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John Steele was one of the many "born mechanics" of the Northumberland district. When a boy at Colliery Dykes, his native place, he was noted for his "turn for machinery." He used to take his playfellows home to see and admire his imitations of pit-engines.
While a mere youth he lost his leg by an accident; and those who remember him at Whinfield's speak of his hopping about the locomotive, of which he was very proud, upon his wooden leg. It was a great disappointment to him when Mr. Blackett refused to take the engine. One day he took a friend to look at it when reduced to its degraded office of blowing the cupola bellows; and, referring to the cause of its rejection, he observed that he was certain it would succeed, if made sufficiently heavy. "Our master, "he continued, "will not be at the expense of following it up; but depend upon it the day will come when such an engine will be fairly tried, and then it will be found to answer."
c1804 He built an engine for Christopher Blackett but it was never used.
Steele was afterward extensively employed by the British government in raising sunken ships; and later in life he established engine-works at Rouen, where he made marine-engines for the French government.
He was killed on 4 March 1827 by the explosion of an engine boiler (with the safety-valve of which something had gone wrong) when on an experimental trip with one of the steamers fitted up by himself, and on his way to England to visit his family near Newcastle