1902 Encyclopedia > Robert Stephenson

Robert Stephenson
English engineer

ROBERT STEPHENSON (1803-1859), engineer, son of George Stephenson by his first wife Fanny Henderson, was born at Willington Quay, 16th October 1803. Remembering his own early difficulties owing to deficient instruction, his father bestowed special care on his education, sending him in his twelfth year to attend Mr Bruce's school in Percy Street, Newcastle, where he remained about four years. In 1819 he was apprenticed to a coal viewer at Killingworth to learn the business of the colliery, after which, to perfect his training in technical science, he was sent in 1822 to attend the science classes at the university of Edinburgh. On his return he assisted his father in the survey of various railway lines, but in 1824 he accepted an engagement to take charge of the engineering operations of the Columbian Mining Association of London. On account of the harassing difficulties of the situation he resigned it in 1827, and after his return to England undertook the management of his father's factory in Newcastle, greatly aiding him in the improvement of his locomotives, the result being the construction of the "Rocket," which firmly established the practicability of steam locomotion on railways. Subsequently his services were in great request as a railway engineer, and after the retirement of his father he was regarded as the chief authority on the subject. In this connexion his most remarkable achievements were his railway viaducts on the tubular system, constructed with the aid of the practical knowledge of Sir William Fairbairn, and justly characterized as "the greatest discovery in construction in our day." Among his more notable bridges are the Royal Border bridge at Berwick-on-Tweed, the high-level bridge at Newcastle-on-Tyne, the Britannia tubular bridge over the Menai Straits, the Conway tubular bridge, and the Victoria tubular bridge over the St Lawrence, Canada. In 1847 he entered the House of Commons as member for Whitby. He was frequently consulted in the construction of foreign railways, and was decorated for his services by the king of Belgium, the king of Sweden, and the emperor of the French. In 1855 he was elected president of the Institute of Civil Engineers. He died 12th October 1859, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

See The Story of the Life of George Stephenson, including a Memoir of his Son Robert Stephenson, by Samuel Smiles, 1857, new ed. 1873; Jeaffreson, Life of Robert Stephenson, 2 vols., 1864; and Smiles's Lives of British Engineers, vol. iii.

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