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Early 19th Century Portrait George Stephenson, Civil & Mechanical Engineer
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Early 19th Century Portrait George Stephenson, Civil & Mechanical Engineer

Circa 1830

Measurements: Overall: 19cm (7.5in) x 15.5cm (6in)



English school head and shoulders portrait in water colour of the eminent civil engineer contained in an early 20th century gilt slip inscribed with the sitter’s name and dates and quaintly annotated with the opinion V&A.

George Stephenson (1781-1848), the ‘Father of Railways’, was born near Newcastle and began life as a coal-pit boy. He remained illiterate to the age of eighteen but diligent application and a remarkable thirst for improvement resulted in his rise to pre-eminence. By trial and error, he devised a miner’s safety lamp a month before Humphrey Davy presented his design to the Royal Society. Stephenson successfully demonstrated his own lamp to two witnesses by taking it down Killingworth Colliery and holding it in front of a fissure from which flammable gas was issuing. For his invention Davy was awarded £2,000, whilst Stephenson was accused of stealing the idea from Davy, because he had no formal training. Undettered, he designed his first locomotive in 1814, a travelling engine designed for hauling coal on the Killingworth wagonway named ‘Blucher’ for the rapidity of the Prussian general’s march in support of Wellington at Waterloo. The present portrait appears to show him in middle age when working on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and success with his locomotive ‘Rocket’  at the Rainhill Trials, made him famous.