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The Scottish Nation
Taylor


TAYLOR, JAMES, understood to have been the first person who suggested the power of steam in inland navigation, was born on May 3, 1753, at the village of Leadhills in Lanarkshire. He received the rudiments of his education at the academy of Closeburn, Dumfries-shire, and afterwards attended the university of Edinburgh, where he is said to have qualified himself both for the medical profession and the church. In 1785 he was engaged by Mr. Patrick Miller of Dalswinton, as tutor to his two sons, then attending the university of Edinburgh. Mr. Miller was at that period occupied with a series of operations for using paddle-wheels in the propelling of vessels, chiefly with the view of extricating them from dangerous situations, and had constructed a double vessel, sixty feet in length, with intermediate paddles, driven by a capstan, worked by manual labour. This vessel was tried in the firth of Forth with success in the spring of 1787, having easily distanced a custom-house wherry with which it contended in sailing. On this occasion, Mr. Taylor was convinced that a superior mechanical power was wanting to render the invention extensively useful; and suggested the steam engine as applicable to the purpose. Mr. Miller at first started many objections to the feasibility of the scheme, but at length consented to be at the expense of an experiment, to be superintended by Mr. Taylor.

A young engineer named William Symington, employed at the lead mines in Wanlockhead, Dumfries-shire, was then at Edinburgh for his improvement. He had invented a new construction of the steam-engine, by throwing off the air pump, and he was deemed the fittest person to be recommended to Mr. Miller to construct an engine for the purpose. Mr. Taylor introduced Symington to Mr. Miller, by whom he was engaged to make up and fit to his paddle-wheel boat, one of his newly patented engines. On October 14, 1788, the first trial was made on the lake at Dalswinton, in the presence of Mr. Miller and a number of spectators. The boat was a double one, and the engine, which had a four-inch cylinder, was placed in a frame upon the deck. The experiment was successful, the vessel moving at the rate of five miles an hour, and was several times repeated. An account of this event by Mr. Taylor was inserted in the Dumfries Journal, and it was also noticed in the Scots Magazine. In the summer of 1780 a larger vessel was fitted up, under the superintendence of Mr. Taylor, at the Carron foundry, having a double engine, of which the cylinder measured eighteen inches in diameter. With this vessel two trials were made on the forth and Clyde canal, the latter with complete success, the vessel going steadily at the rate of seven miles an hour; and an account of these experiments, dictated by Mr., afterwards Lord Cullen, was inserted in the Edinburgh newspapers of February 1790. Deterred, however, by the expense, and subsequently much occupied with the improvement of his estate, Mr. Miller declined proceeding farther with the project, and Mr. Taylor was unable of himself to prosecute a scheme which had commenced so auspiciously.

Mr. Taylor was afterwards engaged for some time in superintending the workings of coal, lime, and other minerals, on the estate of the earl of Dumfries. IN 1801 a small experimental steam-vessel was fitted up by Mr. Symington, who had commenced business in Falkirk, and tried on the Forth and Clyde canal. This vessel was, some time after, inspected by Mr. Fulton from the United States, accompanied by Mr. Henry Bell of Glasgow, the two individuals who were the first to use the steam-engine for the purposes of general navigation Ė Mr. Fulton having in 1807 launched a steam-vessel on the Hudson, and Mr. Bell one on the Clyde in 1812. In 1824 Mr. Taylor addressed a printed statement of his concern in the invention of steam navigation to Sir Henry Parnell, chairman of a select committee on steam-boars, in the hope that government would grant him some reward for his services; but in this he was disappointed. He had previously engaged in an extensive pottery at Cumnock, Ayrshire, which had not succeeded. He died September 18, 1825, in his 68th year.

Soon after his decease, a renewed application was made to government, by one of his relatives, on behalf of his widow and family, in which the claims brought forward at the time by Mr. Symington were explained away. A pension of £50 a-year was bestowed by government on his widow.

The merit of the invention of the steamboat has been ascribed to Taylor, although he himself never attempted to claim for himself exclusively the origination of steam navigation. To Mr. Miller he undoubtedly afforded very valuable assistance in his experiments, by his suggestions, skill in plan-drawing, powers of calculation, and indefatigable zeal in the superintendence of such parts of the undertaking as were more especially intrusted to his charge, but this is all, after a careful examination of the rival claims of Miller, Taylor, and Symington, that can, in common fairness, be allowed to him. A memoir of Mr. Miller, who was at the sole expense of the experiments, and under whose direction they were undertaken, will be found in the SUPPLEMENT. It was not until 35 years after the latest of that gentlemanís experiments with steam, and nine after his death, that Taylor ever claimed even a joint share in the invention of steam navigation. The following are the titles of the works on which his claims have been founded:

Memorial by the late Mr. James Taylor, of Cumnock, Ayrshire; presented to the Select Committee of the House of commons on Steamboats, &c., through the Right Hon. Sir Henry Parnell, Bart., on the subject of propelling vessels by steam power. Dated April, 1824. Second edition, with original correspondence sustaining Mr. Taylorís claims.

A Concise History of the origin of Steam Navigation: Comprising its invention by Mr. James Taylor, and experiments by him in conjunction with the late Patrick Miller of Dalswinton, Esq. Compiled from authentic documents. Edin., 1842.

A Brief Account of the Rise and Early Progress of Steam Navigation, intended to demonstrate that it originated in the suggestions and experiments of the late Mr. James Taylor of Cumnock, in connection with the late Mr. Miller of Dalswinton, Ayr, 1844.


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