« VorigeDoorgaan »
with success. In this case the truck is dragged back, and the foreman of the gang which loaded it is fined a shilling; it being his duty to see the stone so disposed as to drop the instant the bottom is released. The tippers earn four shillings a day: a small sum when compared with work so hazardous-looking as theirs. A year ago, as a train was speeding along, one of the piles gave way-down went the beam, and all that was upon it. The trucks and the locomotive were fished up again; but two poor fellows were drowned. With all the expedition, the trains run many weeks, and an almost incredible number of loads is dropped, before any portion appears above the surface. The mass is then left to find its own slope by the action of the waves, soundings being made from time to time to note the effect, or discover disturbances. "That work," said the boatman, "falls to me." The slope to seaward is never the same as that on the inside. When all is consolidated, a facing of good square blocks will be laid down to finish the work. The stone flung in is mostly "cap" and refuse, which quarrymen are always glad to get rid of, and its removal from the government lands is a most important improvement in the convict establishment. And now all those honeycombed and perforated masses, which ages ago were the abode of living creatures, will be again tenanted by creeping things at the bottom of the sea.
Standing there on the end, the question arose-How is the stage extended? In this wise. A huge boom,
with a broad notch at its outer end, is thrust out beyond the extremity of any one of the beams; men in boats underneath plant a pile perpendicularly within the notch; another party then heave round at a capstan on the stage, from which a hawser is led to the pile, and the latter, with its resistless screw, has soon penetrated through the "slurry," as the upper layer of soft mud is called, and deeply into the blue clay beneath, and taken a hold proof against wind and weather. The other piles are screwed in in the same way, after which laying the beams out to them is comparatively easy. Diagonal ties of stout iron-rod are used for additional security, stretching from the bottom of one pile to the top of the next, and crossing as an X, while others carried out on either side, and made fast to a mooring at the bottom, resist the external strain. Thus constructed, the stage bears alike the heavy work carried on upon it, and the action of the sea. The piles are ninety feet long, all black with the kreosote in which they have been bathed, and of which some absorb a whole ton. The total weight of most of them is seven tons. To overcome the difficulty of getting such a mass of timber to sink, a heavy iron weight is attached to the lower end, to keep it down till the screw has taken hold. The diagonal iron tie, too, is made fast to the foot of the pile before it is sunk, and lashed close to its side, so as not to interfere with the screwing; after which it is ready to be released and bolted by the upper end to its neighbour.
The ponderous beams are lifted with the greatest ease by mighty travelling cranes, which, by means of wheels and winches, move in any direction, or deposit their load wherever required, and by them are the stones of the circular heads lowered into place.
I could have watched the various operations for hours; but even a summer day comes to an end. It was a long walk to get to the land again. When there, I saw the level platform on which all the blocks for the circular head are fitted together and marked, so that no time may be lost when placing them under water. Each is so connected with the other by "joggles," as to form one solid mass when all built up. Under a shed a few yards off is the iron cylinder in which the piles are pickled. It is 100 feet long and 6 feet diameter, and has a railway inside, on which five of the massive balks are run in to be pickled at once; the opening is then closed, an exhausting engine sets to work and draws all the air out of the cylinder and the timber; kreosote is pumped in, and when full, the engine, reversing its duty, gets up a pressure of 175 pounds to the inch; and so remaining for some hours, the whole grain of the wood becomes completely saturated, and proof against decay. Beneath the floor is a tank of kreosote five feet deep, from which the supplies are pumped up. Here, too, were heaps of the screws for the foot of the piles: a socket big enough for a giant's helmet, armed with the projecting spiral— a most demonstrative-looking object. No wonder the
piles stand so firmly in the sea! In another building the carpenters were at work; and a few steps farther the smiths and machinists, with steam-planes and lathes, and Nasmyth's hammer, reducing lumps of iron to shape as easily as a baker kneads his dough. Then we got into one of the wagons of an empty train, and rattled up the first incline along the single line of rails, while a full train was speeding down towards us; but half-way is a loop, where the trains pass each other without a pause in their movement. At the top is a short level, and then a second incline, beyond which strangers may not pass-and then a third leads to the summit, where two locomotives and about eight hundred of the convicts are employed in sending down stone. The value of their labour on the Breakwater amounted in 1853 to nearly 22,000l. Each wagon as it descends passes over a self-acting weigh-bridge, so contrived as to register the weight, whereby the amount of work done in any hour, day, or week, can be always ascertained. More than two million tons have already been sent down, and as much again will follow before the work is finished. No steam is used at the inclines; the full descending trains raise the empty ones, each being attached to a rope passing round a huge drum in the house at the top. There two men stand with their hands on the levers of the great hoop-breaks that encircle the drums, ready at the slightest sign of derangement to bring the whole machinery to a sudden stop. Instead of returning to Weymouth by the steamer,
you may take the road along the Chesil Bank to the bridge over the Fleet, and from thence cross Smallmouth Sands, and mount to the path on the top of the cliffs, where you will get another view of the bay and its encircling shores, and drop down into the town from the Nothe. Returned to my quarters, I felt well content with my day at Portland.