Camborne Trevithick-Day Richard Trevithick
(by Marj Rowland)
 List of Patents   Family history   Key Dates 

So just who was this Richard Trevithick, the man that the community of Camborne are so proud of that they have dedicated a day of festivities to him?

The answer to that is that Richard Trevithick was an engineer whose inventions were at the cutting edge of his day, at a time when the industrial revolution was sweeping the globe with innovations. Were he alive today, I can imagine that Trevithick would be scribbling ideas on his I-pad for vehicles that run on solar power and thinking up creative ways to heat our homes. He would be at the forefront of today's technology developments, pushing the boundaries exactly as he did back in his day....

Richard Trevithick was born in a cottage a mile or so from Dolcoath Mine, where his father was a mine Captain. His curiosity about the engineering aspects of the mining area that he grew up in began when he was very young. Stories abound of him playing truant at school, to hang out around the mines. This led to him pioneering new technology to use high pressure steam and increase the efficiency of the engines used to pump out the natural water that gathers in the lower levels of the tin and copper mines. At the time there was opposition to his ideas, he was called mad, and dangerous, but Trevithick persisted, and high pressure steam engines became the norm.

Although mostly remembered for his innovative approach to the uses of steam power, Trevithick’s inventive mind was never still - his ideas ranged from the first successful self-powered road vehicle, and a steam railway engine, to schemes for wreck salvage, iron cargo containers, land reclamation, mechanical refrigeration, agricultural machinery, water heating for homes, and for tunnelling under the Thames. Many of his ideas have since been developed by others into reality. One of Trevithick's last ideas, for a competition for a memorial to the “Reform Bill” was for a thousand feet high cast iron column with an air operated lift to convey passengers up the inside!

Trevithick’s career spanned the dawn of the industrial revolution, a time when Cornwall’s engineering prowess was the envy of the world. Trevithick had a sense of adventure, leading him to spend eleven years in South America, working for owners of silver mines. His steam engines were located at several sites throughout Britain, and he created a railway in South Wales (where they also put on a commemorative event!).

Richard Trevithick is buried in an unmarked grave at Dartford, Kent, where he was working when he died. Like many great men and women, Trevithick did not get the recognition he deserved during his lifetime. He did not acquire riches either - any wealth that came Trevithick’s way soon disappeared as he ploughed it back into developing his next idea. Ironically one of the few relics of his lifetime in the museum in Truro is his purse!

Camborne, of course, is where Trevithick's steam powered Road Carriage made its debut journey in 1801. This was the first time that a full sized vehicle had been able to run on a roadway under its own power. A replica of the Road Carriage has been built by enthusiasts, and this may be viewed on Trevithick Day. (You can also study the other steam vehicles and engines on display, and many of them take part in a grand parade through the town)

The area around Camborne continued to be known as one that abounded with engineering inventiveness long after the times of Trevithick. Today, there is still cutting edge innovation in technology happening in the area.

Dedicating Camborne's special day to Richard Trevithick is not just a tribute to the man himself, but a reminder of the way an open mind gets excited by new ideas. Trevithick's example is a reminder to have bigger vision, to take risks, to believe in yourself and what you could accomplish even when faced with opposition, and to follow your dreams and your passion just because you want to, not because there might be money in it.

So dedicating Camborne's special day to Richard Trevithick is a reminder to look forward to the future as well as looking back at the engineering history of the area - and to enjoy the festivities of the Day with the enthusiasm that Trevithick projected throughout his lifetime.

An excellent on-line biography of Richard Trevithick can be found on

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List of Patents

Construction of steam engines to drive steam carriages and other purposes (with Andrew Vivian)

Machinery for towing, driving, or discharging ships or other vessels: steam tug (with Robert Dickinson)

Stowing ships cargoes by means of packages: iron tanks (with Robert Dickinson)

1.Floating docks: 2. Iron ships for Ocean Service: 3. Iron Masts: 4. Bending Timber 5. Diagonal Framing for Ships: 6. Iron Buoys: 7. Steam Engines for General Ships Use: 8. Rowing Trunk: 9. Steam Cooking (with Robert Dickinson)

New Applications to propel ships to aid the recovery of shipwrecks; to promote the health and comfort of the mariners and other useful purposes (with Robert Dickinson)

High Pressure Steam Engine; and application to useful purposes

1. Plunger Pole Steam Engine: 2. Reaction Turbine: 3. High pressure steam acting on water which acts as a piston: 4. the water from 3. used in 2. as in a Barker's Mill: 5. Screw Propeller

A New Apparatus for evaporating water from solutions of vegetable substances

New Methods for centring ordnance on pivots: Facilitating the charge of the same: and reducing manual labour in time of action

New Methods of discharging ships cargoes and other purposes

A New or Improved Steam Engine

1. Boiler and Condenser: 2. Condenser in Air Vessel: 3. Surface Condenser: 4. Condensed water returned to Boiler: 5. Forced draught with hot air heated by condenser water

A Portable Stove surrounded by water brought to boiling point

Application of Steam Power to Navigation and Locomotion
1. Super heater: 2. Cylinder kept in flue to be hotter than steam: 3. Jet Propulsion of Vessels: 4. Boiler and Super heater Applies to a Locomotive

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Family History

Richard Trevithick senior (1735-1797) (mine captain/engineer)
Ann Teague (? - 1810) (mine captain's daughter)
They had eight children, (four died, two in the same year)
(married John Tyack, Blacksmith)
(married William Edwards, Engineer)

(married Jane Harvey)

(married Henry Vivian, gentleman)

Richard Trevithick
Jane Harvey (father- John Harvey, Foundry owner)
in 1797 when he was 26.

Jane was born at Carnhell, Gwinear, on 25th June 1772, and was aged 25 when they married.
She died at Pencliffe, Hayle in 1868.

Their six children were-
X Richard (1798-1872)
Anne (1800-1876)
Elizabeth (1803-1870)
John Harvey (1807-1877)
Francis (1812-1877)
Frederick Henry (1816-1881)

(married Hannibal Ellis)
(married John Banfield)
(married Charlotte Stewart)
(married Mary Ewart)
(married Maria Garland)

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Key Dates of Trevithick's Timeline

1769 James Watt's separate condenser patent
Cugnot's steam carriage (in France)
1771Richard Trevithick born 13th April
1777 Boulton & Watt's separate condenser engine introduced to Cornwall
Abraham Derby began casting his "Iron Bridge"
1781 Hornblower's patent
1784 Murdoch's model locomotive in Redruth
James Sadler, Oxford, makes ascent in a hot air balloon
1787 Symmington exhibited a model steam carriage in Edinburgh
1789 Riots in Redruth
Wesley preaches in the area, reputed to have stayed with Trevithick snr.
(who was a Methodist Leader)
1790 Trevithick becomes engineer at Stray Park Mine
J. Hornblower and A. Woolfe (mine engineers) help Francis Basset put in a "water-closet" at his house at Tehidy
1792 Trevithick reports on performance of Tincroft Mine engine
Mary Wollanscroft publishes "Vindication of the Rights of Women"
1793 War with France
1796 Trevithick meets Davies Giddy (Gilbert), who becomes a mentor
Boulton & Watt open Soho Foundry at Smethwick
Edward Bull and Trevithick visit Soho Foundry
Trevithick expresses interest in work for the Soho Foundry
Trevithick visits Coalbrookdale Foundry
Francis Basset puts down Food Riots in Redruth
1797 William West (Trevithick's colleague and brother-in-law) makes model engines to show in Cornish Engineers v Boulton & Watt court case about restrictive patents and business practise
Trevithick refuses terms offered by Soho Foundry to put up engines
Richard Trevithick Senior dies
Richard Trevithick marries Jane Harvey
- they go to live at Moreton House, Plain an Gwarry, Redruth

1798 First high-pressure "puffers" built by Trevithick
Jane & Richard move to Camborne Churchtown
Lady Basset sees Trevithick's model of a road locomotive run in the kitchen of Trevithick's home
Richard Trevithick (son) born
1799 Humphry Davey discovers laughing gas (Penzance)
1800 Expiry of Watt patent
Anne Trevithick (daughter) born
1801 Trevithick's creation of Camborne Road Locomotive
Francis Basset starts Camborne Market House & Clock Tower
1802 Elizabeth Trevithick (daughter) born
1803 Trevithick's London Road Locomotive
High Pressure Boiler explosion at Greenwich
1804 Trevithick's Pennydaren Locomotive
Frances Basset (Lord DeDunstanville) forms troop of Cornish
Volunteers in case of invasion by Napoleon
1805 Newcastle-upon-Tyne locomotive built to Trevithick's instructions
-drives barge by steam engine & paddle wheels
1806 Trevithick's Steam-dredger used on the Thames
John Harvey Trevithick (son) born
1807 Trevithick appointed Engineer to Thames Archway Company
1808 Jane and children join Richard in London
Trevithick's "Catch me who Can" circular track steam train at Euston
1809 Trevithick raises a sunken ship off Margate
Williams family build Portreath Tramway
1810 Trevithick contracts Typhus and returns to Cornwall (treated by Dr Rosewarne)
His mother dies- takes his family to live at her property in Penponds
1811 Trevithick declared bankrupt
Trevithick installs first Cornish Engine & Boiler: Plunger Pole engine
1812 Trevithick applies high pressure engine to agricultural machinery & creates a rock-boring machine for Plymouth Breakwater & Screw Propeller
Luddites attack machinery in Midlands
Francis Trevithick (son) born
1813 Uville arrives to see Trevithick from Peru
1814 Trevithick arranges for 9 engines to be shipped to Peru
1815 Humphry Davy invents miners safety lamp
1816 Frederick Henry Trevithick (son) born
Trevithick sails for Peru
-  rents house for family in Penzance, but Jane goes to Hayle, becoming landlady of the White Hart Inn
1821 Trevithick works to salvage ships cargo near Callao
1823 The explorer, Gurnard, meets Trevithick in Ecudor
1825 Brunel begins his Thames Tunnel
1827 Trevithick arrives in Cartagena after pioneer crossing of Isthmus of Nicaragua
Civil war in South America - Trevithick creates recoil gun carriage for Bolivar
Robert. Stephenson meets Trevithick and lends him his fare home to Britain
1828 Trevithick visits Holland, engine & pump made in Hayle for Zyder Zee
1829 Robert Stephenson's Rocket wins the Rainhill Trials
1831 William Bickford invents the safety fuse (Tuckingmill, Camborne)
1832 Trevithick designs Reform Bill column
1833 William Cobbet's bill to reduce working hours of children defeated
1833Trevithick dies while working for John Hall Engineering in Dartford

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