The Development of Merchant Ship Composite Hull Construction in Britain, 1850–1880

By Peter King, published November 2022


The composite construction of merchant ships, where a wooden skin was attached to iron frames, was a relatively short lived expedient. Iron frames provided a more capacious hold than wooden construction allowed and the wood planking allowed anti-fouling sheathing to be attached to the hull without a galvanic reaction that would destroy the iron. The first practical vessel built along these lines was built by Liverpool shipbuilder John Jordan in 1850 who was granted a patent for composite construction in the same year. An effective means of insulating throughbolt copper fastenings to avoid galvanic reaction was patented by Clyde shipbuilder Alexander Stephen in 1862 and there followed a rapid adoption of the system among UK shipowners and shipbuilders, particularly for vessels on the China tea trade. By the late 1870s, the advent of economic steam propulsion on the medium-haul freight trades, the impact of the opening of the Suez Canal and the emerging availability of effective anti-fouling coatings effectively sounded the death knell of composite construction. This article explores the development of composite ships in Britain during the period from 1850 to 1880. The close correlation between many aspects of Jordan’s patent and Lloyd’s Register’s ‘Suggestions for the Construction and Classification of Composite Ships’ is also examined in detail.

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Filed under: Other (Nineteenth C)
Subjects include: Shipbuilding & Design

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