Busk’s Navies of the World – 1859 – The Americas and Asia

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 fourth part then deals with the Navies of the Americas and Asia circa 1859. Angus notes that originally he thought this would just be the Americas, but there are two navies in Asia as well.

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.

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 Netherlands East Indies

This isn’t mentioned by Busk but for people who like weird and wonderful wargames, the Netherlands East Indies have lots of potential. There was endemic piracy in the area, some of the pirate fleets being huge, and a brutal war with Atjeh from 1873 onwards.

In addition to the Koninklijke Marine, the Dutch government had a second naval service, the Gouvernements Marine in the Netherlands East Indies. These ships hunted pirates, delivered mail and passengers and generally supported the authorities in the East Indies. Busk doesn’t mention this force but I have a list for 1863. The Netherlands East Indies had naval bases at Soerabaja, Batavia (Djakarta) and Dassoon (somewhere on Java, probably near Tjilatjap). The Gouvernements Marine preferred ships of iron or teak since oak and pine rotted very quickly in tropical waters.

Crew figures are as given in the records of the day, Europeans + Natives.

Name Guns Crew NHP Built Hull
Screw ships
Hertog Bernhard 4 10+79 170 England, 1851 Iron
Java 6 8+53 80 Liverpool, 1854 Iron
Draak 7+38 80 Soerabaja, 1859 Iron
Paddle ships
Boni 8 6+33 60 *, 1855 Iron
Kapoeas 7 6+33 80 *, 1859 Iron
Bronbeek 6 7+35 80 Dassoon, 1860 Teak
Telegraaf 6 7+35 80 Ditto, 1860 Teak
Dassoon 6 7+35 80 Ditto, 1861 Teak
Barito 5 3+21 25-30 *, 1861 Iron
Tjinrana 5 3+21 25-30 *, 1861 Iron
Sailoos 2+12 20 *, 1861 Iron

In addition there were 79 wooden sail gun boats each with 3 guns and a native crew of 20 men each. These were built in 1860-1861, 67 at Dassoon & 12 at Batavia. The ships marked * were built in Dutch yards and reassembled at Soerabaja, except for Bonim which was Mersey-built and reassembled at Sydney. The named ships were all classed as armed ships and probably carried rockets and swivel guns as well as the listed “big” guns.

Hertog Bernhard measured 765 tons and had room for 400 soldiers and their baggage. She appears to have been a flush-decked, clipper-bowed, three-master, possibly a schooner. Sailoos was only 20m long, 3m70 beam, drew less than 1m of water and served on the rivers of Borneo. The three Dassoon paddle ships were 25m20-26m60 long, 4m20-4m55 beam and less than 2m draft. Telegraaf was the largest, and carried 60 tons of coal, the others 40 tons. Telegraaf made 11 knots on trials and was a good sea boat. The engines for these ships were built (probably assembled) at Soerabaja.

British India

The Indian Navy, called the Bombay Marine until 1830 and reformed as such in 1863, was not the only naval service in India. There was also the Bengal Marine, which did not form part of the first Indian Navy formed by the British, but only the Indian Navy is mentioned by Busk.

The main shipyard was at Bombay which built ships as large as 80 guns in the past. There were minor yards elsewhere in India, and a private yard at Moulmein in Burma where timber was much cheaper than in India. Ships in India were built from mainly from teak.

I have added to the descriptions where possible. Armament of the paddle sloops and frigates was on Royal Navy lines: 8-inch 65cwt shell guns and 32-prs. When armed as a sloop, Berenice carried an unknown number of 8-inch 65cwt guns, one picture shows all nine gun ports open but only one muzzle in sight. At the other end of the scale, Indus carried one 4.5-inch 12-pr light field howitzer and one brass 3-pr mountain gun. Nearly all of these ships were built of iron or teak.

All ships not noted as steamers were sailing ships in every case I could check. Tonnage can only be displacement for Assaye, but otherwise is most likely tons burthen (builders old measurement). Berenice was big enough to carry about 900 troops during Persian campaign of 1857.

Guns Description
Acbar 22 Sloop
Anquita 6 Tender
Assaye 10 Paddle frigate, 177′ oa x 39’6″, 1800t, 650NHP
Assyria 2 Paddle, river steamer, similar to Indus
Auckland 6 Paddle sloop, over 900t
Australian 6 Screw transport
Beeas 2 Paddle
Bheemah 4 Tender
Berenice 2 Paddle sloop, 756t, 220NHP
Charlotte 2
Cheenab 2 Paddle
Clive 18 Sloop
Constance 3
Conqueror 2 Paddle
Comet 5 Paddle gun boat
Coromandel Screw transport
Dalhousie Screw transport
Elphinstone 18 Probably a sailing sloop
Emily 2 Schooner
Euphrates 10 Surveying brig, formerly sloop
Falkland 12 Sloop
Ferooz 10 Paddle frigate
Frere 4 Paddle
Georgiana 2 Schooner
Goolanair Paddle yacht
Indus 2 Paddle, river steamer, 304t, 60NHP
Lady Canning 4 Paddle
Lady Falkland 2 Paddle
Mahi 3 Schooner
Marie 2 Tender
Napier 2 Paddle
Nerbudda 2 Cutter
Nimrod 2 Paddle, river steamer, similar to Indus
Outram 2 Paddle
Planet 2 Paddle
Pownah 2
Prince Arthur Screw transport
Punjaub 12 Paddle frigate, as Assaye but 7′ longer
Satellite 2 Paddle
Semiramis 8 Paddle frigate, 1143t, 350NHP
Sir H.Havelock 2 Paddle
Sir W. Lawrence 2 Paddle
Sydney Screw transport
Snake Paddle
Tigris 6
Victoria 4 Paddle
Zenobia 10 Paddle frigate, ex-cargo, aka “the Pig Boat”

Other large ships which may still have been afloat, although not in commission, included the paddle frigates Sesotris and Moozuffer.

The Bengal Marine had had half a dozen, probably more, iron paddle steamers in the early 1850s. The first of these was the famous Nemesis, 660 tons bm, 184′ x 29′ x 6′, 120 NHP and 8 knots, armed with 2 32-pr, 4 6-pr and a Congreve rocket launcher. Nemesis was sold in the 1850s. A squadron of Bengal Marine iron paddlers in Burma in 1852 included Nemesis, Tennasserim, Phlegeton, Mahanuddy, Prosperine & Enterprise.

Having dealt with Asia as far as possible, and neither Busk nor I know anything about China’s navy, it’s time for the Americas.


Starting in the south, the Chilean Navy was rather small. Busk lists the following ships:

1 Corvette 18
1 Brig 14
1 Ditto 10
1 Schooner 4
1 Steamer 20
5 Ships 66

The Chilean Navy has a good historical website where most of the ships which have served are listed.


Either click on Buques de Ayer and pick the letter of the alphabet that interests you or, rather easier if you aren’t an expert on the Chilean Navy, go to the campaign of interest and click through to the ships mentioned. Even if you don’t know any Spanish at all, it’s easy enough to get a rough idea what the story is.


2 Frigates 1 of 33 guns, 1 of 46 guns
2 Steamers 1 of 10 guns, 1 of 1 gun
1 Brigantine 14 guns
4 Small steamers
1 Mail steamer
5 Pontoons
Total 15 vessels carrying 104 guns

According to Conway’s and the Peruvians, the 33 (34) gun frigate was actually a screw steamer named Apurimac which is one of the “Buques Historicos” in the History section of the Peruvian Navy website, which is at:


There’s even a picture.

If you want more information on the Peruvian Navy, Juan del Campo has an excellent website at:



The largest South American navy was Imperial Brazilian Navy. Some ships were bought in Britain and France and there was a navy yard at Rio de Janiero which built most of the ships. Although Brazil was not a major industrial nation, engines for some ships were built in Brazil.

Sailing Vessels

1 Frigate
5 Corvettes
2 Barques
5 Brigs
7 Brigantines
1 (Text missing in book)
2 Gun boats
27 Ships


7 Screw
8 Paddle
15 Ships of 1770 NHP

In the Matto Grosso there were another 29 gun boats and there were 3 frigates, 4 corvettes and a steamer under construction. Based on that, it’s possible to put names & figures to some of the ships of the Brazilian Navy in 1859. The armaments which include Whitworth guns are likely to be from the period of the Paraguayan war or after. The 68-pr guns listed are more likely to be 65cwt 8-inch shell guns than 95cwt solid shot guns.

  • Constituicao, frigate, launched 1826, 30 32-pr, 2 24-pr & 30 42-pr carronades, 1768t, 53m94 x 7m92
  • Amazonas, paddle frigate, launched 1851, 4 32-pr & 4 70-pr Whitworths, 1800t, 56m88 x 9m81, 350hp, 10kt
  • Belmonte, screw corvette, launched 1856, 4 32-pr, 2 68-pr & 1 70-pr Whitworth, 602t, 51m20 x 7m46, 120hp, ?kt
  • Beberibe, screw corvette, launched 1854, 6 32-pr & 1 68-pr, 559t, 52m42 x 7m62, 30hp, ?kt
  • Parnahyba, screw corvette, launched 1858, 602t, ? x ?, 1 70-pr Whitworth, 2 68-pr & 4 32-pr, 120hp, 12kt
  • Recife, paddle corvette, launched 1850, ?t, 50m59 x 7m01, 2 30-pr shell guns & 2 30-pr, 150hp, ?kt
  • Bahiana, corvette, launched 1849, 24 30-pr shell guns, ?t, 44m80 x 10m36
  • Berenice, corvette, bought 1847 from Argentina, 14 30-pr and 8 small, 362t, 35m96 x 9m75
  • Carioca, corvette, launched 1824, 18 guns, 818t, 37m49 x 10m05, foundered 13 April 1859 off Sao Paolo.
  • Dona Isabel, corvette, launched 1855, 20 30-pr shell guns, 617t, 130′ x 33′ (original says pes, presumably not the same as English feet)
  • Ipiranga, steam gun boat, launched 1854, ? guns, 350t, 39m04 x 5m52, 70hp, 9kt
  • Araguaia class (Araguaia, Ivahy, Araguary), screw gun boat, launched 1858, 2 32-pr & 8 68-pr, 400t, 44m20 x 7m40, 80hp, 9kt
  • Japura, steam gun boat, bought 1855, 1 30-pr shell gun & 6 32-pr, 323t, 36m57 x 7m31, 80hp, ?kt
  • Anhambai, steam gun boat, launched 1858, 2 guns, ?t, ? x ?, 40hp, ?kt
  • Mearim class (Mearim), steam gun boat, launched 1857, 4 32-pr & 2 68-pr, 415t, 45m72 x 7m01, 100hp, ?kt
  • Paraense, paddle steamer, launched 1851, ?t, 59m01 x 9m, 1 70-pr Whitworth, 3 68-pr & 2 9-pr Whitworth, 220hp, 8kt

Mexico and Canada

The Mexican Navy was very small and there was no Canada, let alone a Canadian Navy, which only leaves the United States of America.

The United States of America

The United States Navy, January 1859

Name Guns Year
Ships of the Line (10) (Sailing)
Pennsylvania 120 1837
Receiving ship, Norfolk
Columbus 80 1829
Ohio 84 1820
Receiving ship, Boston
North Carolina 84 1820
Receiving ship, New York
Delaware 84 1820
Alabama 84
Virginia 84
Vermont 84 1848
New York 84
New Orleans 84
Sackett’s Harbor
Frigates (11) (Sailing)
Independence 56 1814
Receiving Ship, Mare Is.
United States 50 1797
Constitution 50 1797
Potomac 50 1821
New York
Brandywine 50 1825
New York
Columbia 50 1836
Congress 50 1841
Raritan 50 1843
New York
Santee 50 1855
Sabine 50 1855
Coast of Brazil
St Lawrence 50 1847
Coast of Brazil
Sloops of War (21) (Sailing)
Cumberland 2 24 1842
Coast of Africa
Savannah 2 24 1842
Home sqdn
Constellation 22 22 1854
Macedonian 22 1836
Plymouth 22 1843
Naval ordnance ship
St Mary’s 22 1844
Pacific sqdn
Jamestown 22 1844
Home sqdn
Germantown 22 1846
East Indies
Saratoga 20 1842
Home sqdn
John Adams 20 1831
Vincennes 20 1826
Coast of Africa
Falmouth 20 1827
Brazil Station
Vandalia 20 1828
Pacific Ocean
St Louis 20 1828
New York
Cyane 20 1839
Pacific Ocean
Levant 20 1837
Decatur 16 1839
Pacific Ocean
Marion 16 1839
Coast of Africa
Dale 16 1839
Coast of Africa
Preble 16 1839
Paraguay Expedition
Brigs (3) (Sailing)
Bainbridge 6 1842
Paraguay Expedition
Perry 6 1843
Paraguay Expedition
Dolphin 4 1836
Paraguay Expedition
Schooner (Sailing)
Fenimore Cooper 3 1852
Screw Steamers, First Class (7)
Franklin 50
Merrimac 40 1855
Pacific Ocean
Wabash 40 1855
Minnesota 40 1855
East Indies
Roanoke 40 1855
Home sqdn
Colorado 40 1855
Niagara 40 1856
Special service, Africa
Busk adds a note here: “The six frigates … are stated in the official list to mount 40 guns; it is well known, however, that their real armament consists of 12 heavy Dahlgren guns”. This was, of course, only true of the USS Niagara and not of the Merrimack class.
Screw, Second Class (6)
San Jacinto 13 1850
New York
New York
Hartford 1858
Screw, Third Class (2)
Massachusetts 9 1841
East Indies
Princeton 10 1851
Receiving Ship, Philadelphia
Paddle-Wheel, First Class (3)
Mississippi 10 1841
East Indies
Susquehanna 15 1850
New York
Powhatan 9 1850
East Indies
Paddle-Wheel, Second Class (1)
Saranac 6 1848
Paddle-Wheel, Third Class (5)
Michigan 1 1844
Northern Lakes
Fulton 5 1837
Paraguay Expedition
Alleghany 10 1847
Receiving Ship, Baltimore
Water Witch 2 1845
Paraguay Expedition
John Hancock 2 1850
Mare Is.
Steam Tenders (2)
Despatch 1855
Home sqdn
Arctic 1855
Special service
Store-ships (5)
Relief 6 6 1836
Home sqdn
Supply 4 1846
Paraguay Expedition
Warren 1826
Mare Is.
Fredonia 4 1846
Valparaiso, Chile
Release 2 1855
Paraguay Expedition

The US merchant marine had about 2.5 million tons of shipping registered for foreign trade of which about 100,000 tons were steamers. There were another 2 million tons of lake and river craft of which a huge 770,000 tons were steamers. That’s about half of all the merchant steam tonnage afloat around 1860. US construction of seagoing ships was in long term decline well before 1860 and relatively few large seagoing steamers were built in US yards. Iron was expensive in the US, domestic industry being weak and tariffs high, so few iron ships were being built in US yards. In terms of industry in general, the US was likely the third largest industrial economy in the world in 1859 and the second largest by the middle of the 1860s. By about 1880, the US industrial economy had about tripled in size and reached the level of Britain in 1860.

Of all the navies of the world at this time, the US Navy is probably the best documented on the web and in print so there’s no point adding anything much.

The USA and Britain used the same definitions of inches and pounds (and, so far as ships and guns appear to be concerned, tons and hundredweights too). Where guns were rated by weight of shot there was no confusion. For guns rated in inches the USN used the nominal diameter of the bore and the RN used the nominal diameter of the shot. This meant that a US 8-inch gun would fire about 64-65lb solid shot and a British one 67-69lb solid shot. Hardly a great difference but it’s another demonstration of the fact that every navy did things their own way.

A recommended starting point for the US Navy on the Internet is The Naval Historical Center:


Which contains a wealth of photographs of old vessels. Indeed, for a cultural cross reference between the US Navy, the German Navy, the British Navy and an Australian poet (A. B. “Banjo” Patterson), search the website above for “Calliope, Samoa, Hurricane” and check The Ballad of the Calliope. It will be displayed in Thomo’s Hole soon.

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