been bred to various branches of mechanics. Some had been blacksmiths, others carpenters, stone masons, brass or iron founders; but all of them were handy men. They merely adopted the occupation of machine and steam-engine makers because it offered a wider field for the exercise of their skill and energy.

I may here be allowed to remark that we owe the greatest advances in mechanical invention to Free Trade in Ability. If we look carefully into the narratives of the lives of the most remarkable engineers, we shall find that they owed very little to the seven years' rut in which they were trained. They owed everything to innate industry, energy, skill, and opportunity. Thus, Brindley advanced from the position of a millwright to that of a canal engineer; Smeaton and Watt, from being mathematical instrument makers, advanced to higher positions, -- the one to be the inventor of the modern lighthouse, the other to be the inventor of the condensing steam-engine. Some of the most celebrated mechanical and civil engineers -- such as Rennie, Cubitt, and Fairbairn -- were originally millwrights. All these men were many-handed. They had many sides to their intellect. They were resourceful men. They afford the best illustrations of the result of Free Trade in Ability.

The persistent aim at an indolent equality which Union men aim at, is one of the greatest hindrances to industrial progress. When the Union Delegates called upon me to insist that none but men who had served seven years' apprenticeship should be employed in the works, I told them that I preferred employing a man who had acquired the requisite mechanical skill in two years rather than another who was so stupid as to require seven years' teaching. The delegates regarded this statement as preposterous and heretical. In fact, it was utter high treason. But in the long run we carried our point.

It is true, we had some indenture-bound apprentices. These were pupils who paid premiums. In certain cases we could not very well refuse to take them. Some of them caused a great deal of annoyance and disturbance. They were irregular in their attendance, consequently they could not be depended upon for the regular operations of the foundry. They were careless in their work, and set a bad example to the others. We endeavoured to check this disturbing element by stipulating that the premium should be payable in six months' portions, and that each party should be free to terminate the connection at the end of each succeeding six months. By this system we secured more care and regularity on the part of the pupil apprentices; as, while it checked inattention and irregularity, it offered a direct and substantial encouragement to zeal and industry.

But the arrangement which we greatly preferred was to employ intelligent well-conducted young lads, the sons of labourers or mechanics, and advance them by degrees according to their merits. They took charge of the smaller machine tools, by which the minor details of the machines in progress were brought into exact form without having recourse to the untrustworthy and costly process of chipping and filing. A spirit of emulation was excited amongst the lads. They vied with each other in executing their work with precision. Those who excelled were paid an extra weekly wage. In course of time they took pride, not only in the quantity but in the quality of their work; and in the long run they became skilful mechanics. We were always most prompt to recognise their progress in a substantial manner. There was the most perfect freedom between employer and employed. Every one of these lads was at liberty to leave at the end of each day's work. This arrangement acted as an ever-present check upon master and apprentice. The only bond of union between us was mutual interest. The best of the lads remained in our service because they knew our work and were pleased with the surroundings; while we on our part were always desirous of retaining the men we had trained, because we knew we could depend upon them. Nothing could have been more satisfactory than the manner in which this system worked.

In May 1835 I had the great happiness of receiving a visit from my dear father. I was then in Dale Street, Manchester, where my floor was overloaded with the work in progress. My father continued to take a great interest in mechanical undertakings, and he was pleased with the prosperity which had followed my settlement in this great manufacturing centre. He could still see his own lathe, driven by steam power, in full operation for the benefit of his son. His fame as an artist was well known in Manchester, for many of his works were possessed by the best men of the town. I had the pleasure of introducing him to the

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.