4 SEPTEMBER 1852, Page 15


No. 1 Adam Street, Adelphi, August 21, 1852.

SIR—Your remarks in today's number on the question of 'Fire at Sea" have called up thoughts and reflections of many years, verified by much experience, leading me to the conclusion which I deliberately affirm ; viz.

That the principle of sea transit, if rightly understood, contains the ele- ments of nearly absolute safety—more absolute than any transit by land. Save the single circumstance of collision by carelessness, there seems no risk that human foresight cannot practically guard against. A few months back I was pacing the deck of a Mediterranean steamer. As it grew dark I noticed the redness of the funnel. Going forwards, I found the iron chimney-guard where it touched the deck was so hot that it burnt my hand. I went down into the engine-room, and the whole material of the timber-built craft felt hot enough to cook a steak. With this practical examination, and the knowledge that I was in a vessel competing for speed with others, I returned on deck, but before I lay down to sleep took the Mis- sissippi precaution of tying on an air-belt. Next dey I was in harbour, firmly resolving not to try that craft any more. Subsequently I was informed that a similar vessel was burned in Cadiz bay a few years back.

Ere steam was, for ocean navigation the risk of fire was comparatively small, save from risky cargo. The craft was damp and foul, and the only fires were the cook's galley upon deck and an occasional twelve cubic inches of smoky coal in the iron box called a stove in the cabin. To set fire to such a craft was as difficult as to burn the wet clothing of a washerwoman. People's health doubtless suffered from this state of things ; but fire had as little chance as it would have in a graveyard. It so happens that the air and atmosphere which is most conducive to human health IB precisely that which is best adapted to encourage combustion. And this is the solution of the burning down of the Royal Exchange, the Houses of Parliament, and other buildings. They were constructed at the time when people wore cloaks in-doors as a precaution against cold and did not understand the evils of moist air. A more intelligent age required healthy dryness and warmth ; the timber buildings consequently became tinder' and they were burnt. Even so' the risk of fires at sea has been increased by the very precautions taken to render vessels more healthy.

When to this is added the modern practice of putting a huge fire in the hold of the wooden vessel, drying every part of the timber to fire-catching point, the marvel is, not that one is occasionally burned, but that all are not burned. • With river-steamers or coasters, where the fires are extin- guished atintervals of twelve or twenty-four hours, the vessel has some chance of cooling down and escaping ; but in an ocean-steamer, wood-built, and with fires roaring for many days together, it is a clear "tempting of Providence "—it is like sleeping on a volcano. The Amazon was burned, and reams of paper were printed to account for how she caught light. All such reasoning seems puerile. She might be fairly or unfairly set fire to, and the underwriters might or might not pay the insurance ; but the broad fact, glaring above all, and plainly to be read by the light of her burning timbers, and the lesson enforced by the death- shrieks of perishing passengers was, she was built of combustible material. We do not want to live in the midst of care and cautions, but in free se- curity. We are not contented that our property be insured in a fire-office; we want to avoid the fire, and all its risk and trouble. We do not want to behold boats around us ready to remove us from one contingency to another, nor to wear swimming-girdles as a daily article of dress. The continued ex- istence of insurance-offices against fires in our dwellings and conveyances is a practical satire on the perverse ignorance or defiance of the laws of nature, and the altered condition of our circumstances.

Nature provides for the varied conditions of man. She provided him tim her to build his canoe as a "dug-out." As his ships grew in size, he joined Ins timbers by art. He needed larger ships for ocean service, and they in- creased in bulk till the property of cohesion in timber became so dispropor- tioned to the weight that stranding and wreck became almost synony- mous; but in the mean time iron had been brought forth from the mine and the rolls—imperfect, it is true, at the outset, but growing every day better adapted to its new uses.

Fifty years back, iron was used on the Paddington Canal for the construc- tion of boats—a kind of sheet-iron tanks without boat form—only contrived to carry a load, which they did more efficiently than wooden boats; but pro- bably they were then too costly. Subsequently, the shallow water of the Clyde rendering light draught essential, some strange iron craft were built, so guiltless of all proportion, so unlike vessels, that an innocent Londoner seeing one for the first time on the stocks, asked, "Was it a kettle to boil a whale whole ? " In process of time came the Great Britain, of proportions larger than the then existing material was adapted to, and her stranding in Dundrum Bay frightened "sheep-men" from following up the principle of large iron vessels. Yet her four months' thrashing by the ocean waves and coming off a ship at last, did good service by proving that there were quali- ties in iron unattainable by wooden vessels.

Apart from the question of gunnery and sea-fighting there is yet no proved inherent defect in iron vessels; and even the Admiralty experiments prove more as to defective material and construction than defective principle. But we may assume that passengers do not go to sea to fight; and there is no more semblance of reason in sending them to sea in war-ships than there would be in sending them by land in army tumbrils. The 9uestion, there- fore, resolves itself into what is the best kind of vessel combining the quali- tie of

1. Safety ; 2. Comfort; 3. Speed ; 4. Economy. Under the head of safety we must consider what are Ike elements of dan- ger : first, fire or explosion ; second, collision; third, leaks ; fourth, rocks ; fifth, stranding ; sixth, the attack of a cachalot whale—of which two instances at least are recorded resulting in the destruction of the vessels in the open sea.

Fire may be guarded against by having no combustible material in the construction of the vessel ; and if combustible furniture be used, for which there is no necessity, it should be so arranged that it may at any time be isolated by a series of separate apartments or metallic partitions, and drowned at pleasure. The boiler apartment should also be isolated with double partitions and air-spaces, so arranged that the firemen may always stand in cool currents. The floor, up to a certain height, should be of double plates, and the interstices lined with non-combustible timber' rendered so by lime saturation, merely to give mechanical resistance and strength. Above the floor, the hold should be divided into sufficient water-tight compartments by iron partitions both longitudinally and athwart-shipa, so that no striking on a rock would involve sinking ; precisely as the Mississippi steamers are provided with snag-chambers. These cells or compartments should form the storage of the vessel ; and if at any time combustible material caught fire, instant drowning might take place. With regard to boiler explosion, in ad- dition to the usual means of guarding against it, a portion of the deck above the boilers should be so arranged that it would yield, and thus the force of the explosion be expended upwards. In a vessel thus constructed, the con- viction of safety would prevent panic ; and people would go about the work of putting out any accidental fire in as orderly a mode as Braidwood's Brigade. Collision in foggy weather, or by a careless look-out, cannot be wholly pre- vented, and the chances of it are on the increase by the increase of isaviga- U011 ; but if, instead of a miserable lamp only seen at a short distance, some- thing analogous to a lighthouse-lantern were erected at the mast or chim- ney head, and in fog a powerful bell or whistle were incessantly sounding by the machinery, the chanties of collision would be reduced to the mini- mum. We have yet US ase,ettain several points as to moderating tho effects of collision.

Leaks could scarcely occur in a properly-constructed vessel. As yet they are not properly constructed, inasmuch as the line of rivets is far inferior in strength to the other portions of the plates. Rocks could scarcely inflict such damage as to sink a vessel built with suf- ficient compartments, any more than a sponge can lessen its capacity for holding water by dividing it into parts.

Of the behaviour of such a vessel when stranded, we have an example in the Great Britain ; and the larger the vessel, all other circumstances being equal, the less is the power of the sea over her.

The two vessels destroyed by cachalot whales were wooden whalers, and their loss may be attributed to maufficient strength.

With regard to comfort, the larger the vessel the greater may be the con- venience of every kind; and, fortunately, comfort is almost synonymous with speed. The larger the vessel—other things being equal—the greater the speed ; as the long-limbed horse can gallop faster than the short-limbed one. Judging by what has already been done it seems more than probable that we shall ultimately attain a speed of thirty miles per hour on the ocean. We need a vessel of some ten thousand tons and from six to seven hundred feet in length in order to prevent pitching or rolling by the action of the waves, and thus lessen distance by preserving a straight line of path, instead of as- cending and descending hills. Large vessels will thus be to the ocean what the railway is to the land. As the mere river ripple is to the wherry, so will the ocean wave be to the giant steamer, absolutely innocuous for retardation. I am aware that many "practical" men will object that such a craft would " break her back" in rising on the waver The answer is, first, she is con- structed of iron and not of wood ; and next, that she would not rise on the wave, but settle quietly on two waves. To use the schoolmaster's phrase, "she would rule the waves straight." As to breaking her back, we may see any day that the iron vessels stretched across the Menai Straits without any central support through 400 feet of length do not "break their backs," nor, if suitably constructed would they do so at twice that length. As regards shape, proportion, and construction of vessels, there are deeper depths than have yet been sounded.

There is yet one argument that will come home to the imaginations of all men of business. In such a craft there would be no sea sickness, and none but similar craft could compete with her. She would command the prefer- ence of all passengers even at higher rates of passage, setting aside the gust- tion of safety against fire and wreck.

As to the question of economy there can be no doubt. The iron vessel costs less and will carry a greater load than a wooden one of equal external dimensions. And past experience proves, that even with inferiorly-construct- ed iron vessels, the expense of repairs is far less than that of wooden vessels. But there is also the question of economy by reason of increased size. As the internal cubic space increases, the expense decreases proportionally in enclosing it. The cubic feet increase faster than the superficial. "How shall we provide enough passengers for each vessel ?" some one will ask. The only reply is, that passengers always crowd to safety, comfort, speed,lind economy. The emigration spirit has moved the whole world—i. e. the natural tendency of population to find its balance with the means of maintenance is operating everywhere, and can only be checked by the diffi- culty of transit. A new sem has arisen, and new arrangements are called for. The shipbuilders must be also ironmakers. Tilt-hammers and rolls more ponderous than the world has yet seen must rise by the dock-side to fashion masses of metal too large for inland transport, moulding them at one heat to the form required in the vessel. This must be done ere our large vessels can be perfect ; for the parts should bear a proportionate size to the whole.

This work of iron shipbuilding, large vessels to be moved by steam, or some of the other powers now looming on the horizon, in which heat or some form of electricity will play their part, will be the work of the English future, when other nations shall have learnt to fabricate their own clothing and many other things, and no longer need our help. With the coal and the iron and the deep sea in contiguity—with a healthy vigorous climate, that makes work a passion—with a race of men noble as ever were yet gathered together on this world's surface—with free egress for all surplus numbers, and free in- gress for the corn, wine, and oil of the world, working out the decrees of Providence in making the rough places smooth—if we attain not to the mil- lennium, we shall at least make physical misery a rarity amongst us. Had the sixty miles of sea between Holyhead and Kingstown been spanned a cen- tury back by a two-hours steamer warranted against sea-sickness, Ireland would long are this have been an integral portion of England, and not an out- lying province. And still this thing is to do. Human beings are not always born in the climates or countries best fitted for their natural constitutions ; and facile transit, enabling all mankind to choose the soil and climate for which they have a special aptitude, will do much towards the removal of disease, the increase of general production, and the decrease of that pervading discon- tent and dissatisfaction that engender strife—but which discontent and dis- satisfaction are, nevertheless, a wise ordinance of Nature, impelling men to wholesome progress, instead of a blind submission to inert squalor.