By them he was always designated the ‘ chief,’ and whenever any of them undertook a new work, ‘ the chief ’ was the first person to whom all the particulars of the enterprise were confided. No one was afraid of him. His amiable and admirable power of making men of the most uncongenial tempers ‘ pull together ’ gained him the affection of men whose dispositions were far from gentle or conciliatory. ‘ Robert Stephenson made me! ’ one gentleman says, gratefully recalling his ‘ chief’s ’ influence; ‘ I never was able to get on with other men, till Robert Stephenson took me in hand.’ Men like Brunel, with whom he was continually at issue on public questions, never for a moment regarded him as ‘ an enemy;’ whilst most of them found him a generous and unselfish friend.

His liberality to professional subordinates in respect of money, was equal to his generosity towards them in respect of all that concerned their reputation. Every engineer working for him was secure of twice the payment he could get from any other employer, and was moreover certain that the merit of his labour would not be appropriated by the general-in-command. Two anecdotes, taken from many others, will display this side of Robert Stephenson’s character. At a time when the Stanhope and Tyne embarrassment made money a great object to him, he was engaged as engineer to a branch line in one of the midland counties, with a fee of £6,000, the directors permitting him to find an engineer to execute the works, so long as he visited the line from time to time, supervising the operations, advising on all important points, and personally bearing all the responsibfiity. Under these circumstances, the engineer-in-chief sent down Mr. A. to execute the work, on the understanding that they should divide the fee, taking .£3,000 each. Before a third of the fine had been put down, Mr. A. received an offer of more lucrative employment, and asked Robert Stephenson if he might resign his post, or find a locum tenens. On receiving permission to adopt the latter course, Mr. A. made the work over to a friend (Mr. B.), on agreement that they should divide the moiety of the original fee, taking £1,500 each. On this arrangement the fine was completed ; when, the time for settlement having arrived, Robert Stephenson sent Mr. A. a cheque for £4,000 instead of £3,000. Mr. A. called on Robert Stephenson to say that the sum was £1,000 in excess of the amount due; and the latter said, ‘ I am aware that by our agreement you can demand only £3,000; but as half your fee goes to Mr. B., whose services we have benefited by, I think we three engineers had better divide the £6,000 equally, share and share alike: men should never try to eat each other up.’ This story was communicated by the gentleman designated as Mr. A., but he requested that the name of himself and his locum tenens should not be published.

Another case is given by an engineer, who desires (out of regard to the feelings of other persons) that no names should be mentioned in its recital. On one of his more important railways, Robert Stephenson, as engineer- M 2 in-chief, and the members of the engineer’s staff, were engaged by the directors on fixed salaries, commencing at the time of their engagements, and terminating on the completion of the line. During construction, monetary derangements brought the works to a stand-still for many months, and threatened ruin to the company. The consequence was that for the best part of a year the subordinate engineers had nothing to attend to on the line, and were able to take employment elsewhere. When the question was raised whether the salaries should be paid for the period extending over a complete cessation of work, Robert Stephenson, who felt that it would be hard for an impoverished company to pay heavy salaries to an unemployed staff, and that it would be no less for the subordinate engineers (none of whom were rich men) to relinquish their claims, devoted his own salary to satisfying the demands of his assistants. In point of fact, he stepped in between the company and the assistant engineers, and removed the grounds of dispute by paying his staff out of his own pocket.

Hundreds of stories like these might be told. ‘ If,’ says one of the first iron-masters of the kingdom, ‘ Robert Stephenson grew rich himself, he made others richer also. No one ever had dealings with him, without being the richer for them.’ But while he distributed freely with one hand, he was far from clutching eagerly, and holding fast with the other. Money always seemed to him, business man though he was, a comparatively unimportant consideration. Of course, in some years, his professional earnings were very great. It would be difficult to state them within a few hundreds, or even thousands, for the engagements of an engineer in large practice are very complicated, his work being extending over years, and frequently the day of payment being postponed till long after the completion of the work. Possibly Robert Stephenson earned, during the years of most active railway speculation, £30,000 a year ; but whether he earned more or less than this sum, there is no doubt that he could have greatly increased it, if his palm had itched for fees. Latterly he declined to give his evidence before committees, or to advise professionally, unless he received more than ordinary payment; but this did not arise from greed of gain, so much as from indifference to it. asked for more in order that he might have less, wished to get rid of his employers.

In estimating Robert Stephenson’s conduct to professional brethren, it should be remembered that he always took all the responsibility of works on his own shoulders. Whatever mistakes might be made, he always took all the blame of errors to himself, and shielded his assistants from criticism.

He was not without his little whimsicalities ; but they were more remarkable for amiability than eccentricity. The greatest and best paid trafficker of his day in the commodity of locomotion, he could never do otherwise than regard those humble dealers in the same article — namely, cab-proprietors and cab-drivers — as an ill-used class. He always insisted on paying cab fares by a scale of his own. The Hansom was his favourite vehicle, and the driver was always required to drive at a brisk pace, the remuneration being at the rate of a penny a minute, from the moment of hiring; no fare of course being computed under a shilling. Friends frequently exclaimed against the extravagance of this penny a minute rule, pointing out to him that he did much harm by a liberality that made the drivers discontented with arrangements which, while they defended the public from extortion, anyhow allowed hackney coachmen to get a living. ‘ The law, which you do your utmost to make people discontented with, is one that especially considers the poor traveller,’ observed a critic, bringing his arguments to a conclusion. ‘ Exactly,’ answered Robert Stephenson, warmly; ‘and that’s just the reason why rich travellers should not take advantage of it.’

Robert Stephenson’s success was at its fullest in the years 1850 and 1851. His fame and popularity never reached a higher point. He had ample leisure for the enjoyment of general society; and his health, though far removed from all that a man who had only entered on middle life might reasonably desire, did not shut him out from enjoyment. In those years he acted as member of the Executive Committee and Building Committee for the Exhibition Building of 1851, and also as one of the Royal Commissioners†† for carrying out that noble undertaking. The testimony of a fellow-committeeman on the Building Committee, as to Stephenson’s services to the Great Exhibition, deserves place. Writing (Oct. 26, 1859), Mr. Donaldson says of Robert Stephenson and the younger Brunel:

Being a member of the Building Committee for the Exhibition Building of 1851, with them, and the then Mr. W. Cubitt, C.E., Sir Charles Barry, and Professor Cockerell, it was impossible for me not to be struck with the ready imagination, the brilliant ideas, and the quick invention of Brunel, and the thorough master of detail, the sagacity of perception, and rapidity of calculation with which Robert Stephenson examined each project presented to the Committee, calculated the effective strength of the parts, and threw out suggestions for some grand and novel features that ought to distinguish an erection so novel in its destination, and which admitted so large a margin for novelty and invention When Robert Stephenson was about to raise the last tube of the Menai Bridge, he attended one of the meetings of the Exhibition Building Committee, and invited the members to go down to witness that interesting operation of a gigantic work. Professor Cockerell was then ill, and other members were otherwise engaged; but Sir C. Barry and myself accepted the invitation, and went down. After the last tube had been floated to between the piers, and had been raised and deposited in the place which, we may hope, it is destined to occupy for centuries to come, there was, as usual, a friendly dinner party, and those present congratulated Robert Stephenson on the complete success of his magnificent conception, and expressed the cordiality with which they participated in the triumph of so remarkable a work of science, which had met almost insuperable difficulties, and had created a new application of a system of constructive combination never hitherto imagined. In reply, he thanked his friends for their sympathy and expressions of friendly regard; but he added, that even the triumph of that day did not recompense him for the days and nights of anxious toil and thought, the cares and anxieties which had attended the work.

Robert Stephenson had no country establishment; though there were few men who had more need of a place of retreat from the bustle of London life. Throughout ‘the season’ he was, during his last years, literally persecuted by importunate projectors. When casual indisposition kept the engineer from Great George Street, and confined him to his house, swarms of talkative, and for the most part profitless chents intruded on the privacy of the man whose too pliant temper laid him open to their annoyance. An intimate friend and colleague of Robert Stephenson says that, calling in at Gloucester Square to consult the master of the house on urgent business, he found every reception-room occupied by a crowd of persons. Being much engaged, and -wishing to employ his time with correspondence till he could have an interview with Robert Stephenson, the narrator asked the servant to show him into a room where he could be by himself, and write his letters in quiet. ‘ If you want that, sir,’ the man answered, ‘ you must go upstairs into one of the bedrooms, for every sitting-room is occupied with gentlemen who insist on seeing Mr. Stephenson, although they know he is unwell.'’ And the caller, acting on the advice, went upstairs and sate in a bed-room, till he could be admitted into the library.

Amongst these importunate intruders were amateur engineers with proposals for improved railway breaks. They formed a distinct class of inventive monomaniacs, and were so numerous, that Robert Stephenson adopted an excellent method to protect himself from them. Of every stranger who appeared in the ante-room at Great George Street, Mr. Sanderson (Robert Stephenson’s brother-in-law and business manager) was directed to enquire the object of his visit. Whenever the reply was ‘ Sir, I have a proposal for a new break, about which I should like to ask Mr. Stephenson’s opinion,’ the following conversation would ensue : —

Mr. Sanderson. * Indeed, sir. And what can you do with the break?’

Inventor. ‘I can stop a train instantly—instantaneously, sir.’

Mr. Sanderson (with an expression of horror in his countenance). ‘ Good Heavens, sir ! if you did that, you’d kill all the passengers.’

Inventor (suddenly modifying his statement). ‘ But, sir,—- I can stop a train gradually.’

Mr. Sanderson (bringing the discussion to an end). ‘ So can anybody else.’

After this the inventor seldom cared to prolong the interview.

What the country is to most London men of business, the sea was to Robert Stephenson. To any shooting-box within the four seas he would have been followed by clients and letters ; but once afloat he was safe from the intrusion of callers and raps of postmen.

In 1850, his first yacht, the Titania, 100 tons, (or ‘the old Titania,’ as she was subsequently named) was launched. A graceful vessel and a fair sailer, the old Titania had won a secure place in her owner’s affections, when she was destroyed by fire at Cowes. When Robert Stephenson did not reqire her services, she was always at the disposal of Mr. George Robert Stephenson, who in the second year of her existence sent a fine to the captain, ordering fires to be lighted on board, and the yacht prepared for the reception of himself and family. The first part of the order was carried out with such an excess of zeal, that an overheated flue led to the destruction of the vessel. When Mr. George Robert Stephenson arrived at Cowes, he found the Titania thoroughly gutted.

Making the best of his way back to London, Mr. George Robert Stephenson hastened to Gloucester Square with intelligence of the accident. On arriving there, he found his cousin entertaining a party of friends, who had just sate down to dinner. The soup and flsh were still on the table. ‘What brings you here? What’s the news?’ asked Robert, with his customary cordiality. ‘ Bad news, Robert! ’ was the answer, ‘ I ordered the Titania to be got ready for me, to take me and my family a few days’ cruise; and-—she’s burnt to the water.’ Certainly the announcement was far from pleasant; but Robert thought less of his own loss than his cousin’s chagrin. ‘Well, well, man—don’t be annoyed. You couldn’t help it. Sit down and have your dinner. We’ll talk about it over a glass of wine.’ After receiving an account of all the particulars of the mishap, Robert Stephenson put his hand kindly on his cousin’s shoulder, and said, ‘ Never mind, old boy, we’ll have a finer vessel than the old Titania, before we are many months older.’

Mr. Scott Russell therefore received instructions to build another yacht; and on June 21st, 1853, the new Titania (184 tons) was launched.

Soon after the destruction of the old Titania, Robert Stephenson wrote to Admiral Moorsom:—

24 Great George Street: May 25, 1852.

MY DEAR ADMIRAL MOORSOM,—I am really much obliged to you for your mention of the work on Naval Architecture, fori am not quite daunted by the loss of my very fine vessel, as I am again cogitating with Scott Eussell over the lines of another yacht. I find I can get no peace on land. I am therefore prepari/ng another sea lodging-house. I find it no easy matter to get rid of a multitude of questions which follow on a tolerably long professional life. Indeed I find that nothing gives me actual freedom from attack, but getting out of the way of the postman. The sea, therefore, is my only alternative. Ships have no knockers, happily. I shall read carefully the work to which you have drawn my attention before deciding finally on the details of my new vessel, and in doing this I have no doubt that I shall be able to say that I am indebted to you.

Not quite three months later Robert Stephenson wrote to the same correspondent: —

24 Great George Street, Westminster: August 6, 1852.

MY DEAR ADMIRAL MOORSOM,—I fear that I shall not have an opportunity for some time to come to visit Sheerness or Chatham, as I am about to leave for Norway in a few days.

I am quite inclined to think with you that a rectangular box with a proper bow and stern is the most likely form in plan for a huge line of battle ship; but the question had nearly resolved itself into one of section, and even in this respect I am persuaded the rectangle is not far wide of the mark. The approach to the wedge of Sir W. Simons is clearly more than enough for stability, and it cannot fail to make a ship with, armaments on board roll quickly and consequently strain everything to pieces. The rectangular tub will carry the day. Yours faithfully, ROBERT STEPHENSON.

The Titania (184 tons burthen, drawing 13 feet of water, 90 feet in length, and 21 feet in breadth of beam), was a yacht for a sailor to criticise with approval. Somewhat deficient in speed, it had every other good quality. The saloon and sleeping cabins were large, the former being 16 feet by 15 feet, and 8 feet high.

Robert Stephenson’s yacht was generally allowed to be the best manned in the squadron. In 1856, when Professor Piazzi Smyth, the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, was sent with very limited means to Teneriffe, to make scientific observations, Robert Stephenson placed the Titania and her crew at the professor’s disposal.

It was on board the Titania that ‘ the best ’ of Robert Stephenson was seen to ‘ best advantage.’ So elated was he with the sea-air, that the first twenty-four hours afloat were usually passed in school-boy hilarity. Every Sunday that he spent in his yacht he assembled the whole crew, and read them the service appointed for the day by the Church of England.

His delight was ‘ to show the sea ’ to a novice who could endure the motion of the waves, but was inexperienced in the delights of a nautical trip. To take such an one out for three or four days, and bring him home after ‘ a good blow,’ was a genuine pleasure to him. Here is a glimpse of the man, enjoying himself on deck. The late Mr. Kell, of Gateshead, writes :—

In October 1857, Mr. Robert Stephenson was in his (second) yacht, Titania, with a party of friends who had accompanied him through the Caledonian Canal and along the western coast of Scotland to Holyhead. On the morning of the 16th, they sailed from Holy head for Kingstown in a stiff breeze from the south-west. There had been a dense fog, and many land birds had been blown out to sea. On the passage, the yacht was boarded by several of them. When Mr. Stephenson came upon deck, the crew had captured some linnets, and having taken them into their fore-cabin, were in pursuit of others. Those which had been captured, and taken below, were sitting in nooks, and would not feed. Mr. Stephenson said they would all die, and ordered them to be set at liberty and the pursuit discontinued. Several linnets and a lark afterwards came on board the boat, hanging at the stern of the yacht, and then hopped upon deck. Mr. Stephenson became much interested in getting the birds to feed, offering them crumbs, which they would not eat. They attempted to drink the water washed on deck, but its saltness was painful to them. Mr. Stephenson then tried the experiment of steeping slices of bread in fresh water, and placing them before his little guests. To his great delight, the plan succeeded. Three of the linnets became very tame, and had to be driven from their seats on the ropes. When the working of the yacht required them to change their position, Mr. Stephenson always took care that they were not injured. The other linnets and the lark could not get over their terror at the disturbance in shifting the sails, and after returning to the ship several times, disappeared—no doubt to perish. As soon as the yacht entered Kingstown Harbour, the three linnets flew off, clung to the tangle on the dock-wall for some minutes, and then with apparently renewed vigour flew on shore, Mr. Stephenson exclaiming, ‘There, you little ungrateful birds, we have saved your lives and made Irishmen of you.’

In the autumn of 1850, Robert Stephenson went on a trip of pleasure to Egypt,— a trip that, like; his excursion to Norway, led to another important engagement. Whilst he was at Alexandria, en route for England, the then Viceroy of Egypt, Abbas Pasha, summoned him to Cairo, for a conference on a scheme for introducing railway communication into Egypt. The result of the intercourse between the Pasha and the engineer, was a commission from His Highness the late Said Pasha to connect Cairo and Suez by a line of railway. In consequence of consular representations the first scheme was abandoned, and the fine between Alexandria and Cairo was decided on, chiefly from the influence of Mr. Hugh Thurburn. In 1851, Nubar Bey was sent to London to make the requisite contracts, and on the return of the envoy the works were forthwith commenced and carried on with great spirit, so that the main line was available for public traffic in the opening months of 1856. The break of way, caused by the intersection of the main line by the Nile, between Kaffir Zeyat and Kaffir Lais, which is now spanned by the magnificent Kaffir Zeyat Tubular Bridge, was in the first instance met by the engineer with an enormous steam ferry, consisting of a huge pontoon, which supported a high staging furnished with a railway deck. Constructed so that it could be raised more or less in accordance with the varying depth of the waters of the river, this ponderous vessel received the trains, with all their burden, and conveyed them to the opposite bank.

At the close of 1856, Robert Stephenson, accompanied by Mr. Brederick Richard Lee, R.A., and Mr. Sopwith, visited the railway, and found the ferry at work. In an account of the trip, printed for private circulation, Mr. Sopwith gives the following account of the floating pontoon.

At Kaffir Zeyat the river Nile bends in a horse-shoe form midway or very nearly so, as has been already stated, between Alexandria and Cairo. This horse-shoe bend is about three miles in length, the intervening land being little more than a mile in width. In the middle of this curve, at a point where the river is 1,200 feet in width, is a ferry which conveys the railway carriages and wagons, as well as the passengers, from one side to the other.

Ferry boats, guided by chains, are used in some places in England, and were first adopted on a large scale by the late Mr. J. M. Eendel at Plymouth; but in the present case peculiar difficulties were presented, which required the especial care of Mr. Stephenson, under whose direction the railway and all its accompaniments were constructed. Impediments existed which prevented his adoption of a bridge, and a ferry being the only alternative, a design was made and the works were executed at Newcastle. To-day was the first opportunity Mr. Stephenson enjoyed of seeing the work in operation: and I must here attempt, however imperfectly, to convey some idea of the excusable gratification which he experienced, and the extreme interest and delight with which I viewed the great engineering work.

The dimensions of the ferry-boat and its super-incumbent framework are—eighty feet in length, the same in height, and sixty feet in width, horizontally, one on horse power, which wrought iron, with across the Nile in six minutes. Its central portion is a huge parallelogram, supported by iron buttresses from the projecting sides of the boat. The striking peculiarity of its construction arises from the necessity which exists to adapt the floor and rails which receive the carriages to the exact level of the railway at each side, under the great variation of level to which the waters of the Nile are subject, and which at times has been known to be as much as twenty-seven feet. By an ingenious, yet simple application of screws, this platform is raised or depressed, as the water of the Nile may require; and this, together with an exact adjustment of the rails, and the utmost facility of access to and egress from the framework, are admirably accomplished. In England, or indeed in Europe generally, or in North America, no limits would be placed on the inventive genius of an engineer, by any consideration as to the ability of workmen for conducting requisite operations; but in Egypt, where a prejudice exists in favour of employing native, and consequently unskilled labour, it was necessary to combine, if possible, superabundant power with the utmost simplicity of management: and this has been attained so completely that the Arabs, receiving less than fourpence daily wages (out of which they have to purchase bread, their only provision), are quite equal to the nicest adjustments of this ponderous affair To contrive and execute such a work at Newcastle, and send it some three thousand miles, was a work which Mr. Stephenson’s knowledge of Egyptian climate and requirements, and his proficiency as a practical mechanic, enabled him to undertake with reasonable and well-founded hopes of success. The experience of to-day, however, proved that a mind more sanguine than his would have been requisite to rely with certainty on the entire fulfilment of the accuracy which was aimed at. Seldom does it come within the good fortune of the ablest contrivers, even at home and amidst all the means and appliances of able cooperation, to effect all that they purpose to accomplish: and some slight misgivings—some vague doubts—might readily accompany the conception of so large a work for so distant a land. Six months or more have elapsed since its completion, and the first view of the perfect success and easy management of this noble ferry seemed to exceed the best anticipations of its designer, and I could not but participate in some degree in the laudable pride and pleasure of such a result. A brilliant sun and unclouded skies imparted great beauty to the scene, and I trust that the photographic views to be taken by Mr. Lee will supply in a great measure, the inevitable deficiencies of my verbal description.

But well as the ferry worked, it was found inadequate to deal with the rapidly increasing traffic of the new railway ; and subsequently a fixed bridge was substituted for it. This bridge, which is known as the Kafir Zeyat Bridge, was designed by Mr. George Robert Stephenson, after the model of the other Egyptian iron bridges, and was completed in 1860. Of the tubular structures over the Nile at Benha, and over the large canal at Birket-el- Saba, the engineer’s terse description is the best account for the general reader. In his article on ‘ Iron Bridges’ in the Encyclopedia Britannica,. Robert Stephenson says:—

The principal feature of the Egyptian Railway Bridges is, that the, road is carried upon the top of the tubes, and not in their interior.

There are two tubular viaducts upon the Egyptian Railway. The larger one crosses the Damietta branch of the Nile at Benha, and the smaller one crosses the Karrineen Canal at Birket-el- Saba (Lake of the Lion). These viaducts unite two old roads, formerly connected by a ferry, and each is contiguous to a vice-regal palace.

In the larger viaduct there are ten spans or openings, the two centre ones comprising one of the largest swing-bridges that has been attempted.

The total length of the swing-beam is 157 feet; it is balanced in the middle of its length on a large central pier. When open to the navigation a clear water-way is left on either side of the central pier of 60 feet. Each half of the beam sustains its own weight as a cantalever, 66 feet long.

The eight remaining spans are 80 feet in the clear, arranged four on each side of the centre portion, and the total length of the viaduct between the abutments is 865 feet.

The piers consist of wrought-iron cylinders, 7 feet in diameter below the level of the Nile, and 5 feet in diameter above that level. They were sunk by a pneumatic process to a depth of 33 feet below the bed of the river, through soil of a peculiarly shifting character, and are filled in with concrete.

There are six of these cylinders in the central pier which supports the swing-bridge; and the adjacent piers on either side of the centre have each four cylinders; each of the remaining piers has two cylinders only. The tops of the cylinders are covered by cast-iron circular plates, which rest entirely upon the concrete, special care being taken to prevent any contact with the cylinders. On these circular plates rest the upper cast-iron plates which connect the piers, and form a seating for the bearing-plates of the beams.

The beams or tubes are 6 feet 6 inches deep, and 6 feet 6 inches wide at the bottom, tapering to 6 feet wide at the top, and they rest at their ends on rollers working between planed surfaces to admit of the motion caused by expansion and contraction. The tubes carry a single line of way on their tops, the rails VOL. n. N being laid on longitudinal sleepers; and there is also a roadway 4 feet wide on either side, supported by wrought-iron brackets bolted to the sides of the tube.

These roadways are of corrugated iron, resting on the brackets, and stiffened by strips of bar-iron placed transversely on the top.

The six cylinders for the central pier are also provided with cast-iron circular plates, as before described, and surmounted by a framework of cast iron, uniting the tops of the cylinders, and serving as the lower tramway for the rolling machinery.

The revolving machinery consists of a turn-table containing eighteen accurately turned conical rollers, their angle being determined to the greatest nicety, and corresponding with the angular surfaces of the tram-plates between which they revolve.

The diameter of this turn-table is 19 feet from centre to centre of the rollers.

The whole of the rollers, together with the wrought-iron circular frame to which they are attached, form an independent system, usually termed the ‘ live-ring,’ held in its position by the central pivot. The frame of the ‘live-ring’ is connected with the rollers by radial spindles, with gun-metal gudgeons at the periphery and centre. And to prevent any difference in angular speed between the rollers and centre portion, a very excellent arrangement is adopted, which consists in a diagonal strap passing over the centre wheel, and extending to the outer periphery. This strap is keyed up to any adjustment, in which it firmly keeps the radial spindles.

The swing-tube is firmly attached to the upper tram-plate by a system of cast-iron bracket work, and strong bolts and nuts; forming, in fact, as is most essential at this point, an exceedingly rigid attachment. The centre pivot is of forged iron, 9 inches diameter, and turned accurately to fit its bearings. To insure a firm fixing for the pivot, it is made to pass through the entire depth of the lower tram-plate into a socket provided for the purpose, in which position it is firmly keyed. The bridge is turned with facility by a capstan worked by two men, with gearing communicating with the large rack surrounding the lower tram-plate.

To prevent accident to the swing-bridge when open, ‘ fenders ’ are placed up and down stream, similar in construction to the piers of the bridge. At the bearing ends of the swing-bridge arrangements are made for locking it in its position. These consist of fixed inclined planes attached to the under-surface of the bearing ends of the tube, and corresponding wedges which slide on the piers, which are made to recede and advance, by means of a screw turned by gear-work.

In the Birket-el-Saba Viaduct, the swing portion forms spans on each side of 43 feet, and the fixed portion consists of two spans of 70 feet each. In other respects the viaducts are precisely similar.

Both were commenced in May 1853, and completed for traffic in October 1855.*

In the year 1852, Mr. Alexander Boss, who had carefully examined the natural features of the St, Lawrence at Montreal, and had even prepared a plate iron tubular bridge for Mr. John Young (whom Canada has greatly to thank for the bridge of which she is so justly proud), consulted the inventor of tubular structures. Robert Stephenson gave the project his most earnest consideration, visited Canada, produced an elaborate design for the bridge, and as engineer-in-chief directed the operations that resulted in the ‘ Victoria (St. Lawrence) Bridge.’

In February 1853, the survey for the bridge, on the site it now occupies, was entered upon. In the following August, Robert Stephenson crossed the Atlantic, personally inspected the shores of the St. Lawrence, had interviews with the Directors of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada, reconsidered his designs, settled the terms of his contract with the company, and with a half promise to visit Canada again in the course of the following year, returned to England, leaving Mr. Alexander Ross on the spot to carry out the plans agreed upon.

Of this Canadian trip, Mr. Samuel Bidder gives the following particulars:—

I had the pleasure of accompanying Mr. Stephenson to the North American continent, and will relate one incident which you may think worth recording. We travelled from Portland into the State of Maine to Montreal, a distance of 300 miles, by a special train drawn by a Bogie engine, the first known engine of this kind having been built by Mr. Stephenson himself, which, it appears, was copied by the Americans as being the most suitable for their railways.

Mr. Stephenson had never had an opportunity of seeing what kind of road such an engine could travel over with safety before the present occasion.

The railway through the White Mountain district had only been opened a few days, and we were told that many of the embankments had sunk 5 or 6 feet, but they (the directors) ‘ guessed we should get along pretty safe; ’ and sure enough we found the embankments looking more like the hollows between the crests of the waves in the Atlantic, than anything else I can compare them to. Mr. Stephenson and myself stood on the platform of the cars, and had to hold on to the rails by both hands, as hard as possible, to prevent ourselves from being thrown off, for over this road we went, and round curves not more than 200 yards radius, at a speed of from 15 to 20 miles an hour, and I shall never forget the expression of Mr. Stephenson’s countenance during the journey. On our arrival at the boundary line, which divides Canada from the States, Mr. Stephenson jumped off, and examined the engine, and said it was the most dangerous ride he had ever had in his life, but that he was not sorry he had had an opportunity of proving and witnessing what this extraordinary machine was capable of performing. An engine built on the principle of those now used in England would not have kept on the rails a hundred yards, and yet this Bogie engine took us a distance of 58 miles, over such a road as I have described, in perfect safety.

At Montreal, Robert Stephenson was entertained (on August 19, 1853) by the citizens, with a banquet as magnificent as any that is mentioned in the records of that hospitable city. The speech made on the occasion by Robert Stephenson was the best he had ever made in public. He said :—

He had come to Canada upon a professional visit, and from what he had seen of the country, he was convinced that the present was but the commencement of a great railway system ; and he ventured to express his sincere desire, that Canada should avoid those errors in producing the system which other countries had committed with theirs. Canada was yet only on the threshold, and the proper laying out of the plan he thought of as much importance as the introduction of railroads themselves. He hoped that the legislature of this country would not do as those of some countries had done, for although there were difficulties in the way, yet here it appeared to him they were principally those of legislation. Canada, at present, had an unoccupied field before her, and much would depend upon the first step. If it were taken with judgment, other difficulties would be of comparatively little importance. If it were taken injudiciously, what seemed but a speck in the west, might become a thunder-cloud. The dangers might not be apparent to Canadians at present, but before he sat down he would endeavour to make them sensible of them. He had seen the rise and progress of railways in England, and those who had not could hardly appreciate the enormous losses occasioned by false legislation. Few, indeed, knew the rise and progress of legislation with respect to them. After obstacles raised in the first instance had been removed, the people became sensible of the immense advantages of the railway horse, and the question assumed a new phase. Then all places rushed into railway speculations. The country was tolerably well filled up with railway lines. Competition arose within the walls of parliament, not for interest, so much as for vanity. Parliamentary committees took into their consideration, not who was right and who was wrong, but entered upon questions entirely subsidiary, not at all connected with the profit of the lines, or the necessity for making them. The consequence was, that committees sometimes decided upon different lines, upon reasons entirely apart from their real merits, or the scientific questions involved in the details. There was one district through which it was proposed to run two lines, and there was no other difficulty between them than the simple rivalry, that, if one got a charter, the other might also. But here, where the committee might have given both, they gave neither. In another instance, two lines were projected through a barren country, and the committee gave the one which afforded the least accommodation to the public. In another, where a line was to be run, merely to shorten the time by a few minutes, leading through a mountainous country, the committee gave both; so that where the committee might have given both, they gave neither, and where they should have given neither, they gave both. Such a species of legislation was faulty, and he hoped it would not be imitated in Canada. There was, indeed, a committee, then sitting in England, the attention of which he had called to these facts. After lines were granted, the competition which began within the walls of parliament continued when the lines came to be put in operation. People said it was necessary to have competition for the benefit of the public, that the whole country would be under the dominion of a railway corporation, and competition was the only means of checking it, and preserving moderate prices. Well, he could say, upon the authority of the Board of Trade, and from his own knowledge, that, since competing lines commenced, out of 300 millions of pounds expended, 60 millions had been wasted; that is, in duplicate lines. But, in order to mark the inconsistency of the proceedings in railway legislation, when the London and Birmingham was asked for the feasibility of the route was doubted; great difficulties were suggested as being in the way; engineers were called in to decide everything in opposition to it; the estimates were disputed and doubted; it was maintained that the company ought to prove the traffic that was to go over it, and that 6 or 8 per cent, were to be obtained on the money invested ; in fact, a most paternal part was taken in the project. Before parliament granted the charter, before the people were allowed to expend their own money, they were asked to prove the traffic, and the profit, and show a regular contract that the work was to be done within the estimate. The people clamoured for competition, and parliament granted the expenditure of two capitals. At that time it was believed that competition would compel them to carry passengers almost for nothing. But, what was the result ? The opulent were struck down, and the poor were reduced to penury. Nothing but the resources of British commerce could have sustained such a shock. These serious difficulties of legislation it might he difficult to escape from in England, but they should be weighed well before they were brought into Canada, either by the present or any future government. It was said, that all was right, that the public gained what the proprietors lost. But the public had not gained. Capital was absorbed and diverted from other profitable employment. Lines had been located, which never would have been built, had a directing genius presided over the chartering of them; and he did not envy the man who could glory in one part of the community prospering by the ruins of another. This error had been most disastrous in England, and he hoped it would not be committed in Canada. Competition had answered no useful purpose. Like poverty, a mother of invention, competition had invented the remedy—amalgamation. There is an instance, where, including water communications, there are five competing lines. The result from competition was, that directors laid their heads together and raised tolls to the highest; but in Canada, where there was no competition nothing was to be done but to develop resources, and make the highest possible profits. In Belgium, which had employed one or two men to lay out the country, so as to obtain the greatest amount of accommodation with the least expenditure of money, the speed obtained was not perhaps so great as that in England; but it would bear comparison with that in any other country. The minor points of the country were filled up according to the original design, and all conducted with economy. In France no lines were allowed to be made unless they were called for, and made part of a great system. France was slow, but in other respects bore favourable comparison with Glreat Britain, where competition had marred the whole scheme. Switzerland was a collection of cantons, each preferring its own interests as to gauge and building without reference to the whole. They decided to send to England for an engineer to design for them a net-work of railways, and he (Mr. Stephenson) had the honour to be called in, and assisted in designing their railways from end to end, and capital was now flowing in, the country being satisfied because there were no rival lines; and there was no doubt of their completion. As Canadians wanted English capital, he advised them to be very guarded in the system they should adopt, especially in regard to reckless competition. He would for himself hesitate to recommend his friends in England to invest their money in Canadian railways, if reckless competition were allowed, for nothing but loss and confusion could result from such a course. Belgium, France, and Switzerland, all possessed a great advantage over England in having no rival lines, and in having laid out their main lines for the benefit of the whole country, rather than allowing to any town, or any portion of the country, a preponderating voice in their location. They had established from end to end of their countries a system in harmony with itself. They could not prevent portions of country having their railways, but such railways were too small to interfere with the great design. It was the interest of the whole country that was involved, not that of individuals, nor of particular localities. Canadians ought to have a system which would work in all harmony. What was to be gained by ruinous competition? If passions and animosities were brought into play, nothing could result but destruction of property and loss of life too. He could not offer a better comparison between a system judiciously designed and a wild competition, than the steamboat he was on board on the previous night. He found that vessel was propelled by two engines, each separate from the other, and he would suppose that they were under the command of two rival companies. These would have their opponents and friends on board; and he would suppose that the engineers quarrelled: what progress would they have made ? Would they have reached Three Rivers ? He had one word more to say. He could not leave the city without saying something on the all-important subject of the bridge. The St. Lawrence was a most magnificent river, and he had received abundant information respecting it from Mr. Alexander Ross, who had been in the country several months ago, as to what the bridge ought to be. It was a startling project and at the time he had no idea of having anything to do with it. But having studied the admirable report of Mr. T. C. Keefer, and the philosophical paper drawn up by Mr. Logan, he could understand from what had been written the general circumstances to be considered. If possible, he would be in Canada again at the breaking up of the ice. Still they might be anxious to learn his impressions about the bridge, and he would proceed to state them. According to his ideas there was no difficulty to be apprehended from the ice. From calculations he had made since his arrival in Montreal, he was satisfied that no shove that could come against the piers would be sufficient to displace them. The people here had no doubt seen the formation of the ice in winter, and its breaking up in the spring. He had himself noticed these stupendous and beautiful phenomena, of course, but he had not seen them as they are at Montreal. He would say, however, that there were facts attending the breaking up of ice, which were susceptible of mathematical demonstration, and the pressure of the shove was also capable of being valued. It was therefore as easy as the addition of two and two to estimate the pressure necessary to retain the piers in their places. He had been told that the ice was piled thirty and forty feet high, but its pressure could be easily withstood. He had calculated that if ice were piled twice the height it would not disturb a well-constructed bridge. So far, therefore, he would say for its permanency. He would also perhaps be expected to say something about its site. The minds of the citizens were agitated on the question whether it should be below or above the town. He thought it his duty not to conceal his opinion on this point, nor to permit the agitation to go on, as if he hesitated on the point. It was a difficult and important subject, but he had brought his best judgment to bear upon it, and having no interest in it one way or another, he was in a situation to make an independent selection. Whether the place was to be that laid out by Mr. Keefer or not, he was satisfied it must be above the island, and not far below Nun’s Island.

On his return to England Robert Stephenson sustained a great and irreparable loss in the death of his brother-in-law Mr. John Sanderson. The brother of Mrs. Stephenson (Robert’s ‘ Fanny ’ of the old Newcastle days) had for years been one of his closest personal friends, dwelling in his house, and exercising a salutary supervision over his pecuniary arrangements, both in Gloucester Square and Great George Street. Robert had so strong an affection for him, that after his death, he could not for months endure the solitude of Gloucester Square. Closing the house, he took apartments in ‘ Thomas’s Hotel,’ Berkeley Square, and did not return to his residence till twelve months of mourning had expired.

While Robert Stephenson undertook the chief command in the construction of the St. Lawrence Bridge, Mr. Alexander Ross was united with him as co-engineer, to carry out on the spot all that very important part of the work which the engineer-in-chief could not personally superintend. The positions and mutual relations of the two engineers were accurately defined in the deed of contract made September 29, 1853, between the Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada, of the one part, and William Jackson, of Birkenhead, and Samuel Morton Peto, Thomas Brassey, and Edward Ladd Betts, all of London, in England, contractors, of the other part. ‘ The contractors,’ runs the language of the deed, ‘ will make, build, and construct the said tubular bridge over the said River St. Lawrence, at or near Montreal, according to the plans, sections, and specifications prepared and drawn by Robert Stephenson, of London, aforesaid. Civil Engineer, M.P., and Alexander M'Kenzie Ross, of Montreal, C.E.’ The deed then requires : ‘ The Bridge when completed to be in perfect repair, and of the best and most substantial character, and to be approved of by the said Robert Stephenson.’ It further provides, ‘ that in case of the death, refusal, or inability to act of the said Alexander M'Kenzie Ross, another engineer shall from time to time be appointed by the said Robert Stephenson, in place of the said Alexander M'Kenzie Ross, and who shall have all the powers of the said Alexander M'Kenzie Ross. And in the event of the death, or refusal, or inability of the said Robert Stephenson, then all things then remaining to be done by the said Robert Stephenson shall be done by an eminent civil engineer, to be appointed by the president for the time being of the Institution of Civil Engineers in England, upon the requisition of the parties hereto, or either of them.’ Thus, after completion of the work, Robert Stephenson's approval— given on his sole and undivided responsibility— was required before the contractors should be held to have discharged their engagements. In case of the death, refusal, or retirement of the resident engineer, it devolved on the engineer-in-chief to appoint his successor; whereas, in case of Robert Stephenson’s death, refusal, or retirement, Mr. Ross was not qualified to nominate an engineer to occupy the vacated place, but was required to act with the nominee of the President for the time being of the Institution of Civil Engineers of England.

Marking yet more strongly the high control to be exercised by the engineer-in-chief, a subsequent passage of the contract runs, ‘ that if any question or difference of opinion shall arise between the parties hereto, as to this agreement, or any matter connected therewith or arising thereout in any way, &c., it shall be referred to the absolute decision of the said Robert Stephenson, as sole arbitrator; and the decision of the said Robert Stephenson shall be binding and conclusive upon both parties as to the question or difference of opinion so referred to him.’

From the time of the construction of the London and Birmingham Line, when he acted so frequently as arbitrator between the company and their numerous contractors, Robert Stephenson was constantly referred to in the disputes of business men. He was no good friend to lawyers. The amount of litigation he prevented by amiable counsel would almost justify his memory being held in abomination in Chancery Lane.

In accordance with his agreement with the Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada, he had all the details of the St. Lawrence Bridge settled under his supervision, most of them being worked out in his office in Great George Street, under the immediate superintendence of his cousin, Mr. George Robert Stephenson. The whole of the iron work was designed in Great George Street, was constructed in England, and was shipped to Canada with detailed instructions, so that the engineers on the other side the Atlantic had little else to do with that part of the work except to put the pieces together in the manner directed.

Robert Stephenson did not make another visit to Canada, as nothing occurred in the execution of his designs to demand his presence.

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