Central Glasgow

James Watt and the steam engine

James Watt,
page 8 of 12

times he was utterly discouraged, and but for the cheering influence of Roebuck could not have gone on. At length in September it was completed. Watt said it was a “clumsy job.” The cylinder was bad-almost useless. It was loose and cranky in every part. “Beelzebub” was not a success. In fact, he never did anything worth while till afterwards removed to England. Watt was mortified, and his partner plunged in difficulties. He had depended upon “Beelzebub” for the restoration of his already impaired fortunes. Watt, without losing sight of the steam engine, heroically turned to other works. He did not confine himself to telescopes, driving-screws, and balances, but undertook surveying. He surveyed the land for the canal from Monkland to Glasgow, and afterwards superintended its construction. He also surveyed the River Clyde, and sent in the report which was the beginning of those works by which it has been changed from a fishing stream into a great highway for the commerce of all nations. He made a design for the new bridge over the Clyde at Hamilton. He prepared plans for the pier and docks at Port-Glasgow. The last work of this kind which he undertook was the survey of the Caledonian Canal in Scotland. It was made in the midst of great difficulties. “An incessant rain,” said he, “kept me for three days as wet as water could make me. I could hardly preserve my journal book.”

The heaviest blow now fell upon him in the death of his wife (1773). She had courageously struggled with him, and cheered his lot by her more sanguine spirit. Other circumstances were against him. Dr. Roebuck’s increasing embarrassments afflicted him. He almost cursed the engine as the cause of his misfortunes: little did he think at the time that there was now turning the tide which would bear him on to fortune. An offer was made to him for a partnership with Matthew Boulton, the distinguished engineer of Birmingham, which was maintained during their lifetime, and continued in those of their sons. Watt, when he went to London for his patent, had seen Boulton in Birmingham. He, too, had been thinking of an engine, and had one partially constructed. They had much conversation about it, and conceived a hearty liking for each other. When Watt and Roebuck went into partnership, Boulton resolved to wait for the issue of their scheme, honourably stating, “In erecting my proposed engine, I would necessarily avail myself of what I learned from Mr. Watt’s conversation, but this would not now be right without his consent.” It so happened that when Roebuck became bankrupt, he owed £1,200 to Boulton. He offered to take Roebuck’s two-third share in the engine patent for the debt. This was agreed to as the creditors thought it was of no value. Accordingly “Beelzebub” was removed to the Soho Works, Birmingham, in 1774. Some parts were renewed, and all were better fitted. “Beelzebub” wrought in a more satisfactory manner than he had even done before. Watt, who had also gone up to superintend, wrote to his father, “The fire engine I have invented is now going, and answers very much better than any other that has yet been made.”

Supposing he had searched the world over, Watt could hot have found a better partner—deeply interested in the progress of practical science, enterprising, honourable, princely in manner, and an excellent judge of men, and shrewd in his business. At his works, where there were 700 employees, lie reigned as a sort of king. Boswell, who visited them three years after Watt had joined him, says in his Life of Johnson, “I shall never forget Mr. Boulton’s expression to me while surveying the works. ‘I sell here, sir, what all the world desires to haveÿpower.’ I contemplated him as an


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