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Mr. G. Hudson, M.P - "The Railway King"                                                               The late George Stephenson, Esq.


In our Obituary of last week we briefly recorded the death of this eminent engineer, whose high destiny it has been to be, (says the Daily News,) the main instrument in effecting one of the greatest revolutions out revolutionary era has witnessed, by that combination of the railway and the locomotive steam-engine to which Europe and America owe their railway systems?' 
        George Stephenson was born in the village of Wylam, on the banks of the Tyne, about nine miles west of Newcastle, in April, 1781; and at the time of his death was in his 68th year. His father was a workman at the Wylam Colliery, and he himself worked in the same humble way, having been sent into the pit at a very early age. At the age of fourteen, or fifteen, he was employed as a brakesman, on the waggon way between Wylam and Newburn; his father having removed to Wabbottle, about a mile north-west of the latter village. Young Stephenson also occasionally worked at the ballast quay of Messrs. Nixon and Co. at Willington, about five miles east of Newcastle. 
After having been some years employed at Wylam, Mr. Stephenson removed to Killingworth Colliery, the property of Lord Ravensworth and partners, where he was still employed as a brakesman. At Killingworth he married his first wife, by whom he had one son, the celebrated engineer, Mr. Robert Stephenson, M.P. The earliest indication of George Stephenson's genius for mechanics showed itself at Killingworth, where he effectually repaired his own eight-day house clock, that was out of order; and he thenceforth became the watchmaker of the village, an occupation to which he devoted many leisure hours. Soon after this, a large condensing machine erected at the colliery for pumping water from the pit got out of order, and various ineffectual attempts were made to repair it. At length Mr. Stephenson's attention was directed to the engine, and having carefully examined its working parts, he thought he discovered where the defects lay: he was allowed to "try his hand," and succeeded in repairing the engine, and even introducing some improvement into its construction. His employers were so satisfied with this result, that he was at once promoted from a brakesman to an engineer, and was entrusted with the entire management of the engine. Here he had many opportunities of self-improvement; and his progress was soon developed in the discovery of the Safety Lamp. Several claims have been made to the merit of this invention, and to the present day the exact amount of credit due to each remains a matter of controversy. 
        Mr. Stephenson's claims were warmly and liberally supported by many of the most respectable coal-owners and others in the Newcastle district, who maintained that to his ingenuity the mining interest is indebted for the discovery of the principle on which the saféty-lamp is constructed. On the very day that Mr. Stephenson was making his first experiment (Oct. 21, 1815), a letter was received by the Rev. John Hodgson from Sir Humphry Davy, announcing that he had discovered that explosive mixtures of mine-damp would not pass through small apertures or tubes; and that, if a lamp were made air-tight on the sides, and furnished with apertures, it would not communicate flame to the outward atmos-phere. The coincidence of this communi-cation with Stephenson's experiment is very extraordinary. To remunerate him for the invention, a meeting was held in November, 1818, and a subscription opened, which eventually amounted to one thousand pounds; this sum, together with a piece of plate, was presented to Mr. Stephenson, at a public dinner, held in the Assembly Rooms, Newcastle. 
        From this period, Mr. Stephenson's advancement was rapid; and thenceforth his career became more particularly identified with the locomotive engine. In 1804, Trevethick and Vivian's machine drew carriages at Merthyr-Tydvil, at the rate of five miles an hour. In 1811 appeared Blenkinsop's engine, and in 1812 Chapman produced one; both which were defective. In 1814, Mr. Stephenson constructed for the Killing-worth Colliery an engine which was used on the colliery railroad with almost perfect success. This did not, however, please the engineer, and he subsequently constructed another engine for the same place, which answered much better, and laid the foundation of the existing system of railroads. 
        In 1824 Mr. Stephenson established on engine manufactory in Newcastle, in partnership with the Messrs. Pease (of Darlington), Mr. Robert Longridge, and Mr. Robert Stephenson. This concern is situated on the Forth banks, and continues to prosper under the firm of Messrs. Robert Stephenson and Co. The first locomotive railway for the purpose of travelling, according to the present principles of traction' was laid between Stockton and Darlington; and was opened in 1825. Mr. Stephenson has been known to confess that his ideas and anticipations of the capabilities of this mode of transit, both as to the speed and the effect which it would produce when generally adopted (as he foresaw it must be ultimately), were such as he did not even dare to express, for fear of being pronounced insane. At that time he talked of reaching a velocity of twenty miles an hour, but his inward thoughts said sixty or one hundred miles. It was not, however, till the formation of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, in 1829, that Mr. Stephenson was brought prominently before the public as an engine builder. In that year the directors of the above line offered a premium of £500 for the best locomotive engine to run on their railway; when George Stephenson entered the lists, and constructed his celebrated engine "the Rocket," which won the prize. This achievement gave a decisive stamp to Mr. Stephenson's reputation as a railway engineer; and he was subsequently employed in the construction of most of the principal lines of railway in the kingdom. He was also engaged in constructing lines in Belgium, Holland, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain; and he had the honour to receive a knighthood from Leopold of Belgium, for railway services. We are indebted for the substance of these details to a memoir in the Newcastle journal. 
        The best evidence of the true greatness of Mr. Stephenson's character is the unwavering faith in his own theoretical conclusions, combined with sound practical judgment, that he manifested throughout his career. About a year ago he said at a public dinner at Newcastle -"At Liverpool I pledged myself to attain a speed of ten miles an hour. I said I had no doubt it would go much faster, but we had better be moderate at the beginning. It was not an easy task for me to keep the engine down to ten miles an hour, but it must be done, and I did my best. I had to place myself in the witness-box of a Parliamentary Committee. I could not find words to satisfy either the committee or myself. Some one inquired if I was a foreigner, and another hinted that I was mad. But I put up with every rebuff, and went on with my plans, determined not to be put down." A simple remark he made about the time he constructed his first locomotive, shows with what vivid reality the then future passenger railway was present in his mind: - "I said to my friends that there was no limit to the speed of such an engine, provided the works could be made to, stand." 
        Mr. Stephenson was a man of simple and unsophisticated nature. Upon the occasion just referred to, he also said: - "I saw how deficient I was in education, and resolved that my son should not labour under the same defect, but that I would put him to a good school and give him a liberal training. I was, however, a poor man. I betook myself to mending my neighbours' clocks and watches at night, after my daily labour was done, and thus I procured the means of educating my son. He became my assistant and companion. He got an appointment as under viewer, and at nights we worked together at our engineering." Well has that son repaid such paternal care. George Stephenson's judicious kindness was not limited to the family circle. "Never," says a writer in the Derbyshire Chronical, "was a proposition made to him for the mental and temporal improvement of his workmen in his collieries, of whom he had upwards of a thousand, but it was met with his immediate attention and consideration, with a deep feeling towards their welfare that could not be surpassed." 
        Mr. Stephenson was fond of retirement; he was happiest in the country, where he might be seen among his dogs, his cows, and his horses, his rabbits, and birds. Even in his latter years, he was fond of rambling about, bird-nesting or nutting, or any other rural enjoyment ... 

[ILN SEPT 2 1848] 

It is surprising, given that the ILN devoted a special supplément to, the centenary of George Stephensons birth in 1881, that his obituary notice should be so short. The brief biography provides little information about his life after 1825 and makes no mention of his sons achievements on the London & Birmingham and work on the bridges at Newcastle and Berwick, for which George Stephenson's détermination to give his son a good education was indirectly responsible. The controversy over the invention of the miner's safety lamp was, at times, an unpléasant and bitter issue, which elicited the worst in Davys nature. Rolt, in his biography of the Stephensons, concludes that it seems probable that both reached the same ends quite independently but that Stephenson must be credited with maintain-ing a dignified silence over the matter, in marked contrast to Davys unseemly efforts to prove his claim. George Stephenson died at his home, Tapton House, near Chesterfield, on 12 August 1848 after a serious attack of pleurisy. 
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Mr. Hudson, "the Railway King," was, until recently, a linendraper at York, of which city lie has been twice Lord Mayor. In his business he realised some fortune, and inherited more by a bequest. His career in railway enterprise has been, it is well known, attended with unprecendented success, attributable, in no trivial degree, to his ability, judgment, and integrity. One Company granted him, we understand, £50,000, in recom-pense for his admirable management of their affairs. At present his wealth is enormous; and he has purchased within the last year a considerable estate from the Duke of Devonshire. 
        Mr. Hudson enjoys unbounded popularity in his own district, and people of all ranks would be glad to confide any sum of money to his discretion and speculative enterprise. His sudden rise has not blunted his naturally kind disposition. It is related of him, that, visiting a brother tradesman, whose fortunes had been the reverse of his own, lie proposed to him the purchase of shares in a particular railroad lie named, at which his poor friend smiled in derision, asserting his utter want of means, and consequent incapacity to avail himself of the offer. "Never mind," said Hudson, "I will arrange that for you;" and in a brief period he called again on his old associate with a cheque for several thousand pounds, the fruits of the speculation. 
        We find in the York Herald the following tribute to Mr. Hudson's worth: -"We are glad of the opportunity of thus noticing superior talent in a political opponent. As a citizen and neighbour, we have known Mr. Hudson for many years; and, whether in private life - in the Mansion-house, as Chief Magistrate of the City - or in his more arduous engage-ments in the railroad world - we have ever found that though his politics (to us) were objectionable, yet his course was always straightforward, and highly honourable." 
        In proof of the extent of Mr. Hudson's railway enterprise, it may be stated that in the Parliamentary Return of Persons Subscribing to Railway Contracts, for which Bills were presented during the late Session, the total amount of Mr. Hudson's subscription is £319,835; and his interest in one railway (Newcastle and Berwick) amounts to £200,000. The extent of Mr. Hudson's railway connections may be illustrated by the following circumstance: 
In a late Committee of the House of Lords, he was requested to point out the different railways in which he was interested; this he did, with much good-humour, commencing at Bristol on one side, and Rugby on the other, and pro-ceeding northward as far as Edinburgh, adding, that he was either chairman or director on almost all the railways in that great extent of country. 
        A short time since, at York, he thus adverted to some of the evils of rapid legislation: - "He feared that railway accidents would become much more frequent, when he saw the Legislature, as they had done this session, sanctioning lines with gradients so bad that they would require the locomotive engine behind as well as before. He almost shuddered for the consequences?' 
        Mr. Hudson's recent return to Parliament for the borough of Sunderland will be freely in the recollection of our readers. He is of Conservative principles; but, in one of his addresses, "he pledged himself, if sent to Parliament, to act as an independent member, seeking only to promote the welfare of the country. He had sprung from the people; to his own exertions he owed any wealth or influence which he might possess; and for the promotion of the interests of the people, lie was deter-mined to use his utmost efforts." 

[ILN SEPT 6 1846] 

The references in this article to George Hudson's 'integrity'and 'highly honourable' course must have seemed ironic to anyone reading them after his fall in 1849, when dealings far from honourable and above board were revealed. It then, of course, became impossible to uphold him as an authority for any course of action, but his main contribution to the development of railways was his conviction in the benefits to be dériveil from amalgamation. Although the idea of the merger to produce the Midland Railway was Robert Stèphensons, it was Hudson who was instrumental in forging the alliance in 1844. Parliament was then opposed to the idea of any railway company enjoying a monopoly in a vital area, but the end-to-end amalgamations that followed the creation of the Midland -the London & North Western, the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire and the Lancashire & Yorkshire railways -were the result of sound commercial logic. Hudson was not a self-made man in the sense of George Stephenson or Brassey, since his railway career was launched by a £30,000 légacy; equally the methods resorted to by Hudson in improving the finances of ailing railway companies were nothing short of scandalous, and his career ended in ignominy. 

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This page was created by Julia Lee '99. It is maintained by Professor Robert Schwartz of the History Department, 
Mount Holyoke College.