Tag Archives: Cornwall

Coal-hauling horses finally get a break

Whenever Cornish horses get together they like to sing in close harmony.

I know what you’re thinking: if Watt’s engine could turn a wheel, why not use it to propel a cart or wagon?

Excellent question! I’m glad you asked it. With a steam engine, pumps kept mines clear of water. Much safer for the miners and their animals who worked down there. Wait—animals? Well, yes. As the miners got coal loosened from inside the mine, they’d load it into carts. The carts were pulled by horses. Their wheels rested on 2 rails so the carts wouldn’t topple over as they were pulled up the rough surface of the mine floor.

Eventually, a kind-hearted soul looked at horses struggling to haul big, heavy loads of coal (or tin, or slate) and thought: there has to be a better way to haul coal. Corishman Richard Trevithick is credited for inventing the first steam locomotive. “On February 21, 1804, Trevithick’s pioneering engine hauled 10 tons of iron and 70 men nearly ten miles from Penydarren, at a speed of five miles-per-hour, winning the railway’s owner a 500 guinea bet into the bargain.”


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The Isles of Scilly

I said it would take an awful catastrophe to motivate sailors to find accurate longitude.

At the southwesternmost tip of England is a place called Cornwall. Along its coast is the harbor of Penzance, the home-port of Gilbert & Sullivan’s musical pirates. Off the southwesternmost tip of Cornwall are the Isles of Scilly—hard, treacherous, unforgiving granite rocks that jut straight up out of the Atlantic Ocean.

During a horrible storm on October 22, 1707, not knowing their position (there were differences of opinion among the captains), four Royal Navy ships were wrecked on these islands. 1550 sailors lost their lives—it was one of the worst disasters in British naval history.

Those sailors thought they were far enough south of the rocks to sail east into the English Channel. They were wrong. They struck the rocks, were shipwrecked and drowned. May God rest their souls.

I’ve been joking around here—presenting the problem of longitude in a light-hearted, smart-alecky way. But you see how deadly serious it is not to know your position when you’re in the middle of the ocean during a storm.

Well, what was going to be done about it?


Sir Cloudesley Shovell and the Scilly Naval Disaster of 1707

While looking for info about Scilly, I found this masterful painted sketch of the rocks by Anna Kirk-Smith. I love its wildness. https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Drawing-Sea-Edge-Rocks-of-Scilly/988141/3626138/view

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