Read CHAPTER XI.  of Lives of the Engineers The Locomotive. George and Robert Stephenson , free online book, by Samuel Smiles, on


We return to the career of Robert Stephenson, who had been absent from England during the construction of the Liverpool railway, but was shortly about to join his father and take part in “the battle of the locomotive,” which was now impending.

On his return from Edinburgh College in the summer of 1823, he had assisted in the survey of the Stockton and Darlington line; 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 early 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.”

Speculation was very rife at the time; and amongst the most promising adventures were the companies organised 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 Columbian 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 together called upon Dr. Headlam, the eminent physician of Newcastle, to consult him on the subject.  During the examination which ensued, Robert afterwards 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 set sail for South America.

After a tolerably prosperous voyage he landed at La Guayra, on the north coast of Venezuela, on the 23rd July, from thence proceeding to Caraccas, the capital of the district, about 15 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 Bogota, the capital of Columbia or New Granada.  The distance was about 1200 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 richer mining quarters 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 Bogota, 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 slopes of the Andes.

Mr. Stephenson used afterwards to speak in glowing terms of this his first mule-journey in South America.  Everything 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 everything 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 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 Bogota 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 the 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 towards 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 skies, at certain times of the day looking black, sharp, and, at their summit, almost as even as a wall.

Our engineer took up his abode for a time at Mariquita, a fine old city, though then greatly decayed.  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 analysing 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.  Everything had to be begun anew.  Roads had to be cut to the mines, machinery to be erected, and the ground opened up, in course of which some of the old adits were hit upon.  The native péons or labourers were not accustomed to work, and at first 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 eclat, 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.”

At last, his party of miners arrived from England, but they gave him even more trouble than the péons had done.  They were rough, drunken, and sometimes altogether ungovernable.  He set them to work at the Santa Anna mine without delay, and at the same time took up his abode amongst 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 Cornish men, told Robert to his face, that because he was a North-country man, and not born in Cornwall it was impossible he should know anything 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 of 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, we find that quietness and order had been restored, and the works were proceeding more satisfactorily, though the yield of silver was not as yet very promising.  Mr. Stephenson calculated that at least three years’ diligent and costly operations would be needed 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, the great almendróns, 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 situation, 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 afterwards 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.  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 needed his son’s assistance, and that he must return at the expiry of his three years’ term, ­a decision, writes Robert, “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 thy 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 the manager of the Company, strongly urging that arrangements should be made for him to leave without delay.  In the mean time he was again 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 of miners from England, on their way up the country to the quarters which he had just quitted.  Next day, six hours after leaving Mompox, a steamboat was met ascending the river, with Bolivar the Liberator on board, on his way to St. Bogota; 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 Panama 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 his presence being so anxiously desired at home, he determined to proceed to New York without delay.

Arrived at the port of Cartagena, he had to wait some time for a ship.  The delay was very irksome to him, the more so as the city was then desolated by the ravages of the yellow fever.  While sitting one day in the large, bare, comfortless public room at 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.  He had left England in 1816, with powerful steam-engines, intended for the drainage and working of the Peruvian mines.  He met with almost a royal reception on his landing at Lima.  A guard of honour was appointed to attend him, and it was even proposed to erect a statue of Don Ricardo Trevithick in solid silver.  It was given forth in Cornwall that his emoluments amounted to 100,000 pounds a year, and that he was making a gigantic fortune.  Great, therefore, was Robert Stephenson’s surprise to find this potent Don Ricardo in the inn at Cartagena, reduced almost to his last shilling, and unable to proceed further.  He had indeed realised the truth of the Spanish proverb, that “a silver-mine brings misery, a gold-mine ruin.”  He and his friend had lost everything in their journey across the country from Peru.  They had forded rivers and wandered through forests, leaving all their baggage behind them, and had reached thus far with little more than the clothes upon their backs.  Almost the only remnant of precious metal saved by Trevithick was a pair of silver spurs, which he took back with him to Cornwall.  Robert Stephenson lent him 50 pounds to enable him to reach England; and though he was afterwards heard of as an inventor there, he had no further 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 amongst the islands, which was so far fortunate, for a few degrees further 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 Havannah 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 towards 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 was soon 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 8 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 was by no means in a prosperous state.  During the time Robert had been in America it had been carried on at a loss; and Edward Pease, much disheartened, wished to retire, but George Stephenson was unable to buy him out, and the establishment had to be carried on in the hope that the locomotive might yet be established in public estimation as a practical and economical working power.  Robert Stephenson immediately instituted a rigid inquiry into the working of the concern, unravelled the accounts, which had fallen into confusion during his father’s absence at Liverpool; and he soon 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, singular 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 further 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, we may mention 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 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 Mr. 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 authorised 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 March, 1828, they state that they had, after due consideration, authorised 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 waggons 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 waggons 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 amidst this multitude of projects.  The 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 modes of working the northern railways, 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 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 ground 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, the two reporting engineers were of opinion that fixed engines were preferable, and accordingly recommended their adoption.  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.  Two of the 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 supported the engineer in his preference for locomotive over fixed engine power.  He had scarcely an adherent, and the locomotive system seemed on the eve of being abandoned.  Still he did not despair.  With the profession as well as public opinion against him ­for the most frightful stories were 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, and, as some of them thought, at all seasons.  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. He represented to the Board 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 pounds 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.

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 the discussion with reference to the kind of power to be employed, Mr. 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.  They had also many conversations as to the best mode of increasing the powers and perfecting the mechanism of the locomotive.  These became more frequent and interesting, when the prize was offered for the best locomotive, and the working plans of the engine which they proposed to construct came 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 depend chiefly 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 invented 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, thus 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 already 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 horse power.  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 the engine, which amounted to about twelve tons; 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 locomotive must undergo a further 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.  As early as 1803, Mr. Woolf patented a tubular boiler, which was extensively employed at the Cornish mines, and was found greatly to facilitate the production of steam, by the extension of the heating surface.  The ingenious Trevithick, in his patent of 1815, seems also to have entertained the idea of employing a boiler constructed of “small perpendicular tubes,” with the same object of increasing the heating surface.  These tubes were to be closed at the bottom, and open into a common reservoir, from which they were to receive their water, and where the steam of all the tubes was to be united.

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 found to be materially 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, adopted his plan of employing horizontal tubes through which the heated air passed in streamlets.  Mr. Henry Booth, the secretary of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, without any knowledge of M. Seguin’s proceedings, next devised his plan of a tubular boiler, which he brought under the notice of Mr. Stephenson, who at once adopted it, and settled the mode in which the fire-box and tubes were to be mutually arranged and connected.  This plan was adopted in the construction of the celebrated “Rocket” engine, the building of which was immediately proceeded with at the Newcastle works.

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 within the boiler so as to prevent leakage.  They were made 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 watertight boiler, capable of withstanding extreme internal 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 strong enough to keep up the intensity of the fire in the furnace, so as to produce high-pressure steam in sufficient quantity.  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 further 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 force 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 secured by the contraction of the blast-pipe was not counterbalanced in some degree by the negative pressure upon the piston.  A series of experiments was made with pipes of different diameters; the amount of vacuum produced being determined by a glass tube open at both ends, which was fixed to the bottom of the smoke-box, and descended into a bucket of water.  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, 6 feet in length, and 3 feet 4 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, 25 copper tubes of 3 inches diameter extended, which were open to the fire-box at one end, and to the chimney at the other.  The fire-box, or furnace, 2 feet wide and 3 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 towards 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 4.25 tons, and was supported on four wheels, not coupled.  The tender was four-wheeled, and similar in shape to a waggon, ­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 despatched 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 waggon to Carlisle, and thence shipped for Liverpool.

The time so much longed for by George Stephenson had now arrived, when the merit of the passenger locomotive was to be put to a public 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 inhabitants 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, whilst 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.”

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 3 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 70 miles, in the course of the day; and the average rate of travelling was to be not under 10 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, amongst 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.  A majority of the judges was strongly predisposed in favour of the “Novelty,” and nine-tenths of those present were against the “Rocket” because of its appearance.  Nearly every person favoured some other engine, so that there was nothing for the “Rocket” but the practical test.  The first trip which it made was quite successful.  It ran about 12 miles, without interruption, in about 53 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 3 tons and 1 hundredweight.  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, further than that the engine traversed the line by way of exhibition, occasionally moving at the rate of 24 miles an hour.  The “Sanspareil,” constructed by Mr. Timothy Hackworth, was next exhibited; but no particular experiment was made with it on this day.

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 further 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 24 to 30 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 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 50 pounds to the square inch.  This proceeding occupied fifty-seven minutes.  The engine then started on its journey, dragging after it about 13 tons weight in waggons, and made the first ten trips backwards and forwards along the two miles of road, running the 35 miles, including stoppages, in one hour and 48 minutes.  The second ten trips were in like manner performed in 2 hours and 3 minutes.  The maximum velocity attained during the trial trip was 29 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 15 miles an hour, or 5 miles beyond the rate specified in the conditions published by the Company.  The entire performance excited the greatest astonishment amongst 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!”

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 upon the ground.  The weight of the carriages attached to it was only about 7 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 afterwards repaired, and the engine made several trips by itself, in which it was said to have gone at the rate of from 24 to 28 miles an hour.

The “Sanspareil” was not ready until the 13th; and when its boiler and tender were filled with water, it was found to weigh 4 cwt. 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 14 miles an hour, with its load attached; but at the eighth trip the cold-water pump got wrong, and the engine could proceed no further.

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.  The owner of the “Sanspareil” also requested the opportunity for making another trial of his engine.  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.

The “Perseverance” 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 its owners were declared to be fully entitled to the prize of 500 pounds, which was awarded to the Messrs. Stephenson and Booth accordingly.  And further, to show that the engine had been working quite within its powers, Mr. 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 35 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 the locomotive a vigorous life, and secured the triumph of the railway system. It has been well observed, that 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 more 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 Mr. 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 pursued towards him during this eventful struggle, by some from whom forbearance was to have been expected, he never entertained towards them in after life any angry feelings; on the contrary, he forgave all.  But though the directors afterwards passed unanimous resolutions eulogising “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 of him that though naturally most cheerful and kind-hearted in his 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.