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John Ericsson: Steam Boat 'Novelty'

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Note: This is a Sub-section of John Ericsson

1838 Newspaper article [1]

A few weeks ago, we noticed the starting of a small steam-boat to ply on the Irwell, with passengers, between this town and Warrington ; we have now to announce the application of steam to carriers’canal boats for the transit of goods between this town and London.

'In canal navigation in this country, a long period of time has elapsed since any alteration or improvement of any great importance has been made. The boats are of the same construction, and so inartificial is the mode of working them, that the only means in practice at the present day for propelling them through the immense tunnels, of which one is nearly a mile in length, and another three quarters of mile, is for the boatmen to lie on their backs on the tarpaulin which covers the goods with which the boats are deeply laden, and, by pushing their feet against the roof of the tunnel, work the boats onwards at tediously slow rate, with great labour and fatigue, amidst the smoke from the boats' chimney or funnels, which, to any one unused to its effects in a long tunnel, would seem wholly unendurable. This is what the boatmen term “legging through;” and in this way every boat load of goods is worked onwards through the tunnels on every great water-line of internal navigation in the country.

'The first application of steam on canals has been made, not on a new form or construction of boat, nor even on an iron boat of similar form, but on one of the long narrow canal boats, with sharp stem and stern, which had for some time before been plying on the canals in the usual way.

'The experiment which has been tried, at little cost, and which is, at best, an imperfect one, has, however been eminently successful; and there appears very little doubt that its results will be a revolution as complete in canal navigation, as the introduction of marine steamers has worked in our coasting packets. The merit of making this experiment belongs to Messrs. Robins, Mills and Co., carriers, of London, and of Castle Field Wharf, in this town. Into one of their canal boats, near the stern, they introduced a small high-pressure marine steam engine, of only four horses' power, to which a boiler that had been used for one the engines on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was adapted. As the narrowness of canal tunnels, and the injury likely to result to the banks from the use of side paddles, must always have thrown difficulty in the way of applying steam power in the ordinary mode to canal navigation, it became necessary to substitute some paddle which should not be in the way, while it should not be liable to the objection of injuring the banks. This difficulty has been surmounted, as it seems to us very satisfactorily and completely an ingenious application of the principle of the old fishtail paddles. These paddles are placed at the extreme stern of the boat; and this terminating in a sharp point, it was necessary to lengthen the boat, and make a square box to contain the paddles. They consist of two small wheels, placed side by side, not working parallel to the boat, but transversely, and revolving contrary ways. The paddle-boards, or plates of iron, of which there are six on each wheel, have an inclination about 45 degrees. When in action, therefore, it will be seen that, as one wheel paddles strikes the water the starboard side of the stern, the other strikes it on the larboard ; thus producing an action on the water resembling that which sailors call “the double scull," and which is the best effort of art that we have seen in imitation of the mechanical action of the tail of a fish when swimming.

'The defects of the present experimental engine, &c, seem to be rather in its adaptation and arrangement, than in itself. In the first place, we should think a more powerful engine necessary to the fair development of the power of steam in this species of navigation, considering the great length of the boat and the bulk and weight of its cargo, which is, probably eleven or twelve tons. Then, we have no doubt, that that form of boat which has hitherto sufficed for the slow dragging of horses and a towing line, is not precisely the shape and build, nor, perhaps, is timber the best material for canal steam navigation. Again, it appears to us that the engine was rather too far from the paddles to exercise its full available motive power. But these and several other points, into which we have not time to enter, will doubtless receive a full and sagacious consideration from scientific and practical men, when once their attention is directed to the subject. That the time for this is not far distant, we think, bearing in mind the power and force of competition in every branch of trade and mode of communication, cannot be far distant.

'The Novelty is the new name the boat received, when, from a [tow] liner, she became a steamer, — the first voyage she made very recently, from London to this place, with considerable success. Her performance, we understand, was at the rate of nearly eight miles per hour. She left Paddington with about eleven ton of goods, without having sustained the least injury, except that, having been lengthened, she was a little too long conveniently to pass some of the locks; and the result was that her paddle-boards were a little bent, and put out of order. They were speedily put to rights; and, on Monday last, the proprietors, with a party of friends, proceeded with the boat on an excursion down the canal, we believe, as far as Runcorn, when her speed was tried, with the favourable results already noticed. On Monday evening, she took on board a cargo of bale or pack goods for London, and, we believe, started on her homeward voyage the same night. We understand that, when going at the rate of eight miles an hour, she does not occasion the least swell. It is anticipated that she will be able to deliver goods in London in three days from her departure from this place. On one occasion, shortly before her first canal voyage, the Novelty towed the city barge, on board of which were a hundred and fifty gentlemen, up the Thames as far as Teddington lock, at the rate about eight miles an hour; and her performance then gave the highest satisfaction to all who witnessed it.’

1838 Newspaper article [2]:-
In an article under this head on Saturday last, we noticed the first down voyage from this town from London, through the canals, of a steam boat named the Novelty. Before entering into some further particulars respecting this boat we are desirous to correct an error into which we were led by an informant, and which not having ourselves witnessed the speed of the boat on the canal, we had no means of setting right at the time. We there stated her speed to be at the rate of nearly eight miles an hour : but so far from this being the case on the canals we understand that, all that is sought is to attain, as a regular speed, a rate of six miles an hour; and this speed has been maintained in even the first trial through the canals, in the most satisfactory manner. The speed of “nearly eight miles an hour” has been attained by the boat, but not on the canals : it was run a during trial on the Thames, under circumstances much more favourable to steaming than are to be obtained in canal navigation.

'We have already stated, that the Novelty is the hull of canal boat. Her form, to those unacquainted with the build of these boats, will be better understood when we state that her length is about seventy-four feet, with seven feet six inch beam ; she is heavy constructed, and, when loaded, draws about two feet water. We noticed that her engine was high pressure and of four horses’ power, supplied by steam by a small locomotive boiler.

'The boat is fitted with a species of paddles, already described, but perhaps better known as “Ericsson’s propellers,” in substitution of the side paddles of the old steamers — which are constructed to propel without raising a surge injurious to canal banks, and to pass through the narrow locks with ease and safety — objects hitherto unattained, and deemed impracticable. The main peculiarity of this invention is the construction of the paddle, so as to secure an action resembling that of a fish’s tail, or of perpetual sculling through the water. The difference between the operation of these propellers and that of the fish or double scull, is that instead of the force being alternate from to side, the propellors’ strokes upon the water are simultaneous. We before explained the construction of the paddle boards, and the fact of their revolving in opposite directions. This is effected by the wheels or rings being fixed one to a hollow shaft and the other to a solid shaft, revolving within the hollow one ; so that although they move in opposite directions, they turn upon the same centre : each opponent paddleboard striking the water at the same time. The power from the engine is communicated by a crank at the end the solid shaft ; a cog-wheel attached to the crank shaft works in gear with another cog-wheel immediately under it, and the reversed action of the other propeller is obtained by gearing and an endless chain. As these propellers work with the greatest effect when submerged, no waste of power is incurred, and a shaking motion is communicated to the boat. When in motion with its propellors submerged, there little to distinguish the Novelty from other canal boats, the old wooden funnel being retained; there being little smoke as coke is the fuel consumed; the engine and boiler being out of sight, and the only variation in her form being the elongation and widening of the stern, about 14 inches, with the addition of a slight stage for the helmsman.

'We noticed the fact of an experimental trip having been made by the boat on Monday week, upon the Duke of Bridgewater’s Canal. The party on board consisted of some of the principal canal proprietors and water carriers in this town and neighbourhood, and their friends. They started from the Manchester end of the canal, about six minutes, before one o’clock ; passed the Worsley branch twenty minutes past one o’clock ; and reached the wharf at Altrincham at half past two o’clock, having performed the eight miles in one hour and thirty-six minutes. The speed of the boat, and the fact of no towing horses being visible caused no small astonishment to various rustics on the canal banks; and some of the more cunning of these people, hearing the panting of the engine and seeing the bubbling of the water in her wake at length, decided that there was “summut aloive at her tail.” The voyagers, much delighted with their trip, proceeded to the Stamford Arms, Altrincham, where “Success to the undertaking” was toasted; and, amongst other healths given were those of Lord Francis Egerton. the representative and successor of the Duke of Bridgewater; of Messrs. Robins, Mills, and Co. the proprietors of the boat, and projectors of the experiment of steam propulsion on the canals ; and of their friend Mr. Williams, who steamed down in the Novelty, and kept her log.

'At twenty minutes before five o’clock, the boat started on her return from Altrincham bridge, and on her way came up with the Wellington fly boat, which having just before been freshly horsed, kept ahead for about two miles, but was then obliged to yield with a bad grace, his horses being half killed under the unwonted exertion. The Novelty passed “his grace” in fine style, and arrived at Messrs. Robins, Mills, and Co.’s wharf, at ten minutes after six o’clock.

'Owing to the construction and form of the boat, to the propellers being only partially immersed, to the engine being out of repair, and to the utter disregard of her “trim” during the experiment, it was observed that the propellers had not a fair chance; nor could the boat attain that highest rate of speed which her due emergence from the water must have produced. Her greatest emergence was to three-quarters an inch,—about 1-36th part of her draught: and it was observed that there was no sensible increase of her speed when the engine, from 70, increased to 84 revolutions per minute. Increase speed under such circumstances must have resulted, had the boat been of such a form to have allowed her to rise out of the water, and to keep her in trim. During the trial trip, no injurious ripple was produced by the propellers; but where the water was shallow, a ripple caused by the displacement of water by the boat, followed midway, and considerably impeded her progress. With deeper water her speed accelerated, and on the Thames she is said to have attained a rate varying from eight to nine, and even up to and exceeding ten miles per hour.

'We understand that the American government, ever on the alert has at once availed itself of this invention. An iron steam-boat built by Mr. John Laird, of North Birkenhead (under the inspection of Mr. F. B. Ogden, the United States consul at Liverpool) and fitted with these propellers, was launched on the 7th inst. She is at present waiting for her boilers, and it is expected will be tried on the Mersey in the course of next week. She is intended to be worked as a steam-tug, to tow ships upon the Delaware and Raritan canal (New Jersey,) which was completed in 1834, and is 42 miles in length. Her machinery is said to be of a new and improved construction and not a tenth part of the weight of the machinery in general use, of equal power.

'It is, perhaps premature to speculate on the great revolution which the success of this experiment, and the consequent adoption of steam power on canals, would occasion in canal navigation. Some of the earliest and most obvious results would be — the necessity of deepening the canals, or keeping more water in them: the avoidance of that delay now much complained of, boats waiting, very often for several days together, for turns, at the looks; an increased traffic in lighter goods means fewer boats than are at present employed on the canals. All these advantages, however, are of course contingent on the success of the mechanical invention, its application to canals, and on the degree of cordiality with which canal proprietors approve of a change, which some of them may imagine (whether justly not we do not affirm) will cause greater wear and tear of their property than that to which the ordinary mode of horse-towing at present subjects them — Manchester Guardian.

'According to the old theory of the resistance of water, to attempt increased speed was pure folly, as it had been demonstrated impracticable. A celebrated engineer, within these ten years, proved, before a parliamentary committee, that four miles and a half per hour was the greatest speed at which a vessel ought be moved, “otherwise the boats would drive the water out of the canal.” Now, on Monday week, the Novelty steamed about six miles per hour on a canal, and the water actually followed it, far from having been frightened out of the canal.
The old law was, “that the resistance offered by water to a boat increases as the squares of the velocity;” that is true as to the lower rates of speed ; but experiment proved, that when the velocity has attained a certain point (six miles per hour, and upwards,) the boat gradually rises out of the water ; and it has been found in practice, that at the higher rate of speed, the power necessary for traction is actually reduced. On numerous canals, a speed equal to that of the mail coach is regularly kept up, and horses are daily doing 750 per cent. more than Mr. Wood, the railway engineer, calculated upon. It will observed, that the emergence of the boat, at the higher rates of spend, lessens the transverse section of the boat previously immersed, and it glides along without creating any injurious disturbance of the water.— Courier.'

1838 'The Steam Barge to which we alluded last week returned from Oxford on Tuesday evening, travelling at an average of six miles hour ; from the height required at the stern, where the propelling paddles are placed, some difficulty will arise at high-water time in passing the bridges : the chimney of course is easily lowered, but the works at the stern may not perhaps be readily adapted to the confined arches of our old bridges. The noise of the engine of this vessel is very considerable, and may be heard for mile. The principle appears to be that described in our fourth page, where it will be seen a successful experiment has been made the Duke of Bridgewater's canal : the stern propellers being the invention of Messrs. Ericsson.' [3]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 14 July 1838
  2. Carlisle Patriot, 28 July 1838
  3. Reading Mercury - Saturday 4 August 1838