Boulton and Watt (I.)
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Greenock and the Clyde, 1865.
[By R. P. Leitch, after a sketch by J. S. Smiles.]



JAMES WATT was born at Greenock, on the Clyde, on the 19th of January, 1736.  His parents were of the middle class, industrious, intelligent, and religious people, with a character for probity which had descended to them from their "forbears," and was cherished as their proudest inheritance.  James Watt was thus emphatically well-born.  His father and grandfather both held local offices of trust, and honourable mention is made of them in the records of Greenock.  His grandfather, Thomas Watt, was the first of the family who lived in that neighbourhood.  He had migrated thither from the county of Aberdeen, where his father was a small farmer in the time of Charles I.  It is supposed that he took part with the Covenanters in resisting the Marquis of Montrose in his sudden descent upon Aberdeen at the head of his wild Highlanders in the autumn of 1644; and that the Covenanting farmer was killed in one of the battles that ensued.  The district was ravaged by the victorious Royalists; the crops were destroyed, cattle lifted, dwellings burnt; and many of the inhabitants fled for refuge into more peaceful districts.  Hence Thomas Watt's migration to Cartsdyke, where we find him settled as a teacher of navigation and mathematics, about the middle of the seventeenth century.


    Cartsdyke, or Crawfordsdyke, was then a village situated a little to the east of Greenock, though now forming part of it.  Crawfordsburn House, still standing, was the residence of the lord of the manor, and is a good specimen of the old-fashioned country mansion.  It is situated on the high ground overlooking the valley of the Clyde.  In former times a green slope stretched down from it towards the beach, along which lay the village, consisting of about a hundred cottages, mostly thatched.

    Cartsdyke was, in early times, a place of greater importance than Greenock.  It had a pier, which Greenock as yet had not; and from this pier the first Clyde ship which crossed the Atlantic sailed for Darien in 1697.  What little enterprise existed in the neighbourhood was identified with Cartsdyke rather than with Greenock, and hence Thomas Watt's preference for the latter place, in setting up there as a teacher.  He, too, like his sire, seems to have been a sturdy Covenanter; for we find him, in 1683, refusing to take the test in favour of prelacy, and he was consequently proclaimed to be a "disorderly schoolmaster officiating contrary to law."  He nevertheless continued the teaching of the mathematics, in which he seems to have prospered; inasmuch as, besides marrying a wife, he shortly after bought the house and garden which he occupied, and subsequently added to his possessions a tenement in the neighbouring village of Greenock.

    From the nature of his calling, it is obvious that he must have been a thoughtful and intelligent person; [p.5] and that he was a man of excellent character is clear from the confidence he inspired in those who had the best opportunities of knowing him.  When William and Mary were confirmed in their occupancy of the British throne at the Revolution of 1688, one of the first acts of Mr. Crawford, of Crawfordsburn, the feudal superior, was to appoint Thomas Watt baillie of the barony—a position of local importance, involving the direction of public affairs within the limits of his jurisdiction.

    A few years later the Kirk Session of Greenock, having found him "blameless in life and conversation," appointed him an Elder of the parish, when it became part of his duty to overlook not only the religious observances, but the manners and morals, of the little community.  Kirk Sessions did not then confine themselves to ecclesiastical affairs, but assumed the functions of magistrates, and almost exercised the powers of an inquisition.  One of their most important duties was to provide for the education of the rising generation, in pursuance of the injunction of John Knox, "that no father, of what estate or condition that ever he may be, do use his children at his own fantasie, especially in their youthhead; but all must be compelled to bring up their children in learning and virtue,"—words which lie at the root of much of Scotland's mental culture, as well as, probably, of its material prosperity.  In 1696 the Act was passed by the Scotch Parliament which is usually regarded as the charter of the Scotch parish-school system; and in the following year the Kirk Session of Greenock proceeded to make provision for the establishment of their parish school, which continued until the Town Council superseded it by the Grammar School, at which James Watt, the future engineer, received the best part of his instruction.

    After holding the offices of Presbytery Elder and Kirk Treasurer for some time, Thomas Watt craved leave to retire into private life.  He was seventy years old, and felt infirmities growing upon him.  The plea was acknowledged, and the request granted; and on his retirement from office the Kirk Session recorded on their minutes that Thomas Watt had been found "diligent and faithful in the management of his trust."  He died at the age of 92, and was buried in the old kirkyard of Greenock, where his tombstone is still to be seen.  He is there described as "Professor of Mathematics in Crawfordsdyk."  Not far from his grave lie, "mouldering in silent dust," the remains of Burns's Highland Mary, who died while on a visit to a relative at Greenock.

    Two sons survived the "Professor," John and James, who were well settled in life when the old man died.  John, the elder, was trained by his father in mathematics and surveying; for some time officiating under him as clerk to the barony of Cartsdyke, and afterwards removing to Glasgow, where he began business on his own account.  In the year that his father died (1734) he made the first survey of the river Clyde; but he died shortly after, and the map was published by his nephew.  James, the engineer's father, was bound apprentice to a carpenter and shipwright at Cartsdyke, and on the expiry of his term he set up business for himself in the same line at Greenock.

    About the beginning of the last century, Greenock, now one of the busiest ports in the kingdom, was but a little fishing-village, consisting of a single row of thatched cottages lying parallel with the sandy beach of the Frith of Clyde, in what was then known as "Sir John's little bay."  Sir John Shaw was the superior, or lord of the manor, his mansion standing on a height overlooking the town, [p.8] and commanding an extensive view of the Clyde, from Roseneath to Dumbarton.  Across the water lay the beautiful north shore, broken by the long narrow sea-lochs running far away among the Argyllshire hills.  Their waters, now plashed by the paddles of innumerable Clyde steamers, were then only disturbed by the passing of an occasional Highland coble; whilst their shores, now fringed with villages, villas, and mansions, were as lonely as Glencoe.

    Greenock was in a great measure isolated from other towns by impassable roads.  The only route to Gourock, on the west, lay along the beach, and when strong winds raised a high tide, the communication was entirely cut off.  Greenock was separated from Cartsdyke, on the east, by the Ling Burn, which was crossed by a plank, afterwards supplanted by an old ship's rudder; and about the middle of last century a little bridge was built across the stream.  The other provisions of the place for public service and convenience were of a like rude and primitive character: thus, Greenock could not boast of a public clock until about the middle of the last century, when a town clock was mounted in the wooden steeple.  Till then, a dial, still standing, marked the hours when the sun shone, and a bell hung upon a triangle summoned the people to kirk and market.  Besides the kirk, however, there was another public building—the Black Hole, or prison, which, like the other houses in the place, was covered with thatch.  Before the prison were placed the "jougs,"—a terror to evil-doers,—as well as a few old pieces of cannon, taken from one of the ships of the Spanish Armada wrecked near Pencores Castle.  The Black Hole, the jougs, and the cannon were thought necessary precautions against the occasional visits to which the place was subject from the hungry Highlandmen on the opposite shores of the firth. [p.9]

    The prosperity of Greenock dates from the year 1707, shortly after the Union with England.  The British Parliament then granted what the Scottish Parliament had refused—the privilege of constructing a harbour.  Before that time there was no pier, only a rude landing-stage which Sir John Shaw had provided for his barge in the "Little Bay."  The fishermen's boats and other small craft frequenting the place were beached in the usual primitive way.  Vessels of burden requiring to load or unload their cargoes did so at the pier at Cartsdyke above referred to.  When the necessary powers were granted to make a harbour at Greenock, the inhabitants proceeded to tax themselves to provide the necessary means, paying a shilling and fourpence for every sack of malt brewed into ale within the barony; ale, not whisky, being then the popular drink of Scotland.  The devotion of the townspeople to their "yilI caups" must have been considerable, as the harbour was finished and opened in 1710, and in thirty years the principal debt was paid off.

    In course of time Greenock was made a customhouse port, and its trade rapidly increased.  The first solitary vessel, freighted with Glasgow merchandise for the American colonies, sailed from the new harbour in 1719; and now the custom-house dues collected there amount to more than six times the whole revenue of Scotland in the time of the Stuarts.

    Here James Watt, son of the Cartsdyke teacher of mathematics, and father of the engineer, began business about the year 1730.  His occupation was of a very miscellaneous character, and embraced most branches of carpentry.  He was a housewright, shipwright, carpenter, and undertaker, as well as a builder and contractor, having in the course of his life enlarged the western front of Sir John Shaw's mansion-house, and designed and built the Town-hall and Council-chambers.  To these various occupations Mr. Watt added that of a general merchant.  He supplied the ships frequenting the port with articles of merchandise as well as with ships' stores.  He also engaged in foreign mercantile ventures, and held shares in several ships.

    Three months after the death of his father, to a share of whose property he succeeded, Mr. Watt purchased a house on the Mid-Quay Head, at the lower end of William-street, with a piece of ground belonging to it, which extended to the beach.  On this piece of ground stood Watt's carpenter's shop, in which a great deal of miscellaneous work was executed—household furniture and ships' fittings, chairs, tables, coffins, and capstans, as well as the ordinary sorts of joinery; while from his stores he was ready to supply blocks, pumps, gun-carriages, dead-eyes, and other articles used on board ship.  He was ready to "touch" ships' compasses, and to adjust and repair nautical instruments generally; while on an emergency he could make a crane for harbour uses—the first in Greenock having been executed in his shops, and erected on the pier for the convenience of the Virginia tobacco-ships beginning to frequent the harbour.  These multifarious occupations were necessitated by the smallness of the place, the business of a special calling being as yet too limited to yield a competency to an enterprising man, or sufficient scope for his powers.

    Being a person of substance and respectability, Mr. Watt was elected by his fellow-townsmen to fill various public offices, such as trustee for the burgh fund, town councillor, treasurer, and afterwards baillie or chief magistrate.  He also added to his comfort as well as to his dignity by marrying a wife of character, Agnes Muirhead, a woman esteemed by her neighbours for her graces of person, as well as of mind and heart.  She is said to have been not less distinguished for her sound sense and good manners than for her cheerful temper and excellent housewifery.  Such was the mother of James Watt.  Three of her five children died in childhood; John, her fifth son, perished at sea when on a voyage to America in one of his father's ships; and James, the fourth of the family, remained her only surviving child.  He was born in the house which stood at the corner between the present Dalrymple-street and William-street, since taken down and replaced by the building now known as the "James Watt Tavern."


    From his earliest years James Watt was of an extremely fragile constitution, requiring the tenderest nurture.  Struggling as it were for life all through his childhood, he acquired an almost feminine delicacy and sensitiveness, which made him shrink from the rough play of robust children; and hence, during his early years, his education was entirely conducted at home.  His mother taught him reading, and his father a little writing and arithmetic.  His mother, to amuse him, encouraged him to draw with a pencil on paper, or with chalk upon the floor; and his father supplied him with a few tools from the carpenter's shop, which he soon learnt to handle with expertness.  In such occupations he found the best resource against ennui.  He took his toys to pieces, and out of their various parts constructed new ones.  The mechanical dexterity which he thus cultivated even as a child was probably in a great measure the foundation upon which he built the speculations to which he owes his glory; nor, without his early mechanical training, is there reason to believe that he would afterwards have become the improver and almost the creator of the steam-engine.

    The invalid thus passed his early years almost entirely in the society of his mother, whose gentle nature, strong good sense, and unobtrusive piety, exercised a most beneficial influence in the formation of his character.  Nor were his parents without their reward; for as the boy grew up to manhood he repaid their anxious care with obedience, respect, and affection.  Mrs. Watt was in after times accustomed to say that the loss of her only daughter, which she had felt so severely, had been fully repaid to her by the dutiful attentions of her son.

    Spending his life indoors, without exercise, his nervous system became preternaturally sensitive.  He was subject to violent sick headaches, which confined him to his room for weeks together; and it almost seems a marvel that, under such circumstances, he should have survived his boyhood.  It is in such cases as his that indications of precocity are generally observed; and parents would be less gratified at their display if they knew that they are usually the symptoms of disease.  Several remarkable instances of this precocity are related of Watt.  On one occasion, when he was bending over the hearth with a piece of chalk in his hand, a friend of his father said, "You ought to send that boy to a public school, and not allow him to trifle away his time at home."  "Look how my child is occupied," said the father, "before you condemn him."  Though only six years old, it is said he was found trying to solve a problem in geometry.

    On another occasion he was reproved by Mrs. Muirhead, his aunt, for his indolence at the tea-table.  "James Watt," said the worthy lady, "I never saw such an idle boy as you are: take a book or employ yourself usefully; for the last hour you have not spoken one word, but taken off the lid of that kettle and put it on again, holding now a cup and now a silver spoon over the steam, watching how it rises from the spout, catching and counting the drops it falls into."  In the view of M. Arago, the little James before the tea-kettle becomes "the great engineer, preparing the discoveries which were soon to immortalize him."  In our opinion the judgment of the aunt was the truest.  There is no reason to suppose that the mind of the boy was occupied with philosophical theories on the condensation of steam, which he compassed with so much difficulty in his maturer years.  This is more probably an afterthought borrowed from his subsequent discoveries.  Nothing is commoner than for children to be amused with such phenomena, in the same way that they will form air-bubbles in a cup of tea, and watch them sailing over the surface till they burst.  The probability is that little James was then quite as idle as he seemed.

    When he was at length sent to Mr. M'Adam's commercial school, the change caused him many trials and much suffering.  He found himself completely out of place in the midst of the boisterous juvenile republic.  Against the tyranny of the elders he was helpless; their wild play was most distasteful to him; he could not join in their sports, nor roam with them along the beach, nor shy stones into the water, nor take part in their hazardous exploits in the harbour.  Accordingly they showered upon him contemptuous epithets; and the school being composed of both sexes, the girls joined in the laugh.  He shone as little in the class as in the playground. He did not possess that parrot power of learning, and confidence in self, necessary to achieve distinction at school; and he was even considered dull and backward for his age.  His want of progress may, however, in some measure be accounted for by his almost continual ailments, which sometimes kept him for weeks together at home.  Nor was it until he reached the age of about thirteen or fourteen, and was put into the mathematical class, that his powers appeared to develop themselves; and from that time he made rapid progress.

    When not quite fourteen he was taken by his mother for change of air to Glasgow, then a quiet place without a single long chimney, somewhat resembling a rural market-town of the present day.  He was left in charge of a relation, and his mother returned to Greenock.  But he proved so wakeful during the visit, and so disposed to indulge in that habit of story-telling, which even Sir Walter Scott could afterwards admire in him, that Mr. Watt was very soon written to by his friend, and entreated to return to Glasgow and take home his son.  "I cannot stand the excitement he keeps me in," said Mrs. Campbell; "I am worn out for want of sleep.  Every evening, before retiring to rest, he contrives to engage me in conversation, then begins some striking tale, and whether humorous or pathetic, the interest is so overpowering, that the family all listen to him with breathless attention, and hour after hour strikes unheeded."  He was taken back to Greenock accordingly, and, when well enough, was sent to the Grammar School.  Watt made fair progress in the rudiments of Latin and Greek; but he was still more successful in the study of mathematics.  It was only when he entered on this branch of learning that he discovered his strength, and he very soon took the lead in his class.

    When at home the boy continued to spend much of his time in drawing, or in cutting or carving with his penknife, or in watching the carpenters at work in his father's shop, sometimes trying his own hand at making little articles with the tools which lay about.  In this he displayed a degree of dexterity which seemed so remarkable, that the journeymen were accustomed to say of him that "little Jamie had gotten a fortune at his fingers' ends."  Even when he had grown old he would recall to mind the pleasure as well as the profit which he had derived from working in his shirt-sleeves in his father's shop.  He was, in fact, educating himself in the most effectual manner in his own way; learning to use his hands dexterously; familiarising himself with the art of handling tools; and acquiring a degree of expertness in working with them in wood and metal which eventually proved of the greatest value to him.  At the same time he was training himself in habits of application, industry and invention.  Most of his spare time was thus devoted to mechanical adaptations of his own contrivance.  A small forge was erected for him, and a bench fitted up for his special use; and there he constructed many ingenious little objects, such as miniature cranes, pulleys, pumps, and capstans.  Out of a large silver coin he fabricated a punch-ladle, which is still preserved.  But the kind of work which most attracted him was the repairing of ships' compasses, quadrants, and nautical instruments, in executing which he exhibited so much neatness, dexterity, and accuracy, that it eventually led to his selection of the business he was to follow,—that of a mathematical instrument maker.

    The boy at the same time prosecuted his education at school.  His improved health enabled him to derive more advantage from the instructions of his masters than in the earlier part of his career.  Not the least influential part of his training, as regarded the formation of his character, consisted, as already observed, in the example and conversation of his parents at home.  His frequent illnesses brought him more directly and continuously under their influence than is the case with most boys of his age; and reading became one of his chief sources of recreation and enjoyment.  His father's library-shelf contained well-thumbed volumes of Boston, Bunyan, and 'The Cloud of Witnesses,' with Henry the Rymer's 'Life of Wallace,' and other old ballads, tattered by frequent use.  These he devoured greedily, and re-read until he had most of them by heart.  His father would also recount to him the sufferings of the Covenanters, the moors and mosses which lay towards the south of Greenock having been among their retreats during the times of the persecution.  There were also the local and traditionary stories of the neighbourhood, such as the exploits of the Greenock men under Sir John Shaw, at Worcester, in 1651, [p.18] together with much of that unwritten history, heard only around firesides, which kindles the Scotchman's nationality, and influences his future life.

    We may here mention, in passing, that one of the most vividly-remembered incidents of James Watt's boyhood was the Stuart Rebellion of the "Forty-five," which occurred when he was about ten years old.  Watt himself is so intimately identified with the material progress of the nineteenth century, that it strikes one almost with surprise that he should have been a spectator, in however remote a degree, of incidents belonging to an altogether different age.  The Stuart Rebellion may be said to have been the end of one epoch and the beginning of another; for certain it is, that the progress of Scotland as an integral part of the British empire, and the growth of its skilled industry—which the inventions of Watt did so much to develop—appeared as if to spring from the very ashes of the rebellion.

    Like other Lowland towns, Greenock was greatly alarmed at the startling news from the Highlands of the threatened descent of the Clans.  Sir John Shaw had the trades mustered for drill on the green in front of his mansion, and held them in readiness for defence of the town, in case of attack.  Greenock was otherwise secure, being protected against the Highlands by the Clyde; besides, the western clans were either neutral, or adhered to the house of Hanover.  The Pretender with his followers passed southward by Stirling, and only approached Greenock on their return from England,—a half-starved and ill-clad, though still unbroken army.  They halted at Glasgow, where they levied a heavy contribution on the inhabitants, and sent out roving parties to try their fortunes in the neighbouring towns.  A small detachment one day approached Greenock, and came as near as the Clune Brae: but the townspeople were afoot, and on guard; signal was given to the ships of war moored near the old battery, and a few well-directed shots speedily sent the Highlanders to the right-about.

    The alarm was over for the present; but it was renewed in the following year, when the rumour reached Edinburgh that Prince Charles, hunted from the Highlands, had landed at Greenock, and lay concealed there.  The consequence was that a strict search was made throughout the town, and Mr. Watt's premises were searched like the others; but the Pretender had contrived to escape in another direction.  Such was one of the most memorable incidents in the boy-life of James Watt, so strangely in contrast with the later events in his history.

    During holiday times the boy sometimes indulged in rambles along the Clyde, occasionally crossing to the north shore, and strolling up the Gare Loch and Holy Loch, and even as far as Ben Lomond.  He was of a solitary disposition, and loved to wander by himself at night amidst the wooded pleasure-grounds which surrounded the old mansion-house overlooking the town, watching through the trees the mysterious movements of the stars.  He became fascinated by the wonders of astronomy, and was stimulated to inquire into the science by the examination of the nautical instruments which he found amongst his father's shop-stores.  For it was a peculiarity which characterised him through life, that he could not look upon any instrument or machine without being seized with a desire to understand its meaning, to unravel its mystery, and master the rationale of its uses.

    Before he was fifteen he had twice gone through with great attention S'Gravande's 'Elements of Natural Philosophy,' a book belonging to his father.  He performed many little experiments in chemistry, and even contrived to make an electrical machine, much to the marvel of those who felt its shocks.  Like most invalids, he read eagerly such books on medicine and surgery as came in his way.  He went so far as to practise dissection; and on one occasion he was found carrying off for this purpose the head of a child who had died of some uncommon disease.  In his solitary rambles, his love of wild-flowers and plants lured him on to the study of botany.  Ever observant of the aspects of nature, the violent upheavings of the mountain-ranges on the north his attention shores of Loch Lomond directed his attention to geology.  He was a great devourer of books; reading all that came in his way.  On a friend advising him to be less indiscriminate in his reading, he replied, "I have never yet read a book without gaining information, instruction, or amusement."  This was no answer to the admonition of his friend, who merely recommended him to bestow upon the best books the time he devoted to the worse.  But the appetite for knowledge in inquisitive minds is, during youth, when curiosity is fresh and unslacked, too insatiable to be fastidious, and the volume which gets the preference is usually the one which first comes in the way.

    Watt was not, however, a mere bookworm.  In his solitary walks through the country he would enter the cottages of the peasantry, gather their local traditions, and impart to them information of a similar kind from his own ample stores.  Fishing, which suited his tranquil nature, was his single sport.  When unable to ramble for the purpose, he could still indulge the pursuit from his father's yard, which was open to the sea, and where the water was of sufficient depth at high tide to enable vessels of fifty or sixty tons to lie alongside.

    But James Watt had now arrived at a suitable age to learn a trade; and his ramblings must come to a close.  His father had originally intended him to follow his own business; but having sustained some heavy losses—one of his ships having foundered at sea—and observing the strong bias of his son towards manipulative science and exact mechanics, he at length decided to send him to Glasgow, in the year 1754, when he was eighteen years old, to learn the trade of a mathematical instrument maker.





WHEN James Watt, a youth of eighteen, went to Glasgow in 1754 to learn his trade, the town was very different from the Glasgow of to-day.  Not a steam-engine was then at work in the place; not a steam-boat disturbed the quiet of the Clyde.  There was a rough quay along the Broomielaw—then, as the name implies, partly covered with broom.  The quay was furnished with a solitary crane, for which there was very little use, as the river was full of sandbanks, and boats and gabberts of only six tons burden and under could ascend the Clyde. [p.22]  Often for weeks together not a single masted vessel was to be seen in the river.

    The principal buildings in the town were the Cathedral and the University.  The west port, now in the centre of Glasgow, was then a real barrier between the town and the country.  The ground on which Enoch-square stands consisted chiefly of gardens.  A thick wood occupied the site of the present Custom-house and of that part of Glasgow situated behind West Clyde-street.  Blythswood was grazing-ground.  Not a house had yet been erected in Hutchinson-town, Laurieston, Tradeston, or Bridtgeton.  The land between Jamaica-street on the east, and Stobcross on the west, and south from the Anderston-road to the river, now the most densely populated parts of Glasgow, consisted of fields and cabbage-gardens.


    The town had but two main streets, which intersected each other at the cross or Market-place, and the only paved part of them was known as "The Plainstanes," which extended for a few hundred yards in front of the public offices and the Town-hall.  The two main streets contained some stately well-built houses—Flemish-looking tenements with crow-stepped gables—the lower stories standing on Doric columns, under which were the principal booths or shops, small, low-roofed, and dismal.  But the bulk of the houses had only wooden fronts and thatched roofs, and were of a very humble character.  The traffic along the unpaved streets was so small that the carts were left standing in them at night.  The town was as yet innocent of police; it contained no Irish immigrants, and very few Highlanders.  The latter then thought it beneath them to engage in any pursuit connected with commerce; and Rob Roy's contempt for the wabsters of Glasgow, as described by Sir Walter Scott in the novel, was no exaggeration.  No Highland gentleman, however poor, would dream of condemning his son to the drudgery of trade; and even the poorest Highland cottar would shrink with loathing from the life of a weaver or a shopkeeper.  He would be a hunter, a fisher, a cattle-lifter, or a soldier; but trade he would not touch—that he left to the Lowlanders.  He would "thank God that he had not a drop of Lowland blood in his veins!"

    The principal men of business in Glasgow at the time of which we speak were the tobacco lords—importers of tobacco from the plantations in Virginia. [p.24]

    Glasgow had then no newspaper; and a London news-sheet of a week old was looked upon as a novelty.  There was no coffee-room nor public library in the town; no theatre nor place of resort open, except the "Change-house;" so that what was called "The Club," which combined the uses of a newspaper and a news-room, was regarded as a social necessity. [p.25]  The drinking there was sometimes moderate, and sometimes "hard."  The better classes confined themselves to claret and other French wines, which were then cheap, being free from duty.  Those disposed to indulge in more frugal fare confined themselves to oat-cake and small-beer.  It was not until heavy taxes were laid on foreign wines and malt that the hard whisky-drinking of Scotland set in.  Whisky was introduced from the Highlands shortly after the "Forty-five"; and it soon became the popular drink.  By 1780 the drinking of raw whisky in Glasgow at mid-day had become general.

    When young Watt arrived in Glasgow he carried with him but a small quantity of baggage; the articles in his trunk including amongst other things a quadrant,—probably a specimen of his handiwork,—a leather apron, about a score of carpenters' and other tools, and "a pair of bibels."  On making inquiry for a proper master, under whom to learn the business of mathematical instrument making, it was found that there was no such person in Glasgow.  There was, however, a mechanic in the town, who dignified himself with the name of "optician," under whom Watt was placed for a time.  He was a sort of Jack-of-all-trades, who sold and mended spectacles, repaired fiddles, tuned spinets, made and repaired the simpler instruments used in mechanical drawing, and eked out a slender living by making and selling fishing-rods and fishing-tackle.

    Watt was as handy at dressing trout and salmon flies as at most other things, and his master, no doubt, found him useful enough; but there was nothing to be learnt in return for his services.  Though his master was an ingenious workman, in a small way, and could turn his ready hand to anything, it soon became clear to Watt's relations that the instructions of such an artist were little likely to advance him in mathematical instrument making.  Among the gentlemen to whom Watt was introduced was Professor Dick, of Glasgow University, who strongly recommended him to proceed to London, and there place himself under the instruction of some competent master.  Watt consulted his father on the subject, who readily gave his sanction to the proposal; and, with a letter of introduction from Dr. Dick in his pocket, he arranged to set out for the great city.

    No stage-coach then ran between Glasgow and London; so it was determined that young Watt should proceed on horseback, then the most convenient and speedy mode of travelling.  His chest was sent by sea.  Old Mr. Watt's memorandum-book at Heathfield contains the following entry, under date the 6th June, 1755:—

"To send James Watt's chist to the care of Mr. William Oman, Ventener in Leith, to be shypt for London to ye care of Captain William Watson, at the Hermitage, London.

Pd. 3s. 6d. for wagon carage to Edenbrough of chist.
d. to son James £2. 2s.
d. Plaster and Pomet, 1s. 4d.
d. 4 doz. pencels, 1s. 6d.

    It was arranged that the youth should travel in the company of a relative, Mr. Marr, a sea-captain, who was on his way to join his ship, then lying in the Thames.  They set out on the 7th of June, travelling by way of Coldstream and Newcastle, where they joined the great north road; and they reached London safely on the 19th, having been about a fortnight on the road.

    Mr. Marr immediately proceeded to make inquiries for a mathematical instrument maker, with whom to place his young friend.  But it was found that a serious obstacle presented itself in the rules of the trade, which prescribed that young persons employed must either be apprentices serving under a seven years' apprenticeship, or, if journeymen, that they should have served for that term.  Watt, however, had no intention of binding himself to serve for so long a period, and he had no pretensions to rank as a journeyman.  His object was to learn the business in the shortest possible time, and then return to Glasgow and set up for himself.  The two went about from shop to shop, but only met with rebuffs.  "I have not yet got a master," Watt wrote to his father about a fortnight after his arrival; "we have tried several, but they all made some objection or other.  I find that, if any of them agree with me at all, it will not be for less than a year; and even for that time they will be expecting some money."

    Mr. Marr continued to exert himself on behalf of the youth.  Anxious to be employed in any way rather than not at all, Watt offered his services gratuitously to a watchmaker named Neale, with whom Mr. Marr did business, and he was allowed to occupy himself in his shop for a time, cutting letters and figures in metal.  At length a situation of a more permanent character was obtained for him; and he entered the shop of Mr. John Morgan, a respectable mathematical instrument maker in Cornhill, on the terms of receiving a year's instruction in return for a fee of twenty guineas and the proceeds of his labour during that time.  He soon proved himself a ready learner and skilful workman.  Division of labour, the result of considerable trade, was applied to mathematical instruments.  "Very few here," wrote Watt, "know any more than how to make a rule, others a pair of dividers, and such like."  His first employment was in making brass scales, rules, parallels, and the brasswork of quadrants; and by the end of a month he was able to finish a Hadley's quadrant in better style than any apprentice in the shop.  From rule and quadrant making, he proceeded to azimuth compasses, brass sectors, theodolites, and the more delicate kinds of instruments.  At the end of a year he wrote home to his father that he had made "a brass sector with a French joint, which is reckoned as nice a piece of framing-work as is in the trade;" and he expressed the hope that he would soon be able to work for himself, and earn his bread by his own industry.

    Up to this time he had necessarily been maintained by his father, on whom he drew from time to time.  Mr. Watt's memorandum-books show that on the 27th of June he remitted him £10; on the 24th of August following he enters: "Sent George Anderson by post £8 to buy a bill of £7 or £8 to send Wheytbread and Gifferd, and ballance of my son's bill, £2. 2s. 3d., for which ame to remite him more"; and on the 11th of September following the balance was forwarded through the same channel. On the 24th of October, £4. 10s. was in like manner sent to George Anderson "on son James's second bill;" and on the 31st of December £10 was remitted, "to be put to the credit of son James's last bill."  To relieve his father as much as possible for the cost of his maintenance in London, Watt lived in a very frugal style, avoiding all unnecessary expenses.  His living cost him only eight shillings a week; and he could not reduce it below that, he wrote to his father, "without pinching his belly."  He also sought for some remunerative work on his own account; and when he could obtain it, he sat up at night to execute it.

    During Watt's stay in London he was in a great measure prevented from stirring abroad by the hot press for sailors which was then going on.  As many as forty pressgangs were at work, seizing all able-bodied men they could lay hands on.  In one night they took not fewer than a thousand men.  Nor were the kidnappers idle.  These were the agents of the East India Company, who had crimping-houses in different parts of the city for receiving the men whom they had seized for service in the Indian army.  Even when the demand for soldiers abated, the kidnappers continued their trade, and sold their unhappy victims to the planters in Pennsylvania and other North American colonies.  Sometimes severe fights took place between the pressgangs and the kidnappers for possession of those who had been seized,—the law and police being apparently powerless to protect them.

    "They now press anybody they can get," Watt wrote in the spring of 1756, "landsmen as well as seamen, except it be in the liberties of the city, where they are obliged to carry them before the Lord Mayor first; and unless one be either a prentice or a creditable tradesman, there is scarce any getting off again.  And if I was carried before my Lord Mayor, I durst not avow that I wrought in the city, it being against their laws for any unfreeman to work even as a journeyman within the liberties."  What a curious glimpse does this give us into the practice of man-hunting in London in the eighteenth century!

    Watt's enforced confinement, together with his sedentary habits and unremitting labour, soon told upon his weak frame.  When he hurried to his lodgings at night, his body was wearied, and his nerves exhausted, so that his hands shook like those of an old man; yet he persevered with the extra work which he imposed upon himself, in order to earn a little honest money to help to pay for his living.  His seat in Mr. Morgan's shop being placed close to the door, which was often opened and shut in the course of the day, he caught a severe cold in the course of the winter; and he was afflicted by a racking cough and severe rheumatic pains, from the effects of which he long continued to suffer.  Distressed by a gnawing pain in his back, and greatly depressed in spirits, he at length, with his father's sanction, determined to return to Greenock, to seek for renewal of health in his native air.

    His father made him a further remittance to enable him to purchase some of the tools required for his trade, together with materials for making others, and a copy of Bion's work on the construction and use of Mathematical Instruments.  Having secured these, he set out on his return journey for Scotland, and reached Greenock in safety in the autumn of 1756.  There his health soon became sufficiently restored to enable him to return to work; and with the concurrence and help of his father, he shortly after proceeded to Glasgow, in his twentieth year, to begin business on his own account.

    In endeavouring to establish himself in his trade, Watt encountered the same obstacle which in London had almost prevented his learning it.  Although there were no mathematical instrument makers in Glasgow, and it must have been a public advantage to have so skilled a mechanic settled in the place, Watt was opposed by the corporation of hammermen on the ground that he was neither the son of a burgess nor had served an apprenticeship within the borough.  Failing in his endeavours to open a place of business, he next tried to prevail on the corporation to allow him to make use of a small workshop wherein to make experiments; but this also was peremptorily refused.

    The hammermen were doubtless acting in a very narrow spirit, in thus excluding the young mechanic from the privileges of citizenship; but such was the custom of the times,—those who were within the favoured circles usually putting their shoulders together to exclude those who were without.  Watt had, however, already been employed by Dr. Dick, Professor of Natural Philosophy, to repair some mathematical instruments which had been bequeathed to the University by a gentleman in the West Indies; and the professors, having an absolute authority within the area occupied by the college buildings, determined to give him an asylum there, and thus free him from the incubus of the guilds.

    In the heart of old Glasgow city, not far from the cathedral of St. Mungo, which Knox with difficulty preserved from the fury of the Scotch iconoclasts, stands [p.32] the venerable University, a curiously black and sombre building, more than 400 years old.  Inside the entrance, on the right-hand side, is a stone staircase, guarded by fabulous beasts in stone.  The buildings consist of several quadrangles; but there is not much regularity in their design, each part seeming to stand towards the other parts, in a state of independent crookedness and irregularity.  There are turrets in the corners of the quadrangles,—turrets with peaked tops, like witches' caps.

    In the inner quadrangle, entered from the left-hand side of the outer court, a workshop was found for our mechanician, in which he was securely established by the midsummer of 1757.  It was situated on the first floor of the range of buildings forming the north-west side of the inner quadrangle, immediately under the gallery of the Natural Philosophy class, with which it communicated.  It was lighted by three windows, two of which opened into the quadrangle, and the third, at the back, into the Professors' court.  The access to the room used to be from the court by a spiral stone staircase; but that entrance was afterwards closed.  The apartment was about twenty feet square; but it served Watt, as it has since served others, for high thinking and noble working. [p.33]


    In addition to his workshop under the Natural Philosophy class, a shop for the sale of his instruments was also appropriated to Watt by the Professors.  It formed the ground-floor of the house situated next to the Principal's Gate, being part of the University Buildings, and was entered directly from the pavement of the High Street.  It has been described to us, on the authority of Professor Fleming, as an old house, with a sort of arcade in front, supported on pillars.  In making some alterations in the building the pillars were too much weakened, and the house, excepting the basement, had to be taken down.

    Though his wants were few, and he lived on humble fare, Watt found it very difficult to earn a subsistence by his trade.  His father sent him remittances from time to time; but the old man had suffered serious losses in his own business, and had become much less able to help his son with money.  After a year's trial Watt wrote to his father, that "unless it be the Hadley's instruments there is little to be got by it, as at most other jobs I am obliged to do the most of them myself; and, as it is impossible for one person to be expert at everything, they often cost me more time than they should do."  Of the quadrants, he could make three in a week, with the help of a lad; but the profit upon the three was not more than 40s.

    Failing customers for his instruments, Watt sent those which he had made to Port Glasgow and Greenock, where his father helped him to dispose of them.  He also bethought him of taking a journey to Liverpool and London, for the purpose of obtaining orders for instruments; though, for some reason or other most probably because he was averse to "pushing," and detested the chaffering of trade his contemplated journey was not undertaken.  He therefore continued to execute only such orders as came to him, so that his business remained very small.  He began to fear that he must give up a trade that would not keep him, and he wrote to his father: "If this business does not succeed, I must fall into some other."  To eke out his income, he took to map and chart selling, and, amongst other things, he offered for sale the Map of the River Clyde, [p.35] originally surveyed by his uncle John.

    It is well for the world at large that Watt's maps and quadrants remained on his hands unsold.  The most untoward circumstances in life have often the happiest results.  It is not Fortune that is blind, but man.  Had his instrument-making business prospered, Watt might have become known as a first-class maker of quadrants, but not as the inventor of the Condensing steam-engine.  It was because his own special business failed, that he was driven to betake himself to other pursuits, and eventually to prosecute the invention on which his fame rests.

    At first he employed part of his spare time in making chemical and other experiments; but as these yielded him no returns, he was under the necessity of making some sort of article that was in demand, and for which he could find customers.  Although he had no ear for music, and scarcely knew one note from another, he followed the example of the old spectacle-maker, his first master, in making fiddles, flutes, and guitars, which met with a readier sale than his quadrants.  These articles were what artists call "pot-boilers," and kept him in funds until a maintenance higher-class could be earned by higher-class work.  We are informed, through a lady at Glasgow, that her father bought a flute from Watt, who said to him, in selling it: "Woe be to ye, Tam, if you're no guid luck: for this is the first I've sold!"

    His friend Dr. Black, probably to furnish him with some profitable employment, asked Watt to make a barrel-organ for him, which he at once proceeded to construct.  Watt was not the man to refuse work of any kind requiring the exercise of constructive skill.  He first carefully studied the principles of harmony,—making science, in a measure, the substitute for want of ear, and took for his guide the profound but obscure work on 'Harmonics,' published by Dr. R. Smith of Cambridge.  He next made a model of the instrument; after which he constructed the organ, which, when finished, was considered a great success.

    About the same time the office-bearers of a Mason's Lodge in Glasgow sent to ask him if he would undertake to build for them a finger-organ.  As he had successfully repaired an instrument of the same kind, besides making the barrel-organ, he readily accepted the order.  Watt was always, as he said, dissatisfied with other people's work, as well as his own; and this habit of his mind made him study to improve whatever came before him.  Thus, in the process of building this organ, he devised a number of novel expedients, such as a sustained monochord, indicators, and regulators of the strength of the blast, means of tuning the instrument according to any system of temperament, with sundry contrivances for improving the efficiency of the stops.  The qualities of the organ when finished are said to have elicited the surprise and admiration of musicians.

    The leisure time which Watt did not occupy with miscellaneous work of this sort he spent in reading.  He did not want for books, as the College library was near at hand; and the professors as well as students were willing to lend him from their stores.  He was not afraid of solid, heavy, dry books, provided he could learn something from them.  All were alike welcome.  One of his greatest pleasures was in devouring a novel, when it fell in his way.  He is even said to have occupied himself in writing tales and verses when he had nothing else to do.  As none of his attempts have been preserved, we cannot offer an opinion upon them; but it is doubtful whether Watt's poetry and fiction would display the same originality and power of invention as his steam-engine.  The only useful exercises of his which have been preserved are anything but poetical.  One of them, preserved at Heathfield, is a 'Treatise on Practical Megethometry'; and another is a 'Compendium of Definitions,' in Latin, by Gerard de Vries—both written in a neat round hand.

    Like most of the Glasgow citizens, Watt occasionally visited his club, where he cultivated the society of men of greater culture and experience than himself. [p.37]  As he afterwards observed to a friend, "Our conversations then, besides the usual subjects with young men, turned principally on literary topics, religion, morality, belles-lettres, &c. and to those conversations my mind owed its first bias towards such subjects, in which they were all much my superiors, I never having attended a college, and being then but a mechanic."

    There was another circumstance connected with his situation at this time, which must have been peculiarly agreeable to a young man of his character, aspirations, and thirst for knowledge.  His shop, being conveniently situated within the College, was a favourite resort of the professors and the students.  They were attracted by the ingenious instruments and models contained in the shop, by the pleasure which they felt in witnessing the proceedings of a skilful mechanic at his work, but more particularly by the easy, unaffected, and original conversation of Watt himself.  Though a comparative youth, the professors were glad to consult him on points of mechanical knowledge and practice; and the acuteness of his observation, the accuracy of his knowledge, and the readiness with which he communicated what he knew, soon rendered him a general favourite.

    Among his most frequent visitors was Dr. Joseph Black, afterwards the distinguished chemist, who then contracted a friendship for Watt which lasted, uninterrupted, for a period of forty years, until the Doctor's death.  There was also Professor Simson, one of the most eminent men of his day, whom Lord Brougham has described as the restorer of the science of geometry; Dr. Dick, the Professor of Natural Philosophy; and Professor Anderson, the founder of the Andersonian University.  Dr. Moor and Dr. Adam Smith were also frequent callers.  But of all Watt's associates none is more closely connected with his name and history than John Robison, then a student at Glasgow College, and afterwards Professor of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh.

    Robison was nearer Watt's age than the rest, and stood in the intimate relation to him of bosom friend, as well as fellow-inquirer in science.  He was handsome and prepossessing in appearance, frank and lively, full of fancy and humour, and a general favourite in the College.  He was a capital talker, an accomplished linguist, and a good musician; yet, with all his versatility, he was a profound thinker and a diligent student, especially in mathematical and mechanical science,—as he afterwards proved in his elaborate 'System of Mechanical Philosophy,' edited by Sir David Brewster, and his many able contributions to the 'Encyclopædia Britannica,' of which he was the designer and editor.

    Robison's introduction to Watt has been described by himself.  After feasting his eyes on the beautifully-finished instruments in his shop, Robison entered into conversation with the owner.  Expecting to find only a workman, he was surprised to discover a philosopher.  "I had the vanity," says Robison, "to think myself a pretty good proficient in my favourite study (mathematical and mechanical philosophy), and was rather mortified at finding Mr. Watt so much my superior.  But his own high relish for these things made him pleased with the chat of any person who had the same tastes with himself; and his innate complaisance made him indulge my curiosity, and even encourage my endeavours to form a more intimate acquaintance with him.  I lounged much about him, and, I doubt not, was frequently teasing him.  Thus our acquaintance began."

    In Watt's workshop, also, Robison first met Dr. Black, and there begun a friendship with him which ended only with death.  "My first acquaintance with him," Robison afterwards wrote to Watt, "began in your rooms when you were rubbing up Macfarlane's instruments.  He used to come in, and, standing with his back to us, amuse himself with Bird's quadrant, whistling softly to himself in a manner that thrilled me to the heart."

    In 1757 Robison applied for the office of assistant to Dr. Dick, Professor of Natural Philosophy, in the place of the son of that gentleman, who had just died; but though he had already taken the degree of Master of Arts, he was thought too young to hold so important an office, being only about nineteen years old.  His friends wished him to study for the Church; but, preferring some occupation in which his mechanical tastes might be indulged, he turned his eyes to London. Furnished with letters from Professor Dick and Dr. Simson, he obtained an introduction to Admiral Knowles, who engaged him to take charge of his son's instruction while at sea.  In that capacity he sailed from Spithead in 1759, with the fleet which assisted the land forces in the taking of Quebec; he and his pupil being rated as midshipmen in the Admiral's ship.

    After an absence of four years Robison returned from his voyagings in 1763, and, having had considerable experience with Admiral Knowles and assisted him in his marine surveys and observations, he reckoned himself more than on a par with Watt; but he soon found that during the period of his absence from Glasgow his friend had been even busier than himself.  When they entered into conversation, he found Watt continually striking into new paths where he was obliged to be his follower.  The extent of the mathematical instrument maker's investigations was not less remarkable than the depth to which he had pursued them.  Not only had he mastered the principles of engineering, civil and military, but diverged into studies in antiquity, natural history, languages, criticism, and art.  Every pursuit became science in his hands, and he made use of his subsidiary knowledge for the purpose of helping him on towards his favourite objects.

    Watt soon came to be regarded as one of the ablest men about College.  "When to the superiority of knowledge in his own line," said Robison, "which every man confessed, there was joined the naive simplicity and candour of his character, it is no wonder that the attachment of his acquaintances was so strong.  I have seen something of the world," he continued, "and I am obliged to say that I never saw such another instance of general and cordial attachment to a person whom all acknowledged to be their superior.  But this superiority was concealed under the most amiable candour, and liberal allowance of merit to every man.  Mr. Watt was the first to ascribe to the ingenuity of a friend things which were very often nothing but his own surmises followed out and embodied by another.  I am well entitled to say this, and have often experienced it in my own case."

    There are few traits in biography more charming than this generous recognition of merit, mutually attributed by the one friend to the other.  Arago, in quoting the words of Robison, has well observed that it is difficult to determine whether the honour of having thus recorded them be not as great as that of having inspired them.





THE next subject that occupied the attention of Watt was the study of Steam, and the objects to which it might be applied.  Before entering upon this subject, however, it may be necessary to give a brief account of what other inventors had already done, before Watt commenced his study of the subject.

    The enormous Power latent in water exposed to heat had long been known.  Its discovery must have been almost contemporaneous with that of fire.  The expansive force of steam would be obvious on setting the first partially-closed pipkin upon the fire.  If closed, the lid would be blown off; and even if the vessel were of iron, it would soon burst with tremendous force.  Was it possible to render so furious and apparently unmanageable an agent docile and tractable?  Even in modern times, the explosive force of steam could only be compared to that of gunpowder; and it is a curious fact that both De Hautefeuille and Papin proposed to employ gunpowder in preference to steam in driving a piston in a cylinder, considering it to be the more manageable power of the two.

    Although it appears from the writings of the Greek physician, Hero, who flourished at Alexandria more than a century before Christ, that steam was well known to the ancients, it was employed by them merely as a toy, or as a means of exciting the wonder of the credulous.  Hero wrote a treatise on Pneumatics, in which he describes various methods of employing heated air or steam for this purpose.  The whirling Æolipile, or ball of Æolus, was one of his inventions.  Though but a toy, it possessed the properties of a true steam-engine, and was most probably the first ever invented.  The machine consisted of a hollow globe of metal, moving on its axis, and communicating with a cauldron of water placed underneath.  The globe was provided with one or more tubes projecting from it, closed at the ends, but open on one side.  When a fire was lit under the cauldron, and the steam was raised, it filled the globe, and, projecting itself against the air through the openings in the tubes, the reactive force thus produced caused the globe to spin round upon its axis "as if it were animated from within by a living spirit." [p.44]

    A translation of Hero's MS., in which these things were described, was published at Bologna in 1547, and attention was again awakened to the subject of Steam.  Branca, the physician, used the steam jet to drive an apparatus for pounding drugs.  Solomon de Caus, a Frenchman, brought the idea with him from Italy, and employed the expansive power of steam for the purpose of raising water.  His apparatus consisted of a spherical vessel fitted with two pipes, one of them provided with a cock and funnel; the other, which reached down to near the bottom of the vessel, being open at the top to the external air.  When the vessel was filled with water and a fire lit underneath, the water was forced up the open tube in a jet, greater or less in proportion to the elasticity of the steam.  When both tubes were tightly closed, so that neither steam nor water could escape, the heat, says De Caus, would shortly cause a compression from within so violent that "the ball will burst in pieces, with a noise like a petard."

    The Marquis of Worcester also, in the reign of Charles I., occupied himself with the contrivance of a "Water-commanding Machine."  Being a Royalist he was, during the Commonwealth, imprisoned in the Tower, and deprived of his estates.  But on the Restoration he published his famous 'Century,' [p.45] which contains his own account of his various inventions.  In the second dedication of the book to the members of both Houses of Parliament he states that he had already expended the large sum of £10,000 on experiments; but he professed that he esteemed himself sufficiently rewarded by the passing of "the Act of the Water-commanding Engine," and, his debts once paid, he intended to devote the rest of his life to the service of his King and country.  The 'Century' is a mere summary of things alleged to have been tried and perfected, conveyed in vague and mysterious language, and calculated rather to excite wonder than to furnish information.  The descriptions were unaccompanied by plans or drawings, so that we can only surmise the means by which he proposed to carry his schemes into effect.  It is possible that he purposely left the descriptions of his inventions vague, in order that he might not be anticipated in their application; for it is certain that at the time the book was written the Marquis had not taken out his first patent, nor obtained the Act securing to him the profits of his engine.  There can, however, be no doubt that, vague and mysterious though the 'Scantlings' are, they indicate a knowledge of mechanical principles considerably in advance of the age, as well as a high degree of mechanical ingenuity.

    The strongest evidence which could be adduced of the ambiguity of the Marquis's 'Articles' is to be found in the fact that the various ingenious writers who have given plans of his supposed engine have represented it in widely different forms.  Farey assumes that it worked by the expansive force of steam; Bourne, that it worked by condensation and atmospheric pressure; Dircks infers that it included such ingenious expedients as valves and even a four-way cock, worked by a lever-handle; Stuart, that it contained a cylinder and piston, and was, in fact, a complete high-pressure lever-engine.  Again, the drawings of the various writers on engineering who have attempted to reproduce the engine—of Stuart, Galloway, Millington, and Dircks—differ in essential respects.  Watt was of opinion that the descriptions given of the engine were so obscure, that nothing could be made of them; and that any inventor desirous of making a steam-engine would have to begin again at the beginning.


    The next prominent experimenter on the powers of steam was Dr. Dionysius Papin.  He was born at Blois about the middle of the seventeenth century, and educated to the profession of medicine.  After taking his degree at Paris, he turned his attention more particularly to the study of physics, which soon occupied his whole attention; and under the celebrated Huyghens, then resident in that city, he made rapid progress.  He would, doubtless, have risen to great distinction in his own country, but for the circumstance of his being a Protestant.  To escape the persecutions to which all members of that persuasion were then subject, Papin fled from France in 1681, together with thousands of his countrymen, a few years before the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.  He took refuge in London, where he was welcomed by men of science, and more especially by the celebrated Boyle, under whose auspices he was introduced to the Royal Society, of which he was appointed Curator at an annual salary.

    It formed part of Papin's duty, in connection with his new office, to produce an experiment at each meeting of the Society.  He was thus induced to prosecute the study of physical science; and in order to stimulate the interest of the members, he sought to introduce new subjects from time to time to their notice.  One of the greatest novelties of his "entertainments" was the production of his well-known Digester, which excited a considerable degree of interest; and on one occasion a philosophical supper, cooked by the Digester, was served up to the Fellows, of which Evelyn gives an amusing account in his Diary.

    He was led to the invention of the Digester by certain experiments which he made for Boyle.  He discovered that if the vapour of boiling water could be prevented escaping, the temperature of the water would be raised much above the boiling-point; and it occurred to him to employ this increased heat in more effectually extracting nutritious matter from the bones of animals, until then thrown away as useless.  The great strength required for his Digester, and the means he was obliged to adopt for the purpose of securely confining the cover, must have early shown him what a powerful agent he was experimenting with.  To prevent the bursting of the vessel from the internal pressure, he was led to the invention of the safety-valve, which consisted of a small movable plate, or cylinder, fitted into an opening in the cover of the boiler, and kept shut by a lever loaded with a weight, capable of sliding along it in the manner of a steel yard.  The pressure of the weight upon the valve could thus be regulated at pleasure.  When the pressure became so great as to endanger the safety of the boiler, the valve was forced up, and so permitted the steam to escape.  Although Papin was thus the inventor of the safety-valve, it is a curious fact that he did not apply it to the steam-machine which he subsequently invented, but adopted another expedient.

    The reputation of Papin having extended to Germany, he was, in 1687, invited to fill the office of Professor of Mathematics in the University of Marburg, and accepted the appointment.  He continued, however, to maintain a friendly correspondence with his scientific friends in England, and communicated to the Royal Society the results of the experiments in physics which he continued to pursue.  In the same year in which he settled at Marburg he submitted to the Society an important Paper, which indicated the direction in which his thoughts were then running.  It had occurred to him, as it had before done to Hautefeuille, that the explosion of gunpowder presented a ready means of producing a power to elevate a piston in a tube or cylinder, and that, when so raised, a vacuum could be formed under the piston by condensing the vapour, and so ensuring its return by the pressure of the atmosphere.  He thought that he might thus be enabled to secure an efficient moving force.  But it was found in practice that the proposed power was too violent as well as uncertain, and it was shortly given up as impracticable.

    Papin next inquired whether his proposed elastic force and subsequent vacuum might not better be produced by means of steam.  He accordingly entered upon a series of experiments, which gradually led him to the important conclusions published in his celebrated paper on "A New Method of Obtaining very Great Moving Powers at Small Cost," which appeared in the 'Acta Eruditorum' of Leipsic, in 1790.  "I felt confident," he there observes, "that machines might be constructed wherein water, by means of no very intense heat, and at small cost, might produce that perfect vacuum which had failed be obtained by means of gunpowder."  He accordingly contrived a machine to illustrate this idea, but it was very imperfect and slow in its action, as may well be imagined from the circumstance that to produce the condensation he did not apply cold, but merely took away the fire!  Still he was successfully working out, step by step, the important problem of steam power.  He clearly perceived that a piston might be raised in a cylinder by the elastic force of steam, and that, on the production of a vacuum by its condensation, the piston might be driven home again by the pressure of the atmosphere.  The question was, how was this idea to be realized in a practicable working machine?  After many experiments, Papin had the courage to make the attempt to pump water by atmospheric pressure on a large scale.  He was employed to erect machines after his principle, for the purpose of draining mines in Auvergne and Westphalia; but from the difficulty he experienced in procuring and preserving a vacuum, and the tediousness of the process, his enterprise proved abortive.

    The truth is, that fertile though Papin was in conception, he laboured under the greatest possible disadvantage in not being a mechanic.  The eyes and hands of others are not to be relied on in the execution of new and untried machines.  Unless eyes and hands be disciplined by experience in skilled work, and inspired by intelligence, they are comparatively useless.  The chances of success are vastly greater when mind, eyes, and hands are combined in one person.  Hence the unquestionable fact that, though the motive power of steam had long been the subject of ingenious speculation and elaborate experiment amongst scientific men, it failed to be adopted as a practicable working power until it was taken in hand by mechanics—by such men as Newcomen, the blacksmith; Potter, the engine-driver; Brindley, the millwright; and, above all, by James Watt, the mathematical instrument maker.

    To Thomas Savery is usually accorded the merit of having constructed the first actual working steam-engine.  He was born at Shilston, near Modbury, in Devon, about the year 1650.  Nothing is known of his early life, beyond that he was educated to the profession of a military engineer, and in course of time duly reached the rank of Trench master.  He was an ingenious man,—was a good clock maker,—contrived a machine for polishing plate glass,—and invented a paddle-boat to move without wind.


    It is probable that Savery was led to enter upon his next and most important invention by the circumstance of his having been brought up in the neighbourhood of the mining districts, and of his being aware of the great difficulty experienced by the miners in keeping their pits clear of water, to enable them to proceed with their underground operations.  The early tin-mining of Cornwall was for the most part what was called "stream-work," being confined mainly to washing and collecting the diluvial deposits of the ore.  Mines usually grew out of these stream-works; the ground was laid open at the back of the lodes, and the ore was dug out as from a quarry.  Some of these old openings, called "coffins," are still to be met with in different parts of Cornwall.

    The miners did not venture much below the surface, for fear of the water, by which they were constantly liable to be drowned out.  But as the upper strata became exhausted, they were tempted to go deeper in search of the richer ores.  Shafts were sunk to the lodes, and they were followed underground.  Then it was that the difficulty of water had to be encountered and overcome; for unless it could be got rid of, the deeper ores of Cornwall were as so much buried treasure.  When the mines were of no great depth it was possible to bale out the water by hand-buckets.  But this expedient was soon exhausted; and the power of horses was then employed to draw the buckets.  Sometimes, also, a whin or gin, moving on a perpendicular axis, was employed to draw the water.

    It is also worthy of notice that the early mining of Cornwall was carried on by men of small capital, principally by working men, who were unable to expend any large amount of money in forming artificial reservoirs, or in erecting the powerful pumping machinery necessary for keeping the deeper mines clear of water.  But as the miners went deeper and deeper into the ground, and the richer lodes were struck and followed, the character of mining became considerably changed.  Larger capitals were required to sink the shafts and keep them clear of water until the ore was reached; and a new class of men, outside the mining districts, was induced to venture their money in the mines as a speculation.  But in one pit after another the miners were becoming drowned out, and the operations of an important branch of national industry were in danger of being brought to a sudden conclusion.

    It was under these circumstances that Captain Savery turned his attention to the contrivance of a more powerful engine for the raising of water; and after various experiments he became persuaded that the most effective agency for the purpose was the power of steam.

    Desaguliers says that Savery's own account was this:—Having drunk a flask of Florence at a tavern, and thrown the empty flask on the fire, he called for a basin of water to wash his hands, and perceiving that the little wine left in the flask had changed to steam, he took the vessel by the neck and plunged its mouth into the water in the basin, when, the steam being condensed, the water was immediately driven up into the flask by the pressure of the atmosphere.  Desaguliers disbelieved this account, but admits that Savery made many experiments upon the powers of steam, and eventually succeeded in making several engines "which raised water very well."

    However Savery may have obtained his first idea of the expansion and condensation of steam, and of atmospheric pressure, it is certain that the subject occupied his attention for many years.  He had the usual difficulties to encounter in dealing with a wholly new and untried power, in contriving the novel mechanism through which it was to work, and of getting his contrivances executed by the hands of mechanics necessarily unaccustomed to such kind of work.  Though "I was obliged," he says, "to encounter the oddest and almost insuperable difficulties, I spared neither time, pains, nor money, till I had absolutely conquered them."

    Savery's engine, as described by himself, consisted of a series of boilers, condensing vessels, and tubes, the action of which will be readily understood with the help of the annexed drawing. [p.55]

    Its principal features were two large cylindrical vessels, which were alternately filled with steam from an adjoining boiler and with cold water from the well or mine out of which the water had to be raised.  When either of the hollow vessels was filled with steam, and then suddenly cooled by a dash of cold water, a vacuum was thereby created, and, the vessel being closed at the top and open at the bottom, the water was at once forced up into it from the well by the pressure of the atmosphere.  The steam, being then let into the vessel from the top, pressed upon the surface of the water, and forced it out at the bottom by another pipe (its return into the well being prevented by a clack), and so up the perpendicular pipe which opened into the outer air.  The second vessel being treated in the same manner, the same result followed; and thus, by alternate filling and forcing, a continuous stream of water was poured out from the upper opening.  The whole of the labour required to work the engine was capable of being performed by a single man, or even by a boy, after very little teaching.

    Although Savery's plans and descriptions of the arrangement and working of his engines are clear and explicit, he does not give any information as to their proportions, beyond stating that an engine employed in raising a column of water 3½ inches in diameter 60 feet high requires a fireplace 20 inches deep.  Speaking of their performances, he says, "I have known, in Cornwall, a work with three lifts of about 18 feet each lift and carry a 3-inch bore, that cost 42s. a day (reckoning 24 a day) for labour, besides the wear and tear of engines, each pump having four men working eight hours, at 14d. a man, and the men obliged to rest at least a third part of that time."  He pointed out that at least one-third part of the then cost of raising water might be saved by the adoption of his invention, which on many mines would amount to "a brave estate" in the course of a year.  In estimating the power of his engine, Savery was accustomed to compare it with the quantity of work that horses could perform, and hence he introduced the term " horse-power," which is still in use.

    The uses to which Savery proposed to apply his engine were various.  One was to pump water into a reservoir, from which, by falling on a water-wheel, it might produce a continuous rotary motion.  Another was to raise water into cisterns for the supply of gentlemen's houses, and for use in fountains and as an extinguisher in case of fire.  A third was to raise water for the supply of towns, and a fourth to drain fens and marsh-lands.  But the most important, in the inventor's estimation, was its employment in clearing drowned tin mines and coal-pits of water.  He showed how water might be raised from deep mines by using several engines, placed at different depths, one over the other.  Thus by three lifts, each of 80 feet, water might be raised from a mine about 240 feet—then considered a very great depth.


    From Savery's own account, it is evident that several of his engines were erected in Cornwall; and it is said that the first was tried at Huel Vor, or "The Great Work in Breage," a few miles from Helstone, then considered the richest tin mine in the county.  The engine was found to be an improvement on the methods formerly employed for draining the mine, and sent the miners to considerable greater depths.  But the great pressure of steam required to force up a high column of water was such as to strain to the utmost the imperfect boilers and receivers of those early days; and the frequent explosions which attended its use eventually led to its discontinuance in favour of the superior engine of Newcomen, which was shortly after invented.

    The demand for coal in connection with the iron manufacture having greatly increased in the county of Stafford, and the coal which lay nearest the surface having been for the most part "won," the mining interest became very desirous of obtaining some more efficient means of clearing the pits of water, in order to send the miners deeper into the ground.  Windlass and buckets, wind-mills, horse-gins, rack-and-chain pumps, adits, and all sorts of contrivances had been tried, and the limit of their powers had been reached.  The pits were fast becoming drowned out, and the ironmasters began to fear lest their manufacture should become lost through want of fuel.  Under these circumstances they were ready to hail the invention of Captain Savery, which promised to relieve them of their difficulty.  He was accordingly invited to erect one of his engines over a coal-mine at the Broadwaters, near Wednesbury.  The influx of water, however, proved too much for the engine; the springs were so many and so strong, that all the means which Savery could employ failed to clear the mine of water.  To increase the forcing power he increased the pressure of steam; but neither boiler nor receiver could endure it, and the steam "tore the engine to pieces; so that, after much time, labour, and expense, Mr. Savery gave up the undertaking, and the engine was laid aside as useless." [p.60]

    He was no more successful with the engine which he erected at York-buildings to pump water from the Thames for the supply of the western parts of London.  Bradley says that to increase its power he doubled every part, but "it was liable to so many disorders, if a single mistake happened in the working of it, that at length it was looked upon as a useless piece of work, and rejected."  Savery's later engines thus lost him much of the credit which he had gained by those of an earlier and simpler construction.  It became clear that their application was very limited.  They involved much waste of fuel through the condensation of the hot steam pressing upon the surface of the cold water, previous to the expulsion of the latter from the vessel; and eventually their use was confined to the pumping of water for fountains and the supply of gentlemen's houses, and in some cases to the raising of water for the purpose of working an overshot water-wheel.  Various attempts were made to improve the engine by Bradley, by Papin, by Desaguliers, and others; but no great advance was made in its construction and method of working until it was taken in hand by Newcomen and Calley, whose conjoint invention marks an important epoch in the history of the steam-engine.

    Comparatively little is known of the early history of Thomas Newcomen.  Mechanical inventors excited little notice in those days; they were looked upon as schemers, and oftener regarded as objects of suspicion than of respect.  Thomas Newcomen was by trade an ironmonger and a blacksmith.  The house in which he lived and worked stood, until quite recently, in Lower Street, Dartmouth.  Like many of the ancient timber houses in that quaint old town, it was a building of singularly picturesque appearance.  Lower Street is very narrow; the houses in it are tall and irregular, with overhanging peaked gable-ends.  A few years since, Newcomen's house began to show indications of decay; the timber supports were fast failing; and for safety's sake it was determined to pull it to the ground.



    How Newcomen first came to study the subject of steam, is not known.  Mr. Holdsworth says a story was current in Dartmouth in his younger days, and generally believed, that Newcomen conceived the idea of the motive power to be obtained from steam by watching the tea-kettle, the lid of which would frequently rise and fall when boiling; and, reasoning upon this fact, he contrived, by filling a cylinder with steam, to raise the piston, and by immediately injecting some cold water, to create a vacuum, which allowed the weight of the atmosphere to press the piston down, and so give motion to a pump by means of a beam and rods.

    It is probable that Newcomen was well aware of the experiments of Savery on steam.  Savery was living at Modbury, which was only about fifteen miles distant.  It will be remembered that Savery was greatly hampered in his earlier contrivances by the want of skilled workmen; and as Newcomen had the reputation of being one of the cleverest blacksmiths in the county, it is supposed that he was employed to make some of the more intricate parts of Savery's engine.  He was certainly occupied in studying the subject about the same time as Savery; and Switzer says he was well informed that "Mr. Newcomen was as early in his invention as Mr. Savery was in his, only the latter being nearer the Court, had obtained the patent before the other knew it; on which account Mr. Newcomen was glad to come in as a partner to it."

    Another account [p.63] states that a draft of Savery's engine having come under Newcomen's notice, he proceeded to make a model of it, which he fixed in his garden, and soon found out its imperfections.  He entered into a correspondence on the subject with the learned and ingenious Dr. Hooke, then Secretary to the Royal Society, a man of remarkable ingenuity, and of great mechanical sagacity and insight.  Newcomen had heard or read of Papin's proposed method of transmitting motive power to a distance by creating a vacuum under a piston in a cylinder, and transmitting the power through pipes to a second cylinder near the mine.  Dr. Hooke dissuaded Newcomen from erecting a machine on this principle, as a waste of time and labour, but he added the pregnant suggestion, "could he (meaning Papin) make a speedy vacuum under your piston, your work were done."

    The capital idea thus cursorily thrown out—of introducing a movable diaphragm between the active power and the vacuum—set Newcomen at once upon the right track.  Though the suggestion was merely that of a thoughtful bystander, it was a most important step in the history of the invention, for it contained the very principle of the atmospheric engine.  Savery created his vacuum by the condensation of steam in a closed vessel, and Papin created his by exhausting the air in a cylinder fitted with a piston, by means of an air pump.  It remained for Newcomen to combine the two expedients—to secure a sudden vacuum by the condensation of steam; but, instead of employing Savery's closed vessel, he made use of Papin's cylinder fitted with a piston.

    After long scheming and many failures, Newcomen succeeded, in the year 1705, [p.64] in contriving a model that worked with tolerable precision; after which he sought for an opportunity of exhibiting its powers in a full-sized working engine.  It ought to be mentioned that in the long course of experiments conducted by Newcomen with the object of finding out the new motive power, he was zealously assisted throughout by one John Calley, a glazier of Dartmouth, of whom nothing further is known than that he was Newcomen's intimate friend, of the same religious persuasion, and afterwards his partner in the steam-engine enterprise.

    Newcomen's engine may be thus briefly described:—The steam was generated in a separate boiler, as in Slavery's engine, from which it was conveyed into a vertical cylinder underneath a piston fitting it closely, but movable upwards and downwards through its whole length.  The piston was fixed to a rod, which was attached by a joint or a chain to the end of a lever vibrating upon an axis, the other end being attached to a rod working a pump.  When the piston in the cylinder was raised, steam was let into the vacated space through a tube fitted into the top of the boiler, and mounted with a stopcock.  The pump-rod at the further end of the lever being thus depressed, cold water was applied to the sides of the cylinder, on which the steam within it was condensed, a vacuum was produced, and the external air, pressing upon the top of the piston, forced it down into the empty cylinder.  The pump-rod was thereby raised; and the operation of depressing and raising it being repeated, a power was thus produced which kept the pump continuously at work.  Such, in a few words, was the construction and action of Newcomen's first engine.

    It will thus be observed that this engine was essentially different in principle from that of Savery.  While the latter raised water partly by the force of steam and partly by the pressure of the atmosphere, that of Newcomen worked entirely by the pressure of the atmosphere, steam being only used as the most expeditious method of producing a vacuum.  The engine was, however, found to be very imperfect.  It was exceedingly slow in its motions; much time was occupied in condensing the contained steam by throwing cold water on the outside of the cylinder; and as the boiler was placed immediately under the cylinder, it was not easy to prevent the cold water from splashing over it, and thus leading to a further loss of heat.  To remedy these imperfections, Newcomen and Calley altered the arrangement; and, instead of throwing cold water on the outside of the cylinder, they surrounded it with cold water.  But this expedient was also found inconvenient, as the surrounding water shortly became warm, and ceased to condense until replaced by colder water; but the colder it was the greater was the loss of heat by condensation, before the steam was enabled to fill the cylinder again on each ascent of the piston.

    Clumsy and comparatively ineffective though the engine was in this form, it was, nevertheless, found of considerable use in pumping water from mines.  In 1711 Newcomen and Calley made proposals to the owners of a colliery at Griff, in Warwickshire, to drain the water from their pits, which until then had been drained by the labour of horses; but, the owners not believing in the practicability of the scheme, their offer was declined.  In the following year, however, they succeeded in obtaining a contract with Mr. Back for drawing the water from a mine belonging to him near Wolverhampton.  The place where the engine was to be erected being near to Birmingham, the iron-work, the pump-valves, clacks, and buckets were for the most part made there, and removed to the mine, where they were fitted together.  Newcomen had great difficulty at first in making the engine go; but after many laborious attempts he at last partially succeeded.  It was found, however, that the new method of cooling the cylinder by surrounding it with cold water did not work so well in practice as had been expected.  The vacuum produced was very imperfect, and the action of the engine was both very slow and very irregular.

    While the engine was still in its trial state, a curious accident occurred which led to another change in the mode of condensation, and proved of essential importance in establishing Newcomen's engine as a practicable working power.  The accident was this: in order to keep the cylinder as free from air as possible, great pains were taken to prevent it passing down by the side of the piston, which was carefully wrapped with cloth or leather; and, still further to keep the cylinder air-tight, a quantity of water was kept constantly lying on the upper side of the piston.  At one of the early trials the inventors were surprised to see the engine make several strokes in unusually quick succession; and on searching for the cause, they found it to consist in a hole in the piston, which had let the cold water in a jet into the inside of the cylinder, and thereby produced a rapid vacuum by the condensation of the contained steam.  A new light suddenly broke upon Newcomen.  The idea of condensing the steam by injecting the cold water directly into the cylinder, instead of applying it on the outside, at once occurred to him; and he proceeded to embody the expedient which had thus been accidentally suggested as part of his machine.  The result was the addition of the injection-pipe, through which, when the piston was raised and the cylinder was full of steam, a jet of cold water was thrown in, and the steam being suddenly condensed, the piston was at once driven down by the pressure of the atmosphere.

    An accident of a different kind shortly after led to the improvement of Newcomen's engine in another respect.  To keep it at work, one man was required to attend the fire, and another to turn alternately the two cocks, one admitting the steam into the cylinder, the other admitting the jet of cold water to condense it.  The turning of these cocks was easy work, and was usually performed by a boy.  It was a very monotonous duty, though requiring constant attention.  To escape the drudgery and obtain an interval for rest, or perhaps for play, a boy named Humphrey Potter, who turned the cocks, set himself to discover some method of evading his task.  He must have been an ingenious boy, as is clear from the arrangement he contrived with this object.  Observing the alternate ascent and descent of the beam above his head, he bethought him of applying the movement to the alternate raising and lowering of the levers which governed the cocks.  The result was the contrivance of what he called the scoggan, [p.68] consisting of a catch worked by strings from the beam of the engine.  This arrangement, when tried, was found to answer the purpose intended.  The action of the engine was thus made automatic; and the arrangement, though rude, not only enabled Potter to enjoy his play, but it had the effect of improving the working power of the engine itself; the number of strokes which it made being increased from six or eight to fifteen or sixteen in the minute.  This invention was afterwards greatly improved by Mr. Henry Beighton, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, who added the plug-rod and hand-gear.  He did away with the catches and strings of the boy Potter's rude apparatus, and substituted a rod suspended from the beam, which alternately opened and shut the tappets attached to the steam and injection cocks.

    Thus, step by step, Newcomen's engine grew in power and efficiency, and became more and more complete as a self-acting machine. It will be observed that, like all other inventions, it was not the product of any one man's ingenuity, but of many. One contributed one improvement, and another and another. The essential features of the atmospheric engine were not new. The piston and cylinder had been known as long ago as the time of Hero. The expansive force of steam and the creation of a vacuum by its condensation had been known to the Marquis of Worcester, Savery, Papin, and many more. Newcomen merely combined in his machine the result of their varied experience, and, assisted by the persons who worked with him, down to the engine-boy Potter, he advanced the invention several important stages; so that the steam-engine was no longer a toy or a scientific curiosity, but had become a machine capable of doing useful work.



           Animation of a schematic Newcomen steam engine.
           – steam is shown pink and water is blue:
           – valves move from open (green) to closed (red)

Picture Wikipedia.

    The comparative success which attended the working of Newcomen's first engine at the colliery near Wolverhampton shortly induced other owners of coal-mines to adopt it.  There were great complaints in the North of the deeper mines having become unworkable.  All the ordinary means of pumping them clear of water had failed.  In their emergency the colliery owners called Newcomen and Calley to their aid.  They were invited down to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in the neighbourhood of which town they erected their second and third engines.  They were next summoned to Leeds, and erected their fourth engine at Austhorpe in 1714.  It was the sight of this engine at work which first induced Smeaton, when a boy, to turn his attention to mechanics, and eventually led him to study the atmospheric engine, with a view to its improvement.  The cylinder of the engine erected at Austhorpe, like those which had preceded it, was about 23 inches in diameter and made about fifteen strokes a minute.  The pumps, which were in two lifts, and of 9 inches bore, drew the water from a depth of 37 yards.  The patentees had £250 a year for working and keeping the engine in order.  Calley superintended its erection, and afterwards its working; but he did not long survive its completion, as he died at Austhorpe in 1717.

    The next engines were erected by Newcomen in Cornwall, where there was as great a demand for increased pumping-power as in any of the collieries of the North.  The first of Newcomen's construction in Cornwall was erected in 1720, at the Wheal Fortune tin mine, in the parish of Ludgvan, a few miles north-east of Penzance.  The mine was conducted by Mr. William Lemon, the founder of the fortunes of the well-known Cornish family.  He was born in a humble station in life, from which he honourably raised himself by his great industry, ability, and energy.  He began his career as a mining-boy; was at an early age appointed one of the managers of a tin-smelting house at Chiandower, near Penzance; and after the experience gained by him in that capacity he engaged in the working of the Wheal Fortune mine.  With the help of Newcomen's engine, the enterprise proved completely successful; and after realizing a considerable sum he removed to Truro, and began working the great Gwennap mines on such a scale as had never before been known in Cornwall.


    The Wheal Fortune engine was on a larger scale than any that had yet been erected, the cylinder being 47 inches in diameter, making about fifteen strokes a minute.  It drew about a hogshead (Ed.—somewhat over 50 gallons) of water at each stroke, from a pump 30 fathoms deep, through pit-barrels 15 inches in diameter, and its performances were on the whole regarded as very extraordinary.  The principal objection to its use consisted in the very large quantity of coal that it consumed and the heavy cost of maintaining it in working order.  There was a great waste, especially in boilers, the making of which was then ill understood.  Smeaton relates that in the course of four years' working of the first Austhorpe engine, not fewer than four boilers were burnt out.  The Wheal Fortune engine, however, answered its purpose.  It kept down the water sufficiently to enable Mr. Lemon to draw up his tin, and, on leaving the mine, he took with him to Truro a clear sum of ten thousand pounds.  The engine-house is now in ruins, and presents a highly picturesque appearance, as seen from the heights of Trewal, reminding one of a Border Peel rather than of a mining engine-house.


    Another of Newcomen's engines was erected about the same time at the Wheal Rose mine, a few miles north of Redruth.  The engineer appointed to superintend its erection was Joseph Hornblower, who came from Staffordshire for the purpose about the year 1725.  Mr. Cyrus Redding, one of Hornblower's descendants, says, "how he became in any way connected with Newcomen must have arisen from the latter being at Bromsgrove, when he visited Mr. Potter, who got him to build one of his newly-invented engines at Wolverhampton in 1712." [p.73]

    Another engine was afterwards erected by Hornblower at Wheal Busy, or Chacewater, and a third at Polgooth—all rich and well-known mines in Cornwall.

    Though the use of Newcomen's engine rapidly extended, nothing is known of the man himself during this time.  All over the mining districts his name was identified with the means employed for pumping the mines clear of water, and thereby enabling an important branch of the national industry to be carried on; but of Newcomen's personal history, beyond what has been stated above, we can gather nothing.  It is not known when or where he died, whether rich or poor.  The probability is that, being a person of a modest and retiring disposition, without business energy, and having secured no protection for his invention, it was appropriated and made use of by others, without any profit to him—while he quietly subsided into private life.  It is supposed that he died at Dartmouth about the middle of last century; but no stone marks the place where he was laid.  The only memorial of Newcomen to be found at his native place is the little steam-boat called by his name, which plies between Totnes and Dartmouth.[p.74]

    Newcomen's engines continued to be used for many years after his death.  Indeed there was scarcely a tin or copper mine of any importance in Cornwall that had not one or more of his engines at work.  They were also in general use in Staffordshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Northumberland.  In the latter counties, where they were principally used for pumping water out of the coal-mines, fuel was cheap and abundant.  But in Cornwall it was otherwise.  The coal had to be brought thither from a great distance, partly by sea and partly by land, and the cost of carriage was very heavy.  It, therefore, became an object of much importance to reduce the consumption of fuel, to prevent the profits of the mines from being absorbed by the heavy cost of working the pumps.  This, indeed, was the great objection to Newcomen's engine, especially in Cornwall.  The consumption of fuel at some mines was so enormous that it was doubtful whether the cost of steam did not exceed that of an equal amount of horse power, and it became more and more difficult to realise even a bare margin of profit.  The two engines at Wheal Rose, and Wheal Busy, near Chacewater, of 66 and 72 inches diameter, consumed each about thirteen tons of coal daily.  To relieve the mining interest, in some measure, from this charge, government allowed a drawback of five shillings a chaldron on coal; but in some cases this was found insufficient, and it began to be complained that the consumption of coal was so great that the mines were barely paying.

    Invention, however, was constantly at work, and new improvements were from time to time introduced, with the object of economising fuel and increasing the efficiency of the engine.  Among the ingenious men who devoted themselves to this work were Payne, Brindley, and Smeaton.  Of these, the last especially distinguished himself by his improvements of the Newcomen engine, which he may be said to have carried to the highest perfection of which it was capable.  His famous Chacewater engine was the finest and most powerful work of the kind which had until then been constructed, and it remained unrivalled, until superseded by the invention of Watt, to whose labours in this direction we next proceed to direct the attention of the reader.



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