Biography of Richard Trevithick

Portrait of Richard Trevithick

Richard Trevithick was an eighteenth/nineteenth century inventor of steam engines.

When and Where was he born?

13th April 1771, Station Road, Illogan, Cornwall, England.

Family Background:

Richard Trevithick was the son of the Manager of Dolcoath Mine and several others in Cornwall as well as being the mineral agent for Lord De Dunstanville from 1777. His father was a devote Methodist and entertained John Wesley at his home.

Education:

Village school at Illogan, Cornwall where he was described as “slow and obstinate” and often played truant.

Timeliney of Richard Trevithick:

1771: The Trevithick family moves soon after Richard was born to Penponds where he lives until his marriage in 1797.

1789: Riots take place in Redruth and Camborne in Cornwall. John Wesley is reputed to have stayed with his father who was a Methodist leader whilst preaching in the area.

1790: He becomes an engineer at Stray Park Mine.

1792: Trevithick writes a report on the performance of the Tincroft Mine Engine. Trevithick was gaining a reputation for being good at engineering as well as being six feet tall and a very good Cornish Wrestler.

1796: He meets Davies Giddy who becomes his mentor. He visits Matthew Boulton and James Watt’s Soho Foundry, in Birmingham. He also visits Coalbrookdale, in Shropshire. His steam carriage begins to run from Camborne to Tuckingmill until 1801.

1797: His brother in law, William West, makes model engines to show in the case of the Cornish Engineers versus Boulton and Watt. Trevithick refuses terms by the Soho Foundry to put up his engines and is taken to law by Watt for patent infringements. Death of his father. After his marriage to Jane Harvey the couple go to live at Moreton House, Plain an Gwarry in Redruth, Cornwall.

Trevithick Road Locomotive Replica
Replica of the Cambourne Road Locomotive made in 2001 (copyright The Trevithick Society)

1798: He moves to Camborne. A model of his road locomotive is shown off in his kitchen to Lady Bassett. Birth of his son, Richard.

1800: Expiry of the James Watt steam engine patent. Birth of his daughter Anne.

1801: First high pressure “Puffing Devil” is built by Trevithick.

1802: Trevithick takes out a patent with his partner Andrew Vivian on the construction of steam engines to drive steam carriages and other purposes. Birth of his daughter Elizabeth. Richard Trevithick builds his London Road locomotive which runs between Leather Lane and Paddington via Oxford Street.

1804: He builds his Pennydaren Locomotive for an iron rolling mill in Wales to transport iron along a track.

1805: A copy of the Penydarren engine is made for the Wylam Colliery in Northumberland. Unfortunately the locomotive runs on wooden rails which could not take the weight and the project is abandoned.

1806: First use of his steam dredger on the River Thames in London. Birth of his son John Harvey.

1807: Richard Trevithick is appointed engineer to the Thames Archway Company.

1808: He is joined by his wife and children in London. He designs the first containers for ships. Trials of his “Catch me who can” circular track steam train at Euston. The public are entitled to travel on it by buying a one shilling ticket.  He takes out a patent for machinery for towing, driving or discharging ships or other vessels with Robert Dickinson. He also had plans for a tunnel under the Thames which almost succeeded as well as steam powered Thames dredgers.

1809: Trevithick takes out patents on floating docks, iron ships, iron masts, iron buoys, steam engines for ships.

1810: New Trevithick patents are taken out for propulsion of sea vessels. He contracts typhus and returns to Cornwall.

1811: He is declared bankrupt. He installs the first Cornish Engine and boiler.

1812: Trevithick applies his high-pressure machine to agricultural machinery for the first time. He creates a rock boring machine for the Plymouth Breakwater and Screw Propeller company. Birth of his son Francis.

1813: He meets Francisco Uville who had come from Peru to see his engines which he wanted to use in his silver mines and he places a large order.

1814: He arranges for nine of his engines to be shipped to Peru.

1815: Richard Trevithick takes out patents on the high pressure steam engine, the plunger pole steam engine, the reaction turbine and the screw propeller.

1816: Birth of his son Frederick Henry. He rents a house for the family in Penzance but Jane lives at Hayle becoming the landlady of the White Hart Inn. Trevithick visits the mines of Peru and spends eleven years there only returning when his money runs out.

1818: The first steam boat is fitted with a Trevithick puffer.

1821: He works on salvaging ships near Callao.

1823: He travels to Ecuador on business.

1827: Trevithick takes out a patent on new methods for centring ordnance on pivots. He arrives in Nicaragua. He invents a recoil gun carriage for Simon Bolivar, one of the leaders in the civil war in South America and meets Robert Stephenson who lends him his fare back to Britain.

1828: Trevithick takes out a patent on discharging ship’s cargoes. He travels to Holland to see the Zuyder Zee project.

1829: Trevithick takes out a patent on a new improved steam engine.

1831: He takes out a patent on boilers and condensers and manufactures a portable stove.

1832: Trevithick patents super heaters for locomotion and jet propulsion of vessels. He designs a thousand feet high iron column to commemorate the Reform Bill which is passed by parliament. Needless to say it is never built.

1833: He is taken ill whilst working for John Hall Engineering in Dartford, Kent.

When and Where did he Die?

22nd April 1833, Dartford, Kent, England. His funeral had to be paid for by a subscription raised by the employees at his Dartford workshop, as he died penniless.

Age at Death:

62.

Marriage:

1797 to Jane Harvey.

Site of Grave:

Buried in unmarked pauper’s grave, Dartford, Kent.

Places of Interest:

CORNWALL:

Home at Penponds, Camborne (owned by the National Trust).
East Pool Mine, Camborne.
Holman’s Museum, Camborne.
South Crofty Mine, Camborne.
Levant Mine, St. Just.
Road Carriage at Hayle.
His wife Jane was the landlady of the White Hart Inn in Hayle.

LONDON:

Science Museum.

MIDDLESSEX:

Kew Bridge Steam Museum, Green Dragon Lane, Brentford.

WALES:

Locomotive, Abercynon.
Cyfartha Castle Museum, Merthyr Tidfyl, Mid Glamorgan.

Further Information:

The Trevithick Society, PO BOX No. 62, Camborne, Cornwall. Follow them on Twitter @trevithick.society.