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Erebus was one of three iron-hulled armoured floating batteries ordered during the Crimean War to follow the slightly earlier wooden-hulled Aetna Class Ironclad Floating Battery. See also HMS Terror (1856) and HMS Thunderbolt (1856).
1856 'LAUNCH OF THE GUN BATTERY "EREBUS." We briefly noticed this event in the third edition of our last number, and we now add details. At Half patt one o'clock this afternoon, this magnificent battery was launched from the shipbuilding yard of the Messrs Napier, at Govan, in presence of the largest number of spectators that was ever witnessed at a launch on the banks of the Clyde. ....
'It may be remembered that the Government contracted for three of these tremendous batteries at the beginning of the present year, the parties undertaking the contracts being Messrs Samuda Brothers of London. Messrs Palmer Brothers of Newcastle, and Messrs Robert Napier & Sons of Glasgow. They each bargained for the construction of one vessel, and undertook, under penalty of £1000 per diem, we are informed, to have them delivered in Portsmouth on the 15th current. We believe that all that human intellect and ingenuity can do have been done to keep time; but flesh and blood could not achieve it. But it is highly honourable to the Clyde that the Glasgow built battery is the only one which has found her way yet to the sea. The Messrs Napier commenced the building of the battery about the middle of January, and since then from 1200 to 1500 men and boys have been employed upon her night and day — one relay taking the place of the other in constant succession ; but in addition to this several of the engineering establishments both in this city and in Greenock, who had tools fitted for the purpose, have been engaged in preparing the immense iron plates which form the outer coat of mail.
'The Erebus is 186 feet long, with a breadth of beam of 50 feet and a depth of 16 feet. With the exception of being nearly as flat on the bottom as she is upon the deck, she is framed and plated like any ordinary iron vessel; but there is this peculiarity her construction, that over the iron hull, for a distance of 12 feet, from the top of the gunwales downwards, the vessel is sheathed with teak planking 6 inches in thickness; and then, again, over the planking, there are massive malleable iron plates, no less than 4 inches thick. Thus, with the inside plates, which average from to 3/4 to ½-inch thick, the entire hull of the ship above watermark forms, as it were, iron and wooden wall of no less than 10½ inches in thickness — a wall apparently so formidable as to be capable of resisting the effects of shot of the largest size. The battery is pierced for 30 guns, there being 15 port holes on each side; and her armament, so far as we have been able to learn, will consist of guns 11 feet in length, with an 8-inch bore, and capable of throwing 100 lb. shot. She is supplied with two decks — a gun deck, which is the lower, and an upper or weather deck. The upper deck is formed of 4-inch teak planking, which is covered with half-inch malleable iron plates, and is expected to be capable of resisting shot or shell. The lower deck planked partly with Dantzic oak, and partly with red pine, four inches thick. The 'tween decks are six feet in height, and in addition to the lower, being the gun-deck, there is also sufficient accommodation for officers and crew. The iron framing and deck beams are placed at distances of about 16 inches apart, and are exceedingly powerful, imparting to the entire structure degree of strength the very appearance of which is perfectly marvellous, and which is expected to resist all that the most formidable enemy can bring against it. Immediately under the gun-deck, and below watermark, is the powder magazine, the shot and shell lockers, store-rooms, boiler and engine-rooms, and other apartments necessary for the safety and comfort of those employed in the vessel. She is fitted with four tublar boilers, 18 feet long, by 6½ feet in diameter, an engine of about 200-horse power, and is propelled a screw 8 feet in diameter, which is completely submerged while the vessel moves through the water. She is about 2000 tons burthen. She has short funnel, which can be lowered to the horizontal line when necessary. The gun or fighting deck is ventilated by air tubes, supplied by fanners driven by supplementary or donkey engines in the engine room. These fanners will be of great service in clearing away the smoke, and keeping the atmosphere at cooling or refreshing temperature for the men at the guns. The men appointed to keep look-out are sheltered from shot in small round-houses made of very strong plate iron, and placed on the weather deck. Gutta percha tubes enable the look-outs to communicate from these houses to the pilot or steersman, the steering gear being fitted on the lower or fighting deck. The vessel can be moved backwards or forwards with great facility.
'The battery has been fitted with seven water-tight bulkheads or compartments, extending from the bottom of the vessel upwards to the gun deck. The utility of water-tight bulkheads has already been sufficiently proved in iron-built ships, for although the vessel should sustain injury in one or even two of these water-tight compartments, which seems an impossibility when one gazes on her impregnable looking sides, she would still be enabled to float to some port where she could repaired. The introduction of these bulkheads, therefore, in a ship devoted exclusively for fighting purposes, is a wise precaution of safety, and will doubtless be found to serve sufficiently the purpose for which they are intended. The iron plates and the wooden planks are fastened together with iron bolts 1 3/8 inch in diameter, and from 11 to 14 inches in length. These are driven in by heavy hammers, then screwed with a nut, and afterwards clenched with the hammer. The outer plates average in length about 13 feet — are from 2 feet to 3 feet broad, and weigh from 2 tons to 3½ tons each. Of these outer, armour plates, as they are termed, there are nearly 200 used in the formation of the battery, which, taking into consideration their great weight, may give some idea of the vast strength of this floating fortress. The plates have all been hammered, not rolled, as is often the case with ship plates, and by this means a greater degree of toughness and strength has been imparted to the iron than that obtained by the rolling process.
'The vessel has been constructed under the superintendence of Mr R. Kneebone, from her Majesty's Dock Yard, Pembroke, whose long experience (having been nearly forty years in the service) amply qualified him for the duties with which he was intrusted — duties, we presume, which were merely nominal, as the Messrs Napier require no one to make them do their duty.
'To enable the reader to conceive how this gigantic vessel has been constructed in such a short time, we may state that several new machines had to be procured, and other contrivances invented, to go through the work with increased despatch. We will notice four of the most particular of these. The first is a large squaring and plaining maehine, an American invention. A log ot teak, in its rough state, is passed into this machine, and in as short time as we have taken to write the sentence, it comes out squared and plained smooth as the top of counting house desk. The next is ingenious circular cross cutting saw, to which the log is introduced after leaving the plaining and squaring machine. This saw is worked by one man, and will cut a log of teak two feet in breadth and twelve inches in thickness, in a few seconds. The whole of the deck and side planks were cut to required lengths with this saw, which was made by Messrs John M'Dowal & Sons, Johnstone. The next is a vertical boring machine, which bores the lights in tbe gun port lids, and tbe check for the glass, with a bevelled edge for allowing the light to spread — in both cases through several inches of solid iron — in abont three minutes, a piece of work which formerly could not have been done by a workman in less than three hours. The last is planing machine, for planing the deck planks, which it overtakes at the rate of about 40 feet per minute, in pieces straight or curved, 18 inches broad by 12 inches deep. This machine was made by Messrs Norman & Clinkskill, machine makers, Glasgow. In short, everything that skill could devise and capital command has been adopted to have this interesting but destructive work of art completed in the most efficient manner, and the shortest possible time. .....'
1858 'The Erebus, 16, iron floating battery, has been moored in Porchester Lake, with iron cables attached, to test the concentrated firing of 68-pounders on her hull, the cables being intended to lift her in the event of her being struck between wind and water. The Lords of the Admiralty will visit Portsmouth in the ensuing week to witness the result of the experiment.'
1858 'The Erebus, sixteen-gun iron steam battery, which has been fired at from the Snapper gun-boat, to test the effect of shot at 400 yards' range (three of which penetrated her side last week, and did so much damage that a screen has been hung over the holes, to prevent the "eye of prying curiosity" from knowing too much about it), is to be withdrawn from her position in the line of fire from the Excellent and moored up Portsmouth harbour ; and the Meteor, fourteen-gun steam battery, of 160-horse power, is to take her place for further experiments. The Meteor has wooden bulwarks, the supposed impenetrable iron plating being affixed thereon. The Erebus was iron-built entirely, and although the thirty-two-pound shot did not do the damage of the sixty-eight's, they did enough to show such a bulging internally from the indentation they made externally, has led to the belief that they would ultimately penetrate, if concentrated.'