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Dewley he went to Mid Mill, and after that to the colliery of Throckley-bridge, at which his wages were twelve shillings a week. He felt he was getting on. It was a proud moment for him when one Saturday evening he got his first twelve shillings. Now,' said he enthusiastically, 'I am a made man for life.'
While at this occupation he acquired a character for steadinessthat was a great point gained. The world is always groping about for steady men, and sometimes it is not easy getting hold of them. George was rigorously sober, and was never so happy as when he was at work, though it is also related of him that he took pleasure after work-hours in wrestling, putting or throwing the stone, and other feats of muscular skill. He possessed a powerful frame, and could lift heavy weights in a manner that was thought surprising. Rather a general favourite from his good-nature and dexterity at rustic sports, George likewise gave satisfaction to his employers, and, reputed as a clever, handy young man, was promoted to the situation of engineman or plugman at Newburn. From looking after a furnace, he had now to attend to the working of a steamengine, and to watch that the pumps were kept properly working. It was a post of responsibility, and not without trouble. went wrong, he had to descend the pit, and do his best to rectify them by plugging; that is, stuffing any hole or crevice to make them draw; and if the defect was beyond his power of remedy, his duty was to report it to the chief engineer. In these services George took immense delight. He was now in his element; could handle, and scour, and work about among pistons, cylinders, wheels, levers, pumps, and other mechanical contrivances, and regarded the entire engine under his charge with feelings of keen admiration and affection. One likes to hear of this, for there is always something pleasing in the idea that a youth is an enthusiast in the kind of labour to which he has addressed himself, for there are then good hopes of his
If the pumps
George was so fond of his engine that he was never tired looking at it, as it worked with regularity and almost with sublimity the enormous pumps. Stooping like a giant, down went the great lever or pump-handle; a moment's pause ensues, and then without an effort up is drawn the prodigious volume of water, which runs away like a small river. In the constant contemplation of this magnificent triumph of art, the mind of any one not lost to good-feeling, cannot fail to be elevated. At all events, George Stephenson experienced enviable sensations. Oh, that dear engine, how he did love it! to him, with its continuity and regularity of motion, it was like a living creature. As a mother fondles and dresses her child, so did George never tire fondling, dressing, and undressing his engine. It was not enough that he saw the outside of the mechanism. It became a kind of hobby with him to take her-a steam-engine is her—to pieces, and after cleaning and examining all the parts, to put her again into
working-order. Then, what joy, when the steam is let on, to see her
When the engine was going in excellent trim, and nothing was
Having settled in his own mind that he would go to school, cost what it might, George found out a poor teacher, named Robin Cowens, in the village of Walbottle, who agreed to give him lessons in the evening at the rate of threepence a week, a fee which he cheerfully paid. By Robin he was advanced so far as to be able to write his own name, which he did for the first time when he was nineteen years of age. To improve his acquirements, he afterwards, in the winter of 1799, went to an evening-school, kept by Andrew Robertson, a Scotch dominie, in the village of Newburn. Here he was advanced in a regular way to penmanship and arithmetic. But as there was not much time for arithmetical study during the limited school-hours, George got questions in figures set on his slate, which next day he worked out while attending the engine. And that was all the education in the way of schooling he ever got.. Very imperfect it was in quality and extent, but it admitted him within the portals of knowledge, and getting that length, he was enabled to pick up and learn as he went on. The next event in his life was his removal, in 1801, to the Dolly pit, at Callerton, where he received somewhat higher wages, a point of some importance, for at this time the cost of living was very high. Perhaps it was owing to this dearth in food that George fell upon the expedient of devoting his leisure hours in the evening to the making and mending of shoes. Some may think that the craft of shoemaking was quite out of his way, but we have known several instances of shepherds and ploughmen being makers and menders of shoes in a homely style for their families, and therefore the 'gentle craft' is not so very difficult to learn as
might be imagined. George Stephenson became a tolerable shoemaker, though he kept chieħy to cobbling or mending. If anything could have spurred him on, it was the desire to sole the shoes of his sweetheart, Fanny Henderson, and of these he is said to have made a capital job. By means of his cobbling, he was able to save a guinea, which is recorded as being the nest-egg of his fortune. Of course, he never could have laid by so much as a guinea, had he, like most of his acquaintances, frequented public-houses and consumed quantities of beer. But no one ever saw him the worse of drink; and while others were soaking in taverns, or amusing themselves with cock-fighting and dog-fighting, he was at home, either trying to increase his sum of knowledge, or applying himself to some useful occupation which was in itself an amusement. His sobriety and industry had their reward. He was enabled to furnish a house decently, and to marry Fanny Henderson. The marriage was celebrated on the 28th November 1802, and the pair betook themselves to the neat home that had been prepared at Willington Ballast Quay, a place on the Tyne, about six miles from Newcastle.
Settling down as a married man, George continued to devote leisure hours to study or to some handicraft employment. From making and mending shoes, he proceeded to mend clocks, and became known among his neighbours as a wonderfully clever clockdoctor. It is said that he was led into this kind of employment by an accident. His chimney having gone on fire, the neighbours in putting it out deluged the house with water, and damaged the eightday clock. Handy at machinery, and wishing to save money, George determined to set the clock to rights. He took it to pieces, cleaned it, reorganised it, and made it go as well as ever. There was a triumph! After this, he was often employed as a repairer of clocks, by which he added a little to his income. 'On 16th December 1803, was born his only son Robert, who lived to be at the head of the railway engineering profession. But before either George or his son could arrive at distinction, there was not a little to be done. As a brakesman, George had charge of the coal-lifting machinery at Willington, and subsequently at Killingworth, and in this department, as well as engineman, he gradually but surely gained the reputation of being an ingenious and trustworthy workman.
At Killingworth, which is about seven miles north of Newcastle, he suffered the great misfortune of losing his wife. This sad blow fell upon him in 1804, with his son still an infant.
The next thing we hear of him is, that leaving his child in charge of a neighbour, he went by invitation to superintend an engine at some works near Montrose in Scotland, which journey, about a hundred and fifty miles, he performed on foot. Disagreeing after a short period with the owners, he trudged back to his home at Killingworth, bringing with him £28 as savings. One of the first things he did after his return was to succour his father, now an aged and
blind man, whom, with his old mother, he placed in a comfortable cottage in his own neighbourhood. Again he followed the employment of brakesman at West Moor pit, and was continuing to save, when, in 1807, his small accumulations were in a moment wholly swept away. He was drawn for the militia, and every shilling he had saved was paid away for a substitute. To be thrust back into poverty in so hateful a manner almost upset his philosophy, and he strongly meditated emigrating to America. Fortunately, his spirits revived, and he held on his course. In addressing a society of young operatives many years afterwards, he referred as follows to this dark period in his life : 'Well do I remember the beginning of my career as an engineer, and the great perseverance that was required of me to get on. Not having served an apprenticeship, I had made up my mind to go to America, considering that no one in England would trust me to act as engineer. However, I was trusted in some small matters, and succeeded in giving satisfaction. Greater trusts were reposed in me, in which I also succeeded. Soon after, I commenced making the locomotive engine; and the results of my perseverance you have this day witnessed.'
It says much for Stephenson, that under pinching difficulties he did not only take care of his old parents, but gave his child as good an education as was in his power. The want of learning he had himself acutely felt, and this deficiency, if at all practicable, he wished to avert from his son. In one of his public speeches late in life, he observed : ‘In the carlier period of my career, when Robert was a little boy, I saw how deficient I was in education, and I made up my mind that he should not labour under the same defect, but that I would put him to a good school, and give him a liberal training. I was, however, a poor man; and how do you think I managed? I betook myself to mending my neighbours' clocks and watches at nights, after my daily labour was done, and thus I procured the means of educating my son.'
In 1810, an opportunity occurred for George Stephenson signalising himself. A badly-constructed steam-engine at Killingworth High pit could not do its work; one engineer after another tried to set it to rights, but all failed ; and at last in despair they were glad to let.Geordie' try his hand, though with his reputation for cleverness they did not expect him to succeed. To their mortification and astonishment, he was perfectly successful. He took the engine to pieces, rearranged it skilfully, and set it to work in the most effectual
Besides receiving a present of £10 for this useful service, he was placed on the footing of a regular engineer, and afterwards consulted in cases of defective pumping apparatus.
Although thus rising in public estimation, he still knew his deficiencies, and strove to improve by renewed evening studies. One of his acquaintances, named John Wigham, gave him some useful instructions in branches of arithmetic, of which he had an
imperfect knowledge, and the two together, with the aid of books, spent many pleasant evenings in getting an insight into chemistry and other departments of practical science. His steadiness was at times sorely tried by the solicitations of neighbours in his own rank 'to come and take a glass o'yill ;' but resolutions to be temperate and to save for the sake of Robert's education, enabled him to withstand tempters of all kinds. By dint of such reserve, he was able to save a hundred guineas, which, in consequence of the demand for bullion during the French war, he sold to money-brokers for twentysix shillings each. At intervals in his ordinary labour, he employed himself in building an oven and some additional rooms to his cottage, which he likewise rendered attractive by a garden cultured with his own hands.
The year 1812 marked Stephenson's rise to the position of a colliery engineer and planner of machinery for working pits and wheeling off coal. Proprietors and managers began to entertain a high idea of his qualities, which were obviously not those of a pretender. Referring to this period, when in 1835 he gave evidence before a select committee of the House of Commons on accidents in mines, he said:termaking some improvements in the stamengines above ground, I was then requested by the manager of the colliery to go underground along with him to see if any improvements could be made in the mines, by employing machinery as a substitute for manualabour and horsepower in bringing the coal out of the deeper workings of the mine. On my first going down the Killingworth pit, there was a steam-engine underground for the purpose of drawing water from a pit that was sunk at some distance from the first shaft. The Killingworth coal-field is considerably dislocated. After the colliery was opened, at a very short distance from the shaft, they met with of those dislocations, dikeasthey are called. The coal was thrown down about for yards [or abruptly at that muchwer level Considerable time was spent in sinking another pit to this depth. And on my going down to examine the work, I proposed making the engine, which had been erected some time previously, to draw the coals up an inclined plane, which descended immediately from the place where it was fixed. A considerable change was accordingly made in the mode of working the colliery, not only in applying the machinery, but employing putters instead of horses in bringing the calfrom the hewers by those changes the number of horses in the pit was reduced from about 100 to 15 or 16. During the time I was engaged in making these important alterations, I went round the workings in the pit with the viewer almost every time that he went into the mine-not only at Killingworth, but at Mountmoor, Derwentcrook, Southmoor, all which collieries belonged to Lord Ravensworth and his partners; and the whole of the machinery in all these collieries was put under my charge.