12th October

Born: Edward VI of England, 1537, Hampton Court; Pedro I, emperor of Brazil, 1798; Hugh Miller, geologist, 1802, Cromarty.

Died: Pope Honorius I, 638; Pope Boniface VIII, 1303; Maximilian II, emperor of Germany, 1576, Ratisbon; Duke of Palmella, Portuguese statesman, 1850, Lisbon; Robert Stephenson, engineer, 1859, London.

Feast Day: St. Wilfrid, bishop of York, confessor, 709.


On 12th October 1492, Columbus with his followers landed on Guanahani or San Salvador, one of the Bahama Isles, and planted there the cross in token of gratitude to the Divine mercy, which, after guiding him safely through a perilous voyage, had at last, in the discovery of a western world, crowned with success the darling aspiration of his life. Land had already been descried on the previous evening, but it was not till the ensuing morning that the intrepid admiral beheld the flat and densely-wooded shores gleaming beneath the rays of an autumn sun, and by actually setting his foot on them, realized the fulfilment of his hopes.

It is now well known that although Columbus was unquestionably the first to proclaim to the world at large the existence of a new and vast region in the direction of the setting sun, he cannot literally be said to have been the first European discoverer of America. The ancient Scandinavians or Norsemen, so renowned for their maritime enterprise, had, at the commencement of the 11th century, not only settled colonies in Greenland, but explored the whole east coast of America as far south as lat. 41° 30' N, and there, near New Bedford, in the state of Massachusetts, they planted a colony. An intercourse by way of Greenland and Iceland subsisted between this settlement and Norway down to the fourteenth century.

There is also satisfactory evidence for believing, that in the twelfth century the celebrated Welsh prince, Madoc, having sailed from his native country with a small fleet, landed and founded a colony on the coast of Virginia. But to Columbus still belongs the merit of having philosophically reasoned out the existence of a New World, and by practically ascertaining the truth of his propositions, of inaugurating that connection between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres which has effected so remarkable a revolution in the world's history.

It is a little curious, indeed, that the belief which Columbus entertained, at first, as to the land discovered by him being part of India or China, was adhered to by him to the last, and he died in the idea that Cuba formed a portion of the mainland of India. This notion so pertinaciously clung to, both by the great Genoese and Europe in general, was dispelled by Balboa's expedition, in 1513, across the Isthmus of Darien, and discovery of the Pacific Ocean; whilst a few years later, the real position of these countries with respect to America was demonstrated by the expedition of Fernando Magalhaens, whose untimely death, in the Philippine Islands, deprived him of the honour of being the first circumnavigator of the globe.

Much obloquy has been thrown on Amerigo Vespucci, the Florentine navigator, for depriving Columbus of the honour of giving his name to the New World. How the denomination of America arose from Vespucci's Christian name, has never been satisfactorily explained, but it appears to be sufficiently ascertained that he himself is in nowise responsible for the circumstance. Vespucci, who was a man of considerable attainments, wrote an account of his American voyages, which was translated into German, and obtained an immense popularity with that nation. It has been conjectured that the name of America was first applied in Germany to the New World, and from thence was adopted by the other countries of Europe.


On 12th October 1653, died at Clayton Hall, near Manchester, Humphrey Chetham, who bequeathed the large fortune which, though a gentleman by birth, he had made in trade, for the purpose of establishing a school for the education of forty poor children of Manchester, and also of founding a public library, which till recently was almost the only institution of the kind in Britain. The college' as the scholastic establishment and library are termed, was originally a religious foundation, but the buildings were in the sixteenth century sold to the Derby family, from whom they were purchased shortly after the death of Mr. Chetham, by the trustees of the latter. The boys are boarded, clothed, and educated from about the age of six to fourteen, after which they are bound apprentices to some trade. Both in a philanthropic and antiquarian point of view, the college forms one of the most interesting public buildings in Manchester, contrasting so markedly, as it does, in its traditions of ancient times, with the bustle of factory life and the din of mills and machinery. No part of the structure strikes the visitor more forcibly in this respect than the library, which is open daily to the public, with an unlimited right to every one, whether a resident in the town or a stranger, of reading, within a room set apart for the purpose, any book in the collection. The only condition demanded is, that the reader shall enter in a book his name and address. The reading-room is an antique apartment, wainscoted with oak, and adorned with portraits of Humphrey Chetham, the founder, Luther, and other celebrities, and presenting altogether such a quaint and secluded appearance, that it is difficult for the visitor to realise the fact of his being near the centre of such a busy nineteenth century city as Manchester.

Till within the last three or four years, an odd collection of what were termed 'curiosities' used to be exhibited in the library gallery attached to the college. The visitors were, for the most part, people from the country, who flocked thither to see the wonders of the place. A small fee for admission was charged, the duties of exhibitor being assumed by the college-boys in rotation, and certainly to a stranger the show-boy was the greatest curiosity there. With a loud, shrill voice, in the broad Lancashire dialect, and a tone of wearisome monotony, the boy, with or without a long wand, thus directed attention to the objects exhibited:

That's th' skeleton of a mon; that 's a globe; that's a talliscope; that's a snake; over th' snake's hack's two watch bills; them 's four ancient swooards; that wi' a whoite haft onst belonged to General Wolfe; that's th' whip that th' snake was kilt wi'; that topmost 's a crocodoile; that bottomost's a halligator; that boot wonst belonged to Queen Elizabeth; that's a Hindian pouch; that's a ancient stiletto; that's part o' Humphrey Cheetham's armour; that wi' th' white feeace is a munkey; under th' munkey 's a green lizard; side o' th' munkey's a porpus's skull; under the porpus's skull's a halligator; under th' halligator 's a turtle; them bows an' arrows belonged to th' Injyans; that's a porpus's head; them there 's various kinds o' adders, worums, snakes, fishes, and vemenous exec-tars; that albine piece was takken from th' deead body of a Frenchmon, that was killed at th' battle o' Waterloo, that was fowt i' th' year eyteen hundert an' fifteen; them's a pair o' eagle's claws; that arrow belonged to one o' th' legions that fowt under th' Duke o' Richmunt at th' battle o' Bosworth Field, i' th' year 1485, when King Richurt th' Third, king of Englund, was slain; them arrows wonst belonged to Robin Hood; that 's a sea-hen; that's a sea-weed; that's a unicorn fish; that's part of a Hindian's skull; that's th' top on it; that 's Oliver Crummell's stone and tankard; that's part on a loadstone; them two pieces o' wood was almanecks afoare printin' was fun' out; that's a hairy mon; under th' hairy mon 's a spakingtrumpet; side o' th' spaking trumpet's a shark's jaw-bone; that that's leaning against th' spakingtrumpet's Oliver Crummell's swooard; that's a leather-bag; side o' tic' leather-bag's two cokey-nut shells; side o' th' cokey-nut shell's a porpus's skull; side o' th' porpus's head 's a pumpkin; over th' pumpkin's a turtle; side o' th' turtle's a sea-weed; that top 'un's a crocodile; under th' crocodile 's a halligator; under th' halligator's a woman's clog that was split by a thunner bolt, an' hoo wasn't hurt; side o' th' crocodile's tail's a sea-hen; side o' sea hen's a Laplander's snow shoe; that in a box is th' skeleton of a nightingale.

This brought the show-boy and his gaping auditors to the door of the reading-room, the door of which being thrown open, the company entered to the great annoyance of the readers, and the lad would point out in the same loud, piercing voice, the various curiosities which the apartment contained, including the portrait of Chetham the founder, and finally pointing to the brilliantly painted and gilded cock on a bracket, would exclaim, by way of peroration, 'That's th' cock as crows when he smells roast beef! The country-folk at this would stare more and gape wider, as if in momentary expectation of hearing Chanticleer, and then turn away, half disappointed, but consoling them selves with the supposition that just then there was no roast beef within smelling distance. This ludicrous exhibition is, however, no longer one of the sights of Manchester College. The feoffees, feeling that it was scarcely in accordance with the cloistral quiet, solemn aspect, and studious silence of the place, at length closed the show, and the curiosities have been removed to the Salford Royal Museun, Peel Park.


The lives of George and Robert Stephenson are interwoven, and it is not unlikely that some do not sufficiently recognize the genius of the son in the original glory of the father. 'It was my father's thorough training,' said Robert, 'his example, and his character, which made me the man I am.' And on another occasion, he observed:

It is my great pride to remember, that whatever may have been done, and however extensive may have been my own connection with railway development, all I know and all I have done is primarily due to the parent whose memory I cherish and revere.

It is pleasant to read these modest and grateful words, yet we must remember that character is as much as education, and in Robert Stephenson it was easy to discern a repetition of those qualities of will and intellect which raised his father from a labourer's cottage to wealth and honours which might satiate any ambition. If Robert rejoiced in his father, George might rejoice in his son. The world will always read their lives together, and behold in the son the crown and perfection of the foundation laid in the father.

Robert Stephenson was born towards the end of 1803, while his father was working as brakesman at Willington Quay, on the north bank of the Tyne, about six miles below Newcastle. George having felt the pinch of ignorance, resolved that his son his only son should not suffer in the same way. To cite his own words: 'When Robert was a little boy, I saw how deficient I was in education, and I made up my mind that he should not labour under the same defect, but that I should put him to a good school, and give him a liberal training. I was, however, a poor man; and how do you think I managed? I betook myself to mending my neighbours' clocks and watches at nights, after may daily labour was done, and thus I procured the means of educating my son.' Thus when Robert was twelve, he sent him to a good school in Newcastle, to which he rode daily on a donkey. There are some still living who remember the little boy, dressed in his suit of homely gray stuff, cut out by his father, cantering along to school upon the 'Cuddy,' with his wallet of provisions for the day and his bag of books slung over his shoulder.

At the age of fifteen, he was apprenticed to a coal viewer, and during three years in which he served in that capacity, he spent his evenings with his father in reading, and study, and eager discussions concerning the locomotive engine, and its growing powers and possible uses. In order that Robert should be well qualified to deal with the world, George took him from business and sent him for six months to Edinburgh University. To what excellent purpose he turned this brief sojourn is proved by an anecdote related by Mr. Smiles. One evening, long years afterwards, Mr. Robert Stephenson was conversing with a friend in his house in London, and rising from his seat he took down a volume from the shelves. 'What have we here?' was asked, as a book of neatly written manuscript was spread before him. Mr. Stephen son's answer was: 'When I went to college, I knew the difficulty my father had in collecting the funds to send me there. Before going I studied short hand; while at Edinburgh, I took down, verbatim, every lecture; and in the evenings, before I went to bed, I transcribed those lectures word for word. You see the result in that range of books.' One reason for undertaking this great labour was, that his father should share in the instruction he received.

On his return from Edinburgh, Robert assisted his father in the survey of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, entering the figures while his father took the sights. Then he was engaged on the more difficult task of scheming out the line between Liverpool and Manchester over Chat Moss. In 1824, he went to South America, to superintend some mining operations in Columbia; but finding life there dull and unsatisfactory, and his father writing that his help was urgently required at home, he returned to England after an absence of three years, and assumed the management of a locomotive factory which had been set up in Newcastle. There he constructed the Rocket, that celebrated engine which won the prize of £500 at the competition at Rainhill in 1829, and established the efficiency of the locomotive for working the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and indeed all future railways. His next great undertaking was the formation of the railway between London and Birmingham, a work of prodigious difficulty and anxiety. In examining the country to ascertain the best line, he walked the whole distance between London and Birmingham upwards of twenty times.

Long tunnels and miles of deep excavation had to be driven through unknown strata. The business of railway making was new, and those who contracted for its execution seldom came to any good. Speaking of the difficulties encountered during the construction of this line, Robert Stephenson observed:

After the works were let, wages rose, the prices of materials of all kinds rose, and the contractors, many of whom were men of comparatively small capital, were thrown on their beam ends. Their calculations as to expenses and profits were completely upset. Let me just go over the list. There was Jackson, who took the Primrose Hill contract he failed. Then there was the next length Nowells; then Copeland and Harding; north of them Townsend, who had the Tring cutting; next Stoke Hammond; then Lyers; then Hughes: I think all of these broke down, or at least were helped through by the directors. Then there was that terrible contract of the Kilsby tunnel, which broke the Nowells, and killed one of them. The contractors to the north of Kilsby were more fortunate, though. some of them pulled through only with the greatest difficulty. Of the eighteen contracts in which the line was originally let, only seven were completed by the original contractors. Eleven firms were ruined by their contracts, which were re-let to others at advanced prices, or were carried on and finished by the company.

The skill with which he overcame obstacles between London and Birmingham established Robert Stephenson's reputation beyond cavil, and projectors thought themselves fortunate who could secure his name, and he had only to propose his own terms to obtain them. In one session of parliament he appeared as engineer for no fewer than thirty-three new schemes. His work was enormous, and his income larger than ever fell to any of his profession. His business did not, however, fall into easy routine, but he was continually called to exercise his genius in surmounting difficulties hitherto unattempted by engineers.

He designed the Royal Border Bridge, which crosses the Tweed at Berwick, and the High Level Bridge over the Tyne at Newcastle, both of which are marvellous and beautiful works; but as engineer to the Chester and Holyhead Railway he won his chief triumph in carrying the line through tubular bridges over the Straits of Menai and the estuary of the Conway. These Welsh works cost him intense thought and anxiety. When he had got the first tube floated at Conway, and saw all safe, he said: 'Now I shall go to bed!' The Britannia Bridge over the Straits gave him still more trouble. 'It was,' he said, 'a most anxious and harassing time with me. Often at night I would lie tossing about, seeking sleep in vain. The tubes filled my head. I went to bed with them and got up with them. In the gray of the morning, when I looked across the square, it seemed an immense distance across to the houses on the opposite side. It was nearly the same length as the span of my tubular bridge!' When the first tube had been floated, a friend remarked to him: This great work has made you ten years older.' 'I have not slept sound,' he replied, 'for three weeks.'

The tubular bridge he repeated on a grander scale in the Victoria Bridge across the St. Lawrence, at Montreal; and in two bridges over the Nile, he varied his plan by running the line upon the tubes instead of within them. It was from his experience in Egypt that he addressed the House of Commons with so much effect on the Suez Canal scheme. 'I have surveyed the line,' said he, 'I have travelled the whole distance on foot, and I declare there is no fall between the two seas. Honourable members talk about a canal. A canal is impossible the thing would only be a ditch!'

George Stephenson was once invited to offer himself as member of parliament for South Shields, but he declined the honour, having slight interest in politics. Politics,' he used to say, are all matters of theory-there is no stability in them; they shift about like the sands of the sea; and I should feel quite out of my element amongst them.' On the question of free-trade, nevertheless, he held a decided opinion. 'England,' said he to Sir Joseph Paxton, 'is, and must be a shopkeeper; and our (locks and harbours are only so many wholesale-shops, the doors of which should always be kept open.' Robert, on the other hand, was, strange to say, a thorough-going Protectionist, and represented Whitby in parliament as a Conservative from 1847. He resisted free-trade, and supported the Navigation Laws; and on the 26th of November 1852, he went into the lobby with. the famous minority of 53, who voted in disapproval of liberal commercial legislation, and thereby earned the name of 'cannon balls,' their heads being presumed too hard for the entrance of a new idea.

Robert Stephenson died on the 12th of October 1859, in the fifty-sixth year of his age, and was buried by the side of Telford in Westminster Abbey.