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Extract from Letter Entitled “The Ascent of Popocatapetl”

From Proceedings of the Geological Society of London, Volume 1 (November 1826 to June 1833)

An extract of a letter was read from Lieutenant William Glennie, R.N., dated Mexico, May 6th, 1827, entitled “The Ascent of Popocatapetl.”

Many contradictory reports having long existed respecting the volcanic nature of this mountain, the author felt desirous of ascertaining its actual condition in person.

The ascent commenced during the month of April 1827, from the village of Ameca, situated in the province of Puebla, and near the N.W. foot of the volcano, at an elevation of 8216 feet above the level of the sea, and distant 14 leagues from Mexico.

The author describes the sides of the mountain as thickly wooded with forests of pines, extending to the height of near 12,693 feet, beyond which altitude vegetation ceased entirely. The ground consisted of loose black sand of considerable depth, on which numerous fragments of basalt and pumice-stone were dispersed. At a greater elevation, several projecting ridges, composed of loose fragments of basalt, arranged one above another, and overhanging precipices 600 or 700 feet deep, presented formidable impediments to the author’s progress; and, in one direction only, a ravine was observed to pass through these ridges, having its surface covered with loose black sand, down which fragments of rocks ejected from the crater continually descended.

After twelve hours of incessant fatigue the author gained the highest point of the mountain on the western side of the crater, 17,884 feet above the sea; at which station the mercury in the barometer subsided to 15.63 inches, and the temperature indicated by the attached and detached thermometers, was respectively 39° and 33° Fahr. at 5 o’clock P.M., when exposed to the direct rays of the sun. The plain of Mexico was enveloped in a thick haze, and the only distant objects visible at that time, were the volcanoes of Orizaba and Iztaccihuatl. The crater of Popocatapetl appeared to extend one mile in diameter, and its edges of unequal thickness descended towards the east. The interior walls consisted of masses of rock arranged per- . pendicularly, and marked by numerous vertical channels, in many places filled with black sand. Four horizontal circles of rock differently coloured were also noticed within the crater; and from the edges of the latter, as well as from its perpendicular walls, several small columns of vapour arose smelling strongly of sulphur. The noise was incessant, resembling that heard at a short distance from the sea shore during a storm; and at intervals of two or three minutes the sound increased, followed by an eruption of stones of various dimensions; the smaller were projected into the ravine before mentioned, the larger fell again within the crater.

The sensations experienced by the author were analogous to those usually felt by travellers at considerable elevations; viz. weariness, difficult respiration, and headache, the latter inconvenience having been first perceived at a height of 16,895 feet. Tobacco smoke and spirituous liquors were also found to produce an unusually rapid effect upon the sensorium.

Scilla Autumnalis on St. Vincent’s Rocks

From The Journal of Botany: British and Foreign, Vol. XXVII, 1889

Scilla Autumnalis on St. Vincent’s Rocks. — It is gratifying to be able to announce that the hope expressed in the ‘Flora’ [of the Bristol Coalfields] (p. 201), that this rare bulb might yet be rediscovered on St. Vincent’s Rocks, has been justified. We are indebted for this pleasure to Mr. J. C. House, who, during a scramble in autumn, came upon a patch of about a hundred plants. It was somewhat perplexing, however, to find that the spot was made ground, the site of ancient quarrying; but this circumstance has been explained and accounted for in a very interesting and satisfactory manner. Mrs. Glennie Smith has kindly furnished information on the matter that was conveyed to her by Mrs. Glennie, widow of Mr. William Glennie, who was engineer, under Brunel, of many great works in the West of England. The account runs as follows:- When Brunel was about to commence the construction of the Suspension Bridge, Mrs. Glennie told him that he was going to destroy the Clifton locality of Scilla autumnalis, as it grew just where the approach on the Gloucestershire side was to be made. The engineer immediately informed himself carefully of the exact spot, and, before the ground was broken, he made some of his workmen dig up the turfs containing the bulbs, and transplant them safely beyond the reach and influence of the works he was about to begin. Mrs. Glennie could not remember if she ever knew the place to which the transference was made, but it seems tolerably clear that Mr. Brunel’s care was effectual in preserving for us a choice plant, the locality for which, when undisturbed, was evidently of very small dimensions.-J. W. WHITE (in Proc. Bristol Nat. Soc. v. iii. 232).

Rail Disaster on the New Haven Railroad, May 6, 1853

From The New York Herald, May 7, 1853 (Morning Edition)

Another Frightful Calamity.

Awful Sacrifice of Human Life

Shocking Accident

on the

New Haven Railroad.

The Precipitation of a Train of Passenger
Cars into the Norwalk River.

Forty-Five Lives Lost.

Several Persons Seriously Injured.

Names of the Killed, Wounded, and Saved.

The Cause of the Disaster.

Interesting Statements by Eye-Witnesses.

Thrilling Incidents.

Miraculous Escapes.

&c., &c., &c.

It becomes our melancholy duty to record another fatal and disastrous accident, in addition to the long list of those which have occurred in different parts of the country during the last few months. About 12 o’clock yesterday we received a telegraphic despatch from Norwalk containing the announcement and some of the particulars of a terrible railroad disaster which happened at that place about 10 o’clock in the morning. The intelligence created a profound sensation throughout the city when it was known that about fifty persons had lost their lives. The New Haven train, consisting of four passenger and two baggage cars, left this city for Boston at 8 o’clock yesterday morning, but reaching the drawbridge at Norwalk the locomotive, tender, one baggage and one passenger car and a half, ran off into the river, which at this point is over six feet deep. Some idea may be formed of the momentum from the fact that the locomotive cleared a distance of about sixty feet, nearly reaching the opposite abutment in its descent to the water. There is no doubt whatever that the accident – if accident it can be called – was caused by the carelessness of the engineer. It appears that the drawbridge was raised to admit the passage of the steamboat Pacific, the usual signal was displayed by the person in charge, and all the other necessary precautions were taken to warn the engineer of his danger. Instead, however, of checking the speed of the train, which should be reduced to at least eight miles an hour when approaching the bridge, he kept it at a rate of twenty miles, so that when he became aware of the presence of danger he found it impossible to prevent the train from falling into the river. The scene which followed was terrible in the extreme. The engine, the tender, and two cars were engulphed (sic) in the water, and the passengers either crushed to death or drowned.

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Business Notices of John Wallis Hammond

From The London Gazette, Saturday, July 2, 1825

Take notice, that the Partnership heretofore subsisting between us the undersigned, John Hammond, John Wallis Hammond, and Cornelius Cook Hammond, as Cork Manufacturers, at Rotherhithe, in the County of Surrey under the firm of John Hammond and Sons, was this day dissolved by mutual consent, so far as concerns the said John Wallis Hammond—The business will in future be carried on by the said John Hammond and Cornelius Hammond alone, by whom all debts due and owing to and from their said late concern will be received and paid : As witness our hands this 29th day of June 1825.

John Hammond
J. W. Hammond
C. C. Hammond

Take notice, that the Partnership heretofore subsisting between us the undersigned, John Wallis Hammond, and Cornelius Cook Hammond, as Rope, Line, and Twine manufacturers, at Rotherhithe and Bermondsey, in the County of Surrey under the firm of J.W. and C.C. Hammond, was this day dissolved by mutual consent—The business will in future be carried on by the said Cornelius Cook Hammond alone, by whom all debts due and owing to and from their said late concern will be received and paid : As witness our hands this 29th day of June 1825.

J. W. Hammond
C. C. Hammond

Criticism of the Great Eastern steamship

From the Pioneer and Democrat, January 6, 1860

The leviathan steamship “Great Eastern” is certainly in a bad way. Her history from the outset has been only a series of misfortunes, financial and mechanical, till now several of those who originally embarked in the enterprise have been reduced to bankruptcy, and Brunel and Stevenson, her chief designers, passed have away. The ship herself appears to have demonstrated nothing, or in any degree served to promote nautical science. “Vaulting ambition has o’erleaped itself,” but the result is an occasion only for regret. A Liverpool contemporary suggests that American capitalists should finish the job—a proposition which is not likely to meet with prompt acceptance. The Great Eastern and Atlantic cable are the two huge failures of the century.

Source: The weekly pioneer and Democrat. [volume] (Saint Paul, Minn. Territory), 06 Jan. 1860. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Account of Patrick Miller’s Steam Vessel Experiments

From the Gazette of the United-States, October 14, 1789


It is with pleasure we learn, that Mr. Midlar [sic – Patrick Miller] of Dalswinton has lately completed his experiment for ascertaining the steam engine in moving ships. The success fully answered his expectations, and afforded very great pleasure to the spectators present. The result of this experiment must be of the greatest utility to society in general, but more particularly to trading countries which abound in coal or wood.

Source: Gazette of the United-States. [volume] (New-York [N.Y.]), 14 Oct. 1789. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Mr. Weed Through the Thames Tunnel, July 17, 1843

Extract from Letters From Mr. [Thurlow] Weed . . . No. X., Correspondence of the Albany Evening Journal

From the New York Daily Tribune, August 19, 1843

Monday, July 17

I have been through the Thames Tunnel. This is to London what the Croton Water Works are to New.York, the great achievement of the 19th century. There is nothing at either entrance of the Tunnel, which indicates that you are in the vicinity of this extraordinary improvement. We passed over it in a steamer in the morning, without being aware that other masses of fellow beings were quietly walking through a subterranean passage below us! The visitor is directed “This way to the Tunnel ” by a board on the corner of a street. You descend a winding stone stairway 100 steps, and enter into the Tunnel, which is well lighted with gas, and afforded us a cool pleasant walk, after four hour’s exposure to the sun. The Tunnel has two avenues, each wide enough to allow 12 or 16 persons to walk abreast. Half way through, a printing press is stationed “By Royal Authority,” which is throwing off sheets containing an account of the Tunnel. I told the man I would purchase two of his sheets provided lie would allow me to “pull” them myself. This, upon learning that “I knows the ropes,” as they say at sea, he consented to. I have, therefore, an account of the Thames Tunnel, printed by myself, standing midway between the London and Surry sides of the river, seventy feet below its bed, with Steamers and ships passing directly over my head!

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The Engines of Our Ingenuity, Ep. 1405: Brunel – Father and Son

The Engines of Our Ingenuity is a radio program that tells the story of how our culture is formed by human creativity. Written and hosted by John Lienhard and other contributors, it is heard nationally on Public Radio and produced by Houston Public Media.

Click here for audio of Episode 1405.

Today, two larger-than-life engineers. The University of Houston’s College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.

British art historian Kenneth Clark coined the term Heroic Materialism to describe the engineering of the middle 19th century. Those Victorian engineers were melodramatic artists in iron. And Isambard Kingdom Brunel was the grandest artist of them all.

His father, Marc Isambard Brunel, was born in France in 1769. He was an engineer and a royalist who fled the French Revolution. He came to America and worked here for seven years. He even became an American citizen. But he finally moved to England to marry a woman he’d met in France and known for years. His work in England defined the engineering of the post-Industrial-Revolution world. He designed an early suspension bridge, the first floating ship-landing platform, and (boldest of all) a tunnel, the first of its kind, under the Thames river. That one meant inventing a whole array of new supporting technologies.

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