Maritime Art

Section of a First-Rate Ship, c.1700

By Captain Thomas Phillips

This coloured line engraving of a First Rate ship is by the military engineer, Thomas Phillips (d.1693). Phillips was a man of significant reputation in the last quarter of the seventeenth century. Although his training was broadly ‘military’ he became heavily involved with the Royal Navy and the earliest surviving record of his career dates back to 1661 when he was appointed Master Gunner of the 32-gun fifth-rate HMS Portsmouth. His reputation subsequently grew as an expert on bombardment and fortification and he was very well regarded. In the 1680s he came to know Samuel Pepys who noted the breadth of Phillips’ interests and knowledge, with ‘views on many topics, including the improvement of navigation skills, the need to study the world’s currents, the importance of mathematics in the educational curriculum of children intended for careers at sea, the simplification of the rigging of ships, and the needlessness of discovering the means of calculating longitude, which he believed would only bring about miscarriages at sea.’ Phillips’ work came to focus on producing surveys of existing coastal fortifications and making suggestions for their improvement and was appointed ‘Second Engineer of England’ in 1685, based at the Board of Ordnance in London. He subsequently designed a new type of gun carriage for naval warships and his plans were adopted for the First Rate, HMS Royal Sovereign (rebuilt 1685).

It is certainly possible that this highly detailed cut-through drawing of a first-rate ship was somehow linked with that project, but it is not certain. The ship depicted can, however, be dated to the reign of Charles II (1660-1685) by the crowned letter ‘C’ or ‘CC’ in the carved work of the stern gallery. The work clearly demonstrates Phillips’ ability as a fine draughtsman. There are countless significant details in this image, not least the inclusion of a whipstaff attached the end of the tiller, showing that, in this period, the steersman was buried below decks, unable to view the trim of the sails. A huge brick galley furnace and copper cauldron can be seen just under the forecastle, used to cook the crew hot victuals. The chain-pumps, used to pump the ship dry are also visible either side of the main mast. The drawing also clearly shows how the hold is strengthened by diagonal transverse bracing. The particular value of this drawing is that it shows many details not otherwise included in normal ship plans such as the painted panelling in the senior officers’ quarters where small arms and navigational instruments are also displayed on the walls.

A number of articles on ship design and First Rate warships have been published over the years in The Mariner’s Mirror.

H.M.S. St Lawrence: the Freshwater First-Rate explores a shipbuilding program towards the end of the War of 1812  when American naval forces were performing well on the Great Lakes and the Provincial (Canadian) Marine was strengthened by Royal Naval forces. That shipbuilding programme included HMS St Lawrence, the Royal Navy’s only first rate to operate solely on freshwater. The ship, as large as the Victory although of lighter construction, fulfilled the purpose of regaining control of Lake Ontario although its actual service was limited.

The Early History of the Steering Wheel explores how the use of the wheel to activate a ship’s rudder via the tiller came into use in the early 1700’s, in England, France and later Venetia.  The essential problem was to translate the rotary motion of the rope via the ship’s wheel to a linear one that moved the tiller in an arc. The chronology and solutions to this problem, which may have been initially influenced by the “rocking beam” of Newcomen’s steam engine, are described by the author.  Examples are illustrated from the literature, ship models and existing ships of the era, such as the HMS Victory, US Constitution, and others.

The Influence of Iron in Ship Construction: 1660 to 1830 explores how shipwright Sir Anthony Deane began using iron for small hull components because suitable timber was becoming scarce. As the quality of iron improved, its use became more widespread. This paper describes the iron components, their production, the influence of French shipwrights on their design and an early structural test to compare strength. Iron was used in the 1814 refit of HMS Victory, and can also be seen in Trincomalee and Unicorn. Gradually, iron parts went from being used for repairs to being specified as an integral part of the ship’s structure. Seppings used iron extensively, especially as part of his diagonal bracing system, allowing major changes to warship design by the 1830s.



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