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Paradoxe(s) victorien(s) – Victorian Paradox(es)

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William Findlay

II. L'Environnement

Paradoxes in the Implementations of Early Victorian Sea Policies: Sail and Steam in the 19th Royal Navy

Just-R. Galloway

Résumé

In the early nineteenth century, both sail and steam had to be resorted to, which entailed not fewer but more intricacies at all levels. But solving this paradox contributed to the greater glory of the Empire

Texte intégral

“... in the days when men built for sail as well as for steam”.
Rudyard Kipling, Judson and the Empire

  • 1 P. W. Brock (Rear Admiral, R. N.), Steam and Sail, 1973, p. 9-23,

1Nineteenth century Britain was so rife with sea-related inventions that it was divided for clarity’s sake by Rear Admiral P. W. Brock, R. N., into five more or less arbitrary stages that occasionally overlap, namely, the period of practical experiment ranging from 1775 to 1820, the paddle-wheel and first naval steamship era from 1820 to 1845, the screw-driven merchant steamship period from 1843 to 1865, the age of the growing power of steam and the armoured capital ship from 1854 to 1870, the passing of naval sail from 1870 onwards1.

  • 2 My grateful thanks go to Capitaine de Vaisseau Lepeu, Commandant du Centre d’Enseignement Supérieur (...)

2Confronted with such lavish material, I2 shall merely endeavour to assess the state of the Royal Navy at the time of the Pax Britannica, laying particular emphasis on the years slightly preceding and the decade following Victoria’s coronation. Three main questions will be raised to provide tentative explanations to the attitude and decisions of the Senior Service. What was the layman’s view of the situation, was conservatism a lesser evil than common sense, can a hermaphrodite vessel rule the waves?

3Two years had barely elapsed since Victoria ascended the throne when Joseph Mallord William Turner exhibited The Fighting Téméraire at the Royal Academy in 1839. The artist represented Nelson’s mighty yet ghost-like vessel deprived of sails and rotting at the seams. She was on her last voyage of destruction, her own. She had to be dismantled after thirty-three years of naval war service.

The Fighting Temeraire (1838) on her last voyage

4Two readings are possible. Either Turner had wanted to act as a reporter taking a picture of the routine work of the London to Margate steam shuttle or there was more to it than met the eye. He may have wanted to immortalize the poignant passing of an era, that of the Battle of the Nile, of Trafalgar, in which the Téméraire had behaved most valiantly or even the demise of the sailing ship. Any visitor at the Royal Academy that had watched the Téméraire, being towed to her last moorings by a steamer spewing soot and smoke on the River Thames would have read the allegory as follows; Victoria’s age was ushering in the triumph of speed and efficiency relying on steam alone.

5A survey of the historical data relating to the Royal Navy clearly emphasizes that the former reading is valid for its realism whereas the allegorical interpretation either denotes a layman’s wishful thinking or, at best, Turner’s amazing gift for anticipating the future of the Senior Service at the turn of the twentieth century. So this is a first paradox which leads us to a much more disturbing one.

6While Britain was leading revolutions such as inventing the railway, developments in naval architecture were quite slow in the Royal Navy. This was all the more surprising as the work of pioneers like Jouffroy d’Abbans, Thomas Newcomen, Robert Fulton and James Watt was no longer limited to industry ashore. It should be noted that as far back as 1788 the Scots had been in the vanguard and

  • 3 P. W. Brock, Steam & Sail, op. cit. p. 10.

“Robert Burns was a passenger on Dalswinton Lake, Dumfriesshire, in a small paddle-wheel steamboat owned by his landlord... Patrick Miller and engined by William Symington3”.

7Although in 1802 Symington’s Charlotte Dundas was successfully used as a tug on the Forth and Clyde Canal, most historians remembered that in Scotland, Bell’s Comet started a service on the Clyde linking Glasgow, Greenock and Helensburgh in 1812.

The Comet on the Clyde, 1812

8By 1818,

  • 4 Denis Griffiths, Steam at Sea, 1997, p. 7.

“Steamers were considered safe enough to venture away from rivers and David Napier of Glasgow built a 30 nominal horsepower side-lever engine for Rob Roy which operated between Greenock and Belfast4”.

  • 5 G. G. Napier, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 1983. See introduction on marine engineering in Glasgow and th (...)

9Contrary to private shipwrights like the Napiers5 the Royal Navy evinced much cautious conservatism and very little entrepreneurial spirit. The Admiralty failed to immediately realize that steam was an essential maritime asset. In 1828, Melville, the First Lord of the Admiralty, had bluntly asserted in a minute:

  • 6 C. White, Victoria’s Navy, 1891, p. 16. M. LEWIS, The Navy in Transition, 1965, p. 195.

“Their lordships... feel it their bounden duty to discourage to the utmost the employment of steam vessels, as they consider that the introduction of steam is calculated to strike a fatal blow at the Naval Supremacy of the Empire6”.

10The type of craft to go into commission in the Royal Navy proves that stagnation could set in for steam was limited to small survey vessels or tugs of the kind represented in Turner’s picture. The Board of Admiralty had grudgingly agreed to countenance the building of its own Comet, a paddle wooden steamer of a mere 238 tons and bought the Monkey of 212 tons, both of which would be part of Victoria’s dowry. That mentalities were slow to change in the Old Navy appears in William Laird Clowes’s monumental history published in 1901:

  • 7 W. L. Clowes, The Royal Navy, vol. 6, 1901, p. 194.

“The Admiralty although they adopted them did so half-heartedly and with a bad grace... and for a time, not so much as the names of the despised novelties appeared on the official Navy List7”.

11Such steam-powered vessels required vast amounts of fuel at a time when there still existed no widespread establishment of bunkering stations that naval officers could rely on. This handicap must have weighed heavily in the minds of the Admiralty and they believed that Codrington’s eighty-nine sail plus forty-one transports used at the Battle of Navarino were the norm.

12The Admiralty also claimed that since the construction of steam-vessels did not come within the province of the Surveyor of the Navy, sail was justified on long expensive voyages. However, when the Surveyor was actually entrusted with building the first steamers for the government, obstinacy did not abate, proof of this being that no accounts were kept of the trials in 1833 of

  • 8 The Nautical Magazine, June 1833, p. 43.

“A high-pressure steam-engine with an improved boiler... for trial on board the Falcon, an old 10-gun brig in the basin at Sheerness. In this engine, the steam is raised by fire tubes passing through the boiler, which is surrounded at a slight distance by a double cylinder, fitted with cold water, serving as a surface condenser. The boiler will bear a pressure of at least 50 lbs on the square inch.. The Falcon is fitted with two engines of 50 horse-power each8

  • 9 Brian Lavery, The Ship of the Line, vol. 1, 1983, p. 143.

13Lack of interest had almost verged on sabotage and one cannot help thinking that apart from the carronade in the first modern Scottish iron-works and Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s block-making machinery at Portsmouth9, the industrial revolution had been deliberately condemned to have marginal effect on the early nineteenth century Royal Navy that was entrusted to Victoria’s inexperienced hands. Representatives of the Service also behaved smugly and assumed that change could be impeded on an international scale just by Britain refusing to set new standards. This attitude was short-sighted as sooner or later the French, American, Russian or Italian navies would evolve on their own, which

  • 10 Ibid., p. 144.

“prevented the British Navy from having the advantage of being the first to introduce a new invention and... failed to recognise that Britain’s great superiority in engineering was likely to turn any new scheme to the country’s advantage; but this school of thought was not finally broken until the building of the Dreadnought in 190610

  • 11 Philippe Masson taught strategy and history for thirty years at the Centre d’Enseignement Supérieur (...)
  • 12 P. Masson, La Puissance maritime et navale au XXe siècle, 2002, p. 17.

14Such a view is supported in a very recently published survey by Professor Philippe Masson11. In his Puissance maritime et navale au XXe siècle, he analyses the intricacies of the battle of steam and sail which had to be fought throughout the nineteenth century. It was won thanks to the combined efforts of the Senior and Merchant Services though their purposes were different, paradoxically enough, “only to achieve success at the turn of the following century12”.

  • 13 W. L. Clowes, The Royal Navy, op. cit. p. 196.

15In 1838, two British paddle-boats, the Sirius and the Western, managed to cross the Atlantic without once resorting to sails on their business trip. In parallel, in 1839, the Laird Company of Birkenhead began launching a series of iron warships to be used by the East India Company and then the miracle took place. The Admiralty followed the lead of the Merchant Service and purchased one of the latter specimens, the Nemesis of 660 tons fitted with pivot guns. She was to render considerable help during the 1841-42 operations in China under the orders of Captain William Hall, R. N.13.

16We have now reached the third paradox in the study of Victoria’s fledgling modern Navy: the hermaphrodite vessel harnessing the power supplied by sail, steam and screw.

Picture Three: H. M. single-screw, iron, armoured Ship Agincourt.
Length, 400 ft., beam. 59 ft. 4 ¼ in.; mean draught, 27 ft. 9 in.; displ., 10.600 tons; LH.P., 4000; speed. 13.2 kts. Horizontal common return connecting-rod engines by Maudslay.
Armour: complete 5½ in. iron belt to upper dock, except at bows; 4½ in. forward bulkhead.
Conning-tower, 5½ in. Original armament: 10 12½ ton M. Complement. 710

  • 14 The Nautical Magazine, 1839, p. 426-430.

17Additional progress was made when the Admiralty decided, officially, to follow the performances of the civilian Archimedes14, a vessel fitted with Smith’s screw propeller that was able to make the tour of Great Britain and steam up to Amsterdam.

The first screw-steamer, S. S. Archimedes

  • 15 Penn (Cdr., R. N.), Up Funnel, Down Screw, 1955.

18The outcome was that by 1843, the first sloop fitted with a screw-propeller was launched for the Royal Navy. The Rattler’s trials proved such a success that the model was definitely adopted in 1845. From now on, weather permitting or not, the new order on board became a cry for liberty of movement: “Up funnel, down screw15”.

  • 16 E. H. H. Archibald, The Wooden Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy, 1968, p. 75.

19Naval officers had been won over to the advantage of the screw-propeller when it became obvious that by getting rid of the paddle which hampered shooting they could make better use of broadside armament16. Besides, on board boats of any description, room is in high demand among seamen and paddle-wheels used to fill the whole centre section of the vessel, an impediment not to be regretted for comfort.

A deck-plan of H. M. S. Sidon, 1846

20A memorandum by the Honourable Sidney Herbert, First Secretary of the Admiralty, dated September 4th 1844, shows that the ship of the line that had ruled the waves for almost two centuries was as obsolete as the Fighting Temeraire:

  • 17 “Memorandum by the Hon. Sidney Herbert, First Secretary of the Admiralty, 4 September 1844”, Navy R (...)

“The effective steam navy consists at this moment of 39 war-steamers... capable of carrying guns. There are, at this moment building at the royal yards or constructing in iron by contractors 29 steam-vessels of war of various power and dimensions... of the first class of 800 h. p. each... The vote taken this year for steam machinery was £230,000 which will purchase engines for the steamers building17”.

  • 18 For alterations to the concept of standard, see: P. Masson, Marines et Océans, 1982, p. 134.

21In 1846, Sir Robert Peel increased that sum to £2,550,000 and confirmed that Britain’s Royal Navy should henceforth have the official two power standard that ensured her supremacy or “twice the naval force of any other country18”.

22To conclude, the handling of working and fighting sail at sea was so complex that this skill was not quite abandoned. Even when engineers made their appearance, the masters and mates, captains and midshipmen on board steamships continued to make a maximum use of the sails or to use vocabulary that belonged to sailing lore which died out very slowly. That could lead to confusions as Admiral Moresby pointed out when his old Cornish captain, Johnny, got a steam-appointment:

  • 19 J. Moresby (Adm., R. N.), Two Admirals, 1909, p. 74.

“Running up harbour under steam and sail, he shortened sail and came to anchor in handsome style so far as that was concerned; but unfortunately kept his engine going, with disastrous results. Standing on the bridge, he was heard to lament in his west-country drawl with its illimitable “e’s”: “Oh, deere, Oh deere! I forgot a waur a steamer19”.

23Young Victoria’s captain was undergoing the pangs of a Navy in transition, and had run the vessel aground. Did he believe he was on board a wind jammer? This remains an open question...

Notes

1 P. W. Brock (Rear Admiral, R. N.), Steam and Sail, 1973, p. 9-23,

2 My grateful thanks go to Capitaine de Vaisseau Lepeu, Commandant du Centre d’Enseignement Supérieur de la Marine, and Capitaine de Frégate Barrère, Chef d’Etat-Major, CESM, for enabling me to draw upon the resources of the CESM library, Ecole Militaire, Paris.

3 P. W. Brock, Steam & Sail, op. cit. p. 10.

4 Denis Griffiths, Steam at Sea, 1997, p. 7.

5 G. G. Napier, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 1983. See introduction on marine engineering in Glasgow and the West of Scotland.

6 C. White, Victoria’s Navy, 1891, p. 16. M. LEWIS, The Navy in Transition, 1965, p. 195.

7 W. L. Clowes, The Royal Navy, vol. 6, 1901, p. 194.

8 The Nautical Magazine, June 1833, p. 43.

9 Brian Lavery, The Ship of the Line, vol. 1, 1983, p. 143.

10 Ibid., p. 144.

11 Philippe Masson taught strategy and history for thirty years at the Centre d’Enseignement Supérieur de la Marine, then called Ecole de Guerre Navale.

12 P. Masson, La Puissance maritime et navale au XXe siècle, 2002, p. 17.

13 W. L. Clowes, The Royal Navy, op. cit. p. 196.

14 The Nautical Magazine, 1839, p. 426-430.

15 Penn (Cdr., R. N.), Up Funnel, Down Screw, 1955.

16 E. H. H. Archibald, The Wooden Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy, 1968, p. 75.

17 “Memorandum by the Hon. Sidney Herbert, First Secretary of the Admiralty, 4 September 1844”, Navy Records Society, Vol. 131, p. 682.

18 For alterations to the concept of standard, see: P. Masson, Marines et Océans, 1982, p. 134.

19 J. Moresby (Adm., R. N.), Two Admirals, 1909, p. 74.

Table des illustrations

Légende The Fighting Temeraire (1838) on her last voyage
URL http://books.openedition.org/pufr/docannexe/image/4683/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 228k
Légende The Comet on the Clyde, 1812
URL http://books.openedition.org/pufr/docannexe/image/4683/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 184k
Légende Picture Three: H. M. single-screw, iron, armoured Ship Agincourt.Length, 400 ft., beam. 59 ft. 4 ¼ in.; mean draught, 27 ft. 9 in.; displ., 10.600 tons; LH.P., 4000; speed. 13.2 kts. Horizontal common return connecting-rod engines by Maudslay.Armour: complete 5½ in. iron belt to upper dock, except at bows; 4½ in. forward bulkhead.Conning-tower, 5½ in. Original armament: 10 12½ ton M. Complement. 710
URL http://books.openedition.org/pufr/docannexe/image/4683/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 460k
Légende The first screw-steamer, S. S. Archimedes
URL http://books.openedition.org/pufr/docannexe/image/4683/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 228k
Légende A deck-plan of H. M. S. Sidon, 1846
URL http://books.openedition.org/pufr/docannexe/image/4683/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 152k

Auteur

Centre d’Enseignement Supérieur de la Marine, Paris

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2005

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540

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