Trafalgar 1805 – Powder Screen aboard HMS Temeraire
- April 18, 2021 at 4:16 pm #21594Malcolm LewisParticipant
I sent this query to the Forum several years ago but no response. Maybe with the welcome arrival of new members someone may have the answer.
I have been enjoying SNR Member Peter Warwick’s Voices from the Battle of Trafalgar, David & Charles 2005, in which he records the words and experiences of the officers and men on both sides who took part in the pell-mell battle.
On page 213, in an episode involving the British Temeraire and the French Redoubtable, he mentions that a party from the former went aboard the Redoubtable to assist with fighting a fire which threatened both vessels, and who were well received by their enemy, such is the power of the ‘brotherhood of the sea’. One of Redoubtable’s fire balls(?)is also reported as entering the powder screen on the quarter deck of Temeraire where it ‘caused a destructive explosion on the main deck below’. The fire was put out by Master-At-Arms John Toohig, from Cork, who was quartered in the light room.
Whilst I am familiar with the use of wetted woollen Fearnought curtains at the entrance to the magazines I am puzzled by the term ‘powder screen on the quarterdeck’. When in action it was usual to clear away all the bulkheads which enclosed the living quarters under the poop deck, and the magazines were well protected a long way below on the orlop. Can anyone explain the description ‘powder screen” please?April 18, 2021 at 9:04 pm #21595Gary MorganParticipant
It seems to me that the terms ‘Fearnought screen’, Powder screen’ and ‘Fire-screen’ are all somewhat interchangeable. Fearnought is the fire dampening material (when wetted), used not just in screens but also in covers. Falconer says of ‘Fire-Screens’ – “are pieces of fear-nought sewed together, and hooked round the magazine passages, and also round the hatchways, where it is necessary to pass the powder”.
The salient part of passage quoted above states “entering the powder screen on the quarter deck of Temeraire where it ‘caused a destructive explosion on the main deck below” this can only have been via a screen over a horizontal hatch, ladder, or companionway to allow it to progress from one deck to another.
The question then arises as to how fearnought coverings to hatchways were configured, were they simply a horizontal covering that could be rolled back and forth to allow passage of men and powder, or were they hung like drapes around the hatchway from the deck beams above to create a segregated buffer zone.
Given ladder and hatchways between successive decks were often placed one above another there would most certainly would have been horizontal coverings at the very least, otherwise any ‘hot’ materials could simply plummet a number of decks. This then leads the thought that all deck penetrations that were not covered by solid planking must have had fearnought coverings in action, otherwise the danger in particular in close action from both burning wads from the enemy’s guns, as well as grenades creates a significant risk of fire transmission unless such barriers were in place.
GaryApril 27, 2021 at 9:43 pm #21626Sara CutlerParticipant
Does anyone know where Peter Warwick obtained the quote from in ‘Voices from the Battle of Trafalgar’ – as quoted above – page 213?
‘One of Redoutable’s fire-balls is reported as entering the powder screen on the quarter deck where it ’caused a destructive explosion on the main deck below. Had it not been for the presence of mind of the Master-At-Arms, John Toohig from Cork, quartered in the light room, the fire would have communicated to the after magazine, and probably have occasioned the loss not only of the TEMERAIRE but of the ships near her.’
The quote is almost exactly word for word identical to both ‘The Dispatches and Letters of Vice Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson with notes by Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas, G.C.M.G. The Seventh Volume’ page 184,published Henry Colburn, London, in 1846 and its identical twin, ‘The Naval History of Great Britain…by William James.Volume IV’ page 63, published by Richard Bentley, London in 1837.
‘A stink-pot thrown from the Redoutable entered the powder-screen on the quarterdeck, and caused a destructive explosion upon the main deck. Had it not, indeed, been for the presence of mind of the master at arms, John Toohig, who was quartered in the light-room, the fire would have communicated to the after magazine, and probably have occasioned the loss of not only the Temeraire, but of the ships lashed to her.’ Both of these works appear in the first books bibliography.
The story of John Toohig appears in many histories with subtle variations, but so far the original source has eluded my sister and I.
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