HMS Temeraire's Tugs

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  • #17527
    Malcolm Lewis
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      Temeraire and her tugs
      The hero of Trafalgar which went to the Victory’s aid in the heat of the battle remains in the hearts of the nation thanks to Turner’s magnificent painting “The fighting Temeraire tugged to her last birth to be broken up 1838”. She was towed up the Thames from Sheerness to the breakers Beatson’s at Rotherhithe on Limehouse Reach. Beatson’s had broken up several wooden ships-of-the line previously including the Bellerophon but Temeraire was the largest. Two steam paddle tugs, the London and the Samson (sic), were contracted to undertake the tow. The distance was some fifty-five miles and took two days, with an overnight stop, using the Spring tides which flooded at some five knots.
      It is believed the lead tug was the London. The question is about the role of Samson. Steam tugs were relatively new in the maritime world and although low powered they revolutionised the movement of sailing ships in and around ports. Nothing definite seems to have been recorded about the handling of vessels by tugboats but it is believed in the case of Temeraire’s last journey Samson acted to assist London in steering the empty hulk around the severe bends of the lower Thames probably as a stern tug although there were reports she was secured alongside the Temeraire to add her paddle power in navigating the bends and shallows.
      Most likely though Lion was secured to Temeraire’s stern. If so, what was the means of securing the tow line to a stern tug from a ship which still displaced over two thousand tons? NMM Greenwich has or had a relatively modern-day tug on display which was specially designed for securing the lines to ship’s sterns and incorporating a massive swivel shackle just below the bridge. Would the Samson have been specially fitted out for this task which would also have meant removing or lowering her tall forward mast? Turner’s painting shows the London’s mast incorrectly abaft the funnel which is always assumed as the artist’s poetic licence to balance his composition. The Samson does not appear in the painting.
      I have a copy of Judy Egerton’s book about the episode and the painting itself but it does not go into the detail of actually handling the tow.

      #17537
      Malcolm Lewis
      Participant

        Thank you Sam for transferring this post as a separate subject.
        I am ticking the box to see any responses
        Malcolm Lewis

        #17541
        Mark Barton
        Participant

          I think you have several of us curious.

          #17556
          Mark Barton
          Participant

            I did ask my salvage team on this today, they would have been surprised if “a paddle tug would have secured alongside the Temeraire; it would have needed very good fendering to ensure the paddles did not contact the hull of the Temeraire and it wouldn’t help that much in the manoeuvring of her.” There is a wreck of a paddle tug that has just been passed to HES in Scotland, a dive on that wreck may reveal further details of one of that period.

            #17564
            Malcolm Lewis
            Participant

              It must be doubtful that the tug London was secured alongside the empty hulk of the Temeraire. She was seriously underpowered with an early marine engine said to develop only 50nmp and probably liable to explode at any time. The other tug Samson had similar power. Towing such a heavy vessel must have relied on the strength of the stream to make headway. Serving onboard HMS Reggio, a large Canadian built tank landing ship (LST) in the 1950’s with its flat bottom and shallow draught, I recall some hair-raising entries into Grand Harbour, Malta in windy conditions. Fortunately, a large harbour paddle tug was usually at hand to secure itself alongside before we wandered off around the harbour struggling to make our birth.
              Talking to a retired harbour master friend about the Temeraire tow up the winding River Thames it is suggested that the London, acting as the stern tug, had a windlass forward for anchoring and berthing purposes and also bitts fitted on the foc’sle to which a towline could be secured.
              It is always interesting to watch large vessels negotiating the sharp turn around the western end of the Bramble Bank (The Brambles) in the Solent with the assistance of a stern tug before then proceeding up Southampton Water.

              #17565
              Mark Barton
              Participant

                The picture of the Comet in the Historic England Ships and Boats 1840-1950 report, equally shows her bitts and deck machinery fitted forward, so that would support the belief the towing was from the foc’sle.

                #17578
                Frank Scott
                Participant

                  Tim Nicholson, Take the strain: The Alexandra Towing Company & the British Tugboat Business, 1833-1987 (Liverpool, 1990) is worth a read. The Monarch (1833) was the first Watkins Tug built to their specifications, and was in service for 43 years. In later life the towing hook was just over half way from bow to stern, but it seems that it may originally have been at the stern. The book makes clear that the Turner picture is inaccurate in its depiction of the Monarch, as it places the mast abaft the funnel. I also strongly suspect that unlike Turner’s painting Temeraire only had lower masts standing, no yards or upper masts. David Cobb’s much later picture (done for the company in 1983) is probably less subject to artistic licence. There is a photo of two paddle tugs very similar to Monarch taken in the 1840s, with no sign of towing gear for’rard, on page 13 of the book.

                  These early tugs were all single engined, with both paddles driving both paddles together, so they were not the highly manoeuvrable vessels that I saw when I first went to sea in the 1960s. One wheeze that Watkins developed to reduce the turning circle was to have an iron box filled with chain cable that ran on rails fitted athwartships. For a tight turn the box was run over to the opposite side to the turn so that the paddle on that side dug in deeper, while that on the other side lost some traction. That system lasted until the coming of de-clutchable wheel-shafts or (better still) separate engines for each paddle.

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