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By Major Evan Rowland Jones,
AUTHOR OF "LIFE AND SPEECHES OF JOSEPH COWEN," "HEROES OF INDUSTRY," &c.
theology, obeyed the still small voice, and became the immortal founder of botany. Faraday obtained food for his craving genius from the books he stitched, responded to the inward monitor's call, and held "aloft among the nations the scientific name of England for a period of forty years." The generous offer of a friend and the solicitous guidance of parents made William George Armstrong a lawyer. He locked himself up amid parchment rolls and tomes of decisions and authorities, gave his undivided heart to the pursuit of science, and made a column of water lift a hundred tons!
Children are not necessarily the best judges of that for which they are best intended. They frequently make a wrong selection under the influence of surroundings not intended to give them the bias. In maturity they often abandon their first love. Many boys are without preference; they continue indifferent to every vocation from the village green to the end of life. This was not the case with the boy William George Armstrong. Mechanics were to him a passion from childhood, and physical science absorbed his hours of relaxation as a schoolboy and as a student at law. His father was the son of a Cumberland yeoman, who became a corn merchant, an alderman, and a mayor of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, while his mother was a daughter of William Potter, of Walbottle House, Northumberland. To this worthy couple, a son, afterwards the famous engineer, was born on Nov. 26, 1810, at Pleasant Row, Shieldfield, Newcastle.*
William entered the Bishop Auckland Grammar School in 1826, where he remained for several years. During his residence at Bishop Auckland, he gratified his mechanical ingenuity at the works of Mr. Ramshaw. He was invited to that gentleman's home, where he found "a help-meet for him." Aye, and one who, during a busy, eventful, and brilliant career, has seconded his best efforts and cheered his anxious moments. She shares to-day his noble fame. Upon leaving school young Armstrong entered the law office of Mr. Armorer Donkin, an intimate friend of the family, and a man of influence and position in the community. His legal curriculum was finished at the office of his brother-in-law, Mr. W. H. Watson, the late Baron Watson, then a special pleader in the Temple. In 1833 he returned to his native town to become a partner with Messrs. Donkin, Stable, and Armstrong.
Mr. Armstrong was not an orthodox English sportsman. Though fond of music, the cry of the hound failed to charm his senses. Fishing was his favourite sport. He imbibed the taste from his father. Even in this pastime his inventive genius found employment. A new bait basket was contrived, whereby the minnow was kept at a lower temperature; his tackle was continually undergoing improvement; and he became one of the most accomplished fishers on the Coquet. It was during an out
* For view of birthplace see Monthly Chronicle, vol. i., p. 286.
ing through the Craven district of Yorkshire in quest of trout that the idea which culminated in his fame first came to him. He was rambling through Dent Dale, in 1836, when his attention was arrested by an overshot water-wheel turned by a gurgling rill. The mill-wheel supplied the power for some marble works at the foot of the declivity. Twenty feet only of several hundred feet descent was utilised; the rest remained unproductive. The possibility of the stream as a motive power at once engrossed Mr. Armstrong's thoughts. Intuition took the hint. For ten years he thought and wrought to perfect and realise his idea. Now the freights of nations are swung by his crane, and his hydraulic machinery is found on every mart of commerce in the civilized world.
But the time during which he was harnessed to the legal profession was in truth a period of apprenticeship in constructive mechanics. Scarcely a day passed when Mr. Armstrong was at home that he did not spend several hours at Watson's High Bridge Works, either superintending his own models or watching the construction of scientific machinery. It was a severe struggle between a sense of duty to his partners and profession on the one hand, and innate genius on the other; and the young solicitor kept swinging like an erratic pendulum between the law office and the lathe. The first attempt of Mr. Armstrong to realise his ambition to convert a column of water into a motive power was by means of an automatic hydraulic wheel, acted upon by discs made to enter a curved tube at the radius of the wheel-edge. It was an ingenious contrivance, and its utility was tested at the Skinner Burn. This was admirable experience, and a valuable lesson; but the wheel failed to realise the inventor's expectations.
Soon after this time a sensation was produced in the scientific world by a phenomenon which transpired at one of the Seaton Delaval Collieries, The workmen declared that something "uncanny like" was seen at the engine boiler, and when they adjusted the safety-valve while steam was blowing off, fire was said to reach out towards their finger-tips. Tyneside philosophers, and subsequently men of science throughout the country, became interested in the mystery; and it was discovered that electricity was evolved under the following circumstances: The boiler was found to be insulated upon a dry seating, and the friction produced by the escape of particles of water blowing away with high-pressure steam produced electricity, and a nervous shock was experienced when the hand was held in proximity to the escaping steam. Experiments bearing upon the generation of electricity by high-pressure steam were commenced by a number of scientific men; but the lawyer distanced the philosophers in the measure of success attained. Numerous tests were made as to the best material for insulation and the best form and lining for the exit of steam. At last the hydro-electric machine was produced at the works of Messrs. Watson and Lambert, Carliol Square. Large
numbers of this celebrated machine were constructed-for the Polytechnic Institution of London, for Professor Faraday, and for the scientific institutions of Europe and America.
When the invention had been completed, Mr. Armstrong returned to his favourite study, and continued to make experiments to perfect his hydraulic machine: at last he succeeded. A fortunate circumstance materially assisted in bringing it under public notice and into prac
tical use. In 1845, Mr. Armstrong became associated in his legal capacity with a company organised to supply the towns of Newcastle and Gateshead with water. When the company was formed, Mr. Armstrong delivered a lecture at the Literary Society of Newcastle, and demonstrated the utility of his invention by a working model. Soon thereafter a few friends joined with him to erect a crane on Newcastle Quay, where its usefulness could be
put to the test in loading and discharging ships. Three more cranes were eventually ordered by the Corporation of Newcastle. A somewhat interesting circumstance, which tended to forward the popularity of the hydraulic crane, took place at this time. Let the inventor himself relate it :
Amongst others the late Sir William Cubitt (then Mr. Cubitt) took a very early interest in the machine, and wrote to Mr. Jesse Hartley, who was then the engineer of the Liverpool Docks, urginghim to go and see it, but that somewhat eccentric gentleman, who was very averse to novelties, at first flatly refused to do so. A second letter from Sir William Cubitt put the matter in such a light that Mr. Hartley could not persist in his refusal without incurring the imputation of shutting his eyes to improvements; so without giving any notice of his intention he went to Newcastle alone to see the crane. It was not at work when he arrived, but the man in charge was there, and Mr. Hartley entered into a bantering conversation with him. This man, who went by the name of Hydraulic Jack,' had acquired great dexterity in the management of the machine, and being put upon his "mettle" by Mr. Hartley's incredulous observations, he proceeded to show its action by a daring treatment of a hogshead of sugar. He began by running it up with great velocity to the head of the jib, and then letting it as rapidly descend, but by gradually reducing its speed as it neared the ground he stopped it softly before it quite touched the pavement. He next swung it round to the opposite side of the circle, continuing to lift and lower with great rapidity while the jib was in motion, and, in short, he exhibited the machine to such advantage that Mr. Hartley's prejudices were vanquished. Mr. Hartley, who will be remembered as a man whose odd ways were combined with a frank and generous disposition, displayed no feeling of discomfiture, but at once called upon the author, whom he laconically addressed in the following words: "I am Jesse Hartley, of Liverpool, and I have seen your crane. It is the very thing I want, and I shall recommend its adoption at the Albert Dock.' With scarcely another word he bade adieu, and returned to Liverpool. This anecdote marks an epoch in the history of hydraulic cranes, which then passed from the stage of experiment to that of assured adoption.
The triumph of the invention and the fame of the inventor were now established; and in 1847-8 the Elswick Works, intended for the construction of hydraulic machinery, were founded by Mr. Armstrong and his old friend and partner Mr. Alderman Donkin, Mr. Alderman