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Significant Scots
James Nasmyth


The founder Of the Scotch family of Naesmyth is said to have derived his name from the following circumstance. In the course of the feuds which raged for some time between the Scotch kings and their powerful subjects the Earls of Douglas, a rencontre took place one day on the outskirts of a Border village, when the king's adherents were worsted. One of them took refuge in the village smithy, where, hastily disguising himself, and donning a spare leathern apron, he pretended to be engaged in assisting the smith with his work, when a party of the Douglas followers rushed in. They glanced at the pretended workman at the anvil, and observed him deliver a blow upon it so unskilfully that the hammer-shaft broke in his hand. On this one of the Douglas men rushed at him, calling out, "Ye're nae smyth!" The assailed man seized his sword, which lay conveniently at hand, and defended himself so vigorously that he shortly killed his assailant, while the smith brained another with his hammer; and, a party of the king's men having come to their help, the rest were speedily overpowered. The royal forces then rallied, and their temporary defeat was converted into a victory. The king bestowed a grant of land on his follower "Nae Smyth," who assumed for his arms a sword between two hammers with broken shafts, and the motto "Non arte sed Marte," as if to disclaim the art of the Smith, in which he had failed, and to emphasize the superiority of the warrior. Such is said to be the traditional origin of the family of Naesmyth of Posso in Peeblesshire, who continue to bear the same name and arms. It is remarkable that the inventor of the steam-hammer should have so effectually contradicted the name he bears and reversed the motto of his family; for so far from being "Nae Smyth," he may not inappropriately be designated the very Vulcan of the nineteenth century.

His hammer is a tool of immense power and pliancy, but for which we must have stopped short in many of those gigantic engineering works which are among the marvels of the age we live in. It possesses so much precision and delicacy that it will chip the end of an egg resting in a glass on the anvil without breaking it, while it delivers a blow of ten tons with such a force as to be felt shaking the parish. It is therefore with a high degree of appropriateness that Mr. Nasmyth has discarded the feckless hammer with the broken shaft, and assumed for his emblem his own magnificent steam-hammer, at the same time reversing the family motto, which he has converted into "Non Marte sed Arte."

James Nasmyth belongs to a family whose genius in art has long been recognised. His father, Alexander Nasmyth of Edinburgh, was a landscape-painter of great eminence, whose works are sometimes confounded with those of his son Patrick, called the English Hobbema, though his own merits are peculiar and distinctive. The elder Nasmyth was also an admirable portrait painter, as his head of Burns--the best ever painted of the poet--bears ample witness. His daughters, the Misses Nasmyth, were highly skilled painters of landscape, and their works are well known and much prized. James, the youngest of the family, inherits the same love of art, though his name is more extensively known as a worker and inventor in iron.

He was born at Edinburgh, on the 19th of August, 1808; and his attention was early directed to mechanics by the circumstance of this being one of his father's hobbies. Besides being an excellent painter, Mr. Nasmyth had a good general knowledge of architecture and civil engineering, and could work at the lathe and handle tools with the dexterity of a mechanic. He employed nearly the whole of his spare time in a little workshop which adjoined his studio, where he encouraged his youngest son to work with him in all sorts of materials. Among his visitors at the studio were Professor Leslie, Patrick Miller of Dalswinton, and other men of distinction. He assisted Mr. Miller in his early experiments with paddle-boats, which eventually led to the invention of the steamboat. It was a great advantage for the boy to be trained by a father who so loved excellence in all its forms, and could minister to his love of mechanics by his own instruction and practice. James used to drink in with pleasure and profit the conversation which passed between his father and his visitors on scientific and mechanical subjects; and as he became older, the resolve grew stronger in him every day that he would be a mechanical engineer, and nothing else. At a proper age, he was sent to the High School, then as now celebrated for the excellence of its instruction, and there he laid the foundations of a sound and liberal education. But he has himself told the simple story of his early life in such graphic terms that we feel we cannot do better than quote his own words: - [footnote... Originally prepared for John Hick, Esq., C.E., of Bolton, and embodied by him in his lectures on "Self Help," delivered before the Holy Trinity Working Men's Association of that town, on the 18th and 20th March, 1862; the account having been kindly corrected by Mr. Nasmyth for the present publication....]

"I had the good luck," he says, "to have for a school companion the son of an iron founder. Every spare hour that I could command was devoted to visits to his father's iron foundry, where I delighted to watch the various processes of moulding, iron-melting, casting, forging, pattern-making, and other smith and metal work; and although I was only about twelve years old at the time, I used to lend a hand, in which hearty zeal did a good deal to make up for want of strength. I look back to the Saturday afternoons spent in the workshops of that small foundry, as an important part of my education. I did not trust to reading about such and such things; I saw and handled them; and all the ideas in connection with them became permanent in my mind. I also obtained there--what was of much value to me in after life-- a considerable acquaintance with the nature and characters of workmen. By the time I was fifteen, I could work and turn out really respectable jobs in wood, brass, iron, and steel: indeed, in the working of the latter inestimable material, I had at a very early age (eleven or twelve) acquired considerable proficiency. As that was the pre-lucifer match period, the possession of a steel and tinder box was quite a patent of nobility among boys. So I used to forge old files into 'steels' in my father's little workshop, and harden them and produce such first-rate, neat little articles in that line, that I became quite famous amongst my school companions; and many a task have I had excused me by bribing the monitor, whose grim sense of duty never could withstand the glimpse of a steel.

"My first essay at making a steam engine was when I was fifteen. I then made a real working; steam-engine, 1 3/4 diameter cylinder, and 8 in. stroke, which not only could act, but really did some useful work; for I made it grind the oil colours which my father required for his painting. Steam engine models, now so common, were exceedingly scarce in those days, and very difficult to be had; and as the demand for them arose, I found it both delightful and profitable to make them; as well as sectional models of steam engines, which I introduced for the purpose of exhibiting the movements of all the parts, both exterior and interior. With the results of the sale of such models I was enabled to pay the price of tickets of admission to the lectures on natural philosophy and chemistry delivered in the University of Edinburgh. About the same time (1826) I was so happy as to be employed by Professor Leslie in making models and portions of apparatus required by him for his lectures and philosophical investigations, and I had also the inestimable good fortune to secure his friendship. His admirably clear manner of communicating a knowledge of the fundamental principles of mechanical science rendered my intercourse with him of the utmost importance to myself. A hearty, cheerful, earnest desire to toil in his service, caused him to take pleasure in instructing me by occasional explanations of what might otherwise have remained obscure.

"About the years 1827 and 1828, the subject of steam-carriages for common roads occupied much of the attention of the public. Many tried to solve the problem. I made a working model of an engine which performed so well that some friends determined to give me the means of making one on a larger scale. This I did; and I shall never forget the pleasure and the downright hard work I had in producing, in the autumn of 1828, at an outlay of 60L., a complete steam-carriage, that ran many a mile with eight persons on it. After keeping it in action two months, to the satisfaction of all who were interested in it, my friends allowed me to dispose of it, and I sold it a great bargain, after which the engine was used in driving a small factory. I may mention that in that engine I employed the waste steam to cause an increased draught by its discharge up the chimney. This important use of the waste steam had been introduced by George Stephenson some years before, though entirely unknown to me.

"The earnest desire which I cherished of getting forward in the real business of life induced me to turn my attention to obtaining employment in some of the great engineering establishments of the day, at the head of which, in my fancy as well as in reality, stood that of Henry Maudslay, of London. It was the summit of my ambition to get work in that establishment; but as my father had not the means of paying a premium, I determined to try what I could do towards attaining my object by submitting to Mr. Maudslay actual specimens of my capability as a young workman and draughtsman. To this end I set to work and made a small steam-engine, every part of which was the result of my own handiwork, including the casting and the forging of the several parts. This I turned out in such a style as I should even now be proud of. My sample drawings were, I may say, highly respectable. Armed with such means of obtaining the good opinion of the great Henry Maudslay, on the l9th of May, 1829, I sailed for London in a Leith smack, and after an eight days' voyage saw the metropolis for the first time. I made bold to call on Mr. Maudslay, and told him my simple tale. He desired me to bring my models for him to look at. I did so, and when he came to me I could see by the expression of his cheerful, well-remembered countenance, that I had attained my object. He then and there appointed me to be his own private workman, to assist him in his little paradise of a workshop, furnished with the models of improved machinery and engineering tools of which he has been the great originator. He left me to arrange as to wages with his chief cashier, Mr. Robert Young, and on the first Saturday evening I accordingly went to the counting-house to enquire of him about my pay. He asked me what would satisfy me. Knowing the value of the situation I had obtained, and having a very modest notion of my worthiness to occupy it, I said, that if he would not consider l0s. a week too much, I thought I could do very well with that. I suppose he concluded that I had some means of my own to live on besides the l0s. a week which I asked. He little knew that I had determined not to cost my father another farthing when I left-home to begin the world on my own account. My proposal was at once acceded to. And well do I remember the pride and delight I felt when I carried to my three shillings a week lodging that night my first wages. Ample they were in my idea; for I knew how little I could live on, and was persuaded that by strict economy I could easily contrive to make the money support me. To help me in this object, I contrived a small cooking apparatus, which I forthwith got made by a tinsmith in Lambeth, at a cost of 6s., and by its aid I managed to keep the eating and drinking part of my private account within 3s. 6d. per week, or 4s. at the outside. I had three meat dinners a week, and generally four rice and milk dinners, all of which were cooked by my little apparatus, which I set in action after breakfast. The oil cost not quite a halfpenny per day. The meat dinners consisted of a stew of from a half to three quarters of a lb. of leg of beef, the meat costing 3 1/2d. per lb., which, with sliced potatoes and a little onion, and as much water as just covered all, with a sprinkle of salt and black pepper, by the time I returned to dinner at half-past six furnished a repast in every respect as good as my appetite. For breakfast I had coffee and a due proportion of quartern loaf. After the first year of my employment under Mr. Maudslay, my wages were raised to 15s. a week, and I then, but not till then, indulged in the luxury of butter to my bread. I am the more particular in all this, to show you that I was a thrifty housekeeper, although only a lodger in a 3s. room. I have the old apparatus by me yet, and I shall have another dinner out of it ere I am a year older, out of regard to days that were full of the real romance of life.

"On the death of Henry Maudslay in 1831, I passed over to the service of his worthy partner, Mr. Joshua Field, and acted as his draughtsman, much to my advantage, until the end of that year, when I returned to Edinburgh, to construct a small stock of engineering tools for the purpose of enabling me to start in business on my own account. This occupied me until the spring of l833, and during the interval I was accustomed to take in jobs to execute in my little workshop in Edinburgh, so as to obtain the means of completing my stock of tools. [footnote... Most of the tools with which he began business in Manchester were made by his own hands in his father's little workshop at Edinburgh, He was on one occasion " hard up" for brass with which to make a wheel for his planing machine. There was a row of old-fashioned brass candlesticks standing in bright array on the kitchen mantelpiece which he greatly coveted for the purpose. His father was reluctant to give them up; "for," said he, "I have had many a crack with Burns when these candlesticks were on the table. But his mother at length yielded; when the candlesticks were at once recast, and made into the wheel of the planing machine, which is still at work in Manchester. ...]

In June, 1834, I went to Manchester, and took a flat of an old mill in Dale Street, where I began business. In two years my stock had so increased as to overload the floor of the old building to such an extent that the land lord, Mr. Wrenn, became alarmed, especially as the tenant below me--a glass-cutter--had a visit from the end of a 20-horse engine beam one morning among his cut tumblers. To set their anxiety at rest, I went out that evening to Patricroft and took a look at a rather choice bit of land bounded on one side by the canal, and on the other by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. By the end of the week I had secured a lease of the site for 999 years; by the end of the month my wood sheds were erected; the ring of the hammer on the smith's anvil was soon heard all over the place; and the Bridgewater Foundry was fairly under way. There I toiled right heartily until December 31st, 1856, when I retired to enjoy in active leisure the reward of a laborious life, during which, with the blessing of God, I enjoyed much true happiness through the hearty love which I always had for my profession; and I trust I may be allowed to say, without undue vanity, that I have left behind me some useful results of my labours in those inventions with which my name is identified, which have had no small share in the accomplishment of some of the greatest mechanical works of our age." If Mr. Nasmyth had accomplished nothing more than the invention of his steam-hammer, it would have been enough to found a reputation. Professor Tomlinson describes it as "one of the most perfect of artificial machines and noblest triumphs of mind over matter that modern English engineers have yet developed." [footnote... Cyclopaedia of Useful Arts, ii. 739....]

The hand-hammer has always been an important tool, and, in the form of the stone celt, it was perhaps the first invented. When the hammer of iron superseded that of stone, it was found practicable in the hands of a "cunning" workman to execute by its means metal work of great beauty and even delicacy. But since the invention of cast-iron, and the manufacture of wrought-iron in large masses, the art of hammer-working has almost become lost; and great artists, such as Matsys of Antwerp and Rukers of Nuremberg were, [footnote... Matsys' beautiful wrought-iron well cover, still standing in front of the cathedral at Antwerp, and Rukers's steel or iron chair exhibited at South Kensington in 1862, are examples of the beautiful hammer work turned out by the artisans of the middle ages. The railings of the tombs of Henry VII. and Queen Eleanor in Westminster Abbey, the hinges and iron work of Lincoln Cathedral, of St. George's Chapel at Windsor, and of some of the Oxford colleges, afford equally striking illustrations of the skill of our English blacksmiths several centuries ago. ...] no longer think it worth their while to expend time and skill in working on so humble a material as wrought-iron. It is evident from the marks of care and elaborate design which many of these early works exhibit, that the workman's heart was in his work, and that his object was not merely to get it out of hand, but to execute it in first-rate artistic style.

When the use of iron extended and larger ironwork came to be forged, for cannon, tools, and machinery, the ordinary hand-hammer was found insufficient, and the helve or forge-hammer was invented. This was usually driven by a water-wheel, or by oxen or horses. The tilt-hammer was another form in which it was used, the smaller kinds being worked by the foot. Among Watt's various inventions, was a tilt-hammer of considerable power, which he at first worked by means of a water-wheel, and afterwards by a steam engine regulated by a fly-wheel. His first hammer of this kind was 120 lbs. in weight; it was raised eight inches before making each blow. Watt afterwards made a tilt-hammer for Mr. Wilkinson of Bradley Forge, of 7 1/2 cwt., and it made 300 blows a minute . Other improvements were made in the hammer from time to time, but no material alteration was made in the power by which it was worked until Mr. Nasmyth took it in hand, and applying to it the force of steam, at once provided the worker in iron with the most formidable of machine-tools. This important invention originated as follows:

In the early part of 1837, the directors of the Great Western Steam-Ship Company sent Mr. Francis Humphries, their engineer, to consult Mr. Nasmyth as to some engineering tools of unusual size and power, which were required for the construction of the engines of the "Great Britain" steamship. They had determined to construct those engines on the vertical trunk-engine principle, in accordance with Mr. Humphries' designs; and very complete works were erected by them at their Bristol dockyard for the execution of the requisite machinery, the most important of the tools being supplied by Nasmyth and Gaskell. The engines were in hand, when a difficulty arose with respect to the enormous paddle-shaft of the vessel, which was of such a size of forging as had never before been executed. Mr. Humphries applied to the largest engineering firms throughout the country for tenders of the price at which they would execute this part of the work, but to his surprise and dismay he found that not one of the firms he applied to would undertake so large a forging. In this dilemma he wrote to Mr. Nasmyth on the 24th November,1838, informing him of this unlooked-for difficulty. "I find," said he, "there is not a forge-hammer in England or Scotland powerful enough to forge the paddle-shaft of the engines for the 'Great Britain!' What am I to do? Do you think I might dare to use cast-iron?"

This letter immediately set Mr. Nasmyth a-thinking. How was it that existing hammers were incapable of forging a wrought-iron shaft of thirty inches diameter? Simply because of their want of compass, or range and fall, as well as power of blow. A few moments' rapid thought satisfied him that it was by rigidly adhering to the old traditional form of hand-hammer--of which the tilt, though driven by steam, was but a modification--that the difficulty had arisen. When even the largest hammer was tilted up to its full height, its range was so small, that when a piece of work of considerable size was placed on the anvil, the hammer became "gagged," and, on such an occasion, where the forging required the most powerful blow, it received next to no blow at all,--the clear space for fall being almost entirely occupied by the work on the anvil.

The obvious remedy was to invent some method, by which a block of iron should be lifted to a sufficient height above the object on which it was desired to strike a blow, and let the block fall down upon the work,--guiding it in its descent by such simple means as should give the required precision in the percussive action of the falling mass. Following out this idea, Mr. Nasmyth at once sketched on paper his steam-hammer, having it clearly before him in his mind's eye a few minutes after receiving Mr. Humphries' letter narrating his unlooked-for difficulty. The hammer, as thus sketched, consisted of, first an anvil on which to rest the work; second, a block of iron constituting the hammer or blow-giving part; third, an inverted steam-cylinder to whose piston-rod the block was attached. All that was then required to produce by such means a most effective hammer, was simply to admit steam in the cylinder so as to act on the under side of the piston, and so raise the block attached to the piston-rod, and by a simple contrivance to let the steam escape and so permit the block rapidly to descend by its own gravity upon the work then on the anvil. Such, in a few words, is the rationale of the steam-hammer.

By the same day's post, Mr. Nasmyth wrote to Mr. Humphries, inclosing a sketch of the invention by which he proposed to forge the "Great Britain" paddle-shaft. Mr. Humphries showed it to Mr. Brunel, the engineer-inchief of the company, to Mr. Guppy, the managing director, and to others interested in the undertaking, by all of whom it was heartily approved. Mr. Nasmyth gave permission to communicate his plans to such forge proprietors as might feel disposed to erect such a hammer to execute the proposed work,--the only condition which he made being, that in the event of his hammer being adopted, he was to be allowed to supply it according to his own design.

The paddle-shaft of the "Great Britain" was, however, never forged. About that time, the substitution of the Screw for the Paddle-wheel as a means of propulsion of steam-vessels was attracting much attention; and the performances of the "Archimedes" were so successful as to induce Mr. Brunel to recommend his Directors to adopt the new power. They yielded to his entreaty. The great engines which Mr. Humphries had designed were accordingly set aside; and he was required to produce fresh designs of engines suited for screw propulsion. The result was fatal to Mr. Humphries. The labour, the anxiety, and perhaps the disappointment, proved too much for him, and a brain-fever carried him off; so that neither his great paddle-shaft nor Mr. Nasmyth's steam-hammer to forge it was any longer needed.

The hammer was left to bide its time. No forge-master would take it up. The inventor wrote to all the great firms, urging its superiority to every other tool for working malleable iron into all kinds of forge work. Thus he wrote and sent illustrative sketches of his hammer to Accramans and Morgan of Bristol, to the late Benjamin Hick and Rushton and Eckersley of Bolton, to Howard and Ravenhill of Rotherhithe, and other firms; but unhappily bad times for the iron trade had set in; and although all to whom he communicated his design were much struck with its simplicity and obvious advantages, the answer usually given was--"We have not orders enough to keep in work the forge-hammers we already have, and we do not desire at present to add any new ones, however improved." At that time no patent had been taken out for the invention. Mr. Nasmyth had not yet saved money enough to enable him to do so on his own account; and his partner declined to spend money upon a tool that no engineer would give the firm an order for. No secret was made of the invention, and, excepting to its owner, it did not seem to be worth one farthing. Such was the unpromising state of affairs, when M. Schneider, of the Creusot Iron Works in France, called at the Patricroft works together with his practical mechanic M. Bourdon, for the purpose of ordering some tools of the firm. Mr. Nasmyth was absent on a journey at the time, but his partner, Mr. Gaskell, as an act of courtesy to the strangers, took the opportunity of showing them all that was new and interesting in regard to mechanism about the works. And among other things, Mr. Gaskell brought out his partner's sketch or "Scheme book," which lay in a drawer in the office, and showed them the design of the Steam Hammer, which no English firm would adopt. They were much struck with its simplicity and practical utility; and M. Bourdon took careful note of its arrangements. Mr. Nasmyth on his return was informed of the visit of MM. Schneider and Bourdon, but the circumstance of their having inspected the design of his steam-hammer seems to have been regarded by his partner as too trivial a matter to be repeated to him; and he knew nothing of the circumstance until his visit to France in April, 1840.

When passing through the works at Creusot with M. Bourdon, Mr. Nasmyth saw a crank shaft of unusual size, not only forged in the piece, but punched. He immediately asked, "How did you forge that shaft?" M. Bourdon's answer was, "Why, with your hammer, to be sure!" Great indeed was Nasmyth's surprise; for he had never yet seen the hammer, except in his own drawing! A little explanation soon cleared all up. M. Bourdon said he had been so much struck with the ingenuity and simplicity of the arrangement, that he had no sooner returned than he set to work, and had a hammer made in general accordance with the design Mr. Gaskell had shown him; and that its performances had answered his every expectation. He then took Mr. Nasmyth to see the steam-hammer; and great was his delight at seeing the child of his brain in full and active work. It was not, according to Mr. Nasmyth's ideas, quite perfect, and he readily suggested several improvements, conformable with the original design, which M. Bourdon forthwith adopted.

On reaching England, Mr. Nasmyth at once wrote to his partner telling him what he had seen, and urging that the taking out of a patent for the protection of the invention ought no longer to be deferred. But trade was still very much depressed, and as the Patricroft firm needed all their capital to carry on their business, Mr. Gaskell objected to lock any of it up in engineering novelties. Seeing himself on the brink of losing his property in the invention, Mr. Nasmyth applied to his brother-in-law, William Bennett, Esq., who advanced him the requisite money for the purpose--about 280L.,-- and the patent was secured in June 1840. The first hammer, of 30 cwt., was made for the Patricroft works, with the consent of the partners; and in the course of a few weeks it was in full work. The precision and beauty of its action--the perfect ease with which it was managed, and the untiring force of its percussive blows--were the admiration of all who saw it; and from that moment the steam-hammer became a recognised power in modern mechanics. The variety or gradation of its blows was such, that it was found practicable to manipulate a hammer of ten tons as easily as if it had only been of ten ounces weight. It was under such complete control that while descending with its greatest momentum, it could be arrested at any point with even greater ease than any instrument used by hand. While capable of forging an Armstrong hundred-pounder, or the sheet-anchor for a ship of the line, it could hammer a nail, or crack a nut without bruising the kernel.

When it came into general use, the facilities which it afforded for executing all kinds of forging had the effect of greatly increasing the quantity of work done, at the same time that expense was saved. The cost of making anchors was reduced by at least 50 per cent., while the quality of the forging was improved. Before its invention the manufacture of a shaft of l5 or 20cwt. required the concentrated exertions of a large establishment, and its successful execution was regarded as a great triumph of skill.; whereas forgings of 20 and 30 tons weight are now things of almost every-day occurrence. Its advantages were so obvious, that its adoption soon became general, and in the course of a few years Nasmyth steam-hammers were to be found in every well-appointed workshop both at home and abroad. Many modifications have been made in the tool, by Condie, Morrison, Naylor, Rigby, and others; but Nasmyth's was the father of them all, and still holds its ground. [footnote... Mr. Nasmyth has lately introduced, with the assistance of Mr. Wilson of the Low Moor Iron Works, a new, exceedingly ingenious, and very simple contrivance for working the hammer. By this application any length of stroke, any amount of blow, and any amount of variation can be given by the operation of a single lever; and by this improvement the machine has attained a rapidity of action and change of motion suitable to the powers of the engine, and the form or consistency of the articles under the hammer.--Mr. FAIRBAIRN'S Report on the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1855, p. 100. ...]

Among the important uses to which this hammer has of late years been applied, is the manufacture of iron plates for covering our ships of war, and the fabrication of the immense wrought-iron ordnance of Armstrong, Whitworth, and Blakely. But for the steam-hammer, indeed, it is doubtful whether such weapons could have been made. It is also used for the re-manufacture of iron in various other forms, to say nothing of the greatly extended use which it has been the direct means of effecting in wrought-iron and steel forgings in every description of machinery, from the largest marine steam-engines to the most nice and delicate parts of textile mechanism. "It is not too much to say," observes a writer in the Engineer, "that, without Nasmyth's steam-hammer, we must have stopped short in many of those gigantic engineering works which, but for the decay of all wonder in us, would be the perpetual wonder of this age, and which have enabled our modern engineers to take rank above the gods of all mythologies.

There is one use to which the steam-hammer is now becoming extensively applied by some of our manufacturers that deserves especial mention, rather for the prospect which it opens to us than for what has already been actually accomplished. We allude to the manufacture of large articles in DIES. At one manufactory in the country, railway wheels, for example, are being manufactured with enormous economy by this means. The various parts of the wheels are produced in quantity either by rolling or by dies under the hammer; these parts are brought together in their relative positions in a mould, heated to a welding heat, and then by a blow of the steam hammer, furnished with dies, are stamped into a complete and all but finished wheel. It is evident that wherever wrought-iron articles of a manageable size have to be produced in considerable quantities, the same process may be adopted, and the saving effected by the substitution of this for the ordinary forging process will doubtless ere long prove incalculable. For this, as for the many other advantageous uses of the steam-hammer, we are primarily and mainly indebted to Mr. Nasmyth. It is but right, therefore, that we should hold his name in honour. In fact, when we think of the universal service which this machine is rendering us, we feel that some special expression of our indebtedness to him would be a reasonable and grateful service. The benefit which he has conferred upon us is so great as to justly entitle him to stand side by side with the few men who have gained name and fame as great inventive engineers, and to whom we have testified our gratitude--usually, unhappily, when it was too late for them to enjoy it."

Mr. Nasmyth subsequently applied the principle of the steam-hammer in the pile driver, which he invented in 1845. Until its production, all piles had been driven by means of a small mass of iron falling upon the head of the pile with great velocity from a considerable height, -- the raising of the iron mass by means of the "monkey" being an operation that occupied much time and labour, with which the results were very incommensurate. Pile-driving was, in Mr. Nasmyth's words, conducted on the artillery or cannon-ball principle; the action being excessive and the mass deficient, and adapted rather for destructive than impulsive action. In his new and beautiful machine, he applied the elastic force of steam in raising the ram or driving block, on which, the block being disengaged, its whole weight of three tons descended on the head of the pile, and the process being repeated eighty times in the minute, the pile was sent home with a rapidity that was quite marvellous compared with the old-fashioned system. In forming coffer-dams for the piers and abutments of bridges, quays, and harbours, and in piling the foundations of all kinds of masonry, the steam pile driver was found of invaluable use by the engineer.

At the first experiment made with the machine, Mr. Nasmyth drove a 14-inch pile fifteen feet into hard ground at the rate of 65 blows a minute. The driver was first used in forming the great steam dock at Devonport, where the results were very striking; and it was shortly after employed by Robert Stephenson in piling the foundations of the great High Level Bridge at Newcastle, and the Border Bridge at Berwick, as well as in several other of his great works. The saving of time effected by this machine was very remarkable, the ratio being as 1 to 1800; that is, a pile could be driven in four minutes that before required twelve hours. One of the peculiar features of the invention was that of employing the pile itself as the support of the steam-hammer part of the apparatus while it was being driven, so that the pile had the percussive action of the dead weight of the hammer as well as its lively blows to induce it to sink into the ground. The steam-hammer sat as it were on the shoulders of the pile, while it dealt forth its ponderous blows on the pile-head at the rate of 80 a minute, and as the pile sank, the hammer followed it down with never relaxing activity until it was driven home to the required depth. One of the most ingenious contrivances employed in the driver, which was also adopted in the hammer, was the use of steam as a buffer in the upper part of the cylinder, which had the effect of a recoil spring, and greatly enhanced the force of the downward blow. In 1846, Mr. Nasmyth designed a form of steam-engine after that of his steam-hammer, which has been extensively adopted all over the world for screw-ships of all sizes. The pyramidal form of this engine, its great simplicity and GET-AT-ABILITY of parts, together with the circumstance that all the weighty parts of the engine are kept low, have rendered it a universal favourite. Among the other labour-saving tools invented by Mr. Nasmyth, may be mentioned the well-known planing machine for small work, called "Nasmyth's Steam Arm," now used in every large workshop. It was contrived for the purpose of executing a large order for locomotives received from the Great Western Railway, and was found of great use in accelerating the work, especially in planing the links, levers, connecting rods, and smaller kinds of wrought-iron work in those engines. His circular cutter for toothed wheels was another of his handy inventions, which shortly came into general use. In iron-founding also he introduced a valuable practical improvement. The old mode of pouring the molten metal into the moulds was by means of a large ladle with one or two cross handles and levers; but many dreadful accidents occurred through a slip of the hand, and Mr. Nasmyth resolved, if possible, to prevent them. The plan he adopted was to fix a worm-wheel on the side of the ladle, into which a worm was geared, and by this simple contrivance one man was enabled to move the largest ladle on its axis with perfect ease and safety. By this means the work was more promptly performed, and accidents entirely avoided.

Mr. Nasmyth's skill in invention was backed by great energy and a large fund of common sense--qualities not often found united. These proved of much service to the concern of which he was the head, and indeed constituted the vital force. The firm prospered as it deserved; and they executed orders not only for England, but for most countries in the civilized world. Mr. Nasmyth had the advantage of being trained in a good school--that of Henry Maudslay--where he had not only learnt handicraft under the eye of that great mechanic, but the art of organizing labour, and (what is of great value to an employer) knowledge of the characters of workmen. Yet the Nasmyth firm were not without their troubles as respected the mechanics in their employment, and on one occasion they had to pass through the ordeal of a very formidable strike. The manner in which the inventor of the steam-hammer literally "Scotched" this strike was very characteristic.

A clever young man employed by the firm as a brass founder, being found to have a peculiar capacity for skilled mechanical work, had been advanced to the lathe. The other men objected to his being so employed on the ground that it was against the rules of the trade. "But he is a first-rate workman," replied the employers, "and we think it right to advance a man according to his conduct and his merits." "No matter," said the workmen, "it is against the rules, and if you do not take the man from the lathe, we must turn out." "Very well; we hold to our right of selecting the best men for the best places, and we will not take the man from the lathe." The consequence was a general turn out. Pickets were set about the works, and any stray men who went thither to seek employment were waylaid, and if not induced to turn back, were maltreated or annoyed until they were glad to leave. The works were almost at a standstill. This state of things could not be allowed to go on, and the head of the firm bestirred himself accordingly with his usual energy. He went down to Scotland, searched all the best mechanical workshops there, and after a time succeeded in engaging sixty-four good hands. He forbade them coming by driblets, but held them together until there was a full freight; and then they came, with their wives, families, chests of drawers, and eight-day clocks, in a steamboat specially hired for their transport from Greenock to Liverpool. From thence they came by special train to Patricroft, where houses were in readiness for their reception. The arrival of so numerous, well-dressed, and respectable a corps of workmen and their families was an event in the neighbourhood, and could not fail to strike the "pickets" with surprise. Next morning the sixty-four Scotchmen assembled in the yard at Patricroft, and after giving "three cheers," went quietly to their work. The "picketing" went on for a little while longer, but it was of no use against a body of strong men who stood "shouther to shouther," as the new hands did. It was even bruited about that there were more trains to follow!" It very soon became clear that the back of the strike was broken. The men returned to their work, and the clever brass founder continued at his turning-lathe, from which he speedily rose to still higher employment.

Notwithstanding the losses and suffering occasioned by strikes, Mr. Nasmyth holds the opinion that they have on the whole produced much more good than evil. They have served to stimulate invention in an extraordinary degree. Some of the most important labour-saving processes now in common use are directly traceable to them. In the case of many of our most potent self-acting tools and machines, manufacturers could not be induced to adopt them until compelled to do so by strikes. This was the ease with the self-acting mule, the wool-combing machine, the planing machine, the slotting machine, Nasmyth's steam arm, and many others. Thus, even in the mechanical world, there may be "a soul of goodness in things evil."

Mr. Nasmyth retired from business in December, 1856. He had the moral courage to come out of the groove which he had so laboriously made for himself, and to leave a large and prosperous business, saying, "I have now enough of this world's goods; let younger men have their chance." He settled down at his rural retreat in Kent, but not to lead a life of idle ease. Industry had become his habit, and active occupation was necessary to his happiness. He fell back upon the cultivation of those artistic tastes which are the heritage of his family. When a boy at the High School of Edinburgh, he was so skilful in making pen and ink illustrations on the margins of the classics, that he thus often purchased from his monitors exemption from the lessons of the day. Nor had he ceased to cultivate the art during his residence at Patricroft, but was accustomed to fall back upon it for relaxation and enjoyment amid the pursuits of trade. That he possesses remarkable fertility of imagination, and great skill in architectural and landscape drawing, as well as in the much more difficult art of delineating the human figure, will be obvious to any one who has seen his works,--more particularly his "City of St. Ann's," "The Fairies," and "Everybody for ever!" which last was exhibited in Pall Mail, among the recent collection of works of Art by amateurs and others, for relief of the Lancashire distress. He has also brought his common sense to bear on such unlikely subject's as the origin of the cuneiform character. The possession of a brick from Babylon set him a thinking. How had it been manufactured? Its under side was clearly marked by the sedges of the Euphrates upon which it had been laid to dry and bake in the sun. But how about those curious cuneiform characters? How had writing assumed so remarkable a form? His surmise was this: that the brickmakers, in telling their tale of bricks, used the triangular corner of another brick, and by pressing it down upon the soft clay, left behind it the triangular mark which the cuneiform character exhibits. Such marks repeated, and placed in different relations to each other, would readily represent any number. From the use of the corner of a brick in writing, the transition was easy to a pointed stick with a triangular end, by the use of which all the cuneiform characters can readily be produced upon the soft clay. This curious question formed the subject of an interesting paper read by Mr. Nasmyth before the British Association at Cheltenham.

But the most engrossing of Mr. Nasmyth's later pursuits has been the science of astronomy, in which, by bringing a fresh, original mind to the observation of celestial phenomena, he has succeeded in making some of the most remarkable discoveries of our time. Astronomy was one of his favourite pursuits at Patricroft, and on his retirement became his serious study. By repeated observations with a powerful reflecting telescope of his own construction, he succeeded in making a very careful and minute painting of the craters, cracks, mountains, and valleys in the moon's surface, for which a Council Medal was awarded him at the Great Exhibition of 1851. But the most striking discovery which he has made by means of big telescope--the result of patient, continuous, and energetic observation--has been that of the nature of the sun's surface, and the character of the extraordinary light-giving bodies, apparently possessed of voluntary motion, moving across it, sometimes forming spots or hollows of more than a hundred thousand miles in diameter. The results of these observations were of so novel a character that astronomers for some time hesitated to receive them as facts. [footnote... See Memoirs of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester, 3rd series, vol.1. 407. ...]

Yet so eminent an astronomer as Sir John Herschel does not hesitate now to describe them as "a most wonderful discovery." "According to Mr. Nasmyth's observations," says he, "made with a very fine telescope of his own making, the bright surface of the sun consists of separate, insulated, individual objects or things, all nearly or exactly of one certain definite size and shape, which is more like that of a willow leaf, as he describes them, than anything else. These leaves or scales are not arranged in any order (as those on a butterfly's wing are), but lie crossing one another in all directions, like what are called spills in the game of spillikins; except at the borders of a spot, where they point for the most part inwards towards the middle of the spot, [footnote... Sir John Herschel adds, "Spots of not very irregular, and what may be called compact form, covering an area of between seven and eight hundred millions of square miles, are by no means uncommon. One spot which I measured in the year 1837 occupied no less than three thousand seven hundred and eighty millions, taking in all the irregularities of its form; and the black space or nucleus in the middle of one very nearly round one would have allowed the earth to drop through it, leaving a thousand clear miles on either side; and many instances of much larger spots than these are on record." ...] presenting much the sort of appearance that the small leaves of some water-plants or sea-weeds do at the edge of a deep hole of clear water. The exceedingly definite shape of these objects, their exact similarity one to another, and the way in which they lie across and athwart each other (except where they form a sort of bridge across a spot, in which case they seem to affect a common direction, that, namely, of the bridge itself),--all these characters seem quite repugnant to the notion of their being of a vaporous, a cloudy, or a fluid nature. Nothing remains but to consider them as separate and independent sheets, flakes, or scales, having some sort of solidity. And these flakes, be they what they may, and whatever may be said about the dashing of meteoric stones into the sun's atmosphere, &c., are evidently THE IMMEDIATE SOURCES OF THE SOLAR LIGHT AND HEAT, by whatever mechanism or whatever processes they may be enabled to develope and, as it were, elaborate these elements from the bosom of the non-luminous fluid in which they appear to float. Looked at in this point of view, we cannot refuse to regard them as organisms of some peculiar and amazing kind; and though it would be too daring to speak of such organization as partaking of the nature of life, yet we do know that vital action is competent to develop heat and light, as well as electricity. These wonderful objects have been seen by others as well as Mr. Nasmyth, so that them is no room to doubt of their reality." [footnote... SIR JOHN HERSCHEL in Good Words for April, 1863. ...]

Such is the marvellous discovery made by the inventor of the steam-hammer, as described by the most distinguished astronomer of the age. A writer in the Edinburgh Review, referring to the subject in a recent number, says it shows him "to possess an intellect as profound as it is expert." Doubtless his training as a mechanic, his habits of close observation and his ready inventiveness, which conferred so much power on him as an engineer, proved of equal advantage to him when labouring in the domain of physical science. Bringing a fresh mind, of keen perception, to his new studies, and uninfluenced by preconceived opinions, he saw them in new and original lights; and hence the extraordinary discovery above described by Sir John Herschel.

Some two hundred years since, a member of the Nasmyth family, Jean Nasmyth of Hamilton, was burnt for a witch--one of the last martyrs to ignorance and superstition in Scotland--because she read her Bible with two pairs of spectacles. Had Mr. Nasmyth himself lived then, he might, with his two telescopes of his own making, which bring the sun and moon into his chamber for him to examine and paint, have been taken for a sorcerer. But fortunately for him, and still more so for us, Mr. Nasmyth stands before the public of this age as not only one of its ablest mechanics, but as one of the most accomplished and original of scientific observers.


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