Industrial Biography
Samuel Smiles

Part 6 out of 7

Manchester and the neighbourhood. The great improvements which he
introduced in the machine for making weavers' reeds, led to the
formation of the firm of Sharp, Roberts, and Co., of which Mr.
Roberts was the acting mechanical partner for many years. Not less
important were his improvements in power-looms for weaving fustians,
which were extensively adopted. But by far the most famous of his
inventions was unquestionably his Self-acting Mule, one of the most
elaborate and beautiful pieces of machinery ever contrived. Before
its invention, the working of the entire machinery of the
cotton-mill, as well as the employment of the piecers, cleaners, and
other classes of operatives, depended upon the spinners, who, though
receiving the highest rates of pay, were by much the most given to
strikes; and they were frequently accustomed to turn out in times
when trade was brisk, thereby bringing the whole operations of the
manufactories to a standstill, and throwing all the other operatives
out of employment. A long-continued strike of this sort took place in
1824, when the idea occurred to the masters that it might be possible
to make the spinning-mules run out and in at the proper speed by
means of self-acting machinery, and thus render them in some measure
independent of the more refractory class of their workmen. It seemed,
however, to be so very difficult a problem, that they were by no
means sanguine of success in its solution. Some time passed before
they could find any mechanic willing so much as to consider the
subject. Mr. Ashton of Staley-bridge made every effort with this
object, but the answer he got was uniformly the same. The thing was
declared to be impracticable and impossible. Mr. Ashton, accompanied
by two other leading spinners, called on Sharp, Roberts, and Co., to
seek an interview with Mr. Roberts. They introduced the subject to
him, but he would scarcely listen to their explanations, cutting them
short with the remark that he knew nothing whatever about
cotton-spinning. They insisted, nevertheless, on explaining to him
what they required, but they went away without being able to obtain
from him any promise of assistance in bringing out the required

The strike continued, and the manufacturers again called upon Mr.
Roberts, but with no better result. A third time they called and
appealed to Mr. Sharp, the capitalist of the firm, who promised to
use his best endeavours to induce his mechanical partner to take the
matter in hand. But Mr. Roberts, notwithstanding his reticence, had
been occupied in carefully pondering the subject since Mr. Ashton's
first interview with him. The very difficulty of the problem to be
solved had tempted him boldly to grapple with it, though he would not
hold out the slightest expectation to the cotton-spinners of his
being able to help them in their emergency until he saw his way
perfectly clear. That time had now come; and when Mr. Sharp
introduced the subject, he said he had turned the matter over and
thought he could construct the required self-acting machinery. It was
arranged that he should proceed with it at once, and after a close
study of four months he brought out the machine now so extensively
known as the self-acting mule. The invention was patented in 1825,
and was perfected by subsequent additions, which were also patented.

Like so many other inventions, the idea of the self-acting mule was
not new. Thus Mr. William Strutt of Derby, the father of Lord Belper,
invented a machine of this sort at an early period; Mr. William
Belly, of the New Lanark Mills, invented a second; and various other
projectors tried their skill in the same direction; but none of these
inventions came into practical use. In such cases it has become
generally admitted that the real inventor is not the person who
suggests the idea of the invention, but he who first works it out
into a practicable process, and so makes it of practical and
commercial value. This was accomplished by Mr. Roberts, who, working
out the idea after his own independent methods, succeeded in making
the first self-acting mule that would really act as such; and he is
therefore fairly entitled to be regarded as its inventor.

By means of this beautiful contrivance, spindle-carriages; bearing
hundreds of spindles, run themselves out and in by means of automatic
machinery, at the proper speed, without a hand touching them; the
only labour required being that of a few boys and girls to watch them
and mend the broken threads when the carriage recedes from the roller
beam, and to stop it when the cop is completely formed, as is
indicated by the bell of the counter attached to the working gear.
Mr. Baines describes the self-acting mule while at work as "drawing
out, twisting, and winding up many thousand threads, with unfailing
precision and indefatigable patience and strength--a scene as magical
to the eye which is not familiarized with it, as the effects have
been marvellous in augmenting the wealth and population of the
EDWARD BAINES, Esq., M.P., History of the Cotton Manufacture, 212.

Mr. Roberts's great success with the self-acting mule led to his
being often appealed to for help in the mechanics of manufacturing.
In 1826, the year after his patent was taken out, he was sent for to
Mulhouse, in Alsace, to design and arrange the machine establishment
of Andre Koechlin and Co.; and in that and the two subsequent years
he fairly set the works a-going, instructing the workmen in the
manufacture of spinning-machinery, and thus contributing largely to
the success of the French cotton manufacture. In 1832 he patented his
invention of the Radial Arm for "winding on" in the self-acting mule,
now in general use; and in future years he took out sundry patents
for roving, slubbing, spinning, and doubling cotton and other fibrous
materials; and for weaving, beetling, and mangling fabrics of various

A considerable branch of business carried on by the firm of Sharp,
Roberts, and Co. was the manufacture of iron billiard-tables, which
were constructed with almost perfect truth by means of Mr. Roberts's
planing-machine, and became a large article of export. But a much
more important and remunerative department was the manufacture of
locomotives, which was begun by the firm shortly after the opening of
the Liverpool and Manchester Railway had marked this as one of the
chief branches of future mechanical engineering. Mr. Roberts adroitly
seized the opportunity presented by this new field of invention and
enterprise, and devoted himself for a time to the careful study of
the locomotive and its powers. As early as the year 1829 we find him
presenting to the Manchester Mechanics' Institute a machine
exhibiting the nature of friction upon railroads, in solution of the
problem then under discussion in the scientific journals. In the
following year he patented an arrangement for communicating power to
both driving-wheels of the locomotive, at all times in the exact
proportions required when turning to the right or left,--an
arrangement which has since been adopted in many road locomotives and
agricultural engines. In the same patent will be found embodied his
invention of the steam-brake, which was also a favourite idea of
George Stephenson, since elaborated by Mr. MacConnell of the London
and North-Western Railway. In 1834, Sharp, Roberts, and Co. began the
manufacture of locomotives on a large scale; and the compactness of
their engines, the excellence of their workmanship, and the numerous
original improvements introduced in them, speedily secured for the
engines of the Atlas firm a high reputation and a very large demand.
Among Mr. Roberts's improvements may be mentioned his method of
manufacturing the crank axle, of welding the rim and tyres of the
wheels, and his arrangement and form of the wrought-iron framing and
axle-guards. His system of templets and gauges, by means of which
every part of an engine or tender corresponded with that of every
other engine or tender of the same class, was as great an improvement
as Maudslay's system of uniformity of parts in other descriptions of

In connection with the subject of railways, we may allude in passing
to Mr. Roberts's invention of the Jacquard punching machine--a
self-acting tool of great power, used for punching any required
number of holes, of any pitch and to any pattern, with mathematical
accuracy, in bridge or boiler plates. The origin of this invention
was somewhat similar to that of the self-acting mule. The contractors
for the Conway Tubular Bridge while under construction, in 1848, were
greatly hampered by combinations amongst the workmen, and they
despaired of being able to finish the girders within the time
specified in the contract. The punching of the iron plates by hand
was a tedious and expensive as well as an inaccurate process; and the
work was proceeding so slowly that the contractors found it
absolutely necessary to adopt some new method of punching if they
were to finish the work in time. In their emergency they appealed to
Mr. Roberts, and endeavoured to persuade him to take the matter up.
He at length consented to do so, and evolved the machine in question
during his evening's leisure--for the most part while quietly sipping
his tea. The machine was produced, the contractors were enabled to
proceed with the punching of the plates independent of the refractory
men, and the work was executed with a despatch, accuracy, and
excellence that would not otherwise have been possible. Only a few
years since Mr. Roberts added a useful companion to the Jacquard
punching machine, in his combined self-acting machine for shearing
iron and punching both webs of angle or T iron simultaneously to any
required pitch; though this machine, like others which have proceeded
from his fertile brain, is ahead even of this fast-manufacturing age,
and has not yet come into general use, but is certain to do so before
many years have elapsed.

These inventions were surely enough for one man to have accomplished;
but we have not yet done. The mere enumeration of his other
inventions would occupy several pages. We shall merely allude to a
few of them. One was his Turret Clock, for which he obtained the
medal at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Another was his Prize
Electro-Magnet of 1845. When this subject was first mentioned to him,
he said he did not know anything of the theory or practice of
electro-magnetism, but he would try and find out. The result of his
trying was that he won the prize for the most powerful
electro-magnet: one is placed in the museum at Peel Park, Manchester,
and another with the Scottish Society of Arts, Edinburgh. In 1846 he
perfected an American invention for making cigars by machinery;
enabling a boy, working one of his cigar-engines, to make as many as
5000 in a day. In 1852 he patented improvements in the construction,
propelling, and equipment of steamships, which have, we believe, been
adopted to a certain extent by the Admiralty; and a few years later,
in 1855, we find him presenting the Secretary of War with plans of
elongated rifle projectiles to be used in smooth-bore ordnance with a
view to utilize the old-pattern gun. His head, like many inventors of
the time, being full of the mechanics of war, he went so far as to
wait upon Louis Napoleon, and laid before him a plan by which
Sebastopol was to be blown down. In short, upon whatever subject he
turned his mind, he left the impress of his inventive faculty. If it
was imperfect, he improved it; if incapable of improvement, and
impracticable, he invented something entirely new, superseding it
altogether. But with all his inventive genius, in the exercise of
which Mr. Roberts has so largely added to the productive power of the
country, we regret to say that he is not gifted with the commercial
faculty. He has helped others in their difficulties, but forgotten
himself. Many have profited by his inventions, without even
acknowledging the obligations which they owed to him. They have used
his brains and copied his tools, and the "sucked orange" is all but
forgotten. There may have been a want of worldly wisdom on his part,
but it is lamentable to think that one of the most prolific and
useful inventors of his time should in his old age be left to fight
with poverty.

Mr. Whitworth is another of the first-class tool-makers of Manchester
who has turned to excellent account his training in the workshops of
Maudslay and Clement. He has carried fully out the system of
uniformity in Screw Threads which they initiated; and he has still
further improved the mechanism of the planing machine, enabling it to
work both backwards and forwards by means of a screw and roller
motion. His "Jim Crow Machine," so called from its peculiar motion in
reversing itself and working both ways, is an extremely beautiful
tool, adapted alike for horizontal, vertical, or angular motions. The
minute accuracy of Mr. Whitworth's machines is not the least of their
merits; and nothing will satisfy him short of perfect truth. At the
meeting of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers at Glasgow in 1856
he read a paper on the essential importance of possessing a true
plane as a standard of reference in mechanical constructions, and he
described elaborately the true method of securing it,--namely, by
scraping, instead of by the ordinary process of grinding. At the same
meeting he exhibited a machine of his invention by which he stated
that a difference of the millionth part of an inch in length could at
once be detected. He also there urged his favourite idea of
uniformity, and proper gradations of size of parts, in all the
various branches of the mechanical arts, as a chief means towards
economy of production--a principle, as he showed, capable of very
extensive application. To show the progress of tools and machinery in
his own time, Mr. Whitworth cited the fact that thirty years since
the cost of labour for making a surface of cast-iron true--one of the
most important operations in mechanics--by chipping and filing by the
hand, was 12s. a square foot; whereas it is now done by the planing
machine at a cost for labour of less than a penny. Then in machinery,
pieces of 74 reed printing-cotton cloth of 29 yards each could not be
produced at less cost than 30s. 6d. per piece; whereas the same
description is now sold for 3s. 9d. Mr. Whitworth has been among the
most effective workers in this field of improvement, his tools taking
the first place in point of speed, accuracy, and finish of work, in
which respects they challenge competition with the world. Mr.
Whitworth has of late years been applying himself with his accustomed
ardour to the development of the powers of rifled guns and
projectiles,--a branch of mechanical science in which he confessedly
holds a foremost place, and in perfecting which he is still occupied.



"By Hammer and Hand
All Arts doth stand."
Hammermen's Motto.

The founder Of the Scotch family of Naesmyth is said to have derived
his name from the following circumstance. In the course of the feuds
which raged for some time between the Scotch kings and their powerful
subjects the Earls of Douglas, a rencontre took place one day on the
outskirts of a Border village, when the king's adherents were
worsted. One of them took refuge in the village smithy, where,
hastily disguising himself, and donning a spare leathern apron, he
pretended to be engaged in assisting the smith with his work, when a
party of the Douglas followers rushed in. They glanced at the
pretended workman at the anvil, and observed him deliver a blow upon
it so unskilfully that the hammer-shaft broke in his hand. On this
one of the Douglas men rushed at him, calling out, "Ye're nae smyth!"
The assailed man seized his sword, which lay conveniently at hand,
and defended himself so vigorously that he shortly killed his
assailant, while the smith brained another with his hammer; and, a
party of the king's men having come to their help, the rest were
speedily overpowered. The royal forces then rallied, and their
temporary defeat was converted into a victory. The king bestowed a
grant of land on his follower "Nae Smyth," who assumed for his arms a
sword between two hammers with broken shafts, and the motto "Non arte
sed Marte," as if to disclaim the art of the Smith, in which he had
failed, and to emphasize the superiority of the warrior. Such is said
to be the traditional origin of the family of Naesmyth of Posso in
Peeblesshire, who continue to bear the same name and arms.

It is remarkable that the inventor of the steam-hammer should have so
effectually contradicted the name he bears and reversed the motto of
his family; for so far from being "Nae Smyth," he may not
inappropriately be designated the very Vulcan of the nineteenth
century. His hammer is a tool of immense power and pliancy, but for
which we must have stopped short in many of those gigantic
engineering works which are among the marvels of the age we live in.
It possesses so much precision and delicacy that it will chip the end
of an egg resting in a glass on the anvil without breaking it, while
it delivers a blow of ten tons with such a force as to be felt
shaking the parish. It is therefore with a high degree of
appropriateness that Mr. Nasmyth has discarded the feckless hammer
with the broken shaft, and assumed for his emblem his own magnificent
steam-hammer, at the same time reversing the family motto, which he
has converted into "Non Marte sed Arte."

James Nasmyth belongs to a family whose genius in art has long been
recognised. His father, Alexander Nasmyth of Edinburgh, was a
landscape-painter of great eminence, whose works are sometimes
confounded with those of his son Patrick, called the English Hobbema,
though his own merits are peculiar and distinctive. The elder Nasmyth
was also an admirable portrait painter, as his head of Burns--the
best ever painted of the poet--bears ample witness. His daughters,
the Misses Nasmyth, were highly skilled painters of landscape, and
their works are well known and much prized. James, the youngest of
the family, inherits the same love of art, though his name is more
extensively known as a worker and inventor in iron. He was born at
Edinburgh, on the 19th of August, 1808; and his attention was early
directed to mechanics by the circumstance of this being one of his
father's hobbies. Besides being an excellent painter, Mr. Nasmyth had
a good general knowledge of architecture and civil engineering, and
could work at the lathe and handle tools with the dexterity of a
mechanic. He employed nearly the whole of his spare time in a little
workshop which adjoined his studio, where he encouraged his youngest
son to work with him in all sorts of materials. Among his visitors at
the studio were Professor Leslie, Patrick Miller of Dalswinton, and
other men of distinction. He assisted Mr. Miller in his early
experiments with paddle-boats, which eventually led to the invention
of the steamboat. It was a great advantage for the boy to be trained
by a father who so loved excellence in all its forms, and could
minister to his love of mechanics by his own instruction and
practice. James used to drink in with pleasure and profit the
conversation which passed between his father and his visitors on
scientific and mechanical subjects; and as he became older, the
resolve grew stronger in him every day that he would be a mechanical
engineer, and nothing else. At a proper age, he was sent to the High
School, then as now celebrated for the excellence of its instruction,
and there he laid the foundations of a sound and liberal education.
But he has himself told the simple story of his early life in such
graphic terms that we feel we cannot do better than quote his own
words: -*
Originally prepared for John Hick, Esq., C.E., of Bolton, and
embodied by him in his lectures on "Self Help," delivered before the
Holy Trinity Working Men's Association of that town, on the 18th and
20th March, 1862; the account having been kindly corrected by Mr.
Nasmyth for the present publication.

"I had the good luck," he says, "to have for a school companion the
son of an iron founder. Every spare hour that I could command was
devoted to visits to his father's iron foundry, where I delighted to
watch the various processes of moulding, iron-melting, casting,
forging, pattern-making, and other smith and metal work; and although
I was only about twelve years old at the time, I used to lend a hand,
in which hearty zeal did a good deal to make up for want of strength.
I look back to the Saturday afternoons spent in the workshops of that
small foundry, as an important part of my education. I did not trust
to reading about such and such things; I saw and handled them; and
all the ideas in connection with them became permanent in my mind. I
also obtained there--what was of much value to me in after life--
a considerable acquaintance with the nature and characters of
workmen. By the time I was fifteen, I could work and turn out really
respectable jobs in wood, brass, iron, and steel: indeed, in the
working of the latter inestimable material, I had at a very early age
(eleven or twelve) acquired considerable proficiency. As that was the
pre-lucifer match period, the possession of a steel and tinder box
was quite a patent of nobility among boys. So I used to forge old
files into 'steels' in my father's little workshop, and harden them
and produce such first-rate, neat little articles in that line, that
I became quite famous amongst my school companions; and many a task
have I had excused me by bribing the monitor, whose grim sense of
duty never could withstand the glimpse of a steel.

"My first essay at making a steam engine was when I was fifteen. I
then made a real working; steam-engine, 1 3/4 diameter cylinder, and
8 in. stroke, which not only could act, but really did some useful
work; for I made it grind the oil colours which my father required
for his painting. Steam engine models, now so common, were
exceedingly scarce in those days, and very difficult to be had; and
as the demand for them arose, I found it both delightful and
profitable to make them; as well as sectional models of steam
engines, which I introduced for the purpose of exhibiting the
movements of all the parts, both exterior and interior. With the
results of the sale of such models I was enabled to pay the price of
tickets of admission to the lectures on natural philosophy and
chemistry delivered in the University of Edinburgh. About the same
time (1826) I was so happy as to be employed by Professor Leslie in
making models and portions of apparatus required by him for his
lectures and philosophical investigations, and I had also the
inestimable good fortune to secure his friendship. His admirably
clear manner of communicating a knowledge of the fundamental
principles of mechanical science rendered my intercourse with him of
the utmost importance to myself. A hearty, cheerful, earnest desire
to toil in his service, caused him to take pleasure in instructing me
by occasional explanations of what might otherwise have remained

"About the years 1827 and 1828, the subject of steam-carriages for
common roads occupied much of the attention of the public. Many tried
to solve the problem. I made a working model of an engine which
performed so well that some friends determined to give me the means
of making one on a larger scale. This I did; and I shall never forget
the pleasure and the downright hard work I had in producing, in the
autumn of 1828, at an outlay of 60L., a complete steam-carriage, that
ran many a mile with eight persons on it. After keeping it in action
two months, to the satisfaction of all who were interested in it, my
friends allowed me to dispose of it, and I sold it a great bargain,
after which the engine was used in driving a small factory. I may
mention that in that engine I employed the waste steam to cause an
increased draught by its discharge up the chimney. This important use
of the waste steam had been introduced by George Stephenson some
years before, though entirely unknown to me.

"The earnest desire which I cherished of getting forward in the real
business of life induced me to turn my attention to obtaining
employment in some of the great engineering establishments of the
day, at the head of which, in my fancy as well as in reality, stood
that of Henry Maudslay, of London. It was the summit of my ambition
to get work in that establishment; but as my father had not the means
of paying a premium, I determined to try what I could do towards
attaining my object by submitting to Mr. Maudslay actual specimens of
my capability as a young workman and draughtsman. To this end I set
to work and made a small steam-engine, every part of which was the
result of my own handiwork, including the casting and the forging of
the several parts. This I turned out in such a style as I should even
now be proud of. My sample drawings were, I may say, highly
respectable. Armed with such means of obtaining the good opinion of
the great Henry Maudslay, on the l9th of May, 1829, I sailed for
London in a Leith smack, and after an eight days' voyage saw the
metropolis for the first time. I made bold to call on Mr. Maudslay,
and told him my simple tale. He desired me to bring my models for him
to look at. I did so, and when he came to me I could see by the
expression of his cheerful, well-remembered countenance, that I had
attained my object. He then and there appointed me to be his own
private workman, to assist him in his little paradise of a workshop,
furnished with the models of improved machinery and engineering tools
of which he has been the great originator. He left me to arrange as
to wages with his chief cashier, Mr. Robert Young, and on the first
Saturday evening I accordingly went to the counting-house to enquire
of him about my pay. He asked me what would satisfy me. Knowing the
value of the situation I had obtained, and having a very modest
notion of my worthiness to occupy it, I said, that if he would not
consider l0s. a week too much, I thought I could do very well with
that. I suppose he concluded that I had some means of my own to live
on besides the l0s. a week which I asked. He little knew that I had
determined not to cost my father another farthing when I left-home to
begin the world on my own account. My proposal was at once acceded
to. And well do I remember the pride and delight I felt when I
carried to my three shillings a week lodging that night my first
wages. Ample they were in my idea; for I knew how little I could live
on, and was persuaded that by strict economy I could easily contrive
to make the money support me. To help me in this object, I contrived
a small cooking apparatus, which I forthwith got made by a tinsmith
in Lambeth, at a cost of 6s., and by its aid I managed to keep the
eating and drinking part of my private account within 3s. 6d. per
week, or 4s. at the outside. I had three meat dinners a week, and
generally four rice and milk dinners, all of which were cooked by my
little apparatus, which I set in action after breakfast. The oil cost
not quite a halfpenny per day. The meat dinners consisted of a stew
of from a half to three quarters of a lb. of leg of beef, the meat
costing 3 1/2d. per lb., which, with sliced potatoes and a little
onion, and as much water as just covered all, with a sprinkle of salt
and black pepper, by the time I returned to dinner at half-past six
furnished a repast in every respect as good as my appetite. For
breakfast I had coffee and a due proportion of quartern loaf. After
the first year of my employment under Mr. Maudslay, my wages were
raised to 15s. a week, and I then, but not till then, indulged in the
luxury of butter to my bread. I am the more particular in all this,
to show you that I was a thrifty housekeeper, although only a lodger
in a 3s. room. I have the old apparatus by me yet, and I shall have
another dinner out of it ere I am a year older, out of regard to days
that were full of the real romance of life.

"On the death of Henry Maudslay in 1831, I passed over to the service
of his worthy partner, Mr. Joshua Field, and acted as his
draughtsman, much to my advantage, until the end of that year, when I
returned to Edinburgh, to construct a small stock of engineering
tools for the purpose of enabling me to start in business on my own
account. This occupied me until the spring of l833, and during the
interval I was accustomed to take in jobs to execute in my little
workshop in Edinburgh, so as to obtain the means of completing my
stock of tools.*
Most of the tools with which he began business in Manchester were
made by his own hands in his father's little workshop at Edinburgh,
He was on one occasion " hard up" for brass with which to make a
wheel for his planing machine. There was a row of old-fashioned brass
candlesticks standing in bright array on the kitchen mantelpiece
which he greatly coveted for the purpose. His father was reluctant to
give them up; "for," said he, "I have had many a crack with Burns
when these candlesticks were on the table. But his mother at length
yielded; when the candlesticks were at once recast, and made into the
wheel of the planing machine, which is still at work in Manchester.
In June, 1834, I went to Manchester, and took a flat of an old mill
in Dale Street, where I began business. In two years my stock had so
increased as to overload the floor of the old building to such an
extent that the land lord, Mr. Wrenn, became alarmed, especially as
the tenant below me--a glass-cutter--had a visit from the end of
a 20-horse engine beam one morning among his cut tumblers. To set
their anxiety at rest, I went out that evening to Patricroft and took
a look at a rather choice bit of land bounded on one side by the
canal, and on the other by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. By
the end of the week I had secured a lease of the site for 999 years;
by the end of the month my wood sheds were erected; the ring of the
hammer on the smith's anvil was soon heard all over the place; and
the Bridgewater Foundry was fairly under way. There I toiled right
heartily until December 31st, 1856, when I retired to enjoy in active
leisure the reward of a laborious life, during which, with the
blessing of God, I enjoyed much true happiness through the hearty
love which I always had for my profession; and I trust I may be
allowed to say, without undue vanity, that I have left behind me some
useful results of my labours in those inventions with which my name
is identified, which have had no small share in the accomplishment of
some of the greatest mechanical works of our age." If Mr. Nasmyth had
accomplished nothing more than the invention of his steam-hammer, it
would have been enough to found a reputation. Professor Tomlinson
describes it as "one of the most perfect of artificial machines and
noblest triumphs of mind over matter that modern English engineers
have yet developed."*
Cyclopaedia of Useful Arts, ii. 739.
The hand-hammer has always been an important tool, and, in the form
of the stone celt, it was perhaps the first invented. When the hammer
of iron superseded that of stone, it was found practicable in the
hands of a "cunning" workman to execute by its means metal work of
great beauty and even delicacy. But since the invention of cast-iron,
and the manufacture of wrought-iron in large masses, the art of
hammer-working has almost become lost; and great artists, such as
Matsys of Antwerp and Rukers of Nuremberg were,*
Matsys' beautiful wrought-iron well cover, still standing in front of
the cathedral at Antwerp, and Rukers's steel or iron chair exhibited
at South Kensington in 1862, are examples of the beautiful hammer
work turned out by the artisans of the middle ages. The railings of
the tombs of Henry VII. and Queen Eleanor in Westminster Abbey, the
hinges and iron work of Lincoln Cathedral, of St. George's Chapel at
Windsor, and of some of the Oxford colleges, afford equally striking
illustrations of the skill of our English blacksmiths several
centuries ago.
no longer think it worth their while to expend time and skill in
working on so humble a material as wrought-iron. It is evident from
the marks of care and elaborate design which many of these early
works exhibit, that the workman's heart was in his work, and that his
object was not merely to get it out of hand, but to execute it in
first-rate artistic style.

When the use of iron extended and larger ironwork came to be forged,
for cannon, tools, and machinery, the ordinary hand-hammer was found
insufficient, and the helve or forge-hammer was invented. This was
usually driven by a water-wheel, or by oxen or horses. The
tilt-hammer was another form in which it was used, the smaller kinds
being worked by the foot. Among Watt's various inventions, was a
tilt-hammer of considerable power, which he at first worked by means
of a water-wheel, and afterwards by a steam engine regulated by a
fly-wheel. His first hammer of this kind was 120 lbs. in weight; it
was raised eight inches before making each blow. Watt afterwards made
a tilt-hammer for Mr. Wilkinson of Bradley Forge, of 7 1/2 cwt., and
it made 300 blows a minute . Other improvements were made in the
hammer from time to time, but no material alteration was made in the
power by which it was worked until Mr. Nasmyth took it in hand, and
applying to it the force of steam, at once provided the worker in
iron with the most formidable of machine-tools. This important
invention originated as follows:

In the early part of 1837, the directors of the Great Western
Steam-Ship Company sent Mr. Francis Humphries, their engineer, to
consult Mr. Nasmyth as to some engineering tools of unusual size and
power, which were required for the construction of the engines of the
"Great Britain" steamship. They had determined to construct those
engines on the vertical trunk-engine principle, in accordance with
Mr. Humphries' designs; and very complete works were erected by them
at their Bristol dockyard for the execution of the requisite
machinery, the most important of the tools being supplied by Nasmyth
and Gaskell. The engines were in hand, when a difficulty arose with
respect to the enormous paddle-shaft of the vessel, which was of such
a size of forging as had never before been executed. Mr. Humphries
applied to the largest engineering firms throughout the country for
tenders of the price at which they would execute this part of the
work, but to his surprise and dismay he found that not one of the
firms he applied to would undertake so large a forging. In this
dilemma he wrote to Mr. Nasmyth on the 24th November,1838, informing
him of this unlooked-for difficulty. "I find," said he, "there is not
a forge-hammer in England or Scotland powerful enough to forge the
paddle-shaft of the engines for the 'Great Britain!' What am I to do?
Do you think I might dare to use cast-iron?"

This letter immediately set Mr. Nasmyth a-thinking. How was it that
existing hammers were incapable of forging a wrought-iron shaft of
thirty inches diameter? Simply because of their want of compass, or
range and fall, as well as power of blow. A few moments' rapid
thought satisfied him that it was by rigidly adhering to the old
traditional form of hand-hammer--of which the tilt, though driven
by steam, was but a modification--that the difficulty had arisen.
When even the largest hammer was tilted up to its full height, its
range was so small, that when a piece of work of considerable size
was placed on the anvil, the hammer became "gagged," and, on such an
occasion, where the forging required the most powerful blow, it
received next to no blow at all,--the clear space for fall being
almost entirely occupied by the work on the anvil.

The obvious remedy was to invent some method, by which a block of
iron should be lifted to a sufficient height above the object on
which it was desired to strike a blow, and let the block fall down
upon the work,--guiding it in its descent by such simple means as
should give the required precision in the percussive action of the
falling mass. Following out this idea, Mr. Nasmyth at once sketched
on paper his steam-hammer, having it clearly before him in his mind's
eye a few minutes after receiving Mr. Humphries' letter narrating his
unlooked-for difficulty. The hammer, as thus sketched, consisted of,
first an anvil on which to rest the work; second, a block of iron
constituting the hammer or blow-giving part; third, an inverted
steam-cylinder to whose piston-rod the block was attached. All that
was then required to produce by such means a most effective hammer,
was simply to admit steam in the cylinder so as to act on the under
side of the piston, and so raise the block attached to the
piston-rod, and by a simple contrivance to let the steam escape and
so permit the block rapidly to descend by its own gravity upon the
work then on the anvil. Such, in a few words, is the rationale of the

By the same day's post, Mr. Nasmyth wrote to Mr. Humphries, inclosing
a sketch of the invention by which he proposed to forge the "Great
Britain" paddle-shaft. Mr. Humphries showed it to Mr. Brunel, the
engineer-inchief of the company, to Mr. Guppy, the managing director,
and to others interested in the undertaking, by all of whom it was
heartily approved. Mr. Nasmyth gave permission to communicate his
plans to such forge proprietors as might feel disposed to erect such
a hammer to execute the proposed work,--the only condition which he
made being, that in the event of his hammer being adopted, he was to
be allowed to supply it according to his own design.

The paddle-shaft of the "Great Britain" was, however, never forged.
About that time, the substitution of the Screw for the Paddle-wheel
as a means of propulsion of steam-vessels was attracting much
attention; and the performances of the "Archimedes" were so
successful as to induce Mr. Brunel to recommend his Directors to
adopt the new power. They yielded to his entreaty. The great engines
which Mr. Humphries had designed were accordingly set aside; and he
was required to produce fresh designs of engines suited for screw
propulsion. The result was fatal to Mr. Humphries. The labour, the
anxiety, and perhaps the disappointment, proved too much for him, and
a brain-fever carried him off; so that neither his great paddle-shaft
nor Mr. Nasmyth's steam-hammer to forge it was any longer needed.

The hammer was left to bide its time. No forge-master would take it
up. The inventor wrote to all the great firms, urging its superiority
to every other tool for working malleable iron into all kinds of
forge work. Thus he wrote and sent illustrative sketches of his
hammer to Accramans and Morgan of Bristol, to the late Benjamin Hick
and Rushton and Eckersley of Bolton, to Howard and Ravenhill of
Rotherhithe, and other firms; but unhappily bad times for the iron
trade had set in; and although all to whom he communicated his design
were much struck with its simplicity and obvious advantages, the
answer usually given was--"We have not orders enough to keep in
work the forge-hammers we already have, and we do not desire at
present to add any new ones, however improved." At that time no
patent had been taken out for the invention. Mr. Nasmyth had not yet
saved money enough to enable him to do so on his own account; and his
partner declined to spend money upon a tool that no engineer would
give the firm an order for. No secret was made of the invention, and,
excepting to its owner, it did not seem to be worth one farthing.

Such was the unpromising state of affairs, when M. Schneider, of the
Creusot Iron Works in France, called at the Patricroft works together
with his practical mechanic M. Bourdon, for the purpose of ordering
some tools of the firm. Mr. Nasmyth was absent on a journey at the
time, but his partner, Mr. Gaskell, as an act of courtesy to the
strangers, took the opportunity of showing them all that was new and
interesting in regard to mechanism about the works. And among other
things, Mr. Gaskell brought out his partner's sketch or "Scheme
book," which lay in a drawer in the office, and showed them the
design of the Steam Hammer, which no English firm would adopt. They
were much struck with its simplicity and practical utility; and M.
Bourdon took careful note of its arrangements. Mr. Nasmyth on his
return was informed of the visit of MM. Schneider and Bourdon, but
the circumstance of their having inspected the design of his
steam-hammer seems to have been regarded by his partner as too
trivial a matter to be repeated to him; and he knew nothing of the
circumstance until his visit to France in April, 1840. When passing
through the works at Creusot with M. Bourdon, Mr. Nasmyth saw a crank
shaft of unusual size, not only forged in the piece, but punched. He
immediately asked, "How did you forge that shaft?" M. Bourdon's
answer was, "Why, with your hammer, to be sure!" Great indeed was
Nasmyth's surprise; for he had never yet seen the hammer, except in
his own drawing! A little explanation soon cleared all up. M. Bourdon
said he had been so much struck with the ingenuity and simplicity of
the arrangement, that he had no sooner returned than he set to work,
and had a hammer made in general accordance with the design Mr.
Gaskell had shown him; and that its performances had answered his
every expectation. He then took Mr. Nasmyth to see the steam-hammer;
and great was his delight at seeing the child of his brain in full
and active work. It was not, according to Mr. Nasmyth's ideas, quite
perfect, and he readily suggested several improvements, conformable
with the original design, which M. Bourdon forthwith adopted.

On reaching England, Mr. Nasmyth at once wrote to his partner telling
him what he had seen, and urging that the taking out of a patent for
the protection of the invention ought no longer to be deferred. But
trade was still very much depressed, and as the Patricroft firm
needed all their capital to carry on their business, Mr. Gaskell
objected to lock any of it up in engineering novelties. Seeing
himself on the brink of losing his property in the invention, Mr.
Nasmyth applied to his brother-in-law, William Bennett, Esq., who
advanced him the requisite money for the purpose--about 280L.,--
and the patent was secured in June 1840. The first hammer, of 30
cwt., was made for the Patricroft works, with the consent of the
partners; and in the course of a few weeks it was in full work. The
precision and beauty of its action--the perfect ease with which it
was managed, and the untiring force of its percussive blows--were
the admiration of all who saw it; and from that moment the
steam-hammer became a recognised power in modern mechanics. The
variety or gradation of its blows was such, that it was found
practicable to manipulate a hammer of ten tons as easily as if it had
only been of ten ounces weight. It was under such complete control
that while descending with its greatest momentum, it could be
arrested at any point with even greater ease than any instrument used
by hand. While capable of forging an Armstrong hundred-pounder, or
the sheet-anchor for a ship of the line, it could hammer a nail, or
crack a nut without bruising the kernel. When it came into general
use, the facilities which it afforded for executing all kinds of
forging had the effect of greatly increasing the quantity of work
done, at the same time that expense was saved. The cost of making
anchors was reduced by at least 50 per cent., while the quality of
the forging was improved. Before its invention the manufacture of a
shaft of l5 or 20cwt. required the concentrated exertions of a large
establishment, and its successful execution was regarded as a great
triumph of skill.; whereas forgings of 20 and 30 tons weight are now
things of almost every-day occurrence. Its advantages were so
obvious, that its adoption soon became general, and in the course of
a few years Nasmyth steam-hammers were to be found in every
well-appointed workshop both at home and abroad. Many modifications
have been made in the tool, by Condie, Morrison, Naylor, Rigby, and
others; but Nasmyth's was the father of them all, and still holds its
Mr. Nasmyth has lately introduced, with the assistance of Mr. Wilson
of the Low Moor Iron Works, a new, exceedingly ingenious, and very
simple contrivance for working the hammer. By this application any
length of stroke, any amount of blow, and any amount of variation can
be given by the operation of a single lever; and by this improvement
the machine has attained a rapidity of action and change of motion
suitable to the powers of the engine, and the form or consistency of
the articles under the hammer.--Mr. FAIRBAIRN'S Report on the Paris
Universal Exhibition of 1855, p. 100.

Among the important uses to which this hammer has of late years been
applied, is the manufacture of iron plates for covering our ships of
war, and the fabrication of the immense wrought-iron ordnance of
Armstrong, Whitworth, and Blakely. But for the steam-hammer, indeed,
it is doubtful whether such weapons could have been made. It is also
used for the re-manufacture of iron in various other forms, to say
nothing of the greatly extended use which it has been the direct
means of effecting in wrought-iron and steel forgings in every
description of machinery, from the largest marine steam-engines to
the most nice and delicate parts of textile mechanism. "It is not too
much to say," observes a writer in the Engineer, "that, without
Nasmyth's steam-hammer, we must have stopped short in many of those
gigantic engineering works which, but for the decay of all wonder in
us, would be the perpetual wonder of this age, and which have enabled
our modern engineers to take rank above the gods of all mythologies.
There is one use to which the steam-hammer is now becoming
extensively applied by some of our manufacturers that deserves
especial mention, rather for the prospect which it opens to us than
for what has already been actually accomplished. We allude to the
manufacture of large articles in DIES. At one manufactory in the
country, railway wheels, for example, are being manufactured with
enormous economy by this means. The various parts of the wheels are
produced in quantity either by rolling or by dies under the hammer;
these parts are brought together in their relative positions in a
mould, heated to a welding heat, and then by a blow of the steam
hammer, furnished with dies, are stamped into a complete and all but
finished wheel. It is evident that wherever wrought-iron articles of
a manageable size have to be produced in considerable quantities, the
same process may be adopted, and the saving effected by the
substitution of this for the ordinary forging process will doubtless
ere long prove incalculable. For this, as for the many other
advantageous uses of the steam-hammer, we are primarily and mainly
indebted to Mr. Nasmyth. It is but right, therefore, that we should
hold his name in honour. In fact, when we think of the universal
service which this machine is rendering us, we feel that some special
expression of our indebtedness to him would be a reasonable and
grateful service. The benefit which he has conferred upon us is so
great as to justly entitle him to stand side by side with the few men
who have gained name and fame as great inventive engineers, and to
whom we have testified our gratitude--usually, unhappily, when it
was too late for them to enjoy it."

Mr. Nasmyth subsequently applied the principle of the steam-hammer in
the pile driver, which he invented in 1845. Until its production, all
piles had been driven by means of a small mass of iron falling upon
the head of the pile with great velocity from a considerable height,
-- the raising of the iron mass by means of the "monkey" being an
operation that occupied much time and labour, with which the results
were very incommensurate. Pile-driving was, in Mr. Nasmyth's words,
conducted on the artillery or cannon-ball principle; the action being
excessive and the mass deficient, and adapted rather for destructive
than impulsive action. In his new and beautiful machine, he applied
the elastic force of steam in raising the ram or driving block, on
which, the block being disengaged, its whole weight of three tons
descended on the head of the pile, and the process being repeated
eighty times in the minute, the pile was sent home with a rapidity
that was quite marvellous compared with the old-fashioned system. In
forming coffer-dams for the piers and abutments of bridges, quays,
and harbours, and in piling the foundations of all kinds of masonry,
the steam pile driver was found of invaluable use by the engineer. At
the first experiment made with the machine, Mr. Nasmyth drove a
14-inch pile fifteen feet into hard ground at the rate of 65 blows a
minute. The driver was first used in forming the great steam dock at
Devonport, where the results were very striking; and it was shortly
after employed by Robert Stephenson in piling the foundations of the
great High Level Bridge at Newcastle, and the Border Bridge at
Berwick, as well as in several other of his great works. The saving
of time effected by this machine was very remarkable, the ratio being
as 1 to 1800; that is, a pile could be driven in four minutes that
before required twelve hours. One of the peculiar features of the
invention was that of employing the pile itself as the support of the
steam-hammer part of the apparatus while it was being driven, so that
the pile had the percussive action of the dead weight of the hammer
as well as its lively blows to induce it to sink into the ground. The
steam-hammer sat as it were on the shoulders of the pile, while it
dealt forth its ponderous blows on the pile-head at the rate of 80 a
minute, and as the pile sank, the hammer followed it down with never
relaxing activity until it was driven home to the required depth. One
of the most ingenious contrivances employed in the driver, which was
also adopted in the hammer, was the use of steam as a buffer in the
upper part of the cylinder, which had the effect of a recoil spring,
and greatly enhanced the force of the downward blow.

In 1846, Mr. Nasmyth designed a form of steam-engine after that of
his steam-hammer, which has been extensively adopted all over the
world for screw-ships of all sizes. The pyramidal form of this
engine, its great simplicity and GET-AT-ABILITY of parts, together
with the circumstance that all the weighty parts of the engine are
kept low, have rendered it a universal favourite. Among the other
labour-saving tools invented by Mr. Nasmyth, may be mentioned the
well-known planing machine for small work, called "Nasmyth's Steam
Arm," now used in every large workshop. It was contrived for the
purpose of executing a large order for locomotives received from the
Great Western Railway, and was found of great use in accelerating the
work, especially in planing the links, levers, connecting rods, and
smaller kinds of wrought-iron work in those engines. His circular
cutter for toothed wheels was another of his handy inventions, which
shortly came into general use. In iron-founding also he introduced a
valuable practical improvement. The old mode of pouring the molten
metal into the moulds was by means of a large ladle with one or two
cross handles and levers; but many dreadful accidents occurred
through a slip of the hand, and Mr. Nasmyth resolved, if possible, to
prevent them. The plan he adopted was to fix a worm-wheel on the side
of the ladle, into which a worm was geared, and by this simple
contrivance one man was enabled to move the largest ladle on its axis
with perfect ease and safety. By this means the work was more
promptly performed, and accidents entirely avoided.

Mr. Nasmyth's skill in invention was backed by great energy and a
large fund of common sense--qualities not often found united. These
proved of much service to the concern of which he was the head, and
indeed constituted the vital force. The firm prospered as it
deserved; and they executed orders not only for England, but for most
countries in the civilized world. Mr. Nasmyth had the advantage of
being trained in a good school--that of Henry Maudslay--where he
had not only learnt handicraft under the eye of that great mechanic,
but the art of organizing labour, and (what is of great value to an
employer) knowledge of the characters of workmen. Yet the Nasmyth
firm were not without their troubles as respected the mechanics in
their employment, and on one occasion they had to pass through the
ordeal of a very formidable strike. The manner in which the inventor
of the steam-hammer literally "Scotched" this strike was very

A clever young man employed by the firm as a brass founder, being
found to have a peculiar capacity for skilled mechanical work, had
been advanced to the lathe. The other men objected to his being so
employed on the ground that it was against the rules of the trade.
"But he is a first-rate workman," replied the employers, "and we
think it right to advance a man according to his conduct and his
merits." "No matter," said the workmen, "it is against the rules, and
if you do not take the man from the lathe, we must turn out." "Very
well; we hold to our right of selecting the best men for the best
places, and we will not take the man from the lathe." The consequence
was a general turn out. Pickets were set about the works, and any
stray men who went thither to seek employment were waylaid, and if
not induced to turn back, were maltreated or annoyed until they were
glad to leave. The works were almost at a standstill. This state of
things could not be allowed to go on, and the head of the firm
bestirred himself accordingly with his usual energy. He went down to
Scotland, searched all the best mechanical workshops there, and after
a time succeeded in engaging sixty-four good hands. He forbade them
coming by driblets, but held them together until there was a full
freight; and then they came, with their wives, families, chests of
drawers, and eight-day clocks, in a steamboat specially hired for
their transport from Greenock to Liverpool. From thence they came by
special train to Patricroft, where houses were in readiness for their
reception. The arrival of so numerous, well-dressed, and respectable
a corps of workmen and their families was an event in the
neighbourhood, and could not fail to strike the "pickets" with
surprise. Next morning the sixty-four Scotchmen assembled in the yard
at Patricroft, and after giving "three cheers," went quietly to their
work. The "picketing" went on for a little while longer, but it was
of no use against a body of strong men who stood "shouther to
shouther," as the new hands did. It was even bruited about that there
were more trains to follow!" It very soon became clear that the back
of the strike was broken. The men returned to their work, and the
clever brass founder continued at his turning-lathe, from which he
speedily rose to still higher employment.

Notwithstanding the losses and suffering occasioned by strikes, Mr.
Nasmyth holds the opinion that they have on the whole produced much
more good than evil. They have served to stimulate invention in an
extraordinary degree. Some of the most important labour-saving
processes now in common use are directly traceable to them. In the
case of many of our most potent self-acting tools and machines,
manufacturers could not be induced to adopt them until compelled to
do so by strikes. This was the ease with the self-acting mule, the
wool-combing machine, the planing machine, the slotting machine,
Nasmyth's steam arm, and many others. Thus, even in the mechanical
world, there may be "a soul of goodness in things evil."

Mr. Nasmyth retired from business in December, 1856. He had the moral
courage to come out of the groove which he had so laboriously made
for himself, and to leave a large and prosperous business, saying, "I
have now enough of this world's goods; let younger men have their
chance." He settled down at his rural retreat in Kent, but not to
lead a life of idle ease. Industry had become his habit, and active
occupation was necessary to his happiness. He fell back upon the
cultivation of those artistic tastes which are the heritage of his
family. When a boy at the High School of Edinburgh, he was so skilful
in making pen and ink illustrations on the margins of the classics,
that he thus often purchased from his monitors exemption from the
lessons of the day. Nor had he ceased to cultivate the art during his
residence at Patricroft, but was accustomed to fall back upon it for
relaxation and enjoyment amid the pursuits of trade. That he
possesses remarkable fertility of imagination, and great skill in
architectural and landscape drawing, as well as in the much more
difficult art of delineating the human figure, will be obvious to any
one who has seen his works,--more particularly his "City of St.
Ann's," "The Fairies," and "Everybody for ever!" which last was
exhibited in Pall Mail, among the recent collection of works of Art
by amateurs and others, for relief of the Lancashire distress. He has
also brought his common sense to bear on such unlikely subject's as
the origin of the cuneiform character. The possession of a brick from
Babylon set him a thinking. How had it been manufactured? Its under
side was clearly marked by the sedges of the Euphrates upon which it
had been laid to dry and bake in the sun. But how about those curious
cuneiform characters? How had writing assumed so remarkable a form?
His surmise was this: that the brickmakers, in telling their tale of
bricks, used the triangular corner of another brick, and by pressing
it down upon the soft clay, left behind it the triangular mark which
the cuneiform character exhibits. Such marks repeated, and placed in
different relations to each other, would readily represent any
number. From the use of the corner of a brick in writing, the
transition was easy to a pointed stick with a triangular end, by the
use of which all the cuneiform characters can readily be produced
upon the soft clay. This curious question formed the subject of an
interesting paper read by Mr. Nasmyth before the British Association
at Cheltenham.

But the most engrossing of Mr. Nasmyth's later pursuits has been the
science of astronomy, in which, by bringing a fresh, original mind to
the observation of celestial phenomena, he has succeeded in making
some of the most remarkable discoveries of our time. Astronomy was
one of his favourite pursuits at Patricroft, and on his retirement
became his serious study. By repeated observations with a powerful
reflecting telescope of his own construction, he succeeded in making
a very careful and minute painting of the craters, cracks, mountains,
and valleys in the moon's surface, for which a Council Medal was
awarded him at the Great Exhibition of 1851. But the most striking
discovery which he has made by means of big telescope--the result
of patient, continuous, and energetic observation--has been that of
the nature of the sun's surface, and the character of the
extraordinary light-giving bodies, apparently possessed of voluntary
motion, moving across it, sometimes forming spots or hollows of more
than a hundred thousand miles in diameter.

The results of these observations were of so novel a character that
astronomers for some time hesitated to receive them as facts.*
See Memoirs of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester,
3rd series, vol.1. 407.
Yet so eminent an astronomer as Sir John Herschel does not hesitate
now to describe them as "a most wonderful discovery." "According to
Mr. Nasmyth's observations," says he, "made with a very fine
telescope of his own making, the bright surface of the sun consists
of separate, insulated, individual objects or things, all nearly or
exactly of one certain definite size and shape, which is more like
that of a willow leaf, as he describes them, than anything else.
These leaves or scales are not arranged in any order (as those on a
butterfly's wing are), but lie crossing one another in all
directions, like what are called spills in the game of spillikins;
except at the borders of a spot, where they point for the most part
inwards towards the middle of the spot,*
Sir John Herschel adds, "Spots of not very irregular, and what may be
called compact form, covering an area of between seven and eight
hundred millions of square miles, are by no means uncommon. One spot
which I measured in the year 1837 occupied no less than three
thousand seven hundred and eighty millions, taking in all the
irregularities of its form; and the black space or nucleus in the
middle of one very nearly round one would have allowed the earth to
drop through it, leaving a thousand clear miles on either side; and
many instances of much larger spots than these are on record."
presenting much the sort of appearance that the small leaves of some
water-plants or sea-weeds do at the edge of a deep hole of clear
water. The exceedingly definite shape of these objects, their exact
similarity one to another, and the way in which they lie across and
athwart each other (except where they form a sort of bridge across a
spot, in which case they seem to affect a common direction, that,
namely, of the bridge itself),--all these characters seem quite
repugnant to the notion of their being of a vaporous, a cloudy, or a
fluid nature. Nothing remains but to consider them as separate and
independent sheets, flakes, or scales, having some sort of solidity.
And these flakes, be they what they may, and whatever may be said
about the dashing of meteoric stones into the sun's atmosphere, &c.,
whatever mechanism or whatever processes they may be enabled to
develope and, as it were, elaborate these elements from the bosom of
the non-luminous fluid in which they appear to float. Looked at in
this point of view, we cannot refuse to regard them as organisms of
some peculiar and amazing kind; and though it would be too daring to
speak of such organization as partaking of the nature of life, yet we
do know that vital action is competent to develop heat and light, as
well as electricity. These wonderful objects have been seen by others
as well as Mr. Nasmyth, so that them is no room to doubt of their
SIR JOHN HERSCHEL in Good Words for April, 1863.

Such is the marvellous discovery made by the inventor of the
steam-hammer, as described by the most distinguished astronomer of
the age. A writer in the Edinburgh Review, referring to the subject
in a recent number, says it shows him "to possess an intellect as
profound as it is expert." Doubtless his training as a mechanic, his
habits of close observation and his ready inventiveness, which
conferred so much power on him as an engineer, proved of equal
advantage to him when labouring in the domain of physical science.
Bringing a fresh mind, of keen perception, to his new studies, and
uninfluenced by preconceived opinions, he saw them in new and
original lights; and hence the extraordinary discovery above
described by Sir John Herschel.

Some two hundred years since, a member of the Nasmyth family, Jean
Nasmyth of Hamilton, was burnt for a witch--one of the last martyrs
to ignorance and superstition in Scotland--because she read her
Bible with two pairs of spectacles. Had Mr. Nasmyth himself lived
then, he might, with his two telescopes of his own making, which
bring the sun and moon into his chamber for him to examine and paint,
have been taken for a sorcerer. But fortunately for him, and still
more so for us, Mr. Nasmyth stands before the public of this age as
not only one of its ablest mechanics, but as one of the most
accomplished and original of scientific observers.



"In science there is work for all hands, more or less skilled; and he
is usually the most fit to occupy the higher posts who has risen from
the ranks, and has experimentally acquainted himself with the nature
of the work to be done in each and every, even the humblest
department." J. D. Forbes.

The development of the mechanical industry of England has been so
rapid, especially as regards the wonders achieved by the
machine-tools above referred to, that it may almost be said to have
been accomplished within the life of the present generation. "When I
first entered this city, said Mr.Fairbairn, in his inaugural address
as President of the British Association at Manchester in 1861, "the
whole of the machinery was executed by hand. There were neither
planing, slotting, nor shaping machines; and, with the exception of
very imperfect lathes and a few drills, the preparatory operations of
construction were effected entirely by the hands of the workmen. Now,
everything is done by machine-tools with a degree of accuracy which
the unaided hand could never accomplish. The automaton or self-acting
machine-tool has within itself an almost creative power; in fact, so
great are its powers of adaptation, that there is no operation of the
human hand that it does not imitate." In a letter to the author, Mr.
Fairbairn says, "The great pioneers of machine-tool-making were
Maudslay, Murray of Leeds, Clement and Fox of Derby, who were ably
followed by Nasmyth, Roberts, and Whitworth, of Manchester, and Sir
Peter Fairbairn of Leeds; and Mr. Fairbairn might well have added, by
himself,--for he has been one of the most influential and successful
of mechanical engineers.

William Fairbairn was born at Kelso on the 19th of February, 1787.
His parents occupied a humble but respectable position in life. His
father, Andrew Fairbairn, was the son of a gardener in the employment
of Mr. Baillie of Mellerston, and lived at Smailholm, a village lying
a few miles west of Kelso. Tracing the Fairbairns still further back,
we find several of them occupying the station of "portioners," or
small lairds, at Earlston on the Tweed, where the family had been
settled since the days of the Solemn League and Covenant. By his
mother's side, the subject of our memoir is supposed to be descended
from the ancient Border family of Douglas.

While Andrew Fairbairn (William's father) lived at Smailholm, Walter
Scott was living with his grandmother in Smailholm or Sandyknowe
Tower, whither he had been sent from Edinburgh in the hope that
change of air would help the cure of his diseased hip-joint; and
Andrew, being nine years his senior, and a strong youth for his age,
was accustomed to carry the little patient about in his arms, until
he was able to walk by himself. At a later period, when Miss Scott,
Walter's aunt, removed from Smailholm to Kelso, the intercourse
between the families was renewed. Scott was then an Edinburgh
advocate, engaged in collecting materials for his Minstrelsy of the
Scottish Border, or, as his aunt described his pursuit, "running
after the auld wives of the country gatherin' havers." He used
frequently to read over by the fireside in the evening the results of
his curious industry, which, however, were not very greatly
appreciated by his nearest relatives; and they did not scruple to
declare that for the "Advocate" to go about collecting "ballants" was
mere waste of time as well as money.

William Fairbairn's first schoolmaster was a decrepit old man who
went by the name of "Bowed Johnnie Ker,"--a Cameronian, with a nasal
twang, which his pupils learnt much more readily than they did his
lessons in reading and arithmetic, notwithstanding a liberal use of
"the tawse." Yet Johnnie had a taste for music, and taught his pupils
to SING their reading lessons, which was reckoned quite a novelty in
education. After a short time our scholar was transferred to the
parish-school of the town, kept by a Mr. White, where he was placed
under the charge of a rather severe helper, who, instead of the
tawse, administered discipline by means of his knuckles, hard as
horn, which he applied with a peculiar jerk to the crania of his
pupils. At this school Willie Fairbairn lost the greater part of the
singing accomplishments which he had acquired under "Bowed Johnnie,"
but he learnt in lieu of them to read from Scott and Barrow's
collections of prose and poetry, while he obtained some knowledge of
arithmetic, in which he proceeded as far as practice and the rule of
three. This constituted his whole stock of school-learning up to his
tenth year. Out of school-hours he learnt to climb the ruined walls
of the old abbey of the town, and there was scarcely an arch, or
tower, or cranny of it with which he did not become familiar.

When in his twelfth year, his father, who had been brought up to
farm-work, and possessed considerable practical knowledge of
agriculture, was offered the charge of a farm at Moy in Ross-shire,
belonging to Lord Seaforth of Brahan Castle. The farm was of about
300 acres, situated on the banks of the river Conan, some five miles
from the town of Dingwall. The family travelled thither in a covered
cart, a distance of 200 miles, through a very wild and hilly country,
arriving at their destination at the end of October, 1799. The farm,
when reached, was found overgrown with whins and brushwood, and
covered in many places with great stones and rocks; it was, in short,
as nearly in a state of nature as it was possible to be. The house
intended for the farmer's reception was not finished, and Andrew
Fairbairn, with his wife and five children, had to take temporary
refuge in a miserable hovel, very unlike the comfortable house which
they had quitted at Kelso. By next spring, however, the new house was
ready; and Andrew Fairbairn set vigorously to work at the reclamation
of the land. After about two years' labours it exhibited an
altogether different appearance, and in place of whins and stones
there were to be seen heavy crops of barley and turnips. The barren
years of 1800 and 1801, however, pressed very hardly on Andrew
Fairbairn as on every other farmer of arable land. About that time,
Andrew's brother Peter, who acted as secretary to Lord Seaforth, and
through whose influence the former had obtained the farm, left Brahan
Castle for the West Indies with his Lordship, who--notwithstanding
his being both deaf and dumb -- had been appointed to the
Governorship of Barbadoes; and in consequence of various difficulties
which occurred shortly after his leaving, Andrew Fairbairn found it
necessary to give up his holding, whereupon he engaged as steward to
Mackenzie of Allengrange, with whom he remained for two years.

While the family lived at Moy, none of the boys were put to school.
They could not be spared from the farm and the household. Those of
them that could not work afield were wanted to help to nurse the
younger children at home. But Andrew Fairbairn possessed a great
treasure in his wife, who was a woman of much energy of character,
setting before her children an example of patient industry, thrift,
discreetness, and piety, which could not fail to exercise a powerful
influence upon them in after-life; and this, of itself, was an
education which probably far more than compensated for the boys' loss
of school-culture during their life at Moy. Mrs. Fairbairn span and
made all the children's clothes, as well as the blankets and
sheeting; and, while in the Highlands, she not only made her own and
her daughters' dresses, and her sons' jackets and trowsers, but her
husband's coats and waistcoats; besides helping her neighbours to cut
out their clothing for family wear.

One of William's duties at home was to nurse his younger brother
Peter, then a delicate child under two years old; and to relieve
himself of the labour of carrying him about, he began the
construction of a little waggon in which to wheel him. This was,
however, a work of some difficulty, as all the tools he possessed
were only a knife, a gimlet, and an old saw. With these implements, a
piece of thin board, and a few nails, he nevertheless contrived to
make a tolerably serviceable waggon-body. His chief difficulty
consisted in making the wheels, which he contrived to surmount by
cutting sections from the stem of a small alder-tree, and with a
red-hot poker he bored the requisite holes in their centres to
receive the axle. The waggon was then mounted on its four wheels, and
to the great joy of its maker was found to answer its purpose
admirably. In it he wheeled his little brother--afterwards well known
as Sir Peter Fairbairn, mayor of Leeds -- in various directions about
the farm, and sometimes to a considerable distance from it; and the
vehicle was regarded on the whole as a decided success. His father
encouraged him in his little feats of construction of a similar kind,
and he proceeded to make and rig miniature boats and ships, and then
miniature wind and water mills, in which last art he acquired such
expertness that he had sometimes five or six mills going at a time.
The machinery was all made with a knife, the water-spouts being
formed by the bark of a tree, and the millstones represented by round
discs of the same material. Such were the first constructive efforts
of the future millwright and engineer.

When the family removed to Allengrange in 1801, the boys were sent to
school at Munlachy, about a mile and a half distant from the farm.
The school was attended by about forty barefooted boys in tartan
kilt's, and about twenty girls, all of the poorer class. The
schoolmaster was one Donald Frazer, a good teacher, but a severe
disciplinarian. Under him, William made some progress in reading,
writing, and arithmetic; and though he himself has often lamented the
meagreness of his school instruction, it is clear, from what he has
since been enabled to accomplish, that these early lessons were
enough at all events to set him fairly on the road of self-culture,
and proved the fruitful seed of much valuable intellectual labour, as
well as of many excellent practical books.

After two years' trial of his new situation, which was by no means
satisfactory, Andrew Fairbairn determined again to remove southward
with his family; and, selling off everything, they set sail from
Cromarty for Leith in June, 1803. Having seen his wife and children
temporarily settled at Kelso, he looked out for a situation, and
shortly after proceeded to undertake the management of Sir William
Ingleby's farm at Ripley in Yorkshire. Meanwhile William was placed
for three months under the charge of his uncle William, the parish
schoolmaster of Galashiels, for the purpose of receiving instruction
in book-keeping and land-surveying, from which he derived
considerable benefit. He could not, however, remain longer at school;
for being of the age of fourteen, it was thought necessary that he
should be set to work without further delay. His first employment was
on the fine new bridge at Kelso, then in course of construction after
the designs of Mr. Rennie; but in helping one day to carry a
handbarrow-load of stone, his strength proving insufficient, he gave
way under it, and the stones fell upon him, one of them inflicting a
serious wound on his leg, which kept him a cripple for months. In the
mean time his father, being dissatisfied with his prospects at
Ripley, accepted the appointment of manager of the Percy Main
Colliery Company's farm in the neighbourhood of Newcastle-on-Tyne,
whither he proceeded with his family towards the end of 1803, William
joining them in the following February, when the wound in his leg had
sufficiently healed to enable him to travel.

Percy Main is situated within two miles of North Shields, and is one
of the largest collieries in that district. William was immediately
set to work at the colliery, his first employment being to lead coals
from behind the screen to the pitmen's houses. His Scotch accent, and
perhaps his awkwardness, exposed him to much annoyance from the "pit
lads," who were a very rough and profligate set; and as boxing was a
favourite pastime among them, our youth had to fight his way to their
respect, passing through a campaign of no less than seventeen pitched
battles. He was several times on the point of abandoning the work
altogether, rather than undergo the buffetings and insults to which
he was almost a daily martyr, when a protracted contest with one of
the noted boxers of the colliery, in which he proved the victor, at
length relieved him from further persecution.

In the following year, at the age of sixteen, he was articled as an
engineer for five years to the owners of Percy Main, and was placed
under the charge of Mr. Robinson, the engine-wright of the colliery.
His wages as apprentice were 8s. a week; but by working over-hours,
making wooden wedges used in pit-work, and blocking out segments of
solid oak required for walling the sides of the mine, he considerably
increased his earnings, which enabled him to add to the gross income
of the family, who were still struggling with the difficulties of
small means and increasing expenses. When not engaged upon over-work
in the evenings, he occupied himself in self-education. He drew up a
scheme of daily study with this object, to which he endeavoured to
adhere as closely as possible,-- devoting the evenings of Mondays to
mensuration and arithmetic; Tuesdays to history and poetry;
Wednesdays to recreation, novels, and romances; Thursdays to algebra
and mathematics; Fridays to Euclid and trigonometry; Saturdays to
recreation; and Sundays to church, Milton, and recreation. He was
enabled to extend the range of his reading by the help of the North
Shields Subscription Library, to which his father entered him a
subscriber. Portions of his spare time were also occasionally devoted
to mechanical construction, in which he cultivated the useful art of
handling tools. One of his first attempts was the contrivance of a
piece of machinery worked by a weight and a pendulum, that should at
the same time serve for a timepiece and an orrery; but his want of
means, as well as of time, prevented him prosecuting this contrivance
to completion. He was more successful with the construction of a
fiddle, on which he was ambitious to become a performer. It must have
been a tolerable instrument, for a professional player offered him
20s. for it. But though he succeeded in making a fiddle, and for some
time persevered in the attempt to play upon it, he did not succeed in
producing any satisfactory melody, and at length gave up the attempt,
convinced that nature had not intended him for a musician.*
Long after, when married and settled at Manchester, the fiddle, which
had been carefully preserved, was taken down from the shelf for the
amusement of the children; but though they were well enough pleased
with it, the instrument was never brought from its place without
creating alarm in the mind of their mother lest anybody should hear
it. At length a dancing-master, who was giving lessons in the
neighbourhood, borrowed the fiddle, and, to the great relief of the
family, it was never returned. Many years later Mr.Fairbairn was
present at the starting of a cotton mill at Wesserling in Alsace
belonging to Messrs. Gros, Deval, and Co., for which his Manchester
firm had provided the mill-work and water-wheel (the first erected in
France on the suspension principle, when the event was followed by an
entertainment. During dinner Mr. Fairbairn had been explaining to M.
Gros, who spoke a little English, the nature of home-brewed beer,
which he much admired, having tasted it when in England. The dinner
was followed by music, in the performance of which the host himself
took part; and on Mr. Fairbairn's admiring his execution on the
violin, M. Gros asked him if he played. "A little," was the almost
unconscious reply. "Then you must have the goodness to play some,"
and the instrument was in a moment placed in his hands, amidst urgent
requests from all sides that he should play. There was no
alternative; so he proceeded to perform one of his best tunes--"The
Keel Row." The company listened with amazement, until the performer's
career was suddenly cut short by the host exclaiming at the top of
his voice, "Stop, stop, Monsieur, by gar that be HOME-BREWED MUSIC!"

In due course of time our young engineer was removed from the
workshop, and appointed to take charge of the pumps of the mine and
the steam-engine by which they were kept in work. This employment was
more to his taste, gave him better "insight," and afforded him
greater opportunities for improvement. The work was, however, very
trying, and at times severe, especially in winter, the engineer being
liable to be drenched with water every time that he descended the
shaft to regulate the working of the pumps; but, thanks to a stout
constitution, he bore through these exposures without injury, though
others sank under them. At this period he had the advantage of
occasional days of leisure, to which he was entitled by reason of his
nightwork; and during such leisure he usually applied himself to
reading and study.

It was about this time that William Fairbairn made the acquaintance
of George Stephenson, while the latter was employed in working the
ballast-engine at Willington Quay. He greatly admired George as a
workman, and was accustomed in the summer evenings to go over to the
Quay occasionally and take charge of George's engine, to enable him
to earn a few shillings extra by heaving ballast out of the collier
vessels. Stephenson's zeal in the pursuit of mechanical knowledge
probably was not without its influence in stimulating William
Fairbairn himself to carry on so diligently the work of self-culture.
But little could the latter have dreamt, while serving his
apprenticeship at Percy Main, that his friend George Stephenson, the
brakesman, should yet be recognised as among the greatest engineers
of his age, and that he himself should have the opportunity, in his
capacity of President of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers at
Newcastle, of making public acknowledgment of the opportunities for
education which he had enjoyed in that neighbourhood in his early
"Although not a native of Newcastle," he then said, "he owed almost
everything to Newcastle. He got the rudiments of his education there,
such as it was; and that was (something like that of his revered
predecessor George Stephenson) at a colliery. He was brought up as an
engineer at the Percy Main Colliery. He was there seven years; and if
it had not been for the opportunities he then enjoyed, together with
the use of the library at North Shields, he believed he would not
have been there to address them. Being self-taught, but with some
little ambition, and a determination to improve himself, he was now
enabled to stand before them with some pretensions to mechanical
knowledge, and the persuasion that he had been a useful contributor
to practical science and objects connected with mechanical
engineering."--Meeting of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers at
Newcastle-on-Tyne, 1858.

Having finished his five years' apprenticeship at Percy Main, by
which time he had reached his twenty-first year, William Fairbairn
shortly after determined to go forth into the world in search of
experience. At Newcastle he found employment as a millwright for a
few weeks, during which he worked at the erection of a sawmill in the
Close. From thence he went to Bedlington at an advanced wage. He
remained there for six months, during which he was so fortunate as to
make the acquaintance of Miss Mar, who five years after, when his
wanderings had ceased, became his wife. On the completion of the job
on which he had been employed, our engineer prepared to make another
change. Work was difficult to be had in the North, and, joined by a
comrade, he resolved to try his fortune in London. Adopting the
cheapest route, he took passage by a Shields collier, in which he
sailed for the Thames on the 11th of December, 1811. It was then
war-time, and the vessel was very short-handed, the crew consisting
only of three old men and three boys, with the skipper and mate; so
that the vessel was no sooner fairly at sea than both the passenger
youths had to lend a hand in working her, and this continued for the
greater part of the voyage. The weather was very rough, and in
consequence of the captain's anxiety to avoid privateers he hugged
the shore too close, and when navigating the inside passage of the
Swin, between Yarmouth and the Nore, the vessel very narrowly escaped
shipwreck. After beating about along shore, the captain half drunk
the greater part of the time, the vessel at last reached the Thames
with loss of spars and an anchor, after a tedious voyage of fourteen

On arriving off Blackwall the captain went ashore ostensibly in
search of the Coal Exchange, taking our young engineer with him. The
former was still under the influence of drink; and though he failed
to reach the Exchange that night, he succeeded in reaching a public
house in Wapping, beyond which he could not be got. At ten o'clock
the two started on their return to the ship; but the captain took the
opportunity of the darkness to separate from his companion, and did
not reach the ship until next morning. It afterwards came out that he
had been taken up and lodged in the watch-house. The youth, left
alone in the streets of the strange city, felt himself in an awkward
dilemma. He asked the next watchman he met to recommend him to a
lodging, on which the man took him to a house in New Gravel Lane,
where he succeeded in finding accommodation. What was his horror next
morning to learn that a whole family--the Williamsons--had been
murdered in the very next house during the night! Making the best of
his way back to the ship, he found that his comrade, who had suffered
dreadfully from sea-sickness during the voyage, had nearly recovered,
and was able to accompany him into the City in search of work. They
had between them a sum of only about eight pounds, so that it was
necessary for them to take immediate steps to obtain employment.

They thought themselves fortunate in getting the promise of a job
from Mr. Rennie, the celebrated engineer, whose works were situated
at the south end of Blackfriars Bridge. Mr. Rennie sent the two young
men to his foreman, with the request that he should set them to work.
The foreman referred them to the secretary of the Millwrights'
Society, the shop being filled with Union men, who set their
shoulders together to exclude those of their own grade, however
skilled, who could not produce evidence that they had complied with
the rules of the trade. Describing his first experience of London
Unionists, nearly half a century later, before an assembly of working
men at Derby, Mr. Fairbairn said, "When I first entered London, a
young man from the country had no chance whatever of success, in
consequence of the trade guilds and unions. I had no difficulty in
finding employment, but before I could begin work I had to run the
gauntlet of the trade societies; and after dancing attendance for
nearly six weeks, with very little money in my pocket, and having to
'box Harry' all the time, I was ultimately declared illegitimate, and
sent adrift to seek my fortune elsewhere. There were then three
millwright societies in London: one called the Old Society, another
the New Society, and a third the Independent Society. These societies
were not founded for the protection of the trade, but for the
maintenance of high wages, and for the exclusion of all those who
could not assert their claims to work in London and other corporate
towns. Laws of a most arbitrary character were enforced, and they
were governed by cliques of self-appointed officers, who never failed
to take care of their own interests."*
Useful Information for Engineers, 2nd series, 1860, p. 211.

Their first application for leave to work in London having thus
disastrously ended, the two youths determined to try their fortune in
the country, and with aching hearts they started next morning before
daylight. Their hopes had been suddenly crushed, their slender funds
were nearly exhausted, and they scarce knew where to turn. But they
set their faces bravely northward, and pushed along the high road,
through slush and snow, as far as Hertford, which they reached after
nearly eight hours' walking, on the moderate fare during their
journey of a penny roll and a pint of ale each. Though wet to the
skin, they immediately sought out a master millwright, and applied
for work. He said he had no job vacant at present; but, seeing their
sorry plight, he had compassion upon them, and said, "Though I cannot
give you employment, you seem to be two nice lads;" and he concluded
by offering Fairbairn a half-crown. But his proud spirit revolted at
taking money which he had not earned; and he declined the proffered
gift with thanks, saying he was sorry they could not have work. He
then turned away from the door, on which his companion, mortified by
his refusal to accept the half-crown at a time when they were reduced
almost to their last penny, broke out in bitter remonstrances and
regrets. Weary, wet, and disheartened, the two turned into Hertford
churchyard, and rested for a while upon a tombstone, Fairbairn's
companion relieving himself by a good cry, and occasional angry
outbursts of "Why didn't you take the half-crown?" "Come, come, man!"
said Fairbairn, "it's of no use crying; cheer up; let's try another
road; something must soon cast up." They rose, and set out again, but
when they reached the bridge, the dispirited youth again broke down;
and, leaning his back against the parapet, said, "I winna gang a bit
further; let's get back to London." Against this Fairbairn
remonstrated, saying "It's of no use lamenting; we must try what we
can do here; if the worst comes to the worst, we can 'list; you are a
strong chap--they'll soon take you; and as for me, I'll join too; I
think I could fight a bit." After this council of war, the pair
determined to find lodgings in the town for the night, and begin
their search for work anew on the morrow.

Next day, when passing along one of the back streets of Hertford,
they came to a wheelwright's shop, where they made the usual
enquiries. The wheelwright, said that he did not think there was any
job to be had in the town; but if the two young men pushed on to
Cheshunt, he thought they might find work at a windmill which was
under contract to be finished in three weeks, and where the
millwright wanted hands. Here was a glimpse of hope at last; and the
strength and spirits of both revived in an instant. They set out
immediately; walked the seven miles to Cheshunt; succeeded in
obtaining the expected employment; worked at the job a fortnight; and
entered London again with nearly three pounds in their pockets.

Our young millwright at length succeeded in obtaining regular
employment in the metropolis at good wages. He worked first at
Grundy's Patent Ropery at Shadwell, and afterwards at Mr. Penn's of
Greenwich, gaining much valuable insight, and sedulously improving
his mind by study in his leisure hours. Among the acquaintances he
then made was an enthusiastic projector of the name of Hall, who had
taken out one patent for making hemp from bean-stalks, and
contemplated taking out another for effecting spade tillage by steam.
The young engineer was invited to make the requisite model, which he
did, and it cost him both time and money, which the out-at-elbows
projector was unable to repay; and all that came of the project was
the exhibition of the model at the Society of Arts and before the
Board of Agriculture, in whose collection it is probably still to be
found. Another more successful machine constructed By Mr. Fairbairn
about the same time was a sausage-chopping machine, which he
contrived and made for a pork-butcher for 33l. It was the first order
he had ever had on his own account; and, as the machine when made did
its work admirably, he was naturally very proud of it. The machine
was provided with a fly-wheel and double crank, with connecting rods
which worked a cross head. It contained a dozen knives crossing each
other at right angles in such a way as to enable them to mince or
divide the meat on a revolving block. Another part of the apparatus
accomplished the filling of the sausages in a very expert manner, to
the entire satisfaction of the pork-butcher.

As work was scarce in London at the time, and our engineer was bent
on gathering further experience in his trade, he determined to make a
tour in the South of England and South Wales; and set out from London
in April 1813 with 7l. in his pocket. After visiting Bath and Frome,
he settled to work for six weeks at Bathgate; after which he
travelled by Bradford and Trowbridge --- always on foot--to Bristol.
From thence he travelled through South Wales, spending a few days
each at Newport, Llandaff, and Cardiff, where he took ship for
Dublin. By the time he reached Ireland his means were all but
exhausted, only three-halfpence remaining in his pocket; but, being
young, hopeful, skilful, and industrious, he was light of heart, and
looked cheerfully forward. The next day he succeeded in finding
employment at Mr. Robinson's, of the Phoenix Foundry, where he was
put to work at once upon a set of patterns for some nail-machinery.
Mr. Robinson was a man of spirit and enterprise, and, seeing the
quantities of English machine-made nails imported into Ireland, he
was desirous of giving Irish industry the benefit of the manufacture.
The construction of the nail-making machinery occupied Mr. Fairbairn
the entire summer; and on its completion he set sail in the month of
October for Liverpool. It may be added, that, notwithstanding the
expense incurred by Mr. Robinson in setting up the new
nail-machinery, his workmen threatened him with a strike if he
ventured to use it. As he could not brave the opposition of the
Unionists, then all-powerful in Dublin, the machinery was never set
to work; the nail-making trade left Ireland, never to return; and the
Irish market was thenceforward supplied entirely with English-made
nails. The Dublin iron-manufacture was ruined in the same way; not
through any local disadvantages, but solely by the prohibitory
regulations enforced by the workmen of the Trades Unions.

Arrived at Liverpool, after a voyage of two days--which was then
considered a fair passage--our engineer proceeded to Manchester,
which had already become the principal centre of manufacturing
operations in the North of England. As we have already seen in the
memoirs of Nasmyth, Roberts, and Whitworth, Manchester offered great
attractions for highly-skilled mechanics; and it was as fortunate for
Manchester as for William Fairbairn himself that he settled down
there as a working millwright in the year 1814, bringing with him no
capital, but an abundance of energy, skill, and practical experience
in his trade. Afterwards describing the characteristics of the
millwright of that time, Mr, Fairbairn said--"In those days a good
millwright was a man of large resources; he was generally well
educated, and could draw out his own designs and work at the lathe;
he had a knowledge of mill machinery, pumps, and cranes, and could
turn his hand to the bench or the forge with equal adroitness and
facility. If hard pressed, as was frequently the case in country
places far from towns, he could devise for himself expedients which
enabled him to meet special requirements, and to complete his work
without assistance. This was the class of men with whom I associated
in early life--proud of their calling, fertile in resources, and
aware of their value in a country where the industrial arts were
rapidly developing."*
Lecture at Derby--Useful Information for Engineers, 2nd series, p.

When William Fairbairn entered Manchester he was twenty-four years of
age; and his hat still "covered his family." But, being now pretty
well satiated with his "wandetschaft,"--as German tradesmen term
their stage of travelling in search of trade experience,--he desired
to settle, and, if fortune favoured him, to marry the object of his
affections, to whom his heart still faithfully turned during all his
wanderings. He succeeded in finding employment with Mr. Adam
Parkinson, remaining with him for two years, working as a millwright,
at good wages. Out of his earnings he saved sufficient to furnish a
two-roomed cottage comfortably; and there we find him fairly
installed with his wife by the end of 1816. As in the case of most
men of a thoughtful turn, marriage served not only to settle our
engineer, but to stimulate him to more energetic action. He now began
to aim at taking a higher position, and entertained the ambition of
beginning business on his own account. One of his first efforts in
this direction was the preparation of the design of a cast-iron
bridge over the Irwell, at Blackfriars, for which a prize was
offered. The attempt was unsuccessful, and a stone bridge was
eventually decided on; but the effort made was creditable, and proved
the beginning of many designs. The first job he executed on his own
account was the erection of an iron conservatory and hothouse for Mr.
J. Hulme, of Clayton, near Manchester; and he induced one of his
shopmates, James Lillie, to join him in the undertaking. This proved
the beginning of a business connection which lasted for a period of
fifteen years, and laid the foundation of a partnership, the
reputation of which, in connection with mill-work and the
construction of iron machinery generally, eventually became known all
over the civilized world.

Although the patterns for the conservatory were all made, and the
castings were begun, the work was not proceeded with, in consequence
of the notice given by a Birmingham firm that the plan after which it
was proposed to construct it was an infringement of their patent. The
young firm were consequently under the necessity of looking about
them for other employment. And to be prepared for executing orders,
they proceeded in the year 1817 to hire a small shed at a rent of
l2s. a week, in which they set up a lathe of their own making,
capable of turning shafts of from 3 to 6 inches diameter; and they
hired a strong Irishman to drive the wheel and assist at the heavy
work. Their first job was the erection of a cullender, and their next
a calico-polishing machine; but orders came in slowly, and James
Lillie began to despair of success. His more hopeful partner
strenuously urged him to perseverance, and so buoyed him up with
hopes of orders, that he determined to go on a little longer. They
then issued cards among the manufacturers, and made a tour of the
principal firms, offering their services and soliciting work.

Amongst others, Mr. Fairbairn called upon the Messrs. Adam and George
Murray, the large cotton-spinners, taking with him the designs of his
iron bridge. Mr. Adam Murray received him kindly, heard his
explanations, and invited him to call on the following day with his
partner. The manufacturer must have been favourably impressed by this
interview, for next day, when Fairbairn and Lillie called, he took
them over his mill, and asked whether they felt themselves competent
to renew with horizontal cross-shafts the whole of the work by which
the mule-spinning machinery was turned. This was a formidable
enterprise for a young firm without capital and almost without plant
to undertake; but they had confidence in themselves, and boldly
replied that they were willing and able to execute the work. On this,
Mr. Murray said he would call and see them at their own workshop, to
satisfy himself that they possessed the means of undertaking such an
order. This proposal was by no means encouraging to the partners, who
feared that when Mr. Murray spied "the nakedness of the land " in
that quarter, he might repent him of his generous intentions. He paid
his promised visit, and it is probable that he was more favourably
impressed by the individual merits of the partners than by the
excellence of their machine-tools--of which they had only one, the
lathe which they had just made and set up; nevertheless he gave them
the order, and they began with glad hearts and willing hands and
minds to execute this their first contract. It may be sufficient to
state that by working late and early--from 5 in the morning until 9
at night for a considerable period--they succeeded in completing the
alterations within the time specified, and to Mr. Murray's entire
satisfaction. The practical skill of the young men being thus proved,
and their anxiety to execute the work entrusted to them to the best
of their ability having excited the admiration of their employer, he
took the opportunity of recommending them to his friends in the
trade, and amongst others to Mr. John Kennedy, of the firm of
MacConnel and Kennedy, then the largest spinners in the kingdom.

The Cotton Trade had by this time sprung into great importance, and
was increasing with extraordinary rapidity. Population and wealth
were pouring into South Lancashire, and industry and enterprise were
everywhere on foot. The foundations were being laid of a system of
manufacturing in iron, machinery, and textile fabrics of nearly all
kinds, the like of which has perhaps never been surpassed in any
country. It was a race of industry, in which the prizes were won by
the swift, the strong, and the skilled. For the most part, the early
Lancashire manufacturers started very nearly equal in point of
worldly circumstances, men originally of the smallest means often
coming to the front - work men, weavers, mechanics, pedlers, farmers,
or labourers--in course of time rearing immense manufacturing
concerns by sheer force of industry, energy, and personal ability.
The description given by one of the largest employers in Lancashire,
of the capital with which he started, might apply to many of them:
"When I married," said he, "my wife had a spinning-wheel, and I had a
loom--that was the beginning of our fortune." As an illustration of
the rapid rise of Manchester men from small beginnings, the following
outline of John Kennedy's career, intimately connected as he was with
the subject of our memoir--may not be without interest in this place.

John Kennedy was one of five young men of nearly the same age, who
came from the same neighbourhood in Scotland, and eventually settled
in Manchester as cottons-pinners about the end of last century. The
others were his brother James, his partner James MacConnel, and the
brothers Murray, above referred to--Mr. Fairbairn's first extensive
employers. John Kennedy's parents were respectable peasants,
possessed of a little bit of ground at Knocknalling, in the stewartry
of Kirkcudbright, on which they contrived to live, and that was all.
John was one of a family of five sons and two daughters, and the
father dying early, the responsibility and the toil of bringing up
these children devolved upon the mother. She was a strict
disciplinarian, and early impressed upon the minds of her boys that
they had their own way to make in the world. One of the first things
she made them think about was, the learning of some useful trade for
the purpose of securing an independent living; "for," said she, "if
you have gotten mechanical skill and intelligence, and are honest and
trustworthy, you will always find employment and be ready to avail
yourselves of opportunities for advancing yourselves in life." Though
the mother desired to give her sons the benefits of school education,
there was but little of that commodity to be had in the remote
district of Knocknalling. The parish-school was six miles distant,
and the teaching given in it was of a very inferior sort--usually
administered by students, probationers for the ministry, or by
half-fledged dominies, themselves more needing instruction than able
to impart it. The Kennedys could only attend the school during a few
months in summer-time, so that what they had acquired by the end of
one season was often forgotten by the beginning of the next. They
learnt, however, to read the Testament, say their catechism, and
write their own names.

As the children grew up, they each longed for the time to come when
they could be put to a trade. The family were poorly clad; stockings
and shoes were luxuries rarely indulged in; and Mr. Kennedy used in
after-life to tell his grandchildren of a certain Sunday which he
remembered shortly after his father died, when he was setting out for
Dalry church, and had borrowed his brother Alexander's stockings, his
brother ran after him and cried, "See that you keep out of the dirt,
for mind you have got my stockings on!" John indulged in many
day-dreams about the world that lay beyond the valley and the
mountains which surrounded the place of his birth. Though a mere boy,
the natural objects, eternally unchangeable, which daily met his
eyes--the profound silence of the scene, broken only by the bleating
of a solitary sheep, or the crowing of a distant cock, or the
thrasher beating out with his flail the scanty grain of the black
oats spread upon a skin in the open air, or the streamlets leaping
from the rocky clefts, or the distant church-bell sounding up the
valley on Sundays-- all bred in his mind a profound melancholy and
feeling of loneliness, and he used to think to himself, "What can I
do to see and know something of the world beyond this?" The greatest
pleasure he experienced during that period was when packmen came
round with their stores of clothing and hardware, and displayed them
for sale; he eagerly listened to all that such visitors had to tell
of the ongoings of the world beyond the valley.

The people of the Knocknalling district were very poor. The greater
part of them were unable to support the younger members, whose custom
it was to move off elsewhere in search of a living when they arrived
at working years,--some to America, some to the West Indies, and some
to the manufacturing districts of the south. Whole families took
their departure in this way, and the few friendships which Kennedy
formed amongst those of his own age were thus suddenly snapped, and
only a great blank remained. But he too could follow their example,
and enter upon that wider world in which so many others had ventured
and succeeded. As early as eight years of age, his mother still
impressing upon her boys the necessity of learning to work, John
gathered courage to say to her that he wished to leave home and
apprentice himself to some handicraft business. Having seen some
carpenters working in the neighbourhood, with good clothes on their
backs, and hearing the men's characters well spoken of, he thought it
would be a fine thing to be a carpenter too, particularly as the
occupation would enable him to move from place to place and see the
world. He was as yet, however, of too tender an age to set out on the
journey of life; but when he was about eleven years old, Adam Murray,
one of his most intimate acquaintances, having gone off to serve an
apprenticeship in Lancashire with Mr. Cannan of Chowbent, himself a
native of the district, the event again awakened in him a strong
desire to migrate from Knocknalling. Others had gone after Murray,
James MacConnel and two or three more; and at length, at about
fourteen years of age, Kennedy himself left his native home for
Lancashire. About the time that he set out, Paul Jones was ravaging
the coasts of Galloway, and producing general consternation
throughout the district. Great excitement also prevailed through the
occurrence of the Gordon riots in London, which extended into remote
country places; and Kennedy remembered being nearly frightened out of
his wits on one occasion by a poor dominie whose school he attended,
who preached to his boys about the horrors that were coming upon the
land through the introduction of Popery. The boy set out for England
on the 2nd of February, 1784, mounted upon a Galloway, his little
package of clothes and necessaries strapped behind him. As he passed
along the glen, recognising each familiar spot, his heart was in his
mouth, and he dared scarcely trust himself to look back. The ground
was covered with snow, and nature quite frozen up. He had the company
of his brother Alexander as far as the town of New Galloway, where he
slept the first night. The next day, accompanied by one of his future
masters, Mr. James Smith, a partner of Mr. Cannan's, who had
originally entered his service as a workman, they started on ponyback
for Dumfries. After a long day's ride, they entered the town in the
evening, and amongst the things which excited the boy's surprise were
the few street-lamps of the town, and a waggon with four horses and
four wheels. In his remote valley carts were as yet unknown, and even
in Dumfries itself they were comparative rarities; the common means
of transport in the district being what were called "tumbling cars."
The day after, they reached Longtown, and slept there; the boy noting
ANOTHER lamp. The next stage was to Carlisle, where Mr. Smith, whose
firm had supplied a carding engine and spinning-jenny to a small
manufacturer in the town, went to "gate" and trim them. One was put
up in a small house, the other in a small room; and the sight of
these machines was John Kennedy's first introduction to
cotton-spinning. While going up the inn-stairs he was amazed and not
a little alarmed at seeing two men in armour--he had heard of the
battles between the Scots and English--and believed these to be some
of the fighting men; though they proved to be but effigies. Five more
days were occupied in travelling southward, the resting places being
at Penrith, Kendal, Preston, and Chorley, the two travellers arriving
at Chowbent on Sunday the 8th of February, 1784. Mr. Cannan seems to
have collected about him a little colony of Scotsmen, mostly from the
same neighbourhood, and in the evening there was quite an assembly of
them at the "Bear's Paw," where Kennedy put up, to hear the tidings
from their native county brought by the last new comer. On the
following morning the boy began his apprenticeship as a carpenter
with the firm of Cannan and Smith, serving seven years for his meat
and clothing. He applied himself to his trade, and became a good,
steady workman. He was thoughtful and self-improving, always
endeavouring to acquire knowledge of new arts and to obtain insight
into new machines. "Even in early life," said he, in the account of
his career addressed to his children, "I felt a strong desire to know
what others knew, and was always ready to communicate what little I
knew myself; and by admitting at once my want of education, I found
that I often made friends of those on whom I had no claims beyond
what an ardent desire for knowledge could give me."

His apprenticeship over, John Kennedy commenced business*
One of the reasons which induced Kennedy thus early to begin the
business of mule-spinning has been related as follows. While employed
as apprentice at Chowbent, he happened to sleep over the master's
apartment; and late one evening, on the latter returning from market,
his wife asked his success. "I've sold the eightys," said he, "at a
guinea a pound." "What," exclaimed the mistress, in a loud voice,
"sold the eightys for ONLY a guinea a pound! I never heard of such a
thing." The apprentice could not help overhearing the remark, and it
set him a-thinking. He knew the price of cotton and the price of
labour, and concluded there must be a very large margin of profit. So
soon as he was out of his time, therefore, he determined that he
should become a cotton spinner.
in a small way in Manchester in 1791, in conjunction with two other
workmen, Sandford and MacConnel. Their business was machine-making
and mule-spinning, Kennedy taking the direction of the machine
department. The firm at first put up their mules for spinning in any
convenient garrets they could hire at a low rental. After some time,
they took part of a small factory in Canal Street, and carried on
their business on a larger scale. Kennedy and MacConnel afterwards
occupied a little factory in the same street,--since removed to give
place to Fairbairn's large machine works. The progress of the firm
was steady and even rapid, and they went on building mills and
extending their business--Mr. Kennedy, as he advanced in life,
gathering honour, wealth, and troops of friends. Notwithstanding the
defects of his early education, he was one of the few men of his
class who became distinguished for his literary labours in connexion
principally with the cotton trade. Towards the close of his life, he
prepared several papers of great interest for the Literary and
Philosophical Society of Manchester, which are to be found printed in
their Proceedings; one of these, on the Invention of the Mule by
Samuel Crompton, was for a long time the only record which the public
possessed of the merits and claims of that distinguished inventor.
His knowledge of the history of the cotton manufacture in its various
stages, and of mechanical inventions generally, was most extensive
and accurate. Among his friends he numbered James Watt, who placed
his son in his establishment for the purpose of acquiring knowledge
and experience of his profession. At a much later period he numbered
George Stephenson among his friends, having been one of the first
directors of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and one of the
three judges (selected because of his sound judgment and proved
impartiality, as well as his knowledge of mechanical engineering) to
adjudicate on the celebrated competition of Locomotives at Rainhill.
By these successive steps did this poor Scotch boy become one of the
leading men of Manchester, closing his long and useful life in 1855
at an advanced age, his mental faculties remaining clear and
unclouded to the last. His departure from life was happy and
tranquil--so easy that it was for a time doubtful whether he was dead
or asleep.

To return to Mr. Fairbairn's career, and his progress as a millwright
and engineer in Manchester. When he and his partner undertook the
extensive alterations in Mr. Murray's factory, both were in a great
measure unacquainted with the working of cotton-mills, having until
then been occupied principally with corn-mills, and printing and
bleaching works; so that an entirely new field was now opened to
their united exertions. Sedulously improving their opportunities, the
young partners not only thoroughly mastered the practical details of
cotton-mill work, but they were very shortly enabled to introduce a
series of improvements of the greatest importance in this branch of
our national manufactures. Bringing their vigorous practical minds to
bear on the subject, they at once saw that the gearing of even the
best mills was of a very clumsy and imperfect character. They found
the machinery driven by large square cast-iron shafts, on which huge
wooden drums, some of them as much as four feet in diameter, revolved
at the rate of about forty revolutions a minute; and the couplings
were so badly fitted that they might be heard creaking and groaning a
long way off. The speeds of the driving-shafts were mostly got up by
a series of straps and counter drums, which not only crowded the
rooms, but seriously obstructed the light where most required for
conducting the delicate operations of the different machines. Another
serious defect lay in the construction of the shafts, and in the mode
of fixing the couplings, which were constantly giving way, so that a
week seldom passed without one or more breaks-down. The repairs were
usually made on Sundays, which were the millwrights' hardest working
days, to their own serious moral detriment; but when trade was good,
every consideration was made to give way to the uninterrupted running
of the mills during the rest of the week.

It occurred to Mr. Fairbairn that the defective arrangements thus
briefly described, might be remedied by the introduction of lighter
shafts driven at double or treble the velocity, smaller drums to
drive the machinery, and the use of wrought-iron wherever
practicable, because of its greater lightness and strength compared
with wood. He also provided for the simplification of the hangers and
fixings by which the shafting was supported, and introduced the
"half-lap coupling" so well known to millwrights and engineers. His
partner entered fully into his views; and the opportunity shortly
presented itself of carrying them into effect in the large new mill
erected in 1818, for the firm of MacConnel and Kennedy. The machinery
of that concern proved a great improvement on all that had preceded
it; and, to Messrs. Fairbairn and Lillie's new system of gearing Mr.
Kennedy added an original invention of his own in a system of double
speeds, with the object of giving an increased quantity of twist in
the finer descriptions of mule yarn.

The satisfactory execution of this important work at once placed the
firm of Fairbairn and Lillie in the very front rank of engineering
millwrights. Mr. Kennedy's good word was of itself a passport to fame
and business, and as he was more than satisfied with the manner in
which his mill machinery had been planned and executed, he sounded
their praises in all quarters. Orders poured in upon them so rapidly,
that they had difficulty in keeping pace with the demands of the
trade. They then removed from their original shed to larger premises
in Matherstreet, where they erected additional lathes and other
tool-machines, and eventually a steam-engine. They afterwards added a
large cellar under an adjoining factory to their premises; and from
time to time provided new means of turning out work with increased
efficiency and despatch. In due course of time the firm erected a
factory of their own, fitted with the most improved machinery for
turning out millwork; and they went on from one contract to another,
until their reputation as engineers became widely celebrated. In
1826-7, they supplied the water-wheels for the extensive cotton-mills
belonging to Kirkman Finlay and Company, at Catrine Bank in Ayrshire.
These wheels are even at this day regarded as among the most perfect
hydraulic machines in Europe. About the same time they supplied the
mill gearing and water-machinery for Messrs. Escher and Company's
large works at Zurich, among the largest cotton manufactories on the

In the mean while the industry of Manchester and the neighbourhood,
through which the firm had risen and prospered, was not neglected,
but had the full benefit of the various improvements which they were
introducing in mill machinery. In the course of a few years an entire
revolution was effected in the gearing. Ponderous masses of timber
and cast-iron, with their enormous bearings and couplings, gave place
to slender rods of wrought-iron and light frames or hooks by which
they were suspended. In like manner, lighter yet stronger wheels and
pulleys were introduced, the whole arrangements were improved, and,
the workmanship being greatly more accurate, friction was avoided,
while the speed was increased from about 40 to upwards of 300
revolutions a minute. The fly-wheel of the engine was also converted
into a first motion by the formation of teeth on its periphery, by
which a considerable saving was effected both in cost and power.

These great improvements formed quite an era in the history of mill
machinery; and exercised the most important influence on the
development of the cotton, flax, silk, and other branches of
manufacture. Mr. Fairbairn says the system introduced by his firm was
at first strongly condemned by leading engineers, and it was with
difficulty that he could overcome the force of their opposition; nor
was it until a wheel of thirty tons weight for a pair of engines of
100-horse power each was erected and set to work, that their
prognostications of failure entirely ceased. From that time the
principles introduced by Mr. Fairbairn have been adopted wherever
steam is employed as a motive power in mills.

Mr. Fairbairn and his partner had a hard uphill battle to fight while
these improvements were being introduced; but energy and
perseverance, guided by sound judgment, secured their usual reward,
and the firm became known as one of the most thriving and
enterprising in Manchester. Long years after, when addressing an
assembly of working men, Mr. Fairbairn, while urging the necessity of
labour and application as the only sure means of self-improvement,
said, "I can tell you from experience, that there is no labour so
sweet, none so consolatory, as that which is founded upon an honest,
straightforward, and honourable ambition." The history of any
prosperous business, however, so closely resembles every other, and
its details are usually of so monotonous a character, that it is
unnecessary for us to pursue this part of the subject; and we will
content ourselves with briefly indicating the several further
improvements introduced by Mr. Fairbairn in the mechanics of
construction in the course of his long and useful career.

His improvements in water-wheels were of great value, especially as
regarded the new form of bucket which he introduced with the object
of facilitating the escape of the air as the water entered the bucket
above, and its readmission as the water emptied itself out below.
This arrangement enabled the water to act upon the wheel with the
maximum of effect in all states of the river; and it so generally
recommended itself, that it very soon became adopted in most
water-mills both at home and abroad.*
The subject will be found fully treated in Mr. Fairbairn's own work,
A Treatise on Mills and Mill-Work, embodying the results of his large
His labours were not, however, confined to his own particular calling
as a mill engineer, but were shortly directed to other equally
important branches of the constructive art. Thus he was among the
first to direct his attention to iron ship building as a special
branch of business. In 1829, Mr. Houston, of Johnstown, near Paisley,
launched a light boat on the Ardrossan Canal for the purpose of
ascertaining the speed at which it could be towed by horses with two
or three persons on board. To the surprise of Mr. Houston and the
other gentlemen present, it was found that the labour the horses had
to perform in towing the boat was mach greater at six or seven, than
at nine miles an hour. This anomaly was very puzzling to the
experimenters, and at the request of the Council of the Forth and
Clyde Canal, Mr. Fairbairn, who had already become extensively known
as a scientific mechanic, was requested to visit Scotland and
institute a series of experiments with light boats to determine the
law of traction, and clear up, if possible, the apparent anomalies in
Mr. Houston's experiments. This he did accordingly, and the results
of his experiments were afterwards published, The trials extended
over a series of years, and were conducted at a cost of several
thousand pounds. The first experiments were made with vessels of
wood, but they eventually led to the construction of iron vessels
upon a large scale and on an entirely new principle of construction,
with angle iron ribs and wrought-iron sheathing plates. The results
proved most valuable, and had the effect of specially directing the
attention of naval engineers to the employment of iron in ship


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