Royal Caroline And The Development Of English Fast Sailing Ships

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The eighteenth century saw a new introduction of science into the art of naval architecture. The first attempts to apply mathematical criteria to shipbuilding were made mainly in France. There, mathematics and experimental scientific studies were widespread and traditional shipbuilding methods were not so deep-rooted as in England. There was a French school of physics and applied mathematics engaged in the study of the optimum shape for hulls. Some of the finest scientists of the time were involved; their results, if not brilliant, were certainly a positive contribution.

In the nineteenth century, when this hitherto neglected field of naval history was first studied, it was argued that French ships, based on the calculations of such scientists, were superior, and that the new designs of the traditionally-inclined Royal Navy had only developed by slavish imitation of foreign innovations, especially those of captured French ships. This fallacy is still widespread today. It is true that the Admiralty had the shape and size of captured ships recorded and plans made from them (this was normal in other navies too). It is also true that a fair number of English ships were successfully built on the basis of these plans. Nevertheless, reports on French ships were often far from uncritical.

When it was planned to buy in a captured ship for the navy, a technical commission consisting of representatives of royal dockyards had to decide on the appropriateness of the acquisition, a fair price, the repairs needed and so on. Then, if the prize was purchased, the captain had to make a report on the ship's sailing qualities, as was the case for ships built in England. The captain's sailing quality reports were generally favourable, in some cases almost enthusiastic, but the captains were well able to distinguish between good or excellent performance with calm seas and moderate winds and mediocre or decidedly poor performances in rough seas or at different trims. The best French prize of the 1740s, Renommée, was extremely fast (15 knots under full sail) and very handy in coming about, which her captain praised. But she rolled terribly in rough seas and buried her bows in the sea when close hauled with a strong wind because of her over-streamlined bow. Renommée aged prematurely and her performance declined rapidly as a result of hogging.

The most detailed criticisms of inadequate building standards come from the dockyard surveys. These reports are agreed on the French ships' lack of sturdy construction; frames were too widely spaced and timbers too light. The number of beams was insufficient and the knees which reinforced the joints between beams and frames were even fewer. The planking was too light and fir

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The first page of Sir Charles Molloy's log tells us that the ship was launched on 29 January 1749 at 1 pm, and was taken the same day for masting.

The first page of Sir Charles Molloy's log tells us that the ship was launched on 29 January 1749 at 1 pm, and was taken the same day for masting.

From document ADM 51/4316 in the Public Record Office was used too much instead of oak for the upperworks and decks. The fastenings were very poor, consisting almost exclusively of simple iron nails, which were also too few in number, whereas a high percentage of treenails and bolts clinched over roves or locked by a gib were held to be necessary. The Royal Navy, which was notorious for overloading its own more robust ships with armament, was very cautious in this respect with captured ships. At times French prizes were rearmed with lighter guns than they had been carrying when captured, as their structure was judged to be too weak for the weight.

The lightness of French shipbuilding explains their generally good sailing qualities, but also why they aged so rapidly and constantly needed repairs or even rebuilding.

The real situation was that the Royal Navy followed the activities of their traditional adversary with interest, but with no trace of a passive acceptance of their results or a blind admiration of the product of mathematical processes. In construction, the question of accepting French principles was never considered, and as for the lines of the hull, it was a matter of trying to obtain the

Gun Squirrel Sixth Rate

advantages of French ships (speed under certain conditions coupled with manoeuvrability) without losing characteristic English strength and sturdy construction. Neither formulae nor theories were capable of providing the complete answers.

Around 1740, the standard smaller English cruising ships comprised two classes: the 40-gun two-deckers and the 20- or 24-gun ships which, strangely enough, were also two-deckers. This latter class had a lower gun deck with only two or three ports, which added little to the ship's fire power, but severely hampered her sailing quality as the upper deck with the majority of the guns was higher above the waterline in consequence. Both the 40-gun ships of the Fifth Rate and the 20- or 24-gun ones of the Sixth were decidedly inferior to their French and Spanish counterparts in size, and generally in performance. The Admiralty was exasperated with the Navy Board's stubborness in defending these types, and indeed was disappointed in the cautious tensions in dimensions made by the 1741 and 1745 Establishments, which failed even to eliminate the most obvious anachronisms like the lower gun deck mentioned

Royal Caroline at anchor while embarking a passenger.

Gun Squirrel Sixth Rate

Royal Caroline at anchor while embarking a passenger.

above. In an effort to solve this problem the Admiralty ordered the Navy Board in 1747 to reproduce the hull of a captured French privateer, Tygre, without the slighest alteration. This was a ship the Navy had refused to buy because of its weak structure, but it obviously had the lines and handling qualities which the Admiralty could not manage to impose on the recalcitrant Navy Board. At that time George Anson was already at the Admiralty and it would be no surprise if the hand of the energetic captain of Centurion lay behind such a drastic order, which certainly was not flattering to the Navy Board.

So, with Tygre as model, two 28-gun ships of the Sixth Rate, Unicorn and

Lyme, were built. They can be considered the first two real frigates of the Royal Navy. Not only was the antiquated arrangements of the guns on two decks abandoned, but the lower deck, minus guns and ports, was lowered to the waterline. Lyme and Unicorn were a complete success and in 1755 the Admiralty ordered two further identical ships, Lowestoffe and Tartar. At the outbreak of the Seven Years War, many 28-gun ships were ordered, built along the lines of Unicom and Lyme and various others of the 32-gun class were also inspired by them. In order to obtain the typical sturdy English construction and to avoid the well-known drawbacks of French designed ships (mainly the

Gun Squirrel Sixth Rate

tendency to dip the bows into rough seas), the English plans certainly copied Tygre, but not blindly, despite the categoric tone of the Admiralty's order.

At the same time experiments were being carried out on the shape of the hulls of smaller, 20-gun, ships. Two ships of this rate, Gibraltar and Seaford, were ordered on the same day in 1753. The first was based on Tygre, but the second was built along the lines of Royal Caroline. This Seaford was the first of a long line of ships which included not only 20-gun vessels (Deal Castle and Squirrel of 1754, and Glasgow and Rose of 1756), but also bigger and more powerful 32-gun frigates of the Richmond class, built between 1757 and 1763 (the class included Richmond, Juno, Thames, Boston, Larke and Jason). The tonnage of these ships was three times that of our yacht, but the hull lines were essentially the same. This was not the end of the story, because in 1804 the Admiralty ordered new 32-gun frigates and once again chose the Richmond type. Seven were built, named Circe, Pallas, Jason, Hebe, Thames, Minerva and Alexandra - a fine example of the continuity of shipbuilding over a period of time. Royal Caroline, launched in 1750, had been based on a late seventeenth century model (Peregrine Galley) and designs based on her were being built right into the nineteenth century (perhaps longer, if the truth were known).

Robert Gardiner's very interesting study confirms that French shipbuilding influenced British naval architecture up to a point. On the one hand there was the English shipbuilder's attachment to English building principles based on the strength and durability of the structure. On the other, there was the fact that the best foreign prototypes were used within the terms of a well thought-

out, far-sighted policy which sought the best compromise for the real conditions of use: in all weathers, in all seas, under all sailing conditions, with a certain weight of armament, a certain hold capacity for water, victuals and ammunition for many months and (remembering that the Royal Navy served worldwide) a minimum space for lodging the men either in tropical or sub-arctic weathers. Considering all these things, and many others impossible to list here, the problems in making progress in shipbuilding can be imagined, and the reasons for hesitating at innovations and for ignoring mathematical formulae and academic recipes can be understood.

The Admiralty, under Lord Anson, experimented in two directions to obtain a light craft. One was based on a French prize and the other on its own time-honoured national tradition. This is confirmed by Frederik af Chapman, the well-known Swedish naval architect and descendant of an immigrant English naval officer. His famous collection of ship plans entitled Architectura NavalisMercatoria was published in Stockholm in 1769. Chapman had been in England up to 1757 to gain experience in shipbuilding, and he included both Unicorn and Royal Caroline in his collection, in preference to dozens of other available models, to illustrate a type of light warship or privateer. As a result the only complete plan of Royal Caroline's decorations is now in Stockholm, in the Sjohistoriska Museum, and it came from the Chapman Collection. Chapman's decision to include both Unicorn and Royal Caroline in his collection was certainly not arbitrary. On the contrary, he wished to illustrate the two development trends which the Royal Navy was following empirically.

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