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must assign to William Murdock, for upwards of half a century Mr. Watt's most able, faithful, and esteemed assistant; who, both in his intellectual endowments, and in the manly independence of his mind, possessed no inconsiderable resemblance to his revered master and friend.
Born in 1754, at Bellow Mill near Old Cumnock in Ayrshire, Mr. Murdock early manifested the most decided predilection for mechanical pursuits; and after qualifying himself for their prosecution chiefly by his own unaided industry, he offered himself to Messrs. Boulton and Watt in 1776, or 1777, and was at once employed by them at Soho in superintending the construction and erection of their engines. He was soon sent into Cornwall as the agent of the firm, where, after vigorously contending with many difficulties, he ultimately succeeded in giving great satisfaction to the mining interest, as well as to his own masters; and he was afterwards employed for nearly twenty years at Soho foundry.
M. Charles Dupin, in an interesting account which he has published * of the great meeting in 1824, for the purpose of voting a monument to Watt in Westminster Abbey,—his presence at which he declares he will ever esteem as one of the most impressive and delightful recollections of his travels in Great Britain,-says :-“There was to be remarked among “ the spectators a venerable old man, whose intrepid services “ I could have wished had also been rewarded by some flat
tering marks of public gratitude. Mr. Murdock directed “ the application of the new steam-engines, to drain the water “ of the Cornish mines. In order to adapt that moving
power to exhausting-pumps, and to establish the system in “ mines of extreme depth, inundated by appalling quantities “ of water, great skill in practical mechanics was requisite. 6 Mr. Murdock showed that he was full of all the resources
skill in conducting that extensive great manufacturing association, the business, the late Mr. Watt, of Aston interests of which he had so much at Hall, bequeathed a considerable heart. share in the capital stock of the * Discours et Leçons sur l'Inpresent copartnership of James Watt •dustrie, le Commerce, la Marine, et and Co. He no doubt felt satisfied • sur les Sciences appliquées aux that he could not take a more effectual · Arts,' tom. i. p. 202, 1825. method of insuring prosperity to the
“ of genius, and the wisdom of experience, so as to triumph “ over every difficulty. Scarcely had those obstacles been “ surmounted, than the proprietors of the mines sought to
deprive Messrs. Watt and Boulton of the benefit of the agreement into which they had mutually entered. But the
incorruptible Murdock showed himself insensible to every “ temptation; he long withstood all menaces, and retired “ only when he saw the cupidity of the men whose frauds he “ defeated, threatening to destroy him in the mines by throw“ ing him down their pits.” Of this last anecdote of M. Dupin we have heard, from the late Mr. James Watt, junr., another version which is somewhat different, and, for many reasons, more likely to be correct ;-viz., that some of the “ captains” of the Cornish mines, at a meeting of several of their number with Murdock on business connected with the engines, having attempted to bully him, he quietly locked the door of the room in which they were assembled, stripped, and, making a dexterous use of those arms with which Nature had supplied him, administered to more than one of their number a lesson of persuasive efficacy, such as they would never forget, and such as he was never called on to repeat. He was, in truth, of Herculean proportions, and in muscular power nearly unrivalled.
M. Dupin adds, that he could have wished to have seen Watt, who was so pre-eminent in the art of discovering and attracting to himself men endowed with rare talent, recompensing the skill, the energy, and the integrity of Mr. Murdock, by assuming him as a partner along with Mr. Boulton, in their grand and rich enterprise. But here also we have it in our power to dispel the anxiety which M. Dupin thus again,-perhaps somewhat needlessly,—felt it incumbent on him to manifest on behalf of Mr. Murdock. For although never formally assumed as a partner in the Soho concern, and, therefore, remaining always exempt from all chance of loss in case of that business at any time failing of success, he always received a liberal income from his employers; and from 1810 to 1830, he was placed on the footing of a partner, without having to advance a shilling of capital to the partnership funds, without the risk of incurring any liability, and with a fixed salary of 10001. per annum, assigned to him in lieu of a share of the fluctuating profits.
On the subject of the economical employment of gas-light from coal, his systematic experiments commenced in 1792; and in the same year he succeeded in thus lighting his house and offices at Redruth in Cornwall, manufacturing the gas in an iron retort, whence it was conveyed to the different rooms in pipes supplied with proper burners. He used also to light himself home at night over the dark moors, from mines where he was erecting engines, to Redruth, with a portable gas lantern, consisting of a bladder filled with gas, and having a mouth-piece fitted with a jet, attached to the bottom of the lantern. For his
paper on the same subject presented to the Royal Society in 1808, which was read by Sir Joseph Banks, and printed in the Philosophical Transactions' for that year, (pp. 124-132), he received the large Rumford gold medal; and he will ever be known as the true inventor of the beautiful system of lighting by gas. “The original inventor of this application of the
gases,” says Mr. Watt in 1809, “ is Mr. William Murdock, “a most ingenious man, now at Soho here, under whose di“rections several very large manufactories have been lighted, “ at Manchester and elsewhere, by Boulton, Watt, and Com
pany. Mr. M.'s invention is of fifteen or twenty years'
standing. I saw it employed at Soho in the fireworks for “ the celebration of the last peace :”—[that of Amiens, in 1802). While Mr. Murdock's improvements on this subject were in progress, Mr. Watt happening to hear a lady express admiration of the introduction of water by pipes into all the dwelling-houses of a large city, remarked that he hoped it would not be long before she would see fire and light introduced in the same manner; a prediction which then sounded strange enough, and yet was literally fulfilled.
But that is by no means the only useful discovery with which Mr. Murdock's name is associated. He secured by patent, in 1799, “ certain new methods of constructing “ steam-engines ;” and, in 1810, “ an improved method “ for boring pipes, cylinders, and circular disks, out of solid “ blocks and slabs of stone of any kind or description.” In 1809 he made known, (not securing it by a patent), a new method of refining porter, &c., without the aid of isinglass, then, as now, a most expensive material; and for this he received a substantial and handsome reward from the brewers of the metropolis. The working-model of the steamcarriage of 1784 * shows how aptly he carried out the designs contained in the specifications of Mr. Watt; and the oscillating cylinder † is only one of very numerous and valuable suggestions with which he enriched the Soho machinery. In 1802, at Soho foundry, he applied the compressed air of a blast engine to work a small engine which for thirty-five years effectively turned the lathe in the pattern-shop; for nearly the same period a “ lift” of his construction, for raising and lowering castings, was there also worked by compressed air; and he successfully used the same power for the more delicate purpose of ringing the bells in his house at Handsworth,-a contrivance much admired by Sir Walter Scott, and copied at Abbotsford. He made many early experiments on the projectile force of highpressure steam; and a leaden ball is still preserved, which in 1803 he fired from a steam-gun against the wall of Soho foundry. Lastly, he invented an apparatus for heating baths, conservatories, or dwelling-houses, by hot water circulating through pipes from a boiler on a simple principle now extensively and advantageously adopted. I
From 1830, he lived in peaceful retirement in the neighbourhood of those works to which his energies had been successfully devoted, until his death, which occurred in 1839. His remains are deposited in Handsworth church, near those of Mr. Boulton and Mr. Watt; where “a bust by Chantrey “serves to perpetuate the remembrance of his manly and “ intelligent features,” and of the mind of which they were a pleasing index. There is also a fine portrait of Mr. Murdock in the hall of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of which he was a Fellow.
* See the Mechanical Inventions Mr. W. Buckle, formerly of Soho • of Watt,' vol. iii., plate XXIX.; and works, and now senior clerk and asp. 438, infrà.
sistant coiner at the Royal Mint; | Ibid., plate Xxxiv.
printed in the ‘Proceedings of the See an interesting notice of Mr. * Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Murdock's life and inventions, by ‘(Birmingham), for 1850-51.'
Although the commencement of the new æra in the history of Soho found Mr. Watt already past what is commonly called the grand climacteric of man's life, he happily long lived to witness the continued stability and immense progressive increase of his business, in the hands of those dear to himself. His health had never, from his childhood, been robust; and it still was variable; but it had strengthened as his age advanced, and had never, perhaps, been worse than what one of his engineering friends called “ a sort of counterpoise to
prosperity, success, or happiness, or, to speak more in our
own way, a kind of fly-wheels to the machinery ;" * the fatigue of those very exertions which his laborious life had rendered compulsory seeming to have fortified rather than to have enfeebled his frame. His spirits also became naturally more equable, as the principal causes of his anxiety and occasional depression were removed; and, while he was destined to be one of those “so strong that they come to “ fourscore years,” his strength even then, as it could scarcely be termed “ labour,” was certainly very far from “ sorrow.” The period, indeed, which commenced with the new century, and brought him a release from active business, was a serene and golden time; in which, peacefully reposing from the honourable toil of his earlier days, he found a calm and constant satisfaction in their retrospect; and those hours of happy leisure were no less delightful to himself than instructive to the "troops of friends ” who, in common with all that can add dignity or cheerfulness to old age, were gathered around him.
A wide range of subjects of a scientific and useful nature continued to attract the notice of his inquiring mind. Among other pursuits, he had been induced, by the sorrow he experienced in losing his daughter, who died of consumption at
* Mr. Telford to Mr. Watt, 17 December, 1801.