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      What did the term “double-bottomed” mean in 1840?

      In the seventeenth century it meant a catamaran; nowadays it means (I think) a boat with a double skin or with an inner and an outer hull. But what would a British writer have meant in 1840?

      As the boat being described was of iron, the double skin seems unlikely, the more so as the boat was to be drawn by horses and was intended to be fast.

      The sentence in which the term is used is:

      This company [P&O] has also undertaken to bring out to Alexandria, in one of its monthly steamers, a double-bottomed iron track-boat, to be drawn by horses at a rapid pace, on the Mahmoudieh Canal, whereby travellers may be expedited to and from the Nile and Alexandria.

      Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent 10 April 1841


      Frank Scott

        Double bottoms for iron warships seem to have come in around 1860, and with metal construction it was an obvious way of improving their ability to withstand flooding due to battle damage. Certainly HMS WARRIOR (1861) has a sub-divided double bottom, and contemporary manuals of naval architecture refer to their use and method of construction.
        For merchant ships in the coal era, apart from safety the advantage of double bottoms for steamers was that they could load and discharge water ballast by means of steam pumps, which was far more convenient, faster and cheaper than taking on solid ballast.
        I believe that Brunel’s GREAT EASTERN (1858) was the first ship to be designed with a double bottom, but cannot turn up the reference at the moment.
        However, all of this pre-dates your horse-drawn canal barge by almost two decades, so it would seem that what we now understand as a double bottomed vessel was not applicable to her.

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