Here we have two transcripts of pamphlets written by John Glass, the Institute's longest serving president. Glass was, when he died in the 1880s, said to have prior to his demise been the oldest living railway worker in the world having been involved in the Stockton & Darlington Railway from its earliest days. Toward the end of his life he was the station-master at Shildon.
The first was written in 1875 as part of the Railway Jubilee celebrations, and tells of the life of Thomas Greener, one of the great characters of the Brititsh railway pioneering era, and of whom Glass was acquainted first-hand. The pamphlet was placed on sale at railway stations and booksellers.
The second is an address Glass wrote to present to an assembly of the Etherley Mechanics Institute on New Year's eve 1849 in which he speaks of the positive influence of such Institute on the attitutde of working men of the day.
We include both here in full.
(Left: Portrait of John Glass that once hung in the Railway Institute, now part of the National Railway Museum's collection)
the following sketch of a North Country worthy is from the pen of one of the few survivors of the industrial band who were employed in making or inaugurating the first passenger railway.
At a time when reminiscences of 1825 are endued with more than a passing interest, it has been thought that not a few will be glad to possess an authentic record from personal recollection of one of the earliest of our now numerous railway engineers.
Darlington, Sept 27, 1875.
A RAILWAY ENGINEER OF 1825
The year 1875 will be memorable in the annals of railway history. It is Jubilee year of the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway - the first public railway in the world. On the 27th of September, 1825 (fifty years ago), the patriarchal railway was first opened for commercial purposes, and was the precursor of these gigantic and stupendous works which have since been executed, and have revolutionised the world. The Jubilee of this unique railway recalls and revives many interesting associations and reminiscences. During the last fifty years great changes have taken place; very few who took an active part in the construction, execution and opening of this enterprising work are now left. Many of the wisest, the wealthiest, the busiest, and the strongest, have served their generation, and are now no more; but their works will be memorable to future generations. Amongst the pioneers, proprietors, and directors, were the late Edward Pease, a native of Darlington - the cradle and nursery of the railway system; Jonathan Backhouse, the wealthy banker; Thomas Meynell, Thomas Richardson, Louis Raisbeck, and Colonel Stobart, together with the indomitable and persevering Joseph pease, who opened out so many fields of industry for the working classes of the North of England, and to whom it is proposed this Jubilee year to erect a magnificent statue in Darlington, and to place a splendid portrait in the Borough Hall, to perpetuate the memory of this worthy benefactor.
Amongst the principal talented and ingenious engineers who took part in the construction and early development of this enterprising railway, may be called to mind George Stephenson, Robert Stephenson, Edward Steel, Thomas Storey, John Dixon, Timothy Hackworth and John Graham, all men that are gone, but their memory is deserving of preservation.
The solicitor, Francis Mewburn, and secretaries, Richard Otley, Samuel Barnard, Oswald Gilkes and Thomas macNay, were all men of eminent abilities, and high in public estimation, and must not be forgotten at this eventful period.
But to a reflective railway passenger, as he glides along in a splendid and comfortable railway carriage, through deep cuttings where mountains and hills have been made low; over lofty embankments, where valleys have been raised; through gloomy tunnels, where the solid rock has been bored through; and over stupendous bridges and viaducts, must consider that the brave, daring navvy, with his brawny arm and muscular sinew, the stalwart British workman, and the industrious artisan, have prepared the way before he could travel from place to place so quickly, and with so much ease and comfort.
Perhaps very few of these industrious sons of toil, by the sweat of whose brows the original railway was executed, are spared to see this year of Jubilee.
One remarkable Tyneside man, who took an active part for about seven years in the construction, opening and early working of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, is worthy of remembrance: Mr Thomas Greener, uncle to Mr Thomas Greener, mining engineer of Benton Lodge, Darlington.
Mr Greener was born at Benton Square, Killingworth, Northumberland, January 11th 1786, and probably received the rudiments of his education in his native village. He afterwards served seven years’ apprenticeship to be a ship carpenter at South Shields. he then went to sea, following his business as ship carpenter, and sailed the trackless ocean for about fourteen years, visiting many parts of the world during the exciting time of the French war. He afterwards had charge of an engine at Coopen Colliery, where he became intimately acquainted with the celebrated engineer, George Stephenson, which intimacy continued to the end of his days.
George Stephenson, being appointed chief engineer for the construction of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, was glad to avail himself of of the services of such skilled artisans to lay down the rails as Mr Greener. Platelaying was altogether a new work in South Durham, and Tyneside men were principally employed for this purpose.
Mr Greener commenced work at Stockton, was present when the first rail was laid (Mat 23rd 1822), and probably took part in the operation. the first eight miles from Stockton westward were comparatively easy to make, and was finished during the first summer. Mr Greener then removed to Etherley, where very extensive works were required. Deep cuttings and high embankments had to be executed in the district. He had a contract for the temporary way during the time the work was in progress, and afterwards for the laying down of the permanent way. he was himself a clever workman, and took great delight and pride in having the rails laid straight, and the work well done.
he was a man of ready wit and jocular disposition, and could entertain the workmen at the dinner hour, or at intervals of refreshment and relaxation, in a very humorous and exhilarant way. being an old British sailor, he could spin a yarn to any extent about seafaring life, naval exploits, shipwrecks, and the perils and dangers of the tempestuous ocean. He had a never-failing stock of anecdote, and could always bring forth incidents of an amusing or interesting description. he could compose and recite entertaining and humorous poetry, and often kept a company of workmen in a state of merriment at intervals of relaxation.
he was a man of limited stature compared with some of the stalwart navvies, but was of a hasty disposition, and very irritable when he received and real or imaginary provocation, and sometimes excited such angry feelings as were not desirable. he once differed with one of the strongest and most powerful men on the works, and wrote several verses of satirical poetry about him. In one verse he describes the great boasting fellow at a public house quarrel thus:-
I once dar’st about twenty to hit me,
But never durst a man in the house;
Till Dickey the rat-catcher trip’t me,
Then I sat down as wish’d as a mouse.
In the year 1825 he had charge of the laying down of a considerable length of the permanent way, in which he took great interest, and finished his work to the entire satisfaction of the resident engineer, the late Mr T Storey.
When the Stockton and Darlington Railway was opened for traffic, Mr Greener was appointed by the engineer to tale charge of the permanent engine at Etherley Incline. he was well qualified for the employment, not only for the working part (which was very important), but for repairing and keeping the complicated machinery in good working order. he was also very particular in having the polished work kept shining bright, and the flooring kept very clean. This beautiful engine was often visited bu ladies and gentlemen in the neighbourhood, who mostly expressed their great satisfaction at this masterpiece of human skill, and the interesting conversation of the engineer.
Being of an ingenious turn, he always found some employment during the intervals that the engine was not working. He made a small wagon to travel up a short incline, to indicate the position of the waggons on the bank, which was very useful in the dark. He could well handle the marlin spike, and could readily splice an incline rope, or take a piece of old rope and convert it into a foot mat for a doorstep. he took great delight in painting pictures and portraits, and had the walls of the engine house decorated with peculiar paintings of local characters, not always to the satisfaction of the persons represented. Yet he was cheerful and kind with his neighbours, and was ever ready to be useful, and devote some spare time to their service.
He could readily letter a signboard, set a pump in good working order, clean and repair a clock or watch, and other such useful operations. He was a frugal man, and therefore, never in want of ready money.
He was of a benevolent disposition, and generously and liberally supported the Wesleyan Society. At that time there was neither church nor chapel at Etherley. The only place of worship was an upper room used by the Wesleyans. mr Greener liberally contributed to the fitting up of this useful place, which was much needed, as very few of the inhabitants attended any place of worship, and many of that useful class of men, the daring and industrious miners, spent the blessed Sabbath - “the pearl of days” - in playing at pitch and toss and other profane sports.
When the railway was opened, and the coal trade began to be developed, some other useful men came to the locality: among the rest, Mr Robert Young (father of the eminent Wesleyan minister, the Rev. G E Young), a remarkably steady and attentive engineman at Etherley Colliery, also highly-esteemed Wesleyan local preacher; Mr John Greener, brother and assistant of Mr T Greener, a diligent and useful member of the Wesleyan Society. Mr Timothy Hackworth, mechanical engineer for the Stockton and darlington Railway Company, often came from Shildon to Etherley on Sundays to preach. He was a man swayed by large-hearted and benevolent impulses, and used his best endeavours for many years to spread Christianity both at home and abroad. Mr James Simpson, manager of Witton park Colliery, also a pious man. Other good men used their best endeavours to promote both the temporal and spiritual welfare of their fellow creatures. Instead of occasional services, regular divine service was held twice every Sunday, beside other auxiliary services - Mr young, at first, having to take the whole duty. the respectable appearance and demeanour of these good men had a wonderful influence, both directly and indirectly on the inhabitants. They caused their light to shine, and many were “turned from darkness to light, and from the power of satan unto God.” A Sunday School was soon opened, which has gone on prosperously ever since. A singing class was begun, and a taste for sacred music cultivated. All these useful institutions Mr Greener encouraged and liberally supported. The upper room was soon found too small for the congregation, and a new chapel was erected, which did good service for many years. It has only a few years since been superseded by the present commodious place of worship.
Mr Greener was more disposed to be locomotive rather than stationery or permanent, and being bereaved of his amiable, beloved, and affectionate wife, he resigned his position at Etherley, and was succeeded by his respected brother, John Greener. His old friend George Stephenson, having been appointed chief engineer for the construction of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, offered him a more lucrative and important situation, to take supervision of the laying down of a portion of the rails, under the resident engineer, Mr John Dixon. The portion of road he was appointed to superintend included that immense peat bog, Chat Moss, graphically described by Smiles in his “Lives of the Engineers.” The attempt to carry a railway over the Moss seemed to be impossible. It was indeed, a most formidable undertaking; but by indomitable perseverance, the great work in which he took a very prominent part was successfully accomplished, and he every after conversed on this triumphant success with pride and exultation.
Mr Greener continued on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway for some time after it was opened for public traffic.
The majestic engines, splendid carriages, and increased station accommodation and other facilities afforded to the public, were far superior to anything preceding. A class of locomotive engines of a very superior construction were brought into operation. They propelled passenger trains at such incredible speed as astonished the world.
Mr Greener took a great interest in these engines, and wrote a small volume of poems and songs, principally in praise of their excellent qualities as the pride and glory of Tyneside - some of these songs adapted to such tunes as “The Bonnie Pit Laddie,” “Weel may the Keel Row,” “The Lads of the Coaly Tyne.” many of the engines had high-sounding names: “The Planet,” “North Star,” “Venus,” “Orion,” “Jupiter,” “Mars,” “Meteor,” “Majestic,” “Northumbrian,” &c. These he humorously and amusingly describes as meeting together on a day of relaxation and rejoicing, and singing thus:-
Meteor with a tenor voice,
And a cong of curious choice;
Such a one as ne’er was born,
“Yowie with her crooked horn.”
T’was long e’er Fury did begin,
For he had never learned to sing;
He started on a key too low,
With the bass of “Tally-ho.”
His verse “On the Power of Steam” are full of broad humour; and though, as may be imagined, the treatment is far from exhaustive, there is much naivité and modesty in the concluding stanzas:-
O wond’rous steam, with thee when I begin,
My shipwreck’d brains to every phantom cling -
But clings in vain: now left without a stay,
I leave thy worth for others to pourtray!
To draw its picture, or to paint on glass,
I’ve flogg’d my brains as Balalam flogg’d his ass.
I sketch its features with a tint so faint-
Half its perfections I can never paint!
Mr Greener also took an active part in the construction and execution of the *London and Croydon, and **Whitby and Pickering Railways. He was for some time engineer at the celebrated brewery belonging to the late Sir Felix Booth, at Brentford. He enjoyed his residence at this delightful and picturesque locality very much, and took great interest in its natural and historical associations.
The last years of his eventful life, so full of changes and vicissitudes, were occupied officially in connection with the London and Blackwall Railway. He died in London, 11th January, 1852, and was buried in the Tower Hamlets Cemetery.
A good portrait of this remarkable Tyneside celebrity has been generously presented to the Mechanics’ Institution, New Shildon, by Mr Greener of Darlington, to be placed in the Hall amongst several other British worthies, where his name will be perpetuated for years to come.
*Remarkable for nothing save its huge work. - Phillips, p241. Dis 8 3/4 miles. capital £741,000.
** Authorised in 1833. 24 miles. capital £135,000.
*** First railway on which the electric telegraph was worked. Mr J H Greener, a nephew of Thomas Greener, then in his 20th year, was in the service of the Electric Telegraph Company, and engaged in forming electric communication. Mr J H Greener is now consulting engineer for telegraphs in India, and inspector of machinery for the store department, India Office, London.
DECEMBER 31st, 1849
BY JOHN GLASS,
(A Working Man,)
HENRY STOBART ESQ., IN THE CHAIR
PRINTED BY HARRISON PENNEY, PRIESTGATE. 1850.
Mr. CHAIRMAN, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,
Had there been a Mechanics’ Institute at Etherley when I first came to the place, I might have been better able to address a company like the present, but at that time the means were very limited for intellectual, moral, and religious instruction. Books were very scarce, and I recollect a kind father had some difficulty to borrow a dictionary for me. It is now about twenty - seven years since we first commenced to make the Stockton and Darlington Railway near to the place where we are now assembled. I was then a boy driving the wagon horses, and have, with very little intermission, been constantly employed on the railway in different occupations ever since. This is known to some present, so that nothing more can be expected from me than a few plain observations from a plain working man. I was early taken from school, so most of the little learning I have acquired, which has been very useful, has been gathered up as I have passed along the railway, by attending Night Schools, Shildon Mechanics Institute, and such like assistance. But what have I learned? If I have learned anything it is this, “that I have every day more and more yet to learn.” I got a verse on humility from my school book which I have recollected ever since:
All those who would be famous and sublime,
Must at humility begin to climb;
And such as would renowned writers be,
Must be content to learn by A, B, C.
Learning has a beginning but it has no end. The sources for the acquisition of useful knowledge are inexhaustible; and the wise man's learning ends only with his life.
I think such meetings as the present have a beneficial tendency: friends and neighbours meet together in a cheerful and familiar manner to improve the manners, to promote attention to proper decorum of social behaviour, such as decency and respectful conduct, and above all to render virtue amiable and vice contemptible, is doing a real service.
Mechanics' Institutions are bringing together different classes of society, and I venture to say that neither the gentry nor the clergy lose one iota of the respect due to their station in life by mingling with the working classes on such occasions as the present. I hope they will always be treated with due respect not with superfluous formality, or excess of ceremony, but in a decent and becoming manner; it is all a gentleman requires who is in reality a gentleman in every sense of the word, and he ought not to be treated a with less. An industrious working man should never be bashful, and hang down his head in the presence of his superiors; it is beneath a free born Briton to be afraid of any man.
“An honest man's the noblest work of God.”
But it is beneath any man to be impudent and especially to those placed in authority — it is degrading to him; and one great object of such Institutions as this is to remove that degradation where it exists by teaching better manners; for it is a well known fact that ignorance and impudence generally accompany each other. If we of the working classes wish to be respected we must respect ourselves. It is not necessary that we should attain to such nicety of etiquette, or polite form of manners, or ornamental accomplishments as polite society requires; we have not the opportunity of travelling and mingling with people of rank and fashion, which we need neither envy nor despise. But we can be civil to every one, it costs us nothing, and civility is a kind of charm which pleases almost every body; we ought to practice that golden rule, “be courteous.” There is an excellent article on politeness in that useful little publication the “Family Economist” for the month of November.
Etherley is a place which possesses many natural advantages, and during late years many important improvements have been made about it. It is a healthy place, and health, to the working man especially, is an inestimable boon. Stern says, “O, blessed health, thou art far above all gold and treasure; he that has thee has little more to wish for, and he who is so wretched as to want thee, wants every thing with thee.” And it is a cause for thankfulness that that direful scourge, the pestilence that walketh in darkness and the sickness that destroyeth in the noon - day, has not visited this place. But to prevent disease and to preserve health, I think old Humphrey's advice, as given in the Family Economist, is worthy our attention; he says, “If I were called upon to write a prescription to cure three fourths of this world's ailments it should be this: Plain food, temperance in eating and drinking, fresh air, a clean skin, a contented mind, and a clear conscience.”
From the top of the hill there are extensive and beautiful prospects; and a good supply of salubrious air. The land is also much improved hereabouts, for not many years since there was little else but moor, which went by the name of Etherley Fell. It is recorded that about 300 years since, when government sent down a Commission to examine the land in the Northern Counties of England, they gave in their report that “Durham is Waste.”
Etherley is now furnished with places of worship, schools, Sunday schools, Mechanics’ Institute, library, and comfortable reading room; few village places possess so many advantages.
But what makes Etherley known far and wide is its excellent and valuable coal, — a coal which produces great heat and is very durable; it is of the richest quality, and is used to warm the palace, the mansion, and the cottage; it drives many a ponderous engine both on land and water, and generates gas to illuminate many a city and large town, some across the wide ocean many miles from where it was first hewn from its subterraneous bed. “Auld Etherley" has long been a renowned coal.
But this valuable mineral is deposited in the bowels of the earth, no doubt for wise purposes, and requires the united efforts of the wealthy, the scientific, and the daring and industrious miner who procures it. It is well that we have in this country wealthy men who are bold enough to lay out their money in winning coal. Some who have money are so cowardly that they never durst venture to sink a pit, or to send a ship to sea, or engage in any such hazardous enterprise where there is danger of losing their property. It is safer to invest money in houses and land, than in mining, railways, and shipping; this is fully explained by Adam Smith in his “Wealth of Nations.” He is the greatest benefactor who opens out fields of industry for the working classes, and puts them in a position to help themselves; he deserves to be honoured and respected. It is a mistake to think that we should be all poor alike, there always was a difference and always will be. Envy is a canker worm that eats up the happiness of many working men. It is not difficult to raise prejudice against those placed in authority, and there are not wanting designing men to write and speak for such a purpose; but let us read such books as are to be found in this library and we shall be enabled to judge correctly. The old English maxim “Live and let live” ought to be our motto, or, as I heard a coal owner say a short time since when about 1700 of his workmen were seated before him - his wife and 12 sons and daughters by his side, rejoicing that his eldest son has arrived at 21 years of age; he said to his men, “I want to live by you, and I want you to live by me.”
But all are not wealthy; it is not to be expected that we can all rise to be Kings and Queens, and lords and ladies; society is composed of different ranks:
“Order is heav'ns first law ; and this confest,
Some are, and must be, greater than the rest;
More rich, more wise; but who infers from hence,
That such are happier, shocks all common sense.”
In worldly grandeur he who vies with his superiors will be ruined by the trial; as the frog in the fable when she was tickled with envy and wished to expand herself to the size of the ox. Showy things are often prized too high, while useful things are undervalued; but a man of cultivated talents carries treasures in his own person. Wisdom and Knowledge, which it is the object of this Institution to disseminate, are free for every man, - free as the air he breathes; here he may safely vie with his superiors, when he has access to suck a library as this; for neither religion nor education run in the blood. Industry and perseverance are necessary. Knowledge cannot be attained by proxy. The saying of the ancient geometrician still holds true in its full force, “No royal road to science and virtue.” Bonnycastle says that “the powers of the mind, like those of the body, are increased by frequent exertions; application and industry supply the place of genius and invention, and even the creative faculty itself may be strengthened by use and perseverance. Uncultivated nature is uniformly rude and imbecile; it is by imitation alone that we acquire knowledge and the means of extending its bounds. The seeds of knowledge are sown in every soil, but it is by proper culture that they are nourished and brought to maturity. A few years of early assiduous application seldom fail to procure for us the reward of industry; and who is there that knows the pleasures and advantages which the sciences afford that would think his time misspent or his labours useless. Riches and honours are the gifts of fortune casually bestowed or hereditarily received, but the superiority of Wisdom and Knowledge is a preeminence of merit which originates with the man, and is the noblest of all distinctions.
But to obtain this valuable mineral the services of the scientific Engineer are indispensable both for the protection of life and property. The labours of the late Mr Buddle and many other eminent Viewers, who have risen by their own industry and devoted their time and talents to the development of the Northern Coal Field, must be thankfully acknowledged. In mining operations science is indispensably necessary; for where would the unassisted miner get to? Whose property would he work? Or where would he be safe from explosions, inundations, and other dangers if left alone groping in the dark? But, guided by the Scientific Mining Engineer, he can work with confidence and comparative safety .
I thought it very strange when a boy that Mr Arkless could carry a drift underground from Peter's Pit to the New Sinking and come exactly to the place so that there was a communication between the two pits .
But to the Scientific Mining Engineer that wonderful mechanical instrument, the Mariner’s Compass, is invaluable. The advantages derived from the magnetic properties of iron are incalculable. By this instrument the intrepid mariner is enabled to traverse the trackless ocean, and steer his course towards any particular country; and by this directive property the traveller pursues his route through the pathless desert, and the daring miner in his subterraneous survey:
“So turns the faithful needle to the pole,
Tho' mountains rise between and oceans roll,
The obedient steel with living instinct moves,
And veers for ever to the pole it loves.”
But as Coal in its natural state is a solid black rock, and requires great bodily labour to work it, therefore the greatest number about a colliery must necessarily be working men, and it is no misfortune to be a working man - he need not be an unhappy man. No working man is more independent (if such a word may be used) than the daring and industrious miner; when his work is over he is at liberty and returns to his home, and may spend his leisure hours to a good purpose.
An industrious pitman is a useful man, and whoever slights or looks lightly upon him on account of his employment shows an ambitious spirit and a very weak mind; for he is labouring to procure a necessary of life which, next to food and raiment, is the greatest temporal comfort. Now it is very important that this useful man should be intelligent and virtuous, and the tendency of true knowledge is to purify and elevate the mind. The man who is endeavouring to improve his mind by such means as this institution affords, is most likely to be a faithful servant, an active workman, and a worthy member of society. Mr Pease related at the opening of Shildon School something to this effect — "that there were two gentlemen who each had a factory not far distant from each other, - one gentleman said that he would not exchange his men for the men in the other factory for a large sum of money; now how was this? Talk about selling men in England that cannot be done, — the difference was that one gentleman used his endeavours to have his men educated, and the other left them to themselves; and the result was that one had a set of sober, intelligent, and industrious men, who were always ready to promote their masters' interests, at the same time promoting their own; for these interests are mutual; and when an order came for goods it was punctually executed. The one that left his men to themselves had a drunken, indolent, and profligate set of men who never could be depended upon; and when an order came for goods, perhaps many of them were stupid drunk, and neither could nor would work, so that the master could not fulfil his engagements; and the merchant was compelled, however reluctantly, to withdraw his order and go to some other factory to purchase his goods, so that both master and men suffered from such conduct. Now, Sir, the principle is the same whether the order is for Cotton or for Coals; if a captain cannot have his ship laden from one colliery, he must go to another, if even he has to take an inferior coal; for time is precious and must not be lost; so that faithful servants are valuable in every occupation, and if sober, steady, industrious men, be of more value to their masters, they are certainly most valuable to themselves, and those dependent upon them. No man ought to be excluded the advantages of education on account of his position in society. There is no fear of education, if care is taken to see that it takes a safe and virtuous direction; we have almost royal authority for saying this, for our beloved Queen in her royal letter lately issued says “that it is only by providing sound religious education for the growing masses of the population, that the social and religious institutions of these kingdoms can be preserved.”
It is very pleasing to read such a declaration as this from the youthful Earl of Durham, in his reply to an address from the Corporation of Durham. “The greatest boon which it is possible to bestow on the operative classes, in my humble opinion, is the diffusion of a sound, moral, and religious education, in the most improved and extended sense of the term, which I shall be found ever ready to support and promote. Such a course of education, combined with the exercise on their own part of prudential, economical, and industrious habits, presents the surest, and, I believe, the only practical mode by which the operatives in these districts can elevate themselves in the social scale, and place their future wellbeing and happiness on a secure and solid foundation."
Now these words, proceeding from a young noble man — the descendant of an ancient family of great influence in this country, - the son of an extraordinary man - early bereft of his parents, give us reason to hope that the noble youth is endowed with those inestimable blessings, — “grace, wisdom, and understanding": - may he long enjoy health and happiness, and endeavour to promote the wellbeing of all connected with him, and be an honour to his country .
But what that noble youth is contemplating has here been put in practice; this can be best understood by those who remember the destitute state in which the present owner found Etherley - Without a Church - without a Clergyman located - scarcely a School no Mechanics ’ Institute, Library or Reading room. I believe it was his desire to establish a Library long before he saw it practicable; my reason for saying so is because, eighteen years or more since, I have met him distributing tracts and pamphlets and received such from him containing useful information.
The Bible and Missionary Societies have been encouraged and supported. There are double - powered engines. By means of them the Bible and Bible ministers are sent to the poor benighted heathen. But that is not all, they are the means of disseminating important information at home by bringing learned, pious, and good men amongst us, who tell us what they have seen and heard. Whose heart did not warm within him to hear that venerable man Mr Bourne lately relate his interesting anecdotes on the Bible. My friends, we cannot too highly value those laudable means of doing good. The humane Wilberforce said “we ought to endeavour to leave the world better than we found it;” and it may safely be said that you, Sir, will have the satisfaction and consolation of leaving Etherley better than you found it. (Applause.) My Friends, I feel I am only speaking your sentiments, I do not say these words for mere compliment; they are substantial truths which will bear reflection and examination too. We ought not to be so delicate as to suppress truth, or not duly appreciate virtuous actions, when we are advocating the extension of Knowledge; - we ought to endeavour to encourage one another, - for we meet with many discouragements. We are sometimes ready to wish that our "heads were waters and our eyes a fountain of tears” for those who are on the broad road to ruin; bringing down the grey hairs of their aged parents with sorrow to the grave," for truly has it been said that -
“Sharper than a serpent's tooth it is,
To have a thankless child.”
Active exertions are required, and it is very encouraging to be gallantly led forward by precept and example . But individual efforts are much needed, and I know that there are those connected with this institution who are willing to do what they can. Let us not be daunted because we are working men, and have not the means to do all that we would wish to do; that will not excuse us for doing nothing; recollect the parable, that it was the servant that had only one talent committed to his care that hid his Lord's money and was condemned for unfaithfulness. Let us not be idle men, but working men, and aim at the amelioration of our fellowmen. During the last year or two, in our own beloved country to say nothing of other countries, many atrocious crimes have been committed, and some in our own immediate neighbourhood. I have here extracts of the report of the Chaplain of the County Gaol and House of Correction, which were read at the County Courts in October last. I was startled to see that such a number (many of them miners) had been committed, the enormous expense the County is put to in punishing crime, and the lamentable ignorance of many of the offenders. There are Associations for the prosecution of Felons; now, Sir, I think such an institution as this may be considered an association for the prevention of felony and other evils, and there is an old English proverb that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Better to render men moral than punish them for immorality. These gaols and prisons and houses of correction and such like places, I do not like them; I wish there was no need of them, I like such meetings as this. To think of a prison house, with the clang of massy doors creaking on their sullen hinges; bars and bolts; narrow grated windows; spiked railings; shackles; heavy, heavy iron chains, - how repulsive! Let us endeavour to keep all we can from these horrid prison houses, and render them useless by encouraging this and kindred institutions; for it is ignorance of sound knowledge that is the general companion of crime; this is proved at every assize, and by this worthy Chaplain's elaborate report. The worthy chap lain states three prominent causes of crime, “Drunkenness, Idleness, and Ignorance. Drunkenness - no less than 458 committed the offence for which they came to prison while more or less under the influence of intoxicating liquors. It is almost of daily occurrence that the unfortunate prisoners exclaim to me, 'Oh, its the drink, Sir, does it, if I could but bring my wages home to my wife and family on Saturday nights, and not leave all my hard-earned money at the public house, I should be one of the happiest men in the world.” My friends, drunkenness is a besetting sin; it is the grand source of poverty, disease, and crime, which causes lamentation, mourning, and woe.
Ignorance may be considered to rank next to drunkenness and idleness as a cause of crime. The heathen ignorance of some of the lower orders of this county on religious subjects, and their total want of information upon any general subjects, except those by which they earn their living, would scarcely be believed.
T. Y. states, “I am a pit boy, aged 15 years, can earn twelve shillings a week, born at Etherley, sent to prison for the first time for throwing coals at Irishmen in a pit, because they worked at low wages. I was at school once for a fortnight, I was never at Church since I was christened, I don’t know who Jesus Christ is, I never heard of him, I never said my prayers. I don’t know who made me. I never heard where people go to when they die. I have had friends die, but I never went to their funerals! I do not know whether it is a king or queen who rules England. There are 24 months in a year isn’t there? I can't name any month. I went to the pit at nine years old.” Although the above contains his answers to my questions upon religious and general subjects, yet when asked about the pit in which he worked, he could give a very fair description of his proceedings underground. He knew the height, name, and comparative value of each seam, together with the general mode of working the steam engine and pumps .
It does not say that this poor ignorant lad was brought up at Etherley, probably not. (He was not from Mr . Stobart .) It is certain he need not have been in this deplorable condition for want of means at Etherley, though certainly sent to work far too young. Yet if he had been sent to a school during the years before he went to work, he might have made some proficiency. He might also have been sent to a Sunday School, and there continued years after he went to work; and been taught the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus. The good seed has never been sown in his young and tender mind, or there is reason to believe he would have made improvement; he does not seem to have been a dull, heavy, stupid lad, far otherwise, he seems to have been active in mischief, and could give a very fair description of what he had been used to. But his education had been neglected; and that profound thinker, John Locke ,tells us that nine-tenths of the men we meet with are what they are for good or for evil, useful or not, by their education. Education is what the great body of miners want; and by means of such institutions as this, intellectual acquirements and mental pleasures are within their reach. Their occupation is no barrier, and time might be found, nothing is now wanting but the will. The miners constitution is the same as other mens, — he is the offspring of the same parent, - he is the same fearfully and wonderfully made creature, made of the same blood, - clothed with skin and flesh and fenced with bones and sinews, — the same heaven erected face, - the same rational and immortal soul, the same reasoning and reflecting mind, and as capable of expanding as any other human beings; no reasonable man doubts this, for hundreds of examples could be brought forward to prove that among miners and miners' sons have been found the wisest and most useful men that have ever lived and done honour to human nature.
If we read D’Aubigne’s History of the Reformation, which is probably in the Library, and a very interesting history it is, we will find it said concerning the undaunted Luther, “that it was from a family of miners that the spiritual thunderbolts of Christendom were to come.”
But we need not go so far back or yet so far from home. Wearside and Tyneside furnish examples. One of the best (if not the best) mathematicians in this neighbourhood was a working man, and I believe did something about the collieries when he was young. By his own industry he attained to such a degree of mathematical learning as few men ever reach. He was appointed mathematical teacher in the then far famed Witton School. The Venerable Newby, a man that will long be deservedly remembered, thought him fit for such a situation; and he was not a person who wished to put people out of their proper places; he was Very nice on this point, but when a man is fit for a situation he is then in his proper place. Many young gentlemen who are now among the most useful men in the three kingdoms, have received their mathematical instructions from this plain self-taught man. He is still living at Witton, and any young man who wishes to gain a good knowledge of mathematics cannot do better than spend a few hours sometimes under his instructions.
That eminent mathematician the late Dr. Charles Hutton was a pit lad at West Moor Colliery, and had the misfortune to get his right arm lamed in the pit, which rendered him unable to perform hard work. His mother wept (as many other tender mothers have had occasion to do) thinking that her son would not be able to earn his living; however he made himself a good scholar, and became an excellent mathematician, and when a Professor of Mathematics was wanted for the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, he became a candidate and aspired to the situation; but he had no friends to intercede for him. It is said, (I do not vouch for the fact,) that he went to Hurworth to that eccentric man, but excellent mathematician, Emerson, who examined him, and found him well qualified for the situation. He did not write a long pedigree about him, but merely gave him this short but expressive testimonial to the Committee — “Gentlemen, the bearer Charles Hutton is worthy of your notice. Signed,) Wm. Emerson.” Emerson was well known among the learned for his ability and straight - forwardness; he would not flatter any man. Through his intercession the Doctor obtained the situation which he held for many years. He wrote some of the plainest and best works on mathematics that have ever been published. He enjoyed a long and prosperous life, and died honoured and respected; and was followed to his grave by his son the Lieutenant General Sir Matthew Hutton; and a grandson of his is now an eminent clergyman in London.
The celebrated engineer, the late George Stephenson, the original Engineer of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, was born at a lone cottage on the banks of the Tyne, and began life as a pit - boy and afterwards a brakesman. Born in an humble rank of life, endowed with energy, industry, and indomitable perseverance. As a miner he deserves to be remembered for the valuable services he has rendered to mankind by the invention of the safety lamp. Whatever might be the merits of his lamp compared with Sir H. Davy's it is not our object at present to enquire; but it is certain that his invention met with the approbation of many distinguished coal - owners and other gentlemen, who entertained him at the Assembly rooms at Newcastle, and presented him with £1000, also a silver tankard.
The safety lamp has no doubt been the means of saving many precious lives, by preventing these lamentable explosions; and it is desirable to use every scientific means for the safety of life and property. Sir H. Davy and Mr Stephenson both laboured under disadvantages; the one was only a practical chemist, the other a practical miner. Now it is best when theory and practice are united, for we are told by Fuller “that knowledge without practice is lame, and practice without knowledge is blind.” Therefore a practical miner endowed with scientific knowledge might be the means of improving the lamp now in use, or inventing something superior. Matthias Dunn in his “View of the Coal Trade ” says with respect to Davy's lamp, that he considers it should be materially altered, and mentions one superior in some respects which is used in Belgium. It is evident something is still wanting; those direful explosions which so frequently happen, and cause such a sacrifice of human life, ought, if possible, to be prevented. Though Etherley is happily clear of such calamities, yet the miner is especially interested; and this is a subject which ought to engage his attention. Perhaps a chemical class might be connected with this Institution (if there is not one already,) and the members give their attention to reading the works of Sir H. Davy, and other eminent chemists; and examine the properties of the different gases by carefully trying experiments on a small scale; and at all events, if nothing new was found out, they would have the satisfaction of searching into what had been done by others, which would be new to them. But who knows but the scales might be removed from the mental eye of some master spirit, who, unconscious of his own powers, is letting his mind go to rust, and who may, by means of this Institution, come forth from his native obscurity a Davy or a Stephenson, to reveal inventions and discoveries which have hitherto been concealed from the most patient investigator.
But G. Stephenson' s talents and ingenuity were most developed in connection with the Railway system and the Steam Engine. His first exploit was the setting to work a large condensing engine for pumping water out of the pit, and making some important improvements to the machinery, which gave great satisfaction, to his employers and was the cause of his promotion; some have gone so far as to say that if Watt had not previously invented the Steam Engine he was capable of achieving it. To the Steam Engine and to the use of Coal as a fuel may be attributed, in a great degree, the height to which Great Britain has arrived as a mercantile nation. Great improvement has been made in the machinery about the Collieries during the last twenty years. What a difference there is between the admirable machinery now working at the George Pit, and that formerly used at Peter's Pit; which shows that important improvements have been made.
We find that George Stephenson made his first locomotive engine at Killingworth Colliery. We have a man at Shildon who was a wagon man at the colliery at that time; and he says that Blucher (for that was the name of the engine,) only hauled eight wagons and went very slow, and could not get out of the way of the horses. The next he made was better, and the next better still. He said to his friends that there was no limit to the speed of the locomotive engine provided the works could be made to stand, and in this respect great perfection has been reached, and a very high velocity attained. On the occasion of opening the Newcastle and Darlington Railway in 1844, effects were witnessed which, had they been narrated a few years since, could only have been admitted into the pages of fiction or the volumes of romance. Who could have credited the possibility of a ponderous engine of iron, loaded with a train of carriages taking flight from London, and in nine hours and a few minutes arriving on the banks of coaly Tyne. Gentlemen breakfasting in London and dining in Newcastle. What a reformation! Hail, wonder working steam! But since then greater things have been done. By the extraordinary express to Edinburgh and Glasgow, four hundred and seventy-three miles have been run over, in actual railway travelling, in nine hours and thirty-two minutes.
At the opening of the Newcastle and Darlington Railway G. Stephenson gave an interesting account of the earlier part of his life; he said he felt great want of education, but was determined that his son should not labour under the same disadvantages. He said he was a poor man , but he betook himself to mending his neighbours clocks and watches at nights, after his work was done, and thus procured the means of educating his son. He gave him a very liberal training, and Robert Stephenson is one of the most profound scholars, and one of the most popular engineers of the present day; and has the superintendence of some of the most difficult and stupendous works that man has ever ventured to perform. He is member of Parliament for Whitby, and has lately had the title of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour conferred upon him by the President of the French Republic.
G. Stephenson was a man of simple unassuming manners and highly respected for his personal qualities. When a Mr Bell of Newcastle wished to dedicate to him a plan of part of the Northern Coal Field , he consulted him as to the initials he would have appended to his name , and he replied in a characteristic note that many titles and honours , had been offered to him at home and abroad , all of which he had declined to accept, and almost the only one which he held, and certainly the one of which he was most proud, was that of “President of the Birmingham Mechanics' Institute.”
Now, my fellow working men, judge for yourselves; I think it is clear that miners and miners' sons are equal to other men; and it is also to the inventive genius and ingenuity of our working men that our manufactories are so extensive, men who endeavoured to improve their minds by such means as this Institution affords, — the study of good books. It is very encouraging when an Institution is supported as this is. The clergyman of the place has come forward in such an honourable manner, and given a series of lectures on Astronomy, the most sublime science that the mind of man has ever attempted to grapple with. A working man, brought up in the place, has given a lecture on Electricity; that science which has recently been wonderfully developed by the invention of the Electric Telegraph. Now surely this Institution is an engine for the diffusion of useful knowledge. Let us endeavour to cultivate our minds, and we will find what is said by the wisest man to be true, “that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.” May intellectual and moral light increase amongst us. And, above all, may pure and evangelical light increase. Such as infuses into our breasts love to God and to our fellow creatures; and may our old year end and our new year begin in unison with it; for this was the theme of the angels' song at this eventful period, when they sung in harmonious and melodious strains “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.”