Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 150,170 pages of information and 235,402 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Autobiography of Richard Tangye: Chapter 8

From Graces Guide
Cleopatra's Needle


0UR business still continuing to increase in all departments, and the "Special" steam-pump trade having developed largely, we were compelled again to extend our works, until at length they covered twenty acres of ground, some of the workshops being four storeys in height; and in addition to the one man we engaged so cautiously in 1857 we had now nearly two thousand others, and since we have been in business we have paid about £3,000,000 in wages.

When I was engaged in our London business I was once passing through Walbrook, when an office was pointed out to me which was at one time occupied by a Quaker merchant, who caused to be placed in a conspicuous position in his counting-house a notice to this effect:— "Friend, Transact Thy Business and Depart," and so, upon one occasion, I found it necessary to impart a moral lesson to a customer who frequently called at my office. This gentleman was a tall, energetic man, fond of using strong language, and was in the habit of placing an oath in a prominent position in every other sentence he uttered. He was a good customer, and I did not want to offend him; but at length I felt compelled to tell him how much I disliked his strong expressions. Accordingly, when he next called, having repeated his objectionable language, I looked at him and said, "Mr. -, you would very much oblige me if, before entering my office, you would kindly scrape the oaths off; you will find a scraper at the door!" He looked me straight in the face, and presently said, "Do you mean it?" I assured him that I did. "I believe you," he said; "but there is so much - cant about, I am suspicious. However, I will do as you say." And he kept his word, only occasionally lapsing into his evil habit, which he would immediately denounce, saying he had "forgotten the scraper."

I have already given an account of the use of our hydraulic jacks in the launch of the Great Eastern; and it may be interesting here to give some particulars, of a more or less remarkable character, in which they were employed. An interesting illustration of the great power of these machines was seen when the Cleopatra Needle was being brought to London. In 1820 Mehemet Ali offered the Obelisk to the English Government, but the cost and difficulty of removing it were so great, with the appliances then available, that no vigorous efforts were made, and the Obelisk still remained prostrate in the sand. In 1877 Professor Erasmus Wilson and Mr. John Dixon, C.E., generously undertook to bring it to England, and set it up in London at their own expense. This involved the building in England of a wrought-iron cylindrical vessel, which was shipped to Alexandria in sections. The actual work of removal then commenced, and Mr. Dixon's previous experience with our hydraulic jacks naturally suggested their employment in this novel undertaking, for they were as much in advance of the power of an ordinary screw, as that was in advance of the unaided power of man. It was an easy matter to place a jack under one end of the Obelisk, and for one man to raise it sufficiently to enable it to be swivelled round broadside on to the beach. Then the cylindrical vessel was built round it, after which the whole was rolled down the beach into the sea.

The "Cleopatra" was in charge of Captain Carter and a crew of seven or eight men, and was towed by the SS Olga, behaving remarkably well on her voyage along the Mediterranean until the 14th of October, 1877, when a fearful storm arose in the Bay of Biscay. As long as the wind was from the South, although very high, it involved no serious danger, as the course was northward; in the evening, however, the wind veered round to the west, and a heavy sea struck the "Cleopatra" on her side. Captain Carter's last entry in his log is as under:— "5 p.m. This is a most unpleasant night. The swell of the sea is very high, and the Olga seems determined to tow us through or under the water. Almost wish she would break down; the great pitching (16 pitches per minute) is almost unbearable, the water is rolling over us fore and aft."

The Captain then decided that it would be necessary to "lie to" for the night, and signalled to the Olga accordingly; another sea, however, struck the "Cleopatra," causing her to roll, which she had only done once before. Feeling something moving under him, the Captain knew that his ballast had shifted; this ballast of old iron bars had been put into the ship at Alexandria, and although not secured so well as it might have been, was considered quite satisfactory, not having previously shown any signs of moving. The little ship was at once thrown on her side, and every wave washed clean over her, causing the deck-house to disappear entirely each time. The Captain now signalled to the Olga to cast off, as he would be utterly unable to show any lights during the night; while the weight of 400 yards of steel-wire rope between the vessels would certainly cause them to come together. The "Cleopatra" had nothing to fear from a collision, but the fate of the Olga would be certain.

Hoping to right the vessel the mast and rigging were cut away, but without much effect. A boat's crew of six brave men volunteered to leave the Olga to rescue the crew of the "Cleopatra;" and when they approached her they caught the rope that was thrown to them, but unfortunately were unable to hold to it, and were blown away, nothing more ever being heard of them or their boat. The life-boat of the "Needle" ship was then got out, but was instantly smashed by the sea. At great risk the Olga subsequently approached the "Cleopatra," and passed her a rope by which a boat was drawn to and fro, and the crew of that strange little ship were safely brought to the steamer. The Olga then steamed away in search of the missing boat, but failed to find any trace of her. She then made for her consort again, but could not meet with her; and assuming that she had gone down, sailed for Falmouth.

But on the following day she was picked up by the steamer Fitz-Maurice, and towed to Ferrol. It is easy to say, after the misfortune happened, that a little more care in stowing the ballast would have prevented its shifting, and that the use of a hemp rope instead of a steel one would have allowed the vessels to he to for the night without being cut adrift; and that in that case there probably would not have been the loss of those six brave men, nor any necessity for Mr. Dixon to pay to the owners of the Fitz-Maurice £2,000 for the salvage of the "Needle."

On arriving in London four of Tangye's hydraulic jacks were used in raising the Obelisk, each jack being worked by one man. The time required for this operation was without doubt far less than that occupied by Thothmes III. when he originally set up the Obelisk at Heliopolis (perhaps in the presence of Joseph); and the number of men then employed must have been enormous when compared with those who did it on the present occasion.

The advance in modern engineering appliances for raising weights could scarcely be better illustrated than by the following facts:—

A.D. 1586— Fontana raised an Obelisk in Rome with 40 capstans, worked by 960 men and 75 horses.

A.D. 1836-- Le Bas raised the Luxor Obelisk in Paris with 10 capstans, worked by 480 men.

A.D. 1878— Mr. John Dixon raised Cleopatra's Needle in London, with four of Tangye's Patent Hydraulic Lifting Jacks, worked by four men.

As a memorial of the apparatus used for erecting the Needle, one of the jacks was placed in a recess in the base under the Obelisk, where it will no doubt remain until the New Zealander discovers it when exploring the ruins of London.

A somewhat similar use was made of our hydraulic jacks in the winter of 1886-7, when the colossal statue of Rameses II., which, in 1880, I saw lying face downwards in the sand at Memphis, and which had lain there for ages, was raised by hydraulic jacks preparatory to being brought to England. The weight of this statue is 100 tons, and its height 50 feet. Full particulars of the operation were given in the Graphic, of March 12, 1887. Where is Rameses now Echo answers, Where? Important operations, which would have been impossible before the invention of the hydraulic jack, have since; been performed with ease. A few years since a lofty chimney near Birmingham had fallen so much out of the perpendicular as to have become dangerous; but an enterprising contractor undertook to raise it by the aid of our jacks, and to put in a new foundation, all of which he successfully accomplished. In Cornwall many of the railway viaducts were originally constructed of wood, and it frequently became necessary to replace decaying portions; and this was done by the aid of the same powerful appliance, without any interruption to the traffic.

On one occasion, too, a ship having stranded in Falmouth harbour it soon became evident that her back would break unless she could be speedily pushed into the water. A sharp-witted mechanic standing by speedily procured a hydraulic jack from a neighbouring yard; and although the Captain ridiculed the idea that he could get the vessel off, he accomplished the feat almost before the Captain could alter his tune from ridicule to astonishment.

In the early days of these powerful machines, merchants unacquainted with their construction sometimes made curious mistakes. On one occasion we received a telegram from a customer in the north of England asking for an appointment to arrange the terms of an important contract he desired to place with us. In due course he came to Birmingham, and was somewhat surprised when he found what a mistake he had made, for having received an order for a "seventy ton" hydraulic jack, he imagined it was a machine which would be of that weight, instead of being capable of lifting seventy tons, and weighing less than five hundredweight.

On another occasion at Nantwich in Cheshire, a draper's shop had sunk owing to a subsidence of the soil over the salt workings. A number of hydraulic jacks were applied; and when the building was raised to a sufficient height a new foundation was put in; the whole operation having been performed without disturbing the business.

In 1883 the Wellington Statue at Hyde Park Corner was taken down from the arch by the aid of four of our hydraulic jacks. The statue weighed fifteen tons; its height was 26.5 ft., and its length 25ft.

We have recently made a powerful pumping "4 plant" for Messrs. Chaffey Bros., the founders of the great Irrigation Colonies in Australia. The engines and pumps are fixed on one base measuring 61 ft. in length by 13 ft. in width, the greatest height of the whole being 191 ft. There are four 40 in. centrifugal pumps, each of which is capable of discharging 28,000 gallons a minute, or a total for the four of 112,000 gallons a minute. When the water is being lifted the maximum height, viz., 20 ft., 740 indicated horse-power is required, the four pumps running together only when the lift is under 10 ft. The engines are "Triple Expansion" having one high-pressure cylinder 161 in. diameter, one intermediate 241 in., and two low pressure cylinders 311 in. diameter, and are designed for an initial steam pressure of 140 lbs. per square inch. These pumps form only a portion of an extensive series which we have supplied the Messrs. Chaffey, for the purpose of lifting the waters of the Murray river on to the farms and orchards of the new Irrigation Colonies of Mildura and Renmark.

The enterprising and able founders of these colonies have already had great experience in the work of causing "the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose;" for, at Ontario, in California, they have caused a flourishing city to arise, giving pleasant and profitable employment to thousands, where before there was a waste howling wilderness. All this has been done by the scientific distribution of water; and Messrs. Chaffey are now engaged in performing the same service for our Australian Colonies; South Australia and Victoria having placed at the disposal of the founders half-a-million acres, which are being rapidly sold in lots of ten acres and upwards, largely for the purpose of fruit growing. Already the town of Mildura has a population of a thousand persons, and Renmark not many less. There are banks, saw mills, an excellent newspaper, a telegraph office, and every indication of a prosperous and happy community. One guarantee for the continuance of this happiness and prosperity is afforded by the fact that the inhabitants have, by special legislation, excluded public bars and drinking saloons from the new settlement.

Immigrants to these colonies must necessarily possess more or less capital — as the fruit-trees do not afford an immediate profit — although they can partly engage in ordinary agricultural production, from which a speedy return may be secured. An industrious working settler may begin with a hundred pounds or so; while one who employs labour and operates on a larger scale, needs a capital to start with of from about £600 and upwards. The chief industries of the settlements being the exceptionally careful and remunerative cultivation of grapes, oranges, lemons, apricots, olives, etc., arrangements are being made for affording the best practical and scientific instruction in horticulture, the culture of fruit, and agriculture; and a college, especially devoted to these subjects, will be erected by Messrs. Chaffey in each colony. It will be handsomely endowed by a proportion of the proceeds of the land sales. These sales are made at the rate of £20 an acre for horticultural, and £15 an acre for agricultural land, payable, if desired, in ten years.

Life on these colonies is suburban rather than rustic, and one finds every educational and religious surrounding: books, pleasant companions, recreation, and study are brought within the reach of the entire community.

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