The ship of the line and her satellites A.D.1700-1840
The seventeenth century had seen the chief fighting-ship, the 'ship of the fine' or 'lineof -battle ship/ reach the form in which she remained, save for a few minor improvements, until steam did away with sailing warships altogether. The next century saw the appearance of an equally definite type of smaller ship intended for scouting and for the attack and defence of commerce. This was the' frigate' as she was in Nelson's day. In such a ship speed and seaworthiness were the important matters, and their combination in a ship which was not too large and expensive took a long time to achieve.
At one time there had been no definite gap between the ships meant for fighting in a fleet and those intended to cruise separately. Later on, when fifty guns became the least force considered suitable for a ship of the line, the classes below these were the forty-gun two-decker and the single-decked twenty-gun ship. Both of these proved unsatisfactory, and in the end the problem was solved by the introduction of the frigate in her later form, in which she was really a two-decked ship with no guns on her lower deck.
The name 'frigate,' or a similar word in other languages , had very different meanings at different times. In the sixteenth century the Mediterranean frigate was an oared vessel smaller than a galley and used mainly for dispatch-carrying. In the middle of the seventeenth century there were purely sailing frigates in the fleets of England, Holland, and France. It is difficult to say what distinguished these from other ships. Certainly the distinction was not one of size, for the Naseby, one of the biggest and most powerful English ships, was called a frigate. Some people think that it was a question of shape under water, others that it had something to do with the arrangement of the decks, others again that it meant a ship with less in the way of upper works than the old type. We know that Sir Christopher Wren had a "draught of an old-fashioned ship and another of the frigate fashion " given him by one of the Pett family, but these are not to be found now, and the matter remains a mystery. At any rate we first find frigates in English lists in 1645, and after that practically every ship built under the Commonwealth is so classed.
The usual story is that the Constant Warwick, built in 1646 by Peter Pett, was the first frigate in England, and that Pett copied her design from a French ship. As a matter of fact, the first lists in which this ship appears never call her a frigate, but do contain a Warwick Frigate, and this other ship seems to have come from Dunkirk, where they went in for building fast ships as privateers. This might explain the story of a French origin for the type. In any case the Constant Warwick was an ordinary small two-decker, quite different from the later frigate design.
The frigate of the eighteenth century seems to have grown out of a class of ships of some twenty-four to thirty-two guns built with two decks, but having only one or two guns a side on the lower deck and carrying oars there instead. The lower-deck guns were useless in any sea and were soon given up altogether, while the oar-ports were shifted to the upper deck and then disappeared . In England the first ships of the new pattern
were launched in 1756-57, and carried twenty-eight or thirty-two guns. France must have been a few years . ahead, since a French book of 1752 mentions similar ships.
The drawing of a frigate from a Swedish book of '1768 (Fig. 105) shows two striking changes in rig. A new sail right forward had appeared very early in the eighteenth century, if not in the seventeenth. There were already two staysails on the bowsprit, the fore staysail and the fore topmast-staysail; the new sail, the ' jib,' was another triangular sail set between the fore topmast-head and a short spar, called the 'jib-boom, which was added as a prolongation of the bowsprit.
This sail was adopted officially in the English fleet in 1705, and it is safe to suppose that it must have been seen now and then for several years before that. Naturally the jib and the spritsail topsail got in one another's way, but still they were carried together for some years.
The photograph in Plate XVII from a model of the Royal George of 1715 shows this very well. In England the spritsail topsail was abolished for all but the largest ships in 1721 and vanished altogether soon after. Some countries kept it longer. The Spanish ship captured by Anson in the Pacific in 1743 had it, and a drawing of a Turkish ship as late as 1760 shows the top at the end of the bowsprit and the knee which would support the topmast, though the actual topmast is no longer there (Fig. 106). This drawing shows a flag hanging beneath the jibboom as a sign that the ship has been captured. As a matter of fact, she was carried off by some of the Christian slaves in her crew and was taken to Malta, though in the end the Knights were obliged to return her to Turkey.
The other change, in the mizzen, came in a little later than the jib. From its first introduction, for three
hundred years or so, the mizzen had been a lateen. Now, a little before the middle of the eighteenth century, the part of the sail before the mast was done away with, and the mizzen assumed the shape of a gaff-sail. It is interesting to note that this half-mizzen was sometimes called a ' bonaventure '; this was obviously due to the tradition that that was the name for the aftermost of two mizzens. Small ships very soon lost the mizzenyard altogether and had a real gaff mizzen, such as is seen in Fig. 105, but the bigger ships in the English Navy kept the long yard for the reason that it was a useful spar in case of damage to one of their other yards. It disappeared finally about 1800. At the battle of the Nile in 1798 one ship, Nelson's flagship Vanguard, had it, but by Trafalgar it was a thing of the past.
About the same time as the introduction of the jib several small changes in hulls took place. The English round-tuck stern began to be generally copied abroad, while English ships in their turn followed foreign fashion in the raising of the chainwales, or 'channels,' the projecting platforms to which the shrouds of the lower masts were attached. In the latter half of the seventeenth century the position of the channels had been one of the points where English ships differed from most others. In them the channels were below the middle-deck guns, in Dutch ships they were above those guns, and in French ships, as can be seen in Plate XVI, they were sometimes even above the upperdeck guns of a three-decker. After 1706 English ships followed the Dutch fashion. Three years earlier an order had been issued to do away with most of the useless but very ornamental carving with which English ships were covered. Heavily carved brackets gave place to simple mouldings, and the elaborate wreaths round the ports (Fig. 107) that had been such a feature of seventeenth-century English ships disappeared first from the upper deck and then from the quarterdeck as well. By the end of Queen Anne's reign the transformation was complete.
The seventeenth-century ship had gone and the eighteenth-century ship had arrived. A much more important change was caused by the invention of the steering-wheel. At present it is impossible to ascribe this to a definite date or country. An early piece of evidence for a wheel is found in a draught for rebuilding the English 'ninety-gun ship Ossory. This is not dated, but the ship was launched in 1711 and the draught is probably at least three years earlier, perhaps more. There is also a model at Greenwich with the date 1706 on it which has both the wheel and the pivot in the deck for the whipstaff. Another model at Greenwich, undated , but belonging to the very early years of Anne's reign, has a very interesting fitting (Fig. 108) in the shape of a two-handled windlass just where the wheel would be and connected with the tiller in the same way.
The working of the wheel was very simple. As can be seen in Fig. 109, a rope was fixed to the axle of a wheel and given several turns round it. The two ends led
down through the deck and then to the two sides of the ship, abreast of the end of the tiller. Passing through two blocks there, they were made fast to either side of the tiller. By turning the wheel one end of the rope was slacked off and the other pulled in; thus the tiller was pulled to one side and the ship was steered.
The whipstaff did not disappear altogether for some time. The Naval Expositor of 1750 gives it and the wheel on the same page, and a Spanish manuscript of about the same date also illustrates both devices. A French naval dictionary of as late as 1765 mentions the whipstaff and not the
wheel, but this may be merely a matter of careless copying from an earlier book. Possibly foreign countries kept the whipstaff later than England. There is very little information on the matter, except that the Venetians, who were not usually very up to date with their sailing-ships, adopted the wheel officially in 1719.
Oars, which were sometimes used in early frigates, were more common in the next smaller class of ships, the ' sloops,' or ' corvettes,' as the French called them. This name 'sloop' is even more of a puzzle than 'frigate.' At one time there was a sloop rig and a
sloop rating, or class, and the two had nothing what-, ever to do with one another. To make matters worse, a book of 1750 says that sloops " are sailed and masted as men's fancies lead them, sometimes with one mast, with two, and with three." It would be difficult to imagine a vaguer description.
Still, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, when sloops were definitely the next class below frigates, they were all very much the same in hull and were rigged in one of two ways. They were single-decked vessels carrying about eighteen guns and they had either the
ordinary ship-rig or that of a 'brig/ with two masts. The word ' brig ' is an abbreviation of 'brigantine '— it is a mistake to look on ' brigantine ' as a diminutive of ' brig.' In the longer form it came from the Mediterranean , where it meant a small lateen-rigged vessel mainly intended for rowing. Brigantines appeared in
the North toward the end of the seventeenth century, and there also they had oars, but the rig was quite different. It was two-masted, with an ordinary squarerigged foremast and a lighter but taller form of square mainsail. Very soon the mainmast exchanged this square sail for a gaff-sail with a boom at its foot—a form of sail that was called a ' brigantine sail' in some countries. Fig. 11o shows a brigantine of this type from an English engraving of 1729, and it is worth mentioning that the vessel shown is the Drake ' sloop.' Side by side with this type there was a true Northern two-master, the 'snow,' at first simply square-rigged on two masts, but soon having also a gaff-sail, called the 'trysail,' set on a little mast running up close abaft the mainmast and fixed under the maintop. This trysail-mast was sometimes called the 'snow mast.' Eventually the brigantine (Fig. 111) and the snow (Fig. 112) were combined in a single type, the
man-of-war brig, which had the square mainsail of the _snow and the gaff-and-boom mainsail of the brigantine on the same mast (Fig. 113).
After the first twenty years of the eighteenth century we hear very little about the Mediterranean galley. The last of the wars between Venice and Turkey ended in 1718, after a struggle in which the Turks were opposed by squadrons belonging to Spain, Portugal, the Pope, and the Knights of Malta, as well as the whole navy of Venice. After this the Eastern Mediterranean had a period of comparative peace, while the fighting in the western part between England, France, and the reviving navy of Spain was carried on by sailing-ships only. There were still galleys in the
Venetian fleet when Napoleon seized it in 1797, and some of the smaller Mediterranean states kept them I even later, but the days of great battles between fleets of 1 galleys were over for good.
Rowing men-of-war were not altogether finished, for they survived in the Black Sea and the Baltic. The Turks built galleys, and Peter the Great, when he founded the Russian Navy in 1694, had to have galleys to meet them. Curiously enough, his pattern galley was built in Holland, but a model at Amsterdam shows that it was very similar to the usual Mediterranean galley of the time. This can be seen by comparing Fig. 114, which shows this model, with Fig. 104, which is a French Mediterranean galley of about the same date. Finding galleys useful in the Black Sea, where they were used in action as late as 1791, Peter began in 1703 to build them in large numbers for use against the Swedes in the Baltic. There the peculiar nature of
the coast,of Finland gave great advantage to shallowdraught vessels which were independent of the wind. In such a maze of rocks and islands sailing-ships were helpless, and a rowing flotilla was necessary. Both sides gradually produced a whole series of oared vessels, ranging from something very like an ordinary sailing frigate to an open boat with one big gun, and with these some important actions were fought.
As the last attempt at the combination of the galley and the sailing man-of-war these vessels are worth a little attention. The 'hemmema' which the Swedes built about the end of the eighteenth century was practically a twenty-six-gun frigate with oars in pairs between her guns. The 'turuma,' dating from about I775, worked her oars from long outriggers like those of a galley. Her twenty-four heavy guns were below the outriggers, and an equal number of light swivel
guns above them. The 'udema' (Fig. 115) had her nine heavy guns along the middle line, so mounted that they could be used on either side, and firing right across the outriggers. This drawing we owe to Admiral Hagg. The ' pojama ' was more like a galley, with two heavy guns at each end. She was a two-master, with a square-rigged mainmast and a gaff mizzen; the others were three-masters with a more or less simplified shiprig . Gun-sloops had a heavy gun at each end, gunboats one aft only. In Russia the two main types were 'shebeks ' and gunboats. The first were adaptations of the Mediterranean ' xebec, ' a sailing descendant of the mediaeval galley. The sketches show a Mediterranean xebec of the middle of the eighteenth century (Fig. 116) and two forms of Russian shebeks of some thirty years later (Fig. 117), and show that the lateen-rig was modified in the North, though galleys proper, even in the
Baltic, kept their lateen-rig to the last. Denmark also built gunboats in large numbers, and these proved able to meet even ships of the line in favourable conditions.
Except that they lost still more of their decoration and that their upper works got rather straighter and flatter, there was not much change in ships' hulls before the last years of the eighteenth century. One point worth mentioning is that the lower wales, the strips of
very heavy planking just above the waterline, instead of being in two separate strips as before, were built up solid into one broad band. This happened somewhere about 1720. Another is that the chainwales of threedeckers moved up another deck to a position above the upper-deck guns even in English ships. The Royal George of 1756 was apparently the first English ship in which this was done, but it did not become the rule for some time, and the Victory in 1765, and even the Royal Sovereign in 1786, were built oh the old system.
The greater part of the eighteenth century was a period of stagnation in English naval architecture. Shipbuilders were pinned down to a series of' establishments,' which fixed the chief dimensions of ships of each class, and these establishments were allowed to run too long without being revised. The result was that foreign ships, particularly French and Spanish, were built very much bigger than those of the same class in England and were thus able to carry heavier guns and to use them in worse weather. The worst class of all were the three-decked eighty-gun ships. As has been said already, the original two-decked eighties were a failure, and their three-decked successors were worse. For example, Mathews, the Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, wrote as follows in 1743: "They can scarce haul up a port; the Chichester hauled up but her two aftermost, but was obliged soon to lower them; as for the rest of her ports, they were caulked in when she was first fitted out, and have never been opened since, nor will they ever be, except in a Mill Pond."
French and Spanish seventy-gun ships at this time were bigger than the English nineties. Again, in the Seven Years War in 1756-63 French eighty-gun twodeckers were almost as big as English hundred-gun three-deckers, while the English eighty-gun ships with three decks were very much smaller. After this war the three-decked eighties were given up, and a seventyfour -gun two-decker built nearly to the foreign standard in size became the typical English ship of the line. In exactly the same way English frigates of the early years of the nineteenth century were outclassed by American ships of the same type. English frigates classed as thirty-eight-gun ships, but carrying really forty-nine guns, found themselves opposed by American forty-fours a good deal bigger and more strongly built and carrying fifty-four guns heavier than their own. In this case there was no advantage of skill to make up for the handicap in strength, and the result was obvious.
Plate XVIII shows an English frigate of this period, with a few small changes in rigging that are worth noting. The mizzen now has a boom at its foot as in a brigantine. In this form it was called the ' driver,' a name used originally for a sort of long, narrow, square-sail that was set on a short yard hoisted to the 'peak,' or upper end, of the old mizzen-yard. At the other end of the ship there is a little spar pointing downward from the end of the bowsprit. This was called the 'martingale-boom,' or 'dolphin-striker,'and its purpose was to act as a lead for a rope which held down the jib-boom in the same way as the bobstay held down the bowsprit. The reason for this was that another sail, the flying jib, had been introduced outside the jib, set either on a longer jib-boom or on a new spar, the flying jib-boom, which prolonged the jib-boom in the same way as that spar prolonged the bowsprit. Apparently this martingale tackle came in almost exactly a hundred years after the bobstay. The earliest picture to show a bobstay dates from 1691 and the first evidence for a dolphin-striker belongs to 1794.
This is the time of the ' French-prisoner ' models of which there are so many. No doubt there are models which were made by the prisoners of the Seven Years War and the War of American Independence, but probably nine out of ten of the examples now in existence belong to the Napoleonic Wars of 1792-1815. Most of them are made of bone, though there are wooden models as well. They are usually built on quite a small scale and have hulls which are far sharper under water than the real ships of the time. It must be remembered that they were built without the plans of the actual ships to help, and that fine lines would seem to add to their ornamental qualities. Often they have English names, but really they are practically always French ships with names added to suit the people to whom they were sold. Nearly all of these models have been rigged, and in some the original rigging is in quite good condition. Evidently the makers took care to put in everything that they had heard of as possible, for their rigging always contains many details which can best be described as fancy fittings.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the painting of ships settled down into a standard pattern. The general thing about 1790 had been to paint the lower wales, and perhaps a bit above them, black, and to have the rest of the side a fairly dark yellow. This was by no means universal, and some ships went in for much more striking effects. For instance, at the battle of the Nile in 1798 the Zealous had red sides with narrow yellow stripes, and the Minotaur had red sides with a black stripe, while most of the other English ships were yellow with narrow black stripes. The French ships had fewer black stripes and varied between light yellow and dark red. At Trafalgar the Spanish Santa Ana was black all over, and the Santissima Trinidad was dark red with white stripes. Most of the English ships had just been repainted on Nelson's own design, yellow with black port-lids and broad black stripes between the rows of ports. Except that the yellow was soon changed to white, this chequer pattern remained the standard till the last days of sailing men-of-war and was copied in merchantmen of even later date.
Just after Trafalgar there came a change in the shape of the bows of large ships. Ever since the beginning of the seventeenth century the part of the bow above the beak-head had been cut off by a square bulkhead. The lower deck had always continued as far as the natural curve of the ship's sides, but the deck or decks above that ended off short some distance abaft the stem. As the head rose the middle deck of three-deckers became round-ended as well, but up to the end of the eighteenth century the upper deck had still the square bulkhead. From its shape and its light construction this was a very weak spot, and to allow an enemy to 'rake' you, or to fire directly into your bow or stern, was often a prelude to losing your ship.
Clearly it would be a stronger method of building if the upper part of the bow was made round like the lower part, and this is what was done. In England the change seems to have begun with the Namur, which was a three-decker cut down to a two-decker in 1804. As a three-decker her middle deck was round-ended and when it became the upper deck it was left round. After Trafalgar the Victory was repaired by the same builder who had cut down the Namur, and on finding that her upper-deck bulkhead had been damaged out of all proportion to the round part of the bow below it he urged the general adoption of the complete round bow. After 1811 this became the rule for all English ships.
It was not exactly a new thing, for frigates had been built in a very similar manner as far back as 1760, and the round bow had also been found in certain twodecked East Indiamen which were taken over for the Navy in 1796. Another possibility is that the capture in 1801 of a French ship that had been originally Venetian might have had something to do with it; Venetian two-deckers had had round bows in 1780, if not earlier, and in all probability those seized by the French in 1797 had been built in the same way. Curiously enough, the ships built at Venice
under the French had the ordinary square bow, and it was an incident in the capture of one of them in 1812 that led to the adoption of the round bow in the French Navy. Whatever the exact origin of the chang^e, it was a new departure in the big ships of the more important navies and it was one that made a great difference in the appearance of ships, as can be seen from the drawings in Figs. 118 and 119.
One of the chief alterations that have recently been made in the Victory is the restoration of the oldfashioned bow and head in place of the round bow and raised head that had been given to her in 1813-15. Another is the opening up of the upper deck amidships. When first built, in 1765, the Victory, like other ships, had an open ' waist' between the quarterdeck and forecastle with merely a light gangway on each side close
to the bulwarks and above the upper-deck guns. By the time of Trafalgar she had beams across the waist, but had still only narrow gangways. In her refit the waist was planked over altogether to make a continuous deck with the quarterdeck and forecastle. This planking has now been taken away again. Usually the gangways were quite narrow and quite lightly built; in fact, they were very often removable . Some ships had them wider and stronger, and occasionally it was even possible to mount guns along them. This is what was done in the
famous Spanish ship Santissima Trinidad. She was built in 1769 as a three-decker of 116 guns, but when rebuilt in 1795 she was given guns all along her gangways , so that she had four complete rows of ports and carried no fewer than 130 guns. Strictly speaking, she was not a four-decker, but she looked like one to her opponents and is often so called in English accounts. Frigates treated in the same way were introduced in England at the end of the Napoleonic wars as a reply to the heavy American frigates. Other countries followed , and frigates were eventually built with as many as sixty-four guns in two complete tiers, but these were called ' double-banked ' ships, not two-deckers. After the round bow came the round stern. The weakness of the old-fashioned stern was even more serious than that of the bow. Forward, both lower and middle decks of a three-decker had the protection of the main planking of the hull; it was only the upper deck that was comparatively unprotected. Aft, only the lower deck had a certain amount of protection;
the rest of the ship had nothing to stop a raking fire except some glass in the stern windows and a few flimsy cabin bulkheads.
When once established custom had given way as to the shape of a ship's bow it did not take long to alter the stern as well. Seppings, who had introduced round bows, was the first to propose round sterns. This was in 1817, and in spite of much opposition the new form soon became the rule in English ships. The drawing of the stern of the Asia (Fig. 120) shows the new shape very well. This ship was built at Bombay in 1824 and
was the English flagship at the battle of Navarino in 1827, when the Turks, for the last time, were defeated by a combined fleet of other countries, this time England , France, and Russia. The French did not adopt the round stern till well on in the thirties, but Russia, then an important naval Power, took it up at once.
The stern as built by Seppings was an almost perfect semicircle, though the galleries and windows projecting from it hid its shape to some extent. Very soon a so-called elliptical stern was introduced instead; this brought the planking round the top of the sternpost and was the final form for wooden men-of-war. The English round stern was not the first attempt to produce something better than the old-fashioned stern. Something of the sort had been tried in Denmark in the first few years of the nineteenth century. In this case the stern was made very narrow, especially in its upper part, and the shape that this gave to the sides allowed the aftermost broadside guns to fire more round toward the stern than usual, besides reducing the area of the weak part of the stern. Some of these Danish ships were taken by the English in 1807, and the advantage of their increased stern fire had been proved in action in 1811.
Ships had increased wonderfully little in length in four hundred years. The ship building at Bayonne in 1419 had been 186 feet long from stem to sternpost. This length was not exceeded till about 1700, and even in 1790 the French Commerce de Marseille, the biggest ship in the world, was only 211 feet long. Beyond this the sailing man-of-war never went because the old difficulty of hogging, or dropping of the ends, which we saw in ancient Egypt, had never been overcome.
Seppings introduced another novelty in a system of diagonal framing designed to prevent hogging, but even with this improvement in construction the difficulty remained. In beam there had been a slow growth from 46 feet inside the planking in 1419 to 54 feet in 1790. Finally, at the very end of the days of sailing men-ofwar , there was a jump to about 60 feet. This was due to Sir William Symonds, who became Surveyor of the Navy in 1832 and was at last given a really free hand in design. There was a proposal to build a 17O-gun fourdecker 221 feet long and 64 feet wide, but this came to nothing. In all the smaller classes a ship of a given number of guns was very much bigger in 1800 than in 1600 or 1700, but the biggest ship considered possible had grown very little.
Plate XIX, which shows the French ship Valmy, of 116 guns, launched in 1847, niay be taken as illustrating the last stage in the life of the full-rigged sailing warship. Such ships had had their day. Steamboats of a kind had appeared as far back as 1788 in Scotland and in America, and had become a practical means of transport before 1810. The first steam warship had been built by Fulton in America in 1814. Russia had a steamer in her navy in 1817, and the English Admiralty took up the new invention in 1822. So long as the paddle-wheel was the method of propulsion steam was of little use for actual fighting-ships, because the paddles were not only very easily damaged, but also took up a great part of the space usually given to the guns. It was only in 1836, on the invention of the screwpropeller , which was out of the way right astern and under water, that the steam line-of-battle ship became a possibility.
A screw sloop was built for the Royal Navy in 1843, and two years later she proved herself in every way more efficient than a paddle sloop of the same size and power. After this the screw could not be ignored. At first old ships were given engines, or ships were altered for them while building. The first English line-of-battle ship designed as a steamship was the Agamemnon, launched in 1852. After this the true sailing man-of-war soon disappeared, and a great epoch in naval history came to an end.