Mr. Maudslay arrived from Berlin two days after my return to London. He, too, had enjoyed his holiday. During his stay in Berlin he had made the friendship of the distinguished Humboldt. Shenkel, the architect, had been very kind to him, and presented him with a set of drawings and engravings of his great architectural works, which Mr. Maudslay exhibited to me with much delight. What he most admired in Shenkel was the great range of his talent in all matters of design, his minute attention to detail, and his fine artistic feeling.
Soon after Mr. Maudslay's return, a very interesting job was brought to him, in which he took even more than his usual interest. It was a machine which his friend Mr. Barton, of the Royal Mint, had obtained from France. It was intended to cut or engrave the steel dies used for stamping coin. It was a remarkable and interesting specimen of inventive ingenuity. It copied any object in relief which had been cast in plaster of Paris or brass from the artist's original wax model. The minutest detail was transferred to soft steel dies with absolute accuracy. This remarkable machine could copy and cut steel dies either in intaglio or in cameo of any size, and, in short, enabled the mechanic who managed it to transfer the most minute and characteristic touches of the original model to the steel dies for any variety of size of coin. Nevertheless, the execution of some of the details of the machine were so defective, that after giving the most tempting proof of its capabilities at the Royal Mint, Mr. Barton found it absolutely necessary to place it in Maudslay's hands, in order to have its details thoroughly overhauled, and made as mechanically perfect as its design and intention merited.
This interesting machine was accordingly brought to the private workshop, and placed in the hands of the leading mechanic, whom I had the pleasure of being associated with, James Sherriff, one of our most skilled workmen. We were both put to our mettle. It was a job quite to my taste, and being associated with so skilled a workman as Sherriff, and in constant communication with Mr. Maudslay, I had every opportunity of bringing my best manipulative ability into action and use while perfecting this beautiful machine. It is sufficient to say that by our united efforts, by the technical details suggested by Mr. Maudslay and carried out by us, and by the practical trials made under the superintendence of Mr. Wyon of the Mint, the apparatus was at length made perfect and performed its duty to the satisfaction of every one concerned.
Mr. Maudslay had next a pair of 200 horse-power marine engines put in hand. His sons and partners were rather opposed to so expensive a piece of work being undertaken without an order. At that time such a power as 200 horse nominal was scarcely thought of; and the Admiralty Board were very cautious in ordering marine engines of any sort. Nevertheless, the engines were proceeded with and perfected. They formed a noble object in the great erecting shop. They embodied in every detail all Mr. Maudslay's latest improvements. In fact the work was the sum total of the great master's inventions and adaptations in marine engines. The Admiralty at last secured them for the purpose of being placed in a very fine vessel, the Dee, then in course of construction. Mr. Maudslay was so much pleased with the result that he had a very beautiful model made of the engines; and finding that I had some artistic skill as a draughtsman, he set me to work to make a complete perspective drawing of their great engines as they stood all perfect in the erecting-shop. This was a work entirely to my taste. In due time I completed a graphic portrait of these noble engines, treated, I hope, in an artistic spirit. Indeed, such a class of drawing was rarely to be had from any engineering draughtsman. Mere geometrical drawing could not give a proper idea, as a whole, of so grand a piece of mechanism. It required something of the artistic spirit to fairly represent it. At all events my performance won the entire approval of my master.
Mr. Maudslay was a man of a wide range of mechanical abilities. He was always ready to enter upon any new work requiring the exercise of special skill. It did not matter whether it was machine tools, engraving dies, block machinery, or astronomical instruments. While at Berlin he went to see the Royal Observatory. He was naturally much interested by the fine instruments there--the works of Repsoldt and Hertz, the pioneers of improved astronomical workmanship. The continental instrument makers were then far in advance of those of England. Mr. Maudslay was greatly impressed with the sight of the fine instruments in the Berlin Observatory. He was permitted to observe some of the most striking and remarkable of the heavenly bodies-- Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon. It was almost a new revelation to him; for the subject was entirely novel. To be able to make such instruments seemed to him to be a glorious achievement of refined mechanism and manipulative skill. He returned home full of the wonderful sights he had seen. It was a constant source of pleasure to him to dwell upon the splendour and magnificence of the heavenly bodies.
He became anxious to possess a powerful telescope of his own. His principal difficulty was in procuring a lens of considerable diameter, possessed of high perfection of defining power. I suggested to him the employment of a reflecting telescope, by means of which the difficulties connected with the employment of glass could be avoided. This suggestion was based upon some knowledge I had acquired respecting this department of refined mechanical art. I knew that the elder Herschel had by this means vastly advanced our knowledge of the heavenly bodies, indeed to an extent far beyond what had been achieved by the most perfect of glass lens instruments. Mr. Maudslay was interested in the idea I suggested; and he requested me to show him what I knew of the art of compounding the alloy called speculum metal. He wished to know how so brittle a material could be cast and ground and polished, and kept free from flaws or defects of every kind.
I accordingly cast for him a speculum of 8 inches diameter. I ground and polished it, and had it fitted up in a temporary manner to exhibit its optical capabilities, which were really of no mean order. But, as his ambition was to have a grand and powerful instrument of not less than 24 inches diameter, the preparation for such a speculum became a subject to him of the highest interest. He began to look out for a proper position for his projected observatory. He made inquiry about a residence at Norwood, where he thought his instrument might have fair play. It would there be free from the smoke and disturbing elements of such a place as Lambeth. His mind was full of this idea when he was called away by the claims of affection to visit a dear old friend at Boulogne. He remained there for more than a week, until assured of his friend's convalescence. But on his return voyage across the Channel he caught a severe cold. On reaching London he took to his bed and never left it alive. After three or four weeks' suffering he died on the 14th of February 1831.
It was a very sad thing for me to lose my dear old master. He was so good and so kind to me in all ways. He treated me like a friend and companion. He was always generous, manly, and upright in his dealings with everybody. How his workmen loved him; how his friends lamented him! He directed, before his death, that he should be buried in Woolwich Churchyard, where a cast iron tomb, made to his own design, was erected over his remains. He had ever a warm heart for Woolwich, where he had been born and brought up. He began his life as a mechanic there, and worked his way steadily upwards until he reached the highest point of his profession. He often returned to Woolwich after he had left it; sometimes to pay a share of his week's wages to his mother, while she lived; sometimes to revisit the scenery of his youth. He liked the green common, with the soldiers about it; Shooter's Hill, with its wide look-out over Kent and down the valley of the Thames; the river busy with shipping; the Dockyard wharf, with the royal craft loading and unloading their armaments. He liked the clangour of the arsenal smithy, where he had first learned his art; and all the busy industry of the place. It was natural, therefore, that being so proud of his early connection with Woolwich he should wish his remains to be laid there; and Woolwich, on its part, has equal reason to be proud of Henry Maudslay.