MEN OF INVENTION AND INDUSTRY
MEN OF INVENTION AND INDUSTRY
"Men there have been ignorant of letters; without art without
eloquence; who yet had the wisdom to devise and the courage to
perform that which they lacked language to explain. Such men
have worked the deliverance of nations and their own greatness.
Their hearts are their books; events are their tutors; great
actions are their eloquence."--MACAULAY.
CHAPTER I Phineas Pett:
Beginings of English Shipbuilding
CHAPTER II Francis Pettit Smith:
Practical introducer of the Screw Propeller
CHAPTER III John Harrison:
Inventor of the Marine Chronometer
CHAPTER IV John Lombe:
Introducer of the Silk Industry into England
CHAPTER V William Murdock:
His Life and Inventions
CHAPTER VI Frederick Koenig:
Inventor of the Steam-printing Machine
CHAPTER VII The Walters of 'The Times':
Inventor of the Walter Press
CHAPTER VIII William Clowes:
Book-printing by Steam
CHAPTER IX Charles Bianconi:
A lession of Self-Help in Ireland
CHAPTER X Industry in Ireland:
Through Connaught and Ulster to Belfast
CHAPTER XI Shipbuilding in Belfast:
By Sir E. J. Harland Engineer and Shipbuilder
CHAPTER XII Astronomers and students in humble life:
A new Chapter in the 'Pursuit of Knowledge under Difficulties'
I offer this book as a continuation of the memoirs of men of
invention and industry published some years ago in the 'Lives of
Engineers' 'Industrial Biography' and 'Self-Help.'
The early chapters relate to the history of a very important
branch of British industry--that of Shipbuilding. A later
chapter kindly prepared by Sir Edward J. Harland of Belfast
relates to the origin and progress of shipbuilding in Ireland.
Many of the facts set forth in the Life and Inventions of William
Murdock have already been published in my 'Lives of Boulton and
Watt;" but these are now placed in a continuous narrative and
supplemented by other information more particularly the
correspondence between Watt and Murdock communicated to me by
the present representative of the family Mr. Murdock C.E of
Gilwern near Abergavenny.
I have also endeavoured to give as accurate an account as
possible of the Invention of the Steam-printing Press and its
application to the production of Newspapers and Books--an
invention certainly of great importance to the spread of
knowledge science and literature throughout the world.
The chapter on the "Industry of Ireland" will speak for itself.
It occurred to me on passing through Ireland last year that
much remained to be said on that subject; and looking to the
increasing means of the country and the well-known industry of
its people it seems reasonable to expect that with peace
security energy and diligent labour of head and hand there is
really a great future before Ireland.
The last chapter on "Astronomers in Humble Life" consists for
the most part of a series of Autobiographies. It may seem at
first sight to have little to do with the leading object of the
book; but it serves to show what a number of active earnest and
able men are comparatively hidden throughout society ready to
turn their hands and heads to the improvement of their own
characters if not to the advancement of the general community
of which they form a part.
In conclusion I say to the reader as Quarles said in the
preface to his 'Emblems' "I wish thee as much pleasure in the
reading as I had in the writing." In fact the last three
chapters were in some measure the cause of the book being
published in its present form.
London November 1884.
PHINEAS PETT: BEGINNINGS OF ENGLISH SHIP-BUILDING.
"A speck in the Northern Ocean with a rocky coast an ungenial
climate and a soil scarcely fruitful--this was the material
patrimony which descended to the English race--an inheritance
that would have been little worth but for the inestimable moral
gift that accompanied it. Yes; from Celts Saxons Danes
Normans--from some or all of them--have come down with English
nationality a talisman that could command sunshine and plenty
and empire and fame. The 'go' which they transmitted to us--the
national vis--this it is which made the old Angle-land a glorious
heritage. Of this we have had a portion above our brethren--good
measure running over. Through this our island-mother has
stretched out her arms till they enriched the globe of the
earth....Britain without her energy and enterprise what would
she be in Europe?"--Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (1870).
In one of the few records of Sir Isaac Newton's life which he
left for the benefit of others the following comprehensive
"It is certainly apparent that the inhabitants of this world are
of a short date seeing that all arts as letters ships
printing the needle &c. were discovered within the memory of
If this were true in Newton's time how much truer is it now.
Most of the inventions which are so greatly influencing as well
as advancing the civilization of the world at the present time
have been discovered within the last hundred or hundred and fifty
years. We do not say that man has become so much wiser during
that period; for though he has grown in Knowledge the most
fruitful of all things were said by "the heirs of all the ages"
thousands of years ago.
But as regards Physical Science the progress made during the
last hundred years has been very great. Its most recent triumphs
have been in connection with the discovery of electric power and
electric light. Perhaps the most important invention however
was that of the working steam engine made by Watt only about a
hundred years ago. The most recent application of this form of
energy has been in the propulsion of ships which has already
produced so great an effect upon commerce navigation and the
spread of population over the world.
Equally important has been the influence of the Railway--now the
principal means of communication in all civilized countries.
This invention has started into full life within our own time.
The locomotive engine had for some years been employed in the
haulage of coals; but it was not until the opening of the
Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830 that the importance of
the invention came to be acknowledged. The locomotive railway
has since been everywhere adopted throughout Europe. In America
Canada and the Colonies it has opened up the boundless
resources of the soil bringing the country nearer to the towns
and the towns to the country. It has enhanced the celerity of
time and imparted a new series of conditions to every rank of
The importance of steam navigation has been still more recently
ascertained. When it was first proposed Sir Joseph Banks
President of the Royal Society said: "It is a pretty plan but
there is just one point overlooked: that the steam-engine
requires a firm basis on which to work." Symington the
practical mechanic put this theory to the test by his successful
experiments first on Dalswinton Lake and then on the Forth and
Clyde Canal. Fulton and Bell afterwards showed the power of
steamboats in navigating the rivers of America and Britain.
After various experiments it was proposed to unite England and
America by steam. Dr. Lardner however delivered a lecture
before the Royal Institution in 1838 "proving" that steamers
could never cross the Atlantic because they could not carry
sufficient coal to raise steam enough during the voyage. But
this theory was also tested by experience in the same year when
the Sirius of London left Cork for New York and made the
passage in nineteen days. Four days after the departure of the
Sirius the Great Western left Bristol for New York and made the
passage in thirteen days five hours. The problem was solved;
and great ocean steamers have ever since passed in continuous
streams between the shores of England and America.
In an age of progress one invention merely paves the way for
another. The first steamers were impelled by means of paddle
wheels; but these are now almost entirely superseded by the
screw. And this too is an invention almost of yesterday. It
was only in 1840 that the Archimedes was fitted as a screw yacht.
A few years later in 1845 the Great Britain propelled by the
screw left Liverpool for New York and made the voyage in
fourteen days. The screw is now invariably adopted in all long
It is curious to look back and observe the small beginnings of
maritime navigation. As regards this country though its
institutions are old modern England is still young. As respects
its mechanical and scientific achievements it is the youngest of
all countries. Watt's steam engine was the beginning of our
manufacturing supremacy; and since its adoption inventions and
discoveries in Art and Science within the last hundred years
have succeeded each other with extraordinary rapidity. In 1814
there was only one steam vessel in Scotland; while England
possessed none at all. Now the British mercantile steam-ships
number about 5000 with about 4 millions of aggregate tonnage.
In olden times this country possessed the materials for great
things as well as the men fitted to develope them into great
results. But the nation was slow to awake and take advantage of
its opportunities. There was no enterprise no commerce--no "go"
in the people. The roads were frightfully bad; and there was
little communication between one part of the country and another.
If anything important had to be done we used to send for
foreigners to come and teach us how to do it. We sent for them
to drain our fens to build our piers and harbours and even to
pump our water at London Bridge. Though a seafaring population
lived round our coasts we did not fish our own seas but left it
to the industrious Dutchmen to catch the fish and supply our
markets. It was not until the year 1787 that the Yarmouth people
began the deep-sea herring fishery; and yet these were the most
enterprising amongst the English fishermen.
English commerce also had very slender beginnings. At the
commencement of the fifteenth century England was of very little
account in the affairs of Europe. Indeed the history of modern
England is nearly coincident with the accession of the Tudors to
the throne. With the exception of Calais and Dunkirk her
dominions on the Continent had been wrested from her by the
French. The country at home had been made desolate by the Wars
of the Roses. The population was very small and had been kept
down by war pestilence and famine. The chief staple was
wool which was exported to Flanders in foreign ships there to
be manufactured into cloth. Nearly every article of importance
was brought from abroad; and the little commerce which existed
was in the hands of foreigners. The seas were swept by
privateers little better than pirates who plundered without