Friday, January 15, 2016

HMS Edinburgh - built by Samuel and Daniel Brent, Rotherhithe, 1811

A view of the Commercial Docks in 1813 by William Daniell, two years after Edinburgh was built. 
A ship enters the lock and to the left and right of the lock you can see Greenland South and North shipyards,
both with ships in dock (click to expand).

In the 1800s Rotherhithe produced some superb ships (as well as one or two lemons), mainly sail-powered wooden warships as well as a smaller number of tea clippers and paddle steamers.  Some of the ships that began their lives as wooden ships were later converted to steam, either paddle or screw, and this was the destiny of HMS Edinburgh, which was built in 1811 by Samuel and Daniel Brent  in Rotherhithe.  The Brents had a long and successful history of boat building in Rotherhithe for two generations, their names first linked with that of two generations of Randalls, but on the suicide of John Randall, Samuel and Daniel Brent took over the business variously as S+D Brent and Brent and Co. Messers Brent. Finally, when Samuel died, Daniel Brent carried on alone.  Samuel and Daniel Brent operated out of operated out of Greenland Dock North and South shipyards in Rotherhithe between 1805 and 1819.  They had also operated out of Nelson Dock but gave this up in 1810.   

HMS Asia, another Vengeur-class warship, which
gives a good idea of how Edinburgh will have looked
at the time of her launch (image sourced from Wikipedia)
HMS Edinburgh was ordered in 1807 and was launched on 26th January 1811. It is not recorded which of the two Greenland Dock yards she was built at, Greenland North or South, both flanking Greenland Dock's lock entrance as shown in the William Daniell painting above.  The painting also shows the Commercial Docks and, beyond, the Grand Surrey Canal with a very busy Thames beyond it, and St Paul's visible in the far distance.  Also launched in 1811 by the Brent brothers was the East Indiaman Marquis of Huntley, so both North and South docks were clearly occupied simultaneously during the construction of the two ships, a profitable situation at a time when traditional ship building was in decline.  Edinburgh herself earned the Brents £57,000 (£1,935,720 in today's currency according to the National Archives Currency Converter).  She then had to be fitted out elsewhere with masts, rigging, guns and other fittings at the cost of £26,032 (£884,046). 

HMS Edinburgh was a third rate Vengeur-class ship of the line, 1772 tons, 176ft long, 47ft 6in beam and 21st deep with a wooden hull, 74 guns and a ship's company of 600.  There were more Vengeur-class ships built during this period than any other class of warship (around 40 of them), and most of them were built in private rather than naval shipyards.  New warship designs were usually built to the design of an individual surveyor, but the Vengeur-class (also occasionally referred to as the Hogue-class) were designed by committee.  This is thanks to the Admiralty which, faced with two competing designs for a 3rd rate ship of the line, decided not to opt for either but to direct all its naval surveyors to come up with a new 3rd rate design between them. They decided that the Surveyors of the Navy "should consider together, and prepare a draught which will embrace the qualities pointed out by their Lordships letter as so desirable to be attained and at the same time keep down the increased expense" (quoted in Lavery). The result became colloquially known as the Surveyors' class.  Unfortunately for the Admiralty's requirement for keeping down expenses, the need to send them to private yards for construction made them rather more expensive than the Admiralty had planned for.  In spite of the number produced, they soon became somewhat unpopular.  One report describes Edinburgh, for example in the following terms:  "steers bad, wears very slow, but stays quick."  As Lavery says, the design was not a disaster but certainly failed to meet up to the expectations of the Admiralty as well as the captains who were given command of the Surveyors' class ships.

Throughout her career Edinburgh was commanded by a number of different captains.  Under her first command she went to the Mediterranean between 1811 and 12, was in the Gulf of Spezia in 1813 and then Anzi in the same year, and was laid up in Portsmouth a year after.  It is unclear where she was sent in the following two decades, but in 1833 she was again in the Mediterranean. 
Scheduled for conversion to steam, she was described by The Times, again in less than flattering terms:
Edinburgh, 72.  This old ship, which is being prepared to going into the hands of Mr White, of Cowes, to be fitted with a screw propeller, as a block ship or floating battery, is nearly ready.  She is fit for no other purpose, although she has had a good deal of service, being remarkable as a very dull sailer."

Hogue, after she was converted to a Blenheim-class
screw steamer.  Edinburgh will have looked very similar.
(Image sourced from Wikipedia)
In 1846, already 41 years old, she went to Portsmouth naval base for conversion to a Blenheim-class steam ship with modern screw propellers (as opposed to paddles, which had been the usual form of propulsion for earlier steam warships (see, for example, the warship Karteria, also built by the Brent brothers).  The conversion, which reduced her guns to 60, was completed in 1852.  The cost of the conversion was an eye-watering £65,000.00 (£2,866,500 today).

In her new guise, she went back into service as a steam guard-ship, together with Blenheim, Hogue and Ajax, which were also old Vengeur-class sailing ships that were converted for this new role. This was a new concept in the navy.  All four were reduced to one deck, and fitted with a 450hp engine capable of up to 8.9 knots, as well as light rigging for an alternative source of power.  These ships are often described as floating batteries. The initial intention was to use them for coastal defence but they saw action in foreign seas as well.

"The Baltic Fleet Leaving Spithead," showing Edinburgh
at far left.  Illustrated London News (Supplement)
for March 18th 1854.
All four of the original guard-ships saw action in the Baltic Campaign of 1854 and 1855 during the Crimean War, and are immortalized in the famous Illustrated London News illustration "The Baltic Fleet Leaving Spithead" published on March 18th 1854.  Two other Rotherhithe-built ships also served in the Crimean War - Jackdaw and Hind, both screw steamers, which were commissioned from John Jenkins Thomson specially for the war.  Edinburgh was part of the 1853 fleet review prior to departure for the Baltic, the first time that screw steamers had been included in a fleet review, and she was present at the 1856 fleet review at Spithead on her return to England.

She was a guard-ship at Sheerness later in 1856 and was with the Coast Guard in 1858. 

was broken up by Castle and Beech at Charlton on the Thames in 1866, at the venerable age of 55.

Main sources:

Lavery, Brian (2003) The Ship of the Line - Volume 1: The development of the battlefleet 1650-1850. Conway Maritime Press.
Winfield, Rif (2008) British Warships in the Age of Sail. 1793 - 1817. Seaforth Publishing
Rankin, Stuart (1997). Shipbuilding in Rotherhithe - Greenland Dock and Barnard's Wharf. Rotherhithe Local History Paper No.3
Peter Davis

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