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"A speck in the Northern Ocean, with a rocky coast, an ungenial climate, and a soil scarcely fruitful,—this was the material patrimony which descended to the English race—an inheritance that would have been little worth but for the inestimable moral gift that accompanied it.  Yes; from Celts, Saxons, Danes, Normans—from some or all of them—have come down with English nationality a talisman that could command sunshine, and plenty, and empire, and fame.  The 'go' which they transmitted to us—the national vis—this it is which made the old Angle-land a glorious heritage.  Of this we have had a portion above our brethren—good measure, running over.  Through this our island-mother has stretched out her arms till they enriched the globe of the earth. . . . Britain, without her energy and enterprise, what would she be in Europe?"— Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (1870).

IN one of the few records of Sir Isaac Newton's life which he left for the benefit of others, the following comprehensive thought occurs:

    "It is certainly apparent that the inhabitants of this world are of a short date, seeing that all arts, as letters, ships, printing, the needle, &c., were discovered within the memory of history."

    If this were true in Newton's time, how much truer is it now.  Most of the inventions which are so greatly influencing, as well as advancing, the civilization of the world at the present time, have been discovered within the last hundred or hundred and fifty years.  We do not say that man has become so much wiser during that period; for, though he has grown in Knowledge, the most fruitful of all things were said by "the heirs of all the ages" thousands of years ago.

    But as regards Physical Science, the progress made during the last hundred years has been very great.  Its most recent triumphs have been in connection with the discovery of electric power and electric light.  Perhaps the most important invention, however, was that of the working steam engine, made by Watt only about a hundred years ago.  The most recent application of this form of energy has been in the propulsion of ships, which has already produced so great an effect upon commerce, navigation, and the spread of population over the world.

    Equally important has been the influence of the Railway—now the principal means of communication in all civilized countries.  This invention has started into full life within our own time.  The locomotive engine had for some years been employed in the haulage of coals; but it was not until the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830 that the importance of the invention came to be acknowledged.  The locomotive railway has since been everywhere adopted throughout Europe.  In America, Canada, and the Colonies, it has opened up the boundless resources of the soil, bringing the country nearer to the towns, and the towns to the country.  It has enhanced the celerity of time, and imparted a new series of conditions to every rank of life.

    The importance of steam navigation has been still more recently ascertained.  When it was first proposed, Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society, said: "It is a pretty plan, but there is just one point overlooked: that the steam-engine requires a firm basis on which to work."  Symington, the practical mechanic, put this theory to the test by his successful experiments, first on Dalswinton Lake, and then on the Forth and Clyde Canal.  Fulton and Bell afterwards showed the power of steamboats in navigating the rivers of America and Britain.


S.S. Sirius.
Picture Wikipedia.

    After various experiments, it was proposed to unite England and America by steam.  Dr. Lardner, however, delivered a lecture before the Royal Institution, in 1838, "proving" that steamers could never cross the Atlantic, because they could not carry sufficient coal to raise steam enough during the voyage.  But this theory was also tested by experience in the same year, when the Sirius, of London, left Cork for New York, and made the passage in nineteen days.  Four days after the departure of the Sirius, the Great Western left Bristol for New York, and made the passage in thirteen days five hours. [p.3]  The problem was solved; and great ocean steamers have ever since passed in continuous streams between the shores of England and America.

    In an age of progress, one invention merely paves the way for another.  The first steamers were impelled by means of paddle wheels; but these are now almost entirely superseded by the screw.  And this, too, is an invention almost of yesterday.  It was only in 1840 that the Archimedes was fitted as a screw yacht.  A few years later, in 1845, the Great Britain, propelled by the screw, left Liverpool for New York, and made the voyage in fourteen days.  The screw is now invariably adopted in all long ocean voyages.

    It is curious to look back, and observe the small beginnings of maritime navigation.  As regards this country, though its institutions are old, modern England is still young.  As respects its mechanical and scientific achievements, it is the youngest of all countries.  Watt's steam engine was the beginning of our manufacturing supremacy; and since its adoption, inventions and discoveries in Art and Science, within the last hundred years, have succeeded each other with extraordinary rapidity.  In 1814 there was only one steam vessel in Scotland; while England possessed none at all.  Now, the British mercantile steam-ships number about 5,000, with about 4 millions of aggregate tonnage. [p.4]

    In olden times this country possessed the materials for great things, as well as the men fitted to develop them into great results.  But the nation was slow to awake and take advantage of its opportunities.  There was no enterprise, no commerce—no "go" in the people.  The roads were frightfully bad; and there was little communication between one part of the country and another.  If anything important had to be done, we used to send for foreigners to come and teach us how to do it.  We sent for them to drain our fens, to build our piers and harbours, and even to pump our water at London Bridge.  Though a seafaring population lived round our coasts, we did not fish our own seas, but left it to the industrious Dutchmen to catch the fish, and supply our markets.  It was not until the year 1787 that the Yarmouth people began the deep-sea herring fishery; and yet these were the most enterprising amongst the English fishermen.

    English commerce also had very slender beginnings. At the commencement of the fifteenth century, England was of very little account in the affairs of Europe.  Indeed, the history of modern England is nearly coincident with the accession of the Tudors to the throne.  With the exception of Calais and Dunkirk, her dominions on the Continent had been wrested from her by the French.  The country at home had been made desolate by the Wars of the Roses.  The population was very small, and had been kept down by war, pestilence, and famine. [p.5]  The chief staple was wool, which was exported to Flanders in foreign ships, there to be manufactured into cloth.  Nearly every article of importance was brought from abroad; and the little commerce which existed was in the hands of foreigners.  The seas were swept by privateers, little better than pirates, who plundered without scruple every vessel, whether friend or foe, which fell in their way.

    The British navy has risen from very low beginnings.  The English fleet had fallen from its high estate since the reign of Edward III., who won a battle from the French and Flemings in 1340, with 260 ships; but his vessels were all of moderate size, being boats, yachts, and caravels, of very small tonnage.  According to the contemporary chronicles, Weymouth, Fowey, Sandwich, and Bristol, were then of nearly almost as much importance as London; [p.6-1] which latter city only furnished twenty-five vessels, with 662 mariners.

    The Royal Fleet began in the reign of Henry VII.  Only six or seven vessels then belonged to the King, the largest being the Grace de Dieu, of comparatively small tonnage.  The custom then was, to hire ships from the Venetians, the Genoese, the Hanse towns, and other trading people; and as soon as the service for which the vessels so hired was performed, they were dismissed.

    When Henry VIII. ascended the throne in 1509, he directed his attention to the state of the navy.  Although the insular position of England was calculated to stimulate the art of shipbuilding more than in most continental countries, our best ships long continued to be built by foreigners.  Henry invited from abroad, especially from Italy, where the art of shipbuilding had made the greatest progress, as many skilful artists and workmen as he could procure, either by the hope of gain, or the high honours and distinguished countenance which he paid them.  "By incorporating" says Charnock, "these useful persons among his own subjects, he soon formed a corps sufficient to rival those states which had rendered themselves most distinguished by their knowledge in this art; so that the fame of Genoa and Venice, which had long excited the envy of the greater part of Europe, became suddenly transferred to the shores of Britain." [p.6-2]

    In fitting out his fleet, we find Henry disbursing large sums to foreigners for shipbuilding, for "harness" or armour, and for munitions of all sorts.  The State Papers [p.7] particularize the amounts paid to Lewez do la Fava for "harness;" to William Gurre, "bragandy-maker;" to Leonard Friscobald for "almayn ryvetts."  Francis de Errona, a Spaniard, supplied the gunpowder.  Among the foreign mechanics and artizans employed were Hans Popenruyter, gunfounder of Mechlin; Robert Sakfeld, Robert Skorer, Fortune, de Catalenago, and John Cavelcant.  On one occasion £2,797 19s. 4½d. was disbursed for guns and grindstones.  This sum must be multiplied by about four, to give the proper present value.  Popenruyter seems to have been the great gunfounder of the age; he supplied the principal guns and gun stores for the English navy, and his name occurs in every Ordnance account of the series, generally for sums of the largest amounts.

    Henry VIII. was the first to establish Royal dock-yards, first at Woolwich, then at Portsmouth, and thirdly at Deptford, for the erection and repair of ships.  Before then, England had been principally dependent upon Dutchmen and Venetians, both for ships of war and merchantmen.  The sovereign had neither naval arsenals nor dockyards, nor any regular establishment of civil or naval affairs to provide ships of war.  Sir Edward Howard, Lord High Admiral of England, at the accession of Henry VIII., actually entered into a "contract" with that monarch to fight his enemies.  This singular document is still preserved in the State Paper office.  Even after the establishment of royal dockyards, the sovereign—as late as the reign of Elizabeth—entered into formal contracts with shipwrights for the repair and maintenance of ships, as well as for additions to the fleet.

    The King, having made his first effort at establishing a royal navy, sent the fleet to sea against the ships of France.  The Regent was the ship royal, with Sir Thomas Knivet, Master of the Horse, and Sir John Crew of Devonshire, as Captains.  The fleet amounted to twenty-five well furnished ships.  The French fleet were thirty-nine in number.  They met in Brittany Bay, and had a fierce fight.  The Regent grappled with a great carack of Brest; the French, on the English boarding their ship, set fire to the gunpowder, and both ships were blown up, with all their men.  The French fleet fled, and the English kept the seas.  The King, hearing of the loss of the Regent, caused a great ship to be built, the like of which had never before been seen in England, and called it Harry Grace de Dieu.

    This ship was constructed by foreign artizans, principally by Italians, and was launched in 1515.  She was said to be of a thousand tons portage—the largest ship in England.  The vessel was four-masted, with two round tops on each mast, except the shortest wizen.  She had a high forecastle and poop, from which the crew could shoot down upon the deck or waist of another vessel.  The object was to have a sort of castle at each end of the ship.  This style of shipbuilding was doubtless borrowed from the Venetians, then the greatest naval power in Europe.  The length of the masts, the height of the ship above the water's edge, and the ornaments and decorations, were better adapted for the stillness of the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas, than for the boisterous ocean of the northern parts of Europe. [p.9-1]  The story long prevailed that "the Great Harry swept a dozen flocks of sheep off the Isle of Man with her bob-stay."  An American gentleman (N. B. Anderson, LL.D., Boston) informed the present author that this saying is still proverbial amongst the United States sailors.

    The same features were reproduced in merchant ships.  Most of them were suited for defence, to prevent the attacks of pirates, which swarmed the seas round the coast at that time.  Shipbuilding by the natives in private shipyards was in a miserable condition.  Mr. Willet, in his memoir relative to the navy, observes: "It is said, and I believe with truth, that at this time (the middle of the sixteenth century) there was not a private builder between London Bridge and Gravesend, who could lay down a ship in the mould left from a Navy Board's draught, without applying to a tinker who lived in Knave's Acre." [p.9-2]


Mary Rose.
Picture Wikipedia.

    Another ship of some note built at the instance of Henry VIII. was the Mary Rose, of the portage of 500 tons.  We find her in the "pond at Deptford" in 1515.  Seven years later, in the thirtieth year of Henry VIII.'s reign, she was sent to sea, with five other English ships of war, to protect such commerce as then existed from the depredations of the French and Scotch pirates.  The Mary Rose was sent many years later (in 1544) with the English fleet to the coast of France, but returned with the rest of the fleet to Portsmouth without entering into any engagement.  While laid at anchor, not far from the place where the Royal George afterwards went down, and the ship was under repair, her gun-ports being very low when she was laid over, "the shipp turned, the water entered, and sodainly she sanke."

    What was to be done?  There were no English engineers or workmen who could raise the ship.  Accordingly, Henry VIII. sent to Venice for assistance, and when the men arrived, Pietro de Andreas was dispatched with the Venetian marines and carpenters to raise the Mary Rose.  Sixty English mariners were appointed to attend upon them.  The Venetians were then the skilled "heads," the English were only the "hands."  Nevertheless they failed with all their efforts; and it was not until the year 1836 that Mr. Dean, the engineer, succeeded in raising not only the Royal George, but the Mary Rose, and cleared the roadstead at Portsmouth of the remains of the sunken ships.

    When Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1558, the commerce and navigation of England were still of very small amount.  The population of the kingdom amounted to only about five millions—not much more than the population of London is now.  The country had little commerce, and what it had was still mostly in the hands of foreigners.  The Hanse towns had their large entrepôt for merchandise in Cannon Street, on the site of the present Cannon Street Station.  The wool was still sent abroad to Flanders to be fashioned into cloth, and even garden produce was principally imported from Holland.  Dutch, Germans, Flemings, French, and Venetians continued to be our principal workmen.  Our iron was mostly obtained from Spain and Germany.  The best arms and armour came from France and Italy.  Linen was imported from Flanders and Holland, though the best came from Rheims.  Even the coarsest dowlas, or sailcloth, was imported from the Low Countries.

    The royal ships continued to be of very small burthen, and the mercantile ships were still smaller.  The Queen, however, did what she could to improve the number and burthen of our ships.  "Foreigners," says Camden, "stiled her the restorer of naval glory and Queen of the Northern Seas."  In imitation of the Queen, opulent subjects built ships of force; and in course of time England no longer depended upon Hamburg, Dantzic, Genoa, and Venice, for her fleet in time of war.

    Spain was then the most potent power in Europe, and the Netherlands, which formed part of the dominions of Spain, was the centre of commercial prosperity.  Holland possessed above 800 good ships, of from 200 to 700 tons burthen, and above 600 busses for fishing, of from 100 to 200 tons.  Amsterdam and Antwerp were in the heyday of their prosperity. Sometimes 500 great ships were to be seen lying together before Amsterdam; [p.11] whereas England at that time had not four merchant ships of 400 tons each!  Antwerp, however, was the most important city in the Low Countries.  It was no uncommon thing to see as many as 2,500 ships in the Scheldt, laden with merchandize.  Sometimes 500 ships would come and go from Antwerp in one day, bound to or returning from the distant parts of the world.  The place was immensely rich, and was frequented by Spaniards, Germans, Danes, English, Italians, and Portuguese—the Spaniards being the most numerous.  Camden, in his history of Queen Elizabeth, relates that our general trade with the Netherlands in 1564 amounted to twelve millions of ducats, five millions of which was for English cloth alone.

    The religious persecutions of Philip II. of Spain and of Charles IX. of France shortly supplied England with the population of which she stood in need—active, industrious, intelligent artizans.  Philip set up the Inquisition in Flanders, and in a few years more than 50,000 persons were deliberately murdered.  The Duchess of Parma, writing to Philip II. in 1567, informed him that in a few days above 100,000 men had already left the country with their money and goods, and that more were following every day.  They fled to Germany, to Holland, and above all to England, which they hailed as Asylum Christi.  The emigrants settled in the decayed cities and towns of Canterbury, Norwich, Sandwich, Colchester, Maidstone, Southampton, and many other places, where they carried on their manufactures of woollen, linen, and silk, and established many new branches of industry. [p.12]

    Five years later, in 1572, the Massacre of St. Bartholomew took place in France, during which the Roman Catholic Bishop Péréfixe alleges that 100,000 persons were put to death because of their religious opinions.  All this persecution, carried on so near the English shores, rapidly increased the number of foreign fugitives into England, which was followed by the rapid advancement of the industrial arts in this Country.

    The asylum which Queen Elizabeth gave to the persecuted foreigners brought down upon her the hatred of Philip II. and Charles IX.  When they found that they could not prevent her furnishing them with an asylum, they proceeded to compass her death.  She was excommunicated by the Pope, and Vitelli was hired to assassinate her.  Philip also proceeded to prepare the Sacred Armada for the subjugation of the English nation, and he was master of the most powerful army and navy in the world.

    Modern England was then in the throes of her birth.  She had not yet reached the vigour of her youth, though she was full of life and energy.  She was about to become the England of free thought, commerce, and manufactures; to plough the ocean with her navies, and to plant her colonies over the earth.  Up to the accession of Elizabeth, she had done little, but now she was about to do much.  It was a period of sudden emancipation of thought, and of immense fertility and originality.  The poets and prose writers of the time united the freshness of youth with the vigour of manhood.  Among these were Spenser, Shakespeare, Sir Philip Sidney, the Fletchers, Marlowe, and Ben Jonson.  Among the statesmen of Elizabeth were Burleigh, Leicester, Walsingham, Howard, and Sir Nicholas Bacon.  But perhaps greatest of all were the sailors, who, as Clarendon said, "were a nation by themselves;" and their leaders—Drake, Frobisher, Cavendish, Hawkins, Howard, Raleigh, Davis, and many more distinguished seamen.

    They were the representative men of their time, the creation in a great measure of the national spirit.  They were the offspring of long generations of seamen and lovers of the sea.  They could not have been great but for the nation which gave them birth, and imbued them with their worth and spirit.  The great sailors, for instance, could not have originated in a nation of mere landsmen.  They simply took the lead in a country whose coasts were fringed with sailors.  Their greatness was but the result of an excellence in seamanship which prevailed widely around them.

    The age of English maritime adventure only began in the reign of Elizabeth.  England had then no colonies—no foreign possessions whatever.  The first of her extensive colonial possessions was established in this reign.  "Ships, colonies, and commerce" began to be the national motto—not that colonies make ships and commerce, but that ships and commerce make colonies.  Yet what cockle-shells of ships our pioneer navigators first sailed in!

    Although John Cabot or Gabota, of Bristol, originally a citizen of Venice, had discovered the continent of North America in 1496, in the reign of Henry VII., he made no settlement there, but returned to Bristol with his four small ships.  Columbus did not see the continent of America until two years later, in 1498, his first discoveries being the islands of the West Indies.

    It was not until the year 1553 that an attempt was made to discover a North-west passage to Cathaya or China.  Sir Hugh Willoughby was put in command of the expedition, which consisted of three ships,—the Bona Esperanza, the Bona Ventura (Captain Chancellor), and the Bona Confulentia (Captain Durforth),—most probably ships built by Venetians.  Sir Hugh reached 72 degrees of north latitude, and was compelled by the buffeting of the winds to take refuge with Captain Durforth's vessel at Arcing Keca, in Russian Lapland, where the two captains and the crews of these ships, seventy in number, were frozen to death.  In the following year some Russian fishermen found Sir John Willoughby sitting dead in his cabin, with his diary and other papers beside him.

    Captain Chancellor was more fortunate.  He reached Archangel in the White Sea, where no ship had ever been seen before.  He pointed out to the English the way to the whale fishery at Spitzbergen, and opened up a trade with the northern parts of Russia.  Two years later, in 1556, Stephen Burroughs sailed with one small ship, which entered the Kara Sea; but he was compelled by frost and ice to return to England.  The strait which he entered is still called "Burrough Strait."

    It was not, however, until the reign of Elizabeth that great maritime adventures began to be made.  Navigators were not so venturous as they afterwards became.  Without proper methods of navigation, they were apt to be carried away to the south, across an ocean without limit.  In 1565 a young captain, Martin Frobisher, came into notice.  At the age of twenty-five he captured in the South Seas the Flying Spirit, a Spanish ship laden with a rich cargo of cochineal.  Four years later, in 1569, he made his first attempt to discover the north-west passage to the Indies, being assisted by Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick.  The ships of Frobisher were three in number, the Gabriel, of from 15 to 20 tons; the Michael, of from 20 to 25 tons, or half the size of a modern fishing boat; and a pinnace, of from 7 to 10 tons!  The aggregate of the crews of the three ships was only thirty-five, men and boys.  Think of the daring of these early navigators in attempting to pass by the North Pole to Cathay through snow, and storm, and ice, in such miserable little cockboats!  The pinnace was lost; the Michael, under Owen Griffith, a Welshman, deserted; and Martin Frobisher in the Gabriel went alone into the north-western sea!

    He entered the great bay, since called Hudson's Bay, by Frobisher's Strait.  He returned to England without making the discovery of the Passage, which with long remained the problem of arctic voyagers.  Yet ten long years later, in 1577, he made another voyage, and though he made his second attempt with one of Queen Elizabeth's own ships, and two barks, with 140 persons in all, he was as unsuccessful as before.  He brought home some supposed gold ore; and on the strength of the stones containing gold, a third expedition went out in the following year.  After losing one of the ships, consuming the provisions, and suffering greatly from ice and storms, the fleet returned home one by one.  The supposed gold ore proved to be only glittering sand.


Francis Drake (1540-96): statue at Plymouth.
Photograph: Wikipedia.

    While Frobisher was seeking El-Dorado in the North, Francis Drake was finding it in the South.  He was a sailor, every inch of him.  "Pains, with patience in his youth," says Fuller, "knit the joints of his soul, and made them more solid and compact."  At an early age, when carrying on a coasting trade, his imagination was inflamed by the exploits of his protector Hawkins in the New World, and he joined him in his last unfortunate adventure on the Spanish Main.  He was not, however, discouraged by his first misfortune, but having assembled about him a number of seamen who believed in him, he made other adventures to the West Indies, and learnt the navigation of that part of the ocean.  In 1570, he obtained a regular commission from Queen Elizabeth, though he sailed his own ships, and made his own ventures.  Every Englishman, who had the means, was at liberty to fit out his own ships; and with tolerable vouchers, he was able to procure a commission from the Court, and proceed to sea at his own risk and cost.  Thus, the naval enterprise and pioneering of new countries under Elizabeth, was almost altogether a matter of private enterprise and adventure.

    In 1572, the butchery of the Huguenots took place at Paris and throughout France; while at the same time the murderous power of Philip II. reigned supreme in the Netherlands.  The sailors knew what they had to expect from the Spanish king in the event of his obtaining his threatened revenge upon England; and under their chosen chiefs they proceeded to make war upon him.  In the year of the massacre of St. Bartholomew, Drake set sail for the Spanish Main in the Pasha, of seventy tons, accompanied by the Swan, of twenty-five tons; the united crews of the vessels amounting to seventy-three men and boys.  With this insignificant force, Drake made great havoc amongst the Spanish shipping at Nombre de Dios.  He partially crossed the Isthmus of Darien, and obtained his first sight of the great Pacific Ocean.  He returned to England in August 1573, with his frail barks crammed with treasure.

    A few years later, in 1577, he made his ever-memorable expedition.  Charnock says it was "an attempt in its nature so bold and unprecedented, that we should scarcely know whether to applaud it as a brave, or condemn it as a rash one, but for its success."  The squadron with which he sailed for South America consisted of five vessels, the largest of which, the Pelican, was only of 100 tons burthen; the next, the Elizabeth, was of 80; the third, the Swan, a fly-boat, was of 50; the Marygold bark, of 30; and the Christopher, a pinnace, of 15 tons.  The united crews of these vessels amounted to only 164, gentlemen and sailors.

    The gentlemen went with Drake "to learn the art of navigation." After various adventures along the South American coast, the little fleet passed through the Straits of Magellan, and entered the Pacific Ocean. Drake took an immense amount of booty from the Spanish towns along the coast, and captured the royal galleon, the Cacafuego, laden with treasure.  After trying in vain to discover a passage home by the North-eastern ocean, though what is now known as Behring Straits, he took shelter in Port San Francisco, which he took possession of in the name of the Queen of England, and called New Albion.  He eventually crossed the Pacific for the Moluccas and Java, from which he sailed right across the Indian Ocean, and by the Cape of Good Hope to England, thus making the circumnavigation of the world.  He was absent with his little fleet for about two years and ten months.

    Not less extraordinary was the voyage of Captain Cavendish, who made the circumnavigation of the globe at his own expense.  He set out from Plymouth in three small vessels on the 21st July, 1586.  One vessel was of 120 tons, the second of 60 tons, and the third of 40 tons—not much bigger than a Thames yacht.  The united crews, of officers, men, and boys, did not exceed 123!  Cavendish sailed along the South American continent, and made through the Straits of Magellan, reaching the Pacific Ocean.  He burnt and plundered the Spanish settlements along the coast, captured some Spanish ships, and took by boarding the galleon St. Anna, with 122,000 Spanish dollars on board.  He then sailed across the Pacific to the Ladrone Islands, and returned home through the Straits of Java and the Indian Archipelago by the Cape of Good Hope, and reached England after an absence of two years and a month.

    The sacred and invincible Armada was now ready. Phillip II. was determined to put down those English adventurers who had swept the coasts of Spain and plundered his galleons on the high seas.  The English sailors knew that the sword of Philip was forged in the gold mines of South America, and that the only way to defend their country was to intercept the plunder on its voyage home to Spain.  But the sailors and their captains— Drake, Hawkins, Frobisher, Howard, Grenville, Raleigh, and the rest—could not altogether interrupt the enterprise of the King of Spain.  The Armada sailed, and came in sight of the English coast on the 20th of July, 1588.


An English warship of the Armada period: a replica of the Golden Hind
now berthed as a floating museum in St.Mary Overie Dock, near to
Southwark Cathedral.

© Copyright Martin Addison and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

    The struggle was of an extraordinary character.  On the one side was the most powerful naval armament that had ever put to sea.  It consisted of six squadrons of sixty fine large ships, the smallest being of 700 tons.  Besides these were four gigantic galleasses, each carrying fifty guns, four large armed galleys, fifty-six armed merchant ships, and twenty caravels—in all, 149 vessels.  On board were 8,000 sailors, 20,000 soldiers, and a large number of galley-slaves.  The ships carried provisions enough for six months' consumption; and the supply of ammunition was enormous.

    On the other side was the small English fleet under Hawkins and Drake.  The Royal ships were only thirteen in number.  The rest were contributed by Private enterprise, there being only thirty-eight vessels of all sorts and sizes, including cutters and pinnaces, carrying the Queen's flag.  The principal armed merchant ships were provided by London, Southampton, Bristol, and the other southern ports.  Drake was followed by some privateers; Hawkins had four or five ships, and Howard of Effingham two.  The fleet was, however, very badly found in provisions and ammunition.  There was only a week's provisions on board, and scarcely enough ammunition for one day's hard fighting.  But the ships, small though they were, were in good condition.  They could sail, whether in pursuit or in flight, for the men who navigated them were thorough sailors.

    The success of the defence was due to tact, courage, and seamanship.  At the first contact of the fleets, the Spanish towering galleons wished to close, to grapple with their contemptuous enemies, and crush them to death.  "Come on!" said Medina Sidonia.  Lord Howard came on with the Ark and three other ships, and fired with immense rapidity into the great floating castles.  The San Mateo luffed, and wanted them to board.  "No! not yet!"  The English tacked, returned, fired again, riddled the Spaniards, and shot away in the eye of the wind.  To the astonishment of the Spanish Admiral, the English ships approached him or left him just as they chose.  "The enemy pursue me," wrote the Spanish Admiral to the Prince of Parma; "they fire upon me most days from morning till nightfall, but they will not close and grapple, though I have given them every opportunity."  The Capitana, a galleon of 1,200 tons, dropped behind, struck her flag to Drake, and increased the store of the English fleet by some tons of gunpowder.  Another Spanish ship surrendered, and another store of powder and shot was rescued for the destruction of the Armada.  And so it happened throughout, until the Spanish fleet was driven to wreck and ruin, and the remaining ships were scattered by the tempests of the north.  After all, Philip proved to be, what the sailors called him, only "a Colossus stuffed with clouts."

    The English sailors followed up their advantage.  They went on "singeing the King of Spain's beard."  Private adventurers fitted up a fleet under the command of Drake, and invaded the mainland of Spain.  They took the lower part of the town of Corunna; sailed to the Tagus, and captured a fleet of ships laden with wheat and warlike stores for a new Armada.  They next sacked Vigo, and returned to England with 150 pieces of cannon and a rich booty.  The Earl of Cumberland sailed to the West Indies on a private adventure, and captured more Spanish prizes.  In 1590, ten English merchantmen, returning from the Levant, attacked twelve Spanish galleons, and after six hours' contest, put them to flight with great loss.  In the following year, three merchant ships set sail for the East Indies, and in the course of their voyage took several Portuguese vessels.

    A powerful Spanish fleet still kept the seas, and in 1591 they conquered the noble Sir Richard Grenville at the Azores—fifteen great Spanish galleons against one Queen's ship, the Revenge.  In 1593, two of the Queen's ships, accompanied by a number of merchant ships, sailed for the West Indies, under Burroughs, Frobisher, and Cross, and amongst their other captures they took the greatest of all the East India caracks, a vessel of 1,600 tons, 700 men, and 36 brass cannon, laden with a magnificent cargo.  She was taken to Dartmouth, and surprised all who saw her, being the largest ship that had ever been seen in England.  In 1594, Captain James Lancaster set sail with three ships upon a voyage of adventure.  He was joined by some Dutch and French privateers.  The result was, that they captured thirty-nine of the Spanish ships.  Sir Amias Preston, Sir John Hawkins, and Sir Francis Drake, also continued their action upon the seas.  Lord Admiral Howard and the Earl of Essex made their famous attack upon Cadiz for the purpose of destroying the new Armada; they demolished all the forts; sank eleven of the King of Spain's best ships, forty-four merchant ships, and brought home much booty.

    Nor was maritime discovery neglected.  The planting of new colonies began, for the English people had already begun to swarm.  In 1578, Sir Humphrey Gilbert planted Newfoundland for the Queen.  In 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh planted the first settlement in Virginia.  Nor was the North-west passage neglected; for in 1580, Captain Pett (a name famous on the Thames) set sail from Harwich in the George, accompanied by Captain Jackman in the William.  They reached the ice in the North Sea, but were compelled to return without effecting their purpose.  Will it be believed that the George was only of 40 tons, and that its crew consisted of nine men and a boy; and that the William was of 20 tons, with five men and a boy?  The wonder is that these little vessels should resist the terrible icefields, and return to England again with their hardy crews.

    Then in 1585, another of our adventurous sailors, John Davis, of Sandridge on the Dart, set sail with two barks, the Sunshine and the Moonshine, of 50 and 35 tons respectively, and discovered in the far North-west the Strait which now bears his name.  He was driven back by the ice; but, undeterred by his failure, he set out on a second, and then on a third voyage of discovery in the two following years.  But he never succeeded in discovering the North-west passage.  It all reads like a mystery—these repeated, determined, and energetic attempts to discover a new way of reaching the fabled region of Cathay.

    In these early times the Dutch were not unworthy rivals of the English.  After they had succeeded in throwing off the Spanish yoke and achieved their independence, they became one of the most formidable of maritime powers.  In the course of another century Holland possessed more colonies, and had a larger share of the carrying trade of the world than Britain.  It was natural therefore that the Dutch republic should take an interest in the North-west passage; and the Dutch sailors, by their enterprise and bravery, were among the first to point the way to Arctic discovery.  Barents and Behring, above all others, proved the courage and determination of their heroic ancestors.

    The romance of the East India Company begins with an advertisement in the London Gazette of 1599, towards the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth.  As with all other enterprises of the nation, it was established by private means.  The Company was started with a capital of £72,000 in £50 shares.  The adventurers bought four vessels of an average burthen of 350 tons.  These were stocked with provisions, "Norwich stuffs," and other merchandise.  The tiny fleet sailed from Billingsgate on the 13th February, 1601.  It went by the Cape of Good Hope to the East Indies, under the command of Captain James Lancaster.  It took no less than sixteen months to reach the Indian Archipelago.  The little fleet reached Acheen in June, 1602.  The king of the territory received the visitors with courtesy, and exchanged spices with them freely.  The four vessels sailed homeward, taking possession of the island of St. Helena on their way back; having been absent exactly thirty-one months.  The profits of the first voyage proved to be about one hundred per cent.  Such was the origin of the great East India Company—now expanded into an empire, and containing about two hundred millions of people.

    To return to the shipping and the mercantile marine of the time of Queen Elizabeth.  The number of Royal ships was only thirteen, the rest of the navy consisting of merchant ships, which were hired and discharged when their purpose was served. [p.24-1]  According to Wheeler, at the accession of the Queen, there were not more than four ships belonging to the river Thames, excepting those of the Royal Navy, which were over 120 tons in burthen; [p.24-2] and after forty years, the whole of the merchant ships of England, over 100 tons, amounted to 135; only a few of these being of 500 tons.  In 1588, the number had increased to 150, "of about 150 tons one with another, employed in trading voyages to all parts and countries."  The principal shipping which frequented the English ports still continued to be foreign—Italian, Flemish, and German.

    Liverpool, now possessing the largest shipping tonnage in the world, had not yet come into existence.  It was little better than a fishing village.  The people of the place presented a petition to the Queen, praying her to remit a subsidy which had been imposed upon them, and speaking of their native place as "Her Majesty's poor decayed town of Liverpool."  In 1565, seven years after Queen Elizabeth began to reign, the number of vessels belonging to Liverpool was only twelve.  The largest was of forty tons burthen, with twelve men; and the smallest was a boat of six tons, with three men. [p.24-3]

    James I., on his accession to the throne of England in 1603, called in all the ships of war, as well as the numerous privateers which had been employed during the previous reign in waging war against the commerce of Spain, and declared himself to be at peace with all the world.  James was as peaceful as a Quaker.  He was not a fighting king; and, partly on this account, he was not popular.  He encouraged manufactures in wool, silk, and tapestry.  He gave every encouragement to the mercantile and colonizing adventurers to plant and improve the rising settlements of Virginia, New England, and Newfoundland.  He also promoted the trade to the East Indies.  Attempts continued to be made, by Hudson, Poole, Button, Hall, Baffin, and other courageous seamen, to discover the North-West passage, but always without effect.

    The shores of England being still much infested by Algerine and other pirates, [p.25] King James found it necessary to maintain the ships of war in order to protect navigation and commerce.  He nearly doubled the ships of the Royal Navy, and increased the number from thirteen to twenty-four.  Their size, however, continued small, both Royal and merchant ships.  Sir William Monson says, that at the accession of James I. there were not above four merchant ships in England of 400 tons burthen. [p.26-1]  The East Indian merchants were the first to increase the size.  In 1609, encouraged by their Charter, they built the Trade's Increase, of 1,100 tons burthen, the largest merchant ship that had ever been built in England.  As it was necessary that the crew of the ship should be able to beat off the pirates, she was fully armed.  The additional ships of war were also of heavier burthen.  In the same year, the Prince, of 1,400 tons burthen, was launched; she carried sixty-four cannon, and was superior to any ship of the kind hitherto seen in England.

    And now we arrive at the subject of this memoir.  The Petts were the principal ship-builders of the time.  They had long been known upon the Thames, and had held posts in the Royal Dockyards since the reign of Henry VII.  They were gallant sailors, too; one of them, as already mentioned, having made an adventurous voyage to the Arctic Ocean in his little bark, the George, of only 40 tons burthen.  Phineas Pett was the first of the great ship-builders.  His father, Peter Pett, was one of the Queen's master shipwrights.  Besides being a ship-builder, he was also a poet, being the author of a poetical piece entitled, "Time's Journey to seek his daughter Truth," [p.26-2] a very respectable performance.  Indeed, poetry is by no means incompatible with ship-building—the late Chief Constructor of the Navy being, perhaps, as proud of his poetry as of his ships.  Pett's poem was dedicated to the Lord High Admiral, Howard, Earl of Nottingham; and this may possibly have been the reason of the singular interest which he afterwards took in Phineas Pett, the poet shipwright's son.


Phineas Pett (1570-1647): shipwright.
© National Portrait Gallery, London.

    Phineas Pett was the second son of his father.  He was born at Deptford, or "Deptford Strond," as the place used to be called, on the 1st of November, 1570.  At nine years old, he was sent to the free-school at Rochester, and remained there for four years.  Not profiting much by his education there, his father removed him to a private school at Greenwich, kept by a Mr. Adams.  Here he made so much progress, that in three years time he was ready for Cambridge.  He was accordingly sent to that University at Shrovetide, 1586, and was entered at Emmanuel College, under charge of Mr. Charles Chadwick, the president.  His father allowed him £20 per annum, besides books, apparel, and other necessaries.

    Phineas remained at Cambridge for three years.  He was obliged to quit the University by the death of his "reverend, ever-loving father," whose loss, he says, "proved afterwards my utter undoing almost, had not God been more merciful to me."  His mother married again, "a most wicked husband," says Pett in his autobiography, [p.27] "one, Mr. Thomas Nunn, a minister," but of what denomination he does not state.  His mother's imprudence wholly deprived him of his maintenance, and having no hopes of preferment from his friends, he necessarily abandoned his University career, "presently after Christmas, 1590."

    Early in the following year, he was persuaded by his mother to apprentice himself to Mr. Richard Chapman, of Deptford Stroud, one of the Queen's Master shipwrights, whom his late father had "bred up from a child to that profession."  He was allowed £2 6s. 8d. per annum, with which he had to provide himself with tools and apparel.  Pett spent two years in this man's service to very little purpose; Chapman then died, and the apprentice was dismissed.  Pett applied to his elder brother Joseph, who would not help him, although he had succeeded to his father's post in the Royal Dockyard.  He was accordingly "constrained to ship himself to sea upon a desperate voyage in a man-of-war."  He accepted the humble place of carpenter's mate on board the galleon Constance, of London.  Pett's younger brother, Peter, then living at Wapping, gave him lodging, meat, and drink, until the ship was ready to sail.  But he had no money to buy clothes.  Fortunately one William King, a yoeman in Essex, taking pity upon the unfortunate young man, lent him £3 for that purpose; which Pett afterwards repaid.

    The Constance was of only 200 tons burden.  She set sail for the South a few days before Christmas, 1592.  There is no doubt that she was bound upon a piratical adventure.  Piracy was not thought dishonourable in those days.  Four years had elapsed since the Armada had approached the English coast; and now the English and Dutch ships were scouring the seas in search of Spanish galleons.  Whoever had the means of furnishing a ship, and could find a plucky captain to command her, sent her out as a privateer.  Even the Companies of the City of London clubbed their means together for the purpose of sending out Sir Walter Raleigh to capture Spanish ships, and afterwards to divide the plunder; as any one may see on referring to the documents of the London Corporation. [p.29]

    The adventure in which Pett was concerned did not prove very fortunate.  He was absent for about twenty months on the coasts of Spain and Barbary, and in the Levant, enduring much misery for want of victuals and apparel, and "without taking any purchase of any value."  The Constance returned to the Irish coast, "extreme poorly."  The vessel entered Cork harbour, and then Pett, thoroughly disgusted with privateering life, took leave of both ship and voyage.  With much difficulty, he made his way across the country to Waterford, from whence he took ship for London.  He arrived there three days before Christmas, 1594, in a beggarly condition, and made his way to his brother Peter's house at Wapping, who again kindly entertained him.  The elder brother Joseph received him more coldly, though he lent him forty shillings to find himself in clothes.  At that time, the fleet was ordered to be got ready for the last expedition of Drake and Hawkins to the West Indies.  The Defiance was sent into Woolwich dock to be sheathed; and as Joseph Pett was in charge of the job, he allowed his brother to be employed as a carpenter.

    In the following year, Phineas succeeded in attracting the notice of Matthew Baker, who was commissioned to rebuild Her Majesty's Triumph.  Baker employed Pett as an ordinary workman; but he had scarcely begun the job before Baker was ordered to proceed with the building of a great new ship at Deptford, called the Repulse.  Phineas wished to follow the progress of the Triumph, but finding his brother Joseph unwilling to retain him in his employment, he followed Baker to Deptford, and continued to work at the Repulse until she was finished, launched, and set sail on her voyage, at the end of April, 1596.  This was the leading ship of the squadron which set sail for Cadiz, under the command of the Earl of Essex and the Lord Admiral Howard, and which did so much damage to the forts and shipping of Philip II. of Spain.

    During the winter months, while the work was in progress, Pett spent the leisure of his evenings in perfecting himself in learning, especially in drawing, cyphering, and mathematics, for the purpose, as he says, of attaining the knowledge of his profession.  His master, Mr. Baker, gave him every encouragement, and from his assistance, he adds, "I must acknowledge I received my greatest lights."  The Lord Admiral was often present at Baker's house.  Pett was importuned to set sail with the ship when finished, but he preferred remaining at home.  The principal reason, no doubt, that restrained him at this moment from seeking the patronage of the great, was the care of his two sisters, [p.31] who, having fled from the house of their barbarous stepfather, could find no refuge but in that of their brother Phineas.  Joseph refused to receive them, and Peter of Wapping was perhaps less able than willing to do so.

    In April, 1597, Pett had the advantage of being introduced to Howard, Earl of Nottingham, then Lord High Admiral of England.  This, he says, was the first beginning of his rising.  Two years later, Howard recommended him for employment in purveying plank and timber in Norfolk and Suffolk for shipbuilding purposes.  Pett accomplished his business satisfactorily, though he had some malicious enemies to contend against.  In his leisure, he began to prepare models of ships, which he rigged and finished complete.  He also proceeded with the study of mathematics.  The beginning of the year 1600 found Pett once more out of employment; and during his enforced idleness, which continued for six months, he seriously contemplated abandoning his profession and attempting to gain "an honest and convenient maintenance" by joining a friend in purchasing a caravel (a small vessel), and navigating it himself.

    He was, however, prevented from undertaking this enterprise by a message which he received from the Court, then stationed at Greenwich.  The Lord High Admiral desired to see him; and after many civil compliments, he offered him the post of keeper of the plankyard at Chatham.  Pett was only too glad to accept this offer, though the salary was small.  He shipped his furniture on board a hoy of Rainham, and accompanied it down the Thames to the junction with the Medway.  There he escaped a great danger—one of the sea perils of the time.  The mouths of navigable rivers were still infested with pirates; and as the hoy containing Pett approached the Nore about three o'clock in the morning, and while still dark, she came upon a Dunkirk picaroon, full of men.  Fortunately the pirate was at anchor; she weighed and gave chase, and had not the hoy set full sail, and been impelled up the Swale by a fresh wind, Pett would have been taken prisoner, with all his furniture. [p.32]

    Arrived at Chatham, Pett met his brother Joseph, became reconciled to him, and ever after they lived together as loving brethren.  At his brother's suggestion, Pett took a lease of the Manor House, and settled there with his sisters.  He was now in the direct way to preferment.  Early in the following year (March, 1601) he succeeded to the place of assistant to the principal master shipwright at Chatham, and undertook the repairs of Her Majesty's ship The Lion's Whelp, and in the next year he new-built the Moon, enlarging her both in length and breadth.

    At the accession of James I. in 1603, Pett was commanded by the Lord High Admiral with all possible speed to build a little vessel for the young Prince Henry, eldest son of His Majesty.  It was to be a sort of copy of the Ark Royal, which was the flagship of the Lord High Admiral when he defeated the Spanish Armada.  Pett proceeded to accomplish the order with all dispatch.  The little ship was in length by the keel 28 feet, in breadth 12 feet, and very curiously garnished within and without with painting and carving.  After working by torch and candle-light, night and day, the ship was launched, and set sail for the Thames, with the noise of drums, trumpets, and cannon, at the beginning of March, 1604.  After passing through a great storm at the Nore, the vessel reached the Tower, where the King and the young Prince inspected her with delight.  She was christened Disdain by the Lord High Admiral, and Pett was appointed captain of the ship.

    After his return to Chatham, Pett, at his own charge, built a small ship at Gillingham, of 300 tons, which he launched in the same year, and named the Resistance.  The ship was scarcely out of hand, when Pett was ordered to Woolwich, to prepare the Bear and other vessels for conveying his patron, the Lord High Admiral, as an Ambassador Extraordinary to Spain, for the purpose of concluding peace, after a strife of more than forty years.  The Resistance was hired by the Government as a transport, and Pett was put in command.  He seems to have been married at this time, as he mentions in his memoir that he parted with his wife and children at Chatham on the 24th of March, 1605, and that he sailed from Queen-borough on Easter Sunday.

    During the voyage to Lisbon the Resistance became separated from the Ambassador's squadron, and took refuge in Corunna.  She then set sail for Lisbon, which she reached on the 24th of April; and afterwards for St. Lucar, on the Guadalquivir, near Seville, which she reached on the 11th of May following.  After revisiting Corunna, "according to instructions," on the homeward voyage, Pett directed his course for England, and reached Rye on the 26th of June, "amidst much rain, thunder, and lightning."  In the course of the same year, his brother Joseph died, and Phineas succeeded to his post as master shipbuilder at Chatham.  He was permitted, in conjunction with one Henry Farvey and three others, to receive the usual reward of 5s. per ton for building five new merchant ships, [p.34] most probably for East Indian commerce, now assuming large dimensions.  He was despatched by the Government to Bearwood, in Hampshire, to make a selection of timber from the estate of the Earl of Worcester for the use of the navy, and on presenting his report 3,000 tons were purchased.  What with his building of ships, his attendance on the Lord Admiral to Spain, and his selection of timber for the Government, his hands seem to have been kept very full during the whole of 1605.

    In July, 1606, Pett received private instructions from the Lord High Admiral to have all the King's ships "put into comely readiness" for the reception of the King of Denmark, who was expected on a Royal visit.  "Wherein," he says, "I strove extraordinarily to express my service for the honour of the kingdom; but by reason the time limited was short, and the business great, we laboured night and day to effect it, which accordingly was done, to the great honour of our sovereign king and master, and no less admiration of all strangers that were eye-witnesses to the same."  The reception took place on the 10th of August, 1606.

    Shortly after the departure of His Majesty of Denmark, four of the Royal ships—the Ark, Victory, Golden Lion, and Swiftsure—were ordered to be dry-docked; the two last mentioned at Deptford, under charge of Matthew Baker; and the two former at Woolwich, under that of Pett.  For greater convenience, Pett removed his family to Woolwich.  After being elected and sworn Master of the Company of Shipwrights, he refers in his manuscript, for the first time, to his magnificent and original design of the Prince Royal. [p.35]

    "After settling at Woolwich," he says, "I began a curious model for the prince my master, most part whereof I wrought with my own hands."  After finishing the model, he exhibited it to the Lord High Admiral, and, after receiving his approval and commands, he presented it to the young prince at Richmond.  "His Majesty (who was present) was exceedingly delighted with the sight of the model, and passed some time in questioning the divers material things concerning it, and demanded whether I could build the great ship in all parts like the same; for I will, says His Majesty, compare them together when she shall be finished.  Then the Lord Admiral commanded me to tell His Majesty the story of the Three Ravens [p.36] I had seen at Lisbon, in St. Vincent's Church; which I did as well as I could, with my best expressions, though somewhat daunted at first at His Majesty's presence, having never before spoken before any King."

    Before, however, he could accomplish his purpose, Pett was overtaken by misfortunes.  His enemies, very likely seeing with spite the favour with which he had been received by men in high position, stirred up an agitation against him.  There may, and there very probably was, a great deal of jobbery going on in the dockyards.  It was difficult, under the system which prevailed, to have any proper check upon the expenditure for the repair and construction of ships.  At all events, a commission was appointed for the purpose of inquiring into the abuses and misdemeanours of those in office; and Pett's enemies took care that his past proceedings should be thoroughly overhauled,—together with those of Sir Robert Mansell, then Treasurer to the Navy; Sir John Trevor, surveyor; Sir Henry Palmer, controller; Sir Thomas Blather, victualler; and many others.

    While the commission was still sitting and holding what Pett calls their "malicious proceedings," he was able to lay the keel of his new great ship upon the stocks in the dock at Woolwich on the 20th of October, 1608.  He had a clear conscience, for his hands were clean.  He went on vigorously with his work, though he knew that the inquisition against him was at its full height.  His enemies reported that he was "no artist, and that he was altogether insufficient to perform such a service" as that of building his great ship.  Nevertheless, he persevered, believing in the goodness of his cause.  Eventually, he was enabled to turn the tables upon his accusers, and to completely justify himself in all his transactions with the king, the Lord Admiral, and the public officers, who were privy to all his transactions.  Indeed, the result of the enquiry was not only to cause a great trouble and expense to all the persons accused, but, as Pett says in his Memoir, "the Government itself of that royal office was so shaken and disjoined as brought almost ruin upon the whole Navy, and a far greater charge to his Majesty in his yearly expense than ever was known before." [p.37]

    In the midst of his troubles and anxieties, Pett was unexpectedly cheered with the presence of his "Master" Prince Henry, who specially travelled out of his way from Essex to visit him at Woolwich, to see with his own eyes what progress he was making with the great ship.  After viewing the dry dock, which had been constructed by Pett, and was one of the first, if not the very first in England,—his Highness partook of a banquet which the shipbuilder had hastily prepared for him in his temporary lodgings.

    One of the circumstances which troubled Pett so much at this time, was the strenuous opposition of the other shipbuilders to his plans of the great ship.  There never had been such a frightful innovation.  The model was all wrong.  The lines were detestable.  The man who planned the whole thing was a fool, a "cozener" of the king, and the ship, suppose it to be made, was "unfit for any other use but a dung-boat!"  This attack upon his professional character weighed very heavily upon his mind.

    He determined to put his case in a straightforward manner before the Lord High Admiral.  He set down in writing in the briefest manner everything that he had done, and the plots that had been hatched against him; and beseeched his lordship, for the honour of the State, and the reputation of his office, to cause the entire matter to be thoroughly investigated "by judicious and impartial persons."  After a conference with Pett, and an interview with his Majesty, the Lord High Admiral was authorised by the latter to invite the Earls of Worcester and Suffolk to attend with him at Woolwich, and bring all the accusers of Pett's design of the great ship before them for the purpose of examination, and to report to him as to the actual state of affairs.  Meanwhile Pett's enemies had been equally busy.  They obtained a private warrant from the Earl of Northampton [p.38] to survey the work; "which being done," says Pett, "upon return of the insufficiency of the same under their hands, and confirmation by oath, it was resolved amongst them I should be turned out, and for ever disgraced."

    But the lords appointed by the King now interfered between Pett and his adversaries.  They first inspected the ship, and made a diligent survey of the form and manner of the work and the goodness of the materials, and then called all the accusers before them to hear their allegations.  They were examined separately.  First, Baker the master shipbuilder was called.  He objected to the size of the ship, to the length, breadth, depth, draught of water, height of jack, rake before and aft, breadth of the floor, scantling of the timber, and so on.  Then another of the objectors was called; and his evidence was so clearly in contradiction to that which had already been given, that either one or both must be wrong.  The principal objector, Captain Waymouth, next gave his evidence; but he was able to say nothing to any purpose, except giving their lordships "a long, tedious discourse of proportions, measures, lines, and an infinite rabble of idle and unprofitable speeches, clean from the matter."

    The result was that their lordships reported favourably of the design of the ship, and the progress which had already been made.  The Earl of Nottingham interposed his influence; and the King himself, accompanied by the young Prince, went down to Woolwich, and made a personal examination. [p.39]  A great many witnesses were again examined, twenty-four on one side, and twenty-seven on the other.  The King then carefully examined the ship himself: "the planks, the tree-nails, the workmanship, and the cross-grained timber."  "The cross-grain," he concluded, "was in the men and not in the timber."  After all the measurements had been made and found correct, "his Majesty," says Pett, "with a loud voice commanded the measurers to declare publicly the very truth; which when they had delivered clearly on our side, all the whole multitude heaved up their hats, and gave a great and loud shout and acclamation.  And then the Prince, his Highness, called with a high voice in these words: 'Where be now these perjured fellows that dare thus abuse his Majesty with these false accusations?  Do they not worthily deserve hanging?'"

    Thus Pett triumphed over all his enemies, and was allowed to finish the great ship in his own way.  By the middle of September 1610, the vessel was ready to be "strucken down upon her ways"; and a dozen of the choice master carpenters of his Majesty's navy came from Chatham to assist in launching her.  The ship was decorated, gilded, draped, and garlanded; and on the 24th the King, the Queen, and the Royal family came from the palace at Theobald's to witness the great sight.  Unfortunately, the day proved very rough; and it was little better than a neap tide.  The ship started very well, but the wind overblew the tide; she caught in the dock-gates, and settled hard upon the ground, so that there was no possibility of launching her that day.

    This was a great disappointment.  The King retired to the palace at Greenwich, though the Prince lingered behind.  When he left, he promised to return by midnight, after which it was proposed to make another effort to set the ship afloat.  When the time arrived, the Prince again made his appearance, and joined the Lord High Admiral, and the principal naval officials.  It was bright moonshine.  After midnight the rain began to fall, and the wind to blow from the southwest.  But about two o'clock, an hour before high water, the word was given to set all taut, and the ship went away without any straining of screws and tackles, till she came clear afloat into the midst of the Thames.  The Prince was aboard, and amidst the blast of trumpets and expressions of joy, he performed the ceremony of drinking from the great standing cup, and throwing the rest of the wine towards the half-deck, and christening the ship by the name of the Prince Royal. [p.41-1]


Prince Royal by Willem van de Velde the Younger. [p.41-2]
Picture Wikipedia.

    The dimensions of the ship may be briefly described.  Her keel was 114 feet long, and her cross-beam 44 feet.  She was of 1,100 tons burthen, and carried 64 pieces of great ordnance.  She was the largest ship that had yet been constructed in England.

    The Prince Royal was, at the time she was built, considered one of the most wonderful efforts of human genius.  Mr. Charnock, in his 'Treatise on Marine Architecture,' speaks of her as abounding in striking peculiarities.  Previous to the construction of this ship, vessels were built in the style of the Venetian galley, which although well adapted for the quiet Mediterranean, were not suited for the stormy northern ocean.  The fighting ships also of the time of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth were too full of "top-hamper" for modern navigation.  They were oppressed by high forecastles and poops.  Pett struck out entirely new ideas in the build and lines of his new ship; and the course which he adopted had its effect upon all future marine structures.  The ship was more handy, more wieldy, and more convenient.  She was unquestionably the first effort of English ingenuity in the direction of manageableness and simplicity.  "The vessel in question," says Charnock, "may be considered the parent of the class of shipping which continues in practice even to the present moment."

    It is scarcely necessary to pursue in detail the further history of Phineas Pett.  We may briefly mention the principal points.  In 1612, the Prince Royal was appointed to convey the Princess Elizabeth and her husband, The Palsgrave, to the Continent.  Pett was on board the ship, and found that "it wrought exceedingly well, and was so yare of conduct that a foot of helm would steer her."  While at Flushing, "such a multitude of people, men, women, and children, came from all places in Holland to see the ship, that we could scarce have room to go up and down till very night."

    About the 27th of March, 1616, Pett bargained with Sir Walter Raleigh to build a vessel of 500 tons, [p.42] and received £500 from him on account.  The King, through the interposition of the Lord Admiral, allowed Pett to lay her keel on the galley dock at Woolwich.  In the same year he was commissioned by the Lord Zouche, now Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, to construct a pinnace of 40 tons, in respect of which Pett remarks, "towards the whole of the hull of the pinnace, and all her rigging, I received only £100 from the Lord Zouche, the rest Sir Henry Mainwaring (half-brother to Raleigh) cunningly received on my behalf, without my knowledge, which I never got from him but by piecemeal, so that by the bargain I was loser £100 at least."

    Pett fared much worse at the hands of Raleigh himself.  His great ship, the Destiny, was finished and launched in December, 1616.  "I delivered her to him," says Pett, "on float, in good order and fashion; by which business I lost £700, and could never get any recompense at all for it; Sir Walter going to sea and leaving me unsatisfied." [p.43-1]  Nor was this the only loss that Pett met with this year.  The King, he states, "bestowed upon me for the supply of my present relief the making of a knight-baronet," which authority Pett passed to a recusant, one Francis Ratcliffe, for £700; but that worthy defrauded him, so that he lost £30 by the bargain.

    Next year, Pett was despatched by the Government to the New Forest in Hampshire, "where," he says, "one Sir Giles Mompesson [p.43-2] had made a vast waste in the spoil of his Majesty's timber, to redress which I was employed thither, to make choice out of the number of trees he had felled of all such timber as was useful for shipping, in which business I spent a great deal of time, and brought myself into a great deal of trouble."  About this period, poor Pett's wife and two of his children lay for some time at death's door.  Then more enquiries took place into the abuses of the dockyards, in which it was sought to implicate Pett.  During the next three years (1618-20) he worked under the immediate orders of the Commissioners in the New Dock at Chatham.

    In 1620, Pett's friend Sir Robert Mansell was appointed General of the Fleet destined to chastise the Algerine pirates, who still continued their depredations on the shipping in the Channel, and the King thereupon commissioned Pett to build with all dispatch two pinnaces, of 120 and 80 tons respectively.  "I was myself," he says, "to serve as Captain in the voyage"—being glad, no doubt, to escape from his tormentors.  The two pinnaces were built at Ratcliffe, and were launched on the 16th and 18th of October, 1620.  On the 30th, Pett sailed with the fleet, and after driving the pirates out of the Channel, he returned to port after an absence of eleven months.

    His enemies had taken advantage of his absence from England to get an order for the survey of the Prince Royal, his masterpiece; the result of which was, he says, that "they maliciously certified the ship to be unserviceable, and not fit to continue—that what charges should be bestowed upon her would be lost."  Nevertheless, the Prince Royal was docked, and fitted for a voyage to Spain.  She was sent thither with Charles Prince of Wales and the Duke of Buckingham, the former going in search of a Spanish wife.  Pett, the builder of the ship, was commanded to accompany the young Prince and the Duke.

    The expedition sailed on the 24th of August, 1623, and returned on the 14th of October.  Pett was entertained on board the Prince Royal, and rendered occasional services to the officers in command, though nothing of importance occurred during the voyage.  The Prince of Wales presented him with a valuable gold chain as a reward for his attendance.  In 1625, Pett, after rendering many important services to the Admiralty, was ordered again to prepare the Prince Royal for sea.  She was to bring over the Prince of Wales's bride from France.  While the preparations were making for the voyage, news reached Chatham of the death of King James.  Pett was afterwards commanded to go forward with the work of preparing the Prince Royal, as well as the whole fleet, which was intended to escort the French Princess, or rather the Queen, to England.  The expedition took place in May, and the young Queen landed at Dover on the 12th of that month.

    Pett continued to be employed in building and repairing ships, as well as in preparing new designs, which he submitted to the King and the Commissioners of the Navy.  In 1626, he was appointed a joint commissioner,
with the Lord High Admiral, the Lord Treasurer Marlborough, and others, "to enquire into certain alleged abuses of the Navy, and to view the state thereof, and also the stores thereof," clearly showing he was regaining his old position.  He was also engaged in determining the best mode of measuring the tonnage of ships. [p.45]  Four years later he was again appointed a commissioner for making "a general survey of the whole navy at Chatham."  For this and his other services the King promoted Pett to be a principal officer of the Navy, with a fee of £200 per annum.  His patent was sealed on the 16th of January, 1631.  In the same year the King visited Woolwich to witness the launching of the Vanguard, which Pett had built; and his Majesty honoured the shipwright by participating in a banquet at his lodgings.

    From this period to the year 1637, Pett records nothing of particular importance in his autobiography.  He was chiefly occupied in aiding his son Peter—who was rapidly increasing his fame as a shipwright—in repairing and building first-class ships of war.  As Pett had, on an early occasion in his life, prepared a miniature ship for Prince Henry, eldest son of James I., he now proceeded, to prepare a similar model for the Prince of Wales, the King's eldest son, afterwards Charles II.  This model was presented to the Prince at St. James's, "who entertained it with great joy, being purposely made to disport himself withal."  On the next visit of his Majesty to Woolwich, he inspected the progress made with the Leopard, a sloop-of-war built by Peter Pett.  While in the hold of the vessel, the King called Phineas to one side, and told him of his resolution to have a great new ship built, and that Phineas must be the builder.  This great new ship was The Sovereign of the Seas, afterwards built by Phineas and Peter Pett.  Some say that the model was prepared by the latter; but Phineas says that it was prepared by himself, and finished by the 29th of October, 1634.  As a compensation for his services, his Majesty renewed his pension of £40. (which had been previously stopped), with orders for all the arrears due upon it to be paid,

    To provide the necessary timber for the new ship, Phineas and his son went down into the North to survey the forests.  They went first by water to Whitby; from thence they proceeded on horseback to Gisborough and baited; then to Stockton, where they found but poor entertainment, though they lodged with the Mayor, whose house "was only a mean thatched cottage!"  Middlesborough and the great iron district of the North had not yet come into existence.  Newcastle, already of some importance, was the principal scene of their labours.  The timber for the new ship was found in Chapley Wood and Brancepeth Park.  The gentry did all they could to facilitate the object of Pett.  On his journey homewards (July, 1635), he took Cambridge on his way, where, says he, "I lodged at the Falcon, and visited Emmanuel College, where I had been a scholar in my youth."


Peter Pett and the Sovereign of the Seas by Peter Lely, 1637. [p.47-1]
Picture Wikipedia.

    The Sovereign of the Seas was launched on the 12th of October, 1637, having been about two years in building. Evelyn in his diary says of the ship (19th July, 1641):—"We rode to Rochester and Chatham to see the Soveraigne, a monstrous vessel so called, being for burthen, defence, and ornament, the richest that ever spread cloth before the wind. She carried 100 brass cannon, and was 1600 tons, a rare sailer, the work of the famous Phineas Pett." Rear-Admiral Sir William Symonds says that she was afterwards cut down, and was a safe and fast ship. [p.47-2]

    The Sovereign continued for nearly sixty years to be the finest ship in the English service.  Though frequently engaged in the most injurious occupations, she continued fit for any services which the exigencies of the State might require.  She fought all through the wars of the Commonwealth; she was the leading ship of Admiral Blake, and was in all the great naval engagements with France and Holland.  The Dutch gave her the name of The Golden Devil.  In the last fight between the English and French, she encountered the Wonder of the World, and so warmly plied the French Admiral, that she forced him out of his three-decked wooden castle, and chasing the Royal Sun before her, forced her to fly for shelter among the rocks, where she became a prey to lesser vessels, and was reduced to ashes.  At last, in the reign of William III., the Sovereign became leaky and defective with age; she was laid up at Chatham, and being set on fire by negligence or accident, she burnt to the water's edge.

    To return to the history of Phineas Pett.  As years approached, he retired from office, and "his loving son," as he always affectionately designates Peter, succeeded him as principal shipwright,  Charles I. conferring upon him the honour of knighthood.  Phineas lived for ten years after the Sovereign of the Seas was launched.  In the burial register of the parish of Chatham it is recorded, "Phineas Pett, Esqe. and Capt., was buried 21st August, 1647." [p.48]

    Sir Peter Pett was almost as distinguished as his father.  He was the builder of the first frigate, The Constant Warwick.  Sir William Symonds says of this vessel:—"She was an incomparable sailer, remarkable for her sharpness and the fineness of her lines; and many were built like her."  Pett "introduced convex lines on the immersed part of the hull, with the studding and sprit sails; and, in short, he appears to have fully deserved his character of being the best ship architect of his time." [p.49]  Sir Peter Pett's monument in Deptford Old Church fully records his services to England's naval power.

    The Petts are said to have been connected with shipbuilding in the Thames for not less than 200 years.  Fuller, in his 'Worthies of England,' says of them—"I am credibly informed that that mystery of shipwrights for some descents hath been preserved faithfully in families, of whom the Petts about Chatham are of singular regard.  Good success have they with their skill, and carefully keep so precious a pearl, lest otherwise amongst many friends some foes attain unto it."

    The late Peter Rolt, member for Greenwich, took pride in being descended from the Petts; but so far as we know, the name itself has died out.  In 1801, when Charnock's 'History of Marine Architecture ' was published, Mr. Pett, of Tovil, near Maidstone, was the sole representative of the family.





"The spirit of Paley's maxim that 'he alone discovers who proves,' is applicable to the history of inventions and discoveries; for certainly he alone invents to any good purpose, who satisfies the world that the means he may have devised have been found competent to the end proposed."—DR. SAMUEL BROWN.

"Too often the real worker and discoverer remains unknown, and an invention, beautiful but useless in one age or country, can be applied only in a remote generation, or in a distant land.  Mankind hangs together from generation to generation; easy labour is but inherited skill; great discoveries and inventions are worked up to by the efforts of myriads ere the goal is reached."—H. M. H


Picture: Internet Text Archive.

THOUGH a long period elapsed between the times of Phineas Pett and "Screw" Smith, comparatively little improvement had been effected in the art of shipbuilding.  The Sovereign of the Seas had not been excelled by any ship of war built down to the end of last century. [p.50]  At a comparatively recent date, ships continued to be built of timber and plank, and impelled by sails and oars, as they had been for thousands of years before.

    But this century has witnessed many marvellous changes.  A new material of construction has been introduced into shipbuilding, with entirely new methods of propulsion.  Old things have been displaced by new; and the magnitude of the results has been extraordinary.  The most important changes have been in the use of iron and steel instead of wood, and in the employment of the steam-engine in impelling ships by the paddle or the screw.

    So long as timber was used for the construction of ships, the number of vessels built annually, especially in so small an island as Britain, must necessarily have continued very limited.  Indeed, so little had the cultivation of oak in Great Britain been attended to, that all the royal forests could not have supplied sufficient timber to build one line-of-battle ship annually; while for the mercantile marine, the world had to be ransacked for wood, often of a very inferior quality.

    Take, for instance, the seventy-eight gun ship, the Hindostan, launched a few years ago.  It would have required 4200 loads of timber to build a ship of that description, and the growth of the timber would have occupied seventy acres of ground during eighty years. [p.51]  It would have needed something like 800,000 acres of land on which to grow the timber for the ships annually built in this country for commercial purposes.  And timber ships are by no means lasting.  The average durability of ships of war employed in active service, has been calculated to be about thirteen years, even when built of British oak.

    Indeed, years ago, the building of shipping in this country was much hindered by the want of materials.  The trade was being rapidly transferred to Canada and the United States.  Some years since, an American captain said to an Englishman, Captain Hall, when in China, "You will soon have to come to our country for your ships: your little island cannot grow wood enough for a large marine."  "Oh!" said the Englishman, "we can build ships of iron!"  "Iron?" replied the American in surprise, "why, iron sinks; only wood can float!"  "Well! you will find I am right."  The prophecy was correct.  The Englishman in question has now a fleet of splendid iron steamers at sea.

    The use of iron in shipbuilding had small beginnings, like everything else.  The established prejudice—that iron must necessarily sink in water—long continued to prevail against its employment.  The first iron vessel was built and launched about a hundred years since by John Wilkinson, of Bradley Forge, in Staffordshire.  In a letter of his, dated the 14th July, 1787, the original of which we have seen, he writes:—"Yesterday week my iron boat was launched.  It answers all my expectations, and has convinced the unbelievers, who were 999 in 1000.  It will be only a nine days' wonder, and afterwards a Columbus's egg."  It was, however, more than a nine days' wonder; for wood long continued to be thought the only material capable of floating.


Aaron Manby's iron steamship of 1821.

    Although Wilkinson's iron vessels continued to ply upon the Severn, more than twenty years elapsed before another shipbuilder ventured to follow his example.  But in 1810, Onions and Son, of Brosely, built several iron vessels, also for use upon the Severn.  Then, in 1815, Mr. Jervons, of Liverpool, built a small iron boat for use on the Mersey.  Six years later, in 1821, Mr. Aaron Manby designed an iron steam vessel, which was built at the Horsley Company's Works, in Staffordshire.  She sailed from London to Havre a few years later, under the command of Captain (afterwards Sir Charles) Napier, R.N.  She was freighted with a cargo of linseed and iron castings, and went up the Seine to Paris.  It was some time, however, before iron came into general use.  Ten years later, in 1832, Maudslay and Field built four iron vessels for the East India Company.  In the course of about twenty years, the use of iron became general, not only for ships of war, but for merchant ships plying to all parts of the world.

    When ships began to be built of iron, it was found that they could be increased without limit, so long as coal, iron, machinery, and strong men full of skill and industry, were procurable.  The trade in shipbuilding returned to Britain, where iron ships are now made and exported in large numbers; the mercantile marine of this country exceeding in amount and tonnage that of all the other countries of the world put together.  The "wooden walls" [p.53] of England exist no more, for iron has superseded wood.  Instead of constructing vessels from the forest, we are now digging new navies out of the bowels of the earth, and our "walls," instead of wood, are now of iron and steel.

    The attempt to propel ships by other means than sails and oars went on from century to century, and did not succeed until almost within our own time.  It is said that the Roman army under Claudius Codex was transported into Sicily in boats propelled by wheels moved by oxen.  Galleys, propelled by wheels in paddles, were afterwards attempted.  The Harleian MS. contains an Italian book of sketches, attributed to the 15th century, in which there appears a drawing of a paddle-boat, evidently intended to be worked by men.  Paddle-boats, worked by horse-power, were also tried.  Blasco Garay made a supreme effort at Barcelona in 1543.  His vessel was propelled by a paddle-wheel on each side, worked by forty men. But nothing came of the experiment.

    Many other efforts of a similar kind were made,—by Savery among others,[p.54]—until we come down to Patrick Miller, of Dalswinton, who, in 1787, invented a double-hulled boat, which he caused to be propelled on the Firth of Forth by men working a capstan which drove the paddles on each side.  The men soon became exhausted, and on Miller mentioning the subject to William Symington, who was then exhibiting his road locomotive in Edinburgh, Symington at once said, "Why don't you employ steam-power?"

    There were many speculations in early times as to the application of steam-power for propelling vessels through the water.  David Ramsay in 1618, Dr. Grant in 1632, the Marquis of Worcester in 1661, were among the first in England to publish their views upon the subject.  But it is probable that Denis Papin, the banished Huguenot physician, for some time Curator of the Royal Society, was the first who made a model steam-boat.  During his residence in England, he was elected Professor of Mathematics in the University of Marburg.  It was while at that city that he constructed, in 1707, a small steam-engine, which he fitted in a boat —une petite machine d'un vaisseau à roues—and despatched it to England for the purpose of being tried upon-the Thames.  The little vessel never reached England.  At Münden, the boatmen on the River Weser, thinking that, if successful, it would destroy their occupation, seized the boat, with its machine, and barbarously destroyed it.  Papin did not repeat his experiment, and died a few years later.

    The next inventor was Jonathan Hulls, of Campden, in Gloucestershire.  He patented a steamboat in 1736, and worked the paddle-wheel placed at the stern of the vessel by means of a Newcomen engine.  He tried his boat on the River Avon, at Evesham, but it did not succeed, and the engine was taken on shore again.  A local poet commemorated his failure in the following lines, which were remembered long after his steamboat experiment had been forgotten:—

    "Jonathan Hull,
     With his paper skull,
Tried hard to make a machine
That should go against wind and tide;
     But he, like an ass,
     Couldn't bring it to pass,
So at last was ashamed to be seen."

    Nothing of importance was done in the direction of a steam-engine able to drive paddles, until the invention by James Watt, in 1769, of his double-acting engine—the first step by which steam was rendered capable of being successfully used to impel a vessel.  But Watt was indifferent to taking up the subject of steam navigation, as well as of steam locomotion.  He refused many invitations to make steam-engines for the propulsion of ships, preferring to confine himself to his "regular established trade and manufacture," that of making condensing steam-engines, which had become of great importance towards the close of his life.

    Two records exist of paddle-wheel steamboats having been early tried in France—one by the Comte d'Auxiron and M. Perrier in 1774, the other by the Comte de Jouffroy in 1783—but the notices of their experiments are very vague, and rest on somewhat doubtful authority.

    The idea, however, had been born, and was not allowed to die.  When Mr. Miller of Dalswinton had revived the notion of propelling vessels by means of paddle-wheels, worked, as Savery had before worked them, by means of a capstan placed in the centre of the vessel, and when he complained to Symington of the fatigue caused to the men by working the capstan, and Symington had suggested the use of steam, Mr. Miller was impressed by the idea, and proceeded to order a steam-engine for the purpose of trying the experiment.  The boat was built at Edinburgh, and removed to Dalswinton Lake.  It was there fitted with Symington's steam-engine, and first tried with success on the 14th of October, 1788, as has been related at length in Mr. Nasmyth's 'Autobiography.'  The experiment was repeated with even greater success in the Charlotte Dundas in 1801, which was used to tow vessels along the Forth and Clyde Canal, and to bring ships up the Firth of Forth to the canal entrance at Grangemouth.


The Charlotte Dundas, the world's "first practical steamboat".
Picture Wikipedia.

    The progress of steam navigation was nevertheless very slow.  Symington's experiments were not renewed.  The Charlotte Dundas was withdrawn from use, because of the supposed injury to the banks of the Canal, caused by the swell from the wheel.  The steamboat was laid up in a creek at Bainsford, where it went to ruin, and the inventor himself died in poverty.  Among those who inspected the vessel while at work were Fulton, the American artist, and Andrew Bell, the Glasgow engineer.  The former had already occupied himself with model steamboats, both at Paris and in London; and in 1805 he obtained from Boulton and Watt, of Birmingham, the steam-engine required for propelling his paddle steamboat on the Hudson.  The Clermont was first started in August, 1807, and attained a speed of nearly five miles an hour.  Five years later, Andrew Bell constructed and tried his first steamer on the Clyde.


Fulton and Livingston's North River Steamboat (later the Clermont), 1807.
Picture Wikipedia.

    It was not until 1815 that the first steamboat was seen on the Thames.  This was the Richmond packet, which plied between London and Richmond.  The vessel was fitted with the first marine engine Henry Maudslay ever made.  During the same year, the Margery, formerly employed on the Firth of Forth, began plying between Gravesend and London; and the Thames, formerly the Argyll, came round from the Clyde, encountering rough seas, and making the voyage of 758 miles in five days and two hours.  This was thought extraordinarily rapid—though the voyage of about 3,000 miles, from Liverpool to New York, can now be made in only about two days' more time.

    In nearly all seagoing vessels, the Paddle has now almost entirely given place to the Screw.  It was long before this invention was perfected and brought into general use.  It was not the production of one man, but of several generations of mechanical inventors.  A perfected invention does not burst forth from the brain like a poetic thought or a fine resolve.  It has to be initiated, laboured over, and pursued in the face of disappointments, difficulties, and discouragements.  Sometimes the idea is born in one generation, followed out in the next, and perhaps perfected in the third.  In an age of progress, one invention merely paves the way for another.  What was the wonder of yesterday, becomes the common and unnoticed thing of to-day.

    The first idea of the screw was thrown out by James Watt more than a century ago.  Matthew Boulton, of Birmingham, had proposed to move canal boats by means of the steam-engine; and Dr. Small, his friend, was in communication with James Watt, then residing at Glasgow, on the subject.  In a letter from Watt to Small, dated the 30th September, 1770, the former, after speaking of the condenser, and saying that it cannot be dispensed with, proceeds: "Have you ever considered a spiral oar for that purpose [propulsion of canal boats], or are you for two wheels?"  Watt added a pen-and-ink drawing of his spiral oar, greatly resembling the form of screw afterwards patented.  Nothing, however, was actually done, and the idea slept.

    It was revived again in 1785, by Joseph Bramah, a wonderful projector and inventor. [p.58]  He took out a patent, which included a rotatory steam-engine, and a mode of propelling vessels by means either of a paddle-wheel or a "screw propeller."  This propeller was "similar to the fly of a smokejack"; but there is no account of Bramah having practically tried this method of propulsion.

    Austria, also, claims the honour of the invention of the screw steamer.  At Trieste and Vienna are statues erected to Joseph Ressel, on whose behalf his countrymen lay claim to the invention; and patents for some sort of a screw date back as far as 1794.  Patents were also taken out in England and America —by W. Lyttleton in 1794; by E. Shorter in 1799: by J. C. Stevens, of New Jersey, in 1804; by Henry James in 1811—but nothing practical was accomplished.  Richard Trevethick, the anticipator of many things, also took out a patent in 1815, and in it he describes the screw propeller with considerable minuteness.  Millington, Whytock, Perkins, Marestier, and Brown followed, with no better results.

    The late Dr. Birkbeck, in a letter addressed to the 'Mechanics' Register,' in the year 1824, claimed that John Swan, of 82, Mansfield Street, Kingsland Road, London, was the practical inventor of the screw propeller.  John Swan was a native of Coldingham, Berwickshire.  He had removed to London, and entered the employment of Messrs. Gordon, of Deptford.  Swan fitted up a boat with his propeller, and tried it on a sheet of water in the grounds of Charles Gordon, Esq., of Dulwich Bill.  "The velocity and steadiness of the motion," said Dr. Birkbeck in his letter, "so far exceeded that of the same model when impelled by paddle-wheels driven by the same spring, that I could not doubt its superiority; and the stillness of the water was such as to give the vessel the appearance of being moved by some magical power."

    Then comes another claimant—Mr. Robert Wilson, then of Dunbar (not far from Coldingham), but afterwards of the Bridgewater Foundry, Patricroft.  In his pamphlet, published a few years ago, he states that he had long considered the subject, and in 1827 he made a small model, fitted with "revolving skulls," which he tried on a sheet of water in the presence of the Hon. Capt. Anthony Maitland, son of the Earl of Lauderdale.  The experiment was successful—so successful, that when the "stern paddles" were in 1828 used at Leith in a boat twenty-five feet long, with two men to work the machinery, the boat was propelled at an average speed of about ten miles an hour; and the Society of Arts afterwards, in October, 1832, awarded Mr. Wilson their silver medal for the "description, drawing, and models of stern paddles for propelling steamboats, invented by him."  The subject was, in 1833, brought by Sir John Sinclair under the consideration of the Board of Admiralty; but the report of the officials (Oliver Lang, Abethell, Lloyd, and Kingston) was to the effect that "the plan proposed (independent of practical difficulties) is objectionable, as it involves a greater loss of power than the common mode of applying the wheels to the side."  And here ended the experiment, so far as Mr. Wilson's "stern paddles" were concerned.

    It will be observed, from what has been said, that the idea of a screw propeller is a very old one.  Watt, Bramah, Trevethick, and many more, had given descriptions of the screw.  Trevethick schemed a number of its forms and applications, which have been the subject of many subsequent patents.  It has been so with many inventions.  It is not the man who gives the first idea of a machine who is entitled to the merit of its introduction, or the man who repeats the idea, and re-repeats it, but the man who is so deeply impressed with the importance of the discovery, that he insists upon its adoption, will take no denial, and at the risk of fame and fortune, pushes through all opposition, and is determined that what he thinks he has discovered shall not perish for want of a fair trial.  And that this was the case with the practical introducer of the screw propeller will be obvious from the following statement.

    Francis Pettit Smith was born at Hythe, in the county of Kent, in 1808.  His father was postmaster of the town, and a person of much zeal and integrity.  The boy was sent to school at Ashford, and there received a fair amount of education, under the Rev. Alexander Power.  Young Smith displayed no special characteristic except a passion for constructing models of boats.  When he reached manhood, he adopted the business of a grazing farmer on Romney Marsh.  He afterwards removed to Hendon, north of London, where he had plenty of water on which to try his model boats.  The reservoir of the Old Welsh Harp was close at hand—a place famous for its water-birds and wild fowl.

    Smith made many models of boats, his experiments extending over many years.  In 1834, he constructed a boat propelled by a wooden screw driven by a spring, the performance of which was thought extraordinary.  Where he had got his original idea is not known.  It was floating about in many minds, and was no special secret.  Smith, however, arrived at the conclusion that his method of propelling steam vessels by means of a screw was much superior to paddles—at that time exclusively employed.  In the following year, 1835, he constructed a superior model, with which he performed a number of experiments at Hendon.  In May 1836, he took out a patent for propelling vessels by means of a screw revolving beneath the water at the stern.  He then openly exhibited his invention at the Adelaide Gallery in London.  Sir John Barrow, Secretary to the Admiralty, inspected the model, and was much impressed by its action.  During the time it was publicly exhibited, an offer was made to purchase the invention for the Pacha of Egypt; but the offer was declined.

    At this stage of his operations, Smith was joined by Mr. Wright, banker, and Mr. C. A. Caldwell, who had the penetration to perceive that the invention was one of much promise, and were desirous of helping its introduction to general use.  They furnished Smith with the means of constructing a more complete model.  In the autumn of 1836, a small steam vessel of 10 tons burthen and six horse-power was built, further to test the advantages of the invention.  This boat was fitted with a wooden screw of two whole turns.  On the 1st of November the vessel was exhibited to the public on the Paddington Canal, as well as on the Thames, where she continued to ply until the month of September 1837.

    During the trips upon the Thames, a happy accident occurred, which first suggested the advantage of reducing the length of the screw.  The propeller having struck upon some obstacle in the water, about one-half of the length of the screw was broken off, and it was found that the vessel immediately shot ahead and attained a much greater speed than before.  In consequence of this discovery, a new screw of a single turn was fitted to her, after which she was found to work much better.

    Having satisfied himself as to the eligibility of the propeller in smooth water, Mr. Smith then resolved to take his little vessel to the open sea, and breast the winds and the waves.  Accordingly, one Saturday in the month of September 1837, he proceeded in his miniature boat, down the river, from Blackwall to Gravesend.  There he took a pilot on board, and went on to Ramsgate.  He passed through the Downs, and reached Dover in safety.  A trial of the vessel's performance was made there in the presence of Mr. Wright, the banker, and Mr. Peake, the civil engineer.  From Dover the vessel went on to Folkestone and Hythe, encountering severe weather.  Nevertheless, the boat behaved admirably, and attained a speed of over seven miles an hour.

    Though the weather had become stormy and boisterous, the little vessel nevertheless set out on her return voyage to London.  Crowds of people assembled to witness her departure, and many nautical men watched her progress with solicitude as she steamed through the waves under the steep cliffs of the South Foreland.  The courage of the undertaking, and the unexpected good performance of the little vessel, rendered her an object of great interest and excitement as she "screwed" her way along the coast.  The tiny vessel reached her destination in safety.  Surely the difficulty of a testing trial, although with a model screw, had at length been overcome.  But no!  The paddle still possessed the ascendency; and a thousand interests—invested capital, use and wont, and conservative instincts—all stood in the way.


Picture: Wikipedia.

    Some years before—indeed, about the time that Smith took out his patent—Captain Ericsson, the Swede, invented a screw propeller.  Smith took out his patent in May, 1836; and Ericsson in the following July.  Ericsson was a born inventor.  While a boy in Sweden, he made saw mills and pumping engines, with tools invented by himself.  He learnt to draw, and his mechanical career began.  When only twelve years old, he was appointed a cadet in the Swedish corps of mechanical engineers, and in the following year he was put in charge of a section of the Gotha Ship Canal, then under construction.  Arrived at manhood, Ericsson went over to England, the great centre of mechanical industry.  He was then twenty-three years old.  He entered into partnership with John Braithwaite, and with him constructed the Novelty, which took part in the locomotive competition at Rainhill on the 6th October, 1829.  The prize was awarded to Stephenson's Rocket on the 14th; but it was acknowledged by The Times of the day that the Novelty was Stephenson's sharpest competitor.



    Ericsson had a wonderfully inventive brain, a determined purpose, and a great capacity for work.  When a want was felt, he was immediately ready with an invention.  The records of the Patent Office show his incessant activity.  He invented pumping engines, steam engines, fire engines, and caloric engines.  His first patent for a "reciprocating propeller" was taken out in October 1834.  To exhibit its action, he had a small boat constructed of only about two feet long.  It was propelled by means of a screw; and was shown at work in a circular bath in London.  It performed its voyage round the basin at the rate of about three miles an hour.  His patent for a "spiral propeller," was taken out in July 1836.  This was the invention, to exhibit which he had a vessel constructed, of about 40 feet long, with two propellers, each of 5 feet 3 inches diameter.

    This boat, the Francis B. Ogden, proved extremely successful.  She moved at a speed of about ten miles an hour.  She was able to tow vessels of 140 tons burthen at the rate of seven miles an hour.  Perceiving the peculiar and admirable fitness of the screw-propeller for ships of war, Ericsson invited the Lords of the Admiralty to take an excursion in tow of his experimental boat.  "My Lords" consented; and the Admiralty barge contained on this occasion, Sir Charles Adam, senior Lord, Sir William Symonds, surveyor, Sir Edward Parry, of Polar fame, Captain Beaufort, hydrographer, and other men of celebrity.  This distinguished company embarked at Somerset House, and the little steamer, with her precious charge, proceeded down the river to Limehouse at the rate of about ten miles an hour.  After visiting the steam-engine manufactory of Messrs. Seawood, where their Lordships' favourite apparatus, the Morgan paddle-wheel, was in course of construction, they re-embarked, and returned in safety to Somerset House.

    The experiment was perfectly successful, and yet the result was disappointment.  A few days later, a letter from Captain Beaufort informed Mr. Ericsson that their Lordships had certainly been "very much disappointed with the result of the experiment."  The reason for the disappointment was altogether inexplicable to the inventor.  It afterwards appeared, however, that Sir William Symonds, then Surveyor to the Navy, had expressed the opinion that "even if the propeller had the power of propelling a vessel, it would be found altogether useless in practice, because the power being applied at the stern, it would be absolutely impossible to make the vessel steer!"  It will be remembered that Francis Pettit Smith's screw vessel went to sea in the course of the same year; and not only faced the waves, but was made to steer in a perfectly successful manner.

    Although the Lords of the Admiralty would not further encourage the screw propeller of Ericsson, an officer of the United States Navy, Capt. R. F. Stockton, was so satisfied of its success, that after making a single trip in the experimental steamboat from London Bridge to Greenwich, he ordered the inventor to build for him forthwith two iron boats for the United States, with steam machinery and a propeller on the same plan.  One of these vessels—the Robert F. Stockton—seventy feet in length, was constructed by Laird and Co., of Birkenhead, in 1838, and left England for America in April 1839.  Capt. Stockton so fully persuaded Ericsson of his probable success in America, that the inventor at once abandoned his professional engagements in England, and set out for the United States.  It is unnecessary to mention the further important works of this great engineer.

    We may, however, briefly mention that in 1844, Ericsson constructed for the United States Government the Princeton screw steamer—though he was never paid for his time, labour, and expenditure. [p.66]  Undeterred by their ingratitude, Ericsson nevertheless constructed for the same government, when in the throes of civil war, the famous Monitor, the iron-clad cupola vessel, and was similarly rewarded!  He afterwards invented the torpedo ship—the Destroyer—the use of which has fortunately not yet been required in sea warfare.  Ericsson still lives—constantly planning and scheming—in his house in Beach Street, New York.  He is now over eighty years old—having been born in 1803.  He is strong and healthy.  How has he preserved his vigorous constitution?  The editor of Scribner gives the answer: "The ball windows of his house are open, winter and summer, and none but open grate-fires are allowed.  Insomnia never troubles him, for he falls asleep as soon as his head touches the pillow.  His appetite and digestion are always good, and he has not lost a meal in ten years.  What an example to the men who imagine it is hard work that is killing them in this career of unremitting industry!


Ericsson's iron-clad screw warship, U.S.S. Monitor, 1862.
Picture: Wikipedia.

    To return to "Screw" Smith, after the successful trial of his little vessel at sea in the autumn of 1837.  He had many difficulties yet to contend with.  There was, first, the difficulty of a new invention, and the fact that the paddle-boat had established itself in public estimation.  The engineering and shipbuilding world were dead against him.  They regarded the project of propelling a vessel by means of a screw as visionary and preposterous.  There was also the official unwillingness to undertake anything novel, untried, and contrary to routine.  There was the usual shaking of the head and the shrugging of the shoulders, as if shrugging the inventor were either a mere dreamer or a projector eager to lay his hands upon the public purse.  The surveyor of the navy was opposed to the plan, because of the impossibility of making a vessel steer which was impelled from the stern.  "Screw" Smith bided his time; he continued undaunted, and was determined to succeed.  He laboured steadily onward, maintaining his own faith unshaken, and upholding the faith of the gentlemen who had become associated with him in the prosecution of the invention.

    At the beginning of 1838 the Lords of the Admiralty requested Mr. Smith to allow his vessel to be tried under their inspection.  Two trials were accordingly made, and they gave so much satisfaction that the adoption of the propeller for naval purposes was considered as a not improbable contingency.  Before deciding finally upon its adoption, the Lords of the Admiralty were anxious to see an experiment made with a vessel of not less than 200 tons.  Mr. Smith had not the means of accomplishing this by himself, but with the improved prospects of the invention, capitalists now came to his aid.  One of the most effective and energetic of these was Mr. Henry Currie, banker; and, with the assistance of others, the "Ship Propeller Company" was formed, and proceeded to erect the test ship proposed by the Admiralty.


Archimedes, 1839.
Picture Wikipedia.

    The result was the Archimedes, a wooden vessel of 237 tons burthen.  She was designed by Mr. Pasco, laid down by Mr. Wimshurst in the spring of 1838, was launched on the 18th of October following, and made her first trip in May 1839.  She was fitted with a screw of one turn placed in the dead wood, and propelled by a pair of engines of 80-horse power.  The vessel was built under the persuasion that her performance would be considered satisfactory if a speed was attained of four or five knots, whereas her actual speed was nine and a half knots.  The Lords of the Admiralty were invited to inspect the ship.  At the second trial Sir Edward Parry, Sir Gilliam Symonds, Captain Basil Hall, and other distinguished persons were present.  The results were again satisfactory.  The success of the Archimedes astonished the engineering world.  Even the Surveyor of the Royal Navy found that the vessel could steer!  The Lords of the Admiralty could no longer shut their eyes.  But the invention could not at once be adopted.  It must be tested by the best judges.  The vessel was sent to Dover to be tried with the best packets between Dover and Calais.  Mr. Lloyd, the chief engineer of the Navy, conducted the investigation, and reported most favourably as to the manner of her performance.  Yet several years elapsed before the screw was introduced into the service.

    In 1840 the Archimedes was placed at the disposal of Captain Chappell, of the Royal Navy, who, accompanied by Mr. Smith, visited every principal port in Great Britain.  She was thus seen by ship-owners, marine engineers, and shipbuilders in every part of the kingdom.  They regarded her with wonder and admiration; yet the new mode of navigation was not speedily adopted.  The paddle-wheel still held its own.  The sentiment, if not the plant and capital, of the engineering world, were against the introduction of the screw.  After the vessel had returned from her circumnavigation of Great Britain, she was sent to Oporto, and performed the voyage in sixty-eight and a half hours, then held to be the quickest voyage on record.  She was then sent to the Texel at the request of the Dutch Government.  She went through the North Holland Canal, visited Amsterdam, Antwerp, and other ports; and everywhere left the impression that the screw was an efficient and reliable power in the propulsion of vessels at sea.

    Shipbuilders, however, continued to "fight shy" of the screw.  The late Isambard Kingdom Brunel is entitled to the credit of having first directed the attention of shipbuilders to this important invention.  He was himself a man of original views, free from bias, and always ready to strike out a fresh path in engineering works.  He was building a large new iron steamer at Bristol, the Great Britain, for passenger traffic between England and America.  He had intended to construct her as a paddle steamer; but hearing of the success of the Archimedes, he inspected the vessel, and was so satisfied with the performance of the screw that he recommended his directors to adopt this method for propelling the Great Britain.  His advice was adopted, and the vessel was altered so as to adapt her for the reception of the screw.  The vessel was found perfectly successful, and on her first voyage to London she attained the speed of ten knots, though the wind and balance of tides were against her.  A few other merchant ships were built and fitted with the screw; the Princess Royal at Newcastle in 1840, the Margaret and Senator at Hull, and the Great Northern at Londonderry, in 1841.


Replica of Great Britain's original six-bladed propeller. [p.70-1]
Picture: Wikipedia.

    The Lords of the Admiralty made slow progress in adapting the screw for the Royal Navy.  Sir William Symonds, the surveyor and principal designer of Her Majesty's ships, was opposed to all new projects.  He hated steam power, and was utterly opposed to iron ships.  He speaks of them in his journal as "monstrous." [p.70-2]  So long as he remained in office everything was done in a perfunctory way.  A small vessel named the Bee was built at Chatham in 1841, and fitted with both paddles and the screw for the purposes of experiment.  In the same year the Rattler, the first screw vessel built for the navy, was laid down at Sheerness.  Although of only 888 tons burthen, she was not launched until the spring of 1843.  She was then fitted with the same kind of screw as the Archimedes,—that is, a double-headed screw of half a convolution.  Experiments went on for about three years, so as to determine the best proportions of the screw, and the proportions then ascertained have since been the principal guides of engineering practice.


Smith's original 1836 patent for a screw propeller of two full turns.

Smith's revised 1836 patent. This is the propeller
design originally fitted to Archimedes.

Pictures: Wikipedia.

    The Rattler was at length tried in a water tournament with the paddle-steamer Alecto, and signally defeated her.  Francis Pettit Smith, like Gulliver, may be said to have dragged the whole British fleet after him.  Were the paddle our only means of propulsion, our whole naval force would be reduced to a nullity.  Hostile gunners would wing a paddle-steamer as effectually as a sportsman wings a bird, and all the plating in the world would render such a ship a mere helpless log on the water.


In March 1845, in a tug-of-war contest, HMS Rattler towed
HMS Alecto backwards at a speed of 2 knots.

    The Admiralty could no longer defer the use of this important invention.  Like all good things, it made its way slowly and by degrees.  The royal naval authorities, who in 1833 backed the side paddles, have since adopted the screw in most of the ships-of-war.  In all long sea-going voyages, also, the screw is now the favourite mode of propulsion.  Screw ships of prodigious size are now built and launched in all the ship-building ports of Britain, and are sent out to navigate in every part of the world.  The introduction of iron as the material for shipbuilding has immensely advanced the interests of steam navigation, as it enables the builders to construct vessels of great size with the finest lines, so as to attain the highest rates of speed.

    One might have supposed that Francis Pettit Smith would derive some substantial benefit from his invention, or at least that the Ship Propeller Company would distribute large dividends among their proprietors.  Nothing of the kind.  Smith spent his money, his labour, and his ingenuity in conferring a great public benefit without receiving any adequate reward; and the company, instead of distributing dividends, lost about £50,000 in introducing this great invention; after which, in 1856, the patent-right expired.  Three hundred and twenty-seven ships patent-right vessels of all classes in the Royal Navy had then been fitted with the screw propeller, and a much larger number in the merchant service; but since that time the number of screw propellers constructed is to be counted by thousands.

    In his comparatively impoverished condition it was found necessary to do something for the inventor.  The Civil Engineers, with Robert Stephenson, M.P., in the chair, entertained him at a dinner and presented him with a handsome salver and claret jug.  And that he might have something to put upon his salver and into his claret jug, a number of his friends and admirers subscribed over £2,000 as a testimonial.  The Government appointed him Curator of the Patent Museum at South Kensington; the Queen granted him a pension on the Civil List for £200 a year; he was raised to the honour of knighthood in 1871, and three years later he died.

    Francis Pettit Smith was not a great inventor.  He had, like many others, invented a screw propeller.  But, while those others had given up the idea of prosecuting it to its completion, Smith stuck to his invention with determined tenacity, and never let it go until he had secured for it a complete triumph.  As Mr. Stephenson observed at the engineer's meeting: "Mr. Smith had worked from a platform which might have been raised by others, as Watt had done, and as other great men had done; but he had made a stride in advance which was almost tantamount to a new invention.  It was impossible to overrate the advantages which this and other countries had derived from his untiring and devoted patience in prosecuting the invention to a successful issue."  Baron Charles Dupin compared the farmer Smith with the barber Arkwright: "He had the same perseverance and the same indomitable courage.  These two moral qualities enabled him to triumph over every obstacle."  This was the merit of "Screw" Smith—that he was determined to realize what his predecessors had dreamt of achieving; and he eventually accomplished his great purpose.


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