Part 6 out of 8
the leading points of their character, pick and choose from them,
and set them to the work which they can most satisfactorily
superintend. Edward Tootal, of Manchester, said to me long before,
"Never give your men cause to look over the hedge." He meant that I
should never give them any reason for looking for work elsewhere.
It was a wise saying, and I long remembered it. I always endeavoured
to make my men and foremen as satisfied as possible with their work,
as well as with their remuneration.
I never had any cause to regret that I had struck out an independent
course in managing the Bridgewater Foundry. The works were always
busy. A cheerful sort of contentment and activity pervaded the entire
establishment. Our order-book continued to be filled with the most
satisfactory class of entries. The railway trucks in the yard,
and the canal barges at the wharf, presented a busy scene,--
showing the influx of raw material and the output of finished work.
This happy state of affairs went on in its regular course without any
special incident worthy of being mentioned. The full and steady influx
of prosperity that had been the result of many years of interesting
toil and cheerful exertion, had caused the place to assume the aspect
of a smoothly working self-acting machine.
Being blessed with a sound constitution, I was enabled to perform all
my duties with hearty active good-will. And as I had occasional
journeys to make in connection with our affairs and interests,
these formed a very interesting variety in the ordinary course of my
daily work. The intimate and friendly intercourse which I was so
fortunate as to cultivate with the heads of the principal engineering
firms of my time, kept me well posted up in all that was new and
advanced in the way of improvements in mechanical processes. I had at
the same time many pleasant opportunities of making suggestions as to
further improvements, some of which took root and yielded results of no
small importance. These visits to my friends were always acceptable,
if I might judge from the hearty tone of welcome with which I was
I do not know what may be the case in other classes of businesses or
professions, but as regards engineer mechanists and metal workers
generally, there is an earnest and frank intercommunication of ideas--
an interchange of thoughts and suggestions--which has always been a
source of the highest pleasure to me, and which I have usually found
thoroughly reciprocated. The subjects with which engineers have to
deal are of a wide range, and jealousy in intercommunication is almost
entirely shut out. Many of my friends were special "characters."
For the most part they had made their own way in the world,
like myself. I found among them a great deal of quaint humour.
Their talk was quite unconventional; and yet their remarks were well
worth being treasured up in the memory as things to be thought about
and pondered over. Sometimes they gave the key to the comprehension of
some of the grandest functions in Nature, and an insight into the
operation of those invariable laws which regulate the universe.
For all Nature is, as it were, a grand workshop, ruled over by an ever
present Almighty Master,--of whose perfect designs and works we are
as yet only permitted to obtain hasty and imperfect glimpses.
To return to my own humbler progress. From an early period of my
efforts as a mechanical engineer, I had been impressed with the great
advantages that would result from the employment of small high-pressure
steam-engines of a simple and compact construction. These, I thought,
might suit the limited means and accommodation of small factories and
workshops where motive power was required. The highly satisfactory
results which followed the employment of steam-engines of this class,
such as I supplied shortly after beginning business in Manchester,
led to a constantly increasing demand for them. They were used for
hoisting in and out the weighty bales of goods from the lofty
Manchester warehouses. They worked the "lifts," and also the pumps of
the powerful hydraulic presses used in packing the bales.
These small engines were found of service in a variety of ways.
When placed in the lower parts of the building the waste steam was
utilised in warming the various apartments of the house. The steam was
conveyed in iron pipes, and thus obviated the risk of fire which
attended the use of stoves and open fire-grates. I remember being much
pleased with seeing a neat arrangement of a "hot-closet" heated by the
waste steam conveyed from the bottom of the building. This was used
for holding the dinners and teas of the minor clerks and workpeople.
Another enclosed place, heated by waste steam, was used for drying wet
clothes and jackets during rainy weather. Much attention was paid by
the employers to their workpeople in these respects. The former
exhibited a great deal of kindly thoughtfulness. But men and master
were alike. It was a source of the greatest pleasure to me,
when looking round the warehouses and factories, to see the intelligent
steady energy that pervaded every department, from the highest to the
I never lost sight of the importance of extending the use of my small
steam-engine system. It was the most convenient method of applying
steam power to individual machines. Formerly, the power to drive a
machine was derived from a very complicated arrangement of shafting and
gearing brought from a distant engine. But by my system I conveyed the
power to the machine by means of a steam pipe, which enabled the engine
to which it was attached to be driven either fast or slow, or to be
stopped or started, just as occasion required. It might be run while
all the other machines were at rest; or, in the event of a breakdown of
the main engine of the factory, the small engine might still be kept
going or even assist in the repairs of the large one.
An important feature in this mode of conveying power by means of piping
--in place of gearing and shifting belts and belt pulleys--was the ease
with which the steam could be conveyed into intricate parts of the
building. The pipes which I used were of wrought-iron, similar to
those used in conveying gas. They could be curved to suit any
peculiarity of the situation; and when the pipes were lapped with felt,
or enclosed in wooden troughs filled with sawdust, the loss of heat by
radiation was reduced to a minimum. The loss of power was certainly
much less than in the friction of a long and perhaps tortuous line of
shafting. With steam of 50 lbs. to the inch, a pipe of one-inch bore
will convey sufficient steam to give forth five horse-power at a
distance of two or three hundred feet from the boiler.*
In the case of rambling premises, such as iron shipbuilding yards,
the conveyance of steam by well-protected pipes put underground for the
purpose of driving engines to work punching and plate-shearing machines
(which have to be near at hand when the work is required), has very
great practical advantages.
I adopted the same practice in working the refined and complex machines
used in printing coloured patterns on calico. A great variety of
colours has to be transferred by a combination of rollers--each carrying
its proper colour; these are printed on the calico with the utmost
exactness, and result in the complete pattern. My system of having a
separate engine to give motion to these colour-printing machines was
found to be of great service, and its value was recognised by its
speedy and almost universal adoption. Every connection with the main
shaft, with its gearing and belts and pulleys--by which colour-printing
had before been accomplished--was entirely done away with, because each
machine had its own special engine. The former practice had led to
much waste, and the printing was often confused and badly done.
The power was conveyed from a great central steam-engine; the printing
machines were ranged by the side of a long gallery, and by means of a
"clutch" each machine was started at once into action.
The result of this was a considerable shock to the machine,
and an interference with the relative adjustments of the six or
eight colour rollers, which were often jerked out of their exact
relative adjustment. Then the machines had to be stopped and the
rollers readjusted, and sometimes many yards of calico had been spoiled
before this could be done.
These difficulties were now entirely removed. When all was adjusted,
the attendant of the print-machine had only to open gradually the steam
admission valve of his engine, and allow it to work the machine gently
at its first off-go; and when all was seen to be acting in perfect
concert, to open the valve further and allow the machine to go at full
speed. The same practice was adopted in slowing off the machine,
so as to allow the attendant to scrutinise the pattern and the position
of the work, or in stopping the machine altogether. So satisfactory
were the results of the application of this mode of driving calico
printing machines, that it was adopted for the like processes as
applied to other textile fabrics; and it is now, I believe, universally
applied at home as well as abroad. I may also add that the waste
steam, as it issued from the engine after performing its mechanical
duty there, was utilised in a most effective manner by heating a series
of steam-tight cylinders, over which the printed cloth travelled as it
issued from the printing machine, when it was speedily and effectively
dried. In these various improvements in calico printing I was most
ably seconded by Mr. Joseph Lese, of Manchester, whose practical
acquaintance with all that related to that department of industry
rendered him of the greatest service. There was no "Invention,"
so to speak, in this almost obvious application of the steam-engine to
calico-printing. It required merely the faculty of observation, and
the application of means to ends. The main feature of the system,
it will be observed, was in enabling the superintendent of each machine
to have perfect control over it,--to set it in motion and to regulate
its speed without the slightest jerk or shock to its intricate
mechanism. In this sense the arrangement was of great commercial value.
I had another opportunity of introducing my small engine system into
the Government Arsenal at Woolwich. In 1847 the attention of the Board
of Ordnance was, directed to the inadequacy of the equipment of the
workshops there. The mechanical arrangements, the machine tools,
and other appliances, were found insufficient for the economical
production of the apparatus of modern warfare. The Board did me the
honour to call upon me to advise with them, and also with the heads of
departments at the arsenal. Sir Thomas Hastings, then head of the
Ordnance, requested me to accompany him at the first inspection.
I made a careful survey of all the workshops, and although the
machinery was very interesting as examples of the old and primitive
methods of producing war material, I found that it was better fitted
for a Museum of Technical Antiquity than for practical use in these
days of rapid mechanical progress. Everything was certainly far behind
the arrangements which I had observed in foreign arsenals.
The immediate result of my inspection of the workshops and the
processes conducted within them was, that I recommended the
introduction of machine tools specially adapted to economise labour,
as well as to perfect the rapid production of war material.
In this I was heartily supported by the heads of the various departments.
After several conferences with them, as well as with Sir Thomas Hastings,
it was arranged that a large extension of the workshop space should be
provided. I was so fortunate as to make a happy suggestion on this
head. It was, that by a very small comparative outlay nearly double
the workshop area might be provided--by covering in with light iron
roofs the long wide roadway spaces that divided the parallel ranges of
workshops from each other.
This plan was at once adopted. Messrs. Fox and Henderson,
the well-known railway roofing contractors, were entrusted with the
order; and in a very short time the arsenal was provided with a noble
set of light and airy workshops, giving ample accommodation for present
requirements, as well as surplus space for many years to come.
In order to supply steam power to each of these beautiful workshops,
and for working the various machines placed within them, I reverted to
my favourite system of small separate steam-engines. This was adopted,
and the costly ranges of shafting that would otherwise have been
necessary were entirely dispensed with.
A series of machine tools of the most improved modern construction,
specially adapted for the various classes of work carried on in the
arsenal, together with improved ranges of smiths' forge hearths,
blown by an air blast supplied by fans of the best construction, and a
suitable supply of small hand steam hammers, completed the arrangements;
and quite a new era in the forge work of the arsenal was begun.
I showed the managers and the workmen the docile powers of the steam
hammer, in producing in a few minutes, by the aid of dies, many forms
in wrought-iron that had heretofore occupied hours of the most skilful
smiths, and that, too, in much more perfect truth and exactitude.
Both masters and men were delighted with the result: and as such
precise and often complex forms of wrought-iron work were frequently
required by hundreds at a time for the equipment of naval gun carriages
and other purposes, it was seen that the steam hammer must henceforward
operate as a powerful auxiliary in the productions of the arsenal.
In the introduction of all these improvements I received the frank and
cordial encouragement of the chief officers of the Board of Ordnance
and Admiralty. My suggestions were zealously carried out by
Colonel J. N. Colquhoun, then head of the chief mechanical department
of the Ordnance works at Woolwich. He was one of the most clear-headed
and intelligent men I have ever met with. He had in a special degree
that happy power of inspiring his zeal and energy into all who worked
under his superintendence, whether foremen or workmen. A wonderfully
sympathetic effect is produced when the directing head of the
establishment is possessed of the valuable faculty of cheerful and
well-directed energy. It works like an electric thrill, and soon
pervades the whole department. I may also mention General Dundas,
director of the Royal Gun-Factory, and General Hardinge, head of the
The term "Laboratory" may appear an odd word to use in connection with
machinery and mechanical operations. Yet its original signification
was quite appropriate, inasmuch as it related to the preparation of
explosive substances, such as shells, rockets, fusees, cartridges,
and percussion caps, where chemistry was as much concerned as mechanism
in producing the required results.
This latter department included all processes connected with explosives.
It was superintended by Captain Boxer, an officer of the highest talent
and energy, who brought everything under his control to the highest
pitch of excellence. I must also add a most important person,
my old and much esteemed friend John Anderson, then general director of
the Machinery of the arsenal. He was an admirable mechanic, a man of
clear practical good sense and judgment, and he eventually raised
himself to the highest position in the public service.
The satisfactory performance of the machinery which had been supplied
to the workshops of the royal dock yards and arsenals, led to further
demands for similar machinery for foreign Governments. Foreign visitor
were allowed freely to inspect all that had been done whatever may be
said of the wisdom of this proceeding it is certainly true that no
mechanical improvement can long be kept secret nowadays. Everything is
published and illustrated in our engineering journals. And if the
foreigners had not been allowed to obtain their new machines from
England, they were provided with facilities enough for constructing
them for themselves. At all events, one result of the improved working
of the new machines at the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, was the receipt
of large orders for our firm for the supply of foreign Governments.
For instance, that of Spain employed us liberally, principally tor the
equipment of the royal dockyards of Ferrol and Cartagena.
These orders came to us through Messrs. Zuluatta Brothers,
who conducted their proceedings with us in a prompt and business-like
way for many years. Through the same firm we obtained orders to
furnish machinery for the Spanish royal dockyard at Havana.
In 1849 we received an extensive order from the Russian Government.
This was transmitted to us through the Imperial Consulate in London.
The machinery was required for the equipment of a very extensive rope
factory at the naval arsenal of Nicolaiev, on the Black Sea This order
included all the machinery requisite for the factory, from the heckling
of the hemp to the twisting of the largest ropes and cables required in
the Russian naval service. The design and organisation of this machinery
in its minutest detail caused me to made a special study of the art of
rope-making. It was a comparatively new subject to me; but I found it
full of interest. It was difficulty, and therefore to be overcome.
And in this lies a great deal of the pleasure of contriving and
During the progress of the work I had the advantage of the frequent
presence of an able Russian officer, Captain Putchkraskey,
whose intelligent supervision was a source of much satisfaction.
We had also occasional visits from Admiral Kornileff, a man of the
highest order of intelligence. He was not only able to appreciate our
exertions to execute the order in first-rate style, but to enter into
all the special details and contrivances of the work while in progress.
I had often occasion to meet Russian officers while at the Bridgewater
Foundry. They were usually men of much ability, selected by the
Russian Government to act as their agents abroad, in order to keep them
well posted up in all that had a bearing upon their own interests.
They certainly reflected the highest credit on their Government,
as proving their careful selection of the best men to advance the
interests of Russia.
During the visit of the Grand Duke Constantine to England about that
time, he resided for some days with the Earl of Ellesmere at
Worsley Hall, about a mile and a half from Bridgewater Foundry.
We were favoured with several visits from the Grand Duke, accompanied
by Baron Brunnow, Admiral Hoyden, and several other Russian officials.
They came by Lord Ellesmere's beautiful barge, which drew up alongside
our wharf, where the party landed and entered the works. The Grand Duke
carefully inspected the whole place, and expressed himself as greatly
pleased with the complete mastery which man had obtained over obdurate
materials, through the unfailing agency of mechanical substitutes for
manual dexterity and muscular force.
I was invited to meet this distinguished party at Worsley Hall on more
than one occasion, and was much pleased with the frank and intelligent
conversation of the Grand Duke, in his reference to what he had seen in
his visits to our works. It was always a source of high pleasure to me
to receive visits from Lord Ellesmere, as he was generally accompanied
by men of distinction who were well able to appreciate the importance
of what had been displayed before them. The visits, for instance,
of Rajah Brooke, the Earl of Elgin, the Duke of Argyll, Chevalier Bunsen,
and Count Flahault, stand out bright in my memory.
But to return to my rope-making machinery. It was finished to the
satisfaction of the Russian officers. It was sent off by ship to the
Black Sea in July 1851, and fitted up at Nicolaiev shortly after.
I received a kind and pressing invitation from Admiral Kornileff to
accompany him on the first trip of a magnificent steamer which had been
constructed in England under his supervision. His object was, not only
that I might have a pleasant voyage in his company, but that I might
see my machinery in full action at Nicolaiev, and also that I might
make a personal survey of the arsenal workshops at Sebastopol.
It would, no doubt, have been a delightful trip, but it was not to be.
The unfortunate disruption occurred between our Government and that of
Russia, which culminated in the disastrous Crimean War.
One of the first victims was Admiral Kornileff. He was killed by one
of our first shots while engaged in placing some guns for the defence
of the entrance to the harbour of Sebastopol.
CHAPTER 18. Astronomical pursuits.
Let me turn for a time from the Foundry, the whirr of the self-acting
tools, and the sound of the steam hammers, to my quieter pursuits at home.
There I had much tranquil enjoyment in the company of my dear wife.
I had many hobbies. Drawing was as familiar to me as language.
Indeed, it was often my method of speaking. It has always been the way
in which I have illustrated my thoughts. In the course of my journeys
at home and abroad I made many drawings of places and objects, which
were always full of interest, to me at least; and they never ceased to
bring up a store of happy remembrances.
Now and then I drew upon my fancy, and with pen and ink I conjured up
"The Castle of Udolpho," " A Bit of Old England," "The Fairies are Out,"
and "Everybody for Ever." The last is crowded with thousands of figures
and heads, so that it is almost impossible to condense the drawing into
a small compass. To these I added "The Alchemist," "Old Mortality,"
"Robinson Crusoe," and a bit of English scenery, which I called
"Gathering Sticks." I need not say with how much pleasure I executed
these drawings in my evening hours. They were not "published," but I
drew them with lithographic ink, and had them printed by Mr. Maclure.
I afterwards made presents of the series to some of my most intimate
[Image] The Antiquarian. By James Nasmyth (Facsimile)
In remembrance of the great pleasure which I had derived from the
perusal of Washington Irving's fascinating works, I sent him a copy of
my sketches. His answer was charming and characteristic.
His letter was dated " Sunnyside," Massachusetts, where he lived.
He said (17th January 1859):
DEAR SIR--Accept my most sincere and hearty thanks for the exquisite
fancy sketches which you have had the kindness to send me, and for the
expressions of esteem and regard in the letter which accompanied them.
It is indeed a heartfelt gratification to me to think that I have been
able by any exercise of my pen to awaken such warm and delicate
sympathies, and to call forth such testimonials of pleasure and
approbation from a person of your cultivated taste and intellectual
elevation. With high respect and regard, I remain, nay dear sir,
your truly obliged friend, Washington Irving."
[Image] The Fairies. By James Nasmyth. (Facsimile)
Viscount Duncan, afterwards Earl Camperdown, also acknowledged receipt
of the drawings in a characteristic letter. He said: --"We are quite
delighted with them, especially with 'The Fairies,' which a lady to
whom I showed them very nearly stole, as she declared that it quite
realised her dreams of fairyland. I am only surprised that amidst your
numerous avocations you have found time to execute such detailed works
of art; and I shall have much pleasure in being reminded as I look at
the drawings that the same hand and head that executed them invented
the steam hammer, and many other gigantic pieces of machinery which
will tend to immortalise the Anglo-saxon race."
But my most favourite pursuit, after my daily exertions at the Foundry,
was Astronomy. There were frequently clear nights when the glorious
objects in the Heavens were seen in most attractive beauty and brilliancy.
I cannot find words to express the thoughts which the impressive
grandeur of the Stars, seen in the silence of the night, suggested to
me; especially when I directed my Telescope, even at random,
on any portion of the clear sky, and considered that each Star of the
multitude it revealed to me, was a SUN! the centre of a system!
Myriads of such stars, invisible to the unassisted eye, were rendered
perfectly distinct by the aid of the telescope. The magnificence of
the sight was vastly increased when the telescope was directed to any
portion of the Milky Way. It revealed such countless multitudes of
stars that I had only to sit before the eyepiece, and behold the
endless procession of these glorious objects pass before me.
The motion of the earth assisted in changing this scene of
inexpressible magnificence, which reached its climax when some object
such as the "Cluster in Hercules" came into sight. The component stars
are so crowded together there as to give the cluster the appearance of
a gray spot; but when examined with a telescope of large aperture,
it becomes resolved into such myriads of stars as to defy all attempts
to count them. Nothing can convey to the mind, in so awful and
impressive a manner, the magnificent and infinite extent of Creation,
and the inconceivable power of its Creator!
I had already a slight acquaintance with Astronomy. My father had
implanted in me the first germs. He was a great admirer of that
sublimest of sciences. I had obtained a sufficient amount of technical
knowledge to construct in 1827 a small but very effective reflecting
telescope of six inches diameter. Three years later I initiated
Mr. Maudslay into the art and mystery of making a reflecting telescope.
I then made a speculum of ten inches diameter, and but for the unhappy
circumstance of his death in 1831, it would have been mounted in his
proposed observatory at Norwood. After I had settled down at Fireside,
Patricroft, I desired to possess a telescope of considerable power in
order to enjoy the tranquil pleasure of surveying the heavens in their
impressive grandeur at night.
As I had all the means and appliances for casting specula at the
factory, I soon had the felicity of embodying all my former
self-acquired skill in this fine art by producing a very perfect
casting of a ten-inch diameter speculum. The alloy consisted of
fifteen parts of pure tin and thirty-two parts of pure copper,
with one part of arsenic. It was cast with perfect soundness, and was
ground and polished by a machine which I contrived for the purpose.
The speculum was so brilliant that when my friend William Lassell saw it,
he said "it made his mouth water." It was about this time (1840) that I
had the great happiness of becoming acquainted with Mr. Lassell,*
Mr. Lassell was a man of superb powers. Like many others who have done
so much for astronomy, he started as an amateur. He was first
apprenticed to a merchant at Liverpool. He then began business as a
brewer. Eventually he devoted himself to astronomy and astronomical
mechanics. When in his twenty-first year he began constructing
reflecting telescopes for himself. He proceeded to make a Newtonian of
nine inches aperture, which he erected in an observatory at his
residence near Liverpool, happily named "Starfield."
With this instrument he worked diligently, and detected the sixth star
in the trapezium of Orion. In 1844 he conceived the bold idea of
constructing a reflector of two feet aperture, and twenty feet focal
length, to be mounted equatorially. Sir John Herschel, in mentioning
Mr. Lassell's work, did me the honour of saying "that in Mr Nasmyth he
was fortunate to find a mechanist capable of executing in the highest
perfection all his conceptions, and prepared by his own love of
astronomy and practical acquaintance with astronomical observations,
and with the construction of specula, to give them their full effect."
With this fine instrument Mr. Lassell discovered the satellite of
Neptune. He also discovered the eighth satellite of Saturn, of extreme
minuteness, as well as two additional satellites of Uranus.
But perhaps his best work was done at Malta with a much larger
telescope, four feet in aperture, and thirty-seven feet focus, erected
there in 1861. He remained at Malta for three years, and published a
catalogue of 600 new nebulae, which will be found in the Memoirs of the
Royal Astronomical Society. One of his curious sayings was,
"I have had a great deal to do with opticians,
some of them--like Cooke of York--are really opticians;
but the greater number of them are merely shopticians!"
and profiting by his devotion to astronomical pursuits and his profound
knowledge of the subject. He had acquired much technical skill in the
construction of reflecting telescopes, and the companionship between us
was thus rendered very agreeable. There was an intimate exchange of
opinions on the subject, and my friendship with him continued during
forty successive years. I was perhaps a little ahead of him in certain
respects. I had more practical knowledge of casting, for I had begun
when a boy in my bedroom at Edinburgh. In course of time I contrived
many practical "dodges" (if I may use such a word), and could nimbly
vault over difficulties of a special kind which had hitherto formed a
barrier in the way of amateur speculum makers when fighting their way
to a home-made telescope. I may mention that I know of no mechanical
pursuit in connection with science, that offers such an opportunity for
practising the technical arts, as that of constructing from first to
last a complete Newtonian or Gregorian Reflecting Telescope.
Such an enterprise brings before the amateur a succession of the most
interesting and instructive mechanical arts, and obliges the
experimenter to exercise the faculty of delicate manipulation.
If I were asked what course of practice was the best to instil a true
taste for refined mechanical work, I should say, set to and make for
yourself from first to last a reflecting telescope with a metallic
speculum. Buy nothing but the raw material, and work your way to the
possession of a telescope by means of your own individual labour and
skill. If you do your work with the care, intelligence, and patience
that is necessary, you will find a glorious reward in the enhanced
enjoyment of a night with the heavens--all the result of your own
ingenuity and handiwork. It will prove a source of abundant pleasure
and of infinite enjoyment for the rest of your life.
I well remember the visit I received from my dear friend Warren de la Rue
in the year 1840. I was executing some work for him with respect to a
new process which he had contrived for the production of white lead.
I was then busy with the casting of my thirteen-inch speculum.
He watched my proceedings with earnest interest and most careful
attention. He told me many years after, that it was the sight of my
special process of casting a sound speculum that in a manner caused him
to turn his thoughts to practical astronomy, a subject in which he has
exhibited such noble devotion as well as masterly skill. Soon after
his visit I had the honour of casting for him a thirteen-inch speculum,
which he afterwards ground and polished by a method of his own.
He mounted it in an equatorial instrument of such surpassing excellence
as enabled him, aided by his devotion and pure love of the subject,
to record a series of observations and results which will hand his name
down to posterity as one of the most faithful and patient of
[Image] Fireside, Patricroft. After a drawing by James Nasmyth
But to return to my own little work at Patricroft. I mounted my
ten-inch home-made reflecting telescope, and began my survey of the
heavens. Need I say with what exquisite delight the harmony of their
splendour filled me. I began as a learner, and my learning grew with
experience. There were the prominent stars, the planets, the Milky Way
--with thousands of far-off suns--to be seen. My observations were
at first merely general; by degrees they became particular.
I was not satisfied with enjoying these sights myself;
I made my friends and neighbours sharers in my pleasure;
and some of them enjoyed the wonders of the heavens as much as I did.
In my early use of the telescope I had fitted the speculum into a light
square tube of deal to which the eye-piece was attached, so as to have
all the essential parts of the telescope combined together in the most
simple and portable form. I had often to remove it from place to place
in my small garden at the side of the Bridgewater Canal, in order to
get it clear of the trees and branches which intercepted some object in
the heavens which I wished to see. How eager and enthusiastic I was in
those days! Sometimes I got out of bed in the clear small hours of the
morning, and went down to the garden in my night-shirt. I would take
the telescope in my arms and plant it in some suitable spot, where I
might get a peep at some special planet or star then above the horizon.
It became bruited about that a ghost was seen at Patricroft!
A barge was silently gliding along the canal near midnight,
when the boatman suddenly saw a figure in white.
"It moved among the trees with a coffin in its arms!"
The apparition was so sudden and strange that he immediately concluded
that it was a ghost. The weird sight was reported at the stations
along the canal, and also at Wolverhampton, which was the boatman's
headquarters. He told the people at Patricroft on his return journey
what he had seen, and great was the excitement produced. The place was
haunted: there was no doubt about it! After all, the rumour was
founded on fact, for the ghost was merely myself in my night-shirt,
and the coffin was my telescope, which I was quietly shifting from one
place to another in order to get a clearer sight of the heavens at
My ambition expanded. I now resolved to construct a reflecting
telescope of considerably greater power than that which I possessed.
I made one of twenty inches diameter, and mounted it on a very simple
plan, thus removing many of the inconveniences and even personal risks
that attend the use of such instruments. (For illustration of the plan
of mounting a large telescope, see p. 338) It had been necessary to
mount steps or ladders to get at the eyepiece, especially when the
objects to be observed were at a high elevation above the horizon.
I now prepared to do some special work with this instrument.
In 1842 I began my systematic researches upon the Moon. I carefully
and minutely scrutinised the marvellous details of its surface,
a pursuit which I continued for many years, and still continue with
ardour until this day. My method was as follows: --
I availed myself of every favourable opportunity for carrying on the
investigation. I made careful drawings with black and white chalk on
large sheets of grey-tinted paper, of such selected portions of the
Moon as embodied the most characteristic and instructive features of
her wonderful surface. I was thus enabled to graphically represent the
details with due fidelity as to form, as well as with regard to the
striking effect of the original in its masses of light and shade.
I thus educated my eye for the special object by systematic and careful
observation, and at the same time practised my hand in no less careful
delineation of all that was so distinctly presented to me by the
telescope--at the side of which my sheet of paper was handily fixed.
I became in a manner familiar with the vast variety of those distinct
manifestations of volcanic action, which at some inconceivably remote
period had produced these wonderful features and details of the moon's
surface. So far as could be observed, there was an entire absence of
any agency of change, so that their formation must have remained
absolutely intact since the original cosmical heat of the moon had
passed rapidly into space. The surface, with all its wondrous details,
presents the same aspect as it did probably millions of ages ago.
This consideration vastly enhances the deep interest with which we look
upon the moon and its volcanic details. It is totally without an
atmosphere, or of a vapour envelope, such as the earth possesses,
and which must have contributed to the conservation of the cosmical
heat of the latter orb. The moon is of relatively small mass,
and is consequently inferior in heat-retaining power. It must thus
have parted with its original stock of cosmical heat with such rapidity
as to bring about the final termination of those surface changes which
give it so peculiar an aspect. In the case of the earth the internal
heat still continues in operation, though in a vastly reduced degree of
activity. Again in the case of the moon, the total absence of water as
well as atmosphere has removed from it all those denudative activities
which, in the earth, have acted so powerfully in effecting changes of
its surfaces as well as in the distribution of its materials.
Hence the appearance of the wonderful details of the moon's surface
presents us with objects of inconceivably remote antiquity.
[Image] General structure of Lunar craters.
Another striking characteristic of the moon's surface is the enormous
magnitude of its volcanic crater formations. In comparison with these,
the greatest on the surface of the earth are reduced to insignificance.
Paradoxical as the statement may at first appear, the magnitude of the
remains of the primitive volcanic energy in the moon is simply due to
the smallness of its mass. Being only about one-eightieth part of the
bulk of the earth, the force of gravity on the moon's surface is only
about one-sixth. And as eruptive force is quite independent,
as a force, of the law of gravitation, and as it acted with its full
energy on matter, which in the moon is little heavier than cork,
it was dispersed in divergent flight from the vent of the volcanoes,
free from any atmospheric resistance, and thus secured an enormously
wider dispersion of the ejected scoriae. Hence the building up of
those enormous ring-formed craters which are seen in such vast numbers
on the moon's surface--some of them being no less than a hundred
miles in diameter, with which those of Etna and Vesuvius are the merest
molehills in comparison.
I may mention, in passing, that the frequency of a central cone within
these ring-shaped lunar craters supplies us with one of the most
distinct and unquestionable evidences of the true nature and mode of
the formation of volcanoes.
They are the result of the expiring energy of the volcanic discharge,
which, when near its termination, not having sufficient energy to eject
the matter far from its vent, becomes deposited around it, and thus
builds up the central cone as a sort of monument to commemorate its
expiring efforts. In this way it recalls the exact features of our own
terrestrial craters, though the latter are infinitely smaller in
comparison. When we consider how volcanoes are formed--
by the ejection and exudation of material from beneath the solid crust--
it will be seen how the lunar eminences are formed; that is, by the
forcible projection of fluid molten matter through cracks or vents,
through which it makes its way to the surface.
[Image] Pico, an isolated Lunar Mountain 8000 feet high.
It was in reference to this very interesting subject that I made a
drawing of the great isolated volcanic mountain Pico, about 8000 feet
this illustration exhibits a class of volcanic formations that may be
seen on many portions of the moon's surface. They are what I would
term exudative volcanic mountains, the results of a comparatively
gentle discharge of volcanic matter, which has resulted in heaped up
eminences; a vast group of which were displayed in the illustration,
some of them being upwards of 20,000 feet high.
It exhibits a very different appearance from that of our mountain
ranges, which are for the most part the result of a tangential action.
In the case of the earth, the hard stratified crust had to adapt itself
to the shrunken diameter of the once much hotter globe. This tangential
action is illustrated in our own persons, when age causes the body to
shrink in bulk, while the skin, which does not shrink to the same
extent, has to accommodate itself to the shrunken interior, and so
forms wrinkles--the wrinkles of age. This theory opens up a chapter
in geology and physiology well worthy of consideration. It may alike
be seen in the structure of the surface of the earth, in an old apple,
and in an old hand.*
The shrunken hand on the other side is that of Mr. Nasmyth,
photographed by himself. According to The Psychonomy of the Hand,
by R. Beamish, F.R.S., author of The Life of Sir M. I. Brunel,
it exhibits a thoroughly mechanical hand, as well as the hand of a
delicate manipulator; illustrating that remarkable expression in the
Book of Job, that "in the hand of all the sons of men God places marks,
that all the sons of men may know their own works."--ED.
[Image] Shrunken Apple and Hand.*
These illustrations serve to illustrate one of the most potent of
geological agencies which has given the earth's surface its grandest
characteristics. I mean the elevation of mountain ranges through the
contraction of the globe as a whole. By the action of gravity the
former larger surface crushes down, as it were, the contracting
interior; and the superfluous matter, which belonged to a bigger globe,
arranges itself by tangential displacement, and accommodates itself to
the altered or decreased size of the globe. Hence our mountain ranges,
which though apparently enormous when seen near at hand are merely the
wrinkles on the face of the earth.
While earnestly studying the details of the moon's surface, it was a
source of great additional interest to me to endeavour to realise in
the mind's eye the possible landscape effect of its marvellous
elevations and depressions. Here my artisic faculty came into
operation. I endeavoured to illustrate the landscape. scenery of the
Moon, in like manner as we illustrate the landscape scenery of the
Earth. The telescope revealed to me distinctly the volcanic craters,
the cracks, and the ranges of mountains--by means of the light and
shade on the moon's surface. One of the most prominent conditions of
the awful grandeur of lunar scenery is the brilliant light of the sun,
far transcending that which we experience upon the earth--enhanced by
the contrast with the jet-black background of the lunar heavens,--
the result of the total absence of atmosphere. One portion of the
moon, on which the sun is shining, is brilliantly illuminated,
while all in shade is dark.
While the disc of the sun appears a vast electric light of overpowering
rayless brilliancy, every star and planet in the black vault of the
lunar heavens is shining with steady brightness at all times;
as, whether the Sun be present or absent during the long fourteen days'
length of the lunar day or night, no difference on the absolutely black
aspect of the lunar heavens can appear. That aspect must be eternal
there. No modification*
a small degree of illumination is, however, given to some portions of
the Moon's surface by the Earth-shine, when the earth is in such a
position with regard to the Moon, as to reflect some light on to it,
as the Moon does to the earth.
of the darkness of shadows in the Moon can result from the illuminative
effect, as in our case in the earth, from light reflected into shadows
by the blue sky of our earthly day The intensity of the contrast
between light and shade must thus lend another awful aspect to the
scenery of the Moon, while deprived of all those charming effects which
artists term "aerial perspective," by which relative distances are
rendered cognisable with such tender and exquisite beauty. The absence
of atmosphere on the Moon causes the most distant objects to appear as
close as the nearest; while the comparatively rapid curvature of the
moon, owing to its being a globe only one-fourth the diameter of the
earth, must necessarily limit very considerably the range of view.
[Image] Lunar Mountains and Extinct Volcanic Craters
It is the combination of all these circumstances, which we know with
absolute certainty must exist in the Moon, that gives to the
contemplation of her marvellous surface, as revealed by the aid of
powerful telescopes,--one of the grandest and most deeply interesting
subjects that can occupy our thoughts; especially when we regard the
physical constitution and the peculiar structure of her surface,
as that of our nearest planetary neighbour, and also as our serviceable
attendant by night.
Then there are the Tides, so useful to man, preserving the sanitary
condition of the river mouths and tide-swept shores.
We must be grateful for the Moon's existence on that account alone.
She is the grand scavenger and practical sanitary commissioner of the
earth. Then consider the work she does! She moves hundreds of ships and
barges, filled with valuable cargoes, up our tidal rivers,
to the commercial cities on their banks. She thus performs a vast
amount of daily and nightly mechanical drudgery. She is the most
effective of all Tugs; and now that we understand the convertibility
and conservation of force, we may be able to use her Tide-producing
powers through the agency of electricity for mechanical purposes.
It is even possible that the Tides may yet light our streets and
It is not quite a century since London was in part supplied with water
by the Moon, through employing the tidal action by the waters at
Old London Bridge, where the tide mills worked the water-supplying pumps.
Is the moon inhabited? It seems to me that the entire absence of
atmosphere and water forbids the supposition--at least of any form of
life with which we are acquainted. Add to this adverse condition,
the fact of the moon's day being equal to fourteen of our days;
the sun shining with much more brilliancy of effect in the moon than on
the earth, where atmosphere and moisture act as an important agent in
modifying its scorching rays; whilst no such agency exists in the moon.
The sun shines there without intermission for fourteen days and nights.
During that time the heat must accumulate to almost the melting point
of lead; while, on the other hand, the absence of the sun for an equal
period must be followed by a period of intense cold, such as we have no
experience of, even in the Arctic regions. The highest authorities
state that the cold during the Moon's long night must reach as low as
250 degrees below the freezing point of water. These considerations,
I think, reasonably suggest that the existence of any form of life in
the Moon is in the highest degree improbable.
The first occasion on which I exhibited my series of drawings of the
Moon, together with a map six feet in diameter of its entire visible
surface, was at the meeting of the British Association at Edinburgh in
1850. I always looked forward to these meetings with great pleasure,
and attended them with supreme interest. My dear wife always
accompanied me. It was our scientific holiday. It was also our
holiday of friendship. We met many of our old friends, and made many
new friends. Alas, how many of them have departed! Herschel, Faraday,
Robinson, Taylor, Phillips, Brewster, Rosse, Fairbairn, Lassell,
and a host of minor stars, who, although perhaps wanting in the
brightness or magnitude of those I have named, made good amends by the
warmth of their cheerful rays. We saw the younger lights emerging
above the horizon: the men who still continue to shed their glory over
the meetings of the Association.
How delightful was our visit to Edinburgh in 1850. It was
"mine own romantic town." I remembered its striking features so well.
There was the broad mass of the Old Town, with its endless diversity of
light and shade. There was the grand old fortress, with its towers and
turrets and black portholes. Towards evening the distant glories of
the departing sun threw forward, in dark outline, the wooded hill of
Corstorphine. The rock and Castle assumed a new aspect every time I
looked at them. The long-drawn gardens filling the valley between the
Old Town and the New, and the thickly-wooded scars of the Castle rock,
were a charm of landscape and a charm of art. Arthur's Seat, like a
lion at rest, seemed perfect witchcraft. And from the streets in the
New Town, or from Calton Hill, what singular glances of beauty were
observed in the distance--the gleaming waters of the Firth,
and the blue shadows among the hills of Fife.
I remembered it all, from the days in which I sat, as a child, beside
the lassies watching the "claes" on the Calton Hill and hearing the
chimes of St. Giles's tinkling across the Nor' Loch from the Old Town;
the walks, when a boy, in the picturesque country round Edinburgh,
with my father and his scientific and artistic friends; my days at the
High School, and then my evenings at the School of Arts; my castings of
brass in my bedroom, and the technical training I enjoyed in the
workshop of my old schoolfellow; my roadway locomotive and its success;
and finally, the making of my tools and machines intended for Manchester,
at the foundry of my dear old friend Douglass. It all came back to me
like a dream. And now, after some twenty years, I had returned to
Edinburgh on a visit to the British Association. Many things had been
changed--many relatives and friends had departed--but still Edinburgh
remained to me as fascinating as ever.
The excursions formed our principal source of enjoyment during these
scientific gatherings. The season was then at its happiest.
Nature was in her most enjoyable condition, and the excursionists were
usually in their holiday mood. The meeting of the British Association
at Edinburgh was presided over by Sir David Brewster. The geologists
visited the remarkable displays of volcanic phenomena with which the
neighbourhood of Edinburgh singularly abounds. Indeed, Edinburgh owes
much of its picturesque beauty to volcanoes and earthquake upheavings.
Our excursions culminated in a visit to the Bass Rock. The excursion
had been carefully planned, and was successfully carried out.
The day was beautiful, and the party was of the choicest.
After reaching the little cove of Canty Bay, overlooked by the gigantic
ruins of Tantallon Castle, we were ferried across to the Bass;
through a few miles of that capricious sea, the Firth of Forth, near to
where it joins the German Ocean. We were piloted by that fine old
British tar, Admiral Malcolm, while the commissariat was superintended
by General Pasley.
We were safely landed on that magnificent sea-girt volcanic rock--
the Bass. After inspecting the ruins of what was once a castellated
State prison, where the Covenanters were immured for conscience' sake,
we wandered up the hill towards the summit. There we were treated
to a short lecture by Professor Owen on the Solan Goose,
which was illustrated by the clouds of geese flying over us.
They freely exhibited their habits on land as well as in mid-air,
and skimmed the dizzy crags with graceful and apparently effortless
motions. The vast variety of seafowl screamed their utmost,
and gave a wonderfully illustrative chorus to the lecture.
It was a most impressive scene. We were high above the deep blue sea of
the German Ocean, the waves of which leapt up as if they would sweep us
away into the depths below.
Another of our delightful excursions was made under the guidance of my
old and dear friend Robert Chambers.*
I cannot pass over the mention of Robert Chambers's name without adding
that I was on terms of the most friendly intimacy with him from a very
early period of his life to its termination in 1871.
I remember when he made his first venture in business in Leith Walk.
By virtue of his industry, ability, and energy, he became a prosperous
man. I had the happiness of enjoying his delightful and instructive
society on many occasions. We had rare cracks on all subjects, but
especially respecting old places and old characters whom we had known
at Edinburgh. His natural aptitude to catch up the salient and most
humorous points of character, with the quaint manner in which he could
describe them, gave a vast charm to his company and conversation.
Added to which, the wide range and accuracy of his information,
acquired by his own industry and quick-witted penetration, caused the
hours spent in his society to remain among the brightest points in my
The object of this excursion was to visit the remarkable series of
grooved and scratched rocks which had been discovered*
They had been first seen, some twenty years before, by Sir James Hall,
one of the geologic lights of Edinburgh.
on the western edge of the cliff-like boundary of Corstorphine Hill.
The glacial origin of these groovings on the rocks was then occupying
the attention of geologists. It was a subject that Robert Chambers had
carefully studied, in the Lowlands, in the Highlands, in Rhine-land,
in Switzerland, and in Norway. He had also published his Ancient Sea
Margins and his Tracings of the North of Europe in illustration of his
views. He was now enabled to show us these groovings and scratchings
on the rocks near Edinburgh. In order to render the records more
accessible, he had the heather and mossy turf carefully removed--
especially from some of the most distinct evidences of glacial
rock-grooving. Thus no time was lost, and we immediately saw the
unquestionable markings. Such visits as these are a thousand times
more instructive and interesting than long papers read at scientific
meetings. They afford the best opportunity for interchange of ideas,
and directly produce an emphatic result; for one cannot cavil about
what he has seen with his eyes and felt with his hands.
We returned to the city in time to be present at a most interesting
lecture by Hugh Miller on the Boulder Clay.
He illustrated it by some scratched boulders which he had collected
in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh. He brought the subject before his
audience in his own clear and admirable viva voce style.
The Duke of Argyll was in the chair, and a very animated discussion
took place on this novel and difficult subject.
It was humorously brought to a conclusion by the Rev. Dr. Fleming,
a shrewd and learned geologist. Like many others, he had encountered
great difficulties in arriving at definite conclusions on this
mysterious subject. He concluded his remarks upon it by describing the
influence it had in preventing his sleeping at night.
He was so restless on one occasion that his wife became seriously alarmed.
"What's the matter wi' ye, John? are ye ill?" "On no," replied the doctor,
"it's only that confounded Bounder Clay!" This domestic anecdote
brought down the house, and the meeting terminated in a loud and hearty
I, too, contributed my little quota of information to the members of
the British Association. I had brought with me from Lancashire a
considerable number of my large graphic illustrations of the details of
the Moon's surface. I gave a viva voce account of my lunar researches
at a crowded meeting of the Physical Section A. The novel and
interesting subject appeared to give so much satisfaction to the
audience that the Council of the Association requested me to repeat the
account at one of the special evenings, when the members of all the
various sections were generally present. It was quite a new thing for
me to appear as a public lecturer; but I consented. The large hall of
the Assembly Rooms in George Street was crowded with an attentive
audience. The Duke of Argyll was in the chair. It is a difficult
thing to give a public lecture especially to a scientific audience.
To see a large number of faces turned up, waiting for the words of the
lecturer, is a somewhat appalling sight. But the novelty of the
subject and the graphic illustrations helped me very much. I was quite
full of the Moon. The words came almost unsought; and I believe the
lecture went off very well, and terminated with "great applause."
And thus the meeting of the British Association at Edinburgh came to an
This, however, was not the end of our visit to Scotland.
I was strongly urged by the Duke of Argyll to pay him a visit at his
castle at Inverary. I had frequently before had the happiness of
meeting the Duke and Duchess at the Earl of Ellesmere's mansion at
Worsley Hall He had made us promise that if we ever came to Scotland we
were not to fail to pay him a visit. It was accordingly arranged at
Edinburgh that we should carry out our promise, and spend some days
with him at Inverary before our return home. We were most cordially
welcomed at the castle, and enjoyed our visit exceedingly. We had the
pleasure of seeing the splendid scenery of the Western Highlands the
mountains round the head of Loch Fyne, Loch Awe, and the magnificent
hoary-headed Ben Cruachan, requiring a base of more than twenty miles
to support him,--besides the beautiful and majestic scenery of the
But my chief interest was in the specimens of high geological interest
which the Duke showed me. He had discovered them in the Island of Mull,
in a bed of clay shale, under a volcanic basaltic cliff over eighty feet
high, facing the Atlantic Ocean. He found in this bed many beautifully
perfect impressions of forest tree leaves, chiefly of the plane-tree
class. They appeared to have been enveloped in the muddy bottom of a
lake, which had been sealed up by the belching forth from the bowels of
the earth of molten volcanic basaltic lava, and which indeed formed the
chief material of the Island of Mull. This basaltic cliff now fronts
the Atlantic, and resists its waves like a rock of iron. To see all
the delicate veins and stalklets, and exact forms of what had once been
the green fresh foliage of a remotely primeval forest, thus brought to
light again, as preserved in their clay envelope, after they had lain
for ages and ages under what must have been the molten outburst of some
tremendous volcanic discharge, and which now formed the rock-bound
coast of Mull, filled one's mind with an idea of the inconceivable
length of time that must have passed since the production of these
Wonderful geological phenomena.
I felt all the more special interest in these specimens, as I had many
years before, on my return visit from Londonderry, availed myself of
the nearness of the Giant's Causeway to make a careful examination of
the marvellous volcanic columns in that neighbourhood. Having scrambled
up to a great height, I found a thick band of hematitic clay underneath
the upper bed of basalt, which was about sixty feet thick. In this
clay I detected a rich deposit of completely charred branches of what
had once been a forest tree. The bed had been burst through by the
outburst of molten basalt, and converted the branches into charcoal.
I dug out some of the specimens, and afterwards distributed them
amongst my geological friends. The Duke was interested by my account,
which so clearly confirmed his own discovery. On a subsequent occasion
I revisited the Giant's Causeway in company with my dear wife.
I again scrambled up to the hematitic bed of clay under the basaltic cliff,
and dug out a sufficient quantity of the charred branches, which I sent
to the Duke, in confirmation of his theory as to the origin of the
leaf-beds at Mull.*
I received the following reply from the Duke of Argyll dated "Inverary,
Nov. 19, 1850": --
"MY DEAR SIR--Am I right in concluding, from the description which;
you were so kind as to send to me, that the lignite bed, with its
superincumbent basalts, lies above those particular columnar basalts
which form the far-famed Giant's Causeway? I see from your sketch that
basalts of great thickness, and in some views beautifully columnar,
do underlie the lignite bed; but I am not quite sure that these
columnar basalts are those precisely which are called the Causeway.
I had never heard before that the Giant's Causeway rested on chalk,
which all the basalts in your sketch do.
[Image] The Astrologers Tower--A Day Dream. By James Nasmyth.
"I have been showing your drawing of 'Udolpho Castle' and
'The Astrologer's Tower' to the Duchess of Sutherland, who is enchanted
with the beauty of the architectural details, and wishes she had seen
them before Dunrobin was finished; for hints might have been taken
from bits of your work. --Very truly yours,
In the year following the meeting of the British Association at
Edinburgh, the great Exhibition of all nations at London took place.
The Commissioners appointed for carrying out this noble enterprise had
made special visits to Manchester and the surrounding manufacturing
districts for the purpose of organising local committees, so that the
machinery and productions of each might be adequately represented in
the World's Great Industrial Exhibition. The Commissioners were met
with enthusiasm; and nearly every manufacturer was found ready to
display the results of his industry. The local engineers and tool-makers
were put upon their mettle, and each endeavoured to do his best. Like
others, our firm contributed specimens of our special machine tools,
and a fair average specimen of the steam hammer, with a 30 cwt.
I also sent one of my very simple and compact steam-engines, in the
design of which I had embodied the form of my steam hammer--placing the
crank where the anvil of the hammer usually stands. The simplicity and
grace of this arrangement of the steam-engine were much admired.
Its merits were acknowledged in a way most gratifying to me,
by its rapid adoption by engineers of every class, especially by marine
engineers. It has been adopted for driving the shafts of
screw-propelled steamships of the largest kind. The comparatively
small space it occupies, its compactness, its get-at-ability of parts,
and the action of gravity on the piston, which, working vertically,
and having no undue action in causing wearing of the cylinder on one
side (which was the case with horizontal engines), has now brought my
Steam Hammer Engine into almost universal use*
Sir John Anderson, in his Report on the machine tools, textile, and
other machinery exhibited at Vienna in 1873, makes the following
observations: --"Perhaps the finest pair of marine engines yet produced
by France, or any other country, were those exhibited by Schneider and
Company, the leading firm in France. These engines were not large,
but were perfect in many respects; yet comparatively few of those who
were struck with admiration seemed to know that the original of this
style of construction came from the same mind as the Steam Hammer.
Nasmyth's Infant Hercules was the forerunner of all the steam hammer
engines that have yet been made from that type, which is now being so
extensively employed for working the screw propeller of steam vessels."
The Commissioners, acting on the special recommendation of the jury,
awarded me a medal for the construction of this form of steam-engine*
The Council of the Exhibition thus describe the engine in the awards: --
"Nasmyth, J., Patricroft, Manchester, a small portable direct-acting
steam-engine. The cylinder is fixed, vertical and inverted, the crank
being placed beneath it, and the piston working downwards.
The sides of the frame which support the cylinder serve as guides,
and the bearings of the crank-shaft and fly-wheel are firmly fixed in
the bed-plate of the engine. The arrangement is compact and economical,
and the workmanship practically good and durable."
(See illustration of the design, page 424.)
as it was merely a judicious arrangement of the parts, and not, in any
correct sense of the term, an invention, I took out no patent for it,
and left it free to work its own way into general adoption.
It has since been used for high as well as low-pressure steam--
an arrangement which has come into much favour on account of the great
economy of fuel which results from using it.
A Council Medal was also awarded to me for the Steam Hammer.
But perhaps what pleased me most was the Prize Medal which I received
for my special hobby--the drawings of the Moon's surface. I sent a
collection of these, with a map, to the Exhibition. They attracted
considerable attention, not only because of their novelty, but because
of the accurate and artistic style of their execution. The Jurors, in
making the award, gave the following description of them: "Mr. Nasmyth
exhibits a well-delineated map of the Moon on a large scale, which is
drawn with great accuracy, the irregularities upon the surface being
shown with much force and spirit; also separate and enlarged
representations of certain portions of the Moon as seen through a
powerful telescope: they are all good in detail, and very effective."
My drawings of the Moon attracted the special notice of the Prince
Consort. Shortly after the closing of the Exhibition, in October 1851,
the Queen and the Prince made a visit to Manchester and Liverpool,
during which time they were the guests of the Earl of Ellesmere at
Worsley Hall. Finding that I lived near at hand, the Prince expressed
his desire to the Earl that I should exhibit to Her Majesty some of my
graphic lunar studies.
On receiving a note to that effect from the Countess of Ellesmere,
I sent a selection of my drawings to the Hall, and proceeded there in
the evening. I had then the honour of showing them to the Queen and
the Prince, and explaining them in detail. Her Majesty took a deep
interest in the subject, and was most earnest in her inquiries.
The Prince Consort' said that the drawings opened up quite a new
subject to him, which he had not before had the opportunity of
considering. It was as much as I could do to answer the numerous keen
and incisive questions which he put to me. They were all so distinct
and cogent. Their object was, of course, to draw from me the necessary
explanations on this rather recondite subject. I believe, however,
that notwithstanding the presence of Royalty, I was enabled to place
all the most striking and important features of the Moon's surface in a
clear and satisfactory manner before Her Majesty and the Prince,
I find that the Queen in her Diary alludes in the most gratifying
manner to the evening's interview. In the Life of the Prince Consort
(vol. ii. p. 398), Sir Theodore Martin thus mentions the subject: --
"The evening was enlivened by the presence of Mr. Nasmyth, the inventor
of the steam hammer, who had extensive works at Patricroft.
He exhibited and explained the map and drawings in which he had
embodied the results of his investigations of the conformations of the
surface of the Moon. The Queen in her Diary dwells at considerable
length on the results of Mr. Nasmyth's inquiries. The charm of his
manner, in which the simplicity, modesty, and enthusiasm of genius are
all strikingly combined, are warmly dwelt upon. Mr. Nasmyth belongs to
a family of painters, and would have won fame for himself as an artist
--for his landscapes are as true to Nature as his compositions are
full of fancy and feeling--had not science and mechanical invention
claimed him for their own. His drawings were submitted on this
occasion. and their beauty was generally admired.*
In his lecture on the "Geological Features of Edinburgh and its
Neighbourhood," in the following year, Hugh Miller, speaking of the
Castle Rock, observed: --"The underlying strata, though geologically
and in their original position several hundred feet higher than those
which underlie the Castle esplanade, are now, with respect to the
actual level, nearly 200 feet lower. In a lecture on what may be
termed the geology of the Moon, delivered in the October of last year
before Her Majesty and Prince Albert by Mr. Nasmyth, he referred to
certain appearances on the surface of that satellite that seemed to be
the results, in some very ancient time, of the sudden falling in of
portions of an unsupported crust, or a retreating nucleus of molten
matter; and took occasion to suggest that some of the great slips and
shifts on the surface of our own planet, with their huge downcasts, may
have had a similar origin. The suggestion is at once bold and ingenious."
The next time I visited Edinburgh was in the autumn of 1853.
Lord Cockburn, an old friend, having heard that I was sojourning in the
city, sent me the following letter, dated "Bonally, 3rd September,"
inviting me to call a meeting of the Faithful:
"MY DEAR Sir--Instead of being sketching, as I thought, in Switzerland,
I was told yesterday that you were in Auld Reekie. Then why not come
out here next Thursday, or Friday, or Saturday, and let us have a
Hill Day? I suppose I need not write to summon the Faithful, because
not having been in Edinburgh except once for above a month, I don't
know where the Faithful are. But you must know their haunts, and it
can't give you much trouble to speak to them. I should like to see
Lauder here. And don't forget the Gaberlunzie.--Ever,
James Ballantine, author of The Gaberlunzie's Wallet. In August 1865
Mr. Ballantine wrote to me saying: "If ever you are in Auld Reekie I
should feel proud of a call from you. I have not forgotten the
delightful day we spent together many years ago at Bonny Bonally with
the eagle-eyed Henry Cockburn!"
The meeting came off. I collected a number of special friends about
me, and I took my wife to the meeting of the Faithful. There were
present David Roberts, Clarkson Stanfield, Louis and Carl Haag,
Sir George Harvey, James Ballantine, and D. O. Hill--all artists.
We made our way to Bonny Bonally, a charming residence, situated at the
foot of the Pentland Hills.*
The house was afterwards occupied by the lamented Professor Hodgson,
the well-known Political Economist.
The day was perfect--in all respects "equal to bespoke." With that most
genial of men, Lord Cockburn, for our guide, we wandered far up the
Pentland Hills. After a rather toilsome walk we reached a favourite
spot. It was a semicircular hollow in the hillside, scooped out by the
sheep for shelter. It was carpeted and cushioned with a deep bed of
wild thyme, redolent of the very essence of rural fragrance.
We sat down in a semicircle, our guide in the middle. He said in his
quaint peculiar way, "Here endeth the first lesson." After gathering
our breath, and settling ourselves to enjoy our well-earned rest,
we sat in silence for a time. The gentle breeze blew past us, and we
inhaled the fragrant air. It was enough for a time to look on, for the
glorious old city was before us, with its towers, and spires, and lofty
buildings between us and the distance. On one side Arthur's Seat, and
on the other the Castle, the crown of the city. The view extended far
and wide--on to the waters of the Forth and the blue hills of Fife.
The view is splendidly described by "Delta": --
"Traced like a map, the landscape lies
In cultured beauty, stretching wide:
Here Pentland's green acclivities,--
There ocean, with its swelling tide,--
There Arthur's Seat and gleaming through
Thy Southern wing, Dull Edin blue!
While, in the Orient, Lammer's daughters,--
A distant giant range, are seen;
North Berwick Law, with cone of green,
And Bass amid the waters."
Then we began to crack, our host leading the way with his humorous
observations. After taking our fill of rest and talk, we wended our
way down again, with the "wimplin' burn" by our side, fresh from the
pure springs of the hill, whispering its welcome to us.
We had earned a good appetite for dinner, which was shortly laid before us.
The bill of fare was national, and included a haggis:
"Fair fa' your honest sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin' race!
Weel are ye wordy o'a grace
As lang's my arm!"
The haggis was admirably compounded and cooked, and was served forth by
our genial host with all appropriate accompaniments. But the most
enjoyable was the conversation of Lord Cockburn, who was a master of
the art--quick ready, humorous, and full of wit. At last, the day
came to a close, and we wended our way towards the city.
Let me, however, before concluding, say a few words in reference to my
dear departed friend David Oswald Hill. His name calls up many
recollections of happy hours spent in his company. He was, in all
respects, the incarnation of geniality. His lively sense of humour,
combined with a romantic and poetic constitution of mind, and his fine
sense of the beautiful in Nature and art, together with his kindly and
genial feeling, made him, all in all, a most agreeable friend and
companion. "D. O. Hill," as he was generally called, was much attached
to my father. He was a very frequent visitor at our Edinburgh
fireside, and was ever ready to join in our extemporised walks and
jaunts, when he would overflow with his kindly sympathy and humour.
He was a skilful draughtsman, and possessed a truly poetic feeling for
art. His designs for pictures were always attractive, from the fine
feeling exhibited in their composition and arrangement. But somehow,
when he came to handle the brush, the result was not always
satisfactory--a defect not uncommon with artists. Altogether,
he was a delightful companion and a staunch friend, and his death made
a sad blank in the artistic society of Edinburgh.
CHAPTER 19. More about Astronomy.
Astronomy, instead of merely being an amusement, became my chief study.
It occupied many of my leisure hours. Desirous of having the advantage
of a Reflecting Telescope of large aperture, I constructed one of
twenty-inches diameter. In order to avoid the personal risk and
inconvenience of having to mount to the eye-piece by a ladder,
I furnished the telescope tube with trunnions, like a cannon, with one
of the trunnions hollow so as to admit of the eye-piece. Opposite to
it a plain diagonal mirror was placed, to transmit the image to the
eye. The whole was mounted on a turn-table, having a seat opposite to
the eye-piece, as will be seen in the engraving on the other side.
[Image] "Trunnion Vision" Reflecting telescope of 20-inch diameter
mounted on a turn-table.
The observer, when seated, could direct the telescope to any part of
the heavens without moving from his seat. Although this arrangement
occasioned some loss of light, that objection was more than compensated
by the great convenience which it afforded for the prosecution of the
special class of observations in which I was engaged namely, that of
the Sun, Moon, and Planets.
I wrote to my old friend Sir David Brewster, then living at St. Andrews,
in 1849, about this improvement and he duly congratulated me upon my
devotion to astronomical science. In his letter to me he brought to
mind many precious memories.
"I recollect," he said, "with much pleasure the many happy hours that I
spent in your father's house; and ever since I first saw you in your
little workshop at Edinburgh,--then laying the foundation of your
future fortunes,--I have felt a deep interest in your success, and
rejoiced at your progress to wealth and reputation.
"I have perused with much pleasure the account you have sent me of your
plan of shortening and moving large telescopes, and I shall state to
you the opinion which I have formed of it. If you will look into the
article 'Optics' in the Edinburgh Encyclopedia (vol. xv. p. 643),
you will find an account of what has been previously done to reduce by
one-half the length of reflecting telescopes. The advantage of
substituting, as you propose, a convex for a plane mirror arises from
two causes that a spherical surface is more easily executed than a
plane one; and that the spherical aberration of the larger speculum,
if it be spherical, will be diminished by the opposite aberration of
the convex one. This advantage, however, will disappear if the plane
mirror of the old construction is accurately plane; and in your case,
if the large speculum is parabolic and the small one elliptical in
"The only objection to your construction is the loss of light;
first of one-fourth of the whole incident light by obstruction, and
then one-half of the remainder by reflection from the convex mirror,
thus reducing 100 rays of incident light to 37 1/2 before the pencil is
thrown out of the tube by a prism or a third reflector. This loss of
light, it is true, may be compensated by an additional inch or two to
the margin of the large speculum; but still it is the best part of the
large speculum that is made unproductive by the eclipse of it by the
convex speculum. "With regard to the mechanical contrivance which you
propose for working the instrument, I think it is singularly ingenious
and beautiful, and will compensate for any imperfection in the optical
arrangements which are rendered necessary for its adoption.
The application of the railway turn-table is very happy, and not less
so is the extraction of the image through the hollow trunnions.
"I am much obliged to you for the beautiful drawing of the apparatus
for grinding and polishing specula, invented by Mr. Lassell and
constructed by yourself. I shall be glad to hear of your further
progress in the construction of your telescope; and I trust that I
shall have the pleasure of meeting you and Mr. Lassell at the
Birmingham meeting of the British Association.
In the course of the same year (1849) I sent a model of my Trunnion
turn-table telescope for exhibition at a lecture at the Royal
Institution, given by my old friend Edward Cowper. In the model I had
placed a neat little figure of the observer, but the head had
unfortunately been broken off during its carriage to London.
Mrs. Nasmyth had made the wearing apparel; but Edward Cowper wrote to
her, before the lecture, that he had put "Sir Fireside Brick" all to
rights in respect of his garb. His letter after the lecture was quite
"The lecture," he said, "went off very well last night.
All the models performed their duty, and were duly applauded for doing so.
My new equatorial was approved of by astronomers and by instrument-makers.
The last gun I fired was a howitzer, but mounted swivel-gun fashion;
on a sort of revolving platform, or something like a turn-table proper
--the gunner at the side of the carriage. Do you know anything of the
kind? Bang! Invented by one Nasmyth. Bang! The observer is sitting at
ease; the stars are brought down to you instead of your creeping up a
scaffolding after the stars. Well, the folks came to the table after
the lecture, and 'The Nasmyth Telescope' kept banging away for a
quarter of an hour, and was admired by everybody. The loss of light
was not much insisted on, but it was said that you ran the risk of
error of form in three surfaces instead of two. I see that Sir J. South
states that Lord Rosse would increase the light of his telescope from
five to seven by adopting Herschel's plan.
"De La Rue was quite delighted. He said, 'Well, I congratulate you on
a most splendid lecture--I cannot call it anything else.' My father,
who takes very little interest in these things, said, 'Well, Edward has
made me understand more about telescopes than I ever did in my life.'
The theatre was full, gallery and all. They were very attentive,
and I never felt more comfortable in a lecture. I am happy to say that,
having administered a dose of cement to Mrs. Nasmyth's friend,
Sir Fireside Brick of Green Lanes, he is now in a convalescent state.
The lecture is to be repeated in another fortnight. With many thanks
for your kind assistance, yours very sincerely,
In the course of my astronomical inquiries I had occasion to consider
the causes of the sun's light. I observed the remarkable phenomena of
the variable and some times transitory brightness of the stars. In
connection with geology, there was the evidence of an arctic or glacial
climate in regions where such cannot now naturally exist; thus giving
evidence of the existence of a condition of climate, for the
explanation of which we look in vain for any at present known cause.
I wrote a paper on the subject, which I sent to the Astronomical
Society. It was read in May 1851. In that paper I wrote as follows:
"A course of observations on the solar spots, and on the remarkable
features which from time to time appear on the sun's surface, which I
have examined with considerable assiduity for several years, had in the
first place led me to entertain the following conclusion: namely, that
whatever be the nature of solar light, its main source appears to
result from an action induced on the exterior surface of solar
sphere,-- a conclusion in which I doubt not all who have attentively
pursued observations on the structure of the sun's surface will agree.
"Impressed with the correctness of this conclusion, I was led to
consider whether we might not reasonably consider the true source of
the latent element of light to reside, not in the solar orb, but in
space itself; and that the grand function and duty of the sun was to
act as an agent for bringing forth into vivid existence its due portion
of the illuminating or luciferous element, which element I suppose to
be diffused throughout the boundless regions of space, and which in
that case must be exhaustless.
Assuming, therefore, that the sun's light is the result of some
peculiar action by which it brings forth into visible existence the
element of light, which I conceive to be latent in, and diffused
throughout space, we have but to imagine the existence of a very
probable condition, namely, the unequal diffusion of this
light-yielding element, to catch a glimpse of a reason why our sun may,
in common with his solar brotherhood, in some portions of his vast
stellar orbit, have passed, and may yet have to pass, through regions
of space, in which the light-yielding element may either abound or be
deficient, and so cause him to beam forth with increased splendour,
or fade in brilliancy, just in proportion to the richness or poverty of
this supposed light-yielding element as may occur in those regions of
space through which our sun, in common with every stellar orb,
has passed, is now passing, or is destined to pass, in following up
their mighty orbits.
"Once admit that this light-yielding element resides in space, and that
it is not equally diffused, we may then catch a glimpse of the cause of
the variable and transitory brightness of stars,and more especially of
those which have been known to beam forth with such extraordinary
splendour, and have again so mysteriously faded away; many instances of
which abound in historical record.
"Finally, in reference to such a state of change having come over our
sun, as indicated by the existence of a glacial period, as is now
placed beyond doubt by geological research, it appears to me no very
wild stretch of analogy to suppose that in such former periods of the
earth's history our sun may have passed through portions of his stellar
orbit in which the light-yielding element was deficient, and in which
case his brilliancy would have suffered the while, and an arctic
climate in consequence spread from the poles towards the equator,
and thus leave the record of such a condition in glacial handwriting on
the everlasting walls of our mountain ravines, of which there is such
abundant and unquestionable evidence. As before said, it is the
existence of such facts as we have in stars of transitory brightness,
and the above named evidence of an arctic climate existing in what are
now genial climates, that renders some adequate cause to be looked for.
I have accordingly hazarded the preceding remarks as suggestive of a
cause, in the hope that the subject may receive that attention which
its deep interest entitles it to obtain.
"This view of the source of light, as respects the existence of the
luciferous element throughout space, accords with the Mosaic account of
creation, in so far as that light is described as having been created
in the first instance before the sun was called forth."
Dr Siemens read a paper before the Royal Society in March 1882,
on "A New Theory of the Sun". His views in many respects coincided
Interstellar space, according to Dr. Siemens, is filled with
attenuated matter, consisting of highly rarefied gaseous bodies--
including hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, and aqueous vapour;
that these gaseous compounds are capable of being dissociated by
radiant solar energy while in a state of extreme attenuation; and that
the vapours so dissociated are drawn towards the sun in consequence of
solar rotation, are flashed into flame in the photosphere, and rendered
back into space in the condition of products of combustion.
With respect to the influence of the sun's light on geology, Dr. Siemens
says: "The effect of this continuous outpour of solar materials could
not be without very important influences as regards the geological
conditions of our earth. Geologists have long acknowledged the
difficulty of accounting for the amount of carbonic acid that must have
been in our atmosphere at one time or another in order to form with
lime those enormous beds of dolomite and limestone of which the crust
of our earth is in great measure composed. It has been calculated that
if this carbonic acid had been at one and the same time in our
atmosphere it would have caused an elastic pressure fifty times that of
our present atmosphere; and if we add the carbonic acid that must have
been absorbed in vegetation in order to form our coal-beds we should
probably have to double that pressure. Animal life, of which we had
abundant traces in these 'measures,' could not have existed under such
conditions, we are almost forced to the conclusion that the carbonic
acid must have been derived from an external source."
Soon after my paper was read, Lord Murray of Henderland, an old friend,
then a Judge on the Scottish Bench, wrote to me as follows: --"I shall
be much obliged to you for a copy, if you have a spare one, of your
printed note on Light. It is expressed with great clearness and
brevity. If you wish to have a quotation for it, you may have recourse
to the blind Milton, who has expressed your views in his address to
"'Hail, holy Light! offspring of heaven first-born
Or of the Eternal co-eternal beam
May I express thee unblamed? since God is light,
And never but in unapproached light
Dwelt from eternity--dwelt then in thee,
Bright effluence of bright essence increate!"'
About the same time Sir Thomas Mitchell, Surveyor General of Australia,
communicated his notions on the subject. "My dear Sir," he wrote,
"Your kind and valuable communications are as welcome to me as the
sun's light, and I now thank you most gratefully for the last, with its
two enclosures. These, and especially your views as to the source of
light, afford me new scope for satisfactory thinking--a sort of
treasure one can always carry about, and, unlike other treasures,
is most valuable in the solitude of a desert. The beauty of your
theory as to the nature of the source of light is, that it rather
supports all preconceived notions respecting the soul, heaven, and an
I still continued the study of astronomy. The sun, moon, and planets
yielded to me an inexhaustible source of delight. I gazed at them with
increasing wonder and awe. Among the glorious objects which the
telescope reveals, the most impressive is that of the starry heavens in
a clear dark night. When I directed my 20-inch reflecting telescope
almost at random to any part of the firmament, especially to any
portion of the Milky Way, the sight of myriads of stars brought into
view within the field of the eye-piece was overpoweringly sublime.
When it is considered that every one of these stars which so
bewilderingly crowd the field of vision is, according to rational
probability, and, I might even say, absolute certainty, are Suns as
vast in magnitude as that which gives light to our globe, and yet
situated so inconceivably deep in the abyss of space as to appear
minute points of light even to the most powerful telescope, it will be
felt what a sublime subject appears before us. Turn the telescope to
any part of the heavens, it is the same.
Let us suppose ourselves perched upon the farthest star which we are
enabled to see by the aid of the most powerful telescope. There, too,
we should see countless myriads of Suns, rolling along in their
appointed orbits, and thus on and on throughout eternity. What an idea
of the limitless extent of Creative Power--filling up infinite space
with the evidences of His Almighty Presence! The human mind feels its
utter impotency in endeavouring to grasp such a subject.
I also turned my attention to the microscope. In 1851 I examined, by
the aid of this instrument, the infusoria in the Bridgewater Canal.
I found twenty-seven of them, of the most varied form, colour,
and movements. This was almost as remarkable a revelation as the
mighty phenomena of the heavens. I found these living things moving
about in the minutest drop of water. The sight of the wonderful range
of creative power--from the myriads of suns revealed by the
telescope, to the myriads of moving organisms revealed by the
microscope--filled me with unutterably devout wonder and awe.
Moreover, it seemed to me to confer a glory even upon the instruments
of human skill, which elevated man to the Unseen and the Divine.
When we examine the most minute organisms, we find clear evidence in
their voluntary powers of motion that these creatures possess a will,
and that such Will must be conveyed by a nervous system of an
infinitesimally minute description. When we follow out such a train of
thought, and contrast the myriads of suns and planets at one extreme,
with the myriads of minute organised atoms at the other, we cannot but
feel inexpressible wonder at the transcendent range of Creative Power.
Shortly after, I sent to the Royal Astronomical Society a paper on
another equally wonderful subject, "The Rotatory Movements of the
Celestial Bodies. As the paper is not very long, and as I endeavoured
to illustrate my ideas in a familiar manner, I may here give it entire:
"What first set me thinking on this subject was the endeavour to get at
the reason of why water in a basin acquires a rotatory motion when a
portion of it is allowed to escape through a hole in the bottom.
Every well-trained philosophical judgment is accustomed to observe
illustrations of the most sublime phenomena of creation in the most
minute and familiar operations of the Creator's laws, one of the most
characteristic features of which consists in the absolute and wonderful
integrity maintained in their action whatsoever be the range as to
magnitude or distance of the objects on which they operate.
"For instance, the minute particles of dew which whiten the grass-blade
in early morn are moulded into spheres by the identical law which gives
to the mighty sun its globular form!
"Let us pass from the rotation of water in a basin to the consideration
of the particles of a nebulous mass just summoned into existence by the
fiat of the Creator--the law of gravitation coexisting. "The first
moment of the existence of such a nebulous mass would be inaugurated by
the election of a centre of gravity, and, instantly after, every
particle throughout the entire mass of such nebulae would tend to and
converge towards that centre of gravity.
"Now let us consider what would be the result of this. It appears to
me that the inevitable consequence of the convergence of the particles
towards the centre of gravity of such a nebulous mass would not only
result in the formation of nucleus, but by reason of the physical
impossibility that all the converging particles should arrive at the
focus of convergence in directions perfectly radial and diametrically
opposite to each other, however slight the degree of deviation from the
absolute diametrically opposite direction in which the converging
particles coalesce at the focus of attraction, a twisting action would
result, and Rotation ensue, which, once engendered, be its intensity
ever so slight, from that instant forward the nucleus would continue to
revolve, and all the particles which its attraction would subsequently
cause to coalesce with it, would do so in directions tangential to its
surface, and not diametrically towards its centre.
"In due course of time the entire of the remaining nebulous mass would
become affected with rotation from the more rapidly moving centre, and
would assume what appears to me to be their inherent normal condition,
namely, spirality, as the prevailing character of their structure;
and as that is actually the aspect which may be said to characterise the
majority of those marvellous nebulae, as revealed to us by Lord Rosse's
magnificent telescope, I am strongly impressed with the conviction that
such reasons as I have assigned have been the cause of their spiral
aspect and arrangement.
"And by following up the same train of reasoning, it appears to me that
we may catch a glimpse of the primeval cause of the rotation of every
body throughout the regions of space, whether they be nebulae, stars,
double stars, or planetary systems.
"The primary cause of rotation which I have endeavoured to describe in
the preceding remarks is essentially cosmical, and is the direct and
immediate offspring of the action of gravitation on matter in a
diffused, nebulous, and, as such, highly mobile condition.
"It will be obvious that in the case of a nebulous mass, whose matter
is unequally distributed, that in such a case several sub-centres of
gravity would be elected, that is to say, each patch of nebulous matter
would have its own centre of gravity; but these in their turn
subordinate to that of the common centre of gravity of the whole
system, about which all such outlaying parts would revolve.
Each of the portions above alluded to would either be attracted by the
superior mass, and pass in towards it as a wisp of nebulous matter,
or else establish perfect individual and distinct rotation within
itself, and finally revolve about the great common centre of gravity of
"Bearing this in mind, and referring to some of the figures of the
marvellous spiral nebulae which Lord Rosse's telescope has revealed to
us, I shall now bring these suggestions to a conclusion.
I have avoided expanding them to the extent I feel the subject to be
worthy and capable of; but I trust such as I have offered will be
sufficient to convey a pretty clear idea of my views on this sublime
subject, which I trust may receive the careful consideration its nature
entitles it to. Let any one carefully reflect on the reason why water
assumes a rotatory motion when a portion of it is permitted to escape
from an aperture in the bottom of the circular vessel containing it;
if they will do so in the right spirit, I am fain to think they will
arrive at the same conclusion as the contemplation of this familiar
phenomenon has brought me to.
" BRIDGEWATER FOUNDARY, June 7, 1855."
I was present at a meeting of the Geological Society at Manchester in
1853, in the discussions of which I took part.
I was much impressed by an address of the Rev. Dr. Vaughan
(then Principal of the Independent College at Manchester), which is as
interesting now as it was then. After referring to the influence which
geological changes had produced upon the condition of nations, and the
moral results which oceans, mountains, islands, and continents have had
upon the social history of man, he went on to say: "Is not this island
of ours indebted to these great causes? Oh, that blessed geological
accident that broke up a strait between Calais and Dover! It looks but
a little thing; it was a matter to take place; but how mighty the moral
results upon the condition and history of this country, and, through
this country's influence, upon humanity! Bridge over the space between,
and you have directly the huge continental barrack-yard system all over
England. And once get into the condition of a great continental
military power, and you get the arbitrary power; you cramp down the
people, and you unfit them from being what they ought to be--FREE And
all the good influences together at work in this country could not have
secured us against this, but for that blessed separation between this
Isle and the Continent."
In 1853 I was appointed a member of the Small Arms Committee for the
purpose of re-modelling and, in fact, re-establishing the Small Arms
Factory at Enfield. The wonderful success of the needle gun in the war
between Prussia and Denmark in 1848 occasioned some alarm amongst our
military authorities as to the state of affairs at home. The Duke of
Wellington to the last proclaimed the sufficiency of "Brown Bess" as a
weapon of offence and defence; but matters could no longer be deferred.
The United States Government, though possessing only a very small
standing army, had established at Springfield a small arms factory,
where, by the use of machine tools specially designed to execute with
the most unerring precision all the details of muskets and rifles,
they were enabled to dispense with mere manual dexterity, and to
produce arms to any amount. It was finally determined to improve the
musketry and rifle systems of the English army. The Government
resolved to introduce the American system, by which Arms might be
produced much more perfectly, and at a great diminution of cost.
It was under such circumstances that the Small Arms Committee was
Colonel Colt had brought to England some striking examples of the
admirable machine tools used at Springfield, and he established a
manufactory at Pimlico for the production of his well-known revolvers.
The committee resolved to make a personal visit to the United States
Factory at Springfield. My own business engagements at home prevented
me accompanying the members who were selected; but as my friend John
Anderson (now Sir John), acted as their guide, the committee had in him
a most able and effective helper. He directed their attention to the
most important and available details of that admirable establishment.
The United States Government acted most liberally in allowing the
committee to obtain every information on the subject; and the heads of
the various departments, who were intelligent and zealous, rendered
them every attention and civility.
The members of the mission returned home enthusiastically delighted
with the results of their inquiry.The committee immediately proceeded
with the entire re-modelling of the Small Arms Factory at Enfield.
The workshops were equipped with a complete series of special machine
tools, chiefly obtained from the Springfield factory.
The United States Government also permitted several of their best and
workman and superintendents to take service under the English Government.
Such was the origin of the Enfield rifle. The weapon came as near to
absolute perfection as possible, It was perfect in action, durable and
excellent in every respect even in it's conversion to the breechloader
it is still one of the best weapons. It is impossible to give too much
praise to Sir John Anderson and Colonel Dixon for the untiring and
intelligent zeal with which they carried out the plans, as well as for
the numerous improvements which they introduced. These have rendered
the Enfield Small Arms Factory one of the most perfect and best
regulated establishments in the kingdom.
CHAPTER 20. Retirement from Business.
I had been for some time contemplating the possibility of retiring
altogether from business. I had got enough of the world's goods, and
was willing to make way for younger men. But I found it difficult to
break loose from old associations. Like the retired tallow-chandler,
I might wish to go back "on melting days." I had some correspondence
with my old friend David Roberts, Royal Academician, on the subject.
He wrote to me on the 2d June 1853, and said:
"I rejoice to learn, from the healthy tone that breathes throughout
your epistle, that you are as happy as every one who knows you wishes
you to be, and as prosperous as you deserve. Knowing, also, as I do,
your feeling for art and all that tends to raise and dignify man,
I most sincerely congratulate you on the prospect of your being able to
retire, in the full vigour of manhood, to follow out that sublime
pursuit, in comparison with which the painter's art is but a faint
glimmering. 'The Landscape of other worlds' you alone have sketched
for us, and enlightened us on that with which the ancient world but
gazed upon and worshipped in the symbol of Astarte, Isis, and Diana.
We are matter-of-fact now, and have outlived childhood. What say you
to a photograph of those wonderful drawings? It may come to that."*
It did indeed "come to that," for I shortly after learned the art of
photography, chiefly for this special purpose.
But I had something else yet to do in my special vocation.
In 1854 I took out a patent for puddling iron by means of steam.
Many of my readers may not know that cast-iron is converted into
malleable iron by the process called puddling. The iron, while in a
molten state, is violently stirred and agitated by a stiff iron rod,
having its end bent like a hoe or flattened hook, by which every
portion of the molten metal is exposed to the oxygen of the air,
and the supercharge of carbon which the cast iron contains is
thus "burnt out." When this is effectually done the iron becomes
malleable and weldable.
This state of the iron is indicated by a general loss of fluidity,
accompanied by a tendency to gather together in globular masses.
The puddler, by his dexterous use of the end of the rabbling bar,
puts the masses together, and, in fact, welds the new-born particles of
malleable iron into puddle-balls of about three-quarters of a
hundredweight each. These are successively removed from the pool of
the puddling furnace, and subjected to the energetic blows of the steam
hammer, which drives out all the scoriae lurking within the spongy
puddle-balls, and thus welds them into compact masses of malleable iron.
When reheated to a welding heat, they are rolled out into flat bars or
round rods, in a variety of sizes, so as to be suitable for the consumer.
The manual and physical labour of the puddler is tedious, fatiguing,
and unhealthy. The process of puddling occupies about an hour's
violent labour, and only robust young men can stand the fatigue and
violent heat. I had frequent opportunities of observing the labour and
unhealthiness of the process, as well as the great loss of time
required to bring it to a conclusion. It occurred to me that much of
this could be avoided by employing some other means for getting rid of
the superfluous carbon, and bringing the molten cast-iron into a
The method that occurred to me was the substitution of a small steam
pipe in the place of the puddler's rabbling bar. By having the end of
this steam pipe bent downwards so as to reach the bottom of the pool,
and then to discharge a current of steam beneath the surface of the
molten cast iron, I thought that I should by this simple means supply a
most effective carbon-oxidating agent, at the same time that I produced
a powerful agitating action within the pool. Thus the steam would be
decomposed and supply oxygen to the carbon of the cast-iron, while the
mechanical action of the rush of steam upwards would cause so violent a
commotion throughout the pool of melted iron as to exceed the utmost
efforts of the labour of the puddler. All the gases would pass up the
chimney of the puddling furnace, and the puddler would not be subject
to their influence. Such was the method specified in my patent of
Specification of James Nasmyth--Employment of steam in the process of
puddling iron. May 4, 1854; No. 1001.
My friend, Thomas Lever Rushton, proprietor of the Bolton Ironworks,
was so much impressed with the soundness of the principle, as well as
with the great simplicity of carrying the invention into practical
effect, that he urged me to secure the patent, and he soon after gave
me the opportunity of trying the process at his works. The results
were most encouraging. There was a great saving of labour and time
compared with the old puddling process; and the malleable iron
produced was found to be of the highest order as regarded strength,
toughness, and purity. My process was soon after adopted by several
iron manufacturers with equally favourable results. Such, however,
was the energy of the steam, that unless the workmen were most careful
to regulate its force and the duration of its action, the waste of iron
by undue oxidation was such as in a great measure to neutralise its
commercial gain as regarded the superior value of the malleable iron
Before I had time or opportunity to remove this commercial difficulty,
Mr. Bessemer had secured his patent of the l7th of October, 1855.
By this patent he employed a blast of air to do the same work as I had
proposed to accomplish by means of a blast of steam, forced up beneath
the surface of the molten cast iron. He added some other improvements,
with that happy fertility of invention which has always characterised
him. The results were so magnificently successful as to totally
eclipse my process, and to cast it comparatively into the shade.
At the same time I may say that I was in a measure the pioneer of his
invention, that I initiated a new system, and led to one of the most
important improvements in the manufacture of iron and steel that has
ever been given to the world.
Mr. Bessemer brought the subject of his invention before the meeting of
the British Association at Cheltenham in the autumn of 1856. There he
read his paper "On the Manufacture of Iron into Steel without Fuel."*
On the morning of the day on which the paper was to be read,
Mr. Bessemer was sitting at breakfast at his hotel, when an ironmaster
(to whom he was unknown) said, laughing, to a friend within his
hearing, "Do you know that there is somebody come down from London to
read us a paper on making steel from cast iron without fuel? Did you
ever hear of such nonsense?" The title of the paper was perhaps a
misnomer, but the correctness of the principles on which the pig iron
was converted into malleable iron, as explained by the inventor,
was generally recognised, and there seemed every reason to anticipate
that the process would before long come into general use.
I was present on the occasion, and listened to his statement with
mingled feelings of regret and enthusiasm--of regret, because I had
been so clearly superseded and excelled in my performances; and of
enthusiasm--because I could not but admire and honour the genius who
had given so great an invention to the mechanical world.
I immediately took the opportunity of giving my assent to the
principles which he had propounded. My words were not reported at the
time, nor was Mr. Bessemer's paper printed by the Association, perhaps
because it was thought of so little importance but, on applying to
Mr. (now Sir Henry) Bessemer, he was so kind as to give me the following
as his recollection of the words which I used on the occasion.
"I shall ever feel grateful," says Sir Henry, "for the noble way in
which you spoke at the meeting at Cheltenham of my invention.
If I remember rightly, you held up a piece of my malleable iron, saying
words to this effect: 'Here is a true British nugget! Here is a new
process that promises to put an end to all puddling; and I may mention
that at this moment there are puddling furnaces in successful operation
where my patent hollow steam Rabbler is at work, producing iron of
superior quality by the introduction of jets of steam in the puddling
process. I do not, however, lay any claim to this invention of
Mr. Bessemer; but I may fairly be entitled to say that I have advanced
along the road on which he has travelled so many miles, and has
effected such unexpected results that I do not hesitate to say that I
may go home from this meeting and tear up my patent, for my process of
puddling is assuredly superseded.'"
After giving an account of the true origin of his process, in which he
had met with failures as well as successes, but at last recognised the
decarburation of pig iron by atmospheric air, Sir Henry proceeds to
"I prepared to try another experiment, in a crucible having no hole the
the bottom, but which was provided with an iron pipe put through a hole
in the cover, and passing down nearly to the bottom of the crucible.
The small lumps and grains of iron were packed around fit, so as nearly
to fill the crucible. A blast of air was to be forced down the pipe so
as to rise up among the pieces of granular iron and partially
decarburise them. The pipe could then be withdrawn, and the fire urged
until the metal with its coat of oxyde was fused, and cast steel
"While the blowing apparatus for this experiment was being fitted up,
I was taken with one of those short but painful illnesses to which I
was subject at that time. I was confined to my bed, and it was then
that my mind, dwelling for hours together on the experiment about to be
made, suggested that instead of trying to decarburise the granulated
metal by forcing the air down the vertical pipe among the pieces of
iron, the air would act much more energetically and more rapidly if I
first melted the iron in the crucible, and forced the air down the pipe
below the surface of the fluid metal, and thus burn out the carbon and
silicum which it contained.
"This appeared so feasible, and in every way so great an improvement,
that the experiment on the granular pieces was at once abandoned, and,
as soon as I was well enough, I proceeded to try the experiment of
forcing the air under the fluid metal. The result was marvellous.
Complete decarburation was effected in half an hour. The heat produced
was immense, but, unfortunately more than half the metal was blown out
of the pot. This led to the use of pots with large hollow perforated
covers, which effectually prevented the loss of metal.
These experiments continued from January to October 1855. I have by me
on the mantelpiece at this moment, a small piece of rolled bar iron
which was rolled at Woolwich arsenal, and exhibited a year later at
"I then applied for a patent, but before preparing my provisional
specification (dated October 17, 1855), I searched for other patents to
ascertain whether anything of the sort had been done before.
I then found your patent for puddling with the steam rabble, and also
Martin's patent for the use of steam in gutters while molten iron was
being conveyed from the blast furnace to a finery, there to be refined
in the ordinary way prior to puddling.
"I then tried steam in my cast steel process, alone, and also mixed
with air. I found that it cooled the metal very much, and of itself
could not be used, as it always produced solidification.
I was nevertheless advised to claim the use of steam as well as air in
my particular process (lest it might be used against me), at the same
time disclaiming its employment for any purpose except in the
production of fluid malleable iron or steel. And I have no doubt it is
to this fact that I referred when speaking to you on the occasion you
mention. I have deemed it best that the exact truth--so far as a
short history can give it--should be given at once to you, who are so
true and candid. Had it not been for you and Martin I should probably
never have proposed the use of steam in my process, but the use of air
came by degrees, just in the way I have described."
It was thoroughly consistent with Mr. Bessemer's kindly feelings
towards me, that, after our meeting at Cheltenham, he made me an offer
of one-third share of the value of his patent. This would have been
another fortune to me. But I had already made money enough.
I was just then taking down my signboard and leaving business.
I did not need to plunge into any such tempting enterprise,
and I therefore thankfully declined the offer.
Many long years of pleasant toil and exertion had done their work.
A full momentum of prosperity had been given to my engineering business
at Patricroft. My share in the financial results accumulated with
accelerated rapidity to an amount far beyond my most sanguine hopes.
But finding, from long continued and incessant mental efforts, that my
nervous system was beginning to become shaken, especially in regard to
an affection of the eyes, which in some respects damaged my sight,
I thought the time had arrived for me to retire from commercial life.
Some of my friends advised me to "slack off," and not to retire
entirely from Bridgewater Foundry. But to do so was not in my nature.
I could not be indifferent to any concern in which I was engaged.
I must give my mind and heart to it as before. I could not give half
to leisure, and half to business. I therefore concluded that a final
decision was necessary. Fortunately I possessed an abundant and
various stock of hobbies. I held all these in reserve to fall back
upon. They would furnish me with an almost inexhaustible source of
healthy employment. They might give me occupation for mind and body as
long as I lived. I bethought me of the lines of Burns:
"Wi' steady aim some Fortune chase;
Keen hope does ev'ry sinew brace;
Thro' fair, thro' foul, they urge the race,
And seize the prey:
Then cannie, in some cosy place,
They close the day."
It was no doubt a great sorrow for me and my dear wife to leave the
Home in which we had been so happy and prosperous for so many years.
It was a cosy little cottage at Patricroft. We had named it "Fireside."
It was small, but suitable for our requirements.
We never needed to enlarge it, for we had no children to accommodate.
It was within five minutes' walk of the Foundry, and I was scarcely
ever out of reach of the Fireside, where we were both so happy.
It had been sanctified by our united love for thirteen years.
It was surrounded by a nice garden, planted with trees and shrubs.
Though close to the Bridgewater Canal, and a busy manufacturing
population was not far off, the cottage was perfectly quiet.
It was in this garden, when I was arranging the telescope at night,
that I had been detected by the passing boatman as "The Patricroft Ghost"
When we were about to leave Patricroft, the Countess of Ellesmere,
who, as well as the Earl, had always been our attached friends,
wrote to my wife as follows: "I can well understand Mr. Nasmyth's
satisfaction at the emancipation he looks forward to in December next.
But I hope you do not expect us to share it! for what is so much
natural pleasure to you is a sad loss and privation to us.
I really don't know how we shall get on at Worsley without you.
You have nevertheless my most sincere and hearty good wishes that the
change may be as grateful to you both as anything in this world can be."
Yet we had to tear ourselves away from this abode of peace and
happiness. I had given notice to my partner*
The "Partner" here referred to, was my excellent friend Henry Garnett,
Esq., of Wyre Side, near Lancaster. He had been my sleeping partner or
"Co." for nearly twenty years, and the most perfect harmony always
existed between us.
that it was my intention to retire from business at the end of 1856.
The necessary arrangements were accordingly made for carrying on the
business after my retirement. All was pleasantly and satisfactorily
settled several months before I finally left; and the character and
prosperity of the Bridgewater Foundry have been continued to the
But where was I to turn to for a settled home? Many years before I had
seen a charming picture by my brother Patrick of "A Cottage in Kent"
It took such a hold of my memory and imagination that I never ceased to
entertain the longing and ambition to possess such a cottage as a cosy
place of refuge for the rest of my life. Accordingly, about six months
before my final retirement, I accompanied my wife in a visit to the
south. In the first place we made a careful selection from the
advertisements in the Times of "desirable residences" in Kent.
One in particular appeared very tempting. We set out to view it.
It seemed to embody all the conditions that we had pictured in our
imagination as necessary to fulfil the idea of our "Cottage in Kent."
It had been the property of F. R. Lee, the Royal Academician.