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Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 451 Volume 18, New Series, August 21, 1852   By:

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No. 451. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, AUGUST 21, 1852. PRICE 1 1/2 d.


A contest of a very remarkable kind is now going on, one which is pregnant with important results in respect to commerce, to naval architecture, to geographical discovery, to colonisation, to the spread of intelligence, to the improvement of industrial art, and to the balance of political power among nations. The nature of this contest cannot be better made intelligible than by giving the words of a challenge recently put forth: 'The American Navigation Company challenge the ship builders of Great Britain to a ship race, with cargo on board, from a port in England to a port in China and back. One ship to be entered by each party, and to be named within a week of the start. The ships to be modelled, commanded, and officered entirely by citizens of the United States and Great Britain respectively; to be entitled to rank "A 1" either at the American offices or at Lloyd's. The stakes to be L.10,000, and satisfactorily secured by both parties; to be paid without regard to accidents, or to any exceptions; the whole amount forfeited by either party not appearing. Judges to be mutually chosen. Reasonable time to be given after notice of acceptance, to build the ships, if required, and also for discharging and loading cargo in China. The challenged party may name the size of the ships not under 800 nor over 1200 American register tons; the weight and measurement which may be carried each way; and the allowance for short weight or oversize.'

There is a boldness, a straightforwardness, an honesty in this challenge, which cannot be mistaken. It is difficult to be interpreted in any other sense than that the challengers mean what they say. Brother Jonathan has fairly thrown down the gauntlet to the Britishers, and it behoves the latter to take it up in a becoming spirit. Our ship builders, especially on the Dee, the Clyde, the Wear, the Mersey, and the Thames, ought to feel that much is now expected from them; for if once the Yankees obtain a reputation a European reputation it will then be for outstripping British ships on the broad seas, our ship owners will assuredly feel the effects in a commercial sense.

This question of the speed of ships is a very curious one. Empirical rules, rather than scientific principles, have hitherto determined the forms which shall be given to ships. Smith adopts a certain form because Brown's ship sailed well, whereas Jones's differently shaped vessel was a bad sailer; although Smith, Brown, and Jones collectively may be little able to shew why one of the vessels should sail better than the other.

If opportunity should occur to the reader to visit a large ship building establishment, such as those on any one of the five rivers named above, he will see something like the following routine of operation going on:

There is, first, the 'ship's draughtsman,' whose duties are somewhat analogous to those of the architect of a house, or the engineer of a railway, or the scientific cutter at a fashionable tailor's: he has to shape the materials out of which the structure is to be built up, or at least he has to shew others how it is to be done. When the ship builder has received an order, we will say, to construct a ship, and has ascertained for what route, and for what purpose, and of what size it is to be, he and his ship's draughtsman 'lay their heads together' to devise such an arrangement of timbers as will meet the requirements of the case. Here it is that a science of ship building would be valuable; the practical rules followed are deductions not so much from general principles as from accumulated facts which are waiting to be systematised; and until this process has been carried further, ship building will be an art , but not a science ... Continue reading book >>

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