Busk’s Navies of the World – 1859 – Britain II

This is the second part dealing with the British Navy.

Screw Gun Boats

Some 156 screw gun boats were ordered during the Crimean War. Many were badly built but a good number of these boats remained in service into the 1870s and some continued to serve much longer in private hands. The three basic types were 60, 40 and 20 NHP boats.

All 20s were of the Cheerful class, 20 built, 212 tons burthen, 100′ x 22’10” x 4’6″, 2 32-pr guns, a single-cylinder high-pressure engine producing 92ihp at 225rpm gave them a speed of 6.75 knots.

All 40s were of the Clown class, 12 built, 233 tons burthen, 110′ x 21’10” x 4′, 1 68-pr Lancaster RML gun & 1 32-pr gun, a larger single-cylinder engine produced 145ihp at 220 rpm, top speed 8 knots.

There were three quite similar sorts of 60s, 124 in all, of which the Albacore class were the most common. An Albacore class screw gun boat carried 2 68-pr Lancaster RML guns, measured 233 tons burthen and 106′ x 22′ x 6’9″. There were two different sorts of 60 NHP engines but both produced about 270 ihp at 190 rpm for a best speed of 7.5 knots.

As said, the Lancaster gun was a failure and was later replaced by the standard 68-pr 95 cwt smoothbore in those ships already armed. In peacetime ships usually carried only one gun, normally a 68-pr. Some boats carried Armstrong 40- or 110-pr RBL guns and those that lasted long enough received 64-pr RML guns.

New screw gun boats of the Britomart class followed the design of the 60s, lengthened by about 10′ and, more importantly, with a foot and half deeper draft and more freeboard for improved seaworthiness. A more v-shaped hull improved top speed to about 9 knots in a flat calm. These carried 2 68-pr guns when new and later RBL and RML guns. Dimensions 120′ x 22′ x 8′, 260 tons burthern, displacement 330 tons.

These ships sailed all round the world, although not with their guns aboard. The engines had a reputation for requiring lots of maintenance although the issue was really with the 35psi locomotive boilers. The engines themselves soldiered on long after the gun boats themselves were only a memory and some may have lasted into the 20th century. As these gunboats were paid off, the engines were reused with improved boilers in subsequent gun boats. Some later twin screw gun vessels had a 60 NHP gun boat engine driving each shaft.

Sailing Vessels

(Only sailing ships marked * were considered effective by Busk or his informants. All ships ordered converted or converting are listed under screw ships.)

Name When Built Guns Tonnage Station
Ships of the Line
Britannia 1820 120 2616 Portsmouth
Impregnable 1810 104 2406 Devonport
Hibernia 1804 104 2530 Malta
Royal Adelaide 1828 104 2446 Devonport
Princess Charlotte 1825 104 2443 Hong Kong, Receiving Ship
St Vincent 1815 102 2612 Portsmouth
Victory 1765 101 2162 Portsmouth
Superb 1842 80 2583 Chatham
Indus 1839 78 2653 Bermuda, Guard Ship
Foudroyant 1798 78 2062 Devonport, Guard Ship
Achille 1798 78 1981 Sheerness
Hindostan 1841 78 2029 Devonport
Armada 1810 74 1749 Devonport
Wellington 1816 72 1756 Devonport
Implacable 1801 72 1882 Devonport
Egmont 1810 72 1760 Portsmouth
Wellesley 1746 72 1746 Chatham, Guard Ship
Agincourt 1817 72 1747 Devonport, Receiving Ship
Sultan 1807 72 1751 Portsmouth, Receiving Ship
Canopus 1797 84 2257 Devonport
*Thunderer 1831 84 2279 Devonport
*Ganges 1821 84 2248 Pacific
*Clarence 1827 84 2288 Devonport
*Asia 1824 84 2289 Portsmouth, Guard Ship
*Monarch 1832 84 2255 Chatham
*Formidable 1829 84 2289 Sheerness
*Vanguard 1835 80 2609 Devonport
*Cumberland 1842 70 2214 South America
*Boscawen 1844 70 2212 South Africa

Many of these ships were in fact, if not in name, store and accomodation hulks. Ships of 101 guns and up were 3-deckers.

Achille, Implacable and Canopus were ex-French ships. Implacable was scuttled just after WWII in spite of requests from the great and good of Rochefort, where she was built as the Duguay-Trouin, that she should be returned there to become a museum. Canopus, built as Franklin, was probably the most copied and most influential of all the large ships captured during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

Of these ships, the 84 gun ships were the most useful and of these Bombay and Powerful were also serving in 1859 (see Screw Ships of the Line). Effective in Busk’s list does not mean in good order or fit for sea service, ineffective ships were in commission and at sea, it simply means ships retaining some military value.

Boscawen and Cumberland were the only sail battleships in commission for sea service. The 72 gun armament warrant of 1834 for these ships called for 24 32-pr 56cwt and 2 8-inch shell guns on the gun deck, 26 32-pr 48cwt and 2 8-inch on the main deck and 10 32-pr 25cwt, 2 32-pr 42cwt and 4 18-pr 10cwt carronades on the upper deck.

Name When Built Guns Tonnage Station
*Vernon 1832 50 1832 Chatham
*Indefatigable 1848 50 2044 Devonport
*Nankin 1850 50 2049 East Indies
*Chichester 1843 50 1468 Sheerness
*Worcester 1844 50 1468 Sheerness
*Flora 1844 40 1634 Devonport
*Active 1845 40 1627 Chatham
*Sybille 1847 40 1633 Devonport
*Cambrian 1842 40 1622 East Indies
*Pique 1841 40 1633 Devonport
Warspite 1807 50 unk Chatham, Razee
Vindictive 1813 50 unk Portsmouth, Razee
Gloucester 1812 50 unk Chatham, Razee
Alfred 1811 50 unk Portsmouth, Razee
Eagle 1804 50 unk Pembroke Dock, Razee
America 1809 50 unk Devonport
President 1829 50 1537 Chatham
Winchester 1822 50 1487 Chatham
Southampton 1820 50 1476 Sheerness
Lancaster 1823 50 1476 Devonport
Java 1814 50 1460 Portsmouth
Portland 1822 50 1476 Devonport
Isis 1819 44 1321 Chatham
Hotspur 1828 44 1171 Devonport
Leda 1828 44 1171 Devonport
Africaine 1828 44 1173 Chatham
Endymion 1797 44 1277 Devonport
Stag 1830 44 1218 Devonport
Maeander 1840 44 1221 Devonport
Andromeda 1829 44 1215 Devonport
Nemesis 1826 44 1128 Devonport
Unicorn 1824 42 1084 Woolwich
Trincomalee 1819 42 1066 Chatham
Thalia 1830 42 1082 Portsmouth
Hamadryad 1823 42 1082 Devonport
Fisgard 1819 42 1068 Woolwich
Clyde 1828 42 1081 Sheerness
Circe 1827 42 1079 Devonport
Cerberus 1827 42 1079 Devonport
Diana 1822 42 1083 Chatham
Minerva 1820 42 1082 Portsmouth
Mercury 1826 42 1084 Chatham
Melampus 1820 42 1089 Portsmouth
Leonidas 1807 42 1067 Sheerness
Latona 1821 42 1071 Chatham
Prosperine 1830 42 1063 Devonport
Laurel 1813 42 1088 Sheerness
Sirius 1813 42 1090 Portsmouth

The sailing frigates left in 1859 were mostly old or small or both. Apart from the few effective ships, they would have required major reconstruction to turn them into useful ships of war. Shortly after Busk wrote many of these ships were hulked or became training ships.

As a 50 gun sailing frigate Leander carried 40 32-pr and 10 8-inch guns and was 181′ x 50′. Indefatigable – and presumably her sister Nankin also – carried 28 8-inch 65cwt guns on the main deck and 22 32-pr 45cwt guns on the upper deck, measuring 2626 tons displacement, 215′ long oa, 189’6″ on the upper deck, 51’6″ beam and 16’6″ depth of hold. Vernon was the first British frigate built, as opposed to razeed, with a 32-pr main deck battery.

For smaller effective frigates, Pique and Cambrian measured 160′ x 48′ x 14′, length being measured on waterline or deck. Thetis, of similar age and rate and slightly smaller at 1560 tons bm, displaced about 1900 tons.

The small 50 gun frigates, of which only Chichester and Worcester were effective, were armed with 24-pr guns and had relegated to trade protection decades earlier. The razee 50 gun frigates were made from 74 gun 3rd rates of about 1700-1800 tons burthen and were armed with 32-pr guns on the main deck and probably with 32-pr carronades on the upper deck. They were generally better regarded the 24-pr 50s.

Most of the 42 gun frigates listed by Busk were Leda class ships. The Ledas were about 150′ long on the lower deck, 125′ on the keel, 40′ beam, displacement around 1500 tons. These were originally 18-pr frigates with 28 of these and various smaller guns and carronades. By the 1840s many of these ships were rated as 6th rate spar deck corvettes. In service Trincomalee, and presumably others, carried 26 guns including 14 32-prs. The surviving Leda class frigates Unicorn and Trincomalee are worth a visit if you are nearby. Unicorn is at Dundee http://www.frigateunicorn.org/ and Trincomalee is at Hartlepool http://www.hms-trincomalee.co.uk/. Lambert has written a book about Trincomalee and I am told that Unicorn Trust are producing on a CD of information on the ship which should be available soon.

Laurel and Sirius were 42 gun frigates which were not Ledas. They were part of the Lively class, 154′ on the lower deck, 39’5″ beam and 13’6″ depth of hold.

Name When Built Guns Tonnage Station
Corvettes and Sloops
Castor 1832 36 1293 Chatham
*Niobe 1849 28 1051 Devonport
*Diamond 1848 27 1051 Chatham
Amazon 1821 26 1078 Liverpool
Amphitrite 1816 24 1064 Devonport
Daedalus 1828 20 1083 Chatham
Brilliant 1814 20 954 Chatham
Havannah 1811 19 949 Pacific
*Amethyst 1845 26 923 Pacific
*Juno 1843 26 923 Portsmouth
Vestal 1833 26 913 Chatham
Cleopatra 1835 26 918 Chatham
*Alarm 1845 26 910 Pacific
*Iris 1841 26 906 Australia
*Creole 1845 26 911 Devonport
*Spartan 1841 26 911 Devonport
*Eurydice 1843 26 908 Chatham
Daphne 1838 18 726 Chatham
Dido 1836 18 734 Sheerness
*Calypso 1845 18 731 Pacific
*Arachne 1847 18 602 North America
*Terpsichore 1847 18 602 Chatham
*Frolic 1842 16 511 Chatham
Modeste 1837 18 562 Sheerness
Siren 1841 16 549 South America
*Camilla 1847 16 549 East Indies
*Helena 1843 16 549 Portsmouth
*Musquito 1851 16 549 Devonport
*Rover 1853 16 560 Devonport
Pilot 1838 12 485 Devonport
*Heron 1847 12 482 West Africa
*Kangaroo 1852 12 483 Devonport
*Elk 1847 12 482 Australia
Grecian 1838 12 484 Devonport
Bittern 1840 12 484 East Indies
Fantome 1859 12 483 Chatham
Persian 1839 12 484 South Africa
Acorn 1838 12 485 East Indies
*Martin 1850 12 481 Devonport
*Mariner 1846 12 481 Chatham
*Albatross 1842 12 484 Chatham
*Despatch 1851 12 483 Chatham
*Arab 1847 12 481 Chatham
Contest 1846 12 459 Portsmouth
Electra 1837 14 462 Chatham
Comus 1828 14 462 Chatham
Larne 1829 14 463 Sheerness
Champion 1824 14 456 Portsmouth
*Espiegle 1844 12 443 Sheerness
*Squirrel 1853 12 428 Devonport
*Daring 1844 12 426 Chatham
*Liberty 1850 12 428 Devonport
Hyacinth 1829 14 435 Portsmouth
Hazard 1837 14 431 Portsmouth
Favourite 1829 14 434 Devonport
Racehorse 1830 14 438 Devonport
Childers 1827 12 385 Chatham

Many corvettes and sloops became Coast Guard watch vessels, training ships and hulks in the early 1860s.

Among 6th rates, Eurydice was 141′ long and 39′ beam, armed with 2 8″ 52cwt and 16 32-pr 40cwt on the main deck and 2 32-pr 42cwt and 6 32-pr 25cwt on the quarter deck. Niobe was sold to the Prussians and Groener lists her as 1590 tons displacement, 43m29 on the waterline, 12m80 beam and 5m39 deep draft. Castor displaced 1800 tons, dimensions unknown, Brilliant about 1410 tons. Castor was originally an enlarged 44 gun frigate, but the general increase in weight of armaments meant she became a 36 armed with 32-pr guns: 22 long guns of 55cwt on the main deck and 14 17cwt carronades on the upper deck. Castor’s sister Ambuscade was renamed Amphion and converted to a screw frigate while on the stocks.

As for sloops, Musquito and Rover were also sold to Prussia and were 627 tons displacement, 34m10 long on the waterline, 10m30 beam and 4m60 draft. Champion was 110′ x 31′, originally armed with 16 32-pr and 2 9-pr carronades. Pilot class sloops, ships from Pilot to Arab inclusive in the list, were about 105′ on deck, 82′ keel x 33-34′ beam and originally armed with 16 32-pr or 14 32-pr and 2 18-pr, presumably the 32-pr guns would be 17cwt carronades or 25cwt short guns.

Name When Built Guns Tonnage Station
*Atalanta 1847 16 549 North America
*Jumna 1848 16 549 Chatham
*Kingfisher 1845 12 446 Devonport
Swift 1835 6 361 unk, Packet Brig
Ferret 1840 8 358 Devonport, Packet Brig
Heroine 1839 8 359 Devonport, Packet Brig
Crane 1839 6 359 Devonport, Packet Brig
Hound 1846 8 358 Devonport, Packet Brig
Express 1835 6 362 Devonport, Packet Brig
Sealark 1843 8 319 Portsmouth
Waterwitch 1837 8 319 Sheerness, ex-Yacht
Rattlesnake 1822 8 503 Chatham
Hercules 2 Hong Kong

The Packet Brigs of the Star class were 95′ long on the lower deck, 75′ on the keel, 30’3″ beam, 14’10” depth of hold. As Brigs they were armed with 6 or 8 32-pr guns, as packets they had carried 3 small guns.

Name WhenBuilt Guns Tonnage Station
Brigantines and Schooners
Dolphin 1836 3 319 Chatham
Bonetta 1836 3 319 Deptford
Spy 1841 3 320 South America
Kertch 155 2 94
Azov 1855 2 94 Devonport
Seaflower 1830 4 116 Portsmouth
Snipe 1828 2 122 Devonport
Gossamer 1821 48 Sheerness Hulks,
Store and Depot Ships
Carnatic 1823 72 1790 Portsmouth, Store Ship
*Calcutta 1831 84 2299 East Indies, Coal Hulk
Dreadnought 1808 120 2616 Greenwich, Hospital Ship
Imaum 1826 72 1776 Jamaica, Receiving Ship
Thisbe 1824 42 1083 Devonport, unknown service
Nereus 1821 42 1095 Valparaiso, Store Ship
Naiad 1797 42 1020 Callao, Coal Depot
Inconstant 1836 36 1422 Cork, unknown service
Tortoise 1806 12 962 Ascension Island
Resistance 1805 10 181 Chatham, Diving Bell Vessel
Crocodile 1825 8 500 Off the Tower of London
Belleisle 1819 6 1706 East Indies, Hospital Ship
Tyne 1826 4 600 Chatham, Store Ship
Atholl 4 Greenock, unknown service
Aeolus 1825 46 1035 Portsmouth, Store Ship
Minden 1810 1721 Hong Kong, Hospital Hulk
Madagascar 1822 46 1167 Rio de Janiero, Store Ship
Volage 1825 28 581 Chatham, Powder Depot
Seringapatam 1819 46 1152 South Africa, Coal Hulk
Mermaid 1825 46 1085 Woolwich, Powder Hulk
Water-rail no information
North Star 1824 28 501 Chatham, unknown service
Saturn 1786 72 unk Pembroke, Quarantine Hulk
Melville 1817 74 1768 East Indies, Hospital Ship
Africa 1803 36 946 Gibraltar, Hulk
Pallas 1816 36 951 Devonport, Coal Hulk
Conquestador 1810 50 unk Woolwich, Razee, Powder Hulk
Conway 1832 26 652 Liverpool, Training Ship
Carysfort 1836 26 911 Portsmouth, Receiving Ship
Talbot 1824 22 500 Sheerness, Powder Hulk
Dublin 1812 50 1772 Devonport, Receiving Hulk
Pitt 1816 74 1751 Portsmouth, Coal Hulk
Orestes 1824 18 460 Portsmouth, Coal Hulk
Columbine 1826 18 492 East Indies, Coal Hulk
Aigle 1801 36 990 unknown loc., Coal Hulk
Alligator 1821 28 500 unknown
Andromache 1832 28 709 Pembroke, Powder Hulk
Bacchus 1817 46 1085 Devonport, Coal Hulk
Blanche 1819 46 1074 Portsmouth, Receiving Hulk
Blonde 1819 46 1103 Portsmouth, Receiving Hulk

This is a rather incomplete list. Defying the usual fate of hulks, Calcutta was commissioned as a experimental gunnery ship at Portsmouth from 1865.

Name WhenBuilt Guns Tonnage Station
Gunnery Training Ships
Illustrious 1803 74 1746 Portsmouth, carries 26 guns
Excellent 1810 101 2289 Portsouth, carries 46 guns
Cambridge 1815 78 2139 Devonport, carries 48 guns
Queen Charlotte 1810 104 2155 Sheerness, in ordinary
Woodlark no information Woolwich
Thames 1805 65 Sheerness, Cutter
Hope 1824 Sheerness, Packet Sloop
Hart 1822 Sheerness
Gipsy 1836 Queenstown, Cutter
Adelaide 1848 140 Sierra Leone
Ceres Portsmouth
Sylph 1827 70 Devonport, Cutter
Fanny 1831 136 Portsmouth, Yacht
Mercury 1837 70 Portsmouth, Cutter
Netley 1823 8 122 North America, Cutter
Kingston 1858 109 Jamaica, Schooner
Gulnare 1855 31 Survey Cutter
Cuba Jamaica, Schooner
Rolla 1829 6 231 Portsmouth, Sloop
Nautilus 1830 6 233 Devonport, Training Ship
Cerus (Ceres ?) Portsmouth
Chatham 1813 1691 Chatham, Sheer Hulk
Badger 1808 10 240 Capetown, Mooring Vessel
Bramble 1822 10 161 Diving Bell Vessel

Mortar Vessels and Mortar Floats

Busk reports that there were 46 mortar vessels of between 120 and 170 tons burthen and 150 mortar floats. At least 56 mortar vessels and 50 floats were built during the Crimean War, others were bought or converted from harbour service craft. The most common type of mortar vessel was of 166 tons burthen, 75′ long, 23’4″ beam and 9’4″ depth of hold. The initial type of float, built in iron, was 60′ long, 20′ beam and 5’8″ draft. Both carried a 13-inch sea service mortar fixed at 45 degrees elevation, range being altered by varying the charge. The mortar shell weighed 196lb 12oz and ranged to 4200yds with a 20lb charge. A shell took 31 seconds to cover that distance.


Ship Design

Surveyor Sir Baldwin Walker responsible for setting out the design of ships with Asssistant Surveyors John Edye and Isaac Watts doing the technical work with their assistants. Watts and Edye were experienced shipwrights, Walker an experienced sea officer and former commander of the Ottoman Navy. Engineering design was the responsibility of Chief Engineer Thomas Lloyd, his assistants and the civilian contractors who built the engines. Construction and detailed design work was the province of the Master Shipwrights in the dockyards. In April 1859, these were Richard Abethell at Portsmouth, James Peake at Portsmouth, H. Cradock at Pembroke, Oliver W. Lang at Chatham, William Henwood at Sheerness, W.M. Rice at Woolwich and H. Chatfield at Deptford. Excepting Walker, who did not design ships, Edye and the younger Lang, these men were all graduates of the School of Naval Architecture. Lang had received a comparable technical and scientific education privately from his father. Only Edye fits the received image of the self-taught Victorian engineer.

Walker retired, returning to sea service, in 1861. Edye too retired at about that time. The Surveyorship was abolished with Rear-Admiral Robert Spencer Robinson as Controller effectively replacing Walker. Isaac Watts became the first Chief Constructor, a post which later became the Director of Naval Construction. Watts was followed by Edward James Reid in 1863 and Reed’s brother-in-law Nathaniel Barnaby headed the constructors corps from 1870 to 1885.

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

British ships usually, but not always, underwent measured mile speed trials before their engines were accepted. It is often asserted that measured mile trials have no relation to speed at sea. In fact, at least as far as larger ships were concerned, speeds on the measured mile and speeds on the occasional longer trials, hours and sometimes days at sea, were remarkably similar. But for small ships, sea speeds in the North Atlantic or the Channel would be a great deal less than those achieved in sheltered waters.

The Admiralty employed builders old measurement to indicate the tonnage of their ships well into the ironclad age. Unfortunately, unless someone actually measured the displacement of a ship, there is no way to relate burthen to displacement.

Nominal horse power were employed to order engines and to describe ships. Although the indicated horse power was in no way directly related to the nominal power, experience with different contractors gave a good idea of the indicated power that could be expected. Price was closely related to nominal power. Circa 1860, machinery was said by Busk to weigh around 14cwt per nominal horse power and Meade gave the same rule of thumb in 1869. For large simple expansion engines, say 500 NHP and up, this appears to work well, but it does not give accurate results for small simple expansion engines nor for compound engines.

Useful Trivia

Brown gives a table of data, usually only found in Groener’s encyclopedia, showing tons per one inch increase in displacement at the load line for various sorts of ships. For circa 1840 ships, the values were as follows : 120 gun, 24 tons; 80 gun, 21.5 tons; 74 guns, 17.75 tons; 50 gun razee frigate, 17 tons; 52 gun frigate, 16 tons; 46 gun frigate, 16 tons; 26 gun razee corvette, 11.5 tons; 28 gun frigate, 7.5 tons; 18 gun corvette, 7 tons; 18 gun gun brig, 5.75 tons; 10 gun gun brig, 4.5 tons; schooner, 3.5 tons; cutter, 2.75 tons; 92 gun ship London, 23.5 tons; 36 gun frigate Castor, 14.7 tons; 50 gun frigate Vernon, 18.5 tons; 18 gun corvette Rover, 7.25 tons; 16 gun sloop Snake, 5.75 tons. Also, the paddle frigate Penelope, 20 tons per inch at load displacement.

For line of battle ships, shot and powder at 100 rounds per gun weighed less than guns and carriages. But for small ships the actual weight of guns and carriages was less, sometimes much less, than the weight of powder and shot.


The Admiralty neither made nor developed artillery until long after the ironclad period had ended. Until 1856 that was done for both services by the Ordnance and afterwards by the Ordnance Board of the War Office. Those guns referred to as shell guns were, so far as the Ordnance were concerned, howitzers although naval sources usually only use this word to describe smaller 12- and 24-pr field howitzers aboard ships. Since there were no naval guns as such, the same basic weapons were used ashore and afloat, up to and including the 68-pr and the 10-inch howitzer or shell gun, with only very minor differences between land and sea service guns.

The main smooth bore guns in 1859 and afterwards were 32-pr, 8- and 10-inch pieces.

32-pr weapons included:

9’6″ long guns, 6.41-inch, weighing 63, 58 and 56 hundredweights, with the 58cwt gun being the standard piece;
9′ long guns, 6.41-inch, weighing 50cwt, both new guns and bored-up 24-prs;8′ long guns, 6.35-inch, weighing 42cwt for new pieces and 41cwt for bored up guns;6′ long guns, 6.3-inch, weighing 25cwt for new guns and for bored-up 18-prs;
4′ long carronades, 6.25-inch, weighing 17cwt.

As well as 32-pr solid shot all 32-pr guns could fire 26lb shell although the scale of issue is unknown. Grape shot was issued at a scale of less than one round in forty aboard a 3-decker and probably even fewer on smaller ships.

8-inch guns included:

10′ long, 8.12-inch, 68-pr guns, 95cwt for new guns and 112cwt for most old ones;9′ long, 8.05-inch, shell guns weighing 65cwt;8′ long, 8.05-inch, shell guns weighing 52cwt.

Solid shot weighed 67-72lbs, hollow shot 56lb and shell 50lb. To begin with, 8-inch shell guns were issued with about 5 hollow shot for every 3 shells on a 3-decker and half each in everything smaller. The 8-inch shell guns were sometimes referred to as 68- or 56-pr guns and could fire 68-pr solid shot with reduced charges. If the weight of the piece is quoted there can be no confusion. If not, a broadside battery of “68-pr” guns almost certainly means 65cwt shell guns rather than 95cwt solid shot guns. The certain exceptions to this rule were a few very large ships such as Mersey, Orlando and early armoured frigates.

The only other large smooth bore gun found afloat by 1859 was the 10-inch shell gun. The 10′ long version weighed about 85cwt and the shorter version about 67cwt. These may have been referred to as 98-pr guns and were called 84-pr guns in some reports. They fired hollow shot weighing 84lbs and shell weighing 80lbs. The calibre is reported as 10 inches, but 9.5 inches seems rather more likely, especially if the 10-inch 85cwt is the otherwise mysterious 98-pr. Measuring a gun, or the plans for one, would settle the matter.

The 56-pr 7.65-inch 97cwt and 42-pr 7-inch 84cwt guns and the 42-pr 22cwt and 68-pr 36cwt carronades had seen little use in the 1850s and saw none later. Tucker, relying on General Douglas, says that the 56-pr was a very popular weapon but that is simply not borne out by the evidence unless Douglas meant the 8-inch shell gun rather than Monk’s solid shot piece that Tucker thinks he meant. Some 18- and 24-pr long guns and carronades were in still use but most had been converted to 32-prs or melted down for scrap. The only sea service mortar was the 13-inch of 101cwt already described.

HMS Excellent’s firing trials against the old 74 Leviathan and canvas screen targets in 1847 gave the following results, with the firing at 1500 & 2000 yards being from shore and the longer ranges from HMS Excellent: the average for all guns at 1500 yards was 75% hits and at 2000 yards 45%; at 2500 yards 32-pr solid shot with 10 lb charges, 56-pr solid shot with 14lb charges and 68-pr solid shot with 14 or 15lb charges got 25% hits and at 3000 yards 11-12%; 8- and 10-inch hollow shot with 10 and 12 lb charges respectively and 32-pr shot with 7 or 8 lb charges got 22% hits at 2500 yards and 8-9% at 3000 yards. The accuracy of shell was about 25% lower at all ranges. Further, a significant proportion of time-fuzed shell shell did not explode after passing through the sides of a ship.

These figures represent firing in near ideal conditions with crack crews. In 1980, the accuracy of a modern stabilised high-velocity naval gun fell to one-third of the ideal in moderate seas. For low-velocity mid-C19th guns, the reduction would be very much greater. If we consider shell guns fired at sea, at 3000 yards there would be around 6-7% chance of hitting a 74-sized target in a flat calm and nearer 2% in any sort of seaway. As for smaller guns, a 24-pr long gun would be unlikely to penetrate the sides of a modern wooden battleship at ranges of half a mile.

Congreve rockets were used aboard some small paddle steamers and on ships’ boats. These were augmented by similar Boxer rockets in the 1860s and very shortly afterwards the spun Hale rocket replaced the Boxer and the Congreve. For details of British service rockets see http://www.rockets.org.uk/.

The Armstrong rifled breech loading gun had been selected by the War Office as a replacement for smoothbore muzzle loading pieces. The Armstrong guns appeared in sizes from 6- to 110-pr, of which the smallest and largest were the least successful. The 7-inch 110-pr was of built up contruction. All sea service guns weighed 82cwt and the bore was 14 calibres long. The rifling had 76 groves with a twist of one turn in 37 calibres. Initially, the only ammunition provided was 102lb segment shell which could be fired with or without a 3lb 2oz bursting charge. Later natures included solid shot of about 110lb, 12 inches long, common shell of 106lb, 18 inches long and 67lb case shot. The range and accuracy of the gun was good so long as the barrel was kept scrupulously clean, otherwise it rapidly became a smooth bore piece. The gun barrels were strongly built but the breech mechanism was complex and very far from sailor-proof.

The most common Armstrong afloat was the 40-pr, rather more useful and reliable than it’s larger siblings. The 4.75-inch 40-pr weighed 32cwt, 35cwt in later guns with improved breech, and was 10′ long. The bore was 22 calibres long with 56 grooves. Segment shell weighed 39lb, solid shot 41lb, common shell and case shot 31lb.

The 3.75-inch 20-pr 15cwt was used on many smaller ships. The less common 13cwt model was a boat gun for large launches. The 3-inch 12-pr of 8cwt, 28 calibres long for early guns and 24 for later ones, was issued for smaller launches while the lighter horse artillery 3-inch 9-pr of 6cwt was standard for barges and pinnaces. The 9- and 12-pr guns were also used with landing parties as was the 2.5-inch 6-pr 3cwt pack gun which had turned out to be too heavy for the average mule. For the smaller guns only common and segment shell were produced, case effect being produced by setting the time fuzes to zero. For any ship not issued with Armstrongs, boats might carry 12- or 24-pr carronades, 6-pr brass field guns or 24-pr field howitzers.

Armstrong’s RML “Shunt” guns were not used in any significant number and neither was the 6.4-inch 70-pr (63cwt ?) RBL. Whitworth’s hexagonal bore rifled guns were not used at all, nor were any Blakely guns or any rifled howitzers. Somerset 100- and 156-pr guns were introduced as a stop-gap while rifled muzzle-loading guns were developed and neither was ever very common.

Merchant Shipping, Machinery, Shipbuilding, Iron, Steel & Coal

The British Empire’s merchant marine was the largest in the world, around half a million tons larger than the American one if US inland shipping is included, over twice as large when only oceangoing tonnage is considered. As already mentioned, claims that the US merchant marine as collapsed as a result of the Civil War completely ignore the vast fleets of American ships on the lakes and rivers.

The United Kingdom had 4.2 million gross tons of sailing ships registered in 1860 and 454 thousand tons of steamers, with another 1.1 million tons of sailing ships and 46 thousand tons of steamers registered in British possessions. Sailing tonnage rose slightly through 1870 and then fell off, the tonnage of steamers roughly doubled every decade from 1860 to 1890 and doubled again between 1890 and 1910. In 1859, the British led in building seagoing merchant steamers. They certainly did not lead in steamers as a whole and American sailing merchant ships were probably superior to British ones so long as sail remained important.

The Royal Navy did not built engines, private industry supplies naval requirements. There were large workshops for repair at Woolwich and other navy yards. In 1859, John Penn and Maudslay, Son & Field were the favoured contractors for large engines. Penn specialised in trunk engines, Maudslay in return connecting rod ones. Among the other engine builders, Humphreys, Tennant & Dyke were probably the next most favoured and preferred direct acting engines. Of the shipbuilders, only Napiers & Scotts did much business supplying engines for other people’s warships. British machinery powered Russian, Turkish, Danish, Prussian, Italian, Spanish and even some French warships.

As a matter of policy, the Admiralty tried to avoid ordering large ships from private shipyards. The dockyards at Pembroke Dock, Portsmouth, Devonport, Chatham, Sheerness, Woolwich and Deptford were large and well equipped although none had any experience of building iron ships. The Admiralty made much use of steam power and machinery in working these yards, including ordering some early steam traction engines to work at Woolwich. The overseas bases at Cork (aka Queenstown), Malta, Gibraltar, Bermuda, Jamaica, Capetown, Antigua, Halifax, Quebec, Trincomalee, Bombay and Kingston on Lake Ontario included a Master Shipwright among the staff, but none built any significant ships in this period.

There was a large private shipbuilding industry and many smaller ships were ordered from private yards. The Thames shipbuilders faced rising competition from the newer industries on Clyde, the Tyne & Tees and the Mersey, but it was still the most important area in 1859 so far as the Admiralty were concerned. The two largest shipbuilding companies were the Scott Russell yard, later the Millwall Iron Works, and the Thames Iron Works, formerly Ditchburn & Mare. Scott Russell’s yard employed over 4000 workers, covered 27 acres and had a frontage of 1900′. Thames was slightly smaller. Both of these yards produced their own iron although Thames Iron did not have a large rolling mill.

Away from the Thames, Rogerson on the Tyne owned an iron works at Consett which supplied his yard and it’s 11 or 12 building berths. The Laird Brothers yard on the Mersey covered 19 acres and included a rolling mill, a 410′ dry dock and half a dozen building slips. Napiers on the Clyde were of similar size. Other major iron shipbuilders included J & G Thompson, Connel, Palmers, Mitchell, Mare and the Samuda Brothers. Some of the Mersey builders, led by Jones & Quiggin, experimented with building ships from Bessemer semi-steel in the early 1860s although naval use of steel was very limited. Mitchell & Swan, whose yard was later bought by Armstrong, owned a shipyard in St Petersburg. Wigrams and Greens were the last of the old wooden warship builders of the Napoleonic Wars still doing much work for the Admiralty. Of major iron founders, only Fawcett, Preston & Co were involved in ship building by this time. The only major late Victorian & Edwardian naval shipyards which did not exist in some form in 1859 appear to be Vickers’ Barrow yard and Yarrows.

British iron and steel led the world, output being about four times as large as the next country – France – and over twice as large as the combined output of France and the USA. Over one-third of the iron was exported. Germany, the Netherlands, France and the United States accounted for three quarters of the pig iron exports and the United States took a quarter of the bar and railroad iron exported. Britain’s lead in steel over France was considerably less than for iron. Britain producing about 60,000 tons and France about 30,000 tons. By way of comparison, the US produced about 10,000 tons and imported more than that from Britain.

Britain produced more coal than any other country by a large margin, around 80 million tons. Apart from the USA, with plentiful supplies of excellent Pennsylvania anthracite, most significant naval powers relied on British sources for good steam coal at this time. This was a matter that particularly worried the French. Poor quality steam coal would turn even the best of steamers into a plodder and make the lives of engineers and stokers a misery. Trial speeds and other best reported speeds would always have been achieved burning good quality anthracite coal.

This pretty much concludes the series at this point. Note that Busk is available from second-hand booksellers and at a reasonable price. There may be some future pieces on the Chinese Navy of the time, depending in how energetic I feel about the research. As ever, if you see anything that doesn’t make sense, please let me know and I will pass the questions/comments on to Angus.

If you came to this page directly (not through Thomo’s Hole), then clicking here will take you to Thomo’s Hole. If you came here via the Hole, however, then just close this window and you should be back at the Hole.

One thought on “Busk’s Navies of the World – 1859 – Britain II

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.