The Life of George Stephenson, Railway Engineer

Overview

A political and social reformer, Samuel Smiles (1812?1904) was also a noted biographer in the Victorian period, paying particular attention to engineers. His first biography was of George Stephenson (1781?1848), whom he met at the opening of the North Midland Railway in 1840. After Stephenson died, Smiles wrote a memoir of him for Eliza Cook's Journal. With the permission of Stephenson's son, Robert, this evolved into the first full biography of the great engineer, published in 1857 and reissued here in its ...

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The life of George Stephenson, railway engineer

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Overview

A political and social reformer, Samuel Smiles (1812–1904) was also a noted biographer in the Victorian period, paying particular attention to engineers. His first biography was of George Stephenson (1781–1848), whom he met at the opening of the North Midland Railway in 1840. After Stephenson died, Smiles wrote a memoir of him for Eliza Cook's Journal. With the permission of Stephenson's son, Robert, this evolved into the first full biography of the great engineer, published in 1857 and reissued here in its revised third edition. This detailed and lively account of Stephenson's life, which proved very popular, charts his education and youth, his crucial contribution to the development of Britain's railways, and his relationships with many notables of the Victorian world. It remains of interest to the general reader as well as historians of engineering, transport and business.

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CHAP. III. ENGINEMAN AT NEWBURN. — SELF-CULTURE. George Stephenson was eighteen years old before he learnt to read. He was now almost a full-grown workman, earning his twelve shillings a week, and having the charge of an engine, which occupied his time to the extent of twelve hours every day. He had thus very few leisure moments that he could call his own. But the busiest man will find them if he watch for them; and if he be careful in turning these moments to useful account, he will prove them to be the very " gold-dust of time," as Young has so beautifully described them. To his poor parents George Stephenson owed a sound constitution and vigorous health. They had also set before him an example of sobriety, economy, and patient industry — habits which are in themselves equivalent to principles. For habits are the most inflexible of all things; and principles are, in fact, but the names which we assign to them. If his parents, out of their small earnings and scanty knowledge, were unable to give their son any literary culture, at all events they had trained him well, and furnished him with an excellent substratum of character. Unquestionably, however, he laboured under a very serious disadvantage in having to master, at a comparatively advanced age, those simple rudiments of elementary instruction, which all children in a country calling itself civilised ought to have imparted to them at school. The youth who reaches manhood, and enters, byChap. m.] SELF-CULTURE. 17 necessity, upon a career of daily toil, without being able to read his native language, does not start on equal terms with others who have received the benefits of such instruction. It is true that he who, byhis own voluntary and determined efforts, overcomes the difficulties early thrown in his way, and ...
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Table of Contents

Preface; 1. Early years; 2. Begins a career of labour; 3. Engineman at Newburn; 4. Brakesman at Black Callerton; 5. Marriage, and housekeeping at Willington Quay; 6. Brakesman at West Moor, Killingworth; 7. Colliery engine-wright at Killingworth; 8. The beginnings of railways and locomotives; 9. George Stephenson's first locomotives; 10. Invents the 'Geordy' safety lamp; 11. Controversy as to the invention of the safety lamp; 12. Further improvements in the locomotive; 13. Education of his son; 14. Railway pioneers; 15. First survey of the Liverpool and Manchester railway; 16. Mr Stephenson appointed engineer of the Stockton and Darlington Railway; 17. Completion and opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway; 18. Mr Stephenson appointed to survey a railway from Liverpool to Manchester; 19. Mr Stephenson examined before the parliamentary committee on the Liverpool and Manchester bill; 20. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway bill carried, and Mr Stephenson appointed engineer; 21. A prize offered for the best locomotive engine; 22. The building of the 'Rocket'; 23. The competition of locomotives at Rainhill; 24. The opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway; 25. Extension of the railway system; 26. Advance of public opinion in favour of railways; 27. Mr Stephenson engineer of the Manchester and Leeds, and Midland railways; 28. Surveys of lines to Scotland and Holyhead; 29. Mr Stephenson and the new school of fast engineers; 30. Mr Stephenson's partial retirement from the profession; 31. The railway mania; 32. Mr Stephenson's connection with Mr Hudson; 33. Mr Stephenson's connection with foreign railways; 34. Residence at Tapton; 35. Closing years; 36. His character; Résumé of the railway system and its results.

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