Our position for a time seemed to be hopeless. We could not find workmen enough to fill our shops or to execute our orders. What were we to do under the circumstances? We could not find mechanics in the neighbourhood; but might they not, be found elsewhere? Why not bring them from a distance? We determined to try. Advertisements were inserted in the Scotch newspapers, announcing our want of mechanics, smiths, and foundrymen. We appointed an agent in Edinburgh, to whom applications were to be made. We were soon in receipt of the welcome intelligence that numbers of the best class of mechanics had applied, and that our agent's principal difficulty consisted in making the proper selection from amongst them.
A selection was, however, made of over sixty men, who appeared in every respect likely to suit us. With true Scotch caution they deputed two of their number to visit our works and satisfy themselves as to the real state of the case. We had great pleasure in receiving these two clear-headed cautious pioneers. We showed them over the workshops, and pointed out the habitations in the neighbourhood with their attractive surroundings. The men returned to their constituents, and gave such a glowing account of their mission that we had no difficulty in obtaining the men we required. Indeed, we might easily have obtained three times the number of efficient mechanics. Sixty-four of the most likely men were eventually selected, men in the zenith of their physical powers. We made arrangements for their conveyance to Glasgow, from whence they started for Liverpool by steamer. They landed in a body at the latter port, many of them accompanied by their wives and children, and eight-day clocks! A special train was engaged for the conveyance of the whole--men, women, and children, bag and baggage--from Liverpool to Patricroft, where suitable accommodation had been provided for them.
The arrival of so powerful a body of men made a great sensation in the neighbourhood. The men were strong, respectable looking, and well dressed. The pickets were "dumfoundered." They were brushed to one side by the fresh arrivals. They felt that their game was up, and they suddenly departed. The men were taken over the workshops, with which they appeared quite delighted. They were told to be ready to start next morning at six, after which they departed to their lodgings. The morning arrived and the gallant sixty-four were all present. After allotting to each his special work, they gave three hearty cheers, and dispersed throughout the workshops.
We had no reason to regret the results which were effected through the strike ordered by the Trades' Union. The new men worked with a will. They were energetic, zealous, and skilful. They soon gave evidence of their general handiness and efficiency in all the departments of work in which they were engaged. We were thus enabled to carry out our practice of Free Trade in Ability in our own way, and we were no longer interfered with in our promotion of workmen who served us best. In short, we had scotched the strike; we conquered the Union in their wily attempt to get us under their withering control; and the Bridgewater Foundry resumed its wonted activity in every department.
It was afterwards a great source of happiness to me to walk through the various workshops and observe the cheerful and intelligent countenances of the new men, and to note the energetic skill with which they used their tools in the advancement of their work. General handiness is one of the many valuable results that issues from the practice of handling the variety of materials which are more or less employed in mechanical structures. At the time that I refer to, the skilful workmen employed in the engineering establishments of Scotland (which were then comparatively small in size) were accustomed to use all manner of mechanical tools. They could handle with equally good effect the saw, the plane, the file, and the chisel; and, as occasion required, they could exhibit their skill at the smith's forge with the hammer and the anvil. This was the kind of workmen with which I had reinforced the foundry. The men had been bred to various branches of mechanics. Some had been blacksmiths, others carpenters, stone masons, brass or iron founders; but all of them were handy men. They merely adopted the occupation of machine and steam-engine makers because it offered a wider field for the exercise of their skill and energy.
I may here be allowed to remark that we owe the greatest advances in mechanical invention to Free Trade in Ability. If we look carefully into the narratives of the lives of the most remarkable engineers, we shall find that they owed very little to the seven years' rut in which they were trained. They owed everything to innate industry, energy, skill, and opportunity. Thus, Brindley advanced from the position of a millwright to that of a canal engineer; Smeaton and Watt, from being mathematical instrument makers, advanced to higher positions,--the one to be the inventor of the modern lighthouse, the other to be the inventor of the condensing steam-engine. Some of the most celebrated mechanical and civil engineers--such as Rennie, Cubitt, and Fairbairn--were originally millwrights. All these men were many-handed. They had many sides to their intellect. They were resourceful men. They afford the best illustrations of the result of Free Trade in Ability.
The persistent aim at an indolent equality which Union men aim at, is one of the greatest hindrances to industrial progress. When the Union Delegates called upon me to insist that none but men who had served seven years' apprenticeship should be employed in the works, I told them that I preferred employing a man who had acquired the requisite mechanical skill in two years rather than another who was so stupid as to require seven years' teaching. The delegates regarded this statement as preposterous and heretical. In fact, it was utter high treason. But in the long run we carried our point.
It is true, we had some indenture-bound apprentices. These were pupils who paid premiums. In certain cases we could not very well refuse to take them. Some of them caused a great deal of annoyance and disturbance. They were irregular in their attendance, consequently they could not be depended upon for the regular operations of the foundry. They were careless in their work, and set a bad example to the others. We endeavoured to check this disturbing element by stipulating that the premium should be payable in six months' portions, and that each party should be free to terminate the connection at the end of each succeeding six months. By this system we secured more care and regularity on the part of the pupil apprentices; as, while it checked inattention and irregularity, it offered a direct and substantial encouragement to zeal and industry.