Boy's Own Paper,  3 (1880–81), 579–80.

Some Boys Who Became Famous. George and Robert Stephenson  [1/2]



Regular Feature, Essay, Serial

Relevant illustrations:

wdct. [3]


Engineers, Engineering, Invention, Railways, Patronage, Travel, Steam-power, Industry, Astronomy, Cosmology, Endeavour, Education, Reading, Artisans, Skill, Manufactories, Accidents, Commerce, Internationalism

    Begins by announcing the formation of a committee to celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Robert Stephenson's father, George Stephenson, an event which hopes to raise money for a George Stephenson wing at the Railway Servants' Orphanage, Derby. Describes the technological, educational, scientific achievements made by the year of George Stephenson's birth, including the spinning-jenny, the mule-jenny with 'improved steam-engine', mail coaches, Sunday school instruction, and William Herschel's doubts about 'the known bounds of the solar universe'. Suggests that Stephenson's 'great work', the 'First Grand Experimental Railway', was 'originally conceived with no other object in view than that of facilitating the transport of cotton from the quays of Liverpool to the factories of Manchester'. Proceeds to his early life, emphasising the humble character of the Newcastle family into which he was born, how his name and date of birth were inscribed on the family Bible, and how his family could not have known that he would have exemplified the virtues of 'invincible resolution, with patient painstaking and marvellous capacity'. Emphasises that despite the 'hard up-hill trudge' that he endured as a boy, he persevered and overcame difficulties, and notes that his early occupations included being a cowherd and fireman at the Wylam Colliery pumping-engine. Notes how Stephenson also found time to master 'reading, writing, and arithmetic' and clock-making skills, and later describes his marriage and the birth of his son, Robert. Describes Robert Stephenson's boyhood, emphasising that it was spent near Killingworth Colliery, how much Robert learnt from his father about 'practical engineering', and how, after reading Ferguson's Astronomy, he designed a sundial suitable for Killingworth. (579) Proceeds to Robert's involvement with his father in a mine explosion, and his education at the University of Edinburgh. Describes the Stephensons' gruelling work as surveyors on the future railway line between Stockton and Darlington, and Robert's career managing a steam-engine manufactory and as a mining engineer in South America. Notes Stephenson's encounter in South America with the disillusioned inventor, Richard Trevithick, who had lost a fortune on a silver mine scheme but who had not been able to develop his steam-carriage. Moves onto a description of Robert Stephenson's return to his father's Newcastle factory where the iron steed for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was made, and concludes by noting the tragic death of William Huskisson and the beginnings of the Stephensons' firm as an internationally famous locomotive manufactory. The illustrations show the Stephensons' birthplaces, and the Killingworth cottage where Robert built a sundial.

© Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Project, Universities of Leeds and Sheffield, 2005 - 2020

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