Posted on

Giovanni Battista Belzoni

Giovanni Balzoni
Giovanni Battista Belzoni

November 1778 – 3 December 1823), sometimes known as The Great Belzoni, was a prolific Italian explorer and pioneer archaeologist of Egyptian antiquities.

Belzoni was born in Padua. His father was a barber who sired fourteen children. His family was from Rome and when Belzoni was 16 he went to work there, claiming that he “studied hydraulics.” He intended taking monastic vows, but in 1798 the occupation of the city by French troops drove him from Rome and changed his proposed career. In 1800 he moved to the Netherlands where he earned a living as a barber.

In 1803 he fled to England to avoid being sent to jail. There he married an Englishwoman, Sarah Bane (1783–1860). Belzoni was a tall man at 6 feet 7 inches (2.01 m) tall (one source says that his wife was of equally generous build, but all other accounts of her describe her as being of normal build) and they both joined a travelling circus.They were for some time compelled to find subsistence by performing exhibitions of feats of strength and agility as a strongman at fairs and on the streets of London. One trick he was famous for, was to lift a platform holding twelve people and carry it across the stage. In 1804 he appears engaged at the circus at Astley’s amphitheatre at a variety of performances. Belzoni also had an interest in phantasmagoria and experimented with the use of magic lanterns in his shows.

In 1812 he left England and after a tour of performances in Spain, Portugal and Sicily, he went to Malta in 1815 where he met Ismael Gibraltar, an emissary of Muhammad Ali, who at the time was undertaking a programme of agrarian land reclamation and important irrigation works. Belzoni wanted to show Muhammad Ali a hydraulic machine of his own invention for raising the waters of the Nile. Though the experiment with this engine was successful, the project was not approved by the pasha. Belzoni, now without a job, was resolved to continue his travels. On the recommendation of the orientalist, J. L. Burckhardt, he was sent by Henry Salt, the British consul to Egypt, to the Ramesseum at Thebes, from where he removed with great skill the colossal bust of Ramesses II, commonly called “the Young Memnon”.
Continue reading Giovanni Battista Belzoni

Posted on

The Mutiny on the Bounty

The Mutiny on the Bounty was a mutiny aboard the British Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty on 28 April 1789. The mutiny was led by Fletcher Christian against their captain, Lieutenant William Bligh. According to accounts, the sailors were attracted to the “idyllic” life and sexual opportunities afforded on the Pacific island of Tahiti. It has also been argued that they were motivated by Bligh’s allegedly harsh treatment of them.

Eighteen mutineers set Bligh afloat in a small boat with eighteen of the twenty-two crew loyal to him. To avoid detection and prevent desertion, the mutineers then variously settled on Pitcairn Island or on Tahiti and burned the Bounty off Pitcairn.

The mutineers turning Lt Bligh and some of the officers and crew adrift from His Majesty's Ship Bounty. By Robert Dodd
The mutineers turning Lt Bligh and some of the officers and crew adrift from His Majesty’s Ship Bounty. By Robert Dodd

In an extraordinary feat of seamanship, Bligh navigated the 23-foot (7 m) open launch on a 47-day voyage to Timor in the Dutch East Indies, equipped with a quadrant and pocket watch and without charts or compass. He recorded the distance as 3,618 nautical miles (6,710 km). He then returned to Britain and reported the mutiny to the Admiralty on 15 March 1790, 2 years and 11 weeks after his original departure.

The British government dispatched HMS Pandora to capture the mutineers, and Pandora reached Tahiti on 23 March 1791. Four of the men from the Bounty came on board soon after its arrival, and ten more were arrested within a few weeks. These fourteen were imprisoned in a makeshift cell on Pandora’s deck. Pandora ran aground on part of the Great Barrier Reef on 29 August 1791, with the loss of 31 of the crew and four of the prisoners. The surviving ten prisoners were eventually repatriated to England, tried in a naval court with three hanged, four acquitted and three pardoned. Continue reading The Mutiny on the Bounty

Posted on

18th Century Umbrellas

When first we came, all the umbrellas were up, but now the pavements are getting very white again.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
Bath, May 17, 1799

Umbrellas often appear in Austen's novels as a chivalrous response to a lady's need. From left to right, Persuasion, Emma, Mansfield Park.
Umbrellas often appear in Austen’s novels as a chivalrous response to a lady’s need. L-R Persuasion, Emma, Mansfield Park.

During the 17th century, ladies used parasols for protection from the sun. A century later they were using oiled umbrellas as protection from the rain as well. By the early 19th century, the design of the umbrella had improved and its use had become widespread. After Maria’s marriage, Fanny Price was overtaken by a heavy shower close to the Parsonage and sought shelter under an oak. When the Grants spotted her, they sent out a servant, but Fanny was reluctant to come in:

A civil servant she had withstood but when Dr Grant himself went out with an umbrella there was nothing to be done but to be very much ashamed and to get into the house as fast as possible; and to poor Miss Crawford, who had just been contemplating the dismal rain in a very desponding state of mind, sighing over the ruin of all her plans of exercise for that morning, and of every chance of seeing a single creature beyond themselves for the next twenty four hours, the sound of a little bustle at the front door and the sight of Miss Price dripping with wet in the vestibule was delightful. – Jane Austen, Mansfield Park


Continue reading 18th Century Umbrellas

Posted on

The Nautilus: Submarine Terror of the Seas

Louisa, by whom she found herself walking, burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the navy: their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness; protesting that she was convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.

Two of Jane Austen’s brothers were sailors, and, in the grand tradition of the Austens, were content not to merely exist in their capacities, but rather, excelled in them. By the end of their long careers they were known as Sir Francis Austen, G.C.B., Admiral of the Fleet, and Rear-Admiral Charles Austen (though Jane referred to him as her “own particular little brother”).  Both brothers joined the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth upon reaching the age of 12, and as both had several years of service “under their belts” so to speak, would, no doubt have watched with interest the rapid developments in naval warfare produced by the American inventor, Robert Fulton.

Full-sized section model at Cité de la Mer, Cherbourg, France.

It was Fulton, who, in 1800 tested  The Nautilus, often considered the first practical submarine (though preceded by Cornelius Drebbel’s of 1620.) And Fulton, who, always in need of financial support for his experiments, worked first for the French Navy, then the British and finally the Americans (during the War of 1812).

Continue reading The Nautilus: Submarine Terror of the Seas

Posted on

Jane Austen’s Heroes

I’d like to take up the question of why we like some Austen heroes better than others. I don’t think it’s just a matter of having nothing to

forgive them for, because some things are easier to forgive than others, and when we decide what we find easier to forgive, we are telling more

about our own morality vis-à-vis Austen’s than Austen’s own. Still, I’ll bite.

Type 1- Ashley Wilkes

The heroes who are often not liked, not favorites, are those who are deeply moral; let us call them the Ashley Wilkes (of Gone with the

Wind) types: sensitive, kind, loyal, impeccably behaved from the standpoint of true tact, gentility, and altruism, and very conventional in

their sense of what a gentleman is; Austen of course plays tricks on us, and adds to this weak soup characteristics like reserve, manly hauteur

in order to protect the self (how I see some of George Knightley’s behavior to Emma), and being more than a little gauche, very bad at gay

repartée — for which many of Austen’s readers cannot forgive Edmund Bertram, Edward Ferrars, Colonel Brandon, and George Knightley. As Rhett

Butler says, they’re gentlemen caught in a world which worships handsomeness, suavity, the man who can master others. Edward Ferrars and Colonel

Brandon are weak in that battle of domination between people that is perhaps the essence of life, as in “life is a war of nerves”, “a battle”.

These types are “dolts”, “dull”, “prigs”, “starchy”, common epithets thrown at Austen heroes of a certain type, no? But Austen thinks

these are men who, when also intelligent and loving and constant — and with that competent income — make women happy, especially when the

natures and tastes of the two are alike — witness Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars, Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram. I’d say Knightley does

not really fall in here, because he’s not weak in that battle of mastery; he just shares some of the qualities of Edward Ferrars, Edmund

Bertram, and Colonel Brandon, for which some readers have had a hard time forgiving him. Well, I am fond of Edward Ferrars and Edmund Bertram,

though I wouldn’t want to marry them; they’d bore me to tears; and to be truthful, I don’t really believe in Colonel Brandon. He’s an escapee

from a Gothic fiction, great, theatrical, effective, but not persuasive ultimately; even the flannel waistcoat does not disguise the origin.

Type 2: Rhett Butler

Now the heroes who are also villains, we may call the Rhett Butler type; though to be less anachronistic, and get closer to the

fundamental archetype, we have our softened Lovelaces: Willoughby, Wickham, Henry Crawford, Frank Churchill, perhaps William Walter Elliot

(though he’s not rounded out, as Persuasion is truncated and unfinished — I hold to my theory, argued this past summer, that the novel was

meant to have a third volume). These are alluring males, alluring precisely because they are dangerous, fun to be with, amusing, handsome

(though Mr. Elliot is, to be sure, as Sir Walter says, a bit “underhung,” but then everyone’s ravaged by time in Persuasion). What do we have to

forgive here? Disloyalty, having sex with another woman, insouciance, a certain callous indifference in order to make a joke, selfishness, the

ability to be endlessly idle, and, more important, the inability to look into themselves and see they’re wrong and ought to change, because they

cannot feel the kind of joy intense love, and all that comes with it, can bring. Love here includes love of people other than the individual

with whom one is sexually involved.

That Austen seems to suggest that as a group these men are very shallow in their emotions is interesting, because the Lovelaces and Rhett

Butlers of novels are given an intensity of emotion that is overpowering. Austen won’t allow that; that’s the delicious poison we drink down to

our own destruction. I’d say a lot of people don’t have all that much trouble forgiving the above faults, but Austen thinks such men are, you

should excuse the expression, bad husband material; and I suggest that the one quality she can’t forgive is the unfeelingness and inconstancy of

these men. But what fun such people are, never a dull moment with Willoughby — though if read carefully, I think he may be seen to be

ultimately shallow and selfish. He’s the boy who’s not sorry he’s had a good time, but terribly sorry he’s not to have his candy after all. And

Henry Crawford is given possibilities; we are led to feel that maybe he could have become the third type, though I doubt it — he’d have been

bored to tears with poor Fanny (and indeed, it would have been poor Fanny had she married him).

Type 3: Frederick Wentworth

So that leaves my third type, into which I’d suggest Henry Tilney somewhat falls — what shall we call them? In a way, Austen is one of

the novelists who invented this type; I can’t think of such a male character before her works, though I’ve got lots to cite afterwards,

especially from the Victorian novelists influenced by her, as Trollope and George Eliot. (Though Charlotte Brontë would not like it, I’d say her

Rochester falls into this group.) I shall call them the Frederick Wentworth type (giving the game away).

What we have to forgive them for is what we might have to forgive any human being who’s fundamentally decent and loving and intelligent and also capable of interesting conversation — time and circumstances have not been altogether on their side. That is so for Darcy, although he has been called a millionaire playboy. If he’s that, he’s not having much fun sitting next to Miss Bingley. Darcy has been the object of continual sycophancy, overindulgence, and the utterly cold heartless materialistic proud values of the Lady Catherine de Bourghs of the world. He must look into his heart and change. He does. We must forgive him snubbing someone, arrogance, saturnine dour dark pessimism about human nature, a veneer of coldness (this hauteur we find also in Type 1, as outlined above, and is a part of Knightley who is very careful, very wary, very cautious about whatever he does). I have the hardest time forgiving Darcy’s first two faults; but he gives them up. This group includes Wentworth, maybe my ultimate favorite of all the heroes; yes his letter “you pierce my soul” sends a thrill into mine, even if overwritten. When he lifts Anne into the carriage, pulls the boy off her back, drops his pen, I am a goner. (Though I grant you, in his give-and-take conversations with Elizabeth, it’s more than hinted that Darcy may be more fun you-know-where).

Some later Type 3 heroes who seem to hark back to Frederick Wentworth in some ways: Tertius Lydgate in Middlemarch; Phineas Finn in Trollope’s two books of that name; the hero of New Grub Street; and many of the attractive and strong but vulnerable males of the 19th century novel. This type moves into the early 20th century in the novels of E.M. Forster and others.

Henry Tilney also has not had all things on his side — as witness his tyrannical father; but his mother was apparently very good (as was Anne Elliot’s mother), and the boy has the happiness of that independent income which frees (as Oscar Wilde said, “It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating”). In truth, though, there’s nothing to forgive; however, we don’t have a hard time forgiving him this deplorable lack of faults, perhaps because he is so young and gay and so human — and so I place him in Type 3, the new type Austen invented, the gentleman who has it all, all the things that charm woman and is good husband material into the bargain.

Let me end on George Knightley, because Knightley suffers from the flaw I perceive in Tilney — there’s nothing to forgive — but in his case, alas poor man, we can’t forgive him his perfection, for unlike the others of Type 1 he’s not weak, not a dolt, not gauche (though, as he says, he can’t talk love-talk very well). But, let us recall, we are seeing him through Emma’s eyes, and this may be why he seems so self-righteous (after all who does he think he is anyway to be preaching to Emma, whom we all identify with in this novel). But I love Knightley; I do; I love his tact, his courtesy, his chivalry, his right-thinking, I don’t mind his strong moral uprightness one little bit. I’ve an idea it might not be boring. There is just that element of play and strength in his dialogues with Emma which entrances.

Austen’s heroes and Sir Charles Grandison
We can set up continuums between Austen’s types of heroes and those of others, sometimes before her but mostly after. Both Lovelace from Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, and Sir Charles Grandison from his novel of the same name, play an important role as background and influences on Austen’s fiction. It seems to me beyond doubt that Richardson’s exemplary hero Sir Charles Grandison played a role in Austen’s formulation of her heroes; someone has pointed out the close resemblances in various ways between Austen’s George Knightley and Richardson’s Sir Charles; the difference between them is sometimes not simply a matter of insight into what is really humane, but plain old tact. Richardson is tactless because his main aim is didactic, and what he pushes as good is sometimes just authoritarian, “let’s obey the establishment, whatever it tells us to do, because it’s always right”. Austen says, well, it’s prudent anyway. Richardson’s presentation of Sir Charles also plays a role in the characterization of Darcy; Darcy resembles Sir Charles more than is often noticed. The austerity, the dark pessmism (Sir Charles is not an optimist), the curious hardness and insistence on strength as an important quality in a man, the lack of sentimentality that we find in Austen’s Darcy, has a similar kind of formulation in Richardson’s making of his Sir Charles.

This is not, however to say that either my Type 1 or Type 3 are Sir Charles. Edward Ferrars and Edmund Bertram are just too soft, too awkward, too what the 19th century novelist might have called “unmanly”. I can’t imagine either of them going off for a duel. Sir Charles is, when sufficiently bothered, willing to duel out of his passion; that he does not is just another way in which he is so very exemplary, but he’s violent when need be. And Frederick Wentworth is just too vulnerable; Sir Charles is never vulnerable, never the victim of circumstance or luck. In fact, Sir Charles is never a victim; Richardson couldn’t see his way to finding out that such a character is truly admirable; they are always slightly scorned in his fictions (as in the case of Charles Hickman from Clarissa, or Charlotte Grandison’s long-suffering husband). In a way, I’ll say Austen’s Type 1 is as original her with as what I called Type 3.

She is daring for presenting men who are not violent, not masterly, not having all those alluring Rhett Butler or Lovelace qualities, and still insisting we should find in them true heroes.

Ellen Moody, a Lecturer in English at George Mason University, has compiled the most accurate calendars for Jane Austen’s work, to date. She has created timelines for each of the six novels and the three unfinished novel fragments. She is currently working on a book, The Austen Movies. Visit her website for further Austen related articles.

This piece was oringally posted on Austen-L, and is used by permission.

Enjoyed this article? Browse our book shop at

Posted on

Jane Austen: Criticisms and Interpretatations

Notwithstanding a certain reticence and self control which seems to belong to their age, and with all their quaint dresses, and ceremonies, and manners, the ladies and gentlemen in Pride and Prejudice and its companion novels seem like living people out of our own acquaintance transported bodily into a bygone age, represented in the half-dozen books that contain Jane Austen’s works. Dear books! bright, sparkling with wit and animation, in which the homely heroines charm, the dull hours fly, and the very bores are enchanting….

She has a gift of telling a story in a way that has never been surpassed. She rules her places, times, characters, and marshals them with unerring precision. Her machinery is simple but complete; events group themselves so vividly and naturally in her mind that, in describing imaginary scenes, we seem not only to read them but to live them, to see the people coming and going—the gentlemen courteous and in top-boots, the ladies demure and piquant; we can almost hear them talking to one another. No retrospects; no abrupt flights, as in real life: days and events follow one another. Last Tuesday does not suddenly start into existence all out of place; nor does 1790 appear upon the scene when we are well on in ’21. Countries and continents do not fly from hero to hero, nor do long and divergent adventures happen to unimportant members of the company. With Miss Austen, days, hours, minutes, succeed each other like clockwork; one central figure is always present on the scene; that figure is always prepared for company….

Some books and people are delightful, we can scarce tell why; they are not so clever as others that weary and fatigue us. It is a certain effort to read a story, however touching, that is disconnected and badly related. It is like an ill-drawn picture, of which the coloring is good. Jane Austen possessed both gifts of color and drawing. She could see human nature as it was—with near-sighted eyes, it is true; but having seen, she could combine her picture by her art, and color it from life….

It is difficult, reading the novels of succeeding generations, to determine how much each book reflects of the time in which it was written; how much of its character depends upon the mind and mood of the writer. The greatest minds, the most original, have the least stamp of the age, the most of that dominant natural reality which belongs to all great minds. We know how a landscape changes as the day goes on, and how the scene brightens and gains in beauty as the shadows begin to lengthen. The clearest eyes must see by the light of their own hour. Jane Austen’s hour must have been a midday hour—bright, unsuggestive, with objects standing clear without relief or shadow. She did not write of herself, but of the manners of her age. This age is essentially an age of men and women of strained emotion, little remains of starch, or powder, or courtly reserve. What we have lost in calm, in happiness, in tranquillity, we have gained in intensity. Our danger is now, not of expressing and feeling too little, but of expressing more than we feel….

Miss Austen’s heroines have a stamp of their own. They have a certain gentle self-respect and humor and hardness of heart in which modern heroines are a little wanting. Whatever happens they can for the most part speak of gayly and without bitterness. Love with them does not mean a passion so much as an interest—deep, silent, not quite incompatible with a secondary flirtation. Marianne Dashwood’s tears are evidently meant to be dried. Jane Bennet smiles, sighs, and makes excuses for Bingley’s neglect. Emma passes one disagreeable morning making up her mind to the unnatural alliance between Mr. Knightley and Harriet Smith. It was the spirit of the age, and perhaps one not to be unenvied. It was not that Jane Austen herself was incapable of understanding a deeper feeling. In the last written page of her last written book there is an expression of the deepest and truest experience. Anne Elliot’s talk with Captain Harville is the touching utterance of a good woman’s feelings. They are speaking of men and women’s affections.

“You are always laboring and toiling,” she says, “exposed to every risk and hardship. Your home, country, friends, all united; neither time nor life to call your own. It would be hard indeed (with a faltering voice) if a woman’s feelings were to be added to all this.”

Farther on she says eagerly:

“I hope I do justice to all that is felt by you, and by those who resemble you. God forbid that I should undervalue the warm and faithful feelings of any of my fellow-creatures. I should deserve utter contempt if I dared to suppose that true attachment and constancy were known only by woman. No! I believe you capable of everything great and good in your married lives. I believe you equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as—if I may be allowed the expression—so long as you have an object; I mean while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. All the privilege I claim for my own (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest when existence or when hope is gone.”

She could not immediately have uttered another sentence—her heart was too full, her breath too much oppressed.

Dear Anne Elliot! sweet, impulsive, womanly, tender-hearted!—one can almost hear her voice pleading the cause of all true women. In those days, when perhaps people’s nerves were stronger than they are now, sentiment may have existed in a less degree, or have been more ruled by judgment; it may have been calmer and more matter-of-fact; and yet Jane Austen, at the very end of her life, wrote thus. Her words seem to ring in our ears after they have been spoken. Anne Elliot must have been Jane Austen herself, speaking for the last time. There is something so true, so womanly about her, that it is impossible not to love her. She is the bright-eyed heroine of the earlier novels matured, chastened, cultivated, to whom fidelity has brought only greater depth and sweetness instead of bitterness and pain.
—From The Cornhill Magazine, August, 1871.


Anne Isabella, Lady Ritchie, née Thackeray (9 June 1837 – 26 February 1919) was an English writer. Born in London, she was the eldest daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray and his wife Isabella Gethin Shawe (1816–1893). She had two younger sisters: Jane, born in 1839, who died at eight months, and Harriet Marian (1840–1875). Anne, whose father called her “Anny”, spent her childhood in France and England. She married her cousin Richmond Ritchie in 1877.

Enjoyed this article? Browse our book shop at

Posted on

The Shipwright: Building the Fleet


The Shipwright: Building the Fleet

We had a little water party yesterday; I and my two nephews [George and Edward Knight] went from the Itchen Ferry up to Northam, where we landed, looked into the 74, and walked home.
Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra
Monday, 24 October 1808

A Ship has been defined, a timber building, consisting of various parts and pieces, nailed and pinned together with iron and wood, in such form as to be fit to float, and to be conducted by wind and sails from sea to sea. The word ship is a general name for all large vessels with sails, adapted for navigation on the sea: but by sailors the term is more particularly applied to a vessel furnished with three masts, each of which is composed of a lower-mast, a top-mast, and a top-gallant-mast.

A shipwright is one who is employed in building or repairing such vessels. Ship-building is to this country one of the most important arts; it is studied as a science by the learned, who denominate it naval architecture: for the promotion of this science, a very respectable body of ingenious men have for the last fifteen years associated.

In ship-building three things are necessary to be considered: First, to give the vessel such a form as shall be best adapted for sailing, and for the service for which she is designed: secondly, to unite the several parts into a compact frame; and thirdly, to provide suitable accommodations for the officers and crew, as well as for the cargo, furniture, provisions, guns, and ammunition. The outside figure of a ship include: the bottom, or the hold, which is the part that is under the water when the vessel is laden; and the upper works are called the dead works, which are usually above the water when the ship is laden.

To give a proper shape to the bottom of the ship, it is necessary to consider the service for which she is designed. A Ship O’ War should be able to sail swiftly, and carry her lower tier of guns four or five feet out of the water: amerchant ship ought to be able to contain a large cargo of goods, and to be navigated with few hands; and both should be able to carry sail firmly; to steer well; and to sustain the shocks of the sea without being violently strained.

Ships are built principally with oak timber, which is the stoutest and strongest wood we have, and therefore best fitted both to keep sound under water, and to bear the blows and shocks of the waves, and the terrible strokes of cannon-balls. For this last purpose, it is a peculiar excellence of the oak, That it is not so liable to splinter or shiver as other wood, so that a ball can pass through it without making a large hole. The great use of the oak for the structure of merchant ships, as well as for men of war, is referred to by Mr. Pope:

While by our oaks the precious loads are bourne,
And realms commanded ‘which those trees adorn.

During the construction of a ship, she is supported in the dock, or upon a wharf, by a number of solid blocks of timber placed at equal distances from and parallel to each other; in which situation she is said to be on the stocks.

The first piece of timber laid upon the blocks is generally the keel, which, at one end, is let into the stern-post, and at the other into the stem. If the carcass of a ship be compared to the skeleton of a human body, the keel may be considered as the backbone, and the timbers as the ribs. The stern is the hinder part of the ship, near which are the state-room, cabins, &c. To the stern-post is fixed the iron-work that holds the rudder,which directs the course of the vessel.

The stem is a circular piece of timber in the front; into this the sides of the ship are inserted. The outside of the stem is usually marked with a scale or division of feet, according to its perpendicular height from the keel; the intention of this is to ascertain the draught of water at the fore-part, when the ship is in preparation for a sea voyage.

In the plate the shipwright is represented standing at the stern on a scaffold, and driving in the wedges with his wooden trunnel. The holes are first bored with the auger, and then the wedges drove in; these are afterwards cut off with a saw. At his feet lie his saw, his auger, which is used for boring large holes, his axe, and punches of different sizes.

The caulking of a ship is a very important operation: it consists in driving oakum, or the substance of old ropes un-twisted, and pulled into loose hemp, into the seams of the planks, to prevent the ship’s leaking. It is afterwards covered with hot melted pitch, or rosin, to prevent its rotting. A mixture, used for covering the bottom of ships, is made of one part of tallow, one of brimstone, and three parts of rosin: this is called paying the bottom. The sides are usually payed with tar, turpentine, or rosin. To enable ships to sail well, the outsides in contact with the water are frequently covered with copper.

The masts of ships are made of fir or pine, on account of the straightness and lightness of that wood: the length of the main-mast of an East India ship is about eighty feet. The masts always bear a certain proportion to the breadth of the ship: whatever the breadth of the ship be, multiply that breadth by twelve, and divide the product by five, which gives the length of the main-mast. Thus, a ship which measures thirty feet at the broadest part will have a main-mast seventy. two feet long: the thickness of the mast is estimated by allowing one inch for every three feet in length: accordingly, a mast seventy two feet long must be twenty four inches thick. For the other masts different proportions are to be used. To the masts are attached the yards,sails, and rigging, which receive the wind necessary for navigation.

In a dock yard where ships are built, six or eight men, called quartermen, are frequently entrusted to build a ship, and engage to perform the business for a certain sum, under the inspection of a master builder. These employ other men under them, who,according to their different departments, will earn from fifteen or twenty shillings to two or three pounds per week.

When a ship is finished building it is to be launched, that is, put out of dock. To render the operation of launching easy, the ship when first built is sup- ported by two strong platforms laid with a gradual inclination to the water. Upon the surface of this declivity are placed two corresponding ranges of planks, which compose the base of the frame, called the cradle, to which the ship’s bottom is securely attached. The planes of the cradle and platform are well greased, and then the blocks andwedges, by which the ship was supported, are driven out from under the keel; afterwards the shores, by which she is retained on the stocks, are cut away, and the ship slides do into the water. Ships of the first rate are usually constructed in dry docks, and afterwards floated out by throwing open the floodgates and suffering the tide to enter, as soon as they are finished.

From “The Book of Trades, or Library of Useful Arts” published by Jacob Johnson, in 1807, with the original copper plate engraving.


Enjoyed this article about the work of the shipwright? Browse our book shop at




Posted on

The Mariner

Anne thought she left great happiness behind her when they quitted the house; and Louisa, by whom she found herself walking, burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the navy; their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness; protesting that she was convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.



A Mariner is in common language the same as sailor or seaman. Mariners are sometimes employed on board merchant ships, and sometimes in men of war. In merchants’ employ, the mariners are accountable to the master, the masters to the owners of the vessel, and the owners to the merchant, for any damages that may happen. If a vessel is lost by tempest, the mariners lose their wages, and the owners their freight: this is intended to make them use their utmost endeavors to preserve the ship committed to their care.

Mariners on board the king’s ships are subject to strict regulations, which, however, depend on certain fixed laws passed at different times by parliament. Mariners who are not in His Majesty’s service are liable during the time of war to be impressed, unless they enter voluntarily, to which they are encouraged by bounties and high wages: and every foreign seaman, who, during war shall serve two years in any man of war, merchantman, or priviteer, becomes naturalized.

The mariner represented in the plate is of a higher rank and estimation than common sailors: he understands the art of navigation, or of conducting a vessel from one place to another, in the safest, shortest, and most commodious way. He ought therefore to be well acquainted with the islands, rocks, sands, and straits, near which he has to sail. He should also know the signs which indicate the approach to land: these are, the appearance of birds; the floating of weeds on the surface of the sea; the depth and the colour of the sea. He should, moreover, understand the nature of the winds, particularly the times when the trade winds and monsoons set in; the seasons when storms and hurricanes may be expected, and the signs of their approach; the motion of currents and tides. He must understand also the working of a ship; that is, the management of the sails, rigging, &c.

Navigation, or the proper employment of the mariner, is either common or proper. The former is usually called coasting; that is, where the ships are on the same or very neighboring coasts; and where the vessel is seldom out of sight of land, our out of reach of sounding. In this case little more is required than an acquaintance with the lands they have to pass, the compass, and the sounding line.

To gain a knowledge of the coast, a good chart or map is necessary.

The compass, or mariners compass, as it is usually called, is intended to direct and ascertain a ship’s course at sea. It consists of a circular brass box, which contains a card, with the thirty two points of the compass fixed on a magnetic needle that always turns to the north, or nearly so. The needle with the card turns on an upright pin fixed in the centre of the box.

The top of the box is covered with glass, to prevent the wind from disturbing the motion of the card. The whole is inclosed in another box of wood, where it is suspended by brass hoops ot keep the car in a horizontal posisition, whatever the motion of the ship may be: and it is so placed in the ship, that the middle section of the box may lie over the middle section of the ship along its keel.

The method of finding, by the compass, the direction in which a ship sails, is this: The compass being suspended, the mariner looks horizontally over it in the direction of the ship’s wake* , by which he sees the point of the compass denoting the direction of the wake; the point opposite to this is that to which the ship is sailing according to the compass; and knowing how much the compass varies, he can tell the true point of the horizon to which he is going.

The sounding-line is a line with a plummet at the end: it is used to try the depth of the water and the quality of the bottom.

In Navigation proper, which is where the voyage is long, and pursued through the mail ocean, there are many other requisites wanted besides those already mentioned. Here a considerable skill in practical mathematics and astronomy is required, and an aptness in using instruments for celestial observations.

One of thiese instruments the mariner in the plate is represented holding in his right hand, while he is pointing to his ship with the other. The boat which is to carry him on board the ship is drawn to shore.

At a distance in the sea is represented a light-house, erected on a rock, and having in the night a fire or other considerable light at the top, so as to be seen at a great distance from land. The use of the light-house is to direct the ships on the coast, to prevent them from running on the shore, and from other injuries by an improper course.

The wages of a mariner depend upon his employment, that is, whether he be in the King’s service or on board a merchantman: they depend also upon the size of the ship, and upon the situation which he holds in it.

There is no profession of more importance to the interests of this country than that of the mariner. Government therefore provides, for those who are disabled, a place in Greenwich Hospital; and to the widows and children of those who are slain in defending their country, small pensions are granted. Greenwich Hospital is supported by the nation, and by sixpence a month deducted out of every seaman’s wages.

*The wake of a ship is the print or track impressed by the course of the ship on the surface of the water.

From “The Book of Trades, or Library of Useful Arts” published by Jacob Johnson, in 1807, with the original copper plate engraving.

Enjoyed this article? Browse our book shop at