The Bentinck Boom

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    Frank Scott

    As most forum users will be aware, the ‘Bentinck Boom’ was developed by Captain John Bentinck RN (1737-75).

    In his system the foot of the foresail is cut narrower than normal, and spread by a light spar attached to both clews, and (for reasons that elude me) this spar is known as a boom. When the sail is set the boom is connected to the deck near the foot of the mast with a chain bridle and purchase. Since only a fore-bowline either side was sufficient for control, rather than the traditional tacks and sheets, the saving in manpower is evident, and this made it very popular with the famous collier brigs. Given that Bentinck was a naval man, and thus never had any real worries about manpower, it is interesting that he developed both this labour saving idea, and triangular courses (which were known as ‘Bentincks’ in the navy).

    Roger Finch’s Coals from Newcastle (Lavenham, 1973) reproduces two paintings of collier brigs under sail that show the Bentinck boom quite well, the Fuscia on page 141, and the Unity on page 154. I suspect that he used these for inspiration when he produced the painting which adorns the cover. Unfortunately E. W. Cooke does not appear to have done any relevant engravings or sketches, as anything by him would be as accurate as a photograph.

    On that note, I have never seen a clear photograph of any vessel under sail with a Bentinck boom rigged. There are many that show vessels in harbour, with their sails furled, and the Bentinck boom clearly visible in its stowed position, but they are not what I need, interesting though they may be.

    I have always liked the idea of this rig, and it would be nice to see it resurrected.

    Frank Scott

    Once again members of MarHst-L Forum have been very helpful & their responses are summarised below:

    A. From John Kohnen:
    It’s a ‘boom’ because it spreads the foot of the sail. A boom does not have to have an end attached to the mast, it is a ‘boom’ on a balance lugsail or lateen — unless it’s a Sunfish sailboat, where the Class Association calls the lateen yard the “upper boom”; and the boom the “lower boom”!! <gasp>. It seems to me that Bentinck’s invention is well and properly named.

    B. From Steven Toby
    I think John must be right about the literal meaning of the word “boom,” since the spar used to extend the foot of a studding sail was also called a boom. It didn’t even swing, with respect to the yard it was rigged out from.

    – I stand corrected.

    Frank Scott

    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

    Frank Scott

    Bill Bedford of the MarHst-L forum has kindly dug around and come up with a photograph of a vessel under sail with the Bentinck boom rigged. This is the brig Ebenezer, owned by the Robinson Brothers of Littlehampton (built Shoreham, 1860) in Basil Greenhill’s The Merchant Schooners, vol 2 (London, 1968) plate 19, where it is credited to Douglas Bennet. For some unknown reason this picture did not make it into the later combined edition, published in 1988, which is the one that I have. However, that same photograph is shown in David MacGregor, Merchant Sailing Ship 1850-1875 (London, 1983) fig: 82, p 72, this time credited to the Nautical Photo Agency. MacGregor apologises for using ‘this well known picture’ and also notes that this is a rare shot of a vessel with a Colling & Pinkney Roller Reefing/Furling topsail actually set. No date is given in either source, but it must be around 1880-1900.

    Following this clue I tracked down a different shot of the Ebenezer, which must be a bit later as she has been cut down to brigantine rig, see

    Neither of these photographs are particularly good quality, but they are useful. All that is now lacking is any record of the Bentinck boom prior to 1840; preferably within the reputed inventor’s lifetime (1737-75).


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