I was there, with the two mechanics I had brought with me from Patricroft to erect the steam hammer. I took share and share alike in the work. The Lords were introduced to me, and I proceeded to show them the hammer. I passed it through its paces. I made it break an eggshell in a wine-glass without injuring the glass. It was as neatly effected by the two-and-a-half ton hammer as if it had been done by an egg-spoon. Then I had a great mass of white-hot iron swung out of the furnace by a crane and placed upon the anvil block. Down came the hammer on it with ponderous blows. My Lords scattered to the extremities of the workshop, for the splashes and sparks of hot metal flew about. I went on with the hurtling blows of the hammer, and kneaded the mass of iron as if it had been clay into its devised forms.
After finishing off the forging, my Lords gathered round the hammer again, when I explained to them the rationale of its working, and the details of its construction. They were greatly interested, especially Mr. Sidney Herbert (afterwards Lord Herbert of Lea), then Secretary to the Admiralty, and Sir George Cockburn, a fine specimen of the old admiral. Indeed, all the members of the Board were more or less remarkable men. They honoured me with their careful attention, and expressed their admiration at the hammer's wonderful range of power and delicacy of touch, in this new application of the force of steam.
The afternoon was a most important one for me in more ways than one, although I cannot venture to trouble my readers with the details. It was followed, however, by an order to supply all the Royal Dockyard forge departments with a complete equipment of steam hammers, and all the requisite accessories. These were supplied in due time, and gave in every case the highest satisfaction. The forgings were found to be greatly better, and almost absurdly cheaper than those done by the old bit by bit building-up process. The danger of flaws was entirely done away with; and, in the case of anchors, this was a consideration of life and death to the seamen, who depend for their safety upon the soundness of the forgings.
Besides my introduction to that admirable man, Mr. Sidney Herbert, I had the happiness of being introduced to Captain Brandreth, Director of Naval Works. The whole of the buildings on shore, including the dockyards, were under his control. One of the most important affairs that the Lords of the Admiralty had to attend to on their visit to Devonport was to conclude the contract for constructing the great docks at Keyham. This was a large extension of the Devonport Docks, intended for the accommodation of the great steamships of the Royal Navy, as well as for an increase of the graving docks and workshops for their repair. An immense portion of the shore of the Hamoaze had to be walled in so as to exclude the tide and enable the space to be utilised for the above purposes. To effect this a vast amount of pile-driving was rendered necessary, in order to form a firm foundation for the great outer dock wall, about a mile and a quarter in length.
Messrs. Baker and Sons were the contractors for this work. They were present at the first start of my steam hammer at Devonport. They were, like the others, much impressed by its vast power and manageableness. They had an interview with me as to its applicability for driving piles for the immense dock, this being an important part of their contract. Happily, I had already given some attention to this application of the powers of the steam hammer. In fact, I had secured a patent for it. I had the drawings for the steam hammer pile-driving machine with me. I submitted them to Mr. Baker, and he saw its importance in a moment. "That," he 'said, "is the very thing that I want to enable me to complete my contract satisfactorily." Thousands of enormous piles had to be driven down into the deep silt of the Shore; and to have driven them down by the old system of pile-driving would have occupied a long time, and would also have been very expensive.
The drawings were of course submitted to Captain Brandreth. He was delighted with my design. The steam pile-driver would be, in his opinion, the prime agent for effecting the commencement of the great work originated by himself. At first the feat of damming out such a high tide as that of the Hamoaze seemed very doubtful, because the stiff slate silt was a treacherous and difficult material to penetrate. But now, he thought, the driving would be rendered comparatively easy. With Captain Brandreth's consent the contractors ordered of me two of my steam hammer pile-drivers. They were to be capable of driving 18-inch square piles of 70 feet in length into the silt of the Hamoaze.
[Image] Space to be enclosed at the Hamoaze
This first order for my pile-driver was a source of great pleasure to me. I had long contemplated this application of the power of the steam hammer. The machine had long been in full action in my "mind's eye," and now I was to see it in actual reality. I wrote down to my partner by that night's post informing him of the happy circumstance. The order was for two grand steam hammer pile-drivers, each with four-ton hammer-blocks.The wrought-iron guide case and the steam cylinder were to weigh in all seven tons. All this weight was to rest on the shoulders of the pile. The blows were to be about eighty in the minute. This, I thought, would prove thoroughly effective in rapidly driving the piles down into the earth.