Book Review-‘Down Amongst the Black Gang: The world and workplace of RMS ‘Titanic’ ’s stokers’ by R. P. Kerbrech

By Peter Goodwin, published November 2020


Subjectively the Titanic remains a much hackneyed travesty of maritime disaster research. However, this book is delightfully refreshing, and singularly conjures up the below decks world of the engineers who drove the palatial leviathan ships that plied the Atlantic run. The study is well written, and you can feel and smell the grime, dust and heat, and perhaps even sense the sweat of the tough breed of men in the stoke hold who tirelessly fed coal into the ship’s boilers. More than this, the book comprehensively recreates the reality of marine engineering operation ‘on the plates’ of ships of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although the technological aspects of marine engineering could be deemed beyond the understanding of a wider audience the author has carefully provided excellent simplistic explanations for the uninitiated reader. This work thoroughly identifies a complete understanding of the principles relating to boiler furnace fire management beyond that of simply shovelling coal through the furnace door. Also explained are the ‘tools of the trade’, how they were used; the principles of bunkering coal, together with the ingenious mechanical means of discharging the copious amounts of ash produced overboard. Main propulsion machinery comprising triple expansion engines, turbine and associated systems are more than adequately explained, albeit that understanding the intricacies of the reversing gear used to drive the ship astern may perplex some readers. Most important the author completely identifies the diverse application of lubrication to giant triple expansion reciprocating engines and the precarious tasks involved by the greasers…

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Filed under: Atlantic | Other (Twentieth C) | Shipwrecks
Subjects include: Manpower & Life at Sea | Ocean Liners & Passenger Craft

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