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ON MECHANICAL POWER, AND THE NEGLECT OF THE SCIENTIFIC
In a manufacturing and warlike country, everything relating to mechanical power is of great importance. The ingenuity exercised to improve the application of power for manufacturing purposes will be extended eventually to those of war. As it is difficult to separate the applications, and as the discussion must interest and amuse many, we shall enter upon it generally, and then endeavour to anticipate its applications to the purposes of war; and by so doing, show the policy of Government in fostering and encouraging experiments which may afford us, in the hour of need, superiority and safety.
In a late Number, we gave a succinct history of the rise and progress of steam. We shall therefore speak of the present state of mechanical power in England, and offer opinions on some great changes, which have, like “coming events, cast their shadows before."
It is supposed by the generality of mankind, that whatever promotes the interests of any particular class of men, will be supported and adopted by that class : experience, in other words, facts, are opposed to that general opinion. When Hugh Myddelton saw that London could be supplied with water, though the necessity was admitted, he was allowed to pursue his noble work amid the doubts of the ignorant and the indifference of the selfish, and was assisted when it was too late. The illustrious Watt, whom we justly praised when dead, and to whom statues are now erected, was left by the Government, and the nobles, and the wealthy, unnoticed and unaided. Though suffering from pecuniary distress and the corroding anxiety which belongs to it, as truly as effect to cause, he persevered until Mr. Boulton became his partner; even then the prejudice and want of information among the most interested led them to discard his great improvements, and he was compelled to give his engines to the mine-owners and manufacturers who would use them for a portion of the saving they effected !
England is not the only ungrateful country: Fulton first stemmed the rapid rivers of the New World, and has enabled civilized men to establish themselves in wilds and forests, hundreds of miles from the coasts, and hold communication with those located in the ports with the swiftness of flight, and thus anticipated the peopling of America at least two centuries; and what was his reward ? Taunts, ridicule, and neglect. At last some privileges were granted, which were shamefully cancelled ; and his family and posterity are now in poverty on the banks of the Ohio! What support did Winsor receive when he proved that cities could be lighted with hydrogen gas? He was poor; ihe apparatus for his first experiment before the public was rude. When the gas was ignited from an aperture connected with the recipient which contained it, and he said, that by such method, improved and multiplied, towns might be lighted, bursts of laughter and taunts of scorn were heard on every side, and the poor man covered his face with his hands and wept. He was assailed by necessity, and died an impoverished exile in France !
Many other instances may be cited; but enough have been given to show that prejudice, ignorance, and doubt assail every spirited enterprise. If more proofs are wanting, we call the attention of the reader to Goldsworth Gurney, who, after labouring for years to bring locomotion hy steam to a practical state, and in which he did much, was left by the few who hoped immediately to amass wealth; his factory was dilapidated, and he turned out to seek his fortune elsewhere. Mr. Hancock has received no better treatment; and Mr. Ogle, after a series of experiments, in which Mr. Summers participated, and which combated every difficulty, and proved
safety and speed were combined, is left to feel himself neglected, and to see his factory taken possession of by the rich mortgagee, and to hear himself refused permission even to examine the vehicle he brought from Liverpool in the depth of winter, in the factory he had established and supported, and with which he would by this time have changed the transit trade of England. Mr. Babbage, after projecting that piece of machinery which approaches nearer to the results of human intelligence than any other, which staggers even persons habituated to mechanical operations, and which constitutes a wonder of the world, sold it to the Government for a small part of what it cost, and then was actually insulted with the offer of the lowest decorative order; thus putting the same value on such a wonderful production as on the labour and genius of an alderman who brings up an address to the throne,-the only symptom of countenance which has been given to the scientific mechanicians of the age.
Is such conduct worthy of our Government? Is such indifference cre. ditable to our aristocracy? Is such neglectful ignorance tolerable among our wealthy manufacturers? It will scarcely be credited that the Emperor of Austria and the King of Bavaria are likely to be the first supporters of locomotion by steam, in connecting the Rhine and the Danube. The effects which will result from this junction, and the opening of the Danube into the Black Sea, will soon be felt in Western Europe.
The acmé of power obtained from the elastic force of steam is in Cornwall, where sixty-seven millions of pounds weight of water have been raised one foot high in a minute. Greater proportional results have been obtained by several of the individuals who have adapted their machinery to vehicles ; and of course a similar result would be obtained on an extended scale if the same apparatus used in the locomotive vehicles was adapted to the raising of water and the working of mines. Messrs. Ogle and Summers usually work their boilers at two hundred and fifty pounds pressure on the inch; and no injury could ensue at even a thousand pounds. The advantage would be great if either their boilers, or any, if such there be, equally safe and efficient, were substituted for those in use.
The machinery now used in vessels is certainly efficient; but its weight and dimensions render it unprofitable; and there seems no hope at present of either the Government or individuals adopting the most obvious improvements. Notwithstanding the great improvement of Messrs. Field and Maudslay, the precipitation of salt is not wholly obviated, and the corrosion from the use of sea-water no one can deny. What will be thought when we state that J. Humphreys, a man who built a steam-boat, devised and superintended the construction of the machinery, and then was compelled to earn his daily bread by steering her for the proprietors, from Southampton to Cowes with passengers, has used the same fresh water for three years. This fact has been made known to the Admiralty, with as much effect as would be obtained by showing colours to the blind. The steam-navigation company had it explained to them. We conclude that Captain Doran cannot lead his coadjutors, or that able man would long since have made the fleet of steamers belonging to that company the pride of England. Now it is, from its impoverished condition, and want of knowledge among its directory, an obstacle to improvement. If Captains Doran and Dundas had not renovated the company, it must have sunk. Now, though poor, it is improving; and might, with the influence it possesses, be made one of the most wealthy in the world; but the directory must be weeded, and more knowledge and more spirit, and less contemptible factious opposition brought into the discussions before it becomes really safe and profitable to the shareholders, and an example, in the adoption of improvement, to the country and the world.
There can be no doubt that the machinery which will drive a steamcarriage will propel a vessel. The difficulties of propelling a carriage over varying surfaces of common road and up the loftiest hills are ten times greater than the application to vessels. In the former, every inch of space and every ounce of weight are of consequence ; in the latter, a foot in length and breadth are of no moment, and a hundred weight more or less is not perceived. We do not say that more space or weight than in a carriage is necessary in a boat; we only mention it to show that the application to vessels is less difficult than to carriages. We know that the same machinery which propelled Messrs. Ogle and Summers' carriage to Liverpool, would propel a boat of forty-horse power. The whole machinery might be enclosed in a box five feet square; now it occupies two-thirds of the vessel ! The question of using salt water Humphreys has settled; as we mentioned, his vessel, the Emerald, has used the same spring water for three years.
It is passing strange that improvements so obvious and simple have not been adopted. The truth is, the Government is uninformed and supine: the Admiralty have not one efficient man in their pay ;-Kingston, who was at Portsmouth, was the only efficient man they had, and that man was sent away with a small retiring pension, though not old nor worn out.
The Royal Yacht squadron have so great a horror of science, that by their laws, any member who possesses a yacht propelled by steam is expelled. We respect and esteem that club; but must ever consider that law as unworthy of the association. If their wishes and intentions were to support the maritime ascendancy of England, they ought to have encouraged the advances of science, and held out rewards and honours for him who could propel a vessel with the greatest speed, the lightest and safest machinery, and without smoke. So great do we consider their power, that we would venture to affirm, that if they would rescind that law, and stand forward as the supporters of science, they would receive the grateful thanks of their country, and do much towards hastening the perfection of locomotion by sea.
If Gurney, Hancock, Sir Charles Dance, Ogle, &c., can travel on the common roads without smoke or steam being seen, their machinery would produce the same result on the ocean. The question of safety is decided : but if a boiler was objected to, Howard has an engine at work without a boiler, and the fire is contained in a close metal box. This engine cannot be worked at much above the ordinary pressure, from quicksilver being used as a medium for regulating the heat; but it ought to be tried and brought into competition with Ogle and Summers, and Hancock, and other competitors. A race of six or eight of such vessels, to be propelled without sails, without the appearance of smoke or steam, and without being subject to that vibratory motion so disagreeable in the present steam-vessels, would not only be interesting, but highly useful. The vibratory motion does not arise from the back water as is usually supposed, but from the quickly repeated blows of the paddle-boards as they strike the water on entering it. If they entered edgeways and came out edgeways, the vibration would be imperceptible.
Until some great improvements are introduced, steam-ships for purposes of war are defective. If the chimney of the steam-frigate is shot away, she becomes a log on the water, very likely to catch fire. If a shot was only to strike her boiler, and not perforate it, the boiler would leak at every rivet and be worthless ; if the shot penetrated, the probability is in favour of the people below being smothered, and those above being scalded to death. The boiler in present use occupies à considerable portion of the vessel, and is consequently much exposed. The boiler of a steamvessel of war must be so compact that it may be fixed very low down, and be rendered quite secure from shot by being below the water, and surrounded by shot-proof substances. If properly constructed, the nitrogentube would be so small as to run less risk than the present chimney of being shot away, and there should be a provision for shipping another if it were cut away close to the deck; if a few feet above it, the injury would not be perceptible. The engines and boiler would be protected by the same materials; the paddle-boxes and shaft might also be made pretty secure. Then, if the power was sufficient to condense and heat air, and with properly constructed artillery pour shot thicker than hail into the adversary, no ship could swim ten minutes when opposed to a frigate thus constructed, of 800 tons-no landing against such artillery could ever be effected ;-an island with batteries of such a construction would laugh at the fleets and armies of the world. An individual, unless he were as rich, though possessing the scientific spirit of a Cavendish, could not have such a craft constructed ; but it is to be done, and that at as little expense as one of the useless steamfrigates cost the country.
Should another war ensue no army will be without some locomotive vehicles to be propelled by steam, or some other power. The machinery may be easily secured against musquetry and grape, and the top-sides also. There are gallant spirits enough to be found who would steer them. Suppose one of these vehicles, containing two hundred men, rushed at a square of infantry drawn up on a road like that which bisected Waterloo, and was followed by cavalry,--the square would be broken through as if made of paper ;-what must ensue is evident. If the ground was hard, so that the wheels had a fulcrum, columns would be scattered like pea-sticks.
The weight of a vehicle capable of doing such desperate mischief, need not amount to more than a 12-pounder and its apparatus.
The Earl of Dundonald has lately made some very successful trials with his rotatory engines applied to carriages and boats: when trying his experiments in the carriage he used Ogle and Summers' boilers, and found it an implement of tremendous power, and perfectly safe. From the imperfection of the details in his Lordship's machinery, the boiler was burnt, and his own beautiful engines had not fair play. If the machinery of his boat had been as well put together as his engines were efficient, his Lordship would have performed all he intended. The boiler he used in his boat was a double cylinder, about three feet diameter, placed horizontally, with a fire on a grate along the middle; for moderate pressure it was as good, or better than those in common use, but far inferior in power and safety to the boiler he used in the carriage.
If the members of the Royal Yacht squadron were imbued with the same scientific spirit as the Admiral Dundonald, we should soon see vessels in the forms of swans or flying-fish darting over the surface of the waters. The curving neck of the swan would form the chimney, the half curved wings the paddle-boxes; and in case of need, there would be no difficulty in stepping a mast for a trysail. The forms might be so varied as to call forth the talents of the highest artist's most refined taste. The real good which would ensue from such intellectual competition would greatly exceed even what is now produced by that association.
It has been repeatedly shown, that railways can never compete with canals for the transport of very heavy goods: Colonel Page's excellent pamphlet on the subject settled the question. We are of opinion that if the canal property of the country was efficiently managed, that it might be rendered far more valuable, and in almost every instance compete with the railways when they were in juxta position. The rate of speed established on the Androssan and other canals by Graham, though upwards of ten miles an hour, is not at its maximum : it is limited by the speed at which horses are capable of continuing exertion. M'Neil, whose testimony on such a subject is alone sufficient, sat in the bow of one of the boats, and when at her maximum of speed, pulled in the rope by which the horse was drawing until he had several feet of it slack ;-it proved, that the animal was not strained by the actual draught, but beaten by the speed required. The use of horses on canals may be dispensed with altogether, and a maximum of speed, hitherto deemed impossible, may be obtained if the rivers or canals be adapted for it. Let a small steam-power be on the deck of the boat applied to turn a drum, round which a rope is wound ; every two hundred yards let an iron eye be spliced into the rope, and dropped over a pin on a standard fixed in the bank :-it is clear, that if the engine turns the drum it must wind up the rope, in doing which the boat must advance ; on the boat approaching the standard, in which is the pin holding the eye, it forms with the bow of the boat such an angle, as to lift the eye off; the next length then takes the bearing, and so on until the lock or stopping-place is arrived at. The rope, after passing the drum, may be conducted through a spout over the taffrail ; men stationed at proper distances may replace the iron eyes on the pins, and the rope is ready for the next boat. The sides of the canal where the banks are friable must be protected; the material which is cheapest in the district should be used : heavy slates at an angle would answer well in some districts; wood prepared on Green and Ryan's principle, which, from destroying the albumen, is specific against dry-rot, would be useful in other districts; and wherever quarries of stone were, that might be placed as the slates. The outcry about the banks of canals is “ much ado about nothing." All canals pass through pastoral districts, and lead to great towns. Boats properly constructed might bring the cattle to the markets in a much shorter time than they can travel on foot, and without waste, loss, or danger. If the conservators of the Thames were to bestir themselves and remove impediments, boats for cattle, and others for passengers might ply between London and Oxford ; and notwithstanding the locks, would almost coinpete with the coaches, notwithstanding the difference of distance. If the boats were commodious and well-conducted, the majority of persous would prefer travelling in them; and as they would be less expensive, they would generally command numbers, as on the Androssan, where 67,000 people have walked half a mile rather than pay the extra 14d. by the coaches.
What facilities and comforts such systems would give in moving troops and their baggage. If such plans were heartily entered into, they would pay the proprietors a great revenue. The spirit of real enterprise, however, seems to have evaporated since the panic of 1825. Then it raved, and nothing was too mad or extravagant to receive support. Pearls were not only to be obtained by the bushel, but young surgeons were added to the establishment to inoculate the oysters with the pearl virus obtained from those oysters afflicted with the pearl disease, and to throw them again into the sea! Cupidity, at that period, was spurred on by knaves to acts combining such madness and ignorance, as were never exceeded within the walls of Bedlam. The reaction has been proportionate, and no enterprise worthy of record has been since undertaken. Every proposal is met with coldness and doubt; and every attempt to form co-operative associations fails; because without a charter or a special act of parliament, each individual is liable, in law, to the amount of all he possesses, and consequently, places his whole property at the discretion of directory. Such a law is foolish; it exists in no other country, and should be abolished in this. That is one great obstacle to the establishing of mechanical agents. We will speak of one piece of machinery which has been long known, and is just struggling into existence, but which, like some unexpected blessing, will far towards giving a mercantile superiority to England, until it is adopted in countries not yet so far advanced as our own. It is, the mode of transferring power. As our object is to convey information in the simplest form, we will first state one or two admitted facts, from which the reader will follow the chain of reasoning :-The air presses on every square inch exposed to it, the weight of 15 lbs. It is clear, that if a vacuum be formed on one side of a surface, the edges of which fit so close to an external box as to prevent any air passing, that if the vacuum be perfect, the number of pounds pressing on the side opposite to the vacuum will be 15 times the number of square inches of the area. On that simple principle depends the whole working of this beautiful machiné. Power cannot be created. There must always be a primary power, and the result of it will be less than it, by the amount of