Busk’s Navies of the World – 1859 – Northern Europe

Hans Busk wrote a book entitled “Navies of the World” in 1859. This book was reprinted twice, in the 1950’s and as a facsimile of the original in 1974. It provides possibly one of the best discussions and descriptions of early modern navies, covering as it does the navies in transition from the wooden wall, the ship of the line with a number of broadside cannons to the turreted vessels of the 20th Century. Angus McLellan has provided a summary of the contents of the book and this summary is presented across a number of parts. Note that the Downloads Section of Thomo’s Hole has ALL the parts combined into two PDF files.

This third part then deals with the Navies of Norther Europe circa 1859.

Hans Busk’s “Navies of the World” was based on the world naval situation in 1859, or on those parts of it that Busk thought would help his case for an even bigger Royal Navy, official support for the volunteer movement and an enlarged Militia. The first two did happen, but it’s unlikely that Busk deserves blame or credit for this turn of events. This is a further section on the review of this information, this time dealing with the Navies of Northern Europe.

If there are any obvious errors, or things that don’t make any sense, please don’t hesitate to ask or to let me know and I’ll pass your comments and questions on to Angus.

The Russian Empire

In 1859, Russia was backward, corrupt and inefficient, ruled by an absolute monarch. Serfdom was widespread and not abolished until 1861. Finland was a separate Grand Duchy ruled by the Russian Emperor and was much more like Sweden than Russia. In Finland almost all adults were literate, in Russia almost none were. The Russian Admiralty faced enormous difficulties of climate and geography in their attempts to create an effective navy, and it’s unlikely that they succeeded in doing so. Russian industry was extremely backward apart from some foreign transplants and a few facilities belonging to the state, most in the region of St Petersburg. The main navy yards were also at St Petersburg and there were several significant private shipyards there and in Finland.

Busk lists the Russian fleet as follows.

Sailing Vessels

    12 Ships of the line
    7 Frigates
    7 Corvettes
    7 Brigs
    11 Schooners
    7 Xebecs
    5 Luggers
    3 Clippers
    4 Yachts
    15 Transports
    7 Barques

For a total of 85 ships


7 Screw ships of the line
11 Screw frigates
12 Screw corvettes
1 Screw lugger
41 Vessels of various kinds
1 Tender

For a total of 73 ships Grand total, 158.

In addition to the above, the Russians have a considerable number of row gun boats and screw gun vessels.

The “considerable number” of screw gun boats meant about 80. There were also a number of armoured rafts left over from the Crimean War, similar to the structure built by South Carolina forces for the attack on Fort Sumter. The “vessels of various kinds” included quite large ships such paddle frigates and corvettes of up to 1900 tons. The Russian paddle frigate Vladimir of 1848 had fought in what may be the first combat between steamships when she engaged the Turkish paddle frigate Pervaz Bahri in 1853. The first Russian screw frigate, the Archimedes of 23 guns, was commissioned into the Baltic Fleet in 1849.

Most of the steam ships and some of the sailing ones are mentioned in Conways. Russian steam battleships are covered briefly by Lambert although there is no mention of armaments. In the sailing battlefleet, large Russian three-decker sailing ships such as the Dvenatsat Apostolov and Tri Sviatitelia carried a very heavy armament with 72-prs on the gun deck, 36-prs on the middle and main decks and 24-pr carronades on the upper deck.

Gangut, an 84-gun ship which fought in the last great battle of the sail era at Navarino, was converted to steam in 1856. In 1848 she carried 72-prs on the gun deck, 36-prs on the main deck, with short 36-prs, possibly shell guns, on the upper deck. The slightly smaller Prokhor was planned to convert to steam like her sister Orel, but this was cancelled due to the requirement for armoured frigates. At some point Prokhor carried 6 60-prs, 26 36-prs, 32 24-prs, 4 24-pr howitzers, perhaps boat guns, and 16 24-pr carronades. It would be a reasonable guess that the 60-prs and 36-prs were on the gun deck, the 24-pr long guns on the main deck and the rest on the upper deck.

Russian gun powder had a poor reputation. A Russian 24-pr gun fired shot weighing 22 English lbs while a 36-pr fired 32lb 8oz shot, so Russian pounds were about 10% lighter than English ones.

The Russian merchant marine may have been quite large in 1860, perhaps half a million tons. Many of the ships were Finnish built, owned and crewed.

There’s a short history of the Imperial Navy here :- http://www.neva.ru/EXPO96/book/

There was a 300th anniversary history published by the Russian Navy League in 1996. I believe the English version was called “The Navy of the Russian Empire”. It’s not much for technical detail, but it is beautifully illustrated, mainly from the collections of the Russian Navy Archives and Museum at St Petersburg. A coffee table book, but a very interesting one.

Sweden & Norway

Norway had a fast growing sailing merchant fleet, a quarter million tons in 1850, half a million in 1860, a million in 1870 and a million and a half by 1880. The Swedish merchant marine was smaller, perhaps half a million tons or so in 1860, and hardly grew at all in overall tonnage. Some Swedish industries, especially those to do with high quality iron, were advanced, but overall Sweden was not really an industrial nation, Norway even less so.


The Swedish part of the navy is listed as follows.

Ships of the line

2 Screw steamers (300 to 350 horse power), 80 to 62 guns
5 Sailing, 80 to 62 guns
1 Building, 80 to 62 guns


1 Screw steam, building (400 horse power), 60 to 22 guns.
5 Sailing, 60 to 32 guns


3 Steam (300 to 400 horse power)
5 Sailing, 24 to 18 guns
1 Gun brig
7 Schooners and instruction brigs

Gun boats

2 Screw steam
6 Screw steam, building
13 Sailing schooners, rigged
76 Large class (to row)
122 Smaller class (to row)
8 Mortar vessels
3 Armed steam vessels (140 to 60 horse power)
5 Unarmed steam vessels
25 Small sailing vessels
21 Transports

The screw steam ships of the line were the Stockholm and Karl XIV Johan, detailed by Lambert. The sailing ships Gustav den Storre and Skandinavien were ordered converted to steam in 1855 but this was cancelled in 1858. Skandinavien was the line ship under construction and the sailing battlefleet comprised the Gustav den Store, Karl XIII, Forsiktigheten, Prins Oskar, Manligheten and (according to Conways) Faderneslandet. Some of these were veryold. Manligheten was laid down in 1785, Forsiktigheten in 1799. Gustav den Store was laid down in 1832 and paid off in 1870. She displaced 2370 tons, was 53m66 long, 14m82 beam and 6m31 draft. She was armed with 28 24-pr guns, 28 18-pr guns, 10 6-pr guns and 10 24-pr carronades.

The screw frigate was the Vanadis and the details are in Conwatys. The sailing frigates were the Norrkoping, Josefine, af Chapman, Desiree, Eugenie & Goteborg. Josefine was launched in 1834 and paid off in 1876, she displaced 1220 tons, was 46m38 long, 12m37 beam, 5m17 draft and was armed with 26 24-pr guns on the gun deck and 14 24-prs, 8 guns and 6 carronades, on the upper deck. Norrkoping was launched in 1858, displaced 1440 tons, was 46m96 long, 12m37 beam and 5m64 draft, armed with 4 6.81-inch shell guns and 20 30-pr guns.

The steam corvettes were the screw ships Gefle & Oradd and the paddle steamer Thor, the sail corvettes were Lagerbielke, Svalan, Jaramas, Najaden and Karlskrona. The gun brig was probably the af Wirsen. Gefle displaced 1280 tons, was 52m50 long, 9m80 beam and 5m10 draft, speed 9 knots. Her armament is give as 2 5.63-inch RBL guns and 6 4.1-inch RML, although at what date between 1848 and 1890 this armament was carried is not stated. Thor was reconstructed in 1861-1862, before then she displaced 800 tons, was 44m50 long, 9m80 beam and 4m40 draft, speed about 9 knots. Her armament is listed as 2 7.62-inch shell guns, 2 24-pr carronades and 2 small carronades.

The screw steam gun boats were the Hogland and Svensksund, 180 tons, 29m39 long, 6m65 beam and 2m09 draft, speed 8 knots, armed with 2 7.5-inch shell guns.

All of the above armaments are in Swedish inches and pounds. Swedish inches (tums) were 24.74mm long, making 7.62 inches about 19cm, 6.81 inches 17cm and 5.63 inches 14cm. Swedish pounds were about 7% lighter than English pounds. From the early 1850s, Wahrendorff breech-loading guns were in service with the Swedish Army’s coast defence forces and may have armed some ships.


Horse power guns
1 Steam (building) 500 52
1 Ditto 150 41
1 Sailing 44
1 Ditto 40
1 Steam 225 14
1 Ditto 80 20
1 Ditto 200 6
1 Sailing 16
1 Ditto 10
1 Sailing 4
1 Steam 20 6
1 Sailing 6
2 Ditto 5
2 Ditto 2
Steamers [paddle]
1 120 2
1 (for towing) 80 2
2 Ditto 80
Steam gun boats
2 60 2
Row gun boats
78 2
43 1

The steam frigates were the Kong Sverre and St Olaf, the steam corvettes Nornen, Ellida and Nordstjerna. A visit to the Navy Museum in Horten would probably fill in the rest of the information. A trip to the Museum shop is recommended if you’d like your own 3″ or 40mm Bofors shell casings, complete (but presumably inert) 40mm Bofors rounds or Mk 74 Mod 1 sights for a 3″ gun.



The Danish navy, if not as large as the Swedish-Norwegian forces, was still sizable. The Danish merchant marine was not especially large, under 200,000 tons. Denmark was not really an industrial nation. Denmark’s colonial possessions were the Danish West Indies (the US Virgin Islands since 1917), Iceland and Greenland. Danish Navy (Corrected to April,1859)

Guns Built
Sailing ships of the line
Skjold (now fitting with screw) 84 1833
Frederik den Sjette 84 1831
Waldemar 84 1828
Dannebrog 72 1850
Sailing frigates
Dronning Marie (rasee) 60 1824
Thetis 48 1840
Bellona 46 1830
Havfruen 46 1825
Rota 46 1822
Tordenskjold 44 1852
Screw frigates
Niels Juel (300 horse power) 42 30-prs 1856
Sjaelland (300 horse power) 42 30-prs 1858
Jylland (400 horse power) 44 30-prs Building
Galathea 26 1831
Valkyrien 20 1846
Najaden 14 1853
Saga 12 1848
Screw corvettes
Heimdal (260 horse power) 16 30-prs 1856
Thor (260 horse power) 12 30-prs 1851
(300 horse power) 16 Building
Ornen 16 1842
St Thomas 16 1827
Mercurius 12 1837
St Croix 12 1835
Delphinen 1 + 4 swivels 1827
Pilen 1 + 4 swivels 1832
Falken (screw yacht, 24 horse power)
Neptune (Royal yacht) 6 swivels 1840
Screw gun boats
Storen 2 mortars, 1 howitzer
Screw gun boat No. 1 (building)
Screw gun boat No. 2 (building)

Paddle Steam Ships Horse Power Guns Built
Holger Danske 260 1 60-pr shell, 6 30-pr 1850
Slesvig 240 12 3-pr 1845
Hekla 200 1 60-pr shell, 6 24-pr 1842
Geiser 160 2 60-pr, 6 18-pr 1844
Skirner 120 2 24-pr 1847
Aegir 80 4 18-pr, 6 swivels 1841
Uffo 120
Hertha 90
Gun flotilla
3 Mortar vessels
Transport service
5 New transport ships
15 Older transport ships

The screw frigate Jylland is still afloat and open to visitors.


There are two excellent sites on the web dealing with the Danish Navy, both with English translations, as well as the information in Conway’s, so I am not going to repeat any of it here. See :


Johnny Bolsved’s site has considerably more info in Danish than in English, so it’s worth checking both versions for ship information. Danish pounds were 10% heavier than English ones at just under 500g. A 24-pr fired solid shot of 26.5lb avoirdupois. Where weights of guns are given, the pre-metric Danish centner was 10% heavier than an English cwt or 55-56kg.


The Prussian navy was a department of the army. Prussia had been at war with Denmark in 1848-1849 and had been blockaded by the Danes, the same thing happened in 1864 and again in 1870 when at war with France. The Prussian navy was not very successful.

Prussian ships were armed with a strange collection of their own guns and British, Danish and Swedish ones. Beginning about 1867, the Prussians replaced these with Krupp rifled breech loading guns.

The merchant marines of the various German states were in total quite large, probably over half a million tons and Hamburg was one of the great ports of the world. There were a considerable number of private shipyards in Germany but only the Prussian government yard at Danzig routinely built warships. Germany had quite a lot of heavy industry but few German companies built marine engines at this time and none had much experience with large engines.

Prussian Navy

2 Sailing frigates (Gefion and Thetis) 86
2 Steam ditto (Danzig and Barbarossa) 21
1 Screw corvette (Arcona) building 28
1 Paddle ditto (Gazelle) ditto 28
1 Sailing ditto (Amazon) 12
1 Steam yacht (Grille) 0
1 Transport (Mercur) 6
3 Schooners (Hela, Frauenlob & Iltis 6
1 Steamer (Royal Victoria) 0
36 Gun boats, 2 guns each, rowed 72
6 Ditto, yawls 6
55 Vessels of all kinds, carrying 265

Groener’s encyclopedia contains more than anyone could ever reasonably need to know about the ships of the Prussian and German navies. Almost all early ships are in volume one of the German edition. Below there are summaries of the more important ships in 1859. Displacements are full load unless noted otherwise, lengths are on the waterline, any beam in brackets is over paddle boxes and draft is maximum. E&OE.

Gefion was a former Danish sail frigate captured in 1849 and repaired in the Netherlands in 1852. She measured 1826 tons, 52m44 x 13m50 x 5m68. She was armed with 2 Danish 60-pr shell guns and 44 Danish 24-prs – 24 long and 20 short. Thetis was a former RN sail frigate, swapped in 1855 for the Prussian paddle steamers Nix and Salamander which were then being built by Scott-Russell’s yard. She served as a cadet training ship and later a gunnery training ship. Thetis displaced 1882 tons and was 50m88 x 14m10 x 5m79.

Barbarossa was the ex-Cunard liner Britannia, bought by the German Confederation in 1849 for the Schleswig War. She displaced 1313 tons light, 58m68 x 9m30 (16m50) x 5m18. She was powered by a 410 NHP 1500 ihp engine, sea speed 8 knots. She was armed with 9 British 8-inch shell guns. She was a good steamer and a bad sailor and was apparently serving as a depot ship by 1859. Danzig was built at Danzig between 1850 and 1853. She was 1920 tons, 70m18 x 10m40 (16m50) x 4m27, with a British 400 NHP engine of 1800, sea speed 10 knots. She was armed with 12 British 8-inch shell guns. Danzig was inferior to Barbarossa as steamer and sailor. Arcona was a screw frigate rather than a corvette, the first of five related ships. She was built in the navy yard at Danzig and powered by a 350 NHP engine built by Cockerill which produced 1365 ihp. She was almost 2400 tons, 71m95 x 13m x 6m35. She had a best speed of about 12 knots. She was armed with 28 British 8-inch shell guns.

Arcona and her sisters lost much speed in a head sea but were otherwise good steamers and, being fitted with a lifting screw, acceptable under sail. Gazelle was not a paddler, as shown by Busk, but a copy of Arcona. She had been under construction since 1855 and completed in 1861. Unlike Arcona she had machinery from Vulcan of Stettin which was not a success although she could still make 12 knots if everything worked properly.

The screw aviso or yacht Grille was part iron, part mahogany with two watertight iron bulkheads, built by Normand at Le Havre between 1856 and 1858 with 700 ihp engines by Penn. She measured about 500 tons, 52m50 x 7m38 x 3m20. Her speed was around 13 knots. She was an excellent steamer in all respects but her 4500 sq.ft. three-masted schooner rig was of very little use. Another aviso, this one a paddle steamer not listed by Busk, was the Loreley, built at Danzig in 1858-1859. Loreley displaced 470 tons was 43m34 x 6m60 x 3m02. Her 350 ihp engines were by Egells of Berlin, boilers by Vulcan of Stettin. She made over 10 knots on trials and was a good steamer, although she did not hold a course well. Both avisos were armed with two long 12-pr guns.

The mail paddle steamer Preussischer Adler belonged to the Postal service but served with the navy from 1848-1850 and after 1862. She was an iron ship built by Ditchburn & Mare in 1846-1847. She displaced 1430 tons, was 56m60 x 9m60 (16m20) x 3m30. She had a trial speed of over 11 knots, 10 knots at sea, and was a very good steamer. In her first commission she carried 2 Prussian army 25-pr howitzers, then 2 short 32-prs, later she carried 4 36-prs and finally 2 smoothbore and 2 rifled 24-prs.

The Netherlands

Dutch Navy

2 Ships of the line, each of 84
3 Ditto 74
7 First class frigates (3 of them screws) 54-45
8 Second class frigate 38-36
1 Ditto, rasee 28
10 Corvettes (5 of them screws) 19-12
7 Brigs 18-12
13 Schooners 10-4
10 Ditto, screw 8
14 of various kinds, presenting together 94
2 Transports
2 Frigates, guard vessels
1 Corvette, guard vessel all of these 11
2 Ditto, training vessels
1 Brig, coast guard 55
Gun boats 174
2 Screw ditto 4
1 Schooner, gun vessel 8

There is not a great deal of information on the Netherlands Navy at this time but A. van Dijk’s “Voor Pampus” contains more information than the short summary in Conway’s. Van Dijk’s work suggests that Busk’s list of Dutch ships includes many old and worthless ships. Another useful source might be the book “De Kroon op het Anker”, but I haven’t got round to finding a copy of this yet. The Dutch merchant marine was quite large, around 450,000 tons. Dutch shipbuilding was well developed with an established engine building industry although the country as a whole was not very industrial. The Dutch colonial empire was based around the East Indies (most of modern Indonesia) and smaller colonies in Dutch Guyana (modern Surinam) and the Netherlands Antilles.

A point to note is that the Royal Netherlands Navy renamed ships quite often, more so than other navies, and this can be confusing. The Netherlands retained the old duim (inch) and pond (pound) names for measures but the duim was defined as one centimeter and the pond as half a kilogram. Amsterdam pounds had been of 490 grams, again about 10% more than an English pound. So regardless of which measurement the Dutch thought they were using, old or new, a 30-pr gun would fire shot weighing about 33lb, a 36-pr about 40lb and a 60-pr about 66lb making the standard Dutch guns roughly equal to the British/American 32-, 42- and 64-/68-pounder guns.

The two 84 gun sailing ships of the line were Zn.Ms. Zeeuw (renamed Jupiter in 1859) and Neptunus (named Koning der Nederlanden between 1844 and 1857). Zeeuw was launched in 1825, Neptunus in 1835. As ships of the line, there sisters were of 4010 tons displacement at full load, 57m80 long on the load waterline, 15m36 extreme beam, 7m22 maximum draft. They carried a crew of 700 men and were armed with 24 long 36-pr and 8 heavy 20cm shell guns on the gun deck, 28 long 24-pr and 4 light 20cm shell guns on the main deck and 20 36-pr carronades on the upper deck.

Beginning in June 1857, Neptunus was converted to an unpowered armoured floating battery. Jupiter also converted, beginning in 1859. Thus neither of these ships were actually serving as ships of the line by the end of 1859.

The three 74 gun sailing ships of the line were Zn.Ms. Koningin der Nederlanden (Kortenaer before 1844, renamed Olifant in 1859), Tromp and Kortenaer (Jupiter before 1844). None of these was serving as a ship of the line, all being block ships at Amsterdam and Den Helder. As ships of the line they had displaced 3650 tons loaded and about 500 tons less as block ships. They measuring 54m16 long on the waterline, 14m70 beam and 7m12 draft, 6m35 as a blockship. The crew as a ship of the line was 650, 250 as a blockship. By the middle of the 1850s guns had been removed from the main deck and the armament reduced to 30 36-pr long guns on the gun deck and 1 heavy 20cm and 3 22cm shell guns on the upper deck. Olifant began a conversion to an armoured battery in 1861 but turned out to be too weak and rotten and was scrapped.

There seem to have been four first class screw frigates rather than three. These were Zn.Ms. Evertsen, Zeeland and Admiraal van Wassenaer built as such and the razeed 74 gun ship De Ruyter. De Ruyter later converted to an casemate armoured steam battery and her details in this form are in Conways. As a 74 gun ship she would have resembled the ones already mentioned and her designed armament, circa 1835, was 30 long 30-pr guns on the gun deck, 33 short 30-pr guns on the main deck and 23 30-pr carronades and 2 long 12-pr guns on the upper deck. As a steam frigate she measured 60m30 long on the waterline, 63m50 between perpendiculars, 14m70 beam and 6m80 deep draft. She measured 2450 tons builders measurement and 2830 tons designed light displacement. She was armed with 22 30-pr long guns and 8 heavy 20cm shell guns on the main deck and 12 30-pr long guns, 2 light 20cm shell guns and 1 long 60-pr gun on the upper deck. She was powered by 400 (Dutch) NHP engines of 1750 ihp giving a best speed of about 10 knots. The first class sailing frigates were the very old 54 gun Rhijn, launched 1816 and rebuilt in 1828 and the newer 60 gun Prins van Oranje (formerly Waal) and Doggersbank dating from the early 1840s.

The second class frigates appear to have been Maas of 1822, Palembang of 1829, Ceres (renamed Draak in 1859) of 1830, Prins Frederik der Nederlanden (renamed Salamander in 1859) of 1840, Prins Alexander der Nederlanden of 1844, Holland of 1846, Prins Hendrik der Nederlanden (renamed Pollux in 1859) of 1847 and Prinses Sophia (renamed Orkaan in 1859) of 1857.

Prins Hendrik/Pollux was planned as yet another floating battery. Like Olifant she was rotten and weak when opened up and was replaced by Ceres/Draak. Prinses Sophia had never been completed for sea as a frigate and was converted to the battery Orkaan in a private yard. Prinses Sophia was the newest of these and as a frigate she would have displaced 2400 tons fully loaded, measured 48m long, 14m70 beam, 6m20 draft and carried a crew of 320 with 30 long 30-pr guns and 4 light 20cm shell guns on the main deck and 12 medium 30-pr guns and 1 long 60-pr on the upper deck. Ceres and Prins Frederik displaced 1700 tons loaded, measured 46m21 x 12m20 x 5m75 maximum, crew 320 with 20 long 30-pr and 4 20cm light shell guns on the main deck and 10 medium 30-pr and 2 long 12-pr on the upper deck.

For corvettes, Prinses Amelia and Medusa were near sisters of about 1500 tons light displacement, 48-49m x 10m60-11m x 5m, crew 200-240, 150 NHP engine with a best speed of 7.5 knots, armed with 12 30-pr long guns and 4 20cm heavy shell guns on the main deck and 3 30-pr long guns on the upper deck. Sailing corvettes included Prins Maurits and van Speyk serving as block ships.

An example of a sailing gun boat was Boreas of 1859. She measured about 140 tons, 20m x 7m40 x 1m69. She had a crew of 42 and was armed with 4 long 36-pr guns and a 20cm mortar. A smaller gun, Kanonneerboot No10 of 1850, measured 92 tons, 18m x 5m86 x 1m30, 34 crew and 2 heavy 20cm shell guns and a 20cm mortar. Iron screw and paddle armoured gun boats were built in the 1860s. Some are detailed by Conways. Among those which are not were No. 1 Nimrod, launched in 1863, an iron paddle steamer with 4.5 inches of armour, a 120 NHP engine generating 360 ihp and a best speed of 9.5 knots, armed with 2 long 60-pr guns. She measured 400 tons, 54m x 6m10 (10m40 over the paddle boxes) x 2m30 with a crew of 48. The twin screw gunboat No. 3 Handig en Vlug had been built in London in 1864. She was a casemated ship with a rectangular deckhouse with curved corners. The casemate ran two thirds of the length. She was crewed by 34 men, powered by a 40 NHP/100 ihp engine, best speed 9 knots, measured 141 tons, 32m x 5m30 x 1m30 and was armed with 2 rifled 12cm guns, one in each end of the casemate.

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