Retirement from Business
ContentsLetter from David Roberts, R. A. ,
Puddling iron by steam ,
The process tried ,
Sir Henry Bessemer's invention ,
Discussion at Cheltenham ,
Bessemer's account ,
Prepair to retire from business ,
The Countess of Ellesmere ,
The "Cottage in Kent" ,
The "antibilious stock" ,
Hammerfield, Penshurst ,
Planting and gardening ,
The Crystal Palace ,
Tools and telescopes ,
The greenhouse ,
I HAD been for some time contemplating the possibility of retiring altogether from business. I had got enough of the world's goods, and was willing to make way for younger men. But I found it difficult to break loose from old associations. Like the retired tallow-chandler, I might wish to go back "on melting days." I had some correspondence with my old friend David Roberts, Royal Academician, on the subject. He wrote to me on the 2d June 1853, and said :
"I rejoice to learn, from the healthy tone that breathes throughout your epistle, that you are as happy as every one who knows you wishes you to be, and as prosperous as you deserve. Knowing, also, as I do, your feeling for art and all that tends to raise and dignify man, I most sincerely congratulate you on the prospect of your being able to retire, in the full vigour of manhood, to follow out that sublime pursuit, in comparison with which the painter's art is but a faint glimmering. 'The Landscape of other worlds' you alone have sketched for us, and enlightened us on that with which the ancient world but gazed upon and worshipped in the symbol of Astarte, Isis, and Diana. We are matter-of-fact now, and have outlived childhood. What say you to a photograph of those wonderful drawings? It may come to that."[note: It did indeed "come to that," for I shortly after learned the art of photography, chiefly for this special purpose.]
But I had something else yet to do in my special vocation. In 1854 I took out a patent for puddling iron by means of steam. Many of my readers may not know that cast-iron is converted into malleable iron by the process called puddling. The iron, while in a molten state, is violently stirred and agitated by a stiff iron rod, having its end bent like a hoe or flattened hook, by which every portion of the molten metal is exposed to the oxygen of the air, and the supercharge of carbon which the cast iron contains is thus"burnt out." When this is effectually done the iron becomes malleable and weldable.
This state of the iron is indicated by a general loss of fluidity, accompanied by a tendency to gather together in globular masses. The puddler, by his dexterous use of the end of the rabbling bar, puts the masses together, and, in fact, welds the new-born particles of malleable iron into puddle-balls of about three-quarters of a hundredweight each. These are successively removed from the pool of the puddling furnace, and subjected to the energetic blows of the steam hammer, which drives out all the scoriae lurking within the spongy puddle-balls, and thus welds them into compact masses of malleable iron. When reheated to a welding heat, they are rolled out into flat bars or round rods, in a variety of sizes, so as to be suitable for the consumer.
The manual and physical labour of the puddler is tedious, fatiguing, and unhealthy. The process of puddling occupies about an hour's violent labour, and only robust young men can stand the fatigue and violent heat. I had frequent opportunities of observing the labour and unhealthiness of the process, as well as the great loss of time required to bring it to a conclusion. It occurred to me that much of this could be avoided by employing some other means for getting rid of the superfluous carbon, and bringing the molten cast-iron into a malleable condition.
The method that occurred to me was the substitution of a small steam pipe in the place of the puddler's rabbling bar. By having the end of this steam pipe bent downwards so as to reach the bottom of the pool, and then to discharge a current of steam beneath the surface of the molten cast iron, I thought that I should by this simple means supply a most effective carbon-oxidating agent, at the same time that I produced a powerful agitating action within the pool. Thus the steam would be decomposed and supply oxygen to the carbon of the cast-iron, while the mechanical action of the rush of steam upwards would cause so violent a commotion throughout the pool of melted iron as to exceed the utmost efforts
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