Reply To: The Bentinck Boom

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Frank Scott

    Spars to spread the foot of square sails when off the wind (running) undoubtedly appeared well before Bentinck. However, the great value of the Bentinck boom was that it enabled vessels to tack with less manpower, & thus work to windward much more easily. Indeed its attraction lay much more in the simplicity of handling than in simply spreading the foot of the foresail. It was this that ensured that it was taken up so enthusiastically by the collier brigs in the Newcastle-London trade and by (topsail) schooners in the British coastal trade.

    It was interesting that no-one could turn up a reference to the Bentinck boom being used outside Britain.

    I may have been a bit misleading about the cut of the sail, because most brigs and brigantines could fit a Bentinck boom without altering the cut of their foresail, as is implied by an interesting passage on page 160 of Basil Greenhill’s The Merchant Schooners (London, 1988). Certainly the old TS Royalist (1971-2014) would not have needed to alter the cut of the foresail to carry a Bentinck boom, not would the late lamented TS Astrid (1989-2013). It is just a pity that in both cases the forecastle layout was incompatible with a bridle fitting.

    Although I had originally accepted that the ‘Bentinck Boom’ was the nrainchild of Captain John Bentinck RN (1737-75), I have been unable to find any confirmation of this attribution. This is not helped by there being no record of it being patented – I have checked the relevant printed record from the UK patent office. Indeed the earliest representation that I have seen is from 1846, showing the collier brig Fuscia (see Finch, Coals from Newcastle, p 141). As to books, the earliest mention that I can find is in Admiral Smyth’s The Sailor’s Word-Book (London, 1867), where he states that it was ‘particularly used by whalers among the ice, with a reefed fore-sail to see clearly ahead’. I had not picked up on this aspect before – perhaps a specialist in the history of the British whaling industry can cast more light.

    This throws up two questions.
    1. Did the collier trade follow an earlier example set by the whalers?
    2. Might the boom have been named in Captain Bentinck’s honour, rather than invented by him?

    Frank Scott