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We have no intention of here entering at any considerable length on the history of steam-navigation,-a subject which has already been treated of by various competent authorities, and which perhaps offers materials for a still more comprehensive work than any that have yet appeared. But it may generally be remarked, that the introduction of that most valuable mode of conveyance and transport has been quite dependent upon, and nearly co-ordinate with, Mr. Watt's improvements on the steam-engine; that before those improvements were made known to the world, nothing of any importance in that way had been accomplished, and little even attempted or imagined ; and that since the full development of those improvements, that perfection of power and safety with which the ocean is now traversed in every direction and to any distance, by vessels impelled by steam, has been rapidly and triumphantly attained.
To this end the ingenious industry of many successive engineers and mechanics has, it is true, eventually conduced: but the master-key which unlocked the power required for the performance of such a task, was the condensation of steam in a vessel separate from the cylinder, together with the means of converting the rectilineal motion of the piston-rod into a rotative one for paddle-wheels, or, as now practised, for a screwpropeller, or “spiral oar.”
We have already sufficiently exposed the fictitious letter in which Solomon De Caus is made to talk, in 1641, to an imaginary Marquis, of “ navigating ships, as well as of moving carriages, and of working other miracles by means of steam.* But the mere use of paddle-wheels, “remi rotatiles,” or “rames “ tournantes,” moved by animal force, for the progression of boats, appears to have been of considerable antiquity. Not to carry our inquiries further back, they have been fully described by Valturius, in his great work on the Science of War,' in 1472; by William Bourne, in 1578; by Denis Papin, (as having been seen by him in use in England, probably in 1682), in 1690; by Savery, in 1698; by Du Quet, in 1702 and 1735; by the Comte de Saxe, in 1732, &c. Papin, also, in 1690, unquestionably suggested the employment of the atmosphere as a power, with a vacuum formed by the condensation of steam beneath a piston in a cylinder, the power being communicated by toothed and paddle-wheels “ad naves adverso “ vento provehendas,”* “ to propel ships against the wind :” and he represented the greatest probable obstacle to the construction of such a machine to be the difficulty of getting cylinders, of adequate size, sufficiently well made for the purpose they were intended to serve.
* See p. 125, suprà.
Of the mere ingenuity of his suggestion, so far as it went, there cannot, of course, be a doubt; but this, like some others of his mechanical ideas, he seems not to have seriously attempted to reduce to practice, and, if he had done so, he would have found how entirely insufficient was the apparatus he proposed, now dignified by some writers with the name of his steamengine, to produce such effects as he desired. The mechanical difficulty, also, which he has specified, although unquestionably very considerable, was only one of many, not less formidable, which Mr. Watt's more comprehensive view foresaw; and which it needed all the most constant and anxious exertions of his more powerful practical genius to encounter and overcome. Since the days of Papin, indeed, the experience of a century and a half has fully enabled us to judge how great was the distance between the imperfect conception of a project, such as he suggested in the passage quoted above, and its successful consummation.
It still, curiously enough, remains uncertain whether Jonathan Hulls carried into effect the more elaborate invention for which he obtained a patent in 1736, and which he set forth in his celebrated pamphlet entitled “A Description and • Draught of a new-invented Machine for carrying Vessels or * Ships out of or into any Harbour, Port, or River, against • Wind and Tide, or in a Calm: London, 1737. But he has, at least, minutely described the introduction of a Newcomen's engine into a large boat or barge to be employed as a tug, and has delineated such a vessel, fitted with fan (or paddle) wheels, towing a ship of war of upwards of thirty guns. His work, which seems to have been long overlooked, is now not common, and it is still more rare to meet with a copy containing the curious and highly illustrative engraving which forms its frontispiece; but it affords the strongest evidence which we possess, of a marine atmospheric steam-engine, working by paddle-wheels, having been constructed,—or, at all events, fully devised and figured in action, -50 early as the period in question.
* See pp. 140, 141, suprà.
After the date of Mr. Watt's patent of 1769, (the great pivot on which all real advancement in the steam-machinery of modern times has turned), it is said that, in the United States, Mr. Ellicot, in 1775, and T. Paine, (less favourably known by his writings), in 1778, suggested the use of steam for propelling boats; as the Abbé Arnal did in France in 1781, for inland navigation; while in 1782 the Marquis Jouffroy built a steam-boat, which was tried on the Saône, but did not succeed. In 1783, Mr. James Rumsey of Virginia and Mr. John Fitch of Philadelphia both proposed methods of propelling boats, the one by a current of water forced out at the stern, and the other by paddles, but not in the form of wheels. It is said that Mr. Fitch constructed a steam-boat which was navigated between Bordentown and Philadelphia, but was soon laid aside.
In 1787, Mr. Miller of Dalswinton published a description, with engravings, of a triple vessel, propelled by paddle-wheels, turned by means of cranks, intended to be worked by men; adding, “I have also reason to believe that the power of the “ steam-engine may be applied to work the wheels, so as to “ give them a quicker motion, and, consequently, to increase " that of the ship.” In 1788, Mr. Miller employed Mr. William Symington, of Wanlockhead, in Dumfries-shire, along with Mr. James Taylor, to superintend the construction of a small steam-engine in a pleasure-boat on Dalswinton Loch. This succeeding well, induced him to employ Mr. Symington to construct a larger steam-engine at Carron, for one of Mr. Miller's boats on the Forth and Clyde Canal, which was tried
in 1789, and a speed of about seven miles an hour attained; but from other objections, (chiefly to the want of solidity in the machinery), from Mr. Miller's want of confidence in its ultimate success, and his attention being diverted to other pursuits, the boat was soon afterwards dismantled, and the engine removed from it. It has been lately stated that about the year 1787 Messrs. Furnau and Ashton made experiments in steam-navigation on the river at Hull, which ended in their building a boat which for some time plied between Beverley and Hull, and another of a larger size, which was bought by the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV., and fitted up as a pleasure yacht. The latter vessel is said to have been burned: what became of the former is not stated.
From January, 1801, till April, 1803, Mr. Symington was employed by Lord Dundas to make a series of experiments on steam-boats, with the view of their being used on the Forth and Clyde Canal; and the towing-vessel, the “ Charlotte * Dundas,” which he then constructed, appears to have been entirely successful, in so far as regarded moderate power and speed. The use of this vessel, however, on the canal was discontinued in consequence of the injury which it was apprehended the washing of the waves in its wake might do to the banks; and although the Duke of Bridgewater was so satisfied of the advantages of the invention as to have given Mr. Symington an order to build eight similar boats, to be used on his canal, yet the hopes of the enterprising inventor were destined to be crushed at the very “moment of projec“ tion;" for “ the same day that he was informed by Lord “ Dundas of the final determination of the Committee not to " allow steam-boats to be employed on the canal, he received “ intelligence of the death of the Duke of Bridgewater."*
In 1801, Symington's steam-boat was visited, minutely inspected, and tried, by Robert Fulton, a native of Pennsylvania, (the son of an emigrant from Dumfries-shire); who, as an engineer,—not merely an amateur,-devoted much time and attention to the subject of steam-navigation. And early
• Woodcroft On Steam-Navigation,' 1848, p. 55.
in 1802, he being then resident in Paris, and in full communication with Mr. Livingstone, the envoy from the United States to France, who appears to have been attached to similar pursuits, he addressed a letter to Mr. James Watt, jun., in which he inquired the price and other particulars of a small engine of five horse-power. In a letter written a week later, he made inquiries as to the employment of high degrees of heat in small engines, and the limit to which it might be carried, in order to render them light and compact,--for this, with his views, was necessarily a cardinal point,—and then he went on to say, “ The object of my investigation is to find “ whether it is possible to apply the engine to working boats “ up our long rivers in America. The persons who have “ made such attempts have commenced by what they called “ improving Watt's engine, but without having an idea of the “physics which lay hid in it from common observers; but “ such improvements have appeared to me like the improve“ments of the preceptor of Alcibiades, who corrected Homer “ for the use of his scholars. Their ill success, and their “ never having found a good mode of taking a purchase on “ the water, are the reasons why they have all failed.
Having, during the course of my experiments on sub“ mersive navigation, found an excellent mode of taking a “ purchase on the water, I wish to apply the engine to the “ movement. The only thing which is wanting is to arrange " the engine as light and compact as possible,” &c. And, in the postscript of his letter, he proposes for Mr. Watt's consideration some schemes of engines suggested by Mr. Livingstone: schemes on which we do not find that any opinion was then expressed, but which appear not to have been very clearly explained, and which, in so far as their construction was intelligible, did not promise to be very effective.
On the 6th of August, 1803, Mr. Fulton ordered his first engine from Soho, repeating the application in person in 1804. The diameter of the cylinder was 24 inches, with a stroke of four feet, being about nineteen horse-power. “The principal “ parts of the engine were made and forwarded early in 1805; “ the planning and execution of the subordinate parts, as well