ad


Biography of George Stephenson


Index

GEORGE STEPHENSON, was born on the 9th of June 1781, in circumstances of great poverty, his father having to maintain a family of six children on 12s. per week, earned by tending a colliery-engine at Wylam, near Newcastle. George's first employment was herding cows at 2d. per day, from which he was promoted to hoeing turnips at 4d. per day; subsequently he was appointed fireman at Midmill Colliery, and at 15 we find him rejoicing over his salary being raised to 12s. per week. As fireman, he applied himself to diligent study of the steam engine, taking the machine to pieces during his leisure hours, and thus gaining a thorough practical knowledge of it. At 21, he had saved enough to enable him to furnish a cottage in a humble way, and in November, 1802, he was married to a young woman named Fanny Henderson. She died in 1804, while her husband was brakesman at Killingworth Colliery. The early life of Stephenson presents a record whose interest cannot be surpassed, of a contest between determined purpose, industry and sagacity on one hand, and poverty on the other. Slowly, inch by inch, we find the inward forces gaining ground on the outward. Out of his humble gains he contrived to pay 4d. per week for lessons in reading, writing, and arithmetic, which he studied at night by the light of his engine-fire. In 1815, the invention of a colliery safety-lamp, the "Georde," brought his name before the public. It was at Killingworth Colliery, that he constructed his first locomotive. At first it was not very efficient; but subsequently, his grand improvement of the "steam-blast," carried his experiment to a triumphant issue. Further improvements followed, and in 1821, Stephenson was appointed engineer for the construction of the Stockton and Darlington railway; the line on its completion being partially worked by means of his great invention. The rapid growth of the trade of South Lancashire, together with the unpopular management of the Bridgewater Canal, gave rise in 1821, to the project of a railway between Liverpool and Manchester. Stephenson was chosen director. That he proposed to work the line with an engine that was to go at the rate of twelve miles an hour, was a fact held up as of itself sufficient to stamp the project as a bubble. "Twelve miles an hour," exclaimed the Quarterly Review - "as well trust ones self to be fired off on a Congreve rocket." When the bill ultimately passed on the 16th of March, 1826, Stephenson was appointed principal engineer, with a salary of 100O a year. After inconceivable difficulties, the line was completed in 1829. While occupied in carrying out the vast system of railways which soon overspread the country, Stephenson's home was at Alton Grange, near Leicester. In 1836 alone, 214 miles of railway were put under his direction, involving a capital of twenty-five millions. He has been known to dictate reports and letters, for twelve continuous hours. In the autumn of 1845, he visited Belgium and Spain for professional purposes. On his way home he was seized with pleurisy, from which attack he does not seem ever to have thoroughly recovered. He occupied his declining years, with the quiet pursuits of a country gentleman, indulging his love of nature, which, through all his years had never left him. He died at his country seat of Tapton, on the 12th ofAugust, 1848.