Technology, authority and naval architecture, c.1830 –1906

The nineteenth-century Royal Navy was transformed from a fleet of sailing wooden walls into a steam powered machine. This book provides the first cultural history of technology, authority and the Royal Navy in the years of Pax Britannica. It brings to light the activities, backgrounds, concerns and skills of a group of actors who literally shaped the Royal Navy. The book demonstrates the ways in which naval architects shaped naval thinking about ship design and influenced how ships were employed in active service. The 1830 Whig government's Board of Admiralty abolished the Tory-controlled Navy Board and appointed Symonds to oversee many of its duties and made the self-fashioning of the enlightened 'sailor-designer' identity a priority. The book focuses on the implications of steam for the management of naval architecture. The shaping of the Warrior and the introduction of iron into the British warship took place against the backdrop of projecting naval power and actors building credibility for new materiel. HMS Captain fully represented Cowper Coles's ideas of what a turret ship should be, and her launch the culmination of over ten years' effort, to secure what he considered an ideal trial for demonstrating his design ideas. The Royal Sovereign was one of the Royal Navy's first warships built under the 1889 Naval Defence Act, which provided £21.5 million for ten battleships, thirty-eight cruisers and other smaller vessels. The Navy is one of the most historically significant, and yet singularly neglected, institutions in the history of technology and war.

Governing science in the Royal Navy

The first decades of the twentieth century were marked by the establishment of a number of new institutions and means of governing scientific research in Britain. In July 1915 the Board of Invention and Research (BIR) was formed by the Admiralty to focus the ‘scientific and inventive powers of the country’ on war work. The formation of a dedicated scientific board, directly connected to the naval service, could be read as part of this trend towards greater state patronage of research and the growing institution of government science, but by September 1917 the decision had been was made to abolish the BIR. In its brief existence the BIR’s culture of governance shifted through its internal transformations, interactions with existing Admiralty technical departments and connections with an expanding state infrastructure for invention and research. This chapter follows these shifts to show that there was nothing inevitable about how invention and research were institutionalised and governed in the opening decades of the twentieth century.

in Scientific governance in Britain, 1914–79
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This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book draws out the politics of naval architecture, authority and technology in nineteenth-century Britain by using the motif of ship design. It examines the design and trials of HMS Vernon, one of William Symonds's most controversial vessels. The book examines the reconstructions of the Royal Navy, restoring them to the flows and currents of nineteenth-century history without treating them as simple products of contemporary politics and strategy. It also examines the ways in which ship designers, politicians and engineers shaped the history of steam in the Navy. The book explores the tensions between naval administrators and a group of ship designers and men of science who increasingly identified with the title 'naval architect'.

in Shaping the Royal Navy

This chapter unravels the professional, political and social threads to examine the cultures of authority and judgement within which the ships of the Royal Navy were shaped and careers were made. It examines William Symonds's authority by first investigating the claims that actors made both in support and in opposition to his appointment. It secondly analyses how Admiralty officials and MPs judged those claims in relation to the Vernon. The First Lord of the Admiralty possessed an official yacht, which from 1815 was registered with the Royal Yacht Club (RYC). The self-fashioning of the enlightened 'sailor-designer' identity was a priority. The 1830 Whig government's Board of Admiralty abolished the Tory-controlled Navy Board and appointed Symonds to oversee many of its duties. These reforms were among a number that James Graham, the Whig First Lord of the Admiralty, made to the Admiralty's structure.

in Shaping the Royal Navy

This chapter focuses exclusively on the implications of steam for the management of naval architecture. Steam is 'the great reformer of our century', stated an 1859 article on the Navy in Chambers. Personal and political tensions were rife, which has important implications for our understanding of the introduction of steam into the Royal Navy. The chapter examines the concerns of the actors involved in the management of naval architecture, locating the introduction of steam within a larger debate over what were the 'correct' principles of ship design. Ship designers, administrators and politicians increasingly talked about managing naval architecture in terms of 'principles' and 'systems', exploring which principles ensured conversion to steam at the least cost and waste of material and labour. The twin concerns with Symonds's record as Surveyor and the challenges of building steam warships dominated shipbuilding discussion in the second half of the 1840s.

in Shaping the Royal Navy

This chapter traces how naval architects working in distinct geographies developed a sense of profession in order to lay claim to authority over iron shipbuilding in the Royal Navy. Iron and ironclad ships had been employed in the merchant navy and in a limited way in the Royal Navy. Many of Britain's shipbuilders had a commercial stake of some kind in the reconstruction of the Royal Navy. In the early 1860s members of the Institution of Civil Engineers, specifically John Hawkshaw and George Bidder, turned their attention to the problems of designing and constructing iron steamships. In 1860, John Scott Russell and Joseph Woolley formed the Institution of Naval Architects (INA), with which they sought to patrol the boundaries of their profession and promote its authority. Russell specifically favoured those who used experiments to generate new knowledge of ship behaviour and guide their design work.

in Shaping the Royal Navy

This chapter explores number of important aspects of the topic, the Captain Catastrophe, relating to public experiments in naval architecture and the politics of authority. John Scott Russell used the tragic news of the shipwreck to reveal the powerful political authority at work in the ship's construction. Nineteenth-century naval architects, engineers and mathematicians cast doubt on the testimonies of naval officers by examining how the physical experience of the ship at sea gave illusionary and misleading visual observations. Lairds of Birkenhead had significant experience with turret warships, having constructed two vessels for the Confederate Navy, in defiance of the British position of neutrality in the American Civil War. The lobbying efforts of Cowper Coles and his associates throughout the 1860s drove the political construction. The Admiralty continued to investigate Coles's ideas and placed an order with Joseph Samuda's London yard for HMS Prince Albert, a coastal defence turret ship.

in Shaping the Royal Navy

By 1873, distrust within the service and parliamentary intrigue over the Devastation had become a source of great embarrassment to the Admiralty Board. Opposition to model testing within the scientific community was largely based on the absence of a proof or past success with modelling. The committee of designs, formed in January 1871, was charged with investigating the Admiralty's previous warship designs and its future construction policy. Naval officers questioned the value of Froude's model science, doubting, as they did, that there was a relationship between the behaviour of models in a test tank and of ships at sea. The key to Barnaby and White's conciliatory approach in publicising and disseminating knowledge about naval science was that they simultaneously taught content and context. The success of the Devastation's trial gave a boost to the authority of naval architects and engineers within the Admiralty.

in Shaping the Royal Navy

The Royal Sovereign linked contemporary imperial politics with Britain's naval past and ongoing questions about ship design. The management of ship design, construction and repair by naval officers ensured that the authority of naval architects remained limited in the Royal Dockyards. Engineering science, and in particular the engineering science of naval architecture, was a young profession with practitioners who were explicitly concerned with their 'social mobility on both personal and professional levels'. The events between the launch of the Devastation and that of the Royal Sovereign had highlighted the potential for further uses of engineering knowledge. The design of the Royal Sovereign met with heavy criticism from the pen of former Chief Constructor Edward James Reed. Philip Colomb, who was one of the most vocal members of the historical school in the Royal Navy, believed that the Royal Sovereign was a sailor's ship.

in Shaping the Royal Navy

This chapter focuses on actors' networks and their contingent actions, to provide an alternative study of Fisher and the Dreadnought. Under Fisher, naval architects, engineers and naval officers interested in scientific and engineering problems gained a powerful patron and enjoyed a greater role in the shaping of the Royal Navy. The history of the Dreadnought serves to reconsider Fisher's role less that of a 'visionary' than of a manager of an expansive network that took action to re-engineer British naval power. The introduction of the Selborne scheme and the design of the Dreadnought reveal the ways in which engineering knowledge and skills were increasingly entangled with the production of both materiel and personnel in the Navy. In The steam engine, James Alfred Ewing, professor of mechanisms and applied mechanics at Cambridge University, noted that indicators had been developed to work with the specific mechanics of reciprocating engines.

in Shaping the Royal Navy