The Stephensons VI.
Home Up James Brindley Boulton and Watt Smeaton and Rennie Metcalfe & Telford Invention & Industry Brief Biographies Self Help Miscellanea Main Index Site Search


[Previous Page]



    WE return to the career of Robert Stephenson, who was absent from England during the construction of the Liverpool Railway, but was now about to rejoin his father and take part in "the battle of the locomotive" which was impending.

    We have seen that, on his return from Edinburgh College at the end of 1821, he had assisted in superintending the works of the Hetton Railway until its opening in 1822, after which he proceeded to Liverpool to take part with Mr. James in surveying the proposed railway there.  In the following year we found him assisting his father in the working survey of the Stockton and Darlington Railway; and when the Locomotive Engine Works were started in Forth Street, Newcastle, he took an active part in that concern.  "The factory," he says, "was in active operation in 1824; I left England for Colombia in June of that year, having finished drawing the designs of the Brusselton stationary engines for the Stockton and Darlington Railway before I left."  [p.301]

    Speculation was very rife at the time, and among the most promising adventures were the companies organized for the purpose of working the gold and silver mines of South America.  Great difficulty was experienced in finding mining engineers capable of carrying out those projects, and young men of even the most moderate experience were eagerly sought after.  The Colombian Mining Association of London offered an engagement to young Stephenson to go out to Mariquita and take charge of the engineering operations of that company.  Robert was himself desirous of accepting it, but his father said it would first be necessary to ascertain whether the proposed change would be for his good.  His health had been very delicate for some time, partly occasioned by his rapid growth, but principally because of his close application to work and study. Father and son proceeded together to call upon Dr. Headlam, the eminent physician of Newcastle, to consult him on the subject.  During the examination which ensued, Robert afterward used to say that he felt as if he were upon trial for life or death.  To his great relief, the doctor pronounced that a temporary residence in a warm climate was the very thing likely to be most beneficial to him.  The appointment was accordingly accepted, and, before many weeks had passed, Robert Stephenson had set sail for South America.

    After a tolerably prosperous voyage he landed at La Guayra, on the north coast of Venezuela, on the 23d of July, from thence proceeding to Caraccas, the capital of the district, about fifteen miles inland.  There he remained for two months, unable to proceed in consequence of the wretched state of the roads in the interior.  He contrived, however, to make occasional excursions in the neighbourhood with an eye to the mining business on which he had come.  About the beginning of October he set out for Bogotá, the capital of Colombia or New Granada.  The distance was about twelve hundred miles, through a very difficult region, and it was performed entirely upon mule-back, after the fashion of the country.

    In the course of the journey Robert visited many of the districts reported to be rich in minerals, but he met with few traces except of copper, iron, and coal, with occasional indications of gold and silver.  He found the people ready to furnish information, which, however, when tested, usually proved worthless.  A guide, whom he employed for weeks, kept him buoyed up with the hope of finding richer mining places than he had yet seen; but when he professed to be able to show him mines of "brass, steel, alcohol, and pinchbeck," Stephenson discovered him to be an incorrigible rogue, and immediately dismissed him.  At length our traveller reached Bogotá, and after an interview with Mr. Illingworth, the commercial manager of the Mining Company, he proceeded to Honda, crossed the Magdalena, and shortly after reached the site of his intended operations on the eastern slope of the Andes.

    Mr. Stephenson used afterward to speak in glowing terms of this his first mule-journey in South America.  Every thing was entirely new to him.  The variety and beauty of the indigenous plants, the luxurious tropical vegetation, the appearance, manners, and dress of the people, and the mode of travelling, were altogether different from every thing he had before seen.  His own travelling garb, also must have been strange even to himself.  "My hat," he says, "was of plaited grass, with a crown nine inches in height, surrounded by a brim of six inches; a white cotton suit; and a ruana of blue and crimson plaid, with a hole in the centre for the head to pass through.  This cloak is admirably adapted for the purpose, amply covering the rider and mule, and at night answering the purpose of a blanket in the net-hammock, which is made from the fibres of the aloe, and which every traveller carries before him on his mule, and suspends to the trees or in houses, as occasion may require."

    The part of the journey which seems to have made the most lasting impression on his mind was that between Bogotá and the mining district in the neighbourhood of Mariquita.  As he ascended the slopes of the mountain range, and reached the first step of the table-land, he was struck beyond expression with the noble view of the valley of Magdalena behind him, so vast that he failed in attempting to define the point at which the course of the river blended with the horizon.  Like all travellers in the district, he noted the remarkable changes of climate and vegetation as he rose from the burning plains toward the fresh breath of the mountains.  From an atmosphere as hot as that of an oven he passed into delicious cool air, until, in his onward and upward journey, a still more temperate region was reached, the very perfection of climate.  Before him rose the majestic Cordilleras, forming a rampart against the western sky, and at certain times of the day looking black, sharp, and even at their summit almost like a wall.

    Our engineer took up his abode for a time at Mariquita, a fine old city, though then greatly fallen into decay.  During the period of the Spanish dominion it was an important place, most of the gold and silver convoys passing through it on their way to Cartagena, there to be shipped in galleons for Europe.  The Mountainous country to the west was rich in silver, gold, and other metals, and it was Mr. Stephenson's object to select the best site for commencing operations for the company.  With this object he "prospected" about in all directions, visiting long-abandoned mines, and analyzing specimens obtained from many quarters.  The mines eventually fixed upon as the scene of his operations were those of La Manta and Santa Anna, long before worked by the Spaniards, though, in consequence of the luxuriance and rapidity of the vegetation, all traces of the old workings had become completely overgrown and lost.  Every thing had to be begun anew.  Roads had to be cut to open a way to the mines, machinery had to be erected, and the ground opened up, when some of the old adits were eventually hit upon.  The native peons or labourers were not accustomed to work, and they usually contrived to desert when they were not watched, so that very little progress could be made until the arrival of the expected band of miners from England.  The authorities were by no means helpful, and the engineer was driven to an old expedient with the object of overcoming this difficulty.  "We endeavour all we can," he says, in one of his letters, "to make ourselves popular, and this we find most effectually accomplished by 'regaling the venal beasts.'"  He also gave a ball at Mariquita, which passed off with éclat, the governor from Honda, with a host of friends, honouring it with their presence.  It was, indeed, necessary to "make a party" in this way, as other schemers were already trying to undermine the Colombian Company in influential directions.  The engineer did not exaggerate when he said, "The uncertainty of transacting business in this country is perplexing beyond description."  In the mean time labourers had been attracted to Santa Anna, which became, the engineer wrote, "like an English fair on Sundays: people flock to it from all quarters to buy beef and chat with their friends.  Sometimes three or four torros are slaughtered in a day.  The people now eat more beef in a week than they did in two months before, and they are consequently getting fat." [p.304]

    At last Stephenson's party of miners arrived from England, but they gave him even more trouble than the peons had done.  They were rough, drunken, and sometimes ungovernable.  He set them to work at the Santa Anna mine without delay, and at the same time took up his abode among them, "to keep them," he said, "if possible, from indulging in the detestable vice of drunkenness, which, if not put a stop to, will eventually destroy themselves, and involve the mining association in ruin."  To add to his troubles, the captain of the miners displayed a very hostile and insubordinate spirit, quarrelled and fought with the men, and was insolent to the engineer himself.  The captain and his gang, being Cornishmen, told Robert to his face that because he was a North-country man, and not brought up in Cornwall, it was impossible that he should know any thing of mining.  Disease also fell upon him—first fever, and then visceral derangement, followed by a return of his "old complaint, a feeling of oppression in the breast."  No wonder that in the midst of these troubles he should longingly speak of returning to his native land.  But he stuck to his post and his duty, kept up his courage, and by a mixture of mildness and firmness, and the display of great coolness and judgment, he contrived to keep the men to their work, and gradually to carry forward the enterprise which he had undertaken.  By the beginning of July, 1826, quietness and order had been restored, and the works were proceeding more satisfactorily, though the yield of silver was not as yet very promising, the engineer being of opinion that at least three years' diligent and costly operations would be necessary to render the mines productive.

    In the mean time he removed to the dwelling which had been erected for his accommodation at Santa Anna.  It was a structure speedily raised after the fashion of the country.  The walls were of split and flattened bamboo, tied together with the long fibres of a dried climbing plant; the roof was of palm-leaves, and the ceiling of reeds.  When an earthquake shook the district—for earthquakes were frequent—the inmates of such a fabric merely felt as if shaken in a basket, without sustaining any harm.  In front of the cottage lay a woody ravine, extending almost to the base of the Andes, gorgeously clothed in primeval vegetation—magnolias, palms, bamboos, tree-ferns, acacias, cedars; and towering over all were the great almendrons, with their smooth, silvery stems, bearing aloft noble clusters of pure white blossom.  The forest was haunted by myriads of gay-insects, butterflies with wings of dazzling lustre, birds of brilliant plumage, humming-birds, golden orioles, toucans, and a host of solitary warblers.  But the glorious sunsets seen from his cottage-porch more than all astonished and delighted the young engineer, and he was accustomed to say that, after having witnessed them, he was reluctant to accuse the ancient Peruvians of idolatry.


    But all these natural beauties failed to reconcile him to the harassing difficulties of his position, which continued to increase rather than diminish.  He was hampered by the action of the board at home, who gave ear to hostile criticisms on his reports; and although they afterward made handsome acknowledgment of his services, he felt his position to be altogether unsatisfactory.  He therefore determined to leave at the expiry of his three years engagement, and communicated his decision to the directors accordingly. [p.306]

    On receiving his letter, the board, through Mr. Richardson, of Lombard Street, one of the directors, communicated with his father at Newcastle, representing that if he would allow his son to remain in Colombia the company would make it "worth his while."  To this the father gave a decided negative, and intimated that he himself urgently needed his son's assistance, and that he must return at the expiry of his three years' term—a decision, Robert wrote, "at which I feel much gratified, as it is clear that he is as anxious to have me back in England as I am to get there."

    At the same time, Edward Pease, a principal partner in the Newcastle firm, privately wrote Robert to the following effect, urging his return home: "I can assure thee that the business at Newcastle, as well as thy father's engineering, have suffered very much from thy absence, and, unless thou soon return, the former will be given up, as Mr. Longridge is not able to give it that attention it requires; and what is done is not done with credit to the house."  The idea of the manufactory being given up, which Robert had laboured so hard to establish before leaving England, was painful to him in the extreme, and he wrote to Mr. Illingworth, strongly urging that arrangements should be made for enabling him to leave without delay.  In the mean time he was laid prostrate by another violent attack of aguish fever; and when able to write, in June, 1827, he expressed himself as "completely wearied and worn down with vexation."

    At length, when he was sufficiently recovered from his attack and able to travel, he set out on his voyage homeward in the beginning of August.  At Mompox, on his way down the River Magdalena, he met Mr. Bodmer, his successor, with a fresh party from England, on their way up the country to the quarry which he had just quitted.  Next day, six hours after leaving Mompox, a steam-boat was met ascending the river, with Bolivar the Liberator on board, on his way to St. Bogotá; and it was a mortification to our engineer that he had only a passing sight of that distinguished person.  It was his intention, on leaving Mariquita, to visit the Isthmus of Panamá on his way home, for the purpose of inquiring into the practicability of cutting a canal to unite the Atlantic and Pacific—a project which then formed the subject of considerable public discussion; but Mr. Bodmer having informed him at Mompox that such a visit would be inconsistent with the statements made to the London Board that his presence was so anxiously desired at home, he determined to embrace the first opportunity of proceeding to New York.

    Arrived at the port of Cartagena, he found himself under the necessity of waiting some time for a ship.  The delay was very irksome to him, the more so as the place was then desolated by the ravages of the yellow fever.  While sitting one day in the large, bare, comfortless public room of the miserable hotel at which he put up, he observed two strangers, whom he at once perceived to be English.  One of the strangers was a tall, gaunt man, shrunken and hollow-looking, shabbily dressed, and apparently poverty-stricken.  On making inquiry, he found it was Trevithick, the builder of the first railroad locomotive!  He was returning home from the gold mines of Peru penniless.  Robert Stephenson lent him £50 to enable him to reach England; and though he was afterward heard of as an inventor there, he had no farther part in the ultimate triumph of the locomotive.

    But Trevithick's misadventures on this occasion had not yet ended, for before he reached New York he was wrecked, and Robert Stephenson with him.  The following is the account of the voyage, "big with adventures," as given by the latter in a letter to his friend Illingworth:

    "At first we had very little foul weather, and, indeed, were for several days becalmed among the islands, which was so far fortunate, for a few degrees farther north the most tremendous gales were blowing, and they appear (from our future information) to have wrecked every vessel exposed to their violence.  We had two examples of the effects of the hurricane; for, as we sailed north, we took on board the remains of two crews found floating about on dismantled hulls.  The one had been nine days without food of any kind except the carcasses of two of their companions who had died a day or two previously from fatigue and hunger.  The other crew had been driven about for six days, and were not so dejected, but reduced to such a weak state that they were obliged to be drawn on board our vessel by ropes.  A brig bound for Havana took part of the men, and we took the remainder.  To attempt any description of my feelings on witnessing such scenes would be in vain.  You will not be surprised to learn that I felt somewhat uneasy at the thought that we were so far from England, and that I also might possibly suffer similar shipwreck; but I consoled myself with the hope that fate would be more kind to us.  It was not so much so, however, as I had flattered myself; for on voyaging toward New York, after we had made the land, we ran aground about midnight.  The vessel soon filled with water, and, being surrounded by the breaking surf, the ship shortly split up, and before morning our situation became perilous.  Masts and all were cut away to prevent the hull rocking, but all we could do was of no avail.  About eight o'clock on the following morning, after a most miserable night, we were taken off the wreck, and were so fortunate as to reach the shore.  I saved my minerals, but Empson lost part of his botanical collection.  Upon the whole, we got off well; and, had I not been on the American side of the Atlantic, I 'guess' I would not have gone to sea again."

    After a short tour in the United States and Canada, Robert Stephenson and his friend took ship for Liverpool, where they arrived at the end of November, and at once proceeded to Newcastle.  The factory, we have seen, was by no means in a prosperous state.  During the time Robert had been in America it had been carried on at a considerable loss; and Edward Pease, very much disheartened, wished to retire from it, but George Stephenson being unable to raise the requisite money to buy him out, the establishment was of necessity carried on by its then partners until the locomotive could be established in public estimation as a practicable and economical working power.  Robert Stephenson immediately instituted a rigid inquiry into the working of the concern, unravelled the accounts, which had been allowed to fall into confusion during his father's absence at Liverpool, and very shortly succeeded in placing the affairs of the factory in a more healthy condition.  In all this he had the hearty support of his father, as well as of the other partners.

    The works of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway were now approaching completion.  But, strange to say, the directors had not yet decided as to the tractive power to be employed in working the line when opened for traffic.  The differences of opinion among them were so great as apparently to be irreconcilable.  It was necessary, however, that they should come to some decision without farther loss of time, and many board meetings were accordingly held to discuss the subject.  The old-fashioned and well-tried system of horse-haulage was not without its advocates; but, looking at the large amount of traffic which there was to be conveyed, and at the probable delay in the transit from station to station if this method were adopted, the directors, after a visit made by them to the Northumberland and Durham railways in 1828, came to the conclusion that the employment of horse-power was inadmissible.

    Fixed engines had many advocates; the locomotive very few: it stood as yet almost in a minority of one—George Stephenson.  The prejudice against the employment of the latter power had even increased since the Liverpool and Manchester Bill underwent its first ordeal in the House of Commons.  In proof of this, it may be mentioned that the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway Act was conceded in 1829 on the express condition that it should not be worked by locomotives, but by horses only.

    Grave doubts still existed as to the practicability of working a large traffic by means of travelling engines.  The most celebrated engineers offered no opinion on the subject.  They did not believe in the locomotive, and would scarcely take the trouble to examine it.  The ridicule with which George Stephenson had been assailed by the barristers before the Parliamentary Committee had not been altogether distasteful to them.  Perhaps they did not relish the idea of a man who had picked up his experience in Newcastle coal-pits appearing in the capacity of a leading engineer before Parliament, and attempting to establish a new system of internal communication in the country.

    The directors could not disregard the adverse and conflicting views of the professional men whom they consulted.  But Stephenson had so repeatedly and earnestly urged upon them the propriety of making a trial of the locomotive before coming to any decision against it, that they at length authorized him to proceed with the construction of one of his engines by way of experiment.  In their report to the proprietors at their annual meeting on the 27th of March, 1828, they state that they had, after due consideration, authorized the engineer "to prepare a locomotive engine, which, from the nature of its construction and from the experiments already made, he is of opinion will be effective for the purposes of the company, without proving an annoyance to the public."  The locomotive thus ordered was placed upon the line in 1829, and was found of great service in drawing the wagons full of marl from the two great cuttings.

    In the mean time the discussion proceeded as to the kind of power to be permanently employed for the working of the railway.  The directors were inundated with schemes of all sorts for facilitating locomotion.  The projectors of England, France, and America seemed to be let loose upon them.  There were plans for working the wagons along the line by water-power.  Some proposed hydrogen, and others carbonic acid gas.  Atmospheric pressure had its eager advocates.  And various kinds of fixed and locomotive steam-power were suggested.  Thomas Gray urged his plan of a greased road with cog-rails; and Messrs. Vignolles and Ericsson recommended the adoption of a central friction-rail, against which two horizontal rollers under the locomotive, pressing upon the sides of this rail, were to afford the means of ascending the inclined planes.

    The directors felt themselves quite unable to choose from amid this multitude of projects.  Their engineer expressed himself as decidedly as heretofore in favour of smooth rails and locomotive engines, which, he was confident, would be found the most economical and by far the most convenient moving power that could be employed.  The Stockton and Darlington Railway being now at work, another deputation went down personally to inspect the fixed and locomotive engines on that line, as well as at Hetton and Killingworth.  They returned to Liverpool with much information; but their testimony as to the relative merits of the two kinds of engines was so contradictory, that the directors were as far from a decision as ever.

    They then resolved to call to their aid two professional engineers of high standing, who should visit the Darlington and Newcastle railways, carefully examine both modes of working—the fixed and the locomotive—and report to them fully on the subject.  The gentlemen selected were Mr. Walker, of Limehouse, and Mr. Rastrick, of Stourbridge.  After carefully examining the working of the Northern lines, they made their report to the directors in the spring of 1829.  They concurred in the opinion that the cost of an establishment of fixed engines would be somewhat greater than that of locomotives to do the same work, but they thought the annual charge would be less if the former were adopted.  They calculated that the cost of moving a ton of goods thirty miles by fixed engines would be 6.40d., and by locomotives, 8.36d., assuming a profitable traffic to be obtained both ways.  At the same time, it was admitted that there appeared more grounds for expecting improvements in the construction and working of locomotives than of stationary engines.  "On the whole, however, and looking especially at the computed annual charge of working the road on the two systems on a large scale, Messrs. Walker and Rastrick were of opinion that fixed engines were preferable, and accordingly recommended their adoption to the directors." [p.312]  And in order to carry the system recommended by them into effect, they proposed to divide the railroad between Liverpool and Manchester into nineteen stages of about a mile and a half each, with twenty-one engines fixed at the different points to work the trains forward.

    Such was the result, so far, of George Stephenson's labours.  The two best practical engineers of the day concurred in reporting substantially in favour of the employment of fixed engines.  Not a single professional man of eminence could be found to coincide with the engineer of the railway in his preference for locomotive over fixed engine power.  He had scarcely a supporter, and the locomotive system seemed on the eve of being abandoned.  Still he did not despair.  With the profession against him, and public opinion against him—for the most frightful stories went abroad respecting the dangers, the unsightliness, and the nuisance which the locomotive would create—Stephenson held to his purpose.  Even in this, apparently the darkest hour of the locomotive, he did not hesitate to declare that locomotive railroads would, before many years had passed, be "the great highways of the world."

    He urged his views upon the directors in all ways, in season, and, as some of them thought, out of season.  He pointed out the greater convenience of locomotive power for the purposes of a public highway, likening it to a series of short unconnected chains, any one of which could be removed and another substituted without interruption to the traffic; whereas the fixed-engine system might be regarded in the light of a continuous chain extending between the two termini, the failure of any link of which would derange the whole. [p.313]  But the fixed-engine party were very strong at the board, and, led by Mr. Cropper, they urged the propriety of forthwith adopting the report of Messrs. Walker and Rastrick.  Mr. Sandars and Mr. William Rathbone, on the other hand, desired that a fair trial should be given to the locomotive; and they with reason objected to the expenditure of the large capital necessary to construct the proposed engine-houses, with their fixed engines, ropes, and machinery, until they had tested the powers of the locomotive as recommended by their own engineer.  George Stephenson continued to urge upon them that the locomotive was yet capable of great improvements, if proper inducements were held out to inventors and machinists to make them; and he pledged himself that, if time were given him, he would construct an engine that should satisfy their requirements, and prove itself capable of working heavy loads along the railway with speed, regularity, and safety.  At length, influenced by his persistent earnestness not less than by his arguments, the directors, at the suggestion of Mr. Harrison, determined to offer a prize of £500 for the best locomotive engine, which, on a certain day, should be produced on the railway, and perform certain specified conditions in the most satisfactory manner. [p.314]

    The requirements of the directors as to speed were not excessive.  All that they asked for was that ten miles an hour should be maintained.  Perhaps they had in mind the animadversions of the "Quarterly Reviewer" on the absurdity of travelling at a greater velocity, and also the remarks published by Mr. Nicholas Wood, whom they selected to be one of the judges of the competition, in conjunction with Mr. Rastrick, of Stourbridge, and Mr. Kennedy, of Manchester.

    It was now felt that the fate of railways in a great measure depended upon the issue of this appeal to the mechanical genius of England.  When the advertisement of the prize for the best locomotive was published, scientific men began more particularly to direct their attention to the new power which was thus struggling into existence.  In the mean time public opinion on the subject of railway working remained suspended, and the progress of the undertaking was watched with intense interest.

    During the progress of this important controversy with reference to the kind of power to be employed in working the railway, George Stephenson was in constant communication with his son Robert, who made frequent visits to Liverpool for the purpose of assisting his father in the preparation of his reports to the board on the subject.  Mr. Swanwick remembers the vivid interest of the evening discussions which then took place between father and son as to the best mode of increasing the powers and perfecting the mechanism of the locomotive.  He wondered at their quick perception and rapid judgment on each other's suggestions; at the mechanical difficulties which they anticipated and provided for in the practical arrangement of the machine; and he speaks of these evenings as most interesting displays of two actively ingenious and able minds stimulating each other to feats of mechanical invention, by which it was ordained that the locomotive engine should become what it now is.  These discussions became more frequent, and still more interesting, after the public prize had been offered for the best locomotive by the directors of the railway, and the working plans of the engine which they proposed to construct had to be settled.

    One of the most important considerations in the new engine was the arrangement of the boiler and the extension of its heating surface to enable steam enough to be raised rapidly and continuously for the purpose of maintaining high rates of speed—the effect of high-pressure engines being ascertained to depend mainly upon the quantity of steam which the boiler can generate, and upon its degree of elasticity when produced.  The quantity of steam so generated, it will be obvious, must chiefly depend upon the quantity of fuel consumed in the furnace, and, by necessary consequence, upon the high rate of temperature maintained there.

    It will be remembered that in Stephenson's first Killingworth engines he invited and applied the ingenious method of stimulating combustion in the furnace by throwing the waste steam into the chimney after performing its office in the cylinders, thereby accelerating the ascent of the current of air, greatly increasing the draught, and consequently the temperature of the fire.  This plan was adopted by him, as we have seen, as early as 1815, and it was so successful that he himself attributed to it the greater economy of the locomotive as compared with horsepower.  Hence the continuance of its use upon the Killingworth Railway.

    Though the adoption of the steam-blast greatly quickened combustion and contributed to the rapid production of high-pressure steam, the limited amount of heating surface presented to the fire was still felt to be an obstacle to the complete success of the locomotive engine.  Mr. Stephenson endeavoured to overcome this by lengthening the boilers and increasing the surface presented by the flue-tubes.  The "Lancashire Witch," which he built for the Bolton and Leigh Railway, and used in forming the Liverpool and Manchester Railway embankments, was constructed with a double tube, each of which contained a fire, and passed longitudinally through the boiler.  But this arrangement necessarily led to a considerable increase in the weight of those engines, which amounted to about twelve tons each; and as six tons was the limit allowed for engines admitted to the Liverpool competition, it was clear that the time was come when the Killingworth engine must undergo a farther important modification.

    For many years previous to this period, ingenious mechanics had been engaged in attempting to solve the problem of the best and most economical boiler for the production of high-pressure steam.

    The use of tubes in boilers for increasing the heating surface had long been known.  As early as 1780, Matthew Boulton employed copper tubes longitudinally in the boiler of the Wheal Busy engine in Cornwall—the fire passing through the tubes—and it was found that the production of steam was thereby considerably increased. [p.317]  The use of tubular boilers afterward became common in Cornwall.  In 1803, Woolf, the Cornish engineer, patented a boiler with tubes, with the same object of in creasing the heating surface.  The water was inside the tubes, and the fire of the boiler outside.  Similar expedients were proposed by other inventors.  In 1815 Trevithick invented his light high-pressure boiler for portable purposes, in which, to "expose a large surface to the fire," he constructed the boiler of a number of small perpendicular tubes "opening into a common reservoir at the top."  In 1823 W. H. James contrived a boiler composed of a series of annular wrought-iron tubes, placed side by side and bolted together, so as to form by their union a long cylindrical boiler, in the centre of which, at the end, the fireplace was situated.  The fire played round the tubes, which contained the water.  In 1826 James Neville took out a patent for a boiler with vertical tubes surrounded by the water, through which the heated air of the furnace passed, explaining also in his specification that the tubes might be horizontal or inclined, according to circumstances.  Mr. Goldsworthy Gurney, the persevering adaptor of steam-carriages to travelling on common roads, applied the tubular principle in the boiler of his engine, in which the steam was generated within the tubes; while the boiler invented by Messrs. Summers and Ogle for their turnpike-road steam-carriage consisted of a series of tubes placed vertically over the furnace, through which the heated air passed before reaching the chimney.

    About the same time George Stephenson was trying the effect of introducing small tubes in the boilers of his locomotives, with the object of increasing their evaporative power.  Thus, in 1829, he sent to France two engines constructed at the Newcastle works for the Lyons and St. Etienne Railway, in the boilers of which tubes were placed containing water.  The heating surface was thus considerably increased; but the expedient was not successful, for the tubes, becoming furred with deposit, shortly burned out and were removed.  It was then that M. Seguin, the engineer of the railway, pursuing the same idea, is said to have adopted his plan of employing horizontal tubes through which the heated air passed in streamlets, and for which he took out a French patent.

    In the mean time Mr. Henry Booth, secretary to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, whose attention had been directed to the subject on the prize being offered for the best locomotive to work that line, proposed the same method, which, unknown to him, Matthew Boulton had employed, but not patented, in 1780, and James Neville had patented, but not employed, in 1826; and it was carried into effect by Robert Stephenson in the construction of the "Rocket," which won the prize at Rainhill in October, 1829.  The following is Mr. Booth's account in a letter to the author:

    "I was in almost daily communication with Mr. Stephenson at the time, and I was not aware that he had any intention of competing for the prize till I communicated to him my scheme of a multi-tubular boiler.  This new plan of boiler comprised the introduction of numerous small tubes, two or three inches in diameter, and less than one eighth of an inch thick, through which to carry the fire, instead of a single tube or flue eighteen inches in diameter, and about half an inch thick, by which plan we not only obtain a very much larger heating surface, but the heating surface is much more effective, as there intervenes between the fire and the water only a thin sheet of copper or brass, not an eighth of an inch thick, instead of a plate of iron of four times the substance, as well as an inferior conductor of heat.

    "When the conditions of trial were published, I communicated my multitubular plan to Mr. Stephenson, and proposed to him that we should jointly construct an engine and compete for the prize.  Mr. Stephenson approved the plan, and agreed to my proposal.  He settled the mode in which the fire-box and tubes were to be mutually arranged and connected, and the engine was constructed at the works of Messrs. Robert Stephenson and Co., Newcastle-on-Tyne.

    "I am ignorant of M. Seguin's proceedings in France, but I claim to be the inventor in England, and feel warranted in stating, without reservation, that until I named my plan to Mr. Stephenson, with a view to compete for the prize at Rainhill, it had not been tried, and was not known in this country."

    From the well-known high character of Mr. Booth, we believe his statement to be made in perfect good faith, and that he was as much in ignorance of the plan patented by Neville as he was as of that of Seguin.  As we have seen, from the many plans of tubular boilers invented during the preceding thirty years, the idea was not by any means new; and we believe Mr. Booth to be entitled to the merit of inventing the method by which the multitubular principle was so effectually applied in the construction of the famous "Rocket" engine.

    The principal circumstances connected with the construction of the "Rocket," as described by Robert Stephenson to the author, may be briefly stated.  The tubular principle was adopted in a more complete manner than had yet been attempted.  Twenty-five copper tubes, each three inches in diameter, extended from one end of the boiler to the other, the heated air passing through them on its way to the chimney; and the tubes being surrounded by the water of the boiler, it will be obvious that a large extension of the heating surface was thus effectually secured.  The principal difficulty was in fitting the copper tubes in the boiler-ends so as to prevent leakage.  They were manufactured by a Newcastle coppersmith, and soldered to brass screws which were screwed into the boiler-ends, standing out in great knobs.  When the tubes were thus fitted, and the boiler was filled with water, hydraulic pressure was applied; but the water squirted out at every joint, and the factory floor was soon flooded.  Robert went home in despair; and in the first moment of grief he wrote to his father that the whole thing was a failure.  By return of post came a letter from his father, telling him that despair was not to be thought of—that he must "try again;" and he suggested a mode of overcoming the difficulty, which his son had already anticipated and proceeded to adopt.  It was, to bore clean holes in the boiler-ends, fit in the smooth copper tubes as tightly as possible, solder up, and then raise the steam.  This plan succeeded perfectly, the expansion of the copper tubes completely filling up all interstices, and producing a perfectly water-tight boiler, capable of withstanding extreme external pressure.

    The mode of employing the steam-blast for the purpose of increasing the draught in the chimney was also the subject of numerous experiments.  When the engine was first tried, it was thought that the blast in the chimney was not sufficiently strong for the purpose of keeping up the intensity of the fire in the furnace, so as to produce high-pressure steam with the required velocity.  The expedient was therefore adopted of hammering the copper tubes at the point at which they entered the chimney, whereby the blast was considerably sharpened; and on a farther trial it was found that the draught was increased to such an extent as to enable abundance of steam to be raised.  The rationale of the blast may be simply explained by referring to the effect of contracting the pipe of a water-hose, by which the force of the jet of water is proportionately increased.  Widen the nozzle of the pipe, and the jet is in like manner diminished.  So is it with the steam-blast in the chimney of the locomotive.

    Doubts were, however, expressed whether the greater draught obtained by the contraction of the blast-pipe was not counterbalanced in some degree by the negative pressure upon the piston.  Hence a series of experiments was made with pipes of different diameters, and their efficiency was tested by the amount of vacuum that was produced in the smoke-box.  The degree of rarefaction was determined by a glass tube fixed to the bottom of the smoke-box, and descending into a bucket of water, the tube being open at both ends.  As the rarefaction took place, the water would of course rise in the tube, and the height to which it rose above the surface of the water in the bucket was made the measure of the amount of rarefaction.  These experiments proved that a considerable increase of draught was obtained by the contraction of the orifice; accordingly, the two blast-pipes opening from the cylinders into either side of the "Rocket" chimney, and turned up within it, were contracted slightly below the area of the steam-ports; and before the engine left the factory, the water rose in the glass tube three inches above the water in the bucket.

    The other arrangements of the "Rocket" were briefly these: the boiler was cylindrical, with flat ends, six feet in length, and three feet four inches in diameter.  The upper half of the boiler was used as a reservoir for the steam, the lower half being filled with water.  Through the lower part the copper tubes extended, being open to the fire-box at one end, and to the chimney at the other.  The fire-box, or furnace, two feet wide and three feet high, was attached immediately behind the boiler, and was also surrounded with water.  The cylinders of the engine were placed on each side of the boiler, in an oblique position, one end being nearly level with the top of the boiler at its after end, and the other pointing toward the centre of the foremost or driving pair of wheels, with which the connection was directly made from the piston-rod to a pin on the outside of the wheel.  The engine, together with its load of water, weighed only four tons and a quarter; and it was supported on four wheels, not coupled.  The tender was four-wheeled, and similar in shape to a wagon—the foremost part holding the fuel, and the hind part a water-cask.


    When the "Rocket" was finished, it was placed upon the Killingworth Railway for the purpose of experiment.  The new boiler arrangement was found perfectly successful.  The steam was raised rapidly and continuously, and in a quantity which then appeared marvellous.  The same evening Robert dispatched a letter to his father at Liverpool, informing him, to his great joy, that the "Rocket" was "all right," and would be in complete working trim by the day of trial.  The engine was shortly after sent by wagon to Carlisle, and thence shipped for Liverpool.

    The time so much longed for by George Stephenson had now arrived, when the merits of the passenger locomotive were about to be put to the test.  He had fought the battle for it until now almost single-handed.  Engrossed by his daily labours and anxieties, and harassed by difficulties and discouragements which would have crushed the spirit of a less resolute man, he had held firmly to his purpose through good and through evil report.  The hostility which he experienced from some of the directors opposed to the adoption of the locomotive was the circumstance that caused him the greatest grief of all; for where he had looked for encouragement, he found only carping and opposition.  But his pluck never failed him; and now the "Rocket" was upon the ground to prove, to use his own words, "whether he was a man of his word or not."

    Great interest was felt at Liverpool, as well as throughout the country, in the approaching competition.  Engineers, scientific men, and mechanics arrived from all quarters to witness the novel display of mechanical ingenuity on which such great results depended.  The public generally were no indifferent spectators either.  The populations of Liverpool, Manchester, and the adjacent towns felt that the successful issue of the experiment would confer upon them individual benefits and local advantages almost incalculable, while populations at a distance waited for the result with almost equal interest.

    On the day appointed for the great competition of locomotives at Rainhill the following engines were entered for the prize:

1. Messrs. Braithwaite and Ericsson's "Novelty." [p.322]
2. Mr. Timothy Hackworth's "Sanspareil."
3. Messrs. R. Stephenson and Co.'s "Rocket."
4. Mr. Burstall's "Perseverance."

    Another engine was entered by Mr. Brandreth, of Liverpool—the "Cycloped," weighing three tons, worked by a horse in a frame, but it could not be admitted to the competition.  The above were the only four exhibited, out of a considerable number of engines constructed in different parts of the country in anticipation of this contest, many of which could not be satisfactorily completed by the day of trial.

    The ground on which the engines were to be tried was a level piece of railroad, about two miles in length.  Each was required to make twenty trips, or equal to a journey of seventy miles, in the course of the day, and the average rate of travelling was to be not under ten miles an hour.  It was determined that, to avoid confusion, each engine should be tried separately, and on different days.

    The day fixed for the competition was the 1st of October, but, to allow sufficient time to get the locomotives into good working order, the directors extended it to the 6th.  On the morning of the 6th the ground at Rainhill presented a lively appearance, and there was as much excitement as if the St. Leger were about to be run.  Many thousand spectators looked on, among whom were some of the first engineers and mechanicians of the day.  A stand was provided for the ladies; the "beauty and fashion" of the neighbourhood were present, and the side of the railroad was lined with carriages of all descriptions.

    It was quite characteristic of the Stephensons that, although their engine did not stand first on the list for trial, it was the first that was ready, and it was accordingly ordered out by the judges for an experimental trip.  Yet the "Rocket" was by no means the "favourite" with either the judges or the spectators.  Nicholas Wood has since stated that the majority of the judges were strongly predisposed in favour of the "Novelty," and that "nine tenths, if not ten tenths, of the persons present were against the 'Rocket' because of its appearance." [p.323]  Nearly every person favoured some other engine, so that there was nothing for the "Rocket" but the practical test.  The first trip made by it was quite successful.  It ran about twelve miles, without interruption, in about fifty-three minutes.

    The "Novelty" was next called out.  It was a light engine, very compact in appearance, carrying the water and fuel upon the same wheels as the engine.  The weight of the whole was only three tons and one hundred weight.  A peculiarity of this engine was that the air was driven or forced through the fire by means of bellows.  The day being now far advanced, and some dispute having arisen as to the method of assigning the proper load for the "Novelty," no particular experiment was made farther than that the engine traversed the line by way of exhibition, occasionally moving at the rate of twenty-four miles an hour.  The "Sanspareil," constructed by Mr. Timothy Hackworth, was next exhibited, but no particular experiment was made with it on this day.  This engine differed but little in its construction from the locomotive last supplied by the Stephensons to the Stockton and Darlington Railway, of which Mr. Hackworth was the locomotive foreman.


    The contest was postponed until the following day; but, before the judges arrived on the ground, the bellows for creating the blast in the "Novelty" gave way, and it was found incapable of going through its performance.  A defect was also detected in the boiler of the "Sanspareil," and some farther time was allowed to get it repaired.  The large number of spectators who had assembled to witness the contest were greatly disappointed at this postponement; but, to lessen it, Stephenson again brought out the "Rocket," and, attaching to it a coach containing thirty persons, he ran them along the line at the rate of from twenty-four to thirty miles an hour, much to their gratification and amazement.  Before separating, the judges ordered the engine to be in readiness by eight o'clock on the following morning, to go through its definitive trial according to the prescribed conditions.

    On the morning of the 8th of October the "Rocket" was again ready for the contest.  The engine was taken to the extremity of the stage, the fire-box was filled with coke, the fire lighted, and the steam raised until it lifted the safety-valve loaded to a pressure of fifty pounds to the square inch.  This proceeding occupied fifty-seven minutes.  The engine then started on its journey, dragging after it about thirteen tons' weight in wagons, and made the first ten trips backward and forward along the two miles of road, running the thirty-five miles, including stoppages, in an hour and forty-eight minutes.  The second ten trips were in like manner performed in two hours and three minutes.  The maximum velocity attained during the trial trip was twenty-nine miles an hour, or about three times the speed that one of the judges of the competition had declared to be the limit of possibility.  The average speed at which the whole of the journeys were performed was fifteen miles an hour, or five miles beyond the rate specified in the conditions published by the company.  The entire performance excited the greatest astonishment among the assembled spectators; the directors felt confident that their enterprise was now on the eve of success; and George Stephenson rejoiced to think that, in spite of all false prophets and fickle counsellors, the locomotive system was now safe.  When the "Rocket," having performed all the conditions of the contest, arrived at the "grand stand" at the close of its day's successful run, Mr. Cropper—one of the directors favourable to the fixed engine system—lifted up his hands, and exclaimed, "Now has George Stephenson at last delivered himself."


Messrs. Braithwaite and Ericsson's "Novelty."

    Neither the "Novelty" nor the "Sanspareil" was ready for trial until the 10th, on the morning of which day an advertisement appeared, stating that the former engine was to be tried on that day, when it would perform more work than any engine on the ground.  The weight of the carriages attached to it was only about seven tons.  The engine passed the first post in good style; but, in returning, the pipe from the forcing-pump burst and put an end to the trial.  The pipe was afterward repaired, and the engine made several trips by itself, in which it was said to have gone at the rate of from twenty-four to twenty-eight miles an hour.


Timothy Hackworth's "Sans Pareil."

    The "Sanspareil" was not ready until the 13th; and when its boiler and tender were filled with water, it was found to weigh four hundred weight beyond the weight specified in the published conditions as the limit of four-wheeled engines; nevertheless, the judges allowed it to run on the same footing as the other engines, to enable them to ascertain whether its merits entitled it to favourable consideration.  It travelled at the average speed of about fourteen miles an hour, with its load attached; but at the eighth trip the cold-water pump got wrong, and the engine could proceed no farther.

    It was determined to award the premium to the successful engine on the following day, the 14th, on which occasion there was an unusual assemblage of spectators.  The owners of the "Novelty" pleaded for another trial, and it was conceded.  But again it broke down.  Then Mr. Hackworth requested the opportunity for making another trial of his "Sanspareil."  But the judges had now had enough of failures, and they declined, on the ground that not only was the engine above the stipulated weight, but that it was constructed on a plan which they could not recommend for adoption by the directors of the company.  One of the principal practical objections to this locomotive was the enormous quantity of coke consumed or wasted by it—about 692 lbs. per hour when travelling—caused by the sharpness of the steam-blast in the chimney, which blew a large proportion of the burning coke into the air.


Timothy Burstall's "Perseverance."

    The "Perseverance" of Mr. Burstall was found unable to move at more than five or six miles an hour, and it was withdrawn from the contest at an early period.  The "Rocket" was thus the only engine that had performed, and more than performed, all the stipulated conditions, and it was declared to be entitled to the prize of £500, which was awarded to the Messrs. Stephenson and Booth accordingly.  And farther to show that the engine had been working quite within its powers, George Stephenson ordered it to be brought upon the ground and detached from all incumbrances, when, in making two trips, it was found to travel at the astonishing rate of thirty-five miles an hour.

    The "Rocket" had thus eclipsed the performances of all locomotive engines that had yet been constructed, and outstripped even the sanguine expectations of its constructors.  It satisfactorily answered the report of Messrs. Walker and Rastrick, and established the efficiency of the locomotive for working the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and, indeed, all future railways.  The "Rocket" showed that a new power had been born into the world, full of activity and strength, with boundless capability of work.  It was the simple but admirable contrivance of the steam-blast, and its combination with the multitubular boiler, that at once gave locomotion a vigorous life, and secured the triumph of the railway system. [p.327]  As has been well observed, this wonderful ability to increase and multiply its powers of performance with the emergency that demands them has made this giant engine the noblest creation of human wit, the very lion among machines.  The success of the Rainhill experiment, as judged by the public, may be inferred from the fact that the shares of the company immediately rose ten per cent., and nothing farther was heard of the proposed twenty-one fixed engines, engine-houses, ropes, etc.  All this cumbersome apparatus was thenceforward effectually disposed of.

    Very different now was the tone of those directors who had distinguished themselves by the persistency of their opposition to George Stephenson's plans.  Coolness gave way to eulogy, and hostility to unbounded offers of friendship, after the manner of many men who run to the help of the strong.  Deeply though the engineer had felt aggrieved by the conduct exhibited toward him during this eventful struggle by some from whom forbearance was to have been expected, he never entertained toward them in after life any angry feelings; on the contrary, he forgave all.  But, though the directors afterward passed unanimous resolutions eulogizing "the great skill and unwearied energy" of their engineer, he himself, when speaking confidentially to those with whom he was most intimate, could not help pointing out the difference between his "foul-weather and fair-weather friends."  Mr. Gooch says that, though naturally most cheerful and kind-hearted in disposition, the anxiety and pressure which weighed upon his mind during the construction of the railway had the effect of making him occasionally impatient and irritable, like a spirited horse touched by the spur, though his original good nature from time to time shone through it all.  When the line had been brought to a successful completion, a very marked change in him became visible.  The irritability passed away, and when difficulties and vexations arose they were treated by him as matters of course, and with perfect composure and cheerfulness.





    THE directors of the railway now began to see daylight, and they derived encouragement from the skilful manner in which their engineer had overcome the principal difficulties of the undertaking.  He had formed a solid road over Chat Moss, and thus achieved one "impossibility;" and he had constructed a locomotive that could run at a speed of thirty miles an hour, thus vanquishing a still more formidable difficulty.

    A single line of way was completed over Chat Moss by the 1st of January, 1830, and on that day the "Rocket," with a carriage full of directors, engineers, and their friends, passed along the greater part of the road between Liverpool and Manchester.  Mr. Stephenson continued to direct his close attention to the improvement of the details of the locomotive, every successive trial of which proved more satisfactory.  In this department he had the benefit of the able and unremitting assistance of his son, who, in the workshops at Newcastle, directly superintended the construction of the engines required for the public working of the railway.  He did not by any means rest satisfied with the success, decided though it was, which had been achieved by the "Rocket."  He regarded it but in the light of a successful experiment; and every successive engine placed upon the railway exhibited some improvement on its predecessors.  The arrangement of the parts, and the weight and proportion of the engines, were altered as the experience of each successive day, or week, or month suggested; and it was soon found that the performances of the "Rocket" on the day of trial had been greatly within the powers of the improved locomotive.

    The first entire trip between Liverpool and Manchester was performed on the 14th of June, 1830, on the occasion of a board meeting being held at the latter town.  The train was on this occasion drawn by the "Arrow," one of the new locomotives, which the most recent improvements had been adopted.  George Stephenson himself drove the engine, and Captain Scoresby, the circumpolar navigator, stood beside him on the footplate, and minuted the speed of the train.  A great concourse of people assembled at both termini, as well as along the line, to witness the novel spectacle of a train of carriages drawn by an engine at the speed of seventeen miles an hour.  On the return journey to Liverpool in the evening, the "Arrow" crossed Chat Moss at a speed of nearly twenty-seven miles an hour, reaching its destination in about an hour and a half.

    In the meantime Mr. Stephenson and his assistant, Mr. Gooch, were diligently occupied in making the necessary preliminary arrangements for the conduct of the traffic against the time when the line should be ready for opening.  The experiments made with the object of carrying on the passenger traffic at quick velocities were of an especially harassing and anxious character.  Every week, for nearly three months before the opening, trial trips were made to Newton and back, generally with two or three trains following each other, and carrying altogether from two to three hundred persons.  These trips were usually made on Saturday afternoons, when the works could be more conveniently stopped and the line cleared for the occasion.  In these experiments Mr. Stephenson had the able assistance of Mr. Henry Booth, the secretary of the company, who contrived many of the arrangements in the passenger carriages, not the least valuable of which was his invention of the coupling screw, still in use on all passenger railways.

    At length the line was finished and ready for the public opening, which took place on the 15th of September, 1830, and attracted a vast number of spectators from all parts of the country.  The completion of the railway was justly regarded as an important national event, and the ceremony of its opening was celebrated accordingly.  The Duke of Wellington, then prime minister, Sir Robert Peel, Secretary of State, Mr. Huskisson, one of the members for Liverpool and an earnest supporter of the project from its commencement, were among the number of distinguished public personages present.


Inaugural journey of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
Painting by A.B. Clayton, 1830.

    Eight locomotive engines, constructed at the Stephenson works, had been delivered and placed upon the line, the whole of which had been tried and tested, weeks before, with perfect success.  The several trains of carriages accommodated in all about six hundred persons.  The "Northumbrian" engine, driven by George Stephenson himself, headed the line of trains; then followed the "Phoenix," driven by Robert Stephenson; the "North Star," by Robert Stephenson senior (brother of George); the "Rocket," by Joseph Locke; the "Dart," by Thomas L. Gooch; the "Comet," by William Allcard; the "Arrow," by Frederick Swanwick; and the "Meteor," by Anthony Harding.  The procession was cheered in its progress by thousands of spectators—through the deep ravine of Olive Mount; up the Sutton incline; over the great Sankey viaduct, beneath which a multitude of persons had assembled—carriages filling the narrow lanes, and barges crowding the river; the people below gazing with wonder and admiration at the trains which sped along the line, far above their heads, at the rate of some twenty-four miles an hour.

    At Parkside, about seventeen miles from Liverpool, the engines stopped to take in water.  Here a deplorable accident occurred to one of the illustrious visitors, which threw a deep shadow over the subsequent proceedings of the day.  The "Northumbrian" engine, with the carriage containing the Duke of Wellington, was drawn up on one line, in order that the whole of the trains on the other line might pass in review before him and his party.  Mr. Huskisson had alighted from the carriage, and was standing on the opposite road, along which the "Rocket" was observed rapidly coming up.  At this moment the Duke of Wellington, between whom and Mr. Huskisson some coolness had existed, made a sign of recognition, and held out his hand.  A hurried but friendly grasp was given; and before it was loosened there was a general cry from the bystanders of "Get in, get in!"  Flurried and confused, Mr. Huskisson endeavoured to get round the open door of the carriage, which projected over the opposite rail, but in so doing he was struck down by the " Rocket," and falling with his leg doubled across the rail, the limb was instantly crushed.  His first words, on being raised, were, "I have met my death," which unhappily proved true, for he expired that same evening in the Parsonage of Eccles.  It was cited at the time as a remarkable fact that the "Northumbrian" engine, driven by George Stephenson himself, conveyed the wounded body of the unfortunate gentleman a distance of about fifteen miles in twenty-five minutes or at the rate of thirty-six miles an hour.  This incredible speed burst upon the world with the effect of a new and unlooked-for phenomenon.

    The accident threw a gloom over the rest of the day's proceedings.  The Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel expressed a wish that the procession should return to Liverpool.  It was, however, represented to them that a vast concourse of people had assembled at Manchester to witness the arrival of the trains; that report would exaggerate the mischief if they did not complete the journey; and that a false panic on that day might seriously affect future railway travelling and the value of the company's property.  The party consented accordingly to proceed to Manchester, but on the understanding that they should return as soon as possible, and refrain from farther festivity.

    As the trains approached Manchester, crowds of people were found covering the banks, the slopes of the cuttings, and even the railway itself.  The multitude, become impatient and excited by the rumours which reached them, had outflanked the military, and all order was at an end.  The people clambered about the carriages, holding on by the door-handles, and many were tumbled over; but, happily, no fatal accident occurred.  At the Manchester station the political element began to display itself; placards about "Peterloo," etc., were exhibited, and brickbats were thrown at the carriage containing the duke.  On the trains coming to a stand in the Manchester station, the duke did not descend, but remained seated, shaking hands with the women and children who were pushed forward by the crowd.  Shortly after, the trains returned to Liverpool, which they reached, after considerable delays, late at night.

    On the following morning the railway was opened for public traffic.  The first train of 140 passengers was booked and sent on to Manchester, reaching it in the allotted time of two hours; and from that time the traffic has regularly proceeded from day to day until now.

    It is scarcely necessary that we should speak at any length of the commercial results of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.  Suffice it to say that its success was complete and decisive.  The anticipations of its projectors were, however, in many respects at fault.  They had based their calculations almost entirely on the heavy merchandise traffic—such as coal, cotton, and timber—relying little upon passengers; whereas the receipts derived from the conveyance of passengers far exceeded those derived from merchandise of all kinds, which for a time continued a subordinate branch of the traffic.  In the evidence given before the Committee of the House of Commons, the promoters stated their expectation of obtaining about one half of the whole number of passengers which the coaches then running could carry, or about 400 a day.  But the railway was scarcely opened before it carried on an average about 1200 passengers daily; and five years after the opening, it carried nearly half a million of persons yearly.  So successful, indeed, was the passenger traffic, that it engrossed the whole of the company's small stock of engines.

    For some time after the public opening of the line, Mr. Stephenson's ingenuity continued to be employed in devising improved methods for securing the safety and comfort of the travelling public.  Few are aware of the thousand minute details which have to be arranged—the forethought and contrivance that have to be exercised—to enable the traveller by railway to accomplish his journey in safety.  After the difficulties of constructing a level road over bogs, across valleys, and through deep cuttings have been overcome, the maintenance of the way has to be provided for with continuous care.  Every rail, with its fastenings, must be complete, to prevent risk of accident, and the road must be kept regularly ballasted up to the level to diminish the jolting of vehicles passing over it at high speeds.  Then the stations must be protected by signals observable from such a distance as to enable the train to be stopped in event of an obstacle, such as a stopping or shunting train being in the way.  For some years the signals employed on the Liverpool Railway were entirely given by men with flags of different colours stationed along the line; there were no fixed signals nor electric telegraphs; but the traffic was nevertheless worked quite as safely as under the more elaborate and complicated system of telegraphing which has since been established.

    From an early period it became obvious that the iron road, as originally laid down, was quite insufficient for the heavy traffic which it had to carry.  The line was in the first place laid with fish-bellied rails of only thirty-five pounds to the yard, calculated only for horse-traffic, or, at most, for engines like the " Rocket" of very light weight.  But as the power and the weight of the locomotives were increased, it was found that such rails were quite insufficient for the safe conduct of the traffic, and it therefore became necessary to relay the road with heavier and stronger rails at considerable expense.


Replica Liverpool & Manchester Railway coach,
National Railway Museum, York.

    The details of the carrying stock had in like manner to be settled by experience.  Everything had, as it were, to be begun from the beginning.  The coal-wagon, it is true, served in some degree as a model for the railway-truck; but the railway passenger-carriage was an entirely novel structure.  It had to be mounted upon strong framing, of a peculiar kind, supported on springs to prevent jolting.  Then there was the necessity for contriving some method of preventing hard bumping of the carriage-ends when the train was pulled up, and hence the contrivance of buffer-springs and spring-frames.  For the purpose of stopping the train, brakes on an improved plan were also contrived, with new modes of lubricating the carriage-axles, on which the wheels revolved at an unusually high velocity.  In all these contrivances Mr. Stephenson's inventiveness was kept constantly on the stretch; and though many improvements in detail have been effected since his time, the foundations were then laid by him of the present system of conducting railway traffic.  As a curious illustration of the inventive ingenuity which he displayed in contriving the working of the Liverpool line, we may mention his invention of the Self-acting Brake.  He early entertained the idea that the momentum of the running train might itself be made available for the purpose of checking its speed.  He proposed to fit each carriage with a brake which should be called into action immediately on the locomotive at the head of the train being pulled up.  The impetus of the carriages carrying them forward, the buffer-springs would be driven home, and, at the same time, by a simple arrangement of the mechanism, the brakes would be called into simultaneous action; thus the wheels would be brought into a state of sledge, and the train speedily stopped.  This plan was adopted by Mr. Stephenson before he left the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, though it was afterward discontinued; and it is a remarkable fact, that this identical plan, with the addition of a centrifugal apparatus, was recently revived by M. Guerin, a French engineer, and extensively employed on foreign railways.


Planet-type locomotive, Liverpool & Manchester Railway.
Engraving by William Miller, 1832.

    Finally, Mr. Stephenson had to attend to the improvement of the power and speed of the locomotive—always the grand object of his study—with a view to economy as well as regularity in the working of the railway.  In the "Planet" engine, delivered upon the line immediately subsequent to the public opening, all the improvements which had up to this time been contrived by him and his son were introduced in combination—the blast-pipe, the tubular boiler, horizontal cylinders inside the smoke-box, the cranked axle, and the fire-box firmly fixed to the boiler.  The first load of goods conveyed from Liverpool to Manchester by the "Planet" was eighty tons in weight, and the engine performed the journey against a strong head wind in two hours and a half.  On another occasion, the same engine brought up a cargo of voters from Manchester to Liverpool, during a contested election, within a space of sixty minutes.  The "Samson," delivered in the following year, exhibited still farther improvements, the most important of which was that of coupling the fore and hind wheels of the engine.  By this means the adhesion of the wheels on the rails was more effectually secured, and thus the full hauling power of the locomotive was made available.  The "Samson," shortly after it was placed upon the line, dragged after it a train of wagons weighing a hundred and fifty tons at a speed of about twenty miles an hour, the consumption of coke being reduced to only about a third of a pound per ton per mile.

    The rapid progress thus made will show that the inventive faculties of Mr. Stephenson and his son were kept fully on the stretch; but their labours were amply repaid by the result.  They were, doubtless, to some extent stimulated by the number of competitors who about the same time appeared as improvers of the locomotive engine.  But the superiority of Stephenson's locomotives over all others that had yet been tried induced the directors of the railway to require that the engines supplied to them by other builders should be constructed after the same model.  Mr. Stephenson himself always had the greatest faith in the superiority of his own engines over all others, and did not hesitate strongly to declare it.  When it was once proposed to introduce the engines of another maker on the Manchester and Leeds line, he said, "Very well I have no objection; but put them to this fair test.  Hang one of ――'s engines on to one of mine, back to back.  Then let them go at it; and whichever walks away with the other, that's the engine."

    The engineer had also to seek out the proper men to maintain and watch the road, and more especially to work the locomotive engines.  Steadiness, sobriety, common sense, and practical experience were the qualities which he especially valued in those selected by him for that purpose.  But where were the men of experience to be found?  Very few railways were yet at work, and these were almost exclusively confined to the northern coal counties; hence a considerable proportion of the drivers and firemen employed on the Liverpool line were brought from the neighbourhood of Newcastle.  But he could not always find skilled workmen enough for the important and responsible duties to be performed.  It was a saying of his that "he could engineer matter very well, and make it bend to his purpose, but his greatest difficulty was in engineering men."  He often wished that he could contrive heads and hands on which he might rely, as easily as he could construct railways and manufacture locomotives.  As it was, Stephenson's mechanics were in request all over England—the Newcastle workshops continuing for many years to perform the part of a training-school for engineers, and to supply locomotive superintendents and drivers, not only for England, but for nearly every country in Europe—preference being given to them by the directors of railways, in consequence of their previous training and experience, as well as because of their generally excellent qualities as steady and industrious workmen.

    The success of the Liverpool and Manchester experiment naturally excited great interest.  People flocked to Lancashire from all quarters to see the steam-coach running upon a railway at three times the speed of a mail-coach, and to enjoy the excitement of actually travelling in the wake of an engine at that incredible velocity.  The travellers returned to their respective districts full of the wonders of the locomotive, considering it to be the greatest marvel of the age.  Railways are familiar enough objects now, and our children who grow up in their midst may think little of them; but thirty years since it was an event in one's life to see a locomotive, and to travel for the first time upon a public railroad.

    In remote districts, however, the stories told about the benefits conferred by the Liverpool Railway were received with considerable incredulity, and the proposal to extend such roads in all directions throughout the country caused great alarm.  In the districts through which stage-coaches ran, giving employment to large numbers of persons, it was apprehended that, if railways were established, the turnpike roads would become deserted and grown over with grass, country inns and their buxom landladies would be ruined, the race of coach-drivers and hostlers would become extinct, and the breed of horses be entirely destroyed.  But there was hope for the coaching interest in the fact that the government were employing their engineers to improve the public high roads so as to render railways unnecessary.  It was announced in the papers that a saving of thirty miles would be effected by the new road between London and Holyhead, and an equal saving between London and Edinburgh.  And to show what the speed of horses could accomplish, we find it set forth as an extraordinary fact that the "Patent Tally-ho Coach," in the year 1830 (when the Birmingham line had been projected), performed the entire journey of 109 miles between London and Birmingham —breakfast included—in seven hours and fifty minutes!  Great speed was also recorded on the Brighton road, the "Red Rover" doing the distance between London and Brighton in four hours and a half.  These speeds were not, however, secured without accidents, for there was scarcely a newspaper of the period that did not contain one or more paragraphs headed "Another dreadful coach accident."

    The practicability of railway locomotion being now proved, and its great social and commercial advantages ascertained, the extension of the system was merely a question of time, money, and labour.  A fine opportunity presented itself for the wise and judicious action of the government in the matter, the improvement of the internal communications of a country being really one of its most important functions.  But the government of the day, though ready enough to spend money in improving the old turnpike roads, regarded the railroads with hostility, and met them with obstructions of all kinds.  They seemed to think it their duty to protect the turnpike trusts, disregarding the paramount interest of the public.  This may possibly account for the singular circumstance that, at the very time they were manifesting indifference or aversion to the locomotive on the railroad, they were giving every encouragement to the locomotive on turn-pike roads.  In 1831, we find a Committee of the House of Commons appointed to inquire into and report upon—not the railway system, but—the applicability of the steam-carriage to common roads; and, after investigation, the committee were so satisfied with the evidence taken, that they reported decidedly in favour of the road locomotive system.  Though they ignored the railway, they recognized the steam-carriage.


A Goldsworthy Gurney steam road carriage, 1827 [p.338-1]

    But even a Report of the House of Commons, powerful though it be, can not alter the laws of gravity and friction; and the road locomotive remained, what it ever will be, an impracticable machine.  Not that it is impossible to work a locomotive upon a common road, but to work it to any profit at all as compared with the locomotive upon a railway.  Numerous trials of steam-carriages were made at the time by Sir Charles Dance, Mr. Hancock, Mr. Gurney, Sir James Anderson, and other distinguished gentlemen of influence.  Journalists extolled their utility, compared with the much-boasted application on railroads." [p.338-2]  But, notwithstanding all this, and the House of Commons' Report in its favour, Stephenson's first verdict, pronounced on the road locomotive many years before, when he was only an engine-wright at Killingworth, was fully borne out by the result, and it became day by day clearer that the attempt to introduce the engine into general use upon turnpike roads could only prove a delusion and a snare.


Sir Charle's Dance's steam carriage leaving London for Brighton, 1833.

    Although the Legislature took no initiative step in the direction of railway extension, the public spirit and enterprise of the country did not fail it at this juncture.  The English people, though they may be defective in their capacity for organization, are strong in individualism, and not improbably their admirable qualities in the latter respect detract from their efficiency in the former.  Thus, in all times, their greatest national enterprises have not been planned by officialism and carried out upon any regular system, but have sprung, like their Constitution, their laws, and their entire industrial arrangements, from the force of circumstances and the individual energies of the people.  Hence railway extension, like so many other great English enterprises, was now left to be carried out by the genius of English engineers, backed by the energy of the British public.

    The mode of action was characteristic and national.  The execution of the new lines was undertaken entirely by joint-stock associations of proprietors, after the manner of the Stockton and Darlington, and Liverpool and Manchester companies.  These associations are conformable to our national habits, and fit well into our system of laws.  They combine the power of vast resources with individual watchfulness and motives of self-interest; and by their means gigantic undertakings, which elsewhere would be impossible to any but kings and emperors with great national resources at command, were carried out by the co-operation of private persons.  And the results of this combination of means and of enterprise have been truly marvellous.  Within the life of the present generation, the private citizens of England engaged in railway extension have, in the face of government obstructions, and without taking a penny from the public purse, executed a system of communications involving works of the most gigantic kind, which, in their total mass, their cost, and their public utility, far exceed the most famous national undertakings of any age or country.

    Mr. Stephenson was, of course, actively engaged in the construction of the numerous railways now projected by the joint-stock companies.  During the formation of the Manchester and Liverpool line he had been consulted respecting many projects of a similar kind.  One of these was a short railway between Canterbury and Whitstable, about six miles in length.  He was too much occupied with the works at Liverpool to give this scheme much of his personal attention; but he sent his assistant, Mr. John Dixon, to survey the line, and afterward Mr. Locke to superintend the execution of the works.  The act was obtained in 1826, and the line was opened for traffic in 1830.  It was partly worked by fixed engine-power, and partly by Stephenson's locomotives, similar to the engines used upon the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

    But the desire for railway extension principally pervaded the manufacturing districts, especially after the successful opening of the Liverpool and Manchester line.  The commercial classes of the larger towns soon became eager for a participation in the good which they had so recently derided.  Railway projects were set on foot in great numbers, and Manchester became a centre from which main lines and branches were started in all directions.  The interest, however, which attaches to these later schemes is of a much less absorbing kind than that which belongs to the early history of the railway and the steps by which it was mainly established.  We naturally sympathize more with the early struggles of a great principle, its trials and its difficulties, than with its after stages of success; and, however gratified and astonished we may be at its results, the interest is in a great measure gone when its triumph has become a matter of certainty.

    The commercial results of the Liverpool and Manchester line were so satisfactory, and, indeed, so greatly exceeded the expectations of its projectors, that many of the abandoned projects of the speculative year 1825 were forthwith revived.  An abundant crop of engineers sprang up, ready to execute railways of any extent.  Now that the Liverpool and Manchester line had been made, and the practicability of working it by locomotive power had been proved, it was as easy for engineers to make railways and to work them as it was for navigators to find America after Columbus had made the first voyage.  Mr. Francis Giles himself took the field as a locomotive railway engineer, attaching himself to the Newcastle and Carlisle and London and Southampton projects.  Mr. Brunel appeared, in like manner, as the engineer of the line projected between London and Bristol; and Mr. Braithwaite, the builder of the "Novelty" engine, as the engineer of a line from London to Colchester.

    The first lines, however, which were actually constructed subsequent to the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway were in connection with it, and principally in the county of Lancaster.  Thus a branch was formed from Bolton to Leigh, and another from Leigh to Kenyon, where it formed a junction with the main line between Liverpool and Manchester.  Branches to Wigan on the north, and to Runcorn Gap and Warrington on the south of the same line, were also formed; and a continuation of the latter, as far south as Birmingham, was shortly after projected, under the name of the Grand Junction Railway.

    The last-mentioned line was projected as early as the year 1824, when the Liverpool and Manchester scheme was under discussion, and Mr. Stephenson then published a report on the subject.  The plans were deposited, but the bill was thrown out on the opposition of the land-owners and canal proprietors.  When engaged in making the survey, Stephenson called upon some of the landowners in the neighbourhood of Nantwich to obtain their assent, and was greatly disgusted to learn that the agents of the canal companies had been before him, and described the locomotive to the farmers as a most frightful machine, emitting a breath as poisonous as the fabled dragon of old; and telling them that if a bird flew over the district when one of these engines passed, it would inevitably drop down dead!  The application for the bill was renewed in 1826, and again failed; and at length it was determined to wait the issue of the Liverpool and Manchester experiment.  The act was eventually obtained in 1833, by which time the projectors of railways had learned the art of "conciliating" the landlords—and a very expensive process it proved.  But it was the only mode of avoiding a still more expensive Parliamentary opposition.

    When it was proposed to extend the advantages of railways to the population of the midland and southern counties of England, an immense amount of alarm was created in the minds of the country gentlemen.  They did not relish the idea of private individuals, principally residents in the manufacturing districts, invading their domains, and they everywhere rose up in arms against the "new-fangled roads."  Colonel Sibthorpe openly declared his hatred of the "infernal railroads," and said that he "would rather meet a highwayman, or see a burglar on his premises, than an engineer!"  Mr. Berkeley, the member for Cheltenham, at a public meeting in that town, re-echoed Colonel Sibthorpe's sentiments, and wished that the concoctors of every such scheme, with their solicitors and engineers, were at rest in Paradise!"  The impression prevailed among the rural classes that fox-covers and game-preserves would be seriously prejudiced by the formation of railroads; that agricultural communications would be destroyed, land thrown out of cultivation, land-owners and farmers reduced to beggary, the poor-rates increased through the number of persons thrown out of employment by the railways, and all this in order that Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham shop-keepers and manufacturers might establish a monstrous monopoly in railway traffic.

    The inhabitants of even some of the large towns were thrown into a state of consternation by the proposal to provide them with the accommodation of a railway.  The line from London to Birmingham would naturally have passed close to the handsome town of Northampton, and was so projected.  But the inhabitants of the place, urged on by the local press, and excited by men of influence and education, opposed the project, and succeeded in forcing the promoters, in their survey of the line, to pass the town at a distance.  The necessity was thus involved of distorting the line, by which the enormous expense of constructing the Kilsby Tunnel was incurred.  Not many years elapsed before the inhabitants of Northampton became clamorous for railway accommodation, and a special branch was constructed for them.  The additional cost involved by this forced deviation of the line could not have amounted to less than half a million sterling; the loss falling, not upon the shareholders only, but upon the public.

    Other towns in the south followed the example of Northampton in howling down the railways.  When the first railway through Kent was projected, the line was laid out so as to pass by Maidstone, the county town.  But it had not a single supporter among the townspeople, while the land-owners for many miles round continued to oppose it.  A few years later the Maidstone burgesses, like those of Northampton, became clamorous for a railway, and a branch was formed for their accommodation.  In like manner, the London and Bristol (afterward the Great Western) Railway was vehemently opposed by the people of the towns through which the line was projected to pass; and when the bill was thrown out by the Lords—after £30,000 had been expended by the promoters—the inhabitants of Eton assembled, under the presidency of the Marquis of Chandos, to rejoice and congratulate themselves and the country upon its defeat.  Eton, however, has now the convenience of two railways to the metropolis.

    During the time that the works of the Liverpool and Manchester line were in progress, our engineer was consulted respecting a short railway proposed to be formed between Leicester and Swannington, for the purpose of opening up a communication between the town of Leicester and the coal-fields in the western part of the county.  Mr. Ellis, the projector of this undertaking, had some difficulty in getting the requisite capital subscribed, for the Leicester townspeople who had money being for the most part interested in canals.  George Stephenson was invited to come upon the ground and survey the line.  He did so, and then the projector told him of the difficulty he had in finding subscribers to the concern.  "Give me a sheet," said Stephenson, "and I will raise the money for you in Liverpool."  The engineer was as good as his word, and in a short time the sheet was returned with the subscription complete.  Mr. Stephenson was then asked to undertake the office of engineer for the line, but his answer was that he had thirty miles of railway in hand, which was enough for any engineer to attend to properly.  Was there any person he could recommend?  "Well," said he, "I think my son Robert is competent to undertake the thing."  Would Mr. Stephenson be answerable for him?  "Oh yes, certainly."  And Robert Stephenson, at twenty-seven years of age, was installed engineer of the line accordingly.


    The requisite Parliamentary powers having been obtained, Robert Stephenson proceeded with the construction of the railway, about sixteen miles in length, toward the end of 1830.  The works were comparatively easy, excepting at the Leicester end, where the young engineer encountered his first stiff bit of tunnelling.  The line passed underground for a mile and three quarters, and 500 yards of its course lay through loose running sand.  The presence of this material rendered it necessary for the engineer, in the first place, to construct a wooden tunnel to support the soil while the brick-work was being executed.  This measure proved sufficient, and the whole was brought to a successful termination within a reasonable time.  While the works were in progress, Robert kept up a regular correspondence with his father at Liverpool, consulting him on all points in which his greater experience was likely to be of service.  Like his father, Robert was very observant, and always ready to seize opportunity by the forelock.  It happened that the estate of Snibston, near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, was advertised for sale, and the young engineer's experience as a coal-viewer and practical geologist suggested to his mind that coal was most probably to be found underneath.  He communicated his views to his father on the subject.  The estate lay in the immediate neighbourhood of the railway; and if the conjecture proved correct, the finding of the coal must necessarily prove a most fortunate circumstance for the purchasers of the land.  He accordingly requested his father to come over to Snibston and look at the property, which he did; and after a careful inspection of the ground, he arrived at the same conclusion as his son.

    The large manufacturing town of Leicester, about fourteen miles distant, had up to that time been exclusively supplied with coal brought by canal from Derbyshire, and the Stephensons saw that the railway under construction from Swannington to Leicester would furnish a ready market for any coals which might be found at Snibston.  Having induced two of his Liverpool friends to join him in the venture, the Snibston estate was purchased in 1831, and shortly after Stephenson removed his home from Liverpool to Alton Grange, for the purpose of superintending the sinking of the pit.

    Sinking operations were immediately begun, and proceeded satisfactorily until the old enemy, water, burst in upon the workmen, and threatened to drown them out.  But by means of efficient pumping-engines, and the skilful casing of the shaft with segments of cast iron—a process called "tubbing," which Stephenson was the first to adopt in the Midland Counties—it was eventually made watertight, and the sinking proceeded. [p.344]  When a depth of 166 feet had been reached, a still more formidable difficulty presented itself—one which had baffled former sinkers in the neighbourhood, and deterred them from farther operations.  This was a remarkable bed of whinstone or greenstone, which had originally been poured out as a sheet of burning lava over the denuded surface of the coal measures; indeed, it was afterward found that it had turned to cinders one part of the seam of coal with which it had come in contact.  The appearance of this bed of solid rock was so unusual a circumstance in coal-mining that some experienced sinkers urged Stephenson to proceed no farther, believing the occurrence of the dike at that point to be altogether fatal to his enterprise.  But, with his faith still firm in the existence of coal underneath, he fell back on his old motto of "Persevere!"  He determined to go on boring; and down through the solid rock he went until, twenty-two feet lower, he came upon the coal measures.  In the mean time, however, lest the boring at that point should prove unsuccessful, he had commenced sinking another pair of shafts about a quarter of a mile west of the "fault," and, after about nine months' labour, he reached the principal seam, called the "main coal."

    The works were then opened out on a large scale, and George Stephenson had the pleasure and good fortune to send the first train of main coal to Leicester by railway.  The price was immediately reduced there to about 8s. a ton, effecting a pecuniary saving to the inhabitants of the town of about £40,000 per annum, or equivalent to the whole amount then collected in government taxes and local rates, besides giving an impetus to the manufacturing prosperity of the place, which has continued to the present day.  The correct principles upon which the mining operations at Snibston were conducted offered a salutary example to the neighbouring colliery owners.  The numerous improvements there introduced were freely exhibited to all, and they were afterward reproduced in many forms all over the Midland Counties, greatly to the advantage of the mining interest.

    Nor was Mr. Stephenson less attentive to the comfort and wellbeing of those immediately dependent upon him—the workpeople of the Snibston Colliery and their families.  Unlike many of those large employers who have "sprung from the ranks," was one of the kindest and most indulgent of masters.  He would have a fair day's work for a fair day's wages, but he never forgot that the employer had his duties as well as his rights.  First of all, he attended to the proper home accommodation of his work-people.  He erected a village of comfortable cottages, each provided with a snug little garden.  He was also instrumental in erecting a church adjacent to the works, as well as Church schools for the education of the colliers' children; and with that broad catholicity of sentiment which distinguished him, he farther provided a chapel and a school-house for the use of the Dissenting portion of the colliers and their families—an example of benevolent liberality which was not without a salutary influence upon the neighbouring employers.





[Home] [Up] [James Brindley] [Boulton and Watt] [Smeaton and Rennie] [Metcalfe & Telford] [Invention & Industry] [Brief Biographies] [Self Help] [Miscellanea] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be addressed to....