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William Coppin

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William Coppin (1805-1895) of Strand Foundry, Derry/Londonderry

1837 Nasmyth, Gaskell and Co supplied equipment to Coppin, including NG&Co's first punching machine, a horizontal steam engine, a portable steam engine with pumping and winding apparatus. Nasmyth also provided advice on firebox arrangements for peat burning.[1]

1839 Public dinner in honour of William Coppin, reported at length.[2]

1840 Advert:'STRAND FOUNDRY. THE SUBSCRIBER begs leave to inform his Friends and the Public that he has fitted up an extensive Foundry for BRASS and IRON, and is now ready receive orders for Castings of every description of the above Metals, he flatters himself he will be able to execute Work in a style hitherto unequalled this in this city. He has adopted a plan which, he hopes, will meet with the approbation of the Public — to name a day for delivery, in all cases to be strictly attended to.
WILLIAM COPPIN.
STEAM ENGINES, MARINE AND PORTABLE MILLWRIGHT WORK, &c.,
Executed in the best manner in the above Establishment, with all the new improvements.
The highest price given for old copper, brass, and metal.
Londonderry, 23d. May, 1840.
TIMBER BY AUCTION.
To be Sold by AUCTION, at the yard of the Subscriber, on WEDNESDAY, the 15th JULY, at the hour of TWELVE o’clock, 200 Logs Yellow Pine Timber, of good quality and large dimensions, being part of the Cargo saved from the wreck of the Ship Rival. WILLIAM COPPIN, Strand, Derry, 3d. July, 1840.' [3]

1871 'Recovery of sunken and stranded VESSELS.
WILLIAM COPPIN, of LONDONDERRY,
Desires to acquaint Underwriters, Agents, and Owners of steam and sailing vessels that it is his intention in future to devote himself exclusively to the RECOVERY of STRANDED and SUNKEN VESSELS. From his long and extensive experience in Marine Salvage, W. C. feels confident of giving satisfaction in any matter which may be intrusted with. Reference can be made to many of the principal Underwriters in the United Kingdom, for whom he has recovered a large number of vessels. Among the most recent may be mentioned the iron Barque ANTILLAS, sunk in the Clyde through collision, and the s. s. LIMERICK, sunk off the Coast of Ireland with a full cargo of pyrites. Both of these vessels were raised by W. C. with their cargoes on board.
It being of the utmost importance, in all cases where vessels get on shore, that practical advice should be promptly obtained, W. C. will hold himself in readiness to attend any call for his services, and will be happy to advise Underwriters or Owners whether it would be prudent to incur further risk or otherwise.
Having at his command a large staff of experienced divers and workmen, with powerful pumping and other necessary apparatus, W. C. is enabled to contract, on reasonable terms, for the salvage of wrecked property.
Telegrams or letters will receive immediate attention if addressed to Mr. WILLIAM COPPIN, Londonderry; or W. BARTER and Co., Salvage Agent, 38, Gracechurch-street, London, E.C.[4]

1877 'CAPTAIN COPPIN AND THE VANGUARD.
We understand that at length, after considering all the plans, proposals, and suggestions for raising H.M. ironclad Vanguard, the Admiralty have approved of the method proposed by an Irishman, Captain William Coppin, of Londonderry, and have entered into a contract for carrying the work into effect on the principles proposed by him, and a company called the “Vanguard Salvage Company (Ltd.),” is being formed to take over the contract and provide suitable appliances. Captain Coppin, who is said to have the immediate supervision and management of the salvage operations, is a gentleman of great ability and experience in such matters, and we believe he has already raised no less than 120 sunken vessels, and, from his previous achievements in this way, we are led to hope that his attempt in the present instance will meet with the success such enterprises deserve. He has within the last few days been making preliminary preparations, and we understand he considers her position favourable for making a lift. We understand that Mr. Martin L. Moore, of Westmoreland-street, Dublin, is agent to the contractors, and that no time will be lost in perfecting the necessary arrangements to begin operations. — [Londonderry Sentinel] Saturday morning, February 24th, 1877.'[5]

1880 Added a cartwright department to their business[6]

An Appreciation - 1935

From the Derry Journal, 18 February 1935 [7]'A CORK MAN WHO WON FAME - AND RUIN
THE STORY of CAPTAIN COPPIN.

'This is the story of a Corkman whose masterpiece was a ship. A ship such as has never before been seen on the water-ways of the world. A ship that brought him fame, and then brought him ruin. He will be dead just forty years this Spring, but to-day there are few who know his story. On the tombstone over his grave in a Derry churchyard nothing about him is written; at the top is an inscription recording the deaths of two of his children, who died when he was still young, but the rest of the tombstone is empty. An empty space — what an epitaph for Captain Coppin.

'William Coppin was born in Kinsale on 9th October, 1805. At fourteen he led his school in mathematics, at fifteen saved the lives of a crew of seven, a year later was an apprentice in the dockyard of Kinsale, and a year later had sailed the Atlantic.

'In America he built ships and sailed them to the West Indies. Then he built one required by a Derry merchant, and sailed it to Derry.

'In 1839 he started as a shipbuilder, engine and boiler maker in Derry. The work prospered, and he employed many hundreds. And had prosperity continued to attend that shipbuilding industry which William Coppin established, Derry might have left Belfast a sorry also-ran, and there might have been a different North to-day.

'In those days Derry was one of the leading ports in these Islands. It and Belfast were still about the same level commercially. Derry’s great shirt industry was just being started. So far as the building of ships was concerned it was asserted that the banks of the Foyle had advantages superior even to the Clyde.

'But it was the time when the death-knell of the sailing ships was being sounded. The earliest vessels successfully driven by steam had been about the year of Coppin's birth. They depended on paddles. A steamer that was screw-propelled had been built and tried by an American at the beginning of the century, but it was not till the building of the “Archimedes” (apparently named after the Greek mathematician to whom the Invention of the screw is attributed) in 1838, that the advantages of screw-propulsion were established.

'A PIONEER'S VISION.
Captain Coppin was among the first to see the revolution it might mean in the future. The process of screw propulsion was as yet little recognised — it was not till after 1860 that it came into use — but he had faith in its possibilities and determined to build a large steamer with screw propellers. He was ridiculed by the Ulster people: many laughed, and few sympathised. The pioneer went ahead.

'In 1842 the waters of the Foyle received the Corkman’s masterpiece, the "Great Northern," the largest steamer the world had ever seen, the first great ship propelled by ‘the new steam-screw power.

'The Great Northern was taken to London, and here is what the “Illustrated London News” of 14th January, 1843, wrote: “This extraordinary steamer, now in the East Indian Docks, is the object general astonishment. Her great length, breadth and depth exceed, we believe, the dimensions of any steam vessel ever in existence. She was built at Londonderry by Captain Coppin, and is a remarkable monument of marine architecture. She is propelled by the Archimedian screw which works on each side of the rudder; the engine is 360 horse-power. No paddles are required, and but for the funnel which is seen amidships, she might pass for a square-rigged ship of the larger class. During the week many persons entered the dockyard to gaze at this really wonderful object.” It was the instrument of Coppin’s triumph, and of his ruin. Thousands of pounds had been put into the vessel, and on its purchase by the British Government he was mainly dependent. But it was not purchased, was boycotted, and eventually sold to clear London dock dues. The captain's dream had gone to Davy Jones's locker.

'Some alleged it was because Coppin was too honourable to buy official favour. The “Irish Catholic,” writing after Coppin’s death, had this view on the Cork Protestant’s treatment: "Poor Capt. Coppin had made two mistakes for which he was to pay dearly. He had forgotten he was an Irishman, and built the Great Northern as a private speculation, hoping that the British Government would encourage his enterprise by buying the ship. In any other land but his own, honours and patronage would have been showered on him. His name stands high in the roll of Irishmen beggared by British rule.” The late Wm. Roddy, editor of the “Derry Journal” — a clever journalist, from whose lecture on Coppin, in 1898, I got several of the facts in this article— asserted that the real reason was that a wretched party display in Derry against a Government supporter for his vote in favour of the removal of Catholic disabilities, led to a threat to make the grass' grow in Derry’s streets, and to this disastrous blow at Derry shipbuilding by the official boycott of the vessel.

'Coppin struggled on, but eventually had to close his shipbuilding industry. During the next quarter of a century it was a great drawback to the city’s growth. He started upon the raising of sunken ships, and his methods made him famous in the Clyde and even the White Sea and the Mediterranean. He had patent diving apparatus, and was managing director of a salvage company in London. One contract was to try to raise the "Vanguard," sunk in a collision in Dublin Bay.

'In 1884, when he was eighty, the “Atlantic Ocean” had an article on “The Coppin Triple Steamship,” stating; "Capt. William Coppin, for many years well-known as an inventor in the shipbuilding world, patented an invention in the United States on 28th March 1882 for the construction of a triple steamship which, if successfully carried out appears destined to create an entire revolution in our ideas as to what constitutes the proper idea of an ocean ship. His idea has been approved and endorsed by several distinguished officers of the United States Navy.”

'This consisted of a compound ship, three hulls driven as one vessel, the central hull carrying the engines and all decked over. Among the advantages claimed was that would reduce pitching motion to a minimum, and that in the case of warships, one hull might be riddled and be supported by the other two. I cannot trace what became of this invention.

'A broken old man, he died in 1895 and was buried in the graveyard of St Augustine’s (Church of Ireland) in Derry, the sexton showed me his grave last week. I noticed the cold silence of the tombstone: not even a line to tell he is buried there.

'The old captain who now sails the unending seas is forgotten by the world which once he thrilled - Andrew O'Doherty, in “The Irish Press.” '

The Great Northern Screw Steam Ship

In July 1842 Coppin launched a remarkable ship, the Great Northern. The 1935 article above notes that 'Her great length, breadth and depth exceed, we believe, the dimensions of any steam vessel ever in existence. She was built at Londonderry by Captain Coppin, and is a remarkable monument of marine architecture.'

Maritime historians largely neglected this ship until fairly recently. Dr B Greenhill presented a paper on the Great Northern in 1988, and Ewan Corlett provided a useful summary of key aspects [8], from which we learn that when launched she was the largest screw-propelled merchant vessel in the world, and the first steamship to have her machinery and boilers placed in the after part of the vessel. However she was soon eclipsed by Brunel's SS Great Britain, which was slightly longer and had an iron hull. The screw was geared from the engines at a ratio of 4:1, with a wheel of 20 ft and pinion of 5 ft diameter. A clutch was provided to disengage the engine from the screw when under sail.

Despite favourable press reports (see below), the ship failed to attract a buyer. The 1935 article suggests some official bias against Coppin, but this seems unlikely given the intense interest then being taken in screw propulsion by the Admiralty and by commercial interests, and the involvement of Francis Pettit Smith in the design of the Great Northern's propeller. From 1839 the Admiralty were taking great interest in the development of the screw steamer Archimedes, and from 1843-4 extensive trials were being undertaken with the Rattler. We find that many of the key figures taking an interest in those developments also paid attention to the Great Northern when it went to London (including Sir William Edward Parry, Captain Chappell, and Thomas Lloyd). The Admiralty were very canny at getting the private sector to finance such developments, and reaping the benefits, so perhaps it is not surprising that they apparently showed no interest in buying the ship. However, since it was evidently sold for scrap, the Admiralty could have acquired it at a bargain price. Perhaps there were perceived shortcomings. It would be interesting to know more about the adequacy of the machinery.

Press Reports

1843 'THE GREAT NORTHERN STEAM SHIP.
We were yesterday favoured at the East India Inner Dock, with a private view of this splendid vessel, on the occasion of its being inspected by Sir Edward Parry and other naval officers. The Great Northern has been constructed for the purpose of successfully combining sailing with steaming, for the longest voyages, and is, therefore, a subject of the highest national interest. As a steamer, it is furnished with the patent Archimedian screw propeller, invented by Mr. W. P. Smith, used on board the Archimedes steam-vessel, with remarkable effect, in various trials with several of her Majesty 's steam-packets, and subsequently in a circumnavigation of Great Britain. This screw, originally introduced into the Archimedes, consisted of one entire turn, 8 feet in length and 7 feet in diameter; but for the sake of compactness, it was subsequently divided into two half turns, reducing to half the length; the superfices of the screw, however, remaining the same. The propeller used in the Great Northern is also divided into two half turns, its length being seven feet and its diameter eleven. This screw is placed longitudinally in a hole cut in the deadwood immediately before the rudder, the keel being continued along under the screw. By disconnecting the screw, which is the work of minute, the ship becomes, to all intents and purposes, a sailing vessel. As to the velocity attainable by the screw propeller, Captain Chappell, in his official report on the subject, published in Ridgway, observes : "The whole force of the screw being directly propulsive in line with the ship's keel, augmenting the velocity of the screw, I see no other limitation to the speed of the vessel than such as is offered by the screw, which shows that the resistance increases as the square of the velocity." As to the Great Northern, the speed which, in various trials on Loch Foyle, she maintained, under steam only, without any assistance from canvass, was 8 1/4 knots an hour, equal to 9 1/2 statute miles. As a sailing vessel, for which she is fully rigged in the ordinary way, the Great Northern appears to us a perfect boat. She is furnished with a mainmast, 90 feet long and 33 inches in diameter ; a foremast, 83 feet long, and a mizenmast, 61 feet long. The length of her mainyard is 70 feet, and its diameter 22 1/2 inches, in slings. The spread of her canvass altogether is 6,700 yards ; and her build, in every respect, reflects the highest credit upon the judgment and liberal spirit of her proprietors, Messrs. Coppin, Kelso, and Lyons, hy the former of wiiom she was entirely constructed, at Londonderry. The length of the Great Northern between perpendiculars is 222 feet, the length over all 247 feet; breadth of beam 37 feet; depth of hold 26 feet ; draught of water, with 1,300 tons dead weight, 16 feet ; tonnage, 1,515 N.M.; nominal power at the engines, 360 ; the diameter of the cylinder 68 feet [actually 68 inches!]; length of stroke, 4 feet 6 inches ; revolutions per minute, from 16 to 17; diameter of the screw, 11 feet. The steam power, in this case, however, may be considered as auxiliary only to the sailing ; for with sails alone, the vessel has been found to run easily from 12 to 13 knots an hour, or between 14 and 15 statute miles. The voyage to Calcutta for instance, by these combined advantages — the sails coming in to increase the speed and save the coal, when sailing is preferable,and the fire being kept alight when the ordinary power of the sails is comparatively powerless — would be reduced a run of some fifty days, as there would be no manoeuvring going out way accommodate trade winds, or catch the slant, and no putting every here and there at out of the way places for coal — for one cargo of coal of 400 or 500 tons — there being stowage, however, for 600 tons — would thus be amply sufficient for the whole voyage. When it is considered that the cost of coals to each West India Mail Packet is, as it has been stated, £1,600 a run, the advantage of a vessel like the Great Northern is obvious. There are, at the present moment, completed, or fitting up, fifteen vessels on Mr. Smith's plan, three of which are being constructed by the French. - Morning Paper.' [9]

1843 'THE GREAT NORTHERN STEAM-SHIP
An experimental trip to test the powers of this vessel took place on Wednesday. The Great Northern left her moorings at Blackwall at twelve o'clock, the tide at that time running against her, and proceeded down the river to Greenhithe, where she altered her course, and returned with her best speed to her original moorings. This vessel has very extraordinary powers, and as far as trips in the river can justify an estimation of her qualifications, is likely to become a crack vessel, and form a phenomenon in steam navigation. What her powers may be in a rough sea cannot be predicted from her performance in smooth water ; and it will therefore be the most judicious course to hazard no observations on her performances on the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean. Of the excellency of Mr. Smith's screw-propeller, with which this vessel is propelled, this trip has furnished a further corroborative testimonial. In vessels of war the screw must for very obvious reasons be superior to paddle wheels ; the screw cannot be injured by shot, whereas the guns of a battery, if tolerably well served, must cripple a paddle- wheel steamer, and render her incapable of defensive or offensive operations. The engine with which this vessel is fitted is in its present state effective, and works with great regularity, the strokes being at the rate of nineteen in a minute. The Great Northern is a sailing vessel or ship, and the engine and the screw are only ancillary aids to assist her passage on whatever destination she may be employed, when sails and wind fail. The machinery consequently takes up much less space than in ordinary steamers. The rate of steaming yesterday was seven-and-a-half knots an hour against tide, which was computed at two and half knots against her, making her steaming ten knots an hour through the water. The log gave a statute mile in eight minutes two seconds when the vessel was off Erith, which is equal to nine minutes twelve seconds for a nautical mile. This is an immence rate of speed when the large size of the vessel is considered. Her sailing powers are said to be very great, and twelve knots an hour is her computed rate of performance.

'Amongst the company assembled on board were many gentlemen connected with the shipping interests, and many men of scientific reputation. The Bishop of Norwich was amongst the company, as were also Sir Francis Collier and Mr Lloyd, who attended on the part of the Government, Captain Chappell, R.N., and several other naval officers. A dejeuner was served at two o'clock, at which the health of the prelate just mentioned was drunk, and for which his Lordship returned thanks. The health of Captain Chappell, of Mr. Smith, and of several other gentlemen, were also drunk, for which thanks were returned in the usual manner. Sir F. Collier was understood to say that the speed of the Great Northern, though having 700 tons of coal on board, exceeded that of any steam ship in the Royal navy, with the exception of the Black Eagle and her Majesty's yacht the Victoria and Albert. It was also mentioned on board that the injunction obtained by the Ship Propeller Company against an eminent engineer, for an infringement of Mr. Smith's patent, had been settled by that gentleman taking out a license from the company, and paying the costs of the proceedings.'[10]

1843 'HER MAJESTY’S STEAM FRIGATE RATTLER. ...... The trials of the Rattler and the recent trial of the Great Northern, a ship of 1,515 tons, drawing 17 feet of water, must have done much to remove the general impression that the screw was adapted only for smail vessels, and also affords evidence of it being perfectly applicable to ships of the line, frigates, and other vessels of the largest class.' [11]

1844 'The Great Northern Steam-ship.— Yesterday afternoon the steam-ship Great Northern, advertised in Tuesday's Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, was exposed for sale at Lloyd’s Room, Bishopsgate-street. She was put up at the sum of 20,000/.; but there being no bidders the amount was reduced to 17,000/., and there still being no purchaser at that sum the sale was withdrawn. The Great Northern is upwards of 1,500 tons register, and was lately built at Londonderry.'[12]

1845 'At LLOYD’S CAPTAINS’ROOM, ROYAL EXCHANGE. On THURSDAY, JUNE 26 (By order the Mortgagees), THE fine frigate-built Steam-ship GREAT NORTHERN, 1,515 tons O.M., and 1,413 tons N.M, register measurement 771 tons; engine 320 horse power, propelled by the screw, under the direction and superintendence of Mr. F. P. Smith, Patentee. Inventories and further particulars to be had of Mr. I. M. SUNLEY, 71, Cornhill.'[13]

1845 Naval intelligence: 'There is, if we mistake not, now lying at Blackwall, in dock, the "Great Northern" steam-ship. She was built, very lately indeed —(within a twelvemonth or so)— on the most useful and important principle of combining all the sailing power and properties adapted to her enormous length and great capacity, with the motive power of the screw-propeller. When the wind and weather serve she is to be sailed without working the latter, so as to economise her fuel and machinery. These are to be employed, on the other hand, when tempestuous weather and adverse winds render it more expedient to apply steam to the screw. Her trials have manifested her perfect achievement of these objects, than which we can imagine none more admirable or valuable. She is built to carry forty 18-pounders. Her great height and her length render her a most formidable floating battery, and her facilities of sailing, steaming, and changing rapidly her position, are probably unsurpassed. Whether, being docked, this noble craft is for sale we have no means of knowing. If she be, might it not be well worth while for the Admiralty to become her purchasers ? If not, can there be any objection to use her lines with any required extensions or improvements in the construction of still superior steam frigates?' [14] 1845

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 'James Nasmyth and the Bridgewater Foundry' by J. A. Cantrell, 1984. ISBN 0 7190 1339 9, p.183
  2. Londonderry Standard, 30 January 1839
  3. Londonderry Sentinel - Saturday 11 July 1840
  4. Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, 18 August 1871
  5. Londonderry Sentinel - Thursday 02 May 1940
  6. Derry Journal, 7 July 1880
  7. [1] The British Newspaper Archive online
  8. 'The Iron Ship - the Story of Brunel's ss Great Britain' by Ewan Corlett, Conway Maritime Press, 2012
  9. Hereford Times - Saturday 14 January 1843
  10. Morning Post - Friday 13 October 1843
  11. Morning Advertiser - Friday 17 November 1843
  12. Shipping and Mercantile Gazette - Thursday 19 December 1844
  13. Shipping and Mercantile Gazette - Wednesday 11 June 1845
  14. Sun (London) - Friday 26 September

[[Category: Deaths] 1890-1899]