The Stephensons X.
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CHAPTER XX.

ROBERT STEPHENSON'S VICTORIA BRIDGE, LOWER CANADA—ILLNESS AND DEATH.

 


    GEORGE STEPHENSON bequeathed to his son his valuable collieries, his share in the engine manufactory at Newcastle, and his large accumulation of savings, which, together with the fortune he had himself amassed by railway work, gave Robert the position of an engineer millionaire—the first of his order.  He continued, however, to live in a quiet style; and although he bought occasional pictures and statues, and indulged in the luxury of a yacht, he did not live up to his income, which went on accumulating until his death.

    There was no longer the necessity for applying himself to the laborious business of a Parliamentary engineer, in which he had now been occupied for some fifteen years.  Shortly after his father's death, Edward Pease recommended him to give up the more harassing work of his profession; and his reply (15th of June, 1850) was as follows:


"The suggestion which your kind note contains is quite in accordance with my own feelings and intentions respecting retirement; but I find it a very difficult matter to bring to a close so complicated a connection in business as that which has been established by twenty-five years of active and arduous professional duty.  Comparative retirement is, however, my intention, and I trust that your prayer for the Divine blessing to grant me happiness and quiet comfort will be fulfilled.  I can not but feel deeply grateful to the Great Disposer of events for the success which has hitherto attended my exertions in life, and I trust that the future will also be marked by a continuance of His mercies."


    Although Robert Stephenson, in conformity with this expressed intention, for the most part declined to undertake new business, he did not altogether lay aside his harness, and he lived to repeat his tubular bridges both in Egypt and Canada.  The success of the tubular system, as adopted at Menai and Conway, was such as to recommend it for adoption wherever great span was required, and the peculiar circumstances connected with the navigation of the Nile and the St. Lawrence may be said to have compelled its adoption in carrying railways across both those rivers.

    Two tubular bridges were built after our engineer's designs across the Nile, near Damietta, in Lower Egypt.  That near Ben-ha contains eight spans or openings of 80 feet each, and two centre spans, formed by one of the largest swing-bridges ever constructed, the total length of the swing-beam being 157 feet, a clear waterway of 60 feet being provided on either side of the centre pier.  The only novelty in these bridges consisted in the road being carried upon the tubes instead of within them, their erection being carried out in the usual manner by means of workmen, materials, and plant sent out from England.  The Tubular Bridge constructed in Canada, after Mr. Stephenson's designs, was of a much more important character, and deserves a fuller description.

    The important uses of railways had been recognized at an early period by the inhabitants of North America, and in the course of about thirty years more than 25,000 miles of railway, mostly single, were constructed in the United States alone.  The Canadians were more deliberate in their proceedings, and it was not until the year 1840 that their first railway, 14 miles in length, was constructed between Laprairie and St. John's, for the purpose of connecting Lake Champlain with the River St. Lawrence.  From this date, however, new lines were rapidly projected; more particularly the Great Western of Canada, and the Atlantic and St. Lawrence (now forming part of the Grand Trunk), until in the course of a few years Canada had a length of nearly 2000 miles of railway open or in course of construction, intersecting the provinces almost in a continuous line from Rivière du Loup, near the mouth of the St. Lawrence, to Port Sarnia, on the shores of Lake Huron.

    But there still remained one most important and essential link to connect the lines on the south of the St. Lawrence with those on the north, and at the same time place the city of Montreal in direct railway connection with the western parts of Canada.  The completion of this link was also necessary in order to maintain the commercial communication of Canada with the rest of the world during five months in every year; for, though the St. Lawrence in summer affords a splendid outlet to the ocean—toward which the commerce of the colony naturally tends—the frost in winter is so severe, that during that season Canada is completely frozen in, and the navigation hermetically closed by the ice.

    The Grand Trunk Railway was designed to furnish a line of land communication along the great valley of the St. Lawrence at all seasons, following the course of the river, and connecting the principal towns of the colony.  But stopping short on the north shore, nearly opposite Montreal, with which it was connected by a dangerous and often impracticable ferry, it was felt that, until the St. Lawrence was bridged by a railway, the Canadian system of railways was manifestly incomplete.  But how to bridge this wide and rapid river!  Never before, perhaps, was a problem of such difficulty proposed for solution by an engineer.  Opposite Montreal, the St. Lawrence is about two miles wide, running at the rate of about ten miles an hour; and at the close of each winter it carries down the ice of 2000 square miles of lakes and rivers, with their numerous tributaries.

    As early as the year 1846, the construction of a bridge at Montreal was strongly advocated by the local press as the only means of connecting that city with the projected Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railway.  But the difficulties of executing such a work seemed almost insurmountable to those best acquainted with the locality.  The greatest difficulty was apprehended from the tremendous shoving and pressure of the ice at the break-up of winter.  At such times, opposite Montreal, the whole river is packed with huge blocks of ice, and it is often seen piled up to a height of from 40 to 50 feet along the banks, placing the surrounding country under water, and occasionally doing severe damage to the massive stone buildings erected along the noble river front of the city.

    But no other expedient presented itself but a bridge, and a survey was made accordingly at the instance of the Hon. John Young, one of the directors of the railway.  A period of colonial depression having shortly after occurred, the project slept for a time, and it was not until six years later, in 1852, when the Grand Trunk Railway was under construction, that the subject was again brought under discussion.  In that year, Mr. Alexander M. Ross, who had superintended the construction of Robert Stephenson's tubular bridge at Conway, visited Canada, and inspected the site of the proposed structure, when he at once formed the opinion that a tubular bridge carrying a railway was the most suitable means of crossing the St. Lawrence, and connecting Montreal with the lines on the north of the river.

    The directors felt that such a work would necessarily be of a most formidable and difficult character, and before coming to any conclusion they determined to call to their assistance Mr. Robert Stephenson, as the engineer most competent to advise them in the matter.  Mr. Stephenson considered the subject of so much interest and importance that, in the summer of 1853, he proceeded to Canada to inquire as to all the facts, and examine carefully the site of the proposed work.  He then formed the opinion that a tubular bridge across the river was not only practicable, but by far the most suitable for the purpose intended, and early in the following year he sent an elaborate report on the whole subject to the directors of the railway.  The result was the adoption of his recommendation and the erection of the Victoria Bridge, of which Robert Stephenson was the designer and engineer, and Mr. A. M. Ross the joint and resident engineer in directly superintending the execution of the undertaking.  The details of the plans were principally worked out in Mr. Stephenson's office in London, under the superintendence of his cousin, Mr. George Robert Stephenson, while the iron-work was for the most part constructed at the Canada Works, Liverpool, from whence it was shipped, ready for being fixed in position on the spot.

    The Victoria Bridge is, without exception, the greatest work of its kind in the world.  For gigantic proportions, and vast length and strength, there is nothing to compare with it in ancient or modern times.  The entire bridge, with its approaches, is only about sixty yards short of two miles in length, being five times longer than the Britannia Bridge across the Menai Straits, seven and a half times longer than Waterloo Bridge, and more than ten times longer than Chelsea Bridge.  The two-mile tube across the St. Lawrence rests on twenty-four piers, which, with the abutments, leave twenty-five spaces or spans for the several parts of the tube.  Twenty-four of these spans are 242 feet wide; the centre span—itself a huge bridge—being 330 feet.  The road is carried within the tube 60 feet above the level of the river, so as not to interfere with its navigation.

 


    As one of the principal difficulties apprehended in the erection of the bridge was that arising from the tremendous "shoving" and ramming of the ice at the break-up of winter, the plans were carefully designed so as to avert all danger from this cause.  Hence the peculiarity in the form of the piers, which, though greatly increasing their strength for the purpose intended, must be admitted to detract considerably from the symmetry of the structure as a whole.  The western face of each pier—that is, the up-river side—has a large wedge-shaped cutwater of stone-work, presenting an inclined plane toward the current, for the purpose of arresting and breaking up the ice-blocks, and thereby preventing them from piling up and damaging the tube carrying the railway.  The piers are of immense strength.  Those close to the abutments contain about 6000 tons of masonry each, while those which support the great centre tube contain about 12,000 tons.  The former are 15 feet wide, and the latter 18.  Scarcely a block of stone used in the piers is less than seven tons in weight, while many of those opposed to the force of the breaking-up ice weigh fully ten tons.

    As might naturally be expected, the getting in of the foundations of these enormous piers in so wide and rapid a river was attended with many difficulties.  To give an idea of the water-power of the St. Lawrence, it may be mentioned that when the river comes down in its greatest might, large stone boulders weighing upward of a ton are rolled along by the sheer force of the current.  The depth of the river, however, was not so great as might be supposed, varying from only five to fifteen feet during summer, when the foundation-work was carried on.

    The method first employed to get in the foundations was by means of dams or caissons, which were constructed on shore, floated into position, and scuttled over the places at which the foundations were to be laid, thus at once forming a nucleus from which the dams could be constructed.  The first of such dams was floated, got into position, scuttled, and sunk, and the piling fairly begun, on the 19th of June, 1854.  By the 15th of the following month the sheet-piling and puddling was finished, when the pumping of the water out of the enclosed space by steam-power was proceeded with, and in a few hours the bed of the river was laid almost dry, the toe of every pile being distinctly visible.  By the 22d the first stone of the pier was laid, and on the 14th of August the masonry was above water-level.

    The getting in of the foundations of the other piers was proceeded with in like manner, though frequently interrupted by storms, inundations, and collisions of timber-rafts, which occasionally carried away the moorings of the dams.  Considerable difficulty was in some places experienced from the huge boulder-stones lying in the bed of the river, to remove which sometimes cost the divers several months of hard labour.  In getting in the foundations of the later piers, the method first employed of sinking the floating caissons in position was abandoned, and the dams were constructed of "crib-work," [p.479] which was found more convenient, and less liable to interruption by accident from collision or otherwise.

    By the spring of 1857 a sufficient number of piers had been finished to enable the erection of the tubes to be proceeded with.  The operations connected with this portion of the work were also of a novel character.  Instead of floating the tubes between the piers and raising them into position by hydraulic power, as at Conway and Menai, which the rapid current of the St. Lawrence would not permit, the tubes were erected in situ on a staging prepared for the purpose, as shown in the following engraving.

 


    Floating scows, each 60 feet by 20, were moored in position, and kept in their place by piles sliding in grooves.  These piles, when firmly fixed in the bed of the river, were bolted to the sides of the scows, and the tops were levelled to receive the sills upon which the framing carrying the truss and platform was erected.  Timbers were laid on the lower chords of the truss, forming a platform 24 feet wide, closely planked with deals.  The upper chords carried rails, along which moved the "travellers" used in erecting the tubes.  The plates forming the bottom of each tube having been accurately laid and riveted, and adjusted to level and centre by oak wedges, the erection of the sides was next proceeded with, extending outward from the centre on either side, this work being closely followed by the plating of the top.  Each tube between the respective pairs of piers was in the first place erected separate and independent of its adjoining tubes; but after completion, the tubes were joined in pairs and firmly bolted to the masonry over which they were united, their outer ends being placed upon rollers so arranged on the adjoining piers that they might expand or contract according to variations of temperature.

    The work continued to make satisfactory progress down to the spring of 1858, by which time fourteen out of the twenty-four piers were finished, together with the formidable abutments and approaches to the bridge.  Considerable apprehensions were entertained as to the security of the piers and the unfinished parts of the work at the usual breaking-up of the ice.  We take the following account from a letter written by Mr. Ross to Mr. Stephenson descriptive of the scene.


    "On the 29th of March, the ice above Montreal began to show signs of weakness, but it was not until the 31st that a general movement became observable, which continued for an hour, when it suddenly stopped, and the water rose rapidly.  On the following day, at noon, a grand movement commenced; the waters rose about four feet in two minutes, up to a level with many of the Montreal streets.  The fields of ice at the same time were suddenly elevated to an incredible height; and so overwhelming were they in appearance, that crowds of the townspeople, who had assembled on the quay to watch the progress of the flood, ran for their lives.  This movement lasted about twenty minutes, during which the jammed ice destroyed several portions of the quay wall, grinding the hardest blocks to atoms.  The embanked approaches to the Victoria Bridge had tremendous forces to resist.  In the full channel of the stream, the ice in its passage between the piers was broken up by the force of the blow immediately on its coming in contact with the cutwaters.  Sometimes thick sheets of ice were seen to rise up and rear on end against the piers, but by the force of the current they were speedily made to roll over into the stream, and in a moment after were out of sight.  For the two next days the river was still high, until on the 4th of April the waters seemed suddenly to give way, and by the following day the river was flowing clear and smooth as a millpond, nothing of winter remaining except the masses of bordage ice which were strewn along the shores of the stream.  On examination of the piers of the bridge, it was found that they had admirably resisted the tremendous pressure; and though the timber "crib-work" erected to facilitate the placing of floating pontoons to form the dams was found considerably disturbed and in some places seriously damaged, the piers, with the exception of one or two heavy stone blocks, which were still unfinished, escaped uninjured.  One block of many tons' weight was carried to a considerable distance, and must have been torn out of its place by sheer force, as several of the broken fragments were found left in the pier."


    Toward the end of January, 1859, the plating of the bottom of the great central tube was begun.  The execution of this part of the undertaking was of a very formidable and difficult character.  The gangs of men employed upon it were required to work night and day, though the season was mid-winter, as it was of great importance to the navigation that the staging should be removed by the time that the ice broke up and the river became open.  The night gangs were lighted at their work by wood-fires filling huge braziers, the bright glow of which illumined the vast snow-covered ice-field in the midst of which they worked at so lofty an elevation; and the sight as well as the sounds of the hammering and riveting, the puffing of the steam-engines, and the various operations thus carried on, presented a scene the like of which has rarely been witnessed.  The work was not conducted without considerable risk to the men, arising from the intense cold.  The temperature was often 20° below zero, and notwithstanding that they all worked in thick gloves, and that care was taken to protect every exposed part, many of them were severely frostbitten.  Sometimes, when thick mist rose from the river, they would become covered with icicles, and be driven from their work.

    Notwithstanding these difficulties, the laying of the great central tube made steady progress.  By the 17th of February the first pair of side-plates was erected; on the 28th, the bottom was riveted and completed; 180 feet of the sides was also in place, and 100 feet of the top was plated; and on the 21st of March the whole of the plating was finished.  A few days later the wedges were knocked away, and the tube hung suspended between the adjoining piers.  On the 18th of May following the staging was all cleared away, with the moored scows and the crib-work, and the centre span of the bridge was again clear for the navigation of the river.

 


    The first stone of the bridge was laid on the 22d of July, 1854.  The works continued in progress for a period of five and a half years, until the 17th of December, 1859, when the first train passed over the bridge; and on the 25th of August, 1860, it was formally opened for traffic by the Prince of Wales.  It was the greatest of Robert Stephenson's bridges, and worthy of being the crowning and closing work of his life.  But he was not destined to see its completion.  Two months before the bridge was finished he had passed from the scene of all his labours.

    We have little to add as to the closing events in Robert Stephenson's life.  Retired in a great measure from the business of an engineer, he occupied himself for the most part in society, in yachting, and in attending the House of Commons and the Clubs.  It was in the year 1847 that he entered the House of Commons as member for Whitby; but he does not seem to have been very regular in his attendance, and only appeared on divisions when there was a "whip" of the party to which he belonged.  He was a member of the Sewage and Sanitary Commissions, and of the Commission which sat on Westminster Bridge.  He very seldom addressed the House, and then only on matters relating to engineering.  The last occasions on which he spoke were on the Suez Canal [p484] and the cleansing of the Serpentine.

    Besides constructing the railway between Alexandria and Cairo, he was consulted, like his father, by the King of Belgium as to the railways of that country; and he was made Knight of the Order of Leopold because of the improvements which he had made in locomotive engines, so much to the advantage of the Belgian system of inland transit.  He was consulted by the King of Sweden as to the railway between Christiana and Lake Miösen, and in consideration of his services was decorated with the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Olaf.  He also visited Switzerland, Piedmont, and Denmark, to advise as to the system of railway communication best suited for those countries.  At the Paris Exhibition of 1855 the Emperor of France decorated him with the Legion of Honour in consideration of his public services; and at home the University of Oxford made him a Doctor of Civil Laws.  In 1855 he was elected President of the Institute of Civil Engineers, which office he held with honour and filled with distinguished ability for two years, giving place to his friend Mr. Locke at the end of 1857.

    Mr. Stephenson was frequently called upon to act as arbitrator between contractors and railway companies, or between one company and another, great value being attached to his opinion on account of his weighty judgment, his great experience, and his upright character; and we believe his decisions were invariably stamped by the qualities of impartiality and justice.  He was always ready to lend a helping hand to a friend, and no petty jealousy stood between him and his rivals in the engineering world.  The author remembers being with Mr. Stephenson one evening at his house in Gloucester Square when a note was put into his hand from his friend Brunel, then engaged in his fruitless efforts to launch the Great Eastern.  It was to ask Stephenson to come down to Blackwall early next morning, and give him the benefit of his judgment.  Shortly after six next morning Stephenson was in Scott Russell's building-yard, and he remained there until dusk.  About midday, while superintending the launching operations, the balk of timber on which he stood canted up, and he fell up to his middle in the Thames mud.  He was dressed as usual, without great-coat (though the day was bitter cold), and with only thin boots upon his feet.  He was urged to leave the yard and change his dress, or at least dry himself; but, with his usual disregard of health, he replied, "Oh, never mind me; I'm quite used to this sort of thing;" and he went paddling about in the mud, smoking his cigar, until almost dark, when the day's work was brought to an end.  The result of this exposure was an attack of inflammation of the lungs, which kept him to his bed for a fortnight.

    He was habitually careless of his health, and perhaps he indulged in narcotics to a prejudicial extent.  Hence he often became "hipped," and sometimes ill.  When Mr. Sopwith accompanied him to Egypt in the Titania, in 1856, he succeeded in persuading Mr. Stephenson to limit his indulgence in cigars and stimulants, and the consequence was that by the end of the voyage he felt himself, as he said, "quite a new man."  Arrived at Marseilles, he telegraphed from thence a message to Great George Street, prescribing certain stringent and salutary rules for observance in the office there on his return.  But he was of a facile, social disposition, and the old associations proved too strong for him.  When be sailed for Norway in the autumn of 1859, though then ailing in health, he looked a man who had still plenty of life in him.  By the time he returned his fatal illness had seized him.  He was attacked by congestion of the liver, which first developed itself in jaundice, and then ran into dropsy, of which he died on the 12th of October, in the fifty-sixth year of his age.  He was buried by the side of Telford in Westminster Abbey, amid the departed great men of his country, and was attended to his resting-place by many of the intimate friends of his boyhood and his manhood.  Among who assembled round his grave were some of the greatest men of thought and action in England, who embraced the sad occasion to pay the last mark of their respect to this illustrious son of one of England's greatest working-men.

    It would be out of keeping with the subject thus drawn to a conclusion to pronounce any panegyric on the character and achievements of George and Robert Stephenson.  These, for the most part, speak for themselves ; and both were emphatically true men, exhibiting in their lives many valuable and sterling qualities.

    No beginning could have been less promising than that of the elder Stephenson.  Born in a poor condition, yet rich in spirit, he was from the first compelled to rely upon himself, every step of advance which he made being conquered by patient labour.  Whether working as a brakesman or an engineer, his mind was always full of the work in hand.  He gave himself thoroughly up to it.  Like the painter, he might say that he had become great "by neglecting nothing."  Whatever he was engaged upon, he was as careful of the details as if each were itself the whole.  He did all thoroughly and honestly.  There was no "stamping" with him.  When a workman, he put his brains and labour into his work; and when a master, he put his conscience and character into it.  He would have no slop-work executed merely for the sake of profit.  The materials must be as genuine as the workmanship was skilful.  The structures which he designed and executed were distinguished for their thoroughness and solidity; his locomotives were famous for their durability and excellent working qualities.  The engines which he sent to the United States in 1832 are still in good condition; and even the engines built by him for the Killingworth Colliery, upward of thirty years since, are working there to this day.  All his work was honest, representing the actual character of the man.

    He was ready to turn his hand to anything—shoes and clocks, railways and locomotives.  He contrived his safety-lamp with the object of saving pitmen's lives, and periled his own life in testing it.  With him to resolve was to do.  Many men knew far more than he, but none was more ready forthwith to apply what he did know to practical purposes.  It was while working at Willington as a brakesman that he first learned how best to handle a spade in throwing ballast out of the ships' holds.  This casual employment seems to have left upon his mind the most lasting impression of what "hard work" was; and he often used to revert to it, and say to the young men about him, "Ah, ye lads! there's none o' ye know what wark is."  Mr. Gooch says he was proud of the dexterity in handling a spade which he had thus acquired, and that he has frequently seen him take the shovel from a labourer in some railway cutting, and show him how to use it more deftly in filling wagons of earth, gravel, or sand.  Sir Joshua Walmsley has also informed us that, when examining the works of the Orleans and Tours Railway, Stephenson, seeing a large number of excavators filling and wheeling sand in a cutting, at a great waste of time and labour, went up to the men and said he would show them how to fill their barrows in half the time.  He showed them the proper position in which to stand so as to exercise the greatest amount of power with the least expenditure of strength; and he filled the barrow with comparative ease again and again in their presence, to the great delight of the workmen.  When passing through his own workshops he would point out to his men how to save labour and get through their work skilfully and with ease.  His energy imparted itself to others, quickening and influencing them as strong characters always do, flowing down into theirs, and bringing out their best powers.

    His deportment to the workmen employed under him was familiar, yet firm and consistent.  As he respected their manhood, so they respected his masterhood.  Although he comported himself toward his men as if they occupied very much the same level with himself, he yet possessed that peculiar capacity for governing which enabled him always to preserve among them the strictest discipline, and to secure their cheerful and hearty services.  Mr. Ingham, M.P. for South Shields, on going over the workshops at Newcastle, was particularly struck with this quality of the master in his bearing toward his men.  "There was nothing," said he, "of undue familiarity in their intercourse, but they spoke to each other as man to man; and nothing seemed to please the master more than to point out illustrations of the ingenuity of his artisans.  He took up a rivet, and expatiated on the skill with which it had been fashioned by the workman's hand—its perfectness and truth.  He was always proud of his workmen and his pupils; and, while indifferent and careless as to what might be said of himself, he fired up in a moment if disparagement were thrown upon any one whom he had taught or trained."

    In manner, George Stephenson was simple, modest, and unassuming, but always manly.  He was frank and social in spirit.  When a humble workman, he had carefully preserved his sense of self-respect.  His companions looked up to him, and his example was worth much more to many of them than books or schools.  His devoted love of knowledge made his poverty respectable, and adorned his humble calling.  When he rose to a more elevated station, and associated with men of the highest position and influence in Britain, he took his place among them with perfect self-possession.  They wondered at the quiet ease and simple dignity of his deportment; and men in the best ranks of life have said of him that "he was one of Nature's gentlemen."

    Probably no military chiefs were ever more beloved by their soldiers than were both father and son by the army of men who, under their guidance, worked at labours of profit, made labours of love by their earnest will and purpose.  True leaders of men and lords of industry, they were always ready to recognize and encourage talent in those who worked for and with them.  Thus it was pleasant, at the openings of the Stephenson lines, to hear the chief engineers attributing the successful completion of the works to their assistants; while the assistants, on the other hand, ascribed the principal glory to their chiefs.

    George Stephenson, though a thrifty and frugal man, was essentially unsordid.  His rugged path in early life made him careful of his resources.  He never saved to hoard, but saved for a purpose, such as the maintenance of his parents or the education of his son.  In his later years he became a prosperous and even a wealthy man; but riches never closed his heart, nor stole away the elasticity of his soul.  He enjoyed life cheerfully, because hopefully.  When he entered upon a commercial enterprise, whether for others or for himself, he looked carefully at the ways and means.  Unless they would "pay," he held back.  "He would have nothing to do," he declared, "with stock-jobbing speculations."  His refusal to sell his name to the schemes of the railway mania—his survey of the Spanish lines without remuneration—his offer to postpone his claim for payment from a poor company until their affairs became more prosperous, are instances of the unsordid spirit in which he acted.

    Another marked feature in Mr. Stephenson's character was his patience.  Notwithstanding the strength of his convictions as to the great uses to which the locomotive might be applied, he waited long and patiently for the opportunity of bringing it into notice; and for years after he had completed an efficient engine, he went on quietly devoting himself to the ordinary work of the colliery.  He made no noise nor stir about his locomotive, but allowed another to take credit for the experiments on velocity and friction which he had made with it upon the Killingworth railroad.  By patient industry and laborious contrivance he was enabled, with the powerful help of his son, almost to do for the locomotive what James Watt had done for the condensing engine.  He found it clumsy and inefficient, and he made it powerful, efficient, and useful.  Both have been described as the improvers of their respective engines; but, as to all that is admirable in their structure or vast in their utility, they are rather entitled to be described as their inventors.  They have both tended to increase indefinitely the mass of human comforts and enjoyments, and to render them cheap and accessible to all.  But Stephenson's invention, by the influence which it is daily exercising upon the civilization of the world, is even more remarkable than that of Watt, and is calculated to have still more important consequences.  In this respect it is to be regarded as the grandest application of steam-power that has yet been discovered.

    George Stephenson's close and accurate observation provided him with a fullness of information on many subjects which often appeared surprising to those who had devoted to them a special study.  On one occasion the accuracy of his knowledge of birds came out in a curious way at a convivial meeting of railway men in London.  The engineers and railway directors present knew each other as railway men and nothing more.  The talk had been all of railways and railway politics.  Stephenson was a great talker on those subjects, and was generally allowed, from the interest of his conversation and the extent of his experience, to take the lead.  At length one of the party broke in with, "Come, now, Stephenson, we have had nothing but railways! can not we have a change, and try if we can talk a little about something else?"  "Well," said Stephenson, "I'll give you a wide range of subjects; what shall it be about?"  "Say birds' nests!" rejoined the other, who prided himself on his special knowledge of the subject.  "Then birds' nests be it."  A long and animated conversation ensued: the bird-nesting of his boyhood—the blackbird's nest which his father had held him up in his arms to look at when a child at Wylam—the hedges in which he had found the thrush's and the linnet's nests—the mossy bank where the robin built—the cleft in the branch of the young tree where the chaffinch had reared its dwelling—all rose up clear in his mind's eye, and led him back to the scenes of his boyhood at Callerton and Dewley Burn.  The colour and number of the birds' eggs—the period of their incubation—the materials employed by them for the walls and lining of their nests, were described by him so vividly, and illustrated by such graphic anecdotes, that one of the party remarked that, if George Stephenson had not been the greatest engineer of his day, he might have been one of the greatest naturalists.

    His powers of conversation were very great.  He was so thoughtful, original, and suggestive.  There was scarcely a department of science on which he had not formed some novel and sometimes daring theory.  Thus Mr. Gooch, his pupil, who lived with him when at Liverpool, informs us that when sitting over the fire, he would frequently broach his favourite theory of the sun's light and heat being the original source of the light and heat given forth by the burning coal.  "It fed the plants of which that coal is made," he would say, "and has been bottled up in the earth ever since, to be given out again now for the use of man."  His son Robert once said of him, "My father flashed his bull's eye full upon a subject, and brought it out in its most vivid light in an instant: his strong common sense and his varied experience, operating on a thoughtful mind, were his most powerful illuminators."

    The Bishop of Oxford related the following anecdote of him at a recent public meeting in London: "He heard the other day of an answer given by the great self-taught man, Stephenson, when he was speaking with something of distrust of what were called competitive examinations.  Stephenson said, 'I distrust them for this reason—they will lead, it seems to me, to an unlimited power of cram;' and he added, 'Let me give you one piece of advice—never to judge of your goose by its stuffing!'"

    George Stephenson had once a conversation with a watchmaker, whom he astonished by the extent and minuteness of his knowledge as to the parts of a watch.  The watchmaker knew him to be an eminent engineer, and asked how he had acquired so extensive a knowledge of a branch of business so much out of his sphere.  "It is very easily to be explained," said Stephenson; "I worked long at watch-cleaning myself, and when I was at a loss, I was never ashamed to ask for information."

    His hand was open to his former fellow-workmen whom old age had left in poverty.  To poor Robert Gray, of Newburn, who acted as his brideman on his marriage to Fanny Henderson, he left a pension for life.  He would slip a five-pound note into the hand of a poor man or a widow in such a way as not to offend their delicacy, but to make them feel as if the obligation were all on his side.  When Farmer Paterson, who married a sister of George's first wife, Fanny Henderson, died and left a large young family fatherless, poverty stared them in the face.  "But ye ken," said our informant, "George struck in fayther for them."  And perhaps the providential character of the act could not have been more graphically expressed than in these simple words.

    On his visit to Newcastle, he would frequently meet the friends of his early days, occupying very nearly the same station in life, while he had meanwhile risen to almost world-wide fame; but he was not less hearty in his greeting of them than if their relative position had remained the same.  Thus, one day, after shaking hands with Mr. Brandling on alighting from his carriage, he proceeded to shake hands with his coachman, Anthony Wigham, a still older friend, though he only sat on the box.

    Robert Stephenson inherited his father's kindly spirit and benevolent disposition.  We have already stated that he was often called in as an umpire to mediate between conflicting parties, more particularly between contractors and engineers.  On one occasion Brunel complained to him that he could not get on with his contractors, who were never satisfied, and were always quarrelling with him.  "You hold them too tightly to the letter of your agreement," said Stephenson; "treat them fairly and liberally."  "But they try to take advantage of me at all points," rejoined Brunel.  "Perhaps you suspect them too much?" said Stephenson.  "I suspect all men to be rogues," said the other, "till I find them to be honest."  "For my part," said Stephenson, "I take all men to be honest till I find them to be rogues."  "Ah then, I fear we shall never agree," concluded Brunel.

    Robert almost worshiped his father's memory, and was ever ready to attribute to him the chief merit of his own achievements as an engineer.  "It was his thorough training," we once heard him say, "his example, and his character, which made me the man I am."  On a more public occasion he said, "It is my great pride to remember that, whatever may have been done, and however extensive may have been my own connection with railway development, all I know and all I have done is primarily due to the parent whose memory I cherish and revere." [p.493]  To Mr. Lough, the sculptor, he said he had never had but two loves—one for his father, the other for his wife.

    Like his father, he was eminently practical, and yet always open to the influence and guidance of correct theory.  His main consideration in laying out his lines of railway was what would best answer the intended purpose, or, to use his own words, to secure the maximum of result with the minimum of means.  He was pre-eminently a safe man, because cautious, tentative, and experimental; following closely the lines of conduct trodden by his father, and often quoting his maxims.

    In society Robert Stephenson was simple, unobtrusive, and modest, but charming and even fascinating in an eminent degree.  Sir John Lawrence has said of him that he was, of all others, the man he most delighted to meet in England—he was so manly yet gentle, and withal so great.  While admired and beloved by men of such calibre, he was equally a favourite with women and children.  He put himself upon the level of all, and charmed them no less by his inexpressible kindliness of manner than by his simple yet impressive conversation.

    His great wealth enabled him to perform many generous acts in a right noble and yet modest manner, not letting his right hand know what his left hand did.  Of the numerous kindly acts of his which have been made public, we may mention the graceful manner in which he repaid the obligations which both himself and his father owed to the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Institute when working together as fellow experimenters many years before in their humble cottage at Killingworth.  The Institute was struggling under a debt of £6200, which impaired its usefulness as an educational agency.  Mr. Stephenson offered to pay one half the sum provided the local supporters of the Institute would raise the remainder, and conditional also on the annual subscription being reduced from two guineas to one, in order that the usefulness of the institution might be extended.  His generous offer was accepted and the debt extinguished.

    Both father and son were offered knighthood, and both declined it.  During the summer of 1847, George Stephenson was invited to offer himself as a candidate for the representation of South Shields in Parliament.  But his politics were at best of a very undefined sort.  Indeed, his life had been so much occupied with subjects of a practical character that he had scarcely troubled himself to form any decided opinion on the party political topics of the day, and to stand the cross-fire of the electors on the hustings might possibly have proved an even more distressing ordeal than the cross-questioning of the barristers in the Committees of the House of Commons.  "Politics," he used to say, "are all matters of theory—there is no stability in them; they shift about like the sands of the sea; and I should feel quite out of my element among them."  He had, accordingly, the good sense respectfully to decline the honour of contesting the representation of South Shields.

    We have, however, been informed by Sir Joseph Paxton that, although George Stephenson held no strong opinions on political questions generally, there was one question on which he entertained a decided conviction, and that was the question of Free Trade.  The words used by him on one occasion to Sir Joseph were very strong.  "England," said he, "is, and must be, a shopkeeper; and our docks and harbours are only so many wholesale shops, the doors of which should always be kept wide open."  It is curious that his son should have taken precisely the opposite view of this question, and acted throughout with the most rigid party among the Protectionists, supporting the Navigation Laws and opposing Free Trade, even to the extent of going into the lobby with Colonel Sibthorp, Mr. Spooner, and the fifty-three "cannon-balls", on the 26th of November, 1852.  Robert Stephenson to the last spoke in strong terms as to the "betrayal of the Protectionist party" by their chosen leader, and he went so far as to say that he "could never forgive Peel."

    But Robert Stephenson will be judged in after times by his achievements as an engineer rather than by his acts as a politician; and, happily, these last were far outweighed in value by the immense practical services which  he rendered to trade, commerce, and civilization, through the facilities which the railways constructed by him afforded for free intercommunication on between men in all parts of the world.  Speaking in the midst of his friends at Newcastle in 1850, he observed:


    "It seems to me but as yesterday that I was engaged as an assistant in laying out the Stockton and Darlington Railway.  Since then, the Liverpool and Manchester, and a hundred other great works have sprung into existence.  As I look back upon these stupendous undertakings, accomplished in so short a time, it seems as though we had realized in our generation the fabled powers of the magician's wand.  Hills have been cut down and valleys filled up; and when these simple expedients have not sufficed, high and magnificent viaducts have been raised, and, if mountains stood in the way, tunnels of unexampled magnitude have pierced them through, bearing their triumphant attestation to the indomitable energy of the nation, and the unrivalled skill of our artisans."


    As respects the immense advantages of railways to mankind there can not be two opinions.  They exhibit, probably, the grandest organization of capital and labour that the world has yet seen.  Although they have unhappily occasioned great loss to many, the loss has been that of individuals, while, as a national system, the gain has already been enormous.  As tending to multiply and spread abroad the conveniences of life, opening up new fields of industry, bringing nations nearer to each other, and thus promoting the great ends of civilization, the founding of the railway system by George Stephenson and his son must be regarded as one of the most important events, if not the very greatest, in the first half of this nineteenth century.

 


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