If you look carefully look the deck of this beautiful engraving of the ROYAL CHARTER, you can see that the artist has included tiny figures to represent the crew making the last adjustments to the sails. You begin to get a sense of the size of the new iron ships being built in the mid 1800s.
The technical description of the vessel as transcribed from the proforma of its Liverpool shipping register entry is quite minimal:
ROYAL CHARTER, 177 in 1855 Liverpool, 28 April 1855. 2164 78/100 tons. Robert Potter master. Official number 1355. Built at Sandycroft in the county of Flint in 1855 as appears by certificate of builder William Patterson, 7 April 1855. Rise and poop decks, 3 masts, that her length from the inner part of the main stem to the forepart of the stern aloft is 306.2 feet; her breadth in midships in 40.4feet, the depth in hold at midships 265 feet, that she is ship rigged with a standing bowsprit, elliptical sterned, mock galleries, clench built, man figurehead, that the framework and plating is of iron and that she is a steamer propelled by a screw propeller with an engine room 45.5 feet and 550 tons.
In comparison, Dr William Scoreby’s, description is much more detailed:
‘The following are the ROYAL CHARTER’s dimensions: - length overall, 326feet; breadth of beam, 41feet 6in; depth of hold amidships, 26 feet 6 inches; area of the midship section, 605 feet; the entire length of the ‘tween decks, near 320 feet; height of ‘tween decks, clear of the beams, 8feet 4 inches; of the orlop deck, 7 feet 6 inches; and of the salon the same; the length of the salon or poop cabin is 100 feet; of the deckhouse, 50 feet; of the forecastle, 62 feet. Burthen 3000 tons. The vessel is of great strength. A box keelson of large dimensions runs from end to end of the ship inside, besides two other keelsons, one on each side, the space within the body of the ship is divided, transversely, by bulkheads, and comprises altogether seven watertight compartments. There is a strong room for gold and other treasures. Her water tanks have the united capacity of about 64,000 gallons. The coal bunkers are calculated for 600 tons of fuel, of which, the anthracite kind being provide for the avoidance of smoke, the quantity of 20 tons is considers as sufficient, and proved on trial more than sufficient, for a day’s consumption , with full steam in operation.....
The steam arrangements comprised an auxiliary propeller, and a pair of direct acting horizontal trunk engines, nominally of 200 horse-power, or about one-third horse power for every square foot of midship section. The cylinders are 50 inches in diameter (less 21 inches trunk); stroke, 2 feet 3 inches; proposed number of revolutions, 75. The propeller, which is arranged for being detached and raised up clear of the water, is 14 feet in diameter, and 18 feet pitch. The boilers, which are placed abaft the engine, have 12 furnaces. A ‘donkey engine’, a small detached apparatus is fixed on the light cast iron brackets against the coal bunker. The funnel is 44 inches in diameter, appearing but small and short. Messrs Peen & Son of Greenwich were the constructors of the engines.
The ROYAL CHARTER is three-masted, and full rigged, with double topsails, on the American plan, on each mast; the lower topsails being similar to close reefed sails, but the yards fixed at the lower mast head, so as merely to traverse by the braces like the lower yards. The upper topsails, comprising one reef, are hoisted up but the yards in the usual way, and if suddenly required to be taken in, may be dropped behind the lower sails without further immediate attention being required. The total quantity of canvass capable of being spread is about 15,000 yards.
In dimensions, the masts and yards are very stout and heavily rigged. The main mast is 95 feet long by 42 inches in diameter; the foremast, 90 feet by 42 inches; the mizzen mast, 84 feet by 26 inches in diameter; the lower topsail yards, 85 feet by 20 inches; the upper topsail yards, 76 feet by 18 inches; the top gallants yards, 56 feet by 14 inches, the royal yards, 42 feet by 11 inches diameter....
In response to the adjuncts, furniture, etc., of the ship, we may just mention the provision of eight boats, including four fine lifeboats, an armament of several guns (24 pounders), with an ample supply of fire arms.’
Both descriptions use the technical language of mariners, ship designers and marine engineers which is quite hard for many of us to understand today. And, of course, the measurements are all expressed in the old imperial systems of feet and inches, and pounds and ounces.
Read the two descriptions again carefully and highlight 10 technical words or phrases that you are not familiar with (e.g. breadth of beam; keelson; bulkhead; forecastle; orlop deck, yard, braces, mock galleries, rise and poop deck, etc).
Search out their nautical meanings.
Convert the dimension of the masts to metres to gain a sense of how high they towered above the deck.Do you know which mast is which? Perhaps you might annotate a printout of this image with the mast name and the name of the yards as you work it out?
Why would such an imposing ship as the ROYAL CHARTER still need to be armed with guns in the 1850s?
This engraving was published in January 1856 by John R Lucas, Liverpool, for the Liverpool and Australian Navigation Company, and is part of the collections of Anglesey Archives.
Port of Liverpool Shipping Register 1855, Merseyside Maritime Museum Archive Service, 177 in 1855
Scoresby, Rev William, 1859, Journal of a voyage to Australia and round the world for magnetical research, pub Longman, Green, Longman & Roberts, London (available online from Google Books, http://books.google.co.uk/)