Update about blog

Come on over to my other blog, Alchemy of Clay and Living in Black Mountain NC, where the scenery and my ceramic arts life are combined. I've moved some personal blog posts, (as well as those that are about my ancestors) back here.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

More about ships

Why didn't I learn about ships in school?  They were certainly important as trade goes, all imports were shipped from other places here most of my life.

So I'm looking into the ships my maritime ancestors might have captained.

An early ancestor was involved in 18th Century ship building and sailing also in Essex County, MA...I wrote a bit about the Pulsifer family here.

But for the Swasey sailors, especially Captain Alexander G. Swasey...back to the 19th century we go...


Stung by their inability to counter the naval blockade by the British during the war of 1812, the Americans would concentrate on the development of fast sailing ships; the result was the clipper, often capable of reaching 20 knots, in contrast to the 5-6 knots attained by other ships of the day. 
Clippers would be used for transportation of passengers and valuable cargo like mail, tea or spices.
In particular, clippers would compete to bring the season's first tea to London or to New York. The winner would get a higher price for his cargo as well as the glory of winning. The most memorable race took place in 1866, when starting from Fuzhou, after 100 days at sea, Taeping and Ariel raced neck and neck up the Thames and arrived within 20 minutes of each other.
The opening of the Suez canal in 1869, marked the end of the Clipper era. The tea and mail trade was taken over by steamships and most of the clippers transferred to the Australian route, carrying general cargo and passengers to either Sydney or Melbourne, and returning with wool.   SOURCE: http://www.iro.umontreal.ca/~vaucher/History/Ships_19thC/

This information doesn't speak to where the ships were built, or who the captains might have been, but I would imagine these are larger ships than the schooners I spoke of yesterday...they certainly look bigger.

The Flying Cloud, US 1851

Cutty Sark 1859

Age of Steam

Around 1830, steam engines appear on ships as adjuncts to sails. At first the engine is connected to paddle wheels on the side; but within 15 years, screw propellers will be found to be superior both in power and economy. In parallel, iron will take over from wood for the hulls and the spars.
Sailing vessels will continue to be used into the 20th century: wind being more economical than coal for bulk cargo. Lacking a global network of coaling stations, US warships would rely on sail until 1890.
But for rapid reliable delivery of mail and passengers, steamers like the Great Western would take over on the Atlantic run starting in 1840.

Great Western (1837)
Isambard Brunel's first ship design
  • Steam and sail with oak hull
  • 3000 tons
  • 250 ft.
  • 11 kn
  • Liverpool-NY in 12 days

© www.cotswolds.info

Side-wheel Steamers

Propeller driven Ships

Launched in 1843, the SS Great Britain is the first ocean-going ship to have an iron hull and a screw propeller and for a time, it was the largest vessel afloat. She originally carried 120 first-class passengers, 132 second-class passengers and 130 officers.

Image from the Merchant Navy Assoc. site

Great Britain (1843)
  • Steam and sail (6 masts)
  • 3500 tons
  • 98m x 15m
  • 12.5 kn
  • First propeller ship to
    cross Atlantic
Refitted in 1851 with 3 masts and a shorter funnel to carry passengers to Australia


During the 19th c, warships will move from sail to coal-fired steam propulsion which provides speed, manoeuvrability and direct routes independent of prevailing winds. Unfortunately, a steam navy requires a network of secure coaling stations. England with its global empire could rely on stations around the world: Gibraltar, Aden, Ceylon, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, St-Helena, etc. The United States, lacking such an empire, largely stuck with sailing ships in the decades following the Civil War; and the few ships with steam engines, like Admiral Perry's Mississippi used them only as auxiliary power.
Coastal vessels close to refueling bases could use steam and many such vessels would be used during the US Civil war. The most notable example being the Confederate Ramship Virginia which engaged five major Union (sail) warships blockading Norfolk Harbour, sinking the US Cumberland and US Congress and running others aground.


Passenger Travel

The 19th century is marked by massive emigration from Europe to the Americas and to Australia. Initially, immigrants are carried on sailing ships but, depending on the weather, the trip to America can take over 3 months at sea. Steamships with the advantages of speed, regularity and comfort take over after 1850. The following shows typical travel times accross the Atlantic.


Steamship records
accross the Atlantic
Year Duration Speed
First steamship crossing
18 days 8 knots
1850 10 days 12 knots
1900 5 days 22 knots
1950 3 days 35 knots


“The Embarkation, Waterloo Docks, Liverpool”

In the mid-1800s, most British immigrants to the United States departed from Liverpool, England. Many Scandinavians also sailed to America through the British port. Other European emigrants sailed from Le Havre, France; Bremen and Hamburg, Germany; and Antwerp, in Belgium.

1850 arrival in America

Inside a Packet Ship, 1854

This cutaway reveals how travelers, immigrants, and cargo sailed together. Travelers with enough money purchased “cabin passage” and slept in private or semiprivate rooms. The vast majority of passengers, usually immigrants, bought bunks in steerage, also called the ’tween deck for its position between the cabins and the hold. Source:http://amhistory.si.edu/onthewater/exhibition/2_3.html

In Steerage

Steerage passengers slept, ate, and socialized in the same spaces. They brought their own bedding. Although food was provided, passengers had to cook it themselves. On rough crossings, steerage passengers often had little time in the fresh air on the upper deck. If passengers didn’t fill steerage, the space often held cargo.

Complaints about overcrowding, poor food, abuse, and disease on immigrant ships led the United States and countries in Europe to enact new laws in the 1840s and 1850s.

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