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From: H Gilbert Nicol <>
Subject: [D-G LIST] The First Steamboat and Robert Burns
Date: Sat, 11 Jan 2003 18:56:46 -0500


In "Families of Wanlockhead", note is taken of the Miller steamboat and
the connexion of two natives of Leadhills who were educated in Wanlockhead.
James Taylor, whose father was an overseer of the mines in Wanlockhead,
after graduating from Edinburgh University, secured a position as tutor in
the family of Patrick Miller of Dalswinton, near Dumfries. While thus
engaged, he persuaded Miller of the feasibility of using a steam engine to
power a boat. With Miller¹s backing he engaged William Symington, another
Leadhills native educated in Wanlockhead and an inventive engineer who had
constructed a steam propelled carriage in 1786, to design the engine, and
John Hutchison, blacksmith at the mines, to build it. The first trial of
the experimental steam boat in October 1788 ‹ witnessed by Burns, then a
tenant of Miller¹s, among others ‹ was considered a great success. Nothing
more came of this venture, mainly because Symington¹s later model, developed
for commercial use, was tested in a narrow waterway where its side wheels
damaged the banks. Queen Victoria recognized Taylor¹s part in this
achievement with a pension of £100 for his widow. This later led to
controversy over who deserves credit for the invention of steam navigation.
While the ingenuity and success of the design undoubtedly belong to
Symington, Miller, Taylor and Hutchison also deserve recognition for the
parts they played.
James Taylor's older brother, John, who had succeeded their father as an
overseer, was himself involved, if indirectly, with Burns. During John
Taylor's tenure as overseer, Robert Burns, on one of his journeys over his
ten parishes as an exciseman, had arrived at Wanlockhead on a winter day,
when the roads were slippery with ice and his mare, Jenny Geddes, kept her
feet with difficulty. The blacksmith, John Hutchison ‹ referred to above ‹
could not accede to Burns's request to frost the mare's shoes without the
approval of the overseer. Taylor gave his permission, whereupon Burns,
staying at the inn, called for pen and ink and wrote the verses to John
Taylor titled, "Pegasus at Wanlockhead".

With Pegasus upon a day.
Apollo weary flying
(Through frosty hills the journey lay),
On foot the way was plying.

Poor slipshod giddy Pegasus
Was but a sorry walker;
To Vulcan then Apollo goes
To get a frosty caulker.

Obliging Vulcan fell to work,
Threw by his coat and bonnet,
And did Sol's business in a crack;
Sol paid him with a sonnet.

Ye Vulcan's sons of Wanlockhead,
Pity my sad disaster!
My Pegasus is poorly shod,
I'll pay you like my master.

Upon receiving the overseer's instructions, Hutchison "at once flew to his
tools, sharpened the horse's shoes, and, it is recorded, lived thirty years
to say he had never been 'saed weel' paid for his labour as by Burns, 'who
paid him in siller, paid him in drink, and paid him in a sang.'" (The
quotation is from J Moir Porteous in "God's Treasure-house in Scotland".)
A footnote to these references to Robert Taylor and his two sons is that
he was a son of the John Taylor who lies buried in the Leadhills Cemetery
with the gravestone inscription that refers to him as having lived to the
age of 137. This claim is open to question but there is substantial
evidence to support it.
An apt story for a wintry day in New York City.
Gil Nicol.



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