Invention and introduction of steam hoisting engines abaord sailing vessels

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    Benjamin I

      I am new to the forum and looking forward to contributing to this community. I am conducting research on the invention and earliest marine implementations of steam hoisting engines, sometimes called “steam donkeys” or “donkey engines” and was wondering if anyone might be able to share any insights into their earliest origins. I’ll note that there is some ambiguity in the terminology as “donkey engine” was also used to refer to auxiliary steam engines used to feed water to marine steam engines. Much of my research in their use has focused on Great Lakes sailing vessels, with donkey engines being mentioned from the 1850s at least. However, I have been unable to find anything definitive in the form of early patents thus far, though I am just beginning this research. Thank you.

      Sam Willis

        Hello Benjamin and welcome – I’d suggest looking at the collection of Patents in the British Library.

        there are also lots of marine engines in the collection of the science museum:

        And I’ll also get in touch with the people at the Brunel Institute in Bristol

        Frank Scott

          The extract from Captain J.C.B. (‘Bracewinch’) Jarvis’ 1897 pamphlet ‘Wrinkles & Suggestions for Sailing Vessels’ should be of interest.
          The Donkey
          No large vessel ought to be without a steam especially if she can be sailed with fewer hands than is required to work the anchors, or if she trades to ports where it is possible to work the cargo with the crew. In the Californian ports of San Diego and San Pedro a few years ago vessels with donkeys worked their own cargoes, but vessels without steam had generally to pay 50 cents per ton for stevedoring (equivalent to $130.00 in 2022).
          The donkey is often condemned owing to its being neglected at sea. When owners find large accounts for repairs, the donkey is unshipped.
          On board a well-manned, well-found ship, most of the repairs necessary to keep a donkey in order may be done by the crew, and the expense or upkeep is then trifling. The writer has seen a faulty Galloway tube replaced without cost to the ship, the makers of the boiler having supplied the new tube (tapered thermic syphon water-tube for a Lancashire boiler).

          NB: I have inserted some notes which are in italics.

          Frank Scott

            For a wider view you may also wish to look at my article ‘Technology and the four–masted commercial sailing ship: 1875-1950’ in Mariner’s Mirror Vol 98/4 (Nov 2012)
            “Although clear in many photographs, history books tend to shy away from mentioning the steam and diesel engines installed in latter-day sailing ships. The reality was that steam donkey engines (and to a lesser extent hot-bulb diesels) were widely fitted, and used both for cargo-handling, and for operating the anchor windlass, thus saving much labour for the crew. In emergencies they could also run the pumps, and for water-ballasted ships they handled that in harbour.”

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