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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.
-Persuasion

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.

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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).

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Robert Fulton and the Development of Modern Naval Warfare

AntiqueGold copy Robert Fulton (November 14, 1765 – February 24, 1815) was an American engineer and inventor who is widely credited with developing the first commercially successful steamboat. In 1800, he was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte to design the Nautilus, which was the first practical submarine in history.He is also credited with inventing some of the world’s earliest naval torpedoes for use by the British Navy.

Robert Fulton was born on a farm in Little Britain, Pennsylvania, on November 14, 1765. He had at least three sisters – Isabella, Elizabeth, and Mary, and a younger brother, Abraham. His father, Robert Fulton, was born in Ireland and emigrated to Philadelphia where he married Mary Smith. The father moved the family to Lancaster, Pennsylvania where the younger Fulton attended a Quaker elementary school. Fulton showed an early interest in mechanical things. At the early age of 14, he invented paddle wheels to go alongside his father’s fishing boat. He especially favored gunsmiths and even offered some suggestions that were adopted by the workmen. As a boy he built rockets and experimented with mercury and bullets. His friends nicknamed him “Quicksilver Bob.”

He learned to sketch early on and by age 17 he decided to become an artist. His father, who had died when Robert was eight, had been a close friend to the father of painter Benjamin West. Fulton later met West in England and they became friends.

Fulton stayed in Philadelphia for six years, where he painted portraits and landscapes, drew houses and machinery, and was able to send money home to help support his mother. In 1785 he bought a farm at Hopewell, Pennsylvania for £80 Sterling and moved his mother and family onto it. While in Philadelphia, he met Benjamin Franklin and other prominent Revolutionary War figures. At age 23 he decided to visit Europe.
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