ENGLISH War-Ships and Their Uses. 2

With regard to the external form of the hull of a vessel, it must vary according to the purposes for which it is designed. If required to carry much cargo, it must be deep and square and wallsided. If a sailing vessel, it must perforce have a broader beam than a steamer, to compensate for the leverage of the wind tending to overturn a very narrow vessel. If a steamer intended for war purposes, there must be space for lodging the crew and for working the guns, unless intended chiefly for speed, in which case the longer the vessel in proportion to width, the faster she may be propelled through the water with a given power.

And inasmuch as water naturally runs in rounded sections, the hollow section for the vessel’s bottom is the form of least friction against the water. Eight breadths to a length, with hollow lines like those of a bayonet, would give good cleavage of the water; but unless it be very smooth water, the midship section must change to a flat or rounded bottom, or the vessel would be apt to capsize. The question of size is very important, as great size — other things being equal — gives increased speed and greater space for men and machinery, both for working and fighting.

There has existed a notion that wooden ships could not hold out against stone walls. One reason for this was, that the stonewalls carried the heaviest batteries; yet Nelson at Copenhagen did not hesitate to pit his ships against them, and came off victorious. There is one undoubted advantage the ships possess. They can discharge their projectiles and move away, preventing the fortress-gunner, from getting their range. But latterly the size of ships’ guns has been doubled, and fort guns also; and wood cannot resist the strokes.

So attempts are now being made to put the wooden ships in armour. This has been attributed to the French Emperor, but Admiral Sartorius claims it. The germ of this may be found in the old galleys, where the shields of the warriors were suspended round the bulwarks to impede the enemy’s shot. Armour for men and armour for horses was abandoned when gun-bullets became too destructive for the greatest weight that could be carried by animal power.

But ships may be armoured to resist, by strength and by distance, the heaviest shot now existing, though possibly not the shot that may yet be made. It is a contest between power of destruction and power of resistance. Around the steam-ram now constructing, plates are to be fixed four inches and a-half in thickness, and behind them are to be built large masses of hard timber supporting the plates, which are to be bolted to it.

But there is a defect here, — the plates are not of large size, and there are many joints. The probability is, that the bolts would be broken and the plates would fall off. Moreover, the plates are scarcely heavy or thick enough for resistance. It is probable that the quality of the iron will not be of the best, and will be much granulated in forging.

The report of late experiments states that the plates on English armoured vessels indented with the first sixty-eight pound shot at two hundred yards’ distance, and with two more shots shivered and fell into fragments. The fallacy in the statement lies in assuming that the plates were of wrought iron. They may have been bought as wrought iron, and the buyers may thereby have been sold, but wrought iron in the true sense they could not have been. They were either cast-iron skinned over — in trade phrase, “cinder covered with a crackling,” or they were wrought-iron cold swinged to a granular condition. We must first esteel our metal before we try to armour a warcraft of magnitude.

It is precisely in this that the Bessemer iron alluded to in the article on Projectiles, will be found serviceable. I may say the Bessemer steel may be cast to any size by pouring together the contents of many crucibles, and plates of eight or twelve inches in thickness may be passed through the rolls. These plates may be welded together by the process before described, by a gas and atmospheric air apparatus, and an absolutely solid side produced, which might be lined behind with any thickness of timber. It is merely a question of cost.

Friar Bacon once imagined the walling of England about with brass. It would have been an admirable resource to Birmingham for some generations; but a process of this kind would be literally walling England about with iron, and the iron walls of modern England would not shame the “wooden walls ” of the past.

In the application of this armour, the size of the vessel and amount of displacement become most important. The enormous weight has a tendency to make the vessel top-heavy, and to set her rocking. But weight matters little where the size is great. And these iron walls should be made to slope inwards at an angle of 45 degrees, in which case it would be difficult to strike a plate direct with a shot. It would glance off, and the sloping inward would remove overhanging weight.

But it will be said, such vessels may be attacked by torpedos from below, and a hole bored in the bottom, sinking them with all on board. In the first place, it would be difficult to fix a torpedo to an iron vessel; and if practicable so to do, the bottom might be made of plates as thick as the upper armour.

Such a vessel certainly should have nothing to do with sails when in action. Masts similar to those of the old galleys to carry lights, and serving as derricks to lift weights by steam cranes, and also to serve as outlooks, might be provided with sails for slow movement, in order to economise fuel. The lights at the mast-head or funnel may be conveniently furnished by gas made in a vessel that is incombustible.

The armament of such a vessel would be ponderous guns, few but massive ; but unquestionably the destroying power of greatest moment would be in the momentum of the vessel herself. In the construction of her underwater beaks the welding process which joins heavy masses of metal together would be employed to advantage, such masses as the bronze artificers of the Greeks or Romans could not achieve.

And either end should be alike, striking both ways, like the Malay, with double kris projecting from each hand and each elbow, steering by the propellers or side rudders, and not by end rudders, which would be in the way. Iron bulwarks athwart-ships would protect the men on her decks, while in silence she sped on her errand of destruction; at one blow vessel after vessel of the foeman going down below her forefoot, as weeds before the plough share of the husbandman.

Our woodcut represents the proposed Government Ram in the act of striking an opponent. Before she is rigged, we trust that common sense will lead to the substitution of shorter masts, their heels pivotted on deck, and schooner-rig, the back-stays to the masts being so arranged as to allow them to move forward with the shock without coming by the board and then regain their position, with elastic provision both ways to moderate the force of the shocks.

A gun at either end, of twelve inch bore, forty feet in length or more, weighing about fifty tons, would carry an elongated shot or shell of half a ton in weight a distance of five miles. Lateral battery guns of less size, with balls instead of trunnions fitting into sockets in the vessel’s side, would form a battery from which unseen and unapproachable gunners would pour forth destruction.

In the letters of Lord Collingwood, who watched the French coasts during the threatened invasion of another Bonaparte, is to be found the grief expressed at long and tedious separation from his family. If a channel fleet composed of such vessels is to watch the Channel in all weathers, every resource of art should be adopted to lessen the tedium of life, and reduce the drudgery of the crew, while providing for every comfort.

Of course all labour, save that of directing labour, would be transferred to steam power, and all the comforts to be found in a first-class hotel would be provided. Lighting, drainage, and ventilation could be carried on as ashore, and sailors would no longer be fed on salted provisions to the injury of their health. The resources of modern art can provide against this.

The only motive for salting meat in the sailor fashion, called by the names of “junk,” “old horse,” and so on, is to prevent it from putrefying. It might be tanned to produce this effect, and possibly without rendering it much more indigestible. What is really needed, is to dry the meat. Putrefaction will not take place without the conjunction of three conditions — moisture, low heat, and stillness.

What part heat plays we know by the late condition of the river Thames, a condition now applying to most tidal and some non-tidal rivers, where population thickens on their banks. In fact, the three conditions have been present, and putrefaction has taken place. Hot sun and wind will abstract moisture, and putrefaction does not take place then.

In Southern America, people without our pretensions to civilisation understand this, and when they kill a food animal which is not intended for immediate consumption, they cut the flesh into thin strips or flakes, and hang it on lines in the hot sun, when it gradually takes the consistence of glue, and will no longer putrify, unless soaked in water. In course of time it may become mity, like cheese, but does not cease to be edible nourishing food.

The Spanish name is charqui, probably a corruption from the French chair-cuit, and thence by English sailors transformed, Anglo Saxon fashion, into Jerked Beef. The Boucaniers of the Tortugas whose occupation as an honest industry — ere the Spaniards molested them, and forced them into practice as freebooters (filibusteros) — was killing and drying hogs and other cattle, were literally bacon-makers, Chaircoutiers, and from them no doubt the custom spread to the Spanish main.

But not everywhere on the Spanish main can the drying process be carried on naturally. In the hot, moist regions, the favourite soil of liver complaints, charqui cannot be made. Even in the Pampas of La Plata, the coast of which the Spaniards christened by the style and title of Good Airs, charqui proper is not made, though the abundance of cattle induces a bastard substitute.

In Chili and Peru, and on the table-lands of the Andes, when the stars at night seem pendent from strings, so that you seem to look round them in the pellucid atmosphere, there is the land of indigenous charqui, where moisture flies away before the drying winds, where a mule lost in a snowdrift comes forth in the spring a grinning statue of leather, couchant, disembowelled, and with his eyes picked out by the condors, but with his hide impregnable, gradually getting to look like an old and worn leathern trunk after a hard campaign.

Now what is done by nature, can be done by art. For the sun and wind can be substituted the modern desiccating processes, in which air, warm or cold, medicated or otherwise, can be forced through moist substances, and thus flesh meat may be dried at pleasure, without undergoing any process mischievous to digestion. Yet more, with steam-power at command on board, meat safes may be so fitted, that dry cold air might be passing through them continuously, worked by the air-pumps, and fresh meat might thus be kept any length of time, of which processes we have an indication in the meat hung at the mast-heads of vessels when departing on a voyage.

Passages by steamers are now so rapid, that provisions last fresh, and these processes are disregarded. But for the mariners of our water fortresses, with all means and appliances at their ruler’s disposal, almost without extra cost, this simple process should not be neglected. Flesh meat, in the present condition of sailordom, is the staff of efficiency; and we ought not to waste fifty to seventy-five per cent., in processes diminishing its nutritious properties.

Vegetable preparations are now so common that the old processes of curing scurvy by sauer-krout, by oranges and lemons, and so on, may fairly be abandoned in favour of the better food that will not suffer scurvy to commence. The marble and conglomerate-looking blocks which the Crimean war first popularised, give out all the original qualities of the vegetables from which they are made, and the cook can have at sea all the essentials of his art as on land.

In such a craft the bathing of the men would not need the dipping a foresail overboard. Currents of water could be kept constantly pumped through, and if we get to water propulsion, a running stream of salt water would be accessible to all on board; and the sleeping space might easily be a gentle air-current, cooled in summer and warmed in winter. The great steam engine, the heart of the whole machine, would furnish the pulsile force, driving health through all its arteries, and making every single man the equal of two men by increased energy.

The intelligent man, viewed merely as a weapon of offence and defence, is worth six ignorant men; and we could afford therefore to expend on him the cost of three, and thus have double the efficiency at half the price. All employers of skilled workmen understand this: and surely a first-class seaman should be a skilled workman, who, risking life by sudden ending rather than by long process, should be highly prized and carefully nurtured. There is no reason why every good seaman should not be a good mechanic. All good seamen are so in the processes of sailing-vessels, and, in a steam fortress afloat, mechanical operations would be a relief from ennui. Turning and fitting would be an amusement, which “polishing shot” is not.

The steam seaman, properly trained, should be as competent to all the processes of the engine and propellers as is the sailor to his propellers of sailcloth and cordage. In the class of vessel before described, he would be better protected, have a better chance of becoming a veteran, and, up to a certain point, would increase in value with his years. Such men, properly paid, would have no tendency to desert their ship, any more than a highly-paid workman has a tendency to desert his workshop. The very best men would volunteer for such a service, in which most of, and more in some respects than all, the comforts and conveniences of a house on shore, might be obtained.

Permanent work is always a strong inducement to the best men to work for moderate wages. In a large vessel, libraries, gymnastics and games of many kinds should be procurable; music instead of screeches might be obtained by steam appliances; and even the cultivation of certain kinds of flowers and plants might go on. Dr. Johnson, who probably had no Danish blood in his veins, defined a ship to be “a prison with a chance of being drowned.”

The chance of drowning may be, by proper structure, nearly extinguished, and an attractive home in which people voluntarily stay can scarcely be called a prison. All human beings are born with some natural aptitude at which they work with a will. These aptitudes vary: but we have a very large number amongst us instinctive seamen, whom not even bad food, worse lodging, incessant drudgery, systematic tyranny, and ill-usage of all kinds, have deterred from the pursuit of their vocation. With this class of men, the naval war service — or, a better term, the naval police service — would become the most popular of all kinds of work.

“Steam has bridged the ocean” is becoming a hackneyed phrase; and therefore certain persons take it as a corollary that the road to England is now open to French or other invasion. Railways facilitate the passage and concentration of troops; and therefore troops may be concentrated within twenty-four hours on the French coast, and steam will bring them over to the English coast instanter. Moreover, the French have Cherbourg; vessels of war, steam and others, more numerous than our own, and have the command of the narrow sea — the Manche. Steam, say certain French logicians, will enable us to use soldiers for naval purposes; steam will lay our regiments of — horsemarines — alongside British men-of-war, and they will be captured by boarding with that French commodity — élan.

The French are admirable reasoners; they demonstrate to a fixity, but they frequently lack one thing in their logic — to take in all the data. Other things being equal, it is a generally acknowledged fact that the Gallic Cock is by no means a likely bird on salt water; in short, by no means a match for the Norse Gannet. The Gannet would, in contest on his native element, unquestionably drown the Cock. Chanticleer would go down with a gurgling in his throat, extinguishing his would-be note of victory, and he would be buried in the deep amidst electric cables and all the mysterious matter that has accumulated from the earliest ages when the Phoenician keels first furrowed the narrow seas.

It is quite true that there was a time when from Normandy sailed a force that established itself in England; but that force was not Celtic but Norse — kinsmen of our own ancestry — of very little sense of justice, but strong men withal; and so England absorbed them, and grew out of them a Itichard as well as a John: and so has she gone on absorbing, from time to time, the best blood of all the Continent, whenever men of more than ordinary intelligence were driven from their hearths by despotic power jealous of their moral force.

This question of steam cuts two ways. The French may now cross the Channel, and invade England — if they can. And if they did, and succeeded, farewell the hopes of the world for a while, and re-enter the dark ages. If this thing were possible, backed by hordes of Europe’s savages, the remnants of our race would again cross the sea in ships and people that magnificent land to be found on the northern shores of the Pacific, North Oregon, where law and order, and not despotism, is building up a new empire in a different sense from European empires.

But steam cuts two ways. The elder Bonaparte could not cross to invade England, because he had no steam. But neither could England enter the harbours of France to take away or destroy in mass all his means of transport, simply because she had no steam. With steam, our seadogs would not have lain off French ports to watch their game, and make prey of solitary stragglers from time to time. They would have swooped down in mass, and made assurance doubly sure, as they did at Copenhagen, so soon as they knew that the Danish fleet was virtually made over to the French emperor.

We are a peaceable people; we want no war; and, according to our lights, we essay to do that justice to all the world that we would the world should do unto us. We want to work and trade, and make progress in all those things that reclaim the world from the wilderness. Providence for wise purposes has created the Celtic race. They represent the elastic power of the universe, without which all would fall into gravity, stagnation, inaction. Elasticity held down by gravity becomes a working power, and thus Celt and Saxon and other cognate races constitute Englishmen. Take away the gravitating power, and the elastic force eternally bubbles up in waste without constituting a power, or becomes from time to time destructive for want of being set to regular work. It goes into elan:

Valour, like light straw in flame,
A fierce but fading fire.

France, like Ireland, being too Celtic, has a tendency to make war in the absence of other excitement. From the Celt comes poetry, painting, music, sculpture — most of those things which give a sensuous charm to life; and if he cannot expend his energy on these things, he “dies for want of a bating,” runs after la gloire, or wants, as they say in Kentucky, “kivering up in salt to prevent him spiling for want of a fight.” The Celtic nature follows after chieftains, not after institutions, and a despot thus finds in a Celtic army a ready instrument for oppressive purposes.

It is a conventional fashion to speak with great respect of the French Emperor as the soul of chivalry, the soldier of liberty, and so on. Perhaps! If a man has universally spoken truth, people have no right to disbelieve him: but the French Emperor has more than once said one thing and done another. He professes to have gone to Italy to drive out the oppressive Austrians and restore Italy to freedom.

His opponents say that he means to keep Italy for himself, directly or indirectly, now the war is over. Setting aside the chivalry as not yet proven, we can understand that this act may finally sheath the knives of the Carbonari against his person; and any how, if he rules directly or indirectly in Italy, he will know how to have prefects in every town, who will keep a black-list of patriots as carefully as did the police of the King of Naples, Garibaldi inclusive, and with the season may come the law carrying them to Cayenne or elsewhere.

But what has this to do with England? Simply that some fine morning Malta may be attempted, the Dalmatic coasts appropriated, and Russian ships cruise on the Black Sea to Constantinople. If it were a possible thing to take the empire of the seas, the ocean police of the world, out of our hands, it is very doubtful if it would be wielded with so strong a sense of justice; and therefore must we plant our ocean fortresses in the Channel or elsewhere. It is certain that the French empire is seeking to colonise.

Otaheite, the Papuan Islands, Cochin China, M. Lessep’s trial to appropriate Egyptian territory without will of the owners, Mr. Belly on the Isthmus of Panama, are all feelers put forth; and we dare say that Bonapartist agents from time to time sound the feelings of French Canadians — nay, even Pondicherry and Chandernagore represent “a cause.” All this may be nothing. The French alliance may be as firm with England as with Russia, and as full of faith; but as our venerable old councillor, Lord Lyndhurst, so well expressed it, England must not depend upon the forbearance of any power on earth. By her own right arm must she be” protected.

From Prince Joinville to the French colonels, Frenchmen have commonly speculated on the possibility of invading England, and so we are to have English guard-ships in the English Channel as a corresponding speculation.

We speculate on no invasion of France; we would fain be at peace with the French nation; but if the French army will not allow the French Emperor to be at peace with us, and a surprise is to be plotted, we may have the right to ask questions upon suspicious appearances. We should not coolly behold all preparing.

Any powerful nation devoting all, and more, than its surplus means to materials for aggression, and, if not actually aggressing, keeping all its neighbours around wasting their means in providing against expected aggression, is as much a nuisance as a parish infested with thieves who prey on neighbouring parishes, and whose rulers will neither put down the thieves themselves nor permit their neighbours to enter their boundaries to do it. Such a state of things can only end in a general union of the surrounding parishes; and such is the case with nations. It has once been the case with France, and may be again; and it might be with the result of making the Rhone, instead of the Rhine, a boundary, and giving to Germany sea-ports in the Mediterranean.

And so we are to patrol the English Channel with armoured water-rams carrying monster guns, which French regiments in French fast steamers are to board and carry. But these same rams are, by means of their steam-power, competent to a new mode of defence against boarding. They can use air-guns, worked incessantly by the engine and throwing streams of shot, and they can throw streams of hot water at the same time; and all this operated by intelligent men from behind impregnable iron barricades, and not mere pikes and cutlasses behind boarding nettings and hammocks.

The plan of the foemen might gain the decks, but none would leave them alive. Zouave and Turco, or other savage men, may be imported into the service of our foes, ready to swarm like tigers on our defences, but not even tigers can resist hot water. No, no! our steam-rams can only be competed with by similar vessels in water duels — tournaments in which skill must win — skill combined with capital. And whose capital can match ours in such a contest? We are indigenous iron-workers, with the best workmen and the healthiest workshops of the known world, and we get coal cheaper than any other. We supply belligerents with the sinews of war in this item, and if we cease to supply them coal will rise heavily. We make for others iron war-steamers, because we can furnish them cheaper than others; and we may stop the supply when it suits us.

And as regards detriment to our commerce by steam privateers, we have not much to fear on this head. Steam is useful only to civilised people. If salt water were fuel, to be manufactured on board, it might do for rovers, but away from rivers or ports where coal could be procured, steamers would be as little efficient as rowing galleys.

The conclusion arrived at is, that henceforth in iron walls, and not in wooden walls, are we to find the floating fortresses of our national defences, and that they must be officered and crewed by a race of intelligent men, highly paid and highly prized; that their condition as to comforts must be as nearly as possible assimilated to that of equal men on shore; that one blow from a craft of this kind, under steam, with a small crew, will be more efficient than one hundred tons of iron hurled from guns by a numerous crew, and that the men who work her may be practically defended from injury far more efficiently than the gunners of stone forts on shore; and that these craft must exist in such numbers as to command the ocean against all the world whenever need occurs, those who command it never infringing the rules of justice — having a giant’s strength, but never using it like a giant.

The world has not yet come to the condition of universal justice; but the English nation is powerful enough to uphold this justice, and, recent wars notwithstanding, the nations of Europe are gradually arriving at the same conviction. It will be well for the dynastic families if they perceive the possibility of preserving their fortunes by converting their military aims at conquest into commercial aims — the mischiefs of mankind into the benefits of mankind. In proportion as this shall be done, so will armies and fleets cease to exist save as a land and water police. Meanwhile, let our motto be —

Our iron walls! our iron walls!
Where’er the voice of Freedom calls,
By margin of each sea or ocean,
Mind and body claiming motion!
Stirring cottages and halls
In rising uplands, sloping falls,
Commerce clamouring for its freedom
Throughout Europe’s feudal Edom!

By W. B. A. [author of this article.] 1859


 

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