Reply To: Coppering the wooden walls

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Malcolm Lewis

    Thank you Justin for referring me to the IJNA article on this subject detailing the discoveries during the reclamation work on the sunken remains of the Invincible wrecked in the Solent in 1758. It is also interesting to note:
    ‘Lead sheathing was not wholly discontinued by the Navy until 1770 when the new 3rd-rate Marlborough had lost virtually all her lead sheathing in 3 years’.
    I was unaware too of the use of: ‘copper filling nails [copper nails tapped into the wooden plank to cover the surface] as found on the (4ft) forward section of a false keel found on the Invincible (1758) wreck site.’ The authors observed that the remaining part of the false keel was copper sheeted and [the false keel was] held in place with copper staples. The stern section of the hull also showed evidence of coppering. This work was believed to have been carried out at Portsmouth in 1757. The authors note:
    ‘It is known that captured French ships, being outside the strict regulations controlling the construction of British ships, were often used for various experiments involving the modification of structure or armament.’
    Would these regulations have referred to the Establishment of Dimensions [Navy Board 1705 amended Admiral George Churchill (1654-1710) 1706], so strictly followed by the Surveyor to the Navy, Sir Jacob Ackworth, in the first half of the 18th century?1
    Brian Lavery notes that Invincible’s false keel was coppered as an experiment, and: ‘in 1758 several more ships had their keels coppered.’2
    The lines of the hull and many other features of the captured Invincible had a major influence on such as Sir Thomas Slade, Surveyor to the Navy 1755-71, responsible for designing the new British 74-gun ships, such as the Valiant and the Triumph launched in 1759 were such ships. I am particularly interested in the 74-gun 3rd-rate Hercules Class Thunderer, launched 1760. Notes I have say she was wooden sheathed but it would be interesting to know if she and other Ships-of-the-Line built at that time had their false keels either covered with copper nails and / or copper sheathed before full hull coppering for Royal Navy ships was ordered c1783.

    1. John Fincham, A History of Naval Architecture, Whittaker & Co, London, 1851 reprinted Scolar Press 1979;
    Brian Lavery, The Ship of the Line, volume 1: The development of the battlefleet 1650-1850, Conway Maritime Press 2004
    2. Robert Gardiner (ed), The Line of Battle: The Sailing Warship 1650 – 1840 reprinted 1994, p.142.