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Industrial Biography - Iron Workers and Tool Makers
by Samuel Smiles
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The present Messrs. Fox of Derby, who continue to carry on the business of the firm, claim for their grandfather, its founder, that he made the first planing machine in 1814,[1] and they add that the original article continued in use until quite recently. We have been furnished by Samuel Hall, formerly a workman at the Messrs. Fox's, with the following description of the machine:—"It was essentially the same in principle as the planing machine now in general use, although differing in detail. It had a self-acting ratchet motion for moving the slides of a compound slide rest, and a self-acting reversing tackle, consisting of three bevel wheels, one a stud, one loose on the driving shaft, and another on a socket, with a pinion on the opposite end of the driving shaft running on the socket. The other end was the place for the driving pulley. A clutch box was placed between the two opposite wheels, which was made to slide on a feather, so that by means of another shaft containing levers and a tumbling ball, the box on reversing was carried from one bevel wheel to the opposite one." The same James Fox is also said at a very early period to have invented a screw-cutting machine, an engine for accurately dividing and cutting the teeth of wheels, and a self-acting lathe. But the evidence as to the dates at which these several inventions are said to have been made is so conflicting that it is impossible to decide with whom the merit of making them really rests. The same idea is found floating at the same time in many minds, the like necessity pressing upon all, and the process of invention takes place in like manner: hence the contemporaneousness of so many inventions, and the disputes that arise respecting them, as described in a previous chapter.

There are still other claimants for the merit of having invented the planing machine; among whom may be mentioned more particularly Matthew Murray of Leeds, and Richard Roberts of Manchester. We are informed by Mr. March, the present mayor of Leeds, head of the celebrated tool-manufacturing firm of that town, that when he first went to work at Matthew Murray's, in 1814, a planing machine of his invention was used to plane the circular part or back of the D valve, which he had by that time introduced in the steam-engine. Mr. March says, "I recollect it very distinctly, and even the sort of framing on which it stood. The machine was not patented, and like many inventions in those days, it was kept as much a secret as possible, being locked up in a small room by itself, to which the ordinary workmen could not obtain access. The year in which I remember it being in use was, so far as I am aware, long before any planing-machine of a similar kind had been invented."

Matthew Murray was born at Stockton-on-Tees in the year 1763. His parents were of the working class, and Matthew, like the other members of the family, was brought up with the ordinary career of labour before him. When of due age his father apprenticed him to the trade of a blacksmith, in which he very soon acquired considerable expertness. He married before his term had expired; after which, trade being slack at Stockton, he found it necessary to look for work elsewhere. Leaving his wife behind him, he set out for Leeds with his bundle on his back, and after a long journey on foot, he reached that town with not enough money left in his pocket to pay for a bed at the Bay Horse inn, where he put up. But telling the landlord that he expected work at Marshall's, and seeming to be a respectable young man, the landlord trusted him; and he was so fortunate as to obtain the job which he sought at Mr. Marshall's, who was then beginning the manufacture of flax, for which the firm has since become so famous.

Mr. Marshall was at that time engaged in improving the method of manufacture,[2] and the young blacksmith was so fortunate or rather so dexterous as to be able to suggest several improvements in the machinery which secured the approval of his employer, who made him a present of 20L., and very shortly promoted him to be the first mechanic in the workshop. On this stroke of good fortune Murray took a house at the neighbouring village of Beeston, sent to Stockton for his wife, who speedily joined him, and he now felt himself fairly started in the world. He remained with Mr. Marshall for about twelve years, during which he introduced numerous improvements in the machinery for spinning flax, and obtained the reputation of being a first-rate mechanic. This induced Mr. James Fenton and Mr. David Wood to offer to join him in the establishment of an engineering and machine-making factory at Leeds; which he agreed to, and operations were commenced at Holbeck in the year 1795.

As Mr. Murray had obtained considerable practical knowledge of the steam-engine while working at Mr. Marshall's, he took principal charge of the engine-building department, while his partner Wood directed the machine-making. In the branch of engine-building Mr. Murray very shortly established a high reputation, treading close upon the heels of Boulton and Watt—so close, indeed, that that firm became very jealous of him, and purchased a large piece of ground close to his works with the object of preventing their extension.[3] His additions to the steam-engine were of great practical value, one of which, the self-acting apparatus attached to the boiler for the purpose of regulating the intensity of fire under it, and consequently the production of steam, is still in general use. This was invented by him as early as 1799. He also subsequently invented the D slide valve, or at least greatly improved it, while he added to the power of the air-pump, and gave a new arrangement to the other parts, with a view to the simplification of the powers of the engine. To make the D valve work efficiently, it was found necessary to form two perfectly plane surfaces, to produce which he invented his planing machine. He was also the first to adopt the practice of placing the piston in a horizontal position in the common condensing engine. Among his other modifications in the steam-engine, was his improvement of the locomotive as invented by Trevithick; and it ought to be remembered to his honour that he made the first locomotive that regularly worked upon any railway.

This was the engine erected by him for Blenkinsop, to work the Middleton colliery railway near Leeds, on which it began to run in 1812, and continued in regular use for many years. In this engine he introduced the double cylinder—Trevithick's engine being provided with only one cylinder, the defects of which were supplemented by the addition of a fly-wheel to carry the crank over the dead points.

But Matthew Murray's most important inventions, considered in their effects on manufacturing industry, were those connected with the machinery for heckling and spinning flax, which he very greatly improved. His heckling machine obtained for him the prize of the gold medal of the Society of Arts; and this as well as his machine for wet flax-spinning by means of sponge weights proved of the greatest practical value. At the time when these inventions were made the flax trade was on the point of expiring, the spinners being unable to produce yarn to a profit; and their almost immediate effect was to reduce the cost of production, to improve immensely the quality of the manufacture, and to establish the British linen trade on a solid foundation. The production of flax-machinery became an important branch of manufacture at Leeds, large quantities being made for use at home as well as for exportation, giving employment to an increasing number of highly skilled mechanics.[4] Mr. Murray's faculty for organising work, perfected by experience, enabled him also to introduce many valuable improvements in the mechanics of manufacturing. His pre-eminent skill in mill-gearing became generally acknowledged, and the effects of his labours are felt to this day in the extensive and still thriving branches of industry which his ingenuity and ability mainly contributed to establish. All the machine tools used in his establishment were designed by himself, and he was most careful in the personal superintendence of all the details of their construction. Mr. Murray died at Leeds in 1826, in his sixty-third year.

We have not yet exhausted the list of claimants to the invention of the Planing Machine, for we find still another in the person of Richard Roberts of Manchester, one of the most prolific of modern inventors. Mr. Roberts has indeed achieved so many undisputed inventions, that he can readily afford to divide the honour in this case with others. He has contrived things so various as the self-acting mule and the best electro-magnet, wet gas-meters and dry planing machines, iron billard-tables and turret-clocks, the centrifugal railway and the drill slotting-machine, an apparatus for making cigars and machinery for the propulsion and equipment of steamships; so that he may almost be regarded as the Admirable Crichton of modern mechanics.

Richard Roberts was born in 1789, at Carreghova in the parish of Llanymynech. His father was by trade a shoemaker, to which he occasionally added the occupation of toll-keeper. The house in which Richard was born stood upon the border line which then divided the counties of Salop and Montgomery; the front door opening in the one county, and the back door in the other. Richard, when a boy, received next to no education, and as soon as he was of fitting age was put to common labouring work. For some time he worked in a quarry near his father's dwelling; but being of an ingenious turn, he occupied his leisure in making various articles of mechanism, partly for amusement and partly for profit. One of his first achievements, while working as a quarryman, was a spinning-wheel, of which he was very proud, for it was considered "a good job." Thus he gradually acquired dexterity in handling tools, and he shortly came to entertain the ambition of becoming a mechanic.

There were several ironworks in the neighbour hood, and thither he went in search of employment. He succeeded in finding work as a pattern-maker at Bradley, near Bilston; under John Wilkinson, the famous ironmaster—a man of great enterprise as well as mechanical skill; for he was the first man, as already stated, that Watt could find capable of boring a cylinder with any approach to truth, for the purposes of his steam-engines. After acquiring some practical knowledge of the art of working in wood as well as iron, Roberts proceeded to Birmingham, where he passed through different shops, gaining further experience in mechanical practice. He tried his hand at many kinds of work, and acquired considerable dexterity in each. He was regarded as a sort of jack-of-all-trades; for he was a good turner, a tolerable wheel-wright, and could repair mill-work at a pinch.

He next moved northward to the Horsley ironworks, Tipton, where he was working as a pattern-maker when he had the misfortune to be drawn in his own county for the militia. He immediately left his work and made his way homeward to Llanymynech, determined not to be a soldier or even a militiaman. But home was not the place for him to rest in, and after bidding a hasty adieu to his father, he crossed the country northward on foot and reached Liverpool, in the hope of finding work there. Failing in that, he set out for Manchester and reached it at dusk, very weary and very miry in consequence of the road being in such a wretched state of mud and ruts. He relates that, not knowing a person in the town, he went up to an apple-stall ostensibly to buy a pennyworth of apples, but really to ask the stall-keeper if he knew of any person in want of a hand. Was there any turner in the neighbourhood? Yes, round the corner. Thither he went at once, found the wood-turner in, and was promised a job on the following morning. He remained with the turner for only a short time, after which he found a job in Salford at lathe and tool-making. But hearing that the militia warrant-officers were still searching for him, he became uneasy and determined to take refuge in London.

He trudged all the way on foot to that great hiding-place, and first tried Holtzapffel's, the famous tool-maker's, but failing in his application he next went to Maudslay's and succeeded in getting employment. He worked there for some time, acquiring much valuable practical knowledge in the use of tools, cultivating his skill by contact with first-class workmen, and benefiting by the spirit of active contrivance which pervaded the Maudslay shops. His manual dexterity greatly increased, and his inventive ingenuity fully stimulated, he determined on making his way back to Manchester, which, even more than London itself, at that time presented abundant openings for men of mechanical skill. Hence we find so many of the best mechanics trained at Maudslay's and Clement's—Nasmyth, Lewis, Muir, Roberts, Whitworth, and others—shortly rising into distinction there as leading mechanicians and tool-makers.

The mere enumeration of the various results of Mr. Roberts's inventive skill during the period of his settlement at Manchester as a mechanical engineer, would occupy more space than we can well spare. But we may briefly mention a few of the more important. In 1816, while carrying on business on his own account in Deansgate, he invented his improved sector for correctly sizing wheels in blank previously to their being cut, which is still extensively used. In the same year he invented his improved screw-lathe; and in the following year, at the request of the boroughreeve and constables of Manchester, he contrived an oscillating and rotating wet gas meter of a new kind, which enabled them to sell gas by measure. This was the first meter in which a water lute was applied to prevent the escape of gas by the index shaft, the want of which, as well as its great complexity, had prevented the only other gas meter then in existence from working satisfactorily. The water lute was immediately adopted by the patentee of that meter. The planing machine, though claimed, as we have seen, by many inventors, was constructed by Mr. Roberts after an original plan of his own in 1817, and became the tool most generally employed in mechanical workshops—acting by means of a chain and rack—though it has since been superseded to some extent by the planing machine of Whitworth, which works both ways upon an endless screw. Improvements followed in the slide-lathe (giving a large range of speed with increased diameters for the same size of headstocks, &c.), in the wheel-cutting engine, in the scale-beam (by which, with a load of 2 oz. on each end, the fifteen-hundredth part of a grain could be indicated), in the broaching-machine, the slotting-machine, and other engines.

But the inventions by which his fame became most extensively known arose out of circumstances connected with the cotton manufactures of 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 machine.

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 country." [5]

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 sorts.

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 machinery.

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.



[1] Engineer, Oct. 10th, 1862.

[2] We are informed in Mr. Longstaffe's Annals and Characteristics of Darlington, that the spinning of flax by machinery was first begun by one John Kendrew, an ingenious self-taught mechanic of that town, who invented a machine for the purpose, for which he took out a patent in 1787. Mr. Marshall went over from Leeds to see his machine, and agreed to give him so much per spindle for the right to use it. But ceasing to pay the patent right, Kendrew commenced an action against him for a sum of nine hundred pounds alleged to be due under the agreement. The claim was disputed, and Kendrew lost his action; and it is added in Longstaffe's Annals, that even had he succeeded, it would have been of no use; for Mr. Marshall declared that he had not then the money wherewith to pay him. It is possible that Matthew Murray may have obtained some experience of flax-machinery in working for Kendrew, which afterwards proved of use to him in Mr. Marshall's establishment.

[3] The purchase of this large piece of ground, known as Camp Field, had the effect of "plugging up" Matthew Murray for a time; and it remained disused, except for the deposit of dead dogs and other rubbish, for more than half a century. It has only been enclosed during the present year, and now forms part of the works of Messrs. Smith, Beacock, and Tannet, the eminent tool-makers.

[4] Among more recent improvers of flax-machinery, the late Sir Peter Fairbairn is entitled to high merit: the work turned out by him being of first-rate excellence, embodying numerous inventions and improvements of great value and importance.

[5] EDWARD BAINES, Esq., M.P., History of the Cotton Manufacture, 212.



CHAPTER XV.

JAMES NASMYTH.

"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:—[1]

"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 obscure.

"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 19th 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 10s. 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 10s. 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 1833, 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.[2] 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." [3]

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,[4] 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 steam-hammer.

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 15 or 20 cwt. 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 ground.[5]

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 characteristic.

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.[6] 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,[7] 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., are evidently THE IMMEDIATE SOURCES OF THE SOLAR LIGHT AND HEAT, by 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 reality." [8]

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.



[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] Cyclopaedia of Useful Arts, ii. 739.

[4] 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.

[5] 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.

[6] See Memoirs of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester, 3rd series, vol. 1. 407.

[7] 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."

[8] SIR JOHN HERSCHEL in Good Words for April, 1863.



CHAPTER XVI.

WILLIAM FAIRBAIRN.

"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.

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