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British Industrial History

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SS Archimedes

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Possibly the first ship with a screw propeller; raced against the PS Widgeon to prove the effectiveness of a screw propeller [1]

1838 In order to convince the Lords of the Admiralty about the virtues of the propellor, Francis Pettit Smith was encouraged to build a larger vessel to demonstrate it.

After securing the financial backing of several parties, Smith helped organize the Ship Propeller Co which built the world's first successful screw-propelled steamship, SS Archimedes. The ship was built and launched from Millwall in October, 1838. She was of 237 tons burden, with engines of 80HP by G. and J. Rennie.

She was designed by Edward Pascoe, and constructed by Henry Wimshurst. It was agreed that her performance would be considered satisfactory, and that the screw would in all probability be adopted in the navy if she realised a speed of 5 miles an hour. Nearly twice that speed was actually attained.

1839 October. Report. 'On Monday morning the three-masted steam schooner, the Archimedes, fitted anew for the purpose of demonstrating the advantages of the Archimedes screw as a propeller, proceeded down the river from London-bridge on an experimental trip. The weather was most favorable, and great number of amateurs, scientific and practical, availed themselves of the liberal invitation of the proprietors to witness the progress, nay, we may now confidently say, the success of the invention. The Archimedes presents an admirable specimen of a sea steamer, being calculated both for steaming and sailing on principles which afford all the practical desiderata of each mode of progression. The vessel started at a quarter past eleven, amidst the huzzas of the watermen, overjoyed to witness the advent of a steamer that raised no waves for their annoyance, and, indeed, scarcely left more disturbance her wake than a sailing vessel! At Purfleet the speed of the vessel was accurately tried while passing the measured mile, marked out by order of the Admiralty, on the southern coast. Against wind and tide, the Archimedes performed the mile in nine minutes five seconds. Turned round (which was done with the greatest facility and in very small circle), and steaming up the river with wind and tide, the same mile was performed in four minutes and a half. A third experiment down the river again against wind and tide, required nine minutes and 52 seconds. The engine was during these trials making between 22 and 23 strokes per minute; each of which produced 5 1/3 revolutions of the propelling screw, working in the "dead wood" of the vessel, immediately in front of the sternpost. The log thrown at the turn of the tide indicated rate of nine knots. The most unqualified satisfaction was expressed by all on board at this performance, considering that the Archimedes has been fitted up as a sea-going vessel, drawing ten and a half feet, and not intended to exhibit in competition with sharp and shallow river craft. Even on this experimental trip, the rigging was decidedly an obstacle, when the wind was ahead, for no sails were set, though the vessel fully calculated to proceed with them alone, if needful. The engines were much admired, and Massie's pumps excited considerable attention, both by the quantity water they could elevate, and the ease with which they could be worked. Still further improvements are in progress, one of which (in the shade the stem itself) Mr. Smith, the inventor, expects to able to realize two additional miles per hour. The following memorandum was drawn up on board, and signed by the Russian Consul, and nearly other gentlemen of the party:— "We, the undersigned, have much pleasure in expressing our fullest approbation Mr. Smith's newly-invented screw, as tested in the passage of the steam ship, Archimedes, to Gravesend, the rate of nine miles and three quarters per hour, against wind and tide, with all her yards and masts standing.— October 14th, 1839'[2]

1839 In May the Archimedes visited Sheerness, Portsmouth, etc, where her performance excited universal admiration.

1840 In May she was tested against some of the best packets on the Dover station. Later that year the SS Archimedes visited every principal port in Great Britain, and crossed the Bay of Biscay to Oporto.

The ship was instrumental in persuading Isambard Kingdom Brunel to change the design of the SS Great Britain from paddle to screw propulsion, after Brunel borrowed the Archimedes for several months in 1840.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Fielden’s Magazine Vol 4
  2. Bucks Herald - Saturday 26 October 1839