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.

naval architecture in iron, and of gunnery, [we hope] that our men-o’-war will still be constructed to look as much as possible like ships’. This article was not just interested in appearances, but also 1 ‘The successful launch of the Warrior’, The Times 23818 (1 January 1861), 7. 2 ‘Iron ships’, Engineer 10 (26 October 1860), 275 – 6, esp. 275. 90 Shaping the Royal Navy 3.1  HMS Warrior, artist unknown (1872) in the prospects of the sailor in these ships that seemed to resemble scenes from Britain’s growing urban industrial cities more than the history

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, technology, and experience aboard the USS Monitor (Baltimore, MD, 2000), 7–12. 272 Shaping the Royal Navy institutional authority of their makers.4 It has brought to light the activities, backgrounds, concerns and skills of a group of actors who literally shaped the Royal Navy; and rather than taking them for granted, it has examined their authority to act by resurrecting controversies and has recovered the politics of ship design. Through this contextual approach it has shed new light on the history of naval architecture. It has followed naval architects through the

in Shaping the Royal Navy

his ships. An officer on Symonds’s HMS Vernon places his faith in the controversial ship.2 HMS Vernon was one of Captain William Symonds’s first ships built for the Royal Navy. When she was laid down he was neither a member nor a trusted associate of the Navy Board that controlled naval shipbuilding. By the time she began her trials, he had been given unprecedented authority over naval ship design. 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

in Shaping the Royal Navy

2 Steam and the management of naval architecture During your tenure of office the Royal Navy has been converted from a sailing to a screw navy, and the efficient vessels of every class which now constitute the screw navy, bear testimony to the skill and intelligence which have been successfully bestowed on this most important subject. W.G. Romaine, Secretary to the Admiralty, congratulates Baldwin Walker on his tenure as Surveyor of the Navy.1 The Royal Dockyard of Portsmouth is well worthy of a visit. To me it was an object of peculiar interest. I had only

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many hopes are centred gliding with swanlike grace into the water.’4 The Dreadnought fast became a powerful cultural symbol, a signifier of 1 Reginald H. Bacon, From 1900 onwards (London, 1940), 17–18. 2 ‘Admiral Fisher’, Review of Reviews 41 (February 1910), 114 –26, esp. 116. 3 ‘The “Dreadnought” ’, Engineering 81 (9 February 1906), 187. 4 ‘The King and the Dreadnought’, The Times 37915 (12 February 1906), 4. 236 Shaping the Royal Navy 7.1  ‘The First Photographs of the Model for the World’s Navies’ technological modernity and imperial might (Figure 7

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spectators by Victoria’s now customary avoidance of public ceremony. The Admiralty ensured that the event befitted the occasion, dressing the ships in flags, manning the topsides with bluejackets and the upper works with marines. Onlookers, including representatives of the aristocracy, 1 Thomas Brassey, The British Navy (5 vols., Cambridge, 1882, rpnt 2010), IV:42. 2 ‘An experimental warship’, Engineer (3 May 1889), 375 – 6. 198 Shaping the Royal Navy Parliament and the German imperial navy, observed the spectacle and reflected on the contemporary debates regarding

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which to ground your building system. Viscount Palmerston exhibits his knowledge of hydrodynamics in an 1845 speech in the House of Commons.1 To many readers, Viscount Palmerston’s speech on the problems that faced Britain’s warship designers will be as surprising as the Victorian Prime Minister was informed. It should not be so. Naval construction and ship design were frequently the subjects of parliamentary speeches, newspaper articles and periodical 1 ‘Supply – the Navy estimates’, Hansard 78 (31 March 1845), 1290 –1. 2 Shaping the Royal Navy essays

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judge of ship performance, deserving of government authority to direct the design of a sea-going turret ship. In a series of articles in the Tory publication Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Captain Sherard Osborn analysed the recent history of material change in the Royal Navy, and highlighted Coles’s turret system as essential to the continued reconstruction of the Navy.3 Osborn had a public profile, thanks to popular publications on John Franklin’s Arctic expedition and his own service in China. He was appointed to Captain Coles’s first experiment with turrets, HMS

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problem of the highest order, with which few men could deal, but fortunately the scientific was by far the strongest side of the committee, which comprised the name of Sir William Thomson, Dr. Woolley, Professor Rankine, and Mr. Froude. Engineering emphasises the scientific nature of the design problems facing the Royal Navy.2 On 12 July 1871 the latest addition to the Royal Navy was launched at Portsmouth. The usual launch ceremony drew the local population to cast their eyes over a most unusual specimen of naval architecture. The popular press understood HMS

in Shaping the Royal Navy