MMIM Hall of Fame

Richard Trevithick

   Richard Trevithick, was born in the small hamlet of Tregajorran in the parish of Illogan, (between Camborne and Redruth) in Cornwall, UK. It was the 13th of April, 1771. The little cottage he was born in was only a mile or so from Dolcoath Mine, where his father, Richard Trevithick Snr, was a mine ‘Captain’, his mother, Ann Teague, was a miner's daughter.

   One of six children, Trevithick was the youngest-but-one and the only boy. He grew up in the Illogan tin-mining district, the heart of one of the richest mineral mining areas of Cornwall. Immersed in mining and engineering from such a young age, watching steam engines pump water from the deep tin and copper mines, it was perhaps inevitable that his curiosity about the engineering and other aspects of mining would be so great.

   The independently minded young Richard performed poorly in school. Educated at the village school in Camborne he did not take much advantage of the education available. When not playing truant the young Trevithick was more interested in sport than academic learning. Although he did show an exceptional aptitude for arithmetic, often arriving at the correct answers despite using unconventional means, Trevithick once put his teacher in a dilemma by offering to do six sums to the pedagogue's one.

   Possibly not having the best opinion of master Trevithick his schoolmaster described him as "a disobedient, slow, obstinate, spoiled boy, frequently absent and very inattentive". Actually his own father considered him a “loafer”, so perhaps the teacher wasn’t so wide of the mark.

   Considering that Trevithick displayed an extraordinary talent for engineering, and would go on to be one of the most outstanding of early steam-power pioneers, it is hard to believe he remained scarcely literate throughout his career.

   Trevithick grew to be a lad of prodigious strength”, 6’2’’, broad-shouldered, a massive head and bright blue eyes. He was said to be able to throw sledge hammers over the tops of engine houses and had a reputation for being one of the best wrestlers in Cornwall, it’s little wonder he became known as the “Cornish giant”. One story of the eighteen year old lad’s strength says he was observed to write his name on a beam, six feet from the floor, with “half a hundredweight” hanging from his thumb! Richard Trevithick might appear fierce but he was said to be tender-hearted, buoyant, and recklessly imprudent, a trait which often left him somewhat depressed.

   As his father was ‘Captain’, or manager, of several important mines, Dolcoath, Wheal Chance, Wheal Treasury, and Eastern Stray Parks, it is fairly obvious Trevithick would work in one of these mines. In 1790 the 19 year old Trevithick started work at the East Stray Park Mine, earning up to 30 shillings (£1.50) per month. Initially his popularity was due to his stature and the respect the men had for his father, and of course he knew many of the local miners having lived amongst them all his life. However, Trevithick’s enthusiasm and initiative soon earned his colleagues' respect in his own right. Quickly drawn into the fascinating world of engines, pumps and other mining machines Trevithick showed great technical ability. His intuitive ability to solve problems conquered many that had perplexed educated engineers, and at an unusually young age gained him status as a consultant.

   This was a time of great developments in steam power with engineers all over Cornwall striving to find solutions to problems and increase the effectiveness of steam engines. One such was Jonathan Hornblower (II) who was using the idea of compounding. Basically this is the coupling of two or more cylinders were steam is passed from the first cylinder to the second cylinder where it expands further and provides more drive. Hornblower patented his principle in 1781 and Trevithick saw this system in operation at Tincroft Mine in 1792 and made a report on it to his father. One of the problems with the engine was the valve gear cutting-in at the wrong time during the stroke and not allowing the full expansive working of the steam in the cylinder. Imperfect understanding of physics then was hampering many of the brains of the time but, Arthur Woolf did install a successful compound engine in 1814 at the Wheal Abraham mine. Clearly Trevithick was keeping himself up to date with all the latest developments, and possibly he understood their relationships to each other better than those around him. In 1795 Trevithick improves and then re-erects the Watt engine at wheal treasury mine providing a big increase in the engines efficiency.

   Edward Bull, chief designer for Boulton and Watt and their engine erector in Cornwall prior to the arrival of William Murdoch, had set up engines at several mines managed by Richard Trevithick Snr. Trevithick Jnr. came up with several improvements, and working with William Bull (Edwards son) and William West, introduced high pressure steam systems to the engine at East Stray. The engine was so successful that Trevithick was appointed engineer for the Ding Dong mine, in Penzance in 1796. In 1796 Trevithick and West inverted the Edward Bull designed ‘Watt’, low-pressure atmospheric type, engine and added high pressure steam. The 28inch cylinder design became a direct acting engine but still used the condensing method. Ding Dong mines high-pressure engine was so successful it was soon in great demand in Cornwall and South Wales. While at Ding Dong he also created, and installed a high-pressure engine for raising the ore and refuse from mines. He worked on building and modifying steam engines to avoid the royalties due to Watt on the separate condenser patent.

   This was seen by James Watt as a direct infringement of his 'condenser patent', and despite  Trevithick and Bull visiting Watt at his Soho Foundry, Watt set an injunction upon him for infringing Boulton and Watt patents. Apparently the court official who went to serve the injunction couldn’t find Trevithick so posted the paperwork "on the minestuffs", which is now taken to mean nailed to the ‘count house’ door. Today the ruin of the Count (Account) House is the only structure still standing from Richard Trevithick's time at Dong Dong mine. Trevithick became acquainted with Davies Giddy in 1796 and became a close friend of the influential politician and scientist (MP for Helston and later Bodmin from 1804-1832 and president of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall from 1814). Giddy was also High Sheriff of Cornwall from 1792 to 1793 so it is possible that the issues with Watt’s patents may have contributed to these men becoming acquainted. Whatever the reason for their first meeting, Giddy became an adviser and advocate of Trevithick’s experiments.

   1797 proved a mixed year emotionally for Trevithick. His father passed away at Pendponds, near Camborne, on 1 August 1797, still managing four of the mines until that day. Just a few months later Trevithick married Jane Harvey of Hayle. She was the daughter of prominent local foundry works ownwer, John Harvey, founder of “Harveys of Hayle”.  The couple were married on 7th of November 1797, at St. Erth Parish Church and lived at Moreton House, near Redruth.

   Together they raised six children and Jane stood by her husband through triumph and adversity. There is no indication that she ever regretted her decision to marry Richard. When she died at Pencliff, Hayle, on the 21st of March 1868, she had survived her husband by over thirty years. The six Children were:-

Richard Trevithick (1798–1872)

Anne Ellis (1800–1876)

Elizabeth Banfield (1803–1870)

John Harvey Trevithick (1807–1877)

Francis Trevithick (1812–1877). Francis showed his own flair for engineering and in 1847 designed a new and advanced type of locomotive for the London and North-Western railway. This engine, which he named “the Cornwall” had 8-feet 6-inch driving wheel and achieved remarkable success. Francis went on to become the locomotive superintendent of the London & North Western Railway in Crewe and was a champion of the narrow-gauge principle. Later in his life he wrote a biography of his father.

Frederick Henry Trevithick (1816–1883) Like his brother, Frederick also had a flair for engineering. Apparently involved in the construction of the steam operated Gosport and Portsmouth ‘floating’ bridge of 1864. More engineering work was accomplished in Russia, Germany, Portugal, Canada, and South America.

Trevithick first became interested in the idea of steam locomotion in the early 1790s and had a working model by 1796. He had seen the steam carriage pioneer Murdoch’s 1792 model run at Murdoch’s house in 1794 but Trevithick’s version had a one piece boiler-cum-engine, hot water was put into the boiler and further heated when a red hot iron was inserted into a tube underneath. This raised steam and set the engine in motion. The next models were already high pressure steam engines utilising double-acting cylinder with steam distribution controlled by a four-way valve. Exhaust steam was vented straight to the steam distribution controlled by a four-way valve. Exhaust steam was vented straight to the atmosphere via a vertical chimney, a novel solution that avoided condensing or any possible infringements of Watt's patent. Motion was attained via a crank instead of a beam. Trevithick ran his models on his kitchen floor and by 1797 had several working models of high-pressure steam engines, both stationary and locomotive.  One such model now resides at the South Kensington Museum. In fact Trevithick’s models were so successful he went on to build actual full size versions of many of them.

   For a while, between 1797 and 1798 William Murdoch and Richard Trevithick where neighbours in Redruth and must surely have discussed experiments with steam-powered road locomotion. The story told by Murdoch's son John informs us of a visit by Trevithick and Andrew Vivian to see a model engine in 1794. Apparently “Trevithick and A. Vivian called at my father's house in Redruth... My father mentions that... on that day they asked him to show his model of the wheel carriage engine which worked with strong steam and no vacuum. This was immediately shown to them in a working state”. So the evidence suggests Trevithick wanted to be close to Murdoch. Two years later, in 1796, Trevithick showed friends in Camborne one of his own models, making it run upon the table.

   Strong steam. Up to this time steam power had been in the low pressure ‘Watt’ style, that is to say close to atmospheric pressure, then condensing the steam to let the atmosphere push the cylinder down. While Watt distrusted ‘strong steam’ fearing it uncontrollable, Trevithick thought differently. Trevithick worked with 'strong steam’, meaning high pressure steam, throughout his life. By using high pressure steam and allowing it to expand within the cylinder, the condensing stage was eliminated, and Watt’s patent was circumvented. This enabled him to make smaller, more compact engines. No longer needing large brick buildings to support and house the engines meant they could be made small and powerful enough to attach to a carriage so they could propel themselves on roads or railways. The linear motion could be directly converted into circular motion via a crank off of the piston instead of using an inefficient, and often very large, beam. The use of a crank instead of a beam obviously added to the ability to reduce the overall system of propulsion to a much smaller size too. William Murdoch was the first to think of so-called ‘strong steam’ and demonstrated it in his model engines. Similarly in the U.S. Oliver Evans was working along these lines but It is clear Murdoch and Trevithick were able to converse on the subject of steam there is no evidence to suggest Trevithick was aware of Evans’ work. Chief Engineer of the Meux and Reid owned Griffin Brewery in London, Arthur Woolf, was also experimenting independently with high pressure steam. The owners were keen to have the best steam engine in London. In 1796 they had a Hornblower and Maberly Engine which Woolf believed he could modify to make substantial savings in coal consumption. Saving coal was of utmost importance to the Cornish engineers as the ore-mine operators were obliged to import coal to the mines as Cornwall itself had no coal mines; and transporting coal was expensive. This led not only to the growth of Cornish engineering and their ingenious solutions but also to the great demand for their work and services across Great Britain. The savings in coal allowed the Mine captains to move from using steam power for pumping out water but also to use it for hoisting ore and spoil from the mine. In all Trevithick built 30 engines for that purpose alone, and demand spread to South Wales.

   1798. The First engine was sent to Arthur Woolf in London, and another association was commenced. Through 1799 Trevithick continued to gain experience and realised that other improvements in boiler making and the safer use of high pressure steam confirmed that the steam should provide the power stroke rather than the atmosphere. This meant the cylinder and piston becoming ever smaller. He followed that with an enclosed piston and gearing to use both strokes to provide power, the so called double action engine. In 1800 Trevithick built a highly ingenious double-acting high-pressure engine at Cook's Kitchen mine. It was called a ‘puffer’ or ‘puffer whim’ by those who heard it (as it made a distinctly different noise to the condensing engines in general use before this time) and because it vented steam into the atmosphere via a vertical chimney. It is also important for us to remember that the ‘high pressure steam’ we’re talking of was still only a few atmospheres above the normal atmospheric pressure, hardly high pressure at all by today’s standards.

   In 1800, Watt's earlier patent on "a carriage propelled by a steam engine" expired and a new chapter of steam engineering commenced. Many people could now work on their ideas to improve Watt’s engines and the combinations of ideas flourished. Between 1800 and 1802 Trevithick built two engines for winding at Stray Park Mine. The second was a ‘puffer’ set horizontally, controlled with a four-way stopcock and a horizontal cylinder set into the boiler. These ideas were developed alongside his plans for automotive transport. While working full time on the mines engines Trevithick still kept adapting ideas and making more models. During 1800 and 1801 he was busy designing and building a genuine steam carriage, built locally on a site near the present day Fore Street in Camborne. A vehicle he completed by Christmas Eve, 1801.

   Known locally as the ‘Captain Dick's puffer’ or ‘The Puffing Devil’, it made a short experimental trip, on the roads of Camborne and up Camborne Hill (where a plaque now commemorates the event), from Camborne Cross, to the nearby village of Beacon. It was carrying a full load of people, the first passengers ever moved by steam power. Trevithick looked after the engineering of the vehicle while his cousin and associate, Andrew Vivian, steered the machine. It made just the one short journey that day because it broke down! Nevertheless, it inspired the popular Cornish folk song ‘Camborne Hill’. The locomotive's principle features were a high pressure horizontal cylinder boiler, enclosing the firebox and a single vertical cylinder let into it. The double acting piston was linked by a rod to a crankshaft, which also carried a large flywheel helping to maintain smooth motion. The wheels are surprisingly small and steering via very rudimentary tiller affair. It was reported as having a fully loaded weight of 1520kg and a speed of 9 mph (14.5 km/h) on flat ground.

   One of the problems holding back Trevithick’s automotive vehicles was the difficulty experienced in keeping up steam, something reminiscent of Cugnot’s machine. These experiments would have been further interrupted by the terrible state of the Cornish roads, which led to the engine having several accidents. On the last of these occurrences the locomotive was turned over after passing over a gully in the road. The crew righted the vehicle and left it under some shelter then took their leave in order to have a meal of roast goose and liquid refreshments in a nearby public house. Having neglected to put out the fire the water boiled off and the engine overheated with the then predictable result of the machine being reduced to a pile of embers. Nevertheless sufficient progress had been made for Trevithick, and Andrew Vivian, to make a journey to London in January 1802. There they were interviewed by Count Rumford and Humphrey Davy, and, with some difficulty, obtained the historic patent for ‘high-pressure engines for stationary and locomotive use’ on March the 26th of that year. A patent he shared with Vivian whom he also took on as a full partner. James Watt argued that high pressure steam, and the higher temperatures required, would result in dangerous explosions. This was the reason he himself had rejected the idea to power a locomotive citing it to be “too risky”. Trevithick later accused Boulton & Watt of using their influence to lobby Parliament to pass a bill banning his experiments with steam locomotives. Certainly Parliment’s interventions in later years severely curtailed the steam locomotion industry in Britain and led to this early head start in the world of automotive road transport being lost to the French almost a century later. The practicalities of Trevithick’s High pressure steam engine were proved beyond doubt at the Coalbrookdale Company's works in Shropshire in 1802. Trevithick forced a measured amount of water to a measured height proving the amount of work done. His stationary engine became a bench mark, running at an unprecedented boiler pressure of 145 psi and giving 40 piston strokes in a minute.

   1802 Coalbrookdale Locomotive. Trevithick turned his interest to railway locomotion in 1802 and reportedly the Coalbrookdale company built a rail locomotive under Trevithick’s supervision. Very little is known about it, or even if it actually ran. Reference to it can only be traced though a drawing preserved in the London Science Museum and a letter written by Trevithick to Davies Giddy. The design had no frame, the axles being directly mounted on the boiler. The Boiler followed the Trevithick pattern of a single horizontal cylinder enclosed unit with a return-flue boiler. A very large flywheel was on the same shaft as the Sun and Planet gearing which supplied power to the wheels via a system of teethed cogs. It appears that the piston-rod, guide-bars and cross-head are located directly above the firebox door so providing fire while the machine was moving must have been extremely hazardous!

   Also in 1802 Trevithick, with the assistance of iron works employee Rees Jones, built a stationary steam engine to drive an automatic hammer at the Penydarren Ironworks near Merthyr in South Wales. This engine was later mounted on wheels and turned it into a locomotive under the supervision of Samuel Homfray, the proprietor of the works. No plans for that locomotive have survived but it is said to be of similar layout to the Coalbrookdale engine and the London science museum drawing of that engine have become the basis of all images and replicas of the later 1804 "Pen-y-darren" locomotive.

   1803 Saw Trevithick and Vivian expand on their road transport innovations with finance from the company of Vivian & West. Trevithick exhibited his new ‘London Steam Carriage’ having patented this new steam coach design in 1802 (a patent which also included descriptions of other uses of his high pressure engine). Although not all the details of the vehicle are known the original patent drawings have survived and they are backed up by the contemporary drawings from a naval engineer who examined the machine. Eyewitness accounts and contemporary lithographs have given a few more pointers too. Interestingly the patent drawing has features which may have been introduced to stop anyone directly copying the design. As drawn the vehicle would only be able to go backwards, and if the water pump was constructed with the valve spring drive as in the drawing it probably wouldn’t have run at all!

   The new vehicle, capable of carrying 8 paying passengers and making it the world's first self-propelled passenger-carrying vehicle, was very novel. The High pressure engine parts were brought up from Falmouth, consisted of a 5½ inch diameter cylinder with a stroke of 2½ feet. It ran at a speed of fifty strokes a minute under 30 pounds of steam pressure which produced 3 HP. The single cylinder, double acting unit was made from cast iron and mounted horizontally, inside the boiler. The 6.5 mm thick wrought iron cylindrical boiler was mounted overhanging rear axle. The rest of the vehicle was assembled by Felton's carriage works at Leather Lane, London. It included several features considered singularly innovative. One was the use of a forked piston rod to reduce the distance between the single cylinder and the crankshaft. Another was the use of spring-operated valve gear to reduce the weight of the axle mounted flywheel, a step which overcame one of the drawbacks of engines at the time. As well as providing power to the rear wheels by spur gears the crankshaft was also used to drive the firebox bellows and to operate the steam cocks, which blew condensation out of the steam chest. The idea of running valves and such off of the crankshaft would become invaluable to builders of internal combustion engines a century later. The carriage work cost Trevithick £207 with a further addition of the price of shipping the engine from Falmouth to London, £20 14s 11d, but the cost of the engine itself is not known. The huge vehicle measured 16ft 2inch long, 7ft 2inch wide and 11ft 4inch tall! Able to run at a top speed of around 8mph and weighing in at almost 2tons the driver, not to mention the passengers, must have been very brave indeed. Steering, via tiller direct to the single front wheel, was said to be “rather difficult”, a task further complicated by the driver being responsible for operating the brakes through a lever which applied a block to the rim of the flywheel.  The driver could also select separate gears to drive either, or both, of the rear wheels.

   Trevithick drove his machine on especially closed roads from Holborn to Paddington and back, via Islington, a distance of around 10miles (which also happened to be the maximum range on one tank of water).  This journey was followed by several other successful trips in the London suburbs, amongst much attention from the public and press. Unfortunately the carriage was uncomfortable for passengers due to the lack of any suspension, a problem only partially counteracted by the enormous 8ft diameter road wheels. The size of the road wheels was meant to smooth out the poor roads of the time and, at the same time, to help stop the fire from being extinguished due to excessive shaking. After a couple of days the vehicle encountered serious problems when it developed a twist in the wrought iron and wood sandwich frame, a problem caused when Trevithick and a colleague crashed the carriage into some house railings. As a result of the crash all the trials had to end, Trevithick’s funds had been exhausted as the project proved more expensive to run than a horse-drawn carriage. Trevithick was losing money on this venture and potential purchasers were not forthcoming. Trevithick worked hard upon his design and reportedly made a second coach along similar lines (which may account for the different styles of coachwork found in contemporary images). A disappointed Vivian & West withdrew from the project and the engine was detached from the coach and rebuilt in a Mill to drive a machine for rolling hoop-iron. Trevithick let his work on steam road transport lapse and was left to pioneer rail locomotion all alone. On the 2nd of May 1803 Trevithick sold a tenth of his locomotive patents to Samuel Homfray, owner of the "Pen-y-darren" works. It wasn’t enough to save ‘the London steam carriage’, but it meant Trevithick was still able to carry on steam experiments.

   On the 8th of September another disaster befell Trevithick when a stationary pumping engine of his design exploded in Greenwich. Four men were killed. Boulton and Watt (who continued to highlight the perceived risks of using high pressure steam) ruthlessly exploited the incident to put pressure on their competitor but Trevithick was certain the explosion was caused by careless operation not a design flaw. Despite his belief he took his responsibilities to the working men very seriously and incorporated two safety valves into his later designs. One was a disc which covered a small hole at the top of the boiler above the water level. The pressure of steam force was regulated by adding weights to a pivoted lever which held the disc in place. As steam built up it raised the disc and lever to relieve pressure, the system was therefore adjustable by the operator. A second relief system was also built in. This consisted of a small lead plug set into the boiler below the safe low water level. If the water level went down, and put the boiler at risk of explosion, the lead plug, now exposed to direct heat, would melt and allow the pressure to dissipate, also providing an audible warning alerting the operator to damp the fire. Also on the safety front we should remember that it was Trevithick who first introduced the practice and system of hydraulic testing of boilers by use of a mercury manometer to indicate the pressure.

   1804. Despite the setbacks Trevithick himself remained positive about his designs and in the later months of 1803 he started work on ideas for a steam railway locomotive at the Pen-y-darren ironworks. He had been employed by Samuel Homfray as general engineer at his works near Merthyr Tydvil. The need to move produce and waste was just as important for the South Wales companies as for the Cornish mines, just for different reasons. In the Official Report of the Stephenson Centenary in 1881 Trevithick’s pioneer engine, the first steam locomotive ever tried upon a railway, ran on the 21st of February 1804. Mr. Homfray was very impressed with the locomotive, so much so that he had made a bet of 500 guineas with another ironmaster, Richard Crawshay owner of Cyfarthfa Iron Works, that Trevithick's steam locomotive could haul ten tons of iron the of 9½ miles along the Merthyr Tydfil Tram-road from Pen-y-darren to the Navigation House on the Merthyr-Cardiff Canal at Abercynon. So amid great public interest and in front of not only Homfray and Crawshay but also Trevithick’s long term friend and  respected patron Mr. Giddy and an 'engineer from the Government', (probably a safety inspector with particular interest in the locomotive’s ability to withstand high steam pressures due to incessant lobbying from Boulton and Watt) Trevithick set off aboard his locomotive. More than the wager weight of iron the unnamed loco’ hauled five wagons containing seventy men as well as the ten tons of iron for 9½ miles taking 4 hours and 5 minutes to complete the journey. The speed of almost 2.5mph may seem meagre but several stoppages to remove large rocks from the tramway were required. A fact confirmed by Trevithick himself in his letter of 22nd February1804 to Davies Gilbert when he wrote:-

Yesterday we proceeded on our journey with the engine. We performed the nine miles in four hours and five minutes. We had to remove some large rocks on the way. On our return home one of the small bolts that fastened the axle to the boiler broke, and all the water ran out of the boiler.”

Nothing was stopping Trevithick now though, and on the 2 March 1804 he wrote a further letter to one Davies Gilbert stating:-

"We have tried the carriage with twenty-five tons of iron, and found we were more than a match for that weight. … The steam is delivered into the chimney above the damper … it makes the draught much stronger by going up the chimney.”

   In the end the loco’ made three journeys between the Pen-y-darren ironworks and the Merthyr-Cardiff Canal. Sadly on each of its three trips the 7 ton locomotive broke so many of the short cast-iron tramway rails it proved less cost effective than might otherwise have been the case. Samuel Homfray concluded the same and the project was abandoned. Despite being pleased to have won his bet Homfray returned the tram way to its former horse power system and the engine was returned to its former position hammering iron. This engine fell to the same fate as its predecessor from the London carriage had.

   The Pen-y-darren engine may look cumbrous to our eyes but was a huge advance upon all previous types of locomotive machine. His design for the return flue boiler was the first to use the exhaust steam in the chimney to cause more draw of hot gases from the firebox and through the boiler. It must have been different to the Coalbrookdale engine and is known to have had the fire door at the other end of the boiler, out of the way of the moving parts and positioning the crankshaft at the chimney end. The single cylinder unit had a very long stroke and was mounted partly in the boiler. The boiler, with its single return flue was mounted on a four wheel frame. The piston rod crosshead ran out along a slide bar at the front, at the end it was connected back to the large sun and planet drive wheel mounted on one side of the machine. The huge flywheel on the other side was on the same axle as the cog tooth sun and planet drive wheel and probably helped even out the movement of the large drive wheel as it passed the motion to the railway wheels. Trevithick thus proved there was enough traction available from the wheels of a suitably heavy and powerful steam locomotive onto the smooth iron rails to pull loads on lines of an ordinary gradient. A full-scale working replica of this engine, originally commissioned in 1981 by the Welsh Industrial and Maritime Museum in Cardiff, now resides in the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea where it runs on 40m stretch of railway several times a year. Looking back now it seems the first railroad locomotive engine was much better than might be recorded by time. The failure might be more properly attributable to the weakness and roughness of the tram-road, which was only intended to support the lighter axle load of horse-drawn wagons, rather than any fault in the engine. A fact backed up when a ‘travelling engine’, similar to Trevithick's Pen-y-darren type was built in 1805. Owner of the Wylam Colliery in Northumberland, Christopher Blackett, heard of the success in Wales and wrote to Trevithick asking for locomotive designs. Trevithick sent the plans to his agent John Whinfield at Gateshead and a former assistant of Trevithick, John Steele undertook the work. Most notably this engine was probably the first to have flanged wheels. The five-mile wooden wagon-way, built at Wylam colliery in 1748, again proved too weak to support the weight of the 5ton locomotive and ultimately was also abandoned as a locomotive force. What it did do is provide a direct link between the Cornish engineering designs and those perfected by the Newcastle locomotive builders 25 years later.

   Through 1805 Trevithick carried on work in adapting his engines to power other things. A high pressure steam engine was put to work driving an iron-rolling mill (possibly the engine from the London carriage) and another was used to power the paddle-wheels on a canal barge. This theme was further exploited in 1806 when Trevithick entered into a 21year agreement with Trinity House to lift ballast from the bottom of the river Thames at the rate of half a million tons a year. Payment was to be in the order of sixpence a ton. The first of three steam dredgers built for the job was constructed in 1806 and initially it worked reasonably well but eventually proved less cost effective than using manual labour and the arrangement seems to have lapsed.

   Trevithick became involved in the Thames tunnel venture around this time. Initially for the purposes of pumping out water and to ventilate the underground workings but there is also a possibility he actually tried to use steam engines to do some of the other jobs involved in the tunnelling work. He was called in as a consultant by the directors of the Thames Archway Co. They had been trying to construct a tunnel under the Thames at Rotherhithe since 1805. Work under the direction of another Cornish engineer, Robert Vazie, had been beset with problems so for a potential prize of £1000 upon completion of the 1220ft section of tunnel Trevithick began work in August 1807. His plan was to set a 5ft pilot tunnel across the span first. This tunnel would be 3ft wide at the bottom tapering to 2’6’’ at the top. It had reached 950ft across the span by December 23rd only to suffer a sudden inrush of water, it seems Trevithick had set his depth too close to the river bed, a mistake his predecessor had also made. Progress was delayed for a short while but on the 26th of January 1808 a more serious flood occurred at the near distance of 1040ft. Trevithick, again looking out for his men, was the last to leave the face and was nearly drowned. Clay was applied to the river bed to try and plug the hole but the whole mining process had become more difficult and several of the Thames Archway Co. directors attempted to discredit Trevithick. Two colliery engineers were brought down from the North of England and they upheld the quality of Trevithick’s work. Despite several different ideas to complete the plan, including submerging a cast iron tube, no further progress was made and Trevithick left the company. The venture failed and the project was never actually completed. Sir Marc Isambard Brunel completed the first tunnel under the Thames ¾ of a mile further upstream in 1843. He was assisted by his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel who also nearly died in a tunnel collapse!  Trevithick's idea of a submerged tube was successfully implemented for the first time for the Michigan Central Railway Tunnel under the Detroit River in 1910. The Detroit–Windsor road Tunnel of 1930 and the later the Hong Kong harbour tunnel also feature submerged tube designs. Trevithick was clearly well ahead of his time in this area of engineering too!

   In 1808 Trevithick received patents for his work with a new partner Robert Dickinson, a West India merchant. Together they had come up with machinery for towing and driving, ships or other vessels including a steam tug called the ' Nautical Labourer'. This vessel was propelled by paddle wheels and featured a floating crane. The tug didn’t meet the docks fire regulations and amongst, after strong representations from the ‘Society of Coal Whippers’ who were worried about losing their livelihood; they even went so far as to threaten Trevithick’s life, the tug project was rescinded. Trevithick and Dickinson also came up with a system of using iron tanks to provide more stable stowage of ships cargoes than the old wooden casks; in fact a small works was set up at Limehouse to fabricate these tanks. These tanks also sparked another idea for Trevithick and he used them to raise a wreck near Margate in 1810. Placing the tanks under the wreck and pumping them full of air produced enough buoyancy to accomplish the task successfully.  Unfortunately a disagreement over the price of the job broke out and Trevithick cut the lashings and let the ship sink again! During 1808 through 1810 Trevithick worked his way through a series of nautical projects including iron buoys, iron ships, floating iron docks, telescopic iron masts, improvements in ship structures by use of diagonal framing and an idea to use heat from the ships boilers for cooking.

   But it was his third locomotive that really stole the headlines in the summer of 1808. The new engine, fancifully named “Catch Me Who Can” was a much simpler form of locomotive which Trevithick designed while back in Cornwall with his family. It was constructed by John Hazledine and John Urpeth Rastrick, at their works in Bridgnorth, Shropshire. The name was given by Trevithick’s friend and patron, Mr. Giddy's, daughter! The designs most important feature was the change back to mounting the cylinder vertically, like the original road engine, and driving the wheels directly with the connecting rods, without flywheel or gearing. Trevithick boasted that his steam engine can beat any horse in a contest and demonstrated his latest design in the summer of 1808. This time he laid a circular track in Euston Square, London, where, for a payment of one shilling, people could ride this train to nowhere; at speeds of up to 12 mph. Trevithick publicised his steam railway locomotive and had plenty of customers for his ‘steam Circus’, but the venture was not a financial success. One reason was the recurring weight issue which led to the engine breaking the rails. Late in August 1808 a rail broke and pitched the locomotive over bringing the whole experiment to an end. With his finances exhausted and no backers on hand a disappointed Richard Trevithick abandoned his ideas for developing a steam locomotive and never designed a railway locomotive again. "Catch Me Who Can" was Trevithick's last foray into the world of locomotion leaving the perfection of steam locomotive design to Stephensons.

   Trevithick wanted to keep following opportunities in London and eventually persuaded his reluctant wife and children to join him in 1808. They remained in London for two and a half years lodging first in Rotherhithe and later in Limehouse. During this time, along with the nautical adventures, Trevithick experimented with a wide variety of projects to exploit his high pressure steam engines. Boring brass for cannon manufacture, rolling mills and crushing stone, forge hammers and blast furnace blowers were all explored. This all came to terrible halt when Trevithick caught typhoid in May 1810 and nearly died. By September 1810 he had recovered sufficiently to travel back to Cornwall by ship on the 'Falmouth Packet'. Unable to work consistently due to his health Trevithick and Dickinson were declared bankrupt in 1811. It is suggested that Trevithick’s impulsive and quick-tempered nature may have been the fault but in truth Trevithick simply lacked any business sense; a point his untrustworthy partner allegedly took advantage of causing the failure of the 1808 London business partnership. Eventually discharged from bankruptcy in 1814 it was Trevithick that had paid off most of the partnership debts, possibly the reason he sold the tank patent to Henry Maudslay. Discouraged, and only slowly recovering his full heath Trevithick rested in Cornwall. But that does not mean he wasn’t thinking and designing.

   Between 1810-1812 Trevithick came up with an improved type of engine, and a better pump, which would become known as the 'Cornish engine'. The first of these new systems was installed at Wheal Prosper. Work was supervised by Captain Samuel Grose, a pupil of Trevithick’s, and started in 1811, the engine was pumping by the spring of 1812. Francis Basset, Lord de Dunstanville owned the land which Wheal Prosper mine was on. It’s sett, meaning the boundaries within which minerals could be mined, had only a small quantity of copper ore and the mine was not very productive, making the name of Wheal ‘Prosper’ a little unfortunate. As the engine cost 750 guineas (£787.50) it might have eaten heavily into any profits. Wheal Prosper mine’s real claim to fame remains it being the location for Richard Trevithick’s first plunger pole steam engine. The mine closed in 1837 and the fate of Trevithick’s engine is now unknown. 

   The new engine had two wrought iron cylindrical boilers, each 40ft long and 3ft across, an external fireplace (at one end) horizontally set within brick flues to convey the hot air over the surface of the boilers. Each boiler was able to operate at up to 9000lbs/ft2! The piston, which was 16inches wide with a stroke of 8ft, was positioned directly above the shaft supported on beams doing away with the need for a heavy rocking beam of earlier engines. Steam went into the cylinder from below the piston and was stopped when the piston was at about one third distance from the top of the up stroke allowing the expanding steam to complete the stroke. Steam pressure dropped to around 290 lb/ft2 after this and the exhaust valve opened to allow steam to escape to the condenser and the air pump. The piston then descended due partly to a partial vacuum and also with the weight of the pump rods.  It was connected to the pump rods below by crossheads and the pole extending down the shaft. A beam above the cylinder worked the air pump and the feed pump to the boilers. John Urpeth Rastrick, partner of John Hazledine in the Hazeldine Foundry of Bridgnorth Shropshire. Saw the engine and on 15th November 1812. He wrote that it:-

“works with less coal than any Engine I know of” 

Trevithick wrote to Rastrick on 26th January 1813 agreeing and stating that the engine could claim:-

“very nearly double the duty that is done by any other engine in the County” 

   Trevithick went on to install many more plunger pole engines in other mines, and took out a patent for the engine, pat’ no’ 3922, in 1815. On the 28th of June 1816 Trevithick himself wrote that he had eleven plunger pole engines working in Cornwall.

   Later in 1812 Trevithick installed a high pressure, non-condensing, engine to power a threshing machine. This engine had a vertical cylinder set into the boiler to keep it well insulated. It was set to work on a farm belonging to Sir Christopher Hawkins at Probus, near Trewithen in Cornwall. It was much cheaper to run than the horses it replaced. After almost 70 years it went out of use in 1879 and is now exhibited at the Science Museum. A report prepared by four individuals, called in as experts (possibly still needing to refute Boulton and Watts claims of dangerous explosions) said the following:-

“Cornwall, Feb. 20th, 1812. Having been requested to witness and report on the effect of steam applied to work a mill for thrashing com at Trewithen, we hereby certify that a fire was lighted under the boiler of the engine five minutes after eight o'clock, and at twenty-five minutes after nine the thrashing mill began to work, in which time one bushel of coal was consumed. That from the time the mill began to work to two minutes after two o'clock, being four hours and three-quarters, 1500 sheaves of barley were thrashed clean, and one bushel of coal more was consumed. We think there was sufficient steam remaining in the boiler to have thrashed from 50 to 100 sheaves more barley, and the water was by no means exhausted. We had the satisfaction to observe that a common labourer regulated the thrashing mill, and in a moment of time made it go faster, slower, or entirely to cease working; we approve of the steadiness and the velocity with which the machine worked, and in every respect we prefer the power of steam here applied to that of horses.” 

Other agricultural adaptations include using engines to drive sugar mills in the West Indies and allegedly a steam cultivator too.

   1812 also saw one of Trevithick’s more unusual projects. In a system reminiscent of the famous model built by Hero of Alexandria in about AD10 Trevithick built a 'recoil engine'. Basically it was a form of steam turbine consisting of a boiler feeding steam through a hollow axle to a Catherine wheel with 2 fine bore steam jets on its circumference. Although he tried several times building ever bigger units he was unable to achieve the very high velocity of high pressure steam in usable volumes to get any usable torque. A Patent for the idea was received in 1815 though.

   Trevithick was in the middle of a project to use a screw propeller for moving ships when he left England for his South American adventure. His design was cast by Hazledine and Rastrick and the castings taken from Bridgenorth to London. Without Trevithick to see the plan through the London Millwright who was building the hull and supposed to assemble the propellers never completed the job. The patent for this idea was also on the 1815 list.

   At this point an incident occurred that could be thought fortunate or dreadfully unlucky. A Swiss gentleman by the name of Mr. Francisco Uville was returning home via Britain due to having been ill. He travelled on the same ship from Jamaica, a Falmouth packet called 'Fox', as one of Trevithick's cousins, Henry Vivian, who arranged for Uville to meet Trevithick and tell him about the opportunities he might want to exploit in the Peruvian silver mines. Deals were struck and Nine engines were shipped out to Peru on the 1st of September 1814.

   This odessy was to take Trevithick away from Britain for the eleven years from 1816 to 1827. But before he left Penzance on 20th of October 1916 Trevithick sold half his rights in the plunger-pole engine to William Sims for £200. Whether that was to be spending money or to take care of his family is unknown. Clearly under the influence of the lure of unimaginable wealth from the Silver and minerals to be found in the Andes Mountains, Trevithick followed his engines to Peru where he worked as a consultant. During his time in central and South America he explored parts of Costa Rica, made and lost a couple of fortunes, got involved in a civil war and nearly died several time. In the end it was only the chance meeting of a penniless Trevithick with Robert Stephenson in Cartagena which provided him with the means to return to his home. The young Stephenson generously advanced Trevithick £50 allowing him to get to New York and from there back to Falmouth. Trevithick arrived on the 9th of October 1827 to find he was accused of neglecting his wife and family, and that other engineers had profited from his inventions during his absence.

   Taking encouragement from his knowledge Trevithick just kept on coming up with ideas. He designed a recoil gun carriage in 1827 and received a patent in 1828 for “New Methods of discharging ships cargoes and other purposes”. In truth he lurched from one financial crisis to the next. In February 1828 a petition to award Trevithick a government pension was presented to the government on Trevithick’s behalf. Despite George Stephenson’s declarations to win him recognition for the vital role Trevithick’s early experiments had played in the development of steam locomotives, the House of Commons rejected the petition.

   Trevithick went to Holland in 1829 to report upon some Dutch pumping-engines and look at issues surrounding drainage schemes. In the same year he built a closed cycle steam engine and introduced a vertical tubular boiler. Later projects included a room heater which consisted of a small fire tube boiler with a detachable flue. It could be used indoors flue connected to a chimney or outside. Once hot the hot water container could be wheeled where ever the heat was needed. The amount of heat could be changed by using the adjustable doors. In 1831 several new patents were received.

1. Boiler and Condenser.

2. Condenser in Air Vessel.

3. Surface Condenser.

4. Condensed water returned to Boiler.

5. Forced draught with hot air heated by condenser water.

   A design for a huge 1000ft column was put forward to commemorate the passing of the Reform Bill but this was never built. More patents followed in 1833:

1. Super heaters.2. Cylinder kept in flue to be hotter than steam.3. Jet Propulsion of Vessels.

4. Boiler and Super heater for Application to a Locomotive.

   Trevithick’s final project. John Hall, the founder of J & E Hall Limited, invited Trevithick to do some development work on the engine of a new vessel at Dartford. The new engine was to use some of Trevithick’s ideas from the reaction turbine, propulsion through a spiral wheel at the stern and an improved marine boiler. This work earned him £1,200 but required him to lodge in Kent, which he did at the Bull Inn, High Street, Dartford. In the end Trevithick never recovered from his South American Adventure and his money was always gone as soon as it arrived. Not long before his death in 1833 Trevithick wrote:

“However I may be straightened in my pecuniary circumstances, the great honour of being a useful subject can never be taken from me, which to me far exceeds riches.”

   Trevithic's Death. Taken ill with pneumonia early in 1833 Trevithick was forced to retire to bed at The Bull hotel. No relatives or friends had attended his bedside during this final week of his life and when he finally died, on the morning of 22nd of April 1833, Trevithick was destitute. Found to have outlived his means and be in debt to the innkeeper he should have been a ward of the parish and given a paupers grave. When the workmen from Hall’s works were informed of this they took a collection in order that the funeral expenses could be paid. They acted as bearers at his funeral on 26th of April in Dartford churchyard, the grave may have been unmarked but at least they had saved him from a hasty burial somewhere less noble. These same colleagues also paid for a night watchman to guard his grave. Grave robbing and body snatching were common at that time and they thought too much of him to let his body be defiled.

“Such was the end of one of the greatest mechanical benefactors of our country”

   Trevithick’s importance to the world has only recently been recognised by the history books, he got little of recognition he deserved during his life. The tireless inventor and single most important man in the history of locomotion is commemorated by a small plaque at St. Edmunds Burial Ground, East Hill, Dartford.

"Richard Trevithick, Approximately 25ft from this wall lie the remains of Richard Trevithick. The great engineer and pioneer of high pressure steam. He died at the Bull Inn, Dartford and was carried here by fellow workers of Halls Engineering Works. To a paupers grave. Born Illogan, Cornwall April 13th 1771. Died Dartford, Kent April 22nd 1833"

   Memorials. During the June of 1888 a memorial window, made by Burlison & Grylls, was presented by the President of the Institute of Civil Engineers to Westminster Abbey. It includes one of the oldest depictions of Saint Piran's Flag, and was erected in the north aisle of the nave of Westminster Abbey.  The stained glass window commemoration depicts St Michael at the top and nine Cornish saints, Piran, Petroc, Pinnock, Germanus, Julian, Cyriacus, Constantine, Nonna and Geraint in tiers below. Richard Trevithick’s likeness can clearly be seen in head of St Piran, and this figure also carries the banner of Cornwall (a white cross on a black ground). At its base are angels who carry scrolls bearing illustrations of Trevithick's greatest inventions: The Cornish pumping engine, the 1803 tramroad locomotive, the 1803 steam dredger and the 1808 railway locomotive.

   Beside it is “the Brunel window” and it seems appropriate to have the names of two such great engineers together. 1888 was also the year that the Trevithick engineering scholarship was set up at Owens College, Manchester, and the Institution of Civil Engineers instigated its triennial medal.

   A statue of Richard Trevithick, holding one of his small-scale models, stands outside the Public Library in Camborne. Designed by Leonard Stand Merrifield, and erected on the route taken by Puffing Devil in 1801, it was unveiled by Prince George, Duke of Kent, in 1932 while a crowd of local people, numbering in the thousands, looked on. For Camborne’s Trevithick Day in 2001 a full size replica working steam road locomotive was first displayed. Trevithick's "Puffing Devil" was built by the Trevithick Society and has proudly led the steam engine parade at every Trevithick day since. This replica of Trevithick's high-pressure steam road locomotive is kept fully operational and the puffing devil is regularly demonstrated in Cornwall and at various steam fairs across the country.

   In 2007 Dartford Borough Council erected a Blue Plaque on the front facade Royal Victoria and Bull hotel (formerly The Bull) to mark Trevithick's last years in Dartford and the place of his death in 1833. The then Trevithick Society Chairman prominently displayed unveil the plaque on the 17th March 2007. There is also a plaque at Holy Trinity Church, Dartford, marking his burial ground. Another memorial plaque can be found outside the fire station in Abercynon. It reads:

"In commemoration of the achievements of Richard Trevithick who having constructed the first steam locomotive did on February 21st 1804 successfully hail 10 tons of iron and numerous passengers along a tramroad from Merthyr to this precinct where was situated the loading point of the Glamorgan Canal"

   Also in Abercynon is a building called Ty Trevithick named in his honour. Yet a fourth plaque can be found in Fore street, Cambourne, the road also known as Cambourne Hill. It marks the route of the Puffing Devil’s first road journey.

   A fifth, and rather elaborate, wall plaque is visible in Gower Street, London. It was erected by "The Trevithick Centenary Memorial Committee" and rests upon the wall of the University College building. It reads:

"Close to this place Richard Trevithick (Born 1771 - Died 1833) Pioneer of High Pressure Steam ran in the year 1808 the first steam locomotive to draw passengers."

Other memorials of Trevithick are a street named after him in Merthyr Tydfil. The Trevithick Building of Cardiff University, housing the Engineering, Computer Science and Physics departments and the Trevithick Library also named after Richard Trevithick. At Telford Central Station, Telford, Shropshire, a full sized replica of the world's first steam-powered locomotive can be seen.

   Legacy. The powerfully built and extrovert person that was Richard Trevithick was a direct opposite to the rather pessimistic, stern figure of James Watt. Although Watt’s caution impeded Trevithick’s work it could not stop it and his use of high pressure steam systems was essential to the development of effective railway engines. Trevithick’s pioneering use of high pressure steam, the Cornish engine, and his adaptations to develop efficient use of coal, gave the world its first successful self-powered road going vehicle and the first steam railway locomotive. This automotive/locomotive achievement in itself is a major landmark of world history and he can very reasonably be called the father of steam locomotion.

   But Trevithick also gave the world so much more than this. He established a means for the salvaging of ship wrecks, ideas for mechanical refrigeration and, opposingly, home heating! He had ideas for safer stowage of liquid loads at sea and designed his engines to increase the capabilities of marine craft. He even manufactured efficient agricultural machinery and schemes for land reclamation.

   Trevithick had some marked “inventor” personality traits. He had an uncommonly fertile brain and it is an understatement to say that Trevithick’s inventive mind was never still. He could be impatient and impetuous and didn’t have a mind for business being taken advantage of by some less than scrupulous partners. Trevithick could also become melancholy and self doubting at times.

   But it is no exaggeration to say he was one of the greatest inventors that ever lived. His career at the dawn of the industrial revolution saw such a diversity of projects that at a time when Cornish engineering prowess was the envy of the world; Richard Trevithick was their prize engineer.