Richard Trevithick
continued
introduction  •  early years  •  pumping the mines  •  high pressure steam  • 
first road carriages  •  rail locomotives  •  dredging, tunnelling and more inventions  •  South America  •  return to Cornwall  •  final years  •  remembering Trevithick  • 
selected works  •  sources
Remembering Trevithick
Trevithick and his innovations — despite their extraordinary number and breadth — had faded from public perception during the eleven years he spent in South America. However, he is now widely recognised for his engineering genius and as a pioneer of high pressure steam power.
On his return to Cornwall in 1827, he found it difficult to rekindle the kind of recognition he had enjoyed during the early part of the 19th century. His lack of business acumen and his desire to get on with the next exciting idea rather than pursue the current one to a successful conclusion probably didn't help.
However, without Trevithick, the advent of mechanically-powered road and rail travel may have been much later and would have taken a different form. His extraordinary efforts to harness 'strong steam' ensured that mines could be worked in dry conditions, and all kinds of previously-manual tasks could be carried out mechanically and more efficiently.
His character is perhaps best summed up by an extract from a letter — though it's not entirely clear whether these are Trevithick's own words or those of Davies Gilbert on Trevithick's behalf ...
"I have been branded with folly and madness for attempting what the world calls impossibilities, and even from the great engineer, the late Mr. James Watt, who said to an eminent scientific character still living [John Isaac Hawkins], that I deserved hanging for bringing into use the high-pressure engine. This so far has been my reward from the public; but should this be all, I shall be satisfied by the great secret pleasure and laudable pride that I feel in my own breast from having been the instrument of bringing forward and maturing new principles and new arrangements of boundless value to my country. However much I may be straitened in pecuniary circumstances, the great honour of being a useful subject can never be taken from me, which to me far exceeds riches."
Michael Williams, Liberal MP for West Cornwall 1853-58, described Trevithick as "the greatest and worst-used man in the county". Williams was well qualified to offer his opinion, as he was from a mining family that controlled many of the Gwennap mines mentioned in the discussion of Trevithick's early career. He owned the Morfa copper smelting works in South Wales and was Sheriff of Glamorgan from 1839. He was also the Chairman of the Cornwall Railway Company and owner of Caerhayes Castle near St Austell, both from 1854.
The most contemporaneous memoir of Trevithick, written by Henry Hyde Clarke in 1839, calls him "one of the neglected benefactors of the human race".
To his son Francis, Trevithick was evidently a hero, and in 1872 Francis published a eulogistic biography of his father — without which Trevithick may have disappeared from history altogether. Had he lived longer, he would have seen Francis become a great railway engineer. Francis' most famous engine is the Cornwall built for the London & North Western Railway.
Trevithick's achievements are commemorated annually — on Trevithick Day in Camborne on the last Saturday of April, and in May in Dartford. Several academic awards bear his name, including the biennial Trevithick Scholarship founded at the Victoria University of Manchester in 1889, the annual ICE Trevithick Premium founded in 1900, and the annual Trevithick Memorial Scholarship established at Camborne School of Metalliferous Mining in 1923.
However, his life was not to be memorialised at a national level until more than half a century after his death, when funds were raised for a memorial in Westminster Abbey. Even then, the proposed statue became a modest window, which was unveiled on 13th June 1888. It is next to the windows for Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) and Robert Stephenson (1803-59).
Since then, numerous local memorials to Trevithick have been erected. Some of them are listed below.
1897 ... The Institution of Civil Engineers commissions a marble bust of Trevithick from sculptor Charles Henry Mabey Snr (c.1836-1912).
9th March 1902 ... A tablet is installed in Dartford parish church, dedicated by William Walsh, bishop of Dover, paid for by J. & E. Hall. There is also a plaque in the former churchyard where Trevithick is buried (now St Edmund's Pleasance) that may be of the same date.
1904 ... A white marble bust of Trevithick is unveiled at Camborne library by Sir George John Smith. It was donated in 1903 by Cornish philanthropist John Passmore Edwards and sculpted by Henry Charles Fehr (1867-1940).
19th July 1919 ... A plaque is installed in Tehidy Road, Camborne, to commemorate the first trial run of Puffing Devil in December 1801.
17th May 1932 ... A statue is erected in Cross Street, Camborne, unveiled by HRH Prince George. The 2.3m gilded bronze statue is mounted on a plinth of Cornish granite and was sculpted by Leonard Stanford Merrifield (1880-1943) in 1928.
19th April 1934 ... A 2.25m high stone plinth is erected in Merthyr Tydfil, unveiled by David E. Roberts, and later topped with a model of the Penydarren locomotive sculpted by Howard Bowcott in 1992-3.
23rd April 1934 ... A tablet is installed in Gower Street (near the Catch-Me-Who-Can demonstration site) on the wall of the Engineering Laboratory of University College, London, unveiled by Major Oliver Stanley MP, then Minister of Transport.
16th October 1948 ... A stone plinth is erected outside the site of Trevithick's birthplace at 35 Station Road, Pool, unveiled by his great grandson Captain R.E. Trevithick.
November 1949 ... A copper plaque is installed at Bridge Street in Bridgnorth commemorating Trevithick, John Urpeth Rastrick and the building of Catch-Me-Who-Can at the Hazeldine & Co foundry.
12th September 1953 ... A plaque is installed at Trevithick's home in Penponds, unveiled by his great grandson Captain R.E. Trevithick.
30th September 1978 ... A stone memorial is raised in Abercynon to commemorate the construction of the Penydarren locomotive.
21st February 2004 ... A wooden sculpture is erected in Abercynon, commissioned by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council to commemorate 200 years since the Penydarren locomotive ran. Also a mural at the Tesco supermarket in Merthyr Tydfil is unveiled by Trevithick Society Chairman Philip Hosken.
22nd March 2007 ... A blue plaque is mounted on the wall of the former Bull Inn (now the Royal Victoria & Bull Hotel) in High Street, Dartford, unveiled by Trevithick Society Chairman Philip Hosken.
July 2008 ... A plaque is installed on the site of Hazeldine & Co foundry by Bridgnorth Civic Society to commemorate the building of Catch-Me-Who-Can.
introduction  •  early years  •  pumping the mines  •  high pressure steam  • 
first road carriages  •  rail locomotives  •  dredging, tunnelling and more inventions  •  South America  •  return to Cornwall  •  final years  •  remembering Trevithick  • 
selected works  •  sources
All items by Richard Trevithick
Everything built ... 1771 - 1833
portrait of Richard Trevithick  Institution of Civil Engineers

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Richard Trevithick
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Richard Trevithick
Detail of the gilded bronze statue by Leonard Stanford Merrifield that was created in 1928 and erected outside Cambourne library in 1932.
Photo: Eleanor Knowles
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SOME MEMORIAL INSCRIPTIONS
Starting with the earliest ...
Plaque
in Holy Trinity Church, Dartford, Kent, unveiled 9th March 1902
TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND IN MEMORY OF RICHARD TREVITHICK ONE OF THE PIONEERS OF THE GREAT MECHNANICAL DEVELOPMENTS OF THE XIX CENTURY, AND AMONGST THE FIRST INVENTORS OF THE LOCOMOTIVE ENGINE, OF SCREW AND PADDLE WHEEL PROPULSION FOR STEAMSHIPS, OF THE AGRICULTRAL ENGINE AND OF MANY OTHER APPLIANCES WHEREBY THE FORCES OF NATURE HAVE BEEN UTILISED IN THE SERVICE OF MANKIND. HE DIED IN POVERTY AND WAS CARRIED TO HIS GRAVE IN THE CHURCHYARD OF S.EDMUND, KING AND MARTYR, BY THE MECHANICS OF HALL'S ENGINEERING WORKS WHERE HE WAS THEN EMPLOYED. THIS TABLET WAS ERECTED TO PERPETUATE THE MEMORY OF ONE WHOSE SPLENDID GIFTS SHED LUSTRE ON THIS TOWN, ALTHOUGH HE WAS NOT PERMITTED TO ENJOY THE FRUITS OF HIS LABOUR HERE. BORN 1771 DIED 1833
Wall plaque
at the burial ground at St Edmund's Pleasance, East Hill in Dartford, Kent, c.1902
RICHARD TREVITHICK
APPROXIMATELY 25FT FROM THIS WALL LIE
THE REMAINS OF RICHARD TREVITHICK
THE GREAT ENGINEER AND PIONEER OF
HIGH PRESSURE STEAM
HE DIED AT THE BULL INN DARTFORD AND WAS
CARRIED HERE BY HIS FELLOW WORKERS
OF HALLS ENGINEERING WORKS
TO A PAUPERS GRAVE
BORN ILLOGAN CORNWALL APRIL 13TH 1771
DIED DARTFORD KENT APRIL 22ND 1833
Wall plaque
opposite 33 and 35 Tehidy Road in Camborne, Cornwall, unveiled 19th July 1919
IN MEMORY OF
RICHARD TREVITHICK
TO COMMEMORATE THE SITE WHERE THE
FIRST LOCOMOTIVE ENGINE
WAS ASSEMBLED BY HIM AND FROM WHERE IT
WAS STARTED ON ITS HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL RUN
TO BEACON HILL CHRISTMAS EVE 1801
ALSO NEAR THIS SPOT WAS THE ONCE FAMOUS
WELL OF ST MERIADOC SUPPOSED TO POSSESS
HEALING QUALITIES OF GREAT VIRTUE
PEACE DAY JULY 19TH 1919
Stone plinth
in Gwalia Place, Pontmorlais, Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, unveiled 19th April 1934 by David E. Roberts. Model of Penydarren locomotive added 1993
RICHARD TREVITHICK 1771-1833 PIONEER OF HIGH PRESSURE STEAM BUILT THE FIRST STEAM LOCOMOTIVE TO RUN ON RAILS, ON FEBRUARY 21ST 1804 IT TRAVERSED THE SPOT ON WHICH THIS MONUMENT STANDS ON ITS WAY TO ABERCYNON
THIS MEMORIAL BUILT OF CHAIR STONES AND RAILS RECOVERED FROM THE OLD PENYDAREN TRAMROAD WAS ERECTED BY THE PEOPLE OF MERTHYR TYDFIL WITH THE HELP OF THE TREVITHICK CENTENARY COMMEMORATION FUND OCTOBER 1933
Wall plaque
at Bridge Street in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, unveiled in November 1949
TO THE MEMORY
OF TWO GREAT ENGINEERS
RICHARD TREVITHICK
B. 1771 - D. 1833
INVENTOR OF THE
HIGH PRESSURE STEAM ENGINE
AND
JOHN URPETH RASTRICK
B. 1780 - D. 1856
GREAT RAILWAY ENGINEER.
NEAR THIS SPOT IN HAZELDINE'S FOUNDRY
RASTRICK BUILT IN 1808
TO TREVITHICK'S DESIGN
THE WORLD'S FIRST
PASSENGER LOCOMOTIVE ENGINE
ERECTED NOV. 1949
Stone memorial
in Abercynon, south Wales, unveiled 30th September 1978 by Mr W.G. Bowden
IN COMMEMORATION OF THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF RICHARD TREVITHICK WHO HAVING CONSTRUCTED THE FIRST STEAM LOCOMOTIVE DID ON FEBRUARY 21ST 1804 SUCCESSFULLY HAUL 10 TONS OF IRON AND NUMEROUS PASSENGERS, ALONG A TRAMROAD, FROM MERTHYR TO THIS PRECINCT WHERE WAS SITUATED THE LOADING POINT OF THE GLAMORGAN CANAL.
THIS MEMORIAL WAS ERECTED BY THE ABERCYNON TREVITHICK COMMITTEE AND PAID FOR BY PUBLIC SUBSCRIPTION IT WAS UNVEILED BY THE CHAIRMAN W.G. BOWDEN ESQ. J.P. ON 30TH SEPTEMBER 1978
Wall plaque
in Leather Lane, London, unveiled 6th July 2003 by Francis Trevithick Okuno (great-great-grandson)
William FELTON's carriage works was close to this spot.
In 1803 he built a carriage powered by a steam engine designed and supplied by Richard TREVITHICK, the great Cornish engineer. The carriage made several trips from here with up to about 8 passengers. In July of that year, one trip was made via Greys Inn Lane, Dorset Square and Tottenham Court Road to Paddington, returning the same day via Islington. This was the first self-powered vehicle to run in the streets of London and the world's first self-powered road people carrier.
The London Steam Carriage heralded the age of the car.
[drawing of steam carriage here]
This plaque was unveiled by Francis Trevithick Okuno, descendent of Richard Trevithick, on July 6th 2003
Wooden sculpture
in Abercynon, South Wales, unveiled 21st February 2004
February 21, 1804 saw the first-ever journey of a steam locomotive, hauling a load on rails. Richard Trevithick successfully drove his engine and five wagons for five miles along the rail tramroad, from Penydarren to Navigation, Abercynon, with 70 men and 10 tons of iron on board. This display commemorates the finishing point of that historic journey.
Blue plaque
at the Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel, High Street in Dartford, Kent, unveiled 22nd March 2007 by Philip Hosken of the Trevithick Society
RICHARD TREVITHICK 1771-1833 Pioneering engineer and inventor of the world's first steam powered railway locomotive, lodged at this hotel from 1831-1833. He died here on 22 April 1833 after a short illness and is buried in the town.
Commemorative plaque
in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, unveiled in July 2008
ON THIS SITE STOOD HAZLEDINE'S FOUNDRY WHERE IN 1808 WAS BUILT THE WORLD'S FIRST STEAM LOCOMOTIVE TO HAUL FEE-PAYING PASSENGERS. THIS ENGINE WAS DESIGNED BY RICHARD TREVITHICK, ENGINEERED BY JOHN RASTRICK AND BUILT BY THE FOUNDRY WORKERS OF BRIDGNORTH.
THIS PLAQUE WAS ERECTED BY BRIDGNORTH CIVIC SOCIETY FUNDED MAINLY BY MEMBER MRS. CHRISTINA HOLDER AND ADDITIONALLY BY: BRIDGNORTH TOWN COUNCIL, BRIDGNORTH DISTRICT COUNCIL, BRIDGNORTH TOURIST ASSOCIATION IN JULY 2008.