The chief of these extraneous and, I may say, disturbing jobs, was that of constructing a rotary steam-engine. Mr. Robert Steen had contrived and patented an engine of this sort. He was a dangerously enthusiastic man, and entertained the most visionary ideas as to steam power. He was of opinion that his own contrivance was more compact and simple, and possessed of more capability of producing power from the consumption of a given quantity of fuel, than the best steam-engines then in use. I warned him of his error; but nothing but an actual proof would satisfy him. He urgently requested me to execute his order.He made me a liberal and tempting offer of weekly payments for my work during the progress of his engine. He only required that I should give his invention the benefit of my careful workmanship. He considered that this would be sufficient to substantiate all his enthusiastic expectations. I was thus seduced to accept his order.
I made the requisite drawings, and proceeded with the work. At the same time my own machine tools were in progress, though at a retarded pace. The weekly payments we're regularly made, and I was kept in a sort of financial ease. After three months the rotary engine was finished to the inventor's complete satisfaction. But when the power it gave out was compared with that of a good ordinary steam-engine, the verdict as to consumption of fuel was against the new rotary engine. Nevertheless, the enthusiastic projector, "tho' vanquished he would argue still," insisted that the merits of his contrivance would sooner or later cause it to be a most formidable rival to the crank steam-engines. As he was pleased with its performances, I had no reason to be dissatisfied. I had done my part in the matter, and Mr. Steen had done his. His punctual weekly payments had assisted me in the completion of my tools; and after a few months more labour I had everything ready for starting business on my own account.
My choice lay between Liverpool and Manchester. I had seen both of these cities while on my visit to Lancashire to witness the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. I now proceeded to visit them again. I was fortified with valuable introductions to leading men in both places. I was received by them with great kindness and hospitality. I have heard a great deal about the ingratitude and selfishness of the world. It may have been my good fortune, but I have never experienced either of those unfeeling conditions. On the whole I have found a great deal of unselfish kindness among my fellow-beings. They have often turned out of their way to do me a service; and I can never be too grateful for the unwearied kindness, civility, and generosity of the friends I met with during my stay in Lancashire.
It was a question which would be the best place to settle in-- Liverpool or Manchester. I had seen striking evidences of the natural aptitude of Lancashire workmen for every sort of mechanical employment, and had observed their unsparing energy while at work. I compared them with the workmen whom I had seen in London, and found them superior. They were men of greater energy of character; their minds were more capacious; their ingenuity was more inventive. I felt assured that in either Liverpool or Manchester--the centres of commercial and manipulative energy--I could settle down with my limited capital and tools, and in course of time contrive to get on, helped by energy, self-reliance, and determination. I also found that the demand for machine-making tools was considerable, and that their production would soon become an important department of business. It might be carried on with little expenditure of capital, as the risks were small and the returns were quick. I resolved to cultivate that moderate and safe class of mechanical business, at all events at the outset.
I first went to Liverpool. I presented my letter of introduction to Mr. Roscoe, head of the Mersey Steel and Iron Company. He received me with great kindness, and gave me much good advice. I called upon Edward Berry, engineer, and also upon William Fawcett, who had received me with so much kindness on my former visit. I cannot omit mentioning also the friendly reception which I received from Dr. Sillar. He had been a medical student at Edinburgh, and had during that time met with some kindness from my father. He expressed his remembrance of it with grateful effusion; and added his personal introduction, with that of my letters, to some of the leading men in Liverpool. I may mention that Dr. Sillar was the son of Burns's "Brother Poet" Davie, to whom the well-known "Epistle" was addressed.
Among the other well-known men to whom I was introduced at Liverpool was John Cragg, an intelligent and enterprising ironfounder. He was an extensive manufacturer of the large sugar-boiling pans used in the West Indies. He had also given his attention to the introduction of iron into buildings of different sorts. Being a man of artistic taste he had even introduced cast-iron into Gothic architecture. In order to exhibit, in an impressive form, the uses of his favourite metal, he erected at his own cost a very elegant church in the northern part of Liverpool.* [footnote... So far as I can recollect, the name of the church was St. James's. It exhibited a very early introduction of iron as an important element in architectural construction. Iron was afterwards largely introduced into mills, mill gearing, and buildings generally. ...]
Cast-iron was introduced, not only in the material parts of the structure, but into the Gothic columns and Gothic tracery of the windows, as well as into the lofty and elegant spire. Iron was also employed in the external ornamental details, where delicate yet effective decoration was desirable. The famous architect, Edward Blore, was the designer of the church; and the whole details of the building--of which cast-iron formed the principal material-- were executed to his entire satisfaction* [footnote... So far as I can recollect, the name of the church was St. James's. It exhibited a very early introduction of iron as an important element in architectural construction. Iron was afterwards largely introduced into mills, mill gearing, and buildings generally. ...]
My introduction to Mr. Cragg led to an acquaintance, and then to a friendship. When the ice was broken which was very soon--he told me that he was desirous of retiring from the more active part of his business. Whether he liked my looks or not I do not know; but, quite unexpectedly, he made me a very tempting offer to enter his works as his successor. He had already amassed a fortune, and I might do the same. I could only thank him most sincerely for his kindness. But, on carefully thinking the matter over, I declined the proposal. My principal reason was, that the special nature of his foundry work did not quite harmonise with my desire to follow the more strictly mechanical part of the iron business. Besides, I thought I had a brighter prospect of success before me; though I knew that I had many difficulties to contend against. Did I throw away my chances in declining the liberal proposal of Mr. Cragg? The reader will be able to judge from the following pages. But to the last* [footnote... Mr. Cragg died in 1853, aged 84. ...] I continued a most friendly intercourse with my intended patron, while he on his part took an almost paternal interest in my progress.