The story of Richard Trevithick has developed down through the years as each author has added his or her interpretation of the events researched or imagined by their predecessors. There is nothing unusual in this, much of history has been written in a similar manner.
It is therefore refreshing to re-examine the work of Prof Inglis. FRS, OBE. It is clear from his Trevithick Memorial Lecture to the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1933 on the centenary of Trevithick’s death that his research as an engineer into the life, experiences and achievements of Cornwall’s greatest inventor took him beyond the mechanical aspects of his subject into the lives of those who surrounded him.
Like many authors he fell foul of the anecdotes of Trevithick’s third son and biographer, Francis, but did criticise him for the lack of homely detail about his father. Rather surprisingly, he endorses the operation of the second phase of Savery’s engine; something any student of steam engineering could see could never have worked. He also failed to recognise the duplicity of Davies Gilbert although his suspicions were obviously alerted when he queried why the application to parliament on behalf of Trevithick, which was entrusted to Gilbert, was never presented. Like many before and since, he was deceived by the “folly and madness” valediction at the end of Francis Trevithick’s book.
Otherwise the fourteen closely typed pages of his lecture contain an in-depth study of Trevithick’s attainments and the circumstances surrounding all aspects of his life. It is recognised as an authoritative account of his life by an eminent professor who, as a renowned civil engineer, academic and politician whose work included the design of temporary military bridges during the Great War and heading the enquiry into the R101 disaster, clearly sets out his achievements and many of his relationships. When describing the latter he uses just a few words to sum up what must have taken much patient research.
You can download the full original lecture by courtesy of the Institution of Civil Engineers at Inglis Lecture PDF