|This article needs additional citations for verification. (February 2008)|
Robert Stephenson in 1856
|Born||16 October 1803
Willington Quay, Wallsend, Northumberland
|Died||12 October 1859
|Engineering discipline||Civil engineer|
|Institution memberships||Institution of Civil Engineers (president), Institution of Mechanical Engineers (president), Fellow of the Royal Society, Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne (President 1855–1859)|
|Significant projects||Kilsby Tunnel, High Level Bridge, Britannia Bridge|
Robert Stephenson FRS (16 October 1803 – 12 October 1859) was an English civil engineer. He was the only son of George Stephenson, the famed locomotive builder and railway engineer; many of the achievements popularly credited to his father were the joint efforts of father and son.
Robert Stephenson was born on 16 October 1803,[note 1] at Willington Quay, east of Newcastle Upon Tyne. His parents were George Stephenson and Frances née Henderson (commonly known as Fanny). Fanny, who was twelve years older than George, had before marriage worked as a servant in the house where George was lodging. George and Fanny lived in an upper room in a cottage on the Quay; George worked as a brakesman on the stationary winding engine on the Quay and in his spare time cleaned and mended clocks and repaired shoes. Fanny had tuberculosis (known at the time as consumption), so George would take care of his son in the evening. Robert later recalled how he would sit on his father's left knee with his right arm wrapped around him whilst he watched him work or read books; his biographer Jeaffreson explained this is why Robert's left arm was the stronger. In autumn 1804 George became a brakesman at the West Moor Pit, and the family moved to a two rooms in a cottage at Killingworth. On 13 July 1805 Fanny gave birth to a daughter, who died three weeks later, and Fanny's health deteriorated before she died on 14 May 1806.
George employed a housekeeper to look after his son, and went way for three months to look after a Watt engine in Montrose, Scotland. He returned to find his housekeeper had married his brother Robert. He moved back into the cottage with his son, and took on other housekeeper, who was soon replaced by his sister Eleanor. Known to Robert as Aunt Nelly, Eleanor had been betrothed before travelling to London to work in domestic service. Summoned back to get married, Eleanor's ship had been delayed by poor winds and she arrived to find her fiance had already married. Eleanor could read, and attended services at the local Methodist church, whereas George would not regularly attend church, preferring on Sundays to work on engineering problems and meet his friends.
Robert was first sent a village school 1 1⁄2 miles (2.4 km) away in Long Benton, where he was taught by Thomas (Tommy) Rutter. On his way to school he would carry picks to the smith's at Long Benton to be sharpened. George was promoted in 1812 to be enginewright at Killingworth Colliery with a salary of £100 per year. In 1814 George built his first steam locomotive, Blucher, and the following year was earning £200 a year. George had received little formal education and determined that his son would have what he lacked, he sent the eleven-year-old Robert to the Percy Street Academy, in Newcastle, to be taught by John Bruce. At first Robert walked the 10 miles (16 km), but he was liable to catch cold and fearing tuberculosis George bought him a donkey. Robert became a member of the Philosophical and Literary Society of Newcastle and borrowed books for his father and him to read. In the evening, after school, he would work with George on plans for steam engines; in 1816 they made a sundial together, which is still in place above the cottage door.
After leaving school in 1819, Robert was apprenticed to the mining engineer Nicholas Wood, the viewer (manager) of Killingworth colliery. The following year Robert's Aunt Nelly married and George married Elizabeth Hindmarsh. The couple had courted before he had met Fanny, but the relationship had been put to an end by Elizabeth's father, Elizabeth swearing that she would not marry another. As an apprentice Robert worked hard and lived frugally and unable to afford to buy a mining compass, he made one which he would later use to survey the High Level Bridge in Newcastle. Robert learnt to play the flute, which he played in services at the local parish church.
Stockton and Darlington Railway
In the early 19th century ways of transporting coal from the mines in the Bishop Auckland to Darlington, and the quay at Stockton-on-Tees were investigated. Canals had been proposed, but the Welsh Engineer George Overton suggested a tramway. Overton surveyed the route in September 1818 and the scheme was backed by the Quaker Edward Pease at a meeting in November. A private bill for a Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) was presented to Parliament in 1819, but was opposed by landowners, and did not pass. The route was changed, Overton carried out another survey, and the Act received Royal Assent on 19 April 1821. Concerned about Overton's competence, Pease asked George Stephenson to meet him in Darlington, and by 23 July George had been appointed to make a fresh survey of the line.
Robert had not completed his apprenticeship, but his health was suffering and he showed symptoms of tuberculosis. Also the work was hazardous; he was down West Moor Pit when there was underground explosion. After a holiday trip to London, paid for by his father, Wood was asked to release the 18-year-old Robert so that he could assist his father during the survey By the end of 1821 they reported that a usable line could be built within the bounds of the Act, but another route would be shorter and avoid deep cuttings and tunnels. George was elected Engineer by shareholders with a salary of £660 per year and he advocated the use of steam locomotives. Pease visited Killingworth in the summer of 1822 and the directors visited Hetton colliery railway, on which George had introduced steam locomotives. During the survey of the S&DR, George was persuaded that Robert would benefit from a university education. He could have afforded to send his son to Cambridge, but he did not want him to become a gentleman, instead wishing that Robert should work for his living. Robert assisted William James to survey the route of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway before he attended Edinburgh University between October 1822 and April 1823; it was whilst he was at Edinburgh that Robert met George Parker Bidder.
On 23 May 1823 the second S&DR Act received Assent, with the deviations from the original route and permission for the use of "loco-motives or moveable engines". In June 1823 the Stephensons and Pease opened a works at Forth Street, Newcastle, to build these locomotives, Pease lending Robert £500 to buy his share. As George was busy supervising the building of the railway, the 20-year-old Robert was placed in charge of Robert Stephenson and Company, with a salary of £200 a year. On 16 September 1824 the company received an order for two steam locomotives and two stationary engines from the S&DR. Robert was also the engineer for the Hagger Leases branch, planned serve collieries at Butterknowle and Copley Bent. He stayed in London for five weeks while the bill passed through the parliamentary process, Assent being given in May 1824. However, when the S&DR opened on 27 September 1825, Robert was working in South America.
On 18 June 1824 Robert set sail on the Sir William Congreve from Liverpool for Colombia, with a contract for three years. The Colombian Mining Association had been formed to reopen gold and silver mines in South America and a Robert Stephenson and Co. partner, Thomas Richardson, was a prompter. Robert Stephenson & Co. received orders for steam engines from the company, and Richardson suggested to Robert that he go to South America, which he accepted. Robert took Spanish lessons and visited mines in Cornwall to prepare for the trip, and consulted a doctor, who advised that such a change of climate would be beneficial to his health. Robert had arrived in Liverpool on 8 June, and George was in Liverpool from 12 June to say goodbye to his son. Rolt was not satisfied with earlier biographers' suggestions that the assignment was solely due to Robert's health. Questioning why Robert left the locomotive construction company and his other work, he suggests that there must have been a disagreement between the Stephensons over George's business dealings. Longbridge, who agreed to temporarily take over management of Robert Stephenson and Co. in Robert's absence, understood that it would only be for a year.
After a five week journey, Robert arrived at the port of La Guayra in Venezuela on 23 July 1823. Robert investigated building a breakwater and pier at the harbour, and a railway to Caracas and estimated the cost of a pier at £6,000, but a breakwater or railway would be uneconomic. He travelled overland with an interpreter and a servant to Bogotá, then the capital of Greater Colombia, arriving on 19 January 1825. Travelling onward, Robert the found the heavier equipment at Honda on the Magdalena River; there was no way to get it to the mines as the only route to Mariquita was a narrow and steep path. The mines were another 12 miles (19 km) from Mariquita, Robert setting up home in a bungalow built from bamboo at Santa Ana. The Mining Association had sent Cornish miners to work the mine, but these proved unmanageable, drinking so heavily that only two-thirds were ever available for work. They refused to accept that Robert, who had not been brought up in Cornwall, could know anything about mining. His reports to London appeared to be ignored, as heavy equipment continued to be sent. Robert suffered from fevers, and once felt his "old complaint, a feeling of oppression in the breast."
Robert's contract ended on 16 July 1827. He travelled to Cartagena to see if he could walk across the Panama Isthmus, but this proved too difficult. While waiting for a ship to New York, he met Richard Trevithick, who had been looking for South American gold and silver in the mines of Peru and Costa Rica, and gave him £50 so he could buy passage home. Enroute to New York the ship Robert was on picked up shipwreck survivors that were so weak they had to be winched aboard, before sinking in another hurricane; although everyone was saved Robert lost his money and luggage. During the rush for the lifeboats he noticed that priority had been given to a second class passenger. Questioning the captain later, he found that as they were both Freemasons they had sworn an oath to show such preference to each other in times of peril. Robert was impressed and became a Freemason in New York. Wishing to see something of North America, Robert and four other Englishmen walked the 500 miles (800 km) to Montreal via Niagara Falls. He returned to New York, caught the packet Pacific across the Atlantic and arrived in Liverpool at the end of November.
When he returned his father was building the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. George was living in Liverpool directing proceedings, so Robert took charge at the Forth Street Works and worked on the development of a locomotive to compete in the forthcoming Rainhill Trials, intended to choose a locomotive design to be used on the new railway.
The result was the Rocket, which had a multi-tubular boiler to obtain maximum steam pressure from the exhaust gases. Rocket competed successfully in the Rainhill Trials, whereas none of its competitors completed the trial. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened in 1830, with a procession of eight trains setting out from Liverpool. George led the parade, driving the Northumbrian, Robert drove the Phoenix and Joseph Locke drove the Rocket. Following its success, the company built locomotives for other newly established railways, including the Leicester and Swannington Railway. It became necessary to extend the Forth Street Works to accommodate the increased work.
On 17 June 1829, Robert married Frances Sanderson in London. The couple went to live at 5 Greenfield Place, off Westgate Road in Newcastle. In 1842, Robert’s wife, "Fanny" as she was known, died. They had no children and Robert never re-married.
In 1830, Robert designed Planet, a much more advanced locomotive than Rocket. Stephenson’s company was by then experiencing stiff competition from other locomotive manufacturers. Up until then, locomotives had their cylinders placed outside the wheels, as this was the easiest arrangement. It was thought that, placing the cylinders inside the wheels was a more efficient arrangement and this was done on Planet. However there was thought to be an increased risk of broken crank axles. There was friction between Robert and his father over this question. The locomotive, when completed, was found to produce much more power than previous designs. It was used on the Camden and Amboy Railway in the US.
In 1833, Robert was given the post of Chief Engineer for the London and Birmingham Railway, the first main-line railway to enter London, and the initial section of the West Coast Main Line. That same year, Robert and his wife moved to London to live. The new line posed a number of difficult civil engineering challenges, most notably Kilsby Tunnel, and was completed in 1838. Stephenson was directly responsible for the tunnel under Primrose Hill, which required excavation by shafts. For the incline from Euston Station to Chalk Farm, Stephenson devised a system that would draw trains up the hill by a rope using a stationary steam engine near The Roundhouse. This impressive structure remains in use today as an Arts Centre. The London and Birmingham Railway was completed at an enormous cost of £5.5 million, compared with the cost of £900,000 for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
In 1838, Robert was summoned to Tuscany by Emanuele Fenzi and Pietro Senn to direct the works for the Leopolda railway. The success attained in this first Tuscan experiment in railways led the Russian princes Anatolio Demidoff and Giuseppe Poniatowski to commission Stephenson to construct a railway to Forlì, passing through the Muraglione Pass. Although this railway was not built, it was to all effects the first project for what was to become, almost forty years later, the Faentina railway.
Robert Stephenson constructed a number of well-known bridges to carry the new railway lines, following the experience of his father on the Stockton and Darlington line. George Stephenson built the famous Gaunless Bridge (which was dismantled and reassembled and is now in the car park of the York Railway Museum) for example, a very early wrought and cast iron structure. He also designed the many bridges needed for the Liverpool and Manchester line, opened in 1830.
In 1850, the railway from London to Scotland via Newcastle was completed. This required new bridges for both the Tyne and the Tweed rivers. He designed the High Level Bridge, at Newcastle upon Tyne as a two-deck bridge supported on tall stone columns. Rail traffic was carried on the upper deck and road traffic on the lower deck. Queen Victoria opened the bridge in 1849. Stephenson also designed the Royal Border Bridge over the Tweed for the same line. It was a viaduct of 28 arches and was opened by Queen Victoria in 1850. At last the railway ran all the way from London to Edinburgh.
In the same year, Stephenson and William Fairbairn's Britannia Bridge across the Menai Strait was opened. This bridge had the novel design of wrought-iron box-section tubes to carry the railway line inside them, because a tubular design using wrought-iron gave the greatest strength and flexibility. The Conwy railway bridge between Llandudno Junction and Conwy was built in 1848 using a similar design. The Conway and Britannia bridges were such a success that Stephenson applied the design to other bridges, two in Egypt, and the 6,588 foot long Victoria Bridge over the St Lawrence River at Montreal in Canada. This was built as one long tube made up of 25 sections. The design was rarely used owing to the cost, and few now remain, the best preserved being the Conwy bridge, which is still used by trains. Other bridges include, Arnside Viaduct in Cumbria, and a joint road and rail bridge in 1850 over the River Nene, at Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire.
One of Stephenson's few failures was his design of the Dee bridge, which collapsed under a train. Five people were killed. He was heavily criticised for the design, even before the collapse, particularly for the poor choice of materials, which included cast iron. In fact, he had used cast iron for bridge designs before, as had Brunel, but in this case he used longer 98 feet (30 m) girders than used previously, and their great length contributed to the failure. Stephenson had to give evidence at the inquest and this proved to be a harrowing experience. Fellow engineers such as Joseph Locke and Brunel who were called as witnesses at the inquiry, refused to criticise Stephenson, even though they rarely used cast iron themselves. A large number of similar bridges had to be demolished and rebuilt to safer designs.
Robert Stephenson's advice on railway matters was sought after in various countries. In France, he advised his friend the French engineer Paulin Talabot during the years 1837 to 1840 on the construction of the Chemins de fer du Gard from Beauvoir to Alès. He made journeys to Spain to advise on the construction of the railway from the Bay of Biscay to Madrid, and he visited the line Orléans – Tours.
On Prosper Enfantin's initiative, he and Talabot and Alois Negrelli became members of the Société d'Études du canal de Suez in 1846, where they studied the feasibility of the Suez canal. In late 1850, he was called by the Swiss Federal Council to advise on the future Swiss railway net and its financial implications. From 1851 to 1853, he built the railway from Alexandria to Cairo, which was extended to Suez in 1858.
Other aspects of his life
Robert Stephenson served as Conservative Member of Parliament for Whitby from 1847 until his death. Within the Tory party, he sat on right-wing, at that time hostile to free trade, and Stephenson appeared anxious to avoid change in almost any form . He was a commissioner of the short-lived London Metropolitan Commission of Sewers from 1848. He was President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, for two years from 1855.
Robert’s father George died in 1848 aged 67. Robert died on 12 October 1859 at his London home aged 55. Fellow engineer Brunel had died one month earlier on 15 September 1859. Robert was buried in Westminster Abbey next to Thomas Telford. Queen Victoria gave special permission for the cortege to pass through Hyde Park and 3,000 tickets were sold to spectators. In his eulogy, he was called ‘the greatest engineer of the present century’. In his will he left nearly £400,000.
Stephenson was god-father to Robert Baden-Powell, whose full name was Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, the first two in honour of his godfather, the third his mother's maiden name.
Robert Stephenson played a key role in the creation of the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers. In his will £2000 was left to fund a permanent building as a home for the Institute of which he was a member.
Notes and references
- Robert and George both gave the month of Robert's birth variously as October, November or December.
- Rolt 1984, p. 10.
- Rolt 1984, pp. 9–10.
- Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 8–9.
- Rolt 1984, p. 11.
- Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, p. 13.
- Rolt 1984, pp. 11–12.
- Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 15–17.
- Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 18, 22–23.
- Rolt 1984, pp. 15–16.
- Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 19–17, 29.
- Smiles 1868, pp. 165–166.
- Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 30, 33–34.
- Rolt 1984, p. 17.
- Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 35–36.
- Kirby, M.W. (2004). "Stephenson, Robert". The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/26400.
- Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 42–44.
- Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 46.
- Rolt 1984, pp. 8–9, 17.
- Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 47–49.
- Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, p. 50.
- Allen 1974, pp. 15–16.
- Allen 1974, p. 17.
- Rolt 1984, p. 65.
- Tomlinson 1915, p. 74.
- Rolt 1984, p. 69.
- Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 53–54.
- Allen 1974, p. 20.
- Tomlinson 1915, pp. 79–80.
- Allen 1974, p. 19.
- Smiles 1904, p. 154.
- Tomlinson 1915, p. 83.
- Rolt 1984, pp. 90–92.
- Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 60–61.
- Tomlinson 1915, pp. 85–86.
- Rolt 1984, pp. 80–81.
- Tomlinson 1915, pp. 86–87.
- Allen 1974, p. 24.
- Rolt 1984, pp. 101–102.
- Rolt 1984, p. 102.
- Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 66-68.
- Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 69, 72.
- Smiles 1868, pp. 301-302.
- Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 74-75.
- Rolt 1984, pp. 95-96.
- Rolt 1984, p. 119-120.
- Rolt 1984, pp. 120-121.
- Rolt 1984, pp. 120-124.
- Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 305, 307.
- Rolt 1984, pp. 124-126.
- Smiles 1868, pp. 108-109.
- Rolt 1984, pp. 126-127.
- Paulin Talabot, a biography par Baron Ernouf, 1886 (French)
- Instructions by the Federal Council (German)
- Stephenson's Report (German)
- Arnold T. Wilson, The Suez Canal, 1939
- Harding, J.T. (1986), "A History of the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers", The Mining Engineer – Journal of the Institution of Mining Engineers 146: 252–6
- Allen, Cecil J. (1974) . The North Eastern Railway. Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-0495-1.
- Jeaffreson, J.C.; Pole, William (1864a). The Life of Robert Stephenson FRS Vol. 1. Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts and Green.
- Jeaffreson, J.C.; Pole, William (1864b). The Life of Robert Stephenson FRS Vol. 2. Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts and Green.
- Rolt, L.T.C. (1984). George and Robert Stephenson: The Railway Revolution. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-007646-8.
- Smiles, Samuel (1868). The Life of George Stephenson and of his son Robert Stephenson. Harper & Brothers.
- Smiles, Samuel (1904). Lives of the Engineers. The Locomotive. George and Robert Stephenson. John Murray. OCLC 220796785.
- Tomlinson, William Weaver (1915). The North Eastern Railway: Its rise and development. Andrew Reid and Company. OCLC 504251788.
- Addeyman, John & Haworth, Victoria (2005) Robert Stephenson: Railway Engineer, North East Railway Association, Amadeus Press ISBN 1-873513-60-7
- Bailey, Michael R. (ed.) (2003) Robert Stephenson; The Eminent Engineer, Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, ISBN 0-7546-3679-8
- Dugan, Sally (2003) Men of Iron, London: Channel Four Books, ISBN 1-4050-3426-2
- Haworth, Victoria (2004) Robert Stephenson: The Making of a Prodigy, Newcastle-upon-Tyne: The Rocket Press, ISBN 0-9535162-1-0
- PR Lewis and C Gagg (2004), Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 45, 29.
- PR Lewis,(2008) Disaster on the Dee: Robert Stephenson's Nemesis of 1847, Tempus Publishing (2007) ISBN 978-0-7524-4266-2
- Robbins, Michael (1981) George and Robert Stephenson, London: Her majesty’s Stationery Office, ISBN 0-11-290342-8
- Rolt, L.T.C. (1960) George and Robert Stephenson: The Railway Revolution, London: Penguin, ISBN 0-14-007646-8
- Ross, David (2010). George and Robert Stephenson: A Passion for Success. Stroud: History Press. ISBN 978-0-7524-5277-7.
- Smith, Ken (2003) Stephenson Power: The Story of George and Robert Stephenson, Newcastle upon Tyne: Tyne Bridge Publishing, ISBN 1-85795-186-7
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Robert Stephenson.|
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Robert Stephenson
- Robert Stephenson in Portuguese
- The Robert Stephenson Trust
- The Robert Stephenson Centre (with pictures)
- Robert Stephenson at school net
- Robert Stephenson information at Structurae
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament for Whitby
Harry Stephen Thompson
|Professional and academic associations|
|President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers
|President of the Institution of Civil Engineers
December 1855 – December 1857