Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 136,331 pages of information and 219,110 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Early Iron Boats

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1777, May 20. 'A new pleasure-boat, constructed of sheet-iron, was launched into the river Foss, in Yorkshire. She is twelve feet in length, six in breadth, has sailed with fifteen persons on board, and may be conveyed to and from the river by two men.'[1]

'The iron boat lately built by the direction of an English gentleman [ John Wilkinson, see below], is not without a precedent even in this kingdom, as about five years since [i.e. c.1782] one of a similar kind was constructed at the iron mills near Lucan, and employed in carrying the fabrics manufactured there to this city [Dublin]. It may seem somewhat strange that iron should swim, but the specific gravity of water being in proportion to a solid or cubical inch to that metal as six to one, if spread out in thinness or flatness as seven to one, must undoubtedly float. ...'[2]

1787 'Birmingham, July 28. We have the pleasure to mention the following instance of the increasing manufacture and opulence concerned in the iron trade in this kindom. A few days ago a boat built with English iron, by J. Wilkinson, Esq. of Bradley-Forge, came up our canal to this town, loaded with 22 tons 15 hundred weight its own metal, &c. &c. It is nearly of equal dimensions with the other boats employed upon the canal, being 70 feet long, and 6 feet 8½ inches wide. The thickness of the plates with which it is made is about 5-16ths, and is put together with rivets, like copper or fire-engine boilers; but the stern-posts are wood, and the gunwhale is lined with, and the beams are made of elm planks. Her weight is about 8 tons; she will carry in deep water upwards of 32 tons, and when light she draws about the same as a common wooden boat, viz. eight or nine inches of water.
This not the only experiment of building with metal instead of wood. The ingenious Mr. Stalkouth, shipbuilder in the river Thames, and author of the valuable work, entitled "Naval Architecture," is now building a vessel, whose bottom is to be entirely of copper, without any planking. This is an experiment made at the instance of a Copper Company, and there is reason to believe that the essay will be completely successful; and that for a certain class of vessels will be accompanied with very great advantages.'[3]

1819 The first commercial vessel with a hull constructed entirely from iron was the Vulcan (Barge), launched at Faskine. The shipwright was Thomas Wilson (1781-1873).

1821 The first iron-hulled steamboat was the PS Aaron Manby.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 47, 1777, p.244
  2. Saunders's News-Letter - Tuesday 7 August 1787
  3. Hampshire Chronicle - Monday 6 August 1787