Busk’s Navies of the World – 1859 – The French I

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 first part then deals with the French Navy circa 1859.

Hans Busk’s “Navies of the World” was based on the world naval situation in 1859, or on those parts of it which 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.

Only for a few navies does Busk list every ship. Since the information on British ships is easily available in print and on the web, I will start with the Napoleon III’s navy. 2M means 2 mortars, etc. Where possible, I have added the displacement in tons and dimensions of some ships. The navies of southern Europe will follow in the next part, then those of northern Europe and finally the Americas.

If there are any obvious errors, or things which 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.

In 1859, as for most of the nineteenth century, the French navy was easily the second most powerful in the world. In classifying ships, the French divided screw steamers into fast and mixed ships, fast ships being designed for steam performance first and always and mixed ships being auxiliary steamers. French ships were usually similar to British ones in terms of size, 90 gun screw ships being around 5000 tons, typical large frigates around 3500 tons and 20 gun corvettes around 2,000 tons, and in armament. French avisos covered the British categories of 1st and 2nd class sloops as well as despatch and gun vessels. In US terms, small 2nd class and all 3rd and 4th class steamers would have been rated as avisos.

Comparing French machinery with other nations is difficult. In the 1850s few other countries could or did build steamers with such powerful engines. Gloire’s 900 NHP machinery weighed 634 tons and produced 2500 ihp. Algesiras, a ship of the Napoleon class built between 1853 and 1856, also had 900 NHP machinery, this weighed 605 tons and produced 2200 ihp. The only comparable ship which is not British or French was the USS Niagara which got 1955 ihp from machinery weighing 625 tons. Apart from Britain, France and the USA, no country had any experience at all in building succesful large engines at this time, and the situation was not much changed before the end of the 1860s.

In terms of design, tumblehome was much reduced, from around one in seven in large ships before the 1820s to around one in thirteen afterwards. The usual structural improvements were used: rounded and elliptical sterns, diagonal framing, hulls planked in between frames, increased use of iron, and spar decks were added to all frigates and line of battle ships.

From 1857, the Chief Constructor of the French navy was Stanislas Charles Henri Laurent Dupuy de Lome, Henry to his friends and family. Dupuy de Lome was born on 15 October 1816 at Ploemeur (Planwour) into a Breton naval family. He was a graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique and a member of the Academy of Sciences. Dupuy de Lome was the most important naval constructor of this period, designer of the first wooden steam battleship and the first seagoing ironclad. According to a British obituary, “[i]t may be questioned whether any constructor has ever rendered greater services to the navy of any country …”. He was Deputy for Morbihan from 1869 to 1875 and elected Senator for life in 1877. After leaving the navy, he managed the shipping company Messageries Maritimes and the shipbuilder FCM. He built one of the first dirigibles, although it was not a success, and worked to develop ferries and infrastructure to carry complete trains across the Channel. His final project, continued after his death in 1885 by his friend Gustave Zede, resulted in the submarine Gymnote of 1888.

Although writers frequently comment on French industrial weakness relative to Britain in this period, taking a broader view France was clearly a major industrial nation. The facts appear to be that in 1860 France was second only to Britain in overall measures of industrialisation and considerably ahead of the US and Germany/Prussia in terms of iron, steel and heavy industry in general. With a total of about 900,000 register tons in 1860, including about 70,000 tons of steamers, France’s merchant fleet was the third largest in the world.

The standards for French artillery were set in the 1820s following work by Paixhans on shell guns and by Thirion and Tupinier to develop the 30-pr. The M1827 guns which were to serve into the ironclad age had the following details.

Gun Calibre Length Tube Weight Projectile Weight
30-pr No.1 164mm 3m158 3035kg 15kg340 solid
30-pr No.2 164mm 2m919 2487kg same
30-pr Carronade 164mm 1m787 1011kg same
30-pr Shell Gun 163mm 2m427 1480kg 11kg030 shell
80-pr Shell Gun 223mm 2m840 3636kg 23kg120 shell

Other large guns were the “canon de 36” firing 43lb shot and the “canon de 50” firing 56lb shot. The long versions of these guns weighed about 3.5 and 4 tons respectively. Larger guns included 120- and 150-pr shell guns of 25cm and 27cm calibre which were used very occasionally afloat. Until the second half of the 1850s, when the 36-pr and 50-pr were readopted, large screw and sail ships were armed with 30-prs of various types and a few 80-prs for long range shell fire. Although the use of shell guns afloat originated in France, the French employed about the same proportion of shell guns aboard their battlefleet as the British and probably carried fewer aboard their frigates.

Although the M1855 and M1858 16cm RML guns had been tried by this time, the 1855 pattern was an experimental piece and the 1858 pattern was still undergoing development in early 1859. The definitive version of the M1858, which introduced banded breech reinforcement, was not yet in production. The M1855 used studded shells with two rifling grooves and was bored from 80-pr castings. The M1858 adopted three-grove rifling, added zinc coating for the studs and used the long 36-pr casting. For these guns only concussion-fuzed shell of 30-35kg and standard 30-pr shot was available.

By 1859, sailing ships were considered to be thoroughly outdated. Admiral Hamelin, CinC of the Black Sea Fleet during the Crimean War and Minister of Marine from 1855 to 1860, is reported as saying during the war that a warship without an engine wasn’t really a warship at all. That’s not to say that sailing ships were of no value, neither obsolescent nor even obsolete means useless, but they were unlikely to be called upon for any important service, especially when manpower was likely to be the limiting factor. Even ignoring their limited military value, many sailing ships and some older steam ones were in poor condition and would have needed major repairs to be used at sea.

The navy had an excellent supporting infrastructure. The main navy yards at Brest, Toulon, Rochefort, Cherbourg and Lorient were large and well equipped although there were only 17 dry docks available compared to 73 building slips, whereas British yards had only 44 slips but 32 dry docks. Steam workshops in French yards built machinery as well as repairing it and there was a separate steam factory at Indret where many engines and a few ships were built. Engines had earlier been imported from Britain and the Netherlands but by the end of the 1850s this had largely ceased. Private engine builders included Cave, Le Creusot, Mazeline, FCM, La Ciotat & Belleville, with FCM and La Ciotat being major shipbuilders as well. Guns were developed in cooperation with the army, but the navy had control of it’s own procurement. Guns were cast by private industry and finished by the military with Ruelle as the main naval gun works.

As with all navies, the French had far more ships than could be manned in peacetime. Crew strength aboard ships in commission was around 25,000 men in 1859, excluding marines. On paper, the wartime strength of the navy could easily be increased to 80,000 men including marines.

Apart from Busk & Conways, additional info mainly came from Lambert’s “Battleships in Transition”, the Conways History of the Ship volume “Steam, Steel & Shellfire” and papers by Boudriot, Brisou, Estienne and de Geoffroy in “Marine et technique au XIXe siecle”.

The French Navy as at April 1859.

Screw ships of the line (fast)

Ship Rate Tons NHP Guns Notes
Bretagne 1st 6770 1200 130
Algesiras 2nd 5040 900 90
Arcole 2nd 5040 900 90
Imperial 2nd 5040 900 90
Napoleon 2nd 5040 900 90
Redoutable 2nd 5040 900 90
Ville de Nantes 2nd 5040 900 90
Ville de Bordeaux 2nd 5040 900 90 building
Ville de Lyon 2nd 5040 900 90 building
Intrepide 2nd 5040 900 90 building
Alexandre 2nd 4920 900 90
Massena 2nd 5270 800 90 building
Castiglione 2nd 4090 800 90 building
Eylau 2nd 4920 900 90

Dupuy de Lome’s standard design, which began with the Napoleon in 1848, was 233’8″ long overall and 53’1″ extreme breadth. These were steamers first and sailing ships a very distant second with geared drive and a fixed four-bladed screw. The speed was around 12 knots, perhaps more. The engines generated around 2200 ihp in Napoleon, with improvements being directed to reducing weight and volume rather than increasing power. Eylau, Alexandre, Castiglione and Massena were given thorough conversions while on the stocks and the end result differed only slightly from the Napoleon class. All of the ships building were eventually finished although Intrepide completed as a transport.

From 1855, the regulation armament of a 90 gun ship was: 4 80-pr shell guns, 18 36-pr & 10 30-pr long guns on the gun deck; 6 80-pr shell guns & 28 30-pr short guns on the main deck; and 2 50-pr long guns and 22 30-pr shell guns on the upper deck. Bretagne mounted the same sorts of guns, but had the 30-pr short guns on the middle deck and 30-pr shell guns on main and upper decks.

Screw frigates (fast)

Ship Rate Tons NHP Guns Notes
Audacieuse 1st 3765 800 58
Ardente 1st 3765 800 58 building
Foudre 1st 3765 800 58
Imperatrice Eugenie 1st 3765 800 58
Impetueuse 1st 3765 800 58
Souveraine 1st 3765 800 58
Gloire 2nd 5630 900 36 armoured, building
Normandie 2nd 5630 900 36 armoured, building
Invincible 2nd 5630 900 36 armoured, building
Isly 2nd 2690 650 34

Busk listed Ville de Lyon as an armoured frigate of the Gloire class, but she was actually a fast screw ship of the line of the Napoleon class. Apart from Isly, launched in 1849, these were all modern ships. Conways lists the 58 gun ships as 56s in 1860, but armaments on broadside ships could be changed almost at will.

Screw corvettes (fast)

Ship Rate Tons NHP Guns Notes
Cosmao 1st 1800 400 16 building
Dupleix 1st 1800 400 16 building
D’Assas 2000 400 16
Duchayla 2000 400 16
Laplac 1900 400 10
Phlegeton 1900 400 8
Primauguet 1900 400 8
Roland 1970 400 8
Reine Hortense 1100 320 4 iron hull

Cosmao and Dupleix are listed in Conways as 1795 tons, 220’8″ long on the waterline, 37’4″ beam and 18’8″ extreme draft, speed 11 knots. The earlier 400 NHP ships would be similar. The oldest and smallest ship was Reine Hortense of 1846.

Screw avisos (fast)

Ship Rate Tons NHP Guns Notes
Cassard 1st 1300 250 building
Forfait 1st 1300 250 building
Forbin 1st 1300 250 6
Monge 1st 1300 250 6
Caton 1st 850 260 4 iron hull
Chaptal 1st 940 220 2 iron hull
Aigle 1st 200 4
Lucifer 1st 200 2
Megere 1st 200 4
Latouche Treville 2nd 850 150 building
D’Estaing 2nd 850 150 building
D’Entrecasteaux 2nd 850 150 building
Pregent 2nd 850 150 building
Renaudin 2nd 850 150 building
Surcouf 2nd 850 150 building
Bougainville 2nd 850 150 building
Coetlogon 2nd 850 150 building
Ariel 2nd 240 120 2M iron hull
Corse 2nd 240 120 4
Faon 2nd 240 120 iron hull
Marceau 2nd 240 120 4
Passe Partout 2nd 240 120 2 iron hull
Pelican 2nd 240 120 2 iron hull
Salamandre 2nd 240 120 2M iron hull

Cassard was renamed Jerome Napoleon and should not be confused with the Cassard of 1861 which was renamed Desaix. Busk states that two other 1st class ships of the Forfait type were on order, but these seem rather to have been the Bougainville and Coetlogon which are not listed by Busk. Conways reports Bougainville as 184’4″ on the waterline, 31’9″ beam, 13′ mean draft and a speed of about 10 knots. The 250 and 150 NHP avisos were new and the 200 NHP 1st class ships were built in the early 1850s.

The remaining avisos were from the 1840s. The iron Caton of 1847 displaced 855 tons, was 55m35 long and 9,34 beam. She was brig-rigged with a best speed of over 11 knots under sail and steam and 10 under steam alone. She originally carried 8 guns, types unknown. At the bottom end of the scale, the Ariel displaced 240 tons and was 41m65 long and 6m60 beam. Her engines, built by La Ciotat, were considered a great successs and gave her a best speed of 12 knots.

Ships of the line with auxiliary screws

Ship Rate Tons NHP Guns Notes
Friedland 1st 5170 600 114 see below
Louis XIV 1st 4920 600 114
Montebello 1st 4920 140 114
Souverain 1st 5090 600 114
Ville de Paris 1st 5300 600 114
Austerlitz 2nd 4430 500 90
Duguay Trouin 2nd 4530 500 90
Fleurus 2nd 4500 650 90
Navarin 2nd 4560 650 90
Tage 2nd 4710 500 90
Ulm 2nd 4490 650 90
Wagram 2nd 4510 650 90
Turenne 2nd 4550 650 90 converting
Prince Jerome 2nd 4490 650 90
Bayard 3rd 4230 450 80 converting
Breslaw 3rd 4290 450 80
Fontenoy 3rd 4050 450 80
Charlemagne 3rd 4120 450 80
Donauwerth 3rd 4090 450 80
Duguesclin 3rd 4090 450 80 converting
Saint Louis 3rd 4090 450 80
Tilsitt 3rd 4090 500 80
Duquesne 3rd 4550 650 80
Tourville 3rd 4560 650 80
Jean Bart 3rd 4070 450 70

Conways and Busk list Friedland as converted, Lambert says the work was never done and that plan was for a full conversion, to be rated as a fast ship. Most of these ships were converted after launch, which rarely worked as well as converting ships on the stocks. The 114-gun ships were particularly old, laid down from 1807 to 1813 and only four of these ships were laid down after 1840. In general, French auxiliary steam battleships underwent more basic conversions than British ships and were rather cramped as a result. Armament for these ships was as for fast steamers.

Ville de Paris was 226’6″ long and 56’4″ extreme beam, Souverain was 205’5″ by 56’11” and Duguesclin, wrecked at the end of 1859, measured 204’5″ by 53’5″. Speeds for auxiliary steamers improved with experience of converting them although they were never the equal of purpose-built ships. The underpowered Montebello could hardly make 7 knots, later conversions could manage 10 knots or more.

Frigates with auxiliary screws

Ship Rate Tons NHP Guns Notes
Renommee 1st 2600 200 58
Entreprenante 1st 250 58
Semiramis 1st 250 58 converting
Bellone 2nd 2350 200 50
Danae 2nd 2350 200 50
Dryade 2nd 250 50
Pandore 2nd 2350 200 50
Zenobie 2nd 2350 200 50
Amazone 2nd 250 50 converting
Clorinde 3rd 1780 200 42
Pomone 3rd 2000 220 37
Ceres 3rd 250 converting

Entreprenante, Dryade, Amazone & Ceres don’t appear to be listed by Conways as sail or steam. In the case of Dryade, this is probably an error as she was converted in 1856 and served in Indochina in 1859 as Protet’s flagship, although she could always have been lost. For the others, it is possible that they were never completed although Entreprenante was apparently afloat in 1859. Semiramis is listed by Conways and would presumably be similar to Guerriere, listed under Sailing Frigates.

Renommee was probably built as a ship of the Belle Poule class and Zenobie, Dryade, Pandore and Pomone as ships of the Artemise class, see under Sailing Frigates for pre-conversion details. Clorinde was converted from a smaller sailing frigate, probably of the same type as Resolue listed by Conways. The small increase in displacement suggests that all of these ships underwent a rather basic conversion, limited to fitting engines and bunkers and reworking the stern, rather than a full conversion which would have involved adding a new midsection as well.

Pomone was of about 2000 tons, 179′ on the deck, 48′ in the beam and drew 20’3″ of water. Dating back to 1845, she was the very first French auxiliary screw frigate. She was converted on the stocks and,like her British counterpart Amphion, she was rather slow. Her early armament was 10 30-pr guns and 8 80-pr shell guns below and 2 30-prs and 8 30-pr shell guns on the spar deck.

Corvettes with auxiliary screws

Ship Rate Tons NHP Guns Notes
Biche 200 4 iron hull
Sentinelle 120 4 iron hull

Avisos with auxiliary screws

Ship Rate Tons NHP Guns Notes
Croiseur 60 2 iron hull
Rodeur 60 2M iron hull
Labourdonnaye 35 4M

Floating batteries with screws

Ship Rate Tons NHP Guns Notes
Congreve 1640 150 18
Devastation 1640 150 18
Foudroyante 1640 150 18
Lave 1640 150 18
Tonnante 1640 159 18

These measured 173’11” long, 43’10” beam and 8’10” draft. They were slow, less than 4 knots at best, and very unhandy too. This was mainly the result of them being armoured boxes with semicircular ends. Their Schneider high-pressure engines were not a success either, producing around 225 ihp. Leeboards and a triple rudder were added. For transit they could be rigged as three-masted barques with about 10,000 square feet of sail, but they were invariably towed over long distances. During the Crimean War they were armed with 2 light carronades and 16 50-pr guns although they may have carried 120- or 150-pr shell guns at some point.

This is the first part of the French. This link will take you to the second part.

4 thoughts on “Busk’s Navies of the World – 1859 – The French I

  1. Don MacDonald 30 November 1999 / 8:00 am

    Excellent work11 The whole series is readable and informative.

    Unfortunately, part 2 for the french navy seems to be not available, but I don't really need that so I am happy.



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