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- Biographies of Working Men - 6/22 -


the world, while Davy is chiefly remembered as a meritorious and able chemist; but at the time, Stephenson's claim to the invention met with little courtesy from the great public of London, where a meeting was held on purpose to denounce his right to the credit of the invention. What the coal-owners and colliers of the North Country thought about the matter was sufficiently shown by their subscription of L1000, as a Stephenson testimonial fund. With part of the money, a silver tankard was presented to the deserving engine-wright, while the remainder of the sum was handed over to him in ready cash. A very acceptable present it was, and one which George Stephenson remembered with pride down to his dying day. The Geordie lamp continues in use to the present moment in the Tyneside collieries with excellent effect.

For some years more, Mr. Stephenson (he is now fairly entitled to that respectable prefix) went on still further experimenting on the question of locomotives and railways. He was now beginning to learn that much unnecessary wear and tear arose on the short lines of rail down from the pit's mouths to the loading-places on the river by the inequalities and roughnesses of the joints; and he invented a method of overlapping the rails which quite got over this source of loss--loss of speed, loss of power, and loss of material at once. It was in 1819 that he laid down his first considerable piece of road, the Hetton railway. The owners of a colliery at the village of Hetton, in Durham, determined to replace their waggon road by a locomotive line; and they invited the now locally famous Killingworth engine-wright to act as their engineer. Stephenson gladly undertook the post; and he laid down a railway of eight miles in length, on the larger part of which the trucks were to be drawn by "the iron horse," as people now began to style the altered and improved locomotive. The Hetton railway was opened in 1822, and the assembled crowd were delighted at beholding a single engine draw seventeen loaded trucks after it, at the extraordinary rate of four miles an hour--nearly as fast as a man could walk. Whence it may be gathered that Stephenson's ideas upon the question of speed were still on a very humble scale indeed.

Before the Hetton railway was opened, however, George Stephenson had shown one more proof of his excellence as a father by sending his boy Robert, now nineteen, to Edinburgh University. It was a serious expense for a man who was even now, after all, hardly more than a working man of the superior grade; but George Stephenson was well repaid for the sacrifice he thus made on behalf of his only son. He lived to see him the greatest practical engineer of his own time, and to feel that his success was in large measure due to the wider and more accurate scientific training the lad had received from his Edinburgh teachers.

In 1819 George married again, his second wife being the daughter of a farmer at Black Callerton.

The work which finally secured the position of George Stephenson and of his dearly loved locomotive was the Stockton and Darlington railway. Like all the other early railways, it was originally projected simply as a mineral line. Darlington lies in the centre of a rich inland mining district; but the impossibility of getting the coal carried to the sea by cart or donkey long prevented the opening up of its immense natural wealth. At last, as early as 1817, Edward Pease and a few other enterprising Darlington Quakers determined to build a line of railway from the mining region to Stockton, on the river Tees, where the coal could be loaded into sea-going ships. It was a very long line, compared to any railway that had yet been constructed; but it was still only to be worked by horse-power--to be, in fact, what we now call a tramway, rather than a railway in the modern sense. However, while the plan was still undecided, George Stephenson, who had heard about the proposed scheme, went over to Darlington one day, and boldly asked to see Mr. Pease. The good Quaker received him kindly, and listened to his arguments in favour of the locomotive. "Come over to Killingworth some day and see my engine at work," said Stephenson, confidently; "and if you do you will never think of horses again." Mr. Pease, with Quaker caution, came and looked. George put the engine through its paces, and showed off its marvellous capabilities to such good effect that Edward Pease was immediately converted. Henceforth, he became a decided advocate of locomotives, and greatly aided by his wealth and influence in securing their final triumph.

Not only that, but Mr. Pease also aided Stephenson in carrying out a design which George had long had upon his mind--the establishment of a regular locomotive factory, where the work of engine-making for this particular purpose might be carried on with all the necessary finish and accuracy. George himself put into the concern his precious L1000, not one penny of which he had yet touched; while Pease and a friend advanced as much between them. A factory was forthwith started at Newcastle on a small scale, and the hardworking engine-wright found himself now fully advanced to the commercial dignity of Stephenson and Co. With the gradual growth of railways, that humble Newcastle factory grew gradually into one of the largest and wealthiest manufacturing establishments in all England.

Meanwhile, Stephenson was eagerly pushing on the survey of the Stockton and Darlington railway, all the more gladly now that he knew it was to be worked by means of his own adopted child, the beloved locomotive. He worked at his line early and late; he took the sights with the spirit- level with his own eye; he was determined to make it a model railway. It was a long and heavy work, for railway surveying was then a new art, and the appliances were all fresh and experimental; but in the end, Stephenson brought it to a happy conclusion, and struck at once the death-blow of the old road-travelling system. The line was opened successfully in 1825, and the engine started off on the inaugural ceremony with a magnificent train of thirty-eight vehicles. "Such was its velocity," says a newspaper of the day, "that in some parts the speed was frequently twelve miles an hour."

The success of the Stockton and Darlington railway was so immense and unexpected, the number of passengers who went by it was so great, and the quantity of coal carried for shipment so far beyond anything the projectors themselves could have anticipated, that a desire soon began to be felt for similar works in other places. There are no two towns in England which absolutely need a railway communication from one to the other so much as Liverpool and Manchester. The first is the great port of entry for cotton, the second is the great centre of its manufacture. The Bridgewater canal had helped for a time to make up for the want of water communication between those two closely connected towns; but as trade developed, the canal became too small for the demands upon it, and the need for an additional means of intercourse was deeply felt. A committee was formed to build a railway in this busy district, and after a short time George Stephenson was engaged to superintend its construction.

A long and severe fight was fought over the Liverpool and Manchester railway, and it was at first doubtful whether the scheme would ever be carried out. Many great landowners were strongly opposed to it, and tried their best to keep the bill for authorizing it from passing through Parliament. Stephenson himself was compelled to appear in London as a witness before a parliamentary committee, and was closely cross- examined as to the possibilities of his plan. In those days, even after the success of the Stockton and Darlington line, his views about the future of railways were still regarded by most sober persons as ridiculously wild and enthusiastic; while the notion that trains might be made to travel twice as fast as stage-coaches, was scouted as the most palpable and ridiculous delusion. One of the members of the committee pressed Stephenson very hard with questions. "Suppose," he said, "a cow were to get upon the line, and the engine were to come into collision with it; wouldn't that be very awkward, now?" George looked up at him with a merry twinkle of the eye, and answered in his broad North Country dialect, "Oo, ay, very awkward for the _coo_."

In spite of all Stephenson's earnestness and mother wit, however, Parliament refused to pass the bill (in 1825), and for the moment the engineer's vexation was bitter to behold. He and his friends plucked up heart, however; they were fighting the winning battle against prejudice and obstruction, and they were sure to conquer in the long run. The line was resurveyed by other engineers; the lands of the hostile owners were avoided; the causes of offence were dexterously smoothed down; and after another hard fight, in 1826, the bill authorizing the construction of the Liverpool and Manchester railway was finally passed. The board at once appointed Stephenson engineer for constructing the line, at a salary of L1000 a year. George might now fairly consider himself entitled to the honours of an Esquire.

The line was a difficult one to construct; but George Stephenson set about it with the skill and knowledge acquired during many years of slow experience; and he performed it with distinguished success. He was now forty-four; and he had had more to do with the laying down of rails than any other man then living. The great difficulty of the Liverpool and Manchester line lay in the fact that it had to traverse a vast shaking bog or morass, Chat Moss, which the best engineers had emphatically declared it would be impossible to cross. George Stephenson, however, had a plan for making the impossible possible. He simply floated his line on a broad bottom, like a ship, on the top of the quaking quagmire; and proceeded to lay down his rails on this seemingly fragile support without further scruple. It answered admirably, and still answers to the present day. The other works on the railway, especially the cuttings, were such as might well have appalled the boldest heart in those experimental ages of railway enterprise. It is easy enough for us now to undertake tunnelling great hills or filling up wide valleys with long ranges of viaduct, because the thing has been done so often, and the prospect of earning a fair return on the money sunk can be calculated with so high a degree of reasonable probability. But it required no little faith for George Stephenson and his backers to drive a level road, for the first time, through solid rocks and over trembling morasses, the whole way from Liverpool to Manchester. He persevered, however, and in 1830, after four years' toilsome and ceaseless labour, during which he had worked far-harder than the sturdiest navvy on the line, his railway was finally opened for regular traffic.

Before the completion of the railway, George Stephenson had taken part in a great contest for the best locomotive at Liverpool, a prize of L500 having been offered by the company to the successful competitor. Stephenson sent in his improved model, the Rocket, constructed after plans of his own and his son Robert's, and it gained the prize against all its rivals, travelling at what was then considered the incredible rate of 35 miles an hour. It was thus satisfactorily settled that the locomotive was the best power for drawing carriages on railways, and George Stephenson's long battle was thus at last practically won. The opening of the Liverpool and Manchester railway was an era in the history of the world. From the moment that great undertaking was complete, there could no longer be any doubt about the utility and desirability of railways, and all opposition died away almost at once. New lines began immediately to be laid out, and in an incredibly short time the face of England was scarred by the main trunks in that network of iron roads with which its whole surface is now so closely covered. The enormous development of the railway system benefited the Stephenson family in more than one way. Robert Stephenson became the engineer of the vast series of lines now known as the London and North Western; and the increased demand for locomotives caused George Stephenson's small factory at Newcastle to blossom out suddenly into an immense and flourishing manufacturing concern.

The rest of George Stephenson's life is one long story of unbroken success. In 1831, the year after the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester line, George, being now fifty, began to think of settling down in a more permanent home. His son Robert, who was surveying the


Biographies of Working Men - 6/22

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