Historical Sketch of Naval Architecture

FROM the semi-barbarous epoch of the middle ages to the present century, which has seen the birth of steam navigation, the form and rig of vessels have undergone many modifications. We are about to give a rapid historical sketch of these, quoting, as far as possible, those types of naval architecture celebrated in preceding centuries. Still, we are hardly permitted to go back farther than the ninth century, where we find some certain ideas respecting the Scandinavian vessels. Before this period all is confusion, and leaves us full of uncertainty. We know well that the ancient Trireme gave birth to a sort of row-galleys known in the fifth century by the name of Dromons; but we have no positive details respecting the precise form of these vessels. In the sixth century, the Emperor Maurice, in a treatise on the military art, spoke of them as vessels particularly contrived for battle. Three hundred years later, the Emperor Leo, who wrote on the same subject, said that the dromon was long, and broad in proportion to its length, and that it carried on each side two banks of oars, one above the other, of twenty-five each; but nothing further to enlighten us. As for the Norman vessels from the ninth to the twelfth century, we know thedrakar (dragon), which was as much of a dragon as the ancient Pristis was a whale - that is to say, that at the summit of her prow rose a figure carved into a dragon, and that her form had something that resembled a serpent. All of the dragons were not of the same size. The dragon of Alaf Tryggrasson is spoken of in contemporary his tories as the giant of Scandinavian vessels.

Never was one seen larger, finer, or more imposing in bulk and decoration. She had thirty-four oars on each side. If the tradition is accurate, she must have been as long as the galleys of the sixteenth century. It was, it will be seen, a vessel of considerable importance; for galleys with twenty-six oars only were about one hundred and thirty feet long. The dragons were built to resist a sea more stormy than the Mediterranean. Consequently they had broad sides and a vast stern, so as to have a firm seat on the water. They were fiat bottomed, and drew very little water. Besides the draker, the Scandinavians had thesekkar, or serpent vessel, which had twenty benches of rowers. Its form differed little from that of the dragon. It was only shorter, shallower and narrower. All Norman vessels were alike in bow and stern. But some war vessels had a little building on the poop called the castle. This castle was a little embattled platform, where the archers and slingers were placed. It would be difficult to tell precisely what the internal arrangements of the Scandinavian vessels were. The smallest were not probably decked. As for the larger ones, they doubtless had a deck like the galleys and beneath this deck a hold, apportioned according to their wants, to rooms, magazines and stables for their horses. The Scandinavian vessels had only one mast, with a vane and four or five shrouds. The sail was square, attached to a yard, furnished with sheets at its lower angles, and managed by two braces that belayed aft. The yard had a halyard passing through a block at the mast head. As for the rudder, it consisted of two blades, large, crutch handled oars, near the stern, on the right, and also left of the vessel. The anchors of the Normans were like oars, but they did not have that cross-bar of wood we call the stock. In the twelfth century we see the galleys, according to Wenesalf, which were only little light dromons, built particularly for speed, and having only one tier of oars. The following is a textual passage from this writer relating to them: - 'What the ancients called liburnus, the moderns have named galley. It is a ship of no great depth, armed at the prow with a motionless piece of wood, vulgarly called calcar (spur), an instrument with which the galley pierces the enemy's ships that she strikes.' A diminutive of the galley was the galleon, which, being shorter and swifter, was better suited for discharging the Greek fire. For the rest, starting from this invention, the action of the shock of the calcar was by degrees replaced by the hand to hand struggle.

Among the galleys, which afterwards gave birth to the galea grossa, in assuming more capacity and more amplitude, some were manoeuvred by two oars to the bench, others three. It is even certain that, at a later period, in the sixteenth century, the strongest ones had as many as five oars, which appears incredible. The galleys possessed only one mast, which was stepped rather forward - that is, in the first third of the vessel.

In the thirteenth century, the fleet which St. Louis took with him towards the Holy Land, gives proof of the thorough modifications which naval structures have undergone. St. Louis could only collect the eighteen hundred vessels which composed his fleet, without recourse to the marine of neighboring states Genoa and Venice among others. Now, the contracts for hire he exchanged with Venice for many vessels, give us information with respect to one called the St. Mary, represented in the engraving. This vessel had two decks and two masts. It possessed two poops, placed above each other, two platforms, an upper deck, and a fighting gallery of four or five feet overhanging the poop. This ship, manned by one hundred and ten sailors, was one hundred feet long. The same contracts give us also information concerning another vessel, called the Rochefort. Although not so long as the St. Mary, she was stronger and broader. She had two rudders; one to starboard, and the other to larboard. Her sparring consisted, also, of two masts; one at the prow, and the other amidships. The mainmast was smaller and lower than the foremast. It had only twenty-six braces, while the other had twenty-eight. The sails of almost all the fleet were of cotton. All the sails were rectangular triangles with the hypothenuse attached to the yard, and were called antennal. Still, it is proper to mention the assertion of some authors, that the sails of St. Louis' vessels were square. Their assertions were only founded on the form and dimensions of the yards, which all the documents of the time represent as very long and slung by the middle. We ought to observe that, in speaking of the St. Mary and the Rochefort, Venetian ships, we have indirectly spoken of naval constructions coming from the ports of France and those of other European countries. At this period, all vessels, Genoese, Castilian, French, etc., resembled each other; and to be acquaint ed with one was to know all. The galleys of the thirteenth century were thus somewhat changed. Lighter, sharper than those of the preceding century, in the fourteenth, the kind called 'subtle galleys,' were observed to preponderate. These galleys, extremely light and swift, were furnished on each side with from twenty-four to twenty-six oars, and might have been from one hundred and ten to one hundred and twenty feet in length. Still, in the fourteenth century, and even in the fifteenth and sixteenth, the most celebrated ships were the carradecs. Their tonnage may be estimated by their cargoes, which sometimes amounted to fourteen hundred casks.

In 1359, the Castilians took a Venetian carrack, which had three 'covers' (decks), and must consequently have been as high as the great storeships of the seventeenth century. In 1545, a French carrack, the Carraquon, which passed for the finest ship and fastest sailer of the western ocean, was of eight hundred tons burthen, and had one hundred pieces of artillery of all calibers for armament. The carracks of the fourteenth century had only two masts in the fifteenth, they took three, and after wards four. At first three-decked, they finally reached as high as seven decks. The poop and prow were the height of three or four men above the deck, and looked like castles raised at each of the extremities. The castles mounted each from thirty-five to forty guns. In the galleys, the employment of fire-arms did not effect material changes; the prow alone, somewhat shortened, was armed with a gun mounted on a mass of wood destined for its recoil, and extending amidships through the whole length of the vessel. This piece of wood was called the coursie, and the gun placed upon it the courser. At the sides, upright carriages supported a few falconets and other pieces of small ordnance. The galeass, originating in the galea grossa, as the latter did in the galley, carried, as well as the carrack and other ships, a castle at the bow and a castle at the stern. In the former, there were twelve guns in three tiers in the latter, ten only in two tiers. She had thirty-two benches of rowers, and between each of her benches rose a swivel on a point. This, it will be perceived, was a formidable armament. The galeass had three masts and lateen sails. The Venetians made great use of this vessel. Their famous Bucentaur belonged to this class. At the end of the fifteenth century, when Christopher Columbus armed his vessels at Palos, he formed his little flotilla exclusively ofcaravels. Now, this name of caravel, which in the outset belonged only to a common barque, was at this time borne by a vessel of considerable, but not extraordinary size. The caravel had four masts the forward one with a square sail surmounted by a topsail, the three others each carrying a lateen sail. These sails enabled the caravel to manoeuvre well, and she was as prompt to handle as the French tartane,much renowned at that epoch. She came about as quickly as if she had been a row-boat. She had but one deck, and very little carrying capacity. Still, if the caravels of Christopher Columbus were smaller than those of a later period, at the close of the sixteenth century, they were large enough to contain ninety seamen and the provision necessary for a long voyage. The flag ship of Columbus was called the Santa Maria; the two other, La Pinta and La Nina. A passage in the journal of Columbus himself, gives a detail of the canvass of the Santa Maria. The wind,' says he, became mild and manageable, and I set all the sails of the vessel - the mainsail with the two studding sails, the foresail, the spritsail, the mizzen and the topsail.' The caravels then had, like all the great vessels of the period, a castle at the bow and a castle at the stern. They made, on an average, six knots an hour. Columbus was only thirty-five days in going from Palos to San Salvador - an ordinary passage even in these days of quick sailing. The sixteenth century was an epoch of progress for the marine; England particularly gave it the onward impulse. Meanwhile, an important invention, that of gun-ports, was due to a Frenchman, of Brest, named Descharges. The system then adopted for the arrangement of batteries has never since been changed, and exists to the present time. Historians and antiquaries have taken great pains to arrive at a knowledge of the forms of ships of war at this period. The documents written and drawn are, some so confused, others so deficient in proportion and perspective, that it is difficult to understand them.

Still, as some authentic details respecting the Great Harry are known, this ship may serve to give an idea of the navy of the sixteenth century; and we have accordingly presented our readers with an engraving of this formidable vessel. Up to the seventeenth century, one model seems to have prevailed in all naval constructions. The Spaniards and the Portuguese followed the example of the Venetians; the Dutch and the northern nations derived their nautical knowledge from the same sources; the English themselves, so jealous of their naval supremacy, received their lessons in improving and strengthening their embarkations from Italian masters. They were accustomed to place at the extremity of the prow a sculptured figure, which served to distinguish the vessels of one nation from another. The Venetians adopted a bust from preference; the Spaniards, a lion; the English, especially after the accession of the Stuarts, the figures of the reigning monarch, either on horseback, or riding on a lion. The stern, above the cabin windows, presented a plane surface or tablet, with apertures for light and air, starboard and larboard. On Venetian, Spanish and Portuguese stern some saint or hero was placed. Other nations had only the arms of their respective states. Before the end of the sixteenth century, some Portuguese and Spanish vessels carried as many as eighty guns mounted on carriages. At this period, the strongest vessel of the English navy carried but fifty guns or pieces deserving that name. The Sovereign of the Seas,' built in 1637, at Woolwich, Kent, 'to the great glory of His Britannic Majesty,' as a contemporary description we have before us declares, was decorated in a style of regal magnificence. On her bow was king Edgar, on horseback, trampling on seven kings; on the stern, a cupid on a lion; and grouped together, at the bow, six statues, representing Counsel, Prudence, Perseverance, Strength, Courage and Victory. On the quarter-deck, four figures, with their attributes, Jupiter, with his eagle, Mars, with sword and shield, Neptune, with his sea-horse, and Eolus on a cameleon. On the stern, a Victory displayed her wings, and bore a scroll with this device Validis incumbite remis. This vessel had two galleries on each side.

These galleries, as well as the whole vessel, were covered with trophies, emblems and scutcheons, of all kinds. Her length from stem to stern was 232 feet. She carried five lanterns, one of which, the largest, could contain ten persons, standing, with ease. She had three decks running from stem to stern, a forecastle-deck, a half-deck, a quarterdeck, and a poop-deck. Her armament was as follows thirty ports, with large and small guns, in the lower battery; thirty ports, with culverins, in the second battery; twelve ports in the forecastle, and fourteen on the half-deck; finally, thirteen or fourteen swivels, a multitude of port-holes for musketry, ten bow-chasers, and as many stern-chasers. There were twelve anchors. 'The Sovereign of the Seas,' says Charnock, was the first large vessel constructed in England. Splendor and magnificence were particularly kept in view in building her. She was in some sort the occasion of the serious complaints made of the expenses of the navy in the reign of Charles I. Cut down one deck, she became one of the best ships of war in the whole world.' It is certain that the suppression of this deck, and the lowering of her deck-cabin, gave her more stability than she had at first. Now, for speed, what she gained in strength by these changes was compensated by the length added to her masts. Topsails at this period were an important addition to ships. Old engravings show us the vessels of the sixteenth century sailing generally under their courses. After the building of the Sovereign of the Seas, this only occurred in particular eases and certain conditions of the elements. Captain Phineas Pett directed the work of building and afterwards improving the Sovereign of the Seas. A learned engineer, he deserves the credit of having done more , than any one else to give an impulse to the English navy. The artillery was strengthened, and the crews larger, and better lodged. The entire navy felt this progress. The Sovereign of the Seas gauged 1637 tons, a thing which, according to a historian of the time, deserved the attention of the whole world, since it represented exactly the date of her launch. Notwithstanding the thrice-fortunate augury which the historian saw in this coincidence, the Sovereign of the Seas met with the fate of the. Great Harry. She was destroyed, like the latter, by fire, in a ship-yard, where she was being repaired, in 1696, after sixty years' service. Observe here that Fuller, in his history of the 6 Wonders of England,' acknowledges that at the commencement of the seventeenth century, the Dunkirkers furnished the models of the best vessels built at this period in the British ports.

When Louis XIV became king of France, there was no French navy, properly speaking. Voltaire asserts that in 1664 a few frigates and a line-of-battle ship, in poor condition, constituted the entire force. After the siege of La Rochelle, Richelieu, jealous of the growth of the English navy, had given a sort of impulse to naval ideas by arming immediately fifty ships and twenty galleys but the effect of this impulse was merely momentary. Colbert was the true creator of the French navy. Under him, in less than five years, France possessed a triumphant maritime force. The most renowned of the French ships at this period was the Royal Sun. This vessel was constructed partly on French, and partly on Dutch principles. She was 1600 tons, 150 feet long, 48 broad, and 16 deep. She carried three lanterns on the poop. As the flag-ship, she carried at the main the white standard, embroidered with the fleurs-de-lys, and the French coat of arms surrounded the orders of St. Michael and the Holy Ghost. The decorations of the Royal Sun surpassed everything before or since. A model of this ship is contained in the naval museum of the Louvre, at Paris. The Royal Sun mounted 120 guns in three batteries complete, with stern and bow guns.

The seventeenth century was perhaps the most brilliant period in the history of galleys. Those of France were commanded by a general. There were two kinds of them, the ordinary and the extraordinary. The ordinary had only twenty-six oars, and twenty-six benches on each side; the extraordinary had often thirty-two. There was no difference of model between them, their dissimilarity only resulting from their relative sizes. All were extremely long, low and narrow. They carried only two masts and lateen sails. The armament consisted of five guns forward and two swivels. These swivels were attached to the sides of the galley to prevent the recoil. There were generally at least five rowers to each oar, the oars being very long and very heavy. Between the rowers' benches and the sides of the ship there was a space where the soldiers were stationed. Soldiers to fight, sailors to manoeuvre, and a gang composed of galley slaves, or Turkish prisoners, made up the crews of the galleys.

Naval architecture, in the course of the eighteenth century, advanced in model, sparring and rigging of vessels. Two deckers with fifty guns were superseded by frigates carrying the same number of pieces in one battery. The following were the dimensions generally adopted for the different classes of vessels: For first class vessels, one hundred and sixty four to one hundred and eighty-six feet in length, forty-seven to fifty feet in breadth, twenty-three to twenty-five feet in depth; for second class vessels, one hundred and fifty-six to one hundred and seventy in length, forty-three to forty-seven in breadth, twenty and a half to twenty-three in depth; for third class vessels one hundred and fifty to one hundred and sixty in length, forty-two to forty-three in breadth, twenty to twenty and a-half in depth; for fourth class vessels, one hundred and thirty-five to one hundred and fifty in length, thirty-five to forty in breadth, seventeen to twenty in depth; for fifth class vessels, one hundred and two to one hundred and thirty in length, thirty-three to thirty-four in breadth, thirteen to seventeen in depth; for sixth class vessels, sixty to seventy in length, eighteen to twenty in breadth, nine to ten in depth. Among the considerable changes in construction, the first that strikes the eye is the enormous augmentation of canvas. Never did ships carry so much sail.

At the same time that ships of fifty guns became frigates, in their turn the light frigates - those, for instance, which carried from ten to twenty pieces of artillery - formed a new class of vessels, under the name of corvettes. The corvettes, at the beginning, had three masts, and their guns under cover. Afterwards, to increase their speed, they carried all their artillery on the upper deck. Later year, the mizzen-mast was abandoned in the smallest. This kind of corvette gave place to the brig-of-war. The bomb-galliot became a bomb-ketch, a sort of three-masted corvette, with platforms between the main and mizzen, and the main and fore masts. Yachts, galliots, gun-boats, armed some with a few light pieces, others with one heavy gun, complete the series of naval forces in use at the eighteenth century, except a few varieties peculiar to different seas and coasts. As for the fire-ship of the first part of the century, no mention is made of it at the close; and if, since that time, certain infernal machines, more or less closely fashioned after the fire-ships, have made their appearance, they have only proved unfortunate attempts, and not answered the expectations of their contrivers. The Turks alone preserved these old warlike contrivances up to the present time; and Navarino offered us, for the last time, the spectacle of a ship - the Scipio - engaged with a fireship Like the fire-ship, the ancient galley disappeared with the eighteenth century. In the Mediterranean, the three-masted barque has become the xebeck; and we find, under the same appearance, all the embarkations spoken of in the preceding ages. The lateen vessels are those the least changed in appearance, because, from the simplicity of their rig, they sooner reached a stage bordering on perfection.

The ship Ocean, represented in engraving, is an excellent specimen of the science of the eighteenth century. Presented to Louis XIV, by the estates of Burgundy, nothing was spared to make the frigate worthy of its destiny. Built in 1760, it was modernized, and is still in existence.