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Lives of George and Robert Stephenson by Samuel Smiles: Part 1: Chapter 3

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Chapter III. Early Railways. The Cornish Locomotive Memoir of Richard Trevithick.

WHILE the discussion of steam-power as a means of locomotion was proceeding in England, other projectors were advocating the extension of wagon-ways and railroads. Mr. Thomas, of Denton, near Newcastle-on-Tyne, read a paper before the Philosophical Society of that town in 1800, in which he urged the laying down of railways throughout the country, on the principle of the coal wagon ways, for the general carriage of goods and merchandise; and Dr. James Anderson, of Edinburgh, about the same time published his " Recreations of Agriculture," wherein he recommended that railways should be laid along the principal turnpike-roads, and worked by horse-power, which, he alleged, would have the effect of greatly reducing the cost of transport, and thereby stimulating all branches of industry.

Railways were indeed already becoming adopted in places where the haulage of heavy loads was for short distances; and in some cases lines were laid down of considerable length. One of the first of such lines constructed under the powers of an Act of Parliament was the Cardiff and Merthyr railway or tram-road, about twenty-seven miles in length, for the accommodation of the iron-works of Plymouth, Pen-y-darran, and Dowlais, all in South Wales, the necessary Act for which was obtained in 1794. Another, the Sirhoway railroad, about twenty-eight miles in length, was constructed under the powers of an act obtained in 1801; it accommodated the Tredegar and Sirhoway Iron-works and the Trevill Lime-works, as well as the collieries along its route.

In the immediate neighbourhood of London there was another very early railroad, the Wandsworth and Croydon tramway, about ten miles long, which was afterward extended southward to Merstham, in Surrey, for about eight miles more, making a total length of nearly eighteen miles. The first act for the purpose of authorizing the construction of this road was obtained in 1800.

All these lines were, however, worked by horses, and in the case of the Croydon and Merstham line, donkeys shared in the work, which consisted chiefly in the haulage of stone, coal, and lime.

No proposal had yet been made to apply the power of steam as a substitute for horses on railways, nor were the rails then laid down of a strength sufficient to bear more than a loaded wagon of the weight of three tons, or, at the very outside, of three and a quarter tons.

It was, however, observed from the first that there was an immense saving in the cost of haulage; and on the day of opening the southern portion of the Merstham Railroad in 1805, a train of twelve wagons laden with stone, weighing in all thirty-eight tons, was drawn six miles in an hour by one horse, with apparent ease, down an incline of 1 in 120; and this was bruited about as an extraordinary feat, highly illustrative of the important uses of the new iron-ways.

About the same time, the subject of road locomotion was again brought into prominent notice by an important practical experiment conducted in a remote corner of the kingdom. The experimenter was a young man, then obscure, but afterward famous, who may be fairly regarded as the inventor of the railway "locomotive, if any single individual be entitled to that appellation.

This was Richard Trevithick, a person of extraordinary mechanical skill but of marvellous ill fortune, who, though the inventor of many ingenious contrivances, and the founder of the fortunes of many, himself died in cold obstruction and in extreme poverty, leaving behind him nothing but his great inventions and the recollection of his genius.

Richard Trevithick was born on the 13th of April, 1771, in the parish of Illogan, a few miles west of Redruth, in Cornwall. In the immediate neighbourhood rises Castle Carn-brea, a rocky eminence, supposed by Borlase to have been the principal seat of Druidic worship in the West of England. The hill commands an extraordinary view over one of the richest mining fields of Cornwall, from Chacewater and Redruth to Camborne.

Trevithick's father acted as purser at several of the mines. Though a man in good position and circumstances, he does not seem to have taken much pains with his son's education. Being an only child, he was very much indulged among other things, in his dislike for the restraints and discipline of school; and he was left to wander about among the mines, spending his time in the engine-rooms, picking up information about pumping-engines and mining machinery.

His father, observing the boy's strong bent toward mechanics, placed him for a time as pupil with William Murdock, while the latter lived at Redruth superintending the working and repairs of Boulton and Watt's pumping-engines in that neighbourhood.

During his pupilage, young Trevithick doubtless learned much from that able mechanic. It is probable that he got his first idea of the high-pressure road locomotive which he afterward constructed from Murdock's ingenious little model above described, the construction and action of which must have been quite familiar to him, for no secret was ever made of it, and its performances were often exhibited.

Many new pumping-engines being in course of erection in the neighbourhood about that time, there was an unusual demand for engineers, which it was found difficult to supply; and young Trevithick, whose skill was acknowledged, had no difficulty in getting an appointment. The father was astonished at his boy's presumption (as he supposed it to be) in undertaking such a responsibility, and he begged the mine agents to reconsider their decision. But the result showed that they were justified in making the appointment; for young Trevithick, though he had not yet attained his majority, proved fully competent to perform the duties devolving upon him as engineer.

So long as Boulton and Watt's patent continued to run, constant attempts were made in Cornwall and elsewhere to upset it. Their engines had cleared the mines of water, and thereby rescued the mine lords from ruin, but it was felt to be a great hardship that they should have to pay for the right to use them. They accordingly stimulated the ingenuity of the local engineers to contrive an engine that should answer the same purpose, and enable them to evade making any farther payments to Boulton and Watt. The first to produce an engine that seemed likely to answer the purpose was Jonathan Hornblower, who had been employed in erecting Watt's engines in Cornwall. After him one Edward Bull, who had been first a stoker and then an assistant tender of Watt's engines, turned out another pumping-engine, which promised to prove an equally safe evasion of the existing patent. But Boulton and Watt having taken the necessary steps to defend their right, several actions were tried, in which they proved successful, and then the mine lords were compelled to disgorge. When they found that Hornblower could be of no farther use to them, they abandoned him threw him away like a sucked orange; and shortly after we find him a prisoner for debt in the King's Bench, almost in a state of starvation. Nor do we hear any thing more of Edward Bull after the issue of the Boulton and Watt trial.

Like the other Cornish engineers, young Trevithick took an active part from the first in opposing the Birmingham patent, and he is said to have constructed several engines, with the assistance of William Bull (formerly an erector of Watt's machines), with the object of evading it. These engines are said to have been highly creditable to their makers, working to the entire satisfaction of the mine-owners. The issue of the Watt trial, however, which declared all such engines to be piracies, brought to an end for a time a business which would otherwise have proved a very profitable one, and Trevithick's partnership with Bull then came to an end.

While carrying on his business, Trevithick had frequent occasion to visit Mr. Harvey's iron foundry at Hayle, then a small work, but now one of the largest in the West of England, the Cornish pumping-engines turned out by Harvey and Co. being the very best of their kind. During these visits Trevithick became acquainted with the various members of Mr. Harvey's family, and in course of time he contracted an engagement with one of his daughters, Miss Jane Harvey, to whom he was married in November, 1797.

A few years later we find Trevithick engaged in partnership with his cousin, Andrew Vivian, also an engineer. They carried on their business of engine-making at Camborne, a mining town situated in the midst of the mining district, a few miles south of Redruth. Watt's patent-right expired in 1800, and from that time the Cornish engineers were free to make engines after their own methods. Trevithick was not content to follow in the beaten paths, but, being of a highly speculative turn, he occupied himself in contriving various new methods of employing steam with the object of economizing fuel and increasing the effective power of the engine.

From an early period he entertained the idea of making the expansive force of steam act directly on both sides of the piston on the high-pressure principle, and thus getting rid of the process of condensation as in Watt's engines. Although Cugnot had employed high-pressure steam in his road locomotive, and Murdock . in his model, and although Watt had distinctly specified the action of steam at high-pressure as well as low in his patents of 1769, 1782, and 1784, the idea was not embodied in any practicable working engine until the subject was taken in hand by Trevithick. The results of his long and careful study were embodied in the patent which he took out in 1802, in his own and Vivian's name, for an improved steam-engine, and "the application thereof for driving carnages and for other purposes." The arrangement of Trevithick's engine was exceedingly ingenious. It exhibited a beautiful simplicity of parts; the machinery was arranged in a highly effective form, uniting strength with solidity and portability, and enabling the power of steam to be employed with very great rapidity, economy, and force. Watt's principal objection to using high-pressure steam consisted in the danger to which the boiler was exposed of being burst by internal pressure. In Trevithick's engine, this was avoided by using a cylindrical wrought-iron boiler, being the form capable of presenting the greatest resistance to the expansive force of steam.

Boilers of this kind were not, however, new. Oliver Evans, of Delaware, had made use of them in his high-pressure engines prior to the date of Trevithick's patent; and, as Evans did not claim the cylindrical boiler, it is probable that the invention was in use before his time. Nevertheless, Trevithick had the merit of introducing the round boilers into Cornwall, where they are still known as "Trevithick boilers." The saving in fuel effected by their use was such that in 1812 the Messrs. Williams, of Scorrier, made Trevithick a present of £300, in acknowledgment of the benefits arising to their mines from that source alone.

Trevithick's steam-carriage was the most compact and handsome vehicle of the kind that had yet been invented, and, indeed, as regards arrangement, it has scarcely to this day been surpassed. It consisted of a carriage capable of accommodating some half-dozen passengers, underneath which was the engine and machinery inclosed, about the size of an orchestra drum, the whole being supported on four wheels - two in front, by which it was guided., and two behind, by which it was driven. The engine had but one cylinder. The piston-rod outside the cylinder was double, and drove a cross-piece, working in guides, on the opposite side of the cranked axle to the cylinder, the crank of the axle revolving between the double parts of the piston-rod. Toothed wheels were attached to this axle, which worked into other toothed wheels fixed on the axle of the driving-wheels.

The steam-cocks were opened and shut by a connection with the crank-axle; and the force-pump, with which the boiler was supplied with water, was also worked from it, as were the bellows to blow the fire and thereby keep up the combustion in the furnace.

The specification clearly alludes to the use of the engine on railroads as follows: "It is also to be noticed that we do occasionally, or in certain cases, make the external periphery of the wheels uneven by projecting heads of nails or bolts, or cross grooves or fittings to railroads where required, and that in cases of hard pull we cause a lever, belt, or claw to project through the rim of one or both of the said wheels, so as to take hold of the ground, but that, in general, the ordinary structure or figure of the external surface of those wheels will be found to answer the intended purpose." The specification also shows the application of the high-pressure engine on the same principle to the driving of a sugar-mill, or for other purposes where a fixed power is required, dispensing with condenser, cistern, air-pump, and cold-water pump. In the year 1803, a small engine of this kind was erected after Trevithick's plan at Marazion, which worked by steam of at least 30 lbs. on the inch above atmospheric pressure, and gave much satisfaction.

The first experimental steam-carriage was constructed by Trevithick and Vivian in their workshops at Camborne in 1803, and was tried by them on the public road adjoining the town, as well as in the street of the town itself. John Petherick, a native of Camborne, who was alive in 1858, stated in a letter to Mr. Edward Williams that he well remembered seeing the engine, worked by Mr. Trevithick himself, come through the place, to the great wonder of the inhabitants. He says, "The experiment was satisfactory only as long as the steam pressure could be kept up. During that continuance Trevithick called upon the people to 'jump up,' so as to create a load on the engine; and it soon became covered with men, which did not seem to make any difference to the power or speed so long as the steam was kept up. This was sought to be done by the application of a cylindrical horizontal bellows worked by the engine itself; but the attempt to keep up the power of the steam for any considerable time proved a failure."

Trevithick, however, made several alterations in the engine which had the effect of improving it, and its success was such that he determined to take it to London and exhibit it there as the most recent novelty in steam mechanism. It was successfully run by road from Camborne to Plymouth, a distance of about ninety miles. At Plymouth it was shipped for London, where it shortly after arrived in safety, and excited considerable curiosity. It was run on the waste ground in the vicinity of the present Bethlehem Hospital, as well as on Lord's cricket-ground.

There Sir Humphry Davy, Mr. Davies Gilbert, and other scientific gentlemen inspected the machine and rode upon it. Several of them took the steering of the carriage by turns, and they expressed their satisfaction with the mechanism by which it was directed. Sir Humphry, writing to a friend in Cornwall, said, "I shall soon hope to hear that the roads of England are the haunts of Captain Trevithick's dragons a characteristic name." After the experiment at Lord's, the carriage was run along the Kew-road, and down Gray's-Inn Lane, to the premises of a carriage-builder in Long Acre. To show the adaptability of the engine for fixed uses, Trevithick had it taken from the carriage on the day after this trial and removed to the shop of a cutler, where he applied it with success to the driving of the machinery.

The steam-carriage shortly became the talk of the town, and the public curiosity being on the increase, Trevithick resolved on inclosing a piece of ground on the site of the present Euston station of the London and North Western Railway, and admitting persons to see the exhibition of his engine at so much a head.

He had a tram-road laid down in an elliptical form within the inclosure, and the carriage was run round it on the rails in the sight of a great number of spectators. On the second day another crowd collected to see the exhibition, but, for what reason is not known, although it is said to have been through one of Trevithick's freaks of temper, the place was closed and the engine removed. It is, however, not improbable that the inventor had come to the conclusion that the state of the roads at that time was such as to preclude its coming into general use for purposes of ordinary traffic.

While the steam-carriage was being exhibited, a gentleman was laying heavy wagers as to the weight which could be hauled by a single horse on the Wandsworth and Croydon iron tramway; and the number and weight of wagons drawn by the horse were something surprising. Trevithick very probably put the two things together; the steam-horse and the iron-way and kept the performance in mind when he proceeded to construct his second or railway locomotive. In the mean time, having dismantled his steam-carriage, sent back the phaeton to the coach-builder to whom it belonged, and sold the little engine which had worked the machine, he returned to Camborne to carry on his business.

In the course of the year 1803 he went to Pen-y-darran, in South Wales, to erect a forge engine for the iron-works there; and, when it was finished, he began the erection of a railway locomotive the first ever constructed. There were already, as above stated, several lines of rail laid down in the district for the accommodation of the coal and iron works. That between Merthyr Tydvil and Cardiff was the longest and most important, and it had been at work for some years. It had probably occurred to Trevithick that here was a fine opportunity for putting to practical test the powers of the locomotive, and he proceeded to construct one accordingly in the workshops at Pen-y-darran.

This first railway locomotive was finished and tried upon the Merthyr tram-road on the 1st of February, 1804. It had a cylindrical wrought-iron boiler with flat ends. The furnace and flue were inside the boiler, the flue returning, having its exit at the same end at which it entered, so as to increase the heating surface. The cylinder, 4f in. in diameter, was placed horizontally in the end of the boiler, and the waste steam was thrown into the stack. The wheels were worked in the same manner as in the carriage engine already described; and a fly-wheel was added on one side, to secure a continuous rotary motion at the end of each stroke of the piston. The pressure of the steam was about 40 lbs. on the inch. The engine ran upon four wheels, coupled by cog-wheels, and those who remember the engine say that the four wheels were smooth.

On the first trial, this engine drew for a distance of nine miles ten tons of bar iron, together with the necessary carriages, water, and fuel, at the rate of five and a half miles an hour. Rees Jones, an old engine-fitter, who helped to erect the engine, and was alive in 1858, gave Mr. Menelaus the following account of its performances: "When the engine was finished, she was used for bringing down metal from the old forge. She worked very well; but frequently, from her weight, broke the tram-plates, and also the hooks between the trams. After working for some time in this way, she took a journey of iron from Pen-y-darran down the Basin Road, upon which road she was intended to work. On the journey she broke a great many of the tram-plates; and, before reaching the Basin, she ran off the road, and was brought back to Pen-y-darran by horses. The engine was never used as a locomotive after this; but she was used as a stationary engine, and worked in this way for several years.".

So far as the locomotive was concerned it was a remarkable success. The defect lay not in the engine so much as in the road. This was formed of plate-rails of cast iron, with a guiding flange upon the rail instead of on the engine wheels, as in the modern locomotive. The rails were also of a very weak form, considering the quantity of iron in them; and, though they were sufficient to bear the loaded wagons mounted upon small wheels, as ordinarily drawn along them by horses, they were found quite insufficient to bear the weight of Trevithick's engine. To relay the road of sufficient strength would have involved a heavy outlay, which the owners were unwilling to incur, not yet perceiving the advantage, in an economical point of view, of employing engine in lieu of horse power. The locomotive was accordingly taken off the road, and the experiment, successful though it had been, was brought to an end.

Trevithick had, however, by means of his Pen-y-darran engine, in a great measure solved the problem of steam locomotion on railways. He had produced a compact engine, working on the high-pressure principle, capable of carrying fuel and water sufficient for a journey of considerable length, and of drawing loaded wagons at five and a half miles an hour. He had shown by his smooth-wheeled locomotive that the weight of the engine had given sufficient adhesion for the haulage of the load. He had discharged the steam into the chimney, though not for the purpose of increasing the draught, as he employed bellows for that purpose. It appears, however, that Trevithick's friend, Mr. Davies Gilbert, afterward President of the Royal Society, especially noticed the effect of discharging the waste steam into the chimney of the Pen-y-darran engine. He observed that when the engine moved, at each puff the fire brightened, while scarcely any visible steam or smoke came from the chimney.

Mr. Gilbert published the result of his observations in "Nicholson's Journal" for September, 1805, and the attention of Mr. Nicholson, the editor, having thereby been called to the subject, he proceeded to make a series of experiments, the result of which was that in 1806 he took out a patent for a steam-blasting apparatus, by which he proposed to apply high-pressure steam to force along currents of air for various useful purposes, including the urging of furnace and other fires. It is thus obvious that the principle of the blast-pipe was known to both Gilbert and Nicholson at this early period; but it is somewhat remarkable that Trevithick himself should have remained skeptical as to its use, for as late as 1815 we find him taking out a patent, in which, among other improvements, he included a method of urging his fire by fanners, similar to a winnowing machine.

In the mean time Trevithick occupied himself in carrying on the various business of a general engineer, and was ready to embark in any enterprise likely to give scope for his inventive skill. In whatever work he was employed, he was sure to introduce new methods and arrangements, if not new inventions. He was full of speculative enthusiasm, a great theorist, and yet an indefatigable experimenter. At the beginning of 1806 the year after the locomotive had been taken off the Merthyr Tydvil tram-road he made arrangements for entering into a contract for ballasting all the shipping in the Thames. At the end of a letter written by him on the 18th of February in that year to Davies Gilbert, respecting a puffer engine, he said, "I am about to enter into a contract with the Trinity Board for lifting up ballast out of the bottom of the Thames for all the shipping. The first quantity stated was 300,000 tons a year, but now they state 500,000 tons. I am to do nothing but wind up the chain for ?d. per ton, which is now done by men. They never lift it above twenty-five feet high; a man will now get up ten tons for it. My engine at Dalcoath has lifted about 100 tons that height with one bushel of coals. I have two engines already finished for the purpose, and shall be in town in about fifteen days for to set them to work. They propose to engage with me for twenty-one years." [1] The contract was not, however, entered into. Trevithick quarrelled with the capitalists who had found the money for the trials, and the "Blazer" and "Plymouth," the vessels in which his engines and machinery had been fitted, fell into other hands.

Trevithick, nevertheless, seems to have been on the highway to fortune, for, at the beginning of 1806, he had received orders for nine engines in one month, all for Cornwall; and he expected orders for four others. He had also in view the construction of a railway; but nothing came of this project. More hopeful still, as regarded immediate returns, was the Cornish engine business, which presented a very wide field. Now that the trade had been thrown open by the expiry of Boulton and Watt's patent, competition had sprung up, and many new makers and inventors of engines were ready to supply the demand.

Among the most prominent of these were Trevithick and Woolf. Trevithick was the most original and speculative, Woolf the most plodding and practical, and the most successful. Trevithick's ingenuity exhibited itself in his schemes for working Boulton and Watt's pumping-engine by high-pressure steam, by means of his cylindrical wrought -iron boiler. He proposed to expand the steam down to low pressure previous to condensation, thereby anticipating by many years the Cornish engine now in use. The suggestion was not, however, then acted on, and he fell back on his original design of a simple non-condensing high-pressure engine. One of these was erected at Dalcoath mine to draw the ores there. It was called "the puffer" by the mining people, from its puffing the steam direct into the air; but its performances did not compare favourably with those of the ordinary condensing engines of Boulton and Watt, and the engine did not come into general use.

Trevithick was not satisfied to carry on a prosperous engine business in Cornwall. Camborne was too small for him, and the Cornish mining districts presented too limited a field for his ambitious spirit. So he came to London, the Patent-office drawing him as the loadstone does the needle. In 1808 he took out two patents, one for "certain machinery for towing, driving, or forcing and discharging ships and other vessels of their cargoes," and the other for "a new method of stowing cargoes of ships." In 1809 he took out another patent for constructing docks, ships, etc., and propelling vessels.

In these patents, Trevithick was associated with one Robert Dickinson, of Great Queen Street, but his name stands first in the specification, wherein he describes himself as "of Rotherhithe, in the county of Surrey, engineer." By the first of these patents he proposed to tow vessels by means of a rowing wheel shaped like an undershot water-wheel furnished with floats placed vertically in a box, and worked by a steam-engine, which he also proposed to employ in the loading and unloading of the vessel, but it is not known that the plan was ever introduced into practical use. The patent of 1809 included a floating dock or caisson made of wrought-iron plates, in which a ship might be docked while afloat, and, after the water had been pumped out of the caisson, repaired without moving her stores, masts, or furniture.

This invention has since been carried out in practice by the Messrs. Rennie in the floating iron dock which they have recently constructed for the Spanish government. Another invention included in the specification was the construction of merchant and war ships of wrought-iron plates strongly riveted together, with their decks supported by wrought-iron beams, and the masts, bowsprits, and booms also of tubular wrought iron, thereby anticipating by many years the form and structure of vessels now in common use.

While Trevithick lived at Rotherhithe, he entered upon a remarkable enterprise no less than the construction of a tunnel under the Thames a work which was carried out with so much difficulty by Sir Isambard Brunel some twenty years later. Several schemes had been proposed at different times for connecting the two banks of the river by an underground communication. As early as 1798, Ralph Dodd suggested a tunnel under the Thames between Gravesend and Tilbury, and in 1802 Mr. Vazie projected a tunnel from Rotherhithe to Limehouse. A company was formed to carry out the latter scheme, and a shaft was sunk, at considerable expense, to a depth of 76 feet below high water. The works were from time to time suspended, and it was not until the year 1807, when Trevithick was appointed engineer of the work, that arrangements were made for proceeding with the driftway under the bed of the Thames. After about five months' working, the drift was driven for a length of 953 feet, when the roof gave way and the water burst in. The opening was, however, plugged by clay in bags thrown into the river, and the work proceeded until 1,028 feet had been accomplished.

Then the water burst in again, and the process of plugging and pumping the water out of the drift was repeated. After seventy more feet had been added to the excavation, there was another irruption, which completely flooded the driftway, and the water rose nearly to the top of the shaft. This difficulty was, however, again overcome, and with great danger twenty more feet were accomplished; but the bursts of water became so frequent and unmanageable that at length the face of the drift was timbered up and the work abandoned. Trevithick, who had been promised a reward of £1,000 if the tunnel succeeded, thus lost both his labour and his reward. The only remuneration he received from the Company was a hundred guineas, which were paid to him according to agreement, provided he carried the excavation to the extent of 1,000 yards, which he did.

Trevithick returned to Camborne in 1809, where we find him busily occupied with new projects, and introducing his new engine worked by water-power, the first of which was put up at the Druid mine, as well as in perfecting his high-pressure engine and its working by expansion. One of the first of such engines was erected at the Huel Prosper mine, of which he was engineer; and this, as well as others subsequently constructed on the same principle, proved quite successful.

In 1815 Trevithick took out a farther patent, embodying several important applications of steam-power. One of these consisted in "causing steam of a high pressure to spout out against the atmosphere, and by its recoiling force to produce motion in a direction contrary to the issuing steam, similar to the motion produced in a rocket, or to the recoil of a gun." This was, however, but a revival of the ancient Aeolipile described by Hero, and known as "Hero's engine." In another part of his specification Trevithick described the screw-propeller as "a screw or a number of leaves placed obliquely round an axis similar to the vanes of a smoke-jack, which shall be made to revolve with great speed in a line with the required motion of the ship, or parallel to the same line of motion." In a second part of the specification, he described a plunger or pole-engine in which the steam worked at high-pressure. The first engine of this kind was erected by Trevithick at Herland in 1815, but the result was not equal to his expectations, though the principle was afterward successfully applied by Mr. William Sims, who purchased the patent-right.

In this specification Trevithick also described a tubular boiler of a new construction for the purpose of more rapidly producing high-pressure steam, the heating surface being extended by constructing the boiler of a number of small perpendicular tubes, closed at the bottom, but all opening at the top into a common reservoir, from whence they received their water, and into which the steam of all the tubes was united.

While Trevithick was engaged in these ingenious projects, an event occurred which, though it promised to issue in the most splendid results, proved the greatest misfortune of his life. We refer to his adventures in connection with the gold mines of Peru.

Many of the richest of them had been drowned out, the pumping machinery of the country being incapable of clearing them of water. The districts in which they were situated were almost inaccessible to ordinary traffic, all transport being conducted on the backs of men or of mules. The parts of an ordinary condensing engine were too ponderous to be carried up these mountain heights, and it was evident that, unless some lighter sort of engine could be employed, the mines in question must be abandoned.

Mr. Uville, a Swiss gentleman interested in South American mining, came over from Peru to England in 1811 for the purpose of making inquiries about such an engine, but he received no encouragement. He was about to return to Lima, in despair of accomplishing his object, when, one day, accidentally passing a shop window in Fitzroy Square, he caught sight of an engine exposed for sale which immediately attracted his attention. It was the engine constructed by Trevithick for his first locomotive, which he had sold some years before, on the sudden abandonment of the exhibition of its performances in London. Mr. Uville was so much pleased with its construction and mode of action that he at once purchased it and took it out with him to South America. Arrived there, he had the engine transported across the mountains to the rich mining district of Pasco, about a hundred miles north of Lima, to try its effects on the highest mountain ridges.

The experiment was so satisfactory that an association of influential gentlemen was immediately formed to introduce the engine on a large scale, and enter into contracts with the mine-owners for clearing their shafts of the water which drowned them. The Viceroy of Peru approved the plan, and the association dispatched Mr. Uville to England to purchase the requisite engines.

He took ship for Falmouth about the end of 1812 for the purpose of finding out Trevithick. He only knew of Trevithick by name, and that he lived in Cornwall, but nothing farther. Being full of his subject, however, he could not refrain from conversing on the subject with the passengers on board the ship by which he sailed, and it so happened that one of them a Mr. Teague was a relative of Trevithick, who promised, shortly after their landing, to introduce him to the inventor.

Mr. Teague was as good as his word, and in the course of a few days Uville was enabled to discuss the scheme with Trevithick at his own house at Camborne, where he still resided. The result was an order for a number of high-pressure pumping-engines, which were put in hand at once; and on the 1st of September, 1814, nine of them were shipped at Portsmouth for Lima, accompanied by Uville and three Cornish engineers, one of whom was William Bull, of Chasewater, Trevithick's first partner.

The engines reached Lima in safety, and were welcomed by a royal salute and with public rejoicings. Such, however, was the difficulty of transporting the materials across the mountains, that it was not until the middle of the year 1816 that the first engine was erected and set to work to pump out the Santa Rosa mine, in the royal mineral territory of Taiiricocha. The association of gentlemen to whom the engines belonged had entered into a contract to drain this among other mines, on condition of sharing in the gross produce of the ores to the extent of about 25 per cent, of the whole amount raised. The result of the first working of the engine was so satisfactory that the projectors were filled with no less astonishment than delight, and they characterized the undertaking as one from which they "anticipated a torrent of silver that would fill surrounding nations with astonishment." In the mean time Trevithick was proceeding at home with the manufacture of the remaining engines, as well as new coining apparatus for the Penman mint, and furnaces for purifying silver ore by fusion; and with these engines and apparatus he set sail for America in October, 1816, reaching Lima in safety in the following February. He was received with almost royal honours.

The government "Gazette" officially announced "the arrival of Don Ricardo Trevithick, an eminent professor of mechanics, machinery, and mineralogy, inventor and constructor of the engines of the last patent, and who directed in England the execution of the machinery now at work in Pasco." The lord warden was ordered by the viceroy to escort Trevithick to the mines accompanied by a guard of honour. The news of his expected arrival there occasioned great rejoicings, and the chief men of the district came down the mountains to meet and welcome him. Uville' wrote to his associates that Trevithick had been sent out "by heaven for the prosperity of the mines, and that the lord warden proposed to erect his statue in solid silver." Trevithick himself wrote home to his friends in Cornwall that he had before him the prospect of almost boundless wealth, having, in addition to his emoluments as patentee, obtained a fifth share in the Lima Company, which, he expected, on a moderate computation, would yield him about 100,000 a year!

But these brilliant prospects were suddenly blasted by the Peruvian revolution which broke out in the following year. While Mr. Boaze was reading his paper [2] before the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, in which these anticipations of Trevithick's fame and fortune were so glowingly described, Lord Cochrane was on his way to South America to take the command of the Chilian fleet in its attack of the ports of Peru, still in the possession of the Spaniards.

Toward the end of 1818, Lord Cochrane hoisted his flag, and shortly after proceeded to assail the Spanish fleet in Callao Harbour. This proved the signal for a general insurrection, during the continuance of which the commercial and industrial affairs of the province were completely paralyzed. The pumping-engines of Trevithick were now of comparatively little use in pumping water out of mines in which the miners would no longer work. Although Lima was abandoned by the Spaniards toward the end of 1821, the civil war continued to rage for several years longer, until at length the independence of Peru was achieved; but it was long before the population were content to settle down as before, and follow the ordinary pursuits of industry and commerce.

The result to Trevithick was, that he and his partners in the Mining Company were consigned to ruin. It has been said that the engineer joined the patriotic party, and invented for Lord Cochrane an ingenious gun-carriage centred and equally balanced on pivots, and easily worked by machinery; but of this no mention is made by Lord Cochrane in his "Memoirs." The Patriots kept Trevithick on the mountains as a sort of patron and protector of their interests; but for this very reason he became proportionately obnoxious to the Royalists, who, looking upon him as the agent through whom the patriotic party obtained the sinews of war, destroyed his engines, and broke up his machinery wherever they could. At length he determined to escape from Peru, and fled northward across the mountains, accompanied by a single friend, making for the Isthmus of Panama.* In the course of this long, toilsome, and dangerous journey, he encountered great privations; he slept in the forest at night, travelled on foot by day, and crossed the streams by swimming. At length, his clothes torn, worn, and hanging almost in shreds, and his baggage all lost, he succeeded in reaching the port of Cartagena, on the Gulf of Darien, almost destitute.

Here he encountered Robert Stephenson, who was waiting at the one inn of the place until a ship was ready to set sail for England. Stephenson had finished his engagement with the Colombian Mining Company for which he had been working, and was eager to return home. When Trevithick entered the room in which he was sitting, Stephenson at once saw that he was an Englishman. He stood some six feet in height, and, though well proportioned when in ordinary health, he was now gaunt and hollow, the picture of privation and misery.

Stephenson made up to the stranger, and was not a little surprised to find that he was no other than the famous engineer, Trevithick, the builder of the first patent locomotive, and who, when he last heard of him, was accumulating so gigantic a fortune in Peru. Though now penniless, Trevithick was as full of speculation as ever, and related to Stephenson that he was on his way home for the purpose of organizing another gold-mining company, which should make the fortunes of all who took part in it. He was, however, in the mean time, unable to pay for his passage, and Stephenson lent him the requisite money for the purpose of reaching his home in Cornwall.

As there was no vessel likely to sail for England for some time, Stephenson and Trevithick took the first ship bound for New York. After a stormy passage, full of adventure and peril, the vessel was driven on a lee-shore, and the passengers and crew barely escaped with their lives. On reaching New York, Trevithick immediately set sail for England, and he landed safe at Falmouth in October, 1827, bringing back with him a pair of silver spurs, the only remnant which he had preserved of those "torrents of silver" which his engines were to raise from the mines of Peru.

Immediately on his return home, Trevithick memorialized the government for some remuneration adequate to the great benefit which the country had derived from his invention of the high pressure steam-engine, and his introduction of the cylindrical boiler. The petition was prepared in December, 1827, and was cheerfully signed by the leading mine-owners and engineers in Cornwall; but there their efforts on his behalf ended.

He took out two more patents one in 1831, for a new method of heating apartments, and another in 1832, for improvements in the steam-engine, and the application of steam-power to navigation and locomotion; but neither of them seems to have proved of any service to him. His new improvement in the steam-engine was neither more nor less than the invention of an apparatus similar to that which has quite recently come into use for employing superheated steam as a means of working the engine more effectively and economically. The patent also included a method of propelling ships by ejecting water through a tube with great force and speed in a direction opposite to the course of the vessel, a method since reinvented in many forms, though not yet successfully introduced in practice.

Strange to say, though Trevithick had been so intimately connected with the practical introduction of the Locomotive, he seems to have taken but little interest in its introduction upon railways, but confined himself to advocating its employment on common roads as its most useful application. [3] Though in many things he was before his age, here he was unquestionably behind it. But Trevithick was now an old man; his constitution was broken, and his energy worked out. Younger men were in the field, less ingenious and speculative, but more practical and energetic; and in the blaze of their fame the Cornish engineer was forgotten.

During the last year of his life Trevithick resided at Dartford, in Kent. He had induced the Messrs. Hall, the engineers of that place, to give him an opportunity of testing the value of his last invention that of a vessel driven by the ejection of water through a tube and he went there to superintend the construction of the necessary engine and apparatus. The vessel was duly fitted up, and several experiments were made with it in the adjoining creek, but it did not realize a speed of more than four miles an hour.

Trevithick, being of opinion that the engine-power was insufficient, proceeded to have a new engine constructed, to the boiler of which, within the furnace, numerous tubes were attached, round which the fire played. So much steam was raised by this arrangement that the piston "blew;" but still the result of the experiments was unsatisfactory. While labouring at these inventions, and planning new arrangements never to be carried out, the engineer was seized by the illness of which he died, on the 22d of April, 1833, in the 62d year of his age.

As Trevithick was entirely without means at his death, besides being some sixty pounds in debt to the landlord of the Bull Inn, where he had been lodging for nearly a year, he would probably have been buried at the expense of the parish but for the Messrs. Hall and their workmen, who raised a sum sufficient to give the " great inventor" a decent burial; and they followed his remains to the grave in Deptford Church-yard, where he lies without a stone to mark his resting-place.

There can be no doubt as to the great mechanical ability of Trevithick. He was a man of original and intuitive genius in invention. Every mechanical arrangement which he undertook to study issued from his hands transformed and improved. But there he rested. He struck out many inventions, and left them to take care of themselves. His great failing was the want of new engine, the arrangements in which were calculated to obviate all the difficulties which had hitherto stood in the way of travelling on common roads."

. . . perseverance. His mind was always full of projects; but his very genius led him astray in search of new things, while his imagination often outran his judgment. Hence his life was but a series of beginnings.

Look at the extraordinary things that Trevithick began. He made the first railway locomotive, and cast the invention aside, leaving it to others to take it up and prosecute it to a successful issue. He introduced, if he did not invent, the cylindrical boiler and the high-pressure engine, which increased so enormously the steam-power of the world; but he reaped the profits of neither.

He invented an oscillating engine and a screw propeller; he took out a patent for using superheated steam, as well as for wrought iron ships and wrought-iron floating docks; but he left it to others to introduce these several inventions.

Never was there such a series of splendid mechanical beginnings. He began a Thames Tunnel and abandoned it. He went to South America with the prospect of making a gigantic fortune, but he had scarcely begun to gather in his gold than he was forced to fly, and returned home destitute. This last event, however, was a misfortune which no efforts on his part could have prevented. But even when he had the best chances, Trevithick threw them away. When he had brought his road locomotive to London to exhibit, and was beginning to excite the curiosity of the public respecting it, he suddenly closed the exhibition in a fit of caprice, removed the engine, and returned to Cornwall in a tiff. The failure, also, of the railroad on which his locomotive travelled so provoked him that he at once abandoned the enterprise in disgust.

There may have been some moral twist in the engineer's character, into which we do not seek to pry; but it seems clear that he was wanting in that resolute perseverance, that power of fighting an up-hill battle, without which no great enterprise can be conducted to a successful issue. In this respect the character of Richard Trevithick presents a remarkable contrast to that of George Stephenson, who took up only one of the many projects which the other had cast aside, and by dint of application, industry, and perseverance, carried into effect one of the most remarkable but peaceful revolutions which has ever been accomplished in any age or country.

We now proceed to describe the history of this revolution in connection with the Life of George Stephenson, and to trace the locomotive through its several stages of development until we find it recognized as one of the most vigorous and untiring workers in the entire world of industry.

See Also

Foot Notes

  1. Weale's " Papers on Engineering," vol. i., " On the Dredging Machine," p. 7.
  2. Paper read by Henry Boaze, Esq., "On Captain Trevithick's Adventures," at the Anniversary Meeting of September, 1817. "Transactions of Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, " vol. i., p. 212.
  3. On the 12th of August, 1831, by which time the Liverpool and Manchester line was in full work, Trevithick appeared as a witness before the select committee of the House of Commons on the employment of steam-carriages on common roads. He said "he had been abroad a good many years, and had had nothing to do with steam carriages until very lately. He had it now, however, in contemplation to do a great deal on common roads, and, with that view, had taken out a patent for an entirely . . . .