Flat floors and apple bows : evidence for the emergence of an improved merchant vessel type from the North of England during the eighteenth century
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This study provides a detailed description of eighteenth-century English merchant vessels and tests the hypothesis posed in 1962 by Professor Ralph Davis that during the eighteenth century a significantly improved merchant vessel type emerged in England that required a smaller crew but carried more cargo than previous English vessels, thus boosting England's position as one of the world's greatest maritime nations. The study also develops vessel descriptions that will assist nautical archaeologists in identifying and classifying shipwreck remains. Merchant vessels were chosen for study because of the relative scarcity of scholarly publications on commercial vessels from the age of sail and because of the wealth of new archaeological data on English merchant vessels that has emerged during the past two decades. A wide range of historical and archaeological information was reviewed and, in spite of initial indications to the contrary, it was possible to amass an incredible wealth of information on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century merchant vessels built in England or her colonies. This study presents descriptions, illustrations and draughts of a variety of eighteenth-century English merchant vessels, along with a number of archaeological examples that demonstrate a richly diverse range of hull forms and rigs. Much of the detailed archaeological information was recovered from a group of sunken vessels from the Battle of Yorktown, 1781, especially site 44YO88, which proved to be an English collier built in 1772 and leased as a naval transport. There is much evidence to suggest that the highest quality, most capacious, most efficient, most long-lived, most stable and strongest merchant vessels in England during the eighteenth century were being produced in the northern ports where the primary export was coal. Rather than representing a radical new design, those colliers appear to have embodied the best compromise of qualities for a bulk cargo carrier, qualities that were already known and appreciated a century earlier, but which may have found a new harmony in the collier. Even with the many descriptions and widespread praise focused on the flat-floored, apple-bowed colliers of northern England, there does not appear to be sufficient evidence to assert that English colliers represented, in the eighteenth century, a radically improved vessel type. However, it seems reasonable to assume that those sturdy, reliable vessels successfully satisfied the economic needs of the times and provided a new source of pride for English shipbuilders. It also seems reasonable to speculate, in retrospect, that their appearance, in the large numbers that flowed out of northern yards in the eighteenth century, improved the overall efficiency and quality of the English merchant marine.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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